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Monday, November 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.11.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 15, edition 000678 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




















  2. G20 TALK SHOW


  1. G20 OR G-NOWHERE?







































It is amazing that the Congress should feel so hesitant and reluctant to act against Union Telecom Minister A Raja who faces serious allegations of corruption. The CAG report on the manner in which the allocation of 2G spectrum was dealt with under his directions is an indictment of both the Minister and the UPA Government — presumably the principle of collective responsibility still exists, no matter in how emaciated a form. The details of the 2G scam are too well known to merit reiteration, nor is there any need to recall the many missed chances of the Prime Minister to call Mr Raja's bluff and restrain this wayward Minister. What is of import is the brazenness with which Congress leaders, including the Prime Minister, are defending Mr Raja and calling into question the motives of those who would like to see him dismissed from office and prosecuted for his lapses. It is absurd to suggest that the Opposition, especially the BJP, has hatched a conspiracy to stall the Winter Session of Parliament by using Mr Raja's sins of omission and commission as a cover. The job of the Opposition is not to bail out the Government when it is clearly in the wrong or to gloss over inconvenient facts simply because highlighting them would discomfit the Treasury benches. To expect the Opposition to meekly accept the Government's resolute defence of corruption would be expecting too much. Surely the Congress is aware of this. Yet, senior leaders of the party, instead of assuring the Opposition and the nation that action will be taken against Mr Raja have been robustly defending him; some have gone to the extent of baldly suggesting that the CAG's report is of no relevance and hence need not be taken note of. Worse, it has now come to light that the Solicitor-General, who is supposed to be above partisan politics, tried to browbeat the CBI and other agencies into changing their position vis-a-vis Mr Raja's culpability and bringing their views in tune with those of his defence counsel. That's both shameful and sufficient proof of the Government's inability to stand up to corrupt individuals occupying positions of power and authority. The shame is all the more because this Government is headed by a Prime Minister who makes a fetish of personal integrity and honesty.

It is facetious to suggest, as has been done by a spokesperson of the Congress, that the party has to be "mindful of upholding coalition dharma". That's absurd, not the least because dharma is about morals and scruples, of being righteous; it is definitely not about protecting the corrupt and defending their dubious actions. There is still time for the Congress to make amends and do the right thing. It should simply ask the Prime Minister to exercise his discretion and drop Mr Raja from the Union Cabinet. If the DMK finds that unpalatable or even unacceptable, the Congress should dare its ally to break ranks and walk out of the UPA. With Assembly election scheduled for the summer of next year in Tamil Nadu, Mr M Karunanidhi will think twice before breaking his party's alliance with the Congress. And even if he does, the Congress will be able to claim that it did the morally right thing, that it stood by the principle of probity in public life, that it did not tolerate corruption in the Government headed by the party. If the Congress fails to do so, then it will be as much to blame as the DMK. 







India may be a power that has 'risen' and is aiming for a permanent place in the United Nations Security Council, but the fact remains that it has to fix fundamental problems at home that threaten to rub the shine off its growing stature. It would be indeed disgraceful that a global leader — which India is seeking to be — should be struggling to control infant mortality and maternal deaths. According to a recent report of the Registrar General of India, nearly 14 lakh infants in the country died of five preventable causes in India during 2005 due to want of basic medical intervention. According to the study, these infants died of pneumonia, diarrhoea, premature birth and low birth weight, delivery infections and trauma and suffocation during the delivery process. Since most of these deaths occurred in rural regions, they underscore the need for policy-makers and officials to revisit the various projects that have been launched for women and child welfare. A recent United Nations report showed that India has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world, with more than 63,000 such deaths taking place in 2008 alone. Given this reality, it is futile to take solace in the fact that the country's maternal mortality rate has been contained from 570 deaths per 100,000 live births to 230. Lack of access to basic sanitation facilities to millions of people is another dark spot in the story of 'India Shining'. 

While the Government may claim that the country is all set to achieve the Millennium Development Goal Target 10 of reducing by half by 2015 the 1990 figures of those without access to basic sanitation like clean drinking water, the sad fact is that India is rated the world's second worst place for sanitation. The challenge here is not limited to rural areas — figures inform us the official coverage for rural sanitation is a mere 26 per cent or so — but also urban localities because rapid urbanisation has outstripped the facilities being created for the vast mass of people migrating to towns and cities. While urban coverage according to a study conducted a few years ago was a healthy 83 per cent, it did not take into consideration other sanitation factors such as access to toilets. And even if one takes these statistics at face value, the total sanitation coverage does not go beyond 50 per cent. Moreover, meeting the Millennium Development Goals is not an end by itself; even if these targets are met, more than 500 million people would still remain uncovered by basic sanitation facilities. So, what more should the Union and State Governments do to tackle these problems? For starters, officials have to ensure effective implementation of existing schemes. Coming up with new programmes and spending money unthinkingly is not quite the solution. The way out of the mess lies in implementation. 









The extent of corruption and bribery, which are major problems in our country, is well known all over the world. A study done by Transparency International in India sometime back found that more than 50 per cent of the people had firsthand experience of paying bribes or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. India has been ranked at 87 among the 178 most corrupt countries in the world with an integrity score of 3.3 out of 10 as against 3.5 in 2009.

Nothing moves in India without bribes being paid, a fact acknowledged even by the Supreme Court. About half of international business executives polled by Transparency International have said that corruption escalates project costs in India by at least 10 per cent — in some cases even more. Unchecked and uncontrolled, corruption has increased and spread farther — whether it be the Commonwealth Games, the 2G spectrum scandal or the Adarsh Cooperative Housing scam involving top Army brass. Those wanting to do business in India willingly or unwillingly have bribed Indians and jacked up prices. No businessman, whether an Indian or a foreigner, pays bribe unless he makes enough money out of the contract to pay for it. 

Take for instance a reported scam in which the CBI has found evidence that Rs 100 crore was allegedly paid as kickbacks by a Russian firm, Technopromexport, to secure a Rs 2,066 crore contract. The 2005 contract was for the supply of power equipment to NTPC's 1,980 MW supercritical thermal power project at Barh in Bihar. 

In another case, a chargesheet filed by the CBI on the basis of information furnished by the US authorities to the Government of India in response to a letter rogatory reveals that a senior Union Government official and his aides were given $32,000 in cash and jewellery as bribes and their travel and hotel expenses were also picked up by a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, to push its sub-standard pesticides in the Indian market.

The the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in a 'cease and desist' order to Dow Chemicals on February 13, 2007, charged the company with violations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for letting a subsidiary use funds for illegal activities in a foreign country. The order was passed after Dow Chemicals voluntarily approached SEC staff with the results of an internal investigation. The SEC had simultaneously filed a complaint in the district court of Columbia against Dow Chemicals, alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act. Dow Chemicals later agreed to pay a civil penalty of $ 325,000 which the SEC accepted.

In May this year, the Americans brought to the notice of the Prime Minister's Office the details of US-based firms that have paid bribes to officials in the Indian Navy, Railways, Maharashtra State Electricity Board and other Government agencies in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Anti-Corruption Enforcement Act for the second half of 2008 and early part of 2009. There are several references in the report to illegal payments having been made to officials in India.

This state of affairs has brought disrepute to our nation. Part of the problem lies with our Government. All over the world outmoded, outdated, obsolete and archaic laws on all subjects, including corruption, have been changed. But we continue to stick to them.

Such is the situation that no centralised list of cases of corruption all over the country is available. Nor is any information available on the time taken to deal with these cases or their disposal rate, except those handled by the CBI. According to available statistics, the CBI handles about 1,200 to 1,300 cases of corruption, most of them against Union Government employees, every year. 

Unrestrained corruption that is manifest in the various scams and scandals that keep on surfacing every few days is a sign of misgovernance. Cumbersome, exhausting procedures and rules are the causes of corruption; despite proclamations of zero tolerance towards corruption, these remain unchanged. 

The criminal justice system is so slothful in our country that complainants and witnesses lose interest in cases and at some point these fall apart or are shelved. For instance, if a person helps track down corrupt officials by laying a trap, his or her money is locked up for years together till the case is decided in the courts. This is done on the specious ground that the money used for entrapment is a part of the evidence in the case! In the process, the complainant faces double jeopardy: He is harassed by the system and his money is held up for years. All this for wanting to improve the quality of administration. Hence, few are willing to step forward to lodge complaints of corruption against officials. What adds to this reluctance is the absence of a whistle blower and witness protection laws. 

Strangely, the Government has no problems with spending Rs 70,000 crore on the scam-tainted Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in October, but it says there are no funds for improving the criminal justice system which would cost not even a third of the money spent on the 11- day extravaganza.

A report covering 2006-2007 shows that in the previous three years foodgrains worth Rs 31,500 crore were siphoned off from the public distribution system, turning it into a state-sponsored bonanza for black marketeers, corrupt babus, ration shop owners and others.

Of the eight north-eastern States there, wheat supplied to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam did not reach the targeted poor. Arunachal Pradesh can claim to be a little less corrupt as 96.2 per cent of its PDS wheat was diverted. Manipur topped the list with 97.7 per cent of its rice allocation being siphoned off, with Nagaland following close behind at 88.6 per cent of rice being diverted. 

In 2006-07, Rs 3,289.71 crore worth of rice and wheat was stolen in Uttar Pradesh. The corresponding figure for West Bengal was Rs 1,913.76 crore and for Madhya Pradesh it was Rs 1,038.69 crore. This is apart from letting foodgrains rot in Government godowns rather than give them to the poor.

Unless the Government wakes up and acts now, it may prove to be too late and we, as a society and a nation, will be consumed by the cancer of corruption. Ironically, the level and extent of corruption continue to jump from one high to another in a country whose people and politicians make a fetish of Mahatma Gandhi's principles of honesty and integrity in public life. Are we then to believe India has forsaken Gandhi?









With the passing of Siddhartha Shankar Ray contemporary Indian politics has lost yet another link with the 1950s when he, a dashing young barrister-at-law, was introduced to politics by West Bengal's stalwart Chief Minister BC Roy. Elected to the West Bengal Assembly in 1957, he was made Law Minister. The rest of his political life is too well-known to bear repetition. But not many know some other aspects of his life.

He used to play cricket for Kalighat, a first division club in Kolkata. Union Sporting, for which I played, shared the same ground at the Kolkata Maidan with it. Kalighat was a star-studded side and included P Sen, a former Test cricketer, and PB Dutt, a Cambridge Blue who played for Bengal and East Zone. One day, I had gone up to the Kalighat nets to see P Sen bat when a conversation started with Manu'da, as most people called Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Understandably, he did not recongise me and, on my telling him that he knew my parents, and me as a small child, exclaimed, "My god! And we are now playing cricket on the same ground!"

Manu'da played cricket, hockey and tennis well. If memory serves, he was a Calcutta University Blue in the first two. I played cricket against him in a match against Kalighat and in a couple of matches between present and past students of Presidency College, with him playing as an alumnus. He was a hard-hitting, albeit unorthodox, batsman and a good spinner who had a top arm action which made it difficult to read him as, thanks to the apologies of sight screens in Kolkata club grounds, the ball invariably seemed to emerge from tree tops, upper stories of houses or clouds. He had an effective top spin and good control over length and direction.

Thanks to my association with the Chhatra Parishad, the militant student arm of the West Bengal Congress, and involvement in Kolkata's turbulent student politics, I met him quite often in the years that followed. I was secretary of the Presidency College Students' Union's Debating Society when Manu'da resigned as Minister in 1958 protesting against corruption in the Government. We invited him to speak to the students and explain why he left. It was a huge gathering. Manu'da thundered and the students applauded. Atulya Ghosh, who ruled West Bengal Congress with an iron hand, was upset. Summoning me, he wanted to know why I had invited Manu'da. I did not tell him that I acted on my own initiative. Instead, I told him that I had invited Manu'da because I was secretary of the college's Debating Society representing not the Chhatra Parishad alone but a coalition that also included the students' organisations of the Praja Socialist Party and the Socialist Party. He was not terribly happy but let matters rest at that. As I was preparing to leave, he said, "He is a hot-headed, impulsive young man, but I am sure he will mature and return to us one day." That was precisely what happened several years later.

Manu'da's impulsiveness often made him drop bricks. His temper made enemies. But that also made him a very transparent person. He often blurted out whatever came to his mind and one always knew where one stood with him. He was, however, fortunate in having a remarkable woman as his wife. Maya'di, who survives him, is a gracious and attractive person and was a highly capable barrister-at-law when she practised. She was a major calming influence on him and outstanding in political damage control. Also, as Chief Minister of West Bengal, he had as his secretary, one of the finest IAS officers I have known, Bhaskar Ghose, who liaised with the various Ministries and departments with remarkable tact and competence.

All this, however, does not detract in any way from Ray's leadership qualities, dynamism and courage. He repeatedly showed during West Bengal's murderous years of political violence between 1967 and 1972 that he did not know fear. Also, though he might have been associated with the drafting of the Emergency proclamation, he wanted it to be very short and stood up resolutely to the coterie that ran it. Not surprisingly, a massive crowd accompanied his last journey in Kolkata. 








The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances entered into force on November 11, 1990. This international agreement sets out common standards of responsibility for the illegal drug trade and has become the basis for signatory nations' own anti-drug legislation.

Today, drug use is a recognised evil. Numerous countries suffer from this epidemic of drug addiction and, with its estimated worth of $10-$13 billion, the global narcotics market serves as a major source of revenue for organised crime. But this has not always been the case. Both drug addiction and the struggle against it changed a great deal on their way to becoming what we recognise today.

Opium trade: A gentleman's hobby

Drug use became a widespread phenomenon across Europe in the 19th century when Indian opium began to circulate in the United Kingdom. In France a similar phenomenon was taking shape involving hashish imported from its North African colonies.

Narcotic drugs were not inherently seen as taboo. In fact, Britain's East India Company was actively marketing Indian opium in China. There was no ignoring the harm this did the Chinese population, and the Chinese Government's attempts to thwart this trade led to two opium wars. The drug trade was at that point essentially state-controlled, and many high-profile aristocrats, including members of the royal family, profited greatly from this business.

The Opium Wars are one of the darkest episodes in Chinese history and modern Chinese anti-drug legislation is among the toughest in the world. At that time, Europeans believed opium to be a less dangerous "poison" than hard liquor. Unlike alcohol, opium was not subject to high duties which meant it was accessible for the majority of the population. It was even thought that small amounts of opium were harmless and could help people cope with everyday life.

Morphine and syringes only exacerbated the problem: Users could now inject drugs directly into their bloodstream. People believed that, unlike opium, morphine was not addictive. This fallacy was quickly dispelled once it became apparent that wounded soldiers suffered from morphine addiction following operations in which it was used as an anesthetic.

Some of today's high-profile drugs, such as cocaine and diacetylmorphine (more commonly known as heroin) first became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cocaine was first sold in the United States in 1885 and the first batch of heroin was sold in Germany in 1898. Cocaine was used as a powerful stimulant, almost like energy drinks are used today, and Germany's Bayer AG initially marketed heroin as a tranquiliser and anesthetic.

The dragon breaks free

By this point most specialists had realised that drug use did in fact lead to both mental and physical addiction. Mental addiction is a state where addicts need their hit to feel that sense of euphoria while people suffering from physical addiction experience a period of "cold turkey" or withdrawal during any prolonged period of abstinence from the drug. The non-medical use of narcotics and consequently their legal circulation have been steadily restricted since the early twentieth century.

But a parallel process was underway: New, synthetic, drugs were starting to be produced. These included artificial mescaline (a substance also naturally present in the Mexican cactus), amphetamines and LSD, all of which were widely used in many countries' Armies during World War II. They were primarily used as stimulants by military pilots, commandos and other sections of the armed forces, something that continued through to the 1970s.

Widespread amphetamine use led to a veritable addiction epidemic and an explosion in criminal activity: From the illegal drugs trade to robberies and murders committed by cash-strapped addicts desperate for their next hit. When amphetamine production fell, heroin consumption increased to compensate, analysts explain. Since the 1950s and the 1960s, heroin occupied an unassailable position as the 'king of drugs', especially in Europe and Asia. The Golden Triangle, an area spanning the mountains of Burma, Laos, and Thailand that essentially lay outside the control of any Government, accounted for the bulk of opium-poppy and heroin production.

The drug trade developed into a slick illegal industry encompassing the entire world. The growth of opium-poppies and the production, transportation and sale of heroin were facilitated by the close cooperation of major crime rings, particularly the Asian Triads and the Italian Mafia.

Secret service chiefs also became increasingly interested in this murky trade because its proceeds were clearly the best way of financing a wide range of covert operations. Notably, revenue generated from heroin sales made it possible to fund US arms shipments to the mujahideen at the beginning of the 1979-1989 Afghan War. After the Soviet Army withdrew in 1989, Afghanistan replaced the Golden Triangle as the world's largest drugs plantation: Opium poppies from this area are currently used to make 90 per cent of the world's heroin.

A disease of our globalised world

Any attempt to understand how, by the early 21st century, drug addiction had become a global calamity and the illegal drug trade — a highly profitable and resilient business should focus on two main causes. First, there is the undisputed process of globalisation. The technological revolution of the 20th century enabled communications to expand on a previously unheard-of scale, bringing remote countries and regions closer together than ever before and reducing transport costs. Chemical breakthroughs facilitated enhanced drug production capacity, pushing prices for the final product down despite whatever bans may be in place.

The second reason is related to the fundamental principles of how human society functions. Increased stress and negative psychological pressure on individuals combined with a desire to escape the tedium of reality form the main reasons behind this rise in drug addiction. There are, in addition, numerous other factors from longstanding traditions to the desire to set oneself apart from the crowd.

Drug use is an excellent indicator by which to assess the affluence and mood of a society, as it tends to increase when stability, reasonable employment, education and leisure opportunities are lacking. These days hard drugs are banned everywhere, but the punishments meted out are not uniform: Some countries hang people found with a quantity of heroin on them, while others focus on punishing the drug dealers. The attitude toward soft drugs (chiefly marijuana) also varies country to country. 

Some places have already legalized marijuana: The Netherlands was the first country to decriminalize it in 1972 and today it is sold openly at cafes nationwide. It was once thought that decriminalizing soft drugs would make hard drugs less popular, and that drug-related crime rates would fall. Analysts still disagree over the lessons to be learned from the Dutch experience. 

The writer is a Moscow-based strategic affairs expert. 







Unperturbed by increasing social turbulence, the political class in West Bengal is unlikely to opt for radical reforms that are necessary to mobilise resources for development

The abrupt change from political stability to unending turbulence since 2006 has revealed that there is little that is well in West Bengal. The state of its finances is precarious; its governance is poor; its infrastructure including Government institutions are ticking but qualitatively there have been modest if not imperceptible improvements. 

The low equilibrium to which the State has grown accustomed is because it is indebted, its tax revenue is low, its capacity to spend on "development" is seriously impaired and the political and administrative apparatus has been busier "managing illegalities" such as hawkers, autorickshaws, suppliers and contractors, services than figuring out what will make the state rich and its people prosperous. A recent study reveals that the State with an outstanding debt of `1,55,813 crore as on March 31, 2010 servicing which consumes almost 30 per cent of its earnings has very little left over for development. 

A recent article by an economist Debabrata Datta in the Economic & Political Weekly concludes that West Bengal is in a "vicious circle of low-level equilibrium trap". His recommendation is "Radical tax and expenditure reforms are warranted;" his fear is that "given the low consumption level of the State and also its ideological leaning, how far such attempts will succeed is anybody's guess".

Recommendations by earnest economists are unlikely to have the effect of galvanising the political class, which includes the CPI(M) as well as the Trinamool Congress, to spare time from the war of attrition in which they are engaged to pause and consider what the future holds. Winners and losers will have to deal with West Bengal's fate that according to Datta has reached a peculiar impasse of low tax revenue and low consumption. In other words, West Bengal, despite the prosperity of some of its citizens, located mostly in Kolkata, is poor and the life of its citizens is nasty and brutish. 

The way out of the trap as suggested by Datta is radical tax reforms that nets in all those "managed illegalities" and a political class that understands the imperative of industrialisation at a breathless pace to create the buoyancy required to boost revenue. That is unlikely to happen. 

For the response of the State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta to questions raised by the Trinamool Congress's Partha Chattopadhyaya is that Rs 4,833 crore, due on account of coal cess, is being withheld by the Centre. Mr Dasgupta has described it as a temporary problem. The matter seems to have settled to one more instance of the CPI(M)'s mismanagement rather than a crisis of the system that is endemic. The political focus is so narrow that it has enabled illegalities to flourish and revenue collections to remain abysmally poor. The priority of the CPI(M) is to stay in power; that of the Trinamool Congress is in finding slogans that will oust the CPI(M). 

Therefore on a day of financial crisis, the CPI(M) charged the Trinamool Congress of conspiring with the Maoists the outcome of which was a new coinage — "jallad bahini" (cadre of hangmen). The immediate provocation for a fresh round of name calling was the identification of one Kanchan Deb Singha as a Maoist who was riding in the same vehicle as the Garbeta Trinamool Congress block president Nepal Singha. It also coincided with a Trinamool Congress mob freeing 12 arrested men in response to an agitation spearheaded by Tamluk Member of Parliament Subhendu Adhikari. 

Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress has converted its hugely successful description of the CPI(M)'s entirely illegal armed militia of 'Harmad Bahini' into a mock job recruitment drive. In posters that have begun springing up in odd corners, advertising job vacancies for the recruit of 'Harmad' with skills in bomb making, firearm use and crating mayhem, the Trinamool Congress is underscoring the connection between the CPI(M) and illegal operations. Job applicants are advised to seek out Land Revenue Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah at the CPI(M)'s headquarters at Alimuddin Street. 

The competition for political dominance is such that all other concerns are getting pushed to the back burner, including an economic crisis that the Trinamool Congress believes should be dealt with as an economic emergency. In other words, the crisis, which according to one analysis, is caused by an accumulation of acts of omission and commission, can be dealt with as an "emergency". What will happen thereafter, what resuscitation measures will follow or are best applied are not matters on which the political class seems to have considered.

It is almost as though a poor West Bengal is a politically sounder proposition for the political class than a prosperous West Bengal where citizens expect a better quality of Government administered services, infrastructure and governance. Perhaps because expectations are low, the political class is exposed to much lower levels of risk as compared to political leaders of all parties in for instance Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, where more growth brings in its wake more scams. 






US President Barack Obama's oration and the peroration in his speech to Parliament and a joint statement issued after the completion of his visit provide enough indications to substantiate that in spite of all the noises made by him and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India's basic security concerns will continue to occupy the central place in India's own strategic priorities. The priority area of India's strategic concern continues to remain the prevailing situation in South Asia, especially the bilateral relationship with Pakistan, the developing situation in Afghanistan, and the role China decides to play in South Asia.

Mr Obama sermonised on November 7, 2010, that these should be 'détente' in South Asia and he clearly stated that '….India has biggest stake in ensuring a secure, stable Pakistan'. Mr Obama further clearly articulated that American position on India and Pakistan would only be that of 'a friend and partner'. And it was '… for the two countries to arrive at their own understanding in terms of how the relationship evolves' Mr Obama has put the ball in India's court by stating that 'it is in your interest that at a time when you are starting to succeed in incredible ways on the global economic stage that you want security and stability in your region'. 

It is simplistic to accept that Americans have been unaware of Pakistan's state policy of 'exporting terrorist attack' to India, especially after the attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Further, David Headley must have given a lot of information to the Americans about the direct involvement of the Pakistani state apparatus in promoting 'terror attacks' against India. There can be only two plausible explanations for America's incapacity or unwillingness to pressurise Pakistan to abandon its policy of 'export of terrorism'. First, America is deeply involved in containing and defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda armed groups in Afghanistan and in the pursuit of this war in Afghanistan, American and Nato forces require full support from Pakistan. Mr Manmohan Singh may claim 'special friendship' with Mr Obama or Indians may like to live in a make-belief world of 'special strategic partnership' with America, the reality is war in Afghanistan cannot be fought without the full support of Pakistan and Pakistani leadership is not stupid enough not to reap rich dividends from America. 

Mr Obama's predecessor, Mr George W Bush in his memoir Decision Days admits that Americans were taken for a ride by the duplicity of General Pervez Musharraf, the former head of the Pakistani military regime. Mr Obama's generous statements in Delhi might have pleased the already converted 'friend' Mr Manmohan Singh, the ground reality has not changed. India's anxieties about the disturbed situation in the South-Asian region have not and cannot be addressed by Mr Obama. It is essential to refer here that with the emergence of the Republicans in the recent mid-term elections, Obama Administration will be forced to continue the war in Afghanistan; and longer the war continues, greater would be the dependence of the American and Nato forces on Pakistan. The Pakistani Army, the real epicentre of power in Pakistan, has always militarily strengthened itself with the assistance of the US, while the Americans were engaged in war in Afghanistan — be it with the erstwhile Soviet Russia or the Taliban and Al Qaeda. 

The American shadow over India and Pakistan has impacted the bilateral relationships between these two countries irrespective of the changes in American politics. Since Pakistan was a military ally of America during the Cold War days, the Americans had directly intervened in the Kashmir dispute in support of Pakistan and helped Pakistan fight the war against India supplying American war machines. 

The end of Cold War has not brought back normalcy in India-Pakistan bilateral relationship because American shadow still hovers over the region and Pakistan has now become a strategic base for America's war in Afghanistan. Mr Obama may proclaim that bilateral disputes between these two countries have to be resolved by them alone, the reality is that America had haunted and continues to haunt the India-Pakistan relationship over the Kashmir dispute. As long as war in Afghanistan continues, Pakistan has no compulsion to change its approach towards India. 

Thus, Mr Obama's visit to India has not brought any relief to Indians either on the issues of export of terrorism or the Kashmir dispute, except some empty phrases. Further, Mr Obama's rhetoric for a need for 'détente in South Asia' fails to grapple with the reality of China-India-Pakistan relationship. It is a well-known fact that America's clout over China is on the decline and the US itself is engaged in resolving difficult problems with rising China, ready to disturb its apple cart in South China sea and the regional balance of power. It is not without reason that Mr Obama did not come out openly on issues concerning China which have a direct bearing on 'détente in South Asia'. 

The regional strategic problems of South Asia demand a careful agenda by India, Pakistan and China and America has no role to play in the resolution of either bilateral relations or in making South Asia a zone of peace. Rather, America's shadow over the South Asia region has always vitiated the atmosphere and Mr Obama has also failed to improve the climate of peace in and around India. It is for Indians to fight their own battles and define their own goals. 








For all the attention it got in the media, the issue is not whether former Haryana police chief S P S Rathore, who has been convicted for molesting teenager Ruchika Girhotra, should have come out of the jail with a smile on his face. It is not even whether the 69-year-old convict deserved to be granted bail in that case. Since he served almost a third of his 18-month sentence, it might seem fair on the part of the Supreme Court to have granted bail to Rathore while his appeal is pending. What is disquieting, however, is the Supreme Court's failure to question the CBI's brazen U-turn on the three other cases booked by it last December against Rathore, following the public outrage over the six-month sentence he had originally got on the molestation charge. 

After all, less than a month ago, CBI's counsel had opposed bail to Rathore on the ground that it would be detrimental to the investigation into those three FIRs directly related to the molestation case. But in the subsequent hearing, which took place last week, CBI said that just the previous day it had filed closure reports in two of the three FIRs and that it would have done the same with the remaining case too but for a stay from the Punjab and Haryana high court. Such a dramatic turnaround should have given the judges a cause to pause, especially because of the so-called premier investigating agency's notorious susceptibility to extraneous considerations. 

Such controversies though have been more in the context of CBI cases allegedly engineered by the ruling party at the Centre (whether Congress or BJP) to frame political rivals. The manipulations seen in the Ruchika case are part of the relatively less noticed trend of CBI officers abusing their authority to shield members of the police brethren. Another current example of this kind is the blatant manner in which the CBI is trying to vindicate the specious honour killing theory given out by a senior Uttar Pradesh police officer in the Aarushi Talwar case. The Supreme Court has already held the agency accountable for the scurrilous media stories designed to save IGP Gurdarshan Singh from the charge of maligning the murdered girl. 

There is much that the apex court could have, similarly, questioned the CBI in the context of the Ruchika case about the collapse of the three additional FIRs booked by it against Rathore and other officials. Whether Rathore still wields so much clout or not, there is enough reason to see it as part of a pattern of impunity in cases involving police officers.







Even by the standards of Air India's creaky performance over the past few years, its move to the new Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport has been disastrous. Preparations on the ground have been entirely lacking for a shift of such scale, the management has been inept, more than half the flights have been delayed and thousands of passengers have been inconvenienced. All this at an airport that was to be the core component of a new hub and spoke model. But it is not a model that will succeed if AI continues to operate at this level of efficiency. 

This latest mess points to a deeper malaise. The management demonstrated a comprehensive lack of planning in overlooking its shortage of both crew and ground staff and increasing the number of flights per week substantially; worse, it did so at the same time as the shift to 
T3, increasing the strain even more. And in all this, civil aviation minister Praful Patel is nowhere to be seen, sidestepping accountability. The airline now finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. If it is to continue to function it will have to push for more government dole to service its massive loans, with no end in sight. It is a burden that taxpayers have had to bear with the second instalment of a Rs 2,000 crore infusion coming up. But it makes little sense to continue down this path, given the difficulty of turning things around as long as AI remains a moribund state enterprise. The only financially rational option left is to pull the plug and privatise the airline.








To write about other aspects of India's foreign policy in the wake of US President Barack Obama's visit may appear odd. But India has undoubtedly become a favoured destination for many world leaders with positive perceptions about its role in global affairs as it moves ahead economically. India still faces serious challenges in its relations with some countries. In this context, it is heartening that China's Premier Wen Jiabao is likely to visit before the end of the year. 

India's economic success, despite our inability to wipe out large-scale poverty, is a clear driver of the interest the world is showing. Newsweekmagazine recently came out with an assessment of different countries, in which India was ranked third for economic dynamism among low-income countries. It also ranked different world leaders against various criteria. Manmohan Singh was ranked highest as the leader other leaders love. The reasons for this distinction were that "the Prime Minister, a sophisticated former economist, played the key role in India's emergence as a world power, engineering the transition from stagnant socialism to go-go capitalism". Highlighting our prime minister's unassuming personal style "that really inspires awe among his fellow global luminaries", praise was also forthcoming on his being "modest, humble and incorruptible". 

Singh has been uniquely successful in international relations, quite apart from leading India's economic transition. India's recent success in the international arena includes the nuclear deal with the US, a major strategic landmark. The growing warmth between India and the countries to the east is also an important strategic shift which would suit this country's long-term interests. 

However, it is now time for India to fully realise and accept its position as a major player globally. Our relations with neighbours need urgent and concentrated action. Pakistan remains a dominant fixation in our foreign policy, but we have not yet come to grips with initiatives by which we can mend fences with our most important neighbour. India- 

Pakistan tensions continue to sap the energy of the South Asian region as a whole and remain a major drag on closer cooperation within SAARC

A change is long overdue, given that India was partitioned over 63 years ago. A generation has gone by while old animosities and prejudices have not. We still tend to view Pakistan in the light in which it existed 20 years ago. Our concerns about terrorism in that country and the dangers it holds for us are genuine and founded on reality. However, that is not Pakistan in its entirety. A large section of its population fervently seeks peace with India, particularly now that Pakistanis see themselves as victims of terrorist threats. 

Symptoms of change in Pakistan are very clear, including in the media. A respected former sports official from Pakistan who attended theCommonwealth Games praised India effusively for the conduct of the Games and was obviously moved by the noticeably enthusiastic applause the Pakistani contingent received during the opening ceremony. Pakistani newspapers reported this, which would not have happened a few years ago. They now carry a substantial amount of news about Bollywood stars and their lives in a departure from past practice. Discussions with senior officials in Pakistan now reveal a deep longing for peace and security. 

Born on soil now part of Pakistan, Prime Minister Singh has a unique opportunity to show boldness and resolve in mending fences with our neighbour. The extent of pride displayed by residents of the village Gah in district Chakwal, Singh's birthplace, perhaps far exceeds pride manifested in villages where Pakistan's own leaders were born. 

On September 26 each year, Gah rejoices and celebrates Singh's birthday. This year was an exception because only two days earlier, his classmate from school, Raja Mohammad Ali, expired and the villagers were in mourning. A visit by our prime minister to this village purely on personal grounds would be a gesture that would stir sentiments of friendship in Pakistan. The opposition cannot fault this, given Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bold initiative to travel to Lahore

Normal relations with Pakistan are imperative because India can never achieve its place in the world if its neighbourhood remains troubled and prone to meddling by outside powers. Singh has a unique window of opportunity for bold and timely action that future generations on the subcontinent would remember and be grateful for. If Great Britain and Northern Ireland can end decades of hostility and terrorism, there is no reason why India and Pakistan cannot live as friendly and peaceful neighbours. 

Europe has provided a unique example of nations that have fought each other for centuries but are now bound together as a political and economic entity - the European Union. There is no reason why South Asia could not emerge at least as an economically integrated entity which would have lasting benefits for the hundreds of millions of the poor in this part of the world. India would then attain its full potential on the global stage. 

If major strategic interests are to guide our external relations in the remaining years of the UPA government, a determined initiative by Singh to improve relations with Pakistan acquires overwhelming priority. A personal visit to Gah very early could transform attitudes across the border. 

The writer is director-general, The Energy & Resources Institute, and chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC).








Even with its serene beaches and backwaters, virgin forests, misty hills and calm countryside, Kerala had for long remained a low-profile destination. The God's Own Country has now shrugged off that tag to climb to the top on India's tourism map. The success is not because of the beaches and backwaters alone, Kerala has become intellectually appealing to international and domestic visitors, V Venu , state tourism secretary, tells Faizal Khan : 

How did Kerala become the most-preferred tourist destination in 
India in such a short time? 
Though there was no leadership position earlier, we were aggressive in marketing Kerala globally. It is all coming together now. There are several things we did right. First, we moved away from conventional marketing and positioned the brand at a more sophisticated level. Secondly, we worked in absolute tandem with the tourism industry in the state. The 
Kerala Tourism and the industry have taken as top priority the need to improve the visitor's experience. We have trained service providers, from home-stays to skilled employees of hotels to taxi drivers to government staff. 

What were the measures taken by tourism department to expand the destination profile of Kerala? 
The most important step was positioning the state in terms of the attributes of the brand. This is where Kerala Tourism got it right. We have moved away from plain vanilla advertising to tell the potential traveller a story about the experiences of visitors like an Italian who came to Kerala and decided to stay back to learn 'kalaripayattu' (a martial art). So rather than saying 'we have wonderful backwaters, please come and see' or 'come, we have our beautiful Munnar', we have adopted an approach in the last few years that appeals to the higher sense of a person. We have positioned the state as a destination where the common man of Kerala plays an uncommon role as the brand ambassador. 

What is the role of private entrepreneurs in this success story? 

Of the total room inventory in Kerala, about 80 per cent is in the hands of small and home-grown entrepreneurs. The houseboat in the backwaters is a good example. We have about 400 houseboats and the biggest houseboat company owns only 10 boats. Ninety per cent of them are single- or double-boat owners. The private sector in Kerala's tourism industry is way ahead in marketing, service, operations and professionalism. 

What about public-private participation? 

The best working model of public-private participation in tourism is in Kerala. The most shining example is Kerala Travel Mart, a buyer-seller biannual event in Kochi in the third week of September. The mart is run by the private sector. The state government plays a supporting role. The government consults the private partners for promoting the state in domestic and international market through events like roadshows and tourism fairs. The government believes that the private sector knows about business more than the government. 
How do you plan to keep the new status of Kerala in tourism? 


Our new ad film for a global publicity campaign, titled 'Your Moment is Waiting', had its world premiere in London in September. Through this commercial, we show why Kerala gets 35 per cent repeat clients when the globally accepted figure for a destination to be made is 20 per cent. Kovalam and Thiruvananthapuram are presently hosting the Hay literary festival. The festival authorities wanted to bring it to India and Kerala was the natural choice. The 'Hay by the Beach' festival in Kerala will be an annual event.






With winter rapidly setting in, it is that time of the year when the flu bug is on the prowl. Runny noses, watery eyes, heavy heads and incessant coughing await its unsuspecting victims. Indeed, flu blues are to winter what pretty young things are to flamboyant Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Nonetheless, recent years have witnessed the rise of modern-day medical crusaders who are determined to eradicate common cold from the face of the earth. 

Recent developments in this regard include an experimental pill, silver-tipped yogurt bacteria inimical to flu viruses, and the discovery of a vital biological mechanism that will help boost the body's natural defences to common cold. The race for a cure isn't surprising. The monetary benefits that lie in store for those who crack the code will make every day seem like Diwali. But before that happens, we need to ask ourselves: Do we really want a cure for common flu? 

Imagine the implications. Future generations will be completely ignorant of the bliss that flu brings. Children won't be able to bunk school citing a sore throat or a slight temperature. No more spending leisurely school-day afternoons snuggled in bed with comic books or watching cartoons while mummy dear serves up delectable treats. No more being pampered by siblings who are willing to relinquish their TV-watching rights to you. No more being fussed over by grandparents with their armoury of traditional cures, ranging from cardamom tea to warm milk with turmeric and tulsi. 

For grown-ups, the flu is the next best thing to sliced bread. The irony is no healthy person wants to get the sniffles, but when one does get them, it is the best ailment one could ask for. A few days away from work does more for the mind, body and soul than a hundred company-sponsored motivational workshops. 

To the pharmaceutical industry, we are nothing but pill-popping junkies. We put our faith in doctors to heal us, doctors prescribe drugs, and pharma companies arrange for the plum doctors' conventions while raking in the money. Conflict of interest anyone? Combined with the fact that there is no dearth of people who like to pretend they know more about medicine than those who slog for years in medical colleges - let's admit it, we have all played the role of the family physician - we have a situation where people don't think twice before taking recourse to self-medication. 

Given our pill-popping ways, should we really be surprised by the discovery of the latest superbug? Apart from being a mouthful, the New-Delhi-metallo-beta-lactamase is one tough cookie and needs an arsenal of antibiotics to keep it down. In such a scenario, hunting for a cure for common cold should be the last thing on our agenda. We need to realise that we are products of evolution. Falling sick and getting better is very much a part of the evolutionary process. This does not mean that we turn our back on modern medicine - with all due respect to the practitioners of faith healing, reiki andvoodoo. But popping antibiotics when we get a mild cold is taking things a bit too far. We desperately need a national antibiotic policy to prevent superbugs from running riot. 

The best way to kick our pill-popping habit is to live the good life. We should go out there and not be afraid to indulge in a reasonable amount of debauchery - dodgy golgappas, dubious kachoris, iffy bhel puris and toxic jalebis. Sure, we might pick up a few bugs here and there. But in the long run it will do more to build up our immunity than any 
Vitamin C pills we might take. The worst that could happen is a few relaxing days in bed. Not a bad deal, isn't it?








Myanmar's generals are nothing if not manipulative and sharp. This explains why they timed the elections, which of course, the army won hands down, days before the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi came to an end. She has been released, but the generals are safely in power and there is not much she can do to unseat them for quite a while to come, if at all.


India has held its counsel on developments in Myanmar, despite a rap on the knuckles from President Barack Obama. While India has always expressed its support for democracy, it has followed the southeast Asian policy of constructive engagement with the regime much as the US as done with undemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and military regimes in Pakistan. India's geopolitical considerations are slightly different from those on the Washington beltway given that it shares a 1,600-km border with Myanmar. The generals have been more than accommodative of India's concerns on counter-terror cooperation and border management. New Delhi sees Myanmar as a bridge to southeast Asia, consistent with the UPA government's Look East policy. Foreign policy pragmatists in India don't feel that the promotion of democracy can be a consistent pillar of policy for any nation, and India is no exception. There are restive minorities on both sides of the border with Myanmar and long-standing insurgencies that India wants to contain on its side. For this, security cooperation with Yangon is vital. India also wants transport corridors from its volatile northeast to some of Myanmar's cities. It has recently asked for a transport corridor to the northeast through Myanmar and for shipping routes from Kolkata to Sittwe port from where goods can move overland to Mizoram. Indian companies have substantial stakes in Myanmar's rich oil and gas fields and in its abundant natural resources.


The theory that we have to engage with those in power, irrespective of their democratic credentials has worked for western powers who are quick to preach a different set of rules to us. While New Delhi is chary of China's growing influence in Myanmar, it has not made an issue of it. Instead, it has actually explored the possibility of joint ventures with China in Myanmar, a smart bit of foreign policy thinking on the part of both countries. The recent upheavals in Myanmar and the refugee crisis have underscored the need for both China and India to ensure that there is stability in that country. The release of Ms Suu Kyi could be a sign that the military is now toying with the possibility of easing restrictions in the country, something that will hopefully be a harbinger of democracy in the future.







Can a politician ever be publicity shy? That's not the nature of their trade, so most are not. In fact, most Indian politicians will do anything to stay in the limelight, way past their ballot life. So, naturally we are a bit puzzled with new Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's odd behaviour after he set foot in the city of dreams. According to a news report, the aerospace engineer-turned-politician has asked the Mumbai municipal commissioner to remove all posters and banners depicting him and his great rise in the political firmament thanks to the Adarsh saga, after he found that larger-than-life cutouts of himself were destroying the Mumbaiscape.


Though we are glad that politicians themselves, at least one of them, has decided to cut himself down to size, we are still not used to such down-to-earth acts. From past leaders to our present day netas, they never go away from our lives; we are so used to them towering over us from vantage positions that without them, we feel a bit lost. The posters and banners  are also good as view-cutters; minus the colourful montage, we would be seeing the dilapidated underbelly of our cities.


However, on second thoughts and given our preference for conspiracy theories, we wonder whether all this is actually true. While some of us are singing hosannas to Mr Chavan, we are forgetting that there's a subtle way of staying in the news even while staying out of it. So by saying no to posters and banners, he surprises us and gets publicity. This editorial is confirmation of that fact, isn't it?








The Central and State Electricity Regulatory Commissions were set up under the Electricity Act 2003 with the objective of protecting the consumers, introducing competition and facilitating the orderly growth of the power sector. They have singularly failed in achieving any of these objectives. Prices have shot through the roof, competition is conspicuous by its absence and the endemic power shortages have only increased. Losses of utilities have risen sharply to about R60,000 crore per annum (over 1% of GDP), signalling a widespread sickness across the sector. The power sector in India seems more fragile than ever before.


The regulators seem to have been captured by entrenched interests which include a new breed of traders and merchant power producers who are being allowed to sell large volumes of electricity at prices unknown to the civilised world. Their bulk prices range between an average of Rs5-6 per unit and the only buyers are the state-owned utilities. After accounting for transmission losses and other expenses, the cost of supply to consumers exceeds Rs8 per unit. Yet they supply to bulk consumers at regulated tariffs of about R4 per unit even though the law does not allow the regulators to fix tariffs for bulk consumers who are expected to buy at market prices, as is also the practice in the developed world. However, the regulators have been subsidising the bulk consumers at the taxpayers expense. Predictably, the losses of utilities have mounted rapidly.


Why is the power sector lagging behind when virtually all other sectors of the economy seem to be faring much better? The short answer is the monopoly in supply of electricity to consumers who must only buy from their area distribution company. Though the Electricity Act gives consumers the right to buy from competing suppliers while continuing to use the network of their distribution company — just as the voice from an Airtel or Vodaphone telephone can reach you through your BSNL land-line — the monopoly utilities and regulators have virtually conspired to keep competition at bay. In London, for example, a household can choose from among 12 competing suppliers of electricity, all of whom use the existing distribution network for their supply. Thanks to the regulators, this still appears a pipedream for India, despite the mandatory provisions of law and a lag of two decades compared to the UK.


The monopoly in distribution of electricity has been difficult to challenge. It benefits thousands of utility employees who lord it over their captive consumers — the same way your telephone linesman did when he represented a monopoly. The local politicians benefit too as they share this patronage. Then there is the large-scale pilferage of electricity, running into several thousand crores of rupees, which creates a huge vested interest. In addition, there are lucrative contracts to be awarded for the expansion and operation of this system. All this adds up to quite a heady mix for those in control. Understandably, they wouldn't want to let go of their monopoly.


The State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) were expected to clear all this mess by introducing competition, but none of them have risen to the occasion. They simply eat out of the hands of the utilities and the entrenched interests. They also seem to lack the will and the professional skills to walk the change. For they are usually retired bureaucrats upon whom these sinecures are bestowed for services rendered.


The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has outdone the SERCs. Its statutory duty is to protect the consumers of one state from exploitation by suppliers and traders of other states. Acting quite the opposite, the Commission has virtually legitimised the inter-state sale of electricity at prices often exceeding three times the production cost — all in the name of trading, which is evidently unlawful, and also anti-social if the interest of society is the yardstick.


The CERC has a duty to fix the trading margin for inter-state trade of electricity so that the consumers of importing states are not exploited. Though it fixed a margin of 4 paise0 per unit, it allowed traders to subvert this arrangement with impunity. Traders can evade this regulated margin by buying at unregulated prices within one state and then selling in another state through another inter-state trader who will only charge the regulated margin. Thus CERC pretends that it is enforcing an inter-state trading margin of 4 paise even though a preceding transaction in the same chain may have extracted a profit of R3 per unit. This loophole has been created by none other than the CERC. The trading regulations earlier prohibited a sale from one trader to another, obviously aimed against manipulation of prices. But the CERC amended this rule to allow trader-to-trader sales, thus facilitating unchecked rent seeking. A regulator that has virtually enabled profiteering of over R50,000 crore over the past three years can hardly carry conviction as an institution that has consumer interests at heart.


The regulatory commissions have failed so miserably because of two fundamental reasons: (a) a selection process that enables the appointment of favourites, howsoever incompetent and lacking in commitment, and (b) lack of accountability — the regulators are neither accountable to the government nor to the respective legislatures.


The unchecked loot that is going on in the electricity sector militates against any notion of economic regulation and good governance. Though India has created the most elaborate regulatory structure for electricity, it is nevertheless facing a regulatory capture. Whichever way you look at it, the matter is far too serious to be left to the regulators. It deserves attention at the highest levels in the government.


Gajendra Haldea drafted the Electricity Act, 2003. The views expressed by the author are personal.







Indian politicians may have their faults, but they have generally observed an unwritten code of conduct. Even while attacking each other, there has been aLakshman Rekha that has never been crossed. And those who have tried to cross it have been rapped on the knuckles and their allegations treated with the contempt they deserve.


It is in this context that one has to view the ridiculous statement made by former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak, KS Sudarshan on the Congress president and UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. No one in his senses would make such charges which are reprehensible and libellous. Especially, a person who headed the RSS, which claims to be a cultural outfit sworn to the promotion of Bhartiyata.


In fact, Sudarshan's attack on Sonia is not only against Indian culture but provides a clue as to why he had to be removed as the head of his organisation before his time. There are also those who believe that Sudarshan's removal was the outcome of a conspiracy by his detractors who blackmailed him over his alleged relationship with a woman. But these are contemptible allegations.


In stating that Indira Gandhi was responsible for the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sonia Gandhi had a hand in the assassinations of her mother-in-law and husband, Sudarshan has really lowered the bar for the RSS. It is inspiration from his ilk that has led to the current BJP president Nitin Gadkari making unparliamentary references to many contemporary politicians only to withdraw them later.


If Sudarshan's attack was meant to counter the Congress attack on the RSS for its alleged involvement in some terrorist strikes in the country, it shows the bankruptcy of intelligence in the Sangh leadership. No wonder, that even the RSS was embarrassed by his 'bordering on insanity' remarks and BJP leaders, including Sushma Swaraj who is very close to him, distanced themselves from such allegations.


Equally condemnable is the abusive reference to Rahul Gandhi by a small-time BJP leader in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday in the presence of the state BJP chief. There is a strong case for the RSS to take lessons in Indian culture and etiquette before assuming th e high moral ground. It is true that the RSS has also done commendable work during natural calamities and when the country was at war. But this does not give it license to slander others.


The RSS has been accused of several diabolic things in the past. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh co-founder Balraj Madhok in his book has claimed that former Jana Sangh ideologue and president Deendayal Upadhyaya was murdered at the behest of Atal Behari Vajpayee and the late Nanaji Deshmukh. But the Congress refused to make this an election issue subsequently. The Congress did not even react when Delhi strongman and former deputy mayor Balraj Khanna fell to his death from the top of the Organiser/Motherland office in the mid-seventies. The allegation was that he was pushed by a senior RSS functionary.


Form and propriety are important in public life. Some years ago, unproven allegations of a personal nature were doing the rounds against a key Congress politician. The case was listed in the Supreme Court but even the media restrained itself from doing a story since it had no relation to his being in public life and also since the charges were totally unsubstantiated.


The RSS must realise that if it has to grow in the 21st century, it must jettison this sort of bigotry. Its leadership should broaden its worldview and learn to distinguish between fact and fiction. In other parties too, people occupying responsible positions should weigh their words carefully. Though the RSS has expressed its regret over these utterances, Sudarshan owes an apology not only to Sonia Gandhi but also to the entire nation. He has put his organisation and its front outfits in a spot. He must be officially asked by the RSS now to remain silent. Between us.








A strand of unofficial, sardonic humour has always flourished in communist regimes. These jokes function both as an outlet and as subversion, they invert the ruling class's cliches and they form an encrypted channel of communication. So it makes sense that communist leaderships have always reacted to laughter with panic and paranoia.


But in Kerala, a state in democratic India, it turns out that mildly mocking the CPM, or its powerful state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, can be interpreted as an act of lese majeste. Recently, a PSU worker named Moitheen got into serious trouble for circulating a movie clip that poked fun at CPM ideology, with the line "Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan's political explanation of the party's rout in elections". He got Moitheen arrested under section 66(a) of the amended IT Act of 2008, which makes sending a "defamatory mail" punishable. This isn't the first time Vijayan has turned the full force of state machinery to identify those who he thought were maligning his reputation, with the police even boasting that some of the suspected individuals were scared to return home to Kerala.


The movie Sandesham, that so got Vijayan's goat, is a satire on two brothers belonging to rival political parties and their bemused, all-too-humane father. They are both equally lampooned, as they argue about the IMF and Nicaragua, Hungary and Poland (at which point the communist brother is too emotional to carry on the conversation and they come to blows). The joke was squarely on the humourlessness of the hardened ideological mind. And now, with his disproportionate reaction to a video clip, Vijayan has simply invited the world to view him as a sorry joke.








Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday refocused attention on India's fuel pricing regime, pointing out that diesel subsidies in particular — diesel costs Rs 10 per litre less than petrol — are distorting people's choices. Meant to aid truckers and farmers, it is increasingly the case that the actual beneficiaries are not those for whom the subsidies are intended. This is always a possibility when complex cross-subsidisation mechanisms are used. It isn't just the drivers of "SUVs", whom Ramesh mentioned in a startlingly facile, hit-the-rich-so-I-am-on-the-right-side manner. The distortions are, nonetheless, still problematic: thanks to diesel subsidies, it is estimated that almost a third of new cars sold in India are modified to run on diesel.


The government has worked to partially fix the pricing of petrol. The larger mindset that mandates that diesel is an aam-aadmi fuel in comparison, and therefore deserves support, is however untouched. That is what needs to be demolished. This is a larger problem: fighting global warming and meeting reasonable emissions standards require us to be forward-looking about fossil fuels. But, in terms of India's politics, the problem continues to be that these subsidies have distorted incentives, multiplying their cost to the exchequer. For example, a reasonable estimate is that over a third of the heavily-subsidised kerosene sold out of the rationing system is used to adulterate already cheap diesel. This is the kind of expensive and wasteful anomaly that abounds in poorly-designed systems of the sort that India is burdened with. Reform is needed. There is enough indication that the agricultural sector, the primary target of the diesel subsidy, receives just about a tenth of it. Farmers' input requirements are, therefore, better and more efficiently met through the procurement price mechanism. Similarly, truckers should pass on the higher cost of fuel.


Of course, such reform will not banish SUVs from Indian roads and relieve Ramesh of his irritation. The SUV is the vehicle of choice of the rich and powerful, even in his own party, and the price of fuel will not change that. There is no need to be judgmental about it. But Ramesh is essentially right, to subsidise such lifestyle in the name of the poor is obscene.








The most dangerous moment for any dictatorship often comes when it tries to give itself a veneer of legitimacy. Burma's military rulers, who overruled a massive popular electoral verdict in favour of democracy 20 years ago and have ruled with an iron hand since then, held an election of sorts to the parliament at the beginning of last week. At the end of the week, they released Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under arrest for 15 of the last 21 years and had won the election in 1990. The world is right to be sceptical. The election was loaded in favour of a party that the generals had helped form. Suu Kyi's release, many suspect, might be designed to draw attention away from the sham elections.


Whatever might be the motivation of the Burmese junta, its decisions to go through the motions of an election and release Suu Kyi are signals of weakness, not strength. But Suu Kyi is probably under a bigger political test than the junta. She needs much political skill in seizing the opportunity to expand the democratic space without provoking an early backlash from the military. Some political activists in Burma had begun to argue that she was too principled in her opposition to military rule and must demonstrate more flexibility. Speaking on Sunday, less than 24 hours after her release, Suu Kyi had just the right combination of idealism and pragmatism. Declaring that she bore no grudge against the generals, insisting on the non-violent method and urging her supporters not to give up hope, Suu Kyi said she is eager to listen to what the people had to say. She also promised to modify her earlier strong support to international sanctions against Burma.


As Suu Kyi tries to unite the people of Burma and calls for an intensive dialogue with the international community on sanctions, India too will be under test. Delhi's reluctance to condemn the Burmese generals all these years has led to the perception at home and abroad that India has merely tailed China in an unequal competition for influence on its east. The fact, however, is India's political interests in Burma are fundamentally different from those of China. If Beijing wants a weak state in Burma, India needs a strong and united nation on its eastern frontiers. As Burma enters a difficult moment tinged with hope, India must do a lot more than welcome the release of Suu Kyi. It must stay engaged with the new political dynamic in Burma and offer all the assistance it can for its people in achieving political reconciliation at home and ending their prolonged international isolation.








A. Raja and others accused in the 2G spectrum "scam" have tended to be rescued somewhat by the complexity of the nature of the scam. But with the CAG reported to be talking of lakhs of crores and with 3G now on its way, it's becoming a little easier to contextualise and comprehend the Raja case. So, with the Tamil Nadu assembly elections merely months away, how could "corruption" play out?


Last November, five Rajasthan state MLAs, in a rare display of bipartisan bonhomie from both the Congress and the BJP, blocked the Alwar highway, to protest against government and civil society efforts to audit the NREGA payments. An FIR was lodged against the MLAs, but the audit was made very difficult. Popular support was whipped up by sarpanchs against the auditors, by saying that the auditors were on their way to stall NREGA in the district, which is what they said would happen if irregularities were found. Citizens, apprehensive that whatever little was coming their way could also stop, were thereby brought on the side of the anti-audit wave. It's illustrative of why India, at a popular level, has sometimes demonstrated a politically ambivalent attitude to "corruption" as an issue.


The first corruption scandal to find its way to the floor of Parliament in 1958 was the scam of LIC buying selective shares, to rescue certain dodgy companies, not to benefit the corporation or the general public. It was raised in Parliament forcefully by Feroze Gandhi, the then PM's son-in-law, and politically secured the scalp of the finance minister. More importantly, a 24-day public inquiry by Justice M.C. Chagla established the malpractice and laid down new rules.


Over time, all parties that have held power at the Centre have had to bear the brunt of "scams" (Bofors, hawala, fodder, Taj corridor, petrol pump allotments, urea, Tehelka tapes, to name a few) that resulted in political banishing of the players involved, but otherwise little movement in bringing the matter to an appropriate close, let alone recovering public money.


Bofors was the one exception — as the opposition parties rallied together with accusations of a kickback at the top rungs of government. That almost marked the apogee of the curve of public outrage over perceived wrongdoing — ever since, nationally at least, corruption has not been seen as a political factor in itself.


As the Indian economy has opened up in the last couple of decades, some explained corruption as a carryover from the licence-permit-raj. As Jitendra Singh, a professor at Wharton, puts it, it was "a kind of shadowy market" which, in the absence of free-pricing mechanisms, encouraged backroom deals. However, with continued malpractices, we will have to look for a better explanation; corruption is no longer acceptable as an "Indian way" of doing things, the dark side of the much-admired jugaad. It's fascinating to recall how a Congress leader from Himachal Pradesh, Sukh Ram (also accused in a telecom scam), caused a record number of days of stalled business in Parliament in the '90s, but then went on to win elections with the telephone as his election symbol!


Of course, corruption galls the Indian public. But then, how does one explain a popular leader like Lalu Prasad winning despite being continuously berated for his alleged role in the fodder scam? One view is that as governments continue to exercise a powerful hold on the mind of the public as bearers of deliverance, that faith is not matched by a genuine expectation of getting anything. So, given the poor track record of public money reaching those it is marked out for, any improvement in that situation is such a pleasant surprise for those who are recipients that they refuse to take cognisance of "corruption", as defined by better-off voters.


There is also a perception that corruption is so spread across the political spectrum that it ceases to be a way of separating the parties at election time. But for all the apparent disappearance of corruption as a political issue, the electorate has a clear "sense" of how it assesses its representatives, a sense of what they stand for and how connected they are to the voters' issues. This operates as much for leaders as it does for parties. Also, the DMK should know, in Tamil Nadu, being stuck with a label for big scams can be tricky in the end, if it creates an image that alienates it from its populist moorings. Ironically, Jayalalithaa, now in opposition for a long time, was at the receiving end for inappropriate deals and a scathing tirade by the Supreme Court — and the DMK, after all, was masterful in casting her as a self-absorbed politician. The SC, as recently as March, ordered the resumption of a trial against her on charges of misappropriation of funds of more than Rs 66 crore between 1991 and 1996, when she was chief minister.


The openness of both the AIADMK and DMK to changing alliances with national parties too came to the fore when Jayalalithaa, in an extraordinary parody of the situation, offered support to the Congress. By doing so openly, she cleverly ensured that the Congress too is drawn into the list comprising those resisting Raja's dismissal.


No one is bringing up allegations about Jayalalithaa at this stage and she has been allowed to have a go at the

]DMK. This reveals an interesting aspect of how corruption is generally perceived in politics. Once leaders are d

]efeated for being corrupt, as Jayalalithaa was, they are seen to have atoned and the electorate almost squares with the candidates.


And it is this popular perception that UPA-II needs to manage too. The NDA took years to recognise why it had lost in 2004, and if the shining India blather was part of that loss. With the DMK defensive for the first time in 15 years and the Tamil Nadu polls in less than six months, the political fallout will be interesting.








On Monday, the Supreme Court could refer a petition by Amar Singh and Jaya Prada to a larger bench asking if they can be disqualified under the anti-defection law for defying the Samajwadi Party's whip in Parliament after already being expelled from the party. The petition filed by the two MPs provides an interesting context for discussing some major issues regarding the anti-defection law.


First, does the anti-defection law suppress healthy intra-party debate and dissent? Second, does it prevent representatives from voicing the concerns of their voters which may be opposed to the official party position? Third, who should be the adjudicating authority on cases of defection — the speaker of the House (usually chosen from the ruling party or coalition), or an external body such as the governor or the Election Commission? Last, specific to this case is the issue of whether an MP is bound by a party's whip in Parliament even after the party has expelled him or her.


Anti-defection provisions were inserted into the Constitution in 1985 to combat the rising trend of political defections in the '70s and '80s. At present, if an elected member of a legislature (Central and state) voluntarily resigns from his political party, or does not obey the party whip, he can be disqualified under the anti-defection law. Different aspects of this law, including its constitutional validity, have come up for discussion before the courts over the years.


Supporters of the anti-defection law state that the curb on the freedom of speech and expression is necessary since the member is elected on the party's manifesto and is bound to abide by the parties' policies. While it is true that a legislator gets elected on a party ticket, it is not always possible to predict the party's policy or reaction to different situations which may arise over a period of five years. In such cases, the liberty of the legislator to take a contrary view is currently at stake.


Various orders of disqualification have held that even the conduct of a legislator outside the legislature can be used as evidence to show that he has voluntarily resigned form his political party. Criticism of one's political party in public, joining opposition rallies and demanding the dismissal of one's own ruling party, are specific examples where such conduct has been used as evidence to disqualify candidates. This raises a wider question of whether a legislator should be allowed to criticise his political party outside the legislature, even if he obeys party directions and toes the party line inside it.


The petition filed by Amar Singh and Jaya Prada raises a specific question on a point of law that appears to be settled by the SC in 1996. The question, as reported, is this: can a member be disqualified from the legislature for not obeying his party whips on a particular issue even though the political party has already expelled him? According to the SC's 1996 judgment (G. Vishwanathan vs Speaker, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly), once a person is expelled, he is treated as an "unattached" member in the legislature. However, he continues to be a member of his old political party for the purposes of the anti-defection law.


The present case of Amar Singh and Jaya Prada highlights this anachronistic situation where a member who has involuntarily ceased to be a member of a political party outside the legislature is treated as a member of the same political party to regulate his conduct inside the legislature. This is one of the aspects of the anti-defection law that needs a relook.


Concerns have also been raised on the role of the speaker in cases of disqualification. Various commentators have argued that the speaker's position may not be completely neutral to enable it to decide on complaints regarding defection, as was recently seen in Karnataka.


A number of committees/commissions have suggested changes to the anti-defection law. MPs have also flagged

various issues related to the anti-defection law, including through private member bills. Two recommendations that have been suggested are: disqualification be limited to cases only where the stability of the government is involved; and cases of disqualification should be decided by an authority other than the speaker. This may be the Election Commission or the president/governor.


The anti-defection law was originally enacted to prevent political corruption by creating a deterrent against frequent floor-crossing. Going by recent examples of how legislators have found new and innovative ways of finding loopholes in the existing law, there is clearly a need to review the law and amend it to address the numerous constitutional questions that have arisen on anti-defection in recent years.


The article is co-written by Anirudh Burman. The writers are with PRS Legislative Research, Delhi







Forty-eight years have elapsed since the Black November of 1962, when took place the brief but brutal border war with China in the high Himalayas. As is clear, in retrospect, it was a relatively limited clash of arms — that unfortunately turned into a traumatic military debacle and political disaster for us. So, why recall those days and scratch the wounds that have nearly healed?


The reason is the sudden and unexpected availability of two "Eyes Only" letters Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to President John F. Kennedy of the United States informing him that the war situation was "desperate" and asking for "more comprehensive" US military aid, especially in the form of air power "if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India."


To the best of my knowledge, the first public mention of these two letters was made in the Rajya Sabha by a member of that House, Sudhir Ghosh, in 1965. The then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, had flatly denied the existence of such letters, stating that he had conducted a thorough search of the prime minister's secretariat, as it was then called, and the ministry of external affairs. For its part, the United States, after a lapse of some years, accepted that these letters were received but absolutely refused to reveal them. In the 1980s, copies of these letters were duly placed in the US National Archives, the JFK Library in Boston, the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas and some other places. But every line of each letter was so heavily inked out that no technology could help decipher it. Thousands of applicants seeking access to the "blacked-out" documents under the much older, and far more effective, American version of India's Right to Information Act were courteously told that "at the request of the Government of India" the letters would not be made public.


Imagine my surprise therefore, when soon after arriving in Washington this time around, I had easy access to these "forbidden" epistles. What surprised me even more is that the copies of these letters have been around for nearly four years — but, as far as I know, haven't yet been published anywhere. One reason may be that interest in the 1962 war has waned. Another, that only the JFK Library has declassified the Nehru letters; the White House and the State Department haven't.


Let me also confess that for many days I agonised whether I should publish the letters at all, and give the habitual Nehru-haters, of whom there are quite a few in India, another opportunity to malign the iconic prime minister who was the architect of India's secular democracy and its modernisation. But deep thought dictated that history must never be censored.


Just to publish the text of the two letters one after the other would serve no useful purpose. For the context is essential to comprehend their content and texture.


Moreover, the second letter, sent "within a few hours of the first", is vastly more important. In this, Nehru informed Kennedy that during the short interval, "the situation in NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency, now called Arunachal Pradesh) Command has deteriorated still further. Bomdila has fallen and the retreating forces from Sela have been trapped between the Sela Ridge and Bomdila. A serious threat has developed to our Digboi oilfields in Assam. With the advance of the Chinese in massive strength, the entire Brahmaputra Valley is seriously threatened and unless something is done immediately to stem the tide, the whole of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland would also pass into Chinese hands."


"The Chinese have poised massive forces", he added, "(also) in Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan and another invasion from that direction appears imminent... In Ladakh, as I have said in my earlier communication, Chushul is under heavy attack and the shelling of the airfield at Chushul has already commenced. We have also noticed increasing air activity by the Chinese air force. (In the earlier letter, Nehru had said that after Chushul there was "nothing to stop the Chinese till they reach Leh, the headquarters of the Ladakh province of Kashmir.")


After pointing out that hitherto he had "restricted our requests to essential equipment" and thanking the US for the assistance "so readily given", Nehru went on: "We did not ask for more comprehensive assistance, particularly air assistance, because of wider implications... in the global context and we did not want to embarrass our friends." The next five lines state what has been indicated above: "The situation that has developed is, however, desperate. We have to have more comprehensive assistance if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India. Any delay in this assistance reaching us will result in nothing short of a catastrophe for our country".


Remarkably, Nehru's request for comprehensive aid, especially "immediate support to strengthen our air arm sufficiently to stem the tide of the Chinese advance" goes into minute details, and is prefaced by the statement: "We have repeatedly felt the need to use our air arm in support of our land forces but have been unable to do so because in the present state... we have no defence against retaliatory action by the Chinese." In this context his specific demands are for: "[A] minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters" and a "modern radar cover (which) we don't have." Nehru added that US air force personnel "will have to man these fighters and radar installations while our personnel are being trained."


More significantly, he spelled out that US fighter and transport aircraft "manned by US personnel will be used

for the present to protect our cities and installations from Chinese attacks and to maintain our communications... and if this is possible... to assist the Indian Air Force in air battles with the Chinese air force over Indian areas where air action by the IAF against Chinese communication lines, supplies and troop concentrations may lead to counter air action by the Chinese. Any air action to be taken against the Chinese beyond the limits of our country, e.g. in Tibet, will be taken by the IAF planes manned by Indian personnel."


To be concluded


The author is a Delhi-based political commentator








The three-day visit of President Obama to India was indeed an incredible success from every point of view. President Obama himself used the word "incredible" very often during his interactions on several occasions during his visit. While President Bush's visit was historic since it resulted in the signing of the nuclear treaty between the United States and India. President Obama's visit touched on a multitude of issues touching practically every aspect of Indo-US relations. During his several speeches, Obama held India's democracy responsible for India's success in so many fields.


An important contributing factor to Obama's success was his sincere admiration and regard for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom he has openly acknowledged as his guru in economic affairs. Obama had spoken about Dr Singh's sincerity, calling him a man of extraordinary intellect and great integrity. Their personal rapport laid down the foundation for the future of Indo-US relations, which are expected to evolve in different constructive directions.


After the interactions between American and Indian business leaders at Mumbai and later at Hyderabad House in Delhi, a lot of useful commercial transactions have taken place. Dr Singh has acknowledged that trade between the US and India would be subject to fewer restrictions from the Indian side, and India would welcome more imports from the US. India has welcomed American investment in infrastructure and the energy sector; a trillion dollars of investment is waiting for India.


At the government-to-government level, certain important deals were done including the decision to set up an Indo-US clean energy research and development centre, where joint research on emerging new energy technologies would be carried out. It was also agreed to have an establishment for tapping hydrocarbons from shale gas across India. Other important memoranda of understanding — on health, weather forecasting, agriculture — were also signed.


Contrary to the earlier announcement that the restrictions on dual-use technologies for certain Indian organisations would continue, Obama announced that organisations like ISRO, DRDO and Bharat Dynamics had been removed from the "restricted list" and discussions are on for a similar dispensation for the department of atomic energy. Another very important announcement was about collaboration on higher education, and on regular education summits to be held in both the countries.


The most important gains for India were in respect of Obama's open acknowledgement of India taking its rightful position in a reformed United Nations Security Council in the foreseeable future. India has all along been bracketed with Japan, Germany and Brazil as the big four countries who should find a place in a reorganised UNSC. Obama's open announcement backing India's position was the first such acknowledgement from a major power, and that it should have come so forthrightly was a great victory for Indian diplomacy. Not surprisingly, Pakistan protested and asked President Obama to reconsider his decision.


It was surprising that Japan and Germany too demurred. Surely, President Obama could not be expected to address, while speaking to the Indian parliament, his attitude towards these countries in respect of their aspirations for UNSC seat.


Officials from both countries had, no doubt, discussed the increasing footprint of China in East Asia. While visualising India as a global partner in re-ordering or re-balancing the world, it is reasonable to presume that India would be pivotal in a group of countries — Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, for example — in a scheme to check Chinese assertion on various issues.


On Pakistan itself, Obama was quite categorical that it should take steps to close down terror camps. However, given that Pakistan is an ally of the US in Afghanistan, the US cannot push beyond a certain limit. Obama said that a stable and democratic Pakistan would be in the interest of India itself. Both Obama and Dr Singh were one on urging Pakistan to ensure that the perpetrators of 26/11 were brought to justice.


At the end of it all, India should be pleased that Obama acknowledged India as a global player, and an equal partner in dealing with crucial issues not only in Asia, but also in the world.


The writer is a former IB chief and governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP







The EU has announced it'll overhaul its data protection rules in 2011. Later this month, the US Federal Trade Commission and Commerce Department will release their reports on online privacy. Meanwhile, as part of the much-hyped efforts to prepare for "cyberwar," the US National Security Agency is strengthening ties with Google and Facebook. The dynamic is a familiar one. As usual, privacy will lose.


In recent years, the battleground of privacy has been dominated by fights over warrantless electronic surveillance in the US and CCTV in Britain. The coming months will see further debates over data mining, DNA databases and biometric identification.


Efforts to prevent governments from collecting such information are doomed to failure because modern threats increasingly require governments collect the information; because governments are increasingly able to collect it; and because citizens increasingly accept that they will collect it.


Spying on foreigners has long been regarded as an unseemly but necessary enterprise. Spying on one's own citizens in a democracy, has historically been subject to legal and political restraint.


There were violations of these principles — culminating in Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon. Such scandals reinforced the 20th-century view that foreign and domestic intelligence should and could be kept apart. That is no longer tenable.


Three factors are driving the erosion of the distinction.


First, many of the threats facing modern democracies do not respect national borders. For the foreseeable future, the most significant threat of violence in countries like the US will come from terrorists who do not have an obvious state sponsor. The targets of intelligence services will therefore be individuals rather than states.


The second factor is the revolution in technology and communications. The increased use of electronic communications has been matched by the development of sophisticated tools of surveillance. When a message is routed through strings of Internet service providers, it isn't always clear what is "foreign" and what is "local."


Third, changes in culture are progressively reducing the sphere of activity that citizens can reasonably expect to be kept from government eyes. This is most obvious in the amount of information voluntarily disclosed through social-networking sites, as well as the increased toleration of CCTV in public spaces. It is also implicit in the use of email, credit cards and other everyday transactions where significant amounts of personal information are passed on to corporations, the government or both.


Arguments over the appropriate balance between liberty and security have a long pedigree. During debates on the USA Patriot Act in 2001, one senator invoked a founding father: "As Ben Franklin once noted, 'if we surrender our liberty in the name of security, we shall have neither."' In fact, Franklin's words were more nuanced: "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."


More than two centuries later, the idea that we must choose between liberty and safety needs to be rethought. Instead of simply entrusting governments and other actors with personal data and relying on their good faith, the new arrangement can be thought of as a kind of social contract.


In its traditional formulation, people gave a government coercive powers to make organised society possible. What we are witnessing now is the emergence of a new social contract, in which individuals give the state (and, frequently, other actors) power over information in exchange for security and the conveniences of living in the modern world.


In a post-privacy world, the debate needs to move from whether information should be collected and focus on how that information can and should be used. Reframing the question in the language of a social contract, mediated by a citizenry that is an active participant rather than passive target, offers a framework to defend freedom without sacrificing liberty.


-Simon Chesterman







The development and testing of the bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV type 1 and 3) in India and its introduction in polio campaigns from the beginning of this year, has been a significant milestone and could be key in enabling complete polio eradication in this country and globally.


The introduction of the bivalent oral polio vaccine in polio campaigns has demonstrated very promising results. Building on the strong foundation laid by the monovalent polio vaccines, bOPV has helped further curtail polio cases to an all time low this year. So far a total of 39 polio cases have been reported in India compared with 498 cases reported during the same period in 2009. The number of type 1 polio cases is at record low; 16 so far this year, with Uttar Pradesh not reporting any case and Bihar reporting only three cases; there has concurrently been a sharp decline in type 3 cases. A total of 23 type 3 cases have been reported in 2010 compared with 432 during the same period in 2009.


Globally, more than 700 million doses of bOPV have been administered so far in 2010. Around this time last year 793 type 3 cases were reported globally, while this year only 72 type 3 cases have been reported, with significant overall reductions in Nigeria and Afghanistan. Compared with 2009, there has been a more than 90 per cent reduction in polio cases in India and Nigeria during 2010.


India's efforts to eradicate polio brought quick results by rapidly reducing the geographical spread and the number of polio cases. By 2002 most of India was free of polio except for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Though the programme continued to make steady progress, a combination of risk factors such as overcrowding, large birth cohorts, sub-optimal sanitation and hygiene enabled poliovirus to thrive in pockets within the two states, challenging the strategies which had worked successfully elsewhere in the country.


These uniquely favourable conditions for persistence of poliovirus in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have challenged the programme to continuously innovate, to address the two fundamental elements of the programme: tactics for reaching all children and deployment of more effective vaccines to stop polio. Tactical innovations have enabled the programme to identify areas and populations at the highest risk of polio and to reach all newborns and children living in access-compromised areas of Bihar and the mobile populations who are particularly vulnerable to polio and whose movement facilitates the spread of poliovirus. India has set the global standards and shown the way in enhancing the intensity and quality of polio vaccination campaigns around the world.


A major challenge in the two endemic states has been the sub-optimal effectiveness of the traditionally used trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV) which protects against all three types of polioviruses type 1, type 2 and type 3. The high rates of diarrhoea and other intestinal infections among children in these areas affect the uptake of the orally administered vaccine. Moreover, the type 2 component in the tOPV is more immunogenic and out-competes the type 1 and type 3 vaccine components in development of immunity against type 1 and 3 polio. The type 2 poliovirus was eradicated in 1999. The programme has therefore been exploring options for vaccines that would rapidly boost immunity in young children against the two remaining poliovirus types.


India switched to the more efficacious monovalent vaccines against type 1 or type 3 in 2005. Priority was give to building immunity of children against type 1 polio which was causing 95 per cent of the polio in the country. The monovalent type 1 vaccine administered in a series of mass vaccination campaigns helped to substantially curtail type 1 polio, however, type 3 polio began to resurge in 2007. It was clear that the programme needed a vaccine that could concurrently protect against both poliovirus types with the effectiveness comparable to that of the monovalent vaccines. Finally, bOPV, developed and tested in India, is the product the eradication programme was searching for.


The magnitude and complexity of India's eradication programme with its multi-sectoral collaboration and mobilisation of a large force of vaccinators to simultaneously administer polio vaccine in frequent mass vaccination campaigns supported by high quality poliovirus surveillance remains unmatched. However, the most important lessons we have learned in this long fought battle are these: first, the epidemiologic challenges to polio eradication in India cannot be under-estimated and second, the resilience of wild poliovirus and its capacity to evade extinction can be humbling.


It is crucial that the current progress is sustained. Now that eradication of polio in India appears within sight, this is the time to further intensify the attack on the virus and not allow it any respite or sanctuary from where it may re-emerge to paralyse our children.


Dr Hamid Jafari is project manager of the WHO national polio surveillance project. Dr J.M. Deshpande is director of the Enterovirus Research Centre, Mumbai








Indian policymakers have been resting on their laurels with the Indian economy successfully resisting the worst onslaughts of the global recession and growth bouncing back much faster, even as the industrialised world continues to flounder its way out of the crisis. But such complacency can be destabilising as a worse crisis seems to loom closer on the horizon with the Indian economy now all set to face an unprecedented commodity boom bolstered by the rising incomes, buoyant demand and rapid urbanisation. These findings by a report of Barclays Capital projects that India's primary energy demand will jump up by 50% in the next 5 years while the demand for metals will pick up even much faster by 80%. And the medium-term prospects are even worse with the demand for primary energy going up four-fold by 2030 while the metal demand will even shoot up to five times the current levels. Imagine its implications in a host of areas like the freeing of new land for mining, increasing exploration and production capacities for increasing domestic supply, building infrastructure for facilitating transport, sourcing supply from global markets, and mobilising resources for funding these large investments. The surging demand for commodities will also have serious repercussions in the external sector as India's reliance on crude oil imports moves up from the current levels of 75% to 87%, even as total imports touch 6.5 million barrels per day. Equally threatening is the coal and gas scenario with imports going up five-fold in the next 15 years.


One reason for this dramatic change in scenario is that India is now crossing the tipping point of 30%, beyond which the rise in urbanisation will sharply push up the gradient of income growth, as has happened in China and elsewhere. And as India's growth model is different from that of China or any other Asian nation, as it is mainly driven by services and domestic consumption, India's tipping point seems to have come slightly earlier, with income growth showing signs of a takeoff even as urbanisation crossed 28%. But despite these signals the policymakers are yet to incorporate the scenario in their medium-term strategies. The only reason for comfort so far is that around one-third of the proposed investments in the last five years have been in energy, metals and the food sector. But a lot more needs to be done to scale up the resources to mobilise larger supplies from the global markets.






The sharp deceleration in industrial growth to 4.4% in September, as compared to 8.2% in the same month last year, indicates that the slowdown in demand has now continued for more than a quarter. Manufacturing, which constitutes almost 80% of the industrial production, grew at 4.5% in September as compared to 8.3% in the same month a year ago, while electricity generation expanded by a minuscule 1.7% in September this year as compared to 7.5% in the same month last year. Though the numbers may show an upturn next month because of festive season demand and a higher kharif output, as an FE analysis of 1,532 BSE-listed companies (excluding banks and non-banking financial companies, which account for 60% of the market capitalisation of BSE listed companies) shows that net sales growth has moderated to 19% y-o-y in the quarter-ended September. That's lower than the 22% y-o-y growth seen in the June 2010 quarter. However, net profit of the sample grew 41% y-o-y in the quarter-ended September as raw material costs as a share of sales is lower. Much of the rise in net profit in the quarter came from huge jump in other income and savings on interest outflows. That is an encouraging sign and surely indicates that companies are optimising on costs and are able to utilise their resources more productively. Broadly, companies have delivered results that are more or less in line with the Street's estimates though only very few surprised analysts. However, the sharp degrowth in the factory numbers spooked the markets with the benchmark Sensex dropping 432 points paring last week's 5% advance.


The declining trend in the factory output should now prompt the central bank to press a pause button on its tight monetary policy. Though RBI indicated it was done with interest rate hikes, the impact of QE2 could well make it change its mind. The bank has raised key borrowing and lending rates six times so far this year to keep a tight leash on rising inflation and has said that it may refrain from raising interest rates in the next three months. Monetary easing would help boost investments and reverse the deteriorating trends in the capital goods sector, which has now turned negative. Going ahead, it has to be seen how essential commodity price inflation pans out and whether consumption really becomes broader-based with demand for consumer durables picking up once again, which could push up the investment activity of India Inc and bring the capital goods sector back on track.









The US Federal Reserve is obviously following the creed of Tagore's Ekla Chalo. The extraordinarily vocal criticism, in the run-up to this weekend's G20 Summit, even from as august an individual as Germany's finance minister, of the Fed's $600 billion large-scale asset purchase (LSAP) programme, popularly dubbed QE2 (Quantitative Easing 2), conjures up an image justifying the Chairman's nickname "Helicopter Ben". What exactly does QE2 entail? The Fed intends to spend $70 billion a month buying long-dated US securities, for the next 6 months, in addition to the $300 billion reinvestment of principal payments of earlier debt issues. Not as widely noted, Japan had, just a few days before, also announced a smaller-scale intervention but whose scope includes a much wider range of financial instruments (including equities, which might be dubbed qualitative easing).


QE2 is being hyphenated, rightly so, to the concerns on currency wars potentially adding to global funds imbalances, but the focus of the dissent has essentially centred on its liquidity and inflationary potential. The overt intention of the expansion is to influence yields, but more subtly (and left unsaid) is probably to keep the dollar weak, in the hope of maintaining US export competitiveness (although a strong currency might be equally beneficial to corporate profitability given the extent of US companies operating overseas and repatriating profits, although this is unlikely to be of comfort to Main Street).


A sharp rally in many commodities prices immediately following the Fed's announcement can hardly have been a coincidence, although part of the increase must have been due to news of strong growth in China, India and other emerging markets. The price of crude has moved up sharply to close to $87/barrel; prices of industrial and commodities, whose trade is mostly denominated in dollars, have also moved up sharply. Copper, nickel and other industrial input prices have increased by about 4%.


What are the prospects of this LSAP programme working? Will the liquidity infusion have the desired effect on incentivising borrowers to borrow more? Or will it merely have the effect of pushing these funds to emerging markets shores?


One, in terms of the explicit targets of the intervention, yields across various maturities have been documented in some studies to have fallen as much as 50 basis points post the intervention but the counter-findings make the end-result quite ambiguous. Whatever the effects on interest rates, have the programmes had the desired effects of increasing borrowing, both among corporates and households? Apparently not. A recent credit survey noted that US consumers have reduced their outstanding debt, both mortgage and others, by nearly a trillion dollars over the past two years although the pace of reduction is falling. Lending standards also tightened in the wake of rising delinquencies post the crisis, are impeding new debt. Lending to small businesses also remains weak.


The other way of looking at this is in terms of liquidity. A general dissatisfaction with QE1 seems to have been that the Fed's liquidity infusions to banks were promptly turned around and placed as excess reserves with the Fed, instead of being on-lent as credit to potential borrowers. This is probably not true. Although it is difficult to track the flow of funds, an indicative statistic from Fed data suggests that while liquidity injection over the period December 2008 to early November was about $1.5 trillion, the so called "excess reserves" with the Fed of depository institutions (i.e., banks) was only about $120 billion. Since there has been little by way of a sharp rise in US credit offtake, an educated inference would be that a substantial part of the residual would have found its way into attractive investment destinations.


At the end of it all, do we really know what's in store for us? No. On the whole, it is likely that the effects of a rise in commodity prices following a continuing dollar weakness will be a more immediate threat in the near term, compared to a surge in portfolio capital flows. Emerging economic weakness in Europe might gradually blunt some of the weakness going forward in 2011. A large current account deficit due to strong domestic demand (and rising costs of imported commodities) will absorb some of the presumed higher capital flows, but this certainly cannot persist for long.


As a somewhat didactic coda to the arguments above about the potential asset markets inflating effects of QE2, the RBI governor stated in his recent post policy analyst interaction that RBI would (only) respond to asset bubbles financed by bank credit. This is important from a policy perspective. Of course, it is difficult to distinguish the source of funds (given their fungibility), but the principle is sound and echoes Prof Alan Blinder's arguments at the recent Jackson Hole Conference that sought to distinguish between equity and debt bubbles (for instance, the Dotcom bubble and the leverage induced recent one). For the former, the best policy is staying out and "mopping up after. But for debt-financed bubbles, especially if they are bank-financed, it makes sense to intervene early to limit the bubble, though that intervention should probably be more with supervisory weapons than with monetary policy". This stance has important implications for the structure of regulatory oversight, since a central bank's information advantage as a banking regulator in managing debt driven asset bubbles is an argument for an integrated monetary policy and banking supervisory role. More on this later.


The author is senior vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views


* Apologies for plagiarising Governor Kevin Warsh








Indian government officials recently announced plans to restart India's dormant rare earth metals production programme with the aim of reducing dependency on Chinese imports of the materials, which are critical for a variety of high-tech products, from missile guidance systems to LCDs, to electric car batteries. RN Patra, chairman of the government-run Indian Rare Earths Limited, recently told Reuters that the firm would invest Rs 1.4 billion on a 5,000 tonne capacity rare earths production plant in Orissa, with the goal of becoming an exporter of the minerals within the next two years.


The announcement comes amid an ongoing controversy surrounding China's strategy of steadily reducing export quotas for rare earth metals. China's stranglehold over global rare earth supplies—it produces more than 95% of the world's output—was thrown into sharp relief in September when Beijing 'unofficially' suspended rare earths exports to Japan.


Unfortunately India's new rare earths initiative is too little, too late.


China became the world's dominant rare earths producer in the last two decades after other major suppliers ceased production for safety, cost and environmental reasons. The US, whose Mountain Pass, California, mine made it the world's largest rare earths producer through the mid-1980s, stopped production altogether in 2002. India stopped two years later.


India's resource and technological base is too shallow to break China's near-monopoly over rare earths production. India has rare earth oxide reserves of just 3.1 million tonnes, less than a tenth of China's 36 million tonnes, according to the US Geological Survey. Worse, India's reserves are in monazite deposits found in Orissa beach sands, the processing of which creates highly radioactive daughter products, such as radium, which are difficult to handle. Most rare earths are sourced from low radioactivity minerals, particularly bastnasite, which China has in abundance.


China has successfully transitioned over the last 40 years from being an exporter of rare earth oxides in their raw form to exporting intermediate and finished products like metal compounds, magnets, polishing powders and batteries. India lacks the expertise to replicate China's achievements. So even if India is able to produce rare earth oxides in significant quantities, it may end up having to ship them back to China for processing into higher value-added products.


More importantly, restarting India's rare earths production does not address the real challenge implicit in China's rare earths policy. Beijing's industrial strategy is focused on shifting production away from labour-intensive sectors towards more capital-intensive and technologically sophisticated industries. China's policy on rare earths exports is part of that strategy. The limits on exports of rare earths is intended primarily to force foreign high-technology firms to move production and R&D to China and help the country transition to higher value-added exports and develop into a high-tech powerhouse. The rapid growth in China's R&D expenditure—already the world's fastest—and increased localisation of international high-tech R&D are also part of the overall push to boost China's competitiveness.


China's reduction in rare earths export quotas has forced international high-tech firms to outsource production and R&D to China. Beijing has been telling US companies that if they want access to rare earth oxides they will have to co-locate in China and share their manufacturing technology. Deng Xiaoping once said that rare earths could be to China as oil is to OPEC. Decades later that strategy is showing dividends: China's share of global high-tech exports increased to 20% in 2008 from just 6% in 1996.


India's ambitions not only to build on its lead in IT but also to develop other advanced industries, including biotech, pharmaceuticals and telecom equipment are increasingly vulnerable to China's growing high-tech prowess. Not only does India trail China in terms of R&D expenditure, at approximately 1% of GDP compared to China's 1.5%, it is also way behind in terms of patents. India received just 648 patents in 2006, compared to China's 2,452, according to the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World. Despite India's reputation as a scientific giant, it has fewer workers in science and technology than China: 120 per million workers vs China's 715.


India is faced with a challenge it may not be able to meet. It is not in a good enough position to copy China's strong-arm tactics and it will be reluctant to take any action that may affect its relationship with the US, which it values highly. And India's weak track record of policy implementation means that it is unlikely to make the investments in manufacturing and know-how required to become a leading high-technology power. That mantle may end up being China's for the taking.


The author is global markets director of the research service, Trusted Sources









Be like Gagan

That Aviation Minister Praful Patel doesn't think too highly of Air India's management is well-known, but this

was best brought out when CWG medal winners from Air India were to be felicitated by him. After congratulating them, he told AI chief Arvind Jadhav that Air Indians were doing a good job when it came to areas like shooting (Gagan Narang) and it was time Air India took a cue from him AND FELLOW SPORTSMEN and learnt how to shoot straight.


Blame it on Biki


At a press conference to announce the company's plans in India, Simon F Cooper, president and managing director, Asia-Pacific, Marriott International Inc, had the media in splits. Asked why there was no Ritz-Carlton hotel in India as yet, Cooper shot back: "It's because of 'Biki' Oberoi. Whenever people ask me why there is no Ritz-Carlton hotel in this country, I give them this answer." Cooper, however, seems to have gotten over his awe of the EIH Group Chairman and CEO, and the Oberoi brand, because Bangalore will have a Ritz-Carlton next year.




From France to UK, India-style protests gather ground. This time for a subsidised education in the UK

London appears to have taken inspiration from Paris. No, not on fashion or style, but on the art of protest. What started as a peaceful demonstration on the streets of London, quickly turned violent. An estimated 30,000 students descended to protest the UK government's proposition to triple college tuition fees and cut budgets by 40%. Students carrying placards with slogans like "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts" and "do I look like I'm made of money?" calmly lined the streets, until some turned rogue and broke into Millbank Tower, the Tories' headquarters, wreaking havoc.


These policies, however, are not unlike some we've been seeing put forth on our own shores. The IIMs have been long advocating fee hikes. Owing to being perpetually starved of funding, they are unable to truly emerge as world-class institutes in the same league as the Ivys, despite having high standards of instruction. The UK's education system is highly subsidised, with annual fees for home students at a fraction of the US's private universities. LSE's undergraduate fee, for example, is less than 10% of the fee to attend Harvard college. The projected three-fold increase will be implemented in stages and universities are not required to charge the highest fee bracket, implying an incremental change. An analysis of the Browne Review by the Adam Smith Institution finds that the monthly instalments for students will fall from £150 to £105 per month. The loan repayment will only start once graduates have an income over X pounds and if they do not find a job, the debt will be forgiven in the due course of time. The only adverse effect of this increase, it appears, is the five extra years of repayment before the student debts are forgiven. The problem is that the cuts are unfortunately timed, since most European economies are facing large fiscal deficits, and it is difficult to enact budget cuts during a slowdown. However, these fee structure reforms may be the most efficient way of decreasing reliance on government funding, enabling institutions to direct more funding to innovation and research in order to stay competitive.









Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's latest proposals on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) might not quite meet the standards set by the Centre itself six months ago. At that time, a strong case was made out for a single tax rate over a wide base, with very few exemptions and a relatively low tax threshold. However, with a view to reaching a consensus with the States and bringing all of them on board, Mr. Mukherjee has adopted a pragmatic approach. The idea clearly is to embark on this important tax reform even if, in the first instance, it meant moving farther away from the ideal than earlier envisaged. The new proposals reflect the recommendations of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers in its first discussion paper last November. There will be a dual structure: a Central GST and a State GST. However, over a three-year period, the two separate rates will converge in stages into a single GST. The Finance Minister has now proposed three separate rates: 20 per cent for normal goods, 12 per cent for merit goods and 16 per cent for services. The Centre has rejected the States' plea to set a high exemption threshold of Rs.1.5 crore for goods, preferring to have a much lower and uniform exemption limit of Rs.10 lakh for both goods and services.


To assuage the States' concerns over loss of financial autonomy, it is proposed to leave out petro products and electricity from the ambit of the GST. That would provide the States autonomy to levy taxes on these high-yielding items. Besides, the Finance Minister has promised to compensate the States for possible revenue losses on account of the introduction of GST. Even after all the flexibility shown by the Centre on critical issues raised by the States, it is still not clear whether the deadline of April 1, 2011, for introducing this tax will be met. There is very little perceptible movement in respect of almost all the legal and administrative steps that need to be taken before the GST could be put in place. An up-to-date technology platform is a vital prerequisite. There have so far been few concerted attempts at educating the public on the new tax. There ought to be a greater sense of urgency than what has been in evidence so far in taking the necessary legal steps — for instance, getting the Constitution amended to enable the States to levy a service tax and the Centre to tax goods beyond the factory gate. The existing VAT laws and also some others like the Central Excise Act, 1944 and the Finance Act, 1994 have to be repealed or amended. In the circumstances, even the new time frame for the GST seems unrealistic.







The revised national policy that promised the small traders on the roadside and mobile vendors in urban areas better access to space and an end to their harassment by civic authorities appears to be moving all too slowly towards implementation. One year has passed since it was announced and only a handful of cities have taken follow-up action. Even its original version (2004) met with a lukewarm response. This apathy towards street vendors is in sharp contrast to the enthusiasm shown for the cause of the organised segment, which constitutes hardly five per cent of the retail trade. More than 10 million people across Indian cities earn their livelihood through street vending, which is easy to enter and needs very little capital. Despite its useful role, street vending is yet to be legally recognised, often branded by the local bodies as an "encroachment." This makes the vendors vulnerable to frequent eviction and to exploitation by the law enforcers. In order to protect them, the policy recommended a registration system for vendors and demarcation of city spaces for vending, apart from the setting up of town committees with vendor participation. These suggestions when acted upon would put all vending activity on a protective and regulatory legal framework. In implementing the new policy, care must be taken to ensure that the system does not restrict entry and the regulations are not burdensome.


The National Association of Street Vendors of India has pointed out that over 100,000 applications for licences remain unprocessed since 2007. Cities such as Surakarta in Indonesia have shown that co-opting street vendors in urban development could be mutually beneficial. The local government there worked with the vendors, earmarked new places for trading, issued free trade permits and provided tax exemption for the first six months. Soft loans and training were also arranged to improve their business. In the process, the city recovered valuable urban spaces that were encroached upon and the street vendors in turn were able to trade freely. Closer home, Bhubaneswar has taken a few pioneering initiatives. It has created 52 exclusive vending zones near the existing areas frequented by the vendors. More than 2,000 vendors have been rehabilitated in these markets without much dislocation or loss of earnings. Such progressive measures can be easily adopted by other cities and scaled up where necessary. The street vendors are a valuable part of city life and the state must ensure that they are not excluded. Policies conceptualised to support their livelihood must be implemented without any further delay.










Something that cannot work, will not work. This is a tautology applicable to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which cannot meet the objectives for which it was enacted. There are several reasons for this.


First, the Act does not rule out educational institutions set up for profit (Section 2.n.(iv)). The protagonists of such institutions cite Article 19.1.g ("All citizens shall have the right to practise any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business"). However, they fail to realise that the Article is regulated by Article 19.6: it is because of the provisions in Article 19.6 that no one in the country can set up a nuclear energy plant, or grow narcotic plants, or build satellites, unless approved by the government.


P.N. Bakshi, a member of the Law Commission, in his book on the Constitution of India says: "Education per se has so far not been regarded as a trade or business where profit is a motive." Yet, the TMA Pai Foundation vs Government of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court in 2003 said it is difficult to comprehend that education per se will not fall under any of the four expressions in Article 19.1.g. Therefore, appropriately, the model Rules and Regulations (R&R) for the RTE Act say in Section 11.1.b that a school run for profit by any individual, group or association of individuals or any other persons, shall not receive recognition from the government. However, this Section will not be binding on the States as it is not a part of the Act. If the Government of India were serious about the issue, it should have made this a part of the RTE Act.


The common-sense resolution of the discrepancy between the TMA Pai Foundation judgment and the model R&R for the RTE Act could lie in the fact that education is a generic term. We need to distinguish between the minimum quantum of education that a citizen should have in order to be able to discharge his or her responsibilities and claim rights, and the subsequent education geared to train him or her for a profession such as medicine or engineering.


As regards the first category, it is now virtually universally recognised that 12 years of school education beginning at the age of six, preceded by appropriate pre-school education, is a minimum requirement. Therefore, in virtually all developed countries, a vast majority of children including those of the rich and powerful go to government schools for 12 years of totally free education. The RTE Act is unconcerned about the four most important years of school education – that is, from Class IX to Class XII.


The second category would include three sub-categories: (a) higher education that could lead to a technical diploma, a first university degree in broad areas such as the liberal arts, science or commerce, or post-graduate education in these areas; (b) education leading to a university degree, in a common profession of prime public interest that would cater to the basic needs of society, such as medicine, engineering, law, or management; and (c) education leading to training in specialised areas (which could vary with time), such as flying, catering or hotel management, which does not lead to a degree but is a prerequisite to join the profession at an appropriate level.


]It stands to common sense that the first category should be totally free with no hidden costs whatsoever. In the second category, in the public interest and to ensure that quality is maintained, education in sub-categories (a) and (b) must be in a non-profit organisation. The selections should be made on merit in a means-independent way which would imply that appropriate fees could be charged from those who can pay. Those who cannot pay must be able to continue their education through freeships or scholarships, or bank loans arranged by the institution.


There is no argument against education in sub-category (c) of the second category being provided for profit, for the employers will ensure quality in the institutions providing such education.


]The judgment in TMA Pai Foundation would appropriately apply to sub-category (c). There is, therefore, a strong case to ensure that Section 11.1.b of the model R&R of the RTE Act is made mandatory for all schools without exception, through an amendment of the Act.


There is the argument that if people can pay for the education of their children they should have a right to have their own schools where the fee charged would be determined by them or the authorities of the school they set up. Indeed, according to the Constitution we cannot ban such schools, which will essentially be the de facto profit-making schools of today where almost exclusively the children of the rich and powerful go. However, the government will be within its rights to say that such schools would not be recognised as they would violate the principle of equity in regard to the minimum education that every Indian citizen should have.


The RTE Act and its R&R fail on many other counts. These are some of them:


•Experience tells us that no government school is likely to function well (or as well as the government schools did till about 1970) unless children of the rich and powerful also attend such schools. Further, it is a myth that private – de facto commercial – schools provide better training than, say a Central School of the Government of India or trust-run schools which are truly not-for-profit.



•The Act places no restriction on the fees that may be charged by unaided private schools ostensibly set up as a Society or Trust but, de facto set up to make money for the investors, just like a corporate company. If they are truly set up not to make any profit they should not be charging any fees, and the fees paid by the children should be reimbursed by the government. They could then function as a part of the common school system in which children of the neighbourhood would have to go irrespective of their class or status.


•Why should unaided private schools have a system of management with no obligatory participation of parents, unlike other schools that require the formation of a school management committee in which parents will constitute three-fourth of its membership?


•Why do we have only 25 per cent poor children in private unaided schools? Why not 10, 20, 40, 60 or 80 per cent? Would it not create a divide amongst the children of the poor, leave aside a greater divide between the children of the rich and the poor?


•No method is prescribed for selecting the 25 per cent poor students for admission into unaided private schools. Selection by lottery would be ridiculous. In the absence of a viable provision, the private unaided (de facto commercial) schools can choose the 25 per cent poor children in a way that the choice would benefit the school.


•There is nothing in the Act or its R&R that will prevent unaided private schools from charging students for activities that are not mentioned in the Act or its R&R. Examples would be laboratory fee, computer fee, building fee, sports fee, fee for stationery, fee for school uniform, fee for extra-curricular activities such as music, painting, pottery, and so on.


•Norms for buildings, the number of working days, teacher workload, equipment, library and extra-curricular activities are prescribed only for unaided schools, and not for other schools including government schools. Only an obligatory teacher-student ratio is prescribed both for government and unaided schools. This means that as long as the teacher-pupil ratio is maintained, the school would be considered as fit. Thus, even if a government school has 12 students in each class from I to V, it will have only two teachers.


•Two arguments often given for continuing to have, or even encouraging, private unaided schools is that the government has no money to set up the needed schools, and that government schools cannot be run as well as private schools. Both these are deliberate lies. There have been excellent studies and reports that show that the government can find money to adopt a common school system with a provision of compulsory and totally free education up to Class XII in the country over the next 10 years. Further, even today the best system of school education in the country is the Central School (Kendriya Vidyalaya) system run by the government. The country needs 400,000 such schools, and India can afford it.


The RTE Act and its R&R are destined not to work. We should recognise that if we do not take appropriate care of school education, agriculture and left-wing extremism – and all the three are related – we may be creating conditions that would encourage internal turmoil.


( The writer is former vice-chairman, National Knowledge Commission.)









The struggle for an effective and equitable Food Security Bill (FSB) has received a setback with the disappointing proposals put forward by the National Advisory Council. There is a disturbing disjuncture between what is being claimed and the actual implications of the proposals. Indeed it may be said that the NAC proposals create new discriminations.


The most basic requirement for a legal guarantee for food security is the replacement of the present targeted system by a universal system of public distribution. India had such a system till the advent of neo-liberal policies in the 1990s when targeting started. The NAC proposal actually expands the sphere of targeting in at least four ways.


Geographical targeting: According to the proposal, "…initial universalisation in one-fourth of the most disadvantaged districts or blocks in the first year is recommended, where every household is entitled to receive 35 kg per month of foodgrains at Rs. 3 a kg." This will translate into around 150 districts out of 640. This proposal actually introduces a new discrimination among those who are equally poor, on the basis of where they were born and where they live. For example, an unorganised worker in the construction industry who does not possess a BPL (below poverty line) card, would in the 150 districts selected be eligible for the entitlement. But if she lives in a village outside these selected districts, even though she may be in the same economic category she will not be eligible. This is legally sanctioned discrimination based on geographical location, and can be challenged in a court of law.


Also, who will determine the list of districts? Will it mean that some States, for example Kerala, may be left out in the first year altogether as was done in the case of the National Rural Health Mission, in this case because they do not fit the definition of "most disadvantaged"? Thus the question of identification of the "most disadvantaged" may itself be discriminatory against States. The NAC is overlooking the fact that the "most disadvantaged people" often live in the "least disadvantaged districts."


New category of socially vulnerable groups: What happens in the remaining districts? Will the "initial universalisation" be extended to them over time?


The proposal says: "In the remaining districts/blocks… there shall be a guarantee of 35 kg of foodgrains per household at Rs. 3 a kg for all socially vulnerable groups including SC/STs…" This means that unlike in the 150 districts where all households will have access, in the rest of the districts, which form the majority of rural India, it will not be universal but targeted for socially vulnerable groups. Who will be included, apart from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes? What about the minorities and the most backward castes? Will occupation be a criterion for inclusion in the category of socially vulnerable groups? Will the 77 per cent of the workforce in the unorganised sector with a spending power of less than Rs. 20 and who are plagued by fluctuating incomes, be included? In any case, by differentiating between the 150 districts and the rest of India, by introducing the category of socially vulnerable groups, the NAC has retained the APL/BPL divide, albeit with a different name and different criteria.


Targeting out others: The proposal says that for all others (other than the category of socially vulnerable groups) the guarantee will be 25 kg "at an appropriate price." This is the crux of the issue — lower entitlement at a higher price. In fact, the issue of differentiated allocations and higher prices for the APL sections is what the Planning Commission has been pushing for — except that the Commission has been more forthright about its aims than the NAC. In a discussion paper for the Empowered Group of Ministers looking into the food security legislation, the Commission said: "We can give the APL sections a legal entitlement [later it was specifically mentioned as 25 kg] but at a non-subsidised price. We should calibrate an APL price linked to MSP [minimum support price given to farmers for foodgrain] in such a way that the annual APL offtake is around 10 million tonnes or so. If there is excess grain availability, as at present, there can be a discount from this price to encourage a larger offtake. If not, the discount should be withdrawn." It is precisely this utterly cynical manipulation by the Planning Commission of a popular demand to suit government requirements that the NAC wants to project as universalisation. This is unfortunate, to say the least.


Category to be excluded: The proposed law will legally exclude certain categories, the details of which are yet to be worked out. If this means the income-tax paying category, there can be no objection to it. But more details are required.




The NAC has not suggested any time-frame for implementation except for the 150 districts. The proposal says that the "differentiated entitlements… would progressively be expanded to all rural areas in the country over a reasonable period of time." Who will define "reasonable"? It has been reported that the NAC's thinking is guided by the pattern set by the staggered implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This is a misplaced comparison. First, for the NREGS the Left parties had ensured that there was a fixed time-frame of five years with no switch-off clause. Equally important, the NREGS was a new work-based right that required a certain amount of experience in implementation. The PDS not only exists but the infirmities in the targeted system in different States have had a negative impact on food security rights. People all over the country are affected by food inflation and the consequent food insecurity. Thus there is no basis for any staggered implementation as far as an urgent issue such as food is concerned, more so since India has huge buffer stocks.




There is no mention of the Antyodaya category. Elimination of this category would mean 2.5 crore families being deprived of their existing entitlement of wheat at Rs. 2 a kg and having to pay Re. 1 more. This is unacceptable. In States such as West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand, BPL card-holders get rice at Rs. 2 a kg, and in some States at Re. 1 a kg. These States have also expanded the numbers of the BPL population. Surely a Central Act must expand on existing entitlements and not detract from them. If the State governments implement the pricing suggested by the NAC of Rs. 3 a kg, crores of families will find that the Central Food Security Act actually increases their foodgrain costs. State governments are already facing a severe resources crunch. This will make it more difficult for them.


Urban poor


As far as the identification and categorisation of the urban population is concerned, it is clear that targeting is going to be the basis. Households eligible for 35 kg at Rs. 3 are to be identified on the basis of criteria developed by the Hashim Committee. Oddly, the NAC has accepted the recommendations of the Hashim Committee even before the Report has been written. Usually one would like to examine recommendations before accepting them — for which they have to be written in the first place.


The urban poor have been neglected in the proposals. There are no recommendations to give a legal backup to nutrition schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and midday meal programmes, nor are any other essential commodities included in the ambit of the food security system.


The NAC has compromised on the basic issue of universalisation. What it is suggesting is a differently targeted system. An opportunity to take the struggle forward into official institutions such as the NAC has been lost. The NAC should have held out in the knowledge that in any case what it is suggesting may be further whittled down.


( Brinda Karat, MP, is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).)











Where have all the social networks gone? Of course, this is exactly the right time to be asking this question. Haven't I noticed that Facebook is now claiming 500 million users, in the manner of Doctor Evil in Mike Myers's Austin Powers movies? Haven't I noticed that Twitter is getting its very own data centre, all the better to spread "unimportant trivia" (Copyright all tabloid papers)?


Well, yes, I have. But my question is actually about the broader subject.


What I'm really asking is where all the new social networks have gone. In the past two years, especially as Twitter has risen over the media horizon like a sunrise, barely a week has passed without a new network culled from the web 2.0 name generator - take a verb ending in -er and remove the "e" - being announced, often with a press release smelling ever so slightly of desperation that another "me-too" product could become the "us-instead" replacement.


To which the response is always: that hardly ever happens. Despite the insistence of web executives everywhere that rivals online are "only a click away", you actually have to screw up royally to turn a successful service into one that people leave in droves. (So congratulations to the former managers at MySpace and Bebo: you deserve your place in those MBA case studies of the future.)


Look around, though, and sites such as haven't taken off. True, services such as FourSquare and Gowalla seem to be on the rise — although people haven't quite grasped the threat that they can pose to users. So we're back at the original questions: where are all the new social networks? I think they're gone. Done, dusted, over. I don't think anyone is going to build a social network from scratch whose only purpose is to connect people. We've got Facebook (personal), LinkedIn (business) and Twitter (SMS-length for mobile).


Today the technology scene has echoes of the post-dotcom boom exhaustion of 2002-4. Then, the ideas which sank on the reefs of too-slow internet connections and too-few internet users had to wait for computers to catch up. Digg in 2004 and Google Maps in 2005 heralded much of the expansion, showing how a mashup of information meant new possibilities, and the whole "Web 2.0" concept began to germinate.


Now we're waiting again for mobiles, and especially smartphones allied to mobile networks, to catch up with what ambitious startup companies want to do. Apple's insistence in 2007 that iPhone users should have unlimited data plans yanked the entire mobile business forward about 10 years, and briefly showed us how everything should be working by 2012. No surprise that in recent months the mobile networks, unable to invest fast enough, have been rowing back on the "unlimited data" commitment, taking us back to 2007.


The next big sites won't be social networks. Of course they'll have social networking built into them; they'll come with an understanding of their importance, just as Facebook and Twitter know that search (an idea Google refined) and breaking news (Yahoo's remaining specialist metier) are de rigueur. Nor will they be existing sites retrofitted to do social networking, despite the efforts of Digg and Spotify.


So what will they be? No idea, I'm afraid. If I knew that, would I be here writing? Hell, no — I'd be off making elevator pitches and vacuuming up venture capital. Which brings us to business models. Facebook makes its money not just by sucking up ad impressions from the rest of the internet, using its remarkably detailed targeting ability; it also gets a cut from virtual transactions using its own virtual currency. LinkedIn, similarly, can precisely target its executive base. Twitter is different again, selling its user-generated content for big money to Google and Microsoft's Bing, as well as experimenting with direct payment for its EarlyBird sales system and "promoted tweets". The point being that "ad-supported" isn't the only game for startup revenue. The big sites of the future won't necessarily be about ads as a way to make money, and they won't be about social networks. Now, hunker down and wait. Or get out there and build it.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







The Open Page, a longstanding weekly feature of TheHindu, is meant to give its readers opportunities to write on a variety of subjects of their choice. It has proved extremely popular, particularly after it went full page on March 14, 2010, on a suggestion made in this column. The suggestion came in response to the expressed wishes of a number of enthusiastic readers. They wrote on an impressive range of subjects relating to the social, political, economic, and cultural lives of the people. Many of these contributions addressed the issues with fresh insight and a progressive outlook. The number of letters to the editor that have come in testifies to the spontaneity, the liveliness, and the élan of the Open Page.


Way back in 1978, when TheHindu introduced the 'Open Page' as one of three special features, along with 'Outlook' and 'Special Report,' to commemorate the newspaper's birth centenary, the one-page feature was also termed the reader's page. The first Open Page was published with a four-line highlight at the top, which read: "How do people react to events, ideas, developments? TheHindu seeks, in this monthly feature, to provoke public discussion on key topics of current interest, to promote purposeful thinking. This page is open to you" (quoted in Rangaswami Parthasarathy's educative A Hundred Years of The Hindu: The Epic Story of Indian Nationalism, Kasturi & Sons Ltd. 1978, Madras).


These terms of reference remain relevant today. Given the lively response from readers to the contents of the Open Page over the past four months, the feature is clearly living up to its claim "to provoke public discussion ... [and] promote purposeful thinking" among tens of thousands of readers.


A variety


Of the approximately 80 articles (many of them have been accompanied by illustrations, photographs, and cartoons) published in this page up to July 18, 15 probed issues relating to women and children. Eight dealt with problems relating to the environment and wildlife. Issues relating to education and linguistic chauvinism accounted for five articles each. There were four articles on the plight of senior citizens and the same number on Bt. Brinjal. A few articles highlighted problems ranging from the quality of TV serials to the justness or otherwise of capital punishment, from understanding Mahatma Gandhi to confronting Maoists, from eulogising Super Moms and Super Grandmas to ensuring communal harmony in a pluralist society. Most of the articles were eminently readable because they touched upon the contemporary concerns of large sections of the people. The mix included some light articles, human interest stories, humour pieces, and interesting tales that people like to read in addition to the heavy stuff. Some writers wrote sensitively on people who suffer deprivations, such as housemaids and Dalits. Recent incidents of barbaric 'honour killings' and corporal punishment inflicted on schoolchildren were taken up for earnest discussion.


Interestingly, not just the articles on serious subjects, but also those written in a lighter vein won the appreciation of readers who wrote letters to the editor or to the Readers' Editor. Thus recent Open Page articles have generated discussion on everything that serious newspapers write editorials about.


The subjects covered included the entry of foreign universities, 'honour killings' of young couples, the flourishing of khap panchayats, which nullified weddings between consenting adults, the continuing practice of corporal punishment in schools and the resultant tragedies, gender discrimination in fixing wages, the ill-treatment of house maids, child abuse, linguistic chauvinism, communalism, casteism, and terrorism. The theme of changing social values in relation to the indiscriminate use or abuse of modern gadgets such as mobile phones, the 'cultural shocks' that modern society has often to face, and the increasing isolation of senior citizens from the rest of the society have also provoked thoughtful discussion.


They suggest solutions


Many contributors to the Open Page do not stop with highlighting the problems. They propose solutions as well. This suggests that readers are not less committed than media pundits to resolving troubling issues through a process of social change and reform that has been delayed for too long in India. For instance, Anandita Gupta ("Employing women: going beyond quota," Open Page, March 14, 2010) writes "… the question is not which class of women will benefit from a higher number of women representatives." The question is: will it really empower women. In her opinion, a seat in the legislature does not automatically ensure that the interests of the group/section/community of that person are made safe. The article refers to the continued oppression of women and instances of gang rape of Dalit women. Ms Gupta's clear-sighted formulation is that women's empowerment means "giving the power to women to say no to what she does not agree to and giving her the freedom to exercise her fundamental rights as a citizen of India." She then spells out measures that, "if implemented in their true spirit, would empower women the way we would like them to."


The measures include the sensitisation of judges towards cases involving women, the formation of a separate cell to investigate cases involving women, the enactment of stronger laws to deal with atrocities against women, and steps to sensitise the police to woman-specific problems. Although Ms Gupta's stand on reservation for women in legislatures may sound cynical, her article displays a practical approach to the real, long-pending problems ordinary women face in their day-to-day life.


Issues before society


Another subject that has caught the attention of discerning readers is premarital sex and live-in relationships. There have been three Open Page articles on the subject in the last four months. Dr. Meena Chintapalli, a Texas-based paediatrician, offers this surprising generalisation in "Ever thought about the child caught in crossfire?" (Open Page, April 18, 2010): "Encouraging sexual relationships with the co-living prior to marriage leads to what the western society is now regretting. The guy loses interest in the girl he has a relationship with, as another girl attracts his attraction for whatever reason. The girl tries to save the relationship by getting pregnant. The guy walks out of the life of the child and the mother. The mother looks for another support and that man will not accept this child and this child will not accept the new guy. Anger builds up and this leads to emotional and physical abuse as well. The child grows up with insecurity and the mother loses interest in the child as a result of the failures and depression." Noting that the affected children suffered from abnormalities of different kinds, Dr Chintapalli cautions Indians against similar occurrences.


"People of the same gotra do not necessarily have the same origin" (Open Page, July 4, 2010) by M.V. Anjaneyalu challenges the contention of the khaps that same-gotra marriages cannot be validated on the ground that the man and the woman involved have the same origin. The writer punches holes through this pseudo-theory by pointing out that people of a gotra are descended from families of different origin. "Moreover," he writes, "the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents."


Another article that has triggered reader interest is by K. Alagesan. "We are casteless, give us our due" (Open Page, July 4, 2010) looks at the couples "who have chosen to lead a life away from the casteist social order" to make out a case for doing a census of inter-caste couples. Referring to the contradiction between the Constitution envisaging a casteless society and the social order remaining caste-ridden, he asserts that inter-caste marriage is the only remedy. "Crores of people," he claims, have married across castes and discarded the oppressive caste system, but intolerant of this, caste forces have ostracised such couples. Mr. Alagesan presses for a separate reservation of 0.5 per cent for the sons and daughters of inter-caste couples, as recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, headed by Justice M. Venkatachalaiah, in 2000.


Strengthening the bond


The Open Page is a vital, increasingly important part of the newspaper. Making it a full page has attracted a big response. It strengthens the bond of trust between the newspaper and its readers. It helps the newspaper learn from its readers, many of whom bring to the table fresh insights and ideas. TheHindu's Chief News Editor, P.K. Subramanian, who selects the articles from a large inflow and edits them on his own time, mostly at home, and a small team that helps him put together the Open Page, as well as thousands of the newspaper's readers deserve the credit for this enthusing work in progress.







It is clear that the great Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi's courage, and her implicit faith in the credo of Gandhian non-violence, have not dimmed. Released on Saturday from seven years' house arrest by her country's military rulers, and having spent the last 15 years of her life in detention, Ms Suu Kyi told


thousands of cheering supporters that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law. These are tasks that the military rulers are not likely to be pleased about. They had first arrested her in 1990 precisely because she had resolved to work to restore democracy to her country which has been under continuous military rule since 1962. It is thus far from clear how the country's military rulers read the declarations of the world's most famous political prisoner who was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. At any rate, now the results of Burma's sham November 7 poll — only the second national election in 20 years in which Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, refused to take part and was promptly de-recognised by the rulers — will smell even more, considering that the famous democratic protester has chosen to seize the opportunity to speak her mind. After meeting international diplomats in Rangoon following her release at the end of her detention term, she noted that the basis of democratic freedom was freedom of speech. She also told the people that even if they were not political, "politics will come to you".
In the 1990 election, Ms Suu Kyi's NLD had won 59 per cent of the vote and 80 per cent of the seats in Parliament, but the military refused to hand over power to her and locked her up. In the 2010 election, the NLD did not contest the polls. It was held when Ms Suu Kyi was still in detention and the political stasis established in the country by the 1990 poll result remained unresolved. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a creation of the military, won it. In 2003, when this entity was an association (USDA), not a party, some of its cadres had mounted a physical attack on the NLD leader's convoy. As the Army-backed ruling party now, it can be relied on to oppose NLD protests with physical force. Indeed, the election was conveniently held shortly before the expiration of Ms Suu Kyi's detention term with a view to creating a rival civilian centre of power to the moral authority NLD possesses. This will fool no one of course, but a facade of democratic rule has been erected, as we have seen often in places like military-controlled Pakistan.
The West has condemned Burma's obviously rigged election, but has not put forward any clear demands after the NLD leader's release. Sanctions imposed by it on Burma continue. China, Burma's powerful neighbour, backed the recent election and has had warm ties with the military junta. It has always been silent about Ms Suu Kyi. India is in a bind. Instinctively it supports Ms Suu Kyi, and gave her the Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1992. But it has maintained links with the military rulers. It has cautiously welcomed the recent election hoping this would lead to the freeing up of political processes. If New Delhi did not engage Rangoon, China can use Burmese territory for strategic purposes against India and draw Burma irrevocably under its sphere of influence, as it has done North Korea. The US and the West pretend not to understand this although they have supported dictators around the world. In our Parliament recently President Barack Obama deigned to lecture us to support human rights in Burma. We must only do that which serves our essential national interest.









Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru's Teen Murti study had a bronze cast of Abraham Lincoln's right hand, given by an American, Arthur E. Morgan, in 1949. In a 1956 Washington D.C. speech he said: "I look at it every day, and it gives me strength". US President Barack H. Obama, 61 years later, replaced in the Oval Office Winston Churchill's bust with Lincoln's, his homage to a President who wagered all for equality. Mr Obama addressed representatives of 1.2 billion Indians, in the Central Hall on November 8, to recall an additional debt to Mahatma Gandhi, the inspirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and earlier Nehru.


These powerful images emerged belatedly after a Mumbai muddle. Staying at the restored Taj, a symbol of the 26/11 carnage, and meeting survivors and victims' relatives, a perfect stage existed for a powerful denunciation of terrorism, blatantly sponsored by Pakistan. Instead we got nervous hand-wringing and token condemnation. Even a teenager's pointed question on why the US did not declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism elicited rehearsed equivocation. The joint statement, issued at 8.30 pm on November 8, well after the substantive part of the visit was over, on the contrary, is forthright that "all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, must be defeated". Was this poor message management by team Obama or did the public furore compel a rethink?

The positives from the visit were many but surfaced sporadically or belatedly, the joint statement missing the news cycle. The US support for Indian membership of the four multilateral export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement), was leaked by the US side in Mumbai. The lifting of the high-technology restrictions was in the PM's statement at the post-talks press conference at Hyderabad House, as was US support for Indian permanent seat at the UN's Security Council teasingly hinted by Mr Obama but revealed only in his Parliament address, albeit with a tutorial on Iran and Burma. All told, this dissipated the effect of substantive US support to integrate India into the rule-making regimes on dual-use technologies and lifting of restrictions on high-technology trade, thus unshackling the Indian economy for high growth and sustainable development.

The challenge for team Obama was that President Bush's act was difficult to follow. There was no "big ticket" takeaway. Additionally, President Obama in 2009, distracted by the global financial crisis, withdrawal from Iraq and planning a surge in Afghanistan, was not India-focused. The civil nuclear debate got hijacked by the NPT Review Conference and his own non-proliferation agenda. The conflicting signals raised questions whether he was resetting India-US relations? Disjointedly, but certainly, he has now managed to address Indian concerns and aspirations. On Afghanistan he has indicated no rushed exit and greater India-US exchanges, telling Pakistan and their Taliban associates that a reversion to the 1996-2001 Taliban-led and ISI encouraged regime in Kabul was not on the US script. By flatteringly calling India a risen and not a rising power, welcoming greater Indian engagement with East Asia and emphasising the need for an open and equitable Asian security order, he has calmed Indian fears over a US tilt towards China.

A new element, relating to Mr Obama's African roots, is the India-US partnership in Africa. This, too, subtly brings in the Chinese role in that continent, building transactional relationships that do not take into account the nature of the regimes or the relevance of Chinese investment to the livelihood of the African people.
On the eve of his October 1949 US visit, Nehru wrote to his sister and Indian ambassador to Washington Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit that "I want to be friendly with the Americans but always making it clear what we stand for, I want to make no commitments which come in the way of our basic policy..." If the Nehruvian maxim held good when India was economically feeble and buffeted by Cold War pressures, it is even more apposite for a rising India. Naturally the Indian tactics must evolve to maximise advantages while safeguarding our values and interests. India shall be a pole in a multi-polar world, both shaping the 21st century world and being shaped by it. The instruments for this global transmutation are: on economic and financial matters the G20; on security and political matters, the UN Security Council; and on emerging technologies the Quadruple regimes.
The challenges ahead are illustrated by three current issues. For instance, India can work with US on humanitarian relief (Tsunami, etc) and counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean but resists Proliferation Security Initiative or UNSC plus sanctions against Iran (implemented by EU and even some members of the GCC). Even over Burma the differences have been over tactics, US preferring condemnation and isolation and India favouring public engagement and private counselling. With elections over and Aung San Suu Kyi released, perhaps Indian and the US approaches can converge. The dynamic of UNSC reform is not US led; it is US defended, with clear US red lines. They reject veto for new permanent members and want a modest expansion beyond the current 15. For a two-third majority for UN charter amending, African and Latin American interests, both unrepresented currently, and that of Asia takes it up to 25. The African spoilers in addition insist on a veto-wielding seat, which US rejects.

The path is long, the climb steep but Obama visit has consolidated India and US partnership, and it may even be discounting for political hyperbole, a defining one of the 21st century.

The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry









How appropriate is it for a top politician like Sharad Pawar to promote the development of a massive lake city project for the sake of tourism development in Maharashtra and then state matter-of-factly that his own daughter and son-in-law were shareholders in the company behind the project? Since there were no public disclosures in early 2000 when the shares were held, does it not smack of"conflict of interest" between Pawar's public obligations and the private interests of his family?


Mumbai's Adarsh Housing Society scam which has cost Ashok Chavan his chief ministership, is another conflict of interest case wherein Chavan took decisions relating to the society where multiple flats were allotted to his own family members. There are key politicians and bureaucrats in a similar situation.


While the serious under-selling of second generation (2G) telecom licences in 2008 has embroiled telecom minister A Raja, with severe strictures passed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the entire Indian Premier League (IPL) scam presents a textbook case of conflict of interest. A large number of prominent BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) office-bearers who approved the bids for various IPL teams, were found to have questionable links with the bidders themselves.


'Conflict of interest' is one of the elements of king-sized corruption and the gross misuse of authority in India. Unless we identify and unravel the hidden interests in mega deals and projects, India will not get a grip on giant-sized corruption. And unless the giants are tackled first, the minions will remain undeterred.


Corruption in India, according to former Central Vigilance commissioner N Vittal, is a result of a strong, supportive nexus between corrupt politicians and like-minded bureaucrats, businessmen, NGOs and the underworld. It thrives because of a scarcity of goods and services, red tape, lack of transparency in decision-making and the failure to punish the guilty. Vittal sees a solution in simplifying rules and procedures, empowering the public through transparency and effective punishment.


While this is true, what is largely invisible is the "hidden interest" behind mega deals and land transactions that may involve a misuse of authority and thus a fraud on the unsuspecting public. This is the turf of the big daddies of the day.


One fraud repeatedly committed by politicians in Maharashtra is the long-term lease of lucrative government properties for 30 years or more to educational trusts under their influence. Thus, in Pune, a juicy government plot valued at around Rs20 crore, which was part of a larger plot reserved for a rehab centre for recovering mentally ill patients, has gone to a trust with close ties to ex-CM Narayan Rane.


One would have been full of praise for Sharad Pawar's vision for tourism development in Maharashtra, with him having revealed that it was he who identified the site for the development of the Lavasa Lake City project.Naturally, since he was behind the project, it took off speedily. The problem with Pawar's involvement is his family's shareholding in the company during 2002-2004 when the project was all hush-hush and preparing for take-off with many government clearances coming in swiftly.


Conflicts of interest arise when key facts in mega projects are not disclosed to the public well in advance. What they do is raise doubts and suspicion, which may hold merit more often than not.







This is being written on Saturday morning. When you read the column on Monday, will Spectrum Raja still be king of the telecom ministry? Maybe, maybe not. "I will not resign,' he has said, adding "why should I resign?" Millions of Indians can tell him why, but the one Indian who matters to Raja, a certain gentleman in dark glasses in Chennai whose name suggests infinite kindness, hasn't told him why, so he will shamelessly cling on to his chair.


But perhaps, this time M Karunanidhi might not have any option but to replace him.


However, will the mere removal of Raja be enough? In the Adarsh case, the buck hasn't stopped with Chavan. There's talk of initiating action against the bureaucrats whose clever machinations made the whole scam possible, people like Ramanand Tiwari, then principal secretary for urban development, SS Kshatriya, then general manager of BEST (they seem to have helped transfer spare FSI (floor space index) from the adjoining BEST land to Adarsh), the Mumbai Collector Idzes Kundan and others.


There is also serious talk of demolishing the Adarsh building which will be a fitting thing to do, because it will ensure that all those dreams of making illicit money will lie in a heap of rubble. Similarly, in the Commonwealth Games scandal, it's not just Suresh Kalmadi who had to resign from his Congress party post. Multiple probes are on into every aspect of the Games.


But the Commonwealth Games and Adarsh scams are really tiny compared to the telecom scandal. In its final report on the case, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said that the loss to the country due to the spectrum scam is Rs1.76 lakh crore.


That's Rs1760000000000. Now you know why long, long ago India invented the zero: we knew that in the coming centuries we would need lots and lots of them. Most of us would have problems comprehending what all those zeroes mean. This may help a bit. Rs1.76 lakh crore is seven times the national health budget, three times the education budget, and bigger than the entire defence budget.


Impressed? You should be. Can there be a bigger scam than this? It has to be the biggest swindle ever in the history of India and anywhere in the world. Yet, Raja and his Boss of Infinite Mercy think they are blameless!


CAG's final report leaves no room for ambiguity. It says the allocation of the 2G (2nd generation) spectrum in January 2008 was flawed in every way. A total of 122 licences were issued to telecom companies for 2G services in different circles in the country. Of these, according to CAG, 85 licences were given to 12 companies inspite of the fact that they did not meet DoT eligibility conditions. But that's a technicality: based on the foreign direct investment (FDI) attracted by the companies which won the licences, the cost of a pan-India licence should have been anywhere between Rs7,442 crore and Rs47,918 crore. Raja issued a pan-India licence for only Rs1,658 crore.


CAG used two different methodologies to assess the loss to the exchequer. One was based on the offer made by foreign telecom major STel in 2007. For 6.2 MHz of 2G spectrum for the 122 licences, its offer added up to Rs65,725 crore against the Rs1,093 crore collected by DoT. Add to that the dual technology rate offered by STel of Rs24,591 crore and you get Rs90,316 crore. The second methodology is too technical to get into.


Raja and his ministry adopted a first-come, first-served policy at earlier rates rather than the auction route taken for 3G, which has shown how very valuable spectrum allocation is. Raja and his cronies may claim that this is hindsight, and that at the time of the 2G allocation they did not have the benefit of the 3G figures. To that we reply with a simple analogy: Suppose you had a very rare Tyeb Mehta painting, one everyone knew was extremely valuable. Would you sell it to the first offer you received? Or would you put it up for auction at Christie's to see how much more the painting would fetch?


I will give you two answers. Answer No 1: You would maximise your income by giving it to the auction house. Answer No 2: You would sell it to the first buyer. This would have a catch: the income here would be your official declared income. But there would be a sizeable amount you would get under the table. Am I insinuating something? Draw your own conclusions.


But is Raja's head enough? If he is sacked, he will lick his wounds, and then flourish in Tamil Nadu politics. Considering the loss he has caused to the nation, he must be probed by the Anti Corruption Bureau, income-tax department, etc, thoroughly. If he has amassed any wealth, he should be made to cough it up. In any case, he should be prosecuted for all its worth.


Even that isn't enough. What about the officials of the telecom ministry? How can they get away scot free? They can't and they shouldn't. From now on, no one should.


The writer is a commentator on social affairs.







The release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be one more peculiar tryst in Myanmar's history. The country is just emerging from one more suspect election, which received international condemnation amidst allegations that it was rigged in favour of the ruling military regime. The timing of Suu Kyi's release thus raises doubts. There is speculation that the military junta decided to release her to deflect attention from the flawed elections. If this turns out to be true, there is no guarantee that Suu Kyi will not be re-arrested on some flimsy charges, as has happened in the past. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 1989.


Myanmar's problem is that the democratic movement has been fractured in the years that the Nobel Prize winner has been imprisoned. Many feel that Suu Kyi's uncompromising stand has set the democracy process back. The international community has been vocal in condemnation but has provided little tangible support. The India-China rivalry may also be working against Myanmar's return to democracy since both countries are keen to derive short-term geopolitical advantage by working with the military regime. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for the hapless citizens of Myanmar as yet.







Prime minister Manmohan Singh struck the right note of caution and counsel at the G20 summit in Seoul when he warned against protectionist sentiments gaining ground in developed economies, the need for fiscal prudence (read: the US and other Eurozone economies) and the need to channelise surpluses (read: China) into infrastructure in emerging economies. At a time when the US was zeroing in on Chinese trade and currency surpluses as the key impediment to global economic recovery, Singh presented a balanced picture of the problems facing a world economy struggling to emerge from the shadow of recession.


Without making it a rhetorical flourish, Singh reminded that it is time to look at the long-term prospects of the global economy. It is no more possible to push the issues of development and fair trade practices under the table. In doing so, he deflected the arcane debates about currency wars and competitive devaluations by drawing attention to the real issues. He has made it clear that recovery and growth in the developed economies was necessary for the rest of the world to sustain economic development. This issue had receded into the background as the major economies began to battle one another in their attempt to protect domestic markets.


The economist in Singh spoke out clearly when he hinted ever so indirectly that the US would have to contain its deficits and that China's surpluses need to be put to more productive use. But he was careful enough to point out that there are no universal remedies and that each country will have to finetune its own policy response in the context of its own situation. Singh's speech is indicative of the sea change in the global power structure. Time was when the US and Europe lectured the poor on how they should be managing their economies better. The rise of China and India shows that the west has to listen to other voices. It is now time for them to listen to our lectures — though that was not the intended purpose of Manmohan Singh's speech.







The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently wrote to all its schools that physical education (PE) classes must be held daily up to Class X. The letter said that physical education teaches important conflict resolution skills, including team work, fairplay and communication, leading to reduced violent behaviour among children. Further, children who participate in physical education and sports develop a positive attitude towards life.


Young people today, particularly those living in congested urban areas, are starved of physical activity. The distraction of the omnipresent television and the internet-linked computer is a potent reality in most middle-class homes, providing them with an incentive to become couch potatoes. Affluence and bad dietary habits have worsened the problem, as a recent obesity survey conducted by the National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation (N-DOC) and other organisations discovered. Private schools, generally populated by the rich and middle classes, had significantly higher levels of obesity in Delhi (33%) compared to government schools (less than 10%). Delhi and Mumbai have more obesity problems than other cities, being the top two ranked cities by obesity levels among teens (ages 14-18).


That physical inactivity and junk food lead to a host of problems has been well documented in the West, where an entire generation has been destroyed by it. Fighting obesity has become an obsession in the West, best epitomised by US First Lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a campaign in her country. In India, obesity has not yet reached epidemic proportions nationally, not least because the vast majority are poor. But the big metros and cities are heading there. What compounds the problem is the disappearance of open spaces where children can play. This is particularly true of our metros. Since it is futile to expect any sudden increase in playing grounds, the second-best option is to give children as much physical activity as possible in schools.


Yet, while much lip service has been paid to getting students to play outdoors and attend PE classes, the fact is that in most schools PE is merely seen as a break from the routine of studies.


The effort should be to get students, parents, and teachers to treat PE on a par with mathematics and science. We all need to realise that staying physically fit is no less important than learning Newton's three laws of motion. Government, schools and parents must break the inertia.










THE army junta of Myanmar has not released Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi out of any noble motives. It is only a clever ploy to deflect attention from a sham election won by the army-backed party to hide behind a façade of democracy. Even otherwise, she was let off only at the very end of a totally illegal and unethical seven-year incarceration, without being given even a day's reprieve. She has been kept under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years only to stifle the people's aspirations and their right to choose the government they want. The reins of power are firmly in the hands of the generals. The situation has not changed much since the time she was put behind bars after her National League for Democracy posted a landslide victory in 1990 and the generals refused to relinquish power.


The point to ponder is whether she will be allowed to threaten their hold on power after these two decades. Democratic icon Suu Kyi is unlikely to accept any order banning her from political activity. Her lawyer Nyan Win says she will resume active politics and make organising tours throughout the country. Her party has been forced to disband because it refused to take part in the rigged elections, but it remains the strongest social force in Myanmar.


What happens in the days to come will determine the course of history of the country. If the world stands by her, she can stand up to the army machine. Otherwise, while the army still retains its appetite to arrest her at will, the thugs backed by it have the potential to harm her physically. Seven years ago when she travelled through her country, she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by one such band. Public support for her is phenomenal because people are inspired by her defiance. But her voice of protest should not be allowed to remain a cry in the wilderness. The whole world should forcefully join the chorus.








THE G-20 talk show at Seoul has produced no substance, only some good intents and agreements no one is serious about. It has re-emphasised the obvious: the US writ no longer runs far. The US wanted China to loosen control over the yuan so that it did not get undue advantage in trade. China has not budged an inch from its known position and has just held out a vague assurance to "move toward market-determined exchange rates". The US itself is guilty of weakening its currency by printing more dollars, which flow to the emerging markets, harming the currencies and exports of fast-growing Brazil, South Korea, Russia and India.


The second major issue at Seoul was of trade imbalances. Many nations are upset that China and Germany export their wares without doing anything to stimulate domestic demand. This means they should buy goods from other countries also so that their economies too pick up and the recovery becomes truly global. India has no major problems on these issues. Though a weak yuan hurts India's export competitiveness and inflows of the US dollar strengthen the rupee, denting exports, India by and large is not dependent on exports to keep up its growth momentum. Domestic demand itself is huge. Hence, India is not unduly worried about outcomes of such summits.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made three important observations at Seoul. He cautioned against "competitive devaluation" of currencies (by the US and China). He also apprised the G20 meet of dangers of "a resurgence of protectionism". Protectionism and currency devaluation both hit exports from other countries. Finally, he asked the rich nations to be prudent with debt. These were very sound and relevant observations. After Greece, Ireland and Portugal have debt problems and are giving jitters to world markets. In fact, mid-way during the summit worried European leaders huddled together to discuss Ireland's deepening debt crisis. So even after Seoul, currency wars will continue, trade imbalances will persist and heavily indebted nations will continue to threaten global financial institutions. It is life as usual.









THE Supreme Court's green signal to the President of India to remove the suspended Haryana Public Service Commission (HPSC) Chairman Mehar Singh Saini and other members for their failure to "maintain the required standards of integrity and rectitude in performance of their constitutional duties" is welcome, though belated. Its well considered response to the President's reference comes very late because six members of the HPSC have already retired and three others - Mr Saini and two members - are due to retire in a few weeks. Nonetheless, the Bench consisting of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar not only examined the case comprehensively but also fixed accountability on the beleaguered members for their actions. Questions were raised on the fairness and selection process of these members by the Om Parkash Chautala government at the fag end of its tenure. However, soon after taking charge, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda reviewed their appointments, withdrew work from them and suspended them, pending investigation.


The manner in which Mr Saini and others conducted themselves during the probe leaves much to be desired. The Bench has called their refusal to submit records to the authorities for investigation as an act of misbehaviour. And rightly, it called for their removal by the President as mandated by the Constitution. The Governor appoints them but can't remove them. This reflects the kind of autonomy that the framers bestowed on the PSC members to ensure proper and fair performance of its functions. The Bench ruled that the irregularities and acts of irresponsibility committed by them delineate their misbehaviour in terms of Article 317 (1) of the Constitution as it, certainly, lowers the dignity and prestige of the Constitution.


The malaise in the state PSCs is so deep-rooted that it is not confined to Haryana alone. Almost all states, including Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are afflicted with this malady. The Chief Ministers want to pack these commissions with unworthy persons, oblivious of its consequences on the system. If Ravinder Sidhu created history as the Punjab PSC Chairman, the Kerala government's recommendation for appointment of a dismissed Central government employee as PSC member caused consternation and dismay. It would only be fair if the Union Public Service Commission - and not the Governors - is empowered to select meritorious persons with impeccable credentials to the PSCs.


















DEVELOPMENTS in Punjab, with the ouster of its Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal from the Cabinet and the Shiromani Akali Dal, withdrawal of support by 16 Karnataka MLAs to the ruling BJP, their consequential disqualification by the Speaker and its getting upheld by the state's High Court have triggered a debate on the application of the anti-defection law. Earlier in August 2003 in UP 13 BSP MLAs, who formed a new party and shifted their support to Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party to oust Mayawati from the government followed by 24 other MLAs, had to suffer disqualification following a judgment of the Supreme Court. The Speaker had recognised the split under the then existing provisions and refused to disqualify those members.


The anti-defection law came into existence in 1985 as a result of frequent defections by individual members generally known as the Aya Ram Gaya Ram factor. Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution of India were amended so as to provide that a person shall be disqualified for being a member of either House of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly of a state if he is disqualified under the Tenth Schedule, which too was added by way of the 52nd Amendment of the Constitution. The Tenth Schedule exhaustively and strenuously prohibited defection by any member of Parliament or a Legislative Assembly having been elected on a symbol allotted by a political party, except by way of a split by at least one-third of the members of such House or by an independent member joining a political party.


In 2003 a major change took place in the anti-defection law (The Tenth Schedule). Dinesh Goswami, Chairman of the Committee on Electoral Reforms, as well as the Law Commission in its 170th report recommended that Paragraph 3 of the Tenth Schedule, allowing defection on the basis of a split by one-third members of a political party encourages bulk defection while individual defections are discouraged and not allowed.


As a result, the 91st amendment of the Constitution was made in 2003 which came into effect on January 1, 2004. The amended provisions disallowed defection by any number of members by way of a split. The provisions in the Tenth Schedule have been redefined. A split is not allowed now by any number of members. However, merger of two political parties is permitted which does not attract any disqualification.


After deleting Paragraph 3, regarding split, the Tenth Schedule retains the provision regarding the merger of political parties. It provides that "a member of a House shall not be disqualified under Sub Paragraph (1) of Paragraph 2 where his original political party merges with another political party and he claims that he and any other member of his original political party-(a) have become members of such other political party or as the case may be, of a new political party formed by such merger". And if those who have not accepted the merger and opted to function as a separate group, then from the time of such merger they shall be deemed to belong to the political party they originally came from. The merger of the original political party of a member of a House shall be deemed to have taken place if and only if not less than two-thirds of the members of the legislative party concerned have agreed to such merger.


The law provides the definition of "legislature party" and "original political party". There is a difference between the two. "Legislature party" means a group consisting of all the members of that House for the time being belonging to that political party in accordance with the said provision. "Original political party" means "the political party to which he belongs and which party set him up as a candidate for election as such member".


"Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule provides that a member of a House belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the House (a) if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party; or (b) if he votes or abstained from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs or any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf without obtaining, in either House, the prior permission of such political party, person or authority and such voting or abstention has not been condoned by such political party."


There is an exception to this provision in the case of a Speaker. It is open for the member of a political party, if he is elected as a Speaker, to resign from the membership of the party. He incurs no disqualification. He can join his political party after he ceases to be Speaker. In case he opts to retain the membership of the party while being a Speaker, he will then be bound by the party discipline in the Assembly and in the event he has to cast his vote, he has to abide by the direction or the whip issued by the party.


Jagjit Singh and Karan Singh Dalal having been elected to the Haryana Legislative Assembly, as lone elected members of their respective political party, the Democratic Dal Haryana and the Republican Party, having allegedly supported the Congress(I), attracted the wrath of the Speaker who, exercising the powers under the Tenth Schedule, disqualified them for being members of the House for alleged defection. Their plea was that they being the lone member constituted 100 per cent than the one-third required majority for a split. The Supreme Court disagreed with their viewpoint on the ground that the rule of one-third split did not apply to a single-member Legislature Party.


In Jagjit Singh's case the question arose as to the independent character of an independent member of the House. The Supreme Court held that "giving outside support by an independent elected member is not the same thing as joining another political party after election. To find out whether an independent member has extended only outside support or, in fact, has joined a political party, materials available and also the conduct of the member are to be examined by the Speaker. It may be possible in a given situation for a Speaker to draw an inference that an independent member of the assembly has joined a political party". Accepting a portfolio as minister or as Parliamentary Secretary is a material for the Speaker to come to a conclusion whether an independent candidate has lost his independent character and suffered a disqualification under the Tenth Schedule.


The position of a member of the House expelled from a political party, as to his role, position and rights as a member of the House is a subject of controversy. Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule provides that a member suffers disqualification if he voluntarily gives up his membership of such a political party or votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs. Expulsion from membership is not voluntary giving up membership. It is different from resignation.


The question arises whether he incurs disqualification. The Supreme Court of India in G.Viswanathan versus Speaker Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (AIR 1996 SC 1060) has held, "If a person belonging to a political party that had set him up as a candidate gets elected to the House and thereafter joins another political party for whatever reason, either because of his expulsion from the party or otherwise, he voluntarily gives up his membership of the political party and incurs the disqualification. Even if he is treated as an 'unattached' member in the House. It is a matter of mere convenience. It is outside the Tenth Schedule. The Supreme Court observed, "We are, therefore, of the opinion that the deeming fiction must be given full effect for otherwise the expelled member would escape the rigour of the law which was intended to curb the evil of defections which had polluted our democratic polity." The controversy has again been taken to the Supreme Court by Amar Singh expelled from the Samajwadi Party.


The role of the Speaker, acting in extraordinary haste or sleeping over the matter, or his arbitrary conduct in denying the member due opportunity of being heard, or not to allow him to look into the record or produce his defence, has also been a point of controversy before the Supreme Court in Jagjit Singh's case. Besides the statutory finality attached to the powers of the Speaker in the matter, in case of violation of principles of natural justice, or the rule of law, any order speaking of arbitrariness passed by the Speaker has to be held as void ab initio. The debate is continuing at the national level as it is a matter of concern for every citizen of the country. It attracts their attention and involvement.


The writer is an advocate of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh









MRS G K SINGH was the first one to make valiant attempts to sort out my problems with spelling. She was our English teacher in Yadavindra Public School, Patiala. I got the place of honour in her class, right in the front, so that she could keep a better eye on this "outsider" who had just joined.


I managed to keep my head above water, since at this school, they did not insist that I write with my right hand, something I had found difficult to do when I studied in a convent school in Chandigarh, where the nuns forced us to "take the right path," till my mother intervened. However, by that time I had developed the skill to be ambidextrous, right hand for the class and left for homework. The result was handwriting that was truly atrocious.


Later, Mr Christopher Duffy, a US Peace Corps volunteer who taught at YPS, took our class. He spotted something that had evaded everyone's gaze, a sliver of talent in yours truly. He encouraged me to read more, and write. He did not react as much to my handwriting, which at that time I attributed to his goodness. Only much later did I see the handwriting of my American friends and colleagues-they surely made me feel much, much better about my scribble.


Particularly pleased with my work one time, Mr Duffy declared that I could be a writer one day. Of course, I didn't believe him at all, but a seed was planted.


I told my parents about what he said, and soon I was being encouraged to write more.


My father offered to pay me a rupee a page for every short story that I wrote, in Punjabi, his language of choice. Mother matched the offer in English, and thus came the only period when I truly felt that I could get rich through writing.


Mr Duffy left school, having introduced us to baseball and kindled our minds. Other language teachers followed, notably Mr Sadhu Singh Deol in English and Mrs Darshan Bakshish Singh in Punjabi. Writing became much a part of life, even as I took Philosophy Honours in college. Interestingly, Mr Deol called me "Philosopher" when I was his student in YPS!


In college too, my teachers were intensely involved in the way thoughts were communicated through the spoken and written words. Dr R K Gupta, then Head of Department of Philosophy at St Stephen's College, Delhi, was rigorous in his examination of the tutorials submitted to him. Dr Ashok Vohra made me rewrite a tutorial many times till I got it right, and Dr Vijay Tankha exposed my mind to much more than the subject at hand.


After college, I went to New York and when I wrote to Dr Gupta to inform him that I was working as a journalist, he wrote back: "But Roopinder, what will you do about your handwriting and spelling?" Pat went the reply: "Sir, I have found a solution to both: a computer."










CARDIOVASCULAR diseases (CVD) are already rampant in India and are poised to rise dramatically over the next decade. The prevalence of coronary artery disease in adults has risen four fold in the past 40 years and even in rural areas has more than doubled. WHO has estimated that by 2020 CVD will be largest cause of disability and death in India. India lost 9 billion dollars in national income from premature death due to Diabetes Mellitus, Stroke and heart disease in 2005 and is likely to lose 235 billion dollar by 2015. Of significant concern is the fact that these diseases occur in Indians atleast 5-10 years earlier than in the west, in their most productive years. Also they are rapidly rising in the socio-economically disadvantaged section of our population who can ill afford the modern expensive investigations and treatment.


There are six important risk factors which can be modified to decrease the disease burden in our society. These are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, physical inactivity, tobacco use and low intake of fruits and vegetables. Addressing these can have a major impact and reducing the global burden of the disease, a fact which is recognized but has not been addressed.


Getting people to adopt a healthy lifestyle is a challenge which requires a sustained action from various sections of the society, including government policies and awareness campaign by the media. These would involve population based strategies for our masses and individualised strategies for high risk individuals. Since there is a continuum of risk associated with CVD risk factors, a mass change will result in a significant benefit for the society, thought the individual benefit may be small.


On the other hand, the individualised approach identifies persons with the highest risk of disease or existing disease. Here, targeted interventions result in significant individual benefit but smaller overall benefit to the society. Both strategies are important and need to be applied together.


Population-based approaches consisting of a ban on tobacco advertising and promotion and banning smoking in public places along with a rise in taxes on tobacco based products have reduced tobacco use significantly. Policy interventions are needed to enhance the supply of healthier food choices by increasing their availability and reducing the prices and curtailing the availability of unhealthy food. Unfortunately today, the high fat fast foods are much cheaper than fruits, vegetable, whole grains and pulses. This coupled with aggressive marketing in the media promotes unhealthy eating habits which increase high cholesterol and obesity. For high risk individuals implementation of an essential drug policy to control the prices of related drugs would lead to better adherence to drug therapy and risk factor management especially in low income group.



In certain high risk individuals it is important to detect the onset of disease at the earliest possible stage so that aggressive preventive steps may be taken Conventional investigations do detect asymptomatic coronary artery disease, but only when the obstruction is already about 70% . The 256-slice coronary CT Angio is a powerful new diagnostic stool which can detect the deposition of cholesterol in the walls of the blood vessels even before it has caused any obstruction in the lumen of the vessel. In expert hands it is truly a valuable tool and the radiation dose is far less than that given by the usual 64 slice CT scanners. Latest generation of 3-D and 4-D Echo machines give very accurate information of the defects in the heart giving the surgeons vital pre operative information.


For those patients with established coronary artery disease, coronary angiography helps us choose an appropriate line of treatment- medical, PTCA or surgery. In all these 3 arms, new drugs, devices and techniques are being developed to make the treatment and procedures more effective, safer and less invasive. Certain new statins have been shown not only to halt the progression of disease but also cause some regression.


New stents are being developed to further reduce the chances of reblockage of the arteries, including some stents which get dissolved automatically in six months. Important advances in surgical field consist of Heart Port surgery and Robotic surgery available in a few specialised centres, in which the incision is very small, resulting in much less discomfort to the patient and a quick recovery. It may also enable a surgeon sitting in another city to operate upon a patient! Percutaneous valve replacements are a reality now, in which damaged heart valves can be replaced without opening the chest of a patient.


There are a large number of patients which were earlier considered to "No Hopers" as the disease was considered to be too advanced and heart muscle too damaged to be salvageable by the conventional diagnostic techniques. New diagnostic modalities like PET scanners have helped us identify patients who still have viable heart muscle which can be saved. In these individuals, restoration of blood supply to the heart by angioplasty or bypass surgery can yield dramatic benefits.


For patients with extensive damage to the heart muscle, referred to as "Heart Failure" in medical terms, there

are certain new pacemakers which can result in improvement in quality of life and longevity in carefully selected cases. Also, in individuals at risk of sudden death due to disorders of the heart rhythm, small implanted devices called ICDs can automatically detect these potentially fatal disorders and correct them by giving a small shock.


Heart transplant remains the final method of treatment for many patients where there is no other choice. There are obvious difficulties in offering this to the large number who require it. Availability of donor hearts, infrastructure and technical expertise are the main limiting factors, but a few centres in our country have started offering this service.


Finally, there are the exciting new fields of Stem Cell Therapy and tissue engineering. Their potential applications are diverse and consist of attempts to regenerate new heart muscle and new blood vessels to help patients with severely damaged hearts and inoperable blood vessels. There are also attempts being made to grow new valves for replacement of damaged heart valves. Genetic mapping will help us tailor therapies for an individual rather than applying the same set of treatments for everyone. All in all, the next couple of decades are likely to witness emergence of novel therapies and a paradigm shift in the way we have been treating our patients.


The writer is Chairman and Managing Director, Medanta — THE Medicity, Sector 38, Gurgaon








CARDIO-VASCULAR disease prevalence in India has risen four-fold in the past four decades. Expected to be the leading cause of death and disability by 2020, CVD already causes 29 per cent of all deaths in the country. "Indians are succumbing to heart disease and stroke in the most productive years of their lives; about a decade earlier than their western counterparts," says Dr KS Reddy, Chair of the World Heart Federation Foundations' Advisory Board and President of the Public Health Foundation of India.


In India, CVD victims are often the sole breadwinner of a large family. Most healthcare costs are covered out of pocket and hospitalisations drive many families into poverty.


According to the World Health Organisation, lost productivity due to premature deaths and disability cost India $ 9 billion in 2005, a loss projected to amount to $237 billion by 2015. This is one of the reasons why a risk factor surveillance and risk reduction programme was initiated in 10 Indian industries in 2001. "Cardiovascular and other chronic diseases threaten to undermine our health, our wellbeing, and our economic growth. Both the government and the business community are waking up to this threat." Dr Reddy concluded.


A new survey among 60,000 Indians shows that one in four Indians has higher than usual levels of low-density lipoproteins, which is better known as bad cholesterol that leads to development of plaque on the arterial walls.


"Urban Indian population has high levels of LDL (24.3% of those surveyed), triglycerides (or TGL at 28.7) and low levels of good cholesterol (or HDL at 17.7)," said the survey.


Moreover, residents of Bangalore are among the unhealthiest as far as lipids are concerned along with Chandigarh and Delhi. Mumbai and Hyderabad are mainly fence-sitters, with Kolkata has emerged as the city for people with the healthiest hearts in India.


According to Dr Shashank Joshi, editor emeritus of JAPI (Journal of Association of Physicians of India), the survey's results show the hidden burden of dyslipidemia in India. "Dyslipidemia (or improper lipid levels) is the invisible disease, but it is the most prominent marker for heart disease," he said.


Indians have unhealthy levels of lipids because of urbanised diets and sedentary lifestyles, he said.









Other countries host the G20 as a closed-door confabulation of leaders, wrapped up in a cocoon of water-tight security lest the usual legions of protesters outside spoil the party. South Korea has treated the latest Seoul meeting of the G20 as a coming-out party of sorts to showcase its own journey from poor East Asian basketcase to a member of the richcountries club in just four decades. South Korean officials have said on record that in terms of projecting South Korea's global reputation, they saw this summit meeting as a mega-event bigger than the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 soccer World Cup they co-hosted with Japan. So TV advertisements in Seoul last week were telling its residents not to jump red-lights, throw litter or be disorderly and a collection of kitschy dolls depicting G20 leaders was put on display on a barge at the Seoul Lantern Festival. Never mind that the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was depicted at first in the Austrian national dress! 


The South Korean party notwithstanding, the big question this week after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's return to Delhi is the growing debate over the relevance of the G20 itself as an effective forum for global action. He has been satisfied that his suggestions to make global finance more responsive to developing country needs and 'shared growth' were accepted by the others and in a sense he has emerged as a sort of elder statesman in this grouping. But overall most analysts agree that what has primarily emerged from the Seoul G20 is a vague commitment to watch out for dangerous imbalances between economies and not to engage in monetary warfare. The meeting began with huge divides among its members and though by the end of it they agreed on a communiqué with a little something for everyone the global reactions have been far from positive. Most seasoned observers are doubting if any country will actually do anything different as a result of the commitments made at the summit. 


G20 heads of government met for the first time when the global economic crisis first became clear in 2008 and they have met five times since those inaugural summit level talks. During that acute crisis, world leaders looked like they were pulling together so much so that the South Koreans have even hyped up the grouping as a "steering committee of the world." That optimism is fast fading away.


The G20 was supposed to replace the earlier G8 as a forum for global governance by bringing the other big players who mattered in a changing world order. The old forum was basically the white, western world plus Japan so reform was a good idea but it has run into a fundamental problem. In the old days, every member of the elite club essentially agreed on the basic fundamentals of globalisation and on a broad ideological consensus on the system they wanted to move towards, which was predicated on the post-second World War Breton-Woods principles. That consensus has broken down, the old ideas – which at their heart were meant to bring everyone else in line with the West – don't work anymore and there has been a profound shift in global power and economic patterns. 


The sparring between Beijing and Washington on currency rates is an obvious example but there is a fundamental divide today between countries running large deficits today and those that are running large surpluses. Germany for instance has been more critical of recent US economic policy than even China. At a deeper level though we are seeing a leadership vacuum in as much as the United States is a much diminished power, the European are frantically hanging on to delusions of past grandeur and the new giants like China and to a lesser extent, India, are still coming to grips with the responsibilities of sitting on the global high power. 


Put simply, the older members can't impose solutions like they did earlier and in any case are divided. The newer ones are still coming to terms with their new status and psychologically at some level still haven't changed their mind-sets to think of themselves as the real new big boys in town. As Gideon Rachman, the author of a new book, Zero-Sum World, has argued, "far from being a solution to the world's most urgent problems, the G20 looks increasingly divided, ineffectual and illegitimate." 


For the near future then, we have a much messier, uncertain world. India's role will be crucial in this shifting power dynamic. This is why during Obama's visit to India, PM Singh's decision to back the US Fed's recent moves to buy $600 billion in US Treasury bonds to boost the economy was perhaps as important as other high octane talk on the UN Security Council and Pakistan. India is the only major country to back Washington on this so publicly. Others including Germany and China have been very critical and Delhi's position drew big headlines internationally, though it was barely noticed in the Indian press. As an embattled Obama increasingly looking towards Manmohan Singh for support, this is one international equation that will be perhaps as important to watch in the near future as any G20 meeting.



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Look at the photographs of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he is at a G20 summit. Look at him sitting in Parliament. The pictures tell all. The world wants India to do well, Dr Singh once famously said, our problems are at home. It is a thought that must have crossed his mind as he flew back from Seoul on Friday night. At the G20, his ideas and proposals were the toast of the summit. India comfortably occupied its favourite place at such summits — the middle ground — lecturing China on "exchange rate flexibility" and the United States on the special responsibilities of reserve currency countries. The prime minister's proposals for dealing with global imbalances by getting long-term funds into infrastructure development in the developing world was a smart idea well received. As Dr Singh put it, "recycling surplus savings into investment in developing countries will not only address the immediate demand imbalance, it will also help to address developmental imbalances". Looking at global media response to these sensible Indian proposals, it appears not enough was done to sell India's ideas at the summit to a wider global audience. The Seoul summit has proved the G20 sceptics wrong. Those who see the summit as a waste of time and effort should ask the question whether any of the problems discussed at the G20 summit by all participants can at all be solved by the old G7 or G8 on their own. Indeed, can even a G9 with just China on board any longer manage the world economy? Hardly. By getting the G20 to widen its focus from crisis management to long-term development, Dr Singh has increased the summit's relevance and this is a good thing. However, the fact remains that for most participants at the G20 summit, their biggest economic challenges, and solutions to these, lie at home.


Most leaders would, therefore, have enjoyed their convivial pow-wow at Seoul and would now be back where the real problems are. Prime Minister Singh would have spent the weekend thinking less about global imbalances and more about local ones — from reducing corruption in high places to sustaining non-inflationary economic growth. His hands may be tied by coalitional compulsions as far as reshuffling his ministerial council is concerned, but there is much his government can still do to sustain growth. The importance of keeping this agenda in focus was stressed once again last week by the latest data on industrial production. While one should not be misled into thinking there is a major slowdown of economic activity, the numbers should make economic authorities sit up and take note of both supply- and demand-side constraints on higher growth. The lower industrial growth numbers for September 2010 must be seen against the background of the fact that in April-September 2010 industrial output actually rose by 10.2 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent for the same period last year. But the deceleration, especially in electricity output, is a wake-up call for a government that continues to be preoccupied more with day-to-day politics than long-term economics. While India worried at Seoul about tapping global surpluses for financing infrastructure investment, India's real challenge is not really one of getting more money, but putting that to better use. Governance reform, especially in the infrastructure sector, is the key challenge. If the prime minister can re-energise his government, and the government can revitalise the economy and ensure fiscally sustainable growth, India can handle more effectively most external challenges.







A high-level working group of the Government of India has approved the idea of outbound foreign direct investment by Indians in the production of pulses and oilseeds aimed at meeting domestic demand. This is not a new idea. Since arable land in India is fast shrinking and efforts to lift the output of pulses and oilseeds, besides some other essential commodities, are not bearing fruit, investing in land elsewhere for captive cultivation of these crops can be a good way of augmenting domestic supplies. But this may be an idea whose time has come and gone. Most other commodities-starved but cash-rich countries have already grabbed large chunks of available cultivable land in land-surplus countries. India, as usual, has arrived late. Moreover, popular and governmental resistance to such land acquisition in host countries, where this trend is seen as a return to the era of "banana republics", has already made this option less attractive. It may, therefore, not be long before strong anti-land acquisition movements build up in such countries, making it difficult for aliens to acquire land. According to a conservative reckoning, over 20 million hectares of land, twice the size of Germany's total cropland, had already been sold globally to overseas investors till last year. The wave of land acquisitions that began over a decade ago got a further boost following the spurt in global food prices from 2007-08 onwards. The countries which needed more food than they could potentially produce at home, such as China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the like, explored and gathered every opportunity that was available for outsourcing food production. Japan, with very little agricultural land of its own, is believed to have created landholdings abroad measuring more than thrice the size of its own farmland.


Indian investment in foreign farmland acquisition has also been constrained by lack of finance. If such finance is forthcoming, more entrepreneurs may come forward to scout for land abroad. Overseas investment in land has both positive and negative impact on host countries. On the positive side, it brings income and new agricultural technology, helps expand local infrastructure and puts under-utilised assets to better use. On the negative side, there could be dispossession of local communities of their ancestral land and source of livelihood, causing social unrest, as has begun to happen in countries like Mozambique and Madagascar. With a view to making it a win-win deal, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute recently came out with a draft code of conduct for foreign direct investment in agriculture, which addresses most concerns of detractors of this trend. It calls for, among other things, respect for existing land rights, sharing of benefits with local communities, and abiding by the national food security policies of the host countries, which essentially means that in case of food shortages, the local governments will have the first right over the produce.








If Bihar can lift itself up over the next decade, it will lift India with it


In the same month that Maharashtra got its first parachuted chief minister in over two decades, Bihar is expected to get its third popularly elected second-term chief minister since Independence.


 In its six-decade history, Bihar has had only two spells of uninterrupted chief ministerial tenures, and in both cases the incumbent secured a second tenure. Bihar's first chief minister Sri Krishna Singh/Sinha had a 15-year tenure that ended with his demise in 1961. After a gap of over three decades, during which chief ministers walked in and out of a revolving door, Lalu Prasad Yadav earned the distinction, in 1995, of being the second chief minister to win a second term in office. But he wasted that mandate and left office in ignominy.


Most pollsters predict that incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar will return to office in Patna later this month. Hopefully he will do so with his head held high and a clear vision of what Bihar needs. If Mr Kumar is able to keep his focus firmly on the state's development for the next five years, as Narendra Modi has done in Gujarat, and not get seduced by the idea of playing a larger role at the national level, he can make a huge difference not just to Bihar but to India.


If a state of close to 90 million people, accounting for nearly 9 per cent of India's population, can lift itself up, it will lift the nation up with it. In the run up to state assembly elections this year, what is most striking about Bihar is the new sense of confidence that its people, especially the youth, exude.


Confidence in the future shapes expectations. Expectations shape outcomes.

A popular saying about the government in India is that only three functionaries of the state matter — PM, CM and DM (prime minister, chief minister and district magistrate, respectively). There is an element of truth in that statement. Each is a fulcrum of one level of India's three-tiered federal administrative system. However, of the three, the most important functionary from the viewpoint of development remains the CM.


What is not often recognised is that the power of the PM has waxed and waned in proportion to that of the CMs in India. In the first decade after Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru did not hold sway across the length and breadth of the country in the way his daughter did in the period 1970 to 1977. Panditji understood that he had to administer India through CMs. That is why he regularly interacted with them and engaged them.


The Centre's power through this entire period was essentially fiscal and the instrument of central planning was used by the Centre to control the levers of development. When Indira Gandhi took charge as the PM, she faced an army of powerful CMs across the country, both from opposition political parties and from within her own party. While the 1970s to mid-1980s was associated with the weakening of CMs and a strong PM, the 1980s witnessed the return of strong CMs.


It is a testimony to the far greater impact of local and regional factors over national planning on development that the pattern of inter-regional development at the time of Independence in 1947 did not alter substantially by the turn of the century. India's more developed states of 1950 remained India's more developed states of 2000, and the less developed ones remained the less developed ones.


Central planning hardly made much of a difference to the inter-se ranking of states, even if some states benefited more from it than others. What has really made a difference is agrarian change and investment in human development and infrastructure at the state level. Unfortunately, from the point of view of regional development, these factors continued to fuel growth in the more developed states till very recently.


It is only in the past decade that we witnessed an acceleration of growth in less developed states, especially Bihar, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Little wonder then that most of them have returned incumbent CMs back to power. It is not growth and development alone that have made a difference. Better governance and the image of the CM, as a person committed to the state's development and people's welfare, seem to have made a difference too.


While the 1990s was a decade of anti-incumbency around the country, at the Centre and in the states, the past decade has witnessed the return of pro-incumbency, a phenomenon of the 1950s. Thus, almost half the CMs in the country today are serving their second term.


Even the top-down Congress party, where the high command prefers to keep state level leaders off balance all the time, could not prevent Sheila Dikshit, late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, Tarun Gogoi and Bhupender Hooda from getting their second (third in Ms Dikshit's case) term.


Admittedly, different factors have influenced the return of pro-incumbency in different states, but what seems common to all situations is a fairly generalised view that the incumbent CM has focused on the developmental priorities of the people and has emerged as a symbol of the state's personality.


The importance of Mr Kumar's re-election is that Bihar's economic resurgence is, as would be in the case of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, vital to sustaining 9 per cent growth at the national level.


Unlike in China, where the fastest-growing coastal regions are also the country's more densely populated regions, in India high growth has so far been concentrated in less populated peninsular India and bypassed the more populated plains of central and northern India. The transformation of Bihar is, therefore, vital to the transformation of India.








Somali pirates are now operating around 450 nautical miles off Mumbai. A retired US Navy Reserve officer plotted incidents of pirate attacks on a satellite map of the Indian Ocean to reveal a pattern that merits New Delhi's attention. Over the last five years, Somali pirates have expanded the radius of their operations thousands of miles, from the waters off the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Sea off India's economically dynamic western seaboard. Somali boats and nationals have been apprehended in Lakshadweep this year.


 At the heart of the matter is the lack of international attention given to the source of the problem — the long civil war in Somalia that is both breeding Taliban-style militancy on land and vicious piracy at sea. The United States has set up a military command in Africa but clearly has no appetite for escalating its military involvement there. Meanwhile, vested interests in many countries are actually benefiting — think arms sales and money laundering — from the region's conflict economy. So, the international response has been limited to treating the symptoms. Naval task forces and vessels of several countries, including the United States, Nato, Europe, India and China, are deployed in the region, all engaged in an attempt to protect commercial shipping along one of the world's busiest waterways. These ships have played a useful role — the Indian Navy alone has escorted over 1,181 ships since it was first deployed in October 2008 — but the problem is scaling faster than the solution.


Indian Navy warships, around two of which are deployed on anti-piracy missions at a time, currently escort convoys of Indian and foreign ships through the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) along the southern coast of Yemen. This is, in effect, "maritime chowkidari" but the importance of which cannot be overstated. Anti-piracy operations are a credible indicator of India providing global public goods and securing the global commons. For instance, more than 1,037 foreign-flagged ships benefited from the security provided by our navy, as compared to 144 Indian-flagged ones. It is in India's interests to continue policing the Indian Ocean. But the demands on the navy's resources are increasing.


What can we do in the short term? Now, while the Indian Navy has discharged itself admirably in escorting convoys and fighting pirates, it is primarily a war-fighting force. New Delhi's priority must remain equipping it to become a blue-water navy capable of projecting power in India's extended maritime domain. At this time, assigning more ships to maritime constabulary duties off the Horn of Africa could risk blunting the navy's war-fighting edge. At the same time, India must not underestimate the growing pirate menace that threatens its commerce and the lives of a large number of its seafaring citizens.


One way out of this dilemma is for New Delhi to lease a handful of commercial vessels, equip them with adequate fire power, and place them under the operational control of the Indian Navy. After all, you don't need BrahMos missile-equipped Talwar class battle axes to tackle pirates armed with assault rifles. Operating commercial vessels on lease can be adequate to the task, is less expensive and will allow the navy's combatant warships to focus on their core competence.


In parallel, India should use its upcoming presence at the UN Security Council to strengthen the mandate, personnel strength and international support for the African Union (AU) force that is currently deployed in Somalia. Ugandan officials have long been asking the UN for more troops so that the AU force can take effective control over Somalian territory and secure its ports. This makes sense. The challenge will be to manage the complexities of Africa's regional politics so that the international effort has both robust international oversight and legitimacy. It is uncertain, perhaps unlikely, that the AU force will fully succeed in establishing order in the near-anarchic world of Somalian civil wars. There is, however, a good chance that it will seal off the pirates' main launching pads.


The pirates of Puntland are leading indicators of the kind of asymmetric maritime threats that we will face in the future. New Delhi should put its energies into working out how the Indian Navy can leverage maritime partnerships with Oman, Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives, among others, to intensify its presence in our western waters. Incidentally, more than a century ago, Somalia was administered from New Delhi, not just for colonial administrative convenience, but "because the Somali coast's strategic location... was important to India". In those days, it was (British) India that was responsible for patrolling the Red Sea coast.


Today, at a time when the Asian balance is in a state of flux, India cannot afford to be perceived as paying insufficient attention to the developments in its neighbourhood. New Delhi's decision two years ago to dispatch navy ships to secure shipping lanes was rightly seen as a sign of greater willingness to use its power to contribute to international security. Two years on, it is time to enhance that commitment.


Nitin Pai is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review








Why do local investors stay away when foreign institutional investors are pouring money into Indian equity?


Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) have invested over Rs 1,30,000 crore in the Indian equity markets in Samvat 2066 but Indian retail investors have largely shied away from the markets. While high top line and bottom line growth of Indian companies coupled with uncertainty in the global markets have been the main reasons for the FII flows, the lack of interest on the part of Indian investors needs to be explained.


 The key question is that with access to the same underlying cash flows, how are FIIs so enthusiastic about the valuations when Indian investors are wary? This is mainly attributed to the unpleasant experience of the last two years. Economically, it can be explained through an understanding of how companies are valued.


The value of a firm is determined by discounting its future cash flows to the equity shareholders by the cost of equity. The cost of equity, in turn, is calculated as a sum of the risk-free return and the market risk premium attributed to the firm.


In today's globalised economy, where capital flows much more freely between nations, the difference in the prevailing interest rates across countries can create a distortion in fundamental equity valuations depending on the residence of the investor.


Just to illustrate how this may make a difference, consider a series of cash flow to a firm's equity shareholders of Rs 100 in year one, which grows at 10 per cent till the fifth year and is expected to grow at 3 per cent to perpetuity. If we discount this cash flow at a cost of equity of 13 per cent ( India's 10-year government bond yield of 8 per cent as the risk-free rate plus an assumed 5 per cent market risk premium), the equity value of the firm is Rs 1,144 (see Table 1).


If we now replace the Indian risk-free rate of 8 per cent with, say, 2.5 per cent, which is the US 10-year government bond yield, the value of the same firm jumps to Rs 2,659. So, for a US investor the same cash flows are worth Rs 2,659 (see Table 2 for the change in the value of the firm depending on the country of residence of the investor).


Typically while investing overseas, in addition to the risk-free rate and the market premium, analysts add a "currency risk premium" while valuing overseas stocks. This essentially is the anticipated depreciation in the currency in which the underlying firm earns its revenue as against the currency of the investor. So in the above example, the valuation of the firm for the Indian Investor and the US investor would largely get equated by adding a currency risk premium for the US investor, which ideally should be equal to the difference between the risk- free rate in the US and India, which, in turn, should typically reflect the difference in inflation in the two countries.


However, in the current global environment where economies are still being pump-primed and nations are engaged in currency wars, actual currency movements have little, if no, co-relation to prevailing interest rates and inflation in the respective countries. So, in reality, the Indian rupee has actually appreciated by 0.64 per cent per year against the dollar in the last five years. See Table 3 for the five-year rupee depreciation vis a vis the currencies of some key global countries.


It is this movement in exchange rates that is making investments by FIIs in India so lucrative for them, while for Indian investors the stocks seem to be fundamentally fully valued. Ideally, there should be two different prices for the two investors. But a common market place and a common market price lead Indian investors to either sit on the sidelines or make seemingly irrational investment decisions.


But sitting on the sidelines and waiting for valuations to come to fundamental levels may also be a mistake for Indian investors since Indian values continue to remain within the fundamental zone for investors in other countries. Or maybe, there is a need for some economist to redo the valuation models to take such distortions into account while valuing stocks and add a factor on global liquidity in the formula.







For income disparities to reduce, the price rise should play an important role in increasing rural incomes


Last week, I argued that the politics of distribution can be afforded only with an equal emphasis on the politics of production, particularly industrial growth, which creates the resources needed for distribution. Since Independence, the share of industry in India's GDP has gone up, but nowhere near as much as one often tends to assume from recent numbers — it was 12.5 per cent in 1950-51 and a little less than 20 per cent last year.


 The environmental and land policy agendas are by no means the only impediments to manufacturing growth and employment. So is the exchange rate policy. As US President Barack Obama said in Mumbai: for every additional $1 billion the US exports, thousands of jobs are created in the US. We, on the other hand, seem blissfully unconcerned, in our exchange rate policy, about the need to keep the tradeables sector competitive in the global economy. Indeed, after the Obama visit, it was left to the Bollywood couple Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar to raise a very pertinent question: feeling great about having created thousands of jobs in the US is fine, but what about creating jobs here, where they are needed even more?


As for industrial growth, there is also the question of interest rates and the availability of money. Inflation is a problem, but it is primarily driven by food and commodity prices. The latter are determined globally and the former are a reflection of the successive increases in minimum support prices, and the impact of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) on agricultural labour costs. Indeed, price rise is a relatively painless way of transferring income (as Keynes described it) from urban to rural India.


And such transfer is needed, if disparities are to come down. Back in 1950-51, agriculture accounted for 52 per cent of our national income and employed perhaps two-thirds of the workforce (India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha). In other words, even then, agricultural per capita incomes were lower than the income of the remaining economy. But the disparity has grown dramatically since then. At present, agriculture accounts for just 17 per cent of national income, but provides employment to 45 per cent, according to the labour ministry's recent report on employment.


It is the leadership's responsibility to explain to the (vocal) urban population the need to increase rural incomes and inflation's role in it. Leadership, as Jawaharlal Nehru showed in the late 1940s-1950s on the Hindu Code Bill, to which a vast majority of Hindus was opposed, requires a leader to persuade people, even the political opposition, to agree to do what they are unwilling to – if that is what is right for the country – and not always make policy by holding a wet finger in the wind. The other side, of course, is the need to create more jobs outside the agricultural sector, once again emphasising the need to practise the politics of production, of fostering fast industrial growth. And, deflationary monetary and exchange rate policies are not the way to do this. Policy rates have already been raised six times this year.


Can the services segment, which has grown the fastest over the last 60 years, not do the trick? It is unlikely, since it's difficult to imagine that the services sector will keep growing at the rate it has, and keep producing reasonably paying jobs, unless supported by fast industrial growth.


Today's Europe is a good example of what happens when entitlements become no longer affordable to the fisc. In country after country, there are public sector job cuts, benefit curtailment, delayed pensions and the social unrest these steps are generating. Even Cuba, one of the last bastions of socialism, has recently cut half a million public sector jobs because the "state cannot keep maintaining … bloated payrolls". (China realised this a long time back; its public sector today is highly profitable and generating huge surpluses.) In fact, Cuba has unveiled a capitalistic revolution after 50 years of socialism, a road taken by China three decades back, and Vietnam a decade later. The experience of Asia over the last 60 years emphasises the crucial role of growth in excess of 7 per cent per annum in poverty removal. And, it is worth remembering that "we cannot take our high growth for granted" as the finance minister said in an interview in the Hindustan Times (September 25). Indeed we cannot.


The politics of distribution can sometimes end up harming exactly the people it is supposed to benefit. The recent financial crisis leading to the deepest global recession for 70 years was as at least partly the result of housing loans to "sub-prime", that is, poor borrowers. Who suffered the most? The poor, the less qualified, the people being evicted from their houses.


Coming back to the NREGS, a subcommittee of the Central Employment Guarantee Council has recently reported that the work performed under it was not productive. If that is the case, why not have direct, preferably electronic, cash transfers, which will save so much in terms of administrative costs and leakages? This issue leads to the other input of the politics of distribution, namely governance. I hope to return to the topic later.







 IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn's remark that 'this G20 was more a G20 of debate than a G20 of conclusion' does not do justice to what has been achieved at the just-concluded summit in Seoul. Given the ambitious wishlist and the wide divergence in views, particularly the US and China, it was naïve to expect a miracle. The G20 came together to fight the fire of the global financial crisis. That the forum continues even after the flames have been put out reflects the transnational complexity of modern finance and economics. The world is not just interconnected, but also interdependent. Unilateral action by even the largest economy might not just fail to achieve the intended result, but even be counterproductive. So, policy coordination is essential. But this is complex: even if the technical intricacy can be mastered, the political process through which coordination is to be realised remains formidable. Sovereign countries do not follow external diktat. So, the only way ahead is for them to voluntarily agree to submit their domestic policies for scrutiny by a technical body, such as the IMF, for consistency with the policies of other countries and negotiate mutual changes in policy to optimise the combined outcome. The G20 members have agreed to such a mutual assessment process, and this is an important, even if fuzzy, step towards a new kind of global economic governance. Its hallmarks are consultation and negotiation, which are protracted, caffeine- and faceless civil servant-led affairs, lacking drama and decisive moments of glory. But the main thing about the G20 is that civil servants from countries such as India will quaff coffee along with those from the most powerful, thus making the global governance architecture more participative and conducive to growth. 


India has succeeded in getting the G20 to appoint a high-powered panel on channelling global surpluses to finance infrastructure. Indian negotiators and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did well to give this new dimension to the tussle between surplus and deficit countries. While the G20's adoption of a development agenda is welcome, it should not lose its core focus on coordination of financial regulation.







THE slowdown in industrial production to a 16-month low in September raises some questions about the sustainability of economic recovery, but more about the quality of the data and the propriety of an index that still includes tape-recorders and typewriters. It is still too early to doubt the growth forecast of 8.5% this fiscal, especially given the potential for high farm growth this year. Industrial growth slipped to 4.4%, largely due to a 4.2% drop in capital goods production, after recording a high doubledigit growth till July this year. However, to conclude that the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) monetary tightening led to a decline in capital goods production would be hasty and wrong. A possible explanation is that the IIP captures only dispatches from factories. The disproportionate weightage of some items like power turbines means that delayed dispatch of some key capital goods can create a drop in the capital goods index. The other segment that has shown high volatility at low levels of growth is consumer non-durables. It grew by 2.5% in September, compared with 3.9% in the same month last year. This is surprising, as a rise in income levels should, normally, spur demand for consumer non-durables. There is no way of knowing. The RBI had earlier raised concerns over the quality of IIP data. Now, the government has also admitted that the numbers need to be examined carefully. It should act swiftly, also to avoid more panic in the stock markets. The industrial slowdown, coupled with the global turbulence, saw the Sensex shed 432.20 points on Friday, with the biggest selloff by overseas investors since May 25 this year. The government should also notify rules under the collection of Statistics Act to ensure prompt and accurate submission of data by various agencies. 


Manufacturing, mining and electricity showed lower growth in September on an annual and sequential basis. Industrial production saw extraordinary growth rates since December 2009, but moderated in May this year. After a spike in July, it plunged to a 15-month low of 5.6% in August (revised upwards to 6.9%) and to 4.4% in September, compared to the same month last year.








IF A vase found in their late parents' attic in England can fetch £43 million for two bemused siblings, there is no telling what the odd painted Chinese plate or jade figurine in the family showcase may net anyone anywhere these days. Estimated to fetch just over £1 million by auctioneers, the vase notched up £43 million plus commission thanks to frenzied bidders from mainland China, who topped each other in £1-million tranches. The buying power of this community has become so legendary that a book can be written on how their attention is attracted. A recent example is the cunning addition of an embossed Chinese character '8' on all bottles of the 2008 vintage of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. The wine's prices rose by an amazing 17% almost immediately as the Chinese consider the number lucky. Such a move by the top-end French wine label is a no-brainer, given that at the Sotheby's wine auctions in Hong Kong in October, three bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1869 went for HK$1.8 million each to a Chinese bidder, showing that China's appetite for conspicuous consumption can be very timely indeed for luxury brands seeking to weather recession. Presumably, that was why Chanel launched a special collection that includes Chinese figurines this year and BMW debuted the Tiger M3 for the Chinese Year of the Tiger, 2010. 


Resurgent India is seen by many as another alternative, which could be why Louis Vuitton has launched its festive season store windows worldwide with the Diwali theme and vintage textiles this year, clearly targeting Indians, not merely India. But if wine and Chinese antiques are a shooin for windfall profits, high-end marketers are still to get a handle on what will make Indians part with their millions. L N Mittal putting in £16 million for London's signature Anish Kapoor-designed ArcelorMittal Orbit tower for the 2012 Olympics should provide a pointer.





LIBERALISATION has been assessed to be the instrumentality of faster and more sustainable development of economies. Hence, more and more countries, including closed economies, have been overtly enthusiastic to pursue the option. Liberalisation of an economy and/or a sector brings market forces to the centre-stage in determining the production, marketing and pricing of goods and services. 


The orderly development of the market and ensuring therewith that the economic agents do not overwhelm market forces and distort the progress, growth and functioning of the sector warrants creation of an independent and empowered regulatory body. The regulatory body is expected to promulgate framework/s, lay down the ground rules and specify the boundaries within which the economic agents and the market forces have to function and flourish. In India, sometimes, the establishment of a legislatively-empowered regulatory body lags the liberalisation of the sector, causing glitches in market making ab initio. 


A liberalised marketplace is dynamic and is influenced by a matrix of everchanging factors stemming out of social, political and economic environment. The inventions and innovations not only in the sector but also in society at large also influence the direction of the market. Hence, the regulatory framework at all times has to be evolutionary. The regulators have to anticipate the onset of events and their eventual impact on the behaviour of the economic agents as well as the dynamics of the marketplace and reorient the framework to efficaciously deal with the new order. It is not possible to shoot a moving target with a static gun position. 


India, in its endeavour to hasten the process of development of the sectors as also the market, chose a unique proposition while deciding on the jurisdiction/areas of responsibilities of the regulators. All the financial sector regulators in India, in particular, have been assigned threepronged responsibilities: regulate the market, develop the market, and protect the interest of all stakeholders. The missions of Indian regulators are amorphous and multidimensional. 


In fact, post-Independence India's journey of economic emancipation commenced with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) owning up the responsibilities of a very wide breadth, which included macroeconomic stability, government debt management and development and regulation of financial markets inclusive of protecting the interest of the stakeholders. As the economy traversed the journey of growth, institutions like Industrial Development Bank of India, Unit Trust of India, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, National Housing Bank, etc, in addition to Securities and Exchange Board of India, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority, et alhave been created. 


Designing regulatory interventions that can effectively control risks and deal with patterns of non-compliance, while balancing the development of the market and protection of interest of stakeholders, is a challenging task. The conflicting and shifting interests of stakeholders pressed by ingenious inventions create fissures in the developmental role of regulators. The formidability of the challenge has become complex with the blurring of boundaries among a multiplicity of regulators in the financial sector. 


IN ONE of my earlier articles, I had suggested giving a legislative authenticity to the informal coordination among financial sector regulators in the form of high-level coordination committee (HLCC). As a consequence of the public spat between the two regulators and inability of HLCC to handle it, financial market regulators have now been handed down a legislative framework that many believe will cause the erosion of the autonomy of regulators; and the RBI feels particularly hurt. 


A nation entrusts regulatory bodies with awesome powers. They can impose penalties, suspend licences and limit business practices that sometimes wreck the development of segment and/or market and even lead to the destruction of business models. 'Development of markets' seems to have become a euphemism for protecting only one section of stakeholders — small investors, thereby stunting growth, innovation of product design and long-term sustainability of the market. 


In the face of the fact that the National Pension System, particularly for the unorganised sector, is a non-starter; the debt market remains stillborn and some of the segments like MFs and insurance are reeling under the pain of regulatory risks, etc, it might be worthwhile for the regulators to revisit the underpinning of their thought processes and assess whether approaches are optimally balancing the multidimensional role and that the development of sector is not being adversely hit. India needs to mobilise larger amount of disposable incomes through financial instruments, to be channelised via the instrumentality of financial markets in investments into sustaining, even enhancing, the growth momentum of the economy. 


In fairness, it must be stated that Indian regulators are often challenged by the realities of operational life, wherein resource allocation, tool selection and stance have to be taken in a rush with deficient information without the benefit of control samples and perennial push of developing the market. The setting of a vibrant democracy with porous pillars where every unusual event in the financial market ends in a search for a scapegoat makes the regulatory profession immensely engaging. 


The regulatory craft lies in optimally balancing the multidimensional obligations, including no less important development of the market. Undertaking a regular in-depth self-assessment of the framework including costs and risks and re-engineering to meet the canons of sagacity becomes the pre-eminent function. Inadequacy has the propensity to deliver marginal regulation, which may not be acceptable to citizenry impatient with economic deprivation. Indian financial markets have since passed the stage where costs of enforcing new or existing regulation need not be counted. New initiatives of the regulators must pass the litmus test of trade-off between costs and benefits. 

(The author is former chairman, Sebi     and LIC of India)








THE country's tyre industry is passing through one of the most challenging phases this decade. For one, prices of natural rubber, a key input for making tyres, have peaked. The domestic industry is also losing its marketshare with a surge in tyre imports from China. Neeraj Kanwar, managing director of Apollo Tyres, who also steers the Automotive Tyre Manufacturers' Association (Atma), the apex body of tyremakers, says he expects operating margins to be down further in the second quarter. However, he hopes to take some radical steps to tide over supply shortfall in natural that will help companies improve their profitability. 


The domestic industry is dominated by over half-a-dozen companies, namely Apollo, MRF, JK Tyres, Ceat, Birla and Dunlop. Others include global players such as Bridgestone, Continental and Yokohama. The demand for tyres from the auto industry is on the rise, with the economy showing distinct signs of recovery. 


"There has been no respite in input prices. The industry is facing turbulent times despite a pick-up in demand. Margins have shrunk and are at the lowest levels, largely due to the surge in raw material prices. The replacement market is also down due to the monsoons. We are working out strategies to tide over the crisis, but there is no magic solution," says Kanwar, who started his career as an investment banker before his two-decade stint in the tyre industry. 


Last year, the domestic tyre industry faced shortage of 1 lakh tonnes of natural rubber and the anticipated shortfall is over 2 lakh tonnes this year. Rubber prices, too, have doubled over the past one year to reach . 190/kg in November this year. Tyremakers say their operating margins shrunk to an average of 5% to 8% in the first half of this fiscal. They claim that automakers have fared much better, with margins of 12-15% during the first quarter of the current fiscal. 


 "We have not been able to pass on all the input costs to consumers. Besides, there are anomalies in the duty structure, with natural rubber attracting a 20% duty, while finished goods such as tyres can be imported at 8%. This has opened the window for tyre imports at cheaper prices and prevented Indian tyre companies to source raw materials at affordable prices," he says. 


Kanwar argues that tyre imports are on the rise despite anti-dumping duty. China has an import duty as high as 40% on finished goods. The Chinese government has also gone all-out to support domestic industry by buying rubber plantations in Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to increase natural rubber supplies. 


Are Indian tyremakers keen on replicating such a model to tide over the supply shortage in tyres? "Automotive Tyre Manufacturers' Association is also exploring ways to resolve the crisis. One of the options being explored is a public-private partnership model to acquire rubber plantations overseas. We are working on the feasibility of such a model and will flag it with the Planning Commission," he says. 


The problems notwithstanding, the MD of $1.8-billion Apollo Tyres says the company will focus on new markets and products to boost revenues. The target is to touch $6 billion by 2015. The tyremaker gained a toehold in Europe with the acquisition of the Dutch high-performance tyremaker Vredestein Banden BV last year. It now wants to strengthen its presence in Europe and plans to invest €6.6 million in capacity expansion there. 
    "After Europe, we are targeting the Asean region with brownfield and greenfield projects. South America is another target market. We will broaden our base to Africa from South Africa, where we already have our operations," he says. 


Apollo acquired South African Dunlop Tyres International four years ago. The company has, however, abandoned its plans to set up a greenfield facility in Hungary. It has no plans to market its tyres in the fiercelycompetitive North American market, says Kanwar, who joined the company as a summer trainee in 1991 and rose to become director and chief management and strategy planner of the company in 1998. 


Another major tyremaker, JK Tyres and Industries, too, successfully acquired Tornel in Mexico to become a billion-dollar entity. While many other Indian companies are also eyeing acquisitions overseas, they can hope to loosen their purse strings once profits improve.    







IN THE enormously popular 1980s children's television series, Fraggle Rock, every time the Fraggles were in a dilemma, they'd rush to Marjory, the Trash Heap. She would arouse herself from slumber, say a few words of profound wisdom and then sink back into the ground.' Likewise with countries and gobal monetary system! Each time there is a crisis they rush to find a solution (read, a successor to the Bretton Woods system that provides the plumbing for the present global financial architecture). 


But there the similarity ends. The Trash Heap's words were received with awe — her two helpers would solemnly announce, 'The Trash Heap has spoken' — and the Fraggles would immediately do as bid. In the real world, however, countries have paid scant attention to suggestions of reform of the kind needed to address underlying problems of which the 2008 financial crisis is only the latest manifestation. Somehow the crisis would blow over and all talk of Bretton Woods II would be quietly buried. 


We saw it with the Plaza Accord of September 1985 when the G5 nations (France, Germany, Japan, the US and UK) agreed to revalue the yen and the German mark against the dollar through coordinated intervention in currency markets. And we're seeing it now with the G20 meetings of which the Seoul Summit that concluded last Friday is the fifth in a row. 


In the run up to the Plaza Accord the underlying problem was, as now, a high US current account deficit. Cheap imports posed a threat to the US economy. The only difference was that the threat came from cheap Japanese imports; not Chinese imports. The US tried to arm-twist Japan to revalue its currency; but when that failed it brought collective pressure to bear on Japan. 


The accord saw the exchange rate of the dollar decline vis-à-vis the yen and helped the US get its current account deficit in order. But it failed to correct the trade imbalance with Japan and ended up with Japan paying a huge price in the bargain. The asset bubble and the subsequent recession of the '90s can be directly traced to easy money forced on Japan under the Plaza Accord. The US dollar also went into free fall and finally had to be rescued by the Louvre Accord of 1987. 


On the face of it the parallels with the present situation are remarkable. The US is once again, in deep trouble and seems to think it can do an encore; this time by putting pressure on China to revalue its currency. But that would be a mistake. For one the world is far removed from the days of the Plaza Accord. Today there is just no way the rest-ofthe-world will agree to doctor its policies to suit US interests. It is quite unsurprising, therefore, that the Seoul Summit could only come up with a Mutual Assessment Process (MAP), that once again waffles over the real issues without getting to grips with the real problem — the global monetary system. 


As Indian PM Manmohan Singh put it, 'reserve currency countries have a special responsibility to ensure their monetary policies do not lead to destabilising capital flows that put pressure on emerging markets.' Equally, if rebalancing the global economy is not to have a contractionary impact it must be offset by countries with current account surpluses reducing their surplus. 


This is something the present global financial architecture is not equipped to handle. This is an extremely painful realisation, especially for the US as the dollar's position as global reserve currency under the Bretton Woods system gives it enormous clout. So it does not want any fundamental change, only some tweaking here and there. But unlike the Bretton Woods conference where the US could call the shots, the balance of global economic power has shifted 


Globalisation is a two-way street. The US needs the rest of the world as much as the latter needs the US. The US recognises this but is loath to follow through with any action that entails if not a ceding of the dollar's pre-eminent position (there is no alternate in sight) then at least a recognition that its monetary policy has repercussions for the rest of the world; repercussions from which it cannot disown responsibility 
    The November 2008 meet of G20 heads of state in Washington tacitly recognised the need for reworking the plumbing. It even set a deadline of April 2009 for coming up with an alternative framework. But four meetings later all we have is a fresh deadline: the next G20 meet in Cannes in 2011. 


Of course a strong US economy is crucial for global recovery; even the Chinese would not dispute that. But that recovery cannot come at the cost of the rest of the world. Unfortunately the US remains in a state of denial — note US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's furious retort to Alan Greenspan's comment that the US was deliberately weakening the dollar,' We will never seek to weaken our currency as a tool to gain competitive advantage.' This at a time when the Fed's quantitative easing is aimed at just that. 


The net result is the G20 will again thrash around for band-aid solutions. The problem is the world is past the band-aid stage.


Seoul Summit tiptoes round the real problem, reform of the global monetary order, and settles for platitudes 
For emerging markets like India, the Mutual Assessment Process (MAP) is best read as Make Alternative Plans 
Cataclysmic changes take time, so there is no need to despair. After all, the gold standard did give way to Bretton Woods






PROGRESS towards 'victory over oneself' essentially involves the triumph of positive aspects within one's self over the damaging aspects, which too reside within. 


The wise-seeker, who progresses in this manner, should therefore also simultaneously ensure that the 'space' generated, consequent on elimination of the needless, is filled up not merely by any new aspects, no matter what or how, but actually by those which would prove to be aids in his progress. He would also ensure that not only the unhealthy old aspects within are replaced by the good new ones, but also that those without, including relationships, transactions and companionship (sahavasadosham). This really is 'ringing out the old and ringing in the new'. 


The Hindu concept of karma conceives of how samskara are passed on over the years and ages, influencing all aspects concerning the person, including his destiny. Even from a purely practical and pragmatic point of view, it would be obvious that one's circumstances and fortunes, to a large extent, are functions of his past — his conditioning, experiences and exposures shaping his action, reaction, thinking and finally his destiny. 


From this pragmatic point of view also arises the obvious truth that, while situations and circumstances without are often beyond one's control, his own perceptions, reactions and approach, to a great extent, are not. Just as health, damaged through earlier past habits can be repaired through newly acquired ones and discipline or lost fortune made up by industry and thrift or lost time by hardwork and effectiveness, so can the fallouts, that would otherwise have come about through 'bad' past karma (bad samskara) be pre-empted by the 'good' present karma (good samskara). It is all in the magic word of 'neutralisation', similar to preempting harm inherent in boiling water, by merely adding cold water. 


This also is the translation into practice, of Patanjali's concepts (Sutra: 2, 16 and 2, 33 respectively) on 'cultivation of the opposite approach' and on actually obviating problems or sorrow, which would otherwise have ensued. James McCartney has pictured this process very powerfully in his book Yoga: The Key to Life. 
    In the final analysis, this is making amends, wisely and dynamically, for past bad karma — the pathway to ultimate 'victory over oneself'!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is clear that the great Burmese democratic leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's courage, and her implicit faith in the credo of Gandhian non-violence, have not dimmed. Released on Saturday from seven years' house arrest by her country's military rulers, and having spent the last 15 years of her life in detention, Ms Suu Kyi told thousands of cheering supporters that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law. These are tasks that the military rulers are not likely to be pleased about. They had first arrested her in 1990 precisely because she had resolved to work to restore democracy to her country which has been under continuous military rule since 1962. It is thus far from clear how the country's military rulers read the declarations of the world's most famous political prisoner who was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. At any rate, now the results of Burma's sham November 7 poll — only the second national election in 20 years in which Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, refused to take part and was promptly de-recognised by the rulers — will smell even more, considering that the famous democratic protester has chosen to seize the opportunity to speak her mind. After meeting international diplomats in Rangoon following her release at the end of her detention term, she noted that the basis of democratic freedom was freedom of speech. She also told the people that even if they were not political, "politics will come to you". In the 1990 election, Ms Suu Kyi's NLD had won 59 per cent of the vote and 80 per cent of the seats in Parliament, but the military refused to hand over power to her and locked her up. In the 2010 election, the NLD did not contest the polls. It was held when Ms Suu Kyi was still in detention and the political stasis established in the country by the 1990 poll result remained unresolved. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a creation of the military, won it. In 2003, when this entity was an association (USDA), not a party, some of its cadres had mounted a physical attack on the NLD leader's convoy. As the Army-backed ruling party now, it can be relied on to oppose NLD protests with physical force. Indeed, the election was conveniently held shortly before the expiration of Ms Suu Kyi's detention term with a view to creating a rival civilian centre of power to the moral authority NLD possesses. This will fool no one of course, but a facade of democratic rule has been erected, as we have seen often in places like military-controlled Pakistan. The West has condemned Burma's obviously rigged election, but has not put forward any clear demands after the NLD leader's release. Sanctions imposed by it on Burma continue. China, Burma's powerful neighbour, backed the recent election and has had warm ties with the military junta. It has always been silent about Ms Suu Kyi. India is in a bind. Instinctively it supports Ms Suu Kyi. But it has maintained links with the military rulers. It has cautiously welcomed the recent election hoping this would lead to the freeing up of political processes.








Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru's Teen Murti study had a bronze cast of Abraham Lincoln's right hand, given by an American, Arthur E. Morgan, in 1949. In a 1956 Washington D.C. speech he said: "I look at it every day, and it gives me strength". US President Barack H. Obama, 61 years later, replaced in the Oval Office Winston Churchill's bust with Lincoln's, his homage to a President who wagered all for equality. Mr Obama addressed representatives of 1.2 billion Indians, in the Central Hall on November 8, to recall an additional debt to Mahatma Gandhi, the inspirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and earlier Nehru.


These powerful images emerged belatedly after a Mumbai muddle. Staying at the restored Taj, a symbol of the 26/11 carnage, and meeting survivors and victims' relatives, a perfect stage existed for a powerful denunciation of terrorism, blatantly sponsored by Pakistan. Instead we got nervous hand-wringing and token condemnation. Even a teenager's pointed question on why the US did not declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism elicited rehearsed equivocation. The joint statement, issued at 8.30 pm on November 8, well after the substantive part of the visit was over, on the contrary, is forthright that "all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, must be defeated". Was this poor message management by team Obama or did the public furore compel a rethink?


The positives from the visit were many but surfaced sporadically or belatedly, the joint statement missing the news cycle. The US support for Indian membership of the four multilateral export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement), was leaked by the US side in Mumbai. The lifting of the high-technology restrictions was in the PM's statement at the post-talks press conference at Hyderabad House, as was US support for Indian permanent seat at the UN's Security Council teasingly hinted by Mr Obama but revealed only in his Parliament address, albeit with a tutorial on Iran and Burma. All told, this dissipated the effect of substantive US support to integrate India into the rule-making regimes on dual-use technologies and lifting of restrictions on high-technology trade, thus unshackling the Indian economy for high growth and sustainable development.


The challenge for team Obama was that President Bush's act was difficult to follow. There was no "big ticket" takeaway. Additionally, President Obama in 2009, distracted by the global financial crisis, withdrawal from Iraq and planning a surge in Afghanistan, was not India-focused. The civil nuclear debate got hijacked by the NPT Review Conference and his own non-proliferation agenda. The conflicting signals raised questions whether he was resetting India-US relations? Disjointedly, but certainly, he has now managed to address Indian concerns and aspirations. On Afghanistan he has indicated no rushed exit and greater India-US exchanges, telling Pakistan and their Taliban associates that a reversion to the 1996-2001 Taliban-led and ISI encouraged regime in Kabul was not on the US script. By flatteringly calling India a risen and not a rising power, welcoming greater Indian engagement with East Asia and emphasising the need for an open and equitable Asian security order, he has calmed Indian fears over a US tilt towards China.


A new element, relating to Mr Obama's African roots, is the India-US partnership in Africa. This, too, subtly brings in the Chinese role in that continent, building transactional relationships that do not take into account the nature of the regimes or the relevance of Chinese investment to the livelihood of the African people.


On the eve of his October 1949 US visit, Nehru wrote to his sister and Indian ambassador to Washington Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit that "I want to be friendly with the Americans but always making it clear what we stand for, I want to make no commitments which come in the way of our basic policy..." If the Nehruvian maxim held good when India was economically feeble and buffeted by Cold War pressures, it is even more apposite for a rising India. Naturally the Indian tactics must evolve to maximise advantages while safeguarding our values and interests. India shall be a pole in a multi-polar world, both shaping the 21st century world and being shaped by it. The instruments for this global transmutation are: on economic and financial matters the G20; on security and political matters, the UN Security Council; and on emerging technologies the Quadruple regimes.


The challenges ahead are illustrated by three current issues. For instance, India can work with US on humanitarian relief (Tsunami, etc) and counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean but resists Proliferation Security Initiative or UNSC plus sanctions against Iran (implemented by EU and even some members of the GCC). Even over Burma the differences have been over tactics, US preferring condemnation and isolation and India favouring public engagement and private counselling. With elections over and Aung San Suu Kyi released, perhaps Indian and the US approaches can converge. The dynamic of UNSC reform is not US led; it is US defended, with clear US red lines. They reject veto for new permanent members and want a modest expansion beyond the current 15. For a two-third majority for UN charter amending, African and Latin American interests, both unrepresented currently, and that of Asia takes it up to 25. The African spoilers in addition insist on a veto-wielding seat, which US rejects.


The path is long, the climb steep but Obama visit has consolidated India and US partnership, and it may even be discounting for political hyperbole, a defining one of the 21st century.


- The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry









Reading the headlines these days, I can't help but repeat this truism: If you jump off the top of an 80-storey building, for 79 floors you can think you're flying. It's the sudden stop at the end that tells you you're not. It's striking to me how many leaders and nations are behaving today as though they think they can fly — and ignoring that sudden stop at the end that's sure to come.


Where to begin? Well, first there's Israel's prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, who has been telling everyone how committed he is to peace with the Palestinians while refusing to halt settlement building as a prerequisite for negotiations. At a time when Israel already has 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, Bibi says he can't possibly take another pause in building to test whether the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas — a man Israelis say is the best Palestinian security partner Israel has ever had — can forge a safe two-state deal for Israel. The US is now basically trying to bribe Bibi to reverse his position. Maybe he will, but it's unseemly to watch and doesn't bode well. Rather than take the initiative and say to Arabs and Palestinians, "You want a settlement freeze? Here it is, now let's see what you're ready to agree to", Netanyahu toys with US President Barack Obama, makes Israel look like it wants land more than peace and risks never forging a West Bank deal — thereby permanently absorbing its 2.5 million Palestinians and eventually no longer having a Jewish majority. That's the sudden stop at the end — unless the next war comes first. But, for now, Bibi seems to think he can fly.


Closer to home, America's climate-deniers mounted an effective disinformation campaign that made "climate change" a four-letter word in the Republican Party. This undermined efforts to get a clean energy bill — the sort that might break our addiction to oil and take money away from the people our soldiers are fighting in West Asia. And all of this happened in 2010, which is on track to be the Earth's hottest year on record. So here's the maths: 98 climate scientists out of 100 will tell you that man's continued carbon emissions pose the risk of disruptive climate change this century. Two out of 100 will tell you it doesn't. And "conservatives" today tell you to bet on the two. If the climate-deniers are right — but we combat climate change anyway — we'll have slightly higher energy prices but cleaner air, more renewable energy, a stronger dollar, more innovative industries and enemies with less money. If the deniers are wrong and we do nothing, your kids will meet the sudden stop at the end.


Many of the same people working against clean energy are working to scuttle Senate ratification of the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty that Mr Obama signed with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. This treaty is right in line with the previous three US-Russia arms reduction deals, all negotiated by GOP administrations. It leaves America secure, a world and a Russia with fewer nukes and it promotes better ties with the Kremlin. Scuttling the treaty, just to deny Mr Obama a success, which is what some Republican senators are up to, will not only ensure that US-Russian relations sour, it will also make it much less likely that the Russians — whose pressure on Iran and willingness to deny it surface-to-air missiles have been critical in slowing Iran's nuclear programme — will continue to cooperate with us on that front. But, hey, who cares about weakening Iran or US-Russian ties if you can weaken your own president? We can fly.


Finally, there is something deeply wrong about Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, saying that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president". McConnell explained that that was not because Republicans simply crave power (heaven forbid), but because this is the only way Republicans can achieve their goals of repealing the healthcare bill, ending bailouts, cutting spending and shrinking government.


Where do I start? We know that these were not the Republican goals because they had eight years under George W. Bush to pursue them and did just the opposite. And even if we assume that this time they really mean it, they've never explained what programmes they would cut and how doing that now won't make our recession worse. But even if they did, these are the wrong priorities. Our priorities now are to mitigate the recession that was set in motion under Bush and to put the country on a path to sustainable economic growth. That will require vastly improving the education and skills of our work force and enabling them with 21st-century infrastructure so they will be smarter and more productive. We know that tax cuts alone won't do that; we just had that test, too, under Bush. It requires a complex strategy for American renewal — raising some taxes, like on energy, while lowering others, like on workers and corporations; and investing in new infrastructure, schools and research, while cutting other services.


I don't mind if Republicans win with fresh new ideas — but not with a grab bag of tired clichés. That's just begging for a sudden stop at the end.









Doordarshan, our national broadcaster, is often in the news for the wrong reasons — most recently for allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games telecast rights allocation deal. One would think that DD, which has been facing a severe crisis of credibility over the past several years, must be trying to set its house in order. But that story, sadly, is just a wishful figment.

Forget repairing the big stuff. The bosses at this sarkari channel are not even able to fix the silly little things. Their presenters, for example. DD presenters are embarrassing. They repeatedly, nationally, showcase their ignorance, terrible diction and the ability to make even the most exciting match/event an excruciating watch.


Yet there always was one thing they seemed to know, the past — India's history, culture and heritage. But that seems to be changing.


During the live telecast of US President Barack Obama's visit to Delhi, a DD presenter attributed the famous couplet "Kaun jaye Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar" to Ghalib. That's shocking, not just because DD was giving the American President wrong information, but also because Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq even added his name to this couplet to avoid any confusion!


Mamata seeking an upgrade


With the scent of a Cabinet reshuffle in the air, the race for coveted berths has begun in earnest in the corridors of power. Sensing that the civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, wants to move out of the ministry to a greener pasture, other regional players have begun eyeing his job. Leading the race to grab the civil aviation ministry is the Trinamul Congress minister of state for health, Dinesh Trivedi.


These days Mr Trivedi keeps reminding people that he is "a pilot" and then goes on talking about the "ills plaguing Air India". To make his claim for the post politically convincing, he has also been shooting off letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Of course, his efforts to bag the post are being supplemented by his leader, railway minister Mamata Banerjee.


There are times when "Didi" summons Mr Trivedi to tell the media about the "pathetic plight" of Air India and how "dangerous it is to fly the national carrier these days". Didi was recently stranded at the Delhi airport for 90 minutes makes her, and his, gripe a tad legitimate. But, of course, neither Didi nor Mr Trivedi encourage any talk of the series of rail accidents and mishaps that have taken place since Trinamul took charge of the ministry of railways.


Missing Atalji


One Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader who seems to be really missing party patriarch and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, especially during the ongoing election campaign in Bihar, is former Union minister and party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain. Recently, Mr Hussain was seen purchasing Meri Sansadiya Yatra, authored by the former Prime Minister, from the bookshop at BJP headquarters. Not just one, Mr Hussain bought all the four bulky volumes of the book. When asked what made him buy all the four volumes, he replied, "Bihar is missing Atalji. Therefore, I decided to buy these books so that I can add Atalji's chaashni to my


A remarkable orator, Mr Vajpayee was the star campaigner of the party. His public rallies are remembered for drawing the largest crowds, without the party cadres having to make much effort.


Catch a falling hair


Big, rich men have issues too. And often these are hairy.
Bharti Enterprises' vice-chairman and managing director Rajan Bharti Mittal, who is also the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) president, may be sitting in the company of the world's richest and most powerful, discussing takeovers and mergers, but there's one thing he just can't take his mind off, his falling hair.


During serious business conferences, Mr Mittal is often seen religiously rubbing his fingernails against each other. Rubbing of nails is believed by some to cure hairfall and increase hair growth.


Recently, at a meeting of the US and Indian commerce ministers at Ficci, where both the sides were busy putting across their divergent views on whether India's foreign direct investment policy is transparent or not, Mr Mittal was listening, talking, but his hands were busy, imploring his hair to come back.


The joke's on Maya


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's stars are not shining as brightly as they were a few months ago.
A set of cruel jokes is doing the rounds in Lucknow, targeting the chief minister. These jokes, some starring US President Barack Obama and Suresh Kalmadi along with Ms Mayawati, are more popular than the Santa-Banta ones, especially in the state's bureaucratic circles. In fact, a large number of government officers spend most of their time forwarding these jokes from their cellphones.


Not one to let a slight go unpunished, Ms Mayawati tasked intelligence sleuths to find out who started these jokes. But no culprit has been discovered yet. It seems that most of these unprintable jokes are arriving from the free SMS services offered by various websites.


When asked about the laughing matter, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer quipped, "What is wrong if people are joking about the Chief Minister? At least, there is something that brings a smile to the faces of the people in Maya Raj."


Naveen turns religious under adversity


Orissa chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik, who has rarely ever been seen visiting temples or shrines, now appears to have turned into a deeply religious person. During this year's Dasara celebrations, Mr Patnaik was busy hopping from one pandal to the other in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. This was followed by hectic religious trips during the recent Lakshmi Puja. Along with Bhubaneswar mayor A.N. Jena and three local legislators, Mr Patnaik went to several Lakshmi Puja pandals and offered prayers.


The grapevine has it that the bachelor chief minister, who is facing intense internal bickering in the party and is battling reverses in his pet industrialisation programme, has been advised to seek the mother goddesses' blessings for a smooth journey ahead.


The denial of forest clearances by the Centre to the `54,000-crore Posco steel project and the `10,000-crore Vedanta refinery project has hurt Mr Patnaik the most. So keen is he to see through these two projects that he has even suggested to his loyalists that they too worship Goddess Durga to ward off all evil designs of their opponents and then turn to Lakshmi for some moolah.








Each athlete and player in the recently-concluded XIX Commonwealth Games (CWG) was hoping against hope that s/he would improve her/his previous best performance and add just one more medal to the country's tally. And while all did their country proud, the Indian contingent undoubtedly came out with flying colours. One central building block in all of them attempting to do their best was an element of hope and that is why even as ace shuttler Saina Nehwal struggled in her second game against the Malaysian — Mew Choo Wong — after having lost the first, and not giving up her hopes, she bounced back to take home the gold. And while different Commonwealth countries were cheerfully counting their medal haul in New Delhi, around the same time, October 13 to be precise, another country in another part of the world, having nothing to do with CWG, was on the threshold of winning another unique gold medal in — if there ever was an accolade for — a competition in hope.


Chile had certainly won the supreme and best possible medal at the end of the meticulously planned rescue operation of the 33 miners from the collapsed San Jose mine on that victorious day. It was nothing short of "miracle". The rationalists and atheists, as expected, would rubbish it saying that it was just a victory of advanced technology and human brain and that faith and hope had nothing to do with it.


Mario Sepulveda, one of the survivors after bounding from captivity said: "I was with God and the devil, and I reached out for God. I held onto him and never did I lose the belief that I was going to get out". The first miner to come out of the mine fell straight on his knees and thanked God for being alive and well after 69 days of confinement.


For 17 days they subsisted on a starvation diet, but when a probe from the outside world finally reached them, the message they sent up was a simple but positive one: "We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us".


One of the miners later said, "I never used to pray but now I have learnt to pray". That is the tremendous thing about the human spirit that lives and survives on hope. The drive to stay alive and have hope is a spiritual force.


The Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian organisation, who sent mini-Bibles down to the crew, highlighted Psalm 40: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit... and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps".


Though Chile is not a theocratic state, yet President Sebastian Pinera, a man of faith, too joined in praying with relatives at the rescue operation site called "Camp Hope". Reflecting on the meaning of the moment he said, "When the first miner emerges safe and sound, I hope all the bells of all the churches of Chile ring out forcefully, with joy and hope. Faith has moved mountains".


Technology certainly brought them out of the pit but it was their faith and hope that kept them from going insane or wild. In the next column we shall see what the Bible says about hope.


— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at [1]







It has not been a stellar year for women in politics.


Some of the women who have wanted to lead are cartoonish, others charmless. Some are smart but tightly wound. Others are dumb and completely loose.


The first female speaker of the House has been dumped, and the paltry number of women in Congress has shrunk for the first time in three decades. Alpha women in politics and business are in a slump.


So instead, I have found myself obsessing on two enchantresses who knew how to win — one equine and one who claimed to be divine.


In an era when it's hard for women to be powerful and flamboyant at the same time, to be uninhibited and unflappable, Zenyatta and Cleopatra are not merely legends, but role models. They dazzled with glamour, while fiercely and daringly pursuing shrewd strategies to win against the biggest, fastest, most competitive boys. Both divas were renowned for coming from behind, until those last heartbreaking times when they couldn't pull it off.


Zenyatta drinks Guinness, while Cleopatra quaffed poison. (That asp may be the ancient world's version of George Washington's cherry tree.)


Zenyatta, Hollywood's "ageing Amazon", as one of the commentators at Churchill Downs called her last weekend, is statuesque and beautiful, with stylish bangs and a mink-brown coat.


Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, was not beautiful. But she was certainly sensual and theatrical, glowing with gems, pearls, intellect and charm as she sailed around the Red Sea in a cloud of incense, once dressed as Venus to greet Marc Antony's Bacchus.


She spoke nine languages, and was especially fluent, as Plutarch notes, in a 10th: flattery. She sent her love letters on black onyx tablets.


In the enthralling new biography Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff describes the Egyptian ruler with the same imagery used to limn Zenyatta: "self-assured, authoritative and saucy". Certainly, both ladies were masters at demanding, and deserving, attention.


Cleopatra had powers of persuasion and seduction so potent that male historians often attributed her sway over the fathers of her children, Caesar and Marc Antony, to magic or drugs. The men instantly lost their heads, before they instantly lost their lives.


I was quickly beguiled by Zenyatta in June when I gazed up at her at her home track, the pink deco Hollywood Park, with my friend David Israel, the vice-chairman for the California Horse Racing Board.


Zenyatta got her name from The Police album Zenyattà Mondatta. (Jerry Moss, who with his wife, Ann, bought the filly for the bargain price of $60,000, co-founded A&M records and signed The Police.) She had the star power and rabid following of fans, especially women, that Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina could only dream of.


The six-year-old mare won her race, making her record 19 for 19, after a heart-stopping rush from behind, and

then pranced and posed for the cameras and fans. That was the way she always ran, David explained. That was the way her love-struck jockey, Mike Smith, always rode her.


I stood in line to buy a T-shirt with her picture. I eagerly awaited her last run, where she would make it 20 for 20 and retire with a record that even Secretariat could envy.


"The fans are in awe because of the human traits they've superimposed on her actions, blurring the line between a starlet and a horse", Wright Thompson wrote on, noting that Zenyatta did not run so much as ski.


At the Breeders' Cup Classic in Louisville, which was supposed to be her finale before retiring to a Kentucky farm to have babies, Zenyatta had a late start, got squeezed on the break, lost momentum, but still flew past the boys with a velocity so astonishing that commentators were left gushing about her as a Hall of Famer.


She came so close to beating the colt Blame that Ann Moss, crushed, said the mare could have won if she'd just stuck her tongue out.


"When a horse has that late running style, it's always playing with fire because there's no room for error", David explained afterward. "If the race had been two jumps longer, she'd have won."


Zenyatta's modern world began, Stacy Schiff claims, with the death of 39-year-old Cleopatra in ancient times. Quoting Euripedes — "O would that the female sex were nowhere to be found — but in my lap!" — Schiff contends that the dangerous intersection of sex and power for women has been a continuum.


"It has always been preferable to attribute a woman's success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life", Schiff writes, adding: "Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than as seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent".








TRAGIC they certainly were, yet it would be a dangerous over-simplification to write off as "accidental" the deaths of two members of a bomb disposal squad in Bihar a few days ago. The men from a unit of the Bihar Military Police were supposed to be specialists, yet they were killed doing the job in which they were presumed to be proficient ~ defusing a bomb Naxals had planted in the Bankebazar block of Gaya district. Impressions of a competence-deficiency in the operation are created by a TV cameraman filming the "action" and two other cops sustaining serious injuries when the explosive device detonated. Why were they permitted to come so close to the bomb, was its potency so grossly under-estimated? There can be no valid explanation for either, seeking to be "heroes" on the idiot-box is unbecoming even if the top officials love doing that. And in the wake of intelligence reports of a link between the LTTE, the "masters" in IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and the Maoists no chances ought to have been taken. The deaths testify to unadulterated non-professionalism. When that blunder is assessed in the wake of the patrol in Dantewada walking into a decimating ambush, and other incidents of the kind, it is not surprising that left-wing extremists hold sway across such a vast swathe of the country. The populace is aware that the government cannot provide protection.

That lack of professional competence finds reflection all over the country. How successful have the police been in firefights with criminals, not to mention motivated militants (fake encounters discounted)? Would over 100 young stone-pelters have been killed in Srinagar if the cops had adhered to the prescribed practice of shooting below waist-level when breaking up a mob? Why, they have even fired tear-gas canisters directly at rioters. The so-called "special units" in both Central and state forces have seldom delivered. Even the elite National Security Guard made quite a hash of things in Mumbai on 26/11. The Delhi police's idea of security, as was evident during the Commonwealth Games, is to shut down the city. It is now apparent that all talk of police reform rings hollow, the Union home ministry lacks the leadership-quality to get the states to upgrade the functioning of their forces. Disgustingly, senior police officials never really press for improvement of their units: their "specialty" is furthering personal interests by sucking up to political bosses.



Considering that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Mamata Banerjee disclosed what exactly transpired at their meeting in Delhi, reports that the Trinamul chief emerged with full marks must be based on selective leaks.  If there are no denials from Congress, it is because there is no dispute about Miss Banerjee's leadership or on Trinamul being a stronger anti-Left force. But whether the PCC will persist with an ambitious list of close to 100 seats based on its existing position in the Assembly or whether it will accept what is offered by its stronger partner will remain for now uncertain.  The PCC is a house divided. But this time it would appear that signals are being sent out in advance to ensure that the split witnessed during the municipal elections is treated as a forgotten chapter. Irritants in the relations between the partners have survived. The PCC chief shared a dais with Marxist leaders at Rajarhat just when Trinamul had taken a firm position on the "forcible'' acquisition of land at throwaway prices. The Malda Congress has presented a prospective list of candidates before the bargaining has begun. Miss Banerjee would know that these are less important than the unresolved issue of amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill. Any reference to the Bill during the talks could only have revolved around whether the UPA can introduce it in the winter session with Miss Banerjee's concurrence on the government's role or whether the Bill will be kept hanging till at least the Bengal election when she is expected to thrash out the issue that has fetched her handsome dividends.

The Trinamul chief is perhaps confident that she is negotiating from a position of strength. However, it certainly cannot be her case that partnership with Congress and wholesome endorsement from the highest quarters are inconsequential.  Delhi's support ~ particularly Mrs Gandhi's ~ can only suggest that Rahul Gandhi's public appeals in Kolkata for Congress to be treated "with respect'' have to be read in context. The Sonia-Mamata meeting described as "happy'' from Trinamul's point of view confirms that while the Congress president lays down policy, her general secretary had been trying to lift spirits of party workers. The Left thus has reason to be dismayed by the picture of an "enduring'' friendship after acknowledging its keenness to divide the Opposition ~ more so because it has virtually no friends left at the Centre.



THE message from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh should ring resonantly enough in all institutions, including centres of excellence, where ragging remains a cruel manifestation of the ceremonial freshers' welcome. Four doctors on the make at the Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College have been sentenced to four years' imprisonment for ragging that led to the death of Aman Kachroo, another student, only last year. The menace is no less serious in the technological campuses, notably the IITs, where freshers have often been compelled to withdraw from their courses in the face of a tortuous initiation. It bears recall that BESU's upgradation to an Institute of National Importance was held up after a student died when the highandedness of seniors turned violent. And yet no action was taken against the culprits. We must give it to the Himachal government that it allowed the law to take its course ~ and through a fast-track court ~ to a logical conclusion. Indeed, immediately after Kachroo's death, ragging was made a cognisable, non-bailable offence. In most other states, deaths on the campus, whether in CPI-M's Bengal or the BJP's Madhya Pradesh, are ignored as a matter of political convenience despite the fact that there is a judicial ban on ragging.  Even the stipulation that all such cases must be recorded as an FIR ~ with the onus on the college authorities ~ has had little or no effect. Whether the culprits belong to the SFI or the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad as in the university at Ujjain, the state authorities are wary about upsetting the students' union applecart. If ragging persists across the country, it is primarily because the campus authorities have tacitly condoned the almost criminally violent behaviour of the students. The boldness of the administration in Shimla stands out in refreshing contrast, and with a lesson for all institutions that are plagued with the menace perpetrated by overgrown juveniles. 
As critical as the punishment for culpable homicide is the subtext of the verdict ~ that the crime of ragging must be prevented. It is fervently to be hoped that last Thursday's order will have a deterrent effect in all medical and technological campuses. Mercifully thus far, the institutions in the general stream have been fairly free of this menace. As Kachroo's father said after the verdict, "I see this as a victory for those who are fighting against ragging." The verdict in Kangra must end ragging once and for all.









THE Kashmir problem has festered since Independence. Even before J & K's formal merger with India was announced by the former rulers, Pakistani troops in the guise of Kabbaillis captured a large part of Kashmir, which is still under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. The area is known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan calls it Azad Kashmir. Actually it should be referred to as "Ghulam Kashmir" or enslaved Kashmir.
India is fast emerging as an economic super power thanks to political stability and the resilience of the democratic system. The country has scaled new heights in development. It is not only self-dependent, but occupies a prominent position in Information Technology, health, space science, defence and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The recent Commonwealth Games have reaffirmed  India's strength in sports. The tally of medals indicates that the country is far ahead of many developed nations; it is now second only to Australia.


This achievement cannot be a sudden phenomenon. It is the outcome of hard work over time.

Indians have always considered Kashmir to be the Crown of India. The Valley is a source of pride. The people and the Government of India have always tried to develop Jammu and Kashmir to the extent possible. The Planning Commission and the Finance Commission have been working towards that end.  The state is strategically important for the country. Therefore, the separatist leaders can in no way be obliged.
If we look at the "enslaved Kashmir" we notice little by way of development save  roads and bridges to facilitate the movement of Pakistani and Chinese troops. One can easily foresee the future of Kashmir if the sinister designs of Pakistan fructify and if the separatist leaders are successful in achieving the so-called azadi or self-governance. Of course, such prospects are absolutely nil, a dream or a spectacle of fantasy. If, for the sake of argument, that dream is fulfilled, the result will be catastrophic for Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Jammu and Kashmir is a state where both the Central and state governments are unable to collect substantial revenue. In 2008-09, the Centre collected direct taxes amounting to Rs 335,000 crore nationwide. In J & K, however, it could collect only Rs 452 crore. Only two tax payers, notably Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd and Sun Pharma Ltd, contributed more than Rs 300 crore by way of direct taxes. As regards Central excise, only Rs 62 crore could be collected. Further, it is the Jammu region that yielded the bulk of the Central revenue. The revenue of the state government from its own taxes was only Rs 3011 crore in 2009-10, while the state's  total revenue this fiscal was Rs 19,362 crore. J&K received Rs 1880 crore as its share of Central taxes and Rs 13,232 crore as grants-in-aid from the Centre. A sum of Rs 15,112 crore was received by the Jammu and Kashmir government from the Centre, out of a total revenue of Rs 19,362 crore (78 per cent).

For even its general expenses, the state government cannot depend on its own resources as they account for hardly 22 per cent of the expenditure. The Centre's expenditure on the maintenance of security forces also contributes substantially to the economy and exchequer of J&K. The 13th  Finance Commission has granted a total transfer of Rs 40,439 crore between 2010 and 2015, of which Rs 20183 crore would be the share in Central taxes and Rs 20,256 crore as grants-in-aid. In real terms, J&K will receive more than Rs 8,000 crore a year through statutory transfers recommended by the Finance Commission. Besides, there are discretionary grants and other transfers recommended by the Planning Commission and the Union finance ministry. While deciding on the allocation, the Finance Commission, the Planning Commission or any official entity does not consider the contribution made by the respective state to the Central exchequer. The deciding factor is the quantum that is necessary for development. Jammu and Kashmir has  less than one per cent of  the country's population. The problem of insurgency has resulted in large-scale migration of Hindus and Sikhs from J&K to other parts of the country. And yet the state receives 1.6 per cent as its share in Central taxes and 7.5 per cent in the form of grants-in-aid from the Finance Commission.

The state is in a shambles owing to the problem of militancy. In consequence, its  potential to generate revenue has declined considerably. It is expected to contribute a mere Rs 4,000 crore in the next five years (i.e. Rs 800 crore per year) to the Central exchequer. And against that, it is expected to get a whopping Rs one lakh crore from the Centre under various heads.

Ladakh, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu  are the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir. For obvious reasons, the state is less developed as compared to the rest of India. Insurgency has shattered its economy. The separatist leaders, who claim to be the messiahs of  Kashmiris, have wrought havoc in the state.
The people of Kashmir must realise that the people in the rest of the country have cultural, historical and emotional bonding with Kashmir and the Kashmiris. In the interest of development, the people of Jammu and Kashmir must walk in step with the rest of India. The Kashmiris should come out of the clutches of separatist forces and enemy countries and start working for the development of the state and effect a dramatic improvement in living standards. Above all, they must give peace a chance. 










"Aung San Suu Kyi is free. How wonderful — quite unbelievable." When Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this in his foreword to the second edition of the Myanmarese leader's autobiography, Freedom From Fear, he had no idea that the celebration would be so short-lived. For most of the next 15 years, she was back under house arrest. As she walks free again, the world's delight cannot but be mixed with a sense of unease about the military junta's motives. It would be naïve to see her release as reflecting a change of heart for Myanmar's ruthless rulers. Their motives were indicated by the electoral fraud they perpetrated on the country and its people on the eve of her release. Ms Suu Kyi can now publicly react to the fraud in only one way — by totally rejecting the polls. No matter what democratic masks the generals wear, her rejection of the polls will make the regime look even more illegitimate to the people of Myanmar and the world at large. It is inconceivable that she will not use her freedom in order to carry on the struggle that she has come to symbolize.


It is inconceivable too that the generals would stomach this and let her be truly free. But, despite doubts and forebodings, her release carries an overwhelming message of hope for the future of freedom. Ms Suu Kyi has always acknowledged three great influences on her life and work — Mahatma Gandhi, Buddhism and Aung San, her father and leader of her country's struggle for freedom from British rule. She may have been influenced just as much by Nelson Mandela, who holds the record for serving the longest prison term — 28 years — and who, too, learnt his lessons from Gandhi. Ms Suu Kyi has remained an unwavering Gandhian in her total commitment to peace. All this makes her the formidable fighter for freedom that the military rulers are so afraid of.


This fear of freedom has been at the heart of tyrannical power throughout history. The former Soviet Union had the same fear about people like Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was the same feeling that made communist China see red when the Nobel Peace Prize this year was given to Liu Xiaobo, the country's leading campaigner for democracy and human rights who is serving an 11-year jail term. Ms Suu Kyi has repeatedly said that her struggle for a free, democratic Myanmar must be seen as part of mankind's desire for life without fear and oppression. Her release, therefore, is best seen as a new light that will kindle hope for prisoners of conscience in other places. It should inspire world leaders and freedom-loving people everywhere to speak up against tinpot dictators and oppressors of other varieties. A beginning can be made with a crusade for Mr Liu's freedom.








Adults could make a simple promise on Children's Day: they will think. Think about children, that is. This is so rare in India that when 24 day care centres in Calcutta and Howrah succeed in giving almost 10,000 street children cooked lunches, non-conventional education and health checks on a regular basis it is cause for surprise. Non-governmental organizations run these shelters, with 90 per cent of the funding coming from the Centre, the progenitor of the programme, and 10 per cent from the NGOs themselves. The only drawback is that the children have to be let loose into the predatory night — perhaps destroying much or all of the good for quite a few. To counter this problem, the Centre has decided to fund only those NGOs which would be able to look after the children at night too. The funding would obviously increase.


It sounds perfect. But the Centre will allow only one such day-cum-night shelter in each district; that is, 19 in West Bengal. It is almost as if the thinking, so wise and sensitive, has abruptly hit a brick wall. While new shelters are opened in the districts, what happens to all but two of the 24 day care centres in Howrah and Calcutta? What will happen to the children now being cared for in all but the lucky two? Doubtless there would be problems in funding extra shelters, and they would not fit the neat policy now being formulated. But that policy needed to prescribe arrangements for the children using those centres heading for closure. This failure to think things through has allowed the West Bengal government to put in its thumb. It has advised the NGOs running the 24 day shelters to ask the Centre for permission and funds to become night shelters and has also sent in a request for 30 new shelters in the districts. Given its inefficiency and its flair for destroying what other people have built, it can only be hoped that the project does not break down totally. It would be a harsh price to pay for the Centre's lack of thought.









On the evening of November 13, as she tucked a red hibiscus into her hair with a characteristic flick of the hand, the crowd roared with joy. Overwhelmed to see their symbol of hope waving from over the menacing iron spokes that have barricaded her from the world for so many years, many cried. Others proudly displayed T-shirts emblazoned with their leader's smiling face. How will Aung San Suu Kyi cope with her 'new' life of freedom? With her characteristic savoir faire, well-honed negotiating skills and commitment, of course. Arrest, incarceration and enforced 'solitude' are things that she has learnt to live with in the 22 years since her life changed irrevocably. The cause of the last round from which she emerged on Friday was perhaps the most intriguing: the strange case of the eccentric John William Yettaw who, in May 2009, swam to her crumbling home on the shores of Lake Inya and was given refuge. The incident gave the junta a convenient excuse to immediately extend Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration.


There has been much discussion around the incident — whether Yettaw was truly odd, or whether he was a plant, a spy and so on. There has been less speculation on why Aung San Suu Kyi and her two home helpers agreed to allow him to stay. They must surely have known the repercussions of such a decision under a despotic regime where it is illegal to have a guest stay overnight without notifying the authorities. To have sent Yettaw back to an uncertain fate would have been totally out of character — Suu (as Aung San Suu Kyi is known to her family and close friends) has never been known to shun responsibility or, for that matter, an unusual experience. A long journey from the 1960s, when, as a quiet, obedient girl with a great flair for creative writing, she would come to school in the ambassadorial Mercedes, her hair in two neat plaits and just a trace of arrowroot on her face. Madame Aung San, or Daw Khin Kyi as she was also known, was the Burmese ambassador to India, and Suu and she lived in 24, Akbar Road, today the New Delhi headquarters of the Congress.


I've often been asked whether Suu displayed any of the leadership qualities that were to make her the courageous and principled woman of 1988 and after. Though active in college activities such as writing an entertaining spoof on Anthony and Cleopatra that we enacted with what we thought was superb histrionic flair — Suu was Julius Caesar — neither at Lady Shri Ram nor later at St Hugh's College, Oxford, was she politically active. No discussions on Tariq Ali's latest fiery speech or a controversial Oxford Union debate had us burning the midnight oil. Rather, my abiding memories of those days are of her irrepressible giggle as we shared a joke, upright posture — never an adolescent slouch — and great pride in lineage. "I will never be allowed to forget whose daughter I am," she would say. History was soon to prove her right.


Over the years, Aung San Suu Kyi learnt to 'cope' and 'adjust' — those convenient hold-all terms used for women juggling many lives. After a degree in Modern Greats (PPE) from Oxford University, Suu married the Oxford-based Tibetologist, Michael Aris, and settled into a life of domesticity. Or so it seemed. Articulate yet stoic in her approach to a multitude of issues jostling for space — concern for her mother in faraway Rangoon, endless house guests, shifts in homes and countries and two growing sons — Suu managed admirably. One rarely saw anything of the strains of living between cultures, bearing the responsibility of being her father's daughter and wondering no doubt whether her country would ever reach out to her.


When, in March 1988, Suu returned to care for her seriously ill mother in Rangoon, she was in the midst of an interesting phase of research on her father, the legendary General Aung San. As tumultuous political events overtook her, she was not to go back to her home or to her books at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Hailed as the leader of the incipient democratic movement, Aung San Suu Kyi stepped confidently into her challenging new role in a country that had been shrouded from the world by the 26-year-old dictatorship of General Ne Win. She addressed endless public meetings, set up her own party and galvanized a people so long immersed in a miasma of hopelessness.


I've often wondered how things would have panned out for Suu and for Burma if she had not been in Rangoon that fateful summer. Without an iconic figure at the helm, the democratic movement would doubtless have been suppressed in no time. The junta's ruthlessness would continue unabated and, in faraway Oxford, Suu could have done little more than introspect and grieve for her country. But that's not what destiny had in store for Aung San Suu Kyi. Her visit to Rangoon that fateful spring linked her inextricably to the future of a beleaguered land. A year of violence, bloodshed and untold misery followed — in the pro-democracy protests of the summer of 1988, many monks and young idealists were among the estimated 3,000 people killed. Choosing to overlook Aung San Suu Kyi's newly founded National League for Democracy which swept the polls in May 1989, in July the military junta placed the new leader under house arrest, claiming that her activities were endangering the State. In the six years of detention that followed, she became an author, a political thinker and a well-read, dignified symbol of non-violent protest. Books are what she asked for consistently from her husband in England: texts by and on Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, spiritualism and Buddhism were among her favourites as Aung San Suu Kyi filled long hours with meditating, reading and reflecting about the future. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding the following year, today, she has over 80 international awards and honorary doctorates to her name.


Her husband, Michael, stayed on in Oxford with their young sons, Alexander and Kim — Baba, as was he was fondly called. Indefatigable in his work for the cause of democracy in Burma, he was instrumental in keeping Suu's struggle, her days of incarceration and the wider aim of freedom and security on the international agenda. When, in late 1998, his cancer was discovered, the junta refused Michael permission to visit Suu; however, the rulers said, she was free to visit her dying husband. Knowing that there would be no going back, Suu chose not to leave her country.


On May 30, 2003, as Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade left Mandalay, there was a murderous attack on it by four truckloads of people armed with iron rods, bamboo and iron spears. Several of her followers were killed, and an eye-witness felt sure that the degree and nature of the violence meant that it was a genuine attempt to assassinate the leader. It was from the incarceration following this incident — including a spell at the notorious Insein prison — that she emerged on Friday. In the intervening years, the NLD has suffered from the absence of its leader, and the boycott of the elections of November meant its disbandment; the junta-supported Union Solidarity and Development Party won 80 per cent seats in an election regarded as largely rigged.


Among other things, Suu will surely have to strategize on rejuvenating her party, now referred to as a social movement, involve alienated ethnic minorities and speak to the world once more for her country. A world that has been unfailing in its admiration and support for her, with India being a notable exception, citing the need for the junta's support in protecting our porous Northeast. While cautiously welcoming her release, S.M. Krishna could not fail to acknowledge the presence of the junta as he spoke of reconciliation. How will Suu react to the consistent pusillanimity of a country that was not only her childhood home, but is also Burma's neighbour and the world's largest democracy?







You probably noticed reports recently about the secret trial in Georgia of two Armenian men who tried to sell highly enriched uranium to a man purporting to be an Islamist terrorist. The apparent buyer was actually an undercover policeman and the whole thing was a sting operation from start to finish, but it offers some interesting insights into the current state of play in the world of counter-terrorism.


The would-be sellers of the HEU were two naïve losers, a 63-year-old failed businessman called Sumbat Tonoyan who had gambled his money away, and a 59-year-old physicist, Hrant Ohanyan, who was chronically ill. They wanted to score a big win in order to finance their retirement, and they fell right into the Georgian police's trap.


A petty criminal called Garik Dadayan first approached Ohanyan in 2002 with a packet of metallic powder, asking whether it was HEU. Ohanyan, a scientist at the Yerevan Physics Institute, confirmed that it was uranium though he could not say how enriched it was. Dadayan was subsequently arrested trying to cross the frontier into Georgia with 200 grams of HEU.


Dadayan was out of jail by 2005, so Ohanyan knew where to go when his friend Tonoyan suggested that they could make a fortune by peddling HEU to terrorists. Dadayan told them that he had friends in Russia who could supply them with unlimited amounts of HEU, and suggested that they start by finding a buyer and selling him a sample amount.


It's almost certain that Dadayan was working for the Georgian intelligence service by this time. The fact that in the end he only gave them 18gm of HEU to take to Georgia reinforces that suspicion. And it was the Georgian police who supplied the "buyer", a Turkish-speaking undercover policeman who said he was in the market for nuclear material on behalf of "serious people."


Show and tell


Last March, the two mugs took the night train from Yerevan to Tbilisi, with the 18gm of HEU hidden in a cigarette box that was lined with lead strips to fool the American-supplied radiation detectors at the border. When Tonoyan showed up at a Tbilisi hotel the next day to close the sale, the police filmed the whole transaction and then arrested him and his partner-in-crime.


Georgia's motivation in all this is clear. Prime Minister Mikheil Saakashvili is trying to rebuild the close relationship he used to have with the United States of America before his rash attempt to seize South Ossetia by force in 2008. He will do anything to make himself useful to the US intelligence services. Why do the US intelligence services want to emphasize the risk of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands? Because that would be a bad thing, of course, but also to underline the fact that thwarting nuclear terrorism is entirely their job.


They want us to conclude that the military should not be allowed anywhere near counter-terrorist operations, partly because the tools they use are entirely inappropriate for the job, and partly because invading countries tends to radicalize people and turn them into your enemies. The little show-and-tell in Georgia serves the purposes of US intelligence officers who know that the military must be excluded from their operations but have trouble fending them off. It also helps to justify their budgets, although the threat they are seeking to protect us from is smaller than they claim.


I'm happy to have them play their intelligence games, because it might prevent something like a "dirty bomb" from exploding in an American city. If that did happen, the popular pressure on President Barack Obama to invade some other Muslim country would be well-nigh irresistible. That's not what we need right now.




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





Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest on Saturday has been greeted by a tidal wave of jubilation and relief worldwide. 'The Lady' has been in some form of custody for 15 of the past 20 years. She has been freed at last. If Myanmar's military rulers thought that by keeping her away from the public eye, people would forget her, they have been proved wrong. Thousands have showed up to catch a glimpse of their beloved leader. 

The generals' malicious propaganda against her — she is often referred to as a 'snake' or a 'terrorist' — has failed to diminish her stature. Rather the 65-year-old soft but steely Suu Kyi has emerged taller from her house arrest. She is no ordinary leader. She is an international icon for democracy and non-violence.

As Suu Kyi stepped out to greet her supporters on Saturday, it was hard not to be reminded of another event two decades ago. That was when Nelson Mandela walked free.  Suu Kyi and Mandela were incarcerated for decades. Both displayed amazing commitment to their causes, refusing to budge from their convictions even in the face of adversity. Both could have incited their supporters to violence. They did not. But the parallels end there. Mandela was freed by a tottering apartheid regime. His role following his release was to deal apartheid the last blow. In Myanmar, the military is firmly in power. Last week, the generals legitimised their grip through a severely flawed election.

Suu Kyi has been released. But is she free? Is she free to speak her mind and engage in political activism or will the generals arrest her for challenging their rule? By releasing Suu Kyi after the elections, the generals have revealed how deeply they fear her popularity. They have freed her now not because they fear her less but because they are anxious to make themselves more acceptable to the international community. Her release is a ray of hope. It is here that India can and must play a role. Delhi must work with Myanmar, nudging it to initiate a process of reconciliation. It must push the generals to engage in dialogue with Suu Kyi and to take steps to usher in a more meaningful democracy. The generals must release the 2,200 other political prisoners. As Suu Kyi charts the strategy of the next phase of Myanmar's struggle for democracy, she will have to find a way to heal the deep divisions in the pro-democracy movement. A second rung of leaders must be encouraged. The movement cannot depend on Suu Kyi and her aged lieutenants alone.








The way has been cleared for the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta high court with the finding of the inquiry committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha that he is guilty of misconduct warranting his removal as a judge. It is a good augury that now there is a chance of taking action against a judge who has invited serious charges of misdemeanour and corruption unbecoming of his position. The committee, headed by a supreme court judge and consisting of a high court chief justice and an eminent jurist, has found that the judge is guilty of misappropriation of over Rs 33 lakh and misrepresentation of the facts. The judge's contention that the charges relate to his action as a receiver of the high court before his appointment as a judge is not acceptable as his conduct showed that he did not have the personal integrity required of a judge. The fact that the matter came out into the open only after his appointment as a judge again exposes the inadequacy of the present system of judicial appointments, which has received much adverse attention. 

If Justice Sen is impeached, it will be the first time that parliament takes the most extreme action prescribed against an errant judge of the higher judiciary. The first-ever impeachment  motion, against a Punjab and Haryana high court judge, Justice V Ramaswami, in 1993 was abortive as the Congress party refrained from supporting it. 

This was unfortunate, as there was convincing evidence of misdemeanour on the part of Ramaswami. No extraneous consideration should influence the stand of political parties with regard to Justice Sen's impeachment. The enquiry committee has noted that his conduct has brought dishonour and disrepute to the judiciary and shaken the faith and confidence of the people in it. The government and leaders of all parties should immediately  take a decision on the matter and impeach the errant judge in the current session of parliament.

The successful impeachment of the judge will send a warning to other judges also who are under a cloud, like Justice P D Dinakaran and Justice Nirmal Yadav of two other high courts. It will also be a deterrent for others in a climate of increasing doubts about the integrity of many judges. The proceedings have taken too long, and that again makes a case for a faster and more effective system to punish the black sheep in the judiciary.







'China is a manufacturing base for the American economy, and India an opportunity for Walmart.'



How many words will India get in Barack Obama's autobiography, 'Faith, Hope and Miscarriage,' due in 2013?

Going by the law of proportions, it should be between 100 to 104 if the complete book is around 2,00,000 words, roughly the length expected in a multi-million dollar advance. According to a fine story by my friend K P Nayar in 'The Telegraph', George W Bush, Dr Manmohan Singh's 'best friend', devoted exactly 208 words out of 1,95,456 to India in his memoir 'Decision Points.' "Even those 208 words figure in just three paragraphs only in the context of justifying a visit by Bush to Islamabad after his trip to India in March 2006," notes Nayar.

Time to clear your throat. The civil nuclear cooperation deal — you remember that one surely? It was the highlight of the summer of 2008. Every television channel was singing 'Singh is King' while money changed hands by the sackful in the Lok Sabha to persuade purchasable MPs to save the nation — is dismissed by its principal architect in one and a half sentences.

Those 208 words are not a measure of how important the nuclear deal is in the American perspective; they are an estimate of where India stands among the nodal points of American decision-making. That half-page was authored by a friendly president, not a hostile occupant of the White House. A book is written in a cold logic that sits well on the shelves of a library, not hot air that steams across political rhetoric during a state visit.
The geopolitics of Pakistan have made it relevant real estate in the two major confrontations after the Second World War: the Cold War between the West and East Eurasia; and the current hot war between America and its real or imagined enemies in the Muslim world.

Pakistan's policymakers cottoned on to this very quickly in the 50s, when they adopted the Pentagon as their Godfather. They felt jilted when their contribution to the jihad that ended the Cold War was treated with indifference by a victorious America, but such is the way it always has been; sentiment is no substitute for need.

Pakistan wooed and won China as Godfather II during the fallow phase of its relationship to America. Here too strategic interests coalesced since China wanted to outsource at least some of its Himalayan confrontation to a nation which seems to have an Eveready battery in its gut where conflict with India is concerned.

Pakistan got a second wind after 9/11, and Pervez Musharraf picked up its ballast to his own and his country's advantage. International relations are always untidy, and nations make space for overlapping or even contradictory interests. But despite serious underlying tensions there was a certain neatness in the US-Pakistan-China diagram.

Strategic game

China had a lock on the American economy, and Pakistan on the American war effort. The situation would have been different if the Shah or his descendants had been in power in Tehran, but with Iran hostile, America could only conduct its Afghan operations from the east. Washington has had to play a carefully measured strategic game within this triangle.

American policy, whether in the time of Bush or Obama, is perfectly logical, since it is driven by American interests. What is astonishing is that Delhi's strategic community should have, with the help of largesse from the UPA government, abandoned a history of autonomy in order to smuggle itself into the contours of American strategic requirements when Washington has always made its priorities clear.

Even Bush worried about the consequences of the nuclear deal on the American equation with Pakistan, and Obama has authorised a policy that not only multiplies Pakistan's offensive capabilities both on its western and eastern fronts, but also endorses China's gift of at least two additional nuclear plants. As a further sweetener, Washington has promised to beef up Pakistan's economy, although this might be beyond its capabilities now.

For both Bush and Obama, India is primarily a market; they are traders more than partners. China is a manufacturing base for the American economy, and India an opportunity for Walmart. They are, as they have repeatedly made clear, interested in India's middle class rather than in India. When did Bush or Obama mention either Pakistan's or even China's middle class? Bush has been quite specific. He has said in his book that the "educated (Indian) middle class has the potential to be one of America's closest partners."

Friendship does not flourish in an either-or matrix. Disagreement is not evidence of enmity, and it would be far better for Washington and Delhi to accept departure points rather than pretend that they do not exist. Obama and Manmohan Singh can live with each other without being in love with each other.

I hope Obama gets to write his memoirs only in 2017 rather than 2013 but that is a decision which will be taken by the American voter.







In India, talents are treated like beasts by ordinary, mediocre people at the helm.


Huge mineral resources, forest wealth, wide network of rivers, vast animal wealth, long coast line, world's second most populated nation, world's third largest pool of scientists and technical manpower, 20 agro ecological regions to produce the world's largest varieties of food crops, immense professional skill and an impressive GDP growth clocking at 8.5 per cent in consecutive years have failed to achieve inclusive growth. India is home to more than 380 million hungry people. As per CAG report, 40 per cent of India's 34 million children in the age group of 6-14 are not school going. One third of India's population do not have clean drinking water. Approximately, 2.4 million Indian children die each year due to measles, diphtheria, diarrhea, malnutrition, water borne infection, etc. According to United Nations Population Fund State Project Co-ordinator, Anuja Gupta nearly 1,600 girls a day and six lakh girls per year are missing at birth in India owing to prenatal sex determination. All these things happen because India has failed to groom the right kind of human material for nation building.

Political inclusion

The major social and economic ailments attribute to India's inability to achieve political inclusion. People with money and muscles easily win election because political parties give them tickets on the basis of their ability to spend. Mass illiteracy, backwardness, poverty and social divisions boost their prospect. Forty to 50 per cent people which includes the majority of educated people do not cast their votes. When a candidate wins election with black money and muscles, he always tries to get 10 times more than his investment. Political exclusion attributes to India's most corrupt nation status close to El Salvador and Gautemala and its low human development index. Desperate supreme court bench of Justice S B Sinha and Markandaya Katju expressed "The only way to rid this country of corruption is to hang a few of the accused on the lamp post so that it acts as a deterrent for others".

Regional imbalance, disproportionate allocation of development funds, financial packages and populism become routine activities of the politicians. Mamta Banerjee's last rail budget was aimed to woo voters for the forth coming assembly election in West Bengal. Her neighbouring state Orissa is deprived of a fast train facility to India's financial capital Mumbai for decades.

The recent Commonwealth Game mess is the result of poor human material at the helm. The four year old Budhia Singh from Orissa ran 65 kilometre in 2006 to enter into the Limca Book of record. He is the world's youngest marathon runner. When Budhia was two and half year old, his hungry mother sold him for Rs 500 to a judo coach Biranchi Das who brought Budhia to fame. After the murder of the coach Biranchi Das, Budhia Singh went into oblivion. Footballer, Ashok Jethy from Cuttack represented Orissa eight times in Santosh trophy. Today in his 40s, Jethy is still unmarried and is searching for a job. Ali Sayeed, 68 came to Delhi from Gorakhpur in UP to see the India Pakistan World Cup hockey final in Delhi in 2010. After repeated requests he could not get an entry pass to see the final. Sayeed played for India as left out in 1964 hockey Olympic final. India beat Pakistan by 1-0 in the final. This is India where talents are treated like beasts by ordinary mediocre people at the helm. The result is India's poor show in Olympic Games and its disqualification in world cup football for decades.

Barring a few private schools the students from a majority of schools cannot stand the present level of competitions. There is an urgent need to centrally monitor classroom activities of government run schools through web camera so that teachers can pay attention to students. If we cannot nurture our children from the primary level we will end up as a nation of cheap unskilled global labours. There is a long question mark on the capacity and integrity of Indian Administrative Services. So a huge exercise is on to sensitise the officials in the services. Unless we instill honesty, discipline, moral and physical courage among our children from school level those administrators will always end up as yes men to political bosses.

During British Raj, British schools groomed Indian students to become compatible yes men as they told the Indian children to sing "behold the mighty Englishman, He rules the Indian small, Because being a meat eater, he is five cubits tall." India must address its deepening human resources crisis.







People in public service are as fallible as the rest of others.


Recently I visited Kuala Lumpur on a conducted tour with a group. Traversing its various sight-seeing locations one could not miss the beautifully-maintained wide roads with streams of vehicles moving fast and in an orderly manner, strictly following the lane and signal disciplines. Amazingly, we did not see a single policeman controlling the traffic or guiding anyone crossing the roads. Our Malaysian guide explained with justifiable pride that "in my charming country, police step in only when there is trouble. They are helpful friends to the righteous and equally formidable foes to the law-breakers!"

Someone in our group made a flippant remark at this juncture that in India things are quite different. Though it was made in bad taste, at a wrong place and at a wrong time, this feeling is unfortunately present for various complex reasons.

Come to think of this, many of us do not realise that the sphere of activity of the police is basically different from that of all other professions. The very process of dealing with all kinds of hostile and unscrupulous enemies of the society (plus our own lack of civic sense) is enough to present the image of police in an adverse light! People in public service are as fallible as the rest of others and tarnishing this sector in isolation is certainly irrational.

My own experience with this clan is worth the mention: Long ago I was taking my reluctant six-year old son to his school by car not heeding his tantrums against attending the school that day. As we were passing in front of the local police station he suddenly raised his voice and waving his hands frantically started crying — "Help! Police! Bachao!" Before I could realise the gravity of his mischievous pranks, a police jeep soon overtook my vehicle signalling me to stop! I had a tough time convincing the officers that I was not kidnapping my own child, while appreciating their alacrity at the same time.

Deciding to settle down in Bangalore after my retirement in 1992, I was approaching the outskirts of the city with my family by car, closely followed by a truck carrying our belongings. We were abruptly stopped by the police who explained to us that the highway ahead had been completely blocked by violent agitators of Cauvery water dispute holding up a good number of vehicles for hours. It was well past midnight and when I nostalgically explained to the inspector that I was returning to my home town after a long service outside the state, he was so touched that he not only escorted our vehicles up to Mekri circle but also sent further wireless message to ensure safe passage to our destination, clearly displaying his natural softness beneath the tough uniform!



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Republicans will have the next two years to set the immigration agenda in the House of Representatives. If their legislation looks anything like their campaign ads, there will be no way for illegal immigrants to get right with the law and no real solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Just a national doubling-down on enforcement, with still more border fencing and immigration agents, workplaces locked down, and states and localities setting police dragnets on what always was — and still ought to be — federal turf.

That hard-line approach mocks American values. It is irresponsibly expensive. It is ineffective.


Two of its architects will be leaders in the House Judiciary Committee, where immigration legislation is drafted: the next chairman, Lamar Smith of Texas; and Steve King of Iowa, who is in line to run the immigration subcommittee. Mr. Smith was the author of a 1996 law that bulked up enforcement and drastically increased deportations by limiting legal immigrants' access to the justice system. It greatly expanded deportable offenses, and left many immigrants unable even to have their cases reviewed by a judge.


The 1996 law and the billions subsequently thrown at border barriers and mass deportations have failed to deter illegal immigration. But this has not deterred Mr. Smith and Mr. King, who want to go further.


They support Arizona's noxious efforts to give its law enforcement officers freer rein to demand people's papers. Mr. King has gone so far as to defend racial profiling (which is illegal) as "legitimate law enforcement." Both support the rapid imposition of E-Verify, an error-plagued electronic immigration database that every citizen would have to clear before being allowed to work.


Both want Congress to reinterpret the 14th Amendment to deprive children of illegal immigrants who are born on American soil of their citizenship. Hard-liners on the right derisively refer to these children as "anchor babies," part of a plot to sponsor their parents for green cards.


Mr. King once stood in the House chamber assembling a mock-up of a border fence, with concrete wall panels and coiled wire on top, to show how simple immigration reform could be. We could electrify the wire, he said: "We do that with livestock all the time."


It is not just Republicans like Mr. King and Mr. Smith who are set on doing far too much after years of accusing the government of doing too little on immigration. All the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter last month to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement of "a lax approach" for focusing more on dangerous criminals than on those with minor or no criminal records. They wondered why she hadn't asked for more money so ICE could detain and deport every last illegal immigrant it finds, and demanded that she tell them exactly how much that might cost. (The head of ICE under President George W. Bush once gave the Senate a ballpark estimate: $94 billion. And that's not counting the profound damage to the rule of law, democratic values and American's already soiled reputation.)


Citizens who took this year's Republican candidates at their word when they said they were concerned about deficits might logically ask where they plan to get these billions for border fences, detention beds and a national rollout of Arizona-style police enforcement. Or for armies of bureaucrats running a national citizenship registry. Once the 14th Amendment is overturned, a birth certificate won't be enough to prove your baby is American.


Americans want Congress and the president to fix what's broken and to spend less. The G.O.P.'s restrictionist immigration doctrine fails on both counts.







Though its final report is two months away, the presidential commission investigating the gulf oil spill is beginning to confirm what we already suspected and feared. The April blowout on the Deepwater Horizon was not some unfortunate occurrence. It was the result of a series of bad decisions by companies less concerned about safety than about finishing a project that was over budget and 38 days behind schedule.


The commission's preliminary findings, presented last week, were inevitably sketchy. It has been operating without subpoena powers that could more quickly clear up conflicting accounts given by the three big players — BP, Hallibuton and Transocean. The House has granted these powers; the Senate has not. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, must correct that.


The findings did not single out individual workers or executives for blame. The panel's chief counsel, Fred Bartlit Jr., said that so far his staff had not found "a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety."


Mr. Bartlit amended his comments, suggesting that further digging could turn up instances in which safety was clearly traded for profit. "Any time you are talking about a million and a half dollars a day," he said, "money enters in."


The commission chairmen, William Reilly and Bob Graham, voiced the same suspicions, noting what Mr. Graham called a "compulsion to get this rig completed in that April 19-20 timetable." Both men have also condemned what Mr. Reilly has called a "culture of complacency" in the industry generally, and BP in particular.


The commission, an earlier House investigation and drilling experts have identified what they believe to be several crucial errors.


These include: Halliburton's decision to cement the well with a mixture it knew to be flawed; BP's apparent failure to center the well properly; BP's decision to use seawater instead of heavy drilling mud to fill the well, leaving it vulnerable to an upsurge in gas; BP's apparent failure to use enough plugs to seal the well; the failure by BP and Transocean to pay close attention to pressure tests showing the well to be unstable.


Nailing down the final details won't be easy, especially with each company eager to pass the blame to the others. Subpoena powers would obviously help. What we do know is that these companies must change their procedures and, more fundamentally, their dangerously skewed priorities.







As he approaches the duties of speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner is generously asking one and all for ideas on "how we can make this institution function again." Mr. Boehner did not mention dysfunction, but that's apparently in the works, too, according to reports that he will likely dismantle the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics.


Outraged taxpayers who voted against business as usual in Washington should be dumbfounded. Congress's Tea Party newcomers should be the first to protect the office.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the agency in 2008, in the wake of the scandals featuring Jack Abramoff, the eventually imprisoned megalobbyist who had V.I.P. clout with the previous Republican majority.


The staff of nonpartisan professionals has worked hard to stiffen the spine of the House ethics committee. The office has issued more than a score of preliminary reports pointing to possible abuses and prodding the committee toward hearings on alleged violations by Representatives Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters. It has been what the public long needed — an alert to possible abuses traditionally buried under Congressional arrogance.


Lawmakers from both parties cited for scrutiny demanded that the office be scrapped. Ms. Pelosi resisted. That, of course, didn't stop campaigning Republicans from accusing her of failing to fulfill her pledge to "drain the swamp" of Congressional corruption.


The clear implication was that they would offer even stronger ethics policing. Certainly more could be done. The office would be far more effective if its investigators were accorded subpoena power to cut through members' resistance. There's been no mention of that, or any ethics reform, in the boilerplate agendas issued so far by Republican leaders.


The new speaker should protect and bolster the Office of Congressional Ethics. The last thing Congress needs is a retreat to the days of good old boy self-policing and no real accountability.










Up in the soft blue night sky at Grand Central Terminal, the heavens have been improved upon. The ceiling's gold-leaf constellations were not considered bright enough, so their fiber-optic stars are now LEDs. Castor, Pollux, Pisces, Pegasus dazzle 125 feet above the main concourse.


At Pennsylvania Station, across town, no gods or mythic beasts adorn the acoustic-tile and metal-strip ceilings, although water stains and rust sometimes create interesting patterns. In places you can touch the rivets on the beams holding up One Penn Plaza.


Grand Central gets grander, Penn Station stays penal: that is a rule of New York City. Like the Yankees and Mets, Park Avenue and Bowery, our commuter-rail hubs' relative positions seem as fixed as those of celestial bodies. One has grand staircases modeled after the Paris Opera House. The other has some escalators. In one, they sell lump crabmeat and artichokes. In the other, popcorn and beer.


Penn Station marks its 100th anniversary this year. It's a tainted anniversary, since the Penn Station of 1910, a rail cathedral, exists only in landfill shards, photos and the memories of graying New Yorkers. The current Penn is a dispiriting imposter.


It does, however, have its own ceiling art: a mechanical clock by the architect Maya Lin, near the stairs to Tracks 20 and 21. A planet-like aluminum disc, backlit by LEDs, slides slowly along a scale of etched numbers and hash marks. We gazed at it other day, a homeless man and I. It reminded him of a football field. In the cramped, incoherent Penn Station, all I saw was the plaque with its bureaucratic warning: "Do not set your watch by it." 








Social Security is not the key fiscal problem facing the nation. Payments to its beneficiaries amount to 5 percent of the economy now; by 2050, they're projected to rise to about 6 percent. Over the same period, federal health care costs will increase six times as much.


Nevertheless, Social Security does face an actuarial deficit. Current projections suggest that, after 2037, benefits would need to be reduced by more than 20 percent to match revenue. Measured over the next 75 years, the deficit in Social Security is expected to amount to 0.7 percent of the economy — not a huge amount, but a deficit nonetheless.


So it would be desirable to put the system on sounder financial footing. And that is precisely what the co-chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt have bravely proposed to do. It's too bad their proposal has been greeted with so much criticism, especially from progressives — who really should look at it as an opportunity to fix Social Security without privatizing it. Although the plan leans too much on future benefit reductions and not enough on revenue increases, it still offers a good starting point for reform.


The proposal put forward last week by Alan Simpson, the former Senate Republican leader, and Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, has four main elements.


First, it would make the payroll tax more progressive by increasing the maximum earnings level to which it applies. Over the past several decades, as higher earners have enjoyed particularly rapid wage gains, a growing share of their wages has escaped the tax because they have been above the maximum taxable level. Today, about 15 percent of total wages are not taxed. The chairmen recommend gradually raising the maximum threshold so that, by 2050, only 10 percent of total wages wouldn't be taxed — decreasing the 75-year Social Security deficit by more than a third.


Second, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles recommend indexing the age at which full Social Security benefits can be received to increases in life expectancy. This age is already increasing to 67, and under the proposal the gradual rise would continue, to 68 by 2050. A better approach would be to leave the full benefit age alone and instead directly reduce the monthly benefits as life expectancy rises, to keep average lifetime benefits roughly constant. But the chairmen's approach would by itself narrow the Social Security gap by about a fifth.


The third suggested change is to make the formula for determining Social Security benefits more progressive, by reducing future payments to high earners while increasing them for people at the bottom. These adjustments would close at least another third of the projected deficit. And they would also help offset a little-noticed trend: affluent Americans are increasingly living longer than others. This pushes the Social Security system toward being less progressive, as higher earners collect benefits for more years.


Finally, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson would have Congress adjust the cost-of-living index that's used to determine annual increases in Social Security benefits so that it would measure inflation more accurately. Making this switch would fill in more than a quarter of the long-term deficit, because the new index would grow more slowly.


If Congress were to take all four of these recommended steps, it could not only eliminate the long-term deficit in Social Security but also make the system much more progressive. Even compared with the benefits promised by the current system, the recommended benefits for the poorest 20 percent of recipients would increase by about 5 percent, while those for the wealthiest retirees would fall by almost 20 percent.


Furthermore, the plan would not create private accounts within Social Security — the most controversial issue that came up when reform was last debated in 2005. Why not lock in a reform when private accounts are off the table? (Note to progressives: the Social Security plan put forward by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the expected new chairman of the House Budget Committee, does include private accounts.)


The main flaw in the proposed Social Security plan is that it relies too little on revenue increases and too much on future benefit reductions. A reasonable objective would be a 50-50 balance between changes in benefits and changes in revenues. But the way to bring reform into better proportion is to adjust the components of this proposal, not to fundamentally remodel it.


Finally, even though Social Security is not a major contributor to our long-term deficits, reforming it could help the federal government establish much-needed credibility on solving out-year fiscal problems — which in turn could improve the political prospects for providing additional short-term stimulus for the economy. All of which suggests that Democrats in Congress should support the basic construct of the Bowles-Simpson proposal, while arguing for some changes to improve it. That has not, however, been their reaction thus far.


It is therefore crucial that the Obama administration recognize the opportunity and respond to it more positively. The White House has been handed a highly progressive reform plan for Social Security that could attract Republican support as well.



Peter Orszag, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2010 and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing columnist for The Times.








By offering up their joint recommendation last week for balancing the budget, the co-chairmen of Barack Obama's fiscal commission didn't solve our deficit problem once and for all, or clear a path through the political thickets facing would-be budget cutters. But Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson performed a valuable public service nonetheless: the reaction to their proposals demonstrated that when it comes to addressing the long-term challenges facing this country, the Democrats, too, can play the Party of No.


Last week's media coverage sometimes made it sound as if Bowles and Simpson were taking the same amount of fire from left and right. But the reaction from Republican lawmakers and the conservative intelligentsia was muted, respectful and often favorable; the right-wing griping mostly came from single-issue activists and know-nothing television entertainers. The liberal attacks, on the other hand, came fast and furious, from pundits and leading Democratic politicians alike — starting with the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who pronounced the recommendations "simply unacceptable" almost immediately after their release.


Liberals defended this knee-jerk response on the grounds that the commissioners' vision, ostensibly bipartisan, was actually tilted toward Republican priorities. And it's true that Bowles and Simpson proposed more spending cuts than tax increases over all. But most of the programs and tax breaks that they suggested trimming — from farm subsidies to Defense Department bloat and the home-mortgage tax deduction — represent the American welfare state at its absolute worst. And the duo went out of their way to avoid balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. (Social Security, for instance, would be strengthened through a mix of tax increases and benefit cuts for wealthier seniors; retirees close to the poverty line would see their benefits increase.)


Their proposals certainly weren't flawless, but they did manage to include good ideas from right and left alike. And it's illuminating, and very depressing, that Democrats were so immediately outraged by a plan that reduces corporate welfare, makes Social Security more progressive, slashes the defense budget, raises the tax rate on millionaires' summer homes — and does all of this while capping the government's share of gross domestic product, not at some Scrooge-like minimum but at the highest level in modern American history.


Needless to say, none of the liberal lawmakers attacking the Simpson-Bowles proposals offered alternative blueprints for restoring America's solvency. The Democratic Party has plans for many things, but a balanced budget isn't one of them.


But pondering what Nancy Pelosi and her compatriots are rejecting gives us a pretty good sense of what they're for. It's a world where the government perpetually warps the real estate and health care marketplaces, subsidizing McMansions and gold-plated insurance plans to the tune of billions every year. It's a world where federal jobs are sacrosanct, but the private sector has to labor under one of the higher corporate tax rates in the developed West. It's a world where the Social Security retirement age never budges, no matter how high average life expectancy climbs. And it's a world where federal spending rises inexorably to 25 percent of G.D.P. and beyond, and taxes rise with it.


Liberals sometimes justify this vision by arguing that government has to permanently subsidize the middle class and affluent in order to maintain public support for any safety net at all. (Most voters won't support a system of basic social insurance for the poor, the theory goes, unless they're getting something out of it as well.) And they defend the ever-rising tax rates required to finance these ever-expanding entitlements by noting that America thrived economically in the wake of World War II, when income-tax rates were much higher than they are today.


The first argument ignores the lessons of liberalism's usual teacher, Western Europe, where governments have successfully reduced spending on their pension and entitlement systems without compromising their commitment to their neediest citizens. The second argument ignores the fact that the postwar United States didn't have any serious economic competitors (the rest of the globe having been brought to its knees by total war), whereas today, an overtaxed America would struggle to compete with China and India and Brazil.


But the deeper problem is that the entire approach treats Americans as moral midgets, incapable of providing for the elderly and indigent without being bribed with giveaways and propped up with subsidies. The alternative sketched by Bowles and Simpson last week has its weaknesses, but it has this great virtue: It treats Americans not as clients but as citizens, and not as children but as adults.







On Wednesday David Axelrod, President Obama's top political adviser, appeared to signal that the White House was ready to cave on tax cuts — to give in to Republican demands that tax cuts be extended for the wealthy as well as the middle class. "We have to deal with the world as we find it," he declared.


The White House then tried to walk back what Mr. Axelrod had said. But it was a telling remark, in more ways than one.


The obvious point is the contrast between the administration's current whipped-dog demeanor and Mr. Obama's soaring rhetoric as a candidate. How did we get from "We are the ones we've been waiting for" to here?


But the bitter irony goes deeper than that: the main reason Mr. Obama finds himself in this situation is that two years ago he was not, in fact, prepared to deal with the world as he was going to find it. And it seems as if he still isn't.


In retrospect, the roots of current Democratic despond go all the way back to the way Mr. Obama ran for president. Again and again, he defined America's problem as one of process, not substance — we were in trouble not because we had been governed by people with the wrong ideas, but because partisan divisions and politics as usual had prevented men and women of good will from coming together to solve our problems. And he promised to transcend those partisan divisions.


This promise of transcendence may have been good general election politics, although even that is questionable: people forget how close the presidential race was at the beginning of September 2008, how worried Democrats were until Sarah Palin and Lehman Brothers pushed them over the hump. But the real question was whether Mr. Obama could change his tune when he ran into the partisan firestorm everyone who remembered the 1990s knew was coming. He could do uplift — but could he fight?


So far the answer has been no.


Right at the beginning of his administration, what Mr. Obama needed to do, above all, was fight for an economic plan commensurate with the scale of the crisis. Instead, he negotiated with himself before he ever got around to negotiating with Congress, proposing a plan that was clearly, grossly inadequate — then allowed that plan to be scaled back even further without protest. And the failure to act forcefully on the economy, more than anything else, accounts for the midterm "shellacking."


Even given the economy's troubles, however, the administration's efforts to limit the political damage were amazingly weak. There were no catchy slogans, no clear statements of principle; the administration's political messaging was not so much ineffective as invisible. How many voters even noticed the ever-changing campaign themes — does anyone remember the "Summer of Recovery" — that were rolled out as catastrophe loomed?


And things haven't improved since the election. Consider Mr. Obama's recent remarks on two fronts.


At the predictably unproductive G-20 summit meeting in South Korea, the president faced demands from China and Germany that the Federal Reserve stop its policy of "quantitative easing" — which is, given Republican obstructionism, one of the few tools available to promote U.S. economic recovery. What Mr. Obama should have said is that nations' running huge trade surpluses — and in China's case, doing so thanks to currency manipulation on a scale unprecedented in world history — have no business telling the United States that it can't act to help its own economy.


But what he actually said was "From everything I can see, this decision was not one designed to have an impact on the currency, on the dollar." Fighting words!


And then there's the tax-cut issue. Mr. Obama could and should be hammering Republicans for trying to hold the middle class hostage to secure tax cuts for the wealthy. He could be pointing out that making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent is a huge budget issue — over the next 75 years it would cost as much as the entire Social Security shortfall. Instead, however, he is once again negotiating with himself, long before he actually gets to the table with the G.O.P.


Here's the thing: Mr. Obama still has immense power, if he chooses to use it. At home, he has the veto pen, control of the Senate and the bully pulpit. He still has substantial executive authority to act on things like mortgage relief — there are billions of dollars not yet spent, not to mention the enormous leverage the government has via its ownership of Fannie and Freddie. Abroad, he still leads the world's greatest economic power — and one area where he surely would get bipartisan support would be taking a tougher stand on China and other international bad actors.


But none of this will matter unless the president can find it within himself to use his power, to actually take a stand. And the signs aren't good.








Given the results of this month's midterm elections, the last thing you might expect from President Obama is a new borrowing program four times the size of last year's economic stimulus. Even less expected would be Republicans demanding that it be five times as big.

But that, in effect, is what threatens to emerge from the lame-duck session of Congress that starts today. At the top of the agenda: what to do with the 2001 and 2003Bush tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire Dec. 31.


Obama wants to extend the cuts permanently for families making less than $250,000. That would amount to some $3.2 trillion in additional red ink over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Not to be outdone, the Republicans want to include families making more than $250,000 as well, bringing the cost to $3.9 trillion.


By comparison, Obama's 2009 stimulus was about $800 billion, relative chump change in today's mortgage-the-future sweepstakes.


Yes, despite all their campaign rhetoric about reducing deficits, politicians of both parties are racing to pile up future IOUs to stoke the economy of the present. It doesn't seem to matter whether they fashion themselves as unapologetic liberals or as fiscal conservatives. Both sides seem determined to continue pandering as usual.


As the bipartisan co-chairmen of Obama's deficit reduction commission noted last week, the federal government will never control its debt until its leaders come clean on two basic facts: Entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security must be reined in, and tax revenue can't stay where it is now, atlevels last seen in the Truman administration.


The tax rates in place from the Reagan through Clintonadministrations were sufficient to create one of the best periods in the nation's economic history. After PresidentGeorge W. Bush and Congress slashed those rates without making offsetting spending cuts, surpluses turned to deficits and income inequality widened.


Given the nation's dire fiscal outlook, none of the Bush tax cuts should be extended indefinitely. But given the state of the economy and political realities, some temporary extension might be unavoidable. One reasonable option would be to allow the cuts to expire next year for wealthy taxpayers and more gradually for everyone else.


Beyond that, tax rates should become part of the larger deficit reduction negotiations. The bold plan by the Obama commission's co-chairmen — to cut the deficit by some $4 trillion over 10 years by curbing spending while slightly raising (and greatly simplifying) taxes — offers one road map.


Over the weekend, top Democrats and Republicans seemed to be backing away from their initial negotiating positions that any extensions of the Bush tax cuts have to be forever. That's at least a glimmer of hope that the political ground is beginning to shift.


Now is the time to be looking at ways to reduce long-term deficits. Approving another $3 trillion or $4 trillion in unaffordable tax cuts would be the wrong way to start.








Nearly a year after a thwarted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas Day, the recent attempt by terrorists to conceal and ship explosive devices aboard aircraft bound for the United States reminds us that al-Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology are determined to strike our global aviation system and are constantly adapting their tactics for doing so.


Our best defense against such threats remains a risk-based, layered security approach that utilizes a range of measures, both seen and unseen, including law enforcement, advanced technology, intelligence, watch-list checks and international collaboration.


This layered approach to aviation security is only as strong as the partnerships upon which it is built. In addition to the more than 50,000 trained transportation security officers, transportation security inspectors, behavior detection officers and canine teams who are on the front lines guarding against threats to the system, we rely on law enforcement and intelligence agencies across the federal government. We require airlines and cargo carriers to carry out specific tasks such as the screening of cargo and passengers overseas. We work closely with local law enforcement officers in airports throughout the country.


And we ask the American people to play an important part of our layered defense. We ask for cooperation, patience and a commitment to vigilance in the face of a determined enemy.


As part of our layered approach, we have expedited the deployment of new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units to help detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats on passengers. These machines are now in use at airports nationwide, and the vast majority of travelers say they prefer this technology to alternative screening measures.


AIT machines are safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy. They have been independently evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have all affirmed their safety. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we've found during AIT screenings have illustrated their security value time and again.


Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.


If an anomaly is detected during screening with AIT, if an alarm occurs after a passenger goes through a walk-through metal detector, or if a passenger opts out of either of these screening methods, we use pat-downs to help detect hidden and dangerous items like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.


Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures used by the U.S. and countries across the world to make air travel as secure as possible. They're conducted by same-gender officers, and all passengers have the right to request private screening and have a traveling companion present during the screening process.


In the last two weeks we have also implemented a number of measures to strengthen our defenses against an attack using cargo shipments to the U.S.


The deployment of this technology and the implementation of these measures represent the evolution of our national security architecture, an evolution driven by intelligence, risk and a commitment to be one step ahead of those who seek to do us harm.


To fulfill the important role we ask of American travelers, and to be prepared at the security checkpoint this holiday season, be ready to remove everything from your pockets prior to screening. If you have a hidden medical device, bring it to the officer's attention before screening. We'll be better able to help expedite your screening that way.


As always, we also ask the traveling public to be on the lookout for unattended bags or suspicious activity. Alert travelers have helped thwart plots and crimes in the past, and we encourage everyone to remain vigilant during a time when we know our enemies would like to strike. If you see something suspicious, report it to an airport security official or law enforcement.


Each and every one of the security measures we implement serves an important goal: providing safe and efficient air travel for the millions of people who rely on our aviation system every day.


We face a determined enemy. Our security depends on us being more determined and more creative to adapt to evolving threats. It relies upon a multi-layered approach that leverages the strengths of our international partners, the latest intelligence, and the patience and vigilance of the American traveling public.


Janet Napolitano is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.








Is religion toxic or a tonic for our nation's civic life? The question often inspires passion, and vitriol, on both sides. Professional atheists like Christopher Hitchens argue that "religion poisons everything," while advocates for religion, like Glenn Beck, see faith in God as the antidote to all that ails America.


To understand religion's role in America today, we have spent the last five years exhaustively examining the many ways that religion affects American society — from our families to our politics to our communities. We have done so with what we believe to be the most comprehensive survey of religion in America ever done, supplemented by every other source of relevant data we could find. The result is our new book,American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Our objective is not to take sides on religion, but only to report what the data say.


The data provide fodder for both sides. On the one hand, religious Americans are somewhat less tolerant of free speech and dissent. As just one example, in our survey we asked Americans whether someone should be allowed to give a speech defending Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. While most Americans said yes — we are indeed a tolerant people — religious Americans were slightly less likely to say so. The same pattern is true for many other measures of tolerance: While, in general, Americans are quite tolerant, religious Americans are less tolerant than their secular neighbors. Furthermore, the "tolerance edge" among secular Americans cannot be explained away by some other attribute that they share. Statistically, we have accounted for every imaginable way that religious and secular Americans differ from one another. When we do so, the story stays the same.


More religious, more involved


However, on the other side of the ledger, religious people are also "better neighbors" than their secular counterparts. No matter the civic activity, being more religious means being more involved. Take, for example, volunteer work. Compared with people who never attend worship services, those who attend weekly are more likely to volunteer in religious activities (no surprise there), but also for secular causes. The differences between religious and secular Americans can be dramatic. Forty percent of worship-attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly, compared with 15% of Americans who never attend services. Frequent-attenders are also more likely than the never-attenders to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). The same is true for philanthropic giving; religious Americans give more money to secular causes than do secular Americans. And the list goes on, as it is true for good deeds such as helping someone find a job, donating blood, and spending time with someone who is feeling blue.


Furthermore, the "religious edge" holds up for organized forms of community involvement: membership in organizations, working to solve community problems, attending local meetings, voting in local elections, and working for social or political reform. On this last point, it is not just that religious people are advocating for right-leaning causes, although many are. Religious liberals are actually more likely to be community activists than are religious conservatives.


As with tolerance, we wondered whether religious people's do-gooderism is owing to something else about them. Maybe it is because women are more religious than men, and women are better neighbors. Or maybe it is because religious people are older — and so on. Again, the results hold steady even when we account for these potential counter-explanations. In fact, the numbers we report above already adjust for the demographic differences between religious and secular Americans.


Interestingly, one's particular flavor of religion — being a Baptist, a Buddhist, or anything else — makes no difference in these results. In fact, even people who claim no religious affiliation but still attend worship services occasionally are more civically involved than those who never attend at all.


One might think, as did we, that religious people do good because of what they hear from the pulpit. After all, the world's religions all teach a version of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would be treated. Perhaps stories like the Good Samaritan inspire good citizens. Or perhaps good deeds are motivated by a desire to go to heaven. Or maybe people want to avoid the punishment of God's judgment for not being nice.


However, it turns out that religious beliefs — of any kind — do not affect any form of civicness. We examined the possible impact of 25 different religious beliefs on civic behavior, and none explains religious Americans' good neighborliness.


Friends matter greatly


What, then, does explain why religious Americans are good citizens? The answer lies not in their beliefs but their friends. Specifically, having friends at church (or synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.) fosters neighborliness. While having more friends is, for civic purposes, better than having fewer friends, what matters most is having friends within a religious congregation. And the type of congregation does not matter. Friends found in Catholic parishes, Jewish synagogues, Protestant churches, Mormon wards — and every other type of religious grouping — all produce the same civic effect. Even people who are not very religious experience a civic boost if they are enmeshed in a religious social network. (Think of religious skeptics who have befriended members of their believing spouses' congregations.)


What is it about friends-at-church that fosters good citizenship? It could be that requests to get involved carry more moral weight when they come from someone you know through your congregation rather than work or your bowling team. Or perhaps religious congregations simply foster peer pressure to do good. At this point, we do not know the precise magic civic ingredient in religious friendships.


Not knowing exactly how religious friendships foster good neighborliness thus leaves open the possibility that the same sort of effect could be found in secular organizations. But they would probably have to resemble religious congregations — close-knit communities with shared morals and values. Currently, though, such groups are few and far between. (Communes might qualify, for example.)


So, does religion help or harm our civic life? The answer is a little of both. Religion means less tolerance but more neighborliness. And the reason for that neighborliness is not found in what religions teach but in the communities they form.


All of this should give both religion's fans and foes food for thought.








Congress should act now to prevent across-the-board tax increases from hitting nearly all Americans on Jan. 1. Sustained job creation and economic growth are urgently needed — higher tax rates are not. The failure to take decisive action on this issue further heightens the uncertainty holding our economy back.


It would be a mistake to increase taxes on any American family, worker or job creator. President Obama continues to make the case for raising the top two income tax rates, and raising tax rates on capital gains and dividends. Class warfare might make for good politics, but it results in terrible economics.


Misguided efforts to "soak the rich" would impact roughly half of all small-business income, as many small businesses file as non-corporate businesses and pay individual income tax rates. The president's tax plan dampens incentives for small businesses to invest and expand, puts us at a competitive disadvantage in today's global economy, and makes it more difficult for our economy to create jobs.


There is no question that the $13.7 trillion national debt represents a dangerous anchor on the economy going forward. To address the federal government's fiscal imbalance, we need both economic growth and serious spending restraint.


Policymakers cannot continue to chase ever-higher levels of government spending with ever-higher tax rates. Increasing the government's take from the economy hinders growth and avoids the necessary spending cuts. It is critical we match opposition to tax increases with a fervent commitment to spending restraint and reform.


This contentious issue provides an opening for a conversation on pro-growth tax reforms, reorienting a simpler, more competitive tax code to raise revenue needed to meet government's priorities, while maximizing economic growth.


Altogether, Congress must get the pro-growth economic fundamentals right. Economic policies must restore the basic foundations of growth: low tax rates; sound and honest money; fair, predictable and reasonable regulations; spending restraint and government reform.


Americans reject the "new normal" of high unemployment, stagnant growth and excessive government overreach. Stopping these tax hikes is a critical first step to restoring the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation.


Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is in line to become chairman of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress.








The most important shopping period of the year for the nation's retailers is under way. The last couple of months of the year always have been important to merchants, but that's especially so during times -- like the present -- when the mood of shoppers is not easy to determine. True, the economy is improving and there are early indications that 2010 holiday sales will be more robust than those of 2009, but some worries remain for many businesses.


Such concern certainly is understandable. Many retailers earn a considerable chunk of their annual profit during the holiday shopping period -- analysts say 25 to 40 percent is not unusual. That's reason enough for merchants of all sizes and types to closely watch traffic counts, sales figures and other retail and commercial indices this time of year.


Many merchants, in fact, are doing much more than waiting and watching for customers and for business. They're taking a far more active role in promoting sales this year than in the past. That's why seasonal displays started to appear in October and why Santa's arrival, once closely linked to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, was celebrated in many places shortly after Halloween. And it is why some traditional retailers already have announced that they'll be open on Thanksgiving Day, and why some on-line retailers have said they will ship most holiday orders for free.


It's all part of a concerted campaign to convince customers to spend more this year than they did in the same period in 2008 and in 2009. There are early signals at both the local and national level that the effort -- buoyed by an improving national economy -- will produce a positive and profitable result.


Many area merchants say that both traffic and shoppers' willingness to buy appears higher this year than last. The retailers are quick to add, however, that consumers are still cautious and bargain-conscious. That's consistent with early reports from individual businesses and retail groups across the country.


Proprietors of both brick-and-mortar locations and online retail sites are in better moods this year, but their outlook is tempered with caution. That mirrors forecasts from the experts.


The National Retail Federation said it expects sales for November and December to increase by about 2.3 percent this year compared with the holiday period in 2009. The increase is slightly lower than the historical average, but it is nevertheless a happy omen for retailers. Sales in 2009 were nearly flat and there was a 3.9 percent drop in 2008, the only year since figures have been kept that sales declined.


The prospect of better holiday sales this year is comforting. When all is said and done, consumer spending still is the backbone of retail business and the foundation of the national economy. Shoppers' apparent willingness to spend more this year -- even as they remain vigilant about price and value -- strongly suggests that consumers have a more positive view of the economy and that retailers can expect modest but still welcome gains in sales during this holiday season.







Question: What does Chattanooga have in common with Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and several other of the nation's most well-known cities?


Answer: The United States Navy.

Though that answer is correct in the broad sense, a more precise response would be Navy Week, which will be celebrated here during the Riverbend Festival next year from June 11-19. The coveted event is staged in a limited number of communities each year. The selection of Chattanooga and Riverbend as hosts is a signal honor.


Navy Weeks are designed to provide those who attend an opportunity to meet with members of the service and to learn about the Navy's mission and its capabilities. To that end, Navy personnel will present a series of events open to the general public as well as a series of programs to corporate, civic, government, education and community service organizations. The week, by all accounts, is well-designed and expertly executed. It has earned consistently high praise from communities that have hosted the event.


Indeed, many communities would like to host Navy Week. Not many are able to do so. The Navy limits the event to about 20 communities each year. The goal is simple: To share the Navy's story with as many people as possible and to recognize the area's veterans.


There is, of course, a hint of self-interest in staging such an event. A positive review of personnel and programs by residents and leaders of a community easily can translate into political and other useful support for the branch of service. Even so, there is much to recommend in the Navy's scheduled program during Riverbend.


Though subject to change, the following events are planned here during Navy Week:


* A demonstration by the "Leap Frogs," the Navy's renowned parachute team.


* An opportunity for area residents to meet and speak with sailors from the USS Tennessee, a ballistic missile submarine.


* Performances by the U.S. Navy Band.


* A series of events at which admirals and other senior Navy leaders will meet with corporate, civic, government and education leaders from the area.


* Navy diver demonstrations at the Tennessee Aquarium.


* Access to Navy simulators and other interactive displays.


* Community service work projects in partnership with area sports franchises. Navy Weeks typically are organized around an "anchor event" or a large community occasion such as a fair or a holiday celebration. Riverbend certainly fits the bill, and Chattanooga, as always, promises to be an excellent host.







We all are familiar with the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" -- musically, though not in fact.


In the 1940s, Tex Beneke sang "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The great song led the radio "Hit Parade" for months, and has survived for many decades.


The song went worldwide with U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines during World War II, catching on with people in many foreign countries. "Everyone" knew the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo."


But most people outside Tennessee didn't realize there was no "real" Chattanooga Choo-Choo leaving "the Pennsylvania Station" in New York, offering "dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer" -- with your breakfast of "ham and eggs in Carolina."


The catchy lyrics and the locomotive-like beat went all over the world -- but never to Chattanooga on rails.


Now, however, for the umpteenth time, some people are talking about the possibility of having a high-speed "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" between Chattanooga and Atlanta, if not from "the Pennsylvania Station."


But is it more than just "talk"?


Tracks and high-speed trains can cost many millions or even billions of dollars.


And how long would the trip take? Some would want to stop somewhere between the two cities, which would add to the time. Some would prefer that the train go from Chattanooga to Atlanta nonstop. But could a trip take less than an hour?


You can drive your own car, or go by bus, on Interstate 75 between Chattanooga and Atlanta in close to two hours -- within legal speed limits -- depending upon where you start and where you end up.


Flying between the cities takes about half an hour -- not counting driving to and from the airports.


It might be "nice" to have a high-speed Chattanooga-to-Atlanta Choo-Choo. But would it "pay," when you consider the costs of acquiring right of way, constructing the rails, operating the train, etc.? That's a big question.


Nevertheless, it's fun for folks in our area to talk about, or even dream of, a "real" Chattanooga Choo-Choo.


That doesn't cost anything. Talk is cheap.


Meanwhile, you can head on down I-75 in your car -- happily singing the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" all the way.







The federal government is pressuring doctors to transfer patient records from paper to computerized form.


What we know about that record transfer is that it will be expensive. What we don't know is whether it will reduce medical errors and costs as promised.


On the expense side, the government is providing tens of billions of dollars worth of "incentives" to help doctors make the switch. (There are penalties for doctors who do not go along with the change fast enough to suit the government.)


But on the benefit side, things are a lot murkier.


Reporting on a 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, The Wall Street Journal noted that "hospitals with more-advanced electronic systems fared no better than other hospitals on measures of administrative costs, on average, even if the systems 'might modestly improve' performance on certain measures of the quality of care. Meanwhile, many doctors and nurses say they're frustrated with the technology. While some say electronic records have improved the way they practice medicine, many others say the systems are time-consuming distractions that take away from patient care."


Eight years ago, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles bought a $30 million electronic system.


"But doctors said it slowed them down, and some said it put patients at risk," The Wall Street Journal reported. In the past, a doctor who wanted to order a blood count, for instance, simply would have written "blood count" on a paper order. But under the new system, doctors had to log onto their computers and scroll through lots of screens to place the same order.


"When confronted with long lists of options, if people are pressed for time or they don't understand the difference between the options, they might pick the wrong option," said Dr. Michael Langberg, the hospital's chief medical officer. That meant the wrong test or drug might be prescribed. Cedars-Sinai ultimately went back to paper orders until the problems could be resolved.


We do not think it is rational for the government to dictate things such as precise record-keeping techniques -- especially when it is not even certain that a rapid switch to electronic medical records will save money and reduce errors.


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





The federal "stimulus" was backed by Democrats as a way to "create or save" many jobs nationwide. Among those jobs were 3,100 positions supposedly created or saved at the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear weapons complex in South Carolina.


But $1.6 billion in "stimulus" funds that the site got for work to seal off reactors is starting to dry up. So the company managing the site is laying off 800 stimulus-funded employees.


That's the trouble with government "stimulus." It creates an illusion of economic development as "free money" floods into some project. But there is no guarantee the government-funded jobs will become self-sustaining with private-sector funds after the government cash runs out.


Just as bad, the "stimulus" added hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt.


So it isn't helping the unemployed as was promised, but it is piling on debt. Isn't it obvious that Congress should not spend still more money on "stimulus" as the president wants?







We could not help but notice a poster held by a demonstrator during a recent march in Atlanta to protest Georgia's long-overdue crackdown against enrollment of illegal aliens by that state's colleges and universities.


The poster was written in Spanish. But in translation, it read, "We want a world without borders."


Unfortunately, the threat of a world of open borders is precisely why it is vitally important that the United States maintain and protect its borders -- and confront the issue of illegal immigration strongly.


Millions of people from Mexico and other Latin American nations have poured across our borders illegally under our existing laws against illegal immigration. It is safe to assume that in a "world without borders" in which even those weak laws were suspended, many millions more would flood across the border to find the economic opportunity available in America.


For that matter, literally billions of people worldwide would love a chance to get "a piece of the pie" in the United States. But our nation simply cannot absorb and accommodate all who would like to come here.


It is tragic that so much of the world's population lives in socialistic or downright totalitarian nations where government control of the economy blocks their chances to prosper. It is certainly understandable that they would want to improve their lives.


But a "world without borders" is certainly not the answer. It would be a world of social chaos and economic ruin.


The United States has both a duty and a right to defend its borders -- and, ultimately, its national sovereignty.








Thoughtful readers know there is just one thing about which we here at the Hürriyet Daily News are radical absolutists: freedom of expression. This does not mean we are blind to bad journalism. We just don't think a society can censure its way to a high-quality media any more than a municipality can build its way out of urban traffic problems or a superpower can install democracy with drones guided remotely from Nevada.

So a few words today on bad journalism, and the case of Mahsun Kırmızıgül's new movie "New York'ta Beş Minare" (Five Minarets in New York).


At the root of most bad journalism is what social psychologists have come to call "group think." Zoologists call it "herd instinct," a better term. There is safety through movement in packs. Novel thought is risky thought. Which is why the majority of journalists everywhere, not just in Turkey, are lounge singers. No original music, just versions of the "top 10" culled from elsewhere.


Topping the group think charts this past week has been unending criticism of Kırmızıgül's new film: Too slow, too many sub-plots, lack of plausibility, a concept too far. The Lords of Turkish cinema have all weighed in, either to claim the plot as their own or to trash it outright as amateurish. Yeah right.


We, however, think Kırmızıgül has pushed the envelope. In 110 minutes he introduces the complexity of Islamic terror, sets the topic against the template of American Islamophobia and courageously brings in an iconic religious exile whose identity is lost on no one in Turkey. Kırmızıgül explores the fine edge of Quranic interpretation, points out a few important details in the life of the Prophet Mohammed, makes a bow to ecumenism and then wraps it all up with a segue to violence rooted in tribal loyalty and tradition. Bravo.


Is the FBI chief David Becker, played by Robert Patrick, wooden and staid? Yes. Is Danny Glover as the imam Marcus somewhat short of his 1985 peak set in Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple"? You bet. Are the special effects just basic commodities of the Hollywood shoot-em-up shelf? Of course. Much of the dialogue is as hard as, well anything Bruce Willis ever carried off in the "Die Hard" franchise of Roderick Thorp. Is the character development subtle and nuanced? Certainly not more than in Ryan Murphy's latest trope starring Julia Roberts, "Eat, Pray, Love."


But Kırmızıgül has succeeded in his effort to tell a series of untold stories in a film headed to be the first Turkish movie to gain truly international mass appeal. He has disappointed the critics. But not the world's box offices.


In a world threatened by weapons and ideologies of mass destruction, Kırmızıgül has created a tool of mass communication. He has our applause and our respect. Most importantly he has our gratitude.








Holidays should be a time for reflection and reconciliation. It should be no different for the Turkish banking sector.


Banks sharply criticized the Central Bank of Turkey's, or CBT's, decision on Friday to hike the lira required reserve ratio 0.5 percent to 6 percent. The CBT expects an impact of about 2.1 billion liras on liquidity when the new ratio will be in effect Nov. 26.


Since the main mandate of central banks is price stability, it is normal for the CBT, or any central bank for that matter, to wish to curb excessive loan growth, which could lead to overheating and inflationary pressures, by hiking reserve requirements.


While I can identify with the banks for shortsightedly worrying about their profits, I am surprised that Tevfik Bilgin, the banking regulator, has sided with them. If nothing else, he should be aware of the large academic literature linking fast credit growth to banking crises, to which one of the previous vice presidents of his agency was an early contributor. 


In Turkey's case, the credit growth is contributing to the country's growing current account deficit as well. For example, there is a strong relationship between consumer credits and consumption good imports.


But tackling credit directly is hardly enough. After all, the other side of the coin is capital flows: The current account deficit is growing only because it is financed by the capital account. Normally, one would not worry about money pouring in from outside if most of it were foreign direct investment rather than short-term portfolio flows.



Such hot money not only creates pressures on the lira, but also contributes directly to domestic credit growth, as CBT President Durmuş Yılmaz explained Friday: The foreign money pours into Turkish assets (government bonds or equities) or just parks short-term in the money market. The latter ends up as credit via swap operations with the local banks. 


And that's what Thursday's CBT policy rate meeting is all about. By cutting its overnight borrowing rate by 4 percentage points to 1.75 percent, the CBT is nudging local banks with excess liquidity to lend to other banks rather than put their money overnight at the CBT. They could also shift to government bonds, but money market, or overnight, rates are likely to fall in any case.


As a side product, short-term foreign flows to the money market will be discouraged, effectively shutting off this credit creation mechanism. To the extent that at least some of these carry traders will shift to government bonds, the move is not likely to fend off capital flows or ease the pressure on the lira by much. But it is likely to bring in some volatility to both interest and exchange rates.


In fact, the Bank is explicitly saying that overnight rates could diverge from the policy rate in both directions. While they could in principle fall to as low as 1.75 percent, the CBT, as a net liquidity provider, directly controls how far they will go. For example, if hot money continues to pour in, and the CBT does not sterilize these flows through reverse repos, overnight rates could drop significantly.


However, a tightening of liquidity could lead to overnight rates shooting above the policy rate as well. End-month tax payments and the new reserve requirement will squeeze liquidity after the Bayram. In addition, Treasury auctions of the same week are likely to drain liquidity, as the Treasury has only 757 million liras of redemptions. If the CBT were also to cut the amount of one-week repos, money market rates could rise sharply. 

In essence, overnight rates could go up or down. Such uncertainty and the accompanying volatility is perhaps the best way of taming in hot money and credit growth.








How could we evaluate the contradiction if the European Union's Progress Report on a certain country mentions two opposite observations on freedom of expression and if both are considered quite true?


Let me paraphrase the question: How could we explain the situation in a country where freedom of expression and discussion expands, but at the same time press freedom contracts as journalists seek self-restrictions?


These questions reflect a paradox in the EU Progress Report on Turkey, which was released recently.


Begins positive but…


On freedom of expression, the report first emphasizes a positive approach and says, "open and free debate has continued and expanded." According to the report, "as regards freedom of expression, an increasingly open and free debate continued on a wide scale in the media and public on topics perceived as sensitive, such as the Kurdish issue, minority rights, the Armenian issue and the role of the military."


It is noted in the report that Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code is no longer used systematically to restrict freedom of expression. Revision of this article led to a significant decline in prosecutions. The next paragraph, however, includes only criticisms.


According to the European Commission, one of the biggest issues in the freedom of expression in Turkey is that the Penal Code, the Press Law and the Counter-Terrorism Law are often interpreted in a restrictive way when it comes to freedom of expression.


The European Commission openly expresses concerns at this point, referring to the lawsuits filed according to Articles 284 and 285 against journalists involved in the Ergenekon crime-gang case. The report warns that the said lawsuit could therefore result in self-censorship among journalists.


In another paragraph, Kurdish television broadcasts are praised by the commission. However, in the section of freedom of expression it is noted that educational programs teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. Political debates or general entertainment programs in Kurdish are virtually impossible on private television channels.


]Likewise, the commission shares concerns on the restrictions laid down by the Radio and Television Supreme Board, or RTÜK. The report also criticizes that some websites are frequently blocked by court order.


Undue pressures on the media


The report continues: "As regards freedom of the press, concerns remain as regards political attacks against the press. The court case on the tax fine ordered in 2009 against Doğan Media Group, critical of the government, continues. The press exercises self-restraint when reporting following the initiation of this case.


The commission, therefore, records that it deems the $5 billion fine, including interest, against Doğan Media Group as a political attack.


The report says court cases have been opened against journalists about their reporting on politicians and high-level authorities, including military authorities.


"The high number of legal cases against journalists and undue pressure on the media undermine freedom of the press in practice," it adds.


What the commission refers as "undue pressure" is substantially the fine the Doğan Media Group is exposed to.


A serious image issue for Turkey


The report concludes that Turkish law does not sufficiently guarantee freedom of expression in line with the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights case law.


We could say that assessments shared in the report will strengthen the image that Turkey is having problems in the issue of freedom of the pres. In fact, prestigious newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have preferred to focus on problems in the freedom of the press in the report.


The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government needs to learn to live with this image problem.


* Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily New staff.









NATO's next summit in Lisbon, scheduled for Nov. 19-21, will highlight five pertinent topics: the adoption of a new Strategic Concept, operations in Afghanistan, missile defense, Iran's nuclear program and NATO-Russian relations.


The latest two issues will draw close attention to the South Caucasus countries. Recent developments over the Iranian nuclear program, the fragile situation between the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, some regress in the NATO-Russian relationship and its influence on the South Caucasian context, will make this summit more compelling for the South Caucasus' strategic position, and its importance to escalate. In other words, NATO's Lisbon agenda for implementation is liable to affect the broader Black Sea and Caucasus basin area. As such, if the Lisbon Summit "opens" new perspectives to the NATO-Russian dialogue, then it may positively affect the future of NATO-Georgian and Georgian-Russian relations.


Optimism versus reality


All three countries of the Southern Caucasus have been developing their engagement with NATO, although on different levels of obligation. Contrary Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have more expectation, as they are active members of the antiterrorist coalition in the aftermath of 9/11, and contribute troops to NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. They further provide crucial over-flight support to the U.S. and to allied operations, they are responsible for the security of vital routes for energy transit to the West, and they have successfully suppressed terrorist or fundamentalist infiltration of their territories.


Azerbaijan is not yet involved in any institutionalized military alliance. The country only undertook the revival of GUAM, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. These steps are meant to show the country's economic and political-military independence. Azerbaijan has also made significant steps towards the Euro-Atlantic structures, without asking for membership in NATO or the EU. The reaction of the EU and the U.S. was to immediately include Azerbaijan into the Nabucco project, in order to allow Baku to expand his energy routes. In this perspective, NATO's reliance upon Azerbaijan is increasing, and Azerbaijan's partnership is growing ever more viable: NATO-Azerbaijan military cooperation does not harm Russia's interests in Azerbaijan as it could in Georgia's case. Allied with NATO's partner, Turkey, Azerbaijan enjoys cooperation with NATO with more ease and flexibility.


Predominantly, Georgia's pro-Western orientation was substantially increased by cultivating a stronger relationship with NATO. Although Georgia's deep commitment to its Euro-Atlantic ambitions seemed to be reciprocated, the Russian-Georgian armed confrontation in the summer of 2008 reflected a low level of cohesion and a high level of defection in the framework of Georgia's military cooperation with NATO. At the same time, NATO's degree of commitment and the level of its motivations in the Georgian context were not on the same page with Georgia. NATO and, by extension, the West, including the U.S., was not willing to be entrapped in a direct conflict with Russia with which it was trying to build a friendly relationship, rather than a Cold War-style relationship.


Paradoxically, in Armenia, society in general, does not seem to be very enthusiastic about NATO membership. Most people are not even aware of this program and some even feel that as being CSTO member – for them NATO is an aggressive military bloc. However, in the context of a strong military alliance with Russia, who amalgamates all components of Armenia's security and those of its economic and political growth, Armenia's partnership with NATO is viable and operational as long as they do not harm Armenia-Russia relationship. Russia is a relentlessly jealous partner who does not appreciate Armenia bandwagoning with other alliances, or adopting covert behaviors vis-à-vis Russia.


Antagonism versus perspective


As it is understandable that Azerbaijan and Georgia are expected to see more intervention from NATO in their regional conflicts, NATO has no official plan to do so. In the Caucasian region, before the "new strategic concept," NATO's future tenses in an area of antagonistic regional and international dynamics. Beside the regional antagonisms deriving from the unresolved conflicts and the fundamentally poisoned relationship between Georgia and Russia, NATO's possible move into region arose "antagonism" as well. If the Lisbon Summit "opens" new perspectives to the NATO-Russian dialogue, then it may positively affect the future of NATO-Georgian and Georgian-Russian relations. As Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgian stated on June 5 in Le Monde, "Georgians are neither foolish nor suicidal: having Russia as an enemy can be fatal." Accordingly, under conditions of very low levels of threats between Russia and NATO, the South Caucasus region can benefit more from either side of NATO's Partnership for Peace and it's Individual Action Plan; both programs are excellent institutional tools in achieving a high level of cooperation without facing mutually threatening frameworks. Unfortunately, it seems that Russia does not want NATO as an enemy, nor does it want it as an ally. This paradoxical stance complicates efforts for cooperation and normalization of such issues as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for example, and augments issues in the energy sector.


Azerbaijan must focus on the developments of how NATO will define its collective response to "terrorism" and other regional security issues. Separatist-ruled Nagorno-Karabakh poses threats to Azerbaijan's sovereignty, as well as the whole of Euro-Atlantic security. The "Safe Haven" status of Nagorno-Karabakh region, which harbors narcotic transfers and armament issues, poses serious risks for whole Caucasus. This issue is not only important for Azerbaijan, but also for Russia regarding its security of Northern Caucasus. The links between the Northern Caucasus and other "gray zones" in Caucasus are undefined, but reliable information on the matter is ignored. It is impossible, for NATO and the EU on the one hand, to laud Azerbaijan as an indispensable strategic ally in the quest to improve Europe's energy security while, while on the other hand, to fail to support Azerbaijan in its efforts to regain control over its territory and give "security assurances." As deputy minister of MFA Azerbaijan, Araz Azimov stressed on Nov. 2, in this "insecurity environment" NATO could offer Azerbaijan "security assurances" and he called for a formula allowing NATO to "stand ready" should his country face a security threat.


In conclusion, unresolved regional conflicts and their braking impact on the security of Southern Caucasus, creates a challenge to both the EU and NATO. For the security of the South Caucasus, political actions are needed to be seen by the EU and soft military actions by NATO. As such, this hard-soft power cooperation would open new challenges and could deter Russia's "unimaginable" steps without confidence in a "good relationship" between NATO-Russia. At the same time, the Russian-led CSTO and NATO could further be "separate but friendly enemies," not more.


* Zaur Shiriyev is foreign policy analyst at Center for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan.









The demise of Turkey's secular parties in the past decade is an example of what happens to an eye one does not use: It stops functioning properly.


This is precisely what happened to the secular parties in Turkey. These factions ruled the country until 2002, when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rooted in Turkey's once-isolated Islamist opposition, came to power. Since then, the AKP has displayed a voracious political appetite, as if to compensate for decades without power. The party has aggressively consolidated its influence at home and mastered grassroots politics.


Meanwhile, liberal, secular and nationalist political parties have seen only the hazy outline of a powerful AKP, and remain blind to grassroots politics. As they become increasingly lethargic, the AKP grows sharper.


Herein lies the reality of Turkish politics in the run-up to the June 2011 elections: Non-Islamist parties have a chance to compete against the AKP if they can recover their political charm and resume grassroots politicking.


Of course, though necessary, this is not sufficient. Non-Islamist parties face a number of hurdles. Since 2002, the AKP has amassed such influence over Turkish businesses and media that it will be difficult for the non-Islamist forces to build support without a government crackdown.


For instance, independent media outlets receive daily calls from the prime minister's office to adjust their coverage to favor the AKP, lest they face punitive fines. Self-censorship is so rife that outlets now "clean up" their acts without the need for AKP interference. A recent incident involved Oktay Ekşi, Turkey's Tom Friedman, who served for three decades as chief columnist of the country's most influential daily, Hürriyet. After writing an unbecoming column about the AKP leaders, Ekşi was forced to "resign" when AKP chair and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to "fight back." Hürriyet's owner, the Doğan Media Group, faces a $3.3 billion tax fine for anti-government activity – a sum larger than Doğan's net worth; another fine may finish it off. So much for independent media.


The AKP's grip is equally felt by secular, pro-Western businesses, which still form the bulk of the country's Fortune 500 club. Despite their economic power, such businesses fear that if they support non-AKP forces, they will be targeted by selective tax audits, or lose lucrative contracts. In fact, business leaders who support opposition parties are often "linked" to the infamous Ergenekon case, ending up in jail for supporting this alleged coup plot.


Ergenekon provides perhaps the best illustration of the AKP's post-2002 machinations. The AKP has abused this coup allegation to include a wide array of opponents. Such people typically end up in police custody, only to be released a few days later, free yet shaken. Or AKP opponents find that someone has wiretapped their private communications for use on pro-government media broadcasts, often with unsubstantiated coup allegations.


Ergenekon has become an open-ended process of illegal wiretapping, arbitrary detentions and fantastic coup allegations, all used to create a climate of fear for non-Islamist Turks. In other words, anyone who opposes the AKP can be caught in Ergenekon's intentionally wide net. However, no one caught in this net has yet received a jail term, and it is unlikely that anyone will. After all, Ergenekon is not about prosecuting coup allegations; it is a tool the AKP uses to persecute its opponents. No wonder new opposition movements are not emerging.


Beyond the AKP, the opposition is also to blame. For instance, there is no credible center-right party. Turkey is predominantly a center-right country, in which people believe in free enterprise and conservative values. In the past, secular and pro-Western center-right parties successfully represented this constituency. Every party that ran the country for an extended period between 1946 (when Turkey became a multiparty democracy) and 2002 – such as the Democrat Party in the 1950s, the Justice Party in the 1960s and 1970s, the Motherland Party and the True Path Party in the 1980s and 1990s – represented Turkey's center-right.

The problem, however, is that all these parties – and their successors – imploded in 2001, when Turkey faced its biggest economic crisis in modern history. Since then, none of these parties has recovered. The AKP now caters to their constituents, and masterfully put the needs of this constituency in its sights. Meanwhile, center-right voters have moved further right, adopting many aspects of the AKP's harder social conservatism and Manichean "us (Muslims) versus the West" foreign policy values.


As a result, Turkey's vision is now operating through the strong eye of the AKP. What is more, the AKP has no credible challenger, especially from the right, where an opposing party would find the most success. Though the left is a weaker contender for power historically, there is a glimmer of hope there: The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has elected charismatic Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, nicknamed Gandhi Kemal, to challenge Erdoğan, who has a tough-guy image.


Meanwhile, like a working eye that becomes sharper through use, the AKP has become a refined political machine. Indeed, moderate Turks have an uphill path to the June 2011 polls; they may wish to ask for God's help in finding a pair of glasses.


* This column originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.









"America remains a center-right nation – a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril." – Jon Meacham, Oct. 18, 2008


Writing barely two weeks before the presidential election that would give Barack Obama nearly 54 percent of the popular vote, the liberal editor of Newsweek magazine warned the Illinois senator about the danger inherent with governing from the left.


The midterm electoral drubbing that Obama and Democrats endured on Nov. 2 reversed the results of the previous two contests. 


They had captured both the Senate and House of Representatives in 2006 riding the public's anger at the Bush White House and Republicans over the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, mounting American casualties in Iraq, efforts to privatize a part of the Social Security system and deficit spending. 


A close presidential contest two years ago between Obama and Senate colleague John McCain ultimately turned into a rout as the global economic crisis unfolded. Independents flocked to Obama, who promised "smarter" governance on the campaign trail, and further rewarded his party with further gains in Congress. And yet, the Democrats' congressional majority depended entirely on districts that had supported George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004; surely, there would be at least a moment's hesitation before pushing left-wing legislation repugnant to these crucial voters?


Nope. The country's 44th president and his Congressional allies, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, enacted gargantuan spending programs that failed to prop up the economy, but did increase the federal deficit several times what it was when President Bush left office. And while the country remained mired in tough financial times earlier this year, the White House and Congress rammed through a new, massive health care entitlement. According to conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, it was the case of "a ruling party spectacularly misjudging its mandate and taking an unwilling country through a two-year experiment in hyper-liberalism."


Moreover, candidate Obama's repeated pledges of a more effective government rang hollow in the wake of a $800+ billion stimulus package that failed to meet even the White House's unemployment figure expectations, not to mention the cash-for-clunkers automotive trade-in scheme and the much-criticized handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


Not surprisingly, Obama's job approval rating, which Gallup recorded at 63 percent at the beginning of his term, sank to under 45 percent in late October. As a result of the midterm elections, the Republicans, aided greatly by Tea Party grassroots activism, regained control of the House by picking up at least 60 House seats and, although they failed to win back the Senate, did increase their total by six. Even more impressive gains were made at the state level. 


William Galston of The New Republic discovered that this year the partisan breakdown of voters was almost exactly the same as it was during the 2006 wave that brought Capitol Hill under Democrat control. Nonetheless, Republicans last week managed a gain of 6.2 percent from 2006 while the Democrats lost 6.9 percent, meaning that the independents who sided with Democrats in 2006 and 2008 broke strongly for Republican candidates this time. Galston also found that there were a significant number of voters who had classified themselves as "moderate" four years ago but now identified with the "conservative" label.


So now that Obama flunked the midterm and 2010 has offset 2006 and 2008, will he improve his grade on the 2012 final? And how will Republicans take to their newfound power? According to pollster Frank Luntz, "If the Republicans don't deliver on their promises, they're finished. If the Democrats continue doing what they're doing, they're finished."


Soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are aware that their party did not so much as win the midterm elections nearly as much as Obama and the Democrats squandered their mandate. As Krauthammer put it, "They were merely rewarded for acting as the people's proxy in saying no to Obama's overreaching liberalism."


Boehner and McConnell and their lieutenants must demonstrate the fortitude to push for spending cuts, propose tax policies that will encourage companies big and small to hire workers, and chip away at the most egregious portions of the health care monstrosity. However, they must not overstep their boundaries and pick gratuitous battles as they foolishly did during the Clinton presidency, lest the public again blame them for gratuitous obstructionism. (That accusation lacked credibility in the current Congress, as Democrats enjoyed sizable majorities in both houses.) A fundamental course correction will be possible only if the eventual 2012 presidential nominee is able to win 270 electoral votes.


The president has a rough road ahead as well. In reaching out to the independents who voted Republican this time, he must quit blaming the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News Channel, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his declining approval numbers and instead adopt more moderate fiscal policies that will speed up the economy without piling up additional debt. Failure to do so will almost certainly doom his hopes for a second term, no matter whom the Republicans nominate as his challenger.


*Jason Epstein is president of Southfive Strategies, LLC, in Washington, DC. He may be reached at









Before heading abroad I wanted to say Happy Bayram to all of my readers. I hope that we will all have a happy and healthy time enjoying ourselves without any fights and worries for at least one week.


Before leaving I wanted to touch on another subject as well.


It's been argued about for months now.


Journalists are criticized for receiving money from the state's Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, or TRT, for their shows. I don't understand why. Of course they'd have to receive money. Why wouldn't they if they spend their time and effort sharing information? They are entitled to this money and are even content with little amounts. I think they should even ask for more. Caricaturist Salih Memecan is being dragged through the mud because he caricaturized main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as a belly dancer. I don't understand why. Caricatures are works of art and have no limits around the world. They are dragged through the mud by societies that can't stand them. I was attacked for criticizing the Mehmet Ali Ağca show on TRT. I don't understand. Since when is it jealousy to question that during the show no questions were asked in respect to Abdi İpekçi's murder?


See what kind of nonsense we are dealing with here?


What an unproductive and boring society we are.


Happy Bayram…


Lavanda Otel: A heaven created by a family


Recently my wife and I went to a place where I'd not been before but had heard much about.


I couldn't believe my eyes.


I am talking about a heaven hidden between the Ömerli and Darlık Dam in the Ulupelit village. Green everywhere. About 16,000 square meters of land and a breathtaking environment and amid all of it a boutique hotel-restaurant.


Everything figured out in the very detail. A little hotel with 12 rooms prepared with incredible good taste. The building entirely built from natural material and surrounded by trees one more beautiful than the other.


It is owned by the Şen family.


They fought a long fight of 16 years to live in this nature.


Feryal Bodur Şen, Ahmet Şen and their sun Emre Şen are masters of the kitchen.


I don't want to elaborate on the hotel's kitchen. For, one day you should go and see for yourself tasting their food. Emre Şen is a chef equipped with many stars. His souse chef is his sister Ekin Şen who is about to finish high school.


Emre is not a chef of whom we expect to cook grilled fish or ribs.


He is a real chef who grows vegetables in his own garden and picks mushrooms from the nearby forest. His jams are of incredible taste. He dominates a typical Mediterranean kitchen.


A great family who created a wonderful place. And that's the best thing about it. You feel as if you are visiting a family.


A great place for weekend getaway.

Even if you don't want to stay over night you can go for lunch or dinner on a Sunday, especially if you have foreign friends take them. You'll thank me for my recommendation.


It is not far away. Only 45 minutes from Istanbul. You may check out their web site or e-mail :


You'll truly encounter paradise.








AFGHAN Taliban attacked the main airport and a military base of foreign troops at Jalalabad on Saturday signalling a possible spike in violence. The attack is a proof that despite surge in US troops and reported killing and capture of a number of their commanders, Taliban have the capacity and manpower to launch coordinated attacks at targets of their choice to give a message that they are on the rise in Afghanistan despite heavy odds. 

The question arises that when Taliban in Afghanistan have changed their tactics and started attacks at major airports and military establishments, can Pakistani Taliban launch similar operation some where in Pakistan? We say so because Pakistan Taliban have been following the lines of their Afghan counterpart like suicide blasts and remote controlled explosions. The attack at the CID building in Karachi which is located in the highly protected red zone shows that now they have a free hand in Pakistan and the system to check their activities is totally collapsing. The attack by a group of about ten terrorists followed by the truck explosion gives testimony to the fact that they have started hitting the targets like a regular army. They are also using pressure tactics and threatening people not to give information about their presence in an area to the law enforcement agencies. One proof is that the prosecutors of the anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) in Karachi have refused to pursue cases against the accused belonging to the defunct TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi because of persistent death threats. There might be other institutions and people who have been given similar threats including those deployed at sensitive installations like airports. We have been warning that the way the menace of terrorism is being handled would lead to more acts of terrorism and that has been proved with the latest attack in Karachi. If the Government decided to go for an operation in North Waziristan under US pressure, one is certain that there would be series of suicide and other attacks in retaliation in different parts of the country. In such a situation, there is dire need that the authorities must devise strategies and arrange different cordons of security instead of depending on the present system to ward off the impending dangers to key installations like airports.






WHILE the proposed Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) is coming under increasing criticism from the business community and the opposition parties, leader of the ANP Asfandyar Wali Khan, a key coalition partner of the Government has announced that his party would not support the imposition of new taxes including the RGST and flood surcharge. ANP has already announced that it would not implement the flood surcharge in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. 

Not only the ANP but also other coalition partners of the Government including MQM have openly opposed the additional taxes and thus there is a clear division on the issue of RGST. The opposition parties including the PML-N are understandably very furious over the move because public representatives are aware that the people of Pakistan are under crushing taxation. Ever increasing fuel and electricity tariffs, shortage of commodities after the floods destroyed crops and exploitation of the people by the food cartels have pushed the inflation to the alarming level and people are no more in a position to bear any additional tax burden. On the other hand privileged classes, which must pay according to their income, are exempted from tax. One fully realizes that the Government needed additional resources to start the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation in flood affected areas but when people are already over burdened, it would be advisable to look at alternative sources to generate revenue. There is already lot of criticism that agriculture sector that contributes to 22 percent of the GDP is without tax and big farmers earning billions of rupees were contributing zero to the country's tax revenues despite enjoying huge subsidies in agriculture inputs. Critics rightly believe that during the last 62 years, nobody has dared to impose taxes on the agriculture sector because of the strong agricultural lobby. The government is committed to tax reforms to get new tranche from the IMF and the Cabinet took the decision to introduce the RGST following a continuous pressure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. But it must keep in view the ground realities and find a way out otherwise on the face of it, it appears the RGST Bill would receive a strong opposition in the National Assembly. We are of the opinion that the Government must go for widening the tax base, withdraw all exemptions and launch a drive against tax evaders. Former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had stated that in his assessment about Rs 400 to Rs 500 billion of taxes were being evaded and if the Government was able to recover half of this amount, there would be no need to impose the RGST.






CHAIRMAN of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Sports Iqbal Muhammad Ali has resigned in frustration at the state of affairs in the national cricket.

For the last few months, the committee has been expressing dissatisfaction the way Pakistan Cricket Board(PCB) was being managed . The NA body had taken serious notice of the mismanagement of PCB and suggested some corrective steps. It lamented over attitude of PCB Chairman, who has close links with the high ups for all the mess which forced the ICC to give it a time limit to set its house in order. It was because of poor handling by the PCB Chairman that Pakistani cricketers were blamed and suspended for match fixing and he had to tender an apology to the English Cricket Board for making uncalled for remarks against English players. As all the recommendations of the committee were ignored and the Chairman felt humiliation, he had no option but to resign. The world over Parliamentary Committees have important role to keep a watch on the working of the government and its departments. Their recommendations are taken seriously and implemented. However in our country, the sitting Government is least interested to give weightage to the suggestions of the Committees of the Parliament and politically appointed heads of different organisations are having a free hand. This state of affair forced the Chairman of the NA Sports Committee to resign from his post. We would therefore impress upon the government to follow democratic culture, values and traditions for the sake of the system instead of showing arrogance to Chairman of the Committee just to protect a person who has destroyed the sport of cricket in the country.











Obama's statement in the Lok Sabha, declaring America's support to India's candidature for permanent seat on UNSC created a storm of denunciation of this declaration in Pakistan. Obama's statements in India had some good points too not only the usual American stand of glorifying India as its candidate against China and Asia's new power center, but what overshadow his good points was his declaration to support India for perm UNSC seat. US responded by clarifying that this support did not mean that India will have veto in the SC While this storm of criticism was a step in the right direction and more important was that Parliament appropriately passed a resolution condemning the US declaration to support India's candidature for a permanent SC seat what would have astonished any diplomat was that Pakistan reacted to this development as if it was a news to Pakistan. It is good that Parliament criticized the US decision but such a stand should have been taken much earlier. One must point out that for a decade beginning with 1990s the press had been giving full coverage to this proposal Even I had for years written a number of articles on this proposal

The proposal started with the idea of "Reforming the UN", by increasing the number of the Permanent SC Members from its present strength of 15, i.e., Five Permanent Members plus ten non Permanent Members, to 20 or 21, adding 5 or 6 non-permanent members within the existing existing framework . What was under consideration was a mere arithmetical approach to "restructuring the SC." The idea was that since UN members have more than tripled since its inception in 1945, the SC should also be enlarged. The Japanese Foreign Minister Ikeda in his TV interview used two key words to justify re-structuring of UNSC , one the "new realities" and two "increase in the UN membership" since it was created in 1945 when its Charter was written.

The new realities apparently meant that the UN would be dealing with not only political-security matters but also economic-social matters.It started with Ghali's proposed increase in SC membership. He suggested that the new five additional perm members could be. India, Japan, Germany Brazil and Nigeria Boutous Ghali my friend from my Cairo Ambassadorship had floated the idea.keeping in view the emergence of new powers on the map. Kofi Annan went farther than Ghali and proposed in my view an authoritarian UN System, in his report "In Larger Freedom" His proposal was to subordinate the UN members to "a global order " orchestrated by those "broadly representative of realities of power in today's world" . This vision wanted a UNSC dominated by the Superpower and its associates Kofi .Annan proposed five criteria for grant of new permanent membership, two of which were "represent geo-political realities of the world" are more representative of the developing world". 

What is at issue in the proposal to "reform" the UNSC? Mere addition of numbers in the UNSC seats- an arithmetical approach to "restructuring the SC" or reforming the SC . If later it would include equitable representation not to power centers but to all the principal socio-economic cultural groups, elimination of the veto and democratization of the UN or of international diplomacy as against use of SC as an instrument of international diplomacy as against use of the UN as instrument of coercive diplomacy- example UN actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, earlier in Korea, etc. It seems that when the question of expansion of the SC comes up, the conflict between the arithmetical approach and drastic reforms in the UNSC will surface. 

Veto is against the spirit of democratization of international relations. This arithmetical increase approach would in fact divide the SC into three categories of members: The Masters- the five- their allies the added Perm Members and the last the entire Third World as also OIC countries including Pakistan.. New realities should mean new economic-cultural groups in each distinct groups. Unless each of the distinct geographic-cultural economic group is given representation in the SC , UNSC would remaina rubber stamp of the rich and most powerful which in substance means white supremacy over the World. Does reform means merely representation to 'new realities' –which means to the new centers of military - economic powers which was the main idea of Koffi Annan's proposals , less of Ghali's. 

Clinton's statement made before his visit to India and the other by Robin Cook while he was in New Delhi indicated that there was Anglo-American unanimity for making India a permanent member of UNSC. Indian President visit to Paris in the same time frame intended to firm up French support, Clinton-Vajpayee "Joint Vision" spoke of India and US will have joint security responsibilities for " Asia and Beyond". 

India's talks with US over giving India the status of the Sixth Power are not new. It is pathetic how indifferently the moves for reforms in UNSC was dealt with both by Pakistan and OIC, in the early stages when India's ambitions for having a permanent UNSC seat were being mooted .The point that in new realities the Muslim region should also be given representation was counted irrelevant in Pakistan. Pakistan Foreign Office in those days dismissed OIC's locus standi to seek a seat for OIC in UNSC . It was said that in UN Representation is not given on religious ground. This meant that OIC is a religious body although each year in the UN FMs of OIC countries meet on General Assembly session. Two points were mooted in Pakistan: what does " reorganization " mean- mere addition of new members in the UNSC , or changing the character of the UNSC.

First point debated universally was whether UNSC should not be democratized that is veto power of Five in UNSC should not be abolished? Should the criterion for memberships not be based on regional representation of its members. This debate is quite old and Paj\kistan had not made up its mind what line to take: Reject any increase in UNSC Members and ask that the Veto be abolished or stand for regional representation in th UNSC. The Parliament has taken one firm decision, no permanent seat for India and by implication for none other too. In world politics every thing depends on power equations. Or the standing of a country in the world politics. The points to consider are therefore two. Why Obama made this declaration in India where no other visiting American President had done it earlier. Here we have to take stock of Pakistan's standing in world politics. A very naïve idea was once moved by Barrister Sultan, a former PM of AJK Government. generously offering UNSC Perm Seat to India linking it to a "resolution" of Kashmir. It meant we are prepared to live under India-dominated Asia if Kashmir issue is solved. This idea was fully analyzed by me in my article in Observer in its issue of May 5, 2008.

The Parlaiment Resolution is an excellent card for our UN Representative to revitalize the issue in the UN. We need a balanced an eloquent person as our representative in the UN. Abida Hussain's name has propped up as Haroon's replacement, She is a sober speaker, and in UN one does not require fiery rabble rouser speaker but convincing speaker She can also discount the propaganda of Pakistan having become a terrorist country. UN assignment requires a thorough knowledge of major issues in the UN , Well she can be counted if she is assisted by a serving Foreign Office expert. In UN generally the significant powers or UN Members always sent well read persons of substance and grey matter coupled with scholarly touch.









As the euphoric dust is settling down, it is easy to ascertain the extent to which the recent Obama-Singh summit has exposed Indian weakness. Budding major powers export aeroplanes and high end technologies, rather than importing; they Bangalore-away lowly errands rather than taking pride in running such routines. Above all, socio-economic well being of a common Indian has been bartered away for few aeroplanes, war machines, vague promises and piped dreams. Lame duck president has no surety of delivering on the promises which he has made. Anti-outsourcing legislation of America is all set to incrementally choke-out the Indian Silicon valley bonanza. India will be paying for 50,000 American jobs, while over 440 million hungry Indians, including 50% children would continue to be undernourished. Growth of Indian aviation industry has been put on hold for 3-4 decades. 

India needs to strengthen the indicators that are essential for becoming a credible power. For this, India needs deeper cooperation from the United States. Recent MDG summit at the UN has clearly brought out the embedded weaknesses of India. States with such low socio-economic indicators are not poised to rise above mediocre level. Nor could a majority of an overly poor rural population of Indians, living under US$ 2 per day offer a sparkling market, as the Americans tend to miscalculate. Rise to super or major power level status is a process of evolution, involving economic elevation coupled with social well-being of a common man, military victories, technological independence and acceptance of elevated posture by other states. India fulfils none of these prerequisite. No country has ever been able to get itself catapulted to the club of major powers, solely by riding the shoulders of another superpower. 

Obama's crumbling down to pressure to save the otherwise failing summit by announcing support for India's permanent entry into of UNSC was indeed a diplomatic faux pas; promising something over which America does not have a handle. As in case of Japan, key to India's UNSC pipedream lies with China. And China is quite chary of any UNSC reform that boosts the global status of countries to its south and to its east, that is India and Japan. After Obama's UNSC offer, the State Department's top career diplomat, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, said in New Delhi that the road to Council reform would be arduous. "This is bound to be a very difficult process and it's bound to take a significant amount of time," he said.

The US began to support Germany and Japan for permanent seats in the Security Council in the early 1990s; later on support for Germany fizzled out, presumably on pressure from other European countries. And, time and again, Japan has seen its hopes ruined. UN reform bids are thwarted by regional suspicions, geopolitical brokerages, and a complex power calculus. Actual "reform is not going to be easy, for both practical and political reasons", says Michael Doyle, a former UN official. Doyle says there are "extensive and demanding processes of reforming the UN club,"… "Many countries, in particular some of the original permanent members, don't want to dilute their power in this way, …it takes not only avoiding any veto by one of the Council's permanent members, but a two-thirds vote by the full Council and approval of the General Assembly... That alone is a considerable bar to clear… But perhaps even more daunting are the political hurdles". 

While speaking to the joint session of the Indian parliament, Obama said that as part of seeking an "efficient, effective, credible and legitimate United Nations, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member…with increased power comes increased responsibility," and he urged India and other aspiring Security Council members to ensure that "the UN body is effective, its resolutions are implemented and enforced". Surely while saying this Obama must have recalled that UN resolutions on Kashmir are yet to be implemented. Unfortunately, Obama chose to reward a state which is defiant of UN resolutions, much like his predecessor who gifted 'Agreement 123', to a non-NPT signatory, guilty of vertical and horizontal proliferation in South Asia. 

While prudently sidestepping the symbolic anti-Pakistan landmines laid by Indian tour planners, President Obama told a gathering of Indian students in a matter of fact manner that "Pakistan is strategically important and that India had the most to gain from a stable Pakistan". He urged India to redouble peace efforts with Pakistan. Indeed Obama gave a clear message to the Indian leadership that New Delhi has no other option but to enter into dialogue with Islamabad and resolve the outstanding issues, including Kashmir. 

India is wrongly perceived as an emerging vital market for the USA, because its protectionist trading environment makes it difficult for Americans to do business in India; chances of India opening up its retail and financial services markets to American investment appear remote. America has recently had the bitter taste of India's insidious mind set. Through its 'Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010,' Indians have effectively blocked the entry of American firms into Indian nuclear business. Ironically, the beneficiaries of 'Agreement 123' are Russian and French firms. 

America had been pressing upon India to formally disown its dangerous 'Cold Start Doctrine' that is fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan and hindering the American war effort in Afghanistan. Of late, there have been a series of statements including one from the Indian army chief, distancing from the dangerous doctrine. President Obama has once again repeated that the Indian role in Afghanistan should be focused on construction activities. So option of formal deployment of Indian military in Afghanistan stands ruled out .India's much touted claim of spending $1.2 billion is an inflated figure. Most of this expenditure has been on Indian contractor companies. The ring road built by India is in disarray, other buildings are over priced and exhibit slapdash workmanship, akin to the erstwhile Commonwealth Village. 

Undue American pampering in the past has indeed converted India into a problem child of South Asia. It has actually starting behaving like a Kangaroo super power; it tends to copy American symbolism and dialect while dealing with its neighbours. India has disputes with all its bordering countries; and it is usurper in most of these discords. Yet once again, American calculus is faulty; premium placed on India is unrealistically inflated. Indian government would once again avail the opportunity and accrue short term benefits. Long-time sufferer is a common rural Indian, destined to live in poor social security and food insecurity environment for an indefinite time. For quite some time, stability of this region is likely to stay hostage to reinforced Indian arrogance.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.








Pakistan and China will celebrate 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship in 2011. Both countries have shown their deep desire to further cement this historical relationship. As per the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, "Taking into account our special relations and our strategic partnership, China is ready to work with Pakistan to take the opportunity of the 60th anniversary to further expand friendly cooperation and bring the bilateral relations to new heights." Chinese Prime Ministare Mr. Wen Jiabao is scheduled to visit Pakistan in December this year. President Asif Ali Zardari is currently on a state's visit to China. Indeed, he has made it a routine to visit this time-tested friend more frequently than any other country. This time President Zardari was especially invited by Chinese Government to attend the inaugural session of the 16th Asian Games. President Zardari thanked the Chinese Government for the hospitality and congratulated them for the successful conduct of the event of the Asian Game. 

While tracing the history, Pak-China relationship is indeed a friendship "higher than the mountains and deeper than oceans." The history of this relationship can be traced from Pakistan's recognition of the People' Republic of China soon after its establishment in 1949. After formal establishment of diplomatic relationship between both countries in early 1950s, this relationship continuously expanded. The uniqueness of the relationship between two countries can be imagined from the fact that, irrespective of the form of government in Pakistan, there has been no change in this traditional firmness of the relationship. China has been the greatest supporter of Pakistan's viewpoint on Kashmir and Pakistan supported Chinese position on Tibet, Taiwan, and Xinjiang. 

At political, diplomatic, military, and economic fronts, there always has been a close cooperation between Pakistan and China. According to Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Liu Jian, "Our military and civil relations have reached new height, meeting the common aspirations of two peoples." At the global forums, both countries always supported each other's point of view. China has undertaken a lot development projects in Pakistan. Both countries have a free trade agreement between them. Pakistan indeed has acted as a bridge between China and the Muslim countries of the West Asia (Middle East), where lies the future economic interests of this rising global power. In 1970s, Pakistan acted as viaduct in the establishment of relationship between US and China too. This was indeed the first opening of the China to the Western world and U.S and the Western block got closer to China against the Communist Russia. 


The significance of the Pak-China relationship can be imagined from the fact that since its establishment, there have never been cracks or even wind of mistrust between them. This indissoluble nature of the relationship has never been with other friendly countries of Pakistan. Once we compare Pak-U.S relationship, there appear many fissures in them in about the same time span as of the China. Pakistan alliance with U.S lead Western Camp has been a tragic history of upheavals. Throughout this alliance of over half a century, Pakistan has served the U.S and Western aims and objectives. Owing to this unholy alliance, it worsened its relationship with Communist Camp under former Soviet Union and had to pay heavy price in the form of its disintegration in 1971. Many a time the former super power (Soviet Union) has threatened Pakistan of dire consequences for helping and promoting the US cause in south and Southwest Asia. On the contrary, U.S never came to rescue Pakistan once there was a question of its safety, security, and survival. It never helped Pakistan during Indian aggression in 1965 and 1971. U.S rather stopped the arms supply to its ally at these critical junctures of Pakistan's history.

US made use of Pakistani geo-politics to disintegrate its rival Soviet Union in 1990. It is still benefitting from Pakistan position as the frontline state in the so-called global war on terror. U.S and NATO forces have violated Pakistani territory many a times during these over nine years of this global war on terror. 

Its Western allies and U.S have always targeted Pakistan's nuclear programme, contrary to their unflattering support to Indian nuclear programme. Many astute scholars and analysts visualizes that while in Afghanistan, US and NATO keep it a top priority to target the Pakistani nuclear programme in one way or the other. Many even view that the terrorists like TPP in the FATA and KPK province have the backing of the forces sitting in Afghanistan. There is a strong linkage between the occupation forces in Afghanistan and India. All are cooperating to harm Pakistani interests. 

On the contrary, Pak-China relationship is a history of bilateralism, mutual trust, and respect. Both supported each other's cause on regional and global issues. China has cooperated with Pakistan in the establishment of nuclear plants for meeting its energy needs. There is cooperation in launching the joint defence ventures like JF-17 Thunder aircraft. The unmatched fighter aircraft would strengthen Pakistan Air Force considerably besides giving both an opportunity to export them in the global defence markets in the days to come. In order to strengthen Pakistan Navy, China is providing P-22 Frigates. This strategic arsenal would greatly enhance the fighting capability of Pak Navy, compared to its adversary. PLA and Pak Army are also cooperating in the field of latest training techniques, small arms development, and manufacturing of APCs and main battle tanks. On the economic side, China has been involved in a number of projects like the construction of Gwadar deep-sea port, Sandak project, development of communication network and construction of dams. Politically and diplomatically, Chinese unflattering support for Kashmir issue has been unparallel. It considers that Kashmir is a disputed state whose decision has to be made in the light of UN resolutions as per the wishes of the people of Kashmir. 

Basing on over the half a century Pak-US and Pak-China relationship, we need to redefine our strategic alliance. United States, the contemporary super power is located thousands of miles from Pakistani soil, whereas the rising global power China has a geographical contiguity with Pakistan. The former has always used Pakistan for its own gains, whereas the later helped Pakistan during the difficult periods of our history. US is now making long-term strategic alliance with our traditional adversary India, while we are fighting its wars. China on the other hand is desirous of having the smooth relationship between India and U.S provided their alliance is not against China or harming Pakistani interests. As a nation, this is a critical time for Pakistan to decide its future strategic alliance for the long-term interests of the country, keeping in view the experiences. 

—The writer is an International Relations analyst. 








It is a difficult question to be an swered; what do the Americans hate; Islam or the Muslims; but it is a day light fact that the Muslims are maltreated in America. Complaints of harassment, discrimination, and violence against Muslims have been increasing at the rate of 30 per cent per year since 2005. Before that year this rate of increase was 10 percent per year. This growing hatred against the Muslims could be to some extant an aftermath of the 9/11 incident but more important is the role of the extremist element ruling over the Christian church in USA. As referred by Jerry Brice in a recent article, Reverend Franklin Graham, one of America's most respected Christian activists said at a dedication of a chapel in his home state of North Carolina, "We're not attacking Islam, but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." Such Christian leaders have poisoned the situation in such a horrible manner that even a common man in America, who labels religion as a private affair, tries to keep himself at a distance from the Muslims.

Not only at Church level, but also at official level the American Muslims have to face a lot of troubles. They are not allowed to lead their lives according to their religious norms and traditions. A few months back a prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent a letter to President Obama seeking action on concerns that Muslim travelers wearing religious head scarves, or hijab, are facing mistreatment at airports because they are automatically singled out for additional security measures. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent that letter following a report of a Muslim woman traveler allegedly treated harshly during a four-hour interrogation by US officials at the Canadian border. The Muslim woman, who had a Canadian passport, complained she was held for questioning at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, during which she was allegedly shouted at and made to feel like a "terrorist."

A few weeks back, Linda Heard wrote in the Arab News, "It is a terrible shame that ever since the Sept. 11 attacks on America, Muslims in the US have been viewed with suspicion when they had nothing whatsoever to do with events on that horrendous world-altering day when many Muslims were also killed." The writer further says, "It's infuriating and disturbing that American Muslims have been placed in the invidious position of once again having to defend their way of life and beliefs in the face of ignorance. Pastor Jones has proved that among believers of every great faith there is a minority of extremists who place skewed ideology above the sanctity of human life. My hope is that America comes to terms with that fact and quits tainting innocent Muslims with a crime they deplore as much as their non-Muslim neighbors." Same is the story of humiliation of Nadia Hassan, 40, of Maryland .Talking to The Detroit News via telephone she said," It was very humiliating. It was very uncomfortable; I was patted down in front of my daughter, 5, and several male TSA staffers. But I didn't say anything. I didn't want to cause any trouble. ... I'm an American. I'm not a foreigner. My country is treating me this way?"

This frightening situation is alarming not only for the American Muslims but also for those who project an image of USA as a secular state. It wont be an exaggeration if we say that USA has no more an identity as a secular state after the 9/11 incident. The distortion of this image is in fact the handiwork of narrow-minded Pastors who interact with the church going people keeping in view their own vested interests. The Western Churches have a biased mindset and therefore they present a false image of Islam to their followers .Usually the church-going people have nothing to do with extremism and religious prejudice but these pastors keep on exerting a psychological pressure on such innocent people and ultimately succeed in achieving their target; the target is sowing a seed of hatred for the Muslims. This behavior of the western church authorities proves that they are afraid of the growing influence of Islamic preaching in the region particularly in the USA. They take Islam as a challenge to their privacy and identity. They are suffering from Islam phobia. The conspiracy against Islam and the Muslims in the west is nothing new. Christianity has ever remained highly politicized against other religions especially against Islam and it provided grounds to the Christian clerics to spread hatred against Muslims and their religion Islam. After 9/11 the people in the western world and USA got curious to know more about Islam and thus started reading Quran. This inclination towards the Holy Quran and the message of Islam created panic in the minds of western political leadership and particularly in the minds of the Christian clerics. So they started using all their zeal and zest in wagging a propaganda war based on misinformation and disinformation against Islam but millions of moderate Christians would never let these Christian extremists succeed in achieving their heinous desires. 

Islam is a philosophy based on moderation and self-control and has nothing to do with extremism leading to terrorism. It rejects Extremism in all its forms and shapes. Its message circles around the rational principles of human dignity and human welfare .The Holy Quran is simply a code of life which guides its followers to the path of goodness and piety. It would be in the larger benefit of the world peace and stability of the US society if the Christians spend some time on the study of the Holy Quran, not as a sacred book of the Muslims but as a book of goodness and virtue. The US government must play a positive role in this regard; such an attitude would help the US government in bringing people close to one another and it would support US' efforts against the menace of terrorism.

—The writer is a defence and strategic affairs analyst.








People in Swat felt a surge of optimism last year when the military declared the Swat Valley cleared of Taliban insurgents, who had bullied their way to power by publicly whipping and beheading opponents. But more than a year after millions of residents returned home, the absence of virtually any government follow-through has turned that hope into despair. Throughout the valley, tens of thousands of students are sheltered by broken-down walls and flimsy tents supplied mostly by international aid groups. The government has yet to rebuild even one of the more than 150 schools leveled by the Taliban in their methodical campaign to prevent girls' education.

Running water, electricity and school supplies are widely absent. The floods that ravaged the country this summer, and hit Swat especially hard, have only compounded the hardships and diverted money and attention away from reconstructing war-torn areas. The lack of any visible progress has fed the frustrations of local people and international donors over the government's incompetence and corruption, raising fears that it has squandered a chance to win over a pivotal population in its war against militancy, which has been urged on by the United States.

Jamal Uddin, a ninth grader who missed nearly two years of school because of the conflict in Swat, used to detest the Taliban, who bombed his school in the village of Baidera in 2008. Now, he says, he has no reason to support either side. He has watched as a parade of government leaders has visited his school without removing even one brick from the rubble. The Taliban tightened their hold on Swat by exploiting class grievances, and Jamal, who is about 17, angrily protested that the wealthy class and politicians, who are often the same, do not care for the poor or their schools. "I don't have any more faith," he said. "I don't even believe I'll become a bus conductor."Pakistani officials defended their performance, saying that hiring engineers and architects to ensure that schools would be safe from earthquakes was a time-consuming process that was delayed two months by the floods. They also blamed foreign governments who, they said, failed to follow through on pledges made when several million people were displaced from Swat by the military's campaign to oust the Taliban in 2009.

Foreign government officials say they are reluctant to give money for fear it will be siphoned off by politicians. The provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where Swat is located, was listed as the most corrupt provincial administration in the country by the global advocacy group Transparency International. "Donors need clarity," said one foreign official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. "It's unfortunate, but that's where we are." So far the United States is the only foreign government to contribute to the school cause. It gave $5 million in April and planned to release an additional $15 million if it was satisfied with the transparency of how its initial donation was used, and with the progress made. Officials said that the pledges would build 108 schools over roughly two years, but added that they were still $1 billion short of what was needed to restore the region's infrastructure. The United States was so concerned about corruption that it set up an elaborate system that tracks the funds, according to American and Pakistan officials. Mr. Qadir, the rehabilitation agency director, said the Pakistani government had short-circuited many of those procedures to speed up reconstruction. However, he said, the United States' insistence on financial safeguards has undoubtedly delayed progress. "Is making compromises on financial controls a smart thing?" he said. "Is winning or losing the hearts and minds of the people a smart thing? You cannot have the cake and eat it, too." — The New York Times








THE time is right for the Gillard government to take stock


IF many of the recommendations of the 2010 OECD Economic Survey of Australia seem familiar, it is because they reflect the advice on productivity, fiscal policy, infrastructure bottlenecks, tax reform and the National Broadband Network put to the Gillard government by Treasury in its Red Book. They also accord with the arguments on these and other issues, such as industry protection, immigration and more realistic water pricing, put forward in editorials in The Australian under this and previous governments. Not surprisingly, Wayne Swan was quick off the mark yesterday to issue a press release pointing out the significant plaudits in the survey, which acknowledged that the Australian economy had been one of the most resilient in the world during the global economic and financial crisis and that prospects remained bright, with potential growth among the strongest in the OECD. As the government places great store on such noteworthy international praise, it should also take on board the report's criticisms and recommendations.


As the OECD recognises, Australia's economic performance during the GFC was "only partially due to links to fast-growing China and India" because years of sound policies had "left ample room for monetary and fiscal policy to act rapidly and forcefully when the crisis struck". After such a positive outcome, the OECD argues for a continuation of economic reform, pinpointing several priority areas.


It is concerned, for example, that too much of the bounty of the last mining boom evaporated into recurrent spending. To ensure that the benefits of the current boom are sustained, it advocates investing at least some resource tax revenue in a reserve fund, highlighting Chile's reserve fund that invests in education and infrastructure at a steady rate that avoids over-heating the economy during mining booms. Peter Costello was on the right track with the Future Fund and the Higher Education Endowment Fund, but further developing such a strategy would require greater fiscal discipline than either side of Australian politics has shown in recent years.


On the spending front, the OECD sounded a prudent warning about the government's biggest project, the $43 billion National Broadband Network, the equivalent of 3 1/4 per cent of GDP. While the NBN promises substantial benefits, the survey highlighted the substantial financial uncertainties. A government monopoly, it said, "may not be optimal for cost efficiency and innovation" as international experience shows the advantages of competition between different technologies. Neither should the government dismiss the OECD's observation that investing heavily in fibre might forestall superior technological alternatives of the future. For these reasons, the government must subject the NBN to Productivity Commission scrutiny without delay.


As the OECD recommends, the government should also take the Productivity Commission's advice and cut industry subsidies that misallocate resources. These include handouts to the car industry, now the second-highest per capita in the OECD.


]Confirming that the government is on the right track with its mining tax, corporate tax cuts and increased compulsory superannuation savings from 9 per cent to 12 per cent, the report advocated more sweeping tax reforms to boost productivity. Not surprisingly, it said adoption of many more of the 138 recommendations of the Henry tax review should be a priority. While the government quarantined the GST from that review, a move with which The Australian disagreed, the OECD recommends both increasing the 10 per cent GST rate and broadening its base to include food, education and healthcare. Less controversially, the report notes that Australia has too many inefficient taxes that are also costly to administer. Taxes that should be wound back or eliminated because they undermine productivity include state payroll taxes, insurance levies and stamp duties, which deter workers from relocating to growth areas. Housing supply, the OECD believes, should be freed up by easing taxes on new developments of land. The measures proposed to offset such change, however, would be regarded by most politicians as unpalatable -- phasing out the first-home buyers scheme, reviewing negative gearing and, most contentious of all, including owner-occupied housing in the land tax base.


]Conscious of the importance of boosting Australia's labour force, the OECD provided a shrewd critique of current welfare-to-work disincentives for single parents and disability pensioners, among others. One in five sole parents and about 14 per cent of couples with children faced effective marginal tax rates of 50 per cent, it noted. Removing what the report referred to as "inactivity traps" through flatter income tax rates and welfare-to-work incentives is one of the most pressing social and economic challenges facing the government. As a start, it could adopt the OECD's idea of lifting the tax-free threshold on personal income tax to above the point at which numerous allowances and pensions cease to be payable.


As the Gillard government grapples with two of its major challenges, carbon reduction and imposing its mineral resources rent tax, it should be encouraged by the OECD's endorsement of a carbon price and of the MRRT and the planned Regional Infrastructure fund, which the tax would bankroll. Regardless of Labor and the Coalition pledging during the election not to put a price on carbon, doing so would be in the national interest, the report argues, as the best option for putting Australia on a more sustainable, low-pollution growth path. While favouring the MRRT, the OECD has warned that it should be extended to all commodities and companies large and small, to avoid distortions. State royalties, it argued, should be abolished as marginal projects subject to royalties as well as to the MRRT would be hampered by major disincentives.


]Controversial as some of its individual recommendations will be, the OECD has presented decision-makers with a blueprint that overall, would enhance Australia's productivity. While some points would be difficult to sell politically, there is no doubt the government, backed by Treasury advice, should take stock of the recommendations. It needs to make a few "hard decisions" to reverse declines in productivity, capitalise on the mining boom and pave the way to long-term, sustained prosperity.








WHAT a surprise, the Greens have decided the Gillard government's multi-party committee on climate change policy is not good enough! Just six weeks after being invited into the policy tent, they have decided to erect their own and will conduct a parallel process to work out ways to set a carbon price. Greens leader Bob Brown is upset with the way government MPs are conducting their own discussions with business groups and environmental organisations. Why, he wonders, can't the Greens sit in?


Here's a hint. Government members might want to get some independent advice, without Senator Brown laying down the law, as he is wont to do, and his deputy, senator Christine Milne, overheating, as she sometimes does in parliament. Of course the Greens are entitled to run their consultation process, as are independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who are also part of the committee (the opposition declined to join on the reasonable basis that its job is to present an alternative to government policy.) But it is hard to imagine why the Greens would bother asking business for advice, given the way they refused to contemplate compromise when the Rudd government proposed an emissions trading scheme. There is a sense of snippyness in this decision, as if Senator Brown thinks the Greens should be ever-present to ensure only ideas they approve get off the ground -- which reduces the chance of the committee coming up with a unified proposal. The Greens always argue that anything less than what they want will be a disaster for the planet, which makes it hard for them to compromise.


Understandably so. The Greens are the voice of the perpetually aggrieved, people for whom the possible is the enemy of the perfect. This is why Senator Brown and his colleagues were not punished at the polls for rejecting Kevin Rudd's ETS last December. And it is why acting in the national interest by negotiating a deal on the GST cost Australian Democrats leader Meg Lees her political career. But Senator Brown's personal interests and those of the nation are not synonymous. The challenge for him is to get into the policy tent. He will not be welcome as far in as his colleague Nick McKim, who serves in Tasmania's Labor government, but if Senator Brown wants an ETS he should co-operate with the bipartisan committee, rather than using it as an opportunity to attack everybody. He uses the Senate for that.








Tony Stewart was the 16th NSW MP - including two from the Legislative Council - to announce their resignation since June. Kristina Keneally's spin on this process is that the party needs to renew itself. But Labor faces a more fundamental challenge than finding new faces to offer the electorate: after several decades of political cleverness, holding government on the basis that it would do whatever it took to win power, the party no longer has a core of beliefs to hold on to.


The secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, made the point in an address to the Sydney Institute last week that Labor lacks ideas. Many members of his Right faction don't know why they belong to it; he suspects the same is true of the Left. His call for the party to allow open debate on ideas was significant for what it implied about what Labor has become: a focus not of progressive thinking, but of conservatism. We do not mean that conservatism which seeks to preserve traditions and symbols - the monarchy, the church, a stratified society. Rather, Labor's conservatism seeks to preserve the labour movement's historic achievements, and its power base, in the face of the forces arrayed against it. To a large extent those forces are the free market ideology - which Labor also, and somewhat paradoxically, was obliged to embrace after the collapse of the socialist ideal. This creates an obvious tension within Labor's position, which is made worse by its reliance on trade unions for funding, and their close involvement in its factional divisions.


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Labor has resolved this tension by pragmatically picking and choosing whatever policies suit its situation at any given moment. But at times - privatising the NSW power industry is an example - the tension cannot be resolved, and the party splits. And pragmatism has its limits. In the end it is just another of the dark arts of politics. It is not a banner that voters willingly rally behind. Rely on it too much, and a party appears to stand for nothing - as Labor does just now.


That has left the field open to the Greens to consolidate their position to Labor's left, and to attract voters - idealistic, progressive people who would once have been Labor's core constituency. The Greens, of course, have yet to be tested with real power. While their environmental concerns are a vital contribution to politics, some of their economic policies verge on the primitive and are doomed to fail. But until those flaws become obvious in practice, the Greens represent a principled ideal for many, and a serious danger to Labor.








The British government's decision to block a bid to win posthumous pardons for Harry "Breaker" Morant and two other Australians convicted of murdering prisoners during the Boer War again raises the vexed issue of military morality in wartime. Morant and a fellow lieutenant in the Australian Bushveldt Carbineers, Peter Handcock, were executed by firing squad in 1902. The third, George Witton, was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1904. Ever since, British-born Morant, a drover and bush balladist before volunteering for the South African conflict, has been an Australian folk hero - a status reinforced by a fine film starring Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown.


This does not mean Morant and his mates should now be pardoned. Murdering prisoners, especially civilians, was and remains a war crime, though the death penalty no longer applies, in Britain or here. It is, however, a pity that the British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, chose so brusquely to dismiss the petition for a judicial review of the verdicts and sentences imposed on the three colonial lieutenants.


The petition was based on research by the Australian military lawyer James Unkles on behalf of the men's descendants, and was forwarded to the British authorities by the Australian government. Arguably, it might have been much better if an eminent judge - rather than a politician following "detailed historical and legal consideration" (by whom?) - had decided whether there was a miscarriage of justice all those years ago. The question is not whether the inexcusable should be retrospectively excused, but whether the convictions and punishments were soundly based.


The British decision will doubtless feed into the controversy in Australia over the laying of charges against three Australian soldiers over a raid in Afghanistan that left five children dead. TheHerald shares the public unease about this prosecution, but the circumstances surrounding the two cases, more than a century apart, were very different. The civilian deaths in Afghanistan reportedly occurred in the heat of a combat operation while the soldiers were under fire. By contrast, Morant and his colleagues were accused of executing prisoners, including a missionary, in cold blood.


War is, by definition, a dreadful business. Occasional aberrant behaviour is inevitable. Currently, an American soldier in Afghanistan is facing charges involving the premeditated murder of three civilians, and two Israeli sergeants have been indicted on charges that they ordered a Palestinian boy to open bags suspected of being booby-traps. Nations are rightly judged by how they handle such challenges.







The Coalition's transport plan would dismantle a Kennett legacy.


Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu was emphatic at yesterday's Coalition campaign launch. So were Nationals leader Peter Ryan and Mr Baillieu's federal counterpart, Tony Abbott.


They all believe the Coalition can win the 13 extra seats it needs to govern Victoria for the next four years. It is not an impossible goal, but the Age/Nielsen poll published at the weekend suggests that with barely two weeks till election day the Liberal and National parties are still trailing the Brumby government.


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Labor's share of the two-party preferred vote is 52 per cent - 1 percentage point less than in the previous poll, taken in October - and the Coalition's is 48 per cent, a 1-point rise. Labor's primary vote is steady on 38 per cent and the Coalition's has risen two points to 40 per cent. None of these changes is statistically significant, and neither is the 1 point increase in Mr Brumby's already substantial lead over Mr Baillieu as preferred premier.


Fifty-three per cent of poll respondents preferred Mr Brumby and 38 per cent preferred Mr Baillieu. Thus far in the campaign, voters may be drifting from Labor but the drift does not yet suggest a change of government is likely. If Labor does lose its majority it may be because of the increasing number of voters who are turning to the Greens, but yesterday's decision by the Coalition to preference the Greens last in Lower House seats makes the smaller party's task harder.


The confident tone of speakers at yesterday's launch was not contrived, however, for the Coalition knows that Labor is vulnerable. The event was not notable for detailed presentation of policies, and much of what Mr Baillieu had to say he has said before. But in the one area in which he made a new announcement, public transport, the Opposition Leader clearly understood that he was tapping into frustration and anger that has been building among Victorians for 11 years.


In the time that Labor has been in office there have been five transport plans but little coherent planning. In particular, the basics of the rail network - track, rolling stock, signalling and communications equipment - have been allowed to degrade despite increasing amounts of money being hurled at them, while a change of private operators has done nothing to improve reliability of service. Mr Baillieu promised that a Coalition government would reverse this decline by spending more than $900 million on upgrades and new stations, and by restoring what the system lacks most: a central authority to take responsibility for it.


There is considerable irony in the fact that the Coalition is proposing this socialist-sounding initiative while Labor refuses to countenance it. Nor did Mr Baillieu blush while effusively praising Jeff Kennett, the Liberal premier who began the dismantling of central control of the system. Nonetheless, Mr Baillieu deserves credit for accepting that it is the absence of such oversight that is at the root of Victoria's public transport problems. If his proposal for a Victorian Public Transport Development Authority - ''a new independent statutory authority to plan, co-ordinate and manage'' the system - draws votes from Labor, the government will have only itself to blame.


The other issue that has the potential to undermine the Brumby government's prospects of survival, especially outside the city, is water policy. The government's two major water projects, the north-south pipeline and the desalination plant, are the product of broken electoral promises and have become symbols of waste. Mr Ryan elicited hoots of laughter from the launch audience by referring to ''God's orchestra'' - rain - outside the building, thus reminding them that the breaking of the drought has resulted in the $700 million pipeline lying inactive. The $5.7 billion desalination plant represents even greater profligacy but both projects have advanced to a point at which simply undoing them may not be possible. Mr Baillieu and Mr Ryan gave no indication yesterday of just how they would handle them if they won office, nor did they raise the prospect of recycling waste water - the ''drought-proofing'' initiative that makes the most financial and environmental sense.


Mr Baillieu skimmed over other policy areas, promising to revitalise schools and shrink hospital waiting lists without being too specific as to how he would achieve either goal. He did, however, raise again the spectre of violent crime, repeating the Coalition's pledge to increase police numbers and place armed officers at railway stations, and declaring that under a Coalition government a jail sentence would mean incarceration, not a suspended sentence or home detention. Reducing the discretion available to courts does not mean punishment will always fit the crime; on the contrary, it increases the risk that sometimes it will not. Sentencing is a complex matter, but instead of acknowledging this to be so Mr Baillieu is trying to exploit voter anxieties about public safety. Opinion polls suggest that this tactic has not yet worked for him. If he is to overtake Labor in the next fortnight, he would be better advised to push his transport initiatives.









Just as we feared that the memoir had exhausted itself, along bounds one in such rude health that it appears newborn. Ceramic artist Edmund de Waal won the National Book Tokens new writer of the year award with The Hare with Amber Eyes. It follows the history of 264 Japanese netsuke, objects crafted as belt toggles for kimonos, which he inherited from a great-uncle. The hare of the title is the whitest and finest of the collection, acquired by Charles Ephrussi in the late 19th century, when the opening of Japan's borders let a flood of japonaiserie into European homes. The Ephrussis were bankers and Charles, an art-obsessed younger son, become a patron of the impressionists in their impoverished early years. History takes revenge on wealthy arrivistes, and the Ephrussis were no exception: their fortunes were destroyed and their homes looted by the Nazis in the 1930s. It is in this terrible episode that the genius of De Waal's story lies. Plainness saved the netsuke, which were stitched into a mattress by a devoted lady's maid. This memoir was published in the same year as Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects and, like MacGregor, De Waal understands the centrality of objects to our sense of ourselves. His netsuke are both the relics of a lost plutocracy and tokens of the best that survived of it: loyalty, love, and humble craftsmanship cherished not for its monetary value but for itself. If you are looking for the human story of the 20th century, follow the hare.








She said she had been listening to the radio for so long, it was good to hear some real human voices


Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday that she had been listening to the radio for so long, it was good to hear some real human voices. It was good also to hear her voice, after the last seven years of house arrest. Her unconditional release was expected to have caused a dilemma for the military junta which repressed it for so long. It may still do so, but her first words in liberty may have also prompted those who campaigned for her release to rethink their tactics as well. She called for national reconciliation, including an honest dialogue with those who jailed her. She was reluctant to criticise China for plundering Burma's national resources. And she hinted that international sanctions against her country may have to be dropped: "This is a time for Burma when we need help. We need everybody to help in this venture: western nations, eastern nations, all nations."


Her supporters were torn between keeping the pressure up and listening to what their hero had to say. She is, after all, only one of more than 2,100 political prisoners, held by a regime which mounts fake elections and conducts murderous campaigns in its ethnic regions. To reward the regime which released her by easing sanctions would be to condemn all their other victims to oblivion. Are the pro-democracy activist Min Ko Naing, 47, who is serving a prison sentence of 65 years, or U Gambira of the All Burma Monks Alliance, who is serving 63 years, or U Khun Htun Oo, sentenced to 93 years, no less deserving than a Nobel prize-winner? And yet there is scant evidence that a decade of sanctions has had any positive effect, other than to play to our own sense of moral outrage. A ban on US investment introduced in 1997 did not apply to a joint venture which developed a gas field and became the single biggest source of foreign currency for the junta. An import ban was imposed in 2003 after Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy was attacked and more than 70 of her supporters beaten to death. But it only put thousands of textile workers out of work. Gas, timber and gems, the top revenue earners, were targeted in 2008 by sanctions from Canada, the EU and the US. None will be eager to overturn them, even though they are rendered useless by the policies adopted by Burma's neighbours. The generals complain vigorously about sanctions, but the fact is they are not being made to pay for them. The Burmese people are.


Aung San Suu Kyi's release may cause western policy on Burma to be tempered with a new sense of realism. It is unrealistic to expect a military regime that has gone to such lengths to repress its own people – withstanding ethnic unrest, separatism, uprisings and natural disasters – to turn into a liberal democracy overnight. Aung San Suu Kyi may yet succeed in uniting the opposition, but at the moment it remains fragmented and politically marginalised. The road back from here will be hard, but to help the people who matter, the Burmese people, may mean having to work with, rather than against, the elected representatives of the military Burmese government. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, but gets almost no international development assistance. AsMorten Pedersen, the author of Promoting Human Rights in Burma, asked, why do we single out Burma, when China, Laos and Vietnam are all one-party dictatorships with whom we maintain close relations? Did not Cambodia get $989m last year in overseas aid?


These are early days, ones in which the junta will want to bask in its share of the limelight. Their mouthpiece, the official newspaper the New Light of Myanmar, said Aung San Suu Kyi had been pardoned because of "good behaviour" (in truth her sentence expired). It also said the police stood ready to give her "whatever help she needed". We will see how long that lasts, if Aung San Suu Kyi continues to speak out. But if, and it's a big if, the true leader of Burma is allowed some sort of political space in her country, then the west will have to react.







The terms of trade have become a global preoccupation - maybe now the US and EU will finally end their abuse of subsidies

As the balance of economic power slowly tilts towards the east, terms of trade have become a global preoccupation. It is a rare moment of opportunity for the world's new strongmen – China, Brazil and India. With their help, it could also be a moment of opportunity for the least-developed countries. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of theDoha Development Agenda which, despite a decade of disappointment in its efforts to remove barriers to trade, could still be the engine of growth for Africa. The Bric countries have already shown that they are ready to use their new muscle-power. They could be the element that has been missing in redressing the balance of global trade and finally forcing the US and the EU to end their abuse of subsidies.


For sub-Saharan Africa, the most pressing issue is not the currency values that preoccupied the G20, but the price of raw materials. That is what shapes both the creation of national infrastructure and whether a child in a rural village can afford to stay in school. The most transparent example, highlighted today in a new report from the Fairtrade organisation, is cotton. Per pound of production, the EU pays out the biggest subsidy. It costs three times more to grow cotton in Greece than it does in, say, Malawi (which is banned by the IMF from subsidising its cotton farmers). But the giant in the export market is the US, the source of between 40% and 60% of world trade. Growers there get 14 cents for every pound of the white gold, at a cost of around $3bn a year. Recently, a crack appeared in the edifice that could prove the beginning of the end. After years of attempting to find a negotiated end to American subsidies, Brazil announced it would impose retaliatory trade sanctions on 100 US products. Unusually, they were backed by the World Trade Organisation. Within three months, Washington had climbed down. Not that the subsidies went: instead, Brazil's cotton growers are to share an annual payment of £142.7m. This bizarre state of affairs, where the US is paying off agribusiness both at home and in Brazil, may just be mad enough to persuade Congress to make the next farm bill, due soon, a rebalancing of domestic concerns and free trade. Certainly President Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission has spotted the possibility. The EU could follow suit in negotiations, also about to start, on a new common agricultural policy.


Buried in last week's G20 communique was the following: "We recognise that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity ... We now need to complete the end game." There have been a lot of warm words since Doha was launched in a spirit of global healing. It's time to make it work.









A recent radio feature by Anne Garrells, a U.S. correspondent with National Public Radio in Moscow, quoted a Russian engineer who described the Moscow-Volga canal: "The Moscow River, which often dried up, could not supply the capital's growing needs. Now, 90 percent of water for this city of 10 million comes from the Volga. Many died building this canal. I have no love for Stalin. But there was no other way to do it, given the conditions of the time."


This view of Stalin is typical in Russia, both at the official level and among ordinary people. Stalin was brutal, they say, but he had to be to achieve economic development, industrialization and progress. He mobilized Russia, transforming it into an industrial power in a couple of decades. He fashioned its military into an efficient machine that defeated Hitler. Brutality was necessary, and those who deny the achievements of the people under his rule are often accused of Russophobia.


Such accusations are an insult to intelligence. Before World War I broke out in 1914, which marked the beginning of 40 years of historically unprecedented bloodletting in Russia, it was well on its way to becoming one of the world's most prosperous industrial economies. The foundations for Russia's development had been laid in the 19th century by Nicholas I's educational reforms and the freeing of serfs by his son Alexander II. True, Russia began industrializing four decades later than the United States and three decades later than Germany, but after the shock of naval defeat at the hands of the Japanese and insurrection in 1905, it grew at rates that matched or exceeded anything seen in Germany or the United States.


With its continent-size territory, wealth of natural resources and a reservoir of rapidly urbanizing, international labor, Russia could have easily been the China of the 20th century. It had great merchants and a nascent class of industrialists. Its scientists and engineers were top-notch. Trained before the Revolution, those of them who emigrated prospered in the West, and those who stayed formed the backbone of Soviet industry, despite the country's brutal repression, show trials and purges.


The Russian Empire was criticized as retrograde by Russia's educated classes, but that in itself showed the emergence of liberal opinion in the country.


It was a promising and pleasant country, full of energy, enterprise and artistic ferment. I have known "white emigres" in Rome and New York who remain nostalgic for the glory of pre-


Bolshevik Russia, which Lenin and Stalin turned into a concentration camp. The Soviet Union did industrialize, but the quality of its industrialization was woefully low, while the price extracted from the nation was exorbitant. Today's Russia is a poor, underpopulated vendor of natural resources. A country that could have rivaled the United States in many ways — and not only in the number of nuclear missiles — lies moribund. To celebrate Stalin's achievements is either a sign of idiocy or extreme hatred of Russia.


Today's Russian bureaucratic elites are marauders. Russia is dying — both physically and economically, falling behind the world's new economies, most notably its neighbor China. But marauders are never interested in treating the wounded on the battlefield. Thus, the ruling elite is cynically celebrating the achievements of the past 100 years instead of reversing its disastrous course.


Who are the real Russophobes now?









To the Kremlin's chagrin, U.S. President Barack Obama suffered a stinging political defeat at the midterm congressional elections two weeks ago.


Moscow is worried over what the Republican revanche in Congress might mean for the "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations. The concern is not limited to foreign policy. President Dmitry Medvedev's domestic political standing could be adversely affected if the reset goes south.


The noticeable improvement in U.S.-Russian relations under Obama has turned into a political asset for Medvedev, who can point to few other foreign or domestic policy successes during his first term in office. The partnership with Obama has strengthened Medvedev's claim to be a real president and to be a candidate for a second presidential term in the eyes of the Russian elite.


Here, Medvedev risks committing the cardinal sin of a Russian ruler — trying to convert international adoration into a domestic political legitimacy that would compensate for failed policies at home.


There are other lessons for Medvedev to learn from Obama's failures — above all, choosing priorities. Obama misjudged the public's tolerance for big government. He focused on the long-term priorities, pushing through a complicated health-care and financial oversight reform, while the U.S. public, reeling from the recession, was hoping that Obama could deliver quickly on jobs.


Medvedev seems to be heading this way with Skolkovo with his calls for modernization that few Russians can relate to. His recent hint at pursuing political modernization before economic modernization makes a positive impact on people's lives could be a fatal lapse of judgment.


Another lesson is of political style. Obama came across as an aloof and self-absorbed president who could not "feel voters' pain." "Obama is seen as the leader of an elitist, intellectual class that is out of touch with the mainstream," a Washington insider recently told me.


Medvedev appears bent on imitating Obama's worst stylistic faults: a cerebral, detached president surrounded by arrogant advisers with iPads who are convinced that their policies would be good for the people — someday. Increasingly, Medvedev comes across as the leader of an elitist and liberal intellectual class that is out of touch with the rest of the country.  


Medvedev is lucky that he doesn't need to worry about midterm elections. Obama lessons could come in handy in 2012.









Recently, Russia commemorated the victims of political repression, including tens of millions of innocent Soviet citizens arrested, brutalized, sent to labor camps or executed under Stalin. Until recently, the Oct. 30 date has passed with scant notice outside small groups of dedicated human rights activists. The lack of fanfare symbolizes a larger reluctance of contemporary Russia to come to terms with the horrors of the Soviet period. Russia is hardly an exception. Many societies have trouble acknowledging unpleasant aspects of their recent histories, substituting uncomfortable silence or outright denial for frank and painful discussion.


At the same time, however, the process of Russia's recognition of its tragic Soviet past has started. For example, President Dmitry Medvedev marked Oct. 30, 2009, with a recorded video blog in which he unambiguously denounced the Stalin-era repressions: "Millions of people died as a result of terror and false accusations — millions. … There is no justification for repressions." Medvedev also decried the lack of knowledge about this dark episode, particularly among young people. His simple message: Russia must do more to commemorate the victims of Stalinism.


Earlier this year, after decades of official denials, Russian authorities acknowledged that Soviet NKVD troops — not the Nazis — murdered 22,000 Polish officers and others at the Katyn forest massacre in 1940. They delivered secret files concerning the incident to Polish investigators.


The need for public truth and openness about the Soviet past was a main theme during the Valdai Discussion Club in September, an annual gathering of Russian and Western pundits. In addition, Sergei Karaganov, who has close ties to the authorities, characterized Russia in a  comment in the July 27 issue of Russia in Global Affairs as "a big Katyn, strewn with nameless graves of the millions of victims of the regime."  Karaganov warned that silence regarding the crimes of Stalin continues to thwart Russia's political progress.


These and other recent developments demonstrate growing support among Russia's political and intellectual elites for a more open and far-reaching public discussion of the Stalin era, something that the country's human rights activists have been advocating for years. But where does the public stand on this issue? To find out, we surveyed 2,009 Russians ages 20 to 59 as part of a project funded by the Ford Foundation and carried out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Moscow polling firm, Levada Center, conducted the survey.


Our data verify that Russians have limited knowledge about the Stalin-era repressions. Only 28 percent correctly indicated that "millions or tens of millions" suffered, 31 percent cited lower figures, 24 percent simply did not know, and 17 percent had never even heard about them. This manifestation of "absent memory" is especially pronounced among 20-year-olds: 35 percent of them have not heard of the repressions. Analogies are problematic, but imagine if 35 percent of Germans in their 20s had never heard of Hitler's genocidal actions. The best informed are the 14 percent of respondents who knew of a relative who had been unjustly arrested — particularly the 8 percent whose relatives were sent to a camp, executed or disappeared. They know more about the Stalin era and hold more critical views.


Our data also show a robust desire to learn more. Forty-five percent agree that "it is important to learn about the Stalin era to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past," while only 24 percent said the country should "move forward and avoid stirring up the past." Among those who had heard of the repressions, 72 percent agreed that the government should do more to make people understand their true scale, and 83 percent agreed that the government should do more to commemorate the victims.


Overall, our survey reveals widespread public interest in starting a national conversation about the Stalin era, as Medvedev attempted one year ago. Human rights activists should take heart that their efforts to encourage such a conversation resonate with the public and have received some support from the top. Indeed, we found that the public views human rights activists on these issues with admiration and respect. All of these data suggest that a coalition of activists, scholars and officials might come together to devise national and local strategies to promote greater knowledge both about victims and perpetrators through schools, public monuments, the arts and mass media. One approach might be to encourage the 16 percent who do not know whether any relatives were victimized to obtain information about their families using the country's freedom of information act, which came into force in January 2009.


Knowing more about what happened is a necessary first step to genuine de-Stalinization. Russia's politicians, public and human rights activists have a great opportunity to work together to explore the truths about the Soviet past. If they seize this opportunity, Russians will be poised to teach other countries valuable lessons about both the necessity and the possibility for societies to reconcile with painful episodes of their past. Let's hope they choose the truth over silence.








After the brutal attack on journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, the public response included daily one-person pickets in front of the Interior Ministry and a large demonstration in central Moscow. These actions were even larger in scope than protests after Anna Politkovskaya was killed in 2007. Perhaps this is because Kashin worked at Kommersant, one of Russia's most respected newspapers, or perhaps it was because the attack on Kashin was one of several attacks on journalists and activists in just one week.


In the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky, journalist Anatoly Adamchuk was beaten up in rather mysterious circumstances. In another Moscow suburb, Khimki, unknown assailants attacked journalist and ecologistKonstantin Fetisov with a baseball bat, causing a serious head injury. Khimki is also a factor in the Kashin attack since he wrote on the planned Moscow-St. Petersburg road through the Khimki forest.


But Kashin had other enemies. Blogger Varfolomeev wrote that his publications angered Young Guard, a pro-Kremlin youth movement. Young Guard posted a text describing Kommersant on its official site: "The newspaper is an underground den for those who hate Russia — a nest of vipers, centipedes and other disgusting creatures from the world of journalism."


Young Guard's site also published an article with a photograph of Kashin titled, "Traitor Journalists Should Be Punished!" This prompted blogger Jabberwokie to note the similarity between the style of Young Guard's publications and newspaper articles about the show trials of the 1930s: "Just change the names and titles, and they are exactly the same."


Blogger Yarsolidarnosc discovered more unsavory activity by pro-Kremlin movements. In Yaroslavl, Steel, the student branch of the pro-Putin youth movement Nashi, posted on its site a document titled, "The Movement's Commandments of Honor." They simply translated the "Ten Commandments of National Socialism" written by Joseph Goebbels with "Russia" replacing "Germany" and without reference to Jews: "Your Homeland is Russia. Love it above all others and in deed more than word. The enemies of Russia are your enemies. Hate them with all your heart. Be proud of Russia. You have to right the be proud of a homeland for which millions have given their lives."


Steel's claim to fame was when it placed photographs of liberal politicians and human rights activists on stakes during the annual pro-Kremlin summer camp in Seliger. Now we know where they may have looked for inspiration.


It is no secret that the movement that called for Kashin to be punished is financed and directed by the presidential administration. For this reason, the Russian blogosphere is skeptical that the people who ordered and carried out the attack will be found. An informal poll conducted by LiveJournal user Blaginin showed that 54 percent of respondents were certain that no one would be found. Only 1 percent believed that the guilty would be found.


The investigation has already been reassigned three times and is now being conducted by an Investigative Committee department headed by Pavel Barkovsky, who has a well-established track record for investigating attacks on journalists. He conducted the investigation into the murders of Forbes Russia editorPaul Klebnikov and Politkovskaya. In both cases, suspects who played minor roles in the crimes were tried but later acquitted in court for lack of evidence.


There are no suspects in the attack on Kashin yet, but the police and investigators have shown a burst of activity. Pavel Pryanikov — aka Hasid, editor of the online magazine Free Press — wrote that the day after the attack on Kashin, several unidentified policemen came to the magazine's office. They were selling a video of the attack from a police surveillance camera. It came out later that they conducted a kind of auction. The largest bidder seems to have been the online publication, which posted the disturbing video of the beating on its site.


Perhaps the criminals who attacked Kashin will be found. But attacks on journalists are unlikely to stop as long as the police hold auctions of crime evidence and pro-governmental organizations are inciting hatred against journalists.








The seven-month imprisonment given to a junior Army officer in Papua, who was shown on YouTube leading the torture of Papuan civilians, defies the sense of justice of any decent and sane person. It's a case of the punishment not fitting the crime. But did the Military Court in Jayapura ever consider the torture, in plain view of all who have seen the video, a criminal act?


Second Lt. Cosmos was found guilty of defying a superior order when he allowed his men to torture civilians suspected of supporting the Papuan separatist movement. His three men each received five month terms for breaching the military code of conduct. The court also found Cosmos guilty of tarnishing the reputation of the Indonesian Military (TNI).


Where is the crime in all of this here? Apparently nowhere.


We learned that the evidence presented in court was not the same video that shocked the world, but instead a different video was shown where the torture was reportedly milder.


One might have been tempted to congratulate the court for handing down heavier punishments than those demanded by the prosecutors. But five to seven months imprisonment is a joke, except that it is not funny.


This charade in the military court gives us a sense of déjà vu. This was how the military dealt with cases of abuse and human rights violations during the Soeharto years. Back then, a case went to a military court and the verdict was either breach of conduct or a violation of procedure. Earlier plans to bring cases like this to a civilian court on criminal charges never materialized — because the issue remains in a deadlock within the House of Representatives.


But the TNI is wrong if it thinks it can get away with this just as it did during the Soeharto years. Times have changed and the military should follow suit, whether in Jakarta, Java, or in Papua. The military court is correct in suggesting cases like this tarnish the TNI's image. What it failed to see is that it also tarnishes the reputations of the government, of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and of the entire nation.


Indonesia cannot claim to be a democracy if military impunity remains the order of the day, especially for clear cut cases of torture. Indonesia should go back to the drawing board on political and military reforms.







The Seoul gathering of the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized and emerging economies, including Indonesia , did not disperse as a miserable failure, as many had feared. However, little progress was made on two of the meeting's most urgent agendas — currency tension and macroeconomic imbalances.


We think it was a wise compromise for the G20 leaders to temporarily put aside the contentious proposal of setting targets for capping current-account surpluses and gauging deficits at specific percentages of gross domestic product in pursuit of achieving exchange rate and trade balances.


However, this does not mean that the G20 has lost its role or its effectiveness as a global policy dialogue forum and coordinating body.


This commitment, which was strengthened by leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), where Indonesia will participate at their summit in Yokohama, Japan, over the weekend, is quite strategic for a more balanced global economy.


More importantly, the leaders who ended their two-day meeting Friday in Seoul remain strongly committed to keeping external imbalances sustainable by coming up with indicative guidelines composed of a range of indicators which would serve as a mechanism to facilitate the timely identification of large imbalances that require preventive and corrective actions.


Also encouraging is their commitment to move toward more market-determined exchange-rate systems, and to avoid competitive devaluation of currencies while enhancing exchange-rate flexibility to reflect underlying economic fundamentals.


This means that until a concrete agreement is achieved next year — as G20 leaders have committed to — unsustainable imbalances will be exposed to adjustments made by fundemental economic forces.


Another decision made by the G20 leaders, one that may further enhance trust between wealthy and emerging economy members, is their agreement to allow emerging economies with increasingly overvalued exchange rates to thwart the undue burden of adjusting to counter-capital inflows by resorting to adhoc capital control mechanisms.


The G20 endorsement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reform through the 6 percent shift of its quota shares to emerging economies is another important step toward a more legitimate, credible and effective IMF — one more reflective of new global economic realities. This reform will generate greater representation for emerging economies, including Indonesia, at the IMF Executive Board.


The special efforts made by Indonesia and their South Korean hosts to elevate the interests of developing nations on the G20 agenda were realized in the so-called "Seoul Development Consensus", as reflected in a multi-year medium term action plan for developing countries.


The G20 leaders made broad pledges not to pursue protectionist policies, and to work instead toward concluding the long-stalled Doha round of trade liberalization talks.


The real key to rebalancing the global economy is ensuring that both goods and capital flow freely to where ever they are needed, which is essentially the foundation of balanced global trade under the pretext of stable exchange rates.








I took a summer class at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University a while ago, long before SBY, our beloved president, gave a speech in the main building of the school.


One of the professors complained of the narrow scope of mainstream economics as a purely quantitative expression and assumption of a homo economicus perspective.  He was arguing that in the end what matters is the evolution of societies within a long-term time frame.


I did not buy in to that argument until I recently paid attention to global news and read a number of articles on what they call the green economy.


The proponent of a green economy firmly says that yes, the economy has been providing a tool for understanding a short-term business cycle, but what is  important is a cycle of evolution of nature, such as global warming and climate change.


While, a short-term cycle corresponds to what we call "economic growth", the evolution cycle corresponds to the "growth in nature" — a growth that refers not only to the economy, but also to social and environmental justice.


What is a green economy anyway? Is it another fancy word for climate change mitigation or adaptation to global warming?


To many, a green economy is nothing but an economy where costs of environmental protection are included in production, but to a few, it also reflects a new perspective of managing the economy where we are living.


To scholars, a green economy is a domain of economic development addressing a notion that growth has to be hand in hand with social and environmental justice, as they are an inseparable fundamental part of a whole — sustainable development.


A green economy is a new deal. A deal that economist and development planners recognize as a market failure to include environmental and climate protection, as well as social justice.


Reasons for the failure are well known. Externality costs, high future commercial rates associated with high initial costs for R&D are among those that have prevented firms from being voluntarily interested in reducing environmentally unfriendly activities.  


Not only has a pending of an environmental crisis occurred, the failure of mainstream economics in our modern world has left one-fifth of humans living in poverty.


Probably it is not too exaggerated to say that a green economy is a deal to overcome such a failure. It addresses simultaneously growth, climate change, biodiversity and poverty within an equitable framework. Yes, it is also not too progressive to say that this is a deal that we cannot let invisible hands alone takes care of.


This is a deal that requires intervention and incentives to motivate firms to invest and produce what we call green products and services. If we agree to that notion, what incentives do they actually need?  How do we best design these? And what sectors in a green economy must we focus on?


Incentives for using renewable energy and low-carbon power generation probably is one of a fundamental element to trigger a green economy. State-of-the-art of current technologies to generate large-scale power from solar, wind, geothermal, marine including wave, biogas, fuel cell, and nuclear must definitely be acquired.


Incentives for green buildings are the next, with green retrofits for energy and water efficiency, for residential and commercial, green products and materials, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction.


Clean transportation is another. This will include incentives for using alternative fuels, enhanced public transit utilization, the development of hybrid and electric vehicles, car-sharing and carpooling programs in urban areas.


Green production is also a must. Incentives must be designed to allow a production processes that only uses material to the extent that they are sustainable.


We may only utilize as much copper as can be recycled, significantly reducing the need for minerals as a finite resource.


Incentives are also needed to improve our way to undertake water reclamation, to maintain ground water and rainwater systems, to manage low-water landscaping and water purification, and to manage storm-water as well as municipal solid waste.


The objective is to prolong the service-life of natural resources, while reducing the potential detrimental effects to nature.


Of course, incentives are required to do our land management. This includes spatial management for organic agriculture, as well as habitat conservation and restoration.


On the one hand, we need to revitalize urban forestry and parks, and on the other hand we are challenged to carry out a large scale reforestation and soil stabilization in rural areas.


In order to attain fair and long-lasting growth, principles must be understood and be treated as a basis for developing green policy initiatives.


First, our economy has to be designed following a belief that our biosphere is a closed system with finite resources and a limited capacity for self-renewal. This belief underwrites that we are inevitably very much depending on natural resources, today and tomorrow.


Therefore, we must create a system that respects the integrity of ecosystems — ensuring the resilience of life supporting systems.


We may call it a principle of "Environmentally Sustainable".


Second, our economy has to be developed based upon the belief that culture and human dignity are precious resources. Like our natural resources, culture and dignity require responsible stewardship to avoid their depletion.


Therefore, we must create a vibrant economic system that ensures all people have access to a decent standard of living and full opportunities for personal and social development.


We may call it a principle of "social justice".


Third, we have to run our economy derived from the belief that an authentic connection to place is the essential pre-condition to sustainability and justice.


Therefore, we must see that our economy has a global aggregate of individual communities meeting the needs of its citizens through the responsible, local production and exchange of goods and services.


We may call it the principle of "local ownership".


With these three principles, carefully designed and executed, a green economy would create both green jobs and ensure real and sustainable economic growth. It can prevent environmental pollution, global warming and resource depletion.


It is time to end the tunneled vision of our regulators. The traditionally accepted concept of "economic growth" is no longer good enough for the people of today and tomorrow.

The writer is director for Energy and Mineral Resources and Mining at the National Development Planning Agency, (BAPPENAS). This is a personal opinion.