Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

EDITORIAL 21.12.10

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

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month december 21, edition 000708, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. NO, PRIME MINISTER
  2. ICON WHO INSPIRES HOPE
  3. SUPREMELY INJUDICIOUS - SANDHYA JAIN
  4. CHINESE CHECKERS OVER KASHMIR - B RAMAN
  5. ECONOMIC TIES CAN'T BE FREE OF POLITICAL REALITIES - SHIVAJI SARKAR
  6. IRAN FORCES ON ALERT AS ECONOMIC 'SURGERY' BEGINS - NASSER KARIMI & BRIAN MURPHY

MAIL TODAY

  1. TENDULKAR PROVES AGAIN WHY HE IS BEYOND COMPARE
  2. ACT ON CORRUPTION PLEASE
  3. MINES POLICY IS MIRED IN CONFUSION      - BY RAVI SRINIVASAN
  4. UNMASKING OF A ' LITERARY HEIR' - M C RAJAN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. FIFTY AND GOING STRONG
  2. DOWN WITH CORRUPTION
  3. PLAN B IN AFGHANISTAN - ROBERT D BLACKWILL
  4. A PRACTICAL MOVE
  5. IT WILL BREED NEPOTISM - JAY KUMAR
  6. PROMISES TO KEEP - RAGHU KRISHNAN

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A BAT-HANDED COMPLIMENT
  2. C IS FOR CONGRESS...
  3. CHENNAI SUPERKINGS - SUDHA G TILAK
  4. THOSE OTHER NATIONALISTS - DEB MUKHARJI

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THE MONEY LINE
  2. BEYOND TESTS
  3. FOREVER BROTHERS
  4. STAGING A FIGHT-BACK - SEEMA CHISHTI 
  5. ALWAYS THE JITTERY DEBUTANT - SANDEEP DWIVEDI 
  6. THE CORPORATE SECTOR IS NERVOUS...BUT I'M CONFIDENT THE PM WILL INTERVENE' - SHEKHAR GUPTA 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. VOTING AGAINST CORRUPTION
  2. ONE SOP SPAWNS ANOTHER
  3. ARMING WHILE AIMING - DEBA R MOHANTY
  4. ALLIED TROUBLE - NISTULA HEBBAR
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. CHERUBIC CENTURION

THE HINDU

  1. THE MANY FACETS OF GREATNESS
  2. WANTED: ZERO TOLERANCE
  3. THOSE OTHER PROBLEMS IN ANDHRA PRADESH - P. SAINATH
  4. ENGAGEMENT WITH THE NEEDY - PRANAY GUPTE
  5. THE SHADOW OF INSTABILITY OVER THE IVORY COAST - SIMON TISDALL

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. WAR ON EXTREMIST POLITICS WELCOME
  2. WIKI-WASHY - ASHOK MALIK
  3. HAPPY NEW AGE OF LEAKS IS HERE - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  4. 2½ CHEERS FOR RADIA - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

DNA

  1. 50 TONS AND STILL PASSIONATE FOR MORE
  2. EUROPE'S COLD WAVE CAUSES TRAVEL SHUTDOWN
  3. SPIRITUALITY IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE - SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
  4. WIKILEAKS: NEED TO LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE - RANJONA BANERJI
  5. THE INDIA GROWTH STORY IS PROPELLED BY BLACK MONEY - R VAIDYANATHAN

THE KASHMIR TIMES

  1. INCONSISTENCY OVER KASHMIR
  2. WINTER SCHOOLING A JOKE
  3. CORRUPTION MAKES NEO-LIBERALISM GO – I - BY BADRI RAINA
  4. "CARDIAC ARREST?" ASKS ITS FRIEND, "WHY?"

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. A CRISIS AT HAND
  2. UNENDING SORROW
  3. INDO-CHINA RELATIONS - BY SAMEER JAFRI
  4. MORE TURBULENT MONTHS FOR UPA - BY S. SETHURAMAN
  5. SPORTS CULTURE FOR STABLE AND CIVILISED SOCIETY - BY CHAMEL SINGH

THE TRIBUNE

  1. TAKING ON CORRUPTION
  2. RUSSIA'S INTEREST IN INDIA
  3. LEGENDARY TENDULKAR!
  4. GROWTH MUST BENEFIT ALL - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. THOSE FRIDAYS IN 1971 - BY BRIG SURYANARAYANAN (RETD)
  6. 'IT'S NOT ABOUT HOW MANY PAGES.

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. TURNING HYPERBOLE INTO REALITY

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. NOW WALK THE TALK
  2. HELLO DOLLY
  3. WHAT SIZE THE FIRE EXIT? - DANIEL GROS
  4. 2011 MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT WISH LIST - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  5. FIXING THE LEAKS - A K BHATTACHARYA
  6. 2010 - The year in fiction - Nilanjana S Roy

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. RUSI TOPI, RED OR NOT
  2. STILL NOT INSURED
  3. HURLEY WARNE-INGS
  4. AUCTIONING ICT DEVELOPMENT - ROHIT PRASAD
  5. TH RO U G H TH E TH I R D EYE
  6. NO, YOU CAN'T - BJØRN LOMBORG 
  7. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CREATION - MUKUL SHARMA 

DECCAN  CHRONICALE

  1. WAR ON EXTREMIST POLITICS WELCOME
  2. WIKI-WASHY - BY ASHOK MALIK
  3. ZOMBIES NOW CONTROL WORLD ECONOMICS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. HAPPY NEW AGE OF LEAKS IS HERE - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  5. GODS OF THE NEW YEAR - BY V. BALAKRISHNAN
  6. 2½ cheers for Radia - By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

THE STATESMAN

  1. UNIFORMLY CRIMINAL PARTIES
  2. USE SOLAR POWER TO TACKLE WATER SCARCITY - RAYMOND WHITAKER
  3. E-VOTING THE ANSWER TO ELECTORAL APATHY
  4. BOOTH, SAYS GS VIJAY KUMAR 
  5. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
  6. FROM THE UN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. BEYOND WORDS
  2. SCREENED OUT
  3. EYELESS IN GAZA
  4. KRISHNAN SRINIVASAN - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. INSIDE AN UGLY PIT - MALVIKA SINGH
  6. STEP OUT OF LINE, PLEASE  - BHATTACHARYYA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. MATCHLESS GENIUS
  2. WISE DECISION
  3. DISCORDANT NOTES - M K BHADRAKUMAR
  4. SCAMS IN THE LAND OF SPIRITUALISM
  5. INCULCATING VALUES - PADMA GANAPATI

THE JERUSALEM  POST

  1. HRW CRITIQUE THAT DOESN'T HOLD WATER
  2. OUR WORLD: A TIME TO SHOUT - BY CAROLINE B. GLICK  
  3. ENCOUNTERING PEACE: WANTED: A PROGRESSIVE LEADER - BY GERSHON BASKIN  
  4. NO HOLDS BARRED: FIXING FAILURES OF THE UK CHIEF RABBINATE - BY SHMULEY BOTEACH  
  5. JEWISH MALWARE - BY CHARLES JACOBS  
  6. HAS RACISM BECOME ACCEPTABLE? - BY MAJALLIE WHBEE  
  7. WHEN UNCLE ELIE CAME BACK TO EGYPT - BY N. SHARAF ELDIN  

HAARETZ

  1. DANINO'S NATIONAL BEAT
  2. AN ANTI-ZIONIST GOVERNMENT - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  3. THE STATE, THE RABBINATE AND THE PRYING - BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. CHOOSE LIFE - BY MERAV MICHAELI
  5. THE DEAD SEA WORKS SHOULD PAY - BY ZAFRIR RINAT

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. KEEP ARIZONA ELECTIONS CLEAN
  2. GOOGLE'S NEXT DEAL
  3. CELESTIAL HOLIDAYS
  4. DON VAN VLIET - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  5. FEAR VS. REASON IN THE ARMS CONTROL DEBATE - BY ROBERT WRIGHT
  6. THE ARDUOUS COMMUNITY - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. LAST BAN STANDING - BY GEORGE CHAUNCEY
  8. THANKS FOR THE TAX CUT! - BY LARRY DAVID

USA TODAY

  1. LAME-DUCK LESSONS
  2. TUTU, CARTER: TIME TO MOVE ON MIDEAST PEACE - BY DESMOND TUTU AND JIMMY CARTER
  3. EVER HEARD OF KAMALA HARRIS? YOU WILL. - Y DEWAYNE WICKHAM
  4. FEINBERG: NEW CLAIMS OPTIONS BEST BET FOR BP OIL SPILL VICITMS

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. TV VICTORY FOR CONSUMERS
  2. ENDING 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL'
  3. 'HOW LONG WILL I LIVE?'
  4. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN BY 2014?
  5. OBAMA FALLS 'LOW' IN THE POLLS

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - CAUTION WARRANTED ON 'HOUSING BUBBLE'
  2. THE MEANING OF THAT JOINT ARTICLE
  3. THE NEW CHP: WILL THE CHAIRMAN BE A LEADER? - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. PLAYING LEAP-FROG WITH THE POLICE - TUĞBA TANYERİ-ERDEMİR
  5. TOUGH YEAR AHEAD FOR TURKISH FOREIGN POLICY - SEMİH İDİZ
  6. AKP WATCHING, ÖCALAN PRODUCING POLITICS - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  7. TURKEY: THE NEW INDISPENSABLE NATION - RECEP TAYYİP ERDOĞAN
  8. UNDERSTANDING THE OIL MARKETS IN 2010  - DAVE COHEN
  9. THE E-MEMORANDUM - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. AFTER WEN'S VISIT
  2. DELAYED MAIL
  3. WIDENING THE RING
  4. PROCRASTINATION UNTIL 2014 - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  5. INFLATION: CAUSES AND CURE - DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB
  6. RGST: REASONS FOR RESISTANCE - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  7. WIKILEAKS, 'FAKILEAKS' AND RICHARD HOLBROOKE - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  8. LIMITS OF MILITARY STRATEGY - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. HISTORY AS A 'TOOL' -  RIZWAN ASGHAR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM MOVES ON
  2. JOE BIDEN'S SENSATIONAL CLAIM
  3. YEAR OF KASHMIRIS' SELF-DETERMINATION
  4. WHY NOT A FOREIGN POLICY WISH-LIST? - KHALID SALEEM
  5. BOOST TO PAK-CHINA RELATIONS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  6. WIKILEAKS: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN KASHMIR - ZAHEERUL HASSAN
  7. THE DEMISE OF MR HOLBROOKE - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  8. REPLACING HOLBROOKE NOT SO EASY - AL KAMEN

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. BLACK COAL MUST BECOME GREEN
  2. ENT STILL HAS TIME TO REVIEW THIS COSTLY PROJECT.

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. MID-EAST PEACE: A TIME TO SPEAK
  2. SANTA HAS LOGGED ON
  3. NBN PLAN PUTS CRITICS' WILDER CLAIMS TO REST
  4. THIS HOLIDAY BLITZ MEANS BUSINESS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. EUROPEAN UNION: ALL IN IT TOGETHER
  2. SNOW DISRUPTION: COLD COMFORT
  3. IN PRAISE OF … THE GOOD MAN JESUS AND THE SCOUNDREL CHRIST

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PROTECTING THE ELDERLY FROM ABUSE
  2. DUBIOUS REFERENDUM IN NAGOYA
  3. MODERATION IS FOR LOSERS - BY TED RALL
  4. MERITS OF A SINGAPORE-AUSTRALIAN EXCHANGE - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. LESS IS MORE?
  2. MYANMAR: VISION AND VICISSITUDES -
  3. PIERRE MARTHINUS
  4. PART 2 OF 2: BEWARE OF MOTIVES BEHIND PREMIUM GASOLINE PHASEOUT- SATYA W. YUDHA
  5. POLICE REFORMS SHOULD BE MORE ON MENTALITY - IMANUDDIN RAZAK
  6. SEA GAMES SHOULD SERVE AS STEPPING STONE - PRIMASTUTI HANDAYANI
  7. LIVING WITH INFLATION, CAPITAL INFLOWS, POOR INFRASTRUCTURE - VINCENT LINGGA

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. THE RETURN OF GLASNOST
  2. BY ALEXEI PANKIN
  3. CONSCRIPT ARMY OF FLUTISTS - BY ALEXANDER GOLTS
  4. EASTERN EUROPE'S TITO OPTION - BY ANDREW WILSON

CHINA DAILY

  1. RISING LAND PRICES
  2. PUBLIC VEHICLES
  3. TIME TO FIX TRAFFIC IN BEIJING - BY LIU ZHI (CHINA DAILY)
  4. MAY KOREANS LIVE IN PEACE - BY WANG SHENG (CHINA DAILY)
  5. POSITIVE POLICIES KEY TO HARVESTS - BY KE BINGSHENG (CHINA DAILY)

 DAILY MIRROR

  1. BACKLASH FROM THE BATTLE WITH BRITAIN
  2. FORBEARANCE ESSENTIAL FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE
  3. 3.      RAHUL GANDHI AND WIKILEAKS - BY B.RAMAN
  4. LAKSHMAN KADIRGAMAR DECEASED IS AS POTENT AS ALIVE
  5. LIVING IN THE GLOBAL GLASSHOUSE: AN OPEN LETTER TO SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE - BY NALAKA GUNAWARDENE

 

***************************************

******************************************************************************************

THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NO, PRIME MINISTER

APPEARING BEFORE PAC WON'T DO


There is no reason to doubt the Prime Minister when he says that he has nothing to hide about the 2G Spectrum scam that caused the exchequer a mind-boggling loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore, apart from holding up the Government of India to remorseless ridicule at home and abroad. Nor should we raise eyebrows over Mr Manmohan Singh's assertion that his Government has nothing to fear. An administration led by an honest man with unimpeachable integrity cannot be otherwise. But neither Mr Singh's claim to transparency nor his Government's courage in the face of adversity serves to answer a simple question: Why is he so cussedly reluctant to agree to the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the various aspects of the 2G scandal? His description of himself as "Caesar's wife" and his offer to present himself before the Public Affairs Committee of Parliament when it scrutinises the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report on the stunning telecom scam that was pulled off under his watch do not answer this question. Self-righteous sanctimoniousness may serve to impress the naïve and silence the ill-informed, but it's unlikely to placate those who believe that the UPA Government owes the nation an explanation as to why an unscrupulous Minister, corporate lobbyists and fly-by-night operators were allowed to collude in cheating the exchequer and, hence, the people of India. The nation also has the right to know why the Prime Minister maintained his amazing silence while the loot went on unchecked and unrestrained till it was no longer possible to pretend all was fine and accuse those questioning Mr A Raja's misdeed of maligning the Congress and the Government it heads. 


The Prime Minister's effort to paint the Opposition's demand for a JPC inquiry as misplaced and motivated because a multi-agency probe is on and the PAC shall scrutinise the CAG's damning report will convince nobody, including his colleagues in Government and party. A JPC inquiry is not a criminal investigation; it is an attempt to look into what went wrong, why the system of checks and balances failed, and how to prevent a similar scam from being pulled off by politicians devoid of even rudimentary integrity. It is also aimed at fixing political responsibility. To that extent, a JPC inquiry serves a wholly different purpose from scrutiny of CAG reports by the PAC or a criminal investigation by the CBI. Mr Singh is no novice in Government; he has functioned as a bureaucrat and as a Minister before being pole-vaulted into the Prime Minister's office. As Union Minister for Finance, he has appeared before the JPC that looked into the stock market scandal. And he should be aware of the fact that the JPC's report helped overhaul the system and put into place a regulatory authority that has helped minimise, if not eradicate, the possibility of future scams of similar nature. Setting up a JPC to look into the telecom scam would lend credibility to the Prime Minister's strenuous defence of himself and his Government at the Congress's plenary session in Delhi on Monday. His willingness to appear before the JPC would not diminish his stature or cast aspersions on his integrity. On the contrary, it would have enhanced his image. There is time yet to make amends. Mr Singh should reconsider his decision and do the right thing. 

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

ICON WHO INSPIRES HOPE

SACHIN TENDULKAR SYMBOLISES EXCELLENCE


Much before his unprecedented 50th Test ton, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was already a legend — an Indian icon, a global brand, a trans-national inspiration and the greatest cricketer ever to walk Planet E. In that context, his latest feat, as he would so humbly say, is just another number. But then, Tendulkar is as much about immaculate conception of cricket as he is about utmost modesty, a trait that makes him stand apart from the corrupting influence of stardom. But humility apart, in international cricket every run is earned and Tendulkar has earned each of his 14,513 runs, mostly in adverse conditions. It has taken more than two decades of blood, sweat and toil. The Little Master has taken hundreds of blows, fought career threatening injuries, taken the pressure of a billion and more hopes to emerge undaunted. From back-injury to tennis elbow, the maestro has fought and overcome myriad problems, punching the demons so hard that they too have started fearing him. A role model par excellence, Sachin has given to the people of this country a phenomenon to be proud of. To the world at large, he has given inspiration which many stars of his game openly draw from. Every ton that Tendulkar has scripted since he was 17 has had the power to take away an entire nation from gloom, giving it reason to celebrate the sheer joy of achievement. A special one came after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai when he scored an unbeaten 103 against England to secure an improbable victory for India and dedicated it to the victims of the horrific terror attack. Nothing could have healed the wounds of that terrible tragedy but the master's innings brought the smile back. 


From arguments to agreements over his best ton to his best shot, time has played handmaiden to most popular discussions wherever they may have erupted across the nation. Till date, Tendulkar has given 96 tons but the unforgettable memories around these have been innumerable. But the humble man that he is, Tendulkar has never let the occasion get the better of him. He has taken criticism and praise equally well and imparted a lesson to sportspersons across the world on how to conduct themselves. Never has any athlete held such a firm head over his shoulder under such intense and perennial pressure. Where in the world will you see stadiums filling up only to see Tendulkar bat and emptying out instantly if he gets out? That's the lure of 'Tendliya' as he is popularly known, and that's the power of, perhaps, the sport that unifies the country. Tendulkar is a pan-Indian poster boy; by celebrating his success and achievements, Indians celebrate excellence and endeavour. In a sense, that is Tendulkar's true success and achievement: He inspires hope, he raises the bar. 

 

***************************************

 

 


THE PIONEER

COLUMN

SUPREMELY INJUDICIOUS

JUDICIAL OVERREACH IS TRANSCENDING SEPARATION OF POWERS BETWEEN THE EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATURE AND JUDICIARY, THEREBY ERODING A BASIC FEATURE OF THE CONSTITUTION

SANDHYA JAIN


Some startling pronouncements, orders, and judgements by the Supreme Court in recent times necessitate urgent scrutiny of the definition of 'justice' which seems to have undergone a strange metamorphosis without national debate or consent. There is also a danger that judicial overreach is transcending the constitutional scheme of separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, thereby eroding a basic feature of the Constitution.

 

It is astonishing that the Union Government has meekly agreed to comply with the Supreme Court's order of December 14 to furnish the 'complaint' that led to tapping of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's telephone by the Income Tax Department and possibly other agencies. Such court intervention in the work of intelligence-gathering agencies can have a corrosive impact on their confidentiality and operating procedures, and must be discouraged. If the Union Ministry of Home Affairs found merit in a warning that a person residing in India was allegedly indulging in espionage and anti-national activities, it was duty-bound to investigate the allegation. 


From a public perspective, the 'Radia tapes' disclosures have exposed the murky underbelly of high finance-corporate lobbying to make Andimuthu Raja the Union Minister for Telecommunications; the unprecedented loss to the exchequer in allocation of 2G Spectrum; corporate 'fixing' of the judiciary, etc. The real issues of tax evasion and money laundering are yet to be exposed.


Editing of the 'Radia tapes' makes it difficult to know which judge allegedly received Rs 9 crore. But there is a clear reference to a squabbling corporate family. In this context — and the crushing Rs 3 per litre rise in petrol prices — it may be fair to ask the court to suo moto revisit its judgement in the pricing dispute between the Ambani brothers, specifically the critical issue of ownership of national resources.


In the dispute between Mr Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd and Mr Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, the public interest pertains to the cost of natural gas. During the settlement of the late Dhirubhai Ambani's estate in 2005, ICICI Bank's then managing director, Mr KV Kamath, negotiated a purchase price for RNRL at $2.34 per mmBTU from RIL-operated KG-D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari basin. Mr Mukesh Ambani's RIL made a profit from this deal.


Yet two years later, the Government fixed $4.20 per mmBTU for National Thermal Power Corporation to buy gas from the same firm; this prompted Mr Mukesh Ambani to insist RNRL pay the higher price. 


The Supreme Court upheld the contention of Petroleum Minister Murli Deora that gas is a natural — and national — resource, and the Government has the right to fix its price. But can Government fix a price higher than that agreed to by two parties in the free market? And, can the benefit of this differential be pocketed by one private party, that too at the cost of a public sector undertaking? 

 

The issue affects all who will pay for the power generated by NTPC and other firms. Experts estimate RIL will earn an extra Rs 23,000 crore from this verdict. Had the Supreme Court awarded this as royalty to the Petroleum Ministry, it could have been used to buffer the public against sharp jumps in prices. The apex court should revisit this verdict.

Equally astounding was the Supreme Court decision in February to stay the trial of 64 members of the Indian Mujahideen in Ahmedabad for their alleged involvement in several terror attacks from 2005 onwards in Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow. The accused pleaded they would not get a fair trial in Gujarat and demanded transfer of the case to another State, adding they were being ill-treated in jail. 


By staying the trial just three days before its commencement, the Supreme Court virtually declared 'no confidence' in the entire Gujarat High Court. The question arises, what kind of judgement must certain types of accused get in order to accept that justice has been done? And does the Indian judicial system allow open 'shopping' of judges and courts, which is what the demand for transfer to another State amounts to? 

Has the Supreme Court learnt nothing from the manner in which it allowed ideologically biased activists to make it transfer the Gujarat riot cases to a State where they felt they could conveniently monitor them? Once the Supreme Court learnt that the National Human Rights Commission had recommended this transfer on the basis of an unsigned affidavit submitted by controversial activist Teesta Setalvad, did it retreat from brinkmanship? Now that the mass manufacture and doctoring of affidavits by Teesta Setalvad's NGO has been exposed, and cases are falling apart, has the Supreme Court revisited its operational procedures?


We may legitimately ask if court intervention has effectively derailed the trial of the Indian Mujahideen men. It is now December, and the Indian Mujahideen has planned and executed the December 7 bombing at Varanasi, causing the death of an infant. Won't judicial activism demoralise the intelligence agencies and the police who risk their lives in umpteen unknown ways to nab such criminals? If 'ill-treatment' in jail leads to calls to transfer a case outside a State, why didn't the battering of Sadhvi Pragya in a Mumbai jail result in the transfer of her case to another State? 


This brings us to the myth of 'Hindu/saffron terror' propagated by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her cohorts in the Government and party (WikiLeaks says the US thought her politics to be "unprincipled"). The Mumbai ATS has been unable to stick any charge against Sadhvi Pragya and her co-accused, yet some cussed mentality denies them bail though Sadhvi Pragya is reportedly suffering from cancer. WikiLeaks has now exposed that Mr Rahul Gandhi told the US Ambassador, Mr Timothy Roemer, "radicalised Hindu groups" were a greater concern than Islamic groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Surely this is a wake-up call to the Indian judiciary — to do justice, and to be seen to be doing justice.


Finally, we have the 'uncle judge' syndrome. Without casting aspersions on the integrity or calibre of former Supreme Court judge Shivraj V Patil, appointed by Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal to probe the 2G scam, his qualification seems to be close family ties with former Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. The former Chief Justice of India, Mr KG Balakrishnan, has also been exposed for claiming that the Chief Justice of Madras High Court did not name Mr A Raja as the Minister who tried to influence a judge in a criminal case. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive… 


***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

CHINESE CHECKERS OVER KASHMIR

BY QUESTIONING THE LEGITIMACY OF INDIA'S SOVEREIGNTY OVER JAMMU & KASHMIR, BEIJING MAY BE CREATING A FUTURE OPTION FOR QUESTIONING NEW DELHI'S LOCUS STANDI TO NEGOTIATE THE FUTURE OF THE INDIAN TERRITORY IN THE LADAKH AREA UNDER CHINESE OCCUPATION. CHINA COULD AGGRESSIVELY USE THIS OPTION IF ITS RELATIONS WITH INDIA WERE TO DETERIORATE 

B RAMAN


Since January, 2010, there have been references by Chinese officials and media to the length of the Sino-Indian border as about 2,000 km. The People's Daily reported on January 7: "China and India share a nearly 2,000-km border and disputed areas cover about 1,25,000 sq km on both sides." The "2,000-km-long" boundary was mentioned in the China Daily in August 2009 in a report on the 13th round of boundary talks between the two sides. After the 14th round of the border talks held at Beijing on November 29 and 30, 2010 by Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, India's National Security Adviser, and Mr Dai Bingguo, the Chinese State Councillor, there were three important commentaries on the talks in the Chinese media — by the party-controlled Global Times, by Mr Zhou Gang, a former Chinese Ambassador to India, in the Beijing Reviewand by Mr Cheng Ruisheng, another former Chinese Ambassador to India, in an interview to the Chinese news channel CCTV.


The Global Times commentary said that the Chinese Government's position was that both countries "will take into consideration each other's concerns, and work toward an equitable and justified settlement of border issues that is acceptable to both sides". However, it quoted Mr Zhao Gancheng, a leading Chinese strategist, as saying "Indian activities near the border" and "remarks made by senior Indian officials who played up the China threat" had "harmed the chances" of reaching a quick resolution. It did not make any reference to the length of the Sino-Indian border.


However, the comments of the two former Chinese Ambassadors to India made specific references to the length of the border. Mr Gang was quoted as saying, "The Sino-Indian border stretches for about 2,000 km, and the two countries have never officially mapped it out. For a long time, the two sides abided by a traditional customary line based on their respective administrative regions." Mr Ruisheng was quoted as saying, "China and India share roughly a 2,000 kilometer border which has never been formally delineated."


In subsequent reports as curtain raisers to the just concluded visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to New Delhi from December 15 to 17, 2010, sections of the Chinese media specified the approximate length of the Sino-Indian border as about 2,000 km. A Xinhua report from Beijing disseminated before the departure of Mr Jiabao to India described the Sino-Indian border as nearly 2,000-km long. Xinhua's reference was reportedly based on an official briefing by the Assistant Foreign Minister of China, Mr Hu Zhengyue to the Beijing Press corps on December 13. On December 14, in an interview with the Indian Ambassador to China, Mr S Jaishankar, the Global Times asked about the reported tensions on the border. In response, Mr Jaishankar said, "The reality contradicts any alarmist depiction of the situation on the border, whether in India or in China. We have a long common border of 3,488 km." In publishing the interview the Global Times chose to add the following comments: "There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese Government often refers to the border length as being 'about 2,000 km'."


India has always been estimating the approximate length of the Sino-Indian border as about 3,500 kms in all the three sectors — Eastern, middle and Western — taken together. While it is about 2,000 kms in the Eastern and the middle sectors taken together, it is another about 1,500 kms long in the Western sector in Jammu & Kashmir. China, which had never openly questioned the Indian estimate of the length of the common border before, is now unilaterally seeking to exclude from consideration during the border talks the dispute between India and China over the Chinese occupation of a large territory in the Ladakh sector of Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, it is seeking to question India's locus standi to discuss with China the border in the Jammu & Kashmir area in view of Pakistan's claims to this area. It is trying to bring in Pakistan as an interested party in so far as the border talks regarding the Western sector are concerned. It wants to change the format of the border talks in order to keep it confined bilaterally to the Eastern and middle sectors and expand it to a trilateral issue involving India, China and Pakistan in the Western sector. The exclusion of the border in the Jammu & Kashmir sector from its estimate of the total length of the border is another indication that it does not recognise India's claims of sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir.


This has come in the wake of its decision to stop issuing regular visas to Indian citizens residing in Jammu & Kashmir and to issue them only stapled visas. It is apparent that this is part of a well thought-out policy of unilaterally changing the ground rules of the border talks. It had earlier allegedly changed the ground rules in the Eastern sector by going back on a prior understanding with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the border should be demarcated in such a manner as not to affect populated areas. It is now going back on its previous stand in the Western sector by seeking to challenge India's locus standi in view of its dispute with Pakistan.


Even at the risk of a further delay in the exercise to solve the border dispute, India should not agree to any change in the ground rules which would restrict the border talks only to the Eastern and middle sectors and exclude the Western sector on the ground that India has a dispute over this area with Pakistan. 


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


 ***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

ECONOMIC TIES CAN'T BE FREE OF POLITICAL REALITIES

SHIVAJI SARKAR


Despite China's aggressive marketing to boost its exports without giving any concessions, India has signed deals worth $16 billion. But New Delhi needs to call for a stronger approach in dealing with Beijing and stop conceding ground


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's India visit is being seen as quite successful in respect of boosting bilateral trade relations, despite not being very fruitful politically. India has signed more deals during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit than it did when US President Barack Obama came shopping for jobs — $16 billion compared to $10 billion. However, political relations always have an impact on other ties. Hence, China's reticence on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, its stand on Jammu & Kashmir and its view that Arunachal Pradesh is part of southern Tibet have cast shadows on trade ties as well.


Mr Jiabao has not demonstrated any willingness to create bonhomie. Rather China's response has not matched India's enthusiasm on the trade deal. The much-touted $100 billion bilateral trade goal by 2015 runs virtually counter to the current pace of growth. Does China want to limit trade relations with India? Apparently, it seems to be so. This is the lowest target fixed by the two countries. Trade between the two countries has been increasing at 43 per cent a year since 2005, after the visit of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Beijing. The bilateral trade then was at $19 billion; it is set to touch $60 billion by the end of this year. Now, the average growth target will be limited to 13.4 per cent a year for the next five years. 


The Chinese response to India's expectations for cut on duty and access to its market can be best described as tepid. It is because China has learnt from its US policy that aggressive marketing can boost its exports without giving any concessions. The US today rues China's market aggression and its close to $4 trillion reserves in US dollar securities. The US fears that China could any day pull the rug and upset its moves for economic revival. What desists China is the military supremacy of the US. In case of India, it does not fear its military might.

The Chinese policy is simple. It is happy with its growing trade surplus of at least $16 billion. Mr Jiabao knows larger trade surplus with the US has enhanced and strengthened the economy, particularly benefiting the Han people, the real rulers of the country. He understands that he would create a larger market for China by flooding India with cheaper exports on the strength of yuan kept at an artificial low and cheap extortionist labour. 

 

It is surprising that the two issues have not figured in the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Jiabao. The silence on vital issues like dumping of cheap Chinese goods is difficult to comprehend. Such cheap exports have severely affected India's manufacturing sectors like the electrical, electronic goods and machinery. China exports $9,388 million worth electronic goods, $4,139 million machineries, $2,167 million organic chemicals and $1,211 million project goods.


Further, Mr Jiabao has cold-shouldered Indian efforts at seeking greater access to Chinese market. In a way, India has benefited from that gesture as it is not exporting much of finished, value-added goods to China. It is exporting $4,372.63 million worth iron ore, $698.91 million worth other ores and minerals, $739.5 million of gems and jewellery and $301 million other commodities. It is obvious that India is a low-end exporter. In fact, its exports are paving the way for China's growth. Indian iron ore exports have helped China build high-capacity steel plants that roll out rails used to build railways right up to India's borders in Tibet. 

Iron ore reserves and other mineral resources are depleting in our country. We need to ban all iron ore exports to secure our future. Power equipment manufacturers BHEL and Larsen & Toubro have complained that duty-free access to products made by Chinese rivals is eating into their market share. Indian IT companies also face serious problems for operating in China. In sharp contrast, China imposes 30 per cent import duty on all capital equipment to protect its domestic market. Why can't India take a reciprocal step? 


With such reticent approach, Mr Jiabao's talks of Asian century would, in reality, become a Chinese century that would engulf all Asian markets. India needs to call for a stronger approach in dealing with China and stop giving away its own turf.

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED


IRAN FORCES ON ALERT AS ECONOMIC 'SURGERY' BEGINS

FEELING THE STING OF TIGHTENED SANCTIONS OVER ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAMME, TEHRAN DECIDES TO TIGHTEN ITS BELT, REPORT NASSER KARIMI & BRIAN MURPHY


Security forces flooded Iran's capital in a warning against possible unrest as fuel prices surged 400 per cent under plans to sharply cut Government subsidies and ease pressure on an economy struggling with international sanctions. The so-called economic 'surgery' has been planned for months, but was repeatedly delayed over worries of a repeat of gas riots in 2007 and serious political infighting during the standoff with the West over the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme. 


But the timing for the first painful steps — just after a first round of nuclear talks with international powers and a second planned for early next year — suggests one of the world's leading oil producers is feeling the sting of tightened sanctions. And it might open more room for possible compromises with world powers, including the United States, in exchange for easing the economic squeeze.


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranians in a nationally televised speech that it was finally time to begin trimming the state subsidies that lowered the costs of bread and cooking oil and gave Iran some of the cheapest fuel pump prices in the world. He also noted that he saw "positive points" in talks earlier this month with six nations that hold important sway over sanctions: The five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany. "Iran's top leadership is puzzled about the tightening sanctions and their long-term implications on Iran's economy. Mr Ahmadinejad has labeled those sanctions a joke, but the Iranian people are not laughing," said Mr Ehsan Ahrari, an analyst based in Alexandria, Virginia.


The overnight price rise — gas rising fourfold in some cases — follows upheaval in the heart of Mr Ahmadinejad's Government. Last week, he abruptly dismissed longtime Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, while he was on a diplomatic mission to Africa in favour of interim replacement, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi. The move sends a message that Iran's leadership had tired of Mr Mottaki's challenges to Mr Ahmadinejad and sought a more unified Government at a critical time. In his first public comment, Mr Mottaki called his blindside firing "un-Islamic, undiplomatic and offensive," according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency. 

In Tehran, meanwhile, riot police took up posts around the major intersections as the subsidy cuts took effect. There were loud complaints by consumers, but no signs of the violence in 2007, when the Government imposed limits on the purchase of subsidised gasoline.


Under the new system, each personal car receives 60 liters (16 gallons) of subsidised fuel a month costing 40 cents a liter ($1.50 a gallon) — up from the just 10 cents a liter. Further purchases of gas would run 70 cents a liter ($2.69 a gallon), up from just 40 cents. Tehran says it is paying some $100 billion in subsidies annually, although experts believe the amount is far lower, closer to $30 billion. 


Iran had planned to slash subsidies before the latest round of sanctions took effect — Mr Ahmadinejad and his allies have long insisted the country's oil-based economy could no longer afford the largesse. But the latest rounds of sanctions have targeted the core of Iran's economy. Some top European and Asian companies have pulled out of the Iranian market. American embargoes also seek to block the import of pump-ready fuel to Iran — a weak point in a country with vast oil riches but a shortfall in refineries.

Angry taxi drivers complained as the price of fuel rose fourfold overnight. "I don't know what to do," said one frustrated cab driver, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution by authorities. "I am not allowed to increase price of my service while I am paying five times more than yesterday." A truck driver, Mr Mansour Abbasi, said he paid 10 times more on Sunday for natural gas to fuel his vehicle — and complained he could not compensate by hiking his own transport fees. "If I raise my prices, people will not be able to afford it. Or they may report me," said Mr Abbasi, 43.


Despite the grumbling, there were no reports of clashes in Tehran or other major cities such as Tabriz, Kermanshah, Bandar Abbas, Kerman and Ahvaz. One resident of Ahvaz said some taxi fares doubled. Economists say the unpopular plan to slash subsidies could stoke inflation already estimated to be more than 20 per cent. One lawmaker said he had expected the extent of price rise overnight to happen gradually over five years.

"I am surprised. We do not know what happened," the lawmaker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment. "The price of fuel was supposed to reach about international prices within the next five years and not this year." Mr Ahmadinejad also said his Government was paying $4 billion in bread subsidies, which will also gradually be phased out. Mr Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a Tehran University Professor of politics, said it was too soon to gauge the public reaction to the cuts, and popular unrest could still erupt.


"We have to wait and see how inflation will affect their lives," he told AP. Opposition websites reported an economic analyst, Mr Fariborz Rais Dana, was detained after claiming the subsidy cuts were intended to allow Islamic leaders to spend more money on the military and security forces. The reports could not be independently confirmed. 


After Mr Ahmadinejad announced the cuts Saturday night, on December 18 — calling it the "biggest surgery" on Iran's economy in 50 years — long lines of cars formed at gas stations in Tehran as Iranians rushed to fill their tanks at subsidised prices before the new ones took effect at midnight. By Sunday, the lines were gone.

Economic analyst Saeed Laylaz said the cuts were in theory a positive move since they would reduce energy consumption, which is currently costing the country a quarter of its Gross National Product. "However it is being implemented in an incomplete fashion because it's not accompanied by a greater liberalisation of the economy," he said, adding that the cuts would probably not have much positive effect. The Government says it will return part of the money obtained from increased prices to the people through cash payments. It has already paid into accounts of some 20 million families as compensation ahead of the cuts. Every family member will now receive $80 for to help them over the next two months. 


-- AP

*************************************


******************************************************************************************

MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

TENDULKAR PROVES AGAIN WHY HE IS BEYOND COMPARE

 

BATTING maestro Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred came at a time when India needed a mountain of runs against South Africa to avoid a humiliating defeat. But it is a mark of the batsman's greatness that he did not celebrate for long, and got back to the business of saving the Test match. Eventually, he ran out of partners, and India lost.

 

And so it has been for the last 21 years of his international cricket. Sachin's career, unlike that of so many other of the game's greats including the greatest, Sir Donald Bradman, cannot be measured in numbers alone.

 

Granted he has 96 international hundreds, has played for 21 years, has more records to his name than any other player in cricket's history — bar a few like the highest individual score and a World Cup victory— has played on more grounds and under more trying weather conditions than anyone else, and is possibly the only player in history who has followers and fans across the world regardless of national loyalties.

 

Each time Sachin walks on to the field, he is expected to score a hundred. He does not, of course ( his average is one hundred every 3.5 Tests or 5.72 innings), but he has the uncanny ability to score in all sorts of circumstances.

 

Most players end their careers with one or at most two defining innings — Brian Lara has that 277 at Sydney, VVS Laxman has an epic 281 at Kolkata, Bradman has the 334 at Leeds, Sunil Gavaskar has the 96 in his last Test at Bangalore— but Sachin has several. And he has not even scored a triple hundred yet.

 

He also has the dogged determination to continue where others, even top sportsmen, would give up. When faced with a career- ending elbow injury around five years ago, Sachin did not flinch. Instead he put his pads back on after intensive physiotherapy and surgeries, and walked right back on the field, practised like a man possessed and came back into the Indian team. The result? He is now a more complete batsman than he ever was.

 

Though he is 37 his retirement does not seem imminent. Too many obituaries about his career have been published, and each time he has discredited the writer with his comeback.

 

It is no wonder that his fans call the ageless batsman God. Who are we, mere mortals, to dispute that?

 

ACT ON CORRUPTION PLEASE

UNITED Progressive Alliance Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi's five- tier plan to tackle corruption looks nice on paper, but she must know that the time for talking about corruption is over. The people are looking for action— not episodic acts like the current Central Bureau of Investigation raids and arrests on the Commonwealth Games or 2G spectrum scam but a sustained fight to dramatically reduce, if not eliminate the scourge from the country.

 

Ms Gandhi has hit the nail on the head by calling for the fast- tracking of cases involving public servants, including politicians.

 

Deterrence does work, but current laws and practice are too weak to deter. Indeed, today cases against public servants are slowtracked by deliberately cumbersome procedures like the rule that requires government sanction to prosecute civil servants.

 

In pointing to the need for laws and procedures that ensure full transparency in public procurements and contracts, Ms Gandhi has made an important suggestion, along with the one related to the need for openness in exploiting natural resources. The needless secrecy and discretionary powers the government retains to award contracts is usually a mechanism to make money. If the government wishes to exercise its discretion for strategic reasons, it should be upfront and explain why.

 

The Union government needs to move immediately on her fourth suggestion of taking away discretionary powers on land allocation and altering land use from chief ministers.

 

**************************************


            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

MINES POLICY IS MIRED IN CONFUSION

BY RAVI SRINIVASAN

 

CORRUPTION and exploitation of natural resources have become conjoined twins in our country. So much so that on Sunday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, at the party's plenary session aimed at preparing the party for the next elections, flagged it as a key issue.

 

One of the key points in her fivepoint anti- corruption programme which she revealed this week is to introduce a system of ' open competition' in the exploitation of natural resources.

 

Is open market competition the answer? It may help in eliminating some of the margin — which goes towards funding the payoffs — currently in the system, but will it prove a panacea for the other ills which cloud the issue of who should benefit, and to what extent, from exploiting natural resources? One doubts whether open competition alone would suffice to plug the many defects and gaps in our existing, as well as proposed policies regarding the exploitation of natural resources.

 

Legislation

 

The National Mineral Policy, announced more than three years ago and which is supposed to provide the framework for exploiting India's vast mineral wealth while at the same time safeguarding strategic and long term national interests, is still stuck on paper, practically worthless in the absence of supportive legislation and regulatory frameworks.

 

With the entire winter session of Parliament having been lost over the 2G scam stand- off, and with the upcoming Budget session promising to be equally fraught, it would be safe to assume that the much redrawn and reworked National Mines and Mineral ( development and regulation) Act ( NMMDR) is unlikely to become a reality even in the coming fiscal year.

 

Even this projection of just another year's delay is optimistic, going by the government's track record so far. The draft NMMDR Act has been through more than half a dozen iterations over the past few years, as one interest group or the other has managed to stall the bill till its interests and points of view have been incorporated.

 

The last such tweak happened when the empowered group of ministers tasked with clearing the draft NMMDR Act decided to work in a profit sharing clause, making it mandatory for mining companies to share 26 per cent of their profits with the local population dispossessed by their activities.

 

This was a knee- jerk response to the Vedanta- environment ministry face- off over mining in Niyamgiri, where the scales were decisively tilted when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi came out in defence of the tribals who were opposing mining activity on their sacred hill.

 

It must have come as a rude surprise to those calculating a straight line political pay- off for a populist decision to find that the move has ended up pleasing no one.

 

While the mining industry is opposing the profit sharing clause tooth and nail, NGOs and interest groups fighting the cause of tribals say that the government has actually watered down their demands.

 

What they had asked for was a 26 per cent share of the equity, which would not only automatically give them a share of the profits, but also a measure of control over the operations, with their attendant and inevitable degradation of the environment.

 

Issues

 

What they have got is substantial enough, but there are many gaps and grey areas in the proposal. The profit condition can be very easily manipulated by companies to ensure that either little or no profit is available on the books for sharing. The definition of profit is also opaque. While the draft says that the share will come out of the total profit after taxes made by the mining company, if such mining is part of an integrated operation — like Vedanta's jinxed bauxite mining project, which would have fed its aluminium refinery, or any coal mine linked to a steel plant or a mega power project — the profits made upstream is in multiples of the profit from basic mining. Which profit should be considered?

 

The government's check measure for mining firms attempting creative accounting is to say that mining companies will have to share the royalty they pay to the government with the affected local population.

 

This the mining lobby is suspiciously ready to accept. That is because the royalty mechanism is quite imperfect in India and the actual royalties paid so far are, in most cases, a fraction of the actual market value of the resource in question.

 

In iron ore, for instance, till recently, the royalty was around Rs 11 per tonne — a tiny fraction of the market price of the ore.

 

Even this pittance was considered too much by some. Karnataka chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa, while asking for an outright ban on iron ore export, recently admitted that as much as 10 million tonnes of ore had been illegally mined from Karnataka's Bellary area alone! Such staggering quantities cannot be moved without the active connivance and participation of a number of government agencies, as well as the law and order machinery. In fact, media reports had pointed out how forged papers and permits were used in huge numbers to ferry iron ore from Bellary to Mangalore, from where it was shipped out in shiploads, again with the help of falsified permits and documents.

 

The specific royalty, in the case of iron ore at least, has been replaced with an ad valorem one. But here too, it is not the global price for iron ore, available to anyone with a computer and Internet access, but an artificial construct, where upstream prices have been actually suppressed with the help of a bewildering array of concessions and exemptions.

 

Industry has other, more legitimate objections. Many of the mining leases have been given for so called ' captive mining' operations, where the resource is mined to feed a specific upstream point of contention.

 

All major metal producers in India — both of ferrous and non- ferrous metals — have access to captive mining blocks from where they extract the raw material.

 

In addition, many other bulk consumers, like cement plants which use limestone as well as coal, or power projects based on coal- burning technology, have been given captive blocks. They argue that they have bid for such projects — a power plant is typically bid for in terms of the tariff at which the plant would supply power — based on certain calculations based on captive coal access. What happens when a profit sharing clause is introduced here — and how exactly would the profits from an intermediate process — which is what the mining operations would be in this case — be calculated?

 

Stakeholders

 

Then there is the thorny issue of definitions.

 

If natural resources are to be treated as a national resource, then what happens to the rest of the population? How will it enjoy a share of the natural bounty? Even at the state level, the issue is fraught with complications. In most cases, the actual mineral resources are located in relatively thinly populated regions, home to indigenous tribal populations.

 

The tribals have admittedly been severely disadvantaged in the payout of development dividends, but this does not mean that they are surrounded by oceans of wealth. In almost all the cases, they are surrounded by non- tribal populations which are only marginally better off. Do they not have a right to ask for a share of the wealth so that they can better their lot as well? The argument of local share of local earnings can be only carried so far. Otherwise Mumbai, which still accounts for half the country's tax collections, can legitimately ask for half the Union Budget! State governments argue that since the Centre has anyway managed to bag the lion's share of taxation opportunities, it should have no role in deciding how state resources are exploited — a valid argument, if not for the shocking track record of the states in safeguarding public interest in the past.

 

What is clear is that no reasonably fair or lasting solution can be found through fiat.

 

Informed debate and wide consultation is the need of the hour.

 

r. srinivasan@ mailtoday. in

 

**************************************


MAIL TODAY

SIMPLY SOUTH

 

UNMASKING OF A ' LITERARY HEIR'

M C RAJAN

 

WHEN the CBI raided Jegath Gasper Raj, a priest who dons several caps and is a close aide of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, not many in Tamil Nadu were surprised. For, such is the reputation of the first time Rajya Sabha MP and her mother Rajathi alias Dharmambal.

 

Kanimozhi's rise to prominence and her fall from grace, within a short span of time, has been rather dramatic and it makes for interesting reading.

 

Her octogenarian daddy had no other option left but to anoint her as the ' literary' heir with one of his sons, MK Stalin looking after the Government and another, MK Alagiri, taking care of the southern districts of the state. Geographically, nothing was left of his political estate to be offered to her.

 

But, the unmasking of the literary façade did not take too long, thanks to the 2G Spectrum scam. Well, Karunanidhi had camouflaged his propensity for rhetorical writing as literature and was skillful enough to employ it as a tool to promote himself.

 

However, the waning intellectual romance with the Dravidian movement demystified many a thing of which one was the literary pretensions of the wily film script- writer and author of narratives that some say border on pornography.

 

The two tiny poetry collections, published by a literary magazine, which had her on its editorial board for reasons other than competence, were nothing but run- of the mill fares. If anything, her writing only underlines the fact that she is no great literary talent.

 

Then came her association with Fr Gasper Raj. The controversial Catholic priest had always been under a cloud. Even before teaming up with Kanimozhi, he was accused of being a front for the LTTE's financial operations. Worse, pro- Tiger websites accuse him of misappropriating LTTE money. With his LTTE connections, Gasper Raj reportedly acquired skills for money laundering that indeed might have come in handy for the Raja- Rajathi- Kanimozhi trio.

 

She became a director of the NGO, ' Tamil Mayyam' ( Tamil Centre) launched by Gasper Raj. The relationship added to her profile as the patron of folk arts through holding the annual cultural extravaganza ' Chennai Sangamam', with state patronage.

 

BORN AT the lowly Royapettah Government Hospital, patronised only by the poor, Kanimozhi had to wait until her graduation for Karunanidhi to be open about his relationship with her mother Rajathi, a former stage actor. " Rajathi is the mother of my daughter Kanimozhi," was his response during a debate in the assembly. All that changed with the DMK's return to power in 1989 which saw Rajathi emerging as a power centre with some of the ministers directly reporting to her.

 

Hailing from the mercantile Nadar community, Rajathi had her daughter married to Adiban Bose, a businessman from Sivakasi. Unfortunately, the marriage was unsuccessful and the couple opted for a divorce.

 

In 1997, she married Singaporebased G Aravindan, who reportedly had literary interests. But, Aravindan continues to live in Singapore and is hardly seen with Kanimozhi.

 

It was around this time that she was groomed into politics as the ' female face' of the patriarchal male- dominated party.

 

Despite becoming a Rajya Sabha MP in 2006, a cabinet berth continued to remain elusive and during the UPA II formation she opted out in favour of her ally to head the lucrative Telecom Ministry, effectively blocking the return of Dayanidhi Maran.

 

Remember the Radia tapes for ministerial berths were dated May 18 and 19, 2009 — the same time when the Mullaiteevu battle between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE had reached its decisive end. So much for Kanimozhi's concern for the Lankan Tamils! As for family politics, Karunanidhi's daughter Selvi — through his second wife Dayalu — is a bitter rival of Kanimozhi.

 

She is also married into the Maran family. Even though, the Marans could have smirked in private over' Kanimozhi's troubles, they too are now on a sticky wicket with the ambit of the Spectrum investigation being extended 2001.

 

If the CBI goes through the probe fairly and thoroughly, Kanimozhi and her mother may be in for more trouble. The buzz is that the mother- daughter duo is the major beneficiary of what is billed as India's biggest scam.

 

JAYA ATONES FOR THE PAST

MAKING up for her past mistakes and in an attepmt to erase her image as a pro- saffron leader, AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa has started wooing minorities ahead of the assembly polls. In an unusual gesture, she is all set to participate in a Christmas fete at Arumanai in the Christiandominant Kanniyakumari district.

Jayalalithaa had earned the wrath of Christians when her sycophantic party workers depicted her as Virgin Mary.

 

She brought the Anti- Conversion Law in 2006 and though she was forced to repeal it after the drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, the minorities, who have the potential to decide the electoral outcome in over 100 constituencies, remained unforgiving.

 

With an eye on Nadar votes, she is slated to visit Kanniyakumari on Januray 6 for an event connected with ' Ayya Vaikunda Swamy', a local religious sect which came into existence as a protest against Brahminacal orthodoxy. Nadars form the social base of the sect.

 

AIADMK is at a critical juncture without power either at the Centre or in the state. It is especially focussing on Kanniyakumari and other southern districts, a region which used to be its citadel.

 

**************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

FIFTY AND GOING STRONG

 

For those who have been privileged to watch Sachin Tendulkar enthrall us for 21 years, the little maestro's feat of scoring 50 Test centuries is something that we will be telling our grandchildren. India had their backs against the wall, facing a mammoth deficit of 484 runs in the first Test against South Africa. A fiery South African pace attack didn't help matters and India eventually caved in. But a Sunday afternoon at the SuperSport Park in Centurion will go down in history as having witnessed a deed that is unlikely to be replicated in our lifetime. As Tendulkar caressed the ball through covers to reach the milestone, a billion hearts skipped with joy at his extraordinary accomplishment. 


But the man himself reckons that his 50th Test ton is nothing more than a number. His appetite for scoring runs remains insatiable. Given the fact that he is just four centuries short of a century of centuries in international cricket, there is no denying that Tendulkar's career has been a statistical extravaganza. But it is not just statistics alone that define his enormous cricketing talent. Those who know him well will testify to the tremendous amount of dedication and respect he brings to the game. Ever since a 16-year-old Tendulkar made his debut at the Karachi Test in 1989, talent has been supplemented by hard work and sincerity in equal measure. 


Even after two decades at the pinnacle of international cricket, Tendulkar is still looking to raise his game. This is what sets him apart from the rest of his talented contemporaries, some of whom started playing after him and have retired much before he calls it quits. At 37, Tendulkar's recent achievements - including the only double century in one-day cricket till date - bears testimony to the fact that if one is passionate about what one does, age can become truly irrelevant. 


There might be the occasional whisper of Tendulkar not having played enough match-winning knocks for India, but the record books speak for themselves. Indeed, he needs to be credited not just for inspiring a generation to take up cricket professionally but also for single-handedly shouldering the cricketing expectations of an entire nation for the better part of his career. Today he is in a league of his own and plays the game like a sagacious grandmaster. Tendulkar shows that at the end of the day it is the love for the game that matters most. And he has no plans to stop doing what he does best. 

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

DOWN WITH CORRUPTION

 

As tough rhetoric, it was music to the public's ears. At the Congress plenary session, Sonia Gandhi demanded zero tolerance for corruption, listing steps needed to fight it. Besides fast-tracking of graft cases involving public servants, she called for transparency in public procurements and contracts, relinquishing of discretionary powers and an "open, competitive system" for exploitation of natural resources. Along with her advocacy of state funding of polls and protection for whistle-blowers, the action plan seems fairly comprehensive. But can it work if the Congress maintains its rather glib distinction between "party" and "government"? For the Manmohan Singh-led regime to execute the brief, Congress luminaries must act less like its periodic conscience-keepers than members of a ruling party concerned with the nuts and bolts of governance. 

As party boss and UPA chairperson, Gandhi is herself uniquely positioned to suggest how to deal firmly with obstructionist party members and allies. To tackle corruption expeditiously, booking the big fish along with the small is imperative. This hasn't been effectively demonstrated so far. Again, Gandhi is spot on in saying that discretionary powers, especially in land allotment, must be curbed. But if the Congress has lessons for BJP-led Karnataka here, it must do much more than it has to undo the politician-babu-land mafia nexus in Adarsh-hit Maharashtra. Aligning land acquisition to market forces is a related need, yet ally Trinamool has stymied a Bill to facilitate this and the Congress has let things drift. The call for competition in the mining sector is welcome. What isn't is the recent ministerial nod to a first-come-first-served principle for awarding large area prospecting licences, based on a spurious distinction between exploration and extraction. This, despite the 2G imbroglio showing that competitive bidding is best for transparency. Clearly, the Congress must go beyond statements of intent to spearhead a systemic clean-up. Delivery is the key.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

PLAN B IN AFGHANISTAN

ROBERT D BLACKWILL

 

US policy toward Afghanistan involves spending scores of billions of dollars and suffering several hundred allied deaths annually largely to prevent the Afghan Taliban from controlling the Afghan Pashtun homeland. 

But the 
United States and its allies will not defeat the Taliban militarily. President Hamid Karzai's corrupt government will not significantly improve. The Afghan National Army cannot take over combat missions from ISAF in southern and eastern Afghanistan in any realistic time frame. And on December 15, the New York Times assessed that "two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border". That won't happen. 


With these individual elements of US Afghanistan policy in serious trouble, optimism about the current strategy's ability to meet its objectives reminds one of the White Queen's comment in Through the Looking Glass: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

De facto partition offers the Obama administration the best available alternative to strategic defeat. The administration should stop setting deadlines for withdrawal and instead commit the United States to a long-term combat role in Afghanistan of 35,000-50,000 troops for the next 7-10 years. 


Concurrently, Washington should accept that the Taliban will inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east and that the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for Americans to continue paying. The United States and its partners should stop fighting and dying in the Pashtun homeland and let the local correlation of forces take its course - while deploying US air power and Special Forces to ensure that the north and west of Afghanistan do not succumb to the Taliban. The United States would make clear that it would strike al-Qaida targets anywhere, Taliban encroachments across the de facto partition line, and sanctuaries along the Pakistani border using weapons systems that were unavailable before 9/11. 


Accepting a de facto partition of Afghanistan makes sense only if the other options available are worse. They are. 

One alternative is to stay the current course in Afghanistan. The United States deploys about 1,00,000 troops in Afghanistan, yet there are now only 50-100 al-Qaida fighters there. That is 1,000-2,000 soldiers per al-Qaida terrorist at $100 billion a year - far beyond any reasonable expenditure of American resources given the stakes involved. And even if many of the roughly 300 al-Qaida fighters now in Pakistan did move a few score miles north across the border, it would not make much of a practical difference - surely not enough to justify an indefinite major ground war. 


Another alternative is for the United States to withdraw all its military forces from Afghanistan over the next few years. But this would lead to a probable conquest of the entire country by the Taliban. It would draw Afghanistan's neighbours into the fighting. It would raise the odds of the Islamic radicalisation of Pakistan, which would in turn call into question the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. It would weaken the budding US-India strategic partnership, undermine Nato's future, and trigger a global outpouring of support for Islamic extremist ideology and increased terrorism against liberal societies. And it would be seen around the world by friends and adversaries alike as a failure of international leadership and strategic resolve by an ever weaker America. 

A third alternative is to achieve stability in Afghanistan through successful negotiations with the Taliban. As CIA director Leon Panetta has said, however, so long as the Taliban think they are winning, they will remain intransigent. Despite the major intensification of drone attacks, the US cannot kill the Taliban into meaningful political compromise. 


The analogy most cited to justify the current Afghanistan policy is the 2007 "surge" in Iraq. Yet as former US envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins has pointed out, by 2007, the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq had been decisively beaten by majority Shia militias, and it was only after this defeat that the Sunni Arabs turned to American forces for protection. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, in contrast, is rooted in that country's largest ethnic group, not its smallest. 


These Pashtun insurgents have been winning their civil war for the last several years, not losing it. In Iraq, by 2007 al-Qaida had made itself unwelcome among its Sunni Arab allies. In Afghanistan, al-Qaida is hardly present, and presents no comparable threat to the Afghan Taliban leadership. Pashtun elders are less influential than the Iraqi sheiks that brought their adherents over with them when they decided to switch sides. In short, the Iraq surge has little application to Afghanistan. 


Historians may puzzle over why the president, despite his deep agonising as described in Bob Woodward's book on the war, deployed 1,00,000 troops into Afghanistan nearly 10 years after 9/11, why US policy makers spoke as if the fate of the civilised world depended on the pacification of Marja and Kandahar. Accepting the de facto partition of Afghanistan is hardly an ideal outcome in Afghanistan. But it is better than the alternatives. 

The writer is a senior fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations and former US ambassador to 
India.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

A PRACTICAL MOVE

 

Barely a year after establishing new criteria for PhD students who are looking to teach, the University Grants Commission ( UGC) has rolled them back for students registered up until last year, and with good reason. If universities are to travel in the direction of autonomy they should have greater power to appoint the faculty they want, instead of subjecting the latter to a centralised test like the National Eligibility Test (NET), which is of dubious value in assessing research or teaching talent. As various educators had warned, the upshot of the new norms was that the higher education system - already struggling with a shortage of teachers - went further under with the teacher pool shrinking by as much as half in some universities. While the general standards of higher education need to be raised, the new norms didn't help at all. 


Not only is the NET itself problematic with various structural issues cropping up since its implementation, there is no synergy between the NET and PhD students from foreign universities. Attracting top-flight academics from around the world should be a priority for the educational system. But if those holding PhDs from reputed universities abroad are made to undergo a redundant test, it achieves exactly the opposite effect. The authorities, thankfully, seem to have understood this now. They are allowing enough flexibility for such cases to be considered on a case-by-case basis and exempted from the NET if necessary. 


The problem of poor quality PhDs being churned out must be dealt with in a phased manner that does not upset the equilibrium of universities that are already straining to keep up with demand. Bringing about stricter norms of accountability and performance for existing teachers will gradually improve the quality of PhD students. And above all universities must be responsible for their own fate. 

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTER VIEW

IT WILL BREED NEPOTISM

JAY KUMAR

 

The UGC has decided to relax teaching eligibility norms to tackle faculty shortages at universities across India. From now onwards, aspiring lecturers with an M Phil or PhD will be exempted from taking the NET in order to teach. The UGC's decision to relax the NET is baffling. It could potentially lead to a general decline in teaching standards across colleges and universities. 


In India, different universities adopt varied yardsticks to grant M Phils and PhDs. Often, there are irregularities and wide variations in the grant of these degrees. Their results are neither reliable nor comparable. Therefore, a common national examination that sets a minimum benchmark for aspiring lecturers and researchers and tests them accordingly is very much desired. Through the NET, the UGC has been able to maintain uniformity and quality in higher education. In fact, various expert committees formed by the UGC from time to time have reiterated this observation and favoured continuing with the NET framework. The absence of NET could breed a culture marked by nepotism and preferential appointments in our colleges and universities. 


Instead of creating more avenues for corruption, the UGC should do some soul-searching and come up with realistic solutions. For instance, there is a need to expedite the recruitment process in colleges and universities. Similarly, there is an urgent need to ensure that the state eligibility tests are regularly conducted in states. Moreover, one fails to understand privileged treatment for foreign degrees. There has to be a vetting system to ensure the quality of these degrees. After all they use standardised tests like TOEFL and GRE to assess our post-graduate candidates, don't they?

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

PROMISES TO KEEP

RAGHU KRISHNAN

 

It isn't only gardeners and other members of hoi polloi who may want to turn over a new leaf. Politicians may have the inclination but not the time. Those who have been hitting the headlines in 2010 in the context of one scam or the other may be too busy adding up their disproportionate assets - it takes a while to count up to Rs 1,76,000 crore, which is what the 2G spectrum scam has been presumptively estimated at by the CAG - to find time to draft their New Year resolutions for 2011 which only has 365 days in which to break annual records for chicanery. 

Leaders of political parties could have their work cut out in trying to convince the masses that all they have to do to live happily ever after in a perfect democracy with a stable economy and a secular polity is to keep voting for those who made their drab lives so exciting in 2010 by giving them a scam a day. And so what if 
Abraham Lincoln once stated that, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." At the time when Lincoln made this point, neither the idiot box nor spectrum had been thought up for the benefit of India's former telecom minister, A Raja, whose party came to power by offering the masses free colour TV sets. Scams look nicer in colour than on black-and-white TV! 


We could even help our overworked leaders draft their resolutions for 2011. "I will never perpetrate a 2G scam again", could be the resolution for the undisputed Man of the Year 2010, A Raja. Which is nicely and ambiguously framed since it does not comprehensively rule out scams on other fronts with so many ministerial portfolios waiting to be milked. Raja could even return to rule the telecom ministry and honour a resolution to not get implicated in 2G scams while doing the opposite in 4G, 5G and 6G scams. It could make things more difficult in 2011 for the Communist Party of India national secretary D Raja, who may have to work even harder to ensure that his justified reputation for being India's poorest and most honest MP does not suffer by association of his name with A Raja! 


Like in 2010 and 2009, the UPA coalition government ruling India will be led in 2011 by Manmohan Singh/Sonia Gandhi or Sonia/Manmohan, depending on who calls the shots when. "I will never again induct A Raja in my council of ministers", could be the prime minister's New Year resolution. Which is exactly what some TV news channels quoted sources in the PMO saying just after the Lok Sabha elections in the summer of 2009. Unkind souls could even add that the prime minister's resolution of "I will never again induct A Raja" could carry the caveat: "Unless, of course, the Karunanidhi-push comes to shove and i am overruled once again". In which case, it would technically not be the PM's decision. 


"We will never allow mining or land scams in the BJP-ruled state of Karnataka" could be the New Year resolution of the stalwarts in India's premier opposition party. That resolution could even come true if the BJP government loses the wafer-thin majority with which it has been ruling Karnataka. And "We will be on our best behaviour" could be the New Year resolution for India's MPs and MLAs. After all, if sessions of Parliament or legislative assembles are disrupted in 2011 by members storming the well of the House or shouting each other down, that could be considered on par with the established best-behaviour norms for India's politicians!

 

***************************************

******************************************************************************************

HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

A BAT-HANDED COMPLIMENT

 

For punters, experts and benign spectators alike, football has its continuing 'Who's the greatest: Pele or Maradona?' debate; tennis has its 'Rod Laver or Roger Federer?' one. The door marking a similar debate in cricket about the greatest batsman ever narrowed further on Sunday. Contrarians will keep things open by citing the likes of Donald Bradman, the closest to a near invincible batsman the game has produced; Brian Lara, the highest scorer in a Test and first class innings (400 not out and 501 not out respectively); Viv Richards, the flamboyant demon-king armed with a willow. But with Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 50th Test century at Centurion against South Africa on Sunday, the subjective landscape of batting greatness comes as close to crystal-clear objectivity as it possibly can. The definition of the highest form of 'greatness' — known in populist circles as 'greatest' — can be reverse-engineered from what Tendulkar does at the crease with a bat.

 

The numbers and landmarks are only handrails that help us to tackle the phenomenon that Tendulkar is. The many feathers in his cap — highest number of runs, highest number of Test as well as One-Dayer centuries, etc — are but utility devices that help us measure the art and craft of a master in his trade. The rest can be best confirmed by adjectives and primal utterances that we make each time we see a Tendulkar cover-drive or a leg glance or even a push that alchemically turns out to be the first step of the ball rolling across the field to make its tryst with the boundary ropes.

 

Such is the synonymous nature of batting greatness with the man that when Tendulkar fails, it is seen as an anomaly akin to witnessing heavy objects float and darkness at noon. This is not mere hyperbole but the result of a reputation built over the last 21 years. Paradoxically, this shield of vulnerability allows us to treat a 'Tendulkar failure' at the crease as a prologue for a thumping performance. As for confirming his genius lest doubts creep in, watch him score 112 against the Australians in Perth in 1992, or racking up 169 against South Africa in 1997 in Cape Town, or his unbeaten 155 against the Aussies in 1998 in Chennai... Or, you can, of course, just run your finger down those numbers.

 

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

C IS FOR CONGRESS...

 

The alliterative agenda so beloved of political party meets was in evidence as the Congress plenary in Burari wound up. Corruption, credibility and controversy were the theme songs, though played out in a muted fashion. For those reading between the lines, there was lots of white space. The corruption issue was dealt with in prescriptive mode. The only highlight of an otherwise predictable meeting was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offering to appear before a Public Accounts Committee, something the opposition has rejected out of hand. But the PM emerges from the plenary stronger with an unequivocal endorsement of his leadership from the party president.

 

Several references were made on how to curb corruption. The most do-able of Sonia Gandhi's five commandments on the subject was that of asking Congress chief ministers and ministers at the Centre to give up their discretionary powers, especially in land allotment. These 'discretionary' quotas were meant originally to fast-track allotments for the needy. But they have become a powerful tool for the disbursal of patronage to cronies. Another helpful commandment asks for the speeding up of corruption cases involving public servants and arriving at some closure within a timeframe.

 

But coming as this plenary does in the backdrop of the 2G scam, the measures suggested seem more a case of shutting the barn after the horse has bolted. It is perhaps because the party anticipated that all this is not likely to appease the Opposition that it went into attack mode right off the starting block. From castigating the BJP for its personal attacks on the PM to the role of the RSS in alleged terror activities, the party attempted to demolish the credibility of the BJP. But  the real test of how the party will tackle the three Cs will be in evidence once again when Parliament reconvenes in for the budget session. If it adds a few more Cs — those of courage and conviction — the Burari blueprint could eventually become a roadmap.

 

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

CHENNAI SUPERKINGS

SUDHA G TILAK

 

Singles battle alone; families wage wars. Since politics is all about numbers, even fractured families that control governments can wield enormous power. It's sometimes revolting to see 'single' female politicians unleash violence, indulge in corruption and keep dubious company (read: All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalithaa or Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati). But it is way more disgusting when a family thinks a state to be its fiefdom and exploits it for its own.

 

When it comes to dynastic politics, north Indians know only about a particular party. But now after the 2G scam, they know about the members of the first family of Tamil Nadu led by pater familias M Karunanidhi; and how this family moulds opinion, controls the media and communication in a land where heroes and cine-warriors make for matinee idols, and exerts control over populist ideas.

 

The Central Bureau of Investigation's raids on senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leaders and their associates may cause ripples in  political circles right now. But even as you read this, women in Tamil Nadu are lapping up a serial published in Kumudam Snehidhi, a DMK-leaning popular weekly. The serial is about a large happy family that is going through tough times. The men of the family are valourous, hold public offices, generous and affectionate householders; the children are cute and the women, despite the rationalist ideals of their husbands, are devoted to their men and are pious believers. Taciturn and comely Durga Stalin, wife of MK Stalin (heir apparent and future CM of Tamil Nadu), has penned the saga. Is it a surprise that the assembly elections are just a few months away?

 

Unlike the AIADMK's MG Ramachandran, who fashioned himself as a romantic saviour of the masses and protector of women, the DMK's commitment towards women never caught the popular imagination. In fact, Karunanidhi has always evoked a masculine appeal of ideals and social revolt. Hence this fuzzy, warm epic that tells the readers that Stalin wooed his wife with dinners, followed by ice-creams and late-night movie shows.

 

Durga Stalin recalls that despite their commitment to rational ideals, Stalin was concerned that his young bride would be seen as unlucky after he was jailed and tortured during the Emergency. She shares photos of her grandson, Inba, at the same spot where his grandfather Stalin was imprisoned during the Emergency.

 

The serial has vignettes of her mother-in-law Dayalu Ammal, Maran's wife, Azhagiri's wife, nieces and young women of the family sharing pleasant moments. Welcome to the many homes of the first family of Tamil Nadu, where powerful and ambitious cousins, nephews, warring siblings, stepsisters, love children and great-grandchildren continue to control power and exert influence in the state and Centre. University of Berkeley scholar Arun Swamy in The Nation, the People and the Poor wrote "undifferentiated populism charges the elite with both preventing just avenues for advancement and forgetting their moral obligation to protect the poor". The DMK has always been a canny manipulator of this and made a tradition of using communication, old and the new media, to actively campaign and control popular media since Independence.

 

The recent years of DMK rule have amply proved that the family with its estranged grand-nephews, the Maran brothers, Karunanidhi's own sons, Stalin, and the irrepressible Azhagiri who will rule the southern districts and aspire for central berths along with their half-sister Kanimozhi, are all united in their desire for power and control over their business ventures and to propel their self- interests. Karunanidhi's grandson Udayanidhi Stalin is the latest darling of the Tamil film industry. Upcoming filmmakers, actors and nubile 'Bombay' starlets of Tamil cinema vie to star in his production company, Red Sun. It is not surprising that when Rajnikanth's monster production Endhiran faced a cash crunch, he was bailed out by members of the same clan.

 

It is, indeed, in poor taste that an octogenarian politician who started out as a political rebel of high ideals and promise is now lording over a family that has perilous control of a state's governance and personal business ventures and self-interests. Duty, dignity and discipline are the bywords that pop up on the DMK's official homepage. Making it family, feuds and funding now seems more appropriate.

 

Sudha G Tilak is a Delhi-based writer and commentator on south Indian politics and culture.The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

THOSE OTHER NATIONALISTS

DEB MUKHARJI

 

On a warm and humid morning in 1998, I had climbed a hill near Chittagong and paid my tributes at a memorial to honour the fallen at the Battle of Jalalabad. It was here, on April 22, 1930, that 55 members of the Indian Republican Army, most of them teenagers, had taken on the might and the machine guns of the British empire. Later, as the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, I had the privilege of felicitating surviving revolutionaries from that forgotten age.

 

As a Bengali, it was natural that from early childhood I had known of the legend of Masterda and the 'Chittagong Armoury Raid', as the event was popularly known. Decades later, I understood them in greater detail through Manini Chatterjee's acclaimed book on the event, Do and Die, with its meticulous research on the uprising and its aftermath. And recently I saw Ashutosh Gowarikar's Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, vividly bringing to life the ordinary people with extraordinary courage who had taken over Chittagong for a few brief hours and sent ripples of uncertainty and apprehension through the colonial administration.

 

Based on Chatterjee's book, the film tells us of the story of Masterda Surya Sen, the man most hated and feared by the British whom they would torture before executing and casting his body into the sea so that no one could mourn him. Inspired by his vision, teenaged boys and girls from humble and elite backgrounds trained to become dreaded adversaries of the colonial police forces and their British officers.

 

We go step by step, watching fun-loving young people transform into fearsome revolutionaries, contemptuous of death itself. It is an extraordinary and moving tale of patriotism, courage under fire and profound personal loyalties.

 

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is not, of course, a story with an unravelling theme or an eagerly awaited ending. We all know how that tragic episode ended nearly 80 years ago. But the movie takes a slice of our forgotten history and illuminates it brilliantly under contemporary lights. In the process, it perhaps makes us ask ourselves if the India of today has lived up to the dreams and aspirations of these young people who had staked their all in winning freedom for their motherland. It may even encourage some to question the prescribed values of the marketplace dominant today.

 

The mosaic of resistance to British colonial rule in different parts of India, and the harshness and iniquities of that period, are often forgotten in the smooth transfer of power, to the extent that voices are heard extolling the benefits of that rule. Nationalist historiography has revolved around Mahatma Gandhi and those closely associated with him. The sacrifices of many others have received but grudging recognition. Bhagat Singh may be an exception, but one may wonder how much we know today of the Ghadar movement or the uprising led by Birsa Munda, to address the forced migration of his tribe from their native land.

 

As years pass and fresh documents become available, it is increasingly clear that while non-violence may have been the pre-dominant guiding principle in India's national movement, many other events had made it clear to the British rulers that continuation of their rule was no longer feasible. In those calculations, the Chittagong uprising would undoubtedly have played a part.

 

Deb Mukharji is former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh and former ambassador to Nepal.The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

***************************************

******************************************************************************************

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE MONEY LINE

 

Among the fine-sounding platitudes offered at the Congress plenary on the subject of corruption was one oft-repeated thought: public funding of elections. Given how the ferocious and competitive resource generation by parties is seen as the root of all evil, many parties have invoked the idea of state-financed elections as a way of cleansing politics.

 

While many who decry the money sloshing around in our elections suggest a ceiling on expenses, the fact remains that the real tab for an election far exceeds the meagre limits set by the Election Commission. Public financing is an eminent cause, but only applies to declared spending. In India, the lack of inner-party democracy and audits means tickets are often bought, and candidates deploy vast amounts of unaccounted money. Lopping off the tentacles of influence is a lot harder than we imagine, in democracies across the world. State funding in India is likely to hit another wall, of deciding which candidates are entitled to it in our crowded and many-tiered elections. Instead of capping donations, which is almost an invitation to work around the system, they should be made transparent. Disclosing funding sources might deter the worst manifestations of influence and favour-mongering, because of the public glare on them.

 

When confronted with larger charges of corruption, parties often seize on this obviously faulty system of election financing, and the issue resonates deeply, both within parties and outside. At the plenary, the anger directed at Mukul Wasnik — the Congress general secretary in charge of Bihar — for his alleged mishandling of ticket allocation, only points to this deeply felt need for change. But if parties are serious about this professed search for purity, they might also do well to concentrate on the other end, of policy action taken, and start with limited, achievable targets. Instituting a register of interests in Parliament might take transparency forward and help curb influence further. Similarly, there's now some buzz about fixing the MPLAD scheme, which doles out a significant sum to legislators for capital expenditure in their constituencies, and ends up eroding the separation between legislature and executive it's meant to track, besides being twisted by allegations of corruption. There needs to be also serious engagement on Rajya Sabha reform, by instituting direct state-wide elections instead of the nominations that fuel many suspected quid pro quos. These stirrings are certainly welcome, but political parties need to prove their sincerity with action.

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BEYOND TESTS

 

Before he became the Sachin Tendulkar we know so well, he was that little schoolboy who wouldn't look his coach in the eye so he would not have to declare in what went on to be a record-breaking 664-runpartnership with his mate, Vinod Kambli. A year later, in 1989, he made his Test debut for India in Pakistan against a pace attack of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and Javed Miandad would sledge him by asking after his homework. In his early years, he would sleepwalk in alien hotel rooms, his nose would be bloodied, and he would still bat on. Yet, we knew how it would turn out, we had glimpsed destiny's hand and got inklings of the records that would eventually be his.

 

Twenty-one years later, his stami-na has, let's accept it, outpaced our imagination. As he notches up his 50th Test century, all we can say is that no one else will reach anywhere near his numbers. But it would be foolhardy to place a wager on the limits endurance may place on Sachin. Indeed, the fact that he's still at it 21 years later, having piled up the first double hundred ever in a one-day international just this year, even the narratives of earlier years have fallen away. He was the guy, remember, who'd make up on the cricket field for our everyday inadequacies as a nation, for our singular failure to excel at other sports and for his team's lack of support — he would, for the length of his innings, offer respite from all-round underachievement. Post-Mandal, post-liberalisation, post-Cold War, India's doing better, other sports and the cricket team too. But he still stands out.

 

How we once mocked the cliché of those old days, that Sachin would retire at a time of his choosing, because we thought we knew time would find him out. But it's Sachin who's found us all out, and Father Time.

 

***************************************


INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FOREVER BROTHERS

 

For a half century, China and Pakistan have been "all-weather strategic partners". That's not to describe China-Pakistan ties from the outsider's perspective. Those are words reiterated through Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's address to the Pakistani parliament on Sunday. While that warmth does not surprise, what's new is the changed context of Kashmir in China's dealings with New Delhi and Islamabad. Wen absolved Pakistan of the flak it has been facing, particularly from the US and India, for the terror machinery on its soil. Yet, from an objective point of view, as well as that of Pakistan's (and China's) neighbour India, Wen is sailing against the current. In India, he has been distinctly banal on terrorism, refusing to address Delhi's concerns about terror emanating from Pakistan. Whereas, in Islamabad, he's lavished praise on Pakistan, claiming that Pakistan is doing everything right, notwithstanding the global consensus that it needs to do much more.

 

Meanwhile, Pakistan and China have sealed almost $35 billion in state contracts and private-sector deals to boost trade and economic ties. Of course, China-Pakistan bilateral trade is a small fraction of the China-India volume; nor can anybody have a case against Pakistan's economic growth. However, what cannot be missed behind the energy and infrastructure compact is China's attempt to speedily integrate Pakistan with its western region, economically and strategically. And China looks to soon have its own road access to the Arabian Sea on Pakistan's coast through the ceded territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

 

So there's logic to everything Wen's said in Islamabad. While India and China seek to improve bilateral cooperation, India has realised the necessity of calibrating its Tibet policy and equating Tibet with Kashmir. From the border issue to the stapled visas to the Karakoram roadway, China has been squeezing itself into the Kashmir problem. As a result, the challenge posed by the China-Pakistan strategic alliance is acquiring a deep and substantial character. There's no succinct prescription yet for addressing this challenge. India will have to be vigilant and calibrate its diplomatic and strategic response every moment. However, it should waste no time in clearly framing the contours of that challenge.

 

***************************************

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

STAGING A FIGHT-BACK

SEEMA CHISHTI 

 

Routine life in the Delhi suburb of Burari has been stirred up a good deal not only by SUVs ferrying the important ones, but also by the can-do rhetoric emanating from the Congress plenary. The message being sought to be sent out is of a feisty and adaptive party that could be both in government and opposition at the same time — of a leadership reaching out to the aam aadmi and the party worker, with government ministers told off and asked to pay more heed to their cardholders, to have their "ears to the ground".

 

Yet, in all the mixed messages emanating from the 83rd plenary of the Congress — of moderate Manmohan Singh, radical Sonia Gandhi and analytical Rahul Gandhi — the loudest was the one that had not been issued. It was that the party, in the near future, is planning a retreat, a collective brainstorming like the Pachmarhi and Shimla shivirs (camps), where it will reshape and rethink its "line" on key policies and issues. Despite its comfortable and heartwarming result in 2009, the party clearly senses its political space could be shrinking and is keen to reinvent.

 

Four major states — West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam — are going to the polls in 2011, and then UP and Gujarat over the next two years. That the possible outcome in most of the states, as of now at least, gives the Congress little reason to rejoice must be a cause for concern. With the exception of Assam and Kerala, the Congress may well exult or despair at the plight of others, but it will largely be in the periphery. That must be cause for worry, even if it is not boldly acknowledged, for a party that likes to identify itself with the idea of India.

 

Change has always come slowly to the Congress, a party that grew out of a movement that, despite having espoused revolutionary ideas of liberating India from the Raj, often went with the flow and practised the politics of accommodation. Its USP, it claims, is that it is an "umbrella party", a catch-all party which by definition is one that accommodates. When change comes, it does so in ways least imagined by those watching from the outside. In recent decades, radical change has always been driven by a charismatic leader (like Indira Gandhi in the 1970s or Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s) rather than through a collective party programme. Maybe that is why the current party president deserves more credit than what usually comes her way. On her watch, party "camps" have been held to deliberate on crucial questions about its line, especially the prickly issues of coalitions, helping restore to the Congress a sense of being an organisation that matters.

 

The purpose of launching a tirade against the BJP (by targeting the RSS directly on terror issues) was perhaps intended to give its workers talking points at a time when they feel the afterglow of the 2009 victory to be fading rapidly. But it also served to restore to the Congress its claim to being the rallying "secular" party, as the forthcoming state polls are mostly a fight between parties that swear to be on its side of the secular divide. Trying to isolate the BJP, by hoping that they spring to the defence of the RSS, can only help the Congress to widen the already considerable gap between the BJP and the non-NDA opposition.

 

The plenary also had a silent underlying goal: to set itself apart from the new wannabes in several key states, forceful personalities who are replicating the umbrella nature of the Grand Old Party.

 

Despite the demise of the Third Front as a viable pre-poll project, interesting personalities in the state level are threatening the Congress's sole claim to being the all-embracing party of governance. Orissa's Naveen Patnaik and UP's Mayawati are fiercely independent and "non-aligned" to either of the two poles of the Congress and the BJP. The BJP's chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, who don't display the somewhat muscular politics of Narendra Modi and yet seem to be reasonable vote catchers, too pose an immense challenge to the Congress. In the Congress's own UPA, a cabinet minister, Mamata Banerjee, seems to want to topple the Left in West Bengal as a single-person party, yielding no quarter and threatening the Congress with the prospect of a prolonged autumn in Kolkata even if the Left citadel is breached. While the DMK is on the defensive at this point, irrespective of whether the DMK and the Congress stay together or not, the GOP has a long haul ahead in Tamil Nadu.

 

Nitish Kumar's rise and rise in Bihar was the big wake-up call for the Congress just last month. And while he has been publicly applauded by the Congress, his thumping victory has staggered the Congress, giving the NDA its first meaningful victory after 2008. Nitish, in fact, has dented the Congress's claim to be the only face of secular "good governance".

 

A crucial aspect of good governance — the absence of large-scale pilferage or loot of public funds by a few — had the party on the defensive at Burari. In spite of highlighting the PM's personal integrity, not much has been said by way of praising the government's role in the matter — in fact, the party has suggested a five-point mantra for the government to follow. The Congress's unease almost casts it as a party of opposition. Clearly, the party is concerned about reaping the consequences that came in 1989 when the opposition made "corruption" the overriding electoral issue.

 

All said and done, as a party that successfully transformed itself from a loosely run movement to one that ruled India for more than five decades of its 63 years, the Congress realises the place that rituals have played in its political journey. The plenary was a grand opportunity that the party leadership got to talk to its middle-level karyakarta, without interruptions from an irreverent opposition — and this is one opportunity, as even David Mulford would agree, the Congress did not miss.

 

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ALWAYS THE JITTERY DEBUTANT

SANDEEP DWIVEDI 

 

It is unlikely that an unescorted cricket-challenged bystander at the Indian team's match eve training session would be able to spot the man who has scored 50 Test centuries among the group of flannelled men on his own. With body language being the only cue to judge a player's worth or his past record, Sachin Tendulkar, even with 21 years of international cricket behind him, can be mistaken for an edgy upstart or a jittery debutant.

 

Pensive look, long chats with the coach and the paranoia to endlessly revise every stroke he would attempt the next day make Tendulkar seem like a nervous wreck, especially when compared with the "last to arrive and first to leave", gum-chewing, younger cricketers, whose false bravado at nets usually passes off as the confidence of youth. Tendulkar's nerdy method of by-hearting the book would seem "uncool" for the generation that firmly believes that the "gifted" don't need to sweat.

 

Every newcomer that walks into the dressing room has a Tendulkar story to narrate. It is usually about their observation while watching the legend preparing for the game. Many have tried to emulate him in all earnestness but given up as the standard set was too high and far too many sacrifices had to be made. Moreover, the ingrained meticulousness that Tendulkar has been born with was tough to cultivate. As a senior journalist once said after having tea in Tendulkar's hotel room, "He prepares tea like he is cooking biryani." India's long-time masseur Ramesh Mane has a similar story. He was surprised when he once reached Tendulkar's room for an evening rub-down before an international game. "The entire kit was neatly prepared. The bats, gloves, thigh pad, helmet placed perfectly. Such small things show his work ethic and his professional approach. He was ready to leave for the ground right away. A strong mind takes care of these things," says the man who is generally greeted by messy rooms when on such visits.

 

During off-season, Tendulkar is at the ultra-modern indoor academy at Bandra-Kurla in Mumbai. Once an over-eager official switched on the air conditioner as Tendulkar's car entered the complex on a harsh summer afternoon. "I come here to sweat it out," was Tendulkar's opening statement.

 

So, in a way, when Tendulkar leans into a drive that cruises through covers and the commentator gets misty-eyed and merely blurts out an "effortless" in a moment of pure joy, they aren't quite giving the true picture. Energy-draining hours at nets, attention to details and the packed kit bag are just a few things among the many that go into Tendulkar's bat meeting the ball at the precise point and the perfect time.

 

There are several theories floating around that try to explain Tendulkar's phenomenal run this year. But one that is most believable is the one that figures coach Gary Kirsten. The chemistry between the two men has to be seen to be believed. Both are men of few words who live by the adage that practice makes one perfect. The most fascinating sight at India nets is of Kirsten giving endless throw downs to Tendulkar. Maybe, once after about 100 knocks the two men speak to each other, or else it's just a shake of the head, a smile or at best a muted clap from the coach.

 

Players speak highly about Kirsten's simple success mantra that is based on nothing else but hard work. After a recent series win, the coach gave a small presentation to the team to make them understand why he happens to be a hard taskmaster during training sessions. The first slide showed a fielder showing great reflexes and holding on to a sharp edge. This was followed by a visual of the same player taking about 1,000 similar catches at nets. The message was clear: if you want to look good on field, there are no short cuts.

 

Even before the all-important South Africa tour, he banked on his simple method. He didn't ask for a mind guru with a miracle touch, nor did he hire a Remember the Titans DVD. Face 3,000 balls at the nets in South African conditions before the Test and give yourself the best chance to succeed was his way of dealing with the toughest assignment of his career. Though a bit late, the plan did work. India scored 459 in the second innings. And the top-scorer happened to be the most meticulous man in the Indian team.

 

Tendulkar's 50th hundred helped the team avoid humiliation and also ensured that for once an innings loss didn't attract the usual vitriolic reaction from fans. Past and present players joined the man on the street to congratulate Tendulkar. "God" was the common word in frantic tweets that Gen Next typed. Sadly, once again, they had pushed Tendulkar to an unreachable pedestal. In a way, it was their way of saying how it wasn't humanly possible to reach those heights.

 

In few days from now, Tendulkar will be at the Durban nets on the eve of the second Test. He is sure to be spending hours facing Kirsten's throw down, behaving like an eager teenager a day before his debut Test and packing his kit bag like a restless nervous wreck. Gods don't do such things; but meticulous men with a fear of failure and a strong will to succeed certainly do.

 

sandeep.dwivedi@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE CORPORATE SECTOR IS NERVOUS...BUT I'M CONFIDENT THE PM WILL INTERVENE'

SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

Shekhar Gupta: I am in one of the greener parts of south Mumbai, The Silver Oak Estate, and my guest this week is the most evergreen politician today in India, one of the great old warriors of our politics, Mr Sharad Pawar. And if I may say so, one of the really older formidable statesmen of the UPA government.

 

Sharad Pawar: I have to accept that I am becoming older.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I was telling (Chinese premier) Wen Jiabao in that morning conversation he had with some of us that he is quite happy to be called grandpa at his age. At his age, most Indian politicians think they are young. You have been around from a very young age.

 

Sharad Pawar: Yes, that is true. I will complete 44 years without a single year's break in parliamentary politics.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you multi-task. You are a real all-rounder. You can do state politics, central politics, cricket, farming, parenting, everything. But Pawar saab, this is a difficult time for the UPA. Did you imagine this one-and-a-half years ago when life looked so hunky dory?

 

Sharad Pawar: In fact, the first term of the UPA was very good and we were extremely happy and people also accepted us and that showed in the elections. Then, our beginning in UPA-II was also good but recently, certain things have happened and the situation is a little disturbing. There are certain poor decisions...there are certain approaches that some of the ministries have taken, and the general impression is a little disturbing. One of the most important things that UPA-I had created was confidence in the area of investment and investors. As of today, because of certain actions...they might be (due to) some misunderstanding, I think there is a scope to correct the approach.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So what could be these actions that have gone wrong?

 

Sharad Pawar: I cannot say wrong. Suppose the court has given a decision—I cannot say anything about the judiciary, there must be some reason behind that (decision) which we don't know. Then certain actions have been taken by financial institutions or about financial institutions that have also sent a different signal.

 

Shekhar Gupta: If you start investigating them, they get nervous.

 

Sharad Pawar: Basically, what is the job of financial institutions? The job of financial institutions is to provide money for proper projects and take sufficient security. But after getting sufficient security and if the projects are good, if certain issues have been raised about that action of the banker, my worry is that bankers will not take initiatives to support these type of developmental projects.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you will go back to doubly lazy banking.

 

Sharad Pawar: That's right. Today, most of the banks are flooded with funds, there are a lot of deposits, they are in touch with some good parties, good projects, and in such situation...

 

Shekhar Gupta: ...they have to face the CBI.

Sharad Pawar: If this is the kind of atmosphere, I think it will create further problems (to the) health of the banking sector.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Deepak Parekh was speaking last week on how a lot of the Indian corporates are now finding it difficult to do business in India. They are taking their investments overseas because of lack of cohesion.

 

Sharad Pawar: Certain sections, some NGOs and others have created this unfortunate atmosphere. I was in Pune and certain sections of the media asked me some questions on some power projects here. Today, a state like Maharashtra, which is one of the major industrial states, is facing a shortage of 5,000 MW. So there are power cuts for six hours, seven hours in different parts of the state, affecting industries, agriculture, everything. The state government has taken an initiative, the central government has taken an initiative to set up a new plant. Work had started, then NGOs and the media created a lot of noise and ultimately the approach of the government also changed. In the government also, certain sections start questioning things.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You are looking at the Environment Ministry?

 

Sharad Pawar: Suppose there has to be acquisition of land, the revenue department begins (the process), then noises are raised and an inquiry starts.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Pawar saab, you have used a very good expression. Because I said negativity, you said noise. I think noise is the problem.

 

Sharad Pawar: That's right and that is creating a little bit of nervousness too. My real worry is that in such a situation, the country's process of development should not halt.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But do you have a concern that it may get halted?

Sharad Pawar: Not exactly, but what you said initially or what Deepak (Parekh) said about the feeling among the corporate sector. I had an interaction with some of them and I also observed that. And that is disturbing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you find it disturbing?

 

Sharad Pawar: Definitely disturbing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: How do you fix that?

 

Sharad Pawar: Ultimately, we have to sit together. I am happy about one thing. I discussed this with the honourable Prime Minister and he is very concerned about it. He honestly feels that we have to change the atmosphere. The Finance Minister wants to give a sort of confidence to the banking sector, to the corporate sector and to restore normalcy and confidence in their minds.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You don't worry about rumours or the belief among some circles that the Prime Minister may be getting irritated or losing interest?

 

Sharad Pawar: I don't think so. Everybody knows he is the most honest person. The whole country and the whole world know about his honesty, integrity, sincerity and loyalty. And everybody knows that he is a person who understands the economy much better than any of the others and in such a situation, of course he is going to listen. And that is a reason, I think, that he might be worried. But I'm also confident that he would like to improve (the situation) and he will improve it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you think he will intervene? He will apply the healing touch?

 

Sharad Pawar: Hundred per cent he will intervene and the situation will improve.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What you are saying also amounts to applying the healing touch.

 

Sharad Pawar: Yes, that is the need of the hour today. And Dr Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister are in the process of taking an initiative in that direction.

 

Shekhar Gupta: In the last couple of weeks, what is it that you found most disturbing? Because the tapes came out, the allegations came out, 2G is going on, Ratan Tata spoke, Deepak Parekh spoke.

 

Sharad Pawar: I think if somebody has expressed concern, we who are in the government have to give it a serious thought and take corrective action.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Frankly, if these tapes had not leaked, this tapping would have gone for five more years.

 

Sharad Pawar: For instance, I think the Tata group is a brand for this country, it has contributed a lot for this nation and when we hear some personal things (about it), I think, this is not fair.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you think the government will be able to find out how the tapes leaked?

 

Sharad Pawar: I think the government is already in that process, an investigation is already on.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But do you think the government is getting somewhere?

 

Sharad Pawar: I don't know because I keep myself away from all types of process of investigation.

 

Shekhar Gupta: One of your own ministers also got caught. Not himself but conversations about him, about Praful (Patel). Which is unfair to him...

 

Sharad Pawar: Absolutely unfair to him. In fact, the whole country accepts that after Praful took over the responsibility of the aviation sector, there has been tremendous change in the aviation sector. Infrastructure has improved, new airlines, and fares too—barring some recent incidents—have been reasonable.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Have you brought up the tape issue with the Prime Minister as well?

 

Sharad Pawar: No, I have not discussed that subject. Basically as a person who was a chief minister of a state like Maharashtra and who comes from Mumbai, my major concern is the investment climate.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because you also talked about certain decisions taken by certain ministries. Will you talk about some which may have created negativity?

 

Sharad Pawar: As I said, here in my home state, because certain NGOs have started murmuring, inquiries have been started by some of the state departments, some of the state ministries, sometimes from Delhi also.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So why is the government intimidated by NGOs?

 

Sharad Pawar: Mainly by the media, and I think nowadays the media is very effective. Our worry is that the TRP rating concept is creating problems for many people.

 

Shekhar Gupta: On the specific issue of Lavasa, what's your view?

 

Sharad Pawar: It's one of the best projects coming up in this country. One thing that was agitating us was that since Independence, not a single hill station has been developed in India.

 

Shekhar Gupta: The British built them before Independence and since Independence, we have been ruining them.

 

Sharad Pawar: But we have not built anything and we are competent people, we can build them. There are a lot of sites in this country, why not develop them? When we saw how Lake district in England was developed, I said why not here? We started working from that angle and then this project came and Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a 100-year-old company which has contributed to all major projects, took the responsibility of building it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you think they (HCC) have done a good job?

 

Sharad Pawar: They have done an excellent job. When it's a project worth two or three thousand crores and a few thousand hectares, there is a possibility of small mistakes here and there. One has to see how we can take corrective actions.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But a notice like this, without a site visit, to stop all work? Ajit Gulabchand (HCC chairman) thinks the moment his IPO got cleared, his notice came.

 

Sharad Pawar: One has to accept that it has accidentally happened at the same time. Because I don't think the Environment Ministry was aware of the company going in for an IPO now.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Lavasa has been one of the main targets of NGOs in your state.

 

Sharad Pawar: Yes, today in Lavasa, all the local people have come together and now they are agitating. They say they want this project. More than 2,000 apartments are ready. Some of them are occupied. Some three-four hotels are ready.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can you imagine this getting demolished?

 

Sharad Pawar: I don't think it will. See, if some concern has been expressed by certain NGOs, it is the responsibility of the ministries concerned to investigate. If it is correct, then see that corrective action is taken. It was a similar situation in Navi Mumbai.

 

Shekhar Gupta: For the airport.

 

Sharad Pawar: Yes, for the airport, the Environment Ministry has taken a positive approach.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Your daughter and son-in-law had equity in Lavasa earlier. Was it correct for them to take equity in the project given the fact that you were mentoring the project?

Sharad Pawar: No, in fact my son-in-law has a business in the share market. So he acquires shares and sell

shares, practically everyday. So it happens sometimes, beyond that nothing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: The insinuation is that because of your family's interest...your family has commercial interest, you are so supportive of Lavasa.

 

Sharad Pawar: No, I'm always a supporter of all development projects.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you feel it looks like people close to you, companies close to you are under attack? There is Lavasa, there is DB Realty. So if you talk to political pundits, they say this looks like an effort to put NCP in its place.

 

Sharad Pawar: I don't know. After working in this state for more than 27 years, out of which at least 16-17 years in the government, who doesn't know me in the industrial circle? I was industry minister, I was home minister, I was chief minister for four terms. So every representative of the industrial and corporate sector must have met me on a number of occasions. I interacted with them, tried to understand their problems, encouraged them for further investments.

 

I do meet these various people, I do sit with them. What is DB Realty and others and what is my contact? I have known the father of the gentleman who is a major partner in DB Realty, Vinod Goenka. My interest was to develop the milk line. On my suggestion, he set up a milk project called Dynamix in Baramati, my constituency. We collect milk from more than about 100 thousand families, process and sell it. Dynamix produces Nestle Milk, Britannia cheese, also fruit juice for Tropicana.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And the same Mr Goenka set up DB Realty?

 

Sharad Pawar: That was his father's company. Two months ago, I honoured him in Baramati for his contribution in the area. These type of people help bring change. So what is wrong if you encourage development process and in that process you come in contact with some people?

 

Shekhar Gupta: You are saying you are not doing it for money?

 

Sharad Pawar: Certain sections in the media are murmuring that I got substantial shares in Dynamix. But I didn't get even a single share.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What are your areas of concern when you look at Maharashtra?

 

Sharad Pawar: First, the investment climate. Secondly, the basic infrastructure has to be developed— whether it is power, road.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You didn't mention law and order, security.

 

Sharad Pawar: I don't think the law-and-order situation is bad here.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because terrorism...Mumbai is a target.

 

Sharad Pawar: This (acts of terror) happened in Delhi also, in many places all over the world. Now, terrorism is a problem.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you think the right kind of police reform is happening?

 

Sharad Pawar: The home minister in Maharashtra (RR Patil) is a capable person.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And he has now said there is nothing in the records to show that Hemant Karkare called Digvijay Singh that evening.

 

Sharad Pawar: Yes, he told me he checked and found nothing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What is your view on Mr Digvijay Singh's statement?

 

Sharad Pawar: I really don't know what exactly he said and why he said it. The whole world knows who killed Karkare. In fact, prior to this tragic incident, I had a long chat with Karkare and he briefed me about the overall situation. My own observation was that he was a very competent and honest officer. I don't think he was interested in creating sensationalism.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Thank you very much for bringing some calm to this situation that requires experienced people like you to come out and speak without hesitation and shyness, which is what you have done.

 

Sharad Pawar: I think the situation will definitely improve.

 

Transcribed by Sudhakar Jagdish

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

VOTING AGAINST CORRUPTION

 

Of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's suggestions to party colleagues on the 125th anniversary celebrations, the most noteworthy is the one about how the government should consider funding of elections. "State funding", she said after talking of the need to confront corruption head-on, "of elections has been talked about in different forums from time to time. We should now consider how best to take this proposal forward decisively." It can be no one's case that state funding will wipe out corruption from the country, but there is little doubt it will be a big step. Do the math to understand how insignificant election-funding is and do the math to understand how important it is. Assume that, on average, a sum of Rs 10 crore is spent per Lok Sabha seat by all candidates, so that's Rs 5,400 crore; raise this amount three times, say, to cover all other elections as well as the funding needs of political parties at the time they are both in an out of power. So that's Rs 20,000 crore every 5 years or Rs 4,000 crore a year. Considering India's GDP is around Rs 62 lakh crore, that's a corruption requirement of much less than even a tenth of one percentage point; change the denominator to just the level of, say, industrial sector output and that will make the number higher, but not significantly so.

 

Two possibilities are available. One, the level of corruption is way, way beyond what is legitimately required. Two, though the political system wants Rs 4,000 crore, it can't get this directly, so it gives collection rights to various persons, along with various degrees of get-out-jail-free passes to the collectors, and this is how corruption multiplies manifold. In which case, getting the state to fund political parties is certainly a big step forward in attempting to cut this link. To work, needless to say, election funding has to be done at a level that is realistic, not the piddling sums the Election Commission thinks should be the norm. Other suggestions to keep down election spending include having a dual-vote system, where everyone in a constituency gets two votes, one for the candidate and one for the party. Since some proportion of seats are to be decided on the basis of the total votes polled across constituencies, and not by the voted polled for a candidate in that constituency, this ensures parties can add their votes across constituencies as well—the parties will then be that less desperate to spend money for each constituency, and will concentrate on fewer constituencies. It is easy to scoff at some of the other points the Congress president made, such as the need to fast-track corruption cases, given the party did precious little about A Raja for more than 3 years. But we can scoff and leave it at that, or we can take the most valuable suggestion and encourage her party to run with it.

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ONE SOP SPAWNS ANOTHER


Those looking forward to a clean taxation system, with lower tax rates instead of a plethora of tax sops, will have to wait a bit more. The Rs 14,651 crore of tax incentives to software firms in what's called the Software Technology Park of India (STPI) scheme (in the previous year, the benefits cost the exchequer Rs 12,321 crore), a newsreport in FE said, is likely to get another lease of life, though in the form of incentives on investments as opposed to those on profits right now. The rationale for this, it appears, is that since SEZ units get a tax incentive right now, denying these benefits to STPI units will be unfair! It helps that while the bigger IT firms are either located in SEZs, or are big enough to qualify to be SEZs on their own, the smaller units are found in the STPI zones. Not content with the possibility of getting a tax concession, STPI units are now arguing that the incentives should not be based on investments (under the direct tax code, existing profit-based incentives in SEZs are to be replaced with investment-linked ones) as these firms don't invest that much—link the tax sops, they argue, to the employment created and, if you please, the innovation levels of such firms.

 

The move, if it does come about, will no doubt be good news for an industry where revenue growth has steadily decelerated from 32.2% in 2007-08 to 15% in 2008-09 and further to 6.3% in 2009-10, and export growth has slowed down from 16.6% in 2008-09 to 5.5% in 2009-10. Job addition has crept up only marginally from 2.2 million to 2.29 million during the period. (Most recent numbers show that software exports have picked up by 15.5% in the first quarter of 2010-11 on the back of a 8.9% decline in the corresponding period of the previous year.) From the point of view of cleaning up India's tax regime, however, the move is regressive and the fact that units still need a tax sop suggests they haven't been able to move up the value chain. It should also be kept in mind that the date from which the STPI tax sops would be phased out was always well known. One tax sop will always spawn another.

 

 ***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ARMING WHILE AIMING

DEBA R MOHANTY

 

My revered teacher late professor Matin Zuberi had once remarked that major states in global affairs, real or aspiring, end up possessing superfluous arsenals often times through superficially planned and mostly ad hoc manners. He made another remark by explaining that superfluity in arms build-up may be a subject of debate but to say that a state like India builds arms without any purpose amounts to narrow scholarship. He was reacting to a book written by Christopher Smith titled India's Ad-hoc Arsenal: Direction or Drift in India's Defence Policy, published in 1994.

 

Years later, K Subrahmanyam, India's most prominent defence analyst, supported Smith's views, whose book Shedding Shibboleths came out in 2007—some of the latter's arguments remarkably resembling those of Smith. Publications on Indian military power have not been too many, which can be counted from Lorne Kavic in the late 1960s, Raju Thomas in the mid-1980s, Smith and Ron Mathews in 1990s and now a new book titled Arming without Aiming: India's Military Modernization by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta in 2010. In between, David Kinsella has branded Indian military industrialisation as 'symbol of statehood'. Indian reviewers of the book have praised Cohen's book.

 

Analyses on India's 'hard power'—explained as the aggregation of national military capabilities—have always been a difficult subject of research, hence the few attempts by Indians and still fewer by foreigners. For example, the Chief of Indian Army Staff General VK Singh recently stated that India has no "Cold Start" doctrine, as claimed by secret American documents recently, while there are dozens of papers already written by analysts, mostly Indian, on the subject in the recent past. Research on hard power needs both objective (data, primary information) and subjective (secondary and authentic tertiary sources) interpretations by dedicated scholars. Neither the Indian university nor research system has been able to attract scholarship on such subjects. No wonder then, when you speak to a strategic analyst, you actually talk to a former military guy or a former civil servant who would often recount golf course or cocktail stories.

 

Six arguments on the observations made by both foreign and Indian analysts on the Indian defence sector are advanced here. First, the 'drift' in the Indian defence policy as argued by Smith seems pretty far-fetched. In fact, contrary to it, a sense of direction was always evident in the past and seems evolving further in current times, thanks to efforts to initiate major reforms in national security management, in general, and defence production and management, in particular. Creation of new institutions, attempts to reform production and procurement policies point to the refinement and prioritisation of the 'hard power' component of Indian national power. Second, 'strategic restraint as a limitation' as argued by Cohen may be a millennia-old civilisational tradition but recent evidence, like nuclear tests and restraint shown in crisis situations like the Kargil conflict or 26/11, has paid dividends for India as it is seen as a more responsible power now. It must be noted that the acquisition of strategic weapons, creation of Special Forces and joint doctrinal attributes being slowly embedded in Indian military preparedness are certainly not for perpetual defensive purposes. Third, the Indian arsenal being describes as 'ad hoc' is debatable. Ad hoc is quantifiable—segregating the unnecessary from the stated quantum. India's long-term military modernisation plan currently under way is certainly not vague in the numbers of systems required, to be phased out or that exist in the arsenal. Fourth, executive decisions on national security matters are often short-sighted and, as Subrahmanyam, Smith and Cohen argue, may not be true all the time. Unfortunately, in the case of India, strategic decisions taken at certain times in history are interpreted by analysts with excessive reliance on secondary sources like autobiographies, biographies and tertiary sources, like interviews and personal conversations in the near absence of official documents in the public domain. Fifth, complex bureaucratic institutional arrangements have been the biggest hindrance to timely and transparent decision making in India, as argued by Subrahmanyam and others, is fine but nobody offers an alternate proposition. A systems overhaul, as argued by many, is an impractical idea against the backdrop of the systems in question being too traditional and rigid. A slow yet incremental change in structural aspects of MoD and armed forces from within is what seems to be a practical idea. That is exactly is what has been happening for the past few years. Cumulative essence of half a dozen committee reports in the last ten years—from the GoM, to Kelkar to Sengupta to Rama Rao—typifies such an attempt. And last, India as a 'strong society presided over by a weak state' as argued by Cohen is unpalatable. It is actually the other way round, to say the least.

 

Both foreign and Indian analysts have pilloried the Indian defence sector, including me, for various reasons, yet a rational set of arguments on Indian hard power still elude us. It is time that government-funded and non-government research institutions encouraged multi-disciplinary scholarship on the subject. The proposed effort should not be time specific but must be treated as a constant in Indian scholarship to provide requisite inputs to the state wisdom.

 

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. These are his personal views

 ***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ALLIED TROUBLE

NISTULA HEBBAR

 

The Congress party's plenary in Delhi was overshadowed to a large extent by the spectre of large-scale graft in the UPA government; it is not, however, the biggest political challenge being faced by the Grand Old Party (GOP). That happens to, undoubtedly, be the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It is the backbone of the current UPA government at the Centre, the Congress has 33 MPs from the state, but the death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy has unleashed demons that the central party is quite unable to contain.

 

Last week alone, former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu sat on a high-profile hunger strike to protest against the alleged lack of compensation for farmers hit by floods. It was an ironic role reversal for him from his days as the CEO of Cyberabad, but even more so for the Congress that had ridden to power in 2004 on the back of a similar padyatra by YS Rajasekhara Reddy. The aam aadmi shoe is quite literally on the other foot.

 

If this wasn't damaging enough, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), in the run-up to the Srikrishna Commission report on Telangana to be submitted on December 31, held a massive show of strength at Warangal. The TRS is on a build-up for the big showdown at the end of the month if there is an adverse finding in the Srikrishna report. The Congress itself is split on the question of Telangana, with the party, whether by accident or design, trying to occupy both sides of the argument. The party may be convinced that it is advantageous to play both sides but so far they have managed to convince no one else of this logic.

 

What has actually happened in the interim is that the issue, almost buried after YSR's second victory in Andhra Pradesh in 2009, has been given a fresh lease of life, and a timeline that more or less means troubled times ahead. The party, therefore, is split not just between pro- and anti-YSR camps but also on Telangana and Vishal Andhra planks. The Congress, which revels in being all things to all people, may have over-reached on this issue.

 

By far, the biggest thorn in the Congress's side is the rebel son of YSR, Jaganmohan Reddy. After his exit from the Congress, he has been quite successful in playing the agent provocateur. The rebellion in the newly sworn-in Cabinet of chief minister Kiran Reddy, the daily defections by several Congress leaders to Jaganmohan Reddy's still-to-be-announced party—the YSR Congress—and his emotionally charged politics, based on perceived wrongs against him by the Congress, makes for an explosive cocktail.

 

Things have come to such a pass that it has become a betting game in the Andhra Pradesh assembly as to just how long Kiran Reddy will manage to hold on to power.

 

What should really worry the Congress are the lessons that the BJP learnt after it was voted out of power in 2004. The actual difference in the Congress and BJP seats in the Lok Sabha was just five. The BJP got 137 seats while the Congress bagged 141. But what made the critical difference in who gets to form the government was the state of the respective allies of the these two national parties.

 

In Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu—an ally of the BJP-led NDA—was decimated at the hustings. While in Tamil Nadu, the DMK, a former ally of the NDA, delivered critical numbers to the Congress as part of a new alliance on the eve of elections.

 

In 2010, the DMK has gone into political shock over the 2G spectrum scam and Andhra Pradesh is floundering

out of Congress's hands. In the year of the credibility free fall, this lesson from history is valuable indeed. The Congress should not rely too hard on the BJP's lack of leadership, as there is never a vacuum at the top. This southern discomfort will cost the Congress, and cost it big.

 

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

New leaks shock Congress

 

The latest set of leaks, at the Congress party's 125th birthday celebrations in Burari in north-west Delhi, sent a series of shocks across the party. No, it wasn't the WikiLeaks kind of leaks that shocked the party when Rahul Gandhi's thoughts on Hindu-terror were found on the Internet a few days ago. These were different kind of leaks, and different kind of shocks. In a comedy of errors à la Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots, 14 party functionaries suffered a nasty shock while using the makeshift restroom at the venue of the plenary sessions of the party. In this case, however, the electric shocks were a result of poor wiring, not an ingenious scheme devised to be a lesson in civic sense.

 

Some transparency, finally

 

While there have been several discussions, including one by this newspaper, on the Bimal Jalan committee report on stock exchanges, members of the committee have been conspicuous by their absence. So, the debate has tended to be a bit one-sided, with panellists attacking the Jalan committee, but with no one to defend the committee. Industry chamber CII sought to fix this by getting former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan to interact with stakeholders, but this was to be off-record. The public pressure over the past few days, however, ensured the session is now open for coverage.

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CHERUBIC CENTURION

 

In 1990, aged 17, he became the youngest Indian to notch up a hundred in test cricket. In 1996, aged 23, he became the youngest Indian to captain in the ODIs. He is 37 now, of an age by which most sportsmen have retired or had the sheen of their armour worn off by the harsh scrutiny of spotlights. Yuvraj Singh joked last year, "We have started calling him grandpa." There have been career-threatening injuries along the way. There have been patchy phases when critics started calling for his retirement. Yet, here we are in 2010, with Tendulkar still in first-class public standing and far from done with resetting records. In February, he became the first ever cricketer to score a double century in an ODI. He went on to win his first ICC's Player of the Year Award, even while returning to the top of the world batting rankings after eight years. For a grand Xmas finale, Tendulkar has dished out his 50th test century. The nearest contender, Ricky Ponting, is 11 centuries away.

 

Given that cricket fans can be as pitiless as they are passionate in their worship, it is a wonder that Tendulkar has remained really well-liked through the years. Especially given how often our expectations of him fly off the field, how often his runs become a proxy for my dreams, your dreams. One of his first endorsements was for Band-Aid and Ramachandra Guha has noted how Tendulkar has often become a sort of one-man Band-Aid for the Indian psyche, bringing us together across class and creed. Here's raising a cheer to many more centuries from the gifted Little Master.

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE MANY FACETS OF GREATNESS

 

Sachin Tendulkar said it best when asked what his 50th Test century meant to him. He struggled at first to articulate himself but eventually conveyed the sense that it was just another number — a satisfying number no doubt, but just another. As he has said time and again, records matter little to him; what has driven him to play for 21 years is an unaffected love for the game, which hasn't dimmed since he knew it first as a little boy. Yet it's through his numbers that we can better value his genius. It's these records — his ODI double-hundred earlier this year, for instance — that help nuance the understanding of greatness. So while a 50th hundred is no more significant than a 51st or a 49th, the roundness of the number presents the opportunity to stand back and appreciate what the achievement involves. Longevity is the litmus test of greatness — over a long career, even more so in the case of Tendulkar's which has spanned cricket eras, no facet remains untested. Consider that he started against Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis — three of the greatest fast-bowlers of all time — and made his 50th hundred against Dale Steyn, who will soon have a similar standing, and the scale of the feat becomes apparent.

 

"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be," wrote the poet Robert Browning and no cricketer has animated these lines, making them resonate with the timbre of truth, as capably as Tendulkar. The great man, who turned 37 in April, has long passed the age a batsman's ability is expected to deteriorate. But by having his most fertile year, scoring more than 1,500 Test runs, Tendulkar has forced a revision of how both the great batsman and the old batsman is viewed. The great athlete often doesn't concern himself or herself with such things — winning matters more than the broadening of perception — but it remains a vital function of greatness. Tendulkar's 50th hundred contained in miniature his batting renaissance after the lows of 2006: he batted without ego, playing a cautious man's game, particularly against Paul Harris' left-arm spin, but against pace, he fell back on the instinctive, attacking style that he charmed the world with as a teenager. The runs also came in a second-innings crisis, something Tendulkar was — not always justly — criticised for not doing enough of, but has more than addressed in the last two years. We are in the midst of something very special — long may he continue, for cricket's sake.

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WANTED: ZERO TOLERANCE

 

A major consequence of fast-paced motorisation and expansion of roads and highways in India is the mounting rate of fatalities and injuries from traffic accidents. More than 110,000 people are killed on the roads each year, with the death toll rising by eight per cent annually; the estimate for serious injuries is 1.6 million. India's roads are now rated the worst in the world. Viewed against this background, the road safety initiative launched by the central government and the World Bank to cover 3,000 km of high-risk national and State highways in Assam, Gujarat, and Karnataka is an incremental step to improve the situation. Under the plan, affordable improvements based on the latest technologies will be put in place to reduce crashes and fatalities. The project will draw upon the experience of the International Road Assessment Programme supported by the World Bank in several countries. The investments can improve the safety record of some roads. What is important, however, is for the government to demonstrate the political will to move beyond limited schemes in a few States. The continuing carnage demands a policy of zero tolerance to crashes covering the entire network of 65,000-plus km of national highways and the quarter million km of urban roads. Almost three years ago, the Sundar Committee recommended a national road safety policy but precious little has been done by way of implementation.

 

There is no justification for delayed action on road safety when the national economic loss on account of death and disability from accidents is officially reckoned to be of the order of Rs.75,000 crore a year. Research on the challenge facing India points to specific areas that need urgent action. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and non-motorised vehicle users constitute 60 per cent of those killed on urban roads; and motorcyclists and small car users make up 25 per cent. Unsurprisingly, there is a disproportionate involvement of trucks and buses in fatal crashes, highlighting a key problem. These data point to the need for segregation of vulnerable road users and appropriate traffic calming measures to reduce risk. Equally, scientific design of roads and vehicles can reduce conflicting interactions among road users and mitigate the consequences of accidents. There should be a sincere attempt to analyse such data emerging from studies conducted by injury prevention researchers in the country. The Sundar Committee has rightly pointed out that the State transport departments, which now play the relatively minor role of licensing and vehicle registration, should be made legally responsible for coordination of multi-sectoral safety. The time to act is now.

 

***************************************

 

THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THOSE OTHER PROBLEMS IN ANDHRA PRADESH

IF PRESENT POLITICAL TRENDS AND SHIFTS IN ANDHRA PRADESH INTENSIFY, THE STATE COULD SEE AN ELECTION WITHIN A YEAR. AND NOT JUST OVER TELANGANA.

P. SAINATH

 

When Chandrababu Naidu sits on a hunger fast for suffering farmers, you know something is afoot in Andhra Pradesh. Excessive rains have devastated the crops in the State. And losses have been enormous. But a farmer losing over Rs.15,000 on an acre of paddy will get less than Rs.2500 in compensation. And the nature of land relations in Andhra Pradesh ensures that most tenant farmers won't get even that.

 

Yet, it is the political shifts that are less seen. If — and it is very much an 'if' — present trends intensify, Andhra Pradesh could see an election within a year. And not just over Telangana. That election could throw up big surprises and a new regional formation of some strength.

 

The ruling Congress seems preoccupied with shooting itself in the foot. Faced with an array of issues that demand attention, it has focussed all its energies on fighting Jaganmohan Reddy. The highlight of the handling of Telangana was not to address the problems of that troubled region but to order the son of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy not to go there for any kind of campaign. In public perception, rightly or wrongly, this was writing off Telangana to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. For those opposed to statehood for the region, this seemed a betrayal. They recall how 'YSR' had undermined K. Chandrasekhar Rao whose previous resignation saw him lose strength in the Lok Sabha. This year, KCR's TRS swept the region. For those demanding a separate state, the Congress has promised little and delivered less. Not a single one of their burning problems has been taken up, let alone resolved.

 

The State government needed to tackle a growing crisis on many fronts, farming being one of them. A year of total paralysis under K. Rosaiah meant this did not happen, even though the then Agriculture Minister tried to reverse some awful policies flowing downwards from the Centre. Ultimately, the Centre's policy direction on agriculture had to further undermine small farmers everywhere, including Andhra Pradesh.

 

Already, the lack of land reform within Andhra Pradesh makes the plight of tenant farmers — who account for a third of the farmers in the State — a lot worse. Tenancy farming has grown and the AP Kisan Sabha estimates there are 40 lakh such farmers across the State. Most lead a life bogged down in anxiety, tension and debt. The few rights they have are fragile, the farms they operate are failing even without natural calamity. They account for a large number of farm suicides in the State. Even when compensation is paid out for crop losses, these are grabbed by the owner whose land the tenant has leased for farming, since the land is in his name. Getting loans from banks is sheer torture. (At this point, Collectors in some districts are appealing to bankers to extend credit to tenant farmers.) The banks have not given out even a fraction of these loans promised to tenant farmers by official diktat.

 

Tenant farmers have little security of tenure and are subject to rack-renting. Three commissions in recent years, those headed by Jayati Ghosh, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Konneru Rangarao have made major observations and recommendations relating to this group. In practice, the government has done nothing about them. And as times get worse for farmers as a whole, tenant farmers take a bad beating.

 

Then there are the problems of the MNREGS, once doing relatively better in Andhra Pradesh than in many other States. The past year has unsettled a once-working programme. Again, for many, this compares badly with the YSR period when in districts of Anantapur there was a member from almost every household at the NREG sites in many villages. Back then, distress migrations had actually fallen in districts like Mahbubnagar as the NREGS expanded. So quite a few do hark back to that period as one of hope. Even in urban Andhra Pradesh where the YSR government restored lakhs of BPL cards cancelled by the Naidu regime.

 

There are also the issues of mega projects and the lakhs of people displaced by those. Of flawed irrigation projects, dubious land deals, and a bizarre number of SEZs. These and major corruption scandals were pretty much a part of YSR's time, too. However, the negative outcomes of some of these would unfold more slowly. So in the 2009 elections, the positive policies paid off — while the bills for the destructive ones would and will come in later. So in public perception, the YSR era comes out looking good compared to the chaos of the present. As of now, a lot of this translates into public goodwill for Jaganmohan Reddy. While this situation lasts, the negatives of his own politics, ambition, character and charges of corruption might seem less important to those fed up with the way things are now. These problems could well catch up with him but at present, he seems to be on a roll.

 

That Mr. Naidu, of all people, has decided to go on a hunger strike in support of suffering farmers confirms that the Opposition sees the government as being in real trouble. Yet the Congress mess-up has not seen Mr. Naidu gain greatly so far. As for the Praja Rajyam Party of Chiranjeevi, it now seems a severely edited scene in the unfolding drama. If the present trends hold, the default gainer could be Jaganmohan Reddy and his yet to be named new party. The Congress will be the big loser — beyond the State too, given Andhra Pradesh's importance to its strength at the Centre. With Tamil Nadu also in flux, the Congress problem becomes national. Its allies know it is in trouble. Note Sharad Pawar's increasingly strident criticisms of government policies.

 

The more the Congress has tried to can Jaganmohan Reddy, the more — so far — he gains. Indeed, its perceived "insults to the YSR legacy" could translate into a matter of regional pride that works in favour of YSR's son. Jagan Reddy has made deep forays into the districts and the Congress is unable to counter him. More important, the public response to his visits has been impressive and, at least for now, appears to be growing. Sitting Congress MLAs show up at his meetings. Followers of other parties attend them in big numbers.

 

Large turnouts to receive him at railway stations have made the Congress nervous. The party's shot at playing Reddy politics has shown little success so far. And the splitting of the YSR family has not gone down well with a public already seeing Jagan Reddy as the wronged party.

 

It's a classic Congress dilemma. The party has no leaders of any consequence in the State (or most States) because that is how it needs it to be. It cannot allow the emergence of strong State leaders independent of the Centre. YSR was an exception. The same problem in Maharashtra has seen it bring in a Chief Minister with no base, let alone a State-wide standing. It matters little now, who it makes Chief Ministers in the States — it has no leaders. Anyone seen emerging was choked off. In Maharashtra, where the NCP was an endangered species, it gets a new lease of life. In the just concluded Assembly session, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar seemed dominant. While Prithviraj Chavan appeared to be wondering what he had got himself into. In Andhra Pradesh, it gets more embarrassing, where to fight Jagan Reddy the Congress has to (without saying so) oppose dynastic succession. Something it is not best qualified to do. A growing number of Congress supporters seem drawn towards Jagan Reddy.

 

It can, of course, prolong its tactical manoeuvres. It is the most experienced political force in the country at that. But Andhra Pradesh might not be so easy to control from here on. The report of the commission on Telangana is barely two weeks away. It will certainly recognise the historic neglect of that region and its huge and long ignored problems. Whether it advises statehood for it or draws up a list of options including that one, who will contain the fallout? Either way, there is turbulence ahead. Who is the State leader who commands respect in all regions? What happens if and when the number of MLAs joining Jagan Reddy's camp reaches a critical mass? What will the Congress go to the people of Telangana and Andhra with in the event of an election? Leave alone the next State polls — which could happen two years ahead of schedule if the Congress government folds — the by-elections to the seats vacated by Jagan Reddy and his mother will prove humiliating. The results could see a bigger flow of MLAs towards him. Across all regions of the State, the Congress is between a rock and a hard place.

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

ENGAGEMENT WITH THE NEEDY

THE EULOGIES AT THE RECENT MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR ALIZANNE FORSYTH LABUSCHAGNE WERE NOT TRIUMPHAL; THEY REFLECTED THE QUIET DIGNITY AND SELFLESSNESS THAT CHARACTERISED HER LIFE.

PRANAY GUPTE

 

I missed seeing Sachin Tendulkar crack his 50th Test century on Sunday evening in South Africa by about a week. I had to return to my home base in Dubai because work beckoned, but I would have loved to watch my fellow Mumbaikar earn a permanent place not only in the history of cricket but of sport in general. The unbeaten century that he made is not only for the record books, it is for the ages. That's why the applause for his achievement resonates around the world.

 

The applause is particularly warm among South Africa's million-plus people of Indian and South Asian origin, the largest such concentration outside the Subcontinent itself. They are scattered all across this country of 50 million people, where the first Indian immigrants, Kalaga Prabhu and his son Chorda, who were Cochin merchants, arrived in 1771 after being exiled by the Dutch for conspiring with the Mysore king, Haider Ali, to overthrow the ruler of Cochin. The first large batch of indentured workers didn't get here until almost a century later, and they settled on sugarcane plantations in Natal province.

 

It was to Natal's capital city of Durban that I had gone earlier this month, but it wasn't a celebratory visit. It was to attend a memorial service for Alizanne Forsyth Labuschagne, an extraordinary woman of Scottish descent who died of a massive stroke at the age of 78. Her family, like that of her husband, Dr. Nicholas Labuschagne, has been in South Africa for 300 years.

 

That is a formidable pedigree indeed, and both Alizanne and her husband put their respective backgrounds to good use. Alizanne was a social activist, especially energetic in her Presbyterian church. Dr. Labuschagne trained as a physician but gained tremendous success in business and in the world of horse racing.

 

Pioneering work

 

It is no longer the custom to raise statues to those who have performed outstanding civic duty, but there still exists a statue dedicated to Nick's father, Dr. Paul Labuschagne. It would be no hyperbole to say that virtually every Indian who grew up in the sugarcane belt of South Africa knows of him. And they all remain grateful for his pioneering work in tackling malaria and tuberculosis, among other maladies. The Trinity College-trained physician worked primarily among Indian indentured workers on the large sugar plantations now owned by Tongaat-Hulett, a major company that he helped start in Natal. The generally wretched life of those workers, and of Gandhiji's involvement with obtaining social justice for them are examined in Joseph Lelyveld's forthcoming book, "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India."

 

At about the same time that Gandhiji travelled to South Africa, after spending several years treating leprosy patients in a colony in Nigeria, Dr. Paul Labuschagne returned to his home in Tongaat, in what was then the province of Natal. It must have been a wrenching experience, but in Nigeria Dr. Labuschagne developed an overriding compassion for the dispossessed and a sensibility that proper health care must be accompanied by proper education, proper housing, and proper employment. Otherwise, he argued, there would be little social or economic progress of any consequence.

 



 

Although the annals of Third World development rarely praise him for pushing that ethos, Dr. Labuschagne's philosophy was to be the precursor of the large-scale development methodology promoted in later years by the World Bank and the United Nations, and by scores of bilateral aid agencies.

I would argue that despite nearly $2 trillion that these entities have spent in the post-colonial era to address issues such as poverty alleviation and universal health care, Dr. Paul Labuschagne had more impact on a per capita basis than most consultants who pack aid organisations and make a lucrative living off the poverty industry.

 

What was remarkable about Dr. Labuschagne was that he put his own money and personal labour into development projects for Indian workers. It was also remarkable for those times that this white man of French Huguenot descent had no reservations whatsoever about working closely with poor labourers of colour.

 

Reflection

 

That benign disregard for the origins, politics and sociology of ethnicity, that humanitarian concern with the less fortunate, that engagement with the needy, were certainly also characteristics of Alizanne Labuschagne's life. In the memorial service for her, celebrants recalled some of her good deeds — but the eulogies weren't triumphal; they reflected the quiet dignity and selflessness that characterised her life.

 

As I sat in the church pews listening to those eulogies, and the lovely hymns that were sung by the congregation — by whites, blacks and browns alike — it occurred to me how swiftly the torch of social change is being passed on to a new generation in South Africa, as in India. I thought about how much change is wrapped up in commercial considerations nowadays, and that how much a part of the irretrievable past the sensibilities of people like Alizanne Labuschagne, and her predecessors and elderly contemporaries, have become.

 

They were sobering thoughts, and they made me value the contributions of Alizanne Labuschagne and Dr. Paul Labuschagne even more — even though I had only known Alizanne as the mother of her son, Nic, a close friend, and even though I had only seen Paul as a statue in a green grove on a rainy afternoon in Tongaat.

 

( Pranay Gupte's next book — the 15th that he has written or edited — "Dubai: The Journey" will be published worldwide in early 2011 by Viking-Penguin. He is currently working on his memoirs of more than four decades in international journalism.)

 

                                                ***************************************

 


THE HINDU

OPED

THE SHADOW OF INSTABILITY OVER THE IVORY COAST

LAURENT GBAGBO, UNDER PRESSURE TO QUIT PRESIDENCY, ACCUSES U.N. PEACEKEEPERS OF FAILING TO REMAIN NEUTRAL OVER THE DISPUTED ELECTION.

SIMON TISDALL

 

United Nations peacekeepers and French soldiers stationed in the Ivory Coast were on December 19 set on a dangerous course of confrontation with forces loyal to the renegade president, Laurent Gbagbo, after he ordered them out of the country.

 

The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, responded swiftly with a warning that violence against the 10,000-strong mission would incur serious consequences. "Any attack on U.N. forces will be an attack on the international community and those responsible for these actions will be held accountable," Ban said.

 

His warning came as Britons were advised by the U.K.'s Foreign Office (FCO) to leave the West African country. "In view of the tense and highly uncertain security environment following the disputed presidential election ... we advise against all travel to Cote d'Ivoire," the FCO stated on its website. "Due to the threat of widespread instability and violence in Abidjan and other major cities, British nationals are advised to leave Cote d'Ivoire by commercial means, if safe to do so, unless you have a pressing reason to remain." The U.N., the European Union, the former colonial power France and the African Union all endorsed the victory of Alassane Ouattara after the second round of presidential elections on November 28. Gbagbo, in power since 2000, insisted he won the ballot and has refused to relinquish office.

 

Backed by military, youth militia

 

Gbagbo's defiance has been backed by Ivory Coast's military forces and by the feared youth militia, the Young Patriots, but condemned by other African countries.

 

The U.N. said on December 19 it had received hundreds of reports of abductions carried out at night by men wearing military uniforms. It also said that those behind the abductions had been "accompanied by elements of the defence and security forces or militia groups".

 

Navanethem Pillay, the senior U.N. human rights official, said the "deteriorating security conditions in the country and the interference with freedom of movement of U.N. personnel have made it difficult to investigate the large number of human rights violations reported", in a statement released from her office in Geneva.

 

The U.N. earlier said that armed men in military uniform had fired at patrol vehicles belonging to UNOCI (U.N. Operation in Cote d'Ivoire) and at soldiers guarding the mission's headquarters in the capital, Abidjan, early on December 18. Ban said that two U.N. personnel were injured when the youth militia launched a separate attack, also on December 18, on U.N. observers.

 

Jacqueline Lohoues-Oble, a spokeswoman for Gbagbo, said on state television that Gbagbo wanted both the U.N. peacekeepers and the 900 French soldiers in Ivory Coast, known as the Licorne mission, to leave immediately. "UNOCI has interfered seriously in the internal affairs of Ivory Coast," she said, adding that it had shown "contempt for Ivory Coast's institutions". Gbagbo was "opposed to any renewal of their mandate [which expires at the end of the year]", she added.

Ban responded, saying there was no intention to remove peacekeepers. He said earlier that Gbagbo's de facto coup d'etat "could not stand". "UNOCI will fulfil its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on U.N. peacekeepers," the U.N. statement said.

 

But it was unclear what action the U.N. and other international bodies could take to impose their will and prevent the crisis in the former French colony from escalating. Ivory Coast, wracked by civil war between 2002 and 2003, has been in turmoil since November 28, after Gbagbo refused to accept the result of the election. Despite losing to Ouattara, a former Prime Minister and senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official, by eight percentage points, according to independent tallies, Gbagbo had the results invalidated by the Constitutional Council, the country's highest legal body.

Ouattara is now holed up in Abidjan's lagoon-side Golf hotel guarded by about 800 U.N. troops and unable to leave, according to reports from the capital. Government forces fired on Ouattara's supporters when they took to the streets on December 16, killing about 50 people.

The election winner, Ouattara, dismissed Gbagbo's ultimatum. "Mr. Gbagbo doesn't represent a legitimate government, so it's not up to him to ask for the departure or otherwise of the U.N. forces," Meite Sindou, his spokesman, told the New York Times.

 

Warning

Charles Ble Goude, the leader of the Young Patriots militia and Gbagbo's youth minister, said the U.N. "has showed that it is no longer a force for peace". He warned that his group might try to seize Ouattara's hotel and force him to flee the country. At a rally of several thousand in the tough and sprawling Adibjan neighbourhood of Yopougon, he called on his militia to "liberate" Ivory Coast, Reuters reported. "We will defend the sovereignty of our country," Goude said.

 

He told supporters: "Get ready, because from next Friday I will need you for the total liberation of Ivory Coast." In a recent crackdown by Gbagbo, opposition newspapers have been banned and foreign broadcast media jammed. An editorial in the Fraternite Matin newspaper condemned "the unprecedented interference of the international community".

While the streets of Abidjan were reported quiet today, the crisis has sparked fears that Ivory Cost could once again descend into civil war, and that the resulting instability could cause a refugee crisis through the wider region. About 4,000 people have already fled the turmoil, according to the UNHCR.

 

 

Gbagbo can call on up to 9,000 well-armed troops, plus militia. They are opposed by irregular rebel forces that continue to hold out in the north of the country and have skirmished with government forces in recent days.

 

France's 900 troops are remnants of a much larger contingent. But the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has shown no sign of ordering them to intervene, fearful perhaps of reprisals against the 15,000 French citizens living in the country.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WAR ON EXTREMIST POLITICS WELCOME

 

There was never any doubt that the Congress would seek to hit the BJP hard at its two-day plenary session at Burari, on the outskirts of Delhi, to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of the party. The saffron party has been the Congress' principal political target since it emerged as the Congress' most significant electoral challenger on the national stage, although it needs to be said that, ideologically speaking, the Congress — more than any other party in the country — has been the harshest critic of the RSS and its affiliates, including the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and its successor party, the BJP. The speeches of the top leaders and senior ministers at Burari confirmed the vehemence of the Congress' anti-BJP slant. (At BJP conclaves, and those of the communist parties, it is the Congress which typically emerges as the main adversary.)


A distinct new element seen in recent times by way of emphasis in Congress deliberations — especially party chief Sonia Gandhi's speech — was the criticism of communal and extremist politics of all shades. This is a welcome acknowledgement of the rise of terrorism aimed at India and the appeal of Islamist extremism for a section of misguided Muslim youth. The last great Congress leaders to criticise Muslim communal politics were Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, although their perspectives were shaped by pre-partition politics and Jinnah's stridency in pushing the "Muslim nation" agenda. Unlike that conjuncture, the Congress leadership today is clearly guided by exigencies of electoral politics — five Assembly elections are due next year. The Congress has also been careful at Burari not to attack the regional parties politically, for it may be called upon to do business with any of them — in the states, or even the Centre if the fallout of the Radia tapes and the spectrum scam impacts the UPA alliance negatively.


With corruption scandals surfacing all round us, there is no surprise that the plenary devoted time to deliberate on the issue. It is a pity that the ruling party has had to wait for unsavoury developments to erupt in the public domain before contemplating measures at the party forum to tackle corruption. Suggestions of the kind projected at the conclave should have been implemented long ago, especially doing away with the discretionary powers of ministers, state funding of elections, and transparency in contracts involving public money. People are likely to believe the Congress on these counts when they see change on the ground. Until then, they will hold their counsel. What is interesting in this regard is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's voluntary offer to appear before Parliament's most important committee, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi — to answer questions on the 2G spectrum scandal set in motion under former telecom minister A. Raja. This is unprecedented and is to be welcomed. If the Opposition parties are smart, they won't take up the PM on his offer. Nevertheless, the PAC or any committee of Parliament cannot refuse a minister — technically, the PM is only the first among the ministers — who wishes to appear before it after making a formal request through the Speaker. The Burari economic resolution is bland. On foreign affairs, no regional or strategic vision has been presented, but concerns regarding China and Pakistan are clear enough. Arunachal Pradesh being part of India has been reiterated. Pakistan has been virtually told that fruitful bilateral relations will depend on Islamabad dismantling terrorist outfits and delivering on commitments as regards the perpetrators of 26/11.


Given the big occasion — celebrating the Congress' 125th anniversary — the Burari session was too routine, too pat. The vision thing was missing.

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

WIKI-WASHY

ASHOK MALIK

 

Speaking at the plenary session of the All-India Congress Committee in New Delhi this past weekend, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi clarified that the party made no distinction between majority and minority communalism. That this truism had to be specifically stated did indicate the Congress leadership had taken the WikiLeaks controversy seriously.


As revelations of United States embassy cables had made apparent, in August 2009 the American ambassador in India reported a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. At the meeting, the Congress general secretary seemed to suggest "radicalised Hindu groups" posed a "bigger threat" than Islamist mobilisation on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and similar entities.


The WikiLeaks controversy is likely to die down soon. One cannot see it surviving to become a major issue in elections, though political rivals of Mr Gandhi may choose to bring it up from time to time. Nevertheless, the remarks attributed to the Congress' prospective leader — and future prime minister — offer a window to his thinking. This is not without significance. Mr Gandhi has offered few opportunities to judge his position on policy, the economy and external relations, security concerns. His political interventions have been well-meaning — "End income inequality"; "Don't let the rich exploit the poor"; "Narrow the divide between the two Indias" — but anodyne. As such a private, unguarded conversation could potentially provide rich evidence of what really defines his worldview.


Equally, it is important to see the comments in context, and to guess the possible impact they left on Mr Gandhi's interlocutor. Mr Roemer and Mr Gandhi met on July 20, 2009. This was three days before Mr Roemer was formally sworn in as US ambassador to India and three weeks before he presented his credentials to the President of India (on August 11, 2009). He was absolutely new to this country.


Before being appointed to the ambassadorial job in New Delhi, the most important public position Mr Roemer had held was that of member of the 9/11 Commission. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States — to give it its full name — was a bipartisan commission comprising both Democrats and Republicans. It was set up following the World Trade Centre attacks to study intelligence and security lapses that allowed the worst terrorist assault on the American homeland.


July 2009 was only eight months after the 26/11 Lashkar-triggered terror attacks in Mumbai. As such, given his 9/11 Commission background and given fresh memories of the Mumbai massacre, Mr Roemer was probably seeking a serious homeland security assessment from a senior parliamentarian he felt was part of the ruling establishment in New Delhi and sufficiently clued in. The answer he got — at least the answer that has been reported — would probably have disappointed him or at any rate taken him by surprise.


Rather than insights into the Lashkar challenge to India and the country's post-26/11 security preparedness — which were obviously what Mr Roemer was seeking — the US ambassador received wishy-washy political opinion. To put it politely, Mr Gandhi's response must have seemed amateur.


A counterfactual may be in order here. It is May 2002, eight months after 9/11. The Indian ambassador in Washington, D.C., is having lunch with a top-ranking member of the US Congress, one who has the ear of the administration.

The ambassador asks the member of Congress about Al Qaeda's "activities in the (North American) region and immediate threat" to the US. The Congressman retorts by saying that the "bigger threat" — bigger than Al Qaeda — is probably white Christian supremacist groups. In his wisdom, these groups — whether acting suo motu or retaliating against 9/11 — are more dangerous than Al Qaeda's transnational threat or, if one is to go by the most charitable explanation offered in the light of the WikiLeaks expose, than any Islamist sleeper cells that may exist in the US.


It is nobody's case that deviant gangs of politically violent Hindus don't exist. Some of these people — and frankly "Hindu terrorists" or "Hindutva terrorists" is not an unreasonable label for them — may have been responsible for bombings in Malegaon, Maharashtra, and a few other locations in recent years. They deserve punishment.


Yet, the threat perception from them and from Islamist private armies such as the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Indian Mujahideen is of an entirely different order. There has to be a sense of proportion. In 1996, the Atlanta Olympics saw a terror bombing triggered by a far-Right white American nutcase who was protesting against the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality and, additionally, considered the Olympic movement a conspiracy of "global socialism".


It is possible — probable — that a few thousand Americans share the politics of the Atlanta bomber. Some of them could even be willing to inflict violence to get their point across. However, do they constitute a threat as lethal as Al Qaeda and the various factions of the Taliban?


To be fair, Mr Gandhi was not resorting to political grandstanding. He said what he did not at a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh but in a quiet chat, presumed to be confidential, with a foreign diplomat. This leads to the portentous conclusion that he actually believed in his argument. How should one understand this?
There is a school of thought in sections of the West, particularly in Britain but in parts of the US too, that holds Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not represent a supremacist adversary that wants to conquer the world and convert it to a particular, and perhaps distorted, interpretation of Islam but are, rather, a reaction to oppression by global and domestic right-wing forces. In this reading of the war on terror, the Islamist militia are a manifestation of the New Left, with Zionism and American imperialism as provocations and Palestine and Afghanistan and the inequality between the West and the West Asia as just causes.


There have been attempts to impose this "Islamism as the New Left" template upon India, with the Hindu Right as the provocation and the socio-economic inequality between Hindus and Muslims as the just cause. Occasionally, Kashmir, Ayodhya and Gujarat are thrown into the mix. Has Mr Gandhi bought into this argument? At some stage he needs to tell people — and not just the US ambassador.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HAPPY NEW AGE OF LEAKS IS HERE

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

Do Wikileaks and Radiagate spell the end of privacy as we know it? Or did they just usher in a brave, new world of hyper-transparency? Is WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange a hero or a villain? Are you smiling or hiding as contents of a certain Ms Radia's telephone conversations tumble out bit by explosive bit? Whatever be one's views on these questions, one thing is crystal clear. Like it or not, the age of leaks is here.


In the world that looms ahead, "superempowered individuals who can expose conversations far beyond their borders — or create posses of 'cyber hactivists' who can melt down the computers of people they don't like — are a reality", as Thomas L. Friedman noted in a recent column in the New York Times. Governments and corporations typically crave secrecy and will double their efforts to safeguard their secrets. But in today's globalised, internetworked world, when increasing numbers of people can access the most powerful tool ever for finding out what's really going on and inform others at the flick of their fingers, such determination will be matched, and often surpassed, by the zeal of those bent upon ferreting out that privileged information.
So, how should we respond? If this was a panel discussion, we could argue, "On one hand… on the other hand..." In the real, rough and tumble world, unfortunately, words are no protective armour. Whether you are a government, company or a prominent individual, how you look when you are stripped in public will depend on how you have been maintaining yourself. "When you're increasingly naked, fitness is no longer optional", says Philip M. Nichols, professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton.


Smart companies, governments and politicians understand that in the long run, transparency is simply a good strategy. With instant communication, whistleblowers, prying media, Google and citizens and communities increasingly able to put the mighty and the powerful under the microscope, opacity is not a real option for much longer.


One area where such hyper-transparency can help avoid much controversy is in the management of land and other natural resources. Large corporations with massive amounts of money and lots of information about how to use natural resources are now moving around the world scouting for friendly investment destinations. In many cases, their projects are later opposed by those affected, a situation that helps nobody and hurts many. Total transparency from the beginning can not only prevent conflict later, it also enables the operation of an open and fair market where every actor has equal access to information.


The fear that people do not have the information they should is not confined to India or other developing countries. Recent reports from Japan and Canada have spoken of overseas firms trying to buy up land or mines, and people then demanding that they be kept informed and their consent be taken before any such deal can go through. A telling example: Last month, Harumi Takahashi, governor of the Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido, said that a local ordinance is required to force foreign interests to report an intended land purchase before the contract is signed. Hideki Hirano of the Tokyo Foundation and chief researcher behind two reports raising alarm bells about the increase in foreign ownership of Japan's forests says the Japanese government must also identify areas for protection, such as those containing vital natural resources or considered key to national security and that transactions involving forest and mountain areas should be disclosed to the public.
In India, of course, most of the recent mega corruption scandals have to do with the way precious natural resources have been allocated, and the different stages at which the various affected people have found out about it. Not surprisingly, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's formula for rescuing her party from its current troubles includes transparency in the use of natural resources. Addressing the 83rd Congress plenary last weekend, Mrs Sonia Gandhi called for full transparency in public procurement and contracts and for protection of whistleblowers. Since discretionary powers on land allocation "breed corruption", she suggested that all Congress Party chief ministers and ministers should set an example by relinquishing such powers. There should also be an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources, she said. A ministerial panel headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recently approved the new mining bill that proposes 26 per cent profit-sharing by miners with the people affected by the project.


All this is good news and a good start. But the taste of the pudding is in the eating and one waits to see how these words will translate into action.


Activists involved with the Right to Information and the use of natural resources are cautiously optimistic about the recent developments. Leo Saldanha, who works for the Bengaluru-based Environment Support Group (ESG), a non-governmental organisation which has been consistently highlighting "illegal" acquisition of land and privatisation of lakes, points to a major victory last week — the Karnataka high court decreed that public consultation is a must before planning and building the Metro or any infrastructure project in the city. ESG and others had challenged the construction of the southern reach of Bengaluru Metro as being in gross violation of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and other statutes in a public interest litigation.


"For groups like ours working against tremendous odds to dig out the truth about many major industrial and infrastructure investments, with significant adverse economic, social and environmental ramifications, both Wikileaks and the Radia tapes offer a substantial volume of information. These revelations are major game changers as they strongly affect the nature of the political dialectic. Communities now will not be ridiculed for questioning the claims of corporates who adversely impact their lives and livelihoods. It is possible there may actually be more sympathy for their cause. In fact, the Radia tapes will make it so much more difficult for corporates and their backers in the government to bluff their way through the system and society", says Mr Saldanha.


Venkatesh Naik of the Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) feels the country needs something on the lines of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a global network of civil society organisations that calls for oil, gas and mining revenues to form the basis for development and improve the lives of ordinary citizens. PWYP seeks disclosure of information about mine revenues and contracts. They fight confidentiality clauses that often protect oil, gas and mineral contracts from disclosure.


These and other activists feel Wikileaks and Radiagate could trigger contradictory and simultaneous trends: clampdown and openness. Information can change the game, argues Mr Naik, provided affected communities have the capacity to access the information and use it. But as of now, he points out, in many schemes information is available but those who are the most affected are not made aware or equipped to leverage that information to their benefit.

 

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

2½ CHEERS FOR RADIA

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

The more one listens to the recorded conversations of Niira Radia talking to a variety of people, the more one realises her consummate skills in public relations, corporate communications, image management, persuasive marketing, lobbying… call it what you like. Whereas she emerges as a smart and super-efficient practitioner of the fine art of winning friends and influencing people in these phone conversations (that she obviously presumed were confidential), those whom she spoke to don't exactly come out smelling of roses, be these politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats, fellow fixers and, above all, senior journalists/television anchors.
The Radia conversations should become part of the curriculum of educational institutions that teach students PR or "corp-comm". There are important reasons why one is thankful that these conversations are in the public domain and these have absolutely nothing to do with issues relating to invasion of privacy and intrusion by the media into the private lives of public personalities. No one likes her or his personal conversations to be recorded and then splashed across the pages of magazines or embedded in websites, particularly if she or he was indulging in not-so-polite chit-chat peppered with generous helpings of unsubstantiated gossip. The significance of the Radia recordings lies elsewhere.


Contrary to what Union home secretary Gopal K. Pillai reportedly remarked, much of the recorded conversations disclosed so far go way beyond "titillating" trivia. The conversations relate to subjects that are deadly serious and significant in the way these throw light on the working of the country's political economy. One cannot lightly dismiss discussions relating to Cabinet formation and the constitution of the council of ministers that some may naively have believed was the prerogative of the Prime Minister. Nor should one ignore issues pertaining to changes in official policies — relating to, for instance, allocation of scarce and precious natural resources such as natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari basin or electromagnetic spectrum used by mobile telecommunications companies — where a change in a single sentence could translate into profits or losses running into thousands of crores of rupees for particular firms.


What the Radia conversations have done is bring out into the public domain what many of us knew and understood, but could only discuss during private interactions: that is, the nexus between big business and politics. We were all also aware that the services of lobbyists are deployed to provide a spin to a story that is lapped up (unknowingly?) by gullible or corrupt journalists.


We now also know for sure that journalists air opinions that are dictated to them by interested parties — don't we all love the phrase "vested interests". It was hardly a secret that certain not-so-esteemed members of the fourth estate double up as agents and informers — we are no longer left in doubt about their extra-curricular activities.
Why have sections of the media painted Ms Radia in rather lurid colours? Is it just jealousy about a lady who represents two of the wealthiest men in India and the world, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, and the interests of their respective corporate conglomerates? Or is it that many of us (including this correspondent) are amazed at how she quickly changes colour and acquires new avatars depending on the individual she is speaking with, as any person who has heard her (and not just read the transcripts of the recordings) will realise?
She is urbane and sophisticated when talking to Mr Tata, brash and brassy when conversing with Prabhu Chawla or Ranjan Bhattacharya and dripping honey while seeking the support of Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. With Tarun Das, chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry, she becomes familiar to a point where she offers astrological advice for his son who wants to set up a soccer academy for the underprivileged youth of Haryana. She berates society columnist Shobhaa De to one of her junior colleagues, talks shop with bureaucrat-turned-politician Nand Kishore ("Nandu") Singh and convinces Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and the now-disgraced former Union minister for communications and information technology Andimuthu Raja that she is indeed in the loop and in complete control of the situation at hand.


Right through her conversations, Ms Radia is cool, composed and unflapabble. One can't help but admire her networking skills, her command over the fine-print of spectrum allocation and the nitty-gritty of policies pertaining to natural gas. By way of contrast, those at the other end of the line often sound rather pompous and all-knowing, self-seeking and arrogant. Many sound as if they were eager to convince her how well-connected they were. As senior journalist Mark Tully wondered during an interaction: how often can a person get away "stringing" a source? If one keeps on making hypocritical claims about helping a source, will the latter continue to repose faith in the former.


One should thank not Ms Radia but those who recorded her conversations for laying bare the manner in which the corporate sector influences not just government policies but ministerial appointments as well. Thanks to Wikileaks and the Radia recordings, our notion of what is private or confidential and what is public or transparent has undergone important changes. All of which, in my opinion, is good for society at large.
Before concluding, a disclaimer is required. This correspondent has never ever met Ms Radia and is especially thankful that he was not sufficiently important to receive a phone call from her. If indeed she has violated the laws of the land, by evading taxes, by laundering black money, by acquiring assets disproportionate to known sources of income or by jeopardising the country's security interests — allegations which are yet to be established in a court of law — she should indeed be punished. Till that happens, two-and-a-half-cheers for Ms Radia!

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

***************************************

 

 


******************************************************************************************

DNA

 

50 TONS AND STILL PASSIONATE FOR MORE

 

To achieve a personal milestone is always a satisfying experience.

 

But to achieve a milestone that redefines the boundaries of human achievement is almost beyond description. With his 50th Test century, scored in South Africa on Sunday, Sachin Tendulkar established himself as one of the greatest sportspersons of all time.

 

The chances of this record being broken anytime soon seem unlikely. Much has already been said about his formidable talent and little or any of that is disputed.

 

But 50 Test centuries is not just about talent or skill, it is about grit, determination and longevity in a profession like sport where youth is usually worshipped.

 

It is one of those moments which transcend the nitty-gritty of the game and inspire us to move forward. For India, it is a moment of pride provided by her favourite son.

 

Tendulkar has declared that he is still hungry and that in itself is both rare, given his age and the fact that he has been playing cricket professionally for 21 years, and formidable, especially as far as his opponents are concerned.

 

There is no bowler in the world who would not want a Tendulkar scalp on his record.

 

But interestingly, Tendulkar's main opponents are not rival teams or bowlers. The world of cricket admires him for the champion that he is.

 

The nay-sayers come from within Indian cricket's commentators and administrators, who keep harping on the fact that India needs fresh blood.

 

The zest of youth can never be denied, but as the Indian Test team has demonstrated in recent times, it is experience and skill which matter the most when the chips are down.

 

Cricket is, most of all, a team sport and India's fortunes in South Africa do not rest on the shoulders of one man — even if he is Sachin Tendulkar — but on the manner in which the entire squad of 11 performs.

 

But for now, the moment belongs to Sachin. His sights are set firmly on the 2011 World Cup, the one milestone he has not yet achieved.

 

The fact that he is still passionate about the game should sound fair warning to the rest of the cricketing world that Tendulkar wants a lot more.

 

***************************************


DNA

NOT JUST WORDS, ACT AGAINST CORRUPTION

 

Cornered in the last few months by a series of scams, one bigger and murkier than the other, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi took an unexceptionable stand against corruption in her presidential speech at the annual Congress plenary session at Burari on Sunday.

 

She made it clear that the Congress-led UPA government and the party should confront this menace and deal with it mercilessly.

 

Those are indeed brave words at a time when the party's fortunes are sinking under the increasing burden of corruption charges. It is an attempt to redeem the party's image, which is the most crucial stake in the political game.

 

She has also managed to place her finger on the problem when she pointed out that it is the discretionary powers, especially with regard to allotment of land, which is the root of corruption. And she suggested, again a bold gesture, that these discretionary powers should be taken away.

 

Of course, this suggestion would be laudable only if it can be implemented.

 

Discretionary power is indeed a feudal hangover, which gives the politician in office the power to dole out largesse and favours.

 

What should be in place is a transparent system that makes access to resources — natural and otherwise — a fair one for all citizens. Of course, criteria have to laid down clearly, whether it be mines, land or housing. Rules are all that should matter.

 

This is no easy task. Politicians will be loath to give up what they consider to be the highest perquisite of their job — doing favours and gaining followers — and all in the name of public interest and for the benefit of people.

 

This is nothing less than an anachronism, and an ugly one at that, in our democratic system.

 

Of course, Congress and its president will not be able to use the tirade against corruption for mere moral one-upmanship. The people have become alert, if not cynical. They will not believe her words until there is a hint of action on the promise.

 

To make it practicable, the Congress will have to evolve a consensus among all political parties. It will be a tough task but worth the effort.

 

It is in this context, Gandhi's reference to state funding of elections makes sense. Again, here is an issue that no one party can decide upon.

 

Waxing eloquent on corruption has lost some of the charm it once had. Politicians cannot hope to wear the mantle of moral crusaders by merely speaking against corruption. What is needed is a mature approach to a complex malady.

 

***************************************


DNA

EDITORIAL

EUROPE'S COLD WAVE CAUSES TRAVEL SHUTDOWN

 

The total travel shutdown of Europe during the holiday season and the weather disturbances point to changing patterns and provide one more arrow to the arsenal of the climate change enthusiasts.

 

Europe is currently experiencing the worst winter in 30 years. But there is another side to the travel disruptions that has nothing to do with global warming but more to do with corporate and governmental short-sightedness.

 

In spite of Europe having snowy winters for three years in a row, neither airlines nor airports have made the necessary investments to deal with the problems of cold weather. As a result, airlines are losing millions a day.

 

Apart from the inconvenience to passengers, such delays are disastrous for airline balance sheets. And given the frequency with which this has been happening, better preparedness makes good sense.

 

The head of the British Airports Authority has been forced to admit that they did not have enough equipment to deal with the snow and ice— in spite of Heathrow being the busiest airport in the world.

 

Even worse, some airlines have alleged that it was the lack of communication that was the problem. The more things change…

 

***************************************


DNA

SPIRITUALITY IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE

SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR

 

The twenty first century belongs to spirituality. But what is spirituality?

 

All that you do to nurture and enhance the spirit is spirituality. Spirit is joy. Spirit is love. Spirit is enthusiasm.

 

Look at what spirituality brings to our lives and to society. The spiritual dimension dissolves the boundaries of caste, creed and religion and gives one a broader awareness — that life is present everywhere.

 

Spirituality brings a great sense of belongingness, responsibility, compassion and caring for the whole world. We have allowed our world to be driven by hatred and greed for too long; now, in this century, is the opportunity to drive this world by love and peace.

 

Through spirituality, life attains its richest form. Without it, life becomes very shallow and we become unhappy, dependent and depressed.

 

The natural law of something is called dharma. It is the dharma of spirit to support and sustain life. Spirituality makes us strong. If we do anything — either for our own welfare or society or the world — without considering the spiritual dimension of life, it is not going to work.

One aspect of spiritual life is a sense of sacredness. When we have a deep sense of gratitude, combined with regard and respect for everything that comes to us in life, it brings about a sense of sacredness.

 

And sacredness brings alertness in the consciousness.

Spiritual practice is getting in touch with the spirit that you are. Honouring life is spirituality. Corruption is nothing but a lack of sense of belongingness. Spirituality can help here too. Spirituality creates a sense of universality.

 

***************************************


DNA

COLUMN

WIKILEAKS: NEED TO LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE

RANJONA BANERJI

 

So Julian Assange's Wikileaks has set off one more round of political hysteria in India.

 

The cables sent by US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, to the state department contain a comment made by Rahul Gandhi about how Gandhi was worried that Hindu radicals might spark off more discontent amongst radical Muslims.

 

Hardly some vastly original or outrageous thought and still so many of our venerable politicians and commentators have gone off the deep end.

 

It also makes you wonder why the Bharatiya Janata Party should take exception to the words 'Hindu radicals'. The term refers to a specific group of people.

 

It does not qualify all Hindus as radicals — a far cry from the Sangh Parivar's normal ploy of equating all Indian Muslims either with Pakistan or with terrorism or usually, both. In their usual sneering, polite manner, they also equate Sonia Gandhi with all Christians and portray all Christians as proselytising demons.

 

Well, many Indians who are not fans of the Sangh Parivar might even object to the Parivar equating itself with all of Hinduism and springing to its defence.

 

And in fact, many Hindus do. How many new recruits does the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh get every year, these days? And what is the vote share which the BJP manages to get across India?

 

It is no one's case that India does not face a threat from either Islamist terrorism or from terrorists trained and armed by Pakistan.

 

The whole world today acknowledges that India has suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists from across the border. But that does not change the fact that there is a threat not only of Hindu radicals taking to violence but also of the violence which has already happened.

 

And the world is aware of that too, or else the posterboy of the BJP's violent Hindutva, Narendra Modi, would find it easier to get a visa to much of the western world. As it happens, he finds it difficult to get a visa even to Bihar.

 

This knee-jerk reaction to everything that is said is why Indian polity today seems so lacking in maturity. Even when we have matters of enormous national importance to discuss, we manage to sidestep debate and indulge ourselves in petty grandstanding.

 

The country is being raped and robbed by our political classes. So please watch the glee with which they have jumped on to this so-called crisis only in order to take the spotlight off themselves and their iniquities.

 

There is reason, however, to take exception to young Gandhi's remarks as reported in the Wikileaks cables and that is in the flip connection between provocative Hindutva radicalism and a corresponding Islamist backlash.

 

Had the response from Islamic radicals within India been as violent as many had feared, we would be in far worse trouble as a society. Instead, as the cables themselves have pointed out, India's Muslims have benefited greatly from living in a secular democracy.

 

If the BJP and its master organisation feel that the Congress is behaving in its normal appeasement manner, then the extreme reaction is even more inexplicable.

 

Just what is it about the Congress's vote bank politics that surprises anyone any more and just which election is the Congress about to win just now?

 

Sometimes, you wonder whether this daily hysteria is fuelled by constant television coverage or whether we are really in a state of permanent outrage? How about looking at the bigger picture and practising some good old Hindu calmness of mind?

 

***************************************


DNA

COLUMN

THE INDIA GROWTH STORY IS PROPELLED BY BLACK MONEY

R VAIDYANATHAN

 

Post-Nira Radia, many economists and experts have been wondering whether our reforms, which are supposed to be facilitating growth, are giving raise to crony capitalism.

 

These experts look at India with western lens and cannot think beyond received wisdom from Oxford and Harvard. They do not realise that the corporate sector has a relatively small share of GDP — not more than 15%. We are a nation of the self-employed.

 

The service sector, which constitutes more than 60% of GDP, is the engine of our economic growth. It is predominantly driven by partnership and proprietor-owned firms engaged in construction, trade, transport, hotels, and other services provided by the likes of plumbers and painters.

 

It is this self-employed sector that is propelling our 9% growth story even though corporate bodies and government ministers appropriate praise for the economy's performance.

 

It is estimated that at least 10% (some suggest 30%) of our national income could be black money. It implies that out of nearly Rs60,00,000 crore of estimated GDP in the current year, more than Rs6,00,000 crore could be black money.

 

A substantial portion is due to corruption by government employees. This money is not kept in cupboards or under the bed, though one '90s telecom minister (Sukh Ram) did stuff it inside pillows.

 

Money, white or black, circulates. The farther away it is from white, the faster it circulates.

 

A big chunk of the working capital requirements of the unorganised sector is met through non-institutional funds like chits and money lenders.

 

The retail trade has been growing at the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4% between 2004-05 and 2008-09 when the economy registered 8.6%. Trade includes everyone from street vendors to departmental stores.

 

It has a 15%share of GDP, which implies that it adds value of Rs9,00,000 crore.

 

In the case of retail trade, almost all capital is working capital. Assuming at least 60% of the value addition represents working capital needs, we get a figure of more than Rs5,00,000 crore as credit needs.

 

Of this, not more than 30% is provided by institutional credit, with moneylenders providing the rest. The same is the case with hotels and restaurants, transport and construction and other services, which — along with retail trade — constitute more than 50% of the economy. Almost all these are partnership/proprietorship firms.

 

They are classified as households in savings as well as lending data.

 

The share of the household sector in bank credit has come down to 47% from 58% between 1990 and 2004 while the sector's share in trade, transport, construction, restaurants, and other services has been growing at more that 8% CAGR.

 

Here, households include agricultural households and, to that extent, the fall is very significant. Put another way, the growth rate of the last decade is not related to the credit mechanisms of the banking sector.

 

This is banking with significant structural distortions.

 

The share of the private corporate sector in national income is around 12-15% but it takes away nearly 40% of the credit provided by the banking sector.

 

The fastest growing non-corporate sector gets a lesser share, which suggests that the non-institutional financial sector is playing an important role in credit delivery.

 

We find that 43% of rural household and 25% of urban household debt relates to moneylenders . So, where does the unorganised sector get the funds?

 

According to our absurd laws, moneylenders cannot borrow, but can only lend. The huge amount of black money generated by nearly 30% of government employees (the previous CVC, Pratyush Sinha, suggested a 30% corruption rate) is probably used in the unorganised credit market.

 

Given the regulations pertaining to KYC (know your customer) norms, it is difficult to save with banks or mutual funds. So the entire black money is finding avenues in the unorganised market where interest rates are very attractive.

 

The crime news in many towns is about violence between small-time moneylenders and enforcers. One can

infer that policemen are entering the market both as lenders and collection agents.

 

This has implications for our governance system since the duty of the cop is definitely not to support unorganised banking.

 

How do we deal with it? Since we are a relationship-based society, it is not possible to surgically remove the cancer of corruption.

 

If we do that, our growth will suffer in the short term. The best way is to integrate the unorganised sector with the general financial architecture and enlarge the availability of credit and funding to all instead of restricting it to corporate 'thieftains'.

 

We have to think beyond the 15% of our corporate economy to understand economic growth. Balancing the need for probity with growth of the economy is the big challenge of the coming decade.

 

In other words, crooks do help in economic growth but society has to decide what price we are paying for this and strive to balance growth with probity and order.

 

The author is professor of finance and control, IIM-B. Views expressed are personal.

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

INCONSISTENCY OVER KASHMIR

CONGRESS REFUSES TO LEARN LESSONS FROM ITS PAST MISTAKES


UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's belated realization for the need to find out what angers the youth in Kashmir and why there is such deep rooted alienation is a sad reflection of how ill-informed the party holding the reins of the country is. One cannot excuse the Congress led UPA of complete naivette. And this may be not only because the party has been in power for enough time during the last twenty years of very visible alienation and anger, especially in the recent years. The anger has been on the boil for two years but it had started seething in the years preceding that. Instances can be traced through a trail of events including the widespread protests over Ganderbal fake encounter killings in 2005 and the infamous sex scandal in 2006. Interestingly, when these issues rocked the valley, Congress government was in power not only in the centre but also at the helm of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir. It was Congress regime's follies that led to the Amarnath land row agitation, which has been a turning point in the politics of the state, not only fuelling an aggressive anti-India campaign in Kashmir but also sharply dividing the state on communal lines. The party has been in power or has been a major alliance partner of those in power for almost the last one decade, ever since there has been a decline in presence of militant groups, through the years of peace process and the endless rounds of back channel diplomacies or some open consultations. The party has a strong presence in the state, in or out of power. Sonia Gandhi's constrained knowledge about the cause of anger betrays either her lack of faith in her own party based in Jammu and Kashmir for feedback or the inability of the latter to give an honest account. That during its own rule in the state, the party severely bungled, only contributing in increasing the level of impatience and anger in Kashmir, reveals that Sonia's reliance more on the team of three interlocutors that she talked about rather than its own cadre members within the state is due to a bit of both. 


However, it is unlikely that this is a simple case of just plain ignorance and the sudden realisation that there is a need to understand the cause of anger as well. This summer, between the time that anger began turning into violent rage to the announcement of interlocution on Kashmir, the Congress party at the national level oscillated between the extremes of calling these protests as campaigns sponsored by Lashkar-e-Toiba to reinforcing the need for dialogue. The Congress response all along has been marked by inconsistency that is not only the hallmark of this party in power alone but has been the wont of all other political dispensations in power at the Centre, all guided by their own confusing web of dichotomies, inconsistencies and lack of clarity. It doesn't take a genius to realise that a lack of policy on Kashmir is what contributes to the accumulating anger of the people of Kashmir. As for the anger, New Delhi already has enough feedback on why denial to address the political dispute lies at the fountainhead of alienation, that alienation and anger has been further fuelled by a continuum of human rights abuse. Most protests, on bigger or smaller scale, have been inspired by the acts of brutality by security forces and police or the official denial to grant justice. There is a trail of protests from Ganderbal fake encounters to killings during Amarnath land row protests, from Bomai killings to Shopian rapes and murders. Last summer's wave of protests, unprecedented as they were, triggered after the revelations of fake encounter killings and gained momentum as a young boy, not even remotely connected with the protests, was shot dead by a tear-gas shell, and for a week the officials clandestinely tried to pass it off as murder through its usual mechanism of rumours. Doesn't New Delhi get it? Not after media has been reporting these issues? Not after experts have pointed out the gravity of the situation? Not after several rounds of previous interlocution and track two processes? So how does a fresh team of interlocutors assigned the task for a year enable those in corridors of power to become more enlightened. Other than costing the state exchequer a huge sum on managing this team, it may achieve nothing, at least in terms of educating New Delhi about Kashmiris ko gussa kyon aata hai any better than what is already known. The initiative, controlled and monitored, without the much talked about red lines, may as well be an attempt to buy time on Kashmir, for a plethora of reasons, and allow the problem to linger. It is in this light that Sonia's new found compassion for Kashmiris needs to be viewed. It appears to be less inspired by sympathy and more by the crisis of inconsistency and dichotomy that prevails at the highest echelons of power. 

 

***************************************


THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

WINTER SCHOOLING A JOKE

LIVES OF THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS CANNOT BE PUT TO RISK IN THE ABSENCE OF PROPER INFRA-STRUCTURE


Jammu and Kashmir government's decision to continue with school working during winters in Kashmir valley has turned out to be a cruel joke on the students as well as the teachers. The government and its ministers ruling the roost at the helm of affairs continue to believe that the winter schooling will help the students in covering the syllabus of studies of respective classes which could not be done during the summers when unrest disrupted the teaching activities. Over and above this reason, the classes have been ordered to be functional during the acute winter season for the students who have already appeared in the examinations and results are likely to be declared for some of the students while new admissions have already taken place after the annual results. How does the winter schooling help the students who have moved to the next higher classes after the examinations which were to be partially affected by incomplete courses during the students the previous summer season. Apart from this, there is a practical problem of absence of heating arrangements in most of the school buildings where students and teachers cannot sit and attend the class work because biting cold will only freeze them not to speak of reading and writing something. At the first instance, it is very difficult for the students to reach their schools during this season when the schools remain closed at this time every year. There is a possibility that some of the private schools having good infra-structure may help in heating arrangements for the comfort of their students and teachers but government run schools are the worst sufferers because they don't even have proper windows and doors to save the occupants from severe cold. It is impossible for both the students as well as the teachers to operate from these buildings. If the government is really serious about running the schools in winters on the pattern of other countries then infra-structure has to be put in place so that they can operate smoothly.

***************************************

 


THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

CORRUPTION MAKES NEO-LIBERALISM GO – I

BY BADRI RAINA

These are the days for corruption.


India never had so much lucre going around, so big a class of people with lolling tongues and copious pockets, and so little prohibition to illicit money-making on behalf of the neo-liberal State and its institutions.
Thus, why not? Especially when humongous acquisition and conspicuous consumption have come to be conflated with the promise of salvation not just here but in the hereafter.

 

But let me backtrack, and indulge some esoteric speculations on what corruption has variously been seen to comprise through the times. As I see it, all of the variants invite considerations with respect to the human subject and how he/she constructs collective human endeavours and defines his/her equation with supra-human stipulations. Or, how such constructions are handed down to him/her by authorised agents of social and spiritual power.
In the good old classical Catholic construction of these matters, it was to be understood that corruption was born of what Milton was to call "man's first disobedience," namely his defiance of god's injunction not to eat of "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."


In a pre-Copernican world of ideas, then, the homo sapien was not sent to the earth to have a good time, but to constantly mull his sin, and in his exile from heaven to expiate and self-flagellate inorder that his repentance could be rewarded with a re-entrance to the Garden made blissful by god's forgiveness and reinstated love.
In that view of corruption, self-evidently, no one, but no one was free either of sin or corruption, including those who took upon themselves to do god's work in the church and to minister to sinners who came to them for guidance. Or those laggards whom they sought out and not infrequently punished severely for their own everlasting good.


Such a universe of ideas made it a matter of little importance as to who ruled over whom, or how, until of course times changed and such matters acquired enormous and embarrassing importance, often indeed to fatal consequences to individuals, institutions, and nations.


Within "mainstream" Hindu thought, of course, corruption, corruptibility, and nearness to or distance from the deities were and insidiously still remain related to hierarchies of birth across Varnas. Thus the Brahminical castes could never ever be corrupt, or indeed guilty of other forms of trespass. The political class of ruling Kshatriya kings, if anything, had an obligation to pursue Vaibhav (opulence), obligation which the Brahmins were duty-bound to help further through various Yagnyas (oblations etc.,) made to the chanting of hymns to the gods. It must be an interesting and unique feature of Hinduism that its pantheon includes a goddess of wealth, Laxmi, who is to this day worshipped for the bestowal of prosperity on the best known festival-day on the Indian sacral calendar, namely, Diwali, when homesteads are lighted to welcome the goddess into the favour of the worshipper.


The old Christian ways began to change with the advent of what we call the Exchange economy. Slowly but surely, the possibilities of Capital accumulation, of surplus productivity, and of the leap from what one should produce and consume to what one could produce and consume—all of that incrementally at higher and higher levels as rates of profit increased-- seemed to resurrect if not the human soul then the self-esteem of the species, as flesh began to feel not as despicable as the old church had taught. (A matter in which Hindu thought had remained miles ahead in time, until historical circumstances of diverse conquests came to breed squeamishness and denial.)

For groups of men at the helm of affairs, living was now too seductive to be dashed by the teachings of the decrepit old church. Time then to readjust doctrine to suit new aspirations and possibilities. Suddenly the light of a new truth dawned upon the thinking elites of Europe: it was neither the claim of a humble life-style nor of the nature of work done upon the earth in god's name that would justify the human subject to god on Judgement day. Rather, what would count would be the quality of ones' Faith—a category deliciously unquantifiable and unamenable to collective policing.


Much as man's sinful nature remained a constant of Christian teaching, a caveat was now introduced: it was discovered that human subjectivity could be neatly cognized in a duality: that whereas man's Will was fallen, his Wit, or some part of it, remained "erect." (Some metaphor there.)


It can then be seen that corruption now began to acquire a moral meaning. It was entirely upto individuals to examine their own ethical lives. Ergo, some may be corrupt, others not, An argument that thus refuted the twin notions that either all mankind was corrupt ontologically, or that corruption ensued necessarily from new and evolved systems of money-making.


Indeed, a Christian theologian based in Geneva was to extend the argument as he struck the last fatal blow even to the possibility or desirability of ethical behaviour. He taught that nothing we did or believed in here on earth mattered a fig to god, since he in his infinite wisdom had predetermined what numbers of us were to be saved at the final account. Such ones were the god's "elect" (the earliest and perhaps most telling definition of the concept of election, except that democracies only elect the lucky ones to ephemeral glory for short periods of time here on earth, whereas god's election was to be forever.)


So, in that scheme of things, how might you know whether god did or did not have kind thoughts towards you? But of course by the quality of life he granted you in the here-and-now. If you proved to be a "loser" here, it was most likely that you were meant to be out of god's favour; but if you proved to be a "winner," acquiring property, wealth, and the powers that came with all of that, why he obviously meant well by you. Thus no more sure indicator of salvation than wealth. And each episode of well-being then began to be followed by an episode of thanksgiving and prayer (just read Daniel Defoe's The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and you might find that when his goat gives milk, or when he grows the first grains of wheat, he quickly falls to pray—a paradigm of behaviour which suffused the early strivings of those that came to colonise America, much as Crusoe came to colonise the island upon which he was ship-wrecked., including the black man, Friday. By that reckoning, incidentally, the beggars of the world entirely have a good argument against praying, since they have no thanks to give for anything.)


This American paradigm of the inseparability of acquisition and consumption from prayer has, as I have written in columns before now, come visibly to inform the political and spiritual economy of India's post neo-liberal upwardly-mobile classes, a fact that illuminates the marriage of extreme lucre-lust and flaunted religiosity among the Hindutva-espousing Hindus across metropolitan India, extending rapidly even to the hinterlands. (Within the Muslim world decreed by the Koran, inequalities of endowment are entirely willed by God; corruption enters into the question only if those that have fail in the duty that is ordained on them to part with a certain percentage of their wealth to the needy by way of Zakat.)


—(To be concluded)


—(Z NET)


Are you a worried chicken?

Quite a few years ago, as a little child, I read the story of a little worried chicken, running along the road, and after a while met by another chicken, "Why do you look so worried?" asked the second one.
"I am scared the sky will fall on my head!" said the first chicken, looking fearfully at the sky above. The other hen also looked up at the sky, and suddenly the otherwise friendly sky above, did look ominous and scary.
The story goes that the whole chicken coop joined the two and soon every chicken was filled with worry as they looked at the sky above.


Funny story isn't it? But most of us worry likewise: We look at something that seems a little fearful, and begin to unnecessarily look at it with apprehension. Just imagine that same chicken landing up later in hospital, and the doctor looks at it sadly, "You've had a cardiac arrest!"


"CARDIAC ARREST?" ASKS ITS FRIEND, "WHY?"


"Worrying that the sky will fall on her head!" says the doctor as another chicken is wheeled in with the same problem.


Worry kills. And we need to work out ways to handle worry before we land up in hospital. What should we do with this killer?


Replace it. Telling somebody not to worry doesn't work. Worry is like an emotional spasm; the only way to break it is to replace it. '...Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things' In other words, switch the channel! 


Dissect it. '...Fear involves torment...' Worry torments you; your imagination runs amok, conjuring up all kinds of scary scenarios. But it's also illogical; when you take it apart rationally and systemically, it loses its power to control you. 


Rise above it. A well-known person was flying over the Mississippi River one day when the sky grew dark. 'We can't see where we're going!' he exclaimed. Calmly the pilot replied, 'We just need to rise above the ground heat, dust and smoke.' After climbing another 300 metres they emerged into a clear, beautiful world. Corrie Ten Boom called faith 'the radar that pierces through the fog.' When worry tries to fog you in, you can rise above it by placing your trust in the Lord. '...Those who trust in the Lord...will soar...like eagles...' 


Ah! An eagle! That's what you need to be, an eagle soaring into the sky, not a chicken looking up at the same sky and dying with worry..!

bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A CRISIS AT HAND

 

Despite a silver lining on our political spectrum there is a palpable crisis of leadership in the country. The good thing is that the doers among chief ministers are getting rewarded for their development-oriented efforts. The victory of Mr Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar has strengthened this perception. The other two examples have been Mrs Sheila Dixit (Congress) in Delhi and Mr Narendra Kumar Modi (Bharatiya Janata Party) in Gujarat. Their triumphs for a second term indicate that the people want normalcy and economic prosperity. The BJP can actually claim two more chief ministers in the same category: Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Dr Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. They have also made history by coming back to power. Somehow their profile is low. It is possibly because at personal levels they have not been involved in any spectacular activity. Mr Kumar has earned the distinction for valiantly striving to lift Bihar out of its corruption and caste-ridden image. Mrs Dixit, being in the national capital, is always a centre of attention. Mr Modi, of course, is the poster boy of the BJP. Sooner rather than later he should be the rallying point in a party struggling to find worthy replacements for Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr L.K. Advani. At a broader level what is evident is that a few efficient persons, working within their states, can't fill the vacuum that is evident in the country as a whole. There are areas where the conventional political leadership is unable to assert its presence and authority. This is also true of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In certain pockets of the two states in the Hindi heartland the para-military forces and the police are required all the time to ensure a semblance of governance. 


These regions fall in the red corridor that encompasses parts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal also. It is dominated by the believers in Naxalism who raise their violent heads time and again to pose a question or two to the present system. There is no way one can agree with their approach which is marked by mindless ambushes and killings. At the same time, it will be unwise to deny their existence. They do matter especially among deprived sections in secluded belts. What can be noticed is that the mainstream outfits in these territories don't any more lead from the front; they instead seem to follow the uniformed forces. Arguably, there is little that a political leader or organisation can do in the face of an opponent holding the gun in his hand. Life is too precious to be lost at the hands of a reckless rival revelling in a gun-based ideology. However, there is something that can surely be done to knock the ground from under their feet. This is by addressing the causes from which they seem to draw nourishment: poverty, illiteracy, corruption and discrimination. This requires that political leaders and bureaucrats are men of vision and impeccable integrity and are motivated by the sole consideration of welfare of the people. Have such individuals become rare species? It needs to be noted that successive governments have chosen to describe the Naxalism just as "a socio-economic phenomenon" despite its practitioners resorting to provocative actions and utterances and having questionable sources of acquiring weapons. They have devised strategies accordingly. Focussed development plans have been made and sought to be implemented. The remedies that have been applied so far have not been able to cure the disease. There remains a fertile land for Naxalism. What does this mean if not that intended benefits are not percolating down to masses? 


At another level there are militancy-affected states including ours and the North-East. It is for everyone to see that all those who even briefly dabble in politics have to function behind the security cover. How do they inter-act with the people at large who are all the time exposed to wolves? There is a disturbing disconnect between them and the public whose representatives they claim to be. It has happened because they have at crucial junctures conceded space to the militants and their ideologues instead of taking on them head-on. It is difficult to agree with Ms Sonia Gandhi's remark at her party's plenary session in Delhi: "Congress is pan-India party: We embody the very idea of India in all its diversity. We are the nation's pre-eminent political party, the only one with a true pan-India presence and strength." However, there is merit in her two observations: (a) "In the troubled parts of our country, the door of dialogue has to be kept open, the prospect of political accommodation kept alive. This is the only way to reconciliation and enduring peace"; and (b) "In Jammu and Kashmir, we must address the alienation of a whole new generation of youth that has known nothing but conflict." Any impression that the alienation in a section of people in this State is a new occurrence is debatable. Yet, it has to be admitted that there is the necessity of winning over those who feel disenchanted with us for one reason or the other. This is a task that can be achieved only by dedicated men or organisations of courage and conviction. It can't be a paid assignment. It can neither be executed by those who look for pelf and power in return. 

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

UNENDING SORROW

 

How should one react to the loss of five precious human lives for avoidable reasons within 24 hours last week-end? It can only be a matter of grief. Three of them were killed when a car in which they were travelling skidded off the road and plunged into a gorge under the jurisdiction of the Rehmbal police station in Udhampur district. It is said to be a case of rash driving as a result of which the driver was unable to negotiate a sharp turn. The vehicle was on its way to Patnitop. Two of its occupants have suffered injuries and are hospitalised. There was another accident at the Khrote Morh near Kathua in another corner of this region. Three brothers were returning on their motorcycle after visiting a patient in the district hospital. They hardly knew what hit them as they were run over by a truck at the national highway. Two of them were killed on the spot while one, who was seriously wounded, has been removed to the hospital. With a little care the double tragedy could have been averted. Why are we so careless about our own existence?

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INDO-CHINA RELATIONS

BY SAMEER JAFRI

 

Year 2010 marks sixty years of diplomatic relationship between India and China. Though the relations between the two go back to ancient times, the period since 1950 till present is mainly fraught with boundary dispute, which also led to a short-lived war in 1962. But in recent times, both sides have successfully attempted to normalize the bilateral relationship, mainly driven by the mounting bilateral trade. Although strengthening economic relationship has overshadowed other areas of conflict, that doesn't provide any space for complacency, particularly on Indian side of the fence.


Amongst the major areas of conflict, the most important one is relating to the boundary dispute. While on the Western frontier, some part of Kashmir region is under Chinese occupation, on the Eastern side of frontier, the dispute relates to McMahon Line. India treats that as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but China refuses to recognize it, even though it recognizes the same McMahon Line with Myanmar. Many attempts have been made to resolve the boundary dispute but results have been very modest. In 2003, Prime Ministers of both countries agreed to appoint Special Representatives (SR) to discuss and find a solution to the dispute. Also, during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's India visit in 2005, Beijing and New Delhi agreed on broad parameters to resolve the border dispute. This gave political mandate to the SRs. Despite above efforts, the recently concluded 14th round of talks between the SRs in Beijing, failed to produce anything substantial, apart from the SRs sharing the respective political and strategic concerns of their nations.


The bone of contention, other than border issue, is both nations' respective relationships with the third countries. While India is irked by strategic relationship enjoyed by China and Pakistan, China on the other hand, is anxious by growing Indo-US proximity. The main reason for India's worry is Beijing's defence and nuclear assistance to Pakistan and also Chinese presence in what India calls Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK), by way of 'infrastructure building.' Moreover, since two years now, China has started issuing stapled visas to Indians domiciled in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, thus challenging India's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In addition to this, China's overtures to Nepal and infrastructural assistance to Sri Lanka provide substance to India's fears of 'String of Pearls' phenomenon. Added to this, the upstream damming of trans-boundary Rivers (Sutlej and Tsangpo-Brahmputra) by China, and that too without intimating or consulting downstream nations (in this case India), contradicts the "Peaceful Rise of China" doctrine. This arrogance of dragon is rooted in its sheer economic might and lately acquired defence capabilities.


Recent visit to India by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was expected to clear the air on above issues and strengthen the partnership in various areas of strategic convergence. But unfortunately, it did little to lift Indian unease over border dispute and Sino-Pak relations. The joint communiqué fell short of condemning 26/11 Mumbai attacks and calling on Pakistan to control terrorism, even though "both sides agreed to combat terrorism in all its forms through joint efforts."


Notwithstanding this, what has tied together New Delhi and Beijing is trade. Wen brought with him a business delegation of over 300 executives, largest ever by any leader to any country. On very first day of his visit, business deals worth over $ 16 billion were signed. Presently, annual bilateral trade is about $ 60 billion. Both have set a new target of $ 100 billion by 2015. Here too, India's concern about its increasing trade deficit has been met by mere assurances by Wen on opening Chinese markets for Indian IT, Pharmaceuticals and engineering goods sectors.


Being world's two most populous nations and fastest growing economies, India and China share lot in common. Cooperation between the two has been evident on international fora and issues like WTO, Climate Change, reforms in international financial institutions, and groupings like G20, BRIC and RIC. Here again, Chinese gesture falls short of clearly endorsing India's bid for permanent membership in UN Security Council, with joint communiqué stating "China understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the UN, including in the Security Council." All other veto members of UNSC, including the US President Obama lately, have unambiguously endorsed India's permanent admission to the body.


The Sino-India relationship is a tightrope walk. Careful orchestration of policies on both sides is need of the hour. Notwithstanding coordination and cooperation on various regional and international issues, both India and China have different visions for an ideal Asia and the ideal world. While India envisages both a multipolar world and a multipolar Asia, China envisions a multipolar world and a unipolar Asia. But being a bigger, more powerful neighbour and a responsible global power, China should understand and address the legitimate concerns of India and stop treating it as a rival. It will not only reduce the scope for any outside interference but will also be a giant leap forward in achieving everlasting peace and security in the region. After all, both sides agree on the fact that there is enough space in the world for both Dragon and Elephant to grow peacefully.

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

MORE TURBULENT MONTHS FOR UPA

BY S. SETHURAMAN

 

The Congress-led UPA Government, barely nineteen months in its second term, finds itself in an appalling state, not only lacking inherent strength or internal coherence but also slipping into a drift with its failure to provide credible governance and enforce probity in administration. For UPA-II, the crisis has long been in the making. The litany of scandals of recent months culminating in the 2G spectrum allocation and the easing out of Telecom Minister Mr A Raja, only revealed the extent of decay in the polity adding to its discomfiture. Abroad, the sheen is off the image of dynamic India on a pristine growth path. 


Even if most of the scams originated in private greed with accomplices in every sphere, including bureaucrats, the Government of the day cannot escape blame for smugness and laxity. Its lack of serious attention to bring down double digit food inflation hurting millions for two years was an example of masterly indifference. Mismanagement which it cannot correct within, rather than supply constraint, was the limiting factor as Government had substantial food stocks to be deployed to force down prices but allowed to rot. Glowing speeches suffused with "aam admi" and "inclusive growth" are no substitute for decisive action on the ground. 
While the fragile Government withstood successive opposition onslaughts in Parliament over its failure to bring down prices, without running the risk of a vote, and was also lucky to have been spared massive citizen protests over persistent inflation, as in other countries, UPA cannot escape from the opprobrium for the scandals under its nose. No doubt, certain swift actions have been taken in cases where Congressmen holding public office were involved or came under cloud. 


The winter session of Parliament had to be adjourned sine die without doing any business for 20 days as a determined opposition led by BJP insisted on a JPC probe into the telecom scandal while the Government firmly rejected the demand maintaining that all related issues were under investigation at appropriate levels and the CAG report hinting at a massive loss to the exchequer was being gone into by the Public Accounts Committee of the two Houses.


But there will be no getting away for the Government for months to come from the shadow of the Legion of Scams, some of the starred ones like 2G spectrum allocation already under CBI investigation. More importantly, the Supreme Court is now seized of all aspects of the telecom scandal and hearings are on. The Court has also called for the complaint on the basis of which authorities started tapping the telephones of corporate lobbyist Niira Radiah with a host of people including politicians, corporate leaders and media personalities.


With the coalition constraints, which have taken a heavy toll of the prestige of Government, it was not easy for the Prime Minister to call for the resignation of Mr Raja at an early stage, even when he was flouting procedures laid down for issue of spectrum allocation licences. This was because he was the chosen nominee for the key portfolio of the DMK leader Mr Karunanidhi., who even staged a drama of sorts in the capital in May 2009 to get him installed as he desired.


Ms. Gandhi acknowledged recently that while the economy may be increasingly dynamic, "our moral universe seems to be shrinking". The tapped phone calls of corporate lobbyist Naiira Radia, working for two major conglomerates, as leaked out in sections of the press, have brought to light murky dealings in high places, as if to validate the Congress President's observations. 


The reverberations of scandals in India and the leaked telephone tappings have spread far and wide, dismayed investor firms and evoked depressing commentary from global economy watchers who tend to see an outgrowth of "crony capitalism and inadequate oversight" fuelling widespread skepticism about the Indian economy. Both Indian governance and capitalism have come under a major test and it remained to be seen whether the system could mete out punishment for wrongdoing, according to a report in the New York Times. The scandal has even tarnished the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh considered "the most upright and squeaky politician in India" the report said.


The newspaper quoted warnings of damage to the economy and social fabric from unfettered corruption by two leading US-based Indian economists who have in the past advised the Government on financial sector issues. 'Graft-ridden approach to privatization could leave long-lasting scars that hold India back from reaching its potential", said Prof Eswar S. Prasad of Cornell University. Open corruption and rising stark disparities in wealth are "a volatile mix that could affect social stability if the benefits of growth do not filter down", he added. Prof. Raghuram G Rajan at the University of Chicago said if people got away with taking bribes and no one was getting punished in the government structure, "everyone starts trying to do it". Big corruption with little punishment becomes an even worse disease". 


These developments in India have caused some misgivings in the corporate world about the future. The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh felt called upon to give fresh assurances to Indian businessmen, let alone foreign investors, that Government would provide "an enabling environment" conducive for the growth of the corporate sector and a "level playing field for private businesses, free from fear or favour".


He referred to the "nervousness" arising out of powers to tap phones for "protecting national security and preventing tax evasion" and justified the need "in the world that we live in, though these powers have to be exercised "with utmost care and under well defined rules, procedures and mechanisms". 


With elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam, and tensions already building up in Andhra Pradesh, which awaits the Sri Krishna Commission report on the state's future, the Congress and the UPA Government will go through some difficult months in the new year. Budget-making and other policy measures would have to be tailored to the emerging political situation for a Government thrown into defensive by a recalcitrant opposition, even if in the budget session it begins to play the rules of the game. (IPA)

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SPORTS CULTURE FOR STABLE AND CIVILISED SOCIETY

BY CHAMEL SINGH

 

The Athenians and Spartans were not only the keen lovers of sports but also conscious of the well being of its youth and society. They used to place athletics at par with aesthetics, mathematics, ethics in the overall scheme of education. Sports and games were way of life for them which outwardly means creating physically fit, mentally resolute and energetic youth for defence of their respective land but its latent function was to inculcate nationalistic values and stability in the society. To a large extent our Gurukuls also used to think on similar lines but sports as a way of life had not emerged as in the Greeks. 


Every Institution or element of society has a role to play for its well being and stability. Sports too has emerged and evolved from its use as survival for life to the most competitive sports world and through its journey has created a place for itself in the social structure.


When the whole world is under the threat of terror and people following the materialistic philosophy, social upheal is baned to emerge. Such disorders in society could be checked by games and sports and other recreational activities. The solution of those problems in sports may looked upon as utopian idea but sports is definitely a step towards world peace and stability.


Culture is a "way of life" which includes the knowledge, beliefs, values, arts, artifacts or anything associated with man. Sports culture means sports as "way of life" in which everyone engages themselves with sports activities from passive TV watcher to the most competitive sports persons.


Sports contribute in channelising the explosive energy of the people which if not contained and streamlined in proper way, will deviate people from normal behaviour towards destructive activities. Youth for society is considered as treasure which exhibit well being and energy of that society. Sports culture in society not only makes the society physically fit and mentally strong but also steer the society towards the betterment and development.


Sports as culture means every member of group understands that all men are equal irrespective of different classes, castes, colour, creed etc. because sports are played on the basis of such virtues as level playing field for all, hence a step towards egalitarian society where in inequalities will diminish.


With participation in games and sports, a person learns the human welfare in general and participation in particular. Cooperation, courtesy, co-existence, adjustment in different situations, tolerance and sympathy are the qualities of sportsmen and rich social experience of sports can contribute towards creating a prosperous and healthy society.


Team spirit, concensus oriented sports and participatory culture in sports, where all members have a say in decision making. Thus creating a sense of social inclusion for overall development of the society.


Since sports and games are built on a set of rules and regulations which means that everyone knows on what terms the competition takes place. Sports is therefore characterized by transparency thus gives a message to be honest, fair and transparent in one's conduct.


Conformity to rules, knowledge of rights, duties and working for the attainment of goals contribute towards the civic responsibility of society. We can say that sports contribute towards creating democratic values. During various sports tournaments at national and international level sportspersons from diverse cultures and civilizations mingled with each other freely, sharing the rich cultural heritages of their respective areas and countries. This leads to dispeling many misgivings and thus sports gives the ultimate message of peace and stability of world order.

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SPORTS CULTURE FOR STABLE AND CIVILISED SOCIETY

BY CHAMEL SINGH

 

The Athenians and Spartans were not only the keen lovers of sports but also conscious of the well being of its youth and society. They used to place athletics at par with aesthetics, mathematics, ethics in the overall scheme of education. Sports and games were way of life for them which outwardly means creating physically fit, mentally resolute and energetic youth for defence of their respective land but its latent function was to inculcate nationalistic values and stability in the society. To a large extent our Gurukuls also used to think on similar lines but sports as a way of life had not emerged as in the Greeks. 


Every Institution or element of society has a role to play for its well being and stability. Sports too has emerged and evolved from its use as survival for life to the most competitive sports world and through its journey has created a place for itself in the social structure.


When the whole world is under the threat of terror and people following the materialistic philosophy, social upheal is baned to emerge. Such disorders in society could be checked by games and sports and other recreational activities. The solution of those problems in sports may looked upon as utopian idea but sports is definitely a step towards world peace and stability.


Culture is a "way of life" which includes the knowledge, beliefs, values, arts, artifacts or anything associated with man. Sports culture means sports as "way of life" in which everyone engages themselves with sports activities from passive TV watcher to the most competitive sports persons.


Sports contribute in channelising the explosive energy of the people which if not contained and streamlined in proper way, will deviate people from normal behaviour towards destructive activities. Youth for society is considered as treasure which exhibit well being and energy of that society. Sports culture in society not only makes the society physically fit and mentally strong but also steer the society towards the betterment and development.


Sports as culture means every member of group understands that all men are equal irrespective of different classes, castes, colour, creed etc. because sports are played on the basis of such virtues as level playing field for all, hence a step towards egalitarian society where in inequalities will diminish.


With participation in games and sports, a person learns the human welfare in general and participation in particular. Cooperation, courtesy, co-existence, adjustment in different situations, tolerance and sympathy are the qualities of sportsmen and rich social experience of sports can contribute towards creating a prosperous and healthy society.


Team spirit, concensus oriented sports and participatory culture in sports, where all members have a say in decision making. Thus creating a sense of social inclusion for overall development of the society.
Since sports and games are built on a set of rules and regulations which means that everyone knows on what terms the competition takes place. Sports is therefore characterized by transparency thus gives a message to be honest, fair and transparent in one's conduct.


Conformity to rules, knowledge of rights, duties and working for the attainment of goals contribute towards the civic responsibility of society. We can say that sports contribute towards creating democratic values. During various sports tournaments at national and international level sportspersons from diverse cultures and civilizations mingled with each other freely, sharing the rich cultural heritages of their respective areas and countries. This leads to dispeling many misgivings and thus sports gives the ultimate message of peace and stability of world order.

***************************************

 

 


 

******************************************************************************************

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TAKING ON CORRUPTION

ONUS ON CONGRESS TO IMPLEMENT ITS AGENDA

 

IF Congress president Sonia Gandhi is really serious about her five tips to root out corruption, she should ensure their implementation at the Centre and in the Congress-ruled states. This may shame other ruling parties to follow suit. Simply offering "advice" to the Congress chief ministers and ministers to give up discretionary powers is not going to help. Experience shows no one surrenders power voluntarily. At least, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom she described as "the embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity", has declared that "like Caesar's wife, (the) PM should be above suspicion" and that his government will "pay careful attention to" her five-point agenda.

 

Each of the five points — fast-tracking corruption cases involving politicians and public servants; transparency in procurements and contracts, and protection to whistleblowers; an open, competitive way of selling natural resources; shedding discretionary powers by Congress chief ministers and ministers; and the state funding of elections — makes eminent sense and deserves a wider debate. Land acquisitions have raised a lot of dust in the recent past. Why should governments get involved in private or corporate land deals unless there is a breach of law or justice demands so? Besides, a law can be enacted to confiscate the property of a public servant convicted for corruption as has been done in Bihar. Even the Local Area Development Fund has been abolished in Bihar because of its misuse.

 

There is no dearth of noble intentions or ideas to banish corruption. How to do it is the key issue. If the steps proposed by Ms Sonia Gandhi are implemented in the right spirit – and these can be – corruption can be minimised, at least in some areas. It is urgent for the nation as well as the party to remove the stink left behind by the 2G scam, the misappropriation of large amounts of government money during the recent Commonwealth Games and the grabbing of Adarsh flats by influential politicians and top Army officers meant for the families of war heroes. A fast-track disposal of these three cases with exemplary punishment to the accused will largely help in restoring public faith in the system.

 

***************************************

 

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RUSSIA'S INTEREST IN INDIA

HOW THEY CAN BENEFIT FROM EACH OTHER

 

HOW significant is India's position in the Russian scheme of things for Asia and the rest of the world can be understood from the fact that both top leaders of that country have found time to visit New Delhi this year. President Dmitry Medvedev's visit has come about after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's dialogue with Indian leaders in March. Russia apparently does not want to lose time to get as much economic gains as possible from the fast growing nuclear power industry in India. Russia, which has already been cooperating with India in two nuclear power projects in Tamil Nadu, has been having discussions with the Indian authorities for two more such projects in the same state — Kudankulam III and Kudankulam IV. But certain provisions in India's newly enacted nuclear liability law are coming in the way. President Medvedev is likely to bring to bear upon India that its law relating to the nuclear industry must be in consonance with the 1963 Vienna Convention. India has its own viewpoint that the law cannot be allowed to have loopholes to deny adequate compensation to victims of a nuclear accident if it ever happens.

 

But nuclear energy is not the only area where the two countries can help each other. Russia has vast gas and oil reserves and India needs these for meeting its fast growing power requirement. India has joined the gas pipeline project along with Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring gas from Turkmenistan. Russia does not want to be left behind, as the impending talks between the Indian leadership and the Russian President may indicate.

 

There are certain other subjects about which there is commonality of views between the two countries. How to go about fighting terrorism emanating from the Af-Pak area is one such issue. In this regard India and Russia need to discuss a joint strategy for post-July 2011 Afghanistan in view of the scheduled departure of the US-led NATO troops from there. Iran may offer its help to both India and Russia to protect their interests in Afghanistan. How far Iran can be allowed to join the Indo-Russian strategy should be discussed during Medvedev's New Delhi visit.


 ***************************************

 


THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LEGENDARY TENDULKAR!

HIS 50TH CENTURY IN TESTS IS MIND-BOGGLING

 

BREAKING records seems to come naturally to Indian's cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar. His landmark 50th Test century against South Africa at Centurian against the world's most deadly pace attack should be an object lesson to anyone aspiring to make it big in international cricket. The beauty of this cricket legend's extraordinary talent is that most of his records are unsurpassable in the foreseeable future. That Australian skipper Ricky Ponting who has the second highest number of centuries in Test cricket is way behind with 39 is testimony to Tendulkar's genius. The same goes for Tendulkar's record of the number one runs scorer in Tests and numerous other records both in Tests and the one-day format of the game. This has indeed been a great year for Tendulkar and his performance has effectively silenced all those who held his age against him and counselled him to hang up his boots while the going was good.

 

As 2010 comes to an end, all eyes will shift towards the World Cup beginning in February in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This trophy is one feather still missing from Tendulkar's already crowded cap and he would most certainly like to add this distinction to his remarkable unfinished career of two decades. A player always seeks to sign off on a high and while there is no sign of Tendulkar hanging up his boots in a hurry, the coming year could well be the year when he announces his future course of action. While it would be an individual decision, the Indian cricket establishment would be well advised to think beyond him.

 

Tendulkar is not only a role model for the young in how he plays. His temperament, his sense of patriotism and his level-headedness hold him out as a person worthy of emulation by all. One cannot but wish this cricketing maestro anything but the best for all that he has done to make the game popular not only in India but across the world. His contribution in raising public morale in the country is immense indeed.

 

 ***************************************

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

GROWTH MUST BENEFIT ALL

BETTER POVERTY-ALLEVIATION SCHEMES NEEDED

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

ON the economic front, there is much to cheer about with the GDP growing at 8.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2010-2011. There is now hope that the annual growth rate this fiscal year will be 9 per cent which means that India will be catching up with China soon and emerging as the second fastest growing country in the world. Agricultural, export, manufacturing (the Index of Industrial Production for October has shown a record growth of 10.7 per cent) as well as import growth figures are rising rapidly. Food inflation has come down to 8.69 per cent and general inflation is around 8 per cent which, though high, is not unmanageable. With a strong monetary policy of the past one year, inflation has been tamed and with another interest rate hike, it may come down further.

 

Today India, however, is not isolated from the trends in the global economy. The problems in the European Union and the US regarding economic recovery are affecting our economy in many ways. For example, there has been a sharp drop in Foreign Direct investment flows which recorded a fall of 25 per cent to $14.9 billion during April October in 2010. Despite the continuing problems in the West, there has been a surge in FII investments and India received $28.7 billion in 2010. There has been some foreign institutional investment (FII) outflow also and $158 million has been withdrawn since November12, 2010, or ever since the 2G telecom licence auction scam and the housing scam (and several other scams like the food scam) have surfaced.

 

Before the scams were unearthed the equity market had gone up to a record high in October, gaining 8 per cent. The heavy FII inflows resulted in a high ratio of financially mobile capital to forex reserves at 67.6 per cent. On the export front, however, external demand has improved for merchandise exports which has helped industrial growth. But imports are growing rapidly as compared to exports and this means there is widening of the current account deficit of around 4 per cent. Since India has substantial forex reserves, the danger of the country going bankrupt is unlikely to be there, but this will mean keeping a watchful eye on the FII inflows which are helping to finance the deficit. If the outflow continues, it will be bad for the stock market and if too much short-term capital comes in as a result of the US policy of quantitative easing (QE2), it may also lead to problems of high value of the rupee against the dollar, hurting exports.

 

Another piece of good news is that software exports are showing recovery and Indian domestic demand is reviving with a rebound in consumer confidence. There is a sharp rise in auto sales. Remittances have remained strong, making India the number one recipient of such fund flows — $55 billion in 2010. Tourism has also picked up and the banking sector has shown a robust growth.

 

Agriculture has surprisingly shown a higher growth rate in the second quarter — 4.4 per cent — thanks to the good monsoon, and foodgrain production is expected at 82 million tonnes. If this 4.4 per cent growth rate can be sustained, then the GDP growth rate of 9 to 10 per cent is achievable. But much depends on agricultural investment. Already Rs 90,000 crore of credit has been disbursed to farmers in the first quarter of this year. If it has led to deeper structural changes with investments in storage, roads and minor canals, it can result in higher productivity growth in the future.

 

But amidst all the good news there are problems that cannot be ignored. Why is it that the ranking by the IMF of India's per capita GDP income, according to the purchasing power parity, is low at the 127th position? Some time ago, the multi-dimensional poverty index developed by Oxford University showed pervasive poverty within a country with 410 million Indians living in poverty. (China's ranking is higher in both cases). This means that the trickle-down effect of a high GDP growth rate is being hampered by certain obstacles to growth, which is a cause for concern. The obvious obstacles are lack of governance and corruption. For example, the latest food scam of UP revealed how millions of tonnes of foodgrains meant for the poor were diverted to the open market. Why is it that there are 100,000 billionaires in India and 8.7 crore families are still living below the poverty line?

 

According to Transparency International (Germany), which compiles the global corruption perception index, India is ranked 87th out of 178 countries. India's rank was 84th in 2009 and in one year the slip to the 87th place is due to a rise in corruption. The bulk of the bribes, according to Transparency International's view, is below $20 and corruption is a uniquely disenfranchising exercise as it is the poor who suffer the most. Due to the widespread practice of tax evasion and bribe taking.

 

India's black economy is huge at 50 per cent of the GDP and amounts to Rs 30 lakh crore. It is in the hands of 3 per cent of the elite. But, fortunately, around 300 million people also belong to the middle class. The polarisation problem can only be solved with the rise of the middle class and the participation of civil society in controlling corruption. In each budget, there is more allocation for poverty alleviation schemes, but there is still so much deprivation and malnutrition in the country due to the fact that only a fraction of the money actually benefits the targeted people.

 

The first priority in the New Year ought to be education and health for the poor in the villages and skill training. Only then will the 240 million youth joining the labour force in the next five years be able to get jobs. Unless the youth is properly educated and trained, there will be a big problem instead of the "demographic advantage or dividend" that India is supposed to have over China.

 

For the implementation of the right to education law for children between 6 to 14 years of age, 1.2 million teachers are needed to meet the requirement. Today only 700,000 teachers are available and absenteeism is high at 25 per cent. The dropout rate is 39 per cent for 10-year-olds, and among the 15 to 19 year-olds, according to the World Bank, only 2 per cent receive job training.

 

If only we could reduce corruption and have leakage-proof poverty alleviation programmes, the high GDP growth would benefit all and not just some sections of the population. It is a New Year wish, indeed!

 

 ***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

THOSE FRIDAYS IN 1971

BY BRIG SURYANARAYANAN (RETD)

 

IT was 6.40 pm on Friday, December 3, 1971. Some of us were sitting outside our dugouts being filled, in forward area and distributing jawans' pay, under low-wick-lanterns. Suddenly, the speeding General Officer's car screeched to a stop before my Fire Direction Centre (FDC); he bombarded me from within: "Surya, what are you people doing outside the dugouts? Why are your vehicles hooked up? Why are the dugouts being filled? Where is your Commander?"

 

I explained that the Commander had gone to witness a newly arrived regiment moving from Hide to Temporary Gun Position by night; we were closing up and moving my FDC to another position, approved by his HQ! He shouted at me: "Don't you know the PAF has attacked our forward airfields? Ground attack is expected tonight. You better re-occupy this very position! I shall send your Commander here" and off he went. (That regiment would have problems soon; which is a separate story!)

 

The Commander came after an hour and saw us re-digging. He said sheepishly: "I should have listened to you and left the dugouts unfilled but camouflaged" (my suggestion that morning)! He had flown off the handle and called us "softies"! My reasoning, which I couldn't tell him, was: every Friday, there used to be Mirages on photo-recce over the Divisional sector, which did not happen that day, conveying some foreboding; secondly, Yahya had said in an interview the previous week that "Next Friday, I will be off fighting a war!"

 

We had not even finished re-digging when intense enemy shelling started over my FDC and the gun positions at 8.48 pm! I ordered 'breaking wireless silence' and immediately, frantic calls for fire from 108 field-guns under my control as Brigade Major, came from 26 Observation Post officers all over the front!

 

I occupied the half-re-done FDC; and our return fire commenced. Within the first hour, my living bunker and jeep got direct hits and were written off; I lost my personal effects and had no jeep for the remainder of the war! Non-stop action went on for the next five days and nights, when we couldn't get a wink of sleep! The GOC directed the operations mostly from my FDC till December 6, due to excellent communications.

 

Due to some reverses, we had to pull back guns and the FDC from the present locations (which, planned for a different scenario, had become untenable) to the rear across the river, after three days. Before that, we got two prize catches: a Lt Col of an enemy's attacking battalion, lying wounded and begging for mercy (the highest ranking PoW in the Western sector) and his arrogant second-in-command elsewhere! The latter would return as Military Attaché to India in 1989!

 

During a lull in battle on the ninth, I had dozed off and my Commander very sweetly got me moved to his caravan; I woke up after 18 hours for a hot bath and back to the FDC into a renewed fierce counterattack! It was a Friday again, when I had to write my "Last Letter or Will".

 

 ***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

OPED

'IT'S NOT ABOUT HOW MANY PAGES.

IT'S ABOUT HOW GOOD THEY ARE'

 

Ian Burrell

When in doubt, most people who have Internet access go to Wikipedia, the free, web-based, encyclopedia that can be edited by users. Jimmy Wales, the founder of what has become the unrivalled source of knowledge, speaks on how his website is a fundamental part of the information structure in the world.

 

IT'S not yet the tenth day of Christmas and time for lords to start leaping, but one of the great aristocrats of the internet, Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales, can be forgiven for having a spring in his step as he walks the London streets.

 

A decade after he founded Wikipedia, the apparently limitless trove of online information has grown to 17 million articles and attracts a monthly audience of 400 million users, making it the fifth most popular website in the world.

 

If Wikipedia — which some estimates have valued at $5 billion — were not a non-profit venture, shunning advertisers and overseen by a charitable foundation (of which he is emeritus chairman), Wales would possess unimaginable wealth. As it is, he is making his annual appeal to Wikipedia users for added funding, this year seeking $16m, in order to maintain independence by avoiding dependence on major benefactors.

 

He made his own small fortune as a futures and options trader in Chicago before even dabbling in the Internet. And, having established Wikipedia with his then partner, Larry Sanger, on 15 January 2001, Wales has since set up a separate for-profit business, Wikia, which carries advertising and caters to more than 100,000 "wiki" groups with specialist interests ranging from The Muppet Show to the cult computer game World of Warcraft.

 

Speaking at a London hotel, Wales, 44, admits that the scale of Wikipedia's growth has outstripped even his famed self-confidence. "[With] 400m people a month visiting the site it has become really a fundamental part of the information infrastructure of the world," he says. "I didn't imagine this.

 

It just didn't occur to me, sitting at my computer, that I would end up travelling all over the world. That bit escaped my thought process." Before starting Wikipedia, Wales's only foreign trips had been to Canada and Mexico. Now he travels to speak at global economic events, and his social network includes Bono, Richard Branson, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.

 

But as he spreads his gospel internationally he must overcome an unforeseen and potentially damaging misapprehension: the comparatively commonly held view that Wikipedia is in some way attached to WikiLeaks, the scourge of the Western establishment for its publication of millions of confidential documents, exposing diplomatic secrets and covert military operations.

 

While Wales has been hobnobbing with British politicians in London, the WikiLeaks co-founder, Julian Assange, spent much of last week across town in Wandsworth prison fighting extradition charges.

 

"The most important message... is that we have absolutely nothing to do with WikiLeaks," says Wales, who is irritated by the name of Assange's site.

 

"What they're doing is not really a wiki. The essence of wiki is a collaborative editing process and they're just getting documents from people and releasing them. There's no collaborative editing going on. The fundamental of what they're doing is not really a wiki. It's unfortunate. I wish they were called Open Leaks." That's not to say that, as a champion of free speech, Wales doesn't have some sympathy with WikiLeaks in its current position. "It's complicated. In open and free societies it's really important that people who have evidence of wrongdoing have some avenue to make that known. I think that's a good and healthy part of democracy. At the same time I would echo some of the concerns raised by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and counsel that WikiLeaks should be careful about the ramifications of what they're releasing, and work with people to make sure that what they're doing is providing a useful public service." Wikipedia, he has no doubt, is doing just that. The site was once widely lampooned for the untruths that resulted from allowing anyone to edit its entries. Wikipedia's own Wikipedia page contains the acknowledgement that "some media sources satirise Wikipedia's susceptibility to inserted inaccuracies". The Onion, the American satirical newspaper, once published a prominent article headlined "Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Independence".

 

Wales believes the quality of articles has markedly improved. This is partly due to protection measures recently introduced for the most sensitive articles (such as the biography of George W Bush), where all changes are subject to a delay so that they can be reviewed by an established Wikipedia editor. "Where we've gotten to now is fairness — we don't get these stories that we are a crazy bunch of people and it is complete garbage," says Wales, acknowledging that an institution of the scale and influence of Wikipedia is rightfully held to account. "We do get criticised where there are errors and I do think it's a valid subject, a really important subject, for broad public dialogue."

 

Where Wikipedia can improve, he admits, is in the diversity of its contributors. Around 1,00,000 volunteers are involved in editing on at least a monthly basis, allowing the site to operate with only a tiny staff of around 45. But editors are "over 80 per cent male and tech-savvy", he says, meaning that subjects such as "sociology or Elizabethan poetry" can be neglected.

 

"Whatever 26-year-old tech geek males are interested in we do a very good job on. [But] things that are in other fields we could do with some more users participating." So Wikipedia will begin its second decade by making it easier for less tech-minded users to edit pages. In future, users are likely to be encouraged to give ratings to the pages they read.

 

Not that Wales wants everyone to be an editor. "We've never been about participation for participation's sake. We are trying to build an encyclopaedia." Similarly, he is unconcerned that growth in new articles on English Wikipedia seems to be slowing. "All the easy topics have been written about. But it's good to slow down. It's not about rapidly creating the maximum number of pages — that's not the point. The point is to create useful pages."

 

Wales focus is moving east, in particular to India where in the next six months Wikipedia will open its first office outside of America, probably in Mumbai or Bangalore. Increasing the number of articles in Indian languages is "really key", he says. "We have 50,000 articles in Hindi and tens of thousands in other languages, so we already have active communities there but we are still very far behind the European languages."

 

There is still so much to do. Africa remains largely undocumented by the site, especially in native languages. Around 20,000 articles have been written in Swahili (and a similar number in Afrikaans) but Zulu accounts for barely 100 entries. He cites a need for more contributions in Arabic but is pleased that the linguistic breadth of Wikipedia — which has 262 language editions — gives it a remarkable reach in the developing world.

 

Where many of the great digital media brands have lost their way — AOL, MySpace, Yahoo! — Wikipedia has maintained its relevance. According to Sergey Brin, a founder of Google, Wikipedia is "one of the greatest triumphs of the internet".

 

Wales does not have the same profile as some of the other great online pioneers. He has not had a Hollywood film made about him like the creator of Facebook. But as a character he is more red-blooded than other famous nerds such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. After working as a futures trader, he set up Bomis, a male-oriented dot-com business focusing on "babes" and sport. He has been married twice and has a daughter with his second wife. When he broke up with one girlfriend, Rachel Marsden, she delighted internet gossips by selling off his clothes — on eBay.

 

His first marriage was to a former work colleague in a grocery store who he wed when he was 20. Back then in Alabama — where he had grown up as the son of a store owner and had spent long hours poring over the Encyclopaedia Britannica — he had the ambition of being rich and living in Britain, seeing a photograph of an English castle and telling his young wife Pam: "Yeah, we're going to have that one day."

 

Sitting here in the hotel drinking from a glass of water, he's just an ordinary-looking bearded guy in an open-neck shirt. He might not be quite the king of the internet but for millions of users of Wikipedia, there's something quite noble about Jimmy Wales.

 

— The Independent

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

TURNING HYPERBOLE INTO REALITY

BATTING FOR TENDULKAR IS LESS AN ART FORM AND MORE A JOB TO BE DONE WELL. HE HAS TAKEN IT TO A STATISTICAL HIGH-POINT WHERE, FOR ONCE, SHEER VOLUME CAPTURES THE ENTIRE STORY


In the 1997 Golden Globes, Dustin Hoffman related a fascinating little story about Igor Stravinsky, the great Russian-American composer. Stravinsky was once asked in a TV interview what the greatest moment for him was. Is it when you complete a symphony? "No, No, No," he replied. Is it when you hear it played the first time by an orchestra? "No, no, no," he responded. What about opening night when it's heralded as one of the greatest works of the 20th century? "No, no no." 

 

So what IS the greatest moment for you? "I'm sitting at the piano for three or four hours, and I'm trying to find a note. I'm going 'bum' 'bum' 'bum'," Stravinsky said. "Finally, after three hours, I find the note. That's the moment. There is nothing like it." 

 

Last year, when Sachin Tendulkar completed 20 years in international cricket, I asked him the same question, hoping that he'd give me a similarly poetic answer. But no matter how much I probed about what he enjoyed most about cricket, Sachin would only talk about scoring hundreds when your team needed runs. 

 

What about at a more micro level, I prodded, does the ball racing away to the fence still excite you? But it seemed he was unable to relate to my question, mumbling a few lines before going back to his centuries mantra. I threw my final gambit: How about the sound of the ball hitting the middle of the bat? "Of course that still makes you feel good," he replied, giving me the quote I needed, but his heart was clearly not in it. 

 

Looking back, if anything, that exchange was indicative of how Tendulkar finds it easier to look at the big picture rather than the little moments that come together to create it. That the notes matter, no doubt, but batting to him is less an art form and more a job to be done well. There are matches to save, wins to set up; reaching the end is important, not romanticising the process of getting there. 

 

It is perhaps for this reason that, unlike Vivian Richards or Brian Lara who often threw away their wickets against weaker opposition out of sheer boredom, Sachin considered a contest against them an easier pay day. That's not to say that stronger teams were ever a threat. In the first Test at Centurion, which India lost yesterday by an innings and 25 runs, he showed his class as emphatically in the first innings as he did during the second-innings fight back. 

 

While the rest of the Indian team was doddering on the back foot because of the bouncy track, he wasn't scared to shift his weight forward and punch through the off side on merit. Against Lonwabo Tsotsobe, he immediately darted out of his crease and hit the ball through mid-wicket. There was a perfect sound when leather struck willow, and it would've felt right to him, but Sachin was too bothered about how far it went, and what psychological message it sent to the South Africans, to notice. 

 

Then, on Sunday, with India desperately trying to avoid an innings defeat, Sachin scored his fiftieth Test century, and ninety-sixth overall. It's a staggering statistic, one that could well have been an adynaton, or a hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths that it suggests a complete impossibility. Like 'when pigs fly', or 'when hell freezes over', you could've once pretty safely said you'd do the dishes when someone scored fifty Test hundreds. 

 

If WG Grace was the fist man to play both on the front foot and back foot, and Donald Bradman the perfectionist who made the bat a natural extension of his limbs and batting an extension of his emotions, Sachin Tendulkar has taken it to a statistical high-point where, for once, sheer volume captures the entire story. In other words, he has made class tangible.

 

For Sachin, a great moment is not when he plays a perfect right-wrist-overleft flick. It's when he plays it to go from 96 to 100, or from defeat to victory. 

 

***************************************


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

COLUMN

NOW WALK THE TALK

MS GANDHI AND DR SINGH SPOKE WELL, THEY MUST NOW ACT

 

Both Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke well at the plenary session of the All India Congress Committee, convened to mark the 125th anniversary of the Indian National Congress. Historians and political analysts may lament the great distance the Congress party has travelled in the second half of its 125-year-old existence from the ideals of the first half. But, Ms Gandhi and her son Rahul must be complimented for reviving the electoral fortunes of the party, even if they have done little to restore the party's elan, and Dr Singh has done well to ensure that the first Congress-led coalition not only survived a full term, but also returned to power. While there is much to celebrate for the Congress, the party's faithful gathered in the shadow of the biggest crisis the party has faced since the days of the infamous "Jain hawala diary" and the Bofors case. It is, therefore, natural that both Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh chose to focus their attention, among other things, on the issue of corruption and financial impropriety.

 

Ms Gandhi came forward with a good five-point proposal for political reform that should be immediately implemented. The first of the five ideas, namely state funding of elections aimed at reducing corruption, was the subject matter of a Congress party report written over a decade ago by none other than Prime Minister Singh himself. Like all reform effort, even these ideas of election funding reform may get subverted by clever politicians but that is no reason why they should not be tried out. It would be a good idea for the prime minister to ask a mixed group of active politicians, political analysts and administrators with experience in organising elections to consider which ideas of the election funding reform committee's report can and should be implemented by the government. Ms Gandhi's other proposals — fast-tracking corruption cases against politicians and bureaucrats, ending discretionary powers of officials and ministers, introducing transparency in public procurement and contracts, and introducing more open procedures for the exploitation of natural resources — can and should be acted upon by the government, immediately.

 

 The prime minister too has offered to appear before Parliament's Public Accounts Committee and has promised action. Instead of repeatedly demanding a joint parliamentary committee, opposition political parties must extend their support to the government in ensuring that all the offers made by Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh are acted upon. This in itself will restore public confidence in the institutions of democracy.

 

Now that the speeches are done with, both the Congress president and the prime minister must sit together and reshuffle their respective packs. Julius Caesar had divorced his wife Pompeia, merely because she was suspected of wrongdoing, claiming that Caesar's wife should be above such suspicion. Since Dr Singh has alluded to this metaphor, he will surely appreciate that to uphold the principle, he would have to undertake a wholesale recasting of his Council of Ministers and of key functionaries in government. The taint of the suspicion of wrongdoing attaches itself to several individuals in high and important places. They must go. Congress persons and officials of known integrity should be properly rewarded and those with a negative public image should be disempowered. Neither should shy away from such action. If men of competence and integrity, irrespective of age, region, religion or caste, are given charge of key ministries and jobs, where enormous power is vested and where the opportunities for rent-seeking are high, it would help restore people's confidence in the government and the ruling party, and greatly enhance the standing of both Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh.

***************************************


JBUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

HELLO DOLLY

INDIA NEEDS A REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR CLONING

 

Recent reports that meat of cloned cattle had been sold in stores in Britain, and the news of the "resurrection" of the world's first cloned sheep "Dolly" seven years after its death, have renewed concerns about the scientific and ethical dimensions of cloning. The four new Dollies are said to have been created from the deep-frozen section of the same sample of cells from which the original Dolly was produced in 1996 and are, therefore, the exact genetic replicas of the first Dolly. This virtually means that Dolly is not yet dead and may never be; and, if the man wishes, the world's entire sheep population may one day comprise only of Dollies. The same can, theoretically, be true of human beings, if cloned. The international debate on the ethics and science of cloning has acquired an Indian dimension with scientists in India producing three cloned calves of a buffalo, a dual purpose milk-cum-meat animal. Significantly, these cloned buffaloes have been developed with "hand-guided cloning technique", which is said to be a relatively simpler and advanced modification of the conventional cloning technique. The day may, therefore, not be too far off when buffalo milk or meat linked to cloned animals enters the Indian food chain. This is bound to raise concerns, as with insect-protected transgenic Bt-cotton and Bt-brinjal, and these must be addressed now. Food authorities in the UK and the US have affirmed that meat and milk from cloned cattle and their offspring are no different from conventional products. The critics are not yet convinced. To begin with, governments must make proper labelling of such foods mandatory.

To be sure, cloning is a cutting-edge discipline of biotechnology that deserves scientific development. But, the risks associated with human consumption of cloned foods should not be ignored. Animal breeders view cloning as a logical extension of the livestock breeding technologies already in vogue, such as artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilisation, to produce more productive animals. There are many benefits to be derived from cloning for man and animals alike, including the possibility of cloning parts of the human body or healthy cells of a sick person that need replacement. On the downside, however, cloning can shrink the already waning genetic diversity in livestock by encouraging monoculture. This can, in turn, potentially put the entire livestock populations at risk of being wiped out by the same disease. Clearly, the debate on the positive and negative aspects of cloning has not ended, and recent achievements of Indian scientists will only revive the debate at home. It is best that such debates are informed and transparent. Hopefully, such an informed debate will also generate a set of guidelines that will facilitate the proper development of this science in the interests of society.

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

WHAT SIZE THE FIRE EXIT?

UNFORTUNATELY, THE SIZE OF THE EFSF LOOKS INADEQUATE TO FINANCE A COLLECTIVE EXIT BY SHORT-TERM INVESTORS

DANIEL GROS

 

The eurozone is being thrown into turmoil by a collective rush to the exits by investors. Yields on government debt of peripheral eurozone countries are skyrocketing, because investors do not really know what the risks are.

 

Officials want to be reassuring. Investors should not worry, they argue, because the current bailout mechanism — the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) — has worked so far without any haircut for bondholders, and will continue to be applied until about 2013. Only after that date would any new mechanism open the door for losses for private investors, and only for debt issued after that date.

 

 But markets do not trust this message, and for good reason: it is not credible, because it makes no economic sense. After all, the claim that the risk of loss will arise only for debt issued after the new crisis-resolution mechanism starts in 2014 implies that all debt issued until then is safe, and that insolvency can occur only in some distant future, rather than now, as in Greece and Ireland. In effect, EU officials are saying to investors, "Whom do you believe — us or your own eyes?"

 

Moreover, for too many investors, Portugal, with its poor growth prospects and insufficient domestic savings to fund the public-sector deficit, looks like Greece. And Spain clearly has to grapple with its own Irish problem, namely a huge housing over-hang — and probably large losses in the banking sector — following the collapse of an outsized real-estate bubble. The problems of Portugal and Spain might be less severe than those of Greece and Ireland, but this apparently is not enough to induce investors to buy their government debt.

 

A danger these countries share is thus the acute danger of large-scale runs on their banking systems. So far, investors trying to exit first have been made whole. Holders of Greek debt maturing now are repaid courtesy of the €110 billion bailout programme, and holders of Irish bank bonds have been given a guarantee by the Irish government, whose promises have, in turn, been underwritten by the EFSF. The EFSF will also provide funds to ensure that Irish banks' depositors get their money back today.

 

The problem with this approach is that it creates the wrong incentives. Investors have now learned that the first to sell will avoid losses. The situation resembles that of a crowded cinema with only one exit. Everyone knows that in case of fire, only the first to leave will be safe. So, if the exit is small, even the faintest whiff of smoke can trigger a stampede. But if the exit looks comfortably large, the public will be much more likely to remain calm, even if parts of the room are already filling with smoke.

 

For the financial market, the size of the exit depends on the funds available to make short-term investors whole. Unfortunately, the size of the EFSF looks inadequate to finance a collective exit by short-term investors.

 

]When the EFSF was created, it was assumed that the only problem was to ensure financing for the government deficits of the four prospective problem countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). From this perspective, the headline figure of €750 billion allocated to the EFSF looked adequate.

 

But the EFSF's founders did not take into account banks' enormous short-term liabilities which, in a crisis, effectively become government debt, as Ireland has been the most recent to demonstrate. The EFSF might be just enough to guarantee the public debt of the four problem countries, but certainly not their banking sectors' liabilities as well.

 

For example, the Spanish banking sector alone has short-term liabilities of several hundred billion euros. To return to the cinema analogy: investors know that the exit is not large enough to allow them all to squeeze through at the same time. So each one wants to be among the first to get out.

 

The official line so far has been "no default", meaning no sovereign default or that of any bank can be considered. If this line is to be maintained, the exit door must immediately be made much wider, and huge fire extinguishers must be brandished. The International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank must show investors that they have enough funding to finance the simultaneous exit of all short-term investors.

 

It could work. A show of overwhelming force might restore calm to the markets. But it is a risky proposition: if investors exit nonetheless, the required funds might be so large that creditor countries' taxpayers may revolt.

 

The alternative is to change strategy and focus instead on investors' incentives. Patient investors should be rewarded. In particular, they should be able to expect to be better off than those rushing to the exit. This approach depends on two major policy shifts.

 

First, governments should not be pushed into insolvency just to save all banks. This means that the Irish government (maybe the next one) should demand that holders of bank bonds share the losses, perhaps by offering them a simple debt-equity swap.

 

Doubts about the Irish government's solvency would then disappear quickly, and its guarantee of bank deposits would no longer look so shaky. Something similar might have to be done for the Spanish banking system's exposure to the local housing market.

 

The second component of a permanent anti-crisis mechanism is a floor for bond prices — and thus a ceiling for losses. The yields and volatility of longer-term bonds should then fall relative to short-term securities, allowing peripheral governments to finance themselves reliably and at reasonable cost.

 

None of this would resolve Europe's fundamental problems, namely weak fiscal positions, poorly functioning financial sectors, and lack of competitiveness. But all of them would be easier to manage with calmer financial markets.

 

The author is director of the Centre for European Policy Studies

© Project Syndicate, 2010 www.project-syndicate.org

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

2011 MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT WISH LIST

THE FIRST WISH IS THAT POLITICIANS AND THEIR RELATIVES WOULD BE BANNED FROM OWNING MEDIA COMPANIES

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

 

It is the end of the year and of a decade of covering the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) industry. It seemed appropriate to make a wish list. Here is mine for this crazy $17-billion business that I enjoy being part of. I wish that:

 

 1) Politicians and their relatives would be banned from owning media companies. This is the biggest bane of this industry. Many news channels owned by politicians are tools of influence rather than a business. In cable, the biggest reason for pay revenue leakages is that roughly half the cable operations in India are owned by politicians. These become a source of cash for elections and a means to arm twist channels.

 

2) India gets a really aggressive, proactive ministry of information and broadcasting and a media regulator. For over five years now, we have been in a regulatory time warp. It is a business that the government micromanages (e.g. cable pricing) or does not touch (e.g. cable licensing). The equivalent of an English Ofcom or the American FCC would go a long way in fostering growth.

 

3) The industry would get its act together on metrics. In films, radio and outdoor, robust metrics are proving to be a roadblock to growth. The impact of good metrics cannot be overemphasised. Globally most media segments have grown two to three times once robust metrics come into place.

 

4) Media owners get their act together on lobbying. Considering the kind of influence and power that media companies have over people's minds, they have surprisingly little control over their own fate. Most industry associations, of which there are too many, are pathetic at lobbying. In TV for instance, all data show conclusively that cable prices have actually come down over 20 years. Yet the industry has hardly ever used this to battle price regulation.

 

5) Editors of English language newspapers would get over their obsession with V S Naipaul. Every time he says or writes something, editors of most large English language papers in India go over the top. The op-ed pages are full of him. Maybe someone should tell them, gently, that Naipaul means nothing to an entire generation of us Indians.

 

6) Journalists are made to do crash courses in understanding the media business. Most journalists are appallingly ill-informed about the realities of their own companies, newspapers or news channels. In fact, most new journalists should undergo training in how to research stories, write neutrally and not to moralise without knowing facts. What ails journalism can easily be fixed by good training.

 

7) Media owners wouldn't be so touchy. Most of them, especially publishers, have the thinnest skins in the business. It comes from years of being treated like oracles by the public and the government alike. In a super competitive free market, it is a feudal attitude that simply doesn't work.

 

8) A really big M&A deal happens in media. What if Sun and Sony merge to create the biggest national broadcasting powerhouse? Or Hathway, Den and Sumangali merge to create the biggest cable company in India with a truly national presence? It would get a great valuation, push digitisation and open up the whole pay revenue pie in television.

9) Newspaper owners would hurry up and start investing in new media. They have the luxury of time before the Net hits them. But if metro readership numbers are anything to go by, it won't last long. Considering they are making record profits, why aren't they more aggressive about experimenting with business models on the Net, the mobile or other devices?

 

10) Newspapers, magazines, TV channels and websites analyse the M&E industry seriously. The few brands that have a "cover it like any other industry" approach to media and entertainment are Business Standard, Mint, Forbes andBusinessworld. Most of the others either keep away from contentious issues or don't name rivals, or have several riders on their M&E coverage. Having good business coverage of an industry is an important element of the ecosystem within which it grows. Telecom, IT, FMCG, bio-tech all gained from it, why not media and entertainment?

vanitakohli@hotmail.com  

 

***************************************

 


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

FIXING THE LEAKS

THE PROPOSED LAW ON PRIVACY SHOULD FIRST DECIDE HOW IT WILL TACKLE LEAKS OF TAPPED PHONE CONVERSATIONS

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

Every scam brings in its wake a law that the government of the day hopes would prevent the recurrence of similar irregularities. The corporate and accounting scandals that hit companies like Enron, Tyco International and WorldCom prompted the US regulatory system to put in place the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 in the hope that similar problems would not affect the corporate sector. In India, too, the securities scam in 1993 led to the tightening of the securities trading law and an overhaul of the securities trading system that the Reserve Bank of India followed till then.

 

The latest 2G telecom licences scam, however, has failed to initiate a debate on the need to plug gaps in the legal framework for granting licences and spectrum to telecom service providers. It is possible to argue that there is no need to change the law. All that the government needs to do is enforce the auction system in an open and transparent manner — in much the same way the government allotted the 3G licences and spectrum to successful bidders early this year. The 2G scam did lead to windfall gains for some telecom players, and government representatives as well as ministers colluded to facilitate those gains at the cost of others. So the law enforcement agencies should establish the illegality of such gains and impose suitable penalties on the guilty.

 

 A debate on introducing fresh legislation, however, has begun but this is not directly related to granting licences or spectrum. The government is now toying with the idea of strengthening privacy laws in the country. The need to introduce a new code to protect ordinary individuals' privacy has arisen after large portions of the legally tapped telephone conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and her clients, politicians and well-known journalists were leaked to the media.

 

Mind you, the government had authorised the tapping of the telephone conversations of Radia for about a few months, coinciding with the period when the United Progressive Alliance was forming its new Cabinet in 2009. As senior government officials in the revenue department of the finance ministry will testify, tapping phones of people suspected of violating any economic law takes place regularly. All it requires is for a senior official, often of the rank of a member of the central board of direct taxes or the central board of excise and customs, to approach the home secretary at the other end of North Block and secure his permission to start tapping phones belonging to the suspected person.

 

What is unusual about the current controversy is that the tapped conversations leaked. Once the leaked conversations became part of the documents that a public interest litigant filed before the Supreme Court, the media also began publishing the leaked conversations, exposing the manner in which corporate lobbying took place to fix who should get what ministerial portfolio. The embarrassment caused to Ratan Tata, who has filed a case seeking protection of his rights to privacy, was not because his phone conversations with Radia were tapped. It is the leak that caused him embarrassment.

 

The privacy laws, whatever their final contours, are not going to prevent phone tapping or when the government considers that necessary. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already made it clear that while the government should protect its citizens' privacy, there can be no blanket ban on phone tapping. It should also be clear that mere phone tapping by the government does not breach privacy. It is the leak that creates the problem. Hence, the proposed law on privacy should first decide how it would tackle issues concerning the leak of tapped phone conversations.

 

It is also a fact that governments and companies have often used the instrument of deliberate leaks to facilitate a larger public debate on certain issues through the media. There is even a view that leaks are one of the foundations of a thriving democracy. There are, therefore, larger questions that the media and the government must debate before the new privacy laws are in place. Do leaks serve a purpose? Did WikiLeaks play a useful role in uncovering the way the US government kept track of important leaders in different countries? Is there anything private about a leader who is a public person? Who is a public person? Should the law prevent media from using leaked information and bring them out in the public domain? What should be the nature of leaks the government should always prevent?

 

There is no doubt that behind every leak there is a hidden agenda. Even the leaked tapes involving Radia's conversations must have served a useful purpose for a section of industry or the government and perhaps a few political parties. The big question is, how the privacy laws should be strengthened without shooting the messenger and yet ensuring that leaks do not serve vested interests or tarnish the reputation of individuals. Public interest should always remain the primary guiding factor.

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

2010 - The year in fiction

Nilanjana S Roy

 

The Giants: Perhaps the most anticipated book of the year, Freedom (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by Jonathan Franzen did much more than get the author a spot on the cover of Time. Franzen's sprawling epic takes a Tolstoyan view of the dysfunctional American family, through the lives, times and elusive freedoms claimed by the Berglunds. An old-fashioned and yet very modern masterpiece.

 

For David Grossman, writing To The End of the Land (Jonathan Cape) was "an act of choosing life". Grossman wrote this book, about a mother hiking in Galilee in an attempt to keep at bay possible bad news about her son, a soldier caught in the Israel-Palestine conflict, after the death of his own son in 2006. Never sentimental, always powerful, this is one of the great books of the decade.

 

 Thirty-five years in the making, Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn (Corvus) pulled off the apparently impossible — he had something new, and essential, to say about the Vietnam War. Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge (Knopf) tries to bring to life the Hungarian Holocaust, and though it fails in some ways, it stamps her as one of the most scintillating story-tellers of her times.

 

David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Sceptre) and Jennifer Egan (A Visit From The Goon Squad, Knopf) keep the post-modern novel alive. Mitchell's riff on the Dutch East Indies and Japan is relentlessly entertaining; Egan's dark tales are held together by the figure of Bennie Salazar, a musician of modest talents but unquenchable passion. Roberto Bolano's posthumous reputation continued to soar with the publication of Nazi Literature in the Americas (Picador), a pseudo-dictionary of fictional writers. Emma Donoghue may have missed a Booker win, but her Room (Little, Brown) was one of the most unsettling reworkings of the traditional crime novel, where a psychopath is seen through the eyes of the child who is his victim. And Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado(Farrar, Straus & Giroux) raised the bar for debut novelists, offering an acrobatic overview of contemporary Filipino history and politics.

 

Short stories: The short story form hasn't died; it was merely subjected to premature burial. Three collections stood out. Yiyun Li's Gold Boy, Emerald Girl(Random House) confirms her rising reputation — and the bleak but rivetingKindness will stay with you for years. William Trevor's Selected Stories was a welcome reminder of the range and depth of this Irish writer's work: "The short story is bony, it cannot wander. It is essential art." Rahul Mehta's quiet debut collection Quarantine (Random House) took slight themes and built on them to explore nostalgia, sex, relationships, loneliness and much more.

 

Indian literature: Our poets have often outdone our novelists, and an essential book for any serious reader is the Collected Poems of Arun Kolatkar, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (Bloodaxe). Kolatkar's Bombay and his Jejuri remain indelible, and Mehrotra provides just the right perspective on his work. Two contrasting novels, Siddharth Chowdhury's Day Scholar (Picador) and Manu Joseph's Serious Men (HarperCollins) are evidence that Indian novelists are becoming more sure of themselves. Chowdhury's dissection of the everyday brutalities of university life in Bihar is both funny and incisive, and Joseph'sSerious Men is a dark satire on caste and relationships in India. Both novels have enough to offer to overcome their relatively minor flaws. Read them alongside Charu Nivedita's blistering and wildly experimental Zero Degree (Blaft, translated by Pritham Chakravarthy and Rakesh Khanna), which shifts seamlessly from phone sex to Rwanda.

 

U R Ananthamurthy's Bharatipura (translated by Susheela Punitha) looks at prejudice and change, as a wealthy landowner returns to his hometown and attempts to break centuries of tradition by pushing for the entry of untouchables into the local temple. And a new translation of three novellas by Rabindranath Tagore, Three Women (Random House, translated by Arunava Sinha), explores marriage, passion, illicit love and relationships.

 

Genre fiction: Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay (Scholastic), the third in The Hunger Games series, is a children's book the way Jonathan Swift was a children's writer. This teenage epic takes on dark themes — ideology, brutal regimes and the price of freedom — and should be required reading for all adults. Besides, it's great fun. Neil Gaiman edited one of the best anthologies of the year — Stories (Hachette) has a simple premise: what comes next after "And then what happened?" China Mieville delivered the fast-paced Kraken (Del Rey), where the disappearance of a giant squid threatens London; closer to home, Samit Basu's dazzling Turbulence (Hachette) is a sensitive exploration of an intriguing question: what would happen if you actually had the power to change the world?

 

Stieg Larsson scored another goal for posthumous best-sellers with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (Knopf), the third in his Millennium trilogy, making Lisbeth Salander a household name. John Le Carre's coolly elegant Our Kind of Traitor (Viking) is evidence that he is still the master of the modern morality tale. And Blaft did connoisseurs of Indian pulp fiction a major favour by publishing Surender Mohan Pathak's crime thriller Daylight Robbery in a brisk, breezy translation — plus, they had vamps on the cover.

 

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com  

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

RUSI TOPI, RED OR NOT

NEW FRIENDS NOT AT OLD ONES' EXPENSE


WITH Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's current visit, leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have visited India in the last six months. The point is not to bask in such recognition of India's growing strategic importance in a world where economic clout is far more widely distributed than military and political might. Rather, the challenge is to keep level-headed focus, amidst all the ardent wooing by the world's A-listers, on India's own self-interest. This lies in building strong relationships with every key player, not becoming a willing pawn in someone else's chess game, and building India's own capabilities. The US took the initiative to remove India's nuclear untouchability, opening the way for ending a long regime of technology denial, in the hope of India emerging as a counterweight to China in the region. This is good for India, but does not shackle us in any eternal ties of gratitude. New friendships are meant to enlarge the circle of engagement, not to cut out old ones. India has had a special relationship with Russia during and after the Soviet period, with special focus on strategic ties. While commercial considerations are now important, as is evident in the pricing of defence equipment, they do not supplant strategic ones. India and Russia have common interests in Afghanistan, in Iran and in battling Islamist terror without generalising it into a clash of civilisations. 

 

India has to show more imagination and intelligence in taking the relationship forward, beyond the obvious and extant areas of collaboration in defence production and energy. Participation in new ventures in Skolkovo, the Russian answer to Silicon Valley, is one, possibly with special focus on cyber security. Enhancing collaboration in space is another. Truly pathbreaking would be marrying India's flair for entrepreneurship with Russian capability in, say, aircraft design and engines, to produce commercial aircraft, demand for which is growing fast in emerging markets. People-to-people exchanges in sports, culture and education — India can offer respectable management education — is another area for expansion, among the many that deserve to be explored.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STILL NOT INSURED

CONSTRUCTIVE POLITICS IS FOREMOST NEED


THE decision of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irda) to allow insurance companies to invest in infrastructure funds is a welcome move that will benefit both the issuers of bonds as well as the investing companies. The insurance companies need to invest their growing corpus of long term liabilities in projects that will yield stable and continuous returns year after year while the infrastructure companies need long-term funding to implement projects. But the problem of the infrastructure sector is not really paucity of funds. Rather, the problems are more to do with the processes that take forever to sort out — be it acquisition of land, resettlement and rehabilitation of the dispossessed, and clearances from local and state-level authorities. These make projects unbankable, besides contributing to escalation of costs. However, most of these problems can be fixed if the policymakers are willing to go beyond convention in policymaking. Take for instance, land acquisition. Just about every project needs to acquire land, which at that point is the source of livelihood for rural folk. Acquisitions of land can be free of controversy and violence only if the landowner is made a stakeholder in the upcoming project. This would mean that the landowner does not settle for one-time, upfront payment when he gives up his land. Instead, in addition to cash compensation linked to market rates, landlosers should have a continuing interest in the project's upside. Magarpatta town, in which 120 farmer families pooled their land to build a new town off Pune, offers one pioneering model, but there is no need to tie policy down to one unique solution. 

 

While the government will have to continue to play a significant role in infrastructure development, the private sector would need to shoulder a larger responsibility. That will happen when politics and policy create an environment where decision making is quick and stakeholders cooperate. The challenge in infrastructure, and in finding a profitable investment avenue for insurance funds, is creative politics to find unconventional solutions to unconventional problems. It is time the government and the Planning Commission stopped imitating, in the matter of infrastructure, the man who searched for his lost ring under the lamp, far from where he lost it, on the ground that you could see nothing without light.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HURLEY WARNE-INGS

KEEP TWITTILATIONS PRIVATE


FOR many, flirtatious behaviour is evidence of lack of character. Now it has been reduced to just 140 of them, it is not surprising that the terms of endearment have become shorter as well. The romantic twitters between Liz Hurley and Shane Warne exchanged over a summer have reportedly not lasted beyond a single hotel interlude, lending credence to the theory that in the virtual world of techno-love, affairs can come and go without the twain having ever met. Indeed, simultaneous sexting and two-timing twitterers have ensured that affairs become a voyeuristic twittilation for the networked, for Hurley and Warne's followers confirm sensing the steamy vibes wafting across the twitterscape for months. But those who live by (or that which is brought to life by) the word, also die by it, as some prominent Indians have also discovered this past year. So if the couple came together in 140-character billets-doux, they were short-circuited by instant messaging. 

 

If anything, the Hurley-Warne episode, coming hard on the heels of the Wikileaks embarrassments, shows that there is merit in keeping what is truly private off the cyberscape. Burly Warne's philandering fingers once again proved that that unprotected texting can be just as dangerous as Julian Assange's reported leaks. They may not land him in jail but it will put him in the same place as a certain Tiger, who still isn't out of the woods. As for Hurley, shouldn't she have known that he was spinning her one? When the Hurly-Burly is done, and the battle is lost and won, can toil and trouble be far behind?

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

AUCTIONING ICT DEVELOPMENT

THE NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK MISSION MUST BEGIN WITH THE PRIOR BUILD-UP OF A WIRELESS INTERNET ECO-SYSTEM AND AUCTION IS ONLY ONE ELEMENT OF AN OVERALL DEVELOPMENT MODEL, SAYS ROHIT PRASAD

 

SIXTY-THREE years after independence, the dismal failure of government schemes has left India at 128th position in the UN Human Development Index. One of the main causes is a silo based mentality focusing on the supply of developmental inputs rather than integrated solutions driven by the needs of citizens. Further, in today's age of public-private partnerships, it is expected that after deliverables have been specified, an auction will determine the most efficient party for implementation following which the government can, as the ad said, 'fill it, shut it, forget it'. 

 

Those quoting global studies showing a positive impact of internet penetration on GDP forget the unit of analysis in these studies is the country or province, and given heterogeneity levels, results may not be applicable to villages. A study in UP and Meghalaya conducted along with Prof Rupamanjari Sinha Ray shows that empowering the rural population requires more than merely providing access. Low literacy levels, paucity of livelihood-related applications in the local language, technophobia, lack of role models within relevant socioeconomic groups, device unfamiliarity, unfriendly user interfaces and low incomes are some key bottlenecks. The USO Phase II tender should, therefore, reflect a considered strategy for IT empowerment, rather than a set of end-results for access. Further, its clauses should mitigate the potential fallout of the auction mechanism. 

 

Auctions serve as the best method for bringing out the true value of an object, when there are a large number of bidders, manageable market risk, enforceable contracts and multiple bidding rounds, enabling market information to emerge. Rural auctions do not have such features. 

 

In the CSC project for rural internet kiosks, for example, there was an average of only two-three bidders in each state. In this context, multiple rounds are not possible without the threat of collusion. With the remaining option of the single round sealed bid auction, the CSC scheme has resulted in a winner's curse in many states, with companies reading too much into the non-existent promise of e-governance as an instrument of triggering internet demand. In other states, lone bidders have walked away with handsome subsidies. 

 

The term 'winner's curse' was first used for auctions of oil blocks in the United States in the 1960s. Venturing into a telecom market like that of remote rural India makes oil exploration appear like a safe, high return activity. Asking the private sector to bid for subsidies under such circumstances is tantamount to the captain of the ship passing the wheel to his first lieutenant in the midst of a particularly violent storm! 

 

In the checkered history of universal service policy in India, there have been several episodes of the private sector accepting a universal service obligation and then renegotiating its contractual obligation. The National Telecom Policy (NTP) of 1994 targeted coverage of all six lakh villages by 1997 through a rural obligation. By 1999, as many as 3.1 lakh villages remained uncovered. The NTP of 1999 again targeted universal coverage, but we moved to a universal levy in 2003 in the face of continued non-performance. Without casting any aspersions on the private sector claims of unviability, one must accept that the government is often willing to renegotiate in the face of post-auction distress. 

 

FURTHER distortions with auctions are caused by the unfair advantage of economies of scale for established technologies, and the imperative of recouping sunk costs on old R&D which may make subsidisation of inefficient technologies the best strategy for incumbent equipment manufacturers. Operators who have outsourced network operations to these vendors have no cause for dissent. 

 

However, alternatives to auctions like beauty contests or negotiations are not easy to accept in a context where trust in the government is at an all-time low. So, without jettisoning the auction alternative, we need to ring fence the details of the tender. 

 

Given the device dependence observed globally in the adoption of the internet, a highly plausible hypothesis is that the availability of easy-to-use internet on the affordable, familiar, easy to use mobile phone will promote the use of the advanced internet applications. Internet on mobile, therefore, must be at the heart of the USO strategy. Simple, livelihood-related applications that operate at the push of a button need to be built. Rural phones need to be designed and distributed. 

 

In parallel, a village information centre, akin to the CSC, must be created to serve as a point for computer training, assisted internet services a la the proverbial letter reading postman, and self-driven internet access for the initiated. For the information centre to be sustainable as well as affordable, the cost of internet access must be taken off its books and the price of training and internet access must be regulated. 

 

A tender open to all UAS licence-holders can be floated for each state asking for acertain voice quality, internet download speed (based on current need), a village information centre to be set up by a village entrepreneur from a backward community, free internet access for the village information centre and regulated internet prices to be charged by the village entrepreneur from users. In addition, another scheme can be initiated for the creation of internet applications related to livelihoods and e-governance with mobile interfaces. Finally, given the availability of commercially optimal solar-powered architectures, the USO must mandate a fully solar solution for remote rural areas. The winning telecom operators would be given franchises at the state level. Bidders using mainly indigenous technologies should be given a premium on their bids in line with global practice. 

 

The journey toward a national broadband network must begin with the prior build-up of a wireless internet eco-system. An auction is only one element of an overall development model, not the pile driver in the war against deprivation. Can telecom shake off age-old habits of fragmented thinking and show the way for all development sectors? 


    (The author is associate professor of     economics at MDI Gurgaon and former     member of the Spectrum Committee,     department of telecommunications)

 

***************************************

 


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

TH RO U G H TH E TH I R D EYE


MAKING THE CUT 

 

IN THE wake of Arjun Singh's public expression of desire to retire from active politics, one has to see whether Mr Singh will be relieved from the new CWC that Sonia Gandhi will soon constitute. The fact that the new CWC/AICC pack will be the one Rahul Gandhi will lead into the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has triggered hectic lobbying from various camps to make it to the top party bodies comprising many organisational chieftains and senior Cabinet ministers. There has been in-house speculation as to whether senior ministers such as P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Jaipal Reddy, Kapil Sibal and upwardly mobile junior ministers like Jairam Ramesh and Jyotiraditya Scindia will finally make it to the top political ring of the grand-old party. Already, many of the so-called GenNext Congress leaders are jockeying to become AICC secretaries, the third-rung of the organisational set-up at 24, Akbar Road. 

 

Pre-poll bloody tidings 

 

THE escalation in the clashes between the Left, Trinamul Congress and Maoist cadres in West Bengal has not surprised those aware of things on the ground. There have been whispers about the possibility of such a bloody turn of events before the formal sounding of the electoral bugle. Never mind the claims and counter-claims of the warring sides, political circles are seeing this violence as the final Left-Trinamul positioning for their do-or-die battle. In short, the Trinamul's determined response to traditional Left muscle-power is being seen as a clear message that the turbulent Bengal political turf has been evened, finally. This is seen as a strategic demo from the challengers' camp that they have the organisational firepower to both protect those who come out to vote and crack down on those who try to capture booths. 

 

In a bind 

THE BJP and Left leaders have not missed the strategic import of the AICC plenary session going all out against the RSS and demanding a probe into the alleged terror links of Sangh activists. By doing that, the Congress positioned itself as the 'determined' and real' national political counter to the Sangh Parivar, knowing well that the RSS-controlled BJP has no option but to rally behind the Sangh, its ideology and practice. This makes it difficult for Left and other third front' elements, who have been joining hands with the BJP-led NDA in Parliament against the UPA, to be seen in the tactical company of the BJP when the Congress has sounded a message for the entire secular and minority sections. No wonder, the BJP bid to get Left and third front outfits on board for a united national campaign' against UPA's alleged corruption has already fallen through. Interestingly, Prakash Karat and his polit bureau's reaction to Wikileaks on India conspicuously skirted Rahul Gandhi's reported comments on Hindutva terror. But then, why comment on something one can't afford to oppose! 


 Spicy egos 

 BY NOW, the Congress and Trinamul Congress camps are familiar with the spat between Deepa Dasmunsi and Mamata Banerjee. Those who remember how Mamata had always treated the ailing Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi as her long-standing mentor and adviser, even after she broke off from the Congress, have been quite surprised by the combative twist in the personal chemistry between the two ladies. Given Mamata's standing and mass appeal compared to political minor Deepa, this is seen more as a clash of unequal personalities, driven by ego clashes in a North Bengal constituency. Yet, it does mean some more spice for Congress-TMC pre-poll bargaining.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

NO, YOU CAN'T

BJØRN LOMBORG 

 

SEVERAL thousand officials from 194 countries just gathered in Cancún, Mexico, for yet another global climate summit. Dissatisfied with the pace of climate diplomacy, many individuals are now wondering what they can do about climate change on their own. 

 

For years now, climate activists from Al Gore to Leonardo DiCaprio have argued that individual actions like driving more economical cars and using more efficient light bulbs are a crucial element in the effort to address global warming. The United Nations' climate panel and the International Energy Agency both echo this sentiment, insisting that higher energy efficiency could reduce energy consumption by up to 30% — making improved efficiency an effective remedy for climate change. But is this really true? 

 

Here's something to think about. Back in the early 1970s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As The Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45% less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51% less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per-capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs. 

 

This surprising lack of change is the result of something economists call the 'rebound effect'. It's a phenomenon familiar to urban planners, who long ago discovered that building more roads doesn't ease traffic jams — it merely encourages more people to get in their cars and drive. 

 

The underlying principle is a decidedly counterintuitive fact of life. You might think that learning to use something more efficiently will result in your using less of it, but the opposite is true: the more efficient we get at using something, the more of it we are likely to use. Efficiency doesn't reduce consumption; it increases it. 

 

The Breakthrough Institute recently highlighted on its blog some startling — and important — research findings along these lines, published in August in The Journal of Physics by energy economist Harry Saunders and four colleagues from the US department of energy's Sandia National Laboratories. As Saunders noted in a summary on the blog, he and his colleagues, drawing on '300 years of evidence', found that, 'as lighting becomes more energy efficient, and thus cheaper, we use evermore of it'. 

 

For this reason, the proportion of resources that we expend on lighting has remained virtually unchanged for the past three centuries, at about 0.72% of gross domestic product. As Saunders and his colleagues observe in their journal article, "This was the case in the UK in 1700, is the case in the undeveloped world not on grid electricity in modern times, and is the case for the developed world in modern times using the most advanced lighting technologies." 

 

The conclusion that Saunders and his co-authors draw from this is both surprising and hard to dispute: rather than shrinking our electricity use, the introduction of ever more efficient lighting technologies is much more likely to lead to 'massive … growth in the consumption of light'. 

 

It's difficult to overstate what these findings mean for climate policy. In a nutshell, they tell us that, while increasing energy efficiency is undoubtedly a good thing, it is most assuredly not a remedy for global warming. Or, as Saunders puts it, "energy efficiency may be a net positive in increasing economic productivity and growth, but should not be relied upon as a way to reduce energy consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions." 

This is not an argument that should encourage anyone to go out and buy a Hummer. But we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that swapping our current car for a Prius, or replacing our incandescent lights with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, will strike a meaningful blow against climate change. The real fix to this problem will come when governments focus on research and development aimed at boosting the proportion of green energy sources in overall consumption. 

 

It may be reassuring to believe there are cheap and easy things we can do as individuals to stop global warming, or that the answer is to continue chasing a chimerical global agreement on carbon cuts, as in Cancún. But the real action that we can take is to press our politicians to put smarter ideas on the table. 

 

(The author is head of the Copenhagen     Consensus Center, and an adjunct     professor at Copenhagen Business School)     © Project Syndicate, 2010

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CREATION

MUKUL SHARMA 


MOST astrophysicists say the universe started some 13.7 billion years ago when everything was infinitely compressed into a dimensionless point which exploded and expanded outwards. At that instant matter, energy, space and time were born and continue to form all that there is now. That 'point' itself came into being as the result of a vacuum fluctuation — a quantum effect routinely observed in laboratories where subatomic particles pop in and out of existence all the time. Apparently, we simply popped out longer. What will happen in the future is not too clear though because of different theories: the universe could expand forever, recompress back and snuff out or stabilise into eternal sterility. 

 

Yet, the one thing this scientifically accepted picture doesn't really square with is the generally accepted picture of creation as depicted by most religions of the world. That's because those either maintain a Creator is responsible for making everything including us as in Christianity (even though, for the record, the theory was proposed by Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest who was also a physicist), or that that the universe has always existed as in Buddhism or that there are cycles of creation anddestruction as in Hinduism. 

 

Now along comes one of the most respected theoretical physicists in the world, Sir Roger Penrose, who upsets the standard model by suggesting something completely staggering. His view is that the universe did not come into existence at the one Big Bang we know of but that, instead, it passes through continuous cycles of creation with each creation event beginningwith a big bang to form everything. Once enough time has passed, however, everything ends up being sucked into black holes. This continuity, says Penrose, allows a transition from the end of the current aeon, when the universe will have expanded to become infinitely large, to the start of the next, when it once again becomes infinitesimally small and explodes outwards from the next big bang. 

 

What's more, Penrose says he has evidence for his theory which allows us to 'see through' the Big Bang into the aeon existing earlier and that this evidence has already been obtained by the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia. Before some people start saying 'we told you so', more confirmation is needed. If that happens, however, the rest of us would have to admit that they did indeed.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WAR ON EXTREMIST POLITICS WELCOME

 

There was never any doubt that the Congress would seek to hit the BJP hard at its two-day plenary session at Burari, on the outskirts of Delhi, to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of the party. The saffron party has been the Congress' principal political target since it emerged as the Congress' most significant electoral challenger on the national stage, although it needs to be said that, ideologically speaking, the Congress — more than any other party in the country — has been the harshest critic of the RSS and its affiliates, including the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and its successor, the BJP. The speeches of the top leaders and senior ministers at Burari confirmed the vehemence of the Congress' anti-BJP slant.

 

A distinct new element seen in recent times by way of emphasis in Congress deliberations — especially the party chief, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's speech — was the criticism of communal and extremist politics. This is a welcome acknowledgement of the rise of terrorism aimed at India and the appeal of Islamist extremism for a section of misguided Muslim youth. The last great Congress leaders to criticise Muslim communal politics were Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, although their perspectives were shaped by pre-partition politics and Jinnah's stridency in pushing the "Muslim nation" agenda. Unlike that conjuncture, the Congress leadership today is clearly guided by exigencies of electoral politics — five Assembly elections are due next year. The Congress has also been careful at Burari not to attack the regional parties politically, for it may be called upon to do business with any of them — in the states, or even the Centre if the fallout of the Radia tapes and the spectrum scam impacts the UPA alliance negatively.

 

With corruption scandals surfacing all round us, there is no surprise that the plenary devoted time to deliberate on the issue. It is a pity that the ruling party has had to wait for unsavoury developments to erupt in the public domain before contemplating measures at the party forum to tackle corruption. Suggestions of the kind projected at the conclave should have been implemented long ago, especially doing away with the discretionary powers of ministers. People are likely to believe the Congress on these counts when they see change on the ground. Until then, they will hold their counsel. What is interesting in this regard is the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's voluntary offer to appear before Parliament's most important committee, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — chaired by the senior BJP leader, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi — to answer questions on the 2G spectrum scandal set in motion under former telecom minister, Mr A. Raja. This is unprecedented and is to be welcomed. If the Opposition parties are smart, they won't take up the PM on his offer. Nevertheless, the PAC or any committee of Parliament cannot refuse a minister who wishes to appear before it after making a formal request through the Speaker. The Burari economic resolution is bland. Given the big occasion — celebrating the Congress' 125th anniversary — the Burari session was too routine, too pat. The vision thing was missing.

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WIKI-WASHY

BY ASHOK MALIK

 

Speaking at the plenary session of the All-India Congress Committee in New Delhi this past weekend, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, clarified that the party made no distinction between majority and minority communalism. That this truism had to be specifically stated did indicate the Congress leadership had taken the Wikileaks controversy seriously.

 

As revelations of United States embassy cables had made apparent, in August 2009 the American ambassador in India reported a meeting with Mr Rahul Gandhi.

 

At the meeting, the Congress general secretary seemed to suggest "radicalised Hindu groups" posed a "bigger threat" than Islamist mobilisation on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and similar entities. The Wikileaks controversy is likely to die down soon. One cannot see it surviving to become a major issue in elections, though political rivals of Mr Gandhi may choose to bring it up from time to time. This is not without significance. Mr Gandhi has offered few opportunities to judge his position on policy, the economy and external relations, security concerns. His political interventions have been well-meaning — "End income inequality"; "Don't let the rich exploit the poor"; "Narrow the divide between the two Indias" — but anodyne. As such a private, unguarded conversation could potentially provide rich evidence of what really defines his worldview.

 

Equally, it is important to see the comments in context, and to guess the possible impact they left on Mr Gandhi's interlocutor.

 

Mr Roemer and Mr Gandhi met on July 20, 2009. This was three days before Mr Roemer was formally sworn in as US ambassador to India and three weeks before he presented his credentials to the President of India. He was absolutely new to this country.

 

Before being appointed to the ambassadorial job in New Delhi, the most important public position Mr Roemer had held was that of member of the 9/11 Commission. It was set up following the World Trade Centre attacks to study intelligence and security lapses that allowed the worst terrorist assault on the US.

 

July 2009 was only eight months after the 26/11 Lashkar-triggered terror attacks in Mumbai. As such, given his 9/11 Commission background and given fresh memories of the Mumbai massacre, Mr Roemer was probably seeking a serious homeland security assessment from a senior parliamentarian he felt was part of the ruling establishment in New Delhi and sufficiently clued in. The answer he got would probably have disappointed him or at any rate taken him by surprise.

 

Rather than insights into the Lashkar challenge to India and the country's post-26/11 security preparedness — which were obviously what Mr Roemer was seeking — the US ambassador received wishy-washy political opinion. To put it politely, Mr Gandhi's response must have seemed amateur.

 

A counterfactual may be in order here. It is May 2002, eight months after 9/11. The Indian ambassador in Washington, D.C., is having lunch with a top-ranking member of the US Congress, one who has the ear of the administration. The ambassador asks the member of Congress about Al Qaeda's "activities in the region and immediate threat" to the US. The Congressman retorts by saying that the "bigger threat" — bigger than al Qaeda — is probably white Christian supremacist groups. In his wisdom, these groups — whether acting suo motu or retaliating against 9/11 — are more dangerous than al Qaeda's transnational threat or, if one is to go by the explanation offered in the light of the Wikileaks expose, than any Islamist sleeper cells that may exist in the US.

 

It is nobody's case that deviant gangs of politically violent Hindus don't exist. Some of these people — and frankly "Hindu terrorists" or "Hindutva terrorists" is not an unreasonable label for them — may have been responsible for bombings in Malegaon, Maharashtra, and a few other locations in recent years. They deserve punishment.

 

Yet, the threat perception from them and from Islamist private armies such as the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Indian Mujahideen is of an entirely different order. There has to be a sense of proportion. In 1996, the Atlanta Olympics saw a terror bombing triggered by a far-Right white American nutcase who was protesting against the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality and, additionally, considered the Olympic movement a conspiracy of "global socialism".

 

It is possible — probable — that a few thousand Americans share the politics of the Atlanta bomber. Some of them could even be willing to inflict violence to get their point across. However, do they constitute a threat as lethal as Al Qaeda and the various factions of the Taliban? To be fair, Mr Gandhi was not resorting to political grandstanding. He said what he did not at a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh but in a quiet chat, presumed to be confidential, with a foreign diplomat. This leads to the portentous conclusion that he actually believed in his argument. How should one understand this?

 

There is a school of thought in sections of the West, particularly in Britain but in parts of the US too, that holds Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not represent a supremacist adversary that wants to conquer the world and convert it to a particular, and perhaps distorted, interpretation of Islam but are, rather, a reaction to oppression by global and domestic right-wing forces.

 

In this reading of the war on terror, the Islamist militia are a manifestation of the New Left, with Zionism and American imperialism as provocations and Palestine and Afghanistan and the inequality between the West and the West Asia as just causes.

 

There have been attempts to impose this "Islamism as the New Left" template upon India, with the Hindu Right as the provocation and the socio-economic inequality between Hindus and Muslims as the just cause. Occasionally, Kashmir, Ayodhya and Gujarat are thrown into the mix. Has Mr Gandhi bought into this argument? At some stage he needs to tell people — and not just the US ambassador.

- Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com [1]

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ZOMBIES NOW CONTROL WORLD ECONOMICS

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

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 anaemic 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 per cent 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 US President Barack Obama to get more in the face of Congressional scepticism 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 FDR?), adopted GOP 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.

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HAPPY NEW AGE OF LEAKS IS HERE

BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

Do Wikileaks and Radiagate spell the end of privacy as we know it? Or did they just usher in a brave, new world of hyper-transparency? Is WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange a hero or a villain? Are you smiling or hiding as contents of a certain Ms Radia's telephone conversations tumble out bit by explosive bit? Whatever be one's views on these questions, one thing is crystal clear. Like it or not, the age of leaks is here.

 

In the world that looms ahead, "superempowered individuals who can expose conversations far beyond their borders — or create posses of 'cyber hactivists' who can melt down the computers of people they don't like — are a reality", as Thomas L. Friedman noted in a recent column in the New York Times. Governments and corporations typically crave secrecy and will double their efforts to safeguard their secrets. But in today's globalised, internetworked world, when increasing numbers of people can access the most powerful tool ever for finding out what's really going on and inform others at the flick of their fingers, such determination will be matched, and often surpassed, by the zeal of those bent upon ferreting out that privileged information.

 

So, how should we respond? If this was a panel discussion, we could argue, "On one hand… on the other hand..." In the real, rough and tumble world, unfortunately, words are no protective armour. Whether you are a government, company or a prominent individual, how you look when you are stripped in public will depend on how you have been maintaining yourself. "When you're increasingly naked, fitness is no longer optional", says Philip M. Nichols, professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton.

 

Smart companies, governments and politicians understand that in the long run, transparency is simply a good strategy. With instant communication, whistleblowers, prying media, Google and citizens and communities increasingly able to put the mighty and the powerful under the microscope, opacity is not a real option for much longer.

 

One area where such hyper-transparency can help avoid much controversy is in the management of land and other natural resources. Large corporations with massive amounts of money and lots of information about how to use natural resources are now moving around the world scouting for friendly investment destinations. In many cases, their projects are later opposed by those affected, a situation that helps nobody and hurts many. Total transparency from the beginning can not only prevent conflict later, it also enables the operation of an open and fair market where every actor has equal access to information.

 

The fear that people do not have the information they should is not confined to India or other developing countries. Recent reports from Japan and Canada have spoken of overseas firms trying to buy up land or mines, and people then demanding that they be kept informed and their consent be taken before any such deal can go through. A telling example: Last month, Harumi Takahashi, governor of the Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido, said that a local ordinance is required to force foreign interests to report an intended land purchase before the contract is signed. Hideki Hirano of the Tokyo Foundation and chief researcher behind two reports raising alarm bells about the increase in foreign ownership of Japan's forests says the Japanese government must also identify areas for protection, such as those containing vital natural resources or considered key to national security and that transactions involving forest and mountain areas should be disclosed to the public.

 

In India, of course, most of the recent mega corruption scandals have to do with the way precious natural resources have been allocated, and the different stages at which the various affected people have found out about it. Not surprisingly, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's formula for rescuing her party from its current troubles includes transparency in the use of natural resources. Addressing the 83rd Congress plenary last weekend, Mrs Sonia Gandhi called for full transparency in public procurement and contracts and for protection of whistleblowers. Since discretionary powers on land allocation "breed corruption", she suggested that all Congress Party chief ministers and ministers should set an example by relinquishing such powers. There should also be an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources, she said. A ministerial panel headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recently approved the new mining bill that proposes 26 per cent profit-sharing by miners with the people affected by the project.

 

All this is good news and a good start. But the taste of the pudding is in the eating and one waits to see how these words will translate into action.

 

Activists involved with the Right to Information and the use of natural resources are cautiously optimistic about the recent developments. Leo Saldanha, who works for the Bengaluru-based Environment Support Group (ESG), a non-governmental organisation which has been consistently highlighting "illegal" acquisition of land and privatisation of lakes, points to a major victory last week — the Karnataka high court decreed that public consultation is a must before planning and building the Metro or any infrastructure project in the city. ESG and others had challenged the construction of the southern reach of Bengaluru Metro as being in gross violation of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and other statutes in a public interest litigation.

 

"For groups like ours working against tremendous odds to dig out the truth about many major industrial and infrastructure investments, with significant adverse economic, social and environmental ramifications, both Wikileaks and the Radia tapes offer a substantial volume of information. These revelations are major game changers as they strongly affect the nature of the political dialectic. Communities now will not be ridiculed for questioning the claims of corporates who adversely impact their lives and livelihoods. It is possible there may actually be more sympathy for their cause. In fact, the Radia tapes will make it so much more difficult for corporates and their backers in the government to bluff their way through the system and society", says Mr Saldanha.

 

Venkatesh Naik of the Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) feels the country needs something on the lines of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a global network of civil society organisations that calls for oil, gas and mining revenues to form the basis for development and improve the lives of ordinary citizens. PWYP seeks disclosure of information about mine revenues and contracts. They fight confidentiality clauses that often protect oil, gas and mineral contracts from disclosure.

 

These and other activists feel Wikileaks and Radiagate could trigger contradictory and simultaneous trends: clampdown and openness. Information can change the game, argues Mr Naik, provided affected communities have the capacity to access the information and use it. But as of now, he points out, in many schemes information is available but those who are the most affected are not made aware or equipped to leverage that information to their benefit.

 

- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com [1]

 

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GODS OF THE NEW YEAR

BY V. BALAKRISHNAN

 

 

We now celebrate New Year with late-night parties. But Indian tradition prescribes a totally different way to start the New Year.

 

According to our scriptures, the head of the family should light a simple oil lamp on the morning of the New Year, representing grace, knowledge and prosperity.

 

Of course, New Year was celebrated by people in different parts of India according to different calendars. But there was a common thread in the observances.

 

"Sarva prasenashta sarveshta

Karmaswapivis esthatha:

Praasaanaiva deepasya

Divishya subhamabhisel"


True to this shloka, an oil lamp is kindled during all auspicious occasions. The oil, the wick, the blaze and the lamp represent the body, the life force, longevity and the home respectively. Hence, it is auspicious to welcome the dawn of a New Year with a lighted lamp.

Many communities of India consider the first day of the month of Medam (April-May) as the beginning of the year. As per the Hindu calendar, the day of Vishu is celebrated as the New Year day.

 

Two legends exist in connection with the celebrations of Vishu (the harvest festival of Kerala observed on the first day of the Medam month). The first one hails this as the day Lord Krishna killed Narakasura.

 

The legend is connected with the Ramayana. It was believed that the asura king Ravana did not like the Sun to cast his rays directly into his abode. Hence, the Sun was forced to emanate his rays only in a slanting position.

 

However, after Lord Rama killed Ravana, the Sun rose in the East and cast his rays happily into the palace for the first time. This day is observed as Vishu.

 

As per the concepts of astrology, Medam marks the first raashi in the Zodiac. Hence giving a warm welcome to the New Year is very important.

 

Vishukkani is a practice observed on the day of Vishu. Members of a family are supposed to see the auspicious image of Lord Krishna along with a lighted oil lamp surrounded by flowers, fruits, vegetables, money, grains and jewellery — symbols of grace and prosperity.

 

In Andhra Pradesh, New Year is termed Ugadi. In Assam, it is the day of Bihu. Punjabis celebrate it as the Baishakhi Utsav. For Tamilians, the New Year day is Puththaandu. In Kerala, the first day of the month of Chingam (August-September) is observed as the opening day of the New Year.

 

However, nowadays most of the world celebrates the New Year according to the Christian era. Hence, we too can join the celebrations going on around the world.

 

It is our tradition to recite dictums by sages at the outset of a journey and at the beginning of a New Year. Let us go through a shloka that appears in the celebrated Manusmriti during this auspicious occasion.

 

"Sathyam brooyat priyam brooyat

Na brooyat sathyamapriyam

Priyam cha nanrutham brooyat

Easha dharma: sanatana:

 

(Tell the truth, tell the pleasant truth. But don't tell the unpleasant truth. Though pleasant, however, don't tell untruth. This is universal ethics.)

So let us start the New Year on a pleasant note.

 

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author

of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

 

He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reachedat drvenganoor@yahoo.co.in [1]

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

2½ cheers for Radia

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

 

The more one listens to the recorded conversations of Niira Radia talking to a variety of people, the more one realises her consummate skills in public relations, corporate communications, image management, persuasive marketing, lobbying… call it what you like. Whereas she emerges as a smart and super-efficient practitioner of the fine art of winning friends and influencing people in these phone conversations (that she obviously presumed were confidential), those whom she spoke to don't exactly come out smelling of roses, be these politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats, fellow fixers and, above all, senior journalists/television anchors.

 

The Radia conversations should become part of the curriculum of educational institutions that teach students PR or "corp-comm". There are important reasons why one is thankful that these conversations are in the public domain and these have absolutely nothing to do with issues relating to invasion of privacy and intrusion by the media into the private lives of public personalities. No one likes her or his personal conversations to be recorded and then splashed across the pages of magazines or embedded in websites, particularly if she or he was indulging in not-so-polite chit-chat peppered with generous helpings of unsubstantiated gossip. The significance of the Radia recordings lies elsewhere.

 

Contrary to what Union home secretary Gopal K. Pillai reportedly remarked, much of the recorded conversations disclosed so far go way beyond "titillating" trivia. The conversations relate to subjects that are deadly serious and significant in the way these throw light on the working of the country's political economy. One cannot lightly dismiss discussions relating to Cabinet formation and the constitution of the council of ministers that some may naively have believed was the prerogative of the Prime Minister. Nor should one ignore issues pertaining to changes in official policies — relating to, for instance, allocation of scarce and precious natural resources such as natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari basin or electromagnetic spectrum used by mobile telecommunications companies — where a change in a single sentence could translate into profits or losses running into thousands of crores of rupees for particular firms.

 

What the Radia conversations have done is bring out into the public domain what many of us knew and understood, but could only discuss during private interactions: that is, the nexus between big business and politics. We were all also aware that the services of lobbyists are deployed to provide a spin to a story that is lapped up (unknowingly?) by gullible or corrupt journalists.

 

We now also know for sure that journalists air opinions that are dictated to them by interested parties — don't we all love the phrase "vested interests". It was hardly a secret that certain not-so-esteemed members of the fourth estate double up as agents and informers — we are no longer left in doubt about their extra-curricular activities.

 

Why have sections of the media painted Ms Radia in rather lurid colours? Is it just jealousy about a lady who represents two of the wealthiest men in India and the world, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, and the interests of their respective corporate conglomerates? Or is it that many of us (including this correspondent) are amazed at how she quickly changes colour and acquires new avatars depending on the individual she is speaking with, as any person who has heard her (and not just read the transcripts of the recordings) will realise?

 

She is urbane and sophisticated when talking to Mr Tata, brash and brassy when conversing with Prabhu Chawla or Ranjan Bhattacharya and dripping honey while seeking the support of Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. With Tarun Das, chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry, she becomes familiar to a point where she offers astrological advice for his son who wants to set up a soccer academy for the underprivileged youth of Haryana. She berates society columnist Shobhaa De to one of her junior colleagues, talks shop with bureaucrat-turned-politician Nand Kishore ("Nandu") Singh and convinces Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and the now-disgraced former Union minister for communications and information technology Andimuthu Raja that she is indeed in the loop and in complete control of the situation at hand.

 

Right through her conversations, Ms Radia is cool, composed and unflapabble. One can't help but admire her networking skills, her command over the fine-print of spectrum allocation and the nitty-gritty of policies pertaining to natural gas. By way of contrast, those at the other end of the line often sound rather pompous and all-knowing, self-seeking and arrogant. Many sound as if they were eager to convince her how well-connected they were. As senior journalist Mark Tully wondered during an interaction: how often can a person get away "stringing" a source? If one keeps on making hypocritical claims about helping a source, will the latter continue to repose faith in the former.

 

One should thank not Ms Radia but those who recorded her conversations for laying bare the manner in which the corporate sector influences not just government policies but ministerial appointments as well. Thanks to Wikileaks and the Radia recordings, our notion of what is private or confidential and what is public or transparent has undergone important changes. All of which, in my opinion, is good for society at large.

 

Before concluding, a disclaimer is required. This correspondent has never ever met Ms Radia and is especially thankful that he was not sufficiently important to receive a phone call from her. If indeed she has violated the laws of the land, by evading taxes, by laundering black money, by acquiring assets disproportionate to known sources of income or by jeopardising the country's security interests — allegations which are yet to be established in a court of law — she should indeed be punished. Till that happens, two-and-a-half-cheers for Ms Radia!

 

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UNIFORMLY CRIMINAL PARTIES

CAN TERROR HAVE RELIGIOUS IDENTITY? 

 

Congress President Sonia Gandhi set the tone in the plenary session of her party. In her speech she focused on corruption and terrorism. She outlined a five point plan to fight corruption.  She said: "Both as a party and a government we must confront corruption head on." Doubtless somewhere in distant Europe Ottavio Quattrocchi must have silently applauded. Surely the hard working officials involved in organizing the Commonwealth Games and the Spectrum 2G venture would have silently joined him. However, it was left to the party's general secretary Digvijay Singh to elaborate on the emotive issue of terrorism.


Speaking on the political resolution, Digvijay Singh made a strong speech attacking saffron terror unleashed by the RSS and BJP. Earlier party president Sonia Gandhi had said that both majority and minority terrorism were equally bad. She forgot to mention that even ideological or leftist terrorism was equally bad. In fact she might have said without fear of contradiction that all terrorism was equally bad. But in practical political terms to equate so-called Hindu terror with so-called Muslim terror is downright stupid. The sheer volume of terror financed and directed by global ideologues distorting Islam in the name of  jihad cannot be compared to the as yet strictly limited acts of terror perpetrated by extremists espousing their wacky brand of Hinduism.
Digvijay Singh was equally ridiculous by identifying LK Advani's misconceived Rathyatra as the catalyst for current jihadi terrorism. To think that Al Qaida and Lashkar-e-Tayaba would have restrained their activities had the Rathyatra not occurred betrays a pathetic ignorance of political reality. Nevertheless, it is good that the Congress leaders have targeted the Sangh Parivar for terrorist activity launched by some adherents of its creed. It is always good to nip problems in the bud before they become unmanageable. But is it also good that the Congress has unambiguously criticized so-called Hindu terrorism by dubbing it as saffron terror? Do compulsions of vote-bank politics give licence to state perception of truth without inhibitions of political correctness? The vast majority of Hindus are appalled by the acts of terror traced to Hindu fanatics and welcome exposure of their crimes. But what if Digvijay Singh's uninhibited criticism were extended to all sections and parties in order to effectively combat the growing menace of terrorism in India?


Consider the Congress and Christian supporters of terrorism. This scribe has repeatedly drawn attention to the openly acknowledged formal membership of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) headquartered in Chicago by the Maoists of Nepal and India. The US authorities deemed the Maoists to be terrorists, yet allowed RIM which affiliates Maoists as members to operate inside America. As for Chinese help to the Maoists, the deep symbiotic relationship between powerful sections of the US establishment with China that led to the subversion of the US and its economic debt running into trillions has been iterated at length earlier.
America is a Christian nation. Most tribals who are exploited by heartless corporate industries and governments inhabiting Maoist infected areas are Christians. Their plight rightly attracts sympathy from the Christian churches and outfits. But for anyone to believe that the highly organized and well equipped terrorist army created by the Maoists is due to exploitation of the tribals is living in a cuckoo land of his own. Digvijay Singh and his boss Sonia Gandhi by their statements are among the host of confused sympathizers who seem to imply this nonsense. The novelist Arundhati Roy is the most publicized spokesperson of the Maoist cause. Digvijay of course may be dismissed as a run-of-the-mill sycophant of the dynasty and is, therefore, of little significance. His cloying appeal to Rahul Gandhi to lead the Congress to victory at the conclusion of his speech at the plenary session said it all. But what about the dynasty?


Applying Digvijay Singh's as well as his party's logic to the issue of terror perpetrated by Hindu fanatics should one focus on the facts that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Arundhati Roy are all Christians? That Christian nations America, Britain and Germany are the top three respectively in terms of being the biggest donor countries of foreign funds in India? That USA tops the list with Rs 2,928.30 crore, followed by the UK with Rs 1,268.59 crore and Germany coming third? That the top three receivers of foreign funds are Christian missionaries-supported organizations, the highest amount of foreign fund of Rs 211.62 crore received by World Vision of India in Tamil Nadu, followed by Rural Development Trust in Andhra Pradesh which received Rs 124.79 crore and Believers Church India in Kerala which received Rs 101.68 crore?


Is this how Maoist terrorism should be explained? No, it most decidedly should not! This scribe is acquainted with Christians. Not one sympathises with or justifies the Maoist terror. Not one approves of Arundhati Roy's diversion from fiction writing to political commentary related to terrorism. Like the vast majority of ordinary Hindus who deplore terrorism by Hindus, the vast majority of Muslims who deplore terrorism by Muslims, the vast majority of Christians also deplore terrorism by the Maoists regardless of whether they claim to serve the cause of tribals who happen to be Christians.


What our dim-witted politicians must realize is that many, many sections of Indian society have genuine grievances. These need to be addressed which the government must do. But these grievances are not the cause of organized terrorism. These provide the excuse and offer the opportunity to hostile foreign forces to provide material and tactical aid to foment organized terrorism in India. It is stupid to compare majority terror and minority terror and attempt to adduce reasons for their growth. Terror is terror. Period. It must be eliminated by effective governance. That is what no political party in the government or in the Opposition has even remotely provided.


Both the Congress and the BJP instead of engaging in a silly debate attempting to score points against each other should tell the nation how they intend eliminating black money through corruption which funds home-grown terrorism, how they intend stopping collusion of political parties seeking votes with different insurgent terror groups, how they intend creating a federal agency with unified command to fight terror across the nation, and finally how they intend streamlining intelligence gathering and police training to effectively combat terrorism. All parties have nothing to say on these questions. No existing party gives promise of delivering adequate governance to fight terrorism. In the eyes of the public all parties are like one indistinguishable, corrupt, criminal, inefficient class. This class must be replaced before things can improve. Only in the ensuing vacuum might a genuine alternative emerge. The public cannot remove this class. Fortunately the politicians are working overtime to destroy each other and themselves. One can only wish them God speed!   

 

In practical political terms, to equate so-called Hindu terror with so-called Muslim terror is downright stupid 

      

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

USE SOLAR POWER TO TACKLE WATER SCARCITY

RAYMOND WHITAKER


NAMORUPTH (Kenya), 20 DEC: Imagine that, instead of turning a tap, you had to walk more than 10 miles every time you wanted water. And that you then had to descend into a crumbling pit dug in a dry riverbed, to scoop out dirty water with your bare hands, knowing that it could make you and your family sick.
In the drought-stricken areas of Africa where the charity Practical Action works, this is the fate of thousands of village women. They are also at risk of rape, attack by wild animals ~ or, in Sudan's Darfur region, where Practical Action was one of only a handful of aid organisations to remain throughout the conflict, death at the hands of marauding militias.


Even in Kenya, normally considered more stable, lingering drought in the northern Turkana region has led to violent clashes over water sources. No wonder that Eshe Emase, of Namoruputh village, said: "Every time I am forced to fetch water, my legs shake with fear." But women like her, whose men are often away seeking work, have no choice. If they bring back no water, their families face not only thirst but eventual starvation, because their animals would die. Practical Action, which is being supported by The Independent on Sunday's Christmas Appeal, exists to find appropriate technological solutions for problems such as water supply. The answer for Namoruputh was brilliant in its simplicity: if climate change has left Turkana with too much sun and not enough water, use solar power to pump water up from underground reserves. 


the independent

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

 

E-VOTING THE ANSWER TO ELECTORAL APATHY

HAVING GOT USED TO MODERN GADGETS AND THEIR CONVENIENCES, IT MAY BE A BIT TOO LATE IN THE DAY TO EXPECT VOTERS TO COME PHYSICALLY TO THE POLLING BOOTH, SAYS GS VIJAY KUMAR 

 

With increased Internet connectivity in the country, it is time we introduced online casting of ballots. Online voting will considerably increase voter participation, especially among the urban class. When technology can be safely used for banking, railways and airlines ticketing, securities trading and online shopping, it is time we started using technology for exercising franchise too.


Adult franchise is the heart of democratic governance. The undesirable reality of voter apathy and cynicism, particularly among the middle classes, is likely to weaken our institutional foundations. Although we have a 650 million-plus electorate in India, low voter turnout has been the bane of our society, more so in urban India. The middle classes are increasingly becoming indifferent to the electoral process. Urban youth of this country is turning apolitical. We have observed that the turnout in elections in the recent past has often been low, barring a few regions. There has been a sharp contrast between urban and rural areas with regard to the voting percentage.
A large majority of the rich and the middle classes seem to discuss electoral politics in their drawing rooms and social gatherings but when it comes to casting a ballot, they remain indoors. The main reasons for this could be, in addition to sheer laziness, fewer voting centres and the long queues seen at polling booths and violent incidents. Additionally, a large majority of the middle class feels, rightly or wrongly, that their vote is not going to make any material difference to the overall scheme of things and, therefore, take the position, "Why go the polling booth and waste time and energy in voting?"


   Besides, a certain amount of rigging at the polling booths, coupled with security concerns, has also kept them away from this process.


The urban section appears to consider polling day as another paid holiday and seems to remain indoors rather than go to a polling booth to cast their votes. They seem to consider this as sheer waste of time. Additionally, if polling day happens to be closer to the weekend, they jump at the idea and rush to the nearest holiday spot for a short vacation. These are days of Twenty 20 and in almost every sphere of activity, many changes have been brought about for the convenience of the people. The modern generation does not go to the bank branch to withdraw money but prefers to go to the ATMs to withdraw cash at their convenience.


Many of the banking transactions are done online. Similarly, gone are the days of standing in queues at railway stations to book tickets. They book their tickets at the click of a mouse. The same holds true for securities trading, buying cinema tickets and so on and so forth.


Having gotten used to modern gadgets and their conveniences, it may be a bit too late in the day to expect voters to physically visit a  polling booth. E-voting seems to be the only practical approach to tap this large pool of voters. Online voting seems to be the only way to increase voter participation. A voter can exercise his franchise and at the same time enjoy his or her holiday.


Had online voting been introduced for the just concluded Bihar assembly elections, we would have seen far superior voter participation. There are hundreds of thousands of people from Bihar living in various parts of the country and many of them could have participated in the electoral process if only online voting were to be introduced. 
The Election Commission needs to seriously introspect in order to motivate the majority of citizens to  take part in the electoral process. The commission should play a more proactive role in order to facilitate this process. One of the ways could be to look at online voting. With increased Internet connectivity in the country, it would be a better idea to introduce online casting of ballots. The urban population has started using technology in banking, railway and airline ticketing, securities trading, movie ticket booking and online shopping. Therefore, there seems no reason why online voting should not be introduced for improved participation from this hitherto apathetic section. Online voting will considerably increase participation. 


The Election Commission needs to look into this and the earlier it introduces online voting, the better it would be to make democracy more meaningful. These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary handling of the situation. If online voting is not introduced early, we will continue to witness poor voter turnout and non-participation of the urban middle class in this process.


The political parties and the news channels will debate the low turnout on national television and criticise the people for not participating in the electoral process, but the Election Commission and the establishment will never come to know the real reasons for the poor turnout and whether the people at large wanted to participate in the election process or not.


In addition to online voting, the EC should also examine postal casting of the ballot as well as voting through the telephone. Only when such measures are implemented will we see better voter participation in this country.

 

In the case of the defence services, the facility of postal voting already exists. Similar methods to encourage voting without physical presence needs to be seriously considered.


The writer is a freelance contributor

 

.***************************************


THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

ANTI-MALARIA MEASURES 


Provincial Committee In Bengal 


An Organised Scheme For All India The Calcutta Gazette contains the official notification of the appointment of a Provincial Malaria Committee in Bengal. It states:- With a view to the systematic examination of problem connected with the prevalence of malaria, the Government of India have appointed a Central Scientific Committee, in consultation with whom the Provincial organisations should in future work, and the recommendation on this point of the Conference which assembled at Simla in Octobe, 1909, to consider the whole subject of the prevention of malaria is quoted below:- "The Conference having learnt that the Government of India will appoint a Central Scientific Committee to direct and coordinate investigations, and that they will also appoint at the request of Local Governments, or on the recommendation of the Central Committee, officers to carry and investigations, recommends that a local organisation to work in consultation with this Central Committee be constituted in each province. The nature of such organisation should be settled by the Local Government and may take the form of the Sanitary Board. "A conference consisting of the members of the Central Committee and a delegate from each local organisation should be held annually at such place as may be convenient for the purpose of reviewing the work done and preparing a programme of future work." 

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

FROM THE UN

CONCERN OVER CURBS ON LIU ASSOCIATES 

 

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has expressed dismay over restrictions on the wife and associates of jailed activist Liu Xiaobo by the Chinese authorities as he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Ms Pillay iterated her call for his release, in a statement issued in New York. 


"In recent weeks my office has received reports of at least 20 activists being arrested or detained and over 120 other cases of house arrests, travel restrictions, forced re-educations and other acts of intimidation," she said at a news conference in Geneva. "These include Liu Xiaobo's wife who remains under house arrest which in my view is in contravention of Chinese national law," she said. 


Ms Pillay encouraged all states, including China, that have not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to do so, and to release any person detained for peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression. 


Mr Liu was convicted and sentenced to 11 years for "inciting subversion of state power" for his role in the drafting of the "Charter 08" petition, which called for political reforms in China. Ms Pillay has described the sentence as "extremely harsh" and raised questions about the fairness of the charges against him. 
"It is my view that the case should be reviewed and Liu be released as soon as possible," she stated. "I hope that the Chinese authorities will come to recognise the positive contribution that peaceful advocates like Liu Xiaobo can make to China's development." 


Cyber war: Navi Pillay has voiced concern over reported "cyber war'' pressure on private companies to sever links with the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks and said this could amount to attempted censorship in breach of international covenants. "If WikiLeaks has committed any recognisable illegal act, then this should be handled through the legal system, and not through pressure and intimidation, including on third parties'', she said referring to the reported pressure on banks, credit card companies and internet service providers to  close down donation credit lines to the website that has released thousands of secret US documents. 
She also voiced concern at some of the US actions in Iraq revealed by the documents, which could constitute human rights violations. "The files reportedly indicate that the US knew, among other things, about widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi forces, and yet proceeded with the transfer of thousands of people who had been detained by US forces to Iraqi custody between 2009 and 2010," she said. "In my view, this could potentially constitute a serious breach of international human rights law," she added.
She hailed efforts by independent UN experts to obtain clarification from the US, Iraqi and Afghan authorities on the reports of torture and ill-treatment described in the WikiLeaks documents. "I urge all countries to take necessary measures to investigate the allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses." 


She said the cyber war now raging over WikiLeaks is "just astonishing. Let me say that the WikiLeaks case raises complex human rights questions about balancing freedom of information, the right of people to know, and the need to protect national security or public order. This balancing act is a difficult one." 


Ms Pillay stressed that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, a right which may be restricted only when necessary, proportional, provided by law, and justified strictly on the need to protect national security or public order. 

"So who is best to judge or strike at the balance but courts of law," she said. "Courts of law are equipped to address the delicate issue of balancing competing rights and values. If WikiLeaks founder Mr Julian Assange has committed any recognised offence, then the judicial system following fair procedures should be able to address how these rights can be balanced." 


Nepal mission: The Security Council has underlined the need for the Nepal Government and all political parties to take advantage of the UN mission to work in a spirit of compromise to ensure progress on outstanding issues in the peace process. The mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal is ending on 15 January. 


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council  on his visit to Nepal. He told the Council that he had found a greater sense of urgency and willingness to compromise among leaders in Nepal, but no concrete results have emerged from the readiness to engage.


He stressed the need for leaders to make major decisions, including the establishment of effective arrangements to avoid a vacuum when UNMIN leaves to ensure a smooth transition. The UN will have to remain closely engaged and supportive of Nepal's peace process even after UNMIN's termination, he added. 


The outstanding issues in the peace process include completing the drafting of the new constitution and resolving the future of the Nepal Army and the Maoist Army. 


Nepal opposition groups reached the four-point agreement to complete the remaining tasks of the peace process by 14 January 2011. 


The agreement called for Maoist combatants to be brought under the special committee, set up to address the supervision, integration and rehabilitation of the former fighters. 


Israeli settlements: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern over the settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a meeting with Israel defence minister Ehud Barak, in New York, according to information provided by UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. Mr Ban also raised the issue of freedom of movement for the UN.

 

He emphasised the need to break the current diplomatic stalemate and the importance of resuming talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. He took positive note of the decision by the government of Israel to allow exports from Gaza, which he sees as essential to revive Gaza's economy. 


He also urged Mr Barak to facilitate additional UN reconstruction work in Gaza, and touched on the issue of the freedom of movement for the UN between Jerusalem and the West Bank. 


Mr Ban also raised the issue of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 in a Palestinian raid from Gaza into Israel who remains in captivity. He said that UN has repeatedly called for his unconditional release. 


They discussed the regional situation, including Israel's decision to withdraw its forces from the northern part of the Lebanese village of Ghajar, as well as Iran.


anjali sharma

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE TELEGRAPH

BEYOND WORDS

 

In the beginning are always words. This is how the Indian National Congress proceeds, and has done so ever since it first met in Bombay in the winter of 1885. The problem arises when a shadow falls between words and deeds. Thus both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have spoken at the plenary session of the Congress. In many ways, their speeches marked a departure from the pious sentiments that are mouthed at such sessions of the Congress. Both mother and son, especially the latter, were sharply critical of the complacency of Congress members, their propensity towards making the quick buck and the lack of sustained work at the grassroots. Ms Gandhi reiterated her confidence in and solidarity with the prime minister but emphasized that the future growth of the party would depend not on any individual, however good or great, but on the quality of work done by workers. As they stand, these words are faultless, but the question before the party and its leadership is: are they enough? Similar sentiments have been expressed before but they have not resulted in any remarkable recovery in the fortunes of the Congress. Only the very audacious would dare to suggest that the Congress will be in a position in the near future to form a government on its own at the Centre.

 

One principal reason for this is the paucity of ideas within the Congress. This plenary session was no exception. There was no discussion, going by reports, about how the growing gap between the rich and the poor would be bridged. That the interests of the poor and the common man should be looked after is a statement with which hardly anyone is in disagreement. The critical question is how to make the common peasant and the tribal person a participant in and a beneficiary of the economic growth that India is experiencing. There are millions of Indians who know nothing: how are they to be reached? The machinery of the Congress is obviously no longer able to touch the lives of such people. The Congress leadership needs to go beyond a critique of the existing system to thinking about and establishing a new mechanism that is neither closed nor opaque and is geared towards delivery.

 

In electoral terms, in Bihar, in Uttar Pradesh, in Gujarat, in West Bengal and in Tamil Nadu, the Congress is nowhere. Powerful provincial leaders have become a thing of the past; now everyone drinks at the Delhi fountain. But the problem is deeper than losing or gaining votes. There are places in India where the credibility of the Congress is less than zero and where the penetration of its organization is non-existent. It cannot be expected that Mr Gandhi will be everywhere all the time. Yet the Congress moves, maybe out of the inertia of 125 years.

 

 ***************************************

 


THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

SCREENED OUT

 

Puritanism is bad for the arts. Puritanism endorsed by the State is worse. Puritanism endorsed by the State and trying to pass itself off as aesthetic concern is the worst. The Nandan theatre has begun to embody the bleakness of Calcutta's art-cinema prospects, and the West Bengal government's role as patron of this situation. The situation becomes a little grimmer when a new film, which has already been through the national censors, has to clear another, one-man, censor board before it is shown at Nandan. This man is Nandan's director and CEO, Nilanjan Chatterjee, who has decided to watch Kaushik Ganguly's Aarekti Premer Galpo very carefully before allowing it to be screened in the institution that he heads. His explanations are confused, swinging between the moralistic and the aesthetic. This film is centred around a pair of men who are attracted to other men, so Mr Chatterjee must look out for whether the film's treatment of sexuality is fit for screening at Nandan. But his concern also seems to be about the general quality of the film. The vagueness of the Nandan director's criteria could either be woolly thinking or a kind of hypocrisy that tries to pass homophobia off as something finer.

 

Both tendencies are disastrous for the arts —not only cinema, but all of them. And the airing of these tendencies is damaging — for Mr Chatterjee's reputation among intelligent people, for the social and cultural life of the city, and for the public image of the state government as guardian of culture. What is most outrageous is how it all seems to depend on the taste and opinions of one person, and the impunity with which he exercises this authority. A national censor board sitting in judgment over what adult Indians may be allowed to watch is irritating enough. But a one-man filter that is partly ideological and partly moral is obnoxious and regressive. It bodes ill for a city that has already allowed its cultural standards to become notoriously parochial.

 

 ***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

 

EYELESS IN GAZA

IS THE HOLY LAND MOVING TOWARDS A THIRD INTIFADA?

KRISHNAN SRINIVASAN

 

In this season of goodwill, there is precious little of it for the Palestinian cause. International attention to the Palestinian issue has decreased and there is hardly any media interest, except when a flotilla tries to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza or when an American presidential peace initiative on the White House lawns heralds yet another false dawn. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, speaking in 1932 of the Zionist movement, said Palestine is for the Palestinian people what England is for the English and France for the French. Astutely, he did not say, for the Arabs, but for the Palestinians who lived there and those who regarded Palestine as their home.

 

The choices after World War II were between a unitary State, two separate States and a federal State. Einstein wrote to Nehru in 1947, urging a separate State for Israel. But India voted at the United Nations against the partition plan to create a separate State for the Jews. History may well record that a federal State on the lines envisaged by India would have been a better prospect, and that the Jews and the Arabs would learn to live together. But the Oslo accords implicitly recognized that a State of Palestine would emerge after an interim period, and this principle is now accepted by everyone. The question remains; what kind of State will it be?

 

There are several related issues that arise, each burdened with immense difficulty and emotion. The first is the area of the proposed State. After the 1967 war, 78 per cent of previously undivided Palestine was occupied by Israel, leaving 22 per cent in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians lay claim to at least 50 per cent of the area. Additional problems arise with the Syrian Golan Heights under Israeli occupation, the Israeli settlements and the thrice-holy Jerusalem, regarded by Israel as the 'eternal and undivided capital' and equally adamantly claimed by Palestine as 'al-Kuds'.

 

Another impediment to any settlement would be the Palestinian refugees who left in 1948 for Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza. They have the theoretical and internationally guaranteed right to return, or be given financial compensation. The Palestinians know that Israel will never allow 4 or 5 million Palestinian refugees to return, which would change the demographics of Israel, the self-proclaimed State of the Jews. So the refugees will either have to go to the envisaged new State of Palestine or be absorbed in the host countries with financial compensation.

 

The whole area is water-scarce, and sharing water resources will be another major complication, which will call for regional cooperation, an aspect singularly lacking so far in almost every field. Security and freedom from terrorist attacks are the most important considerations for Israel, but if and when the other issues are resolved to mutual satisfaction, this obstacle could possibly be surmounted. The wall or barrier built by Israel along the Green Line has effectively contained acts of violence and suicide bombings, leaving Gaza as the main remaining source of threat to Israel.

 

As a result of Oslo, the Palestine Authority came into existence. Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the president of the Authority, was doubtful of his Fateh faction's success in any election and procrastinated, but was pressed by the United States of America and Israel to hold them. The result was a split in the Palestine leadership, with Gaza under Hamas, an ideological and political entity distinct from the West Bank, where Abbas now has his headquarters at Ramallah. The international community led by Israel has placed a complete embargo on Gaza's one and a half million people who suffer poverty and deprivation, leaving Abbas in an acute dilemma. He would like to reconcile with Hamas, for which Egypt has made strenuous efforts, but Israel makes it clear that if that happens, it will terminate all contacts with Abbas or any group of which Hamas is a part. George W. Bush's roadmap went nowhere, and Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, has stumbled on the hurdle caused by Israeli settlements, which are regarded internationally as illegal.

 

On the occupied West Bank, there are 300,000 Israelis in settlements, and 200,000 more in East Jerusalem, which is a predominantly Arab area and must probably, in any eventual settlement, be awarded to Palestine. Israel, on the other hand, states that 3,000 more constructions will continue on the West Bank, whereas the Palestine Authority responds that there will be no talks unless there is a ban or at least a freeze. Obama issued an abject plea to Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to freeze settlement building, but Israel rebuffed the appeal. An initial gesture by Netanyahu to stop the construction for 10 months was absurdly hailed by Washington as "a historic and unprecedented concession", but its resumption when the time-limit expired in September, 2010, has put an end to Obama's peace process. What is of utmost importance is that Israel has successfully obscured the issue of its wholly illegal occupation of Palestinian land to such an extent that the matter of Israeli settlements is now being portrayed as the sole problem between the Palestinians and Israel. This has very grave implications for the future.

 

An appeal by Abbas to freeze the settlement construction, even for six months, so that talks can resume has been ignored, leaving the Palestinian leader hugely discredited. Now the Americans have fallen on their knees and begged Netanyahu for a 3-month freeze on West Bank settlements against guarantees of not asking for further suspensions, more security-related aid and preventing the UN from passing any censure. Does the White House believe a two-State settlement can be achieved in three months, or is it the product of a desperate need to show some kind of result from Obama's peace initiative? Twenty years of on-off negotiations with the Israelis have produced no iota of relief for the Palestinians in spite of the Goldstone and Uribe UN reports condemning Israel for its illegal blockade of Gaza and abuse of human rights. While Abbas constantly loses face, Israel must know it will never again have the benefit of a Palestinian leader as moderate as Abbas. All his successors will be far more radical. Despite this, the Israelis have done nothing to strengthen his hand; not even token releases of any of the 10,000 Palestinians in prison, mostly without trial. This surely sets the stage for the third intifada, after the first in the late 1980s, and the second in 2000.

 

While the Middle East question may be off the radar screen, it is linked to international concern about terrorism because it is invoked by extremists as one of their grievances, whether through sincere commitment or lip service. If the matter is resolved to the satisfaction of at least a majority on both sides, it will remove one important plank of the militant agenda. If not, it remains a festering sore, contributing inspiration and volunteers for the extremist cause. The two-State solution may, in fact, be a blessing for the Israelis. The Arab citizens of Israel, now 20 per cent of the population, multiply much faster than the Jews and are expected to form the majority as early as 2035. Taken together with two and a half million Palestinians on the West Bank, it should be in Israel's interest to seek a settlement before demographics change to its disadvantage as a 'Jewish State'.

 

Meanwhile, the Israelis are content behind their security wall, and pinpricks from Gaza can be punished with impunity. They are confident that they can withstand a few days of condemnation from the UN and international community. Their opponents, the Palestinians, are divided into three groups; half a million in Gaza, 2.5 million on the West Bank and the diaspora of 7 or 8 million, and Abbas has no mandate to represent Palestine.

 

Over the past decade, Indian spokespersons have intoned the sterile reaction — namely, we support two States of Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side, eschewing violence or terror, and following the path of negotiations. In spite of our friendship with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, we have done nothing to leverage this position and promote these desirable objectives. The Palestine cause has lost its emotional appeal for our parliament, intellectuals, middle class and even the leftists. The Arab States themselves are not vocal about Palestine. What have they done to alleviate the suffering in Gaza? In its warfare against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israelis smugly profess to have had the tacit support of many Arab States.

 

Thus, for the rationally minded, there are no prospects for optimism. However, in the Holy Land, the unexpected must always be expected. Subterranean negotiations may be proceeding as in the case of the secretive Oslo process, and there are contacts always taking place at many levels. Therefore in that blessed area of miracles, it is proper to hope and pray for yet one more miracle to take place.

 

The author is former foreign secretary of India

 

 ***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

 

INSIDE AN UGLY PIT

MALVIKA SINGH

 

Rahul Gandhi has stolen the show despite older, intellectually lethargic Congressmen and women having tried hard to undermine and sabotage his endeavour, work and ideology, all of which make them insecure. Even the mere whiff of a possible deviation from the kind of strangulation that has prevailed thus far makes them worried about their future. Regardless of the historical baggage, Rahul Gandhi's contention is absolutely correct. The 'system' crushes those with no 'connections'; governments have known this to be true along with the fact that this is the major reason behind the rampant corruption that has suffocated and afflicted India and its delivery mechanisms. Not a single leader has enforced the cleansing. Prime ministers have entered office and promised to restore dignity and good practice, but have fallen victims to long-winded and convoluted political and other forces that have made them completely moribund in this critical exercise.

 

Sadly, we are at the bottom of this ugly pit. Rahul Gandhi knows that the Congress must lead from the front if it wants to be relevant in a changed and more transparent world. His contention that the corrupt must be punished should send shivers down the backs of those who have manipulated the system for personal gain. People in the government and in the party who are 'connected' with businessmen and women who clear projects and proposals and execute them by violating existing norms and rules are put under pressure by the latter. They, in turn, deviate from the law for remuneration in cash or kind. These people are the real destroyers of ethics and morality in governance and business. The corporates who paid to get their 'work' done are equally culpable.

 

Clean path

 

Those in politics are responsible too. They should have ensured that rules are streamlined to make business easier. They should have put down simple, more 'user-friendly' regulatory norms that could not be interpreted in endless ways so as to condone deviations. Such people should also be made accountable to the nation. The government has protected those who have indulged in corruption, using the 'rate of growth' as the takia kalam. This must change.

 

I am sure that the 'guilty' are saying that they have heard this all before and that there will be no belling of the cat that is corruption. India hopes that this sickening attitude will disappear and a new beginning made. There has to be a radical overhaul of the human machine that determines the high offices in the government and in the party. India is running out of patience and its leaders can afford to be idle at their own peril — they will lose the next election even if it appears that there is no substantial opposition. This is fertile ground for the resurrection of a resurgent Opposition.

 

However, if the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance respond with stern action against those at the top, and question their modus operandi in an unforgiving tenor, and force the hand of the government in power to begin the process of restoring dignity, probity and integrity into the system that runs the administration, they could build a huge support-base in rural and urban India. The nexus of big business and government must end.

 

Simultaneously, the guards who greedily guard the portals of the Congress, allowing no discourse, debate, new blood, dissension — nothing at all except for their own dictatorial writs — must be sent back to their respective states to work at the village level to deliver a new mandate using their 'experience' at the helm. The youth should take over and the aged should return to their roots and take vanvaas. Some resignations need to come forth — it is the cleanest way to begin.

 

 ***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

INSIDE AN UGLY PIT

MALVIKA SINGH

 

Rahul Gandhi has stolen the show despite older, intellectually lethargic Congressmen and women having tried hard to undermine and sabotage his endeavour, work and ideology, all of which make them insecure. Even the mere whiff of a possible deviation from the kind of strangulation that has prevailed thus far makes them worried about their future. Regardless of the historical baggage, Rahul Gandhi's contention is absolutely correct. The 'system' crushes those with no 'connections'; governments have known this to be true along with the fact that this is the major reason behind the rampant corruption that has suffocated and afflicted India and its delivery mechanisms. Not a single leader has enforced the cleansing. Prime ministers have entered office and promised to restore dignity and good practice, but have fallen victims to long-winded and convoluted political and other forces that have made them completely moribund in this critical exercise.

 

Sadly, we are at the bottom of this ugly pit. Rahul Gandhi knows that the Congress must lead from the front if it wants to be relevant in a changed and more transparent world. His contention that the corrupt must be punished should send shivers down the backs of those who have manipulated the system for personal gain. People in the government and in the party who are 'connected' with businessmen and women who clear projects and proposals and execute them by violating existing norms and rules are put under pressure by the latter. They, in turn, deviate from the law for remuneration in cash or kind. These people are the real destroyers of ethics and morality in governance and business. The corporates who paid to get their 'work' done are equally culpable.

 

Clean path

 

Those in politics are responsible too. They should have ensured that rules are streamlined to make business easier. They should have put down simple, more 'user-friendly' regulatory norms that could not be interpreted in endless ways so as to condone deviations. Such people should also be made accountable to the nation. The government has protected those who have indulged in corruption, using the 'rate of growth' as the takia kalam. This must change.

 

I am sure that the 'guilty' are saying that they have heard this all before and that there will be no belling of the cat that is corruption. India hopes that this sickening attitude will disappear and a new beginning made. There has to be a radical overhaul of the human machine that determines the high offices in the government and in the party. India is running out of patience and its leaders can afford to be idle at their own peril — they will lose the next election even if it appears that there is no substantial opposition. This is fertile ground for the resurrection of a resurgent Opposition.

 

However, if the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance respond with stern action against those at the top, and question their modus operandi in an unforgiving tenor, and force the hand of the government in power to begin the process of restoring dignity, probity and integrity into the system that runs the administration, they could build a huge support-base in rural and urban India. The nexus of big business and government must end.

 

Simultaneously, the guards who greedily guard the portals of the Congress, allowing no discourse, debate, new blood, dissension — nothing at all except for their own dictatorial writs — must be sent back to their respective states to work at the village level to deliver a new mandate using their 'experience' at the helm. The youth should take over and the aged should return to their roots and take vanvaas. Some resignations need to come forth — it is the cleanest way to begin.

 ***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

STEP OUT OF LINE, PLEASE

WHILE INDIA EXTENDS SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO AMERICAN PASSPORT-HOLDERS, WASHINGTON PAYS SCANT RESPECT EVEN TO INDIAN DIPLOMATS, WRITES ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA

 

"The USA is doing inefficient and completely redundant airport checks and governments should stop kowtowing to the Americans every time they wanted something done to beef the security on US-bound flights, especially when this involved checks the US did not impose on its own domestic routes." "America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do.... We should not stand for that. We should say, we will only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential."

 

One wonders about the identity of this individual who has been quoted here. Is he/she a Chinese diplomat, criticizing the American security system? An official spokesman of North Korea in the United Nations? A rabble-rouser from al Qaida or an envoy from Tehran? Or was this statement made by a budding Bengali politician before a municipal election?

 

These remarks were made by Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, at the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association in London. London's airline chief added that the practice of forcing people to take off their shoes and have their laptops checked separately in security lines "should be ditched".

 

In fact, the United States of America has already created enough problems by quietly extending security restrictions on air cargo. It has banned household goods on inbound passenger aircraft. As expected, most US carriers have followed suit, and the European airlines are poised to impose similar restrictions. So much for cargo moving up and down Western airports.

 

Strict restrictions on cargo are understandable. But what about restrictions on human beings? The US is so paranoid that it appears to be succumbing helplessly to demands of adhering to specified "checking methods and methodology". In the process, US airport security personnel have ended up targeting Indian diplomats as well as ordinary non-white passengers. But why is this so? Is it because of the fact that a majority of Americans have refused to be searched by the full-body airport scanners or undergo the invasive 'pat-downs'?

 

Indeed, according to some reports, full-body airport scanners "are just as likely to kill a passenger as a terrorist bomb blasting a passenger plane in the sky". These controversial machines have evoked serious concern that the increased exposure to radiation may raise the chances of contracting cancer. Regretfully, the number of non-white passengers and non-Americans being put through this machine is higher than whites and Americans. This certainly bodes ill for the liberal and cosmopolitan culture in America.

 

One can gauge the rising anger among passengers from the fact that Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the pilot who became a hero after managing to land his bird-hit aircraft on the freezing Hudson river, has refused to pass through the scanners. A sizeable number of Americans have raised objections on the ground that the "porno scanners" infringe on an individual's privacy.

 

In response, the Transportation Security Administration has ended up tightening the noose. Those refusing to comply with the rules are subjected to "enhanced pat-downs" that often result in brawls and in allegations of molestation. John Tyner became a hero to millions of passengers when he was forcibly evicted from the San Diego airport for threatening a security guard. At one point, the situation became extremely nasty and some men even planned to arrive at airport checking counters wearing kilts but no underwear.

 

Given the current situation, one can imagine the hazardous experience that Indians face in American airports. In the eyes of American security personnel, every passenger is a suspect till proved otherwise. The American paranoia started after 9/11. Regretfully, the brunt of this "security drill" is being borne by Indians. Be it cabinet ministers or diplomats, no Indian appears to be harmless in the eyes of American security. This is strange and absurd. The US ambassador to India and his plenipotentiaries enjoy special privileges and exemptions at all airports in India. On the other hand, India's diplomats have to go through ignominy and insult of the American variety, as if they were the emissaries of the Taliban and al Qaida trying to breach US security. India, on the other hand, allows American diplomats facilities such as a red beacon on top of vehicles, mobile security riders, airport tarmac entry for vehicles, unrestrained access to entry and exit points, and so on. However, the gestures have not been reciprocated by the US. Perhaps, it is time India asserted itself and demanded equal treatment for its diplomats. Of course, it is possible that the government will decide to eschew knee-jerk reactions to remain on the right side of the world's sole super power.

 

It goes without saying that the US must try and train its airport staff to depend on knowledge and expert human intelligence rather than on 'formula commands' issued by computers. By resorting to this sort of failed technique, America has become the laughing stock of the world. It should be remembered that nothing objectionable was found on George Fernandes and Praful Patel earlier, or on the sari-clad Meera Shankar and the turbaned Hardeep Puri later. Incidentally, how many times has an American diplomat been handed a pat down by India?

 

The case involving David Headley is a pointer to disparity. Headley had unrestricted access in India's airports because of his American passport. This clearly shows that whereas Indians give more-than-deserving respect to American passport-holders, Washington does not recognize even those holding diplomatic passports from India. India should not grant American officials any of the privileges that its citizens are denied of in the US. Here is another example of the stark contrast in treatment: an Indian diplomat is handed a 'pat down' in an American airport, while an emissary from Washington cuts corners to gain a direct appointment with India's national security adviser in the name of offering assistance to investigate the recent blast in Varanasi. The emissary's concern may be bona fide; but should not the ambassador of a foreign country go to the Prime Minister's Office through the ministry of foreign affairs? If Meera Shankar approaches the Pentagon after bypassing Hillary Clinton, will it be tolerated by the US?

 

 ***************************************

 

 


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

EDITORIAL

MATCHLESS GENIUS

''SACHIN'S GENIUS HAS ALWAYS TRANSCENDED NUMBERS.''

 

He is quite the master of the great numbers, but statistics have rarely fascinated Sachin Tendulkar. While the rest of the world has embarked on a celebration spree upon Tendulkar bringing up his 50th Test century on Sunday, the man himself has been typically modest. Even though he claimed that 50 was just another number, it was obvious that becoming the first man to get to that milestone had thrilled him no end. By the same token, it was hard not to believe him when Tendulkar asserted that it was the love of the game, rather than an overwhelming desire to establish one record after another, that was his driving force. Perhaps, at some stage in the future when he puts his feet up and reflects on the career that was, Tendulkar himself will be staggered by his phenomenal feats. To complete 50 Test centuries is a monumental achievement, the ultimate tribute to one's ability, skills, fitness, longevity, hunger and passion. It is difficult to see anyone catching up with him in the near future, but Tendulkar will lose little sleep to see if his place at the front of the pack is secure.

For long now, Tendulkar's genius has transcended numbers, however impressive they might be. This latest feather in his cap merely adds to his legend which has grown remarkably in the last 21 years. It is in the fitness of things that the greatest batsman of his generation, if not of all time, should be the first to get to two landmarks that experts believed were in the realms of the impossible — a double hundred in one-day international cricket, and a mind-boggling 50 Test centuries. The 37-year-old has 46 one-day hundreds too, and it won't be long before he brings up an unimaginable 100th international hundred! All these feats might project the image of a staid, boring, run-hungry machine to the uninitiated, but nothing can be farther from the truth. Tendulkar is the idol he is because these records have come his way during the course of providing unrestrained entertainment and glorious success to a nation that was, until recently, starved of consistently major sporting triumphs.
Tendulkar isn't unaware that for all his individual brilliance, there still is unfinished business. A World Cup winner's medal is missing from his cupboard of glittering riches, and in the final stages of his career, that is one anomaly he will aim to correct on home soil in the next four months.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

WISE DECISION

''THE SCHEME WAS BEING USED FOR PATRONAGE.''

 

The Bihar government's decision to scrap allocation of funds to its MLAs and MLCs under the Local Area Development Scheme (LADS), while unfortunate, is welcome as it is aimed at curbing rampant corruption by elected representatives. Hitherto, the state's MLAs and MLCs have been allotted Rs 1 crore each annually to use for development work of their choice in their constituencies. A similar scheme provides MPs across the country with Rs 2 crore each. Under the scheme, the money is sent to district authorities but the elected representative recommends schemes he would like to see funded. While some development works have been initiated by elected representatives under LADS, more often than not, MPs and MLAs have recommended schemes run by their family members or friends. An expose in 2006 had laid bare how MPs were channelling funds to non-existent NGOs. The scheme it seems was being used to dispense patronage rather than fund development work. According to reports, the experience in Bihar was no different.


Right from its inception in the early 1990s, LADS has been controversial. Misuse of its funds has been the main criticism against it. However, some have supported its continuance on the grounds that it is politicians who can often best understand the needs of the people they represent. Earlier this year, the supreme court upheld MPLADS' constitutional validity and claimed corruption was not reason enough to scrap it as it has resulted in some development work.


Karnataka too has a similar scheme for legislators, but there is little accountability. It is despair over lack of accountability that prompted Bihar's chief minister Nitish Kumar to scrap LADS in his state. At a minimum it will save the Bihar government Rs 318 crore. There are other reasons why LADS needs to be scrapped. For one, it seriously undermines the role of local bodies in development work and weakens decentralisation of decision making. Besides, it assigns executive functions to legislators and thereby undermines the separation of powers. Around Rs 60,000 crore has been allocated to legislators in the country through LADS over the past 15 years and little developmental work has come off it. It is better to do away with it and think of new alternatives. Nitish Kumar's bold decision must be emulated at the Centre and in other states.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

DISCORDANT NOTES

M K BHADRAKUMAR


How much thinking went into our adventurous enter-prise remains unclear, but a salient has appeared in the Sino-Indian discourse.

 

 

The post-mortem of the visit of China's 'Grandpa Premier' Wen Jiabao has begun. Our mainstream-opinion makers wear a smirk on their face — 'Delhi gave it to Beijing'. A former head of R&AW told the western media this was 'welcome and necessary,' and he hoped for more of it.


Curiously, the government seems to do fire-fighting — Wen's visit needs to be assessed in the long-term as 'part of a process, a continuum,' etc — and demonstratively dissociating from the 'raucous' media debate, stressing the patently obvious that it was 'unrealistic' to expect solutions to all problems during a state visit. At the same time, government briefings assert that there were 'open and frank' discussions and our 'deep concerns' over 'stapled visa', terrorism and Kashmir 'registered' on the Chinese side 'very clearly.' While the government attempted to calm the 'hype' in the public debate, it also underlined its capacity to be 'firm' with China.

But how did the 'hype' happen? The government blames our 'vibrant' democracy but, regrettably, sections within the Indian establishment have not helped matters, and often inspired the media campaigns. The Chinese embassy would have discerned what was happening. All it entails is for the Chinese press counsellor to exchange notes with his terribly well-informed Pakistani counterpart in Chanakyapuri to comprehend which reporter or TV anchorperson in Delhi at what point eats out of whose hands in South Block.


Thus, Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan was spot-on by alerting the elites in Delhi on the eve of Wen's arrival that the relationship is 'fragile' and care must be taken not to undermine it. The Sino-Indian relationship is fated to be arguably the most crucial vector of India's foreign policy through this century and it does deserve mature and rational handling.


There is an extremely painful slice of collective consciousness in our country over the alchemy of Sino-Indian ties, compounded in no small measure by our strategic community's hopelessly stereotyped notions regarding the world order and their sheer lack of intellectual grasp of what happens 'when a billion Chinese jump' — to borrow the title of Jonathan Watt's fascinating new book.


Wen's visit took place against the backdrop of signs of Indian diplomacy shifting gear. A certain 'muscularity' has appeared reminiscent of the halcyon days circa the mid-2010s when South Block signed on to the ill-fated US-led quadripartite Asian alliance against China and Indian diplomats, casting themselves in a Wilsonian mould, blithely offered in public view to teach Beijing a hard thing or two about the ways of the democratic world.

The 'hardliners' in our strategic community are enthralled that that 'robustness' has reappeared. A few discordant notes in the run-up to Wen's visit need to be singled out. First, Delhi conveyed a startling signal at the RIC (Russia-India-China) foreign ministers' meet in Wuhan last month regarding the Asia-Pacific, shedding its ambivalence on the role of Cold-War era US-led military bloc in any 'inclusive' regional security architecture. Even our 'time-tested' Russian friends were taken aback.


Kashmir issue

Besides, on the sidelines of the RIC meet, S M Krishna also told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that India's concerns over Kashmir are similar to China's over Taiwan and Tibet — and we then publicised this highly sensitive demarche as the stuff of grandstanding. Thus, when our draft joint communiqué on Wen's visit was proposed to the Chinese side and it didn't contain the usual reaffirmation of our consistent stance on 'One China' policy, Beijing drew the appropriate conclusion and didn't argue. But they wouldn't have failed to estimate, too, that Delhi was holding a worthless card, after all. Time will tell.


How much deep thinking went into our adventurous enterprise remains unclear, but a salient has appeared in the Sino-Indian discourse linking Kashmir with the Chinese 'core interests' over Tibet and Taiwan — something we avoided for five decades. 


How we pursue this track will have wide-ranging implications for regional security.
Again, it is an insult to commonsense to be told Karan Singh who heads the foreign policy cell of the ruling party turned down on his own Beijing's offer to confer its newly-constituted 'friendship award.' Plainly put, we snubbed Beijing's overture. 


Finally, Delhi ignored repeated Chinese demarches over the Nobel ceremony in Oslo and kept pretending it was agonising over a decision even after the decision was made.


And all this took place within the space of some three weeks. An uncharacteristic churlishness crept into Indian diplomacy on the eve of a crucial event involving a powerful statesman in the hierarchy in Beijing, despite our abundant crop of China experts.


But why blame experts? Weren't Karan Singh and Oslo decisions to be ultimately attributed to the highest level of our leadership? Therefore, all those 'developments of much consequence' during Wen's visit — Strategic Economic Dialogue, trade target, political exchanges, green energy, CBSE curriculum, banking facilities — which indeed add up to a critical mass to give renewed thrust to the relationship, nonetheless got overshadowed.

Our Sisyphean syndrome betrays lack of clarity over the meaning of China's rise. Future convergence is best sought by concentrating on common ground. We can manage our own neighbourhood better if we do not accentuate our differences with China. India's role as 'counterweight' to China is gradually diminishing. We need to be pragmatic that ultimately the two countries will be the driving force for revitalising the world economy

 

***************************************

 


DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

SCAMS IN THE LAND OF SPIRITUALISM

THE BEST POSSIBLE SOLUTION IS TO TREAT THE GREED VIRUS WITH AVAILABLE SPIRITUAL TOOLS.

 

It is an irony that an ancient civilisation like India where highest human values like universal love, environment worship, Nara-Naryana (God in every human being), charity, kindness, bravery and forgiveness was taught; where a hungry child fondly shares a loaf of bread with a street dog, has produced a self-centred and greed infested society. The societal behaviour change to lead a lavish lifestyle contributes to the growth of scamstars like Harshad Mehta, Ramalinga Raju, Ketan Parekh, P S Subramanium of UTI scam, Bhansali, Sanjay Agrawal, Rastogi, Telgi, Dalmia and Goyal who plundered more than Rs 16,000 crore from Indian public. The 2 G scam of Rs 1.74 lakh crore size has paralysed the winter session of parliament. Scams are popping from time to time. Fodder scam, mining scam, Noida land scam, Adarsh Housing Society scam, LIC Housing finance scam, MFI scam and the list is getting longer. It seems there is something terribly wrong in our family, schools, educational institutions and organisational culture which have sown the seeds of greed and negligence in the minds of our youth. It is not the means but the ends to acquire wealth becomes the governing principle.

Middlemen

The majority of Indian politicians right from panchayat level irrespective of political parties work as middlemen to serve business men, traders and general public for a commission. In the process they amass huge wealth to lead a lavish lifestyle and force bureaucrats to satisfy their passion for wealth.  Right from the day one the Indian bureaucrats face two option: first option satisfy politico-business boss and live in luxury; the second option to show honesty and face punishment. Majority choose the first option and the small percentage go for the tough second. Britishers doled out stipends and luxury goods to Indian kings and nobles to keep mom in administrative affair and enjoy life. Those who did not listen were hunted down as rebels.

History repeats itself even today. The age old symbiotic relationship between politicians, traders and corrupt people in governance mechanism nurtures scams of huge proportion. A substantial part of the demographic dividend ends up in politico-middlemen-traders' net. As a result demographic dividends fail to create the right infrastructure for the majority of people to increase their productivity hours. If an artisan does not get electricity supply he cannot add value to the product. Similarly adulterated food increases the health budget and erodes people's surplus. There is a huge sensitivity loss due to ill gotten money which triggers a societal behaviour change for lavish lifestyle. How to stop the animalisation of the society is the biggest challenge before the economists, politicians and social scientists. US President Barack Obama in his presidential address said greed is one of the reasons for global recession. animalisation of economic models overlooks the sustainability part and creates human misery.

The best possible solution is to treat the greed virus with spiritual tools. The change for a better human life is happening in the west and in a faster pace due to their dedicated research and conviction.

The new MBA oath for the graduates of Harvard Business School reads "the goal of a business manager is to serve the greater good." Indian yoga is found to be an elixir for health, happiness and a better civic society. Today around 71,000 yoga teachers in North America teach yoga to an estimated 34 million people. In USA, the Corporate yoga classes are growing faster than shopping malls. Government organisations, police departments, military bases, therapists both mental and physical, school teachers and media people, etc become the main target groups. 

Fortunately India has two renowned yoga gurus Sri Sri Ravishankar and Swami Ramdev who have contributed immensely to increase the productivity hours and happiness level of billions of people across the world. Swami Ramdev's Patanjali Yoga Peeth in Haridwar is one of the unique institutions in the world which do dedicated research on Indian Ayurveda and various therapeutic uses of yoga. Similarly, Sri Ravishankar has brought visible change in the society through his millions of followers whom he tells to do five selfless services in a day. Changes happen when educated people, professional and students take time to complete the five sevas in a day. Both the spiritual gurus can address India's HR crisis in an effective manner. 


Recently communist China for the first time has invited Sri Ravishankar for a religious meeting and satsang near Beijing. The irony is that India is sitting on a treasure trove of spiritual material and contemplating.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

INCULCATING VALUES

PADMA GANAPATI


Ajji just got everybody to do her bidding in the nicest way possible.

 

Dusk was falling. It was the time of day that resembled a beautiful woman's face hidden by a see-through veil behind which her dark, mysterious eyes shone. Ajji loved this part of the day. "Most of the sunshine is gone but a little bit of light remains, allowing birds, animals and people to return to their homes  before the curtain of darkness," she used to say. "It is the time to light the lamp, thank god for the gift of the day," she would say as the children returned after playing in the park. Matching action with words, she would add a little gingelly oil to the 'kuthuvilakku', trim the wick and light it. She would sit cross-legged on the floor before the altar, and say a short prayer. (The morning 'puja' would be more elaborate.)


Then she would call out to the children. "Wash your hands and feet and do 'namaskaram'. Then go and study." No one ever questioned her authority. Her word was law. She wasn't an autocrat either. She just got everybody to do her bidding in the nicest way possible. I suppose she had what is called charisma. 


If Ajji had heard it, she would have sniggered. It would never have occurred to her that she was being complimented. She was warm, wonderful woman who loved her family. She was just and generous, devout and disciplined. Though she came from a traditional, conservative background, she had been trained to think for herself.


She was independent, broad-minded. She set great store by education. She did not believe that the woman's domain was limited only to the kitchen. Though she had no formal schooling, she was very knowledgeable. She read a great deal. It gave her the ability to reason how and why, form her own opinions and put forth her arguments with confidence.


After dinner, the children would often gather round Ajji. "Tell us a story," they would request. Ajji would muse for a while and begin...


The children would listen with rapt attention. Ajji would ensure that the stories conveyed a message. It was through these stories that the kids learnt the right values. By the time the story came to an end, the little heads would begin to nod. Ajji would wind up her narrative. She would give each a hug and a kiss and pack them off to bed for a sound mind and body healing sleep.


How rare is this scenario now! Those were the days. Will they ever return?

 

***************************************


*****************************************************************************************

THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

HRW CRITIQUE THAT DOESN'T HOLD WATER

 

Netanyahu: "We must expose the hypocrisy of human rights organizations that turn a blind eye to the most repressive regimes in the world."

 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday night attacked the ostensible anti-Israel bias of some human rights watchdog groups. "We must expose the hypocrisy of human rights organizations that turn a blind eye to the most repressive regimes in the world... and instead target the only liberal democracy in the Middle East," Netanyahu said.


Netanyahu's comments appeared to be a reaction to a 166-page report entitled "Separate and Unequal," issued by Human Rights Watch earlier Sunday. In addition to descriptions of alleged Israeli violations of human rights, the report, the longest and most comprehensive issued on any Middle East country this year, called on the US to punish Israel by deducting aid in accordance with its spending on settlements.



There is a tendency among politicians, including the prime minister, to make sweeping charges against HRW and other human rights NGOs, generalizing that they are riddled with malicious intent without providing specific examples. It is worth focusing on one of the many tendentious claims in HRW's report to illustrate the unfortunately frequent validity of official Israel's sense of grievance.


THE REPORT takes Israel to task for a purportedly discriminatory water allocation policy. HRW stated that, "Average Israeli per capita consumption of water, including water consumption, by settlers is 4.3 times that of Palestinians in the occupied territories (including Gaza)."

This is true, as far as it goes: Per capita water consumption among Palestinians is 70 liters a day, compared to Israel's average per person of 300 liters a day. What HRW failed to mention, however, is that access to piped water has dramatically improved in recent decades and is significantly better than in Syria or Jordan, which would have been in control of the West Bank had it not attacked Israeli in 1967.


In fact, as Alon Tal of the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion Universitynoted in a recent article in the Israel Journal for Foreign Affairs, Israel has significantly exceeded its requirement as set down in the 1995 Oslo II Peace Accords, increasing supply by 60 million cubic meters (mcm) a year, instead of 28.6 mcm as required.


The 10 percent of the Palestinian population on the West Bank who do not have reasonable access to running water might usefully be contrasted with, say, Romania, where one-third of the population has no running water, or closer to home, the Jordanian city of Irbid, where 400,000 residents lack access.


The relatively widespread accessibility did not happen by itself. A World Bank report from April 2009 noted that Israel was responsible for a 50% rise in the number of West Bank Palestinians who have access to networked water supply. The World Bank also estimated that 45% of West Bank Palestinians' (and settlers') water is provided by Mekorot, the Israeli national water carrier, from sources located inside Israel. This has unfolded over the past two decades, moreover, during which the Palestinian population tripled to 2,461,000. As Tal concluded, "There are few developing economies that have achieved such dramatic improvements in such a short time."


None of this is mentioned in HRW's report. And while a litany of accusations are leveled at Israel – ranging from "over-extraction of water" to "refusal to approve Palestinian water projects" – no blame whatsoever is placed on Palestinians. Yet, as Tal notes, 30% of Palestinian water leaks out of poorly maintained pipes, three times what Israel loses to leakage.


The Palestinian Authority – with $1 billion in annual civil aid, the world's largest per capita recipient of international development assistance – invests precious little, if anything, in improving water delivery. And due to PA corruption, rural residents are often forced to pay exorbitant rates for bottled or tanker water. Deficient law enforcement by the PA also results in the digging of wells that threaten to contaminate major aquifers.


SUCH SKEWED treatment of Israel's water policy is a microcosm of HRW's wider failings, which were recently detailed to shocking effect in a lecture (republished on these pages on November 25) by its outraged founder Robert Bernstein. Not only does HRW's obsessive and antagonistic focus misrepresent Israel, it is also counterproductive to the Palestinian cause.


By Israeli standards, the amount of water available to Palestinians, while higher than many developing countries, is inadequate. But what HRW deliberately fails to acknowledge is that this is a consequence of a complex reality that includes Palestinian negligence.


As long as the specifics, and the wider realities, are intentionally ignored by human rights groups maintaining cynical anti-Israeli campaigns, the root problems afflicting Israelis and Palestinians will continue to be distorted, misunderstood, and consequently, all the harder to resolve.

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

OUR WORLD: A TIME TO SHOUT

BY CAROLINE B. GLICK  

 

The odds are poor that a public campaign to win Pollard's release will succeed. But if Israel is going to do anything at all, its actions should be concentrated in the public realm.

Talkbacks (9)

 

The new campaign calling for the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from prison in the US is in many ways a curious development. Pollard was arrested in 1985 and convicted on one count of transferring classified information to Israel during his service in US Naval Intelligence. He pleaded guilty to the charge in the framework of a plea bargain in which the US attorney pledged not to request a life sentence.


Despite this, Pollard was sentenced to life. So far, he has served 25 years, much of it in solitary confinement and in maximum security prisons. His health is poor. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.

Pollard's sentence and the treatment he has received are grossly disproportionate to the sentences and treatment meted out to agents of other friendly foreign governments caught stealing classified information in the US. Their average sentence is seven years in prison. They tend to serve their sentences in minimum or medium security prisons and are routinely released after four years.


The only offenders who have received similar sentences are Soviet spies Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. While Pollard transferred documents to Israel over a period of 18 months, both Ames and Hanssen served the Soviets – the US's primary enemy – for decades. Their espionage led to the death of multiple US agents operating behind the Iron Curtain.


Pollard was given a life sentence because then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger wrote a classified victim impact assessment to the sentencing judge in which he insinuated that he had transferred information to the Soviet Union as well as to Israel. Weinberger reportedly attributed the deaths of US agents to Pollard's activities.

Weinberger's accusations were proven false with the subsequent arrests of Hanssen and Ames. As it turned out, the damage Weinberger ascribed to Pollard was actually caused by their espionage.


OVER THE past five years, and with increased urgency over the past several months, several former senior US officials who had firsthand knowledge of Pollard's activities have called for his immediate release. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey has stated that, contrary to Weinberger's allegations, none of the documents Pollard stole were transferred to the Soviets or any other country. A few months ago, former senator Dennis DeConcini, a past chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to immediately release Pollard from prison. And in October, Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense under Weinberger, became one of the most outspoken champions for Pollard's release. Korb currently works for the Center for American Progress, which is closely allied with the Obama White House.

The renewed interest in Pollard's plight has garnered a great deal of attention in the local media as well. After Korb's initial call for Pollard's release in an op-ed published in The Los Angeles Times in October, Ma'ariv published a cover story in its weekend news supplement about Pollard's suffering. Reporter Ben Caspit demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formally request that Obama commute Pollard's sentence and release him from prison.


Ma'ariv's article caused a spike in media coverage of Pollard in November. And this month, Pollard was back in the news when the government intervened to help his former wife Ann and her father make aliya after the consulate in New York discovered they were both ill and living in poverty.


Public pressure on Netanyahu seems to be working. Before Monday, Netanyahu refused to make any public statements regarding Pollard. At his recent meeting with Obama, he refused to deliver a letter signed by 109 of the Knesset's 120 members formally requesting Pollard's release. On the other hand, heavy public pressure caused Netanyahu to initially agree to speak at Monday's rally for Pollard's release at the Knesset. Netanyahu canceled his appearance at the last moment however, and insisted on sufficing with a private meeting with Korb and Pollard's wife Esther. Obviously more pressure can and should be applied.


On the face of things, it seems that this is a particularly inauspicious time to renew the campaign to release Pollard. This is true first of all because of the nature of the current president who is the only one with the power to release him.


By now there is little question that Obama is the most hostile US leader Israel has faced. It is hard to imagine the circumstances in which he would agree to do something for Israel that his vastly more sympathetic predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton refused to do.


In light of Obama's attitude, at first blush it makes more sense to try to advance Pollard's case through quiet diplomacy. This is the argument that cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser made in testimony before the Knesset earlier this month. Hauser appeared before the State Control Committee to respond to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' recommendation that Netanyahu set up a ministerial committee to oversee a public, formal campaign calling for Pollard's release.


But on second thought, the current campaign is eminently sensible. To understand why, we must consider the relative benefits of quiet, behind the scenes diplomacy and loud, public diplomacy.


Quiet diplomacy works well when all sides share a perception of joint interests and when its exposure is likely to change that perception. For instance, Israel and its Arab neighbors perceive a shared interest in blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But given the nature of Arab politics, that perception, which enables the likes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain to work with Israel on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, disappears the moment cooperation is made public.


Likewise, Lebanon's Sunnis and Christians share an interest with Israel in defeating Hizbullah. But their ability to work with Israel on defeating Hizbullah is destroyed the moment such work becomes public.


Quiet diplomacy does not work when there is no perception of shared interests. For instance, regimes that repress human rights to maintain their grip on power have little interest in cooperating with free societies, when the latter demand that they free political dissidents from prison. Quiet diplomacy in the field of human rights between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War never succeeded, because the Soviets realized that opening up their tyranny to domestic criticism would destroy the system.


And today, as Cairo's fake parliamentary elections and Teheran's continued repression of democracy protesters shows, the Obama administration's quiet diplomacy with the Muslim world regarding human rights and democracy has utterly failed.

It is in cases like this where public, noisy diplomacy comes in handy. Public campaigns are helpful when one government wishes to persuade another to do something it doesn't want to do. Last week we received a reminder of the effectiveness of such behavior with the publication of protocols of meetings held by president Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.


One such meeting involved a conversation between Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger following a meeting with prime minister Golda Meir. She had asked Nixon to support the Jackson-Vanek amendment that linked US economic assistance to the USSR to the latter's willingness to permit Jews to emigrate. Kissinger opposed the request, telling Nixon, "The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."


On the face of it, Kissinger was right. Using humanitarian considerations to weaken Soviet tyranny probably didn't help US arms control negotiators score points with Leonid Brezhnev. But on a deeper lever, he was completely wrong.


The Jackson-Vanek amendment not only forced the Soviets to permit limited emigration of Jews. It started a process of opening the Soviet system, which ended up destroying the regime just a decade later.


SINCE TAKING office, Obama has only used public diplomacy in the Middle East to convince one government to take action it believed was antithetical to its interests. Last year he waged a forceful, unrelenting public diplomacy campaign to convince Netanyahu to abrogate Jewish property rights in Judea and Samaria. And it worked.


Although it harmed the sacrosanct pillar of Zionism that Jewish rights are nonnegotiable, although it weakened Netanyahu's standing with his party and voters and although it empowered the Palestinians to expand their political war against Israel on the international stage, Netanyahu gave in. The public pressure Obama exerted on him compelled him to act against his interests.


The US is not an evil empire. And it is hard to see how a clear demand for Pollard's release on humanitarian grounds will have any fundamental impact on its nature.


And that is fine. But the fact is that Obama has no interest in freeing a suffering Israeli agent who was railroaded by Weinberger and remains in prison due to the efforts of Israelhaters who wrongly insist he did untold damage to US national security. Indeed, many of Pollard's detractors are members of Obama's political camp.

Israel can't expect a lot of help on this from American Jews, although they stand to be major secondary beneficiaries if Pollard is released. The impact of his case on the US Jewish community has been debilitating. Although the US and Israel are strategic allies which share many of the same interests and fight the same enemies, Israel's detractors in the US foreign policy community use the Pollard case as an excuse for questioning the loyalty and patriotism of American Jews who serve in the US government and support Israel. His continued incarceration casts a long shadow over American Jewry.


The odds are poor that a public campaign to win Pollard's release will succeed. But if Israel is going to do anything at all, its actions should be concentrated in the public realm. As we have seen, quiet diplomacy, the strategy the Netanyahu government tried until now, will never get him out of jail.


And Israel must act. Pollard's unfair, unjustified and discriminatory sentence and treatment are a dismal symbol of Jewish vulnerability. His personal suffering is inhumane, real and unrelenting. He needs us to stand up for him.

And so we must. And so we will. The time has come, against all odds to shout that Pollard must be freed. Now.

caroline@carolineglick.com

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

ENCOUNTERING PEACE: WANTED: A PROGRESSIVE LEADER

BY GERSHON BASKIN  

 

The left side of the political map is in total disarray.

Talkbacks (4)

The gathering of the leadership of the Israeli "peace camp" on Sunday in Ramallah under the auspices of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and almost the entire leadership of the PLO was its largest get-together in the past 10 years. What is left of the Left is a small group of dedicated individuals divided into splinter groups of political initiatives and non-government organizations sharing a very similar platform with a common sense of urgency and a total inability to work together.


The irony is that it took the PA leader to gather all of those forces together. It is doubtful if any single Israeli leader could pull all of these people together.


Another interesting event happened on the way to the Mukata – Amram Mitzna showed up and found himself as the undeclared new leader of the Left. He was seated next to Abbas, not the serving MKs from Kadima, Labor and Meretz. Mitzna was the main speaker after Abbas.


The army of journalists ran after Mitzna to interview him when the event ended. It all seemed so natural and even called for. Out of the desert and back into the limelight of politics, Mitzna was a welcome addition to a camp searching for a leader and badly needing unity.


I approached him and appealed to him "Run Mitzna, run."


He replied, "Before we run, we have to know what is our goal," to which I replied, "To return to running the country to ensure that Israel fulfills its dream of being the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens, living in peace with its neighbors and capturing its rightful place among the nations."


In his interview outside at the end of the meeting, Mitzna said: "The window of opportunity for making peace with the Palestinians is running out; now is the time to do it."


He, like every person in that meeting room, knew that unless Israel ends the occupation and makes peace with its neighbors, it will cease being a Jewish and democratic state. It must change from within. US and international pressure on the government may be effective at helping to make hard decisions, but real change will only happen when there will be a shake-up of the political map that will bring progressives back into power.

The idea that "only the Likud" can bring peace is great in principle; the problem is that the Likud led by Binyamin Netanyahu will not bring peace. The Likud will not solve the country's socioeconomic problems, the Likud will not create a more egalitarian society and the Likud will not create a citizen's partnership of Jews and Arabs, religious and nonreligious. The country needs a progressive political force that will bring peace, end the occupation and create social justice, environmental justice and a base for real citizenship partnership and solidarity.

PROGRESSIVES HAVE no political home today that can lead the nation. Knesset elections may take place in 2011 or 2012, and progressives have no idea whom to vote for. We need a new and revitalized progressive political force that does not yet exist; it must be created, shaped, nurtured and presented to the public to join.
There are many initiatives trying to launch a new progressive political force. Meretz is searching for direction, for new members, for youth appeal. The Labor Party is splintering into fragments and, under the failed leadership of 
Ehud Barak, is now at six seats in the polls with a leadership contest already launched that emphasizes the divisions within. The Green Movement party has turned inward and will focus its activities on the municipal level, leaving national politics for the distant future.


Former Prime Minister's Office director-general Yossi Kuchik has been holding meetings bringing together former Labor people for discussions on their political direction. Avrum Burg has launched the creation of a joint Jewish-Arab political party called Shai – Shivyon Yisrael. The National Left is another interesting development, but it has not addressed the need to be inclusive of the Palestinian citizens of Israel in political change.


Shaharit – a small progressive think tank within the Heschel Center – has been working on how to create a political movement. Hadash continues to attract young Jewish supporters; however, it continues to be perceived as an anti-Zionist alternative that most Jewish voters reject. In short, the progressive side of the political map is in total disarray.


For a progressive political party to succeed, there must be unity. The lack of unity and the absence of a convincing political platform that can be a reasonable alternative to the current right-wing, religious regime is irresponsible and dangerous.


The lack of an agreed leader or a leading political party has devolved into the multiplicity of small and disjointed efforts to create a new force. None of these enjoys any real public support or has the ability to transform into a real political force.


It seems that the various players spend at least equal time bad-mouthing each other as they do supporting the building of coalitions.


THE AGENDA for progressives in Israel is clear and it unifies much more than it divides. Our agenda is based on the Declaration of Independence that promised the country would be founded on the principles envisaged by the prophets – ensuring complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the UN Charter.


This country needs progressive values. It needs a culture of communication and it needs to shun extremists who scoff at the rule of law. It needs to end the conflict before the state loses its Jewish majority and turns into a place of minority rule. It is a choice between ending the conflict or having the conflict end the Jewish and democratic state.


What unites us progressives is our profound commitment to making this country a place where Jewish and non-Jewish citizens can thrive and achieve and live peacefully – even productively – with each other. No group, not even the Likud, has a monopoly over our state symbols – we are as patriotic and proud as anyone.


Our agenda is to celebrate every positive side of being Israeli and Jewish and even the positive side of being Palestinian-Israeli.

This is a dynamic country with tremendous potential. Its achievements in its 62+ years are remarkable.Its democracy is vibrant and offers vast opportunities for citizens to affect public policy. This kind of positive attitude is the narrative we claim in our efforts to recruit a genuine groundswell of progressive support.


But democracy is under real threat from the right-wing regime and from the increasing support of the racist discourse advocated by the politics of Avigdor Lieberman, Shas and rabbis who cynically use Jewish texts to justify racism. They must be challenged and that challenge cannot wait for tomorrow.


The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

NO HOLDS BARRED: FIXING FAILURES OF THE UK CHIEF RABBINATE

BY SHMULEY BOTEACH  

 

The office of the chief rabbi has become, in essence, an official straitjacket, stripping almost any occupant of opinions and conviction.

 

The announcement that UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will retire in 2013 forces a reckoning both of the man and the office. As a spokesman for Judaism, Sacks's rhetorical brilliance and masterful prose presented it on the airwaves and in print as elegant, luminous and wise.


But a chief rabbi is not principally an ambassador or a writer but a leader, and judged by this criteria Sacks, over the last two decades, failed to demonstrate the single most important component of leadership, moral courage.

Moses was the first rabbi. He was a stutterer and his collected writings were unoriginal, having been dictated by a higher power. But what made him a great leader was his rejection of spinelessness and his readiness to sacrifice his social standing for the good of his people. The first thing the Bible relates about Moses as a grown man was that he was an Egyptian prince who witnessed the affliction of a Hebrew slave and sacrificed his fancy noble titles to save his brother.


But under Sacks's watch, a tsunami of anti-Semitism has broken all over the British Isles, with bans on Israeli academics at university conferences, arrest warrants being issued against leading Israeli politicians and high courts usurping the community's right to define its own Jewishness being only the tip of the iceberg.


Where has Sacks been on these important issues and on defense of Israel? Either joining the chorus of condemnation – asked about Israel's conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians, he famously told The Guardian in 2002 that "there are things that happen on a daily basis that make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew" – or, for the most part, silent.


In addition, with the notable exception of Limmud, which started as an independent, grassroots initiative, not a single new idea for Jewry has come out of Britain in the 20 plus years that Sacks has presided over it, a curious phenomenon given his unparalleled genius as a philosopher and thinker. Which exposes not just Sacks's deficiencies as a leader but the deficiencies of the office itself.


The office of the chief rabbi has become, in essence, an official straitjacket, stripping almost any occupant of opinions and conviction. Like the queen, you become a waving figurehead, reduced to official ceremonies like opening synagogues and installing rabbis. You fear taking a stand lest you upset some slice of the ever-warring factions of Anglo Jewry or worse, British officialdom, whose sympathies often lie with Israel's critics but who have conferred your peerage. Like a baseball team that wins the World Series when in essence they are only North American champions, the chief rabbi of the UK in reality presides only over a large portion of the UK's synagogues, giving the title-holder a small mandate within which to maneuver. Even then, you are not elected but appointed and have no mandate of the people, making it nigh impossible to please even some of the people some of the time.


THE WORST part, however, is how the office stifles the creativity of the UK rabbinate, creating a structure akin to Roman Catholicism where priests must conform not only to official doctrines of the faith but the particular views of Vatican superiors. The US has no chief rabbi, which largely accounts for the entrepreneurial spirit of its rabbis and the creativity of American Jewry. Rabbis rise to the top through merit and ideas alone.


Sacks proves the point. He gained little by becoming chief rabbi. His dazzling mind and eloquent writings would have made him Britain's leading rabbinical spokesman even without the title. The United Synagogue gained even less, choosing someone with the disposition of a diplomat when it required the tough-as-nails determination of a chief executive. The cost has been high. In the 2001 UK census, Jews were the only group in the country in which the number of people in the 75-plus cohorts outnumbered those in the 65–74 cohort.


But where Sacks's failure has been felt most is on the British university campuses.


When I arrived in Oxford in 1988, I saw the early seeds of anti-Israel activism. We did everything in our power to fight back by staging massive responses by the likes ofBinyamin NetanyahuAriel Sharon and Shimon Peres. Fast-forward two decades and the battle seems lost. British universities are now entrenched nesting grounds of Islamic extremist activism.


Sacks has finally acknowledged the problem, lecturing last week in London about how he has just toured British universities and found that Jewish students on campus "have become despondent and demoralized at the failure of university authorities to take firm and decisive action" against anti-Semitic hate speech. That this was allowed to happen on the watch of the most gifted Jewish spokesman of his generation, with unmatched government and media contacts, will go down as perhaps the greatest failure of any chief rabbi in British history.

It's time for British Jewry to radically overhaul a failing community.


The first step would be to abolish the Chief Rabbinate and channel the savings toward grants for charismatic young rabbis to revive dying communities and empty synagogues strewn throughout Britain. My friend and former Oxford student David Slager has pioneered this effort with Chabad rabbis on campuses all over the UK. The United Synagogue should join the effort ensuring that every outlying community has an inspiring leader to inspire involvement.


Next, replace the central office of the chief rabbi with a central bureau for national Jewish events, a committee of people who arrange for world-renowned speakers to come to the UK and tour outlying communities. We had immense success at Oxford attracting thousands of students to hear world personalities speaking on Jewish values. Just imagine how communities like Brighton, Birmingham, and Bristol could increase regular synagogue attendance if they had a monthly speaker of great eminence to draw people in.


Finally, settle all the controversies that squander communal capital.


Sacks never fully recovered from disputes over gays marching in Jewish parades, Orthodox clergy attending the funeral of a beloved Reform colleague and the painful aguna issue. State boldly and bravely that Orthodoxy warmly welcome gays to shul. There are 613 commandments in the Torah and if you break two you still have 611 left. Orthodox rabbis can share platforms with their Reform colleagues, just as they do all over the US. Men who refuse to give their wives a get will be refused aliyot and have synagogue membership suspended.

Well, now that it's all settled, let's get back to saving a once glorious community whose brightest years still lie ahead.

The writer served at Oxford University for 11 years where he won The Times of London 'Preacher of the Year' competition. The author of 24 books, he has just published a guide to living a life of Jewish values entitled, Renewal.

Twitter@RabbiShmuley

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

JEWISH MALWARE

BY CHARLES JACOBS  

 

The dynamic between Israel's negative portrayal in the media and academia, and the inadequate fight against it, is something akin to the Stuxnet virus.

Talkbacks (1)

 

Reports surfaced last week that Stuxnet, the virus mysteriously implanted in the computers running Iran's nuclear sites, is still wreaking havoc, despite claims by Teheran that it has been contained. No one knows for sure how much damage is being done, or if it can be stopped, or who is the culprit – but Israel has been mentioned as a prime suspect. When it was found that the name of a key file in the computer worm's code is easily a cognate for Queen Esther, many imagined that the Jewish genius who delivered the poison pill to the Persian plotters did it while poetically recapitulating the Purim story – in malware. Compared to that feat, the WikiLeaks gambit is child's play, simple pilferage.


But even if this is true, and Israeli technological genius can thwart or mitigate a looming disaster – just as its military genius has done in the past – Jews cannot afford a truly needed rest, because the sobering reality is that Jewish technological and military prowess has proved inadequate – necessary but not sufficient – to safeguarding Israel. For its long-term security, what matters is how the Jewish state is viewed and valued in the world, especially in the Jewish community, and the skill set required for this fight – what we now call "the information war" – seems congenitally absent from the Jewish collective.


Far from being geniuses, when it comes to rhetorical combat with defamers, or creating a culture of discourse that is honest and fair, world Jewry seems, tragically, imbecilic.


Compared to almost every nation, but particularly compared to its adversaries and accusers, Israel is a stellar state. Yet it is branded and portrayed in the media, on campuses and in increasing swaths of civil society in the West as among the cruelest of nations. How can this be? 


THE DYNAMIC is something akin to the virus that flummoxes Iran's computers. Jews may be susceptible to a particular type of rhetorical virus, so devastating that once implanted it prevents them from acting in their own self-defense and turns otherwise eloquent people into stuttering blockheads. The worm is simple, and ancient. It's called "accusation."


Accuse the Jews. Accuse them unfairly and with such disproportionate frequency that anyone who wishes to can see there's an agenda at work that has little to do with the actual charges raised. Accuse the Jews and they instinctively, like moths fly to candles, start believing they can cleverly explain themselves, and convince their accusers of their innocence and their goodness.


I bring this up because the Jewish Week's editor, Julie Wiener just reported that the major Israel advocacy organizations have done a major rethink and are now calling for a "more open, critical approach to teaching about Jewish state." "Even centrist players," Weiner wrote, "like Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the David Project and people in the Jewish federation system are calling for more open, critical discussions about Israel."


Why? Because much of our youth feels that Israel advocacy as it is now taught, makes them "check their liberalism at Zionism's door."

And so, rather than lose the kids who have fantasy notions about international politics, Jewish educators now think (I'm hoping Weiner got it wrong) students shouldn't be advocates for Israel, but referees or judges in the Middle East contest. Their lessons will no longer be: "Israel is imperfect but fundamentally right, and the obstacle to peace is nothing more and nothing less than the Arab/Islamic refusal to abide Jewish sovereignty."

Instead it will be "on the one hand the Israelis say X, and on the other hand, the Palestinians say Y. Can't we all get along?" 


So the net result is that the radical leftist professors and the growing Muslim student population are permitted to be advocates and propagandists for the Arabs, while Jewish students rise above the fray to contemplate the conflict. The vast student body will still only receive a mostly one-sided version which will demonize Israel and the next generation of American leadership will be less likely to empathize with the Jewish state – like the man in the White House.


But what's really happened in the discourse is that authentic Jewish liberalism has been paralyzed – not by Zionism, but by anti-Zionism. Inserting the "accuse the Jews" worm into the discourse, anesthetizes the Jewish instinct to fight the good fight. Infected, Jewish students forget the ideals and the history of valiant battling for a universal standard of human conduct, of fighting for precisely those victims abandoned by the "civilized world."

Instead of explaining to our students the dynamic of "accusation" that has been used to hobble Jews from time immemorial, we teach them to sit in the dock. Instead of exploring with them just how Israel is under a massive ideological assault which masquerades as legitimate criticism, we teach them to keep the focus of discourse on Jewish conduct, Israeli behavior, which is exactly what our adversaries want. Instead of turning our fingers back on the tyrannical Arab/Muslim world whose criticism of Israel defines chutzpah, we answer its charges.

Instead of exposing the hypocritical Western liberal elites – the "human rights" establishment, the media and the professoriate – who have abandoned for reasons of political correctness whole classes of people in the worst of circumstances: women, gays, apostates, Christians, democrats in the Islamic realm, we accept playing the the role of defendant.


In other words, instead of making the subject of this entire discussion the actual world tyrannies and the execrable Western hypocrites who aim to destroy us, we are bitten by the "accusation" virus, and we simply lose our minds.


Yes, it is not easy to educate a generation, brought up to believe that everyone has his own truth, about a global campaign to defame the Jewish state. And it is not easy to tell the hard truths about the world of radical Islam to students who are taught the multi-culturalist dream, taught even that to suspect another culture of being supremacist is itself "racist."


And yes it is not easy to include in pro-Israel education an honest representation of the Palestinian narrative, so that it can be truly understood and seen for what it is. Pro-Israel organizations need to learn (with the help of our thus-far mostly silent professors, please!) to do all this. But pro- Israel organizations must first deal with the "accuse the Jews" killer virus.


In 1911, Ze'ev Jabotinsky had it perfectly right. "Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, 'Why are they so afraid of everything? Apparently their conscience is not clear.' Exactly because we are ready at every minute to stand at attention, there develops among the people an inescapable view about us, as of some specific thievish tribe. We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility; look what gentlemen we are – we do not have anything to hide! This is a terrible mistake."


You'd think all the smart Jews would've figured that out. By now.


The writer is president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance. An earlier version of this article was first published in the Boston Jewish Advocate

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

HAS RACISM BECOME ACCEPTABLE?

BY MAJALLIE WHBEE  

 

As a proud Israeli, born and raised here, I find the silence emanating from the higher echelons in the face of incitement and defamation insulting and saddening

 

Talkbacks (4)

Discussions with racist flavors are gaining a central role in general discourse. The moderate public is increasingly aligning itself more with opinions that were previously reserved for radical elements, giving them a level of legitimacy within the mainstream public and media to articulate them.


The now famous rabbis' letter is just one of many examples of the growing racist opinions spreading throughout large sections of the public. The problem lays not within the racists themselves, but rather in the weak response from the higher echelons and decision-makers. Hundreds of rabbis sign a manifesto prohibiting Jews from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews, yet no response is heard from the justice minister. The chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliahu, continuously incites and no criminal or disciplinary procedures were commenced against him.

The feeling is that racism has become acceptable; not only by society but also by a government that has not taken any action but to oppose it feebly (and this, only from a few ministers).

As a proud Israeli, born and raised here, and serving as a public representative, I find this reality insulting and it saddens me. I raised my children to believe that they are citizens with equal rights, but today we encounter a different reality, a reality in which is legitimate to defame in the name of religion.


THIS REALITY is difficult for me personally, but it is more dangerous to the country, as society unravels from within, and invokes defamation from abroad. Internally, we are becoming a series of disconnected tribes.

As the Knesset representative to and vice chairman of the Euro- Mediterranean Partnership Committee, I see firsthand how Israel's standing in the world is deteriorating. This is not to speak of Arab countries and some of their allies, nor of the Scandinavian countries who always took a harsh stance against us, but many in the European Union.


The situation is far worse when we see those in Europe who we call "our friends" – starting with Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who campaigns to stop Islamization and frequently visits, and to Heinz Christian Strache, who ousted the late Jörg Haider as the Austrian Freedom Party leader and who last week came to Samaria for a solidarity visit with the settlers.


When the central leadership of Europe turns its back on Israel, we take comfort in the arms of radicals, just because they prefer at this stage to pursue Muslims rather than Jews.


It's time to stop and rethink before it is too late. We must consider if this is the society we want, if the current tone is worthy of expression and if these are the people worthy of our friendship.


My answer is definitely not. The State of Israelis too important to be pushed to the corner of extreme racism. To prevent it from deteriorating, the prime minister and the justice minister should set a clear and unequivocal statement that the government will embrace a zerotolerance policy toward racism, a statement that needs to be backed by actions.


The writer is a deputy speaker of the Knesset and a Kadima MK.

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

WHEN UNCLE ELIE CAME BACK TO EGYPT

BY N. SHARAF ELDIN  

 

We owe our Egyptian Jewish brothers an apology for what was inflicted upon them.

 

It was at the café overlooking the Baron Empain Palace in Greater Cairo that I met for the first time recently with "Uncle Elie." His full name is Elie Amin Kheder, and he is one of tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews who were forced out of their homeland by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime in the wake of the 1967 defeat.


Uncle Elie settled in the United States and I had come to "know" him via the Internet – blessed be its innovator. We had corresponded for a long time, and he was my fellow guest on several editions of Al-Hakika (the Truth), a talk show aired on the Egyptian satellite station "Dream," where we discussed Egypt's Jewish community. He was always firm and clear in countering all the baseless lies that have long stained one of Egypt's noblest religious communities, the Karaite Jews.


Over the years, Uncle Elie had told me about his small family – he, his wife Mona, and their son, who apparently did not share their enthusiasm for a visit. Unlike his parents, he is evidently not obsessed with nostalgia for Abbaseya, Al-Dhaher, Al-Sakakini and the other old Cairo districts where Jews used to live.

The chemistry between me and Elie and Mona was marvelous from the start. For me, he was no alien, but rather an Egyptian to the core. This was obvious from his body language, his comments and his satiric spirit – ridiculing everything, even himself. Hotel workers who know me from my frequent visits also quickly began dealing with Uncle Elie as though he were any average Egyptian.


I wondered to myself how they would have behaved if they had known he was Jewish. If they had known that he and his family were long ago forced out of their homeland, pariahs, unwanted both by the state and by society, obliged to migrate from a country where at least 10 generations of Uncle Elie's ancestors had lived. Those roots counted for nothing when he and his family were thrown into jail for the crime of being Jewish, and then coerced into a voyage to the unknown, their passports stamped with the words: "A Journey of No Return."


For reasons that only God knows, Uncle Elie was born to a Karaite Jewish family, me to a Muslim Sunni and my friend Awny Ramzy to a Coptic Christian one. Why not accept each other and live together in peace and friendship? 

BACK TO Uncle Elie's visit. A luxury car with a professional driver had been placed at his disposal by his boyhood friends. But I insisted that he and Mona ride in my car. I didn't want to miss a moment of what might be a once-in-a lifetime meeting.


As we started our trip through Cairo streets packed with the customary traffic, I turned on the cassette player, and, fortuitously, it was playing a song by my favorite singer Muhammad Qandil, who passed away in 2004. "Oh my," Mona exclaimed. "It's been a very long time since I last heard Qandil. I remember our life in Egypt when I see him in old Arabic movies."


I'll admit I was taken by surprise that she knew Qandil. There are millions of Egyptian youths who have no knowledge of our classic and iconic singers.

 

Uncle Elie and Mona, both in their 60s, were taking in the hubbub, the people, the vehicles, signs, buildings, tunnels and bridges. "As if it's not Egypt, and I am not me," I read in his eyes. He was a man from 1950s Egypt, emerging from a black and white movie.

 

We were on our way to fulfill what Uncle Elie had described ahead of the trip as "a dear wish" – to visit the Moses al-Dar'i Karaite synagogue, in eastern Cairo's Abbaseya district, the synagogue of his youth.

I had tried in vain to obtain the necessary security permit for us to enter, and no sooner had we arrived at the building than security guards quickly approached to ask us why we were there. I tried to convince them that the man and his wife only wanted to have a look at a place that was dear to them, but they were resolute, directing us to the police station for a permit. While we were negotiating, Uncle Elie and Mona were able to at least catch a glance, and there we left it. It is not prudent to enter the maze of police station bureaucracy in pursuit of "a dear wish"; these institutions are not the right place for fulfilling wishes. We backed down and drove off.


We have been applying double standards for more than half a century and a stupid fascist tone is now escalating, classifying all Jews as Zionists and all Christians as crusaders. Millions of Muslims are quickly mobilized when an extremist, whether from the East or the West, links terrorism to all Muslims. We dismiss such characterizations as both racist and as unacceptable generalization. Yet, we do the same, giving ourselves the right to generalize about others and sometimes antagonize them.


On our way to the house where Uncle Elie was born and raised, near the Sakakini Pasha palace, I asked him what was he feeling at this early stage of his return, and he immediately responded, bitterly: "Why are we made to face this? We were born Jews, but also Egyptians, and rejecting us, is tantamount to removing a chapter of Egypt's history."


Then he held his peace. Perhaps he was internalizing the sorry truth that while half a century was enough time for the Germans to repudiate Nazism, for the Italians to throw Fascism into the dustbin of history and for the Japanese to move beyond the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was all very different for Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.


UNCLE ELIE and Mona had grown up and met around Sheikh Qamar Street and Sakakini Square, but everything bar the palace, constructed in 1897, had changed since their day.


Built by Habib Sakakini Pasha, a Jew of Levantine origin whose family migrated to Egypt in the mid-19th century when he was 16, the palace was constructed in the style of a grand edifice he had seen on his travels in Italy and located in what were then the outskirts of Fatimid and Mamluk Cairo. As the slum neighborhoods expanded, it found itself ever closer to the heart of the overpopulated capital. Though encircled today by garbage-strewn, matchbox-style, high-rises, the palace has somehow maintained its grandeur.


Searching for the house where Uncle Elie had lived, we asked a young man working at a shop on Sheikh Qamar Street for guidance. It turned out that Uncle Elie had lived at this very address, but the original building had been demolished and replaced.


An adjacent French bakery where the family had shopped was still here, though. Uncle Elie recalled the special loaves it had produced for Jewish festivals. There is no demand for them today; one would not now find a single surviving Jew in the area.


While Uncle Elie took photographs of his former neighborhood and Mona toured the Sakakini palace, I visualized the two of them here in their 20s, helped by a "soundtrack" of songs by the late Egyptian singer Laila Morad which was echoing from afar: she a charming and alluring young woman, he an exuberant young man, intent on enjoying life.


At that moment, an elderly local man, Amm Jihad, appeared. He claimed (imagined) to have recognized Uncle Elie, and volunteered to guide us around the neighborhood, focusing his narrative on the changes that had taken place here and nationwide since the officers' coup of July 1952 that paved the way for Nasser to take power four years later.


Amm Jihad seemed to remember every building like his own home: That was where the Samhoun family had lived. At the end of the street was the Isaacs' home. Here was the school the Jews had established, with the Stars of David still recognizable on its façade and walls. And there was an abandoned house, still standing only because its Jewish heirs overseas were contesting ownership.


Addressing Elie and Mona in the language of simple Cairene, he said: "You were the best. Your days were the most beautiful."


The modern era, its intruders and developments, he said, had spoiled everything.


How sad it was, I added, that the former Egypt of coexistence, not only between Jews and Muslims, but between all Egyptians from different strands and even foreign communities such as Armenians, Greek, Italians and others, had been abducted by adventurers, clowns and propagandists.


PERSONALLY, I believe we owe our Egyptian Jewish brothers an apology for what was inflicted upon them, for the demise of an authentic Egyptian sect that has roots dating back the time of the Prophet Moses. Its members contributed to Egypt's renaissance in economics, literature and law – all the manifestations of life. But these contributions were not enough to save them from nationalistic and religious maniacs.

 

We could have provided the necessary ambiance for them to stay within the country. We had never been in enmity with Judaism nor should we have been. Such enmity is not humane. As far as I know, it is also rejected by Islamic Shari'a law.


The latest official statistics, which date from 2003, indicated that 4,088 Jews still live in Egypt. Until 1952, that number was as many as 100,000.


Cairo's prestigious Al-Maady district was established by the Jewish company Al-Delta. That's why the area's main streets still bear the names of Jewish families such as Sawares and Qatawi. It was a Jewish scholar who pioneered the study of fine arts in Egypt at the start of the 20th century, and also founded the vegetable marketplace in the district of Bab el-Louk, an architectural masterpiece.


Local Jews helped pioneer the modern shopping malls here, through brands such as Omar Effendi, Sidnawi, Cicurel and Shamla. Yacoub Sannou was known as "the father of Egyptian theater." The Mosairy and Edward Levy companies were central to production and distribution in the local film industry. Togo Misrahi was a leading director; Lilian Levy Cohen, "Kamilia," was a star actress, as was Rachel Abraham Levy, known as Raqia Ibrahim. Negma Ibrahim participated in plays whose revenue was dedicated to the Egyptian army.

Nazira Mousa Shehata, nicknamed Nagwa Salem, was the only Egyptian artist to win the "Jihad" shield for her role during the War of Attrition. Then there was the legendary singer Laila Mourad, her musician brother Munir and the great artist Dawoud Hosni.

This talk about Egypt's Jews, prompted by Uncle Elie's visit, is not mere nostalgia for a bygone era that certainly will not return. Rather, it is a cause for reflection.


We have to learn from our errors, as all civilized nations do, including the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese. Otherwise, our descendants will pay the price. And the first step is to end the blame game and acknowledge: Yes, where Egypt's Jews are concerned, we made a mistake.


The writer is an Egyptian journalist and political analyst.

 

***************************************

 

 

 


******************************************************************************************

HAARETZ

OPINION

DANINO'S NATIONAL BEAT

 

Aharonovitch likely believes that Danino, who is likely to serve as commissioner in a shifting political landscape, will be his true partner in effecting critical changes in the Israel Police.

 

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch deliberated for weeks before picking Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino to be the next national police commissioner. The decision is an important one not only because the appointment of a new commander is a big moment in the life of any organization, but also because the police commissioner usually outlasts the minister who recommended his appointment.

 

Governments fall, ministers come and go, but the national police chief stays on for three or four years. Thus, Aharonovitch likely believes that Danino, who is likely to serve as commissioner in a shifting political landscape, will be his true partner in effecting critical changes in the Israel Police.

 

This platform, consisting of the foundations laid by the outgoing commissioner, David Cohen, plus modifications dictated by new needs, must match the resources of the police and its abilities to take on the challenges of the second decade of the 21st century.

 

The challenges are many, from corruption at the highest reaches of government to the depths of the criminal underworld, with its crimes against property and persons and disruption of the public order.

 

In the years to come, Israel could face missile strikes against civilian population sectors as well as the need to evacuate settlements in the West Bank. It will be up to Danino to ready the police for these scenarios as well.

 

Like the other candidates for the post, Danino is a member of today's sophisticated officers corps, which is the equal to the commanding ranks of other security and law enforcement agencies. The difficulty lies in translating the personal capability of the top officials into the performance of nearly 30,000 police officers, many of whom are severely overworked, underpaid and bitter about how the public and their commanders relate to them.

 

Beat policing was abandoned in Israel decades ago, but the person whose beat is the entire nation is expected to be able to inculcate in his officers a spirit of battle against criminals, on the one hand, and of service without harm to innocent citizens on the other.

 

This is also a test for the prime minister and his ministers, as well as for Israeli society as a whole when it next votes on its order of priorities: Is the welfare of all citizens, at home and on the street, less important to them than other matters that are precious to certain sectors only?

 

**************************************

 


HAARETZ

OPINION

AN ANTI-ZIONIST GOVERNMENT

NETANYAHU'S GOVERNMENT PLANS TO GIVE A KASHRUT CERTIFICATE TO THE HAREDI COMMUNITY'S CYNICAL AND COWARDLY EVASION OF MILITARY SERVICE.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

What do you call a secular person in Yiddish? Freier (sucker ), the yeshiva students answer, and burst out laughing. For really, it's so easy to pull a fast one on the secular public and extract boundless government funding and special benefits from it - and all while complaining of discrimination.

 

A commander in the Air Force's Shahar program, where a few hundred Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) soldiers are learning technical skills, told me of a conversation he had recently with one of the soldiers in his course. "You get a salary of NIS 4,000 a month from the army, so you're surely now among the wealthy" in your community, the commander began.

 

"Are you kidding?" the soldier replied. "In yeshiva, I got more."

 

"How is that possible?" the commander asked. "After all, you [Haredim] claim you live in poverty and have nothing."

 

"Well, that's because we want to extract as much as possible from you," the soldier replied. "You know the 'Lithuanians' [non-Hasidic Ashkenazi Haredim] view the government as a tyrant from whom it's a mitzvah to wring money."

 

And then he showed the commander his bank statements as a yeshiva student.

 

"From the Education Ministry, I got the guaranteed income allowance for yeshiva students of NIS 1,040 a month," he continued. "From the yeshiva, I got a stipend of NIS 1,500 [from the Religious Services Ministry's budget]. In addition, I got a child allowance of NIS 750 [from the National Insurance Institute]. And I also got a donation of NIS 500 a month from Jewish philanthropists overseas. In addition, I did a little under-the-table work - writing mezuzahs and escorting [school children] on buses, and that gave me another NIS 1,300. My family also got discounts and benefits as a yeshiva student, like the 80 percent discount on arnona [municipal taxes], which is worth NIS 250 a month, and day-care subsidies worth NIS 800 a month per child. So what's this NIS 4,000 that you're giving us? It's nothing."

 

That's why it was so sad to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz this week as they tried to depict yet another capitulation to the Haredim as a kind of reform. Another reform like this and we're goners.

 

They tell us that the cabinet's decision to continue paying yeshiva students a stipend of NIS 1,040 a month and exempt them completely from army service (the latter decision will be approved next week ) will encourage them to abandon the fleshpots of government allowances and go out to work.

 

You have to be an absolute simpleton to believe that - or else a first-class political cynic. Not only will not a single additional Haredi get a job due to these decisions, but the Netanyahu-Steinitz government will go down in history as an anti-Zionist government that undermined the state's fundamental values for one single purpose: retaining their positions, and the honors they confer.

 

This will be the first government ever to place a legal seal of approval on the Israel Defense Forces' demise as the people's army. It's a government that plans to give a kashrut certificate to the Haredi community's cynical and cowardly evasion of military service.

 

The nation will thereby be divided in two: those who risk life and limb to defend the homeland, and those who sit at home and laugh at the freiers.

 

Even IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi raised an outcry on Sunday, when he protested, "we're in favor of integrating Haredim into the army - and if we're allowed, into the job market as well." That's also what incoming chief of staff Yoav Galant thinks.

 

But Netanyahu and Steinitz are willing to grant the Haredim a complete exemption from military service at age 22. They disregard the fact that this will push other religious or traditional young men into the arms of Haredi yeshivas. They also disregard the fact that it will encourage draft-dodging among the secular community, which will not be willing to serve forever as donkeys carrying the Haredim on their backs.

 

Steinitz says the very fact that guaranteed income allowances for yeshiva students will be limited to five years is "a real turnabout." But in truth, it's a turnabout for the worse. First, this limit won't apply to the 80 percent of yeshiva students who are over age 29. And second, everyone knows that in politics, five years is more than enough time in which to make changes.

 

Meanwhile, not a single Haredi has actually had his allowance stopped. And that's what matters.

 

Moreover, the government recently increased its financial allocation to the yeshivas by NIS 200 million, to NIS 1.1 billion, and put this sum into the baseline budget - something no previous government ever dared to do. And to this must be added the NIS 1 billion given to the independent school systems run by Shas and United Torah Judaism, which on one hand still refuse to teach the core curriculum, and on the other educate their students in anti-democratic, anti-state and anti-Zionist values.

 

But the Haredim know that freiers never die. They just get replaced by new ones.

 

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

THE STATE, THE RABBINATE AND THE PRYING

THE TIME HAS COME TO DO AWAY WITH THE RABBINATE AND STRIP THE STATE OF ITS DESPICABLE ROLE OF DIGGING INTO PEOPLE'S ORIGINS.

BY YITZHAK LAOR

 

Religious Jews in Israel have no need for the Chief Rabbinate. Moreover, some of the Rabbinate's staunchest followers have rabbis who are not connected to it, as well as their own kashrut inspectors. The Rabbinate's existence is so absurd we can only admit that its power relies, among other things, on the ignorance of the secular, at least in matters of halakha (Jewish religious law ).

 

Judaism has no ecclesiastical hierarchy. When a Jew turns to a rabbi about a religious problem, the rabbi does not represent the Rabbinate above him. There is no Rabbinate above him. It is doubtful whether there is even a rabbi above him, only halakha, and even previous rulings do not always bear the status of being "precedent setting."

 

There are great rabbis, in terms of their knowledge, or their status, or their holiness - but the Chief Rabbinate has no standing in the religious mosaic. The three political leaderships comprised of the Shas party's Council of Torah Sages and their counterparts in the two Ashkenazi camps' great Torah sages are well-aware of their charismatic role (in the sociological meaning of the term ): providing three alliances between Hasidic courts, yeshivas and communities which are represented by three political factions in the Knesset.

 

It is true nearly all Jews in Israel circumcise their sons. There is no need for the Chief Rabbinate, or even a local rabbinate, to carry this out; the role of the mohel was "privatized" from the start. The vast majority of Jews in Israel are buried in religious cemeteries; there is need only for Hevra Kadisha for this, which in any case is a local institution.

 

About two-thirds of Israel's Jews keep kosher; this, too, does not require the Chief Rabbinate. Supervising kashrut can be done through local religious services (the independent Haredi badatzim provide such proof ). And most Jews in Israel marry in a religious ceremony, which also has no need for a Chief Rabbinate; a local rabbi would do.

 

But here is where the real role of the Chief Rabbinate begins - and it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the state. Concern for the well-being of the Chief Rabbinate is nothing but fear of civil marriages, and especially civil divorce, because the State of Israel needs to do in our stead what Jews the world over have done for many years and continue to do on their own: to decide whether or not they want to marry "within their nation." This is why every Zionist party has supported the existence of the Chief Rabbinate and its scandalous role of exclusive control over matrimonial law.

 

This perplexing state of affairs has reached its peak with the two pieces of legislation before the current Knesset - both in the spirit of the great religious reformer, Avigdor Lieberman. It is worth paying attention to the military conversion law. Now, with the victory of the "reform," the army's rabbis are allowed to bring into the Jewish faith those whose Judaism was in question, but only if they have served in the Israel Defense Forces. A veritable religious innovation: the army as ritual vessel.

 

And soon we will celebrate civil marriages as the zenith of ethnocratic liberalism. According to the new law, which was approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in March, the state will allow those defined as having "no religion" to establish a family. Who is a person who has "no religion"? Only those whom the Chief Rabbinate defines as having "no religion" (not, God forbid, Muslims or Christians - as far as the Rabbinate knows, according to its records ).

 

What was already presented as a "historic turning point" will not revoke the ban on marriages based on one's choice, or on divorcing in courts, nor will it do away with the tragedy of those who are "unqualified for marriage," "bastards," or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce (either because the husband has disappeared, or because he does not want to ). It will certainly not cater to homosexuals and lesbians.

 

The Zionist consensus in the Knesset has leaned in favor of reinforcing the Jewish majority, and not against the Chief Rabbinate, but on its side. The time has come to do away with the Rabbinate and strip the state of its despicable role of digging into people's origins. This will inflict no harm on the halakhic world of the religious.

 

On the other hand, it is easier to harass poor Haredim and their exemption from military service.

 

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

CHOOSE LIFE

IT IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT AND URGENT TODAY TO INVITE THE ULTRA-ORTHODOX TO JOIN SOCIETY AT LARGE, TO ENABLE THEM TO INTEGRATE INTO IT, TO BE PART OF IT, TO WORK LEGALLY, TO EARN PROPER WAGES AND PAY TAXES, THAN TO FORCE THEM INTO OLIVE UNIFORMS.

BY MERAV MICHAELI

 

If anyone still had any doubt about the advisability and necessity of exempting ultra-Orthodox men from army service, statistics were released yesterday showing 45 percent of those getting psychological exemptions are Haredi.

 

The secular reactions to this figure were the usual shocked responses disparaging the ultra-Orthodox. But if the disparagers would have waited a minute, they would have understood the fascinating truth behind this statistic.

 

It turns out that being psychological unfit enables ultra-Orthodox youths to not only avoid army service, but also not to study in a yeshiva. That is the reason that young ultra-Orthodox men have taken the trouble to go to army psychologists and get the exemption, and not make do with the "Torah as profession" exemption.

 

They don't want the Torah to be their profession. They want to work. In essence, young ultra-Orthodox men are using the Israel Defense Forces to get free of the coerced yeshiva study imposed on them by their rabbis and the state.

 

It should be understood: Contrary to the secular scorn for Talmud study, these studies are extremely difficult and demanding. These are complex texts, huge quantities of material in languages from various periods and a tremendous world of knowledge in of itself. Few people are prepared for these studies, certainly for a way of life that includes only these studies.

 

So why shouldn't they go to the army? First of all, because their rabbis don't want them to. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis fear the integration of the young men into secular Israeli society. That is why they saw to it that the youths would be educated in a way that makes them view volunteer work in a charity center or observing the Sabbath as activities that serve the country the same as military service.

 

The few who are interested in serving in the military find it difficult to do so, because the programs for ultra-Orthodox soldiers, especially the Nahal units, are perceived as a solution for those leaving the ultra-Orthodox fold, not really a prestigious or moral option.

 

In this way a situation has been created in which many ultra-Orthodox men are registered in yeshivas, but in fact work illegally, getting paid under the table. The black economy is so big in the ultra-Orthodox sector that there are those who estimate that no less money changes hands in Bnei Brak than in Tel Aviv "with all its towers," as an ultra-Orthodox friend told me this week.

 

On the face of it, wholesale exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from army service is really unequal treatment. But they don't serve anyway, and in fact three committees that have examined compulsory military service in the past decade (the Sheffer, Ben Bassat and Brodet panels ) found that the army has a manpower surplus.

 

It is much more important and urgent today to invite the ultra-Orthodox to join society at large, to enable them to integrate into it, to be part of it, to work legally, to earn proper wages and pay taxes, than to force them into olive uniforms.

 

Years of ego and ethos wars between the rabbinical and secular establishments leave only two options: die for your country or suffocate yourself under the tent of the Torah. In this matter the two sides are cooperating: in both cases the issue is death, not life.

 

The state and the hegemony in Israel are still secular, and the state bears the responsibility to free the ultra-Orthodox from compulsory military service, to create more institutions of higher learning for them and enable them to become part the country.

 

Moreover, Israeli society should take responsibility for its character: acknowledge gains from military service, enable individuals who are gifted in the realms of culture and academics to grow and flourish, and create a society that is an attractive and meaningful alternative worth joining.

 

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

THE DEAD SEA WORKS SHOULD PAY

THE ACCUMULATING SALT IS A BY-PRODUCT OF THE PROCESS OF COLLECTING RAW MATERIALS, AND AS SUCH THE DEAD SEA WORKS SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR DEALING WITH IT, PAYING WHAT IS NECESSARY AND PREVENTING THE FLOODING OF THE HOTELS.

BY ZAFRIR RINAT

 

After contending with extensive fire damage in the Carmel and the collapse of numerous structures along the Mediterranean shore, the government must now determine how to handle another catastrophe created by man and the forces of nature. The issue at hand this time around? Preventing the flooding of the hotels near the southern Dead Sea, thanks to the rising water level of a pond that serves the Dead Sea Works.

 

The salt in the pond, which is adjacent to the hotels, is accumulating and causing the water level to rise. Thus far, giant earth berms have been created around the pond to prevent flooding; but it must be decided how much longer this strategy will be used and when it is time to look for another solution. The Finance Ministry has declared its support for possibly moving the hotels further away from the threatening pond. For apparent financial reasons, this option was favored over harvesting the salt - a project the state and Dead Sea Works were supposed to fund together.

 

Moving the hotels will destroy the local tourism industry, which will find itself operating on a construction site. Meanwhile, quarrying huge amounts of earth to continue raising the berms will also destroy the landscape. And in any case, this strategy will not remove the need to harvest the salt within little more than a decade; the berms cannot be raised indefinitely.

 

The government has no choice but to deal head-on with the question of the future of the Dead Sea and the integration of industrial activity in the area. The future of the area is to be determined through a master plan now being prepared - but without a decision on these particular hotels, the process of approving the master plan has been delayed for over a year.

 

The Dead Sea Works operates under a concession that grants it broad freedom of action in and around the Dead Sea until 2030. The plant has decisive influence over the area and is pressing for solutions that will enable it to continue to run the area as it sees fit, while keeping costs as low as possible.

 

This situation needs to be changed, and the Dead Sea Works should be integrated into current industrial realities - in which industries are responsible for both production processes and their results. The accumulating salt is a by-product of the process of collecting raw materials, and as such the Dead Sea Works should be responsible for dealing with it, paying what is necessary and preventing the flooding of the hotels.

 

But it is not enough to address the salt level of just one pond. The government should determine, through the master plan now on hold, the overall planning of the Dead Sea area. It should provide the Dead Sea Works with a long-term framework for activity, giving it a sense of certainty and encouraging it to invest in environmental conservation.

 

The Dead Sea Works will have to base its operations on principles of sustainable development already set out in the master plan. In carrying out any activity to increase production capacity or raise the level of the ponds, it will be required to consider how such activity will impact the environment and the landscape.

 

Industrial activity will have to be completely subject to planning and building laws, and the Dead Sea Works will have to repair any damages caused in the past. It will also be necessary to reexamine the size of the concession area, the methods of production at the plant and whether the company is justified in its recent request it to build another pond.

 

The fact that the southern portion of the Dead Sea is now dotted with industrial ponds does not justify further expansion of this activity, which means the continued pumping of water from the northern part of the sea to the ponds and intensifying the process of drying up the sea.

 

***************************************


 

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

EDITORIAL

KEEP ARIZONA ELECTIONS CLEAN

 

Until not long ago, Arizona politics were an open sewer of corruption. But the state adopted a system of public campaign financing in 1998, and, since then, more than half of all candidates for office in Arizona have opted for this money.

 

Not anymore. Last June, in the middle of a political campaign, the Supreme Court — which seems at times to be on a crusade to remake the American electoral landscape — thrust itself into an ongoing lawsuit and froze the crucial element of the financing system.

 

Arizona provides a set amount of money in initial public support for a campaign to candidates who opt in, depending on the type of election. But if such a candidate faces a rival who has opted out, the state will match what the opponent raises in private donations, up to triple the initial amount.

 

It is this part of the financing system, known as triggered matching funds, that the Supreme Court has suspended. This case gives the justices the chance to uphold a well-crafted tool of public financing. It gives them the chance to say clearly why the matching-funds provision carries out a core purpose of the Constitution.

 

A group of recent Arizona candidates is challenging the triggered funds by arguing that the system violates their First Amendment right to free speech. They say that the prospect of matching funds for opponents deterred them from exercising their right: the fear of triggering funds led them to delay or refrain from raising and spending money and so to censor themselves.

 

This claim is ludicrous. The First Amendment gives all candidates the right to express their views, not to have the floor to themselves. The Supreme Court lets them raise as much as they can — or spend as much of their own money as they want. The Arizona law lets them use that money to full effect.

 

The public financing system was designed to clean up a monumental scandal. The chairman of the Arizona House Judiciary Committee was caught on videotape jovially stuffing a gym bag with $55,000 in cash, a blatant bribe for his vote. In that era of outlandish wrongdoing, almost one out of 10 of the Arizona Legislature was charged with political corruption. The governor was removed for acting corruptly. So was his successor.

 

The provision for matching funds frees candidates from the need to raise money to run for office. It invigorates politics by encouraging new candidates to take part, assuring they can compete against even well-heeled opponents. Matching funds give candidates another reason to choose public support, providing them enough to run effectively even if they couldn't raise any money from private donors. They increase the chances that Arizona elections will be fair.

 

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, which unleashed corporate, labor and other financing in elections, makes fair public financing more important than ever. The court now lets moneyed institutions spend unlimited amounts in politics, so the court must allow this essential part of the Arizona system and mechanisms like it. It must let candidates who need public support have enough public dollars to compete effectively.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOOGLE'S NEXT DEAL

 

Antitrust regulators face a tough decision on whether to allow Google to buy ITA Software, a company that organizes online flight information.

 

Once it gets into that business, Google may well figure out brilliant new ways to help travelers organize and book vacations online. But Google's dominance of online search — which allows it to steer users to certain Web sites and away from others — raises a real concern about the potential consequences of the deal.

 

Google cannot abuse its dominance in search to shut out the competition. What would happen to the $80 billion-a-year online travel business if Google's rivals were relegated to the nether reaches of its search results and it came to dominate the search for online tickets, too?

 

This concern comes up every time Google adds a new service — comparison shopping, maps, a bookstore. AOL's Mapquest was clobbered when Google entered that business, dropping from first place to a distant second in less than two years. This was partly because of Google's putting its own maps on top in response to queries about locations. In November, the European Commission opened an investigation into whether Google was illegally promoting its services and penalizing rivals.

 

Google's recent growth by attaching ancillary services to its core search business reminds many technology experts of Microsoft's old strategy of bundling services like a Web browser, extending its monopoly in operating systems to new markets. That strategy led to one of the biggest antitrust cases of our time, and Microsoft lost.

 

Regulation is not about protecting every one of Google's rivals. What matters is that the market remain reasonably competitive. This might warrant imposing conditions on the deal. If regulators decide the risks are big enough it might warrant disallowing the deal.

 

Regulators must consider that if Google extends its dominance to the business of steering online customers to airlines and travel agencies, it would be in a position to charge more for this service. Without strong competitors to keep it in check, it might offer preferential placement to some airlines or agencies for a fee, or not list offers from companies that didn't pay up. This could lead to higher costs for agencies, airlines and passengers.

 

In addition to the issue of Google's size, some competitors worry because ITA's software powers most of the online travel search engines today. They fear it falling into the hands of a competitor. While Google has said it will license the technology, regulators could extract commitments from the company to ensure that it does so at a fair cost and without degrading the technology.

 

Another option to consider is whether Google should just license ITA's technology, rather than buy it. Google says it needs to buy the company so its engineers can help Google design entirely new ways of searching for travel.

 

The Justice Department, which is considering the deal, might decide that the expected benefits from a new Google travel option outweigh the risk that this market will become too concentrated. That might be the right choice. But it is imperative that the department takes a close look at the deal and its potential consequences.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CELESTIAL HOLIDAYS

 

This is it, the shortest day of the year, the longest night. Winter, which begins Tuesday at 6:38 p.m. Eastern time, will get no darker than this. Slowly, inexorably, the days will begin to yawn wider and wider, and night will begin to contract. The change is just a few seconds at first — New Year's Eve in Manhattan will be only 28 seconds longer than Christmas Eve. By mid-March, the days will be growing by some 2 minutes and 40 seconds apiece, and then the rate of change slows again until late June.

 

We come to the winter solstice with mixed feelings. It will be lovely to have more light in the day. But there's something equally wonderful about these long hibernal nights. By 4:30 every day — just as the sun is disappearing — we start to feel a little ursine, ready to dig a hole and sleep away the winter. How different our species would be if only we'd learned that one great trick!

 

We are all deeply habituated, in this northern clime, to the annual accordioning of the day — so much so that an equatorial place like Quito, Ecuador, where the length of day changes only by a second from solstice to solstice, sounds almost like a city out of science fiction. In some ways, that daily constancy seems more disorienting here, where the length of day changes by almost six hours, than the reversal of seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas comes in summer.

 

Another important astronomical holiday follows soon after the winter solstice (which included a lunar eclipse). At 2 p.m., New York time, on Jan. 3, the Earth reaches perihelion — the closest approach to the Sun in our elliptical orbit, a little more than 91 million miles away. For some reason, this is a moment that goes uncelebrated, entirely unheralded. So we say to you all, Merry Solstice and have a Happy Perihelion!

 

***************************************

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DON VAN VLIET

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

Summer of 1969. Parents away. A 50-foot audio cable runs from the stereo through a window across the porch to the lawn, where it terminates in headphones with my head between them. I'm lying on my back in the Sacramento night. On the turntable is "Trout Mask Replica," just released, which I've listened to again and again. It is the magnum opus of the Magic Band led by Captain Beefheart, a k a Don Van Vliet, who died on Friday at age 69.

 

I had never heard anything like "Trout Mask Replica." I listened to it again when I heard that Van Vliet had died. It still feels like walking through a crooked house where every crooked room is a crooked art installation, every song a spirochete that nests in your brain. For years, I've heard in my head the syncopated hitch in the gait of this music, the meticulous noodlings of the electric guitars, the frantic drumming, and, above all, Captain Beefheart's voice.

 

It rumbles and clatters like an avalanche of boulders. It squeals as if Beefheart had found some inner harmonic in the dog's range. It makes Tom Waits sound like Julie Andrews. It veers between thoracic and nasal in a single note, every bit as surreal as the lyrics.

 

Captain Beefheart was a pure product of Southern California. Much of "Trout Mask Replica" was written and rehearsed over three years in a cabin in Woodland Hills on the edge of the San Fernando Valley — a residence that should be as famous as "Big Pink" in West Saugerties, N.Y., where The Band holed up. That was where Beefheart drove his band and was driven by them — Zoot Horn Rollo, Rockette Morton, The Mascara Snake, Antennae Jimmy Semens, and Drumbo — into making one of the seminal albums of all time.

 

There is more to Beefheart than "Trout Mask Replica," and far more to Don Van Vliet, who retired with his wife to Trinidad, Calif., where he painted and gradually succumbed to multiple sclerosis. He never made much money being Captain Beefheart. But he left an eerie and undying legacy. VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FEAR VS. REASON IN THE ARMS CONTROL DEBATE

BY ROBERT WRIGHT

 

There are six living secretaries of state from Republican administrations, and every one of them — from Henry Kissinger through Condoleezza Rice — endorses the New Start arms control treaty with Russia. Yet, as of this writing, the treaty is far from assured of support from even the one in four Republican senators needed for ratification.

 

Why the divergence between the Republican Party's foreign policy brain trust and its legislators? Hoping to find out, I spent part of the past weekend watching C-Span, notably the impassioned utterances of Jon Kyl of Arizona, the leading treaty opponent. On Sunday, there was a stretch of action that may highlight some differences between the Kyls and Kissingers of the world.

 

Kyl was complaining that the treaty deals only with strategic nuclear weapons (on long-range bombers, submarines or intercontinental missiles) and not with tactical nukes (the typically lower-yield, shorter-range warheads used to aid conventional forces in battle). One reason this is troubling, according to Kyl, is that Russia is so trigger-happy; whereas America views its nukes as a deterrent, he said, "to the Russians, tactical nuclear weapons are a battlefield weapon, just like artillery."

 

Now, if Russia really did see tactical nuclear weapons as "just like artillery," then sometime during the 1980s Afghanistan would have become a 250,000-square-mile expanse of warm glass. This is one difference between a Kyl and a Kissinger: Kissinger generally stayed calm and rational when assessing an adversary.

 

Anyway, Kyl proceeded from this semi-hysterical premise to say that, because our strategic nuclear arsenal deters Russia's use of tactical nukes, the New Start treaty should scare us. "It clearly would be to our detriment if we reduce our strategic offensive weapons down to the point that these tactical nuclear weapons could create an imbalance of power."

 

Hold on. Under New Start, America, like Russia, could deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads, each of which is way, way more powerful than the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima. The way deterrence works is that if Russia fears that even a few of these warheads could find their targets — vaporizing, say, Moscow, St. Petersburg and a couple of lesser cities — then it won't initiate the use of nuclear weapons. Kyl's apparent fear that Russia's tactical nuclear arsenal could somehow neutralize our entire deterrent force is ludicrous — another triumph of fear over cool reason.

 

I could go on, listing Kyl's arcane anxieties about the menace of a resurgent Russian Bear and subjecting them to the kind of logic that a Kissinger or Rice would deploy. But to keep talking about Russia would be to keep the conversation where Kyl wants it and so distract us from a basic fact that Kissinger and Rice appreciate: Fundamentally, this treaty isn't about the threat posed by Russia's military.

 

Here are some of the treaty's key virtues: It would increase our confidence that Russian nukes aren't going stray and winding up in terrorists' hands (by re-establishing inspections that lapsed with the expiration of the first Start treaty); it would strengthen a partnership with Russia that could help keep Iran nuke-free and help contain the North Korean threat; it would show non-nuclear nations that the great powers are making a good faith effort to reduce their stockpiles, thus rendering these nations more amenable to a much-needed tightening of the world's nuclear non-proliferation regime.

 

Maybe it would be an oversimplification to say that, decades after the Berlin Wall fell, Kyl is mired in a cold war mindset. Not all of his fears are about Russia. On Saturday his big concern was that the treaty might somehow keep us from building a missile defense system that could bat down projectiles coming from Iran or North Korea.

 

Yet even here, while evincing a post-Berlin-Wall perspective, he seems stuck in pre-9/11 mode, unaware that the most pressing threats to America aren't from nation-states.

 

Even if you think that a North Korea or Iran might someday, in the distant future, possess both the capacity and the craziness to launch a suicidal attack on us, there is a much more immediate threat: that North Korea, desperate for cash, would sell nukes to terrorists who could sneak them into the United States and detonate them; or that some Russian general might cut such a deal with a terrorist. Both of these prospects will loom less large if New Start is ratified.

 

By the way, the idea that the treaty itself prevents us from building a missile defense system is so groundless that even Kyl isn't quite embracing it. His real fear, he says, is that a vague reference to missile defense in the (non-binding) preamble will be seized on, however wrongly, by the Russians, who will use it to cause trouble down the road. And why deal with threats that actually exist when you can spend your time obsessing over things Russia might do down the road?

 

A version of this article appeared in print on December 21, 2010, on page A35 of the New York edition.

 

***************************************

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE ARDUOUS COMMUNITY

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

For the past few years, there has been a strange motif running through my social life. I'd go out with some writers, and they'd start gushing about someone named Erica Brown. "She has an inner light," one of them once said. I'd be out with my wife and some of her friends, and they, too, would be raving about Erica Brown. "If she taught a course in making toast, I'd take it," somebody remarked.

 

This Brown woman was leading Torah study groups and teaching adult education classes in Jewish thought, and was somehow inspiring Justin Bieber-like enthusiasm. Eventually, I went to her Web site to figure out what all the fuss was about.

 

I learned that she's a scholar in residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. She has several graduate degrees. She writes columns on Jewish life. But nothing on the Web site explained the respect she commands.

 

Then I invited her to coffee, and it all became clear. Brown has what many people are looking for these days. In the first place, she has conviction. For her, Judaism isn't a punch line or a source of neuroticism; it's a path to self-confident and superior living. She didn't seem hostile to the things that make up most coffee-table chatter — status, celebrity, policy, pop culture — she just didn't show much interest. As one of her students e-mailed me: "Erica embodies Judaism's stand against idol worship. It is actually true that she worships nothing other than God, which is particularly unusual in Washington."

 

Then there is the matter of how she speaks. Somehow (and I'm not going to be able to capture this adequately), she combines extreme empathy with extreme tough-mindedness.

 

In her classes and groups, she tries to create arduous countercultural communities. "We live in a relativistic culture," she told me. Many people have no firm categories to organize their thinking. They find it hard to give a straight yes or no answer to tough moral questions. When they go in search of answers, they generally find people who offer them comfort and ways to ease their anxiety.

 

Brown tries to do the opposite. Jewish learning, she says, isn't about achieving tranquility. It's about the struggle. "I try to make people uncomfortable."

 

Brown will sometimes gather her students — who are accomplished adults — and tell them to turn off their cellphones in unison before class. She will have a Late Seat — a chair placed directly next to her for a student who didn't manage to make it to class on time.

 

She writes about the fear adults bring into the classroom: the fear of looking stupid; the fear of confessing how little they know about their religion; the fear teachers have of being unmasked in front of students. With prodding and love, she tries to exploit those fears and turn them into moments of insufficiency and learning.

 

Her classes are dialogues structured by ancient texts. She may begin with a topic: "When Jews Do Bad Things" or "Boredom Is So Interesting." She will present a biblical text or a Talmudic teaching, and mix it with modern quotations. She may ask students to write down some initial reflections, then try to foment a fierce discussion.

 

Brown seems to poke people with concepts that sit uncomfortably with the modern mind-set — submission and sin. She writes about disorienting situations: vengeance, scandal, group shame. During our coffee, she criticized the way some observers bury moral teaching under legal casuistry and the way some moderns try to explain away the unfashionable things the Torah clearly says.

 

She pushes the highly successful. No, serving the poor for a few days a year isn't enough. Yes, it is necessary to expose a friend's adultery because his marriage is more important than your friendship.

 

All of this sounds hard, but Brown thinks as much about her students as her subject matter. "You can't be

Jewish alone" she told me. So learning is a way to create communities and relationships.

 

I concluded that Brown's impact stems from her ability to undermine the egos of the successful at the same time that she lovingly helps them build better lives. She offers a path out of the tyranny of the perpetually open mind by presenting authoritative traditions and teachings. Most educational institutions emphasize individual advancement. Brown nurtures the community and the group.

 

It's interesting that her work happens in the world of adult education. Americans obsess about K-12 education. The country has plenty of religious institutions. But adult education is an orphan, an amorphous space in-between. This is a shame, but it also gives Brown the space to develop her method.

 

This nation is probably full of people who'd be great adult educators, but there are few avenues to bring those teachers into contact with mature and hungry minds. Now you hear about such people by word of mouth.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

LAST BAN STANDING

BY GEORGE CHAUNCEY

 

THE debate leading up to the Senate vote on Saturday to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy has focused primarily on developments in the 17 years since its inception under President Bill Clinton.

 

But in fact the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the military has been a crucial issue for the gay movement for 65 years — in part because, during the postwar decades, it served as a model for anti-homosexual discrimination throughout the government and private sector.

 

In fact, the first American gay political organization to last more than a few months was founded by veterans at the end of World War II to protest a policy the military had adopted during the war: it now excluded them as a group from service (instead of prosecuting individual men for homosexual behavior). It was the first time the federal government classified and discriminated against Americans on the basis of their identity as homosexuals.

 

Most gay military men of that generation managed to serve despite the policy. But several thousand were excluded at induction centers and several thousand more received undesirable discharges (that is, they were discharged without honor) once their officers discovered they were gay.

 

A discharge for homosexuality not only haunted those men on the job market — at a time when many employers expected to see a veteran's discharge papers — but it also denied them the generous benefits of the G.I. Bill.

 

The military's policy also served as a precedent for further exclusions outside the service. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower issued an executive order excluding homosexuals from employment in civilian agencies as well. This rule was enforced with considerable vigor: even at the height of the McCarthy era in the 1950s, the federal government discharged more suspected homosexuals than suspected communists.

 

Eisenhower's order also required private companies with government contracts to ferret out and discharge their homosexual employees. Numerous states took the federal government's cue and prohibited bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals or even allowing them to gather.

 

Many of these policies were dismantled beginning in the 1970s. But the persistence of the military exclusion continued to send a powerful message that gay people were not full members of the nation — not least because, historically, military service has been an important sign and condition of full citizenship.

 

Ending "don't ask, don't tell" not only honors the thousands of lesbians and gay men now in the service, it honors the memory of the veterans who insisted, 65 years ago, that they deserved to share in the freedom they had waged a war to defend.

 

George Chauncey is a history professor at Yale.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THANKS FOR THE TAX CUT!

BY LARRY DAVID

 

THERE is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I'm the last person in the world I'd want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

 

To begin with, I was planning a trip to Cabo with my kids for Christmas vacation. We were going to fly coach, but now with the money I'm saving in taxes, I'm going to splurge and bump myself up to first class. First class! Somebody told me they serve warm nuts up there, and call you "mister." I might not get off the plane!

 

I'm also going to call the hotel and get another room so I don't have to sleep on a cot in the kids' room. Don't get me wrong — I love a good cot. The problem is they tend to take up a lot of room, and it's getting a little tougher in my advancing years to fold it up and drag it to the closet. I mean, I'd do it if I had to, but guess what? I don't! Not with this windfall coming my way. Now I get to have my own room with a king-sized bed. And who knows, maybe I'll even get some fancy bottled water from the minibar. This is shaping up to be the best vacation I've had in years.

 

When I get home, thanks to the great compromise, the first thing I'm going to do is get a flat-screen TV. Finally I can throw out the 20-inch Zenith with the rabbit ears, the one I inherited from my parents when they died. The reception is terrible and I'm getting tired of going out to bars every time I want to watch a game. Last month, the antenna broke and I tried to improvise one with a metal hanger and wound up cutting myself. Every time I see that scab, I say to myself, "If, God willing, those Bush tax cuts are restored, I'm going to buy a new TV." Well, guess what? They have been!

 

It's also going to be a boon for my health. After years of coveting them, I'll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don't support health care? I'm going to have the blueberries with my cereal, and I'm not talking Special K. Those days are over. It's nothing but real granola from now on. The kind you get in the plastic bins in health food stores. Did someone say "organic"?

 

The only problem is if, God forbid, the tax cuts are repealed in two years, how will I ever go back to Special K and bananas? Well, I did quit smoking, so I'm sure if push came to shove I could summon up the willpower to get off granola and blueberries. Of course, I suppose with the money I managed to save from the "Seinfeld" syndication, I probably could continue to eat granola with blueberries, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

 

Life was good, and now it's even better. Thank you, Republicans. And a special thank you to President Obama and the Democrats. I didn't know you cared.

 

Larry David appears in the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

LAME-DUCK LESSONS

DON'T ASK' REPEAL MAKES HISTORY

 

Lame-duck sessions of Congress typically don't accomplish much, but this one has been a surprise. Perhaps its most momentous action was the weekend Senate vote to repeal the military's destructive "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which since 1993 has forced some 14,000 gay and lesbian servicemembers out of the armed forces and required untold thousands more to be silent about their sexual orientation if they wanted to serve. President Obama is set to sign the repeal on Wednesday.

 

When historians look back decades from now at the profound social changes that began in the 1960s and continue today, the civil rights movement, the empowerment of women and the more tolerant attitudes toward gays will all seem inevitable — the natural byproduct of evolving American views.

 

But anyone who has lived through these upheavals knows they don't feel inevitable at all while they're happening, and this was no exception. Repeal of "don't ask" seemed all but dead in the days leading up to Saturday's Senate vote, in which eightRepublican senators joined with Democrats to change the law.

 

Having the law changed by Congress was far preferable to having it overturned by judicial order, which had been a distinct possibility based on lower court rulings. This outcome allows for orderly, methodical implementation of the change by theDefense Department. Within a few years, it's likely that people inside and outside the military will wonder what all the fuss was about.

 

What still seems far from inevitable is that Americans will find a way to agree on a policy that firmly enforces laws against illegal immigration without being needlessly harsh.

 

Shortly before the Senate voted to repeal "don't ask," it fell five votes short of breaking a filibuster against the DREAM Act, which would set up a path to permanent legal status for children brought into this country by undocumented parents.

 

It's one thing to demand deportation of adults who knowingly broke the law, but scapegoating children — especially children who were brought here before they were 16 and have since been accepted to college or joined the military, as the act would permit — seems cruel and shortsighted. The DREAM Act would deliberately carve out a place for exactly the sort of people who have always strengthened this nation of immigrants.

 

After dessert, time for budget diet

 

The biggest, most difficult piece of business Democrats never got around to before the elections was whether to extend the Bush tax cuts. It's impossible to know whether President Obama could have had his way in trying to reverse the tax breaks for people making more than $250,000 a year. But waiting until after the elections guaranteed that Democrats would be playing a much weaker hand.

 

So the bitter complaints from some Democrats that Obama cut too sweet a deal with Republicans seemed clueless. So did suggestions that this marked a hopeful new sign that the two parties could act in a bipartisan way on the nation's biggest problem. The two sides reached agreement by spending borrowed money to give things away, namely, tax cuts and unemployment benefits. It's as if Republicans wanted cake and Democrats wanted ice cream, so the compromise was ... cake and ice cream!

 

To be sure, a case can be made for temporarily extending the social safety net for the long-term unemployed or for cutting taxes without cutting spending to stimulate a weak economy. But both arguments will grow increasingly weak as the economy recovers.

 

Now it's time for both sides to get serious about what they didn't do, which is to start taking things away. Two bipartisan commissions have weighed in with serious deficit-reduction proposals that would do what it takes to begin getting the national debt under control. For fear of wrecking the fragile recovery, they don't begin cutting spending right away, but when they do, they correctly go right to big-ticket items such as defense, Medicare and Social Security.

 

Just as promising is a proposal to radically revise and simplify the tax code, ending most of the tax breaks and lowering rates, but raising overall revenues. Both sides should find much to like in that, not least a good way to avoid having the fight about extending the Bush tax cuts again when this deal expires in 2012.

 

Members lose their appetite for pork

 

Congress really only has a few jobs it absolutely must do every year, and one is to fund the federal government by passing the annual appropriations bills. If that spending didn't get extended every year, most of what the government does — from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to building roads and bridges and processing retirement checks back home — would have to shut down.

 

This has long been a contentious process, but lately it has gotten even more so. Despite their large majorities in the 111th Congress, the feckless Democrats couldn't or wouldn't pass the individual spending bills this year. Among other things, they were divided internally by disagreements over spending and worried about looking profligate before the elections.

 

Republicans seemed only too glad to contribute to the chaos. They, too, have been tormented by internal battles over how to handle the spending that is increasingly offensive to the party's base. House Republican leaders are said to be having trouble finding freshmen interested in serving on the Appropriations Committee, something that would have been unthinkable when the panel was among the most sought-after posts in Congress and being a "prince of pork" was considered a compliment.

 

Because they can't agree on spending bills, leaders have resorted to the old trick of rolling all the individual bills into a single measure that would extend everything for a year. That effort derailed in the Senate over the weekend in part because of a battle over earmarks, those "spending with a ZIP Code" projects that individual members have long loved.

 

Congress is right to strip out the special spending projects. Together, they're only a tiny fraction of appropriations spending, largely inconsequential in terms of deficit reduction. But they have often been an excuse for abuse and corruption — it's all too common for special interests to "pay" members of Congress with campaign contributions in return for earmarks.

 

If Congress wants to know why its approval ratings are at record low levels, perhaps its failure to perform basic functions has something to do with it.

START pact becomes political plaything

 

The last big vote of the lame-duck session should have been one of the easiest: ratification by the Senate of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Instead, the outcome looks like a cliffhanger with a key vote today, mostly for reasons of political peevishness.

 

The New START treaty, signed eight months ago by President Obama and Russian President