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Friday, December 24, 2010

EDITORIAL 24.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 24, edition 000711, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












  3. ALMOST 500


















  6. 2011 - A speculative peep - Shankar Acharya
























  8. 16 Dec 1971 and emerging realities - Qudrat Ullah























As the season of good cheer sets in with the advent of Christmas eve, ironically there's little or no reason, especially for the masses, to feel cheerful. Struggling to bridge the increasing chasm between his wages and cost of living, India's ubiquitous aam admi, the common man who toils hard and does not cheat the Government, will end 2010 on the sour note of unrestrained inflation. The Prime Minister doesn't tire of preening while boasting of high growth and claiming credit for India's economic 'success' that has benefited the thin upper crust of our society and corporates who have the right lobbyists to craft policy to their requirements. Here is a man who spends sleepless nights agonising over the plight of terror accused and whose heart goes out to the families of terrorists killed by our security forces. In between agonising over them and patronising those who benefit from a corrupt-to-the-core system, whatever time is left over is spent on devising new ways and means of appeasing the US and pandering to Pakistan. Understandably, the 'economist' Prime Minister India is saddled with has no time left to bother about the state of the national economy as it impacts the lives of a billion people and not as it is reflected on the ledger books of the Finance Ministry. Hence, it would be meaningless to expect him to be concerned about the further steep rise in food prices with food inflation crossing 12.13 per cent for December 11, the third successive week of increase. Nor should we expect him to worry himself about the stunning increase of food prices by 33.48 per cent this year, compared to last year's price rise. Data released on Thursday shows the prices of vegetables have risen by 15.54 per cent, fruits by 20.15 per cent, milk by 17.83 per cent and eggs, meat and fish by 19.35 per cent on an annualised basis. As always, in a knee-jerk, reflex reaction, the RBI will step in to squeeze money out of the market to forcibly hold down inflation, adding to the woes of the people who will have to pay higher interest rates on loans. This has been the prescribed remedy ever since Mr Manmohan Singh took charge of this nation's destiny in the summer of 2004. The 'rising India' of his imagination, in reality, has turned out to be a country governed by a criminally callous regime that continues to force crushing rising prices on the people while pretending to work for their welfare!

So, where do we go from here? If the policies and programmes of the Congress-led UPA Government are any indication, there is unlikely to be any relief from inflation in the near, foreseeable future. On more than one occasion the Prime Minister has waved away concerns over price rise with sweeping comments to the effect that "inflation is inevitable"; if so be the case, then he owes an explanation as to why the people of the country should bear the burden of his Government's abysmal all-round failure. Such is the gross incompetence, if not collusion, of this Government that profiteers and blackmarketeers have taken over the food economy and are merrily fleecing the masses. Fuelling the galloping inflation are ill-advised and ill-motivated moves of the Government to raise resources by slyly hiking the prices of petroleum products to balance its books and cover up for rampant, corruption-facilitating wastage before presenting the Budget. Such are the joys of living under the Congress's misrule and misgovernance.







The campus clashes between two rival groups of students in West Bengal that have led to the killing of two young men and the blinding of another in the past fortnight have served to highlight the bitter turf war being fought between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress with next year's Assembly election drawing closer. If Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and State CPI(M) secretary Biman Bose placed wreaths on the body of the slain SFI activist to score political points, four days later Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee walked at the head of a huge procession with the body of the TMC supporter, demonstrating her clout. In some campuses, the violence is not just restricted to clashes between rival student unions, but college administrations are also coming in the line of fire. Recently, the principal of a college in North 24 Parganas suffered a heart attack after he was gheraoed by students for 12 hours. Student politics in West Bengal has never been free of violence with politicians using campuses to recruit foot soldiers. The Left, especially the CPI(M), has been in the forefront of mobilising students and using campuses to further its politics. What began as an experiment in the late-1960s and the early-1970s — for a brief while the Congress used brute state power to gain control of campuses when Siddhartha Shankar Ray was Chief Minister — became normal practice after the the Left Front came to power in 1977. The SFI became the spearhead of the CPI(M); it's another matter that campuses, both of colleges and universities, suffered enormously on this count: Studies took a back seat, teachers used this opportunity to bunk classes and administrations wilfully became putty in the hands of Left trade unions, sensing benefit in choosing that course.

Now that the Trinamool Congress is on the rise and Ms Mamata Banerjee is widely seen as the future Chief Minister of West Bengal, the Left is fighting a rear guard battle for survival. And where best to fight this battle from than the campuses over which the Communists have held sway for more than three decades? True, victory or defeat in campus elections is not going to determine, or even sway, the outcome of the 2011 Assembly poll. But that does not deprive either victory or defeat of political symbolism given West Bengal's charged political atmosphere. The CPI(M) believes that by winning the campus elections it will be able to demonstrate that it still controls the hearts and minds of the youth; the Trinamool Congress believes that by smashing the Marxists' stranglehold over campuses it will be able to push its case further. Tragically, as the State prepares for a regime change which increasingly seems inevitable, the people continue to pay a terrible price. The current violence could be the precursor for violent times ahead.









Never mind what the media says. Every piece on the chessboard has a special place, as does every card in its deck. Russia remains India's ace

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to India represented another renewal of a unique, time-tested relationship, for long a breakwater in the turbulence of regional and global politics. There were big buck trade deals along the way, of which readers will need no reminding. A BBC voice opined breezily that India by choice was now close to the US and the West. Quite so. Every piece on the chessboard has a special place, as does every card in its deck. Russia remains India's ace. 

The festive season has been scarred by Congress panjandrum Digvijay Singh's purported claim that RSS deeds were akin to Nazi Germany's Holocaust. For all one knows, Mr Singh could have been a blind and deaf mute earthling at Auschwitz who, through a miracle of nature, has recovered his sight, hearing and speech, but lost what little intelligence he possessed. To play politics with a human tragedy beyond imagining invites contempt. Sing us a better song, Mr Singh. 

There are brains aplenty in Washington, DC you would have thought, but the storm over WikiLeaks persuades me that the Obama Administration's good and great have taken leave of their senses, if only temporarily. Their vendetta against the WikiLeaks founder, the intrepid and brave heart Julian Assange, tells of a herd of Gadarene swine on the loose, their inner demons driving them to perdition. MasterCard and Visa no longer accept donations to WikiLeaks but they have no moral qualms doing likewise for the Ku Klux Klan.

The Augean Stables of falsehood and dissimulation around us require the torch-light of whistle-blowers to establish fact from contrived fiction. Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the Anglo-American campaign of shock and awe in Iraq turned out to be a poisoned chalice. Wars are made and peace is derailed by tsars of the information industry using incendiary words and pictures to inflame audiences or dull their senses with medicated nostrums. 

Which is where WikiLeaks comes in. Its revelations have resulted in no direct loss of life or injury to any living being. Quite the contrary, it is Mr Assange's adversaries in the corridors of power in Washington and London who are doing most of the killing and maiming. 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India was the subject of a svelte editorial in London's Financial Times. In neutral mode it advised India and China to settle their territorial differences. However difficult and complex the issues, where there was a will, there, inevitably, was a way to their proper solution, it argued. The FT then pointed to the settlement of Beijing's border disputes with Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Burma, so why not with India? Why ever not? In the foreseeable future and not in unspecified centuries to come, as Mr Wen Jiabao appeared to suggest to his Indian audience.

Curiously, nowhere in the editorial was Tibet or the Dalai Lama mentioned. Yet both lie at the heart of the troubled China-India relationship. Tibet was indisputably a self-governing nation for much of the first half of the 20th century; it was invaded and occupied by Maoist China in 1950.The fact that the world, including India, accepted the legitimacy of Chinese rule has not ameliorated Beijing's paranoia about the 'splittists' who allegedly conspire to separate Tibet from the 'motherland'. China seethes at the presence of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on Indian soil, heedless, it would appear, of how he came to be there.

The Dalai Lama arrived in India in April 1959, seeking sanctuary from the repression of the country's Chinese overlords, just as his predecessor the Great Thirteenth did way back in February 1910 when the Chinese warlord, Chao Erh-feng, marched into Lhasa with his troops who began plundering its Buddhist monasteries. China would like nothing better than the Government of India to tell the Dalai Lama to leave the country for another abode, preferably within comfortable distance of the British Foreign Office. Whereupon every dispute with India would wither and disappear into the night, with Pakistan's value as a strategic ally going the way of the Wall Street crash of 2008. 

The Dalai Lama enriches India by his presence; were His Holiness to depart under duress the country would be diminished and the Indian people shamed. Philip Stephens, the Financial Times columnist, writes of "the risen China". Pardon the blasphemy, but this would appear to resonate with "the risen Christ". Of present-day follies there is no lack. Their proliferation is a civilisational threat.


The FT's reference to Mongolia brings into play a significant chapter in regional and international history. Mongolia and Tibet, as sister nations, are joined at the hip by religion, culture and ethnicity. The collapse of the Chinese Empire in December 1911 enabled Mongols and Tibetans alike to shake off the last shackles of Beijing's authority, this leading to declamations of full independence by Mongolia and Tibet, who went on to draw up a defence treaty in 1913.


Mongolian sovereignty was ultimately guaranteed by Soviet military power. Imperial Japan's ambitions in Mongolia were thwarted in the summer of 1939 by Soviet forces commanded by Gen Georgi Zhukov, who six years later as legendary Marshal Zhukov, presided over the Götterdämmerung of the Wehrmacht in Berlin. 

At the conclusion of World War II, with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan laid low, Josef Stalin -- "an amazing and gigantic personality" (Churchill's words, not mine) -- turned his attention to Mongolia's disputed status; he forced TV Soong, Chiang Kai-shek's Foreign Minister and brother-in-law, to recognise Mongolian independence in China's treaty with the Soviet Union in 1945, an arrangement that found favour with US President Franklin D Roosevelt. Mongolia is today a sovereign entity recognised by the entire international community. Need one say more?

The British played a less resolute and more devious role in Tibet with its sophistries on suzerainty and sovereignty, which found a place in the Simla Convention of July 1914. As a result Tibet and India have suffered, Tibet more grievously than India. 

A contemporay injustice was America's arming and funding of the Islamist Kosovo Liberation Front in its struggle to break away from Yugoslavia. An Albanian rump, led by Hashem Thaci, was installed, thanks to the Dayton accord masterminded by the recently deceased Richard Holbrooke, less a giant of American foreign policy and more a gangland enforcer. Mr Thaci, an EU report has revealed, was a longtime drug smuggler, a slayer of Serbs and trafficker in Serb body parts. Human parts, not human rights, was (and is) the name of the game. The report arraigns the US and Nato for their indulgence of the man and his rule. An Islamic banana republic in the Balkans doesn't bode well for the future stability of Europe.






With media becoming increasingly profit-driven and controlled by those who don't want the truth to come out, it's important that investigative journalists find new ways to tell their stories. The Internet is a great platform for this purpose and Julian Assange has shown how to use it

I am sure you all must be wondering what's new or great about this — the entire world already is talking about the man behind WikiLeaks, Mr Julian Assange. Hopefully by the end of this article you will realise what's the big deal. 

While commenting on lobbying and media, I had only touched upon the perspective of the extent to which nations go to maintain their image. I had taken examples of how the History Channel, akin to slavish propagators of the capitalist dictate, distorted and promoted the image of the biggest global revolutionary icon, Che Guevara, as a global terrorist. I had also mentioned how Michael Moore's film Sicko was edited by an American channel and given a conclusion other than the one he had originally made.

Moore had concluded that the Cuban health system was the best, while the channel in question — after doing a series on it without knowing the ending, and subsequently realising that the conclusion could be bad for America's PR — changed the ending with a voiceover saying that the Canadian health system was the best. So, in any case, when the truth is not being crushed by the US Government like in the case of Mr Assange, it is being crushed by the media. The problem is as much the media as the Government.

In fact, in my book The Great Indian Dream, I had categorically stated that democracy in a capitalist economy tends to become an illusion since one of the biggest forces of a democracy is the media. In a capitalist world, the media is mostly owned by private profiteers who promote news that will increase their profits, or those of its key stakeholders. 

Thus, invariably — barring news that's on your face — the philosophy and lifestyle that get propagated are not conducive to well-being and happiness of human beings, but focussed towards the well-being of the markets. So media plays, for example, a huge role in propagating happiness linked to material well-being (because people who believe in that are those from whom you can earn profits by selling products which they believe will increase happiness in their lives) than happiness linked to human interactions and family values, which necessarily give a much deeper, more meaningful and a longer lasting sense of happiness.

While individuals in America think that they are living in a great democracy (they indeed are among the best of the lot), the reality is that their thoughts and actions are non-stop being manipulated and often distorted by profiteers to suit their own goals. From hiding facts about nicotine being a proven harmful drug to promoting a lifestyle which has given rise to the biggest killer disease in America today — McDonalds-driven obesity — the American media has made its citizens 'product dustbins' for business houses. Americans think they have brains; but the brains are being controlled by a profit-driven media.

Governments themselves are non-democratic when it comes to protecting the image they want to propagate — like in the Julian Assange case — and resolve to extremes like murder and all kinds of illegal arrests to stop the media from functioning freely. Those who have been at the receiving end are investigative journalists and whistle-blowers. How can one forget American journalist Daniel Pearl? He had uncovered dangerous secrets about the involvement of Pakistan's ISI with Islamic extremists. Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002. 


Last year in February, Musa Khankhel, a reporter for The News International and GEO TV, was kidnapped as he was reportedly working on a series of public events addressed by Maulana Sufi Mohammed in Pakistan. Later, his bullet-ridden body was found. On July 9, 2004, Paul Klebnikov, who worked for Forbes, was attacked and shot in Moscow. Even Forbes' Russian edition, after his death, acknowledged that the murder was "definitely linked to his professional activity. Authorities in Iran have detained an American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi (who once worked for NPR and BBC). There are numerous such examples.

In this world of media — which is either being controlled tightly by Governments even in so-called great democracies like America, or constantly being influenced by lobbyists, or deliberately lobbying for wrong causes due to their own profit-making structures — the best way to have an unbiased media that is genuinely committed to human well-being is to have a media run by multiple journalists cooperatives, with the state even funding them partially, as well as funding a part of their annual budget, without of course being able to influence the media constitutionally.

But since that's in an ideal situation and less likely to happen soon, the Internet has come as a boon for investigative journalists. That's why, though TIME magazine has declared another Internet icon, Mark Zuckerberg, as the man of the year (and perhaps rightly so, from the point of view of impact on the masses), our man of the year is Mr Assange. This is the hope for investigative journalism. The power of the word of the citizens and the netizens is strong enough to very soon have laws that will know how to protect the genuine and true journalists on the Net from being illegally framed and punished. Because when media caters to the profiteers, the true not-for-profit journalists make a huge impact on the Net; and they must be protected.

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






Under UPA rule, poor are denied shelter in winter

An adviser to Indo-Global Social Services Society, an NGO that is active in the field of social welfare, observes that the poor are not on the Government's priority list. This is an understatement in light of recent reports about civic agencies removing night shelters for the homeless at a point of time when they urgently require protection against the winter cold. 

Taking note of the lapse, the Supreme Court directed restoration of the shelters, forcing the concerned agencies to rectify the wrong. The court, censuring Delhi Development Authority for its insensitive action, ordered all States and Union territories to ensure that such shelters were not demolished during winter. It was a throwback to a similar demolition last winter, in the course of the beautification drive before the Commonwealth Games. Then, too, the Supreme Court's intervention on behalf of the homeless had led the concerned agencies to halt their assault on destitute people, dependent on State largesse for their survival during the cold winter months.

The two shelters that the court wanted to get restored were among 64, set up last year by the Delhi Government on its orders. The run-up to the Commonwealth Games was marked by beggars too being shunted out. The most offensive aspect of the cosmetic exercise was the complete recklessness with which the capital's custodians dislocated the dispossessed and those without a voice, in their obsessive bid to turn Delhi into a world class city. Whatever be the criteria for such a city, marginalising unfortunate denizens, especially those without a roof over their head, certainly cannot be justified on any counts. 

Considering that the Sheila Dixit-headed ruling regime, into its third term in the capital, works hard to project a humane face before Assembly election, the least it can do is provide basic necessities to homeless people. Setting up free community kitchens, called 'Aap ki rasoi', and then undoing the good by dismantling night shelters, and that, too, in the wrong season, exposes the Congress's duplicity with regard to the poor.

For, this party, which coined the slogans 'Garibi hatao' and 'Roti, kapda aur makaan', while abjectly failing to either dispel poverty or provide food, clothing and housing to vast numbers of the poor — whom it still assiduously cultivates as a vote bank — harks back to its old socialist credo, deployed during elections. Little matter that it initiated economic reforms that really served to erode the socialist ideal. The apex court's reference to the duty of the welfare State to take care of the poor is a reminder of how far we have travelled from our initial assurances, enshrined in the Constitution, of providing equal opportunities and economic security to all Indians. An estimated 37 per cent of the people, if not more, continue to live below the poverty line. They have no access to basic necessities such as two proper meals a day, drinking water, decent clothing, medical care and means of education. They live and die like flies. 


The Congress-led UPA's welfare initiatives such as the much hyped employment scheme, guaranteeing three months of work for daily wagers, is eclipsed by the massive swindling of public money through the 2G Spectrum scam, diverse housing and land frauds, undue corporate influence on framing Government policies, and abysmal failure to stem rampant corruption. The inability to curb inflation and rein in food prices, which have hit the poor hardest, exposes the hollowness of the coalition's socialist posturings. The ruling dispensation's anti-poor policies are most evident in the immense wastage of public funds, about `70,000 crore, on upgrading Delhi's infrastructure and building sport and residential complexes for the Commonwealth Games. It is indeed sad that while vast public areas and funds were set aside for such purposes, there are few sites and little money for night shelters. These are arbitrarily demolished and then restored only because of apex court directives. 

Neither the Chief Minister nor her minions in the administration or Delhi Cabinet seem to care that winter is especially cruel towards those without homes or means to procure a refuge during this trying time. Safely ensconced in their opulent abodes, they have no direct experience of the rigours of poverty. NGOs working for the welfare of destitute persons complain about the callous indifference of civic agencies to their plight. For instance, two night shelters in Chandni Chowk stand near garbage dumps, suggesting the poor deserve the worst. The right to lead a dignified life is denied to them, as much as opportunities to better their lot. This is indeed a ghastly travesty of the socialist ideal, invoked frequently by Congress leaders and the Gandhi family scion, Mr Rahul Gandhi, in particular.

They should do some honest soul-searching and ask themselves whether populist postures and actions such as sleeping in Dalit villages and eating with the poorest folk in backward villages can make up for failures in delivering on promises of ameliorating poverty. To demolish night shelters and still expect to be be taken seriously as redeemers of destitute people reveals grave distancing from reality. Those who presume to rule India must first understand that the poor and deprived belong here as much as the wealthy and privileged.


Rather, their requirements must have priority if India is to become a true leader in the comity of nations. 







Rather than indulging in Opposition-bashing, the Congress should have utilised its plenary session to look at the issues plaguing the party and how to tackle them. It cannot remain complacent for long

The Congress president Sonia Gandhi observed in her presidential speech at the Burari AICC plenary session that the Congress party "has seen many ups and downs, many challenges…" and it is important for the party "to introspect the inheritance we have got, how far have we stayed steady on it". But has the Congress on its 125th anniversary made a realistic assessment of all the issues plaguing the party, including its weak organisation today in several States that compels it to be in coalition politics? That is the question. 

Ms Gandhi took a combative attitude during the session despite the fact that the plenary was held in the shadow of multi-crore scams and the rising prices of essential commodities have hit the popularity of the Government. In such a situation, instead of listing the achievements of the UPA Government at the session, the Congress ended up in Opposition-bashing and went on a tirade against corruption and communalism.

Over the years, the Congress-charm has waned as the party has lost its connection with the people at the grassroots level. Mr Rahul Gandhi has correctly pointed out that most people who join the party today are from influential families, who want their own advancement piggybacking politics. It has now become an uphill task for an ordinary Congress worker to move up the ladder without a Godfather. The party has become Delhi-centric and leaves all decision-making, including selecting Chief Ministers or the CWC members, to the central leadership. The last CWC election was held in Kolkata in 1997. The Parliamentary Board has been dispensed with. The core committee consisting of half-a-dozen leaders decides all issues. The worker-leader disconnect is growing by the day with money power playing a big role. Accessibility to leaders remains the biggest problem. Though Ms Gandhi has raised this issue at the session but reaching her or Mr Gandhi is even more difficult.

Therefore, the ultimate challenge for the leadership would be how to take the party organisation closer to the masses, how to remain relevant to a young generation and how to bring back the single party rule. It has to identify its political opponents and go about dealing with them in a methodical manner. 

However, there has been no indication to this effect from the session. Instead, the Congress took an easy way out by resorting to BJP bashing. The Congress has asked the Government to investigate into the links of the RSS and its sister organisations with terror. It is because the Congress knows that the RSS is the real power and the BJP has no cadre of its own.

No doubt, Ms Gandhi came up with a laudable four-point programme to deal with rampant corruption, but not a word was mentioned in her speech about the 2G Spectrum or any other scam — all pertaining to her own party. Another clever strategy was using the Prime Minister's 'Mr Clean' image as a shield to ward off Opposition's tirade. The question is not about the Prime Minister's integrity, but his inaction. Mr Singh's offer of submitting himself before the PAC came as a surprise, but it is too little, too late. Unless the Prime Minister personally intervenes to end the impasse, the Government is sure to face rough weather again at the Budget Session. 

Interestingly, the political resolution has kept the window open for future alliances with the regional parties. While it was hard on the BJP and the Left, it was soft against regional parties like the Biju Janata Dal, JD(U) and Telugu Desam and did not attack parties like the AIADMK and the JD(S). As for the SP and BSP — the two major rivals in Uttar Pradesh — the resolution was silent.

Every plenary session gives a direction to the party and the Burari message is to fight corruption and communalism. Ms Gandhi's directive to party leaders to reach out to people in villages is appreciated, but it is the implementation of this order that will bring the party back in its health. Her announcement that a Vichar Manthan Shivir would be held in the coming months to refresh the perspectives of party workers on national issues and review the functioning of the organisation also sounds good. After all, the next plenary will not be held before the 2015, as the party has just extended the term of the president to five years from three years. 

The Congress has several advantages being the Grand Old party, but only a strong leader can take it forward by involving the workers at all level. The road ahead is rough and Congress party has to work hard to get the dividend in next year's Assembly election and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. 







Despite consistent efforts to contain jihad, the West has been caught asleep over the rising tide of Islamism in West Asia that is frightfully winning in terms of either public opinion or actual control

What are the Lebanese figures on Al Qaeda? Only three per cent positive and 94 per cent negative! Why? Because Christians and Sunnis don't want that kind of regime, while Shias, who tend to support Hizbullah's Islamism, know that Al Qaeda hates Shias. So Arabs and Muslims are quite capable of opposing terrorists if they think the terrorists are against their own interests. They support terrorists who they think are doing things they like. This shows the limit of Western ability to change these attitudes.

Finally, here's a word on Turkey where public opinion is the opposite of that prevailing in Jordan. In Turkey, Only 5 per cent like Hizbullah (74 per cent negative), just 9 per cent like Hamas (67 per cent unfavourable), and merely 4 per cent are positive (74 per cent are hostile) on Al Qaeda. Yet the current Turkish Islamist regime is a big supporter of Hamas and Hizbullah. Clearly, supporting revolutionary Islamist groups — either through Islamism or the fact they are fighting Israel — is simply not popular in Turkey. Hamas and Hizbullah don't even do much better than Al Qaeda. So, Turkey's people are far more moderate than its Government, while in Egypt and Jordan the people are more radical than theirs. 

Let's look at two other indicators of attitudes: Islamism versus "modernisers" and attitudes towards Islamic punishments. The first point of interest in terms of the great ideological battle is that large proportions of people in these countries deny that such a struggle even exists! Only 20 per cent in Jordan, 31 per cent in Egypt, 53 per cent in Lebanon, and 52 per cent in Turkey acknowledge that there is a struggle. 

Why is this? One can't definitively tell. I suspect that they may want to avoid taking sides since they live in countries where democracy doesn't really prevail and authorities punish dissenters. Or perhaps they think that the Islamists are more capable of conducting modernisation or that the current regime is sufficiently Islamic.

Nevertheless, those who said that such a struggle does exist (remember this is between only 20 per cent in Jordan to 53 per cent in Lebanon of those asked) took the following sides: Jordan, 48-38 modernisers; Egypt, 59-27 Islamists; Lebanon, 84-15 modernists; Turkey, 74-11 modernists. 

Other than the truly horrifying figures in Egypt — which one day might be cited to explain an Islamist revolution there — the numbers in Jordan are pretty scary as well. Almost 40 per cent favour an Islamist regime and they know that doesn't mean the current monarchy ruling Jordan. 


How to explain the other two countries? In Lebanon, Hizbullah is seen as a champion of the Shia community. It is supported for "ethnic" reasons more than because people want an Islamic Republic. Of course, Sunnis have to take into account that if Lebanon were to become an Islamic Republic it would be a Shia one. Lebanese like to think of themselves as modern, too.

As for Turkey, while the ruling AKP Government has a hard core of supporters at roughly 30 per cent, even most of these people don't want an Islamist state, just a more Islamic-oriented one. That's why the AKP can only go so far in its Islamisation or risk having the people turn against the regime.

Finally there is the attitude towards Islamic punishments. Again, the outcome in Egypt and Jordan is very revealing. In Egypt, 82 per cent want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77 per cent would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; and 84 per cent favour the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.


I would expect that these attitudes don't differ much from public opinion in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. The figures for Jordan are roughly the same: 70 per cent (stoning), 58 per cent (whipping/amputation), 86 per cent (death for converts).

Again, the numbers for Lebanon and Turkey are quite different: Lebanon, 23 per cent (stoning), 13 per cent (whipping/amputation), 6 per cent (death for converts); Turkey, 16 per cent (stoning), 13 per cent (whipping/amputation), 5 per cent (death for converts). Yet Turkey and Lebanon are ruled by regimes which are in the Islamist camp, that is, they view themselves as close to the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizbullah alliance. 

It is also important to keep in mind that this poll demonstrates that Muslims are not innately radical or pro-terrorist. Their attitudes, while certainly conditioned by Islam, depends on the same kind of historical, social and political factors that determine attitudes in other countries. The problem is the specific interpretation of Islam in a given place and time.

But what this analysis also shows is that a future Islamist revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible. So overwhelming is the support for this movement that there is nothing the West can do except ensure the current Governments remain in power. As for Lebanon, there is a strong basis for resisting incorporation into the Iran-Syria empire, and in Turkey — where there are free elections — the current regime might well be overthrown.

Remember that Egypt, Jordan and other Arab Governments — notably Saudi Arabia — are so opposed to Iran not only because they hate that country's non-Arab, Shia, radical Islamist standpoint, but also since they fear its growing power will set off revolutions within their own countries. 

The bottom line is that in all four of these countries the radical Islamist side is winning either in terms of public opinion or actual control. And the West is basically asleep in recognising that threat.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. Concluded. 








THURSDAY'S interrogation of senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Indresh Kumar is an important milestone in the investigation of Hindutva outfits for carrying out terror attacks across the country.


This marks a subtle departure from the rather cautious approach that the investigative agencies had adopted towards Mr Kumar, which was evident in the chargesheet prepared by the Rajasthan anti- terror squad ( ATS) in October, that mentioned him as a conspirator but not as an accused.


The recent successes of the investigative agencies, such as the arrests of Swami Asimanand — allegedly a key conspirator in the attacks — and Gujarat based activists Mukesh Vasani and Harshadbhai Solanki show that agencies like the CBI and the ATSes of Maharashtra and Rajasthan are coordinating their actions more effectively.


Even the Madhya Pradesh ATS, which was earlier accused of dragging its feet, has got its act together as can be seen in their successful investigation of the mysterious murder of terror accused Sunil Joshi.


While a number of RSS functionaries have been arrested in connection with the terror attacks on Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Ajmer, Mr Kumar's case lends an added dimension to the investigation. If indeed his involvement is proven, it would mean that the Hindutva terror network is not restricted to a few radicalised lower and middle level RSS functionaries, but extends to the top echelons of the organisation.


]Mr Kumar's assertion of his patriotism, in an animated press conference before Thursday's grilling session, seems to be his last refuge against the charge of being involved in terrorist activities. The hollowness of this rhetoric is symbolic of the larger erosion of the RSS's nationalistic garb that has taken place with the arrests of a number of its functionaries for carrying out attacks on Indian citizens.



THE Delhi High Court has admitted a public interest writ seeking a ban on sale of junk food products and aerated drinks in schools. For long, the issue of school canteens vending energy- dense food and drinks such as potato chips, burgers, samosas and colas has been hanging fire.


The education and health departments which are supposed to formulate and enforce school- level health and nutrition policies have been sleeping over it. Most schools do not monitor the type and quality of food sold in their canteens nor do they encourage parents to pack healthy tiffin boxes for their wards.


On top of this, schools have tie ups with junk food makers, which these days are masquerading some of their products as ' healthy' food and pushing them through sponsorships and other such inducements to schools.


As a result, the rates of obesity among school children in Delhi have been rising. Childhood obesity is a major health risk and experts believe nearly 70 per cent of obese children grow up to become obese adults.


However, a ban may not be the sole answer.


Sustained health and nutritional education of both parents and kids as well as making available healthy alternatives in school canteens would go a long way in addressing the issue.



THE report in M AIL T ODAY about guardians of marriageable women seeking out candidates who have made it to Uttar Pradesh provincial services on the basis of their potential to earn bribe is reflective of a prevailing mindset in the Gangetic belt. That the prevalence of corruption is not a new phenomenon will be clear to those who have read Namak ka Daroga , Munshi Premchand's famous story.


What seems to have happened in the era of liberalisation is that while the feudal craze for power wielding babus persists in this part of the country, growing habits of conspicuous consumption and newer ways to spend money mean the instinct to misuse official authority has got a boost.


It is not often remarked that corruption flourishes in this country not only because venal officials rarely get punished, but also since we as a society largely sanction it. What better proof do we need of this than the list of worthies who have been taped trying to further the designs of a certain Ms Radia.



            MAIL TODAY





THE MUCH– touted Open Sky policy was to usher in the glorious age of Indian aviation.


There would be cheap and efficient airports with an array of choice of low cost carriers. But we appear to be repeatedly mired in problems and the aviation sector remains stuck.


A few rich billionaires have cornered the Open- Sky policy. We need an urgent course- correction and not temporary band- aid. Like telecom, the aviation sector has also given a severe dose of bitter medicine to the Indian consumer.


The issue of predatory pricing has once again lifted the curtain from the mess which cannot be hidden with slick public relations stunts. You cannot have Low Cost air travel with high cost noncompetitive airports, and a cartel of airline companies. The Government is very poorly equipped to tackle monopolies. All that the Competition Commission of India ( CCI) has done is to write to the Civil Aviation ministry that the airlines may be operating as a cartel.




The problems have arisen because, first, new private airports were largely built with User- Development Funds paid by passengers with little investment by private operators who bagged the permits.


The media played up the 7- star like looks of these airports. But we have to pay 7- star prices, which jacks up the cost of air travel. You cannot have Low- Cost travel from 7- star airports. World- wide, large cities have multiple airports, which create room for low cost fliers. But in India, the Open Sky policy has created a system where for the next 60 years, a second airport cannot come up anywhere within 150 miles of the current one. One cannot expect costly private airports to charge low rentals and now passengers are being bled. The public is being held hostage to costly airports.


Second, the Airport Authority of India has ceded total control to private airport operators. In September, 2010, the 4 private airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore accounted for 5.72 million passengers as against the two government airports of Kolkata and Chennai totaling 1.70 million passengers.


This means that private high- cost airports control nearly 70 per cent of all major traffic.


Third, Air India which acted as a buffer against the predatory pricing and exploitation by private airlines has been emasculated, either by design or otherwise.


As Air India was operating widely, private airlines were mindful of their ticket pricing. The direct beneficiaries of


Air India's diminution are the private airlines, which now have a free hand at cartelisation and un- fettered exploitation.


Fourthly, private airlines have obviously come to informal agreements to compete as little as possible. You will find that their flights do not clash on less commercially dense routes and on metro- routes, they carefully schedule timings and number of flights. It is as if they belong to one holding company.


Fifth, private airlines and airport owners dominate and over- awe regulatory officials of the Ministry. Just as TRAI was helpless before private telecom giants, the Ministry and agencies like DGCA, AAI, CISF are helpless. No official dares initiate any action. Even the predatory pricing issue was taken up after the media raised it. The Ministry was a silent observer. But even when they raise issues, they couch it with velvet words claiming they have no power, only the ability to persuade. The lure of postretirement jobs is also a strong incentive to keep quiet and cooperate.




George Bush Sr. famously coined the term " voodoo economics", meaning poor economics. The Ministry's reaction to the predatory price- fixing by airlines is pure " voodoo economics". Any undergraduate economics student can tell you the following — The price of goods in market economies is determined by demand and supply. Shortage pushes up prices and automatically, supplies will be increased to meet demand. Then prices fall. That is how the Open Skies policy of the government is supposed to operate. Now we have shortage of plane seats and airlines do not talk of increasing flights. They only talk pricing. Neither is the government demanding flights be increased. This itself is a distortion of the entire Open Skies policy and its theories. If the number of flights are increased even marginally, prices will fall. Obviously, the Government is in some manner conniving with private airlines. At one time, there was genuine competition and pricing was competitive. But now there must be collusion since flights have not kept pace with demand. This is a situation of imperfect competition.


Airlines offer some tickets at low prices to comfort public opinion that tickets are very cheap, provided you plan travel ahead. But after a few tickets are sold at low prices, airlines jack up prices astronomically.


You can travel from Delhi to London and back for the price of a oneway economy ticket from Delhi to Mumbai.


And the Government says it was unaware of this predatory pricing? About 6 months ago, the divergence between the cheapest ticket and the costliest was about 400 per cent. Now, the range varies from 1200 to 1500 percent.




Instead of arranging more flights, either through airlines or getting foreign charter airlines to meet the demand, our government intervened in a strange way. The government says that the prices of tickets sold should not exceed some figure.


Airlines will heed that demand. But then, how many seats will be available at low prices, and how many at the highest possible limit? Monopolies and cartels operate in such a way that the airlines will maximise revenues by ensuring that most tickets are sold at the highest price limit. The consumers will suffer as they have fewer lowpriced tickets and fewer flights to choose.


In fact, the government is helping airlines maximise revenues. Airline owners are feigning grief when they are actually jubilant, because the government has not insisted that supply be increased and more flights organised.


The government and private sector know fully well that demand exceeds supply.


Good market economics should mean that private airlines operate more planes and meet demand. But when there is a cartel, there is no need to enhance supply. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is not naïve and can direct Air India to start operating wet- charter flights on metro routes. Private airlines will then immediately get more planes themselves or they will lose market share. But as long as the government observes this conspiracy of silence on more flights, the public will be exploited. No middle class person can fly to meet urgent personal emergencies now.


Since the Open Sky policy of the government has been subverted into a cartel the on- going aviation scam involving airports and airlines is as bad as the telecom scam. The public will suffer for decades due to faulty decisions. But the government can still rectify the long term devastation that will visit the aviation sector.


There can be Low Cost Airports and more entrants in the airlines sector; after all, how can there be Low Cost air travel without Low Cost Airports? The Telecom Scam was done clumsily. But aviation is slick all around.








THE THREE day visit of China's prime minister Wen Jiabao to Pakistan in mid December has elicited the usual trumpets and mutual accolades about the everlasting " friendship" between the two countries that is " deeper than the ocean and warmer than the sun". But it is important to sift propaganda from fact and friendship from interest. More critically, China's political advice to Pakistan regarding " neighbourhood diplomacy" must be seriously considered if regional strategic balances are to be maintained.


The propaganda is that China's premier brought along a 200- strong business delegation to sign MOUs worth US$ 35 billion with the public and private sector of Pakistan, creating the impression that a " paradigm change" is underway whereby China is about to replace the West as the biggest " foreign investor" and trading partner of Pakistan. The fact is that most of the MOUs are not worth the paper they are written on and Pakistani businessmen were hastily assembled at the last minute and mingled with their Chinese counterparts without having done any homework about mutually profitable projects.


The fact is that China is neither making any significant foreign investments in Pakistan, nor handing out money to Pakistan.


Only US$ 400 million was pledged as a " soft loan" that is tied to a couple of projects like the Karakoram Highway that are of strategic importance to China itself and all the money will go to line the pockets of Chinese contractors and labour working on these projects. Only US$ 10 million has been coughed up for flood rehabilitation and reconstruction ( compare with US$ 300 million for the same cause by the United States). Noteworthy joint- venture projects inside Pakistan are conspicuous by their absence.


The fact also is that China's premier and businessmen were focused on India, their first stop- over, where they clinched agreements to raise the volume of their trade from US$ 60 billion to US$ 100 billion per year in the next few years.


MOST CRITICALLY, the Pakistan government, political pundits and media know- alls have failed to highlight the core advice consistently given by China to Pakistan on how to conduct diplomacy in the neighbourhood. The Chinese proverb quoted by Mr Wen Jiabao that " a ' distant neighbour' is more important than a ' close relative' has been interpreted to signify Pakistan's " closeness" to China, conveniently omitting to note the priceless value that China attaches to ' close neighbours' in relation to ' close relatives'! Therefore it bears pointing out that China resolved a long time ago to compromise, settle or put in cold- storage its territorial border disputes with its ' close neighbours', including the USSR, India, Vietnam,


]Cambodia, Laos and Korea and normalise its relations with them so that mutually beneficial highways of trade and commerce could be built to create interdependencies, paving the way for reduction of trust deficits and settlement of thornier disputes. In the same spirit, China has constantly advised Pakistani governments and policy makers to put the dispute of Kashmir with India on the back burner and forge ahead with trade and commerce on the basis of interests and interdependencies, advice that the Pakistani military establishment has constantly spurned in favour of a sumzero conflict strategy that echoes the mantra: India must solve Kashmir to Pakistan's satisfaction before relations can be normalised. No wonder, then, that when Dr Fehmida Mirza, the Speaker of the National Assembly, profusely thanked China for its unstinting support for Pakistan's position on the Kashmir dispute ( words doubtless added to her speech by the " ISI- led Mandarins of the Foreign Office), Mt Wen Jiabao consciously omitted any reference in his speech to Pakistan's Kashmir dispute with India, a polite snub that was conveniently ignored by all and sundry! To be sure, of course, China's " friendship" with Pakistan is gratefully acknowledged, even if it serves China's strategic interests more than ours. China has PROPAGANDA


]loaned Pakistan the money and manpower to build the Karakoram Highway and Gwador Port, both aimed at penetrating commercial markets in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.


CHINA has helped transfer technology to build second tier tanks and fighter aircraft in Pakistan but these have hardly offset our demand for higher tech weapons from the West like F- 16s, Cobra Helicopters and Agosta submarines, and front- line tanks from the Ukraine. China is helping Pakistan build nuclear reactors with Chinese loans and technical know- how even though there is some doubt about their true value to us both as suppliers of energy and plutonium for nuclear weapons ( our nuclear weapons program is based on enriched uranium).


Significantly, China's avowed pro- Pakistan tilt did not stop India from helping to dismember Pakistan in 1971, nor did it stop India from retaliating against Pakistani- provoked wars in 1965 and 1999.


Pakistan's real " gain" from friendship with China is Beijing's opposition to a permanent veto- empowered seat for India in the UN Security Council and its assistance in encouraging North Korea to part with missile technology for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, both policies being firmly grounded in China's own national security interests.


]China claims a " strategic relationship" with both Pakistan and India. But Pakistan and India have no such claims on each other. Far from it, they are constantly hovering on the brink of conflict.


]This should serve as an eye- opener to Pakistan, especially in view of China's burgeoning US$ 100 billion surplus trade relationship with India along with its stunning silence on the Kashmir dispute.


]The old adage is truer now than ever before: when push comes to shove, interests and not friendships matter in international relations.


The writer is the editor of The Friday Times


Dairy of a social butterfly



NOWDAYS Janoo has a new bean in his bonnet. It's about the Americans and the SIA and the ICI. Or was it CIA and the ISI? Khair, whatever. Apparently some Pathans from Waziristan have announced that these, these Americans who are working in Pakistan are under covered agents of CIA and they have given their real names also. So now every beardo weirdo can go and do hello hi with CIA agents and also behead them, and shoot them and blow them up, if they feel like.


The question is, says Janoo, how did these tribals from Waziristan know? Bhai, I said, the media wallahs tau know everyone's underwear size, let alone CIA agents' real names. They must've told the Pathans.


No, said Janoo, this information is not as easy to come by as your or my underwear size. Someone in the know has deliberately leaked it. And those Someones think they're very clever, double dealing as always, said Janoo. ' But what they don't seem to realise is that the minute the Americans withdraw aid, our economy will go into free fall. The dollar will cross a hundred rupees. You won't have enough petrol to reverse out of the garage and inflation will hit the roof. Meat will become a thou a kilo and sugar will become scarce as platinum.' Khair meat tau main khaati nahin — because of cholestroils na — but the dollar going up is a bit of a prob because I have to go to New York next year na. My friend Sammy says that vahaan peh jo sastay designer clothes miltay hain, you can't get anywhere, not even in the mangal bazaars of Bangkok. So the Someones who are behind all of us this better not do any more chalaakis, I swear, otherwise, all my shopping plans — those Prada shoes, those Moo Moo bags, that Space NK make up — will come to not.


But let's talk about something funner. Yesterday we received three wedding kay cards. One came in a box, one in a cylinder and one in a kimkhab ka bag. Janoo looked at them and said: ' Jesus! What madness is this?' I didn't say because crack kay saath kya argue karna, but I tau thought they were just fab. The box one was thick as a pack of taash — so many functions they had — the cylinder one had inside a satin scroll like a royal farmaan and the zari one had diamontes entrusted on it.


I think so for Kulchoo's wedding I'll send the invites by messenger pigeons. They will flutter in through the windows.


And to their little red legs will be attached little gold rings and inside those will be tiny invites written in real gold. I don't want to blow my own strumpet but honestly, ideas tau meray say koi lay . . .









The Rajasthan high court's stay on the operation of a 2008 Act providing reservations for special and economically backward classes in the state, including the Gujjar community, is welcome. Questioning the move to increase the quantum of reservation beyond 50 per cent, the court directed the state government to supply data to justify its position. Coming in the backdrop of the latest round of Gujjar agitation that has disrupted train schedules and hurt tourism in Rajasthan - and forced the Centre to dispatch paramilitary troops to restore law and order - it once again highlights the shortcomings of our reservation policy. 


The Gujjar demand for special quotas in education and government jobs stems from the earlier BJP government's decision to include Jats of the state in the OBC category. The Gujjars, OBCs themselves, feared that the politically and economically influential Jats would corner reservation benefits. Hence their initial demand for inclusion in the ST category. However, this brought them in conflict with the Meena community. With the court staying the special reservation provision, the Gujjar demand has now shifted to a 5 per cent quota within quota in the OBC category. All of this illustrates the fact that the reservation system is essentially a zero sum game - providing quotas to one community necessarily means taking away benefits from others. And as more communities jostle for a piece of the reservation pie, agitations like the one by Gujjars become inevitable. 

The solution lies in growing the pie, rather thinking up more ingenious ways of dividing it. The reservation policy was never meant to be implemented in perpetuity. At the time of its conception, it was supposed to run for a decade. However, the list of those entitled to quotas has only increased over more than half a century. Even for those covered by reservations, the system hasn't worked as planned. In all categories, reservation benefits have come to be cornered by a thin creamy layer. 

The government, essentially, can never square the circle in a manner that will satisfy all groups. No matter how many jobs it reserves, we will never be able to address the aspirations of the vast majority of those belonging to backward communities through reservations. Rather, we need to expand opportunity by emphasising social development policies that target all-round growth. We need more schools and colleges to ensure universal access to education. We need to create more jobs so that the benefits go to all communities. The government is on the right track with programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and NREGA, but these need to be implemented well. It also needs to facilitate the private sector in creating jobs.







At first glance, the government seems to have done a U-turn on imposing a mandatory 2 per cent expenditure from company profits on corporate social responsibility. The Companies Bill reportedly won't have this provision. Look closer, and it's a case of "mandating without mandating" as an industry voice describes it. The reworked proposal , it's said, asks firms to have a formal CSR policy targeting a 2 per cent spend, and to furnish details of funds going to social causes in annual reports. In other words, while keeping up a technical pretence of not legally arm-twisting India Inc, the Centre seeks to exert heavy moral pressure by stipulating disclosures if not actual expenditure. To quote the corporate affairs minister, CSR spending won't be "voluntary" or "mandatory" but "somewhere in between"! Why this grey area, unless the government wants leeway to play guilt-inducing big brother? 

Social spending should be self-willed, not least because Indian firms have a good record already. To boost private participation in social service further, the government should offer incentives such as "CSR credits" or tax benefits. At the same time, the legal system can rap firms that violate, say, green norms or cause other forms of public damage. As the finance minister conceded only recently, corporate social conscience can't be parachute-dropped by politicians or lawcourts. Companies themselves know that CSR makes good sense, winning hearts and building brands. But for CSR to not be merely decorative or purely manipulative in the sense of deflecting attention from bad practices, companies' main focus must be on core operations. What counts first is corporate performance driven by efficiency, ethics and good governance. That's how business keeps faith with shareholders, delivers quality products and services to consumers, creates jobs and spurs economic growth. And that's also how it best benefits society.








Minutes after Sachin scaled the peak of 50 Test centuries, the inevitable comparison surfaced again: is he the greatest or is he only second best to the legendary Sir Donald Bradman? Polls were conducted, arguments put forth and reasons given encouraging the indulgence of fans from across the world. Some, however, have disapproved of this comparison. Their reasoning is simple - such a comparison has little basis in fact and it cannot or should not be encouraged for it does a disservice to both these legends. 

However, sport, across time, has thrived on such comparisons. They encourage debate and animate fans, provoke emotions and tickle sentiments. They make sport what it is, a passionate connect that enraptures men and women across continents. Needless to say, such arguments are endless. Never can there be any conclusive answer as to who is the greatest. But they are fodder for a fan's fantasy, increasing his connection with his icon and allowing him to be part of a sport he loves. It is the only way to give the fan agency and bring him into the ambit of the sport that is integral to his life. 

Pele or Maradona, Fischer or Spassky, Messi or Ronaldo, Sampras or Agassi, Federer or Nadal, Ali or Frazier; these comparisons are part of sporting folklore. We can further extend them to Lewis or Johnson, Phelps or Thorpe, Spitz or Biondi. These debates add to the aura of the star, increase their brand value and encourage literature that accords these icons immortality. 

Comparisons aren't restricted to sport. Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan, Kamal Hassan or Rajinikanth, Hema Malini or Rekha: these debates are the stuff of legend. Are they just inane talk? Certainly not. Rather, they are the fans' estimates of their revered icons, arguments that often defy logic but are evidence of the kind of euphoria these special men and women generate in the minds of millions. 

Sport, it is certain, will not be the same without these comparisons. Rooney, Messi or Ronaldo, the chatter isn't restricted to the UK, Argentina or Portugal. Rather, soccer fans around the world have a say in who should win the golden boot. It is the sports lover's only connect with the icon, his reason to wear the number 10 shirt with 'Messi' emblazoned. 

These comparisons are the advertisers' delight. The 100-metre race at the 1988 Seoul Olympics was billed as the race of the century because it pitted two of the best of all times, Lewis and Johnson. That Johnson was caught doping and lost his medal is a different matter altogether. But during the race, it had captured world attention when millions, with no connection with these two men, tuned in to watch them in action. 

The same act was repeated when Usain Bolt won the 100-metre gold at Beijing against the likes of Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay in 2008. It was the comparison between Bolt, Powell and Gay that inevitably translated into a commercial windfall and the event, a brisk 10-second affair, involved the spending of Rs 250 crore in advertising only - a figure sufficient to demonstrate the economic potential of such comparisons. 

Coming back to Sachin, he has actually played over 1,300 days of international cricket, a statistic staggering enough to send a chill down the spine of any contemporary sportsman. Add to this unbelievable statistic 32,000 international runs, 100-plus catches, 96 international centuries and 21 years of incessant pressure from a nation of a billion-plus which looks to cricket as a survival mechanism, and you get a package the cricket world has never before seen and will not perhaps see again in the next few decades. 

When India last played at Lord's in 2007, hundreds of MCC members had turned up to watch Sachin score a century. You could hear the murmur the moment you stepped out of the St Johns Wood tube station and over glasses of champagne at the tavern or the coronation gardens. Even at the cost of the English not winning the match, they wanted Sachin to get his name up on the Lord's honours board, something even Sir Donald wouldn't have experienced in his career. 

In fact, it is perhaps time we stop comparing Sachin with his cricketing contemporaries or predecessors. He is a sportsman, he is an athlete, and he needs to be spoken of in terms of men and women who have performed feats in sport believed to be impossible. 

It is time to debate whether Sachin is one of the greatest to have played sport. Can we justly compare him to the legends of football, swimming or tennis, Olympic and world champions, men and women who have given fans incredible joy with feats of incredible brilliance? The only cricketer who gets a standing ovation every time he steps out to bat on an Australian field, he has to be seen in the light of achievements thought not to be possible, and that has hardly to do with cricket. Michael SchumacherDiego MaradonaMichael Jordan, Sergey Bubka, Gary Kasparov? Cricket, it is time to argue, is just the game Sachin plays. But how can he love the game so much? Sachin Tendulkar won't know the answer to that. And we will spend our lives baffled. 


The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire. 




Q & A



Cosmologist Roger Penrose of Oxford University and author of the recently released book, The Cycles of Time, was in Delhi to deliver the Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Centennial Lecture (Centre for Philosophy and Foundations of Science) on a new view of black holes and the universe. He talks toNarayani Ganesh on his new theory of the origin and future of the universe: 


What your view of the universe? 

My conformal cyclic cosmology theory is a departure from the Big Bang theory of the universe that is generally perceived to mean that the universe burst forth in a Big Bang from an infinitesimal point and then expanded by inflation. However, what i'm saying is that the universe is not defined by one beginning and end but goes through an infinite succession of beginnings and endings into the remote future, without a reversal or what is called crunching. It never collapses, it goes on expanding and it's a cycle. 

Could you explain this cyclical process? 

The cycle from the infinitely expanded universe to the Big Bang of the next aeon is better explained with classical mathematical equations. However, you could say verbally that the universe is undergoing accelerating expansion. This is best understood in terms of what Einstein referred to as the cosmological constant (he used this term in 1917 though for the wrong reasons) - he was hoping to have a universe that was static in time. He later withdrew his idea but it could help us best explain the expanding, remote future of our universe where, following a succession of Big Bangs in different aeons, there is hardly anything left because particles now have little or no mass. No mass, no scale, right? As it continues to expand, it becomes indistinguishable from the Big Bang of the next aeon; the universe comes to lose its memory - it `forgets' how big it really is. So the big and small, long-term and short-term, all become equivalent. In my scheme of things, there is no collapse; one universe leads to another. One way of discerning this is to find traces of energy bursts that get released when two galaxies collide and their black holes merge - as it might one day happen with the Milky Way and the Andromeda! My colleague Vahe Gurzadyan of Yerevan State University in Armenia studied the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and found signals in a circle that seem to corroborate my theory. However, you do need to see more of these concentric circles and perhaps more studies and analyses would reveal more of information of previous Big Bangs and universes. 

Would studying concentric rings on the CMB help ascertain timelines of the universe's previous incarnations, much like tree rings reveal the age of the tree? 

Come to think of it like that, perhaps! There's an awful lot of information in the CMB and it requires study. My model is driven by the Second Law of Thermodynamics that says randomness is increasing all the time. 

How different is your view of the universe from that of Stephen Hawking's? 

Hawking is playing a crucial role; the original idea he put forward is that black holes will eventually swallow all the randomness; that the black holes will radiate and disappear and when they disappear - what they call the Black Hole paradox - he says information swallowed by black holes is lost. He later said that the information comes back with radiation and here i disagree. 







 GOVERNMENT APPROVED DRINKING PLACE. It's a big sign, right outside the National Media Centre, the housing society in Gurgaon, Haryana, where i live. Gurgaon, indeed all of Haryana, is full of drinking places which can boast of having the approval, officially certified, of the government, which in Haryana and elsewhere in India is called gormint.


Judging by the brisk business the drinking place near my house does, gormint approval is very much a plus point for a booze shop. At all hours of the day and through most of the night the place is full of customers cheerfully getting themselves sloshed, secure in the knowledge that their elbow-bending is fully gormint-approved, as doubtless will be their hangover the following day.


People often complain that our gormint - not just the Haryana gormint, but the gormint of India as a whole - doesn't do anything for us. They crib that our gormint doesn't give us bijli, or roads, or schools, or hospitals. It doesn't hatao garibi, or give food to the hungry, or jobs to the jobless. So what does our gormint spend all its time doing? ask such critics. After all, ours is not a small, economy-size gormint but a formidably large entity whose appearance in no way suggests that it's ever stinted on its calories since it came into being 60-odd years ago. So what does this supersized sarkar of ours actually do?


Silly question. And when people ask it of me, as they frequently do, i point to the big sign near my house: GOVERNMENT APPROVED DRINKING PLACE. No cakewalk, going about approving drinking places. Must take a lot of time, and effort, and energy, and dedication. Bijli, roads, schools? Yeah, yeah. We'll come to all that stuff later, for crissake, once we've got all the really important stuff out of the way. Let's get our priorities right, OK? Now, where exactly did you say this new drinking place was that requires our approval?


And it's not just drinking places that our gormint so busily goes about approving. Visit the Taj or any other tourist spot in the country. You'll be swamped by a gaggle of official guides-cum-photographers proclaiming their gormint-approved credentials with ear-splitting insistence. Hullo, hullo, Misterji, myself am gormint guide, coming showing you secret inscription on backside of tomb and taking foto making dome of Taj look like resting on palm of hand! Hullo, hullo, Misterji! Gormint guide!


Having put in a full day's work approving drinking places, our tireless sarkar has somehow managed to find the time to give its stamp of commendation to all these tourist touts. Nor is this all. Go to any crowded marketplace in any city or town. You'll see signs for a whole host of products and services, from dhaba food to SEX CLINIC FOR ALL SEXUAL PROBLEMS, with the enticing postscript: Govt Approved. Our gormint strikes again.


There seems to be no end to all the things of which our gormint approves. While it is true that its track record in setting up and running its own schools has been patchy at best, what with many sarkari pathshalas having no teachers or textbooks, our gormint appears to have been unstinting in approving all manner of educational institutions which bear the legend Govt Approved: INDIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT BIJNESS, ENGLISH COCHING CENTER, KIDZ CORNER NARSARY SCHOOL. Gormint approved, one and all. Or at least, advertised as such.


In fact, there seems to be only one product - or is it a service? - to which for some inexplicable reason our gormint has not as yet given its official approval. This is strange because the product - or is it service? - in question has become the biggest growth industry in today's India. Yup, i'm on the lookout for the first Scam, Govt Approved.








The Congress this week saw little need to veer off an economic agenda that has delivered significant political gains to the party. The economic resolution adopted by the All India Congress Committee at its plenary in Delhi admits some course correction may be needed in its "inclusive growth" agenda, but these would be in the nature of slight over- or under-steer and not a radical departure from its manifestos for the previous two elections. Inflation is seen as an unfortunate side effect in an economy firing on all cylinders through much of the deepest global recession in living memory. Alongside an helpful explanation to party workers of what is causing prices to spiral — demands-supply gaps, income supports for farm output, and the international commodity cycle — the resolution exhorts the government to tackle inflation with "candour and courage". In controlled doses, inflation is a small price India pays for its scorching growth rate, which the party is committed to accelerating over the next decade.


Key to this strategy is a renewed focus on manufacturing, which has lost out to services as the country's principal driver of growth. The Congress sees foreign investment leading the resurgence in Indian industry on the lines of what China has achieved. However, the economy's capacity to absorb investments in plant and machinery on a scale similar to China's is critically dependent on its ability to ramp up physical infrastructure in a reasonable timeframe. Given the State's delivery record on this count, private industry will have to play a far bigger role in building ports, highways and power plants than has been attempted so far. The resolution calls for a changed mindset for the government from being provider to being facilitator in this process, a call that must be heeded. The Congress is aware of the political price to be paid if it cannot be an honest broker to the dispossessed in this process.


Thus the stress on inclusiveness, be it land acquisition from farmers or the mineral rights of tribals. The growing list of entitlements in health, education and livelihood pack a powerful punch inside the ballot box, so the Congress scales up its ambitions on welfare through income redistribution. A return to large government investments in agriculture to improve productivity is long overdue and sits firmly between 'inclusive' and 'growth' in the party's tagline. At some point in the next 10 years, India will be well on its industrial revolution, and it will require a social framework that can support it. The Congress may not be imagining a brave new world. But it does see some of what is coming in the "decade of social and economic justice".







Uttar Pradesh politics has always been about playing one identity against the other. But over the last few years, without the usual lustre and bombast of caste, sub-caste and community politics, the UP political scene seems a bit cut-rate wan. So imagine our relief when coming a day of each other, two incidents brought back the colour of identity politics that the heartland is so famous for. First was the kerfuffle that actually took place in Delhi, outside Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's residence.


Apparently two sets of Congress delegations from UP came to blows after one Congresswoman from UP was allegedly mocked by another for wearing a pink sari. "And so?" you ask. Well, the taunts came because pink is known to be UP chief minister and BSP leader's favourite colour and the Congress lady in pink, according to her accuser, was kowtowing to Behenji instead of giving her 'cent per cent' loyalty to Soniaji.


A day later, it was the turn of Samajwadi Party returnee Azam Khan to disrupt Amartya Sen's theory of multiplicity of identities. Mr Azad, in true SP-style, allegedly observed at a seminar on 'The status of Muslims in India' that the Congress had "only one Muslim to showcase — Ghulam Nabi Azad — who hailed from Kashmir and not from India". While coming from Mr Khan, the statement won't exactly set the Pakistanis taking direct flights to the United Nations, it does highlight the nuances about identity in UP politics. For Mr Khan, Mr Azad is not really a representative of the Indian Muslim as he's from Kashmir, thereby making India's first prime minister's 'Indianness' shaky. What next from the UP heartland? Someone accusing Mulayam Singh Yadav of being communal just because he was once friends with Kalyan Singh?







There are growing doubts over the sustainability of China's authoritarian model of development and greater recent praise for India's democratic version. In October, US President Barack Obama's economic adviser Larry Summers told a meeting of business leaders in Mumbai that the world in 2040 would be talking, not about a Washington or Beijing consensus, but a 'Mumbai Consensus' on economic development in the future. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao did not go as far as Summers in elevating the Indian approach above China's. But the premier ended his three-day visit to India last week by declaring that India's rise had enhanced the confidence and strength of all developing countries.


Despite praise for both systems, the common wisdom is that the Chinese approach is superior to the Indian one in one respect: poverty reduction. After all, in 1980, around 80% of people in both countries lived in poverty. In India, it is now around 22% compared to about 12% in China. The assumption is that China's State-led authoritarian model, although more menacing than India's chaotic democracy, allow its leaders to plan China's rise in a more ordered and manageable environment, to the ultimate benefit of its poor. But such an argument is less


compelling than it would first appear when we take a closer look at what actually occurred since China began its reforms in December 1978.


Because China has been growing at almost 10% since 1980 (except for the 'Tiananmen Interlude' period from 1989-1992), the assumption is that the country has followed one model towards prosperity and poverty alleviation. In fact, China has actually gone through two significantly distinct reform periods.


The first was from 1979 until the Tiananmen protests in 1989. After the disasters of centralised Maoism, Deng Xiaoping did two big things. First, power was decentralised and local officials were given much more power to make economic decisions. Second, the four-fifths of the population who were peasants were allowed to use their land in any way they wanted and sell their products at market prices.


This so-called 'household responsibility' structure gave rise to millions of 'township and village enterprises' (TVE) — small-scale industries that began the industrialisation and urbanisation process. These TVEs were technically owned by the local collective but many were run like private industries. In Deng's words, this was a "completely unplanned, spontaneous revolution that took us by surprise."


But it worked. Eighty percent of the poverty reduction that occurred in China took place from 1979-1989. It had little to do with any authoritarian model or supposed authoritarian qualities, or the far-sighted long-term planning and wise counsel of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders. Significantly, it was actually about the CCP relinquishing economic and social control over the country.


During this period, the de facto private sector received about three-quarters of all the country's capital in the first 10 years of reform – the reverse of what is happening today. There was no discrimination against the private sector in favour of the State-controlled one; meaning that household incomes across-the-board were rising with the tide. It was a genuine bottom-up rather than the present top-down approach.


Following the countrywide protests that almost brought down the regime, the CCP deliberately retook control of the economy from the mid-1990s onwards: favouring the State-controlled sector over the private one in key economic areas in order to prevent the emergence of an independent economic middle class. Although GDP has continued to expand at an impressive pace, household incomes have been growing at a paltry 1-3% each year even as profits in the State-controlled sector expand by 15-20% per annum. Significantly, since the rise of 'authoritarian development' in China, poverty reduction advanced by approximately 1.5% each year, meaning that China has underperformed vis-a-vis India since the latter began reforms in the early 1990s. Indeed, given the State-controlled bias that accelerated from this century onwards, poverty alleviation has remain stagnant and some studies even suggest that absolute poverty in China has actually increased.


Compared to the Indian bottom-up approach which is driven by the private sector and domestic consumption, China's top-down State-led model has created a country of some 150-200 million 'insiders' who benefit disproportionately from the fruits of economic growth. While measurements of income inequality have remained fairly constant even as India rises, Chinese society has become the most unequal in all of Asia. Although far from being a tranquil society, India does not have anywhere near the reported 124,000 instances of 'mass unrest' that occurred in China in 2009.


Even if Premier Wen and Prime Minister Singh would want to deny it, the Chinese and Indian approaches to economic development and poverty alleviation are being watched and compared by the 150 undeveloped and developing countries. Larry Summers might have been flattering his hosts in preparation for Obama's visit to India which took place in November. But the weaknesses of the Beijing Consensus mean that we will be hearing much more about the Mumbai Consensus in the years to come.


John Lee is director, Foreign Policy, Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney. The views expressed by the author are personal.







Unsafe agriculture practices rarely attract attention. But whatever little we know about the effects of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides on agriculture, it is alarming enough. Food and Agriculture Organisation data shows that consumption of chemical fertilisers in the country has risen 170 times since 1950 and pesticide consumption has increased from 1 million tonne in the 1950s to over 75 million tonnes in recent years.


Despite such largescale usage of chemical inputs, India still has no robust system to monitor the usage of pesticides, their movements and effects on environment and human beings. Agriculture is the biggest utiliser of land and if the chemical inputs are not used carefully, they can pollute the soil, air and water. The consequences of such large-scale contamination could be irreversible and fatal.


Pesticides are known to cause a variety of health problems, some even life-threatening. Yet their usage in the agricultural sector continues unchecked. Paradoxically, the most intensive and expensive checks imposed today are on organic agriculture.


Organic products go through intensive checks in laboratories and rigorous on-field checks by third-party certifiers or a stringent Participatory Guarantee Scheme. This increases the price of safe natural food and deters farmers from claiming their produce to be organic. On the contrary, farmers using chemicals in agriculture don't need to state clearly the chemical composition of fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs they use during cultivation and storage.


Consumers will be able to make informed choices only when they know where their food comes from, the chemical residues it is likely to contain and its effects on health. Today's environment and health-conscious farmers need a level-playing field and the consumer the knowledge to make informed choices about what they are consuming.


The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) must also involve itself in assessing environmental aspects of all agriculture practices and not only genetically modified crops. All agricultural practices using chemicals or synthetic products must go through environment impact assessment before they are cleared for use by the farmer. The MoEF needs to be more active and responsible regarding the effect of agricultural practices on environment.


Bhutan has recognised the close relationship between agriculture, forest and environment and has constituted a ministry of renewable natural resources. In our country too, the ministries of agriculture and environment must not remain segregated and function in two separate compartments.


Sonali Bisht is a development consultant and founder-member of Institute of Himalayan Environmental Research and Education, Uttarakhand. The views expressed by the author are personal.







Healthcare has come a long way for middle-class Indians. Access to private sector healthcare is considered a boon and in many ways it is. As many specialty hospitals open up in every metro, the perception is one of easier availability of quality healthcare. Of course, access to healthcare services comes at a hefty price.


The entrances of such high-end medical facilities are built to inspire confidence. The way patients are attended to, the manner in which documentation is handled, the quick and calm response of doctors  — all these speak volumes about their professionalism. It's not just good healthcare practice but also makes enormous business sense to treat customers with care when they enter the facility.


But a hospital is not just any other facility offering "consumer" service. It is a facility that literally deals with life and death. And the efficiency factor should typically then be measured on a different scale. One measure could be: how does a hospital cope with the death of its patients? Is it just as efficient, professional and humane just as it is when promising wellness and care to those who enter its portals? In my experience, that's where most hospitals fail to make the grade.


Recently, my father was admitted to the Noida Medicare Centre (NMC) after a stroke. On its website, the Centre proudly claims an ethos of "personal touch and humane approach". Despite the best efforts by the doctors at NMC, they couldn't save my father. But what came as a shock was the manner in which the hospital handled the process of preparing his body for the hearse.


As can be expected, a hospital will not want the deceased to be taken away from its premises from the main entrance. That is understandable as it would be unsettling for patients and their family members. However, how difficult is to manage the exit gate with a little care and humanity? Can they not create a clean pathway for the purpose?


At NMC, the back door leads to a filthy backyard. The yard had not been cleaned in months and opened out on to a back street which was even filthier. There, amid faeces of stray animals and rotting garbage, we laid down the stretcher carrying my father's body, so that the attendant could prepare it for the last rites. Whatever goodwill I had for the hospital and its efficient staff vanished in a beat.


How much does it cost a hospital management to keep the exit area clean and create a small concrete structure for the body to be placed while it waits for the hearse? Isn't this a part of the service that the recently deceased patient was paying for? For hospitals like NMC that make tall claims about its "passion to serve humanity", this begrudging of a little decency and dignity to the dead betrays its callousness more loudly than their lip service to commitment and responsiveness. For them, it's all about the profit motive. Dignity and humanity be damned.


Adite Banerjie is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.








If Azam Khan's recent re-induction into the Samajwadi Party was to have been part of a positive re-invent after the party's reversals in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, things clearly have not gone according to plan. Khan, who has a rich record of getting into a controversy for all the wrong reasons, set off a storm by the manner in which he chose to count the Muslim cabinet ministers in the UPA government. The point was not that he got his arithmetic wrong but the spin he gave to Ghulam Nabi Azad's representativeness, saying he is "not from India, but from Kashmir", before noting that "we do not know whether it (Kashmir) is part of India". Khan must retain the burden of sorting out what it was that he was suggesting, but SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav should worry that there could be consequences for his re-invention exercise over the last year. The party went into the 2009 Lok Sabha elections with a backward-looking manifesto bristling at computerisation and the English language. The results of the election in Uttar Pradesh, which saw the Congress's revival and Mayawati's BSP holding its own, jolted the SP into a large-scale makeover, culminating in the recent return of Khan to the party fold. But if the party believes this latest episode of resentment-creation among Muslims is the template to revive what it sees to be its votebank, it's missing the current of aspiration that's announcing itself in election after election — the most recent being in neighbouring Bihar, where Mulayam's comrade-in-arms, Lalu Prasad, has just landed himself on the wrong side of history. In Bihar, Lalu tried to use the Ayodhya verdict to set off a familiar polarisation — but to no effect. Unfortunately, political players in UP have still not seen that to be a cautionary example, given also the Congress's recent submission to conspiracy theories on former Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare. Like Bihar, UP has changed. And it has changed in part because, like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Mayawati has transcended the comforts of polarised votebanks and expanded the centre-ground of state politics. For her challengers — the SP, Congress and the BJP — it could be a long run-up to the next assembly poll. They'd do better than clutch at straws.







Something has got to give, if we are to move beyond this ridiculous deadlock over which instrument to pick for grilling the government over the spectrum allocation scandal. After refusing to institute a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), the government softened its stand, suggesting a special session of Parliament to debate the question. The opposition, whose entire political programme now consists of mechanically chanting for a JPC, refused and said it wants a cross-party probe, wants it now and needs no further talk. In short, both sides have settled back into their belligerent postures. While the opposition's merciless focus on the spectrum scam has forced the government to explain itself, they do not seem to have a cogent vision of how to move forward constructively on an issue presumably staggering enough to warrant singular focus. The recent NDA rally framed it in stark terms for the prime minister: "Allow a JPC or go." This is pointless negativism, as is the outright refusal to have a public face-to-face negotiation on the need for a JPC. It is also deeply hypocritical, given their own vulnerability in Karnataka where the scam-tainted B.S. Yeddyurappa regime continues to brazen it out. Nevertheless, having finally made the government blink like this, the opposition owes it to Parliament to let a session be called so that arguments can be thrashed out — and perhaps the deadlock eased. However, the fact remains that resolving this legislative limbo is ultimately the government's problem, and there is no excuse whatsoever for such unimaginative floor management. In fact, with the Congress's own allies keen to reap some political dividend by showing they are uncomfortable with the strict denial of a JPC, the danger is this sense of drift will trivialise the deliberations that precede the budget session — if not imperil it altogether. While some kinds of political friction are productive and necessary in a democracy, it is highly dangerous when partisan acrimony erodes the middle ground of consultation and common cause altogether. When the opposition, en masse, refuses to participate in legislative business and takes its complaint to the streets instead, it has grave implications for the nation. The government cannot really govern in this bitter atmosphere, without squandering its legitimacy, if Parliament continues to be frozen and legislative business is mutely pushed through or put in abeyance. The Congress must consider the costs that come attached with these fighting words.







In a seven-day span that brought Sachin Tendulkar his 50th Test century, a teenager from his city, Mumbai, has announced himself in a manner quite similar to his own teenage exploits with records. Arman Jaffer, all of 13 years old, has broken the world record for the highest number of runs in school cricket, scoring 498 in the Giles Shield tournament in Mumbai. His achievement acquires even more of a local character, given that his uncle, former Test opener Wasim Jaffer, too once held a school-level record and is Mumbai captain. Young Arman got to his record in quick time, needing 490 deliveries. And his knock, which has brought him to national attention, is an apt year-end antidote to fear of a monoculture creeping into cricket. As the Twenty20 format draws large numbers of followers and capital, and as its competing teams evade the older frameworks for contests and record-keeping (for instance, the Indian Premier League), the fear expressed is that older, more history-laden formats will be edged out. Tendulkar showed that while his successors may not have the opportunity to play as many Tests as his generation did, the aura of excellence in Tests does certainly endure and outshine all else. And Arman has shown that even in an information space thick with international and celebrity-ised cricket, the rare milestone will make us stop and take note. It may even be argued that the hastened and highly charged run-making of the T20 format puts in sharper profile the patient and planned accretion of runs in the longer formats. Indeed, the patience and stamina to last it out beyond a few overs is a skill that may have been commonplace earlier, but it is now highly prized.









In his essays, "The Government of the Tongue" (1988) and "The Place of Writing" (1989), Seamus Heaney focuses on an essential role for the poet: the task of the poet is the preservation of beauty, especially when tyrannical regimes seek to destroy it. This is a prescription that underlies not merely the adversity that the artist must battle and triumph against (which, experience shows, might even heighten her expression and exactitude) but also, by implication, the conditions that should prevail in a liberal, "free" society. In a perfect world, there wouldn't be any censorship. But the world isn't perfect, and real life can't bear out Heaney's implication for societies where tyranny doesn't reign — because there are no free societies. If the world were perfect, there wouldn't be any need for WikiLeaks. In the absence of such an unattainable state of socio-political being, we find ourselves compelled to generally agree, not with Julian Assange but with governments, that we'd be better off without a lot of those "dangerous" disclosures in the public domain. When Jafar Panahi is sent to jail for six years and ridiculously barred from making films or even writing scripts for 20 years, do we the people (Iranians or otherwise, liberal or conservative) see ourselves behind this farce that could amount to tragedy? Here's what Panahi himself had to say: "The assassination of ideas and sterilising artists of a society has only one result: killing the roots of art and creativity. It drives this crystal clear but sad message home: 'You'll repent if you don't think like us.'"If the instinct to censure, or the fear of a liberal free-for-all, blinks in all of us, would that still place Tehran in the league of full-scale totalitarianisms (Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and what have you) because it's institutionalised this instinct? Panahi has been sentenced for "assembly and collusion and propagation against the regime". He was arrested in March this year for his support for the opposition green movement and detained last year for attending the slain Neda Soltan's memorial. But the regime denied in March that his arrest was political. Why jail him and ban his filmmaking if not to set an example for Iran's artists who cleverly work within the system's constraints to highlight injustices and indicate possibilities? Panahi's films, astute social commentaries as they are, are not designedly political. Their political implications come by default, as a consequence of the films being made in a public, political space. And we know that the personal space is also political, shaped in response to the currents that flow outside.Yet, Iran is a complex place, where the clichés that apply to tyrannies elsewhere fall short because of the layered ironies and ambiguities. For example, it's been standard among Western film scholars to say the Islamic Revolution's codes distort reality on-screen — women in private don't wear veils, but women in films are made to even at home. A less ethnographic perspective on Iranian cinema shows how the formal innovations of Iranian cinema began as the Revolution's own tools to subvert this Western art form, to undo (Hollywood) cinema's voyeuristic point of view, and create a new "national" cinema along with a new spectator. This "rupture" with dominant Western cinema automatically allowed the self-reflexivity in films such as Abbas Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees (1994) or Panahi's The Mirror (1997) — where the camera intrudes into the frame — that had earlier come to European cinema as a distancing and formally re-


orienting device. The Revolution made such devices indigenous and ideological.In her book, Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (2008), Negar Mottahedeh uses Walter Benjamin's "optical unconscious" to show how the regime grasped early on cinema's ability to politicise the viewing experience — a tool to "regenerate" the "national body" in a "politicisation of the aesthetics". Iranian cinema's supreme irony is this: a new film grammar meant to perpetuate the Revolution turned on the regime when filmmakers like Panahi (whose films are proscribed) optimised the free aesthetic space available and began discomfiting the regime, even through pirated DVDs. The "terrible beauty" the Revolution had created came back to haunt it. Heaney's tyrannical regimes don't preclude the individual's ability to think, but control and re-engineer her every thought. But that attempt at captivating the mind, as another refugee from totalitarianism — Czeslaw Milosz — would say, scares the individual about thinking for herself. The Iranian regime had tried that through cinema, and it backfired. An imprisoned Jafar Panahi is afraid not so much of being prevented from making films, but of not being allowed to think as a consequence of not making his films. Free societies, such as ours, don't jail our Panahis, care little about cinematographic tools, but concede to allow state or private censors to monthly bowdlerise "foreign" films for our screens. That's not really a subversion of the alien aesthetic or values. It's a consensus of thoughtlessness.








A few days ago, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai spoke at the foundation day ceremony of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) in Delhi. What made headlines was his statement that police recruitment is mired in corruption. This wasn't a reference to the Indian Police Service (IPS) or even gazetted officers recruited through the state police services. It was a reference to non-gazetted recruitment through the State Public Service Commissions (SPSCs) and other means. This is a season of large-ticket corruption. Small-ticket corruption can be defined as that which occurs in citizen and enterprise interfaces with government. And here, the police figure prominently. For example, a specific study was done on corruption in police in India by Transparency International (TI) in 2005. According to that, 87 per cent of those who interacted with the police believed it to be corrupt and 12 per cent of all households said they had to bribe (in the previous year) the police to obtain a service. Why do policemen demand bribes? Among various reasons, TI said: "Payment of bribes for postings and promotions is a well-known phenomenon in the police department. As a result the policemen who have paid their way through try to recover the amount as soon as possible and corruption becomes a tool for getting better return on 'investment'." Naturally, the argument becomes stronger if one has to pay for entry into service. Who was the last kotwal (as the chief of police was called) of Delhi? That's a standard quiz question and the answer happens to be Gangadhar Nehru, Motilal Nehru's father. Though nomenclature varied from one part of India to another, there was a system of village policing, before the British integrated it into a modern police force. There is a fascinating monograph, "History of Police Organisation in India and Indian Village Police", published by the University of Calcutta in 1913. It is based on excerpts from the 1902-03 report of the Indian Police Commission. The first sentence goes, "Of all the branches of the public service in India, the police, by its history and traditions, is the most backward in its character." If this report is any indication, the British were ambivalent about village police. They liked the idea, because village police were networked with citizens, something we ought to remember today, when we talk about police reforms and community policing. Simultaneously, because of financial constraints, despite integration, the pre-British village police weren't originally funded by the exchequer. They were linked with revenue functions and funded themselves through levies on citizens. The British continued with this system, though they didn't like it. "His (kotwal) appointment, however, was considered a lucrative one, as the pay of his establishment was very low, and both he and his subordinates supplemented their salaries by unauthorised exactions from the inhabitants." Thus, both in pre-British and early British days, there are antecedents of police financing themselves through extortion and bribes. It is ingrained in the police force's DNA. And this wasn't rural alone. "At a later period special regulations were made for the police of cities, the cost being levied from the inhabitants by an assessment on each house and shop." Under the Constitution as well as the Police Act of 1861, police is a state subject. However, as should be obvious, police reforms aren't only about the IPS or gazetted officers under state police services. That's around 1 per cent of the total police strength. About 88 per cent is constabulary and another 11 per cent is what is called upper subordinates (inspectors, SIs, ASIs). Pillai had in mind recruitment to these.While there are some state-level variations, constables are generally recruited through boards, and SIs/ ASIs through the SPSCs. These are the equivalents of the village police in early British days. Colonial police commission reports (such as of 1902-03) weren't that concerned with recruitment to these, since these posts (that is, their equivalents) were hereditary. They were more concerned with what we would today call gazetted appointments. Plenty has been written about police reforms in India, especially after the Prakash Singh case of 1996. Rather oddly, this discourse and Central (model act) and state-level legislation (proposed and actual) have little on appointments to upper subordinates and constabulary. There is stuff on senior-level appointments and transfers/ postings at all levels. There are recommendations on providing incentives and training for upper subordinates and constabulary. The home secretary's concern is a neglected issue. Whether it is the recruitment of upper subordinates (SPSCs) or constabulary (boards), the principles are similar. Minimum educational and physical qualifications are prescribed; these vary between states, especially for the educational part. For specific categories, deviations are permitted from the minimum. Physical examinations are followed by written tests and interviews. Stated thus, it is no different from any entry-level requirement anywhere. There are ways to reduce corruption in each of the three stages — physical, written, interview. Not long ago, a candidate in Delhi turned whistleblower when a government hospital asked for a bribe to furnish the medical certificate. Since government hospitals are invariably corrupt, the simplest option is to outsource the medical. After all, this is about adherence to a minimum template and no more. A similar logic applies to written tests. These are meant to test know-ledge, not quite writing skills. Unfortunately, patterns followed are decades-old. There hasn't been a transition to multiple-choice tests, where there is scope for computerisation, apart from computerisation and coding in the allotment of roll numbers. If writing skills have to be tested, that can always be tagged on separately, a pattern followed in many US tests. Multiple-choice format allows removal of discretion and outsourcing. Corruption results from discretion and, both in physicals and written tests, there is scope to reduce this. There is scope to place information in the public domain and allow external scrutiny, and to reduce the powers of SPSCs and recruitment boards. The 2006 Model Police Act didn't probe this enough, because that was supposed to be done through government rules. All it said was, "The direct recruitments to non-gazetted ranks in the Police Service shall be made through a state-level Police Recruitment Board by a transparent process, adopting well-codified and scientific systems and procedures which shall be notified through appropriate rules framed by the State Government." We do need a Police Recruitment Board. But through rules, we also need its powers to be curbed. That's the transparency part and there is scope to reduce corruption even in interviews. After all, corruption has been reduced at entry level in many places. Now that the home secretary has set a cat among the pigeons, can we introduce such transparent rules for Delhi Police recruitment, as a test case?


The writer is a Delhi-based economist,







This year saw the end of the five-year-long trial of Marion True, a former antiquities curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Where should museums and investors begin? Well, there's the tomb of Antiochus of Commagene at Mount Nemrut in southeast Turkey. Farther afield one could add Pataliputra in India, reputed to be the most populous city in the world in the third century BC; or the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor. Qin erected thousands of realistic terra-cotta statues 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. 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 not too late for museums to start digging. BERNARD FRISCHER








The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which stayed here for four long years, is all set to pack off. The UNMIN had been a great hope, its presence separately requested by the government headed by G.P. Koirala and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) in the second quarter of 2006, when pro-democracy forces and the rebels (branded "terrorists" by some) decided to come together and pursue peace and stability. But as the UNMIN prepares to leave the country at some point after January 15, its report card does not look any more impressive than that of Nepal's domestic actors, and the key external actor — India — which decisively influenced international opinion on the trustworthiness of the Maoists after the 12-point agreement in November 2005. India's relationship with Maoists appears to have soured irreversibly now.That agreement mediated by Delhi — the basis of the peace process — secured a pledge from the Maoists that they would abjure violence and cease the decade-long war they had waged against the state. The Nepali Congress that represented the democratic forces agreed to support a republic, leaving behind its history of holding up the consitutional monarchy.India also agreed to abandon its Nepal policy based on the twin-pillar theory, that monarchy and pro-democracy forces were the best guarantee for Nepal's stability and development, and let go of its long resistance to a "credible international organisation, preferably a UN body coming to its neighbourhood as mediator in the peace process".The UNMIN's mandate was limited to the extent of observing the election to the constituent assembly — task accomplished in April 2008 — and monitoring the arms and armies of the Maoists and the state, both confined to the barracks. Nepal's army was never happy about being treated at par with the Maoist combatants. It was also the Maoists' biggest scoring point, not just over the Nepal army but also all other political parties. While the Maoist army — confined in 28 camps and monitored by the UNMIN — is intact, the Nepal army that lobbied for the departure of the UN body and blamed it for pro-Maoist bias, can now rest assured that the "unfair comparison" of the past stands rectified after the UNMIN's departure. And that is what troubles the Maoists, in both psychological and political terms.Strangely enough, it was G.P. Koirala, the grand old man of the Nepali Congress, and CPN-M Chairman Prachanda who signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November 2006, bringing the Nepal army on par with the Maoists. Those who are now arguing for the UNMIN's exit, lock, stock and barrel, are his lieutenants from the party. As a concession, they are willing to give an eighth extension to the UNMIN without the right to monitor Nepal's army.The high hopes pinned on the UNMIN's arrival, and its departure as a declared failure, will have several implications for the future of the peace process. The major political parties, wracked by internal as well as inter-party conflicts, are nowhere near deciding what machinery could substitute for the UNMIN. And this comes at a time when the dominant faction of the Maoists appear to be seriously considering raising arms against the state again. The Maoists also feel that a fresh supply of arms — under suspension for the past five years — by India to the Nepal army after the visit of the Indian army chief, V.K. Singh, would be a clear indication that other political parties were preparing to "thrust a war on us". The weakened and depleted state army has also given the psychological advantage to the Maoists. The UN seems to have weighed the options and concluded that given the none-too-glorious stint of the UNMIN and the indifference of India and China towards it, it would not be rewarding to continue. Unless a last minute "miracle" occurs, it is likely that the UN will monitor the Nepal situation from New York. But regulating political parties and pinning them to act towards the peace process seems almost impossible from such a great distance.Senior foreign ministry officials have warned the prime minister, who is dead set against an extension for the UNMIN, that it would not be in the interests of the country to provoke the United Nations too much. Given the cost, time and initiative that the UN has invested in Nepal, and the fact that the conflict-ridden country does not have a credible apparatus to replace it, the Security Council may appoint a special envoy as an extreme step, and the best way to avoid that situation would be to continue to involve the UN in a limited way. But this is not a suggestion that the government or the political parties seem to have heeded with the seriousness it deserves.Under the circumstances, the UNMIN might leave the country unsung and unwept. But it will leave a void , and increase chances of the conflict being triggered once again, completely shattering the peace and the constitution-making process.








After all P5 leaders visit India, we take our UN Security Council turn. Statesmen are now salesmen, greatly business-driven, still the procession symbolises our world role. The UNSC will test our ability to perform it. Our qualifications for being there are manifest, as are our weaknesses. Our apparatus for interacting with the world is inadequate, in concepts and in mechanics. US President Barack Obama's Parliament speech summed up the international attitude: welcome to the high table, now show us what you can bring to it. His Myanmar reference, howsoever irritating, underlines the complexities and dilemmas major powers face. These call for objective, calculated judgment, forethought, a sense of proportion, finesse, diligence, persistence — everything disdained at home.Some handicaps are inherent. "Democracy... can only with great difficulty regulate the details of an important undertaking, persevere in a fixed design, and work out its execution in spite of serious obstacles. It cannot combine its measures with secrecy or await their consequences with patience" — since Alexis de Tocqueville's observation, public opinion, and the media even more so, have become further complications. Other democracies develop palliatives — educating the public, interacting with opposition groups, insulating foreign policy from petty politics, even going ahead and taking a chance on domestic consequences. While that is beyond today's India, we have a greater problem: we hardly know what our national interest is. Disagreements on specific issues — the Indo-US nuclear deal, or how to handle China — are healthy, but no country can survive, much less matter, without some sense of its strategic or security needs. Serious states — those capable of achieving calculated purposes — are distinguished from ineffective "banana republics" by the nature of the thinking that determines what they do. Drowning national needs in local politics, emotional or outdated ideological illusions, playing to the galleries or simple ignorance is mortally dangerous. Consider some random instances: Tamil Nadu's parties competed to embarrass Delhi's handling of Sri Lanka, states around Bangladesh connive at illegal immigration, UP has no thought for its responsibilities vis-à-vis Nepal. With visions so narrow, who cares about the security of the Persian Gulf or the stability of Central Asia?Take our permanent UNSC membership. India deserves it, but reform will take ages. The statesmanlike stance is: the entire international organisation system is out of date, and when recast, our UNSC rights must be incorporated, but until then let's get on with life. Instead, immature yearning forces the government to make this a core national objective, wasting diplomatic capital on lollipops of empty support.A major world role means having to take positions on a variety of issues, inevitably upsetting someone. Our diplomats were renowned for straddling contradictions, but domestic pressures obviate professional skills. The irresponsible posturing of politicians and media hyperbole frequently force us to subordinate our own interests for some imagined cause — and in extreme language. One unforgettable illustration: our then foreign minister's statement on the 1967 Middle East crisis. Given a carefully-worded draft, he succumbed to fears that Parliament would expect a bolt of thunder — one Arab ambassador asked why we wanted to outdo even the Arabs!Iran is a particularly telling case. Of course good relations are desirable, but adverse behaviour cannot be ignored. We get carried away by "civilisational ties" — as once by "2000 years of Sino-Indian friendship," when we had virtually nothing to do with each other. History shows precious little Iranian benevolence towards us, periodic sackings of Delhi apart. True, Persia greatly influenced us — art, language, food, etc — we must also respect the sensitivities of our Shia population, reputedly second only to Iran's. But are those reasons for ignoring Iran's votes against us on Kashmir? We have consistently sought better ties, our IAEA vote was perfectly consistent with that approach. Iran tells us their Kashmir stand is not anti-Indian but part of a general policy; likewise, India is against proliferation, not Iran. We ourselves forget that proliferation, including Iran's part in the A.Q. Khan nuclear bazaar, threatens our security interest. Howls against our vote were louder here than there. No foreign policy can further one's interests if one does not understand, and stand by, one's own priorities. Which leads to another great Indian weakness: our inability, indeed, refusal, to project our views persuasively. Issuing statements, or rushing around canvassing at the last minute, cannot substitute for timely, sustained advocacy. Our missions abroad mostly glean our stand from the press. Briefings, if given, are like the banalities we get away with at home, ineffectual with hard-headed foreign offices or media analysts.. Our domestic vices spoil our international image. Others treat you as they estimate you: a strong, well-organised state, seen as knowing what it is doing and able to do it efficiently, inspires respect, circumspection, even cooperativeness — an invaluable shield against mischief. The shorter we fall of such stature, the greater our vulnerabilities. Foreign policy hardly ever wins or loses elections. Governments have more latitude than they realise, and politicians need not indulge in one-upmanship. Rather they should attempt to work together on at least the main national security concerns. How hopeless that sounds here needs no elaboration. Selfish, narrow-visioned or corrupt leaders abound everywhere, but, in great states, work within a system where objective reasons of state both weigh on decision-making and ensure some conscientiousness in implementation.India Shining and Incredible India are hollow delusions if we cannot consolidate and safeguard our nationhood. There are states combining the capability and, in their eyes, reason for undermining that nationhood. That does not mean armed conflict is imminent or even inevitable, but state prudence demands readiness for it — indeed, to prevent it. Si vis pacem, para bellum — the old saying remains valid, peace is best achieved by your strength. We desperately need a national consensus on our strategic concerns. Our UNSC challenges are to our foreign policy capabilities, but gearing ourselves to meet them might also make us better equipped to cope with these greater national security challenges. Will our major parties see how essential their cooperation on these basic needs is?


The writer is a former ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US, and chairman of the National Security Advisory Board>/i>








There's an interesting struggle brewing in the online world, and it's not about Julian Assange. It is about Google, the most visited website in the world, which has become one of those iconic commerical entities that has taken over the standard English for its function, like Scotch Tape and Jeep. To search online is to Google. There is unlikely to be any realistic attempt to dispute its status as the dominant player in its market. It is believed that two out of three web searches are undertaken using Google.Its dominance is not really a problem per se. The grave threat arises from the very nature of Google's core business. It is a company whose prime product tells people where they can go to purchase or access any and every product or service. And that provides the cannon fodder to competitors and the disgruntled alike. That Google is hugely successful and efficiently runs useful and popular services also immediately provokes schadenfreude, the human impulse to see the mighty fall.Google's power and omnipresence are of a scale never seen before, but this has been the result of a fair and honest battle for the market. It did not have first mover advantage. Unlike the usual kind of dominant position, where an entity dominates a particular market or sector or industry by the very nature of the services it provides, Google is in the incredible position of influencing and even perhaps controlling the fortunes of whole industries, products and markets. While its success is to be commended, there is still need for caution. In these sensitive and, some would argue, over-regulated times, Google finds itself in the spotlight because of its girth. The European Union competition regulators have recently launched an investigation into certain aspects of its operations, after complaints from competitors such as a UK-based price comparison site, a France-based legal search engine, and a shopping site (ironically, owned by Microsoft). The complaints suggest that the complainants' services were being buried deep in Google's search results, and that Google highlights its own services in the advertisement section of the search results.Worryingly for Google, the regulators appear to be interested in looking into the innermost sanctum of Google: its formulae for determining the order of the search engine results it throws up. Apart from the possibility of astronomical fines by the European Competition Commission, it is also conceivable that the commission may direct disclosure of the formulae and calculations that decide the order of listing of the search results. This will be vigorously defended by Google, not least because it is the very heart of the company's success and is the essence of the special ability of the company that has allowed it to rise on merit above its competitors.By all accounts, Google had recently gone into aggressive acquisition mode. A rising number of voices argue that Google is adapting its formulae and systems to suppress competitors' content and elevate its own, particularly where it now has new interests of its own, such as its new expanded verticals in retail, Google Books and Google Places. In fact, only recently Yelp, a US local information directory service, protested that Google had used its content without permission to populate Google Places, and on the same pages favoured content from its own partners and buried Yelp's content. While its behaviour has so far been relatively benign, it needs to guard against the old adage — give a man power if you want to know what his true character is.Google also finds itself faced with opposition from different directions. For example, its proposal to buy a US software company called ITA Software, which provides systems for online flight information, is receiving close attention from diverse quarters. The acquisition itself may, in fact, assist Google to provide useful and innovative new facilities to the travelling public, but coupled with its dominance of the search engine market, it may allow it to push its travel services in a manner unavailable to other providers of similar services. Lobbies have swung into action and various senators and politicians have expressed their fears very vocally. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have both expressed an interest in digging into the acquisition. It is quite possible for competition regulators to see these situations as textbook instances of vertical squeezes, which allow an entity which is dominant in one market to use that dominance to distort or adversely affect another market.Competition theory apart, this has all the classic hallmarks of a "hard" case. The regulators will have to address two questions that may well be inherently contradictory and attempt to reconcile them: what is best for the consumer, and what is best for the market as a whole?


The writer is a partner at the Mumbai offices of a national law firm. Views expressed are his own.








Will Delhi's electricity consumers have to pay a huge 30% more for their electricity supplies, or will they get to pay 20-30% less? Believe it or not, the two extreme options have been suggested by the regulator, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC). It suggested the tariff cut when it had a head and it suggested the hike when the head retired and it had just two members left. The choice is before the Delhi High Court right now in the form of a public interest litigation. The Delhi government, which had asked DERC to hold on at the time it still had a head, has filed affidavits to show DERC head was acting out of turn, that his other colleagues never agreed with his calculations on cutting tariffs, and so on.


While the courts will decide on whether a headless DERC is to be trusted more than one with a head (when the rest of the body doesn't agree with it), the real issue is more serious. It involves the issue of how a regulator is to conduct itself and the levels of recourse available to those who disagree with it. According to the power companies—two of them owned by the ADAG group and one by the Tatas—the problem arose because DERC made very rosy assumptions which, being rosy, projected a huge surplus for them and so obviated the need for a tariff hike. Retail tariffs rose from Rs 4.44 per unit in 2005-06 to just Rs 4.54 in 2009-10. So, DERC would assume companies would buy power at lower costs and sell it at higher prices than was usually the case. In 2007-08, DERC assumed firms would buy power at Rs 2.7 per unit against the actual 2.8; in 2009-10, it assumed a power purchase cost of Rs 2.6 versus an actual of Rs 3.7—given the 23,000 mn units sold in 2009-10, that's an additional cost of Rs 2,600 crore DERC didn't reckon on. So, in 2007-08, it projected a surplus of Rs 380 crore for all three power firms but what actually transpired was a loss of Rs 259 crore. This gap, when not paid for by higher consumer tariffs, is called a 'regulatory asset'—such 'regulatory assets' are currently around Rs 8,300 crore and, at some point, need to be paid for by hiking consumer tariffs. By allowing them to accumulate, DERC has probably worsened matters considerably. The government needs to decide if creating such assets is a good idea—they protect the customer in the short run but make for an unsustainable future.







Much has been made of the huge hoarder margins in the case of onions, whose prices crossed Rs 80 a kg at the retail level, of how while wholesale prices are Rs 20-30, retail prices are more than double. One TV channel paraded its top investigative reporters to expose the perfidy of hoarders by telling viewers, exclusively of course, how they had entered into deals to buy onions at Rs 20 in the wholesale market … A leading wholesale market's advertisement, in yesterday's newspaper, has much the same point when it says wholesale prices of onions vary from Rs 10 to Rs 37.5 per kg. In an attempt to be funny, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari linked this to the Prime Minister's statement that he would appear before the Public Accounts Committee on the 2G scam since he wanted to be, like Caesar's wife, completely above suspicion—Gadkari said that, had she been alive, even Mrs Caesar would have shed tears over onion prices.


What's not appreciated, in the mad rush to nail the hoarder, is that this problem is not restricted to onions, it applies to all vegetables; it is not a new phenomenon, it is as old as the hills. If the hoarders were genuinely hoarding, in the face of a third of the crop failing as happened in the case of onions, prices would have risen by more than double of what they have. A look at the latest data compiled by the government makes this clear. In December, cauliflower cost Rs 17 per kg in wholesale markets in Chennai, but Rs 27 in retail markets; Rs 9 in wholesale Hyderabad and Rs 20 in retail Hyderabad. Tomatoes cost Rs 12 per kg in wholesale markets in Patna but Rs 20 in retail markets there; bitter gourd sold in wholesale markets in Patna for Rs 15 as compared to Rs 27 in retail markets there.


The reason for this is not that one fat cat bania is making money, it's got to do with the fact that there are at least 7-8 stages the fruits and vegetables pass through before reaching retail markets; so there are transport costs at each level, labour charges to load and unload; profits at each level and losses due to pilferage and shrinkage at each level. This is not to make a case for allowing in modern retail, and FDI within this, though it is obvious larger buyers and elimination of various middlemen will help cut costs. But it is to point out the old argument about middlemen is as old as it is misplaced.








The recent news about the breakup of Hero Honda, the joint venture (JV) between the Munjal family and Japanese firm Honda, raises important questions about the viability and future of JV partnerships between Indian firms and their foreign collaborators. Specifically, what factors, in general, lead to the breakup of such JVs? Who benefits more from such partnerships—the foreign company or the Indian one? From the perspective of the Indian domestic partner, what is the way forward after the breakup? Finally, what does the future hold for such JVs in India?


Before 1991, JVs were mandatory for foreign companies seeking to enter India. Even today, after liberalisation, in many of the large and fast-growing sectors of the economy, such as retail, consumer banking, telecommunications and media, foreign firms entering these industries require an Indian partner. Thus the foreign partners enter into these JVs without really desiring an Indian partner but are forced to have one for market access. In many cases, the Indian partner does not have the technological competence and brings only local knowledge. The Indian partners, however, believe they add substantive value to the JVs. As a consequence, they have high expectations that the foreign partner will contribute by transferring technology, training its employees, etc. However, since the foreign partner often intends to expand into an independent business in India, it does not want to make the technological transfers desired by the Indian partner. The result is a significant mismatch in expectations between the two partners. As would be anticipated, such a mismatch in expectations eventually leads to a subsequent falling out between the partners.


Such tensions reach flash point when both partners expect industry growth to speed up and want to corner a larger share of the growing market. With the Indian government gradually allowing foreign companies to operate alone or increase their stake in many industries, the foreign firm often plans to do business on its own in India. As a result, a large number of the Indian JVs have lost their raison d'etre from the foreign partners' perspective. The foreign firm either buys out the Indian partner or sets up an independent unit separate from the existing JV.


In fact, in the Munjal-Honda JV, the rising differences between the two partners stemming from Honda's ambitious plans to enter the two-wheeler industry on its own have been cited as a key reason for the split. Other examples abound. When the Indian government eased restrictions for foreign companies in investment banking, both Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch looked to exit their existing JVs with Indian partners. Goldman Sachs sold its stake in its successful JV with Kotak Mahindra Bank for about $75 million, while Merrill Lynch bought most of its stake in DSP Merrill Lynch for about $500 million. American giant Morgan Stanley ended its decade-old partnership with Nimesh Kampani's JM Financial to strike out on its own in the rapidly growing Indian financial services industry. Bayer, Gillette, Goodyear, Datacraft, EMI, Sprint, Suzuki, Xerox, Vodafone, and many more foreign firms have exited their Indian JVs with the sole purpose of reappearing with 100%-owned companies.


India can safely be regarded as the JV graveyard of the world, based on evidence from the past two decades. A McKinsey study found that of the 25 major JVs between foreign and Indian companies established from 1993 to 2003, only three still survived in 2005. For example, consider ModiCorp, which, during the 1990s, had lined up alliances with Motorola, Walt Disney and Xerox (ModiCorp's chairman, BK Modi, was popularly referred to as 'Mr JV'). Since then about a dozen of his JVs, including those with the three American companies, have dissolved. Most of these JVs last no more than a decade, on average, and may extend to a couple of decades at the most.


In the automobile industry, Kinetic Honda, which was a JV between Kinetic Motors and Honda, was formed in 1985 and dissolved in 1997. TVS Suzuki, a JV between TVS Motors and the Japanese firm Suzuki, was instituted in 1982 and disbanded in 2001. After the breakup, the local partner needs to build its own R&D capability since the umbilical cord, where the local partner was being supported technologically by the foreign firm, is broken. Kinetic Honda failed after Honda exited, since Kinetic Motors was not able to ramp up on the innovation front. However, Honda Motor Scooter India is expected to sell close to 1.5 million units in this fiscal year. In contrast to Kinetic Motors, TVS ramped up on the innovation front after its split with Suzuki. The company started focusing on R&D as its key to survive in the business. As a testimony to its ability to innovate on its own, TVS Motor won the Deming Application Prize in 2002. It became the first and only Indian two-wheeler company to win it. This award, given to companies that do outstanding work in the field of Quality Management, is considered to be one of the world's most prestigious. On the product front, today TVS is able to produce trendy products—bikes like the Apache and scooters like the Wego.


If the foreign firm has to do well post its breakup, it has to invest in developing its own sales and distribution network, apart from its own independent understanding of local customer preferences. These are crucial since the foreign firm had been piggybacking on the domestic partner's sales and distribution network as well as its understanding of local customer preferences. Looking forward, with the government looking to relax the conditions for FDI in India, the days of JVs between foreign firms and Indian counterparts in India may be mostly over since such piggybacking may not be necessary any more.


The author is assistant professor of finance at ISB, Hyderabad








WikiLeaks was supposed to change the world. The pundits said that diplomacy and the media would never be the same again, and knee-jerk anti-Americans hoped that the superpower would be humbled. But three weeks later only the occasional sensational leak or reports about accusations of sexual misconduct against Julian Assange keep WikiLeaks from being squeezed off the world's front pages by more pressing local news.


To some extent, the arc of the WikiLeaks story reflects the nature of the public's attention-span in an era of instant and ever-changing information. Very few people are able or willing to sustain interest in a lengthy series of investigative stories about multiple countries, and humans have always preferred gossip anyway. But the rapid rise and fall of WikiLeaks also tells us something else: the rules of the information game have not really changed.


Despite its fresh methods and its promise of radical openness, WikiLeaks's early releases were almost completely unnoticed before it linked up with newspapers in Europe and the US for its Afghan war leaks earlier this year. The group's first serious coup (in 2007) was its release and analysis of a sizeable set of documents detailing almost the complete US military procurement chains for the Iraq and Afghan wars, a sizeable scoop for a news organisation of any size. But almost no one noticed it. Without the muscle (and staff hours) of the mainstream media, the same might have been true of the Afghanistan, Iraq and embassy cables leaks.


The world's major newspapers have taken a different, more traditional view of the balance between openness and responsibility than WikiLeaks does. They have chosen to present less than one percent of the embassy cables, redacting the documents they published and declining to make public information that they felt endangered national security or the lives of individuals. NYT went even further: it has shown redacted versions of the documents to the


US government before putting them on the Web.


Perhaps more seriously for WikiLeaks, the newspapers' ability to explain and contextualise the embassy cables has left no room for the (often slightly paranoid) annotations and commentary that group was accustomed to attaching to its earlier releases. Even more ominously, the print media has already begun to close ranks against the organisation: London's Guardian newspaper shared its copies of the cables with NYT even though WikiLeaks had dropped it as a partner (some say because of the newspaper's unflattering profile of Julian Assange).


At the same time, WikiLeaks has been unable to fulfil its own stated core mission of targeting 'highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia'. The US embassy leaks have signally failed to prompt soul-searching in Russia and Asia: Vladimir Putin has denigrated US reporting about his role in the Russian government as 'slanderous', Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has claimed that the leaks are a plot against Iran, Thailand has blocked reporting of leaks about the royal family and the Chinese have refused to comment at all (although they have reportedly tried to hack into the flow of submissions to WikiLeaks in order to access documents belonging to other governments). The organisation may for now have to content itself with a slightly bizarre back-hand compliment: the publication in Pakistan of a series of faked revelations about the Indian army and its high command.


Meanwhile, American diplomacy has refused to fall apart in the aftermath of the leaks: like the proverbial duck, it has remained calm above the surface while no doubt paddling away vigorously below the surface. But the focus on America has already caused WikiLeaks to split apart; a group of former volunteers has decided to re-float one of the organisation's earlier ideas by creating an on-line marketplace in which leakers themselves will offer documents to named media organisations for a limited time (after which they will become freely available). By doing so OpenLeaks hopes to become a non-ideological broker of information—and to ensure that documents about issues of local importance do not end up languishing in an ever-lengthening digital queue as they have at the more globally-minded WikiLeaks.


This model may just succeed in remedying one of WikiLeaks's biggest emerging problems. As the embassy leaks have gained more media coverage, the spotlight has shone even brighter on Julian Assange: Bradley Manning, the American soldier alleged to have leaked the documents in the first place, has almost been forgotten. He will most certainly be very dismayed to learn that the world has not changed overnight and that Julian Assange has stolen his limelight; his fate may well give pause to the next Bradley Manning, who might decide that pressing the 'send' button will not bring glory or recognition after all.


There will almost certainly be more leaks and more red faces in the days and weeks to come. But the authors of this week's diplomatic cables might well have noted the irony that the world looks very much like it did three weeks ago.


The author is a researcher in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge





Nitish radiates, and how!

National Advisory Commission member NC Saxena was speaking of his experience in governance over the years and digressed to say he'd learnt, in physics, that heat got transferred in three ways—by convection, by conduction and by radiation. Just when the audience thought he'd lost it, Saxena said Nitish Kumar's particular brand of governance, of going directly to the people while bypassing the regular channels of governance in the bureaucracy, was a bit like radiation—while the energy flows took place, they didn't affect the surface area (the bureaucracy) in between.


Hardly vigilant


The public sector ONGC was to get a new chief, and its current director in charge of offshore developments, Sudhir Vasudeva was selected to succeed RS Sharma on January 31. The announcement has, however, got delayed at the level of the vigilance clearance, thanks to a spate of vigilance complaints, most of them anonymous. Since the rules prevent the entertaining of anonymous complaints after a person has been chosen for a job, it is not quite clear why this has been allowed this time around.







Neanderthals had Denisovan sisters—the story of human evolution keeps getting more complicated


In 2008, when field workers found assorted bones, tools and other remains in the Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, Anatoli Derevianko of the Russian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues assumed that these belonged to some of the earliest humans to live in the area. Except, some of the findings had DNA anomalies incompatible with both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. So, Derevianko forwarded a finger bone fragment to Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. In a development that made him a palaeontology superstar, Paabo and his team published an analysis of the Neanderthal Man's genome in May this year. Predominant thinking up to this point had been that when the Homo sapiens spread out from Africa into Europe and Asia, they displaced the Neanderthals. There was no interbreeding. But Paabo and his team found (by comparing the Neanderthal genome reconstructed from bone samples collected from a Croatia cave with those of five living humans from various parts of Africa and Eurasia) that Eurasians are between 1% and 4% Neanderthal. Interbreeding proven!


Paabo and partners have thrown up a similarly spectacular result with the Denisova fragments. Published in Nature, their findings suggest that even as Neanderthals emerged from Africa to spread westwards about half a million years ago, the newly discovered and named species of Denisovans ventured eastwards. Like the Neanderthals, this species also declined as the Homo sapiens thrived. As with the Neanderthals, so with the Denisovans there is evidence of interbreeding with humans. Finally, Neanderthals and Denisovans appear to be sister groups descended from a common ancestor.









If last week the Bharatiya Janata Party, and sections of the media, reflexively overreacted to Rahul Gandhi's informal observations on the growth and consequences of Hindtuva extremism, the Congress at its 83rd plenary session at Burari in northwest Delhi swung to the other extreme — wielding the sledgehammer against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for its "terror" connections. According to an August 2009 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer (outed by WikiLeaks:, Mr. Gandhi, in a casual conversation at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made this interesting comparison between Islamist and Hindutva radical groups. Asked about "Lashkar-e-Taiba's activities in the region and the immediate threat to India," the Congress MP reportedly said "although there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community." Taken in their entirety, the comments are unexceptionable. In fact, the Congress general secretary appears to be articulating a nuanced position, worrying more about the divisive potential of Hindutva radicalisation than about the phenomenon itself. Nowhere does the phrase "Hindu terror" find mention in the Roemer cable (as Mr. Gandhi pointed out the day after his insights were WikiLeaked). His party also did well to clarify, in the first instance, that "Rahul Gandhi's view is that terrorism and communalism of all types is a threat to India. We need to remain vigilant against acts of terrorism of all kinds…no matter who commits them."


Unfortunately, good sense did not prevail thereafter, with the Congress eager to be more loyal than the heir apparent. Its political resolution adopted at Burari promised a full-on probe into the RSS's alleged terror links and there were some over-the-top statements in this connection. The Congress's role in fomenting some horrible communal violence — Meerut, Maliana, and the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom — notwithstanding, the party stands differentiated from the BJP and the militant Sangh outfits by its historic pluralism and its overall track record. In recent decades, the party has oscillated between a form of 'defensive secularism,' at times bordering on soft Hindtuva, and an 'instant secularism' crafted more as a reaction to the BJP's taunts than as a result of its own convictions. The violence and terror unleashed by some groups claiming to be Hindutva warriors is real, and even the RSS has been constrained to acknowledge this. But to exaggerate and over-project this aspect on a national scale is to divert attention from the live and present danger that divisive and disintegrative Hindutva 'radicalism' and extremism, alongside Islamist militancy and terrorism, represent in a multi-religious country of over a billion people. In other words, it is to fall into a communal trap. In their own way, the fifth generation Nehru-Gandhi and his social democrat mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seem to have understood this. It is about time their party did.







The Centre's foot-dragging on enacting a new law to give effect to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is inexplicable, considering especially that India was among the earliest to ratify it in 2007. First, the administration toyed with the idea of amending the existing 1995 Act, while the stakeholders pointed out that the Convention marked a big change in fundamentals and that compliance with it warranted a new legislation. For instance, the definition of 'disability' stands enlarged to cover all long-term physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory impairments that hinder equal and effective participation in society. This requires extending legal protection to categories not covered by the existing law and specifying in the statute all the fundamental rights and freedoms the disabled are entitled to under the Convention.


Then, in April this year, a committee was constituted to draft a new legislation and it was asked to give the report in four months. It soon ran into trouble over the question of giving due representation to all the stakeholders in keeping with the motto "nothing about us without us." Now, the panel has sought time until March to produce the draft bill. The net result of all this is that an Indian law based on the UN Convention may not be in place even in 2011, four years after ratification. As a consequence, the government would be unable to submit the mandatory periodic implementation report to the Convention monitoring committee. A World Bank estimate puts the population of the disabled in India in the region of 40-80 million and among the most disadvantaged in education, employment, and social inclusiveness. The number is bound to increase, given the rising trend in traffic accidents and age-related impairments. The government will have to act with a greater sense of urgency to put the new legal framework in place because it is a basic requisite for the disabled to improve their productive capacities and claim full citizenship.










The significance of the signing of the intergovernmental agreement on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (TAPI) on December 11 in Ashgabat cannot be overstated. It can only be captured if one says with a touch of swagger that TAPI has been the most significant happening in the geopolitics of the region in almost a decade since America invaded Afghanistan.


The heart of the matter is that TAPI is a Silk Road project, which holds the key to modulating many complicated issues in the region. It signifies a breakthrough in the longstanding U.S. efforts to access the fabulous mineral wealth of the Caspian and the Central Asian region. Afghanistan forms a revolving door for TAPI and its stabilisation becomes the leitmotif of the project. TAPI can meet the energy needs of Pakistan and India. The U.S. says TAPI holds the potential to kindle Pakistan-India amity, which could be a terrific thing to happen. It is a milestone in the U.S.' "Greater Central Asia" strategy, which aims at consolidating American influence in the region.


Washington has been the patron saint of the TAPI concept since the early 1990s when the Taliban was conceived as its Afghan charioteer. The concept became moribund when the Taliban was driven away from Kabul. Now the wheel has come full circle with the incremental resuscitation of the project since 2005 running parallel to the Taliban's fantastic return to the Afghan chessboard. The proposed commissioning of TAPI coincides with the 2014 timeline for ending the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's "combat mission" in Afghanistan. The U.S. "surge" is concentrating on the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, through which TAPI will eventually run. What stunning coincidences!


In sum, TAPI is the finished product of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Its primary drive is to consolidate the U.S. political, military and economic influence in the strategic high plateau that overlooks Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan and China.


TAPI capitalises on Turkmenistan's pressing need to find new markets for its gas exports. With the global financial downturn and the fall in Europe's demand for gas, prices crashed. Russia cannot afford to pay top dollar for the Turkmen gas, nor does it want the 40 bcm gas it previously contracted to purchase annually. Several large gasfields are coming on line in Russia, which will reduce its need for the Turkmen gas. The Yamal Peninsula deposit alone is estimated to hold roughly 16 trillion cubic metres of gas. But Turkmenistan sits on the world's fourth-largest gas reserves and has its own plans to increase production to 230 bcm annually by 2030. It desperately needs to find markets and build new pipelines.


Thus, Ashgabat is driven by a combination of circumstances to adopt an energy-export diversification policy. In the recent months, the Turkmen leadership evinced interest in trans-Caspian projects but it will remain a problematic idea as long as the status of Caspian Sea remains unsettled. Besides, Turkmenistan has unresolved territorial disputes with Azerbaijan. In November, a second Turkmen-Iranian pipeline went on stream and there is potential to increase exports up to 20 bcm. But then, there are limits to expanding energy exports to Iran or to using Iran as a "regional gas hub" — for the present, at least.


Therefore, Turkmen authorities began robustly pushing for TAPI. The projected 2000-km pipeline at an estimated cost of $7.6 billion will traverse Afghanistan (735 km) and Pakistan (800 km) to reach India. Its initial capacity will be around 30 bcm but that could be increased to meet higher demand. India and Pakistan have shown interest in buying 70 bcm annually. TAPI will be fed by the Doveletabad field, which used to supply Russia.


Ashgabat did smart thinking to accelerate TAPI. The U.S. encouraged Turkmenistan to estimate that this is an enterprise whose time has come. Funding is not a problem. The U.S. has lined up the Asian Development Bank. An international consortium will undertake construction of the pipeline. A curious feature is that the four governments have agreed to "outsource" the execution and management of the project. The Big Oil sees great prospects to participate. The Afghan oilfields can also be fed into TAPI. Kabul awarded its first oil contract in the Amu Darya Basin this week. The gravy train may have begun moving in the Hindu Kush.


On the map, the TAPI pipeline deceptively shows India as its final destination. What is overlooked, however, is that it can easily be extended to the Pakistani port of Gwadar and connected with European markets, which is the core objective. The geopolitics of TAPI is rather obvious. Pipeline security is going to be a major regional concern. The onus is on each of the transit countries. Part of the Afghan stretch will be buried underground as a safeguard against attacks and local communities will be paid to guard it. But then, it goes without saying Kabul will expect the U.S. and NATO to provide security cover, which, in turn, necessitates a long-term western military presence in Afghanistan. Without doubt, the project will lead to a strengthening of the U.S. politico-military influence in South Asia.


The U.S. brought heavy pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad to spurn the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project. The Indian leadership buckled under American pressure while dissimulating freedom of choice. Pakistan did show some defiance for a while. Anyhow, the U.S. expects that once Pakistanis and Indians begin to chew the TAPI bone, they will cast the IPI into the dustbin. Pakistan has strong reasons to pitch for TAPI as it can stave off an impending energy crisis. TAPI is in actuality a Silk Road project connecting Central Asia to the West via Gwadar, which will make Pakistan the U.S. gateway to Central Asia. Pakistan rightly estimates that alongside this enhanced status in the U.S. regional strategy comes the American commitment to help its economy develop and buttress its security needs in the long-term.


India's diligence also rests on multiple considerations. Almost all reservations Indian officials expressed from time to time for procrastinating on the IPI's efficacy hold good for TAPI too — security of the pipeline, uncertainties in India-Pakistan relationship, cost of gas, self-sufficiency in India's indigenous production, etc. But the Indian leadership is visibly ecstatic about TAPI. In retrospect, what emerges from the dense high-level political and diplomatic traffic between Delhi and Ashgabat in the recent years is that our government knew much in advance that the U.S. was getting ready to bring TAPI out of the woodwork at some point — depending on the progression of the Afghan war — and that it would expect Delhi to play footsie.


Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh found time to visit the drab Turkmen capital in a notable departure from his preoccupations with the Euro-Atlantic world. The wilful degradation of India-Iran ties by the present government and Dr. Singh's obstinate refusal to visit Iran also fall into perspective. Plainly put, our leadership decided to mark time and simply wait for TAPI to pop out of Uncle Sam's trouser pocket and in the meantime it parried, dissimulated and outright lied by professing interest in the IPI. The gullible public opinion was being strung along.


To be sure, TAPI is a big-time money-spinner and our government's energy pricing policies are notoriously opaque. Delhi will be negotiating its gas price "separately" with Ashgabat on behalf of the private companies which handle the project. That is certain to be the mother of all energy "negotiations" involving two countries, which figure at the bottom of the world ranking by Transparency International.


Energy security ought to have been worked out at the regional level. There was ample scope for it. The IPI was a genuine regional initiative. TAPI is being touted as a regional project by our government but it is quintessentially a U.S.-led project sheltered under Pax Americana, which provides a political pretext for the open-ended western military presence in the region. As long as foreign military presence continues in India's southwestern region, there will be popular resistance and that will make it a breeding ground for extremist and terrorist groups. India is not only shying away from facing this geopolitical reality but, in its zest to secure "global commons" with the U.S, is needlessly getting drawn into the "new great game." Unsurprisingly, Delhi no more calls for a neutral Afghanistan. It has lost its voice, its moral fibre, its historical consciousness.


Finally, TAPI is predicated on the U.S. capacity to influence Pakistan. Bluntly speaking, TAPI counts on human frailties — that pork money would mellow regional animosities. But that is a cynical assumption to make about the Pakistani military's integrity.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)









For nearly two decades, there have been peace processes in the Middle East but no peace. In recent visits to the region including Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory we have heard a consistent message: people want peace, but are sceptical about the process and have little faith in the international community to deliver.


Two years after the 2008 Gaza conflict, there is now an opportunity to reassess the entire approach to the negotiations. The U.S. effort to secure from Israel another partial freeze on settlement-building as a way of resuming direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has failed.


We urge a renewed effort, firmly based in international law and respect for human rights, that first aims to define boundaries between Israel and a new Palestinian state and address security issues. Without such focus, we will see the possibility of a two-state solution slipping even further away.


This approach sets challenges for Israelis and Palestinians, for their regional neighbours, for the international community, especially the U.S. Government, and for each of us as concerned global citizens.


Applying international law and human rights principles means that the occupation must end, and the focus of negotiations should be on the boundaries of a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Such an accord could entail, if agreed, a one-to-one land swap to allow for minor adjustments. Initial negotiations should also aim at security arrangements in which both Israelis and Palestinians have confidence.


Israeli settlement activity must stop throughout the occupied territories which includes East Jerusalem. These settlements are illegal under international law. So, too, is the inhumane blockade of Gaza. It must be lifted fully except for armaments. The demolition and seizure of Palestinian homes must also end.


In ensuring the rights of all are respected, we call on leaders and citizens to ensure that Israel's right to exist is not denied. Incitement and calls for the destruction of Israel must not be tolerated.


The upholding of human rights and the rule of law also places demands on the Palestinian authorities of the West Bank and Gaza. They must end all human rights violations against political critics and rivals.


Across the region, we believe that the Arab Peace Initiative should serve as the basis for normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world.


International help

It is clear, of course, that Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately agree to a solution, but they cannot do it alone. The international community must help them reach that agreement through fair and robust mediation and by reconfirming prior agreements, U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Geneva Conventions, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all of which are being violated.


Nor can we, as citizens, leave such a vital issue to our governments. Each of us has to keep up the pressure on our own political leaders to show the importance we attach to achieving peace in the Middle East.


As Elders, we will continue to do all we can to persuade governments around the world to apply a rights-based approach to this terrible conflict and to turn the focus of initial negotiations to border and security issues.


We have already given our support to non-violent protest and creative civil action for peace. We will continue to do so, both morally and in person whenever we can. This is too important an issue to be left to politicians alone.


Without a strategy that can deliver a peace agreement based on a two-state solution, Palestinians will continue to live under Israeli occupation, millions of Palestinian refugees will continue to live without hope and Israel's survival and security remain under threat. If there is no real progress, more violence is the likely outcome.


The world has lived far too long with this conflict. The obstacles to peace are daunting. But one of the advantages of observing public events over many years is that we have seen how apparently irreconcilable divisions can be bridged with courage, commitment and humanity. We desperately need to see these qualities now.


( Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu are members of

The Elders:









Australia looks to the East, it looks to the North, but it has struggled to look West.

Of course West Australians know full well how broad the Nullabor really is, but as profound as any perceived distance between Canberra and Perth, is the nation's historic reluctance to embrace the Indian Ocean region.


This vast region is highly diverse in its peoples, cultures, religions, political systems and levels of economic development. Its 48 countries are home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world's population.


The Indian Ocean region is undergoing a major transformation. We see extraordinary economic growth in South Asia, led by the rising great power that is India. India is on track to become the world's third largest economy after the United States and China, and the world's most populous nation.


We also know the global influence of the Gulf States, on whom the world relies for so much of its energy needs. The Gulf's rapid infrastructure development, open trade, capital flows and labour markets are making it an increasingly important centre for regional economic growth.


Africa's transformation is also significant. A continent of nearly a billion people, by 2040 Africa will have the world's largest working-age population. While considerable security and development challenges persist, Africa's modern reality is more complex than some of the stereotypes of the past would suggest. Foreign direct investment in Africa is now almost as large as the flow into China when measured relative to GDP and Africa now has more middle class households than India.


But knowing it on paper, knowing it in our heads, doesn't yet make it fixed in our policy settings.


Our allies are East across the Pacific; North we have the profound strategic and economic developments across East Asia; but we must also address the great challenges and opportunities that present themselves across the Indian Ocean region.


Indian Ocean


We can no longer afford to consider the Indian Ocean as an afterthought. It is a region that grapples with the full range of security challenges, including weapons of mass destruction proliferation; terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and across the Horn of Africa; piracy in the Gulf of Aden; as well as fisheries management, food security and the impact of climate change on low lying states.


Australia's interests in the region are significant.


More than a third of Australia's maritime zone lies within the Indian Ocean, including significant current and prospective energy and resource projects. Protecting these projects, as well as continuing to assert Australia's sovereignty over our wider maritime zone, is fundamental to the nation's long term economic interests. The Indian Ocean also represents a significant fisheries resource, and is home to what are arguably the world's most important sea lanes of communication.


It is clear that Australia's interests in the region require an increasingly activist Australian foreign policy.


Since it came to office, the Government has begun to pay the Indian Ocean region the attention it deserves.


We have done this by enhancing Australia's engagement with South Asia, countries in the Gulf, and across Africa. We have also nurtured relations with our South East Asian partners that are also Indian Ocean states. Our closest Indian Ocean neighbour is, of course, Indonesia. Australia's relations with Indonesia have never been better. We have a strategic partnership, and our cooperation regionally and globally is close and productive. Equally, our relations with Malaysia and Singapore continue to thrive.


Regional bodies, CHOGM 2011


Australia has also strengthened its role in Indian Ocean regional bodies such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). Over the next two years, Australia will work closely with India, as IOR-ARC Chair, to increase regional cooperation on fisheries management, customs training, energy security, and disaster management. In 2013 and 2014, Australia will itself chair IOR-ARC.


But we must do more.


To secure its future, Australia must look West as well as East. The profound changes in the region demand that we do so.


This is why the Government chose Perth, our gateway to the Indian Ocean and our Western capital, to hold next year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This will be the largest political summit ever to be hosted in Australia. It holds the potential to deliver important benefits for Australia, as well as for our engagement with this new, dynamic Indian Ocean region.


( Kevin Rudd is Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs.)








As the United States continued to push for President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast to step down, two former Clinton administration officials were trying to present Mr. Gbagbo, who has clung to power despite international condemnation, in a more sympathetic light.


Michael Espy, the former Agriculture Secretary who is now a lobbyist, has appeared on Ivorian television on behalf of Mr. Gbagbo's government, while Lanny J. Davis, former Chief Counsel to President Clinton who was hired by Mr. Gbagbo's government this month, worked the phones and described himself as a liaison of sorts to the tainted regime.


Obama's campaign


At the White House, the lobbying efforts did not appear to be getting very far. U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria on December 22 to reinforce the message that the United States wants to see African leaders — who have been working to dislodge Mr. Gbagbo — out front in the international campaign to oust him.


By all international accounts, Mr. Gbagbo was defeated by Alassane Ouattara in the November 28 runoff vote for president, but Mr. Gbagbo has disputed the election results.


The World Bank said on December 22 in a statement that it was halting loans to Ivory Coast, which would mean a cut-off of the $841.9 million that the bank committed to the country in January. The bank said in the statement that it was supporting African institutions "in sending the message to President Gbagbo that he has lost the election and needs to step down."


For Mr. Obama, the issue has particular resonance in part because he has sought to turn responsibility for good governance in Africa to African institutions even as he has held many African leaders at a distance. All across the continent of Mr. Obama's father's birth, Africans euphorically greeted his election as a sign that they now had an ally at the helm of the most powerful country in the world.


But for Mr. Obama, that adulation has come as a blessing and a curse.


Mr. Obama convened a forum in Washington in August to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of 17 African countries, but he did not invite a single African leader to attend, an omission many African media outlets interpreted as an expression of his distaste for those rulers on the continent considered to be abusive. During his first year in office, Mr. Obama visited Ghana, where he said, pointedly, that "Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."


That emphasis away from strongmen, White House officials said, is now a huge part of the President's strategy for dealing with the chaos in Ivory Coast. White House officials said that Mr. Obama telephoned the Nigerian President because he is the head of the Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, which is trying to solve the crisis. The regional group and Mr. Jonathan have won praise for explicitly calling for Mr. Gbagbo to step down. One Obama administration official said that the United States stood ready to help the regional organisation "logistically" if it decides to intervene, militarily or otherwise, in Ivory Coast.


American officials have also said they will impose targeted sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo and his wife, as well as high-ranking members of his government.


In a sign of the increasing tension in Ivory Coast, France advised its 13,000 citizens there to leave the country.


Lobbyist's moves


Mr. Davis, who helped defend President Clinton against impeachment, registered with the Justice Department earlier this month as an agent for Ivory Coast who would be paid $100,000 a month to "present the facts and the law as to why there is substantial documentary evidence that President Laurent Gbagbo is the duly elected president as a result of the November 28 elections." But he insisted in an interview on December 22 that he viewed himself not as an advocate but as a "conveyor belt" to pass information about Mr. Gbagbo to the administration and the world.


Of Mr. Gbagbo, Mr. Davis said he was working through liaisons to "try to persuade him to move to the middle" and to begin an international dialogue about the election. He said that a speech Mr. Gbagbo gave earlier this week, in which he appeared open to international mediation, was a sign of his progress in pushing that agenda.


Mr. Davis said he regards himself as a "paid George Mitchell," referring to the former senator who negotiated the Northern Ireland peace accord.


He said that he encouraged Mr. Gbagbo to condemn the election violence in Ivory Coast, and on December 22, the Ivorian strongman did just that, putting out a statement in which he said that he would not tolerate the killings of civilians and that anyone responsible for such violence should be prosecuted. (Despite such pronouncements, witnesses and human rights advocates have said the government's security agents have beaten, shot and killed opposition activists and residents in neighborhoods known to support Mr. Ouattara.)


Mr. Davis said he spoke on December 22 with a senior official at the State Department who he said "encouraged me to continue doing what I'm doing — to get them to the bargaining table without further bloodshed."


But the White House does not appear to see much middle ground on the issue.


Mr. Espy, who was travelling on December 22 and could not be reached for comment, had been in Ivory Coast this week making appearances on state television in support of Mr. Gbagbo's administration. (Mr. Espy and Mr. Davis are friends, although Mr. Davis said he was unaware of his Mr. Espy's involvement.) (Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.)


— © New York Times News Service








The number-crunchers on Wall Street are starting to crunch something else: the news.


Math-loving traders are using powerful computers to speed-read news reports, editorials, company Web sites, blog posts and even Twitter messages — and then letting the machines decide what it all means for the markets.


The development goes far beyond standard digital fare like most-read and e-mailed lists. In some cases, the computers are actually parsing writers' words, sentence structure, even the odd emoticon. A wink and a smile — ;) — for instance, just might mean things are looking up for the markets. Then, often without human intervention, the programmes are interpreting that news and trading on it.


Given the volatility in the markets and concern that computerised trading exaggerates the ups and downs, the notion that Wall Street is engineering news-bots might sound like an investor's nightmare.


Technological revolution


But the development, years in the making, is part of the technological revolution that is reshaping Wall Street. In a business where information is the most valuable commodity, traders with the smartest, fastest computers can outfox and outmanoeuvre rivals.


"It is an arms race," said Roger Ehrenberg, managing partner at IA Ventures, an investment firm specialising in young companies, speaking of some of the new technologies that help traders identify events first and interpret them.


Many of the robo-readers look beyond the numbers and try to analyse market sentiment, that intuitive feeling investors have about the markets. Like the latest economic figures, news and social media buzz — "unstructured data," as it is known — can shift the mood from exuberance to despondency.


Tech-savvy traders have been scraping data out of new reports, press releases and corporate Web sites for years. But new, linguistics-based software goes well beyond that. News agencies like Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters have adopted the idea, offering services that supposedly help their Wall Street customers sift through news automatically.


Words and sentiment


Some of these programmes hardly seem like rocket science. Working with academics at Columbia University and the University of Notre Dame, Dow Jones compiled a dictionary of about 3,700 words that can signal changes in sentiment. Feel-good words include obvious ones like "ingenuity," "strength" and "winner." Feel-bad ones include "litigious," "colludes" and "risk."


The software typically identifies the subject of a story and then examines the actual words. The programmes are written to recognise the meaning of words and phrases in context, like distinguishing between "terribly," "good" and "terribly good."


Vince Fioramonti, a portfolio manager at Alpha Equity Management, a $185 million equities fund in Hartford, uses Thomson Reuters software to measure sentiment over weeks, rather than minutes or hours, and pumps that information directly into his fund's trading systems.


"It is an aggregate effect," Mr. Fioramonti said. "These things give you the ability to assimilate more information."


Bloomberg monitors news articles and Twitter feeds and alerts its customers if a lot of people are suddenly sending Twitter messages about, say, I.B.M.


Lexalytics, a text analysis company in Amherst, Mass., that works with Thomson Reuters, says it has developed algorithms that make sense out of Twitter messages. That includes emoticons like the happy-face :) and the not-so-happy :\.


Sceptics abound, but proponents insist such software will eventually catch on with traders.


"This is where the news breaks," said Jeff Catlin, the chief executive of Lexalytics. "You have a leg up if you are a trader."


The computer-savvy traders known as quants are paying attention. According to Aite Group, a financial services consulting company, about 35 per cent of quantitative trading firms are exploring whether to use unstructured data feeds.


Quants often use these programmes to manage their risks by, say, automatically shutting down trading when bad news hits.


But industry experts say the programmes are also moving the markets. Last May, as Greece's financial crisis deepened, Wall Street computers seized on a news story with the word "abyss" in the headline and initiated sell orders, according to industry experts.




But some warn of a growing digital divide in the markets. Well-heeled traders who can afford sophisticated technology have an edge over everyone else, these people say.


Paul Tetlock, an associate professor at Columbia University who did research that was used to create the news algorithms, worries that technology has skewed the playing field. Regulators, he said, should keep a close eye on these high-speed traders.


"People are trading news at very high frequency," he said. "People worry about that."


But the experts are already talking about the next thing — programmes to automatically digest broadcast and closed-caption television. Adam Honoré, the research director at Aite Group, said the innovations did not end there. He said some traders were using software that monitored public statements by corporate executives and administered the computer equivalent of a lie-detector test.


"It is the next wave of trading," Mr. Honoré said of unstructured data. "It goes hand in hand with more and more of everyday life being digitised."


— © New York Times News Service









With Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu going on an indefinite hunger fast to press the case of the suffering farmers of Andhra Pradesh, and the same instrument of politics being deployed for the limited period of 48 hours by Kadapa MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who is due to launch his own party after revolting against the Congress, the government of the newly ordained N. Kiran Kumar Reddy faces its first serious test since it took office recently. The Congress chief minister — seen by some as a neophyte in the area of nuts and bolts politics — needs a strong hand of support from the Centre to help the farmers in distress, and to surmount the challenge thrown at him by his opponents. He is likely to be in the midst of another crisis in the next week or so when the Srikrishna Committee on Telangana comes out with its report. If the chief minister's hand is strengthened by the Centre, he will be in a better position to deal with the fallout of the Srikrishna report. If not, prolonged political uncertainty in the state could be on the cards. This is not good for anybody. Not only will it impact negatively on the fortunes of the Congress in the only state in South India where it did not need an ally, instability would sap the administration and hurt the people. Some may be tempted to work toward the option of an unduly early Assembly election, but that is hardly the way things should go.

Farmers were hit hard by nature's fury as many as five times this year. Crop on 25 lakh acres of land has been lost on account of heavy rains and cyclones. The plight of our food-growers is self-evident. Playing politics with people's misery speaks of opportunism, not necessarily of concern for the suffering. In the case of Mr Naidu, it will be recalled that he has not pitched in for farmers in his 30 years in public life, leave alone go on a long-duration hunger fast. He was better known during his term as chief minister for catering to the urban habitation and taking health care out of the reach of the poor. Being a mature and respected politician, he might have earned laurels if he had only so much as raised the cause of the needy farmers without bringing a threatening edge to his demand. It is to be hoped that he would heed wise counsel from all quarters and end his fast before his health deteriorates any further, for that can become a political issue too and further unsettle the administration. As for Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, his short-duration protest fast is only a mobilising tool in a season in which he is doing all he can to build himself up politically. Reports suggest that he is registering a fair measure of progress, although it is not clear if playing politics with people's lives always yields political dividends.

Given the state of affairs, much is up to the good sense of the Centre. The Manmohan Singh government has been unduly slow-footed in responding to a sliding situation. The announcement of `400 crore aid from the Centre to give succour to the state's farmers appears to be a response to the protest actions by the opponents of the Congress. It should have come suo motu. Often, the essence of politics lies in the timing and the show of initiative, whether a specific demand has been made or not. The relief offered so far cannot meet the needs of the farmers, and it is beyond the capacity of any state government to deal with a crisis of the present magnitude. It will be in the fitness of things if the farm crisis in Andhra Pradesh is declared a national calamity, and financial and administrative instruments pressed into service to alleviate the misery of the agricultural community.







The visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to New Delhi last week has rightly received an inordinate amount of attention from the Indian press. There has been some celebration of the $23 billion in investment projects signed by the two countries during the visit, a sum that dwarfs the $14 billion signed by the US President Barack Obama when he was here. There has also been some satisfaction at the way New Delhi stood up to Beijing's attempted bullying on Tibet, in particular India's refusal to repeat its usual ritualistic endorsement of China's views on Tibet and the "One China" policy — so long as Beijing remains unwilling to show similar sensitivity to India's views on Jammu and Kashmir.

So far, so good. Trade will clearly continue to grow; the Chinese will make special efforts to open up market access to Indian companies, who have long been chafing at the "non-tariff barriers" that impede their ability to penetrate the Great Wall; and there are very strong indications that Beijing will do away with the irritant of the stapled-visa policy for Indian citizens born in Jammu and Kashmir. (If we could only succeed in getting a Srinagar-based Indian general a visa to resume defence exchanges with the Chinese military, my satisfaction would be even greater.)

But the one area on which I have seen nothing — and I mean literally nothing, not so much as a smidgen of a comment — is the potential for future cooperation between India and China, not just between themselves (in their bilateral relations), but in the multilateral arena.

The opportunities for cooperation here are in fact great. There is, first of all, the regional plane. China and India have notably strengthened their cooperation in regional affairs. China has acquiesced in India's participation in the East Asia Summit and invited India to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an observer, just as India has supported China's becoming an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). While Asia is devoid of meaningful security institutions, their interlocking economic and trade relationships with each other and with other Asian countries can, and in my view will, knit China and India closer together.

But multilateral cooperation need not be confined to the Asian region. China and India have broadly similar interests and approaches on a wide range of broader international questions, from most issues of international peace and security to the principles of world trade and the ways and means of coping with globalisation. They have already begun working together in multinational forums on such issues as climate change and environment protection, and have no real differences on matters like encouraging biodiversity, promoting dialogue among civilisations, promoting population control, combating transnational crime, controlling the spread of pandemic disease, and dealing with challenges from non-traditional threats to security. All of these areas provide a realistic basis for further long-term cooperation.

One exception, alas, is the issue of combating international terrorism, where China's indulgence of Pakistani terrorist groups at the UN has been deplorable. There is little doubting that it is thanks to Beijing providing cover for Islamabad that the UN Sanctions Committee has not gone further towards proscribing the Jamaat ud Dawa and getting Hafiz Sayeed onto various international "wanted" lists. We should perhaps have taken the opportunity of Mr Wen's visit to point out that this kind of behaviour is arguably not in Beijing's own long-term interests. After all, Uighur militants in Xinjiang, radicalised in Pakistan, have been known to set off explosive devices in China and seek refuge in the Islamic Republic, hardly a practice Beijing would like to see repeated too often. But for the moment, China attaches greater importance to the strategic relationship with Pakistan than to what is still the relatively minor threat of Pakistani-inspired terrorism on its own soil.
Of course, that can change, and China-India cooperation can also improve on the issues of piracy, oil spills and other international environmental issues, nuclear disarmament and arms races in outer space, human trafficking and natural disasters — all of which are issues on which the two countries could play mutually supportive roles, take joint responsibility and contribute to the establishment of new rules in the global system. New areas of cooperation could also emerge — wildlife conservation, for instance, where both countries could co-operate on issues like the smuggling of tiger parts to Chinese customers, or disaster management, where Asia's two giants have much to learn from each other but have made no effort to do so.

Turning to the big-picture issues, it is true that in the global geopolitical arena there is one difference between us: we in India would prefer that the international institutions of peace and security, notably the UN Security Council, reflect the geopolitical realities of today rather than of 1945. Here we may not be on the same page as China, which has not shown much enthusiasm for a reform that would give us, and worse, Japan, a comparable status to Beijing's at the world's high table. But in the international economic system, there is no difference between us: we both aim to pursue a long-term objective of broad parity between the developed countries and the developing and transition economies in the international financial institutions. After all, the recent global financial crisis showed that the surveillance of risk by international institutions and early warning mechanisms are needed for all countries. Both China and India agree that developing countries should have a voice in overseeing the global financial performance of all nations, rather than it simply being a case of the rich supervising the economic delinquency of the poor.

All this is not just to assert ourselves on the world stage. India's and China's broad strategic goals must remain the same, to enable their domestic transformation by accelerating our growth, preserving our strategic autonomy, protecting our people and responsibly helping shape the world. There is a great deal more we need to do to this end — and doing it partly on the world multilateral stage, rather than simply in our two foreign ministries, is something that the mandarins in both capitals could well spend more time thinking about, and working on with each other. India and China certainly won't ever be a new G2 at the UN, but our increased proximity on the Security Council could well give us a good opportunity to start being more than distant neighbours on our ever-shrinking planet.


Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








In 2010, India had a string of VIP visitors from the "big five" countries. First to arrive was British Prime Minister David Cameron in July. Then followed US President Barack Obama's successful India visit in November 2010, though it was somewhat dampened by the WikiLeaks disclosures. Next was France President Nicolas Sarkozy who turned on the charm offensive with sufficient help from his glamorous wife. This was followed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India from December 15 to 17 and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's two-day trip beginning on December 21. The reason for these visits is the fact that a "rising" India is expected to play an increasingly important role in the two most "dangerous regions on earth", i.e. the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The latter, dominated by peninsular India, is crucial to global sea trade and energy flow since it connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Significantly, the Chinese Premier's visit was uninspiring despite contracts worth $16 billion being signed and bilateral trade expected to cross $120 billion by 2014 (Mr Wen signed $35 billion worth of deals with Pakistan a few days later).

Given the border dispute and China's new assertiveness on its territorial claims in South Asia and the APR, where it is trying to "shape the geostrategic arena", can growing trade (with India's share at 33 per cent deficit) alone stabilise the region?

On November 21, 2010, China commenced work in Tibet on the first of the planned 28 dams on the river Brahmaputra for hydropower generation. Though China's latest move will further aggravate tensions, the era of "water wars" will really begin in a few years when China decides to divert Brahmaputra into its own territory (to irrigate its arid regions and replenish the water levels in the depleting Yellow river), thus converting India's Northeast into a desert.

In addition to neutralising Pakistan and China's designs in South Asia, India must oppose any Chinese attempts to convert the South China Sea (SCS) into China's territorial waters as then free flow of Indian and global sea-borne commerce from the IOR to the APR and vice-versa would be at China's mercy. Sixty per cent of India's sea-borne trade moves westwards, across the IOR to Europe and beyond, while 40 per cent moves eastward, to the APR and beyond. Given China's latest mischief of not recognising the 1,500 kms of its boundary with Kashmir as part of the disputed Sino-Indian border, India needs to declare a new policy stating that Tibet is not a part of China. Also, it needs to increase trade with Taiwan, from the present $5 million, annual level.
Mr Medvedev's visit served to consolidate Indo-Russian ties. There is no doubt that India needs to continue its traditional time-tested relations with Russia for meeting its vital defence needs (stealth fighter aircraft, nuclear submarines), civilian nuclear reactors and some crude oil from the Sakhalin oil fields. However, the United States with a global naval presence is also important to India, as it is the only military power capable of countering China.

On October 27, 2010, the US announced the construction of a $12 billion naval base on Guam Island, which along with the Pearl Harbour (Hawaii) forms the "third and last island chain" blocking China's cherished eastwards push across the Pacific Ocean. In anticipation of Chinese weaponisation of space by 2020, the US plans to launch a series of lethal robotic aerospace systems. By 2020, China aims to be capable of launching missile and cyberspace strikes on every part of the globe.

North Korea — China's proxy in APR — continues to raise tensions with the November 23, 2010, shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeondo Island and then threatening nuclear strikes, bringing Japan and South Korea closer to the US.

In my opinion, the incident like the March 26, 2010, sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan by a North Korean submarine, had the blessings of China. China provides North Korea 79 per cent of its foreign investments, 90 per cent of its crude oil, 84 per cent of its consumer goods and most of its military equipment. This scenario is almost identical to China's other proxy, Pakistan, which hopes to use US aid worth billions of dollars to buy three dozen J10 fighter aircraft, four Yuan class conventional submarines (with Air Independent Propulsion System), four Type 054 Frigates and also possibly acquire a Han-class nuclear attack submarine on a 10-year lease from China at "friendship prices".

India should brace itself to counter a Cheonan-type incident at sea or a 26/11-type of attack. While South Korea has recently "remodeled" its future military response, Japan has recently decided to increase its submarine force from 16 to 22. The Indian Navy, which is now reduced to 14 aging conventional submarines, instead of 24 that are needed, should urgently emulate the Japanese example.

The China-Pak anti-India nexus will remain unchanged for decades while China will simultaneously head for a collision course against the US as it is a stumbling block to China's territorial claims in the APR.
The world, including India, relies on sea-borne trade and oil moving safely through the IOR to various global destinations. Hence, India and the US do have mutual interests.

For the safety of sea-borne commerce, India needs "friends" to counter Chinese moves in the APR, while the US, along with the global maritime community, needs "friends" to counter the piracy and maritime terror in the IOR.

Indeed, China's expected prolonged naval deployments in the IOR by about 2030 will further aggravate the situation.

To conclude, Indo-US relations (specially in the fields of maritime, aerospace, defence and cyber security) have a bright future but they can never be "strategic" like the present asymmetrical US-Britain or China-Pakistan ties because of America's fixation with its "geostrategic ally" Pakistan.

The only way for India to avoid an inevitable war with China is to deter China with a combination of conventional and nuclear weapons capability along with diplomacy and close cooperation with other maritime nations, including the US.

For a start, India needs to increase its annual defence budget by 50 per cent and ensure that the money is actually spent and not allowed to lapse.


Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam









498. That is the phenomenal number of runs scored by Mumbai boy, Armaan Jaffer, all of 13 years old, during a school cricket match.


Obviously, such a brilliant score means comparisons with the real phenomenon, Sachin Tendulkar. While it is too early to say whether Armaan measures up, there is no doubt that Mumbai, and India, will be watching this lad's progress in the days ahead.


Armaan's success also shows that cramped and congested Mumbai continues to be India's cradle of cricket, and continues to churn out batsmen at a regular rate. Moreover, parents are now only too happy to push their sons into sports, while just a generation ago, they only dreamt of making their sons engineers or doctors.


The concern, however, is that India still remains a batsman's paradise.


Another way of looking at Armaan's 498 is that the bowlers were simply lacking, just the way Indian bowlers

failed to trouble South African batsmen at Centurion.


Thus, while we are looking at a potential replacement to Sachin, we have still not found a boy who can take 10 wickets in an innings, à la Kumble in 1999, and win matches. Batsmen can score as they want, but India can only win a Test if it can take 20 wickets.






The Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi)-appointed Bimal Jalan committee's report on market infrastructure institutions (MII) has triggered some debate, some dissatisfaction and a bit of irritation in some quarters, especially in the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), which has been planning an initial public offering (IPO) early next year.


The point of contention is with regard to the nature of stock exchanges. The report says that stock exchanges are public utilities and they should not be seen as for-profit entities.


It is for this reason the committee has recommended that the exchanges should not be listed, their ownership be diffused and there should be a cap on salaries paid to the exchange executives.


The other argument that has been given against the listing of exchanges is that there might arise a conflict of interest were the exchange itself to become a commercial player and seek profits when its job is to manage the trading of other market players.


The caution and the conservatism of the committee inherent in the report is perhaps to be attributed to the 2008 economic meltdown in the US, which triggered the global recession. But the recession is receding and financial markets have to get back to functioning in conditions of normality.


There is no conflict of interest if the stock exchanges were to function efficiently and also generate profits while providing trading services. While monopolies are to be discouraged, the shareholding patterns in an exchange cannot be broad-based at the start as the report suggests.


Starting with a small base of shareholders, an exchange that wants to grow will have to automatically broaden its shareholder base as well. A stock exchange provides the meeting point for companies to raise funds and for institutional as well as individual investors to put their money to productive use. It is, in many ways, democratisation of the financial markets. It is well worth the risks of such democratisation.


If India's economic success story is to grow bigger then it needs healthy financial markets, and stock exchanges have a big role to play in this. Opening up of the stock exchange space in terms of the number of players and transparency of functioning is essential.


There is certainly the case that stock exchange reforms cannot be effected here and now. They have to be done in a phased manner. The Jalan committee has missed the opportunity to give a broader framework for this.







Parsis are one of the most dynamic and charitable communities whose contribution to India is immense. But the fact is that Parsis are on the verge of extinction with a higher death than birth rate.


In a bid to help out, the Union ministry of minority affairs had sought to provide government aid to boost the community's fertility rate. But the Planning Commission has negated the move, saying it is not for political agencies to intervene in such social matters.


The commission is right. The decline of the Parsis, a well-documented phenomenon, is rooted in many reasons. The community is, by and large, prosperous and educated. This has led to late marriages and smaller families.


The community also has a large pool of unmarried women. Then there is the religious reason: the community refuses to allow converts, nor does it consider children of Parsi women and non-Parsi men as its own. In this day and age, this is both an antiquated and a regressive standpoint.


Yet, these are matters the Parsis have to resolve themselves. The good news is that within the community, debates are on. The bad news is that at present, the conservative side, which refuses to open up the community to others, holds the upper hand. Given the complex nature of the problem, it is best that the State keeps out.


This is not to insist on a blanket ban on government interference in community affairs. The government should intervene where individual rights, especially that of women or the lower castes, are trampled upon, or when the community chooses to hound its dissident members. The government must also interfere to insist that places of worship or burial grounds do not bar fellow members to prevent exclusive clubs within communities.


But boosting fertility rates is not an issue that requires the government to step in. The ministry of minority affairs is said to be upset at this decision and may appeal to a higher authority. We hope that they will, instead, accept the valid viewpoint of the panel and stay away.







My first Christmas in Britain came as something of a surprise. I was at Cambridge University and had spent two and a half months of the first term settling into college, England, new acquaintance and writing letters to India.


I was living in the college dorm at the time and had not been told that during the Christmas holidays I would be required to move out.


My Tata scholarship didn't stretch to the extravagance of going to London. I found the cheapest room I could find, at the top of a house in a dark street.


Soon the other undergraduates melted away. Even some of the Indians in other colleges — Rajiv Gandhi being one — had places to go and invitations.


Poona seemed very far away. I moved into my gloomy attic room at the top of the empty house with the landlady in the basement flat. I arranged my worldly goods and budgeted my allowance for the next few weeks. There was a coin gas meter in the room which supplied the fireplace and the cooking ring. I soon got the measure of it and its thirst for silver coins.


Blankets kept me warm through the nights but during the day, having reached the coin limit, I visited the few Indian and Pakistani friends, who were still in Cambridge, in their centrally-heated hostels, but even these soon went their ways and I hit upon the stratagem of going to the University libraries, sitting close to the radiators and catching up on the complete Tolstoy.


Then, as the 25th approached, the libraries shut. I had lentils and rice and had bought a bag of potatoes, cans of beans and a box of eggs and, of course, tea, coffee and a half pint of milk and these provided a rich and varied diet. But cooking exhausted the gas supply and there were no coins left over from my careful budget for heating. But it was Christmas and I knew the Church would provide.


I carried my Anna Karenina to one or other church or chapel in Cambridge, most of which were open, heated and deserted. I would stay for as much time as would be deemed the safe side of loitering and then move on to the next one.


I steadfastly visualised the old Parsi ladies who sat for hours in the fire temple with an open prayer book and, having covered my Tolstoy with brown paper, hoped that any intrusive enquiry would conclude that it was a Bible.


The churches stayed open for Christmas. Christmas Eve was particularly snowy and I attended the evening service and sang hymns with the substantial congregation of St Mary's. A middle aged man with shiny black hair parted down the middle was standing next to me and he offered to share his hymn book with me. We sang the praises of the Lord.


Walking home after the service, I heard footsteps turn into my dark street. The man from the church was following me, caught up with me and began a conversation by asking if I was a student at the university. He said he'd come up to my room for coffee. I explained about the meter and he said he had plenty of coins. This was very tempting so I invited him up.


I was naive. He sipped the coffee I made and then took a box of talcum powder from his coat and asked if he could 'powder' me. I caught on. I kicked myself. I said I wasn't up for that sort of thing and he began to argue. I asked him to leave and he began to shout which brought the landlady's very robust son leaping up the stairs.


My new friend took one look at him and ran down. It all ended badly, but I suppose that's another story. Merry Christmas.







This scam will never hit the headlines. It will never be the subject of a joint Parliamentary committee nor will it ever result in Parliament being blocked for days together.


It doesn't matter if hundreds of poor people die and millions of livelihoods are destroyed. This is a just the collateral damage that the country must live with if it has to have economic growth. It is worse than any scam we have heard about. And it involves some brilliant minds — our economists and scientists.


As a nation we feel outraged if a patient dies due to a doctor's neglect. We force the government to imprison the engineer when a bridge collapses. But we remain quiet when hundreds of people die from pesticides poisoning. For the past few weeks, Kerala is witnessing an unprecedented uproar over a human disaster that a potent chemical pesticide — Endosulfan — has caused. Approved for use in cashewnut plantations, the pesticide has killed close to 1,000 people, chronically disabled more than 10,000 inhabitants with neurological disorders, paralysis and deformities, but is still being pushed for commercial application. Endosulfan was considered safe for humans and the environment by the Kerala Agricultural University and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).


This reminds one of the Agent Orange gas used by the Americans to defoliate forest covers in the Vietnam War. Forty years after the war ended, an estimated 500,000 were poisoned to death, and another 650,000 continue to suffer from an array of baffling chronic diseases. Like Endosulfan, Agent Orange, too, was considered safe for humans. And 40 years later, none of the scientists who approved it have been persecuted nor has the company that manufactured and marketed Agent Orange been hauled up for war crimes.


This is the accepted story of the shameful nexus between politics, industry, economists and scientists to slowly poison the current and the future generations; to usurp the natural resources in the name of development, bringing the world close to a tripping point; and to destroy millions of livelihoods in the name of free trade. While engineers and doctors are often brought to book under consumer laws, there is no legal mechanism that holds erring economists and scientists accountable. It all begins when economic policies and scientific decisions are taken in a 'closed and opaque' manner.


These policies are often designed to suit the commercial interests of particular companies.


Take the case of the process to justify the approval for FDI in multi-brand retail. The ministry of commerce is working overtime to tailor reports/studies in order to give an impression that big retail will be beneficial for the farmers as well as the consumers.


In reality, it is a massive cover-up operation that involves some research institutes as well as pliable experts who are picked to be part of the expert committees. The fact that big retail has not helped farmers and has instead led to the exit of farmers, is simply ignored. Numerous US studies that clearly show how the big retail eats into the livelihood of small shopkeepers and hawkers, exacerbating poverty, are very conveniently pushed under the carpet.


And if you think scientists are holy cows, think again. Over years, scientists have, with exception, turned out to be more corrupt than the politicians. Institutionalisation of corruption in science, technology and economics has already taken a massive human toll.


If you thought Niira Radia was the only successful corporate lobbyist, you just have to trace the influence International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has on Indian agricultural science and you are left wondering whether the biotechnology lobbying group is designing farm research in India. Private banks and consultancy firms like Mckinsey & Co are increasingly writing the farm and health policies for India.


Public sector science is now becoming subservient to private interests. Take the case of the Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops prepared by the top six academies — the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Submitted in September 2010, the report has been criticised for plagiarism and accused of blatantly siding with the commercial interests of the biotechnology industry.


That the top six distinguished science academies produce a report that is but a cheap public relation exercise on behalf of the biotechnology industry cannot be pardoned. It is time to stem the rot. We need to take a broom to clean the mess that has built up in the name of science and economics. This scam is much bigger than what the TV channels are telling us. And it involves human lives.








Prospects of resuming dialogue process have receded with confusion created by interlocutors 
In the absence of any other operational mechanism for propelling the long-stalled dialogue process, New Delhi-appointed interlocutors appear to be enjoying their larger-than-life image on the Kashmir scene. On the one hand their tendency to overshoot their vaguely defined job profile has been generating avoidable controversies regarding their real role in the game. On the other, misreading of their mission by some of the local stake holders continues to compound the confusion about Centre's real intention behind this move. National Conference leader, Mustafa Kamal's statement criticizing the interlocutors' style of functioning is the latest instance of how this venture can create more confusion than contributing anything really worthwhile. Primarily, the interlocutors as well as most of the political groups appear to be not quite clear about the scope of any such move. The very concept of appointing an interlocutor suggests certain specific limitations: That he/she is not assigned to hold any dialogue or engage in resolving disputes/issues. Interlocutor's role is strictly confined to establishing a channel of communication between the parties involved in the dispute or any other stake holders. They have neither any authority nor brief to cross that red line, even if no such limitation is put in black and white. 

Perhaps the confusion emanated from union home minister P Chidambaram's recent statement claiming that 'contours of a solution' (to the basic dispute) were likely to emerge within the next couple of months and that the report of the three interlocutors would provide a basis for it. Apart from the fact that this line of approach amounts to putting the cart before the horse it also compounds the confusion regarding what actually was happening on the ground and what was intended to be achieved from this exercise. It is relevant to recall that the space for introducing non-political interlocutors into the drama was virtually snatched by New Delhi from the leeway which was provided by the political intervention in the shape of direct engagement between visiting MPs and principal stake holders, namely the separatist leaders in the Valley. Dynamics of this breakthrough warranted a political-level follow up. But, for unexplained reasons, New Delhi opted for an unexpected course. Three non-political professionals were drafted to carry forward the mission. The result, to nobody's surprise, was that the advantage obtained out of the political engagement was virtually frittered away for apparently no reason. 

Dr Mustafa Kamal is right in pointing out serious flaws in the functioning of the interlocutors. Even earlier also, their inexperience in handling this kind of complex task has been showing itself in one form or the other. Their megalomania appeared to have got the better of their political judgement. Even today, their conduct on the ground gives the false impression that they were engaged (or assigned) to hold dialogue with stake holders and resolve issues between them. In fact, the interlocutors have been talking too much and too often. May be some of them are giving vent to their own repressed political ambitions about playing a 'role' in the affairs of the nation. Dr Kamal has a point in objecting to interlocutors engaging themselves in cross-talking on the ground. Their anxiety to be seen as talking to more and more people is impelling them to make strange utterances about some of the sensitive issues. It could be that the cold shouldering of the interlocutors by most of the key stake holders has compelled them to exaggerate and amplify the 'achievement' of their interaction with relatively inconsequential actors. 

So long as New Delhi does not come forth with some convincing road map this type of diversionary tactics would continue to create confusion. The centre has avoided a direct response to Syed Ali Shah Geelani's fairly reasonable 5-point proposal towards resuming the stalled dialogue process. Nor have the moderate sections of the Hurriyat Conference been shown any accommodation till now. Centre's own 8-point Kashmir package has been left hanging without any follow up. How is it possible, under these circumstances, that the interlocutors would inspire confidence or at least fulfill the objective of restoring channel of communication? Their flying visits to remote rural areas are too insufficient as worthwhile input for their own assessment. The impression is growing that they have come with a set mindset and are engaged in filling the blanks.







This is upsetting to note that despite the availability of around 3.10 lakh hectare agricultural land in the state, the farmers are not able to utilize the same in the absence of desired facilities. No wonder the state, which is mainly dependent on agri-economy, is relying on other states to feed its people. 7.5 lakh metric tonnes food grains and 3.5 lakhs metric tonnes vegetables are being imported from other states. As far as the farming community is concerned, they have a permanent complaint about the non-availability of fertilizers and seeds on time. Similar complaints are on account of irrigation facilities. Every year the farmers have to struggle hard to get these facilities which form the essentials of any agrarian economy. This is an irony that the J&K government has so far not been able to introduce Centre's Participatory Irrigation Management scheme, which has already been implemented across the country. While the arid areas of the state, for most part of the year, continue to crave for water for irrigation purposes, even the farmers in the plain areas don't get adequate irrigation facilities. This has always been their grievance that the water of Ranbir Canal, covering an expanse of 400 kms, does not reach the villages situated at its tail end because of silting and other related problems. Even decades after the successive governments have failed to redress the grievances of the farming community on these accounts. Not only this, moving beyond the paper horses, the concerned departments have not made any substantive efforts vis-à-vis water harvesting to ensure availability of water round the year. In 2004, the produce insurance scheme was introduced in other parts of the country but in J&K the farmers are still looking forward to avail the benefits under this scheme as the government is not willing to pay 50 percent amount of insurance premium. Costly agricultural inputs are posing yet another hurdle for the farmers who are getting the fertilizers at exorbitant rates as compared to other states of the country. Moreover in the absence of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act in the J&K, the farming community is not getting the genuine price of its produce, which is discouraging agriculture activities and enhancing the state's reliance on other states.








CELEBRATIONS of the 125th anniversary of the Indian National Congress at the party's 83rd plenary has turned into a slugfest between the core of the ruling United Progressive Alliance and the principal Opposition party, the BJP. While the Congress attack on the saffron party was confined to the issues of corruption and "subversion of the Constitution" by holding to ransom the entire winter session of Parliament, the head of the Sangh parivar (family), the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), fared much worse. The Congress party asked its government to probe the Sangh's "links with terrorist groups". Digvijay Singh, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and currently a general secretary of the party, who has been leading the attack, went so far as to compare the votaries of Hindutva to the Nazis.


Overwhelming emphasis on corruption at the three-day session was inevitable, given the spate of scams of gargantuan dimensions that have engulfed the Congress-dominated ruling combination. In the last article that he wrote, the upright and outspoken Socialist leader, Surendra Mohan, pointed out that during the nine years from 1980 to 1989, "there were 16 scams but, under the UPA's six-year regime, the number has multiplied three times, if not more". (Mainstream, Dec 4). Nor is it a surprise that both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to make offence the better part of defence. They lambasted the BJP for adopting "double standards" – shouting against corruption in Delhi and shielding the corrupt in Karnataka.
Their task was easy because the BJP has laid itself open to this onslaught. By assiduously protecting not only the Karnataka chief minister against very serious charges of land-grab but also the Bellary Reddys notorious for allegedly monumental mining loot, the party with a difference is not just adopting double standards. It is doing something disgraceful. But what the Congress president and the Prime Minister overlook is that two wrongs can never make one right. The pot and the kettle are equally black.

Against this backdrop it is no wonder that the BJP has hit back at the Congress equally hard, declaring that the ruling party, mired deep in scandals and scams, was behaving like a "party under siege" and showing signs of suffering from "BJP-phobia". Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, mocked that at its plenary the Congress "talked more about the BJP than about itself". As for Mr. Digvijaya Singh, a BJP spokesperson said that he could not be taken seriously because he had yet to produce the evidence of his phone call to the Maharashtra's chief of Anti-Terrorist Squad Hemant Karkare that he had "boasted" he possessed.
When the Prime Minister, invoking Caesar's wife, declared that he had nothing to hide and offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Congress-BJP confrontation escalated fast. Mr. Jaitley and other BJP leaders rejected Dr Manmohan Singh's offer out of hand. Caesar's wife, they argued, did not choose the forum where she wanted to be judged. The PAC was unacceptable because of its limited remit, and that the Opposition would settle for nothing less than a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that the Congress seems determined resolutely to resist. Polarization of Indian polity (and consequently of Indian society) has done the country great harm already. The bare-knuckle fight in the offing would make the situation much worse. The disruption of the winter session wasn't the first of its kind, and sadly it is unlikely to be the last. At the plenary no religious tag was attached to terrorism. But what has already been said about Hindu versus jihadi terrorism has dangerous potential.

As for the galloping cancer of corruption in the country, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's five-point plan to counter it is unexceptionable. But it should have been enunciated on the day in 2004 when the Congress had returned to power after eight years in the wilderness though it is better late than never. However, the nagging questions is: Will the "Sonia Plan" be implemented during the remaining three and half years of the UPA's present tenure? Fast-track trial of those charge with graft, state funding of elections, transparency in the award of hugely lucrative contracts and mining licenses have been talked of for decades without any action on them. And going by experience so far, it would be easier to get a collective declaration of atheism from a conclave of Cardinals than to persuade Indian politicians, irrespective of their political affiliations, to relinquish discretionary powers, especially of land allotment.

One must also say with all due respect that the Congress claim of acting and acting fast against corruption is a trifle exaggerated. It would not have been in the mess it is today if only it had acted against A. Raja at least 13 months earlier. The Radia tapes reveal a rather gloomy picture of his reappointment as minister of telecommunications and thus of the Congress stand against venality. The other day the Supreme Court indicted Vilasrao Deshmukh, a former chief minister of Maharashtra and now a Union cabinet minister, for intimidating a police officer to drop the case against a loan shark, father of a Congress MLA. If the Congress president and the Prime Minister have given Mr. Deshmukh the marching orders, the country has yet to hear of them. 
Anniversaries are undoubtedly occasions for rhetorical flourishes and grandstanding. Even so, one would have thought that at the plenary the party would do some introspection, too, because since the heady days of May 2009, its stock has plummeted and its strength in the country eroded. In the elections in Bihar it suffered ignominiously, winning only four seats compared with nine in the last assembly. Worse, in the state of Andhra that sent the largest contingent of Congress members of the Lok Sabha, the party is in a shambles and the overdue decision on Telangana will exacerbate the rolling crisis. In Maharashtra partnership with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress party is the problem. And of the alliance between the Congress and Mamatadi in West Bengal the less said the better.

Come to think of it, the most revealing moment at the plenary was when a large number of Bihar delegates heckled Mukul Wasnik and angrily told the leadership that he had "sold" almost all the 241 seats that the party contested and of which it lost the deposit in 207. At the Congress centenary at Mumbai in 1985 Rajiv Gandhi had vowed to eliminate the "brokers of power and influence" who "ride on the backs of millions of ordinary Congress workers" and have converted "a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy". Twenty-five years on, the promise remains unfulfilled. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has delegated this task to a special shivir (camp) a la Pachmarhi and Shimla. Let's wait and watch.







There's some bamboo trelliswork in my sitting room, that gets very colourful every year during Christmas time,


but this year it looks plain bamboo.

"There's just one Christmas card to stick into your bamboo!" says the wife.

"Christmas card?" asks my younger one, "What's that?"

"This!" I say showing the card that's come all the way from my eighty year old aunt in an old folk's home in Toronto.

"It's got a picture on it!"

"And a handwritten greeting inside!"

"When did it come?"

"In the first week of December!"

"Why ever would anyone send Christmas greetings so early?"

"Because your aunt thinks the postman will be overloaded during Christmas and New Year!"

"Yeah, the guy who brings our mail!"

"His name's not Google, it must be Kumar, or Yadav or Sharma, depending who the postmaster general was when he joined!"

"A postmaster general gets all his relatives into his department, just as the communications minister got all his into his ministry!"

And my younger one, looks at so much of information and shakes her head.

"What's the problem?" I ask irritated.

"Why couldn't she just send it by Google?"

I look at her and say, "Once upon a time, there was no Google, no Yahoo, no webmail!"

"Ha, ha, ha, you must be joking dad?"

"And postmen trudged from door to door delivering greeting cards and letters!"

"There must have been a million postmen dad? I get a hundred letters in my Google mailbox every day!"

"People wrote less those days," I said, "They had to pay for each letter, fix a stamp on it, walk to a postbox and send it!"

"When was this dad?"

"Hardly ten years ago, " I say and the doorbell rings. I open the door and look at four grinning faces, "Christmas bakshish saar!"

"Come," I tell the younger one, "Have a look at the postmen!"

"Four of them," she says, "So many cards?"

"No card," says Yadav, or is it Kumar, "Only bakshish, card come by email..!"

And I look at that single card from an aunt in an old folks home in Toronto, and I treasure it in my heart.










A report about the violation of air space by Pakistani army helicopters in R.S. Pura tehsil of this district on December 21 has evoked requisite concern. Due notice has been taken of it everywhere. There is no way we could have ignored this incident. For, there is no let-up in mischief from across the Line of Control (LoC) and the International order (IB) to push in armed infiltrators. It is a normal practice for Pakistan army to provide firing cover to intruders. The use of helicopters for such purpose could only be considered far more sinister. Prima facie, it is suspected, that at best it might have been a spying mission intended to take photographs of our border areas. Two to three minutes, which is the time said to be been spent by the alien flying machines, are enough for the purpose given modern technology. The possibility that they may have strayed unintentionally can't be ruled out either. In that event this instance would amount to an infringement of an agreement between the two countries that their armed aircraft would not fly within ten kilometres of each other's airspace (unarmed transport aircraft and helicopters are permitted within 1000 metres of the border). Therefore, it may not exactly be deemed to a direct violation as these have not crossed over into our territory. A movement like this, however, is enough to raise temperatures. Once in the "no fighter aircraft zone" a plane can reach up to this city in a matter of seconds. We have seen this happening during 1965 and 1971 wars. The enemy fighters would then keep us on our toes in the midst of deafening sounds of anti-aircraft guns. Many young persons of those periods are well trained in civil defence. They had rallied behind the Army and taken care to look after, to the best of their resources, the people uprooted from border regions. 


The moment an unwanted plane is cited in our vicinity our apparatus gets into action to take care of any eventuality. This time it has been no exception. A red alert was sounded in the Jammu sector. This is a matter of satisfaction. We must be watchful. It is common for Pakistani aircraft in particular to breach our airspace. Only recently Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony has let it be known that Pakistan has been responsible for 23 of 29 violation of our airspace during the past three years. China (3), the United States (2) and Bangladesh (1) have followed in that order. At times there are aberrations compelled by bad weather or technical problems. There are chances of planes losing their way in high mountains. These diversions can also be deliberate to test our preparedness --- our reaction, radar system and defence. 

Our only choice is to ensure that our safety measures are in place. We should be in a position to respond forcefully the moment there is an actual threat. At least two of our neighbours are capable of doing anything to harm us. The past experience lends credence to this perception. As it turns out to be our forces are very cautious and fairly well equipped. Time and again they are called upon to check infiltration bids through the land routes. With the eyes of eagle they are watching the skies too. 







Close on the heels of the revelation that we have not timely used the liberal Central assistance for setting up 18 polytechnics is another shocker. The only Government College for Engineering and Technology (GCET) in this city is unable to function according to expectations. It was expected to be a model on the lines of the Regional Engineering College (REC) in Srinagar. The REC has since been given the status of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) as a deemed university. The GCET is slow in moving upwards. A report in this newspaper has noted its tortoise-like pace: (a) it was established in the old campus of the Jammu University in 1994; (b) its proper campus was planned to be set up in Mariali (Chak Bhalwal), about 22 kilometres from the old campus, in 1996; (c) the actual work, however, could begin only after two years in 1998; and, (d) the progress till today is disappointing --- only five complexes have come up so far against the proposed 20. It is anybody's guess that the latest deadline for completing the entire scheme in 2012 is unlikely to be met. A simple construction work thus appears to be a Herculean task. As a consequence there are infrastructural problems: (1) the administration is functioning from the old campus while studies are being held in the new venue; and (2) students of some courses have to shuttle between the two places to maintain the required balance between theory and practical. On the top of it all there is an amazing disclosure which is confirmed by no less a person than the concerned minister. It has been stated that there are no recruitment and pay rules. There are employees who have been working in the same post with the same pay ever since their recruitment 15 years ago. About 12 members of the faculty have left the job with no chances of assured increase in salaries. Such possibility can't be ruled out given that a number of private engineering colleges have surfaced in the meantime requiring trained staff to justify their existence. There are other difficulties as well --- lack of sufficient manpower for attending to the maintenance of the new campus, ill-equipped hostel, feeble security network and poorly staffed dispensary. 
How can such an establishment be described as enough? As long as it is not honed to perfection it is impossible for the GCET to meet its declared vision "to build a vibrant, multicultural, learning environment founded on value based academic principle wherein all involved should contribute effectively, efficiently and responsibly to the nation and global community. "Strange though it may sound, in some informed circles the GCET is still considered the best of all institutions of its kind in this region. What should that imply if not that private engineering colleges are worse placed in every sense? There is need for us to have a close look at the entire scenario. Non-government bodies too are bound by certain rules and regulations. We do require highly qualified engineers who are appropriately educated. We can get them only if we provide the aspirants requisite facilities. It is necessary for not only our State's development but for image too. We should not be content with the situation as it exists today.









In long years of covering politics and governance in our fair and wondrous land I can think of no other time when our political class has let us down as badly as they have in the dying days of this year. Just when every major leader in the world has come to New Delhi to pay court and show how seriously India is being taken as an emerging market and international player we have seen our own political leaders make it painfully clear that they are wrong. We remain a third rate third world country and we want to stay that way seems to be the message that our political leaders wish to send. So even as we should be discussing the issues that arise from the visits in the past few months of the Presidents of the United States, France and Russia and the prime ministers of Britain and China we are embroiled in a seemingly meaningless debate about whether a joint parliamentary committee should be discussing the 2G scam or whether it should be discussed by some other investigating authority.
To tell you the truth I am as mystified as you may be about why the opposition parties wasted an entire session of Parliament over this issue and even more mystified about why the Congress Party should take such serious objections to a joint parliamentary committee. When I first made inquiries about this I was given to understand by friends in Congress that the objection to a JPC was that it would be able to order the Prime Minister to appear before it. Sonia Gandhi has on more than one occasion confirmed this by asserting, more loudly and aggressively than she usually does, that the Prime Minister is the embodiment of integrity and that the opposition attack on him was 'despicable'. Surprised by her unusually strong words I made some more inquiries and discovered that it was not the Prime Minister she was worried about but the possibility that she herself might be ordered to testify before a JPC. Why should this worry her, I asked my informant, and he said, 'Don't you see that it could shatter the mystique that surrounds her?'


No I do not see. Anyone who wishes to enter politics anywhere in the world has to be prepared to face public scrutiny. Those who want to live private lives must find jobs that allow them privacy. Nobody who wishes to stand for election and enjoy the fruits of great political power has the right to shy away from public scrutiny. But, it is not just India's Supreme Leader who is letting the country down it is the political class as a whole. If you paid even casual attention to the Congress Party's 83rd annual meeting you may have noticed that most speeches made at this convention had little or nothing to do with the issues that are of great importance to modern India.


Everyone who spoke, including Rahul Gandhi and his Mummy, expressed their views in the most banal terms so what we got were generalities about ending corruption and every other issue. Soniaji offered us a list of five things she believes will end corruption and the suggestions were not bad but it would have been far more interesting to hear her views on A. Raja's long and ugly innings in the Ministry of Telecommunications. Does she think it was a good idea for him to stay so long in the job? Why does she think he was not removed earlier? When she as this government's presiding deity saw him bend rules and manipulate policies to favour friendly capitalists why did she say nothing? If we had heard her answers to specific questions like these we might have understood if she were serious about wanting to reduce corruption in public life but not only did she not give any answers at the All India Congress Committee meeting nor did anyone else.

What is equally sad is the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to make corruption an issue in the streets. On Wednesday the BJP pulled out its biggest leaders for a rally in New Delhi's Ram Lila grounds and they made speeches that could easily mislead ordinary Indians into thinking that we have a general election possible less than half way through the term of this government. This is the first of many more rallies, according to the BJP, and the truth is that what we are seeing is more evidence that none of our political parties have understood that the times have changed. Rallies of this kind belong to an older time when the world moved more slowly and India more slowly even than the world. We could afford for our political leaders to waste their time at rallies because the issues that needed to be addressed were not so urgent. Today, they are and if every issue is going to be taken to the streets we can be sure that India's shiny new image as an emerging market and a potential economic superpower will quickly be shattered.

We need to address not just corruption with urgency and purposefulness but problems of infrastructure, education, healthcare, sanitation and urban planning. And, this is just a short list. For these issues to be discussed seriously we need Parliament to function and the opposition parties to play a responsible role inside Parliament. We do not need political rallies and street fighting. We need senior opposition leaders to keep the Government permanently on its toes about what it is doing to address these very serious problems. So far there is no evidence that any of our opposition parties, leave alone the biggest of them, has begun to understand this.
If they had, L.K. Advani would be discussing the deals we signed last week with the Russian President instead of rabble rousing. What are his views on the $30 billion worth of deals that the Indian government signed with Russia last week? Does he have any views on the nuclear power plants we are buying from France? Does he have views on nuclear power in general? 


We have no idea what the opposition thinks of these things and unless we do why should we vote for them next time? Why is this so hard for our opposition parties to understand? But, then as I said at the beginning of this piece this is a moment when our entire political class seems to be in suicidal mode. We can only hope that things improve in 2011.








As 2010 fades into history, I wonder whether the New Year will bring any hope for farmers. For several years now I have been silently praying and hoping that at least this New Year farmer will have something to cheer. But, unfortunately, it has not happened. With every passing year, their economic condition has further deteriorated.

Excessive use and abuse of chemical fertilisers has poisoned the soils; hybrid crop varieties being pushed at a subsidised price have destroyed the soil fertility and sucked the groundwater dry; drenching crop fields with all kinds of chemical pesticides has not only poisoned the food that we eat but have also brought in more pests; and finally the farmer is left high and dry with no income in hand.

There is no denying that much of the blame would rest with farm officials and university scientists for creating a bloodbath that we witness on the agriculture front. There is hardly a day when dozens of farmers across the country are not drinking chemical pesticides to end their lives. In the past 15 years, more than 2, 00,000 farmers have committed suicide. Millions of farmers continue to somehow live in perpetual indebtedness.
Blaming the Government is not without any reason. But somewhere deep down, farmers do know that they are equally at fault. The greed to make a fast buck has lured them to unsustainable farming systems. Over the years, farmers have become completely dependent upon what seems to be a well laid out trap by the agribusiness industry. No wonder, the profits of the industry grew whereas farmers were left to die.

However, much of the farm crisis has in many ways been created by farmers themselves. How long can you go on passing the buck to the Government and the agricultural university? Why can't you resolve to turn agriculture more income-generating and sustainable in the long-run? And don't tell me it is not possible. If you had refrained from following the herd, and adopted low-external input sustainable faming systems you would have been the role model.

Here is a farmer who has shown the way. Meet Subhash Sharma, a farmer from Daroli in Yavatmal district in the heart of the suicide belt of Vidharba. At a time when thousands of farmers in Vidharba have taken the fatal route to escape the humiliation that comes along with increasing indebtedness, he provides his farm workers with bonus and leave travel concession. If this farmer can do it, there is no reason why others cannot live in eternal happiness.

Sharma is not a big landlord. He owns only 16 acres of farm land. And like most of the farmers in the country, he too was in the thick of a vicious cycle of external inputs and perpetual indebtedness. Fed up, he then decided to abandon the fertiliser-pesticides model of farming, and shift the organic cultivation, and the turnaround has led me to a new beginning.

He says that the only way to pull out farmers from the vicious cycle of indebtedness is to push them out of the Green Revolution model of farming. It is during the workshops that he is conducting in several parts of the country that he teaches them by practical training on how to shift to natural farming practices and thereby emerge out of indebtedness.

From 16 acres of land, if Sharma can demonstrate an economically viable model, with inclusive social equity and justice, you too can do it. Here lies the answer to agricultural growth and also to country's food security. He has even built up a corpus, a Social Security Fund, of approximately Rs. 15 lakh, for meeting any eventuality that the workers might encounter. Some death in their family or the marriage of the girl child does bring additional burden, and some relief comes from the Social Security Fund. He also shares the cost of education of their children and other health expenses. Isn't this a dream that every farmer cherishes but is never able to realise?

Well, when was the last time you heard farm labourers being given an annual bonus and leave travel allowance? Now, don't be startled, Sharma provides an annual bonus to his team of workers - 16 men and 35 women - who labour on his farm. They get something like Rs. 4.5 lakh every year as bonus, which means roughly Rs. 9,000 per person. How many farmers, including big landlords, in any other state provide bonus to farm workers?
The problem is that farmers' unions have failed to educate their members. They only organise protests demanding higher prices or opposing trade policies, but rarely do you find them taking upon themselves the monumental task of reviving agriculture. Instead of spending energies to contest elections, farmers' forums need to take on the responsibility of holding farmers' training schools to resurrect farming, bring in natural farming system which are not only sustainable but profitable. There is no reason why every farmer cannot aspire to be the new generation farmer like Sharma. INAV

(The writer is former additional director general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research)








The die-hard optimists might feel let down but the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's India visit went as per the expectations — high in symbolism and low in substance.


It is important to understand that the visit by the Chinese Prime Minister itself had ample significance considering the backdrop in which it took place.


Relations between the two countries witnessed a low in the months preceding the visit after Chinese provocation touched the intolerable limits when it denied a proper visa to Northern Army Commander Lt Gen B S Jaswal.

The act amounted to taking further China's twoyear- old practice of issuing stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir which is seen as questioning the state's integration with India.

An angry New Delhi hit back by suspending high level defence exchanges.
Coupled with stapled visa issue, China's engagements in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) also increased, much to the chagrin of India which sees it as a provocative act.

Even the presence of Chinese Peoples Liberation Army personnel was found in PoK.

These actions of China, besides the ongoing ones like aggressive building up of infrastructure on the border with India and damning of the Brahmaputra river, added to the angst in India and led to a chill in the relations to some extent.

New Delhi also has been unhappy over the expanding trade imbalance because of denial of access by China to Indian goods like pharmaceuticals and automobiles and services like IT.

India repeatedly took up these issues with Chinese leadership, including at Prime Minister's level during a meeting in Hanoi in October last and subsequently during the talks between Special Representatives in Beijing last month.

But China refused to budge. Against this backdrop, Wen decided to undertake a visit to New Delhi, accepting an invitation India had extended as part of its intention to have top leaders of all the permanent five countries of the UN Security Council here during 2010.

For the realists, no miracles were expected from the visit. And true to such expectations, the practical outcomes were not so substantive as contentious issues like stapled visa remained where they were.

Wen, in fact, turned out to be smart as he preempted Singh from raising the stapled visa issue by himself bringing it up and suggesting that officials of the two countries should hold "in-depth" discussions to resolve it.
This was quite brazen as there is nothing to discuss on it and only the Chinese Government has to stop the practice.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was clear on this as she said that the ball was in China's court on the issue. She also underlined that the defence exchanges would remain suspended till the "basis" is created to resume these.

As China indicated no shift in stance over stapled visa issue, India asserted itself by refusing to include in the Joint Communique an oft-repeated policy statement about 'One-China' wherein Tibet is accepted as an autonomous part of China.

This was to pinch China where it hurts the most as it underlines the fact that India treats anything related to Jammu and Kashmir as sensitive as Beijing treats anything related to Tibet. Results on this will be awaited.
What was more discomforting for India was the Chinese side's clear attempt to prevent any adverse remarks regarding Pakistan on account of terrorism in the Joint Communique. China also refused to agree to inclusion of reference to Mumbai attacks, demonstrating its true friendship towards Pakistan.

The negative attitude, seen in the form of pinpricks to India, may be linked to the mindset of the Chinese leadership.

China, currently the fastest growing economy in the world, considers itself a power which has already arrived on the international scene. It is not comfortable with India emerging as a competing power, particularly when India is being seen as an ally.

Thus, in an attempt to keep troubling the competitor, China is indulging in all the tactics that it is.
However, even as China displayed negative attitude towards India's core concerns, the two sides agreed on a number of initiatives in peripherial noncontroversial issues.

They operationalised hotline between their Prime Ministers and signed six pacts, including one on green technology and two in banking sector.

With the bilateral trade booming, the two sides also set a new target of 100 billion dollars to be achieved by 2015, raising from the 60 billion dollars which is set to be achieved this year.

The two sides also agreed to establish a strategic economic dialogue to enhance macro-economic policy coordination and address the issues and challenges in the world of commerce.

On India's aspirations for permanent membership of UN Security Council, China moved a little bit forward.

"China attaches great importance to India's status in international affairs as a large developing country, understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council," the Joint Communique said.

Wen also said that a country of billion people should play a greater role in the UNSC.

Though it did not clearly refer to the permanent seat for India in the UNSC, it marks a forward movement as earlier it has been vaguely saying that China understands and supports India's aspirations to play a role in international arena.

But while displaying negative attitude towards India's concerns, Wen was good at symbolism reflected through warm body language and peppy talk.

He repeatedly said that India and China are not rivals but partners and in future the two countries should carry forward their work in the crucial stage of development.

"Heart-to-heart exchanges between the two countries will help in further boosting the ties between China and India," he remarked.

The Chinese Premier said the two countries should increase their cooperation in various fields and have made greater contributions to the building of a harmonious world of enduring peace.

The next few years would be crucial in determining where the relationship is headed as China is going to witness a change in leadership in 2012.

But as both the countries vie to be world powers, their relations are expected to continue to be uneasy.
In this struggle, India will have to demonstrate guts and mindset of a power if it wants to become one. (PTI)








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)











UNION Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's surprise offer of a special session of Parliament to debate whether a Joint Parliamentary Committee ought to be set up to examine all aspects of the 2G spectrum allocation scam has been spurned by the Opposition. If Mr Mukherjee was hoping that it would break the logjam between the Treasury benches and the Opposition and lead to the smooth passage of the general budget in February his conciliatory gesture has indeed failed. Both sides must bear responsibility for the recently-concluded winter session having ended without transacting any business because of the inflexible position they took, but the latest refusal of the BJP to accept the proposal for a special session is retrograde and smacks of lack of sincerity to the cause of parliamentary democracy. Let there be no mistaking the fact that Parliament is the appropriate forum for the Opposition to put the government on the mat and by shying away from it, it is belittling the sanctity of the forum.


The Opposition has a point of view on the issue of the relative merits of a JPC over a Public Accounts Committee. It feels that the PAC would essentially examine the 2G issue from an auditor's standpoint while the political aspects of a tainted A. Raja being retained in the Telecom portfolio after the UPA returned to power in the 2009 elections due to jockeying within the ruling coalition would be ignored. The sharp divergence in thinking between the UPA and the Opposition should be reason enough for the latter to tear the UPA's stand apart through arguments in a re-convened Parliament. For the voting public, this manner of beating the Treasury benches argument for argument would enhance the Opposition's acceptability in their eye. But leaders of the BJP and the Left parties seem to have a stake in keeping the pot boiling.


There is indeed no dearth of issues for the Opposition to embarrass the government on if Parliament were to be the forum that it is intended to be. The government would have been hard put to explain the spate of corruption scandals and the mismanagement that has led to the spiralling prices of essential commodities, especially onions. It is the ill-advised destructive politics of the BJP and the Left that has let the Manmohan Singh government off the hook.









PROFIT is still a dirty word for many. Therefore, the talk of "education for profit" at a Confederation of Indian Industry function in Delhi on Wednesday must have shocked some. However, pragmatic industrialists feel no prick in the conscience while asking for reasonable returns on investment in education. They will not provide education to suffer losses. Excesses and irregularities by private educators are also known. The state has a regulatory role and can dictate terms when concessions are granted like cheap land and tax relief. Otherwise, government officials should not interfere unless there is a breach of law.


Private educational institutions tend to charge hefty fees, which make them inaccessible to students from families with modest means. But there are parents who do not mind buying quality education, even if expensive, for their children. Not many may like to send their children abroad if top foreign institutions are allowed to set up campuses here. The private sector can supplement the government efforts to make education access universal. Liberal government scholarships and bank loans can help students pursue courses of their choice in institutions they want to. The shortage of good educational institutions is acutely felt. Partly because of this the enrolment for higher education is just 13 per cent in India.


Besides, a greater role of the private sector in education will help the government focus more on the remote and other neglected areas. Ideally, education along with health and infrastructure building should be a government's responsibility. Universal free schooling and affordable college and university education are expected of a welfare state. However, governments often misspend or squander public money. Despite recent budgetary hikes the UPA government spending on education is still below the level of 6 per cent of the GDP suggested by the Kothari Commission way back in 1968. Even the so-called progressive states of Punjab and Haryana spend just 2.23 per cent and 2.05 per cent of their GDP on education, respectively. Hence, private investment needs encouragement.









THE Sikh diaspora has a sizable presence in a number of nations around the world, and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has done well to recognise the concerns and issues that Sikhs abroad have to deal with. Among other things, they have to explain the essence of their religion and the teachings of the Sikh Gurus to a foreign audience. For this they need authoritative, explanatory literature written in contemporary idiom. The SGPC's original role of managing Sikh gurdwaras has expanded over the years. The committee needs to address the 21st century by producing and dispensing information in English and other languages so as to provide better understanding of the Sikh scriptures and ethos.


The Sikhs, both in India and abroad, seek guidance from the SGPC on various matters. This has been so for over a century and there are many instances of the committee deciding on conscientious matters brought to its attention by the foreign sangats. Even when they do not live in India, the Sikhs wear turbans and are thus visible minorities wherever they are. In the post-9/11 security scenario, this has brought them in conflict with the authorities most notably, but not exclusively in France. The French authorities have banned turban-wearing children from government-funded schools, and require Sikhs not to have their pictures taken for IDs without any turban. In the US, the request to remove a turban for security checks has created various embarrassing situations, including one instance involving the permanent Indian representative to the United Nations.


The SGPC's plan to set up a panel to address the concerns of the Sikh diaspora is indeed laudable. It would be a good forum to both understand the concerns of the community abroad, as well as address them. In the global village that the world has become, the Sikhs need an effective leadership with an international vision. The SGPC is now looking at establishing offices in various countries. It would do well to prepare well before embarking on such endeavours. 
















WITH negligible exceptions, our daughter, married in Chandigarh, spends her evenings with us with her two tiny siblings as a ritual. A day before Diwali, she and her two daughters were with us. I, being free from the normal burden of going through "Katcha Peshi" due to Diwali holidays was playing with the kids. Suddenly, a younger one, about two years old, came up with a demand in her sweet toddler voice: "Balloon chahiye" (I want balloon).


The demand was made with so much conviction that it was irresistible for me to ignore or avoid it. I straightaway went for my walking shoes and was off to a nearby market. My wife joined me as she had not gone out for a walk for a few days.


It was late in the evening and lights had been switched on to beat the darkness. Within minutes, we had finished the purchase and were on to our return journey. While coming back, we followed the lanes, where some of the powerful babus on high assignment and some politicians are housed. There were virtual traffic jams in front of the houses. Swanky cars and SUVs were lined up with people coming out and entering various houses in turn with heavy packages in toe. Policemen guarding the gates were escorting these well-to-do guests with due respect.


We had to wade through the scramble of Mercedes, Audis and Fortuners. While negotiating this newly noticed rush in the otherwise quiet lanes, my wife broke her silence murmuring: "Is it not corruption"? She continued with her tirade observing: "One can accept costly gifts on Diwali and still maintain that one has been honest".


I was searching for words to react but could not dare to contradict her. Indeed, I had no reason to differ with her. While proceeding further, we heard one group telling a sentry at the gate: "Bata dena main aya tha" (convey that I had come).


As we walked towards our house, my wife still could be heard saying: "kee eh kadi khatam hoega" (will this ever stop).


One could realise the real implication of the observations innocently made on reading a news item the following morning. "Corporates take luxury route," was the headline in one of the leading newspapers. The list of gift items and their values as reflected could not be termed only as 'pampering' friends but would take the colour of corruption or of bribe.


Those who come to give Diwali greetings perhaps even do not bother to know if one has had some tragedy in the family in the recent past and may not be in a celebration mood.


Some of these people would have never come to share moments of grief with their benefactors. Diwali pampering is certainly not meant to convey greetings but is another way of bribery. I kept thinking if it would ever stop and went to sleep, hoping that "Wo Subah Kabhi to Aayegi" (that time would come sometime).









DEFENCE Minister A.K. Anthony was reportedly shocked when, in December 2007, he personally saw the terrible state of the Nathu La axis in Sikkim vis-à-vis the swish Chinese infrastructure across. The traveller today experiences a sickening feeling of déjà vu. Our border infrastructure is as somnolent as it was in 2007. The strategic 165 km long National Highway 31-A linking Siliguri through Gangtok in Sikkim to the Indo-Chinese border at Nathu La (14,300 feet) still looks bombed out, devastated and gutted. Blocked by landslides, ridden with pot-holed patches and untidily strewn road-widening activity, a one-way journey on this Border Roads Organisation (BRO) road, Sikkim's lifeline, takes over eight backbreaking hours. NH-31A truly represents the dismal state of border infrastructure in the northeastern region, reflected accurately by the state of the equally strategic NH-31 linking Siliguri to the "seven sisters".


No better proof of government apathy is more evident than from the 8th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence tabled in August 2010. Titled Construction of Roads in the Border Areas of the Country, it savagely indicts the "casual attitude" of the Ministry of Defence. One excerpt reads: "It is truly mind-boggling that the Defence Ministry has no data on the roads being made by neighbouring countries in the border areas… Then there is the BRO, which conveniently deflects the question on the slow pace of construction of roads in border areas due to "historical" reasons. Really, did the Government of India actually believe till two years ago… that we should not make roads as near to the border as possible....incomprehensible and inconceivable".


Commenting on the Ministry's two Long Term Perspective Plans (LTTP-I and LTTP-II) for augmenting border roads, the Committee notes, "out of the 277 roads of the length of 13,100 km to be built till 2012, only 29 are complete and work is in progress on 168 other roads. No work has yet started in respect of 80 roads measuring 2,624 Km." The Committee has pulled up the BRO for its inexplicable "sense of complacency".


It is tragic that the visionary letter that then Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, wrote to Nehru on November 7, 1950 is, 60 years later, an eloquent strategic statement which has not been acted upon. Patel had cautioned Nehru with prescience that a long-term view was needed for "improvement of our communication, road, rail, air and wireless, in border areas and frontier outposts". Nehru never responded, but left as legacy, the incomprehensible ostrich policy of not developing our border areas.


Compare this with the Chinese approach. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet with two slogans: "Development", and "Strengthening the Borders". These remain constant even in 2010. China has created and upgraded the entire spectrum of infrastructure in Tibet — from railways to roads, power projects, cities, airports, military and missile bases. With Lhasa connected by rail, the network is being extended to Nepal and to the Indo-Chinese border at Shigatse, north of Chumbi Valley and Tsona, north of Tawang. Pan-Asian rail links to Myanmar, Indo-China and Singapore are also proposed. This Chinese projection of national interest to revive, upgrade and promote Chinese influence, trade and commerce, stabilise unsettled areas as well as project its military muscle is neither unfair nor unwarranted.


Indian strategic thinkers are driven by the fear of Chinese encirclement of India by their "string of pearls" strategy and by the Sino-Pak collusion in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. These developments could, however, also be fallouts of Chinese economic expansion and the need to develop China equitably, but with a military subtext.


India in her national interest has also started looking towards East Asia. Implementation of Sardar Patel's advice has fitfully started, with accretion in military manpower, news of Agni missile sites being reconnoitered and activation and upgradation of airfields at Nyoma, Fukche and Daulat Beg Oldi, besides moving some top line aircraft to Tezpur.


Serious problems however remain unaddressed. Land acquisition, bureaucratic red tape, court cases, lack of cooperation at functional and policy making levels between departments, agencies, statutory bodies, state governments and ministries hold implementation hostage. Progress is also held up by sluggish environmental and forest clearances at the centre and state levels, railway clearances for rail over/under bridges, shifting of utilities - electricity and water pipelines, sewers, telecom cables and law and order problems.


Absence of a firm apex and functional leadership, the near total absence of modern processes, systems, and of performance and maintenance audit of BRO by local field Army commanders also seriously inhibits progress as the BRO is answerable only to its controlling Ministry of Surface Transport and the Ministry of Defence. Another issue is the multiplicity of other construction agencies answering to different ministries. The Government's Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in the North East (SARDP-NE) covering 9,740 kms is under the Ministry of Surface Transport and has 10 executing agencies. The Border Area Development Programme (BADP) under the Ministry of Home Affairs has five executing agencies. Thus, 15 agencies and 10 ministries are involved in border infrastructure leading to chaos and total lack of construction synergy.


The BRO, once the cynosure of all eyes, today has a huge backlog. Apart from its serious road construction slippages, BRO needs 20 years to complete the 36,000 meters of already accepted bridging work. Seriously understaffed and under-equipped, it functions in a technology/management time warp. Forced to resort to "casual labour" to cut costs, devoid of dedicated airlift (the IAF simply can't cope), with only a handful of its officers trained abroad in cutting-edge construction practices, this once world class organisation is not only in serious decline but is operating with its hands tied in archaic procedures and unimaginative financial norms. Mindless bureaucratic resistance to hiring retired Sappers (officers and men) and General Reserve Engineering Force personnel, and, pitiably, undertaking construction activities in Maharashtra and Chattisgarh that have nothing to do with border infrastructure, add to its woes.


What needs to be done is quite clear. An inter-ministerial Border Infrastructure Team (BIT) under the Prime Minister's Office must be urgently set up to implement the infrastructure road map with time bound and fast track sanctions. The Defence ministry should be nominated as the sole ministry dealing with the BRO's functioning, and accountability established through senior field formation commanders. Issues such as getting reputed national and international infrastructure agencies involved in construction, hiring of retired engineer personnel, training key BRO personnel abroad, dedicated airlift, induction of new technology, remote sensing, bringing in drinking water, education, health, power, telecommunications, commerce and connectivity must be part of the holistic vision that will drive the BIT's functioning and accountability.


The writer has served in Sikkim







The Chengdu Military Region of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has territorial jurisdiction across the Himalayas opposite India. Headquartered in Chengdu, It is a military administrative command located in southwest China covering Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and the Xizang/Tibet Autonomous Region. It comprises two Group Armies, the 13th and 14th (roughly equivalent to a corps), the Tibetan 52nd and 53d Mountain Brigades, the 149th Motorised Infantry Division at Emei, Sichuan, 2 Mobile Armed Police Divisions (38th and 41st), and the 2nd Army Aviation Regiment.


The assessed strength of the PLA in the region is 180,000 with four motorised Infantry divisions, one artillery division, two armoured brigades, one artillery brigade, and two anti-aircraft brigades.


The military districts that fall within the Chengdu Military Region are:


 Chongqing Garrison

 Sichuan Military District

 Xizang Military District




 Guizhou Military District

 Yunnan Military District

Other Chinese units in Chengdu are:

 MR Combined Armed Tactical Training Base

 MR Aviation Regiment

 MR Communications Regiment



 MR ECM Regment


 MR ACW Tech Dadui

 MR Special Reconnaissance Unit

 MR Special Operations Dadui

 U/I Survey and Cartography Dadui


Indian Deployment

The Army's Kolkata-based Eastern Command and the Indian Air Force's Shillong-based Eastern Air Command


are responsible for the defence of the northeast. The Army's Order of Battle (ORBAT) includes:


 III Corps (HQ Dimapur)

23 Inf Division (Ranchi)

57 Mtn Division (Leimakhong)

 IV Corps (HQ Tezpur)

2 Mtn Division (Dibrugarh)

5 Mtn Division (Bomdila)

21 Mtn Division (Rangia)

 XXXIII Corps (HQ Siliguri)

17 Mtn Division (Gangtok)

20 Mtn Division (Binnaguri)

27 Mtn Division (Kalimpong)


In addition to various independent brigades, two new divisions, 56 and 71, are under raising to cater to operational requirements in that region. Future plans include raising two more divisions and another corps.









In one respect, being a lawyer is very like being a schoolteacher, except that the pay is much better. You get vacations. The annual calendar is vitally important: the first thing we do is to look at the red-letter days: long weekends, a four-week vacation in summer, two weeks at Diwali, another two over Christmas and the New Year and every public holiday in between, plus weekends. All told, High Courts work for only 210 days in the year, the Supreme Court for about 180 (lower courts work longer). 


There was a time not very long ago when the summer vacation was about six weeks. It has been gradually reduced to the present level but each reduction draws bitter complaint. Court vacations are a legacy of British rule. In those times, there were at least some good reasons for long summer breaks. Judges and barristers sailed home to England and the route, via Aden, took time. 


Some lawyers used that break for remarkably adventurous activities. In 1889, the New York Times carried a wonderful story about John Duncan Inverarity, a renowned barrister practicing in Bombay, and his encounter with a lioness in Somalia. Inverarity – Bombay born and bred, of Scottish ancestry – was also a big game hunter. In Berbera, he shot a lioness but, to his misfortune, did not make a clean kill. In the ensuing fracas, he was twice badly mauled by the wounded lioness before his two Somali companions killed her. Undeterred by the cat's attempt to bring his practice to a premature close, Inverarity then photographed the kill, dressed his 16 wounds with carbolic acid, rode back to Berbera (managing "only" six hours a day) and sailed off to Aden where he was examined by a resident surgeon and found to be in good health. 


Now that we don't have to set sail for Blighty (luxury cruises don't count) and can't go off shooting wildlife, the rationale for these extended vacations seems indefensible, especially when you look at the mounting case arrears. In 2002, Arun Jaitley, then the Union Law Minister and himself a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, answered what was described as his easiest question in Parliament. He said it was not feasible or advisable to reduce these vacations because of the "taxing" nature of work. That was an odd thing to say and, since then, the calls for reducing court vacations have continued to grow. Retired judges, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and ministers all point to the mounting arrears: over three million cases in the High Courts and, as of 2002, about 20,000 in the Supreme Court. Add to this the more ignoble traditions of our system – charging additional fees for appearances in the vacation, and only taking cases that are really 'urgent' – and we have a real problem on our hands. 


Possessive as we are about our vacations (PILs against them have been filed and routinely dismissed), we lawyers are unable to come up with a single convincing reason why a vacation should be collective. It's insulting to every other profession to say that lawyers need breaks because they work so hard. Doctors work hard too, and so do engineers, architects, chartered accountants, film stars and dabbawalas. They all take time off. They just don't do it together. Imagine the entire medical fraternity going on holiday en masse. Some lawyers might be slightly inconvenienced, but only slightly: courts adjust, and perhaps we need a better system of stand-ins, like a doctor's locum. Besides, judges and lawyers frequently take off even when courts are in session (I was recently told that a matter would have to be adjourned because my opponent was going to America for two months). 


Judges are the ones who really need time off. Their work demands it. Our judges are possibly the most hardpressed in the world. After listening to lawyers for five hours, judges must collate and analyse arguments, sift through the record, read further, write judgements. This cannot be easy – it's probably like writing a thesis or a monograph on a daily basis – and it needs time for reflection. Judges do use their vacations and perhaps the leave to which they are entitled to complete their work. But surely all judges do not need to be on leave simultaneously. 

In America, courts close for a few public holidays and Christmas. For the rest, judges work on a rotating roster and schedule their work accordingly. 


There are, today, about 41,205 civil suits pending trial in the Bombay High Court, 3034 of which are prior to 1989. The earliest is of 1968. No lawsuit should take more than 12 to 18 months to trial. The case for vacations is nonexistent, and is simply wrong. Its backlog has now brought the judiciary to a tipping point. Unless we do something radical, we risk a crippling loss of faith in the judiciary.


There are about 41,205 civil suits pending trial in the Bombay High Court, 3,034 of which were filed before 1989



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It is a sign of the times that the visit of a head of state or government is increasingly viewed in terms of the billions of dollars of business it generates. So, not surprisingly, even reports on the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have focused on the $10-billion business generated by it. The number stands in contrast to the abysmally low bilateral trade of $5 billion. Understandably, much of the existing and new business is still between state entities in both countries, with a focus on defence and energy cooperation. Despite considerable diversification by India in sourcing defence supplies over the past decade, Russia remains the largest supplier of advanced weaponry to the Indian armed forces. Continuing delays in delivery of contracted defence equipment, sudden price escalations and unreliable supply of spares have begun to raise new questions about Russia as a defence equipment supplier. However, the still enduring nature of the strategic relationship between the two countries was underlined by two co-development agreements for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the Medium Lift Military Transport Aircraft being signed during the visit. Russia's technical assistance to the Indian nuclear submarine programme continues to be invaluable.


The Indo-Russian energy relationship is also evolving qualitatively on a wide range of fronts. However, while Russia has signed an agreement to supply two more reactors to augment the two being built at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, movement forward on expanded civil nuclear energy cooperation remains stymied by ambiguities with respect to India's nuclear liability law. Russia has not yet made the mental transition to the post-nuclear liability Bill era, given the comfort it enjoyed within the special dispensation extended to it in the past. However, intense competition from France is perhaps exerting pressure on Russia to come to terms with India's new law. The issues of safety and reliability of Russian reactors vis-à-vis US and European Pressurised Water Reactors will now get closer examination than before. The questions raised by Russia on the implications of the civil nuclear liability Bill once again underline the fact that what came out of the wash in Parliament was a sub-optimal law that most nuclear power equipment suppliers are still not very comfortable with.


 India's footprint in oil and gas exploration in Russia is increasing and ONGC-Videsh Limited's decision to acquire a 20 per cent stake in the Sakhalin-3 oil field is welcome. Indian power companies have made a beginning in acquiring coal mines in Siberia for high grade thermal coal. With the world's second-largest coal reserves, the opportunities in Russia are endless and must be vigorously pursued. India's export basket to Russia is dominated by primary products such as tea and rice, with pharmaceuticals and low-end machinery comprising the only value-added products. Russian exports to India are similarly low value-added and the absence of complementarities between the two economies precludes a dramatic surge in the bilateral trade numbers. Mr Medvedev quite understandably focused attention on people-to-people (P2P) contacts with his visits to Bollywood and IIT-Mumbai, since Russia lags behind the US in this area. Government-to-government (G2G) links remain the ballast for the bilateral relationship, given convergence of strategic interests in the Eurasian region and shared concerns about a rising China and Islamic radicalism. Increased business-to-business (B2B) links could help.







As the European airplane manufacturer Airbus completes 40 years, few will doubt that it will continue to have its regular share of controversy. But, equally, most will agree that this unique experiment in transnational cooperation is an indisputable success. This is important at the current juncture when the whole process of European construction, which had reached a high point with the creation of the common currency euro, is threatened as the future of the currency has become uncertain in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. When storms hit mankind as it journeys on the road of progress, it has to celebrate success so as not to lose heart and keep striving for a conflict-free better world — the postwar vision behind the creation of the European Union. When Airbus was first formed through an alliance of three European countries — Germany, France and the UK — few gave it much chance of survival, not to speak of success. With the indisputable superiority of US technology in the postwar world, when the former great powers of Europe were struggling to get back on their innovative feet, any notion that Airbus could one day beat Boeing would have invited ridicule. Yet that is exactly what has happened. Cumulatively, over the last decade (2001-10), Airbus has overtaken Boeing in the number of aircraft orders received. Even as many well-known airplane manufacturers have fallen by the wayside, Airbus has increasingly challenged Boeing's supremacy, so that in the marketplace for large commercial aircraft today, it is a straight fight between the two giants.


The main detractors of Airbus have been the Americans who have held that it has posed unfair competition because of its access to funding from partner governments. While Airbus has undoubtedly survived because of state subsidies, which the WTO has declared illegal, US defence orders have also provided a crucial prop to Boeing. What the past role of subsidies and the increasing market share of Airbus indicate is that making large commercial airplanes is a highly risky business requiring massive amounts of capital and the gestation period that a newcomer requires to be able to stand on its feet is elephantine. The demise of players in the past like McDonnell Douglas and exit of those like Lockheed from civilian aircraft-making show that it was a "sporty game" in which a company put itself on the line every time it made a major investment in developing a new aircraft, and it was the romance of flying that sustained aviation pioneers. Airbus captured the popular imagination when it scored a technological feat by introducing the "fly by wire" A320 which was the first civilian aircraft to be driven by information technology. The lesson from this for India as it gets ready to support semiconductor manufacturing "fabs" is that extended state support for a technology-intensive, high-ticket commercial venture can be justified so long as it is carefully focused and attuned to the marketplace. As for Europe, it must not lose heart in the process of holding hands and marching together by looking at the success of Airbus.








As we close out the last few trading days of 2010, it is time to turn our attention to 2011. The year 2010 was a decent year for the markets with most broad indices up between 12 and 15 per cent, in line with the long-term trend rate of market appreciation.


I, however, have a sense that 2011 will be a lot more difficult, at least in the first half of the year.


 First of all, I believe that the Indian economy will slow in calendar 2011 and not accelerate further as many believe. A combination of the base effect and law of large numbers, the lagged impact of RBI tightening, regulatory cholesterol blocking project implementation, withering international competitiveness and a slowdown in decision-making across the government complex, will all combine to slow down the economy. Already the first signs of demand moderation are being seen and discussed. The talk of the Indian economy hitting a growth rate of 10 per cent is, to my mind, fanciful in the absence of some long-pending reforms. In reality, I don't believe the Indian economy, as structured today with our fiscal, governance and infrastructure deficits, can grow much beyond 8-8.5 per cent, without the wheels starting to fall off. We need reforms in governance, the fiscal, quality of government expenditure, skills building, project implementation etc to raise our trend rate of growth, but unfortunately there seems to be no visibility of movement on any of these fronts. There is also a non-trivial probability of a serious spike in the commodity complex, especially oil, which would force RBI to aggressively hike rates and further ingrain inflationary tendencies into our psyche. Already the inflation issue in India is threatening to become structural in nature, being very sticky on the way down. Further tightening of financial conditions will only cement the outlook for a slower growth trajectory in 2011 than the current consensus expectation.


Combined with a slower growth outlook, I think corporate profit margins will be under pressure in 2011. Higher commodity prices, rising cost of debt, surging wages and increased competitive intensity across sectors will combine to put margins under downward pressure. Historically, corporate India has protected itself from surging commodity prices, through high top line growth and the ability to leverage fixed costs through operating leverage. With a slower macro backdrop and huge cost push on fixed costs, this operating leverage dynamic is unlikely to play out in 2011. Thus, earnings growth, much beyond 15-18 per cent for the broad market in 2011 looks tough. Once again, stocks levered to consumption seem best positioned to deliver on earnings growth, with the investment cycle likely to continue to disappoint.


In terms of flows, I feel there is a real possibility that the developed markets, particularly the US, will outperform the EM markets for a period, especially the first half of 2011. Most economic commentators have revised upwards their growth outlook for the US, and many top-quality blue chips in the US trade at far more reasonable valuations than their EM counterparts. It is not inconceivable that some capital may flow back into the US. While there is still considerable debate about the sustainability of the US growth outlook, many investors will take a short-term view to play the expected growth acceleration in 2011, before re-assessing their longer-term outlook for the US. With global growth accelerating, EM flows into Asia will also be more North Asia-centric, and India's perceived domestic demand drivers less attractive from a relative perspective. I don't think portfolio flows will be negative, but are unlikely to hit $30-billion run rate again, especially in the first half of the year.


I also feel that our markets will find it difficult to hold current PE multiples. With interest rates rising, earnings and growth below current consensus, and flows not particularly strong, multiple compression is far more likely than expansion. All our recent scam-related adventures are also going to have an impact on PE multiples. We simply cannot have the highest multiples in the EM universe, with the type of governance and institutional corrosion displayed over the last few months. We are also as an economy far too leveraged to global financial conditions and risk appetite, when the going is good all is fine, but in a global shock we are very vulnerable. Being so pro-cyclical an economy also argues against elevated valuation multiples.


Thus, taking all of the above, the markets will probably still deliver positive returns, but multiple compression combined with slower earnings growth will force returns to be quite modest. I think in a low-return environment, stock-picking will again come to the fore as stock-specific performance will vary considerably, and all boats will not rise. Expect the current focus on high quality and high returns on capital business to continue.


What could change this outlook? First of all, the US economy could disappoint in 2011, longer-term structural issues drowning out any short-term stimulus-driven rebound. In such a situation, the EM carry trade will come back on, capital will flow out of US equities and India will be a major beneficiary, just like 2010.


If global growth disappoints, commodities may not spike and the extreme pressure on Indian earnings, macro and inflation will subside.


The government may also surprise us and actually push through some fundamental reform. The Budget will be a test case of this. As of now, no investor believes the government has any chance of meeting its outlined long-term fiscal and public debt targets. In the absence of GST, no movement on food/fuel/fertiliser subsidies and no signs of expenditure reform or targeting, the numbers do not add up. If the finance minister can deliver on some of these issues, that can be a trigger to re-rate markets. Another trigger could be some positive outcomes coming out of all the scam-related investigations. Judicial reform, greater accountability and measures to strengthen institutions are all steps which would enthuse the market and give investors greater confidence on the sustainability of our growth trajectory and thus allow PE multiples to expand.


I think there is too much complacency in India, we are told that 9 per cent growth will take care of everything from the fiscal (through tax buoyancy) to the current account (by attracting capital flows), to greater inclusion, but are we taking the steps needed to hit this 9 per cent number? What happens if we slip back to 7 per cent growth (still a good number)? How will the fiscal and current account be financed then? Our leverage to growth and international capital flows is sometimes underestimated in my view.


The year 2011 looks to be a year of consolidation, the economy, corporate houses and policymakers will all get some breathing space to build on the next phase of growth. It is not necessarily a bad thing to have a year of slightly slower growth to build capacity, optimise organisations and let infrastructure catch up to surging demand. To ensure that this is only the pause that refreshes and not a permanent slowdown, concrete action is needed by policymakers across a whole spectrum of policy issues. Hopefully, we will seize the initiative. The consequences of not doing so are dire indeed.


The author is the fund manager and CEO of Amansa Capital









The wasted session of Parliament just concluded should be reason for reflection over the negativism that has seized the polity like a malignant fever. This is surely a distressing ending to 2010, the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Indian National Congress that marks a great democratic tradition.


In aggregate, barely one day in 23 was spent by either House in transacting business. The rest was riotously obstructed by the BJP and Left calling for discussion and answers on the 2G and other matters but yet not permitting Parliament to function. In December 2001, a terrorist attack on Parliament House, the core symbol of India's democracy, was foiled. But did the security personnel protect the structural edifice merely to witness the disablement of Parliament as an institution?


 The persistent disruption of both Houses constitutes a pervasive and sinister attack on Parliament that cannot be condoned. That the government refused to accede to the Opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to investigate the 2G episode offers little extenuation. The government, including the prime minister, could have been arraigned and compelled to offer credible answers or face obloquy. Further, the CAG report was due to be scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) comprising members from both Houses and chaired by a senior Opposition leader. As events unfolded, these procedures were reinforced by a CBI probe monitored by the Supreme Court and an investigation by a former Supreme Court judge.


None of the four earlier JPCs was terribly effective. Hence that route offers little comfort, barring opportunity to prolong the controversy for electoral gain. The PAC is a vital limb of Parliament embodied in its rules, whereas the JPC is an ad hoc body that has occasionally been set up by Parliament. Having two parallel bodies examining the identical matter could have created contradictions and fresh controversies to the detriment of clarity and a clear finding. Unfortunately, the Opposition appears bent on continuing its disruptive tactics into the Budget session. Hopefully better counsels will prevail.


The government may be guilty of dereliction of duty and delay or of having succumbed to the pettiest pressure of self-serving coalition politics. If this is established, it will undoubtedly pay a political price, while those guilty of criminal misconduct will not go unpunished. But if due process is abandoned for lynch-mob justice, the consequences for the nation could be dire.


Emotions have unfortunately been whipped up by a media-led public opinion that has turned totally cynical with the breakdown of due process. Added to this is the open soliciting of bribery and corruption to grease an increasingly venal electoral system that runs on money and muscle power and crude vote bank politics. Robbing the people of India to win elections (only to disrupt legislatures at will) has become endemic. The media, perhaps the most powerful institution in India today, has also abandoned its mission, as trustee of the people's right to know, for commerce. Barring exceptions, competitive trivia and hype have dumbed sensibilities. The 2G transaction undoubtedly saw considerable leakage. But the Rs 1,760 lakh crore figure bandied about is largely notional and ignores the huge social benefit from low spectrum prices leading to falling call rates and an exponential growth of telephony which, on current reckoning, would account for part of the impugned "loss".


Why should the intensified CBI investigation, backdated to 2001, be considered a whitewash? Either one wants to get at the whole truth, even belatedly, or not. And how was the prime minister wrong to admit corporate and wider public nervousness about misuse of telephone taps officially ordered on security consideration or grounds of criminal investigation? Surely he was right to assert that privacy would be protected against possible access of telephone conversations "outsides the institutional framework of government", even while noting an "ethical deficit" on the part of corporate India. It is strange that Mr Advani faulted this statement as a red herring intended to obfuscate the corporate-official nexus revealed by the Radia tapes!


The government has now stated that the prime minister is prepared to appear before the PAC and, further, to hold a special session of Parliament to debate whether or not a JPC should be set up. This is a fair offer and not a climbdown from principle. The BJP has, however, launched a national campaign to press for a JPC on its terms and is calling for the resignation of the government if it fails to accept its stated terms of surrender. The BJP "campaign" will steer clear of Karnataka, an exception that tells a tale of double standards.


So, while we reflect on our follies at year-end and seek to correct them, we do not need to lose our heads or be intimidated by exaggerated fears.  










Just a week after she appeared for her third semester exam in a middle-rung business school in Kolkata, a former colleague's daughter received a job offer from a large consultancy, and an interview for a second is on the way. Just six months ago, she was taking about an uncertain future because about half of the 80-strong previous batch had firm job offers through the institute's placement cell.


So it's almost back to those good old days of 2007 when it became almost impossible for companies either to get quality workers and/or appropriately trained managers. So companies of all shapes and sizes were rushing to even relatively small professional institutes to recruit. That explains why the placement cells in colleges such as the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Kurukshetra or Vellore Institute of Technology University are on cloud nine these days. NIT had 115 companies on campus for placement (against an average of 70 till last year) and Vellore Institute saw Cognizant pick up over 1,600 students this year.


The keenness to hire is, of course, not restricted to B-schools and engineering colleges; even small job fairs in rural India are attracting some of the biggest names in corporate India. Example: the first-ever job fair in Sonepat organised by TeamLease and Indian Institute of Job Training on Wednesday saw many companies holding career counselling sessions with over 10,000 jobseekers.


For a sure sign of a more vibrant job market, look at the sharp increase in help-wanted signs in store-fronts and the frenetic activity among headhunters. Both were absent even six months ago.


No wonder, then, that all HR studies on the jobs outlook are talking about a brisk to dynamic growth in employment opportunities in the New Year. The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey says the net employment outlook is 42 per cent, 5 per cent more than the same period last year, making Indian employers the most optimistic as far as hiring intentions are concerned globally.


Another study by Ma Foi Randstad last week said led by healthcare, the organised sector in India has added 1.13 million jobs this year, making it the best in the last four years, ahead of the previous peak in 2006 when 1.03 million jobs were added. This is a significant growth over 2008 when only 670,000 jobs were added. The number last year was 900,000.


Sectors like hospitality, real estate and construction, IT & ITeS joined the 100,000-plus jobs pack in 2010. And among the cities surveyed, Delhi and NCR have reported greatest employment generation by creating 113,897 jobs in 2010.


Is it any surprise, then, that Indian employees are more prone to switch employers compared to others in the world at this point? A global work monitor study by Ma Foi earlier showed that amongst the 25 countries surveyed, India has the highest index of 141, meaning that the maximum employee churn across the globe will be here. India is followed by China and Mexico.


The mobility index is based on employees' responses to two questions about their intent to change jobs. The first question was about changing the current employer for a comparable job in the next six months. The second question was about changing the current employer for a different job or profession in the next six months.


Most HR consultancy firms say they are projecting a salary increase of 8 to 16 per cent in 2011 with sectors like telecom and pharma leading the pack. Global HR consulting firm Mercer says it has revised its forecasts for 2011 and has made an upward correction in the salary hikes expected due to the positive sentiment running across industries at large.


Examples such as these should bring cheer to a workforce that has had a tough time recently. But while it is certainly true that the days of gloomy messages of pay cuts and pink slips are over, here is a word of caution for employers. Many HR consultants say some Indian companies should fix a speed limit so that they don't get caught in those days of an imbalance in hiring by not following quality hiring norms.


Consultants say companies need to be more focused on the difference between performers and non-performers, and spend more time on the screening process. In the last boom, companies started tolerating even marginal contributors; that shouldn't happen.


Also, institutional shareholder activism in India, though muted so far, could rise if salaries to top executives are out of tune with their contribution This is a common practice abroad: HSBC, for example, faced vocal opposition from shareholders to its remuneration scheme, which saw executive directors receive bonus awards that ranged from more than double to almost four times their base salary.


Though the 20 per cent of shareholders who abstained or voted against was not enough to prevent the compensation scheme being passed, there are signs that shareholders will no longer give boards an easy ride.





2011 - A speculative peep

Some predictions for 2011

Shankar Acharya


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.


 World: Economic/Financial


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.


India: Economic/Financial


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.


World: Political/Security


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.


India: Political/Security


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








IT IS increasingly clear that India's promised demographic dividend would be a chimera if the workforce lacks the skills needed by a globalising economy. The government has launched an ambitious skill development programme, which requires official departments, industry bodies, educational institutions and others to work together. This needs to incorporate a vibrant market for skill development. A recent skills dialogue focusing on the business process outsourcing sector threw up some insights. For instance, as outsourcing becomes more varied and more sophisticated, the range of skills the sector needs keeps expanding, from pure voice and language skills to high-end analytics. The outsourcing sector will compete with the fast-growing sectors of the Indian economy for a common pool of skills, increasing costs by way of wages, attrition, training, etc, for every employer. Individual units would prefer to hire trained employees, even if they come at a premium, because the time and effort spent on training raw recruits go waste when employees leave in search of greener pastures. The only way out is to greatly expand the pool of trained talent. The question is, how? 


It is possible to break down the skills into various permeable verticals: voice and language, finance and accounting, engineering, etc. While great scope exists for improving the teaching of English as a foreign language in the school curriculum, it should be possible to offer training outside the formal education system as well. This calls for standards-setting and certifying bodies for different skill sets, which organise skills in scalable modules that are clearly defined. If, for example, all the skills that are required of a chartered or cost accountant are organised into, say, 10 ascending modules, each of which lends itself to certification by a recognised body, private enterprise can compete to train young people to qualify for each level of certification. A certain set of jobs would be open up after each level of certification. A continuous hierarchy of skill levels is superior to a disjunction between vocational and professional qualifications, from the perspective of social mobility and inclusion.






THE Centre's plan to disclose yearly payments to private developers of infrastructure projects in the Budget is welcome. The disclosure on annuity payments — money that the government agrees to pay infrastructure developers to substitute or supplement deficient revenues in the form of user charges during the concession period — will cut the scope for window-dressing of accounts. It will also help public scrutiny of public-private partnership projects. The country needs viable PPP projects and the government's promise to pay annuity is often the only way to make some projects bankable. However, big projects, especially in roads, carry the risk of time and cost over-runs. The risk has to be fully borne by a developer in an annuity model and any delay in commissioning results in a pro-rata reduction in the annuity payment. Annuities are committed but deferred payments, unlike contingent liabilities that may or may not occur. Disclosures on annuities will help the government keep track of future commitments. The law on fiscal responsibility and budget management has rightly prescribed a cap on contingent liabilities in the form of guarantees on loans from multilateral agencies, bond issues and other loans raised by public sector undertakings/financial institutions. Disclosures on contingent and committed fiscal liabilities are, therefore, in order. 


The government has already stopped the practice of not showing oil bonds, fertiliser bonds, etc in the Budget. What additionally need to be brought in the public domain are quasi-fiscal borrowings. These are borrowing that are contracted not by the government directly but by other state agencies to discharge functions delegated by the government. The borrowings by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to fund the under-recoveries in petro fuels, is an example of a loan that has been necessitated by public policy, in the present case, of keeping fuel prices restrained. The borrowings by the Food Corporation of India are another off-Budget item that has to be brought within the ambit of fiscal disclosure. The Centre should start listing all quasi-fiscal liabilities from the coming Budget. The claim on private savings to fund public expenditure is the real target of fiscal discipline, not technical targets.






COVER-ups are obviously a sensitive political issue in India these days. Indian politicians usually don't turn a hair when faced with brush-tachar charges, but since any hint of black deeds, grey areas or even whitewashing are being gone through with a fine-tooth comb, they have no chance of effecting a hair today-gone tomorrow kind of evasion. Good thing that David Cameron and Ed Miliband only answer to the House of Commons and the British people, otherwise their recent shenanigans — the Prime Minister's bald backbrushing and the leader of the Opposition's dyed-out white streak — may have got them into a serious tangle had they been here. In the event, even with most Britons facing a new year of cuts, these gentlemen were lucky enough to escape with only minor snipes. Other European politicians, of course, have dealt with bad hair days differently, from Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi brazening out allegations of serious fraud to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suing for defamation when rumours about his darkened hair did not dye down. In fact, the widening of grey areas in high office clearly need to be examined more closely. Former British PM Tony Blair, not to mention former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, have much to answer for on that count; even the US incumbent is now showing a definite peripheral canescence. 


In the current atmosphere in India, politicians brushing aside the mane issue are getting scalped by an irate media and public, but an era of fuzzy logic is still a long way off. Unrestrained, unmonitored (out)growth has weakened the roots, leading to a precipitate shedding of moral fibre, laying bare a corrupt capitulum. Rather than splitting hairs about culpability, a sustained clean-up campaign is needed to bring some measure of pilous propriety.






THE year 2010 has been a strange one in many ways — a year that flattered to deceive and that belied the expectations and optimism with which it had started. The report card is straightforward. The political stock of the UPA fell suddenly after the second half of the year with one scam after another and the results of the Bihar elections. The Opposition, on the back foot for much of the year, suddenly found its voice with its performance in Bihar and its combined demand for a JPC probe into the 2G scam. 


The stock market has done little being up by 12% for the year at the time of writing this, despite record inflows of FII money — more than $25 billion. And this, after doubling last year. In sports, the CWG was both a fiasco and a success, while in the Asian Games we got only one seventh of the medals won by the Chinese — but which were yet declared a success for us — "record medals in the Asian Games, surpassing Doha and Delhi" — despite there being 20% more medals on offer. The media and the Supreme Court moved into front row in terms of protecting civil society from the depradations of the ruling class and becoming our moral champions. We had a telecom success in auctioning 3G spectrum and raising . 70,000 crore, but that only highlighted the losses of 2G which is anywhere between . 70,000 crore and . 1,70,000 crore. The selling of stakes in state companies such as Coal India went on successfully, but sales of other state-owned assets such as land and mining assets continued amidst patronage and cronyism. 


The economy grew at more than 8%, but inflation kept pace. The monsoon rains were robust and agricultural growth will be higher, at 4% this year. Interest rates, however, continue to rise, aided by foreign inflows. Globally as well, risks continued to ebb and flow based on the latest eurozone fortunes. The US also had its share of problems with President Barack Obama's popularity waning, the Congress changing hands to Republican leadership, thus setting the stage for even tougher policymaking. Meanwhile, China is now the second largest economy in the world, but there is a large amount of government stimulus spending going on that has been creating excess capacities. Central banks in the developed world continues to pump liquidity into their economies with buybacks and phenomenally low interest rates. This should weaken their currencies, but their biggest trading partner, China, continues to cling limpet-like to the US dollar, thus pretty much frustrating a large part of the US strategy. Yet, the dollar strengthens on the back of risk aversion, making the task of the US policymakers that much harder. 


On the geopolitical front, the war in Afghanistan continues, Osama continues to evade Obama, while Pakistan continues to propagate terrorists. Whether this is a state strategy or that of certain elements in Pakistan is not clear — after all, which clear thinking state would want to create a weapon which as often as not also targets its home soil as well? North and South Korea keep rattling their sabres, while nuclear weapons apparently continue to proliferate into newer countries. 


Into this already seething mix, we had the release of the Wikileaks tapes and closer home, the Radia tapes. The US administration was put into the embarrassing position of having to explain the exposed inner most workings of US diplomacy. However, for the domestic observer, the Radia tapes were much more fun, shall we say? Journalists, corporate chieftains, lobbyists, ministers — were all exposed saying things they never would have in public even if they were true. The taped conversations exposed the seamier side of the nexus between business and politics, lobbyists and journalists and have raised a series of ethical questions. 


WHAT does the outlook for next year look like? Macro uncertainty continues, notwithstanding growth of 8%. It is masking poor macroeconomic management with inflation continuing to stay unabated into next year and thereby, interest rates as well. Consumption-driven sectors will continue to drive the economy while investment-driven ones might start to see a slowing as corporates and overseas investors react both to the more volatile investment environment and the lack of new sectoral reform. But one cannot predict yet how the current political situation will resolve itself. It could either lead to a cathartic cleansing of the system from top to bottom that will cause significant short-term anxiety, but which will be healthier for the country and much better in the longer term. On the other hand, given the involvement of so many in the system, it might be ring-fenced around a few individuals and thereby contained. However, there is the outside probability of significant political volatility and it is impossible to predict which way things will shape up. Early elections cannot be ruled out at this stage. All this will not create a conducive investing environment. 


In the US, President Obama is significantly weakened by the loss of his legislative majority and issues around the US housing market and structural budget deficits. These could lead to a sustained US campaign to cheapen its currency. Risks of a double-dip have not yet waned. In Europe, the UK is taking its bitter medicine by slashing government spending, but Spain is where the worry is, with unemployment at 20% and much less room to maneuver politically. The Spanish economy is the fifth largest in Europe and its problems could have disastrous consequences for the future of the euro. There is a distinct possibility slowdown in China's growth next year on the back of higher inflation and higher interest rates. 


All this could lead to a global risk aversion and counter-intuitively, a flight to the dollar in the short term, and the withdrawal of FII flows from India. But if none of these negative scenarios play out, then markets could gradually find their confidence and after consolidating at current levels could make a break for higher ground. But given the numerous event risks out there, and the various uncertainties still prevalent, it would be a good time to be cautious. For Indian corporates this would imply avoiding making large acquisitions until the fog clears, and certainly not leveraging their balance sheets with large quantities of debt. This is a time to be cautious, to wait and watch. The year 2011 will definitely hold surprises. 


(The author runs SaVant Advisors, a     financial advisory firm)









Professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU 


Reform, not abolition, is the solution 

THE recent remark by Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chauhan, that the Rajya Sabha has become irrelevant and should be abolished, underlines the urgent need to reform this institution. Bicameralism has been an integral part of legislative institutions in democracies in the modern world. 


Our Constitution-makers decided to establish a second chamber not merely because it existed under British colonialism since 1921. Rather, the need for a bicameral system was debated at length and reasons proffered. Members felt that in a large country with many regions, which had adopted a federal system of governance, a single House, even though directly elected, could not adequately represent all shades of opinion. The Rajya Sabha, with a smaller membership, higher age-level, indirect election, with some nominated eminent individuals, was to be a House of Elders providing a tempering effect on the lower House. Today, in a vastly changed context, the House is facing a barrage of criticism. In an era of unstable central coalitions, political parties spend huge sums of money and indulge in horse-trading to ensure election of their members/supporters; with residency requirements removed, state's interests are not represented; most nominated members are politicians — some defeated in elections to the Lok Sabha — or industrialists whom a party wishes to reward. 


The real problem is that the Rajya Sabha lacks a clear-cut identity and relevant role in the present political scenario. Two institutional reforms could help: its powers should be made equal to that of the Lok Sabha; and provisions made for direct election from large state constituencies, making it representative of state interests — the move towards smaller states providing more democratic seat allocation. The former would strengthen its position within Parliament, requiring its consent in areas such as finance, constitutional appointments and foreign affairs. The latter would give it an important role within our federal structure as the states have become important players in a post-Congress and post-globalisation period.


G V L Narasimha Rao 

Media Adviser To CM, Madhya Pradesh 

To protect its dignity, curb distortions     THE origin of 'council of states' or Rajya Sabha can be traced to the Montague-Chelmsford Report of 1918 and the Government of India Act, 1919, that provided for its creation as a second chamber of the then legislature. An independent second chamber was thought necessary by the Constituent Assembly to meet the challenges before free India at the time. Our Constitution, as elsewhere in the world, has given an upper hand to the House of people, the Lok Sabha, in key respects. A government can beformed at the Centre and remain in office only if it enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha. Similarly, in financial matters, the Lok Sabha clearly has an upper hand. 


Yet, the framers of our Constitution placed the Rajya Sabha on an equal footing with regard to amending the Constitution. A constitution amendment Bill has to be passed by the specified majority by both Houses separately and there is no provision for convening a joint sitting for this matter. The Rajya Sabha also enjoys special powers to empower Parliament to make laws on matters enumerated in the State List for the whole or any part of the territory of India. The Rajya Sabha was placed on an equal footing on legislation involving constitutional amendments (though it has less than half the strength of the Lok Sabha) and was given special powers to make laws in exceptional cases on matters that fall in the domain of the state legislatures. Though the eligibility criteria for becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha do not specify any such conditions, the special constitutional status of the Rajya Sabha is on the conviction that it would have members who are elderly intellectuals and thus can play a very important role in key legislation. 


With money bags and industrialists hankering for membership in the Rajya Sabha, and adopting questionable means to get elected — even though their numbers may be small — questions are bound to be raised about their real motives. It is this distortion that needs to be curbed to maintain the dignity of the Rajya Sabha. 


(Views are personal)








THE Direct Taxes Code Bill 2009 was a modern piece of legislation based on faith in the assessee, which reduced both sops and tax rates, but had controversial features in taxing savings and minimum alternate tax (MAT). The revised DTC Bill, 2010 is nothing but a tax officer's delight, which will breed harassment and corruption. It keeps the present high tax rates, takes away incentives to infrastructure in real terms and gives sweeping powers to the tax authorities to overturn any transaction, including even tax promoted concepts of mergers and demergers. Such wide powers negate a regime of transparent regulations and reduce India's competitiveness for global investments. 


Regional underdevelopment has created disturbed areas, especially in central India where the government has appealed for job creation through private investment. But for this, we need fiscal stimulators to be built into DTC, 2010. Uttarakhand industries were created due to incentives and can be repeated in such areas creating employment generation. 


Such incentives do create economic distortions, but these are temporary and they generate long-term employment, inclusive prosperity and social justice. Bhilai and Rourkela steel plants have demonstrated that mega plants are not enough for regional development. Downstream investments are stimulated only by the right fiscal environment and infrastructure for assembly-type mother manufacturing units and their ancillaries. These generate far higher employment to capital investment ratio directly and indirectly. 


The DTC Bill, 2010 hits at the root of India's competitiveness. Low infrastructure costs are essential to drive India's competitive edge. Direct taxes enter product prices; and the DTC Bill, 2010 will substantially increase tax and thus enhance infrastructure supply costs as the tax holiday for infrastructure, power, oil & gas and similar industries is proposed to be converted from profit-linked incentive to investment-linked incentive. 


Presently (a) depreciation (initial and normal) has to be compulsorily claimed; (b) assessed annual profit (after depreciation) is taxfree for specified periods from seven to 10 years but MAT is payable; (c) the tax authorities look at transfer pricing of inputs and outputs so as to assess fair profits. 


The Bill, 2010 provides that (a) the capital expenditure (other than on land, goodwill or interest) on the eligible project would be treated as deductible expenditure in the first year; (b) no depreciation or any capital expenditure related allowance would be allowed; (c) no time limit is provided for setting off this depreciation; (d) MAT at 20% will be payable with 15 years' set-off period; and (e) but to get tax holiday, there should be no inter connection or interlinking with a non-priority unit. 


The above effect is clear when we analyse the proposed Schedule XIII Rule 6 (which provides for capex writeoff). It says: "The profits shall be presumed to have been computed after giving effect to every loss, allowance or deduction referred to in Sec 35 to 40. i.e., normal depreciation and initial depreciation." 


The depreciation in respect of any business capital asset notwithstanding any other provision of this code, shall not be allowed if: "The expenditure incurred for acquiring the asset has been allowed as a deduction under any provision of this code." This clause 38 (4) (b) is thus a sweeping one overriding any provision of the code which includes Schedule XIII; and Schedule XIII Rule 6 only prescribes for hypothetical deduction and not an actual deduction. The net impact is that if you get accelerated writeoff for capital expenditure; but then cannot claim normal and initial depreciation. Effectively, the incentive has come down from depreciation plus tax holiday to only 100% accelerated depreciation in a regulated price regime where output prices are linked to normal depreciation. The incentive is thus a chimera. 


There are further hurdles to cross. The code gives highly discretionary powers to the tax official to determine whether any business is separately assessable for a tax holiday. Sec 31 states, "A business shall be distinct and separate from another business if there is no interlacing or interdependence between the businesses." A steel plant generates waste heat and coal waste which run a power plant; it can not operate without such supplies. Will such projects fail to get tax holiday on this test of interdependence? Power is energy produced in any manner. 


It may be better to continue the old system of depreciation plus reduce tax holiday for a floating eight-year block period in 12 years instead of 10 out of 15 years and the latter being capped at full capital cost, including for land. This will spur efficiency in operation and control capital cost abuse which always reduces profits and maintain attractiveness for global investments. 


As taxes do enter product prices, the transfer pricing of output will also be lower (due to regulators) and increase competitiveness of the economy. It will also generate a level-playing field between new and old players and stimulate operational efficiency. Test of interdependence and interlacing should be done away with. Let tax policy march in sync with the nation's needs. 


(The author is managing partner,     SS Kothari Mehta & Co)


The DTC Bill, 2010 will substantially increase the tax burden and thus enhance infrastructure supply costs 
The Bill gives discretionary powers to tax officials to determine whether a business is separately assessable for a tax holiday 


It is better to continue the old system of depreciation and truncate the tax holiday than to overhaul the system a la DTC




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




With Telugu Desam chief, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, going on an indefinite hunger fast to press the case of the suffering farmers of Andhra Pradesh, and the same instrument of politics being deployed for the limited period of 48 hours by the former Kadapa MP, Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is due to launch his own party after revolting against the Congress, the government of the newly ordained, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, faces its first serious test since it took office recently. The Congress Chief Minister — seen by some as a neophyte in the area of nuts and bolts politics — needs a strong hand of support from the Centre to help the farmers in distress, and to surmount the challenge thrown at him by his opponents. He is likely to be in the midst of another crisis in the next week or so when the Srikrishna Committee on Telangana comes out with its report. If the Chief Minister's hand is strengthened by the Centre, he will be in a better position to deal with the fallout of the Srikrishna report. If not, prolonged political uncertainty in the state could be on the cards. This is not good for anybody. Not only will it impact negatively on the fortunes of the Congress in the only state in South India where it did not need an ally, instability would sap the administration and hurt the people. Some may be tempted to work toward the option of an unduly early Assembly election, but that is hardly the way things should go. Farmers were hit hard by nature's fury as many as five times this year. Crop on 25 lakh acres of land has been lost on account of heavy rains and cyclones. The plight of our food-growers is self-evident. Playing politics with people's misery speaks of opportunism, not necessarily of concern for the suffering. In the case of Mr Naidu, it will be recalled that he has not pitched in for farmers in his 30 years in public life, leave alone go on a long-duration hunger fast. He was better known during his term as chief minister for catering to the urban habitation and taking health care out of the reach of the poor. Being a mature and respected politician, he might have earned laurels if he had only so much as raised the cause of the needy farmers without bringing a threatening edge to his demand. It is to be hoped that he would heed wise counsel from all quarters and end his fast before his health deteriorates any further, for that can become a political issue too and further unsettle the administration. As for Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, his short-duration protest fast is only a mobilising tool in a season in which he is doing all he can to build himself up politically. Reports suggest that he is registering a fair measure of progress, although it is not clear if playing politics with people's lives always yields political dividends. Given the state of affairs, much is up to the good sense of the Centre. The Manmohan Singh government has been unduly slow-footed in responding to a sliding situation. The announcement of `400 crore aid from the Centre to give succour to the state's farmers appears to be a response to the protest actions by the opponents of the Congress. It should have come suo motu. Often, the essence of politics lies in the timing and the show of initiative, whether a specific demand has been made or not.








The visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to New Delhi last week has rightly received an inordinate amount of attention from the Indian press. There has been some celebration of the $23 billion in investment projects signed by the two countries during the visit, a sum that dwarfs the $14 billion signed by the US President Barack Obama when he was here.


There has also been some satisfaction at the way New Delhi stood up to Beijing's attempted bullying on Tibet, in particular India's refusal to repeat its usual ritualistic endorsement of China's views on Tibet and the "One China" policy — so long as Beijing remains unwilling to show similar sensitivity to India's views on Jammu and Kashmir.


So far, so good. Trade will clearly continue to grow; the Chinese will make special efforts to open up market access to Indian companies, who have long been chafing at the "non-tariff barriers" that impede their ability to penetrate the Great Wall; and there are very strong indications that Beijing will do away with the irritant of the stapled-visa policy for Indian citizens born in Jammu and Kashmir. (If we could only succeed in getting a Srinagar-based Indian general a visa to resume defence exchanges with the Chinese military, my satisfaction would be even greater.)


But the one area on which I have seen nothing — and I mean literally nothing, not so much as a smidgen of a comment — is the potential for future cooperation between India and China, not just between themselves (in their bilateral relations), but in the multilateral arena.


The opportunities for cooperation here are in fact great. There is, first of all, the regional plane. China and India have notably strengthened their cooperation in regional affairs. China has acquiesced in India's participation in the East Asia Summit and invited India to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an observer, just as India has supported China's becoming an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).


While Asia is devoid of meaningful security institutions, their interlocking economic and trade relationships with each other and with other Asian countries can, and in my view will, knit China and India closer together.


But multilateral cooperation need not be confined to the Asian region. China and India have broadly similar interests and approaches on a wide range of broader international questions, from most issues of international peace and security to the principles of world trade and the ways and means of coping with globalisation. They have already begun working together in multinational forums on such issues as climate change and environment protection, and have no real differences on matters like encouraging biodiversity, promoting dialogue among civilisations, promoting population control, combating transnational crime, controlling the spread of pandemic disease, and dealing with challenges from non-traditional threats to security.


All of these areas provide a realistic basis for further long-term cooperation.


One exception, alas, is the issue of combating international terrorism, where China's indulgence of Pakistani terrorist groups at the UN has been deplorable. There is little doubting that it is thanks to Beijing providing cover for Islamabad that the UN Sanctions Committee has not gone further towards proscribing the Jamaat ud Dawa and getting Hafiz Sayeed onto various international "wanted" lists.


We should perhaps have taken the opportunity of Mr Wen's visit to point out that this kind of behaviour is arguably not in Beijing's own long-term interests. After all, Uighur militants in Xinjiang, radicalised in Pakistan, have been known to set off explosive devices in China and seek refuge in the Islamic Republic, hardly a practice Beijing would like to see repeated too often. But for the moment, China attaches greater importance to the strategic relationship with Pakistan than to what is still the relatively minor threat of Pakistani-inspired terrorism on its own soil.


Of course, that can change, and China-India cooperation can also improve on the issues of piracy, oil spills and other international environmental issues, nuclear disarmament and arms races in outer space, human trafficking and natural disasters — all of which are issues on which the two countries could play mutually supportive roles, take joint responsibility and contribute to the establishment of new rules in the global system.


New areas of cooperation could also emerge — wildlife conservation, for instance, where both countries could co-operate on issues like the smuggling of tiger parts to Chinese customers, or disaster management, where Asia's two giants have much to learn from each other but have made no effort to do so.


Turning to the big-picture issues, it is true that in the global geopolitical arena there is one difference between us: we in India would prefer that the international institutions of peace and security, notably the UN Security Council, reflect the geopolitical realities of today rather than of 1945. Here we may not be on the same page as China, which has not shown much enthusiasm for a reform that would give us, and worse, Japan, a comparable status to Beijing's at the world's high table.


But in the international economic system, there is no difference between us: we both aim to pursue a long-term objective of broad parity between the developed countries and the developing and transition economies in the international financial institutions. After all, the recent global financial crisis showed that the surveillance of risk by international institutions and early warning mechanisms are needed for all countries. Both China and India agree that developing countries should have a voice in overseeing the global financial performance of all nations, rather than it simply being a case of the rich supervising the economic delinquency of the poor.


All this is not just to assert ourselves on the world stage. India's and China's broad strategic goals must remain the same, to enable their domestic transformation by accelerating our growth, preserving our strategic autonomy, protecting our people and responsibly helping shape the world. There is a great deal more we need to do to this end — and doing it partly on the world multilateral stage, rather than simply in our two foreign ministries, is something that the mandarins in both capitals could well spend more time thinking about, and working on with each other. India and China certainly won't ever be a new G2 at the UN, but our increased proximity on the Security Council could well give us a good opportunity to start being more than distant neighbours on our ever-shrinking planet.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








The best idea of 2010 came from the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Standing before world leaders in the United Nations General Assembly in September, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley asked the decisive economic question of our time: "As all our people rise above the threats of basic survival, what will our collective endeavour be as a progressive society?"


He proposed an answer. Let us, he said, make "the conscious pursuit of happiness" a new pillar of global cooperation, the "ninth Millennium Development Goal". Watching from the side of the hall, I was delighted as spontaneous cheers and applause rippled across the assembly for the first time in a long day of speeches.


The world, indeed, is long on worries and short on happiness. The problem, as Prime Minister Thinley incisively explained, is not really a shortage of material goods, even in a year of economic recession. The world is richer than ever before in history; that is certainly the case in the richest countries, even those in a cyclical downturn. Happiness, according to Bhutan's great tradition of Himalayan Buddhism, comes not from the raw pursuit of income but, in Mr Thinley's words, from "a judicious equilibrium between gains in material comfort and growth of the mind and spirit in a just and sustainable environment".


On that score, the world is far from equilibrium. As much as economists try to restore equilibrium to aggregate supply and demand, or to the relative values of national currencies, the imbalances in our societies are much deeper than the quirks of macroeconomic aggregates. The sense of imbalance is nowhere greater than in the United States. Goods are plentiful on average, but not so for the tens of millions of families in poverty or teetering precariously on the edge of poverty. America's income inequality is staggering. But it's not just America, of course. The world is the author of its excesses and growing imbalances. In its quest for superhuman economic growth, China has despoiled its air and rivers. Brazil and Indonesia have accepted an intolerable destruction of the world's remaining rainforests.


And despite annual meetings of the world's governments for 16 years since putting the UN climate-change treaty into effect in 1994, the world as a whole has found no agreement on a practical plan to head off the worst of human-induced climate change or to adapt effectively to the climate changes already under way.


The world has shown similar neglect in protecting its most vulnerable people. There is solace in the fact that 140 world leaders came to the United Nations in September to rededicate themselves to the Millennium Development Goals, the globally agreed-upon targets to fight poverty, hunger and disease. Despite war, upheaval and recession, the goals have kept a place in global politics and global awareness.


As we enter a new year and new decade, and the final five years to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by their target date, a new "judicious equilibrium" must be our goal. The past decade's desperate lunge for profits and military gain has brought us low. It's time to rebuild mind and spirit. The key is to think much more clearly about wants and needs, and thereby to rebalance our personal and political energies.


The first rebalancing should be between the rich and poor. The traditional gaps between the "developed" and "developing" worlds are closing, thanks to the remarkable growth of the emerging economies. The small club of the G8 countries has already given way to the larger G20, which includes China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. It's urgent to widen the circle still further, so that today's poorest countries may gain a foothold on prosperity and participate fully in global leadership.


Within our own divided societies, we must of course do the same. America and other highly unequal societies need to rebalance a culture of super-wealth alongside degrading poverty. There is certainly no technical barrier to ensuring that every child, poor as well as rich, has a pathway to decent health, quality education and full participation in the economy. America's rich have wealth beyond their most extravagant needs. Rejoining the effort to end poverty would greatly boost their happiness, as well as others'.


The second rebalancing must be between the present and future. Our consumerist and media-driven economy fueled the mad pursuit of consumerism above all else over the past 20 years. In the lead-up to the financial crash, Americans and many others stopped saving, and instead snapped up the credit card loans and subprime mortgages on offer from irresponsible lenders. As we sift through the financial wreckage, let's resolve to stop shortchanging the future.


The third rebalancing must be between production and nature. Our GNP accounts routinely record every felled tree, overpumped aquifer and excessive catch of endangered marine life to be part of our national income, when in reality it is simply the depletion of nature's capital. We have reached the planetary boundaries of ecological survival. It's time to reach a new consciousness of our own destructive force, and to pull back before it's too late.


* Jeffrey Sachs drew notice in the 1980s and '90s as a proponent of "shock therapy" for sick economies. He is now director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.


By arrangement with the New York Times








The New York Times' columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks talk about Christmas and where do you stand on the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season?


Gail Collins: David, I know you're a big fan of community-building activities. How do you come down on Christmas? I don't mean the religious feast but the all-encompassing, retail-sales-enhancing holiday season. In which Americans of all stripes celebrate the winter solstice with family gatherings, exchanges of gifts and cards and the singing of really terrible seasonal songs.

Actually, the songs are the one part that I think cannot be pulled off without religiosity. That Mariah Carey thing, which is apparently the most popular holiday song in the nation, is worse than "A Holly Jolly Christmas".


David Brooks: I am so glad you asked me about Christmas. I am not a Jew for Jesus but I am definitely a Jew for Christmas. Christmas is one of the best things you Christians have given us, along with mac and cheese, Bono, croquet and politeness.


I'm sort of worried about the overshadowing of the terrible old Christmas songs (I dated a girl named Holly Jolly in high school), but my main worry about Christmas is this: the quality of the holiday deteriorates the further one gets from Manhattan. In the city, you've got trees for sale on the street. You've got the vendors selling hot chestnuts. You've got the Christmas windows, the Rockettes, that huge lighted star over Fifth Avenue and the big tree outside the Today studio. Christmas in Manhattan is great, but it gets diluted where I live now, out in mall-ville.


In fact, I think New York Jews should all volunteer to trade places with people in Milwaukee or some other Christian-heavy city for the month of December. This would allow more room for Christians to enjoy the holiday in the Big Apple. It would yield the greatest good for the greatest number.


Gail Collins: You're right — there's a Christmas tree vendor on my corner and I do love feeling as if I'm walking through a forest on my way home from the subway. A forest of entirely dead trees, but still kind of nifty.


But about Christmas. "The holiday season" has pretty much uncoupled from the feast of Christmas and I'm surprised religious conservatives don't find that to be a blessing. When I was a kid, living in a very Catholic part of the country, people worried about the commercialisation of Christmas. They were afraid the story of the Nativity was getting lost amid the purchasing of toys and small appliances. Secular Christmas songs were looked down upon. Singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in my Catholic school was as unthinkable then as singing the First Noel in public schools is today.


Now, the march of the Santas has so completely run over the month of December that it should be easier for people to focus on the religious aspects of the 25th. Particularly since they're very likely to be having their actual present-exchange on some other day, when the relatives can all be assembled. I say that as a person who will be on a plane on December 25, flying to Ohio for a family Christmas that is actually scheduled for December 27.


]David Brooks: Wait a second, you're celebrating on the 27th? Are you trying to find a third-way triangulated compromise between Western Christianity and Eastern Orthodox? I find this a disturbing slide toward moral relativism. Do you celebrate the July 4th on the 8th? Or New Year's Eve in February? Once you start fooling with the calendar where does it stop? Moreover, you shouldn't be able to do your Christmas shopping on the 26th, when the sales start. It's bad for the economy.


I say celebrate Christmas for its importance in the Christian religion, but admit that the two-month-long public festivity during which it occurs is a multicultural holiday season.


]Gail Collins: If Christmas is for families, what do you do when there are families scattered all over the country? I am pretty sure God wants to make sure I touch all the bases, even if I spend his actual birthday with Delta Airlines.


David Brooks: As for the loss of the Christian integrity of the holiday. I am militant. There's a security guard at a building I visit a lot. He's Muslim and I'm Jewish. We both wish each other a Merry Christmas when we see each other. None of this vacuous Happy Holidays crap. We're taking a stand for religious substance.


This is where cultural conservatives split ways with economic conservatives. The latter are happy to see Christmas diluted so it can reduce psychological friction in the marketplace. People like me want to increase social friction, stickiness and commitments.


I'm for Nativity scenes, Passion plays and every explicit Jesus hymn you can think of. As it stands now, the holiday season is turning into a second helping of Halloween, with candy


Gail Collins: This is now a celebration that begins before the last leaves have fallen from the trees and ends with the final Christmas party, sometime in January. You can't have two months of nonstop public displays of religion. It sounds nice in theory but it'd drive half the country crazy in real life. And my own childhood has convinced me that the folks trying to excise the crass commercial side are always going to lose.


So I say celebrate Christmas for its importance in the Christian religion, but admit that the two-month-long public festivity during which it occurs is a multicultural holiday season. Including the tree. The idea of putting a "holiday tree" in the town square seems to drive conservatives particularly nuts. But everybody loves that tree, and since the pagans thought of it first, I don't think one group can claim a patent.


I am militant about keeping the Christian integrity of the holiday; none of this vacuous "Happy Holidays".


David Brooks: I hate to sound holier than the pope, but it's a Christmas tree. You Christians stole it from the pagans fair and square and there is no reason to give it back. That cultural appropriation was a great advance, adding depth and moral content to mere nature. Now we are devolving to vacuous barbarism.


A sign of this decline, by the way, is the number of Christians who feel free to go to the movies on Christmas Day. It used to be the cineplexes were like half-empty synagogues on Christmas. Now you can barely get a ticket. When Christians start eating Chinese for Christmas dinner, the end of civilisation will really be at hand.


Gail Collins: I get the last word, and it's: Merry Christmas, David.








In 2010, India had a string of VIP visitors from the "big five" countries. First to arrive was British Prime Minister David Cameron in July. Then followed US President Barack Obama's successful India visit in November 2010, though it was somewhat dampened by the WikiLeaks disclosures. Next was France President Nicolas Sarkozy who turned on the charm offensive with sufficient help from his glamorous wife.


This was followed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India from December 15 to 17 and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's two-day trip beginning on December 21. The reason for these visits is the fact that a "rising" India is expected to play an increasingly important role in the two most "dangerous regions on earth", i.e. the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The latter, dominated by peninsular India, is crucial to global sea trade and energy flow since it connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.


Significantly, the Chinese Premier's visit was uninspiring despite contracts worth $16 billion being signed and bilateral trade expected to cross $120 billion by 2014 (Mr Wen signed $35 billion worth of deals with Pakistan a few days later).


Given the border dispute and China's new assertiveness on its territorial claims in South Asia and the APR, where it is trying to "shape the geostrategic arena", can growing trade (with India's share at 33 per cent deficit) alone stabilise the region?


On November 21, 2010, China commenced work in Tibet on the first of the planned 28 dams on the river Brahmaputra for hydropower generation. Though China's latest move will further aggravate tensions, the era of "water wars" will really begin in a few years when China decides to divert Brahmaputra into its own territory (to irrigate its arid regions and replenish the water levels in the depleting Yellow river), thus converting India's Northeast into a desert.


In addition to neutralising Pakistan and China's designs in South Asia, India must oppose any Chinese attempts to convert the South China Sea (SCS) into China's territorial waters as then free flow of Indian and global sea-borne commerce from the IOR to the APR and vice-versa would be at China's mercy. Sixty per cent of India's sea-borne trade moves westwards, across the IOR to Europe and beyond, while 40 per cent moves eastward, to the APR and beyond. Given China's latest mischief of not recognising the 1,500 kms of its boundary with Kashmir as part of the disputed Sino-Indian border, India needs to declare a new policy stating that Tibet is not a part of China. Also, it needs to increase trade with Taiwan, from the present $5 million, annual level.


Mr Medvedev's visit served to consolidate Indo-Russian ties. There is no doubt that India needs to continue its traditional time-tested relations with Russia for meeting its vital defence needs (stealth fighter aircraft, nuclear submarines), civilian nuclear reactors and some crude oil from the Sakhalin oil fields. However, the United States with a global naval presence is also important to India, as it is the only military power capable of countering China.


On October 27, 2010, the US announced the construction of a $12 billion naval base on Guam Island, which along with the Pearl Harbour (Hawaii) forms the "third and last island chain" blocking China's cherished eastwards push across the Pacific Ocean. In anticipation of Chinese weaponisation of space by 2020, the US plans to launch a series of lethal robotic aerospace systems. By 2020, China aims to be capable of launching missile and cyberspace strikes on every part of the globe.


North Korea — China's proxy in APR — continues to raise tensions with the November 23, 2010, shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeondo Island and then threatening nuclear strikes, bringing Japan and South Korea closer to the US.


In my opinion, the incident like the March 26, 2010, sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan by a North Korean submarine, had the blessings of China. China provides North Korea 79 per cent of its foreign investments, 90 per cent of its crude oil, 84 per cent of its consumer goods and most of its military equipment.


This scenario is almost identical to China's other proxy, Pakistan, which hopes to use US aid worth billions of dollars to buy three dozen J10 fighter aircraft, four Yuan class conventional submarines (with Air Independent Propulsion System), four Type 054 Frigates and also possibly acquire a Han-class nuclear attack submarine on a 10-year lease from China at "friendship prices".


India should brace itself to counter a Cheonan-type incident at sea or a 26/11-type of attack. While South Korea has recently "remodeled" its future military response, Japan has recently decided to increase its submarine force from 16 to 22. The Indian Navy, which is now reduced to 14 aging conventional submarines, instead of 24 that are needed, should urgently emulate the Japanese example.


The China-Pak anti-India nexus will remain unchanged for decades while China will simultaneously head for a collision course against the US as it is a stumbling block to China's territorial claims in the APR.


The world, including India, relies on sea-borne trade and oil moving safely through the IOR to various global destinations. Hence, India and the US do have mutual interests.


For the safety of sea-borne commerce, India needs "friends" to counter Chinese moves in the APR, while the US, along with the global maritime community, needs "friends" to counter the piracy and maritime terror in the IOR.


Indeed, China's expected prolonged naval deployments in the IOR by about 2030 will further aggravate the situation.


To conclude, Indo-US relations (specially in the fields of maritime, aerospace, defence and cyber security) have a bright future but they can never be "strategic" like the present asymmetrical US-Britain or China-Pakistan ties because of America's fixation with its "geostrategic ally" Pakistan.


The only way for India to avoid an inevitable war with China is to deter China with a combination of conventional and nuclear weapons capability along with diplomacy and close cooperation with other maritime nations, including the US.


For a start, India needs to increase its annual defence budget by 50 per cent and ensure that the money is actually spent and not allowed to lapse.


* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Ever since Jesus was born 2,000 years ago, the story of his birth has been narrated over and over again, not just in words but also through poetry, paintings, songs, radio dramas, classical dance forms, small and big films and through many other art forms. The real narration of his birth though, as portrayed in the Gospel of St. Luke, is rather simple as: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.


So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.


"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.


An angel of the Lord appeared to them, the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today, in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'".


Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to people of good will". When the angels had left them and gone to the heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing has happened, which the Lord has told us about".


So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.


When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all those who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:1-20).


Though the message of Jesus' birth with a clear emphasis on peace was first given to the simple shepherds, probably illiterate and surely quite poor, prophecies about him had begun to emerge almost 800 years before his birth. According to Biblical exegetes, the Jewish scriptures, which now form part of the Bible, had already foretold about the birth of the Messiah and the way he would live and die. Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament called him, "Prince of Peace", whose "Kingdom will always have peace".


According to him, "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den (Isaiah 11:7-8)".


In His lifetime, Jesus constantly spoke about and worked for peace. Imparting one of his many gifts to his disciples, Jesus said to them: "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it to you as the world does (John 14:27)". In a world so torn apart by different conflicts arising out of manipulation, exploitation, using people to climb up, cheating, corruption, murder, rape, violence, war, terrorist attacks; hunger and poverty, humanity appears sometimes to have lost the direction. It is still searching for peace that seems to be elusive.


The message of Christmas by the angel to the shepherds — "Peace on earth to people of goodwill" — is a call to everyone to become people of "goodwill" by cooperating with the "Prince of Peace" who would love to fill the hearts of all those who desperately seek inner and external peace.


— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at [1]








NO surprise is the Central Bureau of Investigation's whine that it is running into difficulties when probing some elements of the CWG swindle because critical files are "missing". Did anyone expect potentially incriminating documents to be perfectly indexed and stored in a filing cabinet for the convenience of the detectives? The agency says it will investigate that disappearance too, but who will undertake an inquiry into why the tainted heads of the Organising Committee were permitted full run of the offices after a formal scrutiny into their shenanigans was ordered? Is it not a "basic" that a person under the scanner is immediately placed under suspension so that no material is tampered with? Indeed, arrests happen and applications for remand are made all over the country to ensure those accused of lesser crimes do not interfere with the investigation process; by not doing so, the government is already placing Suresh Kalmadi on a pedestal. The technicalities of the status of the OC, and whether the government's normal service conduct rules apply to its staff is of little relevance. As ridiculous as the Cabinet Secretary reportedly telling the CBI that the OC no longer functioned under him, the sports ministry should be approached for any "restraining order" on M/s Kalmadi, Bhanot, & Associates. Despite officially promising full cooperation, the remnants of the OC are deliberately thwarting inquiries, the investigators have complained. That would suggest that they still have clout and godfathers in high places. Probably the same unworthies who did not debar them from the OC offices the moment formal inquiries were directed. So was asking Kalmadi to step down from an inconsequential post in the Congress Parliamentary Party, and not inviting him to receptions at 7 RCR and 10 Janpath only to create a false impression of a crackdown? It may not be possible for the Prime Minister to prevent loot, surely he can ensure that the looters are left with no escape route. What the CBI has encountered could hold true of the inquiries being conducted by others, so all the promises of bringing the crooks to book ring hollow. And there isn't even a word about the corruption in the Delhi government headed by Sheila Dixit.

Another CWG-related issue requires resolution. International firms involved with the opening and closing ceremonies are yet to be paid full fees or permitted to repatriate the equipment used for the events. Is that "held up" because of the probes in hand? India's image as a country with which to "do business" is in a shambles.




When he was chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu earned a reputation for remarkable growth in the urban sector to the extent he was described as the state's CEO. With what must be considered a dramatic transformation of his political identity, he has now taken up the cause of distressed farmers with the same degree of earnestness. The shift may have a clear political objective. But it is curious why the Centre allowed him this opportunity by taking more than three months to announce a Rs 400-crore relief package for farmers who are in serious trouble after their crops were destroyed by heavy rain. The tragedy of farmers' suicides has been witnessed in the state and has spread to other parts with such speed that it would seem the Centre has again been caught napping. Or, the UPA may have been so absorbed in the Jaganmohan Reddy drama that it failed to apply its mind to the real challenge involving the plight of farmers. YSR's son has jumped on to another platform to launch a separate fast ~ seizing the opportunity for what may lead to the formation of another party after being discarded by the Congress. The question is whether the fast-track appeal to the people's conscience will fetch these leaders the desired dividends when the state has had more than its share of political drama.

Farmers, of course, constitute a considerable segment of the rural population that has helped Mamata Banerjee to usher in a climate of change in Bengal since the panchayat elections in 2008. The fast that she had mounted in Kolkata in favour of the farmers of Singur had a lasting effect and produced a resurgent Opposition. Naidu who has pledged an indefinite fast, like the Trinamul chief, and Jaganmohan Reddy who confined his fast to 48 hours may not have been directly inspired by Trinamul but could be eyeing the same results when the political scene in Andhra is rather fluid. A new chief minister is coping with internal squabbles in the party, with sizeable sections either part of the YSR legacy or sitting on the fence. Naidu and the young Reddy both carry a baggage of personal ambitions that are so conspicuous that their protests may be seen in poor light. That doesn't explain either the administrative apathy or the delayed response to human distress.




A renewed crisis in Korea, which appeared to be brewing in November as never before since 1953, has mercifully been staved off. The unfolding itself marks a new chapter in the history of the peninsula ~ a North Korean blitz followed by the South's live-fire artillery drills ("scheduled", interjected Barack Obama) and Pyongyang's remarkable restraint on Monday. The impact of a counter-reprisal is much too chilling even to imagine particularly in the context of the North's threat of "brutal consequences beyond imagination" if the drills went forward. In the event, the North has held its fire and literally so though Pyongyang has kept the world guessing about its mood-swing after a display of war-time bluster. Chiefly, whether indeed the South Korean exercise was "not worth reacting to", as it claims, or whether the North was anxious to convey a message internationally ~ "the world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of war".  It has been the topic of an engaging debate for the past 60 years; suffice it to register that a crisis that at one stage had seemed to trigger a new Cold War ~ in a season of freezing temperatures ~ has been averted. And palpable is the feeling of relief in South Korea and the world at large. Is it possible that there has been some headway in the recent talks on the North's nuclear programme? Not least in the context of the revelation of a new nuclear facility in Pyongyang.  The reasons for the retreat from hostilities can only be speculated upon. A turnaround certainly for a regime that had sunk a South Korean warship last March, killing 46 sailors.

It devolves on the Security Council to ensure that the tension does not spiral out of control. The crucial task may not be accomplished anytime soon in view of what the US envoy, Susan Rice, calls "severe differences within the Council that are unlikely to be resolved". The North and the South must observe restraint; equally must Russia and China abjure the ambiguity of not blaming the North for the crisis. The comity of nations must devise what Moscow calls "a gameplan to counter the crisis". Central to any resolution must be a Security Council  agreement, transcending Beijing's rhetoric that "no one had the right to preach or promote a conflict". The UN's failure to reach an agreement illustrates the divide in international relations.









THE Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) issued its report for 2009-10 on 12 December. Although the business of private life insurance companies has registered a 19.7 per cent growth in 2009-10, nearly 12.1 million policies either lapsed or were forfeited. During 2008-09, 9.1 million policies had suffered a similar fate. The report also states that more than 60 per cent of the policies issued by private life insurance companies have either lapsed or been forfeited in just one year. The numbers are alarming and frightening as well.

Statistics reveal that the ratio of lapsed or forfeited policies was 81 per cent in the case of ICICI Prudential, the largest private sector life insurance company. During 2008-09, it was 59 per cent for this company alone. The ratio for different companies ranged from 4 to 81 per cent.

The phenomenon of lapsed and forfeited policies is not new. However, in the case of Life Insurance Corporation of India, only four per cent of the policies had either lapsed or were forfeited during 2009-10.


Whilst the percentage of such policies has increased sharply in the case of private companies, it actually declined from 6 per cent in 2007-08 to 4 per cent in 2009-10 in LIC's case.

LIC is a huge organization, one that had enjoyed a monopoly for a long time. The value of its lapsed and forfeited policies in 2009-10 was a whopping Rs 1,147 billion, or nearly half of the total amount of Rs 2,148 million. However, considering its size, the lapsed policies represent a very small percentage of its business.
The figure pertaining to the private insurers suggest that something is very seriously wrong. A person buys a life insurance policy to insure his family against future risks. One can also save tax with a life insurance policy.


Thus the twin objectives are savings along with insurance.

Before 2001-02, LIC had a monopoly over the life insurance business. That fiscal, the private sector companies were permitted to engage in the life insurance business. Foreign capital, subject to a ceiling of 26 per cent, was also allowed. Today, along with LIC, as many as 21 private companies are engaged in the life insurance business.  There was a huge growth in the sector after  2001, and with the advent of private sector companies.


Initially, LIC contributed substantially to this growth in parallel with the private sector. LIC's growth rate, however, has been negative over the past two years. On the other hand, private sector companies have registered a sharp increase in new business.

Although IRDA has not published data about the premium paid on lapsed or forfeited policies, certain assumptions can be made. Even if 20 per cent of the premium paid was forfeited, this would amount to Rs 430 billion. This means that in just one year, insurance companies would have earned a windfall in income from lapsed and forfeited policies.

As per rules, a life insurance policy lapses if the premium remains unpaid for between 15 and 60 days from the due date. Lapse of life insurance policies is a natural process, but such a high percentage of lapse or forfeiture is disconcerting. According to experts, the lapse ratio of more than 10 per cent is an alarm signal for the life insurance industry. But when this ratio crosses 50 per cent for many companies, one may legitimately raise questions about the integrity of these enterprises.

While the companies blame the economic slowdown for the high rate of lapse and forfeiture, there are many who blame the aggressive ~ and even unprincipled ~ selling of insurance policies. In order to promote their business, some companies try to lure customers with the so-called "benefits" of the policy, while keeping them in the dark about the terms and conditions attached.

Once a policy-holder is aware of the strings attached, he is faced with two choices ~ to continue with the policy or to cut his losses and stop payment of premium. The second option leads to a policy lapse. In both cases, the policy-holder is the loser, while the company gains. Indeed, when the client chooses to let the policy lapse, the company gains considerably because it is absolved of all responsibility.

Private sector insurance companies are not ready to accept that their marketing strategies are responsible for this situation. But the very low ratio of lapsed and forfeited policies in the case of LIC, compared to more than 60 per cent in the case of private companies, points to a fundamental fault. The argument of recession is untenable when one reflects that the percentage of lapsed and forfeited policies has actually come down in the case of LIC.

Savings are at risk. And if that risk stems from a conscious strategy of private insurance companies, there is need for intervention. While IRDA publishes data, it cannot act suo motu against any company. It can act only when a policy-holder complains. Therefore, in the absence of a general action and stricter regulation, unscrupulous companies can continue to lure ill-informed people and appropriate their savings.

Till 2010, IRDA had received 8,592 complaints. In 2009-10, it received only 2,449 complaints. This is a minor figure when contrasted with the millions of lapsed policies. It  suggests that IRDA has failed to protect policy-holders. There is a clear case for IRDA's rules to be amended to counter the grubby marketing strategies of private insurance companies. The savings of millions of people are at stake.


THE Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) issued its report for 2009-10 on 12 December. Although the business of private life insurance companies has registered a 19.7 per cent growth in 2009-10, nearly 12.1 million policies either lapsed or were forfeited. During 2008-09, 9.1 million policies had suffered a similar fate. The report also states that more than 60 per cent of the policies issued by private life insurance companies have either lapsed or been forfeited in just one year. The numbers are alarming and frightening as well.

Statistics reveal that the ratio of lapsed or forfeited policies was 81 per cent in the case of ICICI Prudential, the largest private sector life insurance company. During 2008-09, it was 59 per cent for this company alone. The ratio for different companies ranged from 4 to 81 per cent.

The phenomenon of lapsed and forfeited policies is not new. However, in the case of Life Insurance Corporation of India, only four per cent of the policies had either lapsed or were forfeited during 2009-10.


Whilst the percentage of such policies has increased sharply in the case of private companies, it actually declined from 6 per cent in 2007-08 to 4 per cent in 2009-10 in LIC's case.

LIC is a huge organization, one that had enjoyed a monopoly for a long time. The value of its lapsed and forfeited policies in 2009-10 was a whopping Rs 1,147 billion, or nearly half of the total amount of Rs 2,148 million. However, considering its size, the lapsed policies represent a very small percentage of its business.
The figure pertaining to the private insurers suggest that something is very seriously wrong. A person buys a life insurance policy to insure his family against future risks. One can also save tax with a life insurance policy.


Thus the twin objectives are savings along with insurance.

Before 2001-02, LIC had a monopoly over the life insurance business. That fiscal, the private sector companies were permitted to engage in the life insurance business. Foreign capital, subject to a ceiling of 26 per cent, was also allowed. Today, along with LIC, as many as 21 private companies are engaged in the life insurance business.  There was a huge growth in the sector after  2001, and with the advent of private sector companies.


Initially, LIC contributed substantially to this growth in parallel with the private sector. LIC's growth rate, however, has been negative over the past two years. On the other hand, private sector companies have registered a sharp increase in new business.

Although IRDA has not published data about the premium paid on lapsed or forfeited policies, certain assumptions can be made. Even if 20 per cent of the premium paid was forfeited, this would amount to Rs 430 billion. This means that in just one year, insurance companies would have earned a windfall in income from lapsed and forfeited policies.

As per rules, a life insurance policy lapses if the premium remains unpaid for between 15 and 60 days from the due date. Lapse of life insurance policies is a natural process, but such a high percentage of lapse or forfeiture is disconcerting. According to experts, the lapse ratio of more than 10 per cent is an alarm signal for the life insurance industry. But when this ratio crosses 50 per cent for many companies, one may legitimately raise questions about the integrity of these enterprises.

While the companies blame the economic slowdown for the high rate of lapse and forfeiture, there are many who blame the aggressive ~ and even unprincipled ~ selling of insurance policies. In order to promote their business, some companies try to lure customers with the so-called "benefits" of the policy, while keeping them in the dark about the terms and conditions attached.

Once a policy-holder is aware of the strings attached, he is faced with two choices ~ to continue with the policy or to cut his losses and stop payment of premium. The second option leads to a policy lapse. In both cases, the policy-holder is the loser, while the company gains. Indeed, when the client chooses to let the policy lapse, the company gains considerably because it is absolved of all responsibility.


Private sector insurance companies are not ready to accept that their marketing strategies are responsible for this situation. But the very low ratio of lapsed and forfeited policies in the case of LIC, compared to more than 60 per cent in the case of private companies, points to a fundamental fault. The argument of recession is untenable when one reflects that the percentage of lapsed and forfeited policies has actually come down in the case of LIC.

Savings are at risk. And if that risk stems from a conscious strategy of private insurance companies, there is need for intervention. While IRDA publishes data, it cannot act suo motu against any company. It can act only when a policy-holder complains. Therefore, in the absence of a general action and stricter regulation, unscrupulous companies can continue to lure ill-informed people and appropriate their savings.
Till 2010, IRDA had received 8,592 complaints. In 2009-10, it received only 2,449 complaints. This is a minor figure when contrasted with the millions of lapsed policies. It  suggests that IRDA has failed to protect policy-holders. There is a clear case for IRDA's rules to be amended to counter the grubby marketing strategies of private insurance companies. The savings of millions of people are at stake.

The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi







Sanjo Kol attracted widespread attention for her courageous and dedicated work for the people of her village after getting elected as the adivasi pradhan of Girudha village (Chitrakut district of Uttar Pradesh). Such was the terror of dacoits here that often she could not spend the night in her village. Still she worked with such dedication that her village become known for development work (such as a well-constructed check dam and tank) and welfare schemes. Sanjo also found the time to help neighbouring panchayats and participate in social movements. For all these efforts, she was honoured at a national conference on women panchayat leaders organised in Delhi.

During panchayat elections in 2010, this seat was no longer reserved for women and several feudal interests had ganged up to defeat her. However, in the face of such heavy odds, Sanjo managed to win the election for the post of pradhan once again.

Sanjo thanks the local voluntary organisation ABSSS for helping her in difficult times and adds, "Now our village is threatened by displacement in the name of wildlife protection. We need to establish wider unity to protect our villages."

The victory of Lalaram Prajapati in Uttar Pradesh's panchayat elections is being widely discussed. He has been elected from Nahri panchayat in Banda district. When the drought had peaked in the Bundelkhand region, several starvation deaths were reported in Nahri panchayat. One of those who died of starvation was  Bhagwat Prajapati. He was the brother of Lalaram Prajapati. Thus, a member of a family which experienced a starvation death has now been elected pradhan of this village. 

When the controversy over starvation deaths was at its peak, Rahul Gandhi had  visited this village and met Bhagwat's family, including Lalaram Prajapati. Lalaram says that Rahul's visit inspired him to stand up and fight the causes of hunger. He took the courageous decision of fighting panchayat elections even though he knew that he would have to confront very rich and powerful persons. Lalaram's decision enthused the poor people of this village and they collected donations for his small election expenses. On the one hand, the rich candidate was distributing money among voters. On the other, people were giving small donations for Lalaram Prajapati. He could fight the election only on the basis of these donations.

When the election results were announced, the people of the village were happy to know that Lalaram had won by a substantial margin of 130 votes. Now people have high hopes in him. When this writer recently met Lalaram, he said emphatically that it is a shame that grain is rotting in warehouses while the poor go hungry. He also emphasised improvement in education as a top priority.

In Naugavaan panchayat, another poor person (his name is also Lalaram) has been able to defeat the candidate who represents feudal forces. So arrogant are these feudals that, some time ago, they told social activists working with the poor that they wouldn't be allowed to enter the village.

In 2005, the feudal forces of Ragauli Bhattpur had won the panchayat elections by calling in several gunmen to ensure that their candidate got most of the votes. But this time (in 2010), a man called Rajaram who had toiled in stone quarries was able to win the panchayat election.

In Bilharka panchayat in 2005, the seat was reserved for Dalit women. So the feudal forces found a Dalit woman dependent on them to contest the election as their proxy candidate. During the next five years, they controlled the panchayat affairs, using the name of the Dalit pradhan. She was not even allowed to speak to outsiders. But this year a worker Mangal Singh who is opposed to the feudal forces managed to win the election. Similarly, in Saahpatan village, Harishankar Nishad who did not have any money for election expenses won the election.

News of these election victories of poor candidates has come when sharply escalating election budgets in panchayat elections have been widely reported. What is more inspiring is that, in most cases, these candidates have fought against powerful feudal interests. If we also count ward members and BDCs, then the number of such victorious candidates increases significantly. This victory of the poor against rich, arrogant and feudal forces is a victory of not just these candidates but also a victory for democracy.

A significant contribution to this victory was made by Vidyadham Samiti, a voluntary organisation and its sister organisation Chingari. As Raja Bhaiya, founder of Vidyadham Samiti says, "We carried out a campaign for free and fair elections and also encouraged honest weaker section candidates from poor families.
Raja Bhaiya adds that the campaigns of Vidyadham Samiti was helped by the campaign of two organisations, ALGI and ABSSS, before the panchayat raj elections which organised workshops for panchayat raj reforms and also made available useful literature and posters.

Now Vidyadham Samiti will try to ensure that at least some of these panchayats can develop as model panchayats doing good work. Earlier, Kanai panchayat had come close to this model when Amod Rawat was the pradhan here during 2005-2010. Such efforts should be helped and encouraged by the government as well as various institutions associated with the reform and empowerment of panchayat raj.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi








Though considerable effort is required to put a household in suspended animation while away on a longish trip, it is the experience on return that is the most interesting. That is what I discovered on my sojourns to visit our children away from home. 

The lure of home starts tugging at the heart once the excitement of the visit dies down. The reverse countdown begins when the return tickets are booked and the itinerary is set. The first task is to track our household help to clean up the flat and cook the initial meal when we reach. The ubiquitous mobile has made the task a lot easier where earlier it was more like a detective search. My first act on landing is to have a warm soapy bath to wash away the dirt and grime of the journey. There is no alternative to the luxury of one's own bathroom for the self-restoration. My second fetish is to unpack immediately and put back everything in its designated place so as to erase the mental discomfort of having to live out of a suitcase. The human mind has two paradoxical impulses. While one part seeks to be on the move, the other loves the status quo. We oscillate between the two.
As I step out for the morning walk after a restful sleep on our old bed, the world outside looks at once familiar and new. The stray dogs take but a split second to recognize me and wag their tail vigorously in acceptance and a couple of them amble alongside for some time. Friends and acquaintances greet you with "How are you?" and "long time no see". That warms the cockles of your heart. This renewal may take as long as a week or ten days till all the missing links are established. Apart from the status report on local politics, the economy, law and order and so on, family status reports on births, deaths, marriage and gossip with all the whispers are no less momentous.

Logistics also require a degree of planning. The newspaper man is perhaps the most vital for on any holiday there is a tendency to miss out on the news and the television as you are living in a no man's land where the fate of the other place is not linked to yours. The telephone is the second vital service to put you in touch with the extended family and friends so as to announce your arrival and become a part of the milieu. The other service providers troop in one by one to oil the engine of a stalled household. It is good to feel that you have been missed if only as a client. Yet the adage that ''absence makes the heart grow fonder" makes them more solicitous and caring for the initial period. Come to think of it, each link involves emotions and relationships that sustain the body and soul much like the fiddler on the roof who found love in the daily chores of washing clothes, darning socks and cooking meals.

As the sunlight fades and evening creeps in on the neighbourhood, a sense of peace and well-being permeates you - secure in the ties that bind you from within and without. If this "maya" is not desirable, what is? 







The pantomime season only lasted a day in Charleston, South Carolina this year, but no one can say the amateur dramatics – and the audience participation – did not have a special intensity about them. The American Civil War wasn't about slavery, honestly. Oh, yes it was! Oh, no it wasn't! Oh, yes it was!

This was the scene, more or less, at the city's municipal auditorium on Monday night, 150 years to the day after the signing of the declaration of secession from the Union by South Carolina, an act of mutiny that sowed the seeds of Confederacy and set in motion a conflict that killed roughly 620,000 Americans. 

Inside the hall, 200-odd guests, all white and some in period costume, gathered to see a re-enactment of the signing of the secession document. When it was over, they instinctively joined the cast in singing the anthem of the South, "Dixie", before repairing to an adjoining hall for dinner and dancing. 

Outside, a racially mixed crowd of about 100 held electric candles aloft at dusk to begin a protest march through downtown Charleston, singing the songs of Selma and Montgomery, including "We Shall Overcome". Each camp thus indulged in their forms of theatre before taking to their beds.

But the US is only at the beginning of a four-year stretch of events to commemorate the Civil War, which will peak with the anniversary in November 2013 of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address". The mostly polite battle in Charleston will be played out throughout the intervening period - and it may not always be so controlled. If the Civil War was about the South protecting and eventually losing its right to practise slavery, what place has this nostalgia? 

"The South lost the war but they really won it, because they continue to say the war was not about slavery, which is not true of course," argued Blain Roberts, an assistant professor of history at California State University, who attended the South Carolina Secession Gala to conduct research for a book. "They won the memory of the war, at least."

Also in the hall to observe rather than participate – you could tell because she was not in the hooped skirt costume of Gone with the Wind – was Cynthia Cowan, a Masters student at Houston University, who was more blunt. Those who had bought the $100 tickets for the evening were "wilfully ignorant or proudly nonchalant" of the offence they would inevitably cause, she said.

If the organisers of the Secession Gala felt the heat of inquiring reporters and noisy protesters, for the guests, the atmosphere, fuelled by mint julep cocktails and bowls of shrimp and grits, was more delirious than defensive. Never mind the breeze-block walls and lino-tile floor, or that the furniture for the re-enactment was more 1970s office than 1860s ceremonial.

Proud is how most seemed to feel. Donna Simpson was so because her fifth great-grandfather was the uncle of Robert E Lee, the legendary Confederate General. Her husband, Mark, is the commander, South Carolina, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a charity organisation. "We celebrate life," he said, responding to the claims that the event was feting slavery. "We are glad that slavery came to an end."

To the music of a band aptly called Un-Reconstructed, the Simpsons and other couples in their finery joined the Grand March, entering the hall in pairs with as much Scarlett O'Hara pomp as they could muster, and bowing before their hosts – the national commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Michael Givens, and his wife – beneath the stage. The subsequent hours of dancing were interrupted only once when a plastic oak tree draped with fake Spanish moss toppled over after being sideswiped by a damsel who had briefly forgotten how impractical those old-fashioned skirts really were.

Mr Givens found all the questions about slavery pesky. "We are not celebrating that and this is not malicious," he said. "It's about honouring our forefathers for their tenacity. It's about the bravery and courage of our ancestors." 
On hand to galvanise the protesters was a local clergyman, the Rev Nelson Rivers. "If Japanese Americans chose to celebrate Pearl Harbour this way it would be outrageous and would not be allowed to occur and that is what is happening here tonight," he said into a megaphone.

Tangee Rice, 57, an African American woman, drove 120 miles to the march and was wearing the same hat her grandfather had worn marching with Martin Luther King. "The Confederacy is not something to celebrate," she said. "It's just not right." About those re-enacting the start of the Civil War, she said: "They still haven't grown out of it, and it's really sad."

Argument about what sparked the War – Mr Givens and Mr Simpson will tell you it was about tariffs and taxes imposed by the North – will never end. But the harder issue, which Ms Rice raises, is this: Yes, America is a much different place now, but does the nostalgia conceal a lingering racism, even a yearning for history to be rewound?

the independent






A victory rally in the middle of the city addressed by the chief minister of the state because the Left-backed primary teachers' association has won the district primary school council elections is surpassing strange. It may be a mark of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s pitiful lack of nerves before the assembly elections that the chief minister himself should be congratulating teachers for doing a great job. But why traffic in half the city should be thrown into turmoil because the chief minister feels the urge to celebrate a CPI(M) win in district school councils is a question that only the CPI(M) and its friends can answer. Evidently, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is only the chief minister of his party; the rest of the populace can go to the nether regions.


Far weirder is the chief minister's message to the teachers. They should now illuminate thousands of their students' guardians about the "ideologies and principles" of the party, and thus launch a widespread "campaign" to reach the masses. This is the teachers' "duty", although Mr Bhattacharjee did recall for a moment that a teacher's job is also to "teach". This naked display of topsy-turvy priorities exposes the source of the ills the CPI(M) has wrought in Bengal. That teachers do not teach, they join political associations, they are even appointed on the basis of their politics are phenomena West Bengal has grown used to. But that open secret is now no longer a secret. Mr Bhattacharjee has also flaunted the fact that the party's reiterated desire to change is just another whopper. At the heart of the destruction of the education system lie two simple realities — the party's fathomless ignorance and teachers' politicization. West Bengal fares pathetically in primary education, and numbers of children in the districts drop out in Class V because they have been taught nothing at all and cannot keep up. Few things can be stranger than having the chief minister of a state — Mr Bhattacharjee is probably a bit amnesiac here — congratulate teachers for winning a party-based election when they do not teach, and then ask them to do their "duty" by spreading the party doctrine among guardians. Not satisfied with destroying all possibility of education in the villages by creating a new board to garner more votes, the chief minister is now out to wreck all children's futures and redefine the duty of teachers in the state.








A four-year-old HIV+ orphan abandoned by her larger family and unable to find a foster home is a terrible story. The child is from Assam, and a look at the larger picture in the state provides the frame for this girl's situation. First, there are nearly 70 other orphaned children in Assam who are either HIV+ or have AIDS, and whose parents have died of AIDS. But these children are all living with other members of family. So, obviously, the awareness-raising programmes in the state and throughout India have started to work at one level. This abandoned girl's fate, being almost an exception in Assam, is, in a sense, doubly unfortunate. Of course, there are other questions that come up in relation to these 70, more fortunate, children. How many of them are old enough to go to school, and are able to do so? And, in school, what sort of attitudes and behaviour do they face? Have the awareness drives made a difference there? What if they have to be hospitalized? Would they be barred admission on disclosure of their HIV+ status?


To come back to the abandoned child, what seems to have failed, over and above the attitude of her surviving family, is the government's part of the responsibility to accommodate her in a suitable institution. So, even if a change in attitude seems to be happening, relatively speaking, the government's failure to build proper homes for children whose parents have died of AIDS and who are themselves infected or ill prevents children like this girl to be cared for properly. So this, among others, is one area where the state government and other non-government agencies have to pull up their socks urgently. It is, so to speak, 'easier' to work with attitude change without taking too much help from the government. And, at a superficial level, more members of civil society, ordinary citizens, are interested in this sort of work. But the more material and infrastructural work is difficult to do because, at every stage, the government's co-operation is actively required. So, providing free treatment facilities, building homes and hospices and arranging for foster care become more challenging problems with less obvious rewards for those who do them. Thus, this aspect of HIV/AIDS gets neglected, both by the State and by civil society. It needs a different kind of political will. The story of this child requires more than a sentimental response.









In the realm of domestic politics, 2010 seems set to end with both the Congress and the Manmohan Singh government looking somewhat fragile. A series of corruption- related scandals that began from the run-up to the Commonwealth Games last August and reached its climax with the Opposition agitation for the appointment of a joint parliamentary committee to explore the 2G spectrum allotments have shaken the Congress's self- confidence. The Congress leadership's bid to talk up the party's morale by mounting a shrill offensive against the Bharatiya Janata Party at this week's otherwise purposeless AICC session in Delhi doesn't seem to have repaired the damage. On the contrary, the cocktail of scandals, telephone intercepts and leaked diplomatic cables have dented the image of the prime minister and called into question the leadership potential of the Congress's designated heir presumptive.


Politics, however, is a long-term game, and with no general election scheduled till the summer of 2014, it is presumptuous to rush to the conclusion that the United Progressive Alliance has become too beleaguered to function as a purposeful government. Time is still on the UPA's side. Whether or not it will be able to stage a grand recovery and shift the national agenda to issues of its own choosing may, however, be substantially dependant on the verdict in the next summer's assembly elections in five states. The West Bengal assembly election result, in particular, holds the key to how national politics will shape up.


The significance of the West Bengal poll can hardly be overstated. Having ruled uninterruptedly for 34 years, the Left Front has a special interest in ensuring it holds on to its control of the Writers' Buildings. With Kerala, which also elects its assembly in the summer, looking increasingly susceptible to change, a Left defeat in West Bengal will underscore the marginalization of the communist parties in national politics.


Just prior to the 2009 general election, when the Left Front accounted for a solid bloc of nearly 70 Lok Sabha MPs, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) played a seminal role in nurturing the illusion of a Third Front that would hold the balance of power in a fractured parliament. It was on the strength of the CPI(M)'s seemingly impregnable base in West Bengal that Prakash Karat could challenge the bipolar division of politics in the country. The 30-plus Lok Sabha seats it was forever confident of winning from West Bengal provided it the launching pad for predatory raids on the National Democratic Alliance, many of whose partners were wary of the negative impact of their association with the BJP on minority voters. The alternative possibilities offered by a CPI(M)-led Third Front was one of the factors behind the desertion of the Telugu Desam Party and the Biju Janata Dal from the NDA. It was also a factor behind the perennial hesitation of the Asom Gana Parishad to cement a long-term alliance with the BJP, an alliance that many in Assam see as 'natural'. Had the CPI still retained the influence it once had in Bihar, it is entirely possible that the same compulsions that propelled N. Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik into leaving the NDA would have influenced Nitish Kumar too.


More than the Congress, for which it posed a headache only during the last two years of the first UPA government, the Left, in recent years, has proved a very effective spoiler to the BJP by providing an alternative pole of attraction to many of its NDA partners. The Congress, on the other hand, has been the direct beneficiary of a process that has prevented all the anti- Congress regional parties from rallying behind the BJP-led alliance.


Since the Left could not have performed this divisive role without the assurance of firm electoral support from West Bengal, some Congress strategists are understandably nervous of the national implications of a decisive Mamata Banerjee win in 2011. If the 2009 Lok Sabha results are replicated in next year's assembly election, along with an extra dose of incremental support for the Trinamul Congress-led alliance, the CPI(M) is unlikely to be in any position to revive its Third Front pipedream for the 2014 general election. Its entire energies and resources are certain to be taken up by the challenges of survival in a hostile environment. The CPI(M)'s internal preoccupations in turn would — in theory, at least — leave the field wide open for the BJP-led NDA to emerge as the sole challenger to the UPA on the national stage.


The possible re-emergence of national bipolarity, as happened between 1998 and 2004, may be beneficial to the Congress if it transforms the contest into an undiluted secular-communal battle. However, it is far from certain that the BJP will oblige. It is more likely that the NDA will fight the general election on a centrist plank and target the UPA's 10-year record. In that event, a battlefield where a weak Left is confined ineffectively to the margins will not seem attractive to the Congress.


West Bengal poses a real dilemma for the Congress. Its state unit wants a breather from uninterrupted Left rule; but its national compulsions favour Left rule in the state, as a counterweight to the BJP. The choice would have been less stark had the Congress been an equal partner of the TMC. But the Congress is virtually leaderless and is only relevant in just four border districts. More to the point, it sees little hope of being able to influence the mercurial TMC chief whose one-point priority is to decimate the Left; everything else is incidental. As the TMC's conduct during the recent stalemate in Parliament suggests, Mamata does not share the Congress's national priorities and is willing to side with the Opposition if it suits her self-interest. This individualism may have been spurred by the suspicion in TMC circles that the Congress is willing to sacrifice its interests in West Bengal for 'national' compulsions.


It is in this context that the tensions between the TMC and Congress over the future of the mahajot in West Bengal can be located. A beleaguered CPI(M) is aware that its hope of somehow transforming an imminent rout into a contest lies in dividing the anti-Left vote. The CPI(M), for example, is discreetly encouraging the BJP into believing that it can secure more than 7 per cent of the popular vote by contesting all the 294 seats. Likewise, Lutyens's Delhi resonates with whispers of the Left offer of a covert bail-out of the UPA government in the budget session of Parliament if the Congress chooses to make its 'self-respect' an issue in the seat negotiations with the TMC. The Left has calculated that a headstrong Mamata won't think twice before walking out of the UPA government, if the Centre's image becomes a liability. As such, the CPI(M) is persisting with its unwavering attack on the Congress at the Centre. It is hoping that the more the UPA is vulnerable in Delhi, the more it will be inclined to strike a local deal in Calcutta, and the more likely Mamata will see her junior partner as an unnecessary passenger.


On the ground, the West Bengal election resembles ugly street battles and even a dance of death. In rarefied Delhi, it is marked by byzantine parlour diplomacy where the will of the people is viewed as a negotiable commodity. Yet, it is imprudent to judge the politicians too harshly. This is one rare occasion when the collective wisdom of West Bengal will determine the course of national politics. The stakes are very high.








What can we celebrate this season? Where is the creative energy of this special country and its people, who have unbounded resilience and patience? If we stop being obsessed with the faulty governance and bizarre politics of India, there is a palpable change happening. Indians, who get even the slightest opportunity to follow their dreams, are moving on, despite the horrors of a nation besieged by corruption, greed and malice at the high table of the powerful few who have become disconnected from the despair that ordinary citizens, betrayed by the leadership, feel. Cumbersome rules dominate every start-up small business, endless silly paperwork needs to be gone through before any productive step can be taken, unpleasant government officers have to be dealt with. All the paraphernalia that makes India virtually unliveable, if one is honest, has been circumvented.


World-class resorts exist, but the joy of raising the benchmark with every passing year gets diluted to the point where frustration suffocates the entrepreneur from reaching greater heights because of the ridiculous and archaic system of permissions for obvious aspects of a business. It merely gives space to many levels of bribery and corruption, with government representatives stalling legitimate permissions till they are paid off to do their mandatory jobs. Such is the case with the entertainment and fashion industries as well. In restaurants, bar licences are not given till some absurd signages are put in place, such as 'Exit' above the stairway — such requirements kill aesthetics for no real and necessary reason. It is babudomat its worst, stuck in the hands of inexperienced men and women who know no better and are uninformed and unaware of a changed world beyond their confines.


Fairness and fun


It is this contrast — between middle-level babus being made to regulate a changing reality (where their lack of intellectual outreach disables them from adding value to a new and lively India) and a generation that will not allow itself to be shackled by norms of an age gone by — that is starkly unambiguous. Is our political leadership blind to all this? Is it incapable of restructuring the laws and policies that govern the service sector? Why does it permit the babu to indulge in rampant small- and large-scale corruption? Why is government endorsing the killing of revenue-generation in this sector of the economy that is the backbone of India?


Happily, heroic human endeavour and passion do not die at the hands of a moribund set of rules and norms that dominate our lives. Entrepreneurs continue to create world-class products, leaving behind the nightmare of government and its babu. Kingdom of Dreams, an entertainment world, in a walled-in area in Gurgaon, symbolizes that energy. That Broadway-style musical show is comparable to anything anywhere in the world in design, technology and performance — 600 viewers on a weekday, included young and old, families and couples, all out for an evening of fun and laughter, good food and drink. For those few hours, away from television-screens and the sick-making truths about our leaders and their cohorts, one relaxed in the thought that India is on the move.


'Anonymous' non-Page-Three people, hardworking and earning well in this new age, were out there sharing a contemporary experience, secure in their skin. It is these Indians that governments have betrayed by not delivering their end of the deal. The public road leading to the venue is potholed, badly lit, broken down; but once you enter the gates of the Kingdom of Dreams, it all works like clockwork. There were no babus expecting freebies. People were paying for the fun — and fun it was.



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





The impressive outcome of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to India underlines not only the strengthening of the friendship between the two countries but also a welcome determination to deepen and widen its scope. Medvedev's visit is the latest in a series of high-profile visits by leaders of almost all major countries, which is an acknowledgement of India's growing importance. But the relations between India and Russia are 'special and privileged', as noted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and endorsed by Medvedev. There was an uncertain phase in the relationship immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but soon the old ties were restored.  In the recent past there were reports of apprehensions in Moscow about India's growing ties with the US. But these have also been put away by the realisation that their mutual engagement is not affected by the relationship of either country with others.

A slew of 30 agreements signed by the two sides, covering areas ranging from nuclear and space co-operation, defence and business to counter-terrorism and culture, attests to the expanded scope of the relationship. The multi-million dollar programme for joint production of a fifth generation fighter aircraft could be a milestone in collaboration. India's traditional defence relationship with Russia was that of a customer, with Moscow meeting 70 per cent of its arms and equipment requirements. But the fighter aircraft programme takes it to a new level of partnership marked by  joint development and collaboration. Russia has also offered the best terms in its defence deals, supplying India with technologies and hardware, like nuclear submarines, which other countries were not willing to give, and without restrictive conditions like end-user clauses. There has only been one difficult deal, related to the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, and it has now been sorted out.

The strong political underpinning of the relationship was evident during the visit. Both countries have many common geostrategic interests and concerns. Medvedev did not mince words in demanding that Pakistan should bring those behind the Mumbai terrorist attack to book and shared India's view that Afghanistan can be stabilised only if the terror havens in Pakistan are eliminated. He also extended full support for India's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and other bodies like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The visit made it clear that bilateral ties are not only strong but are poised to become stronger.








The prospect of a water famine looms over Bangalore. Experts are warning that in five years from now the city could be in the grip of a severe water crisis. Parts of Bangalore — mainly its outlying neighbourhoods — are already struggling with severe water shortage. This could become a city-wide problem. There are several reasons for the growing scarcity. One, of course, is mounting demand; the city's population has grown manifold over the past decade. With water from the Cauvery, T G Halli and other surface water sources failing to meet growing demands, Bangalore has turned to tapping groundwater sources. Indeed, 40 per cent of Bangalore's current water consumption is being met by groundwater sources. But this unsustainable exploitation of groundwater is taking a heavy toll. It has depleted this source too. 

Unplanned development has contributed to this situation. Thousands of apartment complexes have sprung up in and around Bangalore, each one competing with the other in reaching lower into the earth to draw water. In the process, the ground has literally been sucked dry.

Bangalore was once known for its innumerable lakes. However, illegal encroachment of these water bodies by land sharks in recent years has deprived the city of its water sources. This encroachment has happened with the active connivance of city authorities who have turned a blind eye to this menace. It is well known that BBMP contractors dump solid waste in these lakes. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that there is an acute water crisis.

The looming water crisis is man-made. It can be averted. City authorities must crack down on encroachment of water bodies and rampant construction of buildings. Groundwater extraction needs to be regulated. Rainwater harvesting must be made compulsory, especially for apartment complexes, institutions and businesses. 

Recycling waste water must be taken seriously. At present, only a tenth of the city's waste water is being recycled. Thus there is gross underutilisation of waste water. The creation of wetlands through planting trees must be pursued by the government on a war footing. Experts have also drawn attention to the merits of tree-based parks over lawns. Tackling water scarcity is, however, not the concern of authorities alone. Bangalore's residents too have a role to play. We must stop irresponsible consumption of water if we are to make water scarcity history.






South Asian countries should develop into a common market as Europe has done, with soft borders and free trade.


One did not have to be an expert on China to anticipate that the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India would be a flop and the one to Pakistan a success. There was no surprise either in New Delhi or in Islamabad.

The joint statements issued in the two countries say it all. India refused to follow 'one China' policy which meant that it did not recognise Beijing's sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan. This was a departure from New Delhi's stand in the three previous joint statements. Wen Jiabao refused to mention in the joint statement that Kashmir was India's integral part. What it would have meant was Beijing's barter of 'one China' for Kashmir. He did not do so keeping in mind Pakistan's sensitivities.

In sharp contrast, Pakistan not only enunciated a 'one China' policy but also condemned "any attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Obviously, the sling was directed at India and to reemphasise that China had in Pakistan a 'trusted and reliable' friend.

Wen was, however, careful not to say anything on Kashmir in New Delhi as well as in Islamabad. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani said in a speech at the banquet in honour of the Chinese premier that the solution to Kashmir would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in South Asia. It was a bait for Wen who preferred to stay silent. Even otherwise, Beijing has maintained that it wants India and Pakistan to resolve the question of Kashmir bilaterally.

However, from last year, China started issuing stapled visas to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This is, no doubt, a departure from Beijing's earlier stand. But it conveys to New Delhi that Beijing regards J&K a disputed territory. The new Chinese approach also reveals that India's problem could be much larger than the question of stapled visas. It may well be that Beijing has a question mark against India's sovereignty over J&K.

Yet, before the Chinese premier's visit, the word from Beijing was that the stapled visa issue was an administrative not a political matter. New Delhi did not bring it up until the end when Wen took the initiative to mention the stapled visa. He did not pursue the subject despite New Delhi's desire to do so. After Wen's return to Beijing, the Indian embassy there said the matter had been entrusted to officials to sort it out.

The point on which the two sides strongly differed was terrorism. India was first keen on China mentioning the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in their joint statement. 

When Wen refused to do that, India merely wanted a reference to the word 'terrorism'. But the Chinese prime minister did not agree to it, probably because he was to visit Pakistan a day later. However, he did mention terrorism during his stay in Islamabad while praising Pakistan for its efforts towards fighting terrorism, countering criticism from many quarters that it is not doing enough. The reference was obviously to India and the US.

Not unexpected

However, India should have known Beijing's stand when it made it clear on the eve of Wen's departure that the Chinese government would play no role in pressuring Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups operating on its soil. Beijing reiterated its position that cross-border terrorism and Kashmir were issues for India and Pakistan to resolve.

India's real worry is over the nibbling at 'its territory' by China. The media has extensively followed a story which appeared in one of the leading English dailies in Delhi. The story said that China had shown the length of the border with India around 2,000 kilometres as against 3,500 km it would mention earlier.


Probably, China has deducted the border along Kashmir and Tibet from the length it had mentioned earlier. This has come when India is already smarting under the Chinese 'occupation' of nearly 5,000 square miles of Shakigam Valley in 'Azad Kashmir' ceded by General Mohammed Ayub to Beijing. New Delhi fears that Beijing may push itself as a party to the Kashmir problem confined to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris.

It is apparent that India and Pakistan have gone still more distant. One is moving towards America and the other towards China. Both New Delhi and Islamabad could get sucked into the ensuing cold war. America has its own designs to serve in the region as the Wikileaks disclosures show and China its own interest. When will India and Pakistan realise — and they will do so one day — that South Asia is neither for America nor China to boss over them. It is for the South Asians who should develop into a common market as Europe has done, with soft borders and free trade. Only then can the region develop.

Beijing can, however, play a role in persuading New Delhi and Islamabad to have sustainable dialogues for the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. China has done well in entering into deals worth $16 billion with India and $12 billion with Pakistan. Strangely, trade between the two countries is only a fraction of their deals with China.

Even if these deals are to fructify in the real sense of the term, New Delhi and Islamabad have to develop confidence in each other. This may not be possible if both continue to arm themselves because the presence of weapons indicates the absence of peace.








Obama argued that ratification was essential to rebuilding a relationship with Russia.


An arms control treaty paring back American and Russian nuclear arsenals won a decisive vote in the Senate on Tuesday, clearing it for final approval and handing President Barack Obama an important foreign policy victory.

The Senate voted the treaty, known as New Start, mustering the two-thirds majority needed for ratification.

The outcome was another bipartisan victory for Obama, who emerged politically wounded from last month's midterm elections but then successfully pressed Congress to enact several of his top priorities.

New Start was the last major challenge of the session for Obama, and in some ways it was the clearest assertion of his authority in the face of an emboldened Republican party. The tax-cut deal required the president to swallow a compromise that extended the lower, expiring Bush-era tax rates even for the wealthy, alienating much of his own party. The overturning of the 'don't ask, don't tell' military policy was driven in the final days as much by senators as by the White House.

A high-profile test

By putting his prestige on the line to push through the treaty before the end of the year, Obama made the fight a high-profile test of his clout in the new political environment. Just a month ago, prospects for the treaty appeared bleak in the face of Republican resistance. But Obama mounted an unusually relentless campaign to win over enough Republican senators to bypass their party's leaders.

"Today's bipartisan vote clears a significant hurdle in the Senate," said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the foreign relations committee, and the president's chief ally on the floor.

Republican critics called it a bad deal, arguing that the treaty's inspections were inadequate and that nonbinding language in its preamble could give Russia leverage to try to keep the US from deploying missile defence installations in eastern Europe.

"The administration did not negotiate a good treaty," said Senator Jon Kyl, the No 2 Republican and the leader of the opposition. The treaty requires the US and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles so that within seven years of ratification neither deploys more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers. It would also resume the on-site inspections that lapsed last December with the expiration of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start.

The agreement brings down the legal ceilings set by previous Russian-American treaties that it would now supplant. Under the Treaty of Moscow, signed by President George W Bush in 2002, each side is allowed no more than 2,200 warheads as of 2012. Under Start, signed by President George H W Bush in 1991, each side was required to reduce launchers to 1,600 before it expired last year.

The US currently has 1,950 deployed strategic warheads and 798 deployed launchers, according to the Federation of American Scientists, while Russia has 2,540 deployed strategic warheads and 574 strategic launchers. Because of counting rules, each side may not have to shelve as many weapons as those numbers imply, according to experts.

The debate over the treaty, however, ranged far beyond the numbers, revealing starkly different visions for national security in the 21st century. Obama and his supporters argued that ratification was essential to rebuilding a relationship with Russia and maintaining the international coalition against Iran's nuclear program. His critics said it represented a first step toward a dangerous and wrong-headed vision of eventually eliminating the world's nuclear weapons.

It also became entangled in issues like gay men and lesbians in the military, which some Republicans said poisoned the water for the treaty. And some critics questioned Obama's willingness as commander in chief to resist Russian pressure to drop missile defence to preserve the pact down the road.

"I cannot imagine this president taking it to the limit with the Russians because nothing he has done has convinced me that he is committed to missile defence," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who added that it was "a monumental mistake" to approve the treaty in a lame-duck session.

But the White House cast Obama in the shadow of President Ronald Reagan, who also talked of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. "Our reductions in these are legacies of many presidents, including former President Ronald Reagan," said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. "And it makes the world safer."







It was clear that nothing at all could get back the lost sum.


As the bank website gradually unfolded on the computer screen, confidence soared and an indefinable joy filled the heart. Having restrained all the urge to lavish my earnings on the ever-lengthening 'to-buy' list, I was hoping to find a respectable sum gracing the 'available amount' column of the online banking page.

The glittering figures on the computer screen, however, jolted me out of the chair. The withdrawal/expense column displayed transactions for Rs 8,000. It wasn't me… Then who else?... For a while, I was toeing with the idea that someone had cloned my debit card. A while later it sounded ridiculous even though it was plausible. A quick search of the wallet revealed the obvious: the card was missing and someone had happily swiped the sum away.

Shock and disbelief slowly gave way to anger and the urge to find and punish the guilty. Yes, it is possible to trace the transaction to the person involved, but the effort needed to do that — especially, given the running arounds required to get the valuable and privileged services of our law-enforcement authorities — aborted the attempt.

Even milder speculations that the culprit could be one who knows me failed to inspire anger and hatred. The gradual realisation that the money was lost for ever slowly set in like night on the evening sky.

Friends tried a few words of consolation; critics readily blamed the situation on my recklessness, but it was clear that nothing at all could get back the lost sum. Of course, the most consoling thought was that it was okay to lose something you may slowly earn back. 

Just when I mentally closed the file on the unsavoury incident, a phone call brought my attention back to the subject.

"Do you have the experience of losing your debit card?" the call centre  executive from a different bank that has my account asked. Without much preamble, she started explaining about the card protection policy the bank had introduced, which would compensate the subscriber in the event of debit card theft resulting in fraudulent transactions. The annual subscription was Rs 1,295…

I couldn't help the groan, but this, after all, was good news. The lost sum was unlikely to return, but there's some way to mitigate the risk many like me face carrying our hard-earned money in the form of a card.







A visit to Israel, whether or not within the framework of Taglit, has the potential to strengthen Jewish identity.

American Jews can breathe a collective sigh of relief. At least that appears to be the conclusion of a recent demographic study conducted by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University.

Released during this year's Association for Jewish Studies conference in Boston on December 19-21, the SSRI found there are now 6.5 million Jews in America – a whole million more than estimated in previous surveys and studies.

But it might be too early to celebrate. A North American Jewish Data Bank report released just weeks ago by the Hebrew University's Sergio DellaPergola, together with Arnold Dashefsky of the 
University of Connecticut and Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami, contradicts the SSRI's findings. DellaPergola et. al. estimate the number of American Jews in 2010 at only about 5,275,000. DellaPergola publicly contested the SSRI findings when they were presented in Boston by lead researcher Leonard Saxe, professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.

It is not our job to determine who is right in this clash of the Jewish demography titans. But it does seem hard to believe, as the SSRI would have us do, that American Jewry is multiplying faster than the 9.7 percent growth rate of the general US population over the past decade.

How could this occur at a time when over half of Jews intermarry and fertility rates are around 1.8 children per Jewish woman, lower than the 2.1 needed just to break even? 

Conversions to Judaism are not adding members to the tribe either, according to recent studies that show that there are more Jews leaving the faith than joining.

As the US remains in the throes of a major economic downturn, meanwhile, Jewish immigration to America from Israel or elsewhere is looking increasingly less attractive.

The Reform Movement's decision in 1983 to recognize as Jews those born to a Jewish father even if the mother is not Jewish might be contributing somewhat to Jewish population growth. In the Boston area, for instance, over half of young people who define themselves as Jewish are the product of mixed marriages.

But this phenomenon is probably restricted to cities like that one, which enjoy strong and affluent communities where it is attractive to be Jewish. Statistics show that the offspring of a mixed marriage are much more likely to ignore their Jewishness and to intermarry than those born to a Jewish couple. This is particularly the case when only the father is Jewish.


Meanwhile, even when Jews do marry other Jews, they do so at a much later stage in life than in the past, which has a negative impact on fertility. One-third of American Jewish women and more than half of men aged 25 to 34 are unmarried. As Brandeis University professor Sylvia Barack Fishman has shown in her studies of young Jewish Americans, many are looking to "find themselves" before committing to marriage. Successdriven, young Jews are uneasy about giving up opportunities before defining their own path. Large networks of singles make single-hood normative.

Debate over its actual numbers aside, American Jewry has been undergoing a demographic crisis for some time now. And that crisis will only worsen as Jews aged 65 or older, who represent 20% of American Jewry, and those slightly younger who are a product of the "baby boomer" era, gradually pass away.

Thus the community should not be lulled into complacency by the SSRI report. Tremendous resources should continue to be devoted to fighting negative demographic trends. Strengthening Jewish identity is a lifetime endeavor. It starts at the cradle, with education and life-cycle events that give meaning to Jewishness.

WE WOULD like to offer an additional bit of advice to American Jews: Visit Israel. A study conducted last year, also by Prof. Saxe, found that young Jews who have visited here in the past decade under the auspices of Taglit-Birthright, an organization that offers free 10-day trips to Israel, were 57% more likely to be married to a Jew than nonparticipants.

And those who were still single were 46% more likely than nonparticipants to view marrying a Jewish person as "very important."

A visit to Israel, whether or not within the framework of Taglit, has the potential to strengthen Jewish identity. Amid all the talk about Diaspora-based alternatives to political Zionism and the decline of ethnic nationalism, and beyond all the debate over specific Israeli policies, there is no substitute for witnessing firsthand the return of the Jewish people to its historical homeland and its ongoing endeavor to build a state that is both Jewish and democratic.

To experience the tremendous achievements, and to be awed by the challenges of sovereignty in this historic sliver of land – that adds up to a powerful incentive to care about staying Jewish








Inscription of the kibbutz as a World Heritage Site will be proper recognition of the kibbutz, its place in the history of Zionism and the state and its uniqueness in the entire world.


The initiative to inscribe the kibbutz as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as reported yesterday in Haaretz, deserves support and encouragement. This year, Israel is marking the centennial of the establishment of the first kibbutz and international recognition will express the uniqueness of kibbutz settlement, whose influence has extended beyond the borders of the country.


The kibbutz movement began during the Second Aliyah as a fascinating social experiment of equality and cooperative ownership of the means of production, consumption and education. Unique cooperative institutions were established, such as the general meeting, the dining room and the childrens' houses. Its founders saw themselves as a trailblazing social elite, combining Zionism, socialism and democracy.


During the years of the establishment and development of the state, kibbutzim played a key role in settling frontier regions, army service and leadership. Many of Israel's political and military leaders were kibbutz members or lived in a kibbutz for some period of time. In the West and in the developing world, the kibbutz was seen as a uniquely Israeli creation, which symbolized the Zionist revolution and making the desert bloom.


But the older and more established Israel became, the more difficulty the kibbutz had in dealing with the social

and political changes the country underwent. Its members were regarded as a separatist elite, who ignored their neighbors from the development towns and the new immigrant moshavim. Economic and employment possibilities in the city drew young people away from the kibbutz.


Right-wing governments undercut the support and subsidies that left-wing governments had given the movements that had settled the land. In the end, the economic crisis the kibbutzim experienced and the increasing social tendency toward individualism led to the collapse of the cooperative lifestyle. Like other institutions, many kibbutzim were privatized and became regular small communities.


Inscription of the kibbutz as a World Heritage Site will be proper recognition of the kibbutz, its place in the history of Zionism and the state and its uniqueness in the entire world. International recognition will also help rehabilitate and restore the historic buildings so that they will not be swallowed up in the momentum of real estate development.









An evil wind is blowing in this country. First it was the rabbis who prohibited the renting of apartments to Arabs. Then it was Jewish youths who attacked Arab passersby. Then it was Jewish residents of Bat Yam who demonstrated for a Jewish Bat Yam. Then it was Jewish residents of Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood who demonstrated against non-Jews.


A series of incidents that are ostensibly unrelated, and aren't even similar, have created a new atmosphere of xenophobia. They have turned Israel into a country that exudes a xenophobic stench. What's happening to us? Why have dark forces that always bubbled beneath the surface suddenly erupted into the city square? Why has racism reared its head?


The first explanation is political. Journalist Nahum Barnea, for example, claims that the debate about the territories is dead. When the leader of the right speaks of two states for two peoples, there's no longer anything to quarrel about. So instead of quarreling about Hebron and Nablus, they're quarreling about Umm al-Fahm and Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station. Instead of arguing about the foreigners who surround us, we're arguing about the foreigners who live among us.


Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was the pioneer, but Interior Minister Eli Yishai understood the potential of the new battlefield. Both the nationalist right and the religious right are deliberately fanning the flames of hatred of foreigners. They are polluting the public discourse with concepts of the kind we haven't heard since Meir Kahane grazed in our fields.


The second explanation is social. In recent decades the Israeli margins have been abandoned. The development towns and disadvantaged neighborhoods have been erased from the map of our consciousness. Cities like Safed, Tiberias, Lod and Arad have been left to their own devices. The prosperous State of Tel Aviv has severed itself from the distress and suffering of the State of Israel.


As a result, large parts of the peripheral areas have collapsed. In many outlying cities the social fabric has disintegrated. When local pride and communal solidarity were lost, bitterness and despair grew. In such conditions it's easy to incite against the foreigners who enter the desperate cities and neighborhoods. It's easy to spread racist microbes in the sick social tissue. Those Israelis who have been distanced from the prosperity of north Tel Aviv have also been distanced from the liberalism of north Tel Aviv. Many of them have adopted alternative, dark and dangerous values.


The third explanation is related to the state. The Israel of the 21st century is different from the Israel of the 20th century. The ultra-Orthodox minority has grown sharply and is leaving the ghettos in which it was imprisoned. The Arab minority is also becoming stronger and is standing up for its rights. The Russian immigration has not evaporated, and to a large extent it is maintaining the characteristics of a consolidated community. Nor are the foreign workers a marginal and passing phenomenon, they are an inseparable part of the new human landscape.


As a result of all these changes, Israeli society is turning into a multicultural and multicommunal society. It does not know how to organize relations among the various minorities or between the minorities and the state. The inevitable result is friction, threats and mutual fears. The result is repulsive outbursts of hatred.


Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni are committed to the idea of a Jewish and democratic state. They want to ensure both the survival and legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. But the virus of hatred in the streets is corrupting the Jewish and democratic state. The virus of hatred is making Israel look and sound like a benighted racist country.


In the absence of a strong and enlightened political center, the process of social disintegration has turned into a process of moral collapse. Lieberman, Shas and the delusionary rabbis of the right are threatening to bring down everything that Theodor Herzl, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion believed in. They are pulling the carpet out from under the Jewish state that is supposed to grant equality to all its citizens and respect all its minorities. The time has come for both Netanyahu and Livni to come to their senses. Only joint and determined activity on their part will check the xenophobic frenzy and restore to Israel its enlightened face, which has been corrupted.









Now that they are undergoing a change of life, those rabbis have found rejuvenation. Matters will be determined not only according to their mouths but also according to other parts of their bodies. True, they are employed by the state, but it is the state that worships them. Only their flaming and boorish fanaticism is comparable to their racist nationalism - Don't touch our girls! In the name of the army of the Lord, and with the assistance of Benjamin Netanyahu, they dug a grave this week for "the army of the people," but not a mass grave for brethren.


Were I to be married in these times, I would not invite an ultra-Orthodox rabbi or one belonging to the National Religious stream to officiate. The rabbi who married us then, 47 years ago, was Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who was known as "the father of the prisoners" [for visiting members of the Jewish underground movements imprisoned by the British] and who was recognized also by secular people as having special attributes. There were not many like him - and there have remained but a very few.


The rabbis have been terrorizing us, saying that if we free ourselves of their tight grasp, we will be buried alive outside the fence and our names will go on the blacklist. The skies above have darkened, they have become very gray after being asked to spread a black canopy above our heads.


But the main thing is that we should not at all be afraid of these threats and of the terror because we are used to the scarecrow in rags. If "one people" means one language and a few common things - shared terms and values - then we are talking about at least two peoples. Light years and mountains of darkness separate us from each other.


Why should we care if two lists are moving around among us, and everyone in Israel has his own list, even before the argument over conversion has been settled? After all, it will never be settled, since anyway virgins from the holy communities have never married boys who are secular, and the hilltop youths have never sanctified the girls of Mahsom Watch in marriage.


If more young couples had decided to get married according to their own wishes, a revolution would have taken place - religion would have been separated from the state. Without the forced intervention of politicians and the High Court of Justice, it would have retreated. Israel would have been relieved of its enslavement to the rabbinate and would have achieved national and personal redemption in sovereignty. Life would have gained the upper hand over the dead letters, rather than their institutes of learning and their sermons. What do we have in common with them? Thank God, we were exempt from the presence of a stranger and his weird speech at our marriage ceremony. What would he have said, and what would all that have meant to us? We hereby declare a revolt of those who are in love!


Already today, many thousands of people are prepared to forgo their services according to the way the faith of Moses and Israel is seen in their eyes. I personally have married dozens of couples who preferred to use me as their "rabbi" - a matter of taste. To their regret and mine, I do not have the capability of registering their marriage in the Population Registry at the Interior Ministry. But to their delight and mine, they were spared the ways and inflections of aliens; the bride did not have to purify herself of defilement in a ritual bath; the bridegroom did not have to break a glass to strengthen himself and the memory of Jerusalem did not cause their tongues to cleave to the roofs of their mouths. They were given the right to speak about their good hopes.


How did the couples and their guests know that I was not pretending to be a rabbi, that I was not a shepherd and they were not the sheep of the flock? First, because I arrive at a wedding on time and no one has to wait for me. Second, because I do not take a fee, even though I am permitted to do so while the rabbis are not. And, third, because I speak to them more about their lives and their love in their new home and less about the destruction of the old tabernacle.


It is not only a wedding that can be held without ambassadors from above. It is true also of a circumcision where any surgeon will remove the foreskin while not every rabbi will remove what covers the heart. And it is possible also at a funeral where our integrity will precede us even if the members of the Hevra Kadisha (burial society ) are not walking in front.


This is all a matter of choice. If the majority of a minyan holds a festivity or an event of mourning according to its own way of thought, if it lives and dies according to its own beliefs and not according to their dictates, then no force on earth will trample on us as happens at a threshold, not even force majeure. And we will have been set free.









Once, in the middle of the 1980s, Moshe Nissim was taken from behind the flock and anointed finance minister. He believed that the state must take its covetous hands out of the people's pockets, so he established the rule that "most of the pay for a man's work remains in his hands." He lowered income tax from 60 percent to 48 percent, slashed corporate tax and abolished many other taxes. The result was quick growth, a revenue increase and a budget surplus.


In 2003, we had a finance minister who thought along similar lines. He too cut spending and lowered taxes. He too achieved quick growth and a drop in unemployment. But today he is prime minister and has lost his courage. Today he decides according to opinion polls. He is being led instead of leading.


But the truth is that Benjamin Netanyahu has not forgotten the lessons he has learned. Deep inside he really does believe that cutting taxes is the best fuel for the growth engine. After all, only recently he said that "to grow, we must ensure that the tax rates are competitive. Therefore, to the extent that it is possible, the tax rates must be lowered." He spoke well, but he did the opposite.


Let's start with income tax. Netanyahu is proud of his long-term program under which income tax will drop gradually to 39 percent in 2016. Happy is he who believes that! Until we get to the promised paradise, we will wallow in hell, because despite the "long-term" program, Netanyahu has not lowered the marginal tax rate. He has left it at 45 percent and peppered it with a big lie, because Israel's real marginal tax rate is much higher. It's the highest in the world - 57 percent of incomes of between NIS 40,000 and NIS 80,000 per month.


In the middle of 2009, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz promised that this would merely be a temporary hike for a year and a half due to the world economic crisis. Today it's clear that the "temporary" hike is permanent and the "hump" that was supposed to be written off at the end of next week will not be removed in full, and maybe not at all. The result will be the continuation of the high and damaging marginal tax rate of 57 percent in the coming two years as well.


The other tax brackets are also quite ferocious. The tax on the middle class reaches an excessive 42 percent already at an income of NIS 13,000 per month. So how can Netanyahu say without blushing that "we must lower the tax rates" when he raises them?


The story with the value added tax is fairly similar. It was also raised by Steinitz during the world crisis, to 16.5 percent, with a promise that it would be lowered again to 15.5 percent in 2011. But next week the budget will be passed in the Knesset with a VAT of 16 percent; why not take another half a percent from the public if this is possible? And who cares if this harms poorer people? The important thing is that there will be another NIS 1.8 billion per year for pocket money.


And that's not all, because the government also sends its long arm into our pockets using a long list of indirect taxes. Starting in January, the excise tax on gasoline, for example, will go up by 20 agorot and the price will be NIS 7 per liter - the highest in the world. This is because the treasury wants another few billion to pay for the most inflated cabinet in the country's history (30 ministers and nine deputies ). It needs to pay the excessive manpower and expensive salary raises, and to fund the yeshivas and their students.


The treasury officials also think nothing of hitting out at the high-tech workers and the middle class, who get a company car for both work and leisure. Starting in January, the cost of using such a vehicle will rise by hundreds of shekels per month, which is an additional tax for all intents and purposes. And we must not forget the increased cigarette tax, the hike in the arnona (municipal property tax ) and the plan to impose a levy on water.


]All these tax hikes are detrimental to the economy. They make it less attractive to investors and workers and therefore harm growth and employment. They transfer too many resources to the politicians, so we see profligate waste in the public sector that is only getting worse. The heavy taxes take the spice out of the lives of the self-employed and the salaried workers in the private sector, who are the economy's growth driver. They work from morning to night but can't support their families properly because most of the pay for their work finds its way not into their pockets but into the government's.









Like two punch-drunk fighters hanging onto each other, arms flopped around each other's necks, having made an intimate habit of their tiresome failures, the two belligerents are locked together in a static tableau. Failure is their shared way of life. They live and die by it. They talk about talking. They talk about talking about doing something different, but too many decades of stupidity, blindness, weakness and cowardice in varying proportions have brought them to the twisted embrace that they have come to consider normal. They clutch one another for dear life, these intimate antagonists, Israelis and Palestinians, who know each other so well and so little - each too weak to put an end to the agony, each too frightened to want a way out badly enough.


They are tediously, banally, wretchedly stuck. All hold their breath. Nothing moves.


Palestinians, the weaker party, talk about time running out. Even as the Palestinian Authority consolidates its quasi-state apparatus, settlements go on and on - declarations of confidence that facts on the ground will overwhelm wishes. In East Jerusalem, Dr. Nazmi al-Jubeh, who chairs the department of history at Birzeit University, told me recently that "only a limited time remains for a two-state solution. In two, three, five years, we will move to the next stage: one man, one vote." To some Israelis, such talk is bluster. To some, it can be read as a threat. To Palestinians, it's obvious.


Israelis, albeit with sad or stiff smiles, accommodate themselves to the occupation as if it were a permanent - unavoidable, even pleasant - state of affairs. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lives with, and by, the status quo. They rule. Their friends prosper. Their party adversaries are feeble, lost in fruitless maneuver. Only reason provides an incentive to do anything different (the demographically declining prospects of a Jewish state ), but reason's rewards are mental, not sufficiently visceral. To the winners among Israel's political class, the status quo might even be the best of all possible worlds.


Of course, not all Israelis find the status quo bearable. On a visit in October, I met many who were depressed, worn down by it - especially elders, people of my generation, who know how abnormal is this veneer of normality. They feel its eeriness, and the eeriness of denial in which their countrymen and -women are gripped. The Palestinians, of course, know the abnormality as abnormality, and feel the ground rumbling beneath their feet.


So how to break out of the shared prison? "There's nowhere else to look but the U.S.," Nazmi al-Jubeh told me. "The U.S. has to gamble."


What should Barack Obama do, I asked Saman Khoury, once a leader of the first intifada, now general manager and deputy chairman of the board of the Peace and Democracy Forum in East Jerusalem. "Be more courageous," he said. "For the sake of America, for the sake of the world. For the sake of progress, he should move with more vigor.


"We don't want them to rebuke Israel in front of us or the world," he added. "We don't want to humiliate Israel. But we want them to recognize that Israel must end the occupation."


In Ramallah, the Palestinian co-chair of the Geneva Initiative, Nidal Fuqaha, told me that, given manifest dangers of a confrontation with Iran, Israel would be foolish indeed if it failed to avail itself of a Palestinian alliance.


And on the other side of town, a weary retired Israeli agronomist told me: "Obama should come to Jerusalem, speak to the Knesset, offer American security guarantees in exchange for a two-state solution. Change Israeli public opinion as Sadat did. Change the game."


There are heaps of reasons for Obama to demur. He has, to put it mildly, his own political problems. He took a "shellacking" - to use his word - in the off-year elections. Talking over Netanyahu's head to the Israeli public would make enemies in both the Republican and Democratic parties. But the Israeli government is locked into futility, and so are the Palestinians in their own way. In the warped politics of mutually assured pain, the only degrees of freedom, as statisticians say, are America's. As a leader of Palestinians in Washington told me later, what Obama has to gain is nothing more or less than a historic achievement.


By ordinary calculations, the costs of an American initiative look more conspicuous than the benefits. On December 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to renew the status quo when she reiterated that "negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations," while adding a diplomatic nudge: the U.S. "will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues ... will work to narrow the gaps asking the tough questions and expecting substantive answers ... will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals." Hardly enough to jolt anyone out of stagnation.


"Negotiations between the parties" is a prescription for nothing. Obama needs to do more than take a hand. He needs to take command. He has a prize to win - retroactively.


Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the co-author, most recently, of "The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election."









A wave of recognition of the nonexistent "free and independent" State of Palestine is moving through Latin America and beyond. Though the precise meaning of this development is uncertain, it's clearly part of a strategy aimed at imposing a fait accompli. It is a dangerous strategy that will only amplify the climate of hostility, and push off prospects for a solid and long-lasting peace.


Such a nonexistent state will be based on reinstatement of the 1967 borders, which are not real borders at all, but rather armistice lines, and establishment of East Jerusalem as its capital. Such an unhealthy formula could reach the United Nations in the first half of 2011, where an automatic anti-Israel majority can be expected to vote for recognition.


Though the new State of Palestine will begin to function in a provisional capital in Ramallah and in the territory currently under its control, it will seek international support to force a total Israeli withdrawal, the redivision of Jerusalem and the evacuation of 300,000 settlers in Judea and Samaria, as well as Israel's acceptance of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. And when Israel fails to comply, it will stand accused of violating international law and find itself subject to sanctions.


Needless to say, the UN will not worry if Palestine is demilitarized or not, nor will it press for measures to control the influx of missiles that could hit the most strategic points in Israel.


One has to be blind or bereft of memory to fail to understand the imminent danger, and the passiveness of Israeli leaders' response is outrageous. They commit the sin of losing the initiative. The consequences will be dire.


Moshe Dayan, when asked in 1975 what Israel intended to do vis-a-vis the territories occupied in the Six-Day War, responded that "the decision is not to decide." Dayan apparently forgot that it was a timely decision in early June 1967 that saved Israel from a certain demise.


Had Israel followed that war with additional initiatives - e.g., the return of two-thirds of Sinai and a small strip of the Golan Heights, as well as creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state in part of the West Bank - the world would have supported it. But this did not happen. Later, when concessions were made, they were far larger.


In 1977, the initiative came from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and its impact meant that the hawkish politician Menachem Begin withdrew from Sinai to the last inch. To be sure, Israel's concessions were praised, and it looked as if peace with its other neighbors was inevitable. But this move also set a grave precedent, establishing the pre-1967 borders as the standard and ignoring the fact that borders in the Middle East are ever-changing. It was obvious that Syria would not settle for less than Egypt received. And now, the Palestinian are asking for similar terms.


]What initiatives should Israel take in the current situation, which we can characterize as one of emergency?


I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is in the same position as Begin of 1979. And if he can recover the initiative and persuade world opinion that the division of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of "Auschwitz borders" (as Abba Eban referred to the pre-1967 lines ) are not the best options - he has a good chance of achieving peace.


Netanyahu should publicly ask President Obama to convene and participate an urgent meeting at Camp David, with the president and the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. He should state his intention to turn over to the future Palestinian state significant parts of the territories, but with modifications that should benefit both parties, in terms of population and security concerns. He should commit to providing technological support to the new state in the areas of agriculture, electricity, water, health care and tourism.


At the same time, the premier must make it very clear that Israel will not allow the violation of freedom of worship, the desecration of holy sites or the re-division of Jerusalem.


The Palestinian state should be demilitarized, as was, for example, Costa Rica. Additionally, until a fraternal atmosphere is consolidated, the borders should be monitored by friendly countries and by Israel itself. I propose dividing the approximately 300,000 settlers into three groups (an idea originally raised by A.B. Yehoshua ), on the basis of a formula to be negotiated. The first group would move to various places within Israel. The second would remain in the new state - after all, if Israel's population is one-fifth Arab, then why can Palestine not incorporate 100,000 Jews? The third group, together with the areas where they live, should be annexed to Israel.


Peace should constitute a new era for the refugees of the 1948-49 war. The camps should be dismantled, and their residents transferred to areas within the new state. The rich Arab countries that pour fortunes into pharaonic projects, should commit themselves to create farms, factories and homes for these people: This would be the best "fertilizer" for the Palestinian state.


Netanyahu could also express the desire to see an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, which would encompass the historical area of Palestine.


These are not the only initiatives required, but they can lead to others. The objective: to bring about the dawn of a new state that could live and prosper alongside Israel, without making endless claims or continuing to play the role of victim. To achieve this end, it is imperative that Israel's leaders take the steering wheel and start pressing the accelerator.


Dr. Marcos Aguisin is the best-selling author of more than 30 works of fiction and nonfiction in his native Argentina. He is the winner of many literary awards, and holds honorary doctorates from both Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University.









Were the judicial system in Israel to conduct itself in a proper manner, in a spirit of true pluralism, then as of last week, when the Hebrew University bid farewell to its senior scholars Ruth Gavison and Mordechai Kremnitzer upon their retirement, we would be prefacing their names with "her honor" and "his honor" as justices of the Israeli Supreme Court. However, in Israel's judiciary authority, as in the civil service as a whole here, rare individuals of their sort are cast aside in favor of mediocre, well-connected candidates who make it a point never to annoy anyone and never to say anything - so as to get ahead. This is dangerous and sad. Not only for everyone who esteems these two individuals, but also for everyone who is fearful for the fate of this important institution and the rule of law in the young democracy that is still being built here.


Ostensibly, it was their "extremist" views that distanced them from the bench: Both Gavison and Kremnitzer dared to confront many of the nodes of power in Israel. She is in favor of "a Jewish state," he is "against government corruption," and both of them are in favor of "democracy and human rights." Fortunately for us, neither of them listened to the advice of former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, and instead each went ahead and developed an agenda - that is, a complete worldview as to the way our lives together should be conducted in this complex country.


It was not, however, Gavison's and Kremnitzer's opinions that distanced them from the Supreme Court, but rather their deeds. From out of that same sense of public responsibility for the fate of the Zionist project, neither confined themselves to remaining behind the academic podium but rather girded their loins and embarked on public activity here and now. Instead of writing articles in English for professional journals that would remain inaccessible to the general public, they dared to recruit supporters for their opinions in the Israeli public, and therefore chose to write in the Hebrew mass media.


Furthermore, neither of them stopped at words, and both took action. They established organizations and institutes, they were members of many public committees and they contributed unflaggingly to the best of their abilities to rectifying the many ills that have spread in our society. Despite the personal price, both of them tried to implement in reality the vision they believed in and preached, and to this end conducted negotiations with various elements in Israeli society.


]In properly run places, as noted, their success in emerging from the kingdom of words and ideas - where they reigned well - to the land of action and realization, would have paved their way to the Supreme Court. This would have been because they would be role models for the rest of the legal community, because people of action are in short supply in the Supreme Court and because this would have enriched the court with justices who are familiar with Israeli society in all its complexity, not just from reading articles but also from flesh-and-blood encounters. And this would have helped the Supreme Court fulfill its function in a multifaceted democratic society.


]However, Israel will be Israel, and even though there is no dispute that the two are brilliant legal minds of international magnitude, it was precisely the public responsibility they evinced toward what happens here that made them "standard bearers," as in Aharon Barak's definition, and blocked their way to the High Court after the latter posited: "The depth of the cooling off should parallel the depth of the public involvement." Indeed, an embodiment of the absurd.


]Despite their retirement, both Kremnitzer and Gavison are still fit to be appointed to the Supreme Court. It is to be hoped that someone among the leaders of the judiciary system will rectify the mistake. Not for the benefit of Gavison or Kremnitzer, but rather for the benefit of us all.


Attorney Yuval Elbashan is a writer and social activist.









I looked up the word "wiki" the other day. It turns out the term was coined way back in 1994 by a Web developer named Ward Cunningham. Instead of informing my social network of what I had eaten for dinner the night before, or how I really feel about garden gnomes, I decided I'd post this new nugget of information as my new Facebook status.


"Wiki" comes from a Hawaiian word meaning "quick." I learned this from Wikipedia of course. Five of my friends commented within 10 minutes. Two shared it on their Facebook walls. I then tweeted the information, and my 43 followers, most of them family members, instantly consumed this information.


But what if the person who wrote that Wikipedia entry was mistaken? Now my entire social network would be deceived. And since my social network is connected to thousands of people I don't know - it's possible that the entire world is reading about the roots of "wiki" and assuming it is fact.


The way media content moves around the world today reminds me of the title of the great Errol Morris documentary: "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control." We are now all potential writers, whistleblowers, editors, mudslingers and propagandists, with the tools to spew out bold truth, vicious lies and everything in between, from wherever we are to Waziristan, faster than you can say "wiki."


There is now a site called Wikituneup, where you can provide and/or receive tips on how to fix your car. There's also LyricWiki, where you can edit or add to the lyrics from your favorite album. There is even a satirical website called Dickipedia, where you can write about a person whom you feel deserves that epithet. And then, of course, there's WikiLeaks.


How I long for the days (about one-and-a-half years ago ) when spies transmitted top-secret information, when reporters discovered their own scoops, and media outlets actually printed original stories that ticked off governments. I can just imagine an unemployed secret agent and a disgruntled journalist scrolling through job listings on Craigslist, while sharing a whiskey in a bar.


]Spy: So, did you hear that the U.S. is secretly attacking Al-Qaida in Yemen?


]Journalist: Yeah, I did. Were you on a covert op there?


Spy: Nah, I read it on Wikileaks.


Journalist: Yeah, I figured (taking another gulp ).


And while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been called everything from rapist to traitor to terrorist sympathizer to the James Bond of journalism to public enemy No. 1 (the only thing we know for sure is that he changes his hairstyle more often than David Beckham ) - the truth is that it is way too early to judge Assange and WikiLeaks.


To all his haters, I feel your pain.


He didn't have to identify the last few U.S. loyalists in Afghanistan, risking their lives. Or maybe you're opposed to his politics, which clearly pits him against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as an American citizen, I feel like Assange has armed me with lots of important information. For example, it's nice to know that my tax dollars are funding a secret war against Al-Qaida in Yemen. I'm also glad to know about the disparity between the government's public and private accounts about the war in Afghanistan - or should I say Pakistan? Oh, and what about that horrific clip showing U.S. soldiers shooting down innocent civilians from a chopper in Iraq as if it were a video game? Didn't I help pay for that helicopter?


As rap music taught me some years ago, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."


The game, of course, is information warfare. And in this age of information, all the rules have changed. Facebook, Twitter and WikiLeaks are more than simple Internet platforms: They are new media weapons fighting government censorship and abuse.


Based on our collective experience with the nation-state system in the last century, WikiLeaks should be embraced by all. We just witnessed the bloodiest century ever, where meticulously planned atrocities were committed by governments shrouded in secrecy. It was a century in which the technology for mass murder was invented and perfected, but in which the tools for mass distribution and consumption of information were still in their infancy.


]Imagine if the plans of the Nazis could have been leaked to the entire world a few years before they went into effect. How long would the Cambodian genocide have lasted if live videos from the killing fields made their way out and were then tweeted across the globe?


With WikiLeaks we have another way to check and balance the enormous trust we place in government, and an extra row of teeth should they violate it.


It certainly does say a lot about our world when two new media techies were up for consideration for Time Person of the Year. But here's why I think Julian Assange deserved it over Mark Zuckerberg: While Zuckerberg has connected 500 million people and changed the way we socialize, what he's mostly done is help us transform our human interactions from real to virtual. One day, however, we will see WikiLeaks and its many clones as necessary evils as important as defense attorneys in the justice system.


Yes, sometimes defense attorneys help a guilty man will go free. Yes, WikiLeaks may one day release deleterious information. But the alternative is far, far scarier.


WikiLeaks does not mean the end of secrecy, it just means that secrecy got a little more difficult. Nor does it mean total transparency, for the best-kept secrets - and hopefully those unfit for public consumption - will endure because of the competence of those entrusted to preserve them.


As a citizen of the world, I personally will sleep better at night knowing there exists a platform that gives ordinary people the ability to release information that could help save other ordinary people from government- or corporate-induced calamities.





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




For years, Chinese officials have promised to improve their protection of intellectual property. But the infringement of copyrights, patents and trade secrets has, in many instances, gotten worse. Last week, they made some new promises. While we welcome China's willingness to utter commitments in this area, we remain skeptical of its ability or desire to protect foreign innovation.


At the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Washington, Chinese officials promised better protection for foreign software. They promised not to discriminate against foreign intellectual property in government procurement. They even agreed to keep talking about improving how they award patents, a crucial step to prevent the proliferation of parasitic patents of little merit.


Yet for all the new agreements, stringent protection of foreigners' intellectual property is at odds with China's development strategy. Foreign companies operating in China complain that Beijing views the appropriation of foreign innovations as part of a policy mix aimed at developing domestic technology.


Bootleg copies of the "Dark Knight" and Shenzen sweatshops churning out fake Louis Vuitton bags are only part of the problem. Last March, the United States International Trade Commission banned imports of cast steel railway wheels made by the Chinese group Tianrui. Tianrui had hired nine employees from the Chinese licensee of Amsted Industries of Chicago, a maker of railway parts. They came with an armful of trade secrets that allowed Tianrui to muscle into the business.


This type of intellectual property theft is increasingly common, according to American companies operating in China. In fact, they say, it is tacitly supported by Beijing, and includes forcing foreigners to disclose their technology in order to gain contracts.


China's new antimonopoly laws would allow compulsory licensing of foreign technologies in some cases and require foreign companies that wanted to merge with or buy a Chinese company to transfer technology to China. Several foreign companies have found themselves competing against Chinese firms using a slight variation of the foreign technology.


In 2005, the China National Railway Signal and Communication Corporation invited Germany's Siemens to join in building trains for the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed railway. Most of the technology came from Siemens, which trained 1,000 C.N.R. technicians in Germany. But most of the trains were built in China. For the next project — the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail — the Ministry of Transportation decided it wanted domestic technology, and C.N.R. bumped Siemens out. CSR Corporation, another Chinese train builder, did the same with Kawasaki Heavy Industries of Japan.


China's attempt to move up the tech ladder is natural. Many countries in history have pursued technological progress by first trying to piggyback on foreign inventions — tweaking and improving — before blazing their own trails. Still, intellectual property misappropriation cannot be a government policy goal, especially in a country the size of China, which can flood world markets with ill-begotten high-tech products.


The United States has made some progress at the World Trade Organization against the theft of intellectual property in China. But it must be much more vigilant and aggressive.







The defeat of the Dream Act in the lame-duck session slams the lid for this Congress on any meaningful repair of the immigration system, but that should not be the end of it for President Obama and his administration.


Mr. Obama's strategy of doubling-down on border and workplace enforcement to gain support for legalizing some undocumented immigrants has failed. And the next Congress will be harsher on immigration than this one. But if Mr. Obama really feels the passion anddisappointment he expressed about steps like the Dream Act, he will not be helpless. He has an array of options to make piecemeal repairsto a system that everyone admits is broken.


The Dream Act was the sort of idea both sides of the immigration fight should embrace. It would have given a few hundred thousand young people — brought here as children, educated here, often at public expense, and then set adrift after high school — a chance to better themselves and contribute to this country as soldiers and college students. But it was too much for a hard-line minority in Congress, and it was killed by filibustering Republicans who want no legalization ever.


Mr. Obama doesn't need Congress to curb the Department of Homeland Security, which is deporting at a record pace many of the very people he says deserve a chance to stay. That means reforming Secure Communities, a fingerprinting program that will soon turn every local police department in the country into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a looming disaster for public safety and good policing. He can tell border agents to stop harassing and scaring innocent people.


He can halt deportations of students who would have qualified for the Dream Act, under the time-honored practice of deferred action for those who pose no threat. He can have the Labor Department redouble efforts to expose wage-and-hour violations endemic in the immigrant workplace.


Perhaps most important, he can stop enabling the Republicans who are itching to make things worse. He can defend against the propaganda that all illegal immigrants are by definition a class of criminals instead of people trapped in a web of bad laws, misguided policies and squandered potential. And he can repudiate the myth that all America's immigration problems will be solved at the Mexican border.


It won't be easy. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have already meekly ceded much of that argument, by pushing through billions for border and workplace enforcement without winning anything in return. As a candidate, Mr. Obama lavishly distributed I.O.U.'s promising a better way. He still owes.







Gov. David Paterson put New Yorkers first and the banking and debt collection industries second when he signed a bill that increases the value of property that people can retain when they declare bankruptcy or when creditors win judgments against them.


This sensible new law puts New York on a par with the rest of the nation. It allows people who hit hard times to keep at least the roof over their heads and the modest car that gets them to and from work.


New York already has a law that shields some debtor assets from creditors and bankruptcy trustees. But the actual dollar amounts in many provisions had not been updated since the 1980s, which means that the protections had seriously been eroded by inflation. Introduced by State Senator Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat of Manhattan, the new law increases the homestead exemption from $50,000 to either $75,000, $125,000 or $250,000, depending on the county of residence.


People who find themselves in deep financial trouble would also be able to keep one cellphone and one computer. The new law raises the value of an exempted automobile from $2,400 to $4,000 or $10,000 for a disabled debtor. The exemption would not apply in cases where the debt being enforced is for child support, spousal support, maintenance or alimony.


The Bloomberg administration argued that the automobile exemption would prevent them from towing some cars, which would make it impossible to collect outstanding traffic fines. The Senate responded by adding language that would void the exemption in cases where the municipality is the creditor. Members of the assembly have promised to do the same at the start of the next legislative session.


The new law will go a long way toward ensuring that bankruptcy or debt collection do not strip people of all they own, turning them into wards of the state.









KABUL, Afghanistan


When, and under what conditions, American troops can leave Afghanistan depends in no small measure on Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who is spending a second Christmas in Kabul away from his three young children. As the leader of the NATO training mission, he is charged with fielding a competent army and national police force that (in theory) will eventually replace American and NATO troops.


Like much of what is happening in Afghanistan, this is a blurry picture. President George W. Bush never invested the resources to build a serious Afghan security force, so General Caldwell had minimal time to make maximum effort when he took over one year ago.


His team has made impressive gains. The Afghan Army grew from 97,000 to 138,000 troops, the national police expanded from 95,000 to 120,000 officers and an incipient air force is taking shape. They made salaries more competitive and boosted recruitment.


But they are still short 700 trainers. (Maybe Canada will fill the gap.) They are still losing too many trained Afghan forces to attrition. And they need to quickly produce more officers. They are also struggling to provide basic reading skills to the 86 percent of recruits who are illiterate. If Afghans can't read maps, General Caldwell told me, they can't tell the Americans where they are if they need emergency medical evacuation or airstrikes.


NATO forces, backed by 30,000 extra American troops and Afghan units, are making progress in jointly clearing critical provinces in the Taliban heartland.


During a visit by Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a group of journalists last week to Camp Hansen near Marja in Helmand Province and Forward Operating Base Wilson in Kandahar Province, American commanders spoke in detail about repelling the insurgents and extending local control. Still, the hundreds of American troops at these remote outposts are taking fire daily.


Much has been made of the significant and necessary escalation in C.I.A. drone attacks — 50 since September compared with 60 in the previous eight months across the border in Pakistan where Al Qaeda and Taliban escape to their safe havens. "If they couldn't get from Pakistan, it would be all over," said Col. David Furness of the Marines. That is overly optimistic, but Pakistan's refusal to close down the sanctuaries is a serious weak spot in the war effort.


Every aspect of a comprehensive strategy, not just the killing and the training, must be ramped up, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, knows it. NATO troops are creating opportunities for improved local governance as well as long-neglected water and agricultural projects, schools and health clinics so Afghans do not ally with the Taliban. So is the American-financed, Afghan-run National Solidarity Program that has created self-governing councils in 30,000 villages and 50,000 local projects.


But their efforts are undermined by President Hamid Karzai's corrupt government, which too often fails to send people to run local and district government offices and appointed corrupt or inept provincial and district governors. Also, the government's lack of a mechanism to adjudicate land disputes leaves people reliant on Taliban religious courts that dispense speedy, popular justice.


NATO's decision to keep fighting until 2014 — when Afghans are supposed to take over security responsibilities — seems to have changed the calculus in one way. All sides now know that the allied forces are staying around. The militants are under pressure and "a platform for success has been created," said Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who advises Mr. Karzai.


We hope he's right. But five days in Afghanistan offered reminders of the overwhelming challenges that remain. Even American military commanders say the recent gains are reversible. They won't know until the spring or summer whether they can be made permanent.








Hey, has anyone noticed that "A Christmas Carol" is a dangerous leftist tract?


I mean, consider the scene, early in the book, where Ebenezer Scrooge rightly refuses to contribute to a poverty relief fund. "I'm opposed to giving people money for doing nothing," he declares. Oh, wait. That wasn't Scrooge. That was Newt Gingrich — last week. What Scrooge actually says is, "Are there no prisons?" But it's pretty much the same thing.


Anyway, instead of praising Scrooge for his principled stand against the welfare state, Charles Dickens makes him out to be some kind of bad guy. How leftist is that?


As you can see, the fundamental issues of public policy haven't changed since Victorian times. Still, some things are different. In particular, the production of humbug — which was still a somewhat amateurish craft when Dickens wrote — has now become a systematic, even industrial, process.


Let me walk you through a case in point, one that I've been following lately.


If you listen to the recent speeches of Republican presidential hopefuls, you'll find several of them talking at length about the harm done by unionized government workers, who have, they say, multiplied under the Obama administration. A recent example was an op-ed article by the outgoing Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who declared that "thanks to President Obama," government is the only booming sector in our economy: "Since January 2008" — silly me, I thought Mr. Obama wasn't inaugurated until 2009 — "the private sector has lost nearly eight million jobs, while local, state and federal governments added 590,000."


Horrors! Except that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, government employment has fallen, not risen, since January 2008. And since January 2009, when Mr. Obama actually did take office, government employment has fallen by more than 300,000 as hard-pressed state and local governments have been forced to lay off teachers, police officers, firefighters and other workers.


So how did the notion of a surge in government payrolls under Mr. Obama take hold?


It turns out that last spring there was, in fact, a bulge in government employment. And both politicians and researchers at humbug factories — I mean, conservative think tanks — quickly seized on this bulge as evidence of an exploding public sector. Over the summer, articles and speeches began to appear highlighting the rise in government employment and issuing dire warnings about what it portended for America's future.


But anyone paying attention knew why public employment had risen — and it had nothing to do with Big Government. It was, instead, the fact that the federal government had to hire a lot of temporary workers to carry out the 2010 Census — workers who have almost all left the payroll now that the Census is done.


Is it really possible that the authors of those articles and speeches about soaring public employment didn't know what was going on? Well, I guess we should never assume malice when ignorance remains a possibility.


There has not, however, been any visible effort to retract those erroneous claims. And this isn't the only case of a claimed huge expansion in government that turns out to be nothing of the kind. Have you heard the one about how there's been an explosion in the number of federal regulators? Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute looked into the numbers behind that claim, and it turns out that almost all of those additional "regulators" work for the Department of Homeland Security, protecting us against terrorists.


Still, why does it matter what some politicians and think tanks say? The answer is that there's a well-developed right-wing media infrastructure in place to catapult the propaganda, as former President George W. Bush put it, to rapidly disseminate bogus analysis to a wide audience where it becomes part of what "everyone knows." (There's nothing comparable on the left, which has fallen far behind in the humbug race.)


And it's a very effective process. When discussing the alleged huge expansion of government under Mr. Obama, I've repeatedly found that people just won't believe me when I try to point out that it never happened. They assume that I'm lying, or somehow cherry-picking the data. After all, they've heard over and over again about that surge in government spending and employment, and they don't realize that everything they've heard was a special delivery from the Humbug Express.


So in this holiday season, let's remember the wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge. Not the bit about denying food and medical care to those who need them: America's failure to take care of its own less-fortunate citizens is a national disgrace. But Scrooge was right about the prevalence of humbug. And we'd be much better off as a nation if more people had the courage to say "Bah!"









THE other car is already there when Jana pulls into the driveway. At first, she thinks it is her father's car, thinks maybe he's late leaving for the factory, and she wonders where she can stash the cake — the overpriced, holly-sprigged log she finally brought home to surprise her grandmother — before he finds it. But then she sees the woman on the porch. The woman is wearing a red coat, hat pulled down over her ears. Jana does not recognize her.


Snow has been falling for days, swelling in mud-tinged banks between the driveways. Jana watches the woman on the porch through the warm fog of her own breath. The woman hasn't noticed Jana's car. She rings the doorbell, then tries the handle. She puts her hands on her hips. With the woman's red coat at the top of the stairs, the bright line of wreaths and garlands along the block is unbroken. She walks to the end of the porch and looks around the corner of the house, leaning into the tight, snow-laden alley. Jana thinks of what the woman will see back there: the laundry line; her grandmother's broken wheelchair, sold to them by the previous tenant; empty boxes left over from their recent move in; and, somewhere among them, rolls of wrapping paper Jana has been letting the upstairs neighbor hide from his children.


The woman tries the doorbell one more time. Jana can't decide if the woman is a hospital bill collector, if that's how it's done here in America, if they've finally progressed from phone calls to home visits. She wonders if she could have prevented this by telling her father about the grandmother's pneumonia and their trip to the emergency room six months ago. The woman opens the screen door and knocks, and then lets it snap shut. Then she turns around and sees Jana in the car, and breaks into a smile. For the first time, Jana notices the basket in the crook of her arm.


Jana kills the engine and gets out as the woman comes down the steps, still smiling. She almost forgets the cake box on the seat, and by the time she has reached in to get it, the woman is close, hovering with the basket.


The woman smiles in greeting. Her lipstick is caked with the cold. "Do you live here?" she says.


Jana shuts the door, missing the insulating hum of the engine, and says nothing. The woman's basket is enormous, its contents crammed tight, wrapped in cellophane and tied off with a red bow. Inside, Jana sees cans of soup, tins of cocoa, a sticky bread loaf of some kind.


"Do you live here?" the woman repeats.


Eight months in America, and Jana's accent is as heavy as it was back home. She doesn't want this woman to hear it.


The woman continues smiling. "I'm from Holiday Helpers, here to deliver an order for this house?" She phrases it as a question. "There's a card," the woman says.


The card is a folded square suspended from the bow. To open it, Jana would have to say she lives here. But she doesn't want to, doesn't trust the woman or her endless smile.


Then the woman is flipping the card open with her fingertips. "Are you Jana Andrick?" she wants to know. Andrich.

Then Jana remembers the television ad. She remembers seeing it on the tiny screen of the department store stockroom television, most late nights since October. The Holiday Helpers ad featured a montage of smiling people handing baskets just like this one across porches to other smiling people. There was a number on the screen in big yellow letters, and the announcer said, "This holiday season, give to someone in need."


The edges of the woman's mouth are beginning to turn blue. She presses the basket to her side, and through the cellophane Jana sees a packet of muffin mix and some scattered caramels. The woman is still looking at the card, waiting for Jana to admit she lives here. "Doesn't say who it's from."


She holds the basket out to Jana, but Jana steps back. She holds up the cake box. "Delivery," she says, to buy time. The woman's face changes as if she understands, as if suddenly they are on the same side of something.


"What service?" the woman wants to know. "What company?" She says it loudly — she's caught Jana's accent. Jana makes up a company name. The woman has never heard of it, of course, but she and Jana walk up the steps to the porch and look through the window.


Ice has filmed over the dirt in the corners of the windowpanes. With her hand across her forehead, Jana can see into the darkened living room. She has never seen it this way — the still-packed boxes lined up against the rear wall, her father's empty armchair with his breakfast plate on the seat, the stuffing coming out of the sofa, which is tilted over its broken leg — and she wants to excuse it. But the woman could still be a collector, so Jana says nothing.


The bedroom door opens and Jana's grandmother comes out, hair nap-tufted. If she looks up, she'll see them and come to the door, and Jana will have to explain. But without her hearing aid, Jana's grandmother is almost deaf, and she goes down the hallway, fastening her robe, while the Holiday Helper, animated by her appearance, pounds uselessly on the window, shouting, "Excuse me — Merry Christmas!"


The grandmother goes into the bathroom. Jana's breath smears the glass again.


"Bad hearing," Jana says, straightening. The woman looks disappointed.


Jana looks across the street to where a light-wired Santa and reindeer are all grinning maniacally on the Grishams' roof. She wonders if the basket is from them. Last week, after her grandmother got excited watching the Grishams' display go up, Jana stopped by the craft store and stood among the rows of glitter-dusted ornaments and holly garlands, and tried to pick out a bow for their door. She felt defeated just standing there, felt that all the choices were there to trick her into making some terrible mistake. And then there was her father, reminding her they have no money, nothing to celebrate. When a bored young woman in a blue apron came up to help her, Jana turned and left. She had opted for the cake instead. A cake you could eat. Once eaten, there wouldn't be any evidence of frivolity hanging around the house.


The woman has decided to leave her basket on the porch. "She'll find it when she comes out," she says of Jana's grandmother, and props the screen door with the basket. Then she holds her hands out for the cake box, and Jana has no choice but to give it to her.


The woman looks it over. "No card?" she says, smiling.


Jana shrugs and tries a smile. The woman probably knows she's been lying.


"I wonder who sent all these things," the woman says, putting the box down behind the basket. "Good neighbors, probably," the woman says. Her teeth are perfectly white. She could still be a bill collector. But she turns the basket around so that the big red bow is facing the door, so that it will be the first thing Jana's grandmother sees when she comes out. While she signs the delivery timecard, it occurs to Jana that she will have to complete the lie, get into her car and pull away, perhaps drive all the way down to the bottom of the street and out of the neighborhood.


The woman goes down the porch steps. Jana follows her. Crossing the drive, Jana looks into the woman's car and sees Holiday Helpers baskets crowding the back seat. The woman opens the car door and turns to her, smiles. "Well, Merry Christmas."


"Merry Christmas," says Jana. She has no choice but to get back in the car and pull out of the driveway. The woman's engine sputters to life. Jana sits still and watches her back up onto the road. When the woman pulls up alongside, Jana puts the car in park and takes a notepad out of her glove compartment. She sits with the engine running and pretends to write something. The woman's car moves forward.


At the stop sign, the woman turns in her seat and waves. Jana waves back with her notepad. Then the woman's car swings onto the road and she is gone.


Jana watches the road for a long time. A minivan with a tree strapped to the roof goes by, and then Mrs. Grisham's gray car comes up the slope and pulls into her garage. But the woman in the red coat does not come back.


When Jana does get out of the car, the basket will still be there. It will have to be accepted, taken inside. It will have to be explained to her father, who will not want it, will not want its charity, unless she unpacks it right away, hides the tins and packages around the kitchen so he will not find them, or not know what they are if he does.


And the bow. The bow will have to go in the trash. Or she will put it up, put it up on the door for just a little while, take it down before he gets home. Or maybe, with all the other wreathed doors, he won't notice it, won't ask where it came from, won't make her refuse kindness. There are, after all, good neighbors somewhere along the block, waiting for her to carry their kindness inside.


Téa Obreht is the author of the forthcoming novel "The Tiger's Wife."








I try not to fall into a rut, but every December I give out Sidney Awards for the best magazine essays of the year, and every year it seems I give one to Michael Lewis. It would be more impressive if I was discovering obscure geniuses, but Lewis keeps churning out the masterpieces.


This year it was a Vanity Fair piece called "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds." His large subject is the tsunami of cheap credit that swept over the world and "offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge."


His specific subject is Greece, a country that plundered its public institutions while spoiling and atomizing itself. The Greek national railroad earned 100 million euros (about $131.4 million) in revenues each year, but had a wage bill of 400 million euros plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The country reported a budget deficit of 3.7 percent a year, but that was inaccurate. It was really about 14 percent of G.D.P.


Lewis's genius was to show how the moral breakdown spread into one of the most remote institutions on earth, a 1,000-year-old monastery cut off by water, culture and theology that, nonetheless, managed to put itself at the center of the great plundering.


If you go to a college classroom you'll likely notice that the women tend to dominate the conversation. In an essay called "The End of Men" in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin gathers the evidence, showing how women are beginning to dominate the information age.


At one clinic where parents are able to choose the sex of their babies, 75 percent choose girls. Three women earn college degrees for every two earned by men. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are predominantly filled by women.


Rosin describes studies showing that corporations that have women in senior management perform better than male-dominated competitors. She visits admissions officers who are hunting for qualified boys. At a support group for men behind on their child support, the leader writes "$85,000" on the board. "That's her salary," he barks. Then he writes "$12,000" and shouts: "This is your salary. Who's the damn man? Who's the man now?"


In Fortune, Beth Kowitt had an eye-popping piece called "Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe's." The funky, gourmet grocery chain is actually owned by the secretive Albrecht family from Germany. Many of the products are made by large corporations — the pita chips are made by a division of PepsiCo and the yogurt is actually made by Danone Stonyfield Farm.


The company has brilliantly seized on the growing sophistication of American food tastes. It offers a much more limited selection than its rivals, thus reducing the anxiety of choice. It has an efficient supply chain (the Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant that sold for $3.39 at Whole Foods in Manhattan sold for more than a dollar less at the Trader Joe's in Stamford, Conn.). It fosters community and makes shopping a form of belonging.


You may know James Franco as the actor who played Peter Parker's best friend in the Spider-Man movies, or the lead character in the mountain-climbing movie, "127 Hours." While pursuing a full-time acting career, he earned a bachelor's degree at U.C.L.A. and then enrolled simultaneously in four graduate programs — New York University for film, Columbia for writing, Brooklyn College for writing and Warren Wilson College for poetry. He's also pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Yale and taking classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. His fiction has been published in Esquire (his first book-length collection was published by Scribner). His first solo art show was at the Clocktower Gallery in New York City.


Sam Anderson superbly captures the everythingness of Franco's life in a New York Magazine piece called "The James Franco Project." It is a story of manic labor masking the man's enigmatic core.


Last year, William Deresiewicz delivered a countercultural lecture at West Point. He told the cadets how to combat the frenetic, achievement-obsessed system in which they were raised. That speech was subsequently published in The American Scholar as "Solitude and Leadership." It's about how to be a leader, not an organization man.


Darin Wolfe wrote a piece in American Scientist, called "To See for One's Self," about the decline of the autopsy. Autopsies frequently reveal major diagnostic errors and undiscovered illnesses, yet the number of autopsies performed each year is plummeting. Medical training no longer relies on this hands-on exercise. Doctors are afraid of information that might lead to malpractice suits. Medicare won't pay for them. A form of practical inquiry is being lost.


Everybody's worried about the future of print journalism, but this has been an outstanding year for magazines. On Tuesday, I'll offer more suggestions for holiday reading.









There is little peace and no goodwill on the Korean Peninsula as Christmas Day approaches. That, unfortunately, is generally the case in that corner of the world, but the situation is especially perilous this holiday season. Talk of war between North and South Korea is on the rise and diplomats around the world clearly are concerned that the current rhetoric is far more dangerous than the normal sniping and military posturing that marks the everyday relationship between the nations.


New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a long-time U.S. envoy to the region, said the region remained a "tinderbox" after a visit earlier this week to the North Korean capital. "There is still "enormous tension, enormous mistrust" there, he said. That's a worrisome assessment from a diplomat whose experience gives him a unique understanding of the region and whose views often view official U.S. policy in the area.


Richardson's somber assessment is mirrored by a Chinese counterpart. "The current situation remains highly complicated and sensitive," said a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. That view, from North Korea's sole major ally underscores the volatility in the region. Armed conflict is a possibility.


Both North and South Korea appear ready to engage in open combat. After a deadly series of events in recent months — including a naval skirmish, artillery fire from the north that killed several South Korean civilians and other provocations — the South has beefed up its forces and says it will retaliate unsparingly if attacked again. The response from the North was far from conciliatory. An official there threatened a "sacred" nuclear war if his country was attacked.


The possibility that North Korea might use nuclear weaponry is what worries military leaders and diplomats around the world. South Korea has superior firepower and technology, but North Korea is thought to have enough weaponized plutonium to make a few atomic bombs and has often expressed a willingness to employ them. Talks to dismantle North Korea's nuclear armament program fell apart last year.


The international effort to lower the threat level in the Koreas will continue over the holiday. U.S. diplomats have urged their South Korean allies to act responsibly and to avoid provocation. China, it seems, has done the same with North Korea,. That's a welcome stance. Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, is far too dependent on China to totally ignore such a request.


War, of course, will not resolve the conflict on the Korean peninsula. A sustained diplomatic effort is far more likely to reduce the current crisis and to produce a useful resolution of long-standing regional issues that have global implications.








Amid the varied customs and colorful traditions of the season, there are many non-facts mixed with the very important facts. We need to know the difference.


The birth of Jesus Christ was not a "current" matter. It went back to the very beginning. Some people claim that only "seeing is believing." For many years, there were specific prophecies about the coming of the Christ child. Some believed. Some did not. But then it happened — just as prophets, revealing God's plan hundreds of years in advance, had said.


Dec. 25


The date Dec. 25 has no special significance in itself. For more than three centuries, the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated at various dates. The actual time of His birth has not been established.


The ancient Romans had a December feast to Saturn, a Saturnalia. About the middle of the Fourth Century, Bishop Liberius and Christians at Rome who wanted no part in the pagan observance began to note the birth of Jesus Christ in that period, on Dec. 25. Christians in Egypt celebrated on Jan. 6, and many of the Eastern churches still do.


]It is doubted that Jesus was born in December. According to the Scriptures, the shepherds were in the fields, a common practice in summer and fall but not in December. Further, there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, but the stable, probably a hollowed-out cave in a hillside, was vacant because the sheep and cattle were out grazing. That indicates an earlier month of the year.


Not 'A.D. 1'


Nor was Jesus born in "A.D. 1." A Roman monk named Dionysius Exiguus made calculations in the Sixth Century Anno Domini (A.D. — "in the year of the Lord") relating the calendar to the birth of Christ. He apparently was not very good with his history and arithmetic and made an error in his calculations.


The Bible tells us that Jesus was born when Herod was king in the Holy Land. Rome was ruled by Caesar Augustus. Quirenius was governor of Syria. All of these historical facts of secular history indicate the time of the actual birth of Christ was somewhere between 9 B.C. and 6 B.C., a period in which a tax order went out, as the Bible relates.


Furthermore, the Bible tells that after the wise men came to Herod, he ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem, a bestial effort to wipe out One Who had been prophesied would be king. History tells us that Herod died in 4 B.C., meaning the child-slaughter order preceded that date. Apparently, the birth of Jesus was within two years before the death order, since children under two years old were killed.


Oct. 3, 7 B.C. theory


Johannes Kepler, noted German astronomer, suggested the possibility that the birth date of Christ was Oct. 3, 7 B.C., since there was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the proper position at that time to appear to the wise men as an unusually bright star. Others offer different theories.


Whatever the date, the prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of mankind is very old.


]'In the beginning'


The Bible begins, Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God ..." And in the New Testament, in the book of John, Chapter 1, verses 1 and 14 declare: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us ..."




Many Christians are fascinated by the early prophecy contained in Genesis 3:15. Sin had entered God's creation, for the serpent (the devil) had tempted and Adam and Eve had yielded, being disobedient to God. It was in that situation that God promised the serpent: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." These unusual words have been interpreted as a promise of the defeat of sin through the virgin birth of a Savior — the "seed" of a woman — with the Savior inflicting a fatal head wound on sin, but in the process suffering death on the cross. Sin was overcome by this payment, followed by resurrection into life.


'I shall see him'


As the children of Israel were on their exodus from Egyptian captivity, they stopped in the land of Moab, much to the chagrin of the king of Moab, who was named Balak. He looked fearfully upon the Israelites in their camp spreading over an area the size of the valley Chattanooga occupies. Faced with so many foreigners in his country, Balak called upon the prophet Balaam to curse them, offering great rewards of material things and personal prestige. But Balaam, overcoming personal temptation only through guidance by the Lord, refused to issue the curse. Instead, he spoke these words of prophecy, recorded in Numbers 24:17: "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth."


Here is prophetic announcement that out of the line descending from Jacob would come a "Star" and a "Sceptre," indicating kingly dominion and power, referring to the star that would show the birth of Christ the King at Bethlehem.




Moses was confronted with much difficulty among the children of Israel as they continued their Exodus. God had him prophesy to them about a greater One in Whom they should place their reliance, One to be of flesh, like himself. His words are recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall harken."




The great prophet Isaiah was led by God to add more specifics to the mounting prophecy that was to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Isaiah declared these things in Chapters 7:14 and 9:6: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us) ... For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."




What was the purpose of all this? Isaiah described it as the defeat of the sins man himself could not overcome, Chapter 53:5-6: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."




The prophet Micah, in Chapter 5:2, even told where the miraculous birth of Christ would take place: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel: whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."


This is a significant reference to the fact that he was not speaking of a temporal or secular ruler but an eternal one.




]With these prophecies pointing the way, the people had cause for hope. But they, as we do today, turned away from God. When they obeyed God, they prospered. When they disobeyed Him, they fell. In the course of history, the people of Judah were taken into captivity by Babylonian enemies. While in exile, Daniel uttered a prophecy that indicated even the time when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born.


When Jerusalem was captured, its walls and buildings were torn down. Daniel spoke of a time when the city would be raised again, and dated the coming of Christ from that time. In the King James translation of Daniel, we find references to "weeks," this being translated from a word meaning "sevens." If we read the King James version "weeks" as "sevens," we find reference to numbers of unspecified units of time (that we now recognize as years) in Daniel 9:25: "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven sevens, and threescore and two sevens; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."


]It came to pass that when Artaxerxes ruled, he sent forth an order for the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city. And, indeed, "seven sevens" (49) plus "three-score and two sevens" (434), or a total of 483 years after that order, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Lord and Savior, ministered in the Holy Land.


The Way


These Old Testament prophecies told the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of Christmas. And John 3:16 sums it up meaningfully: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."


With the spirit of that promise, by acceptance of the gift of God through faith, everyone may find the real, happy meaning of Christmas.







Thanks to broad-based public information campaigns, many parents in the United States increasingly are aware of the toll lack of regular exercise takes on their children. Study after study indicates that a high percentage of American youngsters are overweight, even obese, and that their short and long-term health suffers as result. To remedy the problem, many parents turn to organized sports to provide regular exercise. The idea is a good one. Turns out, though, that the execution of that idea is problematic.


The problem is that most kids involved in youth sports apparently don't get as much exercise in those programs as parents believe. A recent study reported in a pediatric medical journal exposes the shortcomings of many of the programs. The study of 200 California kids aged 7-14 who played soccer, football and baseball. Using sensors to record physical activity, researchers discovered that kids, on average, were inactive for about 30 minutes per practice. Clearly, kids in those programs gained little in the way of additional physical activity.


There are, to be fair, youth sports programs that are well organized and provide regular and vigorous physical exercise. Many, it now seems, do not. Many of the latter are run by volunteers who are fully engaged in the program, work well with kids and who become admirable role models in many instances for the kids in their charge. They are not trained, however, to emphasize fitness. The result, on the whole, is alarming.


Long-standing national guidelines suggest that children and adolescents — boys and girls — engage in moderate-to-heavy physical activity every day. Unfortunately, most do not. Indeed, less than 50 percent of U.S. children and 10 percent of teens attain that level of activity.


Girls, especially, fail to meet the mark. One study indicates that girls in the United States on average spend 10 minutes or less in physical activity each day. It's hardly a wonder, then, that worried parents seek ways to provide physical activity for their children.


Many parents turn to organized sports activities to remedy the problem. By one count, 44 million U.S. kids and teens are enrolled in such programs. Given the findings of the new study and earlier ones that reflect the same patterns of inactivity, much of the time and money invested in the programs, at least in terms of improved physical activity, goes to waste.


There are few ready remedies other than increased levels of brisk physical activity to combat the nation's growing epidemic of childhood obesity and related illnesses. Well-developed youth sports programs run by trained volunteers can help, but there are other, useful options available.


It might seem old fashioned to suggest that kids walk and run more, and that they engage in more independent play. Or that schools, even in times of fiscal distress, expand rather than eliminate required physical education programs. In the long run, those ideas might prove more helpful in getting U.S. kids into good shape than heavy reliance on youth sports programs that, it seems, do not always provide desirable levels of physical activity.








The warning by a deputy of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, that violence may ensue should the party be banned, is unhelpful at a moment when efforts toward reconciliation of the "Kurdish issue" are inching toward success. The implicit threat in the comments of Bengi Yıldız of renewed terror is counter to the spirit of dialogue advocated by so many within Kurdish organizations and the BDP itself.


We wish Yıldız had been more temperate in his remarks. That said, however, the cycle of party closures that have characterized state reaction to Kurdish efforts of political expression is a nearly two-decade exercise in futility. We will not pronounce on an ongoing matter in the courts, which is where the BDP is headed in the wake of an investigation launched by Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya. The investigation reportedly will explore links between the party and an umbrella organization of Kurdish NGOs.


In the absence of comment, a review of the history of pro-Kurdish parties is in order:


]First was the People's Work Party, or HEP, founded in 1990. Due to its promotion of Kurdish cultural and political rights the party was banned by the Constitutional Court in July 1993.


Quickly, it reemerged as the Democracy Party, or DEP, which had been founded a few months prior to HEP's closure in anticipation of the inevitable. For promotion of Kurdish nationalism it was banned by the Constitutional Court in June 1994. Six DEP deputies were arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights held DEP's dissolution to be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.


DEP was succeeded by the People's Democracy Party, or HADEP, established in May 1994. The party adopted a moderate course and kept its distance from the issue of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Nonetheless, at a party congress in June 1996 masked men dropped the Turkish flag and raised the PKK flag instead. All HADEP members were arrested. The party survived a 1999 closure case but was banned in 2003 on grounds it supported the PKK. (Just a few days ago, with two successors in the interim, HADEP's dissolution was unanimously found by the European Court of Human Rights to violate the European Convention on Human Rights.)


Enter the Democratic People's Party, or DEHAP, which had been founded in the wake of the flag incident. It marched on but failed to pass the 10 percent electoral threshold in the 2002 elections. It was then folded into the new Democratic Society Party, or DTP, in 2005 with a strategy to avoid the threshold by fielding candidates as independents. That strategy proved successful in the 2007 elections, winning the DTP 20 seats.


But a year ago, it too was dissolved by the Constitutional Court, most of its deputies quickly reflagging their party as the BDP. Now the BDP itself faces another closure. When will the cycle end?








The Armenian community of North America is disappointed again. This time the object of its ire is outgoing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Armenian-Americans clearly feel a "golden opportunity" was allowed to slip by, thus preventing them once more from "catching Turkey."


Put briefly, the anti-Turkish mood in the U.S. Congress over Ankara's Iran and Israel policies was expected to swing the balance against Turkey this time. The fact that Pelosi has always fervently supported the Armenian cause clearly fuelled expectations further.


Once more it was seen, however, that U.S. national interests carry more weight than constituency considerations, even if there is anger in Congress directed at Turkey. The Turkish media also reported that incoming House Speaker John Boehner was influential in ensuring the Armenian resolution was not passed.


If true, this would mean Boehner did not want U.S.-Turkish relations to sustain any further blows given that the present state of ties is not so great anyway. He probably also felt that a serious blow to these ties would undermine what little chance there may be for a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.


It is certain, however, that none of this will deter the highly motivated Armenian lobby in the United States – especially in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915. Put another way, we can expect a similar "Armenian genocide resolution" to come up in the U.S. Congress as early as next spring.


But whether the Armenian community's hand will be any stronger than it is today remains an open question. There is also a new and increasingly significant phenomenon that has to be factored in by Armenian-Americans.


The Turkish-American community has started displaying much more solidarity and strength, and has been acting much more in unison, and with a clearer focus on its target, than it did a decade or so ago. Many members of this community are professional and influential U.S. citizens who are endowed with the capacity to make themselves listened to, and understood.