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Thursday, December 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 16, edition 000704, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























  7. FOOLPROOF THE MIND - VITHAL C NADKARNI                                        


















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With claims and counter-claims being made on whether Mr KG Balakrishnan had received written information about the identity of a Union Minister attempting to influence a judge, the only way for the people to know the truth is for the entire correspondence between the then Chief Justice of India, the then Madras High Court Chief Justice and the judge who was sought to be influenced to be placed in the public domain. In normal circumstances, such correspondence would be considered privileged information which is not to be shared with others. But the issue at hand hits at the very credibility of the judiciary, which is why the people have a right to be privy to the contents of the letters. This is all the more necessary since the Union Minister in question is the tainted former Telecom Minister, Mr A Raja, who recently exited office in disgrace in the wake of the 2G Spectrum scam. A look at the turn of events will further justify the need for transparency on the communication, questioning the role of Mr Balakrishnan. Justice Reghupathy (now retired) of the Madras High Court wrote to his Chief Justice, Mr HL Gokhale, on July 2, 2009, complaining about Mr Raja trying to influence him in a criminal case. Justice Gokhale forwarded the letter along with his note to the Chief Justice of India. Surprisingly, within just three days Mr Balakrishnan gave a clean chit to Mr Raja by declaring that no Minister had sought to influence the judge. Just when the issue seemed to have died a natural death with the passage of time, the Madras High Court on December 7, 2010, cited Mr Raja's role and barred from practice an advocate (he has now secured a stay from the apex court on the order) who had tried to telephonically connect Justice Reghupathy with Mr Raja. This prompted Mr Balakrishnan to reiterate his stand that no letter had reached him naming Mr Raja as the culprit. In turn, Justice Gokhale broke his silence and squarely implicated the former Chief Justice of India by saying that he had, as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, indeed forwarded Justice Reghupathy's letter that mentioned Mr Raja by name. It also transpires that there may have been more than one letter from Justice Gokhale to Mr Balakrishnan. That is where the matter currently rests. 

It is clear from the sequence of events that Mr Balakrishnan, as Chief Justice of India, was less than enthusiastic about finding the truth — something he should have done by going out his way since the issue involved a blatant attempt to arm-twist the judiciary. Worse, he continues to defend his position to date, despite mounting doubts about the veracity of his assertion. The fact that he has consistently defended Mr Raja despite having little material to do so makes, his role becomes even more suspect. Justice Gokhale has been compelled to speak out because Mr Balakrishnan has persisted with spinning out one dubious statement after another to justify his inaction. The Union Government too cannot wash its hands of the issue. Had the Prime Minister been truly concerned about parliamentary democracy, as he claims to be, he would not have refused to intervene when 80 MPs submitted a memorandum demanding verification of call records between Mr Raja and the advocate who played middleman. 








A lthough India may be perceived to be a world leader in information technology, it is unfortunate that the diffusion of information and communication technology opportunities, especially Internet access, is unevenly distributed across the country. Compared to a telephone subscriber base of over 706 million, which includes both fixed and mobile users, Internet penetration is abysmally poor. The country has barely 16 million fixed Internet subscribers and only 9.77 million have access to broadband. While much of India's current economic growth is a result of its information and communication technology revolution, it is a pity that a large section of our society, especially in rural and far flung areas, are not benefiting from its prowess. According to a World Bank report, a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration has accounted for a 1.4 per cent increase in per capita GDP growth in developed economies. Hence, no doubt India, which is trying to reduce poverty and improve its social indicators, stands to gain much if it were to earnestly harness ICT opportunities. Access to broadband can bolster education, healthcare, banking and other services and lead to better dissemination of information. Cyber cafes seen as the most affordable, self-sustaining form of public Internet access can be set up in villages, slums and small towns and can become the access points for a range of e-literacy and training programmes to improve knowledge and skills. 

However, the lack of infrastructure remains an obstacle in ICT penetration despite the Government's aim to sharply expand the national broadband network to connect all villages with populations of at least 500 people. The high cost of broadband infrastructure and consequently services — it is 260 times higher than in South Korea — remains a deterrent in increasing the user base, often limiting usage to just checking e-mail. Given this scenario, it is unlikely the Government will be able to meet its target of 20 million broadband users by the end of this year. The Government needs to consider ICT penetration through third-generation wireless broadband spectrum technologies instead of offering broadband connections through land lines. It would make more sense as the speed and quality of broadband service, which are not very encouraging with a bandwidth of 256 to 512 kbps, will also improve. Moreover, with better penetration, the cost of access will also come down, allowing a larger section of our society to benefit from economic growth. Ideally, ideas and not technology should dominate policy so that it becomes technology neutral. Tragically, that's not how babus are trained to think. As a result, more often than not policy reflects the limited imagination of a bureaucracy that has long ceased to think. 








True democratisation of a polity gives pelf and power to the underclass. That is its self-evident litmus test, however crudely performed. But the inheritors mostly lack the finesse of their predecessors, long used to their exalted status. The new hands at the controls are generally both nouveau and gauche as opposed to old, self-assured and discreet. 

Of course, it becomes an unfair comparison: Unequal, unlike; apples and oranges from very different orchards. And there can be no honourable contest between such disparate fruit, except in terms of vitality perhaps, till a few generations have gone by and a number of grafts and hybrids have taken hold.

In Europe, this democratisation came about by default in the early and middle part of the 20th century via the final destruction of monarchy, the agrarian economy, Empire and the near extermination of the land/title/privilege holding aristocracy speared on the pike of their noblesse oblige. 

This was most poignantly demonstrated by the trench warfare in World War I, when officers from the landed classes on both sides led charges with no more than their service revolvers held aloft. It reminds one of the destruction of the Kshatriya hold on power at the end of Mahabharat, with both the warring sides destroyed and sick-at-heart as if, as 'charioteer' Krishna implies a little inscrutably, that it was both preordained and for the ultimate good. Were the noble, warring Kshatriyas evil then at the start of Mahabharat? More important, were they more evil than the other contenders for power? The answer to this, in epic fashion, is probably still playing itself out over theyugas and kalpas.

In colonised America, the British were overthrown first, but the class and racial divides were only sorted to an appreciable degree through the bloodletting of the Civil War and the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. And the Boston Brahmins or the East Coast patrician Establishment haven't quite given up the ghost as yet.

In recent times India has witnessed pyramid overturning upheaval in the last days of the struggle for freedom, which coincided with the end of World War II, during the radical surgery of Partition. But while that ghastly amputation without anaesthesia divided people along communal lines, it did nothing for the cause of democratisation as such. 

Instead it raised the curtain on our independence at the expense of opening a festering, hateful wound that remains unhealed to this day both in India and Pakistan, not to mention the other bits of British India cast adrift to fend for themselves, such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Afghanistan. 

Mahatma Gandhi's pre-independence focus on his beloved 'Harijans' is telling. He condescendingly described them as a defanged, docile entity, a species of noble and downtrodden humanity that should nevertheless reconcile itself to its fate in the caste hierarchy. Gandhi's favourite Harijan was not the erudite and assertive BR Ambedkar, but mute, grateful and huddled individuals bowled over by upper class empathy and compassion. 

Nevertheless, because of his enormous influence as the 'Father of the Nation' and chief architect of ahimsa and satyagraha, the Mahatma did move the heavy boulders of neglect and oppression from the newly minted independent India's policy vision. And considering the majority of our populace today is not from the 'upper' castes, that was not a day too soon. 

After the Mahatma, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi did their bit towards righting ancient wrongs by political affirmative action and quotas. Nehruvian Socialism and Mrs Indira Gandhi's devastating attack on inherited privileges and the freedom of the private sector had their effect, as did the Congress's collaboration with the various Communist parties extant. Today, we may not still be an equal society, but the ladder of under privilege features the more obscure tribals and not so much the Dalits on its lowest rungs.

But, unleashed, however imperfectly, the Indian hoi polloi, like the tradesmen oriented tinkers, tailors, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers et al of Europe, glaringly lack sophistication and demonstrate a reduced level of efficiency even when given a chance. 

Over the years since the World Wars, the Europeans have managed to narrow the gap by dint of exposure and education. The nouveau and gauche have acquired some class along the way. And the remaindered ranks of the original classes have overlaid themselves with some street credentials for greater relevance. And the underclasses are so astonishingly posh today that it is hard to believe where they were even 25 years ago.

In India we are still in a tiresome transitionary phase; we haven't found our métier as yet. Nevertheless, it is as if all classes have plunged into the déclassé third-class unreserved category, also much beloved of the Mahatma, if the bulk of the media analyses is to be believed. 

Without going into the petulance of such perceptions, it might be fair to say that there is too much educated noise about the doings of rapacious underclassmen. It is as if they have no right to be venal and hypocrites. There is also a converse soft-pedalling of 'upper' class wrong-doing, as if it were somehow qualitatively better. We Indians, new and old alike, also seem to believe in being above the law in direct proportion to how much pelf and power we manage to accumulate.

In this transition, the formerly privileged are put out and refuse to self-examine. They are insecure, shrill and sometimes illogical. The fact is, the underclass's have as much right to be corrupt, inefficient and self-serving as anyone else, and need to make up for lost time. They are, after all, late arrivals to the party.

In terms of corporate India, not only do we not see many of the top 20 players of the first three decades since independence in contention now, but there seems to be a perpetual churning taking place. Even the rulers of the latter three decades are being challenged by ever nouveau and gauche arrivistes. 

This may not suit the well-ensconced Tatas, Ambanis, Mittals and so on, but it is unlikely to make any difference to the eventual outcome. Democracy must spread privilege, like fertililiser on a field, in open competition. And if it succeeds in doing so without blood-letting, we will have to put up with the stink and have much to congratulate ourselves for. 








The judiciary is a crucial element of our democracy and is largely responsible for pressuring other institutions, more notably the political system, to behave. It is a pontificating institution that consumes reams of print hectoring public figures on ethics and morality, and we take great pleasure when it does so because the targets of attack are those we generally perceive as deserving of the opprobrium. But then the judiciary goes into a self-righteous tailspin when confronted with the very same allegations it hurls at others, and seeks refuge in statements that it would have dismissed with contempt had they come from others. 

Some recent incidents will bear this out. The scathing observation by a Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju on the rot that exists in the Allahabad High Court, is one of them. The other is the mysterious conduct of a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India in response to some communication sent to him by the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. These incidents will, with the passage of time, be overtaken by other 'breaking news', but the various issues they have raised are here to stay. It is, therefore, best that they are tackled by the authorities concerned. These things have a nasty habit of resurfacing with venomous ferocity if brushed under the carpet or allowed to hibernate. 

The saving grace is that the judiciary, despite the recent hits, has not lost its credibility as a system. This is because the fault lines uncovered have been attributed to errant individuals who tripped — perhaps deliberately, perhaps unknowingly. But since they undoubtedly blundered, they must be answerable. The redemption could be even an acceptance of wrongdoing and sincere regret, with an assurance that such misdemeanours would never be repeated. Unfortunately, even that is lacking. It is such obstinacy which threatens to tarnish the image of the system they represent; after all, how long can the people who depend on both the institutions for fair information and redressal believe that, despite the absence of an apology — or punitive action — there is nothing rotten in the system? Individual malfunctions, if left unattended, are certain to result in systemic disasters.

Let us now deal with the specifics and see how the judiciary reacts when it is shown the mirror by one of its own. When Justice Katju recently remarked in an order that something was "rotten" in the Allahabad High Court — incidentally the country's biggest High Court — and that the Chief Justice of that court should even consider shifting out some of the judges with questionable track records, the High Court took instant offence instead of looking inwards. It approached the apex court with an appeal that "rotten" should be expunged from the order. Justice Katju is known to make dramatic statements, and sometimes he does deviate from the issue at hand to make alarming observations, but there is no denying the seriousness of the charge he has made. 

He should know what he is talking about; two generations of his family have been associated with the Allahabad High Court. He himself has served on the Bench there for some years. Imagine what the High Court would have done if a lesser mortal had made a similar allegation, however true that might have been.

The High Court's response was as misplaced as it was jittery. Justice Katju did not summon the 'offending' remark out of thin air; he was responding to a case where one of the court's judges had decided to hear a state Waqf Board case that apparently did not fall in his jurisdiction. Taking off from there, he had then gone on to observe on what he considered murky happenings in the Allahabad High Court. Considering that Justice Katju was speaking from a position of strength, the High Court should have taken his remark as a challenge to cleanse the muck. But, some judges of the High Court too considered it an affront to be questioned.

According to some reports, there are some 35 judges in the Allahabad High Court who have relatives practicing in the same court. Human nature being what it is, there is always the possibility — and if one believes Justice Katju, a certainty — that these relatives have secured favourable verdicts for their clients on the basis of their lineage. Such nepotism would be unacceptable in a democratic society, more so from a system that the people turn to as a last resort to provide them justice. The High Court sought to twist Justice Katju's observations as a sweeping indictment of the entire judiciary there. But that was never the case, as the apex court judge later stated, while dismissing with the contempt it deserved the plea to delete the 'offending' word.

It is nobody's case that only the Allahabad High Court is struck by the malaise of 'uncle judges'. There are others waiting to be unveiled, and that can happen if the highest judiciary of the country continues to persist. Already, the Bar Council of Rajasthan, encouraged by apex court's proactiveness, has passed a resolution condemning the phenomenon of 'uncle judges' in the Rajasthan High Court and has demanded the transfer of such judges. Clearly, the Council has identified these judges, and it would be worthwhile for the High Court and the Supreme Court to take note of the issue.

Then there is another, though somewhat different, incident that shows how opaquely some judges can behave, even as they preach the virtues of transparency to all and sundry. When Justice R Reghupathy of the Madras High Court wrote to his Chief Justice naming a Union Minister who was allegedly seeking to influence him in a case under his consideration and requested that the matter be forwarded to the Chief Justice of India, the then Madras High Court Chief Justice HL Gokhale forwarded it with his note to the CJI. But Mr KG Balakrishnan claimed he had received no written material that spoke of Mr A Raja's involvement.

Justice Gokhale has confirmed he had indeed informed the then CJI, but the former Chief Justice of India continues to stick to his earlier position, thereby creating a mysterious situation. Where is the sense of transparency and accountability that the judiciary so often asks others to follow? 

Mr Balakrishnan, who was then the Chief Justice of India, recently gave a lengthy clarification at a Press conference on his role. His defence was far from satisfying; in fact, it was an exercise in obfuscation. He claimed that the one-page communication he received from the Madras High Court Chief Justice did not mention any Union Minister's role. Fine, but what had prevented him from seeking the entire detail, and even summoning Justice Reghupathy to present his complaint in person? The charge was serious enough for any Chief Justice of India to be propelled into hyper-action, but Justice Balakrishnan has been at his bureaucratic best. Does he have something to hide?

Justice Gokhale's latest revelation should fuel a demand for a fuller probe into the matter and the role of the players in the unfortunate incident.








All the foreigners and about half the Ivorians agree that Alassane Ouattara won last month's presidential election in Ivory Coast — but not the southerners, who say that it was their man, Laurent Gbagbo. So the Election Commission declared Mr Ouattara the winner, and the Constitutional Council declared Mr Gbagbo the winner.

It's been eight years now since Ivory Coast, once the richest country in West Africa, was divided. This election was supposed to end the division, but it has just perpetuated it. Maybe it's time to accept that Ivory Coast is two countries, not one.

Once the notion of dividing an African country in two was unthinkable. The basic rule of the old Organisation of African Unity was that the former colonial borders must remain inviolable, since if they could be changed there might be a generation of civil wars.

But there was a generation of civil wars anyway — in Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo and Sudan, to mention a few. There are far more ethnic groups in Africa than there are countries: Some vie for dominance within the existing borders, while others simply want to secede and form their own countries.

There is also a religious split between mainly Muslim and predominantly Christian regions that extends right across the continent, but the dividing line runs through a number of countries, not between them. From Ivory Coast in West Africa to Sudan on the Red Sea, the north of every country is Muslim, and the south is Christian.

The ban on division was breaking down even before the OAU was replaced by the African Union in 2002. Eritrea's secession from Ethiopia in 1993 was accepted by the OAU, although the subsequent secession of Somaliland and Puntland from Somalia has not received official blessing. And next month southern Sudan will almost certainly secede from the rest of the country in a referendum overseen by the African Union.

It's becoming almost commonplace — and maybe Ivory Coast is a suitable case for treatment. It enjoyed three decades of peace and prosperity under the rule of its first post-independence President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but since his death in 1993 there has been almost continuous political upheaval. Finally, in 2002, rebel "New Forces" in the Army seized control of the Muslim north and split the country.

It has remained split ever since, and there are some 8,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country. But neither negotiations nor outside pressure have ended the division — and neither have elections.

Reunification was supposed to be achieved by the recent election, which was closely scrutinised by all manner of foreign observers from Africa and beyond. Almost everybody voted on the basis of ethnic and religious loyalties, and the winner was a Muslim northerner, Mr Alassanne Ouattara. He got 54.1 per cent of the votes, to 45.9 per cent for the incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr Gbagbo is a Christian southerner, and he lost because there are a few hundred thousand more people in the Muslim north of the country. But he did control the Constitutional Court, which promptly declared that hundreds of thousands of northern votes were invalid, either because the voters in question were actually foreigners, or because they simply didn't exist.

So Mr Ouattara was inaugurated as President at a luxury hotel in Abidjan guarded by United Nations troops, with the blessing of the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the United States. But at the presidential palace, guarded by the Ivorian Army, Mr Gbagbo was also sworn in for a new term as President. "We didn't ask anyone to come and run our country," said Mr Gbagbo defiantly. "Our sovereignty is something I am going to defend."

The African Union is trying very hard these days to ensure that electoral results are respected in Africa, so it has suspended Ivory Coast's membership until Mr Ouattara is actually in power. Since Mr Gbagbo still has the support of the Army and controls the state television channel, however, it will be very hard to get him out. Besides, the rights and wrongs of the situation are not as clear-cut as they seem.

Because Ivory Coast, the world's biggest exporter of cocoa, was the richest country in West Africa, for decades it received a large flow of immigrants from the poorer countries to the north, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. The immigrants were all Muslims, and their languages were closely related to Dioula, the dominant language of northern Ivory Coast. They were all illegal, of course, but some of them voted anyway.

Ivorian elections have therefore long been troubled by accusations that many voters in the north are not citizens. Even Mr Ouattara himself was banned from running in the 2002 election because his parents, it was alleged, were from Burkina Faso. And it doesn't matter who is right: Southerners will always think they have been cheated if their candidate loses, while northerners will always insist that the vote was legitimate.

The problem has crippled Ivory Coast for almost 20 years, and it will not go away. Mercifully, the killing so far has only been in the thousands, not the tens or hundreds of thousands. But if Ivorians cannot resolve the current dispute quickly, it may be time to consider a divorce.

--Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








In response to global crude prices nudging $90 per barrel, BPCL has beaten other state-run oil marketing companies (OMCs) to raising the petrol price by Rs 2.95 per litre. Others will follow suit. The wisdom of having decontrolled petrol prices in June is evident. If the opposition's noises about the hike are only to be expected, consumers have generally accepted that the market rather than political ideology, electoral compulsions or official ad hocism should drive prices north or south. The question is, when will the same logic apply to diesel? Reportedly, the government is to consider a small price revision this month. But there's no word on when a call will be taken on unshackling diesel prices, as suggested in June.

Petrol prices have been revised upwards several times now while diesel rates have stayed static since an ad hoc increase of Rs 2 per litre in June. OMCs are as a result suffering revenue losses selling diesel at government-capped prices. Moreover, the petrol-diesel price disparity is encouraging more and more consumers to go for cheaper, subsidised fuel even if they can afford petrol. Without market movements rationing demand, the economy's "dieselisation" continues unabated. It will, in fact, receive greater impetus if the government follows the inconsistent policy of deregulating petrol while offering subsidies to diesel. By encouraging wasteful consumption and adulteration, this trend has negative environmental consequences and harms the pursuit of long-term energy security. 

Consumption of petrol in India is a quarter that of diesel, demand for which cuts across the social spectrum. It may be a politically useful ploy to claim that diesel is the poor man's fuel and hence needs controls or calibrated decontrol, a euphemism for procrastination. If the claim were really true, the environment minister wouldn't have courted controversy by bashing diesel-guzzling SUV-owners. Rich farmers - a politically coddled section - benefit as well, a fact less mentioned by our politicians. Rather than decry diesel use by the wealthy, why not simply stop fixing prices so as to rationalise demand? 

Some contend that inflation is still a worry, so the decision needs postponing. But policy decisions in the past haven't been inflation-indexed or even linked to crude's international price, going just by the time petrol price decontrol took to come. Inflation shouldn't be a factor simply because if consumers pay more when prices rise, they also pay less when prices fall. Either way, it's competitive pricing driven by the market, not populism. Finally, government's fiscal burden needs reducing. Be it for fuel, fertiliser or power, subsidies usually mean misdirected resources. Let public money genuinely benefit society by funding health, education and infrastructure instead.








As is often the case between neighbouring countries, China and India have many outstanding issues between them: among others, a disputed border; China's Pakistan card and the stapled visa issue; and China's stance on India's claim for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But when the premier of one country visits the other country, both governments work hard to put their best foot forward. They look for outcomes that would qualify the visit as a success. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit is no different. 

In the run-up to the visit, both sides have highlighted the positives and downplayed the challenges. It is interesting in this context to ask why bilateral trade has been identified as one of the important items on the agenda for this visit, with a huge delegation of business leaders accompanying Wen. 

At one level the answer is fairly straightforward. The growth of China-India trade is a dramatic success. Until the 2008 crisis, trade between the two countries was doubling every year. Every time a target was set, it was exceeded ahead of time. When Wen visited India in 2005, the two countries agreed to grow the value of their trade to $20 billion by 2008 and $30 billion by 2010. But the 2008 target had already been crossed when President Hu Jintao visited in 2006, so it was reset to $40 billion by 2010. But that target too was crossed before 2008; hence, in 2008 the target for 2010 was raised again to $60 billion. As a consequence of these giant leaps, China has now become India's largest trading partner. India is the 10th largest trade partner for China, and its 7th largest export market. It is quite likely on present projections that China and India will become the world's largest trading partners within a few decades. 

But there the good news ends, because embedded in this partnership is also a huge imbalance. India currently has a trade deficit vis-a-vis China of about $30 billion. Now, it is not the expected norm that every country should have balanced trade with every other country. It is not even expected that every country should have an overall balance of total exports and total imports. Normally, some countries would have an overall surplus of exports over imports and others a deficit. Net deficits of the deficit countries are financed by other current account flows such as factor incomes or unilateral transfers, and capital inflows. 

That being said, the fact remains that a trade deficit is a net leakage from the country's domestic income expenditure circuit, a diversion of demand to other countries. It acts like a negative stimulus. Hence, when a country has a large trade deficit, especially a large deficit vis-a-vis another particular country, that is a matter of concern. India's trade deficit of $30 billion vis-a-vis China is certainly very large, amounting about 2 per cent of India's GDP, about half the size of its overall current account deficit, and about three times the size of India's total exports to China. That sounds rather grim. So we return to the question, why is trade one of the important items on Wen's agenda? 

The answer seems to be that the problem is solving itself. Though the absolute size of the trade deficit is still very large, it is actually on a declining path. How is this so? Though imports from China have been growing very fast until recently, the rate of growth has actually been declining for several years. It declined from 61 per cent in 2006-07 to 55 per cent in 2007-08, and further to 20 per cent in 2008-09. In 2009-10, the growth of imports from China actually turned negative with imports declining by over 5 per cent. In contrast, export from India to China shows a mixed trend. After growing by 30 per cent in 2007-08, exports shrank by 14 per cent during the crisis year 2008-09. They then bounced back to 24 per cent growth in 2009-10. The net impact, combining exports and imports, is that the absolute size of the trade deficit is still growing rapidly, but at a declining rate compared to the past. Its growth rate has come down from 76 per cent in 2007-08 to 43 per cent in 2008-09 and further to 26 per cent in 2009-10. 

If the present trend persists, the trade deficit could disappear within a decade with no further intervention. However, the pace of deficit reduction can be stepped up if Wen's delegates find additional things to buy or expand their orders of existing export items from India. If the two governments now credibly set targets to reduce India's trade deficit at an accelerated pace, Wen's visit will be counted a success. 

The same mechanism can be used to also correct a different aspect of the trade imbalance, namely the composition of trade. Value added products such as chemicals, machinery, electronics, iron and steel account for nearly half of China's exports to India, but they account for only 15 per cent of India's exports to China. Low technology products account for over three-quarters of India's exports. Wen's team could fix this imbalance too if they so desire. 

The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi






It has been four years in the making since it first cropped up in 2006, but the whole sorry Sabarimala issue has sunk to an even lower plane. The particulars of the case are, in a sense, irrelevant. Whether Jayamala actually did enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala and touch the deity or not doesn't change the core issue - the fact that women between the ages of 10 and 50 are banned from entering a temple that attracts more than three crore devotees annually. It is both ironic and disheartening that an issue that first came into the spotlight with a PIL against precisely this custom should become prominent again with a chargesheet against a woman for claiming to have contravened it. 

Certainly customs and traditions of any kind - including religious ones - evolve, considering the vital role they play in creating a sense of continuity in society. Those backing the Sabarimala injunction against women entering and other such problematic traditions elsewhere claim religious freedom and the sanctity of faith to buttress their argument. But this is specious logic. Faith does not exist in a vacuum and religious traditions undergo reform all the time. The idea that menstruating women pollute the environment around them, and therefore ought to be barred from public spaces, is an outmoded one that needs to be discarded. Once temple entry was barred to untouchables, but that has changed with time. 

Once the gayatri mantra was supposed to be spoken and heard only by Brahmins, but now its verses are universally known. Likewise, gender barriers are falling by the wayside in religion. The idea of women priests has far greater acceptability now than before. That is why the arguments claiming that the Sabarimala issue revolves wholly around tradition and has nothing to do with gender equality falls flat. As society evolves, religion too must evolve.



                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





With Kerala police naming Kannada actor Jayamala in the chargesheet in the Sabarimala temple entry case, many gender rights activists are seeking legal intervention for allowing the entry of menstruating women into the shrine. According to them, such a practice is irrational as it perpetuates gender discrimination, which must end. However, is it possible to strictly apply modern categories like gender rights in matters of faith? 

To start with, Sabarimala temple represents the Ayyappa cult, which is deeply rooted in Lord Ayyappa's vow of celibacy. Those undertaking this pilgrimage adhere to the temple's customs and rules, including the restriction of women aged between 10 and 50 years. These rules are in place since time immemorial and form the core philosophy behind the cult. Can we overturn an established tradition in the name of gender equality? In fact, many believers including women will refuse to read a gender question in the custom. There is nothing sexist in the practice as the temple allows the entry of girls below 10 and women above 50 years. A legal intervention is unlikely to change this situation, as it is an issue of tradition and faith. 

The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, to which an essential corollary is the autonomy of religious institutions. Since the Hindu religion, in particular, lacks any canonical orthodoxy, the gender rights advocates will do well to emulate Sree Narayana Guru's approach of running a parallel spiritual tradition. There is nothing in Hinduism which stops them from creating a parallel Lord Ayyappa cult that permits the entry of all women. Laissez-faire is best in religious matters. Let followers decide, which spiritual tradition will attract the faithful.








Mr Chidambaram should go home instead of being in charge of it. Sorry, saying sorry doesn't undo the damage. This minister, more than most, has a public persona as impeccable as his dhoti. How did he allow both to slip to reveal his contempt for the great unwashed?

Surely PC's memory doesn't need to be uploaded with the fact that rapists, like terrorists, don't belong to any one religion or community. Or that ethnic profiling always offends the rules of civilised engagement. His blaming of migrants for the rise in sexual crimes in Delhi is not really different from America's homeland security officials patting down India's ambassador to the US because she was sari-clad, or asking our Sikh envoy to the UN to remove his turban for a security check. Or Australian louts assuming that anyone with dark skin is fair game for assault and battery.

If we were unclear about which group of migrants he was damning, we found out soon enough when the two Yadavs sprang to prompt protest. What's changed suddenly? Early in this decade, a study on Delhi's altered demography had revealed that it was now home to more people from Purvanchal than the haughty lala-jis who had always claimed 'Deh-li' as their 'mulk'. Please note, not 'muluk'.

The red-faced mantri covered up his indiscretion by quickly arguing that he himself was a migrant. Indeed, it is rather precious for Delhi to be snooty about a brahminical nativity. Every capital, by its very founding charter, has a political population more shifting - and arguably shiftier - than a Mumbai pavement. Why, even the steel frame of the bureaucracy cannot call it their ancestral place any more than the tarnished brass of the defence services could claim Adarsh as their rightful home.

The 'M' word has deteriorated from the specific 'Marwari', 'Muslim' or even 'Mac' to the collectivised 'Migrant'. Strange. The rolling population should not be stoned, but celebrated. It's they who make a city - first building it brick by brick, then fuelling it economically, and finally shaping its metaphor. Throughout urban history, new settlers alone have been the eyes painted on to the Durga idol or Pygmalion's 'blow job' - giving vibrant life to the erstwhile lump of clay. Without the hordes pouring in with hope, hands and housing EMIs, it would have remain an anonymous tract - or an empty Ajit Gulabchand blueprint.

In the urban drama, migrants are not a necessary evil. In fact, without them, there is no cast, and no plot either, legal, illegal, reserved, regularised or unceremoniously grabbed. Mumbai, more than any other metropolis, has been proving this for the past four centuries. Even if the lesson continues to be lost on those with political planks in place of a brain.

Rahul Mehrotra, one of our most cerebral architects, was invited last May to the London School of Economics to deliver the inaugural lecture in the Urban Age 'Shaping Cities' Series. He titled it, 'The Kinetic City: Designing for Informality'. In his tour de force, he showed how Mumbai's shifting landscape was not just one of its important elements, but its quintessential, defining feature, whether it is the mushroom tenement, or the Ganeshotsav which is overwhelming one day, non-existent the next.

Cities on the move draw and are drawn by people with the same belly-fire to get off their butts, and get out of their shallows and their miseries. Conversely, the cities and people who batten themselves down in vainglorious ghettos finally succumb to the siege within. Stagnancy is death. So is monoculture, however grand. Not only is it monotonous, like all inbreeding, it is ultimately self-destroying.







The silence had been voluble. So when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally did speak on the matter of the 'Niira Radia tapes' on Tuesday, his attempt to allay fears of the government tapping into citizens' private space was heard loud and clear.


Mr Singh promised to put in place measures to prevent leaks of recorded conversations into the public space and cited that while the powers granted to the government for eavesdropping on private conversations for 'public interest' and 'national security' were needed, they have to be exercised "with utmost care and under defined rules, procedures and mechanisms".


Coming from the PM, this is comforting. But while this may have calmed certain sections of the business community, some unsavoury questions perilously hang in the air. Who, for instance, will be deciding what is the necessary 'wheat' and what is mere 'chaff' during governmental eavesdropping? Considering that there is an array of people doing the 'listening in' who may not share the same parameters of what defines 'public' and 'private', not to mention 'national security' and 'public interest', with the PM, one remains gravely uncertain about how an operational thick line will be drawn at the ground level.


Mr Singh also remarked on the "perceived ethical deficit" in the business practices of some corporate houses. This is a legitimate concern. But also of serious concern is the other perceived ethical deficit: that of the State and its various components directly or indirectly under the government.


The inability to keep governmental phone taps out of the ready-to-be-misused public domain has already led to a loss of confidence in the 'protective' State. But matters such as the 'perceived' wool pulled over our eyes regarding a former Chief Justice of India's version of the truth about the involvement of a former government minister running counter with that of a high court judge erode confidence in our statutory institutions even further.


Again, the 'perceived' unwillingness to get to the bottom of the matter regarding the chief vigilance commissioner and his appointment leads to an ethical deficit of an entity that, by definition, should use action instead of politics to be above suspicion. The PM, we are sure, means well and means what he says. But being a leader in a sparkling white kurta does little to allay fears when he is perceived to be standing in a gutter with all kinds of detritus roaring around him.







Nothing like a picture of your inspirational hero or heroine to keep you in the picture. This is a belief beloved of all covertly and overtly autocratic leaders everywhere. And, of course, Indian netas are no exception. This New Year, as breathless Trinamool Congress legislators unwrapped their gifts, what should they behold but a framed likeness of Mamatadi. Now, she may be no oil painting but the hearts of the faithful soared with pride.


Our leaders are never far from us. If you happened to be schmoozling around Uttar Pradesh, Big Behenji will always be watching you from her pedestal. In Chennai, which takes the hoardings, banners and buntings in this regard, heavyweights, and we use the term advisedly, like Jayalalithaa keep you company as you enjoy a gentle perambulation on the beach. In fact, the emotional Tamils have perfected the art of keeping up close and personal with their leaders. Some imaginative soul dreamed up the idea of tattooing Amma's image on the inner eyelids of people so that they could dream of her. Across our nation, we have statues of Ambedkar, Netaji Subhas Bose and, of course, Gandhi. That few bear any resemblance to the departed has not deterred us from erecting ever more images of our favourites.


It is quite possible that the poor old ducks in the Trinamool were hoping to get a nifty watch or 24-piece dinner set. But, next year, let us hope some bright spark comes up with the idea of merchandise which bears the imprint of our leaders. Imagine eating through layers of Christmas pudding only to be confronted with, say, BS Yeddyurappa smiling at you from your plate. If that doesn't stop you in mid-mouthful, we don't know what will. Our New Year tip to all the dieticians out there: recommend crockery and cutlery with images that could substantially reduce your appetite.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





I welcome you to India. Although I am not a citizen of this country, I was born and raised here in exile. India is the only home I've known. I belong to the second generation of Tibetan refugees, the children of Tibetans who escaped Chinese aggression in Tibet from 1959 by following in the footsteps of their leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


During your last India visit, on April 10, 2005, while you were busy addressing a group of Indian scientists on the ground floor of the Indian Institute of Science building in Bangalore, the media mob suddenly rushed out of the hall, leaving you speaking quite alone. Someone had climbed up the heritage building to the bell tower, unfurling a Free Tibet banner and bellowing slogans.


That was me.


Today I am writing this open letter to you. Even half a decade ago I knew that you were one of the more liberal leaders in China. Recently, your call for reforms to bring greater freedom and democracy to China reverberated across the international community. You already have a following among the ambitious and educated youth in China.


I have been following the epic struggle of Chinese writers, poets, film-makers and activists who have been bravely working for democracy and human rights in China. Many of them have been arrested or repeatedly harassed on charges of 'sedition' and 'selling State secrets'. China's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, is the best stellar example. He is a peace warrior, a new world hero. When Liu first demonstrated in Tiananmen Square in 1989, I was a boy. I grew up admiring all those Chinese students, teachers, intellectuals and labourers who sacrificed their lives and freedom by calling for reforms and universal rights to free speech the free world takes for granted.


These children of modern China truly are the guardians of the future People's Republic. While appreciating and benefiting from the economic development in your country, they never stop working to push the limits of civil society's universal norms. The world would be easier doing business with a prosperous new China that adheres to the principles of Beijing's Constitution and legal framework. At the moment the free world is either intimidated by your formidable military prowess, or is in need of your dazzling financial reserves accumulated by selling cheap Chinese ('slave') labour to western corporations, not to mention the rampant exploitation of mineral deposits and other natural resources reaped from occupied countries like Southern Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan (which you label 'Xinjiang') and Tibet. Tibet is a major component of the larger problem of China.


In your 'settlement of nomads projects', thousands of Tibetan nomads have been coerced into selling their huge herds of yaks and sheep and been settled in matchbox concrete housing in the middle of nowhere — just as American Indians were herded into restricted 'reservations' in America a century or so ago. Proud Tibetan nomads, who enjoyed a rich culture and sustainable way of life, today watch impotently as their traditional pastures are dug up for mining, military airports, or road and railways infrastructure. Nomad boys are washing dishes in Chinese roadside take-aways while young nomad girls are quickly pulled into prostitution.


This year, when the earthquake struck the Jeikudo area of Yushu, you were the first Chinese leader to be there among the Tibetan population. You have seen for yourself that Yushu is the watershed of some of Asia's most important rivers. Rivers rising in Tibet providing the downstream flows to the Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtse and Yellow River feed more than one-and-a-half billion of the populations of South Asia and China. But these rivers are now being dammed at many stages downstream — especially along the mighty Yarlung Tsangpo that flows into India as the Brahmaputra. Siltation on these rivers causes them to change course. Is Beijing oblivious to the fact that catastrophic flooding, already being suffered downstream from the Tibetan Plateau, will adversely affect the geopolitics of South Asia and its citizens?


The 2008 uprising in Tibet was brutally suppressed by a People's Liberation Army crackdown. Today, Tibet is a militarised zone where people live under constant fear and suspicion. Despite the persecution of Tibetans and Uighurs, China is one country that is not threatened by terrorists. Even as you and your business delegation are in India for this State visit, we come out on the roads to stage our peaceful, non-violent protests. But will airliners be hijacked? Will suicide bombers attempt to assassinate a world leader? No.


Our activist ethics and restraint hold firm because we still haven't lost faith in non-violence and its adherence by our leader, the Dalai Lama. And yet his proposal to accept 'genuine autonomy within the People's Republic of China' has been rejected outright by China. While you are here in India, why don't you make the time to sit down and talk with him? There was a time in the 1960s when older generation Tibetans were concerned about the future of Tibet.  Today, the struggle is lead by young Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet. We are electing our new prime minister and 44 members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile next year. The more educated, skilled, wealthy and with international contacts the Tibetan youngsters grow up to be, the more they will  burn with the angst for a sense of belonging. The fact that we are not citizens of any country — living in uncertainty — the struggle means much more to us than our parents and grandparents.  So among the youngsters the demand for independence is stronger.  The recent change in the education policy in Tibet replaced Tibetan textbooks with Chinese ones. This further united our resolve that only independence can guarantee the survival of our people and nation. The 60 years of Sino-Indian relations is the statement of 60 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet. Mr Prime Minister, you will be retiring in 2012. You have a saying in Chinese: "Ren zhi jian si qi yan ye shan" (The man at his death tells the truth). It's time the true wishes of the Chinese people be expressed. And there's no one who can do it more effectively than you, Mr Wen. 


Tenzin Tsundue, Dharamsala, India


Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan writer and activist  based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh The views expressed by the author are personal.




.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES




It is no surprise that the horror story of malnutrition and death revealed by this paper in booming Mumbai earlier this week did not capture public imagination as the unfolding scandals of India do.


The 16 children who died since April in Shivaji Nagar, an urban slum in northeast Mumbai, come from that vast swathe of invisible India that we in the middle and upper classes so efficiently blank out.


Shivaji Nagar is a nowhere place, the kind that exists beyond the imagination of middle India. You will find Shivaji Nagar in the midst of middle-class Govandi, an exurb that showcases modern Mumbai. Govandi has housing towers with aspirational names, such as Raheja Acropolis. It has pharmaceutical companies and call-centres. It has one of Asia's largest slaughterhouses and a top-quality think tank (the Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and a pleasing green belt. Its neighbourhoods indicate how people in India's distant middle-class suburbs form professional communities that replace the old bonds of caste — so you find Tata Nagar, Indian Oil Nagar, Teachers' colony, Municipal Colony.


Shivaji Nagar is a blank space, where people are bound by poverty and to some extent, religion (most residents are Muslim migrants).


To make the journey to Govandi is to understand how blank spaces pass us by.


Hop aboard a Harbour Line train from CST, the grand, gothic rail gateway to south Mumbai, home to the Ambanis and Tatas. Govandi is the second-last station before Mumbai officially ends. The trains reduce speed as they trundle within handshaking distance of the brick-tin-and-sackcloth homes that line the tracks. Beyond Govandi's dirty station, the train fords a creek and speeds up as it re-emerges into the India that people like you and I inhabit — to the office towers housing new economy enterprises and the shiny granite-floored stations of New Mumbai.


The dank lanes of Shivaji Nagar, the eyesores you turned away from, are also a part of emerging India. The people here are from the backcountry — more than 300 million Indians are migrants — trying to create a foundation for their children's tomorrow. These foundations cannot survive without state assistance, and when cracks develop, it is the youngest that fall through first. There are two reasons: One, stifling bureaucracy stops most migrants from using the subsidised food network once they leave home. Two, malnutrition is hard to prove because it is never the direct cause of death. It ravages the body and its immune system, leaving disease to do the actual killing.


No area has been studied as closely as Shivaji Nagar, but state government data estimate that 3.5% of slum children below six die of malnutrition in Mumbai every year. In September this year, 21,081 children across Mumbai's blank spaces were found to be "severely malnourished", meaning they needed immediate hospitalisation (it isn't clear if that happened); 90,947 were moderately malnourished.


Mumbai has other malnutrition hot spots, many in the heart of the city. Number six on the list with 9.93% of its slum children malnourished is Colaba in south Mumbai, a five-minute stroll from towers where a square foot of space could cost up to R1 lakh.


UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi hopes the forthcoming Right to Food Act will address the problem of hunger, but it will not directly address malnutrition, especially in rapidly urbanising India. (A third of Indians already live in cities; in 20 years, more than half will do so).


Malnutrition can be addressed if the government urgently reforms what is now the world's largest programme to meet the health and nutritional needs of children under six, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).


The Shivaji Nagar deaths show that the scheme is too centralised and ponderous to help the urban poor. Malnutrition in a city like Mumbai is more than a national shame: future national productivity and India's demographic dividend are at stake at a time when a booming, urban economy with the world's youngest population requires a strong, skilled workforce. Many malnourished children may not die but they tend to be intellectually and physically disadvantaged throughout their lives, vulnerable to disease and learning disabilities.


Money isn't the issue. The 2010-11 national budget for the ICDS is R7,806 crore. In Mumbai, the state government does run anganwadis, or crèches, in slums. The Centre contributes two-thirds of the R1,700 crore Maharashtra will spend this year on anganwadis; the state will pay a third.


Mumbai's ICDS is primarily a management failure. There are 33 ICDS projects across the city but no project manager. How hard is it for the state and Centre to sit down and say, 'Look this isn't working, it's a priority, so let's sit across the table, vow that no child will die and tackle malnutrition as we would a metro railway or airport — with deadlines and fixed responsibility.'


Instead, in old-India style, a committee appointed by the Maharashtra chief minister and headed by the chief secretary will examine the issue of urban malnutrition, doubtless to point out well-known flaws and submit, in time, a report that will likely join an older pile of reports.


Maharashtra's new chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is well meaning and has been sent to clean up the corruption-ridden state. He could save time and money if he scrapped this committee and instead used his influence with the prime minister to merge state and central ICDS operations, get a professionally qualified bureaucrat (or a professional from outside), to revamp the outdated system of malnutrition management in Mumbai. If this person can scrub malnutrition deaths from Mumbai within a year, it could become the template for cities nationwide. Think about it Mr Chavan. It is possible.


To read stories and columns in the 'Tracking Hunger' series, go to








Four years ago, Jayamala, a Kannada actress, created a stir by claiming that as an 18-year-old she had visited Sabarimala and touched the idol of the deity, Ayyappa. The hill-top shrine in Kerala draws large numbers of people in what is often a gruelling pilgrimage, with devotees pledging themselves to a prescribed penance. Jayamala's claim led to a controversy as women in the 10-50 age group are not allowed in the temple. The incident lent itself to even more curiosity than the debate on whether the anachronistic rule barring women should be scrapped, with speculation about whether the claim was in fact correct or was part of a publicity-seeking plot with her astrologer. This week, the controversy was resurrected, with the Kerala police filing a chargesheet against Jayamala and two more persons for hurting religious sentiments.


The facts of the case and Jayamala's claimed visitation apart, the police action highlights the incongruity of a bar on women's presence in a land once rocked by the liberating character of temple entry movements, especially in the decades leading up to Independence. To break down barriers to entry was not just about the faith and the faithful, it was to assert a modern, democratic sensibility, to uphold the equality of all individuals. It was a good example of the interface between the social and political freedom movements, and it was skilfully nuanced by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi.


Then, the main challenge was to roll back the dehumanising cordon sanitaire sanctioned in the name of caste.


And while in today's India there is enough scope in the secular space to consolidate arguments for equality, surely there must still be outrage that a young woman's presence — or even the claim of it — at a much visited site can offend religious sentiment. It's time to change the rules.







What made Congress spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi elaborately clarify the close working relationship between party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? It was certainly not in response to the opposition's tirade against the PM. It was an attempt to clear the air at a time when the party has been seen maintaining a conspicuous distance from the squirming government over the telecom scandal. It was slow to react when the allegations of spectrum allocation irregularities were thrown at the government, and it remained tight-lipped over the contentious CVC appointment.


This is of a piece with every occasion the Congress has tried to insinuate a divide between the government's actions and its own. Whether it's the way some senior leaders in the party publicly attack those steering in the government over policy issues, trying to deflect all responsibility and attendant resentment on the government, or the way the party refuses to own up to the difficult decisions taken by the UPA, it is too clever by half, and it is untenable. Sonia Gandhi's periodic assurances of full faith in Manmohan Singh and his exalted office are necessary only because the organisation does enough to, sneakily or inadvertently, undermine both. Whether it was the PM's joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh that the party tried to isolate him over, or the open division between party leaders and UPA ministers, the Congress has repeatedly tried to keep up the illusion that the party and the government do not always have congruent visions.


This is the UPA's roughest patch so far. It needs to fight the damaging perception of slipperiness and drift; and the last thing it should need at this moment is the appearance of being undercut by its own. After a polarised and heated Parliament session that went nowhere, there's a concern that the exigencies of firefighting could slip the government into policy paralysis. To avert that, there needs to be political clarity within the main party in government. The Congress has to come out — through argumentation and debate, if need be — and take a call on key issues, instead of cherry-picking its way through government initiatives.







The Reserve Bank's credit policy will be announced amidst significant confusion about monetary policy. The RBI's target inflation rate is not known, inflationary expectations are high, and prospects for global GDP growth are uncertain. While inflation has come down, inflationary expectations have not. As a consequence, the RBI, which often reacts to past inflation, will find it hard to reverse the interest rate hikes that it had effected in recent months. At the same time, the liquidity situation in the market is extremely tight. The tightness has persisted for three months now, with different explanations being offered for it every few days.


Since September, the call money rate has been above the corridor of the repo and reverse repo rates. Raising or lowering the policy rates will not affect the call money rate, which is reflective of the tight liquidity condition in the market. At present, the repo rate is operative when banks give treasury bills as collateral to the RBI. If banks do not hold adequate treasury bills, they cannot borrow at the repo rate. In November, the RBI reduced the amount banks have to maintain as SLR from 25 per cent to 23 per cent to reduce the liquidity pressure. At first, when the tightness arose in mid-September, it was seen to be a consequence of companies making withdrawals to pay advance corporate taxes. Recently, the RBI governor has remarked that the government is sitting on large cash balances. The government needs to spend the money so that liquidity goes back into the system. The question is, why has the operating framework of monetary policy constantly broken down since the middle of September? This has made changing policy rates irrelevant. A few months ago, the RBI set up a committee to review the framework, and recommend changes, but it has yet to come up with a solution.


In the credit policy statement this is the important question the RBI needs to answer. Any tinkering with rates will be pointless since the market-determined call rate is above the corridor. Not addressing this question, and continuing to tinker with policy rates, or doing nothing, is to pretend that the problem does not exist or will go away on its own. The clamour for a change in policy rates, that was seen at the time of the last credit policy review, has gone away, precisely


as this corridor is irrelevant. With this framework broken, the RBI must come up with a clear statement of its operating framework of monetary policy.









 Back in 2005, days before his first visit to India, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao surprised the Beijing press corps by quoting from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Asked about the main message from his trip to India, Wen declared, "China and India are friends, not rivals."


To reinforce his thesis, Wen turned to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "May He protect us both together; May He nourish us both together; May we work conjointly with great energy, May our study be vigorous and effective; May we not hate any; Let there be peace, let there be peace, let there be peace!"


Reporters, by nature a cynical bunch, rarely applaud the speakers they cover. We don't know if it was scripted, but the scores of reporters gathered at Wen's press conference broke into a spontaneous applause.


Wen is probably the only Chinese leader who has tried to inject a special personal warmth into the bilateral relationship with India. Wen's visit to India in 2005 had a lot more than endearing rhetoric. It was probably the most productive political exchange between the two countries.


Wen's visit produced the only negotiated document between the two sides on the boundary dispute. Along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he signed in April 2005 a reasonable framework for settling the boundary dispute that has long hobbled Sino-Indian relations. Wen and Dr Singh also unveiled the aspiration to build a strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.


In the couple of years that followed Wen's visit, the two sides engaged in intense negotiations on completing the second phase of the boundary talks — of finding a mutually acceptable territorial compromise. The scale and scope of bilateral engagement too expanded rapidly, across the board.


But by 2008, the optimism generated by Wen's visit began to dissipate. The boundary negotiations stalled amidst squabbling over the interpretation of the 2005 agreement on the guiding principles for the boundary settlement.


China objected to the Indo-US civil nuclear initiative and launched an effort to provide a matching deal for Pakistan; Beijing also came in the way of India's search for a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.


China began to raise the ante on the boundary dispute in both Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, and the chatter about a new military confrontation on the disputed boundary became common.


As the bilateral ties headed south, it was Wen Jiabao who stepped in to restore some calm. In his two meetings with Dr Singh at the end of 2009, on the margins of multilateral conferences in Bangkok and Copenhagen, he sought to arrest the slide.


Organised at a relatively short notice, Wen's second visit to India has the potential to revive the spirit of 2005. As they review the recent past and look ahead, the two prime ministers, however, confront a paradox.


While the bilateral relationship has acquired a new solidity in recent years, it also remains somewhat brittle, if not fragile, as the Chinese ambassador in Delhi, Zhang Yan, had said earlier this week.

The principal task before Wen and Dr Singh is to address three elements of this paradox.


One is about demonstrating mutual sensitivity to the core issues of territorial sovereignty. While India has shown respect for China's sovereignty over Taiwan and Tibet, China has begun to treat Indian-held J&K as a "disputed territory".

The new Chinese policy of issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from J&K has compelled Delhi to equate, for the first time in the last 60 years, the issues of Kashmir and Tibet. Whether Wen announces a change in its visa policy is less important than the need for clarity about Beijing's position on India's sovereignty over J&K.


Second is the question of trade imbalance. While bilateral trade has grown exponentially over the last decade — from $2 billion in 2000 to $60 billion this year — it is badly skewed in Beijing's favour.


For its part, China is proposing the negotiation of a free trade agreement to address the trade imbalances. A Sino-Indian FTA is a worthwhile idea at a time when most Asian nations are negotiating such arrangements with China.


India, however, needs visible progress in terms of market access to its manufactured goods and services. For its part, Delhi has gone out of the way to address Chinese concerns about access to the Indian telecom and power sectors.


The third element is the absence of a regional security dialogue. As China and India rise, they are rubbing against each other across their shared periphery in Asia. The current apprehension of mutual encirclement can only be transcended by developing a habit of political and economic cooperation in the various regions abutting China and India.


Meanwhile, as China establishes a presence in the Indian Ocean and India begins to show its flag in the South China Sea, the maritime domain has emerged as a new arena of conflict between the two. While military exchanges remain suspended for the moment, the two sides need to create a framework for a broad-based maritime dialogue.


Finally, the principal message from the talks between Dr Singh and Wen must be that India and China have the political will to manage the increasing complexity of their bilateral relationship.


Pessimists around the world are convinced that, as they rise on the world stage, Beijing and Delhi are doomed to become rivals. They argue that China would want to leverage its current economic and military gap with India for enduring strategic gains. The pessimists insist that India has no option but to match up to Beijing through "external balancing" or building countervailing coalitions in Asia.


It is entirely up to Dr Singh and Wen to prove the pessimists wrong by demonstrating that China and India can follow a very different trajectory — of pragmatic expansion of bilateral cooperation, prudent management of their many differences, and the promotion of mutual sensitivity to each other's territorial sovereignty.








 The stand some political parties and interlocutors have taken on India's position at Cancun shows insensitivity to India's strengths, global interests and perspectives and a penchant for grandstanding on a serious issue. First, does India give up anything in being flexible on emissions? The major feature of energy experience in the last three decades is that the country has managed a high growth rate with decelerating growth in electricity capacity and generation and that is through higher capacity utilisation in generation facilities (rising plant load factors in power plants), energy efficiency and captive power. The last feature is to be avoided since it is expensive. Capacity use has reached a plateau and will probably not rise any more. But energy efficiency will increase.


Per unit of GDP in comparable purchasing parity terms, India consumes around 60 per cent of the energy that countries like the US and China do. We are comparable with other efficient countries like Japan and the UK. This is a trend which started in the second half of the '80s with the industrial reforms initiated by the late Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, he laid down energy efficiency targets as essential for resource conservation, global competitiveness, as also fiscal prudence. In the preparation for the Eighth Plan, for example, energy efficiency targets were laid down for large industries. The argument was that this was the flip side of the industrial reform underway. Expansion of scale and improved capacity utilisation in large continuous process industries like steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and so on lead to substantial energy savings. The targets laid down as part of the resource saving calculations of the plans led to the outcomes we see now. The present stage of technological progress and advance makes a continuation of this trend almost inevitable. India is not taking any chances in making intentionally vague one-liners of the kind that Jairam Ramesh has been making as a well-thought-out bargain counter at Cancun and elsewhere.


The argument that emissions should be calculated and enforced only in per capita terms was alright in the late '70s, but to peddle it now is to treat yourself as some kind of a Luddite joke in global negotiations. It is alright and expected from some retired diplomats sticking to what they learnt in their first training but completely incompatible with the responses expected from a country taken seriously in global negotiations. None of the other BRICs countries does this. The more serious argument is of the kind that was made in preparation for the Rio summit. In The Hague Declaration under the leadership of Mahbub ul Haque and Jan Pronk, the argument was made and signed by some of us that the world has to change lifestyles, for, even under favourable technology scenarios, the world as we know it ceases to exist if we cross US per capita living standards by as much as a quarter in China and India. This then gets to the point that Gandhiji had made that there is enough for everyone's need but not for greed.


But this is not the per capita argument and that we will not adjust. In fact, the models that the environment ministry has put on websites make the adjustment points very elegantly, and some of the better younger elements have worked on that and so people like me have stopped making the point we were making with cruder tools at Johannesburg, for example, in the India 2020 modelling for the United Nations University.


It is interesting that those groups which were very close to the Bush administration's stand of completely sidestepping the Kyoto agreements are now taking the maximal equity arguments. Apart from first principles, there are important issues in access to greener technologies, carbon trading and India's priorities to renewable nuclear and hydro-electric power. At the present stage, we are seeing the setting of the borders of the debate and the issue is whether a country will be relevant or not. Indian leadership was conspicuous by its absence in critical meetings earlier, busy at home pontificating on the per capita slogans. Since Copenhagen, India is in the driver's seat.

There is a lesson in recent American politics for India. The last election to the House of Representatives, Senate and many governorships in the US was one of the bitterest. The large-scale use of money by the "Tea Party" and conservative groups was commented on even by the media, a beneficiary of advertising. In spite of all the acrimony and, very uncharacteristic for the Americans, almost personal attacks on the president, in one of the most acrimonious election issues — the tax question — the president came to an agreement with his political adversaries almost on the day when the possibility of the forthcoming budget session being "Barracked" was announced in India. Leadership also consists in realising the limits of power flexing.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand









As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao comes to India for the second summit meeting, he brings with him the largest-ever business delegation from China to India. This must bring some cheer to the Indian business community as the visit could yield major export orders for Indian manufactures and handicrafts. With more than $2 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, Premier Wen could well have decided to use some of it to redress the growing and unsustainable trade imbalance that has emerged between the two countries. With a trade surplus of nearly $20 billion in the total bilateral trade, which is expected to reach $60 billion by the end of March 2011, China must begin to take effective and urgent steps to rectify the imbalance if economic relations between the countries are to achieve their true potential.


The true potential for trade and investment flows between two giant economies that are both growing at 8-9 per cent annually, is very large. But for this potential to be exploited fully, a much higher degree of trust and understanding of each other's core interests is required. The implication is that we cannot continue to completely segregate political and economic aspects. The economic relationship between the two countries cannot continue to grow while political relations remain in their present fragile state. When relations are fragile, it does not take much for mutual mistrust and apprehensions to come in the way of technology, investment and even trade flows. Therefore, it would be very useful if during this visit, the Chinese premier would convey his government's recognition of India's core interests like Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and protection against religious terrorism as India has done for decades with respect to Taiwan and Tibet.


This is perhaps the best time to further explore avenues for Chinese foreign direct investment in India. At present this remains woefully low at about $65 million. With the inevitable rise in wage levels in China, some investment is already finding its way to countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh. India should offer an attractive destination as capacities created here could cater both to the Indian domestic demand and also be used for exports. This apparently is the underlying model for Huawei's decision to invest up to $2 billion in the coming five years in India.


Possibilities of expanding intra-industry trade between the two countries could also be explored. Chinese investment for the manufacture of components and sub-assemblies that could be re-exported back to China for final exports from there to advanced economy markets should be attracted to India. This will also help to not only reduce the trade deficit for India but also begin to change the composition of Indian exports that, at present, are predominantly primary minerals and raw materials. There is sufficient evidence by now to show that some of India's manufactured exports, for example in the pharmaceutical sector, suffer due to lack of adequate market access in China. These non-tariff barriers which are largely in the form of regulatory requirements should be speedily reviewed and removed as it also help to improve the composition of Indian exports.


There have been earlier attempts to start negotiations on a free trade agreements (FTA) between the two countries. These have come to grief, perhaps because this is a bit premature given the relative lack of mutual understanding of economic, financial and regulatory processes. This creates an unacceptable degree of uncertainty on both sides, an environment that is not entirely conducive to finalising a FTA. We need first to work together to greatly expand business-to-business and people-to-people ties which will provide the necessary momentum for the two countries to enter into a dialogue for a FTA. One of the major contributors to building greater understanding and awareness of each other's sensitivities and aspirations can be a further expansion of tourism between the two countries. At present, this is at unacceptably low levels. Perhaps the two sides could agree to an expansion in the number of flights and designate some specific airports, Patna and Bodhgaya in India and Xian and Lhasa in China where the national carriers could have special landing arrangements.


Indo-Chinese relations are centuries old and have stood the test of time. But they need renewing and refurbishing at this stage. The first step in this direction is to create a better understanding and remove the mistrust between us. One of the causes for this is perhaps the over-reliance on third country media for information on each other. This must change and the media from the two countries be given much greater access and encouragement. The distance between the ground realities that currently characterise the bilateral relations and their potential is rather large at this stage. This should not discourage us. Instead it should spur us to greater efforts in the knowledge that stronger Indo-Chinese ties are not only mutually beneficial, but good for the global community as well.


The writer is director general of FICCI. Views are personal.







Congressional Democrats have voiced outrage at President Obama's compromise proposal to lower the estate tax rate to 35 per cent, from 55 per cent, 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 per cent 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 favour 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 towards accomplishing this goal. By 1976, the amount of the nation's wealth controlled by the richest 1 per cent of Americans had fallen from more than 50 per cent to only 20 per cent. 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 per cent own more than a third of the country's wealth, leaving 80 per cent of Americans with just 16 per cent 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 defenceless 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 realise 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 other forms of income. 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. 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.










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. When Britain went into decline as the globe's stabilising 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 globalisation, 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 US-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


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, civilised 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 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 honoured with a Nobel, it is an honour 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.


The New York Times






Conspiracy theories abound about the magnitude of the 2G spectrum scam and its beneficiaries. An article by M. D. Nalapat in the RSS official voice, Organiser, states that it was not former Telecom Minister A. Raja but the UPA which had handpicked a majority of the "dubious" telecom firms. Nalapat claims that he was told by "those expected to know" that six out of the top ten most dubious telecom companies were chosen not by Raja but by the UPA, and that not a paisa from these six came to Chennai", all the money went to Delhi."That Raja carried out a scam of this magnitude by himself is about as believable as saying that A.Q. Khan acted without the support of the Pakistan army in selling nuclear technology to Iran and Libya. If necessary, Raja needs to be given approver status, provided he comes out with the truth about all the major beneficiaries of the scam," he says.


UPA's appetite


The lead article in Organiser attacks the UPA government for irregularities in the export of non-basmati rice to African countries. It says a GoM constituted to consider a distress call from some African countries over escalating food prices allowed the export of non-basmati rice on "humanitarian" grounds. The ban on the export of this quality of rice was lifted only for these African countries and three PSUs. The State Trading Corporation, MMTC and Projects Equipment Commodities Ltd. were allowed this export between 2007 and 2009. "In a brazen violation of norms, the PSUs allowed private suppliers to directly negotiate and strike deals with the African countries. While the PSUs got a margin of 1 to 1.5 per cent, private suppliers walked away with anything between 26 to 40 per cent profit. A commerce ministry inquiry into this exposed the fraud," it says. "Is there no limit to the greed of the UPA towards public money? If people at the helm believe that nemesis will never catch up with them, they are living in a fool's paradise. It is a fact that the track record of public accountability of our politicians has not been very inspiring. But like the proverbial last straw, one of these heists is going to be the last nail in the coffin of the UPA," it adds.


Cancun promise


An article in the RSS's Hindi journal, Panchjanya, laments the dilution of India's position on climate change at the just-concluded Cancun conference. It says that India seems to have decided to go along with the US, while deviating from its long-stated positions and getting ready to let its actions scrutinised by international agencies. Furthermore, going against a well-considered policy, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has said that India was ready to take on legally-binding commitments to reduce the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions. "Experts are surprised by his statement. This will not only permanently change India's climate policy but also will have deep impact on the country's economy," it says. The article says the UPA had assured Parliament that India would not take any legally-binding commitments to reduce its emissions. "Ramesh's statement has weakened India's position. This is not right for our future," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







 What is the difference between Masterchef Australia (Star World) and Masterchef India (Star Plus), both of which happen to be on the air? Akshay Kumar. What's the difference between the Akshay Kumar of Masterchef India and the Akshay Kumar we saw on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa (Sony)? A smiling Akshay Kumar on Jhalak. In the cookery talent contest he behaves like it's another season of Fear Factor Khatron Ke Khiladi, scowling or scolding. Lines of seriousness crease his forehead and he screws up his mouth as though the dishes he tests have left a bad taste in his mouth.


Gary Mehigan, one of the judge-presenters of the show Down Under, savours his job as much as the food — with pure enjoyment. And that's the difference between the two. In Masterchef India's enormous kitchen (was it once an Airbus hangar?) everyone is sad or angry, disappointed or grave, tense or scared — there's so much negative energy around it's a wonder the food doesn't spoil. Well, it does, of course and that's why there is much heartburn (don't attribute it to the ingredients). The contestants try hard to cook well, the chef-judges Kunal and Ajay try to entice the best out of them with appetising and exotic recipes, Akshay Kumar eggs them on, but no one looks happy with the results. In contrast, Masterchef Australia is full of the lightness of a well-beaten egg white. The participants seem to love what they do; they experience the joy of cooking. One show has the fragrance of freshly-baked bread, the other has something burnin' and it isn't love. Which one would you prefer to watch?


Something you might like to watch is Modern Family (Star World). The American comedy follows the lives of the Pritchetts, father, son and daughter. The father is married to a much younger woman, the daughter is a itchy homemaker, the son is gay but the father, evidently, doesn't know the meaning of the word. It's irreverent, edgy but treated with a sincerity that makes it believable. It's not a spoof, it doesn't mock homosexuality. Does it reflect the modern American family? The series is popular in the US and won an Emmy for 2010. That doesn't answer the question, but still.


So You Think You Can Dance (AXN) but did you ever think you could belly-dance? For those who may have wanted to without admitting it, here's our chance: TLC teaches you belly-dancing. The show treats it like a work-out (shape up, shed calories, etc) so you don't need to feel apologetic about rotating that waist. The voiceover instructor is as soothing as pranayama and the dancing looks like a walk in the park. Until you try it.


If you do not have the stomach for that, why not try a Minute to Win It (AXN)? Here, you don't need abdominal muscle control, cordon chef hands or any other particular talent, just the ability to lift an egg with a rubber band and balance it on the mouth of a bottle. Or to find gas balls, blindfolded. The idea, if you haven't guessed, is to use household items (from an American household, mind you) in ways that their inventors never imagined when they created them, to win thousands of dollars. It's silly, but at least they are having fun. Maybe in an economic recession this is what you do: have happy hours on TV with simple shows where contestants reveal the economic woes of their families, beaming from ear to ear, and the more money they win, the happier they get.


Wonder what our shows say about us: that there's too much competition to succeed? By the way, Madhuri Dixit still knows how to dance and belly-dance. Hers is rotating quite nicely, thank you. We got a jhalak of that on the new season of the dance competition. This year's special offering is Madhuri as a judge. So far there's a lot of her and her divine smile. Time Masterchef Akshay took happiness lessons from her?








If the CBI raids on ex-telecom minister A Raja, Tata lobbyist Niira Radia, as well as close associates of Raja including an NGO affiliated to DMK chief Karunanidhi's daughter, actually manage to find any evidence three years after the scam, it'll only go to show the ex-minister was not only corrupt, he was incompetent. While the CAG report documents the loss he caused to the exchequer, and also documents the manner in which he did this, it has enough to show the minister didn't even get his paperwork right. The firms he favoured did not have the necessary documentation and, if you please, never even had the requisite net worth requirements—that, and not the undervaluation of the licences, is the only angle that the government is pursuing right now. It is the transfer of funds to these entities, primarily, that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are supposed to be investigating. Whether Raja's chartered accountant or the havala operators he is supposed to have been dealing with still have the details and whether the Radia Records can be admitted as evidence in court is a completely different matter—keep in mind the sorry fate of the Jain havala diaries and how that case came to an end once the courts said they could not be admitted as evidence. What is also under investigation are the loans given by groups such as the Tatas to some of Raja's beneficiaries, like real-estate major Unitech and others.


More than Raja, the CBI raids also prove what we've known all along, that the government was keen to hush up matters, that the public outrage and the Supreme Court's anger after various PILs were filed is what got the government to get serious about the investigation—so much for the Congress president's statement that the JPC was a political ploy, given that the CBI was already investigating the matter under the Court's supervision. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to reassure India Inc, which is rattled by its private conversations getting out, and possibly even ones that could shed light on the very public corruption. But the real issue is that the government is on test, to see if it allows the probe, into even such blatant wrong-doing, to go nowhere. The havala and other investigations and the court process could take decades. It is important not to link the two—what Kapil Sibal does with the licences and the actual money trail. Linking the two would result in a long delay, by which time the companies involved would have managed to get several million customers. There will then be pressure, like there was on Arun Shourie in 2003, to legitimise full-blown mobility by limited-mobility players—ironically this is the principal charge the government is interested in laying at the BJP's door, and more than anything else also probably explains why the Trai chief in Shourie's tenure was raided.








The Mayawati government's plans to build a megapolis along the Yamuna Expressway across an approximate area of 236,682 hectares spread over 1,187 villages, with over 2 million people, is a landmark event in India's urbanisation and should be lauded for its boldness. The notification that reclassified all rural land along the highway as urban land will at one go ensure that almost all local resistance against the project is muted, as the booming land value will ensure maximum gains to the villagers if they choose to dispose off all or part of their holdings. Since the notification covers areas 10-15 kms on either side of the river along almost the entire length of the Yamuna Expressway, the government can ensure the the building of planned cities, which can really boost the development of India's most populated state. One reason for UP's low income has been the small size of the urban population—just a little more than one-fifth of the total. Historically, sharp rise in incomes have happened only when the share of urban population has moved above 30%. Urbanisation from the new megapolis would give a major boost to the growth prospects of the state, especially the real estate sector, which has extensive linkages with as many as 250 industries.


And this is not the first time that the UP government has adopted a bold and visionary approach. The Yamuna Expressway and the Greater Noida Expressway projects are expected to facilitate direct investments close to Rs 50,000 crore. In the power sector, the state has contracted out over 25,000 MW of power generation projects; this is around two and a half times its current capacity. The PPP route is also being pursued for setting up international airports at Meerut and Kushinagar. In addition, the state has also scripted a new chapter in the history of PPP projects through innovative schemes in the health sector and urban waste management. Now the emphasis should be on accelerating implementation so that the pace of reforms is sustained to ensure long-term growth.








The Tata group is one of the country's largest conglomerates, with a presence in sectors ranging from salt to software. In most of the sectors it has a presence in, its ranking is either number one or among the top three. So while Tata Steel now ranks third in terms of capacity in the domestic market and TCS is the largest IT firm, Tata Motors is the largest commercial vehicle firm—even if only cars are accounted for, its pecking order is at third. In hospitality, Indian Hotels is the country's largest chain. However, when it comes to telecom, the company's foray has not only been troubled but also marked by several flip-flops, which may be a reason why the group's ranking here does not match with the ones in other sectors.


It's only in very recent times, after having Japan's DoCoMo as an equity partner, that the company's telecom arm, Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) started making its mark, even forcing incumbents like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Essar to follow its per-second pulse billing rate. However, since the name of the Tatas' public relations firm Vaishnavi and its promoter Niira Radia has also been dragged into the allegations surrounding the 2G scam, TTSL's celebration has been somewhat marred.


Whether the alleged advice given by Radia and former Trai chairman Pradip Baijal to the Tatas, with regard to their telecom venture, bore fruit for them is too recent an event to be analysed. However, it would be appropriate to survey the Tatas' foray into the telecom sector way back in 1995 when it was opened up to the private sector as it clearly shows that the company always lacked a clear and farsighted approach towards the business. Though one does not know prior to Radia-Baijal duo who else advised the group about its telecom business but it is clear that the advice was not worthwhile.


The Tata group's foray into telecom has been as old as Bharti's Sunil Mittal's, the only difference being that they were much bigger than Mittal then! In 1995, in a joint venture with Bell Canada, Tatas bid for several circles but succeeded in only getting Andhra Pradesh. Like the rest of the industry, by 1997 they realised that the business model, based on a bid they had placed in 1995, just did not work out. Tatas had another problem since they had, along with a handful of other companies, also acquired a fixed line licence in Andhra. This was the first wrong choice as fixed lines were not the future of telephony, as is quite evident today.


Today, 17 years later, the country's total mobile subscriber base is close to 700 million, while fixed line subscriber numbers languish at around 30 million.


Group chairman Ratan Tata may label the switchover by the NDA government to a revenue-share mechanism in 1999, in the form of a new telecom policy as a bailout for the operators then, which may have cost the government around Rs 50,000 crore. However, Tatas were themselves beneficiaries of the bailout, like other operators, as they were also able to migrate from the licence fee regime into a revenue share one.


Close to 1999, the Tatas approached Birla-AT&T for a three-way joint venture. The three partners launched a JV called BATATA (now Idea Cellular). Each partner had 33% equity and, to begin with, just three circles of operation—Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. This business slowly picked up.


Then came 2001 when the government came up with the concept of limited mobility licences. This was supposed to allow fixed line service providers to operate with some limited mobility within a service area. Suddenly, the Tatas jumped the bandwagon from GSM and joined the limited mobility queue. The advantages available here were lower entry based on fixed line price rather than auctions, preferential spectrum allotment and like fixed line, it had 'caller party pays'.


Later, when the government held auctions for the fourth batch of mobile licences in 2001, the uncertainly within Idea was so high (they didn't know whether the Tatas would stay or go) that they got merely one circle—Delhi. If the Tatas had stayed on, it would have been a turning point for Idea. By comparison, Bharti bagged nine circles at a mere Rs 900 crore in the auctions.


When the GSM operators were fighting the limited mobile players in 2002, which was viewed by them as nothing but backdoor entry into full mobile services by paying a lower licence fee, the Tatas threw in their bit with the limited mobile operators like Reliance Infocomm. Later, the then telecom minister Arun Shourie allowed limited mobility to go fully mobile under a unified access service licence (UASL). The Tatas thus became a full-blown CDMA mobile operator. However, they continued to hold their stake in Idea, along with the Birlas, which was a GSM operator. The year 2006 saw a public spat between the Birlas and Tatas, with the former alleging that the Tatas' heart was not in GSM but in CDMA so they should exit Idea as it was hurting the company's growth. Thus, the Tatas ended their GSM chapter.


The story here onwards becomes even more interesting. By 2007, much like Reliance, the Tatas realised that subscribers were simply unwilling to accept CDMA due to problems with the technology and again like Reliance applied for GSM licence/spectrum. Here, Raja aided them through the dual technology policy of October, 2007. After entering GSM, the Tatas were able to restructure their business—by inviting investment from DoCoMo and launching their brand afresh. It is only after 2009 that the Tatas' telecom business has become competitive and is worth considering among the top 5 brands.


So, in their telecom venture, not only did the Tatas make wrong technology choices and strategic moves but such steps got corrected by what Ratan Tata calls policy flip-flops.









The pickup in the economy and the optimistic medium-term projections made recently have largely concealed some important issues, like the unexpected and sharp fall in FDI flows. The most recent numbers for the April-October period show that FDI inflows have dipped by more than a quarter to $14.9 billion as against the $19.9 billion in the corresponding period of the previous year.


This is surprising for two reasons. One is that, the slowdown is a sharp reversion of the previous trends when inflows picked up even during the global crisis, with numbers moving up from $34.8 billion in 2007-08 to $35.2 billion in 2008-09 and further to $37.2 billion in 2009-10. The second and the more important reason for concern is that the fall in India's FDI inflows in the current year is in sharp contrast to the global trends, which indicate that the FDI inflows to developing countries are expected to go up smartly by as much as 17% in 2010.


But India's FDI numbers for the first 10 months of the calendar year 2010 show that inflows have fallen by as much as a quarter, despite the buoyant global expectations. And to make matters worse, a global comparison shows that the Indian trends are rather unique as most of the other Bric countries have registered a much better performance. In fact, an international comparison for the first half of 2010 shows that while FDI inflows to China have gone up by 8%, those to Russia have remained stable and those to Brazil have fallen by a marginal 8%, India has been worst hit, with FDI inflows falling by as much as 39%.


But what is more worrisome is that the fall in FDI inflows to India has not only been sharp but also almost entirely unexpected. For instance, the World Investment Report 2010, brought out by Unctad earlier this year, has pointed out that FDI inflows into India and China had started picking up as early as mid-2009 and will gain speed as the region plays a leading role in the global economic recovery. And this is also corroborated by the monthly numbers, which show that the FDI inflows have peaked at $3.5 billion in July 2009. However, this trend was quickly reversed with the inflows steadily falling in the more recent months and touching a low of $ 1.4 billion by October 2010. In sharp contrast, the FDI inflows into China, which fell sharply during the recession, have continued to steadily climb up, registering positive growth in each of the last three months.


And the fall in India's FDI has not only caught international observers by surprise but also the Indian experts, including those at the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, which in its Economic Outlook for 2010-11 brought out in July pointed out that the FDI flows into India will surge up by as much as 58% to touch $50 billion. Only the mid-year review brought out by the ministry of finance took note of the deceleration in FDI flows during the first quarter of the year and pointed out that the trend was mainly on account of the lower flows into construction, real estate, business and financial services.


A fallout of the shrinking FDI flows has been its strong negative impact on the structure of external sector fund flows. In fact, the numbers for the first half of the year show that the fall in FDI funding in the commercial sector from Rs 75,215 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 41,739 crore in 2010-11 has been accompanied by a sharp increase in external sector borrowings. While short-term credit procured from abroad went up from a negative Rs 7,137 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 25,455 crore in 2010-11, the funding through ECBs and FCCBs shot up from Rs 3,991 crore to Rs 25,525 crore during the period. The increasing shift to debt flows during a period of rising current account deficits is unsustainable and indeed worrisome on any count.


But what is more alarming than the increase in debt creating flows is the slack policy response. Though it is now apparent that the consolidated FDI policy brought out recently has certainly not helped improve matters, no credible efforts have been made to tackle issues. Especially damaging are stalled FDI projects like that of Posco, which is the largest single FDI proposal so far, and the increasing resistance to procuring land for industrial use where the legislation to ease availability is yet to make much headway. So, it is certainly time now that a strategy to reverse FDI trends got the top priority that it deserves.








Happily ever after

It would pleasantly surprise one to know that officials in Mantralaya have a sense of humour and even romance. Couples who come here to get married, often enter the Mantralaya with a goofy smile on their face. The reason for this is none other than the identity pass one gets to enter. Have a look at the column in the pass, which mentions the department you will be visiting. Instead of Marriage Registry or a simple MR, the M is shaped like a heart followed by the R. The Mantralaya sure knows how to make couples happy before they take their vows.


Chinese HR 'shadows'


A few leading Chinese companies, including ones with big operations in India, follow a unique way of building redundancy in their human resource function. Each manager in these companies, starting from the chief executive downward, has a designated and identified shadow (essentially a junior colleague), to whom all official emails are copied. In case of any emergency or absenteeism, the shadow is up to speed on what's been happening and knows full well how he/she needs to respond to the needs of that particular situation.








Four years after Binayak Sen was arrested for his alleged links with the Maoists, the prosecution is struggling to present a case against the celebrated doctor and human rights activist. This was all too evident in its farcical attempt to link him to the Inter-Services Intelligence through an email correspondence between his wife and a person by the name of "Fernandes" in "ISI." The trial proceedings are under way in the Raipur sessions court in Chhattisgarh. Either out of sheer ignorance or in a deliberate attempt to mislead the court, the chief prosecutor declared "we do not know who this Fernandes is, but ISI, as we all know, means Pakistan." As Dr. Sen later explained, the ISI in this case stands for Indian Social Institute, and the email was addressed to Walter Fernandes, a former head of the New Delhi-based institute and a friend of his wife. But the prosecution appears to have been so taken up with the discovery that it even contended that the email, in which mention is made of "a chimpanzee in the White House," was written in code, and possibly meant "terrorists are annoyed with the U.S." All this would be laughable had this not been a trial that is viewed as an important test for Indian democracy. Dr. Sen, whose work as a medical practitioner among the poorest communities and as a defender of their rights is held up as exemplary public service, is being tried under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. He is accused of conspiring to overthrow the state with two others accused in the case, Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal and a Kolkata businessman, Piyush Guha. The trial began in 2008 and, under the Supreme Court's orders, must be completed by January 2011. Dr. Sen was released on bail in May 2009, two years after his arrest and following a long public campaign; the other two are in jail.


While no attempt can be made to pre-empt the court, the proceedings in the case are eerily reminiscent of another notorious case in which the accused, Iftikhar Gilani, a well-known journalist, was held without bail from June 2002 to January 2003. What was cited as the main evidence against him was that he had in his possession a research paper available on the website of a Pakistani think tank. How material originating in another country could be categorised as an "official secret" of the Indian state was never explained. Mr. Gilani was released when the Ministry of Home Affairs had no option left but to withdraw the case — "for administrative reasons and in the public interest" — as it became obvious there was no evidence against him. Clearly, and to its own detriment, the Indian state has yet to learn the lessons from that case.







Very recently, gold prices touched a new high of $1430.95 a troy ounce in the international markets. Since 2001, they have risen by as much as 450 per cent. This phenomenal rise is reshaping demand and supply in several fundamental ways. In the process, age-old perceptions and habits concerning the yellow metal are set to change across the world. While the surge in gold prices has been a universal phenomenon, the contributory factors differed as between the developed countries and certain developing ones, notably India. In the West, the rising prices have drawn speculative investors to bullion, driving its price even higher. Simultaneously, the demand from the jewellery industry has fallen. The main reason is that the high price of gold has dampened consumer demand, especially at a time when economic recovery after the crisis is weak. Although it need not necessarily be a secular, irreversible trend, the jewellery industry in the West is seeking to cut its gold consumption by substituting it, wherever possible, with silver and non-precious metals. For the first time in 30 years, investment overtook jewellery in 2009 as the biggest source of demand for the yellow metal. Extreme volatility in the financial markets, economic uncertainty, and fears that national currencies will lose their value have all driven investors to go for gold bars and coins, gold-backed bank deposits as well as exchange-traded funds. This demand surge spurred the creation of new gold-based financial instruments.


However, in India and some other Asian countries, jewellery-making, the traditional backbone of the gold market, has remained strong. According to the World Gold Council, the overall demand rose 79 per cent to 650 tonnes during the period January-September 2010, compared with the same period in 2009. Demand from jewellery-makers has been particularly strong. The investment demand for gold is also on the ascendant. Even as banks sell gold in the form of bars and coins, investments in paper gold too are becoming popular. Gold-backed exchange-traded funds have been posting robust returns. Most fund-managers have been recommending investment in paper gold, alongside investments in equities and debt. It seems a matter of time before paper gold, including gold futures, gained greater popularity and became more accessible to ordinary investors. For a long time in India, gold — especially as jewellery — has been viewed as a hedge against inflation. Banks and other financial institutions, who have always been sanctioning loans against pledges of gold, need to do much more to integrate gold investments with the mainstream financial markets.










If 2010 was a difficult year for Indians looking to migrate to Britain for work or higher education as the new Conservative-led government imposed more stringent rules for migrants from outside the European Union, the coming year is set to be even more difficult.


"Bleak, bleak, bleak," warned an employer commenting on the prospects of non-EU migrants in the new year. From April, the annual non-EU migration will be capped at 21,700 as part of the Conservative Party's election pledge to bring down migration to "tens of thousands" from the existing "hundreds of thousands." The cap, which will sharply reduce the current intake levels, is much tighter than what was recommended by a high-level advisory panel. Such significant reduction will be achieved by what one critic described as "wholesale slaughter" across all entry routes from highly-skilled professionals to students and family reunions.


An unsuspecting casualty would be students, with plans to cut down student visas by a 1,00,000 a year over the next four years. Only those who signed up for degree-level courses in officially recognised institutions would be eligible to apply; and even those who finally get in would face huge restrictions if they wish to renew their visa. Under the existing system, degree graduates are allowed to stay on in Britain for up to two years to find employment.


These harsh measures are being brought in despite protests from Britain's cash-strapped universities which are heavily dependent on fee-paying overseas students. It is estimated that international students contribute something like £8.5 billion a year to the British economy.


The government claims that there is "significant abuse" of student visas with many using this route to enter Britain for economic reasons. It is alleged that loopholes in the student visa regime are exploited by potential terrorists and spies. Immigration Minister Damian Green says there would be a "thorough evaluation" of the rules to make sure that only "genuine" students are allowed into the country.


Critics, while acknowledging that bogus students often fall through the net, say government claims are grossly exaggerated. And in any case, they argue, there is no foolproof system. Even the toughest system is vulnerable to abuse. There is also the view that it is wrong to club students with economic migrants.


"They are not here for economic reasons. Unlike workers, their time in the U.K. does not count towards any later application for settlement and they have no recourse to public funds," Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Universities U.K., told The Financial Times.


Rules for professionals and other highly skilled workers would also be made more stringent under a radical review of the points-based system introduced with great fanfare by the Labour administration only two years ago. The number of people eligible under "Tier 1" — which allows people with specialised skills to come without a job offer — is to be heavily reduced. According to Home Secretary Theresa May, the system has failed to attract the best talent. "At least 30 per cent of Tier 1 migrants work in low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards and some don't have a job at all," she told the Commons.


"Tier 2," which covers those who already have firm job offers, would be expanded and, within it, a new category created to cater for people of "exceptional talent" such as scientists. But critics say this is a "fudge" as the old Tier 1 already covered scientists.


The axe would also fall on dependents of families settled in Britain. They would be required to demonstrate a prescribed level of knowledge of English in order to qualify for family visas.


However, in a concession to big global corporations, the government has agreed to exempt intra-company transfers from the proposed cap though the exemption would be restricted to high-earning senior staff whose presence in Britain is considered essential to a company's operations. Indian IT businesses and Japanese car manufacturers had argued that any restriction on bringing in people needed for their specialist skills would hamper their operations. Some even reportedly threatened to close their British plants if in-house transfers were included in the cap. Their campaign was backed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which called for a more flexible policy to "enhance the U.K.'s attractiveness as a global location for investment and jobs."


Currently, there is no bar on such transfers and it is estimated that a majority of non-EU skilled workers coming into Britain are on intra-company postings, prompting allegations that many firms bring in cheap labour to fill vacancies that could easily be filled locally. Anti-immigrant campaigners such as the influential right-wing think tank MigrationwatchUK have been lobbying for a substantial reduction in intra-company transfers by raising the income threshold and restricting such transfers to "key staff" in order to keep out (in the words of its chairman Andrew Green) "tens of thousands of Indian IT workers on £24,000 a year when British IT workers face 16 per cent unemployment." Under the new plans, companies would be able to transfer only those who earn more than £40,000 a year.


Grudging and conditional though the concessions are, they have been welcomed as a sign of the government's willingness to compromise on a difficult issue. But broader concerns over the proposed cap remain. Leave alone foreign companies, even British businesses are extremely uncomfortable with a policy that they fear would take away their freedom to recruit the best talent from around the world. They are concerned that it would undermine their global competitiveness, besides damaging Britain's relations with the big emerging economies India, China and Brazil at a time when — more than ever before — it needs their vast markets for trade and investment.


Likewise, British scientists are worried that a bureaucratic, politically driven cap that does not take into account the needs of academic institutions would deprive them of world-class scientific talent and jeopardise research. In a rare public intervention, Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan cited his own case, pointing out that he might not have been able to move to Britain had such a policy been in place when he joined the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge University in 1999. This, in turn, would have caused a serious setback to his work on ribosomes that won him the prize.


"I had to take a 40 per cent cut to come here — a number of people thought I was crazy — and I was in a very tight race to solve the structure of the ribosome, which ultimately led to the Nobel Prize ... There were two people, both Americans, who moved with me to the LMB who were absolutely key to not losing time on that problem. If I had been unable to hire them, I might have just said: 'why should I take the risk?' I couldn't afford any kind of delay. I would say that might have tipped the balance even though I love the LMB and the U.K.,'' the Indian-born scientist told The Times.


Eight other British Nobel Laureates warned that an artificial quota system would "isolate" the country from the "increasingly globalised world of research" and it risked losing scientists like Prof. Ramakrishnan who were "enriching and enhancing British science and society for decades." Britain's cancer institutes say rigid migration barriers would hit research on developing new cancer drugs as they would not be able to recruit and retain talented international scientists.


A high-level parliamentary committee has pointed out that, bizarrely, while international footballers and other sportspersons are exempt from the cap, scientists are not.


In a withering report, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned that the planned cap would "hamper businesses, prevent top-class international professionals from coming to the U.K. and damage the U.K.'s ability to recruit the most distinguished scientists into universities and highly talented individuals into U.K. companies and public services." There is widespread scepticism whether the so-called "exceptional talent" category would go far to meet the needs of scientific institutions.


More important, there is a big question mark on the government's claims that a cap would result in a significant fall in immigration considering that non-EU immigration accounts for only 12 per cent of the total. It is reckoned that there would only be a 20 per cent decline — far short of the government's goal of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands."


Prime Minister David Cameron has his work cut out as he tries to push through what is widely seen as a half-baked policy made on the hop in the run-up to the general election to appease Tory grass roots. That his own coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are opposed to a cap makes things even more difficult for him. That would, of course, be of little consolation to those affected by the new rules.









  1. Cooperation at the regional level, such as that between Russia and China, demonstrates there is will to combat climate change
  2. Of all the sources of clean energy, it is hydro-electricity, a mature technology, which holds the greatest promise


It is easy to be disheartened by the failure at Cancun to take major steps towards an international agreement on fighting climate change. Despite apparent broad consensus on the threat that global warming poses and the need for urgent action, short-term national interest is still being put before long-term collective good.


Fortunately, business leaders across the globe are not waiting to act. And cooperation at the regional level, such as between Russia and China, demonstrates there is will to combat climate change.


At the talks, national governments, for various reasons, are resisting concessions needed to break the logjam. Regional blocs appear more interested in apportioning blame than finding solutions. International organisations, however well intentioned, seem so far unable to bridge the divides. But away from the international arena, there is reason for optimism. Businesses are not waiting for global agreement to reduce energy consumption. The need to cut costs, as well as to help safeguard the environment, is making energy conservation a major priority for companies in Russia and around the world.


National governments the world over are re-examining their sources of energy and generation capacity. Renewable energy is also attracting government support. The United States is spending $66 billion to develop and harness alternative fuel sources. The EU wants to generate 20 per cent of its power renewably by 2020. China has passed a $47-billion green energy bill and is using subsidies and other financial tools to boost investment in wind and solar power.


And as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, enabling China to continue developing its economy without a huge increase in carbon emissions is critical to tackling climate change. Even if its per capita levels are still way below American levels, China has now overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter. But here too, there is reason for optimism. China is very much aware of the challenge and has promised — as part of its attempt to kick start the post-Kyoto talks — to reduce emissions per GDP unit by as much as 45 per cent by 2020.


To deliver these cuts, China is overhauling and replacing older coal-fired stations and is a leader in carbon-capture technology. And China is ahead of the global trend in renewed attention to nuclear power — a reliable, clean and safe source of energy — building more nuclear power stations within the country than the rest of the world combined. This kind of interest and investment in nuclear power must be at the heart of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.


But of all the sources of clean energy, it is hydro-electricity, a mature technology, which holds the greatest promise. Hydroelectric output was the world's most rapidly growing major fuel in 2009. With major projects like the Three Gorges Dam in place, China generates over 16 per cent of its electricity from hydropower. But this has to be increased sharply to meet its emissions target while driving economic growth.


So, along with speeding up new hydropower projects within the country, China is looking across its border to Russia to help meet its need for clean energy. Russia has among the greatest untapped hydropower resources in the world. Even better for China, the greatest potential for growth is in Siberia and Far East Russia, close to the Asian markets.


Electricity generated by hydropower is also ideally suited to meeting the big fluctuation in demand between on and off peak times. Hydropower can be brought online in minutes, avoiding the need to keep coal power stations producing surplus energy — and emissions — 24 hours a day.


This explains why the Russian and Chinese governments have such big ambitions for energy cooperation. Energy exports from Russia to China are now expected to increase 60-fold over this decade. To help transfer the power efficiently, China is investing the equivalent of $250 billion on improving its national grid. And with prices being up to three times higher in China than across the border in Russia, a compelling business case for both countries to cooperate is clear. The ongoing debate in China on the introduction of an internal carbon price will only make Russian hydro even more attractive.


However, while our governments can set bold targets, it is businesses that will deliver. The recent agreement between EuroSibEnergo, part of the EN+ Group, and China Yangtze Power Co., the country's largest listed hydropower corporation, to develop hydro-electricity projects in Russia demonstrates the progress already underway.


This is by no means the only example of large-scale cross-border cooperation. The EU is considering super-grids to enable the continent to benefit from solar power generated in North Africa. Norway and Denmark are collaborating on the interchange of hydroelectric, thermal and wind power to lower cost of electricity production. And there are plans for Mongolian wind energy to be transmitted to South Korea and Japan. This is just the kind of activity that should help lift the gloom from Cancun.


We must keep pressing for a global climate change agreement. But progress on the ground fortunately is running ahead of international talks.


(Oleg Deripaska is the CEO of the EN+ Group, a Russia-based mining, metals and energy group, and member of the WEF Low Carbon Prosperity Task Force.)









Vidisha, a thriving trade centre of ancient India, finds glorious mention variously


for Emperor Ashoka's governorship, for featuring in Pali scriptures and Kalidasa's romantic epic Meghdoot, as a premier tourist destination in glossy brochures of Madhya Pradesh Tourism and as the parliamentary constituency of Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.


That the banned practice of manual scavenging is still a forced occupation for several Dalit families here is seldom written about.


According to unofficial estimates, over 200 families in the district continue to bear the brunt of caste discrimination primarily through the practice of manual scavenging.


"Every morning, I go to eight to ten households, collect the garbage in a straw basket and dump it a mile away from the village. When it rains, the waste oozes through the basket over to my hair," says Guddi Bai (38) of Nateran tehsil.


The waste she is talking about is human excreta, euphemistically called "night soil". Guddi belongs to the Valmiki community, relegated by the caste system to practise manual scavenging as their traditional occupation.


Ironically, Guddi, who goes from house to house collecting human faeces every morning, has a water-seal latrine at her house.


Nateran, the tehsil visited by this correspondent, has eight families that practise manual scavenging in its headquarters alone, and in all cases it is the women who do the job while the men work as agricultural or construction labour.


While the practice was banned by law in 1993 with the passage of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, it still continues in several parts of India. The deadline for the eradication of manual scavenging from the country, after having been revised thrice (December 2007, March 2009 and March 2010), was recently set for 2012-end by the National Advisory Council, headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Following its last meeting on the issue in October, the NAC noted that it was, "deeply distressed to observe that the shameful practice of manual scavenging persists in India, despite being outlawed".


Official denial


An important reason for the failure of the Centre and the State government in eradicating this dehumanising practice seems to be consistent official denial.


In 2006, the Madhya Pradesh government, along with some other State governments, filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming the practice had ceased to exist in the State. However, a counter-affidavit was filed by 17 organisations from all over India along with photographs and video clippings of manual scavenging, proving the official affidavits wrong.


While Vidisha District Collector Yogendra Sharma accepts that the practice still continues, he does not find economic deprivation to be a reason.


"All these families have alternative livelihood options; most of them have BPL and Antyodaya ration cards, cattle etc. The only reason, I understand, they are still doing it is because they have been doing it for generations and because it is easy money for them compared to jobs that require hard work like agriculture," says Mr. Sharma.


"We are now making efforts to motivate them to abandon this practice willingly," he adds.


The dilemmas of rehabilitation


During the five-year period of the 10th Plan, Madhya Pradesh received Rs.2.9 crore under the Centrally-sponsored Pre-Matric Scholarship scheme for the children of those engaged in "unclean occupations".


However, people in the occupation note the scholarship requires getting a 100-day "unclean work certificate" from the authorities, which is almost impossible since issuing the certificate would mean the legally abolished practice is still going on — a fact the authorities do not want to admit.


According to the Ministry of Social Justice figures, out of a total scavenger population of 81,307 in the State, 77,512 have been rehabilitated under the Centrally-funded Self-Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) and only 3,795 remain.


Unofficial sources put this figure at around 8,000 to 10,000.


The SRMS, formulated in 2007, envisaged the rehabilitation of manual scavengers — in a phased manner, by the end of 2009 — by assisting them in finding alternative employment through term loans (up to Rs.5 lakh) and micro financing (up to Rs.25,000).


However, the rehabilitation schemes concentrated only on the financial aspect and ignored the social aspect, causing several "rehabilitated" people to eventually fall back to the practice. The financial rehabilitation programmes were male-centric, while it is the women who make up the largest chunk of those engaged in this occupation.


"Firstly, the programme does not have any specific provisions targeting women and secondly, most of the projects for which loans are provided are not women-friendly," says Asif Sheikh of Garima Abiyaan, a Dewas-based NGO.


Patron-client relations


Another important reason for the practice continuing even after 63 years of independence and 17 years after a law was passed by Parliament banning it, is that it derives a "traditional legitimacy" from the patron-client system, which is firmly entrenched in the psyche of those who perform this degrading job.


The families in Nateran note that scavenging is not a means of sustenance and they make ends meet by doing other jobs like agricultural labour.


"All I get for working everyday is around 20 to 50 kilos of grain annually and a few old clothes on occasion," says Basanti Bai (40) who has been scavenging ever since she was handed the job by her sister-in-law after her marriage.


Why doesn't she quit then?


"If we quit, the upper caste women ridicule us. ' T um to panditaain ho gayi ho' [You seem to act like a Brahmin woman], they say. Moreover, that is the way it has always been going on," she says.


"The patron-client system, in a strange way, provides security of employment and, given the nature of this job, it basically is secure as there is no one to compete with and hence it will require determined social, political and economic rehabilitation measures on the part of the government if this dehumanising practice is to end," says Professor Nandu Ram, director of the Ambedkar Chair at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University.


The Valmikis, and other scavenging communities, also face discrimination from other Dalit communities such as the Jatavs and the Ahirwars and are relegated to the lowest levels of the caste hierarchy among Dalits.








Resonant in the East Asian diplomatic circles is the now-famous perception that India is "half in, half out of Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]." Such a "stupid" Indian policy or posture figured in a leaked United States' diplomatic cable that was released by WikiLeaks and published in Australia on December 12.


Tommy Koh, one of Singapore's brightest and best-known diplomats, was quoted in that cable as having said this about India's Asean policy during his conversation with some U.S. officials in September 2009. As a key founding member of Asean, Singapore is often viewed as a thought-leader in the 10-member organisation. Also, the city-state often punches above its weight on the international stage. And, the Singapore-India Strategic Dialogue is co-chaired by Mr. Koh and veteran diplomat S.K. Lambah.


Now, Singapore has declined to confirm or discredit the accuracy of any of the observations which figured in a set of leaked American cables and were variously attributed to several officials, including Mr. Koh, from the city-state. On December 13, Singapore did, however, say that the Australian press reports in focus "are based on American interpretations of confidential conversations that did not provide the full context." Singapore even disputed the veracity of those cables as supposedly released by WikiLeaks. The context, though, was Singapore-Malaysia relationship and not the comment on India.


On balance, it is obvious that the conscious or careless omission of these relevant U.S. cables from the official WikiLeaks website, as of mid-December, does not erase the friendly spirit behind the comment ascribed to Mr. Koh on India-Asean ties. In fact, the alleged comment may have caused no more than a storm in a teacup that will blow over. However, India does face the challenge of playing a significant role in Asean's newly-expanded flagship organisation, the East Asia Summit (EAS), in 2011 and beyond. Indeed, the formal expansion of the EAS in 2011 is the time for a reality check about India's relevance to and role in what may well turn out to be the next big theatre in global affairs.


Asean consists of just 10 Southeast Asian countries, most of them with no big-power aspirations. In significant contrast, the 16-member EAS, whose strength goes up to 18 in 2011, is being envisioned as "a leaders-led forum" for strategic thinking on all major issues of growing concern to East Asia.


The United States and Russia will, in 2011, join China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the 10-member Asean to form the expanded EAS. Within Asean, which acts as the prime-moving outfit for peace and economic progress across the wider geopolitical East Asia, there is a strong school of thought that the numerical strength of the EAS can be optimised at 18 for 2011 and beyond.


What should the reality check about India's present and potential roles in East Asia focus on? The question acquires importance in the WikiLeaks context of another comment, also attributed to Mr. Koh, that China has displayed "intelligent diplomacy in the [East Asian] region." On such a note of comparison, China and India can contribute to the stability of East Asia only by staying the course of their compatible diplomatic mantras. India and China have said that the international stage is wide enough for them to rise fully to their respective potential without having to compete with each other in a winner-takes-all gamesmanship.


There is nothing in the WikiLeaks disclosures, as available so far, focussing on a key point known behind the scenes in the East Asian diplomatic circles. Beijing is understood to have told Washington that Pakistan is to China what Israel is to the U.S. Going forward, it is arguable that New Delhi's overall equation with Beijing will be determined considerably by China's dynamic ties with Pakistan.


However, this aspect need not cloud India's participation in the EAS activities. Pakistan is not a member of this organisation.


Of much interest to China is India's changing political relationship with the U.S., especially as it enters the EAS in 2011. Relevant to this context are two of U.S. President Barack Obama's recent observations. He said that "India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time [across the world]." In addition, he exhorted India to not only look "East" but also engage "East" — a call for coordinated action by the U.S. and India in the new-look EAS in 2011 and beyond. In broad political terms, the changing equations among Japan, China, India, South Korea, and Australia will, in part, determine New Delhi's place in the newly-expanded EAS.


The current perception in East Asia about India's confused attitude towards the region, in contrast to China's enlightened approach, flows from the style and substance of their respective engagement with Asean. As a far bigger and a faster-growing economy than India, China is of greater help to individual Asean countries and the collective organisation. Within this analytical framework about issues of "substance," Asean countries tend to find India's "style" less appealing than China's.


The real issue is the basic difference between India and China in East Asia. India is seen to be far more protectionist than China in engaging the Asean countries and the collective forum on issues like trade pacts. This does not mean that China barters away its national interest in dealing with Asean.


Asean's general perception is that India is less than wholehearted in fashioning future-oriented ties with East Asia for 2011 and beyond. India's attitude may have something to do with China's looming presence and also, until recently, New Delhi's sluggish interactions with Japan and South Korea. However, there is a feeling in East Asia that India, as a country specially invited to the highest forum of this region, should evince genuine interest befitting such a guest.


In a subtle difference, China, Japan, and South Korea are native-states in East Asia, while the U.S. has long been a "resident power" in the region.


India's East Asian partners will, therefore, watch closely for signs of its potential role in the region in such diverse fields as maritime security, climate change, energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, food security, outer-space exploration, besides the anti-terror agenda and cyberspace security.








First Ratan Tata and then Deepak Parekh — two respected figures from corporate India — have gone public to express apprehensions that phone-tapping by the government can potentially scare away overseas investors. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done well to respond to the anxieties that have been expressed. The political class is expected to be sensitive to opinions articulated by responsible sections of opinion. (BJP stalwart L.K. Advani should be too instead of taking a swipe at the PM.) Given Dr Singh's credentials — as India's first reformer finance minister — we can straightaway take him at face value when he says his government wishes to "provide a level playing field for private businesses, free from fear or favour". In a way this says everything: businesses may operate without fear but may expect no particular favour (where breach of the law or ethics are concerned). This is a fair observation, one to which most Indians are likely to be sympathetic.

The Prime Minister notes that he is aware of the "nervousness in some sections of the corporate sector" — clearly he does not believe that the anxiety is universal — arising out of the powers conferred upon the government to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money-laundering. It might be worth noting that the corporate world had not expressed any worries earlier about the government's powers to listen in to conversations in the public good, as defined by the law. If their concerns arise from the single instance of the Niira Radia tapes, then was it really warranted on their part to generalise the issue as though we had an across-the-board problem? Further, those who are nervous have not shown that tapping of Ms Radia's phone conversations occurred in a specified environment, which if not checked can degenerate into a general problem. The broad question is: if the problem is not widespread, or threatening to become large-scale, what are we talking about?

At the same, the government also needs to visibly demonstrate to the people of this country that it was actually propelled by national security, tax evasion or money-laundering considerations when its investigators decided to snoop on Ms Radia's conversations. "Leaks" to the media suggesting that Ms Radia was/is a "foreign spy" will simply not do; indeed, these remind us of unsavoury police methods. The Supreme Court quite rightly sought from the government the exact orders that led to the tracking of Ms Radia's phone calls, and it is now for the government to give a satisfactory answer. If it is not able to do so, Mr Tata's plea on the key question of invasion of privacy of individuals is likely to acquire grater salience. The Radia tapes have produced a wealth of material that tells us something about the fallen state of sections of the rich and powerful in our country. But this does not mean that the government can simply tap anyone's phone without having a demonstrably good reason in line with the law. This is where the Prime Minister's assurance comes in — that his government will abide strictly by the procedures laid down in the law. The Cabinet Secretary has been given a month's time to determine if these procedures are followed and were observed in the Radia case. Dr Singh has obviously taken this step to instill greater confidence in those who have worries about breach of privacy. It is necessary, therefore, that the Cabinet Secretary's findings are made public. The government also needs to assure us that it will quickly acquire the technical capability to deter private entities from tapping phones, and that the government itself does not use technologies that unscrupulous elements do to spy on political adversaries and others.








Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India provides a much-needed opportunity for both sides to take stock of bilateral ties. In particular, they should look to reinforce the fundamental understanding underpinning their relationship. Since Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, Sino-Indian relations have been premised on the understanding that the boundary dispute should not hold back ties in other areas, especially economic relations. The dispute would be addressed by incremental measures, while economic engagement would deepen and create real inter-dependence. The rapid economic growth of China and India, and the resultant increase in their military and diplomatic clout have introduced additional considerations.

In the language of financial markets, both countries continue to bet that the fundamental understanding would work, but also hedge against the possibility that it doesn't and so seek to minimise their exposure to risk. India hopes that increasing economic cooperation would ensure that withdrawal from a policy of engagement would prove too costly for China. But it also needs to ensure that if the dramatic rise of China turns dangerous it has options at hand. These include suitable modernisation of its military forces and infrastructure, and the cultivation of ties with the US and other major Asian players. China, in turn, hopes that close economic relations would ensure that India does not sign up to any countervailing coalition against it. But if India does so, it should have options to check India's strategic influence: primarily by continuing to prop up Pakistan and by creating a footprint in the Indian Ocean region. The challenge for both countries now is to ensure both that basic understanding pays off and that the hedge does not undermine the bet.

Economic issues will be the major area of focus during the visit. Bilateral trade has grown tremendously over the last two decades from a mere $340 million in 1992 to an estimated $60 billion this year. Yet given the size and potential of both the economies, Sino-Indian trade remains low. The pattern of trade too is a matter for concern. This year India has already registered a trade deficit of $19.2 billion. Nearly 60 per cent of Indian exports are raw materials, principally iron ore. India is unable to leverage its strengths in information technology and pharmaceuticals because of non-tariff barriers in China. Beijing must address these problems.
Then again, India must see the trade deficit with China in context. The fact is that India runs an overall trade deficit. Unless fundamental problems, such as weak infrastructure, are addressed we cannot expect to bridge this deficit. Indeed, imports from China — power equipment, for instance — will go some way in tackling these problems. In the short-term, the best way to rectify trade imbalances may be to expand Chinese investment in India. Both sides have expressed their willingness to move in this direction. Emulating China's practice with Western companies, India should push for Chinese firms to set up joint ventures here. India requires investment in infrastructure to the tune of $1 trillion in the coming decade. Given China's desire to diversify its vast international reserves, India could well become an attractive opportunity. But here India will need to reform and strengthen its regulatory framework for investment.

Progress on the other part — of the basic understanding in resolving the boundary dispute — has been halting. The 2005 agreement on "political parameters and guiding principles" held out the prospect of an agreement in the not-too-distant future. But subsequent negotiations have not made much headway owing to several factors: China's insistence on claiming Tawang; domestic politics and public opinion in both countries; the shadow cast by the Tibet problem. If an agreement is not in the offing, India need not be unduly concerned. Excessive eagerness on our part for a settlement might itself lead the Chinese to toughen their negotiating stance.
But New Delhi does need to manage public perception on the boundary question. Indian officials concede that the boundary stabilisation mechanisms have actually worked well. But sections of our media periodically go into a fit over Chinese "encroachments". To be sure, the government cannot control or gag the media. Yet it can do more to educate the public on this sensitive matter. The Chinese ambassador was spot on when he put his finger on this issue. But the problem is equally on the Chinese side where state-owned media and analysts have acted less than responsibly in their coverage and commentary.

Even as the two sides address these issues, they need to calibrate their hedging strategies. China's policy on visas for Indian Kashmiris may be aimed at bolstering its ties with Pakistan, but it has created serious misgivings in India. New Delhi was forced to point out to Beijing that its interests in Kashmir were akin to China's interests in Taiwan and Tibet. China appears to have realised that it overplayed its hand and is revisiting its policy. Similarly, China's continuing opaque nuclear relationship with Pakistan is generating concerns in India. Beijing would do well to address these instead of sweeping them aside with bland pronouncements.

India, for its part, should examine its evolving relationship with the US and its Asian allies. There is a view in the Indian establishment that China has been most accommodating to India when the latter's ties with the US have strengthened. This may be true of specific instances. But relying on such an approach will yield diminishing returns. At some point, China may well conclude that India has cast its lot with the US. And then the bets are off. The challenge for India is to fashion a hedging strategy that does not accentuate China's deep-seated concerns about US-led "encirclement". Historically, the combination of great power and great insecurity has proved dangerously destabilising.

There is nothing inevitable about Sino-Indian rivalry. The two countries have already demonstrated their ability and willingness to work together on a number of pressing international issues: climate change, trade, food security. It is in their mutual interest to bracket their differences and embed them in a web of overlapping equities. Very simply, the India-China relationship is too big and too important to fail.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








It is no surprise that immediately after Union home minister P. Chidambaram's statement about migrants in Delhi being responsible for the spurt in crime in the capital that the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had a word of praise for him. "Chidambaram spoke the truth. Now he and his government should implement the permit system (to curb migrants), at least for Delhi and Mumbai", said an editorial in the party's newspaper Saamna, which is said to reflect his views.


For the Sena, Mr Chidambaram's offhand comment was no doubt music to its ears. Here is what the home minister said: "...nevertheless crime takes place because Delhi attracts a large number of migrants. There are a large number of unauthorised colonies. These migrants carry a kind of behaviour which is unacceptable in any modern city". This is no different from what the Sena and its breakaway group the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have been saying for years. And to reinforce their point, these parties occasionally come out on the streets and beat up a few poor people, usually belonging to its bête noire community of the moment.
In the 1960s, the villains were dhoti-clad south Indians, who allegedly were taking away clerical jobs from sons of the soil, i.e. Maharashtrians. Then, for a short time, the Gujaratis were the villains. Then the Sena realised that the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindutva platform was paying electoral dividends, so it swiftly moved to Muslim bashing. In the last decade, the wrath of the Sena and the MNS has been focused on "north Indians",

which is a code word for Biharis.


Biharis are now a very visible minority in the city, having moved here (and to other states) in large numbers. In Mumbai, they mainly drive autos and work as security guards, both highly visible jobs which bring them into daily contact with the average citizen. Given that autodrivers everywhere can, and do, make life difficult for ordinary folk, they become an easy target to hate. The message has gone home and Marathi films and plays routinely lampoon them; the virus has also spread to the educated class where there are deep prejudices against Biharis (and many other minorities). The Sena and the MNS have been quick to capitalise on this.
So is Mr Chidambaram a closet Sena man? Would he, left to himself, introduce a pass system which would control migrants from entering and living in a city where they were not born? Hardly. He is an erudite lawyer, Harvard educated no less, well travelled, well educated and a thorough professional. Then what makes him say such things?

Mr Chidambaram's comment must be seen as part of a mindset that believes that slums and shanties are hotbeds of crime. Since these unauthorised slum colonies are usually occupied by poor people, most of them newcomers to the city with little or no roots in their new environment, it figures that crimes are committed by poor migrants. (Richer migrants are apparently honest and, therefore, allowed in.)

Such sentiments are quite often heard in large sections of the urban middle-class which bemoans the erosion of the quality of life in their neighbourhoods or cities thanks mainly to "these outsiders". The outsiders can be anyone — recently Joel Stein, a writer in Time magazine, said this about his sense of loss at the change in his small town in New Jersey because of the influx of Indians. "For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor". Remember the furore that followed? Stein (and Mr Chidambaram, for that matter) did not indulge in or advocate violence, but the prejudice is there to see. Europe is going through internal debates and convulsions about migrants (mostly but not totally of the illegal type); on the one hand, Europeans realise that these migrants from poorer countries are invaluable for the low-level labour market, on the other, their differentness — language, dress, food and culture — make them strange, weird and presumably dangerous.

The important point in the Indian context is that the so-called "migrants" to Mumbai, Delhi or elsewhere are Indian citizens, with a constitutionally guaranteed right to live and work anywhere. Much as the Sena or Mr Chidambaram may want to, no government can impose any curbs on that right. Countries like China and Russia have a pass system that disallows anyone without a permit to settle in the big cities, but India is not China, however much its progress may sound attractive to us.

Mr Chidambaram has withdrawn his statement, unlike the Sena, which is wedded to the anti-outsider ideology.


But such a comment from the Union home minister no less causes a lot of damage. The next time the Sena (and its various cousins) attacks a few Bihari cabbies, it can easily say that its stand has been endorsed by the man who is supposed to look after the country's security.


The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai








Ayn Rand may not be popular with some people, but she was correct when she said that civilisation is the progress of society towards privacy; the savage's whole existence is public.


Prime minister Manmohan Singh has expressed his concern at the leakage of tapped telephone conversations into the public domain, and he has asked the cabinet secretary to submit a report on the lapse.


He has, however, asserted the government's right to tap telephones of those who were violating laws, but he was clear that these tapped calls should not be leaked into the public domain because it would be violation of the individuals' privacy.


While Singh's scrupulous distinctions and his assurance that rules will be adhered to are good to hear, the issue of tapped phones goes beyond that. Today, many of us use our phones, particularly mobiles, much more than we did before, and thanks to technology, it has become extremely easy to tap telephones.


That the government has to, for reasons of national security, resort to phone tapping is something most of us accept, even if we do not necessarily approve of it. The police routinely tap phones to nab criminals, a procedure the common man hails. Yet, in all this, it is implicit that any phone tapping is to be done by authorised personnel, who in turn are accountable for their actions.


This immediately puts phone tapping beyond the purview of private parties, whether corporations or individuals. No individual party can justify tapping a phone conversation between two people. Tapping such a conversation would not just be an invasion of their privacy, it would open them to blackmail or worse and there is no justification whatsoever to eavesdrop on another's conversation.


Indian laws need to be upgraded to ensure that equipment that allow corporations or individuals to carry out phone tapping are banned in India. Those using such equipment should be dealt with firmly. As Indians seek to progress towards greater economic prosperity, we should ensure that our progress towards being a better civilisation is not stopped.







The confusion over the complaint made by Justice Reghupathy about former Union telecom minister A Raja trying to influence his judgment during a murder case has been cleared up: in fact, there is no confusion at all.


Despite the claims of former chief justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, that he could not take any action because Reghupathy did not name the minister concerned, it now turns out that Reghupathy's complaint was very specific.


Justice HL Gokhale who was chief justice of the Madras High Court at the time has now clarified that Balakrishnan did indeed receive Reghupathy's letter with Raja's name clearly mentioned.


There are number of unsavoury aspects to this matter as well as to the extraordinary leeway apparently granted to Raja while he was telecom minister.


The matter right now appears to extend beyond the 2G spectrum allocation and consequent allegations of corruption. Such was the power that Raja obviously felt that he had that he even approached a high court judge and lobbied for anticipatory bail for a murder accused. The 2G spectrum scam has already demonstrated how deep the rot runs within our system and now it appears to have tainted the judiciary as well.


After Balakrishnan's attempts at obfuscation, he now needs to urgently clarify his position and seeming lack of action on this matter. Since two senior judges have made it clear that the former chief justice of the Supreme Court was in the know of events, his reluctance to take Raja on seems very unfortunate. Since an accused is innocent until proven guilty, Balakrishnan has this chance to explain himself.


The corruption of the executive and the legislature in India now seems endemic. Even the media looks worse off than it did before the 2G scam broke.


The judiciary had remained the last hope for those who seek redressal and Balakrishnan's excuses — or lack of action — do not do it any good turns. There will now be suspicion about the role of some judges — if not the whole judiciary — in colluding with the rich and powerful.


The judiciary is a vital part of the cleaning up process and therefore it needs to come clean. The Supreme Court has refused to back down on its comments about the rot in the Allahabad high court. Now it needs to look further than that. As for Raja's political supporters, they need to take a long hard look at the extent to which they are willing to destroy India's most important structures for their narrow gains.








No job is menial and it doesn't take innovativeness to think differently and indeed, make a handsome living out of it.


At 32, Arnab Mondol taught me that. Owner of 16 stalls spread over Central Kolkata and a plush flat in the upscale Salt Lake City, here is someone who began without a job, an emaciated purse and survived for a year on dabeli and bada paav — Mumbai's staple snacks that charted his rags-to-riches itinerary.


Son of a jute mill worker from Burdwan in West Bengal, Mondol came to Mumbai with dreams to make it big. For a year, he survived at a shady guest house near CST station.


Then it struck him. Kolkata, like Mumbai, a city where Bengalis love to gorge at roadside stalls, was oblivious to these delectable snacks. Mondol got his childhood friend, Animesh Misra to assist him to set up a small shop at Gariahaat in Kolkata.


Rechristening bada paav as boro ruti and dabeli as dadar kirti (which, incidentally, is a famous Bengali film) to give them a Bangla tastebud twist, Mondol struck gold.


From one to 10 to 16 stalls, the count continues. Today Mondol employs 30 people, drives a Maruti, but still takes turns to assist in making the dish at his stalls.


Mondol didn't do anything extraordinary. He just kept his eyes and ears open and followed what American educator writer, Peter F Drucker said, "Innovativeness is an act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth". If Mondol can, all of us can as well.







One of the interesting, and quite harmless, disclosures from the Wikileaks is a passing thought in the US state department that perhaps Hindi films, and their creator Bollywood, should be utilised to convey anti-terror messages to south Asian Muslims in Britain.


In 2007, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Farah Pandith, had met with some of Britain's Asian film professionals to discuss the matter. But it seems that it did not go beyond the ideating level. It is hard to resist the conclusion that popular cinema, which is treated with much contempt by connoisseurs, is treated with greater respect by politicians, policymakers and governments.


The Americans had enlisted well-known directors like John Ford to make war documentaries for the government.


In India, Hindi films have carried the patriotic flavour whenever the country was at war. It is a left-handed compliment from the Americans about the reach and power of Hindi cinema, and it should hopefully make critics revise their dismissive view of popular cinema.







Is the functioning of Parliament an essential service in a democracy? If so, can we please use ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) to make the Parliament function? We are tired of being taken hostage as our 'honourable' MPs hold a gun to our heads and make demands.

Everyone has a right to protest in a democracy, but how useful is that protest if it kills democracy itself? Over the years, that is precisely what our MPs have been doing. Dismantling democracy, brick by brick.


We have seen the MPs in this destructive role for ages.


We have grown used to them shamelessly abusing their power. We are surprised if an MP is not corrupt. We don't turn a hair when they scream and shout in the House and put unruly schoolboys to shame with their belligerence and rowdiness. And we look on impassively as they paralyse Parliamentary democracy, session after session.


The month-long winter session, which wound up this week with only 5.5% of the allotted time used, was the most unproductive session of Parliament in recent decades. Of the 138 hours scheduled over 23 sittings, Parliament sat for just seven hours. That is one average working day for the rest of us, ordinary citizens, who work for a living; deluded souls who send politicians to the Parliament in good faith.


India will not forgive the Opposition for wasting an entire session of Parliament, thundered Sonia Gandhi. Your fault, your fault! screamed the BJP and the Left parties.


The blame game continues. This failed session has cost the country Rs172 crore and 30-odd Bills could not be taken up. Why waste time debating boring stuff like land acquisition, labour laws, judicial accountability or reforming accounting standards when you could rush to the well of the House shouting slogans and hop about in mindless fervour?


So opposition MPs rose dramatically to protest the spectacular corruption in the 2G spectrum sale, the Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Housing Society and make specific demands.


The government, with equally unbelievable shamelessness, stoutly refused to give in to their demand of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rs1.76 lakh crore 2G scandal, which could clear the air on the country's biggest scam ever. A JPC probe may reveal embarrassing stuff for the government — but not allowing it isn't much better, since it's a bit like accepting guilt anyway.


So, though I believe the opposition's demand for a JPC probe is perfectly justified, their ruthless blackmailing to push for it is unacceptable. Parliamentary democracy functions through debate, not by hijacking the seat of democracy, not by holding a gun to the nation's head.


Of late, brutal blackmail has become the tool of choice. Doctors go on strike, unrelenting as they watch patients die without treatment. Blame the authorities for the deaths, they say, they should have accepted our demands.


Power groups — from workers unions to political parties — paralyse life with bandhs and strikes. Blame the authorities, they say, blame the government. And now that muscle-flexing rules Parliament. Blame the government, say the MPs as they bind and gag democracy. If they want Parliament to function they should give in to our demands.


That is the way of the terrorists. Surely, our learned MPs can do more for the country than holding Parliament to ransom and smothering democracy?









Two years after the Mumbai terror attacks, India has to thank its lucky stars that there has been no repeat of 26/11. But recent attacks — one in Pune, another in Bangalore, a third just before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and the last at Varanasi — were all carried out by the so-called Indian Mujahideen, after being outsourced to them by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).


Fourteen other strikes, including two on October 12 and 13 during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, as claimed by home secretary GK Pillai and dismissed by Delhi police commissioner YS Dadwal, were thwarted by intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation with the US, UK, Germany and Israel.


It is clear that India is still vulnerable, despite the elaborate planning for coastal security and the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the equivalent of the US's Homeland Security.


Very little of the funds and equipment provided for capacity-building have been properly utilised by the states, including Maharashtra; since law and order is a state subject. The problem is that while plans look good on paper, delivery is dismal. Is India waiting for another wake-up attack? Sadly, this is the history of India's crisis-induced response mechanism.


On the second anniversary of 26/11 the US was quick to issue a message of solidarity and warn Pakistan about dismantling terrorist infrastructure and punishing perpetrators of the Mumbai attack.


It has banned the Falahi Insaniyat Foundation, a cover for the LeT, and declared three of its agents as global terrorists. A New York court has indicted the LeT masterminds of the 26/11 attacks, including Gen Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief. Gen Pasha, some say, could be arrested in the US like Gen Pinochet of Chile was in UK. In Pakistan, no big fish has been convicted on charges of terrorism.


It is highly unlikely that the US will do anything more than say that Pakistan must do more to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and punish the perpetrators of the crime. That is exactly what happened after the LeT attack on Parliament in 2001. Pakistan is refusing to launch operations in North Waziristan, the biggest terrorist training hub.


Pakistan is the US's strategic ally and most favoured non-Nato partner in the war in Afghanistan. India is simply on its own in this game and would do well to beef up its own internal apparatus to prevent and pre-empt the next attack, failing which, it should be prepared with an appropriate response.


The ground reality reflects that the spotlight is on Mumbai. Home Minister P Chidambaram was there on November 26 and said "Mumbai will show the way for other states". Mumbai's track record in preparation for countering terror since the past two years has not been very impressive.


Only a part of the Rs126 crore, sanctioned immediately after 26/11, has been spent. The Ram Pradhan Committee report has not been implemented in full.


Similarly, while the Indian navy, the nodal agency for coastal security, has issued elaborate papers on plugging

gaps at sea through maritime domain awareness, little has been done in augmenting capabilities of the Coast Guard.


Not a single aircraft or helicopter has been added to the fleet of 45 since 2008. Of the nine states covering India's 7,600km coastline, progress has been reported only from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. And, of course, a Maritime Security Board is in place.


Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee made a 30% increase in the funding for internal security in allocations for the central paramilitary forces and also provided assistance to the states.


In one state, at least, the money meant for enhancing policing skills was diverted to housing. It is time we realised that it is more our internal than external security that will determine our well-being. A separate ministry for internal security is urgently required.


Terrorist organisations are forever changing tactics and strategy but India remains static in action and thinking. Al Qaeda has revealed details of its plans that aim to economically bleed the West. The LeT too, will be thinking out of the box to strike at Indian targets.


Chidambaram had announced that while the US took three years to establish its homeland security, he will have the NCTC in place before the end of 2010. There is no sign of this actually happening anytime soon. Our biggest weakness is the lack of intelligence.


We did have some agents and spies in Pakistan, which accounts for 90% of terrorist attacks in India, but our do-gooder prime minister, IK Gujral, dismantled the set-up in 1997.


The question that periodically pops up is: what will India do if there is another attack sourced in Pakistan? Knowing our state of intelligence, military preparedness, and political will, one can be sure we will fret and fume but do nothing more. For a country aspiring to be a global power, and not yet even a regional power, that's quite sad.







It is something that affects our everyday life in this city. Actually at the end of the day we are left to count the number of hours we have lost after stepping out of our homes early in the morning. There are endless traffic snarls. The situation is particularly bad around this time of the year when Jammu becomes the Winter Capital in a true sense after the Durbar move. The same logic applies to Srinagar; it is equally bad especially during summers. The Summer Capital can in fact face a worse scenario if paradoxically it has a good tourist season. Admittedly, this city too has a problem on this count because of ever-increasing rush of pilgrims to the holy cave of Vaishno Devi. Unlike the tourists in the Valley, however, they don't stay put in this city for a longer period. The priority of devotees mostly is to hurry back after paying obeisance to the deity. Many of them use alternative routes to and from for Katra for this purpose. As a result they do not cause much strain on the core area of our habitat. If we come across consistent pressure it is on account of galloping figure of personal means of transport. The winter traffic is jam-packed as and when the official paraphernalia comes in to keep its annual date. According to a report in this newspaper recently, about 20000 new vehicles have been registered in Jammu in the last two months. Simultaneously, the government vehicles almost in same strength have been added for reason mentioned earlier. Presently, therefore, the scene is chaotic around us. It is visible even to a naked eye. Those of us who have to per force drive around can bear living testimony to the old adage that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

A consequence of all this is that we are honing our travelling habits according to transformed circumstances. We start early to make sure that we reach our destination in time. Everywhere we run into bottlenecks --- not only in Upper Bazar, Panjtirthi and Pacca Danga in the old city but also Bikram Chowk, Canal Road, Talab Tillo and Janipur-New Plot stretch, just to mention a few spots. It is just a miracle if one is not caught in a jam. We prefer scooters to cars to meet our commitments in traditional markets. Flyovers that mark our landscape have been a boon. With the passage of time, however, it appears as if these have served their purpose. The plans are afoot to construct more of them. By the time these come up we would be in a bigger mess. It is anybody's guess. At the same time it needs to be recognised that the crisis triggered by the vehicular traffic is not typical of Jammu alone. It is a challenge to all urban locales. A colleague was appalled to witness bulging traffic snarls in Akhnoor recently. It can add to one's nightmare if a road is dug up. 

This is not to say that pedestrians are better placed. There are hardly any pavements for them. It will help if we can have an overview of the traffic picture in the State as a whole and usher in remedial measures like strongly recommended light rail transit system. 






If there is one wetland which now and then causes us sleepless nights it is Gharana in R.S. Pura tehsil of this district. Sometimes it is flocked by thousands of winged guests giving us immense pleasure. There are occasions when it is deserted. On the whole it appears that it faces a few problems that await a lasting solution. Before we return to them we will have a look back on some reports. First of all, an article in the Sunday magazine of this newspaper has noted in the beginning of this year: "0.75 square kilometres wetland reserve. It is on the verge of dying…unwanted vegetation of the mash like water hyacinth as the area is infested with weeds. The neighbouring land up to the International Border could be acquired by paying hefty amount to the villagers." Almost a month before that there was a news agency report in December 2009 which was based on the version of wild life officials and carried a mixed message: "Known as bird-waters' paradise, the wetland has yet again attracted thousands of migratory birds…around 3000-4000 birds of various species, beside bar-headed Geese, have thronged…However, wildlife experts and environmentalists expressed concern that there was a decline in the number of the birds as compared to last year's estimated figure of over 20000…In 2007, over 50000 birds of various species thronged the wetland but in 2008 only 20000 arrived here." It was mentioned that the encroachment had reduced the size of the area to 500 square metres, less than half of its official size." There was apprehension that the birds had been scared away by farmers fearing damage to their crops especially basmati rice. This was something that was unambiguously stated in a report in 2008: "It is spring and the migratory birds have flocked to Gharana… They are a beautiful sight, but the residents are not happy and complain that the birds destroy their standing crops…Having unsuccessfully employed various measures to chase away the migratory birds, the farmers have resorted to bursting of crackers to shoo them away." 
A meeting of the State Forest Advisory Committee presided over by the Chief Secretary in April this year has tried to put the entire scenario in a perspective. It has noted that the wetland reserve has not been delineated and most of the surrounding land is private land. No funds have been provided for a project prepared by the wild life department. Now we have a report which says that fewer birds have flown in this year because of the "apathy of the authorities coupled with indifferent attitude of the local people…the de-weeding of the wetland has also not been done properly to make atmosphere conducive for the birds." What do we thus conclude? There are challenges posed by infringement over land, lack of maintenance and, above all the resistance by the local inhabitants to the visitors from skies. This calls for all-round efforts for educating the masses. A wetland in our vicinity can only provide much-needed relief to our eyes in the midst of heat and dust. It can also boost our tourism in a least expected setting. We ought to rescue our treasure at all costs. Let it not be drained like half the world's wetlands that have vanished from sight.










The forward march of the Indian economy is continuing on the expected lines. The comfortable indicators promise to drive the economy out of the slowdown it faced in 2008-9, when the growth rate dipped to 6.7 per cent, after experiencing a 9 per cent growth for five consecutive years. 

The most gratifying is the fall in food inflation which has been coming down consistently for the last five weeks and has now touched the 17 month low of 10.3 per cent. It stood at about 14 per cent in the corresponding period last year. 

High food inflation has been a major source of worry to the Government for the past one year as it has been hitting hard the poorer sections of the society. Fall in food inflation is attributed to a better Kharif crop leading to increased supplies of agricultural products in the markets. With the end of the rainy season, disruptions in production and supplies of agricultural commodities have also ended. Economists believe that the stage is now set for food inflation to come down to a single digit soon. It was first witnessed in July this year but that was a brief relief. 

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has, in its latest report, estimated a 10 per cent rise in Kharif crop to 114 million tonnes against a 2 per cent decline a year ago. It estimates the Rabi crop to rise by 2 per cent, compared to 1.7 per cent drop in the last season. That should be quite reassuring for the country. 
A good monsoon at 102 per cent this year, led to increase in sown area by 7 per cent during the current Kharif season, said the CMIE. It thus predicts an all round rise in agricultural commodities with oilseeds expected to grow at 11 per cent, sugarcane at 15 per cent and food grains at 5.3 per cent. 

All this has naturally led to easing of pressure on the headline inflation as well. It has thus come down to a 9 month low at 8.58 per cent in October against 8.62 per cent in September. The Government expects the overall inflation rate to fall to 5-6 percent by the end of this financial year. 

It is in this backdrop that forecasters have revised upwards the growth rate for India this year. RBI's professional forecasters have predicted the growth rate at 8.5 per cent this fiscal. It had put the figure at 8.4 per cent earlier. 

Other economic parameters also are showing encouraging trends. FDI inflows during September rose by 40 per cent to $ 2.11 billion. Net capital inflows are expected to reach $ 91 billion by the end of this fiscal. Last fiscal, this figure was only $53.6 billion. The Government expects to touch the target of one trillion dollars in public- private investment in the next five years. 

The remarks made by the Chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab at the just concluded India Economic Summit in New Delhi, were therefore in line with the ground situation. He said "at a time when the world is searching for a new model of economic development India's experience as a crucible for new types of economic growth gives it a special role among developing economies." The conference took note of the fact that amid the slowdown in the world economy, India stood alongside China to register impressive growth rate. 
At the leadership summit in New Delhi too, former British Prime Minister Gordan Brown said that the Indian economy will double in size in next 7 years and that achieving a 10 per cent growth is possible. India's role at the G-20 is 'absolutely critical' and is right at the centre of discussion, he said. 

India and China provide a huge market to the world. While the US and Europe account for 20 per cent of world's consumption, India consumes less than 1 percent while China stands at 3 percent. 

A fall in food inflation and slackness in industrial production could now perhaps prompt the Central bank to ease its tight money policy which it has adopted to control inflation. Obviously, the bank will look at other indicators as well at its policy review meeting on December 16. 

What is of concern is the sharp fall in industrial growth to 4.4 per cent in September, against 8.2 per cent in September last year. This was because of a slackening in the manufacturing sector which forms about 80 per cent of industrial production in the country. But the fact that industrial growth stood at over 10 per cent in the first six months against 6.3 last year, gives confidence that it would improve in the coming months, more so when agriculture is showing a rebound. 

The challenge however remains to ensure inclusive growth to enable the marginalised sections of the society to share the fruits of development. As Dr. Manmohan Singh put it at the Leadership Summit, welfare of vulnerable segments of the society, reducing regional imbalances and increasing social and economic opportunities for backward classes, minorities and women remains the key challenge for the country. The Government has taken a number of steps in this direction which should help in achieving the objective. Its flagship programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act are doing wonders to reach to the economically weaker sections in rural areas. Similar other programmes need a push to speed up the process. (PIB)









Has the climate change accord at Can Cun in Mexico come as a surprise after near certainty that nothing fruitful will emerge from one more round of United Nations sponsored conference? Has India played a key role in ensuring this by changing its own stand at almost the final moment? Or with the best will in the world, nothing much can be done as the planet earth races inexorably to rising pollution levels? Is it already too late in the day to save the world from global warming in this grave winter of discontent with heavy snows in the Occident and chill winds in large parts of the Orient?

It is accepted wisdom on most hands that all of the 190 nations taking part in the U.N. talks have committed themselves to reduce green house gas emissions. The Indian stand that the First World must give assistance to the developing nations and transfer technologies to enable them to replace outdated procedures has been accepted after India voluntarily offered to commit itself to fast track actions to curb pollution without linking it initially to the US and China, the most polluting nations today, pledging to reduce their emissions. But even these two countries, the world's largest economies, are on board.

Yet Indians have concerns. Regardless of the international pledges, how does India clean up its rivers, the lifelines of a billion plus people, many or nearly all of these water bodies already stinking and filthy? That is India's own problem and no outsider, except an international contractor, could come and do it for us. Tens of thousands of crores of rupees have gone down the drain and yet the rivers become dirtier with industries draining their waste and chemicals, with little hope for even potable drinking water.

Yet the Government will claim that it is trying to build up 62,000 MW of nuclear power plants to diminish the use of coal and greenhouse gases. It is building underground metropolitan railways for big city commuters. It is using compressed natural gas or cng for over ground city transport to clean up the roads. Yet new highways and expressways have necessitated cutting down hundreds or thousands of trees and overtaking farmland in the rush towards modernization. The world does not stand still and personalized transport takes precedence over concerns for clean air even as civil society shouts from housetops, but its leaders live in comfort and style even if they sometimes switch off lights, but still use airconditioners and heating devices.


Yet in the backdrop of all these concerns, industrialized countries have agreed to provide $30 billion in the next two years and $100 billion in 10 years to support climate protection in the developing world. So far the earlier pledges have been honored more in words than in release of funds. Will the December 11 pledges meet the same fate as worldwide decline in many economies leaves promises on paper rather than on the ground? Alongside that the world appears to be returning to the cold war rhetoric, as happened during the recession of the late 1920s and 1930s and Nazi Germany and rise of Communism in Russia nurtured the ground for World War II before the end of the decade. 

Yet the Green Fund has been created so that the developing countries could be assisted to be able to report firm actions to curb their pollutants and the developed nations will record their own clean activities in a registry every year against two years given to the poor world. India's Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, called the deal a historic achievement, even as he was accused having departed from his brief a few days earlier when the climate change conference appeared to be heading for a deadlock. He had suo moto committed India taking certain actions although this was not part of his written speech. 

Questions were raised by political parties and in the media whether Mr. Ramesh had done so without authorization, but it appears to be clear that he sought instructions from the Prime Minister to make the offer he did as India did not wish to be blamed for failure of a possible accord. India did indeed play an important role in fashioning a technology development and transfer and setting up of an executive committee to monitor that this happens on the ground and is not just a visionary statement. The history of the Kyoto Protocol, on which Japan has been laying a lot of stress, is there for all to see. But the expectation is that Can Cun may give a start where past efforts have failed to take off.

Yet, the civil society in India has been quick to question the Government's motivations. It alleges that India has allowed the creation of a single instrument for developed and developing countries, removing the distinction between the two, junking the responsibility of the First World. India gets nothing in return, says the Center for Science and Environment. The Government denies this, but as days go by there will be heated debate in the Second and Third World over this. 

Both the First World as well as the Second and Third World have been insisting that economic growth and people's distress in this era of slowdown cannot be overlooked as climate concerns will require checks and balances. [NPA]








Pakistan's exclusion from the sub-continental team of hosts for the cricket world cup next year means that its dream of achieving parity with India in south Asia has turned to dust. The matches will be played only in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to underline Pakistan's status as a pariah nation. 

Originally chosen to be one of the hosts, Pakistan lost its chance after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009. Sri Lanka had gone there to replace India which had refused to tour Pakistan after the Mumbai massacres of November, 2008. But the rude shock which Sri Lanka received ended all hopes of the "epicentre of terrorism" staging international sporting events in the foreseeable future. Since then, Pakistan has been playing its "home series" in England or in West Asia. 

It will be a mortifying experience for the Pakistanis to see the telecasts of the world cup matches being held before cheering crowds in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The sight will be even more disheartening when Pakistan plays its games. Even more than the Indo-US nuclear deal and American support for a permanent seat for India in the UN security council, the fact that Pakistan has been pointedly kept out as a venue for the cricket extravaganza will drive home to the powers-that-be in Pakistan their grievous error of using terror as a part of a "diplomatic" warfare against India. 

Yet, it is now virtually impossible for Pakistan to climb out of the hole which it has dug for itself. That it may even be nurturing some kind of a death wish in this respect is evident from the Wikileaks exposure that the US ambassador in Islamabad, Anne Patterson, has told Washington that no amount of aid will persuade the Pakistan army to break its links with the terrorist groups. Although Ashfaq Kayani and Co. must be aware that the terrorists may cause greater damage to Pakistan than to India in the long run, their tunnel vision seems to preclude the possibility of changing course. 

A major reason why the Pakistan army cannot be made to rethink its strategy is that it is the master of all it surveys in a country which is democratic only in name. Pakistan's feckless politicians are helpless before it. They have no option but to second guess its intent and act accordingly for, otherwise, they run the risk of being toppled in a coup. The Wikileaks revelation that Nawaz Sharif's brother, Shabbaz Sharif, tipped off the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the fountainhead of Lashkar-e-Toiba, about the impending UN ban to enable it to clear out its bank accounts is also an indication that it is not the army and the ISI alone which are hand-in-glove with the terrorists. 

Given the haplessness of the politicians and their clandestine links with the terrorists, a modicum of hope can be reposed in the judiciary, which seems to have recovered some of its poise after the ignominious days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's judicial murder and the attack on the court building by Nawaz Sharif's goons. The media, too, as testified by Noam Chomsky, is now seemingly more or less a free agent. It is the latter which may be able to reflect the anger and humiliation which the general public will undoubtedly feel when it sees the world cup being staged in all the neighbouring countries but not in Pakistan. 

It might not have mattered much if the games were not cricket. But in view of the enormous popularity of cricket in the region, the sense of remorse cannot but be very high. As it is, Pakistan's reputation has taken a blow from the betting scandals in which several senior players, including former captain Salman Butt and pace bowlers, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Ameer, have been implicated. It will not be easy, therefore, for it to field its best team. Besides, the players will require considerable mental stamina to ignore the shadow of secret deals with bookies hanging over them.

To compound Pakistan's misery, India looks set for an easy run and perhaps even win the cup, as Imran Khan and others have predicted. If Pakistan had been able to field all its players, including Butt, Asif and Ameer, who are among the best in the world, it could have given Mohinder Singh Dhoni and Co. a run for their money. But now, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Dhoni will hold the cup aloft on the day of the final in Mumbai. 
The sight will be cheered by all cricket fans, including the viewers in Pakistan. But it is the popular disenchantment in Pakistan over its exclusion, if articulated strongly by the media, which may cause some unease in the Rawalpindi headquarters of the army. No army, even in a virtual military dictatorship, can summarily brush aside popular sentiment. Therein lies a faint hope for India. (IPA)









PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh's olive branch to agitated corporate leaders, emphasizing that while powers to tap telephones were needed in the world that we live in, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well defined rules so that they are not misused, has come not a day too soon. His instruction to cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar to look into all aspects of phone tapping by governmental agencies and to report back to the Cabinet within a month is well-meaning. That the manner in which as many as 5,800 phone conversations from August 20, 2008, and July 9, 2009, between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia (who is currently being probed for her role in the 2G spectrum allocation scam) and a number of politicians, industrialists and media personalities were recorded by the Directorate-General of Income Tax on charges of tax violations by Radia has not gone down well with corporates as a whole stands to reason. What has exacerbated the situation is the systematic leaks of some conversations. The point at issue, therefore, is not just whether the IT Department exceeded its brief by tapping Radia's telephone for nearly two years but also whether there was a sinister motive in leaking some conversation transcripts to the media.


While there can be little doubt that the misuse of phone tapping needs to be stopped so that the privacy of the individual is protected except when national security is at stake or when tax evasion and money laundering are an issue, the question of "perceived ethical deficit" that the Prime Minister talked about in his address to business leaders is also pertinent. It is all very well to cry 'wolf' as some business leaders are doing, but industry too needs to introspect on its questionable business practices.


It is not the responsibility of the media to keep documents under wraps if they throw light on murky goings-on between lobbyists on the one hand and politicians, bureaucrats and business on the other. However, there is a case for restraining the sensation-mongering that is fast becoming the daily diet of sections of the media. All in all, there is merit in industrialist Ratan Tata's well-meaning comment that if the government 'leaks' as it has on the Radia tapes, we risk turning into a banana republic.








JUSTICE K.G. Balakrishnan, former Chief Justice of India and currently the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, is in a tight spot following Supreme Court Judge H.L. Gokhale's statement about the controversy over Madras High Court Judge K. Reghupati's complaint against former Union Telecommunications Minister A. Raja. Putting the record straight on Tuesday, Justice Gokhale has clarified that when he was the Madras High Court Chief Justice, he had forwarded his fellow judge Justice Reghupati's letter to former CJI Justice Balakrishnan for appropriate action. In a complaint, Justice Reghupati had said that Mr Raja had tried to "influence" him through Mr Chandramohan, an advocate. The latter is said to have barged into Justice Reghupati's chamber and asked him to consider favourably two persons, accused in a criminal case, who were said to be Mr Raja's "family friends". Creditably, Justice Reghupati refused to speak to Mr Raja though Mr Chandramohan had handed over the mobile phone to him. "My stand has been vindicated", Justice Reghupati said soon after Justice Gokhale's clarification.


Surprisingly, Justice Balakrishnan's response to Justice Gokhale's statement has been evasive and unconvincing so far. The latter has, certainly, "punched a hole" in the former's version of December 8 when he said that Justice Gokhale's letter did not name any Union Minister having tried to talk to Justice Reghupati over the phone. While Justice Balakrishnan has reiterated on Wednesday that no minister's name has been mentioned in the report sent to him, he is keeping mum on the second paragraph of Justice Reghupati's letter (clearly mentioning Mr Raja's name) which Justice Gokhale had promptly forwarded to him.


As it is a High Court Judge's complaint against a former Union Minister who tried to influence him and subvert the criminal justice system, the people have the fundamental right to know the truth so that all those found guilty are brought to book quickly. On his part, Justice Balakrishnan will have to come clean on the issue particularly because he was the CJI and now heads an institution like the NHRC. If Justice Gokhale's statement is true, Justice Balakrishnan needs to tell the nation why he did not bring the matter to the President's attention. Had he done so promptly in July last year, the President would have forwarded the matter to the Prime Minister for suitable action against Mr Raja. In the context of increasing reports of corruption in high places, the latest controversy is bound to affect the fair image and reputation of the judiciary.









RAISING oil prices is an economic necessity but also politically damaging for the ruling UPA. The government , it seems, has waited for Parliament's non-session to be over before letting the oil retailing companies to go ahead with the price increases. Since the petrol decontrol in June this year it is the oil marketing companies that decide on price hikes. The latest increase of about Rs 3 a litre is the steepest since June and is justified on the ground that the global crude prices have risen to $90 a barrel.


For diesel, kerosene and cooking gas any decision on price rise is cleared by the Union Cabinet. Media reports indicate that a Rs 2 per litre hike for diesel is on the cards and a formal decision will be taken by the Cabinet next week. Costlier diesel will hurt farmers, transporters and manufacturers — in fact, the economy in general. It will push up prices of essential commodities and defeat the efforts of the government and the RBI to bring down inflation within the comfort zone of 5 per cent by March next year. Although inflation has declined to an 11-month low of 7.48 per cent this November largely because of the base effect, the oil price hike and its consequent effect on inflation may force the RBI, which is reviewing its monetary policy on Thursday, to take a hard line.


The government will suffer a loss of Rs 65,00 crore in the current fiscal year for selling oil below cost. The state-owned companies lose Rs 4.17 a litre on petrol and Rs 4.17 a litre on diesel. The government subsidises the loss-making firms in the broader public interest. India meets 70 per cent of its energy needs through imported oil. The opposition parties understand the economic logic behind the oil price hike but do not want to let go any opportunity to draw political mileage and further embarrass an already beleaguered government.









THE controversy over J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's statement on the state's accession to the Indian Union was revived over a month after it was made, as the BJP and some allied parties organised a bandh in Jammu in protest against it on November 8 when the Durbar — the government offices — moved to Jammu, the winter capital. The momentum of the protest has further been raised. The party is holding demonstrations at various places where effigies of the Chief Minister are burnt. Some national leaders of the BJP have joined these protests. The party proposes to raise the issue in Parliament and organize a bigger protest rally in Jammu, where its senior national leaders are expected to be present. The party has demanded an apology from the Chief Minister, who instead has reiterated his statement.


On October 6, the Chief Minister in his 90-minute speech in the State Legislative Assembly had said, "Accession of the state to India has occurred under an agreement. We have not broken that agreement, but you have gradually demolished it and people are aggrieved and angry for your act." He further drew a distinction between the accession of the state and that of other states which, unlike J&K, had merged.


The statement was hailed in separatist circles. Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, "Omar's stand is not only the vindication but also victory of the conglomerate's (Hurriyat's) stand." On the contrary, the statement has shaken the pro-India elements. The BJP has made it a national issue.


In fact, it is not so much an issue of views as of facts. The fact is that accession has no degrees. It is either accession or secession. The slogan raised by the Jan Sangh in 1953 for full accession and now by the BJP had no meaning. The controversy over full and limited accession had made the fact of accession a matter of controversy.


Similarly, it is simply not true that the accession of J&K to the Indian Union was under different conditions than those prevailing in other states.


All princely states acceded to the Indian Union on the same terms and all rulers signed the same instrument of accession. There was no separate agreement with the J&K state as contended by the Chief Minister, unless he meant the promise of a plebiscite. But that was subject to many conditions which are a subject of dispute between India and Pakistan. The National Conference no longer insists on it. What other agreement does Omar refer to under which the accession was made?


Originally the Constitution of India had divided the country into three parts: (A) The erstwhile provinces in the British regime, (B) the princely states, and (C) the states directly ruled by the Centre.


After some time, changes took place in the Constitution. Some states merged together as Patiala and some adjoining states called Pepsu. The institution of princes, too, was abolished in all states as it was done in Jammu and Kashmir. The others merged with the neighbouring states at the time of reorganisation on the basis of their linguistic affinity. Most of the states opted for a status equal to the part "A" states under popular pressure, mobilised by the Praja Mandals, counterparts of the Congress in the princely states. Thus, the provision for the "B" states in the Constitution was abolished.


In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, no major changes took place till 1964 when the head of state continued to be called Sadar-i-Riyasat and the head of government as Prime Minister. In the post-Nehru period, major changes took place in the constitutional relations of the state with the Union against the popular sentiment in the valley when its most prominent leader, Sheikh Abdullah, was in jail.


So far as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's distinction between accession and merger is concerned, there seems to be some confusion, as no state of the country has fully merged into the Union of India and every state has some amount of autonomy.


In fact, in a federal country, no state is fully merged. There has been the demand in the states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal and those in the Northeast for more autonomy, and the case of Jammu & Kashmir is no different from these states. In the same states, the demand for autonomy took a more aggressive form. In Punjab, it was taken over by terrorists, who demanded secession while in Tamil Nadu the Indian flag and the Constitution were burnt in the early years of Independence. In the Northeast, a violent movement is still going on.


Gradually, the Indian federal system was able to satisfy the aspirations of most of the states excepting the Northeast and J&K. The powers of the states expanded partly because opposition parties were elected to form the government in many states and partly because of a liberal interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. Earlier the Centre could dismiss any state government and impose Governor's rule, who represented the President and worked under the direction of the Union Government. Now no elected state government can be dismissed arbitrarily by the Union government as long as it is working according to the provisions of the Constitution.


In J&K, as long as the state government was run by a party different from that in power at the Centre — the National Conference in J & K and the Janata Party and the Congress at the Centre from 1975 to 1986 — the people of Kashmir enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy and there was no sense of alienation among them. However, now partly on account of regional tensions, internationalisation of the issue by Pakistan and partly due to the follies of the Central government, discontent was revived and continues to be there in the Kashmir valley.


Basically, the National Conference wants more autonomy as agreed upon by Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in 1952, which can be considered. But the apprehensions of Jammu and Ladakh regions about it cannot be dismissed. The first step, therefore, should be to reconcile the aspirations of all the regions which the 1952 agreement had taken care of. For, this also included a provision for regional autonomy.


It is within the jurisdiction of the state assembly to grant regional autonomy. It is the responsibility of the government and the political parties of the state to decide the exact form of regional autonomy. If regional aspirations are satisfied, it would be much easier to work out a consensus over the form of autonomy in the state or any status that the leaders of Kashmir aspire for.


The writer is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.







I COME from a place where for the middle classes, drinking is a guilty pleasure that they indulge in only occasionally. Men would slip into some dimly lit room on occasions like weddings, take a swig or two, rush out and go about their business as usual.


For good boys and responsible men, there is nothing like a booze party in Bihar. The early enquiries a girl's family makes about the prospective groom inevitably include "does he drink?" and the answer, if the responder is sympathetic to the boy's family, is often laced with a touch of outrage. "Kya baat karte hain (How dare you ask)? He is such a nice chap". It doesn't mean, though, they don't drink; only that they would not accept it.


So when I landed in Chandigarh, as liberal as an Indian city could be, I thought the circle was complete. Nightly drinks were never an issue and a mug of beer or a shot of vodka during the day was perfectly fine. If you were meeting somebody in the evening at his home, you were often offered a drink and even pakka sufis (non-drinkers) kept bottles handy to serve others.


In Srinagar, where I spent close to three years, the one thing I missed most was Chandigarh's get-togethers and that drunken camaraderie which is born between the pegs and dies as soon as you get hold of your senses. In those enlightened moments, you can share your "frank opinions" with your boss about the organisation's policies and him as well and be sure that your sins, if indeed, would be duly pardoned.  


My mother may not love me for this but I visited Chandigarh more than my home to relive those moments and take a much-needed break from a place where the spotting of liquor bottles on the streets would send the puritan brigade into a moralistic rage. There would be frequent stories about the travails of residents living close to a couple of liquor shops in the city. The young generation was being led astray, they would lament piously.


I had come to the conclusion that the City Beautiful was the best place to be tipsy because of its openness and not the least because liquor is so cheap compared to other places. It seems I am still learning. I went to attend a wedding at a place near Manali recently and was straightaway led to a room where close to 20 persons had been drinking for the past two days. My shocked expression was met with a matter-of-fact reply. "We do take breaks to eat and those feeling sleepy could take a nap. One can drink slowly if he wishes but your glass should not be empty," I was told. I learnt that the party went on for two more days.


I have no bones to pick with the moral brigade. But I do have realised one thing. A society which is at ease with its warts is a better place to live in.







It has been dubbed as India's "finest hour", but the victory over Pakistan in 1971 has largely been relegated to history. Today, on the 39th anniversary of this landmark event that reshaped the subcontinent, Lt Gen J.F.R. Jacob (Retd), who was then Chief of Staff of the army's Eastern Command, recalls the events leading to Pakistani troops laying down arms before the Indian forces


THERE has been much disinformation put out in India about the 1971 operations. My book — Surrender at Dacca — was published in 1997 and copies were given to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and Lt Gen J.S. Aurora in 1997. There were no rejoinders. The book has been translated into Chinese, Thai, Persian, Arabic, Bengali, Marathi and Hebrew and is taught in military institutions and some universities across the world.


Following is an extract from the book Crossed Swords, authored by Shuja Nawaz, brother of a former Pakistani Army chief: "In the words of a later Pakistan's National Defence College study of the war, the Indians planned and executed their offensive against East Pakistan in a text book manner. It was a classic example of thorough planning, minute coordination, and bold execution."


Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission findings

n Very critical of the role of Pakistani military and politicians.

n Pakistani Army carried out senseless killings of intellectuals, professionals, industrialists and Bengali officers.

n Pakistani generals surrendered prematurely. The military's continued involvement in running the government was one reason for corruption and ineffectiveness of senior officers.

n Corruption resulting from such involvement, lust for wine and women and greed for land and houses resulted in serior officers losing their professional competence and the will to fight.

n Recommended Gen Yahya Khan, Pakistan's then military ruler and 11 other generals, including Lt Gen A.A.K. Niazi, be tried publicly. The report recommended a string of courts-martial against top military officers.


Pakistan's commander in the east, Lt Gen A.A.K. Niazi, had sent a cease fire proposal that specified a withdrawal of the armed forces, para-military and ethnic minorities under the UN along with handing over of the government to this this international body. No war crime trials were to be held. There was no mention at all of India in his proposals. The ceasefire proposals were rejected outright by Z.A. Bhutto in New York, where he was to attend a meeting of the UN Security Council. Bhutto tore up the resolution vowing to fight on. A ceasefire was announced by India on December 15.


On the morning of December 16, Manekshaw asked me get a "surrender". The UN Security Council was in session. I had sent a draft Instrument of Surrender to Manekshaw some days earlier, which the latter declined to confirm. I took this draft that I had earlier sent to Delhi with me to Dacca (now Dhaka).


At Dacca I was met by representatives of the UN, Marc Henry and Kelly, who asked me to accompany them to take over the government. Fighting was still on in Dacca between the Mukti Bahini forces and the Pakistani Army. I thanked them but regretted their offer and proceeded in a Pakistan Army staff car accompanied by a Pakistani brigadier. A few hundred yards down the road the Mukti Bahini fired at the car. I was unhurt. They had wanted to kill the brigadier, but I persuaded the Mukti Bahini to let us proceed.


I negotiated the surrender with Niazi at his headquarters. On the draft Instrument of Surrender that I had earlier sent to Delhi but still remained unconfirmed, in a span of about four hours, a ceasefire proposed under the auspices of the UN was converted into an unconditional public surrender of 93,000 troops. This was the only public surrender in the history of modern warfare. The German Field Marshal, Von Paulus surrendered at Stalingrad with 90,000 troops during the Second World War.


Here, it is relevant to quote the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission of Inquiry, that had investigated Pakistan's failure in 1971 (see box), questioning Lt Gen Niazi : "General Niazi, when you had 26,400 troops in Dacca and the Indians only a few thousand outside and you could have fought on for at least two more weeks, the UN was in session and had you fought on even for one more day, the Indians would have had to go back, why did you accept a shameful, unconditional public surrender and provide a guard of honour commanded by your ADC ?' (sic)


Niazi replied : 'I was compelled to do so by General Jacob who blackmailed me into surrendering,…. etc., etc." This he has repeated in his book, Betrayal of East Pakistan.


Suppose I had failed to convert Niazi's proposed cease fire under the auspices of the UN into an unconditional public surrender of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers, the UN would have ordered a withdrawal the next day and taken over the administration of East Pakistan. I did not fail.


A new nation — Bangladesh — was born. And India became a regional super power.


Due credit for the victory must go to our officers and men who fought so gallantly. About 1,400 were killed and 4,000 wounded. Let us not forget their sacrifice. The rifle and helmet placed at Amar Jawan Jyoti on Rajpath in New Delhi have been recovered from the battlefield at Jessore. These once belonged to an unknown soldier who played an incognito yet an indispensable part in history. Situated in south-western Bangladesh, Jessore was the first district to be liberated from Pakistan on December 7, 1971.








TODAY is the 39th anniversary of the greatest victory India has won, not just since Independence but also in the last hundreds of years. It was on this day in 1971 that the Indian Military won resounding victories in all theatres of that war, with the crowning glory being the capture of East Pakistan; the birth of Bangladesh; and taking more than 93,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. It is on this date that the victory is celebrated as Vijay Diwas, but sadly only by our armed forces.


On this day, in military stations, onboard ships and at airbases, military personnel remember the officers and jawans who had fought wars for the nation, some sacrificing themselves and others their limbs. It is a day of rejoicing and jubilation, as also of reflection and remembrance. Yet only 1.3 million souls who don the uniform, nearly three million veterans and their families commemorate this important day. The rest, comprising over a billion Indians, are not even aware of it, thanks to the government that has no time to even commend the soldiers for their sacrifices. What a monumental shame!


Most European and Commonwealth countries, celebrate November 11 as Remembrance Day, while in the US it is Veterans Day. On November 11, 1918, an armistice (truce) was signed that ended World War I. On this day these countries honour their men and women in uniform. Grateful nations, led by the governing elite, recall the gallantry, sacrifices and the selfless spirit of their soldiers.


Similarly, most nations have days or weeks earmarked for felicitating their soldiers and veterans. All military personnel who had fought, died and lost limbs in wars and battles for their nations are honoured. It is a treat to see how proudly nations place their military men and women on pedestals, recall their exploits and honour them. There are parades with heads of states presiding, where the populace cheer and express their gratitude for the soldiers of yore. There are memorial services; visits to the sites where great battles were fought; escorted tours for the veterans still living, where much is made of them; and speeches extolling the bravery of soldiers and how the nation is beholden to them.


What do we do in India? Practically nothing, because our leaders are not bothered with such niceties as honour, sacrifice and national pride as it distracts them from their favourite pastimes, which are too well known to be reiterated. The Commander-in-Chief of our republic, the President, remains ensconced in the hallowed precincts of Rashtrapati Bhawan, instead of meeting a selection of military personnel at an "At Home"; the Prime Minister does not visit jawans guarding our inhospitable borders, or meets and discuss the problems of the war disabled; and governors and chief ministers do not even know it is a special day for the nation, not just for the military. A few years ago, political leaders stooped to the lowest levels possible when they dubbed the two recent wars as the "Congress War" and the "BJP War"!


Then there are the bureaucrats, the intimate advisors to political leaders. They are past masters at ignoring or playing down sentiments and coming up with ingenious arguments as to why there is nothing to celebrate! At one stage, they stated that any such celebration may upset the dialogue we were then having with Pakistan. They also had the temerity to question the need to celebrate something that happened decades back!


On Vijay Diwas, the defence minister makes an appearance at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to lay a wreath. He does so oblivious of the fact that he is laying a wreath at a place constructed by the British when India was a colony. He does not even feel the incongruity of having no war memorial for soldiers who have made sacrifices in the wars fought bitterly in the post-Independence era, even after six decades of Independence. What a monumental shame!


After Independence the government decided that instead of following the Commonwealth, India will have its own day for commending soldiers. On August 28, 1949, a committee chose December 7 and christened it as the Armed Forces Flag Day. However, the significance of the day, viz. "commemorating the sacrifices of the soldiers" was soon forgotten. It became just a day for collecting funds, ostensibly for the welfare of the soldiers. The status today is that state governments are unable to collect even the small targets laid down and the bulk of the funds are contributed by soldiers, seemingly for their own welfare! How ironical in an era when nine percent rate of growth of the GDP is announced with much fanfare every other day. Is the nation still in penury that collections are needed to provide some welfare to the soldiers?


Over six years ago, a Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (ESW) was created to give focused attention to welfare programmes for ex-servicemen and their dependants. In reality it was a cosmetic exercise as three existing entities of the Ministry of Defence merely started reporting to another set of bureaucrats. Even after six years, except for garnering additional vacancies for their cadre, the department is yet to come out with a single programme for the welfare of veterans. They also commenced looking after the pensions of veterans and the mess they have made post--Sixth Pay Commission is too well known.


Here is a department tailor-made to make much of the soldiers' sacrifices by conceiving a comprehensive and long-term plan to commemorate their valiant deeds, not only on Vijay Diwas, but also on other such occasions. The need is for vision, empathy and dedication, which requires staffing this department by military personnel. They know what soldiers want and how best to meet their needs. The incongruity of welfare of soldiers by the bureaucracy needs immediate burial. Let us do so without delay and start honouring our soldiers.


The writer is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army








Ayear or so ago, I was surprised and disappointed to find that some Swedish detective fiction writers I like had visited Mumbai, and that I had missed out. Adil Jussawalla, who recently returned from Stockholm where he read at a festival with a focus on India, tells me that this to-ing and fro-ing between Sweden and India has been going on since 1973 when the Kulturhuset (Culture House) was founded. The present festival began in October and will continue till January. It includes painters and film-makers. The film Peepli Live is being shown, so are Utsav, and Aparna Sen's The Japanese Wife. 


Many of us are not aware, Adil said, that the Indo-Swedish translation project has published ten volumes of Indian literature, beginning with U Anantha Murthy's Samskara, Mahashweta Devi, Krishna Sobti, Bashir and others, and 10 volumes of Swedish literature translated into Indian languages. There's even a volume of Akbar and Birbal stories. Translators and writers such as Tomas Losstrom, and Birgitta Wallin, editor of the award-winning journal Karavan, have visited India several times. 


For Adil, interacting with Tomas Losstrom was one of the high points of his trip. During a conversation-cumreading session he surprised Adil by saying that Adil's "Sea Breeze, Bombay," was the first poem he had ever translated from English. 


 After three days as a guest of Kulturhuset, Adil was the guest of the Iranian writer Azar Mahlonjian who was given asylum in Sweden. She is the Chairperson of Writers in Prison Committee of Swedish PEN, and part of a delegation that went to Istanbul to attend a court hearing of Muharram Erbey who has been in prison since December 2009. Through Azar, Adil met other writers in exile. They have translated Swedish poetry into their own languages. 


 Azar also took him to areas which he may not have seen on his own, areas where immigrants live, for instance. "I met all kinds of interesting, warm and hospitable people," Adil said. "So I didn't feel the cold which sometimes went down to 3 degrees!" There was a Swedish journalist who had spent a lot of time in Gaza and written a book of short stories on her experiences. There was even an Indian who has lived in Sweden for forty years. His name is Dipak Mazumdar, and he was once married to a Swedish woman but they are divorced. He has published a handsomely produced book of poems called I Have Peeled This Orange Before. 


 At a dinner given in a Kurdish restaurant by a Kurdish writer, a woman said to Adil that she was sad Swedes were now mainly known for their detective fiction. What about Strindberg, she wanted to know. But the fact is that Swedish detective fiction is known for its social concern - the treatment of migrants, financial corruption, the resurgence of fascism. Steig Larsson's absorbing trilogy is a case in point, but the same concerns feature in other detective writers as well. 


As for Strindberg, the street where he lived has been named after him, and instead of lines dividing the road there are quotations from his work! You can read these at leisure as no cars are allowed on this road and many others. There's also a Strindberg museum. "Stockholm is a fascinating city," Adil says. "It doesn't immediately give you the impression of a grand international city. But it's full of museums and galleries. Culture House is a very lively place with a number of halls in which different things happen. My hotel was close to Central Square where there is an open-air market every day where people come to sell their produce. It was Halloween so the place was full of glowing orange pumpkins. It felt almost medieval."


Kulturhuset at Stockholm, which is holding an Indian festival till January 2011. Films like Peepli Live, Utsavand Aparna Sen's The Japanese Wife are being shown there





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This week's good news on food price inflation was evened out by the bad news on fuel prices hike. But, both were along expected lines. Thanks to the so-called "base effect" — the fact that last year this time food prices were rising sharply and since last year's prices become the denominator in this year's price ratio, the rate of inflation would be expected to moderate — and to an improved food availability situation, the wholesale price of food has come down. Compared to an inflation rate of 16.73 per cent for food prices in November 2009, the number in November 2010 was 9.4 per cent. However, there isn't much comfort yet from getting into the single digits. Worryingly, few analysts see a sharp deceleration of food price inflation in foreseeable future. On account of the government's pro-farmer minimum support prices policy and due to rising demand — and the two may well be related if rich farmers are spending more on food and food products — food prices are expected to remain buoyant. However, the long period of double-digit inflation in food prices may have come to an end for the immediate future. While a movement of terms of trade in favour of agriculture can benefit rich farmers, it hurts the poor and the salariat. Moreover, with global commodity prices rising and inadequate availability of buffer stocks, managing the food economy remains a challenge for India.


On the day the government released the more comforting food price data, state-run oil marketing companies indicated their decision to hike petrol prices, in an obviously calibrated move. This too was expected given the global firming up of oil prices. The government's decision to get out of petrol pricing and allow oil marketing companies to take an economic view of the matter has helped India adjust more easily to global trends. The Indian basket of crude oil, which had averaged around $84.26 in November, has gone up to $88.47. It remains to be seen if the government has the political courage to also adjust diesel and kerosene prices up. If not, the gap between these different fuels will increase, making adulteration of petrol even more attractive. It is reported that presently Indian oil marketing companies are incurring a revenue loss of Rs 4.11 per litre of diesel on account of uneconomical pricing of the fuel. Given the recent surge in global oil prices, the subsidy burden on account of diesel pricing is estimated to be a whopping Rs 65,000 crore. The subsidy burden of uneconomically priced LPG and kerosene is expected to be Rs 53,000 crore.


 India has followed a middle-of-the-road policy on petrol pricing. Petrol prices in India are neither as high as in more energy-conscious European countries, especially northern and western Europe, nor as low as in gas-guzzling United States and an assortment of oil exporting nations. The government must have the courage to continue to charge an economically and ecologically sustainable price for imported fossil fuels. Between rising energy prices and moderating food prices, India's inflation rate remains above the long-term average of 8 per cent. So, the Reserve Bank of India finds itself on the cusp of a policy dilemma as it meets for a mid-quarter review of monetary policy.







Last week's agreement between the Barack Obama administration and the Republican Party to postpone a proposed tax hike by two years, in return for Republican support for an extension of existing relief programmes such as employment benefits, cuts in payroll taxes and tax credits for parents and college students, will have implications not just for the US economy but also for other economies. It can have the effect of lowering US interest rates and usher in a cycle of investment-driven growth. JP Morgan has raised its forecast of fourth-quarter growth for next year from 3 to 3.5 per cent, while other forecasting groups are even more sanguine. This surge in growth is expected to dent the unemployment rate that is officially estimated to be close to 10 per cent. This is certainly a break in the clouds for a country desperately seeking some economic sunshine by way of a return to rapid growth and lower unemployment. The reluctance to address the issue of the fiscal deficit setting aside political differences is, however, surprising. The tax increases on the rich were expected to finance the continuation of existing mitigation programmes directed towards sections more vulnerable to the economic downturn. It is now estimated that continuing to extend economic benefits would cost the exchequer an additional $300 billion, at a time when the fiscal deficit is 8.9 per cent of GDP and is expected to cross a trillion dollars this year. In letting political expediency prevail over economic commonsense, the leadership on either side has ensured that any recovery as a consequence of the deal will be shortlived.


The Obama decision will have global reverberations. The fall in the dollar will, ceteris paribus, make American exports more competitive, while making imports more expensive. With economic recovery in Europe nowhere on the horizon, it could dampen the nascent recovery of several export-driven economies. An equally serious consequence would be the inevitable increase in capital flows, especially to star-performing emerging markets already grappling with an embarrassment of foreign capital. Commodity prices will expectedly head north on the back of a weaker dollar, stoking inflation, which already threatens to derail economic growth globally. India cannot expect to be impervious to the ramifications of the Obama tax deferment plan. Export-dependent sectors, especially those with exposure to the United States, are expected to be hit, though the incremental decline may not be significant. A sharp increase in capital flows could compel the Reserve Bank to review its policy of refraining from imposing controls on capital flows into the country. This would be unfortunate because it would merely redirect capital to countries with less stringent controls. Capital controls once in place would be hard to undo at a later date when India could effectively use these inflows. It is the impact of higher commodity prices that should worry India. A contractionary monetary policy is bound to impact domestic investment which is increasing steadily. A carefully calibrated policy response is needed to ensure that India's growth story continues unabated and is not impacted by the consequences of Mr Obama's compromise.








Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay
— Oliver Goldsmith

This has been a bad year for the republic. The economy may have recovered with the revival of growth and our egos may have been boosted by the attentions of the great powers, but for practically every institution of governance, this has been an annus horribilis with scams and scandals that have shaken the faith of all thinking people.


 The corruption that bedevils our politics and the bureaucracy is nothing new. But the 2G scandal marks a new high in the amounts at stake and the Commonwealth Games scams show the brazen willingness to make money even when the honour of the nation is at stake. We also thought that the defence forces were more disciplined and honest. But Sukhna and Adarsh Society have shaken that belief. It is as if all those with power are doing the precise opposite of the Chetwood credo inscribed in the Indian Military Academy: "The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time; The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next; Your own ease comfort and safety come last, always and every time."


As for the corporate sector, the Radia tapes and the subsequent spat between two business leaders who did command respect have shown that we were right to never have counted on their moral sense. In fact, the problem of corruption arises because the Indian corporate sector has not yet given up the Licence-Raj mentality of seeking a competitive edge through regulatory leverage.


In some ways, except for the brazenness, what we saw was more or less a continuation of the past. What shocked was not the malfeasance but the scale and the audacity. The real challenge to our self-esteem has been the assault on our confidence that an independent judiciary and a free press would impose some standard of accountability. Along come the explosive charges levelled against the judiciary by the Bhushans, father and son. As for the media, allegations about paid news and the Radia tapes show how easy it is to manipulate them.


We have laws and institutions that are meant to enforce accountability — the Election Commission, the PAC, the CAG, the CVC, the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and, of course, the Law Courts. Yet impunity is the norm and hardly anyone is punished. There is no fear of exposure or imprisonment to constrain the many who can misuse their office. What is shocking is not the crime. Corruption is known in many countries. What is truly wrong is the impunity which ensures that you can never put a bad man down in politics or administration.


Why have we reached this sorry state? The usual excuses for political corruption are the need for election funding and the "coalition dharma" that protects corrupt politicians whose support is needed by the ruling party. This gets combined with a no-holds-barred political contestation that leads to the politicisation of the investigatory and prosecution machinery. That is why just days before the Lok Sabha cut motion in 2010, the CBI withdraws the case against Mayawati who then supports the government.


The scope for political corruption lies in the role of ministers at the Centre and the states in the exercise of the discretionary powers of the government in the implementation of laws and the management of public property, particularly public lands. This is reinforced by the continuing rent-seeking behaviour of the corporate sector as they try and secure a competitive edge by influencing policy, subverting the fair implementation of laws and conniving with politicians to grab public property on the cheap.


Can we do something to salvage our Constitution or shall we sit by as we drift further into the morass of amoral governance? Here are a few suggestions:


The reform of electoral funding and public funding of election expenses is now essential. Without that nothing will change. A Committee of Elders must be set up to consider the various proposals that are ready and recommend a fair system. Once the political class is freed from the compulsion of raising election and party funding through dubious means, there is some possibility that our politics can be taken over by honest persons.


Reinforce this possibility by shifting all discretionary powers conferred by regulatory laws from ministers to independent authorities, like the EPA envisaged by Jairam Ramesh. Bureaucratic corruption on an industrial scale survives because it piggybacks on political corruption. Make bureaucrats and regulators independently responsible for implementing laws and this nexus will be broken, and ministers answerable to the legislature will be able to enforce accountability and prosecute malfeasance.


A major source of corruption is the alienation of public lands at highly concessional rates for private purposes. Transfer all public lands that can be used for development to a sovereign investment trust mandated to manage them in the public interest. Prohibit all transfers of public lands at concessional rates. The problem that this may pose for charitable activities should be covered by directly funding them rather than through the subterfuge of concessional land transfers.


The two key institutions for bureaucratic accountability, the CVC and the CBI, must be made independent on the lines recommended in several Supreme Court judgments. Along with this, there must be a transparent system of annual declaration of assets by anyone holding public office, including ministers and members of the legislature and the judiciary. A Lokpal system and the option of independent prosecutors for major acts of malfeasance must be established to cover legislators, judges and bureaucrats.


A better enforcement of accountability on public officials is not enough. The corporate sector and their lobbyists, the media and the public relations industry also need to get their act together with an enforceable code of conduct.


Is there any hope that some of this can be done in the present political climate? In the enveloping darkness, there is one ray of hope. We have a Prime Minister of unimpeachable integrity. He now has to accept that his greatest challenge today is to restore the faith of the thinking classes in the major institutions of governance. He will not get the support of the political class for this agenda of political reform. But he can force it on them as, right now, they need him more than he needs them.  










Almost 58 per cent of India's GDP in 2010 is already accounted for by the services sector. With a growth rate higher than that of the manufacturing and the agriculture sector, the share of the services sector will only increase. In the services economy, retail accounts for the largest share. Information technology and telecommunication, financial services, health care, travel, hospitality and tourism, and food services are some of the other large constituents of the services sector. Almost 35 per cent of India's employment is in the services industry.


 Unfortunately, while each of these constituents has grown spectacularly for many years, and continues to grow very strongly, the quality of the service offered seems to be on a steady decline. Ironically, when these constituents were much less developed, they were able to deliver noticeably higher levels of service. A relative was seriously unwell recently, and was advised to get a set of X Rays done immediately. Unfortunately, she chose to go to one of the very highly "branded" hospital chain facilities in Delhi for these tests and was told to return in the evening to collect the results. When someone went to collect the much-awaited results in the evening, the hospital very callously said that the results will be given next day since one of their senior consultants was not in the hospital that afternoon to study and sign off on the results. Finally, only on raising a hue and cry to make the hospital realise the gravity of the situation, that the patient was seriously unwell and the reports were urgently needed for further action, did that relative get her test results that evening. An airline that started with a promise of good-time to its customers (and delivered it very admirably in its initial years) now has run-down planes with broken seats, understaffed check-in counters and poorly trained check-in staff, and a visible lack of "ownership" of the customer by its customer-facing staff across all levels. An iconic Naturecure resort on the outskirts of Bangalore which delivered extraordinarily efficient and effective service to its patients for more than three decades now finds its systems unable to handle the doubled capacity of intake and the first signs of patchiness of service are already visible to many but its visionary founder. Sales associates at some of India's oldest and largest modern retail businesses are increasingly unable to provide any worthwhile assistance or information to their shoppers notwithstanding claims of significantly enhanced expenditure by such businesses on deployment of technology to measure customer loyalty and on recruitment and training of the floor sales staff. Telecom service providers, even with the intense competition eroding their margins, continue to believe that expensive rebranding exercises and creative advertising ideas will help in acquisition or retention of customers, even as the hapless consumer continues to get bombarded by junk messages and phone calls, and worsening call-drop statistics.


There are many reasons behind the precipitous decline in the quality of service across most consumer-facing businesses. First, since these businesses continue to grow steadily, their promoters and top leadership continue to believe that "all is well" and an isolated customer complaint now and then can be attributed to the unreasonableness of that complainant himself. Second, in the quest to best competition in terms of scaling up, most of these businesses have not invested or are not investing enough to hire and train the foot soldiers, and instead, are diverting every available rupee to add more physical capacity to acquire more customers. Thirdly, the country is already very deficient in vocational training to start with. Whatever vocational training capacity exists in the country is largely oriented either towards manufacturing jobs or towards IT sector opportunities. Hence, there are large masses of young adults ready to get into jobs, most of which are being created in the services sector, and yet they have no training whatsoever other than a (mediocre) school-leaving mark sheet or a college degree that is something not much to speak about. A few days or a couple of weeks of "training-on-the-job" cannot substitute formal vocational training.


It would, therefore, be wise for most of the services businesses to contemplate taking a pause and use that to sharpen the focus on customer service. She may be forced to bear with bad service today but at the first opportunity, will strike back with vengeance.









Singapore gave it to China, a passion for modernist transformation that has totally changed the face of the island republic and is now reshaping the Chinese landscape, like a new picture painted on an earlier canvas. That bug seems now to have smitten Vietnam, where the urge for a similar modernist reincarnation is getting stronger.


Several things happened last October that prove the country has set its mind on a dramatic image makeover. First, Phase 1 of Yen So Park, a major urban redevelopment project being executed by Malaysia's Gamuda Land, was unveiled in Hanoi to coincide with the city's 1,000th birth anniversary.


 Second, tenants started moving into what, as of now, is the tallest building in Vietnam, the 68-storey Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), a glass-and-steel structure, designed like a lotus petal by the US-based architect Carlos Zapata, which soars above the still rather flat HCMC cityscape like an ambitious flight of fancy, or, one might say, a defiant wish.


Third, Foster & Partners, the famous British firm of architects that designed the spectacular Terminal 3 at the Beijing International Airport, stepped into Vietnam for the first time with a colourful ground-breaking ceremony for VietinBank Business Centre, a mixed-use, twin-tower complex (68 and 48 stories tall) that's set to redefine the urban landscape in Hanoi.


Under pressure from rapid urbanisation, population increase and a steady accretion of wealth from a strongly growing economy, the government has concluded that Vietnam must redesign its urban landscape to develop new urban settlements and redefine existing ones; and seems to think, following Singapore's and China's examples, that the job is important enough to draw on global design talents, wherever they are available, and not be inhibited by narrow patriotic considerations. As Hanoi's previous off-the-cuff experiments with town planning have proved, patchy or cosmetic renovations don't work and only make cities more ugly and unbalanced.


As growth triggers an exceptional real estate boom and draws in foreign investors, Vietnam is going to see more post-modern architectural landmarks dot its landscape and transform its skyline. Soon to be completed in Hanoi's new central business district is the $1.05 billion Keangnam Landmark Tower, developed by South Korea's Keangnam Enterprise and offering 579,000 square metres of floor space in its two 47-storey residential towers and one 70-storey office tower. Another South Korean conglomerate, Lotte, is developing a $400 million, 65-storey property, called Lotte Centre Hanoi, for which the ground was also broken in October.


Taking the cue, PetroVietnam has unveiled plans for a 102-storey super-tall skyscraper, which, by 2014, will be one of the world's tallest buildings. At least 50 more new-age skyscrapers of various heights are slated to come up all over the country, particularly in Hanoi and HCMC, in the next three-four years, changing the face of its cities forever.


The architectural transformation of Vietnam began several years ago as foreign investors, particularly from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, started setting up hotels, shopping malls, offices and entertainment facilities. But it's only recently that the country has begun to look skywards out of an ardent desire to change, showing a zeal that could soon make Hanoi and HCMC look like Singapore, Beijing, or Shanghai. Even five years ago, Hanoi's central business district used to be defined by paddy fields. Today, it's defined by a mushrooming of new construction as the rocketing demand for office and commercial space makes colonial villas and buildings unfit and impractical. The way it's going, HCMC might end up having the biggest concentration of skyscrapers in the whole of Southeast Asia.


Is that bad? Maybe, for those who have nostalgic memories of the days when HCMC used to be called Saigon and known, perhaps dubiously, as the Paris of the East. But the fact is that Vietnam, in the cusp of rapid economic growth, has little choice.


The idea is not simply to adorn the country with stunning pieces of architecture, but also to transform the landscape and create beautiful living environments. Yen So Park in Hanoi, for example, will include an integrated lakeside township, an urban park, and a sewage treatment facility that's going to be country's biggest and most modern. In southwest HCMC, Hung Dien New Town, surrounded by two branches of Cho Dem River, will be a living, shopping, and business complex where new skyscrapers will rise to various heights, including two defining 81-storey mixed-use towers.


However, Vietnam will still be Vietnam. If Singapore could come to terms with its past as it transformed into a dazzling, post-modern society, in the process giving its architectural character a likeable flavour and punch, so could Vietnam. In fact, because of its history, the mix of old and new in Vietnam, in a decade or so, could be even more esoteric than Singapore's.









The number of children per woman has been declining but the poorer skew the record


According to the United Nations Population Division's projections, by one estimate of constant fertility rate, India's population is set to exceed that of China in 2022; using a lower fertility assumption, this year is pushed ahead to 2029. These are, of course, estimates that set out probable scenarios. However, they do give some pointer to the huge resource requirements ahead for feeding, clothing and housing India's growing population. India's total fertility rate, that is, the number of children per woman, has been declining over the years, but not as sharply as China's, where the one-child policy has been implemented fairly stringently. Though the fertility rate in rural India is higher at 2.98 compared to the urban rate of 2.06 in the National Family Health Survey's third Round, (NFHS-3, 2005-06), rural fertility has fallen over the past decade from 3.67 estimated by NFHS-1 (1993-94).


 Fertility is strongly correlated to wealth and education levels. The total fertility rate or TFR decreases steeply by the household's wealth index, from 3.9 children for women living in households in the lowest wealth quintile to 1.8 children for women living in households in the highest wealth quintile. The TFR for India is 1.8 children higher for women with no education than for women with 12 or more years of education. (Click here for graph)


NFHS-3 data showed wide disparity among states from four children per women in Bihar to 1.79 in Andhra Pradesh and Goa. Most of the states, 18 out of the 29 whose data are estimated, have TFRs lower than the national average of 2.68. The reason for this skewed distribution is the relatively high fertility in a few northern states with large populations — Bihar (4.0), Uttar Pradesh (3.8), Rajasthan (3.2), and Madhya Pradesh (3.1). Other states with TFRs above 3.0 include Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland — these states also have large tribal communities. In the west and the south, fertility is low; except for Gujarat with a TFR of 2.4, all others have replacement fertility levels of 2.1 or less.


Total fertility rate estimates (number of children per woman)



















Source: United Nations Population Division

With growing incomes and educational profiles of women, there has been rapid change in fertility preferences over the years. For instance, over the 13 years between NFHS-1 and NFHS-3, the percentage of women with one living child who say they do not want more children doubled from 14 per cent to 28 per cent. The percentage of women with two living children who want no more increased from 60 to 83 per cent. Even among women with no education, more than three quarters were inclined to have only two children in the early 2000s. However, here again state-wide disparities showed up — more than 90 per cent of women with two living children wanted to stop childbearing in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The percentage of women with two living children who want to stop childbearing is lowest in Meghalaya (36 per cent), Mizoram (43 per cent), Nagaland (58 per cent) and Bihar (60 per cent).


Clearly, there is an increasing trend towards a "hum do, humaare do" family and this proportion would undoubtedly have increased since the time the survey was conducted. However, it remains to be seen how fast states with relatively high fertility rates catch up with the rest of India.


Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters. 








 IN A jaw-dropping move, the Uttar Pradesh government has converted 2,367 sq km of the countryside along the Yamuna Expressway, connecting Greater Noida with Agra, into urban land. In a country where policy to create new towns has not ventured beyond the 50 sq km allowed as the maximum area of a Special Economic Zone, this is welcome. But not so, the manner in which the changed land-use is going to be converted into actual towns. The government proposes to acquire the land from farmers and sell it to real estate developers. The only good thing about this move is that the conversion of land-use happens before land acquisition: this makes for a higher price than if the land were still farmland at the time of acquisition. But that said, acquisition at a fixed price does not address the multiple challenges thrown up: what will the erstwhile farmer's future source of livelihood be? Is the farmer assured that his price captures even a fraction of the gain in real estate values that will occur once the area gets developed? Is there a mechanism to claw back to the farmer a portion of future capital gains or to convert upfront receipts of the farmer into a stream of future incomes? Is the process of selecting real estate developers for allocation of land transparent and fair? There might not be unique ways to find satisfactory answers to these questions, but those questions need to be answered to avoid the kind of violent farmer protest that the same Yamuna Expressway threw up earlier this year. 


 Nor is that all. We need extensive urban planning to ensure harmonious, energy-efficient, inclusive living. Roads and public transport mechanisms, power and gas utilities, schools, colleges, playgrounds, stadia, hospitals, commercial areas, vertical living and working to save energy, networks of underground pipes for power and communication cables, fuels, water supply and sewerage — all these have to be planned for. Low-income housing must be part of the master plan. And the master plan, once finalised after consultation with all stakeholders, must be enforced, rather than used to extract money in return for exemptions. We need all this, before we start to cheer.







 THE right to privacy is not, strictly speaking, enshrined in the Indian Constitution. But the Supreme Court has inferred that right as being part of Article 21 of the Constitution. India is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 17 of which expressly states the right to privacy and the obligation to provide protection of law against attacks on that right. In that context, the Prime Minister's statement on the need to strengthen the legal mechanisms meant to regulate the practice of intercepting conversations is not enough. He must actually ensure that process is implemented as well as make sure relevant laws are framed to penalise and prevent unlawful interception of private conversations by technologically advanced 'non-state systems'. To that end, the cabinet secretary's report on phone tapping, ordered by the PM and which is supposed to be submitted within a month, must spell out clear policy guidelines. It must also be ensured that any data the state collects for legitimate reasons through intercepts must not make its way into the public domain. The question also is whether the state, or any agency ostensibly acting on behalf of the state, is infringing on basic rights of citizens. The sole determining factor for intercepting communications between individuals or groups must be the greater common good. And that encompasses everything from protecting national security to ferreting out criminals or instances of economic fraud. But it should not transgress into violating the rights of citizens who may hold contrary opinions or who may even be dissenters within a democratic framework. Doing so would vitiate the idea of an emergent, strong, democratic and free India. 

The issue, given that extant laws clearly specify both the context where tapping is permissible and the legal mechanism to be followed, is also of implementation. A reputation for facile state intrusion into data that should stay private and sloppy protection of the data secured by the state would ruin India's reputation as a business outsourcing destination as well.








 MAMATA Banerjee's oft-quoted intention to turn Kolkata into London could begin with the traffic control systems. The two cities' similarities — primarily in high Victorian and Edwardian architecture — can be extended to its roads too, as wide boulevards are crisscrossed by labyrinthine narrow lanes and alleyways. But there the favourable comparisons end. Whereas in London traffic moves, albeit slowly, gridlocks are still common in Kolkata, despite ugly if necessary flyovers. The local police has finally admitted that the higgledypiggledy way that traffic lights have been put up has something to do with it. For years the city's traffic made do without any signals, and now in some places there are 4 in the space of a few hundred metres. And worse, these lights are not synchronised, so it means stoppages at each one, with concurrent logjams at intersections. Only flashing lights and pilot cars make the Red sea of traffic part, for VIPs only. If Ms Banerjee indeed comes to power and has intentions of getting her state to move again, it would be judicious to send Kolkata's traffic police personnel for some retraining courses to London. It is better to move slowly than not to move at all, is an axiom that can have wide applications in the state. 


 Meanwhile Ms Banerjee's allusion to London seems to have rallied the British youth to action that is curiously reminiscent of the droves that populate Kolkata's perennial protests. It may then be appropriate if any visiting Kolkata police personnel on training courses in London do their hosts a favour by giving them a few tips on how to handle irate crowds as they are old hands at that game. Otherwise, with rising woes about unemployment, education hassles and making ends meet, London may turn into Kolkata instead.







DILUTION of lock-in regulations. 100% margin for QIBs in book-built IPOs. French auction for FPOs. Did any of these and many others go through any committee or even put up for public comments? And is this called transparency? The government packs PSUs with babus disguised as 'independent' directors and the 'independent' regulator looks on. Let alone regulations — what about regulator committees? Should we not have norms for committees formed by regulators? To twist a transparency proverb — those who want others to live in glass houses should first remove their own clothes. Compare the composition of any committee with the players in that market. How many are represented? Who represents them? Should industries not be represented on policymaking bodies by their respective organisations rather than individuals? Further, is it correct for those who have commercial interests to be on such committees and ensure 'regulatory' business? Also observe how some members, whose constituency one would think is far removed from politics, change with every change in government. 


 Sometimes multiple committees/subcommittees with overlapping/confusing terms of reference are formed, if one committee is recalcitrant, to enable cherrypicking. Many committees have a disproportionate number of members from the regulator itself. Why? Is it to ensure that what the regulator wants gets through and to nip in the bud what it does not want? Since the recommendations are dealt with by them again should not regulators be off all committees? Any committee can easily form its own secretariat. Regulators can always ask a committee for views on any matter. Such a view without regulator representatives would be more independent. Perhaps, this is the problem. There is another question. If a regulator is against a proposal recommended by a committee, assuming that such a recommendation even gets through, who then defends the committee's views before the regulator's board? 


 Should not rules for constituting committees be disclosed and made transparent? How much do we know of these committees and what they do? Sometimes, we only know the members. There is no information of how many times they have met and who were present. We also do not know what they are likely to discuss and what they discussed. Should not the attendance of the members be reflected on the website as a measure of corporate governance? A media editorial once stated that some members rarely/never attend. Further, it is not too difficult nor will it compromise 'secrecy' (an oxymoron in the times of disclosures and transparency) if the short points of the agenda are issued through an official press release. It is amusing and regrettable, but perhaps not surprising, that much of the information comes through the media through selective leaks that are nothing but trial balloons for the proposals. Sometimes, this was enabled, perhaps deliberately, by having media representatives on committees under a different hat. Perhaps, there were quid pro quos. Also, government and regulators are the only ships that leak from the top. 


 The history of committees is full of frequent coups coinciding with top-level changes in regulators. It reflects the evolution of behavioural psychology in group relationships — like lions. Every new lion that takes over a pride kills the cubs (members and ideas) of the previous lion. Does not the credibility of a standing policy making committee suffer if it can be changed, virtually in toto, every few years? Committees must have a definite structure — not by individual names, but defined by appointment/office held, regardless of who the individuals are. 


 SINCE discretion is a dirty word, how about a perpetual pro rataallotment of seats on all committees commensurate with the role and responsibilities of the players in that market? There should definitely be places for truly independent members. Repeat — truly independent. However, committees must be continuously refreshed. So, let half the committee be replaced (the individuals, not the bodies they represent) every two years or after 10 meetings, whichever is later. And please, none wearing more than one hat because they usually talk through one of them and exhibit schizophrenia. 


Frequent change of committee members results in recommendations of previous committees being virtually forgotten or reversed without debate. Is this not disrespect for the time and effort the committees have put in? This is one of the main reasons why we keep getting snafus. Because, instead of having a smooth harmonious flow of reforms, the discontinuity that comes with each new committee (sometimes convenient for regulators) puts past unresolved but important issues into the backburner and introduces new favourite topics. Every new committee acts like a Brahma, creating its own new universe. Ultimately, the old issues come home to roost in an unsavoury fashion and it is Kaliyug once again. 


 Further, the goals and objectives of establishing committees would be substantially enhanced if an internal functional code for them is also in place. While it would be too much to expect such a code to be as rigorous as Robert's Rules of Order, it would be beneficial for regulators to consider issuing guidelines/procedures for committees/subcommittees. Soon they would acquire a distinct character and style that could well become benchmarks for others to emulate. Robert's Rules of Order is the Bible for committee procedures, including parliaments, particularly the US Congress. Paradoxically, democratic bodies are following procedures formulated by someone who belonged to a most undemocratic organisation — General Henry Martyn Robert (1837-1923) was the engineer-in-chief of the US Army. He has only established in no uncertain terms that a disciplined approach always gives the best and fastest results. 


 Let the debate begin. Otherwise, committees could well become, if they are not already, Baa Baa Black Sheep (BBBS) Come-Meet-Teas, used or ignored by regulators, as convenient. But why blame regulators — they are also ignored, when convenient, by the government. Incidentally, a BBBS committee is largely composed of people who are picked because they have mastered the art of bleating "Yes Sir, Yes Sir, three bags full"! They open their mouths only to eat biscuits.










LIU Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his pursuit of freedom through peaceful and non-violent means. India was among the many nations that defied China's call for a boycott of the Nobel ceremony. New Delhi didn't quite welcome the choice. The decision to attend the ceremony may have had more to do with the need to adopt a public posture that India refuses to be arm-twisted by China. And, of course, the land of Gandhi has to be seen as an ally of a peace activist. 


But where do we stand when it comes to homegrown peace warriors? What if one of them is awarded a Nobel in recognition of a fight to uphold the democratic rights of the people? Will New Delhi take a principled stand and applaud the choice and recant its mistakes? Or, will we too accuse the Nobel committee of intervening in India's internal affairs? Nation states debate human rights but they need not necessarily respect them. India is no exception. 


How else can one explain the Indian state's response to Irom Sarmila? Her epic struggle completed 10 years in November. The Manipuri poet-activist has been on hunger strike for over a decade to protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in use in many parts of her home state. The draconian law promulgated to deal with insurgency creates a state of exception for the armed forces. Under this state of exception the armed forces have unlimited powers to lord over the lives of ordinary people. Legal recourse to any violation of the latter's rights is next to impossible. Dead people, in any case, don't debate human rights. 


Liu chose to fight the state of exception in China by working on Charter 08, a manifesto of dissidents who want liberal democracy to flourish in China. Sarmila's penance is to cleanse India's body politic. She has deployed her body as a weapon to seek her goal. Her choice to give up food has made her a security risk for the State. Her act undermines the moral logic of the State's right over citizens. Every 12 months she's taken into custody for attempting suicide. She's fed forcibly to ensure that her hunger for freedom doesn't result in her death. Her living presence exposes the hollowness of a State's claim to respect the rights of its citizens. The State knows that it can't let her vow reach its logical end. It prefers to be shamed by her struggle. But can we, citizens, be blind to her struggle? 


Fragrance of Peace, a collection of her poems in Meiteilon, her native language, and now available in English, is her charter for freedom. She writes about her urge to live like a child, "without malice to anybody/without hurting anyone/with tongue held right/let me live/like a child/a three-month old/without conjuring the web of imagination/in the pure citadel of mind/like a naïve ignorant soul/with hopes held high/like a devoted mother/nursing her precious jewel/possessive of her priceless treasure/let me live/like a child/like an ambitionless insect/ contented/selflessly." 


Elsewhere, she notes,"when life comes to its end/my lifeless body/please carry it/and place it on the peak of Father Koubru/my dead body/to reduce it to cinder amidst the flames/chopping it with axe and spade/fills my mind with revulsion/ the 'skin' that is sure to dry out/let it rot under the ground/let it be of some use to the future generations/let it transform into ore in the mines/I'll spread the fragrance of peace/from Kanglei, my birthplace/in the ages to come/to every nook and cranny of the world". Should peace be a fragrance only in the utopia of poetry? Just what purpose does statecraft serve if it can't usher in peace in our daily lives? And are we to believe that we need to kill to buy peace? 


Sarmila's poetry is an elaboration of her political action. Peace becomes a potent word when she utters it. It knocks off our pretensions to be a sensitive society and reminds us the moral dimension of politics. To borrow Sarmila's words, "the power of your sorrow-filled body can crush mountain and metropolis". The choice before the Indian state is to talk to her, buy peace with her. That may call for the State to reconsider its understanding of insurgencies. Ten years are a long wait for peace. It's also a wait that may have reduced the legitimacy of the State to talk on behalf of the citizens. Further inaction only gives credence to the argument that the Indian State recognises only the language of violence. Perhaps, a Nobel for Sarmila will help.







WHY really all this uproar over the 2G scam? Has the Prime Minister lost his moral authority because he allowed Raja to get away with it on his watch? Moral outrage without context is probably good for the soul but of little redemptive value. The biggest scam is the washed out winter session of Parliament. Essential bills languish, the government is not held to account on specifics, Parliament does not play its vital role. 


The biggest con is that telecom companies have mesmerised all and sundry into accepting that policy which is unfair to some of them is a scandal, even if it has immensely benefited the people at large. 


The initial licences for mobile telephony were issued to companies that employed the GSM technology. They cried foul when the government allowed companies using the CDMA technology, Reliance and Tata, to enter mobile telephony. Reliance bent the rules to convert a fixed line licence with some limited mobility into fully mobile licences. Tata rode on Reliance's coattails. Was this a scam? Did the ruling politicians of the day make money — Arun Shourie's personal honesty is no guarantee that the movers and shakers in the BJP-led government did not make money, just as Dr Manmohan Singh's personal honesty is no guarantee that others in his government do not make money — to change the policy? The GSM players certainly believed so. But Reliance's entry into mobile telephony was the tipping point for Indian telecom: it brought down the cost of owning a phone to . 500 a month and set off a price war that brought tariffs crashing down and made phones affordable by fishermen, plumbers and carpenters. In the absence of that particular scam, phones would have remained a luxury affordable only by the upper classes. 


 Reliance's entry was unfair to incumbent players, but benefited the people of India. The 2008 grant of new licences rigging a queue, was unfair to some telecom companies. But these additional licences intensified competition, unleashed another price war that continues today, bringing India's tariffs down to the lowest in the world, half a paisa for one second on the phone. Ever more people now own and use phones. 


 So was there no scam at all? Of course, there was. Rather, there were two. One was arbitrary allocation of licences, the other was failure to put in place a special regime to tax away the capital gains of those who got licences only to sell them off at a huge premium. 


What about the CAG's estimate of a . 1,76,000 crore loss to the exchequer? This is questionable on two grounds. One, it assumes that the revenue assumptions that prompted companies to bid for spectrum for value-added, third-generation mobile services could be extrapolated to spectrum for plain voice calls. Two, it legitmises auctioning spectrum off at a high price as sensible policy. 


High spectrum charges either make calls more expensive or erode a telecom company's ability to invest in and expand vital service capacity. Neither outcome is pro-people or pro-growth. Fast roll-out of high-speed data networks and low tariffs will boost India's growth. A networked economy will increase the tax department's tax collection efficiency. Faster growth combined with more efficient tax collections yield tax revenues far larger than spectrum auction proceeds. 


 Europe and the US auctioned 3G spectrum and companies paid up billions of dollars. Some of them nearly went broke and 3G adoption is limited in these regions. Korea and Japan made spectrum available cheap and more than 90% of their subscribers are on 3G. India should aim for greater adoption of the technology, low costs and fast roll-out. The overall social and economic benefit and state revenues over time all would be greater from a policy of low spectrum charges than from high upfront spectrum charges. 


But without auctions that lead to high costs, how can you make a fair allocation of spectrum to different companies ? The more relevant question is, if auctions lead to costly spectrum and growth-depressing dynamics, isn't that unfair to the people? Given a choice between being fair to the people and being fair to companies, priority should be to being fair to the people. Draw lots, that is fair. 


 So, the 2G scam is essentially about being unfair to some telcos and loss to the exchequer of undeserved capital gains. 


 Has the PM lost moral authority by allowing it to happen under his nose? The Left was the DMK's ally and outside supporter of the government at the Centre in 2008 when the scam took place. It doesn't admit to having lost any moral authority. The PM headed an unwieldy coalition government. It was more important for the country that the government survived its term, implemented as much of its inclusive agenda as it could than it punished an errant minister and sank under the weight of righteous morality. 


Today, the Congress' and the PM's hands are stronger. He would lose moral authority if he fails to initiate action on the root of the scams: use of corruption as the principal means of political funding.


Focusing exclusively on the 2G scam ends up in losing sight of the systemic flaws that make corruption endemic 

The 2G scam lost the government some money and was unfair to some telcos but it hugely benefited the people at large 

For the PM in 2008, and the Left, it was more important to pursue the inclusive agenda than to see off a corrupt ally







 LAST week, the renowned risk expert and philosophical essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb told your columnist during a meeting in Mumbai, "The mind can be a wonderful tool for self-delusion." Indian seers said the same thing in Sanskrit, we reminded the best-selling author of Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan. The sages also added an important rider: "The mind alone is responsible for delusion or bondage (bandha) as well as liberation or freedom (moksha)." 


In his latest book on philosophical aphorisms called The Bed of Procrustes, Taleb explains what he describes as inherent limitations of the human mind: "It was not designed to deal with complexity and non-linear uncertainties," he writes. Nor can this handicap be overcome by throwing more information in. "More information means more delusions," he adds. 


 "(Indeed) our detection of false patterns is growing faster and faster as a side effect of modernity and the information age," he warns. 


For this, he blames our 'overactive brains' which are more likely to impose the wrong, simplistic narrative instead of no narrative at all. This is because our minds need to reduce information, which only means we are more likely to squeeze a phenomenon into the Procrustean bed of familiar categories and projections, Taleb adds. 


Procrustes was a mythical Greek innkeeper notorious for amputating or stretching his guests to fit his inflexible bed after he'd fed them sumptuously! 


The murderous innkeeper met his match in the hero Theseus, who went on to slay the Minotaur in his later adventures: "After the customary dinner, Theseus made Procrustes lie in his own bed," Taleb writes. "Then, to make him fit in it to the customary perfection, he decapitated him." 


The Indian equivalent of Procrustes can be found in the legend of the demonic siblings Ilvala and shape-shifter Vatapi from the Ramayana: Horrific hospitality is used by the duo to kill unsuspecting travellers: Ilvala turns Vatapi into a ram for the slaughter and offers the meat to guests. Ilvala has the boon of reviving his brother by calling out his name thrice: Vatapi then emerges, ripping through the diners. 


Finally, like Theseus, Sage Agastya ends the grisly story by digesting the unholy 'meal' with his ascetic power, to break the jinx. One moral for modern times could be: No constraints for guests or minds! Give 'em free-size beds; safe meals.









IT is well nigh unprecedented for a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to issue a statement assailing the credibility of the immediate past Chief Justice of India. And yet that is exactly what Mr Justice H L Gokhale has done in saying that Mr Justice K G Balakrishnan had been less than generous with the truth in asserting last week that a letter to him from a judge of the Madras High Court had not named discredited former telecom minister A Raja, in a brazen attempt by a member of the Bar to influence the course of justice. As Justice Gokhale has drawn specific reference to the "second paragraph" of a letter written by a now-retired High Court judge that he maintains was with the former CJI, and where Raja was named, it would seem that Justice Balakrishnan did indeed attempt to suppress a serious allegation against a Minister of the government. Why would he have done so? At the behest of the government? If that was the case, he must say so and expose those who protected Raja for as long as they did. And if Justice Balakrishnan could be disingenuous in this matter, which must be relatively minor in comparison to larger questions of law he dealt with, what does it tell us about the man and about his role as a judge heading the apex court? Perhaps we are assessing Justice Balakrishnan harshly, and if so we must owe him an apology. However, this unseemly debate brings into focus, once again, the need for greater judicial accountability, one that had reached flashpoint during Justice Balakrishnan's stint on the Bench when he was seen to strenuously resist efforts to bring the assets of judges within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The judge did not cover himself with glory then, and has not done so now. This is a sad commentary on the judiciary, and lends some weight to the charge that a former Law minister had made about ethical standards in the judiciary.

When added to the stinging observations of the Supreme Court itself about the conduct of the Allahabad High Court in particular, and other rumblings about the conduct of judges in general, including such lurid tales as of subordinate judges cheating in LLM examinations, the situation can only be termed as grim. It isn't enough that a few good judges exist; their conduct cannot become a cloak for the many not so good judges or the several decidedly wicked ones.




AS expected, marching orders have been given to the public relations officer who issued the press note to which the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir had taken exception since it criticised the "demilitarisation" policy. As suspected, the officer (reports from the ground indicate) maintains that he has been made the fall guy, that the note had been cleared by his Army seniors. The issue is not one of simple error ~ by the PRO or his superiors ~ because of the conflicting reports that followed Omar Abdullah's protest to the Prime Minister. The initial line was that the note was withdrawn, that it was a "personal" statement from the PRO. Few in the "field" accepted that a lieutenant-colonel would delve into political hot waters on his own. Then came reports that the Northern Command had apologised to the chief minister. Senior officials at Army Headquarters subsequently denied that, perhaps because doing so would be accepting some responsibility. Given the strict hierarchy in the Army, a lieutenant-colonel is unlikely to be able to defend himself, after all the more brass on the epaulette the more infallible… that is the "system" that has resulted in "discipline" leading to subservience.

Yet the matter must not be permitted to fizzle out. It has in fact become a test case. The PROs, even regular defence services officers, function under the banner of the Defence Wing of the Press Information Bureau, and it is that organisation of the I&B ministry that must step in. It is a question of "protecting" the personnel deputed to it from the clout of their uniformed superiors. Despite its dwindling status the PIB does retain credibility: even in defence matters its personnel are the only "official" spokespersons. That credibility will be compromised if it does not ensure that it is not misused as a propaganda machine by "generals" obsessed with "media management" and (mis)using the media as a "force multiplier". Not for nothing has the military's efforts to set up its own media-relations unit been resisted: defence officers are blind to the "bigger picture" much of the time. The Northern Command controversy has to be seen in a wider perspective: the brass cannot bypass the regular channels for making their views known to the government. "Pulling rank" on a PRO is simply not on.




THE manner in which dissenting Left partners abjectly surrendered to instructions from Alimuddin Street ~ that they confine their thoughts to closed-door debates ~ cast serious doubts on the extent to which they valued their freedom to speak even on the failures for which the CPI-M now asks cadres to go to the public on bended knees. The RSP's Kshiti Goswami had been particularly critical of excesses committed on occasions like the police firing at Nandigram ~ only to be satisfied with assurances that partners would henceforth not be left in the dark. The promises have seldom been kept and, if three years later, the minister now calls upon those belonging to the "genuine Left fed up with Marxist deviations'' to look for a "suitable platform'', it proves that the CPI-M has not changed a bit. But there is a hint that dissenters may be closer to taking a decisive plunge. Three years ago, there would have been serious losses in severing ties with the ruling coalition and sacrificing benefits of running departments without much interference. At this point, there are more crucial decisions to be taken. The Left is on the backfoot and there is no guarantee that the CPI-M's organisational support can help partners defend their bastions.

The RSP has bases in north Bengal which have been penetrated by the opposition after the parliamentary and municipal elections. This has been made worse by clashes within the Left and desertions from the rank and file. To this must be added cruel evidence of the scant respect shown to partners when they highlighted anti-Marxist moves on land acquisitions and corporate entry into the retail sector. If they had to live with the realities of the CPI-M's strongarm tactics then, the situation may now demand rethinking when the Left as a whole is up against a stiff challenge and the partners are in a more defiant mood. The RSP's outbursts could suggest a pressure group being formed within the Left. So far there had been inconsequential noises about the party being a CPI-M "satellite'' and ambiguous notes on its relations with those said to be steeped in "arrogance and corruption''. The self-styled Left dissenters now need to find more credible voices.








TYGER, Tyger, Burning Bright/ In the forests of the night wrote William Blake, looking deep into the secret world to discern the mysterious spirit within. He saw a potent symbol, a preternatural emblem to startle and astound the human gazer. But today, the forest is sparse, the great beast is harried and hunted, its majesty disdained, its stature diminished. Where once it reigned and strode in regal splendour it now must skulk and hide. Its numbers are ever diminishing, its range ever decreasing. Where it comes up against humans, as it must, for humans are ever increasing in numbers and range, it excites fear and alarm, and attracts lethal hostility. It was a "gentleman" to Jim Corbett, who knew the tiger's habits as well as anyone, a terror to some, and a populist cause for others who banded against it.

The tiger did not originate in India, having been driven south from its original homeland in Siberia during the Ice Age, but is more closely identified with this country than anywhere else. And in India, where it has spread widely, its predominant dwelling place lies in Bengal ~ indeed, "Bengal" and "Tiger" can become virtual synonyms, as with the US football team Bengals of Cincinnati. But for all the awe and respect it can command, the tiger has long been on the slippery slope towards extinction. It has already disappeared from many places where once it roamed, and its tenure in most locations where it still exists is increasingly precarious.
All the more reason, then, to welcome the Russian initiative to convene a "tiger summit" at St. Petersburg, where the host was Prime Minister Putin and world leaders including the Chinese Premier and the President of the World Bank, and leaders of the conservationist movement, were among those who attended. Also present were several celebrities from the world of the arts and fashion, for the tiger may be losing out on the ground but its cause is gaining a following across the globe. This was the first concerted international effort on its behalf, to dramatize the need for action and to stimulate international support and commitment. The fund raising part of the meeting in St. Petersburg seemed to have gone satisfactorily in that a substantial amount has been earmarked for tiger preservation, though some felt that more should have been done, and they point to the failure to agree on a multilateral funding mechanism to support conservation activities in the field. But even so, the call for habitat protection, expansion of tiger reserves, and more effective anti-poaching measures are steps to be welcomed. The presence of China's Premier could be especially significant, for the greatest demand for tiger parts has traditionally come from that country, and it would be salutary if Mr. Wen Jiabao's decision to take part in the conference means that his country will now be more active in trying to stamp out the trade.
Protecting the tiger has many important implications, and there is an extensive literature on the subject written by a number of experts and specialists. Conservation cannot be a matter of creating tiny pockets here and there where the animal can survive while habitat degradation takes place all around: meaningful conservation requires protection of the surrounding habitat, so protection of the animal has a number of beneficial concomitants. For instance, as was reaffirmed at the St. Petersburg meeting, there is need to bring to an end the cutting of forests where the tiger has its range. This reflects present day concerns to ensure that development activity must be environmentally responsible and sustainable. The presence of the World Bank hierarchy at the meeting suggests that international funding for development may be changing its orientation, with the result that support for projects that were once regarded as normal may now be difficult to obtain. Big dams, for instance, with their unpredictable ecological impact, are already under criticism, and proposals for new ones attract vociferous opposition. Thus trying to protect the tiger is not a simple matter of providing the animal with areas where it can live without undue disturbance ~ and that in itself has been almost impossible to attain. What is now to be looked for is a different methodology of development, for which great strategic adjustments will be necessary. At one stage in India, the "temples of new India" were the mega structures like the Bhakra Dam which tried to harness natural resources for developmental purposes. But no more: such large structures have lost favour and alternatives have to be sought. Thus big and complicated issues are brought into focus through schemes for wildlife protection like that for tiger conservation.  

India decided that it needed no high representation at St. Petersburg and was content to send a relatively low level delegation. As already noted, the Prime Minister of the country that is by far the largest market for illegal tiger trade, China, was present, and this gave a positive message. India is probably the source of the greater part of the contraband, for though seriously depleted, it still harbours more tigers than anywhere else. More prominent representation by India would have strengthened the message the conference was trying to convey. Sadly, India's reticence here seems symptomatic of the slackening of the drive for tiger conservation within the country. It is not to be forgotten that the first effort in this direction was India's, where Project Tiger took shape some four decades ago under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. Her enlightened support made it possible for this major conservation project to be instituted, with the necessary resources and personnel.  She was the only foreign Head of Government to attend the path breaking Stockholm conference on environment in 1972, long before the subject became fashionable. In India, the right of wildlife to exist undisturbed was affirmed, even where there was a clash with human demands. The pioneers of the country's conservation effort, strong, masterful figures dedicated to a cause that trampled on a strongly entrenched establishment, found to their delight that their voice was heard at the top and much could be achieved with even the very limited resources of the government. None of Mrs Gandhi's successors has given similar unwavering support to the conservation of nature within the country, beginning with the protection of the tiger. On paper, the system has grown and more activity is taking place, but the backsliding is palpable.

The international interest evinced at the conference in Russia should be an incentive for India's national effort on behalf of the tiger, and for conservation in general, to be greatly strengthened. Consistent support from the highest quarter is irreplaceable, and proponents of environmental protection must continue to push for it.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







A mere coincidence it indeed could not have been when on the eve of the adjournment of Parliament's winter session – the session that never was, except that MPs made it a point to sign up for every day the so-called session lasted, to make sure that their pay packets remained unaffected – the demand was made by the highly-regarded BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for the abolition of the Rajya Sabha, the House of States or the Elders, if you will. 

The very thought of this nature must have come as balm to the aching hearts who have witnessed the gross squandering of national resources on a farcical winter session. As citizens of the world's most populous democracy, it may sound sacrilegious to say "good riddance" at the end of a session, but such has been the callousness displayed by our MPs that one is tempted to welcome the abolition of at least one House suggested by no less a person than the two-term chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan was not, to be sure, talking only because of the nearly four weeks of the winter "non-session" of Parliament – the Lok Sabha alone costs as much Rs.64,000 per each hour Parliament is in session.

His ire was directed at the Rajya Sabha, the House of Elders, which, he believes, does not really serve much purpose except that of a "market place" where parties and individuals are not loath to purchase seats through downright bribery, a price tag attached to, say, every MLA in a state who is part of the electoral college that elects a Rajya Sabha MP!

The chief minister did not confine himself to just selling of tickets; he pitied those desperate to buy these. He offered a compromise, though, considering that the Constitution has provided for a House of States and House of the People. In his opinion, the time has come to do away with the Rajya Sabha elections; what he probably suggested was a proportional representation system reflecting the comparative position of various parties in the Lok Sabha after every general election. What we get at present, according, to Chouhan is "open selling of tickets… It is a shame". He made another sensible suggestion, taken as a given by the founding fathers, that the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections be held simultaneously all over the land. 

Frequent elections have hampered development and indeed caused a sense of instability. It has been suggested by many and over several years, but Chouhan obviously believes he owes it to the nation to give it a shove on his own by entering a strong plea for state funding of elections. No political party, and he should know, can run a poll campaign without funds. Where does the money come from. He didn't admit the money comes from business houses, and thanks to the economic boom of the past few years, from the burgeoning coffers of industry. And between the donor and the recipient, the two have found many ways of overcoming so-called legal barriers.

These are important issues deserving of deep consideration but how can you expect that sort of honesty from a bunch of people who make stalling of Parliament for nearly four weeks something to gloat over. And get paid for it as well.

In the words of the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, BJP's Sushma Swaraj, what's a mere three or four weeks in the life of Parliament. The opposition had stalled Parliament for 45 days once earlier to back up its demand for a similar Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Bofors scandal before it was conceded. She forgot to mention that, decades later, we are still living with Bofors when even Quattrocchi has legally got hold of his money from the Swiss bank where it was held all these years. She also chose not to mention that the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament headed by her party's senior leader, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is already investigating the very issues of which she was speaking.

The government has willingly agreed to extend the period of inquiry of the G-2 spectrum inquiry to 2002 when Sushma's bête noire and then a rising BJP star and telecom minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government, the late Pramod Mahajan, had his hand in the kitty. And Sushma was not particularly fond of the ways of Mahajan.
Probably the most senior of the BJP leaders, Mr LK Advani was being more honest when, on the last day of the fruitless winter session, he told the usual throng of reporters outside Parliament House that "even with the business before the House not proceeding, it does yield results". I am not unaware of the gains the BJP may have made at the end of this winter session apart from costing Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, many sleepless nights.

The G-2 scam has, indeed, brought the opposition together and, worse still for the Congress, it has opened some fissures within the UPA conglomerate. The mercurial Mamata Banerjee was the first to sound the alarm bells threatening to consider her party's position at a future date.

Given her preoccupation with next year's West Bengal elections, Mamata could embarrass the UPA but then that would amount to her giving a miss to presenting the UPA's Railway budget which, for the most part, means she would be unable to further expand her capacity to distribute largesse. Think of all the goodies she has in her bag to offer to her clients as railway minister. K Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu chief minister, having initially and for long stood by his man A Raja, the sacked telecom minister, seems unlikely to abandon ship as long as it remains afloat.

In conclusion I would like to revert to Chouhan and his thesis. It is interesting to note that chief election commissioner SY Qureshi and law minister Veerappa Moily were present when the MP chief minister spoke. Qureshi confirmed that he had received complaints about envelopes containing money being distributed during Rajya Sabha elections. In such an atmosphere, it was unlikely that anyone would have taken law minister Moily seriously when he spoke next of his wish to make "elections here" a role model for other countries. This when the CEC was expressing serious concerns about the system. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi






In graphic detail, an investigative report filmed inside China was telecast over the Headlines Today TV channel. The report exposed the huge fake industry racket flourishing inside China with full complicity of the Beijing government. A large workforce is employed in factories manufacturing illegal replicas of well-known brands. These are exported all over the world with Chinese customs authorities allowing free passage. It might be recalled that, some time back, fake medicines with spurious Made-in-India labels pasted on them were unearthed in Africa by the Nigerian government. 

This fake industry racket in China not only provides employment to a Chinese workforce. It also helps augment the earnings from exports that the Beijing government desperately seeks at present. Although China is attempting reform to expand its domestic market and decrease dependence on exports, there is some way to go before it achieves tangible results. At present, export earnings help Beijing to keep afloat its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) by advancing loans from government banks that are never repaid. An estimated 60 per cent of China's urban population is employed in these SOEs.

The fake industry racket not only cheats the world on a mammoth scale. It creates serious health and safety hazards. The news documentary showed how China's fake battery cells can lethally explode, fake medicines can cripple patients and fake food products can poison victims. It might be recalled that, some time ago, America complained about Chinese toys that could injure children. 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is presently visiting India. He is accompanied by 400 businessmen as part of his delegation. Before he departs, he is expected to further expand China's trade with India which is already balanced two to one against India. The UPA government is expected to welcome this burgeoning trade relationship balanced heavily against India. With cabinet ministers openly acting as Beijing's paid agents, bracketing low polluting India with heavy polluting China at every step and in every way, New Delhi's puppet government cannot be expected to act otherwise. 

However, India's civil society can act. It can demand of Beijing to accept international inspection inside China by appropriate international agencies to monitor its industries and prevent fake manufacture that imperils the safety of the world's citizens. It can also demand that Beijing honours its written assurance given to India in 2005 that while negotiating the border dispute no settled populations will be disturbed, thereby giving up its claims to Arunachal Pradesh. If China fails to meet these two simple demands, India's civil society should declare a nationwide movement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to boycott all Chinese goods. 

People will have to be educated about how the Indian government is selling out to China. All citizens would have to be educated and persuaded to boycott every single Chinese item put up for sale. Every retail shop would have to be warned that if it does not stop selling products made in China, people would boycott all purchases from that outlet. Every single big business firm dealing with China would have to be warned that unless it starts winding up collaboration with China the people of India will treat that firm like a pariah. All this would have to be accomplished in the nationwide movement. 

Premier Wen and his large delegation may scoff at any such event happening. They are welcome to their perceptions. If they do not comply with the minimum demands outlined above time may correct their perceptions. Premier Wen should know. The puppet government in New Delhi can commit. Ultimately it is the people of India who will deliver.      


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Many of us are familiar with the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill who went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. We never stopped to wonder why the children had to climb a hill to get what should be available on a lower level. And nor were we aware of the kind of hazards involved in the venture that they undertook. According to the nursery rhyme, on their return journey Jack suffered a head injury and Jill must have acquired at least some bruises as she went tumbling down after her companion. 

No one, without a solid reason, would think of taking on such a project as trying to dig a well on top of a hill. But a man called Khedaru Bhagat did have a valid reason for taking up such a project. Khedaru Bhagat had found a job in the state of Bihar as a signal maintenance man in the Dhanbad division of the East Central Railway in 1969. 

But how did the idea of digging a well on top of a hill come to Bhagat? This spiritually inclined man was a worshipper of Lord Hanuman, and while he was working at his job, he found a hill nearby which had a very serene atmosphere, away from the noisy railway colony. After he retired, he installed an idol of Lord Hanuman on this hill, and he would come to pray here, away from his residence near the railway colony. The site was about 40 kilometres from the coal-mining town of Dhanbad, now in the newly formed state of Jharkhand. But although the idol was installed, there were no facilities of any sort on this hill. Even water, which was a vital necessity, was unavailable here, so whenever Bhagat needed to quench his thirst he had to travel about a kilometre downhill to get this essential liquid. 

He managed to carry on this way for some time until one day a devotee came to the place to worship. But when he asked Bhagat for water the old man was unable to oblige him, as there was no water available here. He told him that he would be able to get water only if he went down the hill, a kilometre or so away. But this incident really set Bhagat thinking. There could be other devotees who might come to worship here, and they would be put to real inconvenience and discomfort if he could not offer them any water. So Bhagat made his decision. He would take on the burdensome task of digging for a well on top of the hill. 

But there were many sceptics among the local people, and when they came to know that a man well into his sixties was going to single-handedly dig a well on top of a hill, they ridiculed him. However, Bhagat refused to be discouraged. With his firm faith in the Almighty, he continued with his back-breaking labour, day after day, breaking the rocks on the hill, until he was able to find a source of water. It took him about a decade to complete his mission, but finally there really was a well on top of the hill. 

The local people who had ridiculed Bhagat had to eat their words, and now looked on him with reverence. The news of the old man's achievement was spread by these people, and soon everyone around came to know about the well on top of a hill. More and more devotees now started coming to worship here, and drinking water was easily available at the well. Gradually, the place turned into a centre of pilgrimage and was named Khedaru Baba Pahad (Khedaru Baba's Mountain). Later, a proper temple to Lord Hanuman was built here, along with a park surrounded by 25 sandalwood trees. An ashram was also built which soon became famous as Khedaru Baba ka Ashram. 

When questioned by journalists about his amazing feat at the age of 75, the septuagenarian admitted that breaking the hard rocks was not an easy matter, but it was Lord Hanuman who kept guiding him until he was able to complete his mission. They say that faith can move mountains. In this case, it enabled a firm believer to dig a well on a rocky hilltop. Khedaru Bhagat has two sons, both of whom are serving the country as personnel in the Border Security Force.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




First Ratan Tata and then Deepak Parekh — two respected figures from corporate India — have gone public to express apprehensions that phone-tapping by the government can potentially scare away overseas investors. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done well to respond to the anxieties that have been expressed.


The political class is expected to be sensitive to opinions articulated by responsible sections of opinion. (BJP stalwart L.K. Advani should be too instead of taking a swipe at the PM.) Given Dr Singh's credentials — as India's first reformer finance minister — we can straightaway take him at face value when he says his government wishes to "provide a level playing field for private businesses, free from fear or favour".


In a way this says everything: Businesses may operate without fear but may expect no particular favour (where breach of the law or ethics are concerned). This is a fair observation, one to which most Indians are likely to be sympathetic. The Prime Minister notes that he is aware of the "nervousness in some sections of the corporate sector" — clearly he does not believe that the anxiety is universal — arising out of the powers conferred upon the government to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money-laundering. It might be worth noting that the corporate world had not expressed any worries earlier about the government's powers to listen in to conversations in the public good, as defined by the law. If their concerns arise from the single instance of the Niira Radia tapes, then was it really warranted on their part to generalise the issue as though we had an across-the-board problem? Further, those who are nervous have not shown that tapping of Ms Radia's phone conversations occurred in a specified environment, which if not checked can degenerate into a general problem. The broad question is: If the problem is not widespread, or threatening to become large-scale, what are we talking about?


At the same, the government also needs to visibly demonstrate to the people of this country that it was actually propelled by national security, tax evasion or money-laundering considerations when its investigators decided to snoop on Ms Radia's conversations. "Leaks" to the media suggesting that Ms Radia was/is a "foreign spy" will simply not do; indeed, these remind us of unsavoury police methods. The Radia tapes have produced a wealth of material that tells us something about the fallen state of sections of the rich and powerful in our country. But this does not mean that the government can simply tap anyone's phone without having a demonstrably good reason in line with the law.


This is where the Prime Minister's assurance comes in — that his government will abide strictly by the procedures laid down in the law. The Cabinet Secretary has been given a month's time to determine if these procedures are followed and were observed in the Radia case. Dr Singh has obviously taken this step to instill greater confidence in those who have worries about breach of privacy. It is necessary, therefore, that the Cabinet Secretary's findings are made public.







Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India provides a much-needed opportunity for both sides to take stock of bilateral ties. In particular, they should look to reinforce the fundamental understanding underpinning their relationship. Since Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, Sino-Indian relations have been premised on the understanding that the boundary dispute should not hold back ties in other areas, especially economic relations.


The dispute would be addressed by incremental measures, while economic engagement would deepen and create real inter-dependence. The rapid economic growth of China and India, and the resultant increase in their military and diplomatic clout have introduced additional considerations.


In the language of financial markets, both countries continue to bet that the fundamental understanding would work, but also hedge against the possibility that it doesn't and so seek to minimise their exposure to risk. India hopes that increasing economic cooperation would ensure that withdrawal from a policy of engagement would prove too costly for China. But it also needs to ensure that if the dramatic rise of China turns dangerous it has options at hand. These include suitable modernisation of its military forces and infrastructure, and the cultivation of ties with the US and other major Asian players. China, in turn, hopes that close economic relations would ensure that India does not sign up to any countervailing coalition against it. But if India does so, it should have options to check India's strategic influence: primarily by continuing to prop up Pakistan and by creating a footprint in the Indian Ocean region. The challenge for both countries now is to ensure both that basic understanding pays off and that the hedge does not undermine the bet.


Economic issues will be the major area of focus during the visit. Bilateral trade has grown tremendously over the last two decades from a mere $340 million in 1992 to an estimated $60 billion this year. Yet given the size and potential of both the economies, Sino-Indian trade remains low. The pattern of trade too is a matter for concern. This year India has already registered a trade deficit of $19.2 billion. Nearly 60 per cent of Indian exports are raw materials, principally iron ore. India is unable to leverage its strengths in information technology and pharmaceuticals because of non-tariff barriers in China. Beijing must address these problems.


Then again, India must see the trade deficit with China in context. The fact is that India runs an overall trade deficit. Unless fundamental problems, such as weak infrastructure, are addressed we cannot expect to bridge this deficit. Indeed, imports from China,power equipment, for instance, will go some way in tackling these problems. In the short-term, the best way to rectify trade imbalances may be to expand Chinese investment in India. Both sides have expressed their willingness to move in this direction. Emulating China's practice with Western companies, India should push for Chinese firms to set up joint ventures here. India requires investment in infrastructure to the tune of $1 trillion in the coming decade. Given China's desire to diversify its vast international reserves, India could well become an attractive opportunity. Progress on the other part — of the basic understanding in resolving the boundary dispute — has been halting. The 2005 agreement on "political parameters and guiding principles" held out the prospect of an agreement in the not-too-distant future. But subsequent negotiations have not made much headway owing to several factors: China's insistence on claiming Tawang; domestic politics and public opinion in both countries; the shadow cast by the Tibet problem. If an agreement is not in the offing, India need not be unduly concerned. Excessive eagerness on our part for a settlement might itself lead the Chinese to toughen their negotiating stance.


But New Delhi does need to manage public perception on the boundary question. Indian officials concede that the boundary stabilisation mechanisms have actually worked well. But sections of our media periodically go into a fit over Chinese "encroachments". To be sure, the government cannot gag the media. Yet it can do more to educate the public on this sensitive matter. The Chinese ambassador was spot on when he put his finger on this issue. But the problem is equally on the Chinese side where state-owned media and analysts have acted less than responsibly in their coverage and commentary.


Even as the two sides address these issues, they need to calibrate their hedging strategies. China's policy on visas for Indian Kashmiris may be aimed at bolstering its ties with Pakistan, but it has created serious misgivings in India. New Delhi was forced to point out to Beijing that its interests in Kashmir were akin to China's interests in Taiwan and Tibet. China appears to have realised that it overplayed its hand and is revisiting its policy. Similarly, China's continuing opaque nuclear relationship with Pakistan is generating concerns in India. Beijing would do well to address these instead of sweeping them aside with bland pronouncements.


India, for its part, should examine its evolving relationship with the US and its Asian allies. There is a view in the Indian establishment that China has been most accommodating to India when the latter's ties with the US have strengthened. But relying on such an approach will yield diminishing returns. At some point, China may well conclude that India has cast its lot with the US. And then the bets are off. The challenge for India is to fashion a hedging strategy that does not accentuate China's deep-seated concerns about US-led "encirclement". Historically, the combination of great power and great insecurity has proved dangerously destabilising.


There is nothing inevitable about Sino-Indian rivalry. The two countries have already demonstrated their ability and willingness to work together on a number of pressing international issues: climate change, trade, food security. It is in their mutual interest to bracket their differences and embed them in a web of overlapping equities. Very simply, the India-China relationship is too big and too important to fail.


* Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








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 stabilising 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 globalisation, 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 US-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 cityhall.


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 townhall 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, civilised 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 honoured with a Nobel, it is an honour 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 whistleblowers 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.









The Opposition has every right to raise issues of public interest. If they do not agree with the policies of the government, they are free to draw the attention of the people on any issue. But stalling parliament in perpetuity is a crime against the highest institution in the country. It might be ok if proceedings are disrupted for a day or two, but stalling the two Houses of parliament for the entire session is unprecedented and unwarranted. The move is undemocratic.


Parliament is a place where representatives of the people debate and discuss issues. It cannot be a forum primarily for disruption. What the Opposition, specially the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is doing could well be termed unethical and degenerating. I think that the NDA, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is trying to hide its numerous acts of omission and commission such as the Karnataka land scam. Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's threat to expose the BJP's national leadership in the land scam and illegal mining has hamstrung the party from taking action against him.


Many such cases are haunting the BJP, including the matter of Ajay Sancheti, a close associate of BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who owns a flat in Mumbai's Adarsh Society, the involvement of Sudhanshu Mittal in the Commonwealth Games scam and the dumper "ghotala" in Madhya Pradesh.


In a bid to hide those wrongdoings, the BJP seeks to prevent a discussion in parliament. The party has taken a ride on the shoulders of other opposition parties. And other parties have served BJP's purpose.


To run the government is the sole responsibility of the ruling United Progressive Alliance. But to run parliament is the collective responsibility of the government and the opposition. The government is doing its part of the job. When Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has taken up the task of looking into the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the 2G scam, why can't the country wait for its findings? By stalling parliament, we are weakening our constitutional institutions.


My view is that the current Lok Sabha should be saved from early dissolution, as mid-term elections are not in the interest of the nation. A large amount of public money would be wasted if fresh elections were prematurely forced on the country on account of the irresponsibility of the Opposition. The Opposition and the ruling coalition should come to the table and thrash out a solution. I hope that sanity will prevail among the leaders and we are able to rescue democracy whose high points are debate and discussion.


— Dr Shakeel Ahmed, AICC spokesperson and former Union minister


* * *


Why is Congress afraid of a JPC?


By Shahnawaz Hussain


It is the responsibility of the government to see that parliament functions smoothly. It is unfortunate that the Winter session got stalled. But to put the blame on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for non-functioning of parliament is incorrect. It is not just the BJP or the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but the entire opposition is demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into scams, including in the matter of the 2G spectrum allocation. The entire Opposition was united in its demand for a JPC probe. This proves that the scams are a major issue.


It was the firm stand of the Opposition that exposed the Congress-led government on this question. The government was forced to take action but that is not enough. The 2G spectrum allocation scam alone cost the exchequer `1.76 lakh crore. This is a huge amount.


A probe into scams by a JPC is not an illogical demand. JPC probes have been held during the tenure of the NDA as well as the Congress in the past. The gravity of the situation is such that nothing less than a JPC enquiry can do justice. The JPC is the only appropriate institution to probe the 2G spectrum allocation irregularities.


A JPC is necessary as it will probe not only the role of former telecom minister A. Raja but can also look into other aspects that have emerged following the release of the Niira Radia tapes. These tapes have given a different angle to the 2G scam — the biggest scam the country has seen after Independence. The BJP has already clarified that there will be no compromise on the JPC issue, and that we will take the issue before the people through protest rallies.


The government tried to create confusion by suggesting that we are undermining the authority of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by our senior leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. But our senior leaders, including L.K. Advani, have clarified that they never underestimated the PAC. But some of the issues, like the Radia tapes, cannot be dealt with by the PAC as this committee can only look into those matters mentioned in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.


Why is the Congress afraid of a JPC? Does it fear that its secrets will come out into the open during such a probe? The government never gave us the reason for not setting up the JPC. Instead, it has set up a one-man panel. But the NDA will keep alive this issue by taking it to the people.


— Shahnawaz Hussain, BJP's national spokesperson and former Union minister








Suppose I get the object of my desire at the cost of another person's prosperity, would it be considered a great success? No! Because success is not about becoming richer and more knowledgeable while keeping everybody else ignorant and poor. Real success lies in helping everybody rise higher and higher.


Now, how do we become victorious? If we have firm policies in life, that alone will take us to success. Otherwise, we may win in the short run, but without values it will soon disappear. Extending this logic a bit further, unless a country has firm policies — economic or foreign — there cannot be any prosperity.


True abiding victory is not just obtaining the thing that we desire, but it is that in which lies the welfare and well-being of all. When we look out only for our happiness, we may make many people around us miserable. Victory is that in which there is prosperity, steady growth and firm abidance in spiritual values.


Otherwise, when people gain wealth without values they become lazy or indigent and whatever they may have gained is lost. If we relax once we have gained freedom for the nation, it will become an ideal situation for enemies to attack. So, continuous vigil and attention is required.


Having understood victory, the next logical topic is — how to gain victory? How to attain success and an inspiring one at that? The most important thing is to have a holistic vision in life. Even though we have to live life day-to-day, event-to-event and project-to-project, we must never lose sight of this total vision.


Each one of us has, whether we know it or not, a vision in life. The majority think that life is simply to "eat, drink and be merry" and they do not think beyond this. All our actions, reactions and our responses to things, beings and happenings in life around us depend upon our vision of life. The nobler the vision, the more mature will be our response. If our vision is very low, then we go on acting impulsively. Some people act impulsively, only with their instincts. They have no mature response to anything.


Our actions and reactions depend upon our vision. As is our vision, so will this world and life appear to us. Some people have a very faulty vision and they feel everything is miserable here. They get angry with everything and become very bitter with certain unpleasant experiences in life. But people with the right vision realise that the world is the best teacher! To them the world is wonderful! There is a quotation that reads, "Life is that teacher which gives you tests first, lessons afterwards".


Life is a wonderful teacher, complete with tests and experiences. Life allows you to learn the lessons. With the right vision, you will learn the right lessons. And there are teachers who guide you to look at life with the right attitude and draw the proper lessons from it which will help you grow in life.


Vision falls into three categories: Sattvic vision (pure and noble), rajasic vision (mediocre) and tamasic vision (faulty and dark). In Gita, Sri Krishna refers to the that knowledge in the light of which a person is able to see the one undivided truth present in all things and beings — the vision of unity in diversity; to see the oneness of all human beings even though they are outwardly different. This is sattvic vision.


Each one of us is different — physically, emotionally and intellectually. But there is one thing in common, and that is that we are all human beings. Still further, all of us are living beings. Existence is the attribute of man, animals, plants, stones and so on.


Thus, the attribute of existence is the same and is present everywhere. If you look at life from this standpoint, are we not one with all? The same truth is present everywhere. The sattvic vision is that by which a person is able to see the one truth that is common to all things and beings and also see the oneness of all beings.


This alone leads to true and lasting prosperity.


— Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya
Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer,
composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji,
visit [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.









It is no surprise that immediately after Union home minister P. Chidambaram's statement about migrants in Delhi being responsible for the spurt in crime in the capital that the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had a word of praise for him. "Chidambaram spoke the truth.

Now he and his government should implement the permit system (to curb migrants), at least for Delhi and Mumbai", said an editorial in the party's newspaper Saamna, which is said to reflect his views.

For the Sena, Mr Chidambaram's offhand comment was no doubt music to its ears. Here is what the home minister said: "...nevertheless crime takes place because Delhi attracts a large number of migrants. There are a large number of unauthorised colonies. These migrants carry a kind of behaviour which is unacceptable in any modern city".

This is no different from what the Sena and its breakaway group the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have been saying for years. And to reinforce their point, these parties occasionally come out on the streets and beat up a few poor people, usually belonging to its bête noire community of the moment.

In the 1960s, the villains were dhoti-clad south Indians, who allegedly were taking away clerical jobs from sons of the soil, i.e. Maharashtrians. Then, for a short time, the Gujaratis were the villains. Then the Sena realised that the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindutva platform was paying electoral dividends, so it swiftly moved to Muslim bashing. In the last decade, the wrath of the Sena and the MNS has been focused on "north Indians", which is a code word for Biharis.

Biharis are now a very visible minority in the city, having moved here (and to other states) in large numbers. In Mumbai, they mainly drive autos and work as security guards, both highly visible jobs which bring them into daily contact with the average citizen.

Given that autodrivers everywhere can, and do, make life difficult for ordinary folk, they become an easy target to hate. The message has gone home and Marathi films and plays routinely lampoon them; the virus has also spread to the educated class where there are deep prejudices against Biharis (and many other minorities). The Sena and the MNS have been quick to capitalise on this.

So is Mr Chidambaram a closet Sena man? Would he, left to himself, introduce a pass system which would control migrants from entering and living in a city where they were not born? Hardly. He is an erudite lawyer, Harvard educated no less, well travelled, well educated and a thorough professional. Then what makes him say such things?

Mr Chidambaram's comment must be seen as part of a mindset that believes that slums and shanties are hotbeds of crime. Since these unauthorised slum colonies are usually occupied by poor people, most of them newcomers to the city with little or no roots in their new environment, it figures that crimes are committed by poor migrants. (Richer migrants are apparently honest and, therefore, allowed in.)

Such sentiments are quite often heard in large sections of the urban middle-class which bemoans the erosion of the quality of life in their neighbourhoods or cities thanks mainly to "these outsiders". The outsiders can be anyone — recently Joel Stein, a writer in Time magazine, said this about his sense of loss at the change in his small town in New Jersey because of the influx of Indians. "For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor". Remember the furore that followed? Stein (and Mr Chidambaram, for that matter) did not indulge in or advocate violence, but the prejudice is there to see. Europe is going through internal debates and convulsions about migrants (mostly but not totally of the illegal type); on the one hand, Europeans realise that these migrants from poorer countries are invaluable for the low-level labour market, on the other, their differentness — language, dress, food and culture — make them strange, weird and presumably dangerous.

The important point in the Indian context is that the so-called "migrants" to Mumbai, Delhi or elsewhere are Indian citizens, with a constitutionally guaranteed right to live and work anywhere. Much as the Sena or Mr Chidambaram may want to, no government can impose any curbs on that right. Countries like China and Russia have a pass system that disallows anyone without a permit to settle in the big cities, but India is not China, however much its progress may sound attractive to us.

Mr Chidambaram has withdrawn his statement, unlike the Sena, which is wedded to the anti-outsider ideology. But such a comment from the Union home minister no less causes a lot of damage. The next time the Sena (and its various cousins) attacks a few Bihari cabbies, it can easily say that its stand has been endorsed by the man who is supposed to look after the country's security.

* The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai



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





The tragedy that struck a joint family of 30 persons that drowned in the Undabatti lake on the Mysore-Nanjungud road on Tuesday when the vehicle in which they were travelling skidded off the road into the tank is too gruesome to be recounted. The post-marriage party in all their finery which was returning after a wedding feast in Nanjungud could not have imagined the watery grave that awaited it on the way to their homes in Aralakuppe, Syadanahalli and Katteri villages in the Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district. Except one, all the dead were women and children. Five persons, including two women in their 70s had a miraculous escape, while intriguingly, both the driver and cleaner of the ill-fated vehicle seem to have jumped out and gone absconding.
Reports suggest that the driver and cleaner were under the influence of alcohol, and if so, the matter needs to be thoroughly investigated. Even otherwise, the fact that the Mysore-Nanjungud road, which is part of Mysore-Ooty national highway 212, was in unmotorable condition for the last three years and the lakes along the route had no proper embankment, though around 30,000 vehicles ply on the road everyday, speak volumes about the callousness of the authorities concerned. Reports indicating that the Union government had recently released Rs 9.2 crore for the temporary repair of the road and that a Rs 400 crore proposal to make the highway a four-lane road was pending before the Centre for the last three years, will bring no succour to the victims' families whose loss can never be compensated. The government's offer of Rs one lakh to the kin of deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured is the usual charade which will not cover up the apathy of the official machinery which allowed the tragedy to occur in the first place.

What is most galling is that a leading Kannada newspaper had reported as late as November 22 about the dangerous state of the Mysore-Ooty highway, along with a photograph of the very lake which was the scene of the latest tragedy. The paper had spoken to a national highway engineer about the lack of safety and he had brushed it aside saying steps would be taken when four-laning was taken up. The state government should seriously consider prosecution of all the officials who were responsible for this wholly avoidable tragedy to bring in accountability to the functioning of the bureaucracy.








Barely has the dust from the Adarsh Housing Society scandal settled when another land scam possibly involving top politicians in Maharashtra has emerged. This time it is a controversy over construction of the Lavasa township near Pune. Nestling in the Sahayadri hills and spread over 12,500 acres, the township is slated to be India's first planned hill city with luxury hotels, resorts, colleges, schools, even a helipad. But while executing their big dreams, Lavasa's promoters conveniently avoided getting environmental clearances. The environment ministry has ordered Lavasa's promoters to stop all construction pointing out that the works at the project site has degraded the environment and that the levelling of hill slopes will affect the stability of the soil. Besides, construction near a water reservoir will affect water quality and flow downstream. Lavasa has gone on an offensive accusing the government of acting on behalf of social activists. 

Failure to secure environmental clearances is not Lavasa's only offense. It appears to have flouted rules on land acquisition too. Some of the land it acquired is 'ceiling land', i.e. land that is meant solely for tribals and Dalits. How did the government give permission for sale of this land to Lavasa either directly or through middlemen? Focusing on Lavasa's environmental violations to the exclusion of its other brazen breaking of rules will enable many of the big fish in government to get away unscathed.


As in the case of several recent land scams, where beneficiaries were able to get clearances thanks to their political and official connections, the Lavasa project too appears to have had powerful godfathers. Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, his daughter and MP, Supriya Sule and her husband were major stakeholders in the project between 2001 and '04. They will, of course, seek to distance themselves from the project by claiming that they have not been a part of it for over six years, having divested their stake in 2004. However, the period when they were stakeholders was a crucial one when the developers secured clearances to go ahead with the project. A full probe into all beneficiaries and stakeholders, present and past, and all violations is necessary. Stern action is essential against those who facilitated the violation of laws and benefited from it. Merely regularising the irregularities and slapping fines, as suggested by former revenue minister Rane is not enough.







Russia today needs a competitive democratic environment and an active civil society at all levels of governance.


As I followed the debate about President Dmitri Medvedev's annual address to Russia's parliament, one idea struck me as particularly pertinent: There is much in the president's speech that is important and necessary, but one might think that it is addressed to a more comfortable country, living in more comfortable times.

Yet, more than the details of the speech, I've been thinking about the coming year. Next year is a pre-election year in Russia, and it looms as even more important than the elections themselves.

Unnoticed by many and denied by some — those who are against change and those who see Russia as 'irreparably authoritarian' — changes have been building up in Russian society that must have serious consequences for Russian politics. 2011 must therefore be the year of shaping a new agenda for Russia. The old one — the stabilisation agenda — has run its course.

In 2000, the top priority was to protect the country's integrity and to restore governance. People supported President Vladimir Putin, who set those goals. One can argue about the means he used and the degree of success, but overall the goals were achieved.


With time, however, the unsolved problems became increasingly obvious. The global economic crisis made our problems worse, but it was not their root cause.

The crisis was not to blame for the fact that we were losing the momentum of the democratic process, or that we were stuck with a resource-based, inefficient economic model and were unable to stop the process of de-industrialisation. We were mostly dividing the pie rather than producing, building or growing. Nor was the crisis the cause of the corruption that penetrated all levels of the bureaucracy and was ravaging our society.

We had been living off oil and gas revenue, seeming to forget that those resources are not renewable. Even when world market conditions were favourable millions of people in Russia still lived in poverty.

The old agenda did not respond to the most urgent questions Russia faces today. Why? It all comes down to politics. We need a competitive democratic environment; we need sources of innovation at all levels; we need an active civil society and real accountability of government. If those conditions are present, even the most intractable problems can be solved.

Regional leaders are no longer elected; individual elections have been replaced by 'party lists'; thresholds have been raised for parties to be represented in parliament, while the minimum turnout requirement for elections to be valid has been abolished.

What has made it all even worse is the blatant use of the 'administrative resource,' i.e. electoral manipulations and pressures on the media. The result? Channels of communication between government and people have been obstructed and the political elite has become increasingly insulated, serving its own interests. 

Threatening proportions

Last summer, the symptoms of the government's isolation from society and its unresponsiveness to signals from below began to assume threatening proportions. Something else was also happening: People became increasingly demanding, aware of their interests and capable of standing up for them. At the forefront are activists of civil society groups, journalists, environmentalists and people who have suffered at the hands of corrupt officials. 

 If the anti-democratic tendency is not reversed, all the gains of the previous years — not just the democratic process but even the much vaunted stability — will be jeopardised.

The president also listed some steps that had been taken to make the political system more fair and competitive. As I see it, those steps are insufficient and inadequate to the urgency of the situation. But the fact that the president identified the challenge was of fundamental importance and was encouraging to those who care about the future of Russia. 

President Medvedev's speech contains elements that certainly must become part of the new Russian agenda. His emphasis on social policy and on curbing bureaucracy is welcome.

But without a clear political context, the speech sounded more like a list of assessments, tasks and suggestions addressed to the same Russian 'elite' that has already shown itself to be inert and inept. In the current form, our elite is an assembly of appointees who are not capable of shaping a new agenda, much less implementing it.

Among them, education is critically important. We have come to a point when the constitutional principle of universal access to education could become a dead letter. People are wondering: How is it that after World War II, when the country was lying in ruins and just rising to its feet, the government found a way to finance free education, whereas now the Russian state doesn't have the money? Yet, parliament seems to think education is a non-issue.

There is another priority, which I have already mentioned: People are calling for effective mechanisms to fight corruption, which is increasingly a political problem, widening the chasm between the authorities and the people.

The new agenda should also contain a strong economic component. What we have now amounts to post-crisis management, patching the holes in the budget and launching separate initiatives in some areas where success is uncertain. We need a breakthrough: movement toward a modern knowledge economy and sustainable development. I see a direct link here with the problem of education.

I am convinced that President Medvedev should take the lead in shaping the new agenda for Russia. The people will support him.







The diplomats of the WikiLeaks documents belong to a bygone era of the state system that we have to put behind us.



The revelations contained in the wave of WikiLeak documents that have taken the world by storm are an indictment not only of US diplomacy but of today's diplomacy in general. What kind of ludicrous language is this, so focused on the pathology of mainline media discourse? It is negative and concentrated on individual actors, usually from the elites of elite countries. It is immature gossip, the kind of 'analysis' of power typical of adolescents. 

Where is the analysis of culture and structure which is far more important than actors who come and go? Nowhere; they are incapable of it. Where are positive ideas? Where are the ideas about how to convert the challenges, such as climate change, into cooperation for mutual and equal benefit? Like water distillation projects using solar energy at Israel's borders with Lebanon and Palestine? Like positive US-Iran cooperation on alternative energy?

The state system, which was established to balance the interests of states in an anarchic world, has failed, as demonstrated by the numerous wars it has generated. It is fading, as colonialism had faded earlier, surviving only in the US empire, which is also fading.

Nationalism, in contrast, is on the rise. A nation is a group of people with a common culture (including religion), a common language, a common history and vision of the future, and a territorial attachment to a 'homeland.' There are about 2000 nations in the world, and only 200 states, meaning that most states include many nations, usually with one dominant nation. But rising nationalism offers no good solution to the world's problems either.

We need and deserve something better --not perfect, but much better. We cannot build globalisation on such absurdities. And yet some kind of globalisation is inevitable, as a consequence of the new global modes of transportation and communication.

Since violence is the consequence of unresolved conflicts, the key to survival is conflict resolution. To guarantee people's welfare -meeting the essential material needs of food, housing, clothing, health care, and education- they must have an income they can live on. The necessary resources are available, the only problem is that today their distribution is extremely unequal.

A global identity would require unity in diversity, welcoming the rich variety of cultural expressions while recognising that their common goal is human happiness. It would require respecting all world views that respect the others. It would be wrong to try to impose the culture of a single nation on everyone else. That would not be sustainable and would generate resistance.

Freedom means having options in one's choice of cultures and structures. Freedom encourages the unlimited creativity of the human species in reflecting on how it is programmed and how it can change its programmes.

Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to live in domestic and world structures that make the realisation of human rights possible. This implies that conflict resolution becomes a human right and duty. So does an economy in which basic physical needs are guaranteed. 

Another implication of Article 28 is the need for mutual respect, curiosity, and learning through dialogues of civilisations. It also implies a world federation, maybe of regions and big states. A unitary world state would impose the unity of one civilisation on the rest, which is unacceptable. A loose world confederation would have too little unity. The best solution is a world federation.

Who are the people who would be capable of realising a world culture based on basic human needs within a world federation? Thanks to WikiLeaks the writing on the wall is clear: not the current brand of diplomats! US diplomacy is revealed. Most of what has come out is known or predictable as elements of imperial policies, even in friendly countries, given the way the US sees itself as an 'indispensable nation.'  Paranoid, it suspects revolt and a lack of servility everywhere while it pushes its 'national interest' at the expense of anybody else's and, of course, any truly global domestic policy. The diplomats of the WikiLeaks documents belong to an era of the state system that we have to put behind us. They should be retrained or retired and thousands of new civil servants should be trained for world domestic policy. They must drop the ridiculous secrecy and confidentiality in how they are dealing with us, humans and nature alike.







Just like a 100 other bylaws that are broken, this too happens only in India.


I could read his mind right from the start. He was working his strategy like a professional poker dealer in a grand casino at Las Vegas. The lack of glitter and fun fare was no hindrance. The same energy, vigour and enthusiasm oozed out of his narrow vision. I was quick to sense the wickedness of his plot. 'This is not MGM and there aren't any slot machines to gamble on,' I wanted to scream if that could put any sense into his diabolic plan. But today was just like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that day. I found no words coming out of my open mouth.

I realised that I was racing against time. 'Now or never!' With the determination enough to bend the rods hanging over the Hudson Bridge, I went through the opening lines in my mind: "I understand, you mean no harm, but..."  I reassured myself for the umpteenth time that it was diplomatic enough without sounding offensive to get him to see the point. Only I could not quite fathom my desire to use diplomacy for a chronic problem.

It dawned on me finally that it had to do with the books I had been reading lately. "Always try to understand why people do the things they do; they are just what we would be in their positions," I had read all 'self-help gurus' advocate in their books.

"Well, let me try to understand why he behaves this way day after day," I reflected.  However, it remained as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle and as intriguing as the Grand Canyon.  I thus decided to overlook the empathetic approach. 

I instantaneously resolved to enact the pro-active rather than the re-active behaviour that Stephen Covey vouched in his best seller, 'The 7 habits of highly effective people.' 'Pro-active' I muttered to myself, even as my teenage daughter stared at me through red fiery eyes and twitching lips that whispered, "Mom, he is at it again. Check him!"

I moved forward, clenching my fists. Alas! I was too late. My driver had already criss-crossed, accelerated and jumped the correct lane to the left most side of the Kamaraj Road-Brigade Road signal to take the right turn to M G Road! Just like a hundred other bylaws that are broken everyday in our country, this too happens only in India.  As one of our bureaucrats nicely summed it up recently, 'We are all like that only!' Drivers and lane discipline (or indiscipline) are like the dog and the lamp post. The temptation is just too irresistible!








What's lacking here, as Lindenstrauss made plain to Knesset members last week, is "teeth" for the comptroller to ensure his recommendations are implemented.


Mount Carmel was still smoldering when the hunt began kilometers south, in Jerusalem, for the ostensible really guilty parties.

For State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the timing could not have been more telling. Over previous weeks, his office had been finalizing a probe of Israel's Fire and Rescue Services as part of a larger report on home front preparedness in the wake of the Second Lebanon War. In addition, the proposed biennial budget for his hard-working office was set to be debated in the Knesset.

Even as several of the inferno's victims still fought for their lives in Haifa's hospitals, in the halls of Jerusalem's government buildings, officials braced for the worst.

State Control Committee Chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) led the calls for a state commission of inquiry into the failings exposed by the fire. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, finding himself in the front line of criticism, was among the first to demand precisely such a probe, insisting it would demonstrate he was anything but the most culpable player. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threw the weight of the rest of the coalition against the proposal.

Lindenstrauss's probe yielded a pointed report that highlighted technical shortfalls in the Fire and Rescue Services as well as their inability to communicate effectively with other emergency responders – a failing that may have been a key factor in the early, deadly hours of the Carmel fire.

THESE DEVELOPMENTS illustrate the vital importance, but also the fatal weakness, of the State Comptroller's Office, and the ultimate irrelevance of the political clamor about a further inquiry commission into the fire.

Israel has seen a glut of probes and commissions in the past few years – so many, in fact, that even the most retentive observers can lose track of the various embarrassing, tragic and regrettable incidents that prompted them. To name just a quartet, the Winograd Commission investigated the Second Lebanon War; the Dorner Commission probed aid to Holocaust survivors; the Bein Commission looked into Israel's water supply; the Matza Commission evaluated the authorities' treatment of disengagement evacuees.

Such commissions sometimes take up to six years to deliver their conclusions. The Carmel blaze, the worst in Israeli history, underlines that the improvement of our rescue services can tolerate no such delay.

What Israel's civilian rescue services need are urgent, practical reforms to ensure that if another major forest fire – or similar disaster – strikes in the coming months or years, we will be prepared. What is least needed is a politically motivated sideshow.

Whether galvanized more by narrow political concerns or, as one would hope, national responsibility, Netanyahu took the beginnings of the right approach on Tuesday when he asked Lindenstrauss to prepare a new report on the Carmel fire. He tacked an accelerated timetable onto the request – offering the potential for rapid correction of flaws, and helpfully ensuring that the comptroller's conclusions will likely be issued long before they might impact on an election campaign.

Unfortunately, simply asking the state comptroller for another report is itself no remedy. Last week's findings were not the first time the State Comptroller's Office had warned of the dire state of Israel's emergency coordination, but previous reports such have fallen on deaf ears.

Nor is it enough for Netanyahu to give his ministers a strict deadline for correcting the flaws exposed by the comptroller. Political exigencies routinely distract public servants, and the public, from such imperatives.

WHAT'S LACKING here, as Lindenstrauss made plain to Knesset members last week, is "teeth" for the comptroller to ensure his recommendations are implemented. The State Comptroller's Office has neither the budget nor the authority to ensure enforcement in any of the areas it investigates.

Many of the headline-making demands for commissions of inquiry – not just into the Carmel fire, but into other tragedies, scandals and embarrassments that have and will afflict us – would be unnecessary, and many of the tragedies themselves prevented or reduced, were the state's permanent investigative commission, the State Comptroller's Office, afforded the tools necessary to make sure its recommendations are followed.

Had that been the case following previous warnings about the state of our Fire and Rescue Services, not only would the debate about who should probe what have been avoided. The devastating fire, with 43 lost lives, might well have been prevented altogether.








Candidly Speaking: If efforts are not made to stem extremist trends and promote moderate Zionist streams, the time is looming when the state will fall under extremist control.


Talkbacks (4)

In 1991, I published a booklet titled "Jewish Religious Extremism – A Threat to the Future of the Jewish People."

It was translated into Hebrew, Russian, French and Spanish and widely circulated.

Critics accused me of sensationalism and exaggeration when I predicted that failure to stem the emerging dominance of rabbis promoting extremism in religious observance and radical nationalism would become one of the greatest threats facing the Jewish people.

Alas, in retrospect, I was understating the problem.

Recent times have seen almost daily headlines reporting new extremist proclamations or initiatives. The Chief Rabbinate has been hijacked by haredim (who hold the institution in contempt). Despite the impending national crisis over the many Russian olim who are not halachicly Jewish, they have exploited the Chief Rabbinate to impose the most stringent obstacles in an effort to deter potential converts. Following an unprecedented demand from the fanatical school of Lithuanian zealots spearheaded by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, they even seek to introduce retroactive annulments of conversions, and challenge the validity of thousands who underwent legitimate conversion by reputable rabbis in the IDF.

In other areas, various rabbis and religious leaders have recently been expressing views that brought the entire religious community into disrepute. Claiming to read the mind of the Almighty, the utterances of these rabbis were not only primitive, but completely out of synch with the Judaism that most of us were taught.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is an outstanding halachic scholar who has regrettably also developed a reputation for making such outlandish statements. While the nation was reeling over the tragedies and deaths caused by the Carmel Forest fire, he proclaimed that the disaster was a manifestation of God's punishment for the failure of local residents to observe the Sabbath.

If this were not enough, almost concurrently, the nation learned that Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai had rejected an offer of fire-fighting equipment because it was being donated by Evangelical Christians.

And to top it off, a substantial group of extremist nationalist rabbis signed an appalling petition calling on Jews not to rent or lease properties to non-Jews, going so far as to specify coercive steps to enforce compliance.

A few weeks earlier in Safed, following a similar call from Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, an elderly Holocaust survivor faced threats that his house would be burned down because he had rented an apartment to Arabs.

SETTING ASIDE the crudeness of this approach, and considering the history of such discrimination against Jews in the Diaspora, one would have expected rabbis in a Jewish state to avoid such xenophobic utterances.

Judaism, like all religions, incorporates holy texts which are open to interpretation. There are certainly passages in the Talmud which at face value many would consider problematic.

For thousands of years, the overwhelming emphasis by our sages has been to interpret such texts and laws in a tolerant manner.

What further complicates the situation is the failure of many rabbis, especially the zealots, to display civility toward colleagues who do not share their outlook. Those daring to express dissenting views or promote lessstringent halachic interpretations are all too often dubbed heretical or worse by the dominant radicals.

This was exemplified when the scholarly Shas MK Haim Amsalem chided his party for transforming itself into "a Lithuanian-Sephardi party," condemned the attacks on conversions, criticized army evasion by yeshiva students and also challenged the denial of secular education to religious children. He also said it ran counter to the tenets of Judaism for men to pursue a lifetime vocation of learning Torah without earning a livelihood.

For this he was denounced as a heretic, subjected to calls for explusion from the party, and even more outrageously, the Shas media compared him to Judaism's symbol of ultimate evil – Amalek.

One can gauge the depths to which we have descended when one contrasts this vulgarity with the respectful manner in which disagreements are recorded in the Mishna, for example between the schools of Hillel and Shammai.

Throughout our history, rabbis were not merely interpreters of Halacha but community leaders in every sense of the word. But then, rabbis were among the most educated elite within the Jewish and often also the non-Jewish world. Indeed, until recently in the US and Western Europe, many rabbis held university degrees.

Alas, despite having in Bar-Ilan University an outstanding tertiary institution catering to religious students, many rabbis here fail to even graduate from high school. They were educated exclusively in yeshivot which took pride in denying them access to secular studies.

In such a restricted educational framework, with no exposure to the secular or non-Jewish world, it is perhaps not surprising that narrow and even bigoted concepts are expressed.

The damage these rabbis inflict on the state and on the image of Jews worldwide is enormous.

For those of us educated in the tradition of enlightened Judaism, of Torah im derech eretz, the fact that such primitive statements can emerge from rabbis in a Jewish state is particularly painful.

The only positive aspect to this is that – in stark contrast to the evil incitement from imams in the Arab world, whose views are endorsed by their state governments and media – these offensive outbursts provoked an almost universal eruption of condemnation from all sectors of society.

However, within the religious world itself, there was a deafening silence. Ironically, it was Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, head of the haredi establishment, who condemned this outburst by zealots, as did some spokesmen from Tzohar, the moderate rabbinical group seeking to build bridges rather than polarize relations with the nonobservant.

Prominent former chief rabbis, who traditionally would never associate themselves with such primitive remarks, appeared reticent to speak up. Likewise, Habayit Hayehudi, successor to the 
National Religious Party – once a moderate bridging group – had nothing to say.

BOTTOM LINE: It comes down to the failure of successive governments to break the stranglehold of extremist religious parties which exercise excessive leverage.

While, sadly, it is unlikely to happen, it would be a day of celebration for most Israelis if the Likud and the opposition Kadima could set aside their differences and agree to cooperate on reforms to overcome the burgeoning power of extremist religious forces.

If efforts are not made to stem the extremist trends and promote the moderate Zionist streams, the time is looming when the state will fall under extremist control.

We must ensure that rabbis on the state payroll are moderate, responsible and recognize the validity of the state. In addition, we should either dissolve the Chief Rabbinate or ensure that it is headed by rabbis committed to a Jewish democratic nation.







Recognition by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay is a welcome gesture of impatience at Israel's denial of Palestinians' right to statehood in pre-1967 borders.


Talkbacks (20)

Thank you, Argentina. Thank you, Brazil. Thank you, Uruguay. No, these countries didn't help fight the Carmel Forest fire, but they just aided Israel in another way by recognizing the state of Palestine.

Of course, not all Israelis see it like this. Most, rather, see these countries' recognition of Palestine as a hostile, anti-Israeli, "delegitimizing" act.

Why? Did Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay say Israel doesn't have a right to exist as a Jewish state? No. Did they say the Palestinians have a legitimate claim to even one inch of "Israel proper" – Tel Aviv, Haifa, west Jerusalem and the rest of what this country was before the Six Day War? No.

All they did was "recognize Palestine as a free and independent state within the borders defined in 1967," as Argentina put it.

The whole democratic world has recognized the Palestinians' right to statehood within the pre-1967 borders; the recognition by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay is a welcome gesture of impatience at Israel's long denial of that right, and at the Obama administration's demoralizing failure to call this country to order.

America has come up empty, possibly for the final, decisive time, so the rest of the democratic world is going to have to step in or there's nothing but more Israeli tyranny, Palestinian terrorism and Jewish-Muslim war to look forward to around here.

How can it step in? How can the democratic world, which has always supported Israel as a Jewish state as well as a free, independent Palestine, further that cause – beyond making gestures? 


TWO YEARS ago, when Barack Obama was about to enter the White House, the Israeli peace camp talked about "tough love" – about Obama inducing the soon-to-be Netanyahu government to end the occupation by threatening to become less friendly, less generous, if it didn't. The assumption behind this approach is that Israel, if faced with the choice of losing the settlements or losing America, would prefer to lose the settlements, and fast.

I think such an approach would have worked, but the Obama administration is not tough, certainly not when it comes to this country. So now it's up to the rest of the world that Israel belongs to, that we don't want to lose, to be the bearer of tough love. We just saw an attempt come out of Europe, which, with the steady crippling of Obama's presidency, is the only hope left for moral leadership in the democratic world.

Twenty-six former European leaders, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzales, German president Richard von Weizsacker along with other proven friends of Israel, have called on the EU to stop indulging Israel's settlement growth.

The "letter of the 26" urges the EU to adopt a policy whereby "enhancement or upgrading of... bilateral agreements will not occur unless settlements are frozen." It also tells the EU to "ensure that... settlements are excluded from European privileges and will not be promoted and legitimized by their provision... We consider it simply inexplicable that such products still enjoy benefits under preferential trade agreements between the EU and Israel."

The letter has been denounced here as a call for sanctions. But sanctions are when you penalize somebody; the letter of the 26 doesn't call for the EU to penalize Israel for settlement expansion, only to stop increasing the rewards to Israel in light of it. The former European leaders don't speak of boycotts; they speak of stopping the enhancements and upgrades, of ending preferential treatment.

I wouldn't even call that "tough love," just "not being a doormat anymore." Do such measures hurt Israel, do they "delegitimize" it? No, they delegitimize the settlements, they delegitimize the occupation, which have been illegitimate from day one, as every national leader in the democratic world has agreed.

But Israel doesn't listen, or at least not anymore, so it's time for the democratic world – which endorsed a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one in 1947 and hasn't budged since – to get serious.

Unfortunately, the EU this week rejected the letter's recommendation, making do with "reiterating," "affirming" and "underlining" its support for the peace process, i.e. sticking with the doormat strategy.

Too bad. There's nothing recommended in the Europeans' letter that gets in the way of the new proximity talks, or the new 
Hillary Clinton Show, or whatever the US is calling this ghost dance it wants to put on. In fact, there was an interesting sentence indicating that the Obama administration is looking to the EU to do what it can't (or won't).

"Senior figures in the United States are also signaling to us that the best way to help President Obama's efforts," wrote the former leaders, "is to put a price tag on attitudes and policies that run counter to the positions that the US president himself has advanced."

A price tag for settlement expansion. Thinking of the burned-down mosques and olive groves in the West Bank, I like the irony of those words.

It's all good – suspending enhancements and upgrades, recognizing Palestine, declaring statehood, going to the UN. It all puts pressure on Israel to get out of the Palestinians' lives, which, in the eyes of the world, doesn't really appear to be what the Netanyahu government has in mind.

None of these moves raises any objection at all to Israel being a Jewish state, or to Israeli sovereignty within its pre-Six Day War borders. Nobody gets hurt, either. All that these measures attempt to do is bring Israel to its senses.

So thank you, Javier Solana, Felipe Gonzales and Richard von Weizsacker – and Helmut Schmidt, Lionel Jospin, 
Romano Prodi and the rest who signed this letter. Thank you, again, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – and the other democratic countries that, I'm sure, will be recognizing Palestine before too long.

A terrible fire has been burning this land for 43 years. If it's ever put out, if this country ever starts to recover, the foreign countries and leaders who stood against the spreading blaze will be remembered here as true friends.








Like some Western governments, several Muslim states forbid Islamic dress in universities and official buildings.


Western governments aren't the only bodies which have curbed women's rights to religious expression by banning Muslim garb.

France, Belgium and Quebec have all passed variations of laws restricting Muslim head scarves or face-concealing niqabs – proscriptions which have been widely covered in the international press. And yes, shame on those countries for attacking religious expression.

Less discussed is the fact that many Muslim countries enforce similar bans. In the summer of 2010, Syria banned the niqab and any other burqa-like face-concealing garment from all public and private universities, and extended the ban to include female instructors. The UAE forbids women to wear the niqab in some government jobs, according to Gaelle Picherit-Duthler, a communication professor at the all-female Dubai campus of Zayed University.

Government-owned EgyptAir forbids flight attendants from wearing the hijab, or head scarf. On my EgyptAir flight from Cairo to Tunis, I asked a male crew chief if this policy was still enforced. "Of course," he said, while making a face as though he had smelled rotting garbage. The Egyptian government may also forbid university professors to wear the niqab.

DECADES BEFORE France and Belgium moved to ban face-covering veils, Tunisia declared a similar ban. Such bans in Arab countries reflect a deep suspicion of conservative Islam by secular regimes, or involve promotion of what governments perceive as a modern image, which is why you won't see a headscarved woman reporting the news on Egyptian government TV.

Both concerns drive policies on conservative Muslim dress in Tunisia, a North African country of 11 million, which goes several steps beyond other Arab regimes in the wrong direction. The country's Decree 108, issued in 1981, bans "sectarian" dress (largely meaning hijabs or niqabs for women and long beards for men) in government buildings, and a similar decree in 1986 extended the ban to public educational settings.


Decree 108 proclaimed that female civil servants must "remain in the enlightened image as desired by their liberator, president Habib Bourgiba," according to Amnesty International. Tunisia's late founding leader once reportedly called the head scarf an "odious rag," and the current leader has referred to the accessory as a "garment of foreign origin."

Tunisia is generally considered one of the most progressive Arab states on matters of gender and sexual expression. One hotel near the coastal town of Monastir hosts a weekly drag show featuring Belgian and Tunisian crossdressers – something you're unlikely to see elsewhere in the Arab world. (I attended the show on what happened to be the eve of the most sacred Islamic holiday.) This drag cabaret featured many garments of foreign origin, and also foreign music, humor and languages (English and French), but didn't apparently challenge the "liberator's" conception of the enlightened image. Hijabs and niqabs, however, somehow threaten Tunisia's cultural identity.

As decrees rather than laws, Tunisian proclamations against the hijab and niqab aren't always consistently enforced, and the government has had periods of both tolerance and crackdowns on conservative dress over the past three decades.

Currently, Tunisian women do not appear restricted from wearing the garment in public areas, which has markedly increased. Several reports in recent years, including documents from the US State Department and Amnesty International, have alleged official harassment of Tunisian women wearing the hijab in public places, but I have not seen evidence of this anywhere in the country.

Like most Muslim countries, Tunisia has witnessed a conservative Islamic resurgence in recent years. The government, though, isn't thrilled, and shows few signs it will annul its 1980s decrees.

However unevenly enforced, any ban on religious dress isn't the mark of a modern nation. While Tunisia deserves credit for highly progressive women's rights legislation enacted in the 1950s and since – which ensured many basic rights still denied to women in many Arab countries, including rigorous protection from polygamy – dictating to others what amounts to "modern," acceptable dress is a vile policy.

Forcing a woman to burn a bra doesn't make one a liberator.

Tunisia serves as a reminder that governments forcing Muslim women to look like the secular majority aren't found only in the euro zone or eastern Canada. Living in Islamic countries is no guarantee that Muslim women can define modesty for themselves.

The writer is a journalism professor at the American University in Cairo. Follow him on Twitter: @Justin–D–Martin, or contact him








Taking away tax exemptions for their first three years here, as the Treasury intends to do, will only cause news networks to move elsewhere, like Ramallah or Amman.


Talkbacks (5)

Rightly or wrongly, Israel has a reputation for being good at news management. But every now and then the government does the PR equivalent of picking up a revolver and taking aim at both feet. When that happens, responsible observers need to try to talk it round.

Over the next month, it seems likely the Treasury will take away foreign journalists' tax exemptions. Instead of paying a flat rate of 25 percent for their first three years here, they will have the same deal as Israelis. It will make the government an extra few hundred thousand shekels a year. And, you may ask, why should foreign correspondents get subsidized anyway? 

There are several good reasons why the government should think again. There is already a steady drip of foreign networks and newspapers moving their operations away from here, mostly for cost reasons. Israel should be doing what it can to reverse that. Instead, it may end up driving foreign journalists to Ramallah, Amman or further away.

TO REPORT on Israel, you need to live here. This is a unique country, facing unique challenges. The many different points of view here are complex. If Israelis want them understood, they need to explain them. That is why Israeli spokespeople go to the lengths they do, and why they are good at it.

And that is why people who have worked with the likes of us, like MK Nachman Shai, are horrified at the Treasury's shortsightedness: "We always complain that the press has a superficial view, but they really do tend to build relationships here and learn many dimensions of the complex situations. In contrast, temporary or visiting reporters have no commitments to anyone," Shai said.

Exactly. What Israel needs to avoid at all costs is foreign paratroopers – journalists who land in the country for a few days, armed with a clutch of Wikipedia articles and the book they read on the plane.

You cannot 'wing it' if you want to report on this part of the world, although many try to get away with it. More often than not, when they do they take sides, because they think it helps them report the story better. Black and white is easier to communicate, but as we all know, the truth is usually in between.

I have been here four years, so I am no longer entitled to special treatment. But I know the benefits of having been here that long, and would suggest it is in everyone's interests to maintain the status quo.

There are insights you get just by being here. When your next door neighbor's daughter, who has baby-sat your children, goes into the army, you understand better how Israelis have a different attitude to their military, and the risks they take compared to citizens of other countries.

And there is what you learn by just sitting talking to people over the gallons of coffee and tea I must have consumed, from Gaza to the German Colony to Majdal Shams.

Israel has learned that the worst kind of PR agent operates from a bunker, barking at the foreign media. But for some the message has not sunk in. The Treasury risks driving us away.

Shai has a point when he says, "This is a country with a special talent for harming itself – we are experts at that. There are reporters here who are not enemies of Israel, even if they are critical, and but instead of drawing them closer, we are hurting them."


One government official recently complained to me about the "groupthink" anti-Israel mentality of journalists, diplomats and aid workers living in east Jerusalem.

Causing a stampede of foreign journalists to Ramallah or beyond is not going to help.

The writer is Sky News' award-winning Middle East correspondent and has been based in Jerusalem for the past four years.








How Israel can tackle inequality in the Arab sector.


For too long, the challenges facing Israel's Arab citizens have been obscured for international observers by the all-too-pressing concerns of the conflict. But this is gradually changing due to recognition of the growing tensions between the country's Jewish and Arab communities. It is against this backdrop that the Foreign Policy Center has published its new report, "Full and Equal Citizens: How to deliver equality for Israel's Arab community," as part of our work on minority rights across the world. It makes a number of recommendations.

First, it is imperative to bridge the planning divide that sees so many Arab majority areas either unrecognized or with obsolete official plans. Ensuring that every community has current and accurate plans would help ease the dramatic shortage of housing available to the Arab community, and end the impasse whereby unapproved building takes place to meet local demand at the risk of prosecution and demolition.

It would also help encourage business development by making investment more secure and facilitate government funding.

Previous government initiatives to rectify this problem have stalled, so it is to be hoped new initiatives by the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Sector have more success and are the start of much more work in this area. If needed, the EU or European Investment Bank could provide financial support, while extra capacity could be mobilized among planners internationally to help boost local capacity and support the work of local NGOs already active in this area.

The government's rejection of the 39 rabbis' recent missive is to be welcomed, but words alone are not enough. It must take concerted action to ensure equal access to housing and land. This would involve a major housebuilding program in Arab-majority areas, and further reform of the allocation practices of the Israel Lands Administration,Jewish National Fund and housing providers.

Tackling the inequality in the provision of discretionary state development funding, where Arab municipalities receive less than 5 percent of the total, and ending the 32% gap in social welfare spending will be essential components of a strategy to reduce deprivation among Arab communities, whose members are more than three times more likely than Jews to live below the poverty line.

IN THE workplace, having missed its 2008 target of achieving 10% representation by the Arab community in the civil service by a 4% margin, it is imperative that the government redouble its efforts to achieve this proportion by the new 2012 deadline.

In the private sector, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission can play an important role, but it needs to be able to expand its capacity and become more independent.

The case remains for an official equality commission with a wider remit to promote equality across society through education and advocacy. Although such bodies are common in other democracies, an Israeli version seems a long way off. Nevertheless, partnership work across society with equality bodies in other countries can still make a positive contribution, as is already the case between the EEOC and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.
In the 
Knesset, recent attempts at discriminatory legislation have further undermined trust in the political system among members of the Arab community.

The extremely low percentage of Arab-Palestinian and Beduin citizens voting for mainstream parties in 2009 should have been a warning to the political class about the polarization of its politics, but the current coalition has been taking forward issues that were once at the fringes.

Moderate forces in political life must firmly reject measures that inflame community tensions, limiting free speech and legitimate debate about the country's future.

The EU and other international partners must be similarly robust in their opposition to attempts to restrict their financial support for NGOs in this sector that would be in breach of the commitments made in the EU-Israel Association Agreement and Action Plan.

The need for robust debate about how to deliver equality for the Arab community must not be abused to provide fuel for extremist attempts to undermine either the country or any of its citizens. Many of these important issues have been relevant for decades, and it is deeply unfortunate that Israel did not take the opportunity provided by the Or Commission more than seven years ago to address them.

Israel is not alone in facing challenges between majority and minority communities, so it is essential that progressive forces both here and beyond work together, sharing best ideas about how to move forward.

The work of the US and UK Jewish community task forces on Arab issues can help the international community engage in an informed and supportive manner. In partnership, we must redouble our efforts to bring about a future where the pledge of Israel's founders to give its Arab community the rights of "full and equal citizens" can be fulfilled.

The writer is policy director at The Foreign Policy Centre.










The debate over the conversion bill is deceptive. It's being held in -remote and dark places, it deals with trivial matters, it appears to affect the fate of very few, and it seems to interest even fewer. But what is really going on there should trouble every Israeli, because it touches on the most fundamental issues that define our society and state.


The question whether military or civilian rabbis will determine who is a Jew is marginal. Rafi Peretz or Shlomo Amar, who cares? Ten times more significant is the question whether we happen to be living in the only country on earth where clerics determine the right to citizenship. No less important, how do we dare continue deceiving ourselves that this is a secular and democratic state?


The rabbis are Israel's gatekeepers. What most of them believe became painfully evident recently when they published a ruling that prohibits renting apartments to Arabs and foreigners. One "moderate" rabbi did propose a "compromise": renting apartments only to "good Arabs." Another moderate rabbi said that "there is no wisdom" in the rabbis' letter, but not a word about morality and justice. Most of them are frighteningly narrow-minded, obsessed with fear, and willing to whip up hatred toward foreigners they never met. What do they know about the world? Or about human rights?


Convinced and trying to convince others that the Jews are a chosen people, to which entry and even contact with those deemed inferior is forbidden, they live in their narrow pale of settlement, most of them boorish and ignorant of what happens outside. They are our gatekeepers, and they determine our real image. Like the goons who get to select people at the entrance to dance clubs, the rabbis determine the character of the whole party, and this party is a benighted religious party.


The conversion debate raises another, deeper question: according to the bill, Judaism is a religion, solely a religion and not a nationality or people. So much for "the Jewish people" and "the people of Israel." If rabbis are the gatekeepers, then it's about joining a religion and ritual, not a people and state. In the so-called secular state of Israel, then, it is impossible to join the Jewish people and stay secular. How can we claim that Judaism is both a faith and nationality if joining it is based solely on Jewish law and rulings of rabbis? What about those who want to join "the people of Israel" but don't believe in God? Why is the word atheist still a profanity in Israel, unmentionable? Entry for religious people only? Only in a state governed by religious law.


It's time to admit that this approach can only be called racist. Yes, that hackneyed term. That's what it is when it is the blood flowing through the veins that determines your status. If the grandson of a woman whose Judaism is doubtful has the right to automatic citizenship when he arrives here from the ends of the earth, and a non-Jewish soldier who chose to fight and live here runs into rabbinic obstacles, then this is not just judgment by religious law, but judgment by racist law. If the Arab native is an outcast, but a member of the "Tribe of Menasseh" from Burma is welcomed with full rights simply because a rabbi said he was Jewish, then this is a benighted theocracy. Sixty-two years after the establishment of the state, the time has come to summon the courage and change this reality.


Sufficiently rooted already, Israel must continue to be a home and shelter for every Jew, but by no means just for them. The time has come for normalcy, for joining the enlightened world, in which immigration laws are determined solely by civil criteria. Not entry for all - there's no such thing anywhere in the world - but criteria of a state and society, not of God and religious law.


For most Israelis, who have grown up in this distorted reality, all this seems to be normal. It's normal to live in a state where there is no public transportation on the Sabbath, where on almost every doorpost there's a mezuzah, where there's no possibility of civil marriage, where the state institutes blatantly religious laws and the rabbis are the sole arbiters of who can join the people. There's virtually no protest against any of this. Even the public debate, to the extent that it exists, is limited to the marginal questions: the military or civil rabbinate? And after all this, we dare call ours a liberal and modern state.








The warning by Technion President Peretz Lavie that science education in Israel is on the brink of collapse should shock every Israeli concerned about the future of the state. Economic growth, development and welfare in Israel all depend on scientific institutions and the industries nourished by the products of their research. Lacking science students with the proper level of knowledge, there will be no proper scientists, engineers or researchers.


In an interview yesterday with Or Kashti, Lavie said we have seen a sharp decline in recent years in the knowledge of students accepted to the Technion, particularly in the basic subjects - math, physics and chemistry. According to Lavie, the new students are not ready for university studies.


The collapse has many reasons, first and foremost skewed political priorities, which have swollen the ultra-Orthodox education system in which the sciences are not studied at all. Meanwhile, the education system has surrendered to pressure from students and their parents for the youngsters to study fashionable subjects while "fleeing" the core scientific subjects for easier ones, as Lavie put it.


Another reason for the collapse is the fostering of cloistered and conservative nationalism in the education system, which contravenes the spirit of scientific freedom. The result can be seen in the decline in the number of applicants to science faculties, while major resources in those departments are channeled to closing gaps in students' knowledge.


Scientific and research institutions are an irreplaceable national asset. If that asset shrinks and is lost, Israel will deteriorate to third-world status. The government must put the rehabilitation of the education system at the top of its goals. A program to bring scientists back home, which the prime minister is so proud of, is not enough. Scientific institutions have no value without a younger generation. If the schools do not produce a new generation of researchers and engineers, we will not have advanced industries.


But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers the political expediency of the partnership with Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu above anything else. So his government has not enforced the core curriculum in Haredi schools and continues to shortchange and neglect Arab students. The dangerous superficiality of public education, including in the sciences, threatens Israel's future.










The manifesto signed by dozens of rabbis, which categorically prohibits renting or selling apartments to non-Jews, begs serious soul-searching, explicit clarifications and action at all levels of government and society.


It would be a mistake to have the public response take the form of indicting or firing the rabbis, separating religion and state or denying the legitimacy of the state's Jewish character. Ranting and raving could prevent us from seeing the picture in all its complexity and from confronting the authority of the rabbis in this country, both as regards the content and "Jewish" morality of their positions and as regards the residential dwelling patterns of different communities here.


The controversy over desirable living patterns for Jews and Arabs and the use of the law to obtain them is not dictated by religion. Some advocate "color blindness" as the only normative approach to civil equality, on the assumption that this leads to greater integration. Some advocate complete segregation. And some, like me, prefer more diverse social arrangements that would provide different communities with various living options, based on their level of integration and inner cohesiveness.


Even without its religious element, the controversy sparked by the rabbis' manifesto yields violence, hostility and labeling. It is important to approach the issue in a businesslike manner. After all, attempts to bar "foreigners" from living among locals are common in Israel and in the region. Violence is directed at both Jews and Arabs. The rabbis' manifesto - and the objections of other rabbis and all policymakers - did not create the problem. It only added to this already loaded issue questions of relations between the state and religion and questions about Israel's Jewish identity - national or religious.


The president, prime minister, education minister and a number of important religious leaders did well to clarify immediately that neither they nor the state stand behind the letter.


But it is easier to denounce and renounce than confront the issues. The letter's outrageous content mustn't distract our attention from the main point. A criminal investigation is not the way to calm a public storm; rather, it's a step before arraignment. And the tendency here in Israel is not to bring people to trial for speaking out on a matter of public importance. Those who gathered those rabbis' signatures intended to lay a trap, and we must not play into their hands.


The authorities must concentrate on acting swiftly and effectively against those who harass their neighbors for renting apartments without their agreement or tenants who are harassed. They must provide solutions for housing needs, especially for those who tend to be kept out or discriminated against.


Public discourse is vital, and we need to make sure that the rabbis are not portrayed as those whose freedom of religion has been violated. It is important to have this internal religious argument. It is critical not to force those who objected to the rabbis' ruling come to the defense of freedom of religion.


The rabbis' letter does not "prove" that the state's Jewishness is theocratic and that it therefore cannot be democratic. The state's Jewishness is not bound to Jewish halakha, certainly not to certain discriminatory or segregative interpretations of it.


The state's Jewishness does, however, recognize the desire of Jews to be a majority in their country and preserve their national and cultural distinction. The state recognizes this desire in other communities as well. We must examine in all truthfulness if this desire could have implications on residential dwelling patterns.








Why are we meeting? What are we discussing? What is our goal? And if we manage to achieve it, would it have any impact on the reality outside? These are a few of the questions Israeli and Palestinian members of dialogue groups ask before, during and after joint meetings.


As a facilitator and mediator who has worked with such groups for 15 years, I ask myself the same questions: Has dialogue been effective? What has changed? Looking back at the first groups I helped to facilitate back in 1995, the participants were full of hope and excitement about the opportunity to get together. Their excitement mirrored the optimism of those who were involved in the peace negotiations back then.


Those were perceived as the good years - when we were sure peace was just around the corner and, as a facilitator, I saw my role as simply to prepare people on both sides to forge the relationships necessary for sustaining a shared life in this land. At the time, the participants were incredibly enthusiastic and their desire to genuinely know one another imbued these meetings with a fresh and positive energy.


Unfortunately, it is not the same today. Following the second intifada and the building of the separation fence, many people lost their trust in this process, having been cut off from the friends and contacts they'd made on the other side. I felt the same way for some time. The natural human tendency to take sides prevailed for all of us.


But over the last few years, I have again had the honor of facilitating discussions among various groups in both Israel and Palestine: soldiers who were wounded in wars and the ongoing conflict; former prisoners trying to achieve freedom through the use of dialogue instead of weapons; women leading social change within their organizations; professional facilitators and activists working with groups on "track two" diplomacy; and journalists searching for better ways to cover the conflict. These different groups came together for a variety of reasons, but they all seemed to have one common goal: to explore how Palestinians and Israelis can humanize one another and find common ground for real change to take place.


In present-day meetings we face challenges similar to those encountered years ago, but today they are more pronounced. Like in the outside world, in our dialogue groups we encounter a great degree of mutual blame, of perceiving one's own side as the greater victim, as well as name calling and scoring points at the expense of the other side. This dynamic has at times brought us to moments of despair. Only once the participants begin to understand that their default positions lead them back to square one, do we begin to see actual change.


Enabling this sort of dynamic within a group dialogue and making these patterns visible to participants is crucial if progress is to be made. Only then can participants begin to reveal their deeper feelings and allow their existential fears to surface. Such revelations, in turn, help group members understand that they all share similar fears: the fear of being denied one's identity by the other side, the fear of suffering physical harm, and the fear that what the other side really wants is to throw them into the sea.


It takes a good mediator, time, patience and perseverance to reach a point where participants begin to shift their language, acknowledge the fact that they are all looking for empathy, and become part of each others' conversations and beings. The process deepens further once participants acknowledge that each side bears responsibility for what happened in the past and what might happen in the future, and recognize that they can make a difference even if only by taking the tiniest baby steps.


For many who take part in these joint gatherings, over time they become like a drug that sustains their dream. The dialogue itself becomes both the tool and the goal; the participants develop a deep need to be reminded of their shared visions and struggles. As a member of one group noted: "Our perseverance offers hope and inspiration to others, and keeps the dream alive. The support and engagement of citizens is crucial for achieving any future political agreement." Another participant put it another way: "Giving up is not an option."


It is crucial for our leaders to know that many of these voices are out there, living in the Israeli and Palestinian streets. They are looking for more people to join their ranks; they are waiting for the chance to be included in any peace initiative, to be acknowledged and valued for the long journey they have embarked on. These people have the empathy, the trust and the commitment that provide critical sources of hope during times of heightened conflict.


I come from Palestinian roots, but more and more in these dialogues and in other areas of my life, I see myself as someone whose primary role is to enable and sustain the process of dialogue as a whole. As such, I do not represent one side. We are all parts of the whole and if we could see ourselves as a part of those who are outside our ethnic and religious communities, then we would not be afraid to sympathize with their fears and pains. We would know that they are ours, too.




The writer is project manager for Promoting Common Ground Print and Broadcast News in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza at Search for Common Ground. She has been involved in conflict mediation since 1994 and founded the Israeli-Palestinian Media Forum in Jerusalem. This article is published in conjunction with the Common Ground News Service.


This story is by: Carol Daniel Kasbari








Peace may be a dream - but it is not our dream. The time has come to recognize the fact that Israel uses the rhetoric of peace, but does very little on the practical level toward achieving it. Anyone still clinging to the axiom that "we'll leave no stone unturned" needs to take a good look in the mirror. Is Israel truly laboring with determination and persistence to reach peace?


The announcement by both the United States and Israel that the efforts to renew direct negotiations failed, less than six months after being launched in Washington, is direct proof that Israel is not doing so. This country deserves most of the blame: History will not forgive those who considered the issue of extending the construction moratorium in the settlements, even for three months, more important than continuing the talks and reaching a diplomatic solution.


One could, of course, blame U.S. President Barack Obama on the grounds that he did not lean hard enough on the two sides, particularly Israel, and that he did not sufficiently exercise the economic and political leverage at his disposal to "persuade" them of the benefits of continuing the talks. But history teaches that no peace, or even a framework for negotiations, has ever succeeded unless the warring parties were actually ready for genuine dialogue.


The peace with Egypt and with Jordan, the Oslo Accords and the talks over the years with Syria and other parties took place and moved forward based on the interests of the adversaries themselves, with the superpowers generally playing the role of conciliator and mediator. Incentives offered by the mediator were effective only when the parties themselves were willing to reach an agreement.


Thus it is the rival sides who bear the blame, but not equally. There is no doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet are largely responsible for the latest failure. The prime minister is a hard nut to crack: In his kickoff speech to the talks, delivered in Washington in September, Netanyahu twice repeated the following phrase: "History has given us a rare opportunity to end the conflict between our peoples." He also used the word "peace" 14 times during that address. While it is clear that politicians use rhetoric to promote their agendas, these measures and this language create a dynamic of expectations that, when not met, lead to frustration and eventually to a breakdown.


To a great extent, Netanyahu and his cabinet are representative of Israeli society today. Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews' opinion of Arabs, as well as to alienation and a distrust of the other side's goals and intentions. Given these circumstances, it's no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process and that there was no significant public response to the dramatic announcement that the talks had been suspended.


When it comes to peace, Israel's position today is similar to its position after the wars of 1948 and of 1967: The potential for negotiations was there, but the cost was considered too high. Now, too, maintaining the status quo appears to be preferable to making changes that Israelis perceive as threatening, even if they do not necessarily pose a genuine danger.


In the past decade, Israel has faced a number of Arab initiatives: the Arab League peace plan, Syrian offers to negotiate, Palestinian willingness to move forward and even moderate declarations from Hamas. Successive Israeli governments responded to all of them with restraint and icy indifference (with the exception of the waning days of Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister ).


Israel's listless response to these proposals cannot be understood as coincidental or circumstantial; it is a pattern of behavior. And Israel has never proffered its own initiative that would indicate a desire for peace. This leads us to the unhappy conclusion that Israel - both its government and its people - are not really interested in peace; at most, they make the sounds of peace, but that is not enough.


The writer is a professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.










No American has worked harder to build better relations with Pakistan's army than Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Yet as he completed his 21st meeting with Pakistan's top general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Islamabad on Wednesday, he was no closer to securing General Kayani's commitment to go after the Taliban groups that are launching murderous attacks from Pakistan's border region into Afghanistan.


During Admiral Mullen's trip this week, which includes a member of our editorial board, he has been talking about the need for "strategic patience." But until Pakistan's army moves against the Afghan Taliban — and Pakistan's intelligence service cuts all ties with the extremists — the prospects for President Obama's war strategy are, frankly, dim.


On Thursday, Mr. Obama plans to issue his promised review of the war. It must provide clarity about the way forward in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.


The president is expected to argue that, with about 140,000 American and NATO troops now on the ground, there has been progress in Afghanistan, most notably pushing back Taliban forces from around Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual base and the country's second-largest city.


But the list of things still going wrong is depressingly long, starting with the incompetence and corruption of the government of President Hamid Karzai. And as The Times reported on Wednesday, two new classified intelligence reports are particularly downbeat about the ease with which Pakistani-based militants cross into Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan's refusal to shut down the sanctuaries used by the militants for rest and resupply.


While some American military commanders disputed the reports' overall pessimism, there have been disturbing signs on our visit this week that the Pentagon is increasingly resigned to Pakistan's inaction.


A defense official argued that Pakistan's army is so overstretched — from flood relief and 19 months of sustained combat that has caused thousands of Pakistani casualties — that it cannot possibly undertake any more operations.


That may be true, but it would not take a major offensive for Pakistan to weaken the insurgents. The country's intelligence service, the ISI, could start by withdrawing all support and protection from the militants.


Even as Pakistan's army vows to take on militants spreading chaos and mayhem inside Pakistan, the intelligence service still sees the Afghan Taliban as a way to ensure influence on the other side of the border and keep India's influence at bay. It is a dangerous game, based on a flawed premise. American officials say the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other groups increasingly act like a syndicate, sharing know-how and colluding when needed. General Kayani, whose previous job was heading the ISI, should certainly know that.


The Obama administration has said and done many of the right things to build a long-term relationship with Pakistan, including cultivating top military leaders and providing long-term development aid. And not all of the news is grim. Last week, Pakistan and American forces jointly launched a successful cross-border operation. The number of American cross-border drone attacks into Pakistan have also increased significantly, while Islamabad's protests have been comparatively muted.


For a relationship this complicated, strategic patience may well be necessary. The problem is that the Taliban pose a threat, right now, to the survival of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Obama and his advisers — military and civilian — clearly have to do more to change the thinking in Islamabad.







Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy survived a parliamentary vote of confidence on Tuesday, but his discredited government no longer commands a working majority. That is not a situation Italy can put up with for very long. New leaders, new elections and a more honest approach to governing are urgently needed.


Investors are nervous about Italy. It is not Greece or Ireland; its deficits are manageable and much of its debt domestically held. But even before the financial crisis, Italy's growth rates lagged behind those of its European peers, sunk by pervasive corruption and burdensome bureaucracy at every level of government. It needs a credible government that can ask for tough sacrifices at home, patience from creditors abroad and support from other European governments.


Mr. Berlusconi's main claim to power was that he alone seemed capable of holding together the disparate center-right factions that, when united, form Italy's usual political majority. He is now unable to do even that. The rapid evaporation of his political support was not the result of any ideological shift in Italian politics. The center-right parties still command large majorities in Parliament and in the country. Italy's fractured center-left still looks unable to unite or to govern.


Mr. Berlusconi's failure is personal. Imperious and ever willing to skirt legal niceties, he has alienated even close political allies in recent months with a succession of outrageous scandals, blatant conflicts of interest and special laws crafted to shield him from prosecution.


Whether or not, as the WikiLeaks cables reported, Mr. Berlusconi exhausted himself from all-night partying, his performance in office has exhausted Italy, demeaning public discourse and weakening the rule of law.


All Italian political leaders share blame for the country's mess. But Mr. Berlusconi was the one who promised to make things better. Instead, he made them worse. For now, he remains in office. A prolonged caretaker administration is not the answer. Italy needs a new government bold and credible enough to undo the damage of the Berlusconi era.








When Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey chose not to renominate Justice John Wallace Jr. to the State Supreme Court in May, it was a case of political overreach. The situation is now a national disgrace, thanks to the governor, the State Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, and Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto.


The integrity and independence of the court depend on a nonpartisan process for picking justices. From 1947, when the state Constitution was adopted, until this May, every governor has renominated every justice seeking reappointment, no matter if they were first chosen by a governor of the other party. The court is one of the most respected state appeals courts in the country.


Governor Christie began a very different chapter when he chose not to renominate Justice Wallace, a sound jurist and political moderate who was the court's only African-American. Without any basis, the governor said that the justice had contributed to "out of control" activism on the court.


Mr. Christie named a lawyer to fill the seat, and Mr. Sweeney, a Democrat, then refused to let the State Senate consider the nomination. In September, the court's chief justice sought to deal with the problem by temporarily filling the seat with a widely respected lower-court judge. But last Friday, Justice Rivera-Soto pushed the matter over the top. He called the temporary appointment "unconstitutional," and issued an opinion stating that he would abstain from voting in cases until a justice nominated by the governor was sworn in.


From a judge above reproach, the move would have drawn skepticism. That is not Justice Rivera-Soto. In 2007, his own court censured him for using the power of his office to influence a state trial judge in a dispute involving Justice Rivera-Soto's son. There have been other incidents, and this latest move appears to be driven by politics, not principle.


All of the players involved need to work to resolve this drama. Justice Rivera-Soto should do his job or resign. Governor Christie should respect the state's tradition — one that has worked very well — and renominate Justice Wallace. Senator Sweeney should rethink his strategy of matching partisan overreach with more partisan overreach. The credibility of New Jersey's Supreme Court must be protected.








As the body count in the Mexican drug wars mounts beyond 30,000, federal authorities have tracked more than 60,000 guns in the past four years back across the border to American dealers. Congress, enthralled with the gun lobby, has done nothing about a legal loophole increasingly at the heart of the carnage — the dealers' freedom to make multiple sales of AK-47s and other battlefield assault rifles without having to report to federal authorities, as the law requires for handgun sales.


No wonder one dealer felt free to sell 14 AK-47s to one trafficker in a single day.


The gun lobby previously convinced an obeisant Congress that "long guns" like military rifles and shotguns were not favored by criminals and deserved a pass at dealers supposedly catering to sportsmen. But the drug war toll is proving otherwise, with use of high- power long guns more than doubling in the past five years as cartel gunmen turn to the rat-a-tat annihilators easily obtainable across the border.


A big reason for that preference is the failure to require reports on multiple rifle sales, according to a new inspector general's report at the Justice Department. In Texas, the traffic is white hot. Eight of the top 12 dealers in Mexican crime guns are nestled profitably near the border, according to The Washington Post, which spent a year penetrating some of the data secrecy that Congress has enacted to protect the gun industry.


With a more Republican Congress in the wings and Democratic lawmakers openly fearful of the gun lobby's political clout, there is no expectation of courageous legislating to close the loophole. But executive order is another possibility. It has enough traction lately among Justice Department officials to prompt a "grass-roots alert" by the National Rifle Association to its four million members, according to The Post.


It is hard to believe that most ordinary N.R.A. members would not agree something must be done about the cross-border sale of war weapons that underpins the drug scourge. If it takes an executive order to cut the carnage, President Obama should not hesitate.








What's the ugliest side of Islam? Maybe it's the Somali Muslim militias that engage in atrocities like the execution of a 13-year-old girl named Aisha Ibrahim. Three men raped Aisha, and when she reported the crime she was charged with illicit sex, half-buried in the ground before a crowd of 1,000 and then stoned to death.


That's the extremist side of Islam that drives Islamophobia in the United States, including Congressional hearings on American Muslims that House Republicans are planning for next year.


But there's another side of Islam as well, represented by an extraordinary Somali Muslim woman named Dr. Hawa Abdi who has confronted the armed militias. Amazingly, she forced them to back down — and even submit a written apology. Glamour magazine, which named Dr. Hawa a "woman of the year," got it exactly right when it called her "equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo."


Dr. Hawa, a 63-year-old ob-gyn who earned a law degree on the side, is visiting the United States to raise money for her health work back home. A member of Somalia's elite, she founded a one-room clinic in 1983, but then the Somalian government collapsed, famine struck, and aid groups fled. So today Dr. Hawa is running a 400-bed hospital.


Over the years, the hospital became the core of something even grander. Thousands and thousands of people displaced by civil war came to shelter on Dr. Hawa's 1,300 acres of farmland around the hospital. Today her home and hospital have been overtaken by a vast camp that she says numbers about 90,000 displaced people.


Dr. Hawa supplies these 90,000 people with drinking water and struggles to find ways to feed them. She worries that handouts breed dependency (and in any case, United Nations agencies can't safely reach her now to distribute food), so she is training formerly nomadic herding families to farm and even to fish in the sea.


She's also pushing education. An American freelance journalist, Eliza Griswold, visited Dr. Hawa's encampment in 2007 and 2008 and was stunned that an unarmed woman had managed to create a secure, functioning oasis surrounded by a chaotic land of hunger and warlords. Ms. Griswold helped Dr. Hawa start a school for 850 children, mostly girls. It's only a tiny fraction of the children in the camp, but it's a start. (Ms. Griswold also wrote movingly about Dr. Hawa in her book "The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.")


In addition, Dr. Hawa runs literacy and health classes for women, as well as programs to discourage female genital mutilation. And she operates a tiny jail — for men who beat their wives.


"We are trying an experiment," she told me. "We women in Somalia are trying to be leaders in our community."


So Dr. Hawa had her hands full already — and then in May a hard-line militia, Hizb al-Islam, or Party of Islam, decided that a woman shouldn't run anything substantial. The militia ordered her to hand over operations, and she refused — and pointedly added: "I may be a woman, but I'm a doctor. What have you done for society?"


The Party of Islam then attacked with 750 soldiers and seized the hospital. The world's Somalis reacted with outrage, and the militia backed down and ordered Dr. Hawa to run the hospital, but under its direction.


She refused. For a week there were daily negotiations, but Dr. Hawa refused to budge. She demanded that the militia not only withdraw entirely but also submit a written apology.


"I was begging her, 'Just give in,' " recalled Deqo Mohamed, her daughter, a doctor in Atlanta who spoke regularly to her mother by telephone. "She was saying, 'No! I will die with dignity.' "


It didn't come to that. The Party of Islam tired of being denounced by Somalis at home and around the world, so it slinked off and handed over an apology — but also left behind a wrecked hospital. The operating theater still isn't functional, and that's why Dr. Hawa is here, appealing for money (especially from ethnic Somalis). She has worked out an arrangement with Vital Voices, a group that helps to empower female leaders, to channel tax-deductible contributions to her hospital.


What a woman! And what a Muslim! It's because of people like her that sweeping denunciations of Islam, or the "Muslim hearings" planned in Congress, rile me — and seem profoundly misguided.


The greatest religious battles are often not between faiths, but within faiths. The widest gulfs are often not those that divide one religion from the next, but those between extremists and progressives within a single faith. And in this religious season, there's something that we can all learn from the courage, compassion and tolerance of Dr. Hawa Abdi.








We've had to adjust to so many strange developments lately. I'm sure we'll get used to having a speaker of the House who weeps a lot.


That would be John Boehner, the new guy.


"He is known to cry," the outgoing speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told Deborah Solomon in The Times Magazine. "He cries sometimes when we're having a debate on bills."


Pelosi, of course, does not cry in public. We will stop here briefly to contemplate what would happen if she, or any female lawmaker, broke into loud, nose-running sobs while discussing Iraq troop funding or giving a TV interview.




O.K., moving forward.


Boehner is a gravel-voiced Ohioan who wears snazzy suits and hangs out a lot with lobbyists. One of the few cheery prospects the new year holds for Democrats is his upcoming demonization, since there is no such thing in 21st-century America as a loveable leader of the House of Representatives. Unless America is totally won over by the idea of a Sobbing Speaker.


"I think people are going to like him," said Lesley Stahl, who interviewed Boehner for a "60 Minutes" segment shown last Sunday, during which he broke down several times.


The most arresting moment came when Boehner told Stahl he can no longer make visits to schools, or even look at the little kids on the playground, because he immediately starts crying.


That had me alarmed. I thought there was going to be some terrible story about an ailing child that would then force me to have warm and sympathetic thoughts about John Boehner.


But no. The reason, Boehner finally choked out, was because "making sure these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did, is important."


We will stop again briefly to imagine what would have happened if Nancy Pelosi, upon being elected speaker, had confessed on national TV that she was unable to visit schools in her district because the sight of little children made her break into sobs.




O.K. About Boehner. Many of us first noticed his tendency toward tears when he appeared on election night to celebrate his party's taking control of the House. He had hardly gotten in front of the microphone before things got watery.


"I spent my whole life chasing (sob) the American dream," he told the cameras. "Put myself through school, working every rotten job there was ..."


The American Dream has had such a bad year. During the campaign, it was tossed around by billionaire candidates who insisted on telling groups of underprivileged children that they, too, could someday own a mega-yacht or run a slimy but extremely profitable health care corporation.


Now, John Boehner is blaming the Dream for making him howl like an abandoned puppy. It's what my friend Rebecca Traister calls "Boehner doing Masterpiece Theater on the hard life of John Boehner."


Traister is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry," a chronicle of the Clinton-Obama battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. One of the best-remembered moments in that campaign — Hillary Clinton cries in New Hampshire — is an excellent example of the difference between what men and women can get away with, tear-wise.


"Hillary didn't cry," Traister pointed out. "Not a drop of liquid fell below her lower lash." With her back to the wall and the presidency on the line, Clinton approached the edge of a sniffle and we are still talking about it. Boehner is driven to great, noisy sobs when he contemplates the fact that as a youth, he mopped the floor at his father's tavern.


Besides the crying gap between men and women, there's also one between Republicans and Democrats. On the one hand, you have the folks who can't afford tears because it makes them look weak, and on the other, the people who are presumed to be tough and hard-nosed, for whom crying is an attractive sign of complexity.


Boehner is opposed to extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, and he wants to kill off the law that guarantees health coverage to all Americans. So you know when he starts weeping when his wife says she's "real proud" of him, it's not a sign of softness.


In 2007, he cried while delivering a speech on the floor of the House, in support of funding for the war in Iraq. "After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on?" he sobbed.


Then this year, he voted against providing money to take care of our fellow citizens who became ill while doing rescue and reclamation work at ground zero after the terrorist attack.








Portland, Ore.

WHEN President Obama announced in March 2009 that his administration would guide General Motors and Chrysler through a government-financed bankruptcy, he made it clear that the taxpayers' $80 billion would buy nothing less than a sweeping transformation of the entire auto industry.


"This restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry," he said, "an auto industry that is once more outcompeting the world; a 21st-century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy-independent future."


Now, nearly a year and a half after the two automakers exited bankruptcy, the administration has defined down the goals of the bailout, focusing on G.M.'s and Chrysler's return to profitability and job creation. Though these are promising developments that show the bailout has not been an unmitigated short-term failure, the new emphasis shows just how far the industry is from the kind of transformation we were promised.


In particular, what Mr. Obama called his "one goal" — having Detroit "lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars" — is nowhere near being achieved. While the idea of improving G.M.'s and Chrysler's fuel efficiency was doubtless a politically popular justification for the bailout, American consumers have not embraced the goal with equal fervor. Sales of fuel-sipping compact and subcompact cars have actually dropped this year, while pickup and sport utility vehicle sales grew by double-digit percentages.


This dynamic is not limited to Detroit, as Honda and other foreign producers have seen their sales this year grow largely on the backs of light trucks. But, as the king of S.U.V. and pickup sales, Detroit has been the main beneficiary of the market's continued preference for less-efficient offerings.


At General Motors, sales of actual cars this year have fallen by nearly 6 percent compared with last year's anemic numbers, while light trucks (which include pickup trucks, S.U.V.'s, minivans and crossovers) are up by more than 16 percent. Despite rolling out the much-hyped Cruze compact and the Volt plug-in hybrid, G.M. still sells half again as many trucks and S.U.V.'s as it does cars. This year 73 percent of Chrysler's sales have been light trucks.


It's true that most modern crossovers are more efficient than the truck-based S.U.V.'s that kept Detroit afloat in the 1990s. But American producers collectively remain a long way from contending for green car leadership. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Detroit automakers have three of the four lowest average fleet fuel economy ratings among full-line manufacturers, and none achieves the industry average of 22.5 miles per gallon.


Detroit seems aware of this troubling dependence on trucks and S.U.V.'s. G.M.'s chief executive, Dan Akerson, recently warned that his company needs a plan to deal with a possible gas price shock and announced the hiring of 1,000 engineers and researchers, ostensibly to work on high-mileage vehicles. But recent history shows that automakers are just as vulnerable to credit crunches and other economic shocks as they are to sharp increases in energy prices. On this front, Detroit is falling back into the bad habits that led G.M. and Chrysler to collapse.


At the height of Detroit's S.U.V. boom, impressive per-unit profit margins gave rise to a number of tactics — cash rebates from manufacturers, low-interest loans and the like — that increased short-term sales at the expense of long-term viability. Today we are seeing a similar pattern. Incentives like rebates help push vehicles off lots but erode brand equity and resale values that help automakers compete over the long term. G.M. and Chrysler still lead the industry with above-average amounts of cash on the hood of each car they sell.


Another troubling trend is an increase in fleet sales — the delivery of huge numbers of units to corporations and government agencies. While fleet sales improve short-term volume, the profit margins are slim and the practice can hurt long-term sales as consumers come to view the models as unsexy "fleet queens." And Detroit has gorged on such sales in 2010, with some 32 percent of all vehicles from the Big Three sold through October going to fleet operators. Furthermore, a quarter of all the hybrids built by Detroit since President Obama took office have been bought by federal agencies, showing that enthusiasm for Detroit's hybrids is limited somewhat to government fleet buyers.


In addition, even when it comes to the trucks and S.U.V.'s that Americans actually do want to buy, the bailed-out automakers are building vehicles faster than they can be bought. Inventory levels at both companies have ballooned this year, to the point where G.M. now has nearly three months' worth of sales sitting on its lots and Chrysler's excess inventory (in terms of days of supply) is exceeded only by such marginal players as Saab, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Mazda.


Allowing new cars to pile up on lots may well be the most deadly of Detroit's new-old bad habits, as the practice not only artificially inflates sales numbers (which, ridiculously, are booked upon production, not when a vehicle is driven off the lot), but also lead to yet more incentives, fleet sales, subsidized leases and subprime lending.


And if Detroit's slipping into bad old habits wasn't distressing enough, the bailouts have created a perverse new dynamic. With G.M. stock now being publicly traded on Wall Street, taxpayers have every incentive to cheer on the bailed-out automaker as it overproduces vehicles and pushes cheap credit. After all, the sooner G.M.'s stock hits a certain level — likely around $52 per share — the sooner the Treasury can sell its remaining equity and get taxpayers out of risk.


That day, however, looks further and further off. G.M. stock has yet to get back to the $36 a share price it reached on its first day of trading last month; and even in a best-case scenario taxpayers will be on the hook for Chrysler until at least 2013. And that's assuming gas prices don't rise sharply and the credit markets don't freeze up again.


Even if taxpayers do get their money back, Detroit's blithe resumption of its old ways could bring America's automakers back to Washington someday, hat in hand. If so, let's hope that with the benefit of hindsight, taxpayers will know not to expect transformation from an industry that seems so clearly set in its ways.


Edward Niedermeyer is the editor of the Web site The Truth About Cars.








Santa Barbara, Calif.


I'VE hunted elk, deer and wild pigs in the American West for 25 years. Like many hunters, I follow several rules: Respect other forms of life, take only what my family can eat and the ecosystem can sustain, and leave as little impact on the environment as possible.


That's why I hunt with copper bullets instead of lead. We've long known about the collateral damage caused by lead ammunition. When bald and golden eagles, vultures, bears, endangered California condors and other scavengers eat the innards, called gutpiles, that hunters leave in the field after cleaning their catch or the game that hunters wound but don't capture, they can ingest poisonous lead fragments. Most sicken, and many die.


When I began hunting, I buried the lead-laden gutpiles. It would help if more hunters did this, but it's not enough. Scavengers often dig gutpiles up anyway. And the meat that hunters take home to their families could be tainted. I've seen X-rays of shot game showing dust-sized lead particles spread throughout the meat, far away from the bullet hole. The best solution is to stop using lead ammunition altogether.


So last summer conservationists — along with the organization I run — formally petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban lead bullets and shot nationwide (there are limited bans for some hunting areas and game). The E.P.A. rejected the petition, and we've since filed a lawsuit to get the agency to address the problem.


Unfortunately, there is vocal opposition to any ammunition regulation from groups like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which see the campaign as an attack on hunting rights, and fear that the cost of non-lead ammunition would drive hunters away from the sport.


But this campaign has nothing to do with revoking hunting rights; if it did, I would not be involved. It's an issue of using non-toxic materials. Was the removal of lead paint from children's toys a plot to do away with toys? Did the switch to unleaded gas hide an ulterior motive of removing vehicles from our roads?


And although copper bullets can be more expensive than lead ones, the cost of ammunition is a small fraction of what I spend on hunting, which includes gear, optics, food, gas and licenses. No one will quit hunting over spending a few more quarters per bullet. Besides, the more hunters switch to copper, the faster prices will come down. Back in the '90s, before pre-loaded copper cartridges could be bought over the counter, I had to hand-load my copper bullets. But already it's easy to find them in many calibers, including those for my Browning .270 and my Winchester .300.


The dozen friends I hunt with love shooting non-lead bullets, and it's not just because they're doing something good for the environment. The ballistics are better. I've killed more than 80 pigs and 40 deer shooting copper. These bullets travel up to 3,200 feet per second and have about a 98 percent weight retention — meaning they don't fragment as easily as lead. Copper kills cleanly. It can help keep our hunting grounds clean as well.


Anthony Prieto is the founder of Project Gutpile, a hunting group that advocates lead-free ammunition.









Apart from winning the lottery or finding a Rembrandt at a rummage sale, there are basically three ways to get rich. One is to become very good at something — running a large company, say, or driving quarterbacks into the turf. Another is to shrewdly invest in some kind of hugely successful enterprise.


A third is to be born into a wealthy family. This is the easiest. It requires no work, fosters no innovation, and does not involve taking risks or being brilliant.


Nevertheless, for many years, a small group of people in this third category has been waging a surprisingly effective campaign to convince Congress that government should tax skilled labor and investment returns at a higher rate than wealth acquired by birth. They've showered lawmakers with campaign contributions. They've run advertisements. They've come up with clever expressions, such as the "death tax," in an effort to kill the levy on large estates.


The situation reached the ultimate point of absurdity in 2010. The tax, formerly 45% on estates larger than $3.5 million for an individual or $7 million for a couple, disappeared entirely for this year. That provided a windfall for, among others, the heirs of George Steinbrenner, the billionaire owner of the New York Yankees who died in July.


For 2011, the compromise tax deal worked out between President Obama and congressional Republicans, and approved by the Senate on Wednesday, sets the estate tax at 35% after an exemption of the first $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple. That is the lowest level since Herbert Hoover was in the White House, angering House Democrats who want to restore the 45% rate with a $2 million/$4 million exemption.


However they proceed with the overall tax compromise, they're right to be miffed about the estate tax. At a time of soaring deficits, why dig an additional $62 billion hole from now through 2013, when the proposed deal would expire? At a time of increased wealth concentration, why add to the problem by making dynastic wealth so easy to sustain?


Of all the taxes collected, the estate tax is the least harmful. It does not punish people for their labor. It does not discourage innovation or risk-taking. And whatever revenue is not collected from it means higher taxes elsewhere, or greater government borrowing.


Opponents of the tax argue that it hits small businesses. Given the generous exemptions and the many ways families can reduce taxes through trusts, the opponents must have a pretty expansive definition of small. They also argue that people who pay taxes all their lives should not have to pay again at death.


They don't. Dead people don't pay taxes any more than they attend concerts or take showers. They are dead. When they lived, they were unaffected by the tax. When they died, they were made unaware of it.


It is their living heirs who feel the consequences of the tax. Therefore, they are the ones who, in essence, pay it. These fortunate sons and daughters — while maybe are not deserving of the scorn they sometimes receive — also don't deserve preferential treatment.








There are two questions about resurrecting the 'death tax': the economic question and the moral question.


The economic question is simple: Does the estate tax help create jobs, grow the economy or improve our country. In every case, the answer is no.


First of all, it is unfair to retax money that has already been taxed, at least once, as income, capital gains or dividends. Washington already got its cut when the money was earned or invested. Congress has no outstanding claim on what is left over.


Nor does the estate tax generate all that much revenue. By the standards of President Obama's Washington, the $21 billion the death tax brought in the last year it was in effect is practically a rounding error.


Nor does it help the economy.


Let's say an entrepreneur's business is worth $15 million. Under the proposed estate tax in the bipartisan deal, the day he dies, the businessman's kids would owe Uncle Sam $3.5 million. If they don't have that kind of cash lying around — and no small businessmen do — they have to sell the family business to pay the taxes. The company that buys the business sells off its assets and lets the employees go. A successful business disappears, and experienced employers no longer create jobs. In fact, hundreds of people lose their jobs. All so Congress can increase revenue by a thousandth of a percent? I don't think so.


The economic argument holds up even if the heir to a vast fortune is a total embarrassment. Even if he never gets a real job and wastes his life away buying sports cars, comic books and expensive booze, the money he pumps into his local economy — via the car dealerships, book shops and liquor stores — will create more jobs than anything Congress would do with it.


Which brings us to the moral argument, which is what this is really all about. Does the money you earn over the course of your life belong to you, or does it really belong to the government, which generously allows you to keep some of it for a while?


On this policy, as so many others, if we want the right answer, we have to ask the right question.


Chris Chocola is president of the Club for Growth, a group that promotes low taxes and limited government








Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column atwww.opinion.usatoday.comor at USA TODAY's YouTube channel at

Cal: After nearly two years in office, we have arrived at the first common ground moment of the Obama administration, and look at the reaction. You'd have thought the president told all the country's children that there is no Santa Claus. Many Democrats are livid, to put it mildly. They believe the president has gone too far. Even some Republicans, who mostly seem happy with the deal, say Obama isn't compromising enough.


Bob: Not all compromises are equal. You know I have been committed to seeking common ground since we wrote our book and began this column five years ago, but the tax deal between the president and the Republicans feels more like capitulation than compromise.


Cal: I felt the same way when President George H.W. Bushbroke his promise not to raise taxes. "Read my lips" indeed. Compromise always offends a purist. Look at the reaction of the Democratic leadership. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scowled at it; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., have expressed "serious reservations." And Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., called it "the president's Gettysburg." I'm hearing from the far left that this could mean the president will be challenged for renomination. So much hope and change dashed so quickly.


Bob: Baring some unforeseen disaster, there will be no primary challenge to President Obama. Two sitting presidents, Gerald Ford in 1976 and Jimmy Carter in 1980, had primary challengers and went on to lose the general election. But there is righteous anger among many liberals over the tax deal, and I'm one of them. Sure, the extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary cut in payroll taxes are helpful, but letting millionaires and billionaires avoid a tax increase boggles my mind.


Cal: Even if you taxed every millionaire and billionaire 100%, that wouldn't produce enough revenue to get close to balancing the budget unless spending is radically cut. Why do liberals fixate on how much money some people make? We conservatives don't want to penalize the successful.


Bob: You don't want to penalize success, but you are willing to hold the middle class hostage — as the president correctly noted — for the sake of a few fat cats. Democrats want to give everyone a chance to be successful, which is why they reluctantly accepted extending tax cuts for incomes up to $1 million — four times the $250,000 ceiling Obama campaigned on. The Republicans rejected this and convinced the president that they wouldn't budge. I believe they would have eventually caved.


Cal: Why do you think that?


Bob: Because ultimately, defending tax cuts for millionaires is a losing political message. On his best day, evenRonald Reagan couldn't sell this to the public. Let the Republicans go home for the holidays and try to defend the Mr. Potters of the world. They couldn't and they wouldn't.


Cal: "Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won." That was President Obama during sunnier days — for Democrats. To borrow his wisdom, yes, the congressional elections have consequences. When it comes to negotiations, no one ever gets everything he wants. The diatribadours at MSNBC don't have to deal with political reality. This president does.


Bob: True, no one gets everything he wants, but as someone who has been around politics for most of my life, this deal goes way beyond principle and looks like surrender. I just hope the president can parlay this compromise into something more meaningful in the next Congress. I may have to hold my nose to accept this stinker of a deal, but the optimist in me hopes Obama and the Republicans can actually work together on real tax reform and spending issues in the next two years. Let's put our fiscal house in order. If that were to happen as a result of this, Obama would be vindicated — and re-elected.


Cal: I'm with you on the hope for bipartisanship, if not Obama's re-election! I do hope this significant compromise is a sign of things to come. Granted, this one is easy compared with the more difficult challenges ahead, but it's still meaningful in laying the groundwork for bipartisanship.


Bob: We shall soon see.


Cal: I still have to note, though, that I oppose extending unemployment benefits because it creates more dependency, and people get in the habit of not working while collecting a check. I also would have preferred making the current tax rates permanent so businesses could move ahead with hiring and manufacturing with some certainty. Still, I'm willing to accept the deal and make the 2012 election a referendum on all of this.


Bob: It is because the deal extends unemployment benefits and cuts payroll taxes that I unenthusiastically and barely bring myself to support it. But give me a break. You oppose unemployment benefits because "people get in the habit of not working while collecting a check." How completely untethered to reality. People aren't working because there aren't enough jobs. You conservatives demean millions of formerly hard-working Americans with comments like that.


Cal: There you go again with your class warfare. The real problem going forward, though, is Democrats. The Democratic socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, conducted a mini-filibuster in a vain attempt to derail the deal. Had he succeeded, it would have been suicide for the president and the shrinking — after next month — number of Democrats in Congress. Could they have withstood the political damage that might have come from across-the-board tax increases on people of every income level beginning Jan. 1?


Bob: You're not listening, old pal. The political damage would fall on the Republicans because by Jan. 1, virtually every taxpayer would know that taxes are going up because of Republicans' never-ending affection for millionaires.


Cal: Who are you calling "old"? If you feel so strongly about this, I invite you and your rich Democratic friends — like Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Jay Rockefeller— to send a check to the Treasury for the amounts you think you should be paying. You can do that, you know. If you all lead the way, I will cheer your honesty and consistency.


Bob: I already sent my tax money to pay for a war in Iraq I didn't support. But let's talk about 2012. I just hope that election does become a referendum on this deal because it underscores the classic difference between the parties.


Cal: And that would be?


Bob: Democrats are the party of the middle class. Republicans prostitute themselves for the rich. This tax-cuts deal illustrates this truth better than anything I could have ever imagined.


Cal: Neither of us likes this compromise in totality, but you must admit that it sure beats gridlock and the alternatives that would bring. Allowing the Bush tax rates to expire would mean a tax hike on all income levels, which in a recession would seriously damage the economy for all of us. Raising taxes wouldn't mean a more responsible Congress. You and I know they'd just find new ways to spend it, and then when the money ran out, they'd cry for more. That's what they always do.


Bob: I admit it barely beats gridlock.


Cal: This compromise, if it gets through Congress — and I believe it will — is going to give the public the opportunity to see if it produces the advertised results. And in two years, their votes will decide whose ideas they prefer. We've seen what two years of Obamanomics has done. It's time to try something else.


Bob: In two years, I suspect President Obama might relish that fight while invoking the words of our last president: Bring it on.








The broad-ranging tax package approved Wednesday in the Senate by an overwhelming 81-19 margin may best be seen as an acid compromise, one accomplished for the broader good through a lot of nose-holding on both sides of the aisle.


Democrats rightly objected to extending vast income tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy that never should have been passed in the first place, and an outrageously generous estate tax deal, to boot.


Republicans unreasonably opposed extension of long-term unemployment benefits to people locked out of jobs in the wake of the Great Recession, and continuance of other aid to students and lower-income workers.


In the end, Democrats and Republicans came together to avoid a more perilous and inflammatory fiscal denouement over taxes in the new year. Given the options, the Senate probably did the right thing.


We say probably because we now cannot know if Republicans would have had the gall to block the Democrats' extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of American households, as they threatened, just to save their unaffordable tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners. Republicans, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, were holding extension of the Bush tax cuts hostage for the other 98 percent of earners strictly to protect the tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners — especially the top 1 percent, who will now reap fully a quarter of the tax savings from extension of the Bush tax cuts for all earners.


In fact, it may be that the Obama administration, which brokered this deal with Republicans without the congressional Democratic caucus, got a far better deal for the middle class and for continued economic stimulus precisely because the Republicans were shamelessly willing to trade virtually anything to protect their tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, whose 24 percent share of the nation's wealth is already a modern national record for the top 1 percent.


If the House approves the bill today, as is widely expected despite objections to the estate tax deal, the $858 billion two-year cost of the package would benefit working and laid-off Americans in several ways.


Beyond extension of the Bush-era income tax cuts, for example, it would reduce the Social Security withholding tax, levied on the first $106,000 in income, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for one year. For a family with $50,000 in income, that would add an additional savings of around $1,000; for a household with $40,000, it save about $800 more off tax payments.


The package would extend long-term unemployment benefits for another 13 months in states with less than 6 percent joblessness, and up to 99 weeks in states with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent or higher. These benefits are crucial to out-of-work families. They also keep the economy moving by helping the jobless pay mortgages, taxes and make routine purchases that keep dollars circulating in our consumer-driven economy, rather than adding to the indigent burden.


The bill also continues college tuition credits for qualified families, an expanded child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. Additionally, it defers the alternative minimum tax that would fall on an additional 21 million upper-middle-class households this year.


The irony of the tax-cut package cobbled together over the last three weeks is that its $858 billion bill will go straight to deficit spending, without any offsetting cuts. Given all the last year's talk about reducing annual budget deficits and the nation's staggering $14 trillion in federal debt, it is deeply ironic that Republicans (including Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee) pushed so hard to save tax cuts for the wealthy. If they continue that focus in the 2012 election season, they should be held accountable for their budget hypocrisy as much as for lavishing huge tax cuts on the rich.


Obama can reasonably argue, on the other hand, that the stimulus nature of the bill — keeping tax money in the hands of ordinary consumers for the next two years — serves the larger goal of rebuilding the economy to get it to the point that comprehensive tax reform, and the closure of so many tax loopholes, can actually occur.


If the House comes around to this view, it could pass the tax package just as easily as the Senate. We would hold our nose and vote for that, too.







As Christmas Eve and Christmas Day draw closer, the tempo of activity in most homes quickens. There are lists to consult and to amend, gifts to purchase and to wrap, decorations and trees to be put up, repasts to prepare and seasonal events, both secular and religious, to attend. Those activities are a traditional part of the season, but the real spirit of this special time of the year resonates not in the hurly-burly of preparing for the holiday, but in the faith and the love that bind family and friends in a time of joy.


It is that feeling that rouses us to share a season marked by giving and joy with those among us who have little reason to celebrate. As the pages of this paper confirm, many readers and other residents of the area share their blessings by making gifts to the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund.


All donations, large or small, are greatly appreciated. All are placed in a fund that allows the Partnership for Families, Adults and Children to cover the costs associated with its work during he coming year. In that time, the Partnership, long the area's most comprehensive social service agency, will use the gifts from Times Free Press readers and others to help those who need assistance. Every gift contributes to that useful work and each will be acknowledged in the newspapers. Many of those who make gifts to the fund, in fact, do so in honor of loved ones and friends or to commemorate deceased family members or friends.


Honoring or remembering someone by name, or to give in anonymity if one prefers, is in keeping with the spirit of the season. It allows expressions of love for those we see every or almost every day, as well as to recall those no longer with us and whose loss is felt most keenly during this time of year.


We thank the generous benefactors whose generosity has been recorded in the newspaper since the Neediest Cases campaign began at Thanksgiving — and to those who will join their ranks before the holiday season comes to an end.


Donations to the Neediest Cases Fund can be mailed to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or brought to the newspaper's office at 400 E. 11th St. through the end of the year. Donations also can be made online at Each tax-deductible contribution will be appreciated by those who will benefit from the fund in the coming year.








Paying taxes is not a favorite activity of most citizens. But we realize that some taxes are necessary to provide for the essential functions of government.


So shouldn't the ideal be to keep taxes as low as we reasonably can while meeting essential needs — and to make all taxes as nearly fair as possible for everyone?


One big problem with taxation is that many politicians try to give the impression that they are doing some large number of taxpayers a "favor" by putting a distasteful heavier burden on fewer "somebody elses." Is that fair?


Wouldn't most of us feel better about paying taxes if we were sure everyone was being treated equally?


Wouldn't it be good if, for example, taxes were levied with a basic exemption for everyone, and then if equal tax rates were applied beyond that?


Well, you know the old "class warfare" cry of "soak the rich." (They may have money, but they have relatively few votes) And there are appeals to "favor" the lower or middle class. (They are numerous and have more votes)


But when there are many special categories of tax impositions and tax exemptions, many people get "soaked," and "fairness" does not prevail — often leading to bad results.


A recent news story from Washington described the U.S. Senate's $858 billion "compromise" tax bill. The report said the bill was "packed" with a lot of "special-interest bonanza" tax breaks and "earmarks" providing various favors.


Why should that be? Why should there be favors for some — and penalties for others?


That's a good and often unanswered question, but special benefits are nonetheless provided for numerous "categories."


For example, in the current Senate bill, there is an "alternative minimum tax" provision. It provides a so-called "patch" for middle-income taxpayers, so that the alternative minimum tax will apply to "only" 4 million people — instead of the 28 million who will be hit by the tax without the patch. Why wouldn't it be fairer to have lower tax rates on everybody instead of favoring some millions of people and taxing other millions excessively?


And why should Hollywood get a special tax break involving the cost of film and TV production? It's explained that is to "keep film production from going overseas." But how many other businesses might be in similar competitive positions, but get no tax breaks?


Why should Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands get rum tax breaks? It's explained, of course, that they need help to be competitive.


Why should NASCAR speedways be favored by being allowed to write off their investments faster than other businesses may write off theirs?


And so it goes in our long and extremely complex tax laws — but that doesn't make it right.

The tax code ought, rather, to be "simple" and "clear" and really "fair" for all, without undue favors or punishments for anyone.


That probably would stimulate businesses, increase employment and enlarge production — and even bring in more tax collections from lower taxes applied to a thriving and growing base.


But it appears that Congress does not yet understand that.







Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who soon will be leaving office after two productive terms as a good Democrat governor, recently was "on target" when he hailed Chattanooga's success in attracting new industries.


"Lifestyle, work ethic and really strong local partners there to do the stuff are probably the secret," he said. "I think people just like Chattanooga when they come there."


We agree. And Bredesen has helped.







It was only days ago that a man was arrested in an FBI sting in which he allegedly plotted to blow up a van full of explosives at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore.


Now, the FBI has arrested a Baltimore man in a similar sting. Authorities say that Antonio Martinez, also known as Muhammad Hussain, tried to detonate what he believed was a bomb in a vehicle outside a military recruitment facility in Catonsville, Md.


Court records say Hussain wanted to "instill fear" in anyone who might join the U.S. military. He also told an FBI informant that he hoped to join radical Muslim forces in Afghanistan or Pakistan, federal authorities said. They said he praised the earlier killings of 13 soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood in Texas. An Army major suspected of being a radical Muslim is accused in the Fort Hood attack.


In the plot against the recruitment center, Hussain faces charges of attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property.


The FBI said he was monitored throughout the sting to protect the public. Authorities said he had multiple opportunities to step back from the plot but, sadly, wanted to proceed. Now, if he is found guilty, he should get the maximum sentence permitted by law.


We live in an era of multiple dangers to our people and to our national security as a whole. It is obviously not only in faraway places such as Iraq and Afghanistan that we face the threat of radical Muslim terrorism, but also "in our own back yard."


We must remain vigilant.







Big Labor lobbied hard the past few years for a bill in Congress that would allow unions to avoid secret-ballot votes on unionizing workplaces. The bill instead would let labor activists watch while a given employee does or does not choose to sign a card favoring unionization.


That would be nothing but an open door to intimidation. Secret-ballot votes are obviously preferable as a way to ensure that workers' true wishes are carried out without pressure from labor or management.


We can see, however, why Big Labor wants such a bill passed. Unionization levels have fallen over the past few decades. Today, only about 12 percent of all workers are unionized, and much of that union membership is concentrated in government — where workers should not be unionized in the first place.


Just recently, gate and reservations agents with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines overwhelmingly rejected a unionization effort by the International Association of Machinists. More than 8,700 workers voted against the union, compared with only about 3,800 who favored it.


That strong defeat came just weeks after Delta flight attendants, baggage handlers and stock clerks also rejected union representation.


The machinists union is filing appeals, claiming interference by Delta management.


That is ironic, since the bill in Congress that unions would like to make law would permit intimidation and interference by unions themselves. Fortunately, there is little chance that Congress will enact the bill in question anytime soon.


Employees do have a right to unionize — if they make an uncoerced decision to do so. They should not be pressured into that decision, and they most certainly should not be denied a secret-ballot vote on such an important matter.









We are not surprised that Turkey's chance to open a new negotiation chapter with the European Union, amid all-but-stalled accession negotiations, has again foundered. As we reported yesterday, the culprit this time is not Greek Cyprus or Nicholas Sarkozy or any of the usual suspects.


No, this time we shot ourselves in the negotiating foot. For opening the "chapter" that would move us toward compliance with EU competition rules was too much for the government to stomach. Signing up to EU rules on "state aid" reportedly struck some in the circles of power as a bad bet with elections looming next June. 


Let's set aside vote buying with impunity, the gifts of coal, the odd refrigerator or even the allegations and convictions made in Germany's notorious "Lighthouse" case that assert money stolen in Germany was funneled here for campaign purposes.


Patronage is something different. The highway project or a new metro in the run-up to an election is something unseemly. But it is (sadly) legal. If a country exists where politicians do not engage in such behavior… well, we are waiting eagerly to see it. It is an unfortunate fact of political life that the party in power will always want to keep its patronage powder dry before election day. We have seen this film many times, most recently in the foot-dragging over an IMF "standby" accord that also failed to comport with political plans in 2009 local elections.


But this time, the injury of politics-as-usual is compounded by the insult of ignorance. Because the EU rules on state aid actually allow governments a great deal of latitude for political largesse. After all, the EU is run by politicians too. All that Turkey was really asked to do was agree to a bit of transparency in government procurement rules and abide by EU-accepted priorities in the direction of state aid. In fact, in the wake of the current economic woes bedeviling Europe the rules have been seriously relaxed in the name of "fiscal flexibility."


The guidelines for acceptable "state aid" include support for research and development, education and job training, renewable energy development, projects to address climate change and all manner of measures to protect the environment. If one is curious, the phrase to Google on the Internet is "Vademecum on EU state aid." Vademecum is EU jargon for what the rest of us call a handbook. Thumb through it and there's enough space in the rules to drive a whole convoy of campaign buses through. In fact, the rules pretty much allow for almost everything the ruling party routinely promises in anything resembling a campaign speech.


But we don't think the party elders bothered to read the handbook. If they had, they would have realized they could score points with those doubting their commitment to the entire EU process. And they would not have had to sacrifice a scinitilla of campaign season leverage.







On Dec. 8, Sanem Altan of daily Vatan summarized nicely the government's attitude towards student protests.


She reminds in her article that before the Sept. 12 popular vote, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cried while reading letters by the young people who were hanged following the Sept. 12, 1980 military takeover. Altan asks, "Does the prime minister cry for the dead only?" She is referring to the students who were beaten by the police during a protest against the Higher Education Council, or YÖK, recently and asked again, "Does the prime minister not have a heart for the living?"


In fact, we should elaborate this question. Beside the issue of "having a heart," the question should be asked: "Will this government make peace with the dead only, and will democracy be established through dead dissidents, 'virtual dialogues' and 'virtual conciliations'?"


Both the prime minister and other government officials do it all the time. For the sake of social peace and democratization, they reconcile with issues under dispute. We are supposedly settling scores with the past. Old fights involving the conservative-right are remembered regretfully. Those who were once treated unfairly, or oppressed, are honored again. Symbolic names, such as the late renowned poet Nazım Hikmet, are remembered all the time. The late protest singer Ahmet Kaya, likewise, was brought to the agenda on the anniversary of his death.


This is of course important. But it is easy to make peace with the dead who had different opinions to our own. The merit is to find ways of reconciling with the living and to have enough patience to hear different views. However, the government's relation with the living is so poor that it even casts a shadow over the authenticity of its peace with the dead.


Forget about different opinions or dissent, the government cannot stand even the simplest criticism. Even some people backing the government by making extremely odd political analyses, finding traces of democracy in every single move of the government, nodding yes to everything the government does and saying "This is democratic," have reached a point of, either sincerely or artificially, raising objections.


Every opponent is labeled "pro-Ergenekon" or "coup plotter," or even as the "extension of the enemy in this country." Such politics and political discourse can easily be defined as "authoritarian!" To those who say, "There cannot be a civilian authoritarian or dictator," I mentioned about the theory, history, and gave different examples from different countries. But that didn't help. I hope they will not have to learn this by experience.


Let's not forget that, in many cases, avenues into authoritarian politics are paved by good intentions. And let's not forget that those eventually most aggrieved in authoritarian politics are not the interlocutors, but the policy-makers. In this respect, people who keep flattering governments and, therefore, making them blind to criticism are the worst enemies of such governments.


I hope more people will start warning about and opposing this direction of movement without delay. The otherwise is obvious what will happen. Life is the best teacher, but not every teacher is "good."


* Nuray Mert is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







At the end of World War II, Germany was in a great mess. Fire bombs and air raids had almost completely destroyed the country. The population of Cologne, Germany's fourth largest city, was reduced from 768,000 to less than 250,000. The same happened in many other German cities in the last two years of the war. Germany's postcard-picture castles and great cathedrals turned to ruins, while thousands of Germans were displaced. Industrial output was at a standstill, and Germany's currency was practically worthless. There was a little hope for improvement.


However, after the war, Germany began impressive economic redevelopment. The years after 1950s are known as the beginning of the "German miracle" in modern economic history. In parallel with the economic growth, Germany's demand for more labor was gradually increased. The shortages of local labor force constituted the ground for labor recruitment agreements between Germany and its neighboring countries, including Italy, Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey.


Turkish 'guest-workers'


The labor recruitment agreement between Turkey and West Germany was signed in October 1961. Following the agreement, thousands of Turks applied for working licenses in Germany and passed a medical fitness test before the arduous journey. Turks boarded special trains in Ankara and Istanbul and were taken to Germany. The workers arrived in Munich and were then distributed among the country's industrial zones. From 1961 up to 1973, about 650,000 people from Turkey went to Germany. For many years, Germany considered them as "guest workers" and expected that they would return home one day. However, many of them did not only come to work and many decided to stay in Germany, raise a family or bring their family to the Federal Republic. As a consequence, many people with Turkish origin are nowadays living as the second and third generation in Germany.


As a novel development, however, one can observe that more and more especially young and well-educated people, often academics, with a so-called "Turkish background," have now decided to migrate to Turkey. They were born in Germany, grew up there, ran through the German educational system and are what some people call "integrated" into German society; nevertheless, they have decided to return to their ancestors' country of origin. So the question that German society and politicians should ask themselves is what makes them want to leave Germany and return to Turkey?


This question is of special relevance; because, in contrast to other German emigrants, they are choosing to leave for their parent's motherland and do not necessarily migrate due to the curiosity for an unknown way of life. According to a study from the Turkish Academics and Students in Germany, or TASD, 42 percent of the interviewees said they were choosing to go Turkey because they didn't "feel at home" in Germany. A remarkable majority also questioned the effectiveness of the German government's integration policy. Other "push-factors" are a group-related discrimination in areas such as job-seeking and flat-hunting, the law for foreigners and visa requirements for Turkish vacationers.


Making sense of it all


Germany should consider this emigration as a loss and evidence of its own incapacity. As the current coalition government highlights that problems of integration are particularly caused by a lack of education, the country needs "mediators" – possibly composed of those that don't want to live any longer in Germany – between "the Germans" and "the Turks."


At the moment there are estimates that about 50,000-70,000 people with a German passport are living in Turkey but it cannot be determined with certainty how many of them do have a Turkish background. As (retired) "German-Germans" usually prefer holiday destinations like Antalya for their settlement and working people are attracted to big cities such as Istanbul and Ankara, a study on their demographic dispersion might be helpful to determine whether they have Turkish background or not. But a further and even more pending question without reply is: how long may it take until German politicians will realize that their country will be turned into one of emigration?


On the other hand, returning migrants and settled foreigners in Turkey are evidence that Turkey is becoming a more outstanding country. Among the prominent reasons for that attraction are growing economic welfare, stronger democracy and the diversification of living spheres such as green areas and parks, sport centers, cycling roads, breath-taking natural beauty, unique historical and archaeological sites, as well as a tradition of hospitality and competitive prices.


In this regard, Turkey has so much to offer its visitors. It is not surprising therefore that this country has recently become one of the world's most popular destinations both for tourism and settlement, not only for Germans – with or without ethnic Turkish origins – but also for Brits, Dutch people, Irish people, Danes, and Swedes as well.


*Muzaffer Vatansever is a researcher at the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, Center for EU Studies.








"It's a victory! We are hosting the 2018 World Cup," a beaming Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tweeted his countrymen, moments after the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, made its Dec. 2 announcement in Zurich. It was a big turnaround from the frown he wore just 24 hours earlier as he stormed off from the Astana Summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. Russia was badly beaten up on the summit's opening day and Medvedev was not going to endure it another day. Medvedev's summer smiles, it seems, have mostly given way to approaching winter frowns.


Believing America's reset and NATO's fresh start to be in high gear, Russia planned at Astana to turn the 56-member body from democratization toward hard security issues, at least the ones Moscow likes – fighting terrorism, human trafficking and drugs. With an emasculated mandate, the OSCE would have received greater executive authority.


No Western leader would reject the Russian agenda, but none was prepared to dump the remainder of the OSCE's mandate to have it. The West – bits of it, at least – is experiencing reset dilemma – too many hollow words about Russia; too many gooey smiles; too many invitations. Now the Russians are standing in the Western foyer and no one knows how to handle the unruly guests.


In practical OSCE terms, the American secretary of state could not arrive at the Eurasian continent's premiere security forum and fail to discuss the Russian occupation of Georgia and Moldova, the disregard of the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit commitments and, indeed, the disembowelment of the OSCE itself.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered some stark messages in Astana. "It is regrettable," she said, "that a participating state proposed to host a mission, and the OSCE has not been allowed to respond. We here at this table must let this organization do its job and restore a meaningful OSCE presence in Georgia."


Some back in the U.S. criticized Clinton for aggravating the Russians, but she said what had to be said. "Good fences make good neighbors," wrote the American poet Robert Frost. The problem is not that Clinton pronounced brusque words, but that the West allowed Russia to get so close that brusque words were unexpected.


And Clinton was not isolated at Astana. For example, although not as brusque, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "Conflicts in this region must be successfully solved now. Human rights guarantees, such as democracy and freedom of expression and media, must be fully implemented in all member states.''


It is unlikely that Astana was a turning point in Western relations with Russia. In the words of Alexander Pope, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Besides, Moscow can always find a friend with something to gain – Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi pranced around the summit trying to salvage it before jetting off to Sochi to rendezvous with Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and sign seven new business contracts.

And it may be premature even to mark Astana as a waypoint toward more level-headed Western relations with Russia. However, there are some indications of this. As Medvedev flew home from Astana, he might have thought of happier times – last summer, when he took his broad smile to California's Silicon Valley in search of high technology; October, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed him as a "great visionary;" and a week later, in the French beach town of Deauville, when he appeared to circumvent Washington and the rest of NATO by hobnobbing exclusively with Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.


Deauville was supposed to have been the gateway for Medvedev's grand entry to the NATO Lisbon Summit. But Lisbon turned out to be just a visit – not bad, but no triumph either. And the reset dilemma surfaced at the NATO Summit too. With Medvedev seated in their midst, it was difficult for Western leaders to overlook things like the Russian occupation of Georgia. Neither Georgia nor alliance enlargement was on the agenda, but U.S. President Barack Obama seized the occasion to meet with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. And the summit declaration contained one of the West's strongest ever endorsements of Georgian territorial integrity and sovereignty.


This likely happened because Medvedev was the honored guest, not despite it.


Some Westerners are taking a more sober look at Russia. Others will say, "I told you so." And others will

continue to plan tea parties and state dinners. FIFA will say that all is well. But all is not well. And it is not going to be well until the West abandons grandiloquent but hollow declarations of friendship and deals with Russia not as friend or foe, but as a troublesome neighbor with which we have some in common and much in disagreement – in other words, when Medvedev's visage is no longer the barometer of Western policy.


*David J. Smith is director at the Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and senior fellow at Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington. This piece appeared on Tabula, a weekly magazine published in Georgia.








The greatest imbalance in politics in Turkey is the weakness of the opposition. These parties are unable to meet expectations and merely dissent – they only ever say "no" to whatever the administration proposes.


They are unable to create an alternative to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.


There are only two obvious parties in opposition to the government. One is the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which only ever yells and screams. It is unable to step forward with concrete data and on top of that, is incapable of reviving itself. Furthermore, it is known that some of the party's own members sympathize with the AKP.


The situation is even worse when it comes to the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP.


When former CHP leader Deniz Baykal vacated his position for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the party underwent some motion of change, but not much time passed before it again defaulted to internal fighting.


Baykal and former CHP Secretary-General Önder Sav, instead of helping Kılıçdaroğlu in a civilized way, are currently maneuvering in order to not lose their influence in the party. There will be much trouble in the CHP general assembly set to be held this weekend.


Could you expect people to maintain high hopes for a party fighting with itself? The CHP currently portrays itself as a chaotic party oscillating from one extreme to another. Back and forth, back and forth.


Could you keep your hopes high for the CHP?


Latest surveys reflect this situation as well, and also indicate that the CHP only has around 20 percent of votes.


With the opposition being in the situation it is, students throw eggs and nongovernmental organizations react severely – and the media makes headlines out of this kind of remonstrance with the government.


Only five months left until general elections. Under these circumstances what do you expect from the opposition?


Erdoğan is collecting the votes


In a period in which the opposition is so weak, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is making for power and the latest surveys show votes for the AKP could be expected to total around 46 percent.


Neither administration fatigue nor the prime minister's harsh attitude matters, according to these figures.


On the contrary, voters seem sympathetic and favorable to the both the party and the prime minister. They say, "This time he has made a bad step and has been forced into a corner."


But the opposite is true: he encounters protests from students harshly but is applauded; unemployment still poses a problem but does not affect his votes; in the Kurdish initiative he steps on the brakes and people praise him as being a farsighted prime minister.


He challenges the United States, criticizes Israel more harshly than anyone else dares, drags the opposition through the mud and verbally berates the media everyday – but is carried on the shoulders of the community for being "a brave man."


The winds are blowing in his favor.


Erdoğan is in a one-man position. He determines politics, fights his own battles, travels the country and talks much. He makes up the agenda.


The economy being in a good shape creates a protection shield around him. Nothing influences the AKP, which is sure it will win the elections in June and is only curious about the percentage of the vote and the number of parliamentarians it will be awarded. It seems like an undefeatable armada.


This perception stirs from Erdoğan's leadership and discipline. For now, everything is developing the way the AKP wants – but let's not forget the winds may change unexpectedly.


Dear Baykal, please stop these fights


Deniz Baykal has engraved his name in golden letters into the history of the CHP. He made unforgettable contributions and carried the party on his shoulders all by himself. He will not to be forgotten easily.


However, there is now a different person in charge of the party. There will be general elections within five months. The CHP is walking a very fine line.


Just as we are about to pass through the election process, he has gone before the general assembly to fight about a "sheet list" of nominees for the party assembly. Even if he does not quarrel in person he has taken the lead. At least this is how the public perceives it.


This fight is stirring up the party and creating unnecessary disputes. Let us remember:


A sheet list is a method in which members of the party apply for candidacy. It is an application in which even those the chairman refuses to work with can apply. This application is useful for internal democracy in the party but may make it difficult for the chairman.


The block list is the chairman's own list. He can include those he likes and exclude those he doesn't. In respect to internal democracy in the party it is limiting, but makes it easy for the chairman.


Kılıçdaroğlu is looking for a solution to the current problem facing the CHP somewhere in between these two extremes. He is planning to create a list that mainly consists of a very hard working team, with the rest consisting of those who make up the opposition.


Baykal insists on the sheet list. It is obvious that he wants to include his own men in order not to lose control within the party.


Baykal became chairman of this party in 1993 and has since applied the block list, reasoning that it was favorable for increasing discipline and work pace.


Today he says the opposite. That doesn't work.








Rare earths – strategic, high demand, hard-to-process metallic elements – made world headlines recently when China, the world's main producer, punished buyers by cutting off supply.


The main victim of the cut in supply was Japan, which had imprisoned, and for three weeks refused to return, the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler that rammed two Japanese patrol boats.


With no explanation, China also stopped supplies to Europe and the United States for two weeks. Beijing then resumed shipments to all three main purchase areas, saying that the Chinese government had not ordered the supply halt – rather, it was an expression of spontaneous patriotic solidarity by the nation's 32 rare earth exporters, as a reaction to the trawler incident. Japan imports more rare earths than any other country.


Rare earth metals are crucial in the manufacture of a range of high-tech commercial and military products, from cell phones to gasoline-electric cars, wind turbines, catalytic converters, avionics devices, and advanced weapons.


It understates China's rare-earths role to call it the world's main supplier. Some 95 percent of rare earths in the global market are produced there, mainly in mines in Inner Mongolia, where geological features make them especially easy to get at. Their export price averages $45,000 a ton. One family of metals yielded by the rare earths includes an array of "iums", such as scandium, yttrium, cerium, and thorium.


China's action had a jarring impact on precision manufacturers. For a time the prices of some rare earths went up 900 percent. The high-tech export sector in Germany, painfully pinched by the cutoff, pressured Chancellor Angela Merkel into lodging a protest with Beijing.


Could rare earths mean anything for Turkey? Probably very little right now. Still, that could change if Ankara looked to the long term, weighed the prospects, and considered developing the mining, and possibly the processing, of such metals into what could become a very profitable future export sector. Given the variety of Turkey's geology and soils, along with the country's mining and metal processing know-how, the exploration, extraction, and processing groundwork could be laid down in 10 years or so, through a combination of state and private funding.


The rare earths themselves are not so rare. They can be extracted even from beach sands. Mountains of soil or sand must be turned, however, to find them, and then the technically exacting business of reducing them to the sought-after "rare" metals begins. This can involve fractional crystallization, liquid extraction, and ion exchange. Private firms in America did such extraction and processing, mainly in California, up to two decades ago, but gave it up when demand and profit prospects seemed slim – and when traces of radioactivity began to show up in the sludge at the exit end of the process. So far such problems do not seem to have slowed the Chinese.


No shots were fired when Beijing cut off its rare earth exports. But violence often follows in the trail of strategic minerals. In places less closely watched than China, rare earths have for some years been valuable enough to kill for. Coltan, a rare earth combining columbite and tantalite and prized for its properties as a semi-conductor, has been the main spark of bloody militia wars and razed villages in Congo over the middle of this decade, as warlords linked with high-tech multinationals have fought for profits. Extraction of coltan in the brutal deep-mud mines of southeastern Congo reached a fever pitch in 2006, when the manufacture of a much-hyped Sony playstation was stalled for several months because the supply of coltan could not keep up.


The human cost of coltan and other rare mineral extractions in central Africa – at one time involving the militaries of six countries and termed "The Third World War," with an estimated four million deaths – is a blunt indication of how lethally obsessive the hunt for rare earths can be.


Far away from Central Africa, rare earth export shipments from China are back on the sea lanes again. The world's advanced manufacturing giants, having been warned, are now working to build up their reserves. As long as there is electronic technology, one can assume that rare earths will command a robust world market – a market Turkey might well consider entering, preferably before others read the signs of the times and realize it's wise to do the same.








Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister in charge of European Union affairs, is definitely a very interesting person. He frequently comes up with some original ideas, some of which might be condemned as absurd or meaningless but some of them are indeed revolutionary and could indeed make a positive difference should they be applied.


For example, recently, he started talking about a conclave-like Cyprus process. He was suggesting that the leaders of the two peoples of Cyprus, the prime ministers of three guarantor powers, Turkey, Greece and Britain – and, should they wish, the EU and the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council as observers –be locked up somewhere for a marathon series of talks which should continue uninterrupted until they reach a compromise resolution to the almost 50-year-old Cyprus problem.


Greek Cypriots are still fuming over Bağış's idea, which indeed was nothing further than a revised version of a proposal made at least twice in the past, first by the late Turgut Özal and later by George Bush senior. The idea fell victim at the time to the power struggle between Özal and then-Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz and a very positive international conjecture for a settlement on Cyprus was missed. Now, with modest steps, the same idea is gaining support among key international game setters. Probably in the first half of 2011 it might not be a surprise to see such a conference getting underway.


This week Bağış made yet another revolutionary suggestion which, if it becomes a government decision, might eradicate some of the shameful residues from our communal conscience of some very important past mistakes or wrong applications. He suggested that Turkey should take measures to re-grant Turkish citizenship to former Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Syriac and other such minority citizens of this country who, for some reason, were compelled to leave Turkey for social or political reasons and lost their citizenship.


Indeed, for the past many years Turkey has been signaling that it may undertake such a process. As Bağış made us remember as well, a few years ago Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested at a meeting with then-Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis that should those Greek citizens who were forced to migrate from Turkey to Greece [because of the Sept. 6-7, 1955 events] wish to reacquire their Turkish citizenship, Turkey's doors were wide open to them.


Now, from what is said by Bağış, I understand that the Reform Follow-up Committee composed of various ministries and whose task is to monitor the implementation of the reforms aimed at harmonizing legal frameworks as well as practices with those in the EU will examine this issue at length and suggest to the government some practical steps to be taken to again bestow citizenship on former citizens who were compelled to depart Turkey for whatever reason and whose returned citizenship would not pose a threat to public order or national security.


Any former Turkish citizen wishing to reacquire Turkish citizenship and who does not pose a threat to public order and national security can be given Turkish citizenship without going through the difficult routine hurdle foreigners must go through to become Turkish citizens thanks to a Turkish law that allows the Interior Ministry to suggest a candidate for citizenship, who is then approved by the Cabinet. Over the past years, particularly for the urgent needs of the Fener Patriarchate [only Turkish citizens can hold any sort of office in the Patriarchate], many people were made Turkish citizen by the Cabinet through the aforementioned process. Yet, what Bağış was suggesting, of course, was a step forward that could help us remove one of the scars of some terrible past mistakes.


But, unlike the 1930 arrangement with Greece – which was later unilaterally scrapped by Turkey – former citizens should not be given some palliative rights. They must be given full citizenship rights. Furthermore, while walking such a road, perhaps Turkey should as well think of making an apology for the Sept. 6-7 events as it has become clear for some time that it was not just the former Democrat Party, or DP, which was behind those shameful events, but the intelligence and the military as well.


Similarly, while Jewish citizens mostly went voluntarily to help their brethren build the state of Israel, most Syriacs left Turkey because of the failure of the Turkish state to adequately protect them from all sorts of discrimination and oppression. Without ifs and buts Turkey must declare in all honesty its readiness to embrace all former citizens as well as the second- or the third-generation descendants should they wish to return to this country because not only is this country their motherland as well, but with them Turkey will become more colorful.








Once more, the numbers of seats held by various parties in the National Assembly are being urgently counted. The various possibilities are being drawn up and the formulas worked out. Much, for the moment, remains uncertain and there is some doubt about what the PPP government will or will not do following the angry exit of the JUI-F from the alliance. Uncertainties also surround the issue of a final decision by the MQM. Without the JUI-F and the MQM, the PPP with its allies would be left with 159 seats — whereas 172 seats are required for the prime minister to continue to hold top office. The latest crisis has resulted from two moves: the dismissal from the cabinet of JUI-F Senator Azam Khan Swati, who held the portfolio of minister for science and technology, and, in Karachi, the furious attack by Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza on the MQM, accusing it of involvement in extortion rackets. 

But it is also true that the crisis had begun much sooner, with the RGST bill tabled in parliament and opposed by PPP allies. The MQM had spoken out strongly against the proposed measure while the JUI-F too had indicated it would not back it. Tensions on other issues had cropped up before, with coalition partners accusing the PPP of failing to consult it on key issues. Indeed, almost from the first weeks after it assumed office, the PPP's handling of its partners has been clumsy – with the PML-N expressing its annoyance within months of linking up with President Zardari and his crew. As a result of this inept handling of affairs, we have faced almost constant instability. This is one reason why the economy has failed to find any kind of footing and there has been an unease which has hampered the smooth running of the affairs of state. People have suffered as a result and their suffering continues. There can be no doubt at all that Pakistan needs far more competent governance, and the government needs an ability to hold its allies together, if there is to be any change in its floundering fortunes. This latest upheaval goes to demonstrate this in the most clear-cut terms. 

The developments are now being watched with a hawk's eye. Much hinges on what final decision is taken by the MQM. In this scenario, the PML-Q, with 51 seats in the National Assembly becomes a key player. We already know that contacts between them and the PPP have been on for some time. The prime minister and his party may be willing to do almost anything to save their place in power. This has been the way Pakistan's politics has run for years. Issues of ideology and principles have rarely figured when it comes to the question of forming or saving governments. But within the PML-Q there is said to be some disquiet about any link-up with the PPP. A group within the party is said to have been engaged in overtures to the PML-N and favour a link-up with the party it originally broke away from. The feeling also is that the PPP sails a boat that could, eventually, sink and not many may be willing to clamber onboard. Things will become clearer within days. A hectic round of activities is expected – and the question of whether the PPP can handle the situation ably. Its inept handling of many matters makes this seem somewhat difficult.







The New York Times yesterday carried detailed summaries of two recently-released intelligence reports, one on Pakistan and the other on Afghanistan. Unlike other intelligence reports they are a synthesis of contributions by sixteen agencies rather than the product of a single agency, and thus offer a more holistic view of how the wider intelligence community sees both countries - and in our case the news is not good. They are of particular significance as they come on the eve of an American strategic review of its Afghan engagement; and the picture they paint is noticeably more negative than that which is to be presented in the review. Compressed to a nutshell, the report that deals with Pakistan is unequivocal in saying that there is only a limited chance of success for the Americans in Afghanistan unless we actively pursue and eradicate insurgents that operate from our own borderlands. The report says that we are unwilling to shut down sanctuaries used by insurgents, who move freely between here and Afghanistan, planting bombs, attacking ISAF forces and then returning here for rest and resupply.

Both reports are already the subject of Washingtonian squabbling between the differing agendas of the civilians and the military. The military say that the Afghan report is out of date (its cut-off is October 1st) and does not take account of military gains since that date. They also say that the reports are written by desk-bound analysts some of whom have never heard a shot fired in anger and who have little feel for the ground realities of a complex war. The perception is that we continue to support elements of the Afghan insurgency operating as a proxy force acting as a hedge against the - inevitable - future US withdrawal. Pragmatic American commanders on the ground recognise this and will 'live with it' according to the report. To quote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA operative now working at the Brookings Institute..."we have to deal with the world we have, not the world we'd like. We can't make Pakistan stop being naughty." What the US persistently fails to recognise is that for us, today's naughtiness is tomorrow's insurance policy. As we have pointed out before, our long-term housekeeping needs are for us to determine, and should not be shaped by American short-term imperatives.