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Friday, October 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.10.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month october 22, edition 000658, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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








































  2. OCT. 22, 1962: U.S. NEAR WAR























Long time ago the Congress discovered two tricks of perpetuating the myth of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as the provider of our daily needs, ranging from food to roads and electricity. The first was to get the Prime Minister, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru, followed by Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi (since a member of the dynasty is not the Prime Minister these days, the privilege has devolved on NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi) to lay foundation stones for projects. Irrespective of whether the project would ever materialise, the name of the 'leader' would remain forever cast in stone, a constant, indelible reminder of the dynasty as the provider. The second was to name taxpayer-funded programmes after members of the dynasty. And so it has come about that hundreds of welfare schemes, ranging from providing housing to the poor to nutrition supplement for malnourished children, are named after Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. As with projects that have never progressed beyond the laying of foundation stones, many of these schemes have foundered on the rock of corruption or have been hijacked by the Congress to either reward its supporters or entice vulnerable sections of the population to vote for the party. Such is the Congress's intolerance of credit for successful implementation of programmes going to leaders of others parties that it cussedly erased all mention of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name from the national highways project and put up signboards eulogising Ms Sonia Gandhi. Strangely, the Election Commission, which is amazingly active in spotting attempts by other parties to propagate their cause at the exchequer's expense and reprimanding, if not penalising, them, has been silent about the crass perpetuation of the dynasty myth through the naming of programmes after stalwarts of the Congress's first family. Seen against this backdrop, the recent instruction issued by the Cabinet Secretary asking Ministries to desist from naming schemes after "leaders, particularly Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi" came as a pleasant surprise. 

But obviously that instruction, no doubt issued on behalf of the Cabinet, means little or nothing for dynasty loyalists. Hence, they have gone ahead and named yet another programme, ostensibly aimed at providing nutrition supplement to pregnant women and newborn children, after Mrs Indira Gandhi. The purpose is clear: Every time a poor woman receives cash assistance during her pregnancy or to feed her newborn child under the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana she will feel grateful towards the dynasty. That gratitude, the Congress believes, perhaps not without reason, will fetch votes for the party. It's a clever ruse, an election campaign in perpetuity on which the Congress does not have to spend a penny. This abuse of power must stop. If the Government fails to put an end to this chicanery, the people must approach the judiciary for redress. Apart from the fact that such unscrupulous practices are detrimental to democracy, they amount to misuse of public funds for political purposes. Since the Election Commission has refused to act and the Opposition has failed to put an end to this malpractice, the judiciary must step in. 








Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh's decision to undertake a national economic assessment of India's biodiversity, including wildlife, is a laudable initiative. This is in keeping with the conventional wisdom so lucidly expressed recently by an expert that "you cannot manage what you do not measure". Or, we could put it this way: The Government cannot protect our biodiversity without a clear idea of what it involves. The country can put to use, with some tinkering for localised adaptation, accounting systems like 'The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity'. Clearly, conventional methods like calculating green expenditure and benefits as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product have had limited impact, and in any case do not fully reflect the potential of robust biodiversity as a paying proposition. There is no time to be lost and one hopes that the Minister's resolve to have the system working by 2015 does not get diluted over time in the face of opposition from vested interests, who will be hard hit by such fiscal accountability. Already, according to some reports, more than two dozen countries from Africa and Latin America have shown active interest in putting in place a financial cost and benefit structure for their 'green economies' — India, with its famed biodiversity that stretches from snow-capped mountains to dense forests and river-fed fertile plains, cannot be seen to be lagging behind. The use of TEEB has helped calculate that the economic value of services being lost globally amounts between $2 trillion and $5 trillion annually. The amount would have gone into the hands of stakeholders of the green sector, including millions of poor people who play a critical role in the sustenance of our biodiversity. Environmental solutions cannot be entirely had by linking them to human existence or cultural symbolism, as we have done so far. They have to be quantified in real terms to make them workable. It helps, for instance, to know that the legendary Ranthambore tigress, Machli, who has a Facebook following of over one lakh fans, has single-handedly attracted millions of dollars of revenue for the region. Travel Operators for Tigers, a Britain-based travel industry lobby, has estimated that Machli has added $10 million over the past decade to Ranthambore's local economy because of her popularity. 

But the success of green accounting in our country will depend as much on how the rest of the world responds to the global challenge, as it would on domestic political resolve. While the European Union has extended support to TEEB principles and several other countries have followed suit, friction among nations on various other aspects of biodiversity could derail the process. This dispute will play out in the ongoing Convention on Biological Diversity at Nagoya in Japan, where developing nations like India are pitted against the developed world over issues like access to pathogens that cause epidemics like swine flu. India is keen to have a protocol that includes pathogen access to developing countries, a demand that is contested by others. This is only one of the many obstacles that we face. 







Ambanis and Mittals are no Buffetts and Gates. But we can't blame them for the appalling poverty that prevails in India

Now that Durga Puja's son et lumiere has faded, a comment might be permitted on what this annual exercise of expensive competitive showmanship reveals about popular taste. That no doubt explains why no one voices the real charge that should be levelled at the super-rich who should be in the dot, not for spending too much, but for the waste and crass vulgarity of their spending.

Given its Brahmins and Dalits, India has always been a land of contrasts. It has also always epitomised the concentration of wealth. But no one salivated earlier over how rich the rich were, how they acquired their money or how they spent it. Mr Mukesh Ambani's 4,00,000 sq ft mansion is a talking point because it's news in the West and because the public and private domains are no longer separate.

Their overlapping not only exposes the rich to scrutiny but also distracts attention from the Government's neglected responsibilities. India lags behind many sub-Saharan countries in almost all the indices of modernity not because of the Ambanis, Mittals, Mallyas and Modis, but because our politicians are on the make and our civil servants are on the take. It's their job to create systems that enable people to raise their standard of living; it's not the job of those who have either escaped the rigours of the system or learnt how to manipulate it to their advantage.

The spotlight is on the rich also because political democracy creates its own fantasies. Universal suffrage fosters the illusion of participative decision-making. The notion of equality before the law is taken seriously. Tub-thumping politicians whip up populist sentiment to pander to the gallery and distract attention from their own misdemeanours and extravagances — marble monuments and statues, for instance. With the media forever on the lookout for titillating titbits, it's news when Mr Ambani buys a `642-crore luxury jet for his wife's birthday.

The information revolution places a premium on immediacy. The past is another country. Those who gloat over the number of Indians in the Forbes list of billionaires forget that time when India occupied the Number One global slot. Few asked how His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar, reckoned the world's richest man, had accumulated his wealth or questioned how he spent it. 

Something called social consciousness and responsibility provides the phoney justification for inquisitiveness. The logic is that extremes of wealth and riches are intolerable and that the rich owe a debt to the poor. Conspicuous consumption is condemned for the same apparent reason. But whatever lofty moral arguments might be invoked, the underlying reason for condemning lavish spending is fear: The rich must for their own sake take care not to provoke the envy and enmity of the poor who are always the majority. The French and Russian Revolutions are history's warnings against unbridled and careless extravagance.

These are Western notions and, significantly, much of the knowledge about even our own rich that excites India's media comes from the West. A society in which the caste system is firmly entrenched, does not recoil in horror when an import ban is temporarily suspended to benefit one polyester tycoon. But the Western media thought the manipulation outrageous and reported it. Western society has evolved notions of social consciousness and responsibility. Western Governments have achieved an egalitarian ethic and devised a social welfare net. In the 1950s, the Western media went to town on what it considered immoral spending like the jewel-studded 18-carat gold faucets on Sir Bernard Docker's 860-ton yacht. Now, the stories are about similarly ostentatious Indians and India's media picks them up.


That is how Indians know that the most expensive home in Britain is the £117 million Kensington townhouse, the Palace of Versailles built by France's King Louis XIV, that Mr Lakshmi Mittal bought for his son. He had also spent lavishly on his daughter's five-day wedding; to be precise, £34 million. Another tycoon, Mr Bhupendra Kumar Modi, paid nearly £10 million for one of Singapore's most expensive penthouse flats in Marina Bay. Mr Vijay Mallya, who spent £1.1 million last year on buying five relics of Mahatma Gandhi, reputedly has 26 residences around the world and is planning a new home in Bangalore that will soar to 30 storeys against Mr Ambani's 27.

Such details tell us a great deal about the quality of India's wealthy. Not for them the example of the 38 US billionaires who pledged at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charity through a campaign started by Mr Warren Buffett and Mr Bill Gates. Not for them the candour of the oil investor, Mr T Boone Picken, who famously said, "I like making money more, but giving it away is a close second."

Wealth may not generate wit or wisdom in India but that doesn't mean the wealthy can be blamed for Mumbai's slums or our shameful public services. The most we can accuse them of is not investing enough in schools, vocational training, hospitals and recreational facilities. Instead, many prefer to store their wealth abroad. Some store it away in concealed accounts. Mr Ratan Tata prefers to acquire automobile and steel corporations in Britain, South Africa and Singapore, and has reportedly donated $50 million to Harvard.

The solution does not lie in redistributing the wealth already created, but in encouraging others to generate more while the Government also spends more on amenities like potable water, sanitation, housing and hygiene, and effective free and compulsory primary education throughout the country. India's self-image is that of a superpower, but a country does not become one only because a few people are extremely rich. It's equally facile to argue that India isn't a superpower because 800 million Indians survive on around `70 a day. The British working class lived in abysmal squalor when Britannia ruled the waves.

The solution lies in unleashing the collective creativity of the Indian people. Deng Xiaoping's remedy was to "let some people get rich first and then when they get rich, they will move the whole society and the rest will follow." It became China's slogan. Perhaps it will work in India too but if it does, it will also mean garish glitter down the line. Taking the totality of our Indian society — the Ambanis, Mittals, the Mallyas and the Modis — they are only more of the same. 








While the two Karnataka High Court judges who heard on October 18 the plea of the 11 State legislators, disqualified by the Speaker under the anti-defection laws, differed on upholding the disqualification, they were unanimous in endorsing the Speaker on three significant grounds. One, the Speaker demonstrated no prejudice in passing the disqualification order; two, he had followed the principles of natural justice in arriving at the decision; and three, he had committed no procedural lapses in reaching his conclusion. These observations have effectively demolished the claims of dissident legislators that the Speaker was biased and had failed to comply with accepted procedures in ordering their disqualification. 


What now remains to be settled is whether the conduct of these BJP legislators — dashing off a letter to the Governor withdrawing support to Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and openly hobnobbing with the opposition Congress and the JD(U) for several days — was sufficient reason for the Speaker to disqualify them under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. Since one of the two judges, Chief Justice JS Khehar, upheld the disqualification and Justice N Kumar did not concur with the opinion, a third judge is now engaged in deciding the matter. But regardless of the outcome, the fact remains that the majority opinion has upheld the Speaker's conduct in processing the case. 

Dismissing charges of prejudice levelled by the disqualified legislators against the Speaker, who gave them 'just' three days to respond to a show cause notice, Chief Justice Khehar (supported by Justice Kumar) pointed out that "although three days time was afforded to the petitioners to respond to the show cause notice, the petitioners filed detailed and exhaustive replies dealing not only with the factual aspect of the matter, but also of the nuances of the law involved in the controversy". We can safely draw the inference that while the complainants quibbled over lack of adequate time to submit their defence, their replies, including "nuances" of the law that they quoted, did not show any suffering on this count.

It is clear from the court's observations that the disqualified legislators worsened their case by not even disputing the findings of the Speaker — for example, they met the Governor and gave him a letter withdrawing support to the Chief Minister — that were cited in the show cause notice and proved pivotal to their disqualification. The High Court said, "The factual position depicted in the (Speaker's) order, has not been disputed by the petitioners (disqualified 11 legislators)… even though the order is the precise order which has been assailed by the petitioners through the instant writ petitions." The interesting thing is that the legislators not only did not dispute the factual position before the court, but they even failed to challenge it in their replies to the Speaker, something that the judges remarked upon while dismissing the allegation of prejudice by the Speaker. The judges noted, "The factual position depicted in the disqualification petition filed was not disputed by the petitioners in their replies to the show cause notice issued to them by the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly."

The judges were equally dismissive of the disqualified MLAs' contention that the Speaker had flouted the principles of natural justice in punishing them because he had acted in haste and not given them more time to prepare their defence. Moreover, they claimed the Speaker had relied on material in his disqualification order that were not there in the show cause notice issued to them. While accepting that just three days had been given to respond, the Chief Justice, after giving "thoughtful consideration" to the issue, stated, "Since the procedure required to be followed (by the Speaker) under the rules of natural justice was admittedly followed, should the proceedings conducted by the Speaker… be set aside? I am of the view that the answer… has to be in the negative, because the procedure adopted has not resulted in any prejudice to the petitioners". 

In a helpful gesture, the Chief Justice ventured to elaborate on 'natural justice', saying it was a "flexible" concept. "The principles of natural justice cannot be placed in straitjacket. There are flexible rules," and they needed to be applied on a case to case basis. 

As for the so-called additional material that the Speaker had relied on in his order but which were missing in the show cause letters, the court observed that the additional stuff was merely supplementary in nature comprising press clippings etc, and so had no great bearing on the final order. The court pointed out since the additional material supplemented the main factual position that had remained uncontested, the aggrieved parties had no cause to complain.

With the Speaker showing no mala fide intent and also meeting the rules of natural justice — even if in letter alone, allegations against the Speaker of procedural lapses do not stand scrutiny. The court observed that he had given the legislators time to respond and to even appear in person to clarify their position, before disqualifying them. The Chief Justice also set aside the contention that the Defection Rules had been violated by the Speaker. Quoting an earlier Supreme Court ruling, the Chief Justice stated, "Since Rules 6 and 7 of the Defection Rules have been held by the apex court to be directory in nature, it would not be possible for me, merely on account of the violations of the procedures envisaged under the aforesaid Rules, to set aside the (Speaker's) order… unless the violation is shown to have resulted in prejudice to the petitioners".

There have been cases in the past where the conduct of the legislators, who had neither quit their party nor joined another but had publicly rebelled as in the current case, was found fit for disqualification under the 10th Schedule. The Rajendra Singh Rana and others versus Swami Prasad Maurya and other in Uttar Pradesh, is a celebrated case in point. But the issue there had to contend with another factor — that of a split, which the BSP claimed had happened consequent to the letters it had dispatched to the Governor. After a long-winding legal battle that went right up, the Supreme Court in early 2007 pronounced the legislators disqualified under the anti-defection laws because the split could not be legally proved. But by then the political situation had completely changed and the verdict held only academic value. It remains to be seen whether it will follow the Uttar Pradesh trajectory or reach an early conclusion.








The Lokpal Bill has popped up once again in the public domain with the Government declaring its intention to introduce it during the winter session of Parliament. It is the 10th time the Bill will go to Parliament and one can only hope that it is passed this time around. With corruption featuring big time on the national radar after the Commonwealth Games, it is high time the Lokpal came into existence. But going by previous experience, unless there is sufficient political will, the Bill will fall through once again. 

The Lokpal Bill was first recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai in 1966. He suggested a two-tier system with a Lokpal heading a team of Lokayuktas at the State level who are independent of each other. 

The initial response to the Bill was encouraging and the Lok Sabha first passed it in 1969. But the Bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha because elections were called. Several attempts have been made by various Governments in the years 1971, 1975, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008 to pass it. But just as in the case of the women's reservation Bill, it has not seen the light of day. Except in 1985 when it was withdrawn the Lok Sabha was dissolved at all other times before the Bill could be passed. 

Seventeen States have constituted Lokayuktas. Odisha has been the first to institute a Lokayukta in 1971 and abolished it in 1993. Varying degrees of power are vested in the institution. While some include Chief Ministers under the purview of the Lokayukta, others do not even include legislators. Most of these States have their own story to tell. 

Interestingly, it is nobody's case that the appointment of Lokayuktas in various States has resulted in reduction of corruption. Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde had threatened to resign only because he was powerless to deal with the influential Reddy brothers of Bellary who control the mines in the district. It took the intervention of BJP leader LK Advani to persuade him to retract. Even in the case of Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta Justice Narendra Kishore Mehrotra, the Supreme Court had to step in to stop Chief Minister Mayawati from installing large statues. Politics today is ruled by money power and muscle power. 

It is indeed welcome news that the Lokpal Bill may be introduced in the winter session. The main bone of contention of whether or not the Prime Minister should be included within the purview of probes by the Lokpal has now been resolved. Both Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Manmohan Singh have supported authorising him to probe allegations against the Prime Minister and his office. The proposed Bill also has his ministerial colleagues and Members of Parliament under its purview. The Lokpal has no jurisdiction over complaints against the President of India, Vice-President, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha and Supreme Court and High Court judges. The posts of Attorney General, Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners as well as chairman and members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission also do not come under the purview of any probe by the Lokpal.

The Lokpal Bill proposes a three-judge body headed by a sitting or retired Chief Justice of India selected by a collegium headed by the Vice-President and including the Prime Minister. Critics feel that this highly political body may not be effective as no one can expect the collegium to go against politicians. 

Why do we need a Lokpal? With increasing instance of corruption in high places and misuse of pubic money, the Lokpal is being seen as a vital step to put an end to this scourge. Following the 2G spectrum scam and the Commonwealth Games scandal, it has become imperative on the part of the Government to put up a show of transparency with the public getting disenchanted with corrupt leaders. 

There is increasing concern among eminent citizens about the scale of corruption. Significantly, a group of eminent persons including former Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar, Justice Hegde and former Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh had written to the Prime Minister urging him to pass the Bill. All of them had headed anti-corruption agencies and have first-hand experience of the loopholes of the law. 

Moreover, there is a need to set up independent institutions like the Lokpal with the requisite powers to investigate and prosecute politicians and corrupt bureaucrats. At present, the Central Vigilance Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation and other bodies do not have that kind of powers. They have also lost credibility in the public eye. Existing institutions like the CVC are meant for officials only while the CBI is seen as a handmaiden of the ruling Government. 

Lastly, even a common citizen would have access to the Lokpal. At a time when it is difficult to have access to even a Member of Legislative Assembly or a Member of Parliament, this will provide a boost to the common man's fight for justice. It may also prevent delayed justice as the Lokpal must decide a case within a given time frame. The citizen does not have to spend money by way of a high legal fee. 

However, unless all political parties come together on the Lokpal Bill, it is not likely to be passed in Parliament. It is not enough just to make accusations of corruption against the ruling party, one must also be seriously concerned about possible solutions. MPs should be as serious about passing this Bill as they were when they voted to give themselves a raise.

Also, the office of the Lokpal, when it is set up, should be made powerful enough to deal with corruption in high places. The Right to Information Act and its use by citizens is a shining example of how a common man can use this tool to get justice for himself. If it can work, why not the Lokpal Bill?








The Assembly election campaign in Bihar has been marked by sustained attempts by parties such as the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Janshakti Party to tar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is also a socialist stalwart, with the communal brush. UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav have predictably followed this tack in their speeches. Mr Kumar's party, the Janata Dal (United)'s alliance with the BJP is cited by these leaders, whose parties have institutionalised minorityism in terms of nurturing Muslim and caste-based vote banks, as the reason why the Chief Minister is communal. Mr Kumar has brushed the charge aside. The accusation is clearly absurd as he has an unblemished record of maintaining communal harmony. 

Moreover, the BJP-led NDA Government's tenures at the centre, briefly in 1996, and from March 1998 to May 2004 were comparatively incident-free. Ms Gandhi has been harping on the Godhra carnage in BJP-ruled Gujarat in early 2002 as proof of Mr Kumar's communal leanings. It betrays her imperfect understanding of events or perhaps a deliberately selective approach as the riots, which claimed more Muslim casualties than Hindu but finally served to rend the social fabric, was triggered by a premeditated assault on Hindu pilgrims, returning from Ayodhya. On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati Express was forcibly stopped at Godhra by a violent Muslim mob, and 59 pilgrims burnt to death. This prompted a severe reprisal by Hindus. But, incredibly, in most references to the Godhra riots by a section of the intelligentsia or politicians, the initial attack on Hindus is glossed over! 

Communal violence, pogroms and genocide are inhuman acts of carnage that need to be condemned unequivocally. India's pre- and post- partition history has been marred by violent conflicts, involving mainly Hindus and Muslims, but, after Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, an organised massacre of thousands of hapless Sikhs by Congress leaders and workers swept the capital. The assassination was in retaliation for Operation Blue Star, the Army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar that harboured militants, from June 3-6, 1984. The notable perpetrators of the massacre, some Congress leaders, are yet to be brought to book. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as Prime Minister after her killing, went so far as to justify the genocide against Sikhs with words that are indelibly engraved in the annals of infamy: "When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes." Even the Congress's act of anointing a Sikh, Mr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister twice, and visits by Gandhi family scions to the Golden Temple in a bid to bridge the rift has failed to reconcile many members of this community to that bloody autumn. The Congress needs to examine its own communal track record before pointing fingers.

Subsequent communal conflagrations that need to be listed here are the backlash to the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, in India as well as Islamic countries and even distant Britain. In Dhaka, the ancient Dhakeshwari shaktipeeth was vandalised. The media reported over a hundred shrines, even of Jains and Sikhs, being damaged in Pakistan while in Britain, a temple was razed. Gurdwaras and Hindu shrines were attacked. The Mumbai blasts in March 1993, that killed 317 persons, were blamed on Muslim goons. About a decade later, the burning alive of pilgrims by fanatics sparked the Godhra conflagration.

And, recently, depredations committed before Durga Puja by illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, settled in Deganga block of North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, right under the nose of the police and administration, is a frightening reminder of the great Calcutta killings of August 16-19, 1946, triggered by the Muslim League's strike in protest against the Congress's rejection of the League's plan to divide the Indian subcontinent into a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The Calcutta riots led to the ghastly Noakhali massacre of October 1946, when Muslim bigots went berserk, and mayhem in Bihar, United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh), Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. The Hindu-Muslim schism being out in the open, partition became inevitable. However, while Pakistan became an Islamic state, India adopted secularism.

In Deganga, the homes, shops and shrines of Hindus were targeted. Neither the ruling CPI(M)-led communists, nor Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, nor the Congress publicly condemned this assault. Their silence, as much as that of the otherwise shrill secular lobby, intimates the direction in which the State's politics is headed. This silence is all the more significant in view of the constant diatribe against communalism, equated with those advocating nationalist politics.







A philosopher once said that amassing of unlimited wealth is not the summum bonum of an individual's life. A politician retorted that the life of an individual is meaningless, if he is not engaged in the pursuit of prosperity. The first statement would commonly be described as utopian and idealistic, while the second one would be deemed quintessentially realistic. Indian politicians are practitioners of such a flawed realism. This, perhaps, is the reason why Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily observed that electoral contests today are an expensive affair and this has given rise to corruption in public life. What he tried to imply is that politicians, by means fair or foul, must collect funds.

However, the rising costs of electoral politics is nothing but a poor alibi for the phenomenal growth in the personal wealth of politicians. They adopt every strategy to win an election because a victory can open up unlimited opportunities to maximise their personal resources. Why else has the Election Commission of India appointed expenditure observers for the six-phase elections to the Bihar State Legislature? Why has the Commission decided to appoint an observer for every Bihar State Assembly constituency and one micro-observer, preferably from the Income Tax Department? Why would surprise checks be conducted onboard helicopters used by candidates if these are not used to ferry cash from undisclosed sources? Why has every effort to impose curbs on poll-related expenses been an utter failure? Those who framed laws for the cleansing of the electoral process have been the first to violate them. 

Elected representatives of the people are continuously engaged in accumulation of personal wealth by exercising their immense power of patronage. Some Members of Parliament being caught on camera accepting cash to ask questions in the Lok Sabha is not too distant a memory. And, such practices are prevalent in State Assemblies as well. It is common knowledge that some MPs and MLAs protect and promote businessmen and they return the favour in cash or in kind. 

In fact, the lawmakers do not hesitate to auction themselves to the highest bidder, abandoning their own party on whose ticket they have been elected. To arrest this phenomenon, the Anti-Defection Law was added to the 10th Schedule of the Indian Constitution in 1985, but our lawmakers refuse to be reined in by concerns of constitutionality where moneymaking is involved. Some MPs even opposed the need for enacting a law to check the practice of 'floor crossing' on the plea that it would crush the right to dissent and give unlimited power to party bosses. 

The phenomenon of politics for personal profit is not confined only to individual MPs and MLAs, but has spread its tentacles over political parties which have begun operating on the principle of promoting dynasties. Mrs Indira Gandhi was the founder of this system and she could exercise unlimited control over the tallest of her party leaders because she was the sole repository of huge funds collected by the Congress-in-Government. Significantly, this model of a single dynasty controlling the party could work only if the leader had the sole power to distribute funds to her loyal MPs and MLAs. Many even argue that the Congressmen are not known for their virtues of loyalty and ideological commitment.

Strangely, this system has inspired every leader of regional political formations. Mr M Karunanidhi of the DMK, Mr Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mr Farooq Abdullah and Mr Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, respectively, of the National Conference and People's Democratic Party are little Napoleons of their regional empires. Is democracy safe in the hands of this oligarchy? Even the election of party presidents is a farce as the winner is decided beforehand. There is little chance of a free and fair election under the leadership of those who conduct fake polls within their own parties. In the absence of inner-party democracy, politicians prosper under the benign patronage of a dynasty and loyalty to him provides them complete immunity. 







By approving the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Bill, 2010, the Union cabinet has made a positive step towards resolving a long vexed issue. The Enemy Property Act, 1968, was enacted in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pak war to empower the government to take over properties that belonged to those who had migrated to Pakistan. A similar law was enacted in Pakistan with respect to properties belonging to those who migrated to India. Over the last 50 years, the law continued to stand in the way of bona fide Indian citizens seeking to inherit properties that belonged to their ancestors. 


The most famous case was that of the Raja of Mehmoodabad. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the Raja's favour and instructed the government to divest his properties worth hundreds of crores of rupees to his son, the lawful heir and an Indian citizen. However, unlike the scion of the Mehmoodabad royal family, there are hundreds of people who are still fighting legal cases in courts across the country to claim their ancestral properties. 

It is in this context that the proposed amendment Bill is significant. Its passage in Parliament would end years of indecision and acrimony surrounding so-called enemy properties and help people move on from the 
legacy of Partition. It is patently absurd to deny citizens of this country inheritance rights over their ancestral properties just because their ancestors had migrated to Pakistan. Thousands of people on both sides were displaced during Partition. It is high time that painful chapter is closed permanently. 

The proposed law is balanced in its approach as it seeks to uphold judicial rulings on title suits filed before July 2 this year, but bars any future litigation on the matter the latter provision being needed to guard against dubious claimants. Having been vested in a government-appointed custodian since 1968, enemy properties have become a means of furthering patronage and thereby a hot-button political issue. Earlier in July, the government had passed an ordinance to perpetuate its custodianship over enemy properties. However, ruling by fiat not only sets a bad precedent but also does not provide a permanent solution to the issue. Instead of indulging in narrow politics, all political parties should work to ensure the passage of the Bill and bring the matter to a close.







The Law Commission of India goes back a long way and has a very distinguished history. The first Law Commission, set up in 1834 under none other than Thomas Macaulay, recommended among others things codification of the Indian Penal Code. But in independent India the Law Commission hasn't had such a great time. This might change if the latest proposal by the law ministry is implemented. The ministry has recommended providing greater autonomy to the panel by giving it statutory status. A Bill is likely to be moved in Parliament soon. This would go some way in making the panel, which currently gets reconstituted every three years, more effective. Like the law panels of England and Canada, the Indian Law Commission will have greater independence and continuity. 

However, statutory powers won't change things completely by themselves. The Law Commission will still submit reports which will be tabled in Parliament. It will then be up to the government to accept the panel's advice and act on it. The law panel, first set up in 1955 and headed by eminent jurists, has made several good recommendations in the 234 reports it has submitted so far. But unfortunately these have been ignored in many instances. For example, the Law Commission had in 2000 recommended a provision recognising and punishing child abuse with a longer prison term. But there was no movement until the high-profile case involving former Haryana inspector-general of police S P S Rathore. The terms of reference of the current Law Commission, the 19th in independent India, include review and repeal of obsolete laws. We can only hope more teeth to the panel will make the government heed its recommendations and speed up the process of reform of law.










In 1998, then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asserted that India and the United States were "natural allies in the quest for a better future for the world in the 21st century". Twelve years later, despite an array of promising advances over the past decade, the relationship between Washington andNew Delhi is falling short of its full potential. President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to India provides an opportunity to jumpstart progress toward defining a true US-India strategic partnership, one based on both principles and pragmatism that contributes to global security and prosperity. 


To help achieve this vision, the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, brought together a non-partisan group of experts over eight months to build an action agenda for the future of the American partnership with India. Co-chaired by former US deputy secretary of stateRichard Armitage and former undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns, the effort began with the understanding that India's emergence as a new major global power will have profound implications for America's global interests. It is time to put US-India relations on a solid foundation, and the study group developed a blueprint to guide the two governments towards closer cooperation in the years ahead. 

As the world's oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India have long been tantalised by the prospect of closer ties rooted in common interests and common values. The two countries share a growing number of interests: ensuring a stable Asian and global balance of power, strengthening the global trading system, protecting the global commons, countering terrorism, bolstering the international non-proliferation regime, and supporting democracy and human rights. 

These are not simply the narrowly construed interests of two realpolitik regimes, but of democratic countries whose world views are based on norms that emphasise freedom, individual initiative and a stable, rules-based international system. 

Yet these shared norms and interests will come under challenge. The growing power of China poses a risk to the Asian security balance and the successful political and economic model the United States and India have cultivated. Neither country seeks to contain China, but the probability that China's rise will be a peaceful one increases if it ascends in a region where the great democratic powers are also strong. A vigorous US-India strategic partnership in Asia will make it easier for both countries, and all the countries of the region, to have productive and consensual relations with Beijing and help guarantee the region's continued peace and prosperity. 

Expanding this partnership will require the United States to adopt new policies that treat India as a great power befitting its political strength and extraordinary economic development. The United States should commit, publicly and explicitly, to work with India in support of its permanent membership in an enlarged UN Security Council. It should seek a broad expansion of bilateral trade and investment, beginning with the launch of serious negotiations towards a long-delayed Bilateral Investment Treaty. The US should greatly expand the security relationship, boost defence trade and support Indian membership in key export control organisations, which would constitute a step towards further integrating India into global non-proliferation efforts. And Washington should liberalise its export controls, including by removing Indian Space Research Organisation subsidiaries from the so-called "Entity List". 

Building the strategic partnership is not contingent solely on American action; India will need to make a number of commitments and policy changes of its own. Commensurate with US action, India should rapidly implement the Civil Nuclear Agreement, a cornerstone of the new partnership that is now languishing because of differences over liability issues. It should raise its caps on foreign investment, enhance its rules for protecting patents and other intellectual property and reduce barriers to defence and other forms of trade, all of which would allow a major expansion in the bilateral economic relationship. 


New Delhi should further harmonise its export control lists with those of multilateral regimes and seek closer cooperation with the US and like-minded partners in international organisations, including the United Nations. India's upcoming two-year non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council offers an important opportunity for the United States and India to work together. 

Only 15 years ago, collaboration in many of these areas would have been unthinkable. Since then, relations between the United States and India have grown by leaps and bounds, but this progress is not self-sustaining. It requires bold leadership to expand and deepen the US-India partnership in a spirit commensurate with its vital importance. President Obama's visit provides a unique opportunity to revitalise US-India ties and give concrete meaning to the term "natural allies". Now is a critical time in this partnership, a moment to transform our past bilateral accomplishments into regional and global successes and a historic opportunity to put a vision into action. Both countries should seize it. 

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security. 



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA




Vice chancellor of Mumbai University between 2000 and 2004 , Bhalchandra Mungekar , talks to Jyoti Punwani about the withdrawal of Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey from the BA syllabus by the current VC, after an ultimatum by the Shiv Sena's youth wing: 

What were the options before the VC? 

The university is an autonomous body, supposed to function strictly according to the Mumbai University Act, 1994. No external power, including the government which finances it, can dictate terms and make it function against the spirit of the Act. In this case, the spirit of autonomy has been violated. In a highly multicultural society like ours, it's quite possible that a particular event or artistic expression can injure the feelings of a group. If every such group feels aggrieved and dictates terms for the overall governance of society, administration will be impossible. The aggrieved party has legitimate ways of expressing dissent, in a parliamentary way. 

Currently, all academic bodies of the university are dissolved, and elections are to be held to them. Hence the VC is entitled to use his emergency powers. But these are to be used only in case of a crisis of administration. I don't think such a crisis was in place here. I too used these powers, but on no occasion did i do so out of fear or favour. To be fair to the VC, he called a meeting of the dissolved Board of Studies (that had recommended the book) before he took his decision. Those present unanimously condemned the book. This is a reflection of the academic integrity and honesty, not to mention the scholarship of the members present! 

The immediate option for him would have been to report the matter to the chancellor/governor, who is the ultimate authority of the university. Even the governor has to guide the university according to the Mumbai University Act. 

Would the VC have got the support of the government had he taken a stand against the ultimatum? 

That's irrelevant. Academic morality and safeguarding the autonomy of the university are much more important than whether or not the VC can get the protection of the government. The standing of an authority like the VC comes from his academic integrity, even more than from his scholarship. 

The CM seems to have backed the VC's decision, by talking about the book's language. Does the literary merit of a text have no value? 

Literary merit cannot be the main criterion for selection of a book as a text, let alone the only criterion. I am a defender of intellectual freedom and shall remain so to the last decimal point. But in this case, i've gone through some of the so-called objectionable passages and i'm fully convinced, even giving the benefit of the doubt to the book being a piece of fiction, that some sentences are certainly objectionable. Of course, it would always be desirable to read the entire book rather than a few passages. There is a difference between dissenting with the political and social philosophy of an individual or organisation, and abusing the individual by name. Though it is a character in a novel who does so, it's a reflection of the author's inclination. However, this is no justification for giving an ultimatum for withdrawal of the book. 

How then would you teach Dalit literature, say, Namdeo Dhasal's poetry? Or even Tukaram's abhangs? 

Using abusive language as a means of communicating something is distinct from abusing an individual, dead or alive, by name, as an expression of condemnation or denigration. 






Through no particular fault of the airline I was travelling by, I was having a bad flight. It's not that my seat was particularly small or cramped; it just felt that way because the passenger seated next to me was very large and tended to overflow from his seating space into mine. Also, he seemed to want to go to the loo a lot, and each time he did so I, occupying the aisle seat, would have to unbuckle my seat belt, get up, and let him out, sit down, wait for him to return, get up again, let him in, etc. And, of course, as always happens to me, there was a constantly shrieking child in the row just behind me. I don't know how or why it happens. But every time i travel by air, one of my neighbouring co-passengers is inevitably a high-decibel infant. I think it's become standard equipment for airlines, like life jackets and airsickness bags. The moment i book an air ticket some complex computer program somewhere in the depths of cyberspace automatically kicks in and indents for 1 Nos Shrieking Child to be put on the same flight as me.


Anyway, on that particular flight, I was a tantrum waiting to happen. And when lunch was served, I happened. They'd run out of lunch options, and all that was on offer was pulao and veg curry, not my favourite meal. So I tantrumed. Refused to eat. Demanded the complaint book. I was given a printed customer comment form, asking for my comments on the service. In large block letters I wrote that the service was horrible and that I'd NEVER FLY that airline again.


By the time of my return trip, I'd forgotten the incident. So it was with a sense of pleasant surprise that I discovered at the check-in counter that I'd been upgraded to business class. The cabin crew all seemed to know my name and treated me like a VIP, which I certainly am not. They even seemed to have offloaded the shrieking infant for once. Being dumb, it took me a while to realise that the special treatment was thanks to my complaint: someone, somewhere had read it, registered it, and instructed that amends should be made.


The point is not that I was treated like a big shot, which I'm not. The point is that, for the first time, consumer complaints are being listened to in our country. A commentator on the CWG wrote about the Old India and the New India. The Old India was the India of the licence raj sarkar and the monopolism that it fostered. The New India is the India of free market competitiveness. In the Old India the consumer had to accept whatever product or service was available, be it an airline or an automobile. There were few, if any, choices. You made do with what you got. You liked it or you lumped it. Mainly you lumped it. And there was no point in complaining because no one was interested in listening to your complaint. You don't like this particular airline, this make of car? Fine. Don't use it. But let's see what you'll use instead. Because face it you've got no choice.


In the New India, consumers do have choices: in the airlines they fly, the vehicles they buy. And consumers' complaints are being heard. For no reason other than that of competition. The New India of competitiveness and choice is listening. But the Old India of our netas and our babus remains as stone deaf as ever. For, despite regular elections which replace one government with another, our sarkar remains the biggest, most unbreakable, and deafest of monopolies. Which is one of the main reasons why India, Old India, the India supposedly administered by the sarkar, remains mired in poverty, ignorance and squalor. The half-hearted (quarter-hearted?) Right to Information Act has failed to cure sarkari deafness. Would a Right to Complain Act help?


I doubt it. I just heard the unmistakable sound of a hearing aid being switched off.







All masters come upon a great piece of music in the silence of their souls long before they put it down as composed work, whether it is the song of a raga or symphony. 

Hence they crave to be in deep silence for long stretches of time. Mian Tansen once went up to Akbar at his durbar or court one day and got a firman (order) that for 500 miles around his home there would be no noise and if need be, passersby would take another route, so he would be undisturbed. 

In the West, the art of the composer and the performer came to be separated for this reason, with composers often living away in the hills to experience silence. Hindustani musicians, however, were under great pressure as they were both master-composers and performers at the same time. 

All beautiful music exists as anhada or unheard in eternity. Sometimes, the abstract sound of eternity, a continuous hush running through all of Creation, is given a name like Aum. 

Another name for Aum is the musical note, `Sa'. The tanpura's simple drone connects you to the eternal sound of the Sa. When very finely tuned, the Sa, symbolising Shiva exudes a magic that has a spiritual resonance is referred to as a 'celestial note', but identified as the third note, or Ga, of the octave. 'Ga' is the swayambhu gandhar or self-manifested third note, produced on its own. Like the cosmic third eye of intuitive knowledge, its ambience awakens great vistas of awareness of music, and is to be heard to be believed. 

Interestingly, musicologists study and table the frequencies of the swayambhu in reverse. Despite being heard externally, it is an internal swara or note. Inadvertently, the swayambhu demarcates the natural range of the Sa as being Sa, Re and Ga, the first three notes, which when repeated with an interval, create another four notes, or six wavelengths or relationships of the Sa altogether. 

The tanpura is never tuned to the 'internal' Sa-Ga harmony, but on the other hand to the more earthly Sa-Pa or Sa-Ma harmony known worldwide as the fourth and fifth harmonies which when heard, activates all the microtones of its highly charged tonic field, stirring the musician to great heights of singing. That is why the Sa-Ga harmony, which is also known as the 'gandhar gram' or township or universe of the Ga, led ancient texts and seers to say that the 'township' of the 'Ga' had been 'lost to the heavens' 'lop ho gaya'. Its silent zone, a celestial musical planet, does not activate internal relationships with other notes of the note-spectrum. But its silence is far from static. 

For the listener, it has a lot of meaning. The journey of a piece of music begins after he has heard it. The music then acquires an emotional life of its own, growing in his silences as a haunting remembrance. Each time he comes back to it, he hears more of the silences that exist in the same sound, and these are what hold his heart forever. That's what makes music immortal its journey from the composer, to the heart of the listener. 

Describing these silent realms which help the musician come upon new composition, 
Pandit Amarnath says in the raga Devaranjani "Attracts the twittering/ Of the symbol-less bird/ As i awaken,/ To become aware of its First Call". For it is the bird that has always rent the air, being the metaphor of silence.







The most important accomplishment of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, from the perspective of New Delhi, was to bring an end to India's isolation from the nuclear mainstream. But one of the most important consequences of that diplomatic success, and one little understood by the broader public, was to put an end to dual-use technological sanctions. Because of India's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, India was denied access to technologies that had both civilian and military applications in dozens of sectors ranging from space rockets to ship sensors, from nuclear power to pharmaceuticals. President George W. Bush was able to peel back the first layer of sanctions, those at the international level. He also removed some of the sanctions that existed at the US level. However, it will be up to President Barack Obama to end the remaining barriers that remain at the national level.


At a time when India's economic competitiveness is increasingly dependent on its ability to master high-end technology, accessing dual-use technologies is essential. When Tata Steel bought Corus Steel, it automatically became the owner of sensitive steel capabilities. While Tata Steel could manufacture such steel, under dual-use sanctions it couldn't sell or make it in India. Troubling for pre-nuclear deal India was that not only were almost all cutting-edge industrial and technology sectors running afoul of sanctions, the number of technologies being placed under sanctions was increasing. India, in effect, was being increasingly forced to use only obsolete technologies in almost every conceivable economic sector. Certain sunrise sectors like defence, space and precision engineering would simply never exist in India except in relatively primitive forms. Civilian nuclear trade, of course, was almost impossible for India.


While such technology sanctions were demeaning to India, they were in the long term a real and tangible threat to the economic prosperity of the country. The so-called Indo-US nuclear deal can rightly be called the Indo-US "high technology" deal, so important was the ending of sanctions to the agreement. The expectation is that the Obama visit to India will mark the end of such sanctions, including sanctions levied against specific government agencies like the Indian Space Research Organisation. The US will benefit too: advanced technology is exactly the sort of export that the US excels in. It'll also make technological cooperation, especially in the form of merging the two countries' innovation cycles, between India and the US much easier. "Export controls" and "dual use" are the sort of terminology that puts many to sleep. But they will lie at the heart of the US president's coming visit to India and be an indication of how much further the two countries trust each other.







Satyam Computer Services Limited (now Mahindra Satyam) founder B. Ramalinga Raju is down, but definitely not out. Even after spending a couple of months under the benevolent gaze of jail staffers, his spirits are high enough to indulge in some very creative verbal jugglery.


The former infotech entrepreneur told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that he only "cooked the books" of the company but never "siphoned" off money. Now, this spin left us completely dumbstruck for a moment. Once we regained our composure, we ran around looking for our trusty old dictionary to find out the difference between "cooking the books" and "siphoning" off hard cash. We settled down only after it reassured us that Raju might have specialised in creative accounting but when it came to wordplay, he is hardly an ace. The idiom, as we all knew, means "to record false information in the accounts of an organisation, especially in order to steal money". So without the ambition of doing the second, the first is more or less redundant.


So was Raju trying to say that he fudged the accounts to keep the shareholders happy and did not benefit from it? Er, and what about the Brothers Raju? Only in January this year, an adjudicating authority in New Delhi directed them to give up of 287 properties worth R170 crore and 34 lakh shares of the company with a market value of R36 crore. Did Raju have a magic wand considering he also invested huge amounts in his son's company Maytas Infra?


Or maybe, just maybe he wants us to believe in the innate goodness of human beings: he did the window dressing of the accounts for the greater common good: let people earn even though I may get caught in time. It is a pity that we are such cynics!




.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





It's been called the 'Jatification' of Indian sport. There were 50 Jats in the Indian contingent at the Commonwealth Games and they won 27 of  India's 101 medals, or more than a fourth. If you count the four Jats in the hockey team, then actually 31 of the 50 players won medals. While Jat men have been traditional powerhouses in sports like wrestling, it's the emergence of the Jat woman, exemplified by discus thrower Krishna Poonia, who won India's first track and field gold in 52 years and Mandeep Kaur and Manjeet Kaur who won the 4x400m relay, which suggests a real breakthrough moment.


Jat-dominated Haryana, after all, is still a state with one of the worst sex ratios in the country. The state which had only 805 females per 1,000 males in 2001 showed some improvement while notching up a tally of 850 females per 1,000 males in 2009. Gurgaon and Faridabad, two of the most economically developed districts, recorded a striking improvement in the sex ratio in the 0-6 years category. But as the recent khap controversy has shown, the social milieu of Haryana has been resistant to change, caught between caste traditions and ersatz modernity. Is sports then an opportunity for Haryana to bury the stereotype?


Social scientists will point to a co-relation between community, environment and sporting success. The Masai tribesmen put Kenya on the world map with their natural aptitude as steeplechasers and middle distance runners. The Ethiopian tribes became renowned marathon runners. Runners of West African descent — whether from Jamaica or the United States — are born to run fast. Perhaps, we now need to consider that the muscular Jats are built to wrestle or throw the discus (not to forget cricket too, blessed by the original Jat sporting icon, Kapil Dev Nikhanj, unarguably India's finest fast bowler, and now by Virender Sehwag, the most destructive opening batsman the country has produced).


But the Jat success story in sports may have less to do with community and more to do with the emergence of a new India that is cutting through traditional hierarchies, and moving beyond the metropolitan mindset into smaller towns. Chak De and Bunty Aur Babli creator Jaideep Sahni has coined the term, 'India A, B and C' to mirror this change. Wrote Sahni, "The way I see it there is an India A, India B and India C. India A is us, we've come from pretty privileged backgrounds, we are the top one per cent in terms of resources. India B is the India of Bunty aur Babli, who sees us on cable and wants to be like that. Then, there is India C, the tribals we used to watch dancing with Indira Gandhi when we were kids."


While India C remains deprived, the Commonwealth Games success suggests that India B has well and truly arrived on the sports field. One doesn't have exact figures, but it'd be a reasonable assumption that more than 80 per cent of our medal winners come from India B: small town people with big hearts, and a driving ambition to succeed at all costs. Then, whether it's a Rahi Sarnobat, the teenage shooting sensation from Kolhapur, or Ashish Kumar, the first medal winning gymnast from Allahabad, there is little doubt that the real energy of Indian sport is coming from outside the big cities. The era of the elite clubs and gymkhanas has slowly come to an end, with tennis perhaps the sole exception. The privileged children of India A are too effete to survive in the highly competitive world of sport. By contrast, the vaulting aspirations of India B and their tough growing up years have enabled them to thrive in a similar environment. We've seen this 'democratisation' of sport already take place in cricket where the dominance of the urban, upper middle class cricketer has given way to the spectacular rise of  the small town boys, be it an M.S. Dhoni from Ranchi, a Harbhajan from Jalandhar or a Zaheer Khan from Shrirampur. It should come as no surprise that India's ascent to the number one Test spot has coincided with the emergence of the India B boys in the national team. 


In a sense, sports, with the premium it places on merit, has provided a passport to India B to somehow gatecrash into the India A party. In the first 30 years after Independence, India A zealously guarded its elite status, be it in politics, business or sport. This was the Nehruvian era of the old school tie and Oxbridge alumni societies. Some of those cosy networks still survive, with patronage distributed to friends and cronies (witness the way in which the CWG Organising Committee was populated with relatives of  key members).


And yet, there are unmistakable signs of change. The Green Revolution and the rise of the middle peasant castes broke the Brahminical domination over politics, even if it created new power elites. Economic liberalisation by removing the licence-permit raj opened a window of opportunity for first generation entrepreneurs. And now it seems that the investment in sports academies in smaller towns (we still need many more) is finally creating the basis for a sporting revolution.


Ironically, one of the few professions resistant to change has been journalism. For decades, a tiny, anglicised elite dominated the profession. How many Dalits, or for that matter Jats, have become editors and anchors? Perhaps, the remarkable growth of the regional media, print and television, offers some hope that even journalism will transform itself  and reflect the spirit of a new India.


Post-script: The Jat tally at the CWG was almost matched by the armed forces who won 25 medals, including ten golds. It is not only a tribute to the sports infrastructure provided by the forces to its personnel, but, importantly, a confirmation that the men in uniform, like sports itself, respect merit and human endeavour.


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network n The views expressed by the author are personal



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




Paan kheti [betel vine cultivation] is our lifeline…why does the government want to destroy it and force us into being labourers?" asked Niranjan, a 60-plus-year-old farmer who would lose his betel vines to the Posco steel project in Orissa. This is one of the questions that haunted us, when we, a group of US-based researchers interested in the new economy of globalised India, started looking into the Posco project. We had followed the development of several large projects in India, but earlier this year, when Posco was in the news due to the imminent expiry of the MoU between the company and Orissa, we were intrigued that even five years after the MoU had been signed, the project — widely celebrated as the single largest Foreign Direct Investment in India — had failed to make any headway at all. 


The lofty claims of the government, that the project would contribute over a tenth of the total economy of the state, besides almost wiping away the widespread unemployment in Orissa were well-known to us. So why, we wondered, would there be such a strong resistance to this project on the ground? We wanted to go beyond the standard narratives of cash flow and revenues, and look at the actual impact of the project on the residents of Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar and Sundergarh, where the steel plant, port and mines would be set up. 


In pursuing these questions, we were surprised to discover that despite the size and scope of the project (encompassing the biggest steel plant in India, a captive port, extensive iron ore mines, two townships, a rail and road network and the largest ever industrial allocation of water in Orissa), the government had never really bothered to evaluate the impact of the project on the people, their environment or on the state's economy.


While the government had made loud claims around tax revenues and increased employment—claims, which have never been substantiated — it uttered not a word as to the costs involved (social, economic and environmental), to help us compute how these compared. The environment assessments were still incomplete, the socio-economic data from the affected villages had been erroneously gathered, and all the economic claims came from one single study conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research — a study paid for and commissioned by Posco-India itself.


Our findings, published in the report, 'Iron and Steal: The Posco-India Story', describe the pivotal role played by the various institutions of the government in justifying and implementing the fundamentally flawed Posco project, many times in an undemocratic, illegal and coercive manner.


The claims of the government about benefits to the state are based on fudged numbers, sloppy calculations and flawed methodology. Coming in the wake of the divided ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) committee report on Posco, our research report adds a depressing dimension to the development policies being pursued across India in a mad rush to please global capital.


Not only is the Posco project illegal, as declared by the majority of the MoEF Posco panel, but the very justification of the project by the government is based on falsified information. Our report suggests that besides being illegal, the Posco project is fundamentally flawed from an economic standpoint. We conclude that the Posco project as it currently stands is poorly conceptualised. Its financial benefits are grossly exaggerated and its costs minimised. If carried forward in its current form, it will certainly result in the repetition of a process that is now known internationally as "growth without human development." Overall, the country stands to lose rather than gain from the Posco project.


How does one hold the government accountable for such seemingly insane 'development' projects? As one of the villagers in Jagatsinghpur, where a strong and popular resistance to the Posco project exists, asked us: "Can somebody go to jail for breaking democracy?" This is surely the core question: what can the people do to bring to justice those who violate rudimentary democratic norms and procedures? When rights of capital take precedence over the rights of people, and when elected governments start to act as promoters and paid consultants for a private company, what recourse do people have?


Girish Agrawal is a California-based lawyer and civil engineer The views expressed by the author are personal








Political parties are entitled to call their headquarters by any name of their choice. And it is the RJD's prerogative to call its sparkling new party HQ in Delhi "Rabri Bhavan". Politicians, by virtue also of their need to rally a mass base and strengthen name recall, are not bashful about personality cults — but there's something startling about a living politician in the throes of a crucial phase of her party's existence lending her name to a public building. RJD leaders say it will be inaugurated after the Bihar assembly polls — and given how crucial the result is to the party's fortunes, that verdict will determine the atmospherics at the inauguration ceremony.


Regional politics, in any case, is not lacking for self-promotion. Mayawati's statues have certainly been a political issue. Iconography is a key component of the BSP's politics of social change, but her imposing statues have struck her critics as over the top. Her supporters, however, would argue that hers is not a project in settling succession, and that the statues amount to nothing more self-promotional than to project a larger narrative of socio-political inclusion on her success.


In any case, political parties countrywide, as elsewhere, use the image of their main leaders almost as a brand. Democrats in the forthcoming congressional elections in the US will bear the brunt/ benefit of Barack Obama's popularity after two years as president. And even at the national level in India, parties use imagery to make a point about legacy: Congress posters have designated space for the Nehru-Gandhis and the BJP still uses Vajpayee's image long after his retreat from public life. It's nonetheless interesting to ask what Rabri Devi's new stamp on the map of Delhi says about her politics.







When he was detained at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for questioning in September for his name reportedly matching one on the US watchlist, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel took the inconvenience in his stride, perhaps aware of the imperatives for immigration officials at airports around the globe and the fact that the officials were only doing their job. His subsequent conversation with US secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, in Montreal seemed to have confirmed his maturity and level-headedness in reacting (or not reacting) to what many VIPs, faced with such unaccommodating treatment, take as an affront. Napolitano had apologised on behalf of the US, although she claimed Patel hadn't asked for an apology.


Now, back home in India, Patel's ministry has initiated a dubious review of protocols for Indian dignitaries by the US and other nations, asking for a "quid pro quo" at our airports. The catalyst, apart from the Chicago episode, is a £480 bill slapped on Patel for use of Heathrow's special lounge last month, paid by the Indian high commission in London. Since India has not been charging foreign dignitaries for using VIP lounges at its airports, the government now is reportedly considering a "reciprocity-based" treatment, abandoning its "one-size-fits-all" protocol. So, from grown-up behaviour we're back at a juvenile tit-for-tat, shaping what we give to the tune of what we get, abroad.


In planning to draw up separate "standard operating procedures" for different nations, the ministry is forgetting an important fact — democracies operate by rules, not by bruised VIP egos. India, if it believes in its big-nation status, cannot act like a lightweight state or a banana republic. It can choose to charge for use of certain facilities, or to offer them as a courtesy. What has reciprocity to do with it? Some country somewhere may indeed offer our ministers treatment they wouldn't dream of at home. Does reciprocity mean we'll lay out the red carpet for their dignitaries, even as we subject those from other countries to rigorous security checks? Apart from the ridiculousness and uselessness of it all, it would make transparent how thin-skinned our national ego actually is.







The signal to noise ratio has been especially bad in recent months, as Parliament too often descended into an arena for name-calling and disruption rather than productive discussion. Adjournments and interruptions made the transaction of legislative business extremely difficult, holding up the passage of many critical bills. In late August, Speaker Meira Kumar called an all-party meeting to discuss this misbehaviour. She was especially concerned at the way Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav had held a "mock-Parliament". Now, in a follow-up meeting, political parties failed to reach a consensus on ensuring civil exchange and argumentation. Opposition parties were defensive, saying they were willing to cooperate if the government granted them enough space for discussion, and that their interventions were necessary to force attention on issues of public concern. The prime minister and the finance minister insisted that they were more than prepared to discuss bills at length before voting.


This is not to say that consensus and calm are supreme values — in fact, disputation is the essence of politics and is practically demanded of a responsive democracy. The encounter between diverse, contending points of view is meant to produce meaningful answers. But as we have witnessed in the last session, the constructive tension between government and opposition often turns into a purely obstructive thing. The presence of TV cameras, extended by Web video, makes it tempting for political leaders to turn it into an occasion for grandstanding before the public. The last speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, had made a kind of performance art out of his exasperation with his flock, demanding that the rulebook be burnt in front of Mahatma Gandhi's statue, etc.


Yet, MPs do not always live by the popular perception of disruptiveness and absenteeism. Recent discussions on inflation and the women's reservation and nuclear liability bills have seen imaginative engagement by the government and the opposition. When there's structured debate, when the stakes are high, both Houses rise to the occasion and raise the level of discussion. Perhaps it's too much to ask that the opposition will surrender its right to disrupt, or that the government will submit to the opposition entirely setting the agenda. But as the consultations in the speaker's chambers on Wednesday attest, both are interested in keeping the conversation going. If they'd trust their well-honed parliamentary instincts, there could be something for everyone.









Is your grasp of the French language like mine? Trés peu (very little)? Even if it is, you can get the basic sense of the following: Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste. The New Anti-Capitalist Party. This is a newish political party in France, founded by a postman, Olivier Besancenot, who has been described both as a communist revolutionary and cute. So far, so very French, in a cool sort of way. France is a major Western capitalist economy with its own, as many French pundits say (and not without some justice), intricacies. A cute communist postman leading an anti-capitalist party is just the sort of political economic divertissement that makes France interesting.


But, of course, Besancenot is not an amusing diversion in French political economy now. He's a major political figure in the protests and strikes roiling France. Obviously, the ideas informing these protests pose a big question for France. But they also pose or can pose a big question for other major capitalist democracies, India included. Indeed, the French connection of this aspect for India may be stronger than we realise.


But isn't this French connection hypothesis rendered a bit faible (weak) by the fact that in matters of huge protests vs modest reforms France is almost sui generis? Surely, therefore, political economy lessons from Paris don't travel well?


Not quite. If that cute communist postman from Paris, and the many others with him in France, can be said to have delivered a letter, we should carefully read the missive.


The French connection works on a broad plane. First, it tells us to look carefully at those who claim to be exploited. Second, and given that all decent, thinking people wish capitalism-induced prosperity to be broadbased (some decent, thinking people wish to abolish capitalism, but they are on another plane altogether), the French connection tells us to be careful what we wish for. Third, it tells us to carefully assess the long-term impact of professional protest politics. All of these have big India dimensions.


The first connection: protests against the Sarkozy government's modest reforms — raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 so that the state pension system doesn't go bankrupt — prominently feature well-paid, secure job-holding public sector employees who can't be anyone's definition of an exploited underclass. Some French public sector jobs are dream jobs — air traffic controllers are estimated to work just 100 days a year, that's less than two days a week on average.


Think of India. Labour protests are a virtual monopoly run by unions for privileged, secure job-holding public sector and organised private sector employees. Have you ever witnessed a national mass rally of daily wagers in the construction sector? These are workers who often don't even have basic protective gear when they do dangerous jobs.


But is even modest reform of rules governing the privileged "working class" possible in India? No. And that's because politicians are too afraid of calling a spade a spade, or a hammer and a sickle a hammer and a sickle. The ruling political idiom is that unions representing less than 10 per cent of working Indians are leaders of an exploited underclass. That this skews the labour market, by privileging a tiny insider group over masses of ill-paid and, in many cases, actually exploited outsiders is of no real importance in policy. The lesson from France is that we must forcefully question many of those who loudly claim to be exploited.


The second connection: inclusive growth. Caring capitalism. Market economy with a human face. Whatever. Who can oppose it? But the lesson from France is be very careful how you define it. France decreased the retirement age to 60 in the early '80s, it was part of a magnificent idea: early retirement, generous state pension, short working weeks, long vacations, high living coupled with (this is France) high thinking. Once this über welfare state system was sanctioned, French policy lost a tremendous amount of manoeuvrability.


The demography-economics equation is clear. Either the French have a lot more babies and/ or welcome a lot more immigrants (neither is likely) or they change the social contract. But the problem is what they wished for and got for a while — it was too good.


What, one might ask, is the relevance of this for India, where social welfare is a sham in many ways? But think.

Can cooking gas subsidies be eliminated at one stroke? Can university fees be raised? Can economic prices be charged universally for certain services? No, even though the beneficiaries are not poor, not by a long shot. We are too used to these very good things. And current political think is biased towards provisioning more of the same: government guaranteed jobs, mandated by law cheap food quotas, any number of freebies at the state level, extension of affirmative action to the private sector, etc.


True, France will be lucky to have 2 per cent GDP growth while India is looking at breaching the 10 per cent barrier. But France is a rich country, and India is a middle income one with a lot of poor people. True, we need major welfare provisioning for the poor. But the lesson from France is do the math for the most attractive state-funded measures, don't institutionalise benefits that are too good. Economic situations change. Don't reduce your policy manoeuvrability.


The third connection: regular and big street protests may be peculiar to France. But there's a reason this tradition exists: the establishment's enthusiastic acceptance of professional protest politics, of agitpropist activism. Why this is the case is a fascinating story but it doesn't need telling here for us to see that there's a lesson for India.


India hosts first-world standard professional activism now. Activism that doesn't just seek to highlight or address state welfare failures but that seeks to define big policy. Who says big policy can't be questioned? But if the policy establishment here, as in France, de jure or de facto makes activists think they can have a policy veto, India can get stuck in a rut, as France has.


Is this beginning to happen here? Look at well-organised, sophisticated activism around any big project. The issue is bigger than our wondering what's on Jairam Ramesh's mind for project X or Y. The issue is whether the policy establishment is starting to think that GoI acting like an NGO is a wonderful pro-people thing. It isn't — who will give jobs to India's millions of young people entering the labour force every year; that's just one among many questions for activists. The lesson from France is that medium-term costs of allowing professional protest politics to dictate policy can be huge.


And the thing is you don't even need cute communists to suffer all these consequences.








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan as part of a three-nation tour is intended to underline India's growing role in the region and acknowledge Japan's crucial part in the emerging security environment in the Asia-Pacific. During the PM's visit, the two states will be signing a visa pact allowing Japanese workers to live and work in India for three years, a declaration on biodiversity, and a political declaration confirming the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in principle. The fact that the long-awaited CEPA will again be deferred signifies the drift that has set in, in India-Japan ties.


For Japan, embroiled in its domestic political instability and economic drift, India has not been a top priority in recent months. Indian bureaucracy has also been unwilling to push the economic pacts important to signal seriousness towards Japan. Manmohan Singh had to intervene personally to ensure that some of the agreements were in place before his visit.


This is a crucial period of strategic flux in Asia and there is much that India and Japan can accomplish together. India's ties with Japan have travelled a long way since May 1998, when a chill set in following India's nuclear tests. Japan imposed sanctions and suspended its Overseas Development Assistance. Since then, however, the changing strategic milieu in Asia-Pacific has brought the two countries together, so much so that the Indian prime minister's last visit to Japan resulted in a roadmap to transform a low-key relationship into a major strategic partnership. But ground realities are rapidly changing in Asia, and India and Japan need to respond more pro-actively.


China's rise is the most significant variable in the Asian geostrategic landscape today and both India and Japan would like to see a constructive China playing a larger role in the solving of regional and global problems rather than becoming a problem itself. Concerns are rising for both states, about China's assertive diplomatic and military posture, as exemplified in the wake of a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senakaku Island and rising tensions on the Sino-Indian border areas. China's attempts to test the diplomatic and military mettle of its neighbours will only bring Japan and India closer. While New Delhi and Tokyo would like greater transparency and restraint on Beijing's part, there is now a need for them to be more candid about their expectations.


Given the likelihood that the US navy's presence in South China Sea might shrink in the coming years because of economic constraints, Japan should encourage a larger role for the Indian navy there, even as there is an urgent need for the Japanese Self Defence Forces to expand their presence in the Indian Ocean. Greater bilateral defence cooperation, including joint development and production of defence equipment, is the need of the hour. It would be even more productive if the US is also involved in Japan-India military exercises so that a broader regional security framework can be nurtured.


Economic ties too need serious attention. Though the Japanese investment in India has crossed the $3.7 billion mark, much remains to be done. The Delhi-Mumbai corridor remains a centrepiece of India-Japan cooperation in the infrastructure sector. Japan is also supporting the new IIT in Hyderabad, laying the foundation for academic exchanges and collaboration between the higher educational institutions of the two states. The Japanese government's New Growth Strategy is aimed at developing emerging markets like India through infrastructure deals combining public financing and private sector investment.


Regional institutions in Asia also need strengthening, and active US involvement in ASEAN and ARF has been welcomed by member states. India should work towards enhancing its profile in regional institutions. Yet the "hub and spokes" of US alliances will continue to define the regional security architecture in the region. At the global level, the two sides want to re-energise the G-4 grouping that is pushing for UN reform, particularly expansion of the Security Council and inclusion of new permanent members.


The talks on the civilian nuclear pact seem to be going nowhere at the moment. Japan continues to insist that India sign the NPT and the CTBT whereas India has no intention of doing so, given its longstanding concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of these treaties. Given the involvement of Japanese firms in the US and French nuclear industries, an Indo-Japanese pact is essential if US and French civilian nuclear cooperation with India is to be realised. Japanese approval is needed if GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse are to sell nuclear reactors to India. Meanwhile, the new liability law in India could make greater civilian nuclear cooperation between Japan and India difficult to accomplish.


Delhi and Tokyo need to urgently assess the implications of their lacklustre ties and get serious about remedying this situation. Otherwise, it might just get too late.


The writer teaches at King's College, London








More than three weeks after the Ayodhya verdict was delivered by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, the papers have generally expressed a sense of deep scepticism over it, especially on the "wider" implications of the order.


Delhi-based Hamara Samaj, in its editorial on October 18 writes, "The All India Muslim Personal Law Board by announcing its decision to challenge the verdict...has closed the doors on all types of speculations...Even though the Board says it has kept the door open for negotiations, the most complicated matter is that those who believe in an out-of-court dialogue have never put forth any proposal; at what level would a dialogue be conducted, which party would be prepared to give up its claim to the title, and even if one party does, what would be the alternative given to it? At the moment, no one wants to give up any claim." The paper says that the fact that anyone can now lay claim to anything on the basis of aastha "the most dangerous outcome" of the Allahabad verdict, and it is concerned about the "impact of this on the security of temples, mosques, gurudwaras and churches."


Hyderabad's leading daily, Siasat, in an editorial titled 'Babri masjid's acceptable formula' (October 10) writes, "If the oldest litigants in the Babri Masjid case, Hashim Ansari and Nirmohi Akhara's Maha Mahant are preparing a formula for compromise on their own, not caring about the various efforts of other parties, it would be only a surface accord. The verdict is (likely to be used as) a sharpened weapon by communal elements to rip apart any compromise formula ... the manner in which the verdict has been given can prove to be destructive for the situation..only the Supreme Court can give a legal answer. Until then, people are hesitating to express their opinions either way.. As far as a pleasant (khushgawaar) solution is concerned, its ultimate outcome is uncertain."


The editor of the Jamaat-e-Islami's bi-weekly, Daawat, Parvez Rehmani in a signed piece on the front page on October 16 says, "A large section of Muslims are in favour of taking the issue to the Supreme Court..the real issue here is not just a land dispute, but a matter of the welfare of Muslims and their survival with dignity and self-respect."


Good Games


Rashtriya Sahara (October 16), in an editorial, writes "It's a matter of satisfaction for the entire country, proving wrong all apprehensions and criticisms of any sort that we were able to successfully host the Commonwealth Games."


Delhi-based Hamara Samaj, in an edit on the same day entitled Dilli mein hai dum (loosely translated as Delhi can do it), has credited the Delhi government with the success: "The chief minister and her cabinet... for having worked day and night the face of serious criticism." Delhi-based Hindustan Express, in an editorial on October 15 says, "Our joy would have been much greater had we got a gold in our national game, hockey... but given the controversies chasing hockey during the preparations and just before the beginning of the event, the results were not disappointing, in fact they were way above expectations and encouraging." The paper has also questioned, "If we can ensure our security on special occasions, then why not in normal times?"


Daawat though, has picked on many shortcomings during the Games. On October 19, it called for a "thorough and impartial probe", despite congratulating the government for "accepting a challenge and emerging successful."


Karnataka — punya ya paap?


In an editorial entitled 'Tum karo to punya aur hum karein to paap' (If you do it, it's okay, but if we do it, it's a sin) in the Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun-based daily Sahafat on October 16, the paper quotes a Lingayat supporter of CM Yeddiyurappa saying, "What is wrong if one tries to help the leader of one's community to move ahead and bring about unity? In a crisis, it is your community and not any party that comes to your rescue." This was apparently in the context of the top mahants of the Lingayat community using MLAs belonging to the Lingayat community, across parties, to help the CM in his hour of political crisis. The editorial emphasises that the above justification given for putting the community over party was "not given by any Muslim leader." Describing in great detail the Lingayat-Vokkaliga and Lingayat-Brahmin schisms in Karnataka, the editorial sarcastically lauds the BJP's kamala (achievement) in "absorbing all such communities into a party dominated by the upper castes."


Compiled by Seema Chishti







A visitor to Afghanistan who ventures outside the American security bubble sees pretty quickly that President Obama's decision to triple the number of troops in Afghanistan has resulted, with some exceptions, mostly in more dead Americans and Afghans alike.

So what can we do instead? Some useful guidance comes from the man whom Afghans refer to as "Dr Greg" — Greg Mortenson, an American who runs around in Afghan clothing building schools, as chronicled in the best-selling book Three Cups of Tea.


The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.


An organisation set up by Mortenson and a number of others are showing that it is quite possible to run schools in Taliban-controlled areas. I visited some of Mortenson's schools, literacy centres and vocational training centres, and they survive the Taliban not because of military protection (which they eschew) but because local people feel "ownership" rather than "occupation."


"Aid can be done anywhere, including where Taliban are," Mortenson said. "But it's imperative the elders are consulted, and that the development staff is all local, with no foreigners."


In volatile Kunar Province, which borders Pakistan, the Taliban recently ordered a halt to a school being built by Mortenson's organisation, the Central Asia Institute. But the villagers rushed to the school's defence. The Taliban, which have been mounting a campaign for hearts and minds, dropped the issue, according to Wakil Karimi, who leads Mortenson's team in Afghanistan.


In another part of Kunar Province, the Central Asia Institute is running a girls' primary school and middle school in the heart of a Taliban-controlled area. Some of the girls are 17 or 18, which is particularly problematic for fundamentalists (who don't always mind girls getting an education as long as they drop out by puberty). Yet this school is expanding, and now has 320 girls, Karimi said.


It survives because it is run by the imam of the mosque, and he overcomes Taliban protests by framing it as a madrassa, not a school. That seems less alien to fundamentalists and gives them a face-saving excuse to look the other way.


In Uruzgan Province, Mortenson and Karimi are beginning to pay imams to hold classes for girls in their mosques. That puts a divine stamp on girls' education.


Each month, Mortenson's team gets another 50 requests from villages seeking their own schools. And for the cost of a single American soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, it's possible to build 20 schools.


Education is only part of the puzzle. My vote would be to scale back our military footprint: use a smaller troop presence to secure Kabul and a few other cities, step up training of the Afghan National Army, and worry less about the Taliban and more about Al Qaeda. We also should push aggressively for a peace deal between President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, backed by Pakistan.


Some of these initiatives are already in the works, but what is neglected is education and development, especially in Taliban areas. It's true that this is tough, uncertain and sometimes dangerous going, with much depending on the particular Taliban commander. But, in most areas, it is possible, provided the work is done without Westerners and in close consultation with local people.


Government schools regularly get burned down, but villagers tell me that that's because they're seen as alien institutions built by outside construction crews. In contrast, CARE runs 300 schools in Afghanistan and not one has been burned down, the aid organisation says. The Afghan Institute of Learning, run by a redoubtable Afghan woman named Sakena Yacoobi, has supported more than 300 schools and none have been burned, the institute says. Another great aid organisation, BRAC, runs schools, clinics and microfinance programmes — and operates in every single province in Afghanistan.


Then there's the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, which is based in New York and helps Afghan villagers improve agricultural yields in the most unstable parts of the country. Some Taliban commanders have even sent word inviting the group into their areas.


Mortenson says that $243 million is needed to fund all higher education in Afghanistan this year. He suggests that America hold a press conference here in Kabul and put just 243 of our 100,000 soldiers (each costing $1 million per year) on planes home. Then the US could take the savings and hand over a cheque to pay for Afghanistan's universities.


Is this talk of schools and development naïve? Military power is essential, but it's limited in what it can achieve. There's abundant evidence that while bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, can transform them. That's just being pragmatic.Nicholas D. Kristof








Burma and democracy, the country and the concept, make for strange bedfellows. Yet, the junta has slotted a date for Burma's highly anticipated exercise in democracy. On November 7, the Burmese will make their way to the ballot box for the first time after a two-decade hiatus. The elections, already a matter of controversy, from the halls at the United Nations in New York to the isolated home of Aung San Suu Kyi, are a promise from the junta to the displeased international community. A promise of reform.


The elections are a crucial component of the so-called "Roadmap to Democracy" ushered in due to international condemnation in 2003. Under the roadmap, Burma is to effectively hand over power from its military leadership to a civilian government. Appropriate measures have thus been taken. Generals have hung their military fatigues and masquerade in civilian clothes under the two state-sponsored political parties: the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP). The former will be led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, the top general's right hand-man, and the latter is led by Tun Yi, the former deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Experts at the Carnegie Endowment and the Council on Foreign Relations have placed their bets on either of these two parties.


Other parties do factor in, and predictably, the junta has conducted a cautious vetting process allowing for 37 other political parties. Conspicuously absent from the list is the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is nicknamed "the lady" by the generals. But Suu Kyi has boycotted the elections. Her rationale is two-fold, and simple. First, if she were to participate in the elections she would be overlooking the results of the 1990 elections. It was in those elections that Suu Kyi was handed a mandate to rule by more than 80 per cent of the voters. The election was brushed under the carpet, the results ignored and the lady was promptly put under house arrest. The second reason for her refusal to participate is the constitution. The recently drafted electoral law requires all political parties to pledge and uphold the 2008 constitution. The NLD has refused to recognise this constitution, and the international community, too, has voiced concerns.


The constitution is a component of the "Roadmap to Democracy" and clauses within the constitution complicate a fair and inclusive election. Under the constitution, the military is established as an ultra-constitutional organisation; simply put, it is above the law. The constitution allocates prime authority to the "chief of staff of the defence forces." It is he who will nominate 25 per cent of the members of the People's Assembly. The upcoming November 7 vote is for the remaining 75 per cent but the constitution does not specify how the seats will be allocated. Further, the constitution remains silent over satisfying the demands of Burma's ethnic minorities.


Writer and scholar Thant Myint-U has voiced concerns over the non-inclusion of Burma's ethnic minorities. "It will be a very undemocratic, unfair and unfree election with no media freedom, no freedom to campaign." The generals have taken this criticism into account and a UN report (2009) details the junta's coercion in ensuring the minorities participate — "the government has encouraged and warned ethnic minority political organisations to take part." However the junta has isolated the insurgency-ridden north from participating in the elections. Also prohibited from participation are Burma's prisoners of conscience. The constitution and electoral law prohibits political activists in prison from voting. It is estimated that over 2,100 political activists continue to languish in prison.


The voting process is further complicated due to Burma's Unlawful Association Act. This act prohibits freedom of assembly, association, movement and expression. Naturally, the act has prevented campaigning for the election. Tin Aye, an independent pro-democracy candidate, has voiced concerns over the election, "I can't find anyone willing to host meetings. I can only host meetings at a friend's house." Another logjam to a fair election is that opposition candidates cannot afford to access voter lists. The rules that have been drawn up by the junta mandate that each candidate must pay 20 kyat (3 dollars) for the name of each constituent.


However imperfect the election may be, one can still be optimistic about the shake-up it will bring to Burmese politics. The elections will allow for a broader cross-section of Burmese society to be represented by popular vote, a hitherto unseen development. In order to bolster its legitimacy, the government has roped in independent candidates who are highly regarded by the local population. Though this may not bring immediate reform, it does open the door for independent pro-democracy candidates.


Further, the military establishment will see an internal process of restructuring. Analysts say the general to watch is General Than Shwe, fondly known as "Number One." With his health deteriorating, he has ceded limited control to others in the military establishment. It is this change that also has the potential of altering the military power structure. It is thus fair to say that the next two weeks may well be the most important weeks, politically, in Burma's recent history.







Forty per cent of cancers in India relate to tobacco use. These are easily preventable : Whatever men do women can do better. Sadly, this extends to tobacco use as well. The recent survey undertaken by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) reveals that the percentage of women using tobacco in India has risen sharply in five years, from 11.5 per cent in 2005 to 20.3 per cent in 2010, while there has been a 10 per cent drop in tobacco use among men for the same period. Obviously, a tobacco control programme, in order to be effective, must be sensitive to issues of gender and age. It is surprising that this has not happened so far as the writing has been on the wall for quite some time.


A few decades ago, we saw a substantial fall in the rates of lung cancer among men in the US as the incidence of smoking among them began to fall. Ironically, the lung cancer rates for women began to rise during the same period as more and more women began to smoke. The factors identified as responsible for this increase included the need to assert independence, stress on the job, desire to stay slim, etc. More than anything else, however, it was the clever advertising campaigns conducted by tobacco companies, which had cottoned on to the gender and age related aspects of tobacco use before any one else had, that were most responsible for this increase. What is interesting in the Indian case though, is that most tobacco tends to be chewed rather than smoked.


To quote statistics again from GATS, of India's 274.9 million tobacco users, 163.7 million chew it and the numbers have reached an all time high. This is not unexpected when you consider that we have a paan and supari chewing culture in many parts of the country that embraces tobacco. Children are exposed to it, and not surprisingly, tobacco use and the addiction it engenders starts at an early age. What have facilitated this process further are clever marketing techniques and advertising. Gutka packets have become smaller and therefore more accessible and cheaper, and more fragrant. The user, too, is depicted as some one who is sociable and the life of the party. In fact, so pervasive and widespread is the habit, that a friend who recently climbed Mt Kilimanjaro for CanSupport remarked that the only litter he saw while on the mountain trail were three empty packets of gutka!


Once again, I believe a case can be made for tobacco control programmes in our part of the world to be more sensitive to issues of gender, region, cultural practices, etc., when it comes to smokeless tobacco. For example, it does not stretch the imagination too much to argue, that in a conservative society, where a woman who smokes is frowned upon, chewing tobacco is likely to become an option as it will raise the least hackles. It is a moot point whether pictorial warnings being currently used on cigarette packets will achieve the objective of frightening off current and prospective users. The experience of the anti-tobacco campaign worldwide shows that making tobacco products more and more expensive for the consumer, especially the youth, has been the more effective way of cutting down on smoking, besides education. How this can be achieved in the case of tobacco that is being offered in more attractive, smaller and cheaper packets remains to be seen. There are also other factors that need to be considered.


The tobacco industry has a long reach that extends to the topmost echelons of political decision-making. The inducements they can offer to toe their line are many as they are flush with funds. One way in which this lobby has been fought in the US is to slap several class action suits on them, demanding hefty compensations for the ill-effects on health caused by tobacco use. The intention is to hurt them where it matters most — their profits — and to make them accountable for their actions. Another way is to reduce the production of tobacco itself by offering alternative employment and income earning opportunities to farmers and those working in the tobacco industry. Once again, this depends on the will and commitment of the government to the health of its people.


For those who are already using tobacco, we need to have more de-addiction products and facilities that are cheap and easily accessible. Educating people about the ill-effects of tobacco is also a must. As those of us who work in the field of cancer know, almost 40 per cent of cancers in India are preventable as they are related to tobacco use. This is not just about reducing the cost on the exchequer but about saving lives, often in their prime. One way of getting to women perhaps, besides informing them of the obvious risks to their own health, is to inform them that their habit is likely to impact their children in a negative way by making them future tobacco addicts. We can only hope that the maternal instinct will be strong enough to overpower the desire to feed their own craving. If not, we are facing a great health catastrophe.


The writer is president of CanSupport which runs free supportive services for cancer patients in the National Capital Region.










The pace of changes being unfurled in Uttar Pradesh's infrastructure sector in recent times is big. Yet this is the scale of operation that is required to make any appreciable difference to living standards in a state, which, in terms of population, can rank as the fifth largest country in the world. It all started with the efforts to build new state highways to the hinterlands and the opening up of the Yamuna Expressway and Greater Noida Expressway to the private sector, which facilitated investments of Rs 9,935 crore and Rs 35,000 crore, respectively. Now UP alone accounts for 80% of the nationwide investments in state highways using the PPP mode. In the power sector, as reported in FE over the last two days, UP has contracted out over 25,000 MW of power generation projects, which is around two and a half times the current power generation capacity installed in the state. A crippling shortage of energy could become history, once these projects become operational. This is the first step to also create incentive for mobilising investments into the state in other sectors.


Simultaneously encouraging have been the innovative schemes to provide quality power by separating domestic and commercial feeder systems. This will not only help further reduce AT&C losses but also motivate the farming community to pay higher tariffs. UP has made steady progress on both these counts in recent years. AT&C losses by the state power utilities have been brought down from 33.3% in 2008-09 to 30% in 2009-10, which is lower than the national average. The power tariff to agriculture has gone up from Rs 1.68 to Rs 1.94 per Kwh over the last two years, with the state farmers paying at least one-fifth more than in the other states. The introduction of the franchise system for the distribution of power in Agra and Kanpur, and plans to extend it to more areas show commendable zeal, which is missing in most other parts of the country. The state has been able to improve average tariff collections by one-tenth in the last fiscal year, which is more than five times the nation average. The most pleasant surprise is the plan to privatise power transmission, which is yet to be tried out in most states. The impact of the innovative programmes is now also reflected in the state's balance sheets. The state has lowered the commercial loss of the state power utilities from Rs 6,621 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 5,593 crore in 2009-10, even as the total losses of the electric utilities in 20 major states soared from Rs 51,670 crore to Rs 58,235 crore over the period. The state seems to be finally coming into its own.







The India-listed companies have enjoyed just two quarters of recovery from the dip to burnish their top and bottom lines. Already, they are facing a fresh set of challenges from hardening commodity prices and rising wage rates in a global economy convulsing spasmodically between recovery and downturn. As the results for the quarter ended September trickle in, the numbers show the impact has spread to both companies in manufacturing and services sectors. An FE analysis of 42 companies (excluding banks and financials) show that net sales are up 17.5% year-on-year, a shade better than the 15% year-on-year growth seen in the June 2010 quarter, but those have been overtaken through the contraction in operating profit margin. Brokerages have already started earnings downgrades for FY 11 from 28% to 26% and the benefit of low base effect would come to an end in the second quarter of this financial year. The subsequent quarters of FY11 may see further moderation in growth rates. Moreover, higher input costs like primary products, wages and fuel have forced most manufacturing companies to undertake stringent cost-cutting measures. Going ahead, global commodity prices are likely to be the main determinant of both the direction and scale of future earnings upgrade/downgrade of Indian companies.


As the growth drivers for the markets are shifting from some of the one-off factors like the government stimulus to more structural factors like capex plans, macro-economic dynamics will now play a major role in earnings growth, which, in turn, is going to underpin returns from our equities market. Even globally, stock markets are playing the hide-and-seek game with world stocks turning sweeter one week and bitter the next. As the relative growth rates are much higher in the emerging countries as compared with the developed world, the portfolio shift in money from the developed world to the emerging world will continue. This is likely to be a cyclical and structural process, where at times the markets will get overvalued and at times it will correct. In the long run, one needs to focus on the fundamentals of companies and a combination of price to book relative to return on equity should give an investor a good idea of where the value is and the companies that are delivering shareholders' returns rather than just top line growth.








Officers, especially of the elite Indian Administrative Services, mostly learn practical lessons through precedence. Chat informally with any senior-level IAS officer and the conversation will be littered with numerous experiences of battling ministers/politicians or handling tricky law & order situations and corporate lobbying over policy matters using tact. In most such situations, the learning comes from some revered seniors who have shown remarkable skills at managing contradictions yet not straying from the right path. Recollecting this background becomes essential because one of the first decisions of R Chandrasekhar, the new department of telecommunications secretary, leaves one clueless in speculating whether his stint in the department would be fruitful for the sector or almost disastrous as it has been for the last two years under minister A Raja and two secretaries, Siddhartha Behura and PJ Thomas.


Chandrasekhar was formally appointed the DoT secretary only on September 22 but was given additional charge of the department earlier that month, with Thomas being made the CVC. The officer, who was earlier secretary, department of information technology, which also falls under the communications ministry under Raja, had two precedences before him. The first was of DS Mathur, who was secretary when Raja took over as minister in May 2007. The other was of Behura, who succeeded Mathur on January 1, 2008. Let's look what learnings the two offered.


The seeds of the now-well-known and documented spectrum scam were sown in the summer of 2007 when Raja assumed charge at DoT. The story has been well-documented in detail by this newspaper over the last two years. Raja's plans on the great loot, which occurred later, were frustrated for quite some time because secretary Mathur refused to play ball. The distinguished secretary proposed that an independent exercise be first done to ascertain whether new criteria needs to be developed for giving out fresh licences. This was not acceptable to Raja, so Mathur refused to sign any files and the matter was stuck. Mathur retired later on December 31 that year and on January 1, 2008, Behura was appointed the new secretary. Now Behura, like Chandrasekhar, was no stranger to Raja—he came from the environment ministry whose minister was Raja before moving over to communications. Behura's first act was to sign the files as Raja wanted and within 10 days—on January 10—licences were given out.


Coming back to Chandrasekhar and one of his first major acts even before he was formally designated as DoT secretary—he wrote to the CAG, which was pursuing the 2G spectrum case, on September 21 that the law ministry had advised them that CAG has no powers to interfere in policy issues and, therefore, the DoT would not reply to its queries as they fell in the domain of policy. One doesn't know what kind of background checks Chandrasekhar carried out before writing his note but, as earlier highlighted by this newspaper, the entire exercise to get favourable advice from the law ministry was to ease the pressure on Raja, who had earlier been indicted through a ruling of the Delhi High Court. The DoT had gone on an appeal to the Supreme Court but failed to get any relief. More importantly, the reference note to get the favourable opinion was drafted by a DoT official who was party to the 2G licensing process and is himself being investigated by the CBI. The note was processed by a legal advisor in the DoT who was also involved in advising Raja on the 2G licensing process. Implicit in the entire exercise was that if Raja was saved from embarrassment these two officials would also be.


Further, had Chandrasekhar gone deeper, he would have found that the law ministry had also tried to stop Raja from allocating the licences the way he did, but Raja went ahead disregarding any counsel.


It is hazardous to pontificate at this point in time on what kind of legacy Chandrasekhar would leave when he departs from the DoT but precedence may come to our aid here. Mathur retired from the DoT and later applied for a member's post in the TDSAT and later for the chairman's slot at the Trai. He was overlooked for both. Finally he got an assignment as chairman of the commercial tax tribunal in Madhya Pradesh, his parent cadre.


Coming to Behura. Having served the minister loyally and spending his entire tenure in DoT providing logical defence of Raja's move he threw in his hat for the Trai's chairman slot when it fell vacant. To his surprise and dismay, he found his candidature dismissed. Even that would have been fine but within a few days of his retirement, the CBI, under directions from CVC, lodged a case against the spectrum case and raided the offices of the DoT. Behura happens to be among the officials who are under investigation.


So far Chandrasekhar seems to have made his minister happy by shooting off the note to CAG. Had he not done so, certainly Raja's position would have become uncomfortable. It is open to speculation which route his future course of career would take—of Mathur's or Behura's? The third possibility under the precedence theory could be that of Thomas, who did nothing apart from making uncomfortable the officers who made Raja unhappy and was quickly made the CVC!










That Infosys Technologies is a conservative blue chip is widely known and accepted. It is also well-understood that the IT major has been almost always risk averse, preferring to grow organically relying on its tried and tested global delivery model. But will its conservative strength become its biggest weakness over the next ten years? The period 2010-20 will be a crucial decade for the company as it plans to become a true global player, rivalling IBM and Accenture.


The 30 years of its journey have been punctuated by conservative forecasts and sober management commentary during every earnings season. Infosys has never shown any inclination to acquire companies by flowing against the tide and its decision not to challenge HCL's successful acquisition of Axon is still fresh in everyone's memory. As you know, Infosys had made the initial bid before retreating.


So every quarter, one is left wondering as to what Infosys is waiting for. It is now sitting on cash reserves of $3.9 billion. The firm is still reluctant to go in for big-ticket acquisitions, pointing to integration, provisioning and other costs involved.


Meanwhile, other companies like Cognizant have shown an appetite for acquisitions. Cognizant, which boasts a younger management, has been in the market for some time and has approached BPOs like Genpact. HCL is another company that has shown aggression. Against this backdrop, Infosys's penchant for conservatism stands out.


At the same time, Infosys keeps talking about the possibility of a new acquisition. One has always heard its CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan talking about it, but never seen him getting down to the nuts and bolts of it. This season Kris has said that he is open to acquisitions in the US. With the protectionist measures adopted by the US threatening to choke Infosys's volumes, the firm is seemingly looking at options in its largest market. Analysts are still unsure whether it would pull it off this time, but Infosys has nevertheless raised some expectations again in the market.


Kris says he is keen to acquire companies in the revenue range of $300-500 million. Clearly, he does not want to bite into a large ticket deal, and wants to take comfort in its slow and steady policy. Predictably, it has also not been very keen for a hostile bid. Kris has always talked about a friendly merger. The target company must want to be acquired—that is the thinking at Infosys.


Its performance in the banking, financial services and insurance sector has been creditable in the second quarter, driven largely by North America. Revenues from the continent grew 9.6% sequentially to 65.8% of the total sales of Rs 6,947 crore. This has been achieved although visa costs have gone up considerably, impacting its operating margins by 40 bps. This has raised some hopes about a possible acquisition in the region.


About seven years back, Infosys had acquired an Australia-based company, Expert Information Services, for $22.9 million. At that point, it was felt that Infosys would now go on to acquire a clutch of large companies and spread its wings. But that has not happened. Last year, Infosys acquired McCamish Systems, but that is yet to become earnings accretive. The management has clearly refrained from taking the big plunge and this has started to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the shareholders.


Last year, there was a rumour about Infosys wanting to acquire companies in Europe. There was intense speculation about Infosys looking at two acquisitions in the $500-million range. Companies in Germany and France were being closely watched, media reports said. But nothing much came out of that intense speculation phase. Europe has been historically averse to outsourcing, and labour unions there have been very vocal about it. But in the second quarter, it has pulled off some large transformational deals in the continent.


Infosys always worried about how to keep its profit margins going post-acquisition. Ideally, the company would like to keep a 20-25% margin, 3-4 years after the integration. Infosys has always wanted to protect its margins, and has always walked away from a deal if it felt margins would get eroded. The Australian acquisition saw Infosys double its margins to over 25% in 3-5 years. But that was a much smaller deal. Analysts believe that Infosys may have to work on lower margins in the initial years after acquisition, if it is indeed serious about going ahead with an acquisition in the US or Europe. Infosys, over the years, has worked on margins as high as 30%.


It is unlikely that Infosys will go in for a change in mindset at this juncture, but surely the other firms are trying to catch up. If India's IT poster boy wants to keep its nose in front, it may have to dig into its cash reserves soon. A deal could well be in the offing, even if it's a conservative one.










Kerala chief minister and CPM veteran VS Achuthanandan is no known soccer fan. But, he doesn't seem to miss when it comes to scoring a self goal or two for his side in the power games of political XIs, if it helps him to get at his detractors. Latest is that the veteran leader put his Cabinet colleague and comrade in 'arms' Dr Thomas Isaac between a rock and a hard place. At a recent press conference called to explain the state government's stand on the raging lottery row, he managed to make some eyebrows rise when he 'admitted' to the mistakes on the part of the government in handling the entire issue. He, however, saved the best to the end. "We are taking responsibility for the lottery muddle. No official will be made a scapegoat," much to the delight of the Opposition baying for the blood of finance minister Thomas Isaac and the glee of the babudom. An aide close to the finance minister, however, alluded to a particular French tribe, which never learnt anything, and never forgot anything winding up with its inevitable destiny.


God's chosen few


The selection of a CPM branch secretary as one of the two main priests of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala—one of the richest Hindu shrines, with an annual revenue of nearly Rs 100 crore—once again seems to uphold the belief that the gods in Kerala often rally to support the ruling party, especially when the Left government is in power. While this time the gods seem to have favoured a party member, it was a priest from the party secretary's village who became the lucky winner. But political pushes can only help the favoured candidates to a point, by pushing them through the initial screening and the interviews. The final selection is through a lottery draw where only lady luck can play a role. It is a real lottery for the priest who does not have to worry about money for the rest of his life, as the earnings in the one-year tenure are a real jackpot.







Project Tiger was launched in 1973 under Indira Gandhi's leadership. Many governments later, the project's Web site is still under construction. And this says it all. While the bureaucracy surrounding the project has become portlier by the decade, the same cannot be said of its achievements. This week, three developments worth noting took place on the tiger conservation front. First, while mining leases elsewhere in the country keep getting kicked back, 40 of them were cleared in the Sariska zone by the Rajasthan government. Second, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of notorious poacher Sansar Chand, countering his plea of insufficient evidence by asserting that poaching of tigers "is in the hands of ruthless and sophisticated operators, some of whom have top level patronage". Third, India has expressed doubts about getting on board the World Bank's Global Tiger Initiative, arguing that tiger conservation is a sovereign issue. Plus, our government asserts, India doesn't need global expertise or monies to protect its tigers. Each of these developments raises a lot of questions. But the bottom line is that most of these questions are valid only because the tiger population is doing nowhere as well as it should have been after decades of official support.


As the apex court noted in its judgement in the Sansar Chand matter, "Shera was the symbol of the recent Commonwealth Games but ironically Shera has been almost exterminated in our country. Sher Khan of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, which once abounded in India, is rarely to be seen today."










David Headley, the Pakistani-American arrested in Chicago in October 2009 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for plotting a terrorist attack in Denmark, pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of involvement in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. As part of a bargain to avoid a death sentence, in addition to the FBI charges of conspiring to blow up the offices of a Danish newspaper, he pleaded guilty to the charges of scouting terrorist targets in Mumbai during visits to that city, providing material support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and aiding and abetting the killing of U.S. citizens in the Mumbai attacks. But a year after his arrest, there are more questions than answers not only about the planning behind the attacks and Headley's links with LeT and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, but also about his alleged connections with U.S. intelligence agencies. In recent days, information has emerged that two of his three wives told U.S. authorities at different times that the man had links with the LeT and might be planning a terrorist attack. One wife told the FBI as far back as 2005 that he was training with the LeT during his visits to Pakistan and of his boast that he was an American spy. Another wife told an official of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in 2007 that Headley's so-called business trips to India seemed to be a front for something more sinister.


Did U.S. intelligence agencies deliberately not act against Headley, as has been alleged, because he was supposed to be their man in the LeT? Or to prevent antagonising the Pakistan security establishment which has known links to the LeT? It is possible that the information from the two women was too vague to be acted upon. That the U.S. warned India of a terrorist strike in Mumbai in 2008 and specifically on the Taj Mahal hotel is known. Did the warnings emanate from the monitoring of 'agent' Headley? If so, did U.S. authorities have more specific information on the Mumbai attacks? The other disclosure, that Headley told his Indian interrogators of the direct involvement of certain mid-level officials of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks, does not help solve this bewildering jigsaw. Islamabad's reluctance to crack down on the LeT/Jamat-ud-dawa even after the Mumbai attacks showed that the group continues to wield clout. But there is still no evidence to conclude that the Mumbai operation had official Pakistani sanction. The clearest thing that emerges from the Headley saga is that the American and Indian intelligence agencies had several opportunities to avert the Mumbai terror attacks. They missed them.







President Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt to reform the French pension system has catalysed fierce public anger over a much wider range of questions than the proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and the age of full pension entitlement from 65 to 67, starting in 2018 and 2016 respectively. Six major countrywide demonstrations, with average turnouts of over three million, have already occurred, with remarkably little violence. The public and private sectors have been affected, including public transport, education, postal services, energy, and ports. Now, with refineries blockaded, petrol stations are running dry too. Mr. Sarkozy says he is reforming pensions in order to reduce the budget deficit, currently 7.7 per cent of GDP, but his position is increasingly fragile. He has made several concessions in the draft legislation, even though the Senate has passed the age-related clauses. He has to bear in mind the stinging electoral backlash his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) suffered in the regional elections in March, when the Left-Green alliance won 23 out of 26 assemblies. Most interestingly, the President's own poll ratings are languishing around 30 per cent while the strikes are getting better than 70 per cent in public support.


The political issues are of worldwide importance. As happens when the French public are really angry, university students and older school pupils have joined in, thereby continuing a national tradition in political education. Other new participants are the residents of poorer and often neglected suburbs. Older citizens resent the contempt shown for their own productivity, which has kept the French economy in better condition than most developed economies during the global crisis. Younger people, the first French generation for nearly 200 years to face a worse future than their parents did, fear for their prospects in the short and long term under a government noted for its arrogance, the brutality of its police, and corruption. In all age groups, there is great bitterness towards the banks, which caused the crisis and continue to make colossal profits after being bailed out by the public. The pension reform will hit the working classes hardest; they have lower life expectancy and can expect shorter retirements than the rich, and now they will have to work for a greater part of their lives. Mr. Sarkozy's project of recreating France in the neoliberal image is crashing around him. Infuriated by his implementation of neoliberal solutions to problems caused by neoliberalism, the people are making France the first major industrial country to pose a direct challenge to the world's dominant orthodoxy.










Two years ago, India's destination moon began on a wet windy morning from an island on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. As most of India slept, on rainy October 22 when the sun had barely peeped out of an ominous cloud band, a 300-tonne monster belching fire and thunder leapt up from the coast. It was literally a new dawn for India, showcasing the country's technological prowess at its best. It was with nervous energy that I watched India's coming out party, one may suggest, in launching its maiden mission to the moon.


It was a dramatic moon rise for a country where over a billion hearts were beating in anticipation of the success of its maiden mission to the moon. The successful takeoff from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDCS), Sriharikota, at 6.22 a.m. on October 22, 2008, was a spectacular, copybook launch for Chandrayaan-1 and one that catapulted India into a small clutch of powerful, space-faring giants across the world. Calling it a historic moment achieved against tremendous odds, G. Madhavan Nair, then Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said: "Today what we have charted is a remarkable journey for an Indian spacecraft to go to the moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the Earth's closest celestial body and its only natural satellite."


A remarkable journey had undoubtedly begun. The success of the launch finally allayed concerns at lightning that was occurring in the atmosphere due to rain and stormy weather; also a fuel leak in the launch pad caused some worry.


Almost a year after its launch, the first-ever evidence of water on the moon made worldwide news. Space science experts from NASA and India said "the moon is not bone dry" and the real impact of this discovery is only beginning to hit us. Led by Carle Pieters, Professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University, Rhode Island, U.S., who was also principal investigator of the Moon Minerology Mapper (M3) on board Chandrayaan-1, the team published what is now termed a game-changer discovery — of these "distinct signatures of water on the moon." The Indo-American team discovered water on the moon as a thin, invisible film covering on what we for half-a-century thought was a parched, waterless pock-marked moonscape.


When Chandrayaan-1 was aborted 10 months after launch, a year and more before originally planned, there was intense scientific debate on whether the mission had succeeded or failed. The finding of water has changed the flavour and direction of that debate forever. Mr. Nair emphatically stated, when quizzed about the mission's premature end, that it was a success because the mission had achieved 95 per cent of its original goals before the official termination. Nearing the second anniversary of the historic launch, a high-power review committee set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has concluded that "the scientific experiments could only cover 70 per cent of the moon." The panel also revealed, for the first time, that it was a tiny 110-gram part that cost merely $5000 which brought down the $100-million mission. As one ISRO engineer remarked, "it was an ant that killed the elephant."


A part called a 'DC-DC converter,' very much akin to a tiny transformer that was imported from an American company, Modular Devices Inc., is what failed. Not one but five of them sequentially failed onboard Chandrayaan-1, causing the premature termination of the mission. The probe committee, in its 50-page report, faulted ISRO on its testing and quality assurance for not having detected the poor quality of this vital imported component. But at the same time the panel concluded, "the management of Chandrayaan-1 mission particularly after the occurrence of failures, clearly points out to the maturity of ISRO in mission management." Dubbing the mission "quite successful," the Prime Minister's panel concluded that Chandrayaan-1 "has brought great prestige to India."


There can be no doubt that the mission united India like never before and the discovery of water was the icing on the cake. "Never seen before images of the permanently shadowed craters of the Moon have been captured," said Paul D. Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, principal investigator of the payload sent to search for water. "The new radar images are not only visually arresting, but they will be extremely useful in unravelling the complex geological history of the Moon as a whole," he says.


The real impact and significance of this finding may make its dimensions felt only in the years to come. As Dr. Pieters herself says: "This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilise it." Isn't it intriguing that moon rocks available after the Apollo missions never showed any sign of water on analysis, which is why experts always held that the moon was dry, except possibly for some pockets of water ice in the shadowy craters at the poles?


Chandrayaan-1 also began a rather unique spirit of international partnership and collaboration as it was an Indian mission with international partners, carrying onboard six scientific instruments from the U.S., the European Space Agency and Bulgaria. No extra fee or travelling ticket was charged by India to fly these instruments over 4,00,000 km — all overseas partners really got a free ride to the moon.


Despite its premature death, India's maiden mission returned many scientific goodies, including the life giving message that the moon is moist. This startling discovery came about even though Chandrayaan-1 was the cheapest mission to go the moon in decades. Now the excitement is so high that a whole new generation of interplanetary missions is on the anvil. A revisit to the moon this time with a lander and a rover is planned for 2013; a mission to study the sun called Aditya is cooking; a fly-by mission to an asteroid is being considered; and scientists are already nurturing dreams of sending an unmanned mission to Mars within a decade. On its second birthday, let us celebrate India's moon moment!


(Pallava Bagla is the correspondent for SCIENCE magazine and co-author of the book Destination Moon — India's quest for the Moon, Mars and Beyond . Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at










They are tailors, farmers, accountants, legal clerks, homemakers, vendors and activists. There are M.Com degree holders alongside poor women from deprived backgrounds. Together, they make up the most highly educated women candidates fighting local body elections anywhere in the country. There are nearly 40,000 of them contesting the polls across more than 1,200 local bodies in Kerala including 978 panchayats. And there will be at least 10,000 women in office on October 27 thanks to a 50 per cent reservation of seats for them in the state's local bodies.


Active participation


Unlike in some states, hundreds of seats won't be left uncontested. No scores of 'unopposed' candidates. Each ward will see vigorous fights. Many of the women in the fray are officially classified as poor and are very active in 'Kudumbashree' — the state government's extraordinary anti-poverty programme. 'Kudumbashree', which the women here refer to as CDS (community development society) is where much of the energy and the drive in these polls is coming from. Over 11,000 candidates have a CDS background. There are even women candidates in some general seats. Days from now, women could account for 52 per cent of all local body representatives.


Adat in Thrissur is a United Democratic Front (UDF)-led local body that was selected as the 'best panchayat' by the LDF government. Stella Jojo, the articulate UDF (Congress) candidate and a first-time contestant here, was once selected the "Best Chairperson of Kudumbashree in Thrissur district." She says the 50 per cent reservation is "a great step forward. And women are demanding their share."


In another ward, Priya Prasannan is an M.Com graduate and LDF (CPI-M) candidate. Her husband has taken time off from his job in Qatar to help organise her poll campaign. "Family support," she says, "is an important thing if someone like me, with three children, is to contest an election." She is clear that "daily wages are the main issue here. And further, women can handle questions of controlling alcohol better."


In Nenmanikara panchayat, V.T. Vijayalakshmi, a tailor and panchayat secretary of the All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), is in the fray. For her "Equality is the main issue. Some men may fear a loss of power. And within ourselves, our diffidence is partly psychological. But we have the confidence now." Her colleague Sindhu Subramaniam, a ground-level banker — she is president of the Vanitha Cooperative Thrift Society — is fighting from another ward. Sindhu, like Vijayalakshmi, finished her SSLC. She then qualified as a 'Hindi Vidhwan.' She feels the reservation-based polls "are a matter of pride for Kerala. In the past, women have been confined to just home and children. Now, the public sphere is so very much bigger."


What it is


All of them are agreed on a few things: That men do not consult women on any vital matters. That women will do better in local government "since they identify with the family more easily — and in the village panchayat level, you are dealing with families." That women are, as Vijayalakshmi puts it, "on the whole less corrupt and more accessible." And that 'Kudumbashree' has been a turning point for the women of Kerala. Stella Jojo says it is "the entry point to public life." Sindhu Subramaniam feels CDS "gave women confidence and solidarity. It brought them together to discuss serious subjects. Vitally, it gave them their first exposure to the banking sector."


The Kudumbashree (The Kerala State Poverty Eradication Mission) which, organisationally, federates the different neighbourhood groups has a larger than life presence in these polls. Over 3.7 million women in Kerala are part of this network of women's groups in Kerala . (Kerala does not refer to them as 'self-help' groups. For one thing that philosophy is seen as narrow and isolating. For another, the programme blends state support and dynamic community action. And pushes a vision of a collective and societal drive towards betterment).


Prof. Ananya Mukherjee of York University, Toronto, points to the innovative approach to food security of these groups. "Some 2,50,000 Kudumbashree women throughout Kerala have come together to form farming collectives which jointly lease land, cultivate it, use the produce to meet their consumption needs and sell the surplus to local markets. "This," she points out, "increases the participation of women in agriculture ... (and) ensures that women, as producers, have control over the production, distribution and consumption of food." They have reached deep within communities. Both Stella Jojo and Vijayalakshmi assert: "We do not fear the campaigning. People approach us in CDS more easily than they do their local representative. We are more credible because of 'Kudumbashree'."


However, if you are a CDS chairperson in a panchayat, then you must resign that post to contest an election. "Chairperson gets an honorarium of Rs. 2,000 from government," points out Stella Jojo. So she resigned to contest. As have 246 other CDS chairpersons across Kerala. The poll bug has bitten deep.


The State's record


Kerala's record of representation for women in several spheres is not a happy one. There are just seven women in the Kerala legislature out of 140 members. There are presently no women Lok Sabha MPs from the state. There are very few women, perhaps just one or two, at the top levels of leadership of any of the political parties. There have been two women appointed as vice chancellors of universities this past decade after having none for years. All indicators of a strong negative bias.


So what stops the elected women from again being handed trivial chores within the panchayats? In one estimate, women earlier chaired just two per cent of the Finance Standing Committees in Kerala's 978 panchayats. "This time," says N. Ramakantan, Director of the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), "if the president of the Panchayat is a male, then the vice-president is a woman and vice versa. The vice-president is the ex-officio chairperson of the Finance Standing Committee. So a woman will be either panchayat president or vice-president and thus chairperson of that standing committee."


There is male disquiet across the political spectrum over the coming changes. Adat Panchayat President Anil Akkara declares himself for the 50 per cent reservation for women. However, he worries over the effects of "the rotation. A seat should stay in one category for three terms. Otherwise there is no continuity."


In Guruvayoor municipality, the amiable K.A. Sreedharan, candidate of the UDF (Congress) says he is "not insecure at all. But 50 per cent reservation might give us several representatives who cannot function well." He giggles sheepishly when asked how well he thinks the state legislature, where male dominance is 95 per cent, functions. The change has just barely begun.








He has learned to button his shirt using only his left hand, to roll his sleeve with his teeth, to balance on his right foot in the shower. He cannot forgive, though he is desperate to forget. But at night his dreams betray him.


This is how it happened, Abdulle told the Guardian. He was a prisoner in an insurgents' house in Mogadishu, lying on his side, one hand chained to his ankles. He was 17, with fluff on his cheeks and unspeakable fear in his heart. Three other young men were with him — Jalylani, Ali, Abduqadir.


A guard, from the Islamist group al-Shabaab, which is trying to overthrow the Somali government, gripped his shoulder. "Ismael Khalif Abdulle, come with me." A convoy of rebel battlewagons cleared the way through the battered streets. Reaching Masalah, an old military barracks, he saw his mother through the car window and shouted to her. The guard slapped his face. "Today is not the day to call your mother," he said.


Ordered to witness the punishment of the "spies and bandits" or face lashes themselves, the entire neighbourhood had assembled. Also watching were some of the Shabaab's top leaders — Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the Somali-Swede Fuad Shangole, and Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, the American who recruits and finances foreign fighters.


Cross amputation


In the middle of the stony parade ground were about 20 militiamen in green fatigues. Their faces were masked. They were wearing surgical gloves. On the ground was a single plastic mattress.


Abdulle says he was made to lie down. His left hand was tied to his right ankle with a thick rope, leaving the other limbs free for what was to come. Rubber surgical tubing bit into his right biceps — a tourniquet. One rebel grabbed his hand, another his forearm. They pulled in opposite directions as a piece of plastic was laid over his wrist.


"Please make it quick," he pleaded.


A heavily built man drew a large wooden-handled knife normally used to slaughter camels. The knife descended.


Though their horror was far from over, Abdulle and the three other young men "cross amputated" — a process of cutting off a hand and foot from opposite sides of the body — by the Shabaab on 26 June 2009, eventually escaped from their Islamist captors, and managed to cross to the government-controlled side of the city. Abdulle recently managed to flee Somalia, and reach a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya, where he gave this interview.


His story offers a rare insight into how the Shabaab is using its extreme interpretation of Islam to establish order through fear — and to find recruits.


Abdulle was born in 1992, a year after the last effective government fell, and warlords took over the country. As far as it is possible to have a normal upbringing amid the anarchy, he did. Once Shabaab forces took full control of the Bakara market area where he lived, in early 2009, security immediately improved — but at a huge cost to personal and social freedoms.


"If you saw a man on the street with a beard, you would be worried," Abdulle said. "But if someone was smoking a cigarette, you felt OK."


The Shabaab recruited some of Abdulle's classmates to fight the government, but he insists that he never had anything to do with the Islamists until the day he was abducted.


He said he was not told of his alleged crime until the 26th day of detention, when he and the three other young men were taken to the old military parade ground for the first time. Pistols and mobile phones, allegedly stolen by the accused, were shown to the crowd. Abdulle insists on his innocence to this day, but he was given no chance to speak. Dahir Ga'may, a Shabaab "judge", merely announced his verdict.


"He said we were guilty as spies and thieves, and that under sharia law a hand and a foot must be amputated." Three days later, the sentence was carried out. Abdulle passed out while his hand was being cut off. After he regained consciousness he heard the screams as the amputations continued. It was several hours before they were given pain relief, and two days before their wounds were stitched.


A fortnight later, Shangole, the Shabaab commander, arrived at the house where they were detained. "He said they had made a mistake. Our legs were cut too low down, and needed to be shortened. He took the end of my leg, and put three fingers above the stump and said: 'That's where it should be.'" This time, the surgical tool was a plumber's saw. As before, there were no painkillers.


On a separate visit, Ga'may told them that as they were disabled they should become suicide attackers. Sensing a chance to escape, they agreed. A taxi called by a relative picked them up, and took them to the justice ministry. The Red Crescent Society in Mogadishu fitted him with an artificial limb.


His passage out of Mogadishu was risky, as the Shabaab were still after him. In Nairobi, he's keeping a low profile, as the insurgents have supporters in the city. His hope now is to gain asylum and help to deal with the physical and mental scars.


Its evolution


Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known as al-Shabaab — "the youth" — rose to prominence in 2006 as the armed wing of a sharia court alliance that forced warlords from the Somali capital, Mogadishu. After Ethiopian troops routed the Islamist movement later that year, the Shabaab re-emerged as a guerrilla army, initially winning the sympathy of many Somalis — and attracting hundreds of foreign jihadis. Once Ethiopia withdrew in January 2009, Shabaab militants took over much of south and central Somalia, targeting government forces and African Union peacekeepers. It quickly established security but the group's extreme interpretation of Islam and its targeting of civilians has alienated most Somalis. Its "clerics" have banned everything from films to mobile ringtones, school bells and gold fillings.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








It's not common for important philanthropic prizes to go to people whose work involves criminal trespass and who make statements like the following: "You never know who's part of the police and who's not."


But the TED conference, the California lecture series named for its roots in technology, entertainment and design, said on October 19 that it planned to give its annual $100,000 prize for 2011 awarded in the past to figures like Bill Clinton, Bono and the biologist E.O. Wilson to the Parisian street artist known as JR, a shadowy figure who has made a name for himself by plastering colossal photographs in downtrodden neighbourhoods around the world. The images usually extol local residents, to whom he has become a Robin Hood-like hero.


For most recipients, the value of the six-year-old award has less to do with the money than with the opportunity it grants the winner to make a "wish": to devote the funds to a humanitarian project that will almost inevitably draw donations and other help from the organisation's corporate partners and influential supporters. The chef Jamie Oliver, the 2010 prize winner, recently proposed setting up an international effort to further his campaign against obesity; Clinton's wish has channelled significant resources toward the creation of a rural health system in Rwanda.


Reached by telephone on October 20 morning on a bus in Shanghai, where he was headed to work on a largely unauthorised photo-pasting project to draw attention to the city's demolition of historic neighbourhoods, JR said that he had learned of the prize only two weeks ago and that he had not yet had time to think of a wish.


But he said that it would undoubtedly involve his kind of guerrilla art, which he has been creating with the help of volunteers in slums in Brazil, Cambodia and Kenya where the outsize photographs, printed on waterproof vinyl, doubled as new roofs for ramshackle houses. "I'm kind of stunned," he said of the prize. "I've never applied for an award in my life and didn't know that somebody had nominated me for this."


A 'photograffeur'


At a time when street art is being embraced not only by the art world but also by branding interests, JR, who dislikes being called a street artist, preferring the term "photograffeur" (graffeur is French for graffiti artist) has become known for rejecting corporate sponsorship offers and other outside help. He said that he reinvested most of the money he makes by selling his art in galleries — and at auction one piece went for more than $35,000 at Sotheby's in 2009 — into creating more ambitious projects, and that he would use the TED prize money for the same purpose.


"If there's one thing I've always taken care of with my work, it's that it's never an advertisement for anything other than the work itself and for the people it's about no 'Coca-Cola presents,'" he said, speaking in English. "I think the TED people knew that that was one of my main concerns, and I feel pretty sure that we can come up with a project that works that way."


Amy Novogratz, the director of the prize, said that picking an artist like JR — he is 27 and fiercely protective of his anonymity, identifying himself only by his initials — was an unusual choice but that the prize committee felt that his work could "catalyse the whole TED community" to support an art-centred philanthropic project, which will be announced at the organisation's next conference in March.


"One of my concerns at first was that he wasn't going to be accessible or available, which could be off-putting when you're trying to get partners to get excited about a project," she added. And, in fact, the first time prize officials had a Skype conversation with the artist, he appeared in sunglasses with a hat pulled low over his forehead.


"But then, he said, 'You know, I trust you guys,' and he took them off," Novogratz said, "and we just had a regular old conversation."


During the interview on October 20 morning, JR said that he had not been nearly as trusting of Chinese officials, as he and a crew of helpers erect towering pictures of elderly Shanghai residents on the walls of a neighbourhood that is now more than three-quarters demolished.


"I keep thinking we are going to get into trouble," he said, adding that anyone he talks to might be an undercover police officer. But then he described an illegal act: pasting a 20-foot-tall wrinkled face around the facade of an old water tower he spotted from the highway.


"We went into the building next door, and it was empty, and we went up to the tower, and nobody stopped us, so we just started working," he said. "It's crazy. This city is so huge and overgrown, the more you're in the middle of things, the more you feel transparent."


— © New York Times News Service






A federal judge ordered the Obama administration on October 20 to review whether polar bears, at risk because of global warming, are endangered under U.S. law.


U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wants the Interior Department to clarify a decision by the administration of former President George W. Bush that polar bears were merely threatened rather than in imminent danger of extinction.


Sullivan's request, made at a hearing on October 20 in federal court, keeps in place the 2008 declaration by the Bush administration.


Oil and gas exploration


Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in May 2008 that the bears were on the way to extinction because of the rapid disappearance of the Arctic Sea ice upon which they depend. But he stopped short of declaring them endangered, which, had it been declared, would have increased protections for the bear and make oil and gas exploration more difficult.


Scientists predict sea ice will continue to melt because of global warming.


Along with the listing, Kempthorne created a "special rule" stating that the Endangered Species Act would not be used to set climate policy or limit greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming and melting ice in the Arctic Ocean.


The Obama administration upheld the Bush-era policy, declaring that the endangered species law cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gases emitted by sources outside of the polar bears' habitat. If the bears are found to be endangered, however, that could open the door to using the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gases.


Sullivan said he would issue a written order shortly, but said that the government is likely to have about 30 days to explain how it arrived at its decision.


A lawyer for an environmental group called Sullivan's action "good news for the bear," adding that the popular animal's fate was now in the hands of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.


"The court is not accepting the Fish and Wildlife Service argument that extinction must be imminent before the bear is listed as endangered," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based group that challenged the polar bear listing.


Reed Hopper, an attorney for the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which opposes protections for the bears, called the ruling disappointing.


"We would have liked to have the case decided earlier," Hopper said, noting that legal challenges have lingered in the courts for two years and probably will be delayed at least several more months. Hopper's group has filed a separate challenge to the polar bear listing, calling the bear a "thriving species" that now numbers about 25,000 from Alaska to Greenland, the highest total in history.


The bear's threatened status is due mainly to projections about declining Arctic sea ice, rather than a current decline in bear populations, Hopper said.


A spokeswoman for Salazar would not comment. A Fish and Wildlife Service official referred calls to the Justice Department, which also refused to comment.


– AP











Seen from the perspective of the spectacle on display during the recent Delhi Commonwealth Games, and the extraordinary success that marked the efforts of our sportspersons, the Games were an extraordinary success, belying earlier fears and anxieties caused by the shoddiness and the corruption that marked the preparations up to the last mile. It is fair to say that Indians, by and large, appreciate both aspects of the sporting extravaganza we have just staged: there is justifiable pride in the show that was put up as well as deprecation of the manner in which the whole thing was eventually put together. Not surprisingly, there is a strong feeling in the country that a thorough investigation should lead to the castigation and judicial trial of those who may be guilty of siphoning of public funds earmarked for creating facilities for the Games, and those who presided over cost overruns extending to thousands of crores of rupees. The inquiry ordered by the government right after the CWG was done suggests that those in authority are in step with the national mood. However, the BJP, the principal Opposition party, has demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC). Going a step further, Nitin Gadkari, the party president, has sought to link the Prime Minister's Office to the corruption that is widely believed to have dogged the Games at every stage of the preparation.

It is a pity the charge has been flung without a shred of evidence, and can be fairly said to fall in the category of hollow propaganda. The demand for a JPC probe, however, calls for some reflection. Plainly, it is not unreasonable. After all, thousands of crores of public money are suspected to have been siphoned off by unscrupulous elements associated with the Games preparation. Urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy, who headed the group of ministers that was hastily constituted by the Prime Minister to oversee all the Games work in the final stages, is reported to be not averse to the idea of a JPC probe as he believes that the government was entirely transparent in its conduct. The demand would, of course, have weight even if Mr Reddy thought differently. The problem with the idea of a JPC probe lies elsewhere, however. Both in the UK, where the institution of scrutiny by a JPC was started, and in this country, JPCs have a poor record. In India, the last such inquiry was in the Bofors affair and not much came of it, although much time and expense was devoted to the project. Inordinate time is typically wasted on procedures. While the chairmanship is meant under the rules to rest with the ruling dispensation, Opposition groups spend months arguing for one of them to head the probe body. This is, typically, done to extract propaganda mileage. Political interests of parties take precedence over the passion to get at the truth. At a more fundamental level, a JPC is virtually toothless, not possessing magisterial powers. In sum, it becomes a platform for parties opposed to the government to engage in nothing more than grandstanding while the matter at hand does not move forward a millimetre.
In the circumstances, a variant of a JPC probe can be attempted. An inquiry by a joint select committee of Parliament attached to the ministries of sports as well as urban development could be conducted and its findings forwarded to an appropriate judicial forum. Such a probe, and the one ordered by the government to be conducted by a retired Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), could feed off one another at an institutional level. This is a matter of devising appropriate mechanisms.








The disease known as "groupthink" has a curious penchant for infecting the media. The colourful German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle who visited India for the first time this week got a taste of this herd mentality when he was harried by persistent questions on Chancellor Angela Merkel's assertion that multikulti, or multiculturalism, had "utterly failed" in Germany. The underlying assumption behind the queries was that Germany had turned its back on the enlightened co-existence of cultures and was somehow re-embracing the intolerant xenophobia of a troublesome past.

Mr Westerwelle responded to these fears with admirable intellectual composure. He argued that multiculturalism meant different things to different people and that the concerns in Germany didn't imply a repudiation of an "open society" but the "free for all" society. Every society, he argued, had its own perception of what is acceptable and unacceptable. What Germany found galling was alternative paradigms of justice and human rights that devalued gender equality and religious co-existence. Mr Westerwelle spoke in code but everyone knew what he was referring to.

It is difficult to judge the impact of Mr Westerwelle's arguments on his interrogators. Judging from the fact that not a word of his attempt to contextualise Chancellor Merkel's utterances appeared in the local media, we may assume his replies were either very persuasive or a shade too complex. Either way, it is unlikely to make any impression on India's liberal, opinion-making industry that is convinced of a larger European drift to xenophobic politics. In the past week, I encountered a Delhi socialite with impeccable "progressive" credentials who boasted that she had chosen to boycott all functions hosted by the French embassy because of the burkha ban; and another editor from Chennai made the hurtful comment on Twitter that Ms Merkel was re-discovering Germany's Nazi inheritance.

Indians, as we observed during the shenanigans surrounding the Commonwealth Games, are quick to hurl charges of racism and cultural insensitivity on others. Contrary to stereotype, the charge against perceived white supremacist thinking and cultural insensitivity isn't led by the paan-chewing, Hindi-speaking zealot taking a breather from the neighbourhood Bhagwati Jagran. The prickliest of Indians tend to be those who are English-speaking, cosmopolitan in outlook and professing faith in India's rich multiculturalism.
As India has grown in prosperity and emotional self-confidence, there has been a marked inclination to paint it as the epitome of authentic secularism, enlightened pluralism and the spirit of fraternity. Some of this gushing self-deification is warranted. Indians do tend to be naturally accommodating about coping with diversity in the public sphere and politics is all about forging alliances at the local, state and national levels. The fears articulated during the Ayodhya movement about an insidious "syndicated Hinduism" making society monochromatic have, in hindsight, proved to be spurious. India has remained delightfully rumbustious and chaotically argumentative as ever.

Does this imply that India can afford to look down with condescension at a Germany that can't cope with "guest workers" who refuse to either go home or imbibe robust German values?

For a start, the distinction Mr Westerwelle drew between an "open society" and a "free for all society" is pertinent. Following the experiences with fascism and communist totalitarianism, Europe has emerged as a genuinely tolerant society, allowing an unregulated interplay of ideas. This may explain the absolute horror that greeted Ayatollah Khomeini's murderous fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Likewise, there is also a deep abhorrence of any attempt to either denigrate or discriminate against citizens on the basis of race. This is not to suggest that race hate is absent in Europe but that there is a structured intolerance of any organised attempt to make racism respectable. The manner in which the leader of the British National Party, an elected Member of the European Parliament, had his invitation to the Queen's summer party at Buckingham Palace withdrawn was unquestionably contrived. However, it did indicate the Establishment's intense unease at rubbing shoulders with a man whose party espouses crude identity politics.
Unfortunately, the threat to an open society doesn't merely come from those who claim to speak for the majority. The recent rumblings in western Europe have, unfortunately, been triggered by two factors. First, the increasing willingness of a minusculity to challenge a consensual value system, sometimes through terror; and, second, a well-meaning but oppressive political correctness that is often increasingly seen as appeasement of the unacceptable.

At the same time, and it is important to stress this, the reactions to these distortions have, by and large, been restrained. It is only where restraint has assumed the form of outright denial that the majoritarian fringe has grabbed some decisive political space as, for example, in Holland. The increasing willingness of mainstream politicians such as President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel to articulate the misgivings of a fearful, silent majority is actually a positive development. By admitting to a problem and, at the same time, shunning extremist and xenophobic ways of coping with it, their interventions have signalled to responsible sections of the minorities the importance of not offending host cultures.

Since India doesn't really have an immigrant problem — those who arrive from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka merge seamlessly into adjoining societies — many of Europe's multicultural troubles leave it unaffected. India has been less an open society than a self-regulated society which is hesitantly making the transition to a more ordered state. The Constitution has been a handy instrument of this shift towards modernity and, by and large, this approach has served the country well. The problems arise when, as in Europe, a substantial body of people (not least politicians) either try to rewrite the rules of the game or take undue advantage of a natural generosity towards minorities.

Without sneering at the Germans, taunting the French and outrightly decrying the Australians, India should imbibe the different experiences of multicultural hiccups with an open mind and humility. Each of these experiences could come to trouble us.

n Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








The minister of environment and forestry, Jairam Ramesh, is an interesting man to quarrel about and quarrel with. In many ways, he has become a public figure keen to enact policy as an open drama. Mr Ramesh has taken the domain of policy and opened it to public debate. This makes the decisions vulnerable but one can smell the fresh air of democratic debate. This smell can be very invigorating for politics.

Let us be clear. Mr Ramesh is a shrewd and ambitious man. He began as a technocrat and later learnt the craft and humility that comes with politics. He also realises it as a balancing act where today's supporters might be tomorrow's opponents. He realises that environment and politics are about trade-offs. A trade-off is an art form. As Mr Ramesh stated it in his Satish Dhawan Memorial Lecture, there is always a trade-off between growth and environment. "In arriving at decisions to untangle the trade-off, three options present themselves — 'yes', 'yes, but' and 'no'. The real problem is that the growth constituency is used to 'yes' and can live with 'yes, but'. It cries foul with 'no'. The environment constituency exults with a 'no', grudgingly accepts the 'yes, but', but cries foul with a 'yes'. Therefore one clear lesson is this — maximise the 'yes, but', where this is possible."
Mr Ramesh has his own reading of environment as politics where he quotes experts like Partha Dasgupta, Sumita Narain and Kanchan Chopra. His literacy has never been in doubt. But sociologically one can read this effort in a different way.

The last decades of the century were the era of social movements. They ranged from Chipko and Appiko to the battle over the Narmada Dam. The Indian battle for environment was a deeply political one where civil society used environment as a site to widen the idea of democracy.
But with liberalisation, the opening of the economy, the rise of a new generation, the idioms of politics were changing. The political idea of movements was seen as labour intensive and yet often futile in building consensus. Movements are precious and they represent the social conscience of the society. But movements can be concealed into method, when the method is more than a set of dry techniques like cost-benefit analysis. A variety of new heuristics, new legal frames, and new concepts could create the new life blood of a sustained environmentalism. Mr Ramesh as a mature technocrat was one of the first to understand the politics of conditionalities. Method could become a mode of arbitration, raising policy to a new level of sensitivity and debate. The drama of method as an open frame of scrutiny and evaluation based on openness, objectivity and method centered around the two great moral sites of the ecological imagination — the seed and the mine.
The rise of the Bt Cotton controversy and the tandem debates on brinjals made seeds the site of the whole debate on agriculture. A seed could not be read as a mechanical artifact to be produced in a laboratory. A seed was the image of the future, a stored heritage, a form of competence, a circus of imaginations. Such a world could not be handed over to the MNC, for to hand over such knowledge was to hand over a way of life. It was to diminish a form of civilisation called agriculture.

Because of his literacy and openness to activists, Mr Ramesh understood this intuitively. He also realised democracy is a composite of imaginations where private science and market interests have major stakes. By creating a framework of debate through his hearings, by simultaneously inviting the six academies of science to evaluate Bt crops, Mr Ramesh created a public space for doubt, debate and a process of resolution. The fact that the academics of science behaved like a collective Pinnochio was not his fault. Like Pinnochio, the academies became toys in the hands of private groups, and like Pinnochio their noses became longer with each denial.
One must be wary of creating a fairytale rendering. Mr Ramesh has employed method as a surrogate for ethics.
To the fate of agriculture, we must add the problem of the mine. The mine in India has been a source of exploitation and corruption. It has often destroyed the tribal way of life spouting the hypocritical litany of development. Anyone interested to know the details should read a recent classic by Felix Padel and Samendra Das on the role of aluminium cartels. I wish media would give Out of this Earth the publicity it reserves for the adolescent outpourings of the diaspora which everyone calls "literature".

Mr Ramesh realised the pending ethical issues of the mine. A whole nexus of cartels were eating into mineral wealth from iron ore to bauxite, with complete indifference to the local people and their ecology. Mr Ramesh realised that methodology of environmental clearances could introduce these cartels to the rule of law in India. He was quick to emphasise that the goal was not to delay nor was it a romantic pursuit of anti-development. His technocratic past ensured that he was not subject to accusation of sentiment. Method has a way of hiding values. This much he knew and exploited.

He went further. He showed that given an era where the green bench is dormant, where the court insists that the Narmada Dam is a marker of sustainability, one needs to rework sustainability as a methodology, as a framework of law, as a model for justice. One needs methodology for both gross domestic product and Green Domestic Product. One needs a revaluation of wealth in a polluted society. He is quick to remind us that the phrase "sustainable development" was first coined by an Indian economist, Nitin Desai. He is equally quick to remind us that the systems of green accounting are still a patina of good intentions.

But Mr Ramesh has cleared the ground. He has shown we cannot use old fears, like the China syndrome, to create bad defence or development. Yet he intuitively realises that the battle for a green India needs the creativity of our society. His is an invitation to politics, to ethics which is asking us to go beyond his initial framework of methods. He is a harbinger of future but it is upto the society to claim the opportunity. This coming month is the month of the Earth Charter. One hopes India does not reduce it to the banality of empty proclamations.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








Some years ago on a visit to Shanghai I bought a fake Victorinox bag. A few days earlier I had seen a man carrying an elegant bag in the lobby of the hotel where I was staying, and a discreet, sideways glance at the logo revealed it was a Victorinox (they make the famous Swiss Army Knife). When I spotted a similar bag — not the one with colourful polycarbonate bodies but the regular expandable black bag — in the local fake goods market I bargained with the Chinese shopkeeper but ended up paying more than I should have because the man was smart and realised I was really keen on it. Still, as fakes go I would like to believe it was a steal.
That wasn't the only fake item I bought in the crowded market: I bought a smart North Face duffel with wheels and a retractable handle, a few Louis Vuitton wallets ("Look inside, very good silk", the saleswoman told me), some Montblanc pens and ball pens ("Just like the original"), and a few Polo Sport T-shirts. I also bought a torch with a powerful beam. When the man thought I was in two minds about the torch, he said, in broken English, "Very good, cheap, no battery", meaning that it's rechargeable. It was made in China but wasn't a copy of any brand.

Back home, my pens were a great hit, the Louis Vuitton gifts were accepted with a polite "how sweet, thank you", the duffel and the big bag survived a few flights, and after all these years I still have one T-shirt left. I forget what happened to the rechargeable torch but considering that torches guzzle batteries and batteries don't come cheap, I consider mine a good buy, well worth the yuans I paid for it. I only wish I had bought two.
I don't know if my friends ever tried out the pens but I remember our discussion about Chinese ingenuity: How on earth can they sell a Montblanc knock-off for as little as what I paid (I forget the amount) for it? Imagine what goes into its making: the raw materials, the moulds, the nib and the ink tube, the ring on the cap, the assembly, the retailer's margin, and so on. But then, you wouldn't buy it if it weren't cheap, would you?
Earlier this week when a leaking battery ruined an expensive Maglite I told a colleague that I was looking for an inexpensive rechargeable torch and since we happened to be near the Red Fort in Old Delhi, he suggested we explore the New Lajpat Rai Market that has quite a few shops selling made-in-China items.
In all these years in Delhi I have often heard people talk about the wholesale Chinese goods markets scattered across sections of Chandni Chowk but have visited only one in a place called Balli Maran, a maze of narrow lanes whose speciality is cheap Indian shoes and slippers (Crocs look-alikes in a riot of colours) and Chinese sunglasses and spectacle frames. I went there more out of curiosity but ended up buying two frames and would have happily bought a pair of black Ray-Ban Wayfarers for about `150 but the finish was quite terrible. It looked fake.

The New Lajpat Rai Market had hundreds of shops selling clocks — clocks with Italics and Roman numerals, clocks without any numbers, square, triangle and oval clocks, all kinds of pendulum clocks and Mickey Mouse clocks, all between `50 and `250 a piece. They are made in India and come with a year's warranty.
The Chinese stalls were more interesting: a wrist watch with flashing disco lights, cigarette lighters with torch built-in for `10, and yes, all kinds of rechargeable LED torches, including a novel one with an FM radio built in. "For `200 you get a torch with a long beam and a radio", said the shopkeeper. Not only that, it was also rechargeable. I have seen an FM radio with a built-in torch (also made in China), but never the other way round. Impulsively, I bought two — just in case one stops working.

Every year before Diwali my wife likes to light traditional clay diyas and I suggest we should go in for candles. Soaking the diyas overnight in a bucket of water, filling them with oil, dipping cotton wicks into each piece, and placing them gingerly on the edge of the verandah is not only a bit of a chore but is also messy business.
Last year I bought a string of white fairy lights made in China from our neighbourhood market: they were cheap, plug-and-play and looked quite nice when I strung it on the champa tree. So we had diyas, candles and the Chinese lights.

This Diwali I will get two more strings — not only because they are cheap but they are also so cheerful.

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









If you think you are stuck with a bad boss, think again. What may be bad at home is good in the workplace, say researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Business Administration. This group moved away from analysing traits usually identified with good leaders (extroversion, communication skills, problem solving abilities, cool under pressure). In a study that followed more than 900 officer cadets at the US Military Academy, the researchers focused on the 'dark' traits of leaders, including narcissism, being critical, and rule-bound. These apparently are traits that get work done.


It's surprising why we didn't realise this earlier. Leaders need not be popular; they have to be doers. Not for nothing was Jack Welch known as Neutron Jack. When he was boss of GE, his subordinates were not in love with him. But Welch took his company to the pinnacle of achievement, and it was not his goody-goody nature that did it.


Perhaps PM Manmohan Singh can learn a thing or two from this. He is Mr Nice and Mr Honest. But maybe that's why we had such a near disaster before the Commonwealth Games. Singh was too nice with the guys with whom he didn't need to be nice. Only when he got nasty did we pull off victory from the jaws of ignominy.







US president Barack Obama's three-day visit to India starting November 6 is giving rise to feverish anxieties and expectations.


The anxiety is centred around two issues: Obama's Af-Pak policy and his approach to the US's economic problems. After nearly a decade of fruitless war, the US is now planning to exit Afghanistan without defeating the Taliban or reining in the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist groups. Policymakers in Washington are keen to buy their way out through thoughtless economic and military aid to Pakistan. It should surprise no one if president Obama raises the Kashmir question just to mollify Islamabad.


The second issue of concern is Obama's approach to protecting American jobs. He is likely to air his concerns over the loss of American jobs to outsourcing and may want India to make amends for it. This could mean India providing access to American companies in defence and other high technology sectors like civilian nuclear power, apart from allowing American companies to raise stakes in sectors like insurance.


On India's part, strong concerns will be expressed about military aid to Pakistan on the pretext of fighting Islamic extremists. New Delhi will also stand its ground on the issue of outsourcing and will demand better access to Indian companies in the services sector.


The third American presidential visit in a decade — after Bill Clinton in 2000 and George Bush in 2006 — will be a tough one to negotiate. While there will be a tendency on the part of the US to sweet-talk India into making concessions on issues important to them, India will have to be willing to play hardball without ruffling feathers. In earlier engagements with the US, India has willingly played second fiddle, but this time it has to be different because of changed circumstances: the US, despite being the world's only superpower, has a weaker hand, and it needs us as much as we need it. Behind the bonhomie in public, India will have to dig in its heels in to fight for its interests. We are not on a weak wicket this time.







Delhi Metro's boss E Sreedharan has a point. In an interview to DNA, he said that large infrastructure projects, such as the metro, should be undertaken by the state simply because they do not generate profits in the short and medium term. He warned that the Mumbai metro was heading for a financial disaster.


The private sector, by its very nature, has to ensure that it is profitable within a reasonable period of time. This is probably why it pads up cost estimates while drawing up reports; it knows that projects have to be cleared by politicians and bureaucrats. Since fares and fees are regulated, crooked private sector businessmen try and sneak in their returns by bumping up initial project costs.


Since this is a recipe for even higher losses once projects are operational, they use the losses to get regulators to raise user charges faster.


A case in point is the Mumbai-Pune Expressway project. The private bids invited for the project were so high that the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) decided to do it on its own. Today, the expressway is testimony to the wisdom of that move and the folly of trying to rope in the private sector.


This is not to say that everything the public sector does is fine. There are enough public sector examples of project disasters — the Commonwealth Games is one crowning example — to make us wary of putting it on a pedestal. More so, when we know that the neta-babu combine uses public sector enterprises as milch cows for personal benefit. Sreedharan's own Delhi Metro is a success precisely because he has kept politicians and bureaucrats at arm's length. In an earlier project handled by Sreedharan — the Konkan Railway — he had to fend off unwelcome manoeuvres from the then railway minister Jaffer Sharief, who was hell-bent on interfering.


The caveat is clear: public sector control of infrastructure projects is good when we have the right leadership and there is a political commitment to leave things to professionals. The Sena-BJP government of the 1990s pulled off a Mumbai infrastructure coup by building nearly a score of flyovers within the stipulated time and cost estimates because it gave the MSRDC a clear mandate. This does not mean the private sector cannot deliver. It can. But since it is driven by the profit motive, it is better off bidding for projects that are fundamentally viable. The public sector is better placed to deliver when there are only losses to be made.








The entire episode concerning the withdrawal of Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey is rich in irony. The man who has made abuse his personal style statement, objects to bad language in a literary work prescribed as a text for 18-year-olds! Even as he railed against the "dirty words'' in the book, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray dug into his own repertoire of invective to describe his political rivals. The words used include "eunuch'' and "impotent'', along with trademark references to lungis falling, and finally, his special word of abuse for Muslims, landya (circumcised), the use of which, according to Sena mouthpiece Saamna, brought the house down every time.


It is also strange that the Maharashtra chief minister, who expressed his unease that Rohinton Mistry's book, with its abusive


language, could be prescribed as a text, said not a word about the language used in a public meeting held just 24 hours earlier, which apparently was loud enough for families in Shivaji Park to hear. Of course, the CM was responding to a question about the book, but not once in his two-year tenure has Ashok Chavan, or indeed, any Congress CM, objected to the gutter language used by Thackeray in Saamna, which is read in thousands of Marathi-speaking households.


Studying Saamna's editorials could prove useful to Aditya, the youngest Thackeray to inherit the party's leadership. His entire role in this book withdrawal episode is also not without irony. As a student of English Literature a year ago, Aditya is sure to have studied Shakespeare and John Donne; Chaucer and Pope,


Kamala Das and Namdeo Dhasal. Did their language shock the 19-year-old? Or did he learn to read their works as a whole, not focusing only on the ribald phrases as pimply adolescents would do? Would he pick out "dog Jew'' and "currish Jew" to label Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice as anti-Semitic? Didn't Aditya learn the difference between a work of fiction and an essay? After all, his college is among the handful in this city where one can get a decent education in English Literature.


Yet, it was at his instance that the Sena youth wing demanded the withdrawal of a text, based on a few passages read out of context.


This is precisely why it is essential for Aditya to study his grandfather's editorials in his party's newspaper. For a student of history (as he now is), 18 years is not a long time. All Aditya needs do is look at the edits of Saamna written from 1992 onwards. He might be surprised to find the variety of abuse that occurs repeatedly there. As a politician, the editor of Saamna is expected to spit venom against his political rivals. But Bal Thackeray's ire isn't aroused only by that "black buffalo'' or that "ram'' (epithets used to describe other political leaders). Communists and Socialists, Muslims, editors who've criticised him, and specially female political figures who've taken him on, have been described in words that make you want to rinse your mouth. The editorials are infested with references to faeces, snot and urine; menstrual rags and stale nankatais, women gyrating and lungis flapping.


Yet, only once has Saamna been taken to court — and then it was defended by the Maharashtra government! Leading up to the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, and then all through the riots, Saamna wrote edit after incendiary edit, inciting its Hindu readers by invoking images of Hindu dead bodies and of dharmayuddh (holy war). It repeatedly referred to Muslims as "fanatic traitors'' in whose mohallas flowed "streams of treason''.


In a perceptive self-evaluation after the riots, Thackeray wrote: (Saamna has prepared a) "burning generation. Saamna's job is to keep it smouldering… The Hindus… should not become embers again. We should burn and in this burning conflagration, let the traitors be reduced to ashes.''


But the government stood silently by. When asked to explain its inaction by the high court, which was hearing a petition filed by


JB D'Souza and Dilip Thakore, the government pleader argued that the offensive passages could not be read "in isolation''. The judges agreed that read as a whole, the editorials did not


promote communal disharmony, since the derogatory references were only to "anti-national'' Muslims, not all Muslims.


Why doesn't the Sena use the same argument now for Mistry's book? According to media reports, Thackeray at his Dussehra rally electrified his followers with his special "Thackeri bhasha''.


Immediately thereafter, his edits ranted against burkha-clad women and loudspeakers on mosques. The foul language at the rally, followed by these inflammatory writings, provide reason enough for legal action. But the Congress-NCP government pretends nothing's been said.


"People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them,'' wrote American writer James Baldwin. As a student of literature and history, Bal Thackeray's youngest heir will surely


understand the implications of this statement.


— The writer is a commentator on political and social affairs








The only way to know the City of Light — Paris has often been called that by poets — is to walk through it. In just three days, my shoes have given way, trudging through the Left Bank and the Marais, the increasingly trendy area for new and spunky galleries. I wanted to get a feel of what was happening in the world of contemporary art in Paris.


Paris has long been seen as a mecca for artists, until New York, London and other cities took up the flame and the Parisian art scene became staid and predictable. But something seems to be brewing here. Not only have a whole new slew of galleries, helmed by young gallerists, mushroomed, there is far more experimentation. The past also looms less large. Pop Surrealism seems to be the flavour of the season. Characters from comic books, children's books and pop culture are ubiquitous. The influence of Japanese cartoons known as manga is quite evident.


Even the sentinels of historical cultural institutions haven't been immune to it. Not even those in charge of the Chateau of Versailles. Currently on at this august institution is an exhibition by the celebrated Japanese artist Takashi Murakami who draws his inspiration from both manga and popular culture.


Nothing could be more surreally pop than Murakami at Versailles. In his little note for his exhibition of 22 works, 11 of them specially created, Murakami writes: "I am the Cheshire Cat who greets Alice in Wonderland and chatters on as she wanders around the chateau. With my playful smile, I invite you all to the Wonderland of Versailles".


And so the brightly coloured, wildly imaginative and hybrid dramatis personae of the artist's fantasy world

inhabit the rooms where the kings held their receptions or received their honoured guests. You even find them in the legendary Hall of Mirrors.


In their quest for something new or revolutionary, a few cultural institutions have begun to create scenarios of "clashes" between heritage buildings and the contemporary world. The Chateau de Versailles started this "dialogue" two years ago with the American artist Jeff Koons, whose bright red lobsters and mammoth steel animal sculptures made their home in the former residence of the French kings.


Piggybacking on history has often been a successful device used by writers — and increasingly artists — to layer their work and give it some resonance. But mere juxtaposition with the past can be trickier for artists. They risk getting too literal, being overwhelmed or shown up by the masterpieces of the past. But when it works, the results can be quite fascinating.


Murakami does more than just a jugalbandi with the past. He is slyly irreverent, especially his sculpture titled The Emperor's New Clothes. Murakami's fibreglass emperor wears a fur-trimmed cape and nothing else. Except for some rather flimsy underwear that seems to have fallen down a bit. And on his pompous head lies a cartoony little crown of red velvet and diamonds.


The Japanese artist' s coup de grace is the context: he has placed his emperor in The Coronation Room. In one of the huge paintings in this room, Napoleon is about to crown himself.


Hopefully, some enterprising curator will get an Indian artist to have a playful encounter with the past. Perhaps, we have made a beginning with Sudharshan Shetty's delightfully subversive and witty exhibition titled This Too shall Pass, currently on at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.


— The writer is a journalist based in Delhi








Can there be smoke without fire? The inhabitants of Pakki Dacci and a few adjoining localities in the old city have been spending sleepless nights for quite some days now. The word has gone around that they are being displaced to include their areas in the Mubarak Mandi heritage complex. It is also being said that Pakki Dacci will be the route of the proposed ropeway between Mubarak Mandi and the Bahu Fort on the other side of Tawi. The people have become apprehensive for good reason. They say that there have been knocks at their door in the name of a survey being carried out for the proposed cable car. In fact, the older among them are too scared. Where do they go in the twilight of their lives? Those who can afford have already begun thinking of finding alternative accommodation. It is something which is easier said than done. For decades, if not for centuries, they have been staying in these parts from one generation to the other. Where can they move? There are just a few who have in the past shifted to new colonies at the outskirts of the city. The majority has stayed put in what is an idyllic environment although without certain basic facilities. Is there really a move to cause their wholesale dislocation? Our inquiries with the Deputy Commissioner of Jammu, Mr Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, reveal that Pakki Dacci does not figure on the route of the ropeway. Therefore, there is no move to shift any segment of population. A delegation led by the former Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, Mr Ashok Khajuria, who is the local legislator, has returned with even more definite information after a meeting with the Divisional Commissioner, Mr Pawan Kotwal. Unnamed officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) are exposed to the charge of causing panic.


For his part the Divisional Commissioner has done well to ask the public to inform him in case they come across any such "official" visits in future. He has held out the assurance that they will not be disturbed. Mr Khajuria himself has got the impression that the ropeway from the Mubarak Mandi side will take off from Gol Ghar of the erstwhile seat of the Dogra rulers. This makes better sense. Yet, given the sensitivity of the issue, it will be better if the administration discloses the entire scheme, if any, for the satisfaction of the citizens at large. Any confusion will give room to dishonest public servants and mischief-makers to play on the fears of innocent residents.


It is baffling that there should be any talk of extending the heritage complex when even its core region is in a shambles. At current pace it will take half a century if not more to turn the Mubarak Mandi into a showpiece. Its area is well defined. How can it be enlarged just like that? This does not mean that its vicinity does not have historic landmarks in their own right. There are actually quite a few of them. They are part of our folklore. For the time being, however, we should focus on Mubarak Mandi with the objective of honing it to perfection the soonest possible. Any rumour connected with this exercise should be nipped in the bud.







The issue of the misuse of holy shrines by terrorists once again comes to the fore in the wake of an encounter recently between the Army troops and a militant duo in Bandipora district in the north of the Valley. One terrorist was killed while the other sustained injuries. The latter rushed into a mosque to take shelter. He was aware that once inside the holy precincts he would not be easily touched. Did he not thus reduce a pious place into a hub for furthering his wicked design? The uniformed force did well to observe restraint even while remaining on its toes. It was quite thoughtful on its part to send in village elders and the Imam of the mosque to persuade the militant to leave the spot and surrender before the security forces. However, he refused to oblige and hurled grenades instead towards the jawans to check their movement. As the firing from his side stopped it turned out that he had succumbed to his injuries. Both the terrorists were of the Pakistani origin. Admittedly, this is not the first time that a place of worship has been misused. Why does a killer find it safe to hide in a house of god? It is obviously not because he is a devotee. If he was one he would not go on a murderous spree as a mercenary. It is also not because he is certain that the Almighty would come to his rescue. It is only because he is sure that the others including the security forces would be hesitant to chase him into the sanctum sanctorum. For their part the law-abiding and law-enforcing would like to take every criminal to task. They are not afraid of carrying out their assigned task anywhere. In this instance, however, they become slightly diffident for fear of hurting the sentiments of the people at large. A faithful is deeply attached with a holy place. What can't be understood, however, is why he should bear with the gross abuse of his devotional space by the perpetrators of murder and mayhem as their hide-outs. He should stand up and tell them that enough is not enough. This is not happening. It is thus the indifference of the common man that makes matters worse for security forces.


Have we cared to analyse our response as ordinary citizens to the killings executed by the militants inside mosques and temples? By and large we have kept silent. In sharp contrast some of us cry foul the moment the police or other arms of law react to assert their authority. Why should this dichotomy be there? It is to be appreciated, therefore, that once driven to the wall the men in power have found it necessary to exorcise the shrines of their evil occupants. On quite a few occasions they have been forced to do so in this country. It is too early to forget that at least at one time we have virtually witnessed a battle in the Raghunath Temple complex in this city. In Pakistan, which is religion-based state, the Government had to strike against Islamic militants right inside the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa madrasa complex in the Capital city of Islamabad. Is there any other option in these matters?











The latest victim of Jairam Ramesh's environmental terrorism is Posco. So the project that is India's single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) could be canceled and when this happens it will undoubtedly go a long way towards driving away other prospective foreign investors. Keep in mind that we need masses of FDI to build our roads, power plants and other infrastructure and you might understand why I use the word environmental terrorism to describe what the Minister of Environment is doing.

Let me first give you a short list of India's infrastructure requirements in the next twenty years if we are to lift India out of poverty by the middle of this century. As one of the few countries left in the world without a single access-controlled highway our biggest need is possibly in the road sector. In China last month I saw Kamal Nath appeal to Chinese investors to come and invest in what he described as the biggest road building exercise imaginable. We need to build more than 20 kilometres a day if we are to build the roads we need and just one access-controlled highway between Mumbai and New Delhi could bring about a small revolution in Indian transportation.

Our next priority is a massive modernization of our railways. We rely currently on ancient tracks and decrepit stations and these require major improvement even before we have begun to think of the high speed trains that now link major Chinese cities. These trains need special tracks that we have not even begun to start building. We then need to build modern airports in all our metropolitan cities and speaking of cities we need to remember that experts calculate that India will need another 500 cities to accommodate the urbanization that is likely to happen before the middle of this century. All of these things need steel so when a huge multi-national company like Posco is prepared to invest Rs 53,160 crores in the plant it wanted to build in Orissa we should facilitate the investment not block it.

Correct? Well, it might surprise you to know that all we have done so far is block the investment for the past five years on account of a handful of Adivasi families who believe they are better off without Posco and have formed the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. They should have been persuaded that their lives would improve if Posco went ahead with its planned investment but on account of a lack of political will this did not happen. Now comes the threat to cancel environmental clearances on account of alleged violations of forest protection laws and coastal zone regulations. Why should Posco not take its investment elsewhere? Why should anyone else dare invest in India?

Under Jairam Ramesh we have already seen the Vedanta project cancelled in Orissa's Niyamgiri hills after that company had invested more than Rs 11,000 crores in a refinery to make aluminum. It built the refinery close to the source of bauxite in the hope of reducing the international price of aluminum by half. This would have made India a huge centre for aluminum production but again a handful of Adivasis, incited by dubious international socialites, got in the way and Mr. Ramesh withdrew environmental clearances despite the Supreme Court having given Vedanta a clean chit. What is interesting is that the Environment Minister canceled permissions on the grounds that the refinery violated the forests act but when our future Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi, addressed an Adivasi rally shortly afterwards he talked not of environmental damage but of the right of Adivasis to their land. We still do not know if Vedanta was kicked out for environmental reasons or because it was a question of land. According to some estimates these two projects alone would have doubled Orissa's revenue if they had gone through.

Another possible victim of the Environment Minister's hyper-activism is likely to be Mumbai's new airport. He wants the city to find an alternative site without noticing that it is not easy for this island city to find 5000 acres of alternative land. What he appears not to have noticed either is that the most environmentally dangerous things in Mumbai are its shanties in which nearly half of its citizens live in unspeakable squalor. Children eat, play and perform their morning ablutions amid layers and layers of rotting garbage. From these shanties come most of the diseases that afflict Mumbai annually and most of the environmental degradation. Some shanties violate the coastal zonal regulations blatantly with shacks built on beaches that quickly become no more than strips of squalid habitation. 

What puzzles me as a passionate environmentalist is why the Minister of Environment only sees danger in projects that bring development and prosperity? Why does he not see the general squalor that is turning the whole of India into a continent of slums? The Ministry of Environment needs to help Indian towns and cities deal with waste disposal, greening and finding ways to clean urban air. This Ministry should find ways of providing clean and alternative fuel in forested areas so that desperately poor forest dwellers do not continue cutting trees for fuel wood. Most of India's forests have disappeared not because factories have come up in their place but because Adivasis have been forced to cut the trees for fuel wood. What happened to the many schemes to distribute cheap gas ovens to people living in forests? 

What is most worrying about Mr. Ramesh's environmental hyper-activism is that he appears to be inspired by some very dodgy environmental groups. These environmental groups have never bothered about such urgent environmental concerns as the need to clean India's rivers which are all horribly polluted. Nor does it bother them that most urban Indians live in filthy habitations with filthy air and water. It is only big development projects that they go out of their way to stop. Without these big development projects India will never succeed in lifting out of poverty the estimated 300 million Indians who live in utter poverty. Our Minister of Environment needs to remember that one of the most environmentally degrading things on the planet is desperate poverty. It is mostly on account of this that we have lost nearly all our forests, reduced our sacred rivers to sewers and our urban centres to squalid slums. Reducing poverty should be India's number one environmental priority not stopping projects that bring prosperity and change.









The battle for Bihar has started and all parties throw political punches and it is good to see a spirited political battle in the State. The results in my opinion are not easy to forecast as several political trends are uncertain and considering that the public is one step ahead of the political parties we are in for a surprise or two! CM Nitesh Kumar is a good man and he means well and there is little doubt that for the first time law and order has seen a dramatic change for the better and in the rural areas development is visible but will all this prevail over a stormy alliance with the BJP and the minority vote is crucial for success. The JD[U] and the BJP may win by more than a 'whisker' but I am not very sure if the RJD/LJPS or the Congress will be in second place! The response to the Congress and to the efforts of General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is very positive in the party cadre's and this could also shift a major part of the minority vote towards the party as Lalu Yadav and the RJD looks to be in decline and we could be in for a surprise and the Congress from a meager 10 seats are expected to go to 20-25 seats but this could go into a 30 seat range and the RJD/LJPS could decline to 30-35 seats and this could also be the trend for the Lok Sabha election where the Congress will pose a challenge for all the 40 seats in the State. We have now seen two decades of Coalition governance at the Center and are we heading towards a change to majority rule in the 2014 election and will strong Regional leaders like Nitesh Kumar survive the trend of consolidation as we approach the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. UPA 2 looked more solid than the UPA1 but look at the damage the DMK and A Raja with the 2G scam have done to the government and the Coalition is not a grand success and the Congress tally of 200 plus seats have not helped in formation of a stable formation. The current trends show many Regional parties holding on to their political ground over two or three elections but will this trend prevail in the future? 

The next three months will be devoted to the media exposure on several aspects of the CWG 10 games and while the Committee appointed by the PM takes three months to submit its report for further investigation the electronic and the print media will be full of details on the 'transactions' done by Suresh Kalmadi and his coterie within the OC and the Central agencies specially the DDA will be scrutinized for the 'Village' which threatened the very existence of the Games and we have seen very poor management of the Games and if the blame game is played fairly then there are few innocents and the GOM cannot escape responsibility and the 'buck' has to stop at the top and not at the middle or the bottom! The CAG or the CVC report by itself mean little and look at all the reports they have given in the past year and the action initiated and the results achieved and what would be important is the action initiated by the ED/IT and the CBI and every attempt will be made by interested elements to confuse the issue and it would be sad if time and effort is wasted on a 'wide' front! The reality is that a handful of OC members have created financial chaos and do not be surprised if files and records are destroyed but almost everyone in the Organizing Committee is aware of the 'excessive' assets of the five or six people involved in the systematic plunder of the resources loaned by the government to the OC. The EMAAR/MGF and the DDA have much to answer for in the 'Village' and I am very baffled by the lack of action by the GOM and the Minister concerned and drastic action was taken by the PM literally at the last minute and this to me is the single largest disaster in the game and threatened to wreck our reputation as a Nation. As I write this there are raids in over 30 locations and the picture will become a little clearer in the next fortnight when the entire pattern of the investigation emerges.

The situation in the Southern states is rather fluid as there is chaos in Karnataka and all Political parties lose credibility as MLA's are auctioned from all sides and few would believe that MLA's are switching loyalties on matters of morality and ethics! Sad that political power is being subverted by strong financial lobbies and the voting public has very limited options for the future. There is very little credibility for the political system and can we assume that there is any respect for the Governor? Presidents rule never really helps the party in power at the Center but it is sad that a well run state like Karnataka is going the way of Jharkhand. The situation in Andhra Pradesh is very fluid and in Tamil Nadu the DMK family war's can erupt at any given moment and the telecom scam and A Raja have cast a very dark shadow on UPA2 and the weak CBI response to the whole issue raises the compulsions of Coalition survival. A political accident was averted in the State of Kerala on the lottery issue and the Congress has much to do in all the four states and while Tamil Nadu and Kerala will go to the polls in the months to come can anyone forecast the turn of events in Karnataka or for that matter in all the three regions of Andhra Pradesh. These are some of the challenges before the Congress party as they make the long awaited changes in the party and the government.

We have a busy time as the Bihar elections roll on and the six phases will go on for a month and during this time we will all be kept busy with the IPL soap opera between the BCCI and Lalit Modi and sadly he loses all credibility as he attempts to avoid the law and we will also witness CBI activity on CWG10 and there is general cynicism if anything will happen and we will have a welcome diversion in the visit of President Barack Obama in early November and it should be a historic visit for both countries as we take our relation ship to a new level.








In an increasingly digital world, ironically, there may yet be a silver lining to the primitive nature of India's infrastructure: that it is not computer controlled may make India less vulnerable than some other nations. Cyber warfare by sophisticated attackers is a subtle and dangerous new tactic used by many armies and intelligence agencies.

Malicious entities can infiltrate computers running critical power grids, dams, air traffic control networks, bank networks, and so on. Under the remote control of hostile groups, power grids may shut down, dams may suddenly become "water bombs", and nuclear power plants may blow up and spew radiation, and planes may start colliding in the air. The implications are horrifying.

Some nations explicitly include cyber warfare in long range strategic plans. China, for instance, has a doctrine of "asymmetric warfare", most particularly against the US, a foe far stronger in conventional weapons, but vulnerable to cyber attacks. China has also been implicated in large-scale intrusion into computers in Indian embassies and ministries. 

It is certain that major powers have active defensive and offensive programmes to penetrate their enemies' computer systems. If India doesn't, it is at risk.

The latest example of cyber attacks is the so-called Stuxnet worm discovered a few months ago, which focuses on industrial control systems made by Siemens. Circumstantial evidence suggests that it is explicitly meant to cripple or slow down Iran's nuclear programme. But it could be turned against India as well.

According to Symantec, 60 per cent of Stuxnet infestations have been reported from Iran, 18 per cent from Indonesia and 8 per cent from India. Given the consistent hostility that western powers have shown towards India's nuclear programme, this should be cause for concern. This should also raise questions regarding failures in other sensitive programmes - for instance, the latest failed launches of the GSLV and the Prithvi. Are there worms in the ISRO's and DRDO's systems?

Iran is certainly taking this issue seriously. The reaction from Mohammed Liayi, head of the information technology council at the ministry of industries, was stark: "An electronic war has been launched against Iran". Forbes magazine called the attack a "game-changer". The worm is so sophisticated that Computerworld magazine felt it had to be government-backed. 

Microsoft reported that 45,000 computers are known to be infected with Stuxnet. It utilises several previously unknown security holes in Microsoft Windows to attack a Siemens application called Win CC that runs Scada (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems that manage valves, pipelines and industrial equipment, according to The Economist.

Scada systems are usually not connected to the Internet, for obvious security reasons. 

Apparently, Stuxnet was spread using USB pen drives, the memory sticks used to transfer data. The attack also depended on that most low-tech device: human curiosity. People picked up thumb drives they found lying around, and unknowingly infected their systems, allowing the worm to spread around the local area network!
There are a number of factors that make this attack unique. For one, most worms and viruses are written to cause maximum, random damage and, therefore, target the most common systems - hence, for instance the preponderance of such attacks on Windows, which runs 90 per cent of the world's PCs, and not on Macs or Unix/Linux systems. This worm, on the other hand, is only interested in particular industrial equipment from a particular manufacturer, and furthermore, it targets only specific configurations or processes - it does not attack others. 

Therefore, the attackers knew precisely what they were looking to disrupt. The finger of suspicion at the moment points to the Iranian nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz. This facility hosts many centrifuges, those sophisticated devices (AQ Khan famously "transferred" centrifuge technology from Europe to Pakistan) that increase the proportion of U-235 in natural uranium to produce weapons grade material.
Given Israel's obsession with Iran's N-programme, it is the most likely suspect. Besides, experts decoding the "well-written", "ground-breaking", "impressive" code have found obscure clues about Esther, a character in Jewish mythology who helps fend off a Persian attack. Of course, this could well be disinformation. 

Nevertheless, India had better take this lesson to heart. Given its almost complete lack of friends on the world stage, the "string of pearls" strategy that China is using to contain India, and the hostility of the non-proliferation ayatollahs in the Obama Administration, India will be - and may already be - the target of sophisticated computer attacks that it is woefully unprepared for. (INAV)









WHILE the Shiromani Akali Dal has formally expelled former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal from the party, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal too has moved swiftly and effected a Cabinet reshuffle, ending uncertainty and leaving no room for speculation. Given the raging debate on the precarious financial condition of Punjab, it would not have been in the interest of the government as well as Punjab to keep the Finance Minister's office vacant for too long. So far the political crisis provoked by the departure of Mr Manpreet Badal has been effectively handled. The real test, however, will be at the time of elections when people will take their call on the functioning of the Akali Dal-BJP government.


Veteran leader Sewa Singh Sekhwan has to play a more proactive role now as the Education Minister. Education at the school, college and university levels suffers from lack of resources. The financial crunch is reflected in the pathetic condition and declining popularity of government schools. The waning government support over the years has forced government colleges and universities to cut corners and hike charges, taking higher education beyond the reach of students with modest backgrounds. Mr Sekhwan will have to do something more serious on the education front than playing politics as he has been doing in the recent crisis.


Moving from Education to Finance, Dr Upinderjit Kaur has occupied a hot seat. She will be keenly watched for her stand and utterances on the issues of subsidies and state debt. Of course, there will be high expectations from her. She maintains a low profile, takes the politically correct line and is not outspoken or daring like her controversial predecessor. With no known economic agenda of her own, she is expected to follow the populist policies of her party. Now that the state of the economy has evoked wider public interest, the government will have to take hard decisions to arrest the economic slide. Mr Manpreet Singh Badal is expected to keep the issues he has raised at the political centre stage.








THE British Chancellor of the Exchequer (read Finance Minister), George Osborne, has decided to go in for economic surgery to save his country from sliding into instability. This is how one should look at the measures he has announced — to do away with half a million public sector jobs, increase the age of superannuation to 66 years and reduce the expenditure on welfare programmes. He had proposed these steps in June when he presented his first budget after the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Before these budget proposals he had told his ministers in May that they must get ready for a 5 per cent pay cut as part of the new government's austerity measures to send across the message that the time had come for the Britons to learn to live within their means.


There are fears, as pointed out by a few economists, that the recession-hit British economy may experience greater recessionary pressures with growth slowing down considerably. Osborne is, however, not scared. He has made his own calculations keeping in view Britain's economic health and what other Western developed countries are doing. The UK today has a record budget deficit of 11 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), highest among the G7 nations. This deficit cannot be brought down to 2 per cent in five years, as planned, unless the economic belt is tightened.


The measures to drastically reduce the 156 billion pound deficit may cause a little uneasiness among the public now, but this negative feeling may be replaced by confidence in the government's economic policies once the results start showing. It is believed that the GDP growth rate for next year can be higher than what has been projected by economists — 1.8 per cent against the current year's 1.6 per cent. Freezing fresh recruitments against the vacant posts and retaining the employees on the verge of retirement alone will help Britain save a huge amount of money it so badly needs. Retiring the employees who are more productive because of being more experienced is no longer considered a sound economic decision in most developed countries. If Britain succeeds in achieving its objectives through the measures it has announced, it is bound to have a cascading effect elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.









CONVENTIONAL wisdom is that politics is the last resort of scoundrels. We in India are ever ready to make such conventions stand on their heads. A former DMK MLA has been arrested in Chennai for robbing two local women of cash and gold by posing as an income tax official. He seemed to have lost his old touch. That is the only logical explanation for the fact that he managed to get caught after he "seized" jewellery and cash from the house of an octogenarian retired official of the PWD. His brother who accompanied him in this "tax raid" proved to be a smarter cookie and managed to escape with the bounty. K. Ravisankar himself is a blot on the name of politicians. A politician who gets caught is no politician at all.


He was an MLA only from 1996 to 2001. The lack of regular practice during this past decade spent without being given a chance to serve the people perhaps made him rusty and he aroused the suspicion of the old couple and their daughter-in-law who raised the alarm and the passerby and drivers of the nearby autorickshaw stand caught hold of them. The brother made good his escape; Ravishankar could not. What blasphemy on the part of the public! How dare anyone touch a former MLA?


The Hon'ble MLA had not exactly been idle all this while. He was also arrested in 2003 on charges of possessing narcotics when the AIADMK was in power. He had escaped from police custody and was presumably studying ever since to plan the perfect robbery. Perhaps he will now take the plea that he was only doing a sting operation to expose the corruption prevalent in the income tax department. If he has the right connections, his plea may also be sympathetically heard. 

















RECENTLY, there was much hype about Washington-based International Monetary Fund' s forecast of 9.5 per cent growth rate for India next year. But the news of an unusually low industrial growth rate in August 2010 has dampened the spirits of the market and the government. The BSE Sensex, after reaching 20,000, quickly shed 225 points after the report of industrial slowdown surfaced in the market.


Industrial output in August grew at the slowest pace in 15 months at 5.6 per cent, casting doubt on the IMF forecast that was based on India' s high manufacturing growth. In India's Industrial Production Index (IPI), the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of the factory output and is the key indicator of the consumer demand, grew only at 5.9 per cent in August as compared to 10.6 per cent a year ago and 16.7 per cent in July.


The problem with slow manufacturing growth indicates that there has been an impact of the government' s tight monetary policy that has manifested itself in the Reserve Bank of India raising interest rates five times in the last one year. Due to the high interest rates, factories have been reluctant to increase capacity or undertake new projects. A slowdown in manufacturing growth also indicates that the demand for manufactures is not rising rapidly. The growth in the demand for non-consumer durables or fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) has declined from 1.4 per cent in July to minus 1.2 per cent in August even though the demand for automobiles and consumer durables has been rising rapidly. The 8.5 per cent general inflation and over 16 per cent food inflation are obviously causing people to spend less on some types of manufactured goods.


Actually, low manufacturing and capital goods growth can keep industrial growth low for quite sometime, and if the latter is low, GDP growth will also be lower than the government forecast of 9 per cent. Manufacturing growth, however, can pick up if export growth is high in the future. Around 72.3 per cent manufactured goods are exported.


Export growth was quite high at 22.5 per cent in August and total exports amounted to $16.2 billion. For export growth to remain high, there would have to be some way of preventing the rise of the rupee against the dollar. The rupee has risen because of a heavy inflow of FII (foreign institutional investment) dollars that caused it to appreciate by 6.2 per cent against the dollar since September 1, 2010.


The high rupee is bound to have an adverse effect on exports because exporters have to quote their prices in dollars and euros, and a high rupee means higher international prices. They would have to compete with the exporters from other countries which are manipulating their currencies in order to remain competitive.


The high rupee will further increase imports into the country that will offer tough and often unfair competition to Indian products, denting the demand. In August, imports grew faster than exports at 32.2 per cent, amounting to $29.7 billion. The trade deficit ballooned to $13 billion and in a few months could reach $135 billion for the entire fiscal year. The current account deficit could be 4 per cent of the GDP, which may prove to be unsustainable.


The other important component of IPI is the capital goods industries' growth which indicates the scale and level of investments taking place in the economy. Capital goods aid manufacturing processes to gain efficiency that reduces costs. As compared to the growth of capital goods industries in July 2010, its growth in August 2010 has been very disappointing. There was a negative 2.6 per cent growth in August as compared to 9.2 per cent rise in the sector' s output in 2009 in the same period and a rise of 72 per cent in July. Some doubts have already been cast on the July figures by various economists and they have questioned the surprise growth of insulated cables and its disproportionate contribution to capital goods industries' growth.


Some other indicators are also portraying a gloomy picture about the robustness of industrial growth underlying the July figures. The indicators such as cargo traffic at ports, railway freight traffic and non-food credit offtake and the HSBC's PMI (Market Purchasing Managers' Index) show that investment cycles have not picked up and there has only been an increase in investment in infrastructure.


There has been a slowing down of order book expansion in some construction companies and a slowdown in the cargo handled in ports and in railway freight traffic which grew at 1.3 per cent in July as compared to an average growth of 4.8 per cent from June 2008 to June 2009. Non-food credit offtake has also not picked up.


There has been a moderate growth of 3.7 per cent in the core sector (crude oil, petroleum refining products, coal, electricity, cement and finished steel) in August which contributes 26.7 per cent to the Industrial Production Index. It was also responsible in pulling down industrial growth.


All these underscore the problems underlying industrial production, especially when slower export growth in the future due to the hardening of the rupee looms large in the horizon.


India may have to apply capital controls in the future like Brazil has done to regulate the inflow of FIIs, and there could be more effective intervention in the currency market by the RBI to stabilise the rupee to promote export growth. FII inflows have amounted to $20.34 billion this year. Any reversal could have an adverse effect on the market. In today' s world of currency wars, India cannot be a passive watcher. It would definitely help the exporters if the rupee is not so high.


The surge in the FII inflows will continue as long as the US has a low interest rate regime to stimulate its economy, hit by the financial crisis that began in 2008. India was insulated considerably from the crisis because of its own huge domestic market, but clearly the demand is falling with rising interest rates and inflation.


The most important item in the agenda for remedying the situation seems to be inflation control by non-monetary means like having a better distribution of essential commodities and stepping up agricultural growth. Even though agricultural growth is going to be higher than that of last year because of a good monsoon, there are doubts about the self-sufficiency in pulses and oilseeds. Industrial growth also depends on the demand coming from agriculture.


Next in importance would be to control the unabated FII inflows. Otherwise we would have high inflation and low industrial growth. We ought to aim at high industrial growth fuelled by higher export growth to achieve what the IMF has predicted.








Two images confronted me constantly in the Himachal hinterland. I found them without prejudice, on walls, on T-shirts, on caps, on badges even.


One: bespectacled, benign, smiling and avuncular. The other: bearded, intense, glowering and mesmeric. One: the spiritual spearhead of a people in exile; the other: variously a heroic fighter or murderous totalitarian. The former, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, unmistakable in the maroon and ochre of a Buddhist monk; the latter, a certain Che Guevara, in an altogether singular sartorial choice: fatigues.


The former, a reverential figure in the region, explains itself; it was the latter I mulled over. Argentinean by birth, Cuban by invite and immortalised by death, Ernesto Guevara was the original poster boy. His romantic illusions about peasants participating in guerrilla warfare, in answer to the economic ambitions of the US in the Third World, found him in the august company of Fidel Castro. The rest, as they say, is history.


Che Guevara may well have faded into oblivion were it not for his chronological positioning — the sixties. It was the decade that witnessed the emergence of a counter-culture – hippies, alternate music forms, Woodstock, the Beatles, sexual freedom, drugs.


It was in those socially tumultuous times that Che Guevara, for some, a rebel willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of his ideals, met his inglorious death. Soon after, his iconic status would find a logo. Alberto Korda's candid shot of him, looking "sad and angry" has outlasted every representation of Che's persona; underscoring the "Guerrillero Heroico" as the world's most famous photo.


It is this image that I saw plastered along the erstwhile hippy trail. Possibly, an import by them as they arrived in droves to discover themselves, emulating those other, more famous Indomaniacs, The Beatles. Eventually the sixties gave way to the seventies.


The Beatles fell out with their guru. The hippies left. Come eighties and nineties, drugs control got tighter and overland backpackers were a thing of the past.


At the turn of the century, Che, once upon a time the epitome of change, too, lay forgotten. And today, author Michael Casey's "quintessential post-modern icon signifying anything to anyone and everything to everyone" signifies nothing to anybody. While his much replicated image, a dubious legacy, has become merely another way to decorate a patchy wall.







PROVIDING financial help and subsidies to the poorer sections of society is an essential responsibility of a welfare state. Yet these subsidies have to be differentiated and focussed. Across-the-board and unfocussed subsidies tend to gravitate towards the more influential, richer and undeserving beneficiaries.


Subsidies to the small and marginal farmers, disadvantaged and poor families and individuals can be fully justified. Yet subsidies like free water and electricity supply and even subsidised fertilizers, pesticides, diesel etc to the rich farmers who grow hundreds of acres of potatoes, vegetables, wheat, rice, sugarcane etc. cannot be justified in any manner.


Similarly, cash handouts at the so-called sangat darshans are illogical. It is here the proposal or conditions to reduce the farm and other subsidies in order to avail of the partial debt waiver by the central government would apply.


Also in the case of farm subsidies on inputs like water, electricity, fertilizers and diesel, to the extent these are used for commodities that are procured at the minimum support prices, in the ultimate analysis the benefits do not flow to the producers because the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices considers the actual cost incurred by farmers on these inputs.


As a result, to the extent the cost of production of the crop enters into the consideration for arriving at the MSP, the prices remain low. In turn, the issue price remains low. Thus, the benefit of these subsidies, to a large extent, flows to consumers in the deficit states. In a sense, through this process, Punjab subsidises the consumers of the deficit states, not its own farmers.


The right approach should be to charge the right price of these inputs from farmers and get them the corresponding higher prices for their produce. There is, therefore, a considerable scope to reduce the subsidies and a need to focus these subsidies so that the benefits flow to the intended and deserving sections of society


However, it is not only the subsidies that are responsible for such a huge debt burden on the state. Partially, it is the wasteful and extravagant expenditure by the government, which is responsible for the pitiable financial condition. Nurturing the status symbols by hordes of so-called VIPs, self-serving increases in the salaries and perks of MLAs and even an out-of-proportion increase in the salaries and pensions of the government and semi-government functionaries from back dates, generating arrear liabilities, are also responsible for the financial mess.


Besides, the government's reluctance to plug huge tax evasions, in which even the persons in power are involved and lack of political will to mobilise additional resources through progressive taxation are also responsible for the build-up of the tax burden.


As a consequence of the conjoint effect of these laxities and a myopic vision of our political class on these aspects, the debt burden of the state has risen fast, especially during the current regime of the Akali-BJP government. From a level of Rs 48,344 crore debt in 2006-07, the amount has escalated to Rs 71,086 crore (BE). Maybe by the time this government demits office, the debt burden is estimated to be around Rs 81,000 crore.


The previous government had taken some steps to reduce the debt burden during its last two years of governance. It was believed that this trend would continue, but this government has reversed the gear and the debt burden during the regime has increased at a rate of Rs 6,700 crore a year.


A major reason for this escalation is the continuous increase in the revenue deficit, which increased from Rs 1,241 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 4,152 crore in 2009-10. The interest liability on the money borrowed to the tune of more than Rs 8,000 crore is an untenable liability.


All these committed liabilities do not leave any money from capital borrowings to be used for development work. Social sector investments have suffered considerably. Whatever additional funds got allocated to these sectors went into meeting the salary liability and service to people suffered a serious setback.


Therefore, if this trend is not reversed, the economic state of Punjab, which already is in a debt trap, will deteriorate. The committed expenditure on the salaries, pensions, interest etc is being met through additional borrowings as the escalating revenue deficit does not leave any funds from revenue incomes for development.


Therefore, the state must seek avenues of a debt waiver by agreeing to the reasonable conditions of reducing and rationalising the subsidies, mobilisation of additional resources through checking tax evasion and bold decisions on levying additional progressive taxes. It is unfortunate that instead of listening to the sane voice of the sacked Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, his party opted for clipping his wings.


There is hardly any politician in the state who considers the interests of the state above his own. This mindset has harmed the state on its core strength and our leadership is not ready to change this mindset and appear to be incapable of thinking of out-of-box solutions.


All said and done, the Central Government is also responsible for the financial mess in which almost all states are struggling for survival. The debt burden of the states is almost proportional to their size and population density. Thus, Punjab is not the only state in this mess. This is the reason the Central Government is considering a debt waiver for states.


In the first stance, if half of the debt liabilities of the states are waived, their interest burden would decease to affordable limits and some level of prudence on spending and additional resource mobilization of resources will take the states out of the financial mess. Such a waiver is not any favour to the states.


The Central Government is amply responsible for this situation because the devolvement of funds to the states out the Central tax revenue has been kept low for decades together. As a result, the states could not meet their financial obligations from their own resources and consequently the states kept sinking deeper and deeper into the debt trap. This allowed the Centre to waste funds with a free hand and throw morsels at the states of their choice.


The recapitalisation of public sector loss-making banks, repeated debt waivers, setting up non-consequential commissions and committees, liberal foreign junkets and fiscal imprudence are just a few examples. Now there is no alternative to providing substantial debt waivers to the states. The former Finance Minister was explaining all these aspects in his own language and style. The political game play apart, the question in the mind of the people is: Did he deserve this treatment at the hands of his political party in which he was born and brought up?


The writer, a former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, is a well-known economist








IF Punjab's fiscal health has to be restored, the government must give up its populist approach of resorting to borrowings instead of raising resources through fresh taxes.


None of the budgets presented so far by the present Akali Dal-BJP coalition government has levied any new tax. Instead, the government has taken heavy loans to run its affairs Taxes, the ruling parties seem to believe, annoy voters, while few other than academics grasp the debt implications.


None of the budgets presented by the sacked Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal reflect his present concerns on the state's financial decline. He compromised on all budgets, which carry the unmistakable stamp of populist politics pursued by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.


The budget for 2008-09 earmarked no money for compensating the Punjab State Electricity Board for providing free power to farmers. The government adjusted its financial commitment against its outstanding loan to the board. For that year the state added Rs 4,433 crore to the debt, which swelled to Rs 57,369 crore by the end of the financial year.


The next budget (2009-10) again carried no new taxes though the employees' pay hike put on the exchequer an additional burden of Rs 3,000 crore due to the increased salaries and Rs 4,800 crore on account of the payment of arrears from January 1, 2006. The wage hike along with the usual extravagant ways of the ruling politicians pushed the debt to Rs 64,924 crore.


The budget for the current fiscal again failed to raise resources.. While the electricity duty was raised to fetch Rs 270 crore, the entertainment duty was cut from 125 per cent to 25 per cent, defying all logic. In a well-meaning gesture, the stamp duty on the transfer of property to women was reduced.


The revenue mobilisation committee comprising Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Industry Minister Manoranjan Kalia raised the VAT and introduced water charges but all that yielded only Rs 1,100 crore. The VAT and stamp duty collections have gone up but the revenue-expenditure gap remains glaring. Still the state debt will climb to Rs 71,000 crore by this fiscal end.


The BJP opposes taxes on urban voters and the Akali Dal on villagers. That is why the Centre's conditions tied to the Rs 35,000 crore waiver did no find any takers in either party.


The tax evasion in Punjab has been phenomenal, especially whenever the BJP is in power along with the Akali Dal. As Finance Minister Manpreet Badal had observed that one multinational food joint pays more taxes to the government than the entire industry of Ludhiana.


The Punjab financial crisis had deepened to scary levels during the previous Akali Dal-BJP government (1996-2001). It abolished the enforcement wing of the Taxation Deaprtment on the pretext of ending harassment of the business community. The government stripped the SDMs of the power to detain illegally plying vehicles. Between 1995-96 and 1997-98 the sales tax collection fell from Rs 903.26 crore to Rs 891.06 crore due to tax evasion. The entry tax imposed to discourage cheap imports from other states protects local manufacturers but hurts consumers.


"Given the class-alliance populism of the SAD-BJP ruling combine in the state, there is inadequate trade-profit

taxation in Punjab", says noted economist Nirmal S. Azad.


During the tenure of the Congress government led by Capt Amarinder Singh (2001-06) a white paper on the state finances was brought out. At a discussion on the white paper a top functionary of the previous Badal government estimated Punjab's annual loss on account of tax evasion at Rs 2,000 crore. However, a functionary of the then Congress government corrected him saying that the right figure was Rs 4,000 crore.


Had the Akali and Congress governments merely stopped tax evasion with a firm hand, the state would have come out of the fiscal crisis. 








The word "police" comes from the ancient Greek polisoos – polis or city, and sozo, to save, to keep. The word describes the function. In time, it has acquired multiple connotations most often expressed in the mottos of organised police forces; terms such as to protect and to serve. In small print beneath the emblem of the Mumbai Police are the words "Sadraksanaya Khalanigrahanaya": protect the good and punish the evil. 


Whatever their agenda, the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai showed us that at least some of our men in khaki take these words very, very seriously. There were extraordinary stories of valour and sacrifice. But the attacks also brought into sharp focus something else: how badly we treat our own. The CCTV footage of the shootout at the CST Railway station makes for tragic viewing: terrorists equipped with the latest weaponry and body armour being confronted by policemen with nothing more than museumgrade rifles and the most impossible courage. Some say much has changed since. That is questionable and arguably not entirely true. Certainly, not enough has changed. But do we need a terrorist simply to do what is right for our own? 


In a 2009 article, Ved Marwah – formerly a police commissioner and Joint Secretary of the National Police Commission – lamented, "Police reforms are not about giving more powers to the police, but to protect life and property of the ordinary citizen and maintain public order." Marwah goes on to point out the problems our police forces face: being used by political masters, seconded to pointless VIP security detail, pathetic living and working conditions, arbitrariness in service conditions and more. A vast number do their job tirelessly and honestly, in conditions that any of us would find completely unacceptable. As Marwah says, police officers are required to be on duty round the clock, without accomodation, often far from their families, with no provisions for transport or even housing. "The media loves to paint them as villains living a life of luxury. While the fact of corruption in their ranks cannot be denied, it is rarely appreciated that over 90 per cent of the force have absolutely no scope for indulging in corruption." A response to an RTI query of a while ago showed that 4,413 police constables and 81 inspectors in Mumbai live in slums. Those figures are probably much higher today. In June this year, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission slammed the administration for the inhuman conditions of lower-echelon police. The petition before the commission describes the conditions as 'worse than animals.' 


It is no excuse to say that there is no money. If our Members of Parliament can reward themselves with 60 per cent pay hikes, clearly there is money, and a lot of it. The issue is, first, one of priorities, not wherewithal; and second, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta points, of an increasing lack of social credibility. Citizens don't trust the police, and the police see citizens as a nuisance. At every level, the state fails both the citizens and the police when it fails to render adequate support to the police. For some years now, there have been recommendations for greater community participation in policing, and bridge-building between the local police services and the communities they serve. Successful initiatives from Tamil Nadu and Kerala could, and should, have become templates for the rest of the country. This is yet to happen. The recommendations suggested at a November 2004 seminar on police and public participation are still not implemented, although the seminar was organized by the government and included a virtual Who's-Who from the police and administrative services. 


The result is an increasing divide between the public and its protectors. Each day brings a new example: On Monday, as Kasab confirmation case hearings began in the High Court, unprecedented security systems were put in place. They are required to check the identities of everyone coming in, lawyers and litigants alike. Our police commissioner, Sanjeev Dayal, and his Deputy Commissioner, Aswati Dorje insist this is essential. "The threat is also to the advocates. We have to protect them." It cannot be easy and it's much more difficult when a constable is challenged for doing his job. As one officer said, "my constables haven't been educated beyond the 10th or 12th standard. How are they supposed to argue with lawyers?" 


In court, watching the CST footage, the judges remarked on the bravery of the policemen who fell that day. That same evening, leaving the building, my colleague, Mohan Rao (secretary of our Bar Association) and I casually asked the inspector what arrangements had been made for his staff. "Only water," he said with a sad smile. Nothing else? we asked. No tea, no lunch packets? He shrugged. "Amhala kon baghta?" he said. "Who cares for us?" 



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India's march towards an integrated Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime appears to have considerably slowed down since the Union government's failed attempt to introduce in Parliament a Constitution amendment Bill needed to bring about the proposed reform in indirect taxes across the country. The finance ministry, the chief architect of the proposed GST regime, is nowhere near finding a consensus on three critical issues — the powers that should vest with the Union finance minister, the status of the dispute settlement authority and the treatment of octroi and entry tax under the new system. Several states are not comfortable with the proposal of the Union finance minister enjoying a veto power in the GST Council that will determine the tax rates. In spite of several assurances that the Union finance minister will exercise his veto powers only with regard to the central GST rates, the states are justifiably concerned over the potential loss of fiscal autonomy that they may suffer under the new system. The dispute settlement authority has become another area of controversy. The states are keen that they should be individually entitled to legislate on the creation of such a body, instead of the Centre setting it up through an amendment to the Constitution. This is a demand that is born less out of rational thinking and more out of the states' deep suspicion about the Centre's intentions behind creating the authority. Thirdly, there is no clarity on the treatment of octroi and entry tax, now in force in many states and a source of substantial revenue, particularly for municipalities and towns.


These areas of differences are serious and it would be naive to believe that the Empowered Committee of the State Finance Ministers (ECSFM) will be able to resolve all of them at its meeting next week in Goa. The idea of holding the next meeting in Goa, far away from New Delhi, can certainly generate a more conducive climate for fruitful discussion to resolve such differences. However, a mere change of venue alone cannot help make much progress unless the Union finance ministry recognises the heart of the issue that has stalled the progress in GST talks. That problem has arisen from a trust deficit, triggered by the draft Constitution amendment Bill that gave the veto power to the Union finance minister. It is important that the finance ministry must address the concerns arising out of the trust deficit, which the states, ruled by opposition political parties, have exploited to the hilt and converted it into a negotiating game for scoring political points against the Centre. An opportunity was lost in this process during the monsoon session of Parliament. If the Centre makes the right gestures to bridge the trust deficit, the GST consultations can be back on track. The Union finance ministry must draw comfort from the fact that the basic GST document, finalised by the ECSFM, has received endorsement from most states and even tax experts. There are shortcomings, but the structure is not in conflict with the spirit of a GST regime that, through lower tax rates, broader coverage and a more efficient collection system, will result in a lower tax burden on the people and higher revenue collections for governments. Differences over tax rates and the coverage formula can be resolved through the ongoing consultations even after the introduction of the GST system. The Goa meeting can prove to be a turning point, if only the Centre makes a political gesture there to regain the trust of the states








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to visit Tokyo, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur next week, and Seoul next month. While he would be attending the India-Asean and G20 summits in Hanoi and Seoul, respectively, there would also be bilateral engagements. He visits Kuala Lumpur for the second time as prime minister, but for his first bilateral summit. This would be his fourth visit to Tokyo but a potentially important one if India and Japan sign their bilateral free trade agreement and if an understanding is reached on the parameters for cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy development. Taken together, these four visits over the next few weeks could constitute a new phase in India's "Look-East Policy", launched less than two decades ago by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. India's engagement of Asia to its east gained momentum only with the end of the Cold War. The initial steps taken towards market integration and greater economic cooperation received a jolt with the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Till Dr Singh revived the idea of an India-Asean free trade agreement in 2005, there was minimal engagement between India and members of Asean. Part of the reason for the lackadaisical progress of India's relations with East and South-east Asian nations has been New Delhi's preoccupation with its relations with major powers, especially the United States and China, and partly the pre-occupation with neighbours, especially Pakistan. With very little substantial action on the US, China and Pakistan fronts in the past year, Dr Singh may well have decided to turn his attention to countries where the extant level of engagement is well below par.


The decision to visit Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi, coming after the decision to invite the president of Indonesia to be the chief guest at the 2011 Republic Day parade, shows a revival of diplomatic effort with key member nations of Asean. India has unpardonably neglected Vietnam in recent years. Hopefully, Dr Singh's visit, coming soon after the defence minister's visit, will be followed up by increased economic engagement between India and a new Vietnam that is now a rising star on the eastern economic horizon. With Malaysia too, the election of Prime Minister Haji Mohammed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak has opened the possibility of a new chapter, after decades of an uncertain relationship. During the tenures of the idiosyncratically anti-India Mahathir Mohamad and the duplicitous Abdullah Ahmed Badawi, India-baiting was a favourite sport in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib has started off on a positive note and could herald a new phase in this bilateral relationship.


 In Tokyo, Dr Singh meets yet another new PM! At each of his bilateral meetings since 2004, he has had to deal with a new Japanese PM. Incumbent Naoto Kan has not yet made his mark in the manner that the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi and the short-lived Shinzo Abe did on India-Japan relations. Former PM Yukio Hatoyama showed interest but hardly had any time. The India-Japan relationship has enormous potential, largely under-utilised and under-tapped. Taken together, this new foray eastwards has the potential to deepen India's as yet under-developed engagement with Asia to its east. But for this to happen, wider business-to-business and people-to-people contacts are necessary. Getting heads of government together is good and useful, but only a beginning. India's "Look-East Policy" needs more energy, greater depth, wider relevance and a more strategic and far-sighted approach










Investors continue to pour money into the EM asset class. Weekly inflows into EM equity funds remain strong with no sign of let-up. Just look at India, we have already received $23 billion of FII inflows, the highest level ever. Coal India has received a great response, with the institutional portion subscribed 15x, FIIs are scrambling to get an allocation and the money continues to pour in. Investors are rushing to raise weightings in EM stocks, before Fed chairman Ben Bernanke can fully unleash his plans to purchase possibly a trillion-dollar worth of long-term debt instruments and lower long-term interest rates in the US. Given how weak the dollar has been, and this is likely to continue, investors seem to be in a desperate hurry to move out of dollar-based assets. There is a strong intuitive appeal to this trade, the Fed cuts rates and money rushes into EM equities. Investors chase growth, bid up these markets and it all ends ultimately in one big bubble. This trade is the consensus view of how things will unfold, and most money managers are positioned to benefit from and expect further EM outperformance. It looks like a very crowded and one-way trade at the moment.


 In this context, a recent note by the EM strategy team at BCA is worth noting as it raises doubts on the inevitability of the above-mentioned sequence of events. It asks the very pertinent question of whether a Fed easing always leads to an EM rally (BCA EMS bulletin, October 19).


The note makes the point that in the early 1990s, emerging market share prices were negatively correlated with the Fed funds rate. Low interest rates in the US drove capital into the emerging markets, where growth was stronger, much like today. The EM equity asset class had a huge run, almost bubble-like conditions and a long-term secular peak were formed in EM equities in 1994-95.This is pretty much what most investors expect to see going forward for EM equities over the coming months.


The note also points out, however, that from this 1995 peak, till very recently, EM equities were actually positively correlated with US interest rates. In this period, EM equities were seen as a call option on global growth and far more sensitive to global growth expectations than interest rates. EM equities actually did better in an environment of rising US rates, as hikes in Fed fund rates reflected strong global growth conditions. Any weakness in global growth actually impacted EM equities harder than any other asset class, with serious consequences for EM relative performance.


In this period (1995 onwards), there were a few divergences between interest rates and the performance of EM equities (wherein the correlation became negative again), but these divergences (in 2001 and 2007) were temporary and not lasting beyond a few months.


The note thus makes the point that investors need to make a judgment call as to whether the current rally in EM equities is a more sustainable bull run like in the early 1990s, or something which will fizzle out soon, similar to 2001 or 2007 when EM equities faltered despite continued declines in US interest rates as global growth weakened. Can EM equities outperform on the basis of liquidity and flows alone, without a pick-up in global growth?


In trying to understand the different reaction function of EM equities to US interest rates pre- and post-1995, one clear difference between the two periods is the external position of EM economies. Prior to 1995, most of the EM economies had current account deficits and an externally leveraged corporate sector, and were thus very sensitive to both cost and availability of external capital. Cheap and easily available credit made a huge difference to many of the larger EM economies and their companies. After the Asian crisis, most of the larger EM countries have a current account surplus or very small deficits, and a corporate sector with little external leverage, thus they do not benefit as much from cheap and easily available financial capital. They are more dependent today on global growth to sustain their exports and current accounts, and maintain economic momentum.


Markets today, however, seem more likely to follow the pre-1995 template (where EMs did well with falling rates). Investors are desperate to get out of dollar-based assets. Many believe that the "new normal" is for a decade or more of extremely low nominal growth rates in the West and EM economies have demonstrated great resilience. Unlike the post-1995 period when global growth was strong and EMs posted superior relative performance, today, except for the EM economies, there is just no signs of sustainable growth. The financial metrics for most EM economies are far superior to the West, with many convinced that most economies in the West have intractable fiscal sustainability and balance sheet issues. Trade within the EM countries themselves has also exploded, giving them greater resilience to an OECD slowdown. Record low interest rates are also driving a mad scramble for yield and returns. If you wish to remain invested in "safe" fixed-income instruments in the West, your returns are basically nothing. There also seems to be a secular and long-term asset allocation shift towards EM assets, much like the early 1990's when the asset class was first discovered.


Whichever way EM equities trade, there is very little doubt that this is a great environment for India. India has low export dependence and needs global capital to finance its huge investment needs, running one of the larger current account deficits among the major EM economies. This makes India one of the only beneficiaries of today's environment of very subdued demand among the OECD economies and record low interest rates. The tightening by China will once again put pressure on commodities, further enhancing India's appeal. India had begun to underperform as commodities began moving higher, but this underperformance should reverse as commodities come off. As India has a genuine inflation problem, it also seems more willing to tolerate rupee appreciation than many other EM central banks, further boosting returns for dollar-based investors. India is in a sweet spot, but just as the beta is high on the way up, so is it on the way down as well. Any change in global risk appetite will impact India disproportionately. The only hope is that given the funk the US finds itself in, liquidity conditions will not reverse in a hurry. Our more domestically oriented economic model and strong entrepreneurship are in fashion. We must use this window of low-cost capital availability to suck in long-term capital, improve the government balance sheet and build out productive assets.


The author is the fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital









So, Honda has decided to exit Hero Honda. The 26-26 joint venture between the Munjals and Honda dates back to the 1980s when the first wave of liberalisation took place. Apart from Honda, two other Japanese motorcycle makers had come to India at that time: Suzuki with TVS and Yamaha with Escorts. In the past, there has been talk, more than once, that the two partners will go their separate ways. About ten years ago, Honda had set up a fully owned subsidiary that made scooters to begin with and later motorcycles too. This added grist to the rumour mills. But the two partners stuck together and proved their detractors wrong. This time the breakup seems to be final. The fine print of the divorce papers is not yet out. Maybe Hero Honda (or whatever it is called once the Japanese partner pulls out) will be able to source technology from Honda for some more time in the future.


Joint venture as an entry strategy for India had lost all its relevance for overseas companies many years ago. When there were curbs on foreign direct investment, joint ventures made sense. Indian businessmen gave their name on rent to their foreign partners. Their contribution in the company, at best, was restricted to environment management — clearances from the various departments and ministries of the government. Indian partners, on their part, said they brought the knowledge of local markets to the venture. But the argument lacked conviction. Most of them were a product of the Licence Raj when core competence meant the right connections with bureaucrats and politicians and not marketing acumen or manufacturing excellence. Still, several businessmen made a living off it.


 Once the restrictions on foreign investment were lifted, these partnerships became irrelevant. Most Indian partners sold out and made returns decent enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Those who were arm-twisted to sell out lobbied hard to protect their interests. Thus came into existence Press Note 18 (Press Note 2 in its current avatar) which made it mandatory for any overseas company to get the nod of its Indian partner before starting out on its own in the country. Foreign companies would have to pay a price to go solo in the country. (Joint ventures now largely exist in sectors like telecommunication, retail and insurance where foreign investment is capped.)


In the Hero Honda case, there has been no uproar so far from the swadeshi lobby. Nobody seems to be outraged that a hugely successful (Hero Honda lords it over 50 per cent of the Indian motorcycle market) and profitable enterprise has been left in the lurch by a foreign company. When Honda had exited from Kinetic some years ago, various industry associations had swung into action to protect the interests of Indian businessmen. In comparison, there isn't even a murmur of protest this time. The conclusion is fairly straightforward: Joint ventures have lost their relevance for Indian businessmen as well. As a business model, the joint venture is truly dead and gone. The Munjals are not talking about life after Honda right now. But clearly they are ready to ride on their own.


Of the three Indo-Japanese motorcycle joint ventures, Hero Honda survived the longest. Escorts sold out to Yamaha and Suzuki exited from TVS to be on its own. For Escorts, that was the end of its two-wheeler business; but TVS has bounced back — it is the third-largest two-wheeler company in the country after Hero Honda and Bajaj Auto. This should provide some comfort to the Munjals.


An overseas partner is meant to bring three advantages to the table: money, technology and brand. The relevance of each of the three needs to be evaluated in some detail in the current context. Indian businessmen no longer feel strapped for cash. Many of them have done big-ticket acquisitions in India and abroad; it shows that there are enough people who have faith in their ability to deliver results. Two, the last few years have seen democratisation of technology across the globe. The stranglehold of large multinational corporations has eased. Thus, Indians can buy technology off the shelf rather than tie themselves down in a joint venture. Three, the rapid strides made by Indian brands like Bharti have taken some sheen off brands owned by multinational corporations. The Hero brand is no lemon. It begins to make sense why the Munjals have let Honda exit their joint venture company.


In a way, the playing field between Indian and multinational corporations has been levelled. The advantage of size that the multinational corporations had, which looked so intimidating a decade ago, no longer scares Indian businessmen. Investment bankers say that there aren't too many queries from Indian businessmen for joint ventures with multinational corporations these days. Collaboration for specific projects is fine, but joint ventures have gone out of fashion. PricewaterhouseCoopers' Deepak Kapoor says this is a signal Indian business has finally come of age — the newer generation of cocky entrepreneurs does not want to be dependent on overseas partners for success. Most of them want to be in full control of their businesses.









While "hot" capital inflows, especially portfolio investments surging into India's economy, have triggered serious concerns of late, remittances or private transfers from the vast diaspora are still welcome. For starters, the latter inflows are more stable than portfolio investments that are pro-cyclical in nature, rising in good times and falling in bad times. "They are less likely to suffer the sharp withdrawal or euphoric surges that characterise portfolio flows to emerging economies," argues Dilip Ratha, lead economist and manager of the migration and remittances team at the World Bank.


Remittances have been estimated at $52 billion in 2009-10, according to the Reserve Bank of India. During the first quarter of 2010-11, remittance inflows of $13 billion exceeded the net inflows of foreign direct and portfolio investments into the Indian economy. In sharp contrast to the fair-weather portfolio investments, private transfers by Indians abroad are also more likely to be invested in the home country despite adverse economic circumstances. Moreover, research has established that remittances augment savings and investments of recipient households and help reduce poverty.


 Though remittance flows are expected to keep rising, doubts are being raised about their sustainability in the future. After all, the west-Asian oil-financed construction boom is over and there is less need for unskilled Indian workers who built the infrastructure. The process of recovery from the global recession in the Gulf countries is also far from complete. Moreover, given the growing backlash against migrants in the developed world, how much longer will the migration of Indian teachers, nurses and software techies to such countries sustain private transfers?


In this context, Kerala's experience is relevant since the state vitally depends on private transfers, which amount to one-fifth of its net state domestic product. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies (CDS) has been doing interesting work on emigration and the impact of remittances on Kerala's economy. CDS has, in fact, completed four large-scale surveys on migration — in 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. Subsequently, a Return Migration Survey was done in 2009 to study the pre-recession (October-December 2008) and recession (June-August 2009) experiences of emigrants from that state.


In recent CDS working papers by Professors K C Zachariah, S Irudaya Rajan and D Narayana, household cash remittances received by sample households showed a modest overall increase of seven per cent despite the recession in 2009. Although a recession may be expected to result in a decrease in remittances, the latter can paradoxically increase when emigrants who lose their jobs return home permanently with their savings accumulated in more prosperous times. Also, the cash value of gifts received in 2009 was more or less the same as in 2008.


The good news about Kerala's remittances, however, conceals sharp variations since some households experienced large increases in remittances while others suffered large decreases. Around six per cent of the households that received remittances in 2008 did not receive any remittances during 2009. The number of households that received smaller amounts of remittances in 2009 vis-a-vis 2008 is also substantial. Nevertheless, the overall rise appears plausible in the light of higher remittances during the recession period in south Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.


Remittances have increased since the number of Keralite emigrants who returned home after losing their jobs due to the recession in the Gulf was much less than popularly feared. The CDS working papers show that around 54,000 emigrants lost their jobs in 2008. But since 32,000 unemployed emigrants in that year subsequently became employed, the net job loss was only 21,000. The number of those who have returned home due to the recession also is not more than 63,000. Whether it is 54,000 or 63,000, these numbers are marginal against the stock of 2.2 million emigrants from that state to the Gulf in 2008.


A major reason these job loss or return emigration figures are less alarming is that Keralite emigrants incur huge costs, including borrowings, to work in the Gulf. So, even when they have lost their jobs, "they would prefer not to return home fearing inability to repay the debt already contracted there. They would rather accept any job at a lower wage and try to continue to send home remittances to repay their loans even during a crisis in the destination country," argue Narayana and Rajan. Such emigrants also rely on social networks to provide temporary support in the event of job loss.


The number of Keralites who have lost jobs in the Gulf and have not returned home has been estimated at 39,396 persons or only 1.8 per cent of the emigrant stock in 2008. Interestingly, such adverse developments have not prevented more people from the state from heading to the Gulf. Around eight per cent of the return emigrants of 2008 have re-emigrated. Kerala also sent 142,000 new emigrants during the recession. But as the recovery from the recession in the Gulf is somewhat fragile, the big question is how much longer will the good times on the remittances front last?











Over the past few weeks the country has been obsessed with whether our spoilt brat of a city, Delhi, will perform well in front of a global audience. Now that it has, with all and sundry observing traffic regulations and not making a nuisance of themselves, there is general elation.  In the end, disaster was averted. The whole situation was managed like an Indian wedding with the parents throwing vast sums of money at all problems and a bunch of siblings pitching in at the last minute to make up for the main organiser's incompetence.


The fears of the weeks before the Commonwealth Games (CWG) have given over to an orgy of self-congratulations. The pessimism and the doubts before, and the euphoria after, are part of our national character, reflected quite accurately by our media, which suffers from what some would describe as a bipolar or manic depressive disorder — unjustified pessimism and equally unjustified self-satisfaction alternating wildly.


 But if you thought the CWG was badly managed, wait till you see the scale of the urban management effort that confronts us in the decades ahead. What had to be done for the CWG in Delhi is small compared to what will be required to prevent urban India from falling apart over the next few decades.


According to the UN population projections, the absolute size of the rural population will start declining by 2025-30 and by 2050, it will be 125 million less than now. Urban population will grow continuously and be 525 million larger in 2050. The numbers would look even larger if we were to include many peri-urban villages that the census persists in classifying as rural.


Some 200 million people or so will have to shift from their traditional family occupations. An occupational shift of this order will imply a massive change in the urban-rural distribution and the pace of urbanisation may be even more rapid than the trend projections, particularly in the northern states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.


The scale of effort required to cope with the projected growth in urban population is mind-boggling. Take for instance the provision of mass transit. Delhi is planning nearly 400 km of metro and bus rapid transit corridors. The McKinsey projection* for the country as a whole calls for 7,400 km by 2030 — a bit like putting up the equivalent of a Delhi Metro per year! Or take water supply; we will need several plants the equivalent of Sonia Vihar every year.  As for housing and commercial space, forget the Games Village. The McKinsey report calls for a scale of construction that would be like putting up a Chicago from scratch every year. The report also estimates the investment requirement to be $1.2 trillion over the next two decades, or about $60 billion per year or ten times what we spent on the CWG.


The key challenges are the functioning of urban land markets, the financing of massive infrastructure investments and the reform of municipal governance. We do not have adequate answers in any one of these three areas of concern.


When it comes to urban land markets, our only answer is large-scale public ownership of land and drastic controls on the operation of private land markets. This poorly functioning land market and inadequate or poorly conceived public interventions in this market, push the poor into slums. Developers are pushed to an urban fringe, like Gurgaon or the distant suburbs in the north and east of Mumbai, leading to an urban sprawl that taxes the infrastructure to breaking point.


All big cities have been developed because large tracts of land were assembled for development by private or public entities. Transport and infrastructure investments directed rather than followed land development. We need a system where the public authorities mobilise resources for urban infrastructure directly or through partnerships with the private sector and lead the evolution of the city through actual investments rather than through master plans.


The private sector part of urban development needs a land market system that operates transparently to allow land aggregation for large-scale housing and commercial development. One approach is to use land adjustment schemes that aggregate a large tract of land, with the developer using some part and returning the rest in agreed proportion to the original owners, who can then cash the capital gains in any way they wish. This was tried recently in Ahmedabad and it worked. Better land records would also help towards this end.


A transparent urban land market can also help unlock the values trapped in public holdings of land and help address the second big bottleneck which is municipal finance. The Thirteenth Finance Commission has made a beginning in this area; but much more fiscal decentralisation is needed to allow this third tier of governance to function effectively. One way of tapping resources is to unlock the value trapped in the large land holdings of public authorities like the railways, India Post, the defence department, port trusts and urban development authorities like DDA and MMRDA that were vested with acquired land.


None of this will happen unless we have effective leadership. Directly elected mayors could provide the political entrepreneurship that our cities and towns need so badly. But they must be fully empowered and the spectacle we saw in Delhi where the chief minister and the lieutenant governor were jockeying for leadership and visibility must be avoided. More than that, municipal governments must exercise full territorial authority and be in charge not just of municipal and social services but also transport and land use in the urban fringe and law and order.


One more big change is needed.  We are wedded to a philosophy of town planning that places great faith in master plans and bureaucratic controls to implement it. In reality, this leads not to better planned cities but to more corrupt and criminalised municipalities and urban authorities. In place after place, people are making their own cities, often in unauthorised colonies, while planners cater to a small elite. Planners must learn to work with these entrepreneurial city dwellers to improve water, drainage, health, safety and housing quality. Urban planning and architecture must move out of their engineering origins and become social science disciplines, working with the ebb and flow of social forces.







MANPREET Singh Badal has been thrown out of the government and the ruling party of Punjab for daring to stand up for the truth. He deserves full public support, for he has revolted against the twin tyrannies that oppress politics all over India and not just in Punjab: nepotism and populism. The populism that Mr Badal has been trying to fight has crippled Punjab, eating into its resources, depriving the state exchequer of the ability to invest in the state's physical and social infrastructure on the scale required to pump up Punjab's flagging economic momentum. That agriculture is the state's mainstay is indisputable. But from that to conclude that any move to levy a user charge on the farmer is anti-farming and, therefore, anti-Punjab is ridiculous. However, that is exactly the conclusion that politicians of all shades have chosen to draw in Punjab. Within the Congress, rival factions have used free power to the farmer as a slogan to bolster their individual fortunes. In the name of subsidising the farmer, what politicians of Punjab have been doing is to wreck the power sector by encouraging massive theft of power via diversion from the unmetered farm connections. In the neighbouring Haryana, an enterprising young civil servant estimated that if every drop of water that goes to irrigate the state's crops was drawn using fully-subsidised power, the subsidy outgo would only amount to a third what the government actually spends under this head. Such is the scale of power theft that takes place in the name of the farmer. Mr Badal, as the state's finance minister, had been opposing such open-ended subsidy from the outset, but to no avail. The chief minister and his deputy, who also happens to be the chief minister's son, will have none of this new-fangled theory of fiscal responsibility. Further, Manpreet's attempt to raise a rational argument was seen as challenging the authority of the father-son duo, which, of course, cannot be tolerated in the dynastic tradition of Indian politics. 


 It is welcome that Mr Badal has chosen to give up office rather than hang on to ruinous subservience to family politics. It will shake up Punjab's politics, for good.








THE Centre's decision to raise the minimum support price (MSP) sharply for pulses and marginally for wheat and oilseeds is right, but run-of-the-mill. The price signal will mark a shift in the cropping pattern, not boost the output of all crops. Given the surplus stocks of wheat with the government, the signal is against increasing the acreage for this crop. Again, a sharp 20% increase in the price of pulses is a signal to incentivise farmers to grow more. However, the MSP for pulses may not serve a useful purpose as the market already pays a much higher price to the grower. Clearly, the government has failed to address structural issues that constrain supplies, especially of superior foods such as pulses and milk, whose demand is rising with a rise in income levels. The technology mission on pulses, unfortunately, has delivered precious little and the domestic pulse production has simply not kept pace with the rising levels of consumption. The government's age-old strategy of relying extensively on imports has also not worked, as the supply of pulses is limited globally. Strengthening the technology mission on pulses, aggressive procurement by Nafed and promoting large-scale contract farming overseas will help augment supplies and rein in food inflation that hurts more than inflation in manufactured products. The government has to find permanent solutions and not look for temporary palliatives to tide over the crisis. 


Sure, the government did well to accept the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. The farmer needs a price signal. However, as we have argued in these columns, a shift in the cropping pattern, following changes in the MSP, can raise the output of one agri-commodity and trigger shortage in another commodity. Output has to be stepped up across the board, in all crops, to achieve sustained growth in agriculture. Fundamental reforms are, therefore, a must to boost productivity. The way forward is to step up investments in water management, promote the use of genetic and bio-engineered seeds and rational pricing of inputs such as fertilisers. Farmers also need to be organised into new forms to reap the benefits of technology and economies of scale.







OGDEN Nash may have been onto something when he said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" but the improbable-sounding CYP2E1 was probably not what he had in mind. Indeed, the very idea of preventing alcoholism by accelerating the effects of drunkenness sounds like a very bizarre way of combating a social evil — by promoting another one — but genes are making that happen. In fact, all those who cannot hold their liquor can now blame their parents, but they would be better off thanking them, for a study by the University of North Carolina has shown that the presence of a gene that makes people get drunk quickly makes them less prone to becoming alcoholics. This variant in a gene located in the 10th chromosome of one in five people tend to curtail their liquor intake far quicker than those with a 'head' for it, as CYP2E1 provides the code for making an enzyme that breaks down alcohol faster and generates free radicals that cause that tipsy feeling. 


The gene, however, also has immense lateral possibilities for those caught between having a good time and staying safe. Considering that drunken driving laws have played party pooper for years now, if R&D can translate the effects of this gene into a tablet, then it could provide a way of achieving that ineffable lightness of being, without overstepping the alcohol limit. Conversely, a reverse formulation could sober up people who have had one too many before they hit the road. That should lift the spirits of bar owners and liquor producers as more people can make merry but not break the law or damage their liver by over-consumption. And it could also mollify temperance advocates as the gene actually seems to protect against alcoholism by making people less prone to drinking too much








HINDI serials and soaps go through cycles and phases: the saas-bahu period, for instance, has now been succeeded by feudal-rustic sagas. But some core concepts endure. The character of the malevolent matriarch is one such staple, whether clad in synthetic sarees with artfully grey-streaked hair or in faux-ethnic ensembles. She is the lynchpin of every household drama, relentlessly tormenting a gaggle of pusillanimous offspring and their lachrymose spouses. The sudden leap of protagonists from childhood to carefully-coiffed adulthood is another inevitability in that world. The sameness creeping into storylines — with lead characters even leeching into each other's serials on the same channel — and inadequate attention to detail need to be remedied forthwith. If the main players are not being set upon or kidnapped by bad guys or being sidelined and ill-treated by crafty relatives, they invariably are shot, poisoned or, at the very least, laid low by remarkably-reversible comas or bouts of amnesia. Not only do scriptwriters show an astonishing lack of diversity when it comes to ailments, they display an even more abysmal ignorance of medical procedures. 


Dr Abraham Verghese may well exhort medical students at Stanford University to go back to old-fashioned practices such as physical examination of patients, but he would hardly recommend treating poisoning with an oxygen mask, gunshot wounds with an injection and amnesia with a stethoscope. For pointers, Hindi scriptwriters should watch hospital dramas on English channels. Given the country's billion-plus population, the lack of hubbub in Hindi serialville is also curious. The incongruous absence of flunkeys and domestic staff in garishly-lavish homes, leaves bejewelled bahus to open doors and tend to kitchens. Perhaps a cadre of rotating extras for these roles could be shared by the serials for authenticity's sake.








ONE of the real macroeconomic successes of this phase of India's reform process has been the increase in our savings rate. This has also resulted in a higher investment rate, which, indeed, is now leading to a higher level of GDP growth. For example, in the three years to FY 2004, the savings rate hovered around 25% of GDP; but in the recent three years, it has averaged 34%. If we look at the three components of the savings rate — household, corporate and public sector savings — we find that the corporate sector and, to a lesser extent, the public sector have caused this remarkable rise, the household rate having risen from 15% to 22% in the seven years to FY 2004 and stood flat since then. Corporate savings have increased from about 4% to 10% while the public sector has actually gone from a negative number to positive 4% — together the two accounting for the positive swing of 10% 


Let's examine what has caused this corporate and public sector savings spurt. During this same time period from 2003 to 2009, the overall corporate profitability — measured in the PAT to sales ratio — more than doubled from 3.6% to 8%. At the same time, companies reduced the dividend rate from half of profits down to a quarter — in other words, companies were not only growing their top lines faster on account of faster economic growth in general, their profitability rate also almost doubled during this time, and they distributed less of their profits. This increased growth in the top line, higher profitability along with higher retention is what led to the doubling of the corporate and public sector savings rates. 


The other consequential impact of this has been the increase in corporate tax collections. Interestingly, since 2004, the overall tax to GDP ratio has gone up by almost 20% — from 8.9% of GDP to 10.7%. Most of the increase was driven by increased direct tax collections — again from the corporate sector — an increase from 1.9% of GDP to 3.6%. This better tax performance, along with spending controls under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, is what led to a consistent decline in India's fiscal deficit down to 4% of GDP in FY 2008 before it ballooned up again in the last two years under the weight of profligate spending schemes leading up to the elections. 


It is apparent that a number of the big macroeconomic improvements over the last five to six years can be traced back to improvements in corporate performance. This in itself is an interesting fact — that the liberalisation of the Indian economy has led to the corporate sector becoming a much more significant engine of the improving India story. One must naturally examine why corporate performance has improved so dramatically. This is largely because of micro reforms. Take the case of telecom. In fiscal 2000, this sector hardly existed and the predominant player was BSNL. Today, the turnover in this sector is in excess of $50 billion — a compounded growth rate of 50% per annum. This one sector itself has contributed approximately 5% to India's total GDP growth over the last 10 years. This growth has been largely possible on account of the new telecom policy in 1999 and the high volume, low-cost competition it engendered. 


Similarly, take the case of power. In 2003, the New Electricity Act further incentivised the participation of the private sector in power. This is now finally yielded significantly higher contributions of private sector players in the incremental capacity additions and will hopefully address India's power shortages at some point. Take the case of better roads and ports infrastructure — it is making more efficient and faster transportation possible as well as reducing waiting time for both domestic market as well as for exports. The creation of consumer demand through lower interest rates has fuelled the growth of consumer durables and housing industries. 


THEREis, however, another typical Indian school of thought which believes that the only reason we have seen such rapid growth in corporate top lines and profitability is the growing importance of the stock markets in promoters' thought process. Since the markets reward earnings so handsomely — by multiplying the earnings with the P/E multiple — leading to upfront value creation, which can then be diluted or sold. Promoters are, therefore, now incentivised to fully report their full business earnings. Earlier, as promoters took cash out of the business, this leakage resulted in lower profitability. Now the cash is kept in the business as it leads to better upfront value creation. The reason this explanation does not work is that this might have led to profitability increases over one, two or three years, but not over such an extended period of time. 


We can safely say that there have been actual performance improvements caused by an improvement in the overall operating environment in various sectors. Such micro reforms on a sector-bysector basis need to go on to ensure that our macroeconomic position continues to stay healthy to support India's growth aspirations — these reforms are needed in the areas of further and faster infrastructure build out, lower inflation and interest rates, improvements in agriculture to broadbase drivers of growth to encompass rural areas, education, health, vocational training, labour reforms, water management, debt markets reforms, fiscal policy, etc. 


Unfortunately, the government has not cottoned on sufficiently to the fact that it is these micro reforms that are so critical to drive our continued macroeconomic growth. How else does one explain the almost complete absence of real structural reforms over the last few years? It is no longer enough to bask in the reflected glory of India's individual entrepreneurs and the many decades of repressed consumer demand that has been released by the reforms to date. Unless we continuously keep improving the macro and micro operating environment and reducing friction losses whether brought on by poor infrastructure or a poor regulatory environment, the recent wave of corporate growth which has driven such a large part of our macroeconomic story will begin to peter out and along with it, our growth engine will begin to sputter just when it needs to be recharged and further broadened to include as many sectors as possible, including and particularly, rural India. 


(The author runs SaVant Advisors,     a financial advisory firm)









EVERYBODY is entitled to seek publicity, but the problem arises when a 'nobody' tries to garner it at the cost of 'somebody'. Maharashtrians have seen many such efforts to grab spotlight by tormenting our sentiments, culture and the existence of the Marathi clan. Even Shivaji Maharaj and Rani Laxmibai have been targeted for gaining cheap recognition. Rohinton Mistry is using the same formula. Mumbai has attained its growth, expansion and global status due to its enterprising mill workers and coolies. Their strength and contribution to the freedom struggle was recognised by Mahatma Gandhi when he chose Mumbai for the Chale Jao movement. We in Shiv Sena respect the sweat that makes Mumbai country's economic capital. But Mistry does not. 


His language has no respect for ethics or morals. The dabbawalas, who deliver lunch boxes to lakhs of office-goers, are not just a sect but a recognised management institution. The IIM and the Harvard Business School are studying their system of functioning. Prince Charles has shown interest in knowing more about them. They have Six Sigma operations that even many Fortune 500 companies can't match. The whole country admires their work. Yet, Rohinton Mistry describes them as 'perspiring pigs' in his lousy piece of work. This is not just an act of utter irresponsibility but a derogatory comment against our pride. He has written filthy things about Indira Gandhiji, who has been a mother figure in the country, and has used abusive language against Shiv Sena leaders. Such writers are a disgrace. 


Ripping apart national images and selling them to international audience for cheap publicity is not what freedom of speech means. It is a shameless act of a frustrated individual. Mistry's book has been banned for its immoral thoughts and foul language that we don't want our young generation to learn at universities. We do not propagate cultural censorship, but we do profess moral censorship to pass on the right baton to our young citizens. The book, Red Saree, has been banned for the same reason. That is why the chief minister has approved our stand and is involved in banning this book. We support ethics and morality.




THERE are two types of citizens in Maharashtra. One, the educated elite to whom censorship is abhorrent. The other are the simple-minded people, who come mainly from the rural areas, where education is a second priority to food. Politicians in Maharashtra have seized on this disparity and look for opportunities to arouse janata's passions. Whether it is stopping the screening of Deepa Mehta's film Fireor trying to ban Rohinton Mistry's Such A Long Journey, they mainly do it not because they have seen the film or even read the book. Rather, they want to create hungamain the media so that they can call themselves janata'snetas. 


This phenomenon was started 35 years ago by the Shiv Sena, which wanted to woo the Marathi manoos vote. Instead of being the champion of free speech and secularism, the Congress has been the cowardly lion when facing the snarling Shiv Sena tiger. It all boils down to capturing the janata's vote. And both parties are so hungry for power that they will happily forsake liberal values. This is one of the pitfalls of democracy when the majority is manipulated to blindly follow Hitler-like demagogues. 


It is extremely sad to see Maharashtra, and especially Bombay, dissolving into a puddle of greed for votes and a culture of fear of violence. When is Sonia Gandhi going to appoint a tough, no-nonsense chief minister who will have something of the courage and determination of her mother-in-law? For, chiefly, it is the Congress that has allowed Maharashtra to slip into a votes-at-any-cost culture. Considering Bombay is the country's financial capital and provides about 30% taxes to the national kitty, our city is getting a very raw deal. My secret wish is, like Tughlaq, to move the entire population of Bombay to Delhi, so that we Bombaywallahs can go about our energetic lives under the guardianship of the President, who is also the commander-in-chief. But one must salute the Bombay High Court, which takes a valiant stand against the forces of intolerance and injustice. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has mostly upheld the HC's decisions. 


(The author is also a member of the Citizen's Action Group of Bombay, headed by the Maharashtra chief minister)






THERE was a time when league tables were to be found only on the sports pages of newspapers. Now they are a global obsession. There are school and university league tables, rankings of companies on profitability or corporate social responsibility, tables of happiness indicators by country and tables that attempt to rank consumer brands by value. There is even a league table of the world's funniest jokes. 


The financial world is also full of such rankings. Investment bankers wait with bated breath for merger and acquisition league tables, even though the link between a high ranking and profitability is somewhere between loose and non-existent. Bank league tables now tend to be based on capital strength, rather than asset volume, which is an improvement of sorts, but still not very meaningful. 


There are also now several different league tables — which are generating considerable angst — that rank financial centres based largely on surveys of firms. How badly the financial crisis damaged the reputation and performance of the major western centres is a question increasingly asked in London, and to a lesser extent in New York. 


So far, the message from the most recent tables is not too alarming for the incumbents. A ranking prepared for the City Corporation in London shows New York and London still neck-and-neck at the top of the league. The Banker magazine produces another, with New York on top and London a close second — though the distance between them and their pursuers is narrowing. The scores in both London and New York for the quality and intensity of regulation, and the tax burden, have dropped. Firms seem nervous about the future in both areas. 
    The most striking change in the rankings is the rise of major Asian financial centres — and not just Hong Kong and Singapore, but also Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. The Chinese have been explicitly promoting their financial centres and the impact is beginning to be seen. The World Economic Forum's Financial Development Index — yet another league table to consider — shows Hong Kong and Singapore very close indeed to London, with China now ahead of Italy on the overall measure of financial sophistication. Noodles are beating spaghetti. 


 Some of this is unsurprising. As the world's centre of economic gravity shifts east, the balance of financial activity is bound to move with it. But the more important question for the traditional financial centres is whether international activity that can move really is moving. That is far harder to judge. There are anecdotes about individual hedge-fund managers moving to Geneva. Every time a government, or a regulator, announces some new control, or a tightening of the existing controls, there are threats from bankers that they will pack up and leave town, taking their Porsches and mistresses with them. These threats, which used to have a lot of political impact, are now much less effective. Some politicians and commentators quickly say, "Good riddance." Even the Bank of England has asked whether, given the cost of mopping up the mess caused by the latest crisis, it is worth playing host to a global financial market. 


This is risky speculation. However badly bankers have behaved, financial services are acrucial element of London's economy. If the financial sector declines, what will replace it in employment terms? Airy talk about science and manufacturing as ladders out of recession is just that — empty words. There are few, if any, examples of high-cost post-industrial societies reviving their manufacturing sector on a large scale once it has declined. 


Indeed, the location of financial activity has changed through the centuries. If incumbency were a permanent advantage, Goldman Sachs' global headquarters would be in Babylon. There must be a tipping point at which some combination of higher taxation, more burdensome regulation and a hostile political climate causes financial firms to relocate. There is a risk that Britain may now be approaching that point. That is why the UK's Financial Services Authority and even the Confederation of British Industryhave begun to call for a truce between the authorities and financial markets. 


The next two or three months will determine whether peace breaks out, and, if it does, whether it will endure. As is always the case in peace negotiations, both sides must be willing to compromise. Firms will need to show visible restraint when it comes to this year's bonus round. The British government will not tolerate another jamboree. And governments on both sides of the Atlantic will need to decide just how far they want to go in punishing banks. Continued threats of everhigher tax burdens could prove dangerously counterproductive. If we fail to settle on a new social contract between the state and the markets soon, those markets may indeed move elsewhere. 


(The author, a former chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority, is currently director of the London School of Economics) 









THE best that Mamata Banerjee could have done for Kolkata's Metro was to protect its pride and utility in a city coping with an otherwise unmanageable transport system. In the developing situation, she chose to extend that brief to a political agenda obviously with an eye on the public mood. After the horror of nearly 3,000 passengers being trapped underground by a derailment, it is clear that she has got her priorities painfully wrong. It is no consolation that there were no casualties. Or that the railway minister has promised an inquiry to nail those responsible with dark hints that there could be a clandestine hand bent on stalling her relentless march to the final goal. At the outset, it is difficult to justify the extension of services when even railway officials concede that the existing infrastructure is incapable of sustaining additional load. The rakes and engines with which the Metro began its journey 26 years ago have, by all accounts, outlived their utility. It was a choice between improving the existing service from Dum Dum to Tollygunge with adequate replacements and extending the Metro first to Garia on the completed tracks. Miss Banerjee chose to win the hearts of additional passengers before ensuring that the system could be extended without compromising safety or convenience. It was made worse by the absence of an emergency mechanism that left traumatised passengers helpless for nearly 30 minutes. 

While the fundamentals were missing, the politicised response was sickening. The Metro remained suspended for 11 hours and shock waves spread while rival parties reverted to their political games. It was a godsend for the Left that could have only hoped that Kolkata had forgotten the damaging exposures during the Stephen Court fire. In targeting the individual who poses its single biggest political threat, its trade union wing capped its irresponsible record by promising "moral support'' to an agitation by affected passengers, hoping that would become another headache for the Trinamul Congress. It is anyone's guess why the chief minister remained silent the whole day or why he chose to break that silence late at night only to express a ritualised "concern'' about safety. It is a tragedy that the two leaders refuse to share ideas and resources even in disaster situations. But this time Miss Banerjee, with all the advantages she holds, cannot get away with political rhetoric. She needs to demonstrate that administration, safety and practical sense mean more to her than popular applause and verbal wars. Only that can restore the confidence of Metro and railway passengers that has been badly shaken. 




MADAM Speaker cannot be faulted for trying. Regretfully the rest of the parliamentary leadership pays little more than lip-service to maintaining decorum, working towards smooth transaction of business, avoiding near-rowdiness. So to expect any serious effort towards restoring the aura and dignity of the apex legislature would be wishful thinking. Saddened by the several "lows" of the last session Meira Kumar attempted pre-emptive action by calling a special meeting ~ not the routine one on the eve of each session ~ to try and avert repetition. Her effort went in vain, for apart from the customary blame-game, and the equally customary expressions of a firm commitment to the spirit and letter of the rule-book, the interaction yielded nothing worth noting. If the unanimous resolution adopted by both Houses during the special golden jubilee session not to disrupt question-hour is so blatantly flouted, deliberations at a party-leaders' meet do not even qualify as a "non-starter" ~ that term presupposes an original intent to "start". That is simply not the case. Make no mistake about it, disruptions are "designed": perhaps occasionally things do snowball beyond expectation, but to write off the repeatedly shameful scenes as the result of a few indiscretions would be to duck the issue. Senior leaders are seldom seen "disciplining" their members, rather they openly encourage them. It is integral to "strategy". Little purpose is served by pointing accusing fingers ~ the bad behaviour persists regardless of which party/combine sits on which side of the chamber. The reality is that the apex legislature has been reduced to the political equivalent of an akhara: actually that description is a trifle inaccurate, maybe even unfair ~ pahelwans play by the rules. 
 Misconduct, however, has roots. A principal one being the false prestige of governments/ministers to respond positively to suggestions from across the floor, or to take serious note of issues that are highlighted without any accompanying "action" in the well, slogan-shouting, walkouts etc. No longer do Prime Ministers come to the House when not specifically required to do so. Nehru did that regularly, it earned him both respect and confidence. In his perhaps less-than-elegant fashion Chandrasekhar did so too, but the signal most governments/ministers flash is that they deem the legislature an unavoidable nuisance. No wonder members make a nuisance of themselves. 




Seven months after the outrage perpetrated by women suicide bombers in Moscow's Metro, Tuesday's attack on Chechnya's parliament by Islamist rebels indicates that the Kremlin has been far from successful in containing the insurgency in North Caucusus. The strident cries of Allahu Akbar reaffirmed their fanatical fury. The pitch for separatism, that has gained ground for the past two decades, has been reinforced. Critical too must be the timing; the intrepid attack on the parliament building in volatile Grozny coincides with the visit of Russia's interior minister. The insurgents have conveyed their sinister message to Moscow, though tragically with the death of six people. Equally is it a statement on the mounting opposition to the Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. Russia's gameplan of splitting the Chechen leadership and the forces has boomeranged twice in the course of this year ~ in the vicinity of the Kremlin in March and now in the Chechen capital. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's policy of backing Kadyrov ~ essentially a Chechen dissident ~ hasn't paid off. Nor for that matter has the latter been able to undercut the religious facet of the insurgency. On the contrary, he may even have misled Moscow with his delusory claim that Chechnya is more peaceful than Dagestan and Ingushetia. The strong-arm measures, the use of security forces and the reliance on local leaders have only served to fuel the insurgency ~ embedded in a heady mix of clan feuds, poverty and Islamist militarism. President Dmitry Medvedev is acutely aware of the gathering storm which has started building up after the two wars in the Nineties had seemingly quelled the Chechen rebels. He is realistic enough when he describes the turmoil in North Caucusus as Russia's "biggest domestic problem".  There is little doubt that in the years since the Chechen wars the movement has been revived, and with vigour. Theologically perhaps, the present generation ~ women included ~ is more militant and is driven by the fanaticism of the fidayeen. Palpably enough, this has exacerbated the challenge of separatism. This is the message for the Kremlin ~ from the parliament in Grozny as much as from Moscow's Underground.








After 37 years, precisely on 7 October 2010, Israel relived, as it were, the declassified documents of the Yom Kippur war. The confidential discussions of Israel's top leaders in the first days of the Arab-Israeli war are now in the open. However, no such declassification has taken place in India even 48 years after the war with China. The most devastating setback was suffered by the army at the battle of Namka Chu (Kechilang to the Chinese) at 5 am on Saturday, 20 October 1962. Namka Chu was a national shame, an unprecedented battering for the military, an unparalleled command failure on the part of spineless, non-professional Generals, an ignominy for the over-rated and conspiratorial bureaucracy and a case of rare political irresponsibility and foolishness.  It was not a  military conflict fought on the ground, but the outcome of a myopic political process which was tantamount to self-inflicted humiliation in a potential conflict zone.

The Indian politicians in the fifties and sixties were so out-of-depth that the Government still does not feel confident enough to declassify the 48-year-old documents. This only encourages speculation.
Indeed, India was done-in much before the hostility in the Namka Chu valley. The die was actually cast on Sunday, 9 September 1962. With both Prime Minister Nehru and Finance Minister Morarji Desai out of the country, and Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri nowhere in the loop, Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon took upon himself the role and responsibility to hold a meeting in his South Block office on a holiday. With the army chief and two army commanders and presumably one or two ministry officials in attendance, Menon "unilaterally" gave the "marching order" to the army to go forward, according to Brigadier John P. Dalvi, the fall guy of the 1962 defeat, in his military classic, Himalayan Blunder. Neville Maxwell in his authentic India's China War corroborates Dalvi's version with a blow-by-blow account, which he reportedly "managed" to access from Lt. General Henderson Brooks' enquiry report on the disaster.

The government decided to "go forward" and set up a post at the trijunction of India-Bhutan-China at Dhola on the Thagla ridge on the Namka Chu river. Dalvi's description of the confusion, ignorance of Delhi-based military generals and civilian babus make ironic, yet comical and hilarious, reading. A sketch map was the "only map" available as there "were no accurate survey maps of this area. The ¼-inch editions were very old and vaguely based on the details provided by the British officer who was deputed to visit the area and align the McMahon Line, as agreed at the Simla Conference of 1913-14. It showed the Namka Chu flowing from north to south, whereas it actually flowed from west to east".   

It was another bigger river, named Nyamjang Chu, which flowed from north to south from the Thagla watershed. This appears to have led to the conclusion that the flow of Namka Chu too must be following the same north-south axis. Dalvi wrote: "I have often wondered if this map misled our planners into thinking that 9 Punjab were facing east instead of north".  The strategy, therefore, exposed a deficit in the planners' knowledge of history and geography,  ignorance of the terrain, non-application of mind and a political compulsion that was thrust upon the army's field commanders. The end-result of India's adventure in the face of the obdurate Chinese was a foregone conclusion.

The order issued by the Army chief's office in mid-September 1962 stated: "9 Punjab will capture Thagla, contain Yumtsola and Karpola-II by September 19." It was "issued while the Prime Minister and Finance Minister were abroad and the Defence Minister was having his western clothes dry-cleaned for New York. The Chief of General Staff of the Army was enjoying the salubrious climate of Kashmir. All the key desks in Delhi were empty".

The Prime Minister made an uncharacteristically aggressive statement at Colombo airport on 12 October 1962: "The  Army has been told to drive away the Chinese from our territory in NEFA". This worsened the situation. It served as the clarion call for war by India's Head of Government, and one that was made on foreign soil. It was a humiliating assault on the pride and ego of any nation, not to speak of China alone. It once again brought into sharp and contrasting focus the issue of war preparedness and the psyche thereof.  The Indian military was simply in no position to fight because the 600 ragtag men had nothing to fight with and did not know where to fight and when and how to begin in the face of a mighty enemy of 40000 men coming from across the Namka Chu. The war was over in three hours, to be precise.

Nemesis caught up with Namka Chu because the operational "Brigade Headquarters was at Towang, some five days' march from the intrusion at Thagla Ridge. Towang is a field posting and a hardship station. The Division was at Tezpur, 200 miles away. Although Tezpur is considered to be a field area, life is more or less normal, with planters' clubs, golf courses and cinemas. Corps HQ was at Shillong, another 200 miles away. Shillong is a salubrious hill station and a 'peace posting'. Command HQ was at Lucknow some 600 miles from Shillong ... The last tier is the holy of holies at Delhi where we have Army HQ and 'Government'. Delhi is the most peaceful of the world's capitals and so far removed from military realities that political factors perforce dominate the formulation of national strategy". 

This was the ground reality for the demoralized soldiers in the frontline during  September-October 1962. It was a "lost war" even before the war had begun as the "peace stations" of Shillong (Corps HQ); Lucknow (Command HQ) and Delhi gave China a "head start" in the October 1962 war with India.

How were the Chinese placed in contrast to India's plight at the Namka Chu/Thagla axis?  How did they inflict one of the most spectacular and stunning defeats on an enemy in the field? The Chinese followed the doctrines of their ancient scholar-soldier Sun Tzu, enshrined in the Art of War. War, being a "matter of life and death for the state", must not be neglected. "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting". This is the doctrine that was followed in Namka Chu.

The Indian resistance simply ended in three hours on Saturday, 20 October 1962 "without fighting". The soldiers fought as hard as they could from 5 am to 8 am, thereby writing a fresh, humiliating chapter in the country's history. 

   Let India not forget that 48-year-old chapter written with the blood, toil, tears and death of some of the crack units of her fighting machine. Let India not allow Sun Tzu's success to be repeated at its expense in the Namka Chu valley. Let India declassify the official documents and the full text of Lt.- Gen Henderson Brooks if  the government is inclined to "prove" that 1962 was actually "China's India war" and not "India's China war" as Neville Maxwell would have us believe.             

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London







While the West reacted with predictable horror to the Lebanese visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran – the US President Barack Obama called it "provocative" while Israel claimed that its northern neighbour was now "a hub of regional terror" – it largely failed to notice that the Iranians were busy signing a set of massive energy, oil exploration and economic agreements with Lebanon.

They included a £300m Iranian letter of credit for the Lebanese to begin financing new projects – possibly including two new power stations and a direct electricity link between the two countries via Turkey.
On the surface, it's easy to see all this as another attempt by Iran to dominate Lebanon through oil and electricity – and the Lebanese government's acceptance of the agreements as a sign of submission. Lebanon is believed to have considerable reserves of oil off the northern city of Tripoli which Iran suggested it might be able to explore – other fields may lie further south, close to Israel. Certainly, the Lebanese, who in some regions suffer eight-hour power cuts every day, are ready to allocate more than £1bn to the electrical project, with £1.5bn from the private sector and another £600m from largely western donor nations. This will come as something of a shock to the donors.

But, like everything in Lebanon, the whole fandango is more mirage than reality, as the Lebanese economist Marwan Iskander discovered when he researched his files. For the Iranians are demanding a matching guarantee of £300m from the Lebanese Central Bank – which it cannot provide without breaching UN sanctions against Iran. In fact, Iskander says, Iran wrote out a £75m pledge to Lebanon 10 years ago which the Central Bank could not guarantee – and for the same reason. The UN thus long ago put Iran out of the sub-financing business in this part of the Middle East.

And the dark spectre of Iranian oil men drilling the Mediterranean seabed 70 miles north of the Israeli border is also illusory. French and Norwegian companies have done much of the drilling in Iran; the refining has been carried out by French and Italian companies. Now the Russians and Chinese are doing the same job in Iran. The idea that Tehran would furnish cash to pay Moscow and Peking to explore reserves off Lebanon is close to fantasy.

So why on earth did Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Lebanese energy Minister Gebran Bassil sit down to sign those 17 agreements a week ago? Herein lies a tale. For it just so happens that Mr Bassil is the son-in-law of the Christian Maronite ex-general Michel Aoun whose political party long ago aligned itself with Syria and Iran. In Lebanon, its Christian supporters have thus found themselves an ally of Hizbollah and in opposition to the majority government of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri. 

On the surface, this makes sense. Aoun is helping the Iranians to move into the Lebanese economy. But right now, the ex-general has a few other things on his mind. For a start, three of the team of alleged spies for Israel arrested by the Lebanese army over the past nine months have turned out to be working for Aoun's party. And this "spy ring" is supposed to have been involved in amassing data within the Lebanese communications system. Indeed, one of them was a senior official in Lebanon's largest mobile telephone network.
But the plot thickens. Hizbollah is deeply concerned that forthcoming accusations by the UN international tribunal in The Hague will finger members of the militia in the murder of Prime Minister Hariri's father Rafic on 14 February, 2005. Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of Hizbollah, has already denounced such accusations in advance – and suggested that the Israeli spy network inserted false phone traffic into the mobile phone records of the day of the murder; in other words, the records – a key part of the tribunal's evidence – were deliberately tampered with in order to implicate Hizbollah members in the murder.

And it has to be said that immediately after Rafic Hariri's killing, the UN was quietly pointing the finger at Syria rather than its Hizbollah ally. A censored UN report originally named four Syrian figures supposedly involved in the assassination. But now – after Der Spiegel (and its Israeli informants) suggested Hizbollah men were to blame – everyone is suspecting Israel's most security-conscious enemy in the Middle East of the crime. It's not unlike the Lockerbie airliner bombing, when the Syrians were originally fingered and then – when Syria's help was needed in the coalition against Saddam following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – the West started blaming Libya.

And those 17 Iranian-Lebanese agreements? Just bits of paper, maybe, signed by Bassil to keep the heat off his father-in-law's embarrassment. Spies and dodgy oil deals and a five-year murder hunt. It had to happen in Lebanon.

the independent 






I met him recently after what, more than half a century? Nearing ninety, he is still ramrod straight with sharp eyes ~ eyes tempered by years of focussing on the keyboard of a typewriter, day in and day out. That had been his vocation ~ typing plaints for litigants and lawyers, freelance. In the olden days when the manual typewriter ruled, Typist Uncle (as we called him) owned a classic Remington Rand, He had bought it second-hand. It was all he could afford. Sturdy and dependable, it was like a pet, his constant companion.

My father, who became great friends with Typist Uncle, allowed him to use a corner of our front veranda in the morning, as his customers found it difficult to reach his modest house inside a lane. He would type some petitions before he left for the court on his bicycle, with the typewriter tied on the carrier. Though battered and bruised by the daily knock it received on the bicycle, the typewriter continued to serve him for decades. He of course took fond care of it like a father, regularly oiling and cleaning it himself. 

When we were children, we used to have a lot of fun with Typist Uncle, I would come running onto the veranda and plot down on his lap while he was busy typing. I would shout "A" and search for that key on the typewriter before pressing down hard on it. Far from feeling vexed, he would smile indulgently and ask me to look for the letter "B". Th game would go on for five, may be six, letters of the alphabet before I lost interest and ran away to play some other game. My unwanted As and Bs having ruined the page he was typing, he had to take it out and type it afresh with fresh sheets and carbons. Yet not for a moment did his gentle smile and soft giggle desert his lips. Those were the only riches he possessed, and all that he needed to live on. 

I was glad to see that the ravages of time had not erased that trademark chortle of his. His simple and transparent personality had stood the ordeal of bringing up a large brood of children on a hand-to-mouth existence. In fact, my father used to tease him on this, his only means of "amusement" that had yielded so many fruits! And Typist Uncle, feigning outrage, took it sportively. He was forever in want; yet he never hankered for extra money, the kind that his colleagues made on the sly. He would not have been able to handle it even if it had come unbidden to him. On the other hand, I suspect that sometimes his litigant clients cheated him out of his nominal charges. After all, most litigants were litigants precisely because of their slippery nature!
Typist Uncle was not spared his share of tragedy and disappointments in life. The only one of his sons who had been able to make a mark in society met with premature death, while his only daughter remained unmarried with no "viable" proposal coming her way. Taking advantage of his liberal disposition, his other sons went astray and struggled to gain a foothold in life. 

In spite of these setbacks, his sparkling giggle remains unfazed. Perhaps this guileless disposition of his has only helped him to skim through thick and thin without a scratch on his mental frame. While his more ambitious colleagues have succumbed to various syndromes brought on by the pursuit of monetary power and pain associated with disenchantment, Typist Uncle continues to amble through life, slow and steady. The only thing amiss in his persona now is the partial loss of his hearing. As he understands less, so he giggles even more, making a grand show of his affability! 






For the first time, the Darul Uloom, Deoband (Uttar Pradesh), the spiritual headquarters of Sunni Islam, and with its social front, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, have criticised the separatists in the Kashmir Valley who have been using Islam as a rallying point. They unequivocally affirmed that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India at a conclave of clerics at the Deoband campus, 150 km northeast of Delhi on 10 October. The message of the conclave was loud and clear: that Indian Muslims cannot afford to allow de-linking of the destiny of Kashmiri Muslims from that of Indian Muslims in their own interest.

Nothing much has been said about the stake of Indian Muslims in a turbulent Kashmir. The point is that a Kashmir solution in the context of two-nation theory would be a defeat for secular India in general and for Indian Muslims in particular. Sixty-three years after Independence, Indian Muslims have outgrown the trauma of Partition. At this juncture, the secession of Kashmir from India and its accession to Pakistan only because it is a Muslim-dominated state will reopen the communal bitterness that modern India needs to shed. The 250 million Indian Muslims are required to assist the country to come to terms with its past by justifying India's position on Kashmir and the Constitution's emphasis on secularism. Under the circumstances, the Deoband stand on Kashmir has made it clear that if Muslim Kashmir can live and prosper in secular India, it would be a statement  against the theory which divided this country and created Pakistan.

Thanks to the British policy of divide and rule, vested interests were able to generate the fear that Muslims would become victims of Hindu subjugation in post-colonial India. Muslims of Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan and the eastern part of Bengal, which were to become part of Pakistan, didn't become victims of "Hindu subjugation'' because Muslims were in a majority in these provinces. Now 63 years after Partition, 250 million Muslims, more than the population of Pakistan, live in secular India without being subjugated or swallowed by Hindu majority. By creating communal frenzy prior to 1947, those who created Pakistan  misled Indian Muslims. Partition created an illogical but inescapable situation since one-third of Indian Muslims did not go to Pakistan. The short-sighted arrogance of the Muslim elite and landlord-clergy alliance have recoiled on Indian Muslims who suffered isolation from the vast majority.

The ruling elite in Pakistan, the Mullah-military combine, have been trying to champion the cause of poor Kahsmiris because they happen to be the followers of Islam. They forget that 250 million Indian Muslims are also followers of Islam. Kashmir's problem cannot be viewed in isolation simply because the state has a  Muslim majority. Apart from being Kashmiris, they are an integral part of the Indian Muslim population. 
However, the secession of Kashmir will undermine the position of Indian Muslims who cannot allow this to happen. Kashmir being the only Muslim majority state in India is the symbol of Indian secularism and guarantees the survival of Indian Muslims with honour. The Kashmiris must understand the nefarious designs of the proxy war in Kashmir in the name of advocating self-determination for them. Will Pakistan agree, if India withdraws its right over Kashmir, to allow Kashmiris to declare independence? Will Pakistan allow Kashmiris to create a new society on the "wreckage'' of the Indian system? The answer is "no''. There are only three alternatives open to the people of Jammu and Kashmir - accede to India, accede to Pakistan or remain independent. When in March 1992, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif floated his idea of independent Kashmir and claimed that it was not unrelated to the thinking of the founder of Pakistan, the Pakistani elite class was frightened. Which is why efforts are under way to ensure that Kashmiris do not identify with India or Indian Muslims but with Pakistan. But Pakistan is a country which constantly deceived Muslims of the subcontinent in the name of Islam. Nearly 250,000 Biharis Muslims who used to identify themselves with Pakistan had to survive in squalid camps in Bangladesh on scanty aid provided by one of the poorest countries. Why did Pakistan stop admitting them? These hapless Biharis had migrated from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh after Partition to live among co-religionists in what was then East Pakistan. After the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, they had rejected citizenship of the new nation in favour of migration to Pakistan. But worse than their suffering in squalid camps in Bangladesh was the feeling that they were unwanted in a country which had been created for them in the name of Islam. Even Biharis who had migrated to Pakistan after Partition are like second class citizens in the country of their choice. If, therefore, Pakistan considers Kashmir part of Pakistan only because it is a contiguous Muslims majority area of the sub-continent, the claim is dubious.

Under the circumstances, the Deoband resolution said: "The long pending demands of Kashmiris must be addressed within the framework of the Constitution of India…Indian Muslims have to be taken on board while addressing the Kashmir issue. The unrest there and separatist tendencies have deep implications for the rest of India's Muslims''. Are the separatists in Kashmir and their Pakistani masters listening?

The writer is with Dainik Statesman




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Seen from the perspective of the spectacle on display during the recent Delhi Commonwealth Games, and the extraordinary success that marked the efforts of our sportspersons, the Games were an extraordinary success, belying earlier fears and anxieties caused by the shoddiness and the corruption that marked the preparations up to the last mile. It is fair to say that Indians, by and large, appreciate both aspects of the sporting extravaganza we have just staged: there is justifiable pride in the show that was put up as well as deprecation of the manner in which the whole thing was eventually put together. Not surprisingly, there is a strong feeling in the country that a thorough investigation should lead to the castigation and judicial trial of those who may be guilty of siphoning of public funds earmarked for creating facilities for the Games, and those who presided over cost overruns extending to thousands of crores of rupees. The inquiry ordered by the government right after the CWG was done suggests that those in authority are in step with the national mood. However, the BJP, the principal Opposition party, has demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC). Going a step further, Nitin Gadkari, the party president, has sought to link the Prime Minister's Office to the corruption that is widely believed to have dogged the Games at every stage of the preparation. It is a pity the charge has been flung without a shred of evidence, and can be fairly said to fall in the category of hollow propaganda. The demand for a JPC probe, however, calls for some reflection. Plainly, it is not unreasonable. After all, thousands of crores of public money are suspected to have been siphoned off the unscrupulous elements associated with the Games preparation. Urban development minister, Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, who headed the group of ministers that was hastily constituted by the Prime Minister to oversee all the Games work in the final stages, is reported to be not averse to the idea of a JPC probe as he believes that the government was entirely transparent in its conduct. The demand would, of course, have weight even if Mr Reddy thought differently. The problem with the idea of a JPC probe lies elsewhere, however. Both in the UK, where the institution of scrutiny by a JPC was started, and in this country, JPCs have a poor record. In India, the last such inquiry was in the Bofors affair and not much came of it, although much time and expense was devoted to the project. Inordinate time is typically wasted on procedures. While the chairmanship is meant under the rules to rest with the ruling dispensation, Opposition groups spend months arguing for one of them to head the probe body. This is, typically, done to extract propaganda mileage. Political interests of parties take precedence over the passion to get at the truth. At a more fundamental level, a JPC is virtually toothless, not possessing magisterial powers. In sum, it becomes a platform for parties opposed to the government to engage in nothing more than grandstanding while the matter at hand does not move forward.







The disease known as "groupthink" has a curious penchant for infecting the media. The colourful German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle who visited India for the first time this week got a taste of this herd mentality when he was harried by persistent questions on Chancellor Angela Merkel's assertion that multikulti, or multiculturalism, had "utterly failed" in Germany. The underlying assumption behind the queries was that Germany had turned its back on the enlightened co-existence of cultures and was somehow re-embracing the intolerant xenophobia of a troublesome past.


Mr Westerwelle responded to these fears with admirable intellectual composure. He argued that multiculturalism meant different things to different people and that the concerns in Germany didn't imply a repudiation of an "open society" but the "free for all" society. Every society, he argued, had its own perception of what is acceptable and unacceptable. What Germany found galling was alternative paradigms of justice and human rights that devalued gender equality and religious co-existence. Mr Westerwelle spoke in code but everyone knew what he was referring to.


It is difficult to judge the impact of Mr Westerwelle's arguments on his interrogators. Judging from the fact that not a word of his attempt to contextualise Chancellor Merkel's utterances appeared in the local media, we may assume his replies were either very persuasive or a shade too complex. Either way, it is unlikely to make any impression on India's liberal, opinion-making industry that is convinced of a larger European drift to xenophobic politics. In the past week, I encountered a Delhi socialite with impeccable "progressive" credentials who boasted that she had chosen to boycott all functions hosted by the French embassy because of the burkha ban; and another editor from Chennai made the hurtful comment on Twitter that Ms Merkel was re-discovering Germany's Nazi inheritance.


Indians, as we observed during the shenanigans surrounding the Commonwealth Games, are quick to hurl charges of racism and cultural insensitivity on others. Contrary to stereotype, the charge against perceived white supremacist thinking and cultural insensitivity isn't led by the paan-chewing, Hindi-speaking zealot taking a breather from the neighbourhood Bhagwati Jagran. The prickliest of Indians tend to be those who are English-speaking, cosmopolitan in outlook and professing faith in India's rich multiculturalism.


As India has grown in prosperity and emotional self-confidence, there has been a marked inclination to paint it as the epitome of authentic secularism, enlightened pluralism and the spirit of fraternity. Some of this gushing self-deification is warranted. Indians do tend to be naturally accommodating about coping with diversity in the public sphere and politics is all about forging alliances at the local, state and national levels. The fears articulated during the Ayodhya movement about an insidious "syndicated Hinduism" making society monochromatic have, in hindsight, proved to be spurious. India has remained delightfully rumbustious and chaotically argumentative as ever.


Does this imply that India can afford to look down with condescension at a Germany that can't cope with "guest workers" who refuse to either go home or imbibe robust German values?


For a start, the distinction Mr Westerwelle drew between an "open society" and a "free for all society" is pertinent. Following the experiences with fascism and communist totalitarianism, Europe has emerged as a genuinely tolerant society, allowing an unregulated interplay of ideas. This may explain the absolute horror that greeted Ayatollah Khomeini's murderous fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Likewise, there is also a deep abhorrence of any attempt to either denigrate or discriminate against citizens on the basis of race. This is not to suggest that race hate is absent in Europe but that there is a structured intolerance of any organised attempt to make racism respectable. The manner in which the leader of the British National Party, an elected Member of the European Parliament, had his invitation to the Queen's summer party at Buckingham Palace withdrawn was unquestionably contrived. However, it did indicate the Establishment's intense unease at rubbing shoulders with a man whose party espouses crude identity politics.


Unfortunately, the threat to an open society doesn't merely come from those who claim to speak for the majority. The recent rumblings in western Europe have, unfortunately, been triggered by two factors. First, the increasing willingness of a minusculity to challenge a consensual value system, sometimes through terror; and, second, a well-meaning but oppressive political correctness that is often increasingly seen as appeasement of the unacceptable.


At the same time, and it is important to stress this, the reactions to these distortions have, by and large, been restrained. It is only where restraint has assumed the form of outright denial that the majoritarian fringe has grabbed some decisive political space as, for example, in Holland. The increasing willingness of mainstream politicians such as President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel to articulate the misgivings of a fearful, silent majority is actually a positive development. By admitting to a problem and, at the same time, shunning extremist and xenophobic ways of coping with it, their interventions have signalled to responsible sections of the minorities the importance of not offending host cultures.  


Since India doesn't really have an immigrant problem — those who arrive from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka merge seamlessly into adjoining societies — many of Europe's multicultural troubles leave it unaffected. India has been less an open society than a self-regulated society which is hesitantly making the transition to a more ordered state. The Constitution has been a handy instrument of this shift towards modernity and, by and large, this approach has served the country well. The problems arise when, as in Europe, a substantial body of people (not least politicians) either try to rewrite the rules of the game or take undue advantage of a natural generosity towards minorities.


Without sneering at the Germans, taunting the French and outrightly decrying the Australians, India should imbibe the different experiences of multicultural hiccups with an open mind and humility. Each of these experiences could come to trouble us.


Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








The trans-Siberian Express running across Eurasia from the Atlantic port of Vladivostok to Moscow is legendary. It has inspired stories, movies and a generation of adventurers. It has also made possible the Russian economic exploitation of Siberia. Lesser known is the newer Silk Route railway, which today connects London to Beijing. To be sure it is one long journey, but it is more exotic than anything the Trans-Siberian can offer. Today, a traveller can hop trains from London to Moscow, Almaty and Urumqi to eventually pull into Beijing's majestic West Station.


The London-Moscow leg takes two whole days; then it is a one day wait to catch the Almaty train to Kazakhstan, which is a five-day haul in a luxury train, complete with old style samovars and the best of Russian vodkas. In Almaty, the traveller has to wait a while to board the once-a-week train across the border to Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan. It is possible to cut waiting time by taking a bus but for the purist a train is an altogether different experience. The train departs Almaty every Saturday night and reaches Urumqi the following Monday morning. The journey to Beijing is equally short and a modern express rushes the traveller across the expanse of northern China in 48 hours flat.


The Silk Route railway is a testament to the new openness of the Asian heartland. This is engaging not just the adventurers, thrill seekers and aspiring novelists but also the hard headed men of finance and geopolitics. This and other transport, commercial and financial networks lighting up across Asia are indicative of the tectonic shifts taking place in the Asian continent.


Trucks, tourists, merchants, migrants and spies are weaving their way across borders and, in the process, transforming continental geo-economics and politics. Everybody is part of this dramatic new revival of intra-Asian openness, from Vietnam in the East to landlocked Azerbaijan and Asiatic Russia in the West. The exception is India and, for different reasons, Bangladesh — two countries caught in a strategic squeeze and a kind of time warp.


Indians cannot cross their land borders without hitting a brick wall, while Westerners and other more fortunate Asians slip effortlessly through. Indians have been boxed into South Asia by a hostile Pakistan on the west and an equally unyielding China on the east. The China-Pakistan axis seeks to keep India isolated in Asia, trapped in endless conflict and unable to participate in post-Soviet Eurasia's dramatic economic and social transformation.


China has rapidly built itself up as Asia's principal hub with all transport, communication and commercial lines radiating out of its core. Its roads, railways and pipelines today reach Singapore, Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia.


India in contrast is utterly contained. Central Asia is cut off, so is Afghanistan and Russia. Indian goods and travellers can go through China or Iran but both routes have proved difficult and expensive. For years Pakistan has refused India transit rights and once even stopped free consignments of biscuits for hungry Afghan children. India's huge $1.2 billion Afghan assistance is seen as a threat by Islamabad and New Delhi has to ship aid and reconstruction material to Kabul via Iran.


New Delhi had laid great hope on a new Afghan-Pakistan trade and transit agreement which was expected to allow India to trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia through Pakistani territory. Washington too was keen on this agreement and Pakistan's Prime Minister had assured Kabul last year he was prepared help Afghanistan to promote regional connectivity.


But when it came to the crunch, Islamabad's rulers and Karachi's traders refused to bend. A new agreement was signed last month but it was a farce: Afghan trucks could bring their goods to India but would have to return empty. India would not be allowed to send even a grain of rice beyond Pakistan.


New Delhi is acutely aware of its geopolitical confinement and has been seeking openings through Bangladesh, Burma and even China. The problem with the latter is its irredentist claims on India because of which large parts of border areas are impossible to open up for commerce or travel. Thus, there are no major routes between India and China along their borders.


The only opening for India is through the east. It desperately wants to build highways, railways, pipelines and transmission lines to Bangladesh and Burma. Successive regimes in Dhaka have, however, refused to allow this. Bangladesh has even refused to join the Asian Highway Network project, which would connect to East and Southeast Asia. Dhaka's opposition has been based on anti-Indian sentiments but this could be changing.


Bangladesh today appears to realise that the entire continent is opening up and that it cannot remain isolated merely to spite India. Dhaka has recently floated a plan to link its Chittagong Port to Kunming in China via Burma. It has also promised to sign a trade and transit agreement with New Delhi to allow the free movement of goods and people, as well as the use of the Chittagong port. If this comes through, then India's land connectivity to Burma, China and Southeast Asia would instantly become viable.


It might shortly be possible for an Indian traveller to board a train at New Delhi station for Mandalay, Hanoi or Shanghai. But even then, Delhi to London on a railway coach via west or central Asia would still remain an impossible dream.








The minister of environment and forestry, Jairam Ramesh, is an interesting man to quarrel about and quarrel with. In many ways, he has become a public figure keen to enact policy as an open drama. Mr Ramesh has taken the domain of policy and opened it to public debate. This makes the decisions vulnerable but one can smell the fresh air of democratic debate. This smell can be very invigorating for politics.


Let us be clear. Mr Ramesh is a shrewd and ambitious man. He began as a technocrat and later learnt the craft and humility that comes with politics. He also realises it as a balancing act where today's supporters might be tomorrow's opponents. He realises that environment and politics are about trade-offs. A trade-off is an art form. As Mr Ramesh stated it in his Satish Dhawan Memorial Lecture, there is always a trade-off between growth and environment. "In arriving at decisions to untangle the trade-off, three options present themselves — 'yes', 'yes, but' and 'no'. The real problem is that the growth constituency is used to 'yes' and can live with 'yes, but'. It cries foul with 'no'. The environment constituency exults with a 'no', grudgingly accepts the 'yes, but', but cries foul with a 'yes'. Therefore one clear lesson is this — maximise the 'yes, but', where this is possible."


Mr Ramesh has his own reading of environment as politics where he quotes experts like Partha Dasgupta, Sumita Narain and Kanchan Chopra. His literacy has never been in doubt. But sociologically one can read this effort in a different way.


The last decades of the century were the era of social movements. They ranged from Chipko and Appiko to the battle over the Narmada Dam. The Indian battle for environment was a deeply political one where civil society used environment as a site to widen the idea of democracy.


But with liberalisation, the opening of the economy, the rise of a new generation, the idioms of politics were changing. The political idea of movements was seen as labour intensive and yet often futile in building consensus. Movements are precious and they represent the social conscience of the society. But movements can be concealed into method, when the method is more than a set of dry techniques like cost-benefit analysis. A variety of new heuristics, new legal frames, and new concepts could create the new life blood of a sustained environmentalism. Mr Ramesh as a mature technocrat was one of the first to understand the politics of conditionalities. Method could become a mode of arbitration, raising policy to a new level of sensitivity and debate. The drama of method as an open frame of scrutiny and evaluation based on openness, objectivity and method centered around the two great moral sites of the ecological imagination — the seed and the mine.


The rise of the Bt Cotton controversy and the tandem debates on brinjals made seeds the site of the whole debate on agriculture. A seed could not be read as a mechanical artifact to be produced in a laboratory. A seed was the image of the future, a stored heritage, a form of competence, a circus of imaginations. Such a world could not be handed over to the MNC, for to hand over such knowledge was to hand over a way of life. It was to diminish a form of civilisation called agriculture.


Because of his literacy and openness to activists, Mr Ramesh understood this intuitively. He also realised democracy is a composite of imaginations where private science and market interests have major stakes. By creating a framework of debate through his hearings, by simultaneously inviting the six academies of science to evaluate Bt crops, Mr Ramesh created a public space for doubt, debate and a process of resolution. The fact that the academics of science behaved like a collective Pinnochio was not his fault. Like Pinnochio, the academies became toys in the hands of private groups, and like Pinnochio their noses became longer with each denial.


One must be wary of creating a fairytale rendering. Mr Ramesh has employed method as a surrogate for ethics.


To the fate of agriculture, we must add the problem of the mine. The mine in India has been a source of exploitation and corruption. It has often destroyed the tribal way of life spouting the hypocritical litany of development. Anyone interested to know the details should read a recent classic by Felix Padel and Samendra Das on the role of aluminium cartels. I wish media would give Out of this Earth the publicity it reserves for the adolescent outpourings of the diaspora which everyone calls "literature".


Mr Ramesh realised the pending ethical issues of the mine. A whole nexus of cartels were eating into mineral wealth from iron ore to bauxite, with complete indifference to the local people and their ecology. Mr Ramesh realised that methodology of environmental clearances could introduce these cartels to the rule of law in India. He was quick to emphasise that the goal was not to delay nor was it a romantic pursuit of anti-development. His technocratic past ensured that he was not subject to accusation of sentiment. Method has a way of hiding values. This much he knew and exploited.


He went further. He showed that given an era where the green bench is dormant, where the court insists that the Narmada Dam is a marker of sustainability, one needs to rework sustainability as a methodology, as a framework of law, as a model for justice. One needs methodology for both gross domestic product and Green Domestic Product. One needs a revaluation of wealth in a polluted society. He is quick to remind us that the phrase "sustainable development" was first coined by an Indian economist, Nitin Desai. He is equally quick to remind us that the systems of green accounting are still a patina of good intentions.

But Mr Ramesh has cleared the ground. He has shown we cannot use old fears, like the China syndrome, to create bad defence or development. Yet he intuitively realises that the battle for a green India needs the creativity of our society. His is an invitation to politics, to ethics which is asking us to go beyond his initial framework of methods. He is a harbinger of future but it is upto the society to claim the opportunity. This coming month is the month of the Earth Charter. One hopes India does not reduce it to the banality of empty proclamations.


* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








The "tower of Babel" story — often interpreted as God's curse on humankind — stands tall in the Biblical book of Genesis (11:1-9). The story tells of a time when the whole world had only one language.


Thereafter, people schemed "to build a tower with its top in the heavens". Like the "flood stories" in religious mythology, there are also "tower stories" in African mythology and in ancient Babylonian mythology where, for instance, it was held that temples had their foundations in the underworld, with their tops touching heaven. Genesis rubbishes this idea.


The purpose of building the tower is clear. The people say: "Let's make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the whole earth". The story continues: "The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which mortals had built". Later, there's again mention of God's decision to "go down". Like the avatars, God's coming down implies divine intervention.


Bible stories often portray God in down-to-earth terms. God sees, considers and decides: "Let's confuse their language so that they will not understand one another's speech". With God's decision to scatter the people, the story concludes: "Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth".


The literal meaning of "Babel" is "gate of God" (see Genesis 28:17); that is, in Babel one is closer to God than anywhere else in the world. However, there's a play on the words "Babel" and the Hebrew "balal", meaning, "to confuse". Interestingly, that's how we got the word "babble". And, ironically, the very name that people seek to make for themselves becomes cause for confusion.


One way of interpreting the story is to see in it the unrealistic human desire to "be god". The "name" that people seek is equivalent to "fame". The Babel story is confusing because of the ambivalent view of unity and diversity. On the one hand, the scattering abroad seems perfectly consonant with God's creational intent of filling the earth with people; on the other, such scattering seems to be God's punishment. Stressing the latter, some thinkers hold that religions use such widely differing terms that they are incommensurable and untranslatable. In other words, interfaith dialogue is impossible.


Another group of thinkers explain that, rather than seeing Babel as signalling the end of communication, it truly heralds its beginning. Put differently, given the fact that God created human beings to "fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), God's intervention at Babel must be seen as "re-creation in separation". Post-Babel, human beings must remember that they're not created to go upwards in homogenous, arrogant, self-enclosed "ivory tower" isolation, but to go outwards to encounter the other(s) whom God has created delightfully different. Babel teaches us that our boast about Hebrew or Latin or Sanskrit being God's own language is rubbish. Such theories are peddled by priests and pujaris who seek special rights in religious rites. God speaks, and understands, all languages. Thus, Babel discloses that interfaith dialogue flourishes not only through consensus but also by dissensus — meaning, we can evolve God talk in the margins between and among diverse religions. Anticipating this new world, after Jesus' resurrection, "All his disciples were filled with God's Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability" (Acts 2:4). Then, no one was interested in constructing towers but in creating communities of love. Remember, while towers can be targeted due to adharma, today, true dharma will see us dialoguing with love not only with one another, but also with God — whose loveliest language is love!


— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the
Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted [1]








WHEN I visited Kabul a few weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai told me that the United States has yet to offer a credible strategy for how to resolve a critical issue: Pakistan's role in the war in Afghanistan.


In the region and in the wider war against terrorism, Pakistan has long played a vital positive part — and a troublingly negative one. With Pakistani civilian and military leaders meeting with Obama administration officials this week in Washington — and with the Times report on Tuesday that Afghan and Taliban leaders are holding direct, high-level talks to end the war — cutting through this Gordian knot has become more urgent and more difficult than ever before.


Pakistan has done, and continues to do, a great deal of good: many of the supply lines and much of the logistical support for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan run through Pakistan. Drones striking terrorists and militants in the tribal areas do so with the Pakistani government's blessing and rely on Pakistani bases. And Pakistani security services have worked with the Central Intelligence Agency to capture hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives.


At the same time, Pakistan gives not only sanctuary but also support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network. This has hampered America's military efforts; contributed to American, coalition and Afghan deaths; and helped sour relations between Kabul and Washington.


What's more, Pakistani military leaders believe that the our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate American military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.


When dealing with Pakistan, the Obama administration, like the George W. Bush administration, has pursued two lines of action. First, it has tried building up Afghan security forces, providing military assistance and supporting the Afghan economy and state institutions, all in hopes of hardening the country against Pakistan-backed insurgents.


Second, the US has tried to soften Pakistan's support of extremist militants through enhanced engagement as well as humanitarian, economic and military assistance; indeed, Congress last year approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of non-military aid, and among the options being discussed by American and Pakistani officials this week is a security pact that would mean billions of dollars more. But such efforts have led to only the most incremental shifts in Pakistan's policy.


To induce quicker and more significant changes, Washington must offer Islamabad a stark choice between positive incentives and negative consequences.


The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programmes for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent. Arguments that such pressure would cause Pakistan to disintegrate are overstated. Pakistan's institutions, particularly the country's security organs, are sufficiently strong to preclude such an outcome.


Nonetheless, this aggressive approach would require the United States to think through a series of likely Pakistani responses. To deal with an interruption of our supply lines to Afghanistan, for example, we must stockpile supplies and start bringing in more materiel through the northern supply routes and via air.


At the same time, America should present clear, significant incentives. In exchange for demonstrable Pakistani cooperation, the United States should offer to mediate disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan; help establish a trade corridor from Pakistan into Central Asia; and ensure that Pakistan's adversaries do not use Afghanistan's territory to support insurgents in Pakistani Balochistan.


More fundamentally, the United States needs to demonstrate that, even after our troops depart Afghanistan, we are resolved to stay engaged in the region. To that end, the United States should provide long-term assistance to Pakistan focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy and democratic institutions.


Finally, the United States should facilitate a major diplomatic effort focused on stabilising South Asia. This must involve efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Based on my recent discussions with Pakistani officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari, I believe the civilian leadership would welcome such a move.


Without inducing a change in Pakistan's posture, the United States will have to choose between fighting a longer and bloodier war in Afghanistan than is necessary, at the cost of many young American lives and many billions of dollars, or accepting a major setback in Afghanistan and in the surrounding region. Both are undesirable options.


Instead, the Obama administration should be forcing Pakistan to make some choices — between supporting the United States or supporting extremists.


* Zalmay Khalilzad, a counsellor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and the president of a consulting firm, was the ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.


By arrangement with the New York Times




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





The Shiv Sena is back on the offensive with its parochial and communal platform in its characteristically intolerant ways.  The flurry of the recent aggressive postures and actions have also been timed to coincide with the launch of party supremo Bal Thackeray's grandson Aditya into politics. The 20-year-old scion of the family will head the party's youth wing and he is trying to earn his militant stripes by outdoing the seniors. Bal Thackeray was perhaps disappointed with his son Udhav, who has not been able to stop nephew Raj Thackeray's  Maharashtra Navnirman Sena from stealing the Shiv Sena's thunder, and wants to groom Aditya to take over the party's reins in future. Aditya has started typically with book-burning. He prevailed upon the vice-chancellor of Mumbai University to ban from the syllabus Rohinton Mistry's novel 'Such a Long Journey' in which there are critical references to the Sena and Bal Thackeray. The Sena has also objected to the participation of two Pakistani artistes in a reality show in a TV Channel. The latest demand is for a ban on burqa on ridiculous grounds. 

It is acting true to its reputation. What is disappointing is the response of Maharashtra's establishment. The vice-chancellor used emergency provisions and obliged Aditya Thackeray with the ban within a day of the Sena apprentice making the demand. The book was published in 1991 and has been a part of the syllabus for three years. The action of the vice-chancellor, who should have considered upholding freedom of expression and academic independence more important than being on the right side of the Sena, is reprehensible. It is more shameful that the state's chief minister, Ashok Chavan, has also endorsed the withdrawal, presumably because there were uncomplimentary references to Indira Gandhi also in the book.

All the three issues raised by the Sena threaten the freedoms guaranteed to citizens in a liberal democracy. It has got away with its violence and activism in the past and unfortunately the virus has now infected the state's leadership and institutions. The party has not learnt any lessons from its political decline, and wrongly thinks that only competitive parochialism and bigotry, more virulent than in the past and stronger than the rival's, will help it to retrieve lost ground. Now that the authorities have also been found acquiescing, the wider society should stand up to face the Sena and to protect the nation's cherished values.








It is a matter of immense pride for Bangalore, indeed for all of Karnataka, that a well-respected institution in the state, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans) has been accorded the status of 'institute of national importance'. The recognition is richly deserved. Nimhans' researchers and doctors have done exemplary work in the understanding of the complexities of the human brain, mental health, human behaviour and related issues. Started as a 'lunatic asylum' in the 19th century, it has evolved significantly over the decades. It has gone beyond its mandate of treatment and research to work to change public perception of mental health issues, of problems of alcohol and drug dependence and so on. Its doctors have played an important role in psycho-social rehabilitation of survivors of the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. The impact of its work has been felt not just in Karnataka but across India. In fact, this 'institute of national importance' has global significance as the impact of its treatment and research work has been felt beyond India's borders.

Nimhans will now come directly under the Union ministry of health and be on par with other institutions like AIIMS in Delhi. It will enjoy greater autonomy, which means it will have more freedom in formulating its syllabus and teaching methods.

Health related work should not be restricted to wards and laboratories. It should reach out to people who hesitate to come for treatment. Several doctors in Nimhans have reached out to those in need of help. However, there is only so much that individuals and individual institutions can do, restricted as they are by their infrastructure, location and so on. India has a limited number of hospitals offering affordable treatment for mental health problems. This is especially the case in conflict zones like Chhattisgarh, the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir where post-traumatic stress disorders are widespread. While doctors from Nimhans have provided medical help to people in these regions their interventions are ad hoc in nature. Sustained support is important. As an 'institute of national importance' will Nimhans lead the campaign for more institutions like itself to be set up in these areas? Its new status will give Nimhans' campaigns greater gravitas in public discourse. It should lead the way in removing misperceptions associated with mental illnesses.







In addition to health risks, there are issues relating to seed patenting, biodiversity and the impoverishment of farmers.


The next time you serve up a good old 'wholesome' meal of rice and various vegetables, you will probably take in half a milligram of pesticide also. That would be more than 40 times what an average North American person would consume.

India is one of the world's largest users of pesticides and a profitable market for the corporations that manufacture them. Ladyfinger, cabbage, tomato and cauliflower in particular may contain dangerously high levels because farmers tend to harvest them almost immediately after spraying. Fruit and vegetables are sprayed and tampered with to make them more colourful, and harmful fungicides are sprayed on fruit to ripen them in order to rush them off to market.

Research by the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore has indicated disturbing trends in the increased use of pesticide. In 2008, it reported that many crops for export had been rejected internationally due to high pesticide residues.

Kasargod in Kerala is notorious for the indiscriminate spraying of endosulfan. The government-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala aerially sprayed the harmful pesticide on cashews for a period of over 20 years. Consequently, it got into rivers, streams and drinking water. Families and their children have been living with physical deformities, cancers and disorders of the central nervous system ever since.

Officials and the pesticide companies benefited from the spraying. At the time, cashew was grown without pesticides throughout Kerala, but the government run plantation invested millions of rupees of public money in spraying the deadly pesticide. Endosulfen poisoning cases also emerged elsewhere, including Karnataka.

Monsanto's controversial Round Up is now being used in place of endosulfan, which is in fact still being used in various parts of the country despite the health dangers.

According to the writer Marie-Monique Robin, whoever controls the food (and pesticide) business controls the world. She claims that Monsanto, backed by the US government, wants to do this through its genetically manipulated (GM) seeds and its pesticides and weedicides. Monsanto already controls 84 per cent of the global GM seeds market.

Monsanto has been responsible for manufacturing polychlorinated biphenols that cause cancer, dioxins that lead to chloracne, GM bovine growth hormone that produce mastitis in cattle and genetically modified organisms containing insect toxins, including GM corn, GM soya and Bt cotton, which are strongly associated with a range of health hazards.

Mass death

It also produced Agent Orange which the US dropped on Vietnam to destroy jungle and consequently led to mass death, disease and deformities. In June 2001, adding insult to injury, Monsanto was accused by farmers of Ninh Thuan province of pressuring them to use genetically modified seeds that resulted in corn and maize crop failures and economic ruin.

What's more, many of its tactics, claims and advertising have been questionable and sometimes downright illegal. In Indonesia, the corporation bribed more than 140 government officials to have its Bt cotton released without an environmental risk assessment.

Dr Meryl Hammond, founder of the Campaign for Alternatives to Pesticides, recently told a Canadian parliament committee that a raft of studies published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals point to strong associations between chemical pesticides and serious health consequences, including endocrine disruption and fertility problems, birth defects, brain tumours and various types of cancer.

The committee heard testimony from 85 witnesses and analysed over 50 briefs, which produced a frightening overview on the effects of pesticides and their pervasiveness in the environment.

There is also evidence demonstrating a potentially dangerous link between many pesticides and naturally occurring substances. For example, a British study done way back in the 1970s and reported in the journal 'Nature' indicated that the insecticide carbaryl can combine with nitrites from food additives in the stomach and create a carcinogenic and highly mutagenic substance.

In addition to health risks, there are the well documented issues relating to seed patenting, biodiversity and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. There are also concerns over dead soil. A recent scientific study carried out in India by the Navdanya organisation found that Bt cotton had significantly reduced vital soil enzymes and bacteria, so much so that within a decade of planting GM cotton, or any GM crop with Bt genes, the destruction of soil organisms could be complete, resulting in dead soil unable to produce food.

But there is hope. Earlier this year, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh halted the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal, the world's first genetically modified eggplant containing insecticidal toxin protein. Ramesh was widely praised for not giving in to intense pressure from the USA and vested interests.

Pesticides and GM food can cause serious damage to health, but the manufacturers have invested so much and possess great influence. Throughout the world, the public is increasingly calling these companies to account. In many respects, there are parallels with the tussle with tobacco companies over lung cancer. But this time the effects are much more pervasive and impact the entire planet.

If someone was standing in front of you threatening your life or the lives of your children, wouldn't you take action? There's no difference between that situation and what the corporations are doing to your food.








In many countries, govts have often taken rather simplistic approaches to a complex matter.


The World Health Organisation's adoption this year of a Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol was historic not only for being much-needed and long-awaited, but also for being focused on what can feasibly be done, and done now. As nations around the world assess the burdens they attribute to harmful drinking and what they can do, the Alcohol Strategy provides compelling impetus and guidance for immediate action.

WHO recommends 10 target areas for action, with a helpful reframing of policy options in an arena where 'solutions' in the past have been few and often highly proscriptive. The Alcohol Strategy also invites a diverse array of contributors to the table — making a clean break from times when alcohol policy was typically made in forums that excluded the people who know a great deal about alcohol, the producers.

Far more significant is the fact that WHO is urging nations to address the harmful use of alcohol as part of a larger, well-reasoned 'strategy'. Past regulatory approaches have at times profoundly lacked strategic elements. In many countries around the world, although well-intentioned, governments have often taken rather simplistic approaches to a complex matter. And in countries where resources are scarce, those resources have often been used up by measures yielding disappointing outcomes, or even unintended negative results.

Harmful drinking
In fact, WHO points out a discrepancy "between the increasing availability and affordability of alcohol beverages in many low- and middle-income countries and those countries' capability and capacity to meet the possible additional public health burden that follows." To be successful, approaches to reduce harmful drinking should bear in mind that the issue is not consumption of alcohol, but harmful consumption. It is not availability of alcohol per se that is problematic, but the consequences we see when people drink problematically.

For example, where taxes and prices have been raised in an attempt to restrict availability and consumption, such efforts have often led to increases in black market activity because access to legitimate alcohol has been too severely restricted. And from Eastern Europe to Africa and Asia-Pacific, we have seen far too many injuries and deaths where people turn to illicitly brewed alcohol or alcohol 'substitutes' not intended for human consumption.

Research has consistently shown that chronic, problem drinkers are the least likely to change their behaviour and drink less if prices increase. They may switch to less expensive drinks, they may drink at home more and go out less, but they will always find a way to drink. Even when and where alcohol has been — or is — prohibited, those determined to drink excessively do so.

Contrary to what the more vocal critics of the alcohol industry may presume, some of the people most concerned and knowledgeable about combating harmful drinking are actually the people who produce alcohol beverages. Producers have developed, supported and participated in programmes with government and law enforcement agencies, educational institutions, public health organisations and retailers to prevent drunk driving, underage consumption and other harmful alcohol use and have a good deal of knowledge to share about these programmes — and enthusiasm to share in others.

For example, there is the work of Global Actions on Harmful Drinking (, a consortium of initiatives dedicated to helping reduce the harmful use of alcohol. This work is the result of a collective commitment made by the chief executives of major international alcohol beverage producers to make a significant effort in the 2010-2012 timeframe to address harmful drinking through a combination of global and local actions. The initiatives place an emphasis on low- and middle-income countries — with a focus on drunk driving, self-regulation of alcohol marketing, and non-commercial (illicit) alcohol.

These efforts follow the same line of thinking reflected in WHO's Alcohol Strategy: What is required is a range of options so that different countries and communities can select which combination of measures is likely to work best for them, given their drinking culture and health priorities. There is promise in such approaches that are developed enough to work in practice, not just in theory.

As alcohol producers work in concert with health professionals, governments, and civil society to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, more is now possible. With the benefit of a new sense of stakeholder partnership and guidance from WHO, there is strength in numbers and there is a feasible strategy for what can be done, and done now.







Education cannot prevent you from occasionally putti-ng your foot into your mouth.


We all like people who mean what they say, but even more likeable are those who do not mean what they say. I am not talking about liars and cheats, who in Kipling's language twist the truth to make a trap for fools. The good folks I am referring to are those who commit slips of the lips. Their remarks are funny, delightful and even thought-provoking.

Topping the list are those who indulge in hyperboles. Exasperated parents are prone to say, "I have told you a thousand times…" You could take the wind out of their sails by pointing out that this is next to impossible, but that would only land you in further trouble. "I am dying to…" and "This is something to die for…" are often heard, though it is common knowledge that 'dying' is something all of us would like to put off for another day. More on the list are, "We were scared to death," "Stop that nonsense or I'll kill you." and "This thing weighs a ton."

The classroom is fertile ground for 'bloopers'. They are the teacher's nightmare as well as diversion during the dull task of correcting papers. The children write answers that have been learnt but not fully understood and this makes for hilarious results. Examples are, "Buddha declared that the giving up of desires leads to salivation", "Cinna was one of the constipators" and this, not without a hint at prevailing conditions, "Four aims mentioned in the preamble are: Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fertility.'

Teachers too fall victim to malice in Blunderland. While reprimanding her student, one of them blurted, "When you are talking to me, keep your mouth shut." Another, upset with the many glaring errors in her English answers, demanded of her pupil, "And who taught you English in the previous class?" After a moment's silence came the hesitant reply, "You, Miss."

Day-to-day life is riddled with mystifying comments. Said the tourist guide to a bunch of eager travellers, "Follow me, I am right behind you!" Neither education nor status can prevent you from occasionally putting your foot into your mouth. Gerald Ford, former President of the USA is credited with this gem, "If Lincoln were alive today, he'd roll over in his grave." All one can add to that is, "May he rest in peace!"










Voters don't seem to be paying much attention to the war in Afghanistan and President Obama certainly isn't making it an issue. His administration is doubling down on the fight against the Taliban and showing mixed results. That may not sound like much, but even mixed results are an improvement over the utterly bleak situation of several months ago.


President George W. Bush shortchanged the Afghan fight for seven years. We continue to wonder whether, at this late date, the United States can achieve even minimal success against the Taliban and their allies. The cost of the war is still rising. Nearly 600 coalition forces, including 400 Americans, have been killed there this year. Mr. Obama and his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, appear, finally, to be putting in place the pieces of a more coherent plan.


With 30,000 more American troops in Afghanistan, attacks against insurgents on both sides of the border have intensified. The Timesreported on Thursday that American and Afghan troops have forced many Taliban fighters to flee Kandahar, the country's second-largest city and the Taliban's spiritual base.


Marja, where the first test of the new counterinsurgency strategy faltered badly last February, is somewhat better governed and more secure. To improve security in areas across the country without sufficient NATO and Afghan forces, General Petraeus has spearheaded an effort to create local police units to protect their villages against the Taliban.


According to reports in The Times, President Hamid Karzai's government, with Washington's support, is also holding exploratory peace talks with high-level Taliban commanders. NATO has flown some of the commanders from their sanctuaries in Pakistan or cleared roads so they could make their way safely to Kabul.


While the Americans are doing better tactically on the battlefield, the country is still up for grabs.


The Taliban, which the United States thought it had defeated in 2001, has a history of falling back and living to fight another day. "They don't believe they are losing yet," one military official told us.


And two of the most fundamental problems have yet to be addressed: the Afghan government's lack of credibility with many of its own people; and Pakistan's persistent double game, taking American aid while sheltering and abetting the Taliban.


Mr. Karzai's government is rife with corruption, and he has either dragged his feet or blocked efforts to clean up things. His supporters committed vast fraud in last year's presidential election. We don't have a clear picture of who was behind the fraud in the recent parliamentary elections, but 1.3 million votes were invalidated. The new election commission, led by two Karzai appointees, seems to have done a more honest job than its predecessor in counting ballots.


The Obama administration has yet to find a way to pressure or cajole Mr. Karzai into saving his own government. The same is true when it comes to Pakistan.


The administration has sensibly dropped its reluctance about negotiations with the Taliban. But officials admit they don't know if the Taliban leaders involved are serious or have the power to make a deal. Kabul and Washington certainly should not lunge for a deal at any cost. Both must continue to insist that any Taliban leaders looking for a role in a postconflict government must agree to lay down their arms, accept the Afghan Constitution, including its protection of women's rights, and renounce Al Qaeda.


Mr. Obama is to review his Afghanistan policy in December. He is unlikely to have a clear sense of whether it is really succeeding until next spring when fighting resumes after the winter hiatus. That is not long before he has promised to begin withdrawing American troops. Mixed results then certainly won't be enough.







This year's crop of negative political ads is fresh and repellent and headed for the landfill on Nov. 3. At least they aim to motivate voters, however basely.


Now here comes a twist: a new Republican ad so cynical that one media company, Univision, refused to air it. It's from one of those 527 groups allowed to pursue "issue advocacy." The group, Latinos for Reform, aims its message at Hispanic voters fed up with inaction on immigration reform, which has been stalled for years.


It doesn't tell them whom to vote for or against. It tells them not to vote. "Clearly, the Democratic leadership betrayed us," it says. "Aren't you tired of politicians playing games with your future? Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message."


Wait. Don't vote? Clear message? Who is "us"?


Latinos for Reform is not a grass-roots Latino immigration-reform group. It is the operation of a conservative Republican, Robert DePosada, a former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee. While many Latinos are bitterly and rightly disappointed in President Obama's failure to win immigration reform, the ad's prescription — "Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals" — has it upside-down and backward.


Every time Congress has come close to passing bipartisan immigration reform, lock-step Republicans have destroyed any hope of passage. Democratic cowardice and ineptitude haven't helped, but when a bill has come close to a vote, Republican-led filibusters killed it.


The Republicans' contempt for Hispanic voters, of which this voter suppression is Exhibit A, is mirrored in the way their party exploits immigration rather than fixes it. Many immigrants and citizens yearn for reform. But if most of the Republicans running this fall have their way, we'll never get it. Good reason to get out and vote.









We've been waiting a long time for technology to deliver us an alternative reality, like the future in H.G. Wells's "Time Machine," Nemo's Matrix, or the universe of code navigated by the "Neuromancer" hacker, Case. The future has arrived, finally — by the prosaic hand of our cellphones. Chances are it will soon be sponsored by laundry detergent or a fast-food chain.


Just the other day, my iPhone showed me an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that most people around me didn't know was there. Looking at the galleries through the phone's camera, I saw a chunk of the Berlin Wall floating before me. There were faces suspended in midair in the museum's immense atrium. Over the sculpture garden hovered a path through the desert along which illegal immigrants often die.


Other than being the venue, MoMA had nothing to do with the show. The organizers, artists Mark Skwarek from New York and Sander Veenhof from the Netherlands, used a smartphone application called Layar and uploaded the work to be seen at the MoMA galleries' particular set of coordinates in space. It's still "there."


This has specific relevance for artists. Since art is a value judgment — and being in a museum is one of the sure-fire tactics for something to be defined as art — being able to upload your stuff into the galleries of top modern art museums in the country without asking permission must be a handy trick.


Yet I wonder what this could do to our everyday experience. Just as I downloaded a filter onto my iPhone to find new art on MoMA's walls, why couldn't I overlay alternate skins on everything else? Maybe replace the building outside my window with a seascape? Or hang a disco ball from the subway car on my way home?


It can't be long before some entrepreneur installs the technology on a pair of wraparound shades, with earplugs for sound. We could choose realities to drape over the world on iTunes. The bucolic will change cityscapes to forests; fast-food devotees will roam a world where everyone is lithe. I find this prospect unsettling. Right now, this may have the fun, innocuous feeling of Wii. But what will so many alternative realities do to the one in which we live? EDUARDO PORTER








In the spring of 2010, fiscal austerity became fashionable. I use the term advisedly: the sudden consensus among Very Serious People that everyone must balance budgets now now now wasn't based on any kind of careful analysis. It was more like a fad, something everyone professed to believe because that was what the in-crowd was saying.


And it's a fad that has been fading lately, as evidence has accumulated that the lessons of the past remain relevant, that trying to balance budgets in the face of high unemployment and falling inflation is still a really bad idea. Most notably, the confidence fairy has been exposed as a myth. There have been widespread claims that deficit-cutting actually reduces unemployment because it reassures consumers and businesses; but multiple studies of historical record, including one by the International Monetary Fund, have shown that this claim has no basis in reality.


No widespread fad ever passes, however, without leaving some fashion victims in its wake. In this case, the victims are the people of Britain, who have the misfortune to be ruled by a government that took office at the height of the austerity fad and won't admit that it was wrong.


Britain, like America, is suffering from the aftermath of a housing and debt bubble. Its problems are compounded by London's role as an international financial center: Britain came to rely too much on profits from wheeling and dealing to drive its economy — and on financial-industry tax payments to pay for government programs.


Over-reliance on the financial industry largely explains why Britain, which came into the crisis with relatively low public debt, has seen its budget deficit soar to 11 percent of G.D.P. — slightly worse than the U.S. deficit. And there's no question that Britain will eventually need to balance its books with spending cuts and tax increases.


The operative word here should, however, be "eventually." Fiscal austerity will depress the economy further unless it can be offset by a fall in interest rates. Right now, interest rates in Britain, as in America, are already very low, with little room to fall further. The sensible thing, then, is to devise a plan for putting the nation's fiscal house in order, while waiting until a solid economic recovery is under way before wielding the ax.


But trendy fashion, almost by definition, isn't sensible — and the British government seems determined to ignore the lessons of history.


Both the new British budget announced on Wednesday and the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement might have come straight from the desk of Andrew Mellon, the Treasury secretary who told President Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression by liquidating the farmers, liquidating the workers, and driving down wages. Or if you prefer more British precedents, it echoes the Snowden budget of 1931, which tried to restore confidence but ended up deepening the economic crisis.


The British government's plan is bold, say the pundits — and so it is. But it boldly goes in exactly the wrong direction. It would cut government employment by 490,000 workers — the equivalent of almost three million layoffs in the United States — at a time when the private sector is in no position to provide alternative employment. It would slash spending at a time when private demand isn't at all ready to take up the slack.


Why is the British government doing this? The real reason has a lot to do with ideology: the Tories are using the deficit as an excuse to downsize the welfare state. But the official rationale is that there is no alternative.


Indeed, there has been a noticeable change in the rhetoric of the government of Prime Minister David Cameron over the past few weeks — a shift from hope to fear. In his speech announcing the budget plan, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed to have given up on the confidence fairy — that is, on claims that the plan would have positive effects on employment and growth.


Instead, it was all about the apocalypse looming if Britain failed to go down this route. Never mind that British debt as a percentage of national income is actually below its historical average; never mind that British interest rates stayed low even as the nation's budget deficit soared, reflecting the belief of investors that the country can and will get its finances under control. Britain, declared Mr. Osborne, was on the "brink of bankruptcy."


What happens now? Maybe Britain will get lucky, and something will come along to rescue the economy. But the best guess is that Britain in 2011 will look like Britain in 1931, or the United States in 1937, or Japan in 1997. That is, premature fiscal austerity will lead to a renewed economic slump. As always, those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.








For most of television history, sitcoms have been about families. From "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to "All in the Family" to "The Cosby Show," TV shows have generally featured husbands and wives, parents and kids.


But over the past several years, things have shifted. Today's shows are often about groups of unrelated friends who have the time to lounge around apartments, coffee shops and workplaces exchanging witticisms about each other and the passing scene.


As Neal Gabler wrote in The Los Angeles Times this week, "Over the last 20 years, beginning with 'Seinfeld,' and moving on through 'Friends,' 'Sex and the City' and more recently 'Desperate Housewives,' 'Glee,' 'The Big Bang Theory,' 'How I Met Your Mother,' 'Cougartown' and at least a half-dozen other shows, including this season's newbies 'Raising Hope' and 'Better With You,' television has become a kind of friendship machine dispensing groups of people in constant and intimate contact with one another."


These flock comedies serve an obvious dramatic function. In an age of quick cuts and interlacing, frenetic plots (think "30 Rock"), it helps to have a multitude of characters on hand zooming in and out of scenes.


But the change also reflects something deeper about the patterns of friendship in society. With people delaying marriage and childbearing into their 30s, young people now spend long periods of their lives outside of traditional families, living among diverse friendship tribes. These friendship networks are emotionally complicated and deeply satisfying — ripe ground for a comedy of manners.


Then, when these people do get married, friendship becomes the great challenge. Middle-aged Americans are now likely to live in two-earner families. But despite career pressures, they have not cut back on the amount of time they spend with their kids. Instead, they have sacrificed friendship time.


So these flock comedies serve another purpose for the middle-aged. They appeal to people who want to watch fictional characters enjoying the long, uninterrupted bonding experiences that they no longer have time or energy for.


The shows also serve one final purpose. They help people negotiate the transition between dyadic friendships and networked friendships.


Throughout history, the most famous friendships were one on one. As Ruth says to Naomi in the biblical narrative: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."


Most essayistic celebrations of friendship have also been about the deep and total commitment that can exist between one person and another. In his book, "The Four Loves," C.S. Lewis paints a wonderful picture of such an ideal: "It seems no wonder if our ancestors regarded Friendship as something that raised us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels."


But today's friendships — those represented in the flock comedies and perhaps in real life — are less likely to be one on one. Instead, individual relationships tend to be deeply embedded in a complex web of group relationships. This creates a different set of social problems.


Thanks to social network technologies, people have to figure out how concentrated they want their friendship networks to be. Those with low-density networks can have a vast array of friends, but if the network gets too distended you are left with nothing but a dispersed multitude of shallow connections. People with a concentrated network have a narrower circle of friends, but if it is too dense you have erected an insular and stultifying social fortress.


Thanks to the segmentation of society, people have to figure out how rigorously they should segregate their different friendship circles: their work friends from their play friends; their artsy friends from their jock friends; their college friends from their religious or ethnic friends.


Thanks to greater equality between the sexes, people are more likely to socialize within co-ed flocks. They have to figure out how to handle sexual tension within the group: whether the eroticization of friendship ruins the essential bond; whether sex between two people within a friendship mob threatens to destroy the entire chemistry of the mob.


Finally, there is the question of whether group friendships are more or less satisfying than the one-on-one, bosom-buddy relationships. In an age of Facebook, Twitter networks and geo-location apps, are people trading flexibility and convenience for true commitment?


In other words, group friendship is burbling to the surface of television life because the promise and perplexities

of modern friendship networks are burbling to the top of national life. What's striking is not that television is treating changing friendship norms so thoroughly but that other cultural institutions are treating it so sparingly.








This is expected to be a tumultuous congressional election. Most political observers count about 100 House seats where the outcome Nov. 2 is in some doubt.


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this number is that people consider it to be remarkable. If 100 or so seats are in play, then 335 or so are not — in a year expected to register a seismic shift in voting.


There are many reasons for this. But one of the biggest is the way districts are drawn by state legislatures to protect incumbents and advance the interests of the party in power. Or sometimes both parties at once — a mutual back scratching arrangement in which incumbents carve up their states to create safe Republican districts and safe Democratic districts, locking the status quo in place. According to Congressional Quarterly, fewer than half of the 37 U.S. Senate seats up this year are considered safe, while more than 75% of House seats are.


With a new round of House redistricting about to begin after this year's Census, several states are moving to depoliticize the process by taking the decisions away from politicians, either entirely or in part. Voters in California and Oklahoma are considering ballot initiatives that that would hand line-drawing to bipartisan commissions. Florida is considering a proposal that would give its state Supreme Court greater power to throw out gerrymandered districts.


All these plans would benefit voters and the public interest. In most states, particularly those with large population centers, it is easy to find congressional districts that look like abstract art or inkblots from a Rorschach test. Their borders rarely coincide with those of cities and counties.


Such districts are an effective protection racket for incumbents. But they add to the polarization in Congress that the public so disdains. Candidates who know they face no general election threat cater instead to the extremes of their own party in order to deter any primary challenge. It's no coincidence that 96% of House members who sought re-election in the past decade were successful, and that Congress is gridlocked on issues such as immigration and reducing the budget deficit.


Opponents of these ballot initiatives argue that something as important as redistricting should be handled by elected officials. They also argue that legislatures tend to be very close to the people and know more about the communities they serve than a commission ever could.


These points are outweighed by the obvious self interest politicians have. A party that controls a legislature can try its best to draw seats to maximize its numbers in Congress. Incumbent congressmen can get their friends in the legislature to draw district lines to help them stay in power or put potential rivals at a disadvantage.


None other than Barack Obama found this out a decade ago when he challenged incumbent Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. After then-state senator Obama lost, Rush got the legislature to cut Obama's home out of the congressional district.


But Obama made sure that his state senate district migrated north into more affluent and better educated neighborhoods in and around downtown Chicago. That got him greater visibility and allowed him to practice a kind of politics more suitable to his goals of rising to statewide, and eventually national, office.


These are the types of games that go on when lawmakers choose their voters, rather than the other way around








The nation faces high joblessness and unprecedented deficits. In the states, things are even worse. In California, where I live, unemployment is more than 12%, the budget is busted and cities are on the verge of bankruptcy.


Most Americans understand that we have to confront our problems directly. But a small group thinks it can make our problems go away by just tinkering with election procedures.



These "reformers" told us term limits would bring on nirvana. So California, second to none on nirvana, adopted the strictest term limits in the country. California is now near the top of the list of fiscal trainwrecks.


They said campaign-finance reform would make government more responsive. Some campaign-finance reforms actually are worthwhile, but a forest's worth of federal and state campaign-finance regulations is utterly irrelevant to major problems.


The tinkerers' perennial favorite is redistricting. Just hand it over to commissions (read, unaccountable bureaucrats) and all will be well. Never mind that redistricting is at most a minor element in theincumbency advantage, or that when voters are of a mind to turn out incumbents they have no trouble doing so. Never mind that leading experts have shown redistricting has nothing to do with party polarization.


The claim that redistricting can be done "non-politically" by an unaccountable body is pie in the sky, because redistricting is entirely political. No one even pretends that government works better in the states with redistricting commissions. Unfounded claims that these tinkering reforms will help our real problems simply feed public cynicism.


I haven't mentioned costs. In 2008, California created a commission to redistrict the Legislature. The panel hasn't even been chosen yet and already spending is several million dollars over budget.


Now a proposal (Proposition 20) is on the ballot to extend this untested, unnecessary and wasteful process even further to include congressional districts, placing California at a disadvantage when it can ill afford to lose federal funds to other states. I have proposed Proposition 27, to eliminate this nonsense and restore the process to the Legislature, but with new safeguards addressed to legitimate concerns.


Californians can restore a bit of sanity by voting no on 20 and yes on 27.


Daniel Lowenstein, the first chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, is director of the UCLA Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions.









EUREKA, S.D. — Most of us think about how we can pay proper tribute to family or close friends when they die. As we get older, we sometimes wonder how others might commemorate us.


In my 86-plus years I've attended my share of funerals or other memorial events, in big cities and small towns. Two special, with sharp contrasts:


•Last week for one of my favorite cousins, Milbert Neuharth, 71, in this little prairie town of 1,101 people where we both were born.


•For my friend Henry Ford II, 70, in 1987 when I was a newspaper editor in Detroit and the city had over 1 million population.


Ford had been ill for some time and told his family exactly what he wanted for his "celebration." That included having his favorite Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans march down the aisle of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, playing loudly. Some "Big Three" biggies didn't think that was appropriate, but family and friends loved it.


Milbert seemed in great shape, and his death of a heart attack was a shock. So there was little advance planning. But as they do in small towns, they quickly found ways to honor him. It started out with a get-together of family and close friends on the eve of the funeral. Grandchildren and grownups told of their favorite memories, mostly funny.


I pointed out Milbert died owing me $15 because his favorite Minnesota Twins just got swept in the divisional playoffs by my Yankees. We always bet $5 a game when they played. His cousin Cal, a Boston Red Sox fan and Yankee hater, quickly publicly paid me.


Afterward, some of the guys reconvened at the local American Legion, a favorite hangout. The seat Milbert usually used at the bar was left vacant while we all drank toasts to him.


The next day, the 350-seat Reformed Church was overflowing. No marching band. Just a serious Bible service. Then all invited back for lunch in the church basement after the graveyard interment.


Feedback: Other views on funerals


"A personalized funeral service in a small community many times will strongly connect with attendees who have lived, worked and played with the deceased for a lifetime."


— John D. Reed Sr., past president, National Funeral Directors Association


"It is a privilege to be able to come together with family and friends to show love for the life that was lived, whether it's a small town or big town funeral."

— Dick and Sue Coffin, co-authors, Ahead of Your Time








An investigative piece published recently byThe Nation revealed that Lou Dobbs, the former CNN host, had at least five illegal immigrants employed on his East Coast properties and in the stables where his daughter boards horses.


"I had been told they were absolutely legal," Dobbs said on Good Morning America. Yet he did not deny the assertion that illegal workers were working on his grounds. Nor did he suggest, as he has in the past, that employers who hire illegals should face felony charges.


Meanwhile, California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was found to have employed anundocumented housekeeper for nine years. The former CEO of eBay said she had no idea her maid was undocumented. Like Dobbs, Whitman strongly believes in holding employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants.


Sure, Dobbs and Whitman sound hypocritical, but their actions reflect reality. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. depends on undocumented workers. The fact that these immigration hard-liners found themselves in embarrassing predicaments illustrates that illegal labor is almost unavoidably intertwined with our economy.


For many Americans, just being a homeowner or eating in a restaurant means you're likely benefiting from illegal immigration. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 40% of brick masons, one in four farm workers and 28% of dishwashers are undocumented. Pew estimates that 8.3 million illegal immigrants are in the U.S. labor force, most in low-skilled jobs.Yet, the Migration Policy Institute notes that U.S. policy allows only 150,000 low-skilled workers to be in the country legally. Who is doing all that hiring? We are.


I believe Dobbs when he says he never knowingly hired an undocumented worker. Like millions of Americans, he hired subcontractors and received assurances everyone was legal. As he pointed out, if he were to insist on reviewing papers from every Latino who worked on his estates, it would amount to racial profiling. Whitman also took reasonable precautions by hiring her housekeeper through a reliable agency.


Dobbs and Whitman should recognize that illegal immigrants are not invaders. They are an underclass that is allowed to exist to serve our low-skilled labor needs. If more of us admitted that we are all part of the problem, maybe we'd solve our immigration mess.


Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.







The New York Times, in an editorial: "Francehas been rocked by strikes and protest marches over President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. Social Security reform is a difficult issue everywhere, and the brash and increasingly unpopular Sarkozy has not made much of an effort to woo union support. Yet raising France's retirement age is an urgent necessity. ... With no change in the retirement age, the deficit would increase almost tenfold by 2050 as the population ages and the Baby Boomers retire. Even with the age raised to 62, further painful adjustments would be needed before the end of this decade. While Sarkozy has done a terrible job of selling his reform, the opposition Socialist Party was reckless in pretending for weeks that the retirement age could stay unchanged. ... Sentiment and tradition cannot be allowed to prevail over fiscal reality."


The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial: "This modest reform ... is merely a down payment on France's unfunded liabilities. The larger issue is whether France and other Western nations will grapple with their entitlement obligations before it's too late, or sink under their weight, dragged down by intransigent government-employee unions. ... Even in the United Kingdom ... the government of David Cameron is due to announce some ($127 billion) in budget cuts over five years. ... The striking feature in both countries is how little talk there has been among policymakers about restoring economic growth, to say nothing of cutting top marginal tax rates. ...Europe shows what happens when entitlements are too big and expensive to afford — but also too big and entrenched to reform."


Joseph Stiglitz, economist, in The (London) Guardian: "If experience of the past is a guide to the future, the returns on government investments in education, technology and infrastructure are far higher than the government's cost of capital. ... Britain is embarking on a highly risky experiment. More likely than not, it will add one more data point to the well-established result that austerity in the midst of a downturn lowers GDP and increases unemployment, and excessive austerity can have long-lasting effects. If Britain were wealthier, or if the prospects of success were greater, it might be a risk worth taking. But it is a gamble with almost no potential upside. Austerity is a gamble which Britain can ill afford."


Dale McFeatters, contributing writer, in The (South) Korea Times: "The French have generous, if increasingly unaffordable, government-mandated benefits — national health insurance, four weeks vacation, a 35-hour work week. One of their objections to tampering with the retirement age is that it would put the country on the dangerous road to 'American-style capitalism.' Considering the hash we've made of our housing and financial markets, state and local retirement systems and the increasing strains on Social Security, maybe they have a point."


Derek Thompson, columnist, in The Atlantic: "My fear for the U.K. is that investors are looking for lights at the end of the tunnel, and if the U.K.'s recovery slows as a result of this belt-tightening, that tunnel to full recovery gets longer. Crises starting in the financial sector tend to end with exports, and Britain trades first and foremost with the European continent, much of which is undergoing its own cuts. The risk here is that Europeans cut back their spending all at the same time, each neighbor beggaring his neighbor, until every country becomes a beggar. The European consumer can't recover if the entire continent squeezes its families for cash simultaneously."








COLUMBUS, OHIO — "She's kind of cute, isn't she?" the president said about first ladyMichelle Obama.


The self-described "mom in chief" beamed. At that moment, with both Obamas gazing over a sea of 35,000 faces at an Ohio State University campaign rally, the public intimacy of the first couple was in full bloom. It is a unique partnership as President Obama's administration faces political backlash and personnel upheaval in the coming days and months.


In a season of angst and anger, with experts predicting disaster for Democrats in elections on Nov. 2, and with many of his top aides leaving, the Obamas' partnership cannot be overlooked as political asset and public salve going forward. In leaning on their relationship in a public way, the Obamas are doing what many American families are doing as they struggle with job losses and other economic challenges.


In focus groups of blue-collar moms conducted last month by pollsters Neil Newhouse and Margie Omero, women talked about how they had turned inward and focused on strengthening relationships and families during the Great Recession.


So seeing the first couple exchanging tender touches and words is meaningful political theater, whether you like their politics or not. In a purely political sense, Michelle Obama's appeal could be one of the biggest reasons why her husband's job approval numbers are hanging in the 40s, despite 9.6% unemployment and a political atmosphere as sour as any in at least a generation.


"They work off each other," said Nicole Mills, 39, an administrative assistant at a state office for people with disabilities, who was in the crowd. "It is very apparent, the chemistry that they have."


Republicans do not underestimate Michelle Obama's appeal but say that in an anti-Washington atmosphere, she won't make much of a difference.


"She is a very gracious, attractive, very bright lady," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. "I don't think it will change any votes."

The Ohio State rally last weekend was the president's largest of the political season to that point. It also was the first time the first couple had campaigned together since 2008, what Michelle Obama referred to as "that little campaign you might remember."

Make no mistake, Michelle Obama has been a political first lady, appearing at campaign rallies by herself. In the past few days, she has joined her husband in cutting a video urging Democrats not just to vote, but also to "get out the vote." She has been a policy first lady in advocating healthier lifestyles for children. She has been a

lightning rod for right-wing critics who see her advocacy as more overreaching by the nanny state. But it is her role as partner and mother that has most defined her.


One of the rally's biggest swells of approval came when the first lady said that "truly my first priority is making sure that our girls are happy and healthy." In that respect, Michelle Obama said: "I am like every parent that I know. My children are the center of my world."


Every parent understands that line, no more so than in tough economic times.


America's three Baby Boom first couples have run the gamut of public persona.


George W. and Laura Bush had an obvious affinity but a more formal public connection than the Obamas do. Bill and Hillary Clinton always entered a stage with the knowledge that Hillary Clinton was the most policy-steeped first lady since her idol, Eleanor Roosevelt.


At this giant rally, the Obamas looked like they were on a date with thousands of their closest friends tagging along. No matter what you think of their politics, a few tender moments are precious respite in these times.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at











The United States wants Israel to refrain from constructing new buildings in the West Bank, correctly saying that the renewal of settlement construction there is detrimental to the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, says he is considering restoration of a building freeze that ended a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, as the United States implores and Netanyahu dithers, building projects in the West Bank are moving forward at rapid rate.


That's hardly conducive to peace talks, which have been in limbo since a 10-month West Bank construction freeze ended in September. Though negotiations have not ended officially, Palestinian officials have made it clear that they will not negotiate while new buildings are going up on land they view as essential to their future homeland. They understandably view the building boom as a provocation.


That view is easy to understand. Israeli settlers are making up for time lost during the government-imposed freeze. In the few weeks since the ban ended, according to reports issued Thursday, foundations for about 300 units have been completed and hundreds more have been started.


The projects, a mix of government-funded and private projects, are located in nearly 40 settlements, though the most extensive work is taking place in smaller communities where construction regulations are less stringent. The current pace of construction is a matter of concern as well. Officials report that it is a bit higher than it was prior to the ban.


The pace of construction is as much a political statement as it is testament to construction skills. Israeli settlers and the right-wingers that support them are opposed to peace talks and say that the more buildings that they can erect and occupy, the more likely it is that peace talks will collapse. Many Israelis disagree. They believe that ceding the West Bank and possibly other territory in return for a two-state solution with security guarantees, and the peace that could bring to the region, is more important than Israel's parochial interests. The U.S. should continue to promote the latter view.


Israel can afford to bide its time in the West Bank. It should extend the construction freeze. That will show the Jewish state's acceptance of the peace process -- and test the Palestinian commitment to face-to-face negotiations.





OCT. 22, 1962: U.S. NEAR WAR


In October 1962, several American newspaper editors were guests of the U.S. Navy aboard a flotilla of ships at sea near Fidel Castro-ruled Communist Cuba.


The newsmen had been invited by the Navy to view a practice U.S. Marine landing operation planned at Vieques Island.


But suddenly, in the dark of night, the newspaper guests were surprised to find that the North Star appeared to have "turned around" in the sky.


Actually, the U.S. ships had turned around. All outside lights on the ships were blacked out! What was happening?


In mid-October 1962, American reconnaissance aircraft had detected Soviet-built missile installations in Cuba.


If the missiles were fired from Cuba, they could strike the United States!


President John F. Kennedy ordered U.S. Navy ships on Oct. 22, to impose a naval blockade of Cuba. Hundreds of U.S. Air Force and Navy bombers and fighter aircraft were rushed to Florida and other Southern U.S. air bases, in preparation for possible air attacks to prevent delivery of additional Soviet missiles to Communist Cuba.


Those were tense days. Would there be war between the Soviet Union and the United States?

The United States demanded the offensive Russian weaponry be removed and that the Russian missile bases in Cuba be abandoned.


The confrontation did not end until 6:45 p.m. EDT, on Nov. 20, 1962. The Soviets removed their missile systems aboard eight Soviet ships in early November, and Soviet Il-28 bombers were later loaded on Soviet ships to be returned to Russia as well.


Kennedy, in return, secretly agreed to remove U.S. Thor and Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey.


Thus ended what was perhaps the most tense confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union in the days of the Cold War.







It is understandable that private-sector pay has leveled off and even dropped slightly during the recession. Wages have been stagnant, and sadly, many of our people have been laid off.


What is surprising and troubling is that pay increases for federal government workers show no sign of slacking off despite the recession.


A senior fellow for the Mercatus Center, a research organization at George Mason University, looked at the growth in private-sector and federal government pay from 2001 through 2009. She found that average annual private-sector pay rose a little less than 25 percent during that time period — though it fell off some the past year or two during the recession.


By sharp contrast, average federal pay rose by a stunning 38.4 percent during the same time period — and it did not diminish during the recession.


That's a wide wage spread, especially considering that government doesn't actually produce anything but must rely for its support on the productivity of the private sector.


What explains the huge wage gap is that government pay is sustained by the taxation of the private sector. Government bureaucrats do not have to please customers to "stay in business," the way a private business must. Americans who dislike the performance of a federal agency have no option to "shop around" for a more efficient competitor.


And when government workers want more pay, Congress can simply shower more tax dollars on them without a thought for the fact that the private-sector workers from whom those taxes are taken are in extremely difficult circumstances because of the recession.


The reckless expansion of the size of the federal government and of federal worker compensation ought to be of great concern to anyone who is worried about our massive national debt — and about the proper scope of federal power.







If you want to understand how the federal government has gotten our nation trillions of dollars in debt, consider the following example — and then realize that it is typical of wasteful, unaccountable federal programs that handle vast sums of taxpayer dollars.


In the coastal town of Humble, Texas, the federally funded National Flood Insurance Program shelled out $807,000 between 1977 and 1995 to repair repeated hurricane damage to a house valued at only $114,000.


You read that correctly: A government program that insures homes in high-risk coastal areas — where insurance companies sensibly will not write policies — paid for repeated storm damage that totaled more than seven times the actual value of the house!


That's madness! Is it any wonder that ordinary insurance companies would refuse to write a policy for a home built in such a dangerous area?


We wish the house in Humble were the only one where so many federal tax dollars are being squandered, but it isn't. The federal flood program "has coughed up more than $8 billion during the past 15 years for more than 150,000 troubled properties that have filed multiple claims for storm damage," the Houston Chronicle reported. In fact, 25 percent to 30 percent of the claims are paid to only 1 percent of the covered properties — precisely because of their repeated losses in big storms.


The program is going into the red by $200 million each year, and it now owes the U.S. government more than $18 billion — money that the government admits the program probably won't be able to repay. That means taxpayers are on the hook. Why does Congress continue to fund this outrage, which has been in place since 1968?


We do not say that homeowners now covered by the government program should suddenly lose coverage. But at a minimum, the law should be rewritten so that if they rebuild in the same place after their homes are destroyed by a hurricane, no government insurance will be available for any future losses.


The American people should not bear the burden of the irresponsibility of those who repeatedly build in such dangerous locations.







Only lifeguards are permitted to use the three-story lifeguard headquarters at Clearwater Beach, Fla., and they must quickly be able to get down the stairs of the headquarters after they spot a swimmer in distress.


Nevertheless, under Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, the city was required to make the upper floors of the lifeguard station fully handicapped-accessible.


We do not doubt that disabled people enjoy the beach as much as anybody else does, and in fact, Clearwater goes out of its way to accommodate the disabled. It provides visitors free use of specially designed wheelchairs that make it easier to travel across the sand. Obviously the city has no animosity toward the handicapped.


So doesn't it seem a little silly that the city was denied a simple waiver from the Americans with Disabilities Act when it started renovating the lifeguard station?


"If you can't go down stairs, you can't be a lifeguard," the head of Clearwater's Parks and Recreation Department told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. "And the building isn't open to the public. But common sense doesn't really play into it."

Apparently not.








Most of the world's intractable problems are vexing because of their deep complexity. Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, the Afghanistan war that effectively now involves northern Pakistan, or the sovereignty and economy of much of Africa bisected by colonial borders are just a few such examples that come to mind.


But what should we make of a "frozen conflict" held in place by its simplicity? We believe this unique honor belongs to Cyprus. That a resolution of the island's division turns on problems more contrived than real is well-illustrated by the European Parliamentary vote we reported yesterday. A case study in bureaucracy-bred Eurobabble, it reflects an engineering of procedure in the absence of thoughtful diplomacy and leadership.


Despite all the bluster, Cyprus is a peaceful place. Since its division nearly four decades ago, nary a shot has been fired in anger and the side-by-side economies have prospered in and around the military garrisons. Yes, the north is isolated to its continuing annoyance. But this is hardly Gaza. The Greek Cypriots have a per capita GDP of about $24,000 and the Turkish Cypriots enjoy one of about $17,000. So the north's prosperity is about 70 percent of the south's but still 140 percent of that enjoyed in Turkey proper.


Despite the game of non-recognition, a majority of Turkish Cypriots have pragmatically taken out Greek Cypriot passports; not only does this enable visa-free travel it also provides burden-free pension entitlements.


The longest-running United Nations peacekeeping command on the island (since 1963) basks in what is without question the best package of per diem, sunny climate, good schools for the kids and low-stress duty available anywhere in the global organization.


Greek Cypriots can pine for the old days, but the current days are pretty good. Atop the laundering of Russian money that has made the banking sector prosper, the economic crisis in Greece itself has made their section of the island a haven for tax evasion by their kin.


The stalemate since the Turks embraced the 2004 EU plan for reunification and the Greeks rejected has many obvious benefits. Among the less obvious is the fact that the Greeks who were to get four seats in the European Parliament now have six, because they were given the two-seat Turkish quota.


So the vote this week by the symbolic and powerless continental legislature, which effectively gums up an effort to enable trade between the two sides through the recognition-avoiding chambers of commerce, just guarantees the status quo will continue.


Reunification of two highly literate, economically prosperous, European-focused societies with a combined

population of fewer than 1 million should be the easiest task European diplomats ever took on. But there is too much at stake in feigning complexity.


Cyprus is that simple.






There is much polishing of Turkey's image in the Middle East as "the new power on in block"; it is hoped it will push through things under the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which others have failed to do to date.


Most analysts agree that this is the result of Ankara's strong stand on Israel's brutal retaliation against Gaza in December 2008, and the related famous incident in Davos, when Israeli President Shimon Peres got an unprecedented dressing down from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.


The Mavi Marmara incident, on the other hand, turned public sympathies completely toward Turkey and the AKP in the Arab world, where brandishing Turkish flags and portraits of Erdoğan and naming newborn babies "Tayyip" is the new fashion among the masses.


In the meantime Turkey's new foreign policy in the Middle East started signaling a new assertiveness, especially on the Iran question, which represented a challenge to the United States, thus causing much pleasure among followers of radical groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.


Driven mostly by general impressions and very little knowledge of how the Middle East actually works, the general assumption among Turks, and particularly pro-AKP ones, is that everyone in the region is happy about this new assertiveness of Turkey's under the Erdoğan government.


While the $60 billion arms deal Washington is on the verge of concluding with Saudi Arabia should act as a wake-up call of sorts, many in this country will probably still continue to remain unaware of the consternation Ankara's new foreign policy in the Middle East is causing the established regimes in the region.


The bottom line is that not everyone in the Middle East is Iran-friendly. In addition to this, not every regime is happy about a Turkey trying to muscle in and assume a leading role in what they believe to be "their own turf."


While this consternation has been discernible for some time in private discussions with Arab diplomats, it is relatively rare that a Middle Eastern politician and/or academic should come out and openly question what Turkey is aiming to achieve in the region.


Jihad Awda, professor of political science at Helwan University and a member of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, is one such person who has come out to openly reflect doubts about the AKP's Middle East policies.


"The foreign minister of Turkey delivers nice messages when speaking. He is a very smart man. But this is not what we [in the Middle East] want. It does not solve problems," Awda said in an interview in the Wednesday edition of the English-language daily Today's Zaman.


What makes Awda's interview more interesting is that it appeared in a paper that is widely considered to be close to the AKP, even though its opinion page can display a wide variety of views.


Pointing out that the problem is "the confusion over what Turkey wants to do strategically," Awda says, "Turkey has not effectively communicated with other countries in the region about its initiatives." Indicating that "Turkey cannot explain its intentions well," he adds: "What is Turkey's real agenda? It has a foreign policy that is full of contradictions."


Awda goes on to say that he is "one of the leading strategists in Egypt."


"But I have not managed to understand what Turkey wants to accomplish strategically yet."


When asked "whether Turkey and Egypt would develop a strategic cooperation," Awda responds with the following revealing remarks:


"Turkey has misconceptions about Egypt. Egypt is not a Muslim country. Almost the entire population in Turkey is Muslim, but this is not the case for Egypt. Turkey is not aware of this fact. I have not seen a Turkish organization or company cooperating with Egyptian Copts. There is no cooperation between Turkey and secular Egyptian organizations. Turkey only works with Muslims in Egypt."


Such remarks are bound to chagrin the Erdoğan government, which is more accustomed to being lauded and receiving accolades, not harsh criticism, from the Arab Middle East. But the last remarks of Awda's reflect a feeling among others in the region, most notably Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' anti-Hamas followers.


The short of it is that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two countries that are overtly Islamic in nature, are nevertheless concerned about what some Arab diplomats in Ankara see as the AKP's "agitation of the Arab streets and radical Islamic groups and countries."


They are not too keen about an assertive Turkey in Middle East politics either, and are in many cases resentful of this, not knowing what the AKP's true intentions in the region are.


Professor Awda also reflects this in his Today's Zaman interview, which we believe must be taken seriously because he could not have been speaking in a vacuum, given that he is a member of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party.


When looked at the Middle East today, it is clear that Washington is reinforcing its axis, with Saudi Arabia on one side and Egypt -- the seat of the Arab League -- on the other side of this axis, which also includes other regional sates.


While there is a polite relationship between Ankara and Cairo, and Ankara and Riyadh today, it is clear that Turkey is not part of this lead US axis. It is seen instead, not just in Washington and European capitals, but also among the established regimes in the region, as being part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah axis.


The fact that the Erdoğan government is not going out of its way to disprove this perception is telling.








When Turkey had eventually won a date to start membership negotiations with the European Union in 2004 but wished to avoid recognizing one member state, Cyprus, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn exclaimed: "We are not carpet dealers in Europe!" He was wrong. There have always been carpet dealers in Europe and elsewhere, although most dealers went with the euphemism 'politician.' Once again, it's time Turkish dealers and their western friends trade fine carpets and rugs. But this time the odds may be against grinning faces and hand-shakes.


The United States – which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed supports Turkey's enemies and international terrorists—hopes to deploy missile defense assets in Turkey in order to protect American, European and Turkish territories from Iranian ballistic missile threats. Turkey does not think the Iranian ballistic missile threat exists. Turkey's NATO allies think it should play a vital role in missile defense to contain Iran's future nuclear capability. Turkey believes Muslims would not build nuclear weapons of mass destruction.


The proposed NATO assets to be deployed are 'defensive,' not 'offensive.' These assets, technically, are the AN/TPY-2 Forward-Based X-Band radars that would be coupled with Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, batteries and would provide early sensing and the future capability to remotely launch and engage with sea- and land-based interceptor missiles.


The AN/TPY-2 radars can provide early tracking information on long range missiles headed towards the U.S. as they would be securely linked into the fire control of the 30 Ground-Based Interceptors in Alaska and California. In the future the AN/TPY-2 sensors will offer both endo- and exo-atmospheric protection of Turkey from multiple Iranian ballistic missiles. A similar architecture is deployed today against North Korea with the AN/TPY-2 radar deployed in Shariki, Japan.


This is the heart of the matter – and where the application of the architecture may fail: the Japan plus U.S. vs. North Korea set-up is politically grossly different to the Turkey plus U.S. vs. Iran set-up. The Japanese and their government may see North Korea as a major threat to their (and world) peace, but a majority of Turks (and probably their government too) view the U.S. and Israel as a bigger threat to their (and regional) security than Iran.


How, then, to convince Ankara to behave like a NATO member? By avoiding singling out in mission documents any target country so that the shield would not look as if it's there to sense missile threats from anywhere in particular – in this case Iran – which is its purpose? Spread gossip that the NATO assets have been deployed in Turkey to counter missile threats from Iceland, Bolivia and Barbados? A more efficient method could be to deploy the AN/TYP-2 radars on Turkish soil with the pretext of exclusively monitoring Israel.


Covering part of Turkey's $5 billion or so national air defense program could also be an idea. Would that mean the contract should automatically go to the American bidder who is now competing with European, Russian and Chinese rivals? Why did Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül say Turkey would see if the NATO plan would bring financial advantages to Turkey's national air defense program? Why is Mr Gönül the only government bigwig who speaks in a compromising tone? For instance, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said that Turkey perceives no security threat from its neighbors. Ah, carpet dealing again!


It is true that presently Turkey's only air defense assets are its military aircraft? But why, really, does Turkey need to build its own air defense (not to be confused with anti-ballistic missile defense) system since it is surrounded by friendly countries like Iran and Syria? Why should it spend billions of dollars on weapons systems that would protect the homeland from enemy missiles when there are no enemies in its vicinity? If there are enemies with ballistic missile capabilities in faraway lands, why does Turkey object to a smart NATO system to counter that threat?


There are several days before NATO's November Lisbon summit, at which Turkey will veto the missile defense architecture or be convinced to nod. No doubt, Turkish elections next year will add color to the carpet trading. Many Turks may see a 'yes' as a Turkish-U.S.-Israeli co-production against their Shia brothers in Iran. In the meantime, the Shia brothers in Tehran are anxiously waiting to see whether their Sunni Turkish brothers are genuinely their brothers or a modern day Trojan Horse operated by Satan.


Here is a special offer: buy one Turkish carpet and get one Persian rug free!








It's business as usual in Turkey. The ruling Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in power since 2002, received another ringing endorsement from the voters – this time on its proposal for constitutional reform. And, just like after its previous major triumph – in the parliamentary elections in 2007 – the AKP seems to be more interested in lifting the headscarf ban in the universities, a hot-button issue for its electorate, than in pressing for a full reform that would enhance individual freedoms for all and enjoy support across Turkey's various divides. What is different this time is that the main opposition secularist Republican People's Party, or CHP, seems to be ready to support the government on the headscarf issue.


It is right for CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to do so. Much has been written about the unjustness of this ban insofar as it denies adult women their right to dress as they please. What is seldom mentioned is that the end of the ban could actually be good news for Turkish secularists.


Setting the headscarf free will deny the AKP and the wider conservative constituency one of the two main grievances (the other one being the Palestinian issue) that glues it together. The AKP will have to compete on real, bread and butter, issues, rather than symbolic ones. The headscarf ban explains why the AKP, despite being in power for eight years, is still able to portray itself as an underdog party. Now the military tutelage has effectively been abolished, removing the headscarf ban is another decisive step to end this aberration.


Second, the end of the state-enforced ban on headscarves will shift the attention to the problem of "neighborhood pressure" – a term coined by prominent Turkish sociologist Şerif Mardin to describe the creeping imposition of conservative and religious norms on the country. Abundant examples of this pressure were reported in the research project led by another Turkish scholar, Binnaz Toprak, in 2008. The findings of this study suggest that many women wear headscarves for reasons other than faith and choice. 


Seen from this perspective, the choice of the woman who, after studying religious texts and considering other alternatives, has decided to veil herself can reasonably be deemed free. However, if a woman has done so simply by bowing to the expectations of others in her family, community, neighborhood or village, the actual freedom of her choice should be questioned. It would be naive to assume that all the girls strolling down İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul in their fashionable headscarves have made a fully free and informed choice to cover themselves, much less so their counterparts in small Anatolian towns. Veiling is not a spontaneous trend. It should be seen within the context of a conscious campaign to, as Perry Anderson put it in his elegantly written "New Old Order," bend the society in a more consistently observant mould. This includes faith-based literature, religious courses, advice from the state-run Religious Affairs Directorate and coercion, as well as more subtle forms of pressure, even Islamic fashion.


AKP rule has greatly enhanced this trend. When Turkish women accept the first lady and other covered wives of the AKP leaders as their role models, it is not because they have suddenly become more pious. It is because the headscarf now symbolizes their belonging to the "right" community. There is a widespread perception that government contracts and promotions are now more easily available to men whose wives are covered.


In the meantime, the reality of women who object to the headscarf and other forms of veiling is distorted. Their concerns about the veiling trend are dismissed as the prejudices of "upper-class, elite, Westernized" women, alien to "the values and the culture of the nation." If lifting the headscarf ban is an exercise in democracy, nothing can excuse the failure to take the concerns and fears of these women very seriously. Islamic conservatives and their liberal allies must accept that it is not only the state that cannot impose on the woman the way she lives and dresses, but also other people, be it family, neighborhood or religious community.


The third reason secularists should welcome the end of the ban is because it could re-invigorate their intellectual opposition to the headscarf as opposed to relying on the state to repress it. They should base their arguments not on the outdated discourse of "reaching Western civilization," but on the broader issues of gender equality and female advancement. There is an intrinsic link between the headscarf and inequality. The headscarf sexually segregates women and men, erects countless walls between them, with women mostly relegated to home-making duties. The republican Kemalist project has been caricaturized by conservatives and liberals alike as a poor mimicry of the West, but the fact remains that by discarding the veil and promoting sexually mixed public space it achieved much better results in liberating women than any Islamist project.


While the AKP has distanced itself in many ways from it's explicitly Islamist predecessors, its views on gender issues remain heavily patriarchal. It is no coincidence that under the AKP Turkey is seriously slipping in terms of women's employment, political participation and leadership. While women are numerous and often occupy leading positions in secular institutions, such as the top business club Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD, they are firmly confined to the backstage in the conservative establishment.


Secularists are right to oppose the headscarf. However, bans and discrimination are not only unjust and undemocratic, they are also counterproductive. What secularists should aim at instead is creating conditions that would make the use of the headscarf redundant in the long run: support free and informed choice for every woman as opposed to relying on state and/or community pressure and work relentlessly to achieve real gender equality.


*Eldar Mamedov is an international relations analyst based in Brussels.








The reasons behind the three critical crises in the recent past were almost identical: an excessive increase in property values and directing bank loans to purchase assets has caused a rundown in Japan. The country went through a crisis as a result and the finance system collapsed in the middle of the 1990s. Property values were so high and credits were unsecured to the extent that the biggest banking system in the world collapsed. Japan owned the largest finance institutions as it faced the crisis, and almost all of them went bankrupt.


Other Far East economies also faced nearly exactly the same crisis toward the end of the 1990s: excessively high property values accompanied by stock exchanges. Bank credits were provided for the rapidly growing construction sector. As eventually understood, the constructions were not so valuable after all and a chain of financial crises affected the entire region.


Real estate bubble


The cause of the global crisis that occurred in 2008 – and continues to have effects – was the real-estate bubble in the United States. Derivative products based on excessively high property values were mostly unsecured and that caused a bubble in the sector. People continued to buy the concept of such a model reflecting artificially high real estate values. So, no problem seemed to occur in the finance sector. A number of developed economies did not react against this value trading model. They even built a growth model based on it.


All three crises occurred within five years because of asset bubbles in different corners of the world. As a matter of fact, the 2001 financial crisis in Turkey was not much different. It was understood following the crisis that the value of properties owned and put on sale by banks were not worth more than one third of their actual value.


Liquidity augmented in an economy lowers the purchasing power of money and increases prices. The only way to slow down a price increase is to channel liquidity into saving rather than purchasing. And that is made possible by interest. If interest rates are lowered, price increases cannot be prevented. In this case, money is spent on either real estate or the stock exchange. As banks become more generous with real estate loans, credit demand increases. In the end, asset bubbles occur.


A new package on the way


Since capital movements are free, such threats are felt almost everywhere. In this sense, the world has turned into a single economy. For this reason, excess liquidity in the U.S., Britain or in the developed countries of the European Union is spreading and affecting the world. Liquidity flow seems to be in the direction of rising economies in particular which provokes high interest, low risk and high income. Therefore, rising economies face asset bubbles and inflation in property values.


Leading figures of the U.S. administration are talking about a new package to augment liquidity in order to revive the economy. And it is not difficult to see that other developed countries will support the package. I am of the opinion that this new liquidity rush will increase asset bubbles and cause a crisis eventually.


The next few years may be the scene of a new crisis in rising economies.


Mağfi Eğilmez is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








The crisis that has been going on in Ankara for the last two days has helped clarify a few things. Perhaps, I am wrong but if we look into recent statements we see a quite interesting picture. Let me share with you:


Firstly, as the main opposition realizes that banning headscarf in universities is impossible from now on; or in another words, as they see the first bulwark is about to be lost, they realize that supporting headscarf might bring some more votes and took action in this direction. The Republican People's Party, or CHP, in particular, wanted to have guarantees that the headscarf will not be used in public sphere, elementary and secondary school. Therefore, they wanted to steal the ruling Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, the headscarf trump card. They have failed however.


The headscarf is not the only goal


Secondly, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu spoke with a tone that was perceived as indicating his only aim was to resolve the headscarf issue in universities. However, we see now that his purpose was not only to settle the headscarf issue, but also have some concessions from the government in order to satisfy laic constituents of his party. And elementary and secondary schools and service sphere were on top of the list. However, they couldn't convince the AKP.


 The odor of conspiracy


Third, in the meantime, in two cities two different plots took place. Two girl students wearing headscarf tried to enter classes. Both girls and their fathers appeared on TVs to make statements seemingly well prepared. People who say "See, if you allow headscarf in universities, the rest yet to come in elementary schools," seemed right with these two incidents. But it looked like a plot to agitate people; plots that were prepared by those who support the headscarf ban.


 The AKP didn't let go of the headscarf... 


Fourth, the AKP has, on the other hand, showed that they don't want to share the headscarf issue with the opposition and that they will not share neither with the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, nor with the CHP, the prestige of lifting the ban after long years' efforts. Let's not forget that the headscarf issue is one of a few trump cards the AKP saves for the upcoming election period. For Erdoğan, freedom to headscarf in laic Turkey is as important as finding solution to the Kurdish question. Therefore, sharing it with the opposition is out of question. In fact Erdoğan still keeps the headscarf issue to himself.


 Winking at the public sphere


Fifth, another point the AKP dwells on is that they don't want to make any commitment to banning the headscarf in elementary and secondary schools as well as in the public sphere. After the elections, however, the ruling party wants to decide what to do according to the circumstances.


 YÖK leaves the back door open


Six, as politicians bargain over the headscarf issue, the Higher Education Council, or YÖK, made an unexpected move and lifted the ban in classrooms. Therefore, girl students wearing headscarves would not be removed from classes from now on. Now entrances to universities are free for female students wearing headscarves.


The government-judiciary crisis backfires


Seven, Chief Prosecutor of the Appeals Court Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya made an unexpected and unnecessary move. With the approach of looking down on politics, "The headscarf is banned and you cannot lift the ban," he said. We remembered a similar stand-off in the past. The AKP used this opportunity very well in a way that the theme of the agenda became aggravation of females wearing headscarf in state institutions. And I've realized that Erdoğan, who is visiting Finland, reacted immediately. Therefore, such a strange move of the judiciary was stopped.


Conclusion: The headscarf ban has many holes now, but has still not been completely lifted


Following such an analysis we can reach the following conclusions:


The headscarf ban already had many holes. The ban in universities, which was the first bulwark of the main opposition, has been lifted. Now a defense of the second and third bulwarks is in line. However, unless laws and the Constitution are changed battles will never end.


We'll see many broken or bleeding noses as tension continues in the following years. If opposition parties and laic state institutions had given up their bigotry over the headscarf issue years ago and adapted a more realistic approach, today we wouldn't be facing the current, strange, situation – or at least, there wouldn't be such an anxiety about losing the battle totally.









Last week Thursday, aware of the prospect of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee handling and making a nasty decision on the long-stalled and long-discussed Direct Trade Regulation that would enable trade between the bloc's member states and the northern Turkish Cypriot-administered part of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, I tried to explain the "existential importance" of lifting, or at least easing, the Greek Cypriot-imposed international isolation of Turkish Cypriots.


Of course it is possible to see a Turkish prime minister unaware of the meaning and probable consequences of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee declaring that members of the European Parliament do not have co-decision powers over a proposal by the European Commission to allow direct trade between northern Cyprus and EU member states. It is of course possible to continue saying that only if and when the EU abides by its pledge to bring an end to the isolation of Turkish Cypriots would Turkey abide by its pledge of opening up its ports and airports to the new EU states, including Greek Cypriots. If, excluding a few European governments and some committed EU bureaucrats, by and large no one is supporting Turkey's EU membership and if in Turkey there is a government that has an agenda of consolidating its grip on all spheres of power in the country rather than undertaking reforms that would truly carry Turkey closer to standards of European democracies, no one perhaps would notice the unprecedented speed of the European Parliament's committee in making a decision on the direct trade issue. It took just three days. It started handling the dossier on Friday and on Monday a decision was out. What speed! Or, was the committee's decision pre-written?


Definitely, the "solidarity" rhetoric by the Greek Cypriot administration – which unfortunately, illegitimately and in complete violation of the 1960 founding treaties and the constitution of Cyprus enjoys the status of the "sole internationally recognized legitimate government of Cyprus" – paid back at the EP's committee where members were not allowed even to read the dossier.


As they say, you need two to tango. For the resolution of a problem like the Cyprus issue, as long as the wrongdoer is recognized as a "legitimate government" and one of the partners in the sovereignty of the island is perceived because of its numerical minority situation as a "minority demanding some rights from that legitimate government," Greek Cypriots will only pretend to be dancing with the Turkish Cypriot partners, but in reality, as former Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides admitted in his "My Disposition," they will just play the game of negotiations without negotiating anything or being willing to reach any sort of a compromise resolution.


For those people in Europe and elsewhere who might have just a bit of sincere wish to see a resolution of the Cyprus problem let me underline here once again the existential importance of getting rid of the Greek Cypriot-imposed international isolation of the Turkish Cypriot people. Also, let me underline that the more Turkish Cypriots are condemned by the EU Commission, European Parliament or parliamentary committees to isolation and exclusion from Europe, the more adamant and anti-settlement Greek Cypriots will become. Indeed, the Direct Trade Regulation was a leverage which might be employed to encourage Greek Cypriots to walk the road of compromise settlement with Turkish Cypriots. Despite the European Parliament's legal affairs committee expressing tacitly solidarity with Greek Cypriots and reaffirming the perverted belief in the Greek Cypriot administration that the fate of Turkish Cypriot people is within their hands, as the committee's decision is not binding, the European Commission can still work on putting the Direct Trade Regulation into implementation without being compelled to get the nod of the Greek Cypriot administration.


With a simplistic approach, we may say that the latest decision of the legal committee of the European Parliament has dealt a serious blow to EU Commission efforts to enable direct trade with Turkish Cyprus, to ease the economic embargo on the northern part of the island and perhaps make it possible for Ankara to fulfill its pledge of opening its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots. Unfortunately, what's at hand is something far bigger than that and indeed reflects once again the crooked mentality in Europe as well as the bitter fact that by unjustly letting Greek Cypriots become an EU member in 2004 – days after they rejected the UN peace plan, as if the EU wanted to award their rejection of the peace plan – the EU has become a hostage of Greek Cypriots.


From time to time we develop some hopes that the EU may opt to align itself with the very norms and principles it was established on, but each time we end up witnessing with astonishment the success of Byzantine intrigues in conquering valets…







After months of anticipation the full bench of the Supreme Court which heard petitions challenging clauses of the 18th Amendment has announced its verdict, which was reserved since September 30. It has sent article 175-A back to parliament for review. The provision – arguably the most contentious of the contents of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution – alters the method for the appointment of judges – and in the opinion of the court affects judicial independence. This matter and petitions regarding a few other clauses of the 18th Amendment now stand adjourned till January next year. 

The carefully thought-out verdict by the court avoids the showdown with the executive that many had apprehended would come if the clause were struck down. The moderate approach taken is significant. For one, it demonstrates that the court is indeed eager to preserve the system and is not "playing into the hands of any force" eager to disrupt democracy. Government ministers and others who had insinuated this in remarks made on various occasions should now be duly ashamed of themselves. The order also places a considerable responsibility on parliament. Wisdom demands that a very careful assessment of the situation be made. The court quite evidently feels that the clause is undesirable. Given the paramount need to safeguard judicial independence, parliament would do well to act with maturity, ensuring that the process of appointing judges does not impinge on that independence. Separation of institutions is after all a vital ingredient of our Constitution. Everything possible must be done to ensure that it is protected and its spirit remains undamaged.
It is reassuring to find that our institutions are capable of putting other interests before their own. This gives renewed hope that a clash can be averted. But this will happen only if the government backs off from the confrontational line it has exhibited and adopts a frame of greater calm. The Supreme Court has shown respect for parliament. In turn the executive needs to extend similar respect to the judiciary. It can do so only by demonstrating a willingness to implement the judgments delivered. Its failure to do so has led us down an uneven road. We still stumble unsteadily along it. Much in the future will depend on the attitude of parliament and the PPP government. We expect to see a review of Article 175-A and a display of true willingness to do what is best for Pakistan and its people. If the opportunity to do so extended by the SC to parliament is missed, we will be headed for more trouble in the days ahead. Reason and good sense must prevail in all considerations.







 People who have made vast profits are sometimes described as 'laughing all the way to the bank'. We know who at least 50 of these mirthful men are because their names have been published as the 'Top 50' loan defaulters to the banks who took some Rs256 billion of loans and then defaulted on payment – written off. They – the borrowers – have effectively been gifted the money by the banks. If any one of us borrowed from a friend a few thousand rupees and that friend then defaulted on the loan, we may go to court to have him ordered to return the money or seek and order sequestering his possessions in lieu of that. We might reasonably expect the banks to do the same. Everywhere else in the world that is exactly what they do. But not in Pakistan.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court directed counsel for the State Bank that he should convey to all banks that they should send notices to major borrowers that have had their loans written off. Why, apart from a spirit of generosity, would the banks write off such large sums? Because they may be debts to us, but are assets to the banks and they avoid paying taxes by writing off these debts. Counsel for the State Bank argued that by pursuing the defaulters it might damage both their business and the banking system as a whole. Justice Ramday was having none of that, and commented that the country had remained safe after previous Supreme Court decisions and there was no reason to suppose that it was going to be any different this time around. The CJ then ordered that the counsel for the State Bank produce a complete list of defaulters and that they be pursued for the return of the money, no matter who they were or how powerful or influential. If they don't pay up then they should be jailed and their property seized. No right-minded person is going to disagree with the Honourable Justices. The big question yet to be answered is whether the banks will acquiesce to the rule of law, or whether the rules of banking will trump the law of the land? If the former it is a big step in the national right direction, if the latter – business as usual.







 Islamabad diary

The lawyers' movement fostered many illusions, none more powerful than the myth that there was something called civil society in Pakistan, good people out to do good and inspired by the best of intentions. Retired bureaucrats, professors of academia in search of a cause, society girls and begums, and frustrated politicians – a politician who fails to get elected or who has nowhere to get elected from is a study in frustration – became the standard bearers of civil society. 

The media which had also come into its own thanks to Musharraf's TV-proliferation policies – TV anchors, otherwise champions of revisionist history, must never forget their debt to Musharraf – skated over the miniscule numbers of civil society and glorified its image. Civil society became a catchphrase. Everyone was using it. If you were stumped for an answer you mumbled the words civil society and tried to look profound. It was surprising how often the trick worked. 

NGOs once upon a time had started saying that they could manage things better than the government. The leading knights and ladies of civil society started suggesting that whereas the political class had failed the nation, they along with lawyers, the media and a rejuvenated judiciary would help fix the nation's problems. 
All these four classes – media, lawyers, judges and civil society – made common cause with each other, feeding upon each other's prejudices, reinforcing each other's arrogance. They lived in a world of make-believe. The world of reality was kept firmly at a distance. 

Three years down the line we are in a position to judge the consequences of that strange and heady mood. The media is on a perpetual warpath, working itself up into a lather of excitement and anger even when it is pretty obvious that the performance is rather forced and contrived. What Oscar Wilde said of fox-hunting – the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable – comes close to describing the media frenzy which is now part of everyday Pakistani existence. This is Musharraf's revenge from beyond the seas, not diversity of news and opinion but the sameness of news and opinion delivered in a babble of 64 different voices. 
We flatter ourselves by thinking that as a result of media plurality we are a more aware nation. The truth is more mortifying. We are becoming a dumber nation, feeding on trivia and endlessly dissecting it. This is a new kind of addiction which keeps us safely distracted from the consideration of issues which should be more rigorously looked into and more vigorously debated. 

On display in the media generally – and this has to be a loose generalization – is the poverty of imagination and smugness of Pakistan's lettered classes. (One exception, I think, has to be the exchange of articles and letters on economic matters between Prof Ashfaq H Khan and Meekal Ahmed which make for spirited reading, showing how a polemical exchange can be carried on without being crude and vulgar.) 
In short, the media is running out of causes or is failing to see what the causes should be. To nourish its frenzy it has to sensationalise things and dig up meaning where none exists. 

The lawyers' movement has successfully transmuted itself into a near-perfect expression of legal hooliganism, leaving other forms of public hooliganism far behind. It has even managed to take on senior members of the higher judiciary and there is little that the concerned judges have been able to do about it. Their lordships having ridden the tiger of lawyerly opinion now find that they cannot get off its back. Such is the way of most movements. And to think that the more starry-eyed amongst us thought that the rampaging black-coats would be the heralds of a new dawn. 

If the firebrand of the lawyers' movement, Ali Ahmed Kurd, of all people can be abused by a section of lawyers then it only goes to show that the Pakistani malaise, born of many things but born primarily of a lack of culture, is more about a poverty of the intellect and the imagination than anything else. Culture is not just song and dance but one's attitude towards life, one's innate understanding of what the good life should be. Balance and a sense of proportion, the ability to engage in calm and reasoned discourse, the inculcation of tolerance, the ability to respect differences of opinion, a natural distaste for verbosity, an avoidance of mass hysteria, the shunning of slogans – these are mental attitudes grounded in the right kind of culture. 

Their lordships too were affected by the times, their proclivity to indulge in a never-ending bout of judicial superactivism rooted in the belief nurtured by the lawyers' movement that they had a near-divine duty to lead the process of cleansing the national stables. As a consequence they spread their wings far and wide touching a never-ending range of subjects , throwing things into turmoil but lacking the power to bring matters to a head or a conclusion. 

To the paralysis of government many factors have contributed but this hyperactivism, for the most part conducted without bearing or compass, has also played its part. At its restoration the superior judiciary stood on the topmost peaks. Now it is inviting more than its share of cynicism. 

The latest imbroglio it has found itself in is a case in point. Where in the world do judges concern themselves with rumours? Where do they go in a huddle, resembling an extended war council, on the basis of an unsubstantiated news report? This should be a sobering moment for the higher judiciary, an occasion to realise that judges allow themselves to be driven by the media only at their peril. 

Agitation has its own norms but stability has its own requirements. Most of the expectations raised by the lawyers' movement lie in ruins by the wayside. But if something is to be retrieved from the mess there has to be a soberer understanding of what the rule of law means. 

Behind this mess lies the constant trumpeting and bellowing of civil society: retired grandees, assorted begums and a range of armchair warriors thundering for change even as, most of the time, they remain unclear what the elements of change should be, or how it should be brought about. 

It hasn't helped matters that the symbol of the Republic is a walking disaster, a man of few ideas and little understanding of how government works. But the answer to that is the spelling out of clear alternatives, not the constant fanning of the winds of instability. 

The symbol of the Republic as much as the government he symbolises should have been weakened mortally by the burden of incompetence they carry. Ironically, however, through its ill-considered intervention into the media-generated rumour about the removal of judges, the Supreme Court, unwittingly no doubt, has extended a helping hand to a beleaguered president. The Supreme Court wanted a written assurance that nothing was on the cards but the weakness of its position was underlined when Prime Minister Gilani refused to oblige it and it found there was nothing it could do about it. Who looks discomfited and who looks comfortable? 
This should be a time for everyone concerned to sit back and take stock of things. We have wasted too much time. Perhaps this was only to be expected but now is the time to leave the past behind and move forward, leaving it to historians to fight over the battles of yesterday. 

Tailpiece: A blow for good sense will be the election of Asma Jahangir as Supreme Court Bar President. If there is any true civil society around in Pakistan it should be hoping for this and, to the extent that it can, help bring it about.








Love him or hate him, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a man to be reckoned with, possessing irresistible charm, a formidable intellect and unparalleled political flair and savvy. World leaders admired and envied him. Henry Kissinger, in an interview with Oriana Fallaci, singled out Bhutto as a leader who impressed him the most. He had a vision for the country which he set about implementing from his first day in office. But the post-ZAB Peoples' Party has had nothing tangible to offer the nation. Their politics is based solely on milking sympathy from the masses by donning the cloak of victimisation, which they cash in on repeatedly to get into power. But once in power, they are clueless about what to do or how to run the affairs of state and indulge only in self-gratification and perpetuating their tenure at all costs. Obviously they benefit massively from this, but what does the nation get out of it? 

This vacuum of substance and vision has exacerbated the back-breaking burdens and problems of the people, producing a groundswell of public discontent and loss of popular support. In order to survive under such realities, the government has had to lean on their powerful western allies, whose support comes with strings attached that are not always conducive to our national interests. So we have an elected government that has turned on its own country, its institutions, its laws and national interests to satisfy its foreign benefactors and survive in power with their support, having lost its anchor amongst the people. 

Some people are very impressed with Zardari for manipulating circumstances to steer his way to power and surviving against the odds thus far. This is the yardstick by which political genius is measured in Pakistan these days. If getting into power and surviving through crooked and illegal means is all that matters, then why do we revile military dictators who tear up the constitution and sustain themselves in power by illegal machinations? If getting away with corruption is a great achievement then why do we even bother to have courts or laws? If being a Sindhi is reason enough to overlook criminal and corruption cases, then why are prisons in Sindh jam-packed with Sindhi prisoners? 

How low have our standards fallen. How little we expect from our leaders. This government was formed by deceiving allies and claiming that political commitments and agreements are not equivalent to The Quran or Hadith. They have clung to power only by ignoring all codes of legal and democratic conduct. It is unfortunate that some consider this worthy of admiration. 

Would Zulfikar Ali Bhutto still dominate Pakistani politics from his grave in Garhi Khuda Buksh Bhutto, had he indulged in the sort of crooked antics the current lot have established as their modus operandi? Would giants like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt and John F Kennedy be revered today had they soiled their reputations with corruption, declared war on the rule of law and state institutions and sacrificed national sovereignty to stay in power? If crookedness is accepted as greatness and is applauded, then in times to come our society will only produce crooks to lead our country. 

The Peoples' Party government is trying to play the victim-card in their battle against the judiciary and the rule of law. If the web of law is tightening around them, it is because they chose to elect unclean leaders who are implicated in criminal and corruption cases, not just in Pakistan but in a number of countries around the world, which they refuse to face to prove their innocence, seeking refuge behind questionable immunity. It is one thing to be politically persecuted for one's beliefs or for service to the nation, which is wrong and cost Zulfikar Ali Bhutto his life. But the present Peoples' Party leaders are, firstly, being asked to answer criminal and corruption charges, which one would expect they would be anxious to do to clear their names if they are really innocent. Secondly, a number of their administrative actions have been called into question because they conflict with the relevant laws. How does this justify claims of victimisation on their part? 

This government's latest self-induced crisis relates to their reported intent to withdraw the March 16 2009 notification for the restoration of the judges suspended by Musharraf's November 3 2008 PCO. The March 16 2009 notification only specifically undid what Musharraf's PCO had done. But subsequently, in the July 31 2009 verdict, the Supreme Court declared the PCO unlawful ab initio. The March 16 2009 notification carried significance only as long as the PCO held the field. But after the July 31 2009 verdict, it has become redundant and irrelevant since the root cause of action (the PCO) stands nullified. 

The prime minister's speech on October 17, 2010, further fanned the flames of their confrontation with the judiciary, as he declared that a prime minister's spoken word is as good as his written statement, effectively brushing aside the Supreme Court order for the submission of his written statement stating that the government had no intention to withdraw the notification. A press statement or speech carries no legal value. Zia-ul-Haq vowed an oath on television to hold elections within ninety days. He went on to rule for eleven years. 
The prime minister expressed the desire to work closely with the judiciary, but gave no indication that the court's orders, particularly in the NRO case, will be respected and fully implemented. The prime minister also offered to hold talks with the judiciary. What is there to talk about? Court orders have to be fully implemented. How can there be negotiations on that principle? He seemed to be in a defiant mood, going beyond Zardari's use of the Sindh-card; by flanking himself with the representatives of all four provinces he seemed to be playing the Pakistan-card. But we have seen his defiant dramatics before. They disappear in a flash when threatened with dire consequences. 

Charles de Gaulle resigned from the post of prime minister on a matter of principle in 1946 after his proposal for a strong executive was rejected in a referendum. After being voted back to power in 1958, he resigned again in 1969 after the rejection of his proposed reforms in another referendum. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 as the Watergate scandal broke, involving the bugging of Democratic Party headquarters, a relatively petty crime compared to the havoc that has been unleashed by this lot in Pakistan. Margaret Thatcher had the integrity and common sense to resign after she became a liability for the Conservative Party because of her views on integration into the European community and issues like the Poll Tax. 

The political mess created by the Zardari administration on virtually all fronts is far worse than any of that. It has become unbearable and is causing very serious harm to the country. The urgent question now is how much of this mess is enough? According to fresh opinion polls, popular support for this government has dropped to just 15 per cent while the armed forces and the judiciary emerge as the institutions the people trust the most. 
The rot has permeated to all aspects of life, even sports, with the ICC putting us on a thirty days' notice to either put our house in order or face a ban from international cricket. In my previous article I expressed suspicions that this government harboured political suicidal tendencies. Not being satisfied with suicide, they now seem prepared to take the country down with them rather than let go. It has now become a matter of saving Pakistan from them.

The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.







Quantum note

There have never been so many faces of Islam; that is true both literally and figuratively. Literally in the sense that there have never been so many Muslims in the world, and figuratively because there has never been such a confusion about matters of faith and practice both within the community of believers and outside. 
This change has been brought about by a number of rapid historical reconstructions of the Ummah; the body of believers that is joined by a common thread – the Book of Allah and the life of His Messenger, upon him blessings and peace.

This historic change took place at a time when both Islam and Muslims were supposed to have become a "spent force". But out of the ashes of a conquered, devastated, and degraded polity there arose a sudden new dynamic and traumatising experience: shortly after the second World War, the political map of the entire traditional land of Islam was forcefully changed. 

There emerged some 57 so-called independent states, each with its own peculiar set of problems but nevertheless Muslim states which were by and large governed and ruled by secularised dictators, military generals, and heroes of independence movements, all of whom had little or no understanding of the volcanic changes just about to take place.

In addition, a very large number of Muslims started to immigrate to the lands of their former colonisers and within a few decades France and England – and later Germany with several other European countries – found themselves caught in a strange dilemma. 

The spent force, which they had conquered and ruthlessly ruled for a century and more was exerting itself at the very heart of their own polity: London, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, New York, Chicago and all the other major and minor cities of Europe and North America suddenly had numerous mosques, halal meat shops, and all the other things which come with that particular mode of being which is called Islam.

Then, there arose a new generation of converts who found spiritual, intellectual, and emotional resonance in Islam. These new Muslims added yet another dimension to the new faces of Islam. Some of them were highly gifted. They not only accepted the religion which until recently was considered to be almost of no consequence to their polity, they became its spokespersons. They went and studied the various sciences of Islam at the feet of truly gifted scholars who belonged to another time, another era, in places like Damascus, Cairo and remote regions of Yemen and Mauritania. 

These new converts used their considerable personal abilities and skills to speak about the religion of their choice with the enthusiasm, veracity, and strength of a true believer who knows why he or she believes what he or she believes in.

All of this formed what is now Islam's new face on the globe – that is to say, the manifestation of religion in blood and flesh, in the form of real human beings who walk and talk, and who are seen as representatives of Islam. This is an utterly new process in Muslim history. Never before has there been such a situation during the last fourteen hundred years when such a large number of human beings from outside the traditional lands of Islam became spokespersons for Islam. 

The new situation is simply fascinating in its totality: We have a very large number of Muslims who have been uprooted from their religion to such an extent that there is utter confusion in their minds and deeds about matters of basic belief and practice. 

Then we have a small minority of converts who have studied deeply what they believe in and whose articulate discourse is attracting thousands of young, educated Muslims. In addition, there has appeared a very large number of translations of classical Islamic works, as well as translations of those texts which were never translated before.

As a natural consequence, Islam and Muslims are now in a dynamic situation of interacting with the world in which there is a great deal of animosity against both of them. But this new interaction is fascinating because we have a situation where disbelievers of all kinds simply have no option left but to react to the expanding realms of Islam, both in real life and in intellectual thought. There is no choice because Islam has become their obsession. 

Most Westerners cannot understand what it is in Islam that is so irresistible to their sons and daughters who embrace it; most Western politicians simply do not know what to do with the millions of Muslims who now live in their countries and who refuse to live like them – that is, they do not "integrate" and dissolve; no matter how much these politicians wish them to do so. Thus the latest tirade from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is neither surprising nor unexpected.

She told her party's youth-wing at a conference on October 16, 2010: "The approach of saying, 'Well, let's just go for a multicultural society, let's coexist and enjoy each other,' this very approach has failed, absolutely failed," she said, meaning thereby that Germany's roughly 4 million Muslims, who make up the largest Muslim population in western Europe, are a headache for her and other politicians who simply do not know what to do with these Muslims. 

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had already admitted last month that Islamophobia has become a serious problem in the country as a result of deepening popular anti-Muslim sentiments. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said there was a growing tendency among the public to view 'Muslims and their religion as a threat.'

Of course, the greatest question at present is the following: Now that the German government has openly acknowledged the existence of Islamophobia in Germany, shall we be looking for a situation faced by the Jewish community in Germany during the time of Hitler?

(To be continued)The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







 The direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed after considerable diplomatic efforts by President Obama and the indefatigable diplomacy by veteran Middle East negotiator George Mitchell have, as predicted, run out of steam, and the process is all but dead.

The failure of the talks primarily resulted from the intransigence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who rejected Obama's pleas not to resume construction of Jewish settlement for at least one year.
The development has come at a delicate time. Congressional elections are only a couple of weeks away and the Obama administration is in no position to mount any pressure on Israel because of the absolute hold of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill. 

Obama has not made any direct comment on the impasse of the talks. Instead, according to media reports, he has offered incentives, including an upgrade of Israel's advanced weapons systems and an increase in the $3 billion annual assistance to Israel if the settlements freeze is continued. 

Obama's inability to push the process further has exposed the limitations of his diplomacy. "The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn its back on the legitimate aspirations (of the Palestinian people) for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own. The US does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." These stirring words, uttered by Obama in Cairo on June 4, 2009, now sound like empty rhetoric.

Netanyahu has further complicated the issue by demanding that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state in return for extension in a moratorium on settlements construction. He has thus thrown another spanner in the works. 

Obama's policy of giving the Palestine issue priority on the United States' foreign policy agenda cannot be faulted. However, prior to taking the plunge, he should have ascertained the limits of a tangible shift in US policy in the context of the Jewish stranglehold over policymaking institutions in the US. 

In the early days of his presidency, Obama made bold efforts to tackle the question of the settlements and the two-state solution. Previous efforts by his predecessors failed as they were initiated late in the presidents' terms.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Carter, has remarked that Obama "makes dramatic presidential speeches but (what he says) is never translated into a process in which good ideas become strategy."

Brzezinski lamented that it was "pathetic" to see the US making the concession to Israel this month, one that should be reserved for a final "grand bargain." Obama should have started by outlining the basic parameters for a Palestinian state, as they have emerged in negotiations over the past 40 years.

Obama's Cairo speech from Israel's perspective was an indictment of Israeli policy and, in tone and tenor, not in keeping with traditional speeches on Israel by US leaders. His declared: "Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. The continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; nor does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace and Israel must take complete steps to enable such progress."

Having made his commitment public on critical issues in such eloquent terms on the question of Palestine, he can salvage the situation and his personal image by persevering in his efforts by mobilising strong international support to counter Israel's uncompromising attitude. 

During the last 62 years US assistance to Israel has exceeded $140 billion. But will Obama employ the strong leverage this gives him? There are no prospects for a second term for President Obama as the midterm congressional elections next month are likely to show.

The writer is a former ambassador.









The state of anarchy that many had predicted years ago is upon us. The killing fields of Karachi are a gruesome example, but not the only one. All around us are signs of rapid deterioration in the management capacity of the state. 

The courts are unable to deliver justice in time, or ever, the police incapable of providing security or maintaining order, the municipalities failing to provide basic services, the state schools not delivering education, the state health system at best providing minimum care. 

These are just the most visible symbols of state decline, but there are others. Pakistan has the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio in the world; meaning, only a few of its 180 million people pay taxes. Many of them also not voluntary responders but taxpayers through forced deductions from their paycheques. 

The result is that Pakistan is a very poor country with lots of rich people. Many of these rich are our rulers or leaders who hardly pay any tax. The president and the prime minister pay virtually nothing, as do most of their ministers. This is also true of leaders of other parties. If this is the attitude of those whom the country has given everything, why should others be keen to pay?

The behaviour patterns of the rapacious elite are followed by the middle classes. Lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects and a host of other professionals refuse to pay taxes. All fees are received under the table; meaning, there is no record, and thus little or no tax is paid. 

The most self-righteous of the non-taxpayers are the agriculturists. The moment tax on their income is mentioned, they loudly protest how inputs have gone up and how they pay land revenue, etc. What they refuse to understand is that taxable income is that which is derived after deducting all expenses. If the inputs have gone up and income gone down, the taxable income will also be low. 

Actually, the use of the words agriculture tax has confused the whole issue because it gives the impression as if agriculture is being taxed. That is not true. Just as others are required to pay taxes on their income, whatever its source, those deriving it from land should also pay. Why should one form of income be exempt?
The result of a non-taxpaying culture, whether by the elite, the middle classes or the agriculturists, is that historically we have had low domestically generated revenues. But we have also had higher expenditures all the way through. The gap has been filled up by state borrowing or by foreign donors. 

The simple fact is that we have been able to get by because foreign assistance has bailed us out over the last 63 years. Our ruling classes have become fairly adept at strategically positioning themselves in such a way that foreign assistance keeps rolling in. This has allowed them to be irresponsible, and to spend more than they earn.
The dysfunctional nature of our state is reflected also in some other statistics. All of us want an independent judiciary and a more perfect democracy, but some fallouts of this quest are disturbing. According to the Chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue, more than a hundred billion rupees of taxes owed are stuck up because of court cases.

It is a sad fact that a poorly functioning judicial system has become a refuge for the deviants and fraudsters of all kind. In Punjab alone, vast amounts of state land and other state property has been illegally occupied and these "qabza" groups continue in possession because of stay orders issued by courts.

Actually, the state is generally the loser when it becomes a party to any civil dispute in a court of law. The strength of the lawyers we have already seen. They can virtually dictate judgements and, where they are not satisfied, they have been known to attack judges.

Thus, all that those involved in litigation with the state have to do is to get a "good" lawyer and their plea is accepted. A further complication is that those representing the state can also be prevailed upon and, clearly, the capacity to influence judges is much greater with the private parties than the state. 
A classical example of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions is the Supreme Court decision in the Steel Mill privatisation case. By shooting it down, the Supreme Court has unwittingly burdened the state with billions that need to be poured in to keep the project afloat. The decision also allowed rapacious elements to plunder this institution in the last two years. It is now on deathbed and only kept alive through constant state transfusions. 

Frequent military takeovers have also had an adverse impact by turning the country into a national-security state. There is little doubt that throughout our existence we have had serious security threats that needed to be catered to. But there was also a need for balance between the needs of defence and the people. This balance was lost when the military took control of the state. 

This seriously skewed national expenditures. The military, as a result, did emerge as an efficient and capable institution, but at the cost of others. The civil administration, the judiciary and many other instruments of the state were starved of funds, as was expenditure on social development, particularly health and education.
The state we find ourselves in today is a sum total of all the sins over the past 63 years. The insurgencies in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are a direct result of lack of investment in social development. The breakdown of the state in its various forms is also partly due to skewed national priorities. 
It is time that every individual, every institution puts the nation first, rather than its own individual or institutional interest. The Supreme Court has made a good beginning by not taking on the parliament on the issue of the 18th Amendment in its determination yesterday. It has put the nation's interest ahead of its institutional interest.

The courts down the line need to follow this dictum. Whether the state is well represented or not, it is incumbent on the judges to be Pakistani's first and strict interpreters of law second. This should be particularly applied to economic issues or all matters in which state revenue is involved.

The military also has to set the tone be reducing non combat related expenditures. It is fighting serious insurgencies and nothing should detract from that. We also need to look after our fighting men and women in every way possible, but wherever savings can be made, it should be done. 

The political class has been a signal failure so far both by continuing to have an aura of corruption and by its inability to manage. It must think of setting an example by better personal behaviour, or this democracy will not survive.









THE state of affairs in Karachi was such that there were wild speculations about what was happening there and what the Government ought to do to check the deteriorating law and order situation but thanks to the cool minded approach of the Prime Minister that he has resisted the temptation of taking any extreme measures which could have serious implications not only for the city but the country as a whole. His firm no to the proposition of sending troops to Karachi to quell the ongoing violence speaks volumes about his political sagacity and confidence in the capability of the civilian administration to deal with the situation on its own.

The latest spree of violence in the country's financial capital has raised alarm bells and all patriotic Pakistanis are worried about the implications. There was a state of complete confusion with analysts pointing out that the authorities at the helm of affairs are clueless about what to do to control the situation. The complicated nature of events also strained relations among coalition partners with all of them demanding some sort of stern action to normalize the situation but their difference of approach created difficulties for the chief executive on how to proceed ahead. In the backdrop of targeted killings, kidnappings and looting, one of the PPP stalwarts Nabeel Gabol proposed handing over of the city to Army. ANP too has long been demanding the same whereas the MQM is opposed to any military operation in the city. However, as pleaded by this newspaper earlier, Army operation was not the solution, as it would have created more problems than resolving the existing one. We have been pointing out that apart from the political ramifications of the move, any decision to involve the Army in Karachi would have sucked the Army more into domestic turmoil and that is what our enemies want us to do. Already, the Army is over-burdened because of a comprehensive war on terror with Americans demanding opening of more fronts in North Waziristan Agency. We are, therefore, glad that Prime Minister Gilani kept his cool and did not allow himself to be swept away by the sudden rush of blood. The decision not to hand over Karachi to the Army is mature, responsible and futuristic. The pressure was indeed there and had there been some weak nerved person sitting in the PM House he would have succumbed to it and the decision would have been different. We strongly believe that political issues should be handled politically and resort to use of force should be the last option and that too for a limited time and purposes. No one can dispute the fact that some areas of Karachi have become dens of criminals threatening peace and security of the city with regular intervals and some definite action is long due. It is also regrettable that the situation has been allowed to deteriorate despite the fact that major stakeholders in Karachi are already coalition partners in the Province and not a single incident of terrorism can take place if they resolve to fight out crime together. The desire to have maximum political influence in Karachi is understandable but this should not be at the cost of life and property of the citizens and huge losses to the national economy. There is, therefore, need for an even handed approach to wipe out crime without consideration to political affiliations and it is time that all stakeholders should sit together to make sincere and genuine efforts to achieve this cherished goal. We would urge Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to consider reshuffle of the political and administrative set-up, if necessary, to replace it with people of clean and untainted background, who have the will and capacity to undertake this difficult task in an across the board manner. While appreciating the decision of the Prime Minister not to call out Army in Karachi, we would also urge him to demonstrate similar wisdom in resolving other ticklish and long-standing national issues.








PRESIDENT Obama will be undertaking an important Asian tour in November that will take him to India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea but Pakistan has been shown a cold shoulder despite the fact that it is the old ally of the United States and had been declared a Non-NATO ally. Though the White House in a statement on Wednesday stated that Obama will visit Pakistan in 2011, in our view this is a very clever diplomatic move to cool down the possible reaction of Pakistani people for being humiliated.

Because of the deliberate omission of Pakistan from the itinerary, questions are being raised in the political circles and analysts and diplomatic community as to what message the Americans wish to convey to Islamabad. By visiting India, an arch rival of Pakistan, Obama and his Administration is sending a clear message that their priority for the region is New Delhi and not Islamabad. As a result there are already very strong feelings among the Pakistani people that while they are making huge sacrifices in war on terror, their country has been completely degraded and insulted. Pak-US relations have a long history of letting down Pakistan, which had been traditional ally and because of this it had been made target by other forces. Political and diplomatic analysts are of the opinion that Pakistan was deliberately ignored for the visit to appease the Indians in order to get contracts for the sale of US military hardwares worth billions of dollars to save thousands of jobs in US. It was also part of the appeasement policy that the Americans entered into civilian nuclear energy deal with India while Pakistan, suffering from worst type of energy shortages, has been refused a similar agreement. It will also be keenly seen by observers in Pakistan as to whether Mr Obama, during the visit, will raise the issue of massive human rights violations in occupied Kashmir as he himself claims to be a champion of human rights or ignore it to keep the Indians in good humour. In our view one thing should be clear to the American leadership and policy makers that India would not fall in their lap and keep on following its policy of drawing maximum benefits from the US and Russia simultaneously. Mr Obama had earned some goodwill in Pakistan during his election campaign and people here expected that he would be a different leader but the cold shoulder that he has shown has seriously injured the sensitivities of the Pakistani people and it would be of no consequence if he undertakes a visit to the country in 2011.








Since the 1960s for over three decades, probably the most influential non-official individual resident in India was Ottavio Quatrocchi, an Italian who had the blunt demeanour of an Australian rather than the charm that the people of that ancient civilisation are justly known for. Nearly 70 key projects were sanctioned during this long period to companies that "Mr Q" was considered to favour, especially Snam-Progetti. Those officials who dared to sanction contracts to companies other than the few favoured by Quatrocchi found their careers in India ended, including Cabinet Secretary P K Kaul, who was shunted off to Washington before completing his term in office, after a contract was won by another company instead of Snam. The then Petroleum Secretary, A S Gill, who was in line to be Cabinet Secretary found his career at an end after this decision was taken,and the minister concerned was swiftly removed from his post, as were others who dared take decisions other than those believed to have the backing of "Mr Q" What the source of the power of this Italian fixer is remains obscure.

However, none of his political allies could save his career in India once his name was outed in the scandal involving the purchase of Bofors guns in 1986. A year later, Swedish radio claimed that about $65 million had been paid as bribes to get the contract (peanuts in this day and age), and the Swiss authorities established that "Mr Q" was one of the beneficiaries. The Central Bureau of Investigation asked that his passport be impounded. Instead, on the recommendation of the minister looking after the CBI, Quatrocchi was allowed to fly out of India on 29 July 1993 to the safety of Kuala Lumpur. Since then, he has depended on his family members to ensure that contact be retained with influential individuals in India, a task that they have done so well that even today, he is among the few who can "get almost anything done" through the Government of India, including ensuring the return of the money that the investigating authorities say was a bribe paid to secure the Bofors contract. While other governments seek to confiscate the money stashed illegally away by the powerful, the Manmohan Singh government returned it to "Mr Q" a few years ago.

Ottavio Quatrocchi was never questioned - much less prosecuted – by the Indian authorities about his shenanigans. He escaped from the country in 1993 because of a morally questionable decision taken by then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, who thought he would buy peace with "Mr Q"'s friends in the Congress Party by enabling his escape. Instead, within brief months after that fateful decision, Rao began to be subjected to a barrage of attacks from Quatrocchi's friends in the Congress Party ,acting through senior leaders in the government. Narasimha Rao never recovered from that stain, for from then onwards, despite the fact that he liberalised the economy, brought some stability to Kashmir by fending off Bill Clinton's repeated efforts to get India to relax its hold on the state, and established an economics-centred diplomacy in place of the Nehru construct that was based on pious platitudes. By 1994,Rao was under daily fire for the perception of corruption, with all kinds of suspicious characters coming out of obscurity to make allegations against him. After he was forced to resign as Prime Minister because of an election defeat caused by a rebellion led by followers of influential politicians known to be close to "Mr Q", Narasimha Rao was in perpetual risk of going to jail, getting freed of this Damocles Sword (in the shape of criminal cases against him) only in the final year of his life. Those who knew him well saw for themselves the fear in his eyes at the prospect of jail, a fear that paralysed him in the final decade of his life. 

The Commonwealth Games scandal is Manmohan Singh's Quatrocchi moment. Will he follow the example of his old boss Rao and allow the VVIPs responsible for a scam that has been estimated to cost the taxpayer more than $4 billion in bribes to escape? If he does so, then Manmohan Singh will be finished as a credible Prime Minister. From the time that he allows the guilty of the Commonwealth Ganes to escape – should he do so - he will become the butt of ridicule and scandal the way Narasimha Rao was. After such public bludgeoning and umiliation, it is very likely that Congress President Sonia Gandhi will request the PM to resign, and replace him with someone known to be honest, such as Defense Minister A K Antony. Although Sonia's first choice is Home Minister P Chidambaram - because of his total loyalty to her wishes - yet in an atmosphere where the Congress Party gets pushed back to the 1987-89 period when it was clouded in corruption charges, she may have no choice but to appoint the man known as "Saint Antony" for his financial integrity. Perhaps this would be followed by appointing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as President of India, after the present incumbent's term concludes in two years time.

Should the PM-directed enquiry into the scams carried out during the Commonwealth Games preparation period fail to bring those actually guilty to justice, the reputation of Manmohan Singh for integrity would be affected. After such a lapse,even should he somehow manage to hang on to the Office of the Prime Minister, each month would bring personal attacks on him. After his eventual retirement, there is no doubt that he would follow Narasimha Rao in also having multiple

criminal charges filed against him, which he would have to fight all his life to stay clear of arrest and imprisonment. All this while the VVIPs actually responsible for siphoning off huge amounts of money get away. The officers close to him would also face criminal charges for being accessories or being negligent in safeguarding the public interest. It all looks like going the Narasimha Rao way of scandal and disgrace for a team that in fact is honest and sincere.

There is no doubt that the huge expenditure ( of around $ 9 billion) spent on the Games has been a platinum opportunity for many. An example is a pedestrian overbridge that was built at a cost of $2 million, which collapsed. The Indian army was asked by the PM to build a substitute, which it did at a cost of just $175,000. A list of the prices for items bought or hired by the organizers of the Games shows that in several instances, there was a 4000% markup over the prices charged to other customers by the companies involved. A week ago, a friend mentioned that to his knowledge, six container loads of currency had been smuggled across the Indian border so as to be sent onwards to Switzerland, and that this is just a "small" part of what a particular ruling party leader made from the Games.

These days, Delhi is filled with stories about how "Manmohan Singh is conducting an eyewash" in promising to investigate the scandal. Many are angry that the PM did nothing while this flood of public money was being spent, moving into action only after the media could ignore the rot no longer. Once reports began to appear in the foreign press about the many deficiencies in the organizing of the Commonwealth Games, Indian media outlets that are known to be nervous about annoying VVIPs began to focus attention on a few organizers, notably Suresh Kalmadi, the Congress Party bigwig who is the Indian Olympic Committee chief. Kalmadi is known to follow the military discipline of his youth in always checking his decisions with higher authority, but if the media are to be believed, he acted on his own in the spending of the Games cash. This is about as believable as saying that Dr A Q Khan ran his entire network without the participation of any state player, or what General Pervez Musharraf wanted the world to believe when he placed the hero of the Pakistan nuclear bomb under house arrest.

Thus far, no criminal cases have been filed against those responsible for the many tainted decisions taken during the runup to the Games. And because none of the records was taken into safekeeping for two months after the scandal first broke in the international and then national media, those in the know say that records have been erased, while others have been replaced with different versions. Computer disks have been cleaned up and the mainframes destroyed. All in all, the stately pace of Manmohan Singh's investigation - carried out by a well-meaning but seemingly clueless Kashmiri septuagenarian - may mean that the guilty escape, which means that the full tumult of public opinion will fall on the head of the Prime Minister, who allowed the loot to go on for six years before waking up to its ramifications. Exactly as 1992-96 Prime Minister Narasimha Rao became damaged goods after allowing Ottavio Quatrocchi to escape from India on July 29,1993, so will Manmohan Singh be crippled after his enquiry turns out to be a farce. The way several VVIPs want it to be. On the other hand, if the guilty get punished, Manmohan Singh will enter the history books for fighting the corruption that has been a facet of life in India since the impecunious Robert Clive made a fortune from Bengal in two centuries and a half ago.

As things stand, the betting in Delhi is that the PM will be ineffective in conducting a probe, and will therefore be made to quit after becoming the butt of criminal charges. Should an honest man like Manmohan Singfh pay such a high price - the loss of his reputation and his career - it would be a sad day for justice. Those eager for probity hope that the PM will ensure that the guilty get punished, if only just this once in a country where corruption is costing the economy more than 5% extra growth each year.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








US Army's Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer's book, "Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan—and the Path to Victory," recounts his five-month stint in Afghanistan in 2003. The book exposes the good and bad of combat operations the U.S. Government does not want uncovered. The account given by Tony Shaffer of how things worked in Afghanistan and in Washington give a whole new insight to the soldiers doing the fighting and a top heavy bureaucracy that impedes mission execution on the ground and consequently hinders overall mission effectiveness. Unfortunately, after permission had been granted for its publication the book was "censored" by the Pentagon in order that some classified details could be "redacted". The Pentagon purchased and destroyed nearly 10,000 copies of the spy memoir after officials charged it exposed US military secrets. 

With Pentagon representatives looking on, St. Martin's Press pulped the first print run of "Operation Dark Heart" and released a revised version in a deal with the US government, while in an unusual move, reimbursed the publisher for the cost of the first printing as military officials had initially approved the manuscript for publication. Anthony Shaffer was a Defense Intelligence Agency officer working under a secret program called "Able Danger" created in the late 90's, to monitor or (and) "infiltrate" Muslim terror cells. Shaffer bumped into Mohammed Atta's File and informed his superiors that something fishy was going on and that Atta was up to no good. However, Colonel Shaffer was ordered to "drop" the matter and was removed from the case. His superior officers probably knew the exact extent of the case but since everything in the Intelligence business is compartmentalized so Shaffer was removed from the case. His superiors did not want him to go any further and find out too much about what was in preparation: a "false flag attack" using Arabs who were probably taught by private military contractors (like Mossad) who train Arab mercenaries , to pose as terrorists in order to infiltrate "real" Terrorists groups for money (Atta had reportedly received a large amount of money and was also trained to "hijack" planes not knowing that the aircraft were going to be remote controlled and that they were set up. 

When Shaffer found out, like the rest of the world what happened on 9/11 2001, he tried to go back to the Atta's network files; but most of these files were destroyed, he also lost his " clearance" at the DIA and his job, thanks to his superiors. Colonel Shaffer admits in his book that even before the "Able Danger" imbroglio, he was seen by some at DIA as a risk-taking troublemaker. He describes participating in a midday raid on a telephone facility in Kabul to download the names and numbers of all the cell-phone users in the country and proposing an intelligence operation to cross into Pakistan and spy on a Taliban headquarters.

Shaffer reveals in his book that the invasion of Afghanistan was planned a year before the 9/11, Bin Laden was a CIA asset, paid and trained by the CIA when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 70's 80's (reference: Charlie Wilson's War) and most likely died early 2002 of kidney failure. An apparent conclusion is that the "War on Terror" is fake and mostly staged. The US, UK and Israeli intelligence have been attempting to infiltrate the so called Muslim Terror cells for decades and set them up. The "terror scare" is used to justify the "perpetual State of War" in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan and have replaced the "Cold War with the complicity of US mainstream media. 

The book is an exposé that a cover-up was set in motion by USA, a nation which denounces censorship, praises freedom of speech, and who will not hesitate to annihilate any person or entity daring enough to threaten its "God given" rights. USA is supposed to be the land of the "free," home of the brave, where democracy is more of a buzzword than a legitimate political system—unless one is voting for America's newest idol, model, or celebrity dance duo. The author, Anthony Shaffer says his free speech rights have been violated.

He has publicly stated that all of the information the military claimed was classified—and therefore barred from being published in his book—is available in unclassified and open-source documents. Shaffer contends the redactions were unnecessary and were ordered only to silence him. "My First Amendment rights were sat on," Shaffer claims. The thoughts hover on the idea that mass surveillance, control over the economy, propaganda disseminated through government controlled mass media—is not where America is headed; this is where America is now. Critics opine that it is a classic case of totalitarianism at its worst.

At a cost of almost US$50,000 taxpayer dollar, the resulting publicity from the military's official book-burning vaulted the newly redacted version to number one on's bestseller list and, according to Army Times, "a week after going on sale, it was on its third reprint with 50,000 copies sold or on sale." The episode has created a possibly new marketing strategy, in which "creative" writers could conjure books filled with gossip, so trashy that rather than taking the route of libel, insulted parties would be obliged to purchase all copies of the "offensive" publication. 

The damaging aspect of Pentagon's highhandedness also speaks to a level of naiveté at the Pentagon. About 100 advance copies of "Operation Dark Heart'' had already been sent out, and Wikileaks has announced that it has one. Whatever is in the book will be disseminated over the Internet. For an organization that views cyber security as a cornerstone of America's 21st century defense strategy, the Pentagon should know better than to think that pulping a potentially troublesome book will keep its contents from getting out. In retrospect, the exposé regarding the 9/11 cover up is the most dangerous revelation and must be explained by concerned quarters if the conspiracy theory is fiction.









Purity is a central theme in the Islamic tradition and to purify the soul is one of the inward goals of a Muslim. There are outward and inward practices that one must perform to gain the pleasure of Allah. One cannot judge from apparent observations the purity of another person's heart, although there may be signs that indicate purity. But they are far from definite. This inward focus is a crucial one. At times, we exhaust our efforts in mastering the outward manifestations of the religion, to the extent that our inward is severely neglected. This is a very dangerous position to be in, and can easily lead to hypocrisy. The hypocrites in the Prophet's time would show outer manifestations of religion but ignore the inward acceptance of the creed of Islam. As well, the other extreme is to focus solely on the inward to the extent where the outward manifestations are neglected or even dismissed as being unnecessary. However, both of these mentalities are incorrect. The ideal state of one's religion is a balance between both the inner and outward expressions of religion. Neither one is neglected, rather they are complementary. Advances in one aspect should automatically and naturally be reflected in the other.

Sincerity is the freeing of one's intentions from all impurities in order to come nearer to Allah. It is to ensure that the intentions behind all acts of worship and obedience to Allah are exclusively for His pleasure. It is the perpetual contemplation of the Creator, to the extent that one forgets the creation. Sincerity is a condition for Allah's acceptance of good deeds performed in accordance with the sunnah of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Allah has commanded this in the Qur'an: "And they have been commanded to worship only Allah, being sincere towards Him in their deen and true. (98:5)" Abu Umama has related that a man once came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, "What of a man who joined us in the fighting, his intention being for fame and booty?" The Prophet said, "He receives nothing." The man repeated the question three times and each time the Prophet said, "He receives nothing". Then he said, "Allah only accepts actions that are intended purely for His pleasure." Abu Sa'id al-Khudri related that the Prophet (saw) said in his khutba during the farewell pilgrimage, "Allah will bless whoever hears these words and whoever understands them, for it may be that those who pass on this knowledge are not those who will understand it the best. There are three things concerning which the heart of a believer should feel no enmity or malice: devoting one's actions to Allah, giving counsel to the Imams of the Muslims, and being loyal to the majority."

What is meant here is that these three things strengthen the heart, and whoever distinguishes himself in them will have a heart purified from all manner of deceit, corruption and evil. A servant can only free himself from shaytan through sincere devotion, for Allah tells us in the Quran that Iblis said to Him: "Except those of Your servants who are sincere. (38:83)" It has been related that a righteous man used to say, "O self, be devout and you will be pure." When any worldly fortune, in which the self finds comfort and towards which the heart inclines, intrudes upon our worship, then it impairs the purity of our efforts and ruins our sincerity. Man is preoccupied with his good fortune and immersed in his desires and appetites; rarely are his actions or acts of worship free of temporary objectives and desires of this kind. For this reason it has been said that whoever secures a single moment of pure devotion to Allah in his life will survive, for devotion is rare and precious, and cleansing the heart of its impurities is an exacting undertaking.

In fact, devotion is the purifying of the heart from all impurities, whether few or many, so that the intention of drawing nearer to Allah is freed from all other motives, except that of seeking His pleasure. This can only come from a lover of Allah, who is so absorbed in contemplation of the next world that there remains in his heart no place for the love of this world. Such a person must be devote and pure in all his actions, even in eating, drinking and answering the calls of nature. With rare exceptions, anyone who is not like this will find the door of devotion closed in his face. The everyday actions of a person who is overwhelmed by his or her love for Allah and the akhira are characterised by his love and they are, in fact, pure devotion. In the same way, anyone whose soul is overwhelmed by love for and preoccupation with this world, or status and authority, will be so overwhelmed by these things that no act of worship, be it prayer or fasting, will be acceptable, except in very rare cases.

The remedy for love of this world is to break the worldly desires of the self, ending its greed for this world and purifying it in preparation for the next world. This will then become the state of the heart and sincere devotion will become easier to attain. There are a great many actions where a man acts, thinking they are purely intended for Allah's pleasure, but he is deluded, for he fails to see the defects in them. It has been related that a man was used to praying in the first row in the mosque. One day he was late for the prayer, so he prayed in the second row. Feeling embarrassment when people saw him in the second row, he realised that the pleasure and satisfaction of the heart that he used to gain from praying in the first row were due to his seeing people seeing him there and admiring him for it. 

This is a subtle and intangible condition and actions are rarely safe from it. Apart from those whom Allah has assisted, few are aware of such delicate matters. Those who do not realise it only come to see their good deeds appearing as bad ones on the Day of Resurrection; they are the ones referred to in Allah's words: "And something will come to them from Allah which they had never anticipated, for the evil of their deeds will become apparent to them. (39:47-48)". And also: "Say: Shall We tell you who will lose most in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts were astray in the life of this world, while they thought that they were doing good works. (18:103-104)".

Human desires are unlimited, and this material world makes us more and more trapped into the quagmire of desires. As a result, we get more and more absorbed with this world and forget the ultimate purpose of this life and birth on this earth. As the thirst for material goods has no end, we always feel short of resources to satisfy our ever-increasing desires. If we control our lust for this material world and abandon our desires, we can be rich, as being rich is not about having wealth of this world but rather a mental state whereby one feels content and Ghani in his heart.






Many opine that the recently signed bilateral transit trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, under the pats of Hillary Clinton, was because Afghanistan is a landlocked country and therefore it has right of transit and Pakistan is morally as well as under the international rules of the game bound to give it route facility to trade with India and other regional countries. Many contest that the Transit Trade Agreement is essentially a political document, which is a re-evaluation of Old ATTA under the changing regional dynamics, because presence of only the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and not a single representative of the Indian government vis a vis the Memorandum of Understanding and particulars of the Transit Trade Agreement speak volumes for the different Protocols of APTTA, Arbitration Tribunal and issues to be worked in the agreement. 

Though APTTA has been challenged in the Lahore High Court, yet there is a need to deliberate upon in detail about giving India access to Central Asia through Pakistan, compromising its own security and sovereignty and questioning the Chinese link with Pakistan. There is a need to rethink giving transit right to India and go for a new agreement as the alternate Indo-Afghan trade routes may not suit the powers that be and therefore they are poised to use the recent trade agreement as an engine for pushing towards the Great Game agenda, even after the possible US exit from Afghanistan. The $1trillion reserves in Afghanistan is not an ordinary disclosure and the US eagerness to have India in the post-exit Afghanistan through Pakistan is not only the part of plan but an attempt to explore other than Karachi-Gawadar routes up to Mumbai and Madras for draining out those reserves in collaboration with other stakeholders. 

While Pakistan's open door policy has grave complications, Pakistan must have shown in forceful manner its unwillingness to allow trade as a confidence building measure (CBM). The rejection of APTTA by Pakistan's business and trade community, FPCCI's demand from revision of the draft agreement and opposition by the political parties in the country must have been paid heed to as the double front confrontation is practically unaffordable for Pakistan in which Indians would be given edge to encircle Pakistan under the patronship of its western collaborators. 

One can count on finger tips the positive implications of APTTA for Pakistan: i.e. it would generate income and employment opportunities, more trade would help curb smuggling, SAFTA & APTTA would tantamount to revisiting of the Sher Shah Suri link, security leverage would remain with Pakistan to exploit against India, and of course it would largely benefit the SAARC region to which Pakistan would be able to play its role. But the negative implications are innumerable; especially it would be like benefiting India at our own cost, it would compromise our strategic interests, it would make the whole Pakistan from east to west vulnerable, more trouble than benefits will come as Pakistan has lesser capacity to manage it; it would undermine Gwadar, Pakistan's own industry, issues of Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Water disputes and above all Pakistan-China interests. The high price benefit would be shared by foreign industrialists; giving air space to India and land route to neighboring country would damage Pakistan's security interests as well as the economy and it must be noted that the economic interests can't override security interests of the country. The agreement would force Pakistan's security forces to police Indian goods and exemption from routine customs inspection would allow suspicious items, weapons smuggling and double the apprehensions amidst negative role of world media and western propaganda machinery against Pakistan in order to put Islamabad under continuous pressure, especially in the context of global heroine supply route. Moreover it would further accelerate the drug economy, give boost to smuggling and stretch the already flooded Bara markets to across Pakistan. 

Very few in Pakistan know that last year, September 2009, India signed a similar trade route agreement with Bangladesh, again under the aegis of the United States of America, which is of a great importance for farther Indian states of Meghalia, Aasam and Taripura and their need for Indian integrity. Apparently it is aimed at giving access to Bangladesh through India to Nepal and Bhutan but for Bangladesh access to Nepal and Bhutan is useless. But economy experts believe that Bangladesh's trade deficit with India is more than $ 6 billion dollars, which means Bangladesh is nothing less than a trade market for India.

One must not be betrayed by the idea that the enemy is ever a friend, ready to spend trillions of dollars for the well being of Pakistani people or Afghans. These all are part of India's expansionist designs and the benefits of which it wants to get under the Pak-Afghan Trade Agreement. There is no denying the fact that wars in the past had been fought to capture the resources, meet own economic problems. The same rule works today with the difference that in past weak nations were physically attacked and their resources were captured, but in today's times the rules of the game have changed: they win the wars without fighting wars and only through capturing trade and markets.

The Hindutva ideology of 'Greater India' is working on the same lines. They are not going to subjugate the subcontinent physically but economically. Nepal and Bhutan are already under its control. Bangladesh is its recent prey. Sri Lanka could also have been fallen into India's lap, had Pakistan not helped Colombo to crush Tamils. In the Maldives markets, Indian currency is already being used. The country that stands in India's way is Pakistan and the best way to capture Pakistan is the use of Afghanistan card through which the Indians as well as its collaborators will gain success to Central Asian states as well. 

If India succeeds in capturing the economy of Pakistan, which it has already threatened through controlling waters, then resolution of Kashmir or no resolution of the disputes will be of zero value. This is not only the Indian dream, but also the Hillary Clinton weapon the western media is talking about. Pakistan must be aware of the deception wrapped in the "Asian Highway Network", and "South East Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation Transport". 








BRITISH upper lips are slightly less stiff as the details of the coalition government's emergency budget are digested.


Value-added tax, the equivalent of the GST, rises to 20 per cent, twice the Australian rate. Some family benefits and housing assistance are frozen as part of pound stg. 11 billion worth of welfare cuts. Only the lowest-paid public servants will receive wage rises and, thanks to sackings to come, close to half a million of them will not be paid at all. In total, Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to save pound stg. 80bn in an attempt to reduce debt and bring Britain back to matching outlays to income.


The Cameron cuts are savage, but the shortfall in government income that exists even in good times when tax income increases, meant they were inevitable. And the British know it. The howls in the House of Commons from the Labour benches rang hollow yesterday, because this is a crisis born of unsustainable public sector spending by the Blair and Brown governments, which primed the debt bomb before the global financial crisis. Long-growing government debt in Britain reached 70 per cent of GDP in March. Of course, spending cuts larger than those Margaret Thatcher pushed through in similar circumstances a generation ago are easier announced than introduced. But the British electorate appears to understand a welfare state that had long stopped being the contribution-based insurance system envisaged in World War II, could not expand indefinitely. While the French protest at the prospect of a two-year increase in the legal retirement age to 62, as opposed to 66 across the channel, the British will grumble and get on with it.


With the Gillard government promising a return to surplus in 2012-2013, the British crisis may seem remote. But boomtime complacency and a nonchalance towards growing recurrent expenditure are not vices peculiar to Britain. Australia, too, has a structural deficit, disguised by the profits of the minerals boom and neither side of politics has any interest in shrinking government. The challenge for Canberra is to end our dependence on temporary good fortune by reducing the state's share of the economy and encouraging the private sector to expand. Alternatively, we can keep spending and hope for the best -- but that is what the British did and look where it got them.







GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel's bleak conclusion that multiculturalism in her country -- the so-called multikulti of the sceptics -- has failed is hardly surprising.

But in proclaiming that failure she should make it clear that she not is talking about all 15 million foreigners, or those of foreign origin, living and working quite happily in Germany, but some of the 3.5 million Turks who have flooded into the country since the 1960s. Ms Merkel's despair at their failure to integrate goes beyond their simply not learning to speak German. Less than a third of Turks born in Germany have taken up citizenship, while 93 per cent marry within the Turkish community. Thirty per cent of students of Turkish origin do not have a school leaving certificate, while only 14 per cent pass their final secondary school examinations. Unemployment is high, with many living on government benefits.


It is a situation that reflects the growing friction over immigration seen elsewhere in Europe but which has until now not manifested itself in Germany. However, after the controversial assessment delivered in August by then Bundesbank director Thilo Sarrazin in his book Germany Abolishes Itself, Ms Merkel could hardly have done other than confront the issue of immigration. Mr Sarrazin caused a storm by saying a large number of Arabs and Turks had no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade. Polls suggest his controversial views have significant support. A study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has concluded nearly a third of respondents believe that foreigners abuse the welfare state and that immigrants might overrun the country.


Ms Merkel cannot avoid acknowledging the anti-immigrant mood, if only to stop tensions getting worse. But she should also point out the Turks are not entirely to blame. The German state has failed to encourage assimilation, expecting migrants to stay a while while working, and then go home. German bureaucracy has excluded them from some jobs. Ms Merkel is right to insist integration is a two-way street, which is the case in Germany as much as it is in Australia. Immigrants must accept the core values of the society in which they have chosen to live and become part of that society. Otherwise they will never have any real place in it and, instead, become the target of the sort of extremism that Ms Merkel is trying to tackle.








THE federal Water Minister, Tony Burke, has shown the courage and political skill which the public has come to expect of the Rudd and Gillard governments: at the first sign of serious opposition to the plan for the Murray-Darling Basin he has turned and fled.


Burke says he is ''determined to get a healthy river, protect our food production and keep strong rural communities''. Who could disagree? Unfortunately the nature of the problem means that however determined he is, he cannot do all three. And to the extent that he leaves things as they are, as it appears he may intend, he will achieve none. State governments have been doing that for decades and it has led to the present mess: water is overallocated; farming practices are unsustainable; the rivers are dying. There is no solution which will allow irrigated farming to continue at its present intensity, yet keep the rivers healthy. Change will come - either orderly through a rational policy or chaotic through environmental breakdown.


We know this because the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been given the job of finding a compromise between the competing interests fighting for the basin's resources. It has analysed the data and compiled preliminary findings. The word preliminary deserves emphasis. All that has been published is a guide to the process of achieving a draft, then a final plan. Those residents of affected towns who have been complaining so vociferously about not being consulted about the plan have done so at meetings convened by the authority in order to consult them. Certainly the authority may be criticised for a want of tact in the way it released its analysis of the basin's problems, but tact and political finesse are not its job. They ought to be the job of the Water Minister, but he has been too busy running away.


Critics of the guide and its preliminary findings claim the Water Act - the basis of the authority's power - is

flawed because it relies on an international environmental treaty for its validity; its primary concern is thus the environment, not farming or regional economies. That may be true, although it is also a salutary counterweight to decades of neglect of the regional environment.


Whatever the outcome of that debate, it remains true that the basin must be managed as one entity by a federal authority. The states have already shown they cannot manage the Murray-Darling.











EVEN for a country with a robust history of political and economic drama, the spending cuts in Britain that George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced on Wednesday were astonishing. To tame one of the world's highest deficits (£109 billion, or $177 billion) the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has embarked on cuts of £81 billion (almost $132 billion) over four years.


Few parts of Britain will be spared. The defence forces, the BBC and even investment in sporting prowess, as London prepares to stage the 2012 Olympics, will be hit. Perhaps the poor will feel the most pain, with savage cuts to welfare and social housing. And more pain will follow next year, when Britain's equivalent of the GST will rise from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent.


The ''savings'', as Osborne called the cuts, are the inevitable repercussion for the billions Britain spent bailing out indebted banks during the global financial crisis. More broadly, Britain is paying the price for a process that started under Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago when market forces were given their almost untrammelled head. By the turn of this century, a country whose economy once spun on making tangible goods for export to the world had become one where financial services ruled, and where ordinary Britons joined the speculation game by ramping up debt hedged against the soaring prices of their homes.



Britain was not alone, or even the worst offender here. Housing speculation largely brought the US economy to the brink of ruin. Australia and Canada were spared the worst consequences of similar follies, mainly by better-regulated banks and the luck of our resources bounty. But the ''Anglo-Saxon disease'', as the French sneeringly call the retreat from government intervention during the boom years, now faces a difficult cure.

Will Britain's remedy work? There is some irony that a Thatcherite approach of spending cuts (though on a scale more breathtaking even than in her day) is being employed as the chief weapon. Osborne argues the private sector will create jobs to fill those lost in the cuts, including 500,000 in the civil service. But will it? One consultancy reckons another half a million private jobs that depend on government contracts could also go: the other side of the ''trickle-down effect''.


Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economics laureate who recently praised Australia's handling of the global downturn, is pessimistic. Austerity of the sort on which Britain has embarked, he says, ''converts downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions''. Stiglitz is right at least in saying Britain h