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Monday, December 20, 2010

EDITORIAL 20.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 20, edition 000707, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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















































































Congress general secretary and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi's reported comments, made over lunch to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer in July last year, as to how "radicalised Hindu groups" pose a bigger threat than jihadis of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, would have remained a secret had WikiLeaks not gone and made public classified cables despatched by American Embassies around the world to their headquarters, the State Department in Washington, DC. While there's nothing admirable about the anarchy afoot and even less reason to cheer Mr Julian Assange whose intention is far from making Governments accountable, but for the leaked cables that emanated from the US Embassy in New Delhi we would have been deprived of a glimpse into Mr Gandhi's worldview, no matter how twisted and perverse it might be. It is amusing that a person with such restricted understanding of an all-important issue like national security should be projected by the Congress as the rightful claimant to the Prime Minister's office, the Prince who shall one day become King of India by virtue of his belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. True, politics is a continuous learning process and politicians evolve with the passage of time. But anybody with the slightest instinct for politics would be far better informed than the man on whom the Congress pins its hopes, as also those of the nation. No person with any interest in current affairs and an understanding of the dynamics of national security issues, which is the least expected of those aspiring for high office, would have said anything remotely similar to what Mr Gandhi is reported to have told Mr Roemer. This is not about sophistry or choice of words, but the sum and substance of what has been said.

There is, however, another aspect to the entire affair which merits comment. Should Mr Gandhi have spoken in so cavalier a manner with a foreign diplomat? It is obvious from Mr Roemer's cable that he, or for that matter any of his colleagues at the US Embassy, did not share proximity with Mr Gandhi who has been described as "elusive" till the two met at a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Coincidentally or otherwise, they were seated next to each other and casual lunch table banter followed. It should have remained limited to that. Instead, Mr Gandhi launched into an expansive exposition of his plans for the Congress (he had nothing charitable to say about his senior party colleagues) and his perception of the threat faced by India — not from Pakistan-based terrorists owing allegiance to groups like the LeT (who had wrought havoc in Mumbai eight months ago) but fringe elements whom the Congress insists on describing as 'Hindu terrorists', a campaign of calumny amplified by the party's captive media. It could be argued that the Congress has for long been working on this strategy to tar the image of the main Opposition party, the BJP, and Mr Gandhi was merely articulating his party's policy. But even if this were to be true, the question arises: Should he be disclosing that to the American Ambassador? Which leads us to another question: Can India trust a man who can be so reckless in his conversation with a foreign diplomat?







Sometimes the demise of an invention is both an occasion to feel sad as well as rejoice. The ubiquitous incandescent bulb, born some 200 years ago, is on its deathbed. Soon it will disappear from shops across the world; it has reportedly already disappeared from Australia and Brazil, and in the coming year will make its final bow in Britain as well. With production halting in Japan and the United States phasing it out as well, the traditional bulb as we know it will burn in some parts of the world, including India, for a little more time before burning out forever. In an era when countries are struggling to contain the waste of energy and emissions that contribute to global warming, the bulb is an incongruous product, with 90 per cent of the energy it generates going into producing wasted heat while a mere 10 per cent brings the glow that lights up millions of homes. It is that heat which occasionally blows up the tungsten filament in the bulb and causes it to explode with a bang that makes even the most accustomed consumer jump in alarm. The termination of the incandescent bulb, therefore, will save us energy, besides paving the way for more efficient and environment friendly replacements. This is to be welcomed. All the same, it is with a heavy heart that people will bid adieu to the incandescent bulb that has over the decades come to symbolise a lot more than just light. At a time when the West was in the throes of industrialisation, the bulb-manufacturing industry emerged as a labour intensive sector that provided jobs to millions of people and empowered hundreds of million more families through the income its sales generated.

Incandescent bulb manufacturers used the boom to create wealth and assets for their nations, besides leaving behind tidy sums of money for their succeeding generations. They created an entire army of skilled and semi-skilled workers — from mould boys and glassblowers to sales and marketing executives — though one wonders if too many gimmicks were required to sell a product that consistently fell short on supply than demand. The bulb helped young and eager minds to lap up knowledge from their books without craning their necks or straining their eyes. Ironically, the incandescent miracle, now seen as environment-unfriendly, had helped replace even more environment unfriendly kerosene lamps whose fumes singed the eyes and blackened the walls. The bulb, a source of enlightenment and hence freedom, ironically also became the symbol of torture: A single bulb hanging from a wire in a dank room with a man strapped to a chair beneath it and goons hovering around him has been a recurring image of totalitarian — and not so totalitarian — states. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to change. 










Is there a method to Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's repeated bouts of madness? He has once again reiterated the bizarre story that raises questions about who killed Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare who died during the 26/11 attacks on multiple targets in Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists owing allegiance to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Mr Digvijay Singh claims he knew Karkare well and that the police officer had told him time and again that he was being threatened by 'Hindu extremists' after some of them were booked by him for allegedly planting a bomb at Malegaon. The sinister implication of what Mr Digvijay Singh said is that Karkare may have been eliminated by these people waiting to pounce upon him when he rushed to take on the terrorists.

Earlier, the same Digvijay Singh had raised questions about what caused the death of Inspector MC Sharma of Delhi Police: The police officer was killed while raiding an Indian Mujahideen hideout at Batla House in Delhi's Jamia Nagar. The Congress worthy had suggested that Inspector Sharma was killed by his own men and not the jihadis. Mr Digvijay Singh is not merely a Congress leader. He is the party's general secretary and, as a former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who held office for 10 years, he cannot be dismissed as a politician seeking the limelight. 

The Congress has neither disowned nor silenced him. So the frequency with which Mr Digvijay Singh repeats his absurd stories, including the tale about Karkare (it has been denied by the slain police officer's widow; but that has not dampened his enthusiasm) raises a fundamental question: Is he saying things which his party wants him to say? Are his utterances part of a larger conspiracy?

Mr Digvijay Singh is among those who rush to Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, from where many of the Indian Mujahideen terrorists who have been arrested or are on the run hail, every time a jihadi from this place is picked up by the police. In Azamgarh these leaders visit the families of the arrested terrorists, openly express their sympathies for them and turn into apologists of the Islamists. The LeT and other terrorist organisations are known to recruit men from Azamgarh to serve as their foot soldiers and plant bombs across India with the intent of killing innocent people. These 'leaders', including Mr Digvijay Singh, are known for their relentless tirade against the police as well as for alleging that Muslims are being harassed by the state for no fault of their!

After his latest comments on Karkare there has been much speculation as to why he said what he did. His claim that Karkare called him a couple of hours before his death remains unstabstantiated and uncorroborated; he has failed to produce any evidence to back up his assertion. Ms Kavita Karkare, the widow of the slain police officer has categorically denied that her husband did not talk to Mr Digvijay Singh on that fateful day. She has also wisely appealed to politicians to keep her husband's tragic death out of partisan politics. 

Given this backdrop, there can be no doubt that Mr Digvijay Singh has not been talking out of turn. He is being used by the Congress to deflect the attention of critics of the party and distract those tracking the misdeeds of the UPA Government, including rampant corruption as exemplified by the 2G Spectrum scandal. 

The entire Opposition, which includes parties that are as opposed to the BJP as the Congress is, has stood like a phalanx, asking the UPA Government to agree to its demand for the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the political dimensions of the telecom scam. It is this high index of Opposition unity which has begun to worry the Congress. It had not quite expected that the Opposition would unite in such a manner against the party and the Government. 

It is possible that the Congress's leaders are beginning to sense the resurrection of the Opposition-led campaign against corruption, symbolised by the Bofors scam, that shook the Government of Rajiv Gandhi and led to his defeat in the 1989 general election. Although Rajiv Gandhi headed a Government with a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, that did not help him tide over the Bofors crisis. That majority just withered away in the face of a combined assault by the Opposition parties, ranging from the CPI(M) at one extreme and the BJP at the other. Something similar has begun to emerge in the wake of the 2G Spectrum scam.

So the Congress has decided to do what it does best: Stir the cauldron of communal politics to break the Opposition's unity. Mr Digvijay Singh's twisted conspiracy theory is part of this strategy. In a sense, there's nothing sudden or new about it. This has been on the cards for some time now: Recall Congress general secretary and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi's comments to the US Ambassador on how 'Hindu terrorism' is a bigger concern than the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba or the jihadi threat emanating from Pakistan.

As the 'secret' US cables put out by WikiLeaks show, the Congress was up to the same game in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 carnage when it sought to play communal politics in the hope of pandering to Muslim voters. Perhaps it thought this would help the party regain the support of minority voters who had shifted allegiance to other 'secular' parties over the past decade-and-a-half.

It would not be incorrect to suggest that Mr Digvijay Singh's obnoxious utterances are anything but a faux pas or that he has blundered in making such rancid views public. It is obvious that he articulating what his political bosses want him to say to set the stage for a communal backlash that, the Congress calculates, will consolidate Muslim votes in its favour. 

Tragically, the Congress is unmindful of the consequences of such a strategy. This will only serve to strengthen the hands of those in the Pakistani establishment who have been insisting that neither Pakistan nor its agencies, leave alone its citizens, had anything to do with plotting and executing the 26/11 attacks. More worrisomely, such comments also serve to undermine the Government of India's position on the issue: That Pakistan should act against the perpetrators of the crime and bring them to justice for the slaughter of innocent men, women and children. Pakistan would be truly grateful to Mr Digvijay Singh and his ilk for taking Pakistanis off the hook. 

It is strange that while the Government which the Congress heads has been telling the world that terror emanating from Pakistan is a threat to not only India but also global peace and security, a senior leader of the party has chosen to say something that flies in the face of official policy. The Congress surely can stoop to any level.







On November 29, The Pioneer published a PTI report saying that the Government had set the ball rolling for estimating black money in India as well as the causes for its generation.

Some years ago, an acquaintance of mine had a house to sell for say 80 lakh rupees. He had made sure that the property was owned by the subsidiary of his company so that no profit, upto the paid up capital of the subsidiary was taxable. Such was the Income Tax rule until March 1984. Hence he needed to do an all white money sale. But the highest bidder was a businessman who had only black money. He concluded all his business, incidentally in scrap iron, in cash. The steel mill management who sold scrap wanted only an under-the-table payment. While, the mills that bought the scrap also wanted to pay cash; because they needed to show that their steel was made from virgin iron. An accountable scrap purchase would expose their mixing. The middle man, therefore, had to be a juggler exclusively in black money. If he kept any statutory account books, they could embarrass his clients. Here was an example of a professional compulsion to buy, sell and profit in black much beyond the lure of personal greed. 

For many years, the high rates of income tax were blamed for the generation of black money. There was a time when the very wealthy agreed that between income and wealth taxes, they ended up by paying more than cent per cent of their income in taxes. Companies also paid upto 70 per cent corporation tax plus surcharges. And then dividends were also taxable by the shareholders. The rates all round have since been reduced and yet it is doubtful if the share of the black economy, as a percentage of the total, has declined much, if at all.

The wayward businessman is concerned more with his expenses being allowed as expenses and less with evading tax thereafter. On the other hand, the salaried person counts every penny before writing his tax return. He feels his income is the fruit of his sweated efforts. But in social conversation nearly everyone comes together to censure the ITO. Few recognise that tax saving, if not evasion, is an element that runs in the veins of most of us. The reasons might be several.

For centuries a greater part of the country was governed by the rulers who were invaders and perceived not our own. There could be a widespread feeling of not belonging to the state. Thereafter, followed the British rule which was seen as colonial and the expatriates remained foreigners until they left. The Indian legitimately asked himself: Why should I pay tax to help remaining a slave? As we began to aspire for independence, Mahatma Gandhi advised Indians not to pay taxes as part of protest and non-cooperation with foreign rule. 

Thereafter, the Government of independent India did not set a shining example. The Prime Minister moved into the erstwhile palatial residence of the commander-in-chief, now converted into the Nehru Museum. His Ministers wore khadi, but lived in bungalows with multi-acre grounds. None of them paid and had deduced any tax for this enormous privilege. The bureaucrats, however, paid a token tax. Neverthless, they were no example to the people to willingly pay their taxes.

What has gradually become worse and worse is the reckless manner in which the money, collected by way of taxation, is squandered by the Government. The loan melas are held of the various schemes whereby according to Rajiv Gandhi only 15 per cent of the money reaches the deserving poor, inspite obedience of fiscal laws. Not to say of the hajj subsidy which even the Muslim leaders have declared as unwanted, et al. 

No waste is as large as that which passes through the Planning Commission as expenditure to the many state Governments. Most of the money is gathered by the Centre whether through taxation or deficit financing. The state Governments are allowed very few lucrative subjects to levy taxes. The Centre distributes annual collections through the Planning Commission which in turn does not check or even enquire as to how the largesse of the previous year was spent. The supervision of State expenditure is the responsibility of the State Government. Little wonder that the likes of the infamous Bihar Fodder Scam take place. The system is almost incredible. Say Bihar asked the Planning Commission for a hundred crore rupees to build a particular bridge. Whether or when the bridge was built, the State Government does not have to account for. But the State can claim every year say 10 crore for the repair and maintenance of the bridge. 

On condition of not disclosing his name, the then Planning Commission member told me that if the Commission became fussy about accountability, the State capitals might be upset. Opposition party State Governments could get provoked and agitate for abolition of the system. And the truth was that hardly any country in the world had developed with the help of planning. At the same time, the Centre did not want to lose the enormous patronage of doling out largesse every year to the States. After all he who pays the piper can call the tune!

The answer may well lie in legislating that the revenue expenditure of the Government should be met only through money raised by taxes. The capital expenses could be the function of a Development Ministry, which should raise its own funds through cesses and loans. For every rupee it thus raises, it would turn to the Reserve Bank of India for a subsidy of one or even two rupees with interest to pay on the loans it raises, the concerned Ministry would have to be alert for results and returns from the projects its money was sanctioned for. 

The Planning Commission, which is not a statutory body but was created through a Notification of the Cabinet should be abolished. 







When political rivalry turns vicious in its violence, converting competition into a primitive contest for vengeance then the sanctity of electoral democratic mechanisms for change is brutally violated. In West Bengal, in the late 1960s and till 1977, the terror filled turbulent years when murder and mayhem clashed with the strongest exercise of the coercive power of the State system have witnessed what can go wrong with a democratic system that is deliberately twisted to malfunction.

The death of a student, Swapan Kolay, in Andul in Howrah district pursued by his attackers, who clearly had a murderous intent, demonstrates that a mob when instigated is a lynch gang. Unless the rival political camps, namely the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), decide to call for an end to such barbarity in the name of politics and "people's rage," this violence will spiral and go out of control. There is no excuse that "people" are reacting to decades of CPI(M)'s oppression and the outbursts are a natural manifestation of pent up feelings. Such excuses ought not to be trotted out as justifications for the killing of a student. Blaming the CPI(M)-led West Bengal Government for its failure to maintain law and order on the one hand, and accusing the Marxists of denying political space to the Opposition is equally pathetic as explanation of the violence.

Neither side is innocent in this bloody politics. Both sides are equally involved in setting one mob against the other and then watching from the sidelines. Hundreds of people, from the rival political parties have died and so created the conditions for the violence over students union elections in Kolkata and Andul in Howrah, in which Swapan Kolay lost his life and Shouvik Haldar lost an eye. What happened was atrocity and that included women students who were attacked and seriously injured. 

It is not enough that the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) both condemned the incidents; for there is no doubt that both will organise a series of political events to derive mileage in their ugly fight to control the future of West Bengal.

Political parties locked in mortal combat ought is outrageous, for it makes nonsense of the democratic process of elections. What value can elections have when the run up is a series of killings deliberately perpetrated to demonstrate the muscle of the political parties? Till now, Kolkata had been insulated from the war that is underway. The deaths and clashes in the "districts" were distant events. That distance has been erased and the fight is now in the heart of the metropolis. 

The question that needs to be asked is what great political advantage would either the Trinamool Congress or the CPI(M) have gained from winning the college union elections close in South Kolkata, close to Kalighat? By extension, what was so imperative about winning the college elections in Andul? The election outcome in 2011 will not be decided by the outcome of college elections. The winners will be decided by the voters spread across the State in remote villages and mostly illegal housing on the fringes of the rural. 

For the Trinamool Congress engaging in a desperate fight in every election — college elections, school board elections, local club elections — is a sign of weakness. Given its spectacular winning spree in the panchayat elections in 2008, the Lok Sabha in 2009 and the municipal elections in 2010, it should have no concerns whatsoever that the winds of change are blowing in its favour. By clashing with the CPI(M) over college elections, it is revealing either its nervousness or its intolerance.

For far too long, violence in West Bengal politics has been condoned by rival parties as manifestations of "peoples rage;" the rage may be real, but the means by which it is broadcast is manipulated. In the 1970s one generation of West Bengal's youth either fled the State because they could and prospered, or stayed behind and languished, becoming part of the vast army of unemployed and unemployable. Their disability ought to have taught the political class a lesson. Instead, the political class has chosen to trash another generation of West Bengal's youth by encouraging them to deploy violence. 

The availability of gangs of young people, in urban and rural locations, who can be sucked into the dark and devious plots hatched by the political class, is evidence that unemployment is an explosive problem. It is also evidence that the aspirations of West Bengal's youth have not been allowed to soar. In their obedience to repeating the history of the past with all its mistakes, it is obvious that insularity of the State's politics and vision of its own trajectory has dwarfed their imagination. And the youth are not to blame.

West Bengal's political parties, including the newest one, namely the Trinamool Congress, constantly hark back to the past. The nostalgia for lost glory is pervasive. Nobody ever told the young people, except for a brief while when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee talked about his "vision" for transforming West Bengal into an economic driver in India's race to attain super power status, that there was a bright and brilliant future ahead. The "Ma, Mati, Manush" slogan captured the idea of rootedness; it also affirmed that the future should be dreamt of in small, claustrophobic and ugly ways. 








The nature of modern warfare demands that Russia's air and space defence be under unified command. This is the conclusion reached by leading military experts at a roundtable organised by the Rosbalt news agency on December 15. The experts discussed the section on military matters in President Dmitry Medvedev's recent state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly. The discussion of the experts was centered on creating an air and space defence command in Russia and the possibility of a new arms race between Russia and the United States.

The need for a space command

For years now there has been talk of creating joint air and space defence forces in Russia, but the President's statement should catapult the subject from the realm of theory into practice.

The new command should include anti-aircraft and missile defence units, an early warning system for missile attacks and a space surveillance system. This strategic air and space command will become the foundation of Russia's strategic defence system.

Initially, the command will provide cover only for Moscow, the Central Industrial District and the high command of the Armed Forces.

The planned deployment of next-generation anti-aircraft missile systems, which should be able to intercept ballistic missiles, will deepen the unification of air and space defence, and enable Russia to establish areas that are super protected from attack from the air or space, including launch sites of the Strategic Missile Forces.

"Air and space defence is a key element of our national defence," said Mr Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the magazine Natsionalnaya Oborona(National Defence). "The nature of modern warfare is changing, and the role of several types of aircraft is growing. A new generation of strike systems is also under development. These new systems will be able to strike targets from space."

But Mr Korotchenko also pointed out that the exact form and capabilities of the new command are not yet clear.

"A number of bodies have already started to hog the spotlight," he added. "We can assume that the new command will be formed on the basis of the former Special Purpose Command for the anti-aircraft defence of Moscow, and it is clear that the prime contractor to supply new equipment and weapons systems will be Almaz-Antey, which should just be renamed the Air and Space Defence Company already."

European missile defence: Cooperation or arms race?

In his address to the Federal Assembly, President Medvedev said that failure to reach an agreement on missile defence in Europe could trigger a new arms race.

"I'd like to speak plainly about the choice we face in the next 10 years: Either we reach an agreement on missile defence and establish meaningful cooperation, or a new round of the arms race will begin," the President said.

According to President Medvedev, if an agreement on missile defence is not reached, Russia will be forced to deploy new offensive weapons.

Experts have reacted to the President's statement and the possibility of Russia-Nato cooperation on a European missile defence system by noting that the final shape and purpose of the European missile defence system is still up in the air.

"The European missile defence shield is, in fact, an element of the national missile defence system of the United States," said Mr GrigoryTishchenko, head of defence policy at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

"And in the future, the US missile defence system could be a threat to Russia's strategic nuclear forces," he added.

Mr Vasily Belozyorov, co-chairman of the Association of Military Political Scientists, said that Russia joining the European missile defence system would radically alter the global political landscape.

"We have traditionally supported Iran and denied that it poses a military threat. Russian participation in the missile defence system would imply that we do see Iran as a threat," Mr Belozyorov said.

Whatever the prospects for missile defence, experts have also said that a renewed arms race is unlikely.

"The United States and Europe will try to draw Russia into the orbit of their strategic interests, for example, through the process of working together on Iran or Afghanistan," said Mr Tishchenko. "Europe will involve Russia in their military and political structures up to a point. Europe and the United States need what Russia can offer, so they have no interest in starting an arms race."

There is essentially no chance of a repeat of a classic, Cold War-era arms race — missile for missile, tank for tank and so on. This would be unsustainable for any country's economy. In the event of a serious cooling in relations between Russia and the United States (Nato), there would perhaps be a "race of approaches," where each party seeks an asymmetric response to steps taken by the "potential enemy". This kind of race is less costly, but it will divert resources away from solutions to the real problems in the world — terrorism, local conflicts, piracy, drug trafficking and arms trafficking. If left unchecked, who knows the damage these problems could unleash?


The writer is a Moscow-based military affairs analyst. 








THERE seems to be no end to the woes of those travelling out of the Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.


The software malfunction in the check- in counters, that took place on Friday, is only the latest among a series of glitches that have been taking place since the terminal became operational in July this year.


Some snags the terminal hit initially can be dismissed as teething troubles, which almost all mega- airports in the world have had to go through. But we fail to understand why the airport management has been unable to iron these out in the last four- and- a- half months.


In fact the glitches seem to have multiplied and become more evident as the traffic increases, especially after domestic operations were shifted to the terminal last month.


A case in point of the faulty systems is the process of baggage handling, which was touted as being world class. This was one of the earliest shortcomings that came to the authorities' notice but even now passengers are having a torrid time with many having to wait as long as two hours to claim their baggage.


It is shameful that in spite of the poor quality of the services, passengers are being charged an Airport Development Fee — a subsidy to the company that defeats the purpose of privatisation.


The airport management is trying to make money even from the electric car that is used to transport elderly passengers across the terminal.


Considering that the distance from the aircraft to the immigration counters is nearly a kilometre it is unfair for the airport management to charge a fee for such a service.


The terminal, which was hailed as symbolising India's arrival as an international destination seems to have ended up as a cause for embarrassment.



IT is understandable for Russia to seek clarifications on India's nuclear liability law, ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev visit.


This is because during the visit significant agreements for enhanced nuclear energy cooperation are to be signed.


There is no denying that some confusion has arisen over the application of the nuclear liability law passed by parliament since the country signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation ( CSC) for Nuclear Damage later this year.


This has to do with the fact that while the provisions of the civil nuclear liability law — which opens the door for legal action against the supplier in the event of an accident caused by faulty equipment — are a result of vigorous debate in Indian parliament, the CSC was signed by India as part of its commitment to the United States when the two countries signed the nuclear deal.


The Indian side must make it clear to Russia while the domestic law and the international convention are to be harmoniously construed, so far as possible, in the event of any conflict it is the domestic law that will prevail over the international agreement. Not doing so would undermine parliamentary sovereignty. As for the CSC, besides the fact that India hasn't ratified it, the convention is yet to come into force.



CHINESE Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan is a stark indicator that Beijing sees Islamabad as a tool for its grand plan of dominating the region, while simultaneously expanding its business interests.


More important than the $ 20 billion business deals that are to be inked during the visit, it is likely that Mr Wen will revive Beijing's plan to build a China- Persian Gulf railway corridor.


This line is linked to Pakistan's plan for developing the Gwadar port, also built by China, as well as Beijing's ambitious goal of bypassing what it sees is a potential bottleneck for its oil imports at the Straits of Malacca.


But the main purpose of the visit, following the one to New Delhi, has been to reassure an embattled Islamabad that its all- weather friend is still around. Pakistan plays an important geopolitical role in furthering Beijing's ambitions. But China cannot but be aware of Pakistan's slow collapse. It needs to do more to prevent that occurrence, primarily by persuading Islamabad to fight domestic jihadi terrorists more vigorously.



            MAIL TODAY






IT ALL started on May 19, 2008, with the murder of V. Jayaraman of Pondicherry, who exposed a University marksheet scam. A Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry indicted a student named Sridharan and his father, C. Krishnamurthy who applied for bail in May 2009 which was before Justice R. Reghupathi. Then, impropriety broke loose. Allegedly, lawyer R. K. Chandramohan met Justice Reghupathi in his chambers in the Madras High Court on June 12, 2009, inviting him to speak to ' minister Raja' over the telephone to let the accused father and son off.


Justice Reghupathi refused to oblige. By June 29, the matter became newsworthy when Chandramohan was reported to have upset court proceedings.


Reported in a national daily the next day, the imbroglio stood exposed. Justice Reghupathi himself announced in open court on him being approached by a lawyer on behalf of a Union minister.




It was certainly the duty of Justice Reghupathi to report the matter to Chief Justice H. L. Gokhale of the Madras High Court. This he did on July 2, 2009. Sadly, Justice Gokhale who could have constituted a bench and issued a notice for contempt to the advocate through whom the minister's name would have come out did not do so. Instead, Justice Gokhale wrote a letter on July 5, 2009, to the then Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan, which was dispatched on July 7 with his own covering letter which was duly acknowledged by CJI Balakrishnan. As it happens, the CJI did nothing, taking the view that there was nothing to act on! Subsequently, some action was taken to suspend lawyer Chandramohan.


Difficult though it is to believe, the then chief justices of Madras and India failed to take appropriate action. This total failure on the part of the judiciary does not do it credit. These acts of judicial forbearance would have died a natural death but for the fact that Minister Raja was in the news over the 2G spectrum scam. Media memory is stronger when triggered by whip- lash revivals. The matter resurfaced in December 2010 after 18 months of inaction.


The connecting point was the result of a Public Interest Litigation ( PIL) before the Madras High Court which ruled that action be taken to suspend lawyer Chandramohan.


Wounds healed by judicial nonfeasance amounting to misfeasance were reopened.


Retired Justice Reghupathi cannot be blamed for inconsistency. In retirement, faced with the new situation, he confirmed not only what he had said in open court in June 2009, but that he had sent everything to CJ Gokhale who had transmitted it to CJI Balakrishnan.


What happened next was an ex- post facto judicial ' blame- game' between the two Chief Justices.


On December 14, 2010, Chief Justice Gokhale, now a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, decided to contradict former CJI Balakrishnan who, according to Gokhale had " given erroneous impression of my ( Gokhale's) role in the matter." A press release by a sitting SC Judge against a former CJI is unprecedented.


But its contents were illuminating. He said the former CJI knew from paragraph two of Reghupathi's letter that Raja was the erring Minister. CJI Balakrishnan also wrote back to apprise CJ Gokhale of parliamentary concern addressed to the Prime Minister. Gokhale did nothing except to affirm that he had already sent Reghupathi's letter to the CJI. In a sense, CJ Gokhale can be read to confirm that he failed to take appropriate action.


In December 2010, a controversy bordering on farce erupted between Gokhale and Balakrishnan, with Gokhale insisting that the former CJI knew that Raja was the minister in question, Balakrishnan denying this and Reghupathi thanking Gokhale. But whether Balakrishnan knew whether the Minister involved was Raja is mostly irrelevant.




Four issues stand out. The first is that the controversy was in the public domain.


Everyone knew about it. The Prime Minister, parliamentarians, the two Chief Justices, the Madras Bar and, through the media, the general public. The two Chief Justices could have acted but failed to do so. CJ Gokhale was directly armed with the power to issue notices for contempt.


CJI Balakrishnan could have used the Nadiad ruling to issue notices or prompted CJ Gokhale to do so. The controversy was allowed to lie fallow by the combined inaction of both Chief Justices.


Second, Justice Reghupathi had declared what happened in Court and informed CJ Gokhale. He could not have constituted a contempt bench. That was for CJ Gokhale to do.


Third, CJ Gokhale should have issued notices for contempt. He, and — in some sense — only he had the power and jurisdiction to do so. He need not have passed the buck on to CJI Balakrishnan.


But that was easier for him because, presumably, he did not want to ruffle the feathers of the Madras Bar of which lawyer Chandramohan was the President.


Any controversy may have blighted his chance for a Supreme Court appointment.


Clearly Gokhale's abnegation does not seem worthy of a Chief Justice even if hitherto, he had a relatively colourless judicial career.


Fourth comes CJI Balakrishnan who though from Kerala, was also a former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court with connections in the city. The issue was important enough for him to act.


His forbearance is astonishing. For him now to say that he did not know that Raja was involved is ducking the hook.


In terms of his overall responsibility, this was irrelevant. At best, all this would show is that he was not shielding Raja. If so, who was he shielding? And, if nobody, why did he not act? There are things said about CJI Balakrishnan that may not bear repetition. But, his term as CJI is not regarded with enthusiastic commendation. He did not have to wait for Gokhale to act. Nor, indeed, did Gokhale have to wait for Justice Balakrishnan to act.



It took a PIL to ignite the controversy to effect the suspension of the gobetween lawyer. By this time, the justices have moved on. Reghupathi has retired.


Gokhale has become a judge in the Supreme Court. But he thought it fit to make a ' holier- than- thou' press release against Balakrishnan who, in turn had retired as CJI to hold the post- retirement job of heading the NHRC. Everyone is saved precipitous embarrassment though there are calls for Balakrishnan's resignation from the NHRC. But there is no point denying that the reputations of former Chief Justices Gokhale and Balakrishnan are affected.


Neither discharged their duty. In the Bhattacharya case ( 1995), Justice K. Ramaswami declared that judicial misdeeds could only be cured by complaints to High Court CJs and the CJI. These incidents have made that plea hollow. The judicial record in protecting judicial probity has been embarrassing. As far as the facts are concerned, the situation is aptly described by the poet Tom Gunn: " Youknow- I- know- you know- I know- you- knew." The judiciary cannot be trusted to cleanse itself without an objective process that does not depend on the personality of individual Chief Justices. A proper process of appointments and complaints machinery is necessary. In this controversy, the law minister has sided with CJI Balakrishnan. We hope his Bill to create a new machinery to discipline the judiciary and make it accountable for judicial corruption is not half- hearted!


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer









STUDENTS are the potential leaders of the country, and when people think of the future of West Bengal, anxiety and fear cripples them. The students have turned barbaric and are active players in the new brand of a no- holdsbarred violence. Leaving behind the books and exams, students in both rural and urban areas are now totally politically indoctrinated and most of them don't have any apolitical identity — they are either Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad or Students Federation of India ( SFI) cadre.


The killing of Swapan Koley, a second year student of Prabhu Jagadbandhu College in Howrah on December 16 has led to such a polarisation that the SFI cadre and Trinamool Chhatra Parishad activists are now after each others' blood.


The son of a paan shop owner, Swapan always wanted to be a leader, and he chose to join the SFI. But West Bengal's new model of violent campus politics cut his life short.


Thrashed with iron rods, he was dragged out of the house and his head was smashed with bricks. His body was then thrown into a canal.


Swapan was just a SFI- backed class representative candidate for the college election.


There is no doubt that Swapan was mercilessly killed, and the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad cadre are being blamed for the heinous crime. Police rounded up one Chhatra Parishad supporter, Sourav Santra, in connection with the murder. An FIR has also been filed against 13 Trinamool Congress student activists. Sourav claims he is innocent and that Swapan was killed by his seniors. Locals, however, feel outsiders are involved in the murder.


Similarly, another youth was blinded on the same day at the Ashutosh College at Bhawanipur in downtown Kolkata in a political clash between the two warring groups of students. The gory battle for political dominance among the students is sure to push West Bengal in a state of total anarchy and crisis.


The security situation could have worsened on Thursday when a group of Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad activists were all out to gherao chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's residence on Palm Avenue, while the SFI cadre had headed towards Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat home.


As the state assembly election draws near, the violent students, in all likelihood, will trigger a bloodbath in West Bengal. Sadly, senior leaders of the state's political parties are not taking any step to restrain the students, and are all out to turn campus clashes into a high- voltage political drama, as can be seen from the venomous verbal war between the Trinamool Congress and the CPM. Trinamool Congress's chief whip in Parliament, Sudip Bandyopadhyay, claimed on Friday that the " SFI hooligans" had planned to march to Mamata's house on Thursday " to kill her". Interestingly, Mamata blamed CPM " outsiders" for Swapan's killing. She claimed the CPM " outsiders or supari killers" mistook Swapan's political identity and killed him.


THE railway minister even demanded a CBI inquiry into Swapan's killing. Didi claimed that Swapan was taken to the hospital by the president of the Trinamool's student wing in the college.


Left Front chairman Biman Bose, too, was not away from the war of words. Bose alleged that Mamata herself had staged a demonstration close to the CM's house last year. He also claimed that the Trinamool Congress is mobilising outsiders to decimate the democratic process in colleges.


The ruling CPM is all out to turn Swapan's killing as an election issue. Senior party leaders, including Mohammed Salim, Rabin Deb and minister Manab Mukherjee, went to Swapan's home to console his family. Even Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee paid a floral tribute to his body at the SFI headquarters in Kolkata.


The overall security situation in West Bengal is extremely tense now, and it is certain it will get worse during elections. It is like a civil war where both sections of political workers are out to harm and kill each other. But who is going to end the battle now?





GOVERNOR M. K. Narayanan is worried about the ugly trend of campus violence in West Bengal. On Friday, the former national security adviser issued a statement saying that educational institutions should not become an arena of violence.


Stating that the growing incidence of campus violence was adversely affecting the image of the state, Narayanan said he is greatly worried and deeply grieved with the dangerous trend.


Appealing students to desist from violence, the governor said: " History will not forgive us if we condone the violence being unleashed within and outside the universities, colleges and even schools. These institutions should not become the arena for violent confrontations on account of political or other reasons." The governor said for students, education should always be the first priority.


" While I respect democratic protests, there is no place for violence, which needs to be put down with a firm hand," he said.


Narayanan, a former IB chief, even discussed the issue with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and senior bureaucrats.


With decades of experience in intelligence agencies, Narayanan can be the best guide for the police in West Bengal to avert political violence in the future, especially in educational institutions.


Radicalism still attracts bright ones


WHO says CPI ( Maoist) is an organisation of the havenots? Even brilliant students in the best educational institutions support Maoism.


Sudip Chongder — the secretary of the state committee of CPI ( Maoist) who was arrested on December 4 — has confessed that the outfit has more than 600 active members in and around Kolkata. He has also given a list of 200 of these to the Special Task Force ( STF). The list includes names of more than two dozen students of the prestigious Presidency College and Jadavpur University.


In the 1970s, when the state was hit by an archaic form of Naxalism, Presidency ( now a university), was a hub. Interestingly, even after four decades, the movement still finds support there.


Chongder confessed that the CPI ( Maoist) is now using Jadavpur University as a base for the recruitment of bright students. At present, more than a dozen students and ex- students of the university are engaged in fulltime organisational work.


Some are even working in the Maoist- dominated districts of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore. The STF is likely to launch a major operation against the urban cadre of the CPI ( Maoist) in and around Kolkata.









Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit achieved much but was remarkable because the PMO demonstrated a new resolve in the practice of diplomacy made explicit in the joint statement. It broke with past precedent by eliding over Beijing's 'One China' policy or the notion that Tibet and Taiwan are integral to China. The Chinese expected this reaffirmation as a matter of course. India, however, converted Chinese assumptions into a negotiating point by requesting they recognise Jammu & Kashmir as integral parts of our polity. In doing so we sent a clear message. Relations are founded on reciprocity. India will only forward another's political agenda if it is prepared to help ours in turn. 

While Wen's visit certainly helped in stabilising India-China relations and ensuring they remain on an even keel, the returns are certainly disappointing when compared to Wen's last trip to India in 2005. That trip had been genuinely forward-looking as a roadmap on settling the border issue, which included respecting settled areas, had been developed. Since then, there has been considerable backsliding on the Chinese side noticed, for instance, in increasingly assertive claims to Arunachal Pradesh. Not only did Wen's current visit not yield any fresh initiatives on the border issue, the Chinese chose not to resolve even the minor issue of the stapling of visas of Jammu & Kashmir residents, while Beijing maintains a stony silence on India's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council

There was greater success on the non-political front, predominantly in trade and investment. Wen came with a 300-strong business delegation and $16 billion worth of trade deals were signed. Beijing has committed to redressing the trade imbalance currently skewed in its favour by allowing more market access to Indian products and services. It is commendable that the government is welcoming Chinese investment in infrastructure. Starved of facilities regarded as the norm in much of the world, we need as many players as we can attract to develop roads, telecommunications and power plants. And China has the wherewithal - it can not only provide cheap power and telecom equipment, it is flush with dollars looking for investment outlets. 

New Delhi needs to keep up the economic and strategic engagement with China, while hoping to get Beijing to show more sensitivity to its core concerns. For that it must be willing occasionally to play hardball with China if it isn't treated as an equal. Securing stability and prosperity over vast swathes of Asia depends on an enabling environment between Asia's giants.







Those who argue that Rahul Gandhi is politically callow will be reinforced by US diplomatic cables laid bare by WikiLeaks, according to which he told US ambassador Timothy Roemer that Hindu terror groups posed a bigger threat to India than Muslim militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). On a purely factual level it would come as a surprise to most terrorism experts that unnamed Hindu terror groups could match, or even come close, to the demonstrated logistical capabilities of the LeT and allied militants which have repeatedly mounted large-scale operations in foreign countries, 26/11 and the attack on the Lok Sabha on December 13, 2001 being two cases in point. And on a political level it undermines the UPA government, because if Hindu terror has emerged as such a serious threat that has happened on the UPA's watch. 

There's no denying that Hindu terror is a serious issue. Bomb attacks in Malegaon, Ajmer and Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid have been linked to Hindu extremist groups. But the sources of such terrorism are within India, and it's the UPA government's job to stamp it out. Terror attacks by the LeT and related groups, on the other hand, amount to international incidents. There's an Indian diplomatic campaign underway, which has achieved a fair amount of success lately, to point out the considerable evidence that the LeT is what it is - perhaps the world's most potent terror organisation after the whittling down of al-Qaida - because of the safe havens it enjoys in Pakistan. The US being a key player in the region, Rahul's remarks to the US ambassador run the risk of undermining the Indian campaign. No wonder that another US diplomatic cable doubts whether Congress has the political capability to tackle terror. 








The visit of China's Premier Wen Jiabao to Delhi appeared like any other business trip with the usual announcements regarding reiteration of mutual respect, enhancing trade, investment flows, cultural and educational cooperation and the like. However, the subtext of this visit is the newfound confidence in India to set terms for such engagement with the dragon, as foreign minister S M Krishna pointed out. 

Firstly, a rising India hinted to China the benefits involved in working together. The joint communique suggested that bilateral relations have "acquired global and strategic significance". Despite the G2 ( United States and China) coordination on regional and international issues, China today is much more isolated than it was in the recent past. This was reflected in the response of the Southeast Asian countries in countering aggressive Chinese policies on the South China Sea dispute in October this year. 

India's inclusive approach in multilateral institutions, in which China is also a member, is being viewed positively by those concerned. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's observation that India bailed out China from international isolation at the Copenhagen summit on climate change is another case in point. Likewise, the Indian prime minister's opposition at the Asia-Europe meeting to rising protectionist trends in the West is beneficial to Beijing, given that China is witnessing a sharp downfall in exports this year. 

Indeed, the bandwidth of bilateral relations between India and China is expanding. In 2006, during President Hu Jintao's visit, both sides agreed to work together in Asia. Yet no concrete proposals were made for such interaction then. During Wen's just-concluded visit, however, the joint communique for the first time referred to their "shared interest in the stability, prosperity and security of the wider region" - a reference to the troubled reconciliation process in Afghanistan and in the backdrop of the US announcement on withdrawal of troops. 

This is also an acknowledgement that the previous equations - namely, Pakistan-China-US-mujahideen/Taliban, on the one hand, and Russia-Northern Alliance-India, on the other - did not work to the satisfaction of the parties concerned and that a new formula other than a zero sum game is needed, with the regional states playing an active role. National security advisor S S Menon's visit to 
Beijing a few months ago to rope in China in Afghan reconstruction is also aimed in this direction. 

Secondly, the joint communique, unlike previous such bilateral announcements, was surprisingly silent on the much-anticipated Chinese reversal of stapled visas to Kashmir residents in India. In fact, there is also no mention either of Tibet or Taiwan as parts of China for the first time. The two sides, however, reiterated that "sensitivity for each other's concerns and aspirations" should be respected. This is an indication that, during hard diplomatic bargaining, South Block had been insisting effectively on the reciprocity principle possibly for the first time. 

The proposal for annual meetings not only between the foreign ministers but also at the level of president and prime minister and the operationalisation of a hotline should bridge the communication gap between these two nuclear powers in Asia. Frequent "strategic level communications" are necessary to remove any misperceptions between the two rising powers. 

Thirdly, the joint communique suggested that India and China need to "draw on each other's strengths and pursue mutual benefit and win-win results". Several areas were identified including enhancing bilateral trade to $100 billion over the next five years, even as China is to address the widening trade imbalance to the detriment of India (of about $20 billion this year), allowing Chinese investments in Indian infrastructure projects, while Indian IT firms and pharmaceuticals are poised to enter China's market with vigour. The proposed 'strategic economic dialogue' process and the India-China CEO's forum are expected to further explore mutual benefits. 

On the Chinese push for a free trade pact with India, Beijing received a cold shoulder. Clearly, Manmohan Singh's counter-proposal for a pan-Asian free trade area could avoid the pitfalls of excessive dependence on China. Earlier, Beijing had flexed political muscles on economic issues as its ban on rare earth metal exports to Japan indicated. 

There were several impediments to India's interests during this visit that are breeding suspicion. For starters, there was no forward momentum on border dispute resolution despite nearly 30 years of discussions, nor regarding China's support to the Indian candidature for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, China's reluctance to support India on civilian nuclear technology commerce issues, while it is now willing to further construct nuclear power plants at Chashma in Pakistan, are raising concerns. In this backdrop, it is not surprising that the joint communique avoided any mention of civil nuclear cooperation between the two, in contrast to the 2006 joint communique which mentioned such cooperation. 

Another area of concern in the joint communique is the mention of cooperation in the Gulf of Aden. China has dispatched seven naval contingents so far to this region, with the latest surprisingly equipped with amphibious capabilities. Many Chinese have also argued for setting up naval bases in the region, in addition to China's "string of pearls" at Gwadhar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Great Coco, Hyangyi, Mergui, Khepkau in Mynamar. 

The writer is professor in Chinese studies at JNU. 




Q & A




Is France better able to engage India? 

There are two issues, how we engage and the grounds for engagement. On the first we have had to change, on the latter we hope India changes. Our shift was apparent during David Cameron's visit. Trade engagements used to be ad hoc and about what we excelled at and trying to sell it. Now the prime minister leads a team, which has thought through what India wants. That's because India has a range of options when it comes to procuring whatever it might be. So obviously India won't come to the UK, but rather go to Germany, if it wants high-precision machine tools. For nuclear reactors, naturally India looks to France because they have vast experience in that field. But i'd love to see Sarkozy try to sell the French education system to India! So, each country has its specialisation, which matches a particular Indian need. Our specialisation - financial services, retail and certification - unfortunately fall into areas that India is unwilling to open to foreign investment. But other things can be done. Meanwhile, we hope that India will look to change its policies in these areas. It is of importance to India. 

Why is it of importance to India and how can the UK contribute? 

Our areas of specialisation are most important to India because they can help build and develop infrastructure. Interlinked is certification. World-class facilities demand technicians qualified to maintain and operate them. It means educating people along the entire spectrum from Oxbridge type degrees to providing training to plumbers and household electricians. India seems focussed on elite degrees, but not on professional qualifications required by technicians who alone can ensure that the standards required by an industrialised country are maintained. We can provide training for these 'low' level technicians. Already, the vast number of students in the UK shows, we are well regarded by Indians. It is a pity that we cannot build on that expertise and fulfil the demand by setting up campuses in India. There appears to be no active and organised lobby opposing this, whereas there is one in retail. So while we also have much to offer in retail - the world comes to shop in London - i would hope that the education sector opens to FDI. 

What are the concerns of the UK industry? 

The UK industry is based here for a long time and has appropriately Indianised itself well. JCB is a great example of this. What companies have to realise is that they cannot operate in alien ways if they want to make a success of themselves in India. There is of course the perennial problem of red tape. 

What are the prospects for an EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA)? 

The EU very much wants an FTA with India whose main concern is the imposition of what are misleadingly called non-tariff barriers. But the question for India to consider is this. Is asking to ensure that child labour is not used in manufacturing goods unreasonable? This is not a cultural issue. Nor is it a trade issue. It is a human issue and must be observed by all. It's the same for CO2 emissions. Is it unreasonable to insist on limiting pollution in the production of goods in India to be sold in the EU? Cleaner technologies must be used to produce goods destined for both the EU and Indian consumers. My experience of EU parliamentarians is that they are not acting to protect themselves, but that they are committed to a set of ideas. These are common human values, or should be.






The trouble is that i'm not rich. I didn't even know rich people, really, until i moved to India. But when you travel in an educated, English-speaking crowd that goes for the kind of clubs and music that i do, you're bound to run into a lot of rich kids, whether in south Delhi or south Bombay. 

But, however full their wallets, they seem to be under the assumption that as an American gora, i must be at least as well off. I'm not. And so i've learned to be creative. 

Thus, a few hints for hanging with the Indian metro jet-set

Dressing: One must be presentable. And thus the beauty of the tailor. 

I know what you're thinking. How broke could he really be if he's getting his clothes tailor-made? But you've got it backwards. I've barely bought an item of clothing since i arrived in India. The tailor is there to stitch up the holes that inevitably appear. Two tips: Cultivate a relationship with a good tailor so that he'll rush your job for that last-minute party. Make sure he uses the right colour thread or the stitching will be obvious. 

Dining: Never agree to meet your well-heeled friends for dinner unless you're certain they'll be paying. Wherever they want to eat, the appetisers will be more than your entree budget. The trick? Tell them you have a late lunch scheduled. You'll meet for a drink while they have dinner. Buy street food on the way. Do not agree

to a bottle of wine or you may pay for half of it. Stick to beer. 

Dating: If you're able to find that special someone, you'll be willing to make the occasional splurge. The tricky bit is identifying that special someone without your cheapskate antics scaring off all potential mates. 

These three dates are inexpensive - without being cheap - to give you a chance to figure out whether this one is worth investing more time and money in. 

The first date is always the gallery opening, your new best friend. Not only do you appear cultured, but there's free wine. Check out the galleries in advance. Some always serve pate, others are content with Aliva crackers

For the second date, it's nature's splendour. Everyone loves the sea. If you're feeling cocky and have the cash, bring an icy bottle of chenin blanc. Why chenin blanc? It's a hundred bucks cheaper than any other Sula white. In season, strawberries accompany nicely. 

Date three. This is where you decide if your burgeoning relationship is worth the investment (if you haven't yet turned her off with your terrible taste in books and music, grating personality, or prattling about your ex). Learn to cook. You don't need to know many dishes, just how to cook them well. And guys? Find out if she eats meat. You don't want to serve steak to a vegetarian. But hope she is; meat's expensive. 

You can stretch the evening if she talks with you while you prepare the meal. She'll enjoy good food even more if she's part of the process. Either make a fancy French sounding dish if she's the pretentious name-dropping type, or if she's more Fabindia, say you don't really know what it is, you just decided to throw together whatever was around the flat. 


Next up in the foreigner's guide to hanging out with rich kids: travel, footwear, more tips for making old clothes fresh, and how to deal with those other foreigners; the dreadlocked nirvana seekers and the fat-contract bankers.








The gravitas of the words 'Your Honour' appears to be diminishing at an alarming pace in recent times with the judiciary demonstrating that it is not exactly floating above the fray in the matter of improprieties. The telecom scam seems to have triggered off a judicial imbroglio with former Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan refuting the claims of a Supreme Court judge HL Gokhale that the former was informed of the now-tainted ex-telecom minister A Raja seeking to influence a Madras high court judge. Justice Balakrishnan has brought law minister Veerappa Moily into the matter saying that he knew about the whole situation.


Not many of us ever hope to get to the bottom of this given the opaque manner in which the judiciary works. But this lack of transparency is now proving detrimental to the one institution which Indians still hold in high regard. That some legal luminaries themselves have not held back on the malaise in the judiciary is a welcome sign. A case in point is former chief justice SP Bharucha saying that 20% of judges are corrupt. Recently, the Supreme Court censured the Allahabad high court for its lapses. Though it was none less than former chief justice JS Verma who famously stated that no one, howsoever high, is above the law, our judges don't seem to have internalised this. They have resisted, at every step, attempts to bring them under some sort of scanner like the Right to Information Act. So, a judge like PD Dinakaran of the Madras high court, under suspicion in a land scandal, is shunted off to Sikkim instead of being further investigated and suspended from work. Kolkata high court judge Soumitra Sen has successfully fended off action against him for misconduct and now impeachment proceedings are pending against him.


At a time when all other arms of the state seem to have failed us spectacularly, the judiciary is seen as the last court of appeal. It cannot continue to function in a manner which is beyond scrutiny. The very highest echelons of the judicial system have been dragged through the mud in recent times. It is vital that the judiciary itself opens up to greater transparency and accountability if it is to save this vital institution. When a scam as murky as the telecom one is playing out, the judiciary cannot add to the dirt that is being unearthed every day. It must willingly put itself in the dock and be absolved of any involvement in these less-than-savoury incidents. Will it do so? The jury is out on that.







Has Indian politics found its own version of Alfred E Neuman, that iconic figure who has come to symbolise Mad? It would seem that his famous dictum "what me worry?" has found resonance with our very own Kanimozhi, beloved daughter of the third wife of the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) goes hell for leather raiding her associates and former telecom minister A Raja, a close friend of hers, she sees no strain in the Congress-DMK alliance.


Clearly, she knows something we don't. Now we appreciate this sort of nonchalance, this ability to not perceive trouble even when it comes in gigantic ticking parcels. To listen to her, a visitor not conversant with our ways, would think that it is routine for the CBI to drop by for a cup of tea and a quick rummage through the files every second Saturday. And for it to leave with a Schwarzeneggar-like promise that it will be back. But what is a raid or two between friends is Kani's way of thinking.


We feel that she could easily find a new vocation in case she gets tired of waiting around with the finest Earl Grey for the investigators in case it nips by for a chat one fine day.


She could become a spiritual motivator a la Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for our politicos. Instead of screaming blue murder about the subversion of democracy whenever the law starts showing a heartwarming interest in their numbered accounts, they should, like Kani, tell the world that this will only strengthen their resolve to do more good for the people by way of putting a bit aside for a rainy day when the exchequer may need a loan. The idea is to rise above it all, to welcome intrusive searches into one's affairs and still feel a sense of fellowship with those who initiate these proceedings. We could be in for a new chapter in politics, courtesy karma Kani.








First we wouldn't talk. Then when we started talking we can't seem to stop. India and China have been at it for nearly 30 years now. No one can say the talks aren't going anywhere. Just compare the trade figures from the 1970s with today's. But what about the issue over which we fought and stopped talking in the first place? Can someone please tell us where the border talks are heading?


It's difficult to argue with the reasoning that economic ties enhance bilateral relations. Money is the mover of all relations, yada yada yada. But is it really that simple? If our ties have developed as much as our trade, why do we work ourselves into a froth every now and then over a misplaced staple or an ungranted visa?


Looking at the 'entire gamut' of the relationship, as our policymakers are prone to saying, is fine, but our core issue really is the border. And as long as it stays unresolved, our relation will continue to be hamstrung by politics, never reaping the fruits that a full-fledged Sino-Indian alliance can deliver.


Had economics really been the prime driver of relations between nations, the Chinese, Japanese and the Americans would have lived happily ever after. Compared with the level of economic engagement between these three, the money that changes hands between China and India is loose change. Yet, most street protests we have seen in China in recent years are targeted at its two biggest trading partners. Ask a Chinese shopper at a Wal-Mart or a Ito-Yokado store in Beijing what the biggest threats to his nation are, and the answer will inevitably be Japan and the US. There really are things money can't buy.


So let's talk border, not as part of the 'entire gamut', but with a sense of urgency. We are convinced that more business will smooth the waters so it makes sense to wait till we get to a point where our economic interdependence overrides our political differences. But the fact of the matter is that the more we wait, the more difficult it gets to reach a deal.


Any border deal will require both China and India to give up some of their claims. We both can't win on all fronts if it's a negotiated settlement. The problem is selling the people what we lose. We may think that would be trickier in a noisy, multi-party democracy like ours than in totalitarian China. That might have been true in Mao Zedong's time but it's got far more complicated since.


The Chinese society is in the throes of seismic changes, which are quickly making its leadership more accountable to — or at least forcing it to interact more with — its people. And these changes are happening much faster than we can imagine.


We tend to see China as some sort of an affluent North Korea. In our minds, it is still the Mao-era Orwellian State where The Party's control over all levers of power is as absolute as its ability to herd the people. The reality is quite different. The state still enjoys enormous authority, but the dynamics of its relation with society has changed dramatically in past years. Public participation in politics may not yet be approaching the raucousness in India, but it is equally incorrect to view the Chinese as obedient zombies silently following the State's very diktat.


While economic liberalisation in China has weaned more and more people away from State dependence and fostered a spirit of individualism, the internet has provided the platform where this individualism finds expression, in the process creating a new form of social interaction between the state and the people.


As of the end of 2009, there were 384 million internet users in China, roughly 30% of the population. The coming of age of smartphones will substantially add to this number. This huge mass of well-informed, tech-savvy and highly opinionated Chinese connect, engage, debate, cheer and fight each other mostly through the ubiquitous bulletin board systems (BBS) — over 1 million — and some 220 million blogs.


There is great power in numbers, even in an autocracy, and the anonymous 'netizen' is very powerful and much-courted in China — tracked by marketing houses to align new products with popular tastes, quoted by state media to validate or refute standpoints, and, increasingly, heeded by the authorities to gauge public opinion.


Though the government still can, and often does, clamp down on these channels of free speech when they cut too close to the bone, in recent times there have been far too many instances that suggest the authorities would rather use this option sparingly and instead go with the tide, provided the legitimacy of the party's monopoly over power is not being threatened. Everything else is fair game.


In recent times, a senior party official was fired after internet vigilantes raised a stink about his pictures on the internet showing him wearing a Vacheron Constantin watch and puffing on expensive cigarettes. A party secretary was sacked following an internet clamour for his head after a video was posted showing him trying to molest an 11-year-old girl and then boasting about his rank when confronted by her family.


One of the latest catchphrases in China these days is 'My dad is Li Gang', a tongue-in-cheek excuse for anything from forgetting one's anniversary to not doing homework. It originates in the online fury that erupted after a university student was run over by a 22-year-old drunk driver on campus grounds. The unrepentant son of Li Gang, a police chief, then kept daring the security guards not to mess with him.


The growing power of the internet instils both accountability and unease in China's otherwise untouchable officialdom, which is why it has directed its energy to co-opt the web rather than confront it. Government departments solicit views from the public, mayors are encouraged to write blogs and officials debate policy in online forums.


There is particularly one area the government seems most comfortable allowing netizens to discuss — nationalism. It's safer than discussions on low-level corruption, effectively plays on the collective sense of past humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, and pits the government on the same side as the people against an inequitable world order. China's cyber-nationalists are a rabid lot. But that's one rabidity the government can handle, steer and even use.


The target of this nationalistic fervour is usually the US and Japan. And that's partly because the government has kept it that way. In general, the Chinese see India as a fellow victim of Western exploitation, a fellow ancient civilisation messed up by upstarts. There are occasional faint rumblings on America's attempts to use India to encircle India, but here again the target is more the US than India.


But all that can change if the Chinese masses become convinced that India is a willing partner in the scheme to contain their country and if the government plays along and allows a more anti-India discourse in official media and cyber pace. Imagine passing a border deal in China in such an environment. This is what China's ambassador to India Zhang Yan was alluding to when he said relations are very fragile, easy to be damaged and need "special care in the information age". People are at the heart of any relationship, Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao correctly surmised at the same conference this week.


Let's remember these crucial components of bilateral relations that think-tankers rarely talk about: people and information age. They can make relations way more difficult than they already are, and let's try and work out a deal while things are still under control. Because god forbid, if China ever becomes a democracy, 1.3 billion people will have to negotiate a border with 1.3 billion people.


Debasish Roy Chowdhury is the Money Editor, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong. The views expressed by the author are personal.







The 83rd plenary session of the Congress in its 125th year could not have been held at a worse time. The party and its government seem to be on the defensive in the face of allegations of corruption. It is also perhaps for the first time that the party workers participating in the plenary appear demoralised and are at a loss to counter the accusations being made by the opponents of the party, largely because of lack of proper direction.


As expected, the BJP is on the offensive. It has come out with the slogan, "Commonwealth ke chor, chale Burari ki ore" (The scamsters of Commonwealth Games are now headed for Burari — the venue of the plenary). The NDA has decided to hold anti-government rallies. The BJP's record in battling corruption is not good either, but this is no justification for allowing the scamsters to go scot-free.


For the Congress leadership, the challenge is to keep its workers energised since the mother of all battles will be fought in UP in 2012 leading to the finals in 2014 unless the parliamentary polls are held earlier due to political circumstances. The main charge against the Congress leadership is that it is not accessible to the common workers and the coterie that runs the show has done incalculable damage. There is neither any political strategy nor political management. There is no will to correct this perception, which at this stage can only be corrected through action, not words and resolutions.


The Congress has been unable to explain that it is a part of a coalition and some partners have let the UPA down. This is largely because it has either taken selective action against the corrupt partymen or looked the other way raising suspicions of complicity. It is true that the Congress may not have full control over what the DMK ministers were doing but it certainly should come down heavily on partymen involved in the Commonwealth Games loot and other scams.


The party has to introspect deeply to understand its own functioning. Its response to the cables sent by the US embassy in New Delhi has been mild, as a result of which what was stated may strengthen the public perception about the party and its leadership.


Rahul Gandhi must be told that in case he has to assume the party's leadership in future, he should be more careful with his words, expressions and actions. Attacking the BJP and Sangh parivar is understandable but equating them with Pakistan-based terror groups is something most citizens cannot digest. The impression that has been strengthened is that the Congress is biased towards minorities. This overemphasis on minority politics has distanced the majority community and the tragedy is that the minorities now prefer regional outfits and have little faith in the Congress.


The Prime Minister's image of being a clean person has also taken a beating thanks to the corrupt ministers. The Congress leadership seems ill-equipped to deal with the situation and it is time to act to, at least, counter the impression given by the US embassy that Ms Gandhi never "misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity".


Finally, it is time to fall back on Indira Gandhi's style of battling challenges: how she would have faced a similar situation and how she would have made a course correction. This can be done if the leadership makes amends for the mistakes, takes action against the guilty and makes the functioning of the party more inclusive. Between us.








With WikiLeaks's new cache of cables from American diplomatic missions around the world to Washington, containing communication from the Delhi embassy, domestic politics in India is obviously interested. Rahul Gandhi's views, reportedly expressed in a conversation with American Ambassador Timothy Roemer, about the threat posed to the country from "radicalised Hindu groups" would have always created a buzz. But with the cable released on the eve of the Congress party's Burari plenary, the party was forced to address the issue in its agenda in ways it might not have otherwise planned to. The Congress is in power at the Centre, and it will be held accountable for dealing with the terrorism threat, of whatever hue or origin. However, the occasion has also shown how muddled and irresponsible the BJP's politics can get at the mention of "radicalised Hindu groups."


Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed an extremely peculiar eureka moment. He said that he had often questioned why the United States was not tougher on Pakistan for its export of terrorism. Now he knew, because: "With the WikiLeaks' release, it is known who was guiding the US and providing information about Pakistan, based on which America made an opinion about the country."


The disingenuousness of that response exposes once again the problems the BJP's politics has posed ever since the Malegaon investigation highlighted the threat of terrorism posed by fringe Hindu groups. For a party that says its avers by the priority of national security, it is not just that it has refused to acknowledge and distance itself unequivocally from those (and their ideology) in the wider Sangh Parivar who are being implicated in acts of terrorist violence. Many of its key leaders have, even more dangerously, sought to create a wider, polarising resentment at the label of "Hindu terror." This is why the outrage over the WikiLeaks cable appears that much more manufactured.







American President Barack Obama's claim that his strategy is working in Afghanistan is unlikely to impress either the increasingly sceptical audience at home or his adversaries, the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, comfortably ensconced across the border in Pakistan. As the war enters the tenth year, there is a growing political discomfort not only among the liberal left supporters of Obama but also within the right. Republicans, who have recently gained control of the House of Representatives, do back the war in Afghanistan as a matter of principle. But there is no denying the growing anxiety in Washington at the mounting costs of the war in Afghanistan. Many have begun to convince themselves that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won. The Al Qaeda and Taliban might have lost some of their momentum in recent months, thanks to the military surge effected by Obama. But they know time is on their side.


On his part, the US president concedes that the "progress" so far has been "fragile" and certainly reversible. His latest review of Afghanistan made public last week says the consolidation of the recent gains will depend upon further cooperation from the Pakistan army. It emphasises that defeating the Al Qaeda, one of the main objectives of the US military intervention in Afghanistan, requires the "sustained denial of the group's safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan". On stabilising Afghanistan, the review points to a "resilient insurgency that finds shelter in a neighbouring sanctuary".


The US has not been unaware all these years of the central importance of eliminating the safe havens for extremism and terrorism in Pakistan in achieving its objectives in Afghanistan. That it has chosen to publicly articulate these concerns is indeed welcome. Yet, on this all-important question, the review has little to offer except the banal proposition that Washington needs "greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan". For now Washington remains focused on offering more carrots to induce Pakistan army's cooperation. Without a new strategy, that abandons the current US appeasement of the Pakistan army, there


is little chance of Washington succeeding in Afghanistan.







A party plenary is essentially theatre, a self-fashioning exercise pre-disposed to grandstanding. At the Congress's 83rd plenary in Burari, the mood was decidedly combative. Reflecting the political storms buffeting the Congress-led UPA government, the rhetoric was a mix of sharp attack on the opposition and an iteration of administrative ideals. Rallying the delegates and the organisation to electoral challenges, the party also pledged itself to delivering all that's good and desirable, from defeating corruption, to equitable development, to responsible exercise of discretionary powers, to safeguarding the republic's secular character. As a signal of intent, this is unexceptionable. Delivery on this sort of to-do list is, equally, very difficult to appraise on the morrow.


Or is it? As she took on a confrontational opposition, Congress President Sonia Gandhi was strident in affirming the party's endorsement of its prime minister. "The party stands solidly with him," she said, calling the BJP's attacks on Manmohan Singh "downright despicable". These are strong words. And in a party as used to decoding the high command as the Congress is, they are presumably not casually uttered. In harnessing the personality of its prime minister in order to make a political point, the Congress has — whether by compulsion or design —highlighted its peculiar relationship with the government it leads at the Centre. The Congress retains, with the concurrence of its allies, the right to install the prime minister of its choosing. But just as he is made accountable to his party, so the party is accountable for his record.


In this parliamentary system we have chosen for ourselves, a ruling party cannot evade the consequences of lecturing its government from a distance. The organic character of the Westminster system makes party and MPs responsible to the people for their government. Yet, sections of the Congress evidently think they can sidestep the government in their political calculus, avoiding the government's baggage while owning its accomplishments. By doing so, they also weaken the government and the prime minister. A low-grade inertia is visible. For instance, when the prime minister speaks of a cabinet reshuffle and nothing happens even three months later, doubts develop about the initiative allowed to him. It won't therefore take more than a few days for the Congress to be tested on its president's Burari standard.









The Reserve Bank credit policy has given conflicting signals about the stance of monetary policy. The RBI has many instruments in its hands. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Faced with high inflationary expectations on one hand, and tight liquidity in money markets on the other, it has left interest rates and the cash reserve ratio unchanged, while announcing open market operations to ease liquidity. In recent months, it intervened in foreign exchange markets in amounts that could not possibly impact the rupee, and perhaps only help increase liquidity. The result is a state of confusion about the stance of monetary policy.


In the last one month the RBI has announced three open market operations to buy government bonds. These were designed to inject liquidity into the system. This step is similar to that of the US Fed's recent quantitative easing, QE2, except that QE2 was undertaken after the US had run out of all other instruments for monetary easing. It had hit the zero lower bound on the policy rate, and could not reduce it any further. The only way to ease monetary policy in the US was through the Fed buying government bonds.


India, however, has not hit the zero lower bound. The repo and reverse repo rates, which stand at 6.25 and 5.25 per cent, could have been cut. But Indian money markets have a different problem. It is not that policy rates cannot be reduced, it is that cutting policy rates would not have transmitted to market interest rates. There are so many restrictions on the functioning of money, bond and credit markets that they fail to respond to the RBI's policy rate changes. The market determined interest rate (the call rate) has been above the policy rate corridor for three months now. The operating framework of monetary policy, which works by keeping money market rates within the policy rate corridor of the repo and reverse repo rates, has broken down. This has rendered policy rates irrelevant.


When the RBI started tightening monetary policy in response to inflation, in order to give a strong anti-inflationary signal, it employed many instruments. These included policy interest rates and the cash reserve ratio. Today it is trying to use a third (SLR) and a fourth instrument (open market operations) to address the liquidity situation.


After a sustained period of having a floating exchange rate, in October 2010, the RBI purchased $0.9 billion on the currency market. It was a pointless gesture, as far as the exchange rate is concerned, to hit a market. The BIS has recently released data which shows that rupee-related transactions add up to $40 billion per day. The same data shows as much as $20 billion worth of rupees are transacted per day outside India. In addition to this, a few billion dollars a day of currency futures and options are transacted on exchanges. These markets are, for all practical purposes, well linked together through arbitrage, making them effectively one liquidity pool. Impacting the price of the rupee in this market requires a different magnitude of intervention. The rupee-dollar market turnover in October 2010 is estimated at $800 billion. Transactions of $0.9 billion can achieve no impact on the rupee.


If the RBI wanted to make a difference to the exchange rate, its trading would have been much bigger. On the equity market, we see that market manipulation generally happens in the small stocks. By the time we deal with the largest companies, market liquidity is so great that a manipulator would require very large transactions in order to impact the price. If the RBI wants to force the exchange rate away from the market outcome, it would need to undertake some pretty big transactions. With a market size of $800 billion a month, it would need to buy or sell perhaps $40 billion to $80 billion a month in order to achieve a significant impact. Transactions of $0.9 billion in the month are pointless in terms of impacting the rupee. So one wonders whether the objective of the intervention was to increase the supply of rupees in the economy.


The RBI needs to come up with a clear set of monetary policy rules and a framework. The multiple objective, multiple instrument framework is essentially a lack of framework where on a day to day basis the RBI reacts to the situation in the market. Even if inflation control is one of RBI's objectives, the index and the target rate need to be stated. Lack of a framework results in policy reactions like the ones we see today where different instruments have been moving in different directions. Another serious consequence of this lack of framework is rising inflationary expectations. As an RBI survey in September that covered 4,000 households across 12 cities showed, households expect inflation to rise to 12.7 per cent by October-December next year. India is one of the few countries in the world witnessing high inflation in the post-recession period. The inflation in China can be attributed to the dollar purchases and resulting increase in liquidity, but in India where the RBI has not intervened much in currency markets, the rise in inflation and in inflationary expectations seems to be much more a consequence of the lack of a central bank committed to inflation control.


If a central bank has a commitment to low inflation and is credible, then tightening the stance of monetary policy is a way to bring down inflationary expectations. But in India we are faced with a situation where, even though inflation has been high for many months, the tightness in the money market is not the result of a policy stance. Indeed, money markets are tight despite the RBI's efforts to ease the liquidity situation. In this situation it is not inconsistent that inflationary expectations remain high. The RBI now needs a strategy to reduce inflationary expectations.


The writer is professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi








The real India, they say, is made up of villages and its spirit resides there. This Gandhian notion has been the bedrock of many policies formulated by the political masters of the country from time to time, for whom "Chalo Gaon ki Ore" was not only a fad popularised after Independence but also a political compulsion, given the sheer numbers of people residing there. But, with changing times, this trend has, like many others, undergone a sea change. With more and more people migrating from the villages to the towns and cities of new India in search of better livelihoods, it is now probably time to review and reverse the stress laid on villages to the cities, most of which have started crumbling under the weight of increased population and expansion, and have now started looking more like slums. Providing these urban areas better liveability parameters such as housing units, water and electricity connections, proper sewerage and better transportation is a challenge for all.


In Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state in the country, the pressure to transform cities and provide them with a workable infrastructure is getting stronger. Especially when seen in the context that out of the 5,161 cities in India, 704 are in UP and out of these 704, 54 cities with more than one lakh population have 60 per cent urban population and another 505 cities with 10,000 to one lakh population have 37 per cent urban population. Fifty-nine per cent of the state's GDP comes from urban areas, and 70 per cent of all new jobs are created in urban centres.


It is perhaps against the backdrop of this understanding that urban centres are the future engines of growth that the UP government has come out with a grand, out-of-the-box policy to create a megapolis in the western part of the state, which is closer to the NCR both in affluence and mindset, making it a fit case to explore the success of Noida. Planners in UP have visualised a planned urban zone 10 times the size of Noida, from the existing villages along the under-construction Yamuna Expressway, right from Greater Noida, to Agra.


The decision to convert as many as 1,187 villages spread on an expanse of 2,36,682 hectares to an urban zone at one go, which would, over a period of time, have a number of planned, well developed cities instead of chaotic, haphazard growth along the flanks of a new highway, should not only be commended for its farsightedness but also for its sheer will power to face the political fallout that it is certain to elicit.


But while the decision to create a grand megapolis may be the latest path-breaking decision of the Mayawati government, it is definitely not the first. Only recently, the state government had embarked on its bold, first-in-the-country initiative to outsource the implementation of the annuity scheme of its new and progressive resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) policy to land owners and farmers to private financial institutions, mainly banks and insurance companies.


With an estimated 5,000 hectares of land to be acquired on an average annually for various development initiatives being launched by it, the state government decided to seek professional help in managing the transaction, which is likely to run into thousands of crores over a long period of time, rather than let the state machinery get bogged down with work it's ill-equipped to do. Again, making sure that farmers — who are giving up land for building roads, towns and industry — get their regular compensation cheques from banks or insurance companies and do not have to make repeated trips to the government treasuries and wait for hours to get their dues, is a step cheered by both industry as well as land owners.


The experiment to bring uniformity in the building regulations of its planned cities of Noida, Greater Noida and the Yamuna Express Authorities and further liberalise the floor area ratio (FAR) so as to promote industrial, housing, commercial as well as institutional activities in the area surrounding the NCR is yet another futuristic initiative, especially when seen in the context that the availability of land is shrinking with every passing day and land prices seeing a steep rise. Raising the FAR would facilitate maximum usage of land by encouraging construction of multi-storeyed buildings.


With the present reigning hotspots in real estate like Gurgaon, Noida and Greater Noida in the NCR fast running out of land and cities like Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad burdened with a pitiable and dwindling infrastructure, the IT and service sectors, especially, are clearly waiting for distinctive, planned townships to capitalise on. Interestingly, when many states are facing land acquisition related problems and have preferred to put it on the back burner for the time being, UP has been successful in silently showcasing its experiments and set a buzz among the investing fraternity.


The writer is principal correspondent, 'The Financial Express'








It is strange, and uncomfortable too, when heads of government establishments — whether regulatory bodies, constitutional authorities or even departments in ministries — have to "recuse" themselves from discharging their full responsibilities. Such action raises doubts about the due diligence process followed by the government or ministers in approving critical appointments. It also affects the conduct of public policy because appointees will always be haunted by nasty questions of the past during their term at office. But what is most disturbing is the impression that such appointments leave behind — that a $1 trillion rapidly growing economy is short of talent, intellectual capital, financial resources and institutional bandwidth to employ the best in the business, at least to positions that are systemically important.


Very few top positions at regulatory bodies are apolitical. Mostly, they are sinecures — awards for good work rendered when in service. It is an unfortunate fact that bureaucrats are not sector experts, and hence, not the right fit. They are instead trained to be good administrators. The brighter among them manage to grasp the issues within a few months, but in this age of rapid change and innovation, the government can no longer afford to give regulators the luxury of time. Normally, the best bet for ministers is to put their retiring secretaries at the helm of regulatory bodies since at least they have some idea of the sector. High achievers from the private sector are seldom forthcoming, not so much because of low pay packages offered in government jobs, but more because of perceived political interference that reduces the "esteem" value attached to such positions.


Recently, the solicitor-general told the Supreme Court that the Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas had offered to recuse himself from supervising the Central Bureau of Investigation probe on 2G spectrum allocation. Thomas, who was sworn in as the CVC on September 8, had been the telecom secretary for nearly a year, since October 2009. The offer to recuse himself came after the apex court orally observed it would be difficult for him to objectively monitor the probe. The CBI, after all, functions under the overall supervision of the CVC, the court noted.


It has been well over a year since the CBI was asked to probe the 2G case. The investigating agency filed the first information report on the case on October 21, 2009. Thomas took over as telecom secretary three weeks earlier, on October 1. When the government proposed his candidature for the post of CVC, all this information was in the public domain. And yet, the government pitched hard for Thomas. Of course, that the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, was opposed to Thomas had nothing to do with the possible conflict of interest on 2G probe.


About three years ago in February 2008, the government faced a similar situation when it had to appoint a new regulator for the capital markets. It finally selected C.B. Bhave, chairman and managing director of National Securities Depository Ltd, who is a former IAS officer with the reputation of being bright and upright. Here too, the government was aware of a showcause notice served by the market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) in April 2006 against NSDL on the demat IPO scam of 2006. Given this background, Bhave, in fact, told the selection panel he wasn't available given the conflict of interest, and accordingly he didn't figure in the first shortlist. But then, given his background — a former bureaucrat, with the experience of having worked with Sebi earlier as an executive director and then with the NSDL — the government assured him that his concerns would be addressed were he to be chosen. In a press statement announcing his appointment, the government explicitly set out a mechanism to tackle the tricky situation allowing Bhave to recuse himself from NSDL proceedings. Finally, in February 2010, two years after he took charge, the Sebi board (excluding him) disposed of the showcause notice served in April 2006. The board perhaps took the right decision, but, in the last two and a half years, the ghosts of the demat scam have lingered on, embarrassing both Bhave and the government.


The 2G telecom scam also brought to light another instance of a senior bureaucrat excusing himself from being party to his minister's controversial decisions. D.S. Mathur, a couple of months before he was to retire in December 2007 as telecom secretary, refused to sign on files related to 2G licences. When Minister A. Raja paid no attention to his advice, Mathur told the concerned joint secretary that the files may not be brought to him. He recused himself. But service rules give enormous powers to bureaucrats under such situations. They can always write to the cabinet secretary informing him about their misgivings, or as any serving bureaucrat will tell you, spoil the file such that it gets permanently stuck in bureaucratic quagmire. Mathur did neither.


In countries like the United States, the chairpersons and members of regulatory bodies are professed Republicans or Democrats. In India, it is not so. Bureaucrats, more often than not, are party-agnostic. Even otherwise, statutes governing regulators in India provide sufficient safeguards to protect their term and ensure an independent work environment.


Nevertheless, appointing bureaucrats is fraught with risks of "conflict of interest". For instance, C.S. Rao, who served both as revenue and expenditure secretary in the finance ministry till 2005, had taken a stance that funds collected by IRDA must find their way into the government coffers. But when he became IRDA chairman (he was the regulator before J. Hari Narayan took charge in June 2008), he fought hard for IRDA's financial autonomy and successfully kept the finance ministry at bay. Current TRAI chairman J.S. Sarma, who was earlier a member at the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, had to recuse himself, rightfully so, from discussing certain cases wherein the tribunal (with him as a member) had ruled against Trai's orders.


Having said this, attracting private sector talent isn't easy either. Many do not know, but in 2008, North Block rang up over two dozen top professionals from the private sector including Shikha Sharma, Kalpana Morparia and Deepak Satwalekar, to gauge their interest for a board position in Sebi. They were also informally told there was a good chance they would be considered for the Sebi chief's position after their three-year term. Not one evinced interest.


It may not be that difficult to get academics, but they carry with them the baggage of too much theory and too little practical experience. For private sector stars, money is not the only driver. It is also the prestige attached to such seats. Besides offering decent compensation — which could be a middle ground between staid public sector salaries and lucrative private sector packages, the government must create an environment that allows them to function independently and effectively. The esteem value can go up only when the government goes that extra mile to give private sector achievers an impression that their expertise will be respected and made good use of. Perhaps we are not there yet.







 As I was saying, the thing I love most about America is that there's always somebody here who doesn't get the word — and they go out and do the right thing or invent the new thing, no matter what's going on politically or economically. And what could save America's energy future — at a time when a fraudulent, anti-science campaign funded largely by Big Oil and Big Coal has blocked Congress from passing any clean energy/climate bill — is the fact that the navy and marine corps just didn't get the word.


God bless them: "The Few. The Proud. The Green." Semper Fi.


Spearheaded by Ray Mabus, President Obama's secretary of the navy and the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the navy and marines are building a strategy for "out-greening" Al-Qaeda, "out-greening" the Taliban and "out-greening" the world's petro-dictators. Their efforts are based in part on a recent study from 2007 data that found that the US military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of these convoys needed to truck fuel — to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators — to remote bases all over Afghanistan.


Mabus's argument is that if the US Navy and Marines could replace those generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with biofuels, then it could out-green the Taliban — the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads — and out-green all the petro-dictators now telling the world what to do.


Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can't buy the solar power that could save lives. I don't know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won't be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn't that be interesting?


Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, the assistant secretary of the navy for energy, installations and environment, used to lead the California Energy Commission. She listed for me what's going on:


On April 22, Earth Day, the navy flew a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds. It flew at Mach 1.2 and has since been tested on biofuels at Mach 1.7 — without a hiccup. I loved the quote in Biofuels Digest from Scott Johnson, general manager of Sustainable Oils, which produced the camelina: "It was awesome to watch camelina biofuel break the sound barrier."


The navy will use only "third generation" biofuels. That means no ethanol made from corn because it doesn't have enough energy density. The navy is only testing fuels like camelina and algae that do not compete with food, that have a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.


In October, the navy launched the USS Makin Island amphibious assault ship, which is propelled by a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, said Mabus, it saved $2 million in fuel.


In addition, the navy has tested its RCB-X combat boat on a 50-50 blend of algae and diesel, and it has tested its SH-60 helicopter on a similar biofuel blend. Meanwhile, the marines now have a "green" forward operating base set up in Helmand Province in Afghanistan that is testing in the field everything from LED lights in tents to solar canopies to power refrigerators and equipment — to see just how efficiently one remote base can get by without fossil fuel.


When you factor in all the costs of transporting fuel by truck or air to a forward base in Afghanistan — that is, guarding it and delivering it over mountains — a single gallon of gasoline "could cost up to $400" once it finally arrives, Mabus said.


The navy plans in 2012 to put out to sea a "Great Green Fleet," a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels and with aircraft flying on 50-50 blends of biofuels.


Mabus has also set a goal for the navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 per cent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020. If the navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards, it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.


And, if Congress will simply refrain from forcing the navy to use corn ethanol or liquid coal — neither of which are clean or efficient, but are located in many Congressional districts — we might really get a green revolution in the military. That could save lives, money and the planet, and might even help us win — or avoid — the next war. Go navy!







Leandra Medine, a fashion blogger who lives with her parents on the Upper East Side, was thumbing through the hangers in her bedroom closet on a recent

Monday morning, pulling out the sort of items that she calls "sartorial contraceptives": a blouse with erect shoulder pads from Zara; a floral, curtainlike blazer by Zimmermann; high-waisted lime green trousers by Opening Ceremony; drop-crotch utility pants; an ostrich-feather miniskirt; a cape.


Since April, Medine, 21, has been publishing photos of herself wearing these pieces on her blog, the Man Repeller, as well as shots of similarly challenging recent runway looks: fashions that, though promoted by designers and adored by women, most likely confuse — or worse, repulse — the average straight man. These include turbans, harem pants, jewellery that looks like a torture instrument, jumpsuits, ponchos, furry garments resembling large unidentified animals, boyfriend jeans, clogs and formal sweatpants.


Glossy magazines have taken notice. Lucky has asked Medine to guest-blog. Harper's Bazaar assigned Medine a feature in its December issue titled, "Can You Be in Fashion and Still Get a Man?" And women in New York who have become fans of her blog have begun using it as a verb, as in, "I am totally man-repelling today."


"I'm really happy that people understand that man-repelling is a good thing," Medine said, seated on a velvet blue sofa in her parents' living room. "I was afraid people would think I was mocking fashion, and it's like, 'No, I swear, I'm wearing feathered sleeves as I write this!'"


As for whether she's dating anyone, Medine declined to comment. "I think men like things tight and simple," she said. "It's not even about slutty, tiny dresses from Bebe because that's not very becoming of a woman either. But to guys, harem pants don't exactly shape the body, shoulder pads are unusual because you look like a linebacker and sequins are a cry for attention."


On this day Medine, a brunette with big brown eyes and a tanned complexion, was dressed in skinny brown jeans and an oversized gray sweater with fringes and braided fabric along the arms. "I wore this sweater on a date once, and he was like, 'Can't you just wear a regular jacket?' " she said. "I guess it looks a bit like a throw pillow."


Around her neck were pretty pendants layered with biker chains; her father owns a wholesale jewellery business. "I get it from my dad too," Medine said, meaning negative feedback. "When I wear the Opening Ceremony bow wedges, he says, 'Your feet look like trucks!" But if you go to the Jane and you're wearing enormous harem pants and a turban, people are like, 'Oh, that girl is really cool.' "


Although designers like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera loyally cater to the classic female silhouette, Medine contends that now more than ever before, designers are pushing boundaries in ways that might turn off the average man. "This past Chanel collection had all those outrageous grizzly suits, and even Jason Wu had turbans running down his runways," she said.


Medine attributed this to the attention that bloggers pay to fashion personalities. "So much of the inspiration for designers has been that someone like Anna Dello Russo — the fashion director of Vogue Nippon who replicates looks from the runway — has been pushing limits so much," she said.


Medine's mother, Laura, popped in wearing easily comprehensible leggings and a blue sweater. "Oh, that's my Mommy!" Medine said. "I think she tapped into something here," said the blogger's mother, who was leaving for a yoga class. "She is relating fashion to feminism. She is saying women dress for themselves."


There is a bit of Cindy Sherman in what Medine is doing: proudly obstructing the male gaze by disguising her body with androgynous or intimidating silhouettes. And perhaps there is someone out there who will be able to discern it as wearable art.









Last week came the news that Infosys is launching its first authorised book. Don't hold your breath, it is not the authoritative telling of the origins and history of India's trendsetting outsourcing company, sadly. Rather it is a volume on the company's successful leadership strategies, authored by a director of its leadership institute.


More's the pity. Budding Indian entrepreneurs could learn more from a warts-and-all Infosys book than a library full of foreign management tomes.


Infosys Technologies has been a spectacular story. Its colourful cast of founders has been vocal about it, in bits and parts: how it evolved from a $250 seed capital to a multi-billion dollar enterprise. How it grew from seven founders to over a 100,000 employees. How it broke India's family-run company mould and charted the unfamiliar path of a professionally-run company sharing wealth and upholding corporate governance principles.


But many details along the way are fuzzy. Where, for instance, did Infosys' $250 seed funding actually come from? According to an early account, the seven founders led by co-founder and chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy put together the seed funding to start the company in July 1981. Another popular version goes that Murthy's wife Sudha gave up her life savings to seed Infosys.


One of the lesser known episodes in Infosys's near-blemishless story is the parting of ways of one of Infosys' seven original founders, Ashok Arora. With Arora's exit, Infosys inadvertently became a company solely of south Indian origin — three from Karnataka, two of Kerala origin and one from Tamil Nadu.


Over a decade after its launch, Infosys went public in 1993 at an offer price of Rs 95. But its public offering almost did not go through. At the last hour, Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley came along to pick up a chunk of the shares on offer. The events of those few weeks could have been nothing short of gripping.


A few years ago, book publishers — both Indian and foreign — were beating down the road to Infosys, asking to write the official story of the company. But, invariably, the answer from Infosys' founders was never in the affirmative. Meanwhile, at rival Wipro, even the normally-reticent Azim Premji had gone ahead and authorised its story in a book called Bangalore Tiger, authored by an American journalist.


The lack of an Infosys book has certainly not been for the want of in-house authors. In fact, two of the founders and their wives are all published, even acclaimed, authors. Former CEO Nandan Nilekani who quit Infosys last year to head the government's Unique Identification project wrote Imagining India. Chairman Narayana Murthy authored A Better India, a Better World. Murthy's wife Sudha has authored several dozen books translated into various Indian languages while Rohini Nilekani has written medical fiction.


Asked if a book on Infosys was in the works, Nandan Nilekani said he had left Infosys in July 2009 and only Murthy could answer that. Murthy, for his part, parried, "No such book". It appears that the Infosys story will remain untold for now, or at least the authorised Infosys story.


As the old saying goes, a good company's corporate history is as compelling as a novel. In India's thriving economy, companies are being founded and go global within the span of a few years. But it is not an Indian practice to archive the notes, plans, early schedules and other material that go into creating a company.


Rarely recorded are early employee interviews, stories, and the intense emotions of the people who gave their all to creating the company, all of which would render authenticity to a company's history. And without such material to rely upon, stories about the greatest Indian brands could end up as sanitised versions of history.


An authentic history of Infosys could be so much more than just a riveting story. It would be the repository of the DNA of a company that has become the stuff of legend.








The BCCI is the world's richest and most powerful cricket board by a long shot. Both these attributes only gain from the fact that the IPL ranks among the world's most expensive sporting properties. Not to mention what the enterprise confirmed both about Indians' desire for sports/entertainment and about the great business possibilities that this desire can support. But no one can question that it was Lalit Modi who masterminded the transition of a fledging league into a "recession-proof" behemoth. Through its first three seasons, valuations soared and BCCI's revenues tripled. When two new teams were auctioned in March, they fetched only a little less than what eight teams had fetched just two years earlier! Then, what started out as a catty tweet fight brought Modi down spectacularly. In taking away his powers as IPL commissioner and chairman, BCCI promised it would investigate all corruption charges with transparency and speed. Tax evasion, match-fixing, underworld connections, foreign exchange violations—as muck was flung around hither and thither, there was so much that needed straightening out. Unfortunately, however, while Modi remains at large and continues to claim innocence, the BCCI has been bungling things bigtime.


While giving the ill-started Kochi team plenty of time to sort out its shareholding pattern, it unceremoniously cancelled franchise agreements with Rajasthan Royals (of Shilpa Shetty fame) and King's XI Punjab (of Preity Zinta) fame for irregularities over their ownership. Critics said the teams' were just paying the price of having close ties with Modi. BCCI said nothing of the sort. But the courts seem to have heeded the critics. First Rajasthan Royals and then Kings XI Punjab won interim stays on their expulsion from the IPL. In the latter instance, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Anoop Mohata of the Bombay High Court said,"It is abundantly clear that the BCCI wanted to terminate the contract on the basis of what was factually incorrect. Termination was anything but fair and was wholly arbitrary." And for now, it looks like instead of pursuing another round of litigations head-on, BCCI will go ahead with planning for IPL-4 as a 10-team affair. It has few other alternatives if IPL-4 is to stay on track. Players' auctions are, after all, scheduled for January 8-9. All the confusion of the last few months has taken a toll on scheduling, economics and promotions. Not to mention the sentiments of players and fans. In the middle of all this, BCCI also took the questionable call to not send an Indian team to the Asian Games in Guangzhou. So, there goes any national spirit argument. To which constituency is this rich and powerful board playing?







It speaks volumes for the maturity with which India has separated its business from its politics, that it signed more deals with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao than it did with US President Barack Obama—$16 bn with Wen versus $10 bn with Obama—despite all the problems on the diplomatic front. While India has a negative trade balance of $20 bn with China, up from $4bn in 2005-06, it is still aiming at increasing trade to $100 bn by 2015. Though the Chinese premier has called for easier procedures to move capital and people across the two countries, this is not likely to happen anytime soon – the two countries which attract more than $100 bn of foreign investment each year, have just less than a billion of investments taking place between them.


While the deals signed with Wen include large ones in the power sector, and a large proportion of India's new 3G telecom networks are to be run on Chinese equipment, the Chinese don't appear to be in any hurry to reciprocate. Though China accounts for 6.5% of India's exports, the flows are heavily skewed with just two products – minerals and cotton—accounting for 60% of the flows. And if one excludes these two primary products, China share in India's exports is a mere 3%. Reducing India's sizable trade deficit of $ 20 bn would not be an easy task since the Chinese share in India's top 5 exports are miniscule. While China hardly imports India top two export products—gems and jewellery and mineral oil—its share in India's electrical and non- electrical machinery exports is low hovering in the 3-4% range. The record is worse when it comes to other important export products like apparel, pharmaceutical and transport vehicles, the other three booming Indian export products. Interestingly, India exports several of these items, such as pharmaceuticals to developed European markets, the Chinese market remains largely closed. For now, however, India has taken the mature view that these imports help Indian industry remain competitive and so are desirable in themselves. If the two countries have to start talking about a Free Trade Agreement, however, some of India's trade concerns will also have to be addressed. 








In 2008, at a time of financial peril, the world united to restructure the global banking system. In 2009, as trade collapsed and unemployment rose dramatically, the world came together for the first time in the G-20 to prevent a great recession from spiraling into a great depression. Now, facing a low-growth austerity decade with no national exits from long-term unemployment and diminished living standards, the world needs to come together in the first half of 2011 to agree on a financial and economic strategy for prosperity far bolder than the Marshall Plan of the 1940s.


Time is running out on the West, because both Europe and America have yet to digest the fact that all the individual crises of the last few years—from the sub-prime crisis and the collapse of Lehman Brothers to Greek austerity and Ireland's near-bankruptcy—are symptoms of a deeper problem: a world undergoing a far-reaching, irreversible and, indeed, unprecedented restructuring of economic power.


Of course, we all know of Asia's rise, and that China exports more than America and will soon manufacture and invest more as well. But we have not fully come to terms with the sweep of history. Western economic dominance--10% of the world's population producing a majority of the world's exports and investment—is finished, never to return. After two centuries in which Europe and America monopolised global economic activity, the West is now being out-produced, out-manufactured, out-traded and out-invested by the rest of the world.


Otto von Bismarck once described the patterns of world history. Transformations do not happen with"the even speed of a railway train". Once in motion, they occur"with irresistible force". If the West fails to understand that the real issue today is responding to the rise of Asian economic power by renewing its own, then it faces the grim prospect of steady decline, punctuated by brief moments of recovery. Throughout it all, millions will be without jobs.


So why, despite this new reality, am I convinced that the 21st century can be one in which the US, by reinventing the American dream for a new generation, remains a magnet for the greatest companies, and in which Europe can be home to a high-employment economy? Because, fortunately for all of us, soon one billion and more new Asian producers will—first in their tens of millions, then in their hundreds of millions—become new middle-class consumers, too. The growth of an Asian consumer revolution offers America a road to new greatness. Today Chinese consumer spending is just 3% of world economic activity, in contrast to Europe and America's 36% share. Those figures illustrate why the world economy is currently so unbalanced.


By 2020 or so, Asia and the emerging-market countries will bring double America's consumer power to the world economy. Already, companies like GE, Intel, Proctor & Gamble and Dow Jones have announced that the majority of their growth will come from Asia. Already, many Korean, Indian, and Asian multinationals have majority foreign (including US) shareholdings. This new driver of world economic growth opens up an opportunity for America to exploit its great innovative and entrepreneurial energy to create new, high-skilled jobs for US workers.


Asian consumer growth—and a rebalancing of the global economy —can be the exit strategy from our economic crisis. But the West will benefit only if it takes the right long-term decisions on the biggest economic questions – what to do about deficits, financial institutions, trade wars, and global cooperation? First, deficit reduction must occur in a way that expands investment in science, technology, innovation, and education. Both public and private investment will be needed in order to deliver the best science and education in the world. Second, new markets cannot be tapped if the West succumbs to protectionism. Banning cross-border takeovers, restricting trade, and living with currency wars will hurt the US more than any other country. In the last century, America's own domestic market was so big and dominant that it didn't need to worry much about trade rules. But, with Asia poised to be the biggest consumer market in history, US exporters—the greatest potential beneficiaries—will need open trade more than ever. America must become the champion of a new global trade deal.


A commitment to public investment and open trade are, however, necessary but insufficient conditions for sustained prosperity. All the global opportunities of the new decade could fade if countries withdraw into their own national shells. In another age, Winston Churchill warned a world facing the gravest of challenges not to be resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity and all-powerful for impotence. I believe that the world today does have leaders of Churchill's stature. If they work together, drift need not happen.


America must now lead and ask the world to agree on a modern Marshall Plan that coordinates trade and macroeconomic policies to boost global growth. America should work with the new chair of the G-20, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to revive private lending by creating global certainty about the standards and rules expected of banks. Agreement is also needed that each country's multi-year deficit-reduction plan will be accompanied by acceleration of consumer spending in the East and of targeted investment in education and innovation in the West. Such a plan must encourage China and Asia to do what is in their and the world's interest: reducing poverty and expanding the middle class. And the West must speed up structural reforms to become more competitive while ensuring that fiscal consolidation does not destroy growth.


Through joint action, the G-20 economies can see not just a marginal change, but growth above 5% by 2014. Instead of a world deadlocked over currencies and trade and retreating into the illusory shelter of protectionism, we could see $3 trillion of growth converted into 25-30 million new jobs, and 40 million or more people freed from poverty.


The author is a former PM of the UK








For those looking for lessons in Indian diplomacy, Cancun was a high-water point. The reason was Jairam Ramesh. The Mexicans found their mojo and India finally emerged as a climate winner. The UN climate conference's surprise outcome was not pre-determined. Two weeks ago, most scribes had written off the prospects of an agreement—in keeping with a whole year of downplaying expectations. Copenhagen had handed Cancun a poisoned chalice. No one wanted a repeat of the stratospheric expectations, incoherent political process, murky last-minute deals and crushing results. Both trust and nerves had been shredded.


The Mexican hosts listened—they promised an inclusive and transparent process, and delivered. The sustained applause, the multiple standing ovations that followed COP 16 President, Patricia Espinosa, as she gavelled through the agreement at 3:30am on December 10 were there for a reason. They were borne out of pure wonder, longing, pleasure and relief that the the battered climate process had rescued itself.


This is the emotional context in which India's shifting position on climate must be seen. Negotiations are not just about hardball positions but about psychology, atmosphere and relationships. This is the backdrop against which a break with the past was made.


The truth is that India's position has been evolving ever since Jairam Ramesh took office in May 2008. This is a good thing. From the acceptance of the


2 degree limit at L'Aquila in 2008, to Ramesh's imaginative proposals on technology, international consultation and analysis this year, to his consensus-building language on the legal form of the agreement in the last days of the Cancun conference, we have seen a steady evolution of the Indian position on climate change.


Ramesh has combined style with substance to bring new standing to India in the climate negotiations. He quickly understood the sticky issues around finance, monitoring and verification and worked hard to find solutions to release the pressure valves. He demonstrated that he had skin in the game and was willing to be a problem-solver and consensus builder. A refreshing change from the traditional role of India as long on pompous rhetoric and short on constructive action.


The UN climate negotiations are probably the most complex, technically demanding and politically charged. They are far-reaching in scope and the stakes could not be higher. But they have become ossified with negotiators unable to see the wood for the trees and incapable of mounting an effective collective response to the growing warnings of climate calamity. At root, this is because governments do not fully understood what their national interests are in terms of climate change. If they did, there would be less talk of national sovereignty and more of collective effort. India is a case in point.


For more than a decade, our policymakers acted as if climate change was somebody else's problem. The West was to blame and we were victims. In a neatly-ordered world, all we had to do was make strenuous demands for per capita equity as a populous third world nation, and we would deservedly get our fair share of global environmental space.


In the real world, the dialogue of the deaf in the UN climate negotiations continued and the poles began to melt faster. We kept doing the same thing and kept getting the same results. During this lost decade, we did not address the critical issue of our own domestic climate risks, impacts or resilience. We failed to give our industry a head start to prepare for a low-carbon competitive future, and we failed to address the adaptation needs of our poorest.


Not because we couldn't have. But we chose not to. India has no shortage of wealth or entrepreneurialism. We have no dearth of intellectual, scientific or technological talent. We have a dearth of vision and belief in ourselves. Enter Jairam Ramesh. In one year, he has been a one-man motor of change with a lorryful of initiatives. We now have a pro-


active climate policy that addresses India's risks while playing a constructive leadership role internationally. This is not for everyone. India's climate politics are still dominated by the cold warriors. But Ramesh's reforms have thumping resonance with youth and entrepreneurs keen on solutions.


At Cancun, Ramesh's effectiveness lay in his skill in reading the political tea leaves. He realised moral authority now lay with the newly-assertive small island states and poorer nations. As the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, India had a responsibility to curb its own emissions. New alliances such as the Cartagena Dialogue had emerged, bringing together rich and poor nations on a shared progressive agenda challenging the old order.


The significance of these new alignments has been little remarked in the Indian media. As a result, political discussion is ill-informed and out of date. To appreciate Ramesh's stance one has to understand the changed negotiating environment and expectations of India as a rising power. India emerged as a star at Cancun because of Ramesh. Effective diplomacy requires risk-taking. If we are to build on this, we will need better informed parliamentary and public discussion. Not just about domestic duties, but our international obligations as an emerging power in an interdependent world threatened by climate change. The good news is we've made a start.


The author is founder and chief executive, Centre for Social Markets







Too scared to talk


It is obviously the worst of times to open your mouth, feel many of the corporate leaders. FE had recently run a series on land and environment inviting industry leaders to have their say on what's clearly the burning issue of the day. While many industry leaders took up the offer and wrote pieces, the refusals were equally numerous. Normally the year-end excuse is that the CEO is travelling, they were a lot more honest this time around—the topic is a hot potato, and so is best avoided.


Don't bank on it


A recent do of a bank created a massive traffic jam near a hotel in Delhi, more severe than what Wen Jiabao created. The event of course brought in the right crowd. But the general tenor of discussion was what will be the valuation of existing banks, when RBI starts handing out new licences. That, we are sure, was not the dinner talk some of the hosts were looking forward to. 







The Guinness World Records recognised this as the longest-running show with the same host in the same time slot--50,000 interviews over 6,120 shows over 25 years with CNN. In a December 1 appearance, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin echoed many when he declared that there are many talented and interesting people in the US, but just one King. Anchors across the world have tried to walk the talk of Larry King. As he prepared to step off the famous set, the who's who of American broadcasting were there to say thank you, to acknowledge themselves as his protégés--ABC's Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, CBS's Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams. They presented him with a new pair of suspenders, as a tribute to his trademark style. As for the red ones he wore to the last show, King tweeted an hour before broadcast that they were a gift from Jon Bon Jovi.


The ratings of this 77- year-old have been dropping, his style going out of style. He lamented to the NYT, "If you look at media now, all the hosts of these other shows are interviewing themselves." What he claimed was a fair approach was beginning to look simply soft in a more aggressive TV context. What nobody can deny is that King got every American president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama to sit next to him. Not to mention every celebrity from Frank Sinatra to OJ Simpson and Lady Gaga. The latter turned up in a button-up shirt, tie, sunglasses and sequinned suspenders. Our favourite part of the last show: King joshing Bill Clinton about being in the "zipper club".









A direct outcome of the global economic crisis has been a decline in the rate of growth of wages across the world, barring Asia and Latin America. A study by the International Labour Organisation, Global Wage Report 2010-11: Wage policies in times of crisis, highlights this reality and points to the need for countries to put in place proper social and labour market policies to protect an increasingly vulnerable workforce. The study, based on wage data from 115 countries and territories, covering 94 per cent of the world's 1.4 billion wage-earners, shows a decline in growth rate in monthly wages — from 2.8 per cent in the pre-crisis 2007 to 1.6 per cent in 2009. This coupled with the increases in unemployment since 2007 (from 117.8 million to 206.7 million in 2009) has important economic and social implications. Given the importance of wages in sustaining consumption, and in turn aggregate demand for goods and services, it is necessary that measures are in place to ensure that the growth rates in wages do not go on a further downward spiral. Prolonged wage decreases will result in extending the recessionary trend and delay the onset of recovery. The ILO's finding that the prevalence of low-paid work is correlated with low levels of education, among other variables, is a timely reminder for policy makers that social policies are vital for creating a better paid workforce.


Given the important link between wage rates and the overall performance of an economy, the ILO report's suggestions for better collective bargaining, higher compliance with minimum wage norms, and income-support measures merit serious consideration, particularly in economies where such support structures are poor. The observation that the connection between wages and productivity was "more apparent in countries where collective bargaining covers more than 30 per cent of employees," and that such countries have "significantly less wage inequality" further strengthens the need for effective collective bargaining mechanisms in countries that are witnessing the paradoxical situation of high economic growth rates, low wages, and a growing informal workforce. The other important policy measure suggested by the report, namely the use of realistic and enforceable minimum wages, which are particularly weak in developing countries, would be a meaningful intervention in addressing the rising inequalities that accompany economic crisis. The larger message from the second global wage report is that the present crisis can be converted into an opportunity to provide a better deal for the world's workforce.






The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who began his current term two years ago with a majority of 100, has had to face a second confidence vote test in less than three months. He managed to scrape through: while the Senate margin was comfortable, he survived by the skin of his teeth, three votes, in the 630-member Chamber of Deputies. The proceedings in the lower house were extremely rancorous; members almost came to blows. After the vote, there were violent street clashes between protesters and police. Earlier, the Speaker of the lower house, Gianfranco Fini, a former political ally and now a deadly foe, accused the Prime Minister and his right-wing People of Freedom (PdL) party of buying MPs; another MP mentioned inducements of € 500,000. Some of the street fighting was severe. More than 100 people were injured and substantial damage caused to public and private property. There were also demonstrations across the country; in Palermo, students blocked the central station and the airport, and in Milan demonstrators broke into the stock exchange building.


That Mr. Berlusconi has hit the lowest point of his political career is in little doubt. The country's condition, however, is far more serious than the current political discourse appears to acknowledge. To start with, the suppression of problems is only to be expected when the Prime Minister himself owns most of the private TV channels as well as several newspapers. That makes for a wide gulf between mainstream coverage and the lived experience of ordinary Italians, who are unique among Europeans in being, on average, poorer than they were a decade ago. Secondly, photographic evidence seems to support opposition politicians' allegations that police and other security officers infiltrated the demonstrations and provoked some of the violence. This revives images of the 1970s, when the security forces did similar things to sway public opinion towards repressive legislation. Thirdly, Mr. Berlusconi's many failures are starting to catch up with him. His own wealth has not cured political corruption; he has tried to pass legislation giving himself immunity from criminal prosecution over shady business dealings; his attempts to restructure the economy have failed; and even a people known for their tolerance of celebrity sex scandals are losing patience with the politician-tycoon's escapades. The major problem for Italy is the absence of any other political vision. The sooner the centre-left parties can put the 1990s corruption scandals behind them and offer a decisive manifesto, the better it will be for all Italy.










The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has alerted developing countries about possible steep rises in food prices during 2011, if steps are not taken immediately to increase significantly the production of major food crops. According to FAO, "with the pressure on world prices of most commodities not abating, the international community must remain vigilant against further supply shocks in 2011." World cereal production is likely to contract by 2 per cent during 2010 and global cereal stocks may decline sharply. The price of sugar has reached a 30-year high while international prices of wheat increased by 12 per cent in the first week of December, 2010, as compared to their November average.


The quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the under- and mal-nutrition prevailing in our country are well known. The Steering Committee of a High Level Panel of Experts on Food and Nutrition set up under my chairmanship to advise the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) recently concluded what we need urgently is a comprehensive coordinated approach, not piecemeal approaches, to tackling chronic, hidden and transitory hunger. This is also the lesson we can learn from countries which have been successful in combating hunger such as Brazil which, under its "Zero Hunger" programme, has achieved convergence and synergy among numerous nutrition safety net programmes. To some extent, this is what is being attempted under the proposed National Food Security (or Entitlements) Act of the Government of India.


What should be our priority agenda for 2011 on the food front? At least six areas need urgent and concurrent attention. First, the National Policy for Farmers placed in Parliament in November 2007, on the basis of a draft provided by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), should not continue to remain a piece of paper, but should be implemented in letter and in spirit. This is essential to revive farmers' interest in farming. Without the wholehearted involvement of farmers, particularly of young as well as women farmers, it will be impossible to implement a Food Entitlements Act in an era of increasing price volatility in the international market. The major emphasis of the National Policy for Farmers is imparting an income orientation to agriculture through both higher productivity per units of land, water and nutrients, and assured and remunerative marketing opportunities. The Green Revolution of the 1960s was the product of interaction among technology, public policy and farmers' enthusiasm. Farmers, particularly in north west India, converted a small government programme into a mass movement. The goal of food for all can be achieved only if there is similar enthusiastic participation by farm families.


Second, every State government should launch a "bridge the yield gap" movement, to take advantage of the vast untapped yield reservoir existing in most farming systems even with the technologies currently on the shelf. This will call for a careful study of the constraints — technological, economic, environmental and policy — responsible for this gap. The Rs.25,000-crore Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana of the Government of India provides adequate funding for undertaking such work both in irrigated and rainfed areas. Enhancing factor productivity leading to more income per unit of investment on inputs will be essential for reducing the cost of production and increasing the net income. Scope for increasing the productivity of pulses and oilseed crops is particularly great. The programme for establishing 50,000 Pulses and Oilseed Villages included in the Union budget for 2010-11 is yet to be implemented properly. The cost of protein in the diet is going up and Pulses Villages will help to end protein hunger.


There are outstanding varieties of chickpea, pigeon pea, moong, urad and other pulses available now. What is important is to multiply the good strains and cultivate them with the needed soil health and plant protection measures. The gap between demand and supply in the case of pulses is nearly 4 million tonnes. We should take advantage of the growing interest among farmers in the cultivation of pulses, both due to the prevailing high prices and due to these crops requiring less irrigation water. Such high value, but low water requiring crops also fix nitrogen in the soil. Before the advent of mineral fertilizers, cereal-legume rotation was widely adopted for soil fertility replenishment and build-up.


Third, the prevailing mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies should be ended. Safe storage, marketing and value addition to primary products have to be attended to at the village level. Home Science colleges can be enabled to set up Training Food Parks for building the capacity of self-help groups of women in food processing. A national grid of ultra-modern grain storage facilities must be created without further delay. In addition to over 250 million tonnes of food grains, we will soon be producing over 300 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables. Unless processing and storage are improved, post-harvest losses and food safety concerns will continue to grow.


We should also expand the scope of the Public Distribution System by including in the food basket a whole range of underutilised plants like millets and, where feasible, tubers. The NCF pointed out that eastern India is a sleeping giant in the field of food production. The sustainable management of the Ganges Water Machine (this term was first used by Professor Roger Revelle) will provide uncommon opportunities for an evergreen revolution in this area. Fortunately Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is taking steps to make Bihar the heartland of the evergreen revolution movement in this region. The Ganges Water Machine is capable of helping us to increase food production considerably, provided we utilise ground water efficiently during rabi and replenish the aquifer during kharif.


Four, a nutrition dimension should be added to the National Horticulture and Food Security Missions. Hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A and Vitamin B12 can be overcome at the village level by taking advantage of horticultural remedies for nutritional maladies. Popularisation of multiple fortified salt will also be valuable, since this is both effective and economical.


Five, a small farm management revolution which will confer on farmers operating one hectare or less the power and economy of scale is an urgent need. There are several ways of achieving this and these have been described in detail in the chapter titled, "Farmers of the 21st Century" in the NCF report. We need to foster the growth of a meaningful services sector in rural India, preferably operated by educated young farmers. The services provided should cover all aspects of production and post-harvest operations. Group credit and group insurance will be needed. Contract farming can be promoted if it is structured on the basis of a win-win situation both for the producer and the purchaser.


Finally, there is need for proactive action to minimise the adverse impact of unfavourable changes in climate and monsoon behaviour and to maximise the benefits of favourable weather conditions. For enabling farmers to develop a "we shall overcome" attitude in the emerging era of climate change, we need to set up in each of the 128 aqro-climatic zones identified by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research a Climate Risk Management Research and Training Centre. These centres should develop alternative cropping patterns to suit different weather probabilities. They should develop methods of checkmating potential adverse conditions. Along with a climate literacy movement, a woman and a man from every panchayat and nagarpalika will have to be trained as Climate Risk Managers. We will then have over half-a-million trained Climate Risk Managers, well versed in the science and art of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Such a trained cadre of grassroot Climate Risk Managers will be the largest of its kind in the world.


The present year is ending with damage to rice and other crops in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu due to excess of rain towards the end of the crop season. Farming is the riskiest profession in the world since the fate of the crop is closely linked to the behaviour of the monsoon. Even if there is assured irrigation source, natural calamities like cyclones, hail storms and very heavy showers take their toll. The National Monsoon Mission proposed to be taken up with the participation of U.S. expertise will certainly help to refine the prediction of weather as well as the status of crops and commodity prices. Also, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme provides unique opportunities for strengthening our water security system through scientific rain water harvesting and watershed management. This valuable benefit can however be realised only by integrating technology with labour. Once a national grid of Climate Risk Management Research and Training Centre comes into existence, it will be possible to build up seed banks of alternative crops, which can be grown if the first crop fails. Drought and Flood Codes should specify the action possible at the end of such calamities. For example in the flood affected areas, soil moisture will be adequate to grow a short duration fodder crop or a Vitamin A rich sweet potato.


Eternal vigilance is the price of stable agriculture. Early warning helps to take timely action. Food and water security will be the most serious causalities of climate change. 2011 will be a test case to assess whether we as a nation are capable of initiating proactive action to meet the challenges of price volatility, chronic hunger, agrarian despair and climate change.


(Professor M.S. Swaminathan is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)).







"India is a curious mixture of scientific advance and traditional superstitions. Superstitions are deeply ingrained and cannot be eliminated overnight. They cannot be removed by diktat, but can be countered by rational arguments…" — Jayant V. Narlikar.


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has taken strong exception to a ritual performed at a temple in southern Karnataka on December 10, 2010. After watching the telecast of the ritual on a news channel, the Chief Minister demanded an immediate ban on the practice which drove Dalits to roll on used plantain leaves with leftovers of the food eaten by "upper caste" people. Dalits did so believing that the ritual would cure them of skin diseases. Characterising the practice as "inhuman, humiliating, and derogatory," Ms Mayawati added that "it was quite apparent that the objective behind the practice was only to humiliate the socially downtrodden," because Dalits constitute the majority of the participants


The temple at the centre of the controversy is the Kukke Subramanya temple in Subramanya village in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. The village is about 100 km from the port town of Mangalore. The "urulu seve" (rolling ritual) was held after appeals from several progressive organisations to the government, the temple authorities, and math heads to put an end to the "unhygienic and unwanted" ritual failed. When the police denied them permission to stage a demonstration, the protesters left the temple premises.


Inhuman ritual


Many newspapers have published detailed accounts of the performance of the rituals by hundreds of people from different regions of the State. A number of TV channels, including popular ones, have given wide coverage. Most reporters of the print and broadcast media did a commendable job, not concealing their disapproval of the inhuman ritual. The extensive and sensitive coverage took the issue to a larger audience.


The temple authorities repeatedly "clarified" that not only Dalits, but also people from other castes, including Brahmins, performed the ritual and did so of their own accord. Journalists on the scene confirmed that the participants in the "urulu seve" included non-Dalits but pointed out that Dalit participants accounted for the majority of the participants in the ritual. Another point made in the reports was that apart from the indignity caused to Dalits on caste grounds, all participants would run the risk of getting infected. In short, the practice was depicted as inhuman as well as anti-science.


Taking on superstition


Others on the scene included activists such as social reformer G.K. Govinda Rao and folklorist Kale Gowda Nagawara. They did not succeed in stopping the performance of the ritual, or in dissuading the participants but they had struck a blow for humanity and for science. Such interventions generally take time to show results.


A curtain raiser, published in the Mysore edition of The Hindu on December 8, noted that significantly the ritual perhaps for the first time in its 400 years of existence had to confront a protest from Dalit and backward class organisations. On December 7 the activists of these organisations from Mysore, Kodagu, and Sulia arrived in substantial numbers at Subramanya village to persuade the temple authorities to stop this undesirable ritual, and advise the devotees who were inclined to participate to keep off. Just how many of the participants responded is yet to be known. The activists met the seer of the Kukke Subramanya math, who has reportedly agreed that the ritual was "a social evil" but could not go further because, in his view, a 400-year-old ritual could not be stopped "immediately."


Taking on age-old superstition is a strenuous process and demands a lot of dedication and dogged patience. What is needed to end such practices is a multi-pronged campaign by the media but also by teachers, doctors and scientists. Science journalists have the potential to educate the readers on developing a scientific temper. The government, of course, has a big responsibility in this regard. Article 51-A (h) of the Constitution of India states: "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform." The government should take this message to larger sections of the people, especially in the countryside.










In July 2010, when stone-pelting teenagers were battling it out with policemen on the streets of Kashmir, one young Kashmiri was taking on the security forces in his own way.


In a video conference call from Srinagar, Muzaffar Bhat, a dentist by education, deposed before Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah about an unsuccessful 2007 application for information, under the Right to Information Act, on the whereabouts of a man from Budgam district who was picked up by the Border Security Force in 1990 and has not been seen since.


Three senior officials of the BSF also participated in the four-way conference call hearing on July 2 — two DIGs from the Delhi headquarters of the organisation, and the DIG Frontier from his Srinagar headquarters. The CIC directed Dr. Bhat to send the details of the case to the DIG Frontier at the earliest, and directed the BSF officials to ensure that they responded within 15 days.


Dr. Bhat never got the information. According to him, the BSF invited him to a separate follow-up meeting some weeks later. He was told all the records pertaining to1990 had been discarded and there was no way to track down the missing man, Mohammed Ashraf Yatoo, an employee of the Jammu & Kashmir government's food supplies department.


The failure has not deterred Dr. Bhat, one of a small but dedicated band of RTI warriors in Kashmir. If anything, the dental surgeon-turned activist is now even more determined in his mission to fight for people's empowerment through the weapon of information.


"One of the reasons for the present unrest in Kashmir is that there is a big governance deficit in Kashmir. We see right to information as a way to empower people so that the deficit can be addressed in the right way," Dr. Bhat told The Hindu in a recent interview in Srinagar.


Human rights violations by the security forces are a big part of this, but also what people see as endemic corruption in every department of government, and the perceived nexus between bureaucrats and politicians to deprive the powerless of their rightful benefits.


Jammu & Kashmir got its own Right to Information Act in 2004, a year before the Central legislation. But it was weak. After the 2005 RTI Act at the Centre, Dr. Bhat and his friends — among them the 2010 IAS examinations topper, Feisal Shah — began mobilising opinion for stronger RTI legislation in the State.


For constitutional reasons, the Central Act was not applicable in Jammu & Kashmir. But it inspired and strengthened the hands of the activists as they lobbied mainstream political parties to include in their election manifestos a commitment to a stronger RTI legislation. They finally succeeded in 2009, when the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly passed an RTI Act that is in some respects stronger than the Central Act.


The legislation has yielded small, but significant results. In September this year, Jammu & Kashmir High Court judges declared their assets following a request made under the RTI Act five months earlier. A 45-year-old widow finally won her battle for a tin-shed under the Indira Awas Yojana, another woman managed to get a Below Poverty Line card, and a village got piped water supply; all after RTI applications were filed. In July, the State Pollution Control Board provided the shocking information, again under the RTI Act, that only two hotels in the entire tourist town of Gulmarg had pollution control certificates from the Board.


Dr. Bhat said he packed up his dental practice to engage full time in RTI work after seeing people suffer all kinds of injustices due to government callousness. At his clinic in Budgam, his patients would tell him of their experiences of dealing with government officials.


"People have no access even to their tehsildar, what to speak of their district commissioner. Even if a tehsildar grants an audience to someone," he said, "that person's heart rate goes up immediately, and he stands there shivering, unable to state his case properly. People are waiting outside government offices all day to get even the smallest jobs done."


Not surprisingly, his activism has earned him enemies. Separatist politicians allege he is a stooge of the government, his talk of empowerment distracting attention from their goal of azadi. Powerful mainstream politicians, on the other hand, are out to fix him, he alleges, reeling off a list of FIRs filed against him and other RTI activists.


"We are not pelting stones. All we want is good governance, and transparency in government. For this I am being harassed by powerful people, cases are being fabricated against me" he said. "The question boils down to this: What kind of people do you finally want in the State? My kind of people who believe in democracy, or stone-pelters and militants?"


The Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Movement, which Dr. Bhat and his fellow RTI activists run, is now engaged in spreading awareness about the legislation in the entire State. They are also campaigning for the appointment of a Chief Information Commissioner for the State.


"More than a year has lapsed since the Act came into existence, and we still do not have a Chief Information Commissioner for J & K," said Dr. Bhat. Filling that office is important — it is the only forum of appeal to anyone whose RTI request goes unheeded.


For months now, Dr. Bhat has been awaiting a response from the State Home Department for information on how many security forces personnel have so far been prosecuted for disappearances in custody. A request for information on assets of IAS and Kashmir administrative service officials is also pending. "I want to file a complaint but where do I give my complaint in the absence of a Chief Information Commissioner?" Dr. Bhat asked.


The State government has also not filled the two posts of Information Commissioners, leaving the State's three-member Information Commission unconstituted.


In the BSF case, Dr. Bhat could appeal to the Central Information Commission because the paramilitary force is a Central government organisation, and his request for information about the missing man was filed as under the Central RTI Act.


Earlier this month, a delegation of the Jammu & Kashmir RTI movement met the Governor to demand the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners without further delay. They also demanded that the State government must raise awareness about the legislation by including it in the education curriculum in the State and by publishing it in the Urdu and Hindi languages. They also flagged the need for pro-active disclosure of information by all the public authorities.


"Some people say, this is a conflict zone," said Dr. Bhat, "nothing can be done here, they say this legislation cannot work here. But what we are saying to people is this: precisely because of the conflict, this Act can do wonders. It can strengthen people's faith in democracy, and it can even help to resolve the conflict."









Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy organisation who was released from a British jail late last week, is facing a new challenge: the leak of a 68-page confidential Swedish police report that sheds new light on the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to Mr. Assange's legal troubles.


The Swedish report traces events over a four-day period in August when Mr. Assange had what he has described as consensual sexual relationships with two Swedish women. Their accounts, which form the basis of an extradition case against Mr. Assange, are that their encounters with him began consensually, but became non-consensual when he persisted in having unprotected sex with them in defiance of their insistence that he use a condom.


The case has prompted widespread controversy, with supporters of Mr. Assange alleging that he is the victim, and that the women are complicit, in a U.S.-inspired vendetta for WikiLeaks' posting of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents on the Internet.


Conspiracy, supporters of Mr. Assange have said, is the explanation for what they described as an improbable coincidence that he should be facing potential criminal charges just as he is taking on the U.S. government. These critics have also pointed to Swedish prosecutors' flip-flopping in the case reviving allegations that had at one point been mostly dropped as more evidence of the manipulation of the case.


But the police report and dozens of interviews in recent months with people in Sweden linked to the case bolster, to some degree, the women's assertions that they were not put up to the charges by enemies of Mr. Assange as well as prosecutors' claims that the reversal was quite normal. They say it resulted from different levels of prosecutors having different opinions on the seriousness of the allegations.


However, those who have questioned the women's allegations have cited the fact, supported by the police report, that the women involved seemed willing to continue their friendships with Mr. Assange after his alleged sexual misbehaviour until they discovered by talking to each other that they had both been sexually involved with him.


The police report obtained by The New York Times and translated from the original Swedish, is a preliminary summary of the evidence taken by investigators when they met with the two women and with Mr. Assange, who left Sweden for Britain in early October but subsequently refused to return to Sweden for further questioning. Mr. Assange has told friends in Britain he decided not to return after concluding that the Swedish case was being driven by a desire to isolate and punish him for WikiLeaks' actions in publishing the secret U.S. documents.


The Swedish documents trace the accounts given by the two women of their intimate encounters with Mr. Assange. As previously reported, both women say that Mr. Assange first agreed to use a condom and then refused, in the first instance by continuing with sex after the condom broke and in the second by having sex with a woman who was asleep without using a condom.


Mr. Assange himself has refused to address the women's accounts directly, both before his December 7 arrest on the Swedish extradition warrant and since he was released from a 10-day period in a London jail Thursday after a group of friends and celebrities posted $310,000 bail. But he has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and insisted he is a victim of a political conspiracy. On Friday, he told the BBC that the case presented in the London courts was "a smear attempt" and that the impending publication of the Swedish police documents amounted to "another smear attempt".


The two women have been referred to in the British courts only as Ms. A and Ms. W. Ms. A, according to the police report and to Swedish friends, is a left-wing activist in her early 30s who was Mr. Assange's point of contact when he flew from London to Stockholm on August 11 to give a speech at a gathering hosted by the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats on August 14. Ms. W., who works in a Stockholm museum, has no declared political affiliation, according to interviews with her friends, but has told friends that she is a strong supporter of WikiLeaks.


Ms. A. told the police that arrangements had been made for Mr. Assange to stay at her Stockholm apartment for a few days while she was out of town. But the report said she returned early, agreed to allow Mr. Assange to stay in the apartment, then had dinner out with him and returned to the apartment to drink tea.


The details of their sexual encounter that weekend have been redacted from the copy of the police report obtained by the Times. But the Guardian, which said it had obtained an unedited version of the document, reported on Saturday that Ms. A told police Mr. Assange had stroked her leg, then pulled off her clothes and snapped her necklace. The report quotes her as saying that she "tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again."


According to The Guardian, Ms. A. told police that Mr. Assange pinned her arms and legs to stop her reaching

for a condom. Eventually one was used but, she told her police interviewer, he appeared to have "done something" with it, resulting in its tearing.


Ms. W (25) lives in a suburb of Stockholm, Enkoping, about 40 miles north of the city. A few weeks before Mr. Assange arrived in Sweden, she saw him on television, according to the police interview in the Times' version of the police report, and found him "interesting, brave and worthy of admiration." When she discovered that he would be speaking in Stockholm, she contacted Ms. A to volunteer her help.


Her offer was not taken up, but she decided to attend the lecture anyway, where she met Ms. A in person. After the speech, she told the police, she sat next to Mr. Assange at a group dinner.


The group dispersed after dinner, leaving Mr. Assange and Ms. W alone, the police report said. They decided to go to a movie, where, the report said, the couple began caressing, then moved to a back row, where they continued. By Monday evening, Ms. W and Mr. Assange met again. The unredacted police report obtained by the Guardian says that the two had sex, with a condom. In the report she described waking up to find him having sex with her again, without a condom. Later that morning, Ms. W. told police, Mr. Assange "ordered her to get some water and orange juice for him". She said "she didn't like being ordered around in her own home but got it anyway." That account led to the prosecutors' listing rape among the allegations they wanted to question Mr. Assange about, lawyers for the Swedish prosecutors said. Swedish legal experts have said that the section of the Swedish penal code involved in the allegation refers to the third and least serious of three categories of rape, known as "less severe," commonly invoked when men use their strength to have sex with partners against their will. The maximum penalty for the offense under Swedish law is four years.


Later the same week, according to the police report, Ms. W got in touch with Ms. A to try to seek out Mr. Assange after he had failed to keep a promise she said he had made to call her. In the conversation, the report said, the two women discovered that both had had sex with Mr. Assange without a condom. After the two women were interviewed at the police station, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant the same night. — New York Times News Service









As the crisis on the Korean peninsula continues unabated, Russia has accused the United States and South Korea of provoking the recent flare-up of tension.


On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the South Korean and U.S. Ambassadors to express "extreme concern" over a planned live-firing drill near a disputed maritime border with North Korea. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin "strongly urged" the envoys "to refrain from conducting the planned firing in order to avoid further escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula." He reminded the envoys that a similar artillery firing on November 23 had "provoked an exchange of fire... that caused casualties."


The statement is in line with the view of Russian experts on Korea who believe that the U.S. is provoking tension on the Korean Peninsula to continue to threaten Russia and China.


"Keeping up tension on the peninsula is the only way for the U.S. to justify the more than half-a-century-long presence of American forces in Japan and South Korea that is directed against Russia and especially China," said Dr. Alexander Zhebin, head of the Centre for Korean Studies at the Russian Institute of the Far East.


The scholar said that had it not been for the North Korean "threat", the U.S. would be hard put to explain the need for deploying missile defences in East Asia, which is proceeding much faster than in Europe and targets Russia and China rather than North Korea.


Russia's Friday statement on the Korea crisis signalled a perceptible shifted from its initial reaction to North Korea's shelling of South's Yeonpyeong Island that killed four people. Moscow then just "strongly condemned the use of force in inter-state relations" and urged both sides to show restraint.


After the crisis broke out Russia launched intensive diplomatic efforts to ease tension, hosting in Moscow the Foreign Ministers of Japan, North and South Korea and dispatching a senior diplomat to Washington for talks in the State Department. Russia clearly resented the U.S. decision to hold trilateral talks in Washington with Japan and South Korea instead of a China-proposed meeting of the six nations involved in long-stalled North Korean denuclearisation talks, which also includes China, Russia and North Korea.


Russia called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Saturday. As the meeting was shifted to Sunday, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused the U.S. chairperson of the Security Council of delay tactics.


"We believe such action by the Chairperson is a departure from the established Council practice," Mr. Churkin said.


A senior Kremlin official bluntly blamed the latest crisis between the two Koreas on "the military activity of South Korea and its allies that has recently intensified."


"When military drills are held near the demarcation lines between the Korean states and especially in disputed areas, they become particularly provocative," said Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council Vladimir Nazarov.


As it hit out at the U.S., Moscow said it saw eye to eye with Beijing on the Korea crisis. Discussing the problem on telephone on Saturday, the Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers "coordinated their positions" and "were unanimous" in urging all sides for restraint, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.


Russia's solidarity with China is significant in the light of Washington's revived strategy of containing and encircling China.


"The recent tour of [U.S. President Barack] Obama of countries around China — India, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia — is an attempt to create a cordon sanitaire against rising China," Dr. Zhebin said.








The Board of Control for Cricket in India is gradually painting itself into a corner over the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League. In the hurry to get at the former chairman of the lucrative league, Mr Lalit Modi, the board also went after the two teams perceived to have had close links with him and kicked the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab out of the IPL over non-disclosure of ownership details. Both teams successfully challenged the move and have been re-instated by first a one-man tribunal constituted by the Bombay high court, and thereafter confirmed by a larger bench. This in effect means that IPL-4 is, for now at least, a 10-team competition, thus scuppering plans to make it an eight-team tournament by bringing in two new franchises in the form of Pune and Kochi. Having faced a resounding rebuff to its actions in eliminating former champions Royals and the Preity Zinta-backed Kings XI, the BCCI is faced with a quandary — to continue down this path, or accept for now the fact that their move has backfired. Of course, the Bombay high court has imposed stringent financial conditions for both the re-instated squads, but that is unlikely to stand in the way of their owners fielding teams in 2011. The court's decision has also brought in its wake further uncertainty. For one, the fresh player auction — with the initial three-year lock-in period for all eight original teams having expired at the end of the 2010 season — may not take place as scheduled in early January if the BCCI decides to press on with its own legal challenge.

There is now talk that the auction will take place during the course of the 2011 ICC World Cup but that would in turn irk almost every other cricket board around the world who would not want their players to be distracted by their valuations in the course of the game's biggest event. It would also give team owners no time at all to fulfil commercial obligations as there is a very narrow window between the end of the World Cup and the start of IPL-4. Then, what the format of the 2011 tournament will take is again in doubt. To be sure, the board — and the governing council of the IPL — had catered for a 10-team tournament to start with but that format had faced opposition from the original set of team owners. Then, with the disqualification of the Royals and Kings XI, things appeared to return to the old set of games, but all that appears to be up in the air now. In a wider perspective, other cricket boards must be having a quiet chuckle at seeing the most lucrative property in the game in tatters. Spurred by the success of the IPL in its first three seasons, every board has scrambled to put together similar properties but nowhere has it caught the imagination — and purses — of the paying public as it has here in India. To see that prize plum now swinging in the winds of uncertainty would give competing units hope that the talent that had so far focused almost exclusively on India would now be available for their prospective T20 money-spinning leagues. In that sense, the BCCI's recent moves may well be a salutary lesson on how not to let too much power become concentrated in too few hands, for there is no doubt that Mr Lalit Modi ran the IPL like a personal fiefdom. The witch-hunt that has followed has only served to hurt Indian cricket's image around the world, if for its sheer vindictiveness, if nothing else.








The same day that newspapers carried reports of Indian ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar being singled out for a "pat-down" security check in Mississippi because she was wearing a sari, I happened to fly from Chennai to Delhi and sitting next to me was a foreign lady, most probably of European origin. On landing at Delhi's infamous Terminal 3, while the rest of us unhappy mortals prepared for a long trudge from the landing gate to the car park (at least one kilometre), this lady got into a car that was brought right up to the aircraft and was whisked away. Upon enquiry I was told that she was the ambassador of some country to India. While obviously, I have nothing personal against this particular lady, I was absolutely filled with rage to reflect upon the difference in the treatment meted out to our ambassador to the US.

As everyone will remember Ms Shankar had passed through the metal detector without setting it off and was standing in a queue with about 30 other people. The TSA (transportation security agent) apparently singled out Ms Shankar for a pat-down security check because she was dressed in a sari. Furthermore, the agent refused to relent even when Ms Shankar told him that she was a diplomat and India's ambassador. Even worse, although she requested that the pat-down be done in a private room it was conducted in a transparent glass cubicle in full public view. Naturally, India protested. External affairs minister S.M. Krishna made his displeasure clear, and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton responded with inanities. Apparently, someone in the US state department apologised to Ms Shankar.

However, the matter cannot be dropped there. This is not about Ms Shankar but about how the representative from India was treated even after revealing her diplomatic credentials. As a citizen of India, I would like to know from the US authorities why the TSA thought that a lady in a sari was a security threat? Particularly when she passed through the metal detector without setting it off? Also, especially when she stood in a queue, did not misbehave or gave rise to any kind of suspicion. Above all, when the security agent was told that she was India's ambassador, why s/he still insisted on a pat-down search? In this case, an apology is simply not sufficient. We need to know what action was taken against the security authorities that perpetrated this insult on our ambassador.

After the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, it is common knowledge that security at US airports has been considerably tightened. It is proudly claimed that fortunately there has not been a recurrence of a 9/11-type attack on the US only because of the very strict security protocols that have been introduced there. It is also proudly claimed that the Transportation Security Administration is a completely autonomous body and conducts the work of ensuring security with complete independence. Be that as it may, the question now is whether the US will accord respect to the internationally recognised and binding Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by which all countries have agreed to the inviolability of diplomats from their countries. Clearly the pat-down of Ms Shankar is in violation of these norms and unacceptable without even going down the slippery slope of ethical considerations of racial profiling and the balance between racial profiling and security concerns.

Those who travel to the US are largely resigned to racial profiling in airports. It is allegedly "random". But in practice, those of Asian origin and those with names belonging to a particular religion are almost always "randomly" selected for thorough security and body probes. The security staff is almost always ungentle and very rude, making it a hellish experience to travel in or to the US. There are several people I know who have stopped travelling to the US for this reason. This certainly begs the question of whether a terrorist from Asia will actually come dressed in some obvious Asian outfit and stand in an airport line advertising his/her intentions for all to see. Even more baffling is the assumption by the security personnel that a lady in a sari was wearing a "bulky" dress and was therefore liable to be thoroughly searched. It is a mystery to any thinking person how a graceful sari could be considered to be a bulky dress as opposed to voluminous dresses and coats.
Within days of this incident making headlines in India, our permanent envoy to the UN, Hardeep Puri, was similarly insulted and asked to remove his turban at another US airport. I have not heard of any apology to Mr Puri from the US and can only wonder why after India offered such warm and gracious hospitality to US President Barack Obama the security establishment in the US would insult our diplomats in clear violation of the Vienna Convention.

It is nobody's case that security of any country should ever be compromised or avoided. Indians are by and large peaceful, law-abiding people and, particularly when travelling abroad hate, to enter into confrontation. For the most part, you will find Indians standing quietly in lines and following all the rules in airports and elsewhere. However, when there are well-established international norms agreed to by all countries on how visiting dignitaries or diplomatic personnel should be treated, it is totally unacceptable for us to sit back and watch the continued violation of these norms when it comes to dignitaries and diplomats from India.
We still remember that former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was accorded the same treatment as was then defence minister George Fernandes and more recently, civil aviation minister Praful Patel. Now we have the utterly inexplicable indignity handed out to Ms Shankar and Mr Puri. Notwithstanding formal expressions of regret from Ms Clinton and the state department, these incidents continue to recur and the US cannot simply shrug its shoulders and point to security and the autonomy of the TSA. The US government has to immediately put a stop to the indignity accorded to our diplomats and visiting dignitaries. Otherwise, as citizens, we should call for full reciprocity and treat US diplomats and dignitaries in exactly the same way they treat us. Perhaps then they will understand our outrage.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own








Karnataka governor HR Bharadwaj is not much of a believer in propriety, especially of the Constitutional kind.


That is why, he not only writes to chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, asking him why there is no probe against the Reddy brothers of Bellary for their alleged illegal mining activities, but he also holds a press conference and makes public his displeasure at the unresponsive Yeddyurappa government.


And he also announces that he is regularly sending reports to the Central government about the situation in the state.


There is not much doubt about the levels of corruption and controversy surrounding the BJP government, or about the need to raise an alarm over it. Bharadwaj would have been free and right to flay the BJP's misdeeds if he had been a mere Congressman.


But it does raise serious questions of Constitutional impropriety when governor Bharadwaj speaks like Congressman Bharadwaj. Second, the governor is the Constitutional head of the state, and in this case Bharadwaj is the Constitutional head of Karnataka and he has to be guided by the state government, now headed by the BJP.


He is the voice of the state government and not that of the Centre.


The governor has the right to differ with the state government but he has to convey his concerns through the official, confidential channel.


If the differences between the governor and the chief minister, in this case between Bharadwaj and Yeddyurappa, were to be ferreted out by an intrepid journalist, then it makes a good story but it does not violate Constitutional decorum. But if either Bharadwaj or Yeddyurappa were to attack each other in public, then it means that the two are not observing Constitutional niceties.


It might seem quaint to talk of propriety, decorum and nicety when politics has become a bare-knuckle fight. There is a line that divides the political arena from the Constitutional set-up, and it is an important dividing line however thin it might be.


There is a need to honour it to preserve the political system. That is why Bharadwaj venting his ire in public is unbecoming of a governor.






Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's assessment of terrorism in India, which was shared with US ambassador Timothy Roemer, has now found its way into the public domain, thanks to WikiLeaks.


What is of real concern is that Gandhi, who claims he wants to change a few things in the party structure and thinking, has trapped himself in the party's post-Independence mindset, which was both wrong and opportunist.


The Congress felt that Muslim communalism, which has now mutated, in some instances, into Islamic terrorism, could unleash Hindu terrorism. Majority communalism could also turn into terrorism.


This is the substance of Gandhi's remarks to Roemer.


His detractors from the BJP are sure to accuse him of ignoring or condoning Muslim communalism and, by implication, Islamic terrorism. As a matter of fact, the opposite is the case. Gandhi has expressed the apprehension that Islamic communalism and terrorism could trigger Hindu communalism and terrorism, and that is a danger.


If his account is true, then it is indeed a matter of concern. Hindu terrorism would derail the country as a whole, though what Gandhi seemed to be more worried about was the impact such a development would have on the minority Muslim community. The Congress leader is thus narrowly focused on majority-minority relations, and following his party's perverted perspective.


What Gandhi and the Congress will have to understand is that this attempt to treat Hindus and Muslims as equally susceptible to the evil charms of communalism does not survive scrutiny. This is not to deny the reality of Hindu communalism or even the dangers of Hindu terrorism but they have no chance of ever becoming the voice of the community as such.


There are many reasons for this. Hindu society is too large and too diverse for it to ever adopt a monolithic ideology. This is not so much an assumption as a fact of history. Hinduism has never been a uniting factor in Indian history. So, Gandhi's and the Congress' reading of India in terms of Hindu and Muslim, largely a British legacy, is nothing more than a blockhead's worldview.


In a democracy, everyone has a right to his or her opinion, however wrong it may be. The danger arises when it becomes the official narrative of the nation.


Congress has been queering the pitch for the country because of its cynical game of playing the minority against the majority, and it has to be roundly condemned, refuted and ridiculed for repeatedly igniting this brand of divisiveness.








We hold the notion that governance must come from those we elect. This, of course, is as expected and is the single biggest reason for going through the often-painful drama of elections. But the expectation results in an increasing alienation between those who govern and the governed (well, you and me). Let's put it a little more simply: governance from above leads to development from above. The chances of this development reaching the lower sections of society are dangerously low. And if the bottom of the heap includes animals, the poor souls don't stand a chance. This — that animals are part of society — may seem mildly radical. But there's no denying they are part of the country, right?


To hear that forest minister CH Vijayashankar has now approved the Night Safari at Bannerghatta National Park — originally the idea of the state tourism minister — is nothing short of alarming. Of course, the considerate Vijayashankar says that the Night Safari will be allowed only on full moon nights — which means about 12 to 13 days in the year.


Perhaps the minister has been influenced by the Night Safari in Singapore or one of several others like those in Guangzhou, China, the one in Chiang Mai, Thailand or even the one coming up closer at Noida. Doubtless these are seductive tourist attractions. The Singapore Night Safari's 1,000 animals across 115 species attract 1.1 million visitors a year.


So here are two questions to consider: If the Night Safari is operated for only a dozen days in a year, would it attract even a fraction of the tourists Singapore does?In other words, is the proposed investment of Rs180 crore on the park misdirected and an economic waste waiting to happen? The other and more pertinent question is would your neighbours put up with an intrusion of the kind that will be perpetrated on the animals at Bannerghatta National Park right in the middle of the night? Would you? If animals could, they would mark their protest over the intrusion by boycotting the election process!


There is a need to bring intelligent, relevant and innovative thinking to the management of our parks, forests and wildlife. The states elephant census (2010) shows that the population of elephants has increased from 4,088 (2008) to 5,630. While this is heartening, the real insight is in the way the census was held. Earlier in May this year, volunteers were invited to participate in the elephant census. The three-day census exercise across 18 state forest divisions needed 400 volunteers.


However, the forest department had more than 1,000 applicants with having to pay each Rs100 per day to participate in the census. Volunteers — mostly students — were trained and educated about wildlife and the census process before the task was undertaken.


This is volunteerism-meets-wildlife of the kind that makes sense. The census process sensitises volunteers to the environment and to wildlife; it offers them a chance to enjoy an active vacation; and go back with skills that will come handy in life.


Volunteerism has a rich history in the country. Welfare-statism was central to the Maurya and Gupta empires. Volunteerism up to the 19th Century, with its genesis in charity and religious practice, was aimed at education, health and the management of natural disasters like floods and famines. In the second half of the nineteenth century, under British colonial rule, it evolved to address issues that led to a social-political awakening.


By the 20th Century volunteerism had begun to address nationalism, with Mahatma Gandhi driving for self-sufficiency and self-governance. In the post-Independence period, volunteerism shifted its focus to transforming rural India through the efforts of people like Vinoba Bhave who started the Bhoodan movement.


Today, voluntary action is rudderless. It faces a crisis as the country's leadership is fragmented. And the role — and structure — of volunteerism itself is changing. Traditional charity, relief and rehab is being replaced by empowerment and capacity building. It needs imagination to re-fire the voluntary movement.


The good news is that Karnataka is showing the way by shifting focus and addressing 21 Century concerns such as conservation and the environment. Today, it has the task of matching its leadership position in matters related to technology with innovative thinking that drives sustainability and biodiversity. This cannot happen with grand but completely misdirected plans of Night Safaris.


The challenges of today need unprecedented depth of thinking. They call for imagination and inventiveness. They demand walking off the beaten path to create fresh roadmaps. The forest minister recently announced that a new forest policy with 50 major changes was on its way. The policy will be "scientific" and address "modern-day problems" — that's his promise. Hopefully, he will live up to the announcement, and bring back faith in governance that is relevant and holistic.








Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting…trailing clouds of glory do we come, from God who is our home: Wordsworth. A hunter found an eagle's egg and placed it under a brooding hen.


The eaglet hatched and soon became just like all the other chicken on the farm. He clucked and cackled, scratched for worms and ran under the shelter of his mother's wings at the sight of danger.


Time passed. Now grown old, the eagle one day looked up to see a magnificent bird soaring on powerful, still wings, sweeping the sky in swirls like an aerial ballet dancer.


Spellbound, he asked, "Who is that?" His siblings said, "He is the king of birds, the eagle. He belongs to the sky. Not like us. We are chicken. We belong to the earth." So, the eagle lived and died a chicken because that is what he thought he was. And we, who are made in God's image, awe-inspiring in our divine potential, often aspire to be no more than human. Sometimes not even that.


Yet, it is not enough to just know. We must be constantly aware. King Janaka, the philosopher king of Videha, once dreamt that he was a beggar.


He asked his guru, Ashtavakra, "Am I a king, dreaming of being a beggar, or am I a beggar dreaming he is king?" Ashtavakra answered, "Neither. You are the eternal soul".


And added, "As a bracelet melts into gold, a pot crumbles into clay, a wave subsides in water, you arise from and dissolve in God".








It might seem perverse to raise questions about a large industrial project that will bring 'state-of-the-art' nuclear technology to the country, will add 10,000MW to Maharashtra's power generation capacity, and which, moreover, has been cleared by the recently cautious environment ministry in double-quick time.


But when one takes even a cursory look at the proposed nuclear power project at Jaitapur on the Konkan coast, south of Ratnagiri, one is confronted by unnerving facts.


The French company Areva will construct and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) will operate six reactors, each with a capacity of 1,650MW. It involves an untested and problematic design, is the highest costing power project so far, the risk of nuclear radiation is considerable, and the possible damage to a fragile ecosystem is immense.


The French have the most experience in operating nuclear power reactors and the 59 reactors there account for most of their power generating capacity. Their standard workhorse is the 1,000MW N4 reactor, whose design has been proven over several decades of operation.


The 1,650MW European Pressure Reactor, or EPR, is their new baby. Two plants are being built, one in Finland and another in France, and another two have been ordered by the Chinese.


The EPR in Finland is having cost over-runs, its cost almost doubling fromEuro3 billion to Euro5.7 billion, is behind schedule and has faced many quality and regulatory problems. The largely state-owned Areva suffered a setback earlier this year when it lost a $40 billion contract in the UAE to a South Korean consortium.


In June a government-sponsored report revealed that Areva needed about Euro2 billion more capital to stay in the game. France thus needs the big Indian order amounting to nearly Euro35 billion, to save its nuclear industry.


There is a risk that safety issues are being bypassed. First, there is no redundancy in the instrumentation and control systems of the EPR. This raises the chance of failure since there is no sufficient backup.


The higher burnup may result in a thinning of the fuel cladding, making it prone to early failure. A study by the French power utility EDF has reported that the toxicity from the radioactive waste of the EPR is four times that of ordinary reactors, and is especially high in radioactive iodine and bromine, which stay at dangerous levels of radioactivity for over a million years.


The costs of the EPR are also very high. While a tight wrap has been kept on costs in India, drawing from the Finnish experience, the cost per mega watt of installed capacity for the EPR is over Rs 20 crore, compared to Rs4 crore to Rs5 crore for a coal-based plant and Rs7-8 crore for Indian-designed reactors.


The cost of power generated is also over Rs7 per unit for the EPR, compared to Rs1.50-2.50 for a coal-based plant and Rs3.50-4.50 for an Indian reactor. After transmission distribution costs and losses, the consumer would pay another 50% more.


If the government wants to encourage zero-carbon technologies, it owes it to the citizens to explain just what the tradeoff is with a working of its cost to us. What has been totally missed out in the environment impact assessment (EIA) done by the ministry of environment is the risk of radiation.


The 10,000MW Jaitapur project, located in seismic zone III, is the first step in the plan to take a jump in nuclear power generation, from 4120MW to 63,000MW by 2032.


For a nuclear power plant, the dangers of radioactive contamination are central. These can arise from acts of terrorism or from accidents. The EIA has passed the project without taking the radioactive risk into consideration, leaving it to be determined later by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).


In a memorandum to the ministry of environment, the Konkan Bachao Samiti has said: "Safety audit is a rigorous, scientific process. A mere formal exercise is not a bonafide safety audit.… The AERB is the only authorised body to certify safety in regard to radioactivity", and without its approval there should be no environmental clearance.


There are further issues regarding the transport and disposal of high-level radioactive wastes after reprocessing which are missing in the EIA.


Nuclear waste remains dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years, and so far no country has succeeded in building a permanent storage for high-level nuclear waste so that ground water is not contaminated.


Of more immediate concern to local residents is the disruption in their living environment and the protests near Jaitapur reflect that.


The Madhban plateau on which the giant nuclear plants will be built is the largest coastal plateau in the Konkan with a unique biodiversity. This will be lost.


If the government continues with its hasty plans without a proper safety audit, the residents of the Konkan will pay the price at some later time.









THE Wikileaks have made no startling disclosures onKashmir. All they have pointed out to is the threads on
the web mail by International Committee of Red Cross pointingout to prevalence of torture by Indian security forces in Jammuand Kashmir, making a special reference of custodial killings.


This is no secret and has been known for a long time and hasn'teven come from unexpected quarters. The ICRC has been regularlymonitoring the situation in Kashmir and filing reports,though owing to its limited mandate, these reports have neverreally come out in the public domain. However, human rightsgroups across the globe and civil rights defenders have been pointingout to the graph of excessive human rights abuse in the state
by both militant groups and security forces. The arbitrary arrests,harassing crackdowns, custodial torture, custodial disappearances,killings, fake encounters, rapes and molestations are a welldocumented part of the recent history in the state, particularlythe Valley and the hilly areas of Jammu region. What is, owever,repulsive in the wake of new disclosures is the virtual blamegame that has started over human rights abuse, nobody havingthe courage to own up responsibility. The excesses have beenpart and parcel of the state in the last several decades, more pronouncedin the last twenty years after the armed insurgency surfaced
and has continued even as militancy has been reducedalmost to a naught. Whatever political dispensation has ruledin New Delhi or Jammu and Kashmir, the human rights abuses,aided by draconian laws and official or political patronage,have become a permanent feature despite much criticism fromaround the globe and protests within the state. Strong voices ofprotests, often peaceful campaigns and sometimes marked byviolent spurt of anger, have been equally brutally crushed. Thesehave never been heard and never ever have there been attempts toaddress this vicious cycle of human rights abuses continuingwith shocking impunity that can put to shame even the worst dictatorshipsin the world. After the Wikileaks exposure ontorture in Kashmir, chief minister Omar Abdullah was quick to passon the buck to the Congress regime led by Ghulam Nabi Azadsince the ICRC web threads referred to torture during 2005.

The Congress has been equally dismissive of what OmarAbdullah has to say. Whether it was National Conference,Congress or the Peoples Democratic Party, human rightsabuse have been a dominant part of the fabric of polity within thestate, though the forms of torture have changed. It is immaterialwhich regime was in powers' whether the graph temporarilyscales down or goes up a bit, continuum of torture has beenallowed, patronised and overlooked by all of them. There hasbeen rather a culture of denial by the political dispensation followingthe culture of repression exercised by the official security agencies.

Torture has been fully entrenched, so much so that it hasextended beyond the confines of the militancy affected and heavilymilitarized areas to the comparatively calm zones of Jammuregion. With police's dreaded Special Operations Group havingbeen trained and encouraged in similar forms of repressive measures,and the SOG men being posted to the peaceful areas afterserving several years in the militarised ones, repression in theValley and other militancy hit areas are also being replicatedelsewhere. The rising graph of custodial killings, fake encountersand other forms of torture in and around Jammu are an evidentindication. Such a situation should have been a matter of collectiveshame and qualified for a collective concern for the muchneeded action. Instead, what we hear are simply squabbles andmud-slinging over human rights. The fact is that PDP's healing touch, Congress' Khushaal Kashmir and Omar Abdullah'srhetoric to the point of seeking (and now abandoned demand) ofTruth and Reconciliation Commissions have done nothingto reduce the distress of the people in terms of human rightsabuse. Unbridled freedom to the security forces is not only allowingrepression to continue and alienation to increase, it is allowingthe alienated masses of Kashmir to completely isolatethemselves in absolute anger. Even though there appears to be acertain consensus among the major political parties within thestate, barring the BJP, regarding the continuum of human rightsviolations, there has been no collective strategy to push for amechanism that can bring this dance of blood and gore to an end.

The blame game on human rights abuse must stop and a collectiveeffort must begin immediately to put an end to all forms of tortureand violation of civil liberties of the people, both from the heavilymilitarized and partially militarized areas of the state.







poor people if corruption is checkedAre-look at the National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Programme (NREGP) after five years it wasstarted by the centre at the national level to provide a minimumof 200 days of employment to the rural poor paints a verydisappointing picture. The case in respect of Jammu and Kashmirwhere it was started as a pilot project in two remote districts ofDoda and Kupwara and extended to whole of the state in the secondyear is no different. Right from its inception in 2005, the whole of theproject has been caught in controversies due to acute corruptionand nepotism at all levels with the targeted rural poor becoming victimsof the entire scheme instead of being its beneficiaries. In fact,J&K's case is entirely different from rest of India. In J&K, whichhas earned the dubious distinction of being on the top in terms of corruption
in the administrative set up, data about the NREGP iseither totally unavailable or it is made to believe that everything isright from top to bottom. Whatever be the case, J&Kappears to have lived up to its notorious reputation of indulgingin corrupt practices in this scheme also and victimizing its beneficiaries.

This is the main reason why the rural poor particularly remoteareas continue to flock to the urban areas in search of employmentopportunities and greener pastures, when they don't findwork in their respective areas. That is why they continue tomigrate to places outside the state in search of better opportunities.

Those ruling the roost in corridors of power continue to paint a differentpicture with their argument that migratory labour is beingimported to J&K for execution of development works in view ofdearth of local labour.


How far is it true is a debatable question andone needs to go beyond and look at the works being executed in ruraland remote areas, where they have come to a stand still becauseof various reasons including the limited working season component.

Even for this wholly centrally sponsored scheme, thepresent government has failed to come up to the expectations of thepoor people. Either the state government refuses to move or it isso complacent that it does not want to move and is busy in otherunproductive jobs. More so, the government does not appear to be
involved in anything that seriously plagues the daily lives of itspeople. Its working gives an impression that it oes not havetime and space for a large chunk of the population which needsserious consideration as onethird of J&K's population is stillliving below the poverty line and schemes aimed at their upliftmentgo down the drain due to callousness and apathy.










Are-look at the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme(NREGP) after five years it was started by the centre at thenational level to provide a minimum of 200 days of employmentto the rural poor paints a very disappointing picture. The case inrespect of Jammu and Kashmir where it was started as a pilotproject in two remote districts of Doda and Kupwara and extendedto whole of the state in the second year is no different. Right from itsinception in 2005, the whole of the project has been caught in controversiesdue to acute corruption and nepotism at all levels with thetargeted rural poor becoming victims of the entire scheme instead
of being its beneficiaries. In fact, J&K's case is entirely differentfrom rest of India. In J&K, which has earned the dubious distinctionof being on the top in terms of corruption in the administrative setup, data about the NREGP is either totally unavailable or it ismade to believe that everything is right from top to bottom.

Whatever be the case, J&K appears to have lived up to itsnotorious reputation of indulging in corrupt practices in this schemealso and victimizing its beneficiaries. This is the main reason whythe rural poor particularly remote areas continue to flock to theurban areas in search of employment opportunities and greener
pastures, when they don't find work in their respective areas.

That is why they continue to migrate to places outside the statein search of better opportunities. Those ruling the roost in corridorsof power continue to paint a different picture with their argumentthat migratory labour is being imported to J&K for execution ofdevelopment works in view of dearth of local labour. How far is ittrue is a debatable question and one needs to go beyond and look atthe works being executed in rural and remote areas, where theyhave come to a stand still because of various reasons including thelimited working season component. Even for this wholly centrallysponsored scheme, the present government has failed tocome up to the expectations of the poor people. Either the state governmentrefuses to move or it is so complacent that it does notwant to move and is busy in other unproductive jobs. More so, thegovernment does not appear to be involved in anything that seriouslyplagues the daily lives of its people. Its working gives animpression that it does not have time and space for a large chunkof the population which needs serious consideration as onethird
of J&K's population is still living below the poverty line andschemes aimed at their upliftment go down the drain due tocallousness and apathy.







SOME international treatiesand agreements are so incurablyineffectual, unequal orotherwise flawed that the worldwould be better off without them.


The Copenhagen Accord signedlast year was one such. A collusivearrangement between the UnitedStates and BASIC (Brazil, SouthAfrica, India, China), later signedby 20-odd states, the Accordreversed some major gains madein the negotiations under the UNFramework Convention onClimate Change. These includeassigning greater responsibility tothe industrialised Northern countriesthan the developing South incombating climate change, definingtime-bound quantitative targetsfor reducing greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions, and mandating
North-to-South transfers offinance and technology.

Mercifully, the Accord was notadopted by the Copenhagen conference.

It was condemned universallyby environmentalists, bymost climate scientists, and bymany progressive governments.

Signatory India didn't even mentionit in its climate-relatedactions officially reported to theUN. The Accord seemed destinedto go into the dustbin of history.

Now, its main features havebeen resurrected in the CancunAgreements (CA), just reached inMexico. The CA are not onlyweak and inadequate, they aredownright retrograde in somerespects.The CA have attracted a rangeof comments. Some observershave welcomed them for defendingUN "multilateralism" andcalled them "forward-looking", "anew beginning", a necessary partof global "give-and-take", and aprelude to an effective agreement,with binding emissionsreductiontargets, to be negotiatedin South Africa next year. Butthe crucial yet simple question is:Will the CA prevent catastrophicclimate change? Do they mandatethe 40 percent emissions cuts bythe North necessary to limit globalwarming to 1.5 to 2 °C, thevery maximum that Planet Earth
can tolerate?The answer is a resounding no.Under the CA, global temperaturesare likely to rise by 3 to 4 °Cor more, causing irreversible disruptionsand breakdowns in theclimate system, leading to ecologicaldevastation, millions of deathsand colossal economic damage,thus threatening humanity's survival.The CA are full of loopholesand ambiguities. They postponemajor decisions (e.g. the legalform of commitments) to nextyear. They blur the distinctionbetween the North, historicallyresponsible for three-quarters ofglobal emissions, and the South.The CA turn the science-basedprocess of setting country-specificemissions-reduction targets on its
head and take a "bottom-up"approach: countries can set theirtargets at will. Instead of imposing
emissions cuts of up to 40 percenton the North without carbonoffsets and other loopholes, as isimperative, they allow it to dovery little, without penalties. Forinstance, the US, the world'sworst polluter, has offered emissions
cuts of a laughable 4 percentby 2020. The CA don't even mentionequitable access to global climatespace, only "equitable accessto sustainable development".At Cancun, there was no agreementon a second commitmentperiod for the Kyoto Protocol, theworld's sole legally binding climateagreement, whose first termexpires in 2012. Under theProtocol, the industrialised countriesmust take on quantified
emission limitations and financiallysupport the developing countries'climate-related actions andgeneration of technologies for lowcarbondevelopment. Instead, theCA create a single instrument forboth North and South.


This pavesthe way for abolishing the KyotoProtocol—a demand made stridentlyby Japan, Russia, Canada
and Australia. (The US isn't evena signatory to the Protocol.)Many Northern countries have
failed to meet even their modestemissions-reduction targets (5.2percent on average) under Kyoto'sfirst term, ven allowing for thepartly illusory cuts "achieved"through carbon trading instead
of domestic reductions.Seventeen of the 41 haveincreased their emissions—some,by as much as 40 and 100 percent.According to the UNEnvironment Programme, therestill remains a gap of 9 milliontonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalentemissions between theNorth's pledges and the 44 milliontonnes needed to limit globalwarming to 2 °C.The CA also impose a system ofinternational consultation andanalysis for the voluntary domesticmitigation actions of the Southeven when they aren't financiallysupported by the North. This violates
the spirit of the Bali ActionPlan (2007), which established afirewall between the North's
"commitments" (obligations) andthe South's "actions". Theseactions must be measured, reportedand verified only when supportedby the North. The onlyNorth-South difference is the frequencyof reporting: annual forthe North, and once every twoyears for the South.The Cancun Agreements createREDD (reduced emissionsthrough deforestation and degradation),a market mechanism,ostensibly to promote forest conservation,thus commodifyingforests. As forest and tribalactivists have argued, this treatsforests as mere stocks of carbonand doesn't recognise the rights offorest-dwelling communities.The CA establish a technologysharing
Mechanism to help vulnerablecountries. But they don'taddress the important issue ofintellectual property rights (IPRs)or technology patenting. Whowould fund the TechnologyMechanism and to what extent
much remains unclear.

The CA thus represent no forwardmovement on key issues.However, there is some progress
in other areas, including adaptationto climate change, and establishing
a $100 billion GreenClimate Fund by 2020. But this iswholly inadequate for what's actuallyneeded for itigation andadaptation in the South (estimatedat $500-1,000 billion annually).The Fund is a distant political
objective. There is no clarity onwhere the money would comefrom and how it would be channelled.The eveloped countrieshave shown no indication yet thatthey are prepared to lose controlover how the South spends climate-related funds.Formally speaking, the CA doesreaffirm multilateralism. But theagreements were reached
through informal meetings andnegotiations which initiallyinvolved a small number of countries(10 were assigned the task ofrecruiting about 50 states). Theprocess was divisive. The mostvulnerable countries were targetedand offered inducements todilute their support for the KyotoProtocol's second term and other
G-77 demands.As the WikiLeaks cables show,the US and European Union usedall manner of inducements to getsmall and vulnerable countries tosign on to the Copenhagen Accordas a condition for receiving assistance.They also worked hard onthe BASIC countries, targetingtheir individual officials by seeking
compromising intelligence onthem and details such as creditcard and frequent-flyer numbers.It would be a surprise if similartactics weren't used before andduring Cancun.The CA will greatly expand carbontrading—through REDD andthe inclusion of the dubious technologyof Carbon Capture andStorage under the CleanDevelopment Mechanism. TheCDM allows Southern projects toearn carbon credits and sell themto the North, which can evadereducing its own emissions.Carbon trading is conceptuallyflawed. Using market mechanismsto combat climate change istotally irrational: no less than formerWorld Bank chief economistNicholas Stern admits that climatechange represents history'sgreatest market failure.The CDM is a huge scandal,with unreasonable emissionsallowances for Northern corporationsand inappropriate Southern
projects (like making a refrigerantgas—only to burn it to earn credits).Many projects violate the condition
that they must be new, notbusiness-as-usual: over 80 percentof the dams earning credits werealready built or under constructionbefore the CDM took effect.Carbon trading has become ahighly speculative activity, akinto sub-prime bank lending. It'sdominated by futures trading inpresumed credits which maynever materialise.The Cancun Agreements are badfor the world, unfair to the South'svulnerable people, and soft on theNorth. Of the promised "fasttrack" finance of $30 billion by2012, the North has so farmobilised only $4.5 billion, according
to World Resources Institute.A good chunk of Northern assistancewill come from the privatesector and take the form of loansor equity. Some of it won't be newand additional funding, but willrecycle existing aid flows.Only tiny Bolivia had thecourage to oppose the CancunAgreements. Why did India signthem in violation of its own "nonnegotiables":namely, a secondcommitment period for the KyotoProtocol, accelerated financial
support for the South, and technologytransfer without IPRrestrictions? The only explanationis, a combination of externalpressure, and New Delhi's shrewdcalculation that the Agreementsimpose relatively light obligationson India—although they placeeven lighter ones on the North.This speaks of an extremelycynical approach, and conforms tothe worst-case scenario I discussedin my book An India ThatCan Say Yes: A Climate-Responsible Development Agendafor Copenhagen and Beyond, publisheda year ago. Put simply,India's policy-makers are bent onretaining the option to raise thecountry's emissions under the pretextof "development" and fightingpoverty—in reality, to supportelite consumption. Most of themwill do anything and everything toresist any future climate-relatedrestraint—including signing a climatedeal that is disastrous forthe world, and hence in the longterm for India too.There is another term for thisapproach. It's called ShootingYourself in the Foot.








First, we keep complaining about the lack of financial help from the Centre for our development. Even for our minor needs we don't hesitate to extend, to quote a former finance minister, "begging bowl" in the direction of New Delhi. Then, we play a cruel joke on ourselves. We get the much sought assistance. But we fritter it away. We don't either use it timely. Or, equally worse, we spoil the show by partial utilisation. A recent report in this newspaper is quite revealing. Once again it brings to the light our gross administrative inefficiency. The Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry had sanctioned 18 polytechnic colleges along with Rs 8 crore for each of them. More than 18 months have passed since then. In the intervening period we have gone about the task at our leisurely pace. One full year has been spent in identifying the land. After that our concerned apparatus started preparing estimates and drawings/designs. In this process it turned out that the infrastructure expenses would be between Rs 12 and Rs 14 crore for each institution. The additional cost for the complete project thus had gone up by Rs 80 to Rs 90 crore. A proposal was put up before the Union HRD Ministry to meet the extra burden as well. The latter replied in an emphatic no. It pointed out that it was not possible to exceed the amount committed under the Eleventh Plan. It asked the State Government to fund the surplus requirements from its resources. This, as we know from our experience, is easier said than done. We are perpetually in the red. The Eleventh Plan is about to enter its last year. In other words it implies that for our hope of any more monetary aid to materialise we will have to wait for the next Five Year Plan.


Clearly the scheme to construct all polytechnics in one go remains simply on paper. These were proposed to be built in districts other than Jammu, Srinagar, Leh and Kargil. Why could not we proceed in a phased manner? Having made a belated start we ought to have understood that we would not been able to carry out the assigned task within the prescribed means. It is said that the Government has now decided to take up the work in parts. It would simultaneously keep pressing the HRD Ministry to see the merit in its argument for more money. Our fear is that we may still be found wanting. For instance, it is an open secret that an agency to begin the construction business has not been selected till now. This in itself is a time-consuming process especially in official quarters. By the time it settles down to kick off the venture the cost may further escalate.


The least we can do is to avert this possibility. We should gear up our machinery to make sure that there is no further delay. Just because some other state --- Punjab has been mentioned in this context --- is similarly placed does not absolve us of our responsibility to seriously mind our own business. Punjab, in any case, has any number of such private and state establishments to train its young persons. For us these polytechnics will be a big boon to attain the objective of spreading technical education.







Every time a colleague from the national capital comes to this city, his native place, he is dejected more than before. It is getting dirtier with each passing day. Can't anything be done to stop the decline? There are heaps of garbage scattered all over especially in the old city. It is appalling to see eating joints close to filthy open drains. In front of them, once in a while, the municipal vehicles pick up the trash from adjacent streets. Anywhere else the scenario would have evoked disgust. The situation is particularly bad on Sundays and other holidays. It is a bigger mess then in every nook and corner. At one time there was a famous saying about Jammu that one good spell of rain would wash it clean. The perception was that the water would take every undesirable thing into the Tawi at the foothills, our habitat being nicely perched on the slope of a hill. No more does this happen. If skies burst our lives are further complicated. Pools of water make it difficult to walk. There is spill-over from the drains which stink. In any case the city is no more confined to a limited area. It is only a dwindling number of old residents who feel nostalgic about the greenery that has vanished across the Gummat Gate at one end and the B.C. Road at the other. Who is bothered these days about what had existed in place of Gandhi Nagar and Bakshi Nagar, just to quote two instances? A hope has been there with an elected civic body and a Mayor in place the situation would improve. It has been belied so far. The Municipal Corporation has been alleging shortage of funds. Whatever that may be the elected representatives at least should point out the pitfalls and strive hard to remove them. In the past they have held a demonstration. The Government is not helping the matter either by sleeping over the full import of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Indian Constitution relating to panchayats and local urban bodies, respectively. Its approach is partial. Why should it be so? Why are we shirking of having self-governed healthy settlements? In the process we are depriving ourselves of the Central assistance that we are otherwise fond of seeking for even small projects.


Another disaster that has slowly and gradually shrunk our space in this city is the number of personal means of transport. One can add to it the failure to provide requisite parking lots. There are no paths for pedestrians too. The scene on the whole is chaotic. How do we strike a balance? The roads around the Green Belt in Gandhi Nagar were considered to be the best in none-too-past. What is their plight today hardly bears any elaboration. It is too visible. The jams on some of their crossings are an embarrassment as if they are replicas of Chowk Chabutra close to Pacca Danga or Panjtirthi that has a historic past. We must wake up soon to stem the rot that is harming us now and would only get worse in future. Incidents of road rage are on the rise. How is a polluted atmosphere affecting our health? We are required to think.









Last week, when the Rayyan Air, landed it Kashgar, it became the first cargo flight between Islamabad, Pakistan's capital and Kashgar, an important Silk Route city, in China's westernmost province - Xinjiang. Until now, goods between the two cities have been transported by road, through the much famed Karakoram Highway (KKH). With the first flight between these cities, the KKH today is now upgraded into a Karakoram Airway.

For the last few years, there have been efforts to rebuild the Karakoram Highway and also upgrade into a Karakoram Railway as way. During Musharraf's period, the survey was done and an announcement was made as well on this issue. Now, the ninety minutes flight between the two cities, bring the distance and time take along the Karakoram Highway much closer and faster.

During his recent visit to Pakistan (after visiting India), the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo signed significant agreements with Islamabad; according to news reports, much before the visit, as a curtain raiser, China had agreed to invest in more than 30 projects, most of the them relating to infrastructure including the rebuilding of Karakoram Highway, which was worth more than 13 billion US dollars. 

Why is Beijing interested in building the Karakoram Highway and expanding into a railway and now connecting through air? Three factors could be identified for the Chinese interests in this sector. First and foremost, the energy factor. As of now, more than 60 percent of China's energy requirements come from the Middle East, transported primarily through the Malacca Straits. Though China is building a East-West Gas pipelines, linking Shanghai with Africa, Beijing is also interested in building multiple gas routes.
Perhaps, on this count, Beijing seems to have well learnt the lessons of history of the famous Silk Route. The Silk Route was never a single route, and in fact was a network of routes, with multiple feeder routes. In fact, the Silk Route that criss-crossed J&K, was actually not the main route - but the South Silk Route. The traders, always used multiple routes, depending on the political climate in the regions across the Silk Route; they never conducted their business through only one route. For that meant, closure of business, whenever there was a political upheaval in a particular segment.

Beijing, today, also want to build multiple gas routes linking Central Asia, Middle East and Africa with China - all the way up to Shanghai in the eastern coast. Numerous gas pipe lines have been already built, while the others are being constructed. One of the feeder gas route, that China has imagined is linking the Pakistani port of Gwadar with the city of Kashgar, across the Karakoram.

The second factor, for the Chinese interests in expanding the Karakoram Highway, comes from their strategic interest to build Kashgar into a world class city. This is where, India should learn from the Chinese strategy of how to protect and build the problematic peripheries. While New Delhi, for long believed, remained defensive, in terms of building its peripheries - be it Arunachal Pradesh in India's east, or J&K, especially Ladakh, in its north. India considered these regions as sensitive (vis-à-vis China) and ensured that there are no developmental activities, more importantly, construction of any basic infrastructure. As a result, the roads, bridges and electricity are complete luxury in many parts of J&K and Arunchal Pradesh.

On the other hand, China invests enormously in their peripheral regions; build multiple roads and rail networks and more importantly build world class cities in its peripheries. An earlier article in this column mentioned how Kashgar, Chengdu and Kunming, today are vibrant world class cities and do not give the impression, that they are the cities of China's periphery. Any casual comparison of Jammu, Srinagar and Leh, with the above three cities will reveal the stark realities of India's flawed approach towards its peripheries. 
China understands, that Xinjiang, with a Uighur majority is a problem province in its West. In fact, Xinjiang considered as China's "Wild West", for the ethnic conflict, led by the Uighurs of this province, who are primarily Muslims of Central Asian origin and have serious problems with the Han Chinese. There have been revolts by the Uighur Muslims in the recent past, some of them, even bloody. Instead of seeing them as a problematic periphery and isolate the province and its cities as cold corners, as New Delhi would have done it, Beijing has promised to build Kashgar as one of the major centers of Asia. Economic investments are being made in Kashgar, with a view to make Xinjiang as the "Shenzen of West". Xinjiang today is being converted into a Special Economic Zone, and Kashgar an economic hub and a trading city. 

It is not that the Chinese have been super-smart; they simply seem to have learnt their lessons of history. All they are attempting is to convert Kashgar into an oasis city, as it was once upon a time in the Silk Route. Only this time, instead of linking through feeder Silk routes, Beijing are building and linking Kashgar with air links, gas pipe lines and rail networks. Remember, China's plans to link Beijing with the Times Square in London with a rail network, also pass through Kashgar!

So, Karakoram Airway, fits very well the Chinese plan of converting a border town into an international center, by providing a north-south link, all the way up to Islamabad, and then to Gwadar in the Arabian Sea. Beijing sincerely believes, that China can quell dis-quiet and address the sense of alienation in the peripheries by investing in developmental projects. New Delhi also sincerely believes, that India can address alienation and dis-quiet by investing in developmental projects. The only difference is - the Chinese practice their beliefs; we don't. The Chinese learn from history, in rebuilding their cities; we seem to have forgotten, that our cities in J&K also have a history, as a part of the Silk Route. We upgrade a national airport into an international one; only to close down the only service that we could ever come up with! Ideally, if one could have learnt from history, there could have been a service from Srinagar to few Central Asian destinations to re-emphasize our Sufi linkages, and at least one to Europe, to bring the tourists in.

Finally, Beijing also has the "India factor" in mind, while upgrading the Karakoram Highway. Chinese investments in the Northern Areas are a part of Beijing's long term strategy to cooperate and compete with India, especially if the latter falls into the "American orbit." Beijing fears, that Washington may use India (along with Southeast Asia and Japan) to checkmate China in Asia. This feeling seems to have strengthened within China, especially after the Indo-US nuclear deal. Hence, Beijing would like to checkmate New Delhi by investing in India's neighbourhood. 

This is where India should also try to learn from the Chinese strategy in terms of investing in the neighbourhod. While India also believes in a friendly neighborhood and wants to invest, the reality is different. This is where, Beijing continues to implement what it believes in, while New Delhi keeps pondering and let its strategic interest dissipate over petty politicking within its ministries. The case of Indian investments in Sri Lanka and Myanmar - especially in the Trincomalle port (in Sri Lanka) and the Kaladan and Sittwe projects (in Myanmar) will tales of how the Chinese have gone ahead with investing in the Indian neighbourhood. Even today, it is not too late for us to learn from the Chinese strategies. We just need to do two simple things - read our history, and implement what we believe in.

(The author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi.)








Good governance is one of the main achievements of the newly formed state of Uttarakhand. Pilgrims appreciated the helpful attitude of the police during the Kumbh. It is relatively easy to meet the ministers and officials of the state. New industries are being rapidly established in the plains of the state such as Tata's factory to make the Nano. Condition of roads is much better in comparison to UP. A traveler immediately feels relief upon entering the hill state. The state government is reaching drinking water to villages located in far-off locations by tankers. Rains in the two years before this were meager. Mountain springs which are the main source of drinking water had dried up. The Employment Guarantee Programme is running smoothly. Works are actually being done by village folk unlike other states where contractors are getting the job done by tractors and giving a small commission to the supposed beneficiaries. Such misappropriation of schemes is not seen here. Electricity is being supplied to even remote villages 20 to 22 hours a day which is commendable. Dehra Dun has emerged as one of the leading centers of education. It has moved ahead of cities like Allahabad and Ajmer which were leading two decades ago. These achievements have been possible because Uttarakhand is a small state and contact between ministers and the people is direct and continuous.

Yet the hill areas of the state are in deep distress. There are few employment opportunities. Youth are forced to migrate to the plains where they get low-wage jobs given via contractors. They have no job security and no facilities such as Provident Fund or medical benefits. The people of the hill areas alone had waged the battle for a separate state. They wanted that a development model consistent with the character and culture of the hills should be adopted. The state previously had dense mixed forests. The local people used to get fodder and fuel wood from these. The forests also maintained biodiversity, absorbed carbon from the atmosphere and provided happiness to the tourists from their pristine aesthetic beauty. The British Government cut these mixed forests and planted pine forests which provided turpentine that was required by the Government. The present State Government is also fonder of these pine forests because they provide revenue. Mixed forests are beneficial for the people while pine forests are beneficial for the Government officials. The State has made no policy to replace pine forests with mixed forests. Consequently, forests are no longer friends of the people. There is a disjoint between them.

Agriculture is also in doldrums. Indeed, formers across the country are in trouble. Economic policies of the Government are in favour of the urban people. For example, there is no effort by the Government to control on price of cars, TVs and cloth made by urban factories while there is great urgency to control the price of wheat and sugar that are produced by the farmers. The Government has put in place a policy with the explicit objective of keeping farm prices low and thereby sacrificing the farmers. But farmers of the plains yet manage to eke out a living because they have access to certain advanced technologies which enable them to increase production and partly compensate for the loss due to declining prices. Submersible pumps make it possible for them to draw out water from a thousand feet or more. They have increased yields by adopting Bt Cotton seeds and banana seedlings made by tissue culture. Most of these advanced technologies are developed for the plains and are not suitable for the hill areas. For example, deep bore wells may run dry in the hills. And there is little research in crops that are suitable for the hills such as apples, pomegranate, gladioli and orchids. The state Government is taking no interest in encouraging research in these areas.

The state has huge opportunities in the service sectors. Uttarakhand can be developed as a global tourist destination like Switzerland. Software parks, call centers, universities, cinema studios and hospitals can be established in the beautiful hills and by the side of dancing rivers. Local youth would get high-paid jobs in these activities and nature also will be happy. Focusing on the service sector is important because it is the sunrise area. Share of the service sector in national income rises along with economic progress. The share of this sector in the income of the United States, for example, is about 80 percent with 19 percent coming from manufacturing and a meager one percent from agriculture. The share of services sector in our national income is rising rapidly while manufacturing is stable and agriculture is declining. In coming years manufacturing is also likely to become less. Therefore, the state must focus on service sectors. But the state government has no policy to welcome these service providers.

The main reason for disinterest in mixed forests, agricultural research and services sectors is that the State Government has got hold of the kamadhenu of hydropower. This is being made the foundation of economic progress. Thinking is that the free-flowing rivers will be dammed and cheap electricity will be produced. This electricity will be provided to industries being established in the plains. Local people will get jobs in the hydropower projects. Problem is that these jobs are available only for 4-5 years during the period of construction. Thereafter the local people become totally helpless. The jobs evaporate into thin air. Agriculture is destroyed because fertile land is submerged in hydropower reservoirs. Blasting done for making in the mountains leads to piercing of the aquifers and mountain springs which are source of irrigation dry up. The beauty of the free-flowing river is also destroyed. The whole area becomes desolate. This hits at tourism and pilgrimage. I was told by a visitor from Himachal that one temple previously used to attract about one lac pilgrims every year. Number of pilgrims declined to mere 25,000 after a hydropower project diverted the free-flowing river nearby into a tunnel. Visitors to Badrinath will see a stretch of about 15 kilometers of River Alaknanda that has gone dry because the entire water has been diverted from Lambgarh to Vishnugad into a tunnel for generating hydropower. The pilgrims are deeply hurt. 

The benefits of industrialization that is taking place in the plains are also not likely to stay. Most industries are being established to avail of tax exemption that has been provided to industries in the backward states. This tax exemption is available only for 10 years. Many of the industries are likely to close shop and go back once the period of tax exemption comes to end. At that time the state will be left with empty factory sheds, broken rivers and destroyed agriculture. The State Government should, therefore, immediately eschew hydropower and make a policy to develop the services sector which will both be environment-friendly and provide long term and well-paying jobs to the hill people who laid their lives for creation of the state.








In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi had gone on his first foreign tour as prime minister. In one of his press conferences during the tour, Mr. Gandhi was asked if civil servants in India were paid so low that corruption in Government had become a big problem. It was an uncomfortable question as it came days after some Indian officials were booked on charges that they had passed on secret documents to a few foreign agencies.

Mr. Gandhi, however, remained unperturbed. "We have no evidence from the western countries that higher pay for civil servants has completely removed corruption there," Mr. Gandhi said, thereby preventing the scribes from asking any follow-up questions on an issue that certainly could have been embarrassing for the young leader. Civil servants back home had praised Mr. Gandhi for his quick-witted response and the manner in which he indirectly defended them. 

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

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

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

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

Similarly, three senior retired officials associated themselves with corporate lobbying firms, directly or indirectly after their retirement. It is not just a matter of coincidence that all these firms have some connection with the ongoing lobbying controversy. Remember, these men were not ordinary officials. Pradeep Baijal was disinvestment secretary and later became the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Ajay Dua was secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and C M Vasudev was economic affairs secretary and a nominee of the Indian Government as an executive director on the board of the World Bank.
The three senior officers may like to qualify their association with the corporate lobbying firms in whatever manner as a way of defending what they did. It is also possible that these officials did no wrong during their short tenures with these firms. However, the question that remains unanswered is whether a retired IAS officer should ever be allowed to take up a job with a corporate lobbying firm.

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

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











RAHUL Gandhi knows that his remark to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer that Hindu militant groups could pose a bigger threat to India than Muslim terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is a veritable live bomb. Before it could explode in the face of the Congress, he has tried to defuse it by coming out with a measured response that all shades of terrorism were dangerous and had to be watched. Just as well, because prior to that, Congress spokesmen were confused in their reaction, going so far as dubbing the leak as a "conspiracy", unmindful of the fact that it was done by a western newspaper. Such ham-handed reaction would have only increased the discomfiture of the party, with the BJP clearly on the offensive. The latter can be depended on to still up the ante.


Instead of going hysterical, there is need for looking at the remark in the right context. What should be noted is that it was made during a private conversation, which was duly reported by the diplomat to his country. Unfortunately, this remark and many more of an even more explosive nature have come in the public domain due to WikiLeaks. These should not be blown out of proportion. During such privileged conversations, even BJP leaders might have passed comments which might be called less than appropriate.


Of course, the threat by LeT and other such Muslim groups is far more serious because they are hell-bent on dismemberment of the country. That does not mean that the so-called Hindu threat is a figment of the imagination. After all, there has been Babri demolition, Gujarat riots and also attacks on Muslim institutions, in which some of the RSS functionaries have been allegedly involved. While there is need for taking the challenge posed by international terrorism head-on, the internal hotheads also cannot be ignored. Everybody who tries to weaken the social fabric of India is a potential threat, irrespective of his religion. 









AN unfortunate political controversy has erupted on the issue of concessions to the upcoming refinery at Bathinda. A joint venture of state-owned Hindustan Petroleum and Mittal Energy of steel magnate L.N Mittal, the refinery has been delayed for too long. Now when 92 per cent work on the refinery has been completed Mr Mittal has started pressing for an interest-free loan of Rs 400 crore every year for the next 15 years. This comes to Rs 6,000 crore before the loan repayment starts in the 16th year. Significantly enough, according to an agreement signed on August 12, 2005, the Punjab government had already agreed to grant an interest-free loan of Rs 250 crore annually for five years, which adds up to Rs 1,200 crore.


It is unusual for a company to renegotiate the terms of a project on its completion. But the recent global recession has hit industry everywhere and governments have offered incentives where necessary. Mr Mittal has been lobbying for five times more concessions than what was initially agreed to. He has also roped in the PMO and the Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab is not too averse to considering Mr Mittal's request. But the government's hands are tied. Its precarious financial state does not permit any liberal aid to industry.


The state has witnessed a major political showdown over debt and subsidies leading to the removal of Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal. The Punjab Congress president, Capt Amarinder Singh, has also made it known that he would reverse any government decision on sops to Mr Mittal if voted to power in the 2010 assembly elections. In this scenario it will be politically suicidal for the ruling alliance to succumb to a billionaire's pressure. Ideally, the government should have a well-defined industrial policy listing concessions on a par with, if not better than, other states for promoting industrialisation. Rewriting terms for industrial projects midway is always suspect and is bound to provoke protests. 









IT is heartening to know that from the next academic session students in the CBSE schools in India will get an opportunity to learn Mandarin, the language spoken by the majority of the Chinese. The move that was initiated by HRD Minster Kapil Sibal when he visited China was appreciated in the India-China joint statement issued after delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The laudable step has to be seen in the light of the growing trade relations between the two countries and the expanding job market in China.


While it is an accepted fact that by and large most people in the world are multilingual, Indians who grow up learning more than one language are believed to be naturally multi-linguistic. As a rule every language helps us grow and expand both our vision and mental horizon. In today's world which is but a global village, learning a foreign language not only helps build cultural bridges but can also open many doors. Knowledge of Mandarin can be especially useful to business executives. Since all rules and laws in China are in Mandarin it is difficult to do business in the neighbouring country without understanding the language.


The CBSE initiative is likely to train many and be able to meet the future requirement of Mandarin experts, which is likely to grow in the next decade. However, though China has promised support and training, meeting the requirement of the CBSE-affiliated 11, 438 schools in the country will not be a cakewalk. Lack of teachers and absence of text material is likely to pose impediments. Nevertheless, if the overwhelming response to the expression of intent by the CBSE schools is an indicator, well-begun is half done. Moreover, the introduction of the language at the primary level will not only inculcate interest in the language but also in India's powerful neighbour. 

















THE people in Punjab, more so their political leaders, are quite oblivious of the impending disaster on the underground water front in the state. The state's policies are primarily responsible for the catastrophe in the making. Umpteen times subject experts and knowledgeable persons have warned us on this aspect, but our policy makers and the authorities responsible are sitting with their eyes closed like the proverbial pigeon before the cat on the prowl.


The cultivation of the paddy crop, the guzzler of water under the extent cultivation technology of puddling the soil before transplantation and crop growing in the constantly ponded water in the field, is not being discouraged by providing a sustainable alternative. Instead, with free electricity for tubewells and the policy drifts that allow the relaxation of standardised norms for the procurement of paddy by the government, the cultivation of the rice crop with the help of traditional technology is being inadvertently encouraged. This may lead to serious consequences affecting the underground water-table, soil quality and the agro-ecological environment. Even this year, which experienced a fairly good rainfall, the water-table receded, though at a lower rate.


Unfortunately, the political leaders of the state are living under the illusion that if power supply to the farm sector is priced, they will lose their vote banks. They have failed to realise that the real issue and what the farm sector needs is the regular supply of quality power, not the inadequate and uncertain supply of free electricity. Inadequate power supply necessitates the use of diesel engines, which is costlier and increases the overall cost of production.


It was the Akali-BJP government that made power supply free for the farm sector, yet they lost the next general election in 2002. Again, the Congress government, after fixing flat rates for the supply of electricity to the farm sector in the earlier years of its regime, made the power supply to this sector free on the election eve. The Congress, too, lost the elections in 2007. Still the political leadership refuses to learn any lesson from its experience. Similarly, the urban sector water supply is not rightly priced; hence the misuse and overuse of water in this sector. Here again vote bank politics is playing its negative role. Water in the urban areas is being wasted through washing cars, sprinkling the roads and the wasteful use inside our houses.


Punjab — whose river water has been dammed and taken away from the basin, with the main river having been converted into a narrow channel through earthen embankments — is devoid of adequate recharge of the underground aquifer. As a consequence, even the heavier rains do not provide enough recharge. On the western side, the Ghaghar seasonal rivulet causes devastating floods only. On the other hand, with the crop cultivation intensity going up to 187 per cent, the water requirements of crops have been ever increasing. The situation is such that water supply from the canal system does not meet even 20 per cent requirement of the crops being grown in the state. Additionally, even the seasonal flash floods have also been checked through damming the flow of chaos. Under the circumstances, the state cannot take liberties with the over-use and misuse of the available scarce water resources.


Of course, the agricultural scientists and extension workers of Punjab have successfully tried various water-saving techniques such as the laser levelling of fields which saves between 15 and 20 per cent of water, putting tensio-metres in the fields that enable farmers to rationalise the application of water to the rice crop and the direct seeding of paddy which saves water between 30 and 40 per cent. But none of these techniques will be fully adopted if the power supply to the tubewells is not right-priced.


It is a well recognised fact that the farm sector in any economy, whether it is a developed or a developing country, cannot survive without production and marketing subsidies. Yet investment subsidies should be preferred for their long-term positive effect, and not the input subsidies that are trade-distorting in their very nature and are consumed just in one season, necessitating their continuation forever. Such subsidies gravitate mostly to the bigger farmers at the cost of the small and marginal farmers and create vested interests leading to the emergence of political pressure groups, which are often unreasonable and do not let the policy-maker resort to rational decisions.


To the extent the input subsidies have to be given, these should be targeted to the small and marginal operators, either on the basis of the acreage cultivated or the power units used. There is no logic in providing across-the-board subsidies that gravitate to the bigger farmers with little benefit to the deserving small and marginal operators. The mantra is that subsidies should be rationalised to serve the purpose of technology promotion, improving the access of poor farmers to costly inputs, building of capacities for a long-term effect, focused and targeted to the really needy persons.


The need of the hour is that subsidies must be utilised to economise the use of irrigation water by promoting the practices that save water. For instance, the better alternative would be to subsidise the farmer on the capital costs that save water and the use of electricity and charge the variable/working costs of water and power supply. Then, incentivise the farmers on water-saving methods and techniques.


Let us say, if the farmer laser-levels his fields under cultivation and to the extent he does so, he gets reduction on water and power charges up to 10 per cent. Further, if he installs tensio-metres in his fields and applies water to the fields as indicated by the instrument, he gets another 5 per cent rebate. If he resorts to the technique of direct seeding without puddling and uses tensio-metre, he gets up to 40 per cent rebate on the bill. Thus, by using water-saving techniques, the farmer will be able to save on his power bill up to more than 50 per cent over and above the lower bill he will get on the lesser use of power. But all this is possible if water and power are right-priced covering all the variable/working costs for the supply of these inputs to the farm sector.


However, there still remains a question mark on the will of our political leaders to take rational decisions and on coming out of the misplaced perception that vote banks can be sustained only through the free supply of power to the farm sector and not by fixing the right price on water supply to the urban sector.


The writer, a former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, is a well-known agricultural economist. 








A Smith & Wesson revolver — .32 bore, no- prohibited — is a cute little weapon much fancied by many a connoisseur of small firearms. So, while in Leeds (United Kingdom) in November, 1986 in connection with an overseas training programme, I ordered one for £235 from Pheasant Valley Shooting Range, Globe Road, Leeds.


The proprietor, Stephen Newby, dwelling on the modalities of the delivery explained: "Agent Colin Vincent of the DJS Clearance Ltd, would hand over the weapon to you at the airport; it would have to go with the baggage in the plane's hold. You pay Colin £35 as handling charges."


I agreed to the proposition and gave Stephen the details of the departure flight: British Airways 147, Terminal 4, Heathrow Airport, London, November 16, 1025 hrs.


"Alright, the agent will see you with the weapon at 8.30 at the information desk," he informed me.


"Where is the agent based?" I asked him.


"At London," he replied.


"How would you send the weapon to London?" I asked him, again.


"By the national postal service, the Royal Mail," he said.


I almost gasped. Back home in India, such valuables were hardly sent by post, specially if the delivery was desired by a specified date.


"Are you sure the stuff would reach Colin at London and in time?" I queried.


"It would," he assured me.


A day before the departure, I tried to call Colin at London to confirm the receipt of the weapon: there was no response. A call to Stephen also didn't come through.


I reached the airport 2½ hours before the plane's departure, to be there in good time.


I went upto the information desk and enquired about Colin; he was not there. I waited till 8.15, but he hadn't turned up. I dialled his number from the pay-phone; nobody picked up the call.


Convinced that I had been cheated of my money, I proceeded to the British Airways counter, had the baggage checked in and collected the boarding pass.


As I was proceeding towards the immigration/security check, I heard an announcement on the public address system: "Mr Purshottam Lal, boarding British Airways Flight 147 for New Delhi is wanted by Mr Colin Vincent at the information desk."


I stopped in my tracks and looked at the watch; it was 8.30, the hour fixed for the appointment with the agent.


I hurried back; Colin was all smiles. He handed over the packet containing the revolver.


I expressed the difficulty that the baggage to go in the plane's hold had already been got checked in.


An airport staff arrived; he radioed to somebody on his walkie-talkie. The checked in baggage was brought back, the tapes were unfastened, the weapon, after inspection by the security, was put in the suitcase which was retaped and loaded on to the conveyor belt. All this was done with utmost dispatch, within about 5 minutes.


The work over, I moved on.


"Mr Lal, what about my handling charges?" I could hear Colin at the back, hollering to me.


In the huff, I had forgotten to pay him (and also, to thank him).


"Oh, I am sorry," I said, and paid him and thanked him, too. 








THE 'live-in-relationship' is a living arrangement in which an un-married couple lives together in a long-term relationship that resembles a marriage. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 does not recognise 'live-in-relationship'. Nor does the Criminal Procedure Code 1973. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) on the other hand for the purpose of providing protection and maintenance to women says that an aggrieved live-in partner may be granted alimony under the Act.


"Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a domestic relationship," said a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and TS Thakur, cautioning that in future, claims for financial relief arising out of live-in link-ups would increase in India. The Supreme Court of India has noted that just any 'live-in relationship' does not entitle a woman to alimony. To make a 'live-in' legal the Supreme Court says that the couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses; they must be of legal age to marry; they must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried; and they must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time. Making an attempt to iron out certain ambiguous situations, the judges also said that if a man has a 'mistress' whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship "in the nature of marriage."


Conscious that the judgment would exclude many women in live-in relationships from the benefit of the PWDVA, the apex court further said it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. Parliament has used the expression 'relationship in the nature of marriage' and not 'live-in relationship'.


Considering the increasing number of live-in relationships in our times in India, the Supreme Court wants the scope of the provision for maintenance under section 125 of the criminal procedure code (Cr.P.C.) expanded, so that women in such relationships do not face economic deprivation after living in a domestic set-up for long periods of time.


The issue has assumed and rightly so huge dimensions that Justice GS Singhvi and Justice AK Ganguly have urged the Chief Justice SH Kapadia to set up a larger bench to consider whether "the living together of a man and woman as husband and wife for a considerable period would raise the presumption of a valid marriage between them and whether such a presumption would entitle the woman to maintenance under section 125 Cr.P.C.?'' Secondly whether proof of marriage is essential for a claim of maintenance under the section? Also whether a marriage performed according to customary rites, without strictly fulfilling the requisites of the Hindu Marriage Act, or any other personal law, would entitle the woman to maintenance under the section?"


The bench also wanted an expansive interpretation of the term 'wife' to include cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period. The judges said the PWDVA gave a very broad definition of the term 'domestic abuse', which must include economic abuse.


The law traditionally has been biased in favour of marriage. Public policy supports marriage as necessary to the stability of the family, the basic societal unit. To preserve and encourage marriage, the law reserves many rights and privileges to married persons. Cohabitation carries none of those rights and privileges. It has been said in the context that cohabitation has all the headaches of marriage without any of the benefits.


What the PWDVA does is that it deters men from having 'live-in-relationships' for the fear of providing maintenance to his partner. On the other hand if a married man provides maintenance to his partner he is denying what was the economic right of his legal wife and children.


What needs to be understood is that the institution of marriage and issues that emerge from it is essentially a concept that needs to be perceived in a time frame and specific context. A set of norms valued and acceptable in one context cannot easily or rather should not easily be planted in another context. Today's India is changing at a pace that was socially unimaginable say 50 years ago. Issues like 'live-in relationship' that were taken up by the western society are gradually percolating into our social norms. The most obvious contributing factor being the transformed urban life which itself is growing from factors associated with urbanisation and increased income, long hours of work, often late in the night and virtually no time for family.


But the issue that needs our conscious attention is that is Indian society ready for this trend? It needs to be noted that whatever one may say the fact is that women will ultimately emerge as the most vulnerable and possibly the greatest losers. Children that result from such relationships are also to be kept in mind. The conventional argument that has always been cited in favour of India's unique concept of the family being responsible for looking after the young and the aged is also an issue of concern.


The PWDVA is silent on the status of children out of a 'live-in relationship'. Finally it must also be appreciated that laws and legal obligations notwithstanding foundations of a relationship are based on commitment.


Marriage is just another commitment. If people are shying away from marriages – one reason could be that people are scared of commitments that grow from marriage and are worried– what if it does not work out? Divorce procedures in our country are cumbersome and taxing. May be they need a more liberal reframing so as to decrease the element of fear.


(The writer is Director, Women's Studies, Research Centre, Kurukshetra University)







ON October 21, 2010 a Two-Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising Justices Markandey Katju and TS Thakur in D Veluswamy vs D Patchaiammal ruled that in their opinion not all live-in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the PWDVA, 2005.


Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a "domestic relationship." If a man has a "keep" whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purposes and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage. No doubt, the view we are taking would exclude many women who have a live-in relationship from the benefit of the PWDVA Act, but then it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. Parliament has used the expression "relationship in the nature of marriage" and not "live in relationship".


Voices of disappointment


With reference to the decision of the Supreme Court in the D. Velusamy vs. D. Patchaiammal reflecting upon live-in relationship, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising strongly objected to the gender insensitive terminology employed in the decision, especially the use of the word 'keep'. "Keep for Indian women translates into the Hindi term rakhel, which is highly derogatory and betrays a male chauvinist attitude," she remarked. Similar echo can be heard in other sections of society.


"A live-in relationship is more a marriage of convenience than marriage of commitment. In any conflict arising out of such relationships, it is the woman who has to bear the brunt of the emotional trauma."
Monica Vij assistant professor of sociology in PGGCG-11.


"Using "passive language" can be very debilitating for a woman in this situation. It can have a deep negative psychological impact about self and others. Whether it is marriage of commitment or convenience it is not easy to cultivate a thick skin or an attitude of detachment to escape the trauma of being called derogatory names."
Sanoli Sharma  
a public relations officer with an advertising company.


"Two people consent to be in the relationship. Why is it that only the so- called weaker sex is victimised?"
Chanda Negi a teacher from Himachal Pradesh.


"Women cannot be given secondary social identities. The use of the word keep and concubine has lot of undertones and strengthens sexual hierarchies. The Supreme Court has clearly supported cultural stereotypes. If we want to have society of equals then we need to remove such terminology from our dictionaries."
Pushp Raj Arora, former editor, Thompson Reuters.


(As told to Gargi Arora, a sociologist)








THE diverse societal opinion on the growing trend of "live-in-relationship" apart, the judicial viewpoint over the same has been rather cautious. Of course, things have undergone a change after the enactment of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) whose provisions also extend to women living-in a relationship in the nature of marriage. By doing so, albeit in a veiled manner, the legislature has finally endeavored to accept the contemporary global phenomena appreciated and attempted by some persons among the Gen Next.


In August this year, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that a live-in which has been long lasting will be considered as marriage and children born out of it are not illegitimate. This verdict came just days after a Delhi High Court ruling which laid down that a partner in a live-in relationship can walk out of it at any point of time without any legal consequence and neither of the partners can complain of infidelity if one deserts the other. It held that "live-in is a walk-in and walk-out relationship. There are no strings attached to it nor the same creates any legal bond between the parties. Such a thing is a contract of living together which is renewed every day by the parties and can be terminated by either without consent of the other party."


In mid-2008, the National Commission for Women recommended that a woman in a live-in relationship should be entitled to maintenance if she is deserted by her partner. The commission sought a change in the definition of ''wife'' as described in the Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which deals with maintenance and suggested that it should include women involved in a live-in relationship. The move aims at harmonising other sections of the law with the PWDVA that treats a live-in couple's relationship on a par with that between a legally married husband and wife. The state of Maharashtra also okayed this proposal in 2008 but it requires the final nod of the Centre. Section 125 provides for maintenance of wife, children and parents, who cannot maintain themselves. As of now maintenance can only be claimed by a woman who is a wife, has either been divorced or has obtained a divorce, or is legally separated and is not remarried. It is hoped that the Supreme Court would urgently interpret the whole issue thoroughly in order to ensure that there is no room for any ambiguity for lower courts in the country while dealing with issues related to live-in. Until the concept is granted statutory recognition by Parliament, it is imperative for the judiciary to clear its stand over the same so as to protect the interests of women in such relationships.


(The writer is an advocate Punjab and Haryana High Court)










In November 1947, speaking to the All India Congress Committee on the biggest issue of the time – Hindu-Muslim relations – Mahatma Gandhi told the delegates that he had come to them because they were the "real Congress." It was the AICC, in his view, that held real power, as opposed to the party's larger general body that met once a year. For the Mahatma, even in 1947, the much larger party meeting only served as being "more or less demonstrative in character". 


Sonia Gandhi's Congress is a very different creature from the living-breathing cauldron of internal debate that it was under the Mahatma – too much history separates it – but in terms of the distinction between the smaller AICC and what is now called the party's plenary session, the Mahatma's words about real power residing in the hands of only a few – it's now entirely the preserve of the Gandhi family – rings even truer today. 


Ten thousand delegates may have gathered in Burari for a Congress plenary that comes at a time when the party is facing its greatest crisis since the creation of UPA-2 but behind the choreographed imagery, there is little sign of a real debate in any sense of the term. Beyond the obligatory political ritualism of such meetings, Burari's actually significance lies in what the Mother and the Son have chosen to communicate as the party line on the great issues confronting the Manmohan Singh government. 


Two broad themes seem to be emerging: terrorism – of the majority and minority kind – and corruption, which Mrs Gandhi says her party must confront head on. While she has been combative in defending the Prime Minister and the government's record on the latter, it will need more than words and showcasing the Opposition's hypocrisy to show real progress. The jury is literally out on the morality of why Manmohan Singh put up with the Rajas and the Kalmadis for so long. For now though, the SupremeCourt's decision to monitor the telecom probe in its entirety has at least given a government, whose refusal to concede a Joint Parliamentary Committee look churlish, some respite. 


Events dictated that corruption had to be on the menu but it is the decision to focus on terrorism and the controversy around Rahul Gandhi's views on right-wing terror in particular that is truly revealing of the party's current political drift. When the Congress celebrated its centenary, in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi used the occasion to unveil a new agenda for governance, hitting out at the culture of corruption, middle-men and entrenched influence peddlers. It is a different story that eventually his promise of a new Camelot fell prey to Bofors and the propensity to play vote bank politics after the Shah Bano verdict. Twenty five years later, Rahul Gandhi's Congress is essentially signalling an agenda for fighting right-wing revivalism but curiously the party seems to be missing the big idea. 


In a widely aspirational society like ours, the Congress needs a grand idea for governance reform and clean-up that speaks to today's wider concerns, not grandstanding that looks suspiciously close to dabbling with votebank politics. There is nothing wrong in the Congress positioning itself as the legitimate counterweight to right-wing revivalism –indeed it must do so. The problem is that by seeming to identify the Hindu-Muslim divide as a primary axis shaping today's polity, it may be missing the larger direction of the social impulses driving modern India. 

Simply put, arresting the sense of stasis that seems to have gripped the Congress in UPA2 will need more than just attacks on communal politics or laudatory statements about the NREGA or the Food Security Bill. The party and the government need a new grand narrative and vision for driving social and administrative change, one that goes beyond simple entitlement politics for the poor. 


It is not just the Centre. From Andhra to Maharashtra to Rajasthan, the party is facing similar problems of drift in the important states it runs as well. The Congress' electoral debacle in Bihar is an indicator that personality politics alone is a poor substitute for ground-based leaders with local credibility. This is the real crisis the Congress faces as it heads into crucial assembly elections in five states next year. And in the absence of a clear-cut developmental vision – beyond lip service for the poor – the perception of a party that has stalled in delivering developmental progress becomes almost self-fulfilling. 


In 1985, the then Congress government reportedly put pressure on makers of Amar Chitra Katha comics to come out with a commemorative volume on the party's Centenary celebrations. Amar Chitra Katha responded cautiously with a series called March to Freedom. Its first instalment, focussing solely on the story of the Congress Party within the freedom movement, was launched by Rajiv Gandhi. If a sequel is ever written on the travails of the modern-day Congress, 2010 will surely feature as a pivotal moment where the party was confronted by its hubris and some seriously tough questions. The question is will it have the courage to actually answer them.


Sonia Gandhi's Congress is a very different creature from the living-breathing cauldron of internal debate it was under the Mahatma


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With the inability of the Cancun climate summit to move towards a new and binding treaty on climate change that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, the world is left with only an agenda for mitigation and adaptation as safeguards against global warming. The troubling prospect of things getting much worse before they can get any better looms large. The United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) had earlier cautioned that carbon emissions will peak by 2015. Maybe it is time to revisit that forecast, given that the world risks a weakening of commitment to action and the immediate prospect that commitments already made under the Kyoto Protocol may not be kept as the world awaits the death of the Kyoto accord in 2012. The writing on the wall, therefore, is clear. Climate extremes and natural disasters like intense heat and cold waves, droughts and floods are set to become more frequent. New and unpredictable hazards may emerge, posing new challenges. Even the global map may need to be redrawn given the anticipated rise in sea level, submerging coastal areas and drowning small island nations. The worst-hit, as invariably happens, will be the resource-poor developing countries which, unlike the industrialised nations, lack the capacity to withstand the economic backwash effects of such hazards.


A fallback option for all would then be to develop climate change mitigation and adaptation capacities to reduce vulnerability. As a poor developing economy that is desperately seeking to accelerate the pace of industrial growth and economic development, India cannot afford to be a bystander. India's vulnerabilities are well known and, therefore, the urgency of action is obvious. India's energy needs are still met largely from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal, which are the major contributors to carbon emissions. Attempts to develop clean energy sources, like hydro and nuclear, have been stymied by various vested interests, domestic and foreign lobbies and an ill-informed citizenry. India's agrarian economy and agro-based industrial sector is vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Global warming would impact on India's water security, with the melting of glaciers, exhaustion of water bodies and such like. India's rain-fed agriculture, covering over 60 per cent of total farmland, will be adversely impacted due to unstable monsoons.


 Equally worrisome, from an Indian standpoint, is the warning from a recently published Indian report that the country's mean temperatures may rise by 2º Celsius by 2030, instead of 2050 as predicted earlier by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report also draws attention to new health hazards posed by climate change. India has so far done well to recognise climate change as a serious national security and developmental challenge and to pro-actively draw up a National Action Plan on Climate Change. However, given that the country has now agreed, albeit for as yet inexplicable reasons, to international verification of its domestic environment programme, a business-as-usual approach would no longer be enough. The eight technology missions set up under the action plan have to be actively pursued, monitored and implemented. A national-level monitoring system should be put in place so that India voluntarily and at the national level regularly verifies its own performance, and a domestic climate for change in policies and technologies is first created before being subject to external scrutiny.







The global commercial air travel industry has just had a good year after two bad ones. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry body, has just raised its profit estimate for the current year (2010) by 70 per cent to $15.1 billion. This is a big turnaround from the combined loss of $26 billion over calendar 2008-09 but there is no rainbow at the end of which the industry will land on a pot of gold. The revised forecast represents a woefully inadequate net margin of 2.7 per cent and worse, the next year, 2011, is going to see a setback — not back into the red but an even thinner net margin of 1.5 per cent. This is because developed world recovery is likely to be halting, with near total uncertainty over prospects in Europe, and oil prices expected to go up, from an average $79 per barrel to $84. European belt tightening, reflected in air travel taxes imposed by several countries, is also likely to do its bit to dampen prospects of demand revival.


If this is the bleak scenario for an industry whose negligible margins should not attract sensible private investment, where does hope for the future lie? The short answer is in China and Latin America, and the subtext is that India is not among the real winners. IATA has openly signalled that the centre of gravity of the industry is quickly moving mainly towards the east. In the league table of the world's top six airlines by market capitalisation, five are form Asia (China, Singapore and Hong Kong) and one from Latin America. Western Airlines like Delta and Lufthansa have missed the bus and Latin American carrier LATAM has been able to make it to the list by recently coming into existence through the merger of Chile's LAN and Brazil's TAM. The US would have likely seen a foreign takeover by now had it not been for "archaic" takeover laws for the sector in the country.


 India, the second fastest-growing economy in the world, does not figure in the brighter side of the aviation picture, because Indian civil aviation industry has been hugely loss-making (a $1.75 billion loss in 2009-10) and showing no signs of consolidation. Massively loss-making Air India is surviving on the strength of government ownership; major private loss-maker Kingfisher has just been able to gain a reprieve by renegotiating its debt while bringing in fresh equity; and Jet Airways, the market leader by size, is only marginally profitable. There is no question that the sector in India should consolidate so that good money is not wasted on flawed business models and low-cost airlines which have proved themselves able to come to the fore. Indian carriers, with burgeoning domestic demand behind them and globally competitive service capabilities, are missing from the global top league because of official ideological predilections and private corporate reluctance to suffer loss of face.








It was in response to Nobel economist Gunnar Myrdal's famous observations on corruption in India in his three-volume tome, Asian Drama, that Indira Gandhi famously observed that "corruption is a global phenomenon". Indeed, it is. The question for us Indians, however, is why has corruption, like inflation, returned to haunt policy-makers three decades later despite economic liberalisation and greater play of market forces?


 A paradox about India is that most casual observers of the Indian scene believe the problem of corruption has, in fact, become a bigger one despite the fact that the Indian economy is performing better and its democracy thriving more than ever.


How is it that in a rising India, an India of 9 per cent annual economic growth, there seems to be as much, if not more, corruption as in the stagnant India of 3.5 per cent growth?


To be sure, there is no necessary inverse relationship between corruption and development. There is the famous joke about the infamous former President Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines and the deposed dictator of Zaire, the late President Mobutu Sese Seko, and the homes the two presidents built.


The apocryphal story goes something like this: President Mobutu visits Manila and is invited home for dinner by President Marcos. Mobutu is awe-struck and jealous of the palatial home that Marcos has built. "Where did you get the money to build this palace for yourself Mr President," Mobutu asks of Marcos.


Marcos takes him to a window and shows a massive bridge built across the river. "Do you see that bridge," asks Marcos, "I got a loan of $100 million from the World Bank!" Yes, yes, yes, says Mobutu, but where has the President got the money for his palace, he asks. "10 per cent!" replies Marcos.


Few years later, President Marcos visits Zaire and President Mobutu is happy to invite him home for a meal. Marcos arrives bewildered at Mobutu's huge palace. "Mr President, where did you get the money from to build this palace," asks Marcos of Mobutu.


Mobutu takes him to a window and shows him a bridge across a river. "Mr President, I got a $100 million from the World Bank to build a bridge across that river." True, true, Mr President, says Marcos, "but I don't see any bridge across the river?!" "Exactly!" says Mobutu, "a 100 per cent!"


This tale has been told many times by development economists to explain the inability of development aid to make as much of an impact in Africa as it did in South-east Asia. It is also often said that the so-called "Asian tigers", have done well economically despite high levels of corruption, perhaps with some exceptions like Singapore where a more intrusive and strict government has kept corruption in public life under check, if not kept it out altogether.


Consider India's own experience. Economic liberalisation of the past two decades has eliminated corruption of one sort. Remember the bribes that had to be paid to get a berth on a train, to get a telephone connection, to get a Bajaj scooter without waiting for years! All that is gone. No one has to bribe anyone today to get onto a train or get a telephone connection of buy a scooter or a car. Excess supply has eliminated such rents. But petty corruption thrives wherever there is administrative discretion.


Such petty corruption is not the focus of public attention today. The current focus is on high-level and large-scale corruption. This comes in two forms: first, the Marcos-type percentage cuts; second, the Mobutu-type wholesale plunder of the public exchequer.


There is enough evidence in India today to suggest that the Marcos-type corruption has not harmed development. Consider a state like Tamil Nadu, where successive governments belonging to different political parties have been charged with Marcos-type corruption for over three decades now. Yet, Tamil Nadu remains one of India's better administered and more developed states. But even the Marcos-type corruption can harm development, as one has seen in a state like Maharashtra which has fallen behind Gujarat in recent years because investors find the government in Gujarat to be less corrupt.


India has much better roads today but the ministers who have built them and their parties have also prospered. The former mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Tarun Das, has been quoted in the Niira Radia tapes suggesting that a certain Union minister generally extracts a rent of 15 per cent!


Today, however, the focus of public attention is not so much on the Marcos-type "10 per cent" rent, nor the Mobutu-type 100 per cent, but on an intermediate model of high and unsustainable rent extraction. This has been encouraged partly by the ease with which politicians have been able to identify and extract rents, and partly by their desperation to extract as much as possible in as little a time as available in an adequately lucrative portfolio.


Can electoral reform eliminate the problem? Not necessarily. Can decisive penal action act as a deterrent? More likely. Can economic solutions be found? Most certainly.


Rather than allow the present mood of utter cynicism to persist, the government of the day can take several steps to identify and punish the guilty, dis-empower the incompetent and those suspected of likely corrupt practice, and introduce a series of reforms that can reduce incentives for rent-seeking and offer rewards to the honest.


There is a doable agenda of administrative and economic reform that must be pursued. Every crisis is an opportunity, and this one most certainly is.









Just an Indian embassy, flying your flag on its rooftop, will give us the confidence we need." That was one of Timor-Leste's most influential Cabinet officials said, responding to my question on how India could play a role in the development of Asia's newest democracy. The young nation is located on Asia's easternmost edge, as the same official reminded me, "in the Indian Ocean, not the South China Sea". With natural gas revenues beginning to flow in, the country — for long a Portuguese colony, then a part of Indonesia, before being midwifed into independence by the United Nations — is likely to escape the financial straits that many others in similar situations face. But its leaders are beginning to realise that there is a couple of big problems that money cannot solve easily: policy autonomy and human capital. Australia played an instrumental role in providing security after the violent tumult and socio-economic upheaval accompanying Timor-Leste's separation from Indonesia. It still retains a military presence in the country and provides around $100 million yearly in assistance. Australia also manages the natural gas fields that bankroll the Timorese government's budget. Portugal, the former colonial power, retains disproportionate political influence. Despite criticism from international human rights advocates, the Timorese leadership has frozen the cases of crimes committed by withdrawing Indonesia military troops and their proxies. Timor-Leste's relations with its giant neighbour, as a result, are not hostage to the terrible past.


Most importantly, China has made significant inroads into the country. In just a handful of years, it built the presidential palace, the foreign ministry building, the defence headquarters and is now building staff quarters for the Timorese military officers. Even as its political leaders debate what kind of a navy the country ought to have, the Timorese government has already purchased used Shanghai-class patrol boats. Some of these deals clearly constitute official Chinese assistance, others the handiwork of resourceful wheeler-dealers who have a knack for disposing of surplus Chinese industrial and military equipment.


It is very hard for the government of a small country to say "No" to the foreign powers who have so much influence over its politics and its economy. If it wishes to retain a degree of autonomy over its internal affairs, its best bet is to engineer a balance such that no single foreign power can dominate. The less removed the foreign power is from domestic and regional politics the better. That's why Timor-Leste's political leaders want to see the Indian flag flying in Dili.


India does not have any diplomatic presence in Timor-Leste. The Indian ambassador in Jakarta is accredited to the country. While the Indian Cabinet has approved a plan to expand the number of Indian diplomatic missions around the world, Timor-Leste might not be high priority: it is not a "problem" country, it does not have an Indian diaspora, it is not a member of the Commonwealth and there is very little trade and investment between the two countries. That last might change if Reliance Petroleum — which just began test drilling in Timor Sea — discovers gas in its exploratory block next month.


Yet, even without the natural gas angle, it is important for India to ensure that its Look-East policy does not leave Timor-Leste out of its ambit. This is not to suggest that India should follow the Chinese model of diplomacy by real-estate development. Rather, that India is well-placed to play a crucial role in Timor-Leste by addressing the country's fundamental challenge — developing human capital.


The conflicts of the last century have left Timor-Leste with a young population that lacks basic skills in agriculture, fishing, industry, services and government. Everywhere in the country I found businesses unable to grow because of a shortage of skilled labour and trained supervisors. From coffee plantations that can't find enough workers to fish being hung out on trees because there is no fish market in Dili, Timor-Leste's economic narrative is that of the "missing middle". There are opportunities here for intrepid Indian entrepreneurs who can help close the skills gap by providing employment-linked training services.


The Indian government is providing small grants for socio-economic development, a duty-free tariff scheme for imports from Timor-Leste and a number of scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate studies in India. The problem is, as President José Ramos-Horta told me, Timor-Leste has been unable to make use of the scholarships, mainly because they do not have students capable to taking these up. Where they do need help — in graduate medical education — scholarships are hard to come by.


This speaks of the need for New Delhi to put greater thought in how it makes the most of its new role as a net giver of foreign aid. It is possible to translate relatively modest allocations of public funds into greater influence for India abroad if the energy of the private sector is harnessed. Human capital, entrepreneurship and bottom-up development can form the cornerstones of the Indian touch not just in Timor-Leste but in other countries as well. It is no longer tenable, though, to expect our ambassadors to do both diplomacy and development. New Delhi must create an international development agency, under the external affairs ministry, that will put the Indian development model in action around the world.


So, why can't India put its flag on a rooftop in downtown Dili? One reason is that we do not have enough foreign service officers. "All for the want of a horseshoe nail?"


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










Southern Europe is a live example of what happens when countries lose global competitiveness at a given exchange rate, and start incurring unsustainable deficits on current account, becoming even more dependent on foreign investors to finance them. And investor sentiment can change very quickly. Ireland is a good example of the latter, although its problem was a banking crisis and consequent fiscal deficits (see "Eurozone: the second domino falls", December 13). As recently as mid-September, it did not face a problem in getting subscriptions to its bonds issues. Could investor sentiment change for India as well?


 India's current account deficit is likely to exceed significantly the official forecast of 3 per cent of GDP. Goldman Sachs in a recent research report has forecast a deficit of $67 billion, or 4 per cent of GDP, in the current fiscal year (and even higher than that in 2011-12). This is even larger than the US' — this number seems more realistic. And, this still considers remittances as current "income" — as I have argued earlier, the gap between the domestic economy's external earnings and expenditure is even higher at 8 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. The output loss in the tradeables sector has been going up year after year.


Owing to an increase in oil prices in recent weeks, the actual deficit could go up further. The Reserve Bank of India's governor, in his post-policy interview last month (Business Standard, November 3), cautioned: "A sustained current account deficit beyond 3 per cent year after year will be difficult to manage by flows that are not of a stable nature." Note the focus on the possible difficulty in managing the deficit by flows, not about the huge output loss it represents.


Curiously, even while raising questions about possible difficulties in managing the deficit, the authorities have refused to tackle the root cause — the rupee appreciation in real effective terms owing to capital inflows, without any intervention in the market or steps to curb inflows. (Obviously, for government intervention to be justified, air fares are far more important than the exchange rate.) Are we worried about the impact on equity prices and foreign institutional investor sentiment? If that is the case, it is difficult to appreciate this pandering to finance capital. As former RBI Governor Y V Reddy said (Business Standard, July 13): "If public policy is itself scared of the financial markets, the financial markets will know that it can pressure them against controls. If public policy is determined to manage, it can be managed better." Far more competitive, and surplus, economies in Asia, and elsewhere, have announced measures to curb capital inflows — and many economists are advocating this, from Joseph Stiglitz and Michael Spence to the World Bank. But we are made of sterner stuff and do not hesitate to sacrifice the real economy's output and jobs through current account deficits, in the interest of the financial economy. After all, as an aspiring superpower of the 21st century, should we not follow the policies advocated by the superpowers of the 19th and 20th centuries, and their faith in financial market efficiency, in market-determined exchange rates? If that means a huge output loss in the tradables sector, this is only a manifestation of the "creative destruction" on which capitalism thrives. If the exchange rate appreciation is the cause, so be it. After all, have the erstwhile superpowers not de-industrialised over the last three decades, even as their financial economies thrived, at least until the crisis? We should be concerned about the financiability of the deficit, not the output loss.


Is such complacency about the exchange rate in order so long as we are confident of financing the consequential current account deficit? And, what are the prospects for capital flows next year? Personally, I am not very optimistic: As it is, portfolio investors are getting cautious about the Indian market. And, it is difficult to see the sentiment change next year; particularly given the tight liquidity and deflationary exchange rate policy, margins and growth could be hit next year. It is worth bearing in mind that, just as portfolio investors rush in, they can rush out when the outlook for the currency or economy changes — many emerging markets have experienced this over the last two decades.


Again, the more stable foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have dropped significantly in the current year. In sectors where they can come in quickly (retail, insurance and so on), we do not want them. Posco points to the difficulties in coming in; Cairn the difficulties in getting out; and Vodafone and Dow the difficulties after the investor has come in.


The corruption and governance problems that have made headlines in the global media over the last three months are hardly an advertisement. These could drive major Indian industry to invest abroad rather than in India. Net FDI inflows could fall even more than gross inflows.


What is the extent of the overvaluation and what can be done? I shall answer these questions in a later article.  









Sticking to animal metaphors, distribution has for long been the ugly duckling of the power sector. Any discussion on power sector reforms went straight to Transmission and Distribution (T & D) losses — often called Theft and Dacoity. Free power, tangled wires, illegal connections, burnt-out transformers, wrong billing, unpaid bills — distribution was blamed for all the ills, and possibly rightfully so. Generation was the topic that excited the hoi polloi, with conversations on ultra-mega, non-conventional, nuclear, fuel linkage and sustainability energising the drawing rooms of politicians and corporate honchos.


But quietly, the ugly duckling of the power sector – distribution – is morphing into a gracious white swan. And the credit for this massive, yet quiet, shift should be clearly given to the central government.


My colleague Devtosh Chaturvedi, an acknowledged expert in this area, has been tracking distribution reforms for over a decade.


He has watched the Tenth Plan's Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) invest Rs 17,500 crore into the distribution sector but with no commensurate results. Funds were channelled for procuring sophisticated equipment for substation revamping. But dedicated measures to reduce Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses were left unattended. APDRP, therefore, was perceived as an ad hoc financial intervention, input-focused instead of output-oriented and limited to select Centre of Excellence (CoE) circles.


It was with these learnings that the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (RAPDRP) was introduced in the Eleventh Plan. This revamped programme laid out clear objectives of actual demonstrable performance, in terms of sustained AT&C loss-reduction, through IT enablement, distribution system strengthening and capacity building.


Part A of the programme, with a budgeted outlay of Rs 10,000 crore focuses on the determination of accurate baseline AT&C losses using information and communication technologies.


Part B, with a budgeted outlay of Rs 40,000 crore, focuses on renovating, modernising and strengthening the distribution system.


Part A allows utilising 100 per cent of the central funds as loans, which can be converted into grants once the required deliverables are established. Completion within three years from the date of sanctioning is mandatory.


Projects under part B start only after certain operational preconditions are met. Utilities eligible for funding include those with AT&C losses above 15 per cent. For projects taken up under Part B, the conversion into grant takes place yearly based on the AT&C loss figures of the project area duly verified by an independent agency. Failure to achieve or sustain the AT&C loss-reduction target in a particular year results in that year's tranche of loan-to-grant conversion reducing in proportion to the shortfall.


It is evident that this two-phased approach of the RAPDRP and the outcome-based funding mechanism have been prudently crafted to ensure that:


  system performance improvement can be objectively evaluated; and 

  internal accountability is established through time deadlines and AT&C targets. 

With such huge amounts of public expenditure, the RAPDRP also presents an attractive market opportunity for domestic and international players ranging from consultants (process, IT, SCADA, monitoring, verification); trainers (capacity building); vendors (automation, IT solutions, metering, network and communication solutions); system integrators, and equipment manufacturers.

As these interventions are gaining momentum, preliminary estimates show that AT&C losses are taking a perceptible dip. Centralised fund allocation and tight central monitoring – the Power Finance Corporation (PFC) is the nodal agency – have ensured that the programme is rolled out in a largely transparent and effective manner.


A reality check across utilities reveals a few challenges that remain. 


  Workforce issues: The average age of the workforce is 40 years; resistance to change is high and the level of IT acceptance is low. Specialised manpower is unavailable. 


  Synergy Issues: IT managers have little sector experience causing power-IT synergy problems. Ensuring transition from existing systems to future technologies requires changing the mindset, which is easier said than done. 


  Implementation issues: System Requirement Specifications have been laid but equipment ordering, certification, procurement and installation are apparently slowing down the implementation cycles. 


  Infrastructure issues: Data centres and customer-care centres are often lagging. 


  Loan-to-grant conversion: Utilities are worried about the extent of loan- to-grant conversion since it primarily depends on the loss trajectory achieved in the Part B implementation. Not only that, with both Part A and B being time-bound, it is a virtual race against time with utilities wary of the financial implications following any project delay.


The key issue, however, is that this scheme is not merely about technology and infrastructure strengthening. Successful reform lies in ensuring motivated participation and sustainability at the ground level energised by a proactive political and bureaucratic regime. Issues around governance and administration, therefore, gain ascendancy over one-time implementation. These are sought to be achieved by: 


  Team establishment at field, district and state levels while including each workforce unit into the "performance accountability" chain. 


  Top management mandate encouraging technology percolation down the ladder with parallel and appropriate capacity building at the ground level. 



  Establishment of CoEs for best practice adoption and replication. 


  Motivation through commensurate incentives down to the ground-level staff.

It is abundantly clear that this scheme is good for the utilities, since it translates to improved financial viability and development of preparatory infrastructure towards smart grids. It is also good for the private business participants, for it presents lucrative market opportunities and a wider customer base.


What about the end-consumer? Well, inherently, it would bring into its fold consumers who are currently not paying for electricity or are paying less than what is due. It is anticipated that, ultimately, the genuine benefit for the end-consumer would emerge by way of access to reliable supply and tariff rationalisation. At a national level, cleaning up the distribution sector translates directly to cleaning up the bankability of the power sector as a whole. The tail wags the dog.


Interventions in the city-distribution reform space have attracted attention in recent times. Most notable, of course, was the Delhi privatisation, followed by urban-franchisee models in places like Bhiwandi and Agra. Critics point out a distinct urban bias. But with Rajeev Gandhi Grameen Vidyut Yojna (RGGVY) endeavouring to build the rural electrical infrastructure, extending this programme to the rural segment is something the reform experts would surely be grappling with in the medium term.


Clearly, the scheme has much to commend itself. With a well-conceived modus operandi and an environment-facilitating private participation, it is poised to be a game-changer for the power sector.


Here's a thumbs-up to the power ministry, PFC and the Kendriya Sarkar. It looks like the RAPDRP dog will bite too.


The writer is Chairman, Feedback Ventures. The views expressed are personal








ALLIES in the United Progressive Alliance government want last week's increase in petrol prices rolled back and excise duty reduced instead. The calls for rollback is plain irresponsible, and we clearly need revised, market-determined prices too for diesel, by far the most used petroleum product. The recent spurt in world oil prices is after all on the heels of stepped-up demand in just about the third-quarter, and a continuing rally seems very much on the cards, with the global economy now expected to post better than expected growth. All the more reason why oil prices should reflect scarcity value, improve energy efficiency and bring about better allocation of resources across the board. Open-ended consumption subsidies, especially for automotive fuels used by the nonpoor, simply make no sense. The Centre must stem the huge fiscal imbalance on account of runaway under-recoveries of public sector oil companies, given higher cost of imports and belated revision of retail petrol, diesel prices. We do need to design policy to sustain high growth over the next few decades, and that includes a sustainable energy policy as well. 


In parallel, we need to rationalise taxes on petro-products, including state levies. The system of high, cascading levies on oil products must go. Abroad, the high oil-tax regimes generally have value-added taxes in place, with tax set-offs available along the value chain. We need to widen the indirect tax base, and not depend terribly on petrogoods alone: it's hugely distortionary. The steep excise duty on petrol vis-à-vis diesel is an anachronism; the glaring incongruity is that some of the biggest cars, SUVs and MUVs run on diesel. It is welcome that petrol prices are now market-determined since June. But they remain, in effect, monopoly prices, as routine under-recoveries disincentivise private retailers from the market. Also, the continuingly unfavourable duty structure, wonky logistics and warped investment rules all discourage independent oil retailers. Abroad, independents routinely account for over half the offtake. We need a similar competitive market design here, to cut costs and rev up efficiency prices in oil.







THE most striking thing about the visit to India of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao was the hard focus on outstanding issues between the two countries, instead of the usual search for that tiny patch of common ground and a large carpet under which to sweep differences. The Chinese have moved away from Mao and his supposedly profound insight, delivered in the 1950s, that it was still too early to understand the impact of the French Revolution. So they should have no difficulty digesting the implication of India's refusal to happily chant 'One China' even as Beijing continues to treat parts of India as being stapled together. The Chinese are practical people and are likely to appreciate a businesslike approach to diplomacy. We hope this holds for the Chinese premier's assurance that officials would sort out issues like the stapled-visa roadblock to mutual defence exchanges. It would have been too much to expect a Chinese premier who has Islamabad as his next port of call to denounce terror emanating from Pakistan, so the Indian side has not made too much of a fuss about the reference to terrorism as a disembodied, abstract entity in the joint statement issued by the two sides at the end of the visit. Mr Wen Jiabao has also said that upstream developments in Tibetan rivers will not adversely affect downstream users. There is every reason to treat this as a serious commitment, not some quaint aphorism, and press ahead to work out the modalities for translating this principle into practice. A coherent policy on water entitlements would greatly help the sharing of river waters within the country as well, it should be noted. 


Many people see the promise to raise bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 and the 48 memoranda of understanding or agreements signed between Chinese and Indian commercial entities as the highlight of the visit. This is facile. Trade is bound to accelerate between the fastest growing two large economies of the world. The real gain is clearer understanding of each other's positions. And that includes a new-found Indian assertiveness about Indian interests, thanks to the greater enmeshing of India in the strategic engagement of the world's power centres, evident in the recent Obama and Sarkozy visits.








THAT Bollywood is India's new clear weapon in the battle for the hearts and minds of South Asia — and further afield — is well known. There is scarcely a country in the world that has not gauged the true potential of this weapon of mass distraction, so everyone from tourism promotion bodies to social service organisations are coopting this soft power for their own ends. With Bollywood's reigning deity Shahrukh Khan actually tracing his ancestry back to the same stark land, it is entirely logical that the Americans would have wanted to rope in the big guns of the Bollywood brigade to capture key theatres in Afghanistan. What could be better than getting the Al Qaeda and Taliban to chant Chak De India to the beat of their falling AK-47s in a bloodless encounter? Therefore, a Wikileaked cable from a US diplomat positing that "willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there" should have been expanded to deadly effect. If we had brought our Bollywood Taare (Afghan) Zameen Par, there would have been no reason for them to restrict their explosive talents to giving Afghans homilies on polio drops or the effectiveness of drinking purified water. 


A few star-studded, Dubaiesque, bump-and-grind Bollywood extravaganzas could well have been be far more effective in luring out those lurking in the deepest recesses of the Tora Bora mountains than drone attacks. Also, given the immense interest that Bollywood divas incite (even if their more obvious charms are pixelated to protect the morals of Afghan viewers) there is good reason to believe that Jab They Met, an Operation Kareena (or Katrina, Priyanka) could have proved far more effective in getting the militant fighters to cry Om Shanti Om than Operation Snake Pit or Operation Achilles.





AFTER a short weak trend in 2009 due to the global credit crisis, India's spending on gold has bounced back sharply in 2010. India's gold consumption (in $ terms) has risen by almost 100% y-o-y during the first three quarters ending September 2010 after declining 12% yo-y in 2009 according to World Gold Council (WGC). Cumulatively, India now holds over 18,000 tonnes of aboveground gold stocks worth approximately $800 billion at the current gold price — nearly 50% of the country's GDP. This represents 11% of the world's stock, according to WGC. On an annual basis, India is the world's largest consumer of gold in tonnage terms, followed by China. During the four quarters ending September 2010, India's gold demand accounted for 21% of global gold demand. 


Hoarding of gold is an old tradition deeply ingrained in Indian culture and society. Traditionally, apart from being an item of consumption in the form of jewellery, high demand for gold stemmed from low penetration of banking facilities, restricted laws of inheritance, hedging against inflation, and being a medium of hiding unaccounted income. Gold has also served as a hedge against rupee depreciation, as in the past laws prevented Indian households from investing in foreign assets or holding foreign currencies. Also, as the rupee is not fully convertible, gold is one of the limited ways in which Indian households can diversify their currency exposure. 


Over the last few years, gold as an investment option has become increasingly popular. It is perceived as a safe and liquid investment even in the event of global risk aversion and acts as a hedge against rising inflation expectations. In fact, the share of net retail investment (comprising individuals' purchases of coins and bars) as a percentage of total Indian gold demand rose to 23% as of the 12 months ended September 2010 from 15% as of the 12 months ended September 2001. The purchase of 200 tonnes of gold from the IMF by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in October 2009 has also boosted consumer confidence about gold as a safe asset class. 


Indeed, gold is one of the key assets in the household balance sheets. As mentioned earlier, according to WGC estimates, Indian households own about $800 billion worth of gold. Gold holdings among Indian households at current market value are about 2.5 times the current equity stock holding of $315 billion. Stock of bank deposits held by households are currently valued at $625 billion, according to our estimates. While the share of gold in annual household savings declined to 5.7% in F2008, we estimate that this has again risen back to 9-10% currently. On an annual basis, household savings in gold and bank deposits stood at $29 billion and $104 billion respectively; in equities it was — $4 billion as of the four quarters ending September 2010.* 


With its high rate of gold consumption, India accounts for 21% of annual global gold demand, while its share of global GDP in terms of nominal dollar GDP is only 2.1% (2009). India's share of global gold demand is about one-and-ahalf times that of China, though its GDP is only about one-fourth of China's. 


Opportunity cost of gold investments is high. As the former RBI governor , Dr Y V Reddy mentioned in a past speech, "The total quantities of gold imported, legally and otherwise, have risen sharply after liberalisation, particularly in the recent past. This has been a 'drain on savings'." We believe that if India were to invest its annual savings in more productive business assets rather than gold, its annual GDP growth would be higher by about 0.4%. The cumulative GDP value lost by parking $800-billion worth savings over the years in this not so productive asset would be huge. 


WITH no domestic gold mining, the purchase of gold is also resulting in inappropriate use of foreign exchange earnings. During F2010 (12-months ended March 2010) gold imports were 2.1% of GDP and about 13% of total non-oil imports. India's growing demand will be largely met from imports, apart from recycled gold as little supply comes from domestic production. 


Share of financial savings in household savings remains low. After rising to an average of 60% in the mid-1990s, over the last 10 years, the share of financial savings in total household savings has remained largely stagnant at an average of 47%. Indeed, low real interest rates have provided little incentive to increase allocation from physical savings (which include gold, property and household investments in small businesses). The share of financial savings in total has decreased to 46% in F2009 from 64% in F1997 as real interest rates have fallen to -0.5% from 9.1% over the same period. This decline in real interest rates has only encouraged households to increase the allocation to physical savings (including gold, property and household investments in small businesses). Apart from this, incidence of unaccounted money (black money) is also a reason for the low share of financial savings. 


To increase the share of financial savings, deepening of financial sector reforms would be the key. Apart from increasedeasyaccesstobankingandfinancial services facilities, one of the most important areas that need attention in this context is reforms related to long-term savings schemes. Although the government has initiated some reforms recently, the desired results are still not reflected in the share of longterm savings. Currently, only about 10% of the workforce is covered by some form of pension scheme, including government-sponsored social security schemes. 


Bottom-line: A shift away from gold into financial savings is unlikely to happen in hurry. We believe there are a complex set of drivers behind Indian households' fetish for gold. While the government is continuing its effort to channel these savings into more productive financial assets, we believe this shift is unlikely to materialise in the short term. 


*Our data on savings in equities do not include indirect purchase of equities by households through subscription of insurance schemes. 


(The author is Asia Pacific Economist     and managing director with     Morgan Stanley, Singapore)









LOUIS XIV, the king of France, placed orders for glass with the Royal Glass Works in Paris way back 1665. It was used in the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles. Two decades later, a new glass factory was built at the village of Saint Gobain near Paris. That's how the journey began for the world's oldest and leading glass maker Saint Gobain. The Francebased conglomerate now operates in over 46 countries across the globe, with a turnover of €37.78 billion in 2009. Innovation and investments in research to meet demands across industries have helped the company grow in different geographies including in India, says Saint Gobain Glass India (SGGL) managing director BSanthanam. 


An engineer from IIT Madras and a management graduate from IIM Ahmedabad, Santhanam has worked with the Saint Gobain Group since its inception in India. The company began operations in the country in 1996 after acquiring a majority stake in Grindwell Norton. It steadily ramped up its market share in float glass to around 40%. But India has just eight float glass lines, used by the construction and automotive sectors, compared to, say, China that has over 196 lines. The total installed capacity for float glass is around 4,700 tonnes per day, valued at around $0.75 billion. 


 "The surge in investments in the automotive and construction sectors has spurred demand over the last couple of years. The slowdown after the global financial crisis did not have much of an impact on sales. Our strategy of having a tight leash over finance, materials and operational costs helped us during the slowdown. We also shifted our focus to green buildings and government projects. In fact, the country caught on to the green building trend during the recession. Today, we sell products that are priced from . 30 per square feet up to . 10,000 per square feet to cater to the needs of these industries," he says. 


With auto sales and investments in housing picking up and the economy poised to achieve 9% growth this fiscal, he expects a huge surge in demand for float glass. Saint Gobain's largest green field venture in the country is at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai. It invested . 1,600 crore in the float glass facility, the largest investment made by the French multinational company in a single location. The breakeven is not instant, given capital-intensive nature of the float glass industry and there are also cost pressures, he says. 


SGGL's turnover is pegged at . 1,600 crore for this fiscal. The company invested . 600 crore in the first phase and around . 525 crore in the second phase. Additional investments aggregated to . 450 crore, taking the cumulative investment to . 1,575 crore. "In the first phase of our investment, we had planned debt equity of 1:1. However. we opted to bring more equity. In the second phase, the investment was part-funded by debt and internal resource generation." 


The company claims that it brought in state-of-the-art technology into India. This was the key differentiator vis-a-vis competitors. "We have also applied global quality norms in our Indian operations. The glass made here has clarity that is ideal for mirroring and architechtural applications. We also invested time in building a distrution network and the brand," he says. The company started exporting glass to neighbouring countries within two months of production at its Sriperumbudur facility. 


Now, Saint Gobain is investing around . 1,000 crore at another facility in Rajasthan. Of this, . 800 would be for the float line and the balance will be spent on other processing facilities. The company also reckons that India is a promising country both in terms of consumption and production of solar energy. "We have cutting edge technology to deliver superior solar glass solutions through our international expertise and manufacturing bases in India," he says. 


However, constant innovation to suit the needs of discerning customers is the strategy to ramp up sales in India and become more aggressive in the export market. "Companies are looking at innovation within their own walls, but we need to be perceptive to customer needs", he says. SGGI is also keen on replicating the success story of its parent company in developing down stream units.









As one of our esteemed customers this festive season we are giving you bonus reward points with your purchases. All you have to do is use your XXX credit card to make purchases to the extent of the amount mentioned below in the program period (15 October 2010 to 15 January 2011) to avail of bonus reward points. 


We are also offering exclusive instant EMIs at no extra cost and special offers from our alliance partners. 


This is followed by a chart giving an extravagant spending target with the corresponding bonus points. 


What's this? A teaser loan? May not be in the same class as the teaser home loans presently the subject of raging controversy but the intent is the same. To entice you to do something that you might otherwise desist from. Yet the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which seems to have taken so much umbrage to home loans of this genre where banks hold out the allure of lower interest rate in the initial year or so after which the rate gets reset linked to the base rate, does not seem unduly perturbed by the proliferation of such offers. Why? What explains the bank's determination to rush to the 'rescue' of home loan borrowers even as it turns a blind eye to similar practices in marketing other financial products? 


One reason could be sheer size. Unlike credit card loans, the ticket size of home loans is much larger. Consequently the implications for anyone who commits to service a home loan that could become beyond his repayment capacity is much greater than for someone,who has credit card dues. The other is that the RBI can't make up its mind whether to let to go and let the market decide or continue to micromanage as in the past. 


No wonder some banks have upped the ante and asked the RBI to define teaser loans. As SBI chairman O P Bhatt is reported to have retorted, 'nobody is teasing anyone'. All the bank is doing is dangling a carrot before customers. It's much like one of those 'buy-one-get-one-free offers that supermarkets are so good at making, and customers invariably fall for, never mind if they end up buying trousers two-sizes bigger. 


Agreed, ending up with an out-sized trouser is not quite the same as ending up with an out-sized loan. Not only because the outlay entailed is much larger in the latter but also because sticky loans could have implications for the safety of the system. To put that in technical jargon, it could have systemic implications for the stability of the banking system. 


Does that mean the RBI should interfere? No, not unless it finds these loans are jeopardising the safety of the banking system. In the context of teaser loans that is clearly not the case since the loans are of much too recent origin for the RBI to come to any such conclusion. 


 What the bank does need to do is spread awareness; as with misleading mails on the internet asking gullible people to remit money to claim winnings from a lottery where the RBI has launched an extensive advertising campaign. No one suggests the RBI should block access to prevent people from being taken for a ride. So too with teaser loans! Instead by increasing provisioning requirements, it is penalising banks that do not succumb to its arm-twisting and worse, increasing costs for all customers. 


 Yes, Indian banks do need to ensure that customers who borrow at special loan rates will be able to service the debt when interest rates rise because if they are not able to service their loans, banks will suffer. And if, as happened during the financial crisis, such losses become excessive, then at some stage taxpayers too will suffer (when taxpayer money is used to bail out banks). So there is a potential systemic risk that the RBI as the regulator is entirely right to guard against. 


But that is true of all loans, not only teaser loans. Today all loans are on a floating rate linked to base; is there any guarantee that if rates rise tomorrow, borrowers will be able to service their loans? No! So how are floatingrate loans any different from teaser loans? 


he solution, therefore, is not to interfere in pricing decisions of banks by forcing them to price loans uniformly, but to insist on a number of other things. One, urge caution in lending. Two, ensure more transparency so that borrowers know what they are getting into — it can tell banks to incorporate an illustrative example in the loan document so that the implications become plain to customers. Three, encourage financial literacy so that customers cannot be taken for a ride so easily. Four, keep a tab on the level of nonperforming assets (NPAs) and act against those banks whose NPAs start flashing red. 


Five, and most important of all perhaps, address the cause rather than the symptom of the disease: excess liquidity in the system that forced many banks in the past to push credit by any means. Today when liquidity is tight it is doubtful many banks will need to resort to teaser loans but even if they do, it is not for the RBI to tell them whether they should or should not. It is a commercial decision that should be left to them till such time as the RBI finds evidence that it is jeopardising the safety and stability of the system.


The RBI's determination to end the practice of teaser loans smacks of wanton interference in commercial decisions of banks 


Floating rate loans could prove as taxing as teaser loans. The only way to prevent customers from being taken for a ride is to educate them and ensure full transparency.







PROGRESS towards the ultimate spiritual objective of 'victory over oneself' involves also skill, commonsense and intelligence. Through new-found right living that would generate wisdom and pleasantness, the seeker also comprehends the art of neutralising past bad karma through present good one. 


Progressing thus in stages towards harmony, fulfilment, inner control and consistency, the aspirant divines how golden silence at the right place and time, would truly lend fulfilment to the silver like embellishments of right speech. 


This progress, in its finer and subtle stages, thus, involves mainly themind and requires the needed patience, perseverance and practice (sadhana). 


Nevertheless, the steps to such stages are far more basic, and often surprisingly simple too! Only when these too are taken care of, other finer aspects would even come to play. Otherwise, all attempts to spiritual growth would prove abortive. 


Vitality is the first of four basic virtues, listed by Bertrand Russell. Aberrations, which stand in the way of truly experiencing this could, in certain cases, be even easily treatable infections. A simple problem as just a bad tooth could prove to be a breeding ground for pernicious bacteria, that would also consequently lead to lack of clarity in mind and thus motivation — virtues, so necessary for any progress, spiritual or materialistic. 


Similarly, simple analysis of the chemistry of one's system through basic investigations and tests or corrections through needed procedures or surgery — these could help resolve deep-rooted bodily and resultant mental aberrations too.   


such as Patanjali's yama and niyama, including hygiene and cleanliness (extending also to the mind), satsang, right hobbies, freedom from the trap of self-obsession, obtained through caring and compassion (karuna), right priorities involving assertiveness to say 'No' to certain relationships or commitments, planning what one does and doing what one plans and also dissociating from the unworthy (upekshana), besides guarding against the proverbial 'single slip' — these too would go a long way to establishing the launching pad for higher realms of spiritual growth. 


Fortunately, many of the means are close at hand, as if for the taking. These could often make that needed and vital difference!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Board of Control for Cricket in India is gradually painting itself into a corner over the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League. In the hurry to get at the former chairman of the lucrative league, Mr Lalit Modi, the board also went after the two teams perceived to have had close links with him and kicked the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab out of the IPL over non-disclosure of ownership details. Both teams successfully challenged the move and have been re-instated by first a one-man tribunal constituted by the Bombay High Court, and thereafter confirmed by a larger bench. This in effect means that IPL-4 is, for now at least, a 10-team competition, thus scuppering plans to make it an eight-team tournament by bringing in two new franchises in the form of Pune and Kochi. Of course, the Bombay High Court has imposed stringent financial conditions for both the re-instated squads, but that is unlikely to stand in the way of their owners fielding teams in 2011. The court's decision has also brought in its wake further uncertainty. For one, the fresh player auction — with the initial three-year lock-in period for all eight original teams having expired at the end of the 2010 season — may not take place as scheduled in early January if the BCCI decides to press on with its own legal challenge.
There is now talk that the auction will take place during the course of the 2011 ICC World Cup but that would in turn irk almost every other cricket board around the world who would not want their players to be distracted by their valuations in the course of the game's biggest event. It would also give team owners no time at all to fulfil commercial obligations as there is a very narrow window between the end of the World Cup and the start of IPL-4. Then, what the format of the 2011 tournament will take is again in doubt. To be sure, the board — and the governing council of the IPL — had catered for a 10-team tournament to start with but that format had faced opposition from the original set of team owners. Then, with the disqualification of the Royals and Kings XI, things appeared to return to the old set of games, but all that appears to be up in the air now. In a wider perspective, other cricket boards must be having a quiet chuckle at seeing the most lucrative property in the game in tatters. Spurred by the success of the IPL in its first three seasons, every board has scrambled to put together similar properties but nowhere has it caught the imagination — and purses — of the paying public as it has here in India. To see that prize plum now swinging in the winds of uncertainty would give competing units hope that the talent that had so far focused almost exclusively on India would now be available for their prospective T20 money-spinning leagues. In that sense, the BCCI's recent moves may well be a salutary lesson on how not to let too much power become concentrated in too few hands, for there is no doubt that Mr Lalit Modi ran the IPL like a personal fiefdom. The witch-hunt that has followed has only served to hurt Indian cricket's image around the world, if for its sheer vindictiveness, if nothing else.








The same day that newspapers carried reports of Indian ambassador to the United States, Ms Meera Shankar, being singled out for a "pat-down" security check in Mississippi because she was wearing a sari, I happened to fly from Chennai to Delhi and sitting next to me was a foreign lady, most probably of European origin. On landing at Delhi's infamous Terminal 3, while the rest of us unhappy mortals prepared for a long trudge from the landing gate to the car park (at least one kilometre), this lady got into a car that was brought right up to the aircraft and was whisked away. Upon enquiry I was told that she was the ambassador of some country to India. While obviously, I have nothing personal against this particular lady, I was absolutely filled with rage to reflect upon the difference in the treatment meted out to our ambassador to the US.


As everyone will remember Ms Shankar had passed through the metal detector without setting it off and was standing in a queue with about 30 other people. The TSA (transportation security agent) apparently singled out Ms Shankar for a pat-down security check because she was dressed in a sari. Furthermore, the agent refused to relent even when Ms Shankar told him that she was a diplomat and India's ambassador. Even worse, although she requested that the pat-down be done in a private room it was conducted in a transparent glass cubicle in full public view. Naturally, India protested. The external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, made his displeasure clear, and the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton, responded with inanities. Apparently, someone in the US state department apologised to Ms Shankar.


However, the matter cannot be dropped there. This is not about Ms Shankar but about how the representative from India was treated even after revealing her diplomatic credentials. As a citizen of India, I would like to know from the US authorities why the TSA thought that a lady in a sari was a security threat. Particularly when she passed through the metal detector without setting it off? Also, especially when she stood in a queue, did not misbehave or gave rise to any kind of suspicion. Above all, when the security agent was told that she was India's ambassador, why s/he still insisted on a pat-down search? In this case, an apology is simply not sufficient. We need to know what action was taken against the security authorities that perpetrated this insult on our ambassador.


After the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, it is common knowledge that security at US airports has been considerably tightened. It is proudly claimed that fortunately there has not been a recurrence of a 9/11-type attack on the US only because of the very strict security protocols that have been introduced there. It is also proudly claimed that the Transportation Security Administration is a completely autonomous body and conducts the work of ensuring security with complete independence. Be that as it may, the question now is whether the US will accord respect to the internationally recognised and binding Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by which all countries have agreed to the inviolability of diplomats from their countries. Clearly the pat-down of Ms Shankar is in violation of these norms and unacceptable without even going down the slippery slope of ethical considerations of racial profiling and the balance between racial profiling and security concerns.


Those who travel to the US are largely resigned to racial profiling in airports. It is allegedly "random". But in practice, those of Asian origin and those with names belonging to a particular religion are almost always "randomly" selected for thorough security and body probes. The security staff is almost always ungentle and very rude, making it a hellish experience to travel in or to the US. There are several people I know who have stopped travelling to the US for this reason. This certainly begs the question of whether a terrorist from Asia will actually come dressed in some obvious Asian outfit and stand in an airport line advertising his/her intentions for all to see. Even more baffling is the assumption by the security personnel that a lady in a sari was wearing a "bulky" dress and was therefore liable to be thoroughly searched. It is a mystery to any thinking person how a graceful sari could be considered to be a bulky dress as opposed to voluminous dresses and coats.


Within days of this incident making headlines in India, our permanent envoy to the UN, Mr Hardeep Puri, was similarly insulted and asked to remove his turban at another US airport. I have not heard of any apology to Mr Puri from the US and can only wonder why after India offered such warm and gracious hospitality to US President Barack Obama the security establishment in the US would insult our diplomats in clear violation of the Vienna Convention.


It is nobody's case that security of any country should ever be compromised or avoided. Indians are by and large peaceful, law-abiding people and, particularly when travelling abroad hate, to enter into confrontation. For the most part, you will find Indians standing quietly in lines and following all the rules in airports and elsewhere. However, when there are well-established international norms agreed to by all countries on how visiting dignitaries or diplomatic personnel should be treated, it is totally unacceptable for us to sit back and watch the continued violation of these norms when it comes to dignitaries and diplomats from India.


We still remember that the former President of India, Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was accorded the same treatment as was the then defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, and more recently, the civil aviation minister, Mr Praful Patel. Now we have the utterly inexplicable indignity handed out to Ms Shankar and Mr Puri. Notwithstanding formal expressions of regret from Ms Clinton and the state department, these incidents continue to recur and the US cannot simply shrug its shoulders and point to security and the autonomy of the TSA. The US government has to immediately put a stop to the indignity accorded to our diplomats and visiting dignitaries. Otherwise, as citizens, we should call for full reciprocity and treat US diplomats and dignitaries in exactly the same way they treat us. Perhaps then they will understand our outrage.


- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own








As I was saying, the thing I love most about America is that there's always somebody here who doesn't get the word — and they go out and do the right thing or invent the new thing, no matter what's going on politically or economically. And what could save America's energy future — at a time when a fraudulent, anti-science campaign funded largely by Big Oil and Big Coal has blocked Congress from passing any clean energy/climate bill — is the fact that the Navy and Marine Corps just didn't get the word.


God bless them: "The Few. The Proud. The Green". Semper Fi.


Spearheaded by Ray Mabus, US President Barack Obama's secretary of the Navy and the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Navy and Marines are building a strategy for "out-greening" Al Qaeda, "out-greening" the Taliban and "out-greening" the world's petro-dictators. Their efforts are based in part on a recent study from 2007 data that found that the US military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of these convoys needed to truck fuel — to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators — to remote bases all over Afghanistan.


Mabus's argument is that if the US Navy and Marines could replace those generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with biofuels, then it could out-green the Taliban — the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads — and out-green all the petro-dictators now telling the world what to do.


Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can't buy the solar power that could save lives. I don't know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won't be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn't that be interesting?


Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, used to lead the California Energy Commission. She listed for me what's going on:


On April 22, Earth Day, the Navy flew a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds. It flew at Mach 1.2 and has since been tested on biofuels at Mach 1.7 — without a hiccup. I loved the quote in Biofuels Digest from Scott Johnson, general manager of Sustainable Oils, which produced the camelina: "It was awesome to watch camelina biofuel break the sound barrier".


The Navy will use only "third generation" biofuels. That means no ethanol made from corn because it doesn't have enough energy density. The Navy is only testing fuels like camelina and algae that do not compete with food, that have a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.


In October, the Navy launched the USS Makin Island amphibious assault ship, which is propelled by a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, said Mabus, it saved $2 million in fuel.


In addition, the Navy has tested its RCB-X combat boat on a 50-50 blend of algae and diesel, and it has tested its SH-60 helicopter on a similar biofuel blend. Meanwhile, the Marines now have a "green" forward operating base set up in Helmand Province in Afghanistan that is testing in the field everything from LED lights in tents to solar canopies to power refrigerators and equipment — to see just how efficiently one remote base can get by without fossil fuel.


When you factor in all the costs of transporting fuel by truck or air to a forward base in Afghanistan — that is, guarding it and delivering it over mountains — a single gallon of gasoline "could cost up to $400" once it finally arrives, Mabus said.


The Navy plans in 2012 to put out to sea a "Great Green Fleet," a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels and with aircraft flying on 50-50 blends of biofuels.


Mabus has also set a goal for the Navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 per cent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020. If the Navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards, it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.


And, if Congress will simply refrain from forcing the Navy to use corn ethanol or liquid coal — neither of which are clean or efficient, but are located in many Congressional districts — we might really get a green revolution in the military. That could save lives, money and the planet, and might even help us win — or avoid — the next war. Go Navy.








The expelled Samajwadi leader Amar Singh's rough patch seems to be running longer than expected. The flamboyant leader now seems to have trouble with his "Bollywood bhaiyyas".


First it was bade bhaiyya Amitabh Bachchan who quietly withdrew himself and his family from Mr Singh's company after the latter had a spat with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.


And, last week, it was chhote bhaiyya Sanjay Dutt who developed cold feet and bounced back into Bollywood after announcing that he was "fed up with politics".


Dutt was accompanying Mr Singh on his Purvanchal Yatra when the former told reporters that Chhota Rajan had informed Dutt that his (Mr Singh's) life was under threat.


]As soon as Sanju Baba reached Mumbai, the consequences of the statement dawned on him and he immediately denied having received any call from the underworld, as claimed by Mr Singh.


"I am never going to dabble in politics and nor will I be seen on political platforms. I am just not cut out for politics", he told scribes.


With Dutt backing out, Mr Singh is now trudging a lonely path. Even Jayaprada's loyal presence cannot make up for Dutt's absence.


He can only croon, "Dost dost na raha".


Natha on the run again, from politicians


Peepli Live's Natha is once again on the run but this time in real life. Omkar Nath Manikpuri, who played the role of Natha in the highly-acclaimed movie, is dodging political parties who wanted him to campaign for their respective candidates in the upcoming urban local body polls in Chhattisgarh.


Both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the principal Opposition, the Congress, also tried to lure him by offering the post of chairman of Bhilai municipality.


A poor stage artiste of the famous Tanveer theatre group, Natha — he adopted his film character's name in real life — has become a celebrity after the release of Peepli Live, his maiden foray into the celluloid world. Natha initially declined all offers. But when the pressure became too much, he virtually went into hiding.


"I can don the role of a politician in reel life, but not in real life", he reportedly told a friend. "That is what I learnt when I covered the recent Bihar Assembly polls for a TV channel as a journalist".


Khurshid the philosopher


Union minister for corporate affairs Salman Khurshid was rather philosophical when he was talking on whether lobbying was bad or good at a recent Confederation of Indian Industry meet in Mumbai. If money is involved it would be bad, he said, but then went on to differentiate between good and bad and how you can convert seemingly bad into seemingly good.


"Children, he said, are afraid of the dark, but darkness is beautiful if you give darkness a chance", he said. "Like for instance a candlelight dinner when lights are dimmed. You can convert seemingly bad into good".
But Mr Khurshid did not elaborate on how the ruling party can convert all the scams plaguing it into "seemingly good things".


Chouhan catches it toofoot-in-mouth disease apparently spreads quicker among political leaders. Last week, it struck the usually sober Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan when he portrayed the Rajya Sabha and the state legislative councils in poor light.


It was during the regional consultation on electoral reforms in Bhopal that Mr Chouhan described the Rajya Sabha as a legacy of colonial times and also as an institution created to serve "market forces" and give corporate honchos backdoor entry to Parliament. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and state Congress president Suresh Pachouri were present when he made this quip.


However, Mr Chouhan realised his folly and withdrew the statement without losing time. The grapevine is that realisation dawned only after he was rapped on the knuckles by top BJP leaders who are trailblazers in the Upper House.


Why Wen missed Mumbai


The fact that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao skipped Mumbai during his India visit has led to a lot of speculation since both US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the city very much a part of their itinerary.


A journalist who tracks China closely felt that possibly if Mr Wen came to Mumbai he would have had to pay homage to the martyrs of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. If he stayed either at the Taj or the Oberoi, the only two hotels where heads of state stay, it would have been inevitable as both these hotels were attacked by terrorists with links to Pakistan.


Mr Wen probably felt that this would be a diplomatic embarrassment as it would upset his close ally Pakistan. On the other hand, if he didn't pay homage it would have sparked a lot of comments. So when in doubt skip out.


His first and last love


Kapil Sibal has been the blue-eyed boy of the United Progressive Alliance-2 government. After shouldering the task of handling the human resource and development (HRD) ministry he was also given additional charge of science and technology ministry.


Then he was chosen to take charge of the crucial telecom ministry following telecom minister A. Raja's resignation and the scam allegations.


But his old foes in the Congress have been trying desperately to create an impression that Mr Sibal has lost interest in the HRD ministry after being allocated the high-profile telecom ministry.


Mr Sibal, who came to know of it, quipped to mediapersons, "I can tell you that the HRD ministry is my first love and my last love".


Making it abundantly clear that he was in no mood to let go of his "love", he stated that working with the HRD ministry he could help build India's future. And his too.


A please-all strategy in Assam


With elections round the corner, ticket-seekers are making a beeline to the headquarters of the political parties in Assam but are unable to decide who among the top holds the key to their fortune.


If there are three power centres — the PCC president Bhuwneswar Kalita, AICC in-charge Digvijay Singh and chief minister Tarun Gogoi — in the ruling Congress, the aspirants for ticket in opposition Asom Gana Parishad are wondering who they should try to impress — the party president Chandra Mohan Patoary or the Leader of opposition Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.


The aspirants do not have any option but to try and please all of them to an extent,with the hope that it does not displease others.








A paradox is the simultaneous holding of two apparently irreconcilable opposites — not only that both are true, but together they also convey a greater truth than either can.


Most mystics who live by a paradoxical form of reference, often employ the imaginative power of paradox to let others have a glimpse of the more illuminated truth, which came into their experience.


"The Law of Paradox" essentially is an aspect of the "Principle of Polarity". It requires that we must not omit "the other side" of any question — particularly when the two sides are related to, or directed simultaneously to the Absolute and the Relative and that is why they are perplexing.


The Absolute Truth is "things as God knows them". Relative truth is "things as the highest reason of man knows". In the Absolute, the universe is merely a mental construct, a dream or the consequence of meditation. To the finite mind, which itself is a part of the universe, and views everything through its mortal faculties, the universe appears very real indeed. Man must realise that with his limited faculties, he cannot be Brahman (super soul).


Jaap Sahib, the splendid composition of Guru Gobind Singh, is replete with Divine paradoxes of the kind that reflect the Essence of the Absolute versus that of the Relative. In quite a few verses of this composition, God is referred to as Akaal (A stands for no, kaal for time). The term Akaal has two different senses. One connotes "timeless" i.e. transcending time. It corresponds to God sans Creation, because time is a created entity. In the other sense, it means infinite and signifies "extending over countless time". The former sense pertains to the Absolute while the latter to the Relative aspect of God.


In the former sense, the Absolute has no beginning — so, it has been designated as Anaadi (an stands for sans, aadi for beginning); but He has also been called Aadi (from the very beginning) and described as Aadi Rupa (Primal Form), Aadi Deva (Primal Deity) and Aadi Purusha (Primal Person). All these pertain to His Relative aspect.


Kaal also means "Death" because enduring through time, things die or wither away. God, however, is immortal i.e. Akaal, but He is also the cause of mortality in the fate of His Creation in general, as well as in the individual destiny of His Creation. This is the Relative aspect. Guru Gobind Singh also calls Him Kaal Kaale (the death of time or the death of death), both Relative aspects.


To the question whether God is transcendent or immanent, the appropriate answer would be "neither one nor the other", because God is both transcendent as well as immanent. Paradox, thus, decries "either/or" kind of approach, but encourages "both/and" type of outlook. Guru Gobind Singh describes the Absolute not only as tej teje (the Essence of Light), but also as andhkare (darkness).


Not just that, he describes God as shant rupe (the emblem of peace) as well as klah karta (the cause of contention). For the said Guru God represents not only Ved bani (the sacred word) but also kok ki kahani (lewd tales).


Paradox has also been employed by mystics as a strategy of spiritual discipline. It precludes dogmatism, the dangerous commitment to doctrines that can also be systematised.


— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.








Jimmy Carter is putting the out in outspokenness. In an interview with, the former President was asked, "Is the country ready for a gay President?"


Even as John McCain and other ossified Republicans were staging last-minute manoeuvres to torpedo the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, the 86-year-old Carter was envisioning a grander civil rights victory.


"I would say that the answer is yes", he said. "I don't know about the next election, but I think in the near future".


The news that Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer will smooch in an upcoming movie about J. Edgar Hoover and his aide Clyde Tolson — buried near each other in the Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill — is a reminder of an "Advise and Consent" Washington where being a closeted gay official made you vulnerable to blackmail.


Others feel we're not ready for a gay President, citing the fear and loathing unleashed by the election of the first black President. "Can you imagine how much a gay President would have to overcompensate to please the macho ninnies who control our national debate?" Bill Maher told me. "Women like Hillary have to do it, Obama had to do it because he's black and liberal, but a gay President? He'd have to nuke something the first week".


I called Barney Frank, assuming the gay pioneer would be optimistic. He wasn't. "It's one thing to have a gay person in the abstract", he said. "It's another to see that person as part of a living, breathing couple. How would a gay presidential candidate have a celebratory kiss with his partner after winning the New Hampshire primary? The sight of two women kissing has not been as distressful to people as the sight of two men kissing".


Because of the Defence of Marriage Act, he added, "it's not clear that a gay President could use federal funds to buy his husband dinner. Would his partner have to pay rent in the White House? There would be no Secret Service protection for the paramour".


Frank noted that we've "clearly had one gay President already, James Buchanan. If I had to pick one, it wouldn't be him". (The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan aims higher, citing Abe Lincoln, who sometimes bundled with his military bodyguard in bed when his wife was away.)


Frank said that although most Republicans now acknowledge that sexual orientation is not a choice, they still can't handle their pols' coming out. "There are Republicans here who are gay", he said of Congress, "but as long as they don't acknowledge it, it's OK. Republicans only tolerate you being gay as long as you don't seem proud of it. You've got to be apologetic".


Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, hopes that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" will help persuade "the collective conscience of the United States that gay people are just the same as anybody else. We shouldn't have to die in the closet. The irony is, as mayor, I marry people, but I can't marry Peter, my longtime partner".


There are no openly gay senators, governors, Cabinet members or Supreme Court justices. There are four openly gay Democratic House members, once David Cicilline of Rhode Island gets sworn in.


Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin recalled that during a race for State Assembly, a voter she thought was "trouble" swaggered up to her. But she need not have braced herself. "If you can be honest about that", he told her, "you'll be honest about everything".


She said she took her former girlfriend, Lauren, to White House parties to meet three Presidents, interactions that she thinks "really helps change minds and advance the cause".


Representative Jared Polis of Colorado said he took his boyfriend, Marlon Reis, to a White House Christmas party this year. He said Marlon is "very popular — some of his best friends are Republican spouses".


Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign fretted to his husband that a gay President would be anticlimactic.


"People expect this bizarro and outlandish behaviour", he told me. "We're always the funny neighbour wearing colourful, avant-garde clothing. We would let down people with our boringness and banality when they learn that we go to grocery stores Saturday afternoon, take our kids to school plays and go see movies".


After studying polling data for a decade, Sainz thinks a lesbian would have a better shot at the presidency than a gay man. "People are more comfortable with women than they are with men because of stereotypes with gay men about hypersexuality", he said.


André Leon Talley, the Vogue visionary, pictures a lesbian President who looks like Julie Andrews and dresses to meet heads of state in "ankle-length skirts, grazing the Manolo Blahnik kitten heels". She would save her "butch trouser suit for weekends at Camp David and vacation hikes in Yellowstone. No plaid lumberjack shirts at any time".









THE language of dignified criticism does not come easily to politicians, certainly not to some leaders in the Left who have thrived on verbal threats. When it comes to recalling the Siddhartha Shankar Ray regime, there is an additional obligation to recall the "dark days'' of the seventies to emphasise the Left's credentials as a "popular'' government. If that is an image the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime wishes to carry into the 2011 election campaign which, for all practical purposes,  has begun, it is evidently necessary to stay away from obituary references to the former chief minister in the assembly.

 Left leaders cannot be seen paying even formal tribute to someone they have long held up as the architect of oppression. While the Left has often spoken of the excesses that followed the 1972 election, which it claims was rigged, the allegations have never been endorsed by inquiry commissions set up by successive Left regimes. Yet there is no way they can surrender a propaganda instrument, as the Left's case now seems to be that a Trinamul victory will invite the same dangers.

It is a different matter that the social scenario and public mood have changed since the days the Left boycotted the Assembly in the seventies. In the new climate, what the Chief Minister and Speaker did by staying away from the Assembly and the Left MLAs did by deciding on a strategic silence should be construed not as a reflection of the sentiments that have survived after nearly four decades but as a conscious attempt to prevent dilution of a campaign issue.

In these circumstances, matters of courtesy may not matter to the Chief Minister who was said to be in his office less than a km away. But what his government would still have to explain is why it didn't abide by convention in declaring state mourning for a former Chief Minister, Union education minister, ambassador to the US and Governor of Punjab. The ceremony of showing respect ~ as was the case when Jyoti Basu died ~ need not weaken an election campaign based on political arguments. But the Left is apparently not willing to take any chances ~ even if the deliberate display of discourtesy sets a bad example.



ELEVATING were pictures in all the newspapers of the defence minister and the three chiefs of staff paying homage to the martyrs of the 1971 War at the Amar Jawan memorial in the Capital. Similar remembrance ceremonies were conducted at many military centres across the country. Sadly, it was a tale of neglect that was told by a report and photograph in a leading newspaper of the northern region that highlighted the poor state of the cemetery near the frontier town of Fazilka. Buried there are the mortal remains of several soldiers of the Muslim and Christian faiths who made the supreme sacrifice in the 1965 and 1971 conflicts: Fazilka had been witness to fierce fighting in both. Without seeking to inject a divisive religious sentiment into the debate ~ the secular credentials of our armed forces are impeccable ~ the conditions in the burial ground in Saina village must arouse concerns. Actually they reflect the poor maintenance of cemeteries in most cantonments (except those managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

  It is true that ownership and management may not be vested in the defence authorities, but surely the Army has enough manpower and material to spare for a little spring cleaning? And the defence ministry is not so cash-strapped now that a small provision cannot be made in its annual budget. A neat and clean cemetery appeals not just to those communities that bury  their  dead,  it  has  a  more  encompassing  inspirational quality: it reaffirms that military heroes are nationally "recognised".

The larger question that arises pertains to our soldiers' prolonged heartache over the failure to raise a National War Memorial ~ the Amar Jawan structure was intended to be a token-forerunner. Every defence minister since 1972 has committed himself to a Memorial, none has galvanised his cabinet colleagues into action. To press the issue a little further: while the anniversaries of the victories in Kargil and 1971 are observed ~ and the Prime Minister pays homage on Republic Day ~ even a formal Military Martyrs' Day has not been notified. But why blame the government alone, not for nothing are the collections on Armed Forces Flag Day little publicised ~ they would prove a national embarrassment.



DURING a recent visit to the North-east, Union home minister P Chidambaram said he was hopeful of peace returning to the region in the next decade. There is no reason why this should not happen because developments on the ground are encouraging. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi expects talks with Ulfa leaders to begin next month. He has also said that Ulfa's elusive self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua might show up.
Most Ulfa leaders who surfaced last year are now on bail, after offering a commitment to prepare the ground for talks. In Nagaland, serious reconciliation efforts are on. Though nothing substantive emerged at the Dimapur meeting in September of the three leaders of warring factions,  the very fact that they met for the first time, forgetting their egos, was significant enough, suggesting more such meetings will be possible in future to iron out their differences.

Chidambaram's suggestion of a little more understanding and for finding solutions through a spirit of give-and-take is to be encouraged. The Centre has already said 'no' to Ulfa's demand for sovereignty and in return it has to concede other demands. In Imphal last Tuesday, the home minister iterated the Centre's stand that Manipur's territorial integrity would not be disturbed. Rooted as it is on integration of all Naga-inhabited areas, the NSCN(IM) is not likely to take this lying down.

Nothing has been done so far to defuse lingering tensions in Manipur's four hill districts after NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah was barred from visiting his birthplace in Ukhrul district in May this year. These districts are clamouring for a separate administrative unit for the tribals. How the Centre tackles the Bodo and Dimasa demands for separate states remains to be seen. But militant cadres now huddled in their designated camps cannot be expected to stay there for long.     








IT is quite obvious that the USA's relations with Pakistan have largely been determined by Islamabad's perceived importance in Washington's global strategy, be it in safeguarding US interests in the Gulf or in fighting terror. In recent years, however, Washington has on occasion suffered a setback because of the mismatch between Pakistan's proclaimed policy against terror and its actual performance. In Afghanistan, for example, Pakistan has assiduously followed a policy of training and funding the militants with the sole purpose of re-establishing its control over Kabul after the American forces pull out. Pakistan's sponsorship of cross-border terrorism is also affecting America. A glaring example was the attempt to explode a bomb at New York's Time Square. It is also widely believed that Osama bin Laden and some of his aides are hiding in NWFP. In his recently published autobiography, Decision Points, George Bush has claimed that the USA was on the verge of sending special forces to Pakistan to destroy the Al Qaida and Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, and again in mid-2008. On both occasions, US attempts were thwarted by Pakistan's rulers who argued that such an offensive would lead to a revolt within the country and a possible takeover of power by the militants. The US government opted for  drone attacks on the targets located in Pakistan, leading to civilian casualties and a surge in anti-American feelings in Pakistan.

It is against this background that one has to view the bonding between the USA and India. The process began during the 1990s with the liberalisation of the Indian economy. Foreign policy was unshackled from ideology despite serious differences over the nuclear issue. India was identified as one of the major emerging markets, and defence cooperation began with joint naval exercises. That process suffered a serious setback in the wake of the Pokhran and Chagai nuclear tests respectively by India and Pakistan in 1998, followed by the imposition of economic sanctions by the US on both countries.

However, by the beginning of this century, Indo-US relations were back on track. The vision statement, issued at the conclusion of President Clinton's visit in 2000, set the outline for the development of relations. 
But the most important phase was the period of the Bush Presidency when the concept of "strategic partnership" was developed. Subsequently, India also entered into broad-based strategic partnership agreements with several other countries.

Clearly, the first decade of this century has witnessed the beginning of a new phase in the development of Indo-US relations. Furthermore, US policy was based on bipartisan support in Congress. A similar consensus was reached in India as well with the mainstream political parties ~ barring the Left ~ reaching a consensus on the need to widen Indo-US relations, a process begun by the NDA government and continued by the UPA regime. A major factor is India's economic development which opened up new markets for the USA. The other underpinning is the common interest in combating terrorism. 

India's emergence as a responsible nuclear power with considerable clout in international relations has also facilitated the strengthening of cooperation. In the 1990s, India was pressured by the USA to sign the NPT and the CTBT. Refusal to join the non-proliferation regime would undermine the USA's policy. But when India successfully defied the USA, it was quietly co-opted to the nuclear club, albeit indirectly, through the conclusion of the US-India civil nuclear deal, and the subsequent initiatives taken by President Bush to persuade the NSG members to grant India the waiver, without which the deal could not be operationalised.
Arguably, the USA wanted to boost its sagging nuclear industry. The fact that the nuclear deal has not yet been operationalised despite the passage of the  Nuclear Liability Bill is a significant pointer. But the deal is by no means a one-sided affair. It has ended India's nuclear isolation, and paved the way for civil nuclear cooperation. India has signed similar deals with seven other countries, including France, Russia and Canada. Civil nuclear cooperation will also help produce nuclear energy to meet India's growing energy requirements.
When President Obama took over, there were concerns in India that it would not be accorded an important strategic role in Asia. A joint statement with China apparently gave Beijing a role in monitoring peace in South Asia. During the Prime Minister's visit to the USA in November 2009, the President sought to assuage Indian feelings by declaring that America and India were "indispensable partners", seeking to build "a future of security and prosperity for all nations". That sentiment had not been indicated in the Af-Pak policy. The President, however, made it clear that the USA would not interfere in the Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir. President Obama came to India at a time when there was no major problem in Indo-US relations.  He played to the parliamentary gallery, albeit with a subtle criticism of India's policy towards Iran and Myanmar. Similar differences persist in their attitudes towards Iraq.

While the White House fact-sheet and the joint statement issued at the end of Obama's visit do not mention China, the commitments  will lead to intensive military cooperation.  Will this imply India's tacit agreement to work with the USA to contain China? There are groups in both India and the USA that will welcome such a development, but there is as yet no agreement on this issue.

Another issue of concern for India will be the US attitude towards Pakistan. America still values Pakistan's strategic importance, especially in the context of Afghanistan.

Despite these differences, Indo-US relations are poised to grow further given the felicity of interaction between the present generation of leaders in both countries.  This wasn't manifest in the era of Nehru and Dulles or Kennedy or between Nixon and Indira Gandhi.








JUBA (Sudan), 19 DEC: The first barges came yesterday at dawn completing an epic 17-day journey along the White Nile to deliver their human cargo from Khartoum to Juba, the capital of what may become Africa's newest country next month. Washerwomen on the west bank sang a high-pitched welcome to the hundreds of incoming refugees who crowded the decks ululating and beating drums.

The half-dozen rusting hulks that floated into Juba with more than one thousand passengers were the latest additions to a wave of southerners flooding out of the north ahead of a January vote expected to split Sudan in two. As many as 75,000 southerners have moved south, according to the UN, aboard makeshift convoys of trucks, buses and barges. Some have come to vote and others to escape a feared backlash in the Muslim-dominated north.

"These big numbers are moving earlier than humanitarian agencies had anticipated," said Vincent Bolt from Catholic charity Cafod. "It has not yet reached humanitarian crisis proportions but the UN estimates are that up to 800,000 in the next six months could make the journey, which would be a 10 per cent increase of the southern population." The influx is coming into one of the poorest countries on earth where nine out of 10 people live in abject poverty. In the would-be new country, a girl has more chance of dying in childbirth than finishing school. Three weeks from today, a referendum in the south will decide whether to divide Africa's largest country under the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended the continent's longest civil war. An overwhelming "yes" vote is expected in favour of secession. the independent







There was much turbulence in the structure of capital markets in the 1990s. The Securities and Exchange Board of India, created in the late 1980s, was full of evangelical energy; it went after private stock exchanges with a vengeance. Meanwhile, government financial institutions set up their own National Stock Exchange; with their patronage and with the latest technology, it beat the other stock exchanges to the ground. Only the Bombay Stock Exchange fought and survived. The market situation that emerged has been stable since then; NSE has ruled the roost, while BSE has provided a competent alternative.


So it is not clear why Sebi appointed a committee of obvious non-experts under the chairmanship of Bimal Jalan to review ownership and governance of stock exchanges and their satellite organizations. The fact that Sebi placed one of its members on the committee would suggest an agenda, but what the committee was aimed at was unclear. The committee has tried in its report to sustain the mystery. The existing regulations on formation of new stock exchanges were restrictive already; the tightening that the committee has suggested looks trivial to the untrained eye. The committee makes much play with stock exchanges being a "public utility", and takes it as granted that the government should let their members make "reasonable" profits, a term it can interpret as it likes. It has no problem with the current regulations; they limit the equity share of stock exchange owners to modest percentages, to be further reduced within a few years, and their total holdings to 49 per cent — just short of controlling interest. It proposes raising the 15 per cent limit on a single corporate shareholding to 24 per cent, and anoints its holder with the lofty title of 'anchor institutional investor'; even this was hardly worth 10 months of deep deliberation.


The answers to its appointment must therefore lie in the new restrictions it proposes on ownership of stock exchanges. The crucial one is slipped in at the end of the report. Just now, Sebi is not explicitly empowered to stop anyone from starting a stock exchange; the committee wants it to be so empowered by law. And the subsidiary one is the change in the restrictions the committee proposes on who can be a stock exchange's initiator or own 15 per cent of its equity: it proposes that stock exchanges, depositories, clearing corporations and insurance companies must be thrown out of strategic ownership. That would leave only banks and approved financial institutions as promoters. While it would be too rude to call it a hatchet job, the Jalan committee cannot avoid the suspicion that it was meant to stop someone or other from starting or running stock exchanges.








The rescue is often not the happy ending of a trafficked girl's story. It is, rather, the beginning of a more difficult and baffling chapter. Yasmin Khatun (name changed), a 16-year-old girl from a village in Bengal, seems to have been 'saved' from a life of sexual exploitation and violence in Delhi largely through the courageousness her stepmother. But has this woman got her stepdaughter back? Do restoration and rehabilitation 'naturally' follow rescue? If not, why not? Yasmin appears to be unwilling to go back to her family and village. Why? She has made allegations of sexual violence against her father. But her rescuers and counsellors cannot take her word for it at face value. She is also afraid of being ostracized by the community she will be returning to, some of whose members may even have colluded with her traffickers.


In a sense, these are realities of victimhood that are 'easier' to fathom, although by no means to deal with. What is more unfathomable is the rescued person appearing to prefer the life of a sex worker to being sent back to her family or to a government home. Usually, the rescuers' inability to comprehend such a 'choice' arises out of their unfamiliarity with the actual experience of poverty. In what circumstances can a life of what appears to be sexual indignity and danger to most people be preferable to the other options available to the victim? That the material comforts a regular and sizeable income brings could put in place, and render relatively acceptable, the things one has to do to earn that income is perhaps beyond the pale of a certain kind of respectable and well-intentioned imagination and morality. This also explains the inspector's surprise when Yasmin asked for a napkin when given dinner. Besides, she is still a child in the eyes of the law. This makes it impossible for the State to endorse her choice of where and how she was going to live now. But can the material, the legal and the moral be kept apart in an absolute way while deciding what the best option is for her?










The Nobel prize awards for science and medicine perhaps stand apart; original contributions of pathbreaking significance are the only criteria on the basis of which decisions are reached. Selections in the other areas like literature, peace and economics, the world has learnt by now, need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Graham Greene was denied the award for literature but, hold your breath, not Winston Churchill. In economics, greats like Michal Kalecki and Joan Robinson were passed over, but not some obscure economist, picked from an equally obscure American university, who might have worked out a pettifogging formula for how to play around with derivatives in the share market so as to ensure higher yields to a narrow group of investors.


The awards for the Nobel Peace Prize have been particularly suspect because of gross political overtones; past recipients have even included a war-mongering American president. To suggest that the peace awards have been the bellwether of American foreign policy may be an exaggeration, but only a wee bit so. It is in any case no misjudgment to describe the hoo-ha surrounding this year's peace award to a Chinese dissenter, now languishing in prison, as a staged affair. The Cold War is long dissipated — nonetheless, nostalgia for it persists, perhaps, in some quarters. The proceedings of the award-giving ceremony at Oslo a fortnight ago were very much a re-run of the hustle and bustle that accompanied the 1956 literature award to Boris Pasternak for Doctor Zhivago.


The Soviet Union has disappeared, the communist threat to the capitalist West has also gone the way of all flesh. But, what wretchedness, China has begun to flex its muscles and dominate the global scene. It is truly an awkward setting. The Americans cannot do without China for reasons of economic interest; they are, however, scared at the prospect of the horrifying Leviathan that country could emerge as in a couple of decades. China cannot quite be confronted; that should not hold back the Western countries, though, from targeting one or two sly pinpricks at it. This year's Nobel Peace Prize provided an opportunity to indulge in such a prank. China was annoyed; that annoyance was a hugely welcome balm to Western souls.


It was still not an occasion of unalloyed satisfaction for the United States of America and its friends. Western news agencies took care to slur over reporting on one significant datum. The Nobel committee had sent out invitations to about 150 foreign embassies in Oslo to attend the award-giving ceremony. Only 46 responded affirmatively and attended, a majority of the countries that were invited stayed away. This conveys a message that should moderate Western glee: the number of countries reluctant to be on the wrong side of China is increasing ominously.


However, India, as self-appointed closest strategic ally of the US (apologies to Hillary Clinton), knew how to behave. It chose to break ranks with most Asian, African and Latin American countries. The Nobel committee, decision-makers in New Delhi are aware, reflects American sentiments; strategic alliance is thicker than the solidarity of the South. Uncomfortable questions nonetheless keep rending the air. At Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, in the square kilometres of area they occupy by force, the Americans have set up a military base. A large number of persons belonging to different nationalities are detained without trial there. Most of them qualify as prisoners of conscience as per the code of international law. These prisoners of conscience, a suggestion can well be mooted, should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize; their stance is no different from that of this year's award winner. The Nobel committee will, of course, feel outraged at the suggestion.


The committee will be in deeper waters, though, in handling a proposal emanating from Russia. It may have been floated with mischief in mind; that does not at all detract from its merit. WikiLeaks and its boss, Julian Assange, the Russians have proposed, should be nominated for next year's Nobel Peace Prize. Whatever the response of the Nobel committee, there is bound to be widespread support for the point of view that WikiLeaks has rendered, and is rendering, a tremendous service to the cause of global peace. It has unfurled the banner of transparency in international affairs and has brought into the open the hypocrisies and shenanigans of governments in country after country. If the concept of freedom incorporates the right to have free information and openness in the conduct of international relations, WikiLeaks has taken a decisive step towards furthering that right. And it has done so in a manner the world has never seen before. Its revelations are causing large-scale embarrassment, but never were such embarrassments more richly deserved. Assange's exposure of the falsehoods George W. Bush and Tony Blair had indulged in to justify the destruction of Iraq is, above all, of immeasurable significance. Should countries with superior military might at their disposal take lessons from the WikiLeaks revelations and behave henceforth with a somewhat greater sense of responsibility and a lesser degree of hauteur, the weaker nations round the globe should be able to breath with appreciably greater ease. The suggestion to vest WikiLeaks and Assange with a Nobel peace award should not therefore be treated as a frivolous one; it deserves the highest consideration on solidly objective grounds.


While this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner has been monopolizing media excitement, a past recipient of the same award, a gentleman from Bangladesh, has also been making news. He received the prize, jointly with his baby, the Bangladesh Grameen Bank, for his supposedly pioneering work in the field of micro-finance, particularly among poverty-stricken rural women. Rumours were then already rife how all that glisters is not gold, how the bank organized by the gentleman was a front for a transnational corporation interested in shipping garments stitched by destitute village women, who were advanced loans against which they had to deliver huge quantities of supplies within a specified, extremely short period; the effective rate of interest they were charged reportedly worked out to something like 50 per cent or thereabouts per annum. Eyebrows were further raised when the jumbo of a Boeing 747 plane, hired nobody knows by whom, was laid out to fly, free of cost, the gentleman and his retinue all the way from Dhaka to Oslo for the award-giving ceremony. The years passed and the gentleman and his bank have basked in the marvels-of-micro-finance glory reflected through the prism of the Nobel award.


Countries like India are having a different kind of experience with micro-finance; the financing procedure has been seen to be both devious and inordinately exploitative, leading to widespread rural distress. These developments have been ascribed to local difficulties and acts of indiscretion on the part of officialdom on the spot for which the preceptor from Bangladesh could hardly be held responsible. Now comes the news that a criminal case has been filed against him in a Bangladesh superior court on the alleged ground of embezzlement and diversion of funds from the Grameen Bank.


The charge may be true or false; it is for the judiciary to decide. But the resulting commotion should, at least, establish the point that those who win the Nobel trophy are not necessarily at level with Caesar's wife, they may indeed have an Achilles' heel. Neo-colonialism dies hard — it dies hard particularly in the South Asian climate. A halo of divinity is sought to be attached to Nobel laureates — as they are called — who are placed on an ethereal pedestal. They may behave in the most officious manner or utter the most banal of views and sentiments. A Nelson's eye is nonetheless turned on their imperious ways, and their mundane prattlings are treated with deference raised to the nth degree.


Laying the blame for such malaise at the door of either the Nobel committee or other Western institutions will not do. Political freedom in the South Asian countries has not liberated the mind, which continues to be buried under layers of inferiority complex. Testimonials from overseas is still the ultimate touchstone for judging the worth of an idea or an object. The social esteem of an individual jumps up by quite a few notches the moment he or she succeeds in acquiring a kind of recognition from foreign shores. It is thus small wonder that winners of the Nobel prize evoke such awe. It will be extremely hard-going for an individual if he or she were to suggest that a Nobel laureate could, in fact, be a dull dog, or that politics was in command when the decision to award him the prize was reached. The colonialized mind refuses to abdicate.









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


It's been eight years now since Ivory Coast, once the richest country in West Africa, was divided. This election was supposed to end the division, but it has just perpetuated it. Maybe it's time to accept that Ivory Coast is two countries, not one. Once the notion of dividing an African country in two was unthinkable. The basic rule of the old Organisation of African Unity was that former colonial borders must remain inviolable, since if they could be changed, there might be a generation of civil wars.


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


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


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


Crippling problem


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


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


Gbagbo is a Christian southerner, and he lost because there are a few hundred thousand more people in the Muslim north of the country. But he did control the constitutional court, which promptly declared that hundreds of thousands of northern votes were invalid, either because the voters in question were actually foreigners, or because they simply didn't exist. The African Union is trying very hard these days to ensure that electoral results are respected in Africa, so it has suspended Ivory Coast's membership until Ouattara is actually in power. Since Gbagbo still has the support of the army and controls the State television channel, it will be very hard to get him out.


Ivorian elections have long been troubled by the accusation that many voters in the north are not citizens. It does not matter who is right: southerners will always think they have been cheated if their candidate loses, while northerners will always insist that the vote was legitimate.


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



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





The chief lesson that arises from the current struggle of the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), also known as Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra, is that the greed for land that was so far limited to land sharks, politicians and their progeny has now infected institutions. The sprawling GKVK campus, with its 1,380-acre expanse of carefully nurtured patches of pristine nature and specialised research areas, is an ecosystem in itself. It hosts a large variety of vanishing strains of foodgrains, fruits, over a dozen species of mammals, reptiles and close to 200 bird species. It is Bangalore's largest lung space now wheezing under the pressure of urbanisation.

The university's past vice-chancellors have spoken eloquently about the stupidity of trying to meddle with such a precious repository of greenery. The university, which originally came up in Hebbal, was shifted to its present location as the city expanded. Even at its new location, various institutions, albeit claiming to pursue scientific research, have already nibbled away a part of it. The sprawling campus is now coveted by various organisations for purposes that have nothing to do with science research, such as housing, roads and so on. A BBMP commissioner, who quit under a cloud, set in motion the current attack on the UAS last March by encroaching on a part of the campus to build a road, which the Palike has now disowned and has even spoken of taking action against the official.

Thanks to the brave initiative of the UAS's VCs, who were supported by well-meaning citizens concerned for the protecting the biodiversity hotspot, the government has taken note of the resistance to the unprincipled hunger for land and natural resources that seems to symbolise contemporary Karnataka. The chief minister has temporarily reprieved the university campus from the land sharks within the government, as well as residents of localities around whose selfish desire to have roads overlooks the long-term dangers of devastating the city's green lung. The judicial community, which is demanding a part of the campus for a housing layout for judges, should extend its concern for environment that is evident in many judgments on different issues, to saving the campus.

The judges, more than others, should know the ramifications of setting a precedent. If they insist on partaking some of the UAS land or of the veterinary university for their housing, what moral justification would they have to deny similar encroachments elsewhere?








The supreme court's green signal to the Medical Council of India (MCI) to hold a single national entrance test for admission to MBBS and post-graduate medical courses is a good move and is in the best interests of students and medical education. The MCI had made the proposal to the union health ministry long ago, but it was caught in litigation. With the court now clarifying that the pending petitions should not prevent the MCI from going ahead with the proposal, the way has been cleared for holding the test from the next academic year. MCI's proposal had itself been based on a suggestion made by the court which had to deal with a large number of cases related to medical admission. When the proposal is implemented, admission to medical courses in all colleges, both government-owned and private, will be governed by the results of the common test.

There are about 300 medical colleges in the country. The Central and state governments, deemed universities and private managements hold separate tests for admission. Since admissions are coveted, students take a number of tests and have to waste much time, energy and money to appear for tests at different locations across the country. There are students who write more than 10 tests in a short period. Some examination dates overlap. Students come under much mental stress also, appearing for many examinations. While they will be spared of such problems, a single examination will also ensure uniform standards. It will also help eliminate corruption and malpractices which are rampant during admissions. Though donations and capitation fees are banned, it is well-known that private college managements accept them from candidates. An admission based on merit will also improve the standards of education. Students too will be able to choose from a number of colleges on the basis of the rank list and according to their convenience.

The MCI's proposal envisages holding the common examination to be conducted by a single authority and under a common syllabus, as in the case of IIT admissions. Issues like state and rural quotas and applicability of the new system to autonomous and minority institutions will have to be sorted out before it is implemented. MCI should finalise the necessary rules and regulations and notify them at the earliest so there is no confusion and vested interests do not get a chance to scuttle the plan.







'Holbrooke was the sort of man who took no prisoners in his day job and dominated the room when off duty.'


Do we remember what we have heard or what we wanted to hear? Famous last words are tricky. Even strangers can get infected with nerves at the bedside of a dying man, not least because evidence of mortality induces depressing thoughts of your own inevitable departure. Relatives and friends are too affected by sentiment. Assuming that the deathbed utterance, if there is one, is more likely to be a mumble rather than oratory, the opportunity for tweaking is high, either in the interest of clarity or to improve the quality. Did Groucho Marx really say, "Die, my dear? Why, that's the last thing I'll do!"? Or Conrad Hilton, founder of the eponymous hotel chain, depart on the less-than-grand note of "Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub". The great Italian traveller sounds far more credible: "I have not told half of what I saw". As does the brilliant Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record." Such pitch perfect sentences seem edited by a benefactor for an anthology, which is where I have picked them from.

But of course the words survive because they are in character. The billionaire Hilton must have been obsessing about his hotel guests mucking up the bathroom; Groucho could hardly have resisted one last crack, or Thomas one last idle boast about the addiction that destroyed his talent.

Did Richard Holbrooke, the peripatetic czar of America's policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, really tell a Pakistani-origin doctor, as he went for the final surgery, "End that Afghanistan war"? Or did the Pakistani doctor, who has watched his country pay such a corrosive political, social and military price for conflicts imposed upon Afghanistan by the strategic interests of superpowers, hear what he wanted to hear?

Holbrooke was the sort of man who took no prisoners in his day job and dominated the room when off duty. His fascinating official career began in Vietnam, paused for a stint as editor of 'foreign affairs' and would have ended as the peace-broker of Bosnia if his friend and mentor Hillary Clinton had not given him diplomatic charge of America's latest war zone. He would have occupied her present office if Hillary had won the White House. While Holbrooke roamed the world, there was one indisputable theme in whatever he said or did: the American interest came first. He was a classical New York, liberal patriot.

For Pak's well-being

Did he believe, therefore, that it was now in the American interest to stop the war? During the two years of his intensive engagement he had — much to the dismay of Delhi — bought into Pakistan's version of events. He became an advocate of Islamabad's 'strategic depth' theory and put as much pressure as he could on Delhi to withdraw troops from the Line of Control so that Pakistan could shift its own forces towards its western front. He was the principal voice within the Obama administration urging the largesse that Pakistan has received in the last two years. George Bush was far more circumspect while signing cheques. Pakistanis fondly recall his role in the massive relief effort after this year's floods, when he personally took charge of distribution. (If Holbrooke was present he was automatically in charge.) But he would not want an end to the war if peace was primarily for Pakistan's well-being.

War is not a continuous activity; there are long fallow periods between battles, even in a guerrilla war. The Afghan war is in one of its fallow periods but it cannot end until one side accepts defeat or both sides agree on a ceasefire. America and Vietnam, uniquely, began peace talks without a ceasefire, so there is more than one model for termination of hostilities. Holbrooke was aware that, in a completely unstructured manner, a similar attempt was underway. This unacknowledged process has thrown up absurdities like the 'Taliban' leader who was flown into Kabul by British intelligence for talks, before  they discovered that he was a fake, nothing more than a provincial shopkeeper. Someone in the ISI is probably still dining out on the true story. It is the sort of episode that makes Groucho Marx's last words relevant.

Somewhere in his ebbing consciousness, and perhaps rising conscience, Holbrooke knew that the Afghan war had begun as the right thing to do, but been driven into an abyss by mistakes. It was time for America to cut its losses, financial and political, and deal with the aftermath as best it could. I wonder if Holbrooke had time to tell his Pakistani friends that it would be a dangerous mistake if they rushed into space created by American withdrawal. Afghan nationalism is as hard as the Himalayan rock of its mountains.
It does make one wonder what George Bush's last words might be. Perhaps: Continue that war!








The special composi-tion of the Dead Sea waters also affords unique opportunities for research.



Five miles out, nearly to the centre of the Dead Sea, an international team of scientists has been drilling beneath the seabed to extract a record of climate change and earthquake history stretching back half a million years.

The preliminary evidence and clues found halfway through the 40-day project are more than the team could have hoped for. The scientists did not expect to pull up a wood fragment that was roughly 4,00,000 years old. Nor did they expect to come across a layer of gravel from a mere 50,000 to 1,00,000 years ago. That finding would seem to indicate that what is now the middle of the Dead Sea — which is really a big salt lake — was once a shore, and that the water level had managed to recover naturally.

"We knew the lake went through high levels and lower levels," said Prof Zvi Ben-Avraham, a leading Dead Sea expert and the driving force behind the project, "but we did not know it got so low." Prof Ben-Avraham, a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and chief of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Centre at Tel Aviv University, had been pushing for such a drilling operation for 10 years.

Global importance

The idea was to bore under the sea and extract a continuous geological core that, once analysed, could supply information of global importance on natural processes and environmental changes.

The Dead Sea sits in the largest and deepest basin in the world. The scientists chose to drill at its centre because they assumed that the sediment that had accumulated there had always been under water, the better preserved for having never been exposed to the atmosphere.

The special composition of the Dead Sea waters also affords unique opportunities for research. A special mineral found in the lake can be used for dating much further back in time than the more common radiocarbon method allows, giving the scientists an unprecedented insight into the history of natural forces in the region.

Finally, the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme, which is based in Germany and is the only organisation in the world capable of conducting such an operation, agreed to take on the $2.5 million project as a co-sponsor, together with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The Israeli-led enterprise involves 40 scientists from Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and the US. 

With its surface now almost 1,400 feet below sea level and its waters reaching a depth of 1,240 feet, the Dead Sea offers a unique environment for research that may also contribute to the world's knowledge of human cultural evolution.

The first borehole, completed earlier this month, reached almost 1,500 feet below the seabed until the drill head gave out. The experts will log data from it before starting on a second hole.

The first hole has produced scores of plastic tubes filled with continuous segments of sediment. They will be sent for analysis at the University of Bremen in Germany. 

Uli Harms, the executive secretary of the international drilling programme, said he thought the hole had penetrated through the sediment from four ice ages. 

The project has presented a logistical challenge. The scientists have been working on the platform around the clock in 12-hour shifts, taken there and back at sunrise and sunset in a small boat, the only one on the lake. Because of the high concentration of salt in the unusually buoyant water, the vessel needs constant maintenance.

"We are making history here," said Gideon Amit, of the National Institute of Oceanography, who is responsible for the marine operations. The wildly varying layers of salt and mud represented dry periods and wet ones, respectively. A tiny fragment of wood was found stuck in some mud, indicating that it was probably from a tree carried here by a flood.

The gravel, similar to that found today on the shores of the Sinai Peninsula, may mean that the waters in this basin had sunk much lower in the past than had been previously thought. In light of contemporary concern over the drop in the Dead Sea's waters, mainly due to human intervention, the scientists found some room for hope, because the lake had reached even lower levels in history and managed to bounce back.

There was a momentary hint of another mystery at dawn on a recent Friday, when the scientists on the drilling platform announced that they had just registered a temperature of 104 degrees inside pipes about 1,300 feet down, a finding much higher than expected.
The reading gave rise to thoughts of volcanic activity, right in the area where Sodom and Gomorrah — the biblical cities described in Genesis as having been destroyed by God  — were believed to have stood.

A later reading, however, showed a lower temperature, within the range that had been anticipated.







The wife, in anger, had switched off her phone and I could not help the guy.


Every word written here, I swear, is truth and nothing but the truth and I am not swearing like our politicians do. They swear to preserve the constitution and then go about shredding it.

I knew this guy, the way he was walking around the park, was an ex-soldier and to test my assumption, I said, "Ram, Ram, sahib", a traditional way of greetings in the Indian army. He responded in the same manner and we got talking and discovered that we both had defence services background. He is an ex-army havildar and I, a former air force officer. Soon he started addressing me sahib, and whenever we met we would jog and walk together sharing our experiences of those days.

One morning, I bumped into him after a long gap and we set our course together recapping the interim. A telephone call on his mobile interrupted our conversation and I knew that he was talking to his wife who was quizzing him about his whereabouts and was not willing to believe that he was, as usual, walking around the park. The reason: His wife had heard some women giggling away in the background and had concluded that there was some hanky panky going on. She would not buy his defence that there were college girls around the park. When nothing worked, he told her to talk to me, the sahib he had often mentioned about at home.

The line went dead the moment I said 'Hello'. Suddenly, a brave soldier who had fought wars and had been decorated for bravery was on retreat mode, a recommended defence strategy followed in woefully unequal battle conditions. I could empathise with him. We spent some time discussing ways that would carry conviction that he was stating the truth. Knowing his predicament and assessing the situation to be grave, I offered to call his wife, if he permitted, to tell her that both of us were indeed together, doing nothing fishy but just exercising. Like it happens with spouses' numbers, he had to look at the call log to recall his wife's number. I dialled it from my mobile phone. The wife, in anger, had switched off her phone and I could not help the guy.

Our pace slowed down and I offered to accompany him to his home with him, if needed, but he declined my offer. I asked him how he would get out of the mess. Like an honest soldier, he said, may be, one day, he would get his wife to the park in the morning to see that college girls do come between classes, giggle and have fun.

We parted company and I came home and narrated the incident to you know who. Response: I am sure there must be some previous history that the wife suspected him. Pronounced guilty, without evidence.

May be that is why many soldiers opt for repeat field area postings.








The French arms deal is a symptom of the West's wider impotence, in the face of an increasingly belligerent Iran and Syria.


Talkbacks (2)

Defense officials voiced concern at the weekend over France's apparent willingness to sell 100 HOT antitank missiles to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

One of the most advanced of its kind in the world, the HOT missile has a range of up to 4 km. and the ability to penetrate about 1,000 mm of armor. It can be installed on both vehicles and helicopters.

Israel's concern that these missiles will fall into the hands of Hizbullah and be used against the IDF are acute.

The Second Lebanon War underlined the vulnerability of Israeli tanks to such weaponry.

But it would be unfair to single out France as the sole bad guy. The French arms deal is a symptom of the West's wider impotence, if not disingenuous capitulation, in the face of an increasingly belligerent Iran and Syria, two states which unabashedly continue to strengthen Hizbullah at the expense of Lebanese sovereignty and regional stability.

The US and other western countries have argued that strengthening the LAF via military aid and arms sales promotes Lebanese sovereignty and independence in the face of Syrian and Iranian tutelage. This explains a US decision last month to lift a three-month freeze on $100 million in military aid that includes armored personnel carriers, helicopters, M-16 rifles, night-vision scopes and advanced training for LAF forces.

In an interview with the Lebanese daily An-Nahar just a few days before the freeze was lifted, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the following: "It has been our longstanding policy to support the LAF. The LAF helps to ensure stability and protect the people of Lebanon. It is a truly national institution and a strong symbol of national unity, which includes members of all of Lebanon's diverse faiths and communities. It is representative and accountable.


"We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to maintain this support, which we believe is in the best interests of the Lebanese people and contributes to stability in Lebanon and in the region."

The basis for Clinton's optimism is dubious, to put it mildly. Can she truly draw a confident distinction between the LAF and the ever-more powerful Hizbullah? Is there a barrier between them that Western-supplied arms can be guaranteed not to cross? More fundamentally, do America and France truly believe they can begin to counter Hizbullah's rapacious appetites by providing a few hundred million dollars in military aid? BOGGED DOWN in Iraq and Afghanistan, perceived as over-extended in this region, its deterrent capacity eroding, the US is deemed highly unlikely to assert itself effectively in Lebanon. Hizbullah, meanwhile, enjoying massive Iranian backing as well as grassroots support from the large Shi'ite populace, continues to consolidate its military and political hegemony. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed after the Second Lebanon War, which calls for the disarmament of the Hizbullah, has been totally ignored.

Summing up IDF estimates, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren warned recently that, "Hizbullah today now has four times as many rockets as it had during the 2006 Lebanon war. These rockets are longer-range. Every city in Israel is within range right now, including Eilat."

The IDF has released information to bolster its claim that Hizbullah is storing these rockets beneath hospitals, schools and homes.

The once courageous Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, whose war-hardened Druse community fought the Party of God to a standstill in May 2008 – when Hizbullah nearly sparked a civil war in response to attempts to close down its satellite TV station Al Manar – have realized it would be suicidal to rely on the backing of the US or "moderate" Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia in a standoff against the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis.

King Abdullah of Jordan, with a healthy survival instinct that recognizes the real strong horse in the region, has shown signs of a desire to warm relations. He recently received an official invitation to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now Hizbullah, with no one standing in its way, may not even have to resort to violence to persuade Hariri's government not to cooperate with a UN tribunal that is expected to find senior Hizbullah officials responsible for the 2005 assassination of the prime minister's father, Rafik Hariri.

Against this background, France's sale of 100 HOT missiles is a dismaying but minor aspect of the major problem: With western influence waning, Lebanon is losing the last vestiges of its sovereignty, and falling prey to the Syrian-Iranian effort to realign the balance of power in the Middle East.








Not only is the weather below zero in the US capital, so too is the temperature of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.


Talkbacks (4)

Haim Saban has a dream: Help the Israelis and Palestinians adopt a pragmatic vision that will advance the goal of peace between the two nations.

Saban has for the past seven years been convening the Saban Forum – a fascinating gathering of influential government officials, academics and journalists from Israel and the US. Last week, at the Forum's latest meeting in Washington, he added a surprising innovation: The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, conducted an open and candid dialogue, moderated by a prominent local television personality.

I was present to hear the discussion between the two. So too were other forum invitees including Knesset members, senior administration officials, and other skilled peace envoys like Tony Blair, George Mitchell, Terje Rød-Larsen and Javier Solana. I am sure all the listeners felt, as did I, a strong feeling of optimism. This is how we would like to see the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue conducted: rationally, in a friendly atmosphere, free of past traumas, and focused on the benefits any agreement will have for millions of people.

Livni and Fayyad were cautious not to enter the minefield of the sensitive core issues. The exhaustive grappling with these deep disagreements cannot be handled in a public forum. But even in the absence of this practical dimension – on which, of course, the chances of a historical agreement will stand or fall – the spirit of the dialogue that the two leaders conducted was characterized by great hope and good will.


THE PROFOUND problem is that real life does not take place in the non-binding format of the Saban Forum. In reality, the wheels of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, which is nearing the end of its second decade, are deeply stuck. Any ill-considered move by any of the three leaders at the wheel – the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians – will only sink the diplomatic vehicle deeper in the mud. The only way to extricate it is with a powerful tow-truck.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave the opening address at the Saban Forum, made it explicitly clear in her speech that "if needed," she would offer bridging proposals – the towing cable – aimed to prevent new deadlock when the talks restart – to drag the peace talks vehicle back to the main road.

Despite the determined rhetoric of the secretary of state, the majority of the forum's participants were skeptical about the prospects of the negotiations, even if they are resumed in the near future in some form or another. In their opinion, there is only one common denominator between the Israelis, Palestinians and the Americans today: A lack of will to pay the price of a brave peace process.

Netanyahu, the way he sees it, has managed to safely avoid the danger of an additional moratorium, and is no rush to shake up his government again. To be sure, his coalition has to deal with mid-term troubles that will accompany it as long as the various coalition parties feel the political need to demonstrate fealty to their constituents.

But there is no real threat to the coalition's stability on the horizon. Those who hoped, as I did, that the prime minister would adopt a more moderate agenda than that around which the rightwing coalition coalesced two years ago – aided by Kadima's readiness to provide a parliamentary safety net – have been disappointed. Netanyahu's strategic choice indicates that even if negotiations are held in the near future on the truly fundamental issues (security, borders, refugees, Jerusalem), there will be no real breakthrough.

The picture is no more promising in the Palestinian camp. The last thing Mahmoud Abbas wants are American compromise proposals. It's likely these would be closer to the Palestinian stance than that of Israel, but agreeing to them would place him in the position he has so skillfully avoided ever since he succeeded Yasser Arafat: required to tell his people that they must abandon their illusion of the right of return of refugees to the state of Israel.

No less troubling is the reality staring at us from Washington. During the Saban Forum, I spoke with local friends who are experts in gauging the mood shifts in the Democratic administration, the Republican Congress and American public opinion.

Their assessments were identical: President Obama has despaired of his failed diplomatic adventure in our region. His main priority now will be getting re-elected for a second term. The lesson the Democratic Party has learned from its recent beating in the congressional elections is to focus all its efforts on the domestic arena – on the faltering economy, the deepening recession and the dismaying unemployment numbers.

Therefore, even if the US government does not go as far as to adopt the repeated calls of the New York Times' Thomas Friedman to leave the quarreling children of the Holy Land alone, those presidential energies and attention directed at our region will be focused solely on managing the conflict rather than solving it.

This is the view from Washington. Not only is the weather in the American capital freezing (minus seven degrees), but so too is the diplomatic process between us and our Middle East neighbors.

The writer is a former Kadima minister.








A recent Pew poll on public attitudes toward Islamism in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey shows that the radical Islamist side is winning.


There's a lot of interesting material in the Pew Foundation's latest poll of the Middle East, a survey that focuses on attitudes toward Islamism and revolutionary Islamist groups. The analysis that accompanies the poll, however, is not very good, so here is mine.

For example, in evaluating attitudes toward Hamas and Hizbullah, Pew says that they receive "mixed ratings from Muslim publics [while] opinions of al-Qaida and its leader,Osama bin Laden, are consistently negative."

Really? Well, in Jordan, for example, 55 percent say they like Hizbullah (against 43% negative) while 60% are favorable (compared to 34% negative) toward Hamas. Yet this is even more impressive than the figures indicate. Jordan is a staunchly Sunni country whose government opposes the ambitions of Iran and Syria.

Hizbullah is a Shi'ite group which also is an agent of Iran and Syria. For a majority to praise that organization – conscious of strong government disapproval – is phenomenal.

The figures for Hamas can be more easily explained by the Palestinian connection. Yet the difference between the two in terms of public opinion isn't that great. And it also suggests that support for Fatah and the Palestinian Authority must be very low in Jordan.

Remember that the majority of Jordanians are also of Palestinian origin.

Why do people support these groups? Obviously, one reason is that they fight Israel but sympathy for the revolutionary Islamist aspect of Hamas and Hizbullah must be a huge factor here. Indeed, there is not necessarily any conflict between these two aspects. The Islamists are considered to be better fighters than the nationalists, while making war for the next generation is more attractive to those backing Hamas and Hizbullah than is making peace. Finally, let's not forget that both of these groups are very anti-Western and anti- American.

BUT NOW let's look at al-Qaida. In Jordan, 34% are favorable toward that terrorist group while 62% are negative. That outcome, however, contrary to Pew's spin on the numbers, is not at all encouraging.

Remember that al-Qaida carried out the September 11 attacks. Moreover, it has conducted terrorist attacks in neighboring Iraq and, most important of all, in Jordan itself. The fact that one-third of Jordanians – whose country is generally considered the most pro-Western in the Arab world – like al-Qaida is chilling indeed. Then, too, this preference cannot be attributed to anti-Israel sentiment.

So one-third of Jordan's people favor the most extremist terrorist group, even though it has murdered Jordanians, and roughly half or more like revolutionary Islamist organization that are clients of their own country's nominally biggest threats. What does that say about the hopes for moderation and stability? Turning to Egypt, "only" 30% like Hizbullah (66% don't like), 49% are favorable toward Hamas (48% are negative) and 20% smile (72% frown) at al-Qaida. This is more encouraging. But remember that not only is Egypt solidly Sunni but the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the leaders of Islamism in Egypt, don't like Hizbullah because it is a Shi'ite group.

The Egyptian government has accused Hizbullah of trying to foment terrorism in Egypt. The Egyptian government also views Hamas as a threat.

Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn't tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.

IN LEBANON attitudes divide along sectarian lines.

While 94% of Shi'ites support Hizbullah (only 5% are negative), 84% of Sunnis are unfavorable (only 12% are positive). Christians are 87% negative (and only 10% positive). This shows why Hizbullah cannot just take over Lebanon itself, but of course Lebanon is largely being taken over by Iranian-Syrian power plus its local collaborators, of which Hizbullah is only one.

What are the Lebanese figures on al-Qaida? Three percent positive and 94% negative! Why? Because the Christians and Sunnis don't want that kind of regime, while the Shi'ites, who tend to support Hizbullah's Islamism, knows that al-Qaida hates Shi'ites.

Finally, here's a word on Turkey where public opinion is the opposite of that prevailing in Jordan. In Turkey, only 5% like Hizbullah (74% negative), just 9% like Hamas (67% unfavorable) and merely 4% are positive (74% are hostile) on al-Qaida.

Yet the current Turkish Islamist regime is a big supporter of Hamas and Hizbullah. Clearly, supporting revolutionary Islamist groups – either through Islamism or the fact they are fighting Israel – is simply not popular in Turkey. Hamas and Hizbullah don't do much better than al-Qaida.

So, Turkey's people are more moderate than its government, while Egypt's and Jordan's are more radical than theirs.

Let's look at two other indicators of attitudes: Islamism versus "modernizers" and attitudes toward Islamic punishments. The first point of interest in terms of the great ideological battle is that large proportions of people in these countries deny that such a struggle even exists. Only 20% in Jordan, 31% in Egypt, 53% in Lebanon,and 52% in Turkey acknowledge that there is a struggle.

Why is this? One can't definitively tell. I suspect they may want to avoid taking sides since they live in countries where democracy doesn't really prevail and authorities punish dissenters. Or perhaps they think that the Islamists are more capable of conducting modernization or that the current regime is sufficiently Islamic.

Nevertheless, those who said that such a struggle does exist (remember this is between only 20% in Jordan to 53% in Lebanon) took the following sides: Jordan, 48-38 modernizers; Egypt, 59-27 Islamists; Lebanon, 84-15 modernists; Turkey, 74-11 modernists.


OTHER THAN the horrifying figures in Turkey, which one day might be cited to explain an Islamist revolution there, the numbers in Jordan are pretty scary as well. Almost 40% favor an Islamist regime and they know that doesn't mean the current monarchy.

How to explain the other two countries? In Lebanon, Hizbullah is seen as a champion of the Shi'ite community. It is supported for "ethnic" reasons more than because people want an Islamic republic. Of course, Sunnis have to take into account that if Lebanon were to become an Islamic republic it would be a Shi'ite one.

As for Turkey, while the ruling AKP government has a hard core of supporters at roughly 30%, even most of these people don't want an Islamist state, just a more Islamic-oriented one.

Finally there is the attitude toward Islamic punishments.

Again, the outcome in Egypt and Jordan is very revealing. In Egypt, 82% favor the punishment of stoning for those who commit adultery, 77% would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery and 84% favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

I would expect that these attitudes don't differ much from public opinion in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

The figures for Jordan are roughly the same: 70% (stoning), 58% (whipping/amputation), 86% (death for converts).

Again, the numbers for Lebanon and Turkey are quite different: Lebanon, 23% (stoning), 13% (whipping/amputation), 6% (death for converts); Turkey, 16% (stoning); 13% (whipping/amputation), 5% (death for converts). Yet Turkey and Lebanon are ruled by regimes which are in the Islamist camp, that is, they view themselves as close to the Iran-Syria- Hamas-Hizbullah alliance.

What all of this analysis shows is that a future Islamist revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible. So overwhelming is the support for this movement that there is nothing the West can do except ensure the current governments remain in power. As for Lebanon, there is a strong basis for resisting incorporation into the Iran-Syria empire, and in Turkey – where there are free elections – the current regime might well be overthrown.

Remember that Egypt, Jordan and other Arab governments, notably Saudi Arabia, are so opposed to Iran not only because they hate that country's non-Arab, Shi'ite, radical Islamist standpoint, but also since they fear its growing power will set off revolutions within their own countries.

The bottom line is that in all four of these countries the radical Islamist side is winning. And the West is basically asleep in recognizing that threat.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.








Netanyahu may see himself as the old British PM, warning of dangers of Iran, but in reality, he resembles one of least successful premiers.


Talkbacks (2)

Even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will succeed in passing the state budget at the end of the month, he can start counting down the days. Unless he, two years too late, finally decides to act like a leader and seeks to articulate and then implement a vision for the country, his coalition will shatter along the numerous fault lines running between the different parties.

Last week's battle between Shas and Israel Beiteinu over the validity of IDF conversions was the first skirmish and there are plenty more to come, particularly along religious-secular issues.

Labor, meanwhile, will belatedly realize that its continued membership in a government that has not only done nothing to advance the peace process, but has actually torpedoed it, is unconscionable. Indeed, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer's sudden support for Amram Mitzna as a suitable candidate for the Labor leadership is a sign that the party is beginning to stir from its slumber.


There is, of course, a certain irony in Ben-Eliezer's support for Mitzna, given the fact that he lost out to him for the Labor leadership in 2002 and then proceeded to make the new leader's life a misery until Mitzna abandoned the role after leading Labor to its second worst electoral performance in 2003.

In terms of his personal qualities, there can be no doubting Mitzna's stature: A truly modest man with high moral standards, he was an outstanding IDF major-general who successfully made the switch to civilian life, winning two elections as mayor of Haifa before becoming Labor leader. After quitting national politics, he then ran the Negev town of Yeroham for the past five years as an appointed mayor, getting it back on its feet following the incompetence of the town's elected administration. But the question still remains as to whether he has the political cunning and strength of character to lead a national party as disputatious as Labor.

THE REASON for all this sudden ferment in the coalition is twofold. Firstly, it's the natural state of a government halfway through its nominal four-year term.

Once our politicians realize there's less than two years to go, they begin looking toward the next election and start staking out positions to strengthen both their own standing within the party and to differentiate their party from the others in the coalition.

Needless to say, this has a deleterious effect on coalition discipline. Differences of views between the parties turn into irreconcilable (at least until after the election) fractures, and the government either falls or the prime minister decides he can no longer face his so-called allies around the cabinet table and schedules an early election.

The second reason is the absence of leadership.

Netanyahu might see himself as a Churchillian figure, warning of the dangers of Iran, but in reality, the prime minister he most resembles is Yitzhak Shamir, the least successful and most forgotten of all Israeli premiers, although, to give him his due, he made one very brave and decidedly out-of-character decision: not to retaliate when Iraq fired Scud missiles at the country during the First Gulf War.

But aside from that one decision not to undermine the US-led coalition by independently attacking Baghdad, Shamir was a disaster. His policy of obstructing any attempt to make peace (most notably Shimon Peres' 1987 London Agreement with Jordan's King Hussein), coupled with his enthusiasm for settlement in the West Bank, led to strained ties with the US and, later, the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Ultimately, Shamir's intransigence was of no benefit, he finally had to agree to the 1991 international peace conference in Madrid, seen by many as the stepping stone to the Oslo process.

Like Shamir, Netanyahu wants to block rather than promote any attempt to make peace. Following in the footsteps of another disgraced premier, Golda Meir, Netanyahu fails to understand that a diplomatic freeze will eventually lead to disaster. On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the country was enjoying a period of economic prosperity, just as today the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is breaking records almost daily.

But in the absence of peace, this sense of well-being is illusory, as Meir found out to the country's huge cost. When Netanyahu returned to the premiership a decade after his first term, he said he had learned the lessons of the past and was ready to lead us into a safe and secure future. Halfway into his second term, he has shown no such leadership and his premiership so far has been one, massive waste of time.

And time is the one luxury Israel does not enjoy if it wishes to remain a Jewish and democratic country.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.








We need to care about what they think. That's what 'hasbara' is all about: understanding how to explain our policies and positions.


Since I began writing this column, I've received quite a few e-mails from readers, both agreeing and disagreeing with my views. On several occasions, derogatory comments were also part of the equation. It's all part of the discourse, I guess. The single comment that made me cringe was actually one that most wouldn't consider too disparaging as the reader basically bemoaned that I "care too much about what the goyim think."

There are two reasons I found that remark particularly distasteful.

First of all, I have come to loathe the use of the term "goyim" in the modern vernacular. Dating back centuries, the word meant "the enemy" – the non-Jews who were constantly persecuting our people. I'm more familiar with the expression with Jewish, vaudevillian humorous connotations (What? You're putting mayo on a knish? What a goyish thing to do!). Unfortunately, for many, it has morphed into a derogatory term for non-believers as if they are to be discounted and looked down upon.

There is no better example for this than the "rabbis' letter," the recent controversial ruling by dozens of the country's top municipal rabbis calling on Jews not to rent or sell properties to goyim.

Despite the fact that this edict was condemned left, right and center, most of the signatories have yet to remove their names from this venomous document. This backward way of thinking has no place in modern day Israel but having it come out of the mouths (or pens) of rabbis, those who are supposed to be the wise men of the Jewish people, is an abomination.

What happened to the concept of "or la'goyim" (light to the nations), one of the few good idioms which came out of this antiquated word? Aren't we supposed to set an example for all other nations to follow? 


JUST AS disgraceful are the people trying to justify the letter. Pointing out that in some Muslim nations Jews have been and are still persecuted does not validate the ruling.

If anything, the opposite is true.

We are a democracy, while almost all Muslim countries are dictatorships.

We must treat all of our citizens equally both in the eyes of the law and on a normative basis. How many countries forced Jews throughout the years to live in ghettos, denying them the right to live among the rest of the population? Is this really the example we want to set? The second issue I had was really a derivative from the first. We need to care about what the goyim think. That's what hasbara is all about: understanding how to explain our policies and positions to the rest of the world.

Israel does not exist in a vacuum.

We do have friends in the world and we need their support to survive in every aspect of our existence.

All those who deal with public diplomacy are aware of that, but many segments of the public itself are in denial. Israel is under more scrutiny than almost any other country and sweeping things under the rug is not an option. We cannot look away from any and all forms of prejudice. I believe that most of the country is disgusted by discrimination on such a level. To make matters worse, it's this kind of thinking that serves a severe blow in our efforts to win over hearts and minds.

The "wise men" who signed the rabbis' letter write that Jews who rent or sell to goyim should be ostracized as they have caused harm to the Jewish way of life. The irony is that these rabbis who decided to put this bigoted edict to paper are the real threat to our way of life, our existence and are increasing our chances of becoming the pariah of the world.

The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya'sSchool of Communications and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.








Visit by Kubilius presents an important opportunity to confront the Lithuanians on their shameful approach to Holocaust issues.


The visit this week of Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius will present a difficult foreign policy dilemma. In recent years, Israel has forged increasingly strong ties with the new Eastern European members of NATO and the European Union, whose stances on Middle East issues has generally been more supportive and understanding than those of their Western European counterparts.

Desperate for political and diplomatic support in international forums, and especially in the extremely important EU, Israel has been reluctant to criticize the postcommunist countries for their attitudes and policies on a wide range of Holocaustrelated issues.

One of the most important of these has been the campaign being waged by these countries, especially by the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to promote the canard that the crimes of communism are the equivalent of those of the Nazis.

While the victims of the former certainly deserve not only our sympathy but also a determined effort that those responsible be brought to justice, both of which are sadly lacking and are the cause of considerable "Holocaust envy," the fact remains that the false historical equivalency poses a very grave danger not only to the accepted narrative of World War II and the Shoah, but also to the future of Holocaust commemoration and education.


Thus, for example, one of the main demands of the Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, the manifesto of the campaign of false equivalency, is to designate August 23, the date of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact, as a joint commemoration day for the victims of all totalitarian regimes, i.e.

Nazism and communism, and thereby indicate that the communists bear equal responsibility for the atrocities and fatalities of World War II and the Holocaust, a step sure to ultimately lead to the elimination of a special memorial day for the victims of the Shoah.

NO COUNTRY has done more to promote this false equivalency than Lithuania. Vilnius has been pushing for the adoption of resolutions along these lines in every possible international forum, and has unfortunately had some success, but this tendency has been promoted with a vengeance at home. Thus, for example, its campaign to prosecute Jewish anti-Nazi Soviet partisans for supposed war crimes to create a false symmetry between crimes by Lithuanians against Jews and those by Jews against Lithuanians. Or its efforts to hide or severely minimize the extensive scope of Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes and artificially inflate the number of Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations to counterbalance the huge number of local Holocaust perpetrators.

Add to this its abysmal failure to prosecute Lithuanian Nazi murderers, not a single one of whom has been punished since independence, and the passage of laws criminalizing the denial of communist "genocide," a term which had to be redefined by the Lithuanian parliament to fit the description of the crimes committed by the communists in Lithuania. Or the strange tolerance vis-a-vis neo-fascist demonstrations in the main avenue of Vilnius during which marchers yelled "Juden raus," as if the elderly Holocaust survivors who chose to trust the nascent Lithuanian democracy needed a reminder of their traumatic past. Or the shameful dismissal of world-renowned Yiddish expert Prof.

Dovid Katz, co-founder of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and a lecturer at Vilnius University for the past eleven years, in the wake of his courageous public support for the beleaguered Jewish Holocaust survivors falsely accused of war crimes.

And to add insult to injury, Holocaust education in Lithuania was turned over exclusively to the main promoters of the Prague Declaration and the equivalency canard – the Historical Commission to Investigate the Crimes of the Occupations, both of them, as if there were equally evil, the Center for the Study of Genocide, in whose museum in the center of Vilnius, there is no mention of the Shoah, but quite a few anti-Semitic cartoons emphasizing the Jewish origin of various communists, and whose few publications on the Holocaust relate only to Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations, as well as the local Tolerance Center, which is controlled by a politician of Jewish origin, Emanuelis Zingeris whose Jewish roots serve primarily to give legitimacy to all of the above.

Over the past few years, Israel has done relatively little to protest or effectively combat the steadily-worsening situation in Lithuania. As we all know, we face very serious threats on multiple fronts and need all the help we can get. But there are times and issues which must, as a matter of principle and national pride, be dealt with in a forthright manner.

The time has come to take the Lithuanians and the other Eastern European countries to task on Holocaust-related issues in a sophisticated, diplomatic and effective manner that will protect the historical narrative of the Shoah and help thwart the equivalency campaign before it destroys 60 years of efforts to convince the world of the special importance of the Holocaust and its historical uniqueness. This is our obligation not only to the victims, but to ourselves and our descendants. This week's visit by Lithuanian Prime Minister Kubilius is such an opportunity which hopefully will not be squandered.

The writer is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.








The closing of Palestinian Media Watch channel is one example of how the website's policies are inconsistent and only selectively enforced.


Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court once said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

This is often used to justify "more speech" as the only solution to "hate speech."

In November, as parliamentarians and experts from over 40 countries gathered in Canada for the second meeting of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism, there was a growing concern at rising anti-Semitism, and an increased acceptance that more than sunlight was needed in response.

At the gathering, I presented as part of an experts panel on hate speech online. One point I raised was the problem of YouTube videos that do not by themselves constitute hate, but which attract hateful comments.


An example I gave was a YouTube clip of Sacha Baron Cohen's song "Throw the Jew Down the Well."

The most popular comment on the video the morning I presented, as voted by YouTube viewers, read: "Lets [sic] genocide them by burning them! But this time, lets [sic] actually do it."

Should Sacha Baron Cohen or YouTube take this clip down if this is what it inspires? Should the comments be closed to viewers? The answer is unclear, but allowing this to continue is not a good thing and seeing how popular it is leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

THERE IS also a clear problem with hate groups, such as "theytnazism" on YouTube.

I reported this to YouTube in February, and on November 22 – 10 months later – it was still active. The group includes a "list of people we hate and we want to kill." It was a short list of "1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians."

I then included it in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organisation in France earlier this month and suddenly the group was gone. I doubt that was a coincidence, especially as the rest of my collection of similar groups (reported at the same time) are still active. One of these, with giant swastikas in the background, declares it is God's will to murder all non-Aryans.

The problem is not that YouTube never steps in. The problem is they are liable to step in only when there is public exposure of content they wrongly ignored, or when political pressure is applied.

YouTube also seems to have started giving in to pressure to remove videos and channels that expose and educate against hate.

A few months ago, for example, efforts were made to shut down the YouTube presence of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The institute provides the English-speaking world with insight into the Mideast media. Some of the exposure is not welcome by those who say one thing in English to a Western audience and another thing at home.

The MEMRI debacle seems to have been resolved, but YouTube is now going after Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) which fulfills a similar role, focused exclusively on the Palestinian media.

PMW monitors, translates and shares examples of incitement. It was PMW that exposed the use of a Mickey Mouse character inciting hate and violence on the Hamas TV children's show "The Pioneers of Tomorrow."

That story created shock waves around the world, leading to discussions in the Western mainstream media and at the UN of the link between incitement in the media and terrorism.

PMW's violation appears to be that it was posting "hate material."

There is no doubt that it was. However, like MEMRI, that material was not shared for the purpose of incitement, but to expose and counter the spread of hate. Some commentators have speculated that it is not the hate against Jews, Israelis and Americans – as shown in MEMRI and PMW videos – that is the problem, but rather the fact that the videos might cause a backlash against those promoting such hate.

Any argument that uses free speech to prevent the exposure of hate speech is inherently deeply flawed.

YouTube needs to get its act together.


What it has created is a haven for hate, devoid of sunlight. Its policy seems inconsistent, ineffective and only selectively enforced. It is working against community expectations and the public interest. Ignoring illegal content, while removing the very sunlight needed to expose those spreading hate, creates a volatile environment.

Social media is built on concepts of security and trust. When these start to go, opportunities for competitors are created. It may be too early to call this the beginning of the end for YouTube, but unless it gets its policies right, and properly enforces them, we may well see this megalith begin to slide downhill.

The writer is an expert in social media and online hate. He is director of the Community Internet Engagement Project and Co-Chair of the Online Anti-Semitism working group for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.











The cabinet's approval of a sweeping 'reform' of the state's horse-trading relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community reflects the cabinet's capitulation to the political demands of the Haredim.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday asked the cabinet to approve a sweeping "reform" of the state's horse-trading relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community. His plan involved granting the Haredim an exemption from the draft, and a future cut in the stipends of married yeshiva students, in the spirit of the ruling of the High Court of Justice.


The resolution that was passed reflected the cabinet's capitulation to the political demands of the Haredim, who want to share the state's resources without sharing its burdens. Due to opposition from a few ministers, including those closest to him, however, Netanyahu won approval for only part of his plan, and did not submit the proposals relating to the draft to a vote because of "lack of time."


In its attempt to perpetuate the distorted arrangements under which the Haredim are exempt from serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and married yeshiva students who do not work receive state support, the premier's plan violates the principle of equality. Even worse is the fact that he attempted to camouflage the true nature of the "reform" by creating the misleading impression that it would increase the burdens shouldered by his political partners in Shas and United Torah Judaism in various areas of life in the country. The draft exemption was thus disguised as "one year of national civilian service," whose details are still murky. Maintaining the stipends to married yeshiva students, in violation of the High Court, was presented as a cut that will be implemented in another five years - long after the end of the current government.


Haredi politicians have always manipulated Israel's governments for their own ends, exploiting the fact that they hold the political balance of power in order to free their constituencies from sharing the burdens: For example, the Haredim have been liberated from studying core subjects in their schools, from compulsory military service and from the need to work - while living off the public's largesse in the form of stipends and allowances. Now even many members of the community recognize that the current situation cannot go on because the national economy will collapse under the growing burden.


But Netanyahu is not aiding them - despite the fact that he understands full well the need for the Haredim to enter the workforce. As finance minister he did not shrink from cutting allowances to Haredim, so that the overly generous system of entitlements would stop being an incentive for idleness. But now Netanyahu is willing to do anything so that he and his government can survive.


And the price for that is being paid by the young Israelis who serve in the army and struggle to pay their university tuition fees, along the way to a life of work and carrying the burden of supporting themselves.










Attaining a permanent settlement with the Palestinians appears to be about as likely as the opening of an Iranian embassy in "united" Jerusalem. Almost no day goes by without some other country recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. According to the WikiLeaks documents, even the Germans, Israel's steadfast supporters in Europe, have lost their faith in the peaceful intentions of Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Even loyal partner Ehud Barak and Nobel Peace laureate Shimon Peres have ceased to praise the "new Bibi."


There is even the hope that the Labor ministers - who constitute the shriveled fig leaf of the prime minister - have discovered the emotion called shame and the option called opposition.


And then, just when it seemed that the deterioration in Israel's international standing and the cracks at home would open the eyes of the Israeli public, the Jewish-American Superman soars in the skies over the Capital Hill.


He shows the Jewish-Israelis that there is no need to be frightened by the U.S. president, that there is no need to be unnerved by the Europeans and that the United Nations remains insignificant.


The Superman (or Superwoman ) strikes a winning blow against the claim of the "defeatists" that it is impossible to conduct negotiations over a piece of land while building on it at the same time. This figure proves that Israel can block U.S. efforts to advance negotiations toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, and then block the efforts of the international community to recognize such state. Our current Superman sells the illusion that the Jewish and Democratic state can exists indefinitely in the Middle East without bringing the violent conflict to an end.


This Superman is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman. This Jewish Democrat from California - with the help of Jewish Representatives Garry Ackerman, Eliot Engel and Shelley Berkley - got a resolution passed late last week, which demands that the administration veto any proposal at the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state that is not the result of an agreement with Israel.


The resolution, cobbled together at the offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC ), reproaches the Palestinians for their refusal to return to negotiations and demands that they cease efforts to gain recognition from other countries. There is not a single word about Israel's refusal to freeze the settlements during the negotiations. And nothing about Netanyahu's evasiveness in putting forward his position on the issue of permanent borders.


The initiative in the House does not stem from ideological motives or a political worldview. These are not members of the messianic right wing, who believe that the entire Land of Israel belongs only to the nation of Israel, and who support the expansion of settlements.


Last January, Berman accepted an invitation to speak before the forum of Friends of Peace Now in the United States, and praised the reliable information on the settlements that the organization has provided him. The veteran Congressman warned at the time that if Israel continues to usurp territory, it will lose its Jewish image or cease being a democracy.


The dominant view among the centrist group of the Jewish community - that "we support every Israeli government, right or wrong" - reminds one of a situation in which a parent finds out that his child is addicted to drugs and hands him his credit card.


The activists of Peace Now and the moderate group J Street, are called "self-hating Jews" by members of the Jewish establishment. People at AIPAC and their allies in Congress are, on the other hand, "self-loving Jews." Indeed, they love themselves. Especially themselves.


Jews who truly love Israel go to synagogues in New York and tell people that if Jerusalem will not be the capital of two nations, it will never be recognized as Israel's capital.


Jews who love themselves may know there is no two state solution without dividing Jerusalem, but they prefer to receive enthusiastic applause when making the empty declaration that "a unified Jerusalem is Israel's capital forever."


Furthermore, Jews (and not only Jews ) who love Israel sign a petition in favor of lifting the futile blockade on the Gaza Strip. Jewish who love themselves assail the "self-hating" Jew, Richard Goldstone, who dared to point out the folly of Operation Cast Lead.


A Jew who loves himself deeply does not harm the Jewish state. A Jew who truly loves himself does everything possible in order to save Israel from itself.









"How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?" asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [speaking at the National Bible Contest for Adults]. "We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors." He added: "Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The State of Israel rejects these sayings." ("Netanyahu slams top rabbis' call to forbid renting homes to Arabs," Haaretz, Dec. 8 )


The prime minister spoke properly and correctly when he came out against the racist, despicable call by municipal chief rabbis not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs. But if the legislation concerning community admission committees' right to accept or reject potential members passes its upcoming second and third readings - the message promoted by those rabbis will receive additional validation from the Knesset. If they don't vigorously oppose that bill and try to prevent its passage, the Knesset, the government and the prime minister will in essence be saying that words are one thing, but deeds are another.


On the one hand, the rabbis' racism is condemned and democracy is praised. On the other hand, a law may be passed that allows membership committees to disqualify candidates from living in small locales on the basis of "the candidate's lack of suitability for the social-cultural fabric of the community." Meaning, disqualifying those who are not Zionist - in other words, Arabs.


It is worthwhile to point out that that supporters of the law do not even try to hide its purpose, which is to "Judaize" the Negev and Galilee and enable residents of small communities "to choose their neighbors," according to unclear criteria that make it possible to exclude minorities and other weak populations.


In our view, passage of such a law is like putting an obstacle in the way of a blind man. The law unleashes the racist "evil urge" that exists in one form or another in virtually everyone - the same urge that pushes people to want to live with neighbors like them and to reject the alien, the different, the minority. Even someone who is not a racist and never even thought about screening his neighbors, may do so the moment this law gives him the tools to do so. In this way the legislation in question is not only an expression of racism, but it also aids and abets it.


This bill - beyond its grave violation of the dignity of the person undergoing the admissions process, with its screening, labeling and diagnosis, just because he wants to live in a small community - will serve opponents of Israel in their claims that this is a racist apartheid state. If it becomes law, it could also serve anti-Semites who want to exclude Jews from their communities. In such cases Israel will not be able to protest, as the prime minister said, because a similar discriminatory and racist law will be on its books.


That is why it's time to turn Netanyahu's justified position into deeds. He must throw his entire weight and responsibility behind preventing passage of the admission committees' bill in the Knesset plenum.


The fire of racism fanned by this bill will not be doused by any super-tanker plane, and we certainly will not receive any help from the international community in this matter. The responsibility for heading it off rests with the prime minister and the Knesset.


Prof. Kremnitzer is vice president for research at the Israeli Democracy Institute. Attorney Fuchs is a researcher in the institute.


This story is by: Mordechai Kremnitzer, Amir Fuchs









Once, when Amram Mitzna was chairman of the Labor Party, he got stuck in traffic on the way to Jerusalem. He called Dalia Itzik, the faction whip, and asked her to delay the start of a meeting by 10 minutes. With us 2 P.M. is 2 P.M., Itzik responded, and there is no lateness. And she began the meeting, showing the chairman that a body can reject any of its organs, including its head.


The abuse of Mitzna lasted another few months, until he left and found solace in Yeruham, to the relief of Itzik, who has since moved on to Kadima. Nothing good has happened in the Labor Party since then. Even though Ehud Barak changed and returned, even though Avishay Braverman didn't change and joined him, and even though Shelly Yachimovich and Daniel Ben Simon became Labor MKs, the party is still troubled. It is stuck at the lowest of all points and the deepest depths.


It was therefore encouraging to hear that at the defense minister's request, Barak met with Mitzna twice (Oho! ), and that Barak pleaded with Mitzna to become active in the party again.


Commentators hinted that Barak was designating Mitzna as his political heir (and that's a double news flash: Barak is thinking of retiring, and Barak thinks he has a political legacy to bequeath ). Any minute now, Barak and Labor will be redeemed.


You would have to have no understanding of politics whatsoever to believe that a party with no political or social plan, a party that has erased the word "opposition" from its lexicon, a party whose ministers are happy to serve in a dysfunctional government - and one that is still being run by Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - will recover. This isn't an attractive proposal, Mitzna told me, it's just a trap.


Barak asked - twice - for an urgent meeting with Mitzna. Now that the meetings are over, Mitzna is left to question what exactly was so urgent. Was it Barak's catastrophic showing in the polls? The need to maneuver between Braverman and Isaac Herzog, who are breathing down his neck? And what did Barak mean when he said he has a lot of positions to offer?


The story, of course, made its way to the press. Who leaked it, I asked Mitzna. Not me, he replied.


Even if the conversations with Barak have caused Mitzna to experience deja vu, we can only hope he has internalized the concept that politicians are sometimes disposed of after use only the second time around, and that he will watch out for the embrace of Barak and Ben-Eliezer. They have already completed their historic role.


The attempt to establish a new left-wing movement failed on the eve of the last general election, primarily because too few of the people who wanted to see it succeed were willing to risk discomfort or the loss of their personal security, and dip their hands in the political waters. Another attempt will also fail if no one is willing to do so in the future.


The satirical TV show "Eretz Nehederet" (literally "A Wonderful Country" ) returns this week, and will remind

its viewers that the only remnant of the wonderful country we once were that is likely to remain intact is a television show.


There's no need to go back and point out the subpar functioning of almost all the various Israeli systems, or their collapse one after the other. There's no need to go back and point out the long list of scandals and failures that have recently been our lot, or the threats and dangers of the "year of decision." There is no need. Everything is in the open, clear and well-known.


Just listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Listen to Barak's analysis and the silence of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.


We need five or six or 10 Mitznas to instigate a change. Not to save the left, simply to save Israel. They exist, and maybe Mitzna will even manage to bring them together. Leadership. That's the whole story.


This story is by: Niva Lanir









Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch's appointment of Yaakov Ganot as the director of his ministry demonstrates arrogance and lack of judgment, regardless of how impressive the professional record of the candidate is.


The minister did not learn from the failure of the previous Public Security Minister, Avi Dichter, whose attempt to appoint Ganot as police commissioner met fierce opposition. Ganot withdrew his candidacy when it was made clear to him that the Turkel committee on approving senior appointments was going to disqualify him.


The recognition that a senior posting such as director general requires meeting not only professional qualifications, but should be considered reasonable and appropriate, stems from a ruling of the High Court of Justice. It is the ruling that nullified the government's decision to appoint Yossi Ginossar as director general of the Housing and Construction Ministry after he acknowledged tampering with evidence in the bus 300 affair.


In the 1993 ruling, Justice Aharon Barak laid down the principle that has guided rulings since then. According to the ruling, a person cannot serve in a senior post if he will have difficulty setting an example for his subordinates, serving as a moral authority and projecting "fairness, credibility, honesty and integrity" to the public.


Ganot's then-candidacy as police chief and current appointment as director general of the Public Security Ministry does not meet these criteria. Ganot was cleared in the Supreme Court in 1996 of receiving bribes, and was found not guilty of fraud and breach of trust by a majority of two judges to one.


Ganot was prosecuted for receiving favors when he served as deputy commander and commander of the northern district police. The favors were from the owner of a large contracting firm who wanted access and special treatment. The Supreme Court's clearing of Ganot of bribery charges was mainly based on the court's non-intervention in factual findings determined in the district court. The Supreme Court noted that it was possible that if it had determined the factual findings they would have been different.


The Supreme Court judges noted the words of district court Judge Gideon Ginat, according to which accepting the story of the defendants (Ganot and the contractor Subhi Tannous ) "requires stretching the tests of reasonableness and logic to the maximum."


According to the majority opinion of justices Eliezer Goldberg and Yitzhak Zamir, clearing Ganot of fraud and breach of trust was based on doubt that the cases discussed had crossed the boundary of criminal corruption, as distinct from public corruption. The minority judge, Yaakov Kedmi, a former senior police officer who was well acquainted with conditions in the police force, found that Ganot's behavior - allowing his contractor friend Tannous to hold a large party to mark his appointment as district commander - was criminal corruption and breach of trust.


The three judges viewed Ganot's behavior as improper on ethical and disciplinary grounds. It appears that the approach of the majority judges, who classified his behavior as improper solely on violations of disciplinary rules, does not correspond to the approach today, which has widened the boundaries of the breach of trust offense.


On the face of it, Ganot's behavior appears to fulfill the requirements for criminal prosecution, according to the 2004 Supreme Court decision in an additional hearing regarding Shimon Sheves, the former director-general of the prime minister's office.


The court, an expanded panel of judges, noted in that case that the higher the position of the office holder, the greater the tendency to classify an improper action by him as criminal breach of trust. This is relevant to Ganot's appointment.


His appointment as director-general of the Public Affairs Ministry, an influential leadership role that guides others regarding the limits of what is permitted and forbidden and affects policy, is unreasonable.


Ganot's clearance of criminal wrongdoing because of reasonable doubt makes him technically fit to serve as director general, but such an appointment does not meet the test of reasonableness according to the ethical criteria formulated in judicial rulings.


It is precisely the police force, which has gone through such serious upheaval, that needs clean appointments more than any other organization. Public trust in its leadership is a necessary condition for it to function.




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




The Federal Reserve has been rightly criticized for not protecting borrowers — and the economy — in the years before the financial crisis. Under the law, it had the power and the obligation to curb bad lending. It was warned, by Fed insiders and by consumer advocates, of lender recklessness. It still failed to act.


Now, the Fed has proposed a rule that could undermine an important borrower protection passed by Congress in 2008. Hasn't anything been learned?


At issue are reverse mortgages, which let homeowners, starting at age 62, borrow against their home equity without monthly repayments. Instead, fees and interest are added to their balance, with the total repaid later, often by selling the home when the owner dies.


The 2008 law prohibited "cross selling," in which lenders required reverse-mortgage borrowers to use some of the loan proceeds to buy other financial products, such as annuities or long-term care insurance policies, that in many instances made no sense for the borrowers.


The Fed has proposed a much weaker prohibition that would allow lenders to sell financial products to reverse-mortgage borrowers as long as the purchase occurred at least 10 days after the loan was made. As the AARP and other advocates have pointed out, the proposal is at odds with both the 2008 law and this year's Dodd-Frank reform law, which requires the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to study and update the rules for protecting reverse-mortgage borrowers.


The proposal could not come at a worse time. Reverse mortgages, once the purview of cash-strapped elderly widows, are becoming more popular — growing from roughly 8,000 in 2001 to about 118,000 in 2009.


The increase is due partly to the recession, which has squeezed retirees, and partly to more aggressive marketing. Wall Street investors have recently become bigger buyers of reverse mortgages that are packaged into securities. That has made reverse lending more profitable, causing lenders to push the loans harder. If all of this sounds chillingly familiar, it should.


In other echoes of the mortgage meltdown, consumer advocates have warned of borrower confusion over the loans' complex terms and fees, and of a lack of understanding about alternatives. If the loans go bad, taxpayers could once again be on the hook, since most reverse mortgages have government backing.


Reverse mortgages can be a helpful way to make ends meet, but there is no question that they require more, not less, oversight. And reverse-mortgage borrowers need more, not less, protection. The Fed's proposal should be withdrawn.







There are strong moral and ethical reasons for why low-income Americans should not be forced to grapple with pressing civil legal matters, including foreclosures and disputes over disability and other benefits, without legal representation.


There are also practical reasons to narrow this justice gap, a point underscored in a report from a task force appointed by New York State's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman. It finds that the lack of representation is leading to widespread legal delays, imposing financial burdens on opposing parties fortunate enough to have lawyers, and on businesses and individuals with other legal matters competing for judges' attention.


The task force held public hearings around New York State and did extensive research. Its findings are disturbing. In New York City, 99 percent of tenants in eviction cases are unrepresented, as are 97 percent of parents in child-support cases. Statewide, nearly 45 percent of homeowners lack lawyers in foreclosure cases.


The report argues that as a result valid claims are too often lost and New Yorkers are missing out on hundreds

of millions of dollars in federal benefits. It says that clogged courts are also doing serious harm to the state's business climate.


Right now, New York spends about $200 million a year (about $60 million paid by the state, the rest from the federal government, localities and other sources) to pay for civil legal assistance for low-income people, mostly for cases involving urgent life issues. According to the task force, that covers at best 20 percent of the need for such services.


Judge Lippman wants the state to spend an additional $25 million next year for lawyers to represent the poor in civil cases that deal with "the essentials of life," like eviction and child support. Under his budget plan, the increase, a small part of the state's $2.7 billion judiciary budget for 2011, would be matched by savings in other areas, for example by streamlining research services and delaying new court hiring.


Judge Lippman's goal is to keep expanding the program, with a $300 million budget for civil legal services across the state by 2015. He rightly argues that this is an essential investment for the sake of both the fairness and the efficiency of the state's court system.







It's standard marketing: pitch your product to the most easily persuadable. Or as Roy Bergold, a former McDonald's head of advertising, argued once: "Go after kids." McDonald's has done just that with the Happy Meal, a choice of burgers, nuggets, fries and other specialties with a must-have toy.


According to a recent consumer survey, 37 percent of kids rank McDonald's as the top fast-food restaurant. This is nearly four times as many as those favoring the No. 2 chain, Subway. The key is heavy advertising to children — Happy Meals account for about 10 percent of McDonald's ad spending— and, of course, the toys.


A Happy Meal of cheeseburger with fries and soda packs 640 calories, more than half the U.S.D.A. daily allowance for a sedentary child aged 4 to 8, as well as about half the allotment of fat. McDonald's has added healthier choices to its menu — things like milk and Apple Dippers with low-fat caramel dip. But a study at 44 McDonald's outlets from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that French fries were automatically put in the bag 93 percent of the time.


The Happy Meal is up for some well-deserved scrutiny. Last week a mom from Sacramento filed a class-action suit supported by the center to make McDonald's stop using toys as bait to lure children. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a measure requiring that meals sold with toys meet a minimum standard of nutrition.


McDonald's chief executive, Jim Skinner, has pushed back at what he calls the "food police," arguing that these actions seek to deprive families of choice. A company spokeswoman told us, "We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food."


Parents are responsible for their children's diet. And they certainly could do a better job: almost 17 percent of American children are obese, three times as many as in the 1970s. But it would be easier for parents to do their job if they didn't have to push back against the relentless tide of marketing aimed at their children.









When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.


How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says "I don't think we need regulators," about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?


The answer from the right is that the economic failures of the Obama administration show that big-government policies don't work. But the response should be, what big-government policies?


For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that's not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.


Now, maybe it wasn't possible for President Obama to get more in the face of Congressional skepticism about government. But even if that's true, it only demonstrates the continuing hold of a failed doctrine over our politics.


It's also worth pointing out that everything the right said about why Obamanomics would fail was wrong. For two years we've been warned that government borrowing would send interest rates sky-high; in fact, rates have fluctuated with optimism or pessimism about recovery, but stayed consistently low by historical standards. For two years we've been warned that inflation, even hyperinflation, was just around the corner; instead, disinflation has continued, with core inflation — which excludes volatile food and energy prices — now at a half-century low.


The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America — and suffered equally few consequences. "Ireland," declared George Osborne in 2006, "stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking." Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain's top economic official.


And in his new position, he's setting out to emulate the austerity policies Ireland implemented after its bubble burst. After all, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic spent much of the past year hailing Irish austerity as a resounding success. "The Irish approach worked in 1987-89 — and it's working now," declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute last June. Whoops, again.


But such failures don't seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn't, we're still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by "zombie economics." Why?


Part of the answer, surely, is that people who should have been trying to slay zombie ideas have tried to compromise with them instead. And this is especially, though not only, true of the president.


People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.


President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing

myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.


None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways

that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?


Yes, politics is the art of the possible. We all understand the need to deal with one's political enemies. But it's one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it's another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain — and quite possibly your economy too.








WHAT is the winter solstice, and why bother to celebrate it, as so many people around the world will tomorrow? The word "solstice" derives from the Latin sol (meaning sun) and statum (stand still), and reflects what we see on the first days of summer and winter when, at dawn for two or three days, the sun seems to linger for several minutes in its passage across the sky, before beginning to double back.


Indeed, "turnings of the sun" is an old phrase, used by both Hesiod and Homer. The novelist Alan Furst has one of his characters nicely observe, "the day the sun is said to pause. ... Pleasing, that idea. ... As though the universe stopped for a moment to reflect, took a day off from work. One could sense it, time slowing down."


Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment. The Welsh word for solstice translates as "the point of roughness," while the Talmud calls it "Tekufat Tevet," first day of "the stripping time." For the Chinese, winter's beginning is "dongzhi," when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook. According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him.


In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility, can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.


Street processions are another common feature. In Japan, young men known as "sun devils," their faces daubed to represent their imagined solar ancestry, still go among the farms to ensure the earth's fertility (and their own stocking-up with alcohol). In Ireland, people called wren-boys take to the roads, wearing masks or straw suits. The practice used to involve the killing of a wren, and singing songs while carrying the corpse from house to house.


Sacrifice is a common thread. In areas of northern Pakistan, men have cold water poured over their heads in purification, and are forbidden to sit on any chair till the evening, when their heads will be sprinkled with goats' blood. (Unhappy goats.) Purification is also the main object for the Zuni and Hopi tribes of North America, their attempt to recall the sun from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another turning of their "wheel of the year," and kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are opened to mark the season.


Yet, for all these symbolisms, this time remains at heart an astronomical event, and quite a curious one. In summer, the sun is brighter and reaches higher into the sky, shortening the shadows that it casts; in winter it rises and sinks closer to the horizon, its light diffuses more and its shadows lengthen. As the winter hemisphere tilts steadily further away from the star, daylight becomes shorter and the sun arcs ever lower. Societies that were organized around agriculture intently studied the heavens, ensuring that the solstices were well charted.


Despite their best efforts, however, their priests and stargazers came to realize that it was exceptionally hard to pinpoint the moment of the sun's turning by observation alone — even though they could define the successive seasons by the advancing and withdrawal of daylight and darkness.


The earth further complicates matters. Our globe tilts on its axis like a spinning top, going around the sun at an angle to its orbit of 23 and a half degrees. Yet the planet's shape changes minutely and its axis wobbles, thus its orbit fluctuates. If its axis remained stable and if its orbit were a true circle, then the equinoxes and solstices would quarter the year into equal sections. As it is, the time between the spring and fall equinoxes in the Northern Hemisphere is slightly greater than that between fall and spring, the earth — being at that time closer to the sun — moving about 6 percent faster in January than in July.


The apparently supernatural power manifest in solstices to govern the seasons has been felt as far back as we know, inducing different reactions from different cultures — fertility rites, fire festivals, offerings to the gods. Many of the wintertime customs in Western Europe descend from the ancient Romans, who believed that their god of the harvest, Saturn, had ruled the land during an earlier age of abundance, and so celebrated the winter solstice with the Saturnalia, a feast of gift-giving, role-reversals (slaves berating their masters) and general public holiday from Dec. 17 to 24.


The transition from Roman paganism to Christianity, with its similar rites, took several centuries. With the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, customs were quickly appropriated and refashioned, as the sun and God's son became inextricably entwined. Thus, although the New Testament gives no indication of Christ's actual birthday (early writers preferring a spring date), in 354 Pope Liberius declared it to have befallen on Dec. 25.


The advantages of Christmas Day being celebrated then were obvious. As the Christian commentator Syrus wrote: "It was a custom of the pagans to celebrate on the same Dec. 25 the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity .... Accordingly, when the church authorities perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day."


In Christendom, the Nativity gradually absorbed all other winter solstice rites, and the co-opting of solar imagery was part of the same process. Thus the solar discs that had once been depicted behind the heads of Asian rulers became the halos of Christian luminaries. Despite the new religion's apparent supremacy, many of the old customs survived — so much so that church elders worried that the veneration of Christ was being lost. In the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo and Pope Leo the Great felt compelled to remind their flocks that Christ, not the sun, was their proper object of their worship.


While Roman Christianity was the dominant culture in Western Europe, it was by no means the only one. By millennium's end, the Danes controlled most of England, bringing with them "Yule," their name for winter solstice celebrations, probably derived from an earlier term for "wheel." For centuries, the most sacred Norse symbol had been the wheel of the heavens, represented by a six- or eight-spoked wheel or by a cross within a wheel signifying solar rays.


The Norse peoples, many of whom settled in what is now Yorkshire, would construct huge solar wheels and place them next to hilltop bonfires, while in the Middle Ages processions bore wheels upon chariots or boats. In other parts of Europe, where the Vikings were feared and hated, a taboo on using spinning wheels during solstices lasted well into the 20th century. The spinning-wheel on which Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger may exemplify this sense of menace.


Throughout much of Europe, at least up until the 16th century, starvation was common from January to April, a period known as "the famine months." Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed over the winter, making the solstice almost the only time of year that fresh meat was readily available. The boar's head at Christmas feasts represents the dying sun of the old year, while the suckling pig — with the apple of immortality in its mouth — the new.


The turning of the sun was perhaps even more important in the New World than the Old. The Aztecs, who believed that the heart harbored elements of the sun's power, ensured its continual well-being by tearing out this vital organ from hunchbacks, dwarves or prisoners of war, so releasing the "divine sun fragments" entrapped by the body and its desires.


The Incas would celebrate the solar festival of Inti Raymi by having their priests attempt to tie down the celestial body. At Machu Picchu, high in the Peruvian Andes, there is a large stone column called the Intihuatana, ("hitching post of the sun,") to which the star would be symbolically harnessed. It is unclear how the Incas measured the success of this endeavor, but at least the sun returned the following day.


Yet above all other rituals, reproducing the sun's fire by kindling flame on earth is the commonest solstice practice, both at midsummer and midwinter. Thomas Hardy, describing Dorset villagers around a bonfire in "The Return of the Native," offers an explanation for such a worldwide phenomenon:


"To light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of men when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, 'Let there be light.' "


So there is good reason to celebrate the winter solstice — but maybe that celebration is still touched with a little fear.


Richard Cohen is the author of "Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life."









Christmas is hard for everyone. But it's particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

In a sense, of course, there's no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between "The Nutcracker" and "Miracle on 34th Street."


These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they're frequently turned to cynical purposes. (Think of the annual "war on Christmas" drumbeat, or last week's complaints from Republican senators about the supposed "sacrilege" of keeping Congress in session through the holiday.) But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.


Happily, for those who need a last-minute gift for the anxious Christian in their life, the year just past featured two thick, impressive books that wrestle with exactly these complexities.


The first is "American Grace," co-written by Harvard's Robert Putnam (of "Bowling Alone" fame) and Notre Dame's David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation's social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans' ever-increasing tolerance, we've been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.


But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that's historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal.


In the last 50 years, the Christian churches have undergone what "American Grace" describes as a shock and two aftershocks. The initial earthquake was the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which undercut religious authority as it did all authority, while dealing a particular blow to Christian sexual ethics. The first aftershock was the rise of religious conservatism, and particularly evangelical faith, as a backlash against the cultural revolution's excesses. But now we're living through the second aftershock, a backlash to that backlash — a revolt against the association between Christian faith and conservative politics, Putnam and Campbell argue, in which millions of Americans (younger Americans, especially) may be abandoning organized Christianity altogether.


Their argument is complemented by the University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter's "To Change the World," an often withering account of recent Christian attempts to influence American politics and society. Having popularized the term "culture war" two decades ago, Hunter now argues that the "war" footing has led American Christians into a cul-de-sac. It has encouraged both conservative and liberal believers to frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, and to express themselves almost exclusively in the "language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment and desire for conquest."


Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a "weak culture" — one that mobilizes but doesn't convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the "peripheral areas" of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.


Putnam and Campbell are quantitative, liberal, and upbeat; Hunter is qualitative, conservative and conflicted. But both books come around to a similar argument: this month's ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they're competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.


Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.








When Toyota unveiled its gasoline-electric Prius hybrid in Japan in 1997, car executives here scoffed that the car was little more than an expensive novelty. When Honda began selling the first hybrid in the U.S. market in 1999, the two-seat Insight was derided as cramped and impractical.


Eleven years later, more than 2 million Priuses have been sold worldwide, and there are about 1.5 million hybrids on the roads here, including models from the U.S. automakers. That's still a tiny fraction of the 250 million vehicles in America, but they have helped cut gasoline use.


Now comes Round 2, as General Motors and Nissan begin delivering their first new electric cars to buyers amid some of the same sort of skepticism that dogged the early hybrids. Americans should hope the skeptics are wrong again.


The two new cars, due to be followed by models from other automakers, are promising fuel savers. The Chevy Volt can go 25 miles to 50 miles on battery power alone; after that a gasoline engine kicks in to power a generator for a total range of about 350 miles before fill-up or recharge. The more limited battery-only Nissan Leaf can travel an estimated 62 miles to 138 miles before it needs a recharge.


It's easy to deride the new electric cars, just as it was the early hybrids. The batteries take hours to recharge, and when the Leaf is out of juice, it had better be at a plug. It presumably would be useful only to short-range commuters with no other need for the car. Both cars are small, though the Volt is no smaller than many sedans, and automotive writers say it's as quick and responsive as a gas-powered car.


The biggest drawback, and the one critics have made much of, is the cost, and not just to buyers. The Volt lists for $41,000 and the Leaf for $33,000, so the federal government, eager to jump-start a market for electric cars, is helping with the sticker shock by shelling out up to $7,500 per car in tax credits for the first 200,000 cars an automaker sells.


There's a downside to this. The tax code would be far better if it weren't riddled with tax breaks such as this one. In addition, the tax credit spends money the government doesn't have.


But those are bigger, more important issues in which the credit is a bit player. The benefit comes if electric-car technology gets cheap enough to stand on its own, providing a way to trim U.S. dependency on foreign oil, now two-thirds of our use, some of it from countries hostile to us. There's plenty of skepticism, but the automakers are optimistic enough to invest in the technology, betting that rising oil prices will boost sales, as they did with hybrids.


One of the best arguments for tax breaks is that they helped get the hybrid market where it is today, along with gas prices and the fact that some states allowed hybrid drivers access to HOV lanes.


Those hybrid tax breaks have been phasing out as the law required — just as the tax breaks for electric cars are required to do. Electric cars must eventually live or die without government help.


As the writer of the opposing view argues, there are compelling arguments against the new cars — but there are equally compelling arguments against every other alternative to the status quo as well. Nuclear is too dangerous, coal too dirty, solar and wind too unreliable, offshore oil drilling too risky and so on.


But the most compelling argument is that the status quo — more and more foreign oil — is unsustainable.Electric cars might not be the answer, but they are an answer, and that makes them worth a try.








The problem with electric vehicles can be summed up with one word: subsidies. Subsidies are prima facie evidence that consumers would not buy the product at its market price.


Subsidies distort markets, compromising economic growth, and are simply wealth transfers. This particular wealth transfer (up to $8,500 for today's electric cars and home charging equipment) is highly regressive, robbing from the poor to help a few greenies burnish their green credentials.


Deloitte Consulting surveyed potential buyers of electric vehicles, finding that only the young and financially comfortable (household incomes more than $200,000 a year) would consider buying one. And subsidies, once in place, tend to remain in place long after any they are needed to spur the adoption of new technology. Look at corn ethanol, if you have doubts.


Electric-vehicle boosters claim cheaper batteries are right around the corner, so the subsidies won't last. This is a myth they've been propagating since around 1910: The Boston Consulting Group, which actually studies battery technology and markets, predicts prices will drop only modestly in coming years, barring radical breakthroughs that few expect to materialize, and that would take many decades to deploy.


But what about the environmental benefits? You only get those if your electricity is produced with carbon-free or pollution-free fuels such as wind, hydro, nuclear and solar power. But nationally, less than 30% of our electricity is produced by such sources, and most of that is nuclear and hydroelectricity, neither of which are slated for major expansion anytime soon. In fact, studies suggest switching to electric cars from gasoline cars could well increase emissions of greenhouse gases and conventional pollutants.


We're told the demand for advanced batteries induced by the subsidized sales will create green jobs! Yes, in Asia, where 98% of the world's advanced batteries are manufactured. And energy security? The trivial number of electric cars expected in the market will do nothing to reduce America's oil imports from countries that hate us or protect us from oil price shocks.


There are no good arguments for using government coercion to force electric cars into the U.S. fleet. But there are many arguments against this crusade.


Kenneth P. Green is an environmental scientist and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.








The school committee in Cambridge, Mass., stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy when it voted in October to include a Muslim holiday on its academic calendar. Though not particularly controversial among local residents, this change earned the ire of Bill O'Reilly, who asked his Fox News viewers, "Are we going to give Hindus a holiday, are we going to do the Wiccan thing?"


Earlier this month, the school committee in Acton-Boxborough, a Boston suburb, voted to close its schools on a Christian holiday (Good Friday) and two Jewish holidays (Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah). In the bordering district in Harvard, Mass., the school committee voted last week to scrap religious holidays altogether.


Elsewhere across America, public school districts are wrestling with whether the First Amendment requires inclusion or exclusion when it comes to recognizing religious holy days.Should school districts reflect the growing diversity of their student bodies by including more religions' holy days? Or does the Constitution demand that public schools exclude days off for religion altogether?


'It just made sense'


In the past, it was Jews who forced these questions, either by demanding in the name of church/state separation the secularization of the public school calendar or by insisting in the name of fairness that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur be recognized with vacation days of their own.


Today, this work is being done by America's growing Muslim community. In Dearborn, Mich., where nearly half of public school students are Muslims, schools have been shuttered for Islamic holidays for nearly a decade. According to Dearborn school district communications director David Mustonen, school funding in Michigan is based on daily enrollment, so if enrollment falls below 75% on any given day the district loses lots of money. "When the numbers of students and staff in the community who are following the Muslim religion got to a point where we were seeing significant decline in attendance," he says, "it just made sense to take those days off."


Turning religious holy days into school holidays would seem to violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the state from promoting one religion over another. Closing school for Muslim celebrations obviously promotes Islam — by providing it with both recognition and legitimacy withheld from ostensibly lesser religions. So the only constitutional options here would seem to be to honor all religious holidays, or none.


Practicality, however, says otherwise. And in Acton/Boxborough, it says so in the form of school Superintendent Steve Mills, who refers to himself as a "manager" and his district as a "business operation." "I don't think one (religion) is more important than the other," he told me, but "my job is to take the temperature of the demographics of the community and create a school calendar that makes sense."


Singling out certain faiths


In order to figure out what makes sense in Acton/Boxborough, the school committee sent a questionnaire to parents and staff. Of the 220 teachers who responded, 26 said they would take the day off if school were held on Rosh Hashanah and 91 said they would not come to work if school were held on Good Friday. For Mills, whose substitute teachers' pool typically tops out at 40, these numbers settled the question. "We are inadvertently disrespecting religions" by honoring only Christianity and Judaism, he admits, but this is an "operational, management thing," and has nothing to do with religion.


The problem with this pragmatic approach is that it uses the coercive power of the state to legitimize more popular religions while delegitimizing less popular ones. And isn't that precisely what the First Amendment is intended to prevent?


In Harvard, which borders Boxborough to the west, school committee chair Keith Cheveralls is convinced that the secular calendar his school committee just approved is the only fair way to go. "How fair are we really being," Cheveralls asks, "by just recognizing two religions?"


Another solution, however, is to punctuate the school calendar not only with Jewish and Muslim holidays but also with Hindu and Buddhist ones. And Cheveralls says that, if you are really going to be inclusive, "I am going to support that in a heartbeat." But almost every day is a holy day to some one, so such inclusivity would entail radical surgery on the school calendar, including canceling February and April vacations — a plan almost no one in his district would favor.


So if "all of the above" isn't a practical option, is "none of the above" really the only other possibility? Yes, insists Cheveralls: "If you go down the path of deciding which religions to include, somebody out there is playing God. Is it a numbers game? If so, what's the number?"


Although these school holiday skirmishes might seem like a new front in our ongoing culture wars, they often pit liberals against one another, as well as liberals against conservatives. The recent addition of Jewish holidays to many school districts in Massachusetts— Natick and Framingham, in fact, actually take two days off for Rosh Hashanah — was an effort to live up to the First Amendment's religious liberty clause. Over time, however, the inclusion of Jewish days off has started to look like yet another example of governmental grace and favor. Soon, Muslim school holidays are going to look parochial, too.


This is why Chevaralls argues that, when it comes to our nation's public schools, the choice really is "all or none." In the long term, he is right; because our public schools can't possibly recognize every religious holy day, "none" is going to be the way forward.


In the survey sent to the Acton/Boxborough community, which has a substantial Indian-American population, 80 parents responded by saying that they would keep their children out of school on the Hindu festival of Diwali. By Superintendent Mills' accounting, that number isn't high enough to warrant a district-wide day off. I disagree. As I read the First Amendment, using taxpayer dollars to prop up Christianity and Judaism at the expense of Hinduism is unconstitutional, whether the number of parents who won't send their children to school on Diwali totals 80 or 800.


What fairness requires


In most U.S. school districts, it is too soon to exclude all religious holy days from our public school calendars, chiefly because favoring Christianity and Judaism over other religions doesn't yet seem to most of us to be unfair. But it is unfair. Those of us who see this unfairness should work in my view not for fewer school holy days but for more. It is time to chip away at our spring vacations by pushing for the inclusion of the Buddha's birthday and the Chinese New Year on our public school calendars. Perhaps we should even "do the Wiccan thing."


As these celebrations expand, the demands of the Constitution and of pragmatism, which now run in opposite directions, will merge, forcing us to do what we are eventually going to have to do: Whittle our public school holy days down to zero.


Stephen Prothero is a religion professor at Boston University and the author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.









President Obama and Nancy Pelosi may tell the American people that the recession is over, but unemployment is staggeringly high, job creation remains low, and our country's debt continues to moun