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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 23, edition 000710, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- TACKLING ECONOMIC DISPARITY
- NDA CONFRONTS UPA
- FECKLESS IN DIPLOMACY - G PARTHASARATHY
- FISSURES IN THE BENGAL ALLIANCE - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- SUPPORT FOR ISLAMISM IS INCREASING - BARRY RUBIN
- EMERGING ROLE FOR JORDANIANS IN AL QAEDA - JAMAL HALABY
- DEEPER TIES WITH RUSSIA CAN BENEFIT RISING INDIA
- PRINCES AS OUR MPS
- TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE ON LALLI
- ACTION NEEDED ON GRAFT NOT MERE WORDS - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- BRANDING OF A SCIENTIST - DINESH C. SHARMA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- OLD TIES RENEWED
- WINTER DESTINATION
- CONGRESS AT THE CROSSROADS - MINHAZ MERCHANT
- CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT
- WHOSE MESSAGE IS IT ANYWAY - RUPA SENGUPTA
- NOT ENOUGH CRITICAL MASS
- CHEAP THRILLS
- KEEP IT RUNNING - SAMAR HALARNKAR
- MEDICAL MALADIES - SHOBANA KAMINENI
- IN AN ONION SOUP
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- OFFSIDE INDEED
- LAYERS OF CRISES
- HUNGER FOR CHANGE
- WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- TEARS FOR ONION POLICIES - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- RUNAWAY INVESTMENT - MANOJ C G
- CYBER-WARRIORS ANONYMOUS
- THE SEESAW TILTS
- TV'S INFINITE REGRESS - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- FRENEMIES FOREVER - MURTAZA RAZVI
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- IRON IN ITS SOUL
- SMART MARKETING
- MAKING 'BY INDIA' THE BYWORD - ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA
- CABOTAGE TO SABOTAGE AIRLINE COLLUSION - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- A VERY SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP
- BELEAGUERED HAITI
- LET'S NOT WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT SHANGHAI
- VANESSA L. FONG & PHILIP G. ALTBACH
- A PEEP INTO THE ECONOMICS OF THE CHENNAI MUSIC AND DANCE SEASON - MEERA SRINIVASAN
- IN YEMEN, AL-QAEDA IS A LOW PRIORITY - SARAH EL DEEB
- AFRICAN FARMERS DISPLACED AS INVESTORS MOVE IN - NEIL MACFARQUHAR
THE ASIAN AGE
- INDO-RUSSIAN TIES & THE WAY AHEAD
- CONGRESS' BJP PHOBIA
- NARENDRA MODI'S GREEN THOUGHTS MAY NOT CLEAR HIS IMAGE
- THE MOHAMMED HANEEF CASE SETS A GOOD PRECEDENT
- INDIA, RUSSIA NEGOTIATE NEW EQUATIONS
- IF PM WANTS TO BE HIS OWN MAN, HIS TIME IS NOW - R JAGANNATHAN
THE KASHMIR TIMES
- COSTLY AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
- DECLINE IN GREYING POPULATION
- INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND COMMUNALISM - BY RAM PUNIYANI
- A HUMBLE SPIRIT..!
- WELL SAID, BUT...
- JUST ONE BAD ACT
- CONTROVERSY ON ACCESSIONWHAT IS THE REALITY? - BY BALRAJ PURI
- IN 2010 ECONOMY HAS EMERGED STRONGER - BY RAMESH KANITKAR
- REBELS WITH A PAUSE - BY UMA RAMACHANDRAN
- LOSS OF LIFE IN ACCIDENTS - BY SANJAY KUMAR
- WITHDRAW AGITATION
- TERRORIST TAG
- HURDLES TO GROWTH
- INDIAN DIPLOMACY TODAY - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
- GURU OF CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE - BY RAJINDER S. CHEEMA
- IAS: BRING THE CORRUPT TO JUSTICE - SHAILAJA CHANDRA
- HALL OF SHAME
- IT'S TOO DEEP A MALAISE - RAJAN KASHYAP
- THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI
- TIME FOR FARM REFORM
- DOLLAR REDUX
- 2011 - A speculative peep - Shankar Acharya
- SAFE AND SOUND - KANIKA DATTA
- IT'S CLEAN, AND COMPLICATED - T S VISHWANATH
- AVIATION TAKES A FLYING LEAP - INDICUS ANALYTICS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- WELCOME CLARIFICATION
- STEEL CONSOLIDATION
- AURICLE FROM UKRAINE
- A TALE OF THREE JUBILEES - T T RAM MOHAN
- CRIMINALISING CRITIQUE - NAJEEBMUBARKI
- DO LABOUR LAWS HINDER PRIVATISATION? - KRISHNAMURTHY SUBRAMANIAN
- A THOUGHT FOR THE BIRD IN HAND - MUKUL SHARMA
- INDO-RUSSIAN TIES & THE WAY AHEAD
- CONGRESS' BJP PHOBIA - BY NIRMALA SITHARAMAN
- LITTLE BOYS AND WINNIE THE POOH - BY JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN
- NATIVITY ADDICTS - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- JESUS: THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH - BY SADIA DEHLVI
- THE REAL COST OF SPECTRUM
- VIP PROTECTION
- FUSED BULBS
- TIME TICKING AWAY
- WHEN WEN COMES CALLING - BY SALMAN HAIDAR
- AN INESCAPABLE FEELING OF PESSIMISM
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- NO CHILD'S PLAY!
- ONION SOUP
- LAST THROES
- AUSTERITY BITES - ANABEL LOYD
- THERE'S A LOT IN A NAME - NEHA SAHAY
- ANOTHER GIFT FROM THE MAGI
- PLEASURE AND BUSINESS
- TASTE BUDDIES
- GRATE FULLY
- SERVICE STATE
- A LITTLE LESS PRIVACY - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
- EDUCATION CENTRAL TO ELIMINATING NUKES - BY KATHLEEN SULLIVAN
- GOD WAS WITH ME WITH PASSPORT - BY KAVITHA K
THE JERUSALEM POST
- SELF-SERVING ELECTION THREATS
- CANDIDLY SPEAKING: YEHUDA AVNER'S BEST-SELLER - BY ISI LEIBLER
- FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: ISRAEL'S BEST FRIEND(S) - BY MICHAEL FREUND
- WASHINGTON WATCH: WILL ISRAEL BECOME A WEDGE ISSUE? - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
- THE CONVERSION BILL ANOMALIES - BY SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF
- AN ISRAELI APOLOGY MAY JUST DEEPEN THE RIFT WITH TURKEY - BY JONATHAN SCHANZER
- APPRECIATION: HEDA MARGOLIUS-KOVALY - BY TOM GROSS
- READING THE BAT YAM TEA LEAVES - BY ALON IDAN
- A TASK FOR THE PRESIDENT
- HERZL AND THE MUNICIPAL RABBIS - BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON
- POLLARD IN EXCHANGE FOR A SETTLEMENT FREEZE - BY ISRAEL HAREL
- WHO SAID RACISM? - BY GIDEON LEVY
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE SENATE SURMOUNTS POLITICS
- A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH
- SURVIVAL OF ETHICS OVERSIGHT
- OH, SPIDER-MAN!
- MUSEUMS SHOULD DIG IN - BY BERNARD FRISCHER
- LAME DUCKS TRIUMPHANT - BY GAIL COLLINS
- AMID THE GLOOM AND DOOM, REASONS FOR CHRISTMAS CHEER
- NAPOLITANO: HISTORIC STRIDES SINCE CHRISTMAS '09 - BY JANET NAPOLITANO
- FOR SHORT-TERM VISITS, SNOW ISN'T ALL BAD
- NEW FRUGALITY MUSTN'T SACRIFICE THE HOMELESS - BY JULIANNE MALVEAUX
- END OF MILITARY'S GAY BAN, BUT NOT THE CONTROVERSY
- HOW JESUS' BIRTH BECAME AN 'AMERICAN CHRISTMAS' - BY THOMAS S. KIDD
TIMES FREE PRESS
- AMAZON.COM'S ARRIVAL
- BLUECROSS & 'GOLD BUILDING'
- A TAX-CUT BILL!
- 'LOST DECADE' IN THE U.S.?
- DIGGING US DEEPER IN DEBT
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - REFORM IN THE FOREIGN MINISTRY
- LET'S WISH FOR A SMALLER DIGITAL DIVIDE THIS YEAR - ERSU ABLAK
- RICHARD HOLBROOKE AND AFGHANISTAN - RICHARD REID
- DEAD PEACE PROCESS - GWYNNE DYER
- EU VISA LIBERALIZATION: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, YOU MIGHT GET IT - SERTAÇ AKTAN
- ISRAELI LOBBY WINKS AT ANKARA - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
- A REMINDER - YUSUF KANLI
- A DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE? - ERIC GRYNAVISKI - HARRIS MYLONAS
- 19TH AMENDMENT
- REFORM THAT WORKS
- TRUTH AND LIES
- OUR BUDDING 'KISSINGER' - ZAFAR HILALY
- QUARREL-RIDDEN WEEKS - S KHALID HUSAIN
- A DEADLY SYMBIOSIS - IKRAM SEHGAL
- THE FIGHT BECOMES TOUGH FOR MY FAMILY' - AMINA MASOOD JANJUA
- THE CHALLENGES OF OUR LIFE - KAMILA HYAT
- SWAT VIDEO' FROM SUDAN - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- SPECTRE OF GROUND RAIDS IN PAKISTAN
- SWATI SEES CORRUPTION IN BISP
- GARBAGE DUMPS ALL AROUND
- OF THE ELUSIVE ART OF DIPLOMACY - KHALID SALEEM
- RGST: TOOL FOR CORRUPTION - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- CORRUPTION IN THE HOUSE OF GOD - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- US ARMY TAKES A MORAL PLUNGE - SAEED QURESHI
- THE CAPTIVE ARAB MIND - ROGER COHEN
- THE DEAD HAND OF BUREAUCRACY
- SAVING LIVES IS THE ONLY PRIORITY
- COMBET DELIVERS RATIONAL POLICIES FOR THE REAL WORLD
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A 'STUFF YOU' FROM KENEALLY
- MAGIC PUDDING ECONOMICS
- YEAR OF WHIMPERS MIGHT YET BE ABLE TO END WITH A BANG
- BSKYB: WITHOUT PREJUDICE
- IN PRAISE OF ... BOOKTRUST
- THE BUSINESS DEPARTMENT: MINISTRY OF MUDDLE
THE JAPAN TIMES
- A PEEK AT THE DARK SIDE OF CHINESE DIPLOMACY - BY FRANK CHING
- PALESTINIAN KIDS VERSUS THE IDF - BY CESAR CHELALA
- POWER STRUGGLE IN TEHRAN - BY MEHDI KHALAJI
- DEFENSE FOR THE NEXT DECADE
THE JAKARTA POST
- THE WOUNDS ARE NOT YET HEALED
- LOCAL GOVTS KEY TO EMIGRATION GOVERNANCE - PALMIRA PERMATA BACHTIAR
- RENEWED CONFIDENCE IN CANCUN - REBECCA RAZAVI
- DEMOCRACY AND THE ANOMALY OF YOGYAKARTA - HERU PRAMA YUDA
- WILL 2011 BE A BULLISH YEAR? - KAHLIL ROWTER
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- THE RETURN OF FASCISM - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
- NEW POLICY PARADIGMS FOR A NEW WORLD ORDER - BY DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN
- KREMLIN'S IMPERIAL AMBITIONS ENDED IN 2010 - BY FYODOR LUKYANOV
- PEACE ON PENINSULA
- WORTHWHILE PRICE HIKE
- A DIFFERENT ROAD FORWARD - BY YU YONGDING (CHINA DAILY)
- WEN'S VISIT BENEFITS SOUTH ASIA BY FU XIAOQIANG (CHINA DAILY)
- MOVE OVER WEST, ASIA IS HERE - BY LI YANG (CHINA DAILY)
- TIME TO LIFT SINO-US TRADE TO NEW LEVEL - BY DAN STEINBOCK (CHINA DAILY)
- WIKILEAKS VS DIPLOMACY
- THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IN TAMIL & THE UN EXPERTS PANEL
- IF THERE'S NOTHING TO HIDE...
- THE REAL TEST FOR OUR LEADERS IN THE NEW DECADE - BY DINESH WEERAKKODY
- CHRISTMAS GEMS OF WISDOM
- RECOVERY DESPITE DISHARMONY
TACKLING ECONOMIC DISPARITY
ASIA MUST FIND ITS OWN SOLUTION
Asia's great economic disparity, despite its incredible economic growth, has forced academia and policymakers to question the theories of development economics. The region, which has relied heavily on the quantity of economic growth, faces challenges of hunger, poverty and disease because the benefits of globalisation and economic reform have yet to reach a large section of the poor. Emerging economies like India and China have seen the rise of a dynamic, information-savvy middle class on one hand, and on the other, have witnessed migration from rural to urban areas in search of employment, forcing people to live in slums without access to clean water, rudimentary healthcare and basic civic facilities. The case of China will serve to underscore the point. The ICT manufacturing has created 25 million jobs for workers migrating to cities from rural areas, who remit an estimated $18 billion of their annual income to their villages. However, these migrant workers are vulnerable to lay-offs and suffer difficult working conditions. The harsh economic disparity has forced institutions like the World Bank to rethink their policies and question the effectiveness of solutions provided by developed nations. Many economists have rightly pointed out that the problem lies in the fact that developing countries rely on economic policy prescriptions of the West, which is often incomplete, lacking attention to institutional, environmental or social issues. Seen in perspective, Asian nations need to bring in new approaches based on their own experiences so that access to economic opportunities can be broadened, ensuring inclusive and sustainable development.
In order to address the uneven growth, investment in social programmes becomes essential. The migrant workers, who lead an insecure existence, should be given affordable healthcare, education and pensions. This is not an option, but a compulsion. India is a case in point. The country is home to more than 42 per cent of the world's underweight children who are fighting a bitter battle of survival. If they live through their childhood, they will grow into undernourished adults wallowing in gut-wrenching poverty. Another important step would be tapping into women's economic power and market role. Since women constitute almost half of the population, lack of their participation in the financial sector would fail to strengthen the economy. Further, Asian nations stand to improve economic activities like animal husbandry, farming, cultivation etc by exchanging knowledge base. But most important, instead of relying on its cheap labour and ecologically-costly export-driven model, emerging Asia should focus on strengthening private consumption and investment. If Asian leaders can close the development gap, increase income security, promote better trade of goods across the region, they can create a huge consumer base that will help in churning the money market. This, in turn, will insulate the region from financial tremors in the West.
NDA CONFRONTS UPA
ANTI-CORRUPTION RALLY STUMPS CONGRESS
The UPA is clearly losing ground in its effort to divert attention from the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G Spectrum scam by raising unconnected issues and seeking to divide the Opposition. If it had hoped that using the Prime Minister's "unimpeachable integrity" as a shield would somehow deflect the growing criticism that has proved to be a non-starter as well. The NDA's mammoth rally against corruption in Delhi on Wednesday has proved this point in full measure. Speaker after speaker demanded an explanation from Mr Manmohan Singh on why he was reluctant to constitute a parliamentary probe panel, more so when he had "nothing to hide". In fact, the Prime Minister's bravado, on full display at the recently-held Congress plenary session where he volunteered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, has back-fired with senior BJP leaders now squarely targeting him and asking him to accept the majority demand in Parliament for a JPC inquiry or put in his papers. While the BJP's allies did not go to the extent of demanding the Prime Minister's resignation, they were unanimous in holding him responsible for the present stand-off and stuck to their demand for a JPC probe. It is strange that crisis managers in the UPA and the Congress still believe the Government can brazen it out, despite knowing that, besides the NDA, the entire Opposition, including the Left and several regional parties, are firm on the demand for a JPC inquiry. It defies reason as to why the Prime Minister is so shy of a parliamentary probe, even though there has so far been no demand that he should be summoned by the panel if it is constituted. It is clear as daylight that the coming Budget session of Parliament could be as paralysed as the just-concluded Winter session if the demand is not met. There is no point in the Congress blaming its rivals for stalling parliamentary proceedings because it is the party and the Prime Minister who have precipitated the crisis and only they can retrieve the situation. Instead of doing so, they have been raising issues like "majority communalism" to target the BJP in the hope of isolating it from those who share common cause with it on the 2G Spectrum scam.
The Congress plenary session was supposed to offer solutions for the party to come out of the corruption morass; it ended up instead in attacking the Opposition for its woes! Earlier, the Congress had vainly tried to turn the tables on the BJP by claiming that irregularities in spectrum licensing had begun during the NDA regime. But that charge fizzled out with the BJP welcoming any probe, including by a JPC, into its telecom policy since it had nothing to hide. The Congress may have hoped for the controversy to die a natural death before the Budget session began, but that hope has been dashed with Wednesday's rally. Since the NDA has vowed to follow up the Delhi rally with similar public meetings across the country, one can assume that the 2G Spectrum scandal is not going to disappear from the public arena in a hurry. Till now, the Congress and the Prime Minister have been feeling the heat of the Opposition on this issue; now, with such protest rallies, they will have to contend with popular anger over ministerial thievery and their attempt to gloss over the crime.
FECKLESS IN DIPLOMACY
Secret US cables exposed by WikiLeaks raise serious doubts about whether India has any consistent policies in dealing with terror emanating from Pakistan
The WikiLeaks cables exchanged between Washington, DC and Islamabad have been immeasurably useful for Indians to understand the limitations in the support the Obama Administration can or will provide India as it confronts the challenges posed by terrorism unleashed by the Pakistani Army. They also raise doubts about whether our Government has indeed fulfilled its primary responsibility of ensuring that our armed forces are equipped, prepared and trained to respond swiftly, appropriately and effectively to provocations like the 26/11 strike in Mumbai. They will, hopefully, introduce a measure of long overdue realism in those who advocate that mere sweet words can convince the hard boiled Generals in Rawalpindi to shed their compulsive hostility towards India. But, as cables containing details of meeting with members of the Indian establishment become public, serious doubts and misgivings arise about whether New Delhi has any consistent policies in dealing with its western neighbour.
When the then US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones called on Defence Minister AK Antony on June 28, 2009 and raised the issue of dialogue with Pakistan, the latter responded: "Unless there is some tangible follow-up action by Pakistan against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack, discussions with Pakistan will be difficult." Gen Jones promised to take this up with the Pakistanis while adding there was "need to move forward on a broader strategy of building confidence and trust". Barely a fortnight later, on July 16, Mr Manmohan Singh strangely agreed that "action against terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed". What prompted this serous and unexplainable U-turn in policy within a fortnight? No one argues that we should shun all dialogue with Pakistan. But, at the same time, agreeing to unconditionally resume the 'composite dialogue process' without Pakistan fulfilling its assurances of ending terrorism against India emanating from territory under its control undermines our position on the centrality of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism
The Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement strangely noted that "Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information about threats in Balochistan and other areas". Yet, the WikiLeaks documents reveal that when the issue of Balochi leaders like Brahmdagh Bugti, leading the uprising in Balochistan, operating out of Afghanistan was taken up by the Americans, President Hamid Karzai retorted: "Fomenting uprising does not make one a terrorist. The real terrorists are Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Afghanistan needs a sign that Pakistan will stop supporting these terrorists." Responding to American queries about why Bugti was not being extradited to Pakistan, Mr Karzai asserted, "The Bugtis are not terrorists and represent nobility in Afghanistan, so it would be hard to hand them over to Pakistan." Mr Karzai categorically rejected Pakistani allegations of Indian involvement in Balochistan, adding, "Pakistan will continue to think India is involved. There is lot of misinformation out there." If Mr Karzai was so forthright on Balochistan, why has India been so defensive in debunking Pakistani accusations?
While the flip flops on dialogue with Pakistan have naturally drawn flak, India can look back with satisfaction on the firmness it has shown in dealing with developments in Afghanistan. In its early days the Obama Administration was persuaded by the arguments of Pakistani writers like Ahmed Rashid that it should appoint a special envoy to resolve differences between India and Pakistan on Jammu & Kashmir. New Delhi reacted decisively by debunking such talk and, thereafter, by rejecting visits to India by Richard Holbrooke during the course of his frequent visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke was forced to publicly clarify that his charter of responsibilities did not include India and his visits to New Delhi were for exchanging views on AfPak developments. In his meeting with Gen Jones last year, Mr Antony made it clear that India wanted that the international community's operations in Afghanistan should succeed, adding, "India cannot, for a moment, imagine a Taliban takeover of its extended neighbourhood." With Nato now clarifying that it intends to continue combat operations in Afghanistan till the end of 2014, there is a wider consensus in the US about the inadvisability of leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan which would lead to a Taliban takeover.
A recent report of the Centre for New American Security prepared by the former ISAF Commander in Afghanistan Gen David Bruno makes substantive recommendations for a modified American strategy in Afghanistan. The report realistically recognises that "the war in Afghanistan is unlikely to have a well-defined end with clear winners and losers". It calls for restructuring governance in Afghanistan with more power devolved to provinces and districts. Moreover, it advocates a "responsible transition" which allows the US to "focus its resources in countering transnational terrorist groups based in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region". Writing in the Foreign Affairs, Mr Robert Blackwill advocates that the US should stop talking of an "exit strategy" and adopt a long-term strategy of counter-terrorism in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan, accepting that the Taliban will inevitably control most of southern and eastern Afghanistan, while undertaking "nation building" with support from Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and "supportive Pashtuns" in northern and western Afghanistan. He, however, adds that the US should continue to provide arms and intelligence to Pashtun tribal leaders ready to challenge Taliban hegemony.
Acknowledging that his strategy could result in a de facto partition of Afghanistan, Blackwill advocates the reduction of troop levels in Afghanistan to between 35,000 to 50,000 troops. He argues that "such a strategy would reduce Islamabad's capacity to use the US ground role in southern Afghanistan to extract tolerance from Washington regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan". What is interesting is that both these recent studies by prominent American analysts with firsthand knowledge of AfPak developments reject any possibility of rapid American withdrawal from Afghanistan as that would "trigger a global outpouring of support for jihadi ideology and increased terrorism against liberal societies more broadly". Moreover, both reports acknowledge that Afghanistan can be ruled effectively only by traditional decentralised power structures and that effective action is required against "transnational terrorist groups". India will have to focus its diplomatic efforts on securing international support for strategies that enable Afghans to run their country overcoming the pernicious ambitions of neighbouring Pakistan. This can happen only when Pakistan realises that it will have to pay a heavy price for its present policies of support for transnational terrorist groups.
FISSURES IN THE BENGAL ALLIANCE
THE CONGRESS NEEDS THE TRINAMOOL CONGRESS MORE THAN THE OTHER WAY ROUND IN WEST BENGAL. MAMATA BANERJEE LEADS A PARTY THAT HAS DEVELOPED A STRONG BASE AND IS RESURGENT; HER FOLLOWERS ARE ENTHUSIASTIC AND ENERGETIC. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE CONGRESS ORGANISATION IS IN A SHAMBLES AND THE FEW WHO REMAIN WITH THE PARTY ARE A DEMORALISED LOT. BUT WILL MAMATA BANERJEE GO IT ALONE AS SHE IS THREATENING?
In the current political climate, the politics of coalition, its costs and benefits, is a debate where there is no clinching argument. The reason being that none of the partners of the so-called coalition are in fact bound by a minimum programme that commits every party to achieving the same goals; the partnerships are in the nature of mercenary contracts, entered into for the limited purpose of establishing a Government from which each party derives benefit without strings attached.
Therefore, the strains in the partnership implied in the latest salvo of the Trinamool Congress that it will if necessary "go it alone" in the forthcoming State Assembly election in West Bengal, that is, minus the Congress, amounts to mere sound and fury signifying nothing. The Trinamool Congress and the Congress have a seat adjustment relationship. The strains within the relationship are about how the two sides negotiate the seat sharing arrangement.
It may be recalled that the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have sometimes fought together and sometimes separately over the last 10 years. After 2006, when the Trinamool Congress opted to partner the Congress, the alliance was abandoned in the case of the municipal elections, it worked in the case of the Lok Sabha elections with spectacular results, and it managed to shake loose the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s stranglehold on rural voters in the panchayat elections.
The noteworthy point is that despite the ups and downs of the relationship, the anger and the frustration at the State, at no point has the Trinamool Congress declared that its call to "go it alone" would jeopardise the alliance in New Delhi. On the contrary, at the peak of the confrontation over corruption in the 2G Spectrum allocations in Parliament, the Trinamool Congress reiterated its unconditional commitment to the alliance.
The fuss and the subdued noises emanating from both sides are over seat-sharing, rather than a serious conflict over issues and commitments. At the recently concluded 83rd plenary session of the Congress, the bid by leaders from West Bengal was simple a quota of 100 seats for the party in the forthcoming State Assembly election. Shorn of the verbiage, what it amounts to is that the Congress in West Bengal is making its last ditch effort to prevent itself from being erased from the politics of the State. It is the West Bengal party's last stand to prevent being smothered by the Trinamool Congress.
The fear of being wiped out by a more robust, charismatically led new political force stalks the remnants of the Congress's leadership in West Bengal. Survival has not been easy with the frustration of being the losing side for almost 34 years.
The revival of the Opposition as a game changer has not been the achievement of the Congress. It is the Trinamool Congress, with its common touch, its drive and ambition that has pushed the CPI(M) to the brink of defeat. Whereas the Trinamool Congress at the end of 2006 had nothing left to lose and could afford the risk of adopting the destructive stand that ended with the shut down of the nearly completed Singur factory for the production of the Tata Motors Nano, the Congress has had to tread a far less reckless path. Whereas the Trinamool Congress could afford to demand the withdrawal of the joint security forces in Lalgarh, Jangalmahal and Bankura by declaring that there were no Maoists in West Bengal, the Congress could not twist the truth to suit its political purpose.
Required by circumstances to be conservative in its politics, even as the Opposition, the Congress cannot afford the luxury of declaring that it will "go it alone" in West Bengal. If it did so, it would end the partnership at the Centre as well as jeopardise the United Progressive Alliance Government's existence. Its capacity to bargain and manipulate is, therefore, limited compared with the Trinamool Congress's flexibility.
For the Trinamool Congress to belatedly wake up to the oppressive burden of rising prices on the aam admi and to declare that it will launch a campaign is a neat and easy gambit; it can attack the State Government for failing to control the upward spiral of prices of essential commodities and by extension the Centre. Since the Trinamool Congress cannot be held accountable for the failings of the Centre in stabilising prices and bringing them down, it can shoot at will at both its political partner and its political rival.
As a carefully calculated tactics that serves the dual purpose of embarrassing the Congress and so keeping it compliant as well as allowing the Trinamool Congress to aggressively attack the CPI(M), the role of an ally based on a seat-sharing arrangement is perfect positioning. For the Trinamool Congress, there are no liabilities in the partnership with the Congress and it is now unwilling to share the advantages by negotiating over seat-sharing. The go it alone threat costs the Trinamool Congress nothing because the Congress is not likely to terminate its alliance with the regional party and so destabilise the Government it heads at the Centre.
The Trinamool Congress's dextrous manoeuvrings, sometimes assuming the role of the junior partner as for instance at the Centre and sometimes assuming the role of the lead partner as for instance in West Bengal, has been useful. It has enabled the Trinamool Congress to pitch itself as the defiant but daring David against the proud but paranoid Goliath. As the story stands, David felled the giant and turned the contest into a myth.
SUPPORT FOR ISLAMISM IS INCREASING
Revolutionary Islamism entails the two distinct denominations of Islam in West Asia. The US's attempt to win over this attitude is flawed because it undermines the fact that such radical views are backed by structural and communal issues
There's a lot of interesting material in the Pew Foundation's latest poll of West Asia, a survey that focuses on attitudes toward Islamism and revolutionary Islamist groups. The analysis that accompanies the poll, however, is not very good, so here is mine.
For example, in evaluating attitudes toward Hamas and Hizbullah, Pew says that they receive "mixed ratings from Muslim publics (while) opinions of Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are consistently negative " The implication is that the poll shows that people in these countries are not radical. Actually, the poll shows the precise opposite.
To begin with, let's look at Jordan. There, 55 per cent say they like Hizbullah (against 43 per cent negative) while 60 per cent are favourable (compared to 34 per cent negative) toward Hamas. Yet this is even more impressive than the figures indicate. Jordan is a staunchly Sunni country whose Government opposes the ambitions of Iran and Syria, indeed it often identifies the threat as coming from Shia Muslims. Hizbullah is a Shia group which also is an agent of Iran and Syria. For a majority to praise that organisation, conscious of strong Government disapproval, is phenomenal.
The figures for Hamas can be more easily explained by the Palestinian connection. Yet the difference between support for Hamas and for Hizbullah in terms of public opinion isn't that great. And liking Hamas also suggests that Jordan's people of whom a majority are Palestinian prefer Hamas over Fatah and the Palestinian Authority Hamas's rival.
Why do people support Hamas and Hizbullah? Obviously, one reason is that they fight Israel (a country with which Jordan is at peace, by the way) but sympathy for the revolutionary Islamist aspect of Hamas and Hizbullah must be a huge factor here. Indeed, there is not necessarily any conflict between these two aspects. The Islamists are considered to be better fighters than the nationalists, while making war for the next generation is more attractive to those backing Hamas and Hizbullah than is making peace (a strategy associated with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah). Finally, let's not forget that both of these groups are very anti-Western and anti-American.
But now let's look at Al Qaeda. In Jordan, 34 per cent are favourable toward that terrorist group while 62 per cent are negative. That outcome, however, contrary to Pew's spin on the numbers, is not at all encouraging. Remember that Al Qaeda carried out the September 11 attacks. Moreover, it has conducted terrorist attacks in neighbouring Iraq and, most important of all, it has murdered people within Jordan itself. The fact that one-third of Jordanians whose country is generally considered the most pro-Western in the Arab world like Al Qaeda is chilling indeed. Then, too, this preference cannot be attributed to anti-Israel sentiment since the vast majority of Al Qaeda's operations are intended to overthrow Arab, Muslim Governments.
So one-third of Jordan's people favour the most extremist terrorist group despite the fact that it has murdered Jordanians and is hated by their Government and roughly half or more like revolutionary Islamist organisation that are clients of their own country's nominally biggest threats. What does that say about the hopes for moderation and stability?
Turning to Egypt, "only" 30 per cent like Hizbullah (66 per cent don't like) 49 per cent are favourable toward Hamas (48 per cent are negative); and 20 per cent smile (72 per cent frown) at Al Qaeda. This is more encouraging than the figures in Jordan. But remember that not only is Egypt solidly Sunni but the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the leaders of Islamism in Egypt, don't like Hizbullah because it is a Shia group. The Egyptian Government has accused Hizbullah of trying to foment terrorism in Egypt. The Egyptian Government also views Hamas as a threat.
Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn't tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist Government at home, but it is an indicator.
And just remember that in two countries considered US allies and receiving US aid, one-third and one-fifth of the population, respectively, support the group that killed 3,000 Americans on September 11. The Obama Administration's response is that this is the reason it has to follow certain policies: To win over those who are most antagonistic and to keep others from becoming more radical. The problem is that these policies don't achieve those goals. What determines these views are structural and communal issues within each country.
Here's an example of that point. In Lebanon, attitudes divide along sectarian lines. While 94 per cent of Shia Muslims support Hizbullah (only 5 per cent are negative), 84 per cent of Sunnis are unfavourable on Hizbullah (only 12 per cent are positive) toward it. Christians are 87 per cent negative on Hizbullah (and only 10 per cent positive). This shows why Hizbullah cannot just take over Lebanon itself, but of course Lebanon is largely being taken over by Iranian-Syrian power plus their local collaborators, of which Hizbullah is only one of the elements.
The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. To be concluded.
EMERGING ROLE FOR JORDANIANS IN AL QAEDA
RECENT KILLINGS AND ARRESTS OF JORDANIAN JIHADIS HIGHLIGHT THEIR ACTIVE ROLE IN THE AL QAEDA TERROR NETWORK, WRITES JAMAL HALABY
A prominent Jordanian-Palestinian militant recently killed in Afghanistan was a medical school dropout, who joined Al Qaeda after his heart was broken in an failed love affair, his friends and a counterterrorism official said on Wednesday. Haitham Mohammed al-Khayat, 26, better known in extremist circles as Abu Kandahar al-Zarqawi, was an administrator of the online jihadi forum, Al Hesbah, according to Islamist militant websites. The sites announced that he was killed by US forces on Friday. He was among eight Jordanians killed or arrested in the militant hotbeds of Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen over recent weeks.
The killings and arrests highlight the active role Jordanian militants play in the Al Qaeda terror network, undermining efforts by their pro-American leader, King Abdullah II, to support the US war on terrorism. The websites and the official said al-Khayat was an associate of the Jordanian-born doctor who blew himself up in a CIA outpost in eastern Afghanistan a year ago, killing seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer.
Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, also known as Abu Dujana al-Khurasani, was a triple agent, recruited by Jordanian intelligence to provide information to the CIA on Al Qaeda's number 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, who turned on his handlers. Al-Khayat knew al-Balawi from their hometown of Zarqa, the birthplace of slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the counterterrorism official said.
"He named himself after the terrorist al-Zarqawi, which shows that he completely identified himself as a militant," he said. The official declined to provide details on al-Khayat's death, citing classified intelligence data. But he said the terrorist was an "Al Qaeda operative, who knew many in the terror group's top echelon." "He was sought in Jordan for his militant ideology and articles he published on the Internet," he said, adding that al-Khayat was arrested a few times between 2000 and 2005, but never indicted on terrorism-related charges. In an interview with an Islamist militant website in April, al-Khayat urged Mideast Arabs to "focus on the wars of assassinations, snipers and explosives".
Government records showed that al-Khayat was born to a Palestinian family from the Gaza Strip, with ties to the West Bank town of Hebron. Three of his friends, insisting on anonymity for fear of police reprisal, said he studied medicine in Ukraine, but never completed his degree. One said he had a "bad relationship" with his father, who insisted he abandon extremism. He said al-Khayat had a love affair with Jordanian-Palestinian woman, whose father refused his marriage proposal "because of his hard-line religious views". His troubled relationships were confirmed by another friend who posted an emotional letter of condolence on the Internet.
The intelligence officer insisted that Jordanians only make up a "small portion" of those fighting against the US and other Western troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, with the bulk of them coming from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan. However, he did provide details about eight Jordanians either arrested or killed just in the past month for involvement in terror-related activities:
December 15 Jordanian engineer Maath Mohammed Kamal Alia, 45, was arrested in Yemen on suspicion of throwing a bomb at a US Embassy vehicle.
December 14 Jordanian-Palestinian militant Mahmoud Abu Reidah, 38, was killed by US forces in Afghanistan. An Al Qaeda operative better known as Abu Rasmi, he was granted political asylum in Britain in 1998.
December 7 Jordanian computer engineer Mohammed Rateb Qteishat, 33, was killed by Iraqi forces in the northern city of Mosul. He was an Al Qaeda operative fighting American forces in Iraq. In 2006, he was sentenced to death in absentia in his native Jordan for plotting attacks on Americans in Jordan and attempting to blow up hotels in Amman.
November 19, four Jordanians of Palestinian origin from Zarqa were killed while fighting American troops in Iraq. The men were all in their 20s and 30s and with the exception of one, had served jail terms in Jordan for plotting anti-American terror attacks. With close ties to the US and diplomatic relations with Israel, Jordan has been the target of more than 100 terror plots blamed on Al Qaeda in the past decade, according to Jordanian military court records. Most prominent was a triple hotel bombing in November 2005, which killed 60 Jordanians, mainly women and children.
DEEPER TIES WITH RUSSIA CAN BENEFIT RISING INDIA
IN world affairs, there have been few enduring friendships between two countries, as the one between India and Russia. The relationship is built on strong foundations that were set at a time when Russia was the core of the Soviet Union. It is based on the strong political support that India has enjoyed from Russia on issues like Jammu & Kashmir, as well as a congruence of interests in relation to regional problems like Afghanistan.
A strong component of the relationship lies in the realm of technology transfer. India has traditionally obtained high- tech items from Russia that would be proscribed by our western friends nuclear reactors, nuclear- propelled submarines, aviation technology, space launch vehicle engines and so on.
This time round, too, there have been agreements in the nuclear field, on the joint development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, access to military- grade navigation through the GLONASS satellite constellation and cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector.
In all these areas Russia gives us what no one else will. Russian technology may not be as good as that of some countries in the west, but at least it is available. It is therefore important to work around the hurdle of supplier- liability that is constraining agreements for new nuclear reactors.
Likewise, India needs to structure its agreements to build the fifth generation fighter in such a manner that it can have not just technology transfer, but a genuine diffusion of high- tech aviation technology.
With India entering into a phase of high growth, the Russian relationship has become even more important. Russia is rich in natural resources and can play a major role in assisting India's emergence as a manufacturing power. The problem here is not so much the lack of will, but the ability to execute agreements that are mutually beneficial.
PRINCES AS OUR MPS
NATIONAL Social Watch's report which reveals the stupendous increase in the assets of many members of the Lok Sabha in the 2004- 2009 period is important for several reasons.
The first question that needs to be asked is how full- time politicians with a supposedly fixed source of income have grown in affluence, so remarkably, in such a short period of time.
The explanation likely to be put forth about many of them also being businessmen highlights the other worrying fact of our democracy, that it is becoming more of a plutocracy.
]With 25 per cent of Lok Sabha members being from the trader- industrialist class, it is clear that while purportedly representing the common man who slaves it out for a meagre living they have nothing in common with him.
The other trend that is clearly visible is that almost no political party has been spared the inroads of the industrialist- businessman class. This is probably linked to the enormous costs associated with contesting elections.
There is nothing wrong, inherently, with rich people becoming members of parliament, but democracy will be the loser if they are seen to be pushing their own sectional interests, rather than that of their constituents, who are, almost always, overwhelmingly poor.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE ON LALLI
BY suspending the CEO of Prasar Bharti BS Lalli, the United Progressive Alliance government seems to be trying to give the impression that it has finally begun to act tough against corruption. While the Centre must be commended for taking action against Mr Lalli, who has been accused of financial irregularities and giving undue favours to certain companies while allotting the broadcast rights of events like the Commonwealth Games, the action has come too late in the day.
There is already a case pending against Mr Lalli in the Delhi High Court and the Opposition too has been demanding his removal. Therefore Mr Lalli's continuation in office was untenable and the government is unlikely to gain any brownie points through his suspension.
Much like the removal of A Raja from the Telecom ministry, this action comes as too little too late. However, the government can use the Lalli case as a precedent and take action against other ministers and officials who have been accused of graft by suspending them, pending inquiry.
ACTION NEEDED ON GRAFT NOT MERE WORDS
BY MANOJ JOSHI
LIKE many well- wishers of our polity, I want to believe that UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are serious about tackling the rising incidence of corruption. Sadly, past experience and a journalistic bias towards cynicism where politicians are concerned, would suggest that the aim of their public statements is to duck the barrage unleashed on them by the Opposition, rather than any serious intent of doing something this time.
Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh will have to do a lot more and quickly to convince the country that they are indeed in earnest, and, perhaps, in the process save their political enterprise which is listing dangerously in the rough seas.
Ms Gandhi has accurately outlined the anatomy of corruption and suggested some ways of tackling it in her speech to the Congress party plenary at Burari on Sunday. Prime Minister Singh, for his part, has offered to put his reputation on the line and appear before Parliament's powerful Public Accounts Committee to testify on the 2G scam issue. The Opposition, of course, is crying itself hoarse over the issue. All this is well and good. For the record, every politician, babu and police officer we can think of is also against corruption.
The problem is that no one actually ends up doing anything about it.
The actions the government is takingthe raids against Radia and others, the suspension of B.S. Lalli all seem to have been done under considerable public pressure. We still do not get the impression that the United Progressive Alliance government has, after introspection, decided to embark on a crusade against corruption.
The mood in the country is one of cynicism and despair. But this is now turning into a quiet anger which the politicians need to be aware of. It could have two kinds of consequencesfirst, a JP-type movement that upends the existing political order in a wider swathe than the one that happened in the 1970s. The other could be the steady undermining of the established system by a nihilist-Maoist kind of a movement, one that has no constructive content, but is determined to knock down the existing set-up.
Ms Gandhi's suggestions are a good starting point. She has spoken of the need to fast-track cases against public servants, greater transparency in procurement, ending discretionary powers of ministers to allocate land and award contracts, and public funding of elections.
The existing law and order machinery and the judicial system and laws, lack the ability to generate enough fear to keep people on the straight and narrow track with the threat of harsh punishment.
The growing incidence of corruption ranges from the systematic hafta of the policeman to major politicians demanding "sweat equity" from top businessmen.
In between is an entire eco-system that systematically milks the economy and impoverishes the ordinary folk. In this universe, honest people cannot survive, businessmen who do not play ball find the playing field tilted against them, honest officers are often victimised and forced out of certain lucrative departments.
Crooked babus are protected by their own, through regulations that they themselves have written for the purpose.
A bit of history here : The country's top corruption fighter, the Central Vigilance Commission ( CVC), founded in 1956, got statutory status only in 1997 after what is considered the biggest scam in Indian history the Jain Diary/ Hawala scam which implicated scores of top politicians from various parties in money laundering, but the system collaborated to suppress it and nothing came out of it.
The political class was forced to give statutory authority to the CVC, but in return the bureaucracy, which had been shaken by the striking down of the " Single Directive", a colonial- era rule which insists that prior permission of the government is sought before prosecution of a public servant, insisted that the Directive be restored.
So in response to the biggest scam of its time, the government actually gave statutory authority to the single directive, and so today, you have to get government permission to prosecute corrupt government officials. Is it any surprise that the permission comes in a tardy fashion or never at all? Is it any wonder that the threat of punishment is not quite effective? In 2008 some 74 personnel were dismissed from the Delhi Police force, but this has barely dented the edifice of corruption on which it stands, one based on regular shake- downs of shopkeepers, builders, bus operators, and on opportunistic targets like helping people accused of serious crime.
If you read the reports of the CVC or the CBI, you will not fail to be overwhelmed by the self- congratulatory tone and the list of officers who have been prosecuted, and the dispatch with which the system has been functioning to check corruption.
Clearly this perception is at sharp variance to the reality. The bald fact is that the CVC system has been unable to deter corruption and that those that come in its net can best be termed as being " unlucky" and their chastisement is a kind of a negative lottery, that does little to dampen the appetite of other public servants to take bribes and make money by the misuse of their official powers.
And second, special sentencing guidelines which will ensure that they are more harshly punished for their wrong- doing, as compared to ordinary folk. In other words, where a 10 year sentence may be appropriate for misappropriation by a citizen, an official of the government would be mandatorily sentenced to double the sentence because he or she is the custodian of public funds and trust.
There is, of course, the other problem.
Dealing with the fountain- head of corruption the political class of the country which needs ever larger sums of money to fight elections. The scourge of election funding afflicts mature democracies as well. Cash and elections have somehow gone hand- in- hand, whether it is the US, UK or Japan, though rules and regulations have tried to moderate the flow.
It is generally true that a well- off candidate has an advantage in the poll. But that advantage may be overstated as numerous examples have shown where heavy spending has not been able to alter the voting decision of the electors.
In India, politicians in need of money push their subordinates to open new channels to exploit and, in the process, corrupt the bureaucracy. Those who do not comply are cast into a professional limbo and suffer. The same is now happening to business if you don't play ball, you don't play at all.
Funding elections is an idea which needs to be seriously explored. But perhaps there is need for a larger reform of the election process itself. Though election spending is supposedly tightly constrained there are serious expenditures that stay below the radar spreading cash, saris and liquor to buy votes from vote banks.
But the Election Commission and the political parties can do something by reducing the spread of the election cycle and containing electioneering to, say, one week, with no election- related expenditures being permitted beyond that. In the era of internet and universal TV, there is no need for physical campaigning weeks ahead of the poll.
The real proof of the pudding whose recipe Ms Gandhi spelt out last Sunday would be in its eating. Let us see if the government moves with some dispatch to modify existing laws and procedures that are giving corrupt public servants such an easy ride.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
BRANDING OF A SCIENTIST
DINESH C. SHARMA
MOST scientists prefer to shun limelight and open up only within the circle of their narrow discipline or the boundaries of hallowed academic institutions.
The only exception they make is when they are awarded or honoured by the government, academies and other bodies.
Very few choose to engage in communication with the public and talk about their work. But when they get something like a Nobel prize, it changes their world.
Overnight such scientists become a brand. Their lives suddenly become public and they are under constant gaze. People like to be photographed with them and eager youngsters want their autographs. They are flooded with offers of lecture tours, television shows and other such public appearances.
This new found celebrity status is bit unnerving for scientists.
Nobel indeed provides a powerful branding. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan or Venki who shared the chemistry Nobel with two other scientists last year is no exception to this trend.
TO THE life sciences community in India, Venki was not a new name even before the Nobel. He has maintained constant touch with research groups in India and has been regularly visiting academic centres like the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
He spent a week at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Delhi a couple of years before he got the Nobel.
But his appearances outside this circle have been rare. Post- Nobel, however, the situation has changed.
This week the Department of Biotechnology, joined hands with industry lobby Ficci, to organise a public lecture by Venki at the centrally located Ficci auditorium ( instead of a faraway location like an academic or research institute).
The event was well advertised in newspapers and outdoor media. Those who arrived late had to return disappointed because there was no room inside the hall. Venki made a lucid presentation on his work on ribosomes complete with a music video to a packed audience and then answered a volley of questions on his work as well as life. He was informal and candid and left the audience asking for more.
Such branding of scientists is not frivolous. It is very important from the point of view of public communication of science. It is not that only Nobel laureates can be branded. The moon mission came as a huge branding opportunity for the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) and it grabbed it very well. We have several scientists who are doing significant work in areas ranging from stem cells to dinosaurs. There is no reason why they shouldn't talk about their work to the public at large and inspire youngsters. Unfortunately, our science academies and government agencies tasked with science communication have failed miserably in this regard. Unlike the West, we don't celebrate science and our scientists.
It is high time we break this ' ivory tower' approach to science.
Some new thinking is required in this direction and Venki's lecture in Delhi is a pointer to that.
PLACEBOS NOT JUST POSITIVE THINKING
PLACEBOS or dummy pills are given to people typically used as ' controls' in clinical trials of new medicines.
They are often referred to as sugar pills as they don't contain any drug molecule. Persons taking them are kept under the impression that they are taking a drug and many even respond to them.
It is called the ' placebo effect'. Some call it the power of positive thinking.
In a new study, a group of scientists tested if placebo is effective even if there is no deception and people are told that they are not taking a drug but a mere placebo.
To their surprise, they found that it still works.
A group of 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome were divided into two groups one received no treatment while the other was given placebos. They were told that they were being given a placebo and not a drug. Yet, at the end of the three- week trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief as compared to the control group, according to the study reported in journal PLoS One . Researchers feel that rather than mere positive thinking, it is possible that the very performance of a medical ritual provides benefit to patients.
VIDEO piracy is a major drain on revenue for film industries all over the world.
Pirated versions of latest movies can be downloaded from the internet and bought in shops. Movie companies and scientists have been constantly working on methods to detect piracy such as insertion of fingerprints.
Now scientists at Tel Aviv University claim they have a foolproof method of " video DNA matching" to detect pirated video.
It involves an invisible sequence and series of grids applied over the film, turning the footage into a series of numbers. The programme can then scan the content of websites where pirated films are believed to be offered, pinpointing subsequent mutations of the original.
It detects aberrations in the pirated video in the same way that biologists detect mutations in the genetic code, according to researchers. When scenes are altered, colours changed or film is recorded on a camera at a theatre, the film can be tracked and traced on the internet. This could help in catching those involved in the theft.
BRIICS LEAD THE WAY
AFTER the World Science Report of Unesco which noted the rise of Asian giants like India and China in the R& D sector, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ( OECD) provides more evidence of this trend. The report has expressed concern over the falling R& D expenditure of its member countries and juxtaposed it against the rise of Asian countries.
Within OECD, real growth in R& D spending slowed between 2007 and 2008 with annual growth falling from over four per cent to 3.1 percent. The situation in some non- OECD economies is brighter, it says. China's real gross domestic expenditure on R& D in 2008 was equivalent to 13.1 percent of the OECD total, up from five per cent in 2001.
BRIICS economies ( Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) are making significant investments in environmental technologies. In 2007, these countries were already focusing on renewable energy applications more than the global norm, as seen in their higher than average patent applications. The rise of science and technology in these countries, the report says, presents both opportunities and challenges for the rich world.
OECD countries need to reallocate resources for new activities and help businesses " adjust to new opportunities and markets."
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OLD TIES RENEWED
There never really was much chance of this latest in a long line of visits by foreign heads of state going badly. The India-Russia relationship is too old and too firmly grounded for that. Even so, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has done well in putting to rest the doubts that had begun to creep in - defence ties at a time of increasing US, European and Israeli presence in the Indian defence market, as well as Russia's increasing security cooperation with Pakistan. But in looking at the larger picture, it seems that in some ways, the relationship is still in a holding pattern, fixated on defence ties at a time when India's dramatic growth has seen it engage other nations on a range of economic issues as well.
First, the good news. The deal for joint development of an India-specific variant of Russia's prototype fifth generation fighter aircraft, the Sukhoi T-50, has implications that extend beyond the immediate deliverables for the armed forces. By inking such deals, New Delhi ups its market's competitiveness with regard to other players that are currently reluctant to share sensitive technology. The caveat, of course, is that it must ensure these deals, which are at the planning stage now, don't go the Admiral Gorshkov way and get tied up in a tangle of delays and raised prices.
On the strategic front, Medvedev has added to the international consensus seen on the Pakistan front over the past year or so. There's a good deal more forthrightness than before on the part of world leaders to name Pakistan as a country that offers safe haven to terrorists. There is a congruency of interests in Afghanistan as well. Energy security also comes into play. Security and stability in the Central Asian region is essential for projects such as the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline. Russia's regional influence could be useful here.
But lacunae remain in the relationship. The construction of Russian nuclear reactors at Kudankulum is yet another project that has run afoul of New Delhi's stringent liability laws. The government will need to review these laws at some point, or else lose out on the fruits of nuclear power. There are issues with further investment in Russia's Sakhalin oil and gas projects. These are symptoms of a glaring shortfall in economic ties outside the defence sphere. Bilateral trade languishes at a paltry $10 billion or so. But the easing of visa restrictions to facilitate people-to-people contact could be the first step in facilitating closer economic links.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
While India gears up for Christmas carols, cakes and holiday cheer, harsh winter conditions have dampened the holiday spirit in Europe. Dreams of a white Christmas have turned into a nightmare for that continent as heavy snow has shut down trains and airports. This is a repetition of the pattern witnessed in Europe last year as well, and things aren't likely to change anytime soon. This could present a huge opportunity for India. While this is the traditional holiday season in Europe and North America, people could be looking to escape freezing winters there. Provided with the right impetus, India could emerge as a major winter tourism destination.
Inbound tourism to India peaks over the winter months, courtesy foreign tourists who prefer its tropical climate. But existing infrastructure is inadequate to deal with the massive demand. Nor is there sufficient outreach marketing India as a terrific place to celebrate the coming of the new year. If the tourism sector is to capitalise on the opportunity, it needs to scale up capacity. This means not only building more hotels and integrating transportation and hospitality services better but also leveraging the power of information technology to help foreign tourists plan their trip smoothly - a single portal for visa services, booking various tour packages and tickets is a good idea. Holding special promotional events, along the lines of the Dubai shopping festival, will help boost commerce by tapping foreign customers. For infrastructure expansion, public-private partnerships definitely merit consideration. Compared to most other industries, tourism generates more jobs per rupee invested. It's one good way to spread the Christmas cheer all round.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CONGRESS AT THE CROSSROADS
The 83rd Congress plenary was notable for what it left unsaid. Ten states will decide the outcome of the next general election - Uttar Pradesh (80 Lok Sabha seats), Bihar (40), Tamil Nadu (39), Andhra Pradesh (42), West Bengal (42), Maharashtra (48), Gujarat (26), Karnataka (28), Madhya Pradesh (29) and Rajasthan (25). Together they account for 399 MPs in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. Whichever coalition - UPA or NDA - wins at least 200 parliamentary seats from these states will form the next government at the Centre.
A careful state-wise calculation shows that, with Andhra in revolt, coalition fissures in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra, entrenched opposition governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, UP and Bihar and anti-incumbency likely in Rajasthan, the Congress will struggle to get, on its own, even 110 seats from the 10 large swing states.
Corruption and communalism are the pivots on which the next general election will turn. If the Congress continues to treat Muslims as votes to be banked rather than citizens to be lifted out of poverty, it will lose - as it did in Bihar - its steadiest support base. Anti-RSS rhetoric does not impress Muslims anymore. They understand the real threat - and epicentre - of terrorism lies in Rawalpindi, not Nagpur.
The Congress has so far escaped culpability on the second key electoral issue of corruption by using the halo of the prime minister to cover its warts. That is a strategy of diminishing returns. The prime minister's own credibility, as the relentless barrage of WikiLeaked cables attests, is coming under increasing strain. Manmohan Singh has absolute accountability but not absolute power; UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has absolute power but not absolute accountability. This arrangement of convenience lies at the heart of India's governance deficit. As a leaked cable from the US embassy in Indialamented, the UPA government responds slowly to crises because it is "not Prime Minister-led".
In a parliamentary democracy, the prime minister must have unchallenged political authority over all cabinet and government policies - whether or not they lead to the departure of tainted coalition allies and a midterm general election. The 2G spectrum scam is a direct and damaging consequence of the unconstitutional dilution of the prime minister's authority over the cabinet's telecom policy, allowing private interests to subvert it. Singh's reputation for integrity has been cynically mortgaged to coalition dharma. This has weakened the prime minister personally. Worse, it has undermined his office. Whoever holds it in future will have to re-establish its constitutional supremacy in governance.
The Congress could pay an electoral price: it will take the loss of only three percentage points for the party's 2009 Lok Sabha national vote share of 28.55 per cent to slip to 25 per cent. The last time that happened - in the 1998 Lok Sabha poll - the Congress spent six years in opposition. Unnerved by the prospect of a midterm election no one wants, the party's leadership, following the pledge-heavy plenary, is scrambling to produce a counter-intuitive electoral strategy that will against the odds edge national vote share back up to over 30 per cent, an average the Congress exceeded through most of the 1970s and 1980s. Even a 2 per cent increase in national vote share can make a crucial difference of 20-30 Lok Sabha seats in our first-past-the-post system. That would cut, though not end, the party's dependence on tainted allies in the next general election.
Indian voters are increasingly shunning political parties which abuse public office. But the decline of the Congress has deeper roots. Why has its national vote share plunged into the 20 percentile range since the mid-1990s, restricting the party to around 200 Lok Sabha seats or less in the five general elections of 1996 (28.80 per cent national vote share), 1998 (25.82 per cent), 1999 (28.30 per cent), 2004 (26.53 per cent) and 2009 (28.55 per cent)? The answer: while the critical 13.5 per cent Muslim vote - which hands the Congress over one-third of its Lok Sabha seats - has been steadfast, the emerging middle class, alienated by the odour of corruption and nepotism that surrounds the party, has gradually deserted it.
The Congress now commands only one-fifth of the fragmented Hindu national vote. However, there is a significant slice at the lowest socio-economic end - tribals, dalits and the rural poor - which feels disenfranchised by two-speed India. Large swathes of young and poor voters are cut off from India's sizzling 9 per cent GDP growth rate. This marginalised rural Indian underclass is the principal target of the Congress's electoral strategy. Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam in 2011 will serve as a referendum on the party's bottom-of-the-pyramid strategy, re-articulated at the plenary by Rahul Gandhi. The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council's welfarism is tethered to the same populist credo.
But the poor of 2010 are not the poor of Indira Gandhi's India of 1970. Their grandparents were promised "garibi hatao" by the Congress. After 40 years (of which the Congress has been in government for nearly 30), 437 million Indians still live below the poverty line. Corruption and misgovernance scar their everyday lives. Principled not populist politics wins peoples' trust and votes. Rajiv Gandhi lost that trust in 1989. The Congress hasn't won a majority in a general election since.
The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT
Who says less cannot be more? In a move motivated by how people connect with each other, internet companies are simplifying the products they offer. In doing so they are returning the emphasis to what is important, the message rather than the medium.
Email, the first product to be affected, could indicate the shape of changes to come. Those addicted to the present format of email should remember that nothing stays the same. For instance, Facebook has removed the 'cc' and 'bcc' buttons from its emailing page and is about to remove the option of typing a subject. Not only could a cleaner, less cluttered page be more pleasing to the eye but a leaner, faster and less formal messaging system may be what many people want. Facebook claims to have analysed billions of messages and is therefore changing its interface to make emailing more real time, conversational and casual. In short, more like sending an sms.
There can be nothing wrong with this. Not only do the changes in progress make for convenience but more significantly, they broaden consumer choice. After all, people who want to use traditional email have a range of companies to turn to. But patently, there is a new and growing community whose needs have to be met and they are the beneficiaries of the changes being brought in by some companies.
In a world of fast changing expectations, and rife with start-ups offering alternatives, the biggest companies have to constantly adapt if they want to grow or retain market share. This is why platforms such as Googlemail, which have incorporated facilities from chat to video calling, are thriving. In contrast, platforms that were slow to adapt or did so clumsily have lost market share. The message is clear, adaptation is better than perishing
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHOSE MESSAGE IS IT ANYWAY
Time was when you used pen and perfumed paper to write letters and not email. You were thought daft. Then, to join the crowd, you switched to email, and the postman stopped ringing twice. Now, they say you must also junk emails with its cumbersome log-ins and sign outs, awaiting a cutting-edge avatar that's more like texting. To be 'with it', you need sexy stuff like instant messaging, online chatting et al, communication having become instantaneous gratification. A director of engineering at Facebook has announced an interactive New Age: "The future of messaging is more real time." Cling to the present, and you face Gen Next's firing squad for fuddy-duddies.
Only, no one should tell others what to use and when, and even less make them feel small or superannuated because they stick with, say, grammatical English while the swish set talks in Twitter code. Yes, obsolescence is programmed into technology. New products are born, serve value-added purposes and die out, much like biological organisms. That's life. But as in nature, forced - as opposed to natural - extinction isn't kosher. So, tech-savvy folks needn't parade as sole purveyors of taste and fashion, telling consumers to kick 'old' habits because the future is a fait accompli. People don't serve technology; it's the other way around.
Adaptation to technological change must be organic, not bamboozled by peer or the futuristic seer's pressure. That's why researchers see a "demographic split" in use of email. Society isn't just made up of teens on a tech rush. And older people don't need lectures on how to get messages across. Expecting everyone to change at breakneck speed is counterproductive: it merely swells the ranks of the technophobes. Lastly, technology helps celebrate individuality. Don't reduce it to the mentality of the herd, whose members use the same hip gadgetry just because it's the latest on the shop shelf.
NOT ENOUGH CRITICAL MASS
India fittingly concluded a hectic year of diplomacy with a State visit by its oldest strategic partner. However, what was missingat the conclusion of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit was a reminder of how India's relationship with the world has changed. Moscow is struggling to find a new basis for its relations with New Delhi. While the latter may have all the goodwill towards Russia that a country could hope for, the real constraint is Russia's inability to match the dynamism of Indian civil society. But the Russian visit, as well as those of the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also served as a cautionary tale of the limits to that relationship. Despite a widespread belief within the Indian leadership that the size of its market would eventually lead the world to overlook its sloppily drafted nuclear liability law, no foreign reactor supplier has taken the bait France and Russia included.
The many agreements signed by Mr Medvedev seem more about exploring potentialities than assured results.
The tangible accomplishments were largely in the government-to-government sphere: space, defence and energy.
There was only hopefulness when it came to encouraging Indian private firms and students to come and study in Russia. These were decisions that private India made and would depend on the environment that Moscow would provide. The converse was true, for example, with the visit of US President Barack Obama where the government's contribution was relatively limited and much of the action was taking between private individuals. These are hardly mutually exclusive. In a perfect world, India should seek to have relations with all countries and with all facets of society, state or private. But there can be little doubt the present New Indian story is mostly about civil not official society.
The nuclear liability issue is a perfect example of how governments can get it wrong. This festering issue threatens to indefinitely stall an Indian nuclear renaissance. It is now clear the rest of the world believes the law either violates international supplier liability norms or is so poorly drafted it cannot tell either way. Rightly, no one is prepared to excuse the shoddy work of the bureaucracy and Parliament. Presumably some legal twists and turns will end this stalemate. But it is a warning that as it engages with the international system, New Delhi cannot expect to muddle through each and every time. Even a rising power must cross the road only when the light is green.
Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is a man of eclectic tastes. According to the directors of a new documentary on Benazir Bhutto, the gen-eral demanded bottles of Chivas Regal and Cuban cigars when they approached him for an interview. The gifts were duly sent to his camp room in Philadelphia in the US, during an 'image-rebuilding' tour to the country. However, what did the trick was neither the bottle nor the smoke but a fair amount flattery. That, we gather from the directors, helped the man make up his mind on the cameo appearance.
Mr Musharraf's demands are surprising. In this day and age, when a couple of millions, foreign jaunts and villas
in exotic locales figure prominently on rate cards of any self-respecting politician or bureaucrat or, we have heard some people say, journalists, a couple of bottles of whisky and cigars are hardly worth mentioning. Maybe Mr Musharraf has been out of power too long to learn from the A Rajas of the world
or the original 'Mr 10 per cent', his successor in Islamabad Asif Ali Zardari, the new tricks of the old trade.
Recently, New Delhi refused him a visa to enter India because it apparently did not want to upset the present rulers of Pakistan. This is bit strange. After all there's no love lost between New Delhi and Islamabad. So why on earth did New Delhi let go of a golden opportunity to rub it in? A little birdie told us that the high and mighty of the Indian capital have apparently disowned Mr Musharraf because while here across the Indus, the figures exchanging hands (under the table, of course) are in crores, here's a man who is happy with a few bottles, smokes and flattery. 'What kind of a loser is trying to bring the market price down?' they ask with genuine concern.
KEEP IT RUNNING
'Half or full?' This is the first question that 51-year-old Ram Mallya asks me, rather a strange greeting for someone you don't know. Soon, I realise this is a standard introductory phrase that marathoners exchange as they prepare to do what Indians don't do very well - run. What they mean is: are you running the half marathon (21 km) or the full marathon (42 km)?
I meet many people like Mallya - a chartered accountant and veteran of four Singapore marathons - at the Asian Heart Institute at the far end of a suburban business district.
I have just made a 40-minute journey in a rickety taxi hurtling at 100 kmph across Mumbai's iconic eight-lane sea bridge to hear a doctor talk about a marathon.
I wonder, how many people will - in a city where a day of 24 hours seems hopelessly inadequate and the most popular food is a calorie-bomb called the vada-pao - show up at 11 am on a working day?
As it turns out, the auditorium is full. Nearly 200 citizens, most of them above 30, many in their 40s and 50s, listen in rapt attention to Dr Aashish Contractor, head of preventive cardiology and for six years the medical director of India's most famous race, the Mumbai Marathon.
A lean, lithe man (he's 39) with a shock or hair and the easy gait of a runner, Dr Contractor is an evangelist of sorts, offering medical advice and commonsense tips on running. The session stretches on till lunch, as many runners share their experiences, such as the 60-year-old doctor who speaks of chaffed, bleeding nipples (avoid skin-sticking-when-wet cotton, wear breathable synthetic) and losing toe nails (trim them before running).
It's that time of the year, when cold winds from the great mountains of the north wash across the peninsula, cooling the land, its people and - temporarily - pushing their hot issues to the backburner. So, my mind turns from wrestling with the big questions to taking pleasure from the small things.
Parakeets twist in the crisp winter air over the old mosque in Delhi's medieval-era Lodi Gardens. The blue kingfisher folds her wings, flattens herself into an avian missile and plunges into a pond to emerge with a doomed frog. The beige, plump Labrador puppy, his tail wagging furiously, tries to break free from his leash and join the loud birthday alongside. India's only real skyline is silhouetted against the ochre sun setting beyond the graceful curve of the bay that hugs Mumbai's Marine Drive. Men and women - in jeans, shorts, skirts or burkhas - stroll down the same promenade, as they whisper, giggle, gaze into each other's eyes and celebate young love. Monster 1000 cc Yamahas and Ducatis roar dangerously down the road, their riders abandoning helmets and risking their heads to feel the sea breeze whip through their hair.
When you run, you notice life's finer details.
I am no marathoner. Last year this time I wrote about my ambition: of hitting the 10 km mark. I got there. The recurrence of an old back problem precluded me
from going further. This year, I'm older and wiser. I will work at strengthening my core and my legs before aiming higher. Today, on an average run, I do no more than 6 km. As you can see, it is still enough to make me feel that rush of endorphins, that clear head, that victorious weariness, that lightness of being.
For someone who was called 'Fatty!' all his life, these are great satisfactions.
Dr Contractor says India's running revolution is in its infancy. He watches the sea of people on Marine Drive some evenings and notes that the ratio of runners to walkers is still 1:20. (If running isn't really your thing, walking long and hard is good too.)
Around me, as the new running season wears on, more Indians continue their quest to run longer and harder. The Delhi half marathon is done, as is the Goa river marathon. The Mumbai marathon is on January 16; the Panchkula half marathon on January 15; the Chandigarh half marathon on February 6.
All of them have had or will have more participants than ever before, making some small headway against what is now the world's greatest national health burden of diabetes and heart disease.
The actor Gul Panag, an avid runner, tells me of a study that explains how runners really get into their stride after 30. As I look around at the audience listening to Dr Contractor, I realise how late Indians embrace fitness. I didn't start running till after 40, and Mallya tells me he can't get his teenage son to run.
I believe this is changing. Lots of young people are pounding those tracks, treadmills and our uneven streets, inspiring others to follow suit. There's 30-year-old Sunaina Jairath who runs 7-8 km every day at my favourite, if modest 2 km running track: Delhi's Lodhi Gardens. Jairath, a public relations manager, runs to "connect with herself" and for the adrenaline rush. "The joy of running cannot be expressed in words," says 24-year-old Richa Singh who works for a start-up in Delhi. When I urge her to try words, this is how she puts it, "It's liberating, it's addictive, it's a drug." Puneet, 25, an A320 pilot tells me his theory: "Running makes you a more humble person." Diya Kapoor, 32, a yoga instructor who, after marriage, moved her runs from Mumbai's Marine Drive to Delhi's Rose Garden and Jahapanah Forest and calls her weekly 35 km her "meditation in motion".
There are some to whom running appears to have become as important as the air we breathe, like the 35-year-old Girish Mallya, who has two Bangalore ultra-marathons (78 km) under his belt, apart from other normal marathons in Mumbai (seven times), Singapore and Tibet. My childhood friend and avid runner, Kal Bittianda, has even run an excruciating, painful race in Antarctica, where he wrestled with many layers of clothing and ice in his nostrils and eyebrows.
You don't need to go that far. But it is time to do the first km - or an additional one.
At its core, healthcare is essentially a public service. So its demand and supply cannot be left to the market and can't be limited to care rendered or financed by public expenditure, but must also include incentives and disincentives for care paid for by citizens.
India's healthcare challenges are aggravated by lack of overall coverage of health insurance services. Although the government and some private employers provide health protection, the schemes available to the public are basic and inaccessible to most people. Only about 12-13% of the population has some form of health insurance cover, apart from the 10% covered via government schemes.
What makes for a good healthcare system is universal and adequate access without excessive burden. But there is no one solution for providing such a coverage.
Among all nations, China is similar to India in size, scale and complexity. In selected aspects of disease load, demography and public expenditures on health, India's record may seem mixed compared to the better all round progress made by China. This is due to various reasons: the Chinese government's sustained attention on health of the young, good public policy backed by resources and social mobilisation. However, India has a larger burden of disease compared to China, has to bear the transactional costs of a democracy and the burden of a population younger than China.
Public expenditure on health in China has been consistently higher than India's. Still, it is not too unrealistic to expect that India should be able to reach at least three-fourth of the current level of performance of China in all key health indices soon. Let's examine the effectiveness of available instruments for delivery and financing public health action and how these can be stratified into different phases.
In the short run, India faces challenges that have to do with how we manage the fundamental issues of financing healthcare for consumers, government, providers and other stakeholders.
The current financing of healthcare is based on a tripod structure. First, there are schemes like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and Arogyashri that are doing a great job and should be strengthened further. But the complete onus of running the programme lies on the State because the beneficiaries are the poor from rural areas. In the long run, the State will need support from private providers and extend the coverage to the urban poor as well.
Second, we have schemes like Central Government Health Scheme and Employees State Insurance that cover the vast majority of our population but their pricing needs to be transparent and corrected for efficient delivery.
Third, there are the private health insurers who cater to the health insurance needs of the middle class. All these models need to be made sustainable and efficient with efficient private-public partnership.
India's healthcare need is growing every minute. But are we ready for tertiary growth that can support regular healthcare needs for all including the urban poor and also be ready for the calamatic needs?
The solution might lie in the creation of a universal healthcare access mechanism where everyone can participate. It may be prudent to create a fund (an insurance pool) for universal care and critical illnesses through efficient private-public partnership built on trust and transparency. This would not only enable universal access but also enhance our readiness to address the growing gap of healthcare demand and supply.
Shobana Kamineni is director, Apollo Munich Health Insurance and Apollo Hospitals
The views expressed by the author are personal
IN AN ONION SOUP
Why on earth are you crying?
Oh, these are tears of joy! Last month I bought 100 kg of onions at a wholesale price of Rs 20 per kg. I sold a 20 kg lot at Rs 75 a kg last week. The government's promised the price won't return to Rs 20-25 before March. I'm going to be rich!
You do know that hoarding is a crime...
Who says I'm hoarding? This is all for my kitchen. Making a special Christmas chicken dopiaza lunch. Want some?
No, thank you.
But why are you crying?
My tears are from those onions he's chopping there. When you slice onions, cells break down to produce an enzyme called allinase that converts amino acid sulphoxides into a sulphenic acid that, with the help of another enzyme, forms a gas called lachrymatory factor or LF. This activates sensory neurons in the eye and stings it. Tear glands produce water to flush the LF out. Thus the tears.
God! That sounds, er, complicated. And here I was simply planning to make some easy money and bring the government down.
Now you know why the ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion.
Only if Pakistan had refused to sell onions to us to reduce our price. What kind of enemies are they?!
India's the second largest producer of onions after China, Pakistan the fifth largest. All this could be Pakistan's doing, now come to think of it.
Do say: Peeling under the weather?
Don't say: Oops. Thought it was onions and not garlic that kept vampires away.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Diligent censors that they are, Iran's revolutionary leaders are always vigilant to the subversiveness of art. But it is a power they have exercised in varying degrees of strictness since 1979, giving an indication of their comfort levels and their reading of the public mood. Jafar Panahi's sentence this week to a six-year prison term and a two-decade bar on directing and producing films can therefore be seen to be a toughening up by the regime, a mop-up operation to tackle the simmering aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections. Azadeh Moaveni, co-author of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi's memoir, refers to a code of existence in Iran calling it "as if". Vast segments of the population try to get by each day and through each venture by staying just that bit under the radar but "as if" the Revolution's freedom-constricting social and political code did not exist. There are occasional run-ins with the regime, but then they pick themselves up to return to their "as if" lives. It is what gives such amazing vitality to Iran. The people of Iran never fully cede ownership of their lives, and in a neverending high-wire act actually extract concessions from the regime. The regime gives in where it feels it cannot enforce a diktat, or when it perceives itself secure enough to allow little freedoms for instance, on the dress code, or on women's access to football stadia (a theme from Panahi's 2006 film, Offside). But when the regime feels threatened or besieged, as it has since the presidential elections in mid-2009 and the Green movement protests that followed, these little freedoms are quickly rescinded. Panahi was making a film on the Green movement, and that was probably his "crime". In incarcerating him, Tehran is telling Iranians they had better keep looking over their shoulders. How unfortunate.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LAYERS OF CRISES
Between ascertaining the reasons for onion prices shooting through the roof and short-term responses to the crisis, the big picture is always lost. Even as Nafed began retailing onions at half the market price in Delhi and the prime minister asked for a day-to-day monitoring, inclement weather, export permits and hoarding have all been blamed for retail prices rising to Rs 70-80 in metros but not with equal emphasis and not from the same quarters. While heavy unseasonal rains in several states as well as the export permits issued particularly in November despite advance weather warnings may have contributed to supply disruptions and escalating prices, what's overlooked every time a crisis of this sort hits is that supply, over years, has consistently remained erratic, despite India being the world's second-largest onion producer. As a result, prices have fluctuated through all these years.Now, the government has banned onion exports till January 15 and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has assured prices will moderate in a few weeks. Onion imports, to offset the problem, may not be much help either, given the time taken to import and then transport to retailers. However, the reflexive ban on exports which cannot provide anything more than short-term relief and that too in questionable proportions since it's never determined how much of the price-fall is a mere psychological reaction needs to be debated. As it happens, the cumulative onion export till November this fiscal is 16 per cent less than that last fiscal. Besides, a comparison with retail vegetable prices as a whole might give the impression that most prices are high enough.That's not to dispute the impact of bad weather. In fact, what lies behind this mess a repeat of the onion crisis of 1998 is the government's continued failure to build storage infrastructure, particularly cold storage facilities, to hold stocks when the produce is still fresh. If storage infrastructure were invested in across the country, the perennially erratic supply would be stabilised. Without that, crops will waste irrespective of weather and affect supply. It's time to overhaul our agro-marketing infrastructure which is starkly insufficient to meet the needs of a population our size.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HUNGER FOR CHANGE
TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu has undertaken a gruelling fast until the government responds fairly to the plight of rain-washed regions in Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have lost their entire crop. The Congress's latest adversary on the make, Jaganmohan Reddy, has also taken on a 48-hour fast for the same ends. And finally, the Centre has doled out Rs 400 crore in relief measures. In part, all these political forces are rushing to fill the void left by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose great strength was his attention to rural issues. YSR's famous padhyatras, his freebies to farmers, and his slew of welfare schemes won him immense popularity and firmly secured the Congress in Andhra. Now, his rival Naidu and his own son are trying to claim a hold on the same constituency. For Naidu, this move is an act of political positioning, an attempt to escape his own image as someone who concentrated all his energies on Hyderabad and didn't give a toss about rural misery. For Jagan, who's decided to call his yet-to-be-floated party "YSR party", it's an attempt to consolidate his political patrimony.Hunger strikes are an old form of protest across the world but they have been wielded with a special force in India. From Gandhi and Bhagat Singh to Irom Sharmila, the idea of denying your body sustenance until it turns on itself has been put in service of a larger political goal. In Andhra, hunger strikes have an even greater resonance. Potti Sreeramulu, who was a key figure in linguistic reorganisation, militantly fasted for a Telugu-speaking state, and died in the attempt. Even TRS leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao wrested a conditional okay to the possibility of a separate Telangana state after a dangerous and prolonged hunger strike. So Naidu and Jagan have only seized on an old and powerful method of getting their point across.While these are areas of acute agrarian challenges, and also a Naxal bastion, this political brinkmanship over distress can be dangerous and self-serving. Of course, these moves are also significant because of the inevitable confrontation that may accompany the Justice Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana, expected later this month. YSR's consistent attention to the backward region may have put a temporary lid on the discontent, but Telangana is a political tinderbox, and one that the state and Central governments should be rightly wary about.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
The BJP can claim some satisfaction in forcing an obdurate government into finally responding to scam related issues. The results of this response remain to be seen. But now the BJP will have to exercise very delicate political judgment and not overplay its hand. Our political parties are naturally inclined to hubris; and the hubris of an opposition that has smelled blood can be as self-defeating as the arrogance of the ruling party.The BJP is banking on corruption being a significant political issue. But while there is great outrage on corruption, there is no mass political momentum behind the outrage. Previous occasions on which corruption became, even if briefly, a large social and political movement were exceptional. The anti-corruption element of the JP movement and V.P. Singh's revolt after Bofors had three things in common. Both had aligned to a broader set of social movements. Both were ultimately aided by the fact that there was serious defection within the Congress. And both had an alternative locus, even if briefly, of moral innocence. None of the three conditions now obtains: there is no real social movement in politics; no senior Congress leader is likely to jump ship making the party vulnerable from inside. But most importantly, it is still very difficult for the BJP to project itself as innocent on the corruption issue. Last time it lost an election that was its to win, in Rajasthan, was due to perceptions of corruption and it may very well end up repeating the feat in Karnataka and Uttarakhand. The BJP still has another dilemma. Rightly or wrongly, in terms of personal projection, there is no BJP leader at the national level who cuts a trustworthy sympathetic figure. Let us grant that the reputation of the prime minister and the Congress president has diminished because of the recent scandals. But comparatively, they still have the benefit of the doubt. Whether this is fair or not is beside the point. It is a political reality. What this means is that while there is a desire to hold the prime minister accountable, there is little political clamour to see him humiliated. He has got away with so many sins of omission. This is not just because of the support of the Congress president, but also because there is still a residual sense of the alternatives not being too palatable. The BJP will have to play this game delicately; it has to force accountability without appearing to be obsessive in a way that comes across as unsympathetic.Finally, the one dramatic shift at the current moment is that large swathes of the ruling classes have lost their credibility: journalists, bureaucrats and even judges are coming into the line of fire. This can result in one of two equilibriums: either a free-for-all of dirty accusations; or a reining back in of the anti-corruption outrage in an act of mutual complicity. Neither will be conducive to sustaining anti-corruption politics. The BJP has to be careful in not falling into a trap of its own making. Two subtle shifts have already taken place. These portend some dangers for how it plays the issues. First, in a generalised climate of suspicion, even-handedness to most people means targeting both parties. Even the Supreme Court has muddied the waters by going back to 2001 and opening the door for scrutiny of everything from bank loans to policy decisions. So the room has opened up for "what we did, they did even worse" kind of argument, now backed up by a free-for-all in state agencies. Again, the truth will not be at issue. What will emerge is a "plague on both your houses" kind of syndrome. Second, the CAG report's overdramatic figure of a "loss" around Rs 1,70,000 crore has caught the public imagination. But strictly speaking, it is a figure based on contestable assumptions. But it also includes the cost incurred by policy decisions taken during the NDA's tenure. There is also now a great confusion about the different levels of this issue. There is the issue of auction being the right policy choice; there is the issue of whether within the framework that government settled upon there were procedural anomalies; and finally there is the issue of corruption per se. Unfortunately, all three issues are now being treated on par as an undifferentiated whole. And the more policy choices are confused with corruption, the more vulnerable the NDA becomes. Even "non-corrupt" policy choices will now be deemed suspicious, because of a bizarre logic of retrospective assessment. But the BJP seems to be abetting this confusion, and this will come to haunt it. The Congress will also try and use another tactic: the fear of Hindutva. Much of this will be, as Digvijaya Singh's example shows, callow. But there are already signs that the BJP will fall for the bait. Conversations leaked by WikiLeaks should not be taken too literally; there are layers of complexity in interpreting them. But the BJP would have been better off ignoring Rahul Gandhi's remarks. Or it should have had the imagination to say (in its own terms) that yes indeed, India has remained secular because of a particular civilisational ethos. If the majority community begins to tolerate terrorism within its ranks, it indeed will be a huge problem for India. In short, instead of denial or defensiveness, which is its usual mode of operation, the BJP could have used this occasion to articulate a more affirmative and inclusive vision of its own ideology. There are signs that the RSS is backing away from its restrained tone on Ayodhya. If the BJP has any political imagination, or any understanding of Hinduism, it ought to now make a dramatic gesture. It has made its point about history. But now it could help transcend that history by eschewing plans for dramatic temples at Ayodhya. Instead, push for Ayodhya as a shared space, where Ram becomes a symbol of peace and compassion rather than a threatening structure of stone. Instead of constantly being on the defensive, the BJP could at one stroke lay to rest so many ghosts that still haunt it. It needs a new imaginative politics.Finally, there is the space of ideas. What are the big ideas on corruption that the BJP wants to champion? Does it want to take the lead in political finance? Does it want to take the lead in police reform? If it does not occupy this space quickly, mere negativism will not take it too far. It still needs to show that it can be more than an opposition party.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TEARS FOR ONION POLICIES
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
The speed with which the PMO reacted to the onion crisis was heartening. An EGOM was not set up, neither was the EACPM asked to deliberate. Exports were banned, imports allowed and subsidies brought in. When the sights are clear the Indian state reacts. It has to be accepted that onions are important together with dal, wheat, rice, chillies, sugar, milk and so on. Sharp price increases create consternation. Political and media reaction is typical, but a sense of proportion would help. Food inflation has been falling for many months. I know "index numbers don't tell the story", and the housewife knows better, but The Financial Express regularly gives mandi rates. Wheat prices of around Rs 14 per kg have been reported consistently from Punjab, Haryana, central Uttar Pradesh bazaars, now also from Ahmedabad where prices a few years ago used to be double those in the north. The same with rice, at Rs 16 per kg. Potatoes are selling at Rs10 in Kolkata and Lucknow and we could go on with tur dal and so on. Prices of the levels common six months ago are not there any more. Yes onion prices are very high. While resenting that, the consumer knows that short-term weather-oriented price increases are not happening in a particular commodity for the first time in her memory.A few weeks earlier, farmers in Gujarat, which also grows onions, went protesting to the state and national capitals. They were growing with Sardar Sarovar water more wheat and rice, as cotton prices were perceived to be falling. No one gave them much attention. Now that the government relaxed the export ban, prices of cotton have improved. But why not earlier? In fact, why control export of cotton anyway? We know the corruption possibilities with discretionary quantitative controls, with all the shenanigans being reported. There is hoarding of onions, we are told. But of course, yes. Some of us never advocated completely free markets. We got that lecture. I and some others like-minded in the government always wanted a strategic presence for the state with rule-based intervention systems. When we present those in practical terms in policy reports, the government rejects them. When they do that I know enough economics to say, be fair. At the least be consistently practical within our own reasoning systems. The hoarder, who is blamed for making money, is not the villain of Hindi movies who beats his wife but a trader who makes money when he faces an inelastic supply curve. Whatever we may say, onion prices are not coming down in a significant manner in the next six weeks. But for the future let us have some semblance of a rule-based policy. Allow trade with variable tariff policies, an option that has been wrongly rejected over my head and those of all the sensible chairmen of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. Don't control exports. Let the tariffs take care of the difference between what the farmer should get and the unstable world price. Do try to intervene selectively to ride the cycle at home. In March, when I was lazily driving in Nashik and Ahmednagar districts, farmers were in disgust throwing onions on the road since the price was Rs 3 per kg. No newspaper was shedding tears. Above all, let us develop markets and help the guy who processes and stores.FDI and corporate in trade will not help much because, as some good studies at the IIMA show, they give the farmer a better price, which they were meant to. Is that inflation? Maybe not for there are quality factors. There are onions and onions. My paanwallah tells me that the imported variety is soft inside. A better statistical system will help.Today it is onions, tomorrow it may be something else. When 3 per cent agriculture growth rates hit the demands of a 9 per cent economy, something or the other will give. It will be tough to always blame the hoarder. Sensible policies automatically getting into play are better. But who says that good ideas always matter?
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute
of Rural Management, Anand, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MANOJ C G
The lead editorial in the RSS's Organiser talks about the flight of capital from India. Referring to the overseas plans of big business houses, it says Indian corporates are finding it lucrative to invest abroad. The editorial also says that these industrial big-shots contribute billions to foreign universities where they studied, and wonders whether these are goodwill gestures or PR exercises to create a friendly investment climate while Indian universities starve for funds. "India, they take for granted, and behave as if they have a birthright to loot and scoot." The editorial claims that a lot of the investment these industries are taking overseas is partly funded by "corrupt politicians" who find it safer to invest abroad.
While the RSS and its alleged terror links have emerged as Digvijaya Singh's favourite topic, the Sangh is also unsparing in its counter-attack on him. A columnist in Organiser is of the view that Singh needs to be brought to justice for fanning communal passions. Calling him a
"congenital liar", the article says his statements are not off-the-cuff remarks and that he is an unofficial spokesman
for Sonia Gandhi and is Rahul
"Rahul's obnoxious statement comparing RSS with SIMI the banned terrorist outfit was presumably prompted by Singh who, it is believed, is the head of the party's Dirty Tricks Department. His actions and utterances are exploited by the Pakistan government and its media to spread venom against India and Hindus," it adds. The Panchjanya is also scathing about Singh, asking whether he was a supporter of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist elements.
Who's afraid of a JPC?
In an article on the 2G spectrum scam, the Panchjanya puts the blame for the the parliamentary stalemate on the ruling coalition, saying that neither the government nor the Congress party was interested in breaking the logjam because they wanted to avoid a debate on corruption.
Attacking the government on the scam "which has shaken the foundations of democracy in India", the article says that the opposition was right in saying that corruption and the smooth functioning of Parliament
cannot go hand in hand. It says it was only the stubbornness of the Congress party that kept Parliament paralysed for a record 22 days at a stretch. "Sonia Gandhi's statement that the government does not have anything to hide and would unearth the truth in the scam has been proved to be completely
hollow," it says. While the entire
opposition unitedly demanded a JPC , the government kept ridiculing democratic norms, it says.
"Knowing the fact that its recommendations are binding on Parliament, the government is afraid that even the prime minister might not emerge unscathed. The day-to-day functioning of the JPC and its regular media briefings would
ensure that the issue of corruption is kept alive, which is a big threat to the plans of the Congress, especially Sonia Gandhi, of making Rahul Gandhi the prime minister in 2014," the article says.
The article adds that the Niira Radia tapes have to be seen together with the 2G spectrum scam. "The Radia tapes have shown how corporate interests have hijacked the government machinery and how lobbyists have established a strong hold over government, bureaucracy and the media, " it says.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
2010 was the year that removed all doubt that cybersecurity is now a geopolitical problem. We learned from diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks that from Europe to the Middle East to China and beyond, Washington is having an even tougher time than we thought getting what it wants. Yet WikiLeaks was far from the only big cyberstory in 2010. Google's public spat with China, the fight over BlackBerry devices in India and the Persian Gulf, and the sudden appearance of a virus called Stuxnet that appears to have targeted Iran's nuclear facilities made news, as well.
We also learned that cyberattacks are no longer simply a weapon for petty criminals and teenagers. They are now a full-fledged part of national arsenals. In fact, WikiLeaks showed that a cyber-villain can prove just as elusive and decentralised as Al-Qaeda. This could be just a hint of what is to come. Osama bin Laden will probably never be taken alive, but unfortunately for US diplomacy, the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, will probably have many days in court. If he is prosecuted in the US, some will cast him as the world's first cybermartyr. His confederates but also legions of WikiLeaks-inspired hackers will defend that freedom with more acts of cyberrevenge. In other words, up until now Washington has worried that terrorists will become hackers. Perhaps we all should worry that hackers will become terrorists.
In addition, the WikiLeaked information about US foreign policy will have consequences for international
relations. Pakistan was probably behind the outing of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. More worrisome, the Argentine government's decision to join Brazil in recognising an independent Palestinian state was likely a response, at least in part, to a cable in which Hillary Clinton questioned the mental health of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Then there are the risks that WikiLeaks poses for corporations. When MasterCard and PayPal agreed to US government demands to block WikiLeaks transactions, they suffered denial-of-service attacks from hackers. These companies and others like them will become ever more reliant on governments for protection from such attacks. In the past, corporate willingness to provide the US government with data hasn't been hugely consequential for these firms, because they didn't yet face a powerful cyberenemy. But "Anonymous," the organisation that retaliated against threats to Assange, appears much more capable. If firms begin to seek safe-haven by building gated online communities that are well removed from the information superhighway, a move toward secure Intranets, information will be tougher to come by.
So far, WikiLeaks hasn't divulged significant industrial secrets, but given the focus on US diplomatic cables, that fact simply reminds us that American embassies play a comparably small role in promoting US commerce. If a similar tranche of cables were leaked from Japanese or French governments, the commercial fallout would be far greater. That's why it may not be long before we see a set of leaks stolen from governments or companies that panic markets, sink stock prices, and even undermine a cartel like OPEC. As the continuing drama around Julian Assange demonstrates, governments will struggle to manage these sorts of problems. But for a corporation, even a wealthy one, the challenges will be far greater.
In 2010, WikiLeaks pushed freedom of information to a whole new level. We can only imagine the implications we'll see in 2011. Ian Bremmer and Parag Khanna
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE SEESAW TILTS
The West is on top of the world. Only about one-seventh of the planet's population lives in Europe or North America, but they generate two-thirds of its wealth, own two-thirds of its weapons, and spend more than two-thirds of its R&D dollars. On average, American workers are seven times as productive as China's. Yet when Richard Nixon made his famous visit to Beijing back in 1972, American workers were 20 times as productive as Chinese. China's share of global production was then 5 per cent; now it is 14 per cent. China is now the world's second-biggest economy (and Japan is the third) and the world's biggest carbon emitter. The world's fastest supercomputer is Chinese.
We are living through the biggest shift in wealth, power and prestige since the Industrial Revolution catapulted Western Europe to global dominance 200 years ago. And the force driving the rise of the East is exactly the same as the force that drove the earlier rise of the West: the interaction of geography with economics and technology.
Back in the 15th century, new methods of sailing (pioneered in China) made it possible for ships to cross the oceans. All of a sudden, the geographical detail that Western Europe was only 3,000 miles from America's east coast while China was 8,000 miles from its west coast became the most important fact in the world. It meant that Europeans, rather than Chinese, colonised the New World, creating new kinds of market economies around the shores of the Atlantic.
These markets generated equally new incentives that drove Europeans, rather than Chinese, to harness the power of fossil fuels in an industrial revolution. This revolution's steamships and railroads further shrank the world in the 19th century, unleashing the vast industrial potential of North America's hinterland. By 1900, the United States had displaced Western Europe as the world's centre of gravity.
But history did not stop at that point. Technology kept shrinking the world throughout the 20th century. By 1950, the Pacific was no more of a barrier to trade than the Atlantic had been a century earlier.
Now it was the turn of East Asia's industrial potential to be released. First Japan, then South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, and now China were drawn into the global economy. By 2000, China was gaining on the US; by 2050, it may well displace it. In the 19th century, there was nothing that the East's rulers, soldiers or intellectuals could do to stop geography from changing meaning. And now, in the 21st century, there is nothing that the West can do to stop geography from changing meaning again.
That said, there was much that Easterners could have done to manage the rise of the West. Rejecting Britain's free-trade embassy in 1793 was a disaster for China. Failing to fortify the Pearl and Yangtze deltas against British warships in 1840 was even worse. And Japan's decision to attack Pearl Harbour in 1941 was the worst of all. At any of these points, and at plenty of others, better decisions would have paid huge dividends for the East.
Similarly, there is much that 21st-century Westerners can do to manage the rise of the East. Paying off the West's huge debts is one instance. Encouraging immigration is another.
Freeing ourselves from oil and gas is a third requirement. East-West competition over resources in the "Arc of Instability" that stretches from Africa through the Middle East to central Asia spells trouble.
Using America's military might to guarantee the international order is equally important. US arms have kept the peace over Taiwan and Korea for nearly 60 years, and it will be US arms that keep China's rise peaceful in the 21st century. Last but not least, consistent pressure on China to open its society can only bring benefits. The 18 governments that joined China in boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony included many of the usual West-bashers, from Iran to Venezuela. But the fact that Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia all chose China's friendship over America's is worrying.
In the long run, the inexorable forces of technological change and globalisation may render today's anxieties over the rise of the East irrelevant. A hundred years from now, "East" and "West" may not mean much any more.
But in the short and medium run, as we try to solve global problems within the framework of nation-states created in the 19th and 20th centuries, the risks are great. In a world full of weapons of mass destruction, failure to manage them is not an option. The next 40 years will be the most important in human history.Ian Morris
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TV'S INFINITE REGRESS
We've heard of rotten tomatoes or raw eggs, even shoes being thrown at people, but onions? As their price rose alarmingly, TV news channels on Tuesday saw BJP politicians hurl them at a government already in tears (or is it tatters?) over the 2G scam. At this rate, the PM may be offering to appear before the PAC for the humble bulb.
While the Congress plenary session dominated TV news over the weekend, other than Digvijaya Singh's Nazi speech, sorry nasty speech, no one managed to stir the blood with fine oratory. A row of elderly people sitting cross-legged on the dais, looking idly around them, waiting for the speeches is not absorbing TV, either. All it did was to allow news channels time to discuss the 2G scam (again) or utter statements such as, "you can see the PM preparing to address the session" (Times Now), when all we could see was Rahul Gandhi seated behind Sonia Gandhi, eclipsed by her security personnel. Or, "This meeting is very crucial with all the party leadership there", (News X). DD News avoided such verbal pitfalls by doing a WikiLeaks: it offered a live telecast of the proceedings without comment.
The PM's offer to appear before the PAC should have been the highlight, but even this was immediately countered by the BJP. Like a magician, Arun Jaitley made simultaneous appearances on different news channels rubbishing Dr Manmohan's Singh's offer.
The real "magician", as Times Now called him, was the "God" of all he surveys on the cricket field, Sachin Tendulkar. After he had scored half a century of Test centuries, the eulogies began. Hyperbole was in abundance: "(he is) the greatest of them all", "If cricket is a religion, Sachin is God..." "he is a legend", "he's Mount Everest"... Finally, a breathless Srikkanth uttered the word that summed it up: "Sach-in, Sach-in" (Headlines Today).
After the flood of praise, the inevitable debate: who is the greatest of them all? The big Don or the small Don poor Bradman never imagined his name would mean something quite different to Indians. Ramachandra Guha, Harsha Bhogle, and Sanjay Manjrekar seemed to favour Sir Don; Boria Majumdar was inclined towards Tendulkar. Here's what's so funny: the "experts" prefaced their remarks by saying you cannot compare the two and then they went right ahead and compared them! Frankly, why not let us enjoy Tendulkar at 50?
If we must compare cricket, look at the coverage of the Ashes (Star Cricket) and India versus South Africa (Ten Sports). The former is far, far superior. From the opening sequence of rapid-fire shots, flashbacks, the crowds outside the stadium, Ponting biting his nails, to the panoramic view of the pitch and the instant replays blue skies, green grass and the men in white at each others' throats. Magical. Hope the producers of the forthcoming World Cup are taking notes.
Speaking of magic, politicians are not the only ones who appear on several channels at the same time. On Sunday the Indian Telly Awards (Colors) and the Rishtey Awards (Zee) were both rewarding TV performers and the same comedian, whose name was elusive, played the goofball on both simultaneously. Sure, the shows were recorded but uncanny timing, nevertheless.
Have you noticed that on the dance contest, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa (Sony), a great many ladies are up in the air and several men have mistaken shooting for dancing? Be it salsa or cha-cha-cha, the women are weight-lifted by their partners and suspended briefly before they come tumbling down to earth by which time some men are shooting from the hip CID's Daya, Indian Idol's Meiyang Chang and boxer Akhil Kumar who held the woman lateral and used her like a machine gun. Decidedly, odd. Otherwise, the show is great fun.
Koffee with Karan (Star World) saw actors Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor behave in a manner that convinced host Karan Johar they were a couple. You cannot "deny a relationship after this!" he chortled. This is the gossip girls' fave show, so Priyanka did not deny it.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
In Pakistan, there is an ever-growing obsession with self-righteousness, and hypocrisy in equal measure. The way politicians like Nawaz Sharif conduct themselves epitomise exactly that. Zardari is unacceptable because he is morally and financially corrupt; the army, of course, is neither, but it had better pay attention to its professional duties rather than meddle in politics. Having made these observations, Sharif then finds himself stuck with Zardari, because ousting him from the office even through constitutional means would be inviting what Sharif truly considers the bigger evil without saying as much, one that had him by the neck only 11 years ago. On their part, the generals reciprocate the sentiment, considering, like the UAE rulers, Sharif more dangerous than Zardari because the latter is more popular than the former. So the khakis are also stuck with Zardari for now, unless he shoots himself in the foot - which he is quite capable of doing.
While Sharif plays footsie by now criticising Zardari for his total lack of governance and rampant corruption, he is not willing to bring down the People's Party government by backing smaller, disgruntled coalition partners like Maulana Fazlur Rahman's rightist JUI or the ethnocentric MQM, whose leader Altaf Hussain keeps calling for a "French Revolution" in the Islamic republic from his hideout in London. The Maulana's party got the better of his characteristic ambiguity on sharing power last week when the party's central executive committee succeeded in convincing him to pull out of government after one of the JUI ministers at the centre was sacked.
The JUI minister was the whistleblower in what has come to be known as the Haj scam, where he outed a Zardari-backed minister, belonging to a rival sect, for having made millions by ripping off pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this past Haj season. The prime minister, under pressure from a Supreme Court investigation into the scam, was forced to fire the Zardari crony despite Zardari's defence of his minister; but in doing so, the PM also fired the whistleblower, landing his government with its thin majority into potentially bigger trouble. The Maulana has since been upping the ante by coveting the other rightist parties sitting on the opposition benches in Islamabad, and wooing the Muslim League-Q in Balochistan, with which it wants to join hands to do the very doable there: overthrow the PPP-led coalition government in that province.
The MQM's grouse against the PPP-led government in its home province, Sindh, on the other hand, has been a constant strain on the Zardari presidency. The MQM-PPP tussle in Karachi is a long-drawn battle over the spoils, and involving endless turf wars which often result in targeted killings between rival gangs that the two ruling coalitions back. The MQM has opposed tooth and nail the government's proposed tax reforms which call for imposing a value added tax under pressure from the international lending institutions, refusing to vote alongside the PPP as the bill is moved in parliament for debate. The affront, as it were, led the Sindh home minister, another of Zardari's trusted friends, Zulfiqar Mirza, into leveling serious allegations against the MQM last week, calling it a party that uses violence, extortion and kidnappings as a means to achieve its political goals. The MQM has given Zardari until January 15 to sort out this minister or else, it says, it will part ways with the government, possibly heralding its collapse.
The PPP now has two choices: win back the MQM and the JUI or look for a new coalition partner, that is, the PML-Q led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, failing which Zardari will have to mend fences with Nawaz Sharif to keep his government afloat. While there is hectic political activity all around to forge new anti- and pro-PPP alliances, Sharif has chosen not to jump into the fray just yet, inviting jeers from all corners that at the end of the day, he would save the PPP from its imminent fall.
And that may well turn out to be the case. As the head of the second largest party in parliament and one that still cannot hope to win a nod of approval by the generals if the PPP-led government falls, does Sharif have much choice? On the contrary, helping to keep the PPP in power until the next election in 2013, he can hope to capitalise on Zardari & Co.'s rising unpopularity. The time gained between now and then and the end of General Kayani's term as the army chief that same year must also give Sharif some hope of mending fences with the military, which continues to pull the strings on internal and external policy, even as genuinely elected governments may come and go.
The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
IRON IN ITS SOUL
JSW Steel's move from being the second-largest steel-maker in the country (yes, it produces more steel in India than the 100-year old Tata Steel) to getting within kissing distance of the public sector Sail is a great story, of how a firm that had none of the advantages of the incumbentsmassive land banks and captive mines came out of nowhere and has got so far ahead. Not only does it not have any of the advantages of a Sail or a Tata Steel, it is expanding in a hostile environment, in an environment where the government is no longer expected to buy land for industry, and at vastly subsidised rates. Instead, JSW has come up with imaginative means to co-opt the local population and has set up steel capacity. But there are limits to what even JSW can achieve, and the question that should be troubling policymakers is: why did JSW buy 41% of Ispat for Rs 2,157 crore instead of working on its Salboni plant, which would have had around two-and-a-half times the capacity?
The reason is simple. In the Mamata Banerjee surcharged atmosphere in West Bengal, the company found it impossible to get land, even though the project was announced by the family patriarch in 2005. Compare this to Sail, which is doing greenfield expansion at Bokaro, Durgapur and Rourkela; since it has land at these places, expansion is not a problem. It has so much land that even rival manufacturerslike South Korean steel manufacturer Posco (whose greenfield project is also going nowhere on the land issue) and Japanese Kobe Steelhave entered into JVs with it for setting up steel plants in the country. A PSU also has advantages in getting power and water supply from the state governments.
The other advantage that JSW doesn't have is captive mines. Companies like Sail and Tata Steel have captive iron ore mines from where they meet their total requirement of this crucial raw material. In contrast, JSW has two or three small captive mines in Karnataka from where it is able to meet only 30% of its requirements. Apart from making production planning easier, a boom commodity phase benefits those with captive mines since they can also export their iron ore. It is no one's case that existing steel producers be asked to give up their mines, but the next time the subject comes up, let's not insist captive mines are critical to developing steelthe BJP shocked people by advocating this line against the backdrop of the Bellary Brothers scam. As for future mines, let's just auction them.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
You have to hand it to Nandan Nilekani. At a time when few gave his ambitious Unique ID project even a slim chance of taking off, given how its primary appeal was in cutting the tens of thousands of crore that get siphoned off in social sector spending each year, he's managed to steer clear of the controversies. Aadhar needed a critical minimum number of users for it to be credible, but few politicians wanted to pay more than lip service to itsure, we need it for better targeting of the PDS, but why not implement it somewhere else first, was the standard refrain. So, Nilekani needed to find users who needed the service desperately. The two that came to mind immediately were banks and telcos. Banks use a combination of documentspassports, PAN cards, voter identity cards, driving licences, among othersto verify the address of customers, but enough have been pulled up for not following the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms. Why couldn't, they asked, the government come up with a fool-proof ID? Well, Aadhar is that ID, an ID the government is backingunder this, within a few seconds, a bank can know if Mr X is indeed Mr X, with his thumb-print quickly zipping to the Aadhar server and a reply coming back over a cell phone. The other lot of people who need KYC is the telcos. Till recently, when spectrum was handed out on the basis of subscribers, these firms had an incentive to fudge numbers. But since that's no longer the case, telcos are also looking for a solution to their KYC problems.
This leaves the other problem that, so far, Nilekani insists is not his problem. That of privacy laws. True, the structure of Aadhar is of a black box which doesn't lend itself to queries but once Aadhar is linked to bank accounts, to social security payments, phone connections, and at some point to land purchases and so on, the problem can get serious since it is then possible to construct expenditure trails quite easily. If the persuasive Nilekani applied the same energy he did to get Aadhar so far, the chances of a serious privacy bill will rise immediately.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MAKING 'BY INDIA' THE BYWORD
US President Obama's recent visit to India saw newspaper headlines like "20 deals worth over $10 billion signed". Chinese Premier Wen was not to be left behind and unlike earlier visits by Chinese leaders where issues like border disputes took prominence, this time it was his commercial agenda. French President Sarkozy and British PM Cameron also brought a large team of business leaders as members of their delegation to clinch mega deals. It will not be a surprise if the Russian President, during his visit, outsells these leaders and takes some of the biggest contracts back home. And India will have signed up to buy tens of billions of dollars of capital goods ranging from aircraft and military hardware to thermal and gas turbines from these five countries in a matter of just a few monthsa veritable Christmas gift to these countriesand a sign that India is now the biggest market for manufacturers of machines, plants and equipment.
India's manufacturing sector has grown at 7% over the last decade, the second fastest after China. Despite this growth, the sector has failed to build 'depth', which has manifested itself in the growing imports of capital equipmentthe building blocks of a country's manufacturing competitivenessinto the country. For example, between 2003 and 2009, while the manufacturing GDP has grown about 2 times, the import of plant and equipment has grown nearly 8 times. While the downstream industries have grown rapidly, the core sector products like power, mining, port and telecom equipment, railway equipment manufacturing, and steel and chemical plants have remained underdeveloped. While China's overall GDP is 3.8 times that of India, when we compare machine tool production, China's production is 55 times that of India.
Should India bother about depth of the manufacturing industry as long as consumer demand is being met with competitive products at competitive prices, and employment is being generated and leave the level of depth in different industries to the market forces and continue to import to meet any gaps in our demand-supply of plants and equipment? Or, is depth important for long-term competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and the government should play a more active role in shaping this policy area? These are two fundamental strategic choices that face India's policymakers.
Many countries take a view that depth is important for long-term competitiveness as it allows greater value capture and pricing flexibility is key to technological innovation, protects local industry from shifting global demand-supply situations and increasing volatility. In industries such as defence and telecom, it is important to control and keep the value chain indigenous from the perspective of national security.
The best example of how an emerging economy has systematically built depth through focused government policies is China. While China may seem the wrong benchmark, given the different governance model, it is instructive to note that 'strategic' industries (defence, power generation, telecom) and 'pillars' (automotive, steel, equipment and machinery) have built global leaders in industries like power, telecom and railway equipment. Now these industries can go bargain hunting to countries like India.
We cannot be world beaters in each and every industry. So where should we build depth? Four industries pick themselves for consideration. First, defence equipment, where the need to "control one's destiny" is unquestionable, but there is also a strong economic logic as the country will make huge investments in these sectors over the next decade. Many countries have used 'offset' strategy as a policy lever to build their defence production capabilities and which also has a multiplier effect on the country's manufacturing industry. Second, a set of industries are the building blocks of the manufacturing sectorcapital goods, plants and equipment of core sectors like power, telecom, railways, oil & gas, mining and construction. Third is the critical electronics and hardware industry where India is just 0.25% of global industry and imports 50% of its demand. Fourth is selecting an emerging technology area like nano-technology, fuel cells, artificial intelligence, mega-scale engineering, etc, where countries are jockeying for leadership positions. Given the growing importance of sustainability, India could place its bet on the 'green' technology space estimated to be about Rs 110 lakh crore and growing at over 15% per annum.
Building depth means making some tough policy choices, ranging from ownership rules, preferential customer access, setting industry standards customised to the country that favours local suppliers, fiscal incentives for specific industries and customs duty to protect them in their development phase, and support technology development through technology parks, easier access to funding for firms in these parks, creating a technology transfer market, etc. These policy choices will, by necessity, guide both Indian and foreign manufacturers in taking investment decisions that could be different if left totally to the market forces.
India has to grow its manufacturing sector at over 10% per annum to give credence to this year's budget speech by our finance minister where he talked about the sector's emergence as the growth driver of our economy. To achieve this, Indian manufacturing sector will have to invest between Rs 55 and Rs 80 lakh crore over the next 15 years. Add to this the estimated Rs 40 lakh crore of investment in infrastructure that will require all manner of capital goods, and the huge investment in modernising our defence forces, it is no wonder that the global leaders and their manufacturers see India as the biggest market.
We can decide to remain a buyer in this mega-mart or seize this window of opportunity to become a truly world class manufacturing economy. It is for us to choose the path we wish to follow and set our aspirations accordingly.
The author is MD, Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CABOTAGE TO SABOTAGE AIRLINE COLLUSION
The dismay at the steep increase in airline fares has not been as vocal as the outrage over the 2G telecom licences mess, but is disturbing nevertheless. The truth is that some of the increases may be justified: demand for air travel has increased, passengers are willing to pay more for travel, capacity constraints do not allow a rapid seat kilometre increases, so fares increase. The steep fare increases, we are told, are only for the 'marginal' seats booked at the 'last minute'. The cost of aviation fuel has gone up, as crude prices have increased globally. Fuel costs account for about 35% of operating costs in India, much higher than in other peer countries, largely due to high taxes on ATF. Airlines had been bleeding during the global downturn and this was an opportunity to improve their balance sheets.
Nothing wrong and unfair, as such. Automatic stabilisers would correct fare anomalies. Steep fare increases will lead to a drop in demand for travel, load factors would drop, seats would go a-begging and a drop in yields would eventually force airlines to reduce fares. That's how competitive markets work.
Problem is that the airline business is not particularly competitive. In fact, the world over, it is one of the most wretchedly regulated, negotiated and controlled businesses, particularly when it comes to allowing foreign airlines to operate domestic flights. There are, to my knowledge, 9 'freedoms' agreed on by international conventions, dictating airline permissions to operate across and within countries. Governments negotiate 'bilaterals' with an intensity that would put other trade negotiations to shame.
The parallels to the mechanics of spectrum allocation are quite striking. Airline operations are dependent upon airport infrastructure, with scarce landing and takeoff slots and parking bays at congested airports determining network operations and flight scheduling. As assigned spectrum bands determine tower location, cell configuration, etc, airport landing slots determine airline operations. While these slots may not be a classic public resource (like roads or spectrum), there are many aspects that make for similar characteristics.
]Globally, route planning and pricing have been susceptible to anti-competitive, often collusive behaviour. Mandating transparency in data disclosure is a terrific antidote to non-transparent, case-by-case data reporting, which is what the DGCA's actions have initiated. The government's intervention has resulted in an apparent reduction in fares. But this might be entirely transient. There is little to suggest that Indian carriers are intent on squeezing maximum operating efficiencies. But is there a market solution to encouraging competition, bypassing detailed administrative oversight? Yes; by increasing competition. One way is to give licences to new domestic entities that are willing to establish new airlines. The trouble is that their core competencies are in non-aviation businesses, necessitating foreign JVs.
An alternative is allowing established foreign operators access to domestic passenger routes. In the byzantine jargon of aviation, this is called 'cabotage' and is part of the 'ninth freedom'. A foreign airline is given the right to carry passengers between two Indian cities. Say, a middle-eastern airline is allowed to bring passengers from Dubai to Lucknow via Kochi, and then after Kochi passengers deplane, fill the empty seats with Kochi passengers onwards to Lucknow. Few countries allow cabotage, but there is no reason why we can't be pioneers. Australia and Chile allow passenger airlines owned by foreign entities to operate domestic flights.
This access to Indian skies should not be unilateral. The government should start bilateral negotiations with other countries to explore options to permit Indian carriers reciprocal rights to ferry domestic passengers in those countries. In October 2007, for instance, the UK granted Singapore carriers the right to fly domestic UK routes as part of an open skies agreement. Reciprocally, British carriers were allowed to fly to any city from Singapore. Indian carriers have expressed interest in operating overseas. A level playing field should be the starting point of talks, so as not to confer unfair operating advantages on foreign carriers. Fuel costs are a major source of asymmetry. For instance, refuelling at Indian airports might be mandated for foreign airlines. Note that Indian airlines operating abroad can also refuel cheaply at those stations.
This brings us to pricing scarce airport landing/takeoff slots and parking bays at congested Indian airports. Like any other contestable market, these can be auctioned. Will auctioning not increase uncertainty and raise the costs of operations and hence fares? Possibly, but auctions typically have tended to force increased efficiencies.
The author is senior vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Onion versus diesel
At a CII round table session on India's energy security and overseas energy acquisitions, Planning Commission Member Kirit Parekh was asked about what was happening to deregulating diesel pricing, one of the recommendations of his committee. The need to deregulate diesel prices, he said tongue firmly in cheek, had been pushed on the backburner by the onion crisis.
The government may be shedding onion tears over the onion crisis, but this didn't stop the finance ministry from serving onion pakodas to guests at the seminar on PPP at the ministry.
]Congress party media cell chief Janardhan Dwivedi had to shift his dinner for journalists from Tuesday to Wednesday as several journalists called him up to say they never ate meat on Tuesdays. Given how sensitive the media is, and how sensitive to criticism the government is, Dwivedi thought it better to postpone the dinner by a day.
Coai debunks radia-tion myth
Ever since A Raja landed in trouble, the SMS circuit has been filled with jokes about Raja getting too much radia-tion and checking in for radi-ology, so it was amusing to get the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) release the other day. The release talked of a COAI study that debunked the radia-tion mythit was about cellular towers not emitting excessive radiation.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Banking. Sending emails. Editing documents. Booking film and flight tickets. There is nothing you cannot do on a cell phone these days. Now GPS-enabled phones, in addition to helping their holders find the fastest route out of a congested part of a city, allow the phone's location to be tracked. Sounds a bit like Big Boss watching? That's not completely off the markthe Punjab police is set to provide its beat officers in four cities with GPS/GPRS-capable mobile phones to monitor their whereabouts and ensure better discipline, i.e., officers are present at their beat locations. A useful by-product of this exercise will be an increase in the quality of data collation from the field via pictures and videos, given that these phones are also equipped with high-resolution cameras.
This is a small but significant step towards using available technology to better protect and serve the citizenry. A number of such ventures, like the installation of CCTV cameras in schools to augment students' safety and teaching standards, GPS systems in DTC buses to monitor routes, and the upcoming electronic ticketing machines (ETM) in buses, are all links in the chain to improve the delivery of public goods. Instead of kicking back with a cup of tea after instructing students to read page 18-33, teachers would actually have to stand up and teach lessons, knowing that their classes were being evaluated. Similarly, ETMs would aid in plugging revenue leaks and matching the number of buses to the volume of passengers. Yes, implementing such solutions on a national scale will be an expensive proposition but, in the long run, the efficiency gains far outweigh the immediate costs.
A VERY SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP
From the Nehru-Bulganin-Khrushchev exchange visits of 1955-1956 down to the present, New Delhi and Moscow have kept up a special partnership that has lasted more than half a century and is perhaps unique in the annals of world diplomacy. Barring the barren years of the Yeltsin period soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India has had a greater and more sustained comfort level in political dealings with Russia than with any other world power. For the Russian side too, India has been a dependable partner whose value has been both political and economic. In commercial terms, the recent visits to India of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao may have yielded a bigger and more immediate harvest. But the 30 agreements signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Dmitry Medvedev, will, if fully implemented, pave the way for full-spectrum progress across a range of key sectors from nuclear energy and hydrocarbons to R&D, pharmaceuticals, and information technology. The latest visit also produced a welcome first easing in visa restrictions for business and transit travellers.
In the civil nuclear field, Russia has been the fastest off the block ever since the Nuclear Suppliers Group voted to exempt India from its export restrictions. Contractual negotiations are currently under way for the third and fourth reactors at Koodankulam but have been held up by lack of clarity on costs, financing and, to a lesser extent, liability. The Russian side is on record saying the stringent nature of the Indian liability law is not a major obstacle. But they are likely to remain in a 'wait and watch' mode to see whether India makes any concessions on this front to the United States before themselves signing on the dotted line. Though the contractual talks between the commercial entities of both sides are technical and not political, their smooth conclusion will send an important signal to both France and the U.S., who maintain that the Indian liability law is a major deterrent for their own vendors. Beyond this issue, the India-Russia statement has given a further push to the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. While this means the Indian Air Force will eventually acquire a technologically advanced aircraft as good as any being developed in the U.S. or Europe, care must be taken to keep development and manufacturing costs down and ensure sufficient diffusion of knowhow so that India's own capabilities in aircraft design and manufacturing are enhanced through this process.
The first round of voting in the Haitian presidential election, which took place in an already troubled context, poses serious questions for Haiti and for Latin America as a whole. Haiti is struggling to rebuild itself after the devastating earthquake in January, which killed a quarter of a million people and injured 300,000 more. Secondly, there is widespread unrest over the fact that Nepalese troops serving with the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) have been identified as the source of a virulent strain of cholera. This was spread by the contaminated Artibonite river, which runs past one of their camps. The country's first outbreak for over a century has killed about 2,000 people so far, but the official figure does not include those who have died in remote areas. As for the election itself, the international monitors have criticised the poor organisation, intimidation, and fraud. Haitian citizens complained that votes were cast in the name of people who were dead and of incomplete and inaccurate electoral registers. Even the leading candidate, the ruling Unity party's Jude Célestin was not on the roll; the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) cast a proxy vote for him. Post-election violence that led city-dwellers to flee to rural camps, where the risk of cholera was very high, has caused at least one death.
The candidates' own reactions do not help. The second and third-placed candidates, Mirlande Manigat, the wife of a former president, and Michel Martelly, a former kompa jazz musician, soon disagreed with each other and then both rejected the idea of a recount promised by the CEP. Ms Manigat withdrew her charge of fraud, and Mr. Martelly declared himself the real winner. In any case a recount alone is unlikely to restore confidence, and none of the candidates has said whether or not they will accept the recount results. The main regional grouping, the Organization of American States (OAS), has been slow to react and the involvement of its expert panel in the recount has only lengthened that process. An honourable Latin American exception is Cuba, whence no less a person than Fidel Castro immediately issued a statement calling for calm and mentioning that Cuba sent 300 doctors and nurses as soon as cholera broke out. The tardiness on the part of the OAS stands in sharp contrast to the conduct of the African Union (A.U.) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which have moved quickly over electoral problems in Côte d'Ivoire; the A.U. has appointed its own mediator as well. Latin American states can enhance their global standing, which their resistance to neoliberalism has strengthened, by helping their needier neighbours.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
LET'S NOT WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT SHANGHAI
THE RESULTS OF THE RECENT PISA TEST, WHICH RANKED SHANGHAI AT THE TOP OF THE LIST FOR SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS, PROVIDE SOME INTERESTING LESSONS FOR THE U.S. AND OTHER COUNTRIES.
VANESSA L. FONG & PHILIP G. ALTBACH
In the present environment, Americans face plenty of concerns about educational achievement. This country now ranks in the lower middle of the scores globally and, thus, will have problems competing in the world knowledge economy. America's steady decline reflects not mainly a deterioration of a never highly robust K-12 education system, but rather the improvements in other countries. This situation is alarming because the global economy does not stand still.
The recent PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam ranked Shanghai, China, at the top of the list for both science and mathematics. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the PISA results a "wake-up call." Certainly America is sub-par when compared to many of our competitors. Yet, the results in Shanghai provide some interesting lessons, positive and negative, for the United States and other countries.
Multiple factors contribute to China's obsession with education. Education has long been seen as a key path to upward social mobility and professional success in China. A system encouraging youth to strive toward upward mobility by performing well on imperial civil-service exams was integral to China's culture and political economy for almost 2000 years, before it was replaced by modern college and high school entrance exams in the early 20th century. Political instability and rapid social change have interfered with normal social mobility. As a result, most Chinese children believe they can be upwardly or downwardly mobile regardless of their family background. China's one-child policy has also intensified parental investment in and aspirations for each child. However, in addition, economic reforms have increased the stakes of educational achievement by enhancing socioeconomic inequalities. Other stressors include increasing uncertainty about whether Chinese families will have sufficient pensions and health insurance benefits. Further, rapidly inflating costs of housing, education, and medical care add the pressures.
Almost every urban Chinese child is an only child who will eventually need to get a job that can support many dependents. Most such jobs, however, are only available to the small minority who score high enough on entrance exams to be accepted by key-point college-prep high schools and then highly ranked universities. Many Chinese youth cannot even get entry to any high school or college. According to UNESCO's 2008 statistics from China, only 76 per cent of high school-aged teenagers attended high school, and only 23 per cent of college-aged people in China were enrolled in college.
If only children lose out in the competition for upward mobility, their parents will have no other children to fall back on; and an impoverished only child will have no siblings to turn to for help. A single-minded obsession with educational achievement is inevitable when every child desperately wants to be a winner in an educational system where success is limited.
Admission to high schools and colleges depends on performance in the college entrance exam and the high school entrance exam but not on grades given by teachers or on extracurricular activities. Consequently, students, parents, and teachers focus almost entirely on preparing students for entrance exams, which increasingly emphasise the critical thinking skills tested by the PISA as well as the concentration and memorisation skills the previous focus of such exams. From first grade onward, students stay in school all day, developing skills and taking practice exams to prepare them for high school and college entrance exams. They are constantly pressured by parents and teachers to perform as well as possible on tests. Evenings, weekends, and vacations are spent on homework, with intensive help from parents, relatives, and (for wealthier families) private tutors and cram schools. Unlike American teachers, whose role in assigning grades that determine students' ability to enter college makes them gatekeepers, Chinese teachers serve mainly as coaches, doing everything they can to help students attain high scores on entrance exams. Chinese teachers whose students succeed are rewarded not only with gratification for the positive result and a job well done but also with prestige, promotions, merit pay, jobs at better schools, opportunities to earn large fees as private tutors, and a lifetime of valuable connections with powerful former students who remain grateful for their help.
The Shanghai context
The factors that make Chinese children education crazy are especially strong in Shanghai, which has the highest costs of living, socioeconomic inequalities, educational attainment, and adherence to the one-child policy in China. According to the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, in 2006 almost all Shanghai children attended school from kindergarten through 12th grade, 55 per cent of high school-age students attended college-prep high schools, and 82 per cent of college-prep high school graduates enrolled in college. Shanghai is China's commercial capital and wealthiest city, with almost 20 million permanent residents. It has long been a magnet for highly motivated people seeking upward mobility and success, including top teachers from across China. Shanghai parents put their kids in preschools that teach English, math, Chinese, and other skills from the time they are toddlers, and spend as much time and money as possible for their children to attend the best preschools, primary schools, junior high schools, and colleges.
Rural schools in central and western China, in contrast, have trouble attracting and retaining qualified teachers. Children in poor rural Chinese villages spend much of their time doing farm work and chores, often cannot afford books and school fees or the extra tutoring and cram schools many urban children get, and are tempted to drop out of school to pursue low-skill work opportunities in cities like Shanghai. The largest educational inequalities in China are not between different groups within cities, as in the United States but, rather, between cities and rural villages many of which lack electricity and running water. According to the China Population Information Center, 53 per cent of China's population was rural in 2009.
The timing of the international PISA test is particularly fortuitous for Shanghai students. It happens that at the end of ninth grade (when most students are 15 the age at which the PISA test is given), a high-stakes test in China determines which high school a student will attend. In many ways, the high school entrance test is the most important exam of a Chinese citizen's life. Children are less likely to have more than one chance at the high school entrance examination, both because of bureaucratic obstacles to allowing students to repeat the examination and because parents and children fear that children who enter high school at much older ages than their peers may face devastating social stigma.
In Shanghai, as in most of China, every high school has a particular rank in a pyramidal hierarchy. High school entrance exam scores determine which high school a student can attend. The top elite college-prep high schools have the most funding, attract the best teachers and students, admit only the highest-scoring students, and prepare them to attend the top universities in China and abroad. Students who attend lower-ranked college-prep high schools are rarely able to gain admission to top universities, though most can get into lower-ranked regular and adult education colleges. Students who study at vocational high schools instead of college-prep high schools spend much of high school preparing for low-paid service and technical jobs instead of college entrance exams, and some do not even learn enough skills to qualify for the adult education colleges for which they are eligible.
What does it all mean?
It is not at all surprising that Shanghai students scored so well. They are primed for test taking and competitive schooling. They have spent a lot of time studying and have had great family support and pressure for education. One should also keep in mind that Shanghai does not typify China as much of the country lags far behind the prosperous coastal cities.
The Shanghai results show that investment in education, by parents, society, and the students themselves yields results on tests and in the acquisition of knowledge. Family support is a key factor. Everyone realises that educational achievement is central to an individual's success and that there are few "second chances." It is in some ways a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" mentality in the schools.
Some observers in China have recognised that lockstep test-oriented education may not produce young people well adapted to the complexities of the new knowledge economy. Liberal education is being added to the university curriculum in a few places, and test obsession is being criticised. Does the U.S. want to embrace the traditional China's examination-focussed education approach at the same time rigidity is being questioned in China?
(Vanessa L. Fong is associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Philip G. Altbach is Monan professor of higher education and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.)
A PEEP INTO THE ECONOMICS OF THE CHENNAI MUSIC AND DANCE SEASON
IT IS ARGUABLY THE LARGEST MUSIC AND DANCE FESTIVAL IN THE WORLD BUT HOW DOES IT FINANCE ITSELF? AND WHAT ABOUT DECENT REMUNERATION FOR THE ARTISTS?
Artists presenting their mastery and skill, listeners engaging in discussions on ragas over coffee, and Kancheepuram silks peeping out of wardrobes to make their annual resurgence this time of the year in Chennai evokes a certain cultural identity that the city has cultivated for itself over the last eight decades. While the December music and dance festival also known as the "Season" in Chennai is celebrated for its scale and artistic quality, the economics of the season is shrouded in secrecy. There is little information available in the public domain about how the substantial sums of corporate sponsorship are utilised.
The season, which involves crores of rupees, is arguably the largest music and dance festival in the world. There are over 2,500 performances, involving hundreds of artists, held across nearly 50 venues in a span of a month. Most of the sabhas or organisations that host performances in the season rely heavily on sponsorship. Until a few years ago, only a handful of nationalised banks and business houses such as those of Nalli Kuppusami Chetty and P. Obul Reddy were the major contributors. Now information technology firms and educational institutions have begun to chip in, although the amounts they contribute are relatively modest. After the passing away of the industrialist and philanthropist, Mr. Obul Reddy, his family gave Rs.80 lakh to a select group of sabhas, ensuring among other things that prestigious awards to artists come with enhanced monetary reward. Recently, the Shiv Nadar Foundation announced a contribution of Rs.1 crore to The Music Academy for renovation of its mini hall.
What really does corporate sponsorship mean to sabhas that sell season and daily tickets? According to the secretary of a leading sabha, the amount from the sale of season passes and daily ticket sales at the counter does not meet any significant chunk of the expenses incurred. "A sabha," he observes, "has so many expenses such as artists' remuneration, maintenance of the hall, electricity charges, advertising and publicity. Unless we have corporate sponsorship, it is virtually impossible for us to hold performances." He allows a rare peep into how the economics of a representative sabha breaks down. Donations and sponsorship form 50 per cent of the total income. The proceeds from the sale of daily and season tickets account for 36 per cent and members' contribution for 7 per cent of the total income. The amount earned through renting out the hall is 3 per cent and miscellaneous income 4 per cent. The expenses side of the balance sheet points to 47 per cent of it going towards artists' honorarium, transport, and hospitality charges. About 6 per cent is spent on cash awards and medallions, while 7 per cent goes to advertisement and publicity expenses. The amount spent on sound systems and lights accounts for 4 per cent of the total expenses. About 6 per cent is spent on repairs and maintenance, 4 per cent on electricity, 20 per cent on administration expenses, and about 6 per cent on capital expenditure. In regard to ticket sales, the daily tickets are priced between Rs.50 and Rs.500 (Rs.1,000 on certain days, in case of very special programmes). The season passes are priced between Rs.3,500 and Rs.10,000.
It is no surprise that the extent of reliance on such sponsorship varies from one organisation to another. Acknowledging that the expenses incurred by a sabha are high, the secretary of another sabha that is over 50 years old says that until last year tickets sales accounted for the largest portion of the income. In fact, the sabha's balance sheet for last year shows the amount generated from season and daily tickets (nearly Rs. 30 lakh) as being over five times what comes in from corporate sponsorship. "This year however," the sabha secretary reveals, "corporate sponsorship for our sabha has almost tripled. We have enhanced the remuneration for artists significantly." Some sabhas point out that they hold festivals throughout the year and the Season is an opportunity to raise funds for their yearlong events. However, there are a few small sabhas that surface only during December; they try to make profits in the Season, as they do not have any expense during the rest of the year.
According to informed sources, smaller sabhas pool in considerable amounts of sponsorship for their festival, which in some cases are rather short, citing big names.
However, the remuneration they promise senior artists hardly exceeds a few thousand rupees. Issues of credibility and regulation thus remain murky areas. The mushrooming of smaller sabhas across the city and its suburbs has made the picture even more complex. While the number of such organisations figuring in the festival is over 50, only about 15 sabhas, mostly those established decades ago, are part of the Federation of City Sabhas. The Federation allows membership only to those organisations registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act 1975.
While a few sabhas are considered reasonable 'paymasters,' artists, both senior and junior, feel strongly that it is about time remuneration during the Season was raised. "The Season is where I get paid the least," says a veteran dancer. "Yes, it is prestigious to be part of it but that does not mean I can manage with such low remuneration. If I dance at a temple festival in the north, I get paid up to Rs. 2 lakh, but during the season here, the pay averages around Rs.10,000." Questioning the "reluctance" of sabhas "to be transparent," the Bharatanatyam exponent asks: "We are not getting paid well. There is no marked improvement in green room or stage facilities either. Where then is the money going?" Putting up a dance show costs at least Rs.15,000, including expenses on costumes, transportation costs for musicians during rehearsals, and remuneration for musicians. "We end up spending more out of our pockets!" Senior musicians performing in the prime slots in the evenings receive, on average, around Rs.10,000, and the juniors around Rs.1,500.
The hierarchy of artists on stage is reflected in their remuneration as well. The story of the main accompanists (violin and mridangam) is worse and that of the upapakkavadyam (ghatam, kanjira, morsing) pathetic. A young upapakkavadyam artist says it is very awkward to "bargain rates" with the sabhas, but there is little choice. "They would write to us saying they will pay us Rs.750 for a concert. If we respond saying please make it Rs.1,000, they will end up paying Rs.900 on the day of the concert." This "vegetable market" approach to remuneration, the accompanist laments, removes any dignity or charm associated with the profession. "Some organisations such as The Music Academy and Narada Gana Sabha," he adds, "pay reasonably well. At many other places, it is hopeless! We are still here, because we love what we do."
A recurring complaint, heard over many years, is that sabhas treat Hindustani and Carnatic musicians differently, discriminating against the latter. "The same sabhas that hesitate to increase our pay are happy to pay artists from the north very well," notes a senior artist.
Veteran music lovers and critics also express some concern that while accessibility of the classical fare offered has expanded over the decades, with all this organisational effort and enterprise, the Season is at risk of spreading itself thin. Empty seats and rows emptying in the midst of performances at several venues are not pretty sights and surely a damper on the mood of the artists. It also raises some questions for the economics of the Season.
Another trend that is worrying senior artists is the growing malpractice of sabhas demanding "donations" from young and eager dancers for a performance slot. The amounts demanded are said to range from a few thousand rupees to a lakh rupees for a coveted slot on the inaugural day of the festival. It appears that the practice, which used to be restricted to dance, is now creeping into the music performance space. A young musician recalls his vocalist-friend from a neighbouring State receiving an e-mail from a Chennai sabha, to which he had applied, asking for a donation. Artists are concerned about students of music and dance who come from modest backgrounds. "Are we saying," asks a senior artist, "that the performance space is only for those who can afford it? Are we then not allowing the arts circuit in Chennai to perpetuate elitism?" The other side of the coin, artists point out, is that anyone who can afford a slot will gain preference in the performance space. It was time the classical arts in the south, and particularly Chennai, took merit seriously, breaking free of caste and class prejudices.
The apprehension is that in a growing number of instances, the lack of any systematic auditioning process and poor, uninformed art administration are taking the much celebrated arts festival of Chennai to a zone where money, public relations, and artistic merit will matter but only in that order. And that seems to be the biggest concern of artists striving to retain core values of the classical arts.
IN YEMEN, AL-QAEDA IS A LOW PRIORITY
SARAH EL DEEB
A doctor would have recognised the signs of chronic malnutrition immediately in the seven-month-old girl, the swollen stomach, the constant cough. Her mother, though, had only traditional healers to turn to in her Yemeni mountain village, and they told her to stop feeding the girl.
The mother's feed had spoiled, they said. Their solution: stuff the baby's nose with ghee.
When that didn't work, the young mother, Sayeda al-Wadei, made the arduous 60-mile journey through the mountains to the closest hospital with facilities to treat her daughter, in the capital Sanaa.
More than 50 per cent of Yemen's children are malnourished, rivalling war zones like Sudan's Darfur and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. That's just one of many worrying statistics in Yemen.
Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn't have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved. Water is running out. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding into cities. The government is riddled with corruption, has little control outside the capital, and its main source of income oil could run dry in a decade.
As a result, al-Qaeda is far down on a long list of worries for most Yemenis. Donor nations are meeting in February in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to gather millions of dollars for development in Yemen. Aid groups, economists and officials are scurrying to develop poverty reduction and economic restructuring plans for this nation of 23 million.
The United States has already dedicated $150 million in development money, alongside its counterterrorism aid to fight al-Qaeda, which is to grow to from $150 million to $250 million over the next year. Other donor countries have given millions more, acknowledging that the terror network cannot be uprooted unless Yemen is pulled out of poverty.
]"The neighbouring countries and Europeans and U.S. have a lot of stake, not only in Yemen, but in the Middle East. I don't think anyone wants to see Yemen failing," said Benson Ateng, the World Bank's Yemen country manager.
]Some aid workers fear that the government, which clings to power through patronage, will direct aid to allied tribes while leaving others out in the cold, fuelling resentment. A focus by donors on steering aid to areas with a known al-Qaeda presence, not necessarily the poorest zones, may also backfire.
Malnutrition typifies how overlapping problems lead to crisis. Much of Yemen's agriculture and 30 per cent of its water has turned to cultivating qat, the mildly stimulating leaf that Yemenis addictively chew, leaving the country a net food importer with little cash to pay for it. At the same time, health infrastructure and education is lacking, the rate of breastfeeding for children under six months is only 10 per cent.
Moreover, the rise in malnutrition was able to pass largely unnoticed because the weak government was not keeping valid statistics and had no commitment or ability to head it off. "There is no single other country in the world where we ever have seen such high levels of malnutrition," said Greet Cappelaera, Yemen country director of UNICEF.
At the Sanaa hospital, al-Wadei's daughter Maram has recovered after treatment. But another of her four children a 21/2-year-old daughter can barely stand, another malnutrition symptom, and the family can't afford to treat her.
]"I don't want kids anymore," mourns al-Wadei. "I don't even want myself."
Yemeni officials say their resources are strained by security challenges, including a northern rebellion, a southern separatist movement and al-Qaeda.
Oil revenues make up at least three-quarters of the government budget, but oil production is steadily declining. Yemen could become a net importer in the next five years and its oil reserves could run out completely by 2021.
What development there is in Yemen is a patchwork, depending on where the government has thrown its limited cash. Oil money has fuelled a consumption boom among a small slice of the population. In Sanaa, new hotels and restaurants have arisen, along with shopping complexes. Large video billboards advertise new housing projects.
But just beyond the capital's edge, rural Yemen immediately emerges, with little infrastructure. Donkey carts replace SUVs, and government authority largely vanishes, replaced by highly independent local tribes.
In Wadi Dhaher, a village just 10 km (six miles) outside Sanaa, floods have left mud houses partially demolished and deserted. Muddy roads lead to the village's qat plantations, which consumes most of the village water.
In a country with the seventh highest population growth in the world 2.9 per cent a year the tens of thousands of Yemenis entering the work force each year find few opportunities. Many pour into Sanaa for jobs, straining the infrastructure.
Mohammed Abdel-Malik Mutawakel, a Sanaa University political science professor, said the danger is that Yemen's youth find "the economy is closed to them."
"So they will only think of a political struggle," he said. "If that also is closed. they will fight then, either through al-Qaeda, the southerners, or any other way." AP
AFRICAN FARMERS DISPLACED AS INVESTORS MOVE IN
STUNNED VILLAGERS ARE FINDING THAT GOVERNMENTS HAVE BEEN LEASING LAND, OFTEN FOR DECADES.
The half-dozen strangers who descended on this remote West African village brought its hand-to-mouth farmers alarming news: their humble fields, tilled from one generation to the next, were now controlled by Libya's leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the farmers would all have to leave.
"They told us this would be the last rainy season for us to cultivate our fields; after that, they will level all the houses and take the land," said Mama Keita, 73, the leader of this village veiled behind dense, thorny scrubland. "We were told that Qaddafi owns this land."
Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.
Organisations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.
But others condemn the deals as neo-colonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations.
"The food security of the country concerned must be first and foremost in everybody's mind," said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, now working on the issue of African agriculture. "Otherwise it is straightforward exploitation and it won't work. We have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don't think we want to see a second scramble of that kind."
World Bank study
A World Bank study released in September tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres the size of California and West Virginia combined announced during the first 11 months of 2009 alone. More than 70 per cent of those deals were for land in Africa, with Sudan, Mozambique and Ethiopia among those nations transferring millions of acres to investors.
Before 2008, the global average for such deals was less than 10 million acres per year, the report said. But the food crisis that spring, which set off riots in at least a dozen countries, prompted the spree. The prospect of future scarcity attracted both wealthy governments lacking the arable land needed to feed their own people and hedge funds drawn to a dwindling commodity.
"You see interest in land acquisition continuing at a very high level," said Klaus Deininger, the World Bank economist who wrote the report, taking many figures from a Web site run by Grain, an advocacy organisation, because governments would not reveal the agreements. "Clearly, this is not over."
The report, while generally supportive of the investments, detailed mixed results. Foreign aid for agriculture has dwindled from about 20 percent of all aid in 1980 to about five per cent now, creating a need for other investment to bolster production.
But many investments appear to be pure speculation that leaves land fallow, the report found. Farmers have been displaced without compensation, land has been leased well below value, those evicted end up encroaching on parkland and the new ventures have created far fewer jobs than promised, it said.
The breathtaking scope of some deals galvanises opponents. In Madagascar, a deal that would have handed over almost half the country's arable land to a South Korean conglomerate helped crystallise opposition to an already unpopular president and contributed to his overthrow in 2009.
People have been pushed off land in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zambia. It is not even uncommon for investors to arrive on land that was supposedly empty. In Mozambique, one investment company discovered an entire village with its own post office on what had been described as vacant land, said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations food rapporteur.
In Mali, about three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta are controlled by a state-run trust called the Office du Niger. In nearly 80 years, only 2,00,000 acres of the land have been irrigated, so the government considers new investors a boon.
"Even if you gave the population there the land, they do not have the means to develop it, nor does the state," said Abou Sow, the executive director of Office du Niger.
List of countries
He listed countries whose governments or private sectors have already made investments or expressed interest: China and South Africa in sugar cane; Libya and Saudi Arabia in rice; and Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and multinational organisations like the West African Development Bank.
In all, Mr. Sow said about 60 deals covered at least 600,000 acres in Mali, although some organisations said more than 1.5 million acres had been committed.
He argued that the bulk of the investors were Malians growing food for the domestic market. But he acknowledged that outside investors like the Libyans, who are leasing 2,50,000 acres here, are expected to ship their rice, beef and other agricultural products home.
"What advantage would they gain by investing in Mali if they could not even take their own production?" Mr. Sow said.
As with many of the deals, the money Mali might earn from the leases remains murky. The agreement signed with the Libyans grants them the land for at least 50 years simply in exchange for developing it.
"The Libyans want to produce rice for Libyans, not for Malians," said Mamadou Goita, the director of a non-profit research organisation in Mali. He and other opponents contend that the government is privatising a scarce national resource without improving the domestic food supply, and that politics, not economics, are driving events because Mali wants to improve ties with Libya and others.
The huge tracts granted to private investors are many years from production. But officials noted that Libya already spent more than $50 million building a 24-mile canal and road, constructed by a Chinese company, benefiting local villages.
Every farmer affected, Mr. Sow added, including as many as 20,000 affected by the Libyan project, will receive compensation. "If they lose a single tree, we will pay them the value of that tree," he said.
But anger and distrust run high. In a rally last month, hundreds of farmers demanded that the government halt such deals until they get a voice. Several said that they had been beaten and jailed by soldiers, but that they were ready to die to keep their land.
"The famine will start very soon," shouted Ibrahima Coulibaly, the head of the coordinating committee for farmer organisations in Mali. "If people do not stand up for their rights, they will lose everything!"
"Ante!" members of the crowd shouted in Bamanankan, the local language. "We refuse!"
© New York Times News Service
THE ASIAN AGE
INDO-RUSSIAN TIES & THE WAY AHEAD
The sheer scale and range of understanding reached between India and Russia during the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev calls to mind the days of the Indo-Soviet Treaty struck in the Indira-Brezhnev era nearly 40 years ago.
The agreements signed take in the strategic sectors of defence and nuclear cooperation, new forays into space technology, expanded ties in the hydrocarbons sector, and the refurbishing of trade ties to reach a two-way commercial transactions regime worth $20 billion, which is intended to mark a doubling of the depleted state of India-Russia trade noticed in Moscow's post-Communist era. The diversity of expansion in the bilateral relationship being attempted can hardly be conceived in the absence of the two countries being on the same page politically. In the last decade and a half, the once robust relationship between the two strategic partners had been emasculated. Russia had become a lesser power, and for a time looked Westward. India, too, was changing in myriad ways and securing ties of a new type with democracies of the West, led by the US. Although India has found a higher platform in its relationship with the Western powers in recent years, it is clear that India and Russia have sensibly determined that enhancing their relationship to a qualitatively higher level serves their mutual interest.
What's more, this doesn't adversely affect the dynamics of equations with other major powers. It also comes without the geo-political complexities that are often seen to deflect the momentum in India's ties with the US. In our region, with Washington constantly seeking to balance its relationship with this country with its close ties with Islamabad, and also Beijing, Indian public opinion is seen to be cautious in doing business with the US, although there is no dearth of goodwill here for America. This is an acknowledgement of the reality that America has too many irons in the fire, too many interests to consider in every region, and too many issues with international ramifications to think about as it seeks to safeguard its diminishing power in the world. With Russia, our relationship is not attended by caveats in the same manner. The issues are far more clear-cut. The perceived mutuality of benefit is seldom in doubt. It is for this reason that during Mr Medvedev's visit, Russia had little difficulty calling a spade a spade in the context of terrorism and Pakistan. Moscow also had no hesitation in enthusiastically endorsing India's case to be a permanent UN Security Council member, and of international regimes and closed clubs that have a bearing on international transactions in strategic materials. It is no wonder that at his joint press conference with the visiting dignitary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Russia as "a time-tested friend" and spoke of the India-Russia compact as a "special and privileged strategic partnership".
Only fairly recently, many on both sides had begun to wonder if Russia had not begun to look more inward, and to concentrate on the dynamics of its ties within Europe, in the process downgrading its traditional terms with India and extending the hiatus in once flourishing ties. Such an assessment now appears to have been premature. Within our region, India and Russia appear now to be strategising in respect of the situation in Afghanistan, which appears crucial to Indian policy-making in the foreseeable future. This is a huge stepping-up, and Moscow is clearly shaking off its diffidence vis-à-vis Afghanistan, which has a regional and an international dimension. In the context of the post-US Kabul, now under discussion, this is a meaningful turn that is likely to be watched.
THE ASIAN AGE
CONGRESS' BJP PHOBIA
It is only natural that a country's ruling party pays attention to the principal Opposition party. That is why perhaps, at the 83rd plenary of the Congress in Burari, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got more attention than what was due. In the process the Congress lost yet another opportunity to speak about how their coming to power since 2004 has made India better for the common man. After all, hadn't they come to power seeking his votes? While the jury is still out on the impact of United Progressive Alliance I on the common man, its tenure since 2009 has only meant pain and penury for him.
At Burari, Congress president Sonia Gandhi "missed the opportunity" (thanks to former US ambassador David Mulford) to explain why she had let him, the common man, down why she and her party had failed to control the prices of food stuff for over 22 months, including that of humble onion. Why is the common man paying more and more for food while farmers are earning less and less? Why has she preferred to let foodgrains rot in various public sector godowns rather than offer them to the state governments who were seeking greater allocation of grains under the Public Distribution Scheme, even offering to pay slightly higher prices? Case in point: Madhya Pradesh. Why does the sale of people's assets, such as the spectrum, result in huge losses to the exchequer? If the Congress Party has no role in all these, then who does? What good is it if Mr Clean is our Prime Minister, but right under his nose blatant omissions and commissions have resulted in the loot of public money? The Congress has failed to answer these questions in Parliament where the elected representatives of the common man assemble. But why did Mrs Sonia Gandhi miss the opportunity to answer even her party men?
The Congress Party is celebrating 125 years of its inception this year. Today's Congress has little in common with the Congress which was in the forefront of the freedom movement. That was a loose forum of people with various and varied ideological inclinations cohabiting for one common cause freedom from foreign rule. Once freedom was obtained, Mahatma Gandhi rightly suggested that the Congress should be disbanded. This never happened and, since 1947, the Congress Party has tried to be everything to everybody while feeling accountable to nobody. Ask an activist what the Congress stands for or ask a Congressman what s/he stands for and the answers are most often vague. Debates on "Congressism" are elusive, if any. A few vocal Congressmen tout that they stand for the "idea of India", as if referring to a republic of which you and I are not a part.
Every idea of India is well described and enshrined in the Constitution which we gave ourselves in 1950. But some elementary goals stated in the Directive Principles of the State Policy have actually not been upheld by the Congress, like the Uniform Civil Code. Even after the Supreme Court passed a judgment on the Shah Bano case, political expediency and not the Directive Principles ("idea of India") guided the Congress.
Post-Independence, the Congress did not make any attempt at asserting its world view wherein all stakeholders could have a role in achieving the "idea of India". After the death of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the marginalisation of Jivatram Kripalani, C. Rajagopalachari and P.D. Tandon, the Congress depended entirely on Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1955, at the Avadi Session, Nehru moved a resolution for a socialistic pattern of society. Then came the industrial policy resolution and, in 1959, at Nagpur, cooperative farming and state funding of foodgrains. Under Indira Gandhi in 1969, the socialistic fervour reached its high point with the nationalisation of banks and garibi hatao. But just 15 years after that, Rajiv Gandhi, in the name technological revolution, initiated the shift to public-private operations. With liberalisation in 1991 and today the hurried pushing of the agenda of multi-brand foreign direct investment, the Congress Party has moved from far Left to far Right almost seamlessly. No quibble, no quarrel in any of its annual sessions, no answers to give its partymen or the people.
There is no report of any debate on its core ideology and shifts away from it being held within the party. This may have led the Congress to believe that it has answers to every situation. It is hard to understand why there was no unease when socialism was replaced. Hadn't Nehru, in 1955, felt that it is not merely a vision or an aspiration, but a pledge?
Post-independence, without the core ideological reinforcement, the routine of passing resolutions failed to give the desired results. Thus, every time the Congress could not deliver on its economic agenda it would rake up the bogey of communalism and play on the insecurities of different communities.
As if on a see-saw, when economic performance was down, the communal agenda was on high, and vice-versa. We can view Burari against this backdrop: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is faced with price-rise, corruption, inland attacks, security threats and electoral losses. Governance has failed, institutions diluted, credibility is severely dented. Yet in the party's conclave there were no discussions, no answers sought or given. Just the see-saw phenomenon.
Communalism was invoked again. This time, in fact, the ground had already been prepared by the home minister who had christened it "Hindu terror". No sense of proportion or place influenced the Congress' general secretaries one chose to speak at a diplomatic dinner earlier, while another chose the podium at Burari. The president herself referred to minority and majority fundamentalism at the opening session and the proverbial old communal wine in a new bottle was served at Burari. The home minister, ignoring the lapses at Varanasi, decided to crystal-gaze and declared to the BJP, "Aapka number nahin aayega".
The Congress is an old party 125 years old, and 63 years old even if we believe it was reborn with Independence. It is time it reinvented itself. Else, the BJP phobia will ruin it further.
Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The views expressed in this column are her own.
NARENDRA MODI'S GREEN THOUGHTS MAY NOT CLEAR HIS IMAGE
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has authored a book on climate change and how the state is dealing with it.
His supporters are likely to see this as another feather in the cap of this unapologetic right-wing politician. But this is something that is likely to drive his critics most of them from the other end of the political spectrum into a paroxysm of anger. They are sure to see this saffron attempt to go green as a conspiracy against secularism.
It cannot be denied, whatever his public posture, Modi cannot easily shake off the dark legacy of the 2002 post-Godhra riots though the Special Investigation Team, appointed by the Supreme Court, has not found any evidence of his involvement. For a political leader legal exoneration is never sufficient.
It is true that Modi has been trying to move away from that ghastly episode, and his green thoughts seem to be one more step in the opposite direction. But he may not fully succeed. In the moral and political ledger, his positive deeds will not cancel out the negatives.
THE MOHAMMED HANEEF CASE SETS A GOOD PRECEDENT
Much to the surprise, and a sense of justice, of Mohammed Haneef, the Australian government has made amends for its serious error in detaining the Indian doctor as a terror suspect in 2007 by agreeing to pay compensation and closing the case.
Haneef was linked to the Glasgow terror bombings. Australia has garnered the reputation of harbouring racist prejudice, both at the official and societal levels. This gesture should help in partly restoring its credibility as a liberal and open country, which it is in more ways than one. While the amount that the Australian government will pay Haneef remains confidential as per the settlement between the two, news reports say it is in the region of $1 million (about Rs4.5 crore).
No one will deny that terrorism has to be fought vigorously. But in the process of doing so, innocent persons, particularly Muslims, are detained without reason, often for days on end. It is to be hoped that after Haneef's case, officials in Australia and around the world, will be more civil whiledealing with mere suspects. If there are reasons for suspicion, the person can be questioned but he or she cannot be deprived of basic rights that every person is entitled to under the law.
The Australian gesture in Haneef's case should serve a precedent in other countries, including India. The Indian government and citizens should not feel vindicated by the honourable discharge and compensation
Haneef got from Australia. The government should adapt a similar approach to Muslims and others that the security agencies regularly arrest on suspicion of terror links. If the suspicion turns out to be unfounded, then it is but fair that the authorities should make due amends in the form of apology and compensation.
This has been done in the case of the Muslim youth who were arrested and tortured by the police in Hyderabad after the Mecca Masjid bomb blast and the police firing that ensued in the clash that followed. The Bhaskar Rao commission had exonerated and discharged the youth. But this was a lone example and it has gone unnoticed. An appeal has now been filed for compensation.
INDIA, RUSSIA NEGOTIATE NEW EQUATIONS
The foreign office and media have been patting themselves on the back that heads of state and government of the permanent members of UN Security Council, also known as P5, have made trips to Delhi this year. It started with British prime minister David Cameron's visit in January and ended with that of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday.
There is, perhaps, some justification in the sense of gratification that India is being wooed by the ostensibly VIP nations of the world. But there is a need to get back to the brass tacks of India's equation with these countries. It is immature to be content with the assurances the leaders of these five countries have given of supporting India's claim to permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
There is a tendency to see India's relationship with Russia in the light of India-Soviet Union relations of 70s and 80s. It is true that it was the most valuable relationship in the Cold War era and India should indeed remember it fondly. But the two countries have changed inexorably since 1991. Russia has emerged from the ashes of the communist state and India has transformed itself from a closed to an open economy. In the last 10 years, the attempt on both sides has been to try to forge a new equation in the changed context. The relationship has not yet settled into the new groove.
The defence, space programmes, and civil nuclear power sectors which have been the traditional contact points are now being negotiated from new vantage points. Commercial imperatives score over strategic and ideological ones. There is need for hard-nosed realism in assessing India-Russia relations. Though Soviet Union had used its veto power in the Security Council in India's favour, especially in case of Jammu and Kashmir, Russia will decide afresh what it wants to do. India, too, is looking at other options, especially the US, in the defence and space sectors.
More importantly, Russia will be forced to take a new line on the Af-Pak question, where the Western forces are having second thoughts about the war. This could bring back Russia into the region but it will be very different from the Soviet intervention in 1978-9.
Russia may be inclined to work closely with Pakistan in dealing with Afghanistan and New Delhi should be prepared to accept this new situation. Strategy pundits in New Delhi will have to understand that the decades-old friendship between the two countries is mutating into a different one altogether.
IF PM WANTS TO BE HIS OWN MAN, HIS TIME IS NOW
Sonia Gandhi appears to say the right things. In her address to the Congress party's plenary session held on the outskirts of Delhi the other day, she called for a war on corruption.
She focused on the right issues: removal of discretionary powers in the allotment of land, transparency in the award of public sector contracts, open and competitive bidding systems, and fast-tracking of corruption cases.
As a statement of intent for future reforms, this is unexceptionable. But if she really meant what she said, she needs to apply the same yardsticks to all contracts entered into during UPA-1 and UPA-2.
She also needs to apply these rules to herself. For, the failure of UPA-1 to rein in A Raja at the telecom ministry, where spectrum was allocated in an arbitrary manner, relates primarily to the DMK's refusal to listen to the prime minister. In a coalition arrangement, getting the DMK to toe the line was Sonia Gandhi's job. So Manmohan's failure to enforce cabinet discipline is essentially Sonia's failure.
The reason why Sonia is making such a fuss about the opposition's efforts to put Singh in the dock is obvious: she is protecting herself, for she is the one who failed. This is why she has repeatedly talked of not allowing the PM's office to be denigrated. At the plenary, she excoriated the BJP for targeting Singh. But as columnist Bhanu Pratap Singh pointed out last week in The Indian Express, if anyone has denigrated the office of prime minister, it is Sonia. The PM can no longer take the important calls relating to governance. Put another way, Sonia's spirited defence of Singh is a plain and simple effort to hide behind the PM's obvious decency and remove herself from the line of fire.
If this sounds far-fetched, consider the Congress party's mulish opposition to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the spectrum scandal. Now why would the Congress oppose a JPC in the guise of protecting the PM when the latter has gone on record to say that he was willing to be questioned by the public accounts committee (PAC) headed by the BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi? A JPC would have been headed by a Congressman.
Singh clearly has nothing to hide. Does Sonia? The real worry, obviously, is that if a JPC examines Singh and he tells the truth that the cabinet had to stand by Raja's dubious policy due to coalition dharma he would indirectly be pointing a finger at Sonia, who is managing the coalition. As an MP herself, she can be called by the JPC to answer questions something which the PAC cannot do. Sonia is exercising her right to self-preservation, not fighting Singh's battles. The sharp attack on the Sangh Parivar is to protect her other flank Rahul. The crown prince's immature statements to the US ambassador are an embarrassment the Congress wants to avoid before the Bengal election.
The ball is in Singh's court, not Sonia's. The problem is the latter has used his decency and loyalty to serve her family's political interests while tying his hands down on things he would have liked to do. Like more economic reforms. Like more transparency in public life. Like having fewer dubious characters running sensitive portfolios. Like avoiding excessive spending on pork-barrel projects that Sonia and Rahul want to claim credit for. Left to themselves, it is doubtful if either Manmohan or Chidambaram would have written off farm loans on such a scale and destroyed the climate for repayments.
On the other hand, Singh has looked the other way when Sonia's pal Ottavio Quattrochi got his money unfrozen at Barclays Bank. The Bofors case is now well and truly buried and Sonia the only spectator who could have thrown light on her late husband's involvement in Bofors has gone completely unquestioned so far. The unremitting stand against JPC is intended to ensure that no one ever questions Sonia on anything anytime. This is truly power without a shred of responsibility.
It is time for Singh to introspect. He knows that over the next three years he will have to make way for the heir apparent. He will either be kicked upstairs to the presidency or ushered out after the next Lok Sabha elections, with sweet nothings and praise from Sonia and Rahul.
The key point to reflect on is this: Sonia needs him more than he does Sonia for the next couple of years. He has to politely tell her where to get off. If she truly believes the office of PM must not be denigrated, he should take her at her word and assert himself to put this country on the road to transparent governance and clean growth.
Manmohan can be his own man if he is willing to take a small risk of being unceremoniously ousted as PM by the dynasty for trying to be independent. But it's unlikely that push will come to shove. For Manmohan has more credibility than the dynasty. They can play games with him only at the cost damaging themselves. Singh stands between dynasty and nasty. His time is now.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
COSTLY AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
OFFICIAL INTERLOCUTORS GROPING IN THE DARK
Thanks to the Right to Information, it is clear that the business of interlocution in Jammu and Kashmir is not just worthless, it is also a costly exercise. With each of the interlocutor to get Rs 1.5 lakhs as salary apart from the powers to employ an assistant for upto Rs 40,000 p.m., besides the cost of traveling and other expenditure including liberal use of chopper rides to carry the team of three in two parts, the Centre will be bearing an additional cost of over a crore of crore of rupees simply on maintaining this tiny flock for a period of one year. Perhaps, the financial cost of this exercise is far less in comparison to the adverse impact this exercise would eventually make on the ground. There are enough reasons for skepticism regarding the end results of this fresh bout of diplomacy. First, for the simple fact that the interlocutors, with or without the red lines, are directly being supervised by the union home ministry, which does not have the mandate to take political decisions, except those related to law and order. Second, the interlocutors may indeed be meeting a wide range of people from across Jammu and Kashmir but it is important to note that barring some individuals and groups the entire lot seems to have been shuffled like pack of cards from the mainstream political parties. Whether it is in Jammu, Srinagar, Poonch and Rajouri, their meetings with groups and individuals were dominated by the mixed blend of National Conference, Congress, BJP or at best the PDP, many of those affiliated with these parties also meeting them as part of civil society groups or as members of various official boards for ethnic groups. So day after day, they continue to hear the echoes of one group or another, almost, and merrily file their reports. The angry and alienated masses and groups don't want to meet them and the interlocutors are unwilling too take any such initiative on their own. "We Indians also have dignity and we won't land up at anybody's doorstep uninvited and unannounced," is what the leader of the panel seems to have remarked and repeated. Yet, they make exceptions by visiting angry youth and militants in jails. They also land up at doorsteps of victims like the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, who have been ignored for far too long despite their consistent, peaceful and democratic struggle, and the family of Neelofar and Asiya in Shopian, even as the official stand is that the two women were not raped and murdered but died of drowning. Reports have revealed that they went unannounced and unwanted. Yet the interlocutors wish to draw a distinction between the separatists and the angry victims of human rights abuse by security forces.
Though one can commend them for trying to understand and gauge the extent of anger and the scale of human rights abuse, their inability to meet the leaders who represent the voices of dissent from Indian mainstream, howsoever marginalised, could also have been important and offering an understanding of the fact that the problem in Kashmir goes beyond the human rights abuse. Obviously, their reports would be over-weighed by a one sided discourse. The only significant aspect of the routine visits of the official interlocutors is that they happen to have reiterated time and again the need for introduction of genuine confidence building measures to address the human rights issue before a dialogue can begin. On the face of it, this appears quite promising. After all reduction of forces, removal of AFSPA and no patronage to guilty men in uniform does create an enabling atmosphere for a dialogue. If at the end of the years, the interlocutors do aid the course of such CBMs in the Valley and other parts of the state, their job should be considered of some worth, though there may be doubts about its long term utility. But where is the attempt to engage with the leadership that represents the alienated masses? That should have begun at this step of interlocution and not kept pending, unless the idea is to keep the separatists wholly and solely out of the ambit of any future negotiations. Whether the CBMs come about or not, the fate of a genuine dialogue, in absence of both initiating a process of engagement with separatists as well as absence of an intra-state dialogue, does not seem to be bright. Sight cannot be lost of the fact that years of peace process and the hopes Kashmiris had pinned on it patiently only ended up with not just despair but anger and bitterness. Such bids of engagement as the ongoing official business of interlocution, if it ends without achieving anything, may eventually only end up flaring a fresh bout of much more lethal anger than the one witnessed in the summer of 2010. This huge cost would pale and dwarf the whooping monetary amount being spent on maintaining the team of interlocutors.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
DECLINE IN GREYING POPULATION
LACK OF INSTITUTIONAL MEASURES TAKING ITS TOLL
Recent report about decline in greying population in majority of the states and particularly in developed, progressive states of the country, is a pointer towards the growing apathy of society towards the senior citizens. Kerala has the highest greying population at 11.1 percent followed by Himachal Pradesh at 9.9 percent. Ironically Delhi ranks lowest with its 5.0 percent population under the age group of 60 and above. The worrisome factor is that even the state of Jammu & Kashmir figures at the lower rank vis-a-vis ageing population with its 7.2 percent of population in the age group of 60 years and above. The trend stresses the need for institutional measures for old age security in the state. The alarming situation reveals a bitter fact to the fore that in the fast pace of life, the society is forgetting its elders, the majority of whom in the absence of support from the families or the government, are living in a miserable condition.
The growing trend of nuclear families has in particular damaged the familial ties which would in the days of yore revolve around the elders in the House. The setback to joint family culture for varied reasons totally alienated the greying population, which is not finding any space in the households as the pivotal force. Nauseatingly there are no enough "Homes away from real homes" available for them which can offer them a decent life outside the confines of their families which have discarded them. Devoid of compassion, medicare and of course basic needs of life besides the institutional measures for old age security, the graying population is losing the battle of life
THE KASHMIR TIMES
INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND COMMUNALISM
BY RAM PUNIYANI
On the occasion of completion of 125 years of the Indian National Congress its President Sonia Gandhi criticized the Communal forces. She pointed out that there is a pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distort our history, that thrive on spreading religious prejudice and that incite people to violence using the religion as a cover. (December 19, 2010). She went on to say that Congress has always fought against communalism of all forms irrespective of their source and that there was no distinction between majority and minority communalism as both are equally dangerous to the country. While one can understand the spirit of the statement there are lot of problems with this formulation.
To begin with the Congress President needs to be reminded as to what her grand father-in-law, the architect of modern India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, had to say on the issue. He had said that while both majority and minority communalisms are bad, the majority communalism is more dangerous as it presents itself under the garb of the nationalism. The minority communalism at the worst comes through as the separatist tendency, it also keeps giving provocations to the majority communalism; it keeps providing them pretexts to undertake what they want to do anyway. For Congress to equate majority and minority communalism is a big climb down from the secular foundations on which Nehru wanted this party to be based. And practically if we see in the arena of communal politics and communal violence both, it is the majority communalism which creates situations for the same. And then this majoritarian communalism has a vast network which affects the thinking of the society, it shifts the focus of social concerns from the basic needs of society to the identity issues like the Ram Temple agitation launched by it.
While Shah Bano issue was taken up by the minority communalists, it surely did a great damage to the nation, still its damage is no where close to what the Ram Temple did by dividing the society along religious lines and later on going to demolish the Masjid and launching the 'celebratory violence' all over the country. Surely both communalisms are a modern presentation of feudal interests and feudal values added up by the interests of sections of middle class who want to preserve their privileges and desire status quo for continuation of their privileged position in the society.
Sonia Gandhi's claim that Congress has always fought communalism does not reflect the whole truth. There have been times when Congress has been looking the other way around when the communal marauders are on the rampage. Be it the anti-Sikh pogrom, the Babri demolition and in many such situations Congress has either been looking the other way around or taking an afternoon siesta, when the fire of communal violence is raging. It is for this reason that many a critics blame Congress being communal and some go to the extent of blaming Congress more than BJP, as lot of communal violence has taken place when Congress has been in power. This criticism, though incorrect, is a sign of extreme frustration on the part of the victims of the violence and they can see that some action on the part of Congress could have saved the situation. But that, intervention of Congress to stop the violence, generally does not take place. There are two deeper reasons of this Congress inaction. One, the communal forces have infiltrated various wings of our state apparatus, police, bureaucracy, even army and judiciary as pointed out by Digvijay Singh. And second, as Nehru had correctly warned that many a power seekers who are communal have entered Congress without any conviction for secular values.
One must say on this score that the party has been very lax, and has kept short term electoral compulsions above the ones of principled politics. Its stand on the highly biased Ayodhya judgment has again reminded us that this party is not bold enough to call the spade a spade. The Congress kept quiet on Ayodhya verdict while as a matter of fact this judgment has been far away from the values of Indian Constitution, from the secular and democratic ethos of our freedom movement of which Congress under Gandhi and Nehru was the moving force.
Still one will welcome the statement of Congress President if Congress really adopts a principled secular stand. In that case will it ensure that Ayodhya judgment is evaluated as per the secular ethos, as per the justice to the minority community? If Congress is principled in its secularism it must take up the affirmative action for minorities in full gear. The implementation of Sachar Committee report, that of Rangnath Mishra Committee recommendation can't be kept in the cold freeze and at the same time claim the secular tag?
Will Congress take up the battle against the distortion of history, the word of mouth propaganda against minorities, spreading of religious prejudices against minorities? Is it equipped to take on the multiple tasks which are needed to preserve and promote secular values? Does it train its cadres in the values of secularism and democracy? While the recruitment drive for membership of Congress is in full swing, what are the efforts to ensure that the new recruits are not carrying the baggage of communal biases prevalent in the society? There is an in-depth need to train the existing and new members of political parties owning allegiance to secular democratic nationalism to take up the awareness and training programs which are able to oppose the religious hatred prevalent in the society. Short of these the claims of Congress President will just be declaration of the intent lacking in any substance.
And what about the statement of Digaviyay Singh in which he warned about the infiltration of communal elements in the state apparatus? Will a strategy be devised to ensure that all the state officials are really committed to secular democratic values and are not acting on the ground of communal bias. True, communalists have sowed their seeds all over, so what is the strategy of a secular party to counter this? Mr. Singh also said that communal forces are targeting minorities a la Nazis in Germany. A correct observation, but what is being done to counter that is the real question and a challenge which needs to be taken up.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
A HUMBLE SPIRIT..!
As a child, something that used to puzzle me was why Jesus was born in a humble cattle shed? Why couldn't he have been born in a palace?
Later, in that lowly birth, I realized what humility really is.
I like the story of a young woman who wanted to go to college. Her heart sank, however, when she read the question on the admission form that asked, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, "No," and returned the application, expecting the worst.
To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear applicant: A study of the admission forms reveals that this year our school will enroll 1,452 new leaders. We would like to accept you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."
Sometimes a little bit of humble pie goes well with a rich meal.
Actually, what passes for conceit in many people is often just a plea for attention. A poor sense of self may cause one to want to be the prominent star in every constellation. Humility, on the other hand, does not require that one shine less brightly than others, simply that all be given opportunity to shine.
That great 19th Century African American educator Booker T.
Washington showed the power of a simple and modest spirit. A story is told of a day when Washington, then a professor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, happened to pass the mansion of a wealthy woman as he walked to work.
The woman did not recognize him and called out, "Hey you! Come here!
I need some wood chopped!" She was a product of her southern post-Civil War culture and simply perceived him as a black man who was there to do her bidding.
Without a word, Dr. Washington peeled off his jacket, picked up the ax and went to work. He not only cut a large pile of wood, he also carried the firewood into the house and arranged it neatly by the fireplace.
He had scarcely left when a servant said to the woman, "I guess you didn't recognize him, ma'am, but that was Professor Washington!"
Embarrassed and ashamed, the woman hurried over to Tuskegee Institute to apologize. The great educator respectfully replied: "There's no need to apologize, madam. I'm delighted to do favors for my friends."
The professor may have taught one of his greatest lessons that day: He taught that every star can shine without one out-shining all the others. It was a lesson about peace: he taught how self-interest must often be set aside for the good of the whole. And it was a lesson about spirituality: he taught about the power of a meek and humble spirit in a world where aggression is too-often confused with strength.
A baby in a cattle shed, and a professor who felt no harm in cutting wood: Lessons for us this Christmas season..!
Words are important. They have life and power in them. They need to be written. They need to be spoken. For, as often said, "the world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people." At the same time they mean nothing if not translated into a reality. One, therefore, is not sure what impact two significant utterances made recently against corruption would have in the end. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for instance, has described corruption as "a disease spreading throughout our society" with the poor people paying "the heaviest price." She has announced an action plan to fight the menace "head-on": fast-tracking corruption cases against politicians and other public servants, abolishing the government's discretionary powers especially of allocating land (which she dubbed as the top source of corruption), transparent auctioning of mining leases, state funding of elections, transparency in public procurements, protection to whistleblowers, building up on initiatives like the Right to Information Act for the sake of clean and transparent government. Who will deny the relevance or substance of these words uttered at the just-concluded Congress plenary session in the national capital? In popular perception, however, these will be tested on the basis of action that her party-led Central Government takes in unveiling the extent of corruption in the 2 G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Housing Society, to cite just a few cases. It is too early to forget that more than quarter of a century ago the late Mr Rajiv Gandhi had stirred the nation at another Congress session in Mumbai. His words were: "Millions of ordinary Congress workers throughout the country are full of enthusiasm for the Congress policies and programmes. But they are handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy. They are self-perpetuating cliques who thrive by invoking the slogans of caste and religion and by enmeshing the living body of the Congress in their net of avarice. For such persons, the masses do not count. Their life style, their thinking - of lack of it, their self-aggrandisement, their corrupt ways, their linkages with the vested interests in society, and their sanctimonious posturing are wholly incompatible with work among the people."
What has happened between then and now is for everyone to see. In fact during Mr Rajiv Gandhi's life-time itself it had become clear that while the political dynasties hold charisma even they would be judged by their performance; no longer they would be able to shift the blame claiming that they were wrongly advised. Mr Gandhi was not able to deliver on his own pledge. Another person who has spoken emphatically against corruption at this juncture is Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai. He has spoken at a police function: "People do not get recruited as constables and sub-inspectors unless money is paid and, therefore, the first level at which you have to stop corruption is at this recruitment process." The need for police reforms has been felt for too long.
The question that does arise in today's milieu is whether the police would be truly corruption-free even if it was made immune from all outside influences. The words matter but they alone don't make all the difference.
It can't be denied that the nation's response to the natural calamity in our trans-Himalayan district of Leh has been moving. The help has poured in from all corners following the cloud burst in August. It has been extremely liberal. The local inhabitants don't know how to express their gratitude towards the rest of the country; those who can articulate their emotions feel greatly indebted. The resettlement of the affected population has been fast. So has been the restoration of almost all of the damaged facilities. One tends to think that the people everywhere have been moved by at least two strong considerations: (a) the enormity of the disaster, and (b) the location of Leh being on the other side of the mighty mountains exposing it to in-built climatic and geographical challenges. That should explain why the President downwards every top person at the helm of affairs in New Delhi has flown into Leh to express solidarity with its residents in their hour of grief. With this background in view it is a pity that the task of reclaiming the agriculture land swamped by the mud about five months ago remains unfulfilled. It is just one bad act leaving a foul taste in one's mouth. It is not an easy job to retrieve the land caught in such a situation. A thick layer of mud is like a rock with the passage of time; a portion of the territory has already become permanently uncultivable because of this reason. The problem, however, is not on account of any difficulty in restoring the level. There are men and machines available for the activity. There is no dearth of expertise either. The only difficulty is that in this instance it is the money alone that can make the mare ago. And, that is what precisely is lacking. No funds have been released so far despite repeated assurances by the State and Central governments that they would do the needful. No less a person than the Governor had initiated the exercise to study the full impact of the nature's fury on the agriculture land with an eye on reinstating the quality of the soil. A quick follow-up should have been the natural corollary.
It is possible that the desire is there but the concerned authorities are going slow as the winter has already set in and the next sowing season is three to four months away. In the meantime, we are assured, that there is enough provision for food and fodder. There is thus no immediate cause of worry. Yet, it is logical that sooner the work is done the better it will be. It is anybody's guess that the soil would be qualitatively affected if the undesirable burden on it is not removed. Why should we allow this happen? An embarrassing situation has already been created for the departments that had begun reclaiming the land trusting that the guaranteed money was round the corner. They have been slapped with the bills they can't pay. This is an avoidable scenario. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC-Leh) plans to take up the matter at every level including with the Prime Minister. It will be perfectly justified in doing so. Who else will be answerable to local farmers?
CONTROVERSY ON ACCESSIONWHAT IS THE REALITY?
BY BALRAJ PURI
The BJP's continued protest over J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's statement on issue of accession of the State to the Indian Union, made in the State Assembly on October 6, will reach a new high on December 24, when the party is organizing a Maha rally in Parade Ground, Jammu, in which its senior leaders are expected to participate, BJP leader LK Advani has already strongly protested against it. Omar Abdullah, instead of apologizing for his statement as demanded by the BJP, has reiterated it.
On October 6, Chief Minister in his 90 minute speech in the State Legislative assembly had said, "accession of the State to India has occurred under an agreement. We have not broken that agreement but you have gradually demolished it and people are aggrieved and angry for your act." He further drew a distinction between accession of the State and that of other States which unlike J&K State had merged.
The statement was hailed in separatist circles. Syed Ali Shah Geelani said "Omar's stand is not only vindication but also victory of the conglomerate's stand." On the contrary, the statement has shaken the pro-India elements. The BJP has made it a national issue.
In reality it is not so much an issue of views as of facts.
The fact is that accession has no degrees. It is either accession or secession. The slogan raised by the Jana Sangh in 1953 for full accession and now by the BJP had no meaning. The controversy over full and limited accession raised by it had made the fact of accession a matter of controversy.
Similarly it is simply not true that the accession of J&K State to the Indian Union was under different conditions than other states.
All princely states acceded to Indian Union on the same terms and all rulers signed the same instrument of accession. There was no separate agreement with J&K State as contended by the Chief Minister, unless he means promise of plebiscite. But that was subject to many conditions which are a subject of dispute between India and Pakistan. The National Conference no longer insists on it. On July 24, 1952, Nehru in a statement on Delhi Agreement said, "the accession is complete in law and, in fact, J&K is a constituent unit of India like any other."
Originally the Constitution of India had divided the country into three parts:
(A). Erstwhile provinces in British regime.
(C) States directly ruled by the Centre.
Later some States merged together as Patiala and some adjoining States called Pepsu. Institution of princes too was abolished in all States as it was done in Jammu and Kashmir State. Others merged with the neighbouring States at the time of reorganization of the States on the basis of their linguistic affinity. Most of the States opted for status equal to part 'A' States under popular pressure, mobilized by Praja Mandals, counterparts of the Congress in princely States. Thus provision for 'B' States. in the constitution was abolished.
In case of Jammu and Kashmir State no major changes took place till 1964 when head of the State continued to be called Sadar-i-Riyasat and head of the government as Prime Minister. In post Nehru period major changes took place in the constitutional relations of the State with the Union in concurrence with the State assembly elections of which were rigged and its decisions were against popular sentiment in the valley when its most popular leader,
Sheikh Abdullah was in jail.
So far as Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah's distinction between accession and merger is concerned, there seems to be a confusion, as no State of the country has fully merged into the Union of India and every state has some amount of autonomy.
In fact in a federal country, no State is fully merged. There has been a demand in States like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal and North East for more autonomy and the case of the State of Jammu & Kashmir is no different from these States. In same States the demand for autonomy took a more aggressive form. In Punjab, it was taken over by terrorists who demanded secession while in Tamil Nadu the Indian flag and Constitution were burnt in early years of independence. In NE, a violent movement is still going on.
Gradually, Indian federal system was able to satisfy aspirations of most of the states except North East and J&K. The powers of the States expanded partly because, opposition parties were elected to power in many States and partly because liberal interpretation of the constitution by the Supreme Court. Earlier the Centre could dismiss any State government and impose Governor's rule, who represented the President and worked under the direction of the Union Government. Now no elected State government can be dismissed arbitrarily by the Union government without a floor test in the assembly.
In J&K, as long as the State government was run by a party different from that in power at the CentreThe National Conference in the State and Janata and Congress Parties at the Centre from 1975 to 1986the people of Kashmir enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy and there was no sense of alienation among them. However now partly on account of regional tensions, internationalization of the issue by Pakistan and partly due to follies of the Central Government, discontent was revived and continues in Kashmir valley.
Basically, the National Conference of Kashmir wants more autonomy as agreed upon by Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah under an Agreement in 1952 which should be considered. But the apprehensions of Jammu and Ladakh regions cannot be dismissed about it. The first step, therefore, should be to reconcile the aspirations of all regions which the 1952 Agreement had taken care of. For it also included a provision for regional autonomy.
It is within the jurisdiction of the State Assembly to grant regional autonomy. It is the responsibility of the government and the political parties of the State to decide exact form of regional autonomy. If regional aspirations are satisfied, it would be facilitate negotiations on quantum of autonomy of the State or any status that leaders of Kashmir aspire for.
(The author is Director Institute of Jammu and Kashmir affairs)
BY RAMESH KANITKAR
At the end of 2010, the braving-global recession Indian economy heralds the new year 2011 with a robust optimism to achieve nearly 9 per cent growth rate in the current fiscal 2010-11 even as the ongoing phenomenon of high inflation continues to cause worry to policy makers.
The year 2010 will, no doubt, be viewed by many as very significant for Indian economy while looking at it from global angle. At a time of a steep global recession, the Indian economy has not only managed to keep its head above the water but has also shown strong growth, making it standout from the rest of the world. After China, India's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth is expected to be the highest among the rest.
As one takes a panoramic view of the performance of the overall economy in 2010, the remarkable recovery in the growth momentum instantaneously draws the attention. All throughout the year, the Indian economy swam against the ripple effect of global slowdown, which was triggered by U S financial meltdown in late 2008, and its growth climbed back to near pre-crisis levels. Riding on the crest of growth momentum, the country's GDP grew by 8.9 per cent during the first half of the current fiscal - primarily driven by robust farm output and services sector growth in the second quarter (July to September, 2010).
An in-depth analysis of performance of key segments, such as agriculture and industry, shows that improved performance of these sectors, mainly, boosted the growth momentum of the economy.
As the GDP data during the second quarter of the current fiscal (July to September, 2010) shows that the stimulus to growth momentum has come from industry and service sectors which expanded by 9 and 9.6 per cent respectively.
The big surprise has come from the crucial agricultural sector, which posted an impressive 4.4 per cent jump in the second quarter. The good monsoon during the year has immensely boosted the Kharif crop. The scenario was quite different a year ago when successive droughts and floods adversely affected the growth of the farm sector.
Performance of agro sector virtually holds the key to overall growth of the economy as it employs maximum number of people. Revival in farm sector will automatically boost rural demand, which in turn will rekindle the overall demand cycle in various segments of the economy, thus, triggering growth momentum. Another big boost to the economy during 2010 came from the crucial industry sector - especially from the manufacturing segment even as there had been some hiccups in between.
Cumulatively, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) that measures industrial growth rate grew by 10.3 per cent in the first seven months of the current fiscal (April to October, 2010) as against 6.9 per cent during the corresponding period of the previous fiscal. After posting an impressive 15.08 per cent growth rate in July the industrial growth rate witnessed decline in August and September, thus, causing apprehension that the growth momentum of the economy might receive a setback if the southward movement of industrial production continues.
In September, it dipped by more than half to 4.4 per cent giving rise to apprehension that if declining trend would continue it could hamper economy posting projected growth rate of 8.5 to 9 per cent in the current fiscal. But industrial production bounced back to double digit growth rate by jumping 10.8 per cent in October this year. With the additional impetus, to revival of demand cycle due to expansion in agro growth, the industrial production is expected to sustain the double digit growth in coming months, thus, boosting hope for the economy maintaining its ongoing growth momentum.
The fact that the overall economy in 2010 has staged a remarkable recovery in growth is corroborated by the fact that the indirect tax collection rose by 42 per cent to Rs. 2.07 lakh crore during April-November this year as compared to corresponding period last year, indicating up-tick in economic activities. While on one hand, most part of 2010 witnessed growth momentum the economy witnessed high level of inflation causing concern to the government. Though inflation appears to be declining towards the later half of 2010 the general price level - especially food inflation - overwhelmingly remained high, threatening to destabilise the fiscal fabric of the economy.
As Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "Inflation remained high in the current fiscal but is now coming down. From double digit it has declined to single digit. We hope that it will be somewhere around 6 per cent by end of this fiscal."
The head-line inflation as measured by the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) shot up in November 2009 and continued at elevated levels in the first half of 2010. After reaching a peak level of 11 per cent in April 2010, it started to decelerate and is now placed at 8.6 per cent in October this year. Higher food prices caused in part by domestic drought conditions last year and higher global food prices have been driving inflation. The sharper rise in headline WPI inflation during 2010 is due to the rise in food items together with a rise in the fuel power, light and lubricants group and low base effect of last year. Inflation virtually remained negative or very moderate in the first half of 2009. Because of prevalence of high level of inflation, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), all through 2010, adopted tight monetary policy to douse inflationary expectations and pressures.
Adoption of tight monetary policy hardened the overall interest regime, thereby making all sorts of borrowing ranging from commercial loans to car, home and personal loans costlier.
This led the Indian trade and industry to make vociferous demand for bringing down the interest rate. Their argument is high cost of capital would have an adverse effect on growth momentum. With the mellowing down of inflation, the RBI seems to be inclined to softening the monetary policy.
Even as the economy is heralding 2011 with robust optimism, it faces multiple risks factors that could adversely affect the ongoing growth momentum. Experts have specifically mentioned trade imbalance, volatility of funds flow through the route of Foreign Institutional Investment (FII), current account deficit, reduction in foreign direct investments to almost half in last six months and above all, crisis in Euro zone affecting trade balance. FIIs have pumped in a record $39 billion in the Indian capital markets in this calendar year so far. It is expected to cross the level of $50 billion soon. On the other hand the more desirable FDI inflows have declined by 28 per cent in the first half of this fiscal to $11 billion. FII money is considered hot and volatile in nature compared to FDI.
There are concerns in our external trade (see accompanying story). Now the country's trade deficit stood at $81.7 billion during the first eight months of this fiscal, more than half of its exports. High commodity prices may further increase the deficit, the analysts said. The current account deficit, representing net flow of income out of the country barring capital movements, surged three-fold to 13.7 billion in the April-June quarter over the same period last year. This trend is continuing. The deficit is widening due to higher imports because of economic recovery and larger payments overseas for certain services.
Crisis in Euro zone may affect India's trade balance. After sovereign debt crisis in Greece, Spain and Portugal, banking crisis has erupted in Ireland. As a ripple effect of this the growth momentum of export may come under strain. Thus in view of these risk factors one should not be euphoric over growing optimism about probable high profile economic growth rate in the current fiscal. (INAV)
BY UMA RAMACHANDRAN
In political circles, the Congress party is often referred to as "the big house". This is because politicians and workers who leave tend to return to its fold in due course after testing the waters outside. It is not that other parties don't have such examples. They do. But they are few and far between. People like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Madan Lal Khurana and Amar Singh have learned at their own expense that individuals are never bigger than an organisation. But as far as exceptions are concerned, there are a few in the Congress too. People like Chandrashekhar, Morarji Desai and Charan Singh in the past and Maninderjeet Singh Bitta in more recent times never returned to the party after deserting it.
There are some interesting names on this list. Ajit Jogi and K. Karunakaran were expelled from the party, but were taken back to the fold. People like S. Bangarappa has been in and out of the party so many times that he himself might have lost count.
So what is the reason behind this phenomenon? To start with, it appears that people lose their political standing when they defect from a big party. Congress, technically, means congregation of people, and that is what it has always proved to be. Now not everybody is like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, who have the money power and the political base respectively to launch and sustain an independent party. In fact, without these two factors, it is impossible to run a regional outfit. To put it in perspective, in 2007 alone, as many as six such regional outfits merged with the Congress because of "lack of funds". Being foregone conclusions, these mergers did not make news.
The Congress budget runs into crores of rupees. At election time individual candidates are allocated huge sums. Election Commission guidelines are often flouted in ingenious ways. In fact, many candidates save money from this poll fund for completely private use. But look at the condition of regional parties. Their musclemen and local middlemen ask for exorbitant sums to manage votes. Failing to secure what they want, they threaten to transfer the votes to the official Congress candidate in lieu of money. The exasperated rebel candidate realises that life is easier under the umbrella of a big party.
Talk to any politician about this and they will pour their hearts out. Subramaniam Swamy still holds the post of the president of the Janata Party, but the party itself is now in a mummified state. Swamy has lost his status as a political leader of import. People like P. Chidambaram and K. Karunakaran were smart enough to return to the party fold before things got out of hand.
Another question that intrigues all is, why does the Congress face so many rebellions and defections? Insiders say the primary reason is the lack of communication between the high command and the leaders. People like Natwar Singh, Arjun Singh, Sheila Dikshit and Kedar Nath Singh had differences over the election of P.V. Narasimha Rao as party president. They supported the one-man one-post norm, which didn't go down well with the then PM.
The Gandhi family was out of politics at that juncture and Rao was at the helm of affairs. Well-wishers wanted Sonia Gandhi to come into active politics and thus raised the one-man one-post issue. They wanted Sonia to be president of the party if Rao was to keep the post of the prime minister. The above-mentioned quartet rebelled during the Surajkund general meeting and just after that the "Tiwari Congress" came into being.
Tiwari Congress was an interesting case. Sonia had started giving signals that she might join active politics after all. At the Tiwari Congress's office adjoining New Delhi's Le Meridien Hotel, Narain Dutt Tiwari used to discreetly keep tabs on Sonia's plans. Even veteran journalists covering the Congress were unaware of the real reason behind this outfit. They only got wind of it when they saw Janardhan Dwivedi, considered close to Sonia, coming out of Arjun Singh's house though the latter had left the party. This rebellion was clearly not against the Gandhi-Nehru family. Not surprisingly, this outfit merged with the mother party following Sonia's entry into active politics.
It was much later that Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh fell out with the party high command. Arjun Singh is an outspoken man. Insiders say he was too forthright a leader to remain subdued for too long. Natwar Singh, on the other hand, was let down by his son's involvement in the Volcker oil-for-food scandal.
Old timers will tell you that as far as rebellions in the Congress are concerned, it was never against the high command.
Take the case of Jagan. A party bigwig from Andhra Pradesh who was promoting his aides convinced the party that Jagan's defection would not harm the party's prospects. Rahul Gandhi was not sure. So he sent a young general secretary to analyse the situation. That office-bearer was coerced by the big gun to give the same input. However, he gave the actual report saying that Jagan's departure would hurt the party in the next polls and that Jagan is of the same temperament as his father.
The list of people who left the Congress because of "neglect", "insult", "ego clashes" and otherwise is long. The first big name is that of K. Kamraj, who was the original kingmaker instrumental in getting Lal Bahadur Shastri the post of PM. It was only after his death that Indira Gandhi overcame the so-called Syndicate to become PM. Around the same time and after, Chandrashekhar, Morarji Desai and Charan Singh left the party never to return. They formed their own outfits and became political heavyweights in their own right.
Analysts might add here that since the aforementioned did not strictly adhere to the "Congress ideology", they left the party. Similarly in February 1977, Babu Jagjivan Ram left the Congress and formed Congress for Democracy. Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and erstwhile Orissa CM Nandani Satpathy joined his ranks. The same year, Karnataka's Devraj Urs tried to split the Congress. He was initially backed by A.K. Antony, Sharad Pawar, Ambika Soni, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, Oomen Chandi and P.C. Chako, but all of them returned to the Congress soon enough.
Antony, meanwhile, formed the Regional Congress (A), which was rechristened Indian Congress (S) with the inclusion of Sharad Pawar. However, the party merged with the Congress in 1981. In 1994, Tiwari Congress and Bangarappa's Karnataka Congress merged with the Congress. Bangarappa, to give him his due, revolted again and formed Karnataka Vikas Party but rejoined after much cajoling. But he again upped and quit and joined Samajwadi Party only to return when reality sunk in.
It was during the same year that G.K. Moopanar's Tamil Manila Congress, Madhavrao Scindhia's Madhya Pradesh Vikas Party and Gegong Apang's Regional Arunachal Congress also merged with the Congress.
Following an analysis of the defeats the party has faced in recent elections, a high-power committee of the Congress has recommended that it should actively try to woo back the sidelined old warhorses in a bid to reclaim its lost impetus. After all, as recent political history has repeatedly shown, Congress rebels are pretty prone to changing their anti-party stance with just a bit of coaxing. (INAV)
BY SANJAY KUMAR
In this post-modern and globalised world if there is something having immeasurable value then it is the 'human resources'. Almost every state is desirous to develop its human resources and infact there are distinct ministries for the purpose (like HRD). But, ironically, it is happening the other way round; the clock is running in the reverse direction. Whether you take the example of big nuclear disasters like Bhopal gas tragedy or any other accident people are being killed like anything.
In the present context I am particularly concerned about the unwanted accident that occurred on the Udhampur-Ramnagar-Ghordi road near channi morh, two days back, in which more than five persons were killed and many others were injured. Many families left without food because there is no body to earn; the only earner got killed in the accident. What were the reasons of this mishap are as usually unknown.
Moreover, this is not the first time when this sort of accident occurred on this road. Even few days back one accident took place on the same road near Ghaghote. Similarly, many terrible accidents had happened on this route; one such occurred in Barmeen, a station on Udhampur-Ghordi road which connects Ramnagar and Udhampur via Ghordi, where 35 persons were killed.
Apart from everything the most significant question is why the accidents like this occur frequently. It seems as if it is some routine of the concerned authorities. On behalf of the people of this region one must ask the question that what is the reason of this sort of attitude of government in general and the concerned departments in particular? It seems apparent that they are in complete failure to avoid this sort of accident.
So far as general observation is concerned it is nothing more than the unconcerned attitude of the authorities; they are more into their own business rather than taking care of people of their region. First and foremost is the issue of vehicles which have been running in this area including Ghordi-Ramnagar-udhampur. They all are not in travelling condition. They are in a condition that each part of their body moves except engine. They are in such a condition that they consume more petrol and travel less. Due to this reason the travel agents over-load the passengers which lead to the accidents.
Secondly, drivers are not trained enough to drive on busy roads, but have been issued licences to hill and cause accidents.
Interestingly, in the modern world we talk about saving our wildlife (like Tigers) at a time when we are at complete failure to save the human life. I think one should stop playing the drama of saving the tigers if we fail to save humans. If this is the situation, how come we debate in the development of human resources?
I appeal to the concerned authorities to take necessary action in this direction because it is an issue pertaining to the common people They authorities can derive their meaning only when people or masses are there and they are valueless without the support of the people. Also, I would like to appeal to the masses of the concerned area to wake the authorities up and make them realize their duties and social responsibilities.
(The author teaches at Degree College Poonch)
HC REJECTS GUJJAR'S PLEA FOR QUOTA
WEDNESDAY's ruling by the Rajasthan High Court against special reservation in government jobs for Gujjars has come as a big blow to them at a time when they had renewed their agitation for quota. A division bench consisting of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Mahesh Bhagwati has held that the 2008 Act has no substratum of quantifiable data that could justify quota for the Gujjars. It, however, directed the state government to collect data within a year to determine the backwardness of the Gujjars, Raikas, Raibari and Gadiya Lohar communities in the fields of education and government employment. While the High Court ruling has given relief to the Ashok Gehlot government to buy time, the Gujjars have decided to continue their agitation following the failure of talks between their leader Col Bainsla and the Chief Minister.
The Gujjars' demand for 5 per cent quota in government jobs is not new. Its demand for reservation through a sub-category within the existing 50 per cent cap (fixed by the Supreme Court in the Mandal Reservation case) for the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes has hit a dead-end after the High Court rejected the state government's petition. In any case, as the government has got a year's time to determine the backwardness of Gujjars and other communities for purposes of reservation, the Gujjars should call off their agitation immediately. The blocking of railway tracks and roads on the Jaipur-Delhi route by the agitators has paralysed normal traffic and hit the economy. Moreover, these agitations earlier turned violent and took a heavy toll.
The Gujjars are worried that because of the government's inordinate delay in providing them reservation in jobs, they will not be able to get due representation in the fresh recruitment of 50,000 teachers and 25,000 other category jobs. The government does not want to postpone the recruitments further because it was forced to hold them up for over two years. Too many vacancies have indeed hit teaching in schools and work in government offices. As for the Gujjars' other demand release of their leaders arrested during the agitations in the past and withdrawal of cases against them the government would do well to review them on a case-to-case basis to restore normalcy and law and order in the state. It may be difficult for the government to release those involved in arson, burning of trains and vehicles, etc. as the Supreme Court had directed the government not to show any leniency towards them and to act tough.
LESSONS TO LEARN FROM HANEEF'S CASE
INDIAN doctor Mohammad Haneef, who was arrested in Australia in 2007 on the suspicion of having links with a terrorist group and released after 12 days of detention, has won the battle for "substantial" compensation for the trauma and loss of reputation he suffered. After an exhaustive probe it has been proved that he was wrongly taken into custody. The Brisbane authorities in Australia have ultimately accepted their lapses. The compensation given by the Australian government may be around $1 million, a hefty amount by any standard. He has all the opportunities to go back to Australia and start life afresh there, though the present Australian government has expressed its inability to apologise to the 31-year-old Indian for the suffering he has undergone without any fault of his.
His dogged determination to fight his case by all the legal means available to him has borne fruit. He was sure that the baseless allegation against him that he had links with the group involved in the terrorist incidents in London and Glasgow in June 2007 would not stand legal scrutiny. It was his good fortune that he had friends and legal experts in Australia who helped him till the last without showing any signs of disinterest at any stage. But for their being with him through thick and thin during these three tension-ridden years, Haneef would not have been able to hold his head high today.
However, he will always carry the tag of having been arrested in connection with terrorism-related incidents. This is a social disability that cannot be overcome easily at a time when terrorism remains the most serious threat to peace in the world. But there is a problem. Two professionally qualified young men one in Bangalore and the other in Jaipur underwent this kind of experience some time ago. They were found to be innocent after their detention, yet they lost their jobs. Even if they might have got employment later on, those who knew them would always remember that they were at one time suspected terrorists. The fight against terrorism is a very delicate matter and must be carried on with utmost care so that no innocent person becomes a social outcaste.
HURDLES TO GROWTH
POOR SANITATION HOLDS BACK INDIA
A recent news report has quantified the economic losses to India due to inadequate sanitation. Conducted by the Water and Sanitation Program run by the World Bank, the study says poor sanitation cost India $54 billion or 6.4 per cent of the GDP in 2006. There are losses in terms of education, productivity, time and tourism. Poverty itself is a disease, which cripples access to and success in school/college. Ill-health comes in the way of working harder and longer, and reduces productivity and income. Poor sanitation, fear of disease and lack of hygiene in India keep off high-end tourists.
If a person is down with diarrhoea, s/he cannot focus on study or work, and treatment costs time and money. The poor are mostly the victims of diarrohea, malaria and TB, the mass killers which are actually preventable. According to the study, 3.5 lakh children, aged below five, die of diarrhoea alone in India every year. All this because they have no access to clean drinking water. Their parents cannot buy treatment, and sometimes do not make an effort due to lack of awareness and time.
While the rural areas lack basic amenities for want of funds, official accountability and political will, the urban areas fail to cope with an increasing pressure on limited civic amenities due to a rising population and migration from villages. Rural women and girls find it hard to get out of poverty due to social restrictions, reproductive role, domestic responsibilities, malnutrition and lack of education and skills. This brings to focus the role various health officials and agencies as well as NGOs can play in the removal of filth, establishment of toilets, control of disease and spread of education and awareness. Progress is not just about producing more; it is also about making available accessible facilities required for a healthy, happy and dignified life.
INDIAN DIPLOMACY TODAY
WIKILEAKS RAISES UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS
BY G. PARTHASARATHY
THE cables exchanged between Washington and Islamabad, as released WikiLeaks, have been immeasurably useful for Indians to understand the limitations in the support the Obama Administration can provide India as it confronts the challenges posed by terrorism unleashed by the Pakistan Army. They also raise doubts about whether our government has indeed fulfilled its primary responsibility of ensuring that our armed forces are equipped, prepared and trained to respond swiftly, appropriately and effectively to provocations like the 26/11 strike in Mumbai. They will, hopefully, introduce a measure of long overdue realism in those who advocate that mere sweet words can convince the hard-boiled Generals in Rawalpindi to shed their compulsive hostility towards India. But, as cables containing details of meetings with members of the Indian establishment become public, serious doubts and misgivings arise about whether New Delhi has any consistent policy in dealing with its western neighbour. They also raise doubts about the viability and consistency of internal decision making in the portals of power in South Block.
When the then US National Security Adviser, Gen James Jones, called on Defence Minister A.K. Antony on June 28, 2009, and raised the issue of dialogue with Pakistan, Mr Antony responded: "Unless there is some tangible follow-up action by Pakistan against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack, discussions with Pakistan will be difficult." General Jones promised to take this up with the Pakistanis while adding that there was "need to move forward on a broader strategy of building confidence and trust". Barely a fortnight later, on July 16, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strangely agreed that "action against terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed". What prompted this serious and unexplainable U-turn in policy within a fortnight? No one argues that we should shun all dialogue with Pakistan. But, at the same time, agreeing to unconditionally resume the "composite dialogue process" without Pakistan fulfilling its assurances of ending terrorism against India emanating from territory under its control certainly undermines our position on the centrality of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism
The Sharm-el-Sheikh Declaration strangely noted that "Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information about threats in Balochistan and other areas". Yet, the Wikileaks documents reveal that when the issue of Balochi leaders like Brahmdagh Bugti, leading the uprising in Balochistan and operating out of Afghanistan, was taken up by the Americans, President Karzai retorted: "Fomenting uprising does not make one a terrorist. The real terrorists are Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Afghanistan needs a sign that Pakistan will stop supporting these terrorists."
Responding to American queries about why Bugti was not being extradited to Pakistan, Mr Karzai asserted: "The Bugtis are not terrorists and represented nobility in Afghanistan, so it would be hard to hand them over to Pakistan." President Karzai categorically rejected Pakistani allegations of Indian involvement in Balochistan adding: "Pakistan will continue to think India is involved. There is lot of misinformation out there." One wonders that if Mr Karzai could be so forthright on Balochistan why New Delhi has been so defensive in responding to Pakistani accusations.
While the flip-flops on dialogue with Pakistan have naturally drawn flak, India can look back with satisfaction on the firmness it has shown in dealing with developments in Afghanistan. Just on the eve of its assuming office, the Obama Administration was excessively influenced by the arguments of Pakistani academics like Ahmed Rashid that it should appoint a special envoy to resolve differences between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi reacted decisively by debunking such talk and thereafter by denying visits to India by Richard Holbrooke during the course of his frequent visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke was forced to publicly clarify that his charter of responsibilities did not include India and his visits to New Delhi were primarily for exchanging views on Af-Pak developments.
In his meeting with General Jones last year, Mr Antony made it clear that India wanted that the international community's operations in Afghanistan should succeed adding: "India cannot for a moment imagine a Taliban takeover of its extended neighbourhood." With NATO now clarifying that it intends to continue combat operations in Afghanistan till the end of 2014, there is a wider consensus in the United States about the inadvisability of leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan, which would lead to a Taliban-takeover.
A recent report of the Centre for New American Security prepared by the former ISAF Commander in Afghanistan, General David Bruno, makes substantive recommendations for a modified American strategy in Afghanistan. The report, which realistically recognises that "the war in Afghanistan is unlikely to have a well-defined end with clear winners and losers", calls for a restructuring of governance in Afghanistan with more powers devolved to provinces and districts. Moreover, it advocates a "responsible transition ", which allows the US to" focus its resources on countering transnational terrorist groups based in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region". Writing in the "Foreign Affairs" quarterly, Mr Robert Blackwill advocates that the US should stop talking of an "exit strategy" and adopt a long-term strategy of counter-terrorism in Pashtun-dominated Southern Afghanistan, accepting that the Taliban will inevitably control most of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, while taking on "nation building" with support from Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and" supportive Pashtuns" in northern and western Afghanistan. He adds that in such a scenario the US should continue to provide arms and intelligence to those Pashtun tribal leaders who are ready to challenge Taliban hegemony.
Acknowledging that his strategy could result in a de facto partition of Afghanistan, Mr Blackwill advocates the reduction of troop levels in Afghanistan to between 35,000 and 50,000 troops. He argues that "such a strategy would reduce Islamabad's capacity to use the US ground role in Southern Afghanistan to extract tolerance from Washington regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan". What is interesting is that both these recent studies by prominent American analysts with first-hand knowledge of Af-Pak developments reject any possibility of rapid American withdrawal from Afghanistan and as such withdrawal would "trigger a global outpouring of support for jihadi ideology and increased terrorism against liberal societies more broadly".
Moreover, both reports acknowledge that Afghanistan can be ruled effectively only by traditional decentralised power structures and that effective action is required against "transnational terrorist groups". India will have to focus its diplomatic efforts on securing international support for strategies that enable Afghans to run their country overcoming the pernicious ambitions of neighbouring Pakistan. This can happen only when Pakistan realises that it will have to pay a heavy price for its present policies of support for transnational terrorist groups.
GURU OF CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE
BY RAJINDER S. CHEEMA
JUSTICE Kulwant Singh Tiwana, who died earlier this month, was a tall person and a towering judge. Although he retired in the 1980s, he is still fondly remembered as a judge of extraordinary insight. Many revere him as the guru of criminal jurisprudence.
As generations of lawyers pass by the court room where he presided over a Division Bench dealing with criminal appeals, someone points out how perfect the decorum was during his period. He did not have to raise his voice to ensure the perfect atmosphere that inspired best performances from both sides of the bar. He would cut short a rude reaction or a loud overstatement by a short witty remark or a characteristically appropriate anecdote that fitted squarely into the situation.
With all his charm and sophistication he was the ideal representative of the rustic wisdom. That made him an enchanting narrator and conversationalist in Punjabi.
The manner in which he could unearth the truth by his appreciation of probabilities left us awestruck. It perhaps was a rare blending of a high level of intelligence; robust commonsense that comes naturally to a peasant; first-hand knowledge of the lives that Punjabis live; and the objectivity of a judge that vaguely explains his magic.
His command of medical jurisprudence and ballistics gave him an edge over the best of judges and lawyers. His knowledge of human anatomy and medical intricacies made lawyers, particularly the younger ones, work very hard. The level of discourse naturally would go high.
One of his judgments on what the report of a ballistic expert must contain, would remain a landmark.
Humour was his great strength as a judge and a human being. In one of the cases where the brother of a senior police officer in Haryana had been murdered, the father, a practising doctor, appeared as a witness. He deposed about the visit of the accused to his clinic on the evening of the occurrence. Before I could take up my criticism of the doctor's testimony Justice Tiwana's first reaction was: "A doctor, like a lawyer, has an uncommon memory. He remembers the patients and their maladies well. And here we have an intelligent and a respectable witness".
Faced with an early unfavorable reaction, I retorted: "My Lords, there are no sacred cows here. A witness is a witness and must be critically evaluated." Justice Tiwana answered: "there are no sacrificial goats also, Mr. Cheema."
Fortunately, I had the better of the second exchange between us. When the evidence was being read in court, a witness was described as Sham Lal, Ahlmad (Criminal) PW-6. Justice Pritpal Singh, another judge of remarkable ability in criminal matters, comprised the Bench with Justice Tiwana. He queried in a low tone: "Is this person still in service this criminal?
I was quick with my response saying that the word 'criminal' has been secularized; e.g. 'we are criminal lawyers ..' Anticipating the mischief, Justice Tiwana cut me short and said: "Don't you dare say a 'Criminal Bench'. We are Division Bench V (Criminal)." It was my turn to say: "My Lords, concealed criminality is the worst"
IAS: BRING THE CORRUPT TO JUSTICE
WITH MANY TOP CIVIL SERVANTS AT THE CENTRE CHARGED WITH FINANCIAL WRONGDOINGS, THE INDIAN ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE IS PASSING THROUGH A DISTURBING PHASE. PRASAR BHARTI CEO B.S. LALLI AND FORMER UP CHIEF SECRETARY NEERA YADAV ARE ONLY TWO EXAMPLES OF THE ROT THAT HAS SET IN. THERE ARE MANY MORE ACROSS THE COUNTRY. TWO FORMER CHIEF SECRETARIES OF DELHI AND PUNJAB EXAMINE THE CRISIS IN THE IAS.
THE day Neera Yadav, the one-time Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, was sentenced to undergo imprisonment, it was damning for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Not because corruption in the senior echelons of the civil service was either a new phenomenon or rare. But because, until then, there were handy excuses to deny and dismiss accusations investigations under way, hindrances in obtaining prosecution sanction, political nexus at play; endless court processes the very reasons that had prevented cases of malfeasance ever reaching finality, leave alone jail.
Denial of involvement in corruption continues even today when no one with even a few years into the IAS is unaware of those among his peers and seniors that are corrupt, the quid pro quos that have secured influential jobs and even the very middlemen and women that brokered the deals. Niira Radias and their ilk have operated at different levels right from the seventies manipulating their way through the chain of personal secretaries, family factotums, and relatives of people in power only there were no tapes depicting how the deals were struck.
But most officers do not talk about these realities openly because they cannot predict which way the wind might blow as the years pass by. As happened with Neera Yadav in UP. Even after the UP cadre IAS officers ranked Neera Yadav among the top three "most corrupt IAS officers of UP", it did not prevent her appointment as the Chief Secretary. And that was shocking because the Chief Secretary heads the entire public service of the state, acts as the Chief Minister's chief policy adviser carrying overall responsibility for conduct of all government business. Most former British colonies still have Chief Secretaries in the states and provinces, considered next in line after the Governor or the Chief Minister and holding vastly superior powers in bureaucracy.
No Cabinet meeting can be held without the Chief Secretary who alone can minute the proceedings. The whole civil service of the state reports directly or indirectly to him. All senior postings, including statutory and constitutional appointments, are made with his recommendation and he has the final say. He is the main negotiator on critical matters of inter-state interest while acting as a dependable bridge between the state and the Centre. For performing these functions, the Chief Secretary has to possess acumen and integrity to inspire hundreds of officers that look up to him for guidance, strength and succour, when confronted with political perils.
But the Chief Secretary, unless imbued with zeal to preserve the public interest, can instead use his extraordinary authority to manipulate the system, offer patronage to vested interests, shield corrupt officers and politicise the bureaucracy. In short, he can proactively contribute to rotten governance. Over the years, the honour and dignity of being appointed Chief Secretary has been displaced. New attributes are increasingly sought and can be found quite easily the ability to fall in line and help the Chief Minister, the political class and business interests to achieve their greedy goals and to do it by hook or by crook.
Had the Noida Entrepreneurs' Association not filed a writ petition alleging bungling in land allotment during Neera Yadav's tenure as Chairman of the Noida Authority, she would have continued as the Chief Secretary and on retirement won the election and become a Minister.
For young officers desperately looking for the path to choose, it would have reinforced the belief that it pays to go the NeeraYadav way. Only in this case the Supreme Court directed that an investigation take place which ultimately ended in a jail sentence for her.
Corruption is rampant in many state governments where a plethora of projects and programmes are implemented through arbitrary exercise of power all in the name of the poor. Most of India's billion-strong population lives in the states and not in the metros. The disproportionate focus on the lives and times of New Delhi obliterate what is happening by way of abysmal governance in the real India. If there is still hope that India will one day miraculously reform itself, it will not come through panel discussions on national television. It will come by ousting corrupt officials in the state governments and replacing them with honest ones. But for that the responsibility for the appointment of top players must rest in safe hands starting with the Chief Secretary of the state. The least that has to be done is to deny senior appointments to those involved in a Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) case while simultaneously widen the ambit of corruption as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.
The Second ARC had recommended inclusion of four kinds of misconduct to be termed as corruption: Subversion of the Constitution and democratic institutions (for example, shackling the freedom of speech and conniving with police excesses; unduly favouring or harming someone (the allotment of land, housing and scarce commodities on the principle of pick and choose as in Adarsh and Noida scams; obstruction of justice (delaying prosecution, issuance of charge-sheets and initiation of disciplinary action as in Neera Yadav's case; and squandering public money by bodies like the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.
A new section should be introduced under the PCA to include "collusive bribery" "if the outcome or intended outcome of a transaction leads to a loss to the state, the public or public interest", it would be corruption involving both the public servant and the beneficiary (for example, persistent maladministration of the public distribution system).
These recommendations, far from being woolly headed, are essential and practical. But it is unlikely that they will ever get implemented. If corruption is to be checked, the only way is to equate misgovernance with criminality. There is need for time-bound implementation of the ARC's recommendations. We need a civil society leadership that can force the government to change the definition of corruption; backed by a PIL that can leverage judicial direction to make it happen.
The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Government of Delhi
Neera Yadav has been sentenced to four years jail in the Noida land scam case by the CBI special court. The Supreme Court removed her from the UP Chief Secretary's post on charges of corruption in 2005.
Prasar Bharti CEO B.S. Lalli (IAS, UP cadre, 1971 batch) has been suspended on December 21 for lapses. Others under scanner include former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura, former Disinvestment Secretary Pradip Baijal, former Economic Affairs Secretary C.M. Vasudev, former Industrial Policy and Promotion Secretary Ajay Dua, and former TRAI Member D.P.S. Seth.
While some officers have retired, most cases are either "under consideration of the group of secretaries" or "to be placed before the group of secretaries in its next meeting". The proceedings have been moving at a snail's pace.
While hearing a petition on the appointment of Mr P.J. Thomas (IAS, Kerala cadre, 1974 batch) as the Central Vigilance Commissio-ner, the Supreme Court observed that with him as the CVC, no fair probe into the 2G Spectrum allocation scam was possible.
Article 311 of the Constitution has shielded the civil servants from punishment and led to the erosion of accountability. The safeguards are so exacting that they protract the proceedings indefinitely. No other Constitution in the world gives this kind of protection to the civil servants as in India.
FROM ancient times, Indian scriptures have denounced 'lobh' (greed) as a noxious frailty of human character. In the Christian faith, avarice or covetousness is similarly considered one of the seven deadly sins. India's democratic tradition maintains a strict ethical position.
Under the Indian Constitution, all three organs of the state the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are variously empowered to uphold integrity in public life. We have in place a fearless political opposition, a fiercely active media and independent Election and Vigilance Commissions.
Recent events suggest that the country has failed to adhere to the lofty ideals of public honesty. Corruption seems widespread. Allegations of venality by rapacious Ministers, involving thousands of crores of rupees, grab newspaper headlines. A former Chief Secretary of India's largest state Uttar Pradesh is convicted for financial bungling; numerous senior police officers are punished. The Supreme Court expresses open disgust at a "rotten" High Court, where nepotism prevails.
Some of the country's highest ranked military officers are shown to have exploited their position for personal benefit. National and state political leaders, both from the ruling party and the opposition, are involved in scams and shady deals. For the first time in history, Parliament is paralysed in a stand-off between the government and the Opposition, on the issue of corruption in high places.
The Supreme Court of India questions the personal honesty of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the highest authority for ensuring probity in public bodies. The media, democracy's unofficial watchdog, find their representatives enmeshed in sleaze, suggesting unholy alliances with business houses and officials. Many readers turn to the sports page in newspapers in expectation of some relief from the gloomy stories of greed and degradation marking the other pages. Such sports lovers are disappointed, for now the sports page too highlights the scandals of money laundering by sports administrators, rather than inspiring tales of sporting excellence.
Consider the British Broadcasting Corporation's latest finding. According to a BBC poll, most respondents in India listed corruption in public life as the issue of greatest concern to them, superseding even the threat of terror. Transparency International grades India as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.
These are the melancholic symptoms of poor governance. What are the causes of this malady afflicting the Indian state today? Many public institutions are unwilling, or unable to enforce accountability of persons wielding authority. The rule of law is diminished. The famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran could well have been describing the situation in India when he wrote: You delight in laying down laws; Yet you delight more in breaking them.
Administrative timidity, stemming from political compulsions, protects law breakers. Discretionary authority tends to be exercised arbitrarily, frequently to benefit individuals at public cost. And persons with criminal record continue to secure access to powerful posts. The Election Commission's efforts to debar such tainted candidates from contesting elections are nullified. Political parties, no matter what their differences are, unanimously court such vote catchers of dubious integrity.
Despite the unethical onslaught there is reason for optimism about the future. As per Newton's famous law, every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. In response to every vehement attack on our institutions, the Indian state is seen to respond positively, if somewhat sluggishly. Following rarely voiced criticism of the judiciary, a Bill to ensure greater accountability of judges is before Parliament. Ministers and officials, however mighty, are on trial for errors of omission and commission. Blemished civil and military officers currently face imminent retribution. Revelations about corporate fraud have left big business houses scurrying for cover.
The Right to Information Act, the proactive position of the Lokayuktas and the Central Vigilance Commission and strident public debates on corrupt practices, all these are visibly moving the country towards greater transparency and accountability. These inbuilt mechanisms are effectively counterbalancing disruptive forces. Our democracy displays remarkable self-cleansing properties.
Our instruments of state are today exposed continually to the "slings and arrows" of outraged public opinion. The information revolution has been lauded for its success in dissemination of information, accelerating economic development, and scientific decision-making. It has also been vilified for invading privacy, and exposing the seamy side of powerful bodies. Such unprecedented public exposure compels the executive, the judiciary and the legislature to reform, and to perform effectively.
The organs of state have earned public opprobrium. This alone will compel them to work to potential to restore the rule of law. It is well said that the lowest ebb is the turn of the tide. This writer is sanguine enough to predict that the country will be shamed into delivering good governance. Ideally, corruption should be a permanent election issue, to debate and to tackle.
The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Government of Punjab
THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI
THIS POEM BY ELIOT IS ABOUT THE FEAST CALLED THE EPIPHANY WHICH FOLLOWS CHRISTMAS; IT'S ABOUT A SEARCH FOR SPIRITUALITY
There is a charming story told about Valerie Fletcher, T S Eliot's second wife. At the age of 14, we are told, she "experienced a conversion of sorts" on hearing John Gielgud's recording of Eliot's poem The Journey of the Magi which is about the visit of three wise men/kings to Jesus Christ who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. From that moment, we are told, she "had to get to Tom, to work with him." When she left school she told her headmistress that she was determined to be Eliot's secretary. She was 22 when she was appointed Eliot's secretary. But for more than five years, Eliot felt he had great difficulty getting to know her. Eventually he recognised, as Lyndon Gordan says, that this "contained young woman was a disciple with the absolute dedication of an ideal heir. It was a special kind of devotion, this rare, voluntary bond between generations." And, of course, like all good secretaries, she eventually married the boss.
The poem which, by all accounts led to a wonderful marriage, concerns an event that followed the birth of Christ. It's a feast called the Epiphany which is little known outside the Christian Church, and is celebrated on January 6. Three kings or wise men, the magi (pron: may-jai), possibly from the Tigris and Euphrates region where astronomy was practised, see a star that they know indicates an important birth. They head to Bethlehem with appropriate gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Eliot's poem makes the journey and the subsequent experiences a matter of ambiguity. Is it an experience of birth or death: Christ's birth leading to the death of their old selves, a life used to palaces and silken women. One of the kings records his impressions years after the event: "But set down/This set down/This: were we/ led all that way for/Birth or Death? There was a Birth certainly/We had evidence and no doubt. I had/Seen birth and death, But had thought they were different./This Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death." The wise men return home but are "no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation." The speaker concludes by saying: "I should be glad of another death."
As with most of Eliot's major poems, it is a poem about a pilgrimage, a search for meaning and spirituality. The way is long and arduous, and at the end there is this strange uncertainty about what has actually happened to their inner selves. Here too there is a wasteland to go through cold, unfriendly people, the intractable camels, the lack of information, inns charging high prices. Yet the king who is the speaker says he would have done it all again.
There are numerous paintings on the subject of the visit of the Magi to Christ in Bethlehem. Some represent the kings as contemporary Renaissance figures such as Lorenzo de Medici, and they are shown wearing the clothes of their own time. In others, there are processions of the kings with their entourages, but dogs, ducks, flying birds, falcons, and horses also feature. There is a Chapel of the Magi in the Medici Palace. The Magi even featured in one of the episodes of The Simpsons (Dec 19, 1999).
James Joyce is sometimes credited with "secularising" the use of the word "epiphany." In the novel Stephen Hero he uses it at least six times in a conversation Stephen has with Cranly, a fellow student. Simply put, "epiphany" means a moment of insight or revelation into the nature of things, its "soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance." In Joyce's terms, what Valerie Fletcher experienced when listening to "The Journey of the Magi" was an epiphany.
EUNICE de SOUZA
TIME FOR FARM REFORM
A PANEL OF CHIEF MINISTERS HAS SOME NEW IDEAS
The rising price of onions and Chandrababu Naidu's fast have once again brought into public focus concerns relating to farm output and farmers' welfare. Ironically, it was Mr Naidu's famed neglect of the agrarian sector that helped the Congress party return to power in Andhra Pradesh and at the Centre, and it is the United Progressive Alliance's determination to shift the terms of trade in favour of agriculture that has fuelled food price inflation in recent years. Even though farmers' welfare and farm productivity have been high on the central government's agenda, there is still no long-term strategy in place to take Indian agriculture to the next level of productivity, production and welfare. It is against this background that a high-profile chief ministers' panel on agricultural production was constituted to suggest measures for boosting farm productivity and reforming agricultural marketing. The panel, headed by Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and including chief ministers of Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal, has come forward with a reform agenda for the farm sector. It has suggested lifting of all curbs on movement, trading, stockholding, financing and export of farm products, and private investment in agricultural marketing infrastructure, ending the monopoly of the agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs).
These reforms will benefit farmers and bring more output to the market, reducing intermediaries in the supply chain. Farmers do not still have adequate access to market intelligence as well as to storage facilities. This comes in the way of their choosing the right time and right place to sell their produce for best returns. The Hooda committee has, therefore, done well to commend creation of a network of rural godowns for short-term storage of farm produce and dissemination of market information along with weather advisories through mass media and modern IT tools like e-services and SMSs. It has also backed the idea of corporate and contract farming, suggesting that agriculture land ceiling for corporate houses could be 25 times the ceiling for individuals. This can facilitate captive cultivation by agro-processing units.
With chief ministers of Bihar and Bengal on the panel, there is an understandable emphasis on the need to extend the green revolution to eastern India. The region is endowed with deep and fertile soil, plenty of sunshine and copious water resources which await better management and exploitation. This would require improved access to better seeds and reliable power. The Hooda panel has categorically stated that state seeds corporations should either be suitably revamped to make them efficient seed producers or wound up. On power, the panel has recommended segregation of feeders for dedicated power supply for farm operations and irrigation. Economic pricing of water, power and fertilisers would encourage rational use of these scarce resources and improve farm productivity. Several other suggestions of the Hooda group are similar to the ones made in the past by other committees and commissions, notably the National Commission on Farmers. These include lowering of interest rate on farm loans to below 4 per cent and fixing minimum support prices (MSPs) of crops at 50 per cent above production cost. The unleashing of a new wave of reforms in the farm sector should accompany the government's wise policy of improving returns to investment.
EUROPE AND ASIA'S WOES STRENGTHEN THE GREENBACK
What a tangled web the global financial markets weave! Just as investors and policymakers were getting set for a sustained decline in the US dollar, the gritty greenback seems to be staging a comeback. Dollar strength by definition means weakness in non-dollar asset markets. Thus, if current trends continue, 2011 could see sentiment towards emerging markets like India ebb a little and bullishness on the US and the dollar surge. A number of things seem to drive this reversal in the dollar's path. For one, the US economy seems to be on a faster track to recovery than was anticipated earlier and may grow at 3.2-3.3 per cent this year and 3.5 per cent or even more in 2011, helped by the Obama administration's recent fiscal measures.
Eurozone's fiscal woes, on the other hand, seem to be getting worse and the fear of sovereign default by Spain, a European heavyweight, seems to intensify. Credit rating agencies are fuelling these fears. Moody's lowered Ireland's government bond ratings by five notches last week and now threatens to downgrade Spain's government debt. Financial markets have been wary of Europe for a while now. What they perhaps weren't quite prepared for is the dismal economic news coming out of Asia. East Asian economies have been rapidly decelerating over the last few months and are likely to slow down further in 2011. Researchers are predicting a relatively tame 7.5 per cent growth in emerging Asia for the year compared to about 9.5 per cent in 2010. Much of East Asia remains fairly export-oriented and dependent on western economies for demand. Despite growing intra-regional trade, a much larger share of final demand for exports (close to 50 per cent going by recent ADB estimates) comes from the developed markets of the West.
Sluggishness in western economies and appreciation in Asian currencies seem to be taking their toll on growth prospects. China continues to grapple with high inflation and is likely to step up the pace of monetary tightening in 2011. Most researchers seem to predict a palpable slowdown next year with the growth rate likely to drop by a percentage point and a half or perhaps even two percentage points. Most Asian economies are struggling with primary product inflation and despite slowing growth, their central banks might be forced to hike interest rates further and compromise growth. In short, while the US seems to be recovering faster than expected (potentially raising the attraction of dollar assets), the sheen seems to be coming off alternative assets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific markets. In this environment, it might not be entirely surprising to find the dollar overcome the drag imposed on it by easy liquidity created by the second round of quantitative easing (QE II) and actually gain against the bulk of currencies. Thus, cheap dollars created by the Fed might get invested in the US market itself and not chase returns in offshore markets. The currency might not gain just as a "safe haven" currency in episodes of risk-aversion. We may find, yet again, that it is too early to write the dollar's obituary.
2011 - A speculative peep
Some predictions for 2011
What might 2011 hold for us? Given the intrinsic uncertainty about the future, the really honest answer would be: I don't know. But that would be far too boring a response and, perhaps more to the point, would not fill a column. So, at the risk of looking foolish in a year's time, here are some predictions (in bullet form) for 2011.
After a surprisingly strong recovery in 2010, next year will also be pretty good, with world output growing by 3.5 per cent (at market exchange rates).
The biggest (by far) industrial country, America, will turn in a remarkably strong performance with growth around 3 to 3.5 per cent, thanks to the continuation of extremely lax monetary policy and the recent agreement on tax cut measures, which are estimated to amount to a stimulus of around 2 per cent of GDP in the coming year.
]In contrast, Europe, and especially the eurozone, will continue to be plagued by threats of sovereign default by one or more of the "PIGS in the periphery". Even if that spectre is kept at bay through huge bailout packages from the European Financial Stability Facility and the IMF (which now seems to lend its globally garnered resources mainly to Europe!), fiscal austerity programmes will keep growth very subdued throughout Europe, except for Germany. Overall, Europe might grow at 1.5 per cent.
For somewhat different reasons, that is also the expected growth in Japan.
The big impetus to global growth will come, once again, from Emerging Asia, with China growing at 10 per cent, India at 8 and Indonesia at 7. Together, Emerging Asia will account for half of world economic growth.
World trade volume will expand by 8 to 10 per cent and guess who (yes, China) will increase its share of global trade.
Exchange rates will be volatile, especially if there are any major disruptions in Europe. Despite enormous strains, the euro is likely to survive but it's not a sure bet.
Although there will be plenty of liquidity from loose monetary policies, the yields on long government bonds will rise as major industrial nations strive to fund their large fiscal deficits in the context of reviving private sectors.
Inflation in rich nations will remain low, but will increase in most of the emerging world because of rising commodity prices and buoyant capital inflows in search of yields.
Strong global growth and speculative factors are likely to keep oil prices high, in the range of $80-110 per barrel.
Despite the prevailing despondency about deep-seated corruption and weak governance, the economy will probably grow at 8 per cent.
Because of the fast-growing labour force, the unemployment/underemployment situation for the unskilled will worsen, but we won't know for lack of data!
The combined (Centre and states) fiscal deficit is likely to remain high (at around 8 per cent of GDP), despite government commitments on fiscal consolidation.
Such high borrowing requirements will inevitably keep the benchmark 10-year government bond at or above the current 8 per cent, especially given likely further increases in the short-term policy rates.
While the headline inflation rate might drop to 6 per cent or so in the spring, average inflation for the year (y-o-y) is likely to remain above 6 per cent, mainly because of price increases in food and fuel.
High interest rates and subdued "animal spirits" (because of the scams and confusion in political responses) could cause some decline in India's high (35 per cent of GDP) investment rate, with growth-reducing consequences for the future. With luck, the decline will be small.
The current account deficit in the balance of payments will remain high at 3-4 per cent of GDP and could go higher if oil prices climb above $100/barrel. That will damp capital inflows and contain the appreciation of the rupee, even if RBI continues to refrain from long overdue corrective actions. India's financial vulnerability to external shocks will increase. In their absence, the INR/USD rate will range between 43 and 46.
America, still the world's single superpower, will withdraw nearly all forces from Iraq and begin a token withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer, despite limited military progress against the Taliban. As American forces withdraw, Taliban will feel stronger but there will be no decisive endgame in 2011.
China will continue its new "assertive" foreign policy, with occasional unpleasant surprises for some neighbours (including us).
North Korea will remain unpredictable and difficult, but a reignition of the Korean war will be avoided.
The chances of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities will rise higher than ever before, but may not happen. If it does, there will be a massive spike in oil prices and a great deal of unpleasant, unintended consequences.
Terrorism will continue to be endemic in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and so will the possibility of serious attacks in India, Europe and America.
There will be no Israeli-Palestinian accord.
]Japan will have a new prime minister but the country's reliance on America and redeployment of defensive forces to face China will continue.
There will be no comprehensive, international treaty binding national carbon emissions to mitigate climate change.
Dr Manmohan Singh will continue as prime minister, health permitting. His ministerial colleagues will also continue to be fractious and unmindful of disciplines of collective responsibility.
Corruption scandals and scams will continue to unfold but there will be some significant corrective actions, such as initiation of legislation for state funding of elections.
In West Bengal, the CPM will lose its control over the state government after more than 30 years. In Tamil Nadu, DMK will lose power.
Terrorist attacks will be carried out by both internal and external forces. If there is a major attack with clear links to Pakistan, government will feel compelled to take retaliatory action.
There will be a "Telangana Crisis" once the Justice Srikrishna report and the central government's response become public.
India will strengthen ties with her eastern neighbours, including Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia.
Sino-Indian trade will grow but China will maintain political pressure on the border and other issues. A significant military incursion in the Tawang area is quite possible. Rapid economic growth and adequate defence preparedness will remain the best antidotes to such pressures.
]In other words, 2011 will be another interesting year. May it be happy and healthy for you all, dear readers!
The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal
SAFE AND SOUND
THE LAST MONTH HAS SHOWN THAT INDIA INC IS PLACED FAIRLY HIGH UP IN CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN
Almost any observer of the Indian business scene will tell you that several factors could make India uncompetitive in world markets lack of physical and social infrastructure, capacity and a skilled workforce, and land acquisition for projects being the ones cited most often. The last month has shown that India Inc can add another reason, and place it fairly high up in the list: crimes against women. True, this is largely a societal issue and a law and order problem. But like anywhere in the world, India Inc functions within a social paradigm and is defined by it, so it might be in its interests to explore a stronger advocacy role for women's safety. If the Indian economy continues to expand the way it is, India Inc will need not just more workers but more skilled people. Women account for almost half the country's population, and their participation in white collar jobs is growing the IT, banking and biotech industries being examples of a gradual breaching of the glass ceiling. If urban environments continue to be hostile to them, many will be discouraged from seeking employment in careers like this that may require demanding hours. That, in turn, will create a problem for an expanding India Inc because its choices will continue to be limited to a smaller, mostly male, talent pool.
Discouraging women from joining the white collar workforce also amounts to a huge waste of resources. Recent research from the Center for Work-Life Policy titled "The Battle for Female Talent in India" shows that women's participation in higher education especially the sciences is growing steadily. Based on that research, an article in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid of the Center*, points out that women not only make up 42 per cent of India's college graduates, but "relatively unfettered by cultural preconceptions that steer Western women away from the 'hard' sciences", they account for 44 per cent of degrees in the sciences and 25 per cent in business administration, management, or commerce.
The research also shows that more than half of female college graduates also hold a postgraduate degree, in comparison to 40 per cent of men. Hewlett and Rashid quote an HR manager for a global conglomerate as saying, "If you look at the number of top graduates from any Indian school," whether in management or engineering, "a disproportionate number are women."
These women are ambitious too. Over 85 per cent, Hewlett and Rashid write, "aspire to hold a top job, showing levels of ambition nearly double that of their US counterparts and markedly higher than women in Brazil, Russia, or China".
Considering the growing demand for skilled talent, it is surely in India Inc's interest to push the envelope on making India safer for women to work. Yet, the response when women on night duty are assaulted and these are the reported cases, much goes on that is not reported has been underwhelming. Pressure for safer environments for women comes from women's and special interest groups; the corporate lobbies and the IT-enable service companies that employ a high proportion of women tend to remain silent. This is not to suggest that all companies are remiss about providing security for their women staffers. Indeed, the fact that many do so adds to their costs, a factor that is rapidly making India globally uncompetitive in BPO services (South- east Asian cities are far safer for women, one reason the region is giving India a run for its money).
In general, corporations and their lobbies remain curiously fearful of publicly criticising politicians, however constructively. But in the case of women's safety, the thought of advocacy doesn't even arise. So when Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit deplored the "adventurism" of a woman TV staffer who was murdered in the early hours last year or when Ram Sene thugs attacked women in pubs, objections from, say, a CII or Ficci would have sent out a message that would have been far more potent than the vocal and expected indignation from women's groups.
A little more corporate courage wouldn't go amiss. After all, it is India Inc that has been the most potent agent of economic transformation and, by default, social change. Lobbying for women's safety would only enhance this progressive image and benefit it much more in the long run than, say, subverting journalists and politicians.
IT'S CLEAN, AND COMPLICATED
T S VISHWANATH
With countries laying out stringent preconditions for clean energy subsidies, technology-led trade issues are emerging as possible new areas of conflict.
The fight among the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members over clean technologies and energy subsides has been in the news for the past few months, which clearly indicates that the next area of focus for countries would be technology-led trade in the coming years. A couple of months ago, the US voiced its intention to seek the dispute settlement route against Beijing over alleged green technology subsidies, export restrictions on raw materials and other measures that China claims are necessary to put the country on a cleaner growth path.
Japan, on the other hand, has recently initiated a WTO complaint against one of Canada's province's green energy subsidies, alleging that they discriminate against foreign suppliers. At issue are stringent local content requirements of Ontario's Feed-in Tariff Programme, which allows the province to subsidise electricity operators that use renewable energy if up to 60 per cent of the inputs are manufactured in the province. Only those foreign companies that set up shop in Ontario and produce electricity and equipment there are eligible for the subsidy.
Some multinational companies have already set up shop in Ontario to meet this requirement. According to news reports, the South Korean conglomerate Samsung Group agreed in January 2010 to build four huge wind and solar power clusters in the province with a combined generating capacity of 2,500 Mw by 2016 this is expected to create 16,000 local jobs. In its complaint, Tokyo states that Ontario's local content requirements breach the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) principle of national treatment, the WTO's Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and the Agreement on Trade-related Investment Measures.
In the US' case, the salvo was fired by the United States Trade Representative in October when Ron Kirk announced that his office had initiated an "investigation under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act with respect to acts, policies and practices of the government of China affecting trade and investment in green technologies".
This had followed a complaint by the United Steelworkers in September, alleging that China's "illegal activities" included an array of restrictions ranging from limiting access to critical materials, performance requirements for investors, discrimination against foreign firms and goods, prohibited export and domestic content subsidies, and trade-distorting domestic subsidies.
At the core of these complaints has been China's export restrictions on rare earths that are used as a critical input in hi-tech products. China has over 31 per cent of the world's deposits of rare earth and supplies more than 90 per cent of the world's demand for this product. China, however, has maintained that the US complaint does not take into account the growing concern across China to be environmental friendly.
It is clear that, according to the existing agreements, not providing national treatment to foreign suppliers or providing subsidies that are prohibited under the WTO agreement can be questioned at the dispute settlement. Even so, it remains to be seen how countries can challenge another member's decision to stop exporting any product, like rare earth in the case of China.
Both these trade duels Japan vs Canada and US vs China point to the premise that countries will now focus on sectors that would provide employment opportunities and bring high investments into the country. This assumes importance with countries now focused on international trade to stimulate economic growth.
There is no doubt that in the coming years countries would also focus on taking control of raw materials across the globe to sustain industry in the domestic market. These disputes should help WTO, which is still struggling to conclude the Doha Round, to identify new areas for discussions and negotiations in a changed trade order in the subsequent rounds of negotiations.
Given the complexity of emerging global trade, it will be important for countries to ensure that WTO or any other multilateral body that will negotiate obligations for member countries is well equipped to deal with the new challenges in world trade.
But first, there is a need to conclude the Doha Round, which, according to the WTO director general, is nearing the "endgame". In a recent address to the Trade Negotiations Committee, Pascal Lamy said that an intensive work programme has been lined up for the coming months and the Round would be concluded by 2011 since the heads of state at the G20 and APEC summits recognised that the next year provided a "critical, albeit narrow" window of opportunity.
The author is Principal Adviser APJ-SLG Law Offices
AVIATION TAKES A FLYING LEAP
WITH THE WORLD?S FOURTH LARGEST DOMESTIC PASSENGER BASE, INDIA?S AVIATION SECTOR IS A POTENTIAL GROWTH-DRIVER
Aviation has taken off in India over the last decade and airport infrastructure is being upgraded across the country, making it one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy. Though this sector had been hit hard by the global slowdown in 2008-09, it revived in the following year and has surpassed the targets set for growth in passenger movement and freight. According to the civil aviation ministry's Annual Report 2009-10, India's domestic passenger base of 43.29 million is fourth in the world, after the US, China and Japan, and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 9 to 10 per cent over this decade. Scheduled air services are available from 82 airports now compared to 50 airports in early 2000s.
While there are currently six airports developed under the public private partnership (PPP) model in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Cochin and Nagpur. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has planned to develop 35 non-metro airports. Also, greenfield projects in Sikkim, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have begun.
Of around 50 airports operational across the country, Mumbai and Delhi airports handle the bulk of passenger traffic each of the two cities' airports account for 20 per cent of passenger traffic. Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport surpassed Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in 2009-10, becoming the airport handling the highest traffic in India. Bangalore and Chennai follow with around 8 per cent share. In general, the southern and western states lead when it comes to aviation, with their focus on industry and business. (Click here for graph)
Passengers (in million)
Freight (in '000 tonnes)
Source: Airports Authority of India
In March 2010, it was the southern region that led with the highest share, 30.4 per cent of total passenger traffic, followed closely by the western region with 29.4 per cent and the northern region with 28.2 per cent. The south also had the highest share in total freight followed by the western region. However, when it comes to growth, the north-eastern region takes the front rank. Air activity has begun in earnest in these states recently, compared to the well-established airports in other parts of the country.
Passengers in million at AAI Airports; Cargo in '000 tonnes at AAI Airports
In terms of freight traffic, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata are the top five airports in 2009-10, while among the smaller airports, Agartala, Indore and Imphal are the top three. In terms of growth in 2009-10, Guwahati and Jaipur accounted for highest growth. In fact, most of the non-major airports benefited last year with low-cost carriers opening freight services to these airports. In addition to the airports managed by AAI or under the PPP model, there are more than 300 airstrips across the country, under private or state government ownership.
State governments are relaxing procedures to allow use of airstrips by private planes, and are working to upgrade the airstrips. Also, 32 airports managed by AAI are non-operational. These are all over the country Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, Solapur in Maharashtra, Khandwa in MP, Palampur in Gujarat, Lengpui in Mizoram, Khowai in Tripura and so on. Reviving these airports is on the cards. Though air infrastructure demands huge investment, it gives considerable returns to the economy. Air connectivity has been recognised as a growth driver, not just for industry but also for agro-related activities, horticulture, tourism and so on.
Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INCORPORATE IT INTO JALAN REPORT
SPEAKING at a roundtable discussion on the report on market infrastructure institutions by a committee that he had headed, former RBI governor Bimal Jalan made two observations that significantly amend the report as it stands. One, the recommendation against listing of stock exchanges, he said, is not absolute it is contingent on the present state of the market and can well be reviewed at an appropriate time. Two, on the recommendation that the ownership of a stock exchange should be widely dispersed, with a cap of 5% for nonbanks, he said that he had no principled objection to following, in the case of stock markets, a process similar to that approved for banks, namely, starting with a high level of ownership, even 49%, and gradually bringing this level down over time. The reason why the committee did not ask for a graduated lowering of individual stakes from commencing levels of high concentration of ownership, said Mr Jalan, was that markets regulator Sebi had only recently prescribed the dispersed ownership norm. Both these clarifications make a significant difference to the operative tenor of the report. As it stands, the report virtually treats the stock market and its associated institutions such as clearing corporations as natural monopolies, although there is no explicit bar against competition. The ban on listing blocks profitable exit by investors who provide the initial capital for a stock exchange. The insistence on dispersed ownership right at the outset militates against any new exchange coming up. These two conditions effectively bar competition in the exchange space. Now that the chairman of the committee himself says that these two conditions are not absolute principles but contingent conduct rules, the anti-competitive edge of the report gets blunted. Sebi must take these clarifications on board. Even better, Mr Jalan should formally append them to the main report for Sebi's consideration.
As we have argued (ET, Nov 29), it is the current burdening of stock exchanges with regulatory responsibilities that inhibits treatment of exchanges as a competitive business. The CII, which organised the roundtable, and other industry bodies should opt for competition and appropriate amendment of the law.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BUT A LONG WAY TO GO
JSW'S acquisition of Ispat points at welcome consolidation in the domestic steel industry, and more. The move pitchforks JSW Steel to the top position in terms of installed capacity, that at 14 million tonnes by March, would be a wee ahead of Sail's consolidated figure, which itself is on a big brownfield expansion mode. JSW's deed also underscores its strategy of cutting costs and improving efficiencies by competitively sourcing iron ore plus coking coal, putting up captive power plants and stressing on value-added products. On its part, the deal would make it possible for Ispat to be able to refinance its entire . 7,500-crore debt exposure at a lower interest cost, and also raise capacity to 4.2 MT from its current 3.3 MT. Also, JSW's tie-up earlier this year with Japanese steel major, JFE Steel Corporation, gives it added strength to foray into value-added steel products. Actually, cash infusion from JFE has lowered debt levels at JSW Steel, with the former keen to have a presence in India, now the third largest steel producer globally but soon expected to be move one notch up, with several steel plant expansions now in the works.
More important, the Indian steel industry seems to be undergoing a qualitative change as well. There's much emphasis on value-added steel products. Reports say that Japanese major Kobe Steel wants to step up its India focus, and Nippon Steel, which has joined hands with Tisco, wants to increase its engagement as well. It is unfortunate that Korean major Posco's plans for a megasteel plant in Orissa remains mired in controversy. But, in parallel, Posco is also tying up with Sail to form a JV especially for value-added products. Meanwhile, JSW Steel, which sources only about a fifth of its ore from captive mines, quite unlike, say, Sail and Tisco, with the rest procured from NMDC and others, has firmed up large-capacity mining permits abroad. In the medium term, it plans to captively source a third of its coking coal requirements from the US and almost a like amount of iron ore from Chile. Anyway, JSW's Corex technology does enable it to supplement coking coal with lower cost variants of coal. The challenge now for Indian steel makers is to emerge as lowest cost and innovative producers.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AURICLE FROM UKRAINE
A CIRCUS OR PARLIAMENT?
THE brawl that erupted in the Ukrainian parliament last week would not have seemed at all strange to Indians, given that our legislatures are becoming more adversarial than originally envisaged by the preceptors of parliamentary democracy. But the reaction of a Ukrainian journalist to the unruliness of his own country's parliamentarians should find resonance here. He dressed up as a rabbit, complete with long ears, and interviewed lawmakers as they arrived for a sitting of the house. His rationale was impeccable too. If the parliament resembled a circus more than anything else, then people who frequented it should dress accordingly. Obviously since that country's parliamentarians did not see his argument, he wore his clarification literally on his sleeve. Besides, it was not as if he was being unresponsive to the lawmakers' gripe, for he showed he was all ears. In India, we are used to our legislators donning appropriate attire (some would call them costumes) when they come a-wooing for votes, and it does seem befitting that the common man too should return the compliment, even with animal grace.
In recent years, from Ukraine to India, Bolivia to Malaysia, legislative antics are assuming supra-comical proportions. Even at the 'Mother of all Parliaments', the Speaker of the House of Commons reprimanded unruly MPs last week, exhorting them to seek treatment from the House doctor if need be. This thread of commonality between the elected members of legislatures across continents clearly needs to be examined more closely, as does the novel solution of the Ukrainian journalist.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A TALE OF THREE JUBILEES
AS TWO INDIAN INSTITUTES OF MANAGEMENT AND THE ECONOMIC TIMES CELEBRATE THEIR GOLDEN JUBILEES, THE QUESTION THAT NEEDS TO ENGAGE THE NATION IS HOW TO BUILD LASTING INSTITUTIONS, SAYS T T RAM MOHAN
THREE well-known institutions in the country IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA), IIM Calcutta (IIMC) and The Economic Times (ET) are currently celebrating their golden jubilees. It's an occasion to reflect on what it takes to create and sustain institutions of excellence.
Let me take up the institutions in the order in which I got acquainted with them. I joined the two-year programme at IIMC straight from IIT Bombay. I had no aptitude or liking for engineering. I went to IIT Bombay because that is what any sensible student who had done well academically and did not want to become a doctor was expected to do. IIMC provided the perfect escape.
My first impressions of IIMC were entirely favourable. A smaller, more compact campus than IITB. Hostels that were better maintained. A large room with a balcony that gave on to an open expanse. A pond right in front of the hostel. And breakfast that was edible and filling.
The director's welcome could not have been more effusive. There was the inevitable reference to our being 'the cream of the cream'. After the hellish standards at IITB, IIMC was a relief. Attendance was not compulsory IIMC believed in turning out ladies and gentlemen, not nerds. The quality of teaching was highly variable.
We all got duly placed and IIMC alumni are now spread all over the world, many in high positions in the corporate sector. The nagging question remains: are b-schools anything more than placement agencies? Let me attempt an answer.
Customer focus. Market segmentation. Brand building. Ratio analysis. Cost allocation. Net present value. Business strategy. Optimisation. Through the sheer power of repetition over two years, the concepts get so thoroughly dinned into you that they stay with you for a lifetime. IIMC did a good job of that.
It might have done better. IIMC was the first of the IIMs. It quickly lost ground to IIMA and, some would say, later to IIMB. Perhaps being in Calcutta became something of a handicap. But the quality of leadership has certainly been an important factor. The golden jubilee is a good time for introspection.
ET was launched in April 1961 in the face of much scepticism. Who would want to read page after page of economic news and commentary? Shanti Prasad Jain, the visionary proprietor of Bennett, Coleman & Co, was not deterred. He encouraged the hiring of specialist writers and reporters, in some cases at pay scales higher than those in the Times of India. (This caused much heartburn in TOI staff).
I have heard that it took more than 10 years for ET to break even. But neither S P Jain nor his wife, Rama Jain, ever faltered in their support to the paper. Their commitment has paid off richly. Over the years, ET has extended its coverage from the economy and the financial sector to the corporate world, politics, personalities and even entertainment. From being a niche paper, it has become a mainstream paper.
My affair with ET started when I was a doctoral student in New York in the late 1980s. On a visit to Mumbai, I set up a meeting with the editor, Manu Shroff. I told Mr Shroff that there were many interesting things going on in the world economy that did not find reflection in Indian papers. He suggested I send in articles for the edit page. I started writing for ET thereafter.
SOMEmonths later, I got a letter from Mr Shroff asking whether I was willing to serve as part-time correspondent in New York. I readily agreed and began sending a steady stream of stories on international economic affairs. One day, I received a call from Mr Shroff. A finance ministers' meet was due in Montreal in connection with the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations. Could I cover it for ET? I was one of two Indian correspondents at the event and learnt a thing or two about reportage.
I continued to write for ET off and on after I returned to India. During the East-Asian crisis, I commenced a fortnightly column. I have come to value the discipline as much as the complete freedom extended by successive editors of the editorial page.
IIMA, whose faculty I joined in late 1998, was founded in December, 1961. It got to the top quickly and has stayed there ever since. In a milieu in which institutions of higher learning seem almost fated to decline with the passage of time, this is no mean achievement.
What explains IIMA's enduring success? Most of the magic at IIMA was created in the first 10 years. Two individuals were primarily responsible, Vikram Sarabhai, the founder, and Ravi Matthai, the first full-time director.
Sarabhai laid down key principles: a faculty-governed institute; an emphasis on relevance and the real world; and the application of management principles not just to industry but to other important sectors such as agriculture.
Matthai translated these principles into reality. He added concepts that were startlingly innovative: administrative positions that carried responsibility but no authority; the rotation of all positions; self-regulation through norms evolved by the community instead of rules dispensed from above; a singleterm for the director. These principles and concepts have defined IIMA. They account for its pre-eminence. They have been elements of what might today be called a 'sustainable business model'.
To this day, IIMA gets three key things right: admissions, teaching and placement. The admissions process is completely insulated from outside interference. The institute does not compromise on excellence in teaching. It goes all out to place its graduates with the best firms in the world.
In a speech that he made when he stepped down as director, Matthai said, "I think this is a good institution. Over the years this can become a great institution." The transition from good to great is yet to happen at IIMA. It is a task that today poses challenges of leadership and governance of a different order altogether.
A decade ends. It has been a transformational decade for the country. We can now look forward to a decade in which we will become the fastest-growing economy in the world, one that promises to usher in unprecedented prosperity into the lives of millions. But where are the institutions that can fire the imagination of the young? Where are the institution-builders?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
N EU RAL N ET
IT ISpart of the familial heritage of the liberal intelligentsia to often neatly evade questions relating to freedom of expression and thought when they encroach upon the realm of the political. Or, more precisely, when such questions begin to poke around in zones the liberal would rather prefer to avoid. For, there are zones which disturb the assumptions of that self-professed liberalism. Two instances, from different contexts, can serve as an elucidatory example of that seemingly harsh indictment.
First, the case of the Iranian auteur, Jafar Panahi, who this week was handed a sixyear prison sentence by the Iranian authorities. The maker of films like Crimson Gold and Offside has also been banned from making films or travelling abroad for a period of 20 years. Patently, an artist is being prevented from doing what he is supposed to be doingto provoke, arouse thought, even critique.
Naturally, this is condemnable. And not least due to the antipathy the Iranian regime arouses across some parts of the world, such condemnation has poured in. Many in India would also find the Iranian state's treatment of Panahi reprehensible. At least we can assume, were matters of global culture taken a wee bit more seriously in our own public culture than they are at the moment, that we possibly could have found such condemnation echoed across our newspaper pages.
Now take the case of the Kashmiri government college English lecturer who has been arrested and charged with 'spreading disaffection against the state' even 'secession' for framing a first-year English exam paper which asked students to discuss, as an optional question, whether the 'stone pelters were the real heroes' and to translate into English an Urdu passage which mentioned recent killings of youngsters by security forces and the government's deficiencies in dealing with the situation. A government college lecturer, perchance, isn't quite an artistic individual. He may certainly be no Panahi, not even an auteur. He may, unlike Panahi, not even be an outspoken, self-declared opponent of a regime. But the key point is under what conditions does a state construe certain acts, or just questions, as being subversive and worthy of imprisonment?
The Iranian state is considered by much of the West, as well as by many within Iran and the Iranian diaspora, to be an authoritarian state. But very many Iranians do not share that view. The state in Kashmir isn't supposed to be authoritarian, but very many Kashmiris hold it to be so. Again, while the two contexts are vastly different certainly the scale of violence inflicted on people's daily lives distinguishes Kashmir the question is whether it is enough, in the case of Panahi, to be an opponent to deserve gaol, and if the Kashmiri lecturer deserves a similar fate for framing a question paper that invokes or reflects actual political events.
Many Kashmiris would aver that it is actually a political reality that is sought to be suppressed, even criminalised. That, leave alone tolerating dissent, the state construes as sedition anything that alludes to or posits that political reality. And in this case, the target is a college lecturer. And it is a moot point if he was merely seeking to enable students to critically engage (they were free to answer in the negative to the question on the stone pelters!) with contemporary events.
The other question is whether this instance mixes academics with politics. In an ideal world, one could have answered that by asking whether university education is actually meant to be institutionalised knowledge production. Or whether, a la Paulo Freire, it is meant to be a zone where hierarchical pedagogical relations are reconstituted (leave alone the whole history of the critical role of academia and students in political movements across the world, including India).
What does the charge against the liberal have to do with this? Nationalism-as-blindspot, that's what. Among Iranians too, there exists a liberal class, or at least people who call themselves that, who end up supporting the current regime as a reaction against the West ganging up against their nation. Who would, out of that skewed sense of nationalism, perhaps not approve of Panahi's arrest, but still stay quiet. Much like the Indian liberal who doesn't want to tread into Kashmir since it is the proverbial haunted forest. Who stays quiet when a college lecturer is slapped with serious charges for setting a question paper. The hapless lecturer, meanwhile, has found out that seeking to provoke thought, in some places, is treason.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GU EST COLU M N
DO LABOUR LAWS HINDER PRIVATISATION?
PRIVATISATION has been a key objective of Indian government policy over the last two decades. In fact, governments across the world have pursued privatisation as a key instrument of national policy. Yet, since governments the world over employ too many workers in the state-owned enterprises and render them inefficient in the bargain, labour force restructuring presents the principal challenge to privatisation. Since labour retrenchment is regulated in most countries through employment protection laws (EPLs), a fundamental question relating to privatisation is: do EPLs hinder privatisation?
In a recent piece of research, Prof William Megginson of the University of Oklahoma and I have examined how national employment protection laws hinder privatisation. We used detailed data on privatisation across 14 OECD countries from 1977-2003 and exploited within-country variation in employment protection laws to control for various differences among countries. Since countries have changed their EPLs, such differences within a country enable a researcher to control for observed and unobserved differences among countries stemming from culture, nature of institutions and a host of other factors. We find in this paper that stringent employment protection laws indeed deter privatisation significantly. Furthermore, employment protection laws inhibit privatisation disproportionately more in industries that are less productive, more unionised, and require lower levels of job skill. We also find that if we compare two countries that differ in the level of employment protection they provide by approximately one standard deviation, the country having the higher employment protection would on average privatise two stateowned enterprises less every three years when compared to the country having the lower employment protection.
Furthermore, when a state-owned enterprise is privatised, private parties would price in the difficulties in retrenching the excess labour force to achieve the efficient level of employment. As a result, private parties would provide a lower value for the shares of the publicly-run enterprise when employment protection laws are more stringent. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that in the country having the higher employment protection, the privatised shares would, on average, fetch $820 million less than the privatised shares in the country with lower employment protection. Since the average value of a privatisation deal is $1.6 billion across the 14 OECD countries, the $820 million decrease matches with the two less firms privatised every three years (2/3 of $1.6 billion = $1.06 billion).
The accompanying graph visually depicts the effect that we confirm using a plethora of statistical tests. It shows the before-after difference on privatisation in Germany due to the passage of the EPL in Germany in 1990 vis-àvis the before-after difference for the UK since there was no change in employment protection laws in Britain during this period. This graph clearly illustrates that after the employment protection law change in 1980, which lowered employment protection, the average number of privatisation deals and average value of these deals increased in Germany compared to the same period in the UK.
The fear of job losses upon privatisation leads organised labour in the state-owned enterprises to vehemently oppose privatisation. Such groups of workers exert considerable political influence. The fear of retrenchment would be greater in the less productive industries and in industries that require low levels of skill on the job. Yet, the gains from shedding excess labour would be the greatest in these industries. However, stringent employment protection laws would inhibit cutbacks in the labour force and, therefore, have a disproportionate bite in obstructing privatisation in the less productive industries and in industries that require low levels of skill on the job. Consistent with these arguments, we also find that compared to the more productive industries, stringent protection laws in a country affect privatisation disproportionately more in the less productive industries. Similarly, we find that the effect of stringent employment protection laws on privatisation is disproportionately more in unionisation industries as well as industries that require low level of job skills.
Since labour restructuring is one of the most sensitive issues of privatisation, our study highlights that national governments intending to privatise their state-owned enterprises must focus on easing the rigidities in their labour markets. Such labour market reforms not only increase the likelihood of privatisation but also enable the government to generate greater proceeds from privatisation. These results are quite pertinent in the context of the privatisation agenda laid down by successive governments in India: Remove labour rigidities to maximise the value from privatisation!
(The author is assistant professor of finance, Indian School of Business)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
A THOUGHT FOR THE BIRD IN HAND
HERE'S a place we've all been to at some time in our lives: you walk into the backyard or balcony and find a baby bird that's fallen out of the sky from its nest. The bundle of feathers is helpless, terrified and incapable of getting out of the way and, what's more, appears to be hurt. What do you do? Very often, the big questions that confront us rise from small things like this. However, here's what most of us have probably done: we've picked it up carefully, looked around for the parents and, not finding any, have put it in a small box before trying to water or feed it. In a few days though it died and depending on our level of attachment we've thrown it in the trash or quietly buried it.
On the other hand, bio-politically correct organisations like the wildlife and fisheries departments of more advanced countries usually tell us to leave such fallen creatures alone. Among other things, we learn that in any case only something like one in five young songbirds makes it through the summer with the parent birds often pushing some out of the nest deliberately when the food supply dwindles, thereby ensuring a better chance of survival for the remaining nestlings. Their point is, you don't help the wellbeing or continuation of any species by interfering in the grand design of nature.
Also, often you could be doing something unlawful. In the United States, for instance, it's considered criminal to harass, illegally handle, keep as a pet, kill or otherwise disturb any native North American bird species. Violators serve up to 10 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. So, what does an ambulance driver do when he finds that a baby Siberian crane on the brink of extinction has crawled under his tyres for safety after breaking a leg on landing? Call the authorities and wait for them to do the needful while the cardiac patient in the van dies? Which specimen of what species is more worth saving?
In the timeline of life from unicellular organisms to conscious minds and sapient societies, a stage comes when the processes of evolution perhaps need to be de-prioritised and put on the backburner. Its forces will still continue to power growth there's no getting away from Darwinian development but choices need no longer be made blindly. After all, songbirds have not died out since humans arrived on the scene and tried to rescue the few fledgling that fell in their way. Or our cats ate them up.
INDO-RUSSIAN TIES & THE WAY AHEAD
The sheer scale and range of understanding reached between India and Russia during the recent visit of the President, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, calls to mind the days of the Indo-Soviet Treaty struck in the Indira-Brezhnev era nearly 40 years ago.
The agreements signed take in the strategic sectors of defence and nuclear cooperation, new forays into space technology, expanded ties in the hydrocarbons sector, and the refurbishing of trade ties to reach a two-way commercial transactions regime worth $20 billion, which is intended to mark a doubling of the depleted state of India-Russia trade noticed in Moscow's post-Communist era. The diversity of expansion in the bilateral relationship can hardly be conceived in the absence of the two countries being on the same page politically. In the last decade and a half, the once robust relationship between the two strategic partners had been emasculated. Russia had become a lesser power, and for a time looked Westward. India, too, was changing in myriad ways and securing ties of a new type with democracies of the West, led by the US. Although India has found a higher platform in its relationship with the Western powers in recent years, it is clear that India and Russia have determined that taking their relationship to a qualitatively higher level serves their mutual interest.
What's more, this doesn't adversely affect the dynamics of equations with other major powers. In our region, with Washington constantly seeking to balance its relationship with this country with its close ties with Islamabad, and also Beijing, Indian public opinion is seen to be cautious in doing business with the US, although there is no dearth of goodwill here for America. With Russia, our relationship is not attended by caveats in the same manner. The issues are far more clear-cut. The perceived mutuality of benefit is seldom in doubt. It is for this reason that during Mr Medvedev's visit, Russia had little difficulty calling a spade a spade in the context of terrorism and Pakistan. Moscow also had no hesitation in enthusiastically endorsing India's case to be a permanent UN Security Council member, and of international regimes and closed clubs that have a bearing on international transactions in strategic materials. It is no wonder that at his joint press conference with the visiting dignitary, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, described Russia as "a time-tested friend" and spoke of the India-Russia compact as a "special and privileged strategic partnership".
Only fairly recently, many on both sides had begun to wonder if Russia had begun to concentrate on the dynamics of its ties within Europe, in the process downgrading its traditional terms with India and extending the hiatus in once flourishing ties. Within our region, India and Russia appear now to be strategising in respect of the situation in Afghanistan, which appears crucial to Indian policy-making in the foreseeable future. This is a huge stepping-up, and Moscow is clearly shaking off its diffidence vis-à-vis Afghanistan. In the context of the post-US Kabul, now under discussion, this is a meaningful turn that is likely to be watched.
CONGRESS' BJP PHOBIA
BY NIRMALA SITHARAMAN
It is only natural that a country's ruling party pays attention to the principal Opposition party. That is why perhaps, at the 83rd plenary of the Congress in Burari, the BJP got more attention than what was due. In the process the Congress lost yet another opportunity to speak about how their coming to power since 2004 has made India better for the common man. After all, hadn't they come to power seeking his votes? While the jury is still out on the impact of United Progressive Alliance I on the common man, its tenure since 2009 has only meant pain and penury for him.
At Burari, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, "missed the opportunity" (thanks to former US ambassador David Mulford) to explain why she had let him, the common man, down why she and her party had failed to control the prices of food stuff for over 22 months, including that of humble onion. Why is the common man paying more and more for food while farmers are earning less and less? Why has she prefered to let foodgrains rot in various public sector godowns rather than offer them to the state governments who were seeking greater allocation of grains under the Public Distribution Scheme, even offering to pay slightly higher prices? Case in point: Madhya Pradesh. Why does the sale of people's assets, such as the spectrum, result in huge losses to the exchequer? If the Congress has no role in all these, then who does? What good is it if Mr Clean is our Prime Minister, but right under his nose blatant omissions and commissions have resulted in the loot of public money? The Congress has failed to answer these questions in Parliament where the elected representatives of the common man assemble. But why did Mrs Sonia Gandhi miss the opportunity to answer even her party men?
The Congress is celebrating 125 years of its inception this year. Today's Congress has little in common with the Congress which was in the forefront of the freedom movement. That was a loose forum of people with various and varied ideological inclinations cohabiting for one common cause freedom from foreign rule. Once freedom was obtained, Mahatma Gandhi rightly suggested that the Congress should be disbanded. This never happened and, since 1947, the Congress has tried to be everything to everybody while feeling accountable to nobody. Ask an activist what the Congress stands for or ask a Congressman what s/he stands for and the answers are most often vague. Debates on "Congressism" are elusive, if any. A few vocal Congressmen tout that they stand for the "idea of India", as if referring to a republic of which you and I are not a part.
Every idea of India is well described and enshrined in the Constitution which we gave ourselves in 1950. But some elementary goals stated in the Directive Principles of the State Policy have actually not been upheld by the Congress, like the Uniform Civil Code. Even after the Supreme Court passed a judgment on the Shah Bano case, political expediency and not the Directive Principles guided the Congress.
Post-Independence, the Congress did not make any attempt at asserting its world view wherein all stakeholders could have a role in achieving the "idea of India". After the death of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the marginalisation of Jivatram Kripalani, C. Rajagopalachari and P.D. Tandon, the Congress depended entirely on Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1955, at the Avadi Session, Nehru moved a resolution for a socialistic pattern of society. Then came the industrial policy resolution and, in 1959, at Nagpur, cooperative farming and state funding of foodgrains. Under Indira Gandhi in 1969, the socialistic fervour reached its high point with the nationalisation of banks and garibi hatao. But just 15 years after that, Rajiv Gandhi, in the name technological revolution, initiated the shift to public-private operations. With liberalisation in 1991 and today the hurried pushing of the agenda of multi-brand foreign direct investment, the Congress has moved from far Left to far Right almost seamlessly. No quibble, no quarrel in any of its annual sessions, no answers to give its partymen or the people.
There is no report of any debate on its core ideology and shifts away from it being held within the party. This may have led the Congress to believe that it has answers to every situation. It is hard to understand why there was no unease when socialism was replaced. Hadn't Nehru, in 1955, felt that it is not merely a vision or an aspiration, but a pledge?
Post-independence, without the core ideological reinforcement, the routine of passing resolutions failed to give the desired results. Thus, every time the Congress could not deliver on its economic agenda it would rake up the bogey of communalism and play on the insecurities of different communities. As if on a see-saw, when economic performance was down, the communal agenda was on high, and vice-versa. We can view Burari against this backdrop: The Congress-led UPA is faced with price-rise, corruption, security threats and electoral losses. Governance has failed, institutions diluted, credibility is severely dented. Yet in the party's conclave there were no discussions, no answers sought or given. Just the see-saw phenomenon.
Communalism was invoked again. This time, in fact, the ground had already been prepared by the home minister who had christened it "Hindu terror". No sense of proportion or place influenced the Congress' general secretaries one chose to speak at a diplomatic dinner earlier, while another chose the podium at Burari. The president herself referred to minority and majority fundamentalism at the opening session and the proverbial old communal wine in a new bottle was served at Burari. The home minister, ignoring the lapses at Varanasi, decided to crystal-gaze and declared to the BJP, "Aapka number nahin aayega".
The Congress is an old party 125 years old, and 63 years old even if we believe it was reborn with Independence. It is time it reinvented itself. Else, the BJP phobia will ruin it further.
Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of theBharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.
LITTLE BOYS AND WINNIE THE POOH
BY JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN
Belgrade Lakes, Maine
EIGHTY-FIVE years ago this Christmas Eve, the London Evening News published a short story about a boy and a bear written by an assistant editor at Punch named A.A. Milne, thus engendering four children's books, a slew of films and videos and a merchandising empire estimated to be worth more to the Disney Corporation than Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto combined.
(Not to mention providing the inspiration for Dorothy Parker's most withering review, when she responded, in her Constant Reader column, to Pooh's line that "pom" makes singing more "hummy" with the comment, "And it is that word 'hummy', my darlings, that marks the first place... at which Tonstant Weeder Fwowed up".)
It also resulted in my finding myself in tears last Christmas in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building of the New York City Public Library.
The story goes back 35 years. In the 1980s, I had a gruesome copy-editing job at E.P. Dutton, the American publishers of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. One of my colleagues was a crusty septuagenarian named Eliot Graham, whose title was director of publicity emeritus. Eliot was the shepherd of the original Pooh stuffed animals Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, Piglet and Eeyore which were kept in a glass case in the Dutton lobby on 2 Park Avenue.
He'd take them to schools and literary festivals and the sets of early morning news shows. We used to talk about the Pooh animals together, Eliot and I, as if they were members of a rock band, and Eliot their long-suffering manager. When Dutton was sold in 1985, the Pooh animals became the private property of the company's former owner, John Dyson, the chairman of the New York State Power Authority. I don't know the exact terms of the agreement that handed the Pooh animals over to the Dyson family.
What I do know is that the glass case in the E.P. Dutton lobby was empty afterward, and Eliot Graham had no animals to shepherd any more. Some days you'd see him just standing there, looking into the empty case. It was sad.
I hadn't thought about any of this in 25 years, until the week before Christmas last year, when I walked into the Schwarzman building to see a friend who works in the Children's Book Room. There in a glass case in the centre of the library were all the Pooh animals, just as I remembered them Pooh, Eeyore, even little Piglet, who is not much more than a threadbare pincushion. (Owl and Rabbit were fruits of Milne's imagination; Roo is said to have been lost in Ashdown Forest in England in the 1930s.)
As I learned, the animals had not remained with the Dysons forever; the family donated them to the New York Public Library, where they have been ever since. A 1987 article in the Times noted that an older man, a Mr Eliot Graham, was present on the occasion of the animals' return to New York. "If I were an ordinary person", he was quoted as saying, "there'd be tears in my eyes".
I quit my job at Dutton in 1985 and headed off to graduate school to study fiction writing. Back then I wasn't sure what was going to happen to me, once I went out in the world to seek my fortune. It seemed entirely possible to me, at the time, that I was about to fall off the edge of the earth. On my last day of work, there'd been a knock on my office door, and a crusty, bearlike voice said, "There's someone here who wants to say goodbye to you". And I turned to see Eliot Graham standing there, holding the original Winnie the Pooh. He held the bear toward me, and nodded. "Go ahead", he said dryly. "You can hug him". So I did. He was soft. When I was done, I gave Winnie the Pooh back to Eliot. He looked at me, and nodded, and said, "Good luck at school", and walked away. That was the last I saw of him.
I've thought about Eliot every once in a while, in the years since then. I suppose I should have called him up some time and let him know I did not fall off the edge of the earth. But of course he died years ago, while I was busy typing.
On that December day last year, my friend and I headed out into Midtown. New York was all dressed up for Christmas. There on the corner was the restaurant where my father used to take me. There was the Daily News building, where I had a job in 1984. There was the lollipop street clock at 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue where my sister and I used to meet.
And I thought of the ending of The House at Pooh Corner, in which our hero takes his leave of the companions of his youth: "But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing".
- Jennifer Finney Boylan is a professor of English at Colby College and the author, most recently, of the young adult novel Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror
BY MAUREEN DOWD
Last Christmas I got a jolt. I learned that my brother Kevin collects crèches. They were all over his house, crammed onto every mantle, table, counter, lawn and closet 17 in all, including the modest plastic stable our mom put over the fireplace when we were little.
I was perturbed. I knew Kevin, a salesman, was a fanatical guardian of the word Christmas, as opposed to the pagan, generic "holiday", but I had no idea that he had such a monomaniacal hobby.
Maybe I was scarred by reading The Glass Menagerie as a teenager. But books and records aside, collections always struck me as vaguely creepy. I had shuddered for years as my sister accumulated clowns and Don Quixote objects. And the porcelain baby collection of an older cousin actually made me feel queasy.
I wondered why Kevin was so obsessive about crèches. Was it a way to stay close to our late mother? An homage to our old church, Nativity?
As a child, he treated St. Joseph, the shepherds and three kings as action figures, staging smack downs.
"The shepherd had an advantage because he was holding the lamb, and he could use it as a weapon", Kevin recalled fondly.
I also remembered that he got very upset one year when St. Joseph was stolen from the outdoor Nativity scene at Nativity, and he fretted over why Christ's stepfather disappeared from the New Testament so abruptly.
Could that make him hoard a houseful of St. Josephs and send his three sons to a college named St. Joseph's?
I was curious enough about the manger mania that when he told me he'd been invited to the Friends of the Creche annual convention in New Haven one weekend in November, I asked if I could go, too.
Touring the crèche display at the Knights of Columbus hall, we met collectors who had 300, 500, even 600 crèches, the kind who might put an addition on the house just to display their stables.
Kevin began to feel inadequate with a mere 15. (He gave two to his oldest son.)
Bonnie Psanenstiel, a heavyset 52-year-old nurse from Owensboro, Kentucky, told me that she has more than 500 sets packed into her "Nativity meditation room", even though "I'm not really into religion".
She got her first, which was hand-carved out of olive wood, on a high-school trip to Morocco and spent four years baby-sitting and cleaning houses to pay it off.
She's most attached to the set given to her by a woman she helped when she was a rape-incest counselling volunteer. "We used to sit by the Mississippi River and just talk", Bonnie said as she started to cry. "She would slowly gather up some of this Delta clay, and she made me a set"; She believes Nativities represent "renewal".
Father Tim Goldrick, the gregarious pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, said his grandfather told him it was a Portuguese-Azorian tradition that the man of the house set up the crèche. He begged to put up their Woolworth's set. For years, the priest kept hundreds of crèches in milk crates in his guest room, which precluded actual guests.
"There was no room in the inn", he said wryly.
When he transferred from his last parish, he called a mover and explained that he owned no furniture but did have a lot of Christmas decorations. "It took three men two days to box them up and ship them", he said.
Mike Whalen, 61, of Clinton Township, Michigan, the president of the crèche society and proud owner of 400, said he doesn't know of crèche fixations causing any marital battles. "There's a lady from California whose husband is Jewish, and he's very involved", Mike said. "He came up with an Excel system to organise things".
Rita Bocher of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, does the society's newsletter. In the '80s, doing market research for the Franklin Mint, she had to research crèches. "I thought nobody collects Nativities", she said. "Turned out, I was totally wrong." Now she has 700 subscribers around the world.
She saw her favourite in a German museum. It was a prequel, showing the Magi getting ready to go on their trip, ordering around servants, gathering gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Father Tim explained to Kevin that Joseph might have disappeared so abruptly all those years ago because of the belief that if you bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard, you can sell your house quicker. (A tradition that has revived with the recession, according to the Wall Street Journal.)
I couldn't fight the fanatics, so I joined them. I bought a Cape Cod crèche at the convention made by Nathaniel Wordell of South Chatham, Massachusetts, Mary's a mermaid. The baby Jesus is covered with a striped beach towel. The Wise Men are crab, crocodile and sea horse. The "livestock" are frog, turtle and starfish. Joseph has a trident.
Sadly, it did not draw my brother and me closer. "That is sacrilegious", Kevin said, staring in horror. "The Virgin Mary does not have a tail."
JESUS: THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH
BY SADIA DEHLVI
The festive season of Christmas provides an opportunity to reflect on Jesus and the centrality of Love in Divine philosophies. Although the Muslim and Christian narratives somewhat differ, one cannot be a Muslim unless they believe in Maryam, Virgin Mary, and Isa Ruh Allah, Jesus, an important prophet who is the Spirit of Allah, that is, pure compassion and mercy.
If the followers of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad are at odds, it is not because of their teachings, but despite their unifying message of the Oneness of God. Prophet Muhammad proclaimed that he did not bring a new religion; that he was carrying forward the message of the prophets before him. He stated that of all the prophets, he remained closest to Jesus, for there is no prophet between them.
There is a whole chapter named after Mary in the Quran, a righteous, chosen friend of Allah; born to Imran and his wife Hannah whose noble ancestry is from Adam, Noah and Abraham. Mary's mother had vowed to offer the child in the service of God. When a girl child was born, she knew not how to fulfill this promise, for girls were not accepted in the temples of the rabbis. God entrusted Mary to the care of Prophet Zachariya, whose wife Elizabeth happened to be the sister of Hannah.
At the age of five, Mary was given a cell in the house of worship, where she studied under the scholars and devoted herself to prayer. When Zachariya would visit the cell, he would find Mary with fresh fruits and other provisions. Mary told him that God provided her with sustenance. Inspired, Zachariya prayed for a son in the sacred space and his prayers were accepted. Despite old age and a barren wife, Allah blessed him with Yahya, John the Baptist.
God sent a message through Archangel Jibraeel, Gabriel, to Mary that He had honoured her among the women of all nations and she would give birth to Jesus, to whom God would give a book. Mary asked how that was possible for no man had touched her. Gabriel reminded her that Allah creates whatever He wills. "The likeness of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, 'Be': And he was."
In Islamic scriptures there is no stable, no manger and no Joseph at the time of Jesus' birth. Mary is alone in a desert in the eastern part of Damascus. To provide Mary with sustenance, God made a small rivulet run from which she could drink, and informed that she shake the trunk of the dead palm tree which would yield moist dates. Gabriel told Mary that on returning to her people, she was not to speak to anyone for some days. On her arrival, people hurled accusations at her of being unchaste. In response, Mary quietly pointed to the child. "They said: 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?' He said: 'I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me Revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed where so ever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So Peace is on me, the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life again'"!
According to the Quran, Jesus speaking from the cradle is his first miracle, whereas the Bible records his initial miracle at the age of 30, which was turning water into wine. The Quran confirms that with Allah's leave, Jesus breathed life into birds of clay, healed the blind, the leper and raised the dead. Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the Cross, but was raised to the Heavens. However, both Islam and Christianity believe that Christ will return to the earth to destroy the Antichrist who shall bring tyranny and war, selling lust, greed, gluttony and other sins. Both Jesus and Mary have significant roles in Sufi thought, finding frequent mention in mystic verse. Rumi writes:
The hermitage of JesusIs the Sufi's table spread:Take heed, O sick one,Never forsake this doorway.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at email@example.com 
THE REAL COST OF SPECTRUM
KARUNANIDHI'S CLOUT HAS A DENT
The spectrum scam, or "raja oozhal"(royal corruption) as it is known in Tamil Nadu, is bound to impact the forthcoming Assembly election. Coupled with the infamous Niira Radia tapes, it offers great fodder for the Opposition. The star speaker of the Opposition, Vaiko, has called for ending M. Karunanidhi's family rule to be the main agenda for the polls.
The monopoly of the Sun group in media and films, the feudal lordship of Azhagiri over Madurai, the culture-as-business revenue model of Kanimozhi, are being resented. Now every small town in Tamil Nadu is aware of the `1,76,000 crore spectrum scandal. Two TV channels Jaya TV of J. Jayalalithaa and Captain TV of Vijayakanth have been regularly airing a series of interviews on the scam.
The Radia tapes have exposed the squabbles within Mr Karunanidhi's family as never before. A semi-literate Rajathi Ammal, the second companion of Mr Karunanidhi, struggling to speak in broken English with Niira Radia in her anxiety to settle deals, has revealed the real motives of every clan member.
Ms Jayalalithaa made spectrum an election issue the day she offered unconditional support to the Congress government at the Centre for taking action against former telecom minister A. Raja. This was a catalyst for several Congress leaders to openly talk about breaking the alliance with the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK).
Whether the alliance continues or not, the relationship has become uneasy and bitter. The Youth Congress, revamped after democratic elections for the first time, is known for its antipathy to associating with the DMK. Rahul Gandhi's consistent refusal to pay even a courtesy call on Mr Karunanidhi every time he visited Chennai has sent signals to the Youth Congress cadres.
The DMK is in a state of confusion. Uptil now deputy chief minister M.K. Stalin has not spoken a word about the spectrum scandal or in defence of Mr Raja. DMK cadres are angry with the Congress for its aggressive attitude towards Mr Raja. If the alliance continues, this bitterness is bound to be reflected in the election when Congress supporters refrain from voting for DMK candidates and vice versa. This will be nothing new. In 1980, the DMK and the Congress fought MGR together but MGR won hands down, thanks to internal squabbles between his rivals.
According to the grapevine, DMK cadres are hoping that a substantial part of the spectrum slush money will be released to grease the palms of voters in at least 50 constituencies. But voters have now become wiser with the Opposition asking them to collect the money but vote according to their conscience.
Gnani, Tamil writer, columnist and theatre person
DMK-Cong pact is formidable
The spectrum dust will vanish when election campaign gains momentum in Tamil Nadu. The Assembly election is five months away and much water will have flowed into the Cauvery by then. More than issues, it is the alliance arithmetic that will decide the outcome.
Successive elections since MGR's days have shown that a party with a strong alliance always wins. There is no reason that the coming Assembly election will be any different. The DMK-Congress-Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) alliance is formidable. I firmly believe it will continue and the Congress will not fall prey to the Opposition campaign on spectrum.
The Congress realises that it cannot win seats going alone and the party of Sonia Gandhi will not trust J. Jayalalithaa.
The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which is silent on the spectrum row, may also join. On the contrary, the AIADMK led by Ms Jayalalithaa does not have a strong alliance. Except the Left and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, no major group is with her. If she succeeds in roping in the Congress and actor Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam into her fold, that would be a solid alliance. But the chances are bleak.
Besides the alliance, the DMK has another advantage: it has implemented many welfare schemes and has ensured that these reach the masses. This was evident in the last Lok Sabha poll in which the DMK won more seats in rural Tamil Nadu.
The marginalised sections were MGR's foot soldiers. But Ms Jayalalithaa's party has largely drifted away from MGR's legacy. While a considerable section of MGR loyalists have gone with Mr Vijayakanth, others remain inactive. The introduction of an exclusive quota for Arundhatiyars (the lowest in the SC hierarchy) by the Karunanidhi government may also become a vote-bank for the DMK. They were once the backbone of MGR's support. Religious minorities refuse to believe Ms Jayalalithaa, given her soft corner for Hindutva.
The Opposition parties want to drag the spectrum scam till the elections not only in Tamil Nadu but also other states. That is why they insist on a JPC probe. If the Opposition stalls the Budget session as it did the Winter Session of Parliament, it will not go down well with the public.
With its strong organisational network, the DMK will slowly launch a counter-offensive to undo the spectrum disadvantage. Like Nitish Kumar, who returned to power in Bihar with a stunning majority on the plank of governance and welfare measures, Mr Karunanidhi will also return to Fort St George.
Solai, a veteran journalist, was political adviser to the late MGR
AT THE COST OF AAM AADMI'S LIFE
APOLOGIES and inquiries are futile, an offer of financial relief will be insulting. Not because they will not ~ nothing can ~ restore life to the man who died when the road to a Delhi hospital was closed to ensure safe passage to the Prime Minister's convoy, but because this was the third reported incident of its kind. No lessons were learnt from the first two, so why should the third prove different? Arrogance and indifference to the common man are the ugly face of "security" in this country; actually a manifestation of both the incompetence of security agencies and the hypocrisy of those "protected". Each of the exalted have spoken about asking their security staff to keep public inconvenience to the minimum, none have cared to see that their "wishes" were implemented. The Congress party and its spin doctors have gone into overdrive over the success of the Burari session, for the family of Anil Jain that conclave will ever trigger horrific memories of how their loved one was denied access to a hospital well-equipped to administer to his coronary condition. It was a display of crass heartlessness ~ the man was in an ambulance, there was no question of illness being faked to bypass the roadblock. A call was made to the Police Control Room explaining the criticality of the situation, the response was negative. Are the police entirely at fault? The fuss netas kick up over even a minor security lapse has led the police into taking no chances. As well as thinking that the importance attached to VIP protection automatically means that protecting the interests of the common man is not their remit.
Stomaching insult, and worse, in the name of "security" is a curse that the resident of the Capital cannot escape. The visits of foreign dignitaries and the protest rallies/processions conducted by political parties take a heavy toll, so do the rehearsals for the Republic Day festivities. Has anyone cared to consider how many could not get to hospital or railway station in time? Working out alternate routes, and instructing the policemen at closed roads to advise the public on them are just not part of the "drill". The only "drill" is for all the cops on duty to make a hasty exit the moment the VIP/procession has passed. "Clearing" the backed-up traffic is not their concern ~ after all it is only aam aadmi who suffers the consequences.
HOW CAN PAWAR EVADE RESPONSIBILITY?
AN amazing thing has happened in incredible India; in essence, it has taken the Union Agriculture minister a month to realize that unseasonal rains in Nashik in November could lead to a shortage of onions, and that a shortage in supply could lead to onion prices going through the roof. It took Mr Sharad Pawar exactly that time ~ a month ~ to decide that onion exports should be banned. And he tells us that it will take a further three weeks for prices to come down. Mr Pawar has either been incredibly stupid, or remarkably insensitive to the plight of people. In either event, he deserves to be sacked. But, if indications from other ministers are to be taken at face value, and the shortage is an artificial one, Mr Pawar must explain what role his lack of perspicacity played in the windfall profits being made by some traders. For here is a minister whose reign in Krishi Bhavan has been marked by spiraling prices of essentials ~ remember it was sugar earlier ~ and serial mismanagement of the price-line. Here is a minister who seems to shrug off every controversy ~ remember the IPL brouhaha and his family's alleged role in it ~ and sail on regardless. Can political stability, achieved through the cloying need of the Congress to be in power, be justification for rapaciousness and greed, for incompetence and insensitivity of its allies?
The UPA hasn't learnt its political lessons. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was a housewife unconcerned by prices in 1980 when the Janata Party lost power for, among other things, its inability to control onion prices ~ a development that Indira Gandhi exploited to the hilt. Indeed, Atal Behari Vajpayee would sneeringly tell critics of the late Mrs Gandhi after she was returned to power in 1980, Ab khaao pyaaz (Now, eat your onions). Some years later, the BJP lost power in Delhi and Rajasthan because it couldn't control onion prices. Onions at Rs 80 a kg is the last thing the UPA needed in this season of discontent, and Mr Pawar is wise enough to, well, know his onions. Yet he and his ministry dithered, while prices first galloped and then skyrocketed. The UPA would do well to ask why.
TIME TICKING AWAY
POLITICAL WHIMSY PREVAILS IN NEPAL
NEPAL'S political leaders have already missed several deadlines, so it will come as no surprise if the country's political scenario does not change for the better in the next few days. The Maoists forced Communist Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to quit on 30 June; their supposition was that his being out of the way would allow the formation of a national government based on consensus. But this in fact only complicated issues. Even after 16 rounds of voting since July to choose a new Prime Minister, no one has been elected. The Nepali Congress's lone aspirant, Ram Chandra Poudel, is still in the field, waiting for resumption of the regular constituent assembly session that was prorogued in November after Maoist lawmakers allegedly misbehaved at a time when the finance minister was about to present the budget papers. On the request of Maoists and some fringe parties, President Ram Baran Yadav summoned a special session last Sunday but its proceedings were deferred till 23 December. The Maoists want a fresh procedure to elect a Prime Minister, arguing that the validity of Poudel's candidature ceased with the assembly being prorogued. They feel that once he formally withdraws from the contest, it will be smooth sailing. The NC, however, is not convinced. The best alternative in this situation should have been power-sharing. That alone can induce some degree of stability.
Even if a government is in place in the next few days, the lawmakers will have to work at breakneck speed to complete the task of drafting a Constitution, for which 28 May is the new deadline. Since the United Nations Commission in Nepal, which is overseeing the integration and rehabilitation of about 3,000 Maoist combatants, is packing up in mid-January, it is anybody's guess how this crucial part of the historic November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty will be implemented. Integration should follow peace, and not the other way round.
WHEN WEN COMES CALLING
TRADE EXPANSION AND CONTENTIOUS ISSUES
BY SALMAN HAIDAR
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit was the latest, though not the last, of the top level visits to India as the year winds down. His coming marks the continuance of the high level India-China exchanges that have now been going on for some decades, and that signify a stable, largely equable relationship between the two countries. This is not to suggest that the problems between them have gone away ~ far from it. But the parties continue to address their differences through regular channels and have not permitted what divides them to put a brake on their relations, especially in the economic area.
Premier Wen took a lot of trouble over his visit. He brought with him scores of business people, something we are more accustomed to seeing when visitors from the West come here. Clearly Mr Wen intended that this should be more than a flag waving, formal occasion, and the outcome of the visit showed that India-China ties now offer important economic opportunities that both sides are keen to pursue. Political issues were not pushed to a side but the biggest story of the visit was the fact that deals worth as much as $16 billion were reported. Looking ahead, the leaders saw trade of $100 billion in just a few years, as against the present figure of $60 billion, which has already given China first place among India's trading partners.
This great expansion has not been trouble-free, and India has concerns about the imbalance in the trade in favour of China ~ on this point, it may be noted that China has become the world's workshop and other countries have the same concerns as India about their trade balance with that country. India also complained that it is not given proper access to the Chinese market for its pharmaceuticals and IT products, and also some agricultural products. These matters, as well as complaints of Chinese dumping in Indian markets, were brought up in the course of the visit, but nevertheless the economic dimension of the relationship is flourishing and is set to grow rapidly.
On the overall relationship, the Chinese Prime Minister spoke of partnership between his country and India. He did not see them as rivals, nor did he subscribe to the view that the two rising powers of Asia were inevitably doomed to clash. Indeed, his remarks on this theme were reminiscent of those of the Indian Prime Minister, who has often said that there is room enough in the world for both countries. This is the perspective in which both leaders seek to project future relations, in distinction to what is said by some others who tend to dwell on their differences.
These do exist, of course, and are not to be brushed out of sight by the dynamism of the economic relationship. One matter that has attracted a lot of public attention is the issue of 'stapled visas' ~ that is to say, residents of Jammu and Kashmir being granted visas for China on a separate piece of paper stapled to their passports, not on the passport itself. It is difficult to understand China's motives in adopting this procedure, which was done fairly recently. Over the last few decades, China has steadily distanced itself from what had been a partisan approach to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir: instead of giving unstinted support to Pakistan, it now describes this as an issue that should be solved by India and Pakistan themselves. But the visa issue revives larger concerns about China's readiness to accept the realities of the status of J&K, and it has become an irritant in bilateral affairs. China has gained nothing from it, and it does not fit in well with what Premier Wen had to say about the bilateral partnership.
Indeed, there were indications before the visit that China may take the occasion to announce a change of approach and drop the practice of issuing stapled visas. That did not happen but the two countries have undertaken to hold official talks on the issue, and one can hope that this will lead to early removal of this unnecessary procedure.
The abiding problem, of course, is the matter of the border, which always figures in any high level India-China talks. Referring to it in his public remarks, Premier Wen said that it was an issue that would take a long time to resolve and called for patient endeavour. The two countries have found a way of permitting positive developments to continue despite their ongoing differences on the border. In fact, the way this has been handled is held out as a model to others like Pakistan, where disputes on major issues have virtually shut down the growth of mutually beneficial ties on a whole range of other issues. Yet even though India and China have established and maintained a stable arrangement along the border, there is no doubt that it is in their mutual interest to come to a settlement. The border has been calm and quiet for many years now, notwithstanding occasional reports of incursions, but matters can change suddenly and unexpectedly. It is not to be forgotten that it is an armed border and each side has deployed substantial numbers of troops in the frontier region. So long as they remain opposite each other, there is potential for difficulties to arise.
China's dealings with its 'all weather friend' Pakistan have long been a concern to India. Mr Wen faced some questions on the issue and he reminded his audience that it was in India's own interest to have Pakistan as a stable neighbour. From New Delhi the Premier went to Islamabad where he provided substantial largesse and also presided over a number of economic agreements, exceeding in total what came out of the India visit. Yet China cannot be any more comfortable than the rest of the world with the way fundamentalist forces and groups are becoming stronger in Pakistan, and may well hope, like others, to see a moderate and stable Pakistan emerge. At the same time, China is consolidating its strategic ties with Pakistan, through road and rail links across the mountains right up to the Indian Ocean littoral. Thus the ties between these two countries are likely to remain problematic in India's eyes.
Not much came out in the joint documents about Asia's rapid advance and the evolving security architecture for this continent. Elsewhere, the shift eastward in the global balance, and the enhanced role of India and China, are matters of lively discussion, but the two Prime Ministers did not offer a great deal on this theme in their public communications. Nevertheless, their collaboration in various security matters has increased substantially, for they face common problems that require transnational solutions, and this could become an expanding future area of cooperation.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary
AN INESCAPABLE FEELING OF PESSIMISM
It cut an impressive picture: Mrs Sonia Gandhi, looking chic in a light beige outfit, the sari ensemble, walking up the staircase of the improvised pandal in Burari on the outskirts of the capital, the faithful rising to the man to welcome the leader to the three-day party session. It came at the end of a particularly dark month or so of Parliament's winter session, one which offered few positives for the party heading the UPA.
The Congress had indeed cut such a lonely figure in the two houses of Parliament, with little to cheer over. It reminded me of a very sombre Comgress session on the lawns of Mavalankar Hall of New Delhi's Constitution Club. Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sonia's mother-in-law and Rahul's grandmother, was to announce the break-up of the party. She was moving away from the faction led by party stalwarts including K Kamaraj, president of the party and one of the most remarkable political personages to have come out of Madras, a Nadar who held his own against the late C Rajagopalachari, the Brahmin who had dominated the pre-Independence southern scene and was India's first Indian Governor General, successor to Lord Louis Mountbatten. CR had quit the Congress earlier to join like-minded people to form the Swatantra Party. On that day at Mavalankar Hall Lawns, Mrs Indira Gandhi announced the split of the grand old party, tears trickling down her cheeks and shouting aloud: "they have thrown me out of my party".
I don't remember if she invoked the names of Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, the father-son duo which had headed the Congress in the pre-Independence era, but she very much sounded like someone who had been ejected from her fief. Many were the pundits who that day at Mavalankar Hall gave not much of a chance to Indira although DK Barooah, the Assamese leader, stood out saying: Indira is India and India is Indira.
It didn't take Indira too long to not only establish her own political credentials. But in time she also in time, to quote the late Frank Moraes, the doyen of Indian editors for decades, came to be described as the only man in her cabinet.
The conclusion of this winter's parliamentary session, I don't know why or how, brought back to my mind those days of the mid-60s, when Indira after Nehru's death, had seemed so vulnerable. That arch foe of the Nehru family, the Socialist leader, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, even called her in the Lok Sabha the goongi gudiya (dumb doll) of Indian politics.
That Sonia is a gutsy woman I have known for some years now. But would she survive the combined opposition onslaught in Parliament, with some not so reliable allies in tow, by the time the Opposition had successfully stalled the winter session? Not one day's sitting held, apart from the usual stentorian cry from the Chief Marshal of the house: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Honourable Speaker". Personally I have not quite given up on the Congress yet. Not even in the face of the usual gaffes by the likes of Digvijay Singh, blessed, of course by the other Gandhi scion, Rahul. Nevertheless, a negative feeling had taken grip of my mind. Yes, it may not have been as bad as yet, but a pessimistic feeling was inescapable.
The last of the Moghuls, Bahadur Shah Zafar, had passed away unsung and unwept to die in exile in Burma over 150 years ago although the Moghuls did, courtesy the new British masters, continue to think of themselves as the rulers of the defunct Moghul empire for a few more years. The British were firmly in the saddle and the good old Queen Victoria had assumed the additional title of Empress of India. The hopes of an Indian revival triggered by the 1857 mutiny (war of independence) were all but a memory, remembered perhaps only by the sahukars of Chandni Chowk.
Funny that I should be thinking of these dark times. I tried to reason it out until I hit upon the name Hume. Allan Octavian Hume was a birdwatcher who, with the ascendancy of the empire, thought of helping the Baboos of Calcutta have something to call their own. Thus was the Indian National Congress born and it was the 125th anniversary of the event that Sonia Gandhi and her flock had decided to celebrate at Burari. Celebrations were perhaps in order when the Congress Party was passing through rough times.
Incidentally, Hume's Congress was not founded to oust his countrymen from India. It was more to provide a forum to the Bengali elite of the day to give them a sense of pride in their Indianness and probably, as someone at the time had noted, to let them (Indians) feel for fusion of all elements and strengthening of union with England. Many liberal Indians took advantage of the window offered by Hume and soon the nationalists were to take it over, that is until Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the scene and the Congress soon became a vehicle to earn India her Independence.
One hundred and twenty five years may not be too long a period in a nation's life (it's our 63rd year as a republic) but for an organization to have survived the trials and tribulations of fighting the war for Independence against an entrenched foreign power is indeed something that makes you wonder. The organization itself had seen much turbulence during pre- and post-Independence periods but had somehow not only survived but also led the country to its freedom. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah may have stolen part of its thunder but a great achievement, nevertheless, for the founding fathers of free India!
Nehru and Patel have been accused by many of having made Jinnah's task easier. Gandhiji, on the other hand, is credited with having opposed the move. Be that as it may, the fact is that the Congress Party now led by Sonia continues to nurture the basic tenets of the old party, basically (some say superficially) its commitment to the growth of a secular, democratic polity. To a large extent, the party appears to have succeeded in achieving the twin objectives, though many doubt its secular credentials. The 125th anniversary of the party does, to my way of thinking, earn it a pat or two. Don't exactly know what bird-watcher AO Hume would make of it, an aberration like the Emergency notwithstanding.
And, of course, the 125-year-old party would be digging its own grave if it continues to look the other way as all these scams and corrupt practices continue to flourish under its now shrinking umbrella.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi
The 125-year-old party would be digging its own grave if it continues to look the other way as all these scams and corrupt practices continue to flourish under its now shrinking umbrella, says ml kotru
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it is well-known, was published in Edinburgh. It was issued in parts, begun in 1768 and finished in 1771, and in complete form it consisted of three large volumes of 2,670 pages. The Glasgow Weekly Herald reproduces an extract from a letter written by the publishers to an individual who had undertaken "to write up fifteen capital sciences" for the work, for a fee of 200 pound. The erudite individual was a working printer, William Smellie by name, who had acquired a knowledge of Hebrew in order to enable him to correct the proofs of a Hebrew grammar that was passing through the press, and who was once called upon to conduct the botany class at the University when the professor was laid aside by an accident. In his eighteenth year he printed an edition of Terence for which he was awarded a medal by the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh. When he established a printing press of his own, Burns went to him with his second edition, and the poet and the printer became good friends. His most successful work from the financial point of view was his "Philosophy of National History," which established his reputation as a naturalist on the Continent and in America as well as in Britain. Elliot the publisher gave him 1,000 guineas for the copyright ~ probably the highest sum ever paid in Edinburgh up to that time for a single volume ~ and 50 guineas for every edition after the first. Smellie was also to have the contract for printing his own book. Adam Smith, David Hume, Lord Kames, and Lord Monboddo were among his intimate friends. Strahan the publisher invited him to come to London as manager of his printing business, but he preferred to spend his life in Edinburgh, where he was born in 1740 and where he died in 1795.
NO CHILD'S PLAY!
No matter whether you live inside or outside this great global village, the charades of gifted children are always a delight. The US is often seen as the land of underage geniuses ~ teenage pop idols, precocious film and TV stars, child prodigies in music and sport of whiz kids who now and again steal the limelight. You've heard it all ~ about Mozart and so many of his modern-day peers. You've even seen awesome feats by teenage Olympic swimmers and gymnasts. You've heard stories about fledgling Einsteins, spelling wizards, brilliant mathematical whiz kids, the seven-year-old boy who paints like Rembrandt, and the five-year-old girl who bounces five basketballs all at once! Therefore, another story about some young over-achiever doesn't come to you as a surprise. But, for some strange reason, this report about an innocent toddler going where only adults have gone before, lingered like a mile marker along memory lane.
Local police in Sand Lake, Michigan, USA, reported that a little boy ~ only four years old ~ drove his mother's car to a nearby video store when everyone was fast asleep, in the middle of the night! Even though he was unable to reach the accelerator (his tiny knees were probably half way across the seat, and toddler feet suspended in mid-air several inches, if not feet, above the brakes or accelerator), the boy managed to put the car in gear, and the idling engine provided enough power to take him slowly to the video store, a quarter of a mile from his home, at about 1:30 a.m. (Mind you, we're talking about a car with automatic transmission that starts to roll once the gear is put on drive.)
Finding the store closed at that late hour, the youngster began a slow trip back home. Zigzagging its way, and with its headlights off, the car caught the attention of police sergeant Osga, who initially thought he was following a driverless car that had slowly taken off after being left running at a gas station or some such place.
The car turned into the boy's apartment complex, banged into two parked cars, then backed up and struck the sergeant's police car. That's when the cop got out and finally discovered the little boy inside. "He knew how to go from forward to reverse", Osga said. Later when the dust had settled, the mother apparently told the befuddled policeman how she had taught the boy to drive by letting him sit on her lap and steer the car on occasion.
The police chief at Sand Lake confirmed that no charges were being filed either against the minor or his mother. "He's only four years old. His mom didn't even know he was up that late," the cop added to the local press.
Nobody is above the law, and definitely not, in the US. But here you have a little kid who staggers under the limbo stick of the law like he can actually glide under it like a pro. (Note: you have to be at least 16 to get a driver's licence in most American states.) For all intents and purposes, the little boy did what he wanted to do, without anyone's permission, and simply whizzed past an otherwise hawkish legal system and its nonplussed enforcers. The law, walking on stilts as it is accustomed to do, just had to look the other way.
Truth is stranger than fiction, I thought, when I first read the news report about this four-year-old. This is when you, the reader, might want to stop me and point in the direction of another 13-year-old boy, Jordan Romero, from California who had recently climbed Mt. Everest! Not just another hillock in the Western Ghats, but the formidable Mount Everest at 29,035 feet above sea level. Mind you, this can be and is a severely arduous climb in inconceivably frigid temperatures and frighteningly depleting oxygen supplies (when it becomes difficult to distinguish right from wrong, or even height from weight)!
Whether you care for it or not, such events are taking place in our fast-changing, technology-driven, effluent-surfeited, profit-minded world. (Some people even like to call it a global village, although a village is far from what all this is beginning to look like). Believe you me, it is becoming increasingly hard to separate the men from the boys. God knows how to make sense of it all, and where human longevity is finally headed? Because, as we live longer, it appears that babies in their cribs will be listening to lullabies on MP3 players or playing video games on Blackberries while mom and dad are away shopping. As technological advances come at us so fast and furious as they have of late, the bewildered modern mind is down on its knees clutching at the roots of the tree next to him and begging the inevitable question: Good Lord, what's next?
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Boston
Prices of onions have risen to a point where the impact risks causing the demise of this government. In the last 30 years of Indian politics, onion prices have often played a critical role in the fortunes of the main political parties. In 1980, Indira Gandhi's Congress used the jump in the price of onions to oust a Left-leaning government in New Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party is said to have lost the New Delhi state elections in 1998 for similar reasons. In various states from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu, sudden price increases have shaken incumbent governments to the core. In Delhi's case, the city consumes between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes a day; supply has dwindled to 800 tonnes a day now. The story in cities from Bangalore to Mumbai is similar to Delhi's. An essential commodity in household budgets, some politicians are now suggesting that its price be controlled by something like the Essential Commodities Act. That would be a bad idea; the solution lies in rectifying past policy gaps and, more important, seeing it for what it is: a symbol of food-price inflation driven by supply constraints that can no longer be ignored.
India is the second largest onion producer in the whole world, though the bulk of the production is consumed domestically. As incomes have risen across the country, they have changed food consumption patterns: fruits like grapes, once the preference of the middle classes that could afford them, are now consumed by more people from the lower middle class. That new and additional demand is shifting agricultural production from staples like onions to the more expensive and greater cash-generating crops like sugarcane and grapes. Imposing heavy export duties, as the government has just done, is no solution. It just postpones consideration of the problem, which is dramatically increasing investments in agriculture and building the infrastructure that will support a supply chain, including cold storage and food processing capability. Allowing foreign investment that would bring the expertise of global leaders like Wal-Mart and Carrefour might not be a bad idea either. It is part of the long-term reform plan of both major political parties. While the price increases have been partly reversed in the short term, the government should spend some serious political capital (meaning its talent) in addressing supply-driven food-price inflation before it all ends in tears.
No one would have worried if the Left Front kept digging its own grave ever deeper when faced with the possibility of defeat. But with the crooked destructiveness of a baffled monster, it seeks also to sabotage the future of youngsters when threatened. The West Bengal panchayat board of education bill, in spite of being referred to a standing committee after protests in July, is apparently unstoppable. It has been passed with the state government's usual aggressive élan. If it becomes a law, the state panchayat department will be running close to 20,000 rural schools with 18 lakh students in a system parallel to that of the state's Madhyamik board. The Centre had directed that rural schools under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan be looked after jointly by the state school boards and panchayats, to ensure that children studied till they were 14. So these shiksha kendras end at Class VIII. Other states have solved the problem of bottlenecks at the entrance of Class IX by building more schools. The Left Front government pleads an empty treasury as excuse not to build new schools. Instead, the proposed law will let the panchayatdepartment just add two classes to the kendras. The parallel system would ease the Madhyamik board of its heavy burden, runs another pious excuse.
But no excuse will do. To condemn one group of children in the state to an education system not overlooked by experts and not run by teachers recruited under the state education board rules is criminal irresponsibility. If rural children cannot make it to Madhyamik schools that is probably because the Left Front's bone-headed experimentation with English has left thousands of students, who are now teachers in villages, bereft of some essential teaching tools. Is West Bengal really the only state too poor to build new schools? Or are the children being condemned to inferior education because the Left Front needs the votes of 55,000 teachers whose jobs will be regularized and pay-scales revised under the new board? A new board with two new classes in every school, all under the auspices of the panchayat department, would mean jobs for friends of the Left, if not the return of some who have changed sides. It is terrifying to think what rural children will learn henceforth, and how ruthlessly they will be pushed out of the Indian mainstream. The Left Front has always used education as a vote-getting tool; this time the front may have struck it a death-blow.
CHRISTMAS IN THE LAND OF THE IMPERIAL COMPLAINERS
WESTMINSTER GLEANINGS -ANABEL LOYD
We have reached the end of another year and 'tis the season to be jolly in theory, at least. The talent shows have had their glittering finals and produced their crop of instant new stars, the vicissitudes of whose further lives will plaster the pages of the gossip magazines for the next year until a new batch takes their places, pushing all but the most talented back into obscurity. The finals of the cleverer quiz shows have winners who are retired doctors and teachers and whose names we fail to remember from week to week. The mantle of celebrity seldom falls on their shoulders. They have achieved their success mainly for their own satisfaction and are probably all the happier for that.
Our Christmases these days are all about short-term glitter with little of the deeper feeling attached to a celebration that was once the happy culmination of a year lived according to the natural order of seasons and the feast days and festivals of the faith upon which both spiritual and, to some extent, temporal life depended. I am agnostic and hardly sure of what is needed to gild shallow Christmas festivities with real gold but, detached as we are from the natural cycle of life, crops and seasons, we have removed ourselves even from the pagan celebrations calculated to cheer the darkest hour of the winter at the winter solstice, and the ritual has become largely one of shopping, eating and drinking too much.
Nevertheless, my Christmas tree is up in the hall, and I don't much go in for decking with boughs of holly like the old carol suggests. The holly dries up quickly in the central heating and looks far from festive. Out of doors, however, the trees are bowed down under a weight of snow thick enough even on fields and verges not to have turned to the usual grey slush of English snowfalls, and we may have a genuine white Christmas. I imagine that if my children were not now all adults, their excitement would have rubbed off on older members of the family and we would be rushing out on toboggans and wallowing in a sea of wrapping paper and ribbon. As it is, I am cursing the cooking and shopping that has to be done for them to finish work on Christmas Eve and struggle out of London through the snow for a couple of exhausted days before struggling back again. I think small children are a required presence if Scrooge-like tendencies are to be kept at bay and a sense of some magic around the season is to be retained.
The snow, as it happens, may look like a Christmas card, but is proving to be a damper to any festive spirit. It has brought the country almost to a standstill. Determined shoppers and those attempting an early break for holiday destinations have been stuck for hours, if not days, on frozen motorways strewn with jack-knifed lorries. Police and travel organizations are at their wits' ends, and nobody actually knows whether the country possesses a snow plough they have seldom been needed since 1963. In those days, people may have been better able to help themselves without expecting the authorities to sort out their problems and without moaning so much. I have a vague childhood recollection of going to the village in a pony and trap, and school never closed because it was cold.
Now schools have shut down early for the holidays, children have to be kept at proper temperatures these days. Airports are closed to flights but populated by miserable passengers living in terminals and hoping to leave the country before they have to come back again. My son is en route from Chile and, for the second time this year, likely to get stuck in Madrid. He fell foul of the Icelandic volcano ash cloud earlier in the year, and is debating the merits of travelling by sea in the future. So far, the Kenyan beans and Thai mangoes are still miraculously making their way to the supermarket shelves, but we may shortly have to fall back on good old English cabbages and the autumn apple stores. Nature seems set on forcing her presence back into our well- insulated, plastic-wrapped lives and getting her own back somehow.
Everyone knows that the state of the weather is a constant object of conversation among the British and, aside from the aforesaid television competitions, it currently consumes our front pages to the exclusion of student rioters, anyway swept off the streets by the cold and parliamentary recess; the economy, retailers likely to lose out on the usual Christmas throwing-all-caution-to-the-winds spree; even WikiLeaks as Julian Assange, temporarily out of custody, has gone to ground in a supporter's country house in snowy Suffolk and the leaking stories have become, for the time being, less headline-grabbing. The chill in the news has even overtaken our cricketers in Australia whose heart-warming performance so far in the Ashes series collapsed under a fast-bowling assault from the home team, resulting in the usual spate of post-mortem gloom that is habitual when our sportspeople fail.
We really are a miserable bunch in the UK sometimes most of the time, at the moment, as austerity bites along with the frost. A sporting triumph is one of the few things that raises the spirits of the nation pity we didn't do better in the World Cup, we could have done with that lift, and now our chances of carrying off the Ashes are looking bleaker. We still have high expectations in our small country, but they are so often doomed, leaving us to become the imperial complainers of the world. Now I suppose I have got it all off my chest; so, to end this year, what about a few good things?
They aren't immediately obvious from news and newspapers that, beyond the weather, tell of discontent and potential waves of strikes in protest against austerity measures affecting everyone from students to pensioners. But there are still areas where we can celebrate. For those, one needs to turn to the review pages of end-of-year papers, where our remarkable cultural life music, art, dance, literature and theatre somehow continues to triumph over long-term funding problems and will hopefully continue to do so even as they increase, thanks to wealthy individuals prepared to support such endeavours.
We are incredibly lucky, too, to retain the enrichment of years of interaction with other cultures through immigration and, it has to be said, less pleasingly, through conquest and pillage throughout our imperial history. For those wishing to escape the cold outside and the freezing economic winds, there is, occasionally laying guilty provenance aside, no greater pleasure than an afternoon in one of our great museums or galleries and an evening, no guilt attached here, at the theatre, the ballet or the opera. Many museums are free and they are usually warm; theatres are hardly cheap, but there are often special rates and less expensive seats available for those determined enough to find them, while constantly greater efforts are being made to reduce the exclusivity and cost of opera and ballet, and bring them to a wider audience.
Beyond that, as an Indian friend calling to see if we have frozen yet has just pointed out, we have a multitude of craftspeople in our small towns and villages, making and creating beautiful and collectable pieces. Oddly enough, fewer jobs and the economic downturn have encouraged people to look at their real skills and develop them, and this is certainly something to celebrate. Suddenly, I'm beginning to feel a little less gloom-ridden. As children, we always spent a week in London after Christmas going to theatres and exhibitions, times I remember to this day. So, my Christmas presents are going to be theatre tickets and exhibition vouchers: on my own list, the plays I want to see in the next month or two, plus books always books to give and to receive and everything parcelled whimsically into a locally-made basket from the town market. I shall revel, then, in anticipation of delicious plays and in reading page after page, forgetting the expected gloom of the darkening winter, the sporting fixtures and the destitute year ahead in an orgy of pleasure for the imagination.
Really, I feel quite cheerful. Happy New Year to one and all!
THERE'S A LOT IN A NAME
CHINA DIARY -NEHA SAHAY
An identity card is an imperative here, issued by the State, and to be carried at all times. This has been the rule since Mao. Yet, despite decades of strict implementation, a teenage student lost almost a year in jail for a crime committed by someone else of the same name. Though he was compensated to the tune of 23,000 yuan (Rs 1.5 lakhs), he hasn't yet recovered from the traumatic experience.
The 17 year old called Wang first came into contact with the police two years back, when he was just 15. He did commit a crime selling stolen goods on the request of a classmate who had dropped out of school. The classmate was arrested for a series of burglaries, but he told the police that he had stolen only a few pieces of jewellery, and had asked his young friend to sell them. Wang was picked up, but because of his age, he was let off after his father paid a fine.
However, the police didn't give up investigating the case, and soon his classmate was confessing to all his robberies. The latter told the police he had stolen a mobile phone along with Wang but forgot to tell them that this was a security guard named Wang. The police swooped down on the 15-year-old Wang while he was at an internet cafe. All his protests went unheeded. He was threatened, assaulted, his classmate's testimony was read out to him and he was forced to repeat it. This was then recorded as his 'confession'.
This went on for three days, but Wang continued to insist that he wasn't the one they wanted. In vain did he try to convince the police that his classmate had another friend called Wang. Finally, on the fourth day, the police told him that if he confessed, he could go home. He did and was immediately put on trial. Two months later, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
It was while serving his sentence that he met the dropout who'd committed the burglaries. As soon as the latter realized what had happened, he informed the police. After an internal report was prepared, the police allowed Wang to meet his parents. They sought legal relief, and a retrial was held. He was declared innocent and released, after having spent seven months in jail for a crime he didn't commit.
The story doesn't end there. It wasn't easy for Wang to go back to school. As part of his punishment, he had been made to publicly confess in three different schools, stand on stage and read out a statement that started with the words, 'I've been stealing since I was a child', and was also made to describe other crimes he had never committed. This was supposed to be a deterrent to other students. Poor Wang wept while reading it; the police looked on approvingly, thinking he was beset by remorse. It didn't seem to act as much of a deterrent Wang told a newspaper that the assembled students laughed as he read out his confession. "I really wanted to die then," he said.
Unlike in India, the story isn't entirely hopeless. The policemen responsible were punished, though not as much as they should have been. Two of them lost their bonuses, were suspended from duty and sent for internal training. The others were subjected to 'internal criticism'. Wang's parents are trying to appeal for more compensation. But will that help Wang recover?
What's interesting is that this story was published in the official China Dailyso as not to expose police brutality, but to advise students to give their children unique names. And at least one response was from a man who'd been denied a new electricity connection for not having paid his previous bills, and also congratulated for his ability by envious friends who'd heard he had married again. Both times, the culprit was a namesake.
ANOTHER GIFT FROM THE MAGI
Delighting children, reassuring lonely, dinnerless workaholics, and representing the stunning success of a brand, Maggi noodles completed 25, competing with street food and only slightly threatened on its throne
On that cold December night, the Magi had carried with them gold, myrrh and frankincense as gifts for the infant Jesus. Had Maggi been an invention of the Biblical times, I am sure that the three wise men would have tucked a packet of noodles inside their robes. A delicious meal, which can be prepared in two minutes, would have been an ideal commodity for a long journey.
I discovered Maggi's miraculous properties early in life. For some reason, my twin sister and I had been let loose in the kitchen in my mother's absence. Rummaging through mysterious tins and strange smelling jars, we discovered a bright yellow packet. We tore it open, and a lump of dried noodle cake dropped to the floor. Having been taught never to eat anything that has fallen on the floor, we proceeded to do exactly that with a sense of elation. After gathering the bits of noodle, we put them inside a pot and poured an enormous amount of water on it. Having no idea how to turn the gas on, we placed the pot on an electric heater and decided to wait and see what happened next. Soon, the world inside the pot turned magical: the water began to boil, bubbles emerged on the surface making gurgling sounds, and a noodle-like smell filled the room. In our excitement, we forgot to add salt. Neither did we notice the pouch of masala powder, which was supposed to be added to the broth. Our first dish of Maggi, which took us much more than two minutes to make, must have been as bland as prison food. Despite the years, our cooking abilities have remained unchanged. So has our love for Maggi.
But my fascination with Maggi cannot be explained solely on the basis of an enduring childhood memory. I find Maggi's soaring popularity on its silver jubilee intriguing sociologically too, for it represents our society's changing relationship with time. For instance, Maggi's success as a consumer product is premised on the easy demand it makes on time. The advertisements, which earlier featured two brats making a dash for the steaming bowls of noodles after crashing through the gate on return from school, told mothers that the meal can be prepared in a jiffy. Everyone is in a tearing hurry these days, including mothers who need to get to work, as well as children who must rush to coaching classes instead of to the playground. Very few families have the time to sit together and savour wholesome, cooked food. Solitary creatures like us have company in Maggi.
Maggi's success is also indicative of some piquant cultural traits. Maggi's founder, Julius Maggi, a pioneer in industrial food production, had started his company in the German town of Singen to improve the nutritional intake of factory workers. Perhaps inspired by his legacy, the present owners, Nestlé, introduced Maggi Atta instant noodles and soups in India, in 2005, to address health concerns. Indians, never ones to indulge in healthy eating, rejected the new product resoundingly.
Everyone has his own Maggi story. A friend of mine gets teary eyed every time he mentions how Maggi helped him survive Delhi's harsh winter and a demanding job. Another apocryphal tale I heard was about this young man, who couldn't cook to save his life, winning his starving beloved's heart by fixing a quick meal of noodles and soup. It is this personal bond tinged with memories of people and places that has helped Maggi vanquish all competition.
Baltic nations relish Maggi soup. The subcontinent gorges on Maggi noodles, while parts of Africa and South America cannot do without Maggi bouillon cubes. After a hard day at work, when I return home and find that there is nothing else save an egg and a packet of Maggi in the refrigerator, I seldom feel lonely or depressed. For I know that in some corner of the world, a distant place that I will never be able to visit, someone else too is being saved from spending a long, hungry night by a humble, much-loved, bright yellow packet.
PLEASURE AND BUSINESS
I have an amorous relationship with Maggi noodles for several reasons, one of them being that the brand is almost the same age as I am. It was launched in 1984, a year after my birth. A brand makes much more of its time than a human being, evidently. In the two-and-a-half decades since its inception, Maggi has made itself synonymous with the word 'noodles' in India. It has gained incredible popularity compared to other packaged foods, so much so that until recently it enjoyed a monopoly in the instant noodles market in this country. This is probably owing to the fact that Nestlé India Limited, Maggi's parent, foresaw the culinary desires of 'new-age' Indians with faultless clarity. When it comes to a busy schedule and hunger pangs, the "2-minute" catchword almost never fails to intrigue us.
Until the end of 2009, all was well with Maggi, as usual. But things seem to have gone a bit downhill since then. According to data collected by the market research firm, Nielsen, Maggi is losing market share since December 2009 on a monthly basis to new noodles brands such as Top Ramen, Knorr and Horlicks Foodles. The data shows that Maggi's share in the instant noodles space across the country's urban markets has fallen consistently between December 2009 and July 2010. Maggi held over 90 per cent of the market share in December 2009, while in July it was left with a little above 85 per cent. Just five per cent loss in market share may not seem important, unless placed in the context of the Rs 1,300-crore instant noodles market of India, and also the fact that Maggi has never had significant competition before. Analysts are of the opinion that with new competition, Maggi's market share is certain to be affected further. Manoj Menon, an analyst working with fast-moving consumer goods, wrote in a report earlier this year, "Maggi faces product substitution risk and brands like Knorr and Foodles could potentially impact its incremental growth."
However, Maggi still commands over 85 per cent of the market and faces no imminent danger of being 'de-shelved'. But growing competition in the Indian noodles market is an interesting phenomenon. There seem to be diverse speculations among analysts as to the reason behind this new trend. Some say this is because consumers prefer "healthy" snacks now; brands such as Knorr and Foodles have concentrated on this penchant when designing their advertisements, while Maggi has not done so sufficiently. But this logic alone might not suffice to explain the shifts in market trends that have somewhat swayed the decades-old noodles brand. A more pertinent logic, it seems, is that several noodles brands, launched by powerful multinational companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Hindustan Unilever, have started jostling for space alongside Maggi in the last few years. This sudden flurry of noodles brands is rather unprecedented in the Indian market. One wonders why. Why have companies felt the need to penetrate the noodles market all of a sudden after almost three decades of a single brand ruling the roost?
One could call it delayed wisdom, but looking at the cut-throat competition in consumer goods markets across India, it is hard to believe that no other company had the acumen to notice the noodles market before. It is possible that the popularity of Maggi appeared intimidating to prospective entrants. But what is still baffling is the question why Maggi has become less intimidating to its competitors in the recent past. Ankit Bansal, a consultant with a reputed market research firm, says, "These launches represent a smart move by manufacturers to capitalize on the fundamental shifts in socio-economic patterns of the Indian society, rather than a 'me-too' strategy. The manufacturers are trying to tap the potential this change has to offer."
The current growth rate of the Indian noodles market is about 17-20 per cent a year. This growth has something to do with the change Bansal refers to. It holds up a picture of Emerging India of the increasing number of urban Indian professionals leading nomadic lives, changing cities every now and then, living out of cardboard boxes and having only enough time to cook instant noodles. Looking for their noodles on the shelves of supermarkets, they face a wide range of choices now. But, going by the figures, most of them still seem to prefer Maggi, perhaps out of habit, or maybe out of nostalgia.
On a fine afternoon, on my way to office, I sat with utmost patience in a stationary autorickshaw whose driver simply refused to get started in spite of having got his quota of passengers. I found this strange, since working under the compulsion to make as many trips as possible in a day, Calcutta'sautowallas generally shuttle at breakneck speed to and from their destinations. Looking around, I discovered why the driver was suddenly behaving like a lotos-eater.
The lotos took the form of sweets of every kind nolen gurer sandesh, kancha golla, kheer kadamb which my co-passenger, a sweetmeat-seller armed with two huge tiffin-carriers stuffed with the choicest goodies, was serving to the auto-drivers. As the drivers popped the delicacies into their mouths, they forgot how to wrangle no mean feat given their pronounced talent for squabbling and an unexpected hush descended upon the auto stand. The spell ended as soon as the seller, a redoubtable lady in a white sari, demanded her due. The drivers dispersed after reluctantly parting with their money, some started quarrelling again, and mine jumped onto his vehicle to fly us to Rashbehari.
I learnt that day that one of the Bengali equivalents of two-minutes noodles ismishti. If in the mood for something nonta (salty), Bengalis opt for bhelpuri,jhalmuri, or any of the several preparations made with puffed rice. Indeed, we seem to have a particular attachment to muri. Jhumpa Lahiri acknowledges this fondness when she makes the homesick Ashima crave for it in The Namesake. For this Bengali housewife exiled in America, muri becomes one of the things that preserves the quintessence of the life she has left behind.
Ashima had to make do with rice crispies when she couldn't procure muri in Seventies' America. She would have been surprised if she knew that in Calcutta today, jhalmuri comes in packets, which have the rather dubious catchline, "Makhamakhi, phataphati (mixed and mashed, fabulous)," written on them. But one shouldn't be amazed, for packaged jhalmuri is perhaps a sign of Bengal catching up with America at last, by producing street food in factories and making pidgin out of its language, among other methods.
Yet there are still certain things that globalization cannot touch, phuchka being one of them. Thoughts turn heavenwards when teeth crunch on the fragile balls with mashed potatoes at their centre giggling belles forget all about self-consciousness for the moment, naughty schoolboys hatch plans to beat up their teachers, middle-aged men become oblivious to persistent stomach trouble.
Every night at Ballygunge Station Road, I watch office-goers gorge on every kind of street food from phuchka, telebhaja, kachuri to dhoklas andmomos before catching the train home. Almost invariably, there is a surreptitious look in their eyes, as if they must make the most of the last few minutes of freedom they have got to spend away from the two prison-houses called workplace and home staring belligerently from either side. When they leave for the platform, they look like Eve who has just had the forbidden fruit glorious, satiated and sad, in the knowledge of sin.
'IT IS ONLY THE GOVT TO BE BLAMED FOR THE SITUATION.'
Onion prices have shot out of the common man's reach and even the affluent would think twice about buying them at current prices. They have doubled and even trebled in many places over the last two weeks. A kilogram of onion at Rs 100 was unthinkable a few days ago but has become a tearful reality. The price rise is not localised but has been felt in all parts of the country, with places far from the main areas of cultivation feeling the pinch more than others. It might not be impossible for a peel of onion to cost as much as a roti if the price rise continued at the same pace as it did last week.
There is nobody but the government to blame for the situation. Crop losses resulting from unseasonal rains in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu is considered to be the reason for the price rise. The rains occurred in November and there have been reports in the last one month of a likely fall in production. There was enough time to take steps to avert the shortage in the market. Even when supplies were dwindling in the domestic market, onions were being exported, aggravating the crunch.
Exports have now been banned till January 15. If the ban had been imposed a few weeks ago, the present situation would not have arisen. Simultaneously, imports also should have been allowed. The import of small quantities from Pakistan, which is now taking place, cannot be of much help. Timely action was not forthcoming when it mattered.
Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has been found wanting in the past also in taking his ministerial responsibilities seriously. When sugar prices exploded last year, he was guilty of lack of preventive and corrective action, leading to charges of collusion with profiteering lobbies. The minister now can only promise that the prices would be back to normal in three weeks. The government speaks in two voices on the issue. While Pawar has denied any hoarding, commerce minister Anand Sharma has said that enough stocks are available and the shortage has been caused by speculative hoarding. Then why did the government not take any action against the hoarders? Food price inflation is still high and onion prices will make it higher.
Governments have tripped in the past on onions and the present government may also have to pay dearly for its inaction.
'THE ACT COMPLEMENTS THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.'
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's proposal to legally ensure the right to service for the people of the state is a welcome move. It is also a novel idea which has generated much interest. The JD(U) leader won a famous victory in the recent assembly elections on the strength of the development programmes he initiated in the state and the promise of extending it in the future. Development calls for commitment on the part of officials to translate government policies into action and to deliver basic services to the people. But this is often lacking and services, to which people are entitled, become concessions made by officials to them. They come with a price too. Everyone knows how difficult it is for a common man to get a public utility service like a power or a water connection, a khata certificate, a birth or a death certificate.
The Bihar government plans to enact a law which will ensure that officials have to deliver the services which the people are entitled to within a specified time period. It is actually an extension of the right to information and complements it. If the right to information enables a citizen to break the culture of secrecy in government and find out, for example, where a file on a matter concerning him is stuck, the right to service will help him have that file cleared in time by the officials handling it. An individual, a group or a village will be able to get a sanctioned work implemented or a promised service delivered in time. Failure can lead to penalty, as in the case of violation of the RTI Act. The right to information has given much power to the citizen but that power may sometimes turn out to be useless if he does not have the legal right to have public services delivered to him and to hold those who deny it to him accountable for their lapse.
Just as the freedom of information, which is the basis of the RTI Act, has its roots in the directive principles of the Constitution, the idea of the right to service can also be traced to it. The Central government and other states can consider enacting legislation on the lines proposed in Bihar. A legal and constitutional right to service can make as much impact on governance as the RTI did. Perhaps more.
A LITTLE LESS PRIVACY
BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
The right to privacy needs to be protected because that will check the state from becoming a totalitarian authority.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh has assured the corporate sector that phone tapping would not be misused against anyone. It is heartening that Ratan Tata has moved the supreme court with the prayer that the contents of the Radia tapes not be made public which have created convulsions in the corporate sector and the media besides the government. It is hoped that the court will articulate the legal position by striking a balance between right to privacy and right to information.
Though the supreme court has recognised right to privacy as a fundamental right under the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, it is not absolute. Most common law constitutions do not bequeath this right to their citizens. In the US, courts did not protect this right until toward the end of the 19th century as the common law did not recognise it.
This right was recognised when Charles Warren and Louis Brandeis published their seminal article 'The Right To Privacy' in the Harvard Law Review (1890). Roscoe Pound commented that it did nothing less than add a chapter to the law. Though hundreds of cases related to the right to privacy came to the courts, the first American court to deal with it was a New York appellate court in Roberson v Rochester Foldig Box Co (1902). Chief justice Parker ruled that the defendants had invaded what is called a 'right to privacy' in other words, the right to be let alone.
Again in the US, the celebrated thesis of justice Douglas in the Grisworld case (1965) touched off a fresh debate on the issue. It propounded that though the right to privacy is not mentioned as a specific guarantee in the Bill of Rights, it is embedded in the 'penumbras formed by emanations' from the specific guarantees. The supreme court of India also referred to this thesis in R vs Govinda (1975).
The term 'privacy' has been described as "the rightful claim of the individual to determine the extent to which he wishes to share of himself with others and his control over the time, place and circumstances to communicate with others. It means his right to withdraw or to participate as he sees fit." Definitely, one has a right to withdraw and nobody has any business to peep into his/her personal lives.
But there is nothing personal in the Radia tapes. It is about promoting the business interests of particular corporate houses and lobbying about getting a particular portfolio to a particular individual to get undue benefits. Thus, it concerns public interest as corporate sectors also mobilise money from the people, and, therefore, the contents must be made public.
Public interest supersedes everything else. The US supreme court upheld the right of 'The New York Times' and the 'Washington Post' to publish the classified Pentagon Papers which exposed the role of the American government in the Vietnam war. The Pentagon papers, officially titled 'United States-Vietnam Relations, 19451967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defence'.
A 1966 article in the 'Times' said that the Pentagon papers "demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance". In The New York Times Co vs United States (1971), a full bench of nine judges of the US supreme court with 6:3 majority rejected the plea of President Richard Nixon who claimed executive authority to force the 'Times' to suspend publication of classified information in its possession.
The question before the court was whether the constitutional freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment was subordinate to a claimed need of the executive branch of government to maintain the secrecy of information. The US supreme court ruled that the First Amendment did protect the right of the 'Times' to print the materials. Even before this judgment was pronounced, the American press published detailed reports about president Johnson's failing kidney. It was taken to be an invasion into privacy but then it was justified on the ground that the war depended on the president's health and so the people had a right to know.
Similarly, people have a right to know the contents of the Radia tapes. The right to privacy can be invoked only in case of something very personal. On Aug 24, 2007, the supreme court directed the ministry of information and broadcasting to stop TV channels from telecasting photographs of Monica Bedi taken surreptitiously in a bathroom in a Bhopal jail. This was, doubtless, an intrusion into Bedi's privacy. Indian tradition and customs have always respected this kind of privacy, and Indian courts were ahead of British and US courts in protecting this right.
The right to privacy cannot be a shield for covering one's misdeeds. Unfortunately, in India, the poor, who do not even have toilets, hardly enjoy any right to privacy, while the affluent remain confined within high walls. These are the privileged people who invoke the right to privacy.
However, this right needs to be protected so that the state does not become totalitarian and rejects the idea of privacy as 'immoral', 'anti-social', and 'part of the cult of individualism'. It was against this tyranny of the state that the West revolted and gave the seductive slogan of taking government out of the daily lives of the common man. It was to ward off this possibility that the supreme court directed in PUCL vs Union (2002) that the Central and state governments should constitute oversight committees to look into cases of phone tapping. Unfortunately, this direction has not been complied with.
The right to privacy should be protected, but it cannot supresede the people's right to know.
EDUCATION CENTRAL TO ELIMINATING NUKES
BY KATHLEEN SULLIVAN
Education is needed not only for young people but, sadly, for some adults as well.
Upon hearing the stories of atomic bomb survivors, a high school student in Manhattan remarked, "It made me realise how fast and instantly the world as we know it could turn literally into nothing but dust and ashes".
Today the proliferation of nuclear weapons continues in a climate of decreased concern. We no longer have the massive global disarmament movements of the 1960s and 1980s; instead nuclear issues are a kind of background noise. Nuclear news items appear almost daily and are reported in a fairly straight-forward manner. However, they also contain deeper meanings that evade the awareness of many, particularly young people who are growing up with scant knowledge of the distinctive risks of the nuclear age.
To achieve a nuclear weapon-free world we need an educated citizenry that fully appreciates the radioactive violence and Damoclean danger constituted by nuclear bombs. As acknowledged in the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education, UN member states need to regard the education of future leaders and citizens with urgency and dedication. Educators should seek creative means to engage young people in nuclear issues, and this requires a thoughtful approach not only education about disarmament but education for disarmament.
Forms of violence
Former secretary-general Kofi Annan defined this as an absolute necessity: "There has never been a greater need for education in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation, especially with regard to weapons of mass destruction, but also in the field of small arms and international terrorism. Since the end of the Cold War, changing concepts of security and threat have demanded new thinking. Such new thinking will arise from those who are educated and trained today".
Still, few students understand the basic facts and are often surprised to learn that approximately 23,000 nuclear weapons are owned by nine nations and remain a threat to all life on earth. Many people are unaware that nuclear weapons are unique and are not at all like conventional bombs. We are rarely reminded that the primary effects of a nuclear explosion include a blast, heat, fire, and radiation, producing destruction on an unimaginable scale.
The immense light and heat of a nuclear explosion is three times greater than at the interior of our sun and can initiate firestorms, which deplete oxygen from the environment and create hurricane-force winds that in turn attract debris and feed the storm, causing super-infernos. According to Lynne Eden of Stanford University, a 300 kilotonne bomb, the average size of most strategic nuclear weapons would create firestorms over a 40-65 mile radius where "virtually no one would survive".
Educators also need to encourage awareness of another, much-misunderstood effect of nuclear weaponry. Once released, radioactive elements can hang around for millennia, putting future generations at risk of developing cancer and genetic mutations. Long after a nuclear weapon is detonated, radiation does its deadly work in secret. Plutonium, one of the main radioactive ingredients of nuclear weapons, has a half-life of 24,000 years.
In Japanese, atomic bomb survivors are called hibakusha. Listening to their stories can help provide young people with a confident understanding of nuclear issues. In hearing their first hand testimony, students can begin to understand the exceptional dangers of nuclear weapons and radiation and thus grasp the daily realities of our nuclear age.
This urgent education and understanding is needed not only for young people but, sadly, for some adults as well, many in positions of political power, who believe that nuclear weapons are a fact of life and we will just have to learn how to live with the threat.
Even though there has been some talk of the importance of disarmament and there are international laws and agreements to usher in the end of the nuclear weapon era, there is still a yawning gap between rhetoric and reality. Which countries have nuclear disarmament agencies? Which nations are prepared to plan for the dismantling of their arsenals? What monies and personnel are allocated for this most noble of tasks?
And given the choice, do we really want to live in a world where we have the power to switch off the lights on all complex life forms?
Not great social calculus is needed to understand that the farther we get from the realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the closer we are to the use of nuclear weapons again, by accident or by design. In recent major media, we have heard a re-mix of the duck and cover mentality that sheltering in place can save lives. The only way to avoid the dangers of a nuclear attack is to educate ourselves about the true meaning of nuclear weapons, and get rid of them.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
GOD WAS WITH ME WITH PASSPORT
BY KAVITHA K
No passports meant no immigration check and no boarding the flight back home.
It isn't every day that a stern-faced, six-foot, six-pack flaunting private eye of the Malaysian police force blushes beet red after being kissed by an adoring nine-year-old. And therein hangs a tale.
We, a group of happy holidayers, hungover from the sun, sand and surf of gorgeous Langkawi, waited at Kuala Lumpur's LCC terminal to board our flight back home. Luggage checked in, boarding passes in hand, we looked forward to duty-free shopping when someone spotted a McDonald's sign. And we trooped in to feast on pure vegetarian hash browns in a land of halal meats and Hunan-style noodles. The bustling self-service counters had snaking queues and super noisy folks.
Food bought and billed, we settled down, rucksacks and all deposited at our feet. Suddenly, there was a small commotion. A well-dressed, burly chap had spilled sauce on me and was apologising profusely for his thoughtless act. Apologies were accepted, smiles exchanged and peace restored when the husband noticed something amiss. His rucksack had been expertly switched!
While the burly man had been distracting us with his ketchup drama, his accomplice had neatly switched bags, replacing the real thing with an identical backpack stuffed to the gills with torn paper, pencil stubs and old tees.
Panic reigned. Our passports and boarding passes had been in the rucksack along with our nine-year-old's Lego set and shells collected from Langkawi's beaches. The contents of the backpack would disappoint the thugs and they were sure to dump it, passports and all, into the nearest gutter. But what about us? No passports meant no immigration check and no boarding the flight back home. For a whole minute, we were paralysed with shock. Then everyone ran in different directions, trying to find the sauce-spilling goon. Of course, he had vanished into thin air.
As we made our way despondently to the airport police station to lodge a complaint, we saw a six-foot tall man yelling "India family? India passports?" Between yelling aloud for attention, he was rattling the bones of a young, clean-shaven chap. Turned out the second Mr Burly was a detective in plain clothes. He had seen a foreign-looking fellow with a backpack bearing a very Indian name embossed on it, and his suspicion had been aroused. After a chase, the scamp was caught and the bag opened to reveal passports of an Indian family.
We had just 20 minutes to board our flight. We told the officer that. Realising the gravity of our situation, he waived all formalities, rushed with us to the check-in counter, all the while dragging the scamp part of a gang of Peruvian thugs that operates in crowded airport terminals who was singing like the proverbial canary by then.
To my wide-eyed nine-year-old this was even better than a Jackie Chan movie. Reunited with his Lego set and sea shells, which he feared he had lost forever, he was quite overcome and he reached up to plant a firm and grateful peck on Private Eye's rough cheek. Private Eye waved us off gruffly, but to us he wasn't just a super efficient cop in a strange land; he was super hero.
THE JERUSALEM POST
SELF-SERVING ELECTION THREATS
As Israel faces acute challenges, it has precious little to gain from a plunge into premature general elections.
For perhaps the first time since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government was sworn in on the night of March 31, 2009, there was a genuine atmosphere of pre-election euphoria in the Knesset last week.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai threatened that his party would no longer respect coalition discipline if legislation was advanced that would grant IDF conversions independence from the Chief Rabbinate by bestowing authority on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final signatory on military conversions.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman called a press conference to issue his own threats about what would happen should the bill not pass its final readings within the next month. And Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman continued to advance his proposal to remove the Labor Party from the coalition unless there was substantial progress soon in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
None of the threats currently poses a serious threat to the stability of Netanyahu's coalition. But they are helping create an assumption that the next election, which is currently set for October 22, 2013, will take place a lot sooner than that.
IN TRUTH, both Lieberman and Yishai have said recently that they want the government to serve out its term. Each has personal reasons for that aspiration that have nothing to do with the good of the country.
Lieberman could be facing an imminent indictment on corruption charges, which has reportedly been delayed by the prosecutors' strike. He has said that he would quit his cabinet post and the chairmanship of Israel Beiteinu if indicted.
As long as his party remains in the coalition, Lieberman is a force to be reckoned with. But the moment a new election is called in which he is not allowed to run, his career could be over and his party could quickly disintegrate.
Meanwhile, Yishai is facing a serious threat to his leadership in Shas from both his No. 2 in the party, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, and former Shas leader Arye Deri. Yishai needs this government to last as long as possible so he can rehabilitate his image, which has been damaged by fights over conversions, the plight of foreign workers' children, the Carmel Forest fire, the length of daylight saving time, and preventing the expansion of Barzilai Hospital due to the presence of ancient graves on the site.
Braverman's threat should also not be taken too seriously, because it comes at a time when the diplomatic process is being reassessed. The Obama administration has abandoned the failed strategy centered on a settlement freeze and is trying to demarcate the gaps between the two sides via indirect contacts.
Moreover, Braverman is demanding two things that even the Americans are not: another moratorium and that any progress in the talks be revealed to the public and not be kept secret. and one thing that Netanyahu wants anyway: that the talks be direct.
Braverman doubtless truly wants the diplomatic process to move forward, but those demands do not hold the key.
Indeed, he surely has every interest in supporting the efforts of his party chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to come up with creative ideas to get the process moving again.
Braverman's proposal is expected to be brought to a vote at the Labor Party's convention next month. At the same convention, there will also be a vote on Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog's proposal to advance the Labor leadership race from October 2012 to June 2011.
Labor, of course, is free to decide to reexamine its leadership any time it so chooses. But the Braverman, Lieberman and Yishai threats have potentially wider repercussions, and a more responsible approach would see a deeper assessment of Israel's overall interests before such threats were issued.
AS ISRAEL faces acute security challenges, diplomatic difficulties, a crisis in education, poverty woes and other major difficulties, it has precious little to gain from a plunge into premature general elections. What it needs what the electorate essentially voted for in early 2009 is a stable unity government, able to formulate and follow positions that reflect and embrace the Israeli consensus.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz also had it right when he said such a unity government should make a priority of reforming the unworkable electoral system.
It was Israel's loss that Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not agree on terms for such a unity partnership almost two years ago. But that does not justify the largely self-interested, impatient threats from some quarters to plunge the country into new elections now.
THE JERUSALEM POST
CANDIDLY SPEAKING: YEHUDA AVNER'S BEST-SELLER
BY ISI LEIBLER
When reading this book and comparing the events of that era with our current challenges, one feels an element of both déjà vu and reassurance about our contemporary situation.
The Prime Ministers, Yehuda Avner's riveting chronicle of the country's diplomacy through the eyes of an aide and adviser to successive leaders, has now become an international bestseller.
Based on the copious notes and records Avner retained from the countless meetings he attended, observing firsthand the momentous events of that period, the book provides an unprecedented and fascinating insight into the thinking of the inner circles of the leaders of the day as they grappled with the burning issues confronting them. It enables a reader to become a fly on the wall, witnessing the most stirring discussions and negotiations related to the crucial decisions made during tumultuous times. The authenticity of the conversations and the prevailing atmosphere conveyed were endorsed by leading Israeli and foreign diplomats who had been participants.
Although it is a massive tome comprising more than 700 pages, Avner's eloquent style and wry wit to which Jerusalem Post readers have become acquainted through his columns, makes it eminently readable for laymen no less than scholars, who I predict will all read it from cover to cover.
It is not my intention to review the content as this has already been more than adequately covered in a memorable Jerusalem Post review combined with an interview by David Horovitz nine months ago. It also received global accolades from reviewers from all sides of the political spectrum, who describe it as one of the best nonfiction works of the year.
However I will take the opportunity of expressing some personal remarks about the author, who I feel honored to consider one of my close friends, together with observations concerning the lessons to be learned from this fascinating work of living history.
MY FIRST encounter with Avner occurred about half a century ago, when I corresponded with him from Melbourne, Australia, to seek his advice as one of the trailblazers of religious Zionism in the UK from which he had made aliya. During my subsequent frequent visits to Israel, our relationship grew, climaxing when he served as ambassador to Australia. I was then head of the Jewish community and have fond reminiscences of how he and his wife Mimi would often fly from Canberra, the rustic capital, and spend Shabbat at our home in the more cosmopolitan city and thriving Jewish community of Melbourne.
Prior to serving in Australia, following the attempted assassination of ambassador Shlomo Argov, prime minister Menachem Begin appointed Avner to the Court of St. James. In England, he earned the respect and admiration of his community of origin. Many Australian Jews also refer nostalgically and with pride to Avner's distinguished representation. His record as a diplomat and statesman epitomizes the outstanding quality of Israeli diplomats of that era, the majority of whom were regarded among the most talented envoys in the world. Alas, there is a dearth of diplomats of such caliber in today's Foreign Ministry.
What distinguished Avner from many of our current government officials was his absolute determination not to engage in partisan politics. He soon established a reputation as a role model for the consummate civil servant. Reading through his memoirs, one admires his modesty and resolve not to permit his ego or personal interests to override his civic responsibilities.
This paved the way for the unprecedented invitations he received from four successive prime ministers to retain his position. Traditionally as soon as a new government is elected, the first people to officially pack their bags are personal advisers.
Yet as soon as they assumed the reins of government, disparate leaders with opposing political outlooks like Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin invited Avner to retain his advisory role despite his association with their defeated political foes, and were willing to share their most intimate thoughts with him.
Indeed, shortly before his assassination, Rabin fondly recalled his admiration for Avner throughout their long association and told me that he had invited him to resume a role as one of his advisers. Alas, this was not to be.
Reading his depiction of the behavior of the country's leaders at that time, one is impressed with the fact that it was not only Avner the civil servant who prioritized the welfare of the Jewish state above all other issues. Most leaders in those days were motivated by selflessness and a passionate dedication to the welfare of the nation.
Irrespective of whether history would ultimately prove their policies to have been flawed or justified, the principal political leaders were always motivated by the purest intentions. This applied in particular to the two prime ministers Avner most admires Begin and Rabin.
Alas, in stark contrast, many of their successors became so deeply engrossed in their personal agendas, seeking shortterm political advantage and becoming unduly mesmerized by public opinion polls, that they were not always solely motivated by the national interest.
I also feel impelled to say that when one reads this book and compares the events of that era with the challenges currently confronting us, one feels an element of both déjà vu and reassurance about our contemporary situation. Avner demonstrates that during those times we were confronted with far greater challenges than today and certainly did not have the power to defend ourselves that we possess today.
Our ability to successfully overcome our adversaries when we were much weaker should strengthen our confidence that we will overcome the current threats confronting us.
ADMITTEDLY, THE Obama administration probably represents the most problematic and least friendly US government we have ever encountered. Yet Avner's memoirs remind us that we should not understate the incredibly ugly confrontations that both Begin and Rabin had with more friendly American presidents and statesmen including Ronald Reagan and Henry Kissinger, not to mention Jimmy Carter or George H.W.
It would also be a salutary exercise for members of Obama's administration and State Department officials engaged in the Middle East peace process to read this book.
It may open their eyes to the fact that they are simply recycling the same flawed policies of former administrations which led to disastrous outcomes.
I would urge those who have not read Avner's book to do so.
In addition to being an engrossing and gripping read, it provides unique insights to those of us who lived through that era.
For the younger generation, particularly those subjected to the constant demonization and delegitimization of Israel, it will raise their morale and provide a greater understanding of the challenges facing it and the Jewish people.
THE JERUSALEM POST
FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: ISRAEL'S BEST FRIEND(S)
For Israel supporters, the 2012 US presidential elections cannot possibly come too soon.
The 2012 US presidential election may seem like a long way off, but unlike professional sports, there is never an off-season in American politics. So it should hardly come as a surprise that even though not a single Republican has yet declared his/her intention to take on Barack Obama, various media outlets have already begun to put together a debate schedule for the next two years.
Last Friday, CNN announced it was teaming up with the Tea Party Express to hold a debate for Republican primary candidates in September 2011. And Fox News proclaimed its intention to convene two Republican debates, with the first to be held in August.
That's right there may not be any official candidates just yet, but why should such details get in the way of all the fun?
To the outside observer, all this brewing political activity might appear premature. After all, wasn't the midterm congressional election just last month? Is it really necessary to begin planning for the next round of balloting? The answer, in short, is yes.
Given the highly competitive, moneyintensive, grueling nationwide campaign that the candidates inevitably face, it is only natural that the process itself has become increasingly protracted and drawn out. As a result, within the next few months, the slate of potential candidates will rapidly begin to take shape.
For pro-Israel activists and supporters, the 2012 vote cannot possibly come too soon. Two years of Obama's stumbling and bumbling approach to the Middle East, and his heavy-handed treatment of the Jewish state, have disabused many American Jews of any illusions they may have had about his administration. With baited breath, they await the arrival of someone anyone! who will replace the inept incompetent-in-chief in the White House.
WITH THAT in mind, it is essential that American Jews begin to examine the prospective field of Republican candidates now, and take the measure of those who might very well inherit the mantle of the presidency. They need to be prepared to get behind a candidate early and stick with him, if only to ensure that the current administration remains a one-term, passing phenomenon.
Naturally, a lot of names are being tossed around, from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. For the most part, they all have strong pro-Israel credentials, and many have consistently said the right things that will appeal to the Jewish vote.
But I believe there is one potential candidate who stands out above all the rest, both as an advocate for Israel and a friend of the Jewish people, and that is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and 2008 presidential contender.
I have never met the man, nor do I have any vested interest in saying this, but his record of support for the Jewish state is simply remarkable and, quite frankly, it speaks for itself. In August of last year, when the Obama administration was busy twisting Israel'sarm to stop Jews from "settling" in Jerusalem, Huckabee spoke out forcefully on the issue.
"My question," he told reporters while on a visit to Israel's capital, "is how would the government of the United States feel if Prime Minister Netanyahu began to dictate which people could live in the Bronx, which ones could live in Manhattan, and which could live in Queens. I'm not sure where we would get the authority to demand of the Israelis what they should do in their own country."
How many other American politicians speak so eloquently and earnestly in our defense?
On another occasion, Huckabee criticized Obama for his "policies that put more pressure on Israelis building bedrooms in settlements than Iran building bombs."
He also backed Israel's handling of the Gaza flotilla incident, and has even cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution, telling Time magazine last year that it is "inconceivable" that "two sovereign governments would control the very same piece of real estate."
As the host of a popular Fox News program, Huckabee regularly heaps praise on the Jewish state, providing a refreshing alternative to the steady stream of criticism that runs through much of the mainstream press.
But he is far more than just a friend from afar. Huckabee has been here more than a dozen times, which is more than can be said for most American Jews.
And he doesn't just visit he brings others here too, leading groups on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Six months ago, he brought 160 Evangelical Christians together with singer Pat Boone, and on his website he is already promoting another trip planned for early next year.
Recent stories in the press have suggested that Huckabee is currently weighing his options as he considers the possibility of launching another campaign.
After looking at his record and sizing him up from a distance, all I can say is: Run, Huck, run! Some American Jews shy away from the idea of supporting a former Baptist preacher whose pro-Israel beliefs are informed by his faith and attachment to the Bible. They feel threatened by Evangelical Christians and suspicious of their motives. But it is time to get over that psychological hurdle once and for all and recognize a true friend who stands with us through thick and thin.
And when it comes to Mike Huckabee, they just don't get any better than this.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON WATCH: WILL ISRAEL BECOME A WEDGE ISSUE?
With rare exceptions, the country was not an issue in this year's congressional elections, but federal spending was, and everything will be on chopping block in 'tea-infused' 112th Congress.
Israel can expect a whole lot of lovin' from the incoming GOP-led House of Representatives, but will it get the big bucks it wants and expects as well?
The budget hawks elected in November take office in less than two weeks with a mandate to slash federal spending, and aid to Israel may not escape their claws, warned a top GOP lawmaker.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), who will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, indicated that Israel's $3 billion annual aid package may no longer be immune to across-the-board cuts in foreign aid. If the GOP leadership calls for all-embracing cuts, she told The Jerusalem Post's Hilary Leila Krieger, "then that's the way it is." She told The Hill, the Capitol Hill newspaper, that foreign aid is on the chopping block, and "no country should be overlooked."
With rare exceptions, Israel was not an issue in this year's congressional elections, but federal spending was, and everything will be on the chopping block in what my friend Jim Besser calls the "tea-infused" 112th Congress.
Israel's $3 billion the biggest earmark in the foreign aid bill could be an inviting target for budget slashers.
Ros-Lehtinen has indicated support for incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor's proposal to separate aid to Israel from the rest of the foreign aid bill, possibly moving it to the defense budget, which would remove it from her committee's jurisdiction. This maneuver would create unwelcome problems by sparking widespread resentment, particularly among the Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians. Don't be surprised if the first to oppose the plan very privately will be the Israeli government, because the move would only complicate its already uneasy relations with its neighbors. The whole idea deserves a quick death.
Palestinians said they were offended by the House's unanimous passage last week of a nonbinding resolution warning them against unilaterally declaring statehood as some top Palestinian Authority officials have threatened but the message was aimed at the Republican leadership as well as the PA, according to some Hill insiders.
They report that the Democrats wanted to put the House on record backing the two-state approach before the GOP takeover next month. Although Ros-Lehtinen was a primary sponsor of the resolution, Democrats feared that if it was brought up after she takes the chairmanship, the measure might omit that language in favor of what one committee source called "gratuitous Palestinian bashing."
She does not share outgoing chairman Howard Berman's enthusiasm for the peace process or support for the Obama administration's Mideast policies. Berman has praised the efforts of PA leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, while Ros-Lehtinen has said they're moderates only in comparison to Hamas and should not be trusted. In fact, she's said, "it's time for us to kick the PLO out of the US once and for all."
She has accused the administration of pressuring Israel to make concessions while "appeasing" it enemies, adding that "Palestinian leaders [should]... recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state before any discussions of a Palestinian state."
Cantor has suggested linking $500 million in US aid to the PA to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Iran will be Ros-Lehtinen's "No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3" priority no doubt after fighting to continue the Cuba boycott as HFAC chair and she's said she wants to use oversight hearings to press the administration to get tougher with Teheran. She shares her friend Binyamin Netanyahu's view that Iran is a more urgent threat and should be dealt with before the Palestinian issue.
DEMOCRATS FEAR Republicans will try to use Israel as a wedge issue as then-majority leader Tom DeLay did in the 1990s by pressing legislation and other initiatives taking hard-line positions on controversial topics like settlements, PLO diplomatic status and aid to the Palestinians to portray the White House and Democrats who don't go along as anti-Israel.
Wedges like these are two-fers. They not only threaten political embarrassment for opponents but also can toss a wrench into administration diplomacy.
One example was legislation to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a measure intended to embarrass president Bill Clinton and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who were pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians. Clinton, like George W.
Bush after him, repeatedly exercised his waiver authority to delay the move; Ros- Lehtinen has introduced legislation to remove that presidential prerogative. If she succeeds, it could only do more damage to a peace process she disdains.
One congressional veteran sees friends of Israel on the Hill divided into two camps the Yesha caucus, which essentially advances the interests of the settler movement, and the Meretz caucus battling over who loves Israel more.
Making the case that Israel needs $3 billionplus is getting harder given its surging economy and America's sinking one. On the other side of the equation, the new aid cutters may be surprised when they learn that most of that money is spent for weapons systems that help create jobs in congressional districts around the US.
Ultimately, support for Israel on Capitol Hill is not measured by the highly charged language of toothless resolutions, letters and speeches, but in the tough votes for foreign aid and measures to advance peace between Israel and its neighbors. Those are the votes worth counting; all the rest is commentary.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE CONVERSION BILL ANOMALIES
In a modern democracy, should there really be a law on what constitutes a legally acceptable religious conversion?
The first concerns the fact that in a modern democracy, it is felt that there is a need for a law on what constitutes a legally acceptable religious conversion. Why this came about is simpler to explain than to suggest how one gets out of the entanglement.
When the founding fathers of this country declared that it was to be a "Jewish state" almost everyone had in mind a state to which all Jews could immigrate freely and receive automatic citizenship, not a halachic one. However, very quickly this led to the question of "who is a Jew," which was settled in the Law of Return by defining a Jew as someone with at least one Jewish grandparent or who has converted to Judaism. (Halacha, of course, defines a Jew as one born to a Jewish mother or who has converted.)
But then another problem emerged: "Who has the right to perform conversions," to which the semi-formal answer given was an Orthodox Rabbi certainly not a satisfactory answer in the eyes of Conservative and Reform Jews, but there was little they could do to change, due to their numerical weakness in the country.
Now even the statement that conversions can be performed by Orthodox rabbis has been questioned. The conversions performed by the IDF rabbinate are performed by Orthodox Rabbis, but their validity is being questioned by the haredi establishment, which claims they are too lenient, and therefore invalid.
If anyone thinks that the problem will finally be resolved once the new bill is passed, disappointment will surely follow. The bill seeks to give IDF conversions independence from the Chief Rabbinate by bestowing power on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final signatory on military conversions. This is a religious issue, which should be dealt with on the purely religious level. There needs to be a separation between religion and state, not in terms of the religious and national identity of the majority of the state's citizens, but in terms of religious practices.
THE SECOND anomaly is the fact that a political party, a member of the coalition, feels that the only way it can realize its platform is through a private member's bill.
All governments since 1948 have been coalition governments. As a consequence of the proportional electoral system, there has never been a single party with a majority in the Knesset. While coalition governments have nearly always suffered from inherent incoherence, at least in the past the parties forming the coalitions were strong enough to determine the main outline of the government's policy.
This is no longer so. There are few subjects regarding which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his party call the shots, or even agree among themselves on the policy.
Add to this the fact that there is no single coalition agreement to which all the members of the coalition are bound, but rather separate agreements between the leading party and each of the coalition members agreements that do not necessarily tally with each other and you end up with the current situation.
In this case, Israel Beiteinu is determined to realize not only part of its platform, which constitutes part of its coalition agreement with Netanyahu, but what it wishes to do contradicts the prime minister's agreements with two of his other partners Shas and United Torah Judaism. This has left Israel Beiteinu with only two options: let down its voters, or try to bypass the government by means of a private member's bill.
There are numerous parliamentary democracies with coalition governments. However, there is no other parliamentary democracy in which the coalition governments are so incoherent, or in which members of the coalition must resort to private member's legislation.
What is urgently needed is a change in the political culture. But only a change in the system of government to a presidential system, and/or a change in the electoral system to one that is constituency based, partially or in whole, is likely to change the rules of the game. Unfortunately, past experiences teach us that this is unlikely.
As to the bill itself, the likelihood that it will actually go through all the enactment stages in the Knesset is slim. While around half the legislation enacted originates from private member's bills rather than government bills (again, a unique phenomenon among parliamentary democracies), the percentage that go beyond preliminary reading is extremely small. Even if a miracle occurs and the bill becomes law, the subject of conversions to Judaism in the Jewish state will still remain largely unresolved.
The writer, a former Jerusalem Post columnist, was a Knesset employee for the past 16 years.
THE JERUSALEM POST
AN ISRAELI APOLOGY MAY JUST DEEPEN THE RIFT WITH TURKEY
If Netanyahu insists on going through with this, he should wait until after the June 2011 elections, when the AKP will have little to gain from an apology.
Nearly seven months after the military operation on the high seas to block a Turkish vessel from reaching the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may now issue an apology. His advisers support him. So does the White House. But if he follows through, Netanyahu will likely exacerbate a deepening diplomatic crisis with Turkey.
When IDF commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara on May 31, weapons-wielding passengers attacked them as soon as they boarded. The clashes resulted in nine deaths all Turks. The Turkish government soon demanded an apology. The Israelis insisted that the boat was full of violent Islamists who sought nothing more than an opportunity to do battle. The Israelis, in retrospect, were vindicated. The videos proved their case. Moreover, the flotilla turned out to be sponsored by a group with ties to Hamas and al-Qaida.
Today, however, multiple Middle East media reports indicate that the Israelis could soon apologize to Turkey for the incident. They might even pay reparations to the families of those killed to the tune of $100,000.
So, who exactly supports this? According to a senior Israeli diplomat, Netanyahu and his advisers do, despite some well-placed quotes to the contrary. The prime minister has been floating this story in the media as a trial balloon to assess how the Turkish and Israeli people will respond.
After witnessing an outpouring of sympathy from the Turkish people during this month's Carmel fire (during which, to the surprise of many, Turkey sent two fire-fighting planes), Netanyahu and his inner circle believe that while the Turkish government now champions Hamas, the people of Turkey stand with Israel. He reportedly thinks an apology might win the hearts of Turks and simultaneously get Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) to somehow ease their anti-Israel rhetoric.
BUT THIS is not Netanyahu's brainchild. During meetings last week in Geneva between Turkish and Israeli officials that were designed to ease tensions, it was the Turks that demanded an apology and reparations.
The carrot Turkey is dangling is a return to normalization by the summer 2011 elections. And the White House thinks this is a good idea, to boot.
Netanyahu is now close to taking the bait.
If he does apologize, it could lead to a deepening crisis in Israel-Turkey relations. Indeed, an apology would likely ensure an AKP victory in those elections. Moderate Turks will mistakenly believe that Ankara is finally mending fences with Israel, a key regional ally. Islamist Turks will mistakenly believe that Erdogan brought the Israelis to their knees, reinforcing the façade that Turkey could become a dominant regional power under the banner of Islamism. If the AKP remains atop Turkey's government, rapprochement is an impossibility. Erdogan's cozy ties to Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia keep getting cozier. And there's no room for Israel in that equation.
The AKP has steadily and methodically pried Turkey from its decades-old alliance since first coming to power in 2002. While the early years could be described as a "drift" away from Israel, the foreign policy in recent years has been openly hostile. From a public spat in January 2009 in Davos during which Erdogan insulted President Shimon Pereson the world stage, to a recent Rambo-style movie that depicts a Turkish team of special forces that mows down Israelis involved in the flotilla raid, the message is clear. There is little the Israelis can do to tempt Turkey's Islamist leaders out of the Iranian orbit.
Netanyahu's gambit is a weak one, at best. But if he insists on it, his best bet is to wait until after the June 2011 elections, a point when the AKP will have little to gain from an apology. In a best-case scenario, the AKP could be politically weakened.
But if he acts before the election, Netanyahu could aid the Islamist party and if this happens, he will have only himself to blame.
The writer, a former intelligence analyst at the US Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
THE JERUSALEM POST
APPRECIATION: HEDA MARGOLIUS-KOVALY
BY TOM GROSS
The 'shy little bird' who survived Hitler and Stalin.
Anglo-Australian writer Clive James, reviewing the memoir of Heda Margolius- Kovaly several years ago, wrote: "Given 30 seconds to recommend a single book that might start a serious student on the hard road to understanding the political tragedies of the 20th century, I would choose this one."
I met Heda, who was born Heda Bloch into a prosperous Czech-Jewish family and who died this month in Prague at 91, several times over the years. And despite all she had suffered, she remained a vivacious and incredibly resilient woman, charming, thoughtful and with a sense of fun.
After surviving Auschwitz and a death march to Bergen-Belsen, Heda arrived back in Czechoslovakia in 1945 at the home of a friend who had promised to be "an anchor" for the Jews deported from her circle. He greeted her with the words: "For God's sake, what brings you here?" She then ventured into the countryside to visit her family's former home (her parents were gassed upon arrival in Auschwitz), where the Czech farmer who had been allocated her confiscated property slammed the door on her with the words: "So you've come back? Oh no. That's all we've needed."
Heda's first husband, Rudolf Margolius, was a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. Disgusted by fascism he joined the Communist Party and rose to become deputy minister of foreign trade. He was then murdered as part of the notorious anti- Semitic Slansky show trial which the Czechoslovak Communist Party staged in 1952 at Stalin's instigation to hang the leading Jewish communists.
There is a Middle East connection to her story in the sense that her husband was accused of being a "Zionist agent" and of "aiding and abetting capitalist Jews trying to undermine Czechoslovak socialism."
Of course, this was all completely without foundation.
Having been prevented from seeing her husband for 11 months after his arrest, and after he and the other Jews gave false confessions extracted by torture, Heda later learned that he had been hanged and his body cremated and given to security officials for disposal. In a final indignity, a few miles out of Prague, the officials' limousine began to skid on the icy road and Rudolf Margolius's ashes were thrown under the wheels to create traction.
HEDA'S PERSECUTION by the communist authorities continued for years after her husband was killed on the grounds that she was "the widow of the Zionist capitalist Jew."
She and her four-year-old son, Ivan, were hounded by the secret police and shunned by former friends. She moved into an unheated shack in the mountains, where she struggled to support herself and her young child.
"Three forces carved the landscape of my life," she wrote in the opening lines of her memoir. "Two of them crushed half the world. The third was very small and weak and, actually, invisible. It was a shy little bird hidden in my rib cage an inch or two above my stomach... The first force was Adolf Hitler; the second, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin. The little bird, the third force, kept me alive to tell the story."
Alfred Kazin, reviewing her memoir in The New York Times, wrote: "This is an extraordinary memoir, so heartbreaking that I have reread it for months, unable to rise to the business of 'reviewing' less a book than a life repeatedly outraged by the worst totalitarians in Europe. Yet it is written with so much quiet respect for the minutiae of justice and truth that one does not know where and how to specify Heda Kovaly's splendidness as a human being."
She eventually managed to flee Czechoslovakia in 1968, making her way to America where she was granted asylum and worked as a librarian at Harvard Law School. She returned to live in Prague after the fall of communism.
Her memoir was first published in 1973 as The Victors and the Vanquished, and later reissued in the US under the title Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941- 1968, and in Britain under the title Prague Farewell.
Peter Brod, one of the Czech intellectuals who knew Heda well, adds that she was also a truly outstanding translator into Czech of English literature, particularly of Raymond Chandler, William Golding, Muriel Spark, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.
Her son Ivan, who lives in London, tells me (through a mutual friend) that "she absolutely didn't want any funeral or ceremony of any kind" (though there may be a memorial meeting in London at a later date).
The writer was formerly Prague correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph. www.tomgrossmedia.com
READING THE BAT YAM TEA LEAVES
THE DEMONSTRATION IN BAT YAM SHOWED THAT SOMETHING FUNDAMENTAL IN ISRAEL'S DEMOCRACY ISN'T WORKING.
BY ALON IDAN
Bat Yam borders Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The name Tel Aviv-Jaffa is connected by a hyphen, as though it were one city. But a hyphen comes between space, and Tel Aviv and Jaffa are not one city; in every way, they are two cities. The differences between them can be seen in a short journey down Jaffa Road, the main thoroughfare in Jaffa.
A ride down Jaffa Road is a ride into a separate reality. Cars race about without any attention paid to the posted signs, put up at a time when somebody still cared; pedestrians traverse narrow streets; vendors and stalls are stationed on the sidewalks; forbidden transactions are made in back alleys.
A short trip on Jaffa Road evokes the feeling that you are no longer in the state of Israel. Welcome to No Man's Land. Bat Yam does not border Tel Aviv. It borders Jaffa. Only Jaffa. Jaffa Road is the continuation of Bat Yam. Jaffa is Bat Yam's old girlfriend; Jaffa is Bat Yam's old enemy; and, more than anything, Jaffa is the roadblock that separates Bat Yam and Tel Aviv.
It is the reason why Bat Yam seems like it's in the periphery, even though it is really close to Israel's center. It is the periphery of the center. Relations between Jaffa and Bat Yam have over the years occasionally been able to forecast the country's near future.
On May 24, 1992, Helena Rapp, 15, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on Bat Yam's promenade. This murder was one of the stabbing attacks Israel endured at the start of the 1990s. The response to the killing was angry anti-Arab demonstrations staged by Bat Yam residents.
I remember that a few meters from my home, enraged residents searched for Arab workers, and when they found one they beat him to a pulp. A gang seized a car belonging to Arab laborers and rocked it back and forth, finally tipping it over. At night, tires were burned, and people chanted "death to Arabs;" thousands of residents headed toward Jaffa, before being stopped by security forces. A sense of war hovered in the air.
Those demonstrations expressed deep revulsion about Yitzhak Shamir's government. People were so disgusted with the Likud that when Shimon Peres visited Bat Yam, he was welcomed warmly. A month after the murder, elections were held for the 13th Knesset. The results were that 15 years of Likud governance drew to a close, and the Labor party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, took power.
Bat Yam is a venue where Israel's transformations occur before the rest of the state digests what is happening. Hence, the demonstration staged on Monday in Bat Yam against the entry of Arabs into the city and against relations between Arab men and Jewish women should be taken seriously.
It was an important event in that it demonstrated that hatred and racism - or fear and defensiveness, if you prefer - have spread throughout the country. The demonstration showed that withdrawing from those who aren't like us is the leading motif of this era. And it showed that something fundamental in Israel's democracy isn't working.
A TASK FOR THE PRESIDENT
As head of state, President Peres must express that which unites and consolidates us and loudly and clearly take a stand against hatred, racism and violence between ethnic groups and communities.
The fire of hatred and racism is ablaze in Israel. Signs of loathing toward Arab citizens and African migrants are cropping up every day; examples include the municipal rabbis' letter that called for a ban on renting or selling homes to non-Jews, the protest rally for "Jewish Bat Yam" and the call to deport foreigners from neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. Hatred leads to violence. A gang of teens was arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion of attacks on Arabs for nationalist reasons.
The people who preach hatred, first and foremost the municipal rabbis and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union ), are openly leading the racist wave, and the political establishment is backing them by its actions and silence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and the right-wing Knesset continue to advance laws and initiatives designed to discriminate against Arab citizens and lock up thousands of immigrants in a giant facility in the Negev. The message out of Jerusalem in the delicate language of legislation is translated into wild incitement in the offices of the rabbis.
The prime minister warned yesterday about incitement toward minorities and foreign workers that could lead to violence. But Netanyahu doesn't visit the Arab neighborhoods and cities or conduct a dialogue with leaders of the Arab community. He prefers his coalition partnership with Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Shas' Eli Yishai, who preach the ostracism of Arab citizens and the persecution of migrants.
Under such circumstances, the president must intervene. Shimon Peres has unique standing as the representative of the Israeli state, thanks to his public position and extensive experience. As head of state, he must express that which unites and consolidates us and loudly and clearly take a stand against hatred, racism and violence between ethnic groups and communities. Peres should be free of the political and coalition constraints that tie the prime minister's hands.
Peres must visit the seam lines and friction zones and show the Arab inhabitants that they are equal citizens and Israel values them. He must meet with the victims of the gang violence in Jerusalem and show that victims of nationalistically motivated crimes should receive equal treatment regardless of their origin. Peres must show compassion for the migrants. That is his task in these dark days.
HERZL AND THE MUNICIPAL RABBIS
THE NATURE OF THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT IN ISRAEL IS AN EXCELLENT JUSTIFICATION FOR ITS SEPARATION FROM STATE INSTITUTIONS.
BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON
If somebody would have told Theodor Herzl that in the Jewish state dozens of rabbis would put their signature to a letter that forbids Jews to rent or sell apartments to gentiles, he would certainly have been outraged, but it is doubtful whether he would have been surprised. In his book "Altneuland," he describes an election campaign during which the Orthodox head of a nationalist party demands that non-Jews be denied the right to vote. The party is then routed at the ballot box.
Herzl would certainly have been happy to hear that in Israel a party that adopted the platform espoused by Rabbi Geyer would have been barred from participating in the elections. But he almost certainly would have raised an eyebrow upon hearing of the existence of "municipal rabbi," a title borne by many of the letter's signatories. "When did rabbis suddenly receive official positions?" he would have asked bitterly. "After all, I explicitly wrote, after emphasizing my respect for religion and tradition, that we must prevent any effort by religious functionaries to take control of the state. The rabbis should be kept in the synagogues, just as the army should be kept in the barracks."
It seems that Herzl's position on this matter was far more extreme than what is acceptable today in many liberal countries. In Great Britain, the government still appoints bishops to the Anglican Church. Some of these bishops represent the church in the House of Lords, and Parliament is called upon to grant women the right to serve in this position. In Denmark and Norway, the king appoints the leadership of the Lutheran Church, to which the monarch is constitutionally obligated to swear fealty.
Even the adoption of religious symbols by modern democracies is quite common. The cross appears on the flags of a number of European countries, while the constitutions of Ireland and Greece begin with the words "In the name of the most holy Trinity." But there is no other democracy in which the religious establishment maintains a monopoly over marriage laws such as it does in Israel (this was the case in Greece until the 1980s ), nor is there any other democratic country in which a scandalous, embarrassing document like the rabbis' letter would have been made possible were it not for the strong links to the official religious establishment.
In contrast to what many believe, there are no universal norms that require the separation of religious and state institutions, though there is an excellent justification for such a separation in Israel: the nature of the religious establishment in this country. While the entire establishment may not support the letter, it is clear that there are many who do.
A separation of religion from state in this country is not a politically realistic option. But the link between religious establishments and state institutions is not just a privilege; it also comes at a price. Whoever is sanctioned with authority by the state also subjugates himself to the apparatus which scrutinizes the actions of those in government. This is an apparatus that enjoys significant power, as evidenced by the fact that it has removed key officeholders from their positions.
The letter's signatories are obviously banking on the fact that dozens of rabbis will not be indicted for the statements expressed in the letter, irrespective of their gravity. But there must be an urgent demand for their removal from their jobs.
Unfortunately, there are a number of areas in which the state either refrains from, or has difficulty in, enforcing its laws. Yet whenever an individual who holds an official position exploits the authority accorded to him by his job status in contravention of the law and harms a fellow citizen, the state is not permitted to allow that person to remain in his post and continue to act in such a manner. Allowing that individual to continue in his job under these circumstances is a clear infringement on the rights of citizens who have been harmed by those actions. Public condemnations will leave no lasting impression on municipal rabbis, but petitioning the High Court of Justice against them continuing in their posts just might.
POLLARD IN EXCHANGE FOR A SETTLEMENT FREEZE
WHEN IT COMES TO WINNING THE FREEDOM OF SOMEONE WHO SPIED FOR ISRAEL, THE MEDIA DO NOT CONDUCT ORCHESTRATED CAMPAIGNS LIKE THEY DID FOR THE MAN WHO BETRAYED IT.
BY ISRAEL HAREL
American spies who gave their country's deepest secrets to a hostile superpower, or whose exposure of American agents led to their execution, have been released after not too many years in jail. Only Jonathan Pollard, who spied for a country that harbors no evil intentions toward his own, and who gave it information on enemies who, in many cases, were enemies of the United States as well, has been languishing in jail for 25 years already.
One reason for this, perhaps the primary one, is that both the Israeli public and the Israeli government are ambivalent toward him. We wanted him to be freed, but we didn't invest enough effort in it. He's a foreigner, he's weird, he's a spy. And then there's the main reason for disliking him: Not only did he commit espionage for Israel, but to add insult to injury, he committed espionage against our second homeland. It's not just the American intelligence community that views this as treason; more than a few Israelis do, too.
"There have been very few like him in the history of modern espionage," wrote Yossi Melman and Eitan Haber in their book "The Spies." "His success was one of the intelligence services' greatest achievements ... There was no one like him."
Are they talking about Pollard? Of course not. He was no more than a small-time spy, very minor league. They were talking about Marcus Klingberg, the traitor who gave the Soviets Israel's deepest secrets.
Klingberg betrayed his people and his country. And nevertheless, a vocal and effective Israeli lobby, comprised of public figures and media personalities, sprung up to urge his release. The lobby's media consultants advised it to play on our feelings of compassion ("He's 78, seriously ill and about to die," attorney Avigdor Feldman told Haaretz 15 years ago ).
The pressure worked: Klingberg was freed 11 years ago. He is now 93, living in Paris and receiving the pension of a lieutenant colonel. Ilana Dayan devoted two episodes of her "Uvda" ("Fact" ) program to him - flattering portrayals that turned him from a traitor into a hero. Klingberg undoubtedly scorns us for our leniency toward him, the product of a deep-rooted lack of self-confidence and self-respect.
The degree to which Israeli prime ministers pressed U.S. presidents for Pollard's release was directly proportional to the amount of pressure they were under from Israeli public opinion. But when it comes to winning the freedom of someone who spied for Israel, the media do not conduct orchestrated campaigns like they did for the man who betrayed it. The public figures who signed petitions for the release of the man who betrayed their country, and who thereby endangered them and their families, are not signing similar petitions demanding the release of the man who spied for their country.
So who is working on Pollard's behalf? First, his wife Esther, who married him while he was in prison. She cries out to heaven and earth, but no one hears her. And with her, a handful of single-minded activists - none of whom belong to that class of famous people who signed petitions for Klingberg. The bulk of the "media" campaign for Pollard is conducted in leaflets about the weekly Torah portion that are distributed in synagogues. It is mainly among this community, and in its sectorial media outlets, that the bulk of the effort to free the spy who worked on behalf of us all is taking place.
It's reminiscent of the campaigns on behalf of Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union. Then, too, the key activists came from this community. And when Natan Sharansky and Ida Nudel were finally released, the vast majority of the thousands of people who flocked to Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome them looked like those who today are working on Pollard's behalf. Though of course, all the country's leaders were there on the dais to take the credit.
One can assume that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only decided to make an official appeal to the U.S. president after the main points of the deal for Pollard's release had already been worked out. What casts a shadow over this move, however, is Netanyahu's proposal that it be linked (according to yesterday's Hebrew Haaretz ) with a freeze on construction in the settlements. Pollard's release, Netanyahu told the Americans, would silence criticism of another freeze.
But he is wrong. The general public is largely apathetic about Pollard's fate. And that other public, the one that has been aching over his prolonged incarceration, will have nothing but contempt for Netanyahu if he indeed links these two issues.
WHO SAID RACISM?
PRINTING MORE SANCTIMONIOUS ARTICLES WON'T CHANGE THE FACTS: RACISM HAS REARED ITS HEAD, WITH THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF OUR POLITICAL LEADERS, AND MOST OF US ARE INDIFFERENT.
BY GIDEON LEVY
All this happens, and Israelis think we're talking about rain. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai describes the xenophobia of his city's residents as "understandable and just," and the political savior to be, anchorman Yair Lapid, writes that if the Sudanese were Norwegians, nobody would be talking about racism.
The obsequious populism of Lapid, the conscientious patron of his city's indigent residents, cannot cover up the disgrace: If the dark-skinned people were blue-eyed blonds, there would be no problem here. The proof? Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russians, blue-eyed blonds, and nobody protested, nobody muttered a word of complaint. Ask the Ethiopians, ask Israeli Arabs, including Bedouin and Druze who serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and then decide whether we're talking about pure, unadulterated racism, and not anything else.
People on the streets are ranting words of racism, and the pundits are sweeping this stinking trash under the rug. Our leaders are standing still, condoning what is happening by keeping silent or paying mere lip service. The public, as usual, is apathetic, and the fires rage, threatening to burn down the whole house and everybody inside.
Did you look at the demonstrators' smiling faces in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood on Tuesday, or listen to the words uttered when a Jewish Ethiopian stood up to speak, and to the calls to burn down the house of foreigners? Do you really think this isn't racism? Listen to the talk about our "pure" society, about guarding the "character" of certain communities, and about the spread of diseases or threats to young women and ask yourself: Isn't this xenophobia and racism?
It sounds like it, it looks like it, it acts like it. It is it. Printing more sanctimonious articles won't change the facts: Racism has reared its head, with the encouragement of our political leaders, and most of us are indifferent. Few people ask themselves: Is this really a society we want to live in?
Suddenly, residents of Bat Yam and the Hatikva quarter are frightened and seek security. A city and a neighborhood formerly known for crime, and to some extent still known for it, deflect their fears and woes onto the foreigner, even though foreigners are less responsible for distress in these areas than the residents themselves. That's how it was in Europe in the 1930s, and that's how it is with us now. Such malicious demonstrations could be staged today in Europe only by neo-Nazi and similar groups; with us, a mayor praises them. In Europe there would be forceful counterdemonstrations. If the hatred were directed at Jews, leaders in Europe would mobilize strong counterdemonstrations. With us, there is virtually no response.
This is what happens when the political "center" is hollow and imaginary. Lapid and Huldai, Gideon Sa'ar and Tzipi Livni, and, as a matter of fact, most Israelis, are masters of the lie, denial and repression. The damage they do is no less serious than that wrought by the hatemongers; they are accomplices to a crime. There are societies worse than ours, but there is no society more self-satisfied, proud, condescending and blind to its ailments.
As usual, the problem is not the extremists. They exist everywhere. The problem is a political center rife with apathy and self-satisfaction. It lives with its lies and amusements, and isn't worried about anything but getting its next thrill. The blacks can sweep the streets (and make themselves scarce when their work is done ), and the mendacious pundits can ease our conscience. Both of them clean the trash we leave behind.
We will build mass detention camps and call them "holding areas." We will banish refugees and say this is "consensual." We will continue to be racists and live amicably with that; after all, Lapid and Huldai said it's all right. And if anyone dares say anything about humanism, human rights and compassion, he will be viewed as a bleeding heart in the best case and a traitor in the worst. Just ask Lapid, the rising star in our political heavens.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SENATE SURMOUNTS POLITICS
¶Wednesday was not a good day for Senator Mitch McConnell's single-minded project to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Over the minority leader's objections, 13 Republicans joined every Democratic senator to ratify the New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia, reducing the size of the countries' nuclear stockpiles and making the world a safer place. The 71-to-26 vote was the capstone to what now shapes up to be a remarkably successful legislative agenda for President Obama's first two years.
¶Earlier in the day, the president signed a bill allowing the repeal of the military's ban on open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers a bill passed with the assistance of 23 Congressional Republicans, again over the objections of Mr. McConnell.
¶And the Senate unanimously approved a bill to pay for the medical care of workers who cleaned up ground zero after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, coming to its senses after Mr. McConnell and other Republicans blocked the bill 13 days earlier, causing a national uproar.
¶(Unfortunately, the bill was scaled back substantially by the demands of a few holdout senators who thought it was too generous, though it added nothing to the deficit. The bill was later approved by the House.)
¶These deeply gratifying developments hardly spell the end of partisanship, which is likely to return with a vengeance in the next Congress. But they do suggest that many Republicans are willing to reject Mr. McConnell's particularly noxious version, under which any bill, no matter how beneficial for the country, can be blown up if it could be seen as a victory for President Obama. On Tuesday, to pick one shabby example, he made a thoroughly underhanded attempt to sabotage the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" when he thought no one was looking.
¶In a more rational world, of course, the ratification of New Start could have been done by unanimous consent. Though the treaty is vital, it makes relatively modest reductions in the nuclear stockpile and continues the inspection regime employed by Democratic and Republican presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. If the same document had been signed by a Republican president, it would have been approved months ago.
¶In the obstructionist climate of the 111th Congress, the ratification could be done only in the last hours. Mr. McConnell and his allies, notably Jon Kyl of Arizona, put up a series of specious arguments to delay it, mostly centering around a fiction: that the treaty would prevent the United States from erecting a missile defense system. Their efforts backfired, making Mr. Obama's victory ring more loudly that it should have.
¶Thirteen Republicans wouldn't buy that nonsense, and others saw the wisdom in letting all Americans serve their country honestly and openly. Those defeats and others infuriated the party's dead-enders. "Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," complained Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who voted against both measures, referring to the majority leader.
¶There were disappointments in the lame-duck session, and Mr. Obama said at a news conference that the biggest was probably the Republicans' killing of the Dream Act, which would have given the children of illegal immigrants a chance at being legal if they serve in the military or attend college. The failure of the Senate to pass a spending bill for the current fiscal year means that the budget fights in the next term will be deeper and longer, and potentially more destructive to the economy.
¶Mr. McConnell won those fights. But to be repudiated on the treaty and on "don't ask" by so many members of his own caucus clearly stung, and turned him into a very sore loser. On Tuesday, Mr. McConnell tried to sneak an amendment into the defense authorization bill that would require the approval of each military service chief before "don't ask, don't tell" could be repealed. Given the continuing reservations of the Marine Corps, that could have stalled progress indefinitely. But Joseph Lieberman objected to the amendment, and it was defused.
¶Next term, there will be many more Republicans in Congress spoiling for a fight, and the White House will have to be far more pugnacious and adept to preserve its priorities and avoid trickery and extortion. But this week's examples of Democrats and Republicans coming together for a common purpose will not soon be forgotten. As the president said on Wednesday, if that continues, "we are not doomed to endless gridlock."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix announced on Tuesday that it will continue to provide life-saving abortion care to patients even though it means losing its affiliation with the local Roman Catholic Diocese.
This commendable decision by St. Joseph's and the hospital network that oversees it, Catholic Healthcare West, upholds important legal and moral principles. It also underscores the need to ensure that religiously affiliated hospitals comply with their legal duty to provide emergency reproductive care.
The decision follows a standoff between the hospital and the leader of the Phoenix diocese, Bishop Thomas Olmsted. In November 2009, a 27-year-old mother of four in her third month of pregnancy arrived at St. Joseph's. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a serious complication that might well have killed her if she had continued the pregnancy.
The hospital performed an abortion, leading Bishop Olmsted to declare Sister Margaret McBride, a member of the hospital's ethics committee, "automatically excommunicated" because she had consented to the therapeutic abortion necessary to save the woman's life.
Just last month, Bishop Olmsted threatened to remove his endorsement of the hospital unless he received a written acknowledgement that the abortion violated Catholic policy and "will never occur again at St. Joseph's Hospital." The hospital refused to bow to these demands, summing up its position with elegant simplicity: "Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save."
It is hardly reassuring that following the incident at St. Joseph's, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Sister Margaret was properly punished and seconded Bishop Olmsted's stance against providing the abortion, even to save a woman's life. No one has suggested that Catholic hospitals should be required to perform nonemergency abortions. But as St. Joseph's recognized, the need to accommodate religious doctrine does not give health providers serving the general public license to jeopardize women's lives.
This is no small matter. Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation's hospital beds and are the only hospital facilities in many communities. Months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to investigate reported instances where religious doctrine prevailed over the need for emergency reproductive care, and to issue a formal clarification that denying such treatment violates federal law.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SURVIVAL OF ETHICS OVERSIGHT
The House's incoming Republican majority has wisely concluded the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics better not be dismantled. When they were the minority, Republicans fiercely opposed the creation of the office by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an oversight tool to bolster the notoriously feeble job done by the members' own ethics committee.
But with some prodding by Tea Party leaders, the office will survive into the new Congress under rules promulgated by Representative John Boehner, the incoming speaker who has vowed to outdo Ms. Pelosi on ethics.
The decision is a tacit tribute to the impressive work the office of nonpartisan professionals has accomplished in the face of lawmakers' wariness and scorn. Whatever their politics and gripes, lawmakers cannot afford the heat of shutting down the office.
In just two years, scores of preliminary reviews of complaints have been conducted discreetly by office investigators, with more than a dozen deemed worthy of referral to the ethics committee for further review. This amounts to a revolution compared with the snail's trail of murkiness the ethics panel left for decades.
Much more remains to be done if the House is to be taken seriously in its roundelay of vows to repair ethical credibility. For this job, it is important that the oversight office continue to be properly financed and staffed and not be undermined via rules or budgetary schemes.
Mr. Boehner has some dramatic gestures planned for when he takes the gavel having the Constitution read aloud on the House floor for one. But the history of House ethics points beyond, or below, the nation's resounding ideals to the workaday reality of a Congress driven by big-money campaign contributions and temptations toward quid pro quo sellouts.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The theatrical extravaganza called "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" currently in previews at the Foxwoods Theater on 42nd Street has already set one Broadway record. At $65 million, it is the most expensive production ever. It is also likely to have the longest run of previews, eclipsing what is believed to be the record, 71, held by "Nick & Nora," which was a flop.
"Spider-Man" might also set a record for injuries in a theatrical production. The most recent one happened Monday night when Christopher Tierney doubling for the star, Reeve Carney fell from an elevated platform into a pit in front of the stage. This is the production's fourth injury so far. The show's opening has been pushed back to Feb. 7.
There is a lot of thrust behind this production the music is by U2's Bono and the Edge and there is clearly an appetite for it. The previews have been nearly full.
Even so, transforming a comic-book superhero most of us know from the movies, which are loaded with computer-generated special effects, into a live-action Broadway performance presents obvious hazards. Julie Taymor, the show's director, has done wonders on Broadway, but this may represent the point at which legitimate theater lumbers into terrain that belongs to the circus.
Everyone is concerned for the safety of the performers, and we certainly hope Mr. Tierney makes a swift recovery. But as long as the musical is still evolving, perhaps it might evolve in an inherently safer direction.
"My Dinner With Spider-Man" perhaps? "Hello, Spider-Man!" "Waiting for Spider-Man?"
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MUSEUMS SHOULD DIG IN
BY BERNARD FRISCHER
THIS year saw the end of the five-year-long trial here of Marion True, a former antiquities curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The case against her for the purchase of art allegedly looted from Italy petered out inconclusively when the Italian statute of limitations expired.
The Getty is hardly the only American institution to be accused of buying art of dubious origin. In recent years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Princeton University Art Museum have all returned contested works of art to the Italian authorities.
Even when museums have the best of intentions, some of the works they buy have passed through the hands of underground suppliers. It's hard for museums to avoid the black market partly because there is so little legitimate excavation going on that can yield new finds. Illicit trade in antiquities, therefore, drives prices up and encourages looters to raid unprotected sites.
Sadly, when an object is taken from its original site without documentation, context is lost. And in archaeology, context is everything: it tells us an object's age, its likely place of manufacture and its everyday use. This lack of information makes it harder for collectors to determine if an object is fake, while even authentic works, in the absence of the context of their discovery, become mute witnesses to our irresponsible acquisitiveness.
But there is one thing museums could do that would put looters and smugglers out of business while uncovering more of the world's cultural treasures at far lower cost: excavate archaeological sites themselves.
Today this might seem a strange idea, but it's exactly what museums like the Louvre and the British Museum did in the 19th century. They simply sent out expeditions to excavate archaeological sites in the Mediterranean and Near East, bringing back whatever they wished for their collections.
Of course, back then there was no distinction between possession and ownership, and many countries lost significant pieces of their heritage as a result. Eventually, museums could no longer act this way. In Italy, for example, a law passed in 1909 subjected all archaeological finds to government regulation, while later laws made new finds the property of the state.
So today's museums can't, and shouldn't, go back to the 19th-century model. But they could create partnerships with the states where we know these promising archaeological sites exist to sponsor excavations and to help provide proper scientific oversight when artifacts are unearthed.
I first enunciated this argument nearly 25 years ago, in a conversation with the very same Marion True. When I heard the news about her case, I couldn't help remembering that day.
At the time, I was chairman of the classics department at the University of California, Los Angeles, which had been invited by the Italian government to reopen the excavation of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The site hadn't been explored since the mid-18th century, when a partial excavation yielded many important works of art and more than 1,800 papyrus texts, and there was undoubtedly more to be found. The only problem was that the estimated budget was $20 million, far beyond what my department could afford.
Right away I thought of the Getty. It had the money and, I hoped, the interest: after all, one of the first museums J. Paul Getty built, called the Getty Villa, is a copy of that same Herculanean villa. So I met with Ms. True, then a junior curator, to suggest that the Getty sponsor the dig. She quickly rejected my idea it would violate museum policy, she said, to have anything to do with an excavation. If anything were stolen from the site, the museum would be the natural target of the authorities' suspicions. Some years later, the Italian government moved forward with another partial excavation of the villa.
In all the years since, to my knowledge, no American museums have tried that kind of partnership. But it made sense then, and it still makes sense now. Excavation is the lifeblood of archaeology. Without it, museums can only recycle exhibitions of well-known masterpieces. And despite two centuries of digging, much more remains to be discovered than has yet been found.
If only ownership could be separated from possession, then museums might strike a deal with countries like Greece and Italy. Here's how it would work: The countries of origin would own anything that was excavated there and keep most of the finds on display in local partnering museums. But the museum that sponsored the dig would be allowed to borrow a percentage of the finds and exhibit them in America. Eventually, all the finds from a site would be exchanged on a rotating basis between the country of origin and the museum, which would pay the expenses and insurance.
Even individual collectors could invest and participate in the exchanges, if they were trained to care for the finds on temporary loan to them. Someday, investors or their heirs could sell these shares at auctions and galleries, just like works of art. In this way, all the stakeholders in today's antiquities market could be part of the new deal.
Where should museums and investors begin? Well, there's the tomb of Antiochus of Commagene at Mount Nemrut in southeast Turkey. The location of the giant burial mound is well known, but no one has had the money to find the king's tomb within it. A deal with the Turkish government to finally excavate the chamber could yield invaluable information on the interactions of Persian, Greek and Roman cultures in the second and first centuries B.C. Then there's the Temple of the Divine Augustus in Rome. Here, too, the site's likely location (under a street next to the Forum) is known, and ancient sources suggest that the monument was spectacular in design and décor.
Farther afield one could add Pataliputra in India, reputed to be the most populous city in the world in the third century B.C.; or the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor, who died in 210 B.C. Qin erected thousands of realistic terra-cotta statues of soldiers around his tomb; these Xi'an Warriors have been famous since they were first discovered in 1974. But the excavations have thus far touched only a small, peripheral part of the site. The emperor's enormous mausoleum has been located but not yet explored. We probably wouldn't find everything that ancient sources say is buried inside cross-bow booby traps, model palaces and 100 small rivers flowing with mercury. But we would find plenty. Even the famous Pompeii remains a mystery, with a third of the city still underground.
Finds from these sites and the scores more like them around the world have filled many rooms in our museums and have contributed enormously to our understanding of everyday life in antiquity, yet we have much more to learn. It's been 25 years since my conversation with Marion True, but Pompeii and Pataliputra have been waiting far longer. It's not too late for museums to start digging.
Bernard Frischer, a professor of archaeology and classics, is the director of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory at the University of Virginia.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LAME DUCKS TRIUMPHANT
BY GAIL COLLINS
Wow, we're getting a new nuclear arms control treaty for Christmas. I know some of you were hoping for iPads. But still, big news.
Good work, White House! Thank heavens we got rid of our former president, Barack Obama, who couldn't even get the trade agreement he went all the way to South Korea to sign. Our current president, Barack Obama, would never let that happen, and, in fact, came up with a really excellent trade agreement with the South Koreans just the other day.
"Administration officials have bent over backwards to try to solve every problem that's come up," said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of the Republicans who reached across the aisle to get the New Start treaty with Russia ratified.
The treaty, which needed a two-thirds vote, was actually approved 71 to 26. The Democrats did not have to go scrambling madly around looking for one last vote. And even the opponents were winners since they got to spend more than a week beating up on the Russians, revisiting the golden days when life was simple and wars were cold.
"They cheat. They are serial cheaters," said Senator James Risch of Idaho, the author of my favorite unsuccessful amendment to the treaty. It would have made the entire groundbreaking nuclear-reduction program contingent on the return of four American Humvees that the Russians picked up during their conflict with Georgia. Risch hauled out blowups of one of the enslaved military vehicles, shouting: "You can watch your property right here being towed away by the Russians! Back to Moscow!" If the former Red Menace wants to "hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya,' " he added, "Well, that is fine. But give us back our stolen military equipment."
When was it that the singing of "Kumbaya" became a shorthand for weenieness? "Kumbaya" is an excellent campfire song, especially for groups that border on tone-deafness and don't know the words to anything. I remember singing it in Girl Scout camp with friends who emerged unscathed and became conservative Republicans. Some may be writing letters protesting the New Start treaty at this very moment. Please, give "Kumbaya" a break.
But I digress. Nothing, not even Humvees in chains, was going to stop the progress of what has recently become known as the "hard-charging lame-duck Congress." It is a perfect image, with its suggestion of a flock racing along in the clumsiest manner possible but still stumbling over the finish line.
"When it's all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called the hard-charging lame duck "a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions." This is the rapidly evolving new hyperpartisan Lindsey Graham, who was so ticked off at the fact that the Senate was devoting a mere eight days to the treaty that he told the antitreaty obstructionist Jon Kyl of Arizona: "I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated by your colleagues."
His Start-supporting fellow Republicans appeared quietly unrepentant. Perhaps they were afraid that if they said anything in response, Graham would continue his evolution into awfulness right there on the Senate floor and start gnawing on the ankles of elderly legislators.
Good work, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry. We appreciate the way you've evolved from one of the world's worst presidential candidates into an extremely useful senator. Unlike some unsuccessful presidential candidates we could name.
Good work, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the lone Republican who stuck with the treaty through thick and thin and never mutated into a scary new entity.
Good work, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Unlike your hapless predecessor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, you've had legislation shooting off to the White House like angry birds in that video game. Unemployment compensation! Gay rights! Food safety! Judicial appointments! Arms control! Health care for 9/11 responders!
But let's admit it. Nothing would have gotten done if Obama hadn't swallowed that loathsome compromise on tax cuts for the wealthy.
If he'd taken the high road, Congress would be in a holiday war. The long-term unemployed would be staggering into the new year without benefits. The rest of the world would look upon the United States as a country so dysfunctional that it can't even ratify a treaty to help keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The people who worked at ground zero would still be uncertain about their future, and our gay and lesbian soldiers would still be living in fear.
It's depressing to think that there was no way to win that would not have involved giving away billions of dollars to people who don't need it. But it's kind of cheery to think we have a president who actually does know what he's doing.
Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.
AMID THE GLOOM AND DOOM, REASONS FOR CHRISTMAS CHEER
Another Christmas is upon us, and that means another chance to look back and ponder the question of just how cheerfulAmericans can reasonably be in this holiday season.
Truth is, 2010 was widely viewed as a disappointment, at least on the economic front. The hoped-for robust recovery never came, and the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high. In fact it ticked up last month, to 9.8%. It's hard to get in the holiday spirit when you haven't had a job in months and have no real prospects on the horizon.
That said, not all is gloomy this holiday season. Far from it. So for today, we'd like to interrupt the drearier programming and call attention to some other news out there that is, well, good!
For starters, there are the many cases of people behaving kindly that always grace our great country, even in the toughest times. News reports about the Postal Service's Operation Santa, which relays kids' Santa letters to people eager to fulfill their dreams, prompted an outpouring of donations to needy children. Then there was the anonymous soul in Georgia who dropped $5,500 into a Salvation Army kettle outside a Kmart. Bless you. And, ding-a-ling.
A less noted reason for holiday hopefulness is the apparent cease-fire in the "war on Christmas." This was an odd conflict to begin with, driven less by actual grievances over the lack of crèches at City Hall and such as by exuberant news media coverage during the usually fallow holiday news period. It had about as much resemblance to an actual war as reality shows have to reality. Nonetheless, we are glad to see that it has petered out, or perhaps been cancelled for lack of interest. There's barely a controversy to be found this year, suggesting that communities across the nation have found ways to celebrate the holiday that satisfy Christians, non-Christians and the Constitution all at the same time. Was that really so hard?
But what really puts us in good holiday cheer are the positive macrotrends that abound. These come in many varieties: social, medical, political and dare we say it financial. Here are some of each, starting with the last:
The economy is rebounding. Scientists like to joke that safe, cheap nuclear fusion energy is 20 years off and always will be. After this year, we might be tempted to pen an economic corollary: The recovery is just around the corner and will remain there. But things are moving in the right direction. The nation's economic output has been on the rise for five consecutive quarters. Corporate profits are up, as is the stock market. Banks are nursing themselves back to health. Even housing is showing some signs of improvement. These are the types of developments that typically precede an uptick in hiring, always the laggard.
Crime continues to drop. Despite the bad economy, violent crime dropped 6.2% during the first half of the year, continuing a trend of nearly two decades and taking crime rates down to levels not seen since the 1960s. Not only is this one of the best stories of our time, it is one of the most underreported. It receives virtually no coverage on hyperbolic blogs and cable news channels, as it does not polarize or agitate. This is a monumentally positive development that is helping to revitalize urban areas, improve race relations, and give public officials a chance to focus on other problems, such as education.
Teen births are in decline. Like crime, the number of babies born to teen mothers is heading in the right direction. When teenage girls have babies, it often ends their educational opportunities and increases the chances that both mother and child will end up in poverty, on public assistance, or both. So it's welcome news that last year, the teen birth rate dropped 6%. That's the second yearly drop in a row, and the 16th in the past 18 years. Like the decline in crime, this one has experts scratching their heads. Abortions might be a factor. But a decline in birth rates for all age groups, combined with public attitudes about abortion, would seem to suggest this is a story of fewer pregnancies, not more early terminations. Better sex education, and a clear-eyed view of the life that awaits teen moms, seem to be having a positive effect.