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Saturday, December 18, 2010

EDITORIAL 18.12.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month december 18, edition 000706, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. HAFIZ VISITS ISLAMABAD
  2. KERALA TURNING GREEN
  3. A WASTED YEAR IN NEPAL - ANSHUMAN BEHERA
  4. YOGA ESSENTIALLY HINDU, ANTI-CHRIST - ALBERT MOHLER
  5. YOGA RULES - SUBHASH CHANDRA SHARMA
  6. 'CHRISTIAN YOGA' AN OXYMORON - RAJIV MALHOTRA

MAIL TODAY

  1. BJP'S STAND ONLY VINDICATES RAHUL COMMENT ON TERROR
  2. PREMIER VISIT A MIXED BAG - BY NATWAR SINGH
  3. WHO SAID NEWS SITES DON'T MAKE MONEY? - SACHIN KALBAG

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. 2012: AN EARTHLY ODYSSEY
  2. TOGETHER, INTO A BETTER FUTURE - GANESH NATARAJAN
  3. SPORT IS A STRESS TEST
  4. CREATE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
  5. A NEW WORLD, A NEW LEADERSHIP - DAVID BROOKS

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. READING THE FORTUNE COOKIE
  2. UNBIASED RECITALS - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
  3. DON'T LET THE GUN DO THE TALKING - PRATIK KANJILAL,

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. MAKING ROOM
  2. PERCENTAGE SHIFTS
  3. LOST AT 125
  4. INSIDE THE JUNGLE - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI 
  5. UPA'S METEORIC FALL - SHEKHAR GUPTA 
  6. DISAPPEARING ACT – RUCHIKA TALWAR 
  7. THE UNQUIET AMERICAN
  8. DECLINE AND FALL OF INDIAN POVERTY - SURJIT S BHALLA 
  9. BAD HOUSEKEEPING - C.V. MADHUKAR 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. OLD-STYLE JVS DRIVE OUT
  2. ADVANCE CHEER
  3. DECLINE AND FALL OF INDIAN POVERTY - SURJIT S BHALLA
  4. A BREATHER FROM RBI - MADAN SABNAVIS
  5. EAVESDROPPER
    SAVING FACEBOOK

THE HINDU

  1. GOING BEYOND TRADE
  2. MAKING CITIES SAFER FOR WOMEN
  3. HORN OF AFRICA: WHY INDIA SHOULD CARE MORE - RAJIV BHATIA
  4. THE MAKING OF A HERO - JACK HEALY
  5. ANONYMOUS HIERARCHY EMERGES - JOSH HALLIDAY AND CHARLES ARTHUR
  6. BID TO PROBE 'GENOME' OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE - ALOK JHA
  7. MEDIC FIGHTS DEPLOYMENT

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. WEN'S INDIA VISIT:AN ACT OF FUTILITY?
  2. HIDE & SEEK - FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. YEAR OF THE SLEAZY - SHOBHAA DE

DNA

  1. BOLLYWOOD'S STAR IS ON THE RISE - UTTARA CHOUDHURY
  2. GIFTS IN CASH VERSUS GIFTS IN KIND - V RAGHUNATHAN
  3. CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM HAS SOCIETY AS A PRIMARY TARGET - K YATISH RAJAWAT

THE KASHMIR TIMES

  1. INDIA'S 'KASHMIR' VERSUS CHINA'S 'TIBET'
  2. SCHOOLS IN FREEZING COLD
  3. ON A STICKY WICKET - KULDIP NAYAR
  4. TO BE OR 2 G..!

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. REMOVE OBSTACLES
  2. HEAL THYSELF
  3. ABOLITION OF RAJYA SABHA - BY M L KOTRU
  4. FOR QUALITY EDUCATION - BY DR. SHAKEEL AHMED RAINA
  5. BOOTSTRAP IN INDO-RUSSIAN RELATIONS - BY FAZAL MEHMOOD

THE TRIBUNE

  1. TRADE TO CEMENT TIES
  2. LIMITS OF JUDICIARY
  3. HONOUR THE SOLDIER
  4. IMPLICATIONS OF IRAN GOING NUCLEAR - BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
  5. DEAR ALL ! - BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA
  6. DRUG-HIT ADOLESCENCE
  7. RAJAT RAY AND ANJU DHAWAN
  8. A "TICKING BOMB"

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. SCRAPPING NETAS' 'POCKET MONEY'

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. SEIZE THE MOMENT - T N NINAN
  2. POST-REFORM RENT-SEEKING - DEEPAK LAL
  3. ON EQUAL TERMS - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. FREE SPEECH AND SEXUAL MISCONDUCT - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  5. A JOURNEY INTO RUSSIAN HISTORY - V V
  6. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GARBAGE DUMP - SUBIR ROY
  7. WHAT MALEGAM CANNOT DO - M S SRIRAM
  8. AND THE AWARD GOES TO... - RAMA BIJAPURKAR

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. GO HERO, GO!
  2. LEARNING FROM BIHAR
  3. THINKING THIN
  4. FOR A GLOBAL RESPONSE TO THE RISK
  5. 'GPS HAS A MARKET IN INDIA' - SANJEEVSINHA 
  6. REVAMPING FOODGRAIN POLICY - C S C SEKHAR 
  7. THE SPIRIT OF GIVING - VITHAL C NADKARNI 

DECCAN  CHRONICALE

  1. HAS PUSHKAR FETE MADE CHIRU SICK?
  2. HIDE & SEEK - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. WEN'S INDIA VISIT:AN ACT OF FUTILITY?
  4. 2010: YEAR OF THE SLEAZY

THE STATESMAN

  1. BOLD INITIATIVE
  2. THE RELUCTANT INFORMER - ABHIJIT GUHA
  3. 'DEVELOPMENT DOESN'T MEAN EVICTING FARMERS'
  4. ON RECORD
  5. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. TERMS OF ESTRANGEMENT
  2. PROPHETS OUTCAST - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. TURNING TO BUSINESS
  2. A BALANCING ACT
  3. HURTING THE DALIT CAUSE - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
  4. HUMILITY IS RARE - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. THEN AND NOW - BY D K HAVANOOR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. GAMES VS. GOVERNING
  2. PROTECTING THE INTERNET
  3. CHOLERA AND HAITI
  4. 'THINGS ARE COMING TOGETHER'
  5. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS PINGS TWICE - BY MICHAEL RAVNITZKY
  6. WHOSE PARTY IS IT? - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
  7. THE GINGRICH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS - BY GAIL COLLINS
  8. TURN IN YOUR BIN LADENS - BY JONATHAN LIPOW
  9. WHO'S DEFINING MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES?

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. THE PRICE WE PAY WHEN JOURNALISTS LOSE THE PLOT
  2. A WRITER WHO TOLD US OUR STORIES
  3. PLAYING OUR PART FOR REFUGEES

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE BIGGER SQUEEZE: SYDNEY BY 2036
  2. 'TIS THE SEASON TO BE VENGEFUL
  3. WHAT A DIFFERENCE WIKILEAKS MAKES

THE GUARDIAN

  1. WIKILEAKS: THE MAN AND THE IDEA

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. AD HOC TAX REFORM PLAN
  2. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION UNDER FIRE
  3. WIKILEAKS' FLAWED ANSWER TO A FLAWED WORLD - BY ESTHER DYSON

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. SCRUTINIZE THE CITY BUDGET
  2. IMMEDIATE ACTION SOUGHT TO PREVENT CATASTROPHE IN JAKARTA - WIRYONO, QUEENSLAND  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HAFIZ VISITS ISLAMABAD

PAKISTAN SIGNALS IT REMAINS A TERRORIST STATE


Pakistan claims that it is doing its best to rein in terrorists operating out of that country and implement the UN Security Council's resolutions, including the 2008 resolution banning the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h which is a cover for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed who, along with fellow jihadis, planned and executed the 26/11fidayeen attack on Mumbai. But that this is no more than a hollow claim, like most other claims of Pakistan, is borne out by Hafiz Saeed being allowed to travel freely and address political rallies. After two years, he made an appearance in Islamabad on Wednesday, obviously with the sanction — if not at the invitation — of the Government, the Army and the ISI: Wanted men don't walk around in the Pakistani capital just like that. That there are no restrictions on Hafiz Saeed only means that he continues to enjoy the complete support of those who are supposed to be cracking down on evil men like him. Hafiz Saeed's appearance indicates that the PPP regime — remote controlled by the Pakistani Army and the ISI from Rawalpindi — has discarded all pretences of being serious in taking follow-up action to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice, a promise which it has made to Governments around the world, more so to those countries on whose charity Pakistan and Pakistanis survive. In the early days of the global outrage over 26/11 and following the UN Security Council resolution, Hafiz Saeed was placed under house arrest. But the Pakistani establishment's true intention was exposed by the weak case presented by the Government in court which resulted in Hafiz Saeed being set free. The chief terrorist of the LeT kept a sort of low profile for a year, and has now decided to stage a comeback. Hafiz Saeed's visit to Islamabad where he attended and addressed a meeting held to demonstrate support for Pakistan's hideous anti-blasphemy law and demand that there should be no amendments to its inhuman clauses — Islamists are right now baying for the blood of a poor Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for 'insulting' Islam; the trial was as much a mockery of justice as the legal process initiated against the guilty men of 26/11 — signals his return to active jihad. And by allowing him to do so, the Pakistani Government, the Pakistani Army and the ISI have collectively sent out a sinister message to India and the world: They have neither abandoned their 'asset' nor given up the policy of fomenting global jihad.


At one level, this should worry India. Hafiz Saeed can be expected to revive his jihad factory and produce more jihadis like Kasab to strike terror in India. At another level, it should worry the world, too. Every terrorist who has struck anywhere has been traced back to Pakistan. The 9/11 killers may not have been Pakistanis, but it was a Pakistani who plotted the attack. The latest suicide bomber to blow himself up in Europe is of Pakistani extraction. The Americans know this better than anybody else. Yet the US persists with funding a criminal system that mass produces and exports jihadis. Washington, DC insists it is trying to stabilise a dangerous country which, if it implodes, can pose a major threat to all. But that's balderdash. The US argument is as unconvincing as the Pakistani claim that it is working on bringing the masterminds behind 26/11 to justice. 

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

KERALA TURNING GREEN

ISLAMISM SPREADS ITS NETWORK OF HATE


The people of Kerala, known as 'God's Own Country', have known that their peaceful State has been changing into a turbulent battlefield ever since the launch of a hunt for terrorists following the killing of four Malayalee militants at Kupwara in Jammu & Kashmir in October 2008. Since then, rare has been the day without further revelations about the worsening situation in Kerala. This week the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has confirmed fears of jihadis lying low in Kerala, waiting to strike after receiving instructions from their masters in Pakistan, following the publication of a list of 31 wanted terrorists among whom there are six Malayalees. The most important name on the last is that of KP Sabir, who is believed to be high on the LeT's hierarchy. Sabir, according to information gathered by official agencies, was in constant contact with David Coleman Headley, the Chicago-based LeT operative involved with facilitating the 26/11 terrorist attack. The agencies have gathered information to the effect that Sabir had arranged local assistance for Tahawwur Hussein Rana, Headley's associate, when he visited Kerala. Sabir's two brothers are also part of the terror network and are accused of being involved with the Coimbatore Press Club bombing of 2002. Muhammad Azhar and PP Yusuf, two others on the list, are accused of being involved with the Kozhikode bombings. PA Raysal, the fourth among the Keralites on the list, is an accused in the Bangalore bombings. 


All these Indian Mujahideen operatives belong to Kannur district, known as Kerala's Marxist heartland; the LeT's 'South India Commander', Thadiyantavide Nazeer, hails from this area. It is now almost certain that Kerala's homegrown jihadis draw sustenance from their Gulf connections. Sabir's brother, Shabeer, arrested in Mumbai last month, has disclosed that their hideouts in Dubai and other Gulf cities were used for planning terror strikes in India. According to the Kerala Police, many of the wanted men are holed up in the Gulf. Kerala has never been without communalists; the Moplah 'revolt' was the forerunner of today's Islamist separatism and violent activism that manifests itself in the form of terrorism. The rapid 'Arabisation' of Kerala's society, especially in the Muslim-dominated districts, has resulted in the birth and growth of violent Islamism. Needless to say, this does not augur well for the State. Competitive politics of pandering to communal elements and organisations in the hope of garnering Muslim votes has only strengthened those who seek salvation through death and destruction in the name of Islam. If the Congress is guilty of minorityism, so are the Communists who have shown no compunction in aligning with the likes of Madani. That, in a sense, is Kerala's tragedy and India's too. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

A WASTED YEAR IN NEPAL

ANSHUMAN BEHERA


The continuing political deadlock, caused by recalcitrant Maoists, in Kathmandu has resulted in further delay in drafting a Constitution


Nepal's unending troubles have pushed yet another year into the void, with a political deadlock blocking out all possibilities of progress in both Government formation and the critical drafting of a Constitution. A tiny glimmer of light, however, can be extracted from the fact that, despite the continuous and often abrasive political confrontations, the country has remained relatively free of major acts of violence.


Militancy-related fatalities have continued their declining trend, with 35 deaths recorded in 2010 (recorded till November 28), as against 50 through 2009, and 480 in the last phase of the Maoist 'people's war' in 2006, before a peace deal was hammered out with the Seven-Party Alliance after the collapse of the monarchy. Civilian fatalities have seen a dramatic fall, from 35 in 2009 to 12 in 2010, while militant deaths have risen from 14 to 22. 


Significantly, of the 12 civilians killed, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was responsible for just two deaths. The remaining 10 were killed by Madhes-based extremist formations, principally the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh faction). Of the 22 militants killed, as many as 14 were from the UCPN(M), another two from its youth wing, the Young Communist League, five from JTMM(J), and one victim was 'unidentified'. Significantly, in a departure from previous years, most of the extremist killings have been in factional or party rivalries. Ten UCPN(M) cadre were killed by Madhes-based groups such as JTMM(J) and Sanyukta Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, and another four by unidentified assailants.


The Maoists, who spearheaded the violent political turmoil in the country for a decade (1996-2006), are evidently no longer actively engaged in armed violence, and the consequent vacuum has created spaces for fringe Madhesi groups to consolidate their power through localised campaigns of intimidation and murder. 


The Maoist role in the country's unrelenting political logjam, however, remains central. On November 19, the Maoists obstructed the passage of the Annual Budget by the caretaker Government led by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), unleashing pandemonium in the Constituent Assembly and attacking Finance Minister Surendra Pandey. In doing this, the Maoists — Nepal's main Opposition party — backtracked on their pact with the ruling parties to allow the Budget to be passed. 


The three principal parties of Nepal — UCPN(M), CPN(UML) and the Nepali Congress — had, on November 15, decided to form a three-member task force comprising two former Finance Ministers, Mr Bharat Mohan Adhikari and Mr Ram Sharan Mahat, and UCPN(M) vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai, to carry out consultation among parties to present and pass the Budget through consensus. After the meeting, Mr Bhattarai had said, "We are close to striking a package deal." On November 17, the three reached an agreement to pass the Budget.


The obstruction of the Budget was, however, no more than the deepening of an enduring crisis most starkly reflected in the failure to elect a Prime Minister through 17 rounds of elections in more than five months since caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned on July 1.


The attempt to elect a Prime Minister was initiated on July 21, with three candidates: Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, the chairman of the UCPN(M); Mr Jhala Nath Khanal of the CPN(UML); and, Mr Rama Chandra Poudel of the NC. While, Mr Khanal withdrew after the first round, Mr Dahal remained a candidate till the seventh round (held on September 7). Since then, the lone surviving candidate for the post has failed to secure the magic number of 301 in the 601-member Constituent Assembly.


There is little possibility of a resolution here, unless there is a significant inter-party consensus, given the distribution of seats in the Constituent Assembly: The UCPN(M) has 220 seats; the NC has 110; the CPN(UML) has 103; and the Madhesi parties have a combined strength of 82. Maoist support is essential to Government formation by any other party; while the Maoists can secure power only with the support of either the NC or the CPN(UML). Neither of these outcomes has crystallised despite months of hectic politicking.


Another conflict that has proven irreducible is the confrontation between the Maoists, on the one hand, and all the other parties massed on the other, over the integration of the People's Liberation Army with the Nepal Army. The integration question has been one of the principal causes of the political polarisation in the country for over four years, and this has deepened further with the participation of the PLA in the Sixth Plenum of the UCPN (M), held in the Gorkha District, which commenced on November 21.


The participation of the PLA in the Plenum has been criticised not only by political opponents of the Maoists, but by the United Nations Mission in Nepal as well. On November 24, Mr Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, accused the UCPN(M) of breaching the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by involving their former combatants in the party's Plenum, and demanded that the Army Integration Special Committee should take the matter seriously as the former Maoist combatants are now under its purview.


Similarly, the chief of UNMIN said, "PLA presence in the Plenum is contrary to the spirit of Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement." The understanding between the SPA and the Maoists on the modalities and regulation of PLA combatants, and their verification, has been the subject of three different agreements in 2006. Even after four years, however, a stalemate on the question of integration persists.


There is further and increasing contention on the role and tenure of UNMIN. Originally, the UNMIN's tenure was intended to end on January 23, 2008, but has since been extended seven times, the last of these on September 15, with a four month extension, ending January 15, 2011. It is unlikely that the PLA's integration will be completed (or even see any substantive progress) within this period, and the UNMIN's credibility can only be further diluted with the passage of time and its evident ineffectiveness. 


Adding to the overdose of instability is the increasing internal division within the UCPN(M), which has come to a head during the Sixth Plenum. Maoist leaders, such as Mr Baburam Bhattarai, Mr Mohan Baidya and Mr Dahal tabled different reports regarding the party's future strategy and line of struggle, with the former contradicting party chairman. Mr Bhattarai reiterated the idea of a 'competitive republic': Mr Baidya wanted the party to adopt the idea of a 'people's republic'; and, Mr Dahal stressed on preparations for a new revolt while staying firm on peace and the Constitution. 


This is indicative of the multiple political disputes in Kathmandu which have crystallized into a deadlock on the drafting of the Constitution. A dead line of May 28 was imposed for the completion of the drafting process. However, with each of the political formations amplifying their disagreements on even the smallest possible issues, the deadline has long gone, and the process itself has lost impetus.

The writer is a research associate at the Institute for Conflict Management. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

YOGA ESSENTIALLY HINDU, ANTI-CHRIST

ONE OF THE BIGGEST CONTROVERSIES TO SWEEP INTELLECTUAL CIRCLES OF THE DEVELOPED WORLD IN 2010 WAS GENERATED BY THIS ARTICLE, PENNED BY AN EVANGELIST OBVIOUSLY ALARMED AT THE POTENTIAL OF YOGA TO UNITE MANKIND INTO VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM

ALBERT MOHLER


When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral.

 

Some questions we ask today would simply baffle our ancestors. When Christians ask whether believers should practice yoga, they are asking a question that betrays the strangeness of our current cultural moment — a time in which yoga seems almost mainstream in America.


It was not always so. No one tells the story of yoga in America better than Stefanie Syman, whose recent book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, is a masterpiece of cultural history. Syman, an engaging author who is also a fifteen-year devotee of yoga, tells this story well.


Her book actually opens with a scene from this year's annual White House Easter Egg Roll. President Barack Obama made a few comments and then introduced First Lady Michelle Obama, who said: "Our goal today is just to have fun. We want to focus on activity, healthy eating. We've got yoga, we've got dancing, we've got storytelling, we've got Easter-egg decorating."


Syman describes the yoga on the White House lawn as "sanitised, sanctioned, and family-friendly," and she noted the rather amazing fact that a practice once seen as so exotic and even dangerous was now included as an activity sufficiently safe and mainstream for children. 


In her words:


There certainly was no better proof that Americans had assimilated this spiritual discipline. We had turned a technique for God realisation that had, at various points in time, enjoined its adherents to reduce their diet to rice, milk, and a few vegetables, fix their minds on a set of, to us, incomprehensible syllables, and self-administer daily enemas (without the benefit of equipment), to name just a few of its prerequisites, into an activity suitable for children. Though yoga has no coherent tradition in India, being preserved instead by thousands of gurus and hundreds of lineages, each of which makes a unique claim to authenticity, we had managed to turn it into a singular thing: a way to stay healthy and relaxed.

 

In her book, Syman tells the fascinating story of how yoga was transformed in the American mind from a foreign and "even heathen" practice into a cultural reality that is widely admired and practiced.


In telling this story, Syman documents the ties between yoga and groups or movements such as the Transcendentalists and New Thought — movements that sought to provide a spirituality that would be a clear alternative to biblical Christianity. She traces the influence of leading figures such as Swami Vivekananda and Swami Prabhavananda, along with Pierre Bernard and the now lesser-known Margaret Woodrow Wilson. Each of these figures played a role in the growing acceptance of yoga in America, but most were controversial at the time — some extremely so.

Syman describes yoga as a varied practice, but she makes clear that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. She is also straightforward in explaining the role of sexual energy in virtually all forms of yoga and of ritualised sex in some yoga traditions. She also explains that yoga "is one of the first and most successful products of globalisation, and it has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country."


Reading The Subtle Body is an eye-opening and truly interesting experience. To a remarkable degree, the growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture. Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.


Nevertheless, a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine.


Douglas R Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a respected specialist on the New Age Movement, warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health. "All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions," he warns, "even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline." While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualised sex that are associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involve an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment.Stefanie Syman documents how yoga was transformed in American culture from an exotic and heathen practice into a central component of our national cult of health. Of course, her story would end differently if Americans still had cultural access to the notion of "heathen."

The nation of India is almost manically syncretistic, blending worldviews over and over again. But, in more recent times, America has developed its own obsession with syncretism, mixing elements of worldviews with little or no attention to what each mix means. Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health. Many Americans attempt to deny or minimise the spiritual aspects of yoga — to the great consternation of many in India.


When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.

There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.


The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church. Stefanie Syman is telling us something important when she writes that yoga "has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country." Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a "post-Christian, spiritually polyglot" reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?

-- The writer is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest seminaries in the world

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

YOGA RULES

SUBHASH CHANDRA SHARMA


Evangelical Christianity is passing through a bad patch; perhaps a bit of Yoga could help Gospel pushers see new light


In the 19th century, Christian missionaries who came to propagate the white man's faith in India dismissed our ancient way of life as 'pagan'. But despite all use of force and guile, they failed to make an impression on the vast majority of Indians. Today's Caucasian missionaries are terribly worried that not only are they failing to win converts in India, their own ilk are subscribing to Yogic philosophy. They perceive this, wrongly too, as an attack on Christianity. An Osama bin Laden character has emerged in the American Church — Rev Albert Mohler.

People in India are familiar with the Southern Baptists. This Church is actively converting people in parts of India where there is great disaffection over poverty and corruption. One of its most prominent faces is Albert Mohler, president of their theological seminary. In September this year, he lashed out at Yoga, which is perhaps one of the few 'industries' in recession-hit America to be growing, calling it essentially Hindu and something which good Christians should shun because it negates Jesus Christ. I don't apologise for the quack Yoga which dominates the Yoga market of America. A lot of garbage is being sold to gullible Americans as Yoga and I thank Saturday Special for highlighting this in its May 1, 2010 issue (The Rape of Yoga), but Mohler is stooping to an unprecedented low in intellectual morality. But since the power of the media gives all sorts of humbug theories extra mileage, it is necessary for Saturday Special to put things in their right perspective. The views of Mohler are presented in the Main space, and the picture on the ground in America is revealed through Rajiv Malhotra's article (The Other Voice). 


I want to take this discourse to a slightly higher level. Let's start with the bottomline — Sutra 24 of Samadhi Pada in Maharishi Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms. Kles, Karma, Vipaaka, Ashayer ae paramrashtPurush vishesh Ishwaraha In other words, affliction, karma, result, impressions of that result lead Man on to further affliction. This is not the work of God, but Man alone. 


Man is trapped in an unending cycle. From the moment of birth, he feels the need to breathe to live. That is the original affliction and sets off a chain of actions from which there is no release on earth. Who is free of this definition of Man which is also the apt description of God? A Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim? 


One who has affliction does not feel the need to work, waits not for the result of his action and hence does not have impressions of any kind. In other words, he has no past, therefore no present and future too, which is further explained through another Sutra:


Sa purvesam api giri aaem amisjjedat (He is the guide of even the past, therefore present and the future; and therefore out of time).


On the other hand, if this is not His definition, then He must have afflictions of listening to the prayers and fulfilling their prayers becomes His job. But everybody's prayers cannot possibly be fulfilled and therefore he should either be sad about it or happy when He succeeds in intervening. His interventions become His results (vipaka). Subject to these results, He should have impressions of the actions of all people on earth (rewarded or not), which means he is within the timeframe of birth and death and other features of life. This means either the second sutra is valueless or utterly wrong.

This second definition of Mohler's God is essentially Dwaita (dualist) philosophy, which he calls his Christianity (not true Christianity) and has been rejected all over the world. He means to say "God is God, Man is Man, never the twain shall meet". The Adwaita philosophy propounded by Adi Shankara and Ramanuja, which gave a new dimension to the Sanatana faith, God and Man are the same much like ornaments of gold and gold, the metal. If Rev Mohler says dualism is at the heart of Christianity, then I must say he has misunderstood his own religion. Like all white practitioners of Christianity, he denies the Asiatic roots of Christ and his Word. I don't want to dwell here on Lord Jesus Christ's India connection — contemporary historians have more than proved it with the help of hard evidence. But it is important to point out Mohler's bigger agenda: he betrays his belief in the "war of civilisations" and would like to reinvent the White West versus Dark East war by seeking recourse to bogus rhetoric.


Yoga offers hope to Man in that Man alone has cosmic powers to sustain the cosmos. If all the consciousness of Man becomes coherent, Man would become a superpower or superconscious. In our ordinary life we see superconsciousness in sacred shrines, wherever people collect with positive thoughts in their head. Yoga cultivation takes Man towards that.


Roop, Lavanya, Bal, Vajra, Samnatvaani kaya sampat — or, the complete health of a person is achieved when he has a body like vajra, forceful intellectualism and spiritual beauty. No herbs, lotions and potions can give this to any human being, except Yoga. Today, humanity is in its worst hour. Materialism is destroying everything that was sacred and decent in our lives. The popularisation of Yoga, even in the bogus forms seen in the United States, was a silver lining. Now, we have mock-Christians like Mohler undermining it.


Throughout history, Christian superciliousness has been the curse of civilisation. It has caused enough misery across South America, Africa and Asia. Now, the sad denizens of North America who are fast realising the poverty of being rich, are the intended victims.


-- The writer is a pioneer in Yoga therapy and lives in New Delhi

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

'CHRISTIAN YOGA' AN OXYMORON

RAJIV MALHOTRA


Yoga is sweeping America, but a lot of Americans are persuaded by religious dogma to distort Yoga principles and fit them into a "Christian" framework by denying Yoga's cosmology. In the process, Yogic liberation becomes a mirage


While Yoga is not a "religion" in the sense that the Abrahamic religions are, it is a well-established spiritual path. Its physical postures are only the tip of an iceberg, beneath which is a distinct metaphysics with profound depth and breadth. Its spiritual benefits are undoubtedly available to anyone regardless of religion. However, the assumptions and consequences of Yoga do run counter to much of Christianity as understood today. This is why, as a Hindu Yoga practitioner and scholar, I agree with the Southern Baptist Seminary president, Albert Mohler, when he speaks of the incompatibility between Christianity and Yoga, arguing that "the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine" is fundamentally at odds with Christian teaching. This incompatibility runs much deeper.


Yoga's metaphysics centre around the quest to attain liberation from one's conditioning caused by past karma. Karma includes the baggage from prior lives, underscoring the importance of reincarnation. While it is fashionable for many Westerners to say they believe in karma and reincarnation, they have seldom worked out the contradictions with core Biblical doctrines. For instance, according to Karma theory, Adam and Eve's deeds would produce effects only on their individual future lives, but not on all their progeny ad infinitum. Karma is not a sexually transmitted problem flowing from ancestors. This view obviates the doctrine of original sin and eternal damnation. An individual's karmic debts accrue by personal action alone, in a separate and self-contained account. The view of an individual having multiple births also contradicts Christian ideas of eternal heaven and hell seen as a system of rewards and punishments in an afterlife. Yogic liberation is here and now, in the bodily state referred to and celebrated as jivanmukti, a concept unavailable in Christianity and in an afterlife somewhere else. 


Yogic liberation is therefore not contingent upon any unique historical event or intervention. Every individual's ultimate essence is sat-chit-ananda, originally divine and not originally sinful. All humans come equipped to recover their own innate divinity without recourse to any historical person's suffering on their behalf. Karma dynamics and the spiritual practices to deal with them, are strictly an individual enterprise, and there is no special "deal" given to any chosen group, either by birth or by accepting a system of dogma franchised by an institution. The Abrahamic religions posit an infinite gap between God and the cosmos, bridged only in the distant past through unique prophetic revelations, making the exclusive lineage of prophets indispensable. (I refer to this doctrine elsewhere in my work as history-centrism.) Yoga, by contrast, has a non-dual cosmology, in which God is everything and permeates everything, and is at the same time also transcendent. 

The Yogic path of embodied-knowing seeks to dissolve the historical ego, both individual and collective, as false. It sees the Christian fixations on history and the associated guilt, as bondage and illusions to be erased through spiritual practice. Yoga is a do-it-yourself path that eliminates the need for intermediaries such as a priesthood or other institutional authority. Its emphasis on the body runs contrary to Christian beliefs that the body will lead humans astray. For example, the apostle Paul was troubled by the clash between body and spirit, and wrote: "For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:22-24).

Most of the 20 million American yoga practitioners encounter these issues and find them troubling. Some have responded by distorting yogic principles in order to domesticate it into a Christian framework, i.e. the oxymoron, 'Christian Yoga.' Others simply avoid the issues or deny the differences. Likewise, many Hindu gurus obscure differences, characterising Jesus as a great yogi and/or as one of several incarnations of God. These views belie the principles stated in the Nicene Creed, to which members of mainstream Christian denominations must adhere. They don't address the above underlying contradictions that might undermine their popularity with Judeo-Christian Americans. This is reductionist and unhelpful both to Yoga and Christianity. In my forthcoming book, The Audacity of Difference, I advocate that both sides adopt the dharmic stance called purva-paksha, the practice of gazing directly at an opponent's viewpoint in an honest manner. This stance involves a mastery of the ego and respect for difference, and the hope is that it would usher in a whole new level of interfaith collaborations.


-- Founder, Infinity Foundation 


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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

BJP'S STAND ONLY VINDICATES RAHUL COMMENT ON TERROR

 

IT IS not difficult to understand why the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) is making such a fuss about Rahul Gandhi's comment " the bigger threat" that Hindutva groups pose as compared to the influence of the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba among some in the Muslim community. The party wants to divert attention from its own ambiguous approach towards some Hindutva ideologues arrested on charges of terrorism.

 

Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh have not been coy about attacking the Sangh Parivar for supporting " terrorist activities". Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram stirred a hornet's nest recently by declaring that " saffron terrorism" was involved in many bomb blasts.

 

So, what Mr Gandhi has said is not particularly new. In fact, his blunt assertion that that the LeT had influenced some Indian Muslims is a departure from the usual Congress caution in labeling the Muslim community. In fact Mr Gandhi's statement taken as a whole is both factual and balanced.

 

It is a fact that a number of activists associated with Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu fundamentalist organisation, have been arrested and charged for bomb blasts in several Indian cities. Likewise, some RSS activists, too, have been linked to the blast at the Ajmer dargah in 2007. In all instances, the BJP and the RSS has come out in support of those arrested and charged. In November 2008, BJP leader L. K. Advani played the " Pragya card" by attacking the Maharashtra Anti- Terrorism Squad, then headed by Hemant Karkare for ill- treating Sadhvi Pragya Singh and Lt Col P. S. Purohit who had been arrested for the Malegaon blasts of September 2008.

 

The cynicism with which the country's principal Opposition party, the BJP has sought to use Hindu fundamentalist elements to mobilise votes bears out Mr Gandhi's contention that it represents an uncommon danger for the country, far more threatening than Islamic fundamentalists.

 

SC HAS DONE THE RIGHT THING

THE Supreme Court's decision to take charge of the investigation into the 2G Spectrum scam is a step in the right direction that will bring greater transparency and credibility to the probe.

 

Through its criticism of the entire national telecom policy of the past decade — which will also include the licenses granted in the 2001- 2004 period during which the National Democratic Alliance was in power — the apex court seems to have taken a more comprehensive view of the issue.

 

Hopefully the expanding of the scope of the probe will not act as a factor in slowing it down. At the same time, the Supreme Court must guard against the pitfalls of monitoring such a probe and learn from its past experience of supervising the investigation into the Hawala scandal which led nowhere.

 

It must not be forgotten that the crux of the entire telecom scam is the granting of the 122 licenses by former telecom minister A Raja, a process in which even the Prime Minister was by- passed. The apex court must ensure that the investigation into the FIR filed in this regard does not get diffused in the widened scope of the probe and that the Central Bureau of Investigation does meet the March 2011 deadline that has been set.

 

KAFKAESQUE UNIVERSITY

THE tragic story of Tara Balagopal, the former Delhi University teacher who has been fighting an uphill battle to get her salary and pension benefits, exposes the shameful attitude of the university authorities towards one of their own. It is unbelievable that bureaucratic incompetence can destroy a lifetime of work in an academic set- up, just because the file on her service record has disappeared.

 

What could possibly have made the university make a retired teacher run from pillar to post for over 15 years? Her work at Rajdhani College and the department of correspondence courses, her students, the teachers who were her colleagues surely must be proof of Ms Balagopal's record of service. The file could have been reconstructed if the university wanted to.

 

All it requires is a humanitarian approach and a commitment to help rather than obstruct.

 

The new vice- chancellor Prof Dinesh Singh has applied a balm to her years of suffering by promising to do the right thing, hopefully that will be done at the earliest.

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

PREMIER VISIT A MIXED BAG

BY NATWAR SINGH

 

LET ME begin tautologically.

 

Foreign Policy is what you do. Diplomacy is how you do it. Diplomacy provides hope. Not Nirvana.

 

Even modest progress is deserving of respect.

 

Since summer this year we are being smothered by the embarrassment of high level diplomatic goodies. Summitry like seminars is now a growth industry. Momentous decisions are taken by men and women in great hurry. When Prime Minister Wen Jiao was sitting for lunch he was already thinking of his programme in Islamabad.

 

The peripatetic Indian Prime Minister will be applying his organised mind to another disorganised visit of the President of India. I have been watching Sino- Indian relations at close quarters since 1956. I first met the pleasant Premier Wen over five years ago in Dalian. I showed him a photograph taken in September 1957 in Chairman Mao's house on the occasion of the visit of Dr. Radhakrishnan.

 

Powers

 

The photograph had some historical value. Next to Radhakrishnan and Mao are standing the number two, three and four of the Chinese hierarchy — Marshal Zhu De, President Liu Shaoqi and Premier Zhou Enlai. Yours truly is standing in the third. On seeing photograph Mr.

 

Wen said how lucky I was to have met and seen " our first generation leaders and Long March heroes. I have not had that privilege." Mr Wen Jiabao is a political heavyweight.

 

He is a practitioner of Realpolitik — an aspect of statecraft and diplomacy for which we have displayed dedicated disdain. I have naturally no knowledge of the preparations our able but exhausted IFS officers made and how much time they had to do justice to their task. Just think of the pressures on the officials — first President Barack Obama, then President Nicholas Sarkozy, next Wen Jiabao, and two days later our Russian friend, Dmitry Medvedev. Summitry is, it seems, not a solution but is rather becoming a burden.

 

Let's broadly list the four core issues. 1.

 

Border. 2. Permanent U. N. Security Council Seat with a veto. 3. Terrorism/ Pakistan.

 

4. Tibet ( I am leaving out the visa issue. It is an irritant) Border: Those of us who have been involved in finding a solution have realised that there are no quick fixes. The difference over the boundary dispute are deep rooted and fundamental. There has been much verbalising of the various formulas much accommodation this and mutual understanding that. No progress of any consequence has been made. By all means keep meeting. Ensure tranquility on the border. Thanks to Rajiv Gandhi the Sino- Indian border has been peaceful since 1988. Deng Xiaoping suggested to Rajiv Gandhi that the border issue be left to a working group and the two countries make headway in other areas.

 

Status quo on the border suits China.

 

The border dispute was discussed many more times. The Chinese are past masters at the waiting game.

 

U. N. Security Council: How naïve can we be? Messrs Obama and Putin have, to please us, publicly supported our desire to get a permanent seat. Apart from verbalising what concrete steps have they taken or can take or will take? Unless China agrees, the other four can only declare support. They cannot deliver.

 

Let's be clear about the brutal reality.

 

China today represents Asia, Africa and South America in the Security Council. It is not likely that the Chinese will dilute their influence and authority in any way.

 

Certainly not to accommodate India.

 

Besides, even if China relented, India is not going to be the sole new entrant.

 

There will at least four more. India, Brazil, one Muslim country and One African. Permanent they may become. No guarantee that they will be given the veto. I, as External Affairs Minister had announced in Parliament that permanent seat without the veto will be unacceptable to India. One of our senior officials promoted the non- veto line. He had to pay a very heavy price for his folly.

 

Mr Wen stuck to his formula. ' China would welcome that India play wider role at the UN' means nothing. We have done so for 63 years. To me the permanent veto seat is like a pie in the sky. At the moment China has the pie and more visible than us on the sky.

 

Pakistan

 

Terrorism/ Pakistan: Even elementary knowledge of geopolitics and Sino- Pak friendship should tells us that China will not criticise Pakistan, not even on terrorism.

 

All it has done and will continue to do is to repeat — " We support the U. N. Resolution on Terrorism". Mr Wen did not even mention Pakistan ( no doubt Manmohan Singh had talked about it) in any of his speeches. He made sure 26/ 11 would not figure in the joint statement. Mr Wen did not agree to a joint press conference with the Indian Prime Minister. Why? Because this is not the Chinese way when it comes to India. On Kashmir there was a minor change some ten years ago — both sides should settle it among themselves. No mention of the Pakistan sponsored terrorism in the valley. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto pulled off a diplomatic coup when he replaced India as one of the long standing friends of China and did so without offending America.

 

The Chinese are fully aware of the support and succour Pakistan gives to terrorists.

 

They will not criticise a trusted ally.

 

Tibet

 

Tibet: The People's Republic of China is the second most powerful country in the world.

 

Why is so great and powerful a country so paranoid about the Dalai Lama? His Holiness is religious leader, esteemed and loved the world over. He can't march into China with an army. So why this obssessive fear of a 75 years old spiritual leader. By they way China was the largest Buddhist country in the world till 1940.

 

It has been reported that the government has decided to mildly modify their policy regarding Tibet and Taiwan vis- àvis China. This is how it goes. If China does not take cognisance of our sensitivities on Kashmir, we will do the same with regard to Tibet. I may not have got the words right but the sense is the same. One word of caution: what precisely can we do about Taiwan? It is not on the agenda of the Security Council as Kashmir is. For that matter we can do nothing in Tibet today.

 

The mistakes were made by the then Prime Minister in 1950 and 1954.

 

Has the visit been a failure? No. The Chinese position on core issues was well known. The Chinese have not changed those views and we were not very smart ( here I mean the media) to imagine that Mr Wen would do so.

 

Deng Xiaoping in 1988 said to Rajiv Gandhi that for the next fifty or sixty years China would concentrate on allround economic development. Both countries must work hard to end poverty and backwardness. Asia- Pacific's century would not become a reality without the development of China and India.

 

Mr Wen brought 400 CEO's with him.

 

Not for nothing. He knows that we are a rapidly rising economic power. If you can't beat them, join them. In five years our bilateral trade will be $ 100 billion. Most welcome. That should delight our economist ( par excellence) Prime Minister.

 

The writer is former Union Minister of External Affairs

 

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MAIL TODAY

DIGITAL INK

WHO SAID NEWS SITES DON'T MAKE MONEY?

SACHIN KALBAG

 

WHICH website has 26 million unique visitors every month who leave behind four million comments and help the online news destination earn close to $ 30 million in annual business? Pat yourself on the back if you answered The Huffington Post. The online news site and content aggregating blog on American politics, foreign policy and world affairs — a genre that is seemingly as boring as it can get — is slated to post its annual profit this month according to financial news giant Bloomberg — a rarity among online news sites.

 

If it grows at the same rate as now, Huffington Post will earn close to $ 100 million by 2012.

 

More good news? It is, according to experts quoted by Bloomberg, valued at anywhere between $ 300 million to $ 450 million.

 

This is a remarkable development for media publishers, who have seen a gradual decline in newspaper and magazine readership, especially in the West, as online readership surges worldwide due to easier access to the Internet and falling broadband prices.

 

While news websites all over the world, including in India, are losing money because advertisers are unwilling to sink in money where there are no apparent returns on investment, Huffington Post has not only managed to buck the trend in just five years of existence, it is also creating a model for others to follow.

 

It has 3,000 freelance bloggers who contribute to the site in addition to the topranked columnists and reporters on its staff of 200 led by Arianna Huffington.

 

Most of those bloggers do not charge any fee in exchange for the visibility the site provides them with. But a lot of them don't really need the money. Not if your name is Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Madonna, Michael Moore, John Kerry, Alec Baldwin, Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Ted Kennedy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole and Donatella Versace.

 

The secret sauce, however, is the owner of the site, Arianna Huffington, who is to the American leftliberal ideology what Fox News is to the conservative right school of political thought. She is opinionated, headstrong and a workaholic (and expects her staff to be the same, too). Huffington, originally from Greece with the family name Stassinopoulos, was married to a former US Congressman Michael Huffington who, incidentally, is a Republican.

 

Arianna, along with a few friends, set up the site in 2005 which was to become the beacon of the liberal ideology in the US even though she started her political career as a Republican.

 

In an interview to Bloomberg, she said: " We're profitable despite the fact we're investing a lot in growing." Each day, The Huffington Post publishes 600- odd stories on its site, about half of which are aggregated from other sites and the rest are originally generated in- house. While it is still behind the New York Times in terms of visitors, it is way ahead of its online rivals such as the Tina Brown- run The Daily Beast and The Drudge Report, according to Bloomberg. But Huffington's target is not its online- only rivals.

 

She aims big. And others are aware of the impact that she has had on publishing.

 

This model has become hugely successful because of the strict guidelines that Huffington forces her staff to follow regarding linking back to the original site. But its original content, too, garners a tremendous response. A Bloomberg report cited how a blog post about former US vicepresidential candidate Sarah Palin written for the Huffington Post by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was seen by 708,849 people, shared with others 24,243 times, and generated 7,731 comments.

 

News website owners and editors would kill to get that response and feedback.

 

Not that everyone is optimistic.

 

Wall Street commentator Jonathan Berr says the site spends a lot of money on its 200- plus employees, and a lot more on running its expensive and extremely complex content publishing system. " For now, it's hard to imagine that Wall Street would be interested in a Huffington Post IPO," he says. " A more likely exit strategy is a merger or a sale to a bigger media player like Time Warner." But detractors of not, Huffington Post has crossed the single biggest hurdle for a news website — that of making it profitable.

 

How long, really, before others take the cue?

 

NOT QUITE A YAHOO MOMENT

YAHOO is shedding weight.

Again. Earlier this week, news leaked to the world that the Internet firm — once the world's largest — is sacking 600 staff. That's not all. A key slide from a management presentation was also leaked on Thursday that has brought down morale in the company to an all- time low.

 

According the leaked slide, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz — best known for using four- letter words than for turning the company around — is planning to discontinue eight Yahoo services, including the popular Delicious, Yahoo Buzz, AltaVista and MyBlogLog.

 

Much to the relief of Yahoo users worldwide, the company is not retiring Flickr, the world's biggest photo sharing service. But, loyalists are upset nonetheless. In an open letter to Bartz, technology columnist Thomas Hawk described how she has been an utter failure in turning the company around, while she herself earns $ 47 million a year in salary and bonuses.

 

" While Yahoo has been up + 32% since you took over," he told Bartz, " your competitors have been up quite a bit more.

 

Google is up almost + 100% in the same time period. Apple is up + 275%, even the old slowpoke Microsoft is up + 51%. The Nasdaq Composite is up + 79% and the S& P 500 is up + 53%. In short, Yahoo's stock performance under your tenure thus far has been a laggard — but you already know this." Truth is, Yahoo has been at the receiving end of the assaults forged by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter. It was not surprising, therefore, that the day Twitter announced it received an additional $ 200 million in fund, Yahoo announced layoffs.

 

It would take a long time before Yahoo can even think of catching up.

 

A GOOGLE BROWSER FOR THE HUMAN BODY

 

IN 1966, a science fiction film named Fantastic Voyage made news around the world for its sheer audacity of thinking up an idea that no one had ever thought about — human miniaturised to such an extent that they can traverse through the human body without being detected by the body's defence systems as an alien.

It's almost 2011, and while we still have to have the miniaturising technology from the movie, Google has introduced a new feature for its Chrome browser in which you can explore the human body on the screen much like Google Earth allows you explore the world through a 3D rendition of the globe.

 

It is not smooth, takes up a lot of resources, and it is still being developed as a brand new product out at Google Labs, but it is interesting and intriguing nevertheless. Says Google, " Body Browser is a detailed 3D model of the human body. You can peel back anatomical layers, zoom in, and navigate to parts that interest you. Click to identify anatomy, or search for muscles, organs, bones and more."

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

2012: AN EARTHLY ODYSSEY

 

This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but a bang-up. That's what a man in Kentucky, US, thought ...till he collided with the law. Collecting explosive materials, he had reportedly turned bomb-maker at home. Why? Come 2012, his loved ones needed saving. Blame it on him watching theHollywood blockbuster, 2012, whose world is less maya than Mayan. It depicts cataclysmic events inspired by a supposed ancient Mayan 'prediction' about the end of the world. Solar flares, earthquakes, avalanches, cyclones, the mega-movie unleashes every disaster imaginable, amplified to monster-size by special effects. Who can forget the city of Los Angeles crumbling into the Pacific? Or the White House hit by a swallow-all tsunami? It's doom maro doom all right. 


Scientists to New Age writers, many have studied an old Mayan "Long Count" calendar. Some say it foretells a new era following the close of a major "time cycle". Others insist it forecasts doomsday: in devastated 2012, there'll be nowhere to run. Yet, on the big screen, run they do, humans being all too human. Politicians build "arks" in secret. Ordinary mortals try to save (ex) wives, kids, buddies, flying from frying plains into volcanic fire. Now, taking reel-life for real, our seismically impacted Kentucky man had an 'explosive' idea. To beat upcoming nature's fury, mass riots and the collapse of civilisation, you armed yourself. That's why, he's said to have told federal agents, he'd gone weapons-grade. No sir, he and his family wouldn't go gently into apocalyptic night, only to get Kentucky fried. 


Hmmm...don't world leaders follow the same philosophy? Whereas Kentucky's family man, they say, is headed for jail for being a clear and combustible danger, ruling politicians the world over compete in amassing weapons of mass destruction. Patting the bomb, they're even applauded for projected machismo. Size does matter, with warheads, mushroom clouds and military-industrial complexes. Haven't world netas got their version of 'family' to save - for, what is 'country' but extended family? It's always politically useful to say one's compatriots are under threat, be it from 'enemies of the nation', Martians or phantom WMD. That's how wag-the-dog wars are justified and the warrior ethic is sanctified. Defence budgets, arms-dealers' bank accounts and WMD stockpiles also fatten up nicely. A battle for the lucrative bulge. 


Only, there are smarter ways to tackle myriad 2012s - natural or man-made catastrophes - whose outward destructive force is a metaphor for the violence within. If world-wrecking wars bring gloom and doom, pursue peace. If no nuke is good news, turn arms race into competitive disarmament. If global warming threatens to microwave the planet, serve up earth conservation. If great floods, T-Rex typhoons and crash-landing asteroids cock a snook at human certitudes, gain perspective, think compassion and perfect post-hazard relief delivery. And, to all end-of-days narratives of pessimism and defeatism, oppose the optimism of the human - and, certainly, terrestrial - capacity for renewal. 


Hollywood's 2012, you'll remember, ends with survivors' arks sailing towards the Cape of Good Hope! See? Worlds end. Worlds begin. The dud here is the bomb.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

TOGETHER, INTO A BETTER FUTURE

GANESH NATARAJAN

 

There is always a feeling of some curiosity and mixed expectations when an airline one has never flown before lands in a country one has wanted to visit for decades but never got around to making the trip. In the case of the Indian delegates of Aman ki Asha's IT Committee, our Pakistan odyssey - a visit that we weren't sure would happen until the eleventh hour - began with low expectations. I was part of this small but representative group of CEOs and VPs who travelled to Karachi and Lahore in early December to participate in discussions with the members of the IT community in these cities. 


A hundred hours later, after experiencing a brand of hospitality that is unparalleled in my own experience of visiting 60-plus countries in the last 20 years, we are back, energised and incredibly optimistic! The country itself was nowhere near as forbidding as we had feared, with the red carpet rolled out everywhere we went from the time the PIA flight landed at Karachi's Jinnah airport - thanks to the detailed planning of industrialist Amin Hashwani and Jang Group's Shahrukh Hasan. 


Our hectic schedule was one that combined work with pleasure, thanks to the energetic presence of Jehan Ara, president, Pakistan Software Houses Association, and Laleh Habib, coordinator of the Aman ki Asha initiative. A day-long marathon of intense deliberations and a working lunch in Karachi were followed by "never before" experiences in Lahore where we sampled exquisite cuisine and marvelled at the treasures of the Lahore Museum and Fort - and then an awe-inspiring trip to Mohenjodaro. Evenings were spent bonding and singing with people who have been separated from their Indian brethren by just an act of history. 


What was quite an eye-opener for us was the quality of some of the IT entrepreneurs we met. Salman Akhtar, an MIT graduate with significant US experience; Yusuf Jan, who provides trading platforms for Wall Street; Nadeem Elahi, a Harvard Business School graduate who has visions of being the Infosys of Pakistan; and Jawwad Ahmed Farid, a Columbia alum whose exquisite turn of phrase has created an evocative book on entrepreneurial failure and success. Each one of them could rank with any of the bright young BangaloreBoston or Berlin entrepreneurs in their vision and determination to succeed. 


There is an additional challenge that every young Pakistani entrepreneur faces, which is the need to dispel stated and implied concerns about the security and stability of their country. It does them great credit that they have been able to build and sell products and solutions in spite of this obvious handicap. Indian industry has a lot to offer to Pakistan as that fledgling $2 billion industry seeks to learn from the path that Indian companies have taken. Three initiatives that we identified bear mention here: skills development, business-to-business partnerships and energising the youth of both countries. 


There is a great short-term opportunity for high quality universities and entrepreneurs to partner with Indian skill-building institutions and create centres for thought leadership in global sourcing with joint research projects and blended learning collaboration. These investments could build the pipeline of talent that the Pakistani industry needs to build capabilities in areas like applications and remote infrastructure management. 


Youth partnerships through worthy cross-border youth organisations like AIESEC can ensure that the misplaced bitterness many young people feel towards each other across the border is replaced by a genuine desire to engage in projects and initiatives that will sustain the friendship into the future even as our governments seek to defuse tensions and engage in a spirit of partnership. 

The third and most visible proof point would be the emergence of genuine business partnerships between the IT companies of both countries. Long-term sustainable partnerships are built, not through a sense of social or good neighbourly responsibility, but through a genuine plan for commercial benefit for the stakeholders of the participating companies. 


Why is it important for successful Indian IT companies to engage with our counterparts in Pakistan? For one, successful Pakistani product companies could provide the wind in our sails to offer new product-led solutions to our customers. Second, the ability to engage young professionals from across the border in projects for the rapidly growing markets of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar could substantially increase the depth and width of penetration in these markets. And third, it could well be the IT sector that demonstrates the real value that collaboration brings, paving the way for a more lasting peace between two neighbours in what is today seen as one of the most explosive parts of the world. 


The Aman ki Asha initiative has seen over 30 of us from both sides - and many more incredibly friendly people we interacted with - engage in intense discussions. A number of ideas have come up, some of which will hopefully see the light of day with the support of the governments and people of both countries. There will be many mountains to cross on this journey but a willingness to change and a common desire to work together can pave the way to a better future. 


(The writer is vice-chairman & MD of Zensar Technologies Ltd and chairman of the National IT & IT Enabled Services Committee of the Confederation of Indian Industry. He led the recent Aman ki Asha IT delegation to Pakistan.)

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

SPORT IS A STRESS TEST

 

The objective of competitive sport at the highest level isn't to make things as easy as possible for the athletes. Yet the motivation behind new research by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) seems to suggest the opposite. After extensive analysis, the study has concluded thatpenalty shoot-outs are an inherently unfair way of deciding football matches with the team taking the first kick winning 60 per cent of the time. The reason? The psychological disadvantage of playing 'catch-up' affects the team going second. To remedy this, the study advocates switching to a tennis-style tie-break system where the first team would shoot once followed by the second team shooting twice, and so on, to level the playing field. 


The recommendation isn't sensible. True, the team going second is usually more stressed. But what of it? Athletes, especially top-flight footballers, are paid big bucks to perform at the highest level to the utmost of their abilities. That includes dealing with the mental rigours of their sport, along with the physical. In any case, psychological 'advantage' is a subjective notion. More, it could apply to other disciplines as well. In chess, for instance, the opening gambit is said to give the player an edge. 


Sport is a mix of luck and talent. And struggle and overcoming adversity are its central themes. Take those elements out of football and you hollow out the beautiful game. And where does it stop? Players might as well be instructed not to attack their opponent's goal for a fixed period after having scored, so as to allow the opposing team to recover from the 'stress' of having conceded a goal, so that the playing field can be absolutely level again. No, let's leave football - and its penalty shoot-out - as it is.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

CREATE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

RUDRONEEL GHOSH

 

The LSE study on penalty shoot-outs in football, advocating a switch to a more balanced tie-break system as in tennis, is not without merit. There is no denying the fact that penalty shoot-outs are more about luck than skills. Numerous world-class players and coaches - including Fifa chief Sepp Blatter himself - will testify to the same. But what makes things worse is the way in which shoot-outs are conducted that gives a clear advantage to the team going first. As the LSE research points out, 60 per cent of shoot-outs are won by teams that take the first crack. The psychological pressure of losing the coin toss and going second is patently unfair. In an intense game like football where small percentages can swing a match, leaving so much to chance is unjustifiable. 


Psychological factors play a huge part in sport. Even without a skewed system of scoring, a lot depends on the athlete's ability to reach within and conjure up the mental determination to overcome the opposition. Thus, when you have a pattern of play where the reaction time for goalkeepers can be as little as 0.3 seconds, it is important, at the very least, to have a level playing field. Those going first in penalty shoot-outs have the opportunity to square up the score on their second try if they miss their first attempt. However, those going second don't have this luxury and are forced to play catch-up. 


The scoring pattern in tennis is the most neutral of all games precisely because it takes into account the undue advantage that servers have. The tie-break, where barring the first serve players alternately get two consecutive serves each, has been specifically designed for neutrality. This needs to be replicated in penalty shoot-outs, to transform them from the lottery that they presently are to a respectable mechanism to settle draws in football. 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

THE RIGHT VIEW

A NEW WORLD, A NEW LEADERSHIP

DAVID BROOKS

 

After you read this column, go to YouTube and search "Hans Rosling and 200 countries". You'll see a Swedish professor describe the growth of global wealth and well-being over the past 200 years. 


He presents an animated time-lapse chart. It starts in 1810, when the nations of the world were clumped on the bottom left-hand side of the chart because they had low income and low life expectancy. Then the industrial revolution kicks in and the nations of the West surge upward and to the right as they get richer and healthier. By 1948, it's like a race, with the United States out front and the other nations of the world stretched in a long tail behind. 

Then, over the last few decades, the social structure of the world changes. The 
Asian and Latin American countries begin to catch up. With the exception of the African nations, living standards start to converge. Now most countries are clumped toward the top end of the chart, thanks to the incredible reductions in global poverty and improvements in health. 


This convergence is great news, but the change in the global social structure has created a psychological crisis in the US. Since World War II, we've built our national identity on our rank among the nations - at the front with everybody else trailing behind. But in this age of convergence, the world doesn't have much of a tail anymore. 

Some people interpret this loss of lead-dog status as a sign of national decline. 


Other people think we are losing our exceptionalism. But, the truth is, there's just been a change in the shape of the world community. In a world of relative equals, the US will have to learn to define itself not by its rank, but by its values. It will be important to have the right story to tell, the right purpose and the right aura. It will be more important to know who you are. 


Americans seem uncertain about how to answer that question. But one answer is contained in Rosling's chart. What is the core feature of the converging world? It is the rise of a gigantic global middle class. 


In 2000, the World Bank classified 430 million people as middle class. By 2030, there will be about 1.5 billion. In India alone, the ranks of the middle class will swell from 50 million to 583 million. 


To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values - emphasising industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution. 


Over the next few decades, a lot of people are going to get rich selling education, self-help and mobility tools to the surging global bourgeoisie. The United States has a distinct role to play in this world. 


American culture was built on the notion of bourgeois dignity. The US could become the crossroads nation for those who aspire to join the middle and upper-middle class, attracting students, immigrants and entrepreneurs. 

To do this, we'd have to do a better job of celebrating and defining middle-class values. We'd have to do a better job of nurturing our own middle class. We'd have to have the American business class doing what it does best: catering to every nook and cranny of the middle-class lifestyle. And we'd have to emphasise that capitalism didn't create the American bourgeoisie. It was the social context undergirding capitalism - the community clubs, the professional societies, the religious charities and Little Leagues. 


For centuries, people have ridiculed American culture for being tepid, materialistic and middle class. But Ben Franklin's ideas won in the end. The middle-class century could be another American century. - NYTNS

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

READING THE FORTUNE COOKIE

 

onfucius said, "It is better to play than do nothing." Thu-rsday's joint statement issued by the governments of India and China heeds this advice and takes India-China relations to a safe, digressionary level. Critics have pointed to the vacuous nature of the statement, drawing our notice to the 'failures' of not addressing key issues such as border disputes, the recognition of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India, Pakistan's role as a terror factory and the gargantuan trade deficit between the world's second largest economy and India. But the fact of the matter is that

Premier Wen Jiabao's visit was never meant to be a game-changing jaunt. China's continued silence on India's candidacy for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and the Kashmir issue — symbolised by the 'stapled visa' tangle — are keeping in with the diplomatic trajectory of a nettlesome neighbour with the luxury of economic and geo-political strength. It would have been fantastical to expect Mr Wen to be critical of an old ally, Pakistan, that too on Indian soil. So his departure immediately after New Delhi to Islamabad and his silence on 26/11 were as keeping to the script as India's protracted and genuine concerns about Beijing feeding the mouth that bites our country.

 

Mr Wen's visit didn't signal any forward movement or retrogressive steps. What it did quietly signal in the cover of all those platitudes and exchanges of friendship bordering on an old filial slogan — that means as much today as much as it did in the 1950s and very early 1960s — is that China is willing to take a sideways step to start things from, if not scratch but at least from a new perspective. This presents India with opportunities not present (or worth its while) before. In a sense, New Delhi's withdrawal of any references to Chinese sovereignty in Tibet and 'One China' that former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee introduced in 2003 and was part of the past three summit-level declarations, was a realisation of that 'chip' being worthless.

 

India has troubles with China and cosying up on a sofa marked 'the Asian century' means little if the two don't sit across tables to hammer out their differences. But if there's anything that India should read into the fortune cookie after Mr Wen's visit, it is not to mistake the levers pressed with regular intervals by China (territorial disputes, the Dalai Lama etc) for the real bone of contention. The real issue that will need future, less playful sit-downs is how these levers are pressed to project one's own influence in a neighbourhood which happens to be an interesting part of the world.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

UNBIASED RECITALS

GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

 

Ramachandra Guha's new anthology gives us some carefully selected writings from what he chooses to call Makers of Modern India. The book cannot but offend adherents of those excluded and offend some for its inclusions. "Where is Patel?" he has been asked. "Where is our Netaji?"

 

The plaintive questions are not invalid.But it is his anthology, not that of the questioners. He can choose what to include and what to leave out.

 

But he has to explain the procedure he has followed, which is to select the works of those 'Makers' who were original thinkers and have left a body of writing behind. This fact is not immediately grasped by readers of the book, for which difficulty the title of the book is partly responsible.

 

At the book's launch in Chennai, he was asked: "Why have you left Kamaraj out ? Was he not a maker of modern India?" Ram said Kamaraj was a giant of a man and he (Ram) had paid Kamaraj the huge tribute he deserved in his India After Gandhi, but then Kamaraj was a doer, not a thinker and  did not leave a body of published material behind.

 

The questioner was not quite mollified, nor was I.

 

"What about Annadurai?"

 

"Yes, he was an extraordinary political figure too but his influence outside Tamil Nadu is limited and then again his thought is not available to a wider non-Tamil readership…" Then, an 'inclusion' was raised. "You have included Jinnah who did not make India, rather he broke it…"

 

"Thank you for that question," Ram said, "it is important for us to know Jinnah's mind precisely for that reason…We should know the negatives that make our positives…We should know how the  Muslim India of Jinnah's conception and a Hindu Pakistan of Golwalkar's are the antithesis of Nehru's secularism."

 

In his comments at the Chennai launch, Ram said something that tallied with a recent experience of mine, totally. He said that followers of some Indian icons know their hero's life-line well, but not his thought-line. Others, academics among them, know the thought-lines well and do not share the 'followers' bhakti-like fascination for the icon's person.

 

Both deficits are unfortunate, for the first leads to hero worship which does understanding little good, and the second leads to dry-as-dust intellection that leaves out the human dimension entirely.

 

An experience I had some days ago bore out Ram's point totally. At a lecture in London in memory of BR Ambedkar, I made the point that Ambedkar cannot be monopolised anymore than he can be marginalised. He cannot be fenced-in anymore than he can be fenced-out. To typecast a man like Babasaheb as a spokesman, howsoever formidable, for one section of India alone, for one interest, and one cause, or to label him as the chief architect, howsoever formidable, of one legislative edifice, one enactment, is to deny and impoverish the totality of his legacy.

 

]Some questions followed and I responded to them in various degrees of inadequacy. Just as one last hand went up, the question slot was over and the meeting closed. But as I had noticed the raised hand, as the audience dispersed, I invited the young man to come over for a chat. I said I was sorry he could not put his question. Whereupon the young man said: "You referred to Babasaheb as 'Ambedkar', as 'Dr Ambedkar' and as 'Babasaheb'…For me he is Babasaheb and he is my God." There was little for me to say to this beyond indicating respect for his feeling. He added: "I also wanted to ask you a silly question". Saying it may not be silly at all, I encouraged him to pose it. He said: "You have just spoken about Babasaheb…can you please tell me: first, his full name, the expansion of the initials of his name. Second, the date and place of Babasaheb's birth. Third the date and place of his death. That is all".

 

I did not expect the question to be this simple and this challenging, this courteous and this startling. I had just expatiated on Babasaheb and made what I had thought was a point worth making, but I had clearly 'reckoned without the host'. I may have known the sum, but did I know my tables ?

 

Now, I was aware that 'B' stood for Bhimrao but told him, honestly, I did not recall the expansion for 'R'. This was inexcusable. If I knew that the 'K' after 'M' in Gandhi's full name stands for 'Karamchand', ought I not to know what the 'R' in 'BR Ambedkar' stands for? Of course, I should. Next, I knew the dates of his birth and death (having attended the Ambedkar Jayanti and Ambedkar Nirvana Divas in Kolkata annually for five years) but, again, was not sure of the year of his birth, nor of the place of his birth.

 

If I knew axiomatically that Gandhi was born in Porbandar and Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad, could I afford to not know where Babasaheb was born?  Especially, when I was giving a bhashan claiming an intellectual kinship with him? In three minutes, I had learnt more from him than my audience had from me, over my 30-minute lecture. And I am not referring to the bare facts alone.

 

The young man had made me realise the inherent hypocrisy in pompous public speaking. His question  also reminded me of a television 'operation' that had some MPs scurrying for cover when asked by a TV channel on Independence Day simple 'GK-type' questions like "Who wrote Vande Mataram?" I had laughed at their ignorance. This time round, it was my turn to be shown up for my ignorance.

 

But my questioner has also made me reflect on India's and Indians' attitude to their Founding Fathers.

 

Everyone is entitled to favourites, intellectual or emotional. For us, however, our favourites have become means for self-fulfilment.

 

Guha's eclectic anthology helps us see that history is different from humans. It owns no favourites, only facts and these go beyond 'mere' awareness  or 'pure' bhakti. And history's destination is neither the self-projecting speaker's podium nor the selfless devotee's pedestal, but a straight unbiased recital.

 

Which recital shows Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (born 2.10.1869 at Porbandar, died 30.1.1948 in New Delhi) and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (born 14.4.1891 in Mhow, died 6.12.1956 in New Delhi) giving a psychologically splintered India very similar messages in differing vocabularies.

 

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

DON'T LET THE GUN DO THE TALKING

PRATIK KANJILAL,

 

Justice R Reghupathy, whom former telecom minister A Raja allegedly tried to influence, says he is scared. Now that the scandal is out, he fears harm from powerful interests. So how can the government help him? By giving him a licence for a nice big gun, perhaps. Then it can wish him goodbye, good luck and good hunting.

 

This is an unlikely scenario, but not unthinkable. Because while instituting tighter gun licensing rules that came into effect earlier this year, the government paradoxically made it easier for citizens who face a "grave and imminent threat to their lives" to own large-calibre, lethal weapons. Given Justice Reghupathy's fears, he qualifies for a licence. So do possible terrorist targets and people living in areas where insurgents are active.

 

While someone armed with only a high-calibre pistol could not possibly ward off a professional attack, people under threat may sleep better with some hardware tucked under the pillow. But the danger is that as the citizenry arms itself, the government may abdicate its responsibility to public security.

 

When Lord Lytton disarmed the Indian civilian through the Arms Act of 1878, he unwittingly did us a good turn. It was a repressive measure to pre-empt risings like that of 1857, but it prepared India for the future. The modern State has a monopoly on the legal use of violence, a right which citizens cede to it. It can kill legally through the armed forces and the police, and by judicial process, but the citizen cannot. It can buy Bofors howitzers and embarrass itself, but the citizen cannot, and so on. In return for this monopoly, the State must protect the individual from illegal violence.

 

]The State's monopoly has lived in uneasy coexistence with the individual's right to self-defence, and so States have gun control laws of varying stringency. Pakistan has looser laws than ours because tribal populations treasure the right to bear arms. The issue is incredibly politicised in the US where, despite soaring gun crime, the National Rifle Association spends millions of dollars defending the ancient and constitutional right to bear arms. Our ancestors subscribed to some peculiar ideas which we no longer support, but the right to sling lead lives on.

 

India didn't have to grapple with this issue because at Independence, its population was already disarmed. But in response to terrorism and insurgency, the government has periodically tried to arm local populations. The policy has failed in Punjab, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh but it's politically useful, taking the heat off a government which cannot protect law-abiding citizens.

 

An armed citizenry is a dangerous anachronism, amplifying public violence. The heavily-policed National Capital Region already reports about one gun crime a day. And I'm reminded of a peculiar experience I had while driving in rural Alabama. We were tired and hungry and when we saw a superstore in the middle of nowhere, we stopped for a bite.

 

Unaccountably, we hadn't noticed the huge lettering across the frontage, which said: GUNS. There were no hamburgers in there, only thousands of Mausers, Lugers, Mannlichers and Uzis. I hope we don't go down that way with laxer licensing. Like me in the Alabama outback, what most Indians would really appreciate is a bite to eat, not a gunmetal banquet.

 

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine n pratik@littlemag.com The views expressed by the author are personal.

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T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MAKING ROOM

 

Last year, over 300 people who live on Delhi's streets died from the pitiless winter. Only 25 of the city's 64 permanent night shelters are in operation, though some temporary shelters have been newly added. The Supreme Court has now demanded that all of them be fixed up in a week, and readied for inspection. Either way, the total capacity of these shelters is about 7,000, sorely insufficient for the capital's homeless. Taking a grim view of the fact that two night shelters had been knocked down, the court wondered how the authorities could be "so impervious and callous to the plight of the homeless when the winter is so intense?" Indeed, it would appear that between the two municipal corporations, the department of social welfare and the urban development ministry, no one wants to own the problem. The urban homeless are not scroungers, they might work in construction, sort through waste, and sell odds and ends. They are citizens who have been simply priced out of the city's brutal housing market despite their hard labour. In earlier days, destitution, vagrancy and need were accommodated by religion and social support structures, whether the Hindu idea of the bhikshu, Islamic zakat, or Christian and Sikh notions of charity. Now, the state's welfare schemes are the primary recourse — and India has been incredibly incompetent in providing relief. In Delhi, for instance, there was only one dedicated night shelter for women, and that was also converted into a warehouse in 2007 — women are a significant proportion of the homeless, and among the most vulnerable. Finding space for night shelters isn't that complicated, it simply requires converting and wringing more use out of existing structures. It's the least we can do.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PERCENTAGE SHIFTS

 

The Andhra Pradesh assembly has passed the Andhra Pradesh Micro Finance Institutions (Regulation of Money Lending) Bill, to replace the ordinance the state government had issued in October, following reports of coercive recovery methods used by microfinance institutions (MFIs) and debtor suicides. The government — claiming to protect women's self-help groups and low-income borrowers against MFIs' high interest rates and recovery agents — has vented its ire on a sector in deep crisis. Although the bill does not cap interest rates — the biggest threat to microfinance — there are several reasons why the replication of Andhra's heavy-handedness in other states could spell the destruction of microfinance in India.Andhra has imposed several restrictions on MFIs, such as registering them all with local authorities in each district. More dangerous is encouraging borrowers to default on loans. This hysteria misses the important role MFIs play in a country like India — providing financial services to sub-prime borrowers commercial banks do not entertain. Without MFIs, they would be left at the mercy of old-style moneylenders charging around a 100 per cent where MFI interest rates vary mostly between 30-40 per cent, and when some large MFIs have already announced an interest cap of 24 per cent. What's also overlooked is that MFI loans are small sums. And yet, precisely because the sums are so small, these involve high transaction costs. Nor do these loans have collaterals. However, what do these small sums do? These allow the very poor to be self-employed, helping them start or expand businesses, these also provide insurance against adversity, such as flood/ drought and disease.Although interest rates haven't been capped in this bill, there's no guarantee the matter won't rise again in Andhra or elsewhere. Any attempt at severely restricting MFIs would hurt the poorest. That's not to deny the need for safeguards — against coercive collection methods or faulty judgments of creditworthiness. The best answer is better oversight of existing agencies. Perhaps the Centre should consider a consumer redress mechanism to discourage the anecdotal and speculative discourse as in Andhra, as well as a credit bureau where MFIs report their loan portfolios. If MFIs trip or disappear, the poorest will be thrown back to the wolves.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LOST AT 125

 

Ever since an amateur ornithologist by the name of Allan Octavian Hume thought up the need for a political gathering in the 1880s, the Indian National Congress has never been stagnant in composition or ideas. Yet, it is not the historians within us who will look back this month, as the Congress marks its 125th anniversary, and wonder how the party straitjacketed its legacy — and thereby India's — of argumentation into authorised renditions. However, as a mood of national drift settles in at year-end, the party's Delhi plenary this weekend will be keenly watched for the clarity it may instil as the Congress negotiates its toughest patch since returning to power at the Centre in 2004.

 

Anniversaries thrive on parallels, and the Congress's 125th bash is, of course, being compared to its 100th. Then, a young Rajiv Gandhi asserted his forward-looking vision, a year after Mrs Gandhi's assassination. Now, court-watchers are bound to read clues about Rahul Gandhi's future plans. But it's not the choreography of succession that the party needs to get right — it needs to acknowledge the popular image of a party at battle with itself, and how the so-called loyalists insinuate their agendas of self-advancement into its unsettled debates on key issues and policies. The long view of the party's history allows the Congress to assert its longstanding relevance in this country's politics, and allusions to past heroes and struggles can be expected. Nonetheless, the Congress owes it to itself and the country as the main party in power to acknowledge the journey of the past year-and-a-half: from the euphoria of mid-2009, as it spectacularly led the UPA back to power on a centrist platform in a forward-looking verdict, to the disillusion of end-2010, as a session of Parliament stood virtually abandoned and national politics locked into a paralysis on key policy issues. How did the optimism of revival give way to fears of drift so soon?

 

The Congress misread the

 

verdict. It failed to recognise the politics of aspiration and economic growth that is now fuelling electoral waves — and in its harking back to the days of its one-party dominance, it fell back on some bad old ways. In fact, it has shown every sign of trying to manage its way back to its lost grand social coalition by reaching out to perceived votebanks without a centralising, binding agenda for governance. Today's India has no patience for finding identification in intra-party or intra-government tensions. The Congress could make a beginning in its Delhi meet by acknowledging the problems it faces.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

INSIDE THE JUNGLE

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI 

 

The boots were cool and simultaneously signalled gravitas. That was also the case, as it usually is, with the wearer of the boots. But aside from Amitabh Bachchan's charisma and his boots, NDTV's telethon on "Save the Tiger" was a perplexing experience. Perplexing in a fun sort of way, mind you, as in, if tigers watched TV, they would have had a few giggles.Somewhere in the Pench tiger reserve, an NDTV anchor is on a machan, no not a machan, but a nicely constructed platform, all very jungle décor-like except perhaps the chairs. The anchor tells us to put our hands together for the co-hosts of the show, the camera gives us a long shot of a sleek, open-top fourwheel drive. There's background music that rises in tempo as the vehicle comes to a stop and Bachchan and another NDTV anchor alight – is this a Ram Gopal Varma movie, the bit before the casting starts? No, dummy, it's an NDTV programme. Why can't news TV put up shows that start like movies? So put your hands together, and rub them in anticipation.One NDTV anchor observed, while talking to Bachchan, that while there are other problems in this country, "poverty, terrorism, you name it…", saving the tiger is also important. This is the kind of profound thesis that makes, as they say, the common man (for example, your columnist) feel very inadequate. I never thought of it like that, I told myself. But there was hope. Because Bachchan said in response that "the common man…need to be educated on this."So, what did I learn, as I saw television regulars of all stripes tell us via NDTV that the tiger must be saved? I learnt that NDTV's telethon probably would have looked more convincing had the hosts been in a studio rather than a sanitised bit of a tiger reserve. I get the point about tiger reserve/Save-the-Tiger show, but there's a reason why wise people say the symbol isn't the substance. The symbolic setting demanded a degree of substantive participation on the part of all those who made time for the telethon, and that was as elusive as the big cat is in tiger reserves.I learnt that Malaika Arora Khan got a spark in her head, as she put it, when she saw Bachchan talking on TV about the Save the Tiger campaign, this observation following Bachchan's, when he said "we celebrities" are unaware of many things. We common men and women are also unaware of so many things, like how do TV anchors and celebrities sit on a platform in a forest clearing, changing from shirts to jackets as the day progressed, and do this for hours. If I were a tiger, I would have been very impressed. Hell, I am just a human being, and even then I am very impressed.I also learnt a new term: "poached products". This, from an NDTV correspondent interviewing Neha Dhupia in the Maharashtra Nature Park, where Ms Dhupia threw darts at a revolving dart board; anytime she missed hitting the figure of the poacher and hit a "tiger" or a "tree", she had to make a donation, or that's what I understood. Thanking her for her contribution, the correspondent pointed out we must never use poached products — except perhaps poached eggs, I thought.I learnt that what we need to do is to "create issues out of the tiger…and bring the tiger from the jungle to our minds" – a regular TV panelist surrounded by kids wearing tiger masks, standing in front of India Gate, told us this while commending NDTV.See, even as a common man, I commend NDTV, because raising money for tiger conservation is good. But why did I catch myself chuckling so many times, that's the question. This is a serious issue, no? As a tiger might have put it, why create issues out of me? Is it because I am on your mind?saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

UPA'S METEORIC FALL

SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

Just a year back, everything looked as if it was playing out to script for the UPA government, and even more specifically, the Congress party. Now, it seems to have all gone wrong, much like the dramatic turn in a romantic couple's fortunes after the interval in a 1960s Hindi movie. Except, just about 18 months into a five-year term, it isn't quite interval time yet for the UPA. And further, unlike a Hindi movie of the 1960s, or at any time, in politics a happy ending cannot be presumed or guaranteed. The challenge UPA 1 had to tackle from difficult allies and the Left supporters from outside now feels like a breeze compared to the open war that has broken out among the members of the cabinet. More precisely, the Congress members of the cabinet. The senior-most ones are tired and disillusioned. The "young" lot, as politicians in their late-50s and mid-60s are described in India (factoid: Wen Jiabao is happy to be addressed as grandpa by schoolchildren, while Prithviraj Chavan, the young, new Maharashtra chief minister is exactly his age), are fighting, bickering, bitching and leaking against each other. It is no longer confined to whispers in any darkened corridors or the usual capital city scuttlebutt. It is a widely known fact, and easy to substantiate, that UPA 2 has emerged as the most internally fractious Indian cabinet since Morarji Desai's Janata in 1977. On the eve of the AICC session, the party's leadership cannot even look at the states for succour and optimism. The Congress, today, has the most ineffectual chief ministers in the country. Its failure to stabilise Andhra after YSR's sudden death and to build a new leader is only matched by its utterly cynical greed and incompetence in messing up Maharashtra. The party has now ruled the state for 11 unbroken years, under five chief ministers (Deshmukh served twice). You ask anybody in Mumbai about Prithviraj Chavan's prospects now, and the answer you get is: he may deliver, but only if the party stops harassing him for more "resources". And this, mind you, is no mere loose talk. The unanimity on this argument, and the promptness and uniformity with which it is spoken, is frightening.The only other politically significant state the party controls, Rajasthan, presents an indifferent picture, even if not of alarm. The chief minister, always a lightweight, is further weakened as the political centre of gravity of his state unit now resides in Delhi, in the form of PCC chief C.P. Joshi. The debacle in this week's by-elections and recent civic polls tells a story. Other Congress states, J&K, Haryana, Assam, Goa and Pondicherry, are insignificant.

 

Very few Congressmen dispute these facts. But, if you expected this sense of crisis to make them sober down or rethink their politics, you are mistaken. In fact, even if they tear their colleagues to shreds, or make patronising, even ridiculing remarks about the prime minister, the swagger is still all there. And it comes from the question all of them throw at you: but where is the opposition? Look at the situation within the BJP. But, post-Bihar, there are some stirrings. Nobody in the Congress would ever dare question the leadership, but for the first time in the history of UPA coalitions, some Congressmen have begun to doubt if their party's future has indeed been pre-settled or whether politics hereon will play out to that script.In the three days preceding the Bihar results, I happened to run into at least six senior Congress ministers and two general secretaries. The most pessimistic estimate of Congress seats was 20. Of course the most optimistic was 60 and the person who made it would be most embarrassed if I mentioned his name now. But just four? Congressmen now wonder — once again, only in whispers — if something indeed has, or is, going wrong.They do not have to look far. Many, in fact most, of the Congress party's current problems lie in the fact that they misread the verdict of 2009 to believe that the opposition had been vanquished for ever. Since May 2009 Congressmen have been celebrating the "victory" of 2014 and posturing, preparing, and of course poisoning their likely 2014 rivals' lunch already. We know politics is the art of the possible, but jockeying for positions in a 2014 (Rahul Gandhi) government from May 2009 is about as illogical as a cricket team, however formidable and all-conquering, wanting to play the second innings first. This is where the party has blundered. All the problems that bedevil it today, squabbling ministers, restive allies, impatient and insecure general secretaries and apparatchiks and, worst of all, a frighteningly weakened prime minister and, more specifically, his PMO, are rooted in this. Several members of this cabinet make no bones of their "belief" that they draw their power from the Gandhi family and as long as they "have their backing" they have nobody to fear and, frankly, respect, and that includes the prime minister. In the Westminster system, whatever his personality, the prime minister is where the cabinet's centre of gravity resides. If you look at UPA 2, it has not seemed to be the case at least in the last six months.

 

When it comes to political and strategic intellect, the Congress is blessed with an embarrassment of riches. You will see these on display at the AICC session. But all their collective wisdom and cleverness will not reverse the downslide unless they start to look within rather than draw comfort from the BJP's situation. And if they pull themselves out of complacence, or are pulled out by the Gandhis, they will also see two new realities in the Indian national political balance of power.One, the post-2004 party-government compact where the party, or more precisely the Gandhi family, totally de-risked itself by distancing itself from its government's major decisions so it could later claim the credit for successes and disown its setbacks, like Sharm el-Sheikh, will no longer work. It won't work because people won't accept it. And the party cannot go to the polls in 2014 seeking an anti-incumbency vote against its own government. So, from economics to environment, from diplomacy to terrorism, the party and the government have to work firmly on a sink-or-swim together basis.Two, the party has to accept that the days when pan-national leaders could swing entire elections are over. Political and electoral power have now moved to the states. Look at the Indian election now like a best-of-nine-sets tennis match. The nine "sets" are UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, AP, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Together these send 351 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Any coalition that wins five of these will automatically get close to 200 seats and the rest will then fall in place. How well-placed is the UPA of December 2010 in this nine-set game of electoral tennis? An honest answer to that would be a sobering and useful theme to the AICC session, rather than the usual swagger, verbose platitudes and loud declarations of loyalty and sycophancy.

 

sg@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

DISAPPEARING ACT

RUCHIKA TALWAR 

 

Disappearing act

 

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer dominated Pakistan's newspapers this week. During a session of the Punjab assembly, Taseer was found missing in action and the commotion reached a crescendo when word spread that he had gone overseas without informing the House.

 

Daily Times reported on December 13: "Dr Zamurad Yasmeen Rana, a member of the provincial assembly from the PML-N, filed a resolution in the Punjab Assembly Secretariat against a foreign visit of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer... She said the governor was bound to follow the decorum of a constitutional office... She claimed Taseer took a Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Karachi to Colombo and... returned... on December 8... Dr Yasmeen said the governor had violated Article 104 of the constitution."

 

The News added on December 14: "Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan will soon formally approach President Asif Zardari and PM Yousuf Raza Gilani to proceed against Punjab Governor Salman Taseer under Article 6 of the Constitution... Because of his unannounced disappearance from the country, there has been no acting governor of the province, which was, otherwise, mandatory." Dawn reported on December 15: "Salman Taseer sprang a surprise on his detractors by making a sudden appearance at an exhibition amid rumours that he had surreptitiously flown to Dubai... 'I am not going anywhere. When I leave the country I inform the presidency and it is up to the presidency to issue a notification'..."

 

PakiLeaks fallout

 

The News reported on December 13 that Mohsin Baig, the chief editor of the Pakistani news agency, Online, lost his job after its circulation of "planted" news was outed: "An inquiry found him solely responsible for releasing a fabricated story on WikiLeaks disclosures."

 

Holbrooke mourned

 

The demise of former US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was mourned in Pakistan, reported The News on December 14: "Pakistan mourned the passing away of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke... with those who had worked closely with him these past few years remembering him as 'a diplomat par excellence' who had been the moving spirit behind upgrading the Pak-US Strategic Dialogue to the ministerial level... President Asif Zardari, PM Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, all paid tributes to the US envoy, who visited Pakistan frequently and always reached out to the media here. Zardari... called him 'a friend of Pakistan and a personal friend of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and himself, and the best tribute to him was to reiterate the resolve to root out extremism and usher in peace and stability'."

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE UNQUIET AMERICAN

 

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 US military brass; Holbrooke, adept at theatre, 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. 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 specialisation. 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 US 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. Roger Cohen

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DECLINE AND FALL OF INDIAN POVERTY

SURJIT S BHALLA 

 

In this winter of gloom, doom and corruption, the government can bask in some warmth from data collected by its statistical agencies. (Alas, these agencies have yet to hire some basic data-processing capabilities from minor computer firms, let alone agencies like Infosys. Perhaps Nandan Nilekani can loan some programmers from the UID project.) So what is the issue, and what is the evidence?It was only a few months ago that the entire intelligentsia and its gatekeepers in our vibrant and loud press were talking about how vast tracts of land in India was occupied by the Maoists ( a leading development-oriented NGO, which more than occasionally had to resort to killings to bring the plight of the poor to the attention of the elite). Politicians vied with each other to differentiate the Maoists from other terrorist organisations. Meanwhile, the prestigious and respected National Advisory Council was busy manufacturing data and evidence to support the myth that development had failed to reach the poor. There has been a race to the bottom among these luminaries as to who could come up with a "better" statistic to worsen the picture of poverty alleviation in India.If ever my column title "No Proof Required" is applicable it is to the sorry state of affairs regarding discussion of poverty in India. Anything goes and went — especially after economic reforms were introduced in 1991. The poverty industry got a major boost to its market capitalisation as economists, particularly of the Left variety, vied for space and attention. Reforms could not possibly help the poor — they only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. We have all heard it before, ad nauseam.To come to the point: the long introduction was needed because the story is simple. So simple that it is difficult to write a full-fledged column, though details of an academic nature are available in the paper cited below. In India, the respected but painfully slow National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) collects data on households and in June 2010, completed the large sample survey for the period July 2009 to June 2010. Six months have passed and the last one heard was that they were still processing the data (hence the desperate cry to Nilekani for help). As a reference, it is important to note that when Arun Shourie was in charge, preliminary results were available six months later in December 2000. Clearly, we have regressed — statistical commission, please note.While there are still some economists, and policy-makers, who think that India is overheating with an 8.5-9 per cent GDP growth, the fact remains that for the last eight years, and including the crisis year of 2008-09, Indian GDP growth has averaged above 8 per cent! So what has happened to poverty alleviation over this period?Some evidence for what happened is available from the recently concluded Bihar elections. But some academics and psephologists argue that this was because of some ingenious and new caste combination that Nitish manufactured — didn't you know, there has been no development in Bihar since the Congress was booted out of the state way back in 1991? Some other evidence is available from the NSS survey from July 2007 to June 2008. It was a "small sample survey" with 50,000 households rather than the regular 120,000 households, but still large enough for calculations of poverty. Results are presented for two poverty lines — the official Planning Commission and the new 20 per cent higher Tendulkar line. The results underline the dramatic improvement in poverty alleviation during the recent high growth period. Regardless of the poverty line used, or the region, poverty has declined at about three times the earlier pace. For the old official poverty line, the head count ratio of poverty declined by 0.9 per cent a year for the 22-year growth period of 1983 to 2004-05; in the subsequent three years, the rate of decline accelerated to 2.6 percentage points (ppt) per annum. For the higher Tendulkar poverty line, the rate of decline accelerated from -1 ppt a year to -3.3 ppt a year.The level of poverty indicated by the 2007-08 survey is 14 and 27 per cent, old and new lines respectively. To put these numbers in perspective, the Millennium Development Goals target of 15 per cent poor was to be reached by India in 2015. This suggests that the target was reached about a decade earlier. It needs to be emphasised that these poverty figures are as the raw figures indicate, that is, no adjustments have been made to the survey data. Indian NSS data are notorious for only capturing half of the per capita consumption that prevails in the country according to national accounts data. If adjustments are made, poverty will be considerably lower than even these low figures.Two conclusions follow. First, it is very likely that by the old definition of the poverty line, poverty in India is in single digits. Equally true that we should proceed towards substantially raising the poverty line, and do so on an objective rather than the convoluted manner of the Tendulkar report. My calculations are that the poverty line in India should be raised to about 30 per cent higher than the old poverty line, that is, the urban poverty line in 2010 should be Rs 1000 per capita per month and the rural poverty line should be Rs 650 per capita per month. This will yield the result that approximately 30 per cent of the population is poor in India. Still a large segment of the population and a reduction to zero that Indian policy should target — but without the chest-beating and the accompanying legislation of morality that the UPA seems to be so fond of.

 

The details are available in "Inclusive Growth in India: Myths and Evidence", LSE India Observatory Project on growth and inclusion in India, forthcoming, www.oxusinvestments.com, The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

BAD HOUSEKEEPING

C.V. MADHUKAR 

 

A couple of days ago, an MLA from Orissa made news for climbing on to the speaker's table in the assembly. Not so long ago, television screens beamed images of Karnataka MLAs snacking and sleeping all night in the assembly. But these are only indicative of the incidents of the raucous behaviour of several MLAs in the recent past across the country. And the poor behaviour of some MLAs is only one aspect of the pitiable state of several of our state legislatures. The other aspect of our state legislatures that goes largely unnoticed is how poorly the secretariats of legislatures are equipped and how several systems that are seen as essential in Parliament are non-existent in states. Even to know the complete picture of how our legislatures function, you need data. And several state assemblies are notoriously poor at putting out data on the functioning of the institution or the MLAs. After one gets used to the quality of Parliament websites and the regularity of their updates, it would be shocking to see that there are some state legislatures that do not even have functional websites. It has been observed that some state legislatures are lagging behind by a couple of years in compiling the "resume of work" which summarises the work done in a session of the legislature. So the first bottleneck in several instances is the inability to access data of the assembly. From the data we have managed to access, it is obvious that state assemblies meet for very few days a year. A case in point is the Punjab assembly which has met for an average of 19 days per year for a 10-year period between 1997 and 2007. Delhi was only marginally better averaging 21 days per year during the same period. Kerala has averaged some 50 days a year for several years now. Some states like Karnataka have legislated that they should meet for at least 60 days a year, but since passing that legislation in 2005, they have not managed to do so for even one year. I am not even accounting for the time lost due to disruptions. Bills are passed with little or no discussion in many state legislatures. While in Parliament, referring bills to the standing committees is the norm, most state legislatures do not have standing committees. The only examination of a bill, if any, happens on the floor of the House. And if data from the Delhi assembly is anything to go by, the average debate on a bill before is passed is a little over half hour. There are any number of instances where bills are introduced and passed in state assemblies on the same day — so there is not even a pretence of the need for MLAs to read, understand and deliberate on the provisions of legislation they are supposedly passing. MLAs are often far more narrowly constituency-focused than MPs are. On average, MLAs have lower education levels than members of Parliament. There is no formal definition of a role of an MLA, and they mostly have no exposure to ideas such as the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. In one particularly revealing conversation with an MLA, he said, "At the time of elections, each of the contestants represents his party. But after the elections, the chief minister becomes the leader of all MLAs in the House. If an MLA needs some additional projects/ favours for his constituency he needs to be in the good books of the chief minister and his cabinet ministers. So where is the question of taking on the chief minister on the floor of the House on any issue?" There are many aspects of state legislatures that point to a steady and visible decline of these important institutions. But beyond the frequent highlighting of theatrics by some MLAs, there is almost no public discourse on this issue. It is necessary to ensure that the legislatures run smoothly, and the speaker, as first among equals, has the biggest responsibility to ensure this. If there are rules and everyone knows that those rules will never be used to enforce discipline, then the rules will be broken, and repeatedly so. This practice needs to be urgently reviewed. The larger question is whether our legislatures are the highest deliberating and policy-making bodies or whether they are being reduced to platforms for political theatrics. Policy can almost never be devoid of politics and public posturing. But if this means poor deliberation of critical policy issues and the woefully inadequate functioning of our legislatures, then we may need to come up with creative ways in which this problem can be addressed. The writer is director, PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 OLD-STYLE JVS DRIVE OUT

 

The parting of ways of the Munjals of Hero and Japan's Honda Motors hasn't taken anyone by surprise, and was pretty much a foregone conclusion when Honda set up a 100% subsidiary Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Limited in 1999. That it lasted this long, long after other JVs in the industry packed up—Bajaj with Kawasaki in the motorcycle space and the government with Suzuki in the car space for instance—is a tribute to the sagacity of both the Munjals and Honda. Both realised they needed one another—if one had the technology, the other had the marketing and distribution muscle. The way out was to, initially, keep Honda focussed on scooters, an area where Hero-Honda was not present. Even in 2004, despite all the tension and the rumour mills working overtime, the two partners renewed their technology transfer agreement, even as HMSI got into the motorcycle segment. By now, with a 17% market share in scooters and motorcycles, HMSI has presumably got a sense of the marketing and, we presume, Hero has developed indigenous technology capabilities. The motorcycles, in preparation for the separation, began being marketed by individual product name—Passion and Splendour—instead of just carrying the Hero Honda tag.

 

This now sets the stage for the next stage of India's JVs, partnerships based on the next stage of need. If the earlier set of JVs was based on fact that the law didn't allow 100% FDI, or on marketing and technology needs like Hero Honda, the next stage of JVs has to be based on risk-sharing, technology partnerships. So, Suzuki has a tie-up with Volkswagen, GM has with SAIC. The pharmaceuticals space, similarly, has companies tying up for joint R&D—the risks in technology are very high and the amounts to be invested very high. This is the reason why, for instance, top Indian auto firms are also investing overseas—the Tata Motors JLR deal falls in this category. So don't mourn the passing away of what's probably the last big JV in India, get ready for the next lot. These ones, though, may not be across the full company, they may be across certain product categories, like a new engine or a particular medicine to treat a new disease.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ADVANCE CHEER

 

Coming on top of the 10.8% hike in industrial production in October and an 8.8% hike in GDP for this year's second quarter, the 18% or so hike in advance taxes for the year's third quarter is good news. Apart from the fact that it sets to rest some of the doubts cast on the IIP numbers thanks to their huge fluctuations as well as data problems, it also indicates the fears of rise in commodity prices, wages and interest costs may be overstated. To be sure, these have risen (and interest rates may rise a bit more till liquidity eases), but advance taxes are paid on profits, so it would suggest the rise in these inputs has been more than made up by the increase in topline revenues. Actual tax collections in the April-October are up 27% as compared to a decline of 8% in the same period in 2009-10 and an increase of 19% in April-October 2008-09. Excise duty collections rose 38% in April-October 2010-11as compared to a decline of 22% in the same period in 2009-10—corporate taxes rose 20% as compared to a mere 6.5% in April-October 2009-10. Apart from the hike due to industrial activity, a greater effort to tax M&A activity—of the Vodafone type, though this money is yet to be collected—has also helped raise collections.

 

In terms of the specific sectors, with the exception of cement, companies in most other sectors have paid higher advance taxes in the October-December quarter. The numbers also show that the financial sector has put up a healthy performance with the country's largest lender, State Bank of India, paying the highest tax of Rs 1,850 crore for the quarter. The actual earnings growth of corporate India, for the December-end quarter, will be out around mid-January. Analysts expect a 20% increase in corporate earnings in the current financial year as both fiscal and monetary policies have played an important role in effecting a consumption-led revival in the GDP growth rate. There's a caveat here. In the past, advance tax collections have not always grown in sync with corporate profits over the past few quarters since 'other' income growth has been high—we have to see if the trend persists.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DECLINE AND FALL OF INDIAN POVERTY

SURJIT S BHALLA

 

In this winter of gloom, doom and corruption, the government can obtain some warmth from data collected by its statistical agencies. Alas, these agencies have yet to hire some basic data processing capabilities from minor computer firms, let alone agencies like Infosys. Perhaps Nandan Nilekani can loan some programmers from the UID project. So what's the issue, and what's the evidence?

 

It was only a few months ago, that all the intelligentsia and their gatekeepers in our vibrant, and loud, press were talking about how vast tracts of land in India were occupied by the Maoists, a leading development-oriented NGO, which more than occasionally had to resort to killings to bring the plight of the poor to the attention of the elite. Politicians vied with each other to differentiate the Maoists from other terrorist organisations. Meanwhile, the prestigious and respected National Advisory Council was busy manufacturing data and evidence to support the myth that development had failed to reach the poor. There has been a race to the bottom among these luminaries as to who could come up with a "better" statistic to worsen the picture of poverty alleviation in India.

 

If ever my column title "No Proof Required" is applicable it is to the sorry and sad state of affairs regarding discussion of poverty in India. Anything goes and went—especially since the economic reforms were introduced in 1991. The poverty industry got a major boost to its market capitalisation by the reforms as economists, particularly of the left variety, vied for space and attention. Reforms could not possibly help the poor—they only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. We have all heard it before, ad nauseam.

 

To come to the point of the story. The long introduction was needed because the story is simple. So simple that it is difficult to write a full-fledged column, though details of an academic nature are available in the paper cited below. In India, the respected but painfully slow National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) collects data on households and in June 2010 completed the large sample survey for the period July 2009 to June 2010. Six months have passed and the last one heard was that they were still processing the data (hence the desperate cry to Nilekani for help). As a reference, it is important to note that when Arun Shourie was in charge, preliminary results were available six months later in December 2000. Clearly, we have regressed — Statistical Commission, please note.

 

While there are still some economists, and policy makers, who think that India is overheating with a 8.5-9% GDP growth, the fact remains that for the last eight years, and including the crisis year of 2008-9, Indian GDP growth has averaged above 8 %! So what has happened to poverty alleviation over this period?

 

Some evidence for what happened is available from the recently concluded Bihar elections. But some academics and psephologists argue that this was because of some ingenious and new caste combination that Nitish manufactured —didn't you know, there has been no development in Bihar since the Congress was booted out of the state way back in 1991? Some other evidence is available from the NSS survey from July 2007 to June 2008. It was a "small sample survey" with 50,000 households rather than the regular 120,000 households, but still large enough for calculations of poverty. Results are presented for two poverty lines – the official Planning Commission and the new 20% higher Tendulkar line.  

 

The results underline the dramatic improvement in poverty alleviation during the recent high growth period. Regardless of the poverty line used, or the region, poverty has declined at about three times the earlier pace. For the old official poverty line, the head count ratio of poverty declined by 0.9% a year for the 22-year growth period of 1983 to 2004-05; in the subsequent three years the rate of decline accelerated to 2.6 percentage points (ppt) per annum. For the higher Tendulkar poverty line, the rate of decline accelerated from 1 ppt a year to 3.3 ppt a year.

 

The level of poverty indicated by the 2007-8 survey is 14% and 27%, old and new lines respectively. To put these numbers in perspective, the Millennium Development Goals target of 15% poor was to be reached by India in 2015. This suggests that the target was reached about a decade earlier. It needs to be emphasised that these poverty figures are as the raw figures indicate i.e. no adjustments have been made to the survey data. Indian NSS data are notorious for only capturing half of the per capita consumption that prevails in the country according to national accounts data. If adjustments are made, poverty will be considerably lower than even these low figures.

 

Two conclusions follow. First, it is very likely that by the old definition of the poverty line, poverty in India is in single digits. Equally true that we should proceed towards substantially raising the poverty line, and do so in an objective rather than the convoluted manner of the Tendulkar report. My calculations are that the poverty line in India should be raised to about 30% higher than the old poverty line i.e. the urban poverty line in 2010 should be Rs 1000 per capita per month and the rural poverty line should be Rs 650 per capita per month. This will yield the result that approximately 30% of the population is poor in India. Still a large segment of the population and a reduction to zero that Indian policy should target—but without the chest beating and the accompanying legislation of morality that UPA seems to be so fond of.

 

—The details are available in Inclusive Growth in India: Myths and Evidence, LSE India Observatory Project on growth and inclusion in India, forthcoming, www.oxusinvestments.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

A BREATHER FROM RBI

MADAN SABNAVIS

 

Market expectations are normally self-fulfilling. So was it with the monetary policy announced, when the market expected that nothing will happen, and quite surely, nothing did. At least for the repo/reverse repo and CRR there were no surprises. This neutral stance of RBI does raise some interesting issues.

 

If one goes back to the last three policies, including this one, economic conditions have been quite unchanged. From September, WPI has come down while the economy has been doing well in terms of IIP and GDP growth. This was the case of supply bottlenecks being released as well as strong economic growth tendencies being displayed at the same time. Yet, RBI persisted with rate hikes in two policies, and an unchanged stance in the recent one. In fact, the policy came just after the weekly WPI came as a shocker with food inflation rate rising for the fourth week in a row when the base year effect was already high as well as harvest coming in. In a way, a rate hike at this time would be more compelling as food inflation has been increasing and month on month index numbers are on the rise.

 

If one were to interpret the RBI stance, it can be concluded that it was giving a break to the system from the series of interest rate hikes, before probably reviewing the situation in January. Inflation is on the rise on the demand side and today there is some scepticism of inflation coming down as price levels remain elevated in the market place. This has kept inflationary expectations high even though the number appears to be lower, which is more on account of the base effect.

 

How RBI addressed the liquidity issue is also interesting. We have a situation where bank credit is growing faster than deposits. Incremental deposits available for financing credit are low, which contributes to the liquidity problem. Deposits are not growing for a variety of reasons. To begin with, real deposit rates continue to be in the negative zone (going by the CPI). The stock market offers better enticement for those with risk appetite. Further, high inflation has led to more hoarding of currency— the increase in holding of currency has been Rs 103,864 crore compared with Rs 58,166 crore last year during the same period. This normally happens when the cost of living increases.

 

Also, incremental deposits have been whimsical given that the several IPOs, especially of PSUs, have led to the blockage of funds with oversubscription of these issues. To top it all, the government is not spending the money it collected form the 3G auctions, which would have come back into the system partly in the form of deposits. Hence, there has been hoarding of money at this end too.

 

Would such a liquidity situation be called transient or more permanent? We have had RBI lending around Rs 1 lakh crore through the repo window on a consistent basis since October. RBI had waived the penalty on non-maintenance of the SLR as well as undertaken buy back of securities from banks, but with mixed success. Under these circumstances, it does appear that the liquidity issue is more on the structural side since the situation on the deposits side is going to continue to prevail in a similar manner for the rest of the year with another Rs 20,000 crore of disinvestment in the offing. Therefore, CRR cut would have been in order, to release between Rs 25-50,000 crore through a cut of 50-100 bps. Given that the investment deposit ratio for the system is already 30.6%, a 1% cut in SLR will affect only those banks which are on the fringe of 25% SLR today.

 

But, RBI's dependence on the OMO route suggests that it expects the situation to improve. The day of the credit policy saw the two LAFs provide around Rs 145,000 crore to banks, which does show the severity of the issue, though admittedly, this pressure will ease once the advance tax payments flow back to the system. To conclude, it may be said that RBI has evidently paused to assess the situation later in January before reviewing its options after taking an informed call on the permanency or transience of liquidity and inflation.

 

—The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

Time to party

Though UK Sinha's name has not been officially announced as the next Sebi chief, mutual fund companies are already celebrating CB Bhave's exit. Some top executives of a few asset management companies are throwing a week-end party in Goa since, they argue, Sinha is a mutual funds person (he headed UTI AMC and is currently the chief of the industry lobby Amfi) and so will likely revisit Bhave's ban on mutual funds charging entry loads for subscribers. The ban had completely dried up their distribution network and fund houses have not been able to adjust their business models to the regulatory changes.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SAVING FACEBOOK

 

Love him, hate him but you can't ignore him. Mark Zuckerberg, the head of a small country—the republic of Facebook—has been named Time's Person of the Year. Whether this was Facebook's year or that the recognition has come two years too late, or why Gates, Google and Jobs haven't made the list thus far for much the same reasons that Zuckerberg has, is a separate debate altogether. Having added its 550 millionth member this year, there is little doubt that Facebook has revolutionised the way people interact, using technology to bridge gaps between continents.

 

Every award comes with its fair share of criticism, and this is no exception. The biggest complain across the blogosphere appears to be that Time ignored popular sentiment, using its 'right' to select the winner itself. Assange came in at the top of the voter list with 382,026 votes compared to just 18,353 for Zuckerberg. Why ask readers to vote if their choices will ultimately not be taken into account, they ask? It is likely that the decision was, in part, motivated by political pressure. Given the US government's stance on WikiLeaks and its order to ISPs across the globe to shut the Website down, presenting WikiLeaks's founder with an award at this time may have been more than politically awkward for Time. But regardless of who deserved it more, Zuckerberg has played an important role in empowering people by enabling them to engage in a more culturally vibrant environment, for the better or worse, with fewer boundaries. He is the same age as Queen Elizabeth when she was Person of the Year. "But unlike the Queen, he did not inherit an empire; he created one," says Time.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GOING BEYOND TRADE

 

The dramatic surge in bilateral trade is the biggest story on the India-China front in the past decade. But persistent imbalances are threatening to erode the consensus on the Indian side that the two countries can simply buy their way to a better relationship. What makes the visit this week of Wen Jiabao especially significant is the message the Chinese Premier sent out that he understood India's concerns on the question of market access and would try to find ways of resolving them. Other positives on the economic side to flow from Mr. Wen's visit were the announcements on a Strategic Economic Dialogue, the creation of a CEOs' forum, and the agreement between banking regulators, which will hopefully allow better synergy between the commercial operations and the financial requirements of Indian and Chinese companies doing business across the border. If China is able to unlock its markets for Indian goods and services, especially in the pharma and IT sectors, the new trade target of $100 billion can easily be achieved before 2015. If not, trade will continue to grow but the ballooning deficit will be like an albatross around the neck of the India-China partnership.

 

On the political front, the Chinese side failed to 'unstaple' the issue of distinctive visas it grants to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir who wish to travel to China. India has been complaining about this Chinese policy — which it regards as an affront to Indian sovereignty and territorial integrity — for more than a year, to no avail. "Our policy on Kashmir has not changed" is the only thing the Chinese side would say. This time, however, Premier Wen went a small step further and acknowledged this was an issue that needed resolution through "consultations." Since China unilaterally adopted the stapled-visa policy, the ball is in its court. In consequence, the Indian side held back from the joint statement this time the standard formulations on Tibet and 'One China.' It is not as if India's policy towards the territorial integrity of China has changed. But the point has been made, more or less in public, that respect for core national concerns must be mutual. This prickly issue apart, the Wen visit produced several new positives on the strategic front, most notably the decision to meet more often at the summit level and an agreement to work together against piracy in the Gulf of Aden. India and China should lose no time in implementing this aspect of the joint statement, and use it as a stepping stone for a full-fledged dialogue on the broader issue of maritime security and freedom of navigation. It is vital that the momentum achieved in the relationship between the two neighbours, the world's most talked-about rising powers, is sustained.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MAKING CITIES SAFER FOR WOMEN

 

Delhi, where a rape is reported every 29 minutes (UNIFEM 2010), has the dubious reputation of being one of the world's unsafest cities for women. The surprise is that precious little has been done to salvage its image. Increased policing may help mitigate the situation but it will not by itself make the city any safer in a sustained way. The limited success of initiatives by the Delhi Police such as 'Parivartan', implemented following the three widely publicised incidents including the rape of a Swiss diplomat in 2003, speaks to this. Many of the offences in Delhi are committed with impunity in the most public of places. A survey recently conducted by two U.N. agencies along with Jagori, a non-governmental organisation, found that that women feel more vulnerable while travelling in a bus, waiting at the bus stop, and walking on the streets and in market places. They do not find the police very helpful and are reluctant to complain about harassment. The message is loud and clear. Unless the gender issue is comprehensively addressed in city planning and governance and development becomes more equitable, Indian cities will remain less than safe for women over the long term.

 

Indian cities can learn a lot from cities like Seoul, which has responded imaginatively to such challenges and enjoys the distinction of being one of the most women-friendly cities in the world. Besides using less intrusive surveillance technologies to improve safety, the South Korean capital has implemented a slew of progressive measures. These include programmes to certify and assess women-friendly workplaces ; an elaborate women's safety audit of public areas such as parks and streets to map the unsafe ones; gender governance strategies; and specific brand programmes such as infant plazas and safe parking locations for women. The city authorities closely monitor the effectiveness of the projects by annually charting the Gender Sensitive Indicators; and based on the changes in the gender-equality level, new schemes for areas that need improvement are proposed. These innovations , which infused a radically new perspective in urban polices, have paid rich dividends. Indian policymakers can make a start by implementing simple but critical measures such as locating bus stops in mixed land-use areas that draw crowds late into the night and keeping the roads well lit. In cities such as Delhi, a few voluntary organisations have conducted safety audits and baseline surveys, and clear directions have emerged from them. These recommendations must be integrated into city development plans without delay.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

HORN OF AFRICA: WHY INDIA SHOULD CARE MORE

OUR STRATEGIC COMMUNITY AND OFFICIAL AGENCIES SHOULD PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE CONDITIONS AND POWER DYNAMICS IN THE HORN OF AFRICA BECAUSE WHAT HAPPENS IN THE REGION HAS A DIRECT BEARING ON OUR SECURITY.

RAJIV BHATIA

 

Africa has been of growing interest to India for political and economic reasons but does it have security implications for us? The answer is 'yes,' especially as we focus on a particular sub-region, the Horn of Africa. A recent, distinguished visitor to India from the area — Hailemariam Desalegn, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia — highlighted the wider implications of terrorism and piracy in the east African region. He even suggested that there should be "a naval blockade and no fly zone over Somalia."

 

The immediate relevance of the threat posed by piracy has been underlined by the latest incident in which a Bangladeshi-flagged merchant ship, MV Jahan Moni, was hijacked by Somali pirates at a location barely 90 nautical miles from the Lakshadweep Islands.

 

The Horn of Africa comprises four countries — Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. As a quintessential microcosm of Africa, the area has seen it all: imperialism, neo-colonialism, Cold War, ethnic strife, intra-African conflict, poverty, disease, famine and much else. Without its recovery and progress, Africa's resurgence would never be complete. With the headquarters of African Union located in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, the continent's apex organisation gets a direct and unhindered view of what happens in its immediate vicinity.

 

The sub-region covers a wide spectrum from Ethiopia — an ancient civilisation and a nation that retained its independence (except for a short period) — to Somalia, the most failed state on the planet today. Eritrea and Djibouti, smaller neighbours located on the seashore, have had their own share of strife and strained relations with Ethiopia and Somalia respectively. Eritrea emerged as an independent state after a 30-year-long confrontation with Ethiopia, a development that turned the latter into a landlocked country. Djibouti, the erstwhile French Somaliland, has been a beacon of relative stability and prosperity, which has contributed to mediation and peace-making efforts in and outside the Horn of Africa.

 

Africa's Afghanistan

 

Somalia today is a mere geographical expression, not a united country. In the past decade, it has gone through 14 governments. In its northern part, three quasi-sovereign governments exist — Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug. The southern part is controlled partly by the Transitional Federal Government, but its writ runs in parts of Mogadishu only. Outside, Islamic groups named the Union of Islamic Courts call the shots. The on-going armed conflict within the capital city reminds me of the years I spent in the civil war-torn Beirut. The South has become a veritable hub of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist groups such as Al-Shabab having links with the al-Qaeda. The North has been the breeding ground of pirates who pose a serious threat to international shipping. Somalia may aptly be depicted as 'Africa's Afghanistan.'

 

Somali pirates, operating in the waters off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden through which passes a massive quantum of the world's goods and energy supplies, pose a grave danger. The trend now is for them to take their operations far out on the high seas. The number of attacks in 2008 was 111 and 217 in 2009. The year ending now has seen the problem grow. In a recent assessment, the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria stressed that piracy has been growing "in frequency, range, aggression and severity at an alarming rate." Pirates keep trying to harm international shipping, content to extract ransom, but their continuing operations and the potential of building links with international terrorist organisations cause widespread worry. The probability of a major, spectacular attack such as the sinking of an oil tanker cannot be ruled out.

 

Navy's magnificent work

 

In this context, the magnificent work the Indian Navy has been doing in the area since October 2008 deserves wider appreciation. Its warships patrol the Gulf of Aden and quietly provide escort and security assistance to not only Indian but also foreign merchant vessels. About 1,350 ships belonging to different countries have availed themselves of this facility so far. During the first fortnight of September 2010 alone, INS Delhi scored success on four separate occasions to foil attacks by pirates. In all, 22 piracy attempts have been averted by the Navy. It has discharged, as Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma put it, "its responsibilities with distinction."

 

It is worth noting that a considerable degree of consultation, coordination and cooperation in capacity building in anti-piracy operations has been taking place. However, there is a problem about what to do with the pirates apprehended on the high seas as Indian laws do not permit their prosecution by our courts.

 

There are, of course, ships of several other countries, including the United States, European Union member-states, Russia, Australia, China and Japan. The growing presence of Chinese vessels demonstrates the country's reach as the emerging naval power. It also juxtaposes China's undue sensitivity about the presence of other Navies on the South China Sea. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna observed recently: "China is taking more than normal interest in the Indian Ocean and we are monitoring it carefully."

 

The world's Navies have been tackling the consequences and addressing the symptoms of the underlying malaise, which is the destruction of Somalia as a state and the resultant anarchy and absence of the rule of law. The United Nations has been helping in the process, both on the political and peacekeeping aspects. But 8,000 troops provided by Uganda and Burundi are considered to be inadequate for the task. On a recent visit to Somalia, Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, complained that the international community "did not take the Somali problem seriously enough." Apparently, moves are afoot to increase the size of the troops to 12,000, whereas the African Union wants it to go up to 20,000 quickly.

 

]'Not sea bandits'

 

Other factors also explain the piracy phenomenon. Sugule Ali, a pirate leader, stated: "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits to be those who illegally fish and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our area." Objective analysts would agree that there is some merit in the argument, but this is hardly a justification for the continuing attacks. Piracy represents a serious challenge to international law and order. Therefore, international community must do more to resolve the fundamental issues, taking a holistic view. As experts have suggested, there is a need to deal with this problem "from the beach side, in concert with the ocean side." Further, what is required is to craft much greater cooperation among the countries concerned than has been secured so far.

 

Our strategic community and official agencies too should pay more attention to the prevailing conditions and power dynamics in the Horn of Africa. The government would be well advised to become more active in examining and discussing the complex problem in-depth with the governments in Eastern Africa, the African Union and others concerned so as to be able to make a meaningful contribution to its resolution. The Navy can do only fire-fighting, but surely India is capable of striving more at the diplomatic and political levels. What happens in the region has a direct bearing on our security and well-being, and this is becoming clearer and more urgent by the day.

 

(The author served as India's High Commissioner to Kenya and South Africa.)

 

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THE HINDU

THE MAKING OF A HERO

BILAL ALI MUHAMMAD'S LAST ACT WAS A BURST OF HEROISM AND HUMANITY SET AGAINST THE VICIOUSNESS THAT STILL STALKS IRAQ.

JACK HEALY

 

As the suicide bomber clutched the detonator to his explosive belt, preparing to spray fire and shrapnel into a religious procession here, an Iraqi police officer named Bilal Ali Muhammad faced a choice between his own life and something larger.

 

If he ran and took cover, Mr. Muhammad (31) had a chance to save himself, to continue supporting his widowed mother, to help put his younger brother through college and to watch his three young daughters grow up.

 

Instead, the officer — a Sunni Muslim — threw himself onto the bomber, blunting the explosion's impact on the Shia worshipers.

 

"He gave his soul to the country," said his mother, Alaahin Hassan, holding two of his daughters in her lap as dozens of women wearing black veils filled her living room this week with ritualized wails of grief. "He believed in God. That made him great."

 

In a country fractured by sect and ethnicity, from villages like this all the way to the government that is finally forming in Baghdad, Mr. Muhammad's last act was a burst of heroism and humanity set against the viciousness that still stalks Iraq.

 

]Many Iraqis see the police and the Army as corrupt, incompetent and brutal, still unprepared to secure the country as the Americans withdraw over the next year. But Mr. Muhammad's death, one of thousands among Iraqi security forces, offers a counterpoint to that view.

 

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Muhammad was guarding the edge of an annual religious celebration of Ashura as Shias waved green and black banners and beat drums to commemorate the killing of one of their sect's foundational members in A.D. 680. The ceremonies have been ripe targets for Sunni insurgents, and Iraq's leaders have deployed swarms of security forces this year to guard against attacks.

 

At 2.30 p.m., according to witnesses and police officials, Mr. Muhammad spotted a suspicious man approaching the crowd, his hand wedged into his pocket. Mr. Muhammad, a police officer for five years, stopped the man and asked him, What do you have in your pocket? The man replied, It's none of your business.

 

Pulling open the man's jacket, Mr. Muhammad found an explosive belt strapped to his chest. Whether from instinct or training, or sheer lack of any other options, he acted in that instant.

 

Shouting warnings to the crowd, he wrapped his arms around the bomber. As both men tumbled to the dirt, the explosion ripped through their bodies and raked the street, scarring the white walls of a schoolyard.

 

A woman and her granddaughter sitting nearby were killed and a dozens of others were wounded. But the police said the death toll would have been drastically higher had Mr. Muhammad not thrown himself onto the bomber.

 

Since 2004, about 2,200 police officers have been killed here in Diyala, a north-eastern province that is a stronghold of Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia and a crucible of Iraq's volatile mix of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. They have been killed in broad offensives against police stations, by magnetic bombs under their cars, by pistol shots at checkpoints.

 

At least three of them, confronting suicide bombers, have made the extraordinary decision to wrap their arms around their killers to absorb the blast.

 

In nearby Baquba, inside a neat house by the trash-strewn banks of a languid stream, the family of Naseem Sabah Ismail is well acquainted with the accolades of heroics. In January 2008, Mr. Ismail (23) threw himself onto an old man trying to set off a suicide vest at an Ashura procession.

 

"He knew he was going to die," said his father, Sabah Ismail. "He went to him anyway. He held onto him."

 

The government provided a pension to the officer's family and a few thousand dollars for burial in the Shia cemetery in Najaf. But nearly three years later, the family said their sacrifice had largely been forgotten.

 

After his death, local officials made effusive speeches and private pledges vowing to promote Mr. Ismail to first lieutenant and build a statue in his honour. The statue was never built, and the promotion never came.

 

All day Wednesday, friends and relatives in Balad Ruz sat in mourning to remember Mr. Muhammad. They said he had been the family's main breadwinner after his father died in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. They recalled that Mr. Muhammad loved taking his daughters for picnics or on bicycle rides through the rutted streets.

 

The muddy alleys behind the family's home were clotted with the pickup trucks and the Land Cruisers of police officials, who offered their condolences and donated a few thousand Iraqi dinars to help cover funeral expenses.

 

Commanders said they would seek a posthumous promotion. And build a statue in his honour. — New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS    

ANONYMOUS HIERARCHY EMERGES

THE GUARDIAN HAS IDENTIFIED A HIDDEN CABAL OF AROUND A DOZEN HIGHLY SKILLED HACKERS CO-ORDINATING ATTACKS ACROSS THE WEB.

JOSH HALLIDAY AND CHARLES ARTHUR

 

They were described as a leaderless, anarchic group of "hacktivists" who briefly brought down MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after those companies cut off financial services to WikiLeaks.

 

But inside Anonymous, the Guardian has found that the organisation is more hierarchical — with a hidden cabal of around a dozen highly skilled hackers co-ordinating attacks across the web.

 

The secretive group that directs the Anonymous network was also behind the assault on the Gawker websites in the U.S. at the weekend, according to documents seen by the Guardian. That led to e-mail addresses and passwords of more than 1.3 million Gawker users being made public, and spawned a spam attack on Twitter that is now being investigated by the FBI.

 

In the last 10 days, Anonymous has also orchestrated Operation Payback, which attacked Visa, MasterCard and PayPal for cutting off financial services to WikiLeaks under pressure from the U.S. government. Given the youthful demographic of the group, insiders expect the attacks to be stepped up in the next week as schools, colleges and universities break up for Christmas.

 

Several members of Anonymous have contacted the Guardian, wanting to provide more information about their motives and how the group works. Although some have been prepared to reveal their identities in private, none is willing to be named in public for fear of a backlash within the hacker group.

 

One member said the group's "command and control" centres are invite-only, adding: "It's to protect people, but if you have proven trustworthy you get invited — it's not hard to do. It's not some elitist structure but a way to keep the press and the odd bit of law enforcement seeing who issues commands." Members of the group and outside experts such as Gabriella Coleman, a New York University professor who has studied Anonymous, estimate that up to 1,000 people are members of the broader network, who make their computers available to co-ordinated cyber attacks. But the majority of members — put at 99 per cent by one insider — have virtually no influence over the direction of the group or its strategy.

 

"Our project has no leader structure, only different roles. The degree of leadership and organisation in the various projects various a lot," one long-term insider explained. "It's all very chaotic, but we communicate and co-operate with each other. I see us as different cells of the same organism." The leaders of the group use internet relay chat (IRC) technology, which can allow groups of people to communicate clandestinely. Some in the upper echelons are understood to have control over "botnets" comprising more than 1,000 Windows PCs that have been infected with a virus and can be controlled without the user's knowledge to direct "distributed denial of service" (DDOS) attacks against target organisations.

 

It was during an invite-only chat on one of Anonymous's IRC channels that the group discussed taking revenge on the Gawker websites for derogatory remarks made by its British owner, Nick Denton, about internet messageboard 4chan, which is popular among a large number of Anonymous members.

 

Analysis by Joseph Bonneau, of the computer security group at Cambridge University, suggests Anonymous used a concentrated attack to deduce Mr. Denton's password for a business planning site, and then used passwords gleaned from there to break into Gawker's computers. "Gawker's security [was] probably above average," Mr. Bonneau noted. Even so, it was broken.

 

WikiLeaks has no affiliation with Anonymous, and has neither endorsed nor condemned the online war being waged on its behalf. But Julian Assange this week urged his supporters to protect the site from "instruments of U.S. foreign policy", citing Visa, MasterCard and PayPal. Days later the group toppled the Swedish prosecutor's website as Mr. Assange faced a U.K. court hearing over rape charges in Sweden. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS 

BID TO PROBE 'GENOME' OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE

HARVARD RESEARCHERS AND GOOGLE HAVE DEVELOPED A TOOL THAT CAN IDENTIFY CULTURAL TRENDS OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS.

ALOK JHA

 

How many words in the English language never make it into dictionaries? How has the nature of fame changed in the past 200 years? How do scientists and actors compare in their impact on popular culture? These are some of the questions that researchers and members of the public can now answer using a new online tool developed by Google with the help of scientists at Harvard University. The massive searchable database is being hailed as the key to a new era of research in the humanities, linguistics and social sciences that has been dubbed "culturomics".

 

The database comprises more than five million English language books — fiction and non-fiction — published between 1800 and 2000, representing about four per cent of all the books ever printed. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Michel and Dr. Erez Lieberman Aiden of Harvard University have developed the search tool, which they say will give researchers the ability to quantify a huge range of cultural trends in history.

 

"Interest in computational approaches to the humanities and social sciences dates back to the 1950s," said Dr. Michel, a psychologist in Harvard's Programme for Evolutionary Dynamics. "But attempts to introduce quantitative methods into the study of culture have been hampered by the lack of suitable data. We now have a massive dataset, available through an interface that is user-friendly and freely available to anyone." In their initial analysis of the database, the team found that about 8,500 new words enter the English language every year and the lexicon grew by 70 per cent between 1950 and 2000. But most of these words do not appear in dictionaries. "We estimated that 52 per cent of the English lexicon — the majority of words used in English books — consist of lexical 'dark matter' undocumented in standard references," they wrote in the journal Science.

 

The researchers were also able to trace how words had changed, for example a trend that started in the U.S. towards more regular forms of verbs from irregular forms such as "burnt", "smelt" and "spilt". "The forms still cling to life in British English. But the -t irregulars may be doomed in England too: each year, a population the size of Cambridge adopts 'burned' in lieu of 'burnt'," they wrote.

 

The team also investigated the changing nature of fame over the past two centuries. By looking at the frequency of famous names in literature, they showed that celebrities born in the mid-20th century tended to be younger and more famous than those of the 19th century, but their fame lasted for a shorter period of time.

 

By 1950, celebrities were achieving fame, on average, when they were 29, compared with 43 for celebrities around 1800. "People are getting more famous than ever before," wrote the researchers, "but are being forgotten more rapidly." By the mid-20th century, the most famous actors tended to achieve fame at around 30, while writers had to wait until 40 and, for politicians, fame didn't tend to happen until they reached at least 50.

 

"Science is a poor route to fame. Physicists and biologists eventually reached a similar level of fame as actors but it took them far longer," wrote the researchers. "Alas, even at their peak, mathematicians tend not to be appreciated by the public." The database can also identify patterns of censorship in individual countries. The Jewish artist Marc Chagall, for example, was mentioned only once in the entire German literature from 1936 to 1944, even though his appearance in English-language books grew by around five times.

 

Claire Warwick, director of the centre for digital humanities at University College London, said humanities researchers had been using word-frequency techniques for several decades. But the sheer size of this dataset marked it out from the usual tools. "What's different is that this allows people to not just look at several hundred thousand words or several million words but several million books. So the overview is much bigger." The database of 500 billion words is thousands of times bigger than any existing tool, with a sequence of letters 1,000 times longer than the human genome. To coincide with the release of the Science paper, Google will release a tool allowing members of the public to see how often a word or phrase has appeared and how its usage has changed over time. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS    

MEDIC FIGHTS DEPLOYMENT

 

A Royal Navy medic who claims documents released by WikiLeaks persuaded him to fight his deployment to Afghanistan has lost his appeal to leave the U.K. service on moral grounds.

 

Michael Lyons says he became a conscientious objector to the war after reading of the "enormous underreporting of civilian casualties in the conflict" in leaked military documents published by the secret-spilling website. Mr. Lyons (24) , who joined the Navy in 2005 and was due to serve in Afghanistan next April, asked to leave the service on moral grounds but was turned down by his commanding officer.

 

His appeal against that decision was rejected on Friday in London. The judge said he would give his reasons for the decision later. — AP

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WEN'S INDIA VISIT:AN ACT OF FUTILITY?

 

In assessing the just-ended three-day visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to this country, it is well to recall Chairman Mao rather than to be enthused by the $100 billion target of two-way trade the joint statement signed between the two countries posits. The great Chinese leader — who combined Middle Kingdom sensibilities with his own brand of Communist thought — suggested that it was politics that was central to an enterprise, that it was "in command". By this touchstone, even Mr Wen might wonder whether his three-day dash to New Delhi wasn't an exercise in futility. He had unexpectedly proposed the trip to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they had met in Hanoi recently on the sidelines of the East Asia summit. India was upset with a number of Beijing's actions relating to Kashmir — the stapled visas, and investments in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir among them — that are designed to question Kashmir's status as an integral part of India. While the Indian Prime Minister could hardly turn down his Chinese counterpart's overture, it is clear that prior to his three-day India sojourn Mr Wen made no attempt to address even the most elementary issues on the political side that matter to New Delhi. The stapled visa issue is a case in point. If he had cleared the "administrative" hurdles in Beijing before he arrived here, his trip could have left an imprint. As things stand, the very rationale of the Chinese Prime Minister's India trip has been called into question, for he noted here that officials of the two sides should now look into the visa regime which has upset India.


It is clear that the Chinese PM's frothy sentiment that India and China were "partners", not "rivals", did not bowl his Indian hosts over. For the first time, the Indian side declined to insert into the joint communiqué the standard proposition that New Delhi subscribed to the "one-China" policy, that is, regarding Tibet and Taiwan as an intrinsic part of China. If the development of bilateral ties is a process, then that process has clearly registered a downswing. If the "one-India" idea does not appeal to Beijing, why should the one-China mantra continue to be accepted here? While eschewing this standard prescription, India could not have overlooked the timing of the Chinese completing a long tunnel linking a remote Tibetan county abutting Arunachal Pradesh with the main Chinese transport grid whose inauguration was made to coincide with Mr Wen's India visit.
Aside from the contentious visa issue, the Chinese leader showed little concern for Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of its anti-India stance. This ties up with Beijing being solicitous of Islamabad's views on Kashmir even as it continues to persist with the semantics that terrorism was a "bilateral" matter between India and Pakistan, as much as Kashmir is. Unlike in the past, New Delhi might just choose to keep this in view when extremist difficulties beset China in Muslim Xinjiang again, as in 2008.


Two leading considerations clearly inform Beijing's current policy toward India. The West is not doing too well financially since the recent economic meltdown. This makes India an important destination for China's export drive and explains China's renewed efforts for an expanded trade relationship. New Delhi needs to take a critical look at this. Two, Beijing is no doubt also factoring in the growing warmth in India's ties with Japan and South Korea when it outwardly seeks to woo India with clichés, forgetting that diplomacy and politics must be rooted in substance, not pedagogy or high-sounding humbug. In the Indian capital, the Chinese PM also underlined that the resolution of the border problem will take "very long". This appears to tie up with Beijing's overall deep look at India. India-China ties are on a cusp. New Delhi would do well to exert both thought and care in mapping out the future of this relationship.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HIDE & SEEK

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

"Beware him who is happy to see you

— you may owe him money."

From Naked Profit by

Kahlil Gibberish

(Tr. From the Bullshitian by Bachchoo)

 

British Justice has taken a puzzling turn. Julian Assange, the "online begetter" or chief perpetrator of Wikileaks, was arrested by the Sussex police to be extradited to Sweden where he faces rape charges. He has been in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison, which my friends tell me is no holiday camp and certainly not a place of safety and comfort for people who are yet to be found guilty.


Assange was produced in court on December 14 and granted bail by the same judge who had earlier denied it. But as soon as the bail application was granted, the prosecution appealed.


Then, inexplicably, within minutes, the prosecutors decided to drop this appeal. Nevertheless, the conditions of bail are severe. Assange or his supporters must deposit £200,000 in the court. He will be electronically tagged, confined for all but eight hours a day to his friend's address in Sussex, and he has to wake up and polish the boots of the Burmese junta's generals every day at 4 am — OK, the last condition was not specified by the judge but made up by me, but Justice Cocklecarrot may as well have thrown it in.


Assange goes back to jail till the cash is delivered — no cheques or Visa cards will do! (I didn't make that one up.)


The Swedish authorities were questioned by the BBC about a possible coincidence between the political embarrassment that Assange's actions as Wikileaker-in-chief has caused and the precisely parallel prosecution for rape and sexual assault brought against him. The Beeb pointed out that an earlier prosecution for the same offences was dropped by Sweden because of insufficient evidence but were revived by a Swedish MP when the Wikis began to leak.


What the Swedish prosecution's spokeswoman said was that seeing it as a coincidence was akin to conspiracy theories and that Assange may have done the world a great service by publishing the opinions and judgments of diplomatic figures, but that was quite separate from his alleged conduct with someone who claims he is guilty of molestation and rape.


The logic is indeed not faulty. Assange acknowledges that he leaks documents while strongly denying that he rapes girls (one presumes his accuser is female), but one activity doesn't sui generis, exclude the other.
Part of the peculiarity of this case is that Assange has been condemned by the government of Britain which has not let our "independent judiciary" know that they are on the side of the case for free speech and total disclosure that Mr Assange's followers insist is the theme and principle their leaks are upholding.


Quite the contrary. Ministers have been extremely critical of the disclosures and contend that some of the information that has been made public, or could possibly be made public, endangers the lives of British and US servicemen. This contention is self-evidently true. If Wikileaks is in possession of war dispositions in Afghanistan of men or ammunition, their publication is obviously only helpful to the Taliban, to Al Qaeda, e-Qaeda and those who wish them well.


I don't.


On the other hand the exposure of Saudi posturing is very welcome. That the Saudis want their fellow Muslims in Iran bombed is not a great surprise — oil is thicker than jihadi blood-brotherhood! The exposure of the Saudi state's connections with "fundos" and Al Qaeda is also well known, but one welcomes the confirmation. The world ought to know that the governments of the West are very willing to send their young men out to be killed by an enemy financed and armed by their friends and partners to whom they sell armaments. A very filthy game — though we knew it all the time — is now being played in the nude.


I haven't actually seen any Wikileak in the Guardian which exposes the troops of the US in any theatre of war to attack. Assange and his organisation may indeed be in possession of such jeopardising material. Either they haven't exposed it because they draw the line of exposure at the point of not promoting the killing of soldiers, or there is another filter at work. They have fed the information to the liberal Guardian newspaper and it is very possible that the newspaper's editors are acting as the sieve which separates the leaks into categories, fearlessly publishing those which embarrass and suppressing those which wantonly endanger.


In that sense, using the Guardian (whose politically correct stances often annoy me) as the international filter, if indeed that is the case, is a brilliant stroke. Assange could have handed over his information to the sort of satanic maniac who supports jehadis or suicide bombers who kill randomly and who long for or work towards Talibanic and Shariac states in Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps in Britain and the United States.
No, Assange has chosen the right filter — not subservient, but not unbalanced.


Adding to the perplexity of this prosecution are this UK government's announced plans to expand the universe of public disclosure. The processes and data of civil service activity will be on the internet. The statistics gathered by the government will be public. It will, of course, involve information about the citizenry coming into the public domain. Very many of us will not want our banking transactions exposed to all and sundry, or our income-tax returns or our communications with official bodies.


The government's response to this squeamishness is "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear".

 

This is patently untrue. My bank transactions, my email password, my debit card pin number and a hundred other details of my public and private transactions are in no way incriminating or evidence which could lead anywhere. They are the boring substance of boring interactions.


And yet someone calling himself Pontius Olufulabe keeps emailing me, calling himself my devoted and lifelong friend, promising me millions of pounds and dollars which he has located and is willing to share with me and merely asking for my bank account details, credit card numbers, pin numbers, addresses etc. His generosity is overwhelming. For these small pieces of information, which I have no reason to hide, he is going to make me a millionaire. My faith in human nature is adequately restored.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

YEAR OF THE SLEAZY

SHOBHAA DE

 

Santa Baby, this is an SOS… hurry down the chimney… we need you. This has been a year of serious golmaal, and as 2010's credit titles roll, the fate of the masala movie called "India" at the international box office looks khallass! When mega blockbusters bomb big time, everybody suffers. But those who suffer the most (apart from stakeholders) are the people — the all-important audience. Those trusting, optimistic viewers who come away feeling cheated and disillusioned. We are a nation of "paisa vasool" types. We definitely want a big bang for our buck. When that doesn't happen, we get angry… we sulk. Right now we are sulking big time. 2010 was supposed to deliver. India was on a roll. Good things were happening… the economy was expected to boom (Pranabda, you promised!). Overall stability was taken for granted, and no great upheavals were on the cards. But something went horribly wrong at some point. Script ka problem ho gaya, boss. And not all the so-called superstars of the political firmament could put India back on the track as 2010 drew to a close.
US President Barack Obama's visit counted for little. It was a very expensive photo-op, that's all. He came, sang and danced with school kids in Mumbai (Michelle's moves were hotter), got his bheja fried by a cheeky student who brought up the P-word (Pakistan), and went off to impress Dilliwallas with his teleprompter oratory. We were expected to keel over backwards because the mighty US President knew who Swami Vivekananda was. Hello! But we were the bakras who ended up paying through our noses for his visit (he went back with billions of dollars committed by us — we got illey in return). Our fashion designers sniffed at the First Lady's wardrobe and everybody declared Mme France President Nicholas Sarkozy as the undisputed winner of this sartorial race (I thought Carla Bruni was dressed like a prim school marm and could have flashed more cleavage). Of the two Presidents, my vote goes to Mr Sarkozy, who was far more spontaneous, forthcoming and direct. Besides… we got something more than a vague promise of a permanent seat somewhere in the far distance out of the Frenchie. We are unashamedly crass in India — we only understand rokda ("Show me the money. In cash! Now!")


Then came the Chinese Premier with a Wen-Wen agenda on his mind. Our reception to him was far more restrained, which is really kinda "stoooopid" given that we could do with some PDA (public display of affection, dude) with this guy who has designs on India and needs to be wooed with something more than just a traditional, thanda welcome. I wonder if someone was dumb enough (lots of Dilliwallas to pick from) to offer Wen Jiabao our second favourite national dish (after murg massalam) — chicken manchurian? And did Mr Wen puke at the sight of it? We excel at making such faux pas. And then we crib when Brit hosts offer us "Indian curry" (an astonishingly disgusting yellow paste) when we visit London. Perhaps, Santaji can help us to reclaim Arunachal Pradesh from China and sort out other highly vexing issues with the fire-breathing dragon next door.
But even Santa will forget his "ho ho ho" in a hurry and clamber right back up that chimney leaving his sack of goodies behind when it comes to domestic messes. 2010 stands out as the Year of Corruption. It wasn't just Munni who got badnaam this year. And as for Sheila's jawaani — well, the Delhi chief minister demonstrated she had a lot of it left in her when she took on all her detractors during the Commonwealth Games scam… and then sailed through without a scratch. In this Champions League, there were just too many top players vying for the Crook of the Year trophy. With the spotlight on former CWG chairman Suresh Kalmadi, most people forgot all about former Indian Premier League chairman Lalit Modi. And by the time Mr Kalmadi waddled back from the Asian Games, we were already busy with a brand new mother of scandal… the one that featured former telecom minister A. Raja. And a Rani! The timing couldn't have been better. As more and more dirt emerged, and the Niira Radia tapes vomited out names (oooof! What names!), everybody was left shivering in their underpants, stripped off credibility, dignity, modesty — totally nanga in public! How many fig leaves can poor Santa carry in one sack?

As we sing X'mas carols next week, let's spare a thought for the aam aadmi and the aam aurat of India. We have been conned big time by the very people we'd invested our faith in over all these many years — people we have been foolish enough to elect, people we have naively trusted. The scenario for 2011 is looking bleak. Politicians, bureaucrats, cops, journalists, Army men, corporate leaders… and, horror of horrors, judges, too, are suspect. Virtually everything is bought, rigged and finally sold to the highest bidder. Sleaze is the single common denominator dominating today's India. But — hallelujah — there's one small hope left as we get into the New Year. Santaji should hand over his garb to Manmohanji immediately. If Dr Singh wishes to remain the king (of hearts), he needs an image makeover — and fast! Oh oh — what am I saying — the best in the business of makeovers has just gone bust. Or has she? Only her Secret Santa knows for sure! Oops… Have I said something wrong?


Santa, honey, don't bother to slide down the chimney this year… it's clogged with soot. And India doesn't have enough chimney sweeps to unclog it! Aayi baat samajh mein?


Merry Christmas readers, and a transparent New Year!

 

— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

 

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DNA

REPORT

BOLLYWOOD'S STAR IS ON THE RISE

UTTARA CHOUDHURY

 

Among mainstream Western audiences, Bollywood stars remain largely unknown. But it's a state of affairs that maybe changing as South Asians make up one of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the US.

 

As Bollywood movies targeting South Asians explode on the American screens, Indian stars are set to get comfortable with their place in the sun.

 

My sister, who was on assignment with Channel 9, recalls an anecdote that actress Preity Zinta shared with the television crew when asked to compare Bollywood with Hollywood. Zinta was flying from London to New York when she saw a pouty-lipped American woman in distressed jeans and dark glasses ensconced in the first-class cabin.

 

The American woman muttered an 'Oh, God!' when autograph-seekers from the economy section descended on the first class. She then stared incredulously as the passengers shot past her to mob Zinta. The Indian actress smiled apologetically at her and signed autographs for her South Asian fans.

 

The pouty American was none other than Angelina Jolie. The ruling queen of Hollywood must have wondered 'Who on earth is this Indian diva?' Quite evidently, Bollywood's star is rising.

 

But someone like Amitabh Bachchan has no illusions — and no regrets — about the limitations of his fame and celebrity. When I asked him if he wanted to cross over to Hollywood at a film retrospective at New York's Lincoln Center where he was the subject, he laughed, saying Hollywood had never exerted much of a pull.

 

"Every actor thinks about his home first. I am comfortable where I am".

 

]Bachchan is also dismissive of the 'world's greatest film star' tag that he got when a 1999 BBC online poll voted him the Star of the Millennium, ahead of greats like Laurence Olivier.

 

Bachchan flares up at the suggestion that Indian cinema should change to cater to western tastes. "It would be a sad day if our films were to become, in some way, less Indian".

 

But changes are coming willy-nilly. If you're looking for proof that globalisation is transforming Bollywood, look no further than Kites. There are two versions of the film starring Hrithik Roshan, distributed by Reliance BIG Pictures.

 

There is the 130-minute Hindi version with all song- and-dance routines and the crisp 90-minute English version titled Kites: The Remix, edited to suit Western sensibilities by Hollywood director Brett Ratner. In shortening Kites, Ratner excised almost all of the film's dance scenes, subplots and redundancies.

 

Kites passed the test, becoming, for the first time, an Indian movie to break the weekly top 10 grossing films in the US when it was released in May.

 

The New York Times was smitten using words rarely uttered in the Grey Lady, noting Hrithik Roshan had a "smoking body".

 

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DNA

GIFTS IN CASH VERSUS GIFTS IN KIND

V RAGHUNATHAN

 

Giving gift in cash has a lot going for it. You don't need to make that shopping trip racking your brain on what to gift. You save both time and expense — the expense you would have incurred on transportation, for example, to make that trip to the mall.

 

Instead, just take a crisp bill, or a bunch of them, and shove them into an envelope, and slip it into the newly-weds' palms.

 

What is more, it also yields the receiver considerable degree of freedom, and any day seems to beat receiving a 'milk cooker' or a laser lamp or a polyester tie.

 

And yet, on occasion, the reverse may be true. Take that generic milk cooker. You would have been an unusual couple in the 1970s if you didn't receive half a dozen of them on the eve of your wedding reception.

 

Assuming you used a milk cooker at all, you still had five spare ones, the best use for which was to palm them off as gifts in someone else's wedding; may be that of your boss' daughter or neighbour's nephew.

 

]After all who would know what you were carrying as you slowly ascended up the queue to the reception rostrum seating the brand new couple on red thrones?

 

Since these generic milk cookers and laser lamps make nearly 'fungible' gifts, I have often wondered why an organised and environment friendly market of sorts did not develop, in which elegantly wrapped — but empty and suitably weighed — boxes could simply be passed on as gifts again and again, at practically no cost. After all a milk cooker or a polyester tie is not something one is seriously going to put to use.

 

Now, it may well be that you almost prefer to receive milk cookers as gifts, rather than cash, because milk cookers can be easily recycled at zero cost.

 

But can't you do the same with cash, which is so much more fungible? That is, if you received Rs1,000 as gift, what prevents you from giving away Rs500 from the corpus as a gift to someone else? Nothing, except your innate human nature.

 

Remember, since losses always loom much larger than profits (see earlier columns), giving away that Rs500 pinches you much more than receiving the same amount pleases you!

 

This is not quite the case with the spare milk cookers, even if they are priced about the same, by the way! Thus, there are occasions when receiving a milk cooker in gift saves you much mental tug of war as compared to receiving cash!

 

So then, you can never be sure whether to gift your friends in cash or kind. Right? Not quite; not if your budget for the gift is relatively high.

 

Typically, luxury gifts score over large cash gifts. For example, your doctor brother may prefer a gift of a Rolex watch over Rs2 lakh in cash (make it a Breguet for the super rich) on his wedding. This is because he is unlikely to use the cash gift for purchasing a Rolex, for example.

 

We typically postpone or even avoid extravagant purchases for ourselves, as often there is a slight guilt associated with profligacy.

 

That's why it becomes pleasurable to receive a luxury gift in kind than an equivalent sum in cash, because even though you now have the coveted asset, you are not responsible for its acquisition, and hence there is no associated guilt.

 

So next time you are seriously considering a large spend on a gift, make it a luxury item, like a Mont Blanc card holder for an absurd Rs10,000, because your friend may never indulge in such extravaganza if you gave him a cash gift instead.

 

Expensive trinkets bring more pleasure than their monetary equivalents can!

 

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DNA

CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM HAS SOCIETY AS A PRIMARY TARGET

K YATISH RAJAWAT

 

The founding director of the Centre for Marketing Technology and an associate professor at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, US, Rajendra Sisodia is the man behind the 'Conscious Capitalism' movement.

 

His most recent book, co-authored with David Wolfe and Jagdish Sheth, Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, received critical acclaim across the world. In a free-wheeling interview with DNA, he talks about the need for a passion beyond money inbusinessmen.

 

You are saying that businesses need to be more conscious about society… Don't you see this as a difficult thing to do? Do you know of anyone who has put his organisational goal as social responsibility and in the process created a profitable business?

 

The Tatas, to some extent, at least in the initial years, have done it. From the beginning they have tried to do what India needed. When India needed steel, they invested in steel; when India needed power, they invested in power and so on. At the time of investment, they didn't think about a higher return on investments. Some of the companies we studied also started with a sense of purpose.

 

How do you compare the different operational philosophies of businesses like Whole Foods with Walmart?

 

I think the main difference is that Whole Foods (which is into selling organic foods) operates with a sense of higher purpose, Walmart with that of providing low-priced products to its customers.

 

The other difference is that Whole Foods has an explicit commitment to intra-dependence. The system runs in such a way that there is no exploitation. At Walmart the philosophy is about low prices for customers so that they can deliver superior return to investors. Their target is to capture more of the market. Nobody can compete with them. Therefore, they don't pay their employees much. Business is also about taking responsibility.

 

Has Walmart become so big that they can make manufacturing shift from US to China, just by focusing heavily on prices?

 

Yes. They went to China in search of cheap inputs. Their strategy is like this — first year they offer their suppliers a handsome price. Next year, they place bigger order but at a reduced price. When one supplier resists, they move to another.

 

Walmart has an attrition rate of 45-50%, whereas Whole Foods' has a rate of 5%. In Walmart, management cost is much higher and the employees are not self-motivated. In Whole Foods', the case is just opposite — the employees are motivated, self-organising, and self-managing.

 

Do you think that companies in US or in Europe are accepting this new way of working?

 

We are coming to a point where we start questioning the basics. But sadly, it's not happening enough in the financial sector, where people are making money by manipulating the system, rather than by creating value.

 

There is a higher purpose to everything. The higher purpose of finance is to allocate scarce resources of society to the most productive uses. But it never happens.

 

Can you give an example of a company that became defunct because of operating in the traditional way?

 

Enron, to some extent. Even BP is an example. They (BP) had created a public image of being a highly conscious company but the reality was different. In a span of three years, there were almost 900 safety violations in the entire industry and BP alone had 800 of them.

 

Is it the traditional conflict between the head and heart?

 

]I really believe that ultimately there is no conflict between the two. You can have a body in which everything is working and playing its role. It's sort of having two different engines — one is business discipline engine and another is consciousness engine. You must make them work together in harmony.

 

So what should an enterprise think to really become sustainable?

 

Start with the purpose: why does the world need this company? Will the world become a better place because of this business? Am I on the right side of society? If you can't answer these questions in the affirmative, then you need to re-think. Ultimately, as a society, we won't allow businesses that cause harm.

 

In Firms of Endearment you have written that in most companies, employees feel manipulated and exploited.

 

People burn out when they are treated like a resource. If you are empowering them, giving them autonomy and freedom to work, then you are giving them the opportunity to be part of something larger.

 

So how should entrepreneurs treat their employees?

 

First, if you can get employees to say "Thank God, it's Monday", then you are doing something right. Second, the employees should say, "I am part of something good". Third, the employees must be given flexibility and autonomy.

 

Isn't CSR (corporate social responsibility) just an effort to sell one's image?

 

That's the big difference. Conscious Capitalism is not CSR. CSR is grafted on existing business model which is shareholders-centric and profit driven, whereas conscious capitalism starts with society as your primary target.

 

Do you think one should start not from CSR, but from the financial part assuming that financial goals would be met through this route?

 

See, most entrepreneurs I know actually have a passion for what they do because they have found something great that they want to bring to the world. They have to make money in order to become viable.

 

But most don't look at the viability of the product. They just want to make more money.

 

That's chasing after the wrong thing. Noted Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl had said, "Human beings pursue happiness, but happiness cannot be pursued". Happiness is actually the outcome. I shall be happy if I work for what matters. Same goes for business.

 

But to them, personal wealth may be the number one goal in their life.

 

One must realise that success is not running after the biggest bank balance. Success is about having a positive impact. Some 150 years ago, slavery was accepted. Hundred years back women didn't have the right to vote or work. We also had child labour. Over time, more and more of such practises have become unacceptable. If we keep doing business the usual way, then we are hurting the planet, we are damaging the future.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S 'KASHMIR' VERSUS CHINA'S 'TIBET'

ACHILLES' HEEL-APPROACH IS A DOUBLE EDGED WEAPON WHICH CUTS BOTH WAYS


It is not easy to coin a simple straight definition of India-China relationship, given its complex dimensions and criss-crossing parameters. This reality is amply reflected in the joint statement issued on Wednesday at the end of the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India, accompanied by 400-member delegation of Chinese officials and business leaders. The 18-point statement talked about the common desire of the two countries to increase their bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 besides offsetting its present imbalance disfavouring India. On all other major issues of common interest the statement was either too ambiguous to mean anything or it simply chose to bypass them. On the eve of Wen's visit it was claimed that India was keen to raise and resolve the contentious question of stapled Chinese visa being issued to the Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir.

 

The joint statement was silent on this point. However, it was officially said that the issue had been voiced by the visiting Chinese leader who hoped that it would be resolved by the officials of the two countries. No more details were offered. On the sensitive issue of Kashmir, Wen, who is now on a visit to Pakistan, urged India and Pakistan to find a solution to this 'territorial dispute' through the bilateral route.


China's position on Kashmir has and will continue to cause worry in India. Apart from the occupation of Aksai Chen area, China has lately embarked upon major project-building activity across the Line of Control in Pakistan Administered 'Azad' Kashmir. Increasing Chinese presence in the strategic area, coupled with its refusal so far to do away with the stapled visa for J&K citizens of India is being viewed with great anxiety. China's vociferous objection to recent visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh is seen as indication of its strategy to project its intrusive attitude over the boundary dispute with India. The joint working groups set up over two decades ago have not made any progress in narrowing down differences. Meanwhile China continues to reiterate its claim over huge chunks of Indian territory in the North-east. China's decision to construct upstream dam over river Brahmaputra has aggravated India's fears.


Perhaps still more interesting feature of this complicated relationship between two Asian giants is that even as they continue to rigidly stick to their respective positions over Kashmir and Tibet, India has lately started to use the Tibet card to counter Chinese 'hostility' over Kashmir. 'Kashmir is to India what Tibet is to China', is the latest official refrain emanating from New Delhi. While this tactical counter attack might momentarily deflect Chinese thrust over Kashmir its logic undermines India's claim to self-righteousness in relation to the basic issue. If the logic of 'Tibet is equal to Kashmir' argument is accepted it would mean that the territory has been forcibly occupied and is intended to be culturally 'homogenised' like China is engaged in doing to Tibet. This tactic might be useful as a counter punch to China's growing aggressive diplomacy but its long range side effects cannot be wished away either. Tibetan dissidents led by the Dalai Lama who are opposed to Chinese occupation have been sheltered in India for over half a century. China continues to frown upon India while it also tightens its grip over the occupied territory. Pakistan's position over Indian claim to J&K has been materially no different from India's own position vis-a-vis China's occupation of Tibet. Yet India chooses to equate Tibet with Kashmir, even if only to checkmate China. The only conceivable argument in favour of such an approach would be that India is as sensitive over Kashmir as China is over Tibet. The foundation of Indian position on Kashmir precludes this country from stretching the 'Tibet' analogy beyond a point.
A simple reading of the joint statement, in conjunction with what the diplomatic circles in China and India have stated, points to unlikelihood of any change or shift in China's stated position over vital strategic issues affecting its bilateral relationship with India. Long pending boundary dispute will continue to linger, North-east will remain a hot point of contention, configuration of forces within South-Asian region will remain as it is and China would continue to deflect each and every move aimed at containing or curtailing its ambition to flex its economic and military muscle in and around Asian region. India has to go a long way to catch up with China. 


 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

SCHOOLS IN FREEZING COLD

EDUCATION IS INDEED A PRIORITY BUT NOT AT COST OF CHILDREN'S HEALTH


The Valley is faced with the piquant situation of schools functioning in bitter freezing cold. Though the government has announced vacations for the classes upto 8th, many private schools are continuing to operate with without any hindrance, and this can have serious impact on the health of the children, especially the very young ones who too are expected to attend school regularly. Though the Education Department has taken a serious note of the matter and is likely to crack down on such schools soon, the problem of students being made to go through the ordeal of schooling in such inclement weather does not end with this. While announcing vacation, the government had also assured adequate heating arrangements in all the schools, including the government schools. However, the schools haven't been provided with the same. The government schools have been asked to spend from their own funds and many of them have complained of paucity of the same. With no proper heating arrangements in place even for the elder students, normality in school work becomes extremely difficult. Exposing students to bitter cold as temperature has dipped to minus 5, without providing the required heating arrangements, amounts to cruelty and harassment. The concerns of the government regarding completing much of the syllabus before summers begin, in view of the fact that academic sessions in the last couple of years have been adversely affected by turmoil in the summers, are understandable. But it may wrong to push the children to the brink in such unfriendly weather conditions. Heavens will not fall if there is a break of several weeks before the students can be asked to follow grueling school session. After all, health should be a bigger concern than academics. Atleast, the schools should break down for vacation till the government is sure of having made adequate arrangements for heating in all the schools. This pre-condition should be met before pushing the children to attend schools. As for schools violating the government directive of vacations uptill middle class level should be strictly dealt with.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

COLUMN

ON A STICKY WICKET

KULDIP NAYAR


WHEN the efficacy of the parliamentary system is doubted in a democratic polity, the finger may well be pointed at governance. The rulers make a mess of things and blame the system.


This is what has been happening in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s remark that he is "worried over the future of the parliamentary system" in the country is misplaced and speaks more of his government`s failure than that of the system.


The winter session of parliament has been a washout and both the houses were stalled for 21 days, a record of sorts in India`s parliamentary history. Yet the problem is not the failure of the system. Both the ruling Congress and the opposition could not agree upon a mechanism to probe into the 2G spectrum concerning mobile telephones. (The scam runs into an abnormal figure of $12bn.)


There has naturally been a countrywide debate on corruption. Congress president Sonia Gandhi`s attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not absolve the Congress because both parties are corrupt in the public estimation.


The Congress has stuck to its stand that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by an opposition leader, is the best authority to hold an inquiry. The opposition, which includes the left, has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. The BJP was first alone but then the government`s obduracy led other parties, including the left, to join a common front.


Probably, it would have been better if the PAC had come to be accepted because JPCs in the past have not done an effective job. But is the inquiry by a JPC such an impossible proposition that the prime minister should go to the extent of questioning the parliamentary system? The United Progress Alliance, headed by the Congress, has a majority in the JPC. But it is a divided house now. The more the Congress opposes the JPC, the firmer becomes the conviction that the party wants to hide something because the JPC is an open-ended inquiry.
The prime minister did not say anything for 21 days when the two houses did not transact any business. That he should now doubt the future of the parliamentary system is disconcerting. The standoff in parliament is nothing new.


In fact, Manmohan Singh`s `worry` amounts to a threat to the political parties that the parliamentary system could undergo change if the Congress stance is not accepted. The situation may worsen because opposition leader Sushma Swaraj from the BJP has said that the confrontation may spill over to the budget session. This should be a warning for the ruling party that it has to either break the opposition unity or think of reaching a consensus.


Otherwise, the Congress must consider going back to the people to ask for a verdict on its stand. A mid-term poll, when the present Lok Sabha has still another three years to go, is a hard choice to make. Yet there is no option when both sides do not want to step back.


The prime minister should be more concerned about what WikiLeaks revealed in the assessment US ambassador David C. Mulford conveyed to the State Department on the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. He said that a section of the Congress leadership was seen playing religious politics after one of its leaders, A.R. Antulay, implied that Hindutva forces may have been involved in the attack.

The Congress`s explanation is that it cannot react until Mulford`s cable is authenticated. This is neither here nor there. Unfortunately, the State Department is not willing to either confirm or deny Mulford`s communication.
The suspicion gets strengthened when Congress secretary-general Digvijay Singh, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, says a few hours before Mulford`s cable became public that police officer Hemant Karkare, who was killed during the 26/11 attack, rang him up (Singh) hours before the attack began to say that he (Karkare) had received death threats. The people threatening him, Karkare said, were those opposed to his probe in which Hindu groups were allegedly involved. The mystery deepens when the Mumbai police allege that no call was made to Digvijay Singh according to its records. He, however, sticks to his statement.


Karkare`s wife has justifiably criticised Digvijay Singh for politicising the terrorists` attack. He has stuck to the line that Karkare was "harassed by BJP leaders." It is true that the Congress has distanced itself from Digvijay Singh`s disclosure. But that is not enough. The Manmohan Singh government must look into his charge which is very serious and has wider implications.


Two years ago, Congress minister Antulay had said: "They (terrorists) had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know. Karkare found that there are non-Muslims involved in the act of terrorism in some cases. There is more than what meets the eye."
Antulay was a member of Manmohan Singh`s cabinet in the first term. He did not question him, nor was any action taken on his allegation. Antulay was defeated at the polls and hence it cannot be said that he was not included in the new ministry because of his allegation. Still, the charge remains hanging.
The BJP is understandably angry. It has attacked Digvijay Singh for "helping Pakistan and Ajmal Kasab". The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too has made some harsh remarks against Digvijay Singh. Since he continues to stick to his charge the Congress-led government, for his credibility`s sake, has to entrust the matter to a Supreme Court judge.


The parliamentary system sustains confidence when people know, particularly the minorities, that those who indulge in killings and excesses will not go unpunished. The prime minister`s worry should be on this point, not on the deadlock in parliament which a democratic nation can take in its stride.


The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

OPENION

TO BE OR 2 G..!

 

And as India's 2 G scam gets murkier and murkier, and the plot gets thicker, we begin to see clearly why the rand ole patriarch of Tamilnadu politics didn't want his minister at the centre to resign, it was money coming into the family coffers.


Now there may be many amongst you who don't know why a family from the south would want to do such a thing; it all goes back to many years ago when this old man, then a young fellow stood on the crumbling ramparts of Fort St George in Chennai, faced Delhi and shouted something that only the ramparts know.
"Why did you want to take one hundred and seventy four thousand crores papa?" his children ask. "Wouldn't a few crores have been enough?"


"My squabbling children," said the grand ole man of Tamilnadu politics adjusting his sun glares at eight in the night, "It was a promise to myself!"


"But why papa?"


"Because I never break my word!"


Immediately all his squabbling children started squabbling, "You do break your word papa, you said I would be the next chief minister!"


"You said I would be a Union minister?"


"You said I would take over the party?"


And the grand ole man of Indian politics smiled, "I never break my word to myself!"


"Ah!" said his sons and daughters from wife number one and two and three and it is rumoured even wife number four, "He never breaks his word to himself!"


Now there be many amongst you who be wondering what this promise was that the grand ole man of Indian politics made to himself many years ago on the ramparts of Fort St George, that even his family don't know about, so I went to Fort St George and talked to those same Ramparts:


"Yes, we do remember him, the same man who wears his sun glares at eight in the night!" said a Rampart to me. "I remember he stood on me and shouted those lines from Hamlet!"


"To Be or not To Be?" I asked.


"Is that what the lines are?" asked the bewildered Rampart, "What that man with the sun glares shouted was '2 G or not 2 G'


"Ah," I said, "So that is the promise he mistakenly made to himself, maybe I should rush to his house and tell him he quoted Shakespeare wrong!"


"Too late!" said an old man wearing sun glares at eight in the night, "With one hundred and seventy four thousand crores, who's bothered whether it's To Be or 2 G…!"


bobsbanter@gmail.com

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REMOVE OBSTACLES

 

It is high time that the steps were taken to remove obstacles in the way of further excavation, conservation and development of the ancient Buddhist site that has been discovered in this district. It is in Pambarwan hamlet of Ambaran village on the bank of the mighty Chinab in Akhnoor tehsil. First, the findings so far have revealed only the tip of the iceberg (that these include the Akhnoor Buddhist terracotta heads preserved in a number of museums in the world reveal the potential). This is what the experts believe. According to them, there is more to it than that has been detected. To make further headway it is necessary to acquire the adjacent land. It is easier said than done in the existing circumstances. The present laws prevent the Central Government and, to be specific, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the official arm involved in making the re-discovery, from purchasing or acquiring the additional area. The State Government can do the job and then enter into an arrangement with the Centre to make the entire project mutually beneficial. It may be rewarding to put our heads together to solve the problem. Secondly, the ASI has to apply better preservation measures. It is said to be seized of the matter and has prepared an exquisite design of a shed to cover the excavated portion. Sooner it translates its plans into a reality the better it will be. As of now it is a rather scary sight that the entire material is provided just a tarpaulin shied. The old stupas and other structures are seemingly fragile mostly made of mud. These run the risk of facing erosion because of the vagaries of the weather. Rains in particular can prove deadly. There is always a chance of water seeping in from the sides. Why should we spoil our own show? 
We must learn from the previous experience in this regard. During the initial search, the ASI has found and recorded in the "Indian archaeology 1999-2000 --- a review: explorations and excavations": "Burnt brick structures were found damaged mainly due to two reasons --- repeated floods in the Chinab and unauthorised digging operations in the area in the past. The longer axis of boulders, brought during flash floods and resting at various levels at the site, point towards the course of the river which suggests receding of flood water after deposition of boulders at the site. The cycles of sand, silt and clay were noticed at several levels in most of the trenches. The fact that the site was continuously prone to heavy floods is quite clear …It shows that most of the fenced area of the site was submerged in river flood which would have been a regular feature in ancient excavation. The site seems to have been abandoned sometimes around the seventh century AD due to the above reason." At this moment, a look at the location indicates that precautions have been taken to avert the possibility of floods inflicting any damage. The river embankment has been strengthened and is quite high from the level at which the river flows. Any other measure that is deemed to be necessary should be implemented in this direction. It must be made sure that the Chinab remains a valuable asset and not a cause of concern. This is absolutely essential considering that the river in its fury is known to have brooked no hindrance. The threat, nevertheless, remains from the skies. It will be a pity if even after being aware of it we are caught napping at any stage. Last but not the least, it would be educative for the visitors if there was information put up for each and every discovery. 


The ASI has done well to put up a photographic exhibition of all objects explaining them in black and white in a room within the complex itself. For a layman, however, it would be more useful to get the relevant information the moment he sights the actual artefact. The ASI may require additional human and financial resources for the task. One hopes that it is equipped with the required wherewithal to carry out its work satisfactorily. Despite the fact that the archaeology enriches us about our evolution as an individual as well as society it does not figure as a priority sphere of concern in our schemes of things. This is understandable in a country in which the removal of hunger, poverty and illiteracy has been heavy challenges for planners and administrators. In recent years there has been some improvement in our approach towards archaeology. Clearly, however, we need to do a lot more. As often stated in these columns Ambaran may well hold the key to prosperity and development on both sides of the Chinab in this district. Its links with the pre-Khushan period, post-Khushan period, Gupta period and post-Gupta period have been well established. This has lent more aura to Akhnoor which has already been found to have traces of the Harappan civilisation. Is it possible that Akhnoor has been a melting pot of various cultures and religions at some point in history? Its location on the bank of the Chinab, along with a fort, also suggests that it has an extraordinary past. Ambaran reinforces this perception and throws a new light on its linkage with Buddhism. Its hidden mysteries should be unfolded for understanding our own growth as a society. 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

HEAL THYSELF

 

A suggestion by the Assurance Committee of the legislature for filling in vacancies of teaching staff in government medical colleges in the two Capital cities should be implemented forthwith. That the posts of even professors and associate professors have been lying vacant does not speak well of us. The panel, headed by veteran legislator Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, has pointed out that as a consequence the quality of medical education may well become a serious casualty. Moreover, there is a risk of de-recognition of some disciplines by the Medical Council of India (MCI). It is too gave a warning to be ignored. We can't afford to take any chances in such matters. The Committee has noted the absence of specialists in rural health institutions especially that of gynaecologists and called for redressing the difficulties the citizens face on this count. It has also sought the latest equipment all over. These two problems concerning the men and the material have been haunting the State for quite some time now. We are required to find a way out. If one takes an overview the message in brief for our healthcare system is that it needs to heal itself.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ABOLITION OF RAJYA SABHA

MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES

BY M L KOTRU

 

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


The very thought of this nature must had come as balm to the aching hearts who have witnessed the gross squandering of national resources on the staging of a farcical winter session. As citizens of the world's most populous democracy it may sound sacrilegious to say "good riddance" at the end of session, but such has been the callousness displayed by our MPs that one is tempted to welcome the abolition of at least one House suggested by no less a person than the two-term Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, was not, to be sure, talking only because of the nearly four weeks of the winter "non-session" of Parliament - the Lok Sabha alone costs as much Rs.64,000 per each hour Parliament is in session.
His ire was directed at the Rajya Sabha, the House of Elders, who, he believes, did not really serve much purpose except of "the market place" where parties and individuals were not loath to purchase seats through downright bribery, a pricetag attached to, say, every MLA in a State who is part of the electoral college that elects a Rajya Sabha MP!


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


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


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


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


The Government has willingly agreed to extended the period of inquiry of the G-2 spectrum inquiry to 2002 when Sushma's bête noire and then a rising BJP star and Telecom Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Government, the late Pramod Mahajan had his hand in the kitty. And Sushma was not particularly fond of the ways of Mahajan.


Probably the most senior of the BJP leaders, Mr. L. K.Advani was being more honest when on the last day of the fruitless winter session he told the usual throng of reporters outside Parliament House that "even with the business before the House not proceeding, it does yield results". I am not unaware of the gains the BJP may have made at the end of this winter session apart from costing Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, many sleepless nights.


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


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


In conclusion I would like to revert to Shivraj Patil Chouhan and his thesis. It is interesting to note that the Chief Election Commissioner S. Y. Qureshi and the Law Minister Veerappa Moily were present when the M.P. Chief Minister spoke. Qureshi confirmed that he had received complaints about envelops containing money being distributed during Rajya Sabha Elections. In such an atmosphere it was unlikely that anyone would have taken Law Minister Moily seriously when he spoke next of his wish to make "elections here" a role model for other countries. This when the CEC was expressing serious concerns about the system.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FOR QUALITY EDUCATION

BY DR. SHAKEEL AHMED RAINA

 

About six years back we had only three universities in J&K state namely University of Jammu, University of Kashmir and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKAUST). At present we have nine universities in J&K state viz University of Jammu, University of Kashmir, SKAUST Jammu, SKAUST Kashmir, two Central Universities, BGSB University Rajouri, SMVD University, Islamic University of Science and Technology Kashmir. Besides Govt. has a proposal to establish three more universities(one in Jammu and two in Kashmir Province). During last six years 40 new Govt. Degree Colleges have been opened. At present the total number of Govt. Degree Colleges in the state is 76. Some more Govt. Degree Colleges are being opened in near future. In addition to it there are several private colleges in the state and more than 80 private B. Ed. colleges are functioning here. There is also a considerable increase in number of professional colleges. By establishing more and more universities, more and more colleges during last few years and proposal of starting of some new universities/degree colleges within next few years, introducing of P.G. classes in degree colleges, upgradation of many middle schools to high schools and several high schools to higher secondary schools, setting up of study centres of distance education of University of Jammu, University of Kashmir, IGNOU and MANUU in various degree colleges of the state and opening of several campuses of University of Jammu/University of Kashmir, one can easily predict that within next few years there will be an educational boom in our state because education is being served to the people of the state at their doorsteps. The literacy rate of higher education will rise in each and every corner of the state.


As per UGC report, six years back our degree colleges were among the top 5% degree colleges of the country. NAAC had awarded four stars to the University of Jammu and "A" grade to the University of Kashmir. University of Jammu had been awarded I.S.O. certificate. From this we can say that past education standard of our state was satisfactory. We should keep it up in future also so that our degree holders may not feel merely over burdened with degrees and diplomas but they should be in a position to earn graceful livelihood by competing on national and international levels. For quality education, I have the following suggestions.
As we know examination is one of the most important factors for quality education. Good examination means good education standard and bad examination means poor education standard. I here suggest that all the examinations from 10th onward should be conducted in Govt. institutions by the Govt. agencies. Moreover in Govt. institutions, examination halls should be constructed for smooth conduct of examinations of higher classes. Present home examination system of 11th class should be abolished and it should be conducted by J & K board of school education on the pattern of examination of 10th and 12th classes. Mathematics should be made compulsory in 8th class as it is compulsory in 10th class. The percentage of assessment marks in theory and practical with the concerned teachers should not be more than 10 percent. Moreover the substandard study centres of distance education should be closed in the state. There should be one joint board of study of J&K board of school education and all the Universities of the state. All the important decisions pertaining to syllabi should be taken in this board. Up to 12th class only books of NCERT or CBSE should be prescribed. There should be interschool and intercollegiate academic competitions. Students performing well should be encouraged. There should be career counselling cells in the institutions, which provide up to date information to the students regarding different jobs opportunities and also provide them guidance in choosing their careers. Each college and university should provide hostel accommodation to all non-local students. There should be regular coaching for IAS, IPS, KAS etc. in all the universities of the state. Admission for these coaching should be made through entrance test and only selected students should be allowed for this coaching. As we see there are many highly qualified and experienced Govt. teachers who do not do private tuitions in spite of lot of demand for them in society because they consider it as banned activity. I here suggest that either private tuition by the Govt. teachers should be banned strictly or it should be allowed properly as in case of doctors, private practice. In the later case the tuition fee of different classes should be fixed by the government according to the qualification and cadre of the teachers. There should be computer labs in each college and each student at college level should be provided opportunity to know at least basic knowledge of computer and its use. At school level, there should be arrangement of moral as well technical education for the students.
P.G. Mathematics should be introduced in colleges on priority basis because no technical or non-technical science can be studied successfully without mathematics. As in the words of Comte, "All the scientific education which comes without mathematics must be defective at its foundation". Moreover we can be a developed nation only when we will be developed in Science and Technology. But as per world class scholars, we cannot be good in science and technology unless we are good in mathematics.


There should be special incentives for the dedicated teachers and action must be taken against those who are not performing well. Adhocism and ReT system in education department should be abolished. NET should be made compulsory for appointment as college / university teacher and these appointments should be made purely on the basis of efficiency and merit. There should be some state level test for appointment as school lecturers. Principals of Hr. Secondary Schools, ZEOS and CEOS should be appointed through PSC in the pattern of appointment of college principals. B. Ed. should be made basic qualification for school teachers instead of 12th because at present there is no dearth of B. Ed. candidates. Hr. Secondary Schools should also be accredited by state level committees on the pattern of NAAC of colleges/universities. There should be residential quarters for the teachers serving away from their homes. Govt. should be very generous in making pay scales of teachers and providing them other basic facilities because it is said, "To spend on education is not expenditure but an investment". Each teacher should be provided opportunity to attend at least one training programme pertaining to his profession once in two years. At college level the teachers should be provided facilities to do research and other activities pertaining to their professional growth. Keeping in view the increasing burden of U.G. and P.G classes on degree colleges, B.A/B. Sc. Part - I should be shifted to all the good higher Secondary Schools. Moreover there should be one additional Principal in big colleges so that both the academic affairs and the accounts/development matters may be tackled properly.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BOOTSTRAP IN INDO-RUSSIAN RELATIONS

BY FAZAL MEHMOOD

 

What is happening to Indo- Russian relations? Are they slipping? And would that be good for India? During the Cold War, then Soviet Union stood solidly by India on the Kashmir issue. During those tense months when East Bengal was fighting for freedom, to USSR again was a reliable supporter of India much against US pressure. But now Moscow seems to be developing a new approach towards South Asia. And India had better watch out. One of the greatest ironies of our times is the growing relationship between Russia and Pakistan. Both want to improve their mutual relationship.


Obviously both want to forget the time when under prodding and financial support from Saudi Arabia and the US, Pakistan trained jihadis to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had to quit after suffering grievous losses. To think that Russia now wants to woo Islamabad is mind- boggling.


When Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit to Delhi on 30 November was asked why his country was seen to get close to Pakistan, his answer was revealing.


"I sincerely hope" he said, "that you are not asking this question of belief that India and Pakistan will be foes for ever". Lavrov's argument was that Russia finds it necessary to cooperate with all countries and "it is absolutely important to do it". According to Lavrov "cordial India- Pakistan ties are in Russian Interest" and also strengthening relations with India is one of Russia's "foreign policy priorities". Lavrov did not speak of "strategic priorities". Evidently Moscow does not want or is reluctant to ask for a "strategic partnership" with India as US President Obama so expressively seeks. That by itself is intriguing.


At a press meet in Delhi Lavrov sounded very supportive of Pakistan, refusing to criticise state sponsored terrorism. Actually he drew a line of distinction between the Pakistan government and "terrorist hot beds" operating within Pakistan, He seemed impervious to the existence of the ISI and its malevolent intentions towards India.


He also seemed to ignore General Kayani's observations that the Pakistan army's entire thinking was "India- Centric". India has never been and has no reason to be anti- Russia. Indeed India, politically, has been dependent on the Soviet Union during some of its worst days and has every reason to be grateful for Moscow's support.


Then how does one explain the latest developments? One, Moscow may have felt hurt at India, under prime minister Manmohan Singh, seemingly cosing up to the US. Two, if that is true; Moscow may be feeling that Islamabad is fully in its own interests has to put an ungrateful India in its place. Three, with China acting as Pakistan's god father, Russia may be feeling that it is also in its own interests to befriend Islamabad to get easy access to the Indian Ocean for geo- political reasons.


Four, a brief chill in Indo- Russian relations was apparently felt when India joined a short- lived quadripartite forum with Japan, the US and Australia, three years ago. With Russia's waning power it is important that India treats it with warmth and high respect. According to Vladimir Radyuhin, a well- known Russian media expert, India's reluctance to upset the US in the slightest way, displayed at the tripartite meeting of Russian, Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers in Wuhan, China, and which came on the heels of Mr. Obama's visit to India has raised concerns that New Delhi may be cosying up to the U. S "a little too far for Moscow's comfort". It may be true or it may be a fig of Russia's sensitive imagination, but India should take that into full consideration.
Dr. Manmohan Singh may argue that with changing times, international relations will only change, but that is poor consolation to Moscow which has long been a consistent friend. One thing India should never attempt to do is to be seen as marginalising Russia. Happily, in the communique issued after the Wuhan meeting, Russia and China said they welcomed India's "constructive participation" in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and attached "importance" to India's desire to play a larger role in the Group.


Indeed in order to give a higher profile the RIC (Russia, India, China) trilateral, India's own foreign minister S. M. Krishna proposed three "flagship initiatives" in each of the three countries. Significantly, India persuaded Russia and China to subsume their fears and look for an "open, transparent, inclusive and balanced security and cooperation architecture in the Asian Pacific". As far as Indo- Russian trade is concerned, a protocol has been signed by the two countries to achieve mutual trade to the amount of $ 20 billion by 2015. An unspoken fear prevalent in Beijing is of what Indo- US "strategic alliance" signifies. Actually, if Vladimir Radyuhin is to be believed, most Russian experts think that India is not willing to play the role of the "fulcrum of US anti- China policy". One thing is clear: If India wants to play an important role in Asia it has to show that it is unwilling to play second fiddle to the US. It has to follow its policy consistent with its national interests.
Right now, with China behaving like an unbridled power, India has to keep its option open, and hopefully, Russia understands that. One hopes that China, too, will realise that it cannot cross certain Laxman rekhas and give needless offence to India.


As for India, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao noted in a recent talk that for Delhi "the situation is complex, since China is not only our largest neighbour, but also because China is today a major power in the world both from the traditional geo- political point of view and the more current geo- economic point of view". More to the point, she said: "Neither of us has the luxury of seeing each other in antagonistic terms... I believe the proposition of competition and rivalry should not be exaggerated in a manner that it overshadows our genuine attempts to manage and transact a rationally determined relationship". That says a lot. As a friend, Russia must inform both China and Pakistan that it is in nobody's interests to be provocative. There is a whole lot to be gained if Russia can persuade its new found friend Pakistan and its collaborator in the RCI trilateral, China, to treat India with understanding. An appreciation of India's concerns will go a long way in establishing stability in South Asia and the Indian Ocean periphery. (INAV)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TRADE TO CEMENT TIES

STAPLED VISA STILL A BONE OF CONTENTION

 

THOUGH the outcome of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's New Delhi visit has, unfortunately, not been on expected lines, there is a lot to feel satisfied for both sides. The two countries showed considerable understanding of each other's core concerns and took a number of steps to strengthen their relations despite the status quo on the border disputes and some other issues. The talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chinese leader could not change Beijing's stance on the status of Jammu and Kashmir as China gave no commitment on its policy of issuing stapled visas to visitors from this border state of India. Mr Wen was also unwilling to allow the inclusion of a reference to J&K as an integral part of India in the customary joint statement issued on Thursday.

 

China continues to maintain an ambiguous stand on India's case for the UN Security Council's permanent membership. The Pakistan factor in Mr Wen's arguments could be easily noticed, as he did not favour a mention of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack in the joint statement. It is, therefore, obvious why Beijing's "one China policy" and its scheme of things about Tibet could not get support from India. But the talks did not show any impact of India's decision to be represented at the controversial Nobel Peace Prize ceremony despite China being opposed to it. Both sides provided sufficient proof of conducting themselves in a manner that each other's economic interests were not hurt, whatever the circumstances. There was clear realisation that they have to cooperate to lead the world in the future.

 

Both countries agreeing to increase their stake in fast-growing bilateral trade and other kinds of economic activity may work as a cementing force for relations between India and China. This factor may continue to become stronger with Beijing allowing certain concessions for India's exports to correct the balance of trade, which has been in China's favour. The India-China bilateral trade, estimated to be around $60 billion in 2010, can easily reach the targeted level of $100 billion by 2015. This reality alone may force the two countries one day to remove most of the irritants in their relations, including the lingering border disputes. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LIMITS OF JUDICIARY

ITS MONITORING ROLE MUST BE SPARINGLY USED

 

THE Supreme Court's efficient discharge of its primary role in protecting the citizens' fundamental rights and upholding the rule of law deserves to be acknowledged. However, of late, its role in monitoring cases being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central Vigilance Commission and other agencies has given rise to some questions. Has the apex court taken on an activist role to stem the rot, improve the system and ensure good governance? If so, will this not run counter to the doctrine of separation of powers which clearly demarcates the roles and functions of the three pillars of the Constitution — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary? Interestingly, Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, soon after taking over as the CJI in May, had cautioned the judiciary against exceeding its brief through judicial activism. Quoting from a British Judge's book, he said: "Judicial activism beyond a point is against the rule of law…" and "that is why I always tell my brother judges, please see to it we also should continue to learn."

 

Of course, one cannot question the Supreme Court's sincerity to get to the root of the 2G Spectrum allocation scam, recover the crores of rupees looted by the scamsters and bring the guilty to book expeditiously. Thus, its decision to monitor the scam being probed by both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate is apt. A significant pointer is the widening of the scope of the investigation: the apex court has asked the CBI to probe all telecom licences awarded from 2001 to 2007 and information thrown up by the Niira Radia tapes. Indeed, monitoring by the apex court has become imperative because the image of the CBI and the CVC is at its lowest ebb today and both act as tools of the ruling party at the Centre. However, such intervention needs to be restricted only to the rarest of rare cases such as the 2G Spectrum allocation.

 

Of late, some of the apex court's directions and observations (for example, its remarks on the Prime Minister for his office's purported delay in responding to Janata Party leader Dr Subramanian Swamy's petition against Mr A. Raja) give rise to an impression that it may be violating the principle of separation of powers and disturbing the delicate constitutional equilibrium. The judiciary indeed needs to ponder over increasing cases of corruption in the higher judiciary in the backdrop of the apex court's remarks on the mess in the Allahabad High Court. A heavy responsibility devolves on it to not only protect the Constitution but also to look within.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HONOUR THE SOLDIER

INDIA MUST NEVER FORGET ITS ARMED FORCES

 

THIRTYNINE years ago, India recorded a spectacular military victory over Pakistan which has since been closely studied and analysed by several military forces the world over. The military victory, which involved considerable planning, evoked the largest surrender after World War-II, a record that was later broken by Saddam Hussein's mother of all surrenders during the 1991 Gulf war. The most significant consequence of India's military victory was that it rendered irrelevant Jinnah's two-nation theory – East Pakistan broke away from West Pakistan to build a national identity based on (Bengali) ethnicity and language rather than on the commonality of religion.

 

 

Indeed, the record of the Indian soldier has been among the most glorious. From conducting nation-consolidation operations starting with Junagadh, Kashmir, Hyderabad and later Goa to nation-preservation against attacks from Pakistan and China, the Indian military has also been wantonly misused if not abused as evident from its involvement in Operation Bluestar in Punjab, Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and internal security operations in Kashmir and in the Northeast due to a long history of gross political and administrative mismanagement.

 

Yet, the stoic and apolitical Indian soldier has performed uncomplainingly and with aplomb even as some governments in our neighbourhood succumbed to military interference or coups. His sacrifice remains mostly unheralded. In April this year the Supreme Court observed that our soldiers were being shabbily treated by the government. Disgustingly, successive governments have failed even to build a national war memorial. The India Gate, where our President ritualistically lays a wreath every Republic Day and which we treat as a war memorial, was, ironically, built by the British colonialists to commemorate the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died fighting in World War-I and in the Third Anglo-Afghan war. It is a national shame that ex-servicemen have been returning their gallantry medals to the indifference of our politicians. Unlike the US where successive presidents starting from US Army Colonel Harry Truman to Air Force First Lieutenant George W. Bush or the present British Royal family starting from Queen Elizabeth-II to her grandson, Royal Army Lieutenant Prince Harry, all of who have a distinguished record of military service and of seeing action in wars, the Indian politician ranks among the most corrupt and self-seeking with rare examples of either he or his son serving in the military. India cannot afford to forget that all books of statecraft starting with Sun Tzu's Art of War, Kautilya's Arthashastra, Niccolo Machiavelli's Prince warn against neglecting the soldier. We can risk this only to our own peril.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

IMPLICATIONS OF IRAN GOING NUCLEAR

SAUDI, PAK MOVES NEED TO BE WATCHED

BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN

 

ONE of the WikiLeaks revelations presents the note which the American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia prepared for Hillary Clinton during her visit in February 2010. The note talks about the Saudi Arabian fear of the failure of dialogue with Iran on nuclear weapons, and the King's nuclear ambitions to protect his own interests.

 

According to the note prepared by Ambassador James Smith for Ms Clinton, "The King is convinced that the current U.S. engagement efforts with Tehran will not succeed; he is likely to feel grimly vindicated in his view by Ahmadinejad's February 11 boast that having successfully enriched uranium to a level of 20 per cent, Iran "is now a nuclear nation"...The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia."

 

Will Saudi Arabia wait till Iran goes overtly nuclear, or will it have already started preparing for that eventuality? This is where one has to analyse Saudi Arabia's options in terms of looking for nuclear deterrence. Clearly, the King has three options - to develop a nuclear weapons programme for Saudi Arabia; buy nuclear weapons and delivery systems from other countries (perhaps Pakistan); and to ask for a nuclear guarantee (either from the US or Pakistan).

 

There have been news reports detailing the linkages between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Saudi Arabia has already established a nuclear power programme. During April this year, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz through a royal decree created the "King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE)" in Riyadh. Clearly, Saudi Arabia has started its march towards a nuclear programme.

 

The focus of this analysis, however, is not on Saudi Arabia's nuclear programme, but on the nature of Pakistan's nuclear deterrence in case there is an understanding between Islamabad and Riyadh on a nuclear guarantee or umbrella. In this case, if Iran goes nuclear, or if Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are convinced that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme, will the primary objective of Pakistan's nuclear deterrence remain India-specific?

 

As of now, there is a widespread belief that Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme -fissile materials, weapons, delivery mechanisms and the nuclear strategy/doctrine — is purely India-specific. Will it continue to remain India-specific if the Iran and Saudi factors need to be taken into account?

 

Will Pakistan be willing to extend its arsenal and doctrines to provide a nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia and perhaps some other countries in the Gulf which fear Iran? Reports have it that there is already a secret agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, reached sometime during 2003. Perhaps true; perhaps not.

 

What needs to be analysed in this context is, what if Pakistan decides to extend the nuclear deterrence to include Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf against a nuclear Iran? Three specific issues need to be analysed here. First, political relations between Iran and Pakistan; it is an open secret that Islamabad and Tehran have their own differences vis-à-vis each other, which got exacerbated since the late 1970s. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 and Zia's Islamisation (in reality "Sunnisation") have created a Sunni-Shia rift within Pakistan, which has increased the tensions between the two countries. To make matters worse, since the 1980s there has been an additional vigour in the Saudi-Wahabi influence in Pakistan, further vitiating the anti-Shia campaign by the sectarian organisations in Pakistan. As a result, for the last three decades, despite efforts, the political relationship between the two countries remains strained. Thus, there is no incentive for Islamabad for remaining neutral in case of an open nuclear tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The lines are already drawn and Pakistan has chosen its sides.

 

The only exception was the A.Q. Khan network, which helped Iran's nuclear programme. To be fair to A.Q. Khan, his network was completely secular and was beyond any national boundaries. It was purely an economic enterprise, which looked beyond Sunni-Shia, Iran-Pakistan and Iran-Saudi Arabia calculations! Hence, Khan's assistance to Iran's nuclear programme should not be considered as a factor in Islamabad's nuclear decision-making process vis-à-vis Tehran.

 

Second, how is Pakistan's relationship likely to build in the next couple of years vis-à-vis Iran in terms of Islamabad's growing influence and presence in Afghanistan? Again, it is an open secret that Islamabad is backing the Taliban to reach some kind of an agreement with President Karzai to expand its influence in Afghanistan in a post-American exit environment. Pakistan has already signed a trade and transit agreement with Afghanistan, besides concluding another agreement on gas recently with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Clearly, Pakistan has well positioned itself now to impose its stooges in Kabul and convert Afghanistan into its strategic backyard. Will Iran remain a mute spectator? One is likely to see an increased hostility between Islamabad and Tehran as a result of their strategic rivalry in Afghanistan.

 

Third, as a result of the above two issues, Pakistan is unlikely to remain unaffected in the Iran-Saudi Arabia nuclear diad. This is bound to become a triangle relationship, creating an arch of nuclear instability in the entire Middle-East. It is a different question and issue altogether if Isreal jumps into it; but for the purpose of this argument, the focus is only on the triangle. Pakistan has a history of proliferation; hence there is no reason to believe that Islamabad has not already made a deal with Saudi Arabia. In fact, there are also reports claiming the sale of Ghauri missiles to Saudi Arabia. Neither the Pakistan-Iran relations nor Islamabad's past history of proliferation makes one feel confident that Pakistan is unlikely to work with Saudi Arabia and provide nuclear weapons or just an umbrella.

 

What needs to be analysed here is how this will affect Pakistan's calculations towards its fissile materials, nuclear weapons and delivery mechanisms. It is believed that Pakistan has an adequate fissile material stockpile today to make approximately 100-plus nuclear weapons. However, this is unlikely to remain at this level if the Iran-Saudi Arabia-Pakistan nuclear triangle needs to be taken into account. In this case, Pakistan's deterrence will not be based only against the Indian stockpile and weapons. Therefore, Pakistan's "minimum" is unlikely to remain minimum.

 

Now, what are the likely implications of the above scenario? First, Pakistan is unlikely to accept the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty for its stockpile is not likely to remain focused on India alone. Thus, Obama will see his vision for nuclear disarmament breaking into pieces, in his own life time. Second, the nature of Pakistan's arsenal then will be dependent on Iran's stockpile and Saudi Arabia's requirement. And this will be anything but minimum. Therefore, one could visualise a different calculation of India's "minimum" as well. Whatever may the nature of these calculations, it is easy to conclude that the credible deterrence in South Asia is unlikely to remain minimum.

 

Third, the above triangle will also result in Sunni and Shia nuclear bombs, infusing a different argument into the old concept of an Islamic bomb. This in turn, will further increase the distance between Islamabad and Tehran besides vitiating the minds of the Shias and Sunnis inside Pakistan.

 

The writer is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

DEAR ALL !

BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA

 

THE Professor of English read out an e-mail from one of his former students who had done very well in life. "Dear All", began the bright spark, "With great happiness, I inform that I am getting married in Kukreja Palace, Pathankot, on the 6th. Please reserve the date in your diary."

 

 "Dear All!" thundered the Professor. "This form of address is totally unacceptable !" The paneer tikka with its olive oil dressing congealed into an inedible lump as the lady of the house gazed across the dining table at her hyperventilating husband. "It's just a juvenile thing, Brij, my dear. Calm down. Do you want to burst that very expensive stent you acquired last year? Every generation has its own slang. Remember the idiotic greeting our generation favoured : 'All is well at my end, trust the same at your end', as if the well-being of our posteriors was the primary purpose of writing !"

 

The next day's Business English class was eventful. "Dear All……" began the red faced Professor "…is only acceptable when the recipient's name is Allwyn, abbreviated to All! On every other occasion, it is undiluted rubbish. Class, take note." A few impressed eyebrows were raised in acknowledgement of the truth in the Professor's statement.

 

Some sincere fingers flew in rapid note-taking mode over blank pages. "And that is not ALL!" roared the guardian of good grammar. "The article 'the' is a three letter word which must NOT be abbreviated to 'd' or anything else, for that matter. 'GR8' is a terrible alphanumeric concoction that does grave injustice to the language. "Best of journey" might be a sincere sentiment but it is a sick sentence, nevertheless. I could go on… but I shall desist."

 

A decisive click followed as the white board marker was capped into position. 

 

The Professor stopped for breath. The class was distinctly uncomfortable. Who wasn't guilty of the blunders cited by him! Those who hadn't even realised that such language was considered bad form were in a fix. How could they tell the difference between right and wrong use of the language if everyone around was equally ignorant or careless ! Old "Bridge Moan Sing" had attended elite schools where they presumably equip you with a cut-glass accent but the MBA students in his class had other priorities.

 

A week later, a sombre-faced Dean announced that Prof B.M. Singh was admitted to the cardiac care unit of a city hospital. A shocked class of forty mustered all available transport, broke several traffic rules and wrestled with hospital protocol to meet his worried wife. "He had just finished reading an sms saying, "Dearest All, kindly note my new number", when he suffered his second heart attack…."

 

A contrite class sent a get-well card to the hospital: "Respected Sir, ALL of us will pray to God to keep you safe." This single sentence was okayed by three different Professors first, as a measure of abundant caution. They had realised that old Bridge tended to take such matters to heart, literally.

 

From the sick-bed came the prompt reply, "Thank you, one and ALL !"

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DRUG-HIT ADOLESCENCE

EARLY IDENTIFICATION OF ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE PROBLEMS RIGHT THERE IN SCHOOL OR BY NGOS IS IMPORTANT FOR BETTER OUTCOME. MANY OFTEN REPORTS LATE AND THE TREATMENT BEGINS AFTER FIVE OR MORE YEARS OF DRUG USE 
RAJAT RAY AND ANJU DHAWAN

 

DRUG use in Punjab, especially among young people, has become a matter of concern for the state. National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06) noted that among men in Punjab 43.4 per cent drink as compared to the national average of 31.9 per cent and 33.8 per cent of men use tobacco compared to the national average of 57 per cent. Use of both tobacco and alcohol in women is, fortunately, much lower. Among adolescents (15-19 years) in Punjab, 11 per cent of boys and 1 per cent of girls drink.

 

Substance abuse related issues among youth are important as drug use starts often in adolescence. A box published alonside shows the national data on prevalence of current other-drug use (any use in last one month) among them. Alcohol and drug use should be seen as distinct from (ab)use (those experiencing various problems due to drug use) and dependence (those addicted). It is generally believed that the age of initiation to tobacco, alcohol and drug use in young people is coming down.

 

A study carried out in Ludhiana (2008) reported that 49.2 per cent of male students and 5.2 per cent of female students were alcohol users and most had started drinking around 18 years. Of concern was the fact that about 25 per cent were binge drinkers (over 5 standard drinks in a single drinking episode) which is often associated with accidents and fights. Only a small percentage reported that their parents were aware of their drinking. Many of the students believed that unprotected sex was higher under the influence of alcohol and that boys were likely to indulge in eve-teasing after drinking.

 

Among adolescents, the specially vulnerable are those living in the street. A study on inhalant use among street adolescents carried out in Delhi and Bangalore found that drug abuse was almost a universal phenomenon in them (Study carried out by NDDTC and NIMHANS-National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, 2008-09). The substance abused most commonly was ink eraser fluid which causes various physical complications.

 

Clinic-based data from the PGI, Chandigarh, suggests that inhalant use in Chandigarh is also seen in children from middle socioeconomic strata. In Delhi, we have observed that children from lower socioeconomic strata start staying out of home intermittently due to drug use and then shift to street life. They come for treatment only when the family finds them and persuades them to do so.

 

Several physical and psychological effects are seen due to its use and seen below

 

Some of the risk factors for alcohol and drug use are: living in a disadvantaged neighborhood, easy availability of drugs, childhood abuse and drug use in family. Not all these factors may be present in every drug using adolescent. Some may even come from apparently well adjusted families.

 

Common problems in adolescents with alcohol or drug use in treatment settings are drowsiness, lethargy, hyperactivity, spending too much time outside home, academic decline, loss of appetite and weight, fights, accidents or involvement in petty crime. Not only the affected person but also the whole family gets stigmatised. The parents have to face the stigma of being labelled as inadequate parents.

 

Drug use is often associated with various psychological problems such as conduct problems, attention deficit,

depression and anxiety. Adolescent drug use may continue later in life.

 

Treatment helps and leads to reduction in drug or alcohol use, improved school performance and social adjustment. Those who remain under treatment are likely to do better.

 

Treatment includes both use of medicines and psychological therapy, including prevention of relapse. Family involvement helps to improve lifestyle and communication between parents and the adolescent.

 

Early identification of alcohol and drug use problems is important for better outcome. Many often reports late and treatment begins after five or more years of drug use. Early identification can be done in school and by NGOs working with adolescents.

 

Ii is very important to prevent or at least delay introduction to drugs. Prevention messages should be given from multiple settings such as family, community, school, temples/gurdwaras/sports venues besides providing life skill training.

 

Decreased availability of drugs along with education, awareness and treatment-related activities need to go hand in hand.

Rajat Ray and Anju Dhawan are from National Drug Dependence Centre, All-India Institute of Medial Science, New Delhi

B, a 16-year-old boy, studying in class X and a good student, started using capsules (painkiller in Dextropropoxyphene) with friends for getting a "high" and to relax. He increased the amount gradually and experienced discomfort when he did not get it. His parents came to know once his academic performance declined and his friends started avoiding him. He was brought by the family for treatment and has stabilised for the last two months while on treatment.

R, a 15-year-old boy educated till 6th class, from a small town in Punjab was living on the street when he presented himself for treatment with 'fluid' (ink eraser fluid) use. He had been using it daily for the last three years and was introduced to this drug by his friends. From his young age, he was defiant, often told lies, got into fights and ran away from school. He also used to pick pockets and often stayed on the streets as his father beat him if he used 'fluid' at home. He came for treatment with his mother and following treatment is doing well, staying with the family and is away from drug use.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A "TICKING BOMB"

 

THE problem of drug addiction in Punjab is indeed alarming. The state government has in the past one year taken some steps in ensuring that standard quality of treatment is given to the drug addicts. But it is obvious that a lot more needs to be done.

 

A study conducted by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, in 2009, pointed towards an exponential increase in the number of drug addicts in the state in the past decade.

 

It also highlighted how the drug use pattern had changed over the years. The study also showed drug abuse trends in the three broad regions of the state — Malwa, Doaba and Majha.

 

Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, Professor of Sociology in Guru Nanak Dev University who conducted the study, called the problem of drug abuse in Punjab a "ticking bomb".

 

Sandhu had in his study suggested that there should be an independent department within the government to deal with the problem. Currently the various aspects of the problem are divided among the department of health, department of social security and the police. Coordination between the three is lacking and each works within its own jurisdiction.

 

Sandhu had suggested the constitution of a "Punjab Drug Prevention Board", to effectively deal with drug addiction in the state. The state government is yet to even take up this suggestion for discussion.

 

Sandhu had added that the state's Department of Medical Education and Research also recommended to the government to form a panel on drug abuse which should direct the introduction of curriculum in schools for creating awareness against drug abuse on the pattern of some developed countries like the US and Canada. The panel would also be empowered to "direct the investigation either through state police or a private agency, the prevalence of drug trade in an area with a view to booking the smugglers, peddlers and their associates either in the police department, the jails department or the health department or outside the government."

 

This suggestion is vital for Punjab as on innumerable occasions the efforts of the state police has proved futile in grabbing smugglers and peddlers because of the strong nexus between the two.

 

The panel would "expose for public view all those in high places in society who are in any way involved in drug trade or its distribution." Other than these, such a panel or board is expected to draw up a detailed action plan on how to fight the problem. The panels can also commission regular surveys to ascertain the extent of the problem and how it was changing with time.

 

The board, it was further suggested would "evaluate all the existing programmes of the government regarding drug addiction and suggest some new measure to tackle the drug abuse."

 

Across the country Punjab is one of the most severely afflicted states when it comes to drug abuse. It is now for Punjab to come up with successful measures to curtail the problem and bring out working models which can be replicated in other states. — TNS

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

SCRAPPING NETAS' 'POCKET MONEY'

WILL MAHARASHTRA BE BOLD ENOUGH TO FOLLOW BIHAR'S EXAMPLE OF ABOLISHING THE QUESTIONABLE MLA FUND?


Exactly seventeen years ago, on December 23, 1993, prime minister Narasimha Rao announced the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) scheme. Through this scheme members of Parliament (including unelected Rajya Sabha members) could spend one crore rupees per year in their constituencies through the District Collector.

 

The idea was to give sort of "pocket money" or discretionary spending authority to the MP to spend on community and development work. 

 

The rationale for giving MPs such discretion was never clear. All the spending of the government is supposed to go through legislative scrutiny, so bypassing this scrutiny and directly sanctioning some 'pocket money' however small, seemed odd. Of course, all kinds of controls, regulations and guidelines were imposed on the MPLAD scheme. But the fact is that if an MP recommends a project, the district collector has to execute it. The recommendation is rarely questioned. 

 

Permissible projects included schools and hospitals, community halls, installing computers in municipal schools, buying ambulances for government clinics, and so on. But each of these items is budgeted through other means, through respective departments or ministries, through channels available at the state or municipal level. So MPLAD served as additional fund flow into constituencies, over and above other constitutional flows. Such as those through Finance and Planning Commission. Hence the label of "pocket money" is not unwarranted. 

 

It helped the MP acquire brownie points, or "nurse" his constituency. Was Narasimha Rao aware that this would unfairly advantage incumbent MPs? The MPLAD guidelines also had a negative list. Money was not supposed be used to build memorials, or religious monuments. 

 

Five years later, prime minister Vajpayee raised the MPLAD fund from one crore to two crores. With 545 Lok Sabha members and 250 Rajya Sabha members, this amounts to 1,600 crores per year, or 8,000 crores for five years. All to be spent without legislative oversight. As of November 2010, approximately 23,000 crores have been spent on MPLAD scheme. The MPLAD money never lapses, and is added cumulatively to the next year. 

 

The states soon got wind of this "scheme", and did not want to be leftbehind. Several states introduced an MLA Local Area Development scheme. It entitles MLAs and MLCs to spend 2 crores each year in states like Delhi, and UP. Jharkhand is generous and gives 3 crores each, and Maharashtra allocates 1.5 crore each. Punjab recently upped the ante by making it 4 crores, even surpassing the MPLAD. 

 

Nobody seems to be bothered about the constitutionality of this "scheme", which usurps taxpayer money without due process. The English word "scheme" has two opposite meanings, and the MPLAD and MLA-LAD fund illustrates this. 

 

One state that has decided the end this charade is Bihar. One of the first decisions of the new government under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was to scrap the MLA-LAD scheme. There were charges, that many legislators were getting kickbacks from sanctioning projects in their constituencies, from various contractors. Even the genuine projects from honest legislators were seen as tainted. Hence this decision of Bihar has been mostly welcomed by all. Even the opposition MLAs are supporting it. It is not as if that money has gone out of the state budget. But instead of being channelised through discretion of MLAs, each rupee will be properly justified through the budget, which the state legislature has to authorise. 

 

Imagine if the BMC simply gave each of its municipal councilors one crore each to go and spend as they wish in their wards? Is that not ad hoc? Oh wait, we already have a discretionary amount for each councillor. Instead of sprinkling money like this, each project should be made to justify itself, big or small. Will BMC and Maharashtra be bold enough to follow Bihar's example?

 

AJIT RANADE ON THE WHEELS THAT MAKE MUMBAI RUN – MONEY AND ECONOMY

 

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

COLUMN

SEIZE THE MOMENT

ALL THAT THE PRIME MINISTER AND OTHER LEADERS NEED TO DO IS TO TAP THE LATENT DESIRE FOR A CHANGE FROM TODAY'S DREADFUL SITUATION

T N NINAN

 

So the country is in a mess, our institutions stand tarnished in the public eye, and the government faces a credibility crisis. People are right to be both disillusioned and worried about where matters are headed. The transition from unreal optimism to cynical gloom in just a few weeks is breathtaking. This is a time for leadership, not vacillation and hiding in corners.

 

 What are the issues to be addressed? First is the quite incredible paralysis of Parliament, with belief in the efficacy of its functioning so low that there is no discernible public response to the loss of a whole session; what kind of democracy do we have that it does not matter if Parliament is non-functional? Second is the growth of crony capitalism into a national cancer that corrupts any and everything in sight. The third is linked to the second, namely the shady sourcing of election funds — which, in turn, has become a cover story for unchecked loot on an unprecedented scale. Fourth is the chaotic style that has come to mark coalition governments, whereby each minister thinks he is a law unto himself. And fifth is the state of affairs in the judiciary, with even the Supreme Court and former chief justices coming under a cloud.

 

There is a second set of five troubling issues. One is the steady emaciation and co-option, if not downright subversion, of supposedly autonomous institutions that could keep the rich and powerful in check, like the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Lok Ayuktas, the Central Vigilance Commission…; the result is not only that the country's rulers are effectively above the law, but also that they can invade the privacy of private citizens through gross actions like telephone tapping. Two, there is the suborning of the bureaucracy, which now mostly comprises willing accomplices in the shenanigans of political masters, and which asserts itself only to corner privileges for itself. Third is the defence brass, whose reputation and image have taken a severe knock after the Adarsh scandal, not to mention the general assumption of its involvement in corrupt purchase deals. Fourth is the media, whose credibility has reached its lowest point ever, in the wake of paid news scandals and now the Radia tapes which show up some leading media personages as completely compromised individuals. And last, there is the growing feeling that the state's capacity to deliver is fundamentally deficient, at a time when the state is being asked to do ever more.

 

These 10 overlapping crises — involving politicians, civil servants, judges, businessmen, armed service officers, journalists and publishers — have boiled over at the end of a long process of deterioration in efficacy levels and standards of probity. It has reached the point where business cannot go on as usual; the system must be rescued because it is at risk — many countries that seemed on a rapid growth track have been arrested in mid-stride by corrosion from within, resulting in violent implosion. Think Indonesia.

 

But with such a daunting list of challenges, you could be forgiven for asking where one begins. In fact, though, the task is not very difficult. All that the prime minister and other leaders need to do is to tap the latent desire for a change from today's dreadful situation. If they are seen doing that, there will be a groundswell of support that itself creates an environment which facilitates other corrective action. The specific steps are in themselves not difficult to design. If our leaders cannot or will not take these steps, then they deserve to go. The country deserves better.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

POST-REFORM RENT-SEEKING

THE CONTINUING 'MONOPOLY RENTS' GENERATED IN THE LABOUR MARKET ARE MUCH MORE DAMAGING TO GROWTH THAN OTHER FORMS OF RENT

DEEPAK LAL

 

The daily revelation of various scams suggests rent-seeking is alive in India. In fact, one of the puzzles about economic liberalisation was how it could occur in a country, which, for nearly four decades, had created an equilibrium of rent-seeking interests which had mired the economy in the dismal Hindu rate of growth. Many observers saw little hope of a seemingly dysfunctional Indian democracy being able to deliver economic liberalisation. In an important book (Democratic Politics and Economic Reform in India, Cambridge, 1999), Rob Jenkins showed how the political players, particularly at the Centre, used both a rearrangement of the previous spoils system, and the various conflicts of interest within the numerous rent-seekers, to both institute and consolidate economic reforms. In terms of my predatory state model (The Hindu Equilibrium, Chp.13.2), the improved productivity of the economy resulting from economic liberalisation provided larger rents to the predators. They got an unchanged share of a larger pie. It is these new forms of rent-seeking which are the source of all these scams. But this raises its own puzzle, whereas the earlier pre-1991 form of rent-seeking had led to growth rates well below potential, the new forms of rent-seeking have been accompanied by phenomenal growth rates. What explains these differences in outcomes, and is this new corruption likely to damage growth like the old?

 

 To answer this question it is useful to outline the sources of economic "rent". My UCLA colleague Armen Alchian provides a succinct discussion in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Economic "rent" is the payment for any resource "the supply of which is indestructible (maintainable for ever at no cost) and non-augmentable, and hence invariant to its price. In the jargon of economics, the quantity of present and future supply is completely inelastic with respect to price, a situation graphically represented by a vertical supply line in the usual "Marshallian price-quantity graphs". Land, distinguished by its location, provides one such resource. As at all prices the supply is constant, a tax on land rents does not affect any marginal decision by economic agents, and hence does not affect economic efficiency. It is (in economists' jargon) a lump sum tax.

 

If in the future, the aggregate supply of such indestructible resources can be increased in response to a higher price, even though the short-run supply is inelastic, there would be "quasi rents" accruing to the resource. An important form of "quasi rents" is what Marshall called "composite quasi-rent". "When two separately owned resources are so specific to each other that the joint rent exceeds the sum of what each would receive if not used together, then that joint rent to the pair was called 'composite quasi-rent'." This is important when the "resources that have been made specific to each other in the sense that the service value of each depends on the other's presence, the joint value of composite quasi-rent might become the object of attempted expropriation by one of the parties, especially by the one owning the resource with controllable flow of high alternative use value". Various institutional and contractual arrangements can be devised for the distribution of these "composite quasi-rents". As with pure economic rent, given the short-run inelasticity in the supply curve of at least the specific resource which does not have "a controllable flow of high alternative use-value", the "taxing" of this specific resource will not affect the efficiency of the economy. The arrangement for the division of the "composite quasi- rents" will represent a purely distributive outcome.

 

We can now see why the recent scams have not affected the productivity of the economy. Most of the scams involving pure "economic rent", as in the allocation of housing perpetrated by the armed forces in the Adarsh scandal, have no efficiency consequences. Though these may be social losses from the expenditures by "rent-seekers" to acquire these rents through political or administrative means.

Similarly, the scams involving the allocation of the 2G spectrum, the various mining-related scams and those involving infrastructure projects like roads, all relate to the distribution of "composite quasi-rents". These will again affect the distribution of income but have no effect on the productive efficiency of the economy. Again with the proviso of the social losses involved with the expenditure on "rent-seeking".

 

There is a third category of rents: "monopoly rent". These are created by artificial restrictions on other potential competitors to favour some economic agents. The Indian Licence-Permit Raj with its import quotas, industrial licensing, price controls, etc created these "monopoly rents". As the government intervention creating these rents affect the marginal decisions of consumers and producers, they lead to substantial efficiency losses, in addition to any of the deadweight losses associated with the "rent-seeking". They are equivalent to the levying of distortionary taxes-cum-subsidies, unlike the lump sum taxation associated with various forms of rent-seeking to obtain pure "economic" or "composite quasi" rents.

 

Economic liberalisation in former highly controlled economies like India (but also China and Russia) reduces or eliminates these monopoly rents. With the boost given to economy-wide productivity by liberalisation, the value of "economic" and "composite quasi" rents will rise. This allows the polity to substitute an even more highly valued source of rents to compensate the losers from the abolition of monopoly rents, but without any damage to the productive efficiency of the economy. This explains the paradox that post-liberalisation rent-seeking has been accompanied by high growth rates in these predatory states, and an increase in the rents garnered, whilst the pre-liberalisation rent-seeking had led to growth rates well below their potential.

 

There is, however, one continuing major source of "monopoly rents". This is the colonial labour laws creating "monopoly rents" for the small aristocracy of organised labour. By limiting entry and exit, and artificially raising the price of India's most abundant resource, they have damaged labour-intensive industrialisation in India. This situation will be made worse by the minimum wage and other purported labour rights being implemented in the unorganised sector. Much worse, the proposal to introduce minimum wages in the rural employment guarantee scheme will remove the main reason for the efficiency of this poverty-redressing policy: self-targeting. Though the immorality of rent-seeking associated with pure "economic" and "composite quasi" rents may be reprehensible, it is less damaging to growth than the continuing "monopoly rents" generated in the labour market.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

ON EQUAL TERMS

THE US CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO DOWNGRADE INDIA'S ENVOYS

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

 

India and the US need each other. But reading the American ambassador's dismissal of the insults to Meera Shankar and Hardeep Puri, I wonder whether the US is psychologically ready yet for a genuine partnership with an Asian country whose rulers are not pensioners and petitioners like Syngman Rhee, Ferdinand Marcos and the Shah of Iran.

 

 Oh yes, I know all about Franklin D Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, the commitment of both countries to pluralism, religious liberty and dissent, and the world's oldest and largest democracies being "natural allies". But if those platitudes had meant anything, India and the US would not have had to wait till Barack Obama's visit in 2010 to discover each other. It would be absurd to make heavy weather of race in Obama's US. Prejudice is a dying phase rooted in domestic demographics. But no British or German envoy would be similarly treated. Nor can it be reconciled with the privileges American diplomats take for granted in India.

 

But the history of discrimination bears repeating. Rabindranath Tagore declared after encountering San Francisco immigration that the US would refuse Jesus Christ admission "because, first of all, He would not have the necessary money and secondly, He would be an Asiatic". US-born Amar Bose, globally famous for his sound system, recalled his childhood, "The big problem was colour. There wasn't a restaurant in Philadelphia where I could be served. In those days you couldn't even rent a house."

 

Sikhs were called "ragheads". Ethnic Indians could not acquire US citizenship until the Oriental Immigration Act was revised in 1949. In 1955, the white woman manager of Houston international airport's restaurant refused to serve one of Meera Shankar's predecessors, G L Mehta, and his secretary in the dining room because she thought them Negroes, as today's African-Americans were called then.

 

More important than any of this, however, is the practice of studiedly downgrading Indian diplomatic and military officials when they visit the US. A defence team once came away without taking part in the meeting for which it had gone because its members were paired with Americans below their rank. South Block officials complain of regularly having to talk to officials who are junior to them. Indians who object to this demotion are called touchy and status conscious.

 

On one occasion many years ago the State Department noted smugly it had hoodwinked the Indian military attaché who had been asking to be taken into confidence on military matters by classifying India "upwards to the category of countries receiving 'restricted' US military information" and making "a deliberate effort to furnish" him "with relatively harmless but somewhat impressive military information …" India was fobbed off with a sleight of hand like a pestering child!

 

There are more serious impediments to closer understanding — Pakistan and the support that US arms and money indirectly gives to terrorism for instance. One shudders to think what will happen when US forces abandon the mess in Afghanistan, as Obama promises they will in 2011. The gun that fires in only one direction hasn't yet been invented, as Krishna Menon put it.

 

I am stressing the human factor more because no diplomat is saintly enough to say when making policy, "They may be nasty to me but are good for my country." Diplomacy is the sum total of personal responses. Timothy J Roemer's "I regret any inconvenience that may have resulted for either Ambassador as a result of recent incidents" after meeting Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) representatives reminds me of appearing before the West Bengal Assembly's privileges committee because of something one of my staff had written. When I said we were sorry if we had given offence, the chairman politely but firmly told me a conditional apology was no apology.

 

William S Cohen, the defence secretary, announced at the turn of the century, "America begins the new millennium as the sole superpower, the indispensable nation." True enough, and indispensable for India in economics and defence. But despite the lure of the Green Card and though US security concerns merit allowance, Indians expect a less superior partner.

 

It used to be said during the Cold War that India was too big to be America's protégé like the Philippines or South Korea but not big enough to be an ally. Times have changed, as Obama's job-seeking visit proved. India has every right now to demand treatment as an equal. That was the theme of my book, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium. India is still waiting.

 

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

FREE SPEECH AND SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

DEVANGSHU DATTA

 

In the confusion of the Wikileaks affair, we've learnt the average US diplomat is markedly undiplomatic in private communication. He or she would also benefit greatly from a remedial course in basic English.

 

 The candour is unsurprising in intra-departmental memos. The lack of clarity of expression is deplorable. Sentences are mangled, nouns are "adverbised", and usages like "we have demarched Britain" abound.

 

Much of what we've seen so far is trivial. Dagestanis get drunk at weddings. Mehriban Aliyeva, the First Lady of Azerbaijan, "wears dresses that would be considered provocative even in the Western world" and "has difficulty showing facial expressions, after substantial cosmetic surgery". Qadhafi travels with a voluptuous Ukrainian nurse.

 

It has also become obvious that the establishment in the world's most open democracy is deeply committed to the principles of free speech — so long as it is not at the receiving end. The US Government (USG) has gone ballistic, trying to suppress the leaks and to nail Julian Assange's hide.

 

After pressure was brought to bear by the USG, Amazon.com kicked Wikileaks off its servers for unspecified violations of Terms of Service. Paypal, Visa and Mastercard have stopped processing Wikileaks transactions. In retaliation, hackers have hit those sites, leading to fascinating battles in cyberspace. In effect, the USG has discovered that it can't shut down information flow though it could quite conceivably drive Wikileaks into extinction.

 

A comparison with the Pentagon Papers affair shows how attitudes have hardened over 40 years. In 1971, The New York Times started publishing extracts from a stolen US Department of Defence Study on US-Vietnam relations, (the Pentagon Papers). The Washington Post and several other newspapers also got into the act.

 

The papers showed that the USG had lied and suppressed information. The USG made a legal attempt to block publication. When that failed, it let go. There was no witch-hunt targeting the media institutions concerned.

 

In contrast, one mainstream US newspaper published a recent editorial calling for Assange's assassination. His bail in the UK will reportedly have to be posted in cash due to the reluctance of credit card issuers to provide service.

 

The fact that he is in custody at all has nothing to do with Wikileaks, at least officially. The charges are about sexual misconduct and that's a different can of worms. In August, Assange slept with two Swedish women in quick succession while staying with them.

 

Some of the sex was consensual, some apparently wasn't. On one occasion with woman A, he refused to use a condom despite her protestations. With woman B, who was asleep at the time, he initiated "un-comdomised" proceedings if one may borrow from the lexicon of US diplomatese. It is, of course, their word against his.

 

In many jurisdictions, this would be considered bad behaviour even if true, but not criminal. However, Sweden has extremely nuanced laws of sexual harassment. It recognises withdrawal of consent during a sexual act where consent has been previously given.

 

Assange, therefore, faces four criminal charges of varying seriousness. There was much back and forth in the Swedish legal system with one prosecutor deciding this wasn't worth bringing to trial, while two others thinking it was.

 

Given the timing and the zeal with which the case has been pursued, one can't help thinking that this is just very convenient. Assange would probably have been arrested without bail if he had just shot a traffic light.

 

Regardless of what the Swedish courts decide, the case has turned into a geopolitical cause celebre and conspiracy theorists will have a field day. It's a pity because the implications of that Swedish law are interesting in themselves. One good thing about the affair is that both the theory of free speech and the nuances of sexual misconduct will get a public airing.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A JOURNEY INTO RUSSIAN HISTORY

V V

 

Whatever the circumstances, Russians have never lost their deep love for literature. In fact, the worst of times, the best of books as its great 19th century literature stands testimony to: Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov and a galaxy of several others. And the same tradition continued after the Revolution under the excesses of collectivisation and the Great purges of the 30s with writers like Gorky, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Babel, Marina Tsvetava and Boris Pasternak, whose persecutions were both "brutal and exquisite".

 

In Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History (Faber, Special Indian Price Rs 1,132), which is history-cum-travelogue, Rachel Polonsky, a Cambridge academician, asks whether "there is a set of secret maps to be found among a person's books, a way through the fortifications of the self" that would explain why a person's deep love and apparent appreciation of literature (and culture in the larger sense) can be responsible for the execution of so many writers during the purges. Is this because, as the Russian scholar Dmitri Likhachev said, "the Russian people perish from an excess of space" that makes its literature "the most significant, the most tragic, the most philosophical"? These are the underlying questions, often asked about the relationship between suffering and literature, that Polonsky pursues in her book as she travels around the former Soviet empire to revisit the ghosts of great Russian writers of the past.

 

 But first the book and its main character Vyacheslav Molotov, a commissar and foreign minister who signed the Nazi-Soviet pact on the eve of the Second World War. But Molotov here is Stalin's henchman who "personally approved 373 documented executions containing the names of 43,500 people during the Terror of 1937 which made him the most lethal of all Soviet officials. Even Stalin did not personally condemn that many human beings". Like many of the Soviet elite who had fallen from grace — he was packed off as ambassador to Mongolia for a while — he lived his last years in a block of apartments near the Kremlin. Decades later, Polonsky and her husband find themselves in the same block of flats.

 

"You're the scholar, and you'll know what to make of it all," said the American banker who had bought the apartment from Molotov's daughter to Polonsky as he handed over the keys to her. The flat was stacked with works of writers, along with a magic lantern that provides the title to this book. Some were first editions, signed and dedicated to him but all the great works of literature were there along with classics of western literature — Dante, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, the Bible and others.

 

That Molotov was a voracious reader was evident because the books were underlined with comments on the margins, especially Churchill's History of the Second World War which had been translated for the Party elite. Molotov had underlined a passage from Churchill's History where he has been described as "fitted to be the agent and instrument of the policy of an incalculable machine… I have never seen a human being so much like a robot". Polonsky identifies the most acute ironies of all — that of the "nightingale poets", as Polonsky describes them, who were executed or sent into exile as "enemies of the people" but whose songs the Party could not silence. To which she adds her comments: "History is sly and shapes strange reciprocities."

 

Just as Polonsky describes Moscow with the Kremlin "like the round centre of a compass with road leading out from it to the north, east, south and west", she uses the Moscow apartment as the centre for a journey into Russia's literary and political history. After all, she says, "a look back at the past is a magic lantern show".

 

So, she goes to Staraya Russa where Dostoevsky was placed under police surveillance as he wrote the final instalments of Demons; to Taganrod, the home town of Chekhov, Molotov's favourite and indeed of a great many contemporary writers; to Vologda, where Molotov was exiled in 1910; to Murmansk and Irkutsk on the Siberian steppes which Stalin had described as places "to which all human scum and rubbish should be sent".

 

But no matter where Polonsky travels to, she always comes back to base, that is, to Molotov, his Jewish wife who was herself tortured and sent into exile because, as Stalin said about his aunts, "they knew too much and talked too much". But Molotov couldn't do much to help her which says a lot about a system that provided no room for manoeuvre even for the privileged elite. Some critics would say that this was Stalin's concept of justice; others that it was ruthlessness that gave no second chance even for miscarriage of justice.

 

Polonsky is preoccupied not just with the past; she comes down to 21st century Russia-Putin, the culture of luxury, corruption and the sweeping away of "old" Russia through endless renovations that often make for needless waste. After all, Polonsky writes, "history does not move forward... It moves not in a line, or a circle, but in an arabesque, which is not always a line of beauty". Because of the crooked timber of humanity, she might have added.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GARBAGE DUMP

IN THE AGE OF RECYCLING, RAGPICKERS PERFORM A SOCIALLY HIGHLY USEFUL FUNCTION. BUT THE MIDDLE CLASS SIMPLY WANTS THEM BANISHED

SUBIR ROY

 

Russel Street, off Park Street, is among the poshest addresses anyone in Kolkata can think of. Queen's Mansion adorns one corner, the venerable Bengal Club resides opposite and a little down the road rests the old world elegant offices of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, or used to.

 

Today the edifice is a shabby shadow of its formal self and, as if to add insult to injury, there springs up on the road before it through late night and early morning a massive garbage dump that takes up a third or more of the wide road. By about 10 o'clock most days, the garbage is gone and the road is washed. Then cars jostle there for scarce parking space, but the stain shows and the stink faintly lingers.

 

 Then as evening turns into late night, people from around the area come and deposit garbage there and in the morning, it is again officially a garbage vat where Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) sweepers come in a steady stream with carts full of garbage of every conceivable kind.

 

Close on their footsteps follow the ragpickers who busily get down to sorting the trash and recovering whatever is recyclable. Between seven and nine or so, usually two full truckloads of garbage gets carried off and another day in the life of a beleaguered city with creaking municipal services is underway.

 

It's not as if nothing has changed. If you look around, on the opposite side of the road, next to the rear entrance of ITC's landmark head office, on a portion of the pavement stands the archaeological remains of what used to be the original garbage vat. It is marked by low side walls as vats usually are. These are now blackened with age but through most of the day there is no garbage to enclose.

 

It seems in the mid-2000s the ITC people were able to get the KMC to remove the festering sore, but all that they succeeded in doing was to shift the vat to the other side of the road, on the road itself, where ragpickers get more space to do their sorting more thoroughly. Today, through the night, many bring and dump garbage in the new vat as well as old, out of habit.

 

But the old vat is cleared and the space washed very early, and by daybreak, long before the ITC people come to work, the vat that was gone for another day comes back again in the darkness of the night. The bottom line is that in place of one vat earlier there are now two, one official and one unofficial, one in daytime and one nocturnal.

 

If you want the statistics, about 20-25 tonnes of garbage gets taken away daily by three trucks, two for the new vat and one for the old, owned either by the KMC or private contractors, manned by either KMC employees or those of the contractors. The city has 602 such vats from which around 5,000 tonnes of garbage is removed daily. Those unfortunate enough to live near a vat with its stink and health risk cry their head out trying to get the vat to go somewhere else.

 

When teachers at the reputed Lady Brabourne College heard that my friends and I were trying to clean up a corner of the city, they pleaded with us to do something about the vat behind the college whose stink had vitiated their lives for long. Being teachers, their own efforts did not even have the partial success that the ITC folks had. All we could do was study the product life cycle of the daily vat so that one day, if someone in authority wanted to rid the city of these atrocities, she would have some factual contours to go by.

 

It is not as if the city was always like this. I remember seeing garbage vats dot the city from my schooldays. But change came in the early 90s through the efforts of a dynamic municipal commissioner, Asim Barman, who transformed the conservancy department and changed the face of the city, ridding it of the filth on its streets. Then Subrata Mukherjee, on becoming mayor, took a step forward and till 2005, garbage collection and vat clearance took place every day promptly, and some who still tried to dump garbage on the road actually got booked.

 

But after Mukherjee, under the Left Front's stewardship of the KMC, things slid back. Today there is a bit of change again, with the KMC passing into the hands of the Trinamool Congress. Garbage clearance has improved a little, vats are getting cleared a bit faster and earlier in the day.

 

But nobody is claiming that the problem is anywhere near solution. An unresolved big issue is ragpickers. In the age of recycling, they perform a socially highly useful function, but the middle class simply wants them banished, never mind how they will eke out an existence. Those Kolkata's vats that linger and get spread out have little armies of ragpickers working diligently on them, doing a thorough recycling job.

 

For vats to go away and recycling to move forward what you need is sorting of garbage at the origin (at homes and business establishments), its quick transportation to the dumping ground, another round of sorting there by ragpickers, taking away of the recyclables (metals, plastic, glass), treatment of bio-degradables and finally burial of the residue.

 

subirkroy@gmail.com 

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WHAT MALEGAM CANNOT DO

PUTTING RULES IN PLACE IS ONE THING, MANDATING PATIENT GOVERNANCE IS QUITE ANOTHER

M S SRIRAM

 

There are several recommendations (including mine) floating around for the Malegam committee on how to fix microfinance. However, when we reflect on the current crisis, we find that no recommendation or regulation could have prevented the current mess. There is no way in which one can mandate a business to operate in a certain manner. One can lay the rules and framework, but cannot mandate patience, compassion, integrity and satisfaction in a business.

 

If microfinance has to succeed, it has to be a patient business. Any business with a long-term view has to engage with clients; the well-being of a business lies in the well-being of its clients. The better off they are, the more do they do business, provide more profits and increase the business' ability to reach out to newer clients. If organisations have a short horizon, they engage in rip-offs and quickly close shop. No business can be sustainable with clients being driven to bankruptcy or suicides. Many microfinance players have to figure out whether they want to be there, not only the next quarter, but for the next century — assuming that even as most of their clients have been drawn out of poverty, there will be a new benchmark of poverty.

 

 Two inter-related and important things that the committee cannot deal with in concrete terms are:

 

The quality and the orientation of the investments that are coming into the sector.

 

 

 

The resultant quality of governance that it brings in.

 

The shorter the horizons the investors come with, the quicker will be the rip-off. In a business that deals with the poor, it should be anathema to talk about quick "exits". But how does a committee mandate that in a market where capital flows freely? If we look at the general pattern, we find that the players converted a business of financing the poor who would bootstrap themselves out of poverty into a touch-and-go business. The question then is, do we need a different breed of investors for the microfinance business? This puts the curbs we have on investments in certain sensitive sectors (like insurance and retail and possibly microfinance) in perspective.

 

If we are dealing with the lives of the poor, given the fragile nature of their livelihoods, they should be insulated from the volatile expectations of the markets. Fungible capital in the global arena always finds an opportunity for arbitrage. Investments will freely move from one sector to another and from one geography to another. It is easy to argue that the more international the investors, the more mobile would they like to make their capital. However, in hindsight we find that the nationality of the capital is less important than the engagement horizons and return expectations.

 

Governance is closely linked with the type of investors and the performance parameters they establish. What do the investors mean by growth? When BASIX set up shop as the first mainstream commercial microfinance institution (MFI) way back in 1996, it received patient capital in the form of long-duration, rupee-denominated soft loans from developmental agencies like the Ford Foundation and Swiss Development Cooperation. Questions about profitability were invariably asked every quarter, but so were questions about the average client loan size figures, number of women clients and number of livelihoods affected. One instance is noteworthy. BASIX lent significant amounts to seed production organisers, because the activity was labour-intensive and a typical loan to such a party had a great livelihood multiplier. However, BASIX soon realised that this portfolio came with a caveat: the organisers employed girl children for a major part of their work. Would a typical investor have the patience to engage with this issue that represents, say, 5 per cent of the portfolio? Would the governance structure raise this? If not, does it have the potential to become a large ethical problem for the business?

 

When we look at the pace and valuations at which investments came in for microfinance, we realise the impossibility of what Malegam has to deal with. SKS placed shares at Rs 10 in 2006. The first issue of shares at a premium was in March 2007 at Rs 49.77. The public issue three years later was at Rs 985. There were issues at different prices in the interim. If investors were raising the value of entry every time, and with such a high magnitude, the expectation of returns would also be as significant. The rapid appreciation of the entry premium makes it quite obvious that there would be tremendous pressure on quarterly profitability to ensure that the market capitalisation does not fall. Would, then, such a structure have the patience and the courage to withdraw from an area where other (so-called rogue) MFIs are bombarding clients with more loans to newer areas? Or to deepen the relation with the client to ensure that they were the sole lender?

 

If the answer was no, then there was a failure written on the wall. The Andhra Pradesh ordinance (and now the Bill) was a blessing in disguise because it gave an escape clause and punching bag for what would have eventually happened. Not seeing the writing on the wall amounts to governance failure. How can this be mandated? Surely, the Malegam Committee can define "independence" of the board members, and define "conflict of interest". There is no way a committee can mandate that these board members will exercise independence and safeguard client interests. Governance is not about just following the rule of the land, it goes much beyond this. Let us consider this: If a whole-time director wants to take an interest-free loan to exercise his stock options, assuming that there is nothing in the law that prevents it, what should be the board's stand? There is no specific mandate that says the governance structure should, in fact, look at the obvious conflict of interest. The committee can fix this by building a mandate around this instance and this example. But a new dilemma would crop up tomorrow. The independence of the governance can only be demonstrated and not mandated. The regulation can, at best, prevent certain people joining the board on clear objectively verifiable indicators, nothing beyond.

 

Did BASIX escape this pressure for a long period because its initial investors were development-oriented funds like the Ford Foundation and the Swiss Development Cooperation, and, therefore, grew patiently applying the livelihoods triad than the touch-and-go model? If that is the difference, how can the committee mandate who the investor should be, and what horizons the investor should have and what governance structure the investment might throw up?

 

A while ago, the world hailed employee stock options as an innovative mechanism to buy in long-term employee commitment to the organisation. We have seen that once the stocks are vested, the employee horizon shrinks to a quarter. So no mandating through recommendations and regulation can change the need and greed of people. The task of the Malegam Committee is really impossible.

 

The writer is former professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

AND THE AWARD GOES TO...

RAMA BIJAPURKAR

 

We certainly have been a chaotic, noisy democracy this last year, with lots of societal churning. As mythology tells us, any churning done jointly by the good guys and the bad guys, yields both poison and nectar, and so we have had good, bad, ugly and funny incidents. This year's award for constructive disruption goes to the insurance regulator, who issued a fiat that insurance companies must diversify into insurance. It was a "shock and awe" regulation, as a foreign analyst dubbed it, but it ensured that the insurance industry applied its mind to moving beyond the comfortable value space of wealth management and mutual fund-like offerings with a garnish of insurance sprinkled on top. Of course, parts of India Inc shook their heads disapprovingly, as business models fell apart, at the "value destructive" behaviour of the regulator. The "who pulled the trigger" root cause award for this goes to the mutual fund regulator, who had the courage to stand up and declare that the insurance emperor had no clothes of his own, and was shining in borrowed feathers, which were not being subject to the same rules as other wearers of such feathers. "Turf war", screamed the newspapers; turf war, sighed India Inc, and the real issues were temporarily eclipsed. The insurance regulator also gets the "bizarre advertisements" award for a series of funny advertisements it ran — if you weren't an insurance company. It showed customers being pushed out of airplanes by a "villain" insurance company's representatives who, after the "hero" regulator intervenes, sit at the feet of the customers and offer them cold drinks inside the aircraft. The mutual fund regulator gets the "lack of customer understanding" award for sticking to its guns that customers must henceforth negotiate directly with agents. The fact is that small, unsophisticated buyers get the worst rates and big, sophisticated buyers the best — many of us have no idea what rate to ask for, and the regulator didn't publish any guidelines. The banking regulator doesn't get the "facilitate by charm and reasonableness" award of the year but gets the "no nonsense, just get it done" award for making everyone toe the line and come together to think seriously about financial inclusion, base rates and teasing customers.

 

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) story has taught us a lot about how we collectively manage during a crisis. Lower expectations, surrender the outcome to chance, and then do your damnedest — the saat pheras of the Indian wedding will happen, and the bad parts will be blanked out of the photo album of national memory. The worry about permanent impairment of the Indian "can do" jugaadu spirit, if the Games were an organisational disaster, was misplaced, since our powers of rationalisation revealed themselves. The last word on this goes to the Delhiite who said, "Forget the Games yaar, just think of it as the means that gave the city a huge makeover." Now we Mumbaikars also want our own CWG, scams or no scams. The telecom scam has also deprived Mumbaikars of our favourite line to dismiss Delhi — a city where all connections work except phone connections.

 

 The telecom tapes saga wins the award for the most gripping, intellectually demanding reality show of the year, and has spawned a new parlour game called "who is the bad guy and why". It is like a law college entrance-exam question: A contracted B to deliver some goods for him. B contracted a horse-drawn carriage to deliver them. The carriage driver stopped on the way to have tea and some urchins threw stones at the horse which, then, bolted and knocked down a policeman. Who is at fault? A, B, driver, urchins or the horse? Radia, Raja, the person who ordered the tapping, the one who leaked the tapes, prime minister, journalists, media channels or the opposition, which stalled proceedings in Parliament? The answer depends on which window you are looking through. The common man says the truth is out thanks to our heroic media. Professional lobbyists say lack of lobbying regulation is the fault — so here's to one more regulator. India Inc has turned Sherlock Holmes, and is constructing "elementary, my dear Watson" theories on the "who", "why" and "how" of the leaks. There is little doubt that Ms Radia will be a sought-after corporate lobbyist once her troubles are behind her, because she is being admired for how she managed to do business with all sides of warring corporate groups, and how she managed to penetrate all parts of the ecosystem so thoroughly. What happens to 2G is off everyone's radar at the moment; as is the fact that two of the ministries that are so critical to India and have so much work to be done at this moment – telecom and human resources development – have the same minister working part-time.

 

It is entirely likely that in early 2011 we will be celebrating a wonderful GDP growth number and the stains on the fabric of governance will fade away — unless, of course, the Sensex falls owing to governance issues. Maybe our new year prayer should be: "Lord, help us to truly believe that a surplus of economic performance does not make up for a deficit in good governance."

The writer is an independent market strategy consultant

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GO HERO, GO!

THERE IS LIFE AFTER DIVORCE

 

OF ALL the bike joint ventures that brought new technology to India in the eighties, Hero Honda was the one to become the world's largest bike maker and command a 60% market share in India. It is nobody's claim that Honda provided technology superior to what Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki did to their joint venture partners. Clearly, it was the Hero group's skills in managing and marketing that made the company what it is. These skills are unlikely to evaporate on Honda's departure. On the contrary, the Munjals' Heroic acumen is likely to be applied to the one area which had been completely outsourced to Honda: technology. Clearly, for the Munjals, life is not doomed once they sever ties with Honda. The Hero Group, that will buy out Honda's entire 26% stake in the company, can produce and sell the existing range of motorcycles and also use the Honda brand name on new models till 2014. The Munjals can partner with other companies to source technology and develop new models. In the near term, the company could explore buying commoditised technology from boutique firms that have mushroomed in countries such as Taiwan. Design, too, can be outsourced. For the Munjals, who will have to compete with Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI), apart from other domestic rivals, the long-term goal should be to invest in building a strong in-house R&D. The world's top automakers including Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW have strong in house R&D capabilities. Home-grown companies — TVS, that snapped ties with Suzuki, or Bajaj, that parted ways with Kawasaki — have built in house R&D over time. There is every reason to believe that Honda will create the R&D support it needs to remain competitive and to take its products abroad much more aggressively. 

 

The company did itself a disservice by creating a secret out of the price at which the Hero group is buying out Honda's stake in Hero Honda. Regulation requires them to disclose the information. It would have shown more respect for shareholders, had they proactively agreed to disclose the price at the right time, instead of coming out with a clarification to say the same thing.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LEARNING FROM BIHAR

SCRAP THE MPLAD SCHEME

 

THE decision of the Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar to scrap funding allocation for the Local Area Development (LAD) scheme for MLAs and MLCs is a welcome move towards ending the corruption the LAD idea has generated. Not only should other states emulate Bihar on this, but the central government should also go ahead and do away with the MPLADS, the same scheme meant for MPs. The LAD idea, introduced during former prime minister Narasimha Rao's regime, would, on paper, seem to have some positives. The intention being to allow local representatives, supposedly with a direct link to the people and their needs, the power to recommend a certain amount of money annually — . 2 crore in the case of MPs — to be spent on developmental works. What it has turned out to be in practice is a source of systemic corruption and an aid to the wider problem of patronage politics. That apart, it directly contravenes the supposed primary role of legislators — which is to frame laws, not play the role of the executive. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) had, in fact, recommended the abolition of the MLALAD and MPLAD on much the same ground, stating that the scheme 'seriously erodes' the separation of powers since the legislator becomes the executive. The audit reports of 1998 and 2001 also highlighted several instances of mismanagement and misuse of funds, ranging from improper accounting to even funds being spent on religious sites — which is prohibited under the scheme apart from being unconstitutional. Even the National Advisory Council in 2005, with Sonia Gandhi as chairperson, had recommended the scrapping of the scheme. Despite such adverse criticism, the LAD idea continues — unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that it is the politicians themselves who would be loath to discontinuing such a ready and assured means of dispensing patronage, which also allows pocketing some funds on the side as well. 

 

The LAD scheme also betrays a skewed sense of the idea of development as well. Here, by definition, development, if any, is arbitrary and not part of a cohesively envisaged plan. Critics called the LAD idea an ill conceived one from the day of its inception. It has certainly done our political system more harm than good. It's time to scrap it.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THINKING THIN

FAT LOT OF GOOD THAT IS!


CAN one desire too much of a good thing?" Shakespeare asked four centuries ago in As You Like It. Yes we can, as the ultra-slim Barack Obama has often quoth in another context — and it can be beneficial too, we may add. Gone are the days when fantasising about food was considered sinful, as it stimulated a depraved craving for it. Now it seems suppression of such thoughts was more fattening than letting the mind gorge on fanciful feasts. If research showing that repetitive thinking about some food leads to a lower actual consumption of the said item proves to be true, then shedding fat is about to get a whole lot more enjoyable. Greed is good, as Gordon Gecko once said — also in another context, of course — and now some are saying that it is slimming too. Tests that involved volunteers imagining they are eating candies or cheese cubes for long periods of time have shown that they had a markedly reduced desire for those items when told later to help themselves to as much as they want. However, imagining that they were wolfing down candies did not cut down their appetite for cheese cubes or vice versa. That, obviously, could prove tricky if a think-thin mantra is to be marketed to a wider public. Just imagine the amount of imagining they would have to do to turn themselves off the gamut of greasy goodies that come to mind when the stomach is empty…. 

 

Clearly, the broad principle that habituation reduces motivation — or that familiarity breeds contempt — has its limitations. Can thinking incessantly about bribery reduce the desire to bribe and be bribed, for instance? Nothing bears that out so far. So thinking oneself thin, without a concomitant moral belt-tightening, has a fat chance of success, whatever research says!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FOR A GLOBAL RESPONSE TO THE RISK

EMERGING MARKET GROWTH HAS SIGNIFICANT DISTRIBUTIONAL IMPACT INCLUDING ON THE DEVELOPED WORLD AND WITHOUT BENIGN POLICY COORDINATION BY THE G20, WE COULD FACE UNILATERAL ACTION AND DISRUPTION OF THE GLOBAL FRAMEWORK, SAYS MICHAEL SPENCE

IT IS time for the G20 to take seriously its mandate to agree on steps to stabilise the global economy and launch it on a more sustainable pattern of growth. Instead, the G20 is behaving like a debating society, with the cooperative approach that it fostered at the outset of the crisis devolving into an array of often-heedless unilateral actions by its members. 

 

Yet there are several significant risks to global economic stability and prosperity that must be addressed urgently. Ireland has thrown Europe into its second sovereign-debt crisis this year, and capital markets have become schizophrenic, with investment rushing back and forth across the Atlantic in response to contagion risk in Europe and quantitative easing in the United States. 

 

Meanwhile, capital is flooding into the higher-interest-rate emerging markets, causing inflationary pressures, driving up asset prices, and subjecting currencies to competitiveness — threatening appreciation — in short, distortions and policy headaches that require unconventional, defensive responses. 

 

Growth and employment forecasts in the advanced countries have been reduced — a delayed recognition of the reality of an extended and difficult recovery and a new post-crisis 'normal'. With lower and more realistic growth forecasts, fiscal deficits in the short-to-medium term are viewed as more dangerous. 

 

In the US, a subset of policymakers believes that weakening growth and high unemployment require a policy response. With a cyclical mindset and fiscal space exhausted, a new round of quantitative easing (QE2) might be defended as a strategy for mitigating the tail risk of another downturn in asset markets (mainly housing) and households' balance sheets — and with it the possibility of a deflationary dynamic. 

 

Worryingly, QE2 appears to be viewed in the US as a growth strategy, which it isn't, unless one believes that low interest rates will reverse the private-sector deleveraging process, raise consumption, and lower savings — neither a likely nor a desirable scenario. It also assumes that addressing structural constraints on competitiveness can be deferred — perhaps permanently. 

 

The view from outside the US is that QE2 is either a mistake with negative external effects, or a policy with the clear but unannounced intention of devaluing the dollar — a move whose main negative competitive and growth effects would most likely be felt in Europe, not in China, India, and Brazil. Unilateral action in this and other dimensions has undercut the G20's mission of identifying and implementing mutually beneficial policies in a coordinated way. A minimal requirement for G20 progress is that policies in emerging and advanced countries that have significant external effects are discussed and, if possible, agreed upon in advance. 

 

Apart from the need to deleverage for a few more years, the US economy faces longer-term problems with aggregate demand, employment, and income distribution that cannot be solved through consumption and investment alone. America needs to expand its share in external global demand, which requires public-sector investment, structural change, and improved competitiveness in the tradable sector. 

 

Meanwhile,Europe struggles to find a solution to its deficit and debt problems by treating them with short-term liquidity fixes whose purpose is to buy time for fiscal consolidation and, in the absence of the exchange-rate mechanism, some kind of deflationary process to restore external competitiveness. Success is by no means assured, and the most likely outcome is a sequence of contagion events and a broader loss of confidence in the euro. The core issue is burden-sharing across bondholders, citizens of the deficit countries, the EU, and, indeed, the rest of the world (via the IMF). 

 

SHE emerging-market economies are at risk as a result. They can sustain relatively high growth rates in the face of weak and lengthy recoveries in the advanced countries, but not if there is a major downturn in North America or Europe (or both), a serious outbreak of protectionism, or instability in global financial markets. 

 

The major emerging economies also have growing systemic effects on growth and employment across a broad range of countries, including the advanced ones. They must understand this. The old asymmetries are fading away, and there are new distributional challenges at the core of global economy-policy coordination. 

 

For most of the post-war period, advanced countries grew by expanding the knowledge and technology base of their economies. In a rapidly opening global economy, emerging economies learned to access both technology and markets, thereby growing at unprecedented and accelerating rates. 

 

As global economic activity shifted and the structure of all economies evolved with it, the distributional effects were overwhelmingly benign. But that was not inevitable. It came out that way because, for most of the period, the advanced countries benefited from marketdriven innovation, while the emerging economies imported knowledge, exported goods and services, and had limited systemic impact on advanced economies. 

 

That pattern is changing. Emerging economies' scale is growing, and their positioning on the global value chain is shifting rapidly. Surveys of attitudes toward the evolving global economic system show a widening divergence among countries as well as subgroups within countries. These almost certainly reflect divergences in terms of that system's distributional impacts. Guiding global interdependence in a way that ameliorates negative distributional trends is possible, but it will require wisdom and insight. 

 

That challenge must be at the core of the G20's mission. To put it differently, recognising our collective interest in the openness of the global economy is not sufficient. We need a pragmatic willingness to adapt incentives and outcomes to achieve distributional results that allow the major players, with their domestic political constraints, to keep the system open. The alternative will be unilateral measures aimed at achieving the same goals, but leading to outcomes that leave everyone worse off. 

(The author is professor of economics,     Stern School of Business, New York     University, and senior fellow, the Hoover     Institution, Stanford University) 

 

© Project Syndicate, 2010

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET I N T E R A CT I V E RAJAT TANDON

'GPS HAS A MARKET IN INDIA'

SANJEEVSINHA 

 

THE worldwide market for global positioning system (GPS) navigation and locationbased services has been growing exponentially and is expected to rise to $13.4 billion in 2014, with a high compound annual growth rate. Although still at a nascent stage in India, the GPS navigation market holds tremendous potential for growth, driven by its increasing acceptance among the younger generation as well as the exponential growth in popularity of smartphones. However, unlike developed countries where navigation was established by portable navigation devices (PNDs), followed by vehicles and then smartphones, India is witnessing a reverse trend, says Rajat Tandon, director (India sales) of the Chicago-headquartered NAVTEQ, world's leading digital map and location content provider. 

 

In India, consumers' first experience with navigation is likely to be on a smartphone. Several leading mobile handset manufacturers have incorporated navigation within their smartphones, including Nokia, Garmin-Asus and Sony Ericsson. Smartphone players are creating the initial push and this has led to an acceleration of the plans by car manufacturers to launch navigation systems in cars. In a recent development, for instance, Tata Motors has selected NAVTEQ to power India's first inbuilt navigation system in one of its cars — a move that may boost the growth of navigation systems in India. 

 

However, with this development, does he foresee a trend setting in with the car manufacturers? "Absolutely. Other car manufacturers are closely following the pursuit and we expect more announcements soon. In fact, we are seeing a significant growth of interest from Indian car manufacturers on offering navigation as a part of the vehicle. Navigation helps increase their car value and differentiate their product offerings. The other trend seen is an increasing interest in offering personal navigation devices as an aftermarket solution," says Mr Tandon. 

 

 But what about the products available in India? Are they at par with the latest products available in developed markets? "We would say that it is less about being at par with developed markets and more about what is really required in India, given the navigation preferences of Indian travellers. Every year, NAVTEQ invests in research to gain insights into the way locals navigate. This enables the company build a strategic road map based on understanding market requirements," says Mr Tandon. 

 

In fact, it has been just three years since NAVTEQ first entered the Indian market. Even during this short period, however, NAVTEQ cliams to have the most extensive network of digital map operations in India. Its India production centre is the largest worldwide while its R&D centre is focused on creating innovative map content that brings maps to life, simplifying the most complex driving situations. Today, NAVTEQ claims to provide solutions to over 90% of the wireless market in India and has developed strong customer relationships with leading automotive brands such as Volkswagen, Volvo and Tata Motors. 

 

 NAVTEQ's journey in the Indian market, thus, seems quite smooth. However, "due to the vast changes in India's infrastructure and road networks, one of the key challenges we face is keeping our map data updated. And the key to updating rapidly-developing areas is the local knowledge and field data collection by our team of geographic analysts. Since the road network and content are constantly changing, local presence is critical to change detection and verification — two vital factors in maintaining NAVTEQ's stringent quality standards," says Mr Tandon. 

 

Notwithstanding these challenges, NAVTEQ does appear to be quite bullish on the India story as well as the potential this market holds for it in particular and the navigation industry in general. "The rising disposable incomes are likely to lead a larger number of consumers pursue higher-end smartphones and demand for feature-laden cars. Besides, with the launch of 3G services, mobile operators are expected to launch their own suite of location-based services," says Mr Tandon. 

 

 NAVTEQ has global relationships with leading automotive and wireless originalequipment manufacturers and is able to leverage these ties to drive its relationships with customers in India. "With a country-widepresence and working with partners to deliver navigation applications for mobile and automotive segments, we are well placed to tap this exponential growth in India."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

REVAMPING FOODGRAIN POLICY

C S C SEKHAR 


THE issue of foodgrain management policy has assumed renewed importance with several reports in the media of large-scale wastage and diversion from the public distribution system (PDS). In a cogently-argued paper recently, Prof Kaushik Basu, a well-known economist and the chief economic adviser in the ministry of finance, has argued for foodgrain to be released in lots of much smaller size into the market, than is presently done by the FCI, to contain prices. He showed that this would not only bring down the prices faster but would also reduce the problem of grain resiphoning into government stocks by few profit-maximising (read unscrupulous) traders. He has mainly focused on the open market sales scheme (OMSS) of the food ministry. 

 

To devise an effective food management policy, a more comprehensive approach is needed in addition to the food release mechanism outlined above. Any stock has two channels — inflow and outflow. In the food economy these can be understood as procurement and release respectively. When the outflow is clogged or shows a lower rate than the inflow, then stocks accumulate. Consequently, these accumulated stocks (with the government) put an upward pressure on the market prices as the supply in the market place goes down. Notwithstanding the importance of using the stocks to stabilise prices, there is a need to focus on alternate ways of regulating the inflow. We need to rethink about the most important policy instrument — the price policy. 

 

Up to the early 1990s India had a dual pricing system — MSP and procurement prices. MSP is a floor price mainly intended to be a signalling device to the farmer and is announced before the sowing season. This is a cost-plus pricing strategy mainly based on the cost of production among other factors. On the other hand, the procurement price is mainly for acquiring grain for building up the stocks — buffer and operational stocks for PDS and other welfare programmes. Procurement price is announced before the harvest season and is not related to production costs but to factors such as prevailing prices, existing government stocks among others. 

 

In the early 1990s, the procurement price was abolished and presently MSP serves as the de facto procurement price. This led to a continually increasing MSP because of the rising costs of production. Since MSP is also the procurement price, this led to an increase in government procurement, which is resulting in episodes of large stocks as in 2002 and presently. Since the MSP is also linked to the issue price of the PDS, MSP has implications for the offtake from the PDS. A reintroduction of procurement price, therefore, needs to be given fresh consideration as a policy option. In fact, the PM's Economic Advisory Council had recommended this in 2008 (ET, Sept 8, 2008). 

 

 The other policy option, perhaps a little difficult to implement at this stage, is the system of deficiency payments. In this system, a MSP is announced in the usual way. After the build-up of the desired stock level, the difference between the MSP and the market price is paid directly to the farmer as a deficiency payment whenever the market price falls below MSP. This has the advantage of precluding the need for stocking on government account without adversely affecting the farmer's incentive structure. Also, this eliminates the grain resiphoning . 

 

Another advantage is that through this system, price support can be extended to all the remaining commodities (other than rice and wheat), for which MSP is announced but little or no procurement takes place. There are about 22 such commodities at present. This can also help the states where FCI is not active in procurement. The deficiency payments system, which has worked well in many countries including the US for a long time, deserves a closer look. Perhaps, to start with it can be launched on a small scale in some states where procurement is not presently carried out. 

In addition to reforms of the price policy, efforts should be focused on improving the storage and warehousing facilities. As regards food release mechanism, Prof Basu's suggestion of releasing food to large number of traders in small lots is essential but care should be taken to avoid collusion among traders. Another reform needed immediately is of PDS. Beneficiary selection, diversion of foodgrain and inferior quality of foodgrain are some of the major problems with PDS. 

 

Perhaps, food stamp programme may need a look-in here. Studies have shown that foodgrain diversion and adulteration are linked to the gap between the market price and the PDS issue price. Since the issue price is, in turn, linked to the MSP, it is clear that the inflow, outflow, stock build-up and diversion from PDS are all interlinked. It is time for taking a comprehensive view of the price policy, procurement policy, storage and release mechanism, and PDS, rather than treating agriculture and food as separate components of the economy. 

 

(The author is associate professor, Institute of     Economic Growth, University of Delhi)

 

Notwithstanding the importance of using the stocks to stabilise prices, we need to rethink the price policy as such 


Reintroduction of the procurement price distinct from MSP needs to be given fresh consideration as a policy option 


The deficiency payments system, which has worked well in many countries, deserves a closer look

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING

VITHAL C NADKARNI 

 

CHRISTMAS is close at hand. So are its symbols, wreaths and trees which are replete with tinsel, baubles and ersatz snow. But can our friendly neighbourhood emblem of peace and amity on earth stand up to the 43-foottall rival that has reportedly been put up by a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi? The tree, which cost $11 million, is said to be festooned with as many as 181 pieces of jewellery. That includes lots of pearls and precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies. 

 

Of course, all that glitter and gold has also turned the tree into a massive piece of thief-bait'. Which means one cannot simply leave it unattended on one's front porch as one of your columnist's Christian neighbours have done with their tree. (They were not at home when he went over: they were out in the community, reportedly distributing scrumptious goodies from a large and colourful bag. They do this year after year, with unfailing courtesy and good cheer.) 

 

Thoughts of Christmas and thief-bait trees remind us of the story of the giving tree by the celebrated cartoonist-poet Shel Silverstein: The fable talks about a relationship between a young boy and a forest tree. The tree always gives the boy whatever he wants unflinchingly: branches on which to swing, shade in which to sit, apples to eat, wood with which to build a home. 

 

But his demands keep increasing as he grows older. Since the tree loves the boy very much, in a supreme act of self-sacrifice, the tree finally lets the boy cut her down so that he can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump. 

 

Many years later, when the boy returns as an old man, the tree says she has nothing left to give. The boy replies that he does not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest. The tree then says, "Well, an old tree stump is a good place for sitting and resting. Come boy, sit down and rest." The boy obeys and the tree is happy. The tree in Silverstein's fable symbolises selfless giving, which is also celebrated during Christmas. 

 

A Sanskrit epigram praises the same spirit which stands for poise with which the tree 'rewards' he who wields the axe on her as impartially as he who merely lolls about in her shade. 

 

Then there is the 'taking tree', which seems like an antithesis of the giving one. The sponsors want to get it into the Guinness Book. It 'takes' a lot of wealth, is yours to admire but not to touch. Which one would you prefer?

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HAS PUSHKAR FETE MADE CHIRU SICK?

 

Chiranjeevi's absence for two of the six days of the Assembly session was the subject of much speculation. When he did put in an appearance, he was seen blowing his nose and coughing, which prompted solicitous enquiries about his health. It seems he had been to the Pranahita Pushkaralu in Adilabad district - his first visit to the Telangana region since the agitation was re-ignited by KCR's fast, and Chiranjeevi had himself changed his Jai Telangana stand to a Jai United Andhra stand. The T-region, unhappy with this betrayal, apparently hit back. Chiranjeevi had the usual holy dip, but also had to drink the water of the Pranahita River as part of the ritual. Only the water was full of mud and far from holy. So it was cold, cough, fever and throat infection and a dose of antibiotics and some bed-rest for the star turned politician.

 

HOW BOTSA NEGOTIATED WITH AUTO UNIONS OVER FARES

The transport minister, Mr Botsa Satyanarayana, may be new to his portfolio, but he is already handling problems that crop up like a pro. When autos went on strike, he invited the unions for talks. In the first meeting he drew a blank — the unions stuck to their demand for a hike in tariff or else they would continue the strike. It looked like negotiations had reached a dead end and union representatives were about to leave the Secretariat, when the minister suddenly invited them for a second round of talks an hour later. This time, the government agreed to increase the minimum fare from `12 to `14. Union leaders still held out for `15. The wily minister then used some psychology and pointed out that they were not likely to give back the one rupee change to passengers, and passengers rarely tender the exact change, so it was as good as settled that they would get the `15 they demanded. The union representatives finally agreed. Smart thinking on the part of the minister. However, their joy was short-lived. Just two hours after they came out of Secretariat, the unions came to know that petrol price was increased by `3 per litre! The minister admitted to the media later that he had got a tip from Delhi that petrol prices were to be hiked from midnight, so he sent word for another round of talks and agreed to the union's demands. Unionwallahs would do well to be wary of the savvy minister next time round.

 

A 'TIMELY' GIFT FROM SRIKRISHNA

One cannot underestimate the contribution of the Justice Srikrishna committee in defusing the volcanic situation around this time last year as pro- and anti-Telangana sentiments divided the state along regional lines. Though it was initially viewed as a time buying tactic by the Centre, politicians across party lines were soon resigned to the fact that the Centre would not move an inch on the controversial issue till the submission of the report. With the clock ticking towards the all important December 31 deadline for submission of the report, it is fitting that the committee, as a goodwill gesture, presented table clocks to all those associated with it, including mediapersons. A senior official present at the Lake View guest house, where the committee members were camped, was heard wondering whether it is a symbolic indication that time is ticking by, or that time is a great healer!

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HIDE & SEEK

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "Beware him who is happy to see you

— you may owe him money."

From Naked Profit by

Kahlil Gibberish

(Tr. From the Bullshitian by Bachchoo)

 

British Justice has taken a puzzling turn. Julian Assange, the "online begetter" or chief perpetrator of Wikileaks, was arrested by the Sussex police to be extradited to Sweden where he faces rape charges. He has been in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison, which my friends tell me is no holiday camp and certainly not a place of safety and comfort for people who are yet to be found guilty.


Assange was produced in court on December 14 and granted bail by the same judge who had earlier denied it.

 

But as soon as the bail application was granted, the prosecution appealed.


Then, inexplicably, within minutes, the prosecutors decided to drop this appeal. Nevertheless, the conditions of bail are severe. Assange or his supporters must deposit £200,000 in the court. He will be electronically tagged, confined for all but eight hours a day to his friend's address in Sussex, and he has to wake up and polish the boots of the Burmese junta's generals every day at 4 am — OK, the last condition was not specified by the judge but made up by me, but Justice Cocklecarrot may as well have thrown it in.


Assange goes back to jail till the cash is delivered — no cheques or Visa cards will do! (I didn't make that one up.)


The Swedish authorities were questioned by the BBC about a possible coincidence between the political embarrassment that Assange's actions as Wikileaker-in-chief has caused and the precisely parallel prosecution for rape and sexual assault brought against him. The Beeb pointed out that an earlier prosecution for the same offences was dropped by Sweden because of insufficient evidence but were revived by a Swedish MP when the Wikis began to leak.


What the Swedish prosecution's spokeswoman said was that seeing it as a coincidence was akin to conspiracy theories and that Assange may have done the world a great service by publishing the opinions and judgments of diplomatic figures, but that was quite separate from his alleged conduct with someone who claims he is guilty of molestation and rape.


The logic is indeed not faulty. Assange acknowledges that he leaks documents while strongly denying that he rapes girls (one presumes his accuser is female), but one activity doesn't sui generis, exclude the other.


Part of the peculiarity of this case is that Assange has been condemned by the government of Britain which has not let our "independent judiciary" know that they are on the side of the case for free speech and total disclosure that Mr Assange's followers insist is the theme and principle their leaks are upholding.


Quite the contrary. Ministers have been extremely critical of the disclosures and contend that some of the information that has been made public, or could possibly be made public, endangers the lives of British and US servicemen. This contention is self-evidently true. If Wikileaks is in possession of war dispositions in Afghanistan of men or ammunition, their publication is obviously only helpful to the Taliban, to Al Qaeda, e-Qaeda and those who wish them well.


I don't.

On the other hand the exposure of Saudi posturing is very welcome. That the Saudis want their fellow Muslims in Iran bombed is not a great surprise — oil is thicker than jihadi blood-brotherhood! The exposure of the Saudi state's connections with "fundos" and Al Qaeda is also well known, but one welcomes the confirmation. The world ought to know that the governments of the West are very willing to send their young men out to be killed by an enemy financed and armed by their friends and partners to whom they sell armaments. A very filthy game — though we knew it all the time — is now being played in the nude.


I haven't actually seen any Wikileak in the Guardian which exposes the troops of the US in any theatre of war to attack. Assange and his organisation may indeed be in possession of such jeopardising material. Either they haven't exposed it because they draw the line of exposure at the point of not promoting the killing of soldiers, or there is another filter at work. They have fed the information to the liberal Guardian newspaper and it is very possible that the newspaper's editors are acting as the sieve which separates the leaks into categories, fearlessly publishing those which embarrass and suppressing those which wantonly endanger.


In that sense, using the Guardian (whose politically correct stances often annoy me) as the international filter, if indeed that is the case, is a brilliant stroke. Assange could have handed over his information to the sort of satanic maniac who supports jehadis or suicide bombers who kill randomly and who long for or work towards Talibanic and Shariac states in Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps in Britain and the United States.


No, Assange has chosen the right filter — not subservient, but not unbalanced.


Adding to the perplexity of this prosecution are this UK government's announced plans to expand the universe of public disclosure. The processes and data of civil service activity will be on the internet. The statistics gathered by the government will be public. It will, of course, involve information about the citizenry coming into the public domain. Very many of us will not want our banking transactions exposed to all and sundry, or our income-tax returns or our communications with official bodies.


The government's response to this squeamishness is "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear".

 

This is patently untrue. My bank transactions, my email password, my debit card pin number and a hundred other details of my public and private transactions are in no way incriminating or evidence which could lead anywhere. They are the boring substance of boring interactions.


And yet someone calling himself Pontius Olufulabe keeps emailing me, calling himself my devoted and lifelong friend, promising me millions of pounds and dollars which he has located and is willing to share with me and merely asking for my bank account details, credit card numbers, pin numbers, addresses etc. His generosity is overwhelming. For these small pieces of information, which I have no reason to hide, he is going to make me a millionaire. My faith in human nature is adequately restored.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WEN'S INDIA VISIT:AN ACT OF FUTILITY?

 

In assessing the just-ended three-day visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Wen Jiabao, to this country, it is well to recall Chairman Mao rather than to be enthused by the $100 billion target of two-way trade the joint statement signed between the two countries posits. The great Chinese leader — who combined Middle Kingdom sensibilities with his own brand of Communist thought — suggested that it was politics that was central to an enterprise, that it was "in command". By this touchstone, even Mr Wen might wonder whether his three-day dash to New Delhi wasn't an exercise in futility. He had unexpectedly proposed the trip to the Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, when they had met in Hanoi recently on the sidelines of the East Asia summit. India was upset with a number of Beijing's actions relating to Kashmir — the stapled visas, and investments in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir among them — that are designed to question Kashmir's status as an integral part of India. While the Indian Prime Minister could hardly turn down his Chinese counterpart's overture, it is clear that prior to his three-day India sojourn Mr Wen made no attempt to address even the most elementary issues on the political side that matter to New Delhi. The stapled visa issue is a case in point. If he had cleared the "administrative" hurdles in Beijing before he arrived here, his trip could have left an imprint. As things stand, the very rationale of the Chinese Prime Minister's India trip has been called into question, for he noted here that officials of the two sides should now look into the visa regime which has upset India. It is clear that the Chinese PM's frothy sentiment that India and China were "partners", not "rivals", did not bowl his Indian hosts over. For the first time, the Indian side declined to insert into the joint communiqué the standard proposition that New Delhi subscribed to the "one-China" policy, that is, regarding Tibet and Taiwan as an intrinsic part of China. If the "one-India" idea does not appeal to Beijing, why should the one-China mantra continue to be accepted here? While eschewing this standard prescription, India could not have overlooked the timing of the Chinese completing a long tunnel linking a remote Tibetan county abutting Arunachal Pradesh with the main Chinese transport grid whose inauguration was made to coincide with Mr Wen's India visit. Aside from the contentious visa issue, the Chinese leader showed little concern for Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of its anti-India stance. Two leading considerations clearly inform Beijing's current policy toward India. The West is not doing too well financially since the recent economic meltdown. This makes India an important destination for China's export drive and explains China's renewed efforts for an expanded trade relationship. New Delhi needs to take a critical look at this. Two, Beijing is no doubt also factoring in the growing warmth in India's ties with Japan and South Korea when it outwardly seeks to woo India with clichés, forgetting that diplomacy and politics must be rooted in substance, not pedagogy or high-sounding humbug.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

2010: YEAR OF THE SLEAZY

 

Santa Baby, this is an SOS… hurry down the chimney… we need you. This has been a year of serious golmaal, and as 2010's credit titles roll, the fate of the masala movie called "India" at the international box office looks khallass! When mega blockbusters bomb big time, everybody suffers. But those who suffer the most (apart from stakeholders) are the people — the all-important audience.

 

Those trusting, optimistic viewers who come away feeling cheated and disillusioned. We are a nation of "paisa vasool" types. We definitely want a big bang for our buck. When that doesn't happen, we get angry… we sulk. Right now we are sulking big time. 2010 was supposed to deliver. India was on a roll. Good things were happening… the economy was expected to boom (Pranabda, you promised!). Overall stability was taken for granted, and no great upheavals were on the cards. But something went horribly wrong at some point. Script ka problem ho gaya, boss. And not all the so-called superstars of the political firmament could put India back on the track as 2010 drew to a close.

 

US President Barack Obama's visit counted for little. It was a very expensive photo-op, that's all. He came, sang and danced with school kids in Mumbai (Michelle's moves were hotter), got his bheja fried by a cheeky student who brought up the P-word (Pakistan), and went off to impress Dilliwallas with his teleprompter oratory. We were expected to keel over backwards because the mighty US President knew who Swami Vivekananda was. Hello! But we were the bakras who ended up paying through our noses for his visit (he went back with billions of dollars committed by us — we got illey in return). Our fashion designers sniffed at the First Lady's wardrobe and everybody declared Mme France President Nicholas Sarkozy as the undisputed winner of this sartorial race (I thought Carla Bruni was dressed like a prim school marm and could have flashed more cleavage). Of the two Presidents, my vote goes to Mr Sarkozy, who was far more spontaneous, forthcoming and direct. Besides… we got something more than a vague promise of a permanent seat somewhere in the far distance out of the Frenchie. We are unashamedly crass in India — we only understand rokda ("Show me the money. In cash! Now!")

 

Then came the Chinese Premier with a Wen-Wen agenda on his mind. Our reception to him was far more restrained, which is really kinda "stoooopid" given that we could do with some PDA (public display of affection, dude) with this guy who has designs on India and needs to be wooed with something more than just a traditional, thanda welcome. I wonder if someone was dumb enough (lots of Dilliwallas to pick from) to offer Wen Jiabao our second favourite national dish (after murg massalam) — chicken manchurian? And did Mr Wen puke at the sight of it? We excel at making such faux pas.

 

But even Santa will forget his "ho ho ho" in a hurry and clamber right back up that chimney leaving his sack of goodies behind when it comes to domestic messes. 2010 stands out as the Year of Corruption. It wasn't just Munni who got badnaam this year. And as for Sheila's jawaani — well, the Delhi chief minister demonstrated she had a lot of it left in her when she took on all her detractors during the Commonwealth Games scam… and then sailed through without a scratch. In this Champions League, there were just too many top players vying for the Crook of the Year trophy. With the spotlight on former CWG chairman Suresh Kalmadi, most people forgot all about former Indian Premier League chairman Lalit Modi. And by the time Mr Kalmadi waddled back from the Asian Games, we were already busy with a brand new mother of scandal… the one that featured former telecom minister A. Raja. And a Rani! The timing couldn't have been better. As more and more dirt emerged, and the Niira Radia tapes vomited out names (oooof! What names!), everybody was left shivering in their underpants, stripped off credibility, dignity, modesty — totally nanga in public! How many fig leaves can poor Santa carry in one sack?

As we sing X'mas carols next week, let's spare a thought for the aam aadmi and the aam aurat of India. We have been conned big time by the very people we'd invested our faith in over all these many years — people we have been foolish enough to elect, people we have naively trusted. The scenario for 2011 is looking bleak. Politicians, bureaucrats, cops, journalists, Army men, corporate leaders… and, horror of horrors, judges, too, are suspect. Virtually everything is bought, rigged and finally sold to the highest bidder. Sleaze is the single common denominator dominating today's India. But — hallelujah — there's one small hope left as we get into the New Year. Santaji should hand over his garb to Manmohanji immediately. If Dr Singh wishes to remain the king (of hearts), he needs an image makeover — and fast! Oh oh — what am I saying — the best in the business of makeovers has just gone bust. Or has she? Only her Secret Santa knows for sure! Oops… Have I said something wrong? Santa, honey, don't bother to slide down the chimney this year… it's clogged with soot. And India doesn't have enough chimney sweeps to unclog it! Aayi baat samajh mein? Merry Christmas readers, and a transparent New Year!

 

— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BOLD INITIATIVE

FEW WILL FOLLOW SUIT

 

POLITICAL power in a democracy flows from the peoples' mandate. What could better exemplify that than Nitish Kumar making bold to scrap the legislators' local area development fund in Bihar. There would certainly be a strong undercurrent of resentment from MLAs and MLCs, even from those belonging to the alliance he leads, but none dare openly oppose him since the vast majority of them had ridden piggy-back on him to the legislature. 

 

Projecting that as an anti-corruption move that would avert the siphoning off of a part of the Rs 318 crore earmarked for that fund every year, the chief minister has further silenced criticism of the move. And if any "backing" is required it is to be had in the Planning Commission having earlier this year rejected a move by MPs for an enhancement of their annual allocation to nurse their constituencies ~ a facility that had so irked the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee that he had advocated doing what Nitish has done. It is unlikely that other states will follow Bihar, their chief ministers have not been as empowered by the electorate as Nitish: particularly since it was the "delivery" of development that enabled him to unshackle his state from crass caste-based politics.

 

Yet, principled as the move might seem, it could actually be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The scheme was scrapped because it was difficult to break the nexus between legislator, local official and contractor that wound up diverting the money: not because it was ill-motivated. But not every legislator is a crook and there are very many positive accounts of how the scheme has benefited small communities ~ street lighting, roads, small reservoirs, walls around burial grounds, classrooms in village schools etc. Those with clout will still get what they want, those without it could be left with nothing. That's the flip side of the story Nitish has scripted. 

 

In the larger scheme of things it might have been preferable if a sub-group of the presiding officers of the legislatures had been entrusted with thoroughly reviewing the scheme, ensuring uniformity in allocations and providing safeguards. For such matters cannot be left to individual chief ministers. Populism can cut both ways.

 

FRIENDS AND FOES

Naveen makes a tactical choice

Naveen Patnaik was a novice thrown into politics when Orissa was experiencing a vacuum, and thrived on the reputation of his father in whose name his party was founded. After all these years in the chief minister's chair, he has discovered there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. His refusal to join an NDA rally in Delhi can hardly be linked to differences over sharing of seats that had caused a rupture in the BJP-Biju Janata Dal alliance prior to the parliamentary election last year. The fact that he sought time to "examine'' the proposal before deciding to stay away from a rally aimed at strengthening the Opposition's demand for a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum scam suggests that he could still be inclined to keep his options open. The decision does not necessarily imply that the two parties cannot mend fences for what they consider a "bigger cause''. It merely suggests that Mr. Patnaik sees no compelling necessity at the moment for going back on a decision to maintain equidistance from both UPA and NDA.

 

It is not difficult to guess why Sharad Yadav chose to hold out the olive branch. The NDA has its sights set not only on what it calls floor coordination in the House, with the BJD as a partner, but also on the prospects of the resumption of the alliance in Orissa. It makes no sense for the BJP to cast aspersions on a "scam-tainted'' leader ~ or to draw reference to Mr Patnaik's vigorous efforts to facilitate mining in tribal areas by an industrial group in spite of the environment ministry's rebuff. 

 

With BJP itself fending off corruption charges in Bangalore, there wouldn't be any "embarrassment'' on either side if they were to find some common ground. More important at this time was the extent to which the BJD's participation in the Delhi rally would serve its interests in Orissa. After drawing a blank from the UPA and Rahul Gandhi's strong defence of tribal rights that brought the curtain down on the mining project, Mr. Patnaik may have had second thoughts on the ruptured alliance. Thus, while he may now have decided to bide his time, it doesn't mean that he will always spurn such offers.

 

TWENTY YEARS AFTER

Lifting the sanctions regime in Iraq

A chapter has ended in the tumultuous history of Iraq with Wednesday's lifting of the sanctions regime close to 20 years after the war with Kuwait. Pre-eminently, the Security Council has cleared the development of a civilian nuclear programme. Effectively this lifts the restrictions that had been in force since 1991, specifically the crippling curbs that had prevented Iraq ~ in the high noon of the Saddam regime ~ from producing atomic weapons. The two other UN resolutions are no less critical in the evolution of post-war Iraq. The oil-for-food programme, mired in controversy almost since its start, has been wound up. The Security Council has now set the deadline of 30 June 2011 to end the immunities that had protected Iraq from claims relating to the Saddam era. Altogether the resolutions signal the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime and the restrictions on Iraq's sovereignty and independence. The developments this week will hopefully pave the road to recovery, a hope that was stridently expressed by Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, at the Security Council.
Indeed, international relations vis-a-vis Iraq can be said to have entered a positive phase. A chapter has been turned on what the foreign minister described as the "aggressive, belligerent and defiant behaviour of the previous regime towards international law and legitimacy". It bears recall that after the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam's Iraq had to contend with a UN reprisal, notably the ban on the import of chemicals and nuclear technology that could be used to buttress its clandestine weapons programme. Iraq will  have to pay five per cent of its oil revenue as war reparations to Kuwait; it still owes $ 22 billion in reparations. 
For the latter, Wednesday's developments at the Security Council mark a momentous geo-political victory after two decades. The resolutions have incorporated Iraq's recognition of the borders of Kuwait. The UN has reaffirmed that Kuwait is a sovereign country... and not "the 19th province of Iraq" as Saddam Hussein had once proclaimed to the world.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

THE RELUCTANT INFORMER

BENGAL'S SLUGGISH IMPLEMENTATION OF RTI ACT

ABHIJIT GUHA


THE West Bengal Information Commission was formed under the Right To Information Act, passed by Parliament in 2005. It was headed by a retired IAS officer. At the end of his tenure, a superannuated IPS officer has taken over charge. A former IAS officer is serving as Information Commissioner. Members of civil society at large and retired judges are unrepresented although the RTI Act stipulates that the Information Commission should consist of ten members.


The website of the West Bengal Information Commission features a singular success story; there is no mention of a penalty being imposed or disciplinary action taken against any public information officer for not providing information to an RTI applicant. There is no reference either to the total number of RTI applications filed by the citizens of West Bengal. The public information authorities are supposed to provide such data to the commission for the preparation of annual reports. The commission has, however, brought out its annual reports pertaining to the 2006-09 period. These have opened up a Pandora's box. The reports are available on the commission's website.


Facts on the implementation of the RTI Act in West Bengal are rather sketchy in comparison to other states. One major reason is that civil society doesn't appear to be much interested in the citizen's right to know. Neither the government nor the political parties have aroused a sense of awareness about this important parliamentary legislation. In 2007, the government published an academic dissertation titled Right to Information, edited by a Professor of Political Science. Out of nine chapters, only two deal with the problems of implementing the RTI Act in West Bengal. However, the chapter written by the editor, Asok Mukhopadhyay, makes an important observation. "West Bengal is amongst a handful of states that are extremely lethargic about implementing the RTI Act. It is abundantly clear that the state's political executive has not taken the RTI Act, in its true spirit, as an instrument in aid of good governance for transforming the state administration into a citizen-friendly body". 


Another significant chapter has been contributed by the freelance journalist, Aditi Roy Ghatak. She has compared West Bengal with the other states, particularly Bihar. She writes: "West Bengal's poor performance is reflected in the fact that only around 135 applications have been received by the West Bengal Information Commission, of which the Commission says, it has resolved 38. Significantly, no penalty has yet been imposed under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act". She has mentioned several  success stories from Bihar, Orissa, Delhi and Karnataka. There isn't a positive development in West Bengal.


Suo motu or proactive disclosure of information is a vital aspect of the RTI Act. The annual reports of the West Bengal Information Commission suggest that most of the government departments are run in an archaic fashion. Cataloguing and indexing are almost alien concepts. The Act stipulates that 17 points of suo motu disclosure shall have to be published by the public authorities within 120 days of the enactment. However,  this has rarely been done. 


The West Bengal Information Commission issued an order on 25 April 2008, directing all public authorities  to publish the information immediately.  Till date, according to the website, 84 per cent of the task has been accomplished. It is not clear whether the information is updated at regular intervals. Most of the local self-government organisations have not published such information (Annual Reports of WBIC 2006-09).
The annual reports have listed 15 defaulter departments which have not published information under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. These include the Administrative Training Institute, which published the state government's book, the offices of several District Magistrates, the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination Board, the Minorities Development and Welfare and Madrasah Education Department. No wonder the annual reports consistently lament that "the desired results are yet to be achieved". A letter issued on 4 November 2008 to all public authorities in West Bengal is worth mentioning. "The true picture about the number of requests received by the public authorities and disposal of such requests is not available. The commission has reasons to believe that the actual number of requests is much higher than what has been reported". 


In the annual reports, there is no observation about the performance of the West Bengal Information Commission per se. We have to depend on the data yielded by independent research organisations which have come in the public domain through the media. A recent nationwide survey conducted by the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF) has revealed that West Bengal ranks at the bottom of the table in overall public satisfaction in terms of the implementation of the RTI Act. Arvind Kejriwal, the trustee of PCRF and an RTI activist, reported that Karnataka tops the list of performing states; its overall satisfaction has been rated at 55 per cent. It is followed by Left-ruled Kerala at 52 per cent, Punjab (47 per cent), Orissa and Assam (each 37 per cent) and West Bengal 6 per cent according to a report in The Statesman, 22 October 2009. Mr Kejriwal states:  "This means that if 100 people approach the West Bengal Information Commission, only six finally get the information or in other words there is only 6 per cent chance that you will get the information".
The same study revealed that the performance of Arun Kumar Bhattacharya, the first Chief Information Commissioner  of West Bengal, was far from satisfactory. It is unlikely that the Opposition leaders will ever read the annual reports of the West Bengal Information Commission and plan their course of action.
The writer is Reader, Department of Anthropology,  Vidyasagar University, West Bengal

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

 

'DEVELOPMENT DOESN'T MEAN EVICTING FARMERS'

THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW 

 

Union minister of state for urban development and senior Trinamul Congress leader Saugata Roy is perhaps best equipped to speak on the Rajarhat township controversy that has already tarnished the image of the beleaguered Left Front government. He is also one of the most articulate Trinamul leaders to explain his party's policies and draw the contours of a battle royal to be waged in a few months to bring about a regime change while the ruling Left makes a last-ditch attempt to retain power. He speaks to Soma Mookherjee and Uday Basu   
 
Being the Union minister of state for urban development, do you approve of the urban development model followed by the Left Front government at Rajarhat ? The chief minister has claimed  that this model will give a new fillip to development. Do you agree? 


I don't agree with the model from the farmer's point of view and the way the farmers were forced to give up their land to the government. The government engaged musclemen who by coercion and threats forcibly acquired land from  farmers. The farmers were not even paid the market price for their land. Later, the state government sold these plots of land to different realtors at a premium thus "cheating '' the farmers. If it goes on like this, there will be a revolt among the farmers soon. 


No, I don't subscribe to the chief minister's claim. Development does not mean replacing poor farmers with high-rise buildings. The government should have prepared a proper rehabilitation package for the  farmers  before acquiring land from them. 


There are some apprehensions among those who bought land or flats at Rajarhat that the Trinamul Congress-sponsored agitation  may shatter their dream  of becoming property owners. What assurance can you give them? 
It's not our job to give assurances. We are now fighting for the cause of the farmers whose land the state government has acquired forcibly without paying them proper compensation. The entire process of distribution of land under the chairman's quota (the housing minister, Gautam Deb, doubles as chairman of the Housing and Infrastructure Development Corporation executing the Rajarhat township project) should be reviewed.
 
What are your priority areas as Union MoS for urban development ? What have you been doing as minister all these months ? 

 

 Well, I have been implementing our ministry's flagship project of JnNURM which is worth Rs 3,200 crore.  We have approved more than 50 schemes including drinking water supply, setting up of desalination plants, sewerage and sanitation, solid waste management including hospital waste management, construction and improvement of drains and storm-water, development of road network and urban transportation. 
We are also giving a major thrust to two sub-missions ~  Urban Infrastructure Governance (UIG), urban infrastructure for providing basic services to the urban poor. 

     
Some  CPI-M  leaders have said that none of the Union MoS belonging to Trinamul Congress  has any work to do  because of  which they are seen spending more time in Bengal than in  Delhi?  Is it true the Trinamul Congress ministers of state have not been given any responsibility ? 
 Usually, ministers of state of any political party are not given much responsibility unless they have independent charge. It's the Centre and not the CPI-M leaders who should think how to delegate more charge to the MoS.  At the same time, we have as much responsibilities in our constituencies as in Delhi. So, we have to spend  a considerable time in the constituencies as well.


 
It appears that the CPI-M is trying to turn the tables on the Trinamul Congress by claiming that the railways are not giving right prices to those whose land has been acquired for railway projects. Already,  Singur and Nandigram-type agitations have been launched by pro-CPI-M groups claiming that they represent land-losers. How do you look at this development? 


 The CPI-M will not be able to turn the tables on us as the railway minister  Mamata Banerjee has already declared that the railways will not acquire any land forcibly from the farmers. Moreover, most of the projects will come up on the railways' own land. The railway minister has even promised a job in the railways for those whose land will be acquired for any project and the land-losers will get compensation at the market rate. 
Moreover, the state government long back acquired land for the railway project in Sankrail. Mamata Banerjee has already said that if  the locals do not want the project to come up, the railways will not take up the project. 
 
The 2G  spectrum scam has given ammunition to the Left  not only to train their guns on the  UPA-government, but also on the Trinamul Congress. They complain the Trinamul Congress is colluding with the perpetrators of the 2G spectrum fraud that has taken place during the UPA-government. Don't  you think this issue will snowball  before 2011 Assembly election and become a cause of worry for the Trinamul Congress? 
 This issue cannot snowball because the scam took place in 2008 in UPA I government when we were not a part of it. Moreover, the CPI-M should  be on the back foot, as tapes containing the conversations between Niira Radia and state industry and commerce minister Nirupam Sen and then industry and commerce secretary Sabyasachi Sen are already with the Centre. Moreover, the Centre has constituted the Public Accounts Committee and the CBI and the CAG are already into it. The Opposition has stalled the proceedings  of Parliament  and that  has come  under severe criticism. 


The Congress-Trinamul alliance  is showing  signs of severe strain, especially after the way Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee skipped the railway programme in Murshidabad. If the ties snap, can the Left Front bounce back and retain power ? What would be the scenario if the alliance collapses? 
 In any case the Left Front cannot bounce back and retain power. We are keen on an alliance and the Congress should try to keep the alliance. 


 If Mamata Banerjee becomes the chief minister who can succeed her as railway minister? 

 

 That will be decided by Miss Banerjee later.

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

ON RECORD

 

I am worried about the future of the parliamentary system. 


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the deadlock in Parliament. 


 
Sometimes, business not proceeding also yields results. 


BJP leader LK Advani when Sonia Gandhi and the government singled out the BJP for paralysing Parliament. 


I have nothing against migration or migrants, being a migrant myself. 


Union home minister P Chidambaram after the row over his remarks linking Delhi crime to migrants. 


In future, he (Chidambaram) should talk about his own failure and should not put blame on others. 


RJD leader Lalu Prasad. 


I have published a book with complete details of the Rajarhat project. Mamata Banerjee can read it and express her opinion. 


West Bengal housing minister Gautam Deb at a press conference. 


Why has the CPI-M failed to provide jobs? Now, they are asking me how many jobs I have provided. We have already initiated the recruitment process. 


Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. 


As long as the Stephen Court issue remains sub judice, the KMC's hands are tied... We would first need to take the issue out of court. 


KMC Mayor Sovan Chatterjee. 


I am happy with the positive attitude of the mayor. We've demanded immediate restoration of the floors that have been gutted. 


Pradip Rawat, residents' representative. 


We are surprised that our allies are attacking us without caring for courtesy. Adhir Chowdhury is one of our most respected leaders. He is a vital part of the struggle against CPI-M and the people of Bengal know it. There can be no anti-Left agitation without Adhir. 


State Congress spokesperson Nirbed Roy to reporters. 


It's necessary to ease restrictions concerning approval procedures, capital flow and entry and exit of people, thus creating more favourable conditions for mutual investment. 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to corporate captains at a meeting in New Delhi. 


He has not done anything wrong. He must be released. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. The fate of China will be the fate of the world. 


Nobel chairman Thorbjorn Jagland.  

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

AVIATION IN INDIA 

AIRMEN IN CALCUTTA 

FLIGHT AT TOLLYGUNGE 


Allahabad has had the honour of witnessing the first exhibition of human flight in India, but Calcutta has not had to wait long. On Tuesday, three days after the first flight at Allahabad and on the same day flight at Allahabad and on the same day that the first public flights were given at the Exhibition in the United Provinces capital, Monsieur Jules Tyek, the well-known Belgian aviator, ascended in his Bleriot monoplane at Tollygunge before a small audience of specially favoured persons, and gave a splendid exhibition for about twelve minutes of his skill as an airman. 


M Tyek and Baron de Caters recently came to India at the instance of an enterprising compatriot and, as has already been announced, have been engaged to give a series of exhibition flights in the grounds of the Tollygunge Club on December 28. On Tuesday it had been arranged that they should execute some trial flights in the presence of several members of the committee of the club, and representatives of the press, and there was also present His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief. It had been announced originally that these trial flights would take place at 3 o'clock, but it has to be remembered that the two distinguished aviators have hitherto had no opportunity of trying their machines in India and it was only on Tuesday that they were put together and housed in a temporary shed erected on the club grounds for their accommodation. In addition to this the engines had to be tested and the numerous little finishing touches, necessary to such delicate craft, given. It was, therefore, nearly five o'clock before M Tyek made his ascent, and at the last moment an unfortunate accident prevented the Baron from trying his biplane. 


If there had been any tedium in the waiting, which there was not, as the preparation and examination of the machines was of absorbing interest, it would have been sufficiently relieved by the bonhomie of the Baron and his fellow-aviator, especially the former, who had some little pleasantry appropriate to every incident. Thus when he, himself, was apologising to some of the onlookers for the lengthy wait he related a story of an old lady at a flying meet in Germany, who came up to him and complained that she had been waiting four hours to see a flight. "Madame," he replied, "the world has been waiting four thousand years to see the accomplishment of human flight, and your four hours does not seem very long in comparison." And when his biplane caught fire and prevented his flight he said, in reply to the condolences of those around, "Ah, well! it is better that it should catch fire on the ground than when it is in the air."

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

TERMS OF ESTRANGEMENT

 

Wen Jiabao was the first Chinese premier after Zhou Enlai to visit India twice. But his just-concluded visit would perhaps be counted as eminently forgettable from India's point of view. There were the usual platitudes about the world being big enough for the rise of both India and China and about the need to build a new "strategic consensus". It is impossible to miss the irony in the joint statement, which talks of the two countries promising to treat bilateral issues with "mutual respect and sensitivity for each other's concerns". The real message was not in such empty words, but in Mr Wen's complete silence on issues that are hugely sensitive to India's concerns and aspirations. The Chinese premier had practically nothing to offer on India's concerns about Pakistan-based terrorism, China's support to Pakistan's nuclear programme, Beijing's recent move to issue stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir or on a possible time frame for the resolution of the border dispute between the two countries. Predictably, he remained utterly non-committal on India's aspiration for a permanent seat in the United Nations security council. On all these issues, the silence on Mr Wen's part was in sharp contrast with the clear and uncomplicated responses by Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy during their visits to New Delhi only weeks ago. Mr Wen's silence on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism must have been particularly galling for India as he was the first major Chinese leader to visit India since the terror strike in Mumbai in 2008.

 

True, there was better news on the economic front. Mr Wen and Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, have now set a target for bilateral trade between India and China reaching $100 billion by 2015. Beijing has also offered to give Indian goods and services greater access to the Chinese market. But, given the trend in the growth of bilateral trade, these are modest targets and promises and can hardly be counted as high points of the first visit to India by a Chinese premier in four years. For New Delhi, the only reasonable response to Mr Wen's visit should be to see it as a major diplomatic disappointment. Only by seeing it as such can India hope to play the game on equal terms. Knowing the nature of China-Pakistan relations, it would be unrealistic of New Delhi to expect Mr Wen to openly link Pakistan to terrorism in India. But the manner in which he avoided this issue and that of the stapled visas for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir should actually be a warning to New Delhi to be more vigilant about Beijing's moves and motives. India and China need to engage more and on a wider range of issues, both bilateral and global. But, no "strategic consensus" will light up the horizon unless Beijing does more in order to clear the mist of suspicion and mistrust.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

PROPHETS OUTCAST

A CURIOUS SYMMETRY IN THE REPUTATIONS OF OBAMA AND SINGH

POLITICS AND PLAY: RAMACHANDRA GUHA

 

In the second week of November, when President Barack Obama flew eastwards out of New Delhi towards Indonesia, I myself left my home town, Bangalore, for Obama's home country. Like very many other Indians I had been deeply impressed by the visitor, by the grace and dignity with which he conducted himself, and by the quality of his mind and his oratory. Travelling through the United States of America, however, I found my friends and hosts to be sceptical and critical of their president. Those who were conservative in temperament complained that he had socialistic tendencies, seeking to strengthen the control of the State over the economy and the everyday lives of citizens. The Left, whom one might have thought to be his natural constituency, were even harsher in their criticisms. They were angry that the president had done nothing to rein in or punish the marauders of Wall Street, and that he was not considering higher taxes for the rich.

 

Rightwing and leftwing Americans attacked Obama from different perspectives on the ideological spectrum. At the same time, they were united in their reservations with regard to the president's personality, which they found to be reserved, cold, aloof, in a word, stand-offish. Despite his extraordinary intelligence and speaking skills, it appeared that he could not communicate, in an emotional and human sense, with the American people. Hence, the major election reverses that his Democratic Party had suffered just prior to Obama's trip to India.

 

Some years ago, while on a visit to Washington, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the serving president of the US that "the people of India love you". That was a colossal overstatement. The business elite of Mumbai warmed to George W. Bush because of his attempts to bring down the protectionist barriers erected by his predecessors. Military strategists and foreign-policy wonks in New Delhi warmed to the junior Bush for his apparent endorsement of an alliance between India and the US, an alliance designed to contain and tame the ambitions of their common rival, China. However, those Indians with no stake in the global economy or no dog in the fight with China were either indifferent to Bush, or actually disliked him for launching an unprovoked and clearly illegal war in Iraq.

 

On the other hand, from the time Obama launched his presidential campaign, he had the people of India on his side. Unlike George W. Bush or his own rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, the senator from Illinois had no family connections in politics. He had come, literally, from nowhere, rising in prominence and visibility purely on account of his intelligence and hard work. Like other people in Asia and Africa, Indians took to Obama because of his racial background, the challenge he represented to the white domination of American politics. His superb speaking skills were an added attraction, as indeed, was his commitment to family values, manifest in his attachment to the elderly grandmother in Hawaii who had helped raise him. If Indians had a vote in the 2008 US presidential elections, all except for members of the Confederation of Indian Industry and retired four-star generals would have preferred Obama to John McCain.

 

Millions of Indians 'loved' Obama in 2008, and many continue to do so now. His recent trip to our country was, in terms of its popular reception, a resounding success. There were worries before he came that he would foreground the 'B' word, by complaining about American jobs being taken away by firms in Bangalore, as well as the 'K' word, by suggesting that America could play a role in resolving the Kashmir dispute. In the event, he did not mention outsourcing on his own (and neatly deflected a question on the subject at a press conference), while making it clear that his country would not interfere in bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan. He was impressive at a meeting with college students in Mumbai, and even more impressive in his address to the Indian parliament, with its range of historical reference and its generous admission that had it not been for Mahatma Gandhi he would not now be in the White House himself.

 

However, as I discovered on my travels, despite the high regard in which we continue to hold him, in his own country Obama's popularity and appeal are on the decline. The reverses in the recent Congressional elections were a clear indication of this, as are the grumblings about his policies that one reads about in the American press and hears about from one's American friends. He may yet recover some of the lost ground, and may yet be re-elected to a second term, since there is no credible Republican candidate on the horizon. Still, one cannot be struck by the contrast between Barack Obama's high standing in my country and his middling reputation in his own country.

 

Thinking further on the subject, it seems to me that in this respect Obama's situation is not unlike Manmohan Singh's. In his second term as prime minister of India, Singh has enjoyed less than a smooth ride. Earlier this year, he came under criticism for not being able to contain dissension within his cabinet, with rival ministers openly expressing disagreement on how to deal with the environment, with Naxalites, and with Kashmir. More recently, he has been condemned for his failure to act promptly against tainted ministers. During his first term, Singh generally enjoyed a favourable press, and also enormous respect among the middle class, which doubtless contributed to the Congress's electoral gains in the elections of 2009. Now, a mere 18 months later, the press has turned against him, while the middle class is no longer willing to excuse his tolerance, and even indulgence, of corrupt colleagues on the grounds that he is scrupulously clean himself.

 

At the same time, Singh continues to be widely admired in the West, where influential newspapers praise him for his personal honesty and his intellectual capabilities. To them, he is both a good man among thieves and a thinker among ignoramuses, prized on both counts, held up as a model for other nations in Asia and Africa, whose leaders often have their own hands in the till while lacking any understanding of their country's history or its emerging place in the international system. Common folk in the West do not generally pay much attention to Indian politics or Indian politicians, but leaders and opinion-makers in Europe and North America do, as it were, 'love' Manmohan Singh.

 

There is thus a curious symmetry in the reputations of the president of the US and the prime minister of India. Both are admired abroad, and both are less-than-admired at home. This contrast may explain the mutual affection so visibly on display in New Delhi in the second week of November. For, while Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh may be losing the battle for the hearts and minds of their own, domestic, constituencies, they can yet take consolation in their appeal in each other's countries.

 

ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

 

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

EDITORIAL

TURNING TO BUSINESS

'CHINESE PRE-MIER'S VISIT WAS A CONFIDENCE-BOOSTER.'

 

The visit of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao may not have helped much to ease India's concerns over Beijing's actions and policies relating a number of issues which are important to New Delhi. Beijing also may have been disappointed by the cold response it received from India for its proposal for a trade agreement. India also did not mention its commitment to a one-China policy, though its significance need not be exaggerated. But the positive and optimistic atmosphere that prevailed and the improvements, though only small and nuanced, in some positions are good signs. Wen said that India and China are not rivals but partners, and prime minister Manmohan Singh said that there is enough space for both countries to grow.


The visit did not have great political results. India's unhappiness over the China issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir has not been removed, though Wen himself raised the issue and has promised some action. He has assured India that it would not be adversely affected by the construction of dams on rivers in Tibet. China persistently refuses to acknowledge the role of Pakistan in promoting terrorism against India. Beijing's position on India's claim for a permanent UN Security Council seat has only slightly shifted in India's favour. In spite of all this, the visit was a confidence-booster. The joint statement promised a strategic consensus on contentious issues 'on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other's concerns and aspirations.' All outstanding issues of contention can be resolved if this principle is applied to them.


The focus of the visit, however, was on business and commerce and not on politics. Both countries have agreed to expand trade from the present $60 billion to $100 billion by 2015. It might be achieved even earlier but India's concern is that it is heavily skewed in favour of China. Wen has promised to redress this with greater market access for Indian goods and services. The fact that 40 MoUs involving billions of dollars were signed underlines the nature of emerging bilateral relationship. The visit certainly helped to stop a perceived slide in relations and draw attention to the benefits to be derived from co-operation. The strength of a bilateral relationship lies in making the best of the commonalities. A framework for continuous mutual engagement, which has been put in place, will help in that by promoting trust and understanding.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A BALANCING ACT

'RBI'S HOPES ABOUT INFLATION MAY BE BELIED.'

 

The Reserve Bank of India's lack of action on its policy rates, in the mid-quarter review announced on Thursday, was  well anticipated. The RBI had in its quarterly monetary policy review last month had given a hint that it would not aggressively pursue policy action in the near future. Accordingly it has left untouched all the main three tools of monetary policy available to it — the repo rate, the reverse repo rate and the cash reserve ratio for banks. But the review is important for what it did on the liquidity front and for what it feels about inflation in the coming months. The bank has seen a liquidity shortage in the system, accentuated by the movement of funds from the market to the government through big disinvestment IPOs and 3G and broadband auctions. Last month's enhancement of the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) was not very effective and the bank decided to act now.


It has resorted to two measures to ease the situation, which it feels could constrain the banks' ability to expand their balance sheets. One is an open market operation to purchase government securities from the banks which will release about Rs 48,000 crore into the system. The other is a permanent reduction in the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) by one percentage point to 24 per cent. This would help the banks to use only a smaller part of the deposits to buy government bonds. The government therefore may have to make its bonds more attractive, with higher interest rates. However, even with these measures it may take some time for the liquidity gap to be bridged.

The RBI is worried about inflation which continues to be a major threat to domestic budgets and the health of the economy. The bank's growth projections are likely to be exceeded but hopes about inflation control may be belied. The target of 5.5 per cent by March next year does not seem to be achievable, though the rate has come down from two digits to about 8 per cent. Food inflation is still very high. Domestic demand is rising, as also global commodity prices including, most importantly, petroleum prices. Many of the factors that now contribute to inflation are beyond the RBI's power to control. But it may have to take whatever action it can, like a hike in interest rates, in the next policy review.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

HURTING THE DALIT CAUSE

BY KANCHA ILAIAH


Our democracy is not only fragile but corrupt. But that does not absolve any dalit leader indulging in a massive corrupt practice.

 

The Indian nation is reeling under corruption of all varieties — financial, moral and ethical. Unfortunately former minister Raja's corrupt contracting of the communication networks called 2G spectrum scam has not only shaken the UPA government but affected the moral credibility of DMK politics and more so that of the dalit ideology.


Raja is not only a dalit but has grown up in the Dravidian ideological framework. Why did he pursue politics of this level of corruption? Did he do it at the instance of the DMK leadership or on his own? I cannot imagine that a politician of his age and background could do it without the knowledge of the top DMK leadership.


The DMK has its origins in the socio-political culture of Periyar Ramasami Naikar's movement. The DMK has moved far away from it. We have been haunted by the corrupt image of Lalu Prasad and Mayawati for quite some time now. The scope to justify their deeds as individual aberrations tainted our ideological vision also. Of course, we cannot write off such corrupt practices of the dalit-bahujan leaders as some historical inheritance of the same brahminic practice as the practice sustains outside the realm of 'sramanic' practices.


Gautham Buddha gave us a moral code that one's own property should be an external image of one's labour power that must get invested into it in varied forms. He was not totally opposed to private property but opposed to private property accumulated by exploiting the labour power of others.


Periyar, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Ambedkar inherited the moral ethics of Buddha. DMK and Bahujan Samaj Party are the political expression of these great leaders of depressed classes. When these parties are heading the state institutions what ethical, moral and financial policies should they follow?


Marx also believed in a similar theory that the private property of a person should not go far beyond one's own family labour power. Any property accumulated in any other form outside the realm of labour power of one's own family is nothing but exploitation. The kind of political corruption that Raja or Kalmadi or Ashok Chauhan or Yeddyurappa got involved in amounts to plundering of the national resource that got generated with the investment of mass labour power of the nation into it.


If it were to be China or any other western democratic system, such political leaders either would have been hanged or they would have been jailed for their entire lifetime. In a country like the USA the jail term may be 120 years or 140 years whereby whatever could be the life span of that particular individual, he/she cannot come out of the jail till he/she dies. The Indian laws of punishment do not follow such a course. Life sentence at best means one would be in jail for 14 years.


Double punishment

The culture of punishing less for major crimes of corruption of the magnitude that we witness today has been inherited from the historical culture of ignoring or giving marginal punishments for such practices. Should not that legal trend change now? As Kanshi Ram used to say that if upper castes with proven history of corruption indulge in corruption they should be punished severely and when the state is being run by the representatives of the poor and oppressed they should be punished more because they were supposed to help the poor more. Raja, if proven guilty deserves double punishment because his moral duty was to work for the welfare of the poor more than the others. Obviously this he did not do so.


Of course, the present market economy seems to force every section to get into the network of corrupt accumulation of private capital. The culture of massive corrupt accumulation of family wealth seems to have become a normal mode of political life of politicians. May be this is part of third world democracy.


Our democracy itself is not only fragile but corrupt at the very base of it. But that does not absolve such massive corrupt practice of a dalit leader who emerged out of the political formation of the kind that DMK is.


B R Ambedkar thought that the Indian corruption is imposed by the brahminic intelligentsia, as they lived off the 'dakshina' economy. Those politicians who have come from the productive communities have acquired an ideological education that more you earn more respect and stature you acquire irrespective of the means you adopt for acquiring the wealth.


If Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram, having come from the dalit-bahujan background provided one kind of example, Raja, having come from the same dalit background and having grown from the ranks of Periyarite party seems to set another example.

 

Culturally we have lost a moral ground that Buddha, Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar handed down to us. The political formations that emerged out of their ideology and practice must reset on a course of fresh debate about the political and social morality they set in motion. If these political parties along with communists also do not observe the cultural ethics of non-corruptibility where will the nation go?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

HUMILITY IS RARE

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH


Dharma Kumar was about the most attractive and lively woman I met in my long life.

 

She also had an unpredictable temper and lost many friends, including me. She died of brain tumour a few years ago. Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors exploring possibilities of bringing peace in Kashmir is Dharma's only child.


I am reminded of Dharma when I came across the Hindi words: 'vinay' and 'vineet' 'vinamr' for humility. The only Urdu and Punjabi equivalent I can think are 'mita hua' (self-effaced) and 'mitaya' boys. 


Dharma's favourite story of lop-sided humility was about her cousin Raghavan Iyer who had been a topper in every exam he took and was elected president of the Oxford University students union. He considered canvassing for votes beneath his dignity. His admirers did it for him.


As soon as the results were announced, they rushed up to Iyer's room and broke the good news to him. He was sitting in lotus pose (padma asana) on the floor with his eyes closed. As they shouted: "Iyer you have won", he raised the index finger of his right hand towards the ceiling and exclaimed: "Victory is Thine O Lord!"

A more amusing story Dharma used to tell about Iyer went somewhat as follows: One evening as he was sitting, surrounded by his admirers, one of them asked him: "Iyer you have achieved so much in life, how do you manage to remain so modest?"


Iyer replied: "Good question. I have evolved a formula of self-extinction. I sit on the floor every morning and repeat I am not Raghavan Iyer who got a first class first from Madras University; I am not Raghavan Iyer who got a first class first from Oxford University; I am not Raghavan Iyer who was elected president of the students union. I am not Raghavan Iyer, the most brilliant philosopher of the East. I am merely a spark of the Divine." In this evening meditation he went over the same lines with a variation of the last line — instead of 'spark of the divine', he said, "I am only the vehicle of the Mahatmas".


We Indians pay what might be called hand-worship to humility. While people in the western world shake hands when they meet, we join the palms of our hands as if in prayer and say namastay, namaskar, vanakkam or sat sri akal.

Likewise, Muslims bow and touch their foreheads with their right hand when they say salam valaikum. But in real life humility is rare. Our favourite topic of conversation is ourselves. Anyone who does that cannot be humble.

Politicians cannot afford to be humble because they have to tell everyone they are better than rivals to be entrusted with power. So are the wealthy, whether by their own endeavours or by inheritance. They may cultivate good manners but deep down them there is arrogance that wealth produces. "They are proud of their humility, proud in that they are not proud," as Robert Burton wrote in his 'The Anatomy of Melancholy'.
I fancy myself as a humble person. One evening I sought confirmation of my humility from my daughter and grand-daughter. I asked them if they all thought that I was humble.


My grand-daughter Naina who is known for her brashness, replied: "You must be joking! You love flattery. All these ladies who send you kababs, kheer, cakes and flowers gives you enormous pleasure and inflates your ego. And the man who lays it on thick and keeps giving you vintage scotch, flatters you as if you were a minor prophet.

As if this was not enough, my daughter Mala added: "When you are dazzling your audience by your wits, you expect them to say nice things about you. And when they fail silent, you feel bored and tell them to go. How can it is be possible to call yourself humble!"


They are probably right. Though I don't talk about myself, I think about myself all the time. I have failed in my quest for humility (vinamrata). I always remember what Guru Nanak said:


Haumam deergh Rog hai

Daaroo bhee iss mahein

Ego is a full disease

It is also its cure

I bet you didn't know this

Letters 'a' 'b' 'c' & 'd' do not appear anywhere in the spelling of 1 to 99.

(Letter 'd' comes for the first time in hundred)

Letters 'a', 'b' & 'c' do not appear anywhere in the spellings of 1 to 99.

(Letter 'a' comes for the first time in thousand)

Letters 'b' & 'c' do not appear anywhere in the spellings of 1 to 999.

(Letter 'b' comes for the first time in billion)

And
Letter 'c' does not appear anywhere in the spellings of entire English counting.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckahey, Delhi)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

THEN AND NOW

BY D K HAVANOOR


Her ordeal would resume for a few more hours into the night while making dinner.

 

My 90-year-old mother and I have frequent conversations about how things were during her mother's time and her childhood and then my own early and forgotten childhood. My mother was married when she was just 15 years old and those were the difficult times for a housewife. Since my father was the eldest in the family, my mother along with a few other women had to cook for the large family of brothers and their wives and kids.

Her day started at 5 am, with the lugging of water out of the backyard well for the entire household to wash and bathe. Then she would work on two or three pots of curds and separate the butter from butter milk. She would then bathe and again get some more water from the well for pooja and 'madi adige' (cooking after a bath and without coming in contact with anyone who hadn't had a bath). The cooking would start at 8 am and wouldn't cease until 4 pm, not only because the family was large but also on account of the generosity and good-heartedness of my grandfather, who would invite friends and visitors over for lunch every other day.


Those days the fuel used for cooking was firewood and dry cow-dung which filled the kitchen with smoke hurting everyone's eyes and lungs. By the time my poor mother finished cooking late in the afternoon, her eyes would've given up and she'd have to be helped to her room. Everyday, she would put cotton soaked in curds or butter to cool her eyes until she felt strong enough to eat lunch late in the afternoon. And then her ordeal would resume for a few more hours into the night while making dinner. And the whole thing would repeat day after day.

Times have changed now and the old woman sees her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren and their daily routines in the middle of an array of conveniences like cooking gas, microwave, water-pumps, exhaust-fans, etc. Although science and education have ensured that women needn't spend as many hours cooking as they used to say, a 100 years ago, far fewer women cook these days than they used to back then. Those hours are spent at work, in front of the TV or shopping. My mother wonders if people earlier lived to eat and if it were the other way around now.


Many problems arise due to lack of conveniences for living.  Despite the hard life, the old lady says, "The values of life were quite high then; joint families never broke and divorces were rare. But now having all the comforts and facilities there are only nuclear families.  When children grow up, they get married and abandon their old parents. Divorces have become quite common. They say men make houses and women make homes. I say women even break homes." Why and how values have changed in modern times, she wonders: Is it because of westernisation or any other reason?

 

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

sEDITORIAL

GAMES VS. GOVERNING

 

The Senate still has two major tasks ahead in the remaining days of the lame-duck session: allowing open military service by gay and lesbian soldiers and ratifying the vital New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia. In both cases, approval will have to come from a solid majority of Democrats and a handful of Republicans who are willing to set aside destructive partisanship.

 

Those Republicans need to resist the obstructionism preached by their leadership and realize that the public wants the two parties to do their jobs and grapple for ways to vote together. There are still many Republicans who have not heard that message.

 

On Friday, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said that the Democratic push for military equality for gays and lesbians could "poison the well" for New Start. The two matters are related only because they are both important for this country's security.

 

America's top military leaders say that because of "don't ask, don't tell," the services have lost far too many highly trained members. New Start, the first arms control agreement with Russia in a decade, would modestly reduce the deployed weapons of both sides and guarantee continued insight into Russia's arsenal. Failure to ratify would seriously undermine American credibility as it tries to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

 

Mr. Corker's remarks showed that to preserve discrimination, some Republicans are even willing to endanger the nation's security.

 

All members of Congress have two models to consider in the coming days and months. They could pursue more disingenuous brinkmanship — like that practiced by the Republicans on the omnibus spending bill — guaranteeing that none of the nation's urgent problems will be addressed. A far more promising path would be the sort of negotiation that led to the tax deal signed into law on Friday by President Obama.

 

Many on the left and right would have preferred taking the expiring tax cuts to the brink, rejecting Mr. Obama's compromise with the Republicans. Though the deal is flawed, and certainly is far too generous to the rich, it extends unemployment insurance and middle-class tax cuts, and it could stimulate the economy.

 

 

That's what made the Republican filibuster of the spending bill so dispiriting. Both parties had worked for months on setting spending targets, and the resulting bill was hardly bloated, coming in $27 billion below the president's requests. It provided needed funds for securing nuclear weapons in Russia, preventing Head Start classrooms from closing and staving off cuts to Pell grants, among scores of other worthy programs.

 

It was tripped up by ridiculous posturing over earmarks, which amount to less than 1 percent of the bill. Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, forced supportive Republicans to back down when it became apparent that the bill included many Republican earmarks, violating the party's histrionic pledge to stop them.

 

Now both chambers will have to approve a series of continuing resolutions to carry forward current spending levels until February. And the new crop of House Republicans will have a better chance to make good on their reckless pledge to cut far below current levels.

 

While all lawmakers need to think hard about how they want to move ahead, Republicans have a particular choice to make, in the next few days and over the next two years. Should they follow the path of bipartisanship, which is leading to solid results in the lame duck, or the obstruction that led to the death of the spending bill?

 

If they choose the second path, it will be up to President Obama and Congressional Democrats to take a firm stand, refusing to give ground in advance and making certain that voters understand the cost of choosing game-playing over governing.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING THE INTERNET

 

The intensely competitive nature of the Internet is vital to the American economy and democracy. So we worry that rules proposed this month by Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to guarantee the Internet's openness may not be able to guarantee the survival of that competition.

 

Any new rules must prevent broadband service providers from foreclosing on competition. As proposed, the rules appear to come up short.

 

We supported an earlier attempt by the F.C.C. to classify access to broadband as a telecommunications service because it is the modern version of phone lines that carry our voices. This would have given the commission much more power to regulate broadband access than the current definition as an information service.

 

But an assault against this strategy led by the telephone and cable giants convinced the F.C.C. chairman to drop the reclassification and propose a more modest set of rules. It is important that the modest regulations be strengthened before the full commission votes on them on Tuesday.

 

The rules proposed so far have several weaknesses. For one thing, they forbid blocking Internet traffic or "unreasonable" discrimination against carrying some online content. But they do not ban the practice of paying to prioritize some Internet traffic over the rest.

 

Even more problematic is the treatment of the fast-growing new markets for mobile broadband access. While carriers will not be allowed to block Web sites or applications that compete with carriers' voice and video telephony, the proposal exempts wireless from the rule barring unreasonable discrimination on the grounds that wireless broadband is new and unsettled.

 

Absent a bar against anticompetitive discrimination, carriers could stop competing GPS or mapping applications from running on their networks. The rules might even allow carriers to block the application used by a company like Netflix to stream movies onto a mobile device to aid their own movie businesses.

 

Only consumers should be allowed to pay to get faster, prioritized services. If corporations could pay for faster carriage of their content nothing would stop them from divvying up the broadband capacity, condemning less well-financed sources to move at a snail's pace.

 

Fortunately, there is time to improve the proposal by Tuesday. It is virtually assured that the two Republican commissioners will vote against the rule. But the three Democratic commissioners should be able to close the gaps and protect open, competitive broadband.

 

Understanding that they can't foresee every eventuality, we suggest that they keep open a Plan B in case their new guidelines don't do the job: the F.C.C. should keep open its proceedings to redefine broadband as a telecom service. That's what it is.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHOLERA AND HAITI

 

With a cholera epidemic raging in Haiti, the United Nations recently issued an urgent appeal for $174 million to provide clean water, sanitation, food and medical treatment. As of this week, it had raised 25 percent of it.

 

More than 100,000 Haitians have fallen ill from cholera, and more than 2,300 have died. The disease is relatively easy to treat, given adequate supplies of fresh water and prompt medical attention — two things most Haitians lack. Haitians also need more education in preventive hygiene. And despite heroic efforts by relief workers, the epidemic shows no signs of ebbing.

 

Nearly a year after the earthquake, the whole reconstruction effort is badly lagging. Displaced Haitians are still crowded into camps. Money pledged has been slow to materialize. The Haitian government, aid groups and a recovery commission had been inching forward until deadly midsummer storms and cholera hit. Then protests erupted over the chaos-plagued November vote for president and Parliament, paralyzing the country and further complicating relief efforts.

 

Protesters claim the vote was stolen by President René Préval's handpicked election council. International observers, including the United States government, have also raised serious doubts about the council's claim that Mr. Préval's protégé, Jude Célestin, managed to edge out Michel Martelly, a popular singer, for a spot in a January runoff against the top vote-getter, Mirlande Manigat, a professor and former first lady.

 

Haiti's election council has promised a recount, but at this point it has very little credibility. Meanwhile, Mr. Martelly is demanding an entirely new election next month — an expensive and complicated proposition. We are not sure what is the way out of this mess. But it needs to be resolved quickly and transparently.

 

After the earthquake, the international community vowed that this time would be different for Haiti. It cannot walk away now. Outside experts who helped with the election need to help Haiti figure out a way forward. And wealthy nations need to send more money to help stem the cholera epidemic.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

'THINGS ARE COMING TOGETHER'

 

Brenda Vigna is generous, even when there is not much to give. A single mother of four living in a trailer park, she adopted her daughter's pregnant classmate out of foster care in 2008.

 

Ms. Vigna has always drawn strength from her family and worked hard to support them. Before the recession, she made enough to get by as a hairdresser, balancing work with care of her sick mother and son. The last two years have been hard, but she has never lost her drive: earning her G.E.D. and working as a part-time nursing aide. Her children have stocked shelves at a grocery store and bottled and sold their family marinara sauce to local pizzerias.

 

In spite of all that, in September, Ms. Vigna was unable to pay rent on her trailer's lot, and her family was facing eviction. The Catholic Charities of New York, one of seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, provided critical help, drawing $574 from the fund to subsidize one month's rent.

 

Since then, Ms. Vigna has continued hunting for full-time work, picking up part-time shifts, and keeping optimistic. "It's been a long, dark hallway, but things are coming together," she said.

 

All donations made to The Times Neediest Cases Fund go to one of seven charities: The Children's Aid Society; Brooklyn Community Services; The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York; Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens; The Community Service Society of New York; The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and UJA-Federation of New York.

 

To help, please send a check to: The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, 4 Chase Metrotech Center, 7th Floor East, Lockbox 5193, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11245. You may also call (800) 381-0075 and use a credit card, or you may donate at: www.nycharities.org/neediest.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS PINGS TWICE

BY MICHAEL RAVNITZKY

 

Washington

THE Postal Service recently announced it had lost $8.5 billion in the last year, despite cutting more than 100,000 jobs. Without new revenue and other changes to get it back on a firm financial footing, it said, it could face insolvency by the end of 2011.

 

Fortunately, the service has a unique asset that could allow it to make money by collecting valuable data that would contribute to the country's safety and economic health: its far-reaching network of trucks.

 

The service's thousands of delivery vehicles have only one purpose now: to transport mail. But what if they were fitted with sensors to collect and transmit information about weather or air pollutants? The trucks would go from being bulky tools of industrial-age communication to being on the cutting edge of 21st-century information-gathering and forecasting.

 

After all, the delivery fleet already goes to almost every home and business in America nearly every day, and it travels fixed routes along a majority of the country's roads to get there. Data collection wouldn't require much additional staff or resources; all it would take would be a small, cheap and unobtrusive sensor package mounted on each truck. (This idea is mine alone, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Postal Regulatory Commission.)

 

The key elements for the project already exist, including tiny, inexpensive G.P.S. receivers and radio uplinks, features found in today's smart phones. The sensors would operate without distracting the drivers from their primary responsibilities. The service could also minimize startup costs by teaming up with a company to develop, install and operate the equipment. One company under contract with the National Weather Service is already installing environmental sensors on long-haul commercial buses to enhance weather forecasting.

 

The data gathered by these truck-mounted sensors would establish a baseline map of ordinary conditions, making it significantly easier to spot a problem or anomaly. Such a system could aid in homeland security by rapidly detecting chemical agents, radiological materials and, eventually, biological attacks; it could also collect detailed data to improve weather forecasts. And it could assess road quality, catalog potholes and provide early warning of unsafe road conditions like black ice.

 

A system like this could also detect gaps in cell-tower coverage, weak radio and television signals and sources of radio frequency interference. This data could help provide uninterrupted communication services and promote more efficient use of the broadcast spectrum.

 

One logical way to start would be for the service to work with other federal agencies, or to lease space on certain trucks to permit testing of smart sensors by businesses, nonprofits or university researchers.

 

True, other types of vehicles, like taxis or buses, could also carry sensors. But such vehicles typically don't follow as many regular routes. Nor are they managed by a single organization that could readily coordinate nationwide or regional data collection.

 

There are a few obvious objections. For starters, there are privacy concerns regarding certain types of data. But a review panel could be set up to monitor the use of the network and ensure safeguards for handling the data.

 

There's also the question about marketplace competition from a federal agency monopoly, an issue that has led Congress to limit the types of non-postal services the agency is allowed to provide. But in this case, the service wouldn't be competing; rather, it would be providing a platform that a business could never afford. If anything, by offering access to a wide range of data and thereby being a catalyst for business innovation, the service would be promoting competition, not hindering it.

 

Over the next few years the Postal Service must figure out what role it will play in a world where new modes of communication and information-gathering seem to emerge every few years. Postal delivery trucks that go everywhere nearly every day are positioned to fill that role — without sacrificing the vital task of delivering the nation's mail.

 

Michael Ravnitzky is the chief counsel to the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHOSE PARTY IS IT?

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

 

The far left is foaming at the mouth.

 

The near-apoplectic level of agita within the liberal screeching class over President Obama's tax-cut compromise has exposed a seismic crack in the Democratic monolith — outspoken liberal Democrats on one side and barely audible moderate Democrats on the other.

 

The lopsided optics raise the question: Is there a future for moderation, and especially conservatism, in the Democratic Party or is the party experiencing the beginnings of a purging akin to that seen on the right?

 

To some degree, it may be the latter.

 

According to a Gallup poll on Thursday, the percentage of Democrats who identify as liberal rose by nearly a third from 2000 to 2007, for the first time matching the percentage who describe themselves as moderate. Over the same period, the percentage of conservative Democrats declined. In 2000, there was a relatively small margin between the number of liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats. Now there are twice as many liberal Democrats as conservative ones.

 

Long-term, that may be fine, as demographics work in the Democrats' favor. But, near-term, this could prove problematic as Republicans and independents grow ever more conservative, and liberals remain by far the smallest ideological group. For one thing, liberalism remains a coastal condition that leaves out much of middle America, especially the South. For instance, although 40 percent of Texans leaned Democratic in 2009, just 17 percent identified themselves as liberals in a February Gallup poll. And, in fact, the November elections wiped out almost all southern Democratic congressmen. Unless the Democrats want to cede the South, they will have to maintain space for moderate and conservative views.

 

Another problem for far-left liberals is that they demonstrate an insatiable appetite for eating their own. Another Gallup poll, also released on Thursday, found a worrisome trend: President Obama's approval rating among liberal Democrats, while still high, has slipped 10 percent since Nov. 1; but, among moderate Democrats, it has held steady.

 

I attribute much of this to the across-the-board, over-the-top scoffing by the ultraliberal, self-professed brains of the party. According to them, Obama must pay for abandoning his "progressive base." That's funny because progressives, many of whom really wanted John Edwards to be the nominee in 2008, only constitute 20 percent of Democrats.

 

To adapt a phrase from Bill Maher, these far-left liberals would rather fight the friend who disappoints them than focus on the enemy who wants to destroy them. That's not so for those on the right. They just want to win. Too many liberals just want to whine. It's like they're perpetually humming the chorus to Lesley Gore's hit from the '60s: "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to."

 

Sadly, if the Democrats' big tent of openness shrinks to a little fortress of liberalism too fast and too soon, they may well have a reason to cry.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE GINGRICH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

The calendar is collapsing. Only a week until Christmas! Only a month until the beginning of the presidential election!

 

Yes, the race for the White House is practically under way. Already, there are at least seven Republican presidential primary debates on the schedule. The way this is going, the Republican presidential hopefuls will eventually be on television every single minute. Possibly they can be convinced to do something more entertaining than talk about earmarks. Maybe race around the world in teams of two, or compete at ballroom dancing, or agree to all be locked in a house together for several months with no contact with the outside world.

 

I know; you're liking the last one already.

 

But today let's look at their books. Almost every potential Republican presidential nominee has written at least one, and they could make excellent stocking stuffers for the public affairs mavens on your shopping list.

 

Mitt Romney is pushing "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," which is doing well in sales despite the fact that Romney's central concern is whether America will become "the France of the 21st century." Given all our problems, does that sound so bad to you, people? Your medical care would improve, your life expectancy lengthen and dinners would be much tastier.

 

Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, is about to embark on a nationwide tour for "Courage to Stand: An American Story." Be the first on your block to learn how T-Paw's youthful struggles in South St. Paul gave him the courage and tenacity to balance the Minnesota state budget! Pawlenty's background in many ways resembles that of the about-to-be House speaker, John Boehner, although I am relieved to note that he does not generally break into tears when talking about it.

 

Mike Huckabee has written eight books — quite an output, even though his latest, "Can't Wait Till Christmas," is only 32 pages. Some people will find that kind of brevity really attractive, particularly since in it Huckabee has nothing whatsoever to say about the federal budget.

 

Instead, we learn that when he was a youngster (spoiler alert) Huckabee prematurely opened up a gift that he correctly intuited was a football. It was only a hop, skip and a jump from there to understanding the true meaning of Christmas and becoming governor of Arkansas. Then Huckabee lived out his holiday fantasies by collecting a record $112,000 in presents in a single year, including $48,000 in clothing and a chainsaw.

 

That last part is not in the book.

 

Huckabee is a sluggard compared with Newt Gingrich, who has written 22 novels and works of nonfiction. Unless you have already gotten a head start on this project, I am sorry to say you're probably not going to make it through the Gingrich oeuvre in time for the New Hampshire primary.

Gingrich has been twittering his followers with reminders that he's got enough product to allow them to do all their Christmas shopping at Newtland. ("5 Principles for a Successful Life is #11 in Gingrich Productions' 12 Days of Xmas Presents countdown.")

 

Among the options are his latest nonfiction entry: "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine." This is the one that compares Democrats with Nazis.

 

It should not be confused with "Saving Freedom: How We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism" by Senator Jim DeMint. That's the one with a cover that shows the American flag behind barbed wire.

 

Maybe it's just me, but neither one of the books really feels like Christmas.

 

Sarah Palin is out with "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag." One of the reflections missing is who did the writing. You have to get to the very end of the book, and work your way through the acknowledgements of Palin's family, friends, our veterans, "Common-Sense Constitutionalists," "Prayer Warriors" and her lawyer before she notes that conservative speechwriter Jessica Gavora did "most important work" on the tome.

 

Pawlenty's helper, by the way, was Mark Dagostino, who previously co-authored "My Life Outside the Ring," the autobiography of the former wrestler Hulk Hogan. As of this writing, Hogan is not a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

 

But about "America by Heart:" In the all-important matter of gift-buying potential, I would go instead with preordering the upcoming DVD of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," in which the lucky recipient will be able to watch the Palin family get away from it all by taking a camera crew salmon fishing.

 

And while we're expanding our horizons, I hope somebody out there is thinking about a tasteful Mitt Romney Christmas ornament, perhaps showing Mitt's family vacation to Canada, with Seamus the dog strapped in his cage on the roof.

 

Bob Herbert is off today.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TURN IN YOUR BIN LADENS

BY JONATHAN LIPOW

 

THE 500-euro note is sometimes called the "Bin Laden" — after all, Europeans may never see the 500 euro, but they know it is out there somewhere. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda's leader and the 500-euro bill are connected in another way: high-denomination bills make it a lot easier for terrorists to operate.

 

Organized crime has always been a cash industry. In 1969, the Treasury stopped issuing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills specifically to impede crime syndicates — the only entities that were still using such large bills after the introduction of electronic money transfers.

 

Nowadays, terrorist networks have become important users of cash. No organization understands this better than the United States military. During the early years of coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, American forces distributed cash liberally. From 2003 and 2008, about $19 billion in physical money was handed out to Iraqi suppliers and contractors.

 

But the military has gradually realized that the anonymity of cash makes it easy for terrorists and insurgents to smuggle in money and make purchases without a trace. That's why for the past few years the military has been striving to replace its cash transactions with electronic fund transfers and debit card payments in the hopes of achieving a "cashless battlefield," in the words of Peter Kunkel, a former assistant secretary of the Army.

 

Of course, in an era of global terrorism and international crime syndicates, the whole world is a battlefield. Raids on drug traffickers in Mexico often turn up tens of millions of dollars in cash. One raid netted over $200 million, mostly in $100 bills. So, why not eliminate the use of physical cash worldwide — not just a "cashless battlefield" but a "cashless economy"?

 

From a technical point of view, such an initiative is entirely feasible. The trick is to lower the cost of making transactions to the point where even the smallest payments can be executed efficiently. For example, a Twitter application known as TwitPay allows you to use your cellphone and a PayPal account to transfer money. In Kenya, a mobile banking system known as M-Pesa allows six million people to execute small payments using SMS messages.

 

Unfortunately, cellular-based systems are unsuitable as a complete replacement for physical money, particularly in the developing world. Cellphone coverage doesn't yet extend to many rural regions or small urban centers; in addition, such systems remain too vulnerable to cybercrime and power grid or mobile service disruptions.

 

A better approach would be to use smart cards with biometric security features, like the Universal Electronic Payments System. In South Africa, the technology company Net1 now distributes social welfare grants to almost four million people. It's simple: with a battery-operated, point-of-sale device akin to a credit-card terminal, money is transferred from one person's card to another; during the process, the cards download and record each other's transaction records.

 

Every few days, employees from the payments system head out to the villages and make their own money transfers, downloading the transaction histories of the cards they come into contact with, which contain the histories of the cards they interacted with, and so on. That data is then downloaded into the company's mainframe, as a way of monitoring the flow of funds across the cards.

 

Best of all, the system can function offline and off the power grid, providing a secure means of payment under all conditions and without any geographic limitations. And the incremental cost of executing a transaction via this system is essentially zero. It is a promising model for the global economy.

 

In a cashless economy, insurgents' and terrorists' electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions. This would pose similar challenges for criminals.

 

To help move to a global cashless economy, the Obama administration should push for an international agreement to eliminate the largest-denomination bills. Additionally, the United States Agency for International Development could make the promotion of electronic payments systems in developing countries one of its strategic objectives, much as the American military has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

"Money's destiny is to become digital," announced a 2002 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In terms of public safety and national security, the sooner the world moves to a digital cashless economy, the better.

 

Jonathan Lipow is an associate professor of economics at the Defense Resource Management Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHO'S DEFINING MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES?

 

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

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE PRICE WE PAY WHEN JOURNALISTS LOSE THE PLOT

 

Too many of Australia's political reporters fail the nation.

 

AFTER a testing year in national affairs, many voters feel detached from a political class that is failing to address the real challenges that threaten Australia's prosperity. The Weekend Australian shares their disappointment at the inadequate performance of politicians of all stripes, but we believe it is time to turn the searchlight on our own profession and ask whether the media is doing its job of objectively reporting politics. The answer, sadly, must be no. Indeed there is a crisis in political journalism that mirrors the crisis in the political class.

 

The failure of many highly paid and prominent journalists to question the dysfunctional administration of Kevin Rudd was a serious concern. Such failure is bad for public debate, bad for the nation and particularly bad for Labor. It is not just a question of press gallery journalists leaning to the Left. That guilty little secret has been known for decades: Labor has been happy to exploit this bias, the Coalition has learned to live with it. There is a deeper malaise, as Chris Kenny writes in our pages today, born of the tendency for journalists to come increasingly from a tertiary-educated elite with a "disdain for the vulgarity, ignorance and prejudices of working families and their suburbs". This mind-set dominates the ABC and Fairfax press, generating a false narrative of politics. There are excellent journalists at these outlets, but as we detail in Inquirer today, many in the gallery missed the biggest political story for years. It will be easy for them to dismiss Kenny's report, despite his 20 years as a fearless reporter, because he spent much of the past decade working at senior levels for the Coalition. But it would be a mistake for the gallery to avoid the real point: 2010 has not been its finest year. Our critics will claim we are waging an ideological war against the Left and using our pages for a commercial battle with rivals. They are wrong. We have supported good federal Labor governments in the past; we endorsed Mr Rudd in 2007; we want Julia Gillard to be a good Prime Minister. We have backed the election of state Labor governments over many years and run regular columns from former Labor premiers and state ministers, including Peter Beattie, Morris Iemma and Michael Costa. We take no pleasure in watching Australia's oldest political party agonise over its identity.

 

The Weekend Australian, too, must always seek to improve its coverage. While we have led the debate in many areas, we recognise there is more we could have done. Yet the promise made to readers in our first edition, on July 15, 1964, that we would be tied to no party, provides a solid framework for our reporting. We have well-developed ideas about what Australia needs and it is against that vision that we assess policies and tactics. This contrasts with most of the gallery, which is obsessed with whether Labor or the Coalition has won the daily battle of tactics rather than asking whether the government has an overall strategy. This is like settling for the "hit and giggle" of Twenty20 over Test cricket. It is made worse by the unequal contest between often-inexperienced reporters and a slick government PR machine.

 

Labor may feel that this lack of scrutiny makes governing a doddle but it reinforces bad habits, lazy policy and government by press release. Wayne Swan's vacuous banking package shows how good public policy can be lost when a government is made complacent by journalists out of touch with voters. The gallery's values are a poor indication of where the centre ground lies. Its dominant mind-set drives an agenda, notably on climate change and asylum-seekers, that is different from the views of middle Australia. The fault line in Australia is not between workers and bosses or consumers and big corporations but between the morally driven politics of the progressive community and pragmatic policy, anchored on sound economics, that drives prosperity.

 

These are challenging years for media, not just because of industry fragmentation but because it has lost the trust of consumers, who do not share the view from the gallery. This issue must be addressed by the profession. But the government must have the courage to challenge the political correctness of the gallery and tell it as it sees it to middle Australia. Labor will find the backlash is less intense than it fears.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A WRITER WHO TOLD US OUR STORIES

RUTH PARK'S LITERARY LEGACY IS PART OF OUR RICH HERITAGE.

 

FOR a writer who spent her first 25 years in her native New Zealand, Ruth Park's depictions of Australian life, written with warmth and empathy over six decades, eclipsed most local-born novelists. Park, who died in Sydney on Tuesday aged 93, lived in Surry Hills with her husband, D'Arcy Niland, years before its working-class streets were gentrified. Writing vividly about what she saw, Park struck a chord with readers in 1948 with The Harp in the South and its sequel, Poor Man's Orange. These earthy sagas depicted the struggling Darcy family, whose bright, youngest daughter, Dolour, became familiar to generations of readers as she looked beyond her surrounds to a "glamorous, golden, and misty life". Park's Muddleheaded Wombat is a children's classic. And Playing Beatie Bow, which traverses time to Sydney's early days, still grabs the imagination of teenagers in the cyber age. Like Dolour Darcy, whose aspiration was "getting out of Surry Hills", Ruth Park made her mark on the wider world.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

PLAYING OUR PART FOR REFUGEES

EFFECTIVE BORDER CONTROL DOES NOT PRECLUDE COMPASSION.

 

THE horrible scenes from cliffs of Christmas Island had barely disappeared from our screens before the wedging began. On ABC radio yesterday, one reporter told listeners the incident would spark debate between those calling for tougher border controls and those advocating a larger refugee program. Australians with a more nuanced view of this morally challenging question will struggle to come down on one side or the other.

 

The Weekend Australian is strongly in favour of accepting more refugees and believes Labor adviser Cameron Milner has sparked a useful discussion with his call for a tenfold increase in refugee numbers. We see no contradiction in supporting a humanitarian response while recognising the need for effective action, including offshore processing, to "take the sugar off the table".

 

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's claim yesterday on Radio 2GB that the Howard government's Pacific Solution had not worked, and that it was a change in external circumstances that stopped the boats after 2001, is self-evidently false. The facts and figures speak for themselves. Hockey stick graphs may be unfashionable these days, but here is one we can believe in.

 

Drawing the clear link between border protection policy and arrivals is the easy part. The hard part is to find an effective solution to the estimated 12 million displaced people around the world, given that few countries are as generous as Australia in offering sanctuary. Let us suppose that were to increase our quota from 13,500 to 50,000 refugees per annum. How should this finite number of asylum places be allocated, and on what grounds should the 50,001st applicant be rejected? How, in other words, do we manage the imbalance between supply and demand? Should those who can afford the exorbitant price of a ticket on a fishing boat have an advantage? Or should asylum-seekers be subjected to triage, so that the most desperate in the UN's inadequate processing system go to the top of the queue?

 

Ah, there's that "q" word again, guaranteed to enrage The Sydney Morning Herald. We trust David Marr will excuse such candour, because we'd like to hear his answer. In quiet, measured language and practical terms, would he kindly spell out his policy solution? How many asylum-seekers does Marr believe we should take? Or should we lift the cap altogether? Should those arriving on boats reduce the number taken through orderly processes? And what about the millions who don't fit the agreed number? Contractural obligations to Fairfax permitting, we'd be delighted to publish his constructive solutions to this intractable global problem.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE BIGGER SQUEEZE: SYDNEY BY 2036

 

EVERYONE agrees Australian house prices are inflated, but they disagree on what the consequence is likely to be. It is not a bubble, says the International Monetary Fund, in a report published this week. It will not burst. Any correction is likely to be orderly. No, it is a bubble, some sharemarket speculators have been saying. It will burst and when it does Australian banks will be in trouble, so we will short-sell them now to profit from the chaos. And so they have been. Each weekend, meanwhile, home buyers head out onto roads choked with traffic to inspect houses and bid at auctions, oblivious to the experts' predictions but tending in their behaviour to confirm the IMF view more than that of the market vultures: prices have been rather flat this month. Bank shares have yet to collapse.

 

Meanwhile, into this morass of highly priced doubt and indecision the NSW Government has lobbed its second metropolitan strategy, intended to sketch out the shape of Sydney over the next 25 years. It too has a view about housing: on present trends for population growth, Sydney will need 770,000 more homes over the next 25 years - roughly 30,000 a year, increasing Greater Sydney's housing stock by 46 per cent. In the last five years, the city has been building homes at the rate of 19,000 a year. It should not be completely surprising then that house prices are high and keep rising.

 

The strategy's authors have to do the best with the rather poor hand they have been dealt by past decision-makers. Transport is integral to land-use patterns. Though Sydney does have a developed public transport network, it is a long time since public transport in general, and rail in particular, was the primary transport mode. About 92 per cent of the 16 million journeys in the metropolitan area on any weekday are made by car or truck. In Sydney, the preference for cars as the main transport mode for the trip to work and other purposes has dictated a pattern of settlement which is low-density and spread out wide across the Sydney basin.

 

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To make some sense of the Sydney Metropolitan area as a single entity, the planners five years ago devised the idea of a city of cities, designating five subregions, superimposed like the Olympic rings on the map of Sydney, each containing one or more civic centres as a hub. These - the CBD and North Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, Penrith, Chatswood - are all based on rail connections. As the report says: "The metropolitan heavy rail network is the backbone of Sydney's public transport system and has helped shaped the city's extensive suburban development around rail corridors." The city of cities framework is possible because rail networks - not roads - have created the hubs on which it depends. Yet the strategy also identifies 46 key transport corridors across the city, which bear only a distant relationship to the existing rail network. That suggests that if the strategy is to be put into effect, a good deal more effort will have to go into strengthening the rail network in comparison to roads in the future.

 

The chief reason is housing. A study conducted for the strategy found that to locate all of the new houses required by 2036 in greenfield sites would cost $11 billion more than the alternative favoured by the planners: 30 per cent of new housing on greenfield sites, 70 per cent in existing suburbs.

 

If Sydney's existing suburbs are to remain liveable and not choked with cars, their inhabitants will have to be given alternatives to the car for many transport tasks. Investing in public transport, and particularly rail, will be necessary if the targets are to be met. The strategy recognises that, and reinstates the north-west and south-west rail links to new growth areas, as well as the Parramatta-to-Epping line. Let us hope governments can stay focused on the task, because more than that will be needed in future.

 

Meanwhile, nagging at the edge of planners' and real-estate buyers' consciousness this week was a report about trends of another kind. The federal Coasts and Climate Change Council released maps showing the likely effect of a range of sea-level rises up to a metre on coastal areas in Sydney. The areas likely to be affected by flooding at high tide or during storms by 2100 are a reminder of the very long-term trends with which Sydney's landholders must eventually deal. It is another reason to think twice about our addiction to cars and petrol-using transport.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE VENGEFUL

 

IT TURNS out that a lot of us - one-quarter, to be precise - are giving Christmas presents to people we do not like. The Australia Institute is to be congratulated on the ground-breaking research, reported in the Herald this week, which turned up this gem. But what should we give? The answer fairly leaps out: a leaf-blower. Ah yes, but if these people are genuinely unlikeable they will already own a leaf-blower. Besides, leaf-blowers ruin the weekends of blameless neighbours - which should never be our intention, and particularly not at Christmas. Some hand-wrought native drums, perhaps - ugly, large and noisy, irritating qualities which would nonetheless be confined within the home. Or a set of Lego, which will inevitably be spread over the carpet and provide years of unexpected pain for anyone in bare feet. A printer - which must be resupplied frequently with tiny vials of absurdly expensive ink. All these ideas have merit. But perhaps we should rise above this pettiness and just send a nice card. That will really hurt.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHAT A DIFFERENCE WIKILEAKS MAKES

 

The gap between what politicians say and what they really think has never been more evident.

 

WHISTLEBLOWERS and leaks are not new. They are what make media scrutiny of the secretive workings of governments and corporations possible. This is a fact of life even for governments, which sometimes discreetly release information they think will serve their agendas even though it may be contained in documents marked ''classified'', ''confidential'' or ''top secret''. But when this happens, the government dictates what the public will be allowed to know. That relationship has been turned on its head, however, since WikiLeaks began releasing the 251,287 cables, sent to or from 274 US embassies, that have come into its possession.

 

So far WikiLeaks has published only a tiny fraction - fewer than 2000 - of its cable cache, in association with newspapers including The Age. Yet even that is an avalanche of information compared with the usual drip-feed from leaks, and it has in equal measures unnerved, frustrated and infuriated the world's governments. This not because publication of the cables has endangered lives or threatened the security of the US, Australia or other nations, although politicians have been quick to make such claims. It is an accusation of last resort, made by people who have been profoundly embarrassed by the WikiLeaks revelations. What publication of the cables has done is to highlight the gulf between what political leaders and diplomats say privately and what they are willing to tell citizens. And because that gulf is so evident, their credibility has been erased on issues, such as the war in Afghanistan, on which they have grown used to lying with impunity.

 

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None of this means that governments are never justified in keeping some information confidential, especially if its publication really would endanger national security. Nor is it obvious, as some of the more avid fans of new media confidently assert, that the ease of uploading data to the internet means that governments will never again be able to conceal information from citizens. After all, if WikiLeaks obtained the cables in the way the US State Department and the Pentagon allege - on a computer memory stick provided by a low-ranking US soldier in Iraq - then the website is the beneficiary of sloppy security, not superior hacking skills.

 

Yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard again said that the copying of confidential documents by a person with access to them was an act in breach of US law. Ms Gillard also announced that an Australian Federal Police inquiry had found no breaches of Australian law in WikiLeaks' publication of the cables. Attorney-General Robert McClelland made a similar statement, but Ms Gillard was not deterred from taking a swipe at WikiLeaks and its Australian editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, anyway. The ''wholesale release of information'', she said, had been ''grossly irresponsible''.

 

It must be wondered whether the Prime Minister thinks the New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers, which detailed the Johnson administration's deception of Congress and the US public about the Vietnam War, was grossly irresponsible. Those documents were also illegally copied and provided by a person with access to them. Yet it cannot seriously be argued that their publication was not in the public interest. It mattered to Americans that their government's public statements on the war were contradicted by actions it had concealed from them.

 

And so it is now with the WikiLeaks revelations, in Australia and many other countries around the world. As The Age has argued before, what has been learnt about the national security establishment's view of the war in Afghanistan demolishes the arguments Ms Gillard has used in justification of the war. Those arguments so differ from the advice she and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, received on the war that the question of whether Australia is acting simply at the behest of the US has been raised with renewed force. The cables portray starkly the difficulty Australian politicians have in distinguishing Australia's national interests from its obligations as a US ally. Australia's ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, when opposition leader, pledged that Australia would support the US in any conflict with China over Taiwan. And Mr Rudd's standing as foreign minister has surely been damaged by a series of comments in the cables, from frank assessments of him as a ''control freak'' to his obsession with ''containing'' China and disparaging remarks about Chinese leaders and officials.

 

Ms Gillard cannot credibly claim that the Australian people did not need to know the contents of these cables. And she should be assured that The Age will keep publishing them.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

WIKILEAKS: THE MAN AND THE IDEA

 

Since the publication of the WikiLeaks US embassy cables, the world has changed in a number of interesting ways

 

The sight of Julian Assange giving a stream of television interviews from the grounds of an 18th-century country house on the Norfolk-Suffolk borders was, at the very least, a confusion of the cinematic genre the plot has hitherto taken. It was as if Julian Fellowes had been drafted in to finish a script begun by Stieg Larsson. The James Bond villain had stumbled into an Edwardian stately home soap opera. A quick interview with Kay Burley before Carson announces dinner.

 

It is nearly three weeks since the Guardian and a handful of other news organisations began publishing stories and selected US state department cables based on the 250,000 documents passed toWikiLeaks. In that time the world has changed in a number of interesting ways. Millions of people around the world have glimpsed truths about their rulers and governments that had previously been hidden, or merely suspected.

 

Hackers' revenge

 

The cables have revealed wrongdoing, war crimes, corruption, hypocrisy, greed, espionage, double-dealing and the cynical exercise of power on a wondrous scale. We feel some sympathy with the poster on a Guardian comment thread this week who complained of Wiki-fatigue. The revelations have flowed at such a rate that it may be months, or even years, before the full impact of what has been disclosed can be fully absorbed. It is all too easy to feel defeated by the sheer scale of the blurred torrent of information unleashed on the world.

 

During these three weeks the man who kicked this particular hornet's nest, Julian Assange, has been arrested, jailed and freed. Hackers have taken revenge on huge corporations accused of aiding those who would dearly like to choke off the organisation he founded and runs. The US government has announced a thoroughgoing review of the principles on which it shares the intelligence it collects. The porous nature of the digital world has been driven home to those in charge of international businesses, banks, armies, governments – and even news and gossip websites. The implications for large state databases are as yet unknown. And now Assange is promising to speed up the release of the documents and to scatter them more broadly around the world.

 

Though the global implications of what has happened are far reaching, there is an inevitable sense in which the story is, indeed, being reduced to a biopic – the life and times of Julian Assange. In some ways this is a fair representation of events, but it is also limiting, and highly diversionary. There is no question that Assange has a missionary zeal, technical skill and high intelligence, without which the whole WikiLeaks project would never have gained its present prominence and/or notoriety.

 

Sex allegations

 

In last Sunday's Observer Henry Porter compared him to the 18th-century libertine, John Wilkes. Wilkes is remembered now as the fearless publisher, editor and politician who fought crucial skirmishes in the journey towards a free press in Britain. He risked exile, imprisonment and death for the right to publish – including the proceedings of parliament. But in his own times he was also regarded as a rake. One biographer has noted how "the reports of his sexual liaisons – both factual and fictitious – leaked from the private realm to fuel the hectic debate over his qualities as a public man".

 

The parallels with Assange are hard to ignore. He found himself in Wandsworth prison, not for breaches of the Espionage Act, but because he is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex offences relating to two women he met earlier this year. To many (though doubtless not to the women) this is a side show to the main event. To others – including Assange and his legal team (who have disparagingly referred to the events as a "honeytrap") – this is a dark conspiracy to frame him, in much the same way that Al Capone was put out of circulation for tax offences.

 

Unnoticed toil

 

It is impossible to make judgments about what happened in private circumstances: that will be for the Swedish courts eventually to decide. But it is wrong that the notion that the allegations are simply a conspiracy or smear should go unexamined. Having been given access to the relevant Swedish police papers – including the womens' claims and Assange's rebuttal – we have felt it right to present a brief summary of the nature of the complaints, together with Assange's response. It is unusual for a sex offence case to be presented outside of the judicial process in such a manner, but then it is unheard of for a defendant, his legal team and supporters to so vehemently and publicly attack women at the heart of a rape case.

 

As with Wilkes, none of this should have any bearing on the wider question of Assange's role in bringing the cables into the open. For some years Assange toiled away, largely unnoticed, leaking documents which exposed corruption and wrongdoing by governments and powerful organisations.

 

It is wholly understandable that the US government should feel both embarrassed and furious at the scale and nature of the material he has been filtering out over the past three weeks. So far the administration has acted with some restraint rather than lash out in some form of retributive fashion. Assange's legal team believe that this may soon change and that he may soon face charges of an unspecified nature to do with obtaining and publishing the cables. Nor should it be forgotten that Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old private accused of being the original source of the leak, is currently in solitary confinement awaiting a court martial and the prospect of spending the next five decades behind bars.

Painstaking task

We and four other news organisations have worked with WikiLeaks over many months in order carefully and responsibly to publish a small number of cables. The first amendment of the American constitution is a formidable bulwark of free speech, rightly admired around the world. As Max Frankel, a former executive editor of the New York Times, recently wrote in these pages, the supreme court defended the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, even though the lead judge, Justice Potter Stewart, was sure it was not in the public interest. It would be dismaying if there was now an attempt to prosecute Assange for his role in publishing the documents. He is clearly in some senses a publisher and journalist as well as a source. In that respect he deserves protection, not criminal indictment.

 

The broader plan of WikiLeaks is to move beyond the arrangement with the five newspapers currently involved,

and to partner with other news organisations who can highlight stories of particular interest to specific regions.

We hope that, if so, it is done with due care to anything that might jeopardise individuals or sensitive ongoing operations. The process of editing, contextualising, explanation and redaction is a painstaking one. It is part of the craft of journalism. Journalism is also about disclosure. It is at its best when it is the disclosure of matters of high public interest. Judge Assange on that score, as much as any other

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

AD HOC TAX REFORM PLAN

 

After confusing discussions over where to find the funds needed to implement policy measures and to make up for tax cuts, the government Thursday approved the fiscal 2011 tax reform plan. The basic character of the plan is to increase the levy on the household sector, especially on rich individuals, while reducing it on the corporate sector.

 

Acceding to strong requests from business lobbies, the government decided to cut the effective rate of corporate tax by 5 percentage points from the current 40.69 percent. The cut will reduce the tax burden on firms by ¥1.5 trillion, although other tax burdens on them will increase by about ¥800 billion.

 

Prime Minister Naoto Kan hopes the corporate tax cut will stem the trend of moving production bases abroad and that firms will use the savings in taxes to increase domestic investment and employment. But there is no guarantee that this will happen. Major companies may simply increase their retained earnings.

 

Their retained earnings already top ¥200 trillion, reflecting their reluctance to take the risk of making investment. Japan's corporate tax rate is not the main reason for firms to move their production bases abroad. The main reason is cheaper labor costs and proximity to growing overseas markets. It is hoped that the corporate sector will act in the direction of revitalizing the domestic economy and that the government will push appropriate economic policies.

 

Regrettably Mr. Kan decided to cut corporate tax without first securing funds to compensate for the cut. The government has chosen the path of increasing income and inheritance taxes to implement the corporate tax cut and to increase the child allowance. The tax burden on the household sector will rise by ¥580 billion. This will include limiting deductions on taxable income for salaried workers earning more than ¥15 million a year and reducing the basic deduction on a taxable inheritance. Even so, offsets to the corporate tax cut will come up short.

 

The plan is an ad hoc solution for securing necessary funds. The government and political parties must rouse wide public discussions on long-range tax reform to stabilize tax revenues.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION UNDER FIRE

 

In June, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly voted down a bill that stipulated that manga and anime must be sold in the "adult corner" of stores if they "recklessly" and "positively" depict sexual activities of characters presumed to be 18 years old or younger in a manner thought to hamper children's judgment on sex. The bill was intended to revise the Tokyo by-law to promote the healthy development of youths.

 

On Dec. 15, the assembly passed a new version of the bill. It focuses on manga and anime that "unreasonably laud or exaggerate" sexual acts that violate the law, such as rape and indecent sexual assault, and sexual intercourse or similar acts between relatives who in real life could not marry each other.

 

The new bill allows the metropolitan government to ask the manga and anime industries to exercise voluntary restraint so that those manga and anime will not be sold to or seen by youths under the age of 18 through an ordinary sales channel. A metropolitan government panel will designate manga and anime as "unhealthy publications" unsalable to youths aged under 18 if it determines that their depictions do not follow the guideline and if the publishers' voluntary restraint is lacking. Works judged as "unhealthy publications" will be placed in the "adult corner" of stores.

 

But the new bill has many problems. Its purpose is unclear because the current by-law already restricts the sales of works that "cause excessive sexual arousal, encourage cruelty or induce suicide or murder." The scope of the new bill has also been expanded to cover problematic sexual acts even by people older than 18. The criteria to determine whether works "unreasonably laud or exaggerate" sexual acts mentioned by the bill are arbitrary. The new bill could excessively restrict freedom of expression under the guise of protecting youths against harmful publications. If creators believe in good conscience that their works have literary and artistic merit then they should pursue them. If they come into conflict with the metropolitan government in doing so, they can and should go to court.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

WIKILEAKS' FLAWED ANSWER TO A FLAWED WORLD

BY ESTHER DYSON

 

NEW YORK — Long ago, I wrote about the Internet pioneer Julf Helsingius, who ran a precursor to WikiLeaks called anon.penet.fi. As I said then: "Anonymity in itself should not be illegal. There are enough good reasons for people to be anonymous that it should be [allowed] — at least in some places on the Net (as in real life)."

 

But anon.penet.fi got little notice: there weren't enough people on the Internet at the time to read what was posted, and Julf did not use the WikiLeaks "business model" of cooperation with "establishment media." Eventually, he had to shut down the site in a tussle with the Church of Scientology, which used copyright law to keep its secrets.

 

There can be no clear line marking what needs to be kept secret (or never uttered) from what does not, but it should be drawn far from where most authorities put it — at least in a world where authorities are imperfect. If we are unwilling or unable to demand transparency from the institutions that have power over us, we should be grateful for those who put their lives (and their consciences) at risk to do so.

 

So I was eager to meet WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the 2009 Personal Democracy Forum in Barcelona. At that time, Assange was just gaining visibility outside the tech community. He was opaque and playfully cryptic, already a little paranoid — perhaps justifiably so. More recently, it appears that he ruled his little organization with no tolerance for dissent. That makes him a jerk, and presumably we will soon find out whether he is also a rapist according to Swedish law.

 

But you probably need to be a bit weird and callous to devote your life to transparency for others. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned ex-CEO of what was Russia's largest oil company, is another example of a flawed, uncompromising person who challenged the flawed people in power and their unaccountability. Such people do not die for our sins; rather, they sin on our behalf, so that we may live comfortably while they afflict the authorities at great personal risk and in disregard of (authorities' interpretation of) the law and sometimes even ethics.

 

Assange's motives, as far as I know, are not anti-American, but anti-authority. He would argue, I believe, that he has no power other than to authenticate and publish documents that others send to him about people with power, and thus that he has no obligation to reveal anything about himself.

 

This is and should be the principle behind WikiLeaks and its successors — to publish information that officials would keep secret, not information about private lives. In a world where governments, corporations, and other institutions have so much information about us, it is only right that we should have more information about them and about the activities of people acting on their behalf.

 

If institutions are not fully accountable, it is useful to have an unaccountable countervailing institution to reveal their secrets. In fact, the WikiLeaks model is fairly sensible: it solicits documents from anyone, assesses whether they are real, and posts them with alerts to the establishment press, which operates as de facto gatekeeper to the masses. After all, how many people actually visit the WikiLeaks originals? Few, compared to the millions who see them interpreted in the mass media.

 

What about the possibility of endangering lives? What about real secrets about terrorists and delicate negotiations? By all accounts, that point has not been reached. If it is, I would support throttling WikiLeaks' revelations . . . and most media would not republish its content.

 

The irony is that little has been revealed that we didn't know already. What we're getting is the details — the personal comments, the texture of diplomats' lives and those of the people they watch, the horrible toll of war and its daily indignities, the hypocrisies and lies of those in power.

 

Will all this make us more cynical rather than more demanding? Will it make governments more opaque rather than more transparent? Are we headed for an era of more paranoia about secrets, including less sharing of useful information?

 

If the cure is to be worse than the disease, to quote Personal Democracy Forum cofounder Andrew Rasiej, let's find a better cure: let's make the proper distinction between what should be secret and what everyone knows. Let's foster more transparency about the institutions that have power over us so that a WikiLeaks is no longer necessary or justifiable.

 

So far, little damage has been done — and little positive change accomplished. The U.S. reaction has been over the top. It called on Amazon to cancel its contract with WikiLeaks, while PayPal shut off WikiLeaks' account — apparently without even being asked. Why is it that the call for transparency seems to apply only to countries that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits, rather than to the one that she represents?

 

I recently talked with an establishment stalwart who told me how much more difficult these leaks will make it for the U.S. diplomatic corps to accomplish its putatively worthy goals. But is diplomatic convenience really so important? Perhaps it's useful for us all to understand how things actually work. In any case, the official reaction is overkill.

 

In the long run, WikiLeaks matters for two reasons. The first is that we need a better balance of power between people and power. Information — and specifically the Internet's power to spread it — is our best defense against bad, unaccountable behavior.

 

Second, we do want to trust our governments and institutions. The point of openness is to make those in power behave better — and to make us trust them more. Rather than viewing them as enemies, we should know what they are up to, and perhaps have a little more say in what they do.

 

Making that happen requires someone willing to face opprobrium, jail, and a life of surveillance. I wish Julian Assange were a better person, but better people are not rising to the challenge.

 

Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, is an active investor in a variety of startups around the world. Her interests include information technology, health care, private aviation and space travel. © 2010 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

SCRUTINIZE THE CITY BUDGET

 

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo could smile Friday when the Jakarta City Council approved the proposed Rp 27.95 trillion (US$3.09 billion) 2011 City Budget following weeks of debate involving the local legislature.

 

The governor was happy not only because of the council's unanimous endorsement of the budget, but also because it would ensure the immediate implementation of various development projects in the capital.

 

Disappointed with what he believed was time wasting, the governor early this week threatened to ignore the city councilors' deliberations and instead reuse the 2010 budget for next year.

 

Fauzi was particularly outraged by a number of councilors who he felt were wasting time debating what he thought were unimportant matters.

 

The approval for the 2011 budget, which is Rp 1.24 trillion higher than this year's, was approved two weeks late compared to this year's budget, which was approved on Dec. 2 last year.

 

"I hope that the Home Ministry will return the budget bill next week so that we can start to work soon," the governor said after the budget approval, referring to the requirement of the ministry to check regional budgets, following the approval by local legislative councils.

 

The details of the allocations of the city budget were not available. However, a number of budget allocations have been revealed, including those for transportation and flood mitigation — two vital sectors, which have a wide impact on Jakartans.

 

Regrettably, the budget allocations for the two sectors for next year only slightly increased from this year's allocations. The budget for transportation has reportedly risen to Rp 2.53 trillion from Rp 1.96 trillion this year, while the budget for flood mitigation will increase to Rp 1.36 trillion from Rp 1.3 trillion.

 

The city needs more funds allocated for transportation, not only because taxes on private car owners have been the main source of the city's revenue, but also because the funds are badly needed to improve public transportation, which would reduce the dependence on private cars, which are believed to be the main contributor to daily traffic chaos in this city.

 

An adequate fund for flood mitigation is important to eliminate dozens of flood-prone areas in the city as well as to improve drainage systems, which often overflow when it rains, which damages roads.

 

We hope that the details of the budget will soon be available for the public to ensure transparency in the use of the taxpayers' money. With Rp 27.95 trillion to spend, Jakarta is among the few provinces in this country with a large budget. If the money is spent wisely, it would improve the welfare of the city's residents.

 

We welcome governor Fauzi's call for public participation in monitoring the city budget because it is undeniable that corruption and other inefficient practices in budget spending remain a great problem in our bureaucracy.

 

Public participation in the budget monitoring is expected to deter those who wish to use the budget not in the interest of the people. Only through transparency and accountability can the public monitor how bureaucrats spend their money.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

IMMEDIATE ACTION SOUGHT TO PREVENT CATASTROPHE IN JAKARTA

WIRYONO, QUEENSLAND

 

Jakarta has at least two problems that may paralyze the city soon: traffic congestion and flooding. The two are related because when roads flood, traffic almost comes to a halt. And the two problems are getting worse.

 

With hundreds of new motorcycles and cars being sold in Jakarta every day, it is predicted that within a few years the traffic will come to a complete standstill.

 

The total length of all cars combined exceeds the total length of roads. This is simple mathematics. No simulation of sophisticated computer modeling is needed to predict this complete traffic jam.

 

Flooding will also worsen because larger buildings are being built and more groundwater is being pumped out, both of which result in land subsidence, a few centimeters per year.

 

Meanwhile, residents of Jakarta continue to throw garbage in rivers, reducing the capacity of the rivers to contain rainwater. Many wetlands have been drained, filled in and had buildings and impenetrable roads built on them.

 

Rainwater has little chance to infiltrate the soil to recharge groundwater. Instead, most of it becomes run off, flowing on impenetrable land surface, inundating low lying areas.

 

Even without rising sea levels due to global warming, flooding will occur more often in Jakarta.

 

A simulation of computer modeling has predicted that in 10 to 20 years much of Jakarta will be 
permanently inundated.

 

Despite this looming danger, the government has not acted prudently to avoid the disaster. Instead, when a terrible traffic jam crippled Jakarta after rain last month, the governor blamed the weather.

 

Of course, the weather played a great role in causing the floods, which in turn caused traffic congestion, but rain always falls in the rainy season.

 

So the government should have taken preventive measures to prevent floods and the subsequent traffic congestion.

 

The government doesn't need more theories to solve the problems. The governor claimed during his election campaign that he was the expert who could solve the city's problems.

 

Furthermore, many solutions have been presented through the press, television and radio.

 

To alleviate traffic congestion, a mass rapid transit system must be built, whether monorail or subway, and private cars must be limited. There is no other way.

 

To reduce flooding, more land should be allocated for green spaces; wetlands and streams should be restored, the use of groundwater should be prohibited or at least severely restricted and permits for large building construction must be restricted.

 

The sooner we start implementing solutions the better. Delaying the process will only make the matter worse.

Of course, it will not be easy to take the necessary measures to prevent disaster. Many big companies will fight such measures if their economic interests are jeopardized.

 

It is also possible that foreign governments will back these companies.

 

Even ordinary people will protest if their comfort is sacrificed. So, only a strong leader can implement this very difficult task.

 

A weak leader will yield to pressure and play safe by postponing the solution until his term ends.

 

The governor of Jakarta or even the President must lead the job. He must clearly explain the goal of preventing future disaster.

 

To get wide support, the government must involve community leaders, intellectuals and celebrities to educate the public through discussion, media campaigns and religious sermons.

 

Also, the government must ensure that all projects resulting from these disaster prevention measures are conducted transparently to avoid public suspicion.

 

But realizing that the President and the governor lack firmness when dealing with serious problems, all stakeholders that have a good understanding of the problem, such as environmental NGOs, journalists, academics and researchers, must be active in pushing the government to take action.

 

This threat is really serious and must be taken as such. Even a layman is able to envisage this coming disaster quite well, let alone a visionary intellectual.

 

More than 10 million people live in Jakarta. Many important business centers, embassies and government offices are located in Jakarta, including the presidential palace. Great economic, political and cultural assets are at stake.

 

If we fail to prevent this environmental catastrophe, we will suffer tremendous economic, political and cultural losses. Ten or even 20 years from now is not long. So, we must act now, or we are bound to experience a calamity.

 

A simulation of computer modeling has predicted that in 10 to 20 years much of Jakarta will be permanently inundated.


The writer is a lecturer at the University of Bengkulu's School of Forestry and currently writing a book at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

 

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