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Friday, December 17, 2010

EDITORIAL 17.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 17, edition 000705, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































  3. '31-GUN SALUTE'




  2. COP-OUT







































There was never any expectation that Thursday's Prime Minister-level talks between Mr Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in New Delhi would result in spectacular decisions that would take India-China relations into a new trajectory of bilateral cooperation. That Mr Wen Jiabao quoted from the Upanishads and showered high praise on Mahatma Gandhi is neither here nor there; diplomatic niceties are not to be confused with hard realities. Hence, three key issues on which there is understandable concern in India have found no mention in the Joint Statement issued after the bilateral talks. There is no reason to disbelieve Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao when she says that Mr Wen Jiabao raised the issue of stapled visas for Indians living in Jammu & Kashmir even before our interlocutors could do so. It may well have been so. But that does not detract from the fact that the Chinese made it a point not to announce a resolution of the dispute that so rankles with India while Mr Wen Jiabao was in New Delhi — Beijing possibly feels that would have been perceived as a major concession to placate hurt Indian sensitivities immediately before he arrives in Islamabad for the second leg of his South Asia tour. It is equally possible that the visa row may be resolved in the coming days, but that announcement would be bereft of the political significance that would be attached to a declaration from Delhi that Beijing will discontinue with its obnoxious and wholly unacceptable policy. Similarly, there's no way a Chinese leader is going to criticise Pakistan for promoting cross-border terrorism or not doing enough to bring the guilty men of 26/11 to justice: China has invested too heavily in Pakistan to do so. Frankly, nor should India expect every passing visitor to wax eloquent on either 26/11 or berate Pakistan; others fight their own battles and there's no reason why India shouldn't do so. China did not look towards India for endorsement before or after forcing Gen Pervez Musharraf to raid Lal Masjid after its mullahs, had abducted Chinese citizens working in a massage parlour. Nor will China seek international approval if it were to come to the conclusion that it must go after Pakistan or elements of the Pakistani establishment. Those aspiring to global power don't look for crutches or emotional support. As for India's membership of the UN Security Council, it's a pie in the sky and that's how much of the world sees it, never mind what lotus eaters in India think.

Yet, it would be wrong to write off Mr Wen Jiabao's visit as inconsequential or lacking in importance. The two Asian giants need to be engaged in constant dialogue at all levels, and symbolism has its own role in shaping bilateral relations. The Chinese Premier has been correct and measured in his utterances and has made all the right sounds. The emphasis has been on economics and in seeking a new matrix to deliberate on the border dispute. If Mr Manmohan Singh had the gumption, he would have raised the issue of Chinese plans to construct dams on Brahmaputra and let it be known that he did so. But such courage is sadly missing when it comes to the current UPA regime engaging the world, especially India's neighbours, in purposeful dialogue. That, in a nutshell, is the crisis of foreign policy which India faces today. 







The Gujarat Government's new land acquisition policy goes on to show that Chief Minister Narendra Modi, while balancing industry requirements, has been mindful of the grievances of landowners and their right to property. The policy is laudable because it takes into consideration two major issues regarding land acquisition: First, correct determination of the price of the land, a factor that often becomes the bone of contention because farmers feel short-changed. And, second, the post-sale source of income of farmers who sell their entire land holding that has been their only source of livelihood. Now that land acquisition for industrial purposes in Gujarat will be based on market prices determined by a third agency — the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University — and landowners will be given 10 per cent of the differential amount between allotment price and land purchase price, the farmers are expected to get a better deal, leaving little room for discontent. However, most judicious is the decision to give landowners a developed commercial plot equivalent to one per cent of the land acquired — they can either use it or sell it at commercial rates — and to bear the cost of training a member of each of the families of affected farmers for two years at any ITI. Such steps would address the issue of post-sale sources of income for farmers who sell their entire land holding. 

Land acquisition in India for infrastructure and industrial development has been the core issue in the development debate and has resulted in serious agitations like the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the Nandigram movement. And Gujarat has its share of controversies, too, despite witnessing a steady flow of investments due to establishment of industrial estates with all the required infrastructural facilities in several parts of the State by the GIDC. While farmers have been up in arms against GIDC for acquiring fertile agricultural lands, the State Government has been ticked off heavily by the Gujarat High Court for not paying the market price to landowners. There is no denying that monetary compensation is not enough for people when their roots, shelter and the source of livelihood are taken away along with their land. In that respect, the Gujarat Government's new participatory policy shows a way of rehabilitating the third or fourth generation farmers by helping them develop new skills to find employment and giving them the opportunity to reap benefits of future development on their land. Other State Governments would do well to take a leaf out of Gujarat's book as development does not mean bringing in the IT and manufacturing sectors and building highways, railway lines and real estates to the detriment of agricultural land, but maintaining a balance between factory and farming. 









With the rumoured retirement of the Dalai Lama from playing an active role, the Karmapa Lama could take on 'additional responsibilities' 

When the Darjeeling road was being laid, an old Tibetan remarked that the blasting could be heard in Lhasa. Similarly, there is little doubt that before coming to India, Mr Wen Jiabao heard in Beijing the mass chanting in Bodh Gaya marking the start of the year-long celebrations for 900 years of the Karmapa Lama, head of the Karma Kagyu Buddhist sect. It should have reminded him, like the voice of the jailed Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, that the power of faith does not need the barrel of a gun.

Orgyen Thinley Dorjee, the 26-year-old 17th Karmapa, enjoys the unique distinction of being recognised by Beijing, the Dalai Lama and by three of the four highest-ranking Karma Kagyu rinpoches as well as most monasteries of the sect. He finds it "funny" that Communist leaders who didn't believe in god recognised an incarnation. But having done so, they cannot derecognise him. They are saddled with a Karmapa they acknowledge but who had rejected them by fleeing Tibet.

China's humiliation over a lost asset explains the fantasies conjured up around him. Some suspect he could not have escaped without Chinese connivance and that China still secretly supports him. Others feed India's dormant paranoia about the Foreign Hand by accusing the American Central Intelligence Agency of planning the exercise with or without Beijing's acquiescence. It is also whispered that Beijing's pressure forces New Delhi to treat the Karmapa more like a state prisoner than a state guest.

Such comments could also apply to the Dalai Lama and his flight in 1959 but speculation is seldom logical. Official silence only encourages wild theories. But though politics did not cast a shadow over the riot of colour under the huge marquee in Bodh Gaya, the throng of more than 5,000 devotees, including many from China, made clear that no Pope ever had as many or as fervently loyal divisions. 

Underlying the religious pageantry lurked the inescapable question: Can culture and politics be separated in determining identity? It arose unbidden as the Karmapa's infinitely lonely figure stood watching a gaily bedecked palanquin bearing away a small metal statue of the first of his line, Dusum Khyenpa, to the timeless wail of "Karmapa Chenno! Karmapa listen to us!" He had just launched the image on a journey round the world. The 900th anniversary celebration will end next December when the image returns to Delhi. 

Someone asked if the Karmapa would follow Dusum Khyenpa's statue on its global peregrination. He replied through an interpreter that everything depended on "events and circumstances". It could have been shorthand for a new Great Game. A German Buddhist identified the Government of India, China, and the Dalai Lama's administration in Dharamsala as the key players whose interaction determines the Karmapa's movements. 

If the Karmapa cut a lonely figure, the crowd around him confirmed the far-reaching impact of his person and position at a time when Mr Wen's visit and India's refusal to boycott the ceremony to honour Mr Liu Xiaobo underline the delicate balance of China-Indian relations. Tibet, whose historic connection with India the Karmapa mentioned, remains central to that equation. Asked if the connection would extend into the future, he expatiated on the student-teacher relationship between the two countries, India's contribution to Tibet's culture, religion and lifestyle, and on the warmth with which India's people and Government had received Tibetan refugees. Grateful Tibetans are trying to hold on to what they have received from India and give something back in return. "We hope to preserve and continue the relationship in a very live way" may have suggested more than continuing the ancient guru-shishya bond to which the Dalai Lama also pays tribute.

He also said that the Dalai Lama had repeatedly reminded Beijing that Tibet's culture, religion and way of life face "great danger". The Karmapa's own contribution to that discourse was to wonder if ordinary Chinese people were aware of the damage being done to Tibet. But while he claimed no insight into official Chinese thinking, Samdhong Rimpoche, Prime Minister in the Tibetan administration in exile, who sat next to the Karmapa on the stage, throws some light on Chinese motives. Claiming in a recent interview that "in the absence of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, China wants to make use of him (the Karmapa) for their own purposes", he explained that "with the rumoured retirement of the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa will take on additional responsibilities" even if Dharamsala continues to "take care of administrative governance". 

That forces the exiled administration — the third player in this Great Game — to do some hard thinking. The Karmapa hasn't been disappointed in linking his post-China existence to the Dalai Lama's. But the rumours that Samdhong Rimpoche mentioned could indicate a more independent future role. Orgyen Thinley Dorjee denies temporal ambition, saying his spiritual responsibilities are heavy enough for one person. But he also recognises the material component of spiritual wellbeing and has just given Bodh Gaya a high-tech filter that supplies 500 litres of potable water per hour. He must know that modern young Tibetans drawn to his vision of peace and harmony beyond doctrinal definition need a leader. The "events and circumstances" he mentions may not leave him much choice. 

Behind the Karmapa at the Bodh Gaya ceremony, the stage rose in a pyramid of yellow cloaks on maroon robes to a large golden Buddha. I thought the cross-legged figure in a black hat immediately below was a senior monk in deep meditation but, no, it was another image of Dusum Khyenpa. The four yellow-draped sentries around it were human though they, too, might have been waxworks in their stillness. There was no immobility, however, about the lithe young men in brocades brandishing dummy swords or the pretty girls in flowing silk waving long shimmering sleeves. Or RS Nandkumar's musicians singing in praise of the Buddha in Sanskrit after Tilopa, the sect's 10th century Indian founder.

No Indian crowd is ever so disciplined; no choreography so impeccably orchestrated. His Holiness had personally ensured that the ceremonial umbrellas with appliqué designs were of exactly the same height, that the timing, movement and steps of the dancers were perfectly matched. He would have made a superb stage manager if millions of Buddhists had not looked to him to manage their destiny. China's loss could be India's gain. 








It's mind-boggling. `1.76 lakh crore and still counting. The 2G Spectrum scam is the biggest in the country ever — or rather, the sum total of all the other scams (that have been exposed) put together, multiplied by two and more. If not a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe now, then when?

A great democracy is one with a thriving Opposition. After the last general election, I had raised a question: Is this the end of the road for the BJP for long? It looked so. The BJP was stuck on its Hindutva mantra while the Congress looked progressive and could connect with the masses better.

But then, complacency is the mother of all failures. And failure is the mother of all successes. The Congress committed two big blunders. First, in a haste to promote Mr Rahul Gandhi as its future leader — and in its fear that charismatic speakers like Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia or Mr Sachin Pilot or Mr Milind Deora may overshadow him — the Congress started destroying its biggest trump card, the youth factor. The Congress saw to it that none of them had the courage to hog any limelight or be on any platform of importance; so much so that the public has virtually forgotten the Congress's youth brigade.

And the truth is whatever the slavish media in India writes (it praises every rare semi-meaningful word that he says) Mr Rahul Gandhi, unfortunately, is still not good enough to single-handedly lead the Congress yet. Like it has done with Mr Manmohan Singh, the Congress could have made best use of Mr Rahul Gandhi as the silent guy while the other better speakers managed the party.

The second mistake is perhaps bigger and more dangerous. Protecting a dynasty may ruin a party but abetting corruption ruins the nation. The Congress ruined its Prime Minister's personal image of crystal clear integrity by entering into a series of mega scams.

A majority of the people in India, being largely illiterate, doesn't understand policies much, but it understands 'chori'. I believe a conspiracy by VP Singh created a wave in India which made him the Prime Minister from being a nobody, thanks to an allegation of corruption that he could make the people believe in.

Rajiv Gandhi was progressive, he was a man of personal integrity and had launched an anti-corruption drive against businessmen. VP Singh was a friend of industry, being a former Commerce Minister, and seizing the moment he leveled the Bofors allegation. Rajiv Gandhi, who had swept the polls on a massive sympathy wave in 1984, lost the election in 1989. 

Rajiv Gandhi, I believe, was personally not corrupt (for party funds, even the most honest politician depends on sources and he might have depended on a single alternative instead of a number of businessmen). But can I say the same about the current Congress? Well, only a joker can. Everyone knows what's happening in the Congress.

Yes, there is Mr Manmohan Singh who is clean. But he sits atop a pile of corrupt people. The list of scams — CWG, Adarsh, 2G — goes on. It's personal wealth creation at its best as well as wealth being stacked offshore. The Supreme Court has rightly asked: Was the Prime Minister sleeping? Being personally clean as a leader is only half the job done. You have to clean up the whole system.

And in this failure of the Congress to provide clean governance comes hope for the BJP and the NDA for 2014. Forget Hindutva; concentrate on the massive dacoity of India in every sphere. The masses understand it and they are totally convinced that the UPA has started rotting. 

Gone are the days of the 'hundred-crore-rupee Ministers'. If figures are to be believed, today key Ministers are raking in thousands of crores of rupees. The country is being looted and sold to the lowest bidder who gives the highest kickback. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to accept and tolerate this.

This is where the need for Opposition in a democracy comes in. The BJP should keep up its demand for a JPC inquiry. It can take to the streets but the JPC is a must. And the probe must be totally transparent with complete media access during hearings. That's the way it happened in Watergate, the Iran Contra affair, the Clinton case. That's how it happens in real democracies. 

The JPC is also the only way everyone can be brought to the questioning table. Every other agency can be manipulated and managed in this country by the party in power. The Indian media is right now too busy doing what it does best: Go behind glamourised cases and magnify them to grab eyeballs and totally mislead and misinform the people.

The real issue here is that the Government is caught in a web of corruption. What the Opposition and media need to do right now is demand a JPC probe, for that's what the Indian masses need and want. As the magnitude of the 2G scam gets unearthed, it's clear that there's more of taxpayers' money at stake than in the non-functioning of Parliament. The masses, the taxpayers, they have a right to a clean regime and the Opposition must help them get their rights. That's what makes a functional pro-people democracy.

And why not? After all, this perhaps is the sure-shot route for the NDA to be back in power in 2014. As I said, nothing works with the aam janata better than the corruption plank. 

-- The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian. 






Digvijay Singh is playing to the Islamist gallery

The confidence with which the Gandhi family loyalist and Congress general secretary Mr Digvijay Singh has been targeting Hindus as the perpetrators of recent terror attacks suggests that the Congress is game for jihadi politics like the power-brokers and rabble-rousers in Pakistan. Despite the rebuttal by the widow of slain Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad chief Hemant Karkare of the Congress leader's claim that Karkare had confided in him the threat to his life from Hindu radicals hours before the 9/11 attack on Mumbai in November 2008, Mr Singh vouches for his inflammatory assertion. He wants the Union Ministry of Communications & Information Technology to furnish his call records as proof. Whether such evidence emerges or not, his public pronouncements are clearly anti-national as they seek to deflect the blame for the killing of Karkare and, by extension, others in the Mumbai attack two years ago, from Pakistani ISI-backed mercenaries to Hindutva activists, whose raison d'etre is nationalism. The ploy really amounts to treason as it seeks to weaken India's fight against Islamist terror and insurgency.

And why would a leader, who is a Congress general secretary, and was formerly a Union Minister and the longest serving Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, try to throw a red herring in the way of investigators, probing terror attacks? The answer is indirectly provided by a WikiLeaks cable, credited to former United States Ambassador to India David Mulford, and dated December 20, 2008. Summing up the Congress's "crass political opportunism", in the context of the then Minorities Affairs Minister AR Antulay's insinuation that Karkare's death owed to his investigating the suspected role of Hindu radicals in the September 2006 Malegaon blast, Mr Mulford stated that the Congress was prepared to "stoop to old caste/religious-based" politics after 26/11. That is, the party — whose kow-towing to Muslims, as a numerically dominant minority group and vote bank, gave rise to the term 'minorityism' — was actively spreading the view of Hindutva activists having orchestrated the Mumbai attack. 

That was not all. The cable further notes: "The Congress party, after first distancing itself from the comments, two days later issued a contradictory statement which implicitly endorsed the conspiracy." 

Though the Congress eventually made an effort to distance itself from the controversy, Mr Singh has resurrected it, and that too, shortly after the second anniversary of the Mumbai attack. This is shameful. No senior party leader has bothered to condemn his claim of the threat to Karkare's life from Hindu radicals. Such statements, by seeking to obfuscate the truth, serve as an invitation to enemies to further target India. They can act behind the smokescreen, created by politicos, bent on appeasing Muslims, to launch more attacks with impunity. However, Muslims, as much as Hindus and persons of other faiths and nationalities die in terror attacks. The global dimension of the problem also means that compulsions of vote-bank politics must necessarily be subsidiary to the concerted fight against Islamist terrorism. The Congress or other parties that have long indulged in minorityism cannot any more expect to white-wash incidents of violence and conflict, involving Muslims, when these have a bearing on the security and business interests of other countries, belonging to the free world. Ground realities have changed dramatically since the 9/11, 2001 attack on the US, with India's stand on ISI-sponsored terror gaining credibility even as Pakistan's emergence as the epicentre of Islamist terrorism is acknowledged by western intelligence agencies and policy-makers.

Thus, Mr Singh and his ilk are out of sync with the times when they resort to the old Congress line of Muslim appeasement. It will not work if the issue at stake is Islamist terror since the ensuing panic, fear and instability adversely affect global business operations in the new world order. This explains the angry tenor of Mr Mulford's cable as the attack on Mumbai, India's premier commercial hub, also hit people from the West, and jeopardised transnational business operations. In terms of global commerce, India's security is of utmost important now for First World countries that have huge financial stakes here. Instability is the last thing that these powers would want in India, as one of the nations, driving the recovery from the economic recession that struck the US, the UK and Europe. Moreover, with Pakistan failing to prove itself to be a reliable ally in the fight against terror, western powers are increasingly looking towards India for strategic partnership and support in this ongoing battle. 

In the circumstances, the policy of Muslim appeasement, at the cost of national security, can only antagonise our western allies and investors. So far as the US-led axis is concerned, Islamist terror is a frightening reality, with the potential to destabilise the whole world. But Hindu terror, if it exists, is a bogey, deployed by politicos to play the minority card. 







After the Winter session of Parliament has been wasted with barely any business conducted, now talks of possibility of a mid-term poll are doing the rounds. According to senior BJP leader, Mr LK Advani, a UPA Minister started the talk just to dent the unity of the Opposition after the Opposition stood firm and united over the JPC demand. And he may be right in claiming so. Despite the bravado, it is sure that neither the UPA nor the NDA is in a position to face another costly election, barely 18 months after the last general election. 

Why is the UPA then talking of mid-term polls? Well, this could be seen as a ploy to scare the Opposition and divide its ranks. Both Houses of Parliament did not function for a single day during the just concluded Winter session as both the Government and the Opposition refused to blink on the JPC issue. The impasse that resulted is yet to be broken. The BJP has already announced nation-wide anti-corruption rallies to corner the UPA. Beginning in New Delhi from December 22, the rallies will hit Ludhiana, Rohtak, Jaipur, Lucknow, Patna, Bhubaneswar, Bhopal, Ahmadabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Conspicuous is Bangalore where the BJP Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa is facing corruption charges. 

The Left parties and others are also drawing up plans to sustain the corruption campaign against the UPA. With the Opposition planning to continue the protest in the next session of Parliament, the UPA is apprehensive about the impact of such a campaign. Early next year, at least half-a-dozen States, including Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam, are going to polls and stakes are high for the Congress, Left parties and the BJP. 

Most important, the UPA itself is not ready for a mid-term poll. The credibility of the UPA has taken a beating and its popularity has nosedived following the recent spurt of scams like the 2G Spectrum, Adarsh Housing and the Commonwealth Games scams. Further, the allies of the Congress like the Trinamool Congress and the NCP are also nervous about the prospects of yet another Lok Sabha poll so soon.

The Congress, which leads the UPA, has suffered a major setback in the Bihar elections. Although the Congress emerged as the single largest party in the 2009 election, showing a marked improvement in its position in Uttar Pradesh, the Bihar poll results have dashed its hopes. The party won only four of the 243 seats it contested. Its vote share also plummeted. Since the 'ekla chalo' experiment of Mr Rahul Gandhi seems to have failed in Bihar, the party may rethink its strategies as stakes are high in next year's Assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. While the Congress-Trinamool alliance seems to be on track, the party's alliance with the DMK does not look very promising. The AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa is already making overtures asking the Congress to dump the DMK. 

If the UPA is struggling to save its face over the unearthing of scams, the NDA too is not really prepared to face the mandate. The BJP has to deal with its internal problems like groupism and indiscipline. Further, the party is groping for a strong leadership. If election is held today, the BJP may not fare as well as it did in Bihar, where the charm of Mr Nitish Kumar had worked in its favour. 

There is no denying that after the Radia tapes have been leaked, the corporate leaders are both nervous and anxious about their privacy being compromised. The Prime Minister had to allay their fears at the recently held Corporate Week 2010 meet. In a bid to soothe ruffled feathers, Mr Manmohan Singh said, "While the powers are needed they have to be exercised with utmost care and under defined rules, procedures and mechanisms so that they are not misused." The corporate leaders have made it clear that the phone-tapping and Radia tape expose have hurt the morale of the industry. With the air of mistrust creating a deep chasm between the Government and the corporate world, which industrialist would like to finance political parties and give huge donations for the election?

Further, the situation on the price front does not look very good despite the Government's claim that the inflation has come down to 7.48 per cent. The price of vegetables and other food products continue to be high and remain beyond the reach of the common man. In such a situation, the ruling coalition is, no doubt, at a disadvantage. 

Another reason why the Congress may not be in a hurry to face the election is because Mr Gandhi is still not ready to take over the mantle. He is continuing with his 'Bharat Darshan' to feel the pulse of the people. Until he is ready to take over from Mr Manmohan Singh, the Sonia-Singh experiment will continue.

Major political parties know that in the present circumstances if an election is held and people give a divided verdict, the smaller parties and the Left parties would come together to cobble up a coalition and form a Government. Neither the UPA nor the NDA would like to take that risk. 








The churning of the financial world has not stopped and it looks unlikely to stop anytime in the near future. The question is what the churning is all about and where does its vortex lie. Indeed, there may be multiple states of vortices of financial turbulence. They may be overtly linked, or linked in a non-manifest manner. They may even be isolated and yet inter-related. The possibilities of the patterns are infinite. The bottom line is, of course, that there is a churning, which continues unabated. 

Some may be more comfortable using the word 'turmoil'. Turmoil is a post-industrial word and churning is close to the Sanskrit root manthan. The knowledgeable would recall that from Samudra Manthan emerged both the poison and the nectar. Thus, one has to recognise that one cannot be selective about the consequences of one's action.

A point that the weak and deficit regions and countries need to register is that there is a high cost attached to their limitations in making necessary corrections in the governmental expenditure, external borrowings and more.

Consider the present state of affairs with the Euro. November 28 witnessed a bail out worth US$130 billion offered to Ireland. The yields rose in several countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. It was not just the south-east region of Europe getting affected, but also the North where Belgium saw convulsions. Not so long ago, the profligacy in Greece resulted in the need for a US$1 trillion bail out. The result was predictable. Money became dearer in many economies.

Such developments do leave economies like India in the lurch. Now, we have to find large resources for the infrastructure sector because of our belated realisation. It is not just roads but also power supply, which is the heart of all projects. If the cost of funds go up in the medium term, resulting in an extended breakeven period and/or returns get strained in comparison with the original assumptions, we have a problem at our end. It is therein that sovereign wealth funds and credit from the financial institutions of countries specialising in heavy industry may play a key role in funding our projects.

While Europe tumbles from one attempt of rescue to another, there is serious attention being paid to the possibility of the breakup of the Euro. The logic behind it really adds up to saying that European citizens are not gaining from this device of Euro. Grinding austerity is not easy to bear in a consumption economy. It is not just wages that have to be competitive but also the prices.

Financial theory will stand to gain with a longitudinal perspective and if it learnt the lessons from experiences. The unthinkable can become inevitable. Examples are many: Recall the British leaving the gold standards in 1931, which was as surprising as Argentina abandoning the dollar in early 2002. It may not be easy to live with the collapse of the Euro. Consider the effect it will have on the technological growth and development of these countries. Europe's currency may not be internally immune from speculative attack that is known to have impacted dramatically the exchange rate mechanism.

Whereas it is true that currency parity of the era preceding 1992 may not occur, as commented in the preceding lines, the way forward, if not thought through, may have dangerous pitfalls.

The significance of the Euro lies not solely in its ability to ensure that no one country in its domain can be forced to devalue, for the simple reason that no one has the currency to devalue. The role of Germany here becomes significant.

Unlike this circumstance, the issues in India continue to be a pot purée of issues of development, unevenness and at times, almost unachievable social aspirations.

In such circumstances, attention to microfinance becomes essential. A simple device like the cell phone has altered the social landscape and has made deep penetration into the non-banking sector, now threatening to impact the banking sector. Its role has the potential of radically altering relationship amongst the customers and the banks themselves.

In either of the cases, be it manufacturing or technological advancement, the critical push will lie with consumer sovereignty. Indicators for this need to be developed, just as related institutions will have to profile the consumers. 







THERE is nothing startlingly new in the report on the economy released by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council ( EAC). The EAC has taken a slightly more optimistic view on growth than the finance ministry, which has traditionally tended to conservatively estimate growth. At 8.5 per cent for the current year and 9 per cent for the next fiscal, the EAC's numbers are better than the numbers projected in the budget, but are somewhat less than more optimistic forecast by others, including the International Monetary Fund.


Lest that be taken as a sign that all is well with the economy, the EAC has flagged some issues of major concern. Inflation, not surprisingly, heads the list. In the strongest signal yet to the Reserve Bank from the government, the EAC has said the monetary regulator needs to get cracking on containing inflation by raising interest rates and tightening money supply.


The other issues noted with concern by the EAC are the government's growing fiscal deficit, which it said is getting beyond " acceptable limits", the laggard performance of agriculture, and the persistent failure to bridge infrastructure gaps.


These are issues which have been plaguing the Indian economy for decades. The meeting of the National Development Council ( NDC), which followed on the heels of the release of the EAC report, noted the same issues. What was absent was any concrete move forward on tackling these roadblocks to sustained growth.


Technically, the NDC is the highest policymaking body in the country, comprising both the Centre and the states. But far from generating any innovative ideas to tackle these problems, the NDC's deliberations were marked by the familiar blame game played out by the Centre and the states, with each accusing the other of making the price situation worse.


It is not as if there is a shortage of good advice. There is plenty of it in the EAC report itself, especially on controlling inflation in food articles. The EAC has urged the Centre to use the country's buffer stocks of grain in a strategic and targeted manner to control the surge in prices, while asking the states to develop alternative distribution mechanisms in addition to the overburdened and faulty public distribution system, in order to ensure that this stock, released at below market prices, actually reaches consumers. But there was no reaction to this to be seen at the NDC meet. There is not much point in the government having highly qualified and capable advisers, if it is not prepared to listen to them.



IN a society where everything is seemingly up for sale, the judiciary and the media were two pillars of our democracy that were relatively untouched by the spectre of corruption. On both counts, as is evident from reports emanating from various courts, as well as media houses, law officers and journalists have fallen well short of the high standard of propriety expected of them.


In the recent past, publication of what is now being termed " paid news" has become so rampant that the Press Council of India was pressured into instituting an inquiry into the phenomenon.


Unfortunately, even though the report is ready, its publication has been deferred at the behest of media heavyweights who feel that doing so may " hurt their credibility", according to Indian media watchdog The Hoot . This is most unfortunate. Paid news is an evil that needs to be rooted out of the media sphere — it is reprehensible and goes against the very fabric of fair and objective journalism that all media houses are expected to practise.


No media outlet can be free of bias or opinion — indeed, the very strength of a free and fair press in any democracy is the heterogeneity of ideas and opinions. But to instill that bias or opinion in a reader's mind by accepting money from interested parties is immoral and irresponsible, even criminal, on part of those in the news business.


On a positive note, though, media houses have begun to introspect on " paid news" and its ramifications on media credibility as well as the very future of any media house. This introspection is a no- brainer, really. It has to be eliminated, and it has to be eliminated quickly; merely pushing the issue under the carpet won't do.


Publishers would do well to recall the old dictum that journalists were taught to live by — credibility's all you got. It may be old school, but it works.



            MAIL TODAY





IF THE Belgaum agitation is taken seriously, India's federated states will never acquire territorial integrity. The essence of Maharashtra's claim is that all the border villages in neighbouring Karnataka, where even a bare majority speak Marathi, should be handed over to become a part of Maharashtra. Over 60 years, these demands have been accompanied by violence, threats and the emergence of pan- Marathi fundamentalist nationalism.


Belgaum is in the news again because Maharashtra politicians resent an affidavit by the Union of India in 2010 refusing to accept Maharashtra's claims to Karnataka's border villages. In 2004, Maharashtra filed a case against Karnataka in the Supreme Court, effectively claiming 865 villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Bidar and Gulbarga in Karnataka on the basis of alleged linguistic majorities in these villages. In Karwar, the claim for 301 villages is based on the assertion that Konkani is a dialect of Marathi. Maharashtra's claim rests on four principles: ( i) the villages as a unit ( ii) geographical contiguity ( iii) linguistic majority and ( iv) wishes of the people.




Shorn of pretences, if Maharashtra's claim to annex border villages in neighbouring states where there is a Marathispeaking majority was to be applied as a principle, inter- state border claims would never stop and be resurrected each time border villages show linguistic change.


Movements of people across borders would be encouraged and villages colonised to create linguistic majorities to facilitate their annexation. Taken to its illogical conclusion, Indian federalism is invited to permit its states the indulgence of cross- border conquest by linguistic head- count supported by noisy, even violent, politics.


It is really not necessary to go into historical controversies over recognising linguistic federalism in India. Before independence, the cause of linguistic federalism was espoused by the Congress's sessions in 1920 and 1927, the Nehru Committee Report ( 1926) and the creation of Sindh and Orissa on a linguistic basis in 1936. After independence, the Dar Commission and the JVP Committee of 1948 suggested status quo and caution unless " public sentiment was insistent". This was not intended to be, but became, an invitation to agitation. In 1954- 55, the States Reorganisation Committee ( SRC) recommended a basis for linguistic federalism, including separate states also for Vidarbha and Telengana — demands for which continue today. But the SRC did not elevate " linguistic ( and cultural) homogeneity as an exclusive and binding principle overriding all other considerations, administrative, financial or political". Even if the ' wishes of the people' were ascertainable, they were subject to the " larger national interest". Linguistic federalism was not an absolute or exclusive basis for federalism.


Indian federalism permits new states to be created out of old ones with the scantiest of consultation with state legislatures ( Article 3). The absence of territorial integrity was never visualised as permanent.


The territorial integrity of these new states was intended to be respected.


These provisions were to creatively enable a multi- cultural nation to emerge from an alien empire and 550 odd princely states. The basis of these revisional endeavours have been founded on language, culture, administrative convenience and people's demands.


The defining moment was 1956 when the SRC effectively responded to Potti Sreeramulu's fast to death in 1954, overruled Nehru's cautionary reserve and enabled Parliament to create Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka ( then Mysore) on a linguistic basis. Later exercises were based both on language and culture to enable the creation of Gujarat and Maharashtra ( 1960), Punjab, Haryana ( 1966) Himachal Pradesh and the North Indian States ( 1971), Sikkim by accession ( 1975), Goa ( 1987) and the tribal states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh ( 2000). Tribal areas have been designated within states to enable autonomy for these areas ( Constitution's 5th- 6th Schedules). Union territories have been created for Delhi, Chandigarh, Pondicherry and various islands. Questions loom large as to whether UP should be broken into several states, states of Vidarbha and Telengana be created and a mountain state be created out of Bengal.




Nobody visualised continuing border disputes. Maharashtra's border claims are a way in which an uncompromising and fearful Marathi politics reinforces itself. Over 1955- 56, Maharashtra's agitation led to 105 deaths by police firing.


Around that time, C. D. Deshmukh resigned as finance minister in support of Maharashtra's claim. Many methods to resolve these disputes were tried: the use of the western zonal councils ( which failed), committees from the warring states ( which failed) and examination of commissions headed by serving or retired judges ( which succeeded).


The Justice Wanchoo ( 1952) and Justice Mishra Commissions ( 1953) split Bellary to give three districts to Andhra Pradesh and the rest to Karnataka. The case was decided on its facts and hardly authorises compulsory splitting of districts by villages, a view rejected by the Union in 1966. This is equally true of Justice Shah's efforts on Punjab and Haryana. The fact remains that the Belgaum dispute was referred to the formidable ex- Justice M. C. Mahajan, who received 2,240 memoranda and spoke to 7,572 people, visiting 17 places, rejected the village unit formula, relying on panchayat boundaries.


Interestingly, what the Commission presented was that between 1951 and 1961, the Marathi majority in Belgaum slipped into a minority, or bare majority in various areas, and increased in others — with Maharashtra adding and subtracting their claims based on the 1961 census.


Demographic movements are inevitable.


A right to movement and to settle in any part of India inheres in all persons and communities. The Marathi speaking majority in 1951 in some areas had been reduced in 1961 ( 46 per cent). Unhappy with Mahajan's report, Maharashtra resorted to agitational protest.




In determining these questions, do we go to the census of 1951, 1961, 1971, 2001 or 2011? Nothing could be more absurd than redrawing state boundaries after each census! The present agitation arises because of a Counter- Affidavit of 2010 by the Union of India reiterating its stand that " language ( is) not the sole criteria" for determining boundaries and " the transfer of certain areas to Karnataka was neither arbitrary nor wrong". Marathi politics tries to reinforce a false pernicious identity through uncompromising agitation. In 1996, 10 ladies from Belgaum started a hunger strike on the issue. Chief ministers of Maharashtra have kept the issue alive between 1997 and 2002. The Supreme Court case was filed in 2002. The Supreme Court cannot and should not determine these matters and strike down the 1956 and 1960 Reorganisation Acts to unsettle settled demarcations, open a Pandora's box and create new border tensions.


The claim on Belgaum and other areas is part of a pan- Marathi nationalism. The obverse of this agitation is the campaign to threaten non- Marathis in Mumbai so that even film stars have been coerced into submission.


The Shiv Sena and the MNS claim to be trustees of the Marathi cause to the hilt.


Chief minister Ashok Chavan was anxious not to miss the bus and made the absurd suggestion of making the disputed areas a Union Territory. The agitation will continue in the monsoon session of Parliament. If Chavan's suggestion is talked through, is there a case for Mumbai becoming a Union Territory to make it available for all? India has a rich multi- lingual and multicultural federalism. Freedom of movement has enabled workers and business to travel to all corners of India. New states may and will be created to make Indian federalism more manageable. These border disputes which are fuelled by politically inspired jingoism must stop — now!


( The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer)









THE JOB profile of the Union home minister has never included the word " diplomacy". Palaniappan Chidambaram knows it better than any of his predecessors, including that old hawk Lal Kishen Advani. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to send Chidambaram to Pakistan to do some plain speaking to his counterpart, Rehman Malik, the idea was to convey the message that henceforth, at least as far as Indo- Pak ties were concerned, domestic politics would dictate diplomacy.


]After the fiasco of foreign minister S. M. Krishna's Islamabad visit last week, in hindsight, it appears that whoever advised Manmohan Singh to draft Chidambaram in the new diplomatic offensive must be an expert in innovative disruptions. After all, never before has a visit by the home minister preceded that of the foreign minister as part of confidence building measures.


North and South Blocks stand barely 100 metres apart on the Capital's Raisina Hill, but it appears that the disconnect between the two imperial era buildings that house the foreign and home offices is too wide.


Dealing with a hostile and ever unpredictable neighbour like Pakistan would tax the most suave of diplomats.


Seasoned foreign office mandarins have told me that to be part of a dialogue team with Pakistan is akin to inviting distress.


This was quite evident last week when officers on either side of Rajpath were engaged in blame game for the disastrous visit of foreign minister Krishna to Pakistan. Bureaucratic turf fights are nothing new but at issue now is the conflict between diplomacy and domestic politics which is now fodder for the media.


Chidambaram's trip to Islamabad was disruptive innovation at its best, aimed at bypassing the conventional dialogue mechanism which was stuck in the past.


The home minister landed in the Pakistan capital with a mandate from the government to address the concerns of the home constituency.


What he told them was bitter, yet true, of the clear involvement of their defence officials in the many terror attacks on India, particularly 26/ 11.


These weren't just dossiers compiled by the investigating agencies but revelations made by David Headley to Indian investigators in the presence of FBI officers in Washington. Chidambaram's plainspeak had put the Pakistan establishment on the defensive and interior minister Malik was condescending enough to tweet that " Chidambaram was a very intelligent politician". It was widely believed that Chidambaram's triumphant return to New Delhi would be followed by a final assault on the Pakistan establishment.


So were home secretary G. K. Pillai's comments on the day G. K. Pillai when Krishna was to leave for Pakistan

part of the disruptive agenda? Shortly before Krishna arrived in Islamabad, the Indian media quoted Pillai saying that from the confessions of Headley, it was clear that Pakistan's ISI was behind the 26/ 11 attack. His remarks are now said to be the reason for the talks getting stalled even before they could begin.


Back in India, a red- faced Krishna says that everything Pillai said was right, but its timing was the reason the talks failed.


Pillai, an upright civil servant whom any bureaucracy would be eager to embrace, is now said to be so downbeat that he contemplates putting in his papers.


Why didn't the mandarins in the foreign office pick up the signal — that his exercise was meant to bring Pakistan back to the unfinished agenda of the home minister's visit? But our diplomats refused to pick up the signals.


They converted Krishna's visit into just another aimless bilateral engagement.


It gave Pakistan a chance to pay back by disrupting the conventional dialogue. Pakistan foreign minister S. M. Qureshi even questioned Krishna's authority to take decisions. Krishna's humiliation was complete.


It is the first time that there have been two high profile ministerial visits to Pakistan. It is also the first time it has led to domestic political crises of such magnitude and divided the cabinet and the bureaucracy right down the middle.


The decision to send Chidambaram to Islamabad cannot be faulted and is among the boldest and most innovative steps that this government has taken.


But it failed because one side kept up the pressure while the other preferred the status quo.


At the SAARC heads' meeting in Bhutan a couple of months ago, the prime minister, in hindsight it appears, rather unwisely said that we will continue to talk no matter what happens.


The foreign office seems to have adopted that credo and chooses to walk the talk all the time, unmindful of the vast quantities of yolk that accumulates on its face.




THE GOVERNMENT is forever so busy firefighting that most would think it has little time for anything else.


Wrong. Even as a civil war rages in the establishment, the government is doing some serious headhunting.


There are vacancies in the Central Vigilance Commission, the anti- corruption watchdog, but the government seems in no hurry to fill these — something that runs against PM Manmohan Singh's policy of transparency in government.


The three- member CVC has been reduced to single member since last November, when commissioners Ranjana Kumar and Sudhir Kumar retired.


Chief commissioner Pratyush Sinha is due to retire in September. Vigilance commissioners are appointed by a panel consisting of the prime minister, the Opposition leader and the home minister.


In the Vineet Narain case of 1993, the Supreme Court had directed that the responsibility for efficient and nonpartisan functioning of the CBI be transferred from the government to the CVC, which reviews all cases under the CBI that involve public servants.


Herein lies the catch. In the absence of a full- fledged CVC, its work is suffering — files involving corruption and action against many senior officers are kept on hold.


The standoff has resulted in some multi- crore defence deals, which are normally vetted by the CVC, being put in cold storage. Strangely, while the Election and Information Commissioners have fixed tenures of five years, the VCs is just four.


The government now plans to amend the CVC Act to increase the commissioner's tenure to five or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier.


Sinha will turn 65 only next July. The Opposition has a chance to drive a hard bargain and it is to be seen if the government will yield.


If it does, Sinha will stay on for another year.




IN HIS nine months as BJP President, Nitin Gadkari promised so much and delivered so little. His sudden eagerness to prove his credentials, therefore, can't be faulted. The party chief took office promising to take the BJP back to its roots, but chose to sit back in the hope that everything will fall into place, eventually.


Though officebearers were appointed more than six months ago, none was assigned duties. When he finally got down to it last week, the exercise turned out to be a damp squib. The allocation of duties is emblematic of the confusion that reigns in the party.


The usual suspects responsible for dragging the party from its commanding heights of a decade ago find themselves on the rewards list.


Heading the list is Bangaru Laxman, who is in charge of the election cell in pollbound Tamil Nadu. He is the former party chief best remembered for his role in a sting video, taking money from an undercover journalist.


He was forced to resign in disgrace.


Election Commissioner S. Y. Quraishi said recently, on record, that Tamil Nadu was one state where money power played a big role in elections.


Old habits die hard, more so in politics. It is to be hoped that in his eagerness to raise election funds for the party, Bangaru will every now and then look over his shoulder to make sure the cameras aren't running.


Ananth Kumar is in charge of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, both states where the party is in power, with the latter also being poll- bound. With Nitish Kumar upping the ante, I expected Gadkari to send someone with the common touch to deal with the delicate JD( U)- BJP relations.


Gadkari is nothing but naïve if he thinks that Ananth is the man to repair the bruised relations.


Venkaiah Naidu gets charge of Maharashtra and Delhi though try as I can, I am unable to figure out what exactly is expected of him. One appointment, however, cannot be faulted. There's none more suited than Hema Malini to head the culture cell.








The Supreme Court's move to monitor the 2G probe will lend credence and momentum to the CBI investigation. The series of raids on premises of business associates and others considered close to A Raja and Kanimozhi indicates that investigations have taken a serious turn. This is welcome. Political rhetoric on corruption isn't sufficient. Cases need to be investigated properly and brought to closure, irrespective of the political cost incurred in the process. 

That is easier said than done in the current era of coalition politics. The telecom controversy is as much about the pitfalls of coalition management as about faulty public policies. The UPA managers were forced to allot a crucial infrastructure ministry to the DMK after that party almost made it a condition to join the government. Again, the prime minister couldn't intervene to change policy or minister even after a storm broke out over licences. It's only after the CAG, an autonomous institution, produced a report that severely criticised the telecom ministry for causing huge losses to the exchequer that the prime minister asked the telecom minister to resign. Prompt action in the 2G case could have prevented the impasse in Parliament and the current paralysis of governance. 

With the apex court coming into the picture, the UPA may no longer be in a position to meet DMK demands. And, that's likely to impact relations between the two parties. The DMK has so far insisted that it is not reading politics into the sudden momentum in the investigation. But with the scope of investigation extending to the family of the DMK patriarch, M Karunanidhi, ties could sour. However, political compulsions may force the two parties to stick together. The UPA government is dependent on the DMK at the Centre while the latter needs the Congress to hold office in Chennai. 

Of course, the CBI and the SC could upset these calculations and force a realignment of political forces. All political parties are loath to grant neutrality and independence to the CBI. But the current impasse is a good example of how this can backfire for the ruling dispensation at the Centre. Any ally under fire for corruption now expects the government, as a matter of course, to influence CBI investigations in its favour and will hold the government responsible if it doesn't . This renders ruling coalitions fundamentally unstable and unable to govern. That's why, for practical more than idealistic reasons, autonomy should be conferred on investigative agencies such as the CBI.






It is noteworthy that the prime minister's working group set up to suggest long-term solutions to meet the growing demand for affordable food has acknowledged the use of biotechnology as integral to a second Green Revolution. Although Indian agriculture serves as a good example of incorporating hybrid varieties of high-yielding crops, the attitude towards genetically modified or transgenic food has been sceptical. Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop currently approved for cultivation in India. Bt brinjal is under moratorium for commercial release. In a country where 65 per cent of agricultural land is still dependent on the monsoon, there needs to be far greater investment in biotechnology-driven solutions to increase yields. True, there are valid health and environment concerns regarding the adoption of GM crops. It is for this reason that adequate safeguards need to be in place to ensure consumer safety. But an outright rejection of genetically modified food would be detrimental to the country's food security. 

Given the huge deficit between demand and production, there is an urgent need to adopt a holistic approach to agriculture. Brazil serves as a good example. Over the last 40 years the South American nation has scripted an agricultural revolution in the dry plains of the country by providing basic inputs on a large scale and vigorously adopting GM crops. There is no reason why India can't replicate this. Storage and delivery is the other side of the problem that can be significantly mitigated by policy decisions that allow for greater FDI in retail. Scientific innovations combined with a farsighted farm-to-fork agriculture strategy are the answer to India's growing food needs.








Headlines around the world often announce the arrival of Muharram with stories of bloodshed. Iraq and Pakistan are two particularly dangerous places where participating in processions to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain is tantamount to walking into a battle zone. Yet, people still come out not only in those countries but in the most unlikely places to remember the sacrifice of Imam Hussain nearly 1,300 years ago. Mahmudabad , a sleepy town outside Lucknow, is one such place where the whole town hums with activity despite the Shias being a minority there. 

The atmosphere becomes more charged leading up to the 10of Muharram because Imam Hussain and his companions were cut off from water for three days before the battle. Walking around town, people are offered a glass of water, some sherbet or even some hot tea in the memory of the martyrs of Karbala. Normally, outsiders graciously accept the offering and move on without realising that, unlike in close by Lucknow which has had its share of sectarian violence, a lot of people offering drinks to the passers-by are Sunnis and Hindus. People often like to claim that this is the result of 'democratic' India, but in fact it has nothing whatsoever to do with modern politics. 

Possibly the first Hindus to participate in Muharram and create a conscious memory of it amongst themselves were the Hussaini Brahmins. They believed that their ancestors had gone to fight alongside Imam Hussain in Karbala and even hold that this had been foretold in the Bhagavad Gita. Whether this interpretation is justifiable or not is superseded by the fact that a group of people from a tradition that is entirely different in its historical evolution chose to understand the message of Karbala irrespective of religious or doctrinal differences. 

Perhaps this is why, despite the unfortunate sectarian circumstances of Muharram processions in many parts of the world, India – and particularly rural India – comes together during this time in order to remember the universal nature of the sacrifices of Imam Hussain, his family and his companions. 

On the morning of the eighth of Muharram, a procession winds its way through the town before eventually coming back to the Qila at night. In order to make the remembrance more poignant, specific days are appointed for the various martyrs. The eighth of Muharram commemorates Abbas ibn Ali, a cousin of Imam Hussain, who was the flag bearer of his army. He went to try and get water from the Euphrates after finding it unbearable to watch the children's thirst and was killed by the river. When the procession returns, various alams – standards of war – from the town join the mourners. Every year, the longest and heaviest alams, some as tall as 50 feet, are balanced by young men as they wind their way through the small alleys. A lot of the taller alams are carried by Dalits. 

When people arrive at the Imambara, rooms where the tazias – replicas of the shrines of Imam Hussain – are kept, they are given sherbet that has been dedicated to the memory of the martyrs. Since Muharram has now started falling in winter, a lot of people choose not to drink the cold sherbet. A Muslim man hesitated as he was handed a cup and said he didn't want to get a sore throat. He sheepishly drank the sherbet after a young Dalit boy piped up that the sherbet was blessed by " 
Baba Hussain" . 

On the night of the ninth of Muharram, people who keep the tazias stay up all night ensuring that their candles do not go out and the incense keeps burning. I went to a poorer part of the town and was told that it was predominantly a Sunni area. As i walked past uncovered sewers and other signs of municipal neglect, the only distinct smell was one of incense. A man sat swaddled in blankets on his pushcart with a miniature tazia near his head and a candle burning next to it. 

One of the most remarkable traditions on this night is one in which Hindu women pray for a child and, in an amazing demonstration of dedication and faith, walk barefoot all night without stopping to eat, drink or talk. They continue chanting eulogies in memory of Imam Hussain through the night and go to houses, big and small, where a tazia is kept. 

At some Imambaras, some of them stop to adorn their hair with the oil from the lamps burning near the entrance . The next day, groups of these women hold each other as they stagger towards the Karbala, a replica of the shrine in Iraq, having walked for nearly 17 hours. Nearby, the sonorous voice of a prominent Sunni businessman pierces the air as he sings a dirge recanting the deeds of the martyrs. 

It seems then that, despite obvious religious differences, there is often a shared symbolic 'language' that reverberates with people irrespective of their creed. Muharram might have different meanings for Shias, Sunnis and Hindus, and they might even have their own traditions to commemorate it, but the fundamental idea of 'sacrifice' resonates with each community and thus brings them together. 

The writer is a religious studies scholar at the University of Cambridge.








Manish Kunjam , a former MLA and president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, the tribal front of the CPI, is the only politician in Bastar who continues to organise Adivasis peacefully for their constitutional rights. Jyoti Punwani spoke to Kunjam about doing politics while facing police repression and Naxal violence: 

After a long gap, Chhattisgarh recently witnessed two massiveAdivasirallies.What were your demands? 

The Chhattisgarh government is running under the writ of corporates. From Bastar to Sarguja, MoUs cover almost the entire region. This is Adivasi land and their livelihood is threatened. So the main demand of the December 8 rally, under the banner of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan , was to implement the laws relating to scheduled areas, which empower gram sabhas. These laws are not being implemented because doing so would hurt the profits of the corporates. 


The November 25 rally was to protest against the arrest of our comrades under false cases, and demand the removal of Dantewada SSP Kalluri. Instead of arresting Naxalites for their crimes, police are arresting activists of CPI and other mass organisations . Ten of our leading activists are in jail with five to seven cases of murder against them. The Naxalites attacked Congress leader Avdesh Gautam, but our activists were arrested, including Sukul Prasad Nag, a 65-year-old popular leader who was hounded out of his village by Naxalites in 1994. The police beat up our activists even before they could reach Dantewada for the rally. Two hundred were injured, including women; many ran away, but we could get 25 of them to hospital, some with broken limbs. When we protested to the collector, he said he would pay for the treatment of those admitted to hospital. 

Will such repression force your cadre into inaction? 

If that happens, democratic ways of protest will come to an end. Then only two forces will remain: the police and the Naxalites . The latter don't believe in the Constitution; the former are supposed to follow it, but don't . If on both sides you have inhuman tactics, the use of guns and bombs, you can imagine what will happen to the society affected by them. The country's intellectuals should think about this. 

Has the Supreme Court's intervention made any difference ? 

There has to be some monitoring of the court's orders. If the other pillars of democracy, like the press, don't function either because they've been suppressed or managed, then who will monitor ? The country's laws simply don't apply to some areas of Chhattisgarh. When the government itself doesn't respect the law, how can Naxalites be asked to do so? People with national standing, those who care about the Constitution, must come here and study the situation, not NGOs or PUCL. There has been such propaganda against them, even in the press, of being Naxalite sympathisers , that their coming here only aggravates the situation. 

Sometime back there was talk of dialogue between the Centre and the Naxalites, but that has died down. 

We want a dialogue. If violence is used as the only solution by both sides, then a large section of the Adivasi population will be finished. The responsibility for initiating a dialogue lies with both sides. The Naxalites' position at this moment is so strong among the Adivasis that they can, through dialogue, bargain with the government for many strong measures that would protect Adivasis, their culture, and their natural right over their lands and forests. If they don't do this, it would be a mistake, because they may not remain in such a position five years hence.






To devotees, particularly Vaishnavites, the Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam near Trichy in Tamil Nadu is their sacred gateway to heaven. 

Among the 108 temples in south India that are of utmost importance to Vaishnavites, Srirangam tops the list. Here, Vaishnavai saint Godha Devi is believed to have merged with the idol and attained salvation. According to legend the idol rose up from the celestial Milky Ocean. It is a large, monolithic black statue of Vishnu, reclining on Adisesha, the divine serpent. It was received by Brahma and left in his custody till Vishnu as Rama gave it to Vibheesana, the noble brother of the slain demon king Ravana.

Vibheesana wished to carry it back to Sri Lanka. Rama told him that it was not to be placed down under any circumstances. Vibheesana needed to rest and perform his ablutions. He found a little boy and asked him to hold it. When he came back he found that the boy had placed the idol down and it was rooted to the spot. An angry Vibheesana chased the boy who was actually Vinayaka. The `boy' ran across the River Kaveri and sat atop a hill where he is worshipped today as Ucchipillaiyar. 

The idol lay there for ages, deep in the forest, covered with vegetation, till a prince of the Chola dynasty, Dharma Varma, stumbled upon it and built a shrine to protect it. During the Muslim invasion, temple priests erected a wall and hid the idol and fled with a smaller deity. For 50 years, they moved from place to place and finally hid it in a ravine at Tirupati, another major Vaishnavite pilgrimage destination. Once the invaders left, the priests returned to Srirangam and reinstalled the idol. Since then subsequent kings of the Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagar and Hoysala dynasty from the 10th century onwards, have made significant additions to the temple. Today, the Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy temple is spread over 156 acres, making it the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world. 

The number of festivals at Srirangam temple surpass those celebrated in other south Indian temples. Vaikuntha Ekadasi is the most important festival here. Hindus believe that the doors of heaven remain open throughout that specific day and a visit to any shrine of Vishnu this day ensures unfettered entry into heaven. At Srirangam temple the Paramapadha Vaasal or Sorga Vaasal, the Gateway to Heaven, is thrown open on Vaikuntha Ekadasi day at 4:15 a.m. for darshan. Busloads of devotees descend on Srirangam and wait for hours to get a glimpse of the Ranganatha idol. Preparations for the Vaikuntha Ekadasi here commence in October itself when the first of the 47 pillars of a grand mandapam (stage) is erected in the presence of shloka-chanting priests. Festivities begin well in advance, lasting nearly a month. 

Most festivals coincide with seasonal changes, thus providing a strong market for the agricultural and horticultural offerings of that season. To the residents of Srirangam, Lord Ranganatha is a live entity. They address him in the first person; they visit him as they would visit a family member. When they enter the temple, it is with a sense of ownership coupled with an unshakable faith that He is there! It is as though they have made the journey from the temporal to the spiritual, a hallowed journey that infuses them with extraordinary strength to face life's challenges.

Today is Vaikuntha Ekadasi.







They said I'd feel old when I got my first grey hair. I got my first grey hair at the age of 23. I didn't feel old. They said I'd feel old when youngsters began to call me Uncleji. Youngsters began to call me Uncleji. I didn't feel old. They said I'd feel old when young women would offer me their seats in a crowded bus. A young woman offered me her seat in a crowded bus. I didn't feel old. They said I'd feel old when youngsters – and not-so- youngsters – began to call me Dadu. Youngsters – and not-so-youngsters – began to call me Dadu. I didn't feel old. 

Then the other day I stood in a queue of people entering an auditorium. When I got to the head of the queue the security guard waved me through without checking me with the electronic wand they have for the purpose and which goes beep! if it detects anything suspicious on or in your person, like a gun or a bomb or a lurking presence of malice aforethought. The guard had wanded all those before me. And I knew he'd wand all those after me. So why hadn't he wanded me as well? 

And then the thought struck me. In the eyes of the guard – a mere juvenile, virtually a toddler in his mid-30 s, or thereabouts – did I look too old and decrepit to be a potential security threat, a possible suicide bomber? My hackles rose, along with my BP. How dared the little whippersnapper be so presumptuous. How could the fellow assume that I wasn't in fact an internationally wanted terrorist, on Interpol's Red Alert list in 37 countries, who right at this very moment was in the process of sneaking in on my person enough RDX cunningly disguised as Dr Bhatia's Ayurvedic Toothpaste – Put A Sparkle In Your Smile – to blow the whole goddam building, including this smugly infantile pathetic excuse for a security guard, to kingdom come and back again? Was it because, to the guard, I looked to be well past the mandatory use-by-date prescribed by al-Qaida for all its recruits? We've all heard of – and deplored – cases of racial profiling at American airports where sari-clad women, or men with beards get singled out for rigorous body-frisking . Was my case one of ageist profiling, by which those who appear to be above a certain age are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to equality, which includes the equal right to be frisked like everyone else, irrespective of gender, caste, creed, colour or chronology (i.e., how many hours and years you've punched in on Planet Earth)? 

The funny part of it was that I stilldidn't feel old. Then it struck me that that might be because in fact I wasn't getting old. It was just that other people were getting younger, making me look old in comparison. Thanks to its demographic bulge, India's got one of the youngest populations in the world. But it's not just that which makes India such a baba-log country. 

Quantum physics tells us that there are subatomic particles called tachyons which supposedly travel faster than light and, theoretically, go backwards in time. There must be a lot of tachyons buzzing about in India, because more and more people seem to be travelling backwards in time, growing not older but younger with each passing year. 

The other day I went to a birthday party. The birthday boy was a lively lad of 75 who was burning up the dance floor to a mean bhangra beat, both index fingers cocked up in the approved fashion. And why not? As people live longer and longer, thanks to better healthcare and dietary habits, 75 has become the new 55. And 55 has become the new 35. By which token, the underage delinquent of a security guard who refused to wand me would be the new equivalent of 15. 

The thought makes me feel better. I'm not getting older; everyone else is getting younger. Maybe it'll rub off on me too. I look forward when a kacha-bacha in uniform tells me: 'Step up and get yourself frisked like everyone else, Dadu.' 

Ah, sweet bird of youth. 








The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is taking a well-deserved break in its fight against inflation. Latest data, for November, show headline inflation slowed by a percentage point to 7.48% from a month ago. Food inflation, the bugbear for policymakers in the world's second-fastest growing major economy, has been falling consistently from an average of 15.7% in the first quarter of 2010-11 to 12.3% in the next three months, to 10% in October and further to 6.1% in November. And although non-food manufacturing prices accelerated slightly to 5.4%, the trend in wholesale inflation is headed downhill. The central bank, which has indefatigably raised interest rates by 2 percentage points since March 2010, reckons inflation will settle at around 5.5% by March 2011.


If — and this is a big if — the dollars the US is printing in an attempt to climb out of recession do not force prices of commodities like oil and metals through the roof. Rising commodity prices will pinch an economy that grew 8.9% in the six months from April 2010. After dipping in August and September, factory output, critically dependent on international energy and mineral prices, grew by over 10% in October.  Around a third of the inflation in October was imported, according to some analysts, since then crude oil prices alone have climbed around 9%. RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao's breather is likely to short-lived.


Mr Subbarao has used this hiatus to push more rupees into the banking system. The government is sitting on a mountain of cash — Rs 84,000 crore — after selling stakes in state-owned enterprises and auctioning airwaves for telephony. This cash is not flowing in the economy, as it should. Borrowers are queuing up at banks while depositors are wary of depositing their savings to see their value decline. The central bank has deliberately tightened liquidity over the past year so that banks are forced to pass on higher interest rates, but it did not foresee a profligate government squatting on cash. Banks are scrambling for money and overnight lending rates are going haywire. The lower reserve requirement and bond purchases should "inject liquidity on an enduring basis of the order of Rs 48,000 crore", says the central bank. Mr Subbarao's quantitative easing is in a completely different context from that of the US, it cannot be "construed as a change in the monetary policy stance since inflation continues to remain a major concern".







Marriages are made in heaven; wedding destinations thankfully are the business of mere mortals. Now that global A-listers Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have zeroed in on Rajasthan to express their marital vows in a Hindu ceremony, we can barely figure out what should excite us more — the mental image of Brangelina chanting Hindu mantras or that our very own Jodhpur in Rajasthan beat all other exotic locales in the world for this coveted honour.


As the more scholarly delve into what the scriptures might have to say about a union that has already spawned six children, we can rejoice for Rajasthan. No stranger to celebrity, it has, in the past, hosted big-ticket weddings like those between Liz Hurley and Arun Nayyar and more recently, Russell Brand and Katy Perry. That Hurley has chosen Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne to cheat on Nayyar shows that while marriages may turn sour, Brand Rajasthan endures. In case the Rajasthanis get too cocky, however, a word of caution: Rajasthan-themed weddings are now being held in different parts of the world, as camels, horses and elephants, not to mention turbans and priests, can all be transported elsewhere.


That Jolie, the multicultural diva whose adopted kids come from countries as diverse as Ethiopia and Cambodia and who sports English, Latin, Arabic and Khmer tattoos, has chosen our very blingy cultural space is no surprise. Last heard, their plans were already giving the jitters to the other hyped wedding of 2011 — that of Prince William and Kate Middleton (who keep adding years to their biological ages by sporting tweed on racing grounds). Jerry Hall, whose marriage to Mick Jagger in Bali in 1990 was annulled later as legally invalid, still reminisces about the "psychedelic omelette" they had while on that island. Who knows, what history the churma and daal-baati will create.







Dear Dr Singh,


Greetings! This is my second open letter to you this year. The first was in May when I had raised the issue of political corruption. To quote from the May 28 letter: "There is little doubt sir of your personal integrity, but would you concede that its been difficult for you to check corruption amongst your ministerial colleagues? As a supplementary, may I ask that if the CBI had been investigating a Congress minister and not an ally like A Raja of the DMK, would you have shown the same leniency?"


Unfortunately, I did not receive a response to my query. Now I know why. It has become increasingly apparent as the 2G scam unfolds that the DMK was a law unto itself in your government. While you did write to the then telecom minister in November 2007, voicing your concerns over spectrum pricing and asking him to ensure a fair and transparent auction, the fact is Raja ignored your missive. Yet, instead of dismissing him from the Cabinet for challenging prime ministerial authority, he was 'rewarded' in May 2009 with the same portfolio, only because the Tamil Nadu chief minister staged a minor tantrum. Can there be any greater evidence of the clout which the DMK exercised within the UPA?


Had you acted against Raja three years ago, you might have been able to rise above the stench of corruption that now envelopes your government. More importantly, it has perhaps for the first time in your long and distinguished career in public life that the 'Mr Clean' image which you have so assiduously maintained has been stained.


Dr Singh, your life has been an inspiration for millions of Indians. The story of the rise of a young boy from Gah village, walking miles to his school, studying  under the dim light of a kerosene lamp and working his way up through scholarship inspires hope in all our hearts. When you became PM, we rejoiced in the belief  that at last we had found a leader we could identify with, someone who wasn't a spoilt dynast, but a genuine representative of  the great Indian middle-class dream.


Critical to this identification process was the knowledge that this was a PM who was personally incorruptible. It was a bit like being transported back to the 1970s Amol Palekar era of cinema, where the honest bank manager in a bush shirt touched a chord with audiences through his old-fashioned values of simplicity and decency. We warmed to stories of how you still owned a 20-year-old Maruti car, how your family members had been resolutely kept away from the trappings of  power, how your lovely wife Gursharan Kaur still went shopping for vegetables at Khan Market.


I am sure that Gursharanji still keeps a tight rein on the household budget. But with due respect sir, being PM is not about family budgets, it's about the national treasury that you have been empowered to preserve. A bank manager may well be  of 'impeccable' personal integrity at home, but if he allows his clerks to loot the bank, then he clearly is failing in his primary responsibility at the workplace. Sadly, that's exactly what seems to have happened in the UPA cabinet, and your continual hand-wringing is now becoming a sign of impotence.


At one level, there is obvious empathy with the situation you find yourself in. A coalition government is by its very nature a political arrangement based on compromise. Part of  the compromise appears to be a readiness to allow every constituent to set its own rules of engagement, including when it comes to cornering the 'ATM' cash-rich portfolios. The NDA which is planning a national campaign on corruption would be well-advised to examine its own track record in this regard.


Frankly though, one is weary of reducing corruption to a zero-sum UPA versus NDA political battle. The average Indian citizen is not interested in knowing who is more corrupt, the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra or the BJP government in Karnataka. The left may have a better track record, but let's not forget that its prime ally in Tamil Nadu is Jayalalithaa who still has serious corruption cases against her. Taking a moral high ground may work in a television studio debate, it's unlikely to attract cynical voters.


What the aam admi seeks (and presumably the UPA still claims to be an 'aam admi government) is a readiness to act against the corrupt and make examples of them. Your leader, Sonia Gandhi, claimed to her parliamentary party that the Congress has 'acted' against corruption. Can the notion of 'action' be defined please? Forcing a minister to resign is not action, prosecuting him would be. Handing over a case to the CBI is not action, ensuring that the investigation is taken to its logical conclusion would be. The nation is not a set of gullible MPs who will be taken in by rhetorical flourishes. We don't need to become a lynch mob, but the fact is an alert and enraged Indian citizenry will no longer settle for fine words alone.


Here's a concrete suggestion: why don't you amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to ensure that all corruption cases involving public servants, be they officials or politicians, are put on fast-track? If they are proved innocent, restore their dignity. If they are guilty, have them jailed and their properties confiscated. You may lack political support for your move, but trust me, an entire nation will cheer you on.


Post-script: May I also suggest a brief year-end family holiday to rejuvenate yourself in this make-or-break fight against corruption. The country needs a  re-invented Manmohan Singh who is willing to crack the whip in 2011, not a passive observer of the muck around him. Happy New Year!







Fourteen years ago, at a time when the internet in India was still young, I had put up a website on the 1971 India-Pakistan War. It was a huge hit. But the site rapidly ran out of bandwidth and I was stuck with a massive bill. I quickly told the server operators to shut down the site, but within hours I was deluged by emails offering monetary assistance. The response was overwhelming and even after all these years I have never had the heart to take down the site.


One of the reasons I have kept it going is a belief that the war should not be forgotten. Over the years, I have received dozens of emails, mostly from Pakistanis, asking me to pull down the site as it is a reminder of troubled times and doesn't help India-Pakistan relations. To provoke, however, was not my intention.


The motivations were  personal. I had grown up in Calcutta and recall the anguish over the fate of East Bengalis being hunted and killed by Pakistani soldiers and Razaakars (paramilitary forces organised by the Pakistani Army). Flickering black and white footage in cinemas captured the exodus of East Pakistani families, most of them skeletal and clutching emaciated children. One day, I watched what looked like fighters chasing each other in the skies. Soon the war was upon us. The entire country looked to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her charismatic general (later field marshal) Sam Maneckshaw. We learnt to observe black-outs, cover our windows with dark paper and paint the top half of our car headlights black.


The war was over before we knew it. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers surrendered with their general. A ceasefire was announced and soon the leader of the newly-independent 'Bangladesh', Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, returned to head his country. Life for us went back to normal.


The war, however, persisted in another form. As boys, our favourite reading was war comics. These told stories mostly about the two World Wars. I realised then that no country forgets its wars; they become part of folklore. Some even make legend. The 1971 war, in contrast, was hardly acknowledged outside our part of the world.


The years passed and I forgot the war until my researches led me to an intriguing document called the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which had ascertained the reasons for the war and fixed blame for the military fiasco as well as the killings of thousands of Bangladeshi civilians. The report was prepared in 1974 but was not officially released. Over the decades, parts of it landed with the media and the report was finally declassified by the Pakistan Army in 2000. The report, after examining almost 300 military and civilian officers and going through hundreds of classified army signals, had recommended dozens of Pakistan Army officers be tried. But not one officer faced court martial and the army's role was never questioned in Pakistan.


When I was writing up my website, I came across some voices within Pakistan lamenting the fact that nothing had been learnt from the 1971 debacle. Moonis Ahmar, professor at University of Karachi, pointed out: "The tragedy of 1971 could have created awareness among the people of Pakistan that they cannot be misled by the bureaucratic-military elite in the name of national security. Yet things have not changed if we analyse the role of power in Pakistan... East Pakistan separated from the western wing not because they were unpatriotic but on account of their rejection of a centralised administrative system governed by the bureaucracy and the military from a minority province."


It occurred to me that everybody was seeking lessons from the 1971 war. Interpretations would differ, but the war itself could not be forgotten. For India, it had been a cathartic moment. After the military defeat of  the 1962 war with China and two inconclusive wars (with Pakistan in 1947-48 and 1965), this was a spectacular victory. In many ways, 1971 was a turning point for independent India. The country discovered a new self-confidence. It is for this alone that the war deserves to be remembered.


Indranil Banerjie writes on foreign policy and national security issues The views expressed by the author are personal.






When it comes to understanding China, a multiplicity of voices informs the global discourse, each trying to make sense of that enigmatic nation. Trying to make sense of their language is an equally, if not more, daunting task: the complex intonations and inflections and a hieroglyphic script almost makes one wonder how more than a billion people manage to speak it.


Having swept its way through the west, Mandarin is now set to be introduced in Indian schools. Eleven thousand schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will have Mandarin as part of their syllabi. As with schools in Britain and in  the United States, the Chinese government has already shown interest in providing material (textual and audio-visual) and teachers for language training.


Though initially dismissed in the west as a fad that would exhaust itself — as did the craze for learning Japanese in the 1980s and Spanish in the 1990s — a tighter job market has meant that Mandarin is seen increasingly as a tool to enhance one's employability rather than as a cultural accomplishment. Either way it works for China. Its global power aspirations can surely benefit by using language as a tool of cultural hegemony (even as it makes it compulsory for its own citizens to master English) to gradually establish a challenge to English's preeminent position as the global lingua franca.


However, Nicholas Ostler, a British scholar with a working knowledge of 26 languages, argues in his latest book, The Last Lingua Franca, that while governments across the world will increasingly favour the use of regional languages in their commercial and administrative transactions, none of these languages (Mandarin included) will ever replace the scale of popularity and dominance  English enjoys. With technological advancements and new software enabling smoother translation, English might end up being the last lingua franca, Ostler adds.


Language is no dead millstone around our necks. Apart from being a means of communication, it is also a passport to a way of living and thinking. Its beauty lies in its growth and metamorphosis, in the way it responds to its surroundings.


There is more to human thought and speech than involuntary word-processing. While the Chinese may believe that a greater number of  Mandarin practitioners implies wider political influence, they should keep in mind that thought will flow both ways. Mark Liberman says in The Economist's ongoing language debate that "when we encounter or create new ideas, we can usually describe them with new combinations of old words. And if not, we easily adapt or borrow or create the new words or phrases we need."


There is probably no language in the world that has a phrase that describes the diplomatic own goal of an empty chair in a Nobel award ceremony. But who knows, someday an enterprising foreigner with a panache for Mandarin might combine the fluidities in several languages to hew together a word for it.








Man gave names to all the animals/ In the beginning, long time ago." And the miracle of language enabled it. Long time ago, we already lived far apart across the wide world. With time, we drifted further apart. The animals, and everything else, were not called by the same names in the many tongues women and men spoke. Some languages began unbridgeably distant from one another; others assumed ever distinct personalities, despite common ancestors. As languages multiplied, others kept dying out, ceasing to be spoken. Every language would fragment, with a dominant dialect muscling out the rest to be the literary version. All that, we're taught in school. If only we were taught more languages in school!With trade, travel, conquest, and trade again, we also came closer. If the world today is a global village, enabling instant communication across its geographical vastness, why wouldn't children in India learn Mandarin? Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, quite a hit at Delhi's Tagore International School, gifted books and audio-visual material for the Mandarin course to commence next year. Many schools the world over will also introduce or expand Mandarin courses. If that's an acknowledgement of the growing weight of the Chinese side of the equation, then the world will have to learn Chinese... sorry, Mandarin. Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan says the world hasn't sunk into a "meaning"-less heterogen-eity of languages because most of us are multilingual, thereby providing cohesion and mutual understanding. Indians, inhabitants of the native land of multiple languages — where Arabic, Persian, and even Turkish, were once spoken — may easily expand their mental and linguistic horizons for one more.







After nearly two years of tension on a wide range of issues, including Beijing's ambivalence about India's territorial sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, the positive atmospherics from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit are indeed welcome. Delhi had set much store by Wen, who has taken ownership in Beijing for the relationship with India, to address and resolve the many political issues that have complicated bilateral ties. In the joint statement issued at the end of his consultations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his other remarks, Wen offered to build a new "strategic consensus" with Delhi. Sceptics will keep their fingers crossed to see if China can translate Wen's fine words into concrete action. The optimists will recognise the importance of sustained engagement to produce even small results in India-China relations.Although the words "mutual respect and sensitivity for each other's concerns and aspirations" sound banal, this important phrase in the joint statement must be read in the context of India's vigorous objec-tion in recent months to China's policy of issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from J&K. Wen apparently raised the question on his own, reassured Dr Singh that Beijing takes India's concerns seriously and promised to sort out the issue in a dialogue between officials in the near future. On the question of terrorism, another major concern for India, the joint statement falls well short of the clear and unambiguous demands from other great powers that Pakistan should shut down the terror machine on its soil. On India's aspirations to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Wen has not really advanced Beijing's position.If the progress on the political side is somewhat mixed, the news from the economic front is more encouraging. Dr Singh and Wen have set a target of $100 billion for bilateral trade in 2015. This is by no means ambitious. At the current rates of growth, that landmark might be reached within the next couple of years. India's concern, however, is about the structure of the bilateral trade that is utterly skewed in favour of China. For his part, Wen has promised to facilitate better market access to Indian goods and services. More broadly, his visit should certainly help arrest the recent slide in political relations, but India has much hard work ahead in getting Beijing to show enduring respect and sensitivity to India's concerns and aspirations.







The Supreme Court has announced that it will supervise the investigations into the spectrum allocation scandal that has polarised our politics and frozen Parliament. The court's decision to monitor the CBI investigation is, therefore, a highly reassuring one, and will impose a certain order and credibility to what appeared to be scattershot proceedings in a politically vitiated climate. It will begin to cleanse the murk of suspicion and paranoia about vested interests that has dogged the spectrum allocation scandal for so long.The Supreme Court is the one arena where the telecom scandal has been openly and comprehensively addressed. The court has pulled up the CBI for dragging its feet over A. Raja's interrogation, despite the damning CAG report — and it asked the government how it expected P.J. Thomas, a former telecom secretary and current CVC, to impartially address the investigation, even as it gave him a chance to present his own case. Given how compromised our investigative and enforcement agencies appear — the CBI with its long record of rubbery pliability before power, and the CVC which appears even more hollow than usual with its current incumbent — the court's oversight will help restore legitimacy. Also, in order to allay suspicions about spectrum allocation in the past, the court has decided that it would examine policy from 2001 onwards and study the back-story of this licensing scandal, and precedents set during the NDA regime. Widening the timeline under investigation is a good move in so far as it clears the air and puts an end to this political point-scoring of "our telecom policy versus yours", and assigns responsibility in the correct ratio, but it must not delay the immediate task at hand: investigating the subversion of telecom policy under A. Raja. 2001 and after might be instructive in terms of overall accountability, and exploring the excuse that the Raja scandal is a natural consequence of past policy. But the fact is that there is enough indication of deliberate distortion in the 2G spectrum allocation, and it must be dealt with as urgently and thoroughly as possible. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that the exhaustive terms of this probe do not impede its immediate purpose of nailing the 2G guilty. Both government and opposition have welcomed the court's oversight. They should use this moment to raise the level of political debate.









 It's sort of open season on analysing the drift in the Congress-led government. Analysts are rightly provoked by the deeply unprepossessing sight the government frequently presents. Even industry, hyper careful normally, is talking. And it's not all because of Raja/ Radia stories.But let all of us rightly unimpressed by the government remember something: the Congress beating national level anti-incumbency in May 2009 was a remarkable political fact. In elections in the last 30 years, the Congress's return to power in 1984 and the BJP-led NDA's in 1999 had been the only two exceptions to the national-level anti-incumbency "rule". And both those victories were influenced by events — Indira Gandhi's assassination and the Kargil victory, respectively — that helped generate what's called a wave in favour of the incumbents. The Congress's May 2009 victory was remarkable because it seemed fit to be interpreted as, even after accounting for important state-level factors, a cool and calm positive voter judgment on the incumbent. A lot of things seemed right for the Congress, and there was no Left.True, the magic of any verdict, no matter how great the electoral story behind it, never lasts in politics. But remembering May 2009 now, just a year-and-a-half into UPA 2's five-year-term, it's quite shocking to realise how little, if any, of that good story survives. Almost as surprising is industry's strong disaffection, a good example of which is perhaps Deepak Parekh's caution.India's private sector was among the key stakeholders that bought into that May 2009 good news story. If Parekh's critique is representative of broad and deep industry disaffection with the Congress, it matters a lot. Frequent-phoning corporate lobbyists and frequent-fighting corporate groups and all that these headlines imply do nothing to take away from the fact that the one good story now — India's economic growth — is thanks to, as it has been for the past decade or so, the dynamism of private investment. There are crooked capitalists, sure. There are crony capitalists. There are perhaps cartel-forming capitalists in some sectors. So catch them and bring them to justice. Rich crooks from the private sector should suffer the of the law.Those are not the reasons why business may be beginning to lose confidence in the Centre's ability to see the big picture, to use a term Parekh used. The short-term reasons for industry's apprehensive interrogation of the Congress-led government's abilities are linked to a longer-term reason, something that goes right back to the immediate aftermath of that remarkable May 2009 victory.The Congress decided not to add to its policy conversation after it beat anti-incumbency. No one expected the Congress to reduce the emphasis on government expenditure-led welfarism. Whatever the economic critique of some aspects of this strategy, the political imperative was well understood. What was surprising to close observers of UPA 2, and industry should be counted among them, was the Congress's evident reluctance to take advantage of its new political stature and add a robust recognition of the private sector's importance and imperatives to its policy conversation.The political costs of doing so would have been vanishingly negligible. The policy costs of not doing so started becoming apparent very soon after the verdict. Barring tax reforms — the direct tax code and GST, both of which were continuation of earlier efforts — the government seemed disinclined to appear as a facilitator and rule-reformer for private investment. Such a role, it seemed, had been deemed politically incorrect by the Congress.To take an example, look at the energy the government expended on pushing the nuclear liability legislation. It engaged in a robust debate knowing that it was broadly on the right track, and it incorporated some sensible points made by critics in and outside Parliament. Obviously, new nuclear liability rules are important and deserved government energy. Obviously, too, there's the big economic dimension in this policy. But it would not be unreasonable to argue that it was the broad foreign policy imperative that came from the nuclear deal India successfully negotiated under UPA 1 which explained government energy expenditure on this issue. Contrast that with the anaemic or non-existent efforts to push plain vanilla economic policy issues. Did the Congress test the BJP's political maturity by explicitly inviting it to support long-pending bills on insurance and banking? These have become such boring topics that any mention of them produces yawns in all forums. No one seriously thinks the Congress is serious about all this. Or take the Congress's comfortable capitulation to allies on the land acquisition and rehabilitation issue. And Jairam Ramesh would have been unlikely to have become the Jairam Ramesh we know now had he not drawn political sustenance from the government's seeming determination to not add to its policy conversation.Even more remarkable is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's failure, or reluctance, to put his imprimatur on a big economic policy. We don't really expect Dr Singh to excite economic policy imagination any more. That's a damning verdict on the Congress and its returned-to-power government.And it was because big thinking on economics was not given political backing in UPA 2 that the first set of big, bad stories in this government's tenure has created such an apprehension about its policy drift. The drift was virtually a product of a conscious political decision post the May 2009 verdict. In December 2010, the months-long drift plus weeks-long bad press make for an awfully unappealing combination. Therefore, when Parekh says the prime minister should get the big boys to pull in the same direction or that the big picture must be recognised and ministerial energy must be devoted to it, one can easily sympathise, but one should remember that the Congress never seemed inclined, post-victory, to see the big picture.Will the government add to the policy conversation? There's plenty of time. Plus, a BJP that's absurdly conflating parliamentary paralysis with effective oppositional tactics actually leaves a space for the Congress to intelligently exploit.The answer depends on whether the Congress absolutely believes that its political strategy can't afford to include its government clearly and consciously signalling its intention to act as a facilitator and rule-reformer for private investment. It is, frankly, frightening to think that the answer may remain "no" for the next three-and-a-half years.








Long before she knew it, the Munni bit of her identity began to take over. The song did it to Sadrunissa, who is a domestic help at my house. Nobody would call her name without thinking of the other Munni, or what Malaika Arora Khan breathed into Munni. There had to be some reason why she shared the same name. The association miffed her in the beginning but then she started to love it. She hadn't realised the Munni lurking within her. Sadrunissa, the coy woman, has faded into the background. These days, she wears kohl and removes her scarf when she leaves my place. It was now time to unleash the other identity, made edgy by the item girl. Ever since the song, Sadrunissa got the odd feeling that when she looked in the mirror it wasn't her it reflected back, but Munni, the unabashed dancer who claimed she had Shilpa Shetty's figure and Bebo's ways. She loves the attention. The roadside Romeos, she says, break into the song "Munni Badaam Hui" (from the recent box office hit Dabangg) when they see her. Then came Sheila, aka Katrina Kaif, the upscale bar dancer, reflecting the urban woman's aspirations and confidence in her song "Sheila Ki Jawani" (from the forthcoming film Tees Maar Khan). A DJ says the Sheila song is a rage because it personifies the urban new age girl's independence. But with these two songs, the latest in the item girl offerings, there's the larger question of what the item girls have done to us women. For long, feminists have been up in arms against the objectification of women, against the privileging of the male gaze, as the audience jeers and whistles during these routines. And it's not that item girls are a new addition to Hindi cinema. They were around long before Helen, as a gypsy girl gyrating to "Mehbooba Mehbooba" in Sholay personified the trend. However, the tag is new. They weren't called the item girls then. They were vamps, the ones who did cabaret, the bad boys' women. So far the item girls were a break from the script, a little digression. Then they became a genre, and they are now being used to promote films. Munni's creators knew the trick. Provide context and reference, and people will identify. And with the debate on the two latest item numbers, the world of the item girl is now witnessing a class war of sorts. Before this, they only wore one tag. Now, they belong to different classes, like rural and urban India. The great divide has set in. While Munni mainstreamed the rustic, Sheila is trying to do the same to the hip urban woman, who frequents discotheques and is not shy about flaunting her youth. Some even question if they are both item numbers, saying the item girl tag belongs to the likes of Munni who operate in a larger cultural and regional context. On Facebook, a chart is doing the rounds on reasons why Sheila is preferred over Munni. The categories include place of performance and branding. "Munni is badnaam" versus "Sheila is jawan", it says. Then it is about the place of performance. Munni gyrates in a desi daru ka adda and Sheila in some metropolitan disco bar, which could be anywhere in the world.Sadrunissa isn't impressed. She can't be what Sheila is, her world is too alien. Doesn't feel like it, she said. Munni's world is her world. She comes from Bihar, has seen nautankis, the latka jhatkas and is comfortable with the setting, the projections. That's why Sheila can't be Munni. Her name will not have the same context as Munni's. Besides, Sheila's idea has no references. It stands in isolation. A friend said, "Move over Munni, Sheila is here." On earphones, I heard Sheila's message. I wasn't convinced. She spoke fluent English, was too confident of her charms. Even the voices that rendered the individuality to these two songs are drastically different. Munni croons in a husky, loud, assertive and declarative voice. Sheila's is more feminine, and delicate, and soft. Munni didn't sing in English. Munni knew the masses, and their points of association — for instance, Zandu Balm. She used lingo we used, she knew things we were used to. That's where the barriers melted. The artificial rural town setting became her. They served as props to the concept of Munni. Munni has support in inanimate things as well. Sheila has none. Maybe Sheila represents an alternative item number world, or perhaps the segmentation of the item number spectrum. But to me, the charm of the item number will always be in the context, and how the local, regional flavour is used to portray aspirations, sensibilities, culture.







A shameful impasse


Commenting on the logjam in Parliament that has now led to the adjournment of the two Houses sine die, Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial entitled 'Who is responsible for the adjournment' (December 12) writes: "Neither did the government convince the opposition that those guilty in the 2G spectrum scam could be put in the dock without a JPC, nor have the opposition parties successfully explained to the country why the culprits cannot be unmasked without constituting a JPC." The paper further writes: "The country will have to be told why the most important pillar of democracy was kept paralysed for the sake of only this one problem, or merely for the issue of corruption. There are many other organisations also for inquiring into cases of corruption. But what the Parliament does cannot be done by any other organisation or committee."


The paper also laments that "nobody (neither the government nor the opposition) feels sorry that valuable time of Parliament's winter session was lost in the tussle as to who should inquire into the 2G spectrum scam and who should not. How regrettable!"


Delhi-based Hamara Samaj on December 15 criticises both the Congress and the BJP for the "battle of egos". The paper writes that "while probing corruption charges in very necessary, the functioning of Parliament is a greater need." The paper writes that the "attitude of the MPs is regrettable and they will have to pay for it."


Purposeful leaks


The WikiLeaks saga has sparked great debate and conspiracy theories. Discussing the revelation that the US government spied on UN secrets, Jamaat-e-Islami's biweekly Daawat on December 10 hints at President Obama himself being responsible for such an endeavour. "It is being said that even though instructions for this exercise had been given by the Secretary of State, such a big step cannot be taken without the approval of the president." The paper further writes: "If someone thinks that this is a matter merely confined to spying, it is would be a great error of judgment. As a country with veto power in the Security Council of the United Nations, it is obvious that it would try to influence its programme and policy... The silence of the world is surprising."


Many papers have perceived the WikiLeaks revelations as "a conspiracy to blackmail the Islamic world." In a signed article, Masoom Moradabadi, the editor of Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar, has expressed agreement with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's view that these reports have been issued for achieving the US's political objectives. He writes: "The documents revealed by WikiLeaks were, in fact, in the possession of the United States, and their revelation gives the indication of some very big conspiracy... It seems that by putting these secrets on public auction (sar-e-aam neelaam karke) it wants to blackmail the Arab countries and the Islamic world." Similar sentiments have been expressed by many other papers.


Daawat (December 7) talks of the possibility of the WikiLeaks revelations having been stage-managed by the US government itself. It writes: "In all seriousness, nothing can be said with finality now about the reality of WikiLeaks. The predominant perception is that like other international dramas, this tamasha too has been at the instance of Washington itself... The doubts can be removed only when this website may reveal US documents on 9/11 saying how the CIA prepared this plan with the help of Mossad, how fake terrorists were created and what was the objective of this




]Hyderabad-based daily, Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in its editorial (December 5) questions the "reality of WikiLeaks": "Who are these people, and what they want? What are the forces behind them? They are continuously challenging America... and America, in spite of its varied resources, is apparently unsuccessful in stopping them. Is this a drama or something else? There is need for understanding its reality."


What's Urdu for yojana?


According to a report in Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj (December 14), positions of joint director (Urdu), senior and junior translators and typists have been lying vacant in the expenditure section of the finance ministry since September 2008. The reason: no Urdu-literate candidates could be found for these positions. This information was provided to Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi, Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal, by the prime minister's office in reply to a question in Parliament. Interestingly, when Malihabadi asked where the vacancies were advertised, during a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee for minority affairs, he was gobsmacked. The empty positions were advertised only in Yojana, a publication of the Planning Commission.


Compiled by Seema Chishti







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. (Pause) OK, 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 demonisation, since there is no such thing in 21st-century America as a lovable 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. (Pause) OK. 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 Theatre on the hard life of John BoehnerTraister 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 and 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. Twice. Gail Collins








The 125th anniversary of the Congress, India's Grand Old Party, provides an occasion to look back upon its long journey, which is closely intertwined with the development of our nation and its emergent democracy. The Indian National Congress (INC) built a strong nationalist movement, which, unlike many others in the developing world, could successfully transform itself into a political party at independence. In the 1880s, the INC was a body of regional leaders who met on a common platform; nationalist ideas were expressed in regional contexts. But as it spread, two kinds of mobilisations took place: horizontal and vertical. In the former, large masses across the country joined the movement under the leadership of the Congress; while the latter saw the integration of regions under the growing linguistic middle classes into the national movement in the 20th century. This has contributed to the growth side-by-side of a national and regional identity today, rather than the balkanisation predicted in the '50s. However, serious questions can be raised of how inclusive the national movement, and consequently, the project of nation-building, has been of underprivileged citizens including Dalits, tribals and the poor. It was a political project in which social questions were ignored, creating an elitist democracy, which is yet to be corrected today.The post-independence trajectory of the Congress can be assessed through the lens of two major changes: ideological and organisational. The former has pushed the party from its centrist position towards almost right of the ideological spectrum, while the latter has contributed to its decline, both of which have implications for India's development. Nehru attempted to establish socialism through land reform, centralised planning and state-led industrialisation, though due to opposition within the party, what emerged was a mixed economy. Indira Gandhi moved to the left in the '70s to strengthen her political position, promising a radical socialist programme: nationalisation of banks, effective implementation of land reforms, ceilings on urban property, curbs on industrial monopolies, etc. This left-of-centre position underwent a change under Rajiv Gandhi who sought to liberalise the economy integrating it with the world. It was the severe financial crisis of the early '90s that pushed the Congress towards globalisation and a market-oriented economy. While this shift has resulted in higher growth rates, it has benefited only a section of the population capable of making use of new opportunities, leaving the poorer sections further marginalised. However, following its victories in 2004 and 2009, the Congress leadership has attempted corrective measures to balance growth with equity through programmes like the MGNREGA. It remains to be seen if these programmes are properly implemented and whether they can help overcome inequalities. On balance, the developmental record of the Congress can be described as mixed with successes as well as failures.During the colonial period, the INC had an organisational machine reaching down into the villages that made a large-scale national movement possible. A process of long-term decline of its organisation and progressive shrinking of its base began in the mid '60s, leading to collapse in the '90s. Centralisation of power by Indira Gandhi, lack of internal democracy, factionalism and neglect of the organisation was responsible. The decline of Nehruvian secularism and socialism also provided space for emergence of Hindu nationalism and a market-based economy; while the backwards and Dalits unhappy with Congress rule moved away to form their own parties. However, it can be argued that in a large country of diverse regions and communities it was inevitable that the processes of democratisation and regionalisation would lead to replacement of the single-party system with multi-partyism, representing narrower interests and identities. The formation of the INC as an umbrella organisation was possible due to a common enemy, imperialism; today it is very difficult to sustain an aggregative party based on the support of all classes/castes and regions.Since the early 2000s, attempts have been made to revive the Congress organisation and base under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, particularly following the victories in the 2004 and 2009 national elections. However, in an era of coalition governments, parliamentary majorities are obtained in the states, and it is here that the real challenge lies. The party has little social/regional base and few structural linkages between grassroots workers and the leadership in most states, as poor electoral performance in UP in 2007 and more recently in Bihar, indicates. Nor is the central leadership in a strong position, constantly battling internal factionalism and recalcitrant allies. Anniversaries are occasions meant for celebrations, but the Congress leadership enmeshed in numerous scams, seems unable to function. It remains to be seen if a younger leader in the Nehru-Gandhi family will succeed in rebuilding the party, giving it firm ideological direction and making it relevant for a new generation that has not seen the national movement.


The writer is professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University








The Rajya Sabha is often referred to by its erroneous nickname, the House of Elders, perhaps in deference to the UK's House of Lords after which it was partially modelled. Its constitutionally correct nomenclature is in fact the Council of States, and reflects the other side of its roots, the US Senate. That seemingly minor difference hides an enormous chasm reflecting fundamentally different objectives. This ambiguity about its raison d'etre has always existed, but has grown over the years and now reached a crescendo.Earlier this week Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was reported to have said that the Rajya Sabha had become a "market" and should be abolished. His subsequently reported retraction could be due to political compulsions, but the comment has touched a nerve, coming at the end of the derailed winter session of Parliament, and deserves serious contemplation. He is right about some of the shortcomings of the Rajya Sabha, but wrong about the conclusion: throwing out the baby with the bathwater has never been a practical or desirable solution. Though our system of democracy is largely based on the UK's Westminster parliamentary model, the Rajya Sabha is a curious blend of that country's House of Lords and the US Senate. Like the former, neither does it have the authority to amend money bills, nor is it required for the basic objective of providing a majority for government formation. And like the latter, it represents the states of the union rather than individual constituencies, and has a rolling permanency, with one-third of its members elected every two years, that is not subject to the possibility of dissolution or mid-term elections.Ambedkar and his colleagues did a brilliant job of incorporating the best aspects of different political systems into our own Constitution, but stopped short of truly empowering the Rajya Sabha. Several of its original objectives have fared poorly over the years. The rolling permanency and indirect elections — from the state assemblies instead of the general public — were intended to provide a bulwark against extreme populism, but that role has got diluted and it is now just as populist as the Lok Sabha. The related objective of providing an entry to eminent but unelectable personalities has also been partially thwarted, with the majority of its members now being hardcore politicians, and some of the others exemplifying the ills that Chouhan highlighted.But we need to pause and wonder why we should need unelectable people as lawmakers anyway. It's a legacy of colonial, even feudal times, when the citizenry had to be given the vote but still could not be trusted with a full set of keys to the house. This may sound counterintuitive, but the true safeguard against extreme populism is not less democracy, but more. Specifically, a system engineered to reward lawmakers — at least some of them, and the Rajya Sabha is ideal for these — to seek out centrist positions rather than extreme ones. For that to happen, the Rajya Sabha needs to evolve in the opposite direction than it has been in recent years. In the past decade, amendments passed by Parliament replaced the secret ballot for elections to the Rajya Sabha with an open ballot, subject to party whips, and removed the state residency requirement for candidates, thus fundamentally altering its character. Besides diluting its essence of representing states' interests in New Delhi, Rajya Sabha membership has essentially become a party nomination rather than an election, even an indirect one. Almost without exception, Rajya Sabha members are now mostly party apparatchiks or even a few outsiders, but in any case subject only to the approval of party leaderships rather than even a rudimentary election. There are exceptions, of course, when parties' varying strengths in state assemblies leave the odd Rajya Sabha seat up for grabs, but they are rare, and are tailor-made only for tycoons with a penchant for politics.Contrast that with the way the US Senate has evolved. While it too was originally elected from state legislatures, since the 17th Amendment to the US constitution in 1914 it has been directly elected by popular vote. Why was that amendment felt to be necessary? Political analyst Raffaela Wakeman has written that "the senatorial election procedures from before the passage of the 17th Amendment... lacked many features that are now associated with desirable democratic practice. In particular, the identities of viable US Senate candidates were often obscured until the eve of the election in the state legislatures... with the winner often emerging through backroom deals... giving frequent victory to Senate candidates who would have been incapable of winning a popular election in the states they represented." The striking similarities between elections to our Rajya Sabha today and those to the pre-1914 US Senate are obvious. We desperately need an Indian equivalent of the US's 17th Amendment. The consequent direct elections — and equally importantly, the large statewide constituencies — will push candidates towards greater moderation and statesmanship. Successful candidates will need to straddle the middle ground, instead of either just toeing party diktats or catering to the fringe.Such an empowered Rajya Sabha would be like an athlete on legally sanctioned steroids. Its greater capabilities would need to be matched with greater responsibilities, as in the US Senate, whose ratification is needed in key areas like foreign treaties and appointments to constitutional positions. Ironically, if corroboration is needed that the Rajya Sabha needs to become more like the American Senate than the British Lords, the latter is itself headed in the same direction. Lords' reform has been gathering steam in the UK for years and is on the verge of a major breakthrough.


The writer is a BJD MP in the Lok Sabha, and was in the Rajya Sabha from 2000 to 2009







Given how the government has delayed acting on the Raja scam for more than three years, right from the time the ex-minister ignored the PM's written instructions asking him not to go ahead with his plans, it is good that the Supreme Court has asked the CBI to report to it. The CBI's raids on Raja and his affiliates and their interrogation, including the ones on Wednesday, it is well-known, took place only after the Court started getting tough on the case. The Court's order is all the more relevant given that it is now obvious the CVC will not be monitoring the probe, given his role as a former telecom secretary. That said, it is not clear the Court's decision to ask the CBI to probe matters since 2001 is a good idea since, apart from other things, examining thousands of documents going back to 2001 will set back the current probe significantly. It is equally difficult to see what was criminal about PSBs lending to new telecom licencees or in telecom ministry officials signing on these agreements—the licences were issued by the GoI; accepting licences as collateral is pretty standard procedure in case a firm doesn't have a strong enough balance sheet of its own, and all such bank agreements are counter-signed by ministry officials as a matter of course. Asking the CBI to investigate the first-come-first-served (FCFS) policy is equally curious given that it is well accepted Raja distorted the policy to suit his needs—indeed, till Raja distorted it, there have never been any complaints about the policy's functioning.


Examining licensing issues from 2001 is certain to gladden the Congress party's heart since it has appointed a retired judge to do precisely this, but it is important to understand what can come of it. The 2001 decision by Ram Vilas Paswan to allow fixed land licence players to offer mobile phone services within a limited radius (Wireless-in-Local-Loop) in 2001 was probably unconscionable—fixed land-licence firms paid Rs 495 crore as opposed to the Rs 1,651 crore paid by the cellular firms and also had other advantages in terms of pulse rates among others. But the 2001 WLL decision was appealed and lost by the cellular operators in various courts of law. The 2003 decision by Arun Shourie, to convert WLL into full-blown mobility, has also been criticised as it legalised an illegality , but it's difficult to say it caused anywhere near the kind of loss Raja did given that there was no long queue of applicants for mobile licences at that time. Besides, the concerned companies paid the requisite licence fee along with penalties. Further, just 51 licences were issued in the four years after this as compared to the 575 applications that Raja got when he offered the licences at throwaway prices is testimony to this.





The monetary measures in the RBI monetary policy mid-quarter review were largely in line with market expectations, leaving key policy rates unchanged. RBI has also improved on communicating its thoughts on the evolving economic environment in the terse statement, succinctly providing an integrated view of the relative importance of key drivers. Although there was no forward guidance on policy direction, as in the last statement, there is little doubt that managing inflationary expectations continues to remain on top of RBI's mind. There is as much, if not more, space devoted to liquidity management as to inflation control; indeed the actions of this review seem to be informed with this objective, and with reason. The greater than expected contraction of system liquidity has driven up short-term rates, predominantly deposit rates, as of now, but increasingly lending rates as well. Multiple statements about the extent of liquidity tightness going beyond RBI's comfort level, jointly with the observations that this "could constrain banks' ability to expand their balance sheets commensurate with the productive needs of the economy" emphasise an implicit recognition that policy might have been tightened a bit more than intended.


This newspaper has been emphasising that the liquidity tightness in the system since June 2010 has led to a much steeper increase in short-term rates than signalled by hikes in the repo and reverse repo rates. While there is a possibility that liquidity conditions will ease, there is a much higher degree of uncertainty associated with the drivers of so-called 'primary liquidity', particularly currency. It is this continuing uncertainty that might warrant a continuing pause even in the January 2011 review, permitting time for the system to stabilise and greater understanding of liquidity dynamics to emerge. That said, there is little doubt that inflationary pressures will be aggravated with increased global economic activity. Does this warrant a further round of tightening, sooner rather than later? Yes, but the actions need to be carefully calibrated. Excessive monetary policy tightening will only exacerbate supply bottlenecks and the influence of monetary policy in inflation control needs to be carefully monitored. There has probably never been a better time for adhering to the RBI Governors' adage—Festina Lente.








RBI continued its pause on policy tightening, as expected, its discomfort with the extent of current liquidity tightness overriding its concern with the emerging risks to prices and inflation. However, containing inflation and anchoring inflationary expectations remain its objective primus inter pares, and liquidity management only intends to calibrate overnight policy rates consistent with this objective. Recent developments in global commodity prices, particularly crude, provide ample justification for RBI's concern, having introduced additional uncertainties in RBI's monetary policy decision process.


One of these uncertainties arises from India's current account deficit. Some analysts have made dire prognostications of India's current account deficit widening to 4% of GDP, a decided danger threshold. While we do not think this likely in FY11, a worsening deficit, driven by costlier commodities, is likely to have both direct and circuitous effects: directly feeding imported inflation via a depreciating currency and indirectly via the larger consequences of a widening current account gap.


Crude, in particular, has again become a big worry. In previous weeks, following reports of slightly better than expected global economic data, crude prices climbed rapidly to almost $90 a barrel. True, it is unlikely that doomsday is nigh. Global inventories remain high, and demand from the developed markets is still too anaemic to pose a major threat. Most analysts are predicting that crude prices will remain below $100/barrel in 2011. But there are enough indications that we should be starting to prepare for sufficiently adverse consequences, even if they are nowhere close to the situation of 2007 and 2008. Global economic conditions are indeed beginning to look better, other than Eurozone debt concerns.


Just two years after hitting record highs of $147 a barrel, global oil demand seems to have recovered to pre-recession peaks, notes a new report by global oil and metals consultancy Wood Mackenzie (WM). WM projects that world oil demand in 2010 (at an average 86.7 million barrels a day (mbd)) will exceed the previous record high in 2007 by 100,000 bd and is likely to rise further to 88.1 mbd in 2011. The surge has (and will) come from Asia, which accounts for 85% of the recovery in 2010. Oil demand in Q3 of 2010 will exceed the 88 mbd of Q4 2007. WM predicts that global demand is likely to be 2% higher than the peak pre-recession 2007 demand in 2011 and 4% higher in 2012. In addition, if the US dollar starts weakening, as is now being expected after a semblance of stability in Europe and the continuing QE2 in the US, this will probably give a further boost to dollar denominated commodities, particularly crude.


The implications for India's current account deficit (CAD) are evident and as follows. Over 90% of India's petroleum products consumption and exports is met through imports. Petroleum imports account for roughly a third of total imports by value. Diesel accounts for over 40% of total petroleum products consumption and this share has increased steadily from about 34% in FY04. Assuming that demand remains strong, the oil import bill is likely to increase significantly in FY11 and thereafter. Over April-October 2010, India imported $57 bn of petroleum products, a 25% jump over the same 7 months of 2009. India's crude basket prices averaged $79.4/bbl during April-December in FY11, a 17% rise over same period average last year. The point is that consumption of petroleum products has increased significantly and expectations are that this increase will continue.


What does this portend for monetary policy? Unless capital inflows overwhelm the current account deficit, the rupee is likely to remain under pressure, although some of this will probably be moderated by a weakening dollar. A weakening rupee will increase imported inflationary pressures, potentially setting in motion a worsening cycle, with inflation differentials further weakening the rupee, further complicating RBI's monetary policy decision variables. Normally, a widening current deficit should set in motion currency changes as equilibrating signals, making imports costlier and therefore less attractive, but capital inflows have the effect of disrupting these signals by keeping the rupee stronger than warranted. Although large capital flows are, in fact, likely, a large measure of uncertainty enters the picture.


The potential liquidity implications are much better defined. A large current account deficit is perceived to increase the absorptive capacity of capital inflows, but the nature of capital that is flowing in should give pause. In FY11, over April to October, India got about $15 bn of direct investments (FDI), compared to $20 bn over the corresponding 7 months of FY10. Net of reinvested earnings, these figures are about $13 bn and $19 bn. The bulk of equity inflows have been portfolio capital, about $51 bn compared to $18 bn in the first seven months of FY10. If the current account begins to worsen further from our current projections of approximately 3.0% of GDP, investor risk perceptions will adjust non-linearly, increasing after a certain threshold, leading to a flight of capital, mostly portfolio, all of which will worsen the rupee further and drain domestic liquidity. Liquidity management, therefore, becomes an even bigger decision input into monetary policy.


A corollary of the arguments above relates to petroleum products pricing. Compressing demand for petroleum products, particularly diesel, is critical to sustain stable growth, and this entails increasing prices of diesel and other petroleum products. A fuel price increase will automatically result in a demand compression, achieving a key monetary policy objective. The immediate increase in inflation is probably a short-term trade-off that we should accept for longer-term price stability.


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








Barbra Streisand is generally remembered by the pre-internet generation for her 1962 debut album song—"Happy days are here again". The post-Internet generation remember her for entirely different reasons though. In 2003, Streisand sued a photographer for displaying a picture of her house on the Internet. The publicity generated by her efforts to suppress the online publication of the picture had the unintended consequence of popularising the photograph much more than if in the first place, she had not attempted to suppress it. This phenomenon is now called the 'Streisand effect', in 'tribute' to her misjudged efforts.


This month, the Website WikiLeaks was the subject of a denial-of-service attack, i.e., an attempt to make it unavailable to Internet users. This was apparently done at the behest of the US State Department. As a consequence, Internet Service Providers refused to host the Website and payment processors like PayPal, MasterCard and Visa, declined to process online donations to the secret-spilling site. Though, the action of the US government was intended to suppress the leaks, the 'Streisand effect' made sure that the outcome was exactly the opposite. People all over the world, who hadn't even heard of the Website, were typing on their keyboards only to find a site-unavailable message, which increased their curiosity. People sympathetic to WikiLeaks, in the meantime, had voluntarily mirrored the website in order to keep it online. The entire content, with its million plus documents is now available on multiple servers, with different domain names and its fan-base has increased exponentially. The State Department tried to suppress one source. The upshot —not only has the source multiplied itself but its fan base has grown radically. Even though WikiLeaks doesn't advertise, the State Department has become its biggest advertiser.


It's difficult to fathom WikiLeaks getting so much attention but for the US State Department's attempt to stall the website. It's not as if WikiLeaks and its incriminating documents didn't exist before. It's been publishing hitherto unavailable documents from anonymous news sources for the last four years. The site was started in December 2006 by the Australian Internet activist Julian Assange as an international new media non-profit organisation. However, it hadn't gained mass popularity till recently, even though the disclosures have been as illuminating. For instance, in April this year, it posted a video from a 2007 incident in which Iraqi civilians and journalists were killed by US forces. The world, except the avid WikiLeaks fans, didn't take much notice. Even as recently as two months back, the group released a package of almost 400,000 documents called the Iraq War Logs. There was some public interest, but it dwindled soon. Last month, WikiLeaks began releasing US State Department diplomatic cables. Only when the department decided, not so sensibly, to attack the Website and, therefore, by implication thwart the freedom of all Internet users, did it start to snowball into a storm.


WikiLeaks founders, its contributors and volunteers have done a great job by choosing the bolder alternative of risking persecution by displeasing the powers that be and yet upholding their moralities, with no upside in terms of money or fame. WikiLeaks contributors, for obvious reasons, are unnamed. These anonymous activists have revived collective investigative journalism. I have been following the stories coming out of the leaks since mid-2009 and a lot of the information was news that the public had a right to know. Take for instance, 'Climate Gate'. In November 2009, thousands of emails and other documents were hosted by WikiLeaks, gotten by hacking the Climatic Research Unit's servers. Within a few days, the media had publicised allegations made by climate change sceptics and other observers that the emails revealed misconduct within the climate science community. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel peace prize in 2007, was given a hard time. There were demands for his resignation following the disclosure of flawed projections regarding glacier melt. However, the US government didn't even murmur, much less object, that publishing those leaks was illegal and treasonous. After all, the emails and documents were acquired by hacking, which is at least as illegal as the way diplomatic cables were obtained.


The US government couldn't care less about the legality of the Climate Gate exposé, or for that matter any of the 'leaks' in the last four years, since it didn't involve them. Now that they are at the receiving end, the powers-that-be are trying to shift the debate on the legality of the exposé. What's more appalling is that they do all this with pretensions of being defenders of freedom and democracy. The public has a right to know what their elected representatives do. It was all fine talking about freedom when it involved the 'others'—'repressive' communist countries or 'tyrannical' Islamic states. The tide has turned against them now and the reaction from the US State Department in attempting to persecute WikiLeaks seems dreadfully similar to that of an oppressive regime. However, it grossly misjudged the power of information and networks in the Internet era. WikiLeaks is dead. Long Live WikiLeaks.


—The author, formerly with JPMorgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance






Complaint on hold

Mobile subscribers have been put on a long hold. The reformed do-not-call registry, which would have effectively checked unsolicited commercial calls will now not come into effect from January 1, 2011. Reason: the government has ordered a security audit of all government Websites by NIC following the hacking of the CBI Website a few days back. So long as the Trai Website is not secure, there's every chance that the do-not-call registry is also not secure. So if your new year bash is disturbed by calls from telemarketers selling you land or loans, hold on to the complaint.







Worry not Europe, there are jobs in the offing. New positions of underwear police and tie activists at UBS will be created shortly when the new dress code, detailing do's and dont's over 43 pages, comes into effect in all UBS offices. The bank believes that reputation is its "most precious asset" and "adopting irreproachable behaviour implies having an impeccable presentation". Employees in only five offices have been subjected to the new code, presumably launched as a reputation rebuilding exercise since suffering severe losses during the financial crisis, thus far.


The official dossier lists suggestions right from the length of an employee's nails (both fingers and toes) and number of pieces of jewellery (precisely seven for women) to the type of moisturiser and the colour of under-garments (preferably skin-coloured). Did you know there were seven different ways to tie a tie and scarf? For the uninitiated, the instructions are supplemented with step-by-step illustrations. And the guidelines aren't limited only to clothing—not eating garlic and onions, and the timing of spraying your cologne are also essential to good grooming. 'Swiss precision' is world renowned but this might be taking it a step too far. Or so you may think. Apparently, the 'code' has found favour in the West, with UBS receiving several requests for a copy of the publication, reports WSJ. At this delicate juncture in world economic history, however, UBS may do well to focus on their balance sheets rather than the tightness of their female employees' skirts.








Quite predictably, in its mid-quarter monetary policy review, the Reserve Bank of India has not made any significant monetary changes. The repo and the reverse repo rates as well as the CRR remain unchanged. Based on current growth and inflation trends, the RBI had, on November 2, in its second quarterly review, effectively ruled out policy action in the near future. There has been no significant change in its assessment of growth prospects for this year. In fact, considering that the economy has clocked an 8.9 per cent growth during the first six months, the central bank has been somewhat conservative in retaining its forecast at 8.5 per cent. Almost certainly, the growth projections will be marked up in the third-quarter review due towards the end of January 2011. As for inflation, despite some recent signs of moderation, there are reasons to be cautious. After remaining in double-digits for five successive months, WPI inflation declined to 8.8 per cent in August and to 7.5 per cent in November. Consumer price (CPI) inflation for industrial workers and rural/agricultural labourers has dropped to single-digit since August, after remaining in double-digits for over a year.


However, inflationary pressures persist, thanks to the domestic demand and higher global commodity prices, especially of petroleum. Besides, the pace of decline in food inflation has been slower than expected due largely to structural factors. For instance, while the consumption of milk, eggs, meat, and other protein-related items has increased, their prices have moderated less than those of cereals and pulses. The RBI's projection of 5.5 per cent inflation by March 2011 might, therefore, be overly optimistic. It is in monitoring domestic liquidity that the latest review has made some moves. The statutory liquidity ratio has been brought down by one percentage point to 24 per cent and, together with an aggressive programme of open market purchases of government securities, this will inject liquidity to an extent of Rs.48,000 crore. The release of sizable primary liquidity to match the needs of an expanding economy is justified but it is not clear how these measures will impact on interest rates. Given the sluggish growth in their deposits, banks will have to pay more. Besides, the RBI might very soon have to signal higher interest rates to anchor inflationary expectations, which are on the rise in the wake of higher prices of transportation fuels. The global economic news continues to be mixed. Emerging economies are forging ahead, while Europe's progress is somewhat hampered by the emergence of sovereign debt problems.







The Kosovan election result is yet to be finally declared but the process, initiated when the ruling coalition collapsed in November 2010, has revived political and ethnic tensions. With the turnout high in the first general election since Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Serbia in 2008, the result was always going to be close. Incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi has claimed victory for his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) over its former coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by Isa Mustafa. But Albin Kurti's Self-Determination party polled 17 per cent and could hold the balance of power. The main politicians are all from the Albanian community, which constitutes 88 per cent of the population, and can see the substantial participation of ethnic Serb voters in Albanian-surrounded enclaves as proof of the voters' interest in economic rather than ethno-political issues. Kosovo is one of Europe's poorest countries, with an annual per capita income of $2,750 and unemployment currently estimated at 48 per cent, and the economy dominated much of the campaign.


Unfortunately, the wider picture is more disturbing. Serbs form seven per cent of the country's 1.8-million population; in the north, where most of Kosovo's 120,000 Serbs live and which borders Serbia, polling stations were boycotted in response to a call from President Boris Tadiæ in Belgrade. There were also minor skirmishes, and booths closed three hours early, ostensibly for security reasons. The International Court of Justice ruling of July 2010, that the Kosovan UDI was not unlawful, is unlikely to deter Serbia from seeking to annex northern Kosovo. Alternatives such as the decentralisation of Kosovo will almost certainly be rejected by Belgrade. In addition, Mr. Tadic wants European Union membership for Serbia and knows that the Union would not admit Kosovo if the latter were divided like Cyprus. Furthermore, allegations of fraud in Mr. Thaçi's strongholds will intensify tensions even among ethnic Kosovans; the Self-Determination party, citing corruption among the current leaders, has advocated unification with the country's southern neighbour, Albania. In sum, this election settles virtually nothing. The key problem is the absence of leadership from the EU. In cables released by WikiLeaks, American officials condemn the EU's "vacillation" and note a perception in the region that the EU has given up on further expansion. It is Kosovans who will pay the price for this demonstration of its weakness.










Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to India next week for an annual bilateral summit will see the two countries push their nuclear, defence, and space relations to a higher level. Both sides are expected to sign a raft of agreements providing for the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam power plant in Tamil Nadu, joint designing of the fifth-generation advanced fighter aircraft (FGFA), and access for the Indian military to Russia's space-based navigation system GLONASS.


However, the ongoing expansion of commercial ties cannot obscure the fact that the relations between the countries have reached a fork on the road for the second time in two decades.


For 10 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, New Delhi-Moscow ties were in a state of drift as Russia struggled with the economic meltdown and President Boris Yeltsin's government saw little value in what it considered an ideology-driven special relationship of the Soviet times. Bilateral trade collapsed, defence cooperation faltered and political contacts dithered.


The turning point came 10 years ago, soon after Vladimir Putin succeeded the ailing Yeltsin. During his first visit to India in October 2000, India and Russia signed a historic Declaration on Strategic Partnership, which reversed the decade-long downslide in bilateral relations. The declaration clearly said the strategic ties were based on a broad convergence of long-term interests and goals, and the complementarity of their economies in the absence of any antagonistic difference or rivalry. The two countries have since streamlined and expanded defence cooperation, with Russia offering India unlimited access to cutting-edge military technologies and helping it set up a strong diversified defence industry. India and Russia have revitalised political contacts, establishing a mechanism of annual bilateral summits, as well as regular Foreign Ministry and Security Council consultations.


Russia helped Indian companies gain a foothold in the energy sector, with ONGC-Videsh Ltd. acquiring a stake in a Sakhalin oil and gasfield and buying a Russian oil company, Imperial Energy. A 15-year-long stagnation in bilateral trade is being overcome and private business in both countries is waking up to investment opportunities in each other's economy.


Over the past decade, New Delhi and Moscow have built an exceptionally high level of mutual trust that is hard to find between two other great powers. They have developed close and effective interaction in the United Nations on major global and regional issues and have set up new multilateral forums — the Russia-India-China (RIC) triangle and the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) dialogue.


The New Delhi-Moscow strategic partnership has helped Russia reassert itself as a truly Eurasian nation and facilitated India's rise as a leading economic and military power in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas 10 years ago, the twin-headed eagle of Russia's national emblem had both heads turned West, today they look West and East as originally conceived. "India has re-emerged as a kingpin of Russia's policy in the East, along with China," says Andrei Volodin of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.


But the glass of Indo-Russian strategic partnership is still half full. Economic ties are too weak to sustain further strengthening of strategic relations. Bilateral trade is expected to touch $10 billion in the current financial year, a three-fold increase over the past five years but it is still a fraction of either country's trade with China. New Delhi and Moscow have promised to expand the two-way trade to $20 billion by 2015. Economists say this is the minimal threshold at which trade can acquire self-sustaining dynamism.


The relatively weak economic foundation makes Indo-Russian relations sensitive to quickening shifts in regional power equations. What a top Russian diplomat described three years ago as "wrinkles in the moods" between Moscow and New Delhi over the latter's cosying up to the United States resurfaced this year in the wake of President Barack Obama's trip to India. Russia, which itself has embraced a "reset" with the U.S. under the Democratic Administration, has no problem accepting New Delhi's growing partnership with Washington as part of what political scientists call the increasingly "loose geometry of international relations." However, Russia would hate to see India depart from Jawaharlal Nehru's concept of a balanced and independent foreign policy. "Moscow is concerned over a tendency in New Delhi to attach an absolute value to its growing engagement with the U.S.," says Dr. Volodin.


India seeks close partnership with the U.S. to deal with the challenge of rising China. But Moscow believes that the new U.S. strategy of containing China is fraught with new tensions and security risks in the Asia-Pacific region. Contours of the U.S. strategy were outlined last month when Mr. Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen toured the region. The American leaders revived the Cold War-era Pacific Security Pact, ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-U.S.), strengthened defence alliances with Japan and South Korea, and vowed to beef up U.S. military presence in the region. Russia voiced a strong opposition to bloc-building. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described closed blocs in Asia as "a threat to national security and a source of dividing lines, mutual distrust and suspicion." From the Russian point of view, the recent crisis on the Korean peninsula underscored this threat. Moscow voiced "grave concern over the build-up of tension on the Peninsula aggravated … by a series of large-scale military exercises [between the U.S. and South Korea]."


Russia and China have put forward their own security plan for Asia. During Mr. Medvedev's visit to China in September, the two sides unveiled a "joint initiative" to build "an open, transparent and equitable architecture of security and cooperation based on international law, non-bloc principles and respect for the legitimate interests of all sides." India, however, refused to sign the initiative, striking down the reference to "non-bloc" principles for Asia-Pacific security in the joint communiqué of the RIC meeting of Foreign Ministers in Wuhan, China, which came on the heels of Mr. Obama's visit to India.


India's refusal to support the Russia-China security plan was seen in Moscow as having been prompted by its unwillingness to rub the U.S. up the wrong way. "Some sections of the Indian elites hope to use close ties with the U.S. to solve India's geopolitical and geo-economic problems," Dr. Volodin says. "The U.S. also wants to use India to advance its strategic goals in Asia but Washington will never embark on a confrontation with China, if only because of a symbiotic economic inter-dependence between the two powers."


Russia, which also finds itself hedged geopolitically between the U.S. and China, offers an example of how to deal with both without antagonising either. While aggressively pursuing the "reset" with Washington, Moscow also firms up close ties with China.


"New Delhi's concerns about China can be partly eased by expanding trade, business and cultural ties between the two countries, and partly through India's active, rather than formal, involvement in RIC, BRIC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)," says Dr. Volodin. "As Russian economy picks up, Moscow can also play a balancing role between India and China."


The RIC and BRIC formats within a few years progressed from Foreign Ministers' meetings on the sidelines of international gatherings to annual stand-alone summits, but are still short on substance. Both forums are testing the water in multilateral economic cooperation but are yet to develop meaningful political agendas. Moscow has been working hard to get India, which has observer status in the SCO, to join the alliance as a full member. The six-member SCO approved rules for admission of new members earlier this year and expansion may start next year. "Unless India and other observers join the SCO, the group may end up as a branch office of China's Foreign Ministry," Dr. Volodin says.


The Indo-Russian strategic partnership will be directly impacted by how issues of regional and global politics play out during Mr. Medvedev's visit. If differences between New Delhi and Moscow on Asia-Pacific security get further heightened, they may eventually weaken the two countries' strategic ties. "In view of the recent trends in India's foreign policy, Moscow will be listening closely to every word said at the Indo-Russian summit," says Dr. Volodin, who is also a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.


"Russia has a stake in developing strategic relationship with India, but it must be a two-way road," the scholar adds. "The summit will show whether the glass is half full or half empty."








Thursday's Supreme Court order asking the Central Bureau of Investigation to go ahead with the probe into the 2G scam and to extend it to finding out how the whole matter was handled as far back as in 2001 comes as no surprise. There are a few significant features, either explicit or implied, to the court's directive. First, the plea for forming a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to continue with the CBI-initiated investigation has been rejected. This is most logical because of the enormity of the probe, which only an organisation like the CBI can undertake. The second feature is the obvious acknowledgement of the highest court's faith in the much-maligned investigating agency. This should come as a shot in the arm for the CBI, which has a brand new Director with a Himalayan reputation for sobriety and honesty. If he cannot deliver the goods, no one can at this juncture. This is an extremely sensitive investigation in which several persons in high places have something or the other to tell the CBI, either on their own or in response to questions from the agency. Papers available at the Prime Minister's Office may have to be made available to the investigating officer at some stage of the investigation. This is in the context of the allegation that the former Telecom Minister spurned the Prime Minister's wise counsel for fairness and caution in doling out licences. This could involve senior officials in that office deposing to the chain of correspondence and the responses from the Telecom Ministry. All this will require deft handling, and any heavy-footed work will only invite criticism of an agency that has always been the whipping boy to many.


In passing its order, the Supreme Court did not mince words about how the CBI should be absolutely professional. "Don't be influenced by anybody," is its clear warning to the agency. This is tantamount to a direction that the investigators will have to be wholly apolitical and objective, and should not be overawed by any personality, however high in the hierarchy. This is the acid test that the court has prescribed for the CBI. This is something similar to what Chief Justice J.S. Verma told the CBI in the Hawala case in an almost intimidatory tone. The organisation rose to the occasion and came out with certain findings which resulted in some heads rolling.


This is the crux of the matter. Give the CBI enough assurance that it can function without fear and it need not be worried about the consequences of speaking the truth. It is only in such an ambience that the CBI can get to the bottom of the scandal. It has a number of officers who have the right investigating skills and can ferret out facts much needed to bring the offenders to book. They require not only a free hand, but also protection. Or else, they will go only half way.


This brings me to the most vital point, namely, the autonomy of the CBI. What is the point in deriding it as a handmaiden of the ruling party, if you tie its destinies totally to the executive? We, no doubt, need an accountable CBI that will not deviate from the law of the land and will not commit any human rights violation in going about its chores. At the same time, it needs total autonomy from the caprice and malice of a politically-oriented executive. Vested interests want us to believe that autonomy and accountability cannot go together. This is obfuscation of the most condemnable variety. The judiciary, despite all the setbacks it has suffered recently, is the best bet against a CBI that could act recklessly under political control. The commendable manner in which the Supreme Court has been guiding the spectrum scandal is proof enough that a judiciary-monitored CBI is the kind of mechanism that a nation battered by a tsunami-like wave of corruption needs now. Those who have an entirely different agenda and pay lip service to democratic norms will view such an arrangement, where the CBI is answerable only to the courts, as a dilution of executive authority that the framers of our Constitution did not visualise.


A desperate situation like the one we are now facing demands desperate remedies. And one such remedy is a CBI that stands by itself and derives all its authority from a statute passed by Parliament. I know this is a pipe dream. All political parties across the spectrum (no pun intended) want a subservient investigating agency that would not dare to go against a ruling party functionary when the latter transgresses the law. The Hawala case brought in reform in the form of a fair and objective system of choosing the right candidate for the position of CBI Director and giving him a mandatory two-year term. Let us hope that the spectrum investigation will, similarly, lead to a more far-reaching reform of giving statutory insularity to the CBI. This cannot happen unless there is the weight of media and public opinion backing the laudable move aimed at lending credibility to the highest investigating agency in the land.


(The writer is a former CBI Director.)










The difference between optimists and pessimists is that the optimists have more fun, joked Elias Freig-Delgado, a member of Mexico's Ministry of Finance Special CO {-2} Task Force and the working groups of the U.N. High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing. Mr. Delgado was speaking at the Forest Day meeting during the Cancun climate summit, well before it ended. "Cancun can" was the buzzword, and yes, the optimists did have more fun.


Those who had gathered in the hope of influencing world climate policy got, instead, a slew of agreements that left open the emission reduction targets for developed countries, which must have pleased the United States, Japan and others who are not in favour of binding cuts. The U.S. had another reason to be pleased — the mitigation pledges it had orchestrated at Copenhagen were adopted in the United Nations framework, as also the transparency agreement, in which India played a major role.


In 2009, the Copenhagen Accord declared that deep cuts in global emissions were required to hold the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. Of the 140 countries that have associated themselves with the Accord, 85 have pledged to reduce their emissions or constrain their growth by 2020, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report said.


The Emissions Gap Report released by the UNEP at the conference said that if the highest ambitions of all the countries associated with the Copenhagen Accord are implemented and supported, annual emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) could be cut on an average by around seven gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide- equivalent by 2020. It is likely that without this action, a business-as-usual scenario would see emissions rising to an average of around 56 Gt of carbon dioxide- equivalent by around 2020. Cuts in annual emissions to around 49 Gt of Carbon dioxide-equivalent would still, however, leave a gap of around five Gt compared with where you need to be. That is because experts estimate that emissions need to be around 44 Gt of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2020 to have a likely chance of pegging temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less.


However, experts estimate that if only the lowest ambition pledges are implemented and if no clear rules are set in the negotiations, emissions could be 53 Gt of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2020.


Transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy has never been so desperately needed. Yet what did the agreements at Cancun actually give you? Uncertainty over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, no binding emission reductions for developed countries and a lack of environmental integrity, as one of the observers pointed out. The Cancun agreements said that there should be no gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012, and the second phase. However, it merely calls on the developed countries to "raise the level of ambition of the emission reductions to be achieved by them individually or jointly, with a view to reducing their aggregate level of emission of green house gases..."


On Day 1 of the climate change conference, Japan threw a spanner in the works by declaring its intention not to support a second phase of commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Though Japan's stand is not new, it hung like a sword of Damocles over the meet. The U.S. maintained that it was not for binding emission cuts if other emerging economies such as India and China were not on board in the final agreement.


Now, the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain since there are no binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. In the context of the long-term goal and the ultimate objective of the Convention and the Bali action plan, the idea is to work towards identifying a global goal to reduce substantially global emissions by 2050 and to consider this at next year's climate change meet. At India's behest, the figure of 50 per cent has been dropped from the global goal for substantially reducing emissions by 2050.


The agreements recognise that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science and as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb the increase in global average temperatures below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. In the absence of any firm targets, the spectre raised by the UNEP calculations seems possible 10 years later. During the conference, India and the other BASIC countries, the least developed countries, the Alliance of Small Island States, Africa, most of the G-77 and the European Union states were firm on a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and binding emission cuts. Yet, this was not reflected in the final agreement.


While the issue of transparency, adaptation, a green climate fund, technology transfer, forestry and capacity-building have been long-awaited decisions, the world cannot just wait and hope that commitments and targets by individual countries would be enough to reduce GHG emissions. That is the failure of the Cancun agreements.


Diplomacy and multilateralism have triumphed, as many have said, but where has that left the task of combating climate change?


As in Copenhagen, Bolivia expressed strong reservations about the proposals in the text before they were adopted and at the final meetings. However, the Conference of Parties president, Patricia Espinosa, was firm in overruling them. Bolivia was faced with constant questions from the media on whether it would block a deal, walk out or veto.


Pablo Solon, the chief negotiator, defended Bolivia's position by retorting, why don't you ask Japan why it's not agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol? Mr. Solon also said that the U.S. was very much the architect of the Cancun proposals, a role it had played earlier in Copenhagen.


It should come, then, as no surprise that the Americans have gone back with a transparency agreement in place and no binding emission cuts. They lose nothing since in any case they are not part of the Kyoto Protocol. Their commitment at Copenhagen to reduce emissions will not result in much. Where they have a crucial role is in providing the funds for mitigation and adaptation.


The fast-start finance amount of $30 billion by 2012 is off to a shaky start with the U.S. pledging only $1.7 billion so far. Even more ambitious is the Green Climate Fund, which hopes to amass $100 billion annually till 2020. The resources and allocations for this are yet to be firmed up.


The fast-start finance faced a lot of flak from across countries including India, with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh saying it was not fast, had not started and there was no finance.


If finance was the lure at Cancun, just as it was last year to get opposing countries to support the Copenhagen Accord, then at least that must translate into reality.


Otherwise much more than optimism will be needed at Durban where the climate summit will be held in 2011.








The flow of immigrants to the United States has resumed, after falling to the lowest level in decades during the recession, a new study finds.


The number of immigrants in the United States was estimated to have risen by about a half-million in the year that ended in 2009, a jump from the previous year, when immigration stopped almost completely during the recession, according the study, which was conducted by the Brookings Institution and is being released on Thursday.


The rise pointed to an increase in demand for immigrant labour in the economy, said Audrey Singer, a demographer and co-author of the report.


However, the number is still far below the increases of more than a million a year that took place earlier in the decade. The flow reached a peak in 2006, with a 1.8 million increase in the foreign-born population.


"It's an uptick in opportunity," Ms Singer said. "Immigrants are very mobile in responding to economic changes."


In 1980, the foreign-born population in the United States was about 4.5 million. By 2000, it had reached 11.3 million, bringing the foreign-born population to about 13 per cent of the total. In the early 20th century, after the last big wave of immigration to the United States, immigrants had reached 15 per cent of the population.


In 2008, immigration came to a standstill, the first big slowdown in decades of surging numbers, according to the report, which was based on estimates by the Census Bureau. Last year, the foreign-born population stood at 7.4 million.


"After three decades of nonstop growth, immigration seems to have paused," the report says.


The biggest losses were in cities that had boomed in recent years, particularly in the housing industry, including Phoenix, Riverside and San Bernardino in California and Tampa, Florida.


Cities where the recession had less of an effect, including Austin, Texas; Houston; Raleigh, N.C.; and Seattle, continued to gain immigrants.


The biggest increases came in smaller metropolitan areas that had little or no immigrant populations before. Among them were Jackson, Mississippi, whose foreign-born population grew by half in the two years ending in 2009; Birmingham, Alabama, where immigrants increased by a quarter; and Worcester, Massachusetts, and Omaha, which both experienced growth of about 20 per cent, according to the report.


There was a slight rise in the portion of immigrants without a high school education, though the report noted that it was unclear whether this was because of low-skilled immigrants already in the United States, or because of less educated ones arriving. Immigrants with a bachelor's degree did not change, the report said. — New York Times News Service









The United States, tying up loose ends as its occupation of Iraq winds down, pushed through three Security Council resolutions on Wednesday that lifted restrictions left over from the confrontation with Saddam Hussein.


One resolution permits Iraq to develop a civilian nuclear programme and import materials once banned because they could possibly be used to help develop unconventional weapons. A second resolution formally shuttered the dormant, widely corrupt oil-for-food programme. And the third gives the country control over most of its oil assets starting July 1, 2011, while simultaneously lifting the protection that shielded post-invasion Iraq from countless legal claims.


"After years of being sanctioned by Security Council resolutions due to the aggression, the belligerence of Saddam's regime, I think today we closed a dark chapter," said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign minister. "I think this shows that Iraq is coming back truly to its rightful place among the community of nations."


Council resolutions that demand that Iraq resolve disputes with Kuwait were left intact. Working out final agreements on issues ranging from border demarcation to items stolen from the Kuwaiti national archives will be a priority for the next Iraqi government, said Mr. Zebari, so that Iraq can free itself of all Security Council restrictions imposed since 1990.


Iraq still faces at least $22 billion in outstanding financial claims, according to U.N. figures, much of it owed to Kuwait. Iraq will continue to set aside five percent of its oil revenues in a special account to pay off reparations from the war Saddam initiated in August 1990.


Foreign governments, Westerners forced to serve as human shields and companies that lost business because of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait have been among those waiting for the U.N. protections to be lifted so they could pursue court action.


Mr. Zebari, citing hundreds of such claims, said Iraq planned to try to place its assets with the Federal Reserve, where a presidential decree might shield them, and also to try a parallel strategy in Europe. France was the only country to abstain on any resolution, concerned that the one ending the oil-for-food programme did not sufficiently protect BNP Paribas, which handled payments, from claimants.


The resolutions have no substantial implications for American policy, but to create a sense of occasion Vice-President Joe Biden presided over the vote in the Security Council. The United States holds the rotating council presidency this month.


"Basically the United States wants to close the Iraq file and that is what it is doing," said Joost R. Hiltermann, the deputy West Asia programme director at the International Crisis Group. "But it does mean something for Iraq; they take their sovereignty seriously." — New York Times News Service









On Thursday, television history will be made. One of the legends of the small screen will be broadcast live at precisely the moment that his trousers fall down.


At least that's what will happen metaphorically. Larry King will hang up his famous braces.


For 25 years, night after night, Larry King Live has been a pillar of American culture, as comforting and dependable as Mickey Mouse and Hershey. But even cultural pillars can grow structurally unsound; in the case of King some would say that happened years ago.


CNN is being tight-lipped about the guests for the final show, which goes out at 9 p.m. [U.S. eastern time], revealing only the names of fellow TV hosts Ryan Seacrest and Bill Maher while withholding those of the 14 other participants.


Some will be politicians, CNN says. Which raises the possibility that Mario Cuomo will be among them — a pleasing touch were it to happen as Mr. Cuomo, then New York Governor, was Mr. King's very first guest on June 1, 1985.


It also holds out the possibility of Mr. King being rejoined by Ross Perot, who helped put Larry King Live on the map in 1992 when he declared on the show that he was running for the presidency. There again Al Gore might also be in attendance: the debate between him and Mr. Perot in 1993 was arguably the show's finest hour — transfixing a nation and attracting 20 million viewers.


For media watchers like Mark Feldstein, a former CNN correspondent, now journalism professor at George Washington University, such TV events were a boon to the network as it set out as the first 24-hour news operation. "In the early days CNN was a very traditional news outlet," he said. "To have a fluffier talkshow like King's increased the pool of viewers and his very soft interviewing style brought in big names." Those big names were drawn from the worlds of politics and entertainment. In politics his guests included Margaret Thatcher, whose spongier, non-iron side he enjoyed trying to reach; Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, who earlier this month returned to the show saying "there is just one King"; and every U.S. President since Richard Nixon. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The Reserve Bank of India's latest review of its monetary policy has a clear message: that inflation is still a major concern and that while food inflation is coming down, the prices of essential food items of everyday consumption, at least of the aspirational middle class, such as eggs, fish, meat and milk, remain high and are still increasing. Manufactured goods are also getting costlier, and this is showing no sign of declining as the cost of raw material also keeps rising. The overall inflation figure has come down to 7.5 per cent in November from 8.8 per cent in August. This has provided a breather, but only for a short while. The RBI is very clear on that. True, it did not raise interest rates when it announced its mid-quarter monetary policy on Thursday. In fact, it went a step further and injected around `48,000 crores into the system by reducing the money that commercial banks have to freeze with the RBI (the statutory liquidity ratio) and purchasing government bonds from banks. But the central banker was quick to say that this liberal attitude should not to be interpreted as a shift in its monetary policy stance or that it was comfortable with the inflation figures. It emphasised that inflation was still a major concern — something with which the salaried class as well as the underprivileged will concur.
Inflation is spurred not only from domestic demand but also from global commodity, food, industrial inputs and metal prices — which are all rising for different reasons. Crude oil is the latest to hit the roof — at nearly $100 a barrel, it is threatening to disrupt several major economies. In India, the government has already raised the price of petrol this week, for the second time in a few months, and there is talk of an imminent rise in diesel prices as well. It should be remembered, though, that a hike in diesel prices will push up inflation across the board once again. Diesel is used across the board — from cars, buses and trucks to farmers' water pumps and fishermen's boat engines. The government is inching towards pushing up diesel prices on the grounds that the oil marketing companies will otherwise not be able to bear the burden of rising crude prices much longer. Also, even more important, with one of the major oil companies planning to tap the capital market in the not too distant future, the government has to show investors it is decontrolling diesel prices so there won't me too much damage to the company's bottomline.

Minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh tried to pave the way for a diesel hike by asking why the government should subsides diesel for the owners of BMWs and Mercedes luxury cars and SUVs. A good question. But one cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater, and the owners of these fancy cars are a minuscule lot compared to the crores of Indians who use diesel. If Mr Ramesh and his government really want to adopt differential pricing for diesel, they should carefully think about its implementation — and find really innovative and ingenious ways! Expecting the filling station assistant to do its job would really be opening a nice new fat window of corruption. The lessons learnt in kerosene distribution should not be lost, particularly by a government already bogged down with allegations of corruption on various fronts.

Having said all that, the real challenge before the government is to increase the country's food supply. Till now the agriculture ministry has come out with any concrete plans in this regard or told the people how and to what extent it will increase both the production of foodgrain and its availability in our marketplaces.








As someone who visited Kolkata after more than a year, I was struck by a curious phenomenon: the abrupt disappearance of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) from public spaces. For the past three decades, the sight of the daily Ganashakti pasted on improvised billboards and adorned with the ubiquitous red flag was drearily familiar. I don't know how many of the aam aadmi actually ploughed through the small print while waiting at bus stops, but ideological indoctrination was never the main point of the exercise. Rather, it was intended to convey a sense of the party's constant presence in every locality.

Today, the hoardings and wall writings of the CPI(M) are few and far between. There are few portrayals of muscular workers and determined peasants marching with the red flag. Also shrinking are evocative slogans declaiming against some perceived injustice. Instead, there are umpteen makeshift hoardings of a benign but somewhat stern Mamata Banerjee and streams of the Trinamul Congress buntings in the mohallas. If flaunting of party flags and agitprop are intended to convey a sense of a locality's political affiliation, it is clear that the Trinamul Congress has upstaged the CPI(M) from most of Kolkata. The Left Front may still be ruling from the Writer's Building but it has ceded control of the streets to Ms Banerjee.

The state Assembly elections are not due until April or May of 2011 but there is already an anticipation of change. The unemployed (and, sometimes, unemployable) youth who frequent the corner tea shops appear to have moved en masse to the side of Didi, as Ms banerjee is popularly referred to. Indeed, it probably takes some courage for CPI(M) supporters to proclaim their political preferences, in urban West Bengal at least. The CPI(M) was decimated in Kolkata and the adjoining districts in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It took the verdict in a spirit of resignation and has withdrawn into its shell. As of now the Trinamul Congress seems to be guaranteed a landslide in the cities and towns in the Assembly elections. The Left activity is mainly centred on trade unions which, unfortunately for them, influence voting behaviour peripherally.

It is different in the countryside. The CPI(M) is very deeply entrenched in rural Bengal thanks to its control of the panchayats. In the past, this control, coupled with the goodwill it had earned through the redistribution of land under Operation Barga, had ensured the Left Front of huge majorities in rural constituencies. In districts such as Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia, both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress had difficulties finding credible candidates for rural seats.

The situation has changed perceptibly after the Lok Sabha election. First, the CPI(M) hold over other districts, particularly those located in North Bengal and around Kolkata, has weakened considerably. There are four basic reasons for this erosion of support.

First, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Muslim voters appear to have made a conscious decision to back the Trinamul Congress-Congress alliance.

Secondly, a net result of the Left Front overzealous land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram is the erosion of the party's credentials as a champion of the poor peasantry. The beneficiaries of Operation Barga are first-generation landowners and their attachment to their small holdings verges on the fanatical. This section has been unmoved by the government's arguments that industrialisation necessitates compulsory land acquisition. With her catchy but somewhat vague slogan of "Ma, Mati, Manush" (loosely translated as mother, land and mankind) Ms Banerjee has emerged as the champion of the rights of small farmers. She has given her Trinamul Congress cadres (who invariably tend to be petty businessmen and sons of yesterday's large landholders) the necessary political opening to woo a section the Left took for granted. This incremental support may cost the CPI(M) dearly in constituencies that, while being rural, also have urban clusters.

Thirdly, the Left Front had hoped that the growth in rural prosperity through land reforms would trigger the revival of manufacturing and services in the state and provide job opportunities to the rural youth. This hope provided the basis of the Left Front's landslide win in 2006. However, the optimism surrounding the "revival" of West Bengal largely dissipated after the Nandigram fiasco and the willingness of investors to sink their money in the state evaporated after Tata Motors moved its Nano plant from Singur to Gujarat. The fiasco left the chief minister rudderless and called into question the Left Front's ability to secure economic growth in West Bengal. The CPI(M) is experiencing the backlash that comes with a failure to deliver. It is not that Ms Banerjee necessarily signals hope, but she personifies the mood of protest.

Finally, the CPI(M) has been adversely affected by the mushrooming of support for pro-Maoist groups in the more inaccessible parts of Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura. The areas which today have a Maoist "problem" are those where the CPI(M) and its allies exercised a monopoly of power and political presence. The Maoists appear to have entered into a tacit understanding with the Trinamul Congress to join hands against a common adversary. This informal alliance won't be enduring but, for the moment, it serves a mutual convenience. It has left the CPI(M) vulnerable in the unlikeliest of places.

The CPI(M) is unlikely to give up West Bengal without a spirited fight. It is aware that in the event of defeat, the party will be fiercely targeted by Ms Banerjee's party for its 30-year-old record of petty tyranny. Turf wars in West Bengal tend to be extremely bloody and this may be reflected in pre- and post-poll violence — something that the Election Commission should factor into the poll schedule.

Additionally, the last card before the CPI(M) is to try and somehow scuttle the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance. The Trinamul Congress genuinely feels that many of the Congress' central leaders would be happy to exchange its support with that provided by the Left. Ms Banerjee is hoping for the best but simultaneously preparing for the worst. This sense of anticipation is the only common ground left in a Bengal that waits anxiously for the summer to settle the political uncertainty.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








Wikileaks has become a modern fable. Its founder Julius Assange faces charges of rape and years of harassment. Mr Assange is seen as that loathsome creature, the hacker. The hacker threatens the security systems of foreign policy. But more than security Mr Assange, the hacker has exposed the hypocrisy of governments.

The leaks have exposed the arrogance of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her sense of pomposity of India as a self-appointed member of the United Nations Security Council. Wikileaks has provided an everyday X-ray of how the American ambassador reads the weakness of India as a soft state, too invertebrate to take on Pakistan. The disclosures reveal the contempt of the ordinary foreign service bureaucrats for politicians and political processes.

The general reactions everywhere have been a sense of outrage first at the temerity of the act of disclosure and secondly at what the disclosures reveal. It reveals the hypocrisy of bureaucrats and politicians and it also exposes the fragility of the power to information.

The leaks almost seem to suggest that power exposed is power weakened. The sanctity of secrecy creates a halo around power which it does not deserve.

The leaks also expose the ambivalent figure of the hacker. The hacker is half outlaw, half dissenter. He is like the Levellers and the Dissenters were in Oliver Cromwell's time. He embodies a different idea of power and responsibility.

The hacker as dissenter is a moral figure. He is an early warning system of the pathologies of power. The hacker is a liminal, ambivalent figure, anarchic enough to threaten power, an outlaw challenging the sanctity of rules and redefining them. Many see him as a virus, a threat, as a cancer which can destroy an entire system; others as bohemian in culture, anarchist in politics.

What I want to argue is that the hacker must be seen as homeostatic to the system. Every information system needs a hacker. It threatens power but guarantees the limits of power by creating an epidemic of accountability. To control the hacker beyond the norms of democracy is futile.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has argued that phone tapping is essential because security demands and terror legitimises it. My counter argument is that if phone tapping is necessary for security, hacking is necessary for freedom. The right to information would be an empty promise without the presence and ingenuity of the hacker.

One admits the problem resides in the sense of proportion. If an excess of phone tapping creates the paranoid world of surveillance, an excess of hacking can destabilise norms.

The hacker is seen as a bohemian. In fact, someone like Mr Assange is seen as bohemian in his sexuality and in his attitude to information. The hacker personalises excess. Given his liminality, the hacker must be allowed his way of life. This holds as long as the hacker is a dissenter. In that sense Mr Assange is a prisoner of conscience and must be adopted by Amnesty International as one. It is illiterate to compare him to a Cyber bin Laden. Mr Assange is a dissenter not a fundamentalist. He wants to save lives not to eliminate people. It only frightens power. Hacking is a part of the power of the powerless.

The responsibility does not end with the hacker. The information the hacker revels is an invitation to citizenship. Hacking cannot end as a scandal. The scandal is a ritual that initiates deeper understanding of power. Where hacking stops, the citizen takes over — asking for accountability and transparency from power. The journalist as investigator, the dissenter as researcher finds a new sibling in the hacker as a subventor of power. The tuning fork for judgment is motive and the consequences of the hacking act. The hacker is an essential purgative to the system. In a sense what hacking needs is the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath, creating a culture that stands at right angles to power. mr Assange in a historical sense stands on par with Daniel Goldberg of the Pentagon tapes or the journalists Woodward and Bernstien who exposed Watergate and ended the strange career of Richard Nixon.

The hacker is a special kind of whistleblower. Whistleblowing is usually an individual act of courage, an exemplary act of dissent. Hacking is more communitarian. It is a network of dissent which operates on power. It is collective, communitarian, a subculture with its own style. In that sense it is more difficult to control.
I want to emphasise that I am not creating a hagiography of the hacker. I think his ambivalence is what provides a sense of limits of power. The hacker carries both the marks of a trickster and a martyr, and we need to recognise his mixed, mixed-up nature.

The hacker in homeopathic doses is necessary to prevent the arrogance of power. He is an antidote but should not become purgative. In excess he is an epidemic, in aesthetic limits he is a democratic necessity. Think of it, the right to information will be a feeble promise without the culture of hacking. If the right to information creates access to information, hacking breaks the secrecy that prevents information from going public.
One might ask what the difference between wire-tapping and hacking is. Wire-tapping as an instrument is used by the structure of surveillance. Wire-tapping invades privacy. It violates a sense of freedom. Genuine hacking questions secrecy and defies surveillance. The two belong to entirely different grammars, one operating through surveillance, the other questioning the sanctity of security and secrecy.

There is a final point one must emphasise in this ode to hacking. Hacking emerged like IT, out of the beat cultures that made Silicon Valley. Hacking was a dissenting cult which understood the spirit of the network and kept it alive. Hackers are not luddites. They are experts in technological folklore. As tricksters they understand that technology cannot be a servant of power. This much the Wikileaks proved and for this much Mr Assange must be seen as a force of freedom, a dissenter, a whistleblower, whose "noise" is always the unwelcome music that power cannot tolerate.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








In six years, the social networking site Facebook has acquired over 500 million users worldwide and is worth billions of dollars. Hardly surprising then that Time magazine has picked its founder Mark Zuckerberg as the 'person of the year' for 2010.


At 26, Zuckeberg stands at the forefront of a communications revolution. In addition to the success of Facebook, Zuckerberg has also followed in the footsteps of the world's biggest philanthropist and doyen of the world of computer software, Bill Gates, and given away $100 million dollars to improve the school system in New Jersey.


Social networking sites like Facebook have redefined older concepts of 'community', as people stay in touch from across the world. Zuckerberg also fits the pattern of the young computer geek who finds his aptitude at a very young age.


He is only 26, the second youngest winner of the Time award since aviator Charles Lindbergh who won at 25. Apart from his success with Facebook, Zuckerberg has also had a biopic made on him this year. All in all, quite a record for a man at an age when most are just starting out on their lives.






The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been decisively defeated and its top cadres, including it chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed in the military operations in 2009. But it should not be taken to mean that the danger posed by the extremist group is at end.


The resurgence of the Taliban after its defeat in 2001 should serve as a grim reminder that it is not enough to score a militaryvictory over terror groups.


Indian intelligence reports indicate that the rump of the group is regrouping in south India. There is apparently an attempt to recruit fresh volunteers from the Lankan Tamil refugee groups in Tamil Nadu.


The more disconcerting news is that the terrorist group, which is banned in India since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, is targeting prime minister Manmohan Singh, Union home minister P Chidambaram and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi.


It would be fatal to dismiss the possibility of such attacks or ignore the warning. The LTTE remains a determined foe of India's political class, which has, despite internal differences, stood for the unity of Sri Lanka, something that the group with its demand for a separate Tamil homeland resents.


It is necessary to keep an eye on the Tamil terror groups — the LTTE was one of the successful among many — in India and in Sri Lanka and also in other parts of the world.


India will have to urge the Sri Lankan political establishment not to be complacent with their victory. Colombo will not just have to maintain a constant vigil against the activities of disaffected Tamil groups. It will also have to take sufficient ameliorative measures to win the confidence of the Tamil people in Jaffna.


Despite eloquent assurances of reconciliation and equal rights, Rajapaksa and the political class seem to be falling back into the majoritarian mode. An example is the scrapping of the Tamil version of the Lankan national anthem on the pretext that there could be only a single national anthem.


These short-sighted acts are avoidable. Winning the hearts of the Tamils is more crucial for the unity of Sri Lanka than asserting the majority Sinhalas' view.






Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao's visit may not be grabbing as much media attention as that of the Obama's or that of the Sarkozys', but his visit matters a great deal more to India in real terms.


There are, of course, the outstanding issues, the unresolved border question and the apprehensions with regard to the diversion of Brahmaputra — Tsang Po in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and there are pin-pricks like the stapling of visas for people from Jammu and Kashmir.


It is not surprising that India's China observers are taken up with the small and big irritants that seem to dominate the bilateral ties between the Asian giants. But prime minister Wen's visit to India is quite an eye-opener, with its overwhelming focus on trade and economic issues.


The Chinese delegation has about 300 industry and business delegates and in the last two days about 40 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) worth billions of dollars have been signed.


Wen has spoken of facilitating capital flows between the two countries, and the biggest Chinese banks are to set up their branches in India. There was a time not very long ago, when the Chinese were wary of Indian businesses and the Indians were worried over cheap Chinese imports.


]The focus has now shifted. More than the reassuring statement that Wen made in his address to the industry bodies — CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM — yesterday where he talked of there being enough space on the world stage for both China and India to grow, it is the action taken on the business front through the signing of the MoUs that is of greater significance.


The sceptics in New Delhi are likely to remain unconvinced by the new-found economic bonhomie, and they could recall the 'Hindi-Chini bhai bhai' euphoria of the 1950s before the calamitous military conflagration of 1962. The situation is, indeed, radically different today than what it was about 50 years ago. India and China are no more the fledgling post-colonial states they were then.


Today they stand as two of the leading world economies, pulling the global markets from recession through their robust domestic economic growth rates. The political differences remain and so does certain wariness in New Delhi and Beijing. But the political leaders on both sides realise that the prospect of economic partnership is not only a grand opportunity to cement bilateral ties but that it is a prerequisite to ensure their respective growth stories. The stakes for cooperation are greater than the temptations of rivalry.








It's that time of the year when I can't but help look back. As always I think but where did the days go? All those things I meant to do during the year, how did they stay undone? The big things get done; they are signed, sealed and delivered.


The big things will get done because there is someone out there waiting for you to honour your commitment. That someone will do whatever is necessary to prod you into finishing.


But there isn't anyone who is going to chase after you demanding: Have you called your friend Vishwas yet? Have you started reading Proust yet? Have you taken an afternoon off to go for a movie? Did you lean back into your seat and lose yourself in that imagined reality?


We assume that it is the big things that will make us happy. A house and a vehicle. A 54' LED TV, a Persian rug and a solitaire.


We assume that if we ensure that our children are secure and our parents looked after, we have beaten the path to happiness. We assume that if we holiday by the sea once a year and spend money on frivolities, our lives are blessed.


We assume every career milestone is a notch on that totemic pole called success and that will vault us into happily ever after.


So we close our eyes to the intangible and the abstract, the frivolous and the not-so-important triggers of joy that don't have any calibration methods. Instead we seek happiness by the weightage of the big things. And the little things get left behind.


The feel of a dog's snout nudging your knee, the call of a dove, the strains of a familiar song, a letter from a friend….


All joy, big or small, is transient. All joy has its own degrees of well being it evokes in us. The trick is to intersperse the big with the small.


The greater splashes with the lesser waves. Somewhere along the line, the happiness index will even out. Somewhere along the line, we will cease to be less dissatisfied with life and ourselves.







Each time I return to India after a longer-than-brief spell abroad I want to kiss the soil. This land of ours has given birth to some of the world's greatest thinkers and religions.


Not to forget the soul-satisfying daal-chaval and roti. But the same precious soil has also given birth to the un-biodegradable caste system. Not even conversion to another religion completely uproots it.


Nor does migration to other continents: I have come across several Goan Catholics or Syrian Christians who boast about their Brahmin ancestry. Nor does death: some cemeteries in India are reserved for Brahmin converts to Christianity.


Normally, I don't think about such matters. But I have just returned from a blissful week in Cambodia. Siem Reap, located in the north-western part of the country, is the gateway to the millennium-old famed Angkor temples of the ancient Khmer Empire.


The awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, spread over 240 hectares and surrounded by a beautiful moat, is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally known as Vrah Vishnulok — the sacred abode of Lord Vishnu — it was a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu by Khmer king Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century.


The eight-armed statue of Vishnu that that once stood in the central shrine was probably moved to the outer gallery when Buddhism became the predominant religion towards the end of the 12th century. King Jayavarman VII, a convert to the Mahayana Buddhist sect, erected Buddhist shrines in Angkor and many Hindu shrines were transformed into Buddhist ones.


But I digress; the point I want to make is that casteism appears to be absent here — to an uninformed eye like mine. And this, despite the brief resurgence of Hinduism in the 13th century. Perhaps, it was offloaded during the transition from Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism later in the century: over 90% of the Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists.


Brought to this region from what is now Sri Lanka, this tradition went against the royal elitism of the Angkor kings, Hindus and Buddhists alike.


There are only two kinds of Cambodians today according to our young and wise — and inordinately courteous — driver: the rich and poor.


Who are the rich? "Government servants," pat came the answer, "there is so much corruption". Well, they might have exorcised the caste system to a great extent but corruption is something the Cambodians still share with India.


What we don't share, alas, is the prevalent gentleness of the people in this lush, green temple-dotted land. God knows this poor country has had more than its share of suffering: the genocide and devastation caused by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge lie just beneath the surface.


Actually, on it as well: museums recount unimaginably horrific evidence of the killing fields.


Yet, you see little but the serene smiles and hear the ubiquitous "sorry" (almost as omnipresent as hello or thank you). Even the pesky, insistent tuk tuk valas (motorcycle-driven autorickshaws) are not aggressive. Nor are the salesmen and women with whom you have to bargain incessantly.


Actually, I caught myself more than once bargaining too aggressively — or worse ticking off a waiter in a restaurant who had brought the wrong order. I was becoming the Ugly Indian.


Fortunately, towards the end of our stay I toned down the aggression and found myself saying "sorry" as frequently as the people of Siem Reap.








Nitish Kumar government in Bihar needs to be commended for taking a bold and realistic decision to abolish lock stock and barrel the local area development scheme for the legislators, which not only violates the spirit of the Constitution but also goes against democratic norms and the concept of planned economy. There is no reason why Jammu and Kashmir, a state enjoying the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt state in the country and which has been starving for funds needed for socio-economic development should not follow this example. The Local Area Development Scheme for members of Parliament (MPLADS) was initiated by Narsimah Rao government in 1982 to win over the support of the wavering members of the parliament for staying in power. In a way this amounted to bribing the legislators by keeping the huge amount from the state exchequer at their disposal as discretionary grant for spending in accordance with their whims. The practice was followed by the State legislatures in the rest of the country. Though Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a special position having greater degree of autonomy and having its own Constitution, in most of the cases of retrogressive legislation and anti-people measures it has not only copied the Centre and other states but has even gone many steps ahead of them. That explains why in most matters J&K is far behind the other Indian states. Take for instance the term of the legislative assembly which is six years in case of J&K as against five years for the Lok Sabha and other state assemblies. In fact it was during the black Emergency clamped by a shaky and frustrated Indira Gandhi that the term of the Parliament and State assemblies was extended from five to six years. The provision was not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir and it was not obligatory for the State rulers to follow it. But the State government headed by Sheikh Abdullah dutifully followed Mrs Gandhi by rushing with the amendment in the State Constitution to extend the term of the state assembly from five to six years. However, when Morarji Desai-led Janata Party government at the Centre reversed the earlier decision by reverting back to the five year term for the Lok Sabha and the State assemblies the rulers in J&K failed to make the necessary amends, thus betraying their lack of faith in the people and in the democratic norms and practices. J&K copiously followed the Constitution of India by providing for a bicameral legislature having both the legislative assembly and the legislative council. While most of the states, considered financially much better than J&K opted for abolishing the upper house to save huge unproductive expenditure the ruling elite in J&K refused to follow such a wise step for obvious reasons.

There is no doubt that the schemes like the local area or constituency development schemes for the legislators is a kind of anachronism and violates the principles of equality, accountability, transparency as well as of planed utilization of state funds. Not only the members of both houses of Parliament and the state legislatures but even the members of the municipal corporations have been allocated such discretionary grants in most arbitrary manner and keeping in view their political convenience. The annual expenditure amounting to thousands of crores is both without accounting and accountability. Since the legislators utilize these funds kept at their disposal for advancing their electoral prospects it also amounts to bribing the voters. Thus the scheme also goes against the democratic principle of free and fair elections. A sitting legislator, who spends huge amount out of the public funds for five or six years to influence his voters is clearly in a more advantageous position than other candidates contesting against him. The public funds are utilized for different items in accordance with the annual budget approved by the legislature. Similarly under a planned economy it is the planning commission which prepares the plans and determines priorities and makes allocations under different heads. The local area funds are utilized without taking into account the priority factor with the legislators utilizing the amount to suit their political convenience and to influence their voters. The huge amount earmarked under the local area or constituency fund should actually be transferred to village panchayats and other local bodies at different tiers to be spent in a planned manner under proper budgets with accountability and proper audit.







Women activists from across the country presenting bedsheets to CBI, reminding the premier investigating agency of the country of its shameful cover-up in Shopian rapes and murders of 2009, though makes no apparent difference to the case, is significant in many ways. First it highlights the Indian civil society's pursuit in creative forms of resistance. Second it helps to bring back in limelight the case that had shook the Valley for several months and shocked those who cherish human rights across the world. The incident did not only highlight the vulnerability of women in a very patriarchal world. It also demonstrated how women victims are at a disadvantageous position in seeking justice owing to two main reasons. First and more important in the case of areas of conflicts like Kashmir, there is impunity, both legal and political, enjoyed by the men in uniform purely in the name of fighting insurgency even for their gross misconduct and brutal violations like murders and rapes. Second is the inherent but misplaced prejudice against women. In this light, pursuing the Shopian case afresh becomes rather significant. The impressive agitationist path of the women activists, who gathered in Delhi to gift the CBI with bedsheets, symbolising burials, with words inscribed: 'CBI, for your next cover up' was not only aimed to shame the premier investigating agency but also seeks to question both these reasons that tend to marginalize women victims. The move apparently may only have been symbolic but it needs to be welcomed. It's gains would be visible only if committed activists build up on this symbolism to try path-breaking efforts to re-open the case which has been given a quiet burial by the CBI. Such activism has played a crucial role in cases like Priyadarshini Mattoo's rape and murder, Jessica Lal murder and the Ruchika Girhotra rape and suicide case, though recent developments in the latter have not been encouraging. That the accusing fingers in this case point towards the role of men in uniform, who are often bailed out in the name of misplaced and unquestioned national and security interest, should not prevent activists to build up a strong campaign against the injustice and the travesty of it.








After the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings of 9/11 once again turned to Pakistan, but this time to root out Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist in U.S. occupied Afghanistan. In the words on a RAND study, despite its quasi pariah status, "The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. decision to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan permitted Pakistan to become, virtually overnight, one of the United States' most important allies in what has become known as the 'global war or terror' or 'oversees contingency operations'" (1). However, many foreign policy observers are critical of the U.S. military alliance with Pakistan in the war on terror. The accusations that Pakistan is supporting groups within the Taliban are gaining currency within government circles that are wary of Pakistan's inability or unwillingness to eradicate extremism (Fair 22-23). 

The war on terror has internationalized the Kashmir conflict to some extent. However, most American policymakers see the Kashmir conflict through the prism of the international war on terror and a disproportionate amount of attention is put on Islamic extremists operating there. Kashmir's small border with Afghanistan has caught the eye of the U.S. military command in Afghanistan who suspects ties between Kashmiri militants and al-Qaeda. Whether these accusations are true or not, such opinions are becoming increasingly common in military circles (Wirsing 91-94). Meanwhile, accusations of the Indian military for human rights violations in Kashmir receive little attention.

American cooperation with India is increasingly being seen as an alternative to Pakistan, a trend that does not bode well for Kashmir. Both the United States and India have a common enemy in militant Islam, unlike Pakistan, which suppresses some terrorist groups while supports others that have strategic value. In the minds of Americans, both India and the United States share democratic values and institutions unlike Pakistan, which has had five short-lived constitutions and prolonged periods of military dictatorship. On the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Gary L. Ackerman dismissed accusations of Indian military rule in Kashmir, rejected administering a plebiscite, and demonizing Pakistan, and praising India: "So, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to close by saying that India is a democratic country in a region with few others, a strategic partner of the US in defense and high technology, and a strong ally in the war on terror, one whose support we don't have to question on a daily basis" (United States, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness 25). 

Although it is too soon to tell, trends during the Obama administration indicate that the United States support in South Asia is tilting in favor of India. Meanwhile, the United States has applied very little pressure on the Indian government to stop the military violence in Kashmir, much less to restart bilateral negotiations. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the following investigations implicated elements within the Pakistani military of supporting the belligerents casting bad light on Pakistan. That same year the U.S.-Indian Civil Nuclear Cooperation Act was passed. In 2009 the Indian government successfully lobbied the United States government to keep the Kashmir issue out the newly appointed Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke's purview (Kirk 153). More recently in his visit to India, Barack Obama addressed economic and trade but made no mention of Kashmir, to the disappointment of many. As the United States and India's interest converge on trade, the economic crisis, and security the U.S. acquiesces in remaining silent on the Kashmir for the sake of the U.S.-Indian relationship. 

It is unlikely that the United States will take any meaningful effort to internationalize the Kashmir issue and address the Indian military's human rights violations. As the United States becomes increasingly frustrated with Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to root out the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Indian relationship is becoming stronger. If the United States is forced to take sides on the Kashmir issue it will inevitably take India's side because of the need for India's security, technological, and economic cooperation. In his book Contested Lands, Sumantra Bose argues that third party mediation is an essential step in resolving crisis over Kashmir and that America must fill that role (200-201). Although I agree that there can be no meaningful progress in negotiations without some sort of mediation, I argue that American will ultimately side with India and that it cannot fill the role of an objective third party.

The United States has a history of supporting governments that have a poor human rights record in cases when cooperation with that country is viewed as essential. Such examples include the Mubarak regime in Egypt, the Shah in Iran before 1979, and Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. If the Kashmir conflict will be internationalized, an objective party must do it. Although the identification of such a world power is beyond the scope of this essay, I tentatively suggest the emerging powers of Russia and China. Before any mediation could occur both Pakistan and India would have to depart from the Simla Agreement and allow a third party to investigate the current situation in Kashmir.

Parker Selby is Dr. Nyla Ali Khan's student at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.







These early morning phone calls are scary, and this morning it was my cousin saying that an aunt had passed away. "But, you took her home," I said as I heard her sob, "And looked after her in her last days, though she was suffering from Alzheimer's: You gave her a few moments of love!

A little girl wept as she held the dead bird in her hand. "It died daddy," she cried and her father's heart went out to the grief his daughter was going through. "I saw it being attacked by crows. I went downstairs chased the crows away and brought it home. I gave it some water. It was alive a few moments ago. But it's gone now. Its dead."

"Child," said the father as he looked at the little dead bird in the little girls hands. "You gave it a few moments of love before it died."

"Yes," he said to himself, "she needs to know that the love she gave to the bird just before it died was the love that the little winged creature now carried with it on its journey to the great beyond."

"A great God above," continued the father, "also heard the pathetic cries of his small creation, and His heart also must have gone out to his little one."

"So, why didn't God do something?" asked his little one angrily.

"He did," said the father with a smile, "he sent you to the poor bird."

"But I could do nothing to save it," she cried.


"You were not meant to save it," said the father, "you were meant to give it a few moments of love."

She looked up at him and her eyes told him quietly to continue.

"There must be a billion birds or more flying all over," continued the father, "birds which grow up, live and die. Bird which die of old age and thousands of them who are killed by bigger birds."

His daughter nodded. "Very few birds just grow old and die. When they age, they become another creature's meal. That's how the animal kingdom works."

His daughter nodded and looked down at the dead bird. A tear fell on its soft body.

"This is just another of a million birds that went the normal way…. but"

"I was able to give it a few moments of love before it died," said the little girl and suddenly she smiled through her tears.

The father watched as his daughter carried the bird down. He knew that the small creature would be buried in the garden below, but in the face of his daughter there was now a look of peace.

"Thank you God," he whispered as he looked up into the heavens, "for giving her the opportunity of being able to give a dying bird a few moments of love."

I thought of that same little girl with the dead bird; I was that dad who had comforted her that day and as I heard my cousin sob on the phone, I told her gently, "God gave you the opportunity to give our aunt those moments of love, and somewhere up there God smiles down at you..!"







Now it is a case of over-speeding. Earlier it was drunken driving. Within one week there have been two major road accidents in this region --- actually almost in the same vicinity in Udhampur district. These have resulted in the death of nine persons and injuries to more than 30. In the latest mishap four persons have been killed and ten wounded at Chani Morh near Mian Bagh under the Udhampur police station. The bus in which they were travelling was on its way from the district headquarters to Ramnagar. It just turned turtle. Being driven at a breakneck pace the vehicle hit a parapet throwing out some of its occupants and then crushing them under its weight as it overturned. Only a few days ago a big celebration had ended into mourning in a tragic anti-climax. Five members of a marriage party had the lives snuffed of them while a large number of others were hurt. The reason, as it turned out, was that the driver was under the influence of alcoholic beverages: he failed to negotiate a sharp curve and drove down the road on the Garnai-Jekhani road in an area being supervised by the Rehmbal police station. Whose fault is this in both the instances? The survivors' account of the most recent occurrence speaks for itself: "Had the driver been plying vehicle sensibly the accident could have been avoided as the road was wide enough at the spot." It seems as if a few passengers had tried to get out of the vehicle while it was rolling down. There is a view that they would have been saved had they stayed put. How can one say this with certainty? It is a matter of conjecture. What is real is that human errors have led to disasters --- we have plotted our doom.

It is very easy to blame the administration as and when such calamities hit us. After all it is primarily the government apparatus's responsibility to make sure that our roads are secure. This does not mean that we don't have a role to play. If we pause for a while we will find that had we been a little more careful as citizens we would not have invited the trouble we have done in the above two cases. There are any number of legends on our roads warning us to desist from driving fast or and under the influence of liquor. It is obvious that we don't care to read them. We take their presence for granted at our own peril. It is unfortunate that we are not learning our lessons. How else can the frequency of accidents in the higher reaches --- in and beyond Udhampur --- be explained? 

This should not imply that the bureaucratic machinery is to be absolved. It is lax and not able to strictly enforce rules against negligent and drunken driving. This hardly bears any elaboration. Because it does not evoke much respect or fear of authority there are any number of violations on our roads. There are dilapidated buses as well. Unscrupulous operators virtually have a free run. It is a pity that even the men at the helm have not been able to avert chaotic situation like this despite repeated interventions. We continue to suffer loss of lives which is avoidable. 






By now it is a familiar tragedy. Every time one reads it one is moved. We have become victims of our own non-application of mind. It is true of this district. Any old resident of Jammu can verify that several old ponds and wetlands have vanished. It is visible even to naked eyes. The tale of Udhampur district can't be any different. Another casualty are popular wrestling arenas. We can ignore that aspect for the time being. What is relevant for our immediate purpose is that we have fast lost precious water bodies in our hub. Almost without knowing it we have caused a big environmental setback to our plane areas. What has been recorded in an article in a recent Sunday magazine of this newspaper about Kathua district is a cause of worry: (a) a seasonal stream flowing through the Kathua town has been reduced to a small channel surrounded by concrete; (b) the nine-tenth of a two-acre wetland behind the Shahidi Chowk has been consumed by residential and commercial buildings; the remaining portion is facing extinction; (c) Shahidi Chowk itself stands on a park; (d) a marriage hall-cum-paramedical institute has replaced a wetland on the Kathua-Hatli Morh Road; and, (e) there were four ponds within the municipal limits of Kathua --- only one survives in Chack Sherkhan locality miraculously retaining water all through the year (is this because of the presence of a temple and a peepal tree lending it a holy aura?). This is the scenario prevalent in the main town. There is every reason to believe that it is identical all over the sprawling district: a throbbing location along the national highway. It also has an industrial estate that has the potential of emerging very big given its proximity to Punjab. Like other urban pockets the district headquarters is exposed to a lot of building activity. All this in turn has put pressure on traditional pools of water and marshy lands. It is a price that we are paying in the name of development. 

We can't possibly undo the damage that has already been done. Certainly, however, we can stop the further decline. Therefore, it will be worthwhile to salvage all that we can do in Kathua town. We lend our support to the voice for: (1) making a beginning to convert the defunct ponds and wetlands into parks; (2) doing so like, for example in Patel Nagar, would enhance the value of the residential locality; (3) the remaining wet patch near Shahidi Chowk should be retrieved as also the near-extinct pond in Jawahar Nagar; (4) the central stream (whatever is left of it) should be taken over for landscaping; and, (5) protect the surviving wetland in the area opposite Ranjit Palace. The idea behind any such activity is to strike a balance between the natural and man-made scenery. This is the only way we can save our cities in particular as we expand to find space and shelter for our legitimate needs. In fact, given that we have gained expertise with the passage of time, we should create artificial lakes wherever possible. Of course, this will require money which for these deeds is in short supply in our State. Nevertheless we should keep this in mind as a proposal to implement.









Yes. These are tough times,' Deepak Parekh acknowledged in his interview to Shekhar Gupta last week and explained why in these words. 'Everything was going so well a few months ago. We were the darling of the western world and multinationals and everyone wanted to invest money in India. And suddenly, there is a snap. It was building over a period of time but it has really taken the wind out of our ambitions and I am very disappointed, to see what's happening.'

When one of India's most respected business leaders uses such strong words to describe the current atmosphere in the country. And, when his comments come within a week of Ratan Tata expressing similar sentiments we need to start worrying about what is going on. Wherever I go these days I meet businessmen who are worried about attempts to bring back the license raj through some concealed back door but almost nobody else seems particularly concerned. It is as if political analysts and politicians have forgotten how seriously the license raj prevented India from growing economically.

Having grown up in the days of the license-quota-permit raj indulge me while I remind you what India was like in those times. When I became a journalist in the seventies India was a country in which everything was in short supply. When I needed a telephone connection in Delhi I could only get one under a special journalist's quota after begging a senior bureaucrat to push my case forward and even then it took months. When I wanted a gas connection I had to beg a Member of Parliament to give me one from his quota. There were long queues when I tried to buy my first Maruti car and every other day when I went shopping for groceries I would find that either milk or bread or sugar was in short supply. 

In the days of the license raj businessmen who dared to produce more than their quota of scooters or bicycles could be fined and so inevitably the economy grew at less than 3% for so many decades that it came to be mocked by the world as the Hindu rate of growth. It was not a growth rate that could bring prosperity so naturally there was no sign of the 300 million strong middle class that we see in today's India. Indians who lived in villages ( more than seventy percent of the population) were so desperately poor that in states like Bihar I can remember meeting bonded labourers as late as 1987. I went with Swami Agnivesh who had made it his business to end this uniquely Indian form of slavery and I remember being horrified by the conditions in which families in bondage lived just a few kilometres outside the town of Daltongange. They had never seen money, they had only the clothes that they wore, their children were visibly malnourished and the landlord to whom they were bonded gave them just enough grain to stay alive. Nobody in the extended circle of this desperately poor community was literate.

If it is impossible to find this kind of horrendous poverty in India today it is because of the economic reforms that Dr. Manmohan Singh initiated in the early nineties that made economic growth rates soar. India is today the second fastest growing economy in the world, 700 million Indians own cell phones, television has spread its reach into the remotest villages and foreign investors have been lured to our shores in droves. The main reason for this is the decision that Dr. Manmohan Singh took as Finance Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government to move us towards freer markets and a friendlier investment climate. Indian industrialists saw the opportunities this change of policy provided and grasped it. It is almost entirely because of the enormous energy created by private enterprise that India is more prosperous today than it has ever been since it became an independent nation. But, if the leftists who appear to be controlling policy in the Congress Party have their way we can be sure that the party will soon be over.

All sorts of means are currently being used to malign Indian industry and revive that old atmosphere of Nehruvian socialist days when profit was a dirty word and all businessmen were considered crooks. The Radia tapes have been used to show that big businessmen were using Niira Radia to lobby for policy changes and this is being portrayed as a huge crime. The truth is that there is not a capital city in the world in which lobbyists do not do exactly this job. It is in the hands of political leaders to resist lobbying when they see that it is harming the interests of the country. This does not make Ms Radia a criminal or lobbying a crime. But, you would not know it from the way in which our television channels are reporting what happened. 

What is adding to the revival of the atmosphere of the license raj is the conviction in Delhi's political circles that Sonia Gandhi is a leftist and would like her Prime Minister to be more leftist in his policies. She has already insisted upon vast sums of money being spent on very leaky anti-poverty programmes like NREGA and now it is she and her advisors in the National Advisory Council who are being credited with attacking big development projects. It was members of her NAC who advised the government to close down Vedanta's bauxite refinery after an investment of Rs 11,000 crores had been made. 

The day after it was closed Rahul Gandhi went to the Niyamgiri hills to congratulate the Adivasis on saving their land. What he appears not to have noticed was how desperately poor they were and how desperately investment was needed in the area if prosperity was ever to come. There can be no schools, hospitals and roads without investment and investment will dry up across India if investors begin to believe that India is going back to the days of the license raj. The Prime Minister has occasionally tried to raise his voice against what is happening but so far his voice has been too feeble. If he does not start speaking more forcefully against what is happening we can be sure that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Indian economic boom. These are indeed very 'tough times.'








In the situation in which every serious debate about Jammu has 'Kashmir' as its reference point and ends up being debated in the binary context of Jammu versus Kashmir, an interesting seminar was organised on 11th December 2010, in the Amar Mahal Museum and Library (AMML). The focus of the seminar remained inward and Jammu was debated without much reference to its political divergence vis-a-vis Kashmir. As the title of the Seminar 'Jammu: Past, Present and Future' reflected the theme, important issues related to the region were debated in intense manner, however, without being chauvinistic. There was lot of critical introspection about the way Jammu was in the past; the direction that it is taking in the present and; the future that everyone envisages about it. With focus on 'education', 'environment' and 'society and culture' - the three major themes and sessions - the intellectuals, academicians, social activists, artists, media persons and students from the region were engaged. While educational concerns and environmental challenges were specifically debated in the concerned sessions, the 'society and culture' remained the concurrent matter of debate throughout the day. The way it was emphasised by speaker after speaker, the seminar ended up being a reiteration of Jammu's rich tradition of plurality, its inclusive culture and its character of accommodation and tolerance. Its high point being the multi-religious society with Hindus and Muslims living side by side in its villages and towns.

Mixed society is the way of life in Jammu region. Shared and common spaces are therefore taken for granted and not spoken about. In the context of increasing intolerance between the communities at the global level, this fact of life was acknowledged as the starting point of the discussion. The religious co-existence as the normal part of life in Jammu was appreciated as was seen as the base on which any kind of superstructure - be it economic, political, educational, ecological, social or cultural - had to be established. This was also seen as the most crucial social and cultural resource for the sustenance and progress of the region.

However, it is not only the religious diversity that marks the plurality of the region. Frequent references therefore were made to the linguistic, cultural and social mosaic of the region. While celebrating the linguistic plurality of the region, concern was shown to the lack of the official patronage and policy, especially in the context of recognition of some of these languages as the official languages and their formal introduction in school curricula. The need for popular initiative and intervention in the direction of preservation of languages and dialects was also recognised. In this context, the role of the middle class was also critically assessed and its abdication of the use of local languages was lamented.

What came to focus in the discussion not only of language but also other matters, was the rich folk traditions of the region - be it the music or literature or history. Due emphasis was placed on recapturing the folk as the most important source for writing the history of Jammu as well as for understanding the fundamentals of society. Also emphasised were the folk heroes with whom people identify and who represent the mass rather than elite-ways of life. 

But more than anything else, reference was made time and again to the fundamentals of the society based on positive inter-community relations, tradition of accommodation and secular ethos of the region. The challenge to this tradition coming from the forces of modernisation as well as politicisation was debated - more specifically the impact of the divisive politics on these traditions was discussed. However, in the light of the fundamentals of the regional society and the compulsions of the mixed society, it was generally felt that there is a need to have a positive approach towards the future of the region. Despite all the challenges, the region has the potential of overcoming the divisive forces. It was highlighted that multiplicity of identities, their fluidity and overlapping nature help people overcome the boundaries of narrow identities and also make them bond with each other despite the religious or community divide.








It is a scary scenario the world over in the field of food security. Half a century ago, the United States could not decide what to do with the bumper wheat produce and used to dump huge volumes in the sea in order not to affect the prevailing high prices of wheat. The .U.S. Government used to pay farmers "pay in kind (PIK)" for keeping their fields fallow by not producing wheat. This, despite the Portland port in West USA being ever busy in exporting wheat the world over, more particularly to India under the Public Law 480 (PL480), which provided for payment in local currency, that is in rupees, till after the advent of the Green Revolution in 1968.
Recently it was reported, the "U.S. Food Insecurity is at record level with 14.7 per cent of households facing food insecurity in 2009".More of it later.

According to another report from the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Rome said that "UN warns of Food Crisis". The report said that although the number of people suffering from chronic hunger in world had declined for the first time in 15 years, the World Health Organisation has warned that the flooding in Pakistan and Russia's drought threatened to spark a food crisis that could endanger the world's poorest people 

Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the 36th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on World Food Security in Rome on December 16, 2010 World Food Day that the combination of global food crisis and economic recession have pushed the number of hungry people beyond the one billion mark.

Describing the number of hungry people in the world "unacceptably high" Dr Diouf said that the number of hungry people exceeded that which existed when the heads of States and Governments committed themselves to reducing hunger by half at the world food summit in 1996.

The presence of "widespread hunger, malnutrition and poverty" and the inability to protect vulnerable people from the effects of shock point to a "structural, more profound problem of food insecurity that required "urgent, resolute and concerted action" "The world has to grapple with a declining rate of growth in agricultural productivity, including that of major cereals" he said.

"Yet agricultural production will need to increase by 70 percent in the world and double in the developing countries to feed a global population expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. "All this will have to come in the face of climate change and scarce natural resources", he added,

According to Dr Diouf, the increased instability in the commodity markets as reflected by "more volatile prices "also required urgent attention "Global problems demand global as well as local solutions. The renewed CFS constitutes the required platform for debating global complex problem and reaching consensus on solutions".
The meeting will look at important issues related to food security, such as land tenure and international investment in agriculture, food security in protracted crises, and ways to manage vulnerability and risk.
At global level first it was the high food prices and then the escalation in fuel prices, followed by economic meltdown which played an adverse role in the determination of the nations. In India, despite available resources, the commitment appeared to be lacking, said experts at the release of the Food Security Atlas of Rural Rajasthan (State of India).

"Going by the present situation, the millennium goal to reduce the number of suffering from hunger by half by 2015 appears to be far-fetched" said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme. "There is likelihood that the struggle to bring down global hunger will become more difficult in future, he said, suggesting that in the international agenda, priority should be given to fighting hunger. As for India, he said. "If India does not win the battle against hunger, its outstanding achievements in other fields would come to naught."

"The nation's commitment to reduce malnutrition has fallen short of efforts 'noted V.S. Vyas, Member of the Prime Minister's Advisory Council and Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Board, Rajasthan". It is true that acute hunger in terms of starvation has been reduced but seasonal hunger remains. We have not overcome malnutrition yet. A country growing at the rate of eight per cent surely has resources.
Even a State like Rajasthan have resources if they are put to good use. There should be commitment to use the resources to fight hunger "he said. Jeffrey Sacks, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Director of the UN Millennium Project from 2002 to 2006, wrote about the "most successful breakthrough occurring in Africa since the MDG was launched by 140 countries of the world ten years ago" .

The MDGs have always recognized the need for a global partnership to end poverty and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN agencies have been persistent in their support for this ambitious agenda. Ironically, though, the main obstacle in achieving the goals by 2015 in Africa are of international origin, many due to high-income countries. Apart from pointing out the main obstacles to the success of the MDG aims, Mr. Sachs offered the world a realistic path to ending extreme poverty.

Meanwhile, European leaders have offered $1.3 billion at the MDG summit at the United Nations in September 2010 amid mounting calls for money to pay for the battle to cut extreme poverty. This huge sum was by EU Commission President Jose Manual Barrose at the end of the first day at the summit on the goals, knocked off track by the international financial crisis.

President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero earlier had stepped up a push for a global financial tax, raising pressure on the world's wealthy countries at that three-day summit to contribute more to eradicate poverty and improve child and maternal health.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the struggling effort to reach eight key development goals by 2015 could still be met if world leaders provide the necessary money and political will.

Meanwhile, according to another report of September 26, 2010 by the Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010, "the world may be on the brink of a major food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculations, the U.N. has been warned at an emergency meeting on food price inflations.

The U.N Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) was called in Rome in August 2010 after a heat wave and wildfires in Russia led to Moscow banning wheat exports, and food riots occurred in Mozambique, killing 13 people. But U.N. experts heard that pension funds and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets may also be responsible for global inflation in food prices. [NPA]









THE Supreme Court's decision to personally monitor investigation into the 2G spectrum scam, with the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) reporting directly to it on this matter, puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the apex court bench comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly. While this fits in well with the pro-active approach of the court in recent months as borne out by the observations made by the bench in this case, somewhere along the line there is a nagging suspicion that it reflects lack of trust in the monitoring of investigations by a government-appointed monitor. The circumstances were truly extraordinary with the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) having been kept off monitoring both because he is under a cloud for having been chargesheeted in a palmolein import case and also because he was the Telecom Secretary at the Centre at a time when the contours of the 2G scam were in the making. The government, on its part, had already indicated that it was not opposed to a court-monitored investigation.


Significantly, the court has directed the CBI to base its investigations on the earlier report of the CVC and keeping in mind the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), "which had prima facie found that ineligible entities were granted licences." It is indeed noteworthy that the court directed the CBI and the ED to carry out investigations without being influenced by any individual or agency. That the declared emphasis of the investigation will be to determine the loss of money to the public exchequer is as it should be.


Another important aspect of Thursday's order of the Supreme Court is the direction to the CBI to investigate the grant of spectrum licences from 2001. This puts the erstwhile NDA government under as much of a scrutiny as the UPA with A. Raja as Telecom Minister. Instead of leaving this widening of the scope of the investigation to the government, the apex court has done well to unambiguously lay it down. It is to be hoped that with the Supreme Court keen on getting to the root of this matter expeditiously, the case would be fast tracked and the guilty would be brought to book without regard to their status and influence.









CHANDIGARH, often referred to by the clichéd expression "City Beautiful", has been facing one of its most serious challenges in recent years — that of real estate predators supported by the governments of Punjab and Haryana, both of which otherwise stake a claim to this city as their respective capital, threatening to change the city's skyline and adversely affect the Sukhna wildlife sanctuary and the ecologically fragile Shivalik foothills. In the bordering Kansal village (Punjab), the Tatas are awaiting a final clearance to construct 19 residential towers of between 12 and 35 storeys with 102 MLAs and MPs as their premier and politically convenient clients. Then again, at a distance of barely 300 metres from the regulator end of the lake and well within the Sukhna catchment area in Saketri village (Haryana), three well-known realtors have between them purchased over 200 acres of prime land on which they intend to develop a mix of multi-storeyed apartments and independent houses.


Ever since Chandigarh became a Union Territory in 1966, there has been a consistent erosion of the Punjab New Capital Periphery Control Act of 1952 which was originally applicable to a 16-km radius. The Act was vigorously enforced by the Punjab government until 1966 following which the enforcer itself rolled into motion the first violation by permitting the construction of farmhouses and poultry sheds. Then followed the creation of the Zirakpur Nagar Panchayat, Panchkula and Mohali even as Chandigarh expanded from 25 to 63 sectors. The radius of open land is now shrunk to a meager 3 km, which is in danger of altogether disappearing if real estate developers have their way. This would be the proverbial last nail in the coffin for a city already in danger of urban decay with its ever-increasing population, slums, traffic congestion, an over- stretched infrastructure, pollution and housing problems.


The UT Administration must take a stand and seek the intervention of the Centre, including that of the Union Ministry of Environment, which must never permit these constructions. It is to be hoped that the UT's Home and Finance Secretaries, who belong to the Haryana and Punjab cadres, respectively, would not allow parochial interests to subsume Chandigarh's long-term interests. Unfortunately, successive Advisers, who are otherwise from the UT cadre, seek postings to Chandigarh either because they have been superseded or to await a plum posting in Delhi, while the interest of the Administrator, a political appointee, fluctuates between being over-involved and indifferent. Perhaps the solution lies in Le Corbusier's advice: "The seed of Chandigarh is well sown. It is for the citizens to see that the tree flourishes".









THE working group on agriculture headed by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has made two major recommendations — loans at 4 per cent interest rate and MSPs 50 per cent higher than the actual cost of cultivation — which look fine on paper but their implementation is difficult. It is mostly big farmers who take away whatever benefits are given on the pretext of helping the poor farmers. While large farmers have access to bank credit, it is the small and marginal peasants who are exploited by unscrupulous private moneylenders. Cheap loans meant for small farmers may actually be grabbed by large farmers who already corner maximum state subsidies. So powerful are moneylenders in Punjab that they have not allowed the FCI to make direct payments to paddy growers.


It is true the present system of determining the minimum support price of farm produce is faulty and the working group has rightly asked the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices that fixes the MSPs to base its recommendations on the actual costs incurred by farmers. In suggesting a 50 per cent profit margin for farmers on their produce the Hooda group has merely supported the idea proposed by the National Commission on Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan. It has not been implemented as it would either substantially raise the cost of cereals for the common man or escalate the government's food subsidy bill to unmanageable levels. The proposed law on national food security is already set to make heavy demands on the exchequer.


The major irritants that hold back Indian agriculture are low productivity, an absence of quality seeds, small land-holdings, poor irrigation facilities and lack of guidance from agricultural universities and state agriculture departments. As water resources are getting depleted and the possible impact of climate change on agriculture is being realised, the Centre and states will have to make coordinated efforts to protect and nurture agriculture. The working group report can be a good guide — to start with.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                         THE TRIBUNE






INDIA and China, the two giants of Asia, are among the oldest and living civilisations of the world. Being neighbours, they had established trade and cultural relations since time immemorial. Indian as well as Chinese historical records reveal that India-China interaction was a two-way traffic, and the two elements of this exchange were material and spiritual or cultural linkages. As stated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, "friendship between our two countries has a time-honoured history."


Great Chinese historian Si Maqian records in his masterpiece, "Records of a Historian" that when he was in Bactria (around 123 BC), he came to know from the local merchants that they were procuring Chinese products such as Sichuan silk and bamboo walking sticks from Indian markets, thus establishing the fact that India and China were already having trade relations in the second century BC. Later Ban Gu, another Chinese historian, wrote about the state of affairs in Jibin (Kashmir) state of India and about its products like pearls, corals, lapis lazuli, etc. His book mentions about the sea route connecting southern India and China.


It was perhaps the spiritual linkage that transformed the relationship between the two countries completely and took it to a new high. The earliest wave of scholar-monks going from India to China perhaps started with Kashyapa Matanga and Dharamraksha reaching Luoyang in the first century AD, and continued till the end of the third century. A monastery called White Horse Monastery was built to accommodate them in Luoyang. In May 2010 during her visit to China, President Pratibha Patil inaugurated a Buddhist complex built with an Indian investment of $4 million next to this monastery. The second wave of such visitors was between the 4th and 5th centuries, and the third between the 6th and 7th centuries.


Of all the Indian scholar-monks in China, Kumarajiva undoubtedly was the brightest of all, who, apart from being reduced as a war booty for his brilliance and impeccable memory by the Chinese, was also accorded the highest honour of Rajyaguru by Emperor Yao Xing of the later Qin dynasty. Between the 2nd and 13th centuries some 6000-7000 fascicles of the sutras were disseminated to China and translated into Chinese; Kumarajiva alone translated 74 scriptures in 384 fascicles.


On the other hand, Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing shine bright among the Chinese cultural ambassadors to India. Faxian was the first Chinese to travel to India in search of Buddhist sutras according to the records. His monumental work, "Accounts of a Buddhist Country", narrates his experiences in India. Xuanzang and Yijing had certain advantages over Faxian, as both were patronised by Tang Emperor Taizong and Empress Wu Zetian respectively. Xuanzang and Yijing both studied at Nalanda and became proficient in Sanskrit. It is indeed heartening that the university where Chinese monks once studied is being rebuilt jointly by India, China, Japan and Singapore, and will offer courses in Buddhist studies besides other disciplines.


Owing to the material and spiritual linkages, India and China benefited immensely in the field of literature as also science and technology. Indian stories, fables, art, drama and medicine reached China. During the Tang dynasty, Chinese literary forms like Chuanqiwen and Bianwen were greatly influenced by the Indian literary style manifested in Panchtantra and Jataka stories. The cultural ambassadors enhanced and strengthened mutual understanding, which acted as a catalyst in the modern history of India and China for rendering mutual support and sympathy by the Indians and Chinese during their national liberation struggles.


From Yuan and Ming dynasties onward until India and China launched their freedom struggles, the cross-cultural currents between them virtually went unnoticed. The interactions were interrupted by the drastic domestic changes and, more importantly, by the gradual eastward expansion of Western colonialism. The anti-imperialist efflorescence of the Indian and Chinese peoples manifested in a major way as a challenge to the colonial order for the first time during the First War of Indian Independence (1857-59) in India and the Taiping Uprising (1850-1864) in China, as for the first time the Indian soldiers stationed in China fought shoulder-to-shoulder against the imperialists and the Qing government.


It was due to the synergy between the cultures and the plight of India and China that the nationalists and revolutionaries of the two countries developed deep mutual contacts and friendship amidst their anti-imperialist struggles. Indian nationalists such as Surendramohan Bose, Rash Behari Bose, M.N. Roy, Barkatullah and Lala Lajpat Rai had forged very close bonds with the Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-Sen and Zhang Taiyan, and had their active support whether in Japan or China. In China, the activities were mostly carried out by the members of the Ghadr Party. Much of the activities centered around Hankou, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Their post-Siam-Burma Plan activities find a link with the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Ghadar support to the Chinese nationalist government and in turn enlisting the latter's support were the direct outcome of the formation of the First United Front in China between the KMT and the CPC.


During the War of Resistance and World War II, so long as China suffered at the hands of the Japanese, the reverberations were felt in India too. India dispatched a medical mission to China in 1938 to help them in their War of Resistance. Dr. Kotnis, one of the doctors of this mission, died in China while serving the wounded soldiers of the Eighth Route Army and other Chinese people. Nehru made the bonds of friendship even stronger when he visited China in 1939. President Chiang Kai-Shek visited India in 1940 specially to break the deadlock between the British and the Congress, and met Mahatma Gandhi.


The colonial period was the period when both the peoples of India and China rendered support and sympathy to each other in their common struggle. It was Nehru's vision that in future India and China would necessarily come closer to each other for the vast and tremendous potential of economic cooperation in a New World Order. Politically also, it was believed the two would unite against any outside aggression and play an important role in world affairs. India was the first country in the non-communist block to recognise China and establish diplomatic relations.


It is unfortunate that both India and China did not handle their relations well during the 1950s and for many years later on due to various misconceptions and misunderstandings. However, it has been a different story for a few years when economic and trade relations have not been allowed to get affected by the border disputes. The need of the hour is to build mutual trust, resurrect our centuries' old sentiments with a new zeal, exploit our potential and usher in a new era of economic cooperation and friendly relations.


The writer is Associate Professor, Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi.








I acquired experience enough of the noting made by officials on the files secured by red tapes, having worked in government undertakings for long. Officials wrote notings in their own hallmark styles after applying their minds ensuring that they are covered in case their decision/sanction is questioned at later dates.


Some noting appeared literary, others strictly punctuated, and some were confused and meaningless statements and even amusing, besides being authoritative. Many notings were laden with Latin phrases like inter alia, modus operandi, modus vivendi, mutatis mutandis and so on. Dictionaries were insufficient to provide exact meaning of these phrases, causing further confusion.


The etymology of a word used by me in a note absurdly caused delay to clear a proposal. It was regarding hiring a godown at Pahar Ganj of Delhi, for stocking the polyester products.


With all the ingenuity at my command, I prepared the note, mentioning the location of the godown, Chuna Mandi.


The first two superiors, the marketing and technical directors, okayed the note. However, the third in the line of authority, the finance director, happened to apply his mind and notified something along these lines; "the location of the godown, Chuna Mandi, implies that there may be lot of Chuna flying around. It needs to be ascertained if there is any adverse chemical reaction between Chuna (CaCo3) and polyester".


That file note initiated a flurry of actions at my end to prepare a secured response. To narrate briefly; Pollution Control Board reported there was hardly any Chuna (whitewash material) particles in the air at the proposed site and Chuna does not react with polyester. The city official in the know narrated that Chuna Mandi was a business hub for construction materials during development of Luyten's Delhi. The present Chuna Mandi is lined up with hotels and chemical shops.


The gathered findings found favour with all in the line-up and sanction was conveyed to me to 'hire the godown immediately to avoid any further logistical losses for sales'. Unfortunately, the owner of the godown did not wait that long and he rented out the premises to some other unsuspecting company. Needless to say that the blame was squarely mine.


The amusing part is that the superior who earlier raised the concern for granting the sanction was a native of nearby areas of Chuna Mandi in old Delhi. I suspected that he might have been allergic to Chuna or to say in a lighter vein, ''Kisi Ne Oosko Chuna Zaroor Lagaya Hoga' — he being a financial expert.







Human smuggling, illegal trafficking and unethical immigration businesses are on the rise in India and other countries. The Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act is a welcome move. Once it gets the President's assent, the state government should draft comprehensive rules to enforce the legislation in letter and spirit
Ranjit Malhotra

THE Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2010, is awaiting the President of India's assent. It is an important piece of legislation as it seeks to regulate the profession of travel agents to check their illegal and fraudulent activities and malpractices of those involved in the organised human smuggling in Punjab.


It has several noteworthy features. 'Human smuggling' and 'travel agent' are well defined. Travel agent is defined as a person in a profession that involves arranging, managing or conducting affairs related to sending people abroad. It includes consultancy for permanent emigration, obtaining education, work, travel for tourism, cultural entertainment or musical shows, medical treatment, spreading or preaching religion and so on.


The key focus of the legislation is on human smuggling as opposed to human trafficking. The distinction is crucial. Human smuggling facilitates illegal entry of people from one country to another. It has a cross border element of voluntary cooperation without any coercion or undue influence. In contrast to human trafficking, there are no victims in human smuggling. Human trafficking entails slavery and possibly has no international element.


It provides for a much-needed licensing regime for agents and requires compulsory bank guarantees. Clearly, this will nail down middlemen of all sorts and fly-by-night street operators.


The legislation is not without teeth because it gives the power of search, seizure and arrest. Under the existing Central legislation, travel agents can be booked under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, in terms of which it is very difficult to prove the offence of cheating as most transactions take place in cash. But the Punjab legislation gives more powers to the police in terms of offences being cognisable and non-bailable.


A separate mechanism has been carved out as the legislation seeks to create specially designated courts for trials under the new Act. It identifies defined variable punishments for offences.


There is a provision for filing complaints by aggrieved persons to judicial magistrates for trial before the special courts. The special court is authorised to decide whether any illegally acquired property is liable to be confiscated.


Dishonest misrepresentation to have wrongful gain for inducing, deception, cheating or allurement for the activities carried out by the travel agents are punishable. There is also a caveat for legitimate business promotion. If any travel agent wants to advertise or hold seminars, he must notify the competent authority with details of advertisement of such seminars.


As the rules so framed by the Punjab government after the Presidential assent should be comprehensive and free from ambiguity, the authorities concerned would do well to consider the following issues.


The locus standi of aggrieved persons should be given a broad sweep without hinging on technicalities. Quite often, the victims of human smuggling are stranded en route in hostile conditions in foreign countries. Their next of kin in such a situation should be empowered to file criminal complaints or claims for compensation against erring parties. Foreign missions in the consular district of New Delhi should also be brought within the ambit of aggrieved persons so that they can lodge criminal complaints against habitual offenders who deal in bulk fraudulent applications.


In a world without borders, the 2010 Act like the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, should also have extra-territorial application. It is common knowledge that cross border cartels operate from different jurisdictions right from the sending country to the receiving country. No complaint should fail on the ground that monetary consideration was paid outside India and that part of the cause of action took outside the territories of India.


There is need for a strict code for advertising by travel agents and immigration consultancies. There should be an express prohibition on all immigration-related advertisements in the media — print and electronic — for not advertising or canvassing the number of visas allegedly procured by their consultancies. Quite often, such figures of successful applicants are exaggerated and inflated and there is no way by innocent and gullible members of the public to check such projected figures.


As for offences, the rules should be applicable to any immigration consultancy, agent, franchisee operating even outside Punjab, if the principal office of the branch of such a concern is situated within Punjab. There should be a clear embargo on canvassing projected time schedules for permanent residency/ settlement in any foreign country.


The provision for a bank guarantee to be furnished by all such licensed immigration operators and travel agencies should be on ad valorem basis and the amount of the bank guarantee should be directly proportional to the number of applications handled by any such consultancy or agency.


In terms of compliance requirements, the rules under the said legislation should provide that any licensed immigration consultancy/ travel agency or operator, should file a mandatory quarterly return on the number of applications handled by any such agency or operator with the steering committee constituted under the rules or with the Deputy Commissioner of the respective district, which shall be a pre-condition for the renewal of the annual licence.


To protect students, the rules should prohibit payment of the handsome commission paid to the local agents and franchisees in India by low level foreign universities from the tuition fees paid by the students in India. Over the years, this has promoted a different type of an industry giving fillip to lot of illegal activities on the side to exploit the student avenue.


Mass awareness is important. The rules should direct Regional Passport Offices (RPOs) in Punjab to adequately publicise this beneficial piece of legislation, in their respective offices. For the convenience of the public, especially rural youth hailing from the far flung areas of Punjab who are victims of cheating by unscrupulous agents and dubious touts, copies of the legislation translated in Punjabi should be made available at the said RPOs.


One needs to look at the entire gamut of human smuggling. The NRI marriages in Punjab are a very serious problem, especially in terms of abandoned brides. Marriage is also used as a very convenient camouflage for human smuggling. Marriage palace operators provide complete packages to facilitate such commercial marriages. The rules under the legislation in question should bring within its ambit abettors and perpetrators of such sham marriages, or victims of marriages of convenience.


As part of corporate social responsibility obligations, business houses in Punjab should be motivated to take suitable initiatives to publicise the evil effects of human trafficking and the dangers involved in patronising fly-by-night travel agents.


The Chief Secretary of Punjab, after constituting a Core Steering and Monitoring Committee, should regularly review the enforcement of the legislation and maintain comprehensive data of complaints and convictions under the said legislation. The Chief Secretary can include in the committee people from different walks of life. This could as well give an opportunity to review the working of the legislation. The core panel could have a dedicated website and email address to create direct access from the public for their viewpoints.


The rules could well stipulate that the Punjab government in close cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs should also interact with all the Embassies and Foreign Missions in the consular district of New Delhi to share their international data of habitual immigration offenders, networks and cartels engaged in the business of human trafficking and human smuggling with the MEA and the MOIA so that they can further share and transmit the available data with the Punjab government. This will prevent illegal migration and ensure greater cross-border cooperation with all member states.


The rules could provide for an Immigration Ombudsman at the regional and district level. This soft option could be organised by complainants who do not have the resources to invoke the due process of law. A savings clause regarding the consumer courts' jurisdiction for deficiency in service and for refund/ compensation should also be there explicitly in the rules so that the offenders cannot possibly attempt to take refuge of the technicalities of law.


We have to wait and see which way the pendulum swings down the road. Hopefully, the letter and spirit of the rules will be at par with the Punjab government's laudable effort in framing the 2010 legislation.


The writer, a Felix Scholar and associated with Wilton Park, a UK-based think-tank, specialises in areas of immigration and private international law in Chandigarh







Over the years, Wilton Park, a leading UK-based think-tank for discussion of key international policy changes, has been debating key issues relating to migration policies, themes, perceptions, perspectives, trends and its future policy options. According to its 2007 report, legal migration is the most sensitive subject for discussion, particularly in terms of the public debate over numbers.

The Interpol estimates that India contributes to the largest illegal population in Europe, and an estimated two million Indians cross international borders illegally every year.


Human trafficking has now become a larger 'industry' worldwide than drug trafficking. In India alone, it is a multi-million dollar business.


Globally, remittances are estimated to be equivalent to three times development aid.


Members of the European Union already co-operate on shared mechanisms within borders such as Eurodac, a European Union-wide electronic system for the identification of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.


FrontEx is an independent European agency funded by the EU and individual member states. With headquarters in Warsaw, it aims to coordinate the operational co-operation of their external borders.


Patterns of immigration


According to Wilton Park's 2008 findings, patterns of immigration and emigration are generally shaped by the long-term economic performance of a country.


There is likely to be increased competition amongst the more developed countries for highly skilled migrants. On current demographic projections, China, for example, may change from being a source to a destination country.


Political, religious and ethnic persecution are the key drivers of forced migration, but new displacement scenarios are evolving, including environmental degradation, declining resource, population growth and climate change.


Factors vary regionally. In South Asia, migration is a well-established livelihood option. In the European Union, migration has been facilitated by the right to free movement of labour.


Governments will continue to control illegal migration to facilitate the migration flows which they do want.


Public attitudes to migration are frequently negative.


Policy responses from South Asian countries have been ad hoc; it is one of the few areas where no regional process is in place for strategic management of migration.


There are no real indications of the emergence of a leading international migration agency. The International Organisation for Migration could be a candidate.


Areas of concern & reform

Need to enact a Central legislation to check illegal trafficking, human smuggling and thriving unethical immigration businesses.


Imperative need for a consolidated work permit visa regime in India for inward foreign migration especially for highly skilled foreign workers which could also be a good source of revenue.


Spreading of awareness and education of the pitfalls of illegal immigration.


Need to establish managed migration channels. — Ranjit Malhotra









Icome from a family of migrants. My paternal grandparents were from Gujarat. My father's younger brother was born in Karachi. On my mother's side, the family is very distantly from Gujarat but more recently from Solapur. My mother's sister lives abroad. My sister and I grew in Bombay (not Mumbai). My sister and all my cousins live abroad too. My wife's father was a Gujarati from Varanasi, her mother is from Ahmedabad via Surat (or viceversa). And for all of us, Mumbai (once Bombay) is home, though it is not the place from which we come. 


What are we in Mumbai but migrants? 

That is why the Union Home Minister's recent comment, attributing the spurt in crime to 'migrants', was so deeply offensive (the more so because they came from someone so frighteningly intelligent). By that reasoning, all of us are potential criminals — simply because we originally come from somewhere else. His subsequent recantation only makes matters worse, and his claim to being a migrant himself fools no one: he now faintly justifies his remark by correlating migrants to unauthorised settlements (read, slums) and, therefore, crime. He's not alone in saying this. A year ago, Sheila Dixit said much the same thing. Now the Shiv Sena's official orifice has weighed in supporting the Home Minister's initial remark. 


Articles 19(1)(d) and (e) of the Constitution provide a context. The first says that every citizen has the right to "move freely throughout the territory of India" and the second that it is every citizen's right to reside and settle in any part of the country. That is not merely the right to perambulate or go walkabout. It is the right to move, settle down and work anywhere in the country. Sixty years ago, this is how the Supreme Court read our Constitution. In 1964, the Supreme Court said that this fundamental right is available to every citizen, and that includes a prostitute. There is no latent criminality in migration. 


Many animals migrate, some in spectacular ways as wildlife movies show, and for different reasons. As geese fly to the sun, humans migrate to cities. When they do so they are voting with their feet — people come to cities looking for work, not to become criminals. Some succeed, many do not. Some migrate of choice, others of necessity. Some are driven off their lands by poverty and the burden of loans that cannot be repaid for generations. Others are displaced by large projects, the benefits of which — where there are any — are kept from them. What they find in our cities is work — all kinds of work, much of it the kind many of us would never dream of doing: driving taxis, sweeping streets, carrying tiffins, working as menials, labourers and servants. What they do not find is any recognition of their value as human beings, or of the work they do; and our cities would collapse without them. 


People live in slums because they have no choice; because we do not have systems of affordable housing for those who support our lives. That includes several thousand of Mumbai's police force. The thinking seems to be that if you live in a slum, you must be a criminal and therefore, by definition, a criminal; or, more bluntly, poverty is a crime. This is irrational, and it is the profile of a thoroughly unjust society in which the privileged sect treats those without the luxury of choice as outsiders. Fuzzy thinking and fluid definitions are always the handmaidens of an unspeakable purpose.


There is simply no correlation between migrants and crime. Migrants are convenient scapegoats for incompetent law enforcement. In Mumbai, a Maharashtrian police inspector is accused of raping a minor, but never of being a migrant. More telling is the context of the Union Home Minister's statement, the gang-rape by five men of a BPO employee in South Delhi. The 'migrant' here was the victim. She comes from Mizoram. 


Wherever we live, we are all migrants, all outsiders: ministers, judges, actors, politicians, bureaucrats and, of course, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, India's First Migrant. But we are first Indians, and to be a migrant is the right of every citizen of India.





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In its quarterly monetary policy review this November, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) indicated that it would "pause" on its rates action in the near term. Thus, its decision to stay on hold on all the three policy instruments — the repo rate, reverse repo rate and the CRR — in yesterday's mid-quarter review was largely expected by bankers and bond markets and so it did not come as a surprise. That, however, does not make the mid-quarter policy statement a non-event. The overwhelming concern of the day is the acute liquidity shortage in the market and RBI, instead of dismissing the problem as temporary or frictional, sought ways to address the problem. The two key measures announced were the hefty open market operations (OMOs) of Rs 48,000 crore through which RBI would buy bonds from banks in exchange for cash, and a permanent reduction in the Statutory Liquidity Ratio, or SLR (the fraction of deposits that banks are mandated to invest in government bonds) by one percentage point to 24 per cent. Will these measures work? One could argue that a two percentage point temporary cut (taking the statutory liquidity ratio down to 23 per cent) is already in place and the RBI move today should not make much of a difference.

That is perhaps not entirely correct. The fact that the SLR cuts in place earlier were temporary meant that banks were averse to take advantage of the reduction for their long-term funding needs. A permanent cut will give them the confidence to actually liquidate bonds and use the cash to bridge the gaps in their balance sheets. This could shore up liquidity on a more permanent basis. The experience with OMOs in the recent past suggests that their success depends critically on the kind of bonds that RBI offers to buy back. If the OMOs are conducted efficiently and in the right securities, an infusion of Rs 48,000 crore (albeit spread over a period) will make some dent on liquidity. That said, the liquidity deficit is unlikely to disappear overnight and a sizeable hole is likely to persist until March despite these measures. Thus, deposit and lending rates that shot up sharply over the last few weeks could stabilise but are unlikely to come down.


 Despite announcing these measures to buttress liquidity, RBI has been keen to indicate that it hasn't quite taken its eyes off the inflation ball. The review talks, for instance, of an upside risk to its March 2011 inflation forecast of 5.5 per cent and identifies rising commodity prices as the key risk. A policy rate hike in the January policy is certainly not off the table. The question that RBI has to face is whether extant inflationary pressures are driven by factors within the reach of the central bank or beyond its reach. Has the Indian economy returned to a trajectory of around 8 per cent inflation, the long-term average rate of post-Independence India, or can it still return to the below 5 per cent trajectory of the post-liberalisation era? Finally, has the central bank's margin for manoeuvre on inflation management been reduced by the administrative and fiscal actions of the government? If so, what can monetary policy do?







There has been an avoidable brouhaha over two Indian diplomats being subjected to frisking at airports in the United States. Umbrage has been taken to the fact that they aroused suspicion on account of their attire — one diplomat was in a sari and the other wore a turban. This is not new. Ask anyone with a Muslim name, or who is brown skinned, or bearded and not too old, what they have had to go through while travelling in the US since 9/11. All this is probably because of the racial and religious profiling ingrained in the minds of those concerned — the staff of the US Transport Security Administration. Indian security personnel are not free of such prejudices. Quite understandably, the agencies concerned are not apologetic, since they cite the rulebook. Ordinary Indians may wonder why so much fuss is being made over diplomats getting a taste of what they have been routinely subjected to, at home and abroad. Even if the noise being made has the desired result — diplomats are not hereafter subjected to such treatment — the average Indian air traveller will remain where she has been.


While diplomats can be forgiven for having a heightened sense of amour-propre, the media, which prides itself on its no-nonsense attitude, should have done better. It has led the charge in claiming that India and Indians have been affronted when the main preoccupation should have been soul-searching over not just scams and a non-functioning Parliament but media celebrities being exposed for influence-peddling to boot. A new low has been touched in a headline in a leading daily claiming that the civil aviation minister said we should frisk those who frisk us. Now he didn't quite say that. His point was, India should offer reciprocal treatment in matters like diplomatic privileges and VIP treatment. This is clearly a case of interpretative headline-writing having gone too far.


 But the minister's actual comment should also not go unchallenged. It is absolute rubbish to bring the issue of reciprocity into the matter of security. Countries' security perceptions differ and they respond accordingly. For decades, the security drill adopted by the Israeli national carrier El Al was the most rigorous in the world but no one objected because no country faced the kind of terrorist threat that Israel did from supporters of the Palestinian cause. The US' security perception underwent a sea change after 9/11. It is for India to work out its own security requirements and stick to them without caring about niceties. In responding to such incidents one must distinguish between the requirements of security and those of protocol. It is not clear why the Indian foreign minister had to go on record, offering an interview to a TV channel, protesting against US security procedures, when it seemed as if his objections were only about protocol. Indian politicians and senior civil servants and diplomats have been pampered for far too long by a feudal protocol system at airports and public places. If their ego gets punctured once in a while, it is not an affront to India.








India's statement at the plenary session of the G20 Summit in Seoul on November 12, 2010 included valuable insights and proposals. For example, "recycling surplus savings into investment in developing countries will not only address the immediate demand imbalance, it will also help address developmental imbalances". Additionally, the Indian intervention mentioned that "even as we try to avoid a destabilising surge of volatile capital flows to developing countries, there is a strong case for supporting long-term flows to these countries to stimulate investment, especially in infrastructure". This article reviews foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to India over the last 10 years and suggests changes in tax policy to encourage FDI inflows.


 Table-I lists the FDI equity and portfolio investment numbers from 2000-2010. Although FDI has grown steadily, compared to our capital requirements, these flows are still fairly low. From 2006-07 to 2009-10, FDI flows have been greater than the relatively volatile portfolio inflows. Table-II details the top-10 countries from where FDI was received and the top-10 sectors in which these investments have been made. It appears anomalous that 42 per cent of FDI investments into India in the last decade have come from Mauritius. Adding the 9 per cent FDI received from Singapore and the 4 per cent from Cyprus, these three countries accounted for 55 per cent of FDI equity inflows over the past 10 years. Clearly, since tax rates in Mauritius, Singapore and Cyprus are negligible or extremely low, FDI investors have taken advantage of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) between India and these countries to route their FDI investments through them.


India expects that $1 trillion or more will need to be invested over the next 5-10 years in the infrastructure sector alone. For instance, in the power sector, coal-based thermal plants account for 53 per cent of generation. Hydropower stands at 6 per cent while nuclear power generation constitutes only 1 per cent of installed capacity. India needs foreign technology and investment in renewable energy, hydro and nuclear power segments. FDI will be needed to achieve the envisaged staggering levels of investment. Abstracting from the bottlenecks associated with land acquisition, resettlement of people and environmental clearances, foreign investors seek higher rates of return. Therefore, at this stage of India's development and our requirements for foreign capital and technology, it would be counterproductive to try and revise our DTAAs with Mauritius or other low tax regime countries.


India has concluded DTAAs with most G20 countries, including the US, Germany, France, the UK and Japan. However, we do not receive significant amounts of FDI from these large economies, which are our largest trading partners. China does not show up in Table-II even if we go down to the 10th-largest investor. India could revise its tax policies on FDI from such G20 countries with which we have DTAAs so that these investments are accorded the same tax treatment as investments via Mauritius. For instance, we could tweak the tax rates on dividends and interest income for FDI investments. Further, net income from FDI investments could be exempt from taxes for longer periods of time. We could also further slant tax policies in favour of FDI in the power and construction sectors since, as can be seen from Table-II, these are currently way down in priority for foreign investors. However, it is possible that despite reductions in tax rates, FDI from our major economic partners may not increase. The interesting conclusion would then be that FDI investors from G20 countries prefer the anonymity of routing their investments via third countries or alternatively there is round tripping of funds which originate from India.


It could be argued that we should not reduce taxes on dividends and other FDI income since we collect taxes principally on the 45 per cent of FDI which comes from countries other than Mauritius, Singapore and Cyprus. Obviously, taxes cannot be collected on FDI income if the FDI is not made in the first place. The question then is: would the development gains from potentially additional FDI compensate for the taxes foregone if applicable FDI tax rates were to be lowered? On balance, reductions in taxes could be effected prospectively and not for existing FDI investments.


At the same time, FDI equity investment should be equity rather than disguised debt. That is, we have to ensure that foreign investors do not make arrangements for Indian partners to buy out foreign collaborators at prices which effectively provide returns at pre-agreed "interest rates".


To summarise, taxes on FDI income should be rationalised for the long term, aimed at making it immaterial for foreign investors whether their investment comes via Mauritius, Singapore or directly from G20 economies. FDI investors also need to feel assured, particularly to induce investments in long gestation projects, that tax treatment for FDI will not be revised in a hurry.


The author is India's ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at:









Harish Bhasin died on December 7. He had started out as a stock broker in Delhi and later diversified into mergers and acquisitions, mutual funds, hospitality and real estate. His other claim to fame was that he was a key player in the first hostile bid from overseas for Indian companies. In the mid-1980s, London-based non-resident Indian (NRI) Swraj Paul had bid for Escorts and DCM, and Bhasin was his man in Delhi.


 It proved to be a turning point of sorts for Indian businessmen. They had been badly exposed by Paul and Bhasin. Hostile takeovers were not the norm in the country. Banks — and all the large ones had been nationalised — did not have it in their charter to lend for such adventures. Punitive rates of taxation meant most businessmen ran their companies with very low shareholding. What compounded the problem was the infamous conversion clause — state-owned financial institutions could convert their long-term loans into equity. Businessmen slept comfortably in the thought that, given the influence they could wield in the government, there was no way the financial institutions wouldn't support them in such an eventuality.


There was thus a time when the Birla family owned more of Tata Steel than Tata Sons, the promoter of the company. Escorts and DCM were sitting ducks for Paul. Har Prasad Nanda ran Escorts with just 15 per cent stake, while the Shriram family owned 16 per cent of DCM. Escorts and DCM shares had been rising sharply for months together, but nobody had a clue who was buying. The needle of suspicion first pointed towards Ram Prasad Goenka, the original takeover tycoon. It was only when Bhasin said that these shares were being "exported" that the reality dawned on Nanda and the Shrirams. There was also a buzz that Mahindra and Mahindra and some Tata companies were next on Paul's radar screen because of the low promoter stake.


There are many theories why Paul targeted these two companies. One is that they owned a lot of real estate. The other was that somebody in one of the two companies had rubbed somebody in the highest echelons of power the wrong way. Paul, of course, was in the good books of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Whatever be the reason, the battle ended after some hectic lobbying. Nanda argued that Paul had misused the liberalised investment norms for NRIs. Bharat Ram of DCM went to Manmohan Singh, who was then the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and pointed out that there were clear guidelines that money from abroad could not be brought in for a takeover.


The target companies also lobbied with Rajiv Gandhi. That he had gone to Doon School with the children of some of the country's top businessmen helped. They told him that such a hostile takeover was not permitted under the rules of the Controller of Capital Issues or RBI, and that it was being done, in a sense, illegally. Gandhi went into it in great detail and made a statement in Parliament that the country needed to be very careful about takeovers, especially when the bids came from outside the country.


That was when the tide began to turn against Paul. A cap of 5 per cent was put on NRI stake in any Indian company. This checkmated the predator. He then came to the negotiating table and settled the issue with Nanda and Bharat Ram. Most businessmen had learnt the lesson by then and quickly began to reinvest all their money to ramp up their stake. The government, in the meantime, saw the futility of high tax rates and consequently gave a breather to businessmen. That helped them secure their businesses. Shares scattered with distant relatives, who could be fence sitters in a takeover, were bought and consolidated.


]But that was not the end of the matter so far as Bhasin was concerned. After the Paul affair got over, he still owned around 7 per cent of DCM. And when the DCM family split three ways in 1990, he owned the same amount of the splinter companies. In at least one of the companies, DCM Shriram Consolidated, he was bought out by the promoters, brothers Ajay and Vikram Shriram. The matter was settled amicably; the two parties sat across the table, agreed on a price and inked the deal.


And in at least one another company, DCM Shriram Industries, he fought another battle with the promoters, Tilak Dhar and brothers. (The company is into sugar, alcohol, chemicals and rayon.) His HB Stockholdings owned 12.87 per cent of this company. Through open market purchases and an open offer, he raised the stake to 27.45 per cent. Alarmed at it, the promoters upped their stake from 32.54 per cent to 40.7 per cent after the company issued them warrants. Bhasin then approached the Company Law Board (CLB) on the ground that the issue was against the interests of the minority shareholders. Tilak Dhar and brothers, on their part, alleged that Bhasin's open offer violated the takeover code of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). This was in 2007 and 2008. The matter is since then stuck in Sebi and CLB.











Since the start of the 21st century, fast globalising corporations from China and India have shown a growing appetite for foreign direct investments (FDI) not just in the developed but also developing world, especially Africa. India's outbound FDI was as much as $14.9 billion while that of China was three times larger at $48 billion in 2009, according to the UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2010. What explains this surge in investments from these emerging economies? What are the similarities and differences in outward flows from China and India?


Professor R Nagaraj of the Mumbai-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in a recent paper "Outward FDI from China and India: an Exploratory Note" observed common motivations for outward FDI: "both the countries are (relative to their size) natural resource poor, for their industrial requirements and national ambitions. Both the countries have a mature industrial base, acquired over five decades of rapid industrialisation." To rapidly expand their capabilities, they require access to advanced technology markets.


 Outward FDI from both these countries also appears to be leveraging their country-specific advantages of cheap and skilled labour and comparative advantages in using standardised technologies to acquire firm-specific advantages like technology and managerial skills. However, most of the large enterprises in China are state-owned. Globalising Indian firms, in sharp contrast, are privately owned with the experience of working under the rule of law, competitive domestic markets and have access to a deep financial sector and market-based institutions.


Sharper differences in the two countries' outward FDI strategies may be discerned if one focuses on their recent expansion in Africa. This push into the world's poorest continent has been motivated in part by their desire to secure access to raw materials for their rapidly growing economies. China's investments were of the order of $2.5 billion in 2006-2008 while those of India were $332 million, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). With big-ticket M&A deals like Bharti Airtel's $10.7 billion acquisition of Zain, India is now one of the largest investors in Africa.


Though both China and India fight for Africa's oil, significant Indian investments, of late, have been made in a much wider range of industries than China like automobiles, pharmaceuticals, tourism and telecom. India's biggest auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, is preparing to launch its people's car, the Nano, in the continent. Today, there are over 35 top Indian companies that have set up shop in South Africa such as Mahindra, Ranbaxy, Cipla, Ashok Leyland, Apollo Tyres, Godrej and so on.


Why did Bharti go to Africa? The telecom market, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is the most underdeveloped and spread over a vast geographical area. The global market, in sharp contrast, is showing signs of saturation. In India, most of the global players are already present in the industry and the market has become highly competitive. Sub-Saharan Africa, thus, is a new frontier since it has relatively low penetration rates with only three or four operators. This provides huge growth opportunities for Bharti.


The sheer diversity of India's recent foray into Africa defies simple generalisations of being resource-seeking in nature. In fact, "some of these investments are propelling African trade into cutting-edge multinational corporate networks, which are increasingly altering the "international division of labour", argued Harry Broadman in his book Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier. The author surveyed as many as 450 firms, including Chinese and Indian companies, operating in four African countries for his study.


India Inc's investments in Africa also include acquiring arable land in countries like Ethiopia to produce food and grow flowers. Karuturi Global Ltd, ranked as one of the top 25 transnationals in agribusiness and headquartered in India, is a global leader in the production and export of roses. In 2007, it acquired Sher Agencies, the world's largest rose farm in Kenya for $69 million. It is also engaged in large-scale agricultural farming in Ethiopia — in 2008, it acquired more land to produce rice, palm oil and sugarcane for sugar and ethanol.


China's biggest strength in its outward FDI drive is the unlimited state support for its enterprises. In head-to-head competition for oil, gas and other raw materials, Chinese giants have trumped their Indian counterparts, not just in Africa but also Myanmar and Kazakhstan. But state control is also a weakness. The non-transparent nature of the companies' power structure does trigger political resistance in host countries. Nagaraj mentions the case of Rio Tinto. Five years ago, Chinese oil giant CNOOC was thwarted in its bid to take over US' Unocal.


On balance, however, Indian firms have a slighter edge in their globalisation drive through M&As due to their long experience of dealing with institutions of a market economy. They can also leverage their firm-specific advantages like low-cost manufacture of generics and unique business models of IT service delivery — like Bharti's Minutes factory that enables it to expand the subscriber base of its prepaid customers. For such reasons, it is reasonable to expect India will steadily narrow the massive Chinese advantage in outward FDI.


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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. 









THE central bank has made it clear, through its midquarter review of monetary policy, that the ball is in the government's court to increase liquidity and combat inflation long-term. The RBI has allowed banks to reduce their holding of government bonds, will inject . 48,000 crore worth of liquidity by buying bonds from the banks and has decided to leave its short-term lending and borrowing rates alone. Keeping policy rates unchanged, even as it fears that inflation is likely to exceed the bank's year-end target of 5.5%, recognises the stress created by the current shortage of liquidity. Money supply has been growing, year-on-year, at a rate equal to or even lower than the nominal growth rate of GDP. This might be designed to counteract slowdown-combating excesses of the recent past, but is guaranteed to generate a liquidity shortage on minor provocation: and the liquidity-sucking disinvestment success counts as more than minor provocation. The 3G and wireless broadband auctions also netted the government . 1,06,000 crore, which translated into transfer of that much of liquidity from the banking system to the government. Once the government spends this money, it would come back into the system. But the government has not been spending money fast enough. Hence the central bank decision to cut the statutory liquidity ratio (the proportion of total deposits that banks must invest in government bonds) by one percentage point, to 24%. This could well mean reduced demand for government bonds, resulting in the government having to offer a higher rate of interest to induce banks to lend to it. Thus, even as policy rates have been held static, policy might well push lending rates up further. 


One good monsoon does not justify complacency on the farm front. We need to raise the aggregate farm output, to free the central bank from having to hike rates to combat inflation. This calls for new technology, its delivery on the ground, investment in irrigation, modern retail and supply chain management, and political mobilisation of the peasantry to make them all come together.








INDIA is to negotiate with Turkmenistan the price of natural gas to be delivered via a proposed $7.6-billion pipeline that would cross Afghanistan and Pakistan before reaching India. We need to call for a competitive price linked to long-term supply, and based on sound market design. Globally, the gas market, unlike that for crude oil, is fragmented by region. Also, gas prices vary, depending on whether they are set by spot markets (like in the US and UK) or long-term contracts (as in continental Europe and across Asia) that are often linked to oil prices. However, gas pricing is increasingly autonomous from oil, thanks to innovation and market dynamics. In the US, for example, advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have much improved access to shale gas, thus hugely improving overall supplies and reducing prices. Also, cross-border trading of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is set to grow considerably as Russia, Yemen and Qatar (already supplying to India) all expand their LNG export capacity in a big way. Further, several clean-coal technologies, including super-critical boilers, are set to boost efficiency in conventional power plants, reducing gas demand here. 


Turkmenistan needs to attractively price its gas to tap a vast new market. Reports also say that the landed cost through the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (Tapi) pipeline would be at least $10 per mmBtu. The rationale is that Turkmenistan already sells gas to China at $7.5/unit, and there is the need to account for wheeling charges, transit fee and safe passage guarantee etc. But given a regionally fragmented gas market, it would make better sense to link the price to more objective criteria like calorific value and those of alternative fuels, including suitably modified coal. Besides, what is labelled 'unconventional gas' today may not be so in the medium-term and beyond. In the US, just a decade ago, less than 1% of gas supplies were from unconventional sources. Today 20% of the supply there is from shale and tight rocks, and the figure is projected to cross 50% by 2020. These factors need to be kept in mind while negotiating Tapi gas price.








WITH security mavens in London getting the jitters at the prospect of the royal nuptials in April, it may be wise to consider an alternative destination: Jodhpur. What was good for Katy (Perry) should be fine for Kate (Middleton) too, even if one married a comedian and the other is set to marry a (would-be) king. Their concerns, after all, are similar. Keeping the paparazzi and voyeurs at bay, giving their VIP friends a spectacle to remember, and getting value for money, of course. Jodhpur's desert setting is ideal for achieving all three. Even if Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles will be footing much of the bill of the wedding of Prince William and Ms Middleton, a penny saved here and there would go down well with the disgruntled British population and fatten India's foreign exchange earnings. Think of the common connect it could have as well. Instead of opting for the same stuffy church setting that has been part and parcel of royal weddings since time immemorial, it may well be the perfect time to desert London for Jodhpur. It would have instant recall for the generation of Britons weaned on the private lives of celebrities such as Posh and Becks, Katie and Matthew, Liz and Arun, Angelina and Brad as Jodhpur figures prominently in all their stories barring the Beckhams. That makes it a perfect venue for a future king and queen of 'new' Britain. 


Besides, there's no better place than India for a bit of glitz and tamasha as we know weddings are all about the bling thing. Indian wedding planners know a thing or two about getting the setting right, and the weather would be perfect at that time for airing those tiaras and borrowed baubles. Then Britons can enjoy their royal wedding bank holiday weekend in peace, without VIP security drills and traffic jams. Or they could fly down to India for a bit of fun in the sun too!






GREAT change is always tumultuous. For the first time in history, such deep-seated shifts in the polarity of the world is happening in a time of peace. And the tumult is being felt in the markets and general economic conditions. Market volatility is thus immense and we should be prepared not only for more of the same, but periods of even sharper volatility. 


As the crisis of 2008 recedes behinds us, the magnitude of the change that is afoot is becoming evident. When US President Barack Obama, during his visit last month, spoke of India 'as having already emerged', he was not merely stroking our oftentimes extra-sensitive egos, though there might have been some of that. He was indeed stating, from his perspective, a matter of fact. In the short span of a decade, the West seems to have lost its grip on its historical ascendancy. It is not just the crisis of 2008, but the outcome of a complex welter of public policy issues, social choices and institutions that had come to be over the past several decades. Substantively, a large part of this had to do with sovereign solvency and the fiscal sustainability of many social programmes. The crisis brutally exposed this faultline as western governments used unprecedented fiscal measures to deal with it. 


In the US, the prospect of a reversal of increasing fiscal deficits and public debt burden does not seem to generate much confidence. On the other side of the Atlantic, fiscal stresses arising from the strained conditions of several members of the European monetary union are raising the risks associated with the area. The credit default swap (CDS) is the market perception of the probability of default; the higher the CDS, the worse it is. What does it mean when the CDS of Italy is 195 basis points (bps) and that of Belgium (where the EU is headquartered) is 191, while that of the US is 39, Germany 52 and of China is 68, South Korea 91, Brazil 116 and Vietnam 269 bps? Leave alone that Greece is at 955, Ireland at 541 and Portugal at 457 bps. The clear answer is that several members of the eurozone are regarded as much less creditworthy in comparison to Asian or Latin American economies. If the market believed that the eurozone had sorted out the problem of bailing out its weaker members, clearly one would not have this huge difference between the spreads for Germany or for that matter France (99 bps) and that of the weaker members. 


The inescapable conclusion is that people do not believe that the issue is settled, which, therefore, must mean that the continuation of the euro is also not settled. That said, however, markets have reacted positively to moves to reduce fiscal burdens across the eurozone and negatively to the prospect of higher fiscal deficits and further monetary easing in the US. There is, however, not much of a choice. On the one hand, there is the US with a weakly recovering economy and a stressed fiscal situation with the central bank pumping more high-powered money into the system and on the other hand, an unresolved fundamental crisis in the European monetary union. But these are the two destinations that the huge volumes of fixed income and related funds slosh between — forever facing massive exchange rate risks and earning a pitiable interest rate. 


FOR the US and stronger eurozone members can still borrow very cheaply. The yield on 10-year US gilts has risen sharply, but is still 3.5%. The yield on similar German gilts is also up sharply, thanks to its bailing-out activities, but is still 3%. Two-year money is at 0.5% and 1%, respectively. These rates are much lower than those facing governments in Asia and Latin America. The perceived credit and other risks associated with these markets are what maintain the spread. 


The questions that one needs to ask is, for how long will investors watch their funds slosh helplessly between the less than promising shores of the North Atlantic; and what can happen as some look for an exit. The answer to the first is that it will continue for quite some time to come, but increasingly larger numbers will look for an exit. And that search for an exit brings us to the second question. Many will get away from currencies altogether to the modern equivalent of gold — that is, gold, oil and other commodities, pushing up their prices further. Some will surely begin to look favourably at higher allocations to emerging markets. As the volume of flows increase to Asia and Latin America, the perception of risk will ease and that will erode the premium that developed markets today enjoy. Ergo, their cost of borrowing will rise, further compounding their already stretched fiscal balances. 


Two things can change this outlook. One is that emerging economies make big mistakes and lose their historical opportunity to reclaim the ground they lost over the past three centuries. This is not a possibility that can be ruled out. One fervently hopes that we do not trip up, especially so since while the way ahead is not easy, it is not that tough either and in many respects, the hardest part of the journey is behind us. 


The other is that the developed West drastically trims its fiscal sails and quickly returns to the path of reasonably good economic growth (2-3% annually). The ordering of these two objectives is not accidental. The problem that major developed economies face today is seemingly an arrangement of social commitments, which cannot be sustained and is relentlessly driving up the financing needs of government. Strapped on to this is the burden of the common currency in the eurozone, which prevents the weaker members to restructure in the conventional manner and places the stronger ones in the unenviable role of becoming potentially perpetual bailer-outs. 


Without somehow fixing these problems first, strong economic recovery is unlikely. One is reasonably confident that the developed nations of the West will find a solution, but it won't be soon and their pain will last for some time, while the inexorable dynamic of the shift in the world's polarity and consequential direction of capital flows will continue. So, when people earnestly warn us on the dangers of capital inflow we should pause for a moment and ask that Agatha Christie question — who gains from this? 


(The author is member,     Planning Commission)






NO AMERICAN has worked harder to build better relations with Pakistan's army than Admiral 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 Kayani's commitment to go after the Taliban groups that are launching murderous attacks from Pakistan's border region into Afghanistan. 


During Mullen's trip this week, 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 Barack Obama's war strategy are, frankly, dim. 


On Thursday, US President Barack 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. 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 US military commanders disputed the reports' overall pessimism, there have been disturbing signs this week that the Pentagon is increasingly resigned to Pakistan's inaction. A defence 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-Qaida and other groups increasingly act like a syndicate, sharing know-how and colluding when needed. 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. Obama and his advisers — military and civilian — clearly have to do more to change the thinking in Islamabad. 







AS A second sovereign credit threatens Europe and the US Federal Reserve pumps in more liquidity in the US system to boost demand, it is perhaps time to take stock of what is unfolding in the Indian economy. On the face of it, the contrast with the possible crisis in Europe and the continuing downturn in the US and the situation in India couldn't be starker. All macro-economic indicators seem to be aligned right. 


The forecast of 8.5% to 9% gross domestic product growth in India seems to be on track. Business confidence is high as Indian companies have lined up aggressive investment plans. Data available so far has shown that investment activity was quite supportive of GDP growth. Infrastructure, one of the key reasons for supply side bottlenecks in the country, too has seen accelerated investments during the year. 


Agood monsoon has meant that rural demand remains strong and this is reflected in the rise in demand for consumer durables, two-wheelers and automobiles. Projections of agricultural output have also given hope that food inflation could soften in the near term, reducing pressure on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to raise interest rates. 


Meanwhile, capacity constraints are building up in sectors such as steel, autos, coal, ports, railways, presenting the need for further capital investments in these sectors. The HSBC Purchasing Managers Index rose to 57.2 in October from 55.1 in September, indicating strong growth in the manufacturing sector. This is also underscored by the index of industrial production (IIP) numbers. Overall, the IIP, that has seen robust growth in early months of the year is now consolidating around more sustainable levels. 


The financing to the industry both from banking as well as non-banking channels also remain robust. The RBI has taken the gradualist approach on the monetary policy front as it attempts to walk the tight rope between inflation and growth. The recently concluded earnings season has shown that corporate earnings are on a healthy uptick. Sensex companies reported a top line growth of about 21.3% on a Y-o-Y basis, though margin expansion was on a lower side than market expectations. 


However, there are a few areas of concern. The first is inflation that is still uncomfortably high. Also, it is expected that the monetary easing by global central banks could lead to a spike in commodity prices. Considering that almost 300 bps of the current level of 8.6% inflation is contributed by imported non-food inflation, any such spike may derail the softening trend in inflation. The fear is that if imported non-food commodity prices continue to rise, the RBI may be forced to review its announced policy of a pause in the rate tightening cycle. Inevitably, arise in interest rates would force corporates to review their investment plans and impact the expected GDP growth. 


The second is the sovereign credit situation in Europe. It seems almost inevitable now that Ireland and Portugal will have to be bailed out. It needs to be seen if the contagion can be limited to small economies like Greece (earlier) and now Ireland and Portugal or could it spread to bigger economies. One economy that sits on a virtual mountain of debt is the UK and though the new coalition government in Britain has embarked on among the steepest spending cuts in decades, just how far they would go towards salvaging the situation needs to be seen. After all Ireland tried a similar therapy last year. A spread of the sovereign credit contagion to any large economy could shake the foundations of the global economy and trigger panic. 


Finally, the high interest and liquidity crunch will be a hurdle to India's growth plans. The recent issues around lending to real estate and infra companies and the investigations could slow down credit to these sectors. If banks become cautious, resulting in slower credit to infra, housing and real estate sectors, then growth will suffer. The areas of concern, if proved real, will reduce GDP growth in the next year by 50-100 basis points. We hope this will not happen. 


One thing seems certain in the foreseeable future. The Indian economy seems to be destined to take a moderate to high inflation and high growth route. Two factors are influencing this, both good for millions of poor people in the country, but leading to inflationary pressures in the medium term. 


NREGA has resulted in raising the wages of unskilled and agricultural labour across the country. As input costs have risen, the government has been forced to increase the support prices for agricultural produce, thereby fuelling food inflation. 


The second factor is even more intriguing and while it portends good news in the long term in the short run could well lead to higher inflation. As states like Bihar, helped by good governance increase their rate of economic development, they may well be ending up exporting less labour to other parts of the country leading to higher labour and hence input prices. But then that is the price of economic development!


Though the GDP growth forecast for the Indian economy seems to be on track, inflation is still uncomfortably high 

The high interest rate and liquidity crunch will be also pose a challenge to the country's growth plans 

In the medium term, the economy seems to be destined to take a moderate to high inflation and high growth route







ALL messengers of God, divine incarnations, spiritual masters, saints, sufis and saviors of past, present (and of future) are worthy of highest veneration and gratitude for gifting mankind secrets of the working of creation and defining Godman relationship. They also outlined that life necessitates a balance between the physical and spiritual aspirations of man. Humanity has immensely benefited from them and will continue to do so. Despite spectacular enhancement in 'material aspect of quality of life', conundrum of mental tension/depression has multiplied, thereby negating comfort of scientific attainments. Perhaps the spiritual aspect of life that can rein mischief of mind remains neglected. 


Followers who perpetuate ritualism and read holy gospels like acookery book — without cooking the dish — are unable to take much advantage of spiritual inheritance. Howsoever glorious or greatest their Master may be, if these followers fail to improve their spiritual lot during present life, then they need to introspect what benefit accrued to them from greatness of their Gurus. Hope of any benefits in future lives is a self-deception. 


Some seekers expect that their spiritual masters (past or present) are duty-bound to ensure their physical (swarth) and spiritual (parmarth) well being. Wrong! A student has to apply his mind for passing examinations, though teachers provide instructions, motivation, guidance and encouragement. Spiritual metaphysics, like any science is a path of serious contemplation and experimentation. 


Another school of thought argues that present spiritual masters should correct all negativity and evil of this planet. The answer is simple — if the greatest saviors of past, like Lord Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Guru Nanak, Kabir and many others that are worshipped by all generations, could not make this world 'an island of peace' —how can holy men of present day and age achieve that. 


The creation has to be imperfect if it has to continue. The moment it becomes perfect, it will cease to exist. Therefore, great masters are not mandated to interfere with working of the creation. They urge seekers to research 'within' laboratory of human body by meditative concentration to seek answers to their questions.

Spirituality cannot be taught but caught. And those who board flight of faith, they improve their parmarth —and their swarth too gets rewarded.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Reserve Bank of India's latest review of its monetary policy has a clear message: that inflation is still a major concern and that while food inflation is coming down, the prices of essential food items of everyday consumption, at least of the aspirational middle class, such as eggs, fish, meat and milk, remain high and are still increasing. Manufactured goods are also getting costlier, and this is showing no sign of declining as the cost of raw material also keeps rising. The overall inflation figure has come down to 7.5 per cent in November from 8.8 per cent in August. This has provided a breather, but only for a short while. The RBI is very clear on that. True, it did not raise interest rates when it announced its mid-quarter monetary policy on Thursday. In fact, it went a step further and injected around Rs 48,000 crores into the system by reducing the money that commercial banks have to freeze with the RBI (the statutory liquidity ratio) and purchasing government bonds from banks. But the Central banker was quick to say that this liberal attitude should not to be interpreted as a shift in its monetary policy stance or that it was comfortable with the inflation figures. It emphasised that inflation was still a major concern — something with which the salaried class as well as the underprivileged will concur. Inflation is spurred not only from domestic demand but also from global commodity, food, industrial inputs and metal prices — which are all rising for different reasons. Crude oil is the latest to hit the roof — at nearly $100 a barrel, it is threatening to disrupt several major economies. In India, the government has already raised the price of petrol this week, for the second time in a few months, and there is talk of an imminent rise in diesel prices as well. It should be remembered, though, that a hike in diesel prices will push up inflation across the board once again. Diesel is used across the board — from cars, buses and trucks to farmers' water pumps and fishermen's boat engines. The government is inching towards pushing up diesel prices on the grounds that the oil marketing companies will otherwise not be able to bear the burden of rising crude prices much longer. Also, even more important, with one of the major oil companies planning to tap the capital market in the not too distant future, the government has to show investors it is decontrolling diesel prices so there won't me too much damage to the company's bottomline. Minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh tried to pave the way for a diesel hike by asking why the government should subsides diesel for the owners of BMWs and Mercedes luxury cars and SUVs. A good question. But one cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater, and the owners of these fancy cars are a minuscule lot compared to the crores of Indians who use diesel. If Mr Ramesh and his government really want to adopt differential pricing for diesel, they should carefully think about its implementation — and find really innovative and ingenious ways!








As someone who visited Kolkata after more than a year, I was struck by a curious phenomenon: the abrupt disappearance of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) from public spaces. For the past three decades, the sight of the daily Ganashakti pasted on improvised billboards and adorned with the ubiquitous red flag was drearily familiar.


I don't know how many of the aam aadmi actually ploughed through the small print while waiting at bus stops, but ideological indoctrination was never the main point of the exercise. Rather, it was intended to convey a sense of the party's constant presence in every locality.


Today, the hoardings and wall writings of the CPI(M) are few and far between. There are few portrayals of muscular workers and determined peasants marching with the red flag. Also shrinking are evocative slogans declaiming against some perceived injustice. Instead, there are umpteen makeshift hoardings of a benign but somewhat stern Mamata Banerjee and streams of the Trinamul Congress buntings in the mohallas. If flaunting of party flags and agitprop are intended to convey a sense of a locality's political affiliation, it is clear that the Trinamul Congress has upstaged the CPI(M) from most of Kolkata. The Left Front may still be ruling from the Writer's Building but it has ceded control of the streets to Ms Banerjee.


The state Assembly elections are not due until April or May of 2011 but there is already an anticipation of change. The unemployed (and, sometimes, unemployable) youth who frequent the corner tea shops appear to have moved en masse to the side of Didi, as Ms banerjee is popularly referred to. Indeed, it probably takes some courage for CPI(M) supporters to proclaim their political preferences, in urban West Bengal at least. The CPI(M) was decimated in Kolkata and the adjoining districts in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It took the verdict in a spirit of resignation and has withdrawn into its shell. As of now the Trinamul Congress seems to be guaranteed a landslide in the cities and towns in the Assembly elections. The Left activity is mainly centred on trade unions which, unfortunately for them, influence voting behaviour peripherally.


It is different in the countryside. The CPI(M) is very deeply entrenched in rural Bengal thanks to its control of the panchayats. In the past, this control, coupled with the goodwill it had earned through the redistribution of land under Operation Barga, had ensured the Left Front of huge majorities in rural constituencies. In districts such as Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia, both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress had difficulties finding credible candidates for rural seats.


The situation has changed perceptibly after the Lok Sabha election. First, the CPI(M) hold over other districts, particularly those located in North Bengal and around Kolkata, has weakened considerably. There are four basic reasons for this erosion of support.


First, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Muslim voters appear to have made a conscious decision to back the Trinamul Congress-Congress alliance.


Secondly, a net result of the Left Front overzealous land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram is the erosion of the party's credentials as a champion of the poor peasantry. The beneficiaries of Operation Barga are first-generation landowners and their attachment to their small holdings verges on the fanatical. This section has been unmoved by the government's arguments that industrialisation necessitates compulsory land acquisition. With her catchy but somewhat vague slogan of "Ma, Mati, Manush" (loosely translated as mother, land and mankind) Ms Banerjee has emerged as the champion of the rights of small farmers. She has given her Trinamul Congress cadres (who invariably tend to be petty businessmen and sons of yesterday's large landholders) the necessary political opening to woo a section the Left took for granted. This incremental support may cost the CPI(M) dearly in constituencies that, while being rural, also have urban clusters.


Thirdly, the Left Front had hoped that the growth in rural prosperity through land reforms would trigger the revival of manufacturing and services in the state and provide job opportunities to the rural youth. This hope provided the basis of the Left Front's landslide win in 2006. However, the optimism surrounding the "revival" of West Bengal largely dissipated after the Nandigram fiasco and the willingness of investors to sink their money in the state evaporated after Tata Motors moved its Nano plant from Singur to Gujarat. The fiasco left the chief minister rudderless and called into question the Left Front's ability to secure economic growth in West Bengal. The CPI(M) is experiencing the backlash that comes with a failure to deliver. It is not that Ms Banerjee necessarily signals hope, but she personifies the mood of protest.


Finally, the CPI(M) has been adversely affected by the mushrooming of support for pro-Maoist groups in the more inaccessible parts of Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura. The areas which today have a Maoist "problem" are those where the CPI(M) and its allies exercised a monopoly of power and political presence. The Maoists appear to have entered into a tacit understanding with the Trinamul Congress to join hands against a common adversary. This informal alliance won't be enduring but, for the moment, it serves a mutual convenience. It has left the CPI(M) vulnerable in the unlikeliest of places.


The CPI(M) is unlikely to give up West Bengal without a spirited fight. It is aware that in the event of defeat, the party will be fiercely targeted by Ms Banerjee's party for its 30-year-old record of petty tyranny. Turf wars in West Bengal tend to be extremely bloody and this may be reflected in pre- and post-poll violence — something that the Election Commission should factor into the poll schedule.


Additionally, the last card before the CPI(M) is to try and somehow scuttle the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance. The Trinamul Congress genuinely feels that many of the Congress' central leaders would be happy to exchange its support with that provided by the Left. Ms Banerjee is hoping for the best but simultaneously preparing for the worst. This sense of anticipation is the only common ground left in a Bengal that waits anxiously for the summer to settle the political uncertainty.


* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








The Somali Muslim militias 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 programmes 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 hardline 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 theatre still isn't functional, and that's why Dr Hawa is here in America, 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.








Wikileaks has become a modern fable. Its founder Julius Assange faces charges of rape and years of harassment. Mr Assange is seen as that loathsome creature, the hacker. The hacker threatens the security systems of foreign policy. But more than security Mr Assange, the hacker has exposed the hypocrisy of governments.


The leaks have exposed the arrogance of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her sense of pomposity of India as a self-appointed member of the United Nations Security Council. Wikileaks has provided an everyday X-ray of how the American ambassador reads the weakness of India as a soft state, too invertebrate to take on Pakistan. The disclosures reveal the contempt of the ordinary foreign service bureaucrats for politicians and political processes.


The general reactions everywhere have been a sense of outrage first at the temerity of the act of disclosure and secondly at what the disclosures reveal. It reveals the hypocrisy of bureaucrats and politicians and it also exposes the fragility of the power to information.


The leaks almost seem to suggest that power exposed is power weakened. The sanctity of secrecy creates a halo around power which it does not deserve.


The leaks also expose the ambivalent figure of the hacker. The hacker is half outlaw, half dissenter. He is like the Levellers and the Dissenters were in Oliver Cromwell's time. He embodies a different idea of power and responsibility.


The hacker as dissenter is a moral figure. He is an early warning system of the pathologies of power. The hacker is a liminal, ambivalent figure, anarchic enough to threaten power, an outlaw challenging the sanctity of rules and redefining them.


What I want to argue is that the hacker must be seen as homeostatic to the system. Every information system needs a hacker. It threatens power but guarantees the limits of power by creating an epidemic of accountability. To control the hacker beyond the norms of democracy is futile.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has argued that phone tapping is essential because security demands and terror legitimises it. My counter argument is that if phone tapping is necessary for security, hacking is necessary for freedom.


One admits the problem resides in the sense of proportion. If an excess of phone tapping creates the paranoid world of surveillance, an excess of hacking can destabilise norms.


The hacker is seen as a bohemian. In fact, someone like Mr Assange is seen as bohemian in his sexuality and in his attitude to information. The hacker personalises excess. Given his liminality, the hacker must be allowed his way of life. This holds as long as the hacker is a dissenter. In that sense Mr Assange is a prisoner of conscience and must be adopted by Amnesty International as one. It is illiterate to compare him to a Cyber bin Laden. Mr Assange is a dissenter not a fundamentalist. He wants to save lives not to eliminate people. It only frightens power. Hacking is a part of the power of the powerless.


The responsibility does not end with the hacker. The information the hacker revels is an invitation to citizenship. Hacking cannot end as a scandal. The scandal is a ritual that initiates deeper understanding of power. Where hacking stops, the citizen takes over — asking for accountability and transparency from power. The journalist as investigator, the dissenter as researcher finds a new sibling in the hacker as a subventor of power. The tuning fork for judgment is motive and the consequences of the hacking act. The hacker is an essential purgative to the system.


mr Assange in a historical sense stands on par with Daniel Goldberg of the Pentagon tapes or the journalists Woodward and Bernstien who exposed Watergate and ended the strange career of Richard Nixon.


The hacker is a special kind of whistleblower. Whistleblowing is usually an individual act of courage, an exemplary act of dissent. Hacking is more communitarian. It is a network of dissent which operates on power.


I want to emphasise that I am not creating a hagiography of the hacker. I think his ambivalence is what provides a sense of limits of power. The hacker carries both the marks of a trickster and a martyr, and we need to recognise his mixed, mixed-up nature.


The hacker in homoeopathic doses is necessary to prevent the arrogance of power. He is an antidote but should not become purgative. In excess he is an epidemic, in aesthetic limits he is a democratic necessity. Think of it, the right to information will be a feeble promise without the culture of hacking. If the right to information creates access to information, hacking breaks the secrecy that prevents information from going public.


One might ask what the difference between wire-tapping and hacking is. Wire-tapping as an instrument is used by the structure of surveillance. Wire-tapping invades privacy.


There is a final point one must emphasise in this ode to hacking. Hacking emerged like IT, out of the beat cultures that made Silicon Valley. Hacking was a dissenting cult which understood the spirit of the network and kept it alive. Hackers are not luddites. They are experts in technological folklore. As tricksters they understand that technology cannot be a servant of power. This much the Wikileaks proved and for this much Mr Assange must be seen as a force of freedom, a dissenter, a whistleblower, whose "noise" is always the unwelcome music that power cannot tolerate.


* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








IT'S easy to get confused by the signals emerging from power centres in New Delhi. The Prime Minister wants leaks to be plugged and has asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate how the Niira Radia tapes, that ought to have been in the exclusive custody of enforcement agencies, were leaked to media and civil society. The Supreme Court is entertaining a petition from Mr Ratan Tata wherein the industrialist alleges his right to privacy has been invaded by the disclosure of the tapes. And yet, four months ago, this government introduced a Bill to protect the whistleblower in Parliament. It is true that the Bill, if enacted, asks that whistles, as it were, be blown in the direction of a designated Competent Authority. But the spirit of the proposed legislation is clear ~ "to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of disclosure against any public servant…and to provide adequate safeguards against the victimization of the person making such complaint." If this indeed is the intention of his government, surely Dr Manmohan Singh needs to re-assess his instruction to the Cabinet Secretary to find out how the Radia tapes leaked, using presumably the resources of intelligence agencies that report to him.
It cannot be anyone's case that the Radia conversations do not disclose prima facie evidence of corruption and willful misuse of power by former telecom minister, A Raja. That corruption could only have been at the behest of, or for the benefit of, an individual or individuals. The tapes could only have been leaked by someone whose custody they were in, or who might have had access to them, in other words any of several persons beginning with the Prime Minister, down to the Finance Minister and going down to officers involved in the investigation. Strong evidence of corruption was available more than a year ago with the government. It chose not to act. Would not someone connected with the investigation feel outraged and hence be tempted to blow the whistle? And would not that person, in the absence of protection envisaged by the Whistleblowers' Bill, be tempted to leak the tapes and investigation reports to media? And if he or she did so, should a government committed to providing safeguards against victimization offer him or her protection, or ask the Cabinet Secretary to snoop around? Ultimately, it is Dr Singh's call ~ does he wish to cleanse a corrupt government or cover its tracks?




WHY Congress and Trinamul carry on the pretence of an alliance if they intend only to take pot-shots at each other is a question neither side wants to address when indications are of an Assembly election sooner than expected. Relations between the partners have long been fragile but there have been hopes that tenuous links will survive through encounters between Mamata Banerjee and Pranab Mukherjee. Now the Union finance minister himself has been drawn into controversy, and needing to explain how the helicopter in which he was supposed to travel to Murshidabad, where he would share a dais with the Trinamul boss, mysteriously encountered technical problems, compelling a cancellation. The senior Congress leader's absence from the railway programme was interpreted as a deliberate effort to snub Miss Banerjee. What it also did was to raise tempers on the other side to the extent that the Trinamul chief vowed to return to the district more often to challenge the Congress strongman Adhir Chowdhury who has done everything to ensure that the Trinamul caravan doesn't roll into Murshidabad.

Mr Chowdhury has successfully resisted Marxists on his home turf. When he claims he doesn't have any objection to anti-Left forces putting up a coordinated presence, we have to read between the lines to realise that the boycott of a railway programme in the district on account of alleged neglect of a vital stretch is actually intended to demonstrate unhappiness over Trinamul wanting to strike roots in a traditional Congress bastion and cut him down to size. Mr Mukherjee finds himself obliged to offer his colleague moral support from behind the scenes while, at the same time, not upsetting the Trinamul. That he had failed to convince his ally was evident from the tough stance Miss Banerjee took against the Congress at the function. To what extent these impulsive outbursts will work will be known when the votes are counted. But the drama in Murshidabad suggests that courtesies have been dropped and there is no clue on how the final act will be played out. A working arrangement may yet be possible with the Congress' national leadership ~ stung by the Bihar defeat ~ stepping in. But with one side showing supreme confidence and the other feeling perpetually threatened, there seems to be no resolution to the nagging sense of distrust that can only hinder the prospects of change.




POLICING through the media seems to be the new mantra in North Block ~ or else it is leaking like the Radia tapes. For it is difficult to understand just what that "government source" sought to gain by disclosing to reporters virtually the full details of a campaign to apprehend 31 of the "most wanted" terrorists or militants functioning for the Indian Mujahideen and the Jamiat-ul-Ansar-ul-Muslimeen. Surely those men will now go even deeper underground ~ they are not short of grey matter ~ and pointless will be the formation of dedicated teams, plans for coordinated action, tapping intelligence sources abroad etc. That the disclosure was a deliberate move by a home ministry official is indicated by the news reports listing the states/town where the suspects were based, disclosing a couple of  names, and pointing out that the men are responsible for a series of blasts that have taken an estimated 500 lives in the last couple of years. And, of course, the standard line that the terror outfits were Pakistan-mentored. Short of handing over to the media the dossiers circulated to the state police units the "source" revealed everything. Obviously the need for relative secrecy about the operation did not figure in the calculations. Ignoring a police basic can hardly be written off as accidental or inadvertent; officials handling internal security are not so "dumb" as to think that media attention will suffice for the terrorists to be neutralised.

The obvious "explanation" is that aam aadmi, not the terrorists, was the target of that 31-gun salute. The home ministry is in a spot after Varanasi exposed the lack of success in preventive measures against terror groups, so an attempt was made to impress the public by talking tall. That has to be seen in the context of the positive spin the minister has just put on the situation in both the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir. Sadly, credibility and public confidence are not secured through statements and leaks. Had even five of the 31 been nabbed it would have been an achievement to trumpet. The reality is that a gun-salute requires the firing of blanks ~ plenty of noise and smoke, no punch. Just like that garrulous "government source".









KG Balakrishnan, who has recently retired as the Chief Justice of India, has observed that corruption in the judiciary is a matter of grave concern but, fortunately, such allegations in India are rare and are not very serious. According to him, it is actually "miniscule", considering the number of cases and judges. 

This is true as far as it goes. Even if we judge it in the national perspective, it seems that charges of corruption and malpractices in the judiciary are still rare. While corruption of different forms have gripped Indian society, the judiciary has maintained an appreciable level of honesty and integrity.

In fact, during the war years (1939-45), contractors and blackmarketeers found a golden opportunity to amass money and soon adulteration, hoarding and price hikes became an essential part of social life. Unfortunately, no government took proper steps to stem the rot and, as a result, it has spread like cancer. Now it has vitiated almost all spheres of society. As a top official of the Central Bureau of Investigation has  observed, one out of three Indians can be accused of corruption.

From that point of view, our judiciary maintains a high standard of morality and honesty. Even George H Gadbois, a foregn writer, has observed, "The Judges of India are highly esteemed. More than any other segment of the elite, they are viewed as exemplars of honesty and integrity in public office. Judges are perhaps the only group remaining in the political system in whom trust can be placed and whose motives and actions are publicly perceived as beyond reproach." However, our Constitution has important provisions to ensure the honesty and integrity of the judiciary. 

First, care has been taken so that, during appointment, corrupt persons can be kept at bay. True, judges of lower courts are appointed by the Governor. But, constitutionally, he has little discretion because, as Article 233 states, before choosing a district judge, he has to consult the High Court and, in the case of inducting the judges of subordinate courts, he must seek the opinion of the High Court and also the state Public Service Commission (Article 234). 

However, there is scope for politicisation in the superior courts. As Article 124(1) stipulates, judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President after consultation with those of the Supreme Court and High Courts as the President may deem necessary. However, in the case of the appointment of a judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India shall always be consulted. Thus, the Constitution has not granted complete freedom to the President in this matter. But, significantly, there is some opportunity for favouritism and, thus, corruption may find its way in the final choice.

The President need not, legally, exercise his power of appointment according to the advice of judges ~ he is required simply to consult them. So, he can merely consult but then he can act according to his own choice. If he appoints a judge without consultation, he violates the Constitution but when he flouts the advice, his action remains intra vires. 

Secondly, Article 124(3) states that a person shall not qualify for appointment as a judge of the apex court unless he is a citizen of India and (a) has been, for at least five years, a judge of a High Court or of two or more such courts in succession or (b) has been, for at least 10 years, an advocate of such court/courts. But, significantly, Clause (3) wipes out such pre-conditions, because the President can induct a person if he is, in the former's view, "a distinguished jurist". Some members of the Constituent Assembly advocated insertion of such an enabling clause so that eminent law teachers as in the case of Felix Frankfurther in America could be chosen for the Supreme Court Bench. But, though this unfettered authority has not so far been abused, there is a scope for misuse for political purposes. In such cases, corruption may vitiate the judicial system at the root. 
Under Article 217(1), the President appoints  judges of High Court after consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the relevant High Court. But, here again, he is not bound to abide by their suggestions. As such, WH Morris-Jones complains that executive influence has often determined the appointment issue. Such an appointment may affect the honesty and independence of the judiciary. 
Then, salary and allowances of the judges are also an important factor. These are fixed by the Constitution and cannot be varied to the disadvantage of the incumbents. In order to prevent corruption in the judiciary, the Constitution initially granted a monthly salary of Rs 5,000 for the Chief Justice and Rs 4,000 and other allowances for other judges of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice and the judges of the High Courts were entitled to a salary of Rs 4,000 and Rs 3,500, respectively (Article 125 and Article 211) with other allowances as well. 

These figures seem to be very poor in the modern context. But if they are considered in the context of the price index and per capita income of the people of India in 1949, they would look sufficiently lucrative. Moreover, the salary and allowances have, on several occasions, been exorbitantly raised and so judges can now live well. It is highly deplorable that some of them have failed to resist financial temptations. 

Of course, in cases of corruption in the superior courts, there is the legal scope for indictment. A charge may be brought before the Parliament and, if it is passed by two-thirds majority in both the Houses, the judges are removed (Article 124 and Article 217). Obviously, the procedure is very cumbersome and, if such a special majority is not available, a corrupt judge can with impurity retain his exalted seat. Mr Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court was accused of financial guilt but the motion for his removal was lost in the Lok Sabha. A similar charge has been raised against Mr Justice Dinakaran of Karnataka High Court. But instead of being impeached, he has been transferred to Sikkim. Though such cases are rare, they have revealed that the system has  loopholes. 

Also, promotion of judges should be based solely on seniority. But, in 1973, Mr Justice AN Ray was made Chief Justice of the apex court by superseding three senior judges and, in 1975, the claim of Mr Justice HR Khanna was similarly ignored. Such a tendency may affect the honesty of judges. 

There is another point. A judge of the apex court cannot, under Article 124(7), appear before any court after his retirement and Article 220 stipulates that a High Court judge can act as a pleader only in the Supreme Court or in another High Court. But, strangely enough, there is no restriction in accepting other lucrative jobs after retirement. It has a tendency to corrupt judges because some of them may, during their judicial service, favour the government so as to get a plum posting after superannuation. Some judges have accepted profitable assignments. This trend  does not augur well for a judiciary which needs to establish itself as the symbol of justice, honesty, parity and integrity. 

Thus, some changes in the Constitution are necessary. But ~ what is more important ~ judges themselves must remain above suspicion. Once lord Bryce exclaimed, "If the lamp of justice goes out in darkness, how great that darkness is!" We must proceed from darkness to light.

The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata, and author of several books.








During his four days in India, President Sarkozy iterated several times France's support to India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council

Have you heard of The Arlesienne? In 1866, Alphonse Daudet, the famous French novelist wrote a story in which the main character, from the small town of Arles in Southern France (an Arlesienne is a girl from Arles), never appears on stage (a few years later, the great composer George Bizet wrote an opera on the subject). During the entire play, the spectators wait for The Arlesienne. Since then in colloquial French, an Arlesienne means someone whom everybody speaks about but no one ever sees.

One could apply this expression to the "refitting" (or modernization) of some 52 Mirage 2000 for the Indian Air Force. During the past couple of years, one has heard a number of times that the contract ''will be signed next week or next month at the latest''. But a few months later, the same answer would be forthcoming: "it is imminent"! 

Defence experts logically predicted that the contract would be signed during the "working" visit (it was not a "state" visit, but only classified as a 'working' one) of President Sarkozy in Delhi. 
While seven agreements were inked on 6 December, the ''refitting'' of the Mirage was not included. The signed agreements were on film co-production, on development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, on N-Science between the two departments of atomic energy, on confidentiality of technical data, on cooperation in earth system science and climate change with ISRO; and of course the ''general framework'' agreement on civil nuclear cooperation with France's nuclear power giant Areva. 

The main feature of the visit was obviously the decision of Delhi and Paris to build two European Pressurised Reactors of 1650 MW each for an estimated cost of about 9.5 billion dollars. It was, however, only a ''framework agreement''. Due to the complexity of the project between Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, talks will probably take several months, if not a couple of years to reach a final conclusion. But it is on track, although when asked about the prices and the delay, both the Indian Prime Minister and the French President refused to answer. Further, the issue of civil liabilities will also have be thrashed out since the French side indicated before the visit that they were not satisfied with some clauses in the present Nuclear Liabilities Bill, recently (and painfully) voted by the Indian Parliament. Compromise will have to be found and hopefully will be found. The Jaitapur site in Maharashtra will ultimately have six reactors and produce 10,000 MW of power, a boon for ''developing'' India.

The joint declaration rightly says that "the signing of the General Framework Agreement between NPCIL and Areva represents a significant milestone". What about the modernization of the Mirages? The declaration mentions: "Discussions concerning the upgrading of Mirage 2000 aircraft are expected to be finalised soon." According to knowledgeable sources, this time, it is done!

The French side, which was reluctant to accept arbitration in case of dispute, has finally agreed, while Delhi has accepted the price found ''exorbitant'' by many in India. The Times of India explained that the contract "has been stuck in hard-nosed negotiations for the last few years because the package offered by French companies Dassault Aviation (manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator) and MBDA (missile supplier) was around 30 per cent higher than what India was ready to pay initially".

Nobody questions the fact that for the past two decades, the Mirages 2000 have done extremely well and one understands that the Indian Air Force was vouching for Dassault. The newly ''refitted'' fighter planes should serve for some 15-20 years more. 

After getting the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security, The Arlesienne may finally appear on stage; then four to six planes will be ''modernized'' in France, while the rest of the work will be done by Hindustan Aeronautics under a transfer of technology. The entire project is estimated at Rs 15,000 crores (some three billion dollars). 

This deal is symbolic of the visit. Though final contracts were not signed, substantive progresses were made on several pending files. Before the visit, Herve Morin, then Minister of Defence told us: "President Nicolas Sarkozy's upcoming visit in December will make our partnership progress even further in all its facets."  It is what has happened and even if the Indian and French press were quick to announce a total of 15 billion euros ($20 billion) of signed deals during the visit, $10 billion for Areva to supply the two first nuclear reactors plus three helicopters, a leasing of 14 Airbus planes, a Michelin factory in Chennai and "The Arlesienne" Mirages, most are only "promised" deals or "framework" accords. These figures were, however, confirmed by the French President's Office. Another interesting project in the pipeline (which has not been listed in Delhi's shopping list) is the co-production between France's MBDA and DRDO of a short-range surface-to-air missile system called "Maitri". 

During his four days in India, President Sarkozy iterated several times France's support to India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council: "I believe that we need a reform in the Security Council… the world is not the same than in 1945. It is unacceptable that in two years India (today India is a non-permanent member) should be asked to leave".

Whether in Bangalore, Delhi or Mumbai, the French President repeated that he was fully with India in its fight against terrorism originating from Pakistan: "France stands in total solidarity with India. If India is attacked, democracy is attacked. Terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan are a major source of threat to world peace and stability. We cannot afford see Taliban succeed in Afghanistan."

Sarkozy appealed to India to support France's Presidency of the G20, particularly the reforms of the monetary system. The Joint Declaration clearly stated: "France and India would like to work together to make the G20 as effective as possible and help it find its place within an international system that will better reflect today's world and challenges."

During a reception at the French Embassy, Sarkozy asked his countrymen to look at India as an example of a nation which has been able to ''change and innovate'': "The world is changing with a stupefying speed. One century ago, France had her place in the world; France was one of the four-five great powers, it was their right to lead the world. They run the world. Today if our country wants to keep its place, we have to merit it, this can only be done by our work, our efforts and our capacity to innovate. France should sometimes get its inspiration from what is happening elsewhere." He had earlier said that India should be a source of inspiration, "France needs not to change itself, but to remain itself, if it wants its message to be heard in the world. …We can't tell others what should be done, we should do it ourselves."

In many ways, the partnership between France and India has becomes more mature, and even if millions of Indians are emotionally moved when President Obama speaks two words in Hindi or does a namaste, Paris is in many ways closer to Delhi than Washington. The joint statement rightly reaffirmed the "shared vision and values inspired by multilateralism, justice, freedom, equality and fraternity, France and India reiterated their determination and confirmed their commitment to work together towards peace and global security."
During the press conference at Hyderabad House, I saw only one smile on the solemn Indian Prime Minister's face: it is when he welcomed "President Sarkozy and his gracious wife". He may have been charmed but this cannot entirely explain the trusted relations between France and India.

The writer is an expert on China-Tibet relations and author of Fate of Tibet.







It is a two-speed world. One half, the developed half, is desperately struggling to get things moving again. The other half, the rest of the world, is trying to rein back its growth. We talk about the recession. For many of the emerging economies, there was no recession. We worry about debts – personal, national, company and so on – and how we will repay. In much of the emerging world, there are such large savings that for many there is little need to borrow. We worry about the cuts in public spending. There, there are no cuts, for there is no need for them, and no bank rescues were needed either.

A week travelling round India talking with people from the business and voluntary sectors, plus a sprinkling of writers and film directors, has brought home to me just how stark the contrast is between West and East. 

In India, the problem is how to manage growth to the benefit of all. At its simplest, it is how to make sure more of the huge wealth that is being created does indeed trickle down through society. Growth there is running at almost nine per cent this year – yes, nine per cent. Last year, when the rest of us were in deep recession, it dipped to a little under seven per cent. The growth numbers are similar in China, actually a percentage point or so higher. 

So the world's two most populous countries are racing on, intent as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, says, to use this growth to eliminate poverty and generate jobs for the rising population. India's workforce will pass China's in about 15 years' time. 

So the macro-economic issue is fixed, and fixed in a way that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago when people spoke of the "Hindu rate of growth", three per cent max, a rate that given the rising population, would barely lift living standards at all. Nothing is inevitable and there may be some unforeseen catastrophe around the corner. But barring that, it does seem likely that India will become the world's third-largest economy, after China and the US, in 10 to 15 years' time. It will not, of course, be as rich in income per head, but it will have the resources to tackle the myriad problems the country faces.

And that, it seems to me, is more interesting than the basic success story. It is almost as though economic success at a macro level is now a given. There is a confidence, even a swagger, about that part of the story. The issue is how you use that success to make the growth more sustainable in every way.

The problems are multi-layered, as anyone who visits India will quickly appreciate. There is the infrastructure problem. Yes, air transport is vastly better than it was, with new airports and terminals, including the new airport in Bangalore (which now has a decent road from the city) and the brand new terminal. Delhi also has a new Metro commuter rail system. Roads are being improved, though they struggle to cope with the flood of new cars hitting them. Car sales are up a quarter year-on-year, with luxury cars gaining proportionately the most.

But infrastructure will usually lag behind the demand for it, particularly in a country such as India, where remnants of the dead hand of bureaucracy remain. The private sector has become adept at working round inadequate infrastructure, delivering strong growth despite practical hurdles. And remember that India did, in the end, deliver a competent Commonwealth Games.

People repeatedly made other points, other areas of concern. One, of course, was corruption. It was not so much the grand stuff about the 2G mobile phone licences, which the papers were full of and which seems over-the-top even by Indian standards. Rather it was the petty corruption: the fact that to get things done you were under great pressure to bend your principles. What seems to have happened is not a structural change in how the Indian system works; rather, it is that with the growth of incomes the numbers have become vastly bigger. Wealth is being spread indeed, but in a most unsatisfactory way. 

There seems to me, however, to be something that is even more urgent than tackling corruption: education. Having the world's biggest workforce will not be a strength if it is not a well educated one; it will become a weakness. And I was struck by the number of people who told me that finding good staff was their hardest task: good teachers, good accountants, good managers – people who had the initiative to get on and fix problems rather than needing to wait for instructions. 

One company found that it had to start a school for the children of its staff itself; it now has 2,000 pupils. And this was in Mumbai, the great economic powerhouse of the country. Out in the country there are even more basic educational needs that are not being adequately met. 

It is a cliché to say that India is a land of contrasts. But this is a new sort of contrast, that between the macro-economic success story and the micro-economic list of things that have to be done if that success story is to be sustained. The wealth is real and there are tens of millions of people moving towards a middle-class lifestyle every year as a result. But the wealth has to be spread more widely. 

the independent









Quite a sensation was caused in La Martiniere Boys' School on the 14th inst, when it was reported that one of the boys, Raleigh Michael, had been stabbed by another boy named Harry Hedges. The injured lad was removed to the Presidency General Hospital where his injuries were dressed, and he was subsequently discharged. 

Information was sent to Inspector Fallon at the Victoria Terrace Police Station, who proceeded to the school and ascertained that the injured lad and Hodges had quarrelled earlier in the day. The quarrel was witnessed by several other boys, who, apparently apprehending that a fight would ensue separated them. Hodges was pacified for the time being, but after dinner he waited for Michael, and as he was leaving the dining room picked another quarrel with him. Hot words ensued between the two boys, which it is alleged, resulted in Hodges striking Michael a violent blow in the face. Michael retaliated and a fight ensued, in the course  of which Michael appears to have got the upper hand of his opponent. Hodges, it is alleged, pulled out a large pocket knife and stabbed Michael four times, in the chest, shoulder, side and arms. Some other boys then appeared on the scene, and prevented Hodges from using the knife again. 

Inspector Fallon took charge of the knife which is a very large one and Hodges was taken to the police station, but was released on bail on Thursday morning, his father, it is said, having come forward to stand surety for him.






Some incidents abruptly uncover the scaffolding on which a cultural tendency has developed. An eruption of temper in St Aloysius Orphanage and Day School in Howrah may have shocked and embarrassed students and teachers, but it did serve to expose the way mutual violence works. For a society in which ruthless aggression and bloodshed have become routine in all spheres, domestic, political and professional, it is important to have a glimpse into its beginnings. A student of Class IX, slapped twice by his principal for trying to change seats during a show, retaliated by kicking and punching the principal with such intensity that the two had to be separated. The matter is being investigated and the student forbidden to come to school till that is complete. But a "preliminary investigation" by the school authorities claims that the boy had been disrupting rehearsals for a few days. In itself, this sounds strange, and raises the question why he was not disciplined earlier. The boy himself reportedly felt humiliated because, after being slapped before the whole school, the principal was trying to drag him out by his collar. True, the principal had warned the student once, and the boy had argued, saying that he could not see the stage. But the fact remains that the violence was initiated by the adult, at a time when corporal punishment is forbidden in schools by law.


In an unequal situation such as this one, the adult must be judged first. Impatience, an unchecked temper, its physically violent expression, an indifference to what a growing boy might feel are signs that cannot bode well. But would his retaliation have been possible without, first, the painful public humiliation he felt was undeserved, and second, the growing sense in today's jostling, bullying, edgy social milieu that aggression pays? When the principal of a school, who should be ensuring that there is no corporal punishment, is so quick to slap and grab — even if he is at the end of his tether — he is making violence a legitimate form of interaction. The boy hit back — the kicks and punches suggest a lot of pent up rage, and perhaps not all of it against the principal — but other students may be less open, using immediate or planned violence elsewhere. The rise in juvenile crime signals a kind of instability in society, one source of which is the behaviour of adults in school.








The idea of evidence, as the word's etymology indicates, is founded on the faculty of sight. 'Seeing is believing': empirical knowledge — hence, all modern disciplines like law and medicine — is based on a judicious application of this premise. But turn it round, and one is left with 'believing is seeing', which is the realm of love rather than law, miracles rather than medicine. In such a world, the justice system is turned upside down. A particularly absurd instance of this inversion occurred recently at a sessions court in Chhattisgarh, during the trial of the renowned doctor and human rights activist, Binayak Sen. Mr Sen — who is out on bail after being in jail for two years for alleged links with the Maoists — was being tried under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. On the second day of the prosecution's arguments, the public prosecutor attempted to prove that Mr Sen and his wife were part of an international terror network because Ms Sen had written an email to "one Fernandes from the ISI". And what could this ISI be but Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence? But, as it turned out, ISI is the Indian Social Institute in Delhi, and Walter Fernandes its former head and a friend of the Sens. The court was also regaled with other suspicious bits from the Sens' correspondence. "We have a chimpanzee in the White House" appearing in one of the messages indicated, according to the prosecution, that Mr Sen was using a code, as terrorists often do; and his wife addressed one of her correspondents as "Comrade", as Maoists often do one another.


All this would have been terrifically entertaining — the chimpanzee did make the judge smile — had some of the most crucial issues of democracy and human rights not been implicated in the treatment meted out to Mr Sen over the last couple of years. That an individual of rare and celebrated courage and skills has been accused of conspiring to overthrow the State, made to fear for his life, and was held in jail with an ailing heart for two years on the flimsiest of evidence, lays bare the actual state of justice in Chhattisgarh and, by extension, the Indian State. These latest incidents certainly give a comic twist to the tale. But that does not make the situation any less sinister. Paranoia, especially when founded on ignorance, could dangerously undermine the rational foundations of the legal process.










As late as the third decade of the last century, economic science was still a toddler, faith was widely reposed in the so-called Say's Law. Supply, it said, creates it own demand, income generated by the production of goods gets spent on buying up those very goods, which results in a state of full employment as well, for there is no dearth of demand for however much is produced by whatever number of people. The Great Depression of the 1930s was a bit of a spoilsport. Say's Law, John Maynard Keynes pointed out, was not working — supply was not automatically creating its own demand, there was unemployment, necessitating State intervention to make up for demand deficiency and create jobs. The followers of Keynes and their ideological opponents have been engaged in debating the issue ever since.


At least in one area the Keynesians could not be more right. The supply of nuclear reactors does not create its own demand. For quite some while after the Second World War ended, it was a craze in the industrially advanced countries to encourage the generation of nuclear power; nuclear reactors were in great demand. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986, resulting in at least 20,000 deaths and rapidly-spreading pollution, changed the picture. Environmentalists, lying low till then, mobilized themselves. They succeeded spectacularly; the generation of power from nuclear sources became a cultural taboo as much in the United States of America as in Europe. A major problem thereby reared its head in many of the countries with nuclear capability, particularly the US. They had invested heavily in enlarging capacity for building nuclear power units. With the shrinking demand for nuclear energy in both the US and Europe, the stockpile of nuclear reactors rose alarmingly. It was quite a crisis. Americans did not like nuclear energy, Europeans did not like nuclear energy, but what will happen to the advanced capitalist countries, with their huge excess capacity for building nuclear reactors, if nobody likes nuclear energy?


The search was on for 'fall guys' — countries which could be lured into buying nuclear reactors. Given the dip in the global economy and the stagnant rate of employment in the industrially advanced countries, heads of government of these countries have of late been compelled to don a new role. The effectiveness of a president or a prime minister is being judged by the extent of success he or she can attain in improving the state of the national economy, for instance, by pushing the sale overseas of goods and services the country produces. If the country happens to have a large excess capacity for manufacturing nuclear reactors, it is the duty of the head of State to try to sell the reactors abroad. One major objective of Barack Obama's visit to India was to line up demand for American nuclear reactors. Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, came exactly on the same mission accompanied by his comely wife: to unload French nuclear reactors on India. Demand had to be created to match the supply of nuclear power units.


Please nurse no illusion: persuading India to buy nuclear reactors was no child's play. It was necessary to soften up politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and key individuals within the ranks of the defence forces. Heads of foreign governments apart, lobbyists too had to set themselves furiously to work. Lobbyists are generally a smart bunch, they know the nuances of the various processes by which constituents of the buying party need to be adequately influenced. India's defence and security budget as well as the budgets for the ministry of power and the atomic energy establishment are by no means of a negligible magnitude. A statistical correlation can be established between the rate of increase in these outlays and the rate of increase of money stashed by Indian citizens in numbered Swiss accounts. Lobbyists for foreign firms, including those based in the US and France, have played a role in cementing this correlation. Needless to add, another statistical relationship too gets established as a corollary: the degree of perception of environmental hazards from nuclear power plants varies inversely with the magnitude of money transmitted through intermediaries.


One must try to be fair. It is not just external cajoling and greasing of palms which persuade the powers-that-be of a country such as India to go for the purchase of nuclear reactors. A certain advantage lies in installing nuclear power stations, which tilts the scale in their favour despite the unit cost of nuclear power generation being demonstrably higher than that for thermal or hydro power. Unlike thermal or hydroelectric projects, problems such as displacing people from sizeable tracts of land are also not there in the case of nuclear power plants. Besides, they call for engaging fewer workers than are required in thermal or hydel plants for producing the same unit of power. These factors combine to make Say's Law come alive, the demand for nuclear reactors on the part of Indian authorities satisfies the aspiration of foreign supplies.


Such striving for supply-demand equilibrium is indeed a most fascinating theme. Other areas, too, exist where Say's Law continues to rule the roost, and with great felicity. Consider, for example, the outlay earmarked in the government budget for securing the life and limbs of supposedly very important people in our midst who have to be guarded against possible attack by local agents of 'global terror'. Lobbyists who operate on behalf of firms producing equipment and accessories for security and surveillance operations become active. The supply side is duly tidied up. To match it by demand of sufficient magnitude also presents few problems. The trick lies in expanding the list of very important persons. A kind of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses urge unfolds itself. Every petty politician must have his or her entitlement of security. Those who have been left out till now try hard to be in. Once they are in, the next step is to endeavour to qualify for security of a category superior to what they have been granted. Politicians are not the only species covetous of security cover. Some bureaucrats, too, claim and get it. The craze spreads to other eminent persons in society. Filmstars and front-rank cricketers do not lag behind. One or two academics do not remain unaffected by the security fever either. The demand for security is soon equilibrated with the budgetary appropriations. Say's Law once more stands vindicated.


Come to think of it, Say's Law is broadly operational even in the deployment of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Army and paramilitary personnel pour in in specified areas on the ostensible purpose of controlling insurgency and restoring law and order. The rationale of despatching these forces is often questioned by the local population. The issue, however, soon gets resolved in a manner which has a hint of irony wrapped in it. Once the forces entrench themselves in the supposedly disturbed areas, some of their members tend to be brusque and overzealous. Unpleasant incidents begin to take place on a regular basis, alienating even larger sections of the local populace. The latter start agitating. Agitation leads to violence. After a while, indulgence in violence threatens to slide into insurgency. The forces of law and order along with the army understandably get busy. The supply of police and military bandobast gets matched by the felt need for such bandobast; supply again creates its own demand.


Actually demand can match supply in an even more direct manner. The more resources the authorities spend, in the name of fighting terror, the less resources are available for economic development and social welfare. An increase in the outlay on army and security arrangements, therefore, implies a corresponding decline in the allocation for the well-being of the people. This aggravates deprivation. Deprivation gives birth to discontent, discontent in its turn generates the impulse to get mobilized and protest. The protests sooner or later assume the form of an uprising, which immediately provides a justification for the full-scale deployment of security paraphernalia. Keynesians lose their profession in such widely dispersed regions as Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Manipur.









When the prime minister and other ministers in the Central cabinet go out on a limb to assuage the fresh insecurities that have begun to envelop the corporate tsars of India, the rest of us entrepreneurial Indians feel let down and neglected. Our professional lives are being constantly manipulated by a careless and pompous babudom that adheres to no commitment, no civilized response time, no operating within the laws, no definite answers, no nothing, till either a phone call from the top pushes the agenda without a cash payment or, alas, till someone is paid off to complete the legitimate job at hand. The correction must start from the bottom up because it is the tops of both the government — and that includes the babu and the politician — and the big business houses of India that have manipulated the system for personal gain instead of streamlining the cumbersome, corrupt machinery for all those who are in the business of generating wealth.


These large corporate houses need no help whatsoever and, most certainly, no apologies at all, particularly from the prime minister himself. They have, over the decades, been aided and abetted to move forward even where the laws were restrictive. Their coffers have filled, often illegally. In other words, there were constant deviations from the law of the land that the authorities conveniently overlooked.


]Corruption grew and, in percentage terms, overtook the much-touted 'rate of growth', and no one stopped the monster in its tracks. It became the easy, albeit irresponsible, way forward. All were forced to indulge in tactics that went against their inherent good sense because that was the only way to do business.


Therefore, when the Vedantas of the world began projects well before all mandatory permissions and clearances were in place, they never suspected that the ongoing work would be halted. Money always bought deviations from the law. These large businesses feel affronted that they are asked to comply, to fall in line with the norms, be scrutinized or compelled to abide by the law. Why are they running to the government for cover?


Reform to survive


If this government truly wants the entrepreneurial sector, in all its diversity, to grow rapidly and with integrity, it will have to do a radical restructuring and simplification of the rules that regulate active growth in all sectors. The endless paperwork, interpretation of existing laws and addenda to those laws that leave space for corruption will have to be rewritten from the scratch using hardcore common sense. The babu will have to be rigorously re-trained in order to adjust to honest practices and the rule of law for all, with no discrimination whatsoever. Only then will confidence dominate to generate a substantial spurt in the real rate of growth across the board — a growth that we as Indians can be proud of. Today, many Indians are ashamed of those who lead big business enterprises in India as they watch them bribe and armtwist the government to meet their inappropriate demands.


With raids taking place around us linked to the spectrum scam, will those in power consciously begin a genuine reform of the mechanisms that govern our professional and private lives? Will they accept the fact that corruption, with all the accompanying filth and horror, is all-pervasive? Or will the powers that be continue lecturing us on honesty and integrity and do nothing about it themselves?

Why is the United Progressive Alliance, and the Congress Party in particular, allowing itself to be disrobed in this fashion? Why does the party not use this moment to restore its dignity? Why does it not admit the truth, proactively lead the radical cleansing, and move towards a great victory?



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





The disclosure by supreme court judge H L Gokhale that former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan knew that it was former union minister A Raja who had allegedly tried to influence Madras high court judge Reghupathy in an anticipatory bail case last year exposes the former CJI as a liar. It is an unfortunate word to be used for a former head of the country's judiciary and it should be an embarrassment for the country. But there could be no other description after Justice Gokhale, who was the Madras high court chief justice at the time, has roundly contradicted Justice Balakrishnan's claim that he did not know the identity of the minister. Justice Gokhale has now said that Raja's name was mentioned by Justice Reghupathy in his letter, which was with the CJI. This makes Justice Balakrishnan not only guilty of misrepresentation but also suppression of evidence of wrong-doing.

As the CJI it was his duty to protect the integrity of the judiciary and ensure that there was no interference in its working. It was also his responsibility to ensure that any charge of such interference was investigated and corrective and penal action taken. Instead it now turns out that he not only failed in his duty but tried to shield himself, shifting the blame to others. His defence is evasive and unconvincing, based on technical nit-picking. The failure is in line with his poor record as chief justice, marked by a refusal to allow disclosure of wealth by judges and shielding of judges like P D Dinakaran. The obstructionist arguments which he put forward then in the name of protecting the high status of the judiciary seem to have been excuses. This was clear even then but there would not be any doubt about it in the light of the latest disclosure.

This also makes him unfit to hold his present position of the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. A person who had no regard for the integrity of the judiciary, is guilty of dereliction of duty and lied in public about it should not hold such a high constitutional position. His credibility has been damaged and his continuance will lower the prestige and credibility of the position he is holding. And now that there is a strong case against Raja, the present Chief Justice of India should initiate proceedings against him on the basis of the complaint from Justice Reghupathy which is on record.








Time magazine has named Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year for 'changing how we all live our lives in ways that are innovative and even optimistic.' At 26, Zuckerberg is the youngest winner since Charles Lindbergh, who at 25 became Time's first person of the year in 1927 after he flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. There is no doubt that Facebook has radically transformed how we communicate with each other or make friends. How Facebook has changed the concept of community is indeed remarkable. So popular is Zuckerberg's creation — there are doubts whether he is indeed Facebook's father — that if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, after China and India. Facebook and privacy issues did indeed dominate the news for several months. But whether he influenced the events of 2010 more than anyone else is debatable.

That a parallel poll of readers' choice for Person of the Year threw up Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, speaks volumes for the kind of politics behind such awards. A trip down memory lane provides an understanding into why Time's panel of judges chose Zuckerberg over Assange. Back in 1979, 'Time' chose Ayotollah Khomeini as its Person of the Year. The choice was unpopular in the US. It has since treaded carefully, avoiding choosing people who are controversial at home. Thus in 2001, it steered clear of Osama bin Laden, opting instead for New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani.

Time's panel of judges has never hesitated to be unconventional. Past choices include 'Generation 25 and under,' 'the computer', even 'You,' the millions of anonymous content contributors to websites like Wikipedia and YouTube. It is a pity therefore that it copped out when it came to recognising the way Assange's WikiLeaks became the most important issue of the year, albeit over a few months only. It has shaken up relations between countries and stirred global debate on issues like free speech, security, transparency. But Assange is someone that America's powerful — in the world of politics, business, etc — fear. And hate. Zuckerberg's choice is not a bad one but it is a bit late and irrelevant. 2010 will be remembered not for the Zuckerberg effect but for Assange's tsunami-like impact on global politics. 'Time' magazine's choice is a cop-out.







Wen has promised to open up the Chinese market in IT, pharma and agro-products for Indian business.


No matter whether India has  already 'emerged' (as Obama declares) or is merely 'emerging,' there is no doubt that there is now a huge business interest in the $1.3 trillion Indian market growing at a phenomenal rate of 8 per cent plus. The visits by the British prime minister, the US president, the French president, now the Chinese premier, to be followed by the Russian president — all within the year 2010 — is a big testimony to that.

The significance of the current visit by the 'communist' Chinese premier Wen Jiabao accompanied by some 400-member business delegation (which has a striking similarity to the 'capitalist' US president's visit with the top US business CEOs) has to be understood against the backdrop of the current economic landscape of the world. The economies of the western world (US, EU and Japan) are showing little promise of going back to their pre-recession growth rates in the foreseeable future and resentment against Chinese economic policies (specially undervalued yuan) is growing in the West.


So, China is trying to gradually move away from its export-led growth strategy built on selling manufactured goods (mainly) to the western world with the help of high savings, low wages and undervalued yuan to a model which has to allow rising wages, higher domestic consumption, a more market-determined exchange rate, more sales to non-western markets through exports and setting up production-cum-servicing facilities abroad.

As a result, China is now looking to engage more with the emerging economies in Asia and Africa which are growing faster than western economies (providing alternative markets for Chinese goods), offer cheaper production locations and are important sources of crucial natural resources (agricultural land, minerals, energy) which the fast growing overpopulated Chinese economy will need more and more to sustain itself.

China has already built up a huge foreign exchange reserve of some $2.5 trillion — most of it held in US government bonds offering a very low return due to both low US interest rate and declining US dollar. China is no longer keen to accumulate more dollar funds. Chinese high savings (more than 50 per cent of GDP) kept mostly in Chinese banks is searching for better and safer investment avenues.

India's plan to invest some $1 trillion in infrastructure in the 12th 5-year Plan offers Chinese banks (mostly state-owned) huge opportunities to invest in India, financing purchase of equipment by Indian companies (a typical example is the $8.3 billion agreement between Reliance Power buying equipment from Shanghai Electric Power Company and construction projects.

Chinese construction firms typically insist on bringing their own labour which provides jobs to Chinese workers. All these are making India an attractive economic proposition for Chinese business and financial institutions.


Despite various political irritants like lingering old border disputes, new claims over Arunachal Pradesh, stapled visa for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, Chinese military and construction activities in PoK (interestingly, Wen's India visit will be immediately followed by a visit to Pakistan — in sharp contrast to Obama's visit to India not followed by one to Pakistan) the pragmatic Chinese leaders have no problem in engaging economically with India so long as it serves its interest.

In fact, China has already replaced the USA as the largest trading partner of India. India-China bilateral merchandise trade is more than $42 billion in 2009-10 as against less than $13 billion in 2004-05 and less than $2 billion in 1999-2000.

The major problem from India's side is the rising trade deficit with China which stands at more than $19 billion in 2009-10 as against only $1.5 billion in 2004-05. Some trade theorists may suggest that India should not be too concerned with the bilateral trade deficit so long as it has manageable multilateral trade balance and the trade deficit with China may simply reflect the current pattern of comparative advantage.

However, most Indian business people and the Indian government are not willing to buy that. Their major argument is that Indian firms have been very successful in exporting in areas like IT, pharma and processed meat products to highly competitive western markets but has not been able to penetrate the Chinese market. This is evidence of the existence of various non-tariff barriers in China against Indian exporters. To ally these concerns, Wen has specifically promised to open up the Chinese market in IT, pharmaceutical and agro-products for Indian business.

Another area of concern is the very low level of bilateral FDI flows. Chinese FDI into India is a meagre $52 million. Increasingly, the Chinese are realising that without manufacturing and servicing facilities near the market, Chinese firms will not be able to sell their heavy equipment and durable consumer goods in a big way. So, the Chinese may very well agree to set up more manufacturing and servicing facilities in India (providing jobs to Indian workers) in its self interest and as a quid pro quo would allow more Indian companies to set up production facilities in China.

Given that the Indian companies (like Reliance Power) is able to get equipment at significantly lower price from China along with financing at a low interest rate and longer maturity, the increasing economic exchange between the dragon and the elephant has the potential to be a win-win for both. However, to realise the potential, India needs to a hard bargainer.

(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta)








The dialogue was complemented by exchange of technologies, skills, and resources.


At the dawn of the millennium, the world of the South was unimaginably different from what we see today. In 2000 the debate on global economic governance was firmly situated in the G-8. The WTO was seen as parochial, yet joining it was inevitable, given the seemingly unstoppable march towards openness and globalisation. The Washington Consensus was applied in exacting detail across the globe.

The governance structure of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were closed. China was a source of cheap labour and new markets. Turkey, India, and Brazil were seen as poor economic performers with little political voice. There was no African voice on the landscape. The Small Island developing States (SIDS) were seen as special cases, peripheral to the global dialogue.

The debate on development co-operation was benchmarked by the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The declaration receded, the goals and the derivative indicators became part of the business process of development. 'Good policies' were defined in Washington and enforced by requiring that countries design Poverty reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) complemented by an IMF-run Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility.


In a bizarre leap of thought, countries were to 'own' their PRSPs, the very instruments that bound their policy space. Even asking how countries would exit from aid-financed strategies to secure the MDGs and onto a long-term path to economic sovereignty was heretical.

Today, what a difference! A number of developing economies are seen as global players. Regional bodies like the African Union and Mercosur have been demonstrably effective. The WTO has seen an enhancement in voice and the principle of consensuality. The SIDS have made their voice felt, in Copenhagen and beyond. Countries in need of fiscal and technical assistance have a wider range of choices. All this has initiated the quiet demise of the condionality-based 'good policies' paradigm. The success of social programmes such as Bolsa Familia and Opportunidades in Brazil and Mexico, and the NREGA in India have made social protection the flavour of the year in donor circles.

If all this signals a renaissance in the global South there will surely be a renaissance in South-South Co-operation (SSC). But what will be the content of this renaissance? SSC was rooted in a deep historic engagement within the global South and the belief that political solidarity, in a politically and economically unequal world, was a sine qua non for securing development. This policy dialogue within the South was complemented by exchanges of technologies, skills, and resources.

There is an emerging view that because of the changes in global discourse, the imperative of political solidarity has given way to that of enhanced economic and technical co-operation, which the developed countries can join in a harmonised triangular arrangement. 

It is true that post-crisis, the process of rebalancing the global economy has led, at the margin, to more participation in global institutions by some southern countries. But this is a concession, not a shift; it does not imply any diminution in the need for political solidarity within the South and the consequent need for policy dialogue to determine the future course of global economic governance.

In fact, the onus is even more on the members of the new groupings of economic governance like the G20 the IBSA and the BRIC to make such policy dialogues relevant to the global South and to demonstrate through their actions that their increase in voice and agency, including in the councils of the Bretton Woods organisations, is making a difference to all the countries in the global South. SSC will then derive shape and form from the policy dialogue and will make a difference, not to outputs but to outcomes like social justice and economic empowerment. It is here that the game must be stepped up to take seriously the Millennium Declaration and not just its technocratic content embodied in the MDG goals and indicators. It is here, and not in the empty rhetoric of 'best practice', so beloved of development professionals, that the required paradigm shifts in the discourses on trade, environment and human development will make a meaningful difference. And South-South co-operation, like all development co-operation, must be at the centre of these endeavours, rather than falling, as it often has in the past, into a technocratic quagmire that promises much but achieves little.







Year after year they returned just as the season turned into winter.


It is almost five years ago that I shifted into my new apartment. It was in the month of October, and as November ushered in, the cold became unbearable. The walls of the new apartment were drying up and we were placed at the dead end of east Jayaynagar, which was previously a place that housed a large estate. No wonder it was so cold. I still remember the extreme cold for a special reason...

The complex is still surrounded and inundated by greenery, which is a luxury! The soothing and sashaying branches of the few trees that are left behind create a canopy against the bright blue sky, and this is a scene I would watch with awe whenever I went into my small balcony. One tree that stood out, was the tall and mighty silver oak just a few yards from my house. The leaves sparkled and shone as it caught the bright light of the gleaming sun.

One winter morning, amidst the leaves of the silver oak, I caught sight of flash of bright white and then I saw the flapping red wings.  It was the Garuda the kite with the white crest and red wings. It was building its nest atop the luscious branches of the silver oak. Watching the birds (they were now two) that perched on the branches of the coconut trees or circled high above in the sky had now become my pastime. A few months down the line I saw four of them in all their majesty flying high, but diving back regularly into their nest atop the tree.

As summer crept in they had disappeared, but year after year they returned just as the season turned into winter and they are here back now, my avian guests and they are a treat to watch. The other welcome guests every winter are the white migratory birds that fly in relentlessly from miles afar to decorate the smaller shrubs and look like whiffs of cotton wool. When I see them after a long break, I am reminded that winter is just round the corner. Their snow white feathers are quite a contrast to their deep yellow beaks, and when they fly they fly together and what a spectacle they create!

So often these birds hold me mesmerised, time seems to stand still and then I suddenly wake up from where I stand and watch transfixed in their beauty and colour. I have to move on, there is so much to do, have I wasted my time I sometimes wonder and then I realise that it's these wondrous moments that gives me a new lease of energy. Will these magical moments last? I pray it does, and for the tall oak tree and the staunch shrubs to invite its guests back home, year after year!









'Rehabilitation of haredi society and Torah scholarship after the Shoah makes up an integral element in the Jewish people's establishment of the State of Israel. However, the sharp rise in this [haredi] population... necessitates adopting measures that foster haredi cooperation in meeting Israel's security and economic challenges while at the same time preserving and respecting its cultural uniqueness."

These are the diplomatically phrased opening lines of explanation for a radical government reform designed to encourage – not coerce – thousands of haredi men to get out of yeshiva and into the job market. On Sunday the reform, drafted by an interministerial committee headed by Prime Minister's Office director-general Eyal Gabai, will be presented to the government for approval – an easy task to clinch since neither Shas nor United Torah Judaism appears to object.

If forecasts are correct, by the year 2013 the number of haredi men serving in the IDF or in various emergency and security positions – including the prisons service, firefighters, Magen David Adom and police – will double to 4,800. Thousands more, too old to be incorporated in some form of IDF or national service, will be permitted to enter the workforce immediately, while younger men aged 18 to 21 will be allowed to remain in yeshiva.

The reforms also offer a shortened three-month track of IDF service with annual reserve duty for slightly older haredi men (26 and older), more diverse civil service options for 22-year-olds without children, and a broadening of the IDF's involvement in, and budget for, the integration of haredi men into its ranks.

THIS PACKAGE is an important development that was long in the making but which could not be forced before its time.

Recognition has finally sunk in among haredi leaders that the present situation is untenable. And secular Israelis now fully appreciate the need to accommodate haredi needs for the sake of attaining mutual goals.


Many elements of the reform to be passed on Sunday were first recommended by the Tal Committee a decade ago, before the situation was ripe for change. Now the self-stated goal of the Tal Committee, to heal the deep rift in our society between those who serve in the IDF and work and those who do neither, can be realized.

If all goes according to plan, the present dismal situation, in which just 40 percent of able-bodied haredi men work, compared to 82% in the non-haredi Israeli population and an OECD average of 83%, will soon change. As more haredi men enter the workforce, more of the 55% of haredi families living below the poverty line will be able to make better lives for themselves.

GDP per capita, perhaps the single most important measure of a society's economic health, will start to rise.

The IDF, which is feeling the effects of a rapidly growing contingent of haredi 18-year-olds opting for the yeshiva hall instead of the army barracks – 5,500 this draft year and, if current trends were to continue, 7,400 in 2015 – will begin a new phase in its longstanding, essential role as Israeli society's biggest melting pot by providing occupational training for thousands of haredi young men along with Glatt kosher food and gender segregated environments.

Potentially, as more haredi men leave their closed, parochial societies, don IDF uniforms, carry weapons and perform basic training and annual reserve service together with fellow Israelis of all ideological stripes and colors, cultural barriers will break down and misconceptions about the "other" will be replaced with significant relationships.

IT IS worth remembering that the roots of today's untenable situation date back to an ill-fated pact made in 1978. Traditional-minded Menachem Begin's Likud had been swept to power the previous year, opening the way for the haredi Agudat Israel party to join the coalition. For the first time, blanket exemptions from the IDF were given to haredi men – on condition that they devote 45 hours a week to their Torah studies – setting the stage for a generation of economically unproductive men who relied on welfare for their sustenance.

Now, it is to be hoped, we are entering a new, healthier phase in the rehabilitation of the Jewish people after the Shoah. Haredi society, numbering close to 800,000, or 11% of Israel's population, will gradually begin sharing more of the burden of running a modern Jewish state.

As the Jewish people commemorate the 10th of Tevet, a date marking the beginning of the destruction of the First Temple, this latest step toward internal Jewish conciliation and productivity constitutes an admirable cause for optimism








The main problem raised by the text is its open-ended approach to the refugee issue.


The Arab Peace Initiative in its 2002 and 2007 incarnations has met with two categories of responses in Israel.

The Right has denounced and rejected it for several reasons.

It is opposed to the notion of withdrawal to the 1967 lines, it is opposed to withdrawal from the Golan Heights that is implied thereby and it is skeptical and critical of the fashion in which the issue of the "right of return" is dealt with by the API.

To Israeli skeptics, the API represents yet another, more sophisticated attempt to push Israel into a settlement that would entail an Israeli commitment for full withdrawal while keeping open the issues of the Palestinian refugees and the demand for a full "return" as well as the question of full recognition of Israel and its legitimacy.

Israeli policy-makers and analysts who do believe in Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian peace take a more complex view of the API. They recognize the value of the Arab consensus endorsing the settlement and its Israeli-Palestinian component in particular, and feel that a full reconciliation with the Arab world would help the Israeli public and political system deal with the agonizing concessions that such an agreement would entail.

But those Israelis who see the sunny side of the API cannot ignore either the problems posed by its text or the other issues and questions that it raises.

In this regard, the main problem raised by the text is its open-ended approach to the refugee issue. The 2002 Beirut summit final communiqué (though not the actual summit resolution as then published) was quite explicit and disappointing in this regard. It demanded full implementation of "the right of return of the Palestinian refugees based on the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law including General Assembly Resolution 194" and rejected "any solution that includes their settlement away from their homes."

This clearly was unacceptable to Israel and to a significant portion of the international community, and was superseded in 2007 by a reaffirmation of the 2002 resolution: "The Arab League further calls upon Israel to affirm...

Achievement of a just solution to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194" and "assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries."

These formulations represent significant improvements over the 2002 communique, but they still leave important issues in need of clarification.

FIRST, IN the history of the Arab- Israel conflict, "just" has been an Arab term representing the need (from an Arab perspective) to rectify the original "injustice" of 1948. It is important to clarify whether this is still a code word or merely a relic of traditional rhetoric.

Second, it is important to clarify what the reference to General Assembly Resolution 194 stands for: an elegant retreat from the traditional demand of "return" or a clever way to exit through the main door merely in order to return through the back window.

Third, in the API statement that a just solution would be "agreed upon," Israel is presumably given a veto over any idea or measure that it finds unacceptable. But what happens when Israel vetoes Palestinian or other Arab demands: a stalemate and crisis or further movement forward? Fourth is the issue of "patriation."

Much ink has been spilled by Israeli experts who have debated in recent years whether the Arabic "tawtin" stands for patriation or for the granting of citizenship.


There is a clear contradiction between the apparent waiving of the "right of return" and the rejection of "tawtin."

If the refugees and their offspring would not return to Israel proper but would also not be settled in the Arab world, where would they end up? The final 2007 version refers more coherently to "the special circumstances" of the host countries and may be directed at the specific case of Lebanon, but it could also open the way for countries like Syria and Iraq to raise objections.

SO MUCH for textual analysis, which has its own importance, particularly in a region and in the context of a conflict where words and symbols are so potent. But it is equally important to look at the API as a potential tool for moving on in the peace process. The first step to be taken by Israel is to offer a serious response to the API.

Whatever its flaws, the API has been a major step and it deserves a serious Israeli response.

Israel then needs to create some distance between the Arab League and the actual peace process. PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) committed a grave mistake by bringing the Arab League back into the process after Yasser Arafat's successful effort to guarantee the "independence of Palestinian decision-making."

The Arab supporters of a Palestinian- Israeli settlement should be kept at a safe distance from meddling in the process, but close enough to be summoned to endorse controversial Palestinian decisions and concessions.

Once the process begins to roll, the need would arise to turn the brief general language of the API into the concrete language of a plan of action. It would likewise be important to separate the Syrian and Palestinian components of the issue.

The API includes an insistence on Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines in the Golan, too. Realistically, the present Israeli government (and future ones as well) will not be able to deal simultaneously with withdrawals in the Golan and the West Bank. The diplomatic challenge would be finding a formula for keeping one party engaged while progress is made with the other.


The time would then come to probe the refugee issues. The difficulties are well known. Moderate Palestinians tell their Israeli counterparts that they are only interested in the principle of "return" and in the actual return of a small number. This is not acceptable to the mainstream of Israeli moderates.

They are not interested in a "principle" that smears Israel with an "original sin," nor are they interested in accepting even a small number of Palestinians into a country grappling with its relationship with an Arab minority of 20 percent that will soon enough amount to 25%.

Israel will have to be crystal clear and firm on this issue. There are ways in which Israel can demonstrate its empathy and take part in a rehabilitation effort, but it cannot and must not accept the principle of "return" or endorse its own "original sin."

Israel successfully absorbed the Jewish communities of the Arab world. The massive refugee issues of the immediate post-World War II years, whether in Europe or in Southeast Asia, have all been resolved and practically forgotten. Now it is time to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue on a rational, practical basis.

Any effort to keep it simmering or to adhere to open-ended formulae will not be acceptable.

Another issue concerns the position of Hamas and other Islamist groups. Some recent statements by Ismail Haniyeh may indicate a change and an apparent willingness to endorse the notion of a political settlement. Closer scrutiny raises serious doubts. If a formula for moving on with the Palestinian mainstream is found, the position of Hamas and its ramifications should be checked thoroughly.

IN PRACTICAL terms, the following steps should be taken.

Israel should coordinate its response and strategy with the United States. It should then announce that it is responding to the API and seeks to clarify some fundamental issues and questions and to turn a terse text into the potential basis for a new effort. It should insist on a practical separation of the Palestinian and Syrian tracks and on sequencing them, not as a ploy (as many in the Arab world see it) but as a practical necessity.

Such an Israeli response to the API would not be a panacea. It would not eliminate all the difficulties that have obstructed efforts to revive the peace process in recent years. But it could be a very fruitful first step.

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's former ambassador in Washington and chief negotiator with Syria, is professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University and distinguished global professor at New York University. He is the author most recently of The View from Damascus. This article was originally published on www.bitterlemons- and is reprinted by permission.








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








The rabbis' letter must serve as a wake-up call for a slumbering attorney general, reminding him that where the rule of law is not enforced, anarchy reigns.


The attorney general has a dual role: He serves as both head of the prosecution and counsel to government agencies. His professional opinion is binding on the government and its agencies, and this confers a special status upon him in inculcating the rule of law and determining how the responsibilities of government office must be carried out.


But current Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who will soon complete his first year in office, has interpreted his role in a limited manner. He has focused on his authority as head of the prosecution while evading responsibility for enforcing the law and proper norms on government agencies. From his perspective, his role consists of deciding whether to file indictments or appeal court rulings.


The attorney general's weakness was evident in the recent case of a racist letter signed by dozens of municipal rabbis - i.e., holders of government jobs - that urged people not to sell or rent homes to Arabs. It is difficult to imagine a more illegitimate act for a civil servant, since by blatantly inciting against Arab citizens, the letter violates the very essence of democracy and the principles of equality laid down by numerous High Court of Justice rulings. The rabbis openly undermined the foundations of Israel's system of government.


And what did Weinstein do in response? At first, he remained silent. But several days later, he sent a letter (signed by his assistant ) to Meretz MK Ilan Ghilon in which he promised "to consider whether there are criminal or disciplinary aspects" to the rabbis' letter.


The attorney general's bureaucratic language, which sought to minimize the incident, is evidence of weakness. Instead of fulfilling his public responsibility and making it clear that the rabbis' letter violates every norm proper to a democratic, law-abiding state that believes in equality, Weinstein is hiding behind the minutiae of the law.


Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman was blocked in his attempt to split the attorney general's job in two, a split meant to weaken respect for the law on the part of government agencies. But Weinstein is making Neeman's vision a reality: a stunted attorney general who focuses on looking for "criminal aspects" and refrains from setting norms and limits on government activity.


The rabbis' letter must serve as a wake-up call for a slumbering attorney general, reminding him that where the rule of law is not enforced, anarchy reigns. Israel needs a strong attorney general who will make clear to civil servants how they are expected to behave.










The skullcap on Gabi Ashkenazi's head practically radiated importance when the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff took the stage this week at a hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study with army service ) in Modi'in. He had gone there to flatter and fawn over the yeshiva's rabbis, while at the same time sticking a knife into the back of his subordinate, paratroops commander Col. Aharon Haliwa, who a few days earlier had made some true and pertinent remarks.


When Ashkenazi had finished speaking, the crowd broke into tumultuous applause. MK Zevulun Orlev smiled with pleasure, while the head of the yeshiva hugged the chief of staff and even gave him a badge of honor. Ashkenazi bowed his head modestly, as if to say he knew his place next to the great yeshiva head.


But why did Ashkenazi wear a skullcap? After all, this was not a synagogue, but a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a building. The answer is that Ashkenazi believes those who wear knitted skullcaps are better, more moral Jews, while he is merely a secular Jew who pulls an empty wagon behind him.


What was Haliwa's great sin? During a conversation with soldiers doing a squad commanders' course he spoke the truth, saying something many other senior officers say only in the strictest of privacy. He said, "I can't tolerate the hesder arrangement and I don't believe it is moral." And he continued, "The hesder soldiers are excellent soldiers who set a personal example ... yet I would rather take someone less good, but who will remain here [to fill] three or four positions instead of just one, as a [hesder] yeshiva soldier does."


All Haliwa did was point out the huge distortion embodied by the hesder system, whose soldiers spend four years studying in yeshiva while serving in the army for only a year and four months. As a result of this very short service, they spend most of their time in the army in courses and do not make a big enough contribution to the IDF in command positions. It's a simple cost-benefit calculation.


Cabinet minister Moshe Ya'alon, a former chief of staff, thinks exactly the same as Haliwa does. Doron Almog, who commanded the paratroops in the late 1980s, also thinks this. After all, there is no reason in the world why religious men should serve in the army for only a year and four months instead of three years like their secular brethren. It is infuriating that the IDF does not offer such an arrangement to someone who wants to study engineering or computers at university, but does offer it to someone who wants to study Talmud.


The yeshiva students' arrogant demand that they serve only in platoons with others like them is also infuriating. This is a demand by people who consider themselves better than the rest, elitist and privileged.


And in platoons where yeshiva students do serve, the situation is very problematic. Commanders have to walk on eggshells to please them. A yeshiva student is capable of calling his rabbi at the yeshiva to complain that he did not receive enough time to pray, and then the rabbi will immediately complain to the top brass. "You have to take a lot of guff from them," one senior paratroops officer said.


Serving together gives them a special kind of power, and it is no coincidence that in the West Bank, the phenomenon of refusing to obey orders during the disengagement started in platoons where yeshiva students serve. In every yeshiva, after all, the students are brainwashed against giving up even the tiniest bit of the territories, and they consider the rabbis to be their supreme commanders, not their army officers. This is a danger to democracy and could even lead to an armed insurrection.


Maj. Gen. (res. ) Elazar Stern also thinks like Haliwa does. When he served as head of the IDF's personnel directorate, he lamented the sharp rise in the number of students applying to hesder yeshivas and said this disrupted the IDF's order of forces, because "a soldier who does [ordinary] compulsory service makes a contribution three or four times greater than a hesder soldier does." And indeed, the IDF is now complaining of a manpower shortage.


Stern also tried to prevent yeshiva students from serving in separate platoons, because he wanted there to be "an intercultural meeting in IDF units" that would lead to "mutual enrichment and a feeling of partnership." But the yeshivas were furious at him and succeeded in preventing this terrible fate.


The time has come to dismantle the separate platoons and to conscript every religious youth into full, three-year service, just like their secular colleagues. The IDF is still the melting pot of Israeli society; only there can a "Russian," an "Ethiopian," a "yuppie" and a "dos" (religious person ) run together over the hills in squad exercises, making sure the line is straight so that none of them will get a bullet from behind.


But Ashkenazi would rather wear a skullcap and mouth flattering phrases.









Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leading ultra-Orthodox authority on halakha (Jewish law ), has attacked a manifesto by rabbis that urged people not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs. He did not claim this rabbinical ruling was mistaken, and he certainly did not try to argue with Maimonides, on whom the signatories largely based their ruling. His main argument - the same argument on which rabbis and community leaders based themselves throughout the long exile - was that to further "the paths of peace," such rulings must not be published, as they are liable to result in harm to Jews worldwide.


Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leading religious Zionist authority on Jewish law, also had reservations about the manifesto, as did other prominent rabbis from this community. "There is no doubt," he wrote honestly, "that what was said in the manifesto was based on sources from our sages and the halakhic tradition through the ages." However, "a willingness to consider approaches that would restrict the prohibitions on this matter - which would seem to be obligatory, as there are tools and materials that make this possible - is totally missing from the document."


By "restricting the prohibitions," he means finding loopholes that would make it possible to circumvent - not, Heaven forbid, to annul - rulings issued in the distant past under very specific conditions of existence.


"The attack from both right and left on the Religious Zionist rabbinate," and "the unnecessary trouble [the ruling] caused for those faithful to the Torah and the commandments," bothers him and his community, Lichtenstein stressed. "Where," he mourned, "has the wisdom of those who are supposed to have foresight gone?"


His cry was also heard from many others ("A desecration of God's name," said a petition signed by some 900 graduates of religious Zionist yeshivas ), in light of the harsh criticism the manifesto has sparked.


I am convinced that on a personal level, Lichtenstein, like many of his colleagues, is a priori opposed to the personal pain that adopting this halakhic approach might cause. But even his comprehensive response downplayed this humanistic aspect of the problem. What predominated was the image damage caused by the disappearance of "the wisdom of those who are supposed to have foresight." Thus at bottom, his approach was not far from that of the ultra-Orthodox.


Moreover, neither these rabbis and students nor their community's politicians were the first to protest against the manifesto, as they should have been. They responded only after an accusatory finger was pointed "from both right and left" at the community and its rabbis - and even then, they did so in an apologetic manner. Neither the halakhic bull nor the public one has yet been taken by the horns.


Those who believe that halakha cannot be changed in any way must be able to provide a full response, without resorting to strained legal loopholes, to the many questions that halakha did not anticipate, or to which its answers - like the prohibition on renting apartments to non-Jews - are totally unacceptable to those who have internalized the moral principles that have become part of the basic personality of modern man. And therefore, we must find the courage to adapt parts of the "halakhic tradition through the ages," which was formulated at other times and in difficult circumstances that are very different from those of today, to contemporary times.


This adaptation should be made a priori, not to further "the paths of peace." Today's circumstances are completely different from those that existed when these precepts were formulated. Likewise, we are totally different people from our ancestors, and parts of our value system have changed - for the most part, for the better. Moreover, we live in a sovereign Jewish state.


The rabbis' initiative, it is claimed, was born of the need to prevent Arabs from taking over houses and lands out of nationalist motives and with funding from outside parties. There are indeed Arabs who say explicitly that what they lost through force must be regained through money and demography. And purchases really are being made for this purpose, mostly through Jewish front men.


But the competition between our two nations over this land will not be solved by discriminating against Arab students who wish to rent an apartment in Safed. We can only prevail by remaining determined to win - while also taking care not to deviate from proper norms of interpersonal behavior - in the existential struggle that will continue to be waged (and I would love to be proven wrong ) for many years to come over Israel's existence as a Jewish, Zionist and humane state with a democratic system of government.









I have no wealthy friends, not a single tycoon. Is that something that should make me feel pride or shame? I know their names - Ofer, Dankner, Arison and other wealthy families - only from the media, and mostly from the gossip columns, which I'll read first before turning to the main news. If not, how will I know who's hanging around with whom, who's in debt to whom? This is the thread connecting politicians and political ideologues, and those who are pulling the strings here.


Now I'll be more specific: I once met with Yitzhak Tshuva, who through me donated several thousand shekels to a gifted pianist from Sderot who'd been invited to study at a German conservatory. Another time we met at the Academic College of Netanya - where I was a speaker and he was a distributor of scholarships to students, and he spoke of what a privilege it was for him.


Impolitely, I interrupted him to say: It's not a privilege, it's an obligation. Tshuva was surprised. After all, his money is his, and he has the right to do with it as he pleases.


A few months ago, a friend's son got married. The guest list on the bride's side included all of Israel's tycoons (this is starting to become as interesting as a gossip column ). Tshuva approached me, sat down and said: "I thought about what you said at the college and I understood - you were right."


For a moment, I actually believed I'd been of some help and hadn't merely scattered my protest to the wind, but I was soon disappointed. I've been following his handling of the gas royalties affair, and I can sum up for myself: Tshuva did not understand a thing, nothing at all.


And he's not the only one. All of his Israeli colleagues have yet to understand something now self evident to billionaires the world over, especially in swinish America. For example, Facebook founder and man of the year Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he will be joining Warren Buffett and Bill Gates; he has also promised to donate most of his money to charity.


And this "charity" does justice: After all, they have produced treasures from natural resources that belong to all of us; they have accrued their tremendous wealth from the human capital that the state trained and placed at their disposal, a resource that is reserved for every taxpaying citizen; and they have derived their economic and political power from the purchasing power and the savings of every consumer. The public is the source of their wealth, and to the public these riches must be returned. These men owe a great debt to society, and they must pay it; the lion's share of what they have received will be returned.


There are already 57 billionaires who have decided to follow in the footsteps of Buffett, Gates and Zuckerberg - it has become an entire movement that's gaining momentum. But here, in the meanwhile, in the society that invented solidarity and mutual responsibility, there is still no connection between flattery and contribution: The carpets spread at the feet of the celebrity-benefactors are too red. In Israel, such figures donate less than in any other developed nation. The local banks, to give an example, allocate only about one half of one percent of their profits for public use, and the same is true for other big businesses.


The gentiles, on the other hand, who are less expert in the Torah's laws and commandments, are far more generous. We have presumed to shed so much light on the unknowing gentiles, that we have been left on the dark side of the planet.


How can we explain the gap between good public relations and generous contributions? Did the political ideologues learn from the politicians to take care of their own? Or was it the other way around? Are Israel's successful and wealthy people no more than petty nouveaux riches? And do they, like mice lying on top of their dinners, enjoy fatty cheese so much that their hedonism makes them irresponsible? Whatever the case, in life and in death they are not parted from their wallets.


Israel is waiting for its first Warren Buffett.









Amid the fire and the smoke screens, accompanied by the drama of the stampede away from responsibility, an important Israeli farce has been repressed. Only a few weeks ago the headlines roared: The deal for extending the freeze on settlement construction by three months is done. The vaunted septet of key ministers held an emergency meeting on Saturday night; government statements vied with commentators in issuing declarations about the extent to which everything had been "settled" and about how Shas, as if once again everything depended on it, would "of course" make it possible. But it all ended with nothing but the white of an egg dripping off a smiling face.


It would be necessary to go into detail about the motives of those who created this drama out of nothing were it not for the fact that this is a recurring farce. On another Saturday night, the septet was called to an emergency meeting that ended with a dramatic vote, whose outcome was absolutely certain, in order to approve a "closed" deal for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But once again there was a problem; a tiny nail was missing from the prepared script. We "proved that we tried," but Gilad is still staring into the darkness.


And the refrain repeats itself. Thus we had a "deal" for quiet with Hamas following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and thus Tzipi Livni's government was set up and "closed" two years ago. Thus, in the more distant past, the entire region turned out for Ehud Barak's "closed" Camp David deal, which followed the "closed" headline-making deal with Hafez Assad. Thus Shimon Peres stood on the dais in the Knesset, waiting for his "closed" government, which never materialized. And now, on a smaller scale, we were promised a majority (of course, once again with Shas' help ) for setting up a commission of inquiry into the fire fiasco. What unholy innocence!


In Ingmar Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal," the hero plays chess with death. But something minor goes wrong in the game, and the hero can do nothing but knock over the chessboard as its true and inevitable end approaches. In an individual's life, there is perhaps a place for repressing the inescapable end. But a public that becomes addicted to repression and self-deception seals its fate with its own hands.


Astoundingly, Israelis time and again maneuver themselves into believing a scenario in which if only the parties sit down at the table, where hollow formulations are supposed to hide the fact that there is no food and that the invitees do not want to eat in any case, they will get Babette's marvelous feast, or at least it will be possible to blame someone else. For after all, we "did everything," and we sat down at the table.


We would do better to exchange this belief for recognition of the cold, difficult but obvious fact: Nothing will change in an Israel that is being consumed by the fire of racism and incitement until three basic conditions are fulfilled - 61 seats must be held by nonright-wing parties, the heads of all the nonright-wing parties must agree to be supported by the "Arab" parties and cooperate with them, and the leadership of the entire bloc must understand that it has to bring about a fundamental revolution in Israel's existence.


Without creating an Israeli constitution based on the Declaration of Independence's promises of freedom of religion and conscience and completely equal rights irrespective of religion, race or sex; without abolishing the different school systems and setting up a single system with some variations, but all committed to humanistic, scientific and modern education; and without rebuilding the infrastructure of our existence and our democracy from scratch, nothing will change in Israel. Nor will a real peace agreement be achieved: Even if some "formula" is found, it will not really be implemented. Nothing will happen as long as an internal fire is consuming everything.


In an Israel where 52.5 percent of all first graders defined as Jewish study in the Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox school systems, which are state-funded and subsidized, but which teach their students in the "light" of the rabbis' letter that urged people not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs, the fire will continue to burn. And this is happening at a time when not only is the state not rushing to put out the fire, but it is even fanning the flames higher: Hard on the heels of the rabbis' letter, the Knesset plans to enact the "Discrimination Committees Law," which threatens to bar anyone "not suited" to their "social and cultural" character from being allowed to live in most Israeli communities. In this way, it will turn the rabbis' letter and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's ruling to the same effect into Israel's official law books.


In the 1980s, the Jerusalem paper Kol Ha'ir published numerical data on the anti-democratic demographic majority that was developing in the city's elementary schools. At that time, Jerusalem was a pluralistic and vibrant city. But that Jerusalem no longer exists.


Israel is on its way to becoming Jerusalem. A religious, anti-democratic demographic majority with an external nuclear threat will drive anyone who can leave out of the country. And that is in the best case, if the apocalypse does not come first. Only if the citizens rise up against this inflammatory regime, declare that they are sick of frauds in which everything is "already" "almost" settled, and work to implement the three necessary conditions for change can the fire, perhaps, be extinguished before it consumes them.









The disclosure that the Iron Dome antimissile defense system will be employed to defend Israel's military installations rather than civilian population centers has occasioned protest and revived the sensitive issue of who merits greater protection: the civilian population or the military. Normally, the military is expected to place itself in harm's way to shield the civilian population; nonetheless, in this situation, the Iron Dome deployment policy, despite its ostensive disregard for civilian losses, is essentially sound.


Wars are won by destroying the enemy's military capability - not by inflicting greater casualties upon the civilian population. One of Hitler's first mistakes in World War II was his decision to divert the focus of the Battle of Britain from destruction of the Royal Air Force to blitzing British cities. He thus allowed the RAF, which at one point was reeling from attrition of both pilots and aircraft, to recover, and denied Germany the air supremacy critical for a cross-channel invasion. Britain paid a painful price in bombing deaths and destruction in the Blitz, but it lived to fight on.


Israel's enemies plan to rely on their sizable missile arsenals in the event of an all-out war. These missiles will be launched not only against the Israeli civilian rear, but also against military installations and mobilization centers for reservists. If airbases are rendered unusable or mobilization is stalled by these missiles, Israel's prospects for victory - a victory essential for the survival of the country and for defining its post-war negotiating position - will be diminished. Given the size of the area to be defended and the cost ratio of attack missiles to defensive missiles (Katyushas or Grads are a lot cheaper than the intercepting missile ), Israel cannot offer total protection to its citizens with an antimissile system. At best it can mitigate the damage with such passive defense as shelters and fortified rooms. Most importantly, it can desist from the suicidal policy of passively acknowledging the growing concentration of its population in vulnerable Dan region apartment towers, and proactively revert to a policy of population dispersion.


Yet there is something salutary in the negative reactions to Iron Dome priorities, as they perhaps signal that the recent tendency among the public to prioritize soldiers' safety over securing civilians and strategic objectives may have run its course. Ironically this policy was dictated by domestic opinion rather than in the Israel Defense Forces. The most grotesque case of such an imbalance occurred prior to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which temporarily reduced Palestinian rocket fire into Israel (currently ticking up again ): A basic training base near Ashkelon was hit by two rockets. Though there were no fatalities, the reaction evinced by some of the new inductees' parents bordered on the hysterical. They personally showed up at the base to demand that their children be moved out of range, as no military purpose, they argued, was served by their presence. The IDF caved in and removed the soldiers, thereby sending a none-too-subtle message that IDF "children" - a word too frequently lavished on young adults performing military service - deserved preference over real children in areas equally or more exposed to Hamas bombardment. As long as the civilian population was not being evacuated and was expected to proceed with its normal routine, there was no justification for evacuating the training base.


The army's panicky response goes back to Lebanon, when the Four Mothers organization heartily promoted by Shelly Yachimovich - today a Knesset member, then a radio talk jockey - and military affairs correspondent Carmela Menashe exploited the dismay over military casualties in Lebanon to spearhead their agenda for withdrawal a decade ago from south Lebanon, a move that created the Hezbollahstan on our northern border.


It is not that the IDF considers its soldiers expendable - quite the contrary. For example, the army lavishes huge resources on a medical corps that in Cast Lead garnered a disproportionate share of combat medals for its field medicine miracles. However, an army cannot achieve results if it is overwhelmingly concerned with casualty avoidance.


Defense planners have desperately sought to avoid a new version of the Four Mothers. During the second intifada, soldiers moved from point to point in Judea and Samaria in armored "safari" vehicles while Israeli civilians riding in cars equipped to repel rocks but not bullets provided soft targets for Palestinian terror. For the latter, this was a no-brainer. The Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria were sufficiently motivated to take their lumps and stay put. (The most remarkable resilience under fire was displayed by the Gush Katif residents, who were most cruelly requited for their valor. ) Public opinion, however (at least not until the terror mega-atrocities of Sbarro, the Dolphinarium and the last straw of the Park Hotel seder bombing), would not countenance an "unacceptable" level of military casualties.


It was once argued that this attitude would change once we had quit Lebanon and Gaza for "sovereign" Israel. But this argument was found wanting in the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. In Lebanon a failed attempt was made to rely disproportionately on air power to avoid committing ground forces, while in Gaza the pleas of incoming Chief of Staff Yoav Galant to actively seek and destroy Hamas forces were rejected, resulting in the operation's early summation and incomplete success.


Both the IDF and Israel's civilian rear currently share the dangers of war. Each in turn will be required to display its resilience and sacrifice as military and strategic necessities, rather than as dictated by sentiment.


Dr. Amiel Ungar, a political scientist, is a regular contributor to Haaretz English Edition.









U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, frustrated perhaps by the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, declared last week that it is time to grapple with the "core issues of the conflict," adding that the United States recognizes "that a Palestinian state achieved through negotiations is inevitable."


How do I break this to you, Ms. Secretary of State? If you haven't heard the news, the settling of ethno-political conflicts by negotiations is anything but inevitable.


By "ethno-political" I mean conflicts in which the core issue is self-determination, which in most cases means separatism. Nothing undermines negotiations quite like this core issue, especially if neither side is feeling pressure to concede. According to a study by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program - which compiles a much-sited database on international arms conflict - there have been nearly 370 episodes in the world of armed ethnic conflict since 1946. More than 150 of them involved non-state actors seeking self-determination, but Uppsala's database lists a mere eight of them as ending in a peace agreement that addressed the final status of the territory in question.


While the purported existence of eight negotiated settlements may give Clinton cause for hope, a further look suggests her optimism is misplaced. Each of these deals was preceded by undue pressure on one of the sides to compromise - something absent from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Three of the cases involved the 1992-95 war in the Balkans, which led to the recognition of Republika Sprska, the end of the breakaway Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia in Bosnia, and the recognition of Croatian sovereignty over the short-lived Serb Republic of Krajina. These agreements followed the chaotic breakup of Yugoslavia, which included a NATO bombing campaign of Serb positions in Bosnia, the dispatch of international forces to the nascent Bosnian state and the Croat conquest of Krajina. Israel is in no danger of breaking up, and unless the U.S. is willing to go down the same heavy-handed route with it, the Palestinian Authority or both, such coercive agreements can be left out of the formula.


Then there was Indonesia's recognition of East Timor in 1999 and its peace deal with the Free Aceh Movement in 2005. The former was preceded by a regime change in Jakarta and the entry of Portugal as a patron of East Timor, while the latter was preceded by the rebels facing certain defeat in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Giving up East Timor, whose occupation was costly to the government, posed no perceived existential threat to Indonesia. In Aceh, the rebels were happy enough to give up demands for independence in exchange for autonomy, due to their dire situation. Again, neither scenario is relevant to Israel.


Another case of successful peace negotiations entails the agreement between the Senegalese government and a moderate faction of separatists in that country's Casamance region, in 2003. Beside the fact that a number of rejectionist groups continue to employ violence, the Casamance deal does not constitute a model for peace in this region because independence was conceded, not gained.


A seventh conflict, between Abkhazia and Georgia, is listed as ending in 1994 with a peace treaty, while in fact the deal was a cease-fire virtually imposed on a defeated Georgia by the rebels' Russian allies. Georgia has refused to sign a treaty recognizing Abkhazia, which continues to operate as an unrecognized de facto state - hardly an example of successful negotiations.


The final conflict under review did not actually end in agreement, but could have the most relevance for the Israeli-Palestinian situation: Kosovo. Uppsala's database deems the Rambouillet Accords a peace treaty, but Serbia never signed them. Rather, NATO bombed Serbia into submitting to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999 ), after which the UN assumed administrative control over Kosovo. Consequently, peace talks in Vienna during 2006 failed to resolve the core issue of sovereignty, and Kosovo declared independence unilaterally in 2008 - a move Serbia understandably has yet to recognize.


And these are the "successful" negotiations. There is a whole slew of cease-fires that have left conflicts frozen or that collapsed in the wake of renewed violence without ever progressing to the stage of resolving core issues, from Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea to South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Moldova.


Given the current impasse and the lack of sufficient historical evidence that ethno-political rivals can resolve core issues at the negotiating table, particularly when neither side faces military catastrophe, there is no reason to conclude that a negotiated Palestinian state is inevitable. Rather, the most likely way that a such a state will emerge will be through unilateral declaration of statehood, followed by international recognition. Israel will be mightily displeased but, like democratic Serbia, it will have to make do with diplomatic lobbying without exercising the military option. The conflict will remain, but as long as the Palestinians respect the borders, it will eventually become abeyant.


At this point, Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence provides the only conceivable precedent. It is far from ideal, but if Clinton wants to see the birth of a Palestinian state on her watch, her best odds lie with rallying the international community behind recognizing unilateral independence. Argentina and Brazil have already got the ball rolling. The European Union said this month it would recognize a Palestinian state "when appropriate," and some of its foreign ministers are pushing for recognition independent of negotiations. At what point will Clinton follow?


Steven Klein is an editor at Haaretz English Edition.









Four years ago, when African asylum-seekers poured over Israel's border - often injured or dehydrated, having survived rape, and grieving those who had died along the way - they were first greeted with kindness by the Israel Defense Forces. This, however, was followed by chaos: imprisonment that often separated family members; a haphazard, opaque process by which it was finally confirmed that they were not security threats; and eventual release to Eilat or Be'er Sheva without a plan. Yet today, it's as if the Israeli government has suddenly awakened to the 33,000-plus African asylum-seekers living among us.


The number of African refugees in Israel is problematic, but the real problem is the country's utter lack of clear policy. Israel never created refugee law for non-Jews. As a result, the vast majority of African asylum-seekers here can't obtain official refugee status. This means no work permits, no basic rights (including the right to be here ), and no means by which to seek long-term asylum or assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. All told, Israel is choosing isolation where there is opportunity for world leadership.


During the Carmel Forest fire, Israelis experienced the consequences of having a government that doesn't respond to problems until they become critical - but they also experienced what it's like to receive support from the international community, including the Palestinian Authority. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the firefighting squadron he intends to establish will also serve Israel's Arab neighbors. When we receive support, we want to reciprocate. The inverse works even better: When you offer help, people support you.


When it comes to African refugees, however, Israel is acting as if it has only two choices: either border fences and a detention camp, or totally open borders. In truth, had Israel previously established a well-defined border policy and a process for refugee status determination, fewer border-crossers would be here today, and there would be a system in place for those who are. While Israel hasn't wanted to offer refugee rights - fearing that this would create an incentive for many more to enter - its policy of no policy did just that: Israel became an easy place in which to settle.


Over 60 percent of African refugees here are from Eritrea, a country whose human rights record indicates that many would qualify for asylum. This does not mean, however, that we can determine that in a detention camp, they'd be better off than they were before. Asylum-seekers, having undergone trauma, have risked their lives for freedom. Most would choose risking them again over entering a facility.


Two voices polarize this discussion. The first refers to African refugees as a threat to Israel's character, calling them "infiltrators" and "illegal," though the fact that they have no legal right to be here with refugee status is Israel's responsibility. This voice aims to induce fear. The second voice says: We are all refugees! However, although most African asylum-seekers fled life-threatening circumstances, not all will qualify as political refugees according to the UNHCR's definitions. In order to have resources to offer, we must accept that we alone cannot host all.


Still, 33,000-plus African refugees live in our communities, many of whose children speak fluent Hebrew and most of whom if asked "Mah nishma?" will answer "Barukh Hashem." Calling on their employers to fire them because we never offered them work permits is irresponsible. Sticking them in a detention camp shows a lack of vision and is a dead end.


We can't put this fire out alone. Israel, a young country, should begin by learning from the refugee policies and lessons of Europe, Canada and the United States, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. At the same time, Israel has the opportunity to become a world leader in one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. It would be difficult to overstate the severity of famine, illness, regional conflicts and political persecution in Africa, yet they are all interconnected at their root by Africans' inability to access and utilize their natural resources. Even Darfur's genocide can be traced back, in part, to drought: After years of desertification, when flocks could no longer graze, nomads entered farmers' tribal territory.


Desert science is Israel's expertise; how can Israel take the lead in addressing Africa's long-term agricultural problems? Already, Israel shares technology; African scientists study here; and two hydrology graduates from Ben-Gurion University recently launched a program to help more than 5,000 Zambian farmers achieve self-sustainability. How can Israel turn the challenge presented by 33,000 refugees, with more on the way, into a platform for leadership, helping Africans in Africa? After all, the place people most want to live is home.


And if this government won't rise to the occasion, we - citizens who have the privilege of free speech - must take the lead. We can say "no" to detention camps, obeying our consciences, as Holocaust survivor Eli Tzvieli of Safed did when he insisted on honoring his rental contract with Bedouin tenants. We can say "no" to a fence in the name of our family members who were turned away when they sought asylum; in the name of every value on which Israel was built. We can say "no" because if this is the direction in which Israel is going, we have learned the wrong lessons from "never forget." And then we can ask the most self-serving question of all: How can I help?


Ayla Peggy Adler teaches academic writing at the Jacob Blaustein Desert Research Institute. She lives in the Negev where she is writing a novel about refugees, drought and sustenance, and she blogs at


This story is by: Ayla Peggy Adler









Henry Kissinger was not the first Jewish adviser to an American president who urged his boss to refrain from rescuing Jews.


According to transcripts of Oval Office tapes recently released by the Nixon Presidential Library, Secretary of State Kissinger told the president, in 1973, that even "if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern." Kissinger's remark is obviously apalling. But it's equally disturbing to recall that when Soviet Jews were being shipped off to gas chambers - during the Holocaust - two prominent Jews gave then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt similar advice.


More than 1.5 million Jews living in German-occupied portions of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, were murdered by the Nazis. Many of them were lined up in front of huge pits and shot; many others were shipped to German death camps in Poland.


But when Jewish organizations urged President Roosevelt to rescue Jews from the Nazis, FDR's Jewish advisers gave him Kissinger-style advice.


One of FDR's top advisers and speechwriters was Samuel Rosenman, a leading member of the American Jewish Committee. Rosenman, a deeply assimilated Jew, was uncomfortable calling attention to Jewish concerns. After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms, he warned FDR that admitting German Jewish refugees to America would "create a Jewish problem in the U.S." In 1943, when 400 rabbis marched to the White House to plead for a rescue effort, Rosenman counseled Roosevelt to snub "the medieval horde." Rosenman also tried to undermine the 1943 campaign by rescue advocates and Treasury Department officials for creation of a government agency to save Jewish refugees. The agency, called the War Refugee Board, was eventually established despite his opposition.


In 1944, the leaders of the board asked FDR to issue a statement threatening to prosecute anyone involved in persecuting Jews, and pledging to provide havens for Jewish refugees. Rosenman watered down the declaration, for fear that giving the Jews attention "would intensify anti-Semitism in the United States." He deleted three of the six references to Jews, removed the offer to shelter refugees in America, and added three opening paragraphs about the Nazis' mistreatment of "Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Dutch, Danes, French, Greeks, Russians, Chinese Filipinos - and many others."


Another prominent Jewish defender of FDR's policy toward European Jewry was Congressman Sol Bloom, a Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Roosevelt administration chose him as a U.S. delegate to its sham refugee conference in Evian, France, in 1938, and to its equally farcical refugee conference in Bermuda five years later. Afterward, Bloom declared, "I as a Jew am perfectly satisfied with the results" - prompting one Jewish periodical to charge that Bloom had been "used as a stooge to impede Jewish protests against the nothing-doers of the Bermuda conference..."


Bloom worked closely with the administration to block congressional resolutions supporting rescue and Jewish statehood. He even backed the State Department's proposal to ban all public discussion of the Palestine issue for the duration of World War II.


Jewish leaders were furious over Bloom's actions. A document I recently discovered in the Central Zionist Archives, in Jerusalem, quotes Synagogue Council of America president Dr. Israel Goldstein as saying that "no Jew should ever occupy the position of chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee."


The problem was not that a Jew who reached such a position of power might turn against his people. The problem was that in those years, and even in more recent times, the only kind of Jew who could rise to such a powerful post in the first place was one who was willing to cast aside Jewish concerns. The only kind of Jew whom Roosevelt - or Nixon - would take into his inner circle was one who would tell him what he wanted to hear when it came to Jewish issues. Indeed, one State Department official privately referred to Sol Bloom as "easy to handle" - a way of saying he could be trusted never to make trouble on Jewish matters.


On the newly released Nixon-Kissinger tapes, Kissinger remarks that the genocide of Soviet Jewry would be "maybe a humanitarian concern," but certainly "not an American concern." Samuel Rosenman and Sol Bloom likewise believed that humanitarian concerns such as rescuing Jews contradicted, or might be seen as contradicting, America's true interests.


Not everyone saw it that way. A few years ago, my Wyman Institute colleagues interviewed former senator and presidential nominee George McGovern about his experiences as a pilot who flew over Auschwitz in 1944 to bomb German oil plants nearby. McGovern said that if his commanders had told the pilots about the death camp and offered them the option of undertaking a bombing raid strictly for humanitarian (rather than military ) purposes, "whole crews would have volunteered." They understood, he said, that the war against the Nazis was not just a military struggle, but also a fight for principles and values such as basic human decency and concern for the persecuted.


Likewise in Kissinger's time, there was strong public support for U.S. intervention on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The truth is that the American public has often been much more humanitarian-minded than some of its presidents - and their nervous Jewish advisers - ever recognized.


Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book (with Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin ) is "The Student Struggle Against the Holocaust" (Schechter Institute and Wyman Institute ).


This story is by: Rafael Medoff






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




To no one's shock, the lame-duck session is offering daily profiles in hypocrisy by lawmakers who made loud campaign vows to "change the culture" of Washington. In the Senate, prominent Republicans who took the anti-earmark pledge as part of the Tea Party crusade against deficits now must deal with a mammoth $1.2 trillion government spending bill that happens to be routinely packed with their own customized pork. What to do?


"The simple answer is: I'm going to vote against the bill and refuse all of those earmarks," said Senator John Cornyn, a Republican of Texas, righteously disowning his own earmarks when cornered by a reporter asking how he had any credibility in the face of home-state pork.


Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi who took his party's Demon Earmark pledge last month, was asked about his 223 projects worth $415 million tucked into the spending bill. The senator firmly vowed not to pursue earmarks — next time. This time, he's decided to vote against the bill as a first step to — yes — "change the way business is done in Washington."


It's not often that politicians are caught having to call their own bluff. The earmark discomfort is deserved since the issue was presented to voters as a fool's-gold diversion from factors far larger and more politically difficult if politicians ever get serious about closing the budget deficit. Both parties have denounced earmarks in recent elections, to no effect on deficit growth.


In the House, some of the incoming Republicans who railed loudest against the Capitol's culture are being feted at lobbyist-driven re-election fund-raisers even before they take office. At least 13 have hired registered lobbyists as senior staff aides, presumably as guides on how best to undo Washington's ways. Representative-elect Raul Labrador, a Republican of Idaho, hired John Goodwin, a former lobbyist from the National Rifle Association, as his chief of staff, promising, "John's vast Capitol Hill experience will be an excellent resource to Idaho as I begin the people's work in Congress."


This may comfort Democrats heading into the minority who similarly slipped into the existing culture even as they vowed to change it. But it lends the looming Congress a disturbing sense of déjà vu.







Given the chaos at last year's global warming meeting in Copenhagen, delegates to this year's sequel in Cancún, Mexico, hoped mainly to stop the bleeding. In fact, they did more than keep the battered United Nations process alive. Delegates were freed of the expectations of the conference in Copenhagen — which failed to achieve its main objective: a legally binding treaty limiting emissions. And they found common ground in a few achievable steps that will increase trust among nations and could form the basis for stronger measures down the road.


Rich countries, for instance, agreed to help poorer ones preserve their tropical forests and adopt cleaner energy systems through a new "green fund" that will initially be administered by the World Bank. For their part, developing countries agreed to greater transparency in reporting their emissions and their progress in reducing them. Transparency had been a huge sticking point with the Chinese, who do not like anyone looking over their shoulders. Tough bargaining by the Americans and timely pressure from other big developing nations like India brought China on board.


Saving the United Nations process, however, is not the same as saving the planet; the hard work of actually cutting emissions will fall to individual nations, especially the big emitters. It will thus be important to continue exploring parallel negotiating on tracks like the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, originally convened by President George W. Bush and consisting of 17 big nations that account for nearly four-fifths of all emissions; and the Group of 20 industrial nations, which has put climate change high on its agenda.


The principal players, now and in the future, will be the two biggest emitters, the Chinese and Americans. They have talked about joint investments in clean energy technologies, and they obviously must keep climate change on their bilateral agenda. But, first and foremost, they must tackle their own emissions.


The Chinese have pledged to cut their carbon intensity — the rate at which they allow emissions to grow — but what the world will eventually need is net reductions. The United States, embarrassingly enough, has no national strategy. Congress's failure to pass a comprehensive climate bill has left President Obama with little to work with. Until it gets one, the world has a slim chance of bringing emissions under control.







Let's be clear. We like bicycles. They are good for our air, good for our health, and, perhaps even someday, good for our traffic problems. New York City has about 483 miles of bike paths, some going back to the 1800s, and is adding 50 miles of bike lanes a year. City officials have recently been handing out data showing that these lanes "calm" traffic and cut down on fatalities.


But a lot of people are not particularly calm about bicyclists, and we are deeply sympathetic. Too many cyclists must think that they don't have to follow traffic rules. That red light? Zip on through. That one-way street? No problem. Cyclists like to call it "salmoning." If the city is serious about encouraging biking (and, by the way, less than a percent of commuters in New York currently ride bikes), then the New York Police Department and bike riders have to crack down on these cyclists and make them obey traffic laws like everybody else.


That there are actually rules may come as news to some cyclists. The city's Department of Transportation has a summary on its Web site. For example, only pre-teenage children are supposed to have bikes on the sidewalk. Cyclists "must have hand on steering device or handlebars." Also, "Rider cannot wear more than one earphone attached to radio, tape player or other audio device while riding." Cyclists often complain that the problem is not the bicycles but the cars. It is true that cars and trucks can too easily maim and kill cyclists. But cyclists can too easily injure pedestrians — and themselves.


The Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, listening to complaints from cyclists and other New Yorkers, did a quick snapshot of several locations and found what he called chaos. Over a 22-hour period, his staff members clocked: 741 instances of pedestrians blocking bike lanes; more than 275 vehicles blocking bike lanes, including a school bus and pedicabs; 331 cyclists going the wrong way; 237 cyclists running red lights; and 42 cyclists riding on sidewalks.


Janette Sadik-Khan, the city's transportation commissioner, has promised a new education campaign to help riders and drivers and pedestrians get along. The police department also needs to give more tickets to cyclists who break the law. It's not easy — imagine catching a cyclist going through a red light — but a few more $100-plus tickets, plus an order to read the rules, would certainly calm traffic in New York City.








For Americans, anxious about the war in Afghanistan, there is not a lot of comfort or clarity to be found in President Obama's long-promised strategy review.


For weeks, American officials have been talking about fragile progress, a small drawdown of troops starting

next summer, and 2014 as the date when Afghans will take "the lead" for their own security. The unclassified version of the report released Thursday did not go any further, nor did President Obama in his remarks.


Part of the murkiness may be unavoidable. It has been a year since the president announced he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but the last arrived only last summer. It may be too early to know if the military gains claimed by the Pentagon since then are temporary or have a real chance of breaking the Taliban.


Reporting in The Times shows a very mixed picture. Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak reported on Thursday that the American offensive in Kandahar Province was turning local residents against the insurgents — at least for now — and undermining the Taliban's morale and its ability to recruit fighters. The same day, Alissa Rubin reported that insecurity is rising in the north, where the Taliban are expanding their reach and local armed groups are terrorizing residents.


It is even harder to judge the administration's claims about "disrupting and dismantling" Al Qaeda.


These things may be difficult to measure, but there is no excuse for the review's failure to explain how the administration plans to deal with two of its biggest problems: Pakistan's continued refusal to go after Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries, and the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government.


We understand the deep anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and the high strategic stakes. But we worry that the Pentagon is increasingly resigned to Pakistan's inaction. American drone strikes may be inflicting real pain on Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but likely not enough. Pakistan's army needs to do more to stop insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan, and Pakistan's intelligence service must end its support and protection for the extremists.


Mr. Obama has to signal more clearly — to the Pakistanis and his own team — that American patience has limits.


The report, at least the public version, is even less frank about the myriad failings of the Afghan government and its erratic leader, President Hamid Karzai. Unlike Mr. Obama's speech last December — when he said "the days of providing a blank check are over" — there wasn't even an implicit warning to Mr. Karzai.


We know the administration got nowhere trying to bully Mr. Karzai. But private cajoling doesn't appear to be any better. What is President Obama's strategy for handling the Afghan president, or for empowering other more credible regional and local leaders? The report is silent on that, too.


When President Obama promised this review last December, he also vowed that America's commitment in Afghanistan would not be open-ended. It may be too early to judge whether the strategy is working. But Americans will need a full accounting soon. Right now, they need a lot franker talk from Mr. Obama about what is really happening on the ground.







President Obama faces an enormously difficult challenge over the next few weeks.


On the one hand, this moment is ripe for fundamental change. There is a pervasive sense that the nation is at a Sputnik moment when it either rises to face the international competition or it does not. Commissions are churning out sweeping proposals. The economy is strong enough for policy makers to think beyond the immediate crisis but not so strong that it allays the national fear of decline.


On the other hand, just as the popular longing for change is at its strongest, the political barriers preventing change are at their strongest, too. The Democrats in Congress distrust the White House and can barely work with the Republicans. Republicans are not in a mood to compromise and can barely work with the Democrats. Many in both parties are willing to wait until 2013, when their side might have more leverage. Voters are cynical about all of them and want every program cut except the ones they benefit from.


Obama's challenge in the State of the Union address is to give voice to the inchoate longing for change, and to chart a political path through the Washington minefield so that voters and bond markets have the sense that the country is at least beginning to grapple with its problems.


To do that, the president doesn't have to go out on a limb and embrace specific (and politically suicidal) hard choices. But he probably does have to violate some taboos, on right and left, to give people a sense that everything is now up for discussion.


Then he'll probably have to fence off areas of cooperation from areas of conflict. Over the next months, the parties will fight over health care repeal and the rest. But while that's going on, it should be possible to build momentum and trust by working on corporate tax reform, individual tax reform, Social Security reform and other things. These issues are hard because they involve taking on powerful special interests. But at this moment in history, that's exactly what voters want to see their leaders doing together.


Most important, the president will probably have to take advantage of the following paradox: bigger is easier. If he just tinkers around the edges with modest proposals, then everybody will be on familiar ground. But if he can expand the current debate, then, suddenly, everybody is on new ground.


The general approach should be to offer the left something it really craves. Then offer the right something it really craves. Then, once you get them watering at the mouth, tell them they're going to have to bend on the things they don't care about in order to get the things they do.


To get the left excited, Obama might offer an activist growth agenda. This would involve spending more on infrastructure, research and job training — the basic things he has always talked about. But it also would mean going further and embracing industrial policy.


Personally, I don't think the government is very good at investing in green energy, Midwestern job growth or other things. But many liberals do believe this. Smart economists like Dani Rodrik and Jeff Faux have been hatching what they call smart industrial policy proposals. Others have talked about learning from the Chinese and Singaporeans. If Obama showed some support for this kind of stuff, he'd generate enormous excitement on the left.


To get the right excited, he needs to offer fundamental welfare state reform. So far, most efforts to avert national bankruptcy have involved controlling spending but keeping the basic structure of the safety net intact.


But it should be possible to strengthen the safety net while modernizing some of the Great Society structures. Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Alice Rivlin, a Democrat, have come up with a Medicare reform plan in which new enrollees would receive a fixed contribution from the government, growing a bit faster than inflation. They would apply that money against the cost of health insurance. This would make Medicare a defined contribution program and save hundreds of billions. If Obama said he was open to thinking about this sort of fundamental reform, he'd generate tremendous excitement on the right.


This is the opposite of triangulation. Instead of finding small compromises in the middle, it marries big ideas on the left and right. In a polarized country, it may be easier to push through big change by marrying the left and the right than by relying upon an unfortunately weak vital center.


Moreover, this marriage is intellectually coherent. Joining these initiatives means shifting resources from consumption to production, from current spending to future investment.


Liberals would get dollars for the unemployed in Ohio. Conservatives would cap the growth of government. Bond markets would see credible action. Voters would see a government that can function and a future that looks better than the present.










It was the worst summer. The war seemed as unending as the excuses of Western leaders for their inaction. In a besieged Sarajevo, people raised hands to their necks in a gesture of self-strangulation as the flat fracturing boom of another shell reverberated in the valley.


Then Richard Holbrooke appeared in the snake pit.


Nobody could end the Bosnian war — nobody. Europe's worst conflict since World War II had gone too far by 1995: the 100,000 dead, the three-way ethnic divisions traced in blood, the Srebrenica massacre of Muslims. Some things can't be solved. This was one: until Holbrooke went for the Balkan jugular.


Three things distinguished him. The first was his passion. He'd been in Banja Luka in August 1992, where he witnessed "half-drunk Serb paramilitaries" on a raping rampage. Later he was given a wooden carving by a Muslim survivor of a Serbian concentration camp. He put the sculpture in his Washington office, a daily reminder of Western failure.


The second was his understanding of the place of force in diplomacy. He was comfortable with American power, Vietnam notwithstanding. The Balkan bullies, Slobodan Milosevic chief among them, shrank before U.S. military brass; Holbrooke, adept at theater, knew that. NATO soon embarked on its first serious bombing of the Serbs. When the bombardment paused and Milosevic pleaded, Holbrooke parried: "History would never forgive us if we stop now."


Living in three time zones — past, present and future — he liked to invoke history, for it was prologue. Living in three identities — doer, observer and chronicler — his persuasive arsenal was intricate, part dagger, part whimsy. He knew how to close and how closing depended on a balance of forces.


The third was his determination. When an American diplomat, Robert Frasure, and two senior officials were killed in an accident near Sarajevo, Holbrooke's relentlessness was redoubled. As another fine U.S. diplomat, Ron Nitesky, said, Holbrooke knew Frasure was "too good a man to die putting the best possible twist on a bad policy."


Now Holbrooke, too, has gone out "with his boots on," as his wife Kati Marton told me, trying to end another war in Afghanistan. Will somebody assume his mantle as Holbrooke took up Frasure's, with that fire?


I'm not sure we breed his like any more in this age of narrow-gauge specialization. The pusillanimous paper-shufflers — the kind that denied him a deserved Nobel Peace Prize — busy "putting the best possible twist on bad policy" multiply; they complicated Holbrooke's life in the Obama administration. American power in 2010 is not what it was in 1995.


Still, this untimely death is a clarion call to America to set aside smallness in the name of values that can still inspire. Holbrooke was a fierce believer in the U.S. capacity for good. Here stood the nexus of his multiple beings. It is what made him so consequential in so many places and saved so many lives.


Wilsonian idealist? Ruthless realpolitiker? He was both rolled into one dreamer-doer. As he once told me, "We cannot choose between the two; we have to blend the two." How could Americans forsake their idealism if they had become Americans precisely in defiance of the hateful ideologies that drove Holbrooke's Jewish parents from Europe and ooze from Waziristan caves today?


Archibald Macleish wrote that if we had not believed all humankind is endowed "with certain inalienable rights, we would never have become America, whatever else we might have become." That was the America Holbrooke took out to the world, even post-Iraq, with "interventionism" a dirty word.


An Afghan student, Ziaullah, once a radical anti-American at Khost University, was transformed by meeting Holbrooke. He wrote of his "bad grief" and the "bad shock to the peace mission in the world."


It was impossible to end the Bosnian war. Yet he ended it with the Dayton accords. It was impossible, in one life, to do so much for Chinese-American rapprochement; so much for transatlantic ties and the German-American bond; so much for AIDS and the American Academy in Berlin (his brainchild); and so much and so loyally for so many friends. Yet he did.


Dayton was imperfect and achieved in talks with a bloody killer, but immensely precious. That's worth recalling in Afghanistan. The Afghan review upholding the start of withdrawal in July 2011 bears the mark of Holbrooke's realism.


When I spoke to Marton, the president of Georgia had just called to say a street would be named for Holbrooke, and a former French minister to relay Le Monde's headline: "L'Amérique a perdu un diplomate de légende."


Holbrooke would have liked that. He took a lively interest in the press's lively interest in him. "Calling from some hell hole, he'd always ask, 'Was the piece above the fold?' " Marton recalled.


Yes, Richard, the obit was well above the fold, a reflection of a life of unrelenting and passionate engagement.








When the financial crisis struck, many people — myself included — considered it a teachable moment. Above all, we expected the crisis to remind everyone why banks need to be effectively regulated.


How naïve we were. We should have realized that the modern Republican Party is utterly dedicated to the Reaganite slogan that government is always the problem, never the solution. And, therefore, we should have realized that party loyalists, confronted with facts that don't fit the slogan, would adjust the facts.


Which brings me to the case of the collapsing crisis commission.


The bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was established by law to "examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States." The hope was that it would be a modern version of the Pecora investigation of the 1930s, which documented Wall Street abuses and helped pave the way for financial reform.


Instead, however, the commission has broken down along partisan lines, unable to agree on even the most basic points.


It's not as if the story of the crisis is particularly obscure. First, there was a widely spread housing bubble, not just in the United States, but in Ireland, Spain, and other countries as well. This bubble was inflated by irresponsible lending, made possible both by bank deregulation and the failure to extend regulation to "shadow banks," which weren't covered by traditional regulation but nonetheless engaged in banking activities and created bank-type risks.


Then the bubble burst, with hugely disruptive consequences. It turned out that Wall Street had created a web of interconnection nobody understood, so that the failure of Lehman Brothers, a medium-size investment bank, could threaten to take down the whole world financial system.


It's a straightforward story, but a story that the Republican members of the commission don't want told. Literally.


Last week, reports Shahien Nasiripour of The Huffington Post, all four Republicans on the commission voted to exclude the following terms from the report: "deregulation," "shadow banking," "interconnection," and, yes, "Wall Street."


When Democratic members refused to go along with this insistence that the story of Hamlet be told without the prince, the Republicans went ahead and issued their own report, which did, indeed, avoid using any of the banned terms.


That report is all of nine pages long, with few facts and hardly any numbers. Beyond that, it tells a story that has been widely and repeatedly debunked — without responding at all to the debunkers.


In the world according to the G.O.P. commissioners, it's all the fault of government do-gooders, who used various levers — especially Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored loan-guarantee agencies — to promote loans to low-income borrowers. Wall Street — I mean, the private sector — erred only to the extent that it got suckered into going along with this government-created bubble.


It's hard to overstate how wrongheaded all of this is. For one thing, as I've already noted, the housing bubble was international — and Fannie and Freddie weren't guaranteeing mortgages in Latvia. Nor were they guaranteeing loans in commercial real estate, which also experienced a huge bubble.


Beyond that, the timing shows that private players weren't suckered into a government-created bubble. It was the other way around. During the peak years of housing inflation, Fannie and Freddie were pushed to the sidelines; they only got into dubious lending late in the game, as they tried to regain market share.


But the G.O.P. commissioners are just doing their job, which is to sustain the conservative narrative. And a narrative that absolves the banks of any wrongdoing, that places all the blame on meddling politicians, is especially important now that Republicans are about to take over the House.


Last week, Spencer Bachus, the incoming G.O.P. chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told The Birmingham News that "in Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."


He later tried to walk the remark back, but there's no question that he and his colleagues will do everything they can to block effective regulation of the people and institutions responsible for the economic nightmare of recent years. So they need a cover story saying that it was all the government's fault.


In the end, those of us who expected the crisis to provide a teachable moment were right, but not in the way we expected. Never mind relearning the case for bank regulation; what we learned, instead, is what happens when an ideology backed by vast wealth and immense power confronts inconvenient facts. And the answer is, the facts lose.








HENRY E. HUDSON, the federal judge in Virginia who ruled this week that the individual mandate provision of the new health care law is unconstitutional, has become the object of widespread derision. Judge Hudson explained that whatever else Congress might be able to do, it cannot force people to engage in a commercial activity, in this case buying an insurance policy.

Critics contend that Judge Hudson has unduly restricted Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce, the principal basis on which the government defends the law. Some also claim that he ignored the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution, which allows Congress leeway to choose how to put in place national economic programs. Yet a closer reading shows that Judge Hudson's analysis could prove irresistible to the Supreme Court and that there is a reasonable chance it will agree that the insurance mandate is invalid.


For the last century the Supreme Court has struggled to define the limits of Congress's interstate-commerce power. In the early decades of the 20th century, the court experimented with a variety of distinctions: Congress could regulate trade but not the manufacturing process (in a child-labor case); Congress could regulate anything that directly affected interstate commerce but not where the effect was indirect (in a labor dispute involving coal miners); Congress could regulate goods in the stream of commerce but not before they entered or after they left that stream (in a ruling on chicken farming).


These distinctions, however, proved unworkable in a time of industrial growth and expanding national markets. And in the 1930s, confronted with the surge of governmental power during the New Deal, the court abandoned them all.


Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, the court took up the project anew. In invalidating a federal gun possession law and the provision of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed victims to sue their attackers, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and his colleagues held that while Congress could regulate local economic behavior because of its national economic effects, Congress could not on the same theory regulate non-economic behavior like possessing a gun or committing an act of violence.


When the health care law makes it to the Supreme Court, the justices will ask, with varying degrees of concern, this age-old question: How do we define the limits, because limits there must be, on this federal power?


Judge Hudson has presented a way for the court to finally answer this question. His opinion is the first prominent judgment to say that Congress can use its power over interstate commerce only to regulate "activity," as opposed to a lack of action. This strikes many as a bold assertion, but it has a lot going for it. All of the Supreme Court cases upholding Congress's power under the Constitution's interstate commerce clause have involved Congress regulating some kind of activity that is already occurring.


Indeed, the court has never confronted a federal statute that forces people to engage in some action like this. The conservative justices in particular will no doubt wonder what else Congress can make Americans do if it can make us buy health insurance. Can Congress tell us to join a gym because fit people have fewer chronic diseases? Can Congress direct us to purchase a new Chrysler to help Detroit get back on its feet?


In addition, parsing the distinction between activity and inactivity provides a way for the justices to strike down the individual mandate without having to overturn any precedent. As shown by its ruling this year that corporations have a First Amendment right to pay for political ads, the Roberts court is masterly at generating new rules while saying it is faithfully following established law. Indeed, there is a hint that at least one member of the court already sees things in the same way as Judge Hudson. When the court held in 2005 that the interstate commerce clause permitted Congress to outlaw the cultivation and possession of marijuana for personal medical use, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion that is a mini-treatise explaining why the relevant precedents commanded this result. In describing what Congress could regulate, Justice Scalia used the words "activity" and "activities" 42 times.


Judge Hudson's critics say that a distinction between action and inaction is unworkable. After all, individuals who do not purchase health insurance engage in activity when they go to an emergency room for care. Yet a Supreme Court that for more than a century has struggled to define the limits of federal commerce power might, like Judge Hudson, refuse to find actions beyond the insurance market itself pertinent to an analysis of the law.


Judge Hudson's distinction also has allure because United States law in other ways already treats actions differently from inaction. Criminal law punishes things people do, not things they do not do. Tort law makes us liable for our actions that cause injury; outside of special relationships like that between a parent and a child, there is no duty to act. To drive a car, you must first purchase insurance, but you can choose to forgo auto insurance and use public transport instead.


While nobody knows for sure what the Supreme Court will do in any particular case, there is now a serious question as to whether the individual mandate will ultimately survive. Judge Hudson has offered the justices a ready-made limit on Congressional power, a limit that makes sense of past cases, is steeped in the law's traditions and allows the court to complete the task it began a century ago.


Jason Mazzone is a professor at Brooklyn Law School.







To the Editor:


Re "Ben Franklin's Nation," by David Brooks (column, Dec. 14):


I agree that it was the social context undergirding capitalism that created the American bourgeoisie, and that we must do a better job of celebrating and defining middle-class values.


But what has happened to those middle-class values?


It seems there is a new social order — or is it simply today's capitalism by which we measure our value? Does a major league ballplayer prove that he is the best because he can command a $125 million contract compared with the next guy at $110 million? Does a New York banker prove he is the greatest because of the many more millions or billions he takes home or controls compared with his competitors?


I doubt it, but something is clearly damaging our society as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class shrinks.


Being middle-class with bourgeois dignity does not require aristocracy. It does require attention to the working class and the underclass if we are to survive as a democratic, happy people that can take care of its needs, and have a little left over for non-necessities.


Robert Weiss


Mill Valley, Calif., Dec. 14, 2010









Since President Obama announced hisAfghanistan war strategy a year ago, he has struggled with the awkward straddle at its heart: his surge of 30,000 troops into the war zone coupled with a promise to begin withdrawing them by next summer.


The plan always seemed equivocal, neither a full-throated commitment to an achievable goal nor a decision to pull out. If the idea was to discourage the Taliban and quiet war critics, it backfired on both counts.


But Thursday, in announcing the results of his year-end review, Obama seemed to shift the bulk of his weight firmly toward the war-fighting end of the seesaw.


Yes, the plan is still to bring some troops home by mid-2011, but the early departures seem likely to be small and symbolic. Obama (as well as his secretaries of State and Defense) emphasized that any withdrawal must be results-based, and that a full handoff to Afghan forces will not be achieved until 2014.


The frankness put an official stamp on months of administration spin aimed at shifting the psychological expectation date for withdrawal from its announced start in 2011 to its hoped-for finish three years later. And if there's a bait-and-switch feel to it, it is nevertheless the right direction to tilt. The popular alternative, a withdrawal pegged coldly to the calendar, would simply be a way of failing while sacrificing the maximum number of U.S. troops.


The tougher question is whether Obama's plan will succeed.


The presidential review, recent national intelligence estimates and an assortment of news reports all identify areas of progress. It seems clear that at the focal point of the surge — the Taliban's home ground around Kandahar in southern Afghanistan — U.S. troops are driving the Taliban out and pacifying the area. They're also killing Taliban leaders at a rate that various reports suggest is having an intimidating impact. If that continues, and Afghan troops can be trained to take over, there's reason to believe the results will match the successful Iraq surge.


But the review asserts that the gains are still fragile, and given the incompetence and unreliability of the Afghan government, that is surely true.


The intelligence estimates cast a bleaker picture still. Driven from its home areas, the Taliban is making gains elsewhere. Even more vexing, and sure to decide the ultimate fate of Obama's plan, is the continuing failure to remove Taliban and al-Qaeda havens across the border in Pakistan.


There are reasons — and excuses — for this. Pakistan's army is overstretched, and the U.S. is confined to Predator attacks for fear that a cross-border assault might set off a nationalist backlash that could drive Pakistan and its nuclear weapons into radical hands. Further, Pakistan's intelligence service plays a double game, sometimes catering to extremist elements, because its interests are not aligned with ours.


This complexity, the Obama plan's supporters say, demands "strategic patience" — a willingness to stay focused on the objective while pressing Obama's multifaceted military and diplomatic strategy on both sides of the border, steadily squeezing the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies until the latter can be crushed.


As logical as that argument is, and as important as it is to destroy al-Qaeda, that's a lot to ask after a record nine years of war and the promise of four more.


By the time the next review arrives, the U.S. presidential election season will be getting underway, patience will be wearing thin, and success will need to look a whole lot closer than it does now.








Pakistan is the ally of allies in the global war on terrorism led by the United States. This is our war, too, and our civil and military leaders have vowed that no terrorist organization will be tolerated or allowed to operate from our soil.


Our human and material sacrifices are unmatched by all others involved. So far, Pakistan has suffered more than 40,000 civilian and military casualties in this war.


President Obama, in his policy remarks on the war, has aptly remarked that it is "a very difficult endeavor," and that gains are "fragile and reversible." Pakistan is also very well aware of the complexity of the situation.


Although Pakistan has come under fire for not clearing its northern tribal belt of militants, these criticisms do not account for our deep-seated domestic limitations, regional concerns and other military-related inadequacies.


The perception that we're ignoring the tribal areas in North Waziristan is unfounded; 38,000 of 149,000 military personnel in the tribal areas have been deployed there. The army has also conducted operations and surgical strikes on designated targets. The delay in full-fledged operations is a result of these considerations:


•The army is overstretched.


•Any comprehensive operation in the area would entail the displacement of a very large number of people, which is beyond the government's capacity to handle.


•It would require shifting of forces from Swat and other areas prematurely, thereby risking gains of the past two years.


•The recent floods have further compounded army resources as an additional 60,000 troops remain deployed in different parts of the country.


•Protracted war against militants during the past nine years has seriously depleted the military's capabilities.


•Reimbursements and military assistance from the Coalition Support Fund have remained inadequate, slow and cumbersome. As a result, Pakistan badly lacks the means and tools to fight insurgency, including the essential military equipment for operations in such difficult terrain.


•Weather conditions in North Waziristan are very harsh from November through March and make it impossible for any military operations.


We expect that by the coming spring, Pakistan will be able to recall troops committed on flood relief missions. This would enable Pakistan to consider launching fresh operations.


Pakistan is moving in the right direction. But in order to achieve our shared objectives, Pakistan should be extended international trust and support. Together, we have made significant progress. So let's work out an effective joint strategy and make sure we don't squander our achievements.


Imran Gardezi is the press minister at Pakistan's embassy in Washington.








Larry King, who has been a bedtime buddy for millions on radio and TV for more than 50 years, said goodnight for a regularly scheduled final time Thursday night on CNN.


He's 77. What will be his legacy?


His critics say it's "softball." His fans, including many who have appeared on his show, say it's "fairball." I say it's both.


I've known Larry since 1957, when he was a fledgling disc jockey on radio station WAHR in Miami. I was a cub reporter at The Miami Herald.


He was a poor Jewish kid from Brooklyn whose dad died when Larry was in grade school. I was a poor German-Russian kid from South Dakota. My dad died when I was 2.


Since then, Larry and I both have taken some big risks because we wanted to make it big, partly in memory of our dads.


He gambled on a late-night radio talk show. In 1978, it was syndicated nationally on the Mutual Network.


That radio format ultimately developed into Larry King Live on CNN. The key to Larry's longtime success:


•He asked his guests short, simple, sensible questions.


•Then he let them answer.


He wasn't full of himself. He didn't sound off with his personal opinions or make fun of guests.


That softball approach was in sharp contrast to relative newcomers on TV talk shows. An aptly named example isHardballwith Chris Matthews on MSNBC.


Matthews and others on MSNBC sometimes unfairly cater to a left-wing audience. On Fox, Bill O'Reilly and his cohorts sometimes unfairly court right-wingers.


The Constitution guarantees a free press. We in the news media should make sure it is a fair press. Larry King did that.








Congress recently agreed to pay black farmers — who were denied farm loans or were forced to endure long waits for approval of their loans because of their race — up to $50,000 each in settlement as part of a class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But this settlement is too little, too late.


It is too little because in farming, $50,000 doesn't go far. A tractor can cost $300,000, and the necessary attachments an additional $500,000. A 50-pound bag of corn seed, which covers only 2 acres, can cost $250. This is barely a start when most farmers plant hundreds, if not thousands, of acres.


The settlement is too late because although more than 70,000 black farmers are eligible to make claims, today only 18,000working black farmers are left in the United States.


The USDA, as part of this settlement, admitted that thousands of black farmers lost their farms or went into bankruptcy because of these discriminatory practices.


Blacks have farmed the land since 1620, when they came to America as slaves. Throughout most of U.S. history, blacksfarming the land was not the problem; opposition only came when they wanted to own the land. For black farmers, loans have been hard to come by. Though the Farmers Home Administration — later renamed the Farm Service Agency — was created in the 1930s as a lender of last resort to small farmers, African Americans were systematically turned down for such help. In 1997, in an effort to save their land, a group of blacks led byTimothy Pigford, a North Carolina farmer, sued the USDA for discriminatory practices in denying them price support loans, disaster payments, farm ownership loans and operating loans.


A USDA inspector general's report found that black farmers in North Carolina waited an average of 222 days for their loans to be processed, compared with 84 days for whites. When blacks were not denied, they often did not receive approval until after the planting season, causing them to lose a year's income anyway.


Many black farmers have lost their land quietly and unnoticed. Pigford and others worked tir