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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month december 15, edition 000703, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. CHURCH SETS THE AGENDA
  2. THE SILENT KILLER
  3. WEN AND THE ART OF TAI CHI - CLAUDE ARPI
  4. DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY VS SECURITY - B RAMAN
  5. GETTING ENTANGLED IN INSULAR POLITICS - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  6. A BILATERAL LOVE AFFAIR FUELLED BY OIL AND GAS - VLAD GRINKEVICH

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. END THE DEADLOCK
  2. SHIFTING CONSENSUS
  3. RACE FOR THE CROWN - TUHIN A SINHA
  4. 'THERE'S A MARKET FOR CHILDREN'S CINEMA, WE NEED TO TAP IT' - MEENAKSHI SINHA
  5. TOTAL BRAKE DOWN - JUG SURAIYA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. WORKING OUT WEN AND HOW
  2. AND PAT'S A FACT
  3. MODI OPERANDI - ASHOK MALIK
  4. BEYOND THE GREAT WALL - RUP NARAYAN DAS
  5. A REALITY CHECK - NANDINI R IYER

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. UPPER HOUSE RULES
  2. LISTENING NOW
  3. HE SAID, SHE SAID - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA 
  4. RECALLING KARKARE - Y P RAJESH 
  5. CRACKED IMAGE - MANOJ C G 
  6. A CROWD OF THREE - C. RAJA MOHAN 
  7. OLD MASTERS, NEW CELEBRITY
  8. WORKING BOTH WAYS - PRANABDHALSAMANTA 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. WEN WILL CHINA OPEN UP?
  2. IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
  3. WEN IN INDIA, TIME FOR BUSINESS - AMITENDU PALIT
  4. GREAT JOB, MR BHAVE - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. ENIGMATIC EYES

THE HINDU

  1. OFFENCE AS DEFENCE
  2. SAINA'S MAGIC YEAR
  3. TIME TO RESET THE INDIA-CHINA RELATIONSHIP - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  4. YOU COULD NEVER TELL WITH DICK HOLBROOKE - PRANAY GUPTE
  5. WAR-TORN CHILDHOOD OF THE LOST BOYS OF SUDAN - CRAIG SCHNEIDER
  6. CHERNOBYL NOW OPEN TO TOURISTS - PETER WALKER
  7. HELICOPTERS TO SAVE CROPS

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. BEIJING NEEDS A REALITY CHECK
  2. GIFT OF THE GRAB - INDER MALHOTRA
  3. INDIA'S CLAIM TO THE HIGH TABLE - SATISH KUMAR
  4. THE DRAGON'S TEETH - SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

DNA

  1. NO NICHE FOR ABSTRACT ART IN INDIA
  2. NEED TO RESPECT CULTURAL SENSITIVITIES
  3. P CHIDAMBARAM GETS IT WRONG ON URBAN CRIME
  4. THE SURPRISE ABOUT WIKILEAKS IS THE LACK OF REAL SURPRISES - GWYNNE DYER
  5. DON'T REFUSE TO BE HEALED - RAMESH MENON

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. UNJUSTIFIED DELAY
  2. THEN AND NOW
  3. CORRUPTIONWILL TO FIGHT IT LACKING - BY M K DHAR
  4. HUMAN RIGHTS THEORY DILUTED - BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL
  5. A CAUSE FOR WORRYINCREASING ROAD ACCIDENT - BY AJMER ALAM WANI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. COOPERATION IS THE KEY
  2. COSTLIER BUS TRAVEL
  3. WIKILEAKS WARRIORS
  4. DON'T LOSE THAT PUBLIC VOICE - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. WHEN TIME STOOD STILL - BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)
  6. IT'S A BRANDED EXISTENCE - ASHIMA THAKUR
  7. WHOSE LIFE IS IT, ANYWAY? - MOHIT SHARMA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PRACTICAL RULES
  2. WELCOMING WEN
  3. ARE CELEBRATIONS PREMATURE? - SHYAM SARAN
  4. LOOK AFRESH AT COOLING-OFF RULES - A K BHATTACHARYA
  5. DISPENSING NATIONAL RESOURCES - M J ANTONY
  6. SHOULD AIR FARES BE REGULATED? - SUDHAKARA REDDY D

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. SEEK TRUTH FROM FACTS
  2. PAUCITY OF TAKEOVER FINANCING
  3. HOW AUSSIES CAN WIN THE ASHES
  4. JALAN PANEL DISRESPECTS PARLIAMENT - SANDEEP PAREKH
  5. FUNDS VS REGULATOR'S AUTONOMY - D SWARUP 
  6. SCAM ABOVE PARTISAN PREJUDICE - C L MANOJ 
  7. MURDER, THY OTHER NAME - VITHALC NADKARNI 

THE STATESMAN

  1. BRITTLE AS CHINA
  2. POOR HOMEMAKING
  3. LOOKING FOR ALLIES
  4. THE WRONG RESPONSE - RAJINDER PURI
  5. ARE OUR HIGH COURTS HIGH COURTS?
  6. GLOBAL WARMING AND CIVILISATION - ROKHMIN DAHURI
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

DECCAN  CHRONICALE

  1. GIFT OF THE GRAB - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  2. WIKILEAKS SPURS A SCRAMBLE FOR ARMS - BY HUMA YUSUF
  3. BEIJING NEEDS A REALITY CHECK
  4. IMPORTANCE OF A GURU - BY YOGI ASHWINI
  5. THE DRAGON'S TEETH - BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN
  6. INDIA'S CLAIM TO THE HIGH TABLE - BY SATISH KUMAR

DECCAN HERALD

  1. NEEDLESS DILUTION
  2. NEW KIND OF LIFE?
  3. SCANDALS GALORE - BY S N CHARY
  4. NUCLEAR POWER IS NO PANACEA - BY PANDURANG HEGDE
  5. GAMBLING IN GOD'S NAME - BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN

THE JERUSALEM  POST

  1. JEWISH LOYALTIES
  2. BETWEEN OPEN DISCOURSE AND SILENCED OPPOSITION - BY RONIT SELA  
  3. YALLA PEACE: A LIFE WITH NO SHAME - BY RAY HANANIA  
  4. THE LION'S DEN: POURING COLD WATER ON WIKILEAKS - BY DANIEL PIPES  
  5. SELLERS VS. BUYERS - BY SHOSH RABINOWITZ  
  6. RICHARD HOLBROOKE – A CHAMPION OF US-ISRAEL RELATIONS - BY DANNY AYALON  

HAARETZ

  1. A CONSUMER COUP
  2. THE BILL'S ON US - BY SHAUL ARIELI
  3. SLAVE MASTERS AGAINST THEIR WILL - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
  4. IT'S NOT THE SAME TURKEY - BY MICHAEL HERZOG
  5. BETTER THAN WIKILEAKS - BY ALUF BENN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. ADVISE AND OBSTRUCT
  2. A LAST CHANCE TO MAKE HISTORY
  3. HOW TO TURN OFF VOTERS
  4. RICHARD HOLBROOKE - BY CARLA ANNE ROBBINS
  5. USURPER IN CHIEF? - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. WE'VE ONLY GOT AMERICA A - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  7. GIVE UP ON THE ESTATE TAX - BY RAY D. MADOFF
  8. WORDS OF DIPLOMACY - BY RICHARD HOLBROOKE

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON EDUCATION: 'WE'RE NO. 15!' DOESN'T CUT IT IN TODAY'S GLOBAL ECONOMY
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON EDUCATION: ELEVATE THE TEACHING PROFESSION - BY DENNIS VAN ROEKEL
  3. SENIORS, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU - BY ROBERT LIPSYTE
  4. PROSECUTE ASSANGE WITH ESPIONAGE ACT - BY DAVID RIVKIN AND BRUCE BROWN

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. COUNTY LEADERS STIFF VOTERS
  2. PROBLEMS IN NATION'S SKIES
  3. IT'S COLD OUTSIDE!
  4. INMATES MUST NOT RUN PRISONS
  5. DOES THE CONSTITUTION SAY ...?
  6. WILL OPEC REMIND US -- AGAIN?

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - DETERMINING IRAQ'S MASSOUD BARZANI
  2. STRATEGIC DEPTH - THE SELF-AGGRANDIZING VERSION - BURAK BEKDİL
  3. A MURDER AND A WORLD WITHOUT ISLAM - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  4. NO HANDICAPS TO FLYING - UĞUR CEBECİ
  5. AN INDECENT ALLIANCE - YUSUF KANLI
  6. IVORY COAST: A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES - GWYNNE DYER
  7. ISRAEL IS MAKING A MISTAKE, TURKEY IS NOT LIKE ARABS - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  8. LIFESTYLE CONCERNS NEVER END IN THIS COUNTRY - İSMET BERKAN

THE NEWS

  1. THE APATHY FACTOR
  2. WAR OF WORDS
  3. HOLBROOKE'S DEATH
  4. DEMYSTIFYING FOREIGN AID - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  5. VOICES OF SANITY - RAOOF HASAN
  6. BEHIND THIS US INFLUENCE - ZAFAR HILALY
  7. A WEDDING AMID WHISPERS - NASSER YOUSAF
  8. MUSHARRAF IN POLITICS -  RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  9. BLASPHEMY LAWS - NAUMAN ASGHAR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MQM NEEDS A STOUT DEFENCE
  2. SBP'S PANACEA FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH
  3. CULTURE OF ACCOUNTABILITY IN IRAN
  4. KARZAI'S LATEST RUSE - M ASHRAF MIRZA
  5. GAME OF PUNCHES - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. THE CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE IN PAKISTAN - SHAKEEL AHMED
  7. A REGIONAL THREAT - YOUSAF ALAMGIRIAN
  8. WHAT'S NEXT IN IRAQ? - DAVID IGNATIUS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE AS NSW GETS SET TO PRIVATISE POWER
  2. DECLUTTERING THE POLICY AGENDA
  3. CONFRONTING THE TERROR MENACE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. DRAWING A LINE ON WIKILEAKS
  2. LEAD THEM NOT INTO TEMPTATION
  3. VOTERS DELIVER UNEXPECTED BONUS TO BAILLIEU
  4. A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … BERNIE SANDERS
  2. WRITTEN CONSTITUTION: MORE MOUSE THAN LION
  3. INFLATION: GEORGE OSBORNE'S HEADACHE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST JULIAN ASSANGE - BY GWYNNE DYER
  2. THE KREMLIN RESETS RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY - BY TINA BURRETT
  3. A FORCE FOR GOOD OR EVIL? - BY ALAN GOODALL
  4. PREVENTING A CURRENCY WAR - BY BARRY EICHENGREEN AND DOUGLAS IRWIN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?
  2. FINALLY SOME COMMON SENSE
  3. FORESTRY AND CLIMATE CHANGE: CANCUN CHANGES THE GAME - ALAN OXLEY
  4. WHAT DOES PISA SAY ABOUT GLOBAL EDUCATION - MARIO RUSTAN
  5. DON'T BE LOSERS YOGYA, THE FUTURE IS YOURS - SAPTOPO B ILKODAR
  6. PARTNERSHIP KEY IN EDUCATION - MICHELLE SAMPOERNA

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. NEW TRACES OF POLONIUM-210 - BY YULIA LATYNINA
  2. ASSANGE AND THE ANARCHIST WAR AGAINST THE U.S. - BY YEVGENY BAZHANOV
  3. THE RISE AND FALL OF PUTINISM - BY LYUDMILA ALEXEYEVA 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CHURCH SETS THE AGENDA

WILL LEFT EAT HUMBLE PIE FOR VOTES?


The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council has announced that the Church will not pardon the CPI(M)-led ruling Left Democratic Front in the State unless and until the Government and the Marxists change their attitude towards institutions run by the clergy. With this, the efforts of the CPI(M) to make peace with the powerful Catholic Church, whose antagonistic stand had contributed heavily to the LDF's rout in last year's Lok Sabha election and the recent civic polls, have failed miserably. Even the placatory clarification issued by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has failed to win over the Church and its followers. The Catholic Bishops' Council has a major demand on its agenda: It wants the CPI(M)-led Government to abandon its perceived move aimed at controlling the professional colleges run by Christian managements. The Church also wants the Left leaders to cease their tirade against the senior clergy. 


Apart from these issues, the Church has for long been demanding that the Marxists should recognise the importance of religious belief in social life, which it says the Communists, with their emphasis on the dialectics of materialism, fail to understand. The CPI(M), on its part, has been trying to re-establish its lost relationship with the Church with unprecedented urgency after its LDF ally, the CPI, made some overtures to the clergy with the intention of cashing in on the situation. However, a patch-up with the Church now seems impossible for the Marxists to attain before the Assembly election due in May 2011. The Marxists are worried that this attitude of the Church, coupled with the anti-incumbency sentiment and estrangement of majority of Muslims and several of its earlier allies from the LDF in the past two years, could lead to a stunning setback for the Left in the Assembly election.


However, doubts are now being expressed by several sections that the Catholic Church is perhaps trying to dictate terms to the political parties and it is refusing to honour the general sentiment of the Keralites on several crucial issues. The suspension of Prof TJ Joseph, the victim of a Taliban-like Islamist attack, from service for preparing an allegedly blasphemous question paper, is one such issue. Prof Joseph was set upon by Islamist fanatics who chopped off one of his hands; that was meant to send out a stern message to all intellectuals. The suspension of the professor was condemned by various political parties, MG University to which his college is affiliated and the Kerala Government — not once, but several times. But the KCBC has been defending the college's action against the professor, saying he was sacked for not showing the "moral responsibility" to correct his mistake of hurting the sentiments of Muslims through the question paper. From the day of the suspension, the Congress has defended the action of the Church-run college's management, obviously to lure Christian voters and pander to Islamists in Kerala. Fears are now being expressed that the Congress's over-dependence on minority votes could create a situation where the UDF it leads would have to obey the commands of minority religious bodies and fanatics, even at the cost of infuriating other communities, if it comes to power next summer. If the CPI(M) is able to play this card effectively, it could well regain some of the ground it has lost. 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

THE SILENT KILLER

MALNUTRITION STALKS URBAN POOR


There is overwhelming evidence to establish a symbiotic relationship between malnutrition and children of migrant labourers living in urban slums. The recent death of 16 children, all of them less than six years old, from malnutrition and related illnesses in the last eight months in just one area of Mumbai serves to underscore urban poverty and the non-existence of even rudimentary healthcare system for the poor in our cities. These tragic deaths also highlight deep-rooted problems afflicting urban slums, where children are exposed to unhygienic condition, pollution and contamination due to overcrowding and lack of basic civic amenities. What should concern authorities is that malnutrition in urban slums remains neglected by policy-makers. Studies have shown that the nutritional status of slum children is even lower than the rural average. It is primarily because families living in urban slums do not qualify for the 'below poverty line' category. Moreover, the maternal and child health services that occupy an important place in socio-economic development programmes have failed to address the problems in urban slums because they follow the rural model. These services have failed to take into account that with both parents working, children are usually left unattended and neglected; that they are born with nutritional disadvantage because their mothers are malnourished and not in the best of health; and that they are more vulnerable to communicable diseases. Slum-dwellers are often ignorant of the fact that malnutrition is a silent killer. 


Since migration from rural to urban areas will continue to happen, Government must work on providing better living conditions, access to clean water and healthcare for migrant workers. If Mumbai has only 183 public health posts and 162 public healthcare centres for over 82 lakh slum-dwellers, the situation in other smaller cities and towns can well be imagined. There is no denying that Integrated Child Development Services in cities is in a shambles with inadequate staff and thus fails to provide the necessary services, including vaccinating children, and monitor their health. What we need is a separate set of services for urban areas, especially urban slums. A point that often gets ignored is that there has been a steep rise in the level of urban poverty over the past few years. This is primarily because of increased migration to urban areas by those seeking jobs as workers on construction sites or in factories. This in turn has led to a steep rise in the number of people living in already crowded urban slums. The results, understandably, are sufficiently scary to make authorities worry about the future. The solution does not lie in regulating migration, but in ensuring migrants do not pay for absence of policy. 


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

WEN AND THE ART OF TAI CHI

CLAUDE ARPI


Make no mistake: Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are like a restaurant sugar packet, black on one side and white on the other, but still part of the same whole.


W ho is China's First Dissident? Many China observers believe that it is not Mr Liu Xiaobo who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but the Prime Minister (or Premier in Communist jargon) of the country, Mr Wen Jiabao, who will be visiting India between December 15 and 17. During the last few months, Mr Wen Jiabao has spoken on several occasions on the same theme as the Nobel Laureate; each time he has been censured by the 'authorities' of his own country. 


Take his visit to the United States in September. Mr Wen Jiabao was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria for CNN's Global Public Square. When Zakaria asked Mr Wen Jiabao about freedom of speech in China, the suave Premier, known as 'Grandpa Wen' in the Middle Kingdom, replied, "I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country — a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong. Freedom of speech has been incorporated into the Chinese Constitution." He then continued in the same vein, "I often say that we should not only let people have the freedom of speech, we more importantly must create conditions to let them criticise the work of the Government."


When Liu Xiaobo had said the same thing, he was jailed for 11 years. Well, it might be the prerogative of the Premier of the State Council to not be jailed but only censured. Ironically, it is the same State Council which sentenced Mr Liu Xiaobo.


More than being a dissident, Mr Wen Jiabao has probably an extraordinary capacity of adaptation and survival. On May 19, 1989, the director of the general office of the Communist Party of China walked with his boss, CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, to meet the youth who had gathered at Tiananmen Square. Zhao Ziyang told the students, "I have to ask you to think carefully about the future." He assured them that all issues could be dealt with peacefully.


One of the issues that bothered the students was that their protest was labelled as 'turmoil' by the party rather than a patriotic movement. For the youth on the Square, the description mattered greatly: They felt that their motivations were being questioned. The director was Mr Wen Jiabao. Two weeks later, tanks of the People's Liberation Army rolled into Tiananmen Square and crushed the protest. 


An interesting debate is today going on in China: Is Mr Wen Jiabao 'putting on a show' when he speaks about democratic reforms? Due to the extreme opaqueness of the regime in Beijing, the question is not easy to answer. The South China Morning Post mentioned a letter written by some former senior editors and journalists (including the nonagenarian secretary of Mao Tse-tung). The Hong Kong-based paper wrote: "The sponsors of the open letter seemed most outraged by the fact that even Wen had been censored. They cited examples of his speech in Shenzhen on August 21, a talk with journalists in the US on September 22, and his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23."


Living in India, the 'largest democracy in the world', it is difficult to imagine a Prime Minister who is not free to speak his mind or has portions of his speeches deleted by an all-powerful Propaganda Department. When the question about Mr Wen Jiabao was asked to Mr Du Daozheng, director of the editorial board at Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine (former Chinese edition of Asiaweek), he had a different view: "(Wen) has always worked tirelessly for opening and reform… He is also a living person, with his own thread of life… This is not 'putting on a show'. I think that his manner and actions are based on his wide knowledge and the excellent traditions of Chinese culture."


But people like Yu Jie, the author of China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao do not believe that 'Grandpa Wen' is a reformist. In an interview with BBC's Chinese service, Yu Jie said: "Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao are like the two sides of a coin. They are on a tandem bike, heading in the same direction. I think they are playing the good-guy-bad-guy routine, like the harsh-dad-loving-mum sort of thing." 


There is a fascinating cable from the US Ambassador to China about Beijing's Tibet policy in one of the Wikileaks releases. In April 2008, Ambassador Clark T Randt tends to have the same perception as Yu Jie: "While there may be differences in how various leaders have publicly articulated China's Tibet policy, there are no substantive differences among the top leadership. (Contact) xxxx asserted that, on Tibet, Hu and Wen are like a 'restaurant sugar packet', black on one side and white on the other, but still part of the same whole." That is exactly the point: Mr Wen Jiabao gives a 'milder' face to a regime which remains basically undemocratic.

What can India expect from Mr Wen Jiabao's visit? Regarding the dispute over stapled visas for Indian citizens living in Jammu & Kashmir, nothing will be announced during the visit though Beijing's policy will probably be progressively relaxed. Mr Wen Jiabao will say that his Government is working hard to reduce the trade deficit with India. With a contingent of 400 businesspersons, the Premier is scheduled to witness the signing of some 45 business deals between Indian and Chinese companies. He may even beat US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and take back home some $20 billion in contracts. The fact remains that imports from Tibet remain nil this year at Nathu-la pass in Sikkim.


But China being China, Mr Wen Jiabao will bring nothing directly home. He will first visit Islamabad and assure China's 'all-weather friend' of Beijing's unconditional support and probably supply nuclear power reactors in contravention with international laws. South Block will probably pretend not to notice this practice of Chinese leaders to visit Islamabad after New Delhi, a practice that has been discontinued by leaders of other 'friendly' countries.

 

One issue should however be strongly taken up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: The construction of dams on Brahmaputra. A few days ago, the Chinese TV announced the opening of a new road reaching right to the Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh: "The harsh natural conditions meant building a highway connecting Motuo (Metok) to outside world was once considered a dream. However, just in a week, the last tunnel is due to be completed for the Motuo Highway and the dream will come true," saidCCTV reporter Yin Xiang.


For India, this might prove to be a nightmare. In 2004, 'Grand Pa' Wen had managed to block the construction of a large hydropower plant on Salween river. He used his 'influence' to demand an in-depth study of the likely impact on the local ecology and communities. His decision deeply upset the power companies as well as local vested interests. Why can't he do the same for the proposed dams on Yarlung Tsangpo, or Brahmaputra? He would then truly be a 'good guy'! 


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THE PIONEER

OPED

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY VS SECURITY

B RAMAN


The recent humiliating experience of India's Ambassador to the US and our Permanent Representative at the UN has served to highlight differences between the US State Department and the Homeland Security Department over courtesies to be extended to diplomats. Has US airport security been taken to absurd limits? Or is it inevitable given the security environment of the times?


Even in the past, there have been instances of humiliating body search of Indian diplomats and visiting dignitaries at US airports. The controversy over this has assumed serious dimensions following two recent incidents.

In the first incident reported on December 4, 2010, Ms Meera Shankar, India's Ambassador to the US, was subjected to a hands-on (pat-down) body search at an airport in Mississippi even after her diplomatic status had been revealed. She had been picked out of a security line at Jackson-Evers International Airport reportedly because she was wearing a sari. She was taken to a separate room and searched.


There was a similar incident a fortnight ago in which Mr Hardeep Puri, India's Permanent Representative at the UN based in New York, was asked to remove his turban at an airport in Houston, Texas. When he refused to do so, he was detained in a 'holding room' for half-and-hour and was allowed to leave after a Transportation Security Administration official intervened. He reportedly declined to allow the security officials to subject him to a pat-down body search.


A pat-down search means patting the entire body from head to foot in order to see whether there is any concealed object attached to the body. The procedures provide for a pat-down of even genitals and breasts. Under new security procedures introduced earlier this year, airline passengers are required to undergo either a full body scan by an x-ray machine or a manual pat-down search. Anyone refusing to agree to one of them cannot board an aircraft.


This procedure was introduced after an incident on December 25, 2009, in which a Nigerian student trained by Al Qaeda in Yemen tried unsuccessfully to blow up a US plane over Detroit. He had concealed an improvised explosive device inside his underwear and taken advantage of the fact that at the Amsterdam airport where he boarded the plane there was no full body scanner at the departure gate through which he boarded. Nor was there a provision for a pat-down search.


The introduction of the new procedure in the US has come in for criticism from the travelling public in the US. According to the BBC, President Barack Obama has reportedly told the TSA: "You have to constantly refine and measure whether what we're doing is the only way to assure the American people's safety." The BBC has also quoted Ms Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, as stating that she would not submit to a security pat-down "if I could avoid it". She added that everyone, "including our security experts, are looking for ways to diminish the impact on the travelling public" and that "striking the right balance is what this is about". Mr Robert Gibbs, the White House Press spokesman, has said that the US airport security agency is "desperately" working to balance travellers' privacy concerns with security needs. Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole said in an interview to ABC television that there would be no short-term changes, but added: "What I'm doing is going back and looking at, are there less invasive ways of doing the same type of screening?" These remarks by Mr Obama, Ms Clinton and other officials were in response to the criticism from the US travelling public and not in response to the protests from the Government of India over the two incidents mentioned above.


The response to the Indian protests has been typical — with the State Department expressing its concern over the incident relating to Ms Meera Shankar, but US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying that the pat-down search had been "appropriate".


These incidents draw attention once again to the differences that continue to prevail in the US between the State Department and the Homeland Security Department over courtesies to be extended to diplomats and visiting foreign dignitaries. While the State Department opposes such courtesies being sacrificed in the interest of security, the Homeland Security Department sticks to its position that the security of all passengers is paramount and that if a diplomat is to be subjected to the same procedures as others, so be it.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any improvement in the position in future as a result of the Indian protests. The conflict over diplomatic courtesies between Foreign Offices and the Security agencies is a global phenomenon. In Israel, there was a similar incident in 2007, when a senior British woman diplomat was subjected to body search by the Shin Bet security guards when she went to the Prime Minister's office. An interesting article on the subject carried by the Israeli daily Haaretz is annexed. 


Public outrage in India over the US humiliation to Indian diplomats has led to demands for a tit-for-tat policy. This could become counter-productive and lead to a messy situation. Presently, the instructions to our Central Industrial Security Force, which is responsible for airport security, is to treat all foreign diplomats — junior or senior — and visiting foreign dignitaries with courtesy. As a result, India enjoys the reputation of treating foreign diplomats and dignitaries with the courtesies they are entitled to under the Vienna Convention. If we make an exception in the case of US diplomats and authorise the CISF to subject them to body searches under the rule of reciprocity of treatment, we may find it difficult to control the CISF if they adopt these procedures in the case of diplomats of other countries too.


We must look for some other dignified solution in consultation with the US State Department. One understands that in London's Heathrow Airport if diplomats book the VIP lounge in advance and proceed to the aircraft directly from the lounge accompanied by a representative of the airline, they are not searched. However, if they arrive late and proceed directly to the aircraft from their car, they have to go through normal security procedures. Something on these lines could be worked out. A posting on this from a Heathrow website is also attached. 

-- The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

GETTING ENTANGLED IN INSULAR POLITICS

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


The Trinamool Congress has decided to give priority to local issues in its fight for political supremacy in West Bengal, thus undermining its emergence in national politics. It needs to look beyond issues that are of concern only to this State


Congress's refusal to blink on the Joint Parliamentary Committee demand from the Opposition on the 2G Spectrum scam was a boon to the principal rival of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal. With continued impasse in Parliament and disrupted business, uncomfortable issues such as amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill could be easily shelved. 


The longer it took to break the deadlock the better it was for the Trinamool Congress; it could bargain with the Congress, it could campaign in West Bengal about local issues and it could avoid being held to account for propping up a Government at the Centre that is soft on corruption. Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress could engage in a game of one-upmanship with the CPI(M) and keep one section of West Bengal's public insulated from the complexities of national issues thereby shrinking the political space into a backyard size one.


In its effort to substantiate its claims as the challenger that will usher in positive change, the Trinamool Congress began its new innings in adopting a thoroughly destructive agenda. Its subsequent course correction and its obvious pride in its achievements via the railways is a pointer that destructiveness is not good political strategy. It now needs to extricate itself from the dead end into which it has wilfully entered by rejecting the idea of land acquisition by Government. Instead, the Trinamool Congress should feel immensely satisfied that it has changed the terms on which land acquisitions can be done across India. By keeping its focus limited to West Bengal, it is losing the opportunity to claim credit for a revision that impacts the rest of India. Instead of being trapped by its insular politics, the Trinamool Congress should stake its claim to have emerged as a game changer on the land acquisition issue, which is a huge achievement for a new regional party. 


Because of its home spun mystique, the Trinamool Congress has given priority to the local in its political fight for supremacy in West Bengal converting the game into one of mostly showmanship. Charisma counts because it attracts the attention of the masses and Ms Mamata Banerjee is using her charisma to thunder from the dais, to sound radical and convey the common touch, thereby missing the chance to establish her role in national policy making. 

The strategy of the principal rivals in West Bengal's fiercely competitive politics can be summed up as playing "catch me if you can". If one side organises a public rally in Burdwan then the other side must also organise a public rally with the aim of outdoing the first rally in terms of the numbers of people who attended. Since there are no exact figures of rally attendance, it's all a matter of guess. The ostensible beneficiaries of all these competitive games that political parties are playing are the local transport operators, the dais and public address system operators, flag, festoon and banner makers. 


The assault on voters by the political parties is intensifying by the hour, even though the elections for the fiercely contested State Assembly is still several months away. Like a game of round and round the mulberry bush, the two principal rivals, are locked in a race to mobilise crowds; each side is required to mobilise more than the other side. What matters is who has the greater crowd pulling capacity — Ms Banerjee or Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. 

The rivalry has been good in that each side is out to prove that it is the better choice for the voter. Therefore, West Bengal has been bequeathed large numbers of new trains and assurances that railway workshops, factories, stadia, nursing colleges, sports complex will be set up. Not to be outdone, the West Bengal Government has revived its industrialisation programme after the setback of Singur and Nandigram. Infosys, that fought shy over investing in West Bengal, has signed up to set up a unit that will employ 20,000 people. Construction of the 'financial hub' is slated to start in January; an agreement was signed between the West Bengal Government and the Union Finance Ministry on developing the infrastructure on the lines of the one in Mumbai earlier this year.


The rivalry has worked in other unpredictable ways. The opposition to the security operations against the Maoists has exerted sufficient pressure on the West Bengal Government to compel it to show results. The recent arrest of Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan and three others is part of the success that can be claimed in the operations against the Maoists. By identifying the links between the Maoists and the insurgency outfits in the North East based on shared information and action by intelligence and police agencies, the effectiveness of the State in dealing with threats to its existence has been re-established. 


By asserting that the interim council in Darjeeling would be an elected body, the West Bengal Government has finally stopped yielding to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha troublemakers. For the CPI(M), this is a giant step forward in upholding the rule of law in an area where it had weakly surrendered to the outrageous demands of various leaders, starting with Subhash Ghising and ending with Bimal Gurung. By firmly rejecting the demands of Gurung and his party to a self appointed interim Darjeeling Hill Council to replace the earlier DGHC, the West Bengal Government has taken a stand that includes the risk of the situation in the hills escalating into a confrontation between the agitators and the administration. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A BILATERAL LOVE AFFAIR FUELLED BY OIL AND GAS

BEIJING HAS ENTERED INTO A STRATEGIC RELATIONSHIP WITH MOSCOW WITH THE SOLE INTENTION OF DIVERSIFYING ITS ENERGY IMPORTS, SAYS VLAD GRINKEVICH


Russia and China have enjoyed a close but lopsided economic relationship since the mid-2000s. Beijing sees its giant neighbour to the west rather as little more than a source of energy and other commodities to feed China's rapidly growing economy. The results of recent meetings between senior Russian officials and China's premier Wen Jiabao suggest that the relationship is unlikely to change anytime soon.


Oil, sweet oil 


During his November 24 talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Chinese Premier announced that earlier in the day a total of 13 contracts were signed, worth $8.5 billion in total.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who spoke with his Chinese counterpart ahead of the talks with Mr Medvedev, said that over the year's first eight months, bilateral Russia-China trade had grown by more than 57 per cent on average, with an 83 per cent increase in timber sales, 40 per cent in electricity, and 30 per cent in coal.

According to official statistics in China, exports of Chinese machinery and electronics to Russia grew over this same period by 96.6 per cent. Russia also exports high-tech products into China, but most of them are related to the energy sector.


Energy has been, by far, the most prominent issue on the two countries' bilateral economic agenda in recent years. The most high-profile project is the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline and its offshoot linking Russia's coastal town of Skovorodino and the Chinese border town of Mohe. Fuel prices and Russian gas deliveries to China are also high on the agenda.


Beijing is extremely interested in diversifying its energy imports. At the moment, its fuel needs are met mainly by imports from Gulf countries, such as Iran and Oman. This makes Chinese energy policy heavily dependent on US and EU policies, hence China's heightened interest in the energy wealth of Russia and Kazakhstan.


The first bilateral memorandums on joint projects in the energy sector were signed in 2006, to be implemented over a period of 15 years. These projects will result in two gas pipelines, with a maximum annual capacity of 80 billion cubic meters (supply contracts are to be signed before mid-2011), as well as the already mentioned Skovorodino-Mohe offshoot and a joint venture to build an oil refinery and a gas station in China.

East vs West on the gas market


Russia, long a purveyor of commodities for developed Western economies, is now playing that same role in the developing East. And the reality is that commodities will likely remain the only real driver of Russia's economic growth for some time to come. With this in mind, the diversification of its exports is becoming a matter of extreme importance.


The future of Western economies looks quite bleak now. Alarming signals are coming from China, too, but overall, its economy is posting high growth rates. Also, Russia could use other potential buyers as an additional bargaining chip in negotiations with its partners. In fact, Russian politicians declare every now and then that the country seeks to totally reorient its natural gas exports away from Europe towards China. This does not seem realistic at this point, as Gazprom is bound by long-term commitments to Western customers.


No longer the big brother


Back in the Soviet era, the Chinese looked up to Russia as a big brother figure, who would introduce them to modern industrial technology. Now, 50 years on, the roles have been reversed, and Russia is looking to China for help in its bid to overcome its technological backwardness. Russia hopes this help will come in the form of Chinese investment in Russia's industrial sector. Investors from the 'Middle Country,' as China calls itself, are willing to invest in Russia, but they insist on terms that are unlikely to promote any meaningful transfer of high technology.

Last fall, Russia and China adopted a strategic programme for bilateral cooperation through the year 2018. This programme includes 205 large-scale collaborative projects, and most of these will involve the joint development and production of oil, gas and mineral deposits in Russia, with processing to take place on Chinese soil.


Beijing's logic is simple and clear. Such projects will enable it to solve two problems at once — gaining long-coveted access to the mineral wealth of Russia's Far East and Siberia while also reducing the demographic strain inside China.


Small wonder, then, that Chinese partners always insist on using their own workforce at enterprises and construction sites set up in cooperation with Russia. Many of these projects are now being carried out in Russia's Far East, and locals watching Chinese migrant workers at work are often heard to remark, "They're building great things ... for themselves".


-- The writer is a Moscow-based economic affairs commentator.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

END THE DEADLOCK

 

Very recently, our parliamentarians rewarded themselves with a three-fold pay raise. Parliament's just-concluded winter session makes the nation wonder just what their pay is for. Legislative business collapsed over 23 straight days. Lok Sabha, it's estimated, functioned for just 5.5 per cent of the time available in the session's duration; Rajya Sabha fared worse. Demanding a JPC probe into the 2G scam, the opposition now warns that the impasse could hit February's all-important Budget session. Is protracted non-cooperation between the treasury benches and opposition any way to combat corruption? Scams have dented India's image. The political class's opportunism and bellicosity make for an even bigger public relations disaster. 


When it came to power, it was felt that UPA-II, with a reforms-friendly prime minister and rid of the Left's shackles, was stable enough to focus on boosting the economy. Today, there's loose talk of mid-term polls, with elements within the ruling coalition itself fanning uncertainty. HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh recently said the prevailing "environment of negativity" risks undermining our growth story. He's right. India's growth data may be enviable and its economic fundamentals strong enough to lure investments. But beyond a point, global investors watch out for more than just pretty statistics and hoped-for gains. It's an open question if recent capital outflows suggest disenchantment kicking in. In global risk perceptions about India, graft and red tape already figure. Add paralysed governance to the list, and investors could stay away. 


Prevented all too often from expanding locally, India Inc too is increasingly going overseas, as Parekh points out. Significantly, key Bills remain stymied whose passing would spur industrialisation, infrastructure-building and job creation. Land acquisition and mining sector reform languishes even as land-related agitations rage and delays in mining's revamp deepen the sector's opacity, giving a further fillip to corruption despite netas engaging in political theatre around it. Also blocked is tax reform and, with it, the creation of a much-needed common market. The BJP's recent boycott of negotiations on GST is yet another case of economic good falling prey to political brinkmanship. 


Yet India has a chance to resolutely push systemic changes promoting greater transparency and accountability. Political institutions, corporate governance and watchdog entities have all come under a cloud. We don't need witch-hunts but collective action to aid investigations and punish power's abuse. The prime minister has promised to probe government's use or misuse of phone-tapping. Legalising lobbying is another area for debate. Above all, government and opposition must seek compromise, ending the parliamentary gridlock that has huge socio-economic costs. If what's broken is to be mended, we'll need all hands on deck.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SHIFTING CONSENSUS

 

First, it was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, then US President Barack Obama with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel following suit. The clarity and forcefulness with which high-profile world leaders have denounced terrorism as a tool of state policy to be used against India or any other nation - and explicitly in the context of Pakistan being the originator - is heartening. It is a consensus that has taken a decade to evolve as the attacks after 9/11 - from Theo Van Gogh to the London blasts, the attempted Times Square bombing and any number of such incidents - have brought home the immediacy of the extremist threat in the West. And the common language these world leaders are speaking now is essential in tackling that threat. 


Islamabad, however, is responding in the old language of victimhood and denial. In the wake of Sarkozy and Merkel's comments, the foreign affairs ministry in Islamabad summoned the French and German envoys to express its displeasure. The argument that Pakistan has lost numerous civilians and military personnel to terrorist attacks itself, and therefore cannot be held to blame, is neither here nor there. Pakistan has indeed suffered greatly and continues to do so. But what it shows is that the extremist elements cultivated by the military and intelligence leadership have slipped their leash. All the more reason to stop backing any and all such elements - even those currently perceived as assets for the Pakistani state - instead of adopting the kind of selective approach that WikiLeaks has exposed. It is not simply a matter of other nations taking a stand against such double standards. It is about Islamabad's will to protect its own people, let alone others.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

 TOP ARTICLE

RACE FOR THE CROWN

TUHIN A SINHA

 

In December 2009 when Nitin Gadkari became president of the BJP, the party was in disarray. After its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, a fierce blame game was on, dissidence had touched an all-time high and a clear roadmap for the future seemed like a distant dream. At that stage, a state unit president with no experience at the national level taking over the leadership of India's second largest political party was bound to be greeted with cynicism. 

Gadkari's success in the last one year lies in transforming that cynicism into plausible optimism. From being thrashed in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP today is in revival mode and is raring to have a go at the 2014 elections. Of course, one needs to be fair and give due credit for this to the indifferent Congress-led government at the Centre as well. 


There are three conspicuous changes that make the BJP a different party today than what it was a year ago. 

One, the party has finally succeeded in changing people's perceptions about its core brand positioning. So now when one mentions BJP to a layman, there is a greater likelihood that the first reaction will have to do with good governance in BJP-ruled states rather than Hindutva. There are several factors that have made this change possible, the most notable being the generational shift in leadership and the party president's progressive image. In Gadkari, you have an unconventional leader whose speeches dwell on irrigation needs, biofuel, reuse of water et al. Gadkari, thanks to his experience of having executed the 
Mumbai-Pune Expressway project, is among the strongest proponents of public-private partnerships for meeting the country's infrastructure needs and can talk for hours about how its variants can be employed in the social sector. The party has started its own biotechnology, economic and good governance cells to come up with suggestions which are at times instantly utilised by its state governments. All these mark a constructive, qualitative change in the running of an Indian political party. 


Two, Gadkari is a better strategist and organiser than at least two of his immediate predecessors. The best evidence of this comes in the deft micro-management that went into the party's campaign in the Bihar elections. Aided by a string of national leaders who were assigned different campaign zones and an in-house psephologist who kept updating the party's prospects in every constituency, the party was able to field the largest number of winnable candidates. The party's success in the Seemanchal belt which has a decisive Muslim population was particularly crucial. It shows the BJP was successful in selling "good governance" even to those sections that had so far kept away from it. 


Three, Gadkari has managed to quell dissidence. So while one does hear an occasional outburst from Ram Jethmalani or Arun Shourie, these are isolated cases. If one compares it with the Congress's position vis-a-vis Jagan Reddy, the party doesn't have much to worry about as of now. The flip side, of course, is the party's inability to arrest corruption in Karnataka. Every week, a new scandal emerges and the party's inability to fix the problem makes its credibility suffer. 


The big question today is: Can the changed BJP unseat the Congress and form the government in 2014? Three states - UP, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which together have 161 Lok Sabha constituencies - hold the answer. 

In UP, both the 
Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are on the downslide. The Congress and the BJP thus have a huge opportunity. Knowing the importance of UP in deciding the fate of Lok Sabha elections, the BJP will be putting its 'Bihar model' to the test in the assembly elections due in 2012. The key will be to secure as many seats as possible so that the party approaches the general elections with good ground support. 


In Andhra Pradesh, the fate of the Congress is uncertain. Also, the emergence of multiple strong players will mean that at least one of them will follow the dictum, "An enemy's enemy is a friend," and would want to tie up with the BJP to get even with the Congress. This again puts the BJP at an advantage. 


In Tamil Nadu, the Congress's decision to stick it out with the DMK despite overt feelers from Jayalalithaa means that she will have to scout for other alliance partners at the national level. Given her past dalliances with the BJP, she's more likely to revive the alliance than to pursue an illusory Third Front. 


Of course, these dynamics will only work in a situation where the BJP holds on to most of the Lok Sabha seats it has under its belt now and its performance in Maharashtra, which was abysmal in the last elections, shows an improvement. 

Just one-and-a-half years after the last Lok Sabha elections, from seeming virtually invincible, the Congress today is a party in disarray. And from being in dire straits just a year back, the BJP now is gearing up to give the Congress a run for its money in the 2014 elections. To make that a reality though, the party can ill-afford to ignore its unending problems in Karnataka and their repercussions on the party's credibility. 


The writer is an author-scriptwriter and columnist.

 

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                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'THERE'S A MARKET FOR CHILDREN'S CINEMA, WE NEED TO TAP IT'

MEENAKSHI SINHA

 

Nila Madhab Panda has directed and produced over 60 documentaries, shorts, television drama and films for national broadcasters across the globe. His directorial debut, I am Kalam, is a journey of the trials and tribulations of a small boy yearning for education. The film had its international premiere at Cannes recently. Panda spoke to Meenakshi Sinha: 


What made you make I am Kalam? 

I've done a lot of documentaries, the first being 'stolen childhood' as cinematographer with Barbara Broccoli (the James Bond producer) and experienced 30-32 countries where stories and issues have centred on child labour and women's empowerment. That's when I decided to tell my own story through entertainment rather than continue to showcase the plight of children. Secondly, India has the largest population of children and youth in the world. But we don't have cinema for children. Thirdly, we have the independent cinema. But despite being the largest cinema-producing country in the world, we don't have a presence in the international market. Look at Iranian cinema. A small Rs 20-lakh film goes out all over the world. I grew up watching Satyajit Ray films, which reached out to countries like Poland, Germany, France etc at a time when technology and scale was limited. We need to come back to that kind of cinema. 


But what's the link to President Kalam? 

When we got to conceptualising the film with writer Sanjay Chauhan we realised most children's cinema - be it Salaam Bombay or Slumdog Millionaire - are dark. We wanted to make a film with a child's approach - what they like, what they think and perceive their world to be. I didn't want a fairy tale cinema. I was looking at realistic children's cinema, which needs a lot of elements - be it the backdrop (in this case vibrant Rajasthan), the central character or the story. Also you need an inspiring character and in today's age if anyone's inspiring as a great human being or a role model, it's definitely Dr Kalam. 


So is he central to the film's plot? 

The film is based on Dr Kalam's philosophy - set a goal, be patient and have perseverance. These have inspired not only children but the general public as well. One day my character Chotu sees Dr Kalam on TV talk about his struggles to attain an education - how he sold newspapers to fund his needs. That makes Chotu realise that when Kalam can study and become the President of India, then he too can find the means to at least educate himself. That's the central thought of my film: anyone can achieve whatever they aim at, if they put their heart and soul to it. 


What ails children's cinema in India? 

Here is a country with over one billion population whose only source of entertainment is cinema and television. And if one knows the simple tricks of telling a good story, especially children's stories, then there's nothing stopping its success. But no producer comes forward to fund a purely children's cinema. They are comfortable in their star-struck formula cinema. They're unwilling to experiment. 


We are largely a family-oriented country. If you focus on children then you automatically attract four to five members of a family to your cinema. This does not mean that I'm against love stories, thrillers, action or drama. Look at the success of Hanuman and Ganesha. They prove that there's a market for children's cinema. We just need to tap it.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

TOTAL BRAKE DOWN

JUG SURAIYA 

 

Can a parliamentary democracy work without a functioning Parliament? Obviously not. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as much when he remarked that the parliamentary deadlock over the 2G spectrum scam could well raise a question mark on the continuing viability of the system of governance followed by India since Independence. 

The productivity of the current session of the Lok Sabha has reportedly dropped to just 6 per cent, the lowest since 1985. The cost of both Houses of Parliament works out to over Rs 530 crore a year. Between 2005 and 2009 there have been on an average 68 parliamentary sittings, which means that the cost per sitting works out to approximately 7.8 crore. But that's just the tip of iceberg. When Parliament meets without conducting any business - as has happened over the 2G tug-of-war - the loss to the country is much greater, perhaps inestimably so, as legislation comes to a grinding halt and nothing moves in public life. It's as though the brakes were slammed on a car bringing it to a sudden standstill. 


What would you do with a car which had perpetually locked brakes and wouldn't move? Obviously you'd have to junk it and find a substitute. This is what Manmohan Singh meant when he said that he was "worried about the future of the parliamentary system" in India. He is not the only one to be so concerned. The so-called common citizen - the voter and the taxpayer to whom the elected members of Parliament are supposedly accountable - is if anything even more exercised by this deplorable state of affairs. 


The PM's remark, and growing public disgust with repeated and prolonged parliamentary breakdowns, could well revive the debate about India switching to a presidential form of government, such as the US has. A presidential form of government for the country has often been mooted in the past. Its chief attraction lies in the supposed stability and freedom of action that it would give to the executive arm of government. However, in order to maintain the checks and balances necessary in a democracy, even in a presidential form of government the executive powers are limited, most notably by legislative bodies, such as the US Congress and the Senate. The occupant of the White House - including the present incumbent - has often been stymied by opposition from one or both of the two. 


By all means let's discuss the presidential - or any other - alternative for a non-working Parliament. But to use the automobile analogy, a system - any system - is like a car which is only as good or as bad as the person operating it. You might have the best engineered, safest car in the world. But if you put a criminally negligent or reckless driver behind the wheel your car will sooner or later end up as a wreck to be written off. 


In India's case, the driver of the car of democracy is the politician. While among our elected representatives at the central and state levels there are - or least we hope there are - sincere, well-intentioned and honest individuals, the near total collapse of governance in almost all spheres and the proliferation of scams and corruption show only too clearly that such people are in a pitiful minority. 


Unless we can improve the calibre of those who operate the system, merely changing the system itself will not work. The new system will soon become as much of a liability as the present one. For instance, it has been suggested that it be made mandatory for Parliament to sit at least 100 times a year. But that won't prevent each sitting from being disrupted. 


The problem is not with the car; it's with those driving it. How do we get better drivers? By enforcing stricter norms for getting a driving licence, which in this case means being eligible to stand for election. To begin with, no more criminals and 'history-sheeters'. Let's improve our driving skills before talking about investing in a new car. 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

WORKING OUT WEN AND HOW

 

India's engagement with China is superimposed with a number: $50 billion. That's the value of merchandise we sell to and buy from our single-largest trading partner this year. The heads of governments of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council will have visited New Delhi before the year runs out. All of them are looking for greater access to the market. What makes Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to India this week stand out is the same trade statistic. India's merchandise trade with the US, Britain, France and Russia combined add up to just a shade over what we have with China. Impressive business delegations have accompanied Barack Obama and David Cameron, but when the Wen circus rolls into town with 100 of China's top tycoons, the red carpet needs to be a bit longer.

 

Commerce between Asia's biggest neighbours has flourished without too much nurturing by either Beijing or New Delhi. Five years ago, two-way trade was a mere $18 billion. At this prodigious rate of growth it could double in another five years to $100 billion. But unless India gets its act together, the scales will tilt heavier on the Chinese side: we import $3 dollars worth of goods for every dollar's worth we send across the wall. The Chinese manufactures finding their way into India make up an awesome amount if we take oil out of the picture — energy constitutes roughly half our imports. The two energy-deficient economies will have to work out a mechanism that eases the imbalances in their non-oil trade. Beijing has signaled it is willing to discuss the issue, New Delhi needs to bargain hard for greater access to service exports where India is relatively more competitive.

 

The pattern of trade so far is to be expected if you live next to the world's factory, and when back office skills are not very much in demand on the shop floor. Yet it cannot be ignored if India is serious about its manufacturing prowess. No country has developed without an industrial revolution. China is undergoing its, but that should not be at the cost of India's makeover into a modern economy. Emerging from roughly similar economic structures at the end of the 20th century, the two countries can evolve a symbiotic relationship that assists in each other's development. The time is now to put our ties at a level that achieves this synergy. Let trade do the talking, other issues that add to the trust deficit will hopefully get addressed on the way.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

AND PAT'S A FACT

 

The news of Indian ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar undergoing a 'pat down' search in an American airport last week has now been supplemented by this week's report that another high-ranking diplomat had been 'bothered' by airport security personnel in the US two weeks ago. If Ms Shankar didn't complain about being frisked for wearing a 'suspicious-looking' sari, India's permanent representative at the United Nations Hardeep Puri didn't take it kindly when asked to remove his turban during a security check at Houston airport. After all, being patted down for wearing a sari is not the same as being told to take one's turban off. It amounts to asking a Texan in a car in Texas to open his glove compartment to check whether his firearm is licensed.

 

But as the two back-to-back incidents involving Indian diplomats and American airport security staff snowball into something of a diplomatic crisis, we could choose to see the incidents in the light of cultural differences. In India, VIPs of every hue and colour are not only regularly allowed to pass airport checks without a single finger landing on them, but one can actually hear the bowing and scraping that a passing VIP leaves in his or her wake. So you have incidents of American equivalents of our babus and netas (most famously the late US senator Ted Kennedy) getting the same 'security treatment' as normal old us. Perhaps in the spirit of reciprocity, we could consider desi VIPs also being treated as normal potentially suspicious-looking folk.

 

But till then, let us fume at the 'cultural insensitivity' shown to India's representatives, especially to Mr Puri. And how can it bother anyone from America, no matter how high up he or she might be in the pecking order, to have a little pat down in otherwise tactile-friendly India? They won't even notice that we're actually doing a tit-for-tat for those 'insults' in American airports.

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

MODI OPERANDI

ASHOK MALIK

 

Better intelligence and a purposeful Union home minister have contributed to India escaping a major terrorist assault since the horror of 26/11. Nevertheless, as the bombing of the Sheetla Ghat in Varanasi indicated, the threat is perennial. The Varanasi attack may have killed just one person — tragically, a one-year-old child — but was calculated to cause panic and trigger a stampede that may have claimed many more lives. It was a reminder that Indian Mujahideen (IM), the organisation behind the bombing, is alive and kicking.

 

India's astonishingly poor record in terms of terrorist convictions remains a critical gap. Between the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001 and the trial of Ajmal Kasab for Mumbai 2008, there have been zero convictions for acts of terrorism in India. This is embarrassing for a country that is among the biggest victims of Islamist terror.

 

In this context, the history of IM is instructive. An offshoot of the Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi), IM first came into the public gaze in 2008, after the Ahmedabad bombings. Subsequently, the Gujarat police busted the IM network, made crucial arrests and linked key IM cells and operatives to a series of hitherto unsolved terror bombings in Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur and other cities.

 

If the past two years have been relatively calm, the steps taken by the Union government after 26/11 deserve credit. Even so, the Gujarat police also merits special mention for a crippling blow to the IM matrix, one from which it's still only beginning to recover.

 

About 60 IM members — street troops, religious motivators, explosive technicians — were brought to trial in an Ahmedabad court. In February 2010, just as the case was gathering momentum, the accused filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for their trial to be moved to another state, alleging they would not get justice in Gujarat. In an unorthodox decision, the apex court issued an ex parte order — without hearing the Gujarat government — and stayed the trial.

 

That is where the matter rests. The trial of terrorists who bombed a series of Indian cities between 2005 and 2008 is still frozen, in a legal and political limbo.

 

It's here that one needs to consider the congruence of political partisanship, civil society hyper-activism and terrorism. Nobody is suggesting that political parties or civil society activists are necessarily backing terror groups. Yet, by giving them ideas, by creating precedents and mechanisms for misuse, they are derailing the process of justice.

 

The IM accused have deftly exploited the demonisation of Narendra Modi and Gujarat in sections of the media and among so-called activists who have made an industry of Modi phobia. Despite being accused of perjury and manufacture of documents, these activists have sought to convey the impression that justice can't be done in Gujarat, that Muslims who seek fair play (or need to prove their innocence) require to have their cases moved outside the state, to have these monitored by the Supreme Court and, when all else fails, go to the United Nations (UN).

 

Unable to defeat Modi politically in Gujarat, the Congress has lent its shoulder to such dangerous practices. As long as they are affecting an individual politician, it is one thing. However, as is now apparent, the entire edifice of India's most robust challenge to IM has also been put at risk.

 

It is worth asking where this excessive and mind-numbing focus on Modi is headed. Whether one likes his politics or doesn't, believes he is India's best chief minister or isn't, considers him a future prime minister or too much of a hot potato for BJP allies, the fact remains that he needs to be viewed through a conventional political prism and not one of a fevered imagination.

 

Consider examples. One, it has been clear for a long time that there is no legal case against Modi for the 2002 violence and he is not guilty of acts of deliberate commission. With even the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) said to have to come to the same conclusion, Modi haters — who range from Mumbai-based celebrities to a retired police officer still settling bureaucratic scores — have begun to denounce the SIT and are approaching the UN Human Rights Commission.

 

Two, the WikiLeaks cables reveal that western intelligence agencies believe the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba threat to Modi is clear and present and did not die out with the elimination of Ishrat Jehan and her accomplices. Jehan, a Mumbai student who fell into Lashkar's grip, was killed in an encounter with the Gujarat police in 2004. Modi's opponents insist she was innocent and the Laskhar plot a concoction. Perhaps now they will argue Modi wrote the WikiLeaks cables.

 

How long can this continue? If any other Indian politician was found to be mentioned as a Lashkar target in the cables, it would have had the media engrossed. Not with Modi; it's almost as if he's fair game. As for the Union government, it wants to fight terrorists — but not terrorists whom the Gujarat police have found. It's so cynical; those 60 Indian Mujahideen men in Ahmedabad must be laughing.

 

Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

BEYOND THE GREAT WALL

RUP NARAYAN DAS

 

The news trickling in from Brussels that Beijing would relent its stand on the issue of stapled visas, which had recently cast a shadow over Sino-Indian relations, augurs well for the three-day India visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that commences today. Beijing had reiterated its stand on the issue when it was raised last month after an artiste from Jammu and Kashmir was given a proper visa to visit Guangzhou to perform at the Asian Games ceremony. But the move also suggested that Beijing would eventually change its position on issuing stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir. China maintains that the issue is more administrative than political.

 

The issue gained momentum when Lt Gen BS Jaswal was issued a stapled visa to visit China to participate in a military exchange programme on the grounds that he commanded an allegedly disputed part of India. This was not acceptable to India. Subsequently, scheduled military exchanges were kept on hold. Now it appears that during Wen's visit, one of the deliverables to the media would be the dispensing of the stapled visa. It will cost China nothing, but will show to the world Beijing's accommodative spirit and help it earn India's goodwill.

 

Another related development during the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao could be a declaration on the restoration of defence cooperation and military exchanges between the two countries. The upward swing on the two fronts was given a further impetus during Jiabao's April 2005 India visit in the protocol between the Indian and Chinese governments on the modalities of the implementation of Confidence-Building Measures in military engagements, the line of actual control and the India-China border.

 

At a time when India's bid for a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has acquired importance — with all P5 nations, except China, supporting India's nomination — China should recalibrate its stated position. In 'A Shared Vision for the 21st Century of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India', signed between Singh and Wen in January 2008, both sides supported a comprehensive reformation of the UNSC. Referring to India's aspiration for a permanent membership, the Chinese side attached "great importance to India's position as a major developing country in international affairs". The statement further mentions. "... the Chinese side understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the UN, including in the Security Council."

 

Today, two years later, the situation has perceptively improved in India's favour. In the joint-statement issued after the conclusion of the Russia-China-India trilateral, held in Wuhan, China, on November 14-15 2010, it was mentioned that the three participating nations looked forward to "deepening cooperation with India within the UN Security Council". If India's membership to the UNSC is inevitable, it won't cost China anything to extend its full support and, in turn, earn India's gratitude. Even if India's aspiration remains unfulfilled, Beijing can still bargain for another deal as a quid pro quo for its gesture of being supportive of India's bid.

 

Finally, the two sides should also make sincere efforts towards taking concrete measures to solve the long-pending border problem. For a long time, both India and China have treated the vexed border dispute as a secondary issue. A great deal of progress has been made in other areas, particularly in bilateral trade that has increased from a meagre $3 billion a decade ago to about $45 billion today. It's expected to rise to $60 billion by the end of the year. There have been regular political interactions, both bilateral and at multilateral fora, at various levels. People-to-people contact has also been on the upswing. The two countries hope to make progress in other sectors. For this, the border dispute should be resolved at the earliest. Though there has been peace and tranquillity on the Indo-China border, with the only exception of the 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish at Sumdorong Chu Valley, the non-settlement of border issue remains an irritant in the bilateral relations.

 

Though efforts have been made to solve the border dispute, a foolproof solution is still elusive. China has solved land border issues with most countries, including Russia with which it fought a war in 1967. Given the personal rapport between Singh and Wen, and between National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart, their expertise and diplomatic acumen, it's possible to make concrete progress. Both sides must cross the Rubicon before patience wears out.

 

Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

A REALITY CHECK

NANDINI R IYER

 

I  was never daunted by stories of women being abducted or molested because I had my own ideas on how to keep myself safe in Delhi. And I believed (like every girl who grew up in the Delhi of the 1970s), in the Delhi Police. And because I had this unshakable faith in the policemen, I continued taking autorickshaws late at night.

 

That changed one night in July. It was past midnight when I got into an auto and headed for East Delhi. Approximately half-way through at the ITO bridge, shortly after we crossed the Delhi Police Head Quarters, four young men travelling in a car started hooting at me. The car's windshield was dense black, the windows were down and, at least, one of the occupants was only in his underwear. The rest were in various stages of undress and all had beer bottles. They would overtake my vehicle and park on the left so that we were forced to pass them. Then again, they would overtake. This went on for the next two-and-a-half kilometres.

 

We turned towards the Shakarpur Road and spotted a PCR van. The villains sped away.

 

When I spotted a grey-haired policeman, I was even more reassured even though a policeman's age should not have made any difference to my sense of security. So I got off, auto-driver in tow, to tell him about the incident. His first question was how I could be certain that they were chasing and harassing me? The auto-driver backed my story. Next question: "Are you sure you wrote his registration number correctly and why did you write it anyway?" Then he asked me to leave my number and they would "see what we could be done". So I told him, the men had driven ahead on the same road that I needed to take to get home and they might well be waiting for me round the next corner. "Could the PCR accompany me to the next intersection?" I asked.

 

"Madam, abhi to hum chai pi rahen hai, aap jao kuchh nahin hoga (we're busy having our tea, you carry on, nothing will happen to you)."

 

That was the last time I took an auto home late at night confident that the Delhi Police would protect me.

 

Nearby, there was a group of autorickshaw drivers waiting for late-night passengers: five of them escorted me all the way home. None of them accepted money for the ride. "We have mothers and sisters at home," each one said. Incidentally, though this is not the point of this piece, I think my rescuers were migrants.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

UPPER HOUSE RULES

 

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan could not have known the storm he'd create when he suggested the abolition of the Rajya Sabha. Within hours of lamenting the undemocratic character of the Upper House of Parliament on Sunday, he rolled back his attack. But Chouhan's discontent earlier in the day is interesting, as is his suggestion that since the Rajya Sabha had lost its original character, it be done away with and the Lok Sabha expanded to accommodate nominated members.While Chouhan vastly overstated the irrelevance of the Rajya Sabha, he did inadvertently shine a light on its role in our parliamentary system. In a vast and plural country like India, a permanent House is essential for federal stability and conti-nuity. Upper Houses enjoy diverse powers, but they are almost always permanent bodies, with staggered elections rendering them less susceptible to electoral waves at the national level. In the Unites States' presidential system, for instance, the Senate has powers to ratify treaties and confirm key appointments. But members are popularly elected. In Britain's House of Lords, they are not. Rajya Sabha members are indirectly elected by state legislatures, though rules were changed in 2003 — when the secret ballot was abolished, giving the party whip sway, and when the domicile requirement was dispensed with. There is indeed often disquiet amongst state units about how their votes are harnessed by party chiefs. However, as a session of Parliament has just been washed away, perhaps there needs to be an even more urgent debate on the role of the House. Given its more durable character, as too its powerlessness in making and breaking governments, the elders need to assert their relevance. Instead of being a shadow of the Lok Sabha, they could work out mechanisms to keep the processes going — that is, if they want to be insulated from provocations like Chouhan's.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LISTENING NOW

 

At the inauguration of India Corporate Week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the nervousness and disillusionment in the corporate sector over phone-tapping, acknowledging that these powers are meant to be deployed only in exigencies related to financial fraud and national security. As a signal of serious intent, he added that the cabinet secretary has been asked to look into the issues, including authorisation for phone-tapping and leaks of transcripts, and report back in a month. The point is well taken. There is deep concern within India Inc, and it was summarised by HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh in an interview published in these pages this week, about whether the system can be wilfully manipulated for partisan ends, with little thought to or accountability for the consequences. Business is sentiment-conscious, and if the prime minister is setting out to allay it, he must know that sage words alone will not do. In any case, the compact that appears to be in peril is not just between corporates and the government — it is between citizens and the state.Certainly, technology has enhanced the sophistication with which national security and financial laws can be compromised, just as it has enhanced the tools available to the state to intrude into private communications. For the greater common good, we have ceded to the state the power of surveillance in exchange for responsibility in exercising it. It is in this context that the state appears so compromised. There is a sinister hint of the system's complicity that we'd be unwise to ignore, even as well-choreographed leaks keep us titillated. (And who would not be engrossed in conversations that tune us into a seemingly open-and-shut demonstration of power play, never mind that some may be accused of little more than bluster, while others face well-deserved consequences for their careers, relationships.)This is why questions about these conversations are not about indivi-duals. They are also not about the actual publication of the transcripts: in an open society, if credible sources make available information to the media, it is fully entitled to take a lawful editorial call on what may interest the reader. And they are certainly not about the publication of sensitive or classified information that could amount to whistle-blowing, the holy grail of investigative journalism. The questions that must concern us relate to the release of transcripts that damage reputations through nothing more than gossip and informal loose talk. This is why inactivity of the system by assuming a spectator's role, as pre-selected and edited tapes tumble out in digestible packets, shaming equally anyone mentioned simply by naming, must not be acceptable to the prime minister. Can our investigative agencies be so easily manipulated, in what's looking like a battle of rival lobbyists, into at least leaking transcripts, if not influencing surveillance? Can this air of suspicion be business-as-usual for the government? If theanswer is truly no, then it must identify who in government are responsible and ensure they face the consequences of law. Else, the promise of using technology merely to prevent future incidents will cut little ice.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

HE SAID, SHE SAID

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA 

 

The responses of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to the extraordinary crisis generated by the 2G scam are exhibiting a brazen indifference to our predicament. Attacking the opposition's double standards and lack of credibility is a fair tactic in an adversarial democracy. But it does not provide any reassurance in the face of the moral anarchy, institutional perfidy, economic complacency and political mismanagement of the current government. In their responses, they have not missed a trick. But they have missed the point. Let us just look at their rhetorical strategies. The first element in this strategy is best captured by an old joke that it does not count as a refutation if you refute yourself. The prime minister does this whenever he speaks of a governance deficit, whether it is in the context of Kashmir or administrative perfidy, almost distancing himself from his own government. It has to be said at this point that, with all due respect, "Prime Minister, you are central to governance: you constitute the governance deficit." The Congress president was correct to say that "nor should we do anything that will denigrate the office of the prime minister." This is, again, a resort to an abstraction to avoid dealing with the real problem. Can there be any greater denigration of the office when the prime minister does not appear to be in charge of government? The Congress president engages in similar abstractions when she speaks of our shrinking moral universe in the context of corruption. It is a strikingly resonant phrase. But the leader of the ruling party does not have the luxury of an academic discourse on corruption. The shrinking moral universe is not a fact of nature; it is a consequence of decisions taken by leaders. The second rhetorical trope in this repertoire is something to the effect that "we will get to the bottom of this". This invitation to plumb dark depths is a clear obfuscation. It is inviting us to stare at a bottomless pit of investigations when the basic political questions are clear. Simply put, it is this. Did the prime minister and the cabinet endorse Raja's actions? If they did, what was the rationale? If they did not, what did they do for two years to curb actions that they knew to be wrong? Answering these questions does not require an inquiry. It will take the prime minister no more than 10 minutes to set the record straight on these questions. The Congress is asking us to look into the depths because it does not want to look us in the eye. The third rhetorical tactic is an appeal to institutions. The opposition may well be playing brinkmanship when it comes to a JPC. But the simple fact is that the prime minister's demeanour has consistently undermined the authority of Parliament. Even during the well-conducted previous session the prime minister barely spoke in Parliament; he refused to engage in any serious debate or any serious crisis, except the civilian nuclear liability bill. He refused to invest Parliament with the gravitas it deserves. The CVC, P.J. Thomas, may be entirely innocent. But the Congress cannot get away from the fact that it brazenly ignored the one mechanism we have for ensuring that constitutional offices have bipartisan credibility. The Congress president also made reference to the fact that her government does not want to "undermine established institutions, such as the PAC and the CBI". There is something deeply disconcerting about this for two reasons. Why does a JPC undermine existing institutions? At the very least it does not do it any more than new institutions like the National Advisory Council undermine line ministries. Does it do it any more than a handpicked single-judge inquiry does it? The institutional argument has become a disingenuous game; mere references to it are designed to undermine institutions. The references to the CBI are also disconcerting. It is time to ask the government what steps it has taken to restore the credibility of the CBI in the eyes of the public. There is not even a glimmer of acknowledgement that citizens are deeply worried about the CBI. There is not even the slightest concession to the fact that almost every single institution in government now carries an odour of conspiracy. Our law enforcement institutions are beginning to resemble an indiscriminate melange of arbitrary powers, randomly exercised. What is frightening about the Indian state is that evidence has no sanctity, arbitrary leaks have become the norm, officers routinely provide a running commentary to plant insinuations, any line of investigation is accompanied by indiscriminate fishing expeditions, and no one seems to acknowledge that citizens have basic rights. The appeal to the CBI would be more credible if the government had spent the last few years restoring probity to the functioning of these institutions. It is often said that a measure of corruption is not just the exchange of money. It is the distance and dissimulation rulers exhibit in relation to their own governments. On that measure we have indeed reached a low point. The fourth element in this rhetorical strategy is to hide behind the poor — or worse still, allow other Congress leaders to flirt with the communal card. The Congress leadership has to get over the idea that just because it has promulgated a few schemes for the poor, it can be absolved of the larger structural crisis they have produced in the economy. Even within the terms of their own paradigm, how do they explain that a pro-poor government is now embedded in a nexus of regulatory arbitrariness that has benefited some corporations at the expense often of honest and genuine small business? What pro-poor policy can explain that it has become nearly impossible to be an honest businessman in this country? The Congress president is insulting the country by implicitly suggesting that the sense of moral crisis and betrayal large numbers of citizens feel is entirely a product of opposition politics. She was right to point out that the Congress has at least asked some individuals to resign; the BJP cannot even claim that high moral ground. But she has to acknowledge that in the current climate those resignations are being seen largely as politically protective measures, designed to absolve the government of responsibility rather than fix it. And she has not even begun to probe the deeper question: what is the responsibility of the leadership when the country sinks to an unprecedented low? As for the prime minister: his worst failing may not be corruption, it may not even be standing idly by. His worst failing will be that by not coming clean he has undermined any reason to trust so-called good men.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

RECALLING KARKARE

Y P RAJESH 

 

It is tempting to dismiss the latest claim of Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh — that Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare had called him a few hours before he was killed on the night of November 26, 2008 to talk about the threat to his life due to his discovery of alleged Hindu extremist links to the Malegaon bomb blast — as a cheap attempt to revive a surreal conspiracy theory and stoke another controversy in this season of scandals. It is also tempting to club the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh with other "contrarians" such as his fellow Congressman A.R. Antulay or former Maharashtra IGP S.M. Mushrif who too steadfastly suspected that there was more to Karkare's death than a group of senior police officers literally driving into a blind alley and being ambushed by two highly trained Pakistani terrorists.While Mushrif wrote a wildly speculative book titled Who Killed Karkare? (2009), Singh had first waded into the controversy in the aftermath of Antulay, then a Union minister, saying that Karkare's death probably had something to do with the Malegaon probe. Antulay's comments had come within less than a month of 26/11 and Singh had sought to subtly fuel that theory. Even then, Singh had claimed that Karkare had called him a few hours before he was killed but sought to nuance his argument by saying that while he did not buy the conspiracy theory, there were people who did, which meant that he was smartly amplifying their bizarre suspicions without owning them. It is for these reasons that neither can Singh's claim be dismissed nor he bunched with the likes of Antulay and Mushrif: he continues to play around with a sinister story despite the passage of two years since 26/11, multiple arrests in India, Pakistan, Europe and the US, a treasure trove of evidence and global acceptance of Pakistan's role. And Singh is no Antulay or Mushrif. As the self-appointed captain of the Congress party's B team, he has styled himself as the party's Faustian secular spokesman even if it has meant unnecessarily rubbing his own colleagues the wrong way. His attempt since to play the same hedging game on the controversy yet again ("I never said RSS was behind 26/11"), however, falls flat in the context in which he revived the controversy. He made the comments at the December 6 launch of a book, RSS Ki Saazish? 26/11? (26/11, an RSS conspi-racy?), by Aziz Burney, editor-in-chief of Urdu Sahara newspaper.Singh may probably not be aware but, besides Antulay and Mushrif and now Burney, there are scores in Pakistan who subscribe or want to subscribe to this conspiracy theory, one that the perpetrators of 26/11 themselves tried to push in the days after the attack. This writer had met Karkare a day before he was killed and filed a news report saying that he seemed to be rather tormented by the allegations being made against him and his team for unearthing an alleged Hindu extremist link to Malegaon, including by no less a leader than the BJP's then prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani (IE, November 27, 2008). Hours after the report was published, it was prominently displayed on the homepage of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the religious cover of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Toiba, and stayed there for days. There was no commentary or explanation, but the message could not be missed. Many months later, Pakistani American Lashkar operative David Headley reportedly told his interrogators that he had bought red holy threads from a Hindu temple in Mumbai while planning for the attack and the 10 gunmen who came by boat from Karachi had tied them around their wrists. Unfortunately for Lashkar, Ajmal Kasab did not get killed as planned and damaged the key obfuscation element of its strategy. Singh may have his motives for bringing back a ghost from 26/11 to perpetrate his streak of dangerous "secular politics". It could be the shock and awe of the pathetic Congress performance in Bihar and the big test of assembly elections in less than two years in Uttar Pradesh, whose Muslim constituency Singh has been assiduously cultivating on behalf of the Congress. Or it could be yet another attempt to light small fires all over the place to deflect attention from the inferno of the spectrum scandal. But the motive does not matter. Singh's cynical brand of politics could once again feed the fears of the Muslim community, stoking a sense of persecution and alienation. But it may not produce any electoral dividends for the Congress if the outcome of similar attempts the party made in the late '80s is any indication. In fact, the party may actually be better off with a little more intellectual arrogance.

 

yp.rajesh@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

CRACKED IMAGE

MANOJ C G 

 

Manmohan Singh's Teflon-coated image has been the UPA's unique selling proposition for long, and it has taken a beating in the corruption scandals, according to the Left. CPI mouthpiece New Age says there is one thing everyone in Delhi seems to believe but no one would say openly — the UPA is inexorably slipping into a Bofors-like situation.

"In fact, it looks worse than the Bofors days. But there is a difference. Unlike under Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi, the UPA's PM and senior party leaders are not seen as even remotely linked with the scandals. But the PM is increasingly seen as philosophically tolerating scams," says an article. Arguing that the perception may be right or wrong, it notes that public ire seems to be focused on the prime minister's failure to root out the sources of corruption. It says that even Congressmen are worried about about the growing perception of the government's ineffectiveness.

 

Running scared

 

An article in the CPM's official journal, People's Democracy, raises the question: Why is the Congress afraid of 2G? If the ruling party is not involved, and privately blames A. Raja as the sole perpetrator of the scam, then why is it shying away from a JPC?

 

It also dwells on the beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum allocation identified by the CAG. "One is, of course, the real estate company, Unitech. They were in deep financial crisis ...the records now make clear that the 2G licences were the mechanism through which Unitech re-floated itself," it says. Unitech also got loans running into thousands of crores. Swan Telecom, Loop, Datacom (Videocon) and Stel also got loans. "Is this why Congress is afraid of a deeper probe? Did all this happen with these companies waving in front of the banks the telecom licences that they had illegally secured or were there more hands in the till?" More links have come to light through the Radia tapes, it notes. It says that both Tata and Anil Ambani's Reliance group, which held CDMA licenses, benefited from the allocations. "The key issue before the Congress and the UPA is that they either stonewall all the questions and let the corporate houses pocket all the wealth generated from this gross undervaluation of the spectrum, or come clean and take action. Action is not just throwing Raja out after resisting the demand for his ouster for as long as they could," it says.

 

Standing up for liu xiaobo

 

The lead editorial in the CPI(ML)'s weekly journal ML Update discusses the Nobel peace prize awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Nobel prize, more often than not, carries a political message, it says — referring to the selection of US President Barack Obama last year to refurbish US's image and the choice of Liu this year, inspired by the intention to delegitimise Communist Party-ruled China as an authoritarian regime.

 

It says that by imprisoning Liu, pressuring other countries to boycott the Nobel ceremony and preventing Liu's wife from receiving the award in his stead, China has obliged its opponents with the most potent symbolic weapon they could have hoped for. It notes that it is not just advocates of capitalist political reform, but also voices that point to growing social disparities that have been similarly suppressed in China.

 

"Not long ago, a man whose five-year-old son was poisoned by toxic milk in China was sentenced to jail for setting up a website to organise other parents against melamine poisoning. Workers' protests too are known to meet with repression. The same repressive stick has been wielded to deal with popular outbursts at regional and cultural disparities in Xinjiang and Tibet," it says.

 

At the same time, the Nobel episode also unavoidably highlights the hypocrisy and double standards of capitalist liberal democracies, says the article. "Even as Obama and others express pious outrage at how China treats its dissidents, they have all participated in the manhunt for Julian

 

Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks which 'blew the lid off the horrific war crimes' in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world."

 

"The double standards are no less visible here in India. How would the Indian state and mainstream media, quick to castigate China on Xiaobo and Tibet, have responded, were Irom Sharmila, that powerful icon of protest against the Indian state's war on its people, to have been awarded the

 

Nobel Peace Prize?" it asks.

 

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A CROWD OF THREE

C. RAJA MOHAN 

 

A crowd of three

 

As the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, arrives in Delhi today, the focus of his talks is likely to be largely bilateral — on how to manage the many political disputes and build on the huge opportunities for economic cooperation.

 

But barely below the surface, mutual concerns about third parties abound. Throughout the last six decades, bilateral ties with other key countries — for example the United States, Russia and Pakistan — have had a great impact on shaping the Sino-Indian relationship.

 

During the Cold War, Washington was not the main external driver of Sino-Indian relations. That honour went to Soviet Russia. The Sino-Soviet split in the late '50s coincided with the emergence of border tensions between Delhi and Beijing. After that, Russia became India's main security partner while China, Pakistan and the United States drew closer. That regional balance endured for nearly three decades.

 

In the last few years it is the triangular dynamic between Delhi, Beijing and Washington that has become an important subtext in the engagement between India and China.

 

If Beijing carefully monitored the warming ties between India and the United States during the presidency of George W. Bush, it might be somewhat surprised by the cementing of the Indo-US partnership under Barack Obama.

 

Contrary to the widespread perception that Indo-US relations might go south under a Democratic administration, Obama has completed the implementation of the civil nuclear initiative, backed India's integration into the global non-proliferation regimes, supported Delhi's permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and endorsed India's role as an East Asian power.

 

Although some in Delhi might want to be apologetic about India's expanding cooperation with the United States, Beijing is leaving no stone unturned in recalibrating its ties with Washington. Within weeks after Wen's Indian journey, the Chinese President Hu Jintao will head to Washington. The Obama administration is apparently determined to make Hu's trip a success. The deep financial interdependence between the United States and China prevents both from driving their ties aground, despite the many new tensions that have emerged in the last six months.

 

The United States and China have many political favours to exchange as they cope with the global and regional security challenges that confront the world. Delhi is deeply aware that its relationship with both Washington and Beijing is thinner than that between the world's dominant power and its principal competitor. India's emphasis, therefore, must necessarily be on simultaneous expansion of its relations with both China and the United States.

 

Friends with Pakistan

 

Among all the major leaders visiting India this year, Wen is the only one combining the trip to Delhi with another to Islamabad. That, in turn, is likely to severely limit what little Wen might have to offer India on the political front.

 

Unlike Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Wen might not want to upset China's "all-weather" friend Pakistan by explicitly endorsing India's candidature for the permanent membership of the UNSC.

 

Wen might be even more reluctant to scold Pakistan for harbouring terrorist sanctuaries on its soil. He might also not be in a position to explicitly signal Chinese neutrality on the question of Jammu and Kashmir, which divides India and Pakistan. If Wen announces in Islamabad China's final political decision to expand nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, in defiance of the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Delhi's suspicion that Beijing has not given up its policy of promoting Pakistan's strategic parity with India will only be confirmed.

 

Friendly neighbourhood

 

As India builds strategic partnerships with Japan and South Korea — two of China's very important neighbours — Northeast Asia is emerging as a potential new area of disputation between Delhi and Beijing.

 

The recent deepening of Sino-Japanese tensions have been matched by the growing warmth between Delhi and Tokyo. In the Korean peninsula, India's empathies for the South stand in contrast to the deep bonds between China and the North.

 

The Indian and Chinese leaders are hardly convincing when they declare that their ties with third countries are not directed at the other. The time has come for both sides to begin an honest conversation about their relationship to important third countries.

 

Sino-Indian differences on third party relations are not likely to go away any time soon. A frank dialogue on great power relations and sustained consultations on regional security issues can certainly help minimise the political friction between Delhi and Beijing.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

OLD MASTERS, NEW CELEBRITY

 

The painting was beautiful, just not admired. Then suddenly, after more than four centuries, it was. It acquired a pedigree. The art hadn't changed, but its stature had. And there it was, propped on an easel in the Prado's sunny, pristine conservation studio, like a patient on the table in an operating theatre. The most remarkable old master picture to have turned up in a long time revealed its every blemish and bruise, but also its virtues.

In September the Prado made news. It announced that this painting, 'The Wine of St. Martin's Day', a panoramic canvas showing a mountain of revellers drinking the first wine of the season, and a few of them suffering its consequences, was by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

 

Only 40-odd paintings by this 16th-century Flemish Renaissance master survive. This one, from around 1565, came from a private seller, whose ancient family, unaware and clearly unconcerned, had kept it for aeons in the proverbial dark corridor, in Córdoba, where it accumulated dirt. Then the Prado conservators took a look. What seemed to be the artist's signature turned up beneath layers of grime and varnish.

 

What is it about the discovery of a new work by a textbook name? Headlines over the years have trumpeted this Bruegel, a possible Velázquez unearthed from a university museum basement in Connecticut, a supposed Michelangelo in the foyer of some New York town house. The inevitable fuss that followed these announcements can be only partly chalked up to the popular fantasy of finding treasure in the attic, or to the obvious prospect of seeing more great art. Truth be told, new discoveries aren't always great. The art may have been in plain sight all along, like that Michelangelo statue, which languished in the French Embassy's cultural services office on Fifth Avenue for most of the last century before its (now much doubted) attribution. Or it may have been some murky painting already hanging in a museum, with a label saying it was the handiwork of an unknown "school of" someone or someplace, or by some obscure artist whose name didn't make us pause.

 

Then the news breaks about its ostensible author, and we slap our heads, yet again, for relying on labels rather than on our eyes, a lesson finally learned, we tell ourselves before admiring the discovery because of its fancier label, as if anything had really changed.

 

Connoisseurship, notwithstanding the chemicals and gizmos modern science has concocted to aid in its detective work, remains an art. That's the beauty part of it, and what also keeps alive the business of looking, the flip side of this business being how money and fame can sometimes make dreamers or opportunists out of even the most scrupulous experts and institutions.

 

In the case of the Bruegel, the signature was not the only argument for saying he did the picture. As with a few other works Bruegel painted, 'The Wine of St. Martin's Day' is done in tempera on fine linen, the pigment mixed not with egg or oil but glue. What results is a fragile matte surface from which paint gradually falls away. Even with the later varnish removed, a gauzy scrim seems to cloud the remaining image. Glue from a liner long ago added to the back of the canvas has also caused parts of the picture to pucker and bulge.

 

So the painting wasn't easy to decipher, but, on close inspection, not withstanding the damage, it still looked exceptionally beautiful, almost more so for being fragile and ghostly. In the clear light of the conservation studio, you can admire the delicacy of faces and hands and feet, alive and varied, making a jigsaw of humane detail, Bruegel's trademark: the cripple kneeling at St. Martin's feet; the mother gulping wine with a baby still clasped to her breast; and the fallen drunk, limbs bent and splayed like a ragamuffin, face in the dirt.

 

Privately, dealers are always boasting about spectacular finds: an unknown El Greco in a country home here, a long-lost Rubens in a private collection there. To ask the original question another way: Why do we want these works to turn out to be by Velázquez and Michelangelo? After all, the art is the same either way.

 

Partly, of course, there's the simple pleasure of a good yarn well told, and Michelangelo generally provides a better payoff to a whodunit than Baccio Bandinelli. There's big money involved too. When that Bruegel signature materialised, the Spanish Ministry of Culture invoked national patrimony law, which, as Finaldi acknowledged, amounts to a kind of state-sanctioned blackmail, albeit in service to the public. The law meant the museum could prevent export and name its price. What might have gone for $100 million or more on the open market (who knows?), went for $9 million, which the government, near financial collapse, will take its time to pay.

 

The conservator in charge of the painting's restoration, Elisa Mora, pantomimed the other morning how she still planned to remove the picture's old lining and glue, a tricky process akin to peeling skin, she said, except, unlike skin, torn canvas doesn't repair itself. And then the public will finally get its newest old master. In the end we want another celebrity attribution like this one because we want to get things straight. History tries to make sense out of chaos, toward which the world inevitably inclines. Art historians create hierarchies, categories and movements; they attribute causes and effects to conjure an appearance of logic.

 

Attributing a picture to a household deity like Bruegel or Michelangelo affirms our sense of control, our ability to get a grip on our affairs, at least for the moment. We take comfort in mooring some grimy, forgotten canvas, another example of life's flotsam and, implicitly, of our own fate, to one of the pillars of art history. After centuries in the wilderness, home. It's the story of Odysseus in Ithaca, among countless other myths. There is always hope, in other words, the chance of redemption no matter how belated, a slender thread to lead us out of oblivion, meaning it is not merely order we seek. It is also the prospect of endlessly reordering the world, so that nothing is ever quite settled, so that everything remains possible, in life and in posterity, as in art. Today a neglected picture, a bedraggled Cinderella, like a surrogate self, hides in the attic. Tomorrow it's at the Prado.And ultimately, that Bruegel is us. Michael Kimmelman

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WORKING BOTH WAYS

PRANABDHALSAMANTA 

 

This time everyone's making the right noises, at least so far. No outrageous Chinese statement like the one on Arunachal Pradesh before Hu Jintao's visit or any other diplomatic harshness that could sour Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's trip. The statements have all been forward-looking and, at the same time, realistic. Ahead of the visit, a lot of groundwork has gone into getting the atmospherics right and that's been made possible at the cost of taking expectations to the lowest point on both sides.But India has done a lot more to set things right in the past year or so, and therefore, it does beg the question: why is New Delhi not pegging its expectations much higher? Take, for instance, the fact that there is finally going to be an agreement setting the stage for Chinese banks to open branches in India. There are norms for foreign banks to open shop in India, so why this enabling agreement? This was because after the economic crisis, China wanted an agreement between the central banks as an enabler, and with some safeguards. India agreed.Another story is that of telecom. Chinese majors were not finding much favour with the Indian government because of security concerns. They had a legitimate argument in seeking a level playing field, while tying up ventures with big Indian companies helped create pressure within the government. The result was a review of the entire screening process which led to new norms and essentially requiring all telecom companies provide their source code in an escrow account. The Chinese companies agreed, but in turn, this became an issue for other US and European companies. So, the tables turned as this issue went right up on US President Barack Obama's agenda while it is a resolved issue on Wen's agenda. At least, a thank you is due.Perhaps at the guidance of Indian business interests, and in recognition of the sound business logic that China strikes, there has been a tremendous easing up for Chinese companies across sectors. So, trade has grown to $49 billion but skewed completely in Beijing's favour.Having come this far, India is hoping that China will reciprocate. So, will China open doors to Indian pharmaceutical companies? Will large government contracts go to Indian IT companies? In a country where the government holds all the keys, will business become a two-way street?But on a larger plane, China has been as unpredictable as ever, despite some of these positive developments, including the "jointness" shown on climate change. Stapled visas have emerged as a big issue, especially after the Chinese side politely informed Indian authorities that the Northern Army Commander would require such a visa were he to be allowed into China. No major bilateral engagement on defence has taken place since then. There is an exercise planned for next year but for that, the defence dialogue has to take place, which is not going to happen till this row is sorted out.The Sino-Pak relationship is getting stronger by the day with Beijing ready to face the charge of funding proliferation while expanding its nuclear ties with Islamabad. These are all uncomfortable issues shrouded in total unpredictability and for all its efforts, it is a fact that India has had a rough year on the political front with China.The good news, however, is that India did not seek to brush things under the carpet. It registered its protest, spoke out clearly to underline its interests and stayed firm on issues like whether or not to attend the Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo. The first lesson of managing a conflictual relationship is to be candid about the areas of conflict.But if conflict and competition are the running themes of this relationship, how can one introduce predictability? That's the real question for politicians and diplomats alike. Beijing has always fancied its ability to be unpredictable and that's why its rise is described as threatening in various capitals.At this point in time, China is locked in several battles of dominance — whether in South China Sea, Africa, West Asia or even Af-Pak. This context is what makes the difference. The more China moves to politically bark down India, the more India's opportunities improve elsewhere. A gap in the India-China relationship means that India gravitates towards China's other troubled neighbours. It further improves prospects of the already expanding India-US relationship. More foreign investors queue up in Indian markets and suddenly, everyone has an increased stake in India's immediate success.But it is not all gain for India either. New Delhi realises the consequences of gravitating in such a direction. This allows China to place its cards on the table, which are essentially India's big and small South Asian neighbours. Pakistan, of course, is the best leverage against India. Beijing has always been the last to support any international action against Pakistan-based terror groups active in India or for that matter, has been at the forefront in building infrastructure in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Yes, India has also realised that a gap in the relationship brings other extraneous options into play.This game of perceptions and at times, even misperceptions, has played out a few times in the recent past with undesirable consequences. In other words, friction or gaps in the bilateral relationship eventually provides space for other parties to enter, sometimes at the behest of India or China. Having met some 20 times in the past five years at the highest levels, policy-makers would like to believe that the political leaderships on both sides have realised this.Yet, unpredictable as China can be, expectations have been kept low. Until Wen and Singh agree on ways to introduce some predictability into the relationship, the India-China story will at best, essentially remain a conflictual relationship which has to be managed while cashing in on the opportunities that economic sphere may occasionally throw up.

 

pranab.samanta@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WEN WILL CHINA OPEN UP?

 

The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit this week, close on the heels of the US and French Presidents and just a few weeks before the visit of the Russian President, reaffirms India's growing role on the global stage. But despite being India's largest neighbour and the second largest economy in the world, China's Premier has a much more difficult task than the others, given the lack of warmth between the two countries and the outstanding border disputes. It should be noted that, although China has been able to settle border disputes with most of its neighbors, there have not been many gains on the Indian front despite protracted negotiations over decades. The disputes seem to blow hot and cold, with new provocations like the stapled visas issued for people with Indian passports from Kashmir. The only consolation is that, despite such major issues, China has emerged as India's second largest trade partner, overtaking the US, within a relatively short span. Trade has almost trebled over the past five years and China now supplies equipment to a large number of industries, including strategic ones like power and telecommunications. However, the economic cooperation between the two nations has been heavily skewed, with most of the flows restricted to merchandise products. Investment flows between the two countries have been rather insignificant and China does not figure among even the top ten investors in India. Similarly, investments by corporate India in China have been few and far between, despite the great interest shown by Indian industrialists. Though language may have been a major barrier, Indian investors have usually overcome such hurdles without too much strain.

 

Apart from slack investment flows, the real worry is the apparent hurdles in the flow of Indian goods to China. The trade statistics bear this out. In the last five years, China's share in India's merchandise exports has remained stagnant at around 6.5%, while the share of India's imports from China has surged up from 7.3% to 10.7%. Consequently, India's trade deficit with China has gone up almost five-fold from $4 billion in 2005-06 to $19 billion in 2009-10. India has taken a liberal stance for facilitating imports from China, even unilaterally relaxing the tough work permit regimes to accommodate Chinese players in power and road construction sectors without much reciprocation. Thus, it is likely that the gains from the visit of the Chinese leader will substantially depend on the the extent to which China accommodates Indian interests, so that the two Asian giants can soon restore the friendly relations they shared for centuries.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO


With even top scientists of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), which includes some of the most respected names in India's scientist community, accused of carrying out an Adarsh-type scam of allotting ICMR land to a cooperative society at a fraction of its market value, it's no overstatement to say India is neck-deep in scams. The Raja scandal is pretty much out there in the open but, as the investigation goes on, more and more angles are emerging—it may well emerge, for instance, that some corporate holdings of shares of the companies that A Raja helped may, in fact, be benami shareholdings for various politicians. Given how the country's politics has become hostage to the Raja scam, and how the probe into all major telecom decisions since 2001 could implicate even more corporates, it is important to pay heed to what HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh said at a CII summit on corporate governance in Mumbai. Parekh said he favoured a UK-style law on anti-bribery—the proposed UK law, he said, has a clause that makes it an offence for a company if it fails to prevent bribery.

 

Tracing payments to A Raja, which is what the enforcement directorate and the income tax department are trying to do, is always going to be an uphill task but proving that the actions are malafide and benefit a few companies is much easier. Going by this logic, if Raja changed the law/procedures to benefit a handful of firms, presumably these firms are as guilty as him, even without proving a money trail. So, in the current case, even though it is true that all the paperwork was signed off by various government officials—in that sense, the licence is kosher—what Deepak Parekh's anti-bribery law would do is to make it mandatory for a company's management to sign off on some tough questions. Has the correct procedure been followed to allocate the licence we are buying would be, for instance, one such question the management would have to ask itself, and in writing. Clearly, few of the companies concerned asked themselves this question in their rush to get the almost-free licences. Of course, having a law and implementing it are two different things. We have an election spending law and a donation law but both are routinely breached. If the government takes tough action in the current case, by cancelling all licences that were under-priced or by charging hefty penalties on them, this will ensure corporate India thinks twice before it takes favours from the government.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WEN IN INDIA, TIME FOR BUSINESS

AMITENDU PALIT

 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting India after five years. While this is a stand-alone state visit, many have failed to notice that the Chinese Premier and President have met the Indian Prime Minister on ten occasions this year. This rather startling statistic points to the high frequency of interaction between the top strata of the Chinese and Indian political leadership. It also underlines the increasing number of common global and regional forums featuring both countries.

 

Premier Wen's visit is expected to focus on both the gloomy and bright sides of the bilateral relationship.

 

The former features the irritants, primarily the border and Tibet. While Tibet may not feature prominently in the talks, borders are expected to be discussed and debated. The core component of the visit, however, will be trade and economic engagement.

 

Bilateral trade has touched $50 billion from a mere $3 billion a decade ago. Analysts have been at a loss to explain why trade has grown at such a fast pace, despite lingering disputes and a pronounced trust deficit. The only explanation seems to be the enthusiastic responses of market forces, from either side, to growing opportunities. It is worth speculating that if trade has risen to the level it has despite irritants, to what level can it rise under more enabling circumstances?

 

That trade and economic engagement will be at the forefront of Premier Wen's visit is obvious from the composition of his delegation. More than 400 leading Chinese businesses are accompanying the Premier as part of the largest Chinese business team to ever visit India. The varied composition of the delegation reflects an across-the-board interest of Chinese businesses in the Indian economy. While assessing the potential of new exports in the Indian market will be a priority for some of the accompanying businesses, others will be keen on exploring the feasibility of setting up long-term commercial operations in India. This explains the presence of several real estate and construction firms in the delegation. Chinese electricity firms figure prominently in the delegation—as they are expected to—given the already firm imprints they have etched in India's power sector. One of the high points of Premier Wen's visit is the expected formalisation of an agreement between the Shanghai Electric Group and Reliance Power, involving the sale of thirty-six 660MW thermal generators. Interestingly, the delegation also includes representatives from the banking industry, which might signal the beginning of active Chinese interest in India's financial sector.

 

India might feel elated by the fact that, from a Chinese perspective, it has begun receiving the same treatment that China has been extending to a select group of countries. This involves the separation of economic priorities from political differences and disputes. China has serious political differences with most of its major trading partners, such as the US, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. But such differences have not prevented China from growing robust trade and investment ties with these countries. Indeed, strong economic associations have probably helped in marginalising prickly issues on certain occasions. China has always been quick to spot economic returns and has never been held hostage by political baggage. It appears to be deploying the same approach towards India— putting a firm foot forward to harness India's exciting economic potential, notwithstanding the persistence of historical disputes.

 

On its part, India will do well to take note of a few issues. No economic relationship can be approached with the primary objective of generating a trade surplus. Trade is a two-way, market-driven traffic. China's trade imbalance with India is simply an outcome of the relative state of comparative advantages of the two countries, where Indian manufacturers find it more efficient to import capital goods and intermediates from China rather than purchasing them at home. Thus, India should look forward to Premier Wen's visit not as an occasion for harping on correcting the imbalance but as an opportunity for developing meaningful synergies with an economy that is expected to become the world's largest in a decade.

 

India will also do well to note that China views all its relationships through a pragmatic prism. Pragmatism encourages China to contemplate unexpected change. Less than four months ago, at Shenzhen, hardly anybody expected Premier Wen to talk of political reforms in the same breath as economic reforms. Similarly, not many expected him to lead the largest ever business delegation to India at a time when stapled visas are staple fodder in the Indo-China discourse. Both instances are examples of China's pragmatic response to evolving realities—at home and in the neighbourhood. India may be better off emulating this posture and approaching Premier Wen's visit in a business-like manner, both literally and metaphorically.

 

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore (NUS). These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GREAT JOB, MR BHAVE

SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

 

We've been blessed to have a regulator like Chandrashekhar Bhaskar Bhave; the Sebi chief is a man of high integrity, a rare trait in today's corrupt world. Moreover, he has been willing to take tough decisions and has not bent the rules for anybody, no matter how strong the pulls and pressures. Remember how the promoters of Ranbaxy were not allowed to route their sale of a 34.8% stake to Daiichi Sankyo through the exchanges, which they wanted to do to save on capital gains tax? The recent crackdown on market operators, who were allegedly attempting to manipulate share prices possibly in collusion with promoters of those companies, is just another example of how serious Bhave is about trying to clean up the system. It's no secret that every large business group in the country has its own set of 'house brokers' through which it trades in shares of group companies, pushing up prices when needed and bringing them down when required. With foreign institutional investors (FIIs) arriving on the scene, many of our promoters, who may have stashed away money overseas, have tried to bring it back to the markets at home by routing the money through FII sub-accounts. Sebi has not hesitated to investigate such cases even if they relate to large industrial groups.

 

Sebi's latest attempt to ask companies to come clean on off-market deals is aimed at preventing promoters from transferring shares, either from their legitimate or undisclosed holding firms, to market operators, as part of a strategy to rig stock prices. Also, the move will make for transparent transactions in which shares are privately placed with institutional investors. Since few promoters in this country believe in transparency—many of the bigger groups don't even disclose the price at which they conclude acquisitions as though it has no relevance to the company's financials—some mandatory disclosures on the pricing of Qualified Institutional Placements (QIPs) were needed. And investors should be happy that the market is getting cleaned up. While it is true that investors should be careful about where they're putting their money, promoters cannot be pardoned for manipulating share prices. And Sebi has done a good job of banning four companies for rigging their stock prices.

 

But if regulators are to work, they have a right to autonomy as has been asserted by Bhave. While no Sebi chief may have been removed in the past, it would be naive to think that they cannot be pressured if they are not pliable enough. We all know what happens to those who do not fall in line. Coming as it does against the backdrop of RBI also expressing concerns at its autonomy being eroded, with the Financial Stability and Development Council replacing the High Level Committee on Financial Markets, the Sebi chief's point is well-taken. RBI had been concerned that the FSDC, to be headed by the finance minister, will give it overriding powers when it comes to inter-regulatory disputes.

 

The Sebi chairman has also expressed his concern at the idea of merging regulators' funds with the central government's Consolidated Funds of India, saying regulators would find it hard to be independent if they are dependent on the executive for funds. Once again, the control-hungry bureaucrats in North Block want to be calling the shots; what they should be doing is supplementing Sebi's earnings adequately so that the capital markets watchdog can afford the best legal expertise and surveillance systems. Sebi needs to be able to enlist the services of top lawyers so that it can prosecute and punish effectively.

 

RBI has not succeeded in convincing the finance ministry that the governor should be the head of the FSDC, and not the finance minster, but the incoming Sebi chief must fight for autonomy because otherwise he will not be able to continue the good work that the capital markets regulator has been doing in unearthing cosy connections between promoters and operators, and much more. At a time when skeletons are tumbling out of every closet, we simply cannot afford to have any aspersions being cast on Sebi. Otherwise, foreign investors, who are already somewhat unsettled by the series of scams, will not want to invest in the country, no matter how attractive the India growth story. It's in the government's interest to have a clean capital market—after all, it has a big share in terms of its investments in public sector stocks.

 

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

Indo-China buy-buy

China Premier Wen Jiabao's visit over the next two days is, among other things, supposed to be about strengthening trade ties between the two countries. The Indian side has several issues to take up, including that of lack of access to Chinese markets, but this one takes the cake. One of India's leading B2B sites, indiamart.com, says it is being blocked in China—as a result, the Website says orders/ inquiries from China have fallen dramatically. Indiamart is working on changing its IP address, has asked the Indian government to take this up with China and has also asked Nasscom to intercede on its behalf. The twist here is that China's B2B site alibaba.com has no such problems in India.

 

The new Queen of England

 

Speaking at a summit on corporate governance, Deepak Parekh was listing some new expressions that have become popular since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September, 2008. "Too big to fail is now part of the new lexicon", Parekh said adding, "Until recently, when anyone mentioned QE II, I always thought it referred to Queen Elizabeth II or the luxury liner that I dreamed I would take a cruise on when I retired."

 

Telecom's first do-not-call

 

Trai's Do Not Call registry is yet to take off, but others in the industry have started working on it in right earnest. Justice Shivraj Patil, who will be looking into procedural lapses in the ministry from 2001 to 2009, called a press conference to outline his work-plan. Since he'll be very busy trying to examine various policy changes and to understand their implications, he requested journalists to not call him for the next four weeks. 

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ENIGMATIC EYES

 

The world's most popular museum, the Louvre, is home to the world's most enigmatic work of art—the Mona Lisa. Interest in Da Vinci's most famous work doesn't seem to wane, historians, tourists and experts, alike, are mesmerised by that mysterious smile. But this time, it is not the smile that intrigues, it is the eyes. A member of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage in Italy, while poring over a book about the painting, found a passage about hidden letters and numbers in the eyes of the Mona Lisa. The letters LV, for Leonardo Da Vinci (no, not Louis Vuitton) and some combination of C, E, B and S have been deciphered in the eyes.

 

But it is nevertheless suspect that a painting so widely studied and written about—theories abound on her expressions, ranging from a cross-dressing self-portrait of Da Vinci to the knowing glance of an unfaithful wife to a woman with high cholesterol—was never looked at closely with a magnifying glass until this week. The team of historians who unearthed these symbols remain convinced that they were put there by the artist. That even though this discovery was revealed only a day earlier, author Dan Brown has already titled the sequel to his best-selling book The Da Vinci Code 2: The eyes have it!, as per Vanity Fair, only thickens the plot. It is safe to say that time will be the best judge of whether this is sheer coincidence or simply a ploy for publicity.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

OFFENCE AS DEFENCE

 

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has used a college debater's trick to attack the Opposition's demand for a proper investigation into the 2G telecom spectrum scandal. She has set up an Aunt Sally by equating their call with the act of denigrating the sanctity of the institution of Prime Minister in particular. The irony is that it is the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government that is weakening the institutional foundations of good governance in the country. First, the principle of Cabinet accountability was given the heave-ho by allowing a telecom Minister to run a freelance spectrum allocation policy despite the objections of several Ministries and of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself. Secondly, as the Supreme Court of India has noted, the supposedly independent Central Bureau of Investigation has allowed its investigative responsibilities to be compromised by political considerations — as its actions, and in particular the much-delayed searches in this case, show. Thirdly, the UPA government appointed as Central Vigilance Commissioner a man who is not only facing charges of individual wrongdoing but who also helped run the Ministry whose actions are being investigated by the CBI, which the CVC is meant to supervise. Fourthly, it has allowed senior Ministers and party spokespersons to cast aspersions on the quality of the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit account of 2G spectrum allocation.

 

Most damning of all, the Congress stands guilty of being a party to the paralysis that gripped Parliament in the last session as a result of the standoff with the Opposition over the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee. To be sure, one can question the Bharatiya Janata Party's track record in making telecom policy or its tactics in Parliament but the government has a responsibility to do all it takes to ensure the smooth functioning of the legislative branch. The Hindu has argued that the dimension and magnitude of the 2G scandal is so enormous that a parliamentary debate or a review of the CAG report by the Public Accounts Committee will not suffice. The PAC can do its work and Parliament can also conduct an open debate. But these cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive enquiry by an empowered JPC. While the CBI is investigating the criminality alleged and Justice Shivraj Patil is looking into the internal functioning of the Telecom Ministry, there is no agency other than the JPC that can investigate the wider murk of unethical behaviour involving politicians, corporate houses, lobbyists, and journalists from which the 2G scam eventually emerged. Instead of attacking the opposition, Ms Gandhi and Dr. Singh should reach out and clear the air so that the Budget session next year is not wasted in similar fashion.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SAINA'S MAGIC YEAR

 

Saina Nehwal has caught the imagination of the masses, classes, and the media of cricket-crazy India. Her phenomenal rise to superstardom over the past year is a result of meticulous planning, methodical training, and great spirit. Her gold-winning match in the Commonwealth Games capped India's finest show in the multi-discipline event. The brilliant fightback in the final, cheered on by an unprecedented audience, not only enhanced her stock; it raised the profile of badminton across the country. On that day, the nation discovered a young, inspiring performer in a sport so familiar to its growing middle-class. The title helped overcome the disappointment of her unexpected quarterfinal-defeat in the Asian Games last month. The golden week in Hong Kong helped Saina settle a few scores: she avenged the loss in the Asian Games to Hong Kong's Yip Pui Yin and went on to get the measure of Wang Shixian, the Chinese woman who won the Asiad gold, and also handed out the Indian star her worst defeat of the year in the World championship quarterfinals in Paris in August 2010. Strangely, on her way to taking five major titles, including three in the prestigious Super Series this year, Saina was not required to beat a single higher-ranked player.

 

The year 2010, which witnessed Saina's rise to the second spot in world rankings before slipping a few rungs, has established her as a serious contender for the country's first-ever Olympic or World championship medal in badminton. Although the 20-year-old needs to improve her head-to-head record against the leading Chinese player, her growing self-belief indicates that she is ready to realise her ambition of being the world's best. Saina is now showing on court the world-beating qualities that Prakash Padukone revealed in the 1981 World Cup final against Han Jian. She and her coach, Gopi Chand, know only too well that in the coming year, they will have to contend with a better-prepared Chinese brigade. But Saina has a way of dealing with challenges. For example, what she lacks in on-court movements, she makes up with finely honed skills at the net. She has improved her stamina and speed but is modest enough to acknowledge that a lot of work needs to be done. Overcoming the odds comes naturally to Saina; she recently revealed that her grandmother was disappointed at her birth because she desired a grandson. Today the Hissar-born, Hyderabad-based young woman is inspiring thousands of girls across the country to chase their dreams.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TIME TO RESET THE INDIA-CHINA RELATIONSHIP

MUTUAL RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER'S CORE CONCERNS AND A PLAN TO ENLARGE THE AREAS FOR COMMON ACTION AND COOPERATION MUST BE AT THE HEART OF THE BILATERAL AGENDA.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jiang Zemin decided in 2003 to appoint Special Representatives (SRs) to explore and presumably accelerate "the framework of a boundary settlement" between India and China, little did they imagine that their vast but disputed borderlands would end up casting a dark shadow on the overall bilateral relationship seven years later.

 

The Line of Actual Control in the western and eastern sectors may be extraordinarily tranquil but the artificially speeded up prospect of a boundary settlement has increased the salience of territoriality at a time when the relationship most needs a de-territorialised agenda. China and India are confronting the same set of challenges that their spectacular rise has exposed them to, from globalisation and its imbalances to transnational security threats, environmental degradation, piracy, maritime security and political instability in various parts of Asia. As the two preeminent powers of the Asian region, India and China have an enormous responsibility to discharge — and discharge jointly. The burden they carry is too great to allow either the kind of assertive, 'go-it-alone' strategy the Chinese seem to favour or the 'bandwagoning with an off-shore balancer' that the Indians appear to prefer. Instead of focussing inward on their disputed border, the two countries need to look together at the wider region and its challenges and see how the pooling of equities they do so well on global issues like trade, financial rebalancing and climate change can also occur on the Asian front. But this is not happening.

 

Two years ago, the Chinese side implicitly started questioning the status of Jammu and Kashmir by giving Indians domiciled in the State a loose-leaf 'stapled' visa instead of the regular visa given to Indians from elsewhere. That China regarded Arunachal Pradesh as disputed and was pressing a claim in the SRs talks for what it calls 'Southern Tibet' was well known. But the stridency of its assertions — especially its objections to Indian leaders visiting the north-eastern State — took the Indian side by surprise. On their part, some Indian military commanders muddied the waters by making irresponsible public pronouncements which have fuelled both the jingoism and insecurity of a hyper-nationalist media and middle class. The suggestion made on background by some Indian officials that China's claims to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh violated the "political principles and parameters" governing the boundary settlement agreed to by both sides (because of the reference there to due regard being paid to the wishes of settled populations) may also have pushed Beijing into a more assertive mode. After all, from the Chinese point of view, if that were to mean all settled areas automatically belong to India then why are the SRs still negotiating? Whatever the causes, however, it is clear that the prioritised quest for a boundary settlement, far from bringing the two countries closer, has emerged as a source of irritation and even tension.

 

In their own way, it seems as if both countries are aware of this negative dynamic. That is why, at their 13th round of talks in 2009 and again at the 14th round in Beijing last month, the two SRs opened a door for a wider discussion on issues of political and strategic concern. Hopefully, this new discussion will help 'de-territorialise' the relationship.

 

The broad contours of the way New Delhi looks at Beijing were spelt out in a remarkable speech to the Observer Research Foundation by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on December 3. Ms Rao touched on all the prickly issues from stapled visas for Kashmiris to the imbalance in trade, Chinese hydro projects on the Brahmaputra and the Sino-Pakistani relationship. But she also said the view that India and China are rivals "is an over-generalisation and over-simplification of a complex relationship which encompasses so many diverse issues." In the wider strategic community, there are other issues which tend to get flagged such as the 'string of pearls' thesis and the fear that China is "encircling" India by building close relations with its smaller South Asian neighbours like Nepal and Sri Lanka. But these fears are not uniformly shared within the government.

 

As one examines the future of the relationship, it is useful to flesh out the areas where Indian and Chinese interests may actually diverge or converge. If we divide Indian foreign policy analytically into three concentric circles encompassing South Asia, Asia and the world, then it is primarily at the Asian level that the two powers are rubbing up against each other. Within South Asia, which India would like to develop as a cohesive economic space, the primary obstacle is Pakistan. To be sure, Pakistan benefits a great deal from the military and economic help it receives from China, especially in the nuclear and missile spheres. But even in the absence of an axis with Beijing, the binding constraint in South Asia remains the role of the Pakistani military establishment in determining the fate of that country. Elsewhere in South Asia, it may hurt Indian pride to see a major infrastructure project in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, say, go to a Chinese firm, but this is because Indian companies did not bother to avail of the opportunity.

 

In any case, physical infrastructure of this kind is not a zero sum game. Last year, I happened to give a talk on national security to senior executives from a company with very diverse business interests. One executive asked me whether India ought to be worried by a report he had read recently of China planning to connect Nepal to Tibet by rail. Before I could answer, another executive put up his hand. He was from the clothing division and spoke about how the company's factory in Nepal imports fabric from China by sea via Kolkata. Each journey takes six to eight weeks. "If a rail link comes up from Tibet, I'll be able to bring in my shipments within ten days," he said.

 

The wider point is that as China grows, Chinese companies will increase their presence in South Asia, especially India. By the same token, Indian businesses and economic interests are also getting entrenched across Asia, including South East and East Asia, where Japanese dominance has already made way for both China and South Korea. These developments would become "threatening" if they are imbued with a strategic dynamic that is powerful enough to overturn the imperatives of geography. In both South Asia and East Asia, for the foreseeable future at least, this is unlikely.

 

Globally, other than at the highest table — the United Nations Security Council — India and China have more in common with each other than with other big powers. True, Chinese companies have made spectacular commercial inroads in Africa but many of the infrastructure projects they have embarked on will generate multiplier effects that will create space for Indian and other companies to get involved. But it is on the question of Asia — East Asian security and the related question of maritime security in the Indian Ocean — that India and China seem, at least superficially, to be working at cross purposes.

 

From the Chinese point of view, preventing a U.S.-India axis in Asia is a key priority.

 

As New Delhi draws closer to Washington, Beijing feels it necessary to make its own overtures towards the Indians but also to take "defensive" measures of one kind or another. That is why China has alternated between criticism and negative rhetoric, on the one hand, and blandishment on the other. But this is a risky strategy. Overshoot with the negativity and you run the risk of driving India into willing American arms. Overshoot with the platitudes and the Indians may end up taking you for granted. It is my sense that the Chinese inability to deal with the dynamics of the Indo-U.S. relationship is responsible, in large measure, for the up-and-down perturbations we have seen in the bilateral trend line since 2004.

 

India, too, has allowed itself to be paralysed by the prospect of a Sino-American axis and has tended to retreat into a strategic shell whenever the concept of G-2 rears its unwelcome head. Today, with G-2 in retreat and the Obama administration repeating the Sino-centric overtures to India that George W. Bush did, New Delhi needs to play its cards wisely. Prime Minister Singh should explain to Premier Wen that India wants strong relations with both China and the U.S., that it does not see one as a substitute for the other and that it certainly does not intend to sacrifice one for the other. Second, that India and China need to work closely together on issues of Asian security and the emerging security architecture, and should not leave the heavy lifting that may be required to outside powers. Third, given China's critical dependence on shipping, especially energy, across the Indian Ocean, and given India's strategic location at the centre of east-west SLOCs, the two countries ought to cooperate more on broad maritime issues, including anti-piracy, marine pollution and ensuring the openness of the sea commons. Broadening the regional and global agenda is the best way to move away from the rancour that the boundary question has started to generate. Sixty years have already elapsed without it being settled. Waiting a few more years should not be a problem for either side.

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS  ANYLYSIS

YOU COULD NEVER TELL WITH DICK HOLBROOKE

'HE COULD BE ABRUPT AND ABRASIVE ONE MOMENT, AND THEN HE COULD TURN ON THE CHARM.' A TRIBUTE.

PRANAY GUPTE

 

Dick Holbrooke and I were once at a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations — the New York-based policy institution of which both of us were elected life members — and I asked him if he expected to become U.S. Secretary of State under President Hillary Rodham Clinton. The American presidential campaign was under way at the time, and Mrs. Clinton was battling a relatively unknown senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, for the Democratic nomination.

 

"I'm not going to discuss my personal politics," Mr. Holbrooke said to me in a tone that I thought did not take into consideration the many years we'd known each other.

 

But after the meeting, he took me aside, and smiled broadly.

 

"Come on, Pranay," he said, "you know the answer to that one, right?"

 

Richard C. Holbrooke was like that. He could be abrupt and abrasive one moment, and then he could turn on the charm. But he was a loyal friend, not a characteristic of many public officials for whom loyalty is a commodity to be traded during election time or when seeking appointments to high office.

 

Sought-after adviser

 

Dick Holbrooke never was that kind of trader. He did not have to be. He was a fiendishly hard-working man whose towering intellect and acuity, and stellar track record, made him a sought-after adviser by chieftains in the public and private sectors.

 

You could never tell with Dick Holbrooke. Was that smile actually a smirk, or the other way around? Was that frown a sign of gravitas or a signal of boredom? Was that nod an indication of approval or just a hint that he'd heard what you'd said? Was that shrug of the shoulders a suggestion of a turndown, or was it simply a way to telegraph indifference?It was precisely the uncertainty that Richard C. Holbrooke engendered in others about his thoughts and temperament that made him such an extraordinary diplomat, negotiator and adviser to successive Democratic presidents of the United States over the last four decades. Mr. Holbrooke, who died Monday evening (December 13) in Washington of complications from surgery to repair a ruptured aorta, was arguably one of the most successful American envoys since World War II. He was the prime architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the conflict in Bosnia which, along with Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia, had seceded from the erstwhile Yugoslavia. The secession spawned horrific ethnic cleansing of Muslims that left humanitarian, social and political scars.

 

Mr. Holbrooke did not try to heal those deep scars: he always said that as a negotiator, his prime job was to end the fighting to the political satisfaction of all. He should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for shepherding the Dayton agreement, but in one of those mysterious acts in which the Norwegian Parliament sometimes indulges, the ambassador was passed over.

 

That must have hurt, for Dick Holbrooke was an immensely ambitious man. The signs of his ego were in full frontal view during his undergraduate days at Brown University where, after his graduation, he brashly offered his services to the New York Times. The Times, not a newspaper to turn down applicants from Ivy League colleges for junior-level posts, did not stick to form. The young man was rejected, whereupon he joined the U.S. Foreign Service.

 

Notwithstanding the rejection by TheTimes , the media always fascinated Mr. Holbrooke. In later years, he edited a prestigious magazine, Foreign Policy, and was a frequent contributor to the opinion pages of other publications, including the newspaper that had spurned him after college. And as his career in diplomacy blossomed, the media began fawning over him in ways that endlessly pleased Mr. Holbrooke but would have been embarrassing to some in public life.

 

It was an irony that his third wife, Katie Marton, was herself an author and journalist; her earlier husband had been a superstar of American television, the ABC News anchor Peter Jennings. One wondered what was going on in both men's minds when Mr. Jennings, who died a few years ago, occasionally interviewed Mr. Holbrooke on air. Was that jutted jaw and tight smile a macho effort to keep his personal animus toward Mr. Jennings? Or was it just another of the Janus-like faces that Mr. Holbrooke had cultivated over his long decades in public life?

 

Mr. Holbrooke, to be sure, would never let on.

 

Reaching out

 

I said earlier in this essay that Mr. Holbrooke did not see himself as a healer when on duty as a diplomat. That wasn't entirely the case: in his most recent job as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he privately bled at the atrocities in those countries. He also led a non-profit organisation, the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC).

 

As chairman of the Asia Society, he emphasised the need to reach out to minority communities, and to civilisations such as Islam which, he felt, offered enduring lessons in tolerance and cultural understanding. He privately expressed alarm over attacks on Muslims in India, a country whose culture and customs both he and Katie Marton loved deeply.

 

I also said earlier in this essay that not winning the Nobel Peace Prize must have hurt Mr. Holbrooke. Another huge hurt was surely that he never got to be U.S. Secretary of State, a post that he had coveted. There was expectation when Hillary Clinton's husband, Bill, was elected President in 1992 that he would name Mr. Holbrooke to the post; Mr. Clinton instead chose Madeleine Albright, also a child of European refugees like Mr. Holbrooke.

 

After Mr. Obama defeated Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic primaries to win the nomination, Mr. Holbrooke faithfully advised him on foreign policy issues. There was serious expectation that when Mr. Obama won the presidency by prevailing against Republican Senator John McCain, Mr. Holbrooke would become America's chief diplomat. The job went instead to his close friend, Mrs. Clinton.

 

It was in Hillary Clinton's office at the State Department that Mr. Holbrooke collapsed last Friday. He underwent 21 hours of surgery. In the end he died of a ruptured aorta on Monday evening. But I think that Dick Holbrooke's heart had been broken long before that. It's just that he never let on.

( Pranay Gupte's next book, on India and the Middle East, will be published by Penguin/Viking in early 2011. He is currently working on his memoirs of more than four decades in international journalism, from which this essay is adapted.)

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THE HINDU

WAR-TORN CHILDHOOD OF THE LOST BOYS OF SUDAN

THE 'LOST BOYS' WERE THE SUBJECTS OF A U.S. EFFORT TO SAVE SUDANESE REFUGEES IN 2001. NOW, USING THE DOCUMENTS, THE SURVIVORS ARE TRYING TO PIECE THINGS TOGETHER.

CRAIG SCHNEIDER

 

When Deng-Athoi Galuak walked into the refugee camp in Ethiopia, he was a thinned-out, raggedy kid who had survived the bombing of his village, three months of walking, two bouts of malaria, starvation and predation by wolves and lions.

 

Days ago, thanks to some newly available records, Galuak saw, for the first time, a 22-year-old photo of himself in that refugee camp. He was only 6 or 7.

 

"At first, it didn't look like me, then I looked again," said Galuak, now 29 and living in Lilburn. "I cried."

 

He thinks the image looks like his four-year-old daughter, Ajweny, named for his tribe's word for survivor. He showed it to her, but she could not grasp the epic story behind it. She is still struggling to understand why other children have a grandmother and she does not.

 

The photo is part of a eight-page packet sent to Galuak by a non-profit group in Arizona. The packet contains his handwritten personal history, compiled by aid workers who interviewed him and thousands of other Sudanese children who streamed into the camp without parents. The workers gathered the information in hopes of reuniting families later, and the refugees are now reclaiming these lost pieces of their childhood.

 

Galuak looks a little nervous in the photo. He remembers when it was taken. The camera frightened him. He didn't know what it was.

 

The image is the only photo of his childhood.

 

It is part of a different life, before he came to America, learned to work a vacuum cleaner, spent late nights studying and received a bachelor's degree in international relations. These days, he and the other children who were his companions on that journey are the stuff of books and television programmes on the heroic 'Lost Boys of the Sudan'.

 

Website

 

The documents became available a few months ago, after researchers scanned them into digital form and handed them to an Arizona support group for the Lost Boys. The documents can be accessed through the website lostboysreunited.org. A few hundred requests have already arrived, including a handful from Georgia.

 

"It really is a healing for them," said Brenda Felldin, a board member of the Arizona group.

 

Chol Nyok, another of the child refugees, also received a packet. Now 31 and living in Clarkston, he said the report rekindled memories of lost loved ones, including his father and a cousin who died in the Pinyudo camp in Ethiopia.

 

"I was reminded of those sad days," said Nyok, a student of international relations at Kennesaw State University. "I was very young and I didn't know what was going on."

 

But Nyok was "outraged" that the packet did not include a photo of him.

 

"I wanted to look at myself from that younger times," he said. "I don't even know what I looked like."

 

The details

 

The Lost Boys were the subjects of a U.S. effort to save 3,800 Sudanese refugees in 2001, most of them young people. Many of their families were killed during Sudan's second civil war during the mid-1980s. About 150 came to metro Atlanta.

 

The papers Nyok and Galuak received document lives torn apart in a stripped-down list of questions and answers.

 

Galuak told the worker he is from the Dinka tribe. He listed his family members and the illnesses he suffered fleeing his country, including "itching."

 

One question: What happened to cause you to leave the Sudan?

 

"I left the Sudan because of the ongoing war and to seek education," he responded.

 

What were the significant events on the way?

 

In the boxes provided, the worker checked off exhaustion, hunger and thirst, and "attacks by people and animals."

 

"I look back at it," Galuak said, sitting at home, "and I wonder: 'How did that kid make it?'"

 

The scrawled check marks indicate that, before the exodus, he lived with his mother and father, "tended cattle," "collected firewood" and "played."

 

Rescue and later life

 

"I was a happy kid," he recalled, until the bombing started. It lasted a week and left his village in flames and chaos. He remembers hearing his mother's voice yelling, "Get out, get out," so he ran and kept running. Those were the last words he heard from his mother. His barefoot walk to Ethiopia, amid of column of 20,000 mostly young people, stretched through three months of little food, sickness and night-time attacks by wild beasts.

 

"There were times I did not want to walk anymore. I wanted to lay down and die," he said. "Some kids did that."

 

Galuak spent four years in the refugee camp, separated from most of his family and holding out little hope for the future. That camp was attacked during Ethiopian civil unrest in 1991, and the group fled again, ending up in another camp in Kenya, where he stayed for 10 years before the U.S. rescue effort took him to Boston. He was about 19 by then.

 

Galuak, who had loved education from the time when he learned to write in the dirt of the Ethiopian camp, started taking lessons from a tutor. That was followed by evening classes and a high school equivalency test.

 

Now 6-foot-2 inches and 180 pounds (81.6 kg), he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, then moved to Atlanta to escape Boston's cold weather.

 

He is pursuing a master's degree in international affairs at North Georgia College and State University, and

preparing an application to pursue a doctorate degree at the University of London.

 

For all his travels, he has never been far from the troubles in the Sudan, a place still riven by civil unrest. He hopes to serve as a diplomat or international liaison for the United Nations, or become an elected official in Sudan. He plans to vote for the secession of southern Sudan in January referendum. Refugees can vote at a handful of American sites.

 

He looks at the packet again and again. Some Lost Boys are using the information to find relatives. Galuak knows two of his brothers made it out safely; one is in Boston and another in Australia. He has gone back to Sudan twice to find others, only to be led by rumour after rumour to village after village, to no avail.

 

"When I look at their names, I want to see them," he said. "But they are not here." — © 2010 Cox Newspapers/New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

CHERNOBYL NOW OPEN TO TOURISTS

UKRAINE ANNOUNCES OFFICIAL TOURS OF THE 1986 NUCLEAR DISASTER SITE.

PETER WALKER

 

Already been to North Korea? Hiking in Afghanistan too last year? Fear not. Tourism has a new frontier: the site of the world's biggest civilian nuclear disaster.

 

From next year the heavily contaminated area around the Chernobyl power plant will be officially open to tourists with an interest in post-apocalyptic vistas, late-period Soviet history, or both.

 

Ukraine's emergency situations ministry said on December 13 that visitors would be offered tours inside the 50km exclusion zone set up after reactor four at the plant exploded on April 26, 1986, showering northern Europe in radioactive fallout.

 

The disaster killed an unknown number of people — estimates for deaths from radiation exposure range from dozens to thousands — and forced around 3,50,000 people to leave their homes forever.

 

Wandering not encouraged

 

While the area remains heavily contaminated, a ministry spokeswoman said, tourism routes had been drawn up which would cover the main sights while steering clear of the dangerous spots. Wandering would not be encouraged, Yulia Yershova said: "There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn't stray away from the group." It is already possible to visit the area with private tour firms, usually operating from Ukraine's capital, Kiev, 100km south. The country's government, however, says these are illegal and tourists' safety cannot be guaranteed.

 

The itinerary of one such tour, which takes in the nuclear plant and even the remains of the number four reactor, contains elements as lunch (food is delivered from outside of the Chernobyl zone), passage through the Dytyatky control point and measuring of radiation.

 

Apart from seeing the remnants of one of the late 20th century's most dramatic events, trips to the exclusion zone offer visitors a peek into a macabre, Marie Celeste world where tens of thousands of homes were abandoned. Particularly chilling is Pripyat, once a 50,000-strong city but now a ghost town, where books still sit on school desks and May Day decorations flutter in the streets.

 

The plant itself, which kept generating power until 2000, still has 2,500 staff making the site safe, working in strict shifts to minimise radiation exposure.

 

Ukraine's government said that it hoped to complete a new sarcophagus for the exploded reactor by 2015. The existing concrete structure is cracking and leaks radiation.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

CHERNOBYL NOW OPEN TO TOURISTS

UKRAINE ANNOUNCES OFFICIAL TOURS OF THE 1986 NUCLEAR DISASTER SITE.

PETER WALKER

 

Already been to North Korea? Hiking in Afghanistan too last year? Fear not. Tourism has a new frontier: the site of the world's biggest civilian nuclear disaster.

 

From next year the heavily contaminated area around the Chernobyl power plant will be officially open to tourists with an interest in post-apocalyptic vistas, late-period Soviet history, or both.

 

Ukraine's emergency situations ministry said on December 13 that visitors would be offered tours inside the 50km exclusion zone set up after reactor four at the plant exploded on April 26, 1986, showering northern Europe in radioactive fallout.

 

The disaster killed an unknown number of people — estimates for deaths from radiation exposure range from dozens to thousands — and forced around 3,50,000 people to leave their homes forever.

 

Wandering not encouraged

 

While the area remains heavily contaminated, a ministry spokeswoman said, tourism routes had been drawn up which would cover the main sights while steering clear of the dangerous spots. Wandering would not be encouraged, Yulia Yershova said: "There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn't stray away from the group." It is already possible to visit the area with private tour firms, usually operating from Ukraine's capital, Kiev, 100km south. The country's government, however, says these are illegal and tourists' safety cannot be guaranteed.

 

The itinerary of one such tour, which takes in the nuclear plant and even the remains of the number four reactor, contains elements as lunch (food is delivered from outside of the Chernobyl zone), passage through the Dytyatky control point and measuring of radiation.

 

Apart from seeing the remnants of one of the late 20th century's most dramatic events, trips to the exclusion zone offer visitors a peek into a macabre, Marie Celeste world where tens of thousands of homes were abandoned. Particularly chilling is Pripyat, once a 50,000-strong city but now a ghost town, where books still sit on school desks and May Day decorations flutter in the streets.

 

The plant itself, which kept generating power until 2000, still has 2,500 staff making the site safe, working in strict shifts to minimise radiation exposure.

 

Ukraine's government said that it hoped to complete a new sarcophagus for the exploded reactor by 2015. The existing concrete structure is cracking and leaks radiation.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

HELICOPTERS TO SAVE CROPS

 

Dozens of helicopters are whirring above Florida's valuable and sensitive veggie crops, an unusual approach by farmers worried that an uncommon freeze could wipe out their harvests. They hover low over green bean and sweet corn fields, moving back and forth in the early morning hours to push warmer air closer to the plants, and, the farmers hope, save plants from a deadly frost.

 

Farmers are especially nervous because the 11-day freeze in January wiped out many crops, from corn to kumquats. Florida is the largest winter producer of sweet corn in the U.S., the kind people eat.

 

The stakes are high — in 2009, the value of production of sweet corn from Florida was $227 million.

 

"They have hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars in crops," said Paul Allen, president of the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange.

 

The helicopters may be the last line of defence if temperatures dip below freezing, as expected, though it is an expensive technique. It costs about $2,500 an hour to fly one helicopter over the crops, and the length of flights depends on a mix of temperatures and wind conditions.

 

Here's how it works — the air 50 feet (15 m) above the crops is warmer than the air near the plants. The helicopter blades push the warm air down and the temperature goes up, said David Sui, a University of Florida expert on vegetables and tropical fruits. The warmer air prevents cold and frost from settling on the plants. "Even if it raises the temperature a couple of degrees it may save the crops." he said.

 

The technique isn't a new one, as it has been done before. Strawberry farmers are spraying water on the plants, so the heat lost from the crop to the surrounding air is replaced with the heat released as water changes to ice. Citrus farmers are using ground-level heaters to warm the air near tree trunks. And tropical fish farmers are moving their fish or covering outdoor tanks. January's cold snap damaged large swathes of strawberries and tomatoes. Nearly all of the kumquat crop died.

 

When Florida's crops die, shoppers pay more at the grocery store because replacement produce is usually imported from outside the U.S.— AP

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

 

BEIJING NEEDS A REALITY CHECK

 

On the eve of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's three-day visit to India, after which the Chinese leader heads to the capital of "all-weather friend" Pakistan, Zhang Yan, Beijing's ambassador in New Delhi, seems to be shooting in the wrong direction. Mr Zhang worried on Monday at a function in the Indian capital that Sino-Indian ties were "very fragile and very easy to be damaged and very difficult to repair". Efforts were needed on both sides, he noted, to create an objective and friendly environment based on mutual trust to ensure that the two countries do not have a wrong perception of one another. In order to achieve this highly desirable state, the prescription from the People's Republic is that "the government should provide guidance to the public". In other words, the media should be controlled when it comes to commenting on China or Sino-India relations. This is easily done, the ambassador would appreciate, if India were like China, a politburo-guided paradise. Since that is not the case, the recipe is unrealistic. And if the logic of the ambassador's thought is to be pursued, then the India-China story is doomed for the simple reason that the media here cannot be given a line to follow. This train of Chinese thinking appears so simplistic as to be contrived. Therefore, if Beijing's representative here is barking up the wrong tree by picking on the media, it is because he appears to have instructions to do just that. Only the innocent can be fed the notion that China does not know what the media is all about in countries where capitalism prevails. The truth is that instead of seeking to get to the bottom of things, to figure out why public opinion in India gets upset with China so frequently of late, the Chinese response is to blame it on the media.


If Beijing's intent is to sort out relations in a spirit of goodwill, we would recommend a different tack. We may only hope that in official talks the Chinese Premier does not put a gloss on the key issues between the two countries and advise that we wait for the end of protracted negotiations. After all, the stated purpose of Mr Wen's trip is to soothe feelings in India. That requires that the core issues that concern India will have to be allowed for in Chinese thinking. Kashmir is important in this regard. Refusing a top Indian military official a Chinese visa because he served in Jammu and Kashmir, starting the new system of stapling Chinese paper visas issued to Indian citizens from that state, engaging in projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and arranging Chinese soldiers in some strength on the Karakoram highway in the guise of roadbuilders — these are some of the issues that have disturbed the Indian people and the government. The media has only reflected this.
Rising trade figures are all very well. The visiting Chinese Premier is scheduled to come with a delegation comprising several hundred businessmen with a view to doing about $20 billion worth of trade deals. He is welcome and one may hope that his government would in the process also allow the import of Indian pharmaceuticals and software into China. Fundamentally, however, when it comes to rebuilding political trust that was shattered by the unfriendliness exemplified by the 1962 war, Beijing's policy toward India would have to shed its Pakistan angularity, that is, roll back steps aimed at giving comfort to Islamabad in the latter's dealings with New Delhi. China must learn to keep its ties with Pakistan separate and autonomous from its relations with this country.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

GIFT OF THE GRAB

INDER MALHOTRA

 

To speak of a tsunami of scams in India today would be palpably wrong. However disastrous a tsunami's long-term effects, it is essentially a brief phenomenon. By contrast, corruption has become an integral part of India's life and permeates the entire bodypolitic. This term is, by no means, confined to politicians in power and their bureaucratic henchmen all too happy to collude with their venal bosses. It includes the judiciary, the media, private sector tycoons, power brokers and so on, as the Niira Radia tapes have established so eloquently.

 

Santosh Hegde, Karnataka's intrepid Lokayukta, has practically said so.


The corrosive menace, let us admit candidly, is not new but rather ancient. Over 2,500 years ago Kautilya could record "40 different ways in which the king's minions would cheat him of his revenues". Hyderabad's charming euphemism for graft, mamool or customary, has its roots in the Mughal times, Mumbai's substitute of it, hafta or weekly payment, in the British Raj. The trouble is that what in the past — including the earlier years of Independence — was only a trickle is now a relentless torrent. Having increased arithmetically first and then geometrically, corruption on a mammoth scale in this country is now taking a quantum jump. It has indeed become the country's fastest growing and least-risk industry. How and why this has happened is best exemplified by the 2G spectrum scam — the mother of all scandals since the tryst with destiny.
How former telecom minister A. Raja of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a vital ally of the Congress in the ruling alliance, was reappointed minister for communications and information technology in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second government has been exposed thoroughly by the Niira Radia tapes. The Supreme Court, apart from the Opposition parties and the public at large, has commented caustically on Mr Raja's ability to brush aside even the Prime Minister's directive and the finance minister's advice to him. He then went ahead playing ducks and drakes with the procedure for granting spectrum licences. The resultant loot is estimated at `1,76,000 crore, a mind-boggling figure. The Enforcement Directorate, in its report to the apex court, has stated that some of this money had found its way to various tax havens on the very first day.


Even in his last years, Jawaharlal Nehru had forced his minister for natural resources Keshav Dev Malaviya, one of his favourites, to resign because Malaviya had taken a sum of — hold your breath — `10,000 from a mine owner of Orissa, ostensibly for election purposes. Nehru had acted the moment the dismal fact was known. Forty-seven years later nothing whatsoever happened to Mr Raja for nearly a year after the gargantuan scam. The reason for this was never a secret. The DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi, had arrived in New Delhi and tersely told all concerned that Mr Raja would neither resign nor be sent away.


Only last month Mr Raja's exit became unavoidable after the Comptroller and Auditor General had laid bare all the sordid details of the unspeakable spectrum saga. Several more days were allowed to lapse before the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) raided the residences of Mr Raja and his key aides. When a large cross-section of people scoffed that the raids were too late and therefore meaningless, law minister M. Veerappa Moily lamented: "When the government takes action, it is criticised; when it does not act it is criticised". It didn't occur to the innocent soul that those under the scanner are not so foolish as to let incriminating documents lie around their homes and offices. Up to the time of writing, Mr Raja hadn't even been interrogated, leave alone being put under arrest. Under these circumstances, more and more people have begun to ask: What use is the Prime Minister's unblemished personal integrity when he is unable to control his ministers and others recklessly exercising their gift of the grab? Inextricably intertwined with the 2G outrage is the inexcusable appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner now under challenge in the apex court.

Around the time the stench of spectrum became unbearable, the country also witnessed a series of other revelations that underscore the total degeneration of the entire Indian elite. Flats in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, meant for Kargil heroes and widows, were grabbed by retired and serving top military officers and an array of politicians headed by the state chief minister of that day; a Calcutta high court judge faced impeachment and a Supreme Court bench observed that there was "something rotten" in the Allahabad high court, the country's largest; and nobody seemed horrified by the disclosures of bribes for bank loans or of foodgrains worth nearly `2,00,000 crore meant for the poor having been smuggled and exported. To cap it all, a CBI court sentenced a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, Neera Yadav, to four years' imprisonment for corruption. Along with her, a business baron, among the beneficiaries of her induced largesse in land allotment in Noida, was also sentenced. Be it noted that all this is the mere visible tip not of an iceberg but a glacier a hundred times larger than Siachin.


The painful subject is vast. In available space I can therefore make only three points very briefly. First, going by past experience, nothing much is going to happen to the culprits in the current cases also. Even if they are prosecuted, the proceedings can last forever. Can anyone throw some light on what has happened to the owner of Satyam or to Madhu Koda?


Secondly, in wailing that he, an "innocent" person, is being persecuted because he is a dalit, Mr Raja is following a well-trodden path. During the 1980s, A.R. Antulay, then chief minister of Maharashtra, had lamented that he was being targeted because he was a Muslim. Thirdly, the principle "innocent until proved guilty" has become the shield of criminals and crooks to indulge in loot even while being under trial.
It is time we recognise that corruption in India is fast assuming the proportions of tyranny in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. And let us be warned that when an evil becomes so overwhelming, something has to give.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

INDIA'S CLAIM TO THE HIGH TABLE

SATISH KUMAR

 

Global power structures have a way of adjusting themselves to the changing power realities and world leaders become instruments for the articulation of those realities. What US President Barack Obama said in the course of his address to Indian Parliament with regard to his support for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council was a recognition of one such reality.


By the turn of the century, the outside world started taking notice of India's power potential because of its consistent economic growth in the previous 10 years. Global Trends 2015, a report prepared by the National Intelligence Council of the US in 2001, predicted that "India will be the unrivalled regional power with a large military — including naval and nuclear capabilities — and a dynamic and growing economy". This view was echoed in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America released in September 2002 in the words: "The administration sees India's potential to become one of the great democratic powers of the 21st century and has worked hard to transform our relationship accordingly".


In the next four years, there was greater realisation of India's growing power which found expression in the US National Security Strategy 2006: "India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power". By 2010, India's enhanced military capabilities were also taken cognisance of. The Quadrennial Defence Review of the Pentagon published in February 2010 pointed out: "India's military capabilities are rapidly improving through increased defence acquisitions, and they now include long-range maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction and patrolling, air interdiction, and strategic airlift… As its military capabilities grow, India will contribute to Asia as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond".


Independent studies of India's economic growth also pointed towards a promising future testifying India's eligibility for a larger role in world affairs. A report prepared by an Indian scholar, Manmohan Agarwal, under the auspices of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada in 2008, estimated that India which shared two per cent of the world gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004 is likely to increase its share to four per cent by 2025 and nine per cent by 2050. During the same period, the US share in world GDP will decline from 30 per cent in 2004 to 28 per cent in 2025 and 20 per cent in 2050.


Global Governance 2025, a report prepared by the National Intelligence Council of US and Institute of Security Studies of EU in September 2010, has predicted that India which possesses nearly eight per cent of global power in 2010 is likely to increase its share to 10 per cent in 2025. The estimate has been made on the basis of measuring GDP, defence expenditure, population and technology.


This assessment is more or less corroborated by the Delhi-based think tank, National Security Research Foundation (which I head), which has estimated in the National Security Index 2010 that India is among the top 10 powers of the world and occupies fifth position. It ranks fourth in defence capability, seventh in economic strength and third in skilled working population. It is, however, very low in technological capability and energy security, holding 34th and 33rd positions respectively.


A senior Indian diplomat who has handled difficult international negotiations in recent years has pointed out that India is a "premature power". He says that while India's cumulative rank in the hierarchy of powers is high, its per capita income is very low, and it will take decades before India catches up with the developed world in this respect.

I am of the view that as long as the purchasing power of the people of major developing countries is sufficiently high, it is not necessary for those countries to wait until their per capita income equals those of developed countries in order to play an important role in world affairs. What is important is their proven capability to discharge global responsibilities. In this respect, India's record is creditworthy, especially, if we consider India's contribution to international peacekeeping, nuclear non-proliferation, disaster management, counter piracy and non-aggression.


A section of the Indian strategic community has been found to be taking a highly cynical view of India's attempts to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. They point out that India should first address its innumerable domestic problems. But they fail to understand that in the era of globalisation, the decisions taken at the United Nations and other rule-making bodies of the world directly affect the destiny of millions of people of India. Unless India is a member of these bodies, it cannot favourably influence the decisions taken at these bodies.


WikiLeaks has disclosed that the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton regards India as a "self-appointed front runner" for a permanent Security Council seat along with Brazil, Germany and Japan. If that is true, Ms Clinton is quite at odds with America's attempts to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with India. But the lesson that India must learn from this is that the struggle for a permanent seat on the Security Council is going to be hard and long drawn. Nor should India take the US support at face value.


Besides, India must be careful in clubbing its fortunes with those of Brazil, Germany and Japan. Germany and Japan are not the powers of tomorrow. Also, their candidatures are being opposed by regional heavyweights. So also is India's. But India must build its case on its own merit as a country of great future, and should do so through bilateral partnerships with strategically important countries rather than through group lobbying.

 

The writer is director, Foundation for National Security Research Foundation and former professor of diplomacy


at JNU, New Delhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE DRAGON'S TEETH

SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

 

Even as the applause at the Nobel awards ceremony begins to fade, one major question that it has triggered will continue to be debated and discussed for a while — where does China find itself vis-à-vis its neighbours. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence. Mr Liu, who played a leading role in the Tiananmen Square uprising of June 1989, is best known for his scathing criticism of the Chinese massacre at Tiananmen Square, where nearly 3,000 pro-democracy supporters were gunned down by the Chinese government. Moreover, he repeatedly voiced demands for democracy, which led to his imprisonment on charges of sedition and treason.


The Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Liu and China's demands for all countries, especially its Asian neighbours, to boycott the award ceremony indicate a new phase of Chinese diplomacy. China's claims that attending the ceremony would be tantamount to interfering in China's internal affairs suggests a very defiant diplomatic posturing.


While there is no reason to believe that the Peace Prize to Mr Liu will bring any change in terms of human rights issues within China, it is interesting to look at the manner in which neighbours have responded to China's insistence on boycotting the award ceremony is Oslo. Within the region four countries defied this — Japan, South Korea, Thailand and India. For both Japan and South Korea, members of the East Asian trio, the rise of China has been the most serious challenge. For Thailand, which is a member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China has always represented an ambiguous relationship. And finally for India, given how bilateral ties with China are poised, this was an event to further its own diplomatic counterpoint to the Chinese policy.


For the four countries the circumstances of their response may differ based on the domestic and foreign policy compulsions, but the end result highlights a shift that is critical for the region, especially if seen as a contagion.
Both Japan and South Korea look at China as the major challenge in the region. The issues relating to China's rise have been felt mostly in relation with its two closest neighbours. Sino-Japanese ties have had its highs and lows for several decades now. In fact, since the 1990s Japan has been playing a more proactive role within the region and its attempt to emerge as a "normal power" has led to significant changes in its foreign and economic policies. For South Korea, Chinese support to the North Korean regime remains a crucial factor. Moreover, for both these countries the United States plays a vital role because they still remain critical allies of the US in the wider Asia-Pacific region.


For Thailand, which is a member of the Asean and a close ally of the United States, the China factor has always been critical. In fact, most of the Asean players tend to differ in their view of China — some believe that China is a threat, while others believe that greater engagement with China will reduce the possibility of open hostility and lead to more cooperation in the region. For Asean itself there has been an increasing need to re-engage with the US because of the China factor. Even during last month's Asean Summit in Hanoi, reaffirmation of the US' role in the region was seen as a counterweight to the inroads which China has made in the region.


India's own position emerges from the compulsions of its bilateral relations with China and, in some senses, from the role that China is playing within the South Asian region. The ties between the two countries have been very rough in the past few years. Chinese position on the issues of stapled visas to people from the Kashmir Valley, its disregard for India's domestic compulsions vis-à-vis cross-border terror and its support to Pakistan have all been critical issues for India. Moreover, the unresolved border issue remains an irritant in the relations between the two countries.


As India expands its ties with Southeast and East Asia, the impact on China will be significant. There has always been a debate as to whether India and China will be competitors or play a complementary role in the region. In many senses both these roles will be visible. India's attempts to find a place within the UN Security Council will meet with resistance from China.


All these issues and India's presence at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will be on top of the agenda during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India that begins today.


What the Nobel Peace Prize issue signifies is that the matrix of East Asian interstate relations is constantly evolving and shifting. Despite the rhetoric of China's claim to "peaceful rise", there is growing concern within the region over the manner in which China's rise will affect regional calculations and security dynamics. The re-engagement of the US within Asia-Pacific also indicates that the predicament of China's rise is not being looked at as benevolently as the Chinese may hope.


While China has since the 1990s adopted a foreign policy espousing multipolarity and multilateralism, its assertions in the region have been somewhat contrary to this proclamation. Though its economic engagement with the region has led to growing interdependence, this does not minimise the shadow of China's looming assertions over the region. A case in point would be the Spratly Islands dispute where China is pitted against claimants from Southeast Asia and Taiwan. In 2002, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties was initiated for settling this dispute, but it has not really taken shape. The meeting of the claimants is to take place this month and will hopefully bring clarity on the role that China intends to play. China agreed to acknowledge that it would not claim any special rights over Spratly on grounds of being the larger player — this was, however, modified and its assertions on the issue have been critical in reshaping the regional response.


Scholars of international relations have often contended between the status quo and revisionist approach of China after its rise. This debate, simply put, means that China will remain status quo in its ambitions and the flip side is that it would revise its imperial designs and will, more likely, show hegemonistic tendencies. The recent responses, both from the region and India, are indicative of the latter where regional players may integrate with China economically, but will remain vary given that the dragon is rising in their own backyard.

 

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

 

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DNA

            EDITORIAL

NO NICHE FOR ABSTRACT ART IN INDIA

 

Even after a century and more, modern art in general, and abstract art in particular, for a majority of people is a no-go area.

 

India-born Anish Kapoor, who is exhibiting his work for the first time in India, in Mumbai and Delhi, has made the interesting observation that the Indian art scene is still dominated by 'historic and traditional arts'. He is pleading that it is time that space be made for 'pop culture and abstract art as well'.

 

Perhaps Kapoor does not count commercial Hindi cinema or slapstick theatre in many of the Indian languages as 'pop culture'. He perhaps has in mind what passes for pop culture in the west, especially in music. As to his point about abstract art, most contemporary Indian artists have engaged in abstract art, and some of them have skillfully used traditional tribal and Tantric forms to give it an Indian colour.

 

The Indian art-viewers, the few there are, are ready to appreciate Kapoor's radical abstract. He should not worry. Abstract has carved a niche for itself on the Indian art scene. But popular taste remains wedded to figurative, and in its kitsch variety, calendar art.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

NEED TO RESPECT CULTURAL SENSITIVITIES

 

After India's ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, had to undergo a pat-down search, comes news that India's top diplomat to the UN, Hardeep Puri, a Sikh, had to undergo a similar search, where he was asked to remove his turban.

 

These two incidents leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is no one's case that security imperatives should be watered down to accommodate VIPs, given the times we live in.

 

In fact, in the week gone by, there have been terror blasts in Stockholm and Varanasi, which reinforce the fact that one simply cannot be too careful these days about security. It might appear churlish to criticise the search that Shankar and Puri had to undergo, but there are two considerations that give us Indians a reason to be upset.

 

First is the element of racism. Both Shankar and Puri carried ethnic Indian markers, and few will deny that in the US, non-whites are always searched more thoroughly than the average American.

 

Shankar was in a sari, a bulky dress (as defined by Americans) that merited a second search while Puri's turban was no doubt a lightning rod for the airport security officials.

 

What adds insult to injury was that Shankar was searched publicly, while in Puri's case, he had to inform the guards that they had no right to check his turban; he would check it himself as per the rules. No one will be asking for too much in demanding that the security guards be trained to respect cultural differences and sensitivities. In the case of Shankar and Puri, this was clearly missing, which is unacceptable.

 

The second fact is that both were travelling on diplomatic passports. Diplomats are entitled to certain privileges, accorded since ancient times and codified in 1708 by the British parliament. If Washington has decided to unilaterally do away with the same, then it should inform the world accordingly and treat all diplomats the same way.

 

Otherwise there will always be the lingering sentiment that Shankar and Puri had to undergo extra searches, despite their diplomatic status, merely because they have a darker skin tone. This amounts to racial

 

profiling, and this cannot be allowed to pass.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

P CHIDAMBARAM GETS IT WRONG ON URBAN CRIME

 

The Union home minister P Chidambaram's somewhat ill-considered remark about migrants being responsible for urban crime is more an attempt at pop psychology than any meaningful explanation for the series of vicious gang rapes which the national capital has seen in the past few weeks.

 

It may be true that in the shock meeting between rural and urban sensibilities, some conflict is likely but it is also true that this meeting has been happening since the beginning of human civilisation.

 

What is far more likely is that, given the rise in crime across all Indian cities, it is our police forces that have not kept up with the times and changing demands of an upwardly mobile society. Ordinary policing is the most neglected — taken up as it is along with VIP arrangements, internal and external terrorism and festival 'bandobasts'. As cities grow and population pressures increase, India needs a police force that is modern, well-equipped, and geared towards these changes.

 

The clamour for police reforms is ignored by most states, which share responsibility for law and order under the Constitution. As several experts have pointed out with anguish, our penal codes and police structures have not moved out of the colonial era, which means that they are old-fashioned, inadequate, and unfair.

 

The failure here is of urban governance and it is imperative that the government understands that urban growth is not just about infrastructure but about making cities more liveable for its residents. There is still no effective use of forensics for instance, to assist in the speedy solving of crimes.

 

Our police personnel at the ground level are not trained to cope with the changes wrought upon Indian society by economic liberalisation and social awareness. At the higher levels, we have seen too many instances of senior officers misusing their positions to add to their personal wealth.

 

If that is the standard set at the top, it is not surprising that the bottom is rotten.

 

Urban crime requires diligence, manpower, information and awareness if it is to be tackled properly.

 

All too often, the knee-jerk reaction is to create more stringent laws. But that is hardly a solution if the policing itself is shoddy and weak. The problem has to be tackled where it begins —at the police station when a complainant goes to file a First Information Report. If the Union home minister is serious about urban crime, then he needs to start at the bottom and work his way up, regardless of whether he is dealing with new migrants or long-time residents.

 

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DNA

REPORT

THE SURPRISE ABOUT WIKILEAKS IS THE LACK OF REAL SURPRISES

GWYNNE DYER

 

The US government, faced with the publication on the internet of a quarter-million cables sent by US embassies in recent years, has responded just as it did when WikiLeaks posted similar troves of secret messages about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq earlier this year. It has solemnly warned that WikiLeaks is endangering the lives of American diplomats, soldiers and spooks.

 

"Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government", the White House declared.

 

"By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals".

 

Hmm. Might there be some exaggeration here? Does the US ambassador to Moscow really face assassination for reporting, in late 2008, that president Dmitri Medvedev "plays Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin's Batman"?

 

Will United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon really order a hit on US secretary of state Hillary Clinton now that he knows she ordered US diplomats to collect the details of confidential networks used for official communication by senior UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys. (She also wanted their frequent flyer numbers, credit card details, fingerprints and DNA biometrics.)

 

The leaked documents don't only deal with "people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government", as the White House pompously put it. They also reveal who came to the US for assistance in suppressing democracy and open government — and, frequently, got it.

 

The official outrage is as synthetic as it is predictable, and what drives it is not fear for the lives of American diplomats and spies but concern for their careers. But how did a big, grown-up government like that of the US make a blunder of making all this "secret" material so easily available?

 

It made the elementary mistake of thinking that electronic communications could really be kept secret, even when widely disseminated, if you just surround them with a sufficiently impressive clutter of passwords, security clearances and encryption. Any historian could have told them they were wrong. If it's written down, then it will come out sooner or later. In this case, it was sooner.

 

Before I realised that journalists have more fun and make (a little) more money, I trained as an historian and did research in the archives of various foreign ministries.

 

I always pitied my colleagues working in earlier periods of history, when most things were decided face to face. By contrast, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the period that I was studying, governments had got so big that everything was written down.

 

Documents would pass from one desk to another, and each recipient would note his comments in the margin and initial them.

 

They had to do it that way, writing down what they really thought, because there were no telephones. It was a system that allowed subsequent historians to trace the way decisions actually got made — about 30 to 50 years later, when the files were finally opened to researchers.

 

Then, in the decade or so before World War I, all those officials got telephones, and that system died.

 

The officials had their confidential discussions on the phone, real motives never got written down, and the documents usually contained only a sanitised version of the policy debate. It got a lot harder to do good history.

 

What the US defence department thought it had invented in the Siprnet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) was a way to distribute confidential information widely, like in the good old days, but without jeopardising secrecy. Except that it wasn't secure, as the massive dump of cables on WikiLeaks demonstrates.

 

All you needed to access the Siprnet was a "secret" security clearance. When the number of people with a "secret" clearance or above was last counted by the General Accounting Office in 1993, there were more than three million of them. There are probably twice as many today. And all it takes is one of them to send the data to WikiLeaks, and the whole system is compromised.

 

The US government will persist in trying to get Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, jailed on one charge or another, but he is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

The more widely you distribute information, the more likely it is to leak. If you disseminate it very widely by electronic means, it's almost certain to leak.

 

So distribution lists will get a lot shorter in the US and elsewhere. This may result in some minor degradation of the decision-making process, but not much, really. The most striking thing about those quarter-million messages is that they contain almost no real surprises. You'd be just as well informed about the world if you read a couple of good newspapers every day.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

DON'T REFUSE TO BE HEALED

RAMESH MENON

 

At a recent workshop, a group of about 25 twenty-year-olds were asked if they had pain in their shoulder blades when their muscles were gently squeezed.

 

Eight of them had pain. None of them knew why they had it. When they were put through a simple relaxation exercise for 45 minutes, they found that the pain had gone. When the truth of how the pain was just stress related was explained to them, one of them refused to believe it. Just as some of us refuse to be healed.

 

A lot of our pains and aches are because of our repressed anger and frustration. As we do not let them out, they accumulate within our bodies.

 

Stress is one of the biggest killers today. But we do not recognise stress and what it is doing to us. Modern lifestyles, heavily pressured jobs and the changing tapestry of a society with crumbling values are all adding up to our stress. The natural safety valves that the family and society had built to deal with stress are now fading away. The more intelligent thing would be to see what we could do to heal ourselves. But one has to be open to healing and not resist it. Break down your resistance to healing.

 

We often find thousands of excuses on why we cannot deal with something. We need to come to terms with our realities and take life head on. You will be amazed with the response when you are open to healing. But for that you must invest time in talking to yourself.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

UNJUSTIFIED DELAY

 

Why should be there delay in the appointment of vice-chancellor of the Central University of Jammu? It defies comprehension. By dragging its feet over the issue the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is unnecessarily exposing itself to the charge of playing with the local sentiments. It should go strictly by academic considerations of the highest order so that it is able to justify its choice in popular eyes. After all it is its responsibility to improve the quality of higher education besides making it accessible to all aspirants across the country. No less a person than the President is the "visitor" for a Central university. Why should the Union Government create a situation for the people to invite her intervention? From reports that have come to light from time to time it seems that the Ministry has had a couple of names in mind for the key post. A panel is also reported to have been short-listed for the purpose. It developed second thoughts after an agitation in this region that the honour should go to an academician belonging to a son of the soil. Why should be there a problem in finding a suitable candidate? Before we proceed further we must make it clear that we would like the posts of vice-chancellors to be above all extraneous considerations; only the required merit and experience should tilt the scales. Practically speaking it is easier said than done. By and large the other factors do come into play including the proximity to the powers-that-be. Not surprisingly, therefore, there have been vice-chancellors who have gone beyond their assigned tasks. Some of them have turned the campuses into political playgrounds. There are others who have focussed more on their personal agendas. It is ironical that with the spread of education the academicians have been unable to hold the respect due to them. A few of them have revelled in inaugurating commercial establishments. 


A consequence is that even bureaucrats have been called upon to serve as vice-chancellors. This has been done in the name of controlling increasing lawlessness and setting right annual schedules that go haywire for one reason or the other. Our State has survived many --- not all--- such pitfalls in the face of heavy odds. Yet, undeniably, we have fallen prey to regional sentiments thanks to a combination of circumstances. The political class has not helped the environment. It has actually created and sharpened a regional divide by seeking to build vote citadels at the cost of the superstructure. There is hardly a political leader or an outfit that can claim to fully represent the dominant voices in our three geographical parts with the greater good of the State as a whole in mind.


The Union Government itself has conceded this unfortunate reality. It has set up two new Central universities in this State --- one each on either side of the Pir Panjal. It is contrary to one new such institution it has raised elsewhere. Having taken the first step its next move should have been a natural corollary. There are eminent people from this region who are distinguished academicians and are running globally respected business schools and rubbing shoulders with Nobel laureates. Surely, some of them can be persuaded to spare a thought for the home turf. 

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

THEN AND NOW

 

In the latter half of every year we are reminded of the exciting saga of 1947 and 1948 when the Army had chased the invaders out of a major portion of our picturesque land. It is a coincidence that we have had two articles on Poonch district in our Sunday magazines recently. The Army had liberated several hilltops from the clutches of Pakistani forces and pro-Pakistan elements to ensure that Poonch town was fully restored to the rest of the country on November 20 in 1948 --- more than a year after the State had acceded to India in October 1947. A hero of that era was Brigadier Pritam Singh, rightly described as the saviour of Poonch and its people. He has been widely hailed as "sher bacha" (a child having the bravery and courage that of lion). In one of the articles the name has also been mentioned of Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim Khan for having mobilised and set up a section of the local people against the scattered forces of Maharaja Hari Singh. The Sardar was a rabid communalist, as a group of media persons and public figures from this region as well as the Valley discovered much to their shock during an inter-action with him in Muzaffarabad, the Capital of "Azad" Kashmir, about a decade ago; he was the "President" of the occupied territory at that time. He was clearly carrying forward his agenda of 1947. It is evidently because of the likes of him that the proponents of the pernicious two-nation theory based on religion continue to persist with their harmful thinking. One can come across a few of them on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) who are still bitter that the "better" part of the erstwhile Poonch is in "India's control." This is despite the grim reality that Pakistan has illegally occupied two and half tehsils (Bagh, Sadhnuti and Haveli) of the total four in Poonch district as it existed before 1947. What has been written about Mandi in the other article is broadly as its being part of the Poonch district; it was the Summer Capital of the erstwhile ruling family of Poonch. It underlines its scenic beauty. 
On the whole Poonch is in reality a tourist's paradise. An official description aptly mentions: "Set amidst majestic snow-capped mountains, dotted with lovely lakes and meandering streams, abounding in nature's choicest gifts of fruit, flower, forests and age-old historical monuments," Poonch district offers the prospect of a vacation "a tourist would love and remember for long." Noori Chamb is a captivating waterfall. Girgan is a valley of seven lakes of which Nandansar is quite big at an altitude of 12000 feet). Poonch fort, Loran at the foothills of the Pir Panjal ranges, Nandi Shool waterfall, Surankote (comparable with Pahalgam in the Valley), Behramgala plateau and salubrious Dehra Gali are among the other sites to watch. With holy shrines of Budha Amarnath, Gurudwara Nangali Sahib, Gurudwara Deri Sahib and Ziarat Sain Illahi Bakhsh Sahib Poonch offers a plenty of scope for pilgrimage tourism. It should hopefully get its due after the completion of the Mughal Road. By and large it is a virgin territory waiting to be explored. Its yet another strength is its composite culture.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

CORRUPTIONWILL TO FIGHT IT LACKING

BY M K DHAR

 

Whether it is the 2G spectrum auction, the Commonwealth Games scam, or the murky land deals of BJP Chief Ministers B. S. Yeddyurappa and Romesh Pokhriyal, every mainstream political party in the country is answerable for indulging in nepotism, favouritism and naked corruption. It has been accepted as a way of life, acceptable in varying degrees, depending on the gain accruing to the bribe-giver and it is only when the rogues start fighting among themselves over the booty denied that some of it surfaces and stuns the nation. 
Over the years societal values have deteriorated to such an extent that corruption is accepted as something normal, to be resorted to by the ordinary citizen to get things done from the Government or its agencies. Since politicians themselves are beholden to corrupt businessmen for contributions to their huge election funds, or to meet the expenses of running their parties, they have no right to pretend being pure and noble souls in whose minds wrong thoughts ever enter. Their politically motivated anti-corruption slogans sound hollow and lack honesty and sincerity is obvious because these too are raised at the behest of parties who may have been denied a particular contract or license and are only trying to create obstacles for rivals in business. But the tragedy is that after the din has subsided, all is forgotten because none is seriously interested in tackling corruption, which is corroding our society and moral values. For such politicians, the sole purpose of coming to power is not service of the people, but to make money which helps them to come to power. 


It was not before the Karnataka Lokayukta, Mr. Hegde filed an FIR against a minister in the Karnataka Government for alleged corrupt land deals that he was forced to resign. The Chief Minister's sons are alleged to have indulged in a land scam worth hundreds of crores of rupees and he himself was on the mat for the mining scam, yet nothing has happened. The Reddy brothers involved in the mining scam continue to be ministers in his cabinet and he too has refused to step down. Mr. Yeddyurappa is alleged to have threatened to expose the Central BJP leaders involved in corruption if forced to quit. A similar threat has been held out by Mr. Pokhriyal to silence his detractors in the state, as well as, at the Centre. Both have effectively silenced the BJP leaders, who are now trying to shield them by deflecting attention to the 2G spectrum. The Supreme Court is now seized of the Raja case and exemplary punishment should be given to those involved in wrong doing and the beneficiaries of the scam. All cases of alleged corruption should be thoroughly and honestly investigated, cutting across party lines and those shielding the corrupt should be exposed before the bar of public opinion.
It is felt that the level of corruption has increased during the post-economic liberalisation period because business houses manage to influence policy in their favour. Earlier, during the license-permit raj corruption was indulged in by the deciding bureaucrats at the behest of politicians, who wanted money for their various activities. But, now corporate houses are not only interacting and interfering with individual officers or politicians, but also with political parties and systems as a whole. Economic liberalisation, which was to end the hated license-permit raj has only changed the routes of corruption and increased its scale and reach. With the expansion of the economy, the magnitude of corruption has also increased. The under-the-table corruption of earlier days, has now entered the very realm of decision and policy making which yields huge gains on permanent basis.


However, whenever there is an expose, due mainly to rivalry among corporate houses, particularly those who might have been denied benefits, the first thing that the politicians do is to defend those against whom allegations are made, regardless of party affiliations. This is followed by obfuscation and punitive action comes only when there is sufficient evidence to convict an accused and even then in a manner as to avoid political damage. It is only when the courts intervene in some matters brought to their notice through public interest litigation, that the governments concerned are obliged to investigate matters thoroughly and come out with facts, though sometimes these are withheld or presented in a distorted manner so as to escape responsibility for wrong decision making or crass favouritism to a party or parties in exchange for favours in cash and kind. It was only because a probe into the allegations against Mr. Raja was delayed for over a year due to the compulsions of coalition politics that the Supreme Court raised questions about the entire decision-making process.


As a former Central Vigilence Commissioner N. Vittal points out, corruption depends on three factors: values cherished by people at the individual level, values cherished by society and the system of governance. How many doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, businessmen and successful people including politicians declare their real income and pay full income and other taxes? If more than 50 per cent of the economy today is black money it means all these people as a class are under-reporting their income and creating a parallel economy. Since politicians are every visible in a democracy, blaming them alone is not correct. 


As it is, every political party includes eradication of corruption and good governance in its election manifesto and those in the opposition are most vociferous about it. But when a party comes to power, it plays the same game, but when caught, it conveniently blames the opposition for having played the same game earlier when it was in power. As Mr. Raja points out, in awarding the 2G spectrum, he had followed the policy pursued by the BJP ministers in the Vajpayee Government: Pramod Mahajan and Arun Shourie.


One still has faith in the judiciary, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General to help in the fight against corruption. The judiciary intervenes only when a case of glaring corruption is brought to its notice. The Election Commission has tightened the rules for election expenses by candidates and parties, but such ceilings are often violated. The recommendations of the CAG are sometimes acted upon by the Government, but it is not obliged to accept all of them. 


It is not liberalisation which is at fault, but politicians and bureaucrats who make policy and implement it. Liberalisation does not amount to giving a free license to corrupt elements in society to subvert laws and authority to make money. Policy framing and implementation should be in the hands of honest person of impeccable integrity who put nation's interest above theirs or their political bosses. (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

HUMAN RIGHTS THEORY DILUTED

BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL

 

Let a bunch of so-called thinkers of our state define the Human Rights theory from their own angle of thought but the style of confining this vast subject merely to the killings of human beings without ascertaining the cause behind it is to take the people thousand and one miles away from the originality of the subject- a subject that happens to be the most hotly debated and discussed one in the world and if properly interpreted, understood and carried into effect, is the life-line of our system as a matter of fact. I have been contemplating on the subject for quite a long time and came out with some implicit dimensions of Human Rights Violation especially in our state normally ignored by our people. There is a widespread frustration gripping our state at present which has propelled countless youths into the abyss of miscalculations and misconceptions and consequently convinced them to take recourse to the unconstitutional pathways. 


Unemployment is the biggest symbol of Human Rights Violation when a young man highly educated and competent despite making many attempts cannot find any way-out to live a decent life in the system either due to the negligence of the system or the rampant corruption which a deserving or man of conscience can't afford to the criminal authorities. Corruption is there and it has become an openly visible and perceptible stigma in our society. Growing unemployment affecting more than half a million youths, abnormal delay regularization of long-awaited daily wages workers almost getting over-aged, the curse of reservation responsible for killing the talent and potential of many educated youths, the step-motherly treatment with the highly qualified contractual Lecturers in the Colleges and Higher Secondary Schools whose life and efficiency are wasted in a merciless manner are the unnoticed areas of Human Rights Violation that is assuming an alarming proportion day by day bringing about a tormenting confusion among youths who, as a result, get in all fair and foul play to exist in this society of no feelings and sentiments. In most of the cases I have listened to the Valley while voicing against the Human Rights Violations where so many times even the legal punishments have also been termed as violations of the human rights. It is impossible to establish the status of whatever till date has happened to the people involved in the act of terrorism unless the microscopic inquiries into the matters are conducted for which is required the calm and composed and peaceful atmosphere prevailing in Kashmir. 'Good begets good and evil begets evil' is an old maxim and it is to be kept in mind while talking about Human Rights Violations in the Valley. I am astonished at the psyche of the Human Rights Activists who never sounded against the killings of the people by the terrorists. They never talked about the killing of a bunch of Indian Airforce Officers by one of separatist leaders; they did not make mention of the people who, on the instigation of Pakistan, eliminated the precious lives like Dr. Guru, Prof Musheer-ul-Haque, Advocate Prem Nath Bhat and a galaxy of intellectuals from the Valley. 


One question frequently raised is always there unanswered till now and i.e. whether the killing of Nationalists, patriots, pro-system elements and the supporters of the justice comes in the purview of Human Rights Violations or not. Why have this side of the picture not been shown to the people by our Custodians and Preachers of the Human Rights. A band of terrorists comes from Pakistan in league with the inside-traitors and let loose a reign of terror on the innocent tourists and common masses in Mumbai's the Taj and the Oberoi leaving many souls helpless in the deep state of sorrow converting the roads littered with the dead bodies. Countless incidents resulting into the carnage of thousands of people on this soil at the hands of anti-national elements can be cited to have taken place but always went unnoticed. The 'calendar culture' introduced in the Valley has deprived thousands of school-going children of education for months together killing the colorful dreams of our youths and playing with the prolific potential of Kashmir and a visible down-fall in the economy of the Valley has been noticed in the few preceding months due to frequent 'bandh-calls, by the hardliner-leadership. As a result of it, the business class of Kashmir has suffered equally with the sufferings of our students and common masses. All these situations were well reflected in the newspapers and flashed on the TV screens also but our social and human rights supporters never raised their voice against this side of the scene. The true and staunch supporters and promoters of human rights violation are enjoying their life at the best as if they were the benefactors of humanity. They are responsible for putting the innocent youths of Kashmir on the path of militancy; instigating the masses to cut their nose to the spite of their brow; misinterpreting the things to the credulous minds and sowing the seeds of hatred against India creating a befitting circumstances for the deployment of Army and then bringing the civilians and the Army face to face holding guns and grenades. The entire situation was created in such a planned way as there remained no other option for people than getting bracketed with life-staking circumstances. Without losing anything at all the instigating-leadership succeeded in their nefarious designs. 


During pre-militancy period not even a single incident can be quoted where the civil killing by Army personal can be proved. Yes, instead of it, I have one happenstance to be quoted corroborating the invincible latitude to Kashmiris i.e. one day near Batmaloo, Srinagar a civilian Van was about to collide with an Army truck but the collision was averted. As a result the civilian assembled around the spot of the scene and publicly thrashed the Army driver and to my sheer surprise the police standing there did not interfere obviously for being treated in the same way. This was the extent of the hegemony of Kashmir. How did it happen that today the same Valley is talking of being tortured? Why doesn't the educated and enlightened section of Kashmir understand the hidden agenda of their rebellious leadership of Kashmir who want to instrumentalise the innocence of the masses to satisfy their ego? If the rights of Kashmiris have been quelled somewhere, it is due to manipulation of their own instigators. They are the people who have brought their followers to the point of 'no-return'. They are to be termed as real culprits of Human Rights Violation. 


We can see the true picture only when we peel of the 'prejudiced-plaster-of-Paris' from our eyes but the tragedy is that we first distort the issue as per our personal preference and communal or sectarian outlook and then evaluate it and conclude it accordingly. S.T. Coleridge says, "…… We receive but what we give, and in our life alone does Nature live: Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud!" The world appears to your eyes as you look at it. Hence, before we look at something, we must clean our eyes off all bias and chauvinism. The best example of the worst human rights violation is to be discovered in 1990-KPs' biggest ever exodus after 1947, rendering an extremely obnoxious turn to the human history. The dreams, the prospects, the peace of mind and the solace of heart of more than 3 lacs Kashmiris were set ablaze by some parochial minds in a single go. They have been deprived of their homeland, their culture and their language compelling them to come on the roads. But as ill luck would have it, no champion of Human Rights came to the front to ascribe all this 'Open-dance' of violence to the Human Rights Violation. One's heart sinks down to find the mind-sets of even great intellectuals and statesmen to have been pre-occupied either with the sectarian or escapistic outlook, for of being killed. 
Some others low-profile leaders or writers found an opportunity to use 'Kashmiri ire' as a weapon to win prominence. Such insignificant fellows, off-course, gained popularity at the cost of blood-shed in the valley but unfortunately our people could not understand it. All these maneuvers, schemes and mechanisms used by some of the crooked minds who are making the best out of the worst happening to our Kashmiri brethren-our own people in the Valley and this is to be termed as the bare breach of human rights of the stake-holders in Kashmir. Our political system, administrative structure and the intellectual stratum including the spokes-persons of human rights must spot out the true picture of Human Rights Violation and make it manifest upon all who misinterpret it.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A CAUSE FOR WORRYINCREASING ROAD ACCIDENT

BY AJMER ALAM WANI

 

JAMMU: They (people in government), know that there is a alarming increase in deaths due to road accidents which are caused due to overloading, but they never bother to take pro-people steps. The overloading is going unchecked on the roads and fatalities are reported but the traffic cops are seen watching the situation helplessly. On such tragic accidents like that of Kalakote, nothing more than condolences and expression of shock and grief is expressed by the people in government. Regrettably, no one tries to look into the root cause of accidents and comeout with a substantial plan or suggestion to cut down the frequency of accidents. The Kalakot accident has once again left everyone in a state of shock, as six precious lives were perished and 40 got injured . The need of the hour is to ensure the safety of passengers, but, for that traditional, or one must say, outdated approach should be updated by all quarters. Time has come for the government, which is in deep slumber over this particular issue, to act quickly and start a war against the road accidents to save the precious lives. The deaths in road accidents are shooting up and the state of Jammu and Kashmir is leading ahead fast in deaths in road accidents. As per the figures and reports of past couple of years, accidents are proving bigger killer than militancy in the state. Relevant to mention here that during the year 2009 a total of 1,031 people died in road accidents while only 72 were killed in militancy-related incidents. The figures clearly indicate that the state is facing bigger threat not from militancy but from road accidents. The figures show that in Kashmir alone, 299 people died in 1,874 accidents and the total number of civilian casualties in militancy incidents is not even one-third of that number. There were more than 5,000 accidents in the state and 500 militancy incidents in 2009. 


The safety of the passengers cannot be ensured by checking documents alone. Parameters should be evolved to check the health and temperament of drivers; and officers on duty should ensure the safety of passengers in the vehicles. Need is to devise a prolonged strategy and remove the bottlenecks in the agencies concerned. 


SOME SCARY FACTS

Strict enforcement of speed limits. 90 % of accidents can be avoided by strict enforcement of speed limits. Existing speed limits should be brought down further. 


Heavy Penalty should be imposed on all those who cross speed limits. If this is strictly implemented, nobody will dare to go at high speed. Heavy penalty should be imposed for those who cause accidents. 


Driving tests for issue of driving license is to be made more stringent and foolproof. 


Helmet should be made compulsory in all states, or impose a lower speed limit for those who do not use helmet. Helmet should be made compulsory for back seat riders also. 


Strict enforcement of existing traffic rules. Law should be modified such that the person who made the accident has to bear (say) 0 to 10 % of the insurance claims, depending on severity of negligence. Also the ompensations should be made very huge, making accidents unaffordable so that everyone will be very vigilant. 


All those who do not maintain the safe distance for the speed should be punished. 


Safety awareness should begin from childhood, as it is difficult to impart awareness to a grown up a human. If safety awareness is imparted at childhood, safety will be a habit. 


Video and Computer Games that simulate Racing should be banned by Government OR discouraged by parents as it will develops racing habit in children. 


All sorts of Motor sports especially racing should be banned by government. Telecast of Motor Sports and Racing also should be banned. 


Children below a certain age should not be permitted to do cycling in busy roads / roads where heavy vehicles are plying. 


Advertisement boards and other items that may obstruct visibility at junctions, curves and other parts of the roads should be removed immediately. 


Ensure that the money recovered as Road Tax is fully utilized for the construction /maintenance of roads. 
Time Punching of Private buses (practiced in some states) should be discontinued as it is forcing the drivers to go at high speed, after traffic blocks.


TV and other media should be effectively used for Public safety awareness. 


Major accidents and accident prone areas should be scientifically analyzed. 


Speed should be restricted at accident prone areas. Stringent traffic rules should be enacted. 


License of those who are involved in the accidents should be suspended immediately; at least until they prove that they are not guilty. 


Roads should be properly maintained. Permanent contracts / arrangements should be in place for maintaining all roads in good condition 24 hours a day, 365 days an year. If a gutter is repaired in time it can save a life!!! 


Health of vehicles should be strictly enforced. 


License of drunkard drivers should be cancelled immediately Judicial Commissions should be setup to monitor steps taken to control road accidents. 


Accident statistics should be periodically reviewed to understand the effect of actions taken. Corrective steps should be taken based on these reviews.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COOPERATION IS THE KEY

INDIA, CHINA TOGETHER CAN LEAD THE WORLD

 

CHINESE Premier Wen Jiabao's New Delhi visit has come soon after India's participation in the controversial Nobel Peace Prize function in Oslo. India went ahead with its scheduled programme of being represented at the prestigious gathering with the explanation that it was not a bilateral matter. The Chinese, who wanted India to boycott the ceremony, perhaps, grudgingly accepted New Delhi's viewpoint. The fact that on the eve of their Prime Minister's visit the Chinese envoy described the relations between the two countries as fragile, speaks for itself. Indeed, India and China will have to conduct their negotiations during the three-day stay of Mr Wen by showing a deep understanding of each other's aspirations and sensibilities. China has provided proof of its pragmatic approach to the task of the relations between the two countries, as it did not allow Mr Wen's visit to be clouded unduly by Oslo. Now it is India's turn not to press too much any issue on which the Chinese appear to be unwilling to give any concession to New Delhi at this stage.

 

There are indications that so far the Chinese are not prepared to make any categorical commitment on supporting India's case for the UN Security Council's permanent membership. They seem to be still debating how India's inclusion in the council will not affect China's interests adversely. But they are keen on normalising the defence relations between the two neighbours which got snapped after China refused to issue a regular visa to a top Indian military general based in Kashmir. Restoration of military ties may help convince China that it must respect India's sensibilities by abandoning its stapled visa policy for Indian visitors from Jammu and Kashmir.

 

The Chinese need to be made to understand that the time has come to find a way to end their border dispute by adopting a policy of give and take. Keeping the border issue dormant has led to a phenomenal growth in bilateral trade between the two sides. But once all the irritants between the two are removed, their trade and economic partnership may gather greater momentum. The two can easily lead the world in the coming days by perfecting a strategy of cooperation, and not competition, at the regional as well as global level.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COSTLIER BUS TRAVEL

PRIVATE GAINS, PUBLIC LOSSES IN PUNJAB

 

GIVEN Punjab's fiscal state and populist politics, any move to raise resources, including a bus fare hike, is welcome. But there is no point in passing on to the travelling public the burden of bad management. Punjab Transport Minister Mohan Lal has done some commendable straight talking and admitted that if both Punjab Roadways and the PRTC suffer huge losses, it is because of the "big shots in the transport sector getting preferential treatment". It is well known that top Punjab politicians, including the ruling Badal family, run private bus services. Transport officials, according to the minister, allot "prime-time slots on important routes to private transporters".

 

There is an obvious clash of private-public interest in the transport business. Ministers pass orders and make policies that also help promote their own transport business. During its previous term the Akali-BJP government had stripped the SDMs of the power to detain illegally plying vehicles. Excise officials often complain of threats from private transporters. Punjab Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon, who has been indicted in a cash-for-jobs scandal by the CBI and has interests in transport business, has summoned Amritsar's District Transport Officer four times in the past three weeks, keeping him waiting and then giving a new date of meeting — just to humiliate him for not attending to his phone call. In such a scenario how can officials collect taxes or discipline private transport?

 

If private transporters make profits and the government transport companies make losses (Punjab Roadways alone stands to lose Rs 92 crore this fiscal), the reasons are very clear and also known to the Transport Minister. Why he appears helpless in righting the wrongs is also understandable. The latest hike in the fares makes a bus ride costliest in Punjab in the region barring Himachal Pradesh, which is a hill state. This is despite the fact that the state subsidy on diesel, actually meant for farmers, is the highest in the country.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WIKILEAKS WARRIORS

DANGEROUS DIMENSIONS OF CYBER ATTACKS

 

A GLOBAL alliance of anonymous hackers has taken up the hackles on behalf of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, and they are widely held responsible for cyber attacks on entities seen as WikiLeaks enemies. The credit card company MasterCard's website came down after a sustained cyber attack, and so did the website of PostFinance, run by the Swiss postal system. MasterCard has refused to accept payments for WikiLeaks from its online supporters, and PostFinance has shut down an account that belonged to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The website of a Swedish lawyer representing two women who have levelled sexual assault charges against the WikiLeaks founder is under attack since Assange is under arrest in London, on account of a pending Swedish warrant against him.

 

Ironically, WikiLeaks itself faced sustained business and cyber attacks on its main website, and it was only because of widespread support and planning that the site managed not only to survive but has also been replicated so many times on the Internet that it is now virtually impossible to shut it down. While the political effects of WikiLeaks disclosures have been much debated, the cyber attacks have also exposed both the strengths and weaknesses of Internet as a medium. It is now obvious that without sufficient planning, information cannot be wiped off the Internet, no matter how hard governments and other agencies try.

 

The flip side of this is that nothing is really safe on the Internet. Even large commercial websites like that of MasterCard and secure websites like PostFinance can be brought down by cyber attacks. The hackers have shown their power, but have not yet shown the responsibility that should accompany it. WikiLeaks, the attacks on it and attacks on others by its supporters — all have combined to show that activities on the Internet have a real-world effect. Those responsible for these activities, therefore, have to face the consequences of their action. A sobering thought, indeed.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DON'T LOSE THAT PUBLIC VOICE

PRASAR BHARATI CATERS TO THE DISADVANTAGED

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE report that the President has given her consent for proceedings to remove the current CEO of Prasar Bharati on charges of irregularities is overdue. This institution, created after years of pleading to represent the public voice of India in an increasingly information age, was ill-designed, and then, in turn, frustrated by being denied personnel and financial autonomy or a proper board, then relegated and finally hijacked by its chief executive to be reduced to a pathetic caricature of what it was intended to be.

 

Sadly, and only partly because the experiment was aborted along the way, some of staff are now agitating that Prasar Bharati be scrapped and the body revert to being a government department representing the official voice against all the private radio and TV channels that now abound. Genuine autonomy is often feared as it entails responsibility and accountability and the loss of the cloak of anonymity that allows laggards to seek more for doing less and pass the buck for failure to perform to the "system". Not that Prasar Bharati lacks good people. But they are a demoralised lot. Autonomy is seldom given. It has to be grasped.

 

The rot started ab initio with an Act that placed excessive faith in recruiting the highest functionaries virtually exclusively from within the ranks of the bureaucracy. These functionaries were treated as deputationists and subject to whimsical recall as happened in the case of S.Y.Quraishi, DG, Doordarshan, now Chief Election Commissioner. Again, when the AIR staff went on strike, board members who sought a resolution were fobbed off by the I&B Minister as busybodies with no jurisdiction over government servants.

 

The independent selection panel also singularly failed when it made no appointment to critical positions such as that of Chairman, CEO and Directors of Personnel and Finance for months on end. It kept waiting for a governmental nod on matters of procedure, salary fixation and so forth. Recruitment, training, planning and programming faltered. A hardware-led policy dictated by considerations of "political reach" through umpteen relay stations ignored matching programme and software development so that the vast infrastructure created has remained hugely underutilised. A proposal that the engineering and technical services of Prasar Bharati be hived off as a separate transmission corporation and profit centre was never seriously considered. Programmes were increasingly outsourced and talented Prasar Bharati staff members, lacking in-house opportunities, took to moonlighting to produce excellent programmes for private channels.

 

The final blow came more recently with the CEO usurping the board's powers and rendering it impotent. Finally, the Supreme Court had to intervene and now the CEO faces possible impeachment and removal. The newly appointed Chairperson and board find themselves immobilised. Immediate action is called for if Prasar Bharati, long in coma, is not to die.

 

It would seem that few would mourn such an event - the government, Parliament, much of the staff, the private channels, the print media, advertisers, and most of the listening and viewing public. Rank ignorance of what public serviced broadcasting is about and its seminal importance at this time, combined with indifference born of dissatisfaction with its performance, possibly explains why this is so.

 

There is a fallacy that he who pays the piper must call the tune. Further, with private broadcast stations voicing multiple private interests and concerns, it would be legitimate for Prasar Bharati to be an official trumpet. A moment's reflection will show that both propositions are wrong. Government defrays the cost of Parliament, the judiciary, the CAG, the Election Commission and many other public institutions. Yet none of these are official handmaidens, nor would anybody suggest otherwise. Democracy requires that these institutions be fiercely independent. The public service broadcaster is no exception.

 

The idea that the government needs an exclusive broadcast voice is equally baseless. First, "government" embraces a plurality of regimes, parties and ideologies - the Central government, 29 state governments, some Union Territories, hundreds of multi-level panchayats and nagar palikas, and autonomous regional councils. Who is "the government", or should every "government" set up its own broadcast facility and should its policies change with every change in "government". Such a policy would result in a cacophony of warring and variables sounds, images and messages at considerable cost to little purpose.

 

However, there is a more important reason to make Prasar Bharati a vibrant institution. Private broadcasters understandably solicit advertising to earn their keep and dumb down programmes to earn better ratings in a highly competitive market. The public service broadcaster is under no such compulsion. It does not have to cater to the lowest common denominator, trivialise and sensationalise news, manufacture bogus "breaking news" and indulge in programming geared to fetching advertisements. The government need not be its only support. Advertising and programme sales and public support would be forthcoming.

 

The great difference is that while the private broadcaster primarily caters to the (well-heeled) consumer of advertised goods, the public service broadcaster caters to the citizen. While all Indians are citizens, only half or less are "consumers" of other than basic goods and services. The public service broadcaster, therefore, caters to disadvantaged, marginalised, minority (ethnic, linguistic, faith/caste, tribal, remote, isolated) communities that make up the vast plural, disempowered undermass of India. It constitutes a powerful tool for empowerment, participation, creating awareness, information, education, dialogue and engendering inclusiveness and accountability. It embodies the right to information. Not that private channels are impervious to any of this, but they must first survive.

 

An upwardly mobile India is seeking rights and entitlements. A great churning in progress will mould unity out of diversity and quell a million ongoing mutinies by creating conditions for equal opportunity and equal citizenship. It is to make the Preamble of the Constitution come alive in action and to sustain that ideal that India needs a public service broadcaster. That public voice must never die.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

WHEN TIME STOOD STILL

BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)

 

IT was a race against time. Over the fortnight, we traversed half the breadth of War Zone; i.e the erstwhile East Pakistan. Advance across the vast golden-brown paddy fields and endless water bodies was marked by some bloody hard-fought battles. Each of the 14 days were, hence fully accounted for.

 

Every mile we covered was most rewarding as it brought seismic change in the destiny of thousands of people; liberation from brutal subjugation and oppression, unleashed by the Pakistani Army. Scantly clad, semi starved, with misery written large on the faces, these hapless brave hearts had nothing to share but deep anguish and grief.

 

Hysterically, they narrated the horrid stories of terror and torture. Devastated and battered, their hutments barren and bare, what kept them going was sheer conviction; 'hope never dies'. The only words that were discernable in their chocked voices were Bandhu and Joi Bangla.

 

By the 16th December morning, we closed on to Narainganj, after a fierce battle for Bandar Railway Station, the previous night. It was one of the key outposts of Dhaka Garrison. The town wore a desolate look. As we were in the process of clearing pockets of resistance on the outskirts, suddenly, small groups of people began to show up on the streets. Soon the crowds began to swell. Many were holding piece of green cloth with an orange circular patch, symbolising Bangladesh national flag and chanting slogans of triumph. It was an indication that the Pakistani troops were evacuating Narainganj and surrender was in the offing.

 

The sounds of firing gradually died down, engulfed in the echoes of Joi Bangla. There was outburst of emotions, volatile mix of agony and ecstasy. Commotion and bewilderment were visible all around. Tables had been turned and frenzy of revenge was looming large. Now it was the colluders and collaborators who were on the run. A few were even lynched by the violent crowds to mete 'on the spot justice'.

 

As the darkness fell, we deployed astride the banks of mighty Buriganga River. Since the start of the Bangladesh War (Operation Cactus Lilly), it was for the first time we had a proper wash and hearty meal. Puri-Halwa prepared from captured rations was a rare delight.

 

Despite the moonlit night, the serene flowing river wore a ghastly look, with number of bodies floating — a tell tale sign of the last minute carnage. The uneasy calm was occasionally shattered by the victory shots or barking dogs, busy digging up the wayside shallow graves.

 

To stretch out in the open, rather than being cramped in a trench appeared to be a luxury after a long time. Strolling past the resting men of my platoon, I found a few were peacefully snoring, while others were tossing on their ground sheets, yet to reconcile to the fact that the war was over. In sombre mood, they were scanning the sky, perhaps searching in vain, for their fallen comrades.

 

It was 'nine month' long ordeal for the Bangladeshis. They endured horrific atrocities and indignation, the ugliest side of humanity. The dawn was yet a few hours away. However, the time appeared to have stood still; to condole the unparallel sufferings and immortalise the martyrs, marking an end of a gory saga, awaiting for the newborn nation to announce its arrival.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED


IT'S A BRANDED EXISTENCE

HAVE YOUNGSTERS STARTED ASSOCIATING THEIR HAPPINESS WITH IPHONES AND BLACKBERRIES RATHER THAN WITH REAL-LIFE ACTIVITIES? OR HAVE THEY THE RIGHT AND THE MEANS TO LIVE THE KIND OF LIFE THEY CHOOSE, SINCE THEY CAN AFFORD IT. WE LOOK AT TWO VIEWPOINTS AT THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM

ASHIMA THAKUR

 

DESCARTES' once said, "I think, therefore, I am". But in our days of excessive consumerism, it is, "I consume, therefore, I am". Consumerism has, quite simply, become the end-all and be-all of our lives.

 

Food, clothes and shelter were certainly the needs of a primitive man. We are modernising, and so our needs have undergone a metamorphosis, too. Now, our food is Mc Donald, clothes are Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste, and shelter is maple wood ceiling and marble flooring.

 

Brands are an anesthesia to the intellect of consumers. The propensity of capitalistic societies toward brands is quite evident through the fetishism they display. Man was worth his dignity, character or rectitude once, but now, his worth is measured in terms of the insignia of brands he can flaunt. Someone once put it, rather cheekily: "Well, you're as good as your car!"

 

The voracious desire to acquire luxury goods and services is life force of contemporary societies, which is taking away all their vigour ironically. We succumb to the multiple charms of consumerism, without a demur. The Oxford English Dictionary defines consumerism "as the emphasis or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods". Our acquisitiveness knows no limits, and the clout of brands has clouded our judgments.

 

There is a perpetual bombardment of brands on our vulnerable psyche via advertisements, television, radio, magazines. Consumerism is nothing but the end-result of our obsessions with that. Our private lives are remote controlled by large business corporations, leading to the creation of what a French philosopher, Baudrillard calls "a hyper-real world".

 

So hyper-real is our pre-occupation with goods and goodies that our emotions and feelings often appear unreal, if not surreal, in comparison. It is sad to see gifts and presents take precedence over our feelings and emotional quotient. Gone are the days when a caring thought or a word mattered, now all that matters is a diamond necklace or a platinum ring; and again, the costlier, the better.

 

Consumerism is taking its toll on the youngsters, which, sadly enough, they tend to celebrate, unabashedly. Brands have become so much an integral feature of youth culture that in the colleges and university campuses, we come across brand ambassadors, sporting Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste and Calvein Klein, who may sometimes be called students, too.

 

Now-a-days, our language has also undergone metamorphoses. For us, westernisation is modernisation, fooling is advertising, and falling prey to the agenda of MNCs is to be ahead of our times. These are the shifting paradigms of our modern culture.

 

The euphoria amongst girls in hostel, where I reside, for buying stuff from Tommy, Espirit and other big names has to be seen to be believed. Leave youngsters aside, these days even "the ceremony of innocence is drowned". A four year kid is so brand-conscious that he reels off first hand information about brands. Thanks to television and Internet. Brand mania is induced by the corporates to make their bottom lines plump

 

And if you think, it's only an urban phenomenon, just wait and watch. Students from humble or rural backgrounds, too, don't want to be left behind in this race. It's another matter that this brand mania might add to their woes, both emotional and financial. This flaunting of material objects induces an inferiority complex in those who can't afford them.

 

We should not become a slave to them and go on a blind pursuit, chasing them. We should counter the dominance of consumerism by becoming conscious consumers.

 

We live in a world where, each person is battling against his "innate nature" to have more and more. The raison d'être of our life is solely to possess a good house, a big car, branded clothes. At times, one wonders, whether it is an ascent or a descent. We can buy all the riches of the world except happiness, because the "real fountain," as they say, "is within".

 

The writer is a research scholar at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WHOSE LIFE IS IT, ANYWAY?

MOHIT SHARMA

 

A FEW days back we had a vintage car exhibition out here in Bombay. Gentlemen and Ladies showed off their curvy beauties, their chests welling with pride - such was their attachment with their cars. The cars, on their part, had lasted through all these decades. Even the thought of selling their precious beauties would have these people offended, I tell you. Our situation today is starkly different. We are spoilt for choices - we have to change cars every three to four years what with all these new models having such awesome features and functions and the latest of techno-wizardry. Importantly, we can afford to do it. Which situation is better? That is exactly what the fuss about consumerism is. Look around yourself and compare the situation to what it was back then. We have so many more brands of clothes. We have a huge variety of options to choose from for everything. Cellphone service providers have plans for everyone from the rickshawallahs to big corporate honchos. Shaving blades range from disposable ones to Gillette Mach 3. A five-rupee Dairy Milk is your ultimate cheap recipe to shoo away that bad mood. A Red Bull is all you need for a productive work-related all-nighter.

 

As opposed to ten years back, we, as of today, have a huge spectrum of goods available at our disposal. The market truly is a consumer market. Even with something as innocent as a paper clip, one can choose from the do-rupaiye-ke-paanch clip to the truly top-of-the-line ones. The options one has with cellphones are almost insane.

 

What's more, there are even easy payment plans so that one doesn't have to wait to buy a car until you're old, fat and bald. Having a place of your own just four to five years after college is now possible. The availability of and access to laptops and computers has streamlined the working of many small and medium businesses, which, according to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, are the next big thing.

 

On a more social level, this entire idea is a social equalizer. A glut of cheap goods and finance options has ensured that everyone gets a piece of the so-called Indian growth story. Even luxury goods are now available to a wider section of society, enabling all of us to enjoy our lives better.

 

So what is the problem then? Why do people make such a hullaballoo about this supposed beast called consumerism? It is often contended that the availability of luxury goods makes more people indulge in wasteful behavior, that young people start translating concepts such as happiness to material possessions like cars and mobile phones, that producers' in-your-face' advertisement campaigns force you to buy products which you have no use for. Instead, they prescribe a frugal, minimalist existence devoid of such distractions.

 

These, I would believe, are the very same people who, throughout centuries, have been telling us that sacrifice is supreme, that enjoyment is a taboo, that pain and struggle are necessary to achieve what you want, that happiness and pleasure are fleeting and that the ultimate truth is death and an after-life where you would gain true happiness.

 

If one lives according to their diktat, one should stop trying to live or indulge oneself, and simply wait for death, nothing else. One should give up one's right on one's own life and sacrifice it to the cause of humanity and God. Just because a million people around the world are suffering, does it mean one has no right to enjoy one's life?

 

In the seventy odd years that I'd be alive, I could choose to make the most of my time on earth and have fun. No one has a right to impose another idea of life on me. If I believe that material possessions bring me happiness, it should be my prerogative. I have an inviolable right to waste my life as I deem fit. All those advertisements that lure me into buying products, I agree, do not appeal to my most explicitly stated need.

 

If I buy a new mobile phone, I probably do not do so because I have a genuine need for it. It is possible that I bought the phone because all my friends have smart phones and I want to fit in. So what? I have the means. I have a need. The new phone fulfils my desire to fit in. And I do so with my own hard-earned money or that of my parents, which in most cases I have some right to.

 

The rationality of a consumer is important. But it is not in your or my right to tell someone else how they should be spending their money. It is strange you know - we put in place extensive rules and guidelines to enable our voters to interact directly with the candidates make up their own minds about something as distant and indirect as the government, and yet we allow the external forces to distort a more direct and probably more relevant interaction between a producer and a consumer.

 

The writer is working with Price Waterhouse Coopers, Mumbai

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

YASH RAJ FILMS RETURNS TO TOP FORM WITH A SUPERBLY STARLESS ROMANCE


The inherent flaw with the Bollywood rom-com template is that it doesn't bother fleshing out characters and making them real, relying mostly on music and chemistry to do the job instead. Which is why we mostly end up with vacant films about pretty people conveniently positioned close enough to fall in love, which they do over several cutesy montages. 

 

Why does she love him? What are they talking about, or bonding over? Who cares, say the filmmakers, see how great they look together as they laugh, as we fade from her punching his shoulder playfully to him making a silly face, all as the music takes turns being playful and mushy and nostalgic. Clearly, the film tells us, these people are in love – 'oho, why else would they have a song?' – and we're just supposed to accept that and see what happens next. 

 

This is why it's wonderfully refreshing to discover a film as solid as Maneesh Sharma's Band Baaja Baaraat, a seemingly simple romance which actually makes us care and root for the protagonists. Where the boy is mongrel-rough and the girl is perky-plain, but the relationship they share is relatable and real and worth many a smile. It's a full-blown Bollywood entertainer, sure, but one with as much smarts as it has heart. 

 

Writer Habib Faisal impressed earlier this year with Do Dooni Chaar, and here as screenwriter he strikes again, creating a flavourful slice of Delhi that makes up in sheer earnest enthusiasm what it lacks in accuracy. Yet the milieu isn't the film's strength – clearly Dibakar Banerjee has inflicted a Sai Paranjpe-like love for the capital city among current filmmaking brethren –nor is the story, though it does have some neat little nuances. 

 

The decidedly irresistible characters meet at a buffet line in a shaadi – him scavenger, her custodian – and it is initially impossible to imagine a girl so incontrol even entertaining conversation with a lout so scruffy. She seems inappropriately uppity, he overtly out-ona-limb. And yet they both make sense, as people. As a couple of unlikely, ambitious nuts with enough can-do to make it big. Romance is the last thing on their mind as they share a bed, him watching late-night TV, her coiled comfortably into herself. 

 

There is a hair-saloon style painting of a Bollywood actor outside their office, Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay looking more dour than usual. Sometimes in the dusk-stretched shadows, he looks almost like Hrithik. Neither looks like Ranveer Singh, who plays Bittoo Sharma, a wonderfully unsmooth leading man. He isn't in any way traditional, but it's hard not to get swept up by his dogged, unpredictable enthusiasm. You root for him, hard. 

 

Anushka Sharma, harmlessly likeable in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and atrocious in Badmaash Company, is perfectly cast here as Shruti Kakkar, creating a character with both pluck and pout. They are smashing protagonists, and while each gets some photogenic time, that's not the point. It's about love, not the stars, as Bittoo tells a bride sobbing over SRK unable to dance at her wedding finale. 

 

That this message comes from the country's starriest banner is welcome news indeed. As is the fact that it has churned out a bona fide romance, a realistic tale of ambition and rules and morality, one that is both progressive and modern but intelligent enough to not rub our noses in it. 

 

Even the final speech – that staple of romantic comedies worldwide, the maudlin soliloquy that redeems one protagonist while showing the other the light – is here handled deftly, talking about love as lifeforce, as spirit, as enjoyment. As mauj. Excellent. 

 

When things look bleak for our heroes in BBB, actor Manish Chaudhary conveniently comes to the rescue, like he did almost exactly a year ago in another great early-December YRF release, Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year. Now, the Manish Chaudharys of the world might not be as easy to stumble upon, and business might not be quite as easy to excel in as YRF shows us, but at least the dream they conjure up is one worth fighting for. And applauding.

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PRACTICAL RULES

COMPANIES AND MEDIA BENEFIT FROM PROFESSIONAL PR

 

While the lay public may have been shocked by the revelation of an often cosy relationship between public relations (PR) professionals and the media, brought out by the Niira Radia telephone tapes, few in the media or in business would have been surprised. Few editors and reporters today can say they have not been approached for "friendly stories" or threatened with ad blackouts or block access for failure to publish Authorised Versions. The obverse — of reporters and editors demanding favours in return for friendly stories — has also grown so exponentially that it has now metamorphosed into formal corporate strategy for many media businesses. All of this does little to enhance the reputation of an industry that has grown insidiously for the past 15 years. But it is also true that the media has never appeared in so poor a light. The ad- or equity-for-stories deals (known euphemistically as "private treaties") marked the first signs of deterioration, but few readers were actually aware of these practices. The Radia tapes have blown the cover off another equally harmful predilection. If this episode does anything, it provides both the media and the PR business an opportunity to do some hard introspection and set out some transparent rules of engagement.

 

This is a critical need because, much as politicians, journalists and social activists may complain, the PR business isn't about to disappear, nor need it. PR professionals are, like most other professionals, meeting a felt need. Corporations have become bigger and more complex than ever before and they have many more stakeholders and constituencies to address. Outsourcing media relations, which made PR agencies gatekeepers of access to India Inc, is an inevitable outcome of this growing complexity. There is, of course, nothing wrong in this practice; it is standard operating procedure globally and for practical reasons. The PR interface has also gained traction because, over time, journalists have found accessing senior executives and promoters of companies for information difficult, if not virtually impossible.

 

 With privately owned public relations companies and several of the world's largest PR multinationals setting base in fast-growing India, the industry seemed to emerge from nowhere as this large, unregulated beast. Perhaps it is a reflection of the level of political control and corruption that persists in the Indian business climate, that an information-dissemination and image-building business has been often subverted with questionable means and for questionable ends. A lobbying law on the lines of the US will partly address the situation by forcing a degree of transparency — not that Radia's contacts were unaware of her links to two of India's largest business houses. But just as several media houses put in place codes of conduct that set out what journalists can and cannot do, it might do PR agencies a power of good to set out similar codes — and these should include not blacklisting journalists from meetings, not bribing them and so on. This would not only send out a clear message to the media business but also to companies that, all too often, importune their PR agencies to follow just the kind of practices that Ms Radia worked so admirably hard to establish. In the long run, practical self-regulation by the PR and the media businesses would do India's vibrant, noisy democracy much more good than external controls.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WELCOMING WEN

INDIA AND CHINA HAVE TO MANAGE EACH OTHER'S RISE

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have established a personal rapport that is unique in the recent history of India-China relations. Never since the days when Jawaharlal Nehru and Chou en Lai could enjoy a smoke together has there been such informality at the highest level between the two Asian giants. It is this personal rapport that Mr Wen will seek to enhance when he arrives in New Delhi to win friends and influence people. From India's perspective, China is different not merely because of its rising global clout, but because of its added importance as India's largest trading partner and a country with which relations have been described as a mix of "third world solidarity and strategic rivalry". This relationship, complex during the best of times, is currently under strain because of what India calls "Chinese assertiveness". Premier Wen's visit is timely in that it could help soften the tone of the relationship that has been alarmingly acrimonious in recent months.

 

The complexity in the bilateral relationship manifests itself at almost every level. Take trade, arguably the crowning glory of the bilateral relationship that has grown explosively from less than $2 billion a decade ago to approximately $60 billion today. The balance of trade has shifted sharply in favour of China, especially since 2005, and is estimated at $19 billion in 2009-10. The respective composition of exports also differs starkly: iron ore constitutes 40 per cent of India's exports to China, while Chinese capital equipment and machinery are increasingly making their presence felt in India. Reliance Power's recent $8.3 billion purchase of power generating equipment was simply the most conspicuous example of a trend that has been underway for some time now. This would be as good a time as any for India to bring up concerns regarding a persisting trade deficit with China as well as related issues hampering increased Indian exports to China like the imposition of non-tariff barriers on goods ranging from pharmaceuticals to agricultural products. Likewise, India would do well to reassure China that the large number of anti-dumping charges against Chinese firms is not part of a strategy of trade discrimination and to explain why a bilateral free trade agreement is currently not in India's interest.

 

 The political problems confronting the two countries are more intractable, given the long history of mutual suspicion. While talks to resolve the long-standing border issue continue, recent irritants such as China's decision to issue stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, operations of Chinese firms in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the stubborn refusal to support India's candidature for permanent membership of the UNSC remain irritants in an increasingly mature relationship. Premier Wen arrives in a more self-assured India that recognises that the bilateral relationship will involve both competition and cooperation. Managing both is the challenge at hand. Dr Singh showed in Copenhagen, and during his visit to Beijing, that he can work with China, but in Tawang and Oslo, he defined the limits. Hopefully, Mr Wen has got the message

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

ARE CELEBRATIONS PREMATURE?

THE US HAS SET A VERY LOW BAR AND HAS EVERYONE ELSE RACING TO THE BOTTOM TO KEEP PACE WITH IT

SHYAM SARAN

 

The Cancun Climate Change Conference concluded on December 11 with a raft of "Cancun Agreements". These have been hailed as significant if somewhat modest. The Indian delegation has received, Minister Jairam Ramesh has reportedly said, "Taalis abroad, but gaalis at home" for its role in promoting consensus and restoring trust, which had badly frayed at the controversy- ridden Copenhagen Climate Summit exactly a year ago. In a limited context, the Cancun meeting was indeed successful. A semblance of international consensus appears to have been achieved on the way forward, but only by a drastic lowering of sights on virtually all elements of the Bali mandate and, more importantly, by skirting the key issue in the multilateral negotiations, that is,delivery on the international and legally binding commitments assumed by developed, industrialised countries in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to undertake significant and absolute reductions in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, subject to international compliance procedures. This applies as much to the United States as it does to other developed countries, since it has signed and ratified the UNFCCC. Its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol does not exempt it from its legal obligations under the Convention. The debate over the Kyoto Protocol is a red herring. The real objective of trashing the Protocol is to eviscerate the Convention itself. The former did not invent the distinction between developed and developing countries, which is proving to be so difficult to swallow for countries like the US, Japan, Canada or Australia. This distinction is fundamental to the Convention itself and its dilution, let alone elimination, will have profound impact on the developmental prospects of countries like India.

 

While acknowledging that they have historical responsibility for the bulk of accumulated greenhouse gas emissions in the earth's atmosphere, which is what is causing global warming, the US and other developed countries argue that the current emissions' trajectories of major emerging economies like China or India would neutralise their own emission reductions and hence climate change would continue to take place. This apparent mathematical logic appears to have convinced many within our own civil society and political ranks. Another, more compelling mathematical logic has been deliberately obscured. If we all agree that the rise in global average temperatures should not exceed say 2º centigrade by 2050, this corresponds to a certain stock of GHGs in the atmosphere. To reach that level, reduction in emissions required globally would have to be distributed over several countries. What the UNFCCC incorporated is a principle of equitable burden sharing in this respect rather than a symmetry of legal obligations. Developed countries took on a legal commitment to undertake absolute emissions reductions not only to meet the requirement of keeping global warming within scientifically determined acceptable levels, but also, and this is fundamental, to vacate atmospheric space sufficient to accommodate the rising emissions of developing countries, inevitable in the latter's course of economic and social development. If developing countries were encouraged to take mitigation measures beyond their own capacities, then such measures would have to be enabled and supported by financial and technological transfers from developed countries. What is now taking place in the negotiations, through a familiar process of attrition, is the wholesale overturning of these fundamental provisions of the UNFCCC. This cannot but impact on our development prospects. Today, nearly 400 million Indians do not have access to commercial energy. If the distinction between developed and developing countries is blurred, or worse, eliminated, then a very limited carbon spectrum would be available to us to meet the massive energy hunger of our population. Certainly it is in India's own interest to make a strategic shift to progressively increase the use of renewable and cleaner sources of energy to power its growth, but this can only be undertaken in a graduated manner and subject to the availability of scarce resources. What Cancun has confirmed is that emerging countries like India can neither expect any financial nor technology transfers to support domestic actions. Meeting any obligations we assume in a future Climate regime will come at the cost of meeting urgent and compelling developmental imperatives. The approach of developed countries is typical of other discriminatory regimes: we get to keep what we have because we got here first. You stay where you are because you are a latecomer. We should resist this.

 

 India should insist that all parties to the UNFCCC meet their treaty obligations. If they cannot and wish to renegotiate the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, then they should follow the legal procedures laid down to amend or abrogate them. We should not be complicit in a brazen attempt to trash the Convention even while reaffirming its principles and provisions. The US has made it clear that it no longer accepts its solemn obligation under the Convention to negotiate, multilaterally, international and legally binding commitments to reduce its GHG emissions. It says it will only commit itself to domestically generated targets that its Congress will legislate on. Further, these targets will not be subject to any international compliance procedures. Only international review and verification would be acceptable. In reality, this implies that if the US does not meet its own targets, there is nothing the rest of the world can do except to complain. Is it any wonder that developed countries, parties to the Kyoto Protocol, are so eager to abandon it, because the Protocol incorporates the higher level of legal commitment enshrined in the Convention and has a very strict compliance mechanism? The US has set a very low bar and has everyone else racing to the bottom to keep pace with it.

 

India's objectives in the Climate negotiations are clear: One, the Climate regime emerging from these negotiations should incorporate significant, ambitious and legally enforceable emission reduction obligations on the part of developed countries, because India is one of the countries most vulnerable to global climate change. There is a global context to our own efforts which is frequently ignored. Whatever we do will achieve nothing unless paralleled by a robust multilateral regime.

 

Two, any Climate regime should enhance, not diminish, India's growth prospects; and, three, the regime should support India's own actions in meeting the twin and interrelated challenges of energy security and climate change. India has no reason to be defensive. It has taken several important initiatives in its National Action Plan on Climate Change, relying on its own resources. It has every right to expect that any actions beyond this threshold are entitled to international financial and technological support.

 

On these counts, a careful reassessment of where we are headed after Cancun may be in order.

 

The author is a former foreign secretary and is currently acting chairperson, RIS and senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

LOOK AFRESH AT COOLING-OFF RULES

IT IS TIME THE GOVT RE-EXAMINED THE LOGIC OF THE COOLING-OFF PERIODS FOR RETIRING GOVT OFFICIALS BEFORE THEY CAN TAKE UP JOBS IN PVT SECTOR

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi had gone on his first foreign tour as prime minister. In one of his press conferences during the tour, Mr Gandhi was asked if civil servants in India were paid so low that corruption in government had become a big problem. It was an uncomfortable question as it came days after some Indian officials were booked on charges that they had passed on secret documents to a few foreign agencies. Mr Gandhi, however, remained unperturbed. "We have no evidence from the western countries that higher pay for civil servants has completely removed corruption there," Mr Gandhi said, thereby preventing the scribes from asking any follow-up questions on an issue that certainly could have been embarrassing for the young leader. Civil servants back home had praised Mr Gandhi for his quick-witted response and the manner in which he indirectly defended them.

 

A few years later, B G Desmukh, who was principal secretary to two prime ministers — Rajiv Gandhi and V P Singh — had an unusual meeting with Chandrasekhar, who succeeded Singh as prime minister in 1990. Mr Desmukh wrote in his autobiography that he had made up his mind to quit the PMO and told as much to the new prime minister. However, Chandrasekhar had asked him to stay on until the end of his tenure, which was to end about two months later. Desmukh agreed to stay on.

 

A few days later, however, Mr Desmukh was asked to quit as the government had decided to appoint S K Mishra, a senior IAS officer, as the next principal secretary. Mr Desmukh was furious. He met the prime minister and told him how disappointed he was by the turn of events. He resigned, but also sent a formal request to the government to allow him to work for the Tatas. Chandrasekhar told Mr Desmukh that he had no objection to his working for the Tatas after leaving the PMO. However, that permission never came and Mr Desmukh learnt from his successor that Chandrasekhar was opposed to the idea of an officer working for the private sector so soon after his retirement.

 

The two incidents took place more than two decades ago, but they underline certain aspects the current debate over corporate lobbying with government has completely ignored. These pertain to the importance of good conduct of civil servants — both before and after they retire from service. Within its own limitations, the Manmohan Singh government has done its best to uphold the principles of integrity and a code of conduct for serving government officials. However, its record in handling requests from civil servants for private sector jobs after retirement has been less than exemplary. Indeed, the United Progressive Alliance government has been a little lax about enforcing its rules on the mandatory cooling-off period all retiring government officers must honour.

 

First it was Ashok Jha, who retired as finance secretary a few years ago but got the government's approval to join an automobile company. Now, the government may defend its decision to waive the cooling-off period usually enforced on all retiring government officers. Nor is there any suggestion that Jha misused his position as finance secretary to secure a post-retirement job with a private sector company. However, the government waiver did raise many an eyebrow. Should an IAS officer be allowed to take up a private sector job immediately after his retirement? Desmukh had sought a favour from Chandrasekhar, but the government did not grant the request. Jha also sought a favour and Manmohan Singh granted it. Who was correct? Manmohan Singh or Chandrasekhar?

 

Similarly, three senior retired officials associated themselves with corporate lobbying firms, directly or indirectly after their retirement. It is not just a matter of coincidence that all these firms have some connection with the ongoing lobbying controversy. Remember, these men were not ordinary officials. Pradeep Baijal was disinvestment secretary and later became the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Ajay Dua was secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and C M Vasudev was economic affairs secretary and a nominee of the Indian government as an executive director on the board of the World Bank.

 

The three senior officers may like to qualify their association with the corporate lobbying firms in whatever manner as a way of defending what they did. It is also possible that these officials did no wrong during their short tenures with these firms. However, the question that remains unanswered is whether a retired IAS officer should ever be allowed to take up a job with a corporate lobbying firm.

 

That is the key question. It is time that the government re-examined the logic of the cooling-off periods for retiring government officials before they can take up jobs in the private sector. It is a certain kind of job that a retired government official should be barred from taking up in the private sector.

 

Unfortunately, current government policies do not make such distinctions. Thus, retired army officials can merrily take up jobs with companies that are selling arms to the defence forces, once the cooling-off period gets over. Should the government allow this? Similarly, IAS officers can be simply barred from joining lobbying firms or any company with which they may have had dealings with in their previous three assignments in the government. A blanket cooling-off-period rule is not strong enough to check the misuse of lobbying with unethical means.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DISPENSING NATIONAL RESOURCES

THE SCOPE OF JUDICIAL REVIEW IS CONFINED TO SCRUTINISING THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS, BUT WITH SCAMS POPPING UP EVERY DAY, THE COURTS WILL STAY BUSY

M J ANTONY

 

The scope of judicial review is confined to scrutinising the decision-making process, but with scams popping up every day, the courts will still have a busy time

 

The disposal of national resources has become a subject of huge controversy. Whether it is a commercial plot, natural gas, oil or spectrum, a squall of allegations is not far behind. The government may adopt one of the several methods to distribute its wealth equitably, namely, by sale, lease, public auction, inviting bids, lottery or on a first-come-first-served basis. None of these methods has escaped hostile scrutiny and litigation.

 

One such case was decided by the Supreme Court recently in which it summed up the principles governing such transfer of common assets. The case, HP Housing and Urban Development Authority vs Universal Estate, did not involve a 15-digit scam, but it did deal with a fierce contest for two industrial sites in the hill state of Himachal and yielded some basic canons.

 

The highest bid was rejected by the authorities, though the tender money was deposited. The state government intervened to stop the process. It wanted to examine why the reserve price was lowered, why there was no open auction – which would have fetched better rates – and whether the sale was properly notified. Following this enquiry, the highest offer was cancelled. The highest bidder, therefore, moved the high court. The court struck down the order of the development authority stating that after accepting the bid money the authority had no right to reject the offer. However, on appeal, the Supreme Court set aside the high court order and ruled that the authority had the power to reject the highest bid.

 

In this context, the Supreme Court discussed the scope of judicial review. It is indeed very limited. Courts will intervene only if the action of the public authority is detrimental to public interest, arbitrary, unreasonable and mala fide. In some leading cases, the Supreme Court has emphasised these principles. In one such recent case, BSN Joshi & Sons vs Nair Coal Services Ltd, the Supreme Court stated that a contract is a commercial transaction. Evaluating tenders and awarding contracts are essentially commercial functions. Principles of equity and natural justice stay at a distance. If the decision relating to the award of contract is bona fide and is in the public interest, courts will not interfere even if procedural aberration or error in assignment or prejudice to the tenderer is made out.

 

"Attempts by unsuccessful tenderers with imaginary grievances, wounded pride and business rivalry, to make mountains out of molehills of some technical or procedural violation or some prejudice to self should be resisted," the judgment said, and added: "Such interference, either interim or final, may hold up public works for years, or delay relief and succour to millions and may increase the project cost manifold."

 

In another leading case, Air India Ltd vs Cochin International Airport Ltd, the court emphasised that the public authority is free not to accept the highest or the lowest offer and the scope of judicial review is confined to the scrutiny of the decision-making process. Only if it is vitiated by arbitrariness or mala fides, can the judiciary intervene. Otherwise, the public authority has a free hand.

 

The extent of freedom given to the state in these matters was clearly stated in that judgment. "The state can choose its own method to arrive at a decision. It can fix its own terms of invitation to tender and that is not open to judicial scrutiny. It can enter into negotiations before finally deciding to accept one of the offers made to it. Price need not always be the sole criterion for awarding a contract. It is free to grant any relaxation. It may not accept the offer even though it happens to be highest or the lowest. But the state, its corporations, instrumentalities and agencies are bound to adhere to the norms, standards and procedures laid down by them and cannot depart from them arbitrarily." Public interest is supreme and "only when it comes to a conclusion that overwhelming public interest requires interference, the court should intervene."

 

The bench that delivered the judgment in the HP Housing and Urban Development Authority also made headlines in the past three weeks over the 2G spectrum scam. According to the criteria laid down by the judges for judicial intervention, there should be arbitrary and mala fide intention calling for intervention in public interest. The spectrum case is, therefore, a test case. The court's order in this case will indicate how the judiciary will deal with future scams involving distribution of national resources. Such cases are popping up every day and the coming years could be a busy time for the courts

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

 

SHOULD AIR FARES BE REGULATED?

THE INDUSTRY NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT REGULATOR TO FIX THE DEMAND-SUPPLY MISMATCH THAT RAISES FARES, BUT AIRLINE PRICING SHOULD BALANCE PASSENGER EXPECTATIONS WITH CARRIERS' ASPIRATIONS.

SUDHAKARA REDDY D


National President, Air Passengers Association of India

Given the challenges arising from a rapidly growing civil aviation, the government should set up an independent Aviation Regulatory Authority overseeing the entire sector

 

As Indian aviation prepares for rapid growth over the next decade, a new policy framework is needed to create a safe and competitive industry that supports economic development.

 

The number of passengers handled at Indian airports increased from 39 million in 1999-2000 to 123 million in 2009-10. The industry had to develop the capability to cope with an additional 84 million passengers. By 2020, the annual passenger throughput is expected to reach 420 to 450 million, an increment of 300 million or more. The scale of growth in absolute terms will dwarf recent history, and it is a challenge that cannot be underestimated.

 

If Indians flew as much as Americans, there would be a market of over 4 billion passengers. With the spending power of Indians set to triple over the next two years, the potential for growth is incredible. The government has made remarkable progress in aviation since 2004, particularly during the initial three or four years of its first term. Key achievements included the deregulation of the domestic market, liberalisation of international services and the launch of the airport upgrade and modernisation programme. However, a major shortcoming has been the absence of a long-term strategic plan with an appropriately aligned policy and regulatory framework.

 

Today, the civil aviation sector is growing at a healthy pace and thanks to GDP growth and the overall economic growth in our country, civil aviation is bound to become one of the most active and vibrant sectors in India.

 

International flight frequencies to India have tripled to nearly 2,300 every week. India is more connected than ever to our globalised world, bringing enormous economic benefits. This has challenged all those involved in the Indian aviation industry to improve competitiveness. In recent years, there have been some great improvements. But there is still much more to be done. It's time for a comprehensive approach with a common vision by everyone involved.

 

For lack of a structured framework, the industry has progressed in an ad hoc manner without clarity or stability on key issues such as bilateral rights, airline licences, airport regulation, ground-handling policy, foreign airline investment and international access for domestic carriers. The lack of certainty about the future makes strategic planning extremely challenging for a capital-intensive industry. This is a major concern and does not help plan investments.

 

If if a regulator were in place and corrective measures were taken from time to time, the industry would have been healthy and competitive. Today, we find ourselves in a situation where fares have gone up by at least 50 to 100 per cent in different sectors even when compared to those that prevailed in the first quarter of this financial year.

 

It is unfortunate that the airlines have not added fresh capacity owing to the global economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, in addition to substantial losses that some of them incurred. This and the fact that three of the domestic airlines have been permitted to fly overseas have contributed to a mismatch in supply and demand.

 

It is also unfortunate that Indians do not plan their travel well in advance, a practice that offers the opportunity to fly at reasonable fares. It is, however, difficult for a corporate executive or an individual to plan the trip sometimes so they end up paying huge amounts towards last-minute travel.

 

Over the past five years, the absence of a clear policy was manageable because the sector was relatively small. But given the pace of growth (the industry will likely be more than 10 times as large in 2020 as it was in 2004), the challenges are becoming much greater.

 

It is very important that the government sets up an Aviation Regulatory Authority of India, on the lines of the insurance and telecom regulators, as an independent body overseeing the entire civil aviation sector, whether it is airlines, airports, navigation or safety schedules.

 

Beyond 2012-13, while traffic growth will continue, our ability to support it may be below expectations and we are far behind in creating the required infrastructure both on the land and in the air.

 

Kapil Arora

Partner-Infrastructure Practice, Ernst & Young

 

Allowing the government to fix pricing goes against the open market principles and will create barriers, limiting the long-term growth of the Indian airline industry

 

Is domestic airline pricing artificially high? Is there a cartel at work? Should the government fix the maximum pricing?

 

The debate has gained momentum in the last few days with the civil aviation ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) threatening "corrective action" and the airlines responding with publishing somewhat complicated (and confusing) price bands based on the distance between two cities.

 

Let's evaluate the current situation and the related questions. For starters, airline pricing is fairly complex and is impacted by several variables such as seat demand versus available supply, competition on routes, global volatility in aviation turbine fuel (ATF) prices, government taxes levies and duties and so on. Further, there are different pricing considerations for busy city pairs (for example, Mumbai-Delhi), corporate versus leisure or holiday travellers as well as seasonal factors that drive the pricing strategies adopted by individual carriers to gain market share.

 

In this dynamic environment, does the civil aviation ministry or the DGCA have the resources, infrastructure and technology enablers to prescribe normative pricing and proactively monitor abnormal deviations from the benchmarks?

 

Secondly, the enforceability of any formal government directives could potentially be legally challenged by the airlines since the DGCA is not empowered to enforce a reduction in air fares and its present role is limited to issuing a stern guidance seeking greater transparency in pricing from the carriers.

 

Thirdly, learnings from the mature markets of North America and Europe show that domestic airline price regulation has been progressively disbanded over the last three decades and left to competitive market forces. The United States (the world's largest air travel market) is arguably the most competitive, and domestic airline deregulation in the US began in the late 1970s. Similarly, the European Union airspace was deregulated in the early 1990s has since spawned the "budget" carriers who have grown significantly, particularly in the short-haul segment. Airlines in these markets have the full liberty to change fares at will and, notwithstanding the bankruptcies, consolidation and allegations of cartelisation, governments have not taken active control of air fare pricing.

 

Although there is merit in some regulation and oversight to safeguard the interests of passengers in India, allowing the government to actively fix pricing is not enforceable in the short term and neither practical nor desirable in the long term as it goes against the "open market" principles and will create barriers that may ultimately limit the growth of the Indian airline industry over the long term.

 

There are also valuable learnings from the pricing deregulation in the Indian telecom sector where economic policy liberalisation and competition over the last two decades have driven market penetration to the hinterland as a result of rock-bottom tariffs. A similar market model could be adopted for the Indian airline sector, which would enable more access to accessible and affordable air travel across the country (not just the six major metros). Instead of a tighter, intrusive and arguably ad-hoc government control over pricing, there is certainly a meaningful role for an active, independent regulatory oversight body with a clear mandate and transparent functioning to address the emerging issues.

 

To address any collusion, predatory or anti-competitive pricing practices, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) can also be activated to investigate and take appropriate action. Ultimately, airline pricing needs to balance passenger expectations with carriers' aspirations — that is, between passengers who want affordable prices and airlines that want to maximise revenues and yields.

 

For the airlines, the answer lies in transparency and self- regulation — on publishing and filing the fares with the government, the fares should be available to passengers directly from the airline as well as from all appointed agents, travel agencies and online "consolidators". For passengers, a pricing mechanism that is easy to understand, transparent and enables informed choices is the need of the hour.

 

The views expressed are personal

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SEEK TRUTH FROM FACTS

PARTICULARLY FROM HARD, HOSTILE FACTS


CHINESE premier Wen Jiabao arrives in India when China is hailed by the world as a superpower in the making and India is, as yet, an emerging market, albeit one that the sole, established superpower wants to build into a counterweight to China. It is inevitable that the 1962 war, in which China trounced India, should colour perceptions on both sides. But history should inform, not determine, policy choices in the present. For both India and China, it makes sense to cooperate and engage directly with each other than to try and subvert each other's progress. Yes, China has built major ports in India's neighbours, giving India a string of pearls it does not want, it continues to support Pakistan even in areas that directly infringe on India's interests, disputes India's territorial integrity, is suspected of enabling, if not carrying out, cyber attacks against India and is not above arming insurgent groups in the northeast, although Beijing has given up instigating such groups. China faces a desperate shortage of water and is busy damming the rivers fed by Himalayan glaciers that flow through Tibet, including the one that forms the Brahmaputra. New Delhi should not gloss over these facts. Equally, it serves little purpose to wax shrill over these developments. Ever since the British left its Asian colonial expanses, leaving Indians swilling Chinese tea and the Chinese addicted to Indian opium, both countries have been focused more on the border that neither accepts but effectively divides them than on a history of civilisational respect and peaceful coexistence that united them in the past. India will grow to economic and military might, denying China strategic pre-eminence in Asia. This, China must accept. All through history, the Chinese have disdained to take over lands outside their traditional domain, even when they had the logistic and military capability to do so. This, India must accept as token of current professions of peaceful intent. 
    India and China must build relations based on mutual respect and realistic assessment of facts on the ground. It is better to build on hard facts than on slippery sentiment.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PAUCITY OF TAKEOVER FINANCING

HURTS INDIAN COMPANIES BIG AND SMALL

 

SCAMS are not quite holding up the wheels of commerce. Private equity-controlled Paras Pharmaceuticals has secured an extremely good deal with British consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser's purchase of its company for . 3,260 crore. The all-cash deal — at nearly 30 times its operating profit — is the second largest in the pharma space this year after the . 17,000-crore takeover of Piramal Healthcare by Abbott in May. Surely, it reinforces the rising importance of emerging markets for multinational companies. The acquisition will enhance value creation in the Indian healthcare market. Reckitt will acquire some of the fastest-growing brands that are complementary to its existing portfolio. It will be able to leverage on its distribution network to grow business here and also launch the Paras brands overseas. The main investors in Paras — UK-based private equity fund Actis, founder Girish Patel and family, and US investor Sequoia Capital — are reported to have preferred Reckitt's upfront bid to a higher but conditional bid from homegrown Emami. Actis had invested only a little over . 600 crore since 2006, but will now garner more than . 2,000 crore for the 63% held in the company. With an internal rate of return of over 45%, the deal will infuse more dynamism among private equity funds to carry the trend forward and invest in the healthcare segment. The promoters Girish Patel and family too have made handsome gains, with their 30% stake valued at . 978 crore. 

 

Sure, Paras would have made a good buy for Indian companies like Emami. The Emami group was willing to pay a higher price, but wanted to stagger the payment over a period and thus lost out to Reckitt. This points to the paucity of takeover financing in the Indian environment. This is a growing opportunity in banking and finance that will help Indian companies, big — to compete against deep pockets of multinationals — and small — to get a better price while being sold. The relatively-stunted Indian debt market is a stumbling block in making good on such an opportunity. Quite clearly, the development of the financial sector is not something that should concern players in the financial sector alone.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOW AUSSIES CAN WIN THE ASHES

FOLLOW BRITISH IMPORT POLICY!


THE ongoing campaign to bring back legendary legspinner Shane Warne into the Australian cricket team almost four years after he retired only shows up the desperation of Aussie cricket fans. With Australia losing the Adelaide Test to England by an innings and 71 runs on December 7— its biggest defeat at home since 1984 — a huge question mark also hangs over the batting where there is no question of going back to retired Aussie stars like Matthew Hayden. At one stage, after a string of poor scores in this summer's Indian Premier League, Hayden even lost his place in the Chennai Super Kings' XI. So, the only option is to bowl out England twice for such a poor total in each of the three remaining Tests that Australia will have no problems scoring more — the first Test has been drawn and the second won by England. 

 

It is here that the point made by cricket commentator Ajay Jadeja assumes significance. Warne, says Jadeja, is a genius like Sachin Tendulkar who can wake up any morning and come up with an inspired performance. Jadeja cites previous instances where the Aussies have gone back to retired cricketers in their 40s who have come up with match-winning performances, like Bobby Simpson. However, that was in 1977 when the main Aussie team — including the Chappell brothers — was banned for playing for the Packer circus and replacements were desperately needed for the series against India. However, all hope is not yet lost. The Aussies could take a cue from England and persuade promising young cricketers in South Africa to take up Australian nationality. Two of the matchwinners of the current English team — Pietersen and Trott — were born in South Africa but relocated to the UK and made British citizens so that they could help England retain the Ashes. It's like long-distance runners from Kenya and Ethiopia winning gold medals for Qatar and Bahrain in the Asian Games!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COLUMN

JALAN PANEL DISRESPECTS PARLIAMENT

THE JALAN COMMITTEE TAKES US BACK TO THE SOVIET PHILOSOPHY OF THE 1970S. WHAT THE MARKET NEEDS IS MORE COMPETITION AND BETTER REGULATION RATHER THAN LESS COMPETITION AND OUTSOURCED REGULATION, SAYS SANDEEP PAREKH


SURPRISINGLY, no one has commented yet on how insulting it would be for the Indian Parliament if the recommendations of the Jalan committee report are accepted by Sebi and enacted as Sebi regulations, in effect overruling statutory law. The recommendations contradict several provisions and the entire philosophy of a previous committee headed by a former Chief Justice of India M H Kania (the Kania report) which counted stalwarts such as a former chief justice of a high court, Y H Malegam and importantly, no Sebi official. The Kania report was accepted by Sebi and by Parliament, which extensively amended not only the securities laws to enable corporatisation and demutualisation, but also gave a special tax exempt dispensation to various entities. Sebi has publicly supported the Jalan report prematurely, even though it is still under a period when Sebi is seeking public comments on the recommendations. 

 

Profits are evil: The Kania report accepted by Parliament mandated 22 not-forprofit exchanges to become for-profit by amendment to the Securities Contract (Regulation) Act (SCR Act). Now in a flip-flop, the Jalan report recommends stock exchanges to generate only 'reasonable' profits. Reasonable has been defined as something over government securities' return. The recommendation raises the false bogey of profitmaking entities being somehow inferior. The NSE as a profitmaking entity has consistently evaded scams but the BSE prior to corporatisation (as a charitable organisation) was involved in several scams. Restriction on profitability will mean that no further investment will result in the sector and investors who invested . 10,000 crore based on the statutory amendment will not only lose a bulk of their investments but will have a share with the returns of debt (capped) and the risk of equity (possibility of losing all). 


Listing: The Kania report recommends that a demutualised stock exchange may list its shares on itself or on any other stock exchange, though listing should not be made mandatory. The Jalan report recommends that listing should be prohibited because, "An MII (market infrastructure institution) should not become a vehicle for attracting speculative investments. Further, MIIs being public institutions, any downward movement in its share prices may lead to a loss of credibility and this may be detrimental to the market as a whole." 

 

This is an amazing conclusion. On the one hand, listing is so important for the economy that its market is called a public utility; at the same time, it is so horrible that exchanges can lose their credibility by being listed. The Jalan report thus results in the official implementation of hypocrisy that listing is good for all companies but is bad for exchanges. It is loss of credibility which causes fall in share price and not the other way round — the mirror doesn't cause us to be ugly. Further, the recommendation would result in poor governance, lack of accountability to shareholders and lack of transparency. Ceiling on ownership: The Jalan report suggests a ceiling of 5% on the equity shareholding (including warrants and other 'value' instruments) and allows only public financial institutions and banking companies with a net worth of at least . 1,000 crore to invest up to 24%. Interestingly, the report contradicts its own annexure (by misquoting it) by saying an ownership cap is the international standard. In fact, the report's own annexure shows that India is the only country in the world with an ownership cap. In fact, none of the countries listed in the annexure even has a voting cap. Other countries in the world only have disclosure standards or permission for crossing a limit to ensure fitness of such shareholders. 

 

THE Jalan report seeks to give special status to banks and public financial institutions as anchor investors with around five times the shareholding permitted to others despite the fact that both JPC reports on stock market scams have implicated banks and public institutions for actively participating in the biggest financial scams in independent India. One chapter of the 2003 JPC report is devoted to the role of banks and seven chapters of the report is devoted to UTI. In any case, banks and FIs are passive investors and invest for returns rather than for charity — given the cap on profit, it would take a very charitable institution to invest in an exchange. The cap on ownership for others means there is no interest in setting up a new exchange as the promoter cannot own over 5% equity in an exchange. I have written an open letter to the Jalan Committee in this paper (ET, 12 May 2010) explaining why this cap is perverse. Competition: While the Kania report recognised the need for stock exchanges to cope with competition and hence recommended demutualisation, the Jalan report actively recommends that Sebi should discourage competition, and that it should choose how many players should be allowed in the exchange space. "Sebi should have the discretion to limit the number of MIIs operating in the market, in the interest of the market and in public interest." Besides reminding one of an A Raja kind of allotment of 2G spectrum, this is an anti-competitive recommendation contrary to the Competition Act, 2002. 

 

Executive compensation: The Jalan report introduces a recommendation on the remuneration of top management of stock exchanges to be a fixed sum without any variable component linked to the commercial performance of the stock exchange. This recommendation lays the foundation for destroying performance in exchanges which cannot incentivise their management (specially in a growing or struggling exchange). 

 

What the market needs is more competition and better regulation rather than less competition and outsourced regulation. The Jalan committee takes us back not just in time but to the Soviet philosophy of 1970s. I hope that the readers of this column, unlike the committee, do not welcome the world of 1980s phone lines which also carried the public utility tag and an eight-year wait in public interest, or the choice of Ambassador and Fiat cars with a 10-year queue — in the national interest. Viva public 'service' death to profits. 

 

(The author is of Finsec LawAdvisors. 

 

The firm has advised exchanges and its     investors on the impact of the report.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FAC E - O F F

FUNDS VS REGULATOR'S AUTONOMY

D SWARUP 


Former Chairman PFRDA Merging funds with CFI is no compromise

 

EVERY public authority exercising statutory powers and even a non-statutory authority exercising public functions has been deemed a 'state' under the Constitution. The latter further stipulates that all public money received by or on behalf of the government must be credited to the government account. All regulatory bodies established by law or otherwise are public authorities that levy fees or penalties on behalf of the government.

 

The merging of regulators' funds with the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) does not compromise regulatory autonomy. Nor is it an impediment in the proper discharge of their obligations under the concerned law. Had this been so, the Supreme Court, CAG, CEC and the UPSC would not have functioned autonomously. All money received by these constitutional authorities by way of court fees, etc, are credited to government account and their expenses are provided for in the Union Budget. Surely, it is not anybody's case that the judiciary, CAG, CEC or UPSC do not have adequate independence and function under the 'control' of the government. Regulatory bodies in India are of recent origin. Their practices and functions are evolving. Now is the time to establish robust conventions that will enable them to function independently and effectively despite the requirement of crediting their receipts to government account. 

 

Specific laws which have established the regulatory bodies clearly provide for functional autonomy. Government should, therefore, create an environment that will enable these autonomous bodies to operate independently in the interest of the people. And, in fact, most regulatory bodies do function autonomously, not for the reason that they keep their money to themselves, but largely for the reasons that the laws which created them allow them to do so. 

 

Perhaps, the specific issue of financial autonomy of the regulators could be satisfactorily addressed by following the RBI model where all income, after expenses and reserves, is transferred to the government's Consolidated Fund. This arrangement has worked well.

 

G N BAJPAI 

Former Chairman Sebi & LIC of India Single fund will hurt regulatory freedom 

 

THERE is near-unanimity across geographies on the imperatives of independence of a regulatory body because it is fundamental to its effectiveness and capability to discharge delegated responsibilities. Independence of a regulator, inter alia, includes financial autonomy. 

 

The Indian regulatory bodies have been legislatively obligated to regulate the market; protect the interest of investors and develop the market. Regulators have to meet their obligations in all three areas and have, therefore, to allocate resources including financial to all the areas. Developments in the market are influenced by a matrix of factors: macro and micro; internal and external. Hence, the priorities of the regulator have to remain on a dynamic platform and undergo changes depending on the developments in the market, which may necessitate additional and/or reallocation of resources with quick reflexes. It cannot shoot a moving target with static gun position. 

 

Though there can be very little divergence with the priorities (except to calm the excitedmarket) of regulatory bodies with the priorities of the nation, often the priorities of the government of the day have difference at least in approaches. In case the regulators are required to seek financial resources from the state, their agenda will get subordinated to the priorities of political executives and willynilly, their autonomy will be eroded. The speed in the changes in the allocation, reallocation and seeking additional resources may also become a challenge. Further, claims of the regulators on the finances, Consolidated Fund of India, would be subjected to the priorities of the aggregate demands, which may lead to inadequate allocation to regulatory bodies, adversely impacting their independence. 

 

During my tenure, one major agenda was to ensure the financial autonomy of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), which was substantially achieved and is maintained as of date. Tempering with the financial autonomy of Sebi and/or any of the regulatory bodies would impact their autonomy and effectiveness.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SEREN DI PITY

SCAM ABOVE PARTISAN PREJUDICE

C L MANOJ 

 

THE build-up to the season of scams wasn't much of a drama till the multiheaded dragon came dancing on to the centre of the stage. The rival players are now in a state of nervous frenzy, surrounded by treacherous plots and sub-plots, no one ready to trust another. So, the politics of scam-hunt, that was going down a one-way lane to the Commonwealth Games loot and Adarsh apartments greed, has transformed into a wild chase across the landscape, thanks to the Radia tapes, whose political-corporate-lobbyists-media links cry foul so loud as to break down already brittle ideological barriers. 

 

This washed-out Parliament session certainly has set the stage for a winter of long knives in Delhi's merciless political corridors that spare none in the battle for supremacy and survival. Already, some disposable 'nonpolitical pigeons' have been gunned down as early warning shots for the big players with bigger stakes. The home secretary swears he has never heard the Radia tapes but people are still reserving seats for a prime-time rendezvous with the 'iceberg' that Mr Pillai had earlier assured 'lies beneath' the visible tip. Delhi's political movers who claim to possess a cultivated intuition to trace the whiff of gunpowder before the first shot is fired, are already pontificating how a multi-pronged crisis can actually work as crisis therapy. 

 

So, the Radia tapes, which came right in the middle of the Kalmadi/Chavan-hit Congress scurrying for cover, have now grown into a multi-starrer chartbuster that has snuffed out Raja's hopes of holding on to his chair by dint of coalition blackmail. It has also reduced Team Karunanidhi from being a political bully to the bullied in the bargaining ahead of the Tamil Nadu assembly polls. 

 

Delightfully awakened by the sheer magnitude of the 2G spectrum scam exposé, the Opposition was all dressed up to hoist the crusader's flag when the dragon started its serpentine turns, ensuring a sort of level-playing field that free market advocates so passionately seek as a pre-condition for fair and competitive wealth generation! 

 

So, after offering an exclusive peep into the skilful ways of spectrum Raja and a teaser into the string-play behind the Congress-DMK coalition dharma, the dragon has crossed the political barrier. Now we have that enlightening commentary on how to fix a high-stake parliamentary debate even while putting up a facade of Opposition resistance against the government plan. Arun Shourie has confirmed what the tapes say, making Venkaiah Naidu and N K Singh do flip-flops, leaving the NDA brass red-faced. The Opposition leaders are also yet to say who among them will vouch for whom, as the apex court-dictated CBI probe extends to late Pramod Mahajan's tango with telecom licensing under the NDA. 

 

But then, for once, the Radia tapes have also made some corporate tsars demand what the aam aadmi has been always seeking: a 'shield of justice' from the 'uncaring intruders' who violate the fundamental right to 'a dignified life'. Some mandarins of chambers of commerce too have shown they have graduated from being pushers of fast-track reforms to dispensers of political advice 'in a big way' on portfolio preferences. It has also spiced up the Indo-Pak political exchange by pitting a 'Mr 15%' against 'Mr 10%'. One thought Nitish Kumar had picked N K Singh to be Bihar's Montek Singh, but now it appears the CM has a well-informed adviser who can give him tickling accounts of who-madewhom in Delhi's ministerial corridors. Never before had the political-corporate-lobbyists circle managed to get such a unifying feel! 

 

So what do you do when sacred secrets come tumbling out? The NDA brass vows to go to the people. That is good news for those who lament how the daily pre-dinner mock fights in TV studios have replaced mass politics. Now we will know who are the 'real leaders' who can establish a connect with the people and mobilise them for a mass movement. The Opposition wants a replay of 'the Boforslike politics' but there is no sign, as yet, of a V P Singh coming out of the Congress camp to their aid, even as a Yeddyurappa hangs around as an inconvenient eyesore. 

 

With Radia & Co turning things topsy-turvy, the Congress seems to prefer 'indoor games' as the counter-move against political rivals. Mr Sibal has already set the cat among pre-Raja pigeons housed in Sanchar Bhavan. We can also expect familiar Congress thunderbolts at the weekend AICC session against the 'ethical double standards' of 'the communal forces' while showcasing the party's aam aadmiconcerns and sounding an alert on the different colours of terror. A 'cleansing shuffle' of the Cabinet and AICC pack can set the atmospherics to dispel the feeling that the wheels of governance have ground to a halt. It is easy for the political class to reassure protection-seeking corporates, but the challenge is to rally around a credibility-seeking public. 

 

That is why even in the middle of their 'uncompromising war', the political rivals have inked one common minimum programme: there will be no mid-term poll to test the politicians' standing among the people after Ms Radia brought the carnival from inside the closets of Lutyens Delhi right on to the streets.

 

Closet skeletons familiar to the habitués of the Capital's political circles are out in the streets, thanks to the Radia tapes 


Both the government and the Opposition are careful to avert a build-up of pressure that could trigger mid-term elections 


Yeddyurappa and the telecom inquiry's focus reaching the NDA's closet make scams a non-partisan phenomenon

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

MURDER, THY OTHER NAME

VITHALC NADKARNI 

 

WHAT is in a name?" Juliet asks Romeo in one of Shakespeare's oft-quoted lines. "That which we call rose, by any other name would be as sweet." What about something as horrific as 'Holocaust', which stands for genocide of Jews by the Nazis during World War II? 

 

The name is actually quite improper, complains French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann. He is known for an electrifying documentary called Shoah that completely transformed the way the world regarded Holocaust. 

 

Holocaust literally meant 'burnt offering' in Greek, explains the 85-year-old filmmaker on the eve of the re-release of his classic in America. That is what Greeks keep doing in Homer's epics, when they slaughter oxen and sheep and burn their quarters to appease the gods. 

 

That is also what the Aryans did in their animal sacrifices. Using Holocaust to denote the extermination of six million Jews dehumanises the victims. It also tends to make a demonic reality 'palatable'. It also sanctifies Nazi notions of 'Aryan' racial superiority that had such monstrous consequences for those who were unlucky enough to be called 'Jews'. 

 

Lanzmann insists that there was no Holocaust. "It was a catastrophe, a disaster, which in Hebrew is Shoah." Would that change the incontrovertible reality of genocide? Not really. "I did not record a reality that pre-existed (my) film," Lanzmann told The New York Times. "I had to create that reality" out of what he calls "a kind of chorus of emerging voices and faces, of so many killers, victims and bystanders." 

 

Lanzmann, who fought with the French Resistance as a teenager during the war, served as an editor of a philosophical and cultural journal founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. He opted against using any historical footage in his pathbreaking film which steadfastly refuses to bowdlerise an awful truth. 

 

Eventually, as Prince Yudhishtira laments in the Mahabharata, "Time cooks all creatures in his great cauldron": memories fade, witnesses die, and context itself and meanings are lost even as new genocides and racial killings emerge, whether in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur. 

 

Lanzmann concedes that most of those he interviewed for his film are dead. "But Shoah the film is not dead. I don't know what you think, but for me, every time I sit to watch my film, I say I will stay two minutes, but I always stay longer. The film has no wrinkles."

 

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THE SATESMAN

EDIT

BRITTLE AS CHINA

BUILD TIES ON FOUNDATIONS OF TRUTH

 

THE Chinese Ambassador to India is quite right in stating that ties between Beijing and New Delhi are very fragile and can be damaged quite easily. He is also right when he says that China and India can together be the world's factory and the world's office.  But to achieve this happy state of affairs, special care needs to be taken, he says. In a far from subtle hint, Mr Zhang Yan asks the government of India to provide guidelines to the public to avoid a war of words. And it is with the last of these statements that any reasonable Indian would have problems. For Mr Zhang seems to believe that in a functioning democracy like India, the government is in a position to provide guidelines to people ~ and by extension the media ~ on what to say and what not to say. While there might be some people amenable to such guidance, the majority of Indians would make up their own minds, and would do so on the basis of evidence they see presenting itself.


And quite frankly, the evidence that the People's Republic of China presents is far from reassuring. There have been many irritants in the relationship, not the least of which are the continued refusal to settle border disputes except on China's terms, the matter of Kashmiris getting stapled visas, the continued support to Pakistan's nuclear programme and the refusal to accept a more equitable trade regime. Finally, lest Mr Zhang forget, the war of words is as much a consequence of belligerent writings in the controlled Chinese media, and for which Beijing cannot evade responsibility, as it is of criticism of Chinese positions by a relatively free Press within India. 


There is indeed a need to scale down these verbal skirmishes, but the best way to do so would be to remove the causes for distrust. And this is an area where China has more, much more to do. Pitching for false bonhomie on the eve of an important visit is counter-productive, as is suggesting meaningless riders to the right of free speech. Put bluntly, if China doesn't like what is said it ought to weigh the merits of what it hears before seeking to circumscribe the speaker's rights. Indians don't win Nobel Prizes for speaking their minds. And thank God for that!

 

POOR HOMEMAKING

CHIDAMBARAM SPOKE LIKE A 'PC'

LOOSE talk is a charge that even the most vehement critic of the home minister would never level against him: the man takes himself too seriously for that. So his "diagnosis" for high crime levels in the Capital ~ the influx of outsiders ~ was no knee-jerk reaction to the series of gang-rapes that have thoroughly exposed the incompetence of the city's police, which functions directly under him. To be fair, Chidambaram took the inevitable political counter-punch on the chin, withdrew his comment without making a fuss of being misquoted or misinterpreted. Yet while he clarified that he had never targeted "regional" migrants, he left himself open to being accused of holding the less-affluent living in unauthorised colonies responsible for much of the criminal action. True there is a link between crime and social factors, but in taking the PC line (police constable) the home minister has indicated he has yet to attain the levels his appointment demands. For sustained poor governance is at the root of the continued movement from village to city. 


  The subhuman conditions in technically unauthorised colonies (otherwise condoned because they are deemed vote banks) and ineffective police are other factors. Would it be stretching things too far to read into the comment a certain frustration at not having fully delivered ~ the offensive against Maoists has fizzled out, Varanasi has proved terror outfits still flourish, police modernisation remains a non-starter? And, of course, the battering the UPA is taking on several fronts: the rout in Bihar, the rampant corruption and questionable selection of the CVC that has been slammed by the apex court more forcefully than the Opposition, parliamentary paralysis etc? It all adds up, or should we say drags down. A home minister is more than even a supercop, the "outsider" theory is the alibi of the 'thanedar'. Chidambaram, as Sheila Dikshit once also did, has missed the point that despite its many behavioural shortcomings, Delhi has never been a prisoner of parochial thinking ~ to which the lakhs of refugees at Partition would gratefully, lovingly testify. It may not boast what is deemed a cosmopolitan culture, but it has not shut its doors to people because of their religion or regional origin. The home minister, who claims to be a migrant himself, must take note that Delhi also hosted another migrant from his state ~ whose telecom swindle was decidedly as criminal as anything committed by the people he had targeted!

 

LOOKING FOR ALLIES

POLL EDGINESS SHOWING IN ASSAM      

WITH just a few months left for the state Assembly elections, the Asom Gana Parishad is unlikely to change its mind on snapping electoral ties with the BJP. But senior party leader Atul Bora now seems to feel the decision was a mistake, a sentiment reflected in AGP chief Chandra Mohan Patowary's recently stated view that without opposition unity it will be difficult to unseat the ruling Congress. Before the 2009 parliamentary elections, the AGP and BJP had a seat-sharing understanding wherein the latter would contest eight seats, leaving the remaining six for the AGP which would, in the 2011 assembly polls contest more seats. But when the BJP increased its tally from two to four in 2009 and the AGP secured a lone seat ~ one less than earlier ~ it realised its partner had benefited at its cost and unitarily severed ties. The BJP is confident of doing well because in the 2006 poll it secured 10 seats, two more than in 2001. It possibly could have done better had the central unit listened to grassroots leaders that the poll alliance with the AGP would only harm the party's prospects. Party chief Nitin Gadkari has already boasted of installing a BJP chief minister in 2011.


The Congress seems unfazed and is confident of scoring a hat-trick. In 2006, it broke a jinx by becoming the only party to rule the state consecutively for two terms. Tarun Gogoi runs the government with the support of 11 Bodo People's Front legislators. But the Front is now thinking in terms of  severing ties with the Congress for not agreeing to meet its original demand for a separate state. The only party open to the AGP is the Muslim-dominated Assam United Democratic Front which won 10 sets in 2006 and which has said it will never align with either the BJP or the Congress.

 

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THE SATESMAN

COLUMN

THE WRONG RESPONSE

WHY NEW DELHI SPIKED MUSHARRAF VISIT

RAJINDER PURI

 

NEW Delhi's refusal to grant a visa to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to tour India made little sense. Of all the Pakistani leaders, Musharraf came closest to striking a peace deal with India on Kashmir. The reason advanced for cancelling the visa was unconvincing. Musharraf's visit to different locations in India, it was feared, would allow pro-Pakistan militants to exploit the visit to their advantage.


Musharraf naturally was bitter about the cancellation. Musharraf's views regarding a Kashmir solution are well known. He sought joint management, autonomy on both sides of the border and soft borders. It is unlikely he would have changed his stand. Even if he had said something objectionable, there were ways of effectively countering it. Denying entry into India was not the right response. That this might become New Delhi's nasty habit became clear from the denial to enter administered without explanation to computer scientist J Alex Halderman after he had landed to attend a seminar to prove the vulnerability of India's electric voting machines.  


What might have been the real reason for the government to deny Musharraf a visa? The only rational explanation seemed to be that New Delhi did not want to displease the present political dispensation in Pakistan which is wary of Musharraf's attempted comeback in domestic politics. Obviously if Musharraf were to succeed, his slot would be the presidency presently occupied by President Zardari. Why should New Delhi prefer Zardari to Musharraf? Last weekend, one possible answer came out loud and clear. 


The Trans-Afghanistan Gas Pipeline agreement was signed by the Presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan along with petroleum and energy minister Murli Deora representing India. This agreement could be a game changer. Addressing the steering committee meeting, Deora said: "India strongly believes in regional cooperation and this pipeline will be a testament to regional cooperation and solidarity…It is our firm belief that the solutions to the problems of our region have to come from us and not from outsiders…Our goal is not merely the construction of the pipeline but also continuous and uninterrupted flow of Turkmen natural gas over the coming decades." When Musharraf sought entry into India, behind the curtain talks to finalize the draft agreement must have been proceeding. Perhaps India did not want to jeopardize progress on that by upsetting President Zardari. Long-term global geo-strategic concerns could have prevailed over immediate regional problems. 


The project has strong US support because it allows Central Asian republics to export energy to world markets bypassing Russian and Iranian routes.  Former US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Ann Jacobsen had said: "It is quite possible that American companies will join it." The pipeline will have its route through Kandahar, Quetta, Pakistan's Tribal Belt and Multan to reach Fazilka in Rajasthan for delivery of gas to India. It was on 24 April 2008 that Pakistan, India and Afghanistan signed a framework agreement to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan. Last Sunday the agreement was formalized. 


This agreement should be viewed in the background of the virtually aborted Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline venture. The Iran gas pipeline's route lay through Baluchistan in Pakistan to India. In April 2008, Iran wanted the People's Republic of China's participation in the project. In 2009, India withdrew from the project citing pricing and security issues. It might be noted that India had signed the civilian nuclear deal with America in 2008. For the Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline to emerge, the route would most likely have to enter through Baluchistan and pass northward across Punjab into the non-Pashtun areas of the North-West Frontier Province through the Federally Administered Northern Areas, and then into Chinese-held areas of Kashmir. Whether Pakistan would host two pipelines through its territory remains to be seen. In any event, the Iran project appears to have been delayed. 


India entering the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline project has far-reaching political implications. Despite the projected pipeline passing through Baluchistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, India has given consent. Both these regions are presently destabilized. India by signing the deal has, therefore, expressed confidence that problems in both areas will be sorted out and stability and peace will reign. It is in this context that Murli Deora's remark from his prepared script read out in the recent summit, "Our goal is not merely the construction of the pipeline but also continuous and uninterrupted flow of Turkmen natural gas over the coming decades", must be viewed. The implied message is clear. There is hope expressed about the achievement of peace in the Af-Pak region. Is the hope realistic? 


Recent developments suggest that there could be some light at the end of the Pakistani tunnel. Credible sources have informed this scribe that General Kayani might well be having second thoughts about pursuing Pakistan's present policy to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan. General Kayani is reputed to be very professional in his approach. He belongs to the relatively small Janjua community of Punjab. The Janjuas are thought to be Muslim Rajputs. Since pre-independence days under the British, their presence in the Army in Punjab has been disproportionately large. Former Pakistan Army Chief General Tikka was also a Janjua.  Since his tenure a majority of the officers promoted above the rank of colonel, according to some estimates 60 per cent, are Janjuas. They have had their full share of the heavy losses suffered by the Pakistan army in the Af-Pak insurgency. That is why it is thought that General Kayani may be reviewing his options. 


In a recent article written in the Wall Street Journal, Musharraf urged that the Taliban should be recognised. In other words, a consensus between the Taliban and President Hamid Karzai should be attempted. Is Pakistan at last beginning to empathize with the strong Pashtun sentiments on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? It might be noted that Wikileaks revealed that General Kayani had recommended Afsandyar Wali Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's grandson who heads the ruling party in NWFP, to become Pakistan's President. Also, General Musharraf seeks election to the Pakistan assembly from NWFP with support from Afsandyar's party. It is reasonable to assume that Kayani who was appointed by Musharraf would be having good rapport with his former boss. 


If all these trends do suggest a possible resolution of the situation in the Af-Pak region, it becomes all the more imperative that this peace process for the entire region comprising India, Pakistan and Afghanistan be strengthened by resolving the Kashmir dispute at the same time. Musharraf's earlier exertions to that end may not, therefore, be wasted. It is for India to pick up the thread and carry the process further. For great historic game changing political ventures, there can be a role for everyone. President Zardari, Musharraf and Pakistan's army Chief General Kayani will all have to cooperate. Musharraf should know that individual power and prestige are not confined to constitutional posts.     


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE SATESMAN

ARE OUR HIGH COURTS HIGH COURTS?

 

The Supreme Court of India in a 1987 judgment paid rich tributes to our High Courts. After noting that under the Constitution, scope of powers of High Courts is much wider than those of the apex court, it observed: "Our High Courts are High Courts. Each High Court has its own high traditions. They have judges of eminence who have initiative, necessary skills and enthusiasm. Their capacity should be harnessed to deal with every type of case arising from their respective areas, which they are competent to dispose of."


Compare this assessment of our High Court judges with the 26 November 2010 observations of the apex court through one of its most learned, honest and upright judges, Mr Justice Markandey Katju: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, said Shakespeare in Hamlet, and it can similarly be said that something is rotten in the Allahabad High Court." In an unprecedented move, all 71 judges of Allahabad High Court in a resolution expressed their displeasure with such a strong indictment and decided to move the apex court in a curative petition for expunging the remarks. One senior Allahabad lawyer had even suggested initiation of contempt proceedings against the apex court.


The apex court on 10 December 2010 while hearing the Allahabad High Court petition refused to withdraw its highly critical observations of 26 November. The court rightly paid rich tributes to the long and glorious history of Allahabad High Court which, indeed, has given us some of the best judges and leading lawyers. This controversy will throw new light on the million dollar question - are our High Courts High Courts?
Justice Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra held that the orders of the single judge in the instant case were passed on extraneous considerations and they listed several reasons for such a powerful and humiliating indictment of the learned single judge. The apex court was shocked to see that the matter was decided when the Allahabad Bench did not even have the jurisdiction to decide it as the jurisdiction in this case was of the Lucknow Bench. The learned judges were unable to understand how a writ could be issued against a private party when this is the first thing taught in law schools in the very first class of civil liberties. Writs are generally not issued against private individuals. The judges were surprised to see grant of final relief in an interim order which is contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India. One of India's boldest judges of all times rightly observed after giving these reasons that the faith of the common man in the country is shaken to the core by such shocking orders. The court did notice the correct decision of divisional bench in this matter and upheld the same.


The apex court then went on to express its dismay on the complaints coming from the Allahabad High Court as to lack of integrity of its judges. One may not agree with Mr Shanti Bhushan and Mr Prashant Bhushan on allegations of corruption but then all is not well with the superior judges. This author does not want to say anything on this subject as Justice Katju  is in the know of things, being a  former judge and former acting Chief Justice of  Allahabad High Court. He rightly said in his latest observations that his family has been associated with Allahabad High Court for more than a century.


But our main concern is very poor understanding and at times ignorance of law of High Court judges. Ignorentia Juris Non- Excusat  (ignorance of law is no defence) is the first principle of law. The old saying of English law that this maxim applies to everybody except Her Majesty's judges as there are appellate courts to correct them is indeed true when it comes to some High Court judges of the present generation.


As a senior teacher of law, this author takes this responsibility on himself and fellow professors of law as it is our collective failure that we award degrees to such candidates who do not know law at all. If we have bad judges or ignorant judges, we are to be blamed for the mess as we have failed in our primary duty of giving them good legal education and inculcating in them high moral values.

How pathetic is the state of affairs in Allahabad High Court and some other High courts as to ignorance of law can be seen from a few examples.


The Allahabad High Court in its order dated 5 April, 2007 showed total ignorance of law when it directed the government of Uttar Pradesh to treat Muslims at par with other non-minority groups. Can a group which constitutes 49 per cent of the population also be entitled to the protection of minority rights? What should be the criteria to determine the minority or non-minority status of a group? What groups are entitled to protection and security from the majority community? When the communally surcharged atmosphere and feeling of insecurity of the post-Partition era no more exist, is it proper to give protection to minorities which may sow the seeds of multi-nationalism? 


These were some of the questions  which the High Court wished to answer in its interim order in this case on 20 December 2006. This author got alarmed on the framing of these questions by the single judge of Allahabad High Court. The decision came on predictable lines. Scholars and students of minority rights were shocked to know these questions as the law on the above subject are fairly well settled but then some High Court judges consider themselves above the Supreme Court. 


The issue of definition of minority is quite well- settled. The apex court has consistently maintained that minorities are to be defined on the basis of numerical inferiority and it is the state in relation to which minority or majority status is to be determined. There has been no deviation from this principle ever since the Kerala Education Bill, 1957 case. A seven-judge bench in this case explicitly rejected district as a unit to determine the minority status of a group within the state of Kerala. It is interesting to note that the then Kerala government had taken a position similar to the one taken by the learned single judge of Allahabad High Court. The apex court in the Kerala case took the "state" as a unit to determine the minority status of groups claiming themselves as minorities. All courts in India are bound by this principle and judicial discipline does not permit them to take any contrary view on this subject. Moreover, the 11- judge bench of the apex court in the TMA Pai Foundation case had authoritatively laid down that in the absence of any special definition of "minorities", any community, religious or linguistic, which is numerically less than fifty per cent of the population of the state is entitled to the protection of minority rights. 


More shocking was a personal experience as to the understanding of law by the Allahabad judges. This author was in fact present in the Allahabad High Court when Aligarh Muslim University's case was being argued. AMU was asked to file an affidavit on its claim that Muslims were a minority in Uttar Pradesh and in India. The government of India was given similar instructions to demonstrate that Muslims were in a minority in 1920 when the Aligarh Muslim University Act was passed though the relevant point of time is commencement of the Constitution.


As a matter of fact, before the division bench in Allahabad, when the issue of definition of minority was again reopened, not only did the Bench insist on the test of substantive numerical inferiority it specifically asked us to prove how Muslims who are about 15 crore can claim minority status. It was also keen to add the new and totally irrelevant test of "threat of extinction" to a group before it can be defined as a "minority" within the meaning of the Indian Constitution. 


Dr Rajeev Dhawan, who was arguing for Aligarh Muslim University, was trying his best to demonstrate that the High Court cannot debate the issue of definition of minority in the light of law clearly laid down by the Supreme Court. Feeling helpless on the insistence on so-called "threat of extinction" test, he referred to the Gujarat genocide to bring home the point that Muslims do have such a threat in this country. It was a matter of great satisfaction that the debate was finally abandoned and does not find any discussion in the judgment.
It was on the basis of the numerical inferiority rule that the Supreme Court of India in the famous DAV College case, held Hindus to be a minority in the state of Punjab. In fact, Hindus do have the status of minority in several north-eastern states and in Jammu and Kashmir.


But then Allahabad High Court is not the only High Court from where such inexplicable decisions have come. Other High Courts are not far behind. In 2010 itself,  Punjab and Haryana High Court, on the same issue, gave a surprising decision  by upholding the denial of admission to Sikh girls on the ground of their plucking of eyebrows and Sikh boys for trimming of their hairs in a Sikh minority institution in Punjab. The High Court did not consider the most fundamental issue - i.e., are Sikhs a minority in the state of Punjab?  Sikhs in Punjab are neither numerically inferior nor in non-dominant position and thus are not a minority as per the existing law. Moreover, even if religious minorities are defined nationally, Sikhs cannot be treated as a minority because they are included amongst Hindus in Article 25 of  Constitution. In fact, Prakash Singh Badal, chief minister of Punjab used to lead Sikh protests burning copies of Article 25 in the early eighties because of this. One feels shocked about such decisions which show a very poor understanding of Constitutional Law which is the supreme law of the land.


Thus a majority community in a state was held as a minority and a minority community in UP was denied its minority status. Such decisions, indeed, shake the confidence of the common man. It is a matter of some satisfaction that the Allahabad decision was subsequently stayed by the Division Bench. One may also recall the judgment of the Allahabad High Court declaring Lord Rama as a constitutional figure on the grounds that the paper on which the Constitution was written had watermarks bearing the figure of Lord Rama.
Similarly, Punjab and Haryana High Court has also held that killing of cows should be punishable as culpable homicide with an imprisonment which may extend to life imprisonment. We can hardly forget the shocking decision of Rajasthan High Court where the learned judge refused to accept that a Brahmin boy can rape a Dalit girl as the former would not even touch the latter, or the order of the same High Court ordering public execution of a convict who had been awarded death sentence.


Such shocking decisions show ignorance of law and raise questions about credibility and integrity. They are, indeed, matters of grave concern and Justice Katju must be congratulated for making such bold observations. But then the apex court is mainly responsible for this mess. We have the unique distinction of having a system of appointment of judges where judges themselves select other judges of superior courts. No government can be blamed for the appointment of such judges. The time has come when we should start evaluation of the performance of High Court judges at least at the time of their elevation as Chief Justices and to the apex court. Objective yardsticks can be developed to judge a judge.


Will Supreme Court take the bold initiative of major reforms in the process of appointment of judges? The Supreme Court alone can do it. Will it?


The writer is Vice-Chancellor, National Law University, Orissa

 

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THE SATESMAN

GLOBAL WARMING AND CIVILISATION

ROKHMIN DAHURI


Adverse impacts from global climate change on the earth's ecosystem and human well-being have unequivocally been felt in the last half century. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data from 1970-2004, the earth's temperature has increased by an average of 0.2 degree Celcius per year.


The years from 2001-2010 have been the warmest 10-year period since the beginning of weather recording in 1850. The heat of the oceans increased in the second half of the 20th century. 


Consequently, glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets from the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans have recently been melting, which resulted in a mean sea level rise from -20 centimeter in 1950 to +5 centimeters in 2000.
This year the earth experienced extreme weather, such as a deadly summer heat wave in Russia with temperatures soaring to a record 38.2 degrees Celcius; heavy rains and floods in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia; droughts that afflicted the Amazon basin and southwest China; floods that devastated Pakistan; and drastic changes in oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the California Current Ecosystem brought about summertime hypoxia, anoxia and massive fish kills.


If the earth's temperature cannot be maintained and increases more than two degrees Celcius, a number of catastrophes will occur in various parts of the globe. These will include rising sea levels by one to six meters, which could inundate coastal areas around the world, increased flooding and altered rainfall cycles.
Dry seasons will get longer and wet seasons will be shorter but more intense. Heat waves would be more frequent and dangerous. Shifting weather patterns could destabilize the world's food supply and access to clean water, and lead to mass migrations as farmers and fishermen flee drought or flood-prone regions.
Global climate change and its concomitant negative impacts has mostly been a result of increasing global emissions of greenhouse gases originating from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and extreme changes in land use and land cover.


Yet, few nations, except Indonesia, have taken serious action to curb global warming by legally binding themselves to cut greenhouse gas emissions as prescribed by the IPCC. 


According to the IPCC, if we were to avoid unmanageable catastrophes from global warming, the emissions rate of greenhouse gases should be cut by 25-40 per cent in 2020 and 50 per cent in 2050 from 1990 levels. Developed countries should reduce their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.


During the 2009 COP-15 conference in Denmark, President Yudhoyono pledged Indonesia would reduce carbon emissions by 26 per cent from the business-as-usual estimate of emissions in 2020. Unfortunately, Indonesia's heroic commitment has not enticed other nations, particularly the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the US and China, to follow suit.


Rich nations like those in Europe, the US, Japan and Australia are reluctant to slash their greenhouse gas emissions because emerging nations with high economic growth in the last 15 years, especially China and India, have not legally committed to reducing their carbon emissions. In the meantime, developing and poor nations are worried that cutting emissions could hamper economic growth they badly need to deal with unemployment and poverty.


Recent environmentally friendly technological innovations in forestry, agriculture and fisheries and in mining, transportation, energy and industrial processes have made it possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as recommended by the IPCC and, at the same time, maintain economic growth.


With advances in wind turbine design, more efficient solar cells, geothermal, bio-energy and fuel cells, we now have the basic technologies needed to shift quickly from a carbon-based to a hydrogen-based energy economy. The fuel cell is a device powered by hydrogen and uses an electro-chemical process to convert hydrogen into electricity, water vapor and heat.


Hydrogen can come from many sources, including the electrolysis of water or the reformulation of natural gas or gasoline, a process that extracts the hydrogen from hydrocarbons. If the hydrogen comes from water, then electricity from any source can be used to electrolyze the water. If the electricity comes from a wind farm, hydropower stations, geothermal power stations or solar cells, the hydrogen will be clean and produced without carbon emissions or air pollutants.


Curbing global carbon emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2050 is definitely within range. Ambitious though this might seem, it is commensurate with the threat that climate change poses to our earth and civilization. 

the jakarta post/ann

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THE SATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

DEATH OF MR H. STOKES 


A Rising Young Barrister 


The news of the death of Mr Harry Stokes, barrister-at-law, which took place on Friday afternoon at his residence at Ballygunge, will excite general regret. Mr Stokes contracted typhoid fever two or three weeks ago, and the illness terminated fatally on Friday. 


Mr Stokes was one of the most promising juniors at the Calcutta bar. Prior to being called he was an assistant in one of the large mercantile firms. Some years ago he commenced to study law, and he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on January 26, 1905, and admitted on March 2 in the same year. He was looked upon as a man of genuine talent. and it was the general opinion amongst his fellow practitioners that he would rise to great eminence. He had a very good junior practice, which was increasing rapidly. He was a very hard and conscientious worker and expended much time, care and attention in all cases entrusted to him. His knowledge of commercial law was thorough and sound, and by his brother barristers his ability was generally recognised. 


Few men were more popular in the Bar Library, where Mr Stokes' general presence will be very much missed.

 

"To know him was to like him" said one barrister yesterday, and the remark will find general acceptance. The news of his untimely death was not generally known in the High Court yesterday, but both there and in social circles in the city there will be the deepest sympathy with his wife and child. 


Mr Stokes was a good all-round sportsman and was prominent in every  branch of athletics. A few years ago he was one of the best men in the Calcutta Association Football Team, and he was also a good cricketer. He also took an interest in the turf, and had done yeoman service for the Calcutta Turf Club in various capacities.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GIFT OF THE GRAB

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

To speak of a tsunami of scams in India today would be palpably wrong. However disastrous a tsunami's long-term effects, it is essentially a brief phenomenon. By contrast, corruption has become an integral part of India's life and permeates the entire bodypolitic. This term is, by no means, confined to politicians in power and their bureaucratic henchmen all too happy to collude with their venal bosses. It includes the judiciary, the media, private sector tycoons, power brokers and so on, as the Niira Radia tapes have established so eloquently. Santosh Hegde, Karnataka's intrepid Lokayukta, has practically said so.

 

The corrosive menace, let us admit candidly, is not new but rather ancient. Over 2,500 years ago Kautilya could record "40 different ways in which the king's minions would cheat him of his revenues". Hyderabad's charming euphemism for graft, mamool or customary, has its roots in the Mughal times, Mumbai's substitute of it, hafta or weekly payment, in the British Raj. The trouble is that what in the past — including the earlier years of Independence — was only a trickle is now a relentless torrent. Having increased arithmetically first and then geometrically, corruption on a mammoth scale in this country is now taking a quantum jump. It has indeed become the country's fastest growing and least-risk industry. How and why this has happened is best exemplified by the 2G spectrum scam — the mother of all scandals since the tryst with destiny.

 

How former telecom minister A. Raja of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a vital ally of the Congress in the ruling alliance, was reappointed minister for communications and information technology in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second government has been exposed thoroughly by the Niira Radia tapes. The Supreme Court, apart from the Opposition parties and the public at large, has commented caustically on Mr Raja's ability to brush aside even the Prime Minister's directive and the finance minister's advice to him. He then went ahead playing ducks and drakes with the procedure for granting spectrum licences. The resultant loot is estimated at `1,76,000 crore, a mind-boggling figure. The Enforcement Directorate, in its report to the apex court, has stated that some of this money had found its way to various tax havens on the very first day.

 

Even in his last years, Jawaharlal Nehru had forced his minister for natural resources Keshav Dev Malaviya, one of his favourites, to resign because Malaviya had taken a sum of — hold your breath — `10,000 from a mine owner of Orissa, ostensibly for election purposes. Nehru had acted the moment the dismal fact was known. Forty-seven years later nothing whatsoever happened to Mr Raja for nearly a year after the gargantuan scam. The reason for this was never a secret. The DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi, had arrived in New Delhi and tersely told all concerned that Mr Raja would neither resign nor be sent away.

 

Only last month Mr Raja's exit became unavoidable after the Comptroller and Auditor General had laid bare all the sordid details of the unspeakable spectrum saga. Several more days were allowed to lapse before the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) raided the residences of Mr Raja and his key aides. When a large cross-section of people scoffed that the raids were too late and therefore meaningless, law minister M. Veerappa Moily lamented: "When the government takes action, it is criticised; when it does not act it is criticised". It didn't occur to the innocent soul that those under the scanner are not so foolish as to let incriminating documents lie around their homes and offices. Up to the time of writing, Mr Raja hadn't even been interrogated, leave alone being put under arrest. Under these circumstances, more and more people have begun to ask: What use is the Prime Minister's unblemished personal integrity when he is unable to control his ministers and others recklessly exercising their gift of the grab? Inextricably intertwined with the 2G outrage is the inexcusable appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner now under challenge in the apex court.

 

Around the time the stench of spectrum became unbearable, the country also witnessed a series of other revelations that underscore the total degeneration of the entire Indian elite. Flats in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, meant for Kargil heroes and widows, were grabbed by retired and serving top military officers and an array of politicians headed by the state chief minister of that day; a Calcutta high court judge faced impeachment and a Supreme Court bench observed that there was "something rotten" in the Allahabad high court, the country's largest; and nobody seemed horrified by the disclosures of bribes for bank loans or of foodgrains worth nearly `2,00,000 crore meant for the poor having been smuggled and exported. To cap it all, a CBI court sentenced a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, Neera Yadav, to four years' imprisonment for corruption. Along with her, a business baron, among the beneficiaries of her induced largesse in land allotment in Noida, was also sentenced. Be it noted that all this is the mere visible tip not of an iceberg but a glacier a hundred times larger than Siachin.

 

The painful subject is vast. In available space I can therefore make only three points very briefly. First, going by past experience, nothing much is going to happen to the culprits in the current cases also. Even if they are prosecuted, the proceedings can last forever. Can anyone throw some light on what has happened to the owner of Satyam or to Madhu Koda?

 

Secondly, in wailing that he, an "innocent" person, is being persecuted because he is a dalit, Mr Raja is following a well-trodden path. During the 1980s, A.R. Antulay, then chief minister of Maharashtra, had lamented that he was being targeted because he was a Muslim. Thirdly, the principle "innocent until proved guilty" has become the shield of criminals and crooks to indulge in loot even while being under trial.

 

It is time we recognise that corruption in India is fast assuming the proportions of tyranny in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. And let us be warned that when an evil becomes so overwhelming, something has to give.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

WIKILEAKS SPURS A SCRAMBLE FOR ARMS

BY HUMA YUSUF

 

Karachi, Pakistan

 

News reports, which have since been retracted, cited fake leaked cables in which US diplomats described senior members of India's military as egotistical, geeky, and even genocidal, while Indian politicians were accused of maintaining ties with Hindu fundamentalists. The propagandistic use of the "leaked cables" occurred at the expense of the local media's credibility, but in the publication of these false reports lies a vital reminder about Pakistani foreign policy.

 

Notably, reports about the fake cables were sourced to an Islamabad-based news agency that has been described in the international media as having close links to the Pakistani intelligence services. Writing in the Guardian, Declan Walsh rightly pointed out that the readiness of news organisations to publish the false reports without verifying their content indicates the Pakistan Army's continued influence over the supposedly free media landscape.

 

The fact that America's lowest moment in public diplomacy and international perception can be reoriented as a critique about India in the Pakistani public sphere is telling. The incident reiterates what the WikiLeaks made clear, and what we all already knew even before the document dump: Pakistan's foreign policy — and the national conversation about it — is being carefully micromanaged by the Army.

 

Few will have missed the fact that in addition to disparaging remarks, the fake anti-India cables are peppered with praise by the US generals for Pakistani generals, implying a close, trusting relationship (which, ironically, the real WikiLeaks cables about nukes and ongoing military ties to terrorist groups made clear is severely strained).

 

This added flourish can only be understood as an attempt at damage control in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks during which Pakistan's relationship with the US has been widely panned — terms deployed to describe our country include "lackey", "client", "stooge", "banana republic", "colony", "satrapy", "puppet", and those are the ones I can put in print. The reasons the security forces would want to mend the public perception of this relationship, and try and deflect some negativity across the eastern border, are known.

 

The Pakistan Army perpetuates the foreign policy narrative about the abiding threat next door, which is balanced by strategic ties elsewhere abroad for the advancement of its own interests. As an institution, the Army prioritises modernisation, weapons procurement, and access to cutting-edge technology and training.

 

It remains invested in foreign policy issues because connections with western states are seen as a way for the Army to fulfil these institutional goals. In the case of the Pakistan, as in other poorly governed countries where the military is entrusted with state survival, the Army's institutional imperatives outweigh the demands of democracy, diplomacy, multilateralism and public participation. In the coming years, one can expect to see more heavy-handedness on the part of the security forces in response to regional military developments. The fact is, Pakistan finds itself in the most rapidly militarising neighbourhood of the world.

 

In 2010, Chinese year-on-year defence spending has risen 7.5 per cent; meanwhile, India's defence allocation has grown by almost four per cent. China currently has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programme, and is heavily investing in anti-satellite weapons and surveillance technologies, and boosting its cyber-attack capabilities. Working on the premise that the Indian Ocean is the Silk Road of the 21st century, China is also seeking to transform its navy from a "green water" to "blue water" force in an effort to secure maritime routes. The People's Liberation Army Navy has therefore invested in stealth submarines, anti-ship missiles and conventional warships.

 

For its part, India's military modernisation plan comprises a $100 billion allocation for weapons procurement over 10 to 20 years. This includes $11 billion for a 126-unit medium, multi-role aircraft competition and $12 billion to expand the Indian Navy to 160 ships by 2022 in an effort to balance China's increased naval presence.

 

US responses to China's rising military might are expected to add further impetus to India's military modernisation plan (consider India's purchase of 10 cargo planes during US President Barack Obama's visit in November). This plan faces a variety of problems, including corruption, entangled procurement protocols and a lack of vision and coordination so endemic that the Brookings Institution's Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta have described it as "arming without aiming". But no matter.

 

In an effort to balance the Indian Army's weapons procurement and growth, the Pakistan Army will seek to pursue and legitimise those foreign policies that yield the best real returns (read arms deals). The past week's fake cables saga heralds what shape that legitimisation process might take.

 

And so it is that regional military developments will exacerbate Pakistan's domestic political turmoil. As the Pakistan Army's need to access to more weapons, technology, and training becomes urgent, the civil-military power struggle for control over politics, policy-making, and the public sphere's perception of these matters will intensify. The Army knows that its institutional development depends on its foreign policy credentials and its political capacity to emerge as a guarantor of regional diplomacy.

 

Instead of the secretive diplomacy embodied in the real WikiLeaks, or the manipulative politicking of the fake leaked cables, Pakistan deserves a channel for public diplomacy to transparently pick through these issues. Pakistan's governance, civil society and free press cannot be held hostage by regional militarisation trends.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BEIJING NEEDS A REALITY CHECK

 

On the eve of Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Wen Jiabao's three-day visit to India, after which the Chinese leader heads to the capital of "all-weather friend" Pakistan, Mr Zhang Yan, Beijing's ambassador in New Delhi, seems to be shooting in the wrong direction. Mr Zhang worried on Monday at a function in the Indian capital that Sino-Indian ties were "very fragile and very easy to be damaged and very difficult to repair". Efforts were needed on both sides, he noted, to create an objective and friendly environment based on mutual trust to ensure that the two countries do not have a wrong perception of one another. In order to achieve this highly desirable state, the prescription from the People's Republic is that "the government should provide guidance to the public". In other words, the media should be controlled when it comes to commenting on China or Sino-India relations. This is easily done, the ambassador would appreciate, if India were like China, a politburo-guided paradise. Since that is not the case, the recipe is unrealistic. And if the logic of the ambassador's thought is to be pursued, then the India-China story is doomed for the simple reason that the media here cannot be given a line to follow. This train of Chinese thinking appears so simplistic as to be contrived. Therefore, if Beijing's representative here is barking up the wrong tree by picking on the media, it is because he appears to have instructions to do just that. Only the innocent can be fed the notion that China does not know what the media is all about in countries where capitalism prevails. The truth is that instead of seeking to get to the bottom of things, to figure out why public opinion in India gets upset with China so frequently of late, the Chinese response is to blame it on the media. If Beijing's intent is to sort out relations in a spirit of goodwill, we would recommend a different tack. We may only hope that in official talks the Chinese Premier does not put a gloss on the key issues between the two countries and advise that we wait for the end of protracted negotiations. After all, the stated purpose of Mr Wen's trip is to soothe feelings in India. That requires that the core issues that concern India will have to be allowed for in Chinese thinking. Kashmir is important in this regard. Refusing a top Indian military official a Chinese visa because he served in Jammu and Kashmir, starting the new system of stapling Chinese paper visas issued to Indian citizens from that state, engaging in projects in PoK, and arranging Chinese soldiers in some strength on the Karakoram highway in the guise of roadbuilders — these are some of the issues that have disturbed the Indian people and the government. The media has only reflected this. The visiting Chinese Premier is welcome and one may hope that his government would in the process also allow the import of Indian pharmaceuticals and software into China.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

IMPORTANCE OF A GURU

BY YOGI ASHWINI

 

I am often asked why one cannot read all the Vedas and other books available and evolve? Why does one need a guru? People often say, "I cannot bow before another man". Such questions and thoughts, asked so very frequently, made me write about the guru in great detail.

 

To grasp what is a guru imagine that the sadhak is a piece of very hot stone and that ultimate knowledge is like ice. If this ice melts and falls straight on the sadhak, the body of the sadhak would crack with the force and sudden change in temperature. The guru is the force that holds this ice cold water and very gently pours it on the sadhak's body — very gently the sadhak begins to cool and ultimately becomes as cold as the ice, now he is also a guru.

 

Sir John Woodroffe, a famous tantrik from the West, impressed me greatly with his works, especially the ones in which he has explained, with quotes from various authorities, the guru. The following paragraphs echo some of his views and are dedicated to this great master.

 

The path of yog or any other sadhana cannot be traversed without a guru; a guru is not a physical being or a physical form but the embodiment of the ultimate guru who assumes human form to guide us through the journey of yog. For a sadhak, a guru is the basis and ultimate goal of his sadhana, for it is said that one is a disciple only so long as one is a sadhak, that is to say for as long as shakti is not fully communicated to the disciple's body from that of the guru, through shaktipath. Till then there subsists the relation of guru and shishya. When a disciple is given shaktipath or diksha, siddhi is attained and on the attainment of siddhi this dualism (guru-shishya relationship) is surpassed and they are one.

 

In the Mundamala Tantra, it is said that the root of siddhi is in the Devta. The root of Devta in mantra, root of mantra in initiation and root of initiation lies with the guru. Just as it is impossible to attain liberation beyond the reach of attribute without worship of the Devta with attributes, so it is impossible to attain monistic knowledge without the worship of the guru.

 

For a sadhak there is no force higher than the guru. Such is the place given to the guru that no shastra speaks of anything which is superior to devotion towards the guru. A sadhak should place the guru and all that is around him or connected with him as the ultimate truth and most sacred; so much so that the place where the guru resides is considered the abode of Lord Shiva or Kailash; the house in which the guru lives is Chintamani house. The trees in the guru's house are kalpa trees for they would fulfil all the desires of the sadhak. The creepers are kalpa creepers. The water, which flows in any form in the guru's abode, is Ganga, which is also the tirtha of kalyug. In short, everything in that sacred place is sacred.

 

It is in this manner that a devoted sadhak should think of his/her guru. In the Rudryamala it is said, "The fool who commences japa and tapas by reading books instead of receiving it from the guru acquires nothing but sin, no one can save him. Guru alone can, in a single moment, destroy the mass of his sins…"

 

Shastras speak volumes about the greatness and importance of guru. Earlier yugs saw the transference of gyan only through one way, from the guru to the shishya, for if gyan could be imbibed by just reading books or listening to discourses, the guru would not have been given the supreme place in all the yogic and tantrik practices as these sciences and their principles are so deep and profound that they have managed to remain unaltered and unscathed till date.Where there is no proof of the authenticity of the ancient texts available, the experiences of saints and rishis of yesteryears can be experienced today also, and the energies and gyan revealed to them is revealed today also, to sadhaks who have realised who and what a guru is, and take the word of their guru as mantra and follow it with dedication, as strict discipline or niyama. Their journey, which begins when they meet their guru, requires continuous and dedicated practice and must be followed as niyama culminates into yog.

 

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at dhyan@dhyanfoundation.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE DRAGON'S TEETH

BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

 

Even as the applause at the Nobel awards ceremony begins to fade, one major question that it has triggered will continue to be debated and discussed for a while — where does China find itself vis-à-vis its neighbours. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence. Mr Liu, who played a leading role in the Tiananmen Square uprising of June 1989, is best known for his scathing criticism of the Chinese massacre at Tiananmen Square, where nearly 3,000 pro-democracy supporters were gunned down by the Chinese government. Moreover, he repeatedly voiced demands for democracy, which led to his imprisonment on charges of sedition and treason.

 

The Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Liu and China's demands for all countries, especially its Asian neighbours, to boycott the award ceremony indicate a new phase of Chinese diplomacy. China's claims that attending the ceremony would be tantamount to interfering in China's internal affairs suggests a very defiant diplomatic posturing.

 

While there is no reason to believe that the Peace Prize to Mr Liu will bring any change in terms of human rights issues within China, it is interesting to look at the manner in which neighbours have responded to China's insistence on boycotting the award ceremony is Oslo. Within the region four countries defied this — Japan, South Korea, Thailand and India. For both Japan and South Korea, members of the East Asian trio, the rise of China has been the most serious challenge. For Thailand, which is a member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China has always represented an ambiguous relationship. And finally for India, given how bilateral ties with China are poised, this was an event to further its own diplomatic counterpoint to the Chinese policy.

 

For the four countries the circumstances of their response may differ based on the domestic and foreign policy compulsions, but the end result highlights a shift that is critical for the region, especially if seen as a contagion.

 

Both Japan and South Korea look at China as the major challenge in the region. The issues relating to China's rise have been felt mostly in relation with its two closest neighbours. Sino-Japanese ties have had its highs and lows for several decades now. In fact, since the 1990s Japan has been playing a more proactive role within the region and its attempt to emerge as a "normal power" has led to significant changes in its foreign and economic policies. For South Korea, Chinese support to the North Korean regime remains a crucial factor. Moreover, for both these countries the United States plays a vital role because they still remain critical allies of the US in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

 

For Thailand, which is a member of the Asean and a close ally of the United States, the China factor has always been critical. In fact, most of the Asean players tend to differ in their view of China — some believe that China is a threat, while others believe that greater engagement with China will reduce the possibility of open hostility and lead to more cooperation in the region. For Asean itself there has been an increasing need to re-engage with the US because of the China factor. Even during last month's Asean Summit in Hanoi, reaffirmation of the US' role in the region was seen as a counterweight to the inroads which China has made in the region.

 

India's own position emerges from the compulsions of its bilateral relations with China and, in some senses, from the role that China is playing within the South Asian region. The ties between the two countries have been very rough in the past few years. Chinese position on the issues of stapled visas to people from the Kashmir Valley, its disregard for India's domestic compulsions vis-à-vis cross-border terror and its support to Pakistan have all been critical issues for India. Moreover, the unresolved border issue remains an irritant in the relations between the two countries.

 

As India expands its ties with Southeast and East Asia, the impact on China will be significant. There has always been a debate as to whether India and China will be competitors or play a complementary role in the region. In many senses both these roles will be visible. India's attempts to find a place within the UN Security Council will meet with resistance from China.

 

All these issues and India's presence at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will be on top of the agenda during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India that begins today.

 

What the Nobel Peace Prize issue signifies is that the matrix of East Asian interstate relations is constantly evolving and shifting. Despite the rhetoric of China's claim to "peaceful rise", there is growing concern within the region over the manner in which China's rise will affect regional calculations and security dynamics. The re-engagement of the US within Asia-Pacific also indicates that the predicament of China's rise is not being looked at as benevolently as the Chinese may hope.

 

While China has since the 1990s adopted a foreign policy espousing multipolarity and multilateralism, its assertions in the region have been somewhat contrary to this proclamation. Though its economic engagement with the region has led to growing interdependence, this does not minimise the shadow of China's looming assertions over the region. A case in point would be the Spratly Islands dispute where China is pitted against claimants from Southeast Asia and Taiwan. In 2002, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties was initiated for settling this dispute, but it has not really taken shape. The meeting of the claimants is to take place this month and will hopefully bring clarity on the role that China intends to play. China agreed to acknowledge that it would not claim any special rights over Spratly on grounds of being the larger player — this was, however, modified and its assertions on the issue have been critical in reshaping the regional response.

 

Scholars of international relations have often contended between the status quo and revisionist approach of China after its rise. This debate, simply put, means that China will remain status quo in its ambitions and the flip side is that it would revise its imperial designs and will, more likely, show hegemonistic tendencies. The recent responses, both from the region and India, are indicative of the latter where regional players may integrate with China economically, but will remain vary given that the dragon is rising in their own backyard.

 

- Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

INDIA'S CLAIM TO THE HIGH TABLE

BY SATISH KUMAR

 

Global power structures have a way of adjusting themselves to the changing power realities and world leaders become instruments for the articulation of those realities. What US President Barack Obama said in the course of his address to Indian Parliament with regard to his support for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council was a recognition of one such reality.

 

By the turn of the century, the outside world started taking notice of India's power potential because of its consistent economic growth in the previous 10 years. Global Trends 2015, a report prepared by the National Intelligence Council of the US in 2001, predicted that "India will be the unrivalled regional power with a large military — including naval and nuclear capabilities — and a dynamic and growing economy". This view was echoed in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America released in September 2002 in the words: "The administration sees India's potential to become one of the great democratic powers of the 21st century and has worked hard to transform our relationship accordingly".

 

In the next four years, there was greater realisation of India's growing power which found expression in the US National Security Strategy 2006: "India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power". By 2010, India's enhanced military capabilities were also taken cognisance of. The Quadrennial Defence Review of the Pentagon published in February 2010 pointed out: "India's military capabilities are rapidly improving through increased defence acquisitions, and they now include long-range maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction and patrolling, air interdiction, and strategic airlift… As its military capabilities grow, India will contribute to Asia as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond".

 

Independent studies of India's economic growth also pointed towards a promising future testifying India's eligibility for a larger role in world affairs. A report prepared by an Indian scholar, Manmohan Agarwal, under the auspices of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada in 2008, estimated that India which shared two per cent of the world gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004 is likely to increase its share to four per cent by 2025 and nine per cent by 2050. During the same period, the US share in world GDP will decline from 30 per cent in 2004 to 28 per cent in 2025 and 20 per cent in 2050.

 

Global Governance 2025, a report prepared by the National Intelligence Council of US and Institute of Security Studies of EU in September 2010, has predicted that India which possesses nearly eight per cent of global power in 2010 is likely to increase its share to 10 per cent in 2025. The estimate has been made on the basis of measuring GDP, defence expenditure, population and technology.

 

This assessment is more or less corroborated by the Delhi-based think tank, National Security Research Foundation (which I head), which has estimated in the National Security Index 2010 that India is among the top 10 powers of the world and occupies fifth position. It ranks fourth in defence capability, seventh in economic strength and third in skilled working population. It is, however, very low in technological capability and energy security, holding 34th and 33rd positions respectively.

 

A senior Indian diplomat who has handled difficult international negotiations in recent years has pointed out that India is a "premature power". He says that while India's cumulative rank in the hierarchy of powers is high, its per capita income is very low, and it will take decades before India catches up with the developed world in this respect.

 

I am of the view that as long as the purchasing power of the people of major developing countries is sufficiently high, it is not necessary for those countries to wait until their per capita income equals those of developed countries in order to play an important role in world affairs. What is important is their proven capability to discharge global responsibilities. In this respect, India's record is creditworthy, especially, if we consider India's contribution to international peacekeeping, nuclear non-proliferation, disaster management, counter piracy and non-aggression.

 

A section of the Indian strategic community has been found to be taking a highly cynical view of India's attempts to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. They point out that India should first address its innumerable domestic problems. But they fail to understand that in the era of globalisation, the decisions taken at the United Nations and other rule-making bodies of the world directly affect the destiny of millions of people of India. Unless India is a member of these bodies, it cannot favourably influence the decisions taken at these bodies.

 

WikiLeaks has disclosed that the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton regards India as a "self-appointed front runner" for a permanent Security Council seat along with Brazil, Germany and Japan. If that is true, Ms Clinton is quite at odds with America's attempts to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with India. But the lesson that India must learn from this is that the struggle for a permanent seat on the Security Council is going to be hard and long drawn. Nor should India take the US support at face value.

 

Besides, India must be careful in clubbing its fortunes with those of Brazil, Germany and Japan. Germany and Japan are not the powers of tomorrow. Also, their candidatures are being opposed by regional heavyweights. So also is India's. But India must build its case on its own merit as a country of great future, and should do so through bilateral partnerships with strategically important countries rather than through group lobbying.

 

- The writer is director, Foundation for National Security Research Foundation and former professor of diplomacy
at JNU, New Delhi

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

EDITORIAL

NEEDLESS DILUTION

'RAMESH'S 'NUANCING' IS AGAINST INDIA'S POSITION.'

 

The union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh's statement at the recently concluded Cancun conference that "all countries must accept legally binding commitments on carbon emissions in some appropriate legal form" has opened a crack in India's negotiating positions on climate change issues. There was no major headway on substantive issues at the Cancun meet and the outcome was only an agreement, welcome certainly, to continue the multilateral process which was under threat in Copenhagen. So there was no danger of testing out the new Indian stance against specific proposals. But in the coming months India may have to pay the price for the softening of its long-established position that it will not accept any legally binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions. 


There was a national consensus and parliament's authority behind India's consistent policy that it would not accept any binding commitments. It did not lie in the minister's power or brief to deviate from that. Ramesh has tried to justify the shift with the argument that it did not mean a U-turn but only a 'nuancing' of the position. But the  nuance goes against the basis of the Indian case. At this stage of India's industrial development it can not accept any binding constraints that would slow down economic growth and lead to international monitoring of its compliance with obligations to limit emissions. Developed countries who are responsible for heating up the planet should cut down their emissions, finance the efforts of poor countries to undo the damage and transfer clean technologies to them. This was the spirit of the Kyoto protocol and the basic thrust of the negotiations to extend the commitment period beyond 2012. 

 

The preparations for the shift in position may have started last year when it was stated that India wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem. It is argued that India would face isolation if it did not show flexibility in its positions and accommodation with other countries. But these cannot be at the expense of national interests. The purported pressure from Brazil or South Africa and from small island nations should not lead the country to a dilution of its position. While the consequences of climate change will affect all countries,  countries like India and China, which have large populations and big economies will have to pay a higher price than others for shackling development. India should not allow itself to be pressured or bought off. 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

NEW KIND OF LIFE?

'LIFE HAS BEEN FOUND WITHOUT THE BASIC ELEMENTS.'

 

The discovery of a microbe that thrives on arsenic, which kills all living things by working as a poison, opens new possibilities about the nature of life. The strange bacteria was found in a lake in California and was grown in lab dishes in research sponsored by US space agency NASA. NASA in fact even created a flutter by linking the results of the research to the existence of extraterrestrial life.  What the scientists found was that life can support itself without the basic elements which are now considered to be essential for its creation and sustenance. Life as it is known on earth is not possible without carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus. But what has now been found is that phosphorus can be replaced with arsenic in the bacteria's genetic code.  


If that is true it means that life can evolve in ways other than those known to us. The bacteria that grows on arsenic is not exactly another form of life or a new species, but a new kind of life. The search for alien life is now directed at planets which have the same conditions as those prevailing on earth. These might number many billions, though none of them may have been identified. But if life can evolve from other elements and in other environments the number could be multiplied millions of times. It might also raise the question why only planets or similar bodies should be considered hospitable to life.  


There is still some controversy about the nature of the bacteria and the experiment but the conclusions seem to have found wide support too. Many important scientific ideas relating to the nature of life or the universe have implications that go beyond science. They can also affect the idea of human beings about themselves and their place in the universe. It is not necessary to exaggerate the importance of the discovery of the bacteria which should have been an impossibility, going by the accepted idea of life. But its existence might show that 'alien' life might in a way exist on the earth too. The more important idea is that life can grow out of anything and in any conditions. But we know life is stranger than the strangest fiction and the wildest imagination.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

SCANDALS GALORE

BY S N CHARY


The perpetrators go scot-free or remain suspects and will never be brought to justice. Quick redressal is too much to expect.

 

 

It is shameful. One scandal of corruption after another is coming out in the open. The scale of the monies involved is mind-boggling. There is a variety too, in these scandals. All kinds of people seem to be involved in them. There are politicians and bureaucrats, as usual. There are major industrial houses and super-wealthy businessmen.

 A breed of persons and organisations, not much known to the general populace, called the 'lobbyists' or lobbying firms i.e. the go-betweens have now suddenly surfaced into the public view. Until now the media -- print and television -- were known for exposing scams; now some persons from the fourth estate are also are under cloud. There are large real estate interests, mega sports interests and huge industrial interests. 


It looks like the size and level of the reported corruption is commensurate with the scope of growth of the particular industry. Telecommunications have skyrocketed in this country -- from 12 million telephones in 1996 to 545 million telephones today (mainly mobile phones) and growing further. The scale of the recent 2G Spectrum affair matches these figures claiming an undoing to the tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.


 With the growth of the economy, the real estate market is booming once again. The alleged real estate scandal of Adarsh Housing is said to involve nearly hundred crore rupees. Of course, it is just one such project or building. So, the amount of deals in the entire sector could be very huge. Civil aviation has also taken off very rapidly in our country, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent. This sector too is under a cloud with allegations of kickbacks and misappropriations bleeding our national carrier. 


Public sector companies have been showing profitability in the recent times. Unfortunately, this is the time when the government is seriously contemplating disinvestment i.e. part or full sale to the private sector. The assets the public sector units possess such as the land, productive machinery and plants are very lucrative and could attract much attention from deal-makers and scamsters. The scale of money to be made without producing an additional unit of item is very huge -- probably running into hundreds of thousands of crores. 


The other plunder is in the mining sector. Licenses or leases could be had for a song and the mineral wealth could be exported for a large sum. Many a time, good forest land is given away for mining, raping the forest naked, with the forest never having a chance to return to normalcy after that. This was and still is an easier thing to do since there are few people to raise any questions, because the people directly and immediately affected by it are the hapless, voiceless tribal folk living on the edge of the society.


Hotbed of scandals


Take any project and there is rotten corruption. There was some entertaining cricket in the name of Indian Premier League (IPL) and it became a hotbed of scandals. The tangle of issues raised is yet to be unraveled. There was the Commonwealth Games 2010 and it was tarnished with huge rackets of corruption and inefficiency. Some say it cost Rs 70,000 crore and some others say it was only Rs 15,000 crore. CWG became synonymous with bad quality of work and corruption.

Corruption may be said to have achieved its depth when the corrupt are never caught, let alone punished. The issues remain in the semi-frozen state where there are no convictions possible. All the figures, even those of the magnitude of Rs 1.70 lakh crore, remain in the realm of speculation.


 The perpetrators will go scot-free or, at the worst, remain suspects and will never be brought to justice. Quick redressal to the problem would be too much to expect. A state of suspended animation is wantonly created. Umpteen enquiries will be conducted with little result. Parliament can come to a halt for days on end over heated debates on how to investigate these scams. A thick smoke or smog hangs over the scams until the common man is tired of it all or forgets over time. It serves everybody's purpose. 
Any corruption is in a class of its own when there is not an iota of guilt on the part of the accused. Why should he or she only be an 'accused?' There were the ancient days when, the mythology says, Sri Ram would give credence to the doubt of a washer-man. Queen Sita had to go to the forest. Today, no such moral stand is necessary. 

Major railways accidents keep happening, but nothing happens to the concerned minister. There is neither individual nor collective responsibility. Now people have stopped asking questions on those mishaps. Sports scandals surface, but the sports minister is least worried. Land scam is reported and the concerned political party finds it difficult to relieve the chief minister. A huge telecom scam is being discussed nationwide, but the concerned minister was reluctant to leave his seat. The supreme court wills, but the CVC would not quit.

As a nation, we are sinking fast in corruption and lack of morality, perhaps matching or exceeding our celebrated economic growth rate. 


(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

NUCLEAR POWER IS NO PANACEA

BY PANDURANG HEGDE


The Jaitapur project is not just a nuclear power plant but a 'nuclear park' whose aim is to destroy biodiversity.

 

The signing of nuclear pact between India and France during the visit of French President Sarkozy to build a series of nuclear power plants in Jaitapur in Ratagiri disrict of Maharashtra is hailed as the highlight of the visit. The French private company Areva will build these plants in collaboration with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). It is proposed that these plants will start generating power by 2014.

 

The increased pressure to produce clean and green power to meet the growing demand has forced many countries to revisit nuclear power. France is one of those rare countries that generate more than half of its power requirement from nuclear source. With this experience it is poised to be the leader in exporting the nuclear technology to developing countries like India and China with its new Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPRs). It is claimed to be a leak-proof design with four independent cooling systems for safety to ward off a situation like that of Chernobyl.


The ground for preparing the nuclear park at Jaitapur was being prepared long back, with NPCIL identifying the area on the west coast. The final permission by ministry of environment and forests was given by Jairam Ramesh just days ahead of the visit of French President. Though he has put 35 stringent conditions to be fulfilled by NPCIL before proceeding to build the plant, it is doubtful if they would ever be met on the ground.


The Indian government and the media is elated with the deal assuring continues supply of uranium, the nuclear fuel for next 25 years. But the common people do not know that this comes at a high price. The projected costs of six power plants is estimated at Rs 60,000 crore. The cost might go up due to the additional costs involved in incorporating the safety features. 


It is going to be the costliest power at Rs nine per unit. The French company Areva, that is going to build the plant in Jaitapur is not doing it for charity. It is a private company which wants to earn profits and eager to sell its yet unestablished EPR technology. India is the testing ground, being a scapegoat, accepting it under the tall claims of 'energy independence.' The hidden costs of maintaining a series of plants after the life term of 60 years is not even calculated, let alone the dangers it will pose for coming generations.


 France and India are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), assuring to protect the biodiversity. In total violation of this international treaty, the heads of these countries have signed the deal to build the nuclear power plants in the Western Ghats, which is one of the biodiversity hot spots in the world. What is more tragic is that the deal is signed during the International Year of Biodiversity. It shows a total disregard by both the countries in adhering to CBD.  


Sarkozy may not have been informed about the struggle of local people in Ratnagiri against the nuclear park.  Being the champion of democracy and human rights, he should be aware that the land acquisition and construction of the nuclear power plant at Jaitapur is being done in total violation of democratic values and human rights. 


Kaiga nuclear power plant built during 1980s on the banks of Kali River in midst of Western Ghats in Karnataka has a similar history. The local people opposed the project from the beginning and forced the nuclear power establishment to hold a public debate on the relevance of nuclear power in India in Bangalore. The nuclear establishment failed miserably, unable to convince the civil society about the relevance of nuclear power and its long term adverse impacts.


 The local zilla panchayt and all the panchayats in Uttara Kannada district passed unanimous resolutions against the setting up of Kaiga nuclear power plant. Ignoring this dissent, the power plant was built. At present the work is compete on the fourth plant, and there are plans to build twelve nuclear power plants, making another 'nuclear park' in the fragile biodiversity hotspot. 


The Jaitapur project is called not just nuclear power plant but a 'nuclear park.' Obviously, it is because they are aiming at building several nuclear plants at this site to generate 10,000 mw of power. At the moment, India with its 19 nuclear power plants is just about able to produce 4000 mw of power. In contrast to this, the proposed park will double the production of nuclear energy in next four years. This grandiose project is not the park, but the shark that will lead to the decimation of the rare biodiversity and pose a threat to the people living in the Western Ghats.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

GAMBLING IN GOD'S NAME

BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN


God helps those who help themselves is not just a saying.

 

Those who have viewed the programme 'Kaun Banega CrorepathI-2010' anchored by Big B (Amitabh Bachchan)   cannot easily forget that particular episode in which a hot seat contestant threw away precious one crore rupees he had already won, in his vain bid to further multiply it 5 times! The contestant  had confidently given correct answers to all the 12 questions quizzed by big B to win the coveted one crore. The 13th question would reward him with Rs 5 crore if answered correctly and a wrong answer would reduce his total win to just 3.2 lakhs!  When big B explained the extent of risk involved at this stage and urged him to deliberate carefully before venturing further or quit, the contestant preferred to seek the guidance of Ganapati Bappa and after a brief silent prayer with closed eyes he confidently declared that Bappa has permitted him to venture further! 

To his utter horror he failed to give correct answer to the crucial 13th question and lost heavily. It was obvious that he had absolutely no idea about the correct answer and chose to put the onus on the Lord and gambled. No doubt he would be holding Bappa solely responsible for the disastrous loss of that dream money of nearly a crore!

In contrast to this here is the case of my granddaughter who was to participate in an elocution competition when she was in the 2nd standard. Her father asked her to pray to her favourite Ganesha for success before leaving for school. The little one refused to do so explaining that she did not want to put her dear Lord in a dilemma since all the other participants too would have prayed to Him for their success! And she stood first in the competition proving that God helps those who help themselves.


Now look at our esteemed politicians who have vowed to devotedly serve the people (their own, of course!). They visit shrine after shrine seeking the protection of the Almighty to bail them out of the mega scams they are involved in. But when in power they conveniently forget the very God who has given them enough sense to distinguish between good and bad. They do not hesitate to commit heinous acts to acquire undue wealth by every possible means. And these are the ones who suddenly become God-fearing and rush to the deity to rescue them when caught and exposed. 


What do they expect God to do? Appreciate their skill at performing those spectacular vanishing acts involving public wealth of astronomical magnitude and help them to get away unscathed?  'As you sow, so you reap,' said the Lord in the Gita - so be it for ever!

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

JEWISH LOYALTIES

 

Israeli policy should be carefully balanced with fealty to our foundational mandate as a state with a clear Jewish majority.

 

On Monday evening, 150 Sudanese migrants were flown from Ben-Gurion Airport to an undisclosed third country en route to repatriation in southern Sudan. William Tall, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative to Israel, said that the UN had vetted all the deportees, verifying that Israel had not coerced any of them and that all had volunteered to return to their homeland.


We applaud this move as a partial solution to an explosion of asylum-seekers, refugees and illegal migrants, primarily from African states, whose numbers have reached upward of 30,000 in just a few years.

 

Israel, which faces numerous other challenges that endanger its Jewish majority – family reunification of about 130,000 Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords, and the migration of about 250,000 foreign workers, not to mention a large Arab minority and an unresolved Palestinian conflict – simply cannot be expected to absorb all of these individuals.


Nevertheless, as a signatory of the International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel is loyal to the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin if they might suffer persecution there on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or political activities.


Many of those who agreed to return to Sudan had managed to find employment in Israel and had saved enough, together with a small stipend of between $400 and $500 provided by Israel, to make a new start.


Another factor enabling their return is the approaching referendum on southern Sudan's independence, slated for January 9. All of the deportees, who were routed through an unknown third country to hide the fact that they had sought refuge in Israel, will settle in southern Sudan, with its predominantly Christian and animist populations, as opposed to the predominantly Arab and Muslim North. A major conflict is not expected to break out over the split, though with most of Sudan's oil located in the South, it is hard to believe the North with simply let it go. Some Sudanese migrants in Israel and elsewhere are now evidently willing to take the chance.

Many might also have been influenced by Israel's decision two weeks ago to prohibit employment of asylum-seekers while their status is uncertain. This prohibition is set to go into effect after a huge detention center is built in the Negev where the state can provide the migrants with food, shelter and medical treatment. Until then, Israel does not have the legal or moral right to forbid them to work.


Still, as we have already warned, along with the barrier being built along the Egyptian border, the government should take steps to build additional detention centers, since the 10,000-person capacity of the one being planned is far from adequate to handle the present migrant population, let alone the estimated 1,200 who arrive monthly.

ISRAEL IS not the only Western nation coping with an unprecedented wave of migration from various "weak states" to countries that offer stability and economic opportunities. New Zealand stations officials at foreign airports to prevent improperly documented persons from reaching the country. The UK has legislated criminal sanctions against persons who land at its airports without documents. Austria refers asylum-seekers on its borders to the third country from which they arrived. Italy uses marine police patrols to prevent boats carrying Libyan asylum-seekers from reaching its shores. Australia established in law in 2005 that a cluster of islands to the north of the country lie outside "Australia's migration zone."


However, while Israel, like other countries, has the right to decide who may and who may not enter its borders, it also has a unique moral legacy, reborn as it was in the shadow of the Holocaust.


Menachem Begin understood this when in 1979, as prime minister, he called to absorb about 100 Vietnamese refugees, stating, "It is a natural thing for us to grant asylum in our country because such is the humane Jewish tradition."

This same sentiment guided Israeli policy in 1993 when Bosnian refugees received asylum here; in 1999 when ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo were granted entry; and in 2008 when prime minister 
Ehud Olmert gave temporary status to 600 Darfur refugees.


Israeli policy should continue to be informed by this spirit, carefully balanced with fealty to our foundational mandate as a state with a clear Jewish majority that realizes the self-determination of the Jewish people.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

BETWEEN OPEN DISCOURSE AND SILENCED OPPOSITION

BY RONIT SELA  

 

The view that voicing opinions which deviate from the consensus is a danger, should worry those who care about a democratic Israel.

 

'Israel is going down a dead-end road, and it is our responsibility to prevent this by jointly strengthening the democratic rules of the game," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) proclaimed on Tuesday during a special panel discussion on "The Role of the Knesset in Safeguarding Democracy and Human Rights" at the Knesset.


"No sector in Israeli society has the privilege to deem sacred the rights of its members alone... This is a sin to our shared future here and to Israeli democracy."

 

Concern over the state of democracy was voiced repeatedly during Tuesday's discussion.


Attended by MKs from across the political spectrum, the panel was organized jointly by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Rivlin. It marked International Human Rights Day, celebrated across the world on December 10, and on the streets of Tel Aviv on Friday with some 10,000 demonstrators .


The concerns raised in the Knesset clearly show that over the past year, democracy and human rights in Israel have suffered some blows. The most recent example came just days ahead of Human Rights Day 2010, and serves as a reminder of this worrying trend: Extensive news coverage focused on the growing numbers of Orthodox rabbis – many of them civil servants – who endorsed a letter calling on Jews not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews.


While the prime minister chose to ignore previous similar calls by the chief rabbi of Safed, last week he succumbed and spoke out: "How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?" asked Binyamin Netanyahu.


"We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors. Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one."


IF MKs and the prime minister can point out failures in our democracy, why would some feel that an honest and open discussion of these failures is illegitimate or unpatriotic? Two of the most cited reasons why Jews shouldn't speak out and criticize Israel in cases where the authorities are suspected of deliberately violating human rights – chiefly of non-Jews – or when legislation ignores the fundamental principles of democracy, were easy to find in this week's papers.


Erez Tadmor from Im Tirzu, an organization working to advance a "second Zionist revolution," explained in an oped in Yisrael Hayom that Friday's human rights march was meant to ostracize Israel under the cover of a democratic, liberal protest. Tadmor arrived at Friday's march with a small group of activists from Im Tirzu carrying signs saying "Jews too have human rights."


No calls were made by Im Tirzu advocating the right of anyone else to enjoy these rights. If leaders like Netanyahu have promised countless times that the state is committed to safeguarding the rights of all its citizens without discrimination, wouldn't calling for the rights of Jews – and not of anyone else – be considered ostracizing Israel? A second reason was aptly described by Katie Green in her op-ed "The gloves are off" in this paper on Monday, focusing on recent criticism of Israel voiced by leaders of British Jewry: "A growing desire to openly criticize Israel is moving from the fringes of the Jewish community to the mainstream... I can castigate a friend or sibling if I believe her behavior to be selfish or unreasonable, but if I do so in public, I will only humiliate and wound her."


Does Green not understand the difference between a democratic society, where free speech is our lifeline and where citizens have an obligation to demand change, and personal family matters, where love and consideration often rightfully overcome harsh judgment? The idea that voicing criticism of a violation of human rights or democratic principles causes damage to Israel represents a worldview that threatens free thought. It places the state and its "honor" above other interests, including free speech and the right to demonstrate.


ON SUNDAY, the final chapter of ACRI's "State of Democracy Report: 2010" was published, focusing on freedom of speech. The worrying bottom line is that over the past year it has become more difficult, dangerous and expensive to hold demonstrations. It cites examples of the police forbidding protests, as in the case of the right-wing march in Umm el-Fahm and a women's march in the haredi neighborhood of Mea She'arim. It speaks of the arrest of protesters without cause, citing examples of both left- and right-wing demonstrators who were immediately released after judges found no legal basis for their arrests in the first place.


Though examples of abusing the right to protest can be found over the years, it appears that we are facing a new phenomenon: Groups and people who criticize the government are delegitimized more than ever. The view that political opinions which deviate from the consensus are a danger, and that pointing out the state authorities' failure to protect human rights is a threat, should worry all those who wish to see a real democracy here. The basic values of citizenship are violated if only some of the people are allowed to protest some of the time without fear of arrest or silencing.


The human rights march was a celebration of these basic values. It brought together 130 organizations working for workers' rights, empowerment of women, the environment, the end of the occupation, equal citizenry, the LGBT community, animal rights, social justice, refugees' rights and more.


Following in the tradition of the great civil liberties marches in Washington and elsewhere, the march is the only event here in which all these groups and individuals walk together. Standing side by side, they succeed in each carrying a unique message, while remaining united by the call: Human Rights Are Everyone's Rights.


Supporters of human rights here should continue to ensure that everyone – including the likes of Im Tirzu (which chooses to vehemently criticize Israel's human rights community) can freely express their opinions, and have a voice in the democratic process.


It's a struggle worth fighting for.


The writer is spokesperson for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

YALLA PEACE: A LIFE WITH NO SHAME

BY RAY HANANIA  

 

If we don't achieve the two-state dream, we're destined to have the one-state nightmare. Maybe we don't care because it seems years away.

 

Once upon a time, Jews and Arabs lived together happily.


Not in Israel or Palestine of course, but in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago we called Pill Hill. When I was a child, Pill Hill was where all the doctors and their families lived. "Bill Hill" is what we called our neighborhood, for the patients who lived there and paid the bills.


In the 1950s and most of the 1960s, the largest group living in and around Pill Hill were Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Imagine. We actually all lived together.


We shopped together. 


We went to the same schools, libraries and parks. We played together, and I even recall attending Rodfei Shalom synagogue as a guest and playing basketball and dancing at the JCC. Jews came to our homes to enjoy mensiff, humous and stuffed grape leaves.


It's because of that experience that I know, deep down, despite Israel's refusal to extend the freeze on settlement expansion, the Palestinian Authority's refusal to move forward without it, not to mention Hamas's role in this mix, that two states can work.


The only problem we had in the 1960s was that our peaceful coexistence came to an abrupt end. Turns out that although some Americans hated both Jews and Arabs, they hated black people more.


The end of this Arab-Jewish nirvana came when realtors brought a black family into the neighborhood to rent an apartment. Suddenly, all the white people wanted to sell their homes, get as much money as they could, and then move. They didn't say so publicly, of course. They said it privately.


In the six months after the first black family moved in down the block from my home, the entire neighborhood went from 99 percent white to 90% black.


Those moving knew that what they were doing was wrong. Many families did it in the middle of the night.


I documented the experience in an online book called Midnight Flight: The Story of White Flight in Chicago. It's online at TheMediaOasis.com/flight/flight.htm.


Writing it made me feel good. Even though I was just a kid at the time, I still experienced the collective shame of what the adults did. What we did to black people was shameful.


IT'S KIND of ironic that more than 40 years later, Israelis and Palestinians in another neighborhood – in the Middle East this time – have decided they will not move or leave their neighborhoods.

In fact, Israelis want to expand their settlements. Palestinians are sticking around, too, despite the occupation and their second-class status in Israel.


Instead of fleeing, white people in Chicago could have passed laws to ban black people from moving in to their neighborhoods. They could have passed laws to ban residents from selling to black people. They could have passed laws banning black people from riding buses or attending our schools.


Oh that's right. White people did all that.


Although the experience then has some similarities with what we face in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict today, there is one difference: White people fled from the black people, but they did it with a heavy sense of shame.


There doesn't seem to be any of that among either Israelis or Palestinians for the things they continue to do to each other.


Maybe Palestinians and Israelis don't have two states because they don't want to have to acknowledge that shame. As long as there is a conflict, we can deal with the everyday crisis by pointing fingers at each other.


If we don't achieve the two-state dream, we're destined to have the onestate nightmare.


Maybe we don't care because that nightmare seems years away, something we won't have to deal with, but our children will have to face.


For now, we Palestinian and Israeli "grown-ups" are apparently happy pointing fingers.


The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.


www.YallaPeace.com.

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

THE LION'S DEN: POURING COLD WATER ON WIKILEAKS

BY DANIEL PIPES  

 

Mideast politics repeatedly show that one does better reading press releases and listening to speeches than relying on diplomatic cables.

 

Of all the WikiLeaks revelations, the most captivating may be learning that several Arab leaders have urged the US government to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. Most notoriously, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called on Washington to "cut off the head of the snake."


According to nearly universal consensus, these statements unmask the real feelings of Saudi and other politicians.

But is that necessarily so? There are two reasons for doubt.


First, as Lee Smith astutely notes, the Arabs could merely be telling Americans what they think they want to hear: "We know what the Arabs tell diplomats and journalists about Iran," he writes, "but we don't know what they really think about their Persian neighbor."


Their appeals could be part of a process of diplomacy which involves mirroring one's allies' fears and desires.

Thus, when 
Saudis claim Iranians are their mortal enemies, Americans tend uncritically to accept this apparent commonality of interests. Smith maintains, however, that "the words the Saudis utter to American diplomats are not intended to provide us with a window into royal thinking, but to manipulate us into serving the interests of the House of Saud."


How do we know they are telling the truth – just because we like what they are saying? Second, how do we judge the discrepancy between what Arab leaders tell Western interlocutors sotto voce and what they roar to their masses? LOOKING AT patterns from the 1930s onward, I noted in a 1993 survey that whispers matter less than shouts: "Public pronouncements count more than private communications.


Neither provides an infallible guide, for politicians lie in both public and private, but the former predict actions better than the latter."


The Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, would have ended long ago if one believes confidences told to Westerners.

Take the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's strongman from 1952 to 1970, and arguably the politician who most made Israel into the abiding obsession of Middle Eastern politics.

 

According to Miles Copeland, a CIA operative who liaised with Nasser, the latter considered the Palestine issue "unimportant."

In public, however, Nasser relentlessly forwarded an anti-Zionist agenda, riding it to become the most powerful Arab leader of his era.


His confidences to Copeland, in other words, were completely misleading.

The same pattern applied to specifics. He spoke in private to Western diplomats about a readiness to negotiate with Israel, but addressing the world, he rejected the very existence of the Jewish state as well as any compromise with it. After the 1967 war, for example, Nasser secretly signaled to Americans a willingness to sign a nonbelligerency accord with Israel "with all its consequences," while publicly rejecting negotiations and insisting that "that which was taken by force will be regained by force."


The public statement, as usual, defined his actual policies.


Not only did Nasser's shouts offer a far more accurate guide than his whispers, but he tacitly admitted as much, telling John F. Kennedy that "some Arab politicians were making harsh statements concerning Palestine publicly, and then contacting the American government to alleviate their harshness by saying that their statements were meant for local Arab consumption."


Thus did Nasser precisely describe his own behavior.


Contrarily, when speaking privately to their own, Arab leaders do sometimes reveal the truth. Memorably, Yasser Arafat publicly signed the 1993 Oslo Accords recognizing Israel, but expressed his real intentions when he appealed to Muslims in a South African mosque "to come and fight and start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem."


It's intuitive to privilege the confidential over the overt and the private over the public. However, Middle East politics repeatedly shows that one does better reading press releases and listening to speeches than relying on diplomatic cables. Confidential views may be more heartfelt but, as Dalia Dassa Kaye of the Rand Corporation notes: "What Arab leaders say to US officials and what they might do may not always track."


The masses hear policies; high-ranking Westerners hear seduction.


This rule of thumb explains why distant observers often see what nearby diplomats and journalists miss. It also raises doubts about the utility of the WikiLeaks data dump. In the end, it may distract us more than clarify Arab policies.

The writer (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

SELLERS VS. BUYERS

BY SHOSH RABINOWITZ  

 

The only thing the new law forcing merchants to refund consumers who return a purchase without justified cause does is encourage irresponsible shopping practices.

 

Starting December 14, consumers in this country will be able to make a purchase, take it home and change their minds. Not because there is anything wrong with the product, not because they were misled, but out of pure convenience.

The seller is now required by law to give the buyer his/her money back.

 

This legislation encourages consumers not to take responsibility for their actions and promotes reckless shopping practices. Forcing a merchant to cancel a sales contract without justified cause is against the law of contracts, which respects the will of both parties in a transaction. As a rule, once a sale has taken place, after being conducted in a proper manner (i.e the buyer had all information needed to make a rational decision), both parties must honor the conditions of the sale.



The Knesset is proud to announce that this legislation makes us just like Europe or the US. But overseas, there is no legislation on this. It is a matter of consumer policy, initiated by the merchant to attract clientele. The fact that stores are proud to announce that they refund your money if you are unhappy with your purchase is good for competition.


Many stores and chains here adopted this policy long ago. Over the last years, we saw a huge improvement in refund policies, without compulsive regulation.


We should remember that the law already affords consumers much protection. For example, every store's return/refund policy must be clearly visible, enabling the buyer to know what his/her rights are before a purchase. This regulation balances the rights of the consumer to enjoy fair trade and the rights of a merchant to act independently.


Once the law demands refunds, it becomes a different story. There are considerable costs connected to canceling a sale: The product needs to be examined thoroughly, repackaged and if that is not possible, it can be resold only as used merchandise.


As long as these costs are carried by the seller willingly, there is no problem. But once cancellations and refunds become compulsive, shop owners will surely be harmed financially. Moreover, the new regulations will affect the seller's economic sustainability: Even after a transaction has taken, there is uncertainty as to the outcome of the sale.


The new regulation actively encourages the consumer not to take responsibility for his actions. There are some reservations however.


For example, the new regulations do not include items under NIS 50. Clothes must be returned within two days of purchase for the refund to be honored. Jewelry over NIS 3,000 is not included.

Items must be returned unused, creating a situation in which proving this will cause endless arguments between merchants and buyers.


Once merchants are required by law to refund consumers monetarily, it is important to have strict rules, which can be counter-productive. Shops which previously had a lenient return policy may now restrict it in order to abide by the law.


Keeping consumer protection in line with the Western world is a desirable feat. However, the means to this end should not be different than those enacted elsewhere.


The author is head of the legal department of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

RICHARD HOLBROOKE – A CHAMPION OF US-ISRAEL RELATIONS

BY DANNY AYALON  

 

I was honored to call him a friend. During the course of many years, I felt privileged to spend many evenings with him, both professional and personal.

 

On Monday, the United States lost one of its most brilliant individuals. It is almost impossible to provide one title for Richard Holbrooke as that would be a disservice to all the other tasks and offices that he held. To me, Richard was a passionate American patriot and one of the strongest champions of a robust and unbreakable US-Israel relationship.


Above all I was honored to call him a friend. During the course of many years, I felt privileged to spend many evenings with him, both in professional and personal capacities.

 

Richard was a public servant, who was at the same time a fierce defender of American interests and a determined seeker of peace and reconciliation.


While some hostile detractors incredibly see that as an oxymoron, few embodied the greatness of US values and ethos more than Richard Holbrooke.


HE WAS most notable globally for his leading role in shaping the Dayton Accords, which ended the bloodshed in Bosnia; ironically signed on the 14th of December, 15 years ago. In Bosnia, as in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, Richard's energy and creativity to push forward historic reconciliation saved countless lives.


His role in bringing the fight against AIDS to the highest international attention should not be overlooked.


Even in his private life, Richard became a champion of the battle against one of the great scourges of our time and turned a little- known organization dealing with HIV and other deadly diseases into an internationally renowned NGO, the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.


Richard combined humanitarianism and good sound business knowledge for the good of humanity. As in all of his roles, Richard seamlessly synthesized differing areas of expertise for a common goal.


For us in Israel, Richard well understood our nation's aspirations and fought passionately for them when he felt we were unfairly treated.


Along with former president Bill Clinton, secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Richard helped secure membership for Israel in the United Nation's Western European and Others regional group, ending Israel's historic exclusion from regional group deliberations at the UN.


But it was Richard's research and position on the "epic struggle in Washington" over how to respond to Israel's Declaration of Independence that resonates most with me. In my office sits a copy of President Harry Truman's recognition of the minutesold State of Israel.


While many take the Israel-US relationship as a given and acknowledge that American presidents from both the Democratic and Republican parties have supported or enhanced our strategic partnership, it has not all been smooth sailing. In fact, the first American act towards the Jewish state was fraught with power struggles at the highest levels.


Until Richard helped discover the spectacular events surrounding Truman's recognition, with the president's former aide, Clark Clifford, little was known of the formidable resistance in the American administration regarding recognition of Israel.


Truman had to disregard the advice and threats from his trusted secretary of state and war hero, George C. Marshall, to recognize Israel. Marshall not only threatened to quit but also to vote against the president in upcoming elections. Furthermore, Marshall's position was supported by the foreign policy establishment and many in the cabinet.


Richard saw in Truman's recognition a righteous stand and stated in a Washington Post column that "despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire."

In Truman's decision, Richard hoped to emulate firm support for Israel, not because of domestic politics or strategic advantages, but because of a moral conviction. This is Richard's enduring lesson for us all.


It remains my strong belief that while political realism and foreign interests dictate the positions of some, unless a strong basis of moral conviction guides our decisions, we will not leave the world a better place than when we entered it.


There are many around the world, in Israel and the US, who are that much better off because of Richard Holbrooke.

The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A CONSUMER COUP

 

The Refund Law does not allow for cash refunds when customers have opened the original packaging or plugged in the appliance. But how is one supposed to check out a product without opening the package or plugging it in?

 

Following prolonged delays, the Refund Law yesterday finally took effect, enabling Israel consumers to return merchandise and get back their money. The era of credit slips is officially over. From now on, buyers will receive cash.

 

Although the law was passed in the Knesset five years ago, it took until now to flesh out all its regulations. The idea was to put Israeli consumers on par with their American counterparts. But there was no need for a law over there. Competition took care of that. Merchants understood that a liberal policy of speedy and simple cash refunds could provide a great boost to sales.

 

Consumers tend to buy more when they know they won't be stuck with merchandise they don't need. They buy more easily when they know they can examine the goods at home and then make a final decision. And when consumers go back to the store to return merchandise, there's a good chance they'll buy something else while there. That's why cash refunds are an excellent sales ploy.

 

At their own initiative some time ago, several Israeli retail chains, which sell a wide variety of products ranging from clothing to electrical appliances, introduced a policy of cash refunds. By demonstrating their confidence in their products, they knew it would also help build up their customer base.

 

But representatives of the merchants fought the law tooth and nail, eventually forcing the the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to water it down with complex and unnecessary regulations. Products were divided into seven groups, each with a different cancellation date and method of return. Merchants were allowed to charge customers 5 percent of the cost of the sale, as well as unclear credit fees.

 

The law does not allow for cash refunds when customers have opened the original packaging or plugged in the appliance. But how is one supposed to check out a product without opening the package or plugging it in? And there are a host of other unclear restrictions that pertain to sales of furniture and cosmetics.

 

This is why Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer cannot afford to rest on his laurels. He must amend the law to make it simpler and more easily implemented, so that all consumers and merchants can benefit from it, as they should.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE BILL'S ON US

AFTER TWO YEARS OF EMPTY PROMISES, ISRAEL HAS BEGUN TO PAY THE FULL PRICE OF NETANYAHU'S HOLLOW POLICY OF SURVIVAL.

BY SHAUL ARIELI

 

In the past week we've once again witnessed the intolerable gap between the declarations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his deeds in practice. But for the first time since he was elected, it seems that the Israeli public was compelled to see the price we must pay for that gap.

 

The fire in the Carmel demonstrated the painful cost in human life of continuing neglect of the emergency services, which are supposed to provide a response during the war Netanyahu regularly threatens us with. Similarly, his rejection of the American attempts to persuade him to renew the settlement building freeze could exact a high price from Israel in the form of American bridging proposals that are closer to the Palestinian position and a "reassessment" of the American veto as the Palestinians ignite a diplomatic intifada.

 

These failures expose the fraudulent play staged by Netanyahu in which the audience, as usual, pays the price.

 

Firstly, while it is again becoming clear to everyone that the nuclearization of Iran is a threat to the entire Arab world, Netanyahu has almost succeeded in appropriating it for Israel by creating a linkage between the American effort against Tehran and his readiness to renew the diplomatic process. While the Americans, in return for extending the settlement building freeze, proposed an aid package whose essence is improving Israel's ability to cope with the Iranian threat, Netanyahu preferred to defend Israel by building hundreds of housing units outside the settlement blocs. While hinting at military action, he ensured in practice that Israel would find it hard to deal with even a fire, which is a certain result of a rocket attack.

 

Secondly, despite his declarations about the importance of the strategic alliance with the United States, he is straddling the wedge between the president and Congress. He chose to exchange the intimate relationship with the president and his administration, based on a deep sense of common interests and shared values, for paper documents. He is heading toward a loss of the American veto in the United Nations Security Council, which Israel has benefited from for decades. Through a sweeping application of the settlement building freeze, contrary to the initial American proposal last year, he undermined former President George W. Bush's recognition of the need to consider the settlement blocs in a final agreement, and he even demoted the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the status of unauthorized settlement outposts.

 

Thirdly, despite his declaration regarding "two states for two peoples," no significant move has been made to advance it. On the contrary, Netanyahu wanted to condition the negotiations on Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewish character, even though the issue has been in our pocket since the Balfour Declaration. During the freeze he chose to express his understanding of separation from the Palestinians by approving the construction of 3,500 housing units in the settlements. And in order to show his readiness to pay "painful prices" for peace, he even saw to it that the referendum bill would be passed by the Knesset.

 

Fourthly, Netanyahu did not forget to "promote" the regional picture. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has contributed more to the loss of the strategic relationship with Turkey, but the events aboard the provocative flotilla to Gaza, the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's threats are certainly not helpful. The Arab League initiative, tenaciously held intact by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is not on the agenda of the forum of seven senior ministers, which views it as a "non-starter."

 

Finally, we should not forget the prime minister's efforts to improve relations between Jews and Arabs through the loyalty declaration law, and to widen the circle of workers and burden-sharing through the draft-dodging law. After two years of empty promises, Israel has begun to pay the full price of Netanyahu's hollow policy of survival.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

SLAVE MASTERS AGAINST THEIR WILL

IN AGRICULTURE, AS IN OTHER FIELDS, ISRAEL WOULD RATHER HIDE BEHIND THE EXCUSE OF GLOBALIZATION THAN FORMULATE COURAGEOUS, VISIONARY, REVITALIZING PLANS BASED ON SOCIETY'S CHANGING NEEDS.

BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

 

It's been years since I received as many (and such angry ) responses as those following my column "Hebrew slavery" (Haaretz Hebrew edition, November 26 ). In it, I argued - basing myself on a study by the Knesset's research center, which found that many Thais working in agriculture here use stimulant drugs to be able to work virtually nonstop - that those who employ these Thais cannot ignore this phenomenon, and that the import of Thai laborers is destroying our labor market.

 

Most of the responses came from the Arava region, and they all claimed that the Thais are not exploited (all the writers attested to good working conditions and warm relationships that are maintained even after the jobs end ); that farms in outlying areas have no substitute for the Thais, who in any case are hungry for work in Israel; and that agriculture worldwide is based on laborers from poor countries. Without the Thais, these writers asserted, agriculture in the Arava would collapse, and thousands of Israelis would lose their livings.

 

These are serious arguments, and they deserve a response - especially because on this issue, a false and manipulative picture of a divide has so often been painted. On one side of this divide are the human rights advocates - pampered urbanites who "hate the farmers" - and the bureaucrats of the Finance Ministry's budget division, while on the other are the men of labor and the soil, the ardent Zionists.

 

Poppycock. Every enlightened human being understands the enormous contributions that agriculture makes to preserving the land, the water supply, the air, nature and the landscape, as well as to the gross national product and economic independence, among other things. Many countries (such as Switzerland, France, Holland and some American states ) even translate this understanding into sweeping subsidies.

 

Israeli agriculture, which is considered very advanced with regard to research and mechanization, is not seeking ways to get rich quick. One can certainly believe my correspondents when they say that of the 481 farms in the Arava, which produce 65 percent of Israel's fresh vegetables, only a few exploit their workers, and that an impoverished Thai who works hard, saves his pay for five years and then returns home to set up his own farm is hardly miserable.

 

But my correspondents would have trouble defending those of their colleagues who have been exposed by human rights groups for employing workers in horrific conditions that caused them to flee, exploiting them to do scut work (carpentry, cleaning ), failing to treat those who were injured, sending them to spray fields without protective gear, withholding their pay, allowing merchants to sell to them at inflated prices and so on. And they certainly wouldn't speak up for those who really profit from the import of Thai laborers - the manpower companies.

 

After all, these good farmers are the ones who report to the Kav La'Oved organization about manpower companies that offer them bribes to apply for workers they don't need. They are aware of the huge sums that these labor contractors, in conjunction with "fixers" in Thailand, demand from the workers. They themselves complain about the practices that bar foreign workers from switching jobs and leave them vulnerable because their passports have been sequestrated (and sometimes these workers are even forced to flee, thus becoming "illegals," who have absolutely nothing ). And they also complain about the government's ever-changing policies.

 

Yet even they, who understand the danger of exploitation and the corruption that can so easily infect the business of importing workers, have trouble seeing the connection between this business and the collapse of the labor market. The Arava, they claim, doesn't suffer from unemployment, and therefore, their employment of Thais doesn't hurt Israelis.

 

But reports by the Agriculture Ministry reveal that no government has ever bothered training Israelis to work in agriculture in the Arava - for example, Bedouin residents of the region, who do suffer from unemployment. Nor has any government ever created a long-term basis for moving Israeli workers into agriculture in general.

 

Thais are employed all over the country, not only in the Arava. But no government has ever launched a program to employ students in seasonal work (such as in citrus, avocado and strawberry plantations or packing houses, all of which are located in the north and center of the country ), or recognized seasonal work for the purpose of unemployment benefits. And, above all, no government has ever enforced the labor laws.

 

Thus, it turns out, according to those same reports, that most Israeli workers are also employed via manpower companies, which pay lousy salaries and benefits, prevent their workers from acquiring experience and offer them no hope of advancement. What a surprise.

 

In agriculture, as in other fields, Israel would rather hide behind the excuse of globalization than formulate courageous, visionary, revitalizing plans based on society's changing needs and opportunities (the security situation, unemployment, water and land policy, etc. ). Thus, even as it destroys the entire labor market, the situation turns farmers into slave masters against their will.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IT'S NOT THE SAME TURKEY

THE TURKISH FIREFIGHTING PLANES DID NOT DOUSE THE FLAMES THAT CONTINUE TO SCORCH TURKISH-ISRAELI RELATIONS. EVEN IF A FORMULA IS FOUND THAT WOULD SATISFY TURKEY'S DEMAND FOR BOTH AN APOLOGY FROM ISRAEL AND COMPENSATION FOR CASUALTIES OF THE GAZA FLOTILLA INCIDENT, WE WILL STILL BE FACING TURKISH POLICY THAT IS FUNDAMENTALLY PROBLEMATIC.

BY MICHAEL HERZOG

 

Let's not fool ourselves. The Turkish firefighting planes did not douse the flames that continue to scorch Turkish-Israeli relations. Even if a formula is found that would satisfy Turkey's demand for both an apology from Israel and compensation for casualties of the Gaza flotilla incident, we will still be facing Turkish policy that is fundamentally problematic.

 

Turkey today is not the same Turkey we once knew. The country has experienced a major internal change, reflected in its foreign policy: From being a state loyal to NATO and a close friend of Israel's, Turkey has transformed into a country that follows an independent policy line - to the point of defying Western interests, flirting with radical forces and displaying hostility toward Israel.

 

The character of the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, provide the primary explanations for this transformation. These are leaders that possess a "soft" Islamic cultural worldview that departs from the secular Kemalist heritage, and that cultivate a sense of Islamic solidarity on the international stage.

 

Using this commitment to Islamic solidarity as a foundation, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has developed a policy doctrine motivated by economic aspirations and a political desire to make Turkey a dominant force in its historic region of influence (a kind of neo-Ottoman doctrine ); the policy has adopted "no problems with our neighbors" as its slogan.

 

This orientation provided the background by which Turkey took such steps as moving closer to Syria and Iran, voting in the UN Security Council against slapping Iran with sanctions, opposing charges against the president of Sudan for murders in Darfur (as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared, "It's not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide" ), as well as its opposition (which was lifted in the end ) to the appointment of Denmark's former prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as NATO secretary-general because of his "soft" response to caricatures of the prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper.

 

Israel has been a natural victim of this Turkish transformation. Fires engulfed relations between the two countries following Israel's Operation Cast Lead, as a result of widespread pro-Palestinian sentiment in Turkey; and the fires continue to burn thanks to the stalled peace process. Israel is not devoid of errors, but the Gaza flotilla incident was a result of a crisis in relations, not its cause.

 

All that remains today is a shadow of the two nations' much-celebrated security cooperation. Turkey now predicates its participation in NATO's missile defense programs upon Israel's not receiving relevant information; and in Turkey's policy pronouncements, Israeli policy is characterized as a source of regional instability that threatens Turkish interests. Erdogan has frequently attacked Israel and its prime minister; and it now appears that he will assent to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' request to promote, alongside European countries, the recognition of a Palestinian state.

 

Possibly, Turkey exploited the opportunity to make a humanitarian gesture - toward the Israeli people, not the Israeli government - owing to the price it is paying in its relations with the United States as a result of its anti-Israel turn. But when Israel considers making a goodwill gesture, it should take the strategic picture into account and ask itself where things might potentially end up. Would such a gesture lead only to a cosmetic change that would serve Erdogan's interests in the international and domestic arenas, ahead of Turkish elections in June 2011? Or would it lead to actual reconciliation that would culminate in cooperation?

 

Turkey is a big, important country and it would be wrong for Israel to give up on relations with it. But while offering its hand, Israel should make clear that Turkey cannot grab the stick at both ends, adopting an anti-Israel position while also claiming it is revising policies and steering an oscillating course between Israel and its neighbors.

 

The writer, a Brigadier General in the reserves, is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BETTER THAN WIKILEAKS

EVEN DECADES LATER, THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN GOLDA MEIR AND RICHARD NIXON IS CHILLING.

BY ALUF BENN

 

The tape recording is fuzzy. You have to listen with headphones and separate the dialogue from the background noise and the rattling of cups and teaspoons. But the effort is worth it. Even decades later, the conversation between Golda Meir and Richard Nixon is chilling.

 

As a diplomatic correspondent, I have covered a lot of visits by Israeli prime ministers to Washington, but always from the other side of the door. I never heard the actual words that were spoken inside the Oval Office - and here they were in my ear, as heard on a tape released by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library last week.

 

Golda with her Yiddish accent, Henry Kissinger with his German pronunciation, Yitzhak Rabin with his Israeli English and above all, Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal had already gone public, but he still sounded dominant in his conversation with Meir as he gave his Israeli guest a lecture on international relations. Even given the time that has passed, it's more gripping than the WikiLeaks documents.

 

Meir came to the White House on March 1, 1973, both to make sure that the increasing closeness between Egypt and the United States would not cost Israel the Sinai and to secure new combat planes for the Israel Air Force. Nixon wanted to convince her that engaging in peace negotiations was "good for our interests and yours," and to signal that any U.S. provision of arms would depend on developments on the diplomatic front. Planes in exchange for land concessions, just as in the failed deal the incumbent U.S. president proposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

Meir stood her ground. Just as Netanyahu told U.S. President Barack Obama, Meir explained to Nixon that Israel wants peace above all and is willing to take risks for peace. She complained that she sent a message to Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president at the time, through the president of Romania, but that the Egyptian leader never replied. The backdrop to the Meir-Nixon conversation was the Egyptian offer of a permanent peace agreement, made to Kissinger the previous week.

 

Meir was not excited about it. She suggested a limited interim agreement, and said even that would be politically difficult for her. The Egyptians, she said, want the United States to "deliver Israel" to them: for Israel to return to the 1967 borders, and then the 1947 borders, and then to sort out the conflict with the Palestinians - meaning, she clarified, Arafat and the terrorists.

 

Nixon promised to coordinate positions with Meir. Nixon and Kissinger were more interested in the balance of power between the superpowers than in achieving peace in the Middle East. They began speaking more animatedly only when they demanded that Meir restrain the Israel supporters in the U.S. Senate, who wanted to make detente with the Soviet Union conditional on easing the distress of Russian Jews (the Jackson-Vanik amendment ). Meir held them off and gave a passionate description of the suffering of the Jews behind the Iron Curtain. Nixon depicted himself as a longtime enemy of conservatism; apparently forgetting that he was recording himself and that one day his comments would be released, including the tape with the scathing comments against Jews.

 

In the most important part of the meeting, Meir said Israel was strong and that was why the Egyptian border was quiet. Not only will we be able to protect ourselves if attacked, she said, we have not been attacked because of that reason. She boasted about information that Israel had from Sadat's conversations with the Soviets (which she got through Mossad agent Ashraf Marwan ).

 

We're getting the transcripts of the Egyptians and the Russians, Kissinger told the president. The message was understood: Egypt is weak and Israel can lead it around by the nose. Nothing's urgent.

 

Meir went back to Jerusalem and rejected the Egyptian offer; Israel enjoyed another seven months of quiet, economic growth and political stability. Then the Egyptians crossed the Suez, and history changed irreversibly.

 

Meir and Netanyahu have a lot in common, in terms of their popularity, their diplomatic experience, their good English and their political positions. Like Netanyahu, Meir also espoused the philosophy of "not an inch," disguised as the argument that there is "no partner." But there is also a fundamental difference between the two prime ministers.

 

In March 1973, Meir didn't know that the diplomatic freeze would push Egypt to go to war. Netanyahu took part in the Yom Kippur War, when he returned from his studies in Boston and rushed to the front. He saw from up close the price of complacency, of faith in force and scorning the enemy. And if he has forgotten, he would do well to refresh his memory by listening to the tape of Meir and Nixon and asking himself what he can do to avoid repeating her mistakes and keep from dragging the country blindly toward a second Yom Kippur disaster.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ADVISE AND OBSTRUCT

 

The Senate's power to advise and consent on federal judicial nominations was intended as a check against sorely deficient presidential choices. It is not a license to exercise partisan influence over these vital jobs by blocking confirmation of entire slates of well-qualified nominees offered by a president of the opposite party.

 

Nevertheless, at a time when an uncommonly high number of judicial vacancies is threatening the sound functioning of the nation's courts, Senate Republicans are persisting in playing an obstructionist game. (These, by the way, are the same Senate Republicans who threatened to ban filibusters if they did not get an up-or-down vote on every one of President George W. Bush's nominees, including some highly problematic ones.)

 

Because of Republican delaying tactics, qualified Obama nominees who have been reported out of the Judiciary Committee have been consigned to spend needless weeks and months in limbo, waiting for a vote from the full Senate.

 

Senate Republicans seek to pin blame for the abysmal pace of filling judicial vacancies on President Obama's slowness in making nominations. And, no question, Mr. Obama's laggard performance in this sphere is a contributing factor. Currently, there are 50 circuit and district court vacancies for which Obama has made no nomination. But that hardly explains away the Republicans' pattern of delay over the past two years on existing nominees, or the fact that Senate Republicans have consented to a vote on only a single judicial nomination since Congress returned from its August recess.

 

At this point, the Senate has approved 41 — barely half — of President Obama's federal and district court nominees reported by the Judiciary Committee. Compare that with the first two years of the George W. Bush administration when the Senate approved all 100 of the judicial nominations approved by the committee. The final days of the lame-duck session are a chance to significantly improve on this dismal record and to lift the judicial confirmation process out of the partisan muck.

 

Of the 38 well-qualified judicial nominees awaiting action by the full Senate, nearly all cleared the Judiciary Committee either unanimously or with just one or two dissenting votes. Some nominees have been waiting for Senate action for nearly a year. Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, should allow confirmation of all 34 nominees considered noncontroversial, including the 15 nominees cleared by the committee since the November election.

 

There are four other nominees who were approved by the committee over party-line Republican opposition. They, too, deserve a prompt vote rather than requiring President Obama to start the process over again by renominating them when the next Congress begins. That short list of controversial nominees includes Goodwin Liu, an exceptionally well-qualified law professor and legal scholar who would be the only Asian-American serving as an active judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His potential to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy seems to be the main thing fueling Republican opposition to his nomination.

 

Mr. McConnell is said to be negotiating a deal with Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, that allows for confirmation of 19 nominees approved by the committee before the election but denies consideration by the full Senate to the others. That would be a disservice to the judicial system, to Mr. Obama's nominees and to the idea that bipartisanship should exist, at last, in the advise-and-consent process for federal judges.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A LAST CHANCE TO MAKE HISTORY

 

The chances of ending the military's ban on open service by gay and lesbian soldiers improved significantly on Tuesday when House Democratic leaders said they would introduce a fast-track repeal bill and quickly send it on to the Senate. Once the House bill is approved, the onus will be on Senate leaders to act swiftly, and on a handful of moderate Republicans to fulfill their promise to bring long-denied justice to the military's ranks.

 

Last week, the outlook seemed dim when every Republican senator except Susan Collins of Maine refused to support repeal, leaving it shy of the 60 votes necessary to move to final passage. Republicans claimed they had to vote on the tax bill first, and demanded far more time to debate the underlying defense authorization bill than was available in the lame-duck session.

 

The House's decision means that Senate Republicans will have no excuses left. This is no longer an issue of priorities — the tax bill was headed toward approval in the Senate on Wednesday — or process. Any lawmakers still on the fence should listen closely to all of the military leaders who say this discriminatory policy drives out far too many talented, and expensively trained service members.

 

The House bill — which would authorize the end of "don't ask, don't tell" as soon as the administration certifies that the military is ready — could come to the floor as early as Wednesday. It has widespread support and will contain a message making it "privileged" when it reaches the Senate. That means it will have to hurdle only one 60-vote barrier before final passage.

 

Several Republican senators, including Ms. Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, have said they would join the Democratic majority in reaching those 60 votes, and the test of their promise could arrive very shortly. They will also have to fend off any amendments, because any changes to the House bill will take extra time to reconcile and will prevent it from going directly to President Obama's desk.

 

Senate Democratic leaders say there is a good chance they can take up the strategically important New Start nuclear-arms treaty this week and an omnibus spending bill that would be far better than a resolution to temporarily continue current spending levels. If Congress can put an end to the military's discriminatory policy and support these other vital measures, an often ugly political year could end with some historic successes.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOW TO TURN OFF VOTERS

 

In New York State, and especially in New York City, voting is a difficult and frustrating task. That may help explain why in the last three elections, New York ranked 47th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in average voter turnout — a miserable record.

 

Here are some of the problems that need fixing:

 

¶Right now the state's cutoff date for registration is 25 days before an election. Incredibly, it takes an entire year to switch parties to vote in a primary. The Legislature should allow voters to register up to 10 days before an election and change their party registration up to a month before a primary.

 

¶By law, most of the ballot is still printed on one page with writing so small that even younger eyes can barely read it. That is absurd. Ballot instructions are confusing and should be shorter and clearer.

 

¶In most other states, voters usually have one or two weeks before Election Day to go to voting centers to cast their ballots. New York has absentee ballots (which must be applied for, with an excuse offered) but no early voting. Many working people decide they can't afford to take the time on a Tuesday to vote. The Legislature needs to approve early voting.

 

¶New York City has an added blight: its incompetent and patronage-laden Board of Elections. This year, the city finally switched to optical-scan voting machines. Then it didn't give poll workers enough training to manage them. Election Day was chaotic. New Yorkers learned most recently that the board and its political army failed to count more than 195,000 votes on election night. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg rightly said about the board, "If you can't do the job, retire, quit, walk away." The Legislature needs to create professional elections boards for the state and the city.

 

New York has more than 13 million people who are eligible to vote, according to George Mason University's elections project, but only about 31 percent of them actually manage to do it. The problems are obvious. The Legislature and incoming governor, Andrew Cuomo, need to fix them long before the next election.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

RICHARD HOLBROOKE

BY CARLA ANNE ROBBINS

 

Richard Holbrooke was an iconic American diplomat. Best known for negotiating an end to the Bosnian war, he had a career that spanned nearly five decades, starting as a young field officer in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. When he died this week at age 69, he was serving as President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, trying to bring some measure of sanity and stability to the region.

 

Holbrooke's passion for American foreign policy, as both a practitioner and writer, was boundless. He had seen how this country could be dangerously shortsighted, but he never lost his fierce belief in America's goodness or in its responsibility to make the world a more just place. He was brilliant, relentless, and hugely seductive. I suspect that his human vanity and vulnerability were at least as important to his ability to get leaders to listen and consider changing their minds.

 

As a journalist, the best way to get Holbrooke's attention was to mention him in an article. Good, bad, neutral, he was on the phone or pulling the writer aside on the tarmac with an annotated version of the story in his hand. His analysis was always smart, but he was also one of the most unapologetic spinners I have ever seen. He seemed to believe that this was the natural order: It was the reporter's job to ask questions and his job to get the story most likely to advance his next negotiating move into the paper.

 

At one point in the mid-1990s, I had had enough and decided to take a vacation from Holbrooke. I vowed that I wouldn't call him and would instead depend on other officials to tell me what he was up to. Since everyone in Washington loved to talk about Holbrooke, it wasn't hard.

 

A few weeks later, an editor from another news organization invited me to lunch. After pitching me on a job, he asked who I thought were the best diplomatic sources in Washington. I offered a predictable list, but left off Holbrooke, describing my self-imposed moratorium. At that moment, all enthusiasm for my skills evaporated. He couldn't imagine a diplomatic reporter not wanting to talk to Richard Holbrooke. And when I thought about it, neither could I.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

USURPER IN CHIEF?

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

FORT MEADE, Md.

He can't handle the truth.

 

At least not while he's facing the brig.

 

Lt. Col. Terry Lakin of the Army had a motley crew of frustrated Birthers at his court-martial here on Tuesday. The decorated Pentagon doctor from Colorado became the movement's hero when he went on YouTube in March to brazenly urge President Obama to show "honesty and integrity" by releasing his "original signed birth certificate, if you have one." He vowed to disobey what he called "illegal orders" to deploy to Afghanistan because he did not regard Obama as a legitimate commander in chief.

 

Originally, Colonel Lakin and his frenzied supporters had wanted to reveal the Ultimate Truth, what they consider the biggest hoax ever perpetrated — that a foreigner, a "Usurper in Chief," had seized control of the Oval Office.

 

But then the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, denied a request for President Obama to testify and for his birth certificate to be entered into evidence.

 

So now the Birthers consider the court-martial part of the dastardly conspiracy. "This whole trial looks like a sham," said Orly Taitz, a tall blonde California dentist, lawyer and leader in the Birther movement. "I was raised in the Soviet Union. This was worse than what I've seen in the Soviet Union."

 

If Lakin ever envisioned his court-martial as the slingshot that could bring down a presidency and prove that the Birthers are heroes rather than loonies, he had given up that dream by the time he entered a guilty plea and backed up a not guilty plea with a technicality.

 

]The balding, gray colonel may not have truly changed his beliefs. But he looked small and shaken as he admitted to disobeying orders from his boss, Gordon Roberts, a Medal of Honor recipient. He murmured "Yes, ma'am" over and over in a low voice as the precise Judge Lind pressed him on whether he understood that "the dictates of conscience do not justify disobeying a lawful order."

 

Sobered by the prospect of a dishonorable dismissal, losing his pension and serving hard time, as well as facing a panel of military superiors in dress uniforms, Colonel Lakin said the winter had been "a confusing time, a very emotional time for me." His shoulders slumped, he offered excuses about how he had gotten conflicting advice from lawyers — his defense was underwritten by Birthers.

 

"I understand that it was my decision, and I made the wrong choice," he told the judge.

 

His civilian lawyer, Neal Puckett, said Lakin is innocent of the charge of "missing a movement." Simply because he missed U.S. Airways Flight 1123 on April 12, which was supposed to be the start of his journey to Fort Campbell, Ky., to join his unit, the lawyer argued, does not mean he couldn't have gotten another flight or driven.

 

This was an attempt to get him off on a technicality because Lakin had stated back then that he had no intention of joining the unit at all.

 

In the voir dire, Puckett asked some colonels who were prospective panelists if they considered the Birther movement to be racist.

 

While disappointed there wasn't a more full-throated trial of Obama's provenance — unlike Lakin, the president is considered by Birthers to be guilty until he proves himself innocent — the Birthers, who had come from all over the country to the trial, stood by their man.

 

Literally, in the case of Kate Vandemoer, a 55-year-old blogger and hydrologist from North Dakota, who rose with Lakin when he offered his plea.

 

"I feel very close to him," said Vandemoer. "This is a very serious national security matter."

 

Some argued that whether Obama was born in Hawaii is not really the point; the point is, he's not "a natural-born citizen." "You must be born in the U.S. with two parents who are U.S. citizens," they explained. Obama, they argued, has "a dual allegiance" that makes Americans "sitting ducks."

 

"His father was a British Subject," said a pamphlet passed out by Vandemoer. "He believes he is a Citizen of the world."

 

Eldon Bell, a 76-year-old retired Air Force officer and doctor from Rapid City, S.D., said he "drove three days through a damn blizzard just to get here." Comparing the president to Hitler, another "usurper," he said "if he is not legitimate, our soldiers serving under him can be tried and hanged like the Nazis at Nuremberg."

 

James Haven, a black preacher from New York, dismissed Obama as "the long-legged Mack Daddy, the president of all pimps."

 

With the last three presidents, there has been an attempt to go beyond criticism to delegitimization, to paint them as not just wrong, but charlatans who have no right to the job. With Obama, the craziness is infused with biases about race and religion.

 

But, in the end, the court-martial offers one big truth: President Obama doesn't have to show Terry Lakin anything. The colonel should have followed orders.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WE'VE ONLY GOT AMERICA A

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Former President José María Figueres of Costa Rica has a saying I like: "There is no Planet B" — so we'd better make Plan A work to preserve a stable environment. I feel the same way about America these days. There is no America B, so we'd better make this one work a lot better than we've been doing, and not only for our sake. When Britain went into decline as the globe's stabilizing power, America was right there, ready to pick up the role. Even with all our imperfections and mistakes, the world has been a better place for it. If America goes weak, though, and cannot project power the way it has, your kids won't just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world. You will not like who picks up the pieces. Just glance at a few recent headlines.

 

The world system is currently being challenged by two new forces: a rising superpower, called China, and a rising collection of superempowered individuals, as represented by the WikiLeakers, among others. What globalization, technological integration and the general flattening of the world have done is to superempower individuals to such a degree that they can actually challenge any hierarchy — from a global bank to a nation state — as individuals.

 

China has put on a sound and light show these past few weeks that underscored just how much its rising economic clout can be used to warp the U.S.-led international order when it so chooses. I am talking specifically about the lengths to which China went to not only reject the Nobel Peace Prize given to one of its citizens — Liu Xiaobo, a democracy advocate who is serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion of state power" — but to intimidate China's trading partners from even sending representatives to attend the Nobel award ceremony at Oslo's City Hall.

 

Mr. Liu was represented at Friday's Nobel ceremony by an empty chair because China would not release him from prison — only the fifth time in the 109-year history of the prize that the winner was not in attendance. Under pressure from Beijing, the following countries joined China's boycott of the ceremony: Serbia, Morocco, Pakistan, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Colombia, Ukraine, Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Vietnam and the Philippines. What a pathetic bunch.

 

"The empty chair in Oslo's Town Hall last Friday was not only that of Liu, but of China itself," observed Rowan Callick, a columnist for The Australian. "The world is still waiting for China to play its proper, full role in international affairs. The perversity of such a successful, civilized nation playing a dominant role as a backer — if sometimes merely by default — of cruel, failed or failing states is intensely frustrating."

 

It gets worse. The Financial Times reported that "outside Mr. Liu's apartment in Beijing, where his wife Liu Xia has been held under house arrest since the award was announced, large blue screens were erected, preventing television cameras from having a view of the building."

 

Honestly, I thought China's leaders had more self-confidence than that. Clearly, they are feeling very insecure. Think if China had said instead: "We disagree with this award and we will not be attending. But anytime one of our citizens is honored with a Nobel, it is an honor for all of China — and so we will pass this on to his family." It would have been a one-day story, and China's leaders would have looked so strong.

 

As for the superempowered individuals — some are constructive, some are destructive. I read many WikiLeaks and learned some useful things. But their release also raises some troubling questions. I don't want to live in a country where they throw whistle-blowers in jail. That's China. But I also don't want to live in a country where any individual feels entitled to just dump out all the internal communications of a government or a bank in a way that undermines the ability to have private, confidential communications that are vital to the functioning of any society. That's anarchy.

 

But here's the fact: A China that can choke off conversations far beyond its borders, and superempowered individuals who can expose conversations far beyond their borders — or create posses of "cyber-hacktivists" who can melt down the computers of people they don't like — are now a reality. They are rising powers. A stable world requires that we learn how to get the best from both and limit the worst; it will require smart legal and technological responses.

 

For that job, there is no alternative to a strong America. Critics said of the British Labour Party of the 1960s that the Britain they were trying to build was half-Sweden and half-heaven. The alternative today to a world ordered by American power is not some cuddly multipolar system — half-Sweden and half-heaven. It is half-China and half-superempowered individuals.

 

Managing that will never be easy. But it will be a lot easier with a healthy America, committed to its core values, powerful enough to project them and successful enough that others want to follow our lead — voluntarily.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

GIVE UP ON THE ESTATE TAX

BY RAY D. MADOFF

 

Boston

CONGRESSIONAL Democrats have voiced outrage at President Obama's compromise proposal to lower the estate tax rate to 35 percent, from 55 percent, and raise the per person exemption to $5 million, from $1 million. They have called it a giveaway to the rich. A more reasonable compromise, they say, would have set the rate at 45 percent and the exemption at $3.5 million when the estate tax goes back into effect in January.

 

But instead of getting into any further arguments over rates and exemptions, Democrats would be better off conceding defeat. They should allow Republicans to get rid of the estate tax altogether — but at the same time arrange for inherited wealth to be subject to income tax.

 

After all, the Democrats have already lost the battle. The president's proposal is fresh evidence that even Democrats have given up championing the fundamental value that the estate tax was originally intended to promote. This tax, first enacted in 1916, was never intended to be simply a device for raising revenue. Rather, it was meant to address the phenomenon of a small number of Americans controlling large amounts of the country's wealth — which was considered a national problem.

 

As Justice Louis Brandeis said, "We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can't have both." Even Andrew Carnegie testified in Congress in favor of an estate tax as the best way to address wealth concentration.

 

In its first 60 years, the estate tax, along with other progressive policies, went a long way toward accomplishing this goal. By 1976, the amount of the nation's wealth controlled by the richest 1 percent of Americans had fallen from more than 50 percent to only 20 percent. And this greater dispersal of wealth fostered a strong middle class.

 

The tax policies of the past 35 years, however, have reversed the trend. Today the wealthiest 1 percent own more than a third of the country's wealth, leaving 80 percent of Americans with just 16 percent of it. President Obama's proposal would only accelerate this trend.

 

But Americans seem little inclined to resist wealth concentration. Efforts to impose taxes geared to the wealthy are lambasted as promoting class warfare. Moreover, because the estate tax is nominally imposed on the deceased, it has been vulnerable to the "death tax" rhetoric, which has convinced the public that it is a second tax imposed on the defenseless dead, who already paid taxes on the money they accumulated.

 

Missing from the debate has been any discussion of what level of tax is appropriate for heirs. Few Americans may realize that money received by gift, inheritance or life insurance is entirely free from income taxes. Of course, this made sense when there was a strong estate tax. But there is no other reason inherited wealth should not be taxed the same as wages, lottery winnings and all other forms of income.

 

President Obama is said to be considering an overhaul of the income tax code, beginning next year. That would be an ideal opportunity to make inheritances subject to income taxes.

 

If inherited wealth was taxed as income, exemptions could still be provided for smaller estates — up to $500,000 or even $1 million. And taxes on inherited family farms and businesses could easily be deferred, if need be, until they were sold.

 

Most important, by imposing the tax directly on those who receive the money, Congress could have a more honest discussion regarding the appropriate taxation of inherited wealth.

 

Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, is the author of "Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WORDS OF DIPLOMACY

BY RICHARD HOLBROOKE

 

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009, died on Monday at age 69. Below is an excerpt from an Op-Ed article he wrote for The Times on Sept. 14, 1999, about the issue he is most identified with: ending the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Read the full article and others by Mr. Holbrooke.

 

STANDING on the banks of the Neretva River, you can look up 200 feet at the cliffs that divide Mostar — the most broken city on the European continent — into Muslim and Croat sections and see an important symbolic step toward reconciliation in Bosnia.

 

Mostar's ancient, world-famous bridge, which was brutally destroyed simply for sport by the Croats in 1993 (while the world stood by), is finally being rebuilt, and the first restored stones are reaching out tentatively toward each other high above the raging river. But the work — with some of the stones retrieved from the water and others paid for by the international community — has just begun.

 

For Bosnia and Kosovo, the symbolism of the old bridge could hardly be more precise. Real progress is being made, but tremendous problems remain. The wounds of war are just now beginning to heal in Bosnia, while Kosovo still lives in the heady but confusing aftermath of the war and liberation from oppression.

 

Compared with the healing process after other wars, the status of Bosnia and Kosovo — whose military struggles are most properly considered as a single historical event divided into two theaters of operations — should be neither surprising nor discouraging. What war destroys in an instant takes years to rebuild.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON EDUCATION: 'WE'RE NO. 15!' DOESN'T CUT IT IN TODAY'S GLOBAL ECONOMY

 

The latest global rankings of high school test scores— which show the United States at No. 15 or worse in the key categories and Shanghai at No. 1 across the board — stunned many Americans. Some educators and politicians called it a "Sputnik moment," comparable to when Russia launched the first satellite in 1957.

 

Hardly. While Shanghai's appearance at the top might have been a stunner, America's mediocre showing was no surprise. What matters most is not that a city in China made such a stellar debut in the rankings, but that U.S. students were average in reading and science, and even weaker in math.

 

Average doesn't keep you competitive in the world economy, nor does it help you hang on to superpower status for very long. Many unemployed Americans can't fill the technical jobs at companies such as Google and Intel that will be represented at today's "White House Working Session with Business." And if U.S. schools don't produce students with those skills, the jobs will continue to sit empty or will find takers from other countries.

 

So what's the secret of success for top-ranked Shanghai, Finland and Canada? It's not much of a secret, really. Their educational systems are built on common-sense approaches that too often are alien concepts in the USA:

 

•A national, standardized curriculum. Students are taught the same subjects, in the same order, using the same course materials. That allows teachers and students to build on knowledge gained in earlier grades.

 

In the U.S., even teachers in the same schools — let alone those in different districts or states — might not teach the same lessons to students in the same grade. That means some students are taught the same material repeatedly while others get left behind. Because schools here are controlled by states and localities, a national curriculum probably is a non-starter. But uniform core standards are not.

 

•Excellent teachers. In the top-ranked nations, the best and the brightest are attracted to education programs at top-flight universities. Teachers are well-paid.

 

School systems in the U.S. increasingly recognize the importance of good teachers, but they still haven't found consistent ways to attract them, train them and keep them. In many districts, layoffs and promotions are determined by seniority, not by merit. Teacher evaluations are largely meaningless.

 

Teachers' unions often insist that tying evaluations to student progress or test scores is punitive. That makes no sense. Yes, better evaluations are only one part of improving teaching. But without them, good teachers won't be rewarded, average teachers will never get better, and terrible teachers will remain in classrooms.

 

The encouraging news is that the U.S. is taking some baby steps forward. The No Child Left Behind law added accountability but let each state set its own benchmarks. Now, a project to adopt a common "staircase" of English and math skills is gaining momentum. More than 40 states have signed on.

 

Meanwhile, the volunteer Teach for America program is funneling some of the nation's brightest college graduates into troubled urban schools. The best charter schools are scoring remarkable successes.

 

Three successive U.S. presidents have committed massive efforts to improve education. Unless those involved start embracing reforms instead of resisting them, the next international rankings, due in 2013, are likely to show the U.S. even further behind.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON EDUCATION: ELEVATE THE TEACHING PROFESSION

BY DENNIS VAN ROEKEL

 

The rankings from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are out, and our standing in international comparisons has sparked debate on how to improve public education. The worst thing we can do is adopt unproven policies in the rush to reclaim our leadership position.

 

I'm reminded of the old axiom, "Anyone's entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Policies that the National Education Association (NEA) has supported — stronger teacher preparation and more autonomy in the classroom — echo PISA's key findings and recommendations for boosting U.S. performance. A detailed review of the nearly 300-page report finds "merit pay" mentioned zero times and some U.S. reforms, like those in No Child Left Behind, criticized for their punitive accountability requirements.

 

PISA's top-performing countries show us that the way forward is by elevating the teaching profession. Among the hallmarks of high-performers such as Canada and Finland are strong teachers unions and evaluation systems that identify, support and advance effective teaching. These international reforms mirror the work of NEA's local affiliates — including Denver, Hillsborough County, Fla., and Montgomery County, Md. — that have made significant changes in the ways that teachers are evaluated and compensated. Many people are enamored with paying and judging teachers based on test scores, but the idea is riddled with flaws.

 

From April through September, the average weekday circulation of USA TODAY fell almost 4% below the level of the year before. Should readers conclude that the newspaper's writers are getting worse at their jobs? Not exactly. Most observers say newspaper circulation has plummeted for several years because of the Internet and a weak economy. Circulation data alone are not a fair measure of journalists or the quality of their stories.

 

So it is with teachers. The work of teachers should be assessed, but there is no simple, easy way to evaluate a profession that combines many different tasks, from explaining content to inspiring students to maintaining order in class.

 

NEA is keenly focused on how to help every student succeed and recently formed an independent commission of expert teachers to examine professional practices that make a difference in learning. The lesson from PISA is clear: Respect teachers and treat them like professionals. The U.S. should focus on what leading countries are doing and learn from their example.

 

Dennis Van Roekel is president of the National Education Association and a 23-year high school math teacher.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

SENIORS, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU

BY ROBERT LIPSYTE

 

I am hereby quitting my political party, the Old Party.

 

Now that's not the Grand Old Party, because the major divide in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats, between the rich and the poor or even, asJon Stewart told Rachel Maddow recently, between the corrupt and the honest. It's between self-centered, shortsighted people over 65 and their children and grandchildren.

 

Count me out of the Geezer Greedheads, who guzzle a huge amount of taxpayers' money and don't want to share it. I want to be part of the future of America even if the price is losing a small percentage of the perks I've paid for during a lifetime of work (Social Security, Medicare, etc.). I don't want to deprive anyone else of this country's promise of equality and fair play.

 

I just don't understand how people of supposed experience and wisdom (the upsides of going downhill) can vote against the country's interests, and very often their own. Are they stupid, mean-spirited, confused?

 

The best example is the senior response to the Affordable Care Act — President Obama's health care initiative. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that people 65 and older were the leading opponents of health care reform. Did they all lose their glasses? Couldn't they see that, among other improvements, it closed the " doughnut hole" of drug self-payments, a particular boon to older Americans who consume pills by the mouthful?What they did see, unfortunately, was that other people — younger people — might be getting some of the same benefits they were getting. And somehow they believed those cynical politicians, mostly Republicans, who preyed on their elderly fears that more for others would deepen the deficit and cut their government support.

 

I'd be more sympathetic to that arguably irrational view if the codgers hadn't voted for pols who will allow war costs to run rampant and tax welfare for the rich to continue.

 

'Self-absorbed barbarians'

 

Even AARP, an organization to which I belong but do not fully trust (it seems too much like an insurance company), told its 40 million members that health care for all was a good thing. Nevertheless, 60,000 people have reportedly quit AARP,and millions more have voted for politicians who vowed to gut the reform.

 

Conventional punditry has the Boomers, who are about to start turning 65, as the self-absorbed barbarians poised to overload our system with their whining sense of entitlement. And behind them is the Social Network generation, which has been accused of lacking empathy, a result of spending too much time online and too little in face-to-face relationships.

 

But when it comes to entitlement and lack of empathy, it's going to be hard to beat the survivors of the so-called Greatest Generation (roughly 85 and up) and my own Silent Generation (65 to 85) who I'm embarrassed to admit I dubbed the Classic Generation on this page a few years ago.Some people think the Classics, who came into their own during Ronald Reagan's every-man-for-himself "Morning in America," are more conservative than the Greats, who appreciated government benefits during FDR's New Deal.

 

Do seniors feel vulnerable in old age, resentful of the energy of the young or just frightened of change? Or is it something darker? In his AOL column on aging, Robert W. Stock reports that researchers at Ghent University in Belgium found that the conservative subjects of a study of 60- to 97-year-olds "measured significantly higher on the self-esteem scale than the more liberal participants" because "belief in the culture and traditions of the society they were part of in years past ... makes older people feel better about themselves — and better able to cope with the negative effects of aging." Reactionary views make geezers feel good. And help them make selfish decisions.

 

Simple advice: Share.

 

What about our responsibility to future generations? My role model is an old friend, Oren Lyons, a chief of the Onondaga Nation and a former college professor. At his 80th birthday party several months ago, he reiterated the Iroquois principle that all decisions must be made with the well-being of the next seven generations in mind. And he had one word of advice for us all — "Share."

 

I found that powerful and inspiring. Thinking about seven generations ahead means making sure there are resources for our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren such as adequate health care, social security, clean air and water, educational opportunities and a justice system that works for everyone. And "share" includes an equable tax structure to fund those programs. These are issues that old people — with a chance to leave the planet better off than they found it — have the time and maturity to address.

 

Robert Lipsyte, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is host of a PBS weekly show on aging, LIFE (Part2).

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

PROSECUTE ASSANGE WITH ESPIONAGE ACT

BY DAVID RIVKIN AND BRUCE BROWN

 

With WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under arrest in England, calls for his prosecution intensify. The U.S. government has every right to pursue him under the 1917 Espionage Act. What has been missing in the debate is how to do this without compromising core First Amendment values.

 

Fortunately, because Assange's conduct differs so fundamentally from that of any journalist, the Justice Department should be able to prosecute him using clear limiting principles, capable of restraining any future misuse of these laws against the news media. Indeed, without such limiting principles being prominently featured in an indictment against him, the government's case would be both ill-advised and ultimately fail.

 

The threat posed by Assange is different from the occasional disclosures by officials to reporters covering national security issues. No government can stand by while its sensitive military and diplomatic materials are dumped indiscriminately onto the Internet in raw, unexpurgated format. But if the administration or Congress overreaches in seeking a remedy, it will damage democracy, and will never pass muster in the courts.

 

Assange no journalist

 

The good news is that Assange is no journalist devoted to informing the public about the issues of the day. Rather, he is a person determined to destabilize: Leave me to my devices, he says, or computers around the globe will automatically release the "Doomsday Files," containing even more destructive information. That's not journalism; that's blackmail, and no news organization would act this way. Assange's failure to analyze the documents he has released or provide any analytical narrative also fundamentally distinguishes him from any journalist.

 

Assange might think of himself as a modern-day Daniel Ellsberg, the RAND analyst who provided the secret military documents to The New York Timesand The Washington Postthat led to the Pentagon Papers showdown in 1971 at the U.S. Supreme Court. But the figure from the 1970s he most resembles is not Ellsberg but Philip Agee, a CIA case officer who in 1975 bared the identities of hundreds of alleged covert operatives in his book Inside the Company: CIA Diary.

 

Congressional action

 

Agee was never prosecuted, but in response to his calculated campaign to name names, Congress later criminalized this conduct in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Mindful of the risks any leaks statute posed to the press, lawmakers ensured that when it came to private citizens, the law would reach only those whose "pattern of activities" made it clear that it was "their business to ferret out and publish the identities of agents." It would not criminalize disclosures that were an "integral part of another enterprise such as news media reporting."

 

No journalist has been prosecuted under the law. A similar, but unwritten, understanding has long defined the Espionage Act. While the statute by its terms does not exempt the news media, the government has never put a reporter on trial for publishing state secrets.

 

Yet, federal prosecutors have given journalists reason to feel less secure. In 2005, they sued two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who had received classified information about the Iranian nuclear program and then shared it with reporters. The case collapsed, but not before the government won a ruling that the espionage statute could be applied to anyone, even private citizens bound by no secrecy oath — in theory, the news media.

 

As the government pursues WikiLeaks, it must lay down defining markers — such as those used in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act — to shield news reporting and affirm that it will not use the espionage laws to chill the exercise of press freedoms. While Assange's conduct is aimed at harming U.S. security, the subsequent media coverage of the leaked cables has been discerning and discriminating. It deserves full protection.

 

David Rivkin and Bruce Brown are partners in the Washington office of Baker & Hostetler LLP. Rivkin served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel's office under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

COUNTY LEADERS STIFF VOTERS

 

It now appears certain that the nine-member County Commission will interview candidates for the county mayor's position in private and will flagrantly avoid public interviews altogether before deciding, on Dec. 27 who will succeed County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who is quitting his job just four months into a new term to join the new governor's staff.

 

The commission's reprehensible and utterly wrong decision to shut the public out of this vital decision rests on a change of mind by the county attorney Rheubin Taylor. He told commissioners last week that it would be illegal under the state's open meetings act to have a private selection process. He changed his mind Monday. His U-turn, however, does not mandate or require a private process; it rather appears to be a hastily conjured political cover to let the commission shun the public interest in an open selection process.

 

The commission's decision to make the selection process private is a blatant travesty. It arrogantly tramples the public interest in open government, and insults voters with an harsh slap in the face. It's bad form, and a politically selfish act.

 

Taylor apparently caved to political pressure by Ramsey and commissioners who want to hand-pick the county's next mayor without public scrutiny. He said Monday that he changed his mind on the requirements of the state's Open Meetings and Records Act after consulting Elisha Hodge, counsel for the state's Office of Open Records.

 

Taylor said she cited an old court case that seemed to legalize a private interview process despite the most widely accepted sense of the Sunshine Law, which explicitly bars county commissioners and other public officials from making decisions on public business in private and apart from publicly announced open meetings.

 

Whether Taylor is right on this issue remains debatable. Even if it's technically legal for the commission to privately arrange and select a successor for Ramsey, a public decision-making process would still be allowable and infinitely superior.

 

If commissioners had any ordinary sense of the public interest in accountable government, or if they had a higher personal sense of public responsibility for the discharge of their official duties, they would gladly, voluntarily, apply the principles of the Open Meetings and Records Act for the selection. A private selection process clearly violates the widely accepted spirit of that law.

 

Commissioners should recognize that and change their mind. They are, after all, merely serving as surrogates for voters in selecting an interim county mayor until the next scheduled countywide election in 2012.

 

This is a most crucial public decision. The interim mayor will guide the county's public policy and spending on education, infrastructure, economic development, zoning, consolidating government, and growth and land-use planning. The public deserves the right to candidates' candid views.

 

That the seven Republicans and two Democrats who sit on the County Commission have no respect for the public interest in an open selection process speaks volumes about their utter lack of principles with regard to public accountability and participation. Making the selection process private is just plain insulting.

 

It runs counter, moreover, to the atmosphere than dominated recent elections, in which tea party and Republican candidates made significant gains by running almost entirely against government on the notion that citizens' demands and the public interest were not being served by their elected officials.

 

If county commissioners are to exhibit care what voters think, they will divulge a list of all applicants, hold public and open interviews of the mayoral candidates, and possibly hold a public question-and-answer forum among their three top candidates.

 

If they choose to keep this process private, it will because of their own vested political interests in going along with Commission Chairman Fred Skillern and Mayor Ramsey. The former has long been known to hold secret conversations on public business to suit his political agenda. Ramsey reportedly is backing the selection of Mike Carter, a close aide. Both assert much control over the commission's approach to public issues.

 

County voters deserve an open process for the selection of their next mayor. If our county commissioners don't understand that, voters should rush to dump these arrogant back-room dealers in the next election.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

PROBLEMS IN NATION'S SKIES

 

The Federal Aviation Administration has a problem. The agency is missing vital data on who owns about a third of the about 357,000 private and commercial aircraft in the United States. In normal times, that would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Nowadays, when fears about terrorists and drug trafficking and other criminal acts abound, the lack of information is at best disconcerting and at worst dangerous.

 

There's little debate that the problem exists. The FAA admits that about 119,000 aircraft currently on the U.S. registry have "questionable registration." In some cases, the forms are missing. In others, addresses are no longer valid or the sale of a plane from one owner to another has not been reported. The situation is so fouled up that the FAA apparently is unable to say in some cases whether a plane is still capable of flying or if it has been scrapped. In the words of one veteran pilot, the situation is "very, very scary."

 

Officials rightly worry that criminals or terrorists could exploit the current situation by buying planes or appropriating the registration, or tail, numbers, of aircraft without the FAA's knowledge. That's not idle speculation. The FAA, other agencies and some pilots already have reported incidents in which drug traffickers have used fake numbers to their advantage. There also are reports of mistaken identity in which law enforcement officials have targeted the wrong plane because of poor record-keeping.

 

The registration system should be overhauled to promote safety in the skies and to thwart possible criminal acts. The FAA is tackling the task. It soon will start canceling the registration of all U.S. aircraft and require reregistration. The incremental process will take about three years. The goal is to significantly reduce problems tied to aircraft registration.

 

There is no assurance that will be the case. If it is to be effective, the FAA will have to revise the way it has done business. Previously, for example, the agency sent notices every three years asking aircraft owners to update contact information. That didn't do much good. There was no punishment for failing to do so, and many owners simply did not take the time to return the paperwork. The FAA says that will no longer be the case.

 

Agency officials are confident -- publicly at least -- that required reregistration will be beneficial. They say that new computers and record-keeping systems will enhance tracking. Stricter enforcement accompanied by meaningful penalties for failure to abide by the law is on tap as well. The latter includes the loss of registration and grounding of a plane.

 

Those who own planes already are complaining about the rules. It's true that the requirements are an inconvenience, but they are not onerous. They are, in fact, a small price to pay to clean up a system that now is open to exploitation by those intent on harming the United States or in breaking its laws.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

IT'S COLD OUTSIDE!

 

We have had rather varied weather lately -- snow to ice to rain to even bright sun. But it's cold outside!

 

After all, it's December -- and January and February are likely to be even more uncomfortable.

 

This is a time to keep homes warm, beware of fire dangers, avoid unnecessary exposure to the cold -- and be aware that our dogs and cats and other animals need a little special food and shelter.

 

In our part of the country, it's hard to imagine the snow and blizzards and freezing weather some people in other regions of America are experiencing. But let's do what we can to be warm, safe and comfortable, and to be ready to help others in need.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

INMATES MUST NOT RUN PRISONS

 

It is a terrible thing for anyone not to be free. But unfortunately, some individuals act in such a way that it is dangerous to others for them to be on the loose.

 

That's why we have laws, police, courts -- and prisons.

 

Some people will not conduct themselves properly with freedom. And some will not be orderly even in prison!

 

There have been some disturbing examples in recent days in several Georgia prisons as some inmates have gone on "strike," demanding pay for work details, as well as better living conditions.

 

All prisoners must be held with safety, security, food and sanitary conditions. But they certainly have no right to "call the shots." Our prison authorities cannot tolerate insubordination. When some in prison defy legal authority, that should show clearly that those convicts are where they ought to be.

 

The way for people to avoid losing their freedom and avoid incarceration is simply to obey the law and behave themselves. But when some people do not, there must be no surrender to lawlessness -- outside jail and especially in.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

DOES THE CONSTITUTION SAY ...?

 

Specifically, where in the Constitution of the United States of America does it say that the federal government has the right or the power to require the American people to buy medical insurance?

 

Is it desirable to have that insurance? It certainly is. But is a government requirement of medical insurance within the constitutional power of Washington?

 

Let's see.

 

The Constitution says in Article I how we shall elect our Congress and what it should do. Article II provides for the president and vice president. Article III establishes the Supreme Court and other courts.

 

In Article IV of the Constitution, we find reference to the "full faith and credit" in each state for the public acts and judicial proceedings of all states, and such provisions as not allowing anyone to escape responsibility for criminal offenses by fleeing to another state. There is provision for admission of additional states to the Union, and there is protection of states against invasion.

 

Article V says how the Constitution may be amended. Article VI says debts agreed to before the adoption of the Constitution are still valid afterward. There is a description of the Constitution and the laws and treaties enacted under it as "the supreme Law of the Land." And the article binds government officials to support the Constitution.

 

Article VII provides for the Constitution's ratification.

 

And then, over the years, there have been 27 amendments added to the Constitution. They concern many very important subjects of our government. (It's a good idea to read them over from time to time.)

 

But where — specifically — does the Constitution say that the federal government "shall" or "may" require our country or the American people to buy, pay for or have a national, socialized system of medical care?

 

You can't find any such power, requirement or provision in the Constitution? That's because there is no such delegation of power to the federal government!

 

That very important issue has arisen because President Barack Obama and a Democrat majority of Congress imposed ObamaCare socialized medicine early this year.

 

In a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare, U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled in a Richmond, Va., courtroom Monday that "An individual's personal decision to purchase -- or decline to purchase -- health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause" of the Constitution.

 

He was referring to what the Constitution says in Article I, Section 8: that "The Congress shall have power" to do a great many things, such as impose taxes, borrow money, pay debts, regulate commerce among the states (the "Commerce Clause"), constitute courts, support armies, provide for a navy and "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or of any department or officer thereof."

 

If you read the whole Constitution, you will find that it does not in any way delegate to Congress, or any other part of the federal government, any power or duty to impose a national medical insurance program upon the American people.

 

In the 10th Amendment, however, the Constitution does say that, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

 

Obviously, a medical insurance requirement is not a power delegated to Washington.

 

It is worthwhile for everyone to have insurance, but it cannot be required constitutionally for the people to buy it or have it.

 

So we would repeat what the judge correctly declared: "An individual's personal decision to purchase -- or decline to purchase -- health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause" of the Constitution of the United States.

 

Given some earlier, conflicting rulings in other federal courts, ObamaCare is now headed for an eventual ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

The facts and the Constitution are clear. But what will a majority of the Supreme Court say?

 

If most of the Supreme Court justices rule strictly according to the Constitution, they will rule as Hudson did -- that ObamaCare is unconstitutional.

 

It may take a year or two for us to find out whether the high court's justices will do so.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

WILL OPEC REMIND US -- AGAIN?

 

How many times have we seen U.S. gasoline prices skyrocket because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, has artificially jacked up prices by manipulating oil supplies? OPEC is responsible for 35 percent of the world's oil production, after all.

 

Why are we "slow learners"?

 

Oil prices recently rose to $91 a barrel. Some believe $100 a barrel is ahead.

 

Shouldn't we remember high oil prices when there is no real "shortage"? Shouldn't we make cars that get better gas mileage? Shouldn't we produce more domestic oil? Or should we remain at the "mercy" of OPEC?

 

How many times has our nation asked such questions -- yet continued the same wrong policies?

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - DETERMINING IRAQ'S MASSOUD BARZANI

 

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is correct that self-determination is a right of all peoples. The problem, however, is that while the right is fixed more or less objectively in international law, the notion of people is subjective and still evolving.

 

In practice, the idea of self-determination of peoples is long established and can be traced to civilizations as varied as ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. Some historians, notably Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, will argue this was central to the administration of the Ottoman Empire.

 

In the modern context, this was imbedded in international law through the efforts of the idealistic U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, famous for his "14 points" after World War I. The concept went on to be enshrined in the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.

 

But in Wilson's time, the world was divided in the Western, law-writing mind into fairly primitive categories of Mohammedans, Hindus, Africans and a few others with any kind of specifics really reserved for Europeans. In today's more sophisticated world, there are at least 6,000 peoples by most contemporary definitions. And while identity may be treated by journalists as somehow immutable, a shift in sentiment can spawn a new "people." Are Turkey's Alevis a religious group, a cultural entity or actually an ethnic group? Ask the question in our newsroom and a lively debate will ensue among those of our staff who consider themselves Alevi. Are Zazakis a distinct group or an element of Kurdish identity? Again, this question won't be resolved around the table where this column is debated each day.

 

Therein lies the problem with Barzani's declaration at the just-concluded Kurdistan National Party Congress in Erbil that is causing no small amount of concern. "The right of self-determination is something that concerns people living under occupation, but this is not the case for Kurdistan, which has a special status in Iraq," said a member of the Iraqi parliament, Alia Nusayaf, whom we quoted yesterday.

 

Was Barzani making a general expression? Or was he setting the stage for the breakup of Iraq, a scenario much-feared in many quarters.

 

That the KDP Congress was attended by representatives of major Turkish political parties, by the full spectrum of Iraqi parties and many others is an indication of the important all place in the territorial integrity of Iraq. The complexity of our region cannot withstand more tinkering with sovereign borders. We certainly believe all Iraqis, not just Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, but Syriacs and Yazidis and others as well, have the right to determine their destinies. But that will not be possible if the region descends into a chorus of sovereign claims and counter-claims.

 

Barzani knows this. His language should be more determined.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

STRATEGIC DEPTH - THE SELF-AGGRANDIZING VERSION

BURAK BEKDİL

 

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu may be proudly boasting of his jewel doctrine of "strategic depth" wherever and whenever possible, yet in contrast, United States embassy cables illustrate him as a dangerously deluded man at the helm of Turkish foreign policy. Whether "strategic depthist" or "delusionist," Mr. Davutoğlu's vision is certainly self-aggrandizing – and apparently contagious.

 

The Europeans must have sighed with enormous relief – and probably blushed – when EU Minister Egemen Bağış told them in Denmark: "Hold on Europe, Turkey is coming to rescue you!" Having read Mr. Bağış's remarks, a European friend joyfully wrote to this columnist: "We beleaguered Europeans are indeed grateful that Mr. Bağış has come to rescue us." But the same friend was equally gloomy with a punishing feeling of guilt: "…that we are unable to respond in kind is only a measure of our ingratitude!"

 

Give it a few more years and further WikiLeaks dumps and we shall probably learn how EU diplomats must have cheered over the good – no, wonderful! – news Mr. Bağış heralded. Not so hard to imagine a cable quoting Minister X from a major European capital as telling his American counterpart, in shy tears: "We are saved! For centuries we waited for the Turks to come and rescue us!" Not so hard to imagine, either, the American minister cabling to Washington that he watched his colleague with poisonous envy.  

 

In the same near future, Mr. Bağış (or his successor) could be inviting the EU to join the "Middle Eastern Steel and Coal Union" which his boss, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is thriving in building. Turkey in the EU may be passé, but EU nations seeking to join a Turkish-led Muslim bloc may sound more interesting. 

 

Speaking of WikiLeaks, self-aggrandizing Turks must have done more self-aggrandizing when they read with pride that President Barack Obama's first WikiLeaks call of apology was to their beloved prime minister – of all world leaders! The Turks may currently hate America, but they always look to America for a few pats on the shoulder.

 

]For most Turks, the "news" is that President Obama called Prime Minister Erdoğan for an apology. In fact, wire services quoted Mr. Obama as "expressing his regrets for the deplorable action by WikiLeaks..." The real "news" in that story was the fact that "Mr. Obama did not apologize for the "content."" It is a disturbing fact that Mr. Erdoğan and his men were not annoyed because WikiLeaks leaked the documents, but that they were annoyed by the content of the documents. And in Mr. Obama's apology, there was no apology for the content.

 

But that gives an idea for a potential rapprochement. If Mr. Erdoğan is prepared to embrace apologies of "this kind," why not apply the same logic to the flotilla crisis with Israel? At the moment, as Ankara and Jerusalem are testing the water to normalize ties – but with Mr. Erdoğan insisting on an apology for the deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara – why do we not think of an Obama-style way out?

 

In this Obama-apology-inspired model, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls Prime Minister Erdoğan to apologize and "expresses his regrets for the deplorable events that strained Turkish-Israeli relations." And that should suffice to ensure a graceful exit from the crisis. But would it? The answer is no – for obvious reasons.

 

But WikiLeaks leaks did not kill any Turks, whereas the flotilla raid of May 31 did. That's true. All the same, the difference does not justify selective Turkish perception of foreign apologies. In both cases, there will be apologies, and in both cases the apologies will be for the sake of apologizing rather than for what really annoyed the Turks. But never mind, as soon as these lines appear on the page Mr. Erdoğan's fans will remind us – at best – that hypocrisy is part of politics and – at worst – anyone criticizing Mr. Erdoğan is either a traitor or an enemy of Islam.

 

All the same, it is fabulous that after having saved the Palestinians and brokered peace in all corners of the world's disputed geographies, the Turks are now coming to rescue Europe. But why all this Turkish benevolence and generosity? According to Mr. Strategic Depth: "The only target we have is to normalize the trajectory of history." So, the foreign minister is saying the trajectory of history is abnormal and therefore has to be normalized – by the Turks. In what sense? Why is it abnormal? How would it have been normal? How can it be normalized? What/who made it abnormal? And why can it be normalized by the Turks?

 

I am not sure if Minister Davutoğlu would care to answer those questions – he would probably not, even if our newspaper offered a generous donation to human rights champions İHH in return for an interview. Fortunately, we have a sense of what the "normalization of history" might mean in self-aggrandizing language. If we understand incorrectly we'll learn the truth from another wave of very important leaks.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A MURDER AND A WORLD WITHOUT ISLAM

MUSTAFA AKYOL

 

Something terrible happened in Istanbul last Saturday. A newly married couple was shot dead in a car, only 10 days after their wedding. The police arrested the bride's older brother as the suspect. The man confessed the crime and said that he had to kill his sister and her husband for her treason to the community – for this was a Christian-Muslim marriage the bride's family strongly opposed.

 

If you haven't heard more about this story, you might easily assume that the lethal communalism in this shocking violence must have something to do with Islam. It is Muslims, after all, who have become notorious in the West for such honor killings. So, you might easily assume that the murdered bride, Soney Vural, 26, was a Muslim woman, and that her Muslim brother killed her for marrying a Christian infidel.

 

Muslim or Eastern?

 

But, lo and behold: the reality is the exact opposite. The Christian side in this tragedy is the bride and her family: They are members of the Turkish Armenian community. The Muslim side is that of the bridegroom, Zekeriya Vural, 29, and his family, which apparently had no problem with their son's interfaith marriage.

 

"A difference of religions should not be a problem," indeed, said Cemil Vural, the Zekeriya's Muslim uncle, explicitly. "We struggled so much for peace."

 

I am sure the same belief exists within the Armenian Turkish community as well, along with a deep sorrow for the tragic fate of Soney and Zekeriya. I share that sorrow. But I also have thoughts on this appalling incident – thoughts that relate to the popular discussions on Islam, the West, and liberty.

 

It is no secret that many Westernizers have been disturbed lately by some of the illiberal attitudes they see among Muslim some communities: A male-dominating culture that grants very little freedom to women; a rigid communalism that sees the outside world as corrupt and bans any form of "apostasy;" and a self-righteous attitude that sees all sorts of criticism as attacks that should be countered.

 

Such cultural traits that some Muslims display – let alone violence and terrorism committed in the name of Islam – have led some Westernizers to suspect whether there is an inherent problem in Islam as religion. Some even believe that the world would be much better if the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, and the whole Islamic civilization had never existed.

 

In his recent book, "A World without Islam," former CIA analyst and historian Graham Fuller takes on this argument very well. Despite all the superficial rhetoric on the supposed dichotomies between "Western values" and the "Muslim world," Fuller shows that the real dichotomy is actually between the West and the East. For example, the East's reactions to the West's dominance, real or perceived, are the real source of what is dubbed as "Islamic terrorism." Even if the Middle East was not Muslim at all, hence Fuller argues, "Palestine would still burn; Iran would still be intensely nationalistic; [and] we would still see Palestinians resist Jews."

 

The ways of the fathers

 

Although Fuller focuses mainly on the political attitudes in the Muslim world, and shows that their Eastern origins predate Islam and go back to ancient empires such Byzantium, he touches upon cultural traits as well – which might look Muslim, but are actually simply Eastern. "The culture of the Orthodox Church," he notes, "differs sharply from the Western post-Enlightenment ethos, which emphasizes secularism, capitalism, and the primacy of the individual."

 

Eastern Christians, Fuller adds, often show a tendency "to perceive religion as a key vehicle for the protection and preservation of their own communities and culture." Hence comes the intolerance toward inter-faith marriage among these Christians – something that has become quite normal among their Western, especially American, co-religionists.

 

"A World without Islam," I believe, is a must-read for any intelligent discussion on "Islam and the West." It is also a good food for thought for both liberal Westerners and conservative Muslims.

 

The former should understand that some of the things they see within Muslim societies and do not find terribly pleasant might not be the products of Islam as religion. Some are in fact the products of their own civilization, such as the doomed heritage of the West's colonial adventures. Other troubles in the Muslim world – troubles from a liberal perspective – stem from traditions of the Middle East that both predate Islam and extend to non-Muslim Easterners as well – such as the rigid communalism that just killed a would-be-happy Turkish-Armenian couple.

 

Conservative Muslims, on the other hand, should beware of being trapped in the illiberal traditions of the East in the course of their more noble effort to stay loyal to their faith. In fact, breaking those illiberal traditions was one of the early impulses of Islam. The Quran criticized the Arabs who said, "We follow what we found our fathers upon," and asked them: "What if their fathers had no sense at all?" (2:170)

 

Today, there still are many traditions that come from "fathers had no sense at all." Challenging them is the only way to save our religions from bigotry – and to protect innocent lives.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

NO HANDICAPS TO FLYING

UĞUR CEBECİ

 

Physical handicaps are not impediments to flying. Airlines are obliged to make all their best to allow handicapped citizens to enjoy comfortable flights. All the passenger needs to do is a little planning beforehand.

 

According to a survey in 2002, 12.5 percent of Turkey's population, which makes 8.5 million people, is handicapped and very few of them can get the chance to travel or fly.

 

However, this is completely different in the U.S or in Europe. You often see at least one, or perhaps more handicapped passengers onboard.

 

In developed countries, all the architectural designs aim at removing obstacles before handicapped citizens – like sound alerts on traffic lights, or slanted curbs on pavements.

 

According to international aviation rules, all airlines have to admit handicapped passengers onboard, provided that the passenger's mental or physical states allows him or her to fly alone. If a passenger's condition does not allow him or her to fly alone, then the airline might require that he or she flies in someone else's company. Then, the traveling companion would be responsible for the needs of the passenger.

 

Make a plan: Make a list of what you need take onboard with you, like medications and a report about your health condition, so that you won't be impeded by a lat minute's surprise.

 

Ask for information: Ask your doctors for information about flight safety. Also you should ask about flight rules for handicapped passengers when you are booking your ticket. Do not forget to inform the airline about your condition while booking, so that the airliner will undertake the necessary measures to facilitate your journey. Inform yourself about the numbers for and locations of emergency desks at the airports you will visit.

 

Boarding: Your check-in and security controls might take longer than other passengers, therefore make sure to arrive at the airport early enough. Your wheelchair will be put in a special carrier bag and thus loaded onboard. Do not forget, handicapped passengers are the first to board. If you do not have a traveling companion, aircraft crew can assist you.

 

Ask for help: Although you have informed officials already, let the cabin crew know about your situation as well after boarding. If you are sight impaired, you can ask for a safety precautions card in Braille.

 

Emergency: According to flight rules handicapped passengers are not allowed to occupy seats by emergency exits. In case of emergency, do not panic. The cabin crew will aid you first.

 

Handicapped Restroom: There are handicapped restrooms in large and double-aisled airplanes.

 

Landing: Handicapped passengers are the last to leave an aircraft. The cabin crew will assist you after landing. If you are flying abroad, a member of the cabin crew can guide you through the passport check to the luggage carousel.

 

Rules for the handicapped fliers

According to a list of rules prepared by Turkish Airlines, or THY, a handicapped passenger's condition are evaluated according to the following criteria:

 

1. People who are hearing or sight impaired do not need to sign a waiver and are allowed to fly alone.

 

2. Party who are partly physically handicapped, like those using a walking stick, are allowed to fly alone if they sign a waiver.

 

3. People who are completely heavily handicapped, for example both hearing and sight impaired, cannot fly without a companion.

 

4. Passengers who need a wheelchair can only board with a wheelchair designed for flight called a cabin wheelchair. These passengers can travel alone if they sign a waiver

 

5. Mentally handicapped passengers cannot fly without a companion.

 

6. Partially immobile and aged passengers can fly without a companion if they sign a statement declaring their self-sufficiency.

 

7. The waiver signed by a handicapped passenger during check-in has three copies: one for personnel at the check-in desk, another for the chief of the cabin crew and the passengers keeps the third copy.

 

8. A waiver is not used for flights to and from the U.S.

 

9. Guide dogs for people who are hearing or sight impaired are allowed in the cabin regardless of their weight, for which the regular limit is 6 kilograms including the carrier, provided that a prior booking is made for them and they are wearing muzzles.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AN INDECENT ALLIANCE

YUSUF KANLI

 

The messages are clear, but the consequences, so far, are not. On both sides, there appears to be confusion. On the one hand there is the skepticism of how will it be possible for an organization that started as a Marxist-Leninist movement, "evolved" into a full-fledged terrorist gang and for some time has been trying to transform itself into a "civilian political party" develop "effective cooperation" and even some sort of an "alliance" with a religious brotherhood which no longer is just a religious brotherhood but indeed far stronger than combined political power of many political parties.

 

Even though under the "enhanced democracy" provided to Turkey the Turkish republic no longer considers fundamentalism or separatism as the most important woes of this country, if somehow the "separatist threat" and the "radicalism threat" of yesterday can forge an alliance today, the combined violent, religious and of course political force such a togetherness would produce might easily pose a serious and existential threat not only to the national and territorial integrity of the secular and democratic republic, but also to all of the present key political actors.

 

The reaction of the Fethullah Gülen brotherhood to the meeting between Hüseyin Gülerce – one of the very few confidants of Gülen and who is indeed considered his spokesman – and the lawyers of separatist chieftain Abdullah Öcalan – who is serving an enforced life-term at the İmrali island prison – was a rather unexpected one. After days of silence on the issue, seeing that the Islamist brotherhood risked the danger of being mentioned together with a separatist terrorist gang held responsible with the death of over 35,000 people, the brotherhood first distanced itself from Gülerce and later forced Gülerce to make a statement that he did not meet with the lawyers of Öcalan with the knowledge and consent of Gülen, nor he had that meeting as the representative of Gülen.

 

Thus, we have the first behavioral lesson from the brotherhood: Even if someone is involved in the brotherhood right from the first day of its establishment and considered to be the right-hand-man, a confidant or spokesman of the head of that brotherhood, if he is involved in something outside the knowledge and consent of the sacrosanct leader of the brotherhood at that very moment he comes under an immense "communal pressure." That is, it is once again proved with a vivid example that at organizations or establishments with sacrosanct leaders with divine powers, democracy within the group or commitment to democracy cannot go further than a lip service. It was seen that even Gülerce might be compromised.

 

On the political wing of the separatist gang as well, despite the "organizational discipline" – which is very important as "undisciplined" moves or attitudes which were not "pre-approved" by "leadership" might be punishable "democratically" with a "stray" bullet in the forehead – it was a shock to learn of the contacts of the "leadership" through his lawyers with Gülerce. They were further shocked learning also that at a Dec. 6 meeting with his lawyers Öcalan explicitly talked about the probability of forging an alliance with the Gülen movement; it was in the best interest of the two groups to have cooperation; and that if necessary the lawyers might present such ideas of the "leadership" to the Gülen movement in writing… Öcalan reportedly also stressed that through forging an alliance with the Gülen movement the political wing of the gang, the Peace and Democracy Party or BDP could become a party of Turkey, rather than the image that is a party of the Kurds.

 

Interesting enough the meeting between Öcalan's lawyers and Gülerce was claimed to have been held on Dec. 5, just a day before the PKK chieftain was alleged to have made the above remarks to his lawyers. That is Öcalan must have been informed of what was discussed at that meeting and wanted further steps be taken.

 

Yet, in the Kurdish political movement, neither BDP nor the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, appeared willing to engage in an alliance with an Islamist brotherhood and stressed in separate statements that because of "tissue incompatibility" such togetherness was impossible, but there might be some degree of cooperation.

 

The "Enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach of Öcalan will of course eventually be accepted by the BDP as well as the DTK – as they have no other option but to make a choice between heeding with the dictate or face the consequences – while depending whether it was the early exposure of the development or the "unauthorized individual undertaking" of Gülerce that created the current "irritation" in the Gülen movement, in the June elections the country might face such an indecent alliance.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS