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Saturday, December 25, 2010

EDITORIAL 25.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 25, edition 000712, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





























































It's Christmas, the day marking the birth of Jesus Christ according to the Gregorian calendar, and though there may not be enough joy to be passed around a world burdened with human misery, there's every reason for hope. The story of Christ offers more than a lesson to us in these troubled times; it teaches us the power of humility and righteousness, it reminds us of the need for justice and equity, it reaffirms faith in the innate nobility of those not tempted by greed or tainted by pelf. Most important, it tells us that no matter how humble the circumstances of our birth, we can rise above caste and creed, race and gender, and make a mark by being sincere, honest and truthful, and through our good work. Our ancient texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads, the inspirational accounts contained in Ramayan and Mahabharat, indeed, the very essence of our civilisational identity, teach us a simple truth: Dharma must prevail over all. This is about neither rites nor rituals; it is about faith in righteousness, of the supremacy of all that is moral and virtuous, everything that is ethical and anchored in truth, as the Bible also tells us. In his own life, Jesus Christ, through both word and deed, preached these very values that can help us stand up and stand apart from those who seek to spread terror, subvert social harmony and enforce their evil will in the name of religion. Faith for them is no more than a cloak behind which they hide while perpetrating their misdeeds. Righteousness is a vice for them.

Christmas meant both celebration and introspection. Over the decades it has become yet another 'event' in a market-driven, globalised economy to pander to the demands of consumers looking for instant gratification. A variant of folklore has it that Christmas also marks the worship of Mother Nature — a celebration of the bountiful generosity of our Earth and its limitless fecundity. There's something pagan about decorating the Christmas tree and observing 'burra din' — the longest day in winter. Then, of course, there is Santa Claus, the gift-giver: He remains the symbol of charity and kindness; he reminds us that we, too, should learn to give, a noble concept not alien to us as it is linked to the idea of dharma. Traditions have transmogrified with the advent of today's market-driven economy. Global warming and climate change have shaken faith in certitudes. Cynicism and materialism have robbed faith of the power to show us the path to a just society and an equitable world. In the process, we have been deprived of the small joys that once made life joyful; we now believe, ever so erroneously, that money can buy us everything. It's only natural that the traditional evergreen should make way for ersatz, mass-produced Christmas trees and Santa Claus should gift iPad applications. Merry Christmas!






Modern day khap panchayats that are handing out death and milder sentences for same gotra or sub-caste marriages, should take a leaf out of our ancestors in ancient times who interbred not just among themselves but also had no qualms in striking sexual relationships with 'outsiders'. A recent finding of bones has established that our species freely interbred with ancient humans, dubbed Denisovans after the caves in Siberia where the bones were discovered. According to a report in the prestigious journal Nature, Denisovans interbred with our species — perhaps around 50,000 years ago. This sensational conclusion was derived after an international group of researchers managed to sequence a complete genome from one of the ancient Hominins (human-like creatures), based on nuclear DNA extracted from a finger bone and a tooth excavated in the Denisova cave in southern Siberia. The individuals belonged to a genetically distinct group of humans that were distantly related to Neanderthals but even more distantly related to us. One can say with hindsight that the interbreeding caused little harm to the generations that came. In fact, there may have been some meritorious genes that passed from one generation to another, adding to our might over the millennia. But it does seem that the virtues of tolerance did not get as accentuated as it ought to have been. Interestingly, our ancestors even interbred with another Hominin, the Neanderthals. A new DNA study tells us that most humans have some portion of the Neanderthal in them — perhaps close to five per cent or a little less — in their genetic make-up. The study uncovered the first solid genetic evidence of Homo sapiens having sexual relations with their Neanderthal neighbours. It would, of course, be too much to assume — even given the human being's capacity to destroy — that the alliance led to the mysterious extinction of both the Denisovans and the Neanderthals! 

The noteworthy thing is that the inter-relationship developed after modern humans moved out of Africa, and West Asia got the distinction of the first mating ground between humans and Denisovans. There will be some skeptics who will not accept the new findings on the Denisovan link, and it will be some time before they get universal endorsement. But that's not surprising; one must bear in mind that the human-Neanderthal alliance too had been rubbished because earlier DNA evidence contradicted the new claim based on skeleton studies. From all accounts, the Denisovans, perhaps descendants of the Neanderthals, were a considerably successful and peripatetic lot. Researchers have sugested that the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans emerged from Africa about 500,000 years ago. While the Neanderthals spread westward, settling in East Asia and Europe, Denisovans went further east and copiously spread out. When modern humans left Africa approximately 70,000 to 80,000 years ago, they interbred with Neanderthals in Europe, and then, expanding from Africa along the coast of South Asia, came in touch — literally — with the Denisovans.

It does seem like a happy confluence of various species: We had our ancestor, the Denisovan and the Neanderthal, some living at the same time, others in different time periods. But there seemed to be some sort of primeval harmony. While there might have been turf wars to establish hold over groups and assert supremacy over women, all of these did not stop the interbreeding, which perhaps led to the strengthening of alliances among them. 









Earlier this month, the Hindu American Foundation published a report named Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste. The subtitle — 'Seeking an end to caste-based discrimination' — summed up HAF's overall objective. The report itself is a short introduction to the history of caste, and the agencies and processes — from British imperial administrators to modern democratic politics — that have encouraged it. It catalogues cases of discrimination in contemporary India as well as carries messages from religious leaders who describe caste hierarchies as un-Hindu and a repudiation of the essential message of Hinduism: That divinity rests in every person.

The report argues, as others have, that evil practices such as untouchability were absent in the Vedas and clearly a "later development". Citing among others BR Ambedkar, it suggests sections of post-Vedic texts, the Smritis, were written by dominant elites who had "vested interests" in sustaining "a system of birth-based discrimination and spiritual privileges". Its verdict is categorical: "HAF decries these later additions and practices as morally repugnant and unacceptable."

Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste is not an academic treatise, much less a definitive compendium of the phenomenon of caste within Hindu, Indian or South Asian society. It should be viewed as what it is: An advocacy document.

Not everybody has chosen to see the HAF report in such terms. Internet-based Hindu polemicists have decried it and used language that borders on xenophobia. HAF has been charged with encouraging the United States Congress to intervene in India's domestic social and political structures. It has been accused of Semitising Hinduism by giving primacy to some 'books' over others. Finally, some have put forward the absurd claim that Hindus who have migrated and live in countries outside India have no business commenting on caste, Hinduism and social and religious practices of the 'matrabhumi'. This is not just bizarre, it is dangerous nonsense.

The episode has thrown up two issues that require deeper analysis:


  What are HAF's motivations?


  What is the political/ideological relationship between a collective of American Hindus, and Hindu activists in Indian public life?

HAF believes its caste report is timely and necessary to establish its credentials as an interest group that plays fair and is not shy of facing up to the not-so-admirable aspects of Hindu society. In the US as in Britain, the caste issue has often — and exaggeratedly — been used as a stick to beat both Hinduism and India. There have been attempts to equate caste with racial discrimination and present untouchability as the equivalent of apartheid. While the latter may have been true for specific periods in Indian history, racial segregation was official policy in apartheid-era South Africa. In today's India untouchability and caste discrimination are illegal. However, they remain social distortions.

HAF finds it ironical that the caste debate in American academic and advocacy circles — those that carry weight with individual members of Congress or with the State Department — has been more or less appropriated by groups that self-identify as non-Hindu, and that represent positions that may be Marxist or actively hostile to India. It wants to intervene as a group that is sympathetic to the basic tenets of Hinduism but can take a rational and clearheaded call on its shortcomings, in practice or even in theory.

The debate HAF has walked into is set within the framework of Indian society but is actually a discussion between different groups of Americans, all of which have a different interpretation of the prominence of caste in contemporary Hinduism and each of which, in its own way, seeks to influence Washington, DC, and its policy towards New Delhi. Given this matrix, HAF's entry into the wider discourse on caste should be welcomed rather than cussedly rejected.

That apart, the right and ability of an external institution — American Hindu or American non-Hindu for that matter — to study and assess a social phenomenon that is broadly limited to the territory of another nation cannot be denied. It is an irreversible reality, a collateral consequence of globalisation. The globalisation of causes and concerns, of protest and activism and, ultimately, of soft power is a manifestation of global networking. It uses the same tools and communication technologies as its business counterpart and it cannot be wished away.

Does this make HAF a US-based auxiliary of the Hindu politico-social Right in India? It would be hazardous to arrive at that easy and lazy conclusion. There will be times when the two will seem to move in parallel. For instance, each year HAF publishes Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, recording prejudice against Hindus by state and non-state actors in, among other places, Bangladesh and the Kashmir Valley.

Yet, there will also be occasion when the two entities — the domestic Hindu and diaspora Hindu — will look at an issue very differently. HAF is a religious and ethnic minority interest group in a multi-cultural nation. Its leadership and the locus of its work are embedded in American society. Much of its endeavour will carry little resonance with somebody residing in India.

Take the Ten Commandments controversy. Some years ago, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the installation, within the court complex, of a sculpture depicting the Ten Commandments. His point was the Ten Commandments, along with texts such as the Declaration of Independence, comprised a moral and philosophical source of American law.

Left-liberal intellectuals and segments of religious minorities contested this. They contended the display of a religious symbol violated the separation of church and state and disputed the Christian foundations of American nationhood, implicit in the Alabama chief justice's decision. HAF participated in this process, campaigning against the placing of the Ten Commandments "in public schools, courthouses, and other public buildings".

To the Hindu Right in India, this controversy made little sense. If anything, there would have been sympathy for the Alabama judge's position. The original copy of the Constitution of India carries Hindu religious iconography. If a religious minority in India asks for this to be removed, the Hindu Right would respond with an argument not dissimilar to that of the Alabama chief justice.

Rather than get entrapped in such conundrums, Hindu activists in India should not grudge HAF its intellectual space. As for the caste issue, a serious discussion is certainly needed within the Hindu Right. Pointing fingers at HAF won't change that.







It will take a long time, perhaps many years, for the full impact of the WikiLeaks' disclosure of thousands of US diplomatic cables to become known. Make no mistake: this is an event of historic importance — for all governments, and not only the US. It had been widely anticipated in India that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit would not result in the satisfactory resolution of India's major concerns. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit on December 16, 2010, bears out the apprehensions of Indian analysts. 

Agreements for bilateral trade amounting to $16 billion were signed and the two sides agreed to raise mutual trade from $60 billion this year to $100 billion by 2015. However, India did not agree to sign a free trade agreement; instead the joint statement proposes ''measures to promote greater Indian exports to China with a view to reduce India's trade deficit.'' Six joint agreements were signed on culture, green technology, media exchanges, river data and banking, all of which are relatively less significant aspects of the bilateral relationship. 

China remained non-committal on the ticklish issue of visas being stapled to the passports of the resident of the Indian state of J&K, instead of being stamped on their passports. It reinforced Indian views that China is increasingly leaning on Pakistan in its Kashmir policy. China did not agree to either mention Pakistan as the source of terrorism or condemn the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror strikes. It also did not specifically endorse India's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In turn, India did not accept a reference to the one-China policy and, instead, the principle of "mutual respect and sensitivity for each other's concerns and aspirations" was included in the joint statement.

Relations between India and China have been fairly stable at the strategic level. Political and economic relations are much better now than these have been since the 1962 war. Mutual economic dependence is growing rapidly; and, the two countries have been cooperating in international fora like WTO and climate change negotiations. There has even been some cooperation in energy security. However, at the tactical level, China has been exhibiting a markedly aggressive political, diplomatic and military attitude. The security relationship, in particular, has the potential to act as a spoiler and would ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains. The major cause for this is the half-century-old territorial and boundary dispute over which the two countries fought a border war in 1962.

China continues to be in physical occupation of large areas of Indian territory. On the Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh in J&K, China is in physical possession of approximately 38,000 sqkm of Indian territory since the mid-1950s. In addition, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sqkm of Indian territory to China in 1963 in the Shaksgam Valley of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir under a bilateral boundary agreement that India does not recognise. Through this area China built the Karakoram highway that now provides a strategic land link between Xinjiang, Tibet and Pakistan. China continues to stake its claim to about 96,000 sqkm of Indian territory in the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls Southern Tibet.

Chinese interlocutors have repeatedly claimed that the Tawang Tract, in particular, is part of Tibet and that the merger of this area with Tibet is non-negotiable. Early in 2005, India and China had agreed to identify "guiding principles and parameters" for a political solution to the five-decade-old dispute. However, in the case of Tawang, the Chinese have gone back on the agreed parameter that "settled populations will not be disturbed".

It is not so well known that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, implying de facto control after the 1962 war, is yet to be physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps. The LAC is quite different from the disputed 4,056 km long boundary between India and Tibet. The un-delineated LAC is a major destabilising factor as incidents such as the Nathu La clash of 1967 and the Wang Dung standoff of 1986 can recur. 

In fact, despite the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) signed with the Chinese in 1993 and the agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field signed in 1996, border guards of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have transgressed the LAC repeatedly to intrude into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. They have even objected to Indian road construction efforts. These intrusions have been periodically reported in the media and discussed in Parliament. While no such incident has resulted in a violent clash so far, there have been occasions when Indian and Chinese patrols have met face to face before backing off. Such meetings have an element of tension built into them and the possibility of an armed clash can never be ruled out. 

Demarcation of the LAC, without prejudice to each other's position on the territorial dispute, would be an excellent confidence building measure. China's intransigence in exchanging maps showing the alignment of the LAC in the western and the eastern sectors is difficult to understand. It can only be described as another attempt to put off the dispute "for future generations to resolve", as Deng Xiao Ping had famously told Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. 

The military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily as the PLA ismodernising at a rapid pace and India's military upgradation plans are mired in red tape. China's negotiating strategy is to stall resolution of the dispute till the Chinese are in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so that they can dictate terms. It is in India's interest to strive for the early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with. 


(The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and a Visiting Research Fellow at RSIS.)







Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's recent visit to India happened close on the heels of India's envoy attending the Nobel Peace prize award ceremony in Oslo. The prize was handed over to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in absentia, but Beijing didn't seemed to mind. Those Indians who celebrated the idea of a confident New Delhi finally coming of age to cock a snook at the Chinese got another, equally sobering message. China doesn't care as long as Indian markets are prised open.Like all important bilaterals, this one too produced a joint statement. But both Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao, failed to fake a semblance of mutual bonhomie. The statement skirted many important bilateral and regional issues. This has led many to wonder: what sort of a relationship are we in with China? 

First the basic lack of balance. China happens to be India's single biggest trading partner with $60 billion trade between them. But business is skewed in China's favour by almost $19 billion. China is also India's biggest political rival, if not adversary. It has ambitions in the Indian Ocean, supports Pakistan's aggressiveness on Jammu & Kashmir, and, to top that, refuses to condemn Pakistan's hand in the terrorist empire operating in India. 

The territorial claim on Arunachal Pradesh continues to weigh down goodwill. Though China claims that the MacMahon Line is unacceptable as it is a colonial legacy, Beijing accepts the same demarcation in the case of Burma. Its claims on Arunachal are based on the Indian state's status in deep history as a province of the Tibetan empire, the same which China gobbled up.

The joint statement does not mention China's plan to divert the Brahmputra river which has its origin in Tibet. The Chinese government plans to divert 40 million cubic metres of water to feed the Gobi Desert. According to estimates, this Chinese move could jeopardise 40 per cent of India's hydel power potential, and could result in perennial floods in India's North-East. China knows that it could this as a maneuvering tool to arm-twist India in future. 

Though India tried to be assertive in some cases, like its decision to provide military training to Vietnam in return of access to maintenance and repair facility in Vietnamese port for Indian warships, it is no comparison to Chinese economic imperialist hegemony in the region. India is trying to make a stronghold on South Asia. But China seems to have been working consistently over the last four decades to strengthen its south Asian presence and fulfil its "String of Pearls" policy which has many in India worried. 

The complex and multilayered India-China relations have three dimensions: global, regional and bilateral. India and China have similar views on issues of mutual interest at the global level: climate change, trade and WTO. They have worked together to form quite effective blocs by themselves. However, on the regional stage, there is a serious perception gap on issues like Iran, Afghanistan, terrorism and Pakistan. Bilaterally, the relationship appears to be contradictory, with both countries hardly making any serious effort to resolve them. 


The misconception in Chinese minds about India's aspirations is reflected in its silence on a number of issues. The two countries live under distinct political systems. This noisy but successful democratic system, independent judiciary, free press and free-and-fair elections in India are incomprehensible in Communist China, where it is mandatory for even foreign media to get prior clearance from the State news agency, Xinhua, for dissemination of news in China. And that is why China views public reactions in the media and open forum debates as a threat to its covert goals. 

"China-India relations are very fragile and very easy to be damaged and very difficult to repair. Therefore, they need special care in the information age," Chinese envoy to India Zhang Yan said at a conference in Delhi recently. China's core foreign policy that has been developing from the 1950s under Mao regime aims to avenge the humiliation imposed on China by Western colonial powers, and to establish a unipolar Asia with China as the sole power. In the present unipolar world dominated by the US, China's initial aim is to displace America from its political and military presence in the Western Pacific and ultimately ease out the US from the Asian security system. 

In this context, China is concerned about India's growing strategic ties with the US. The civilian nuclear deal has been a turning point in ties not only between India and America, but also indirectly impacting India's relations with China. To balance regional power, Beijing offered to build new nuclear power reactors in Pakistan as it views Pakistan as anessential counter foil to India. It has helped Pakistan develop Gwadar naval port in Arbian sea, and the Chashma nuclear plant. The Gwadar port in Baluchistan is expected to help China gain a strategic foothold for its naval operations in the India Ocean and Persian Gulf. 

However, the perceptible change in China's policy towards India began after the liberlisation process started and Delhi got close to the European Union and the US, both of whom saw an emerging market in India. India's formation of strategic relations with several EU countries in the early 2000s caused concern in Beijing and it began to make frantic attempts to build bridges. Moreover, a shrinkage in the market for Chinese goods in the US and Europe on account of the global economic crisis has enhanced India's ability to twist Beijing's arms using trade for that purpose. 

China's exports to India are of the lowest category, something known in China as "shoddy goods" which have very little market prospects even inside China. India's protest against artificial export prices could bring some balance in their bilateral trade, which is now heavily in Beijing's favour. The Indian government has issued an advisory. An Indian company seeking to do business with China must now run a complete credential check on the prospective Chinese partner with the Indian embassy in Beijing or its consulate in Shanghai. 

With $5.5 trillion second largest economy, China is trying to impose its ideology on the face of the world, at least on the Asian counties at present. Its increasingly assertive behaviour is seen in the remarkable lapse on its policy of neutrality on issues related to India and her neighbours. The passivity in the face of Chinese assertiveness in the region can be counterproductive for India. 


The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer 







Premier Wen Jiabao's three-day visit has produced mixed results, with the business community somewhat satisfied with Wen's promise to open Chinese market for Indian products, although there was no progress on major political issues that were of critical importance to India. On the other hand, this visit was not expected to result in major breakthroughs. Rather, it seems to have been designed to cool temperatures after a series of face-offs between the two countries. But it may not have achieved even this limited objective because the visit appears to have led to even greater wariness in Delhi about China. 

From the Chinese perspective, the focus was almost exclusively on economic and trade issues, evident in the 400-member business delegation that accompanied Wen. But contrary to what many have argued, strengthened economics ties have not contributed to better relations on the political front. If the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in trade, so has been the increase in tension on a range of political issues. 

India's focus, on the other hand, was on several political issues, on which the Indian leadership wanted some resolution from Beijing: the changing Chinese policy on Jammu & Kashmir, China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation and terrorism. 

From a neutral approach on J&K in the 1980s through 1990s, China has in recent years adopted a more aggressive and partisan role, questioning even the territorial integrity of India. China's attempt to carve out areas out of the western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is reflective of the Chinese intent in rewriting history and redrawing geographical boundaries. How far back would China go into history to make new territorial claims is something to be watched out for. While the recent deletion of about 1,500 km from the boundary is a new phenomenon, the Chinese questioning of Indian territorial integrity has been evident in a series of recent Chinese actions. The issuance of stapled visas to people from J&K, denial of travel permits to senior military officers commanding the region are but two instances. Chinese unwillingness to exchange maps of the western sector at least for a decade is reflective of the Chinese intent to question India's territorial integrity on J&K. While these may be tactical and minor pricks, India should not lose sight of the strategic thinking behind these tactics.

Second, China-Pakistan nuclear and missile cooperation of the 1980s and 1990s has had lasting geopolitical effects on India. The recent Chinese proposal to sell additional nuclear reactors, grandfathering the agreement as it were in total defiance of the international regime, is a dangerous development. This has implications not just for the India-Pakistan military balance but for the global community. Pakistan is on the threshold of being a failed state, and breeding a dangerous cocktail of terrorism and WMD proliferation. The global non-proliferation regime and the US seem unable or unwilling to put the necessary pressure on China not to go ahead with the proposal. 

Third, terrorism should have ideally formed an issue of commonality between India and China given that both countries have been victims of terror. But the Chinese selective approach to fight terrorism places New Delhi and Beijing at two ends of the spectrum. More importantly, Beijing refuses to come on board in acknowledging and putting the onus on Pakistan when the Pak-based terror groups have been actively promoting terrorism in India. The best evidence was the post-Mumbai terror attacks, when China refused to be party to UN action against Pakistan-based terror groups like let for their role in the Mumbai attacks. Selectively fighting terrorism in Xinjiang alone will hurt China in the long-term. 

It must be borne that these are rather tactical issues in the bilateral relations to keep India embroiled in the Indian neighborhood. The larger question is whether Beijing recognizes the fact that India is also a rising power that needs its strategic space.

The new policy approach towards India is part of a well-considered, clearly articulated and well-orchestrated policy to deny India the space and potential to move beyond South Asia. In 2005, the Chinese leadership had got an internal study done on India, written by the top South Asia specialists including Prof Ma Jiali, who used to frequent India in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The study recommended, among other things, that China take steps to maintain its strategic advantages over India and try to keep India bottled within South Asia. While the study may be a bit dated, the conclusion of the study appears to have been taken to heart by the Chinese policy elites.

India has been admirably careful and diplomatic in handling Chinese provocations so far. India has little need to open up a northern front while it continues to have trouble from Pakistan. But New Delhi also has limitations, especially in justifying its passive policies domestically. Thus, its forbearance may not last. Hopefully, Beijing will realize that its hardline policies towards Delhi will be counter-productive and that India and China have complementary goals that require cooperation rather than confrontation.

Senior Fellow, ORF 







THE Bharatiya Janata Party is right in posing the obvious question that comes to mind regarding the raids conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation on premises owned by Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi: Why have they come so late in the day? The Games got over in October, and talk about the corruption in Games projects long preceded them. It was understandable for the authorities to wait for the Games to get over before they swung into action, but the delay since then is unpardonable and justifies the presumption that this is a window dressing job by the government to save its face on the issue of corruption that has seen it pushed into a corner in recent weeks.


In case Suresh Kalmadi is indeed guilty, he wouldn't have been such a fool to keep incriminating evidence regarding the conduct of the Games at his premises all this while for the agencies to lay their hands on.


This view gets buttressed when one considers that the raids on former Telecom Minister A Raja whose name figures in the 2G scam, too, were long delayed. In fact, in both the scams, the investigative agencies first moved against lower level functionaries though it stands to reason that the humongous scams could not have been perpetrated solely at their level of operation.


The CBI had said recently that Mr Kalmadi and his deputy Lalit Bhanot were trying to block its investigations into the Games scam.


But this was to be expected since they were under the scanner. How is it that the government didn't deem it fit for them to be dropped from the OC right after the Games were over? It hardly comes as a surprise then that vital papers concerning Games projects have gone missing from the OC office.



THE leaders of the Gujjar community in Rajasthan seem to have yet again chosen to use street protests and blockades as a means of getting their political demands met. They have shown little concern for the interests of the state, where the influx of tourists has been significantly hit due to the agitation.

The protest is partly motivated by the rivalry between the Gujjar and Meena communities which are among the dominant communities in the state. While, it must be admitted that the reservation for Meenas is itself a matter of dispute, the Gujjars should have followed the due procedures to raise the matter rather than take to the streets.


They should have waited for the Rajasthan government's follow- up on the High Court's directive of providing data to establish whether or not the community is indeed backward and in need of reservations.


Clearly, the motive of the Gujjar leadership is to attack the Congress government in Rajasthan at any cost, rather than compromise for the best interests of the community and the state as a whole. The targeting of the Congress by Gujjar leaders like Col Kirori Singh Bainsla is devoid of logic as the entire controversy was created when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in the state.



THE conviction of Dr Binayak Sen on charges of sedition by a sessions court in Raipur smacks of political vendetta. This is evident from the circumstances of his arrest, trial and conviction. He was arrested for violating the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Unlawful Activities ( Prevention) Act on May 14, 2007. His trial only began in September 2008, though he continued to remain in jail till the Supreme Court granted him bail in May 2009.


Given the enormous latitude India offers to dissidents and separatists, to jail a physician and human rights activist to imprisonment for life does seem a bit excessive.


Observers point out that the prosecution adduced little or no evidence to the charge that he acted as a courier for the Communist Party of India ( Maoist) leader Narayan Sanyal. The quality of the prosecution's case is evident from the fact that in his closing argument, the prosecutor sought to link some emails exchanged between Sen's wife and the Indian Social Institute ( ISI), with the notorious Pakistani Inter- Services Intelligence ( ISI).



            MAIL TODAY





UNFORTUNATELY this festive season instead of Christmas cheer, one is confronted with a season of scandals.


" The 2G scandal has given rise to the Bofors moment of this government but unfortunately there is no V P Singh in sight," lamented a politico at a pre- Christmas dinner. It made one wonder whether there were indeed any similarities between the political situation unfolding now and what happened more than two decades ago. The demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee ( JPC) probe into the Bofors gun deal was conceded after much wrangling. Such a demand may yet be conceded in the telecom scam this time round under Opposition pressure.


The 2G scam certainly is much bigger than the Bofors scandal of 1987. Then, as now, the government's immediate reaction was to brazen out the scam. Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister, denied that any middlemen or kickbacks were involved in the purchase of the 155 mm Howitzer guns. When that did not wash, the Congress claimed that Rajiv Gandhi and his family were not involved. In the telecom scam, too, first came the denial of any corruption at all, and then the claim that the Prime Minister was not involved.


That he had, in fact, taken note of the telecom minister's actions. Now, the government says it has nothing to hide.




Rajiv Gandhi's image was at an all time high at the time. As the original Mr. Clean he was the darling of the middle classes — just as Dr. Manmohan Singh is today.


Nobody dared to point a finger at Rajiv.


Nonetheless, the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, which at that time consisted entirely of the Janata Dal, and barely two MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party, smelt blood. They targeted Rajiv Gandhi as a recipient of the Bofors kickbacks. The ragtag remains of the National Democratic Alliance are doing exactly the same in their rallies now, suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is complicit in hiding the 2G telecom corruption.


Even though no direct evidence linking the kickbacks to the Nehru- Gandhi family has been found till today, the Bofors scandal precipitously eroded the credibility of the Rajiv Gandhi government. The public perception in 1987 when the scam broke out and 1989, the year when V P Singh became the prime minister, was that the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi was steeped in corruption. That is precisely the impression that the BJP- led opposition wants to re- create today.


When the Bofors scandal broke out on Swedish radio, in April 1987, the Opposition had no media support. It had nothing comparable to the huge archive of the Nira Radia tapes as a part of its arsenal, nor 24X7 TV news channels ready to sensitise the nation to the dimensions of the scandal. There was only state- owned television — Doordarshan — and it could not take on its bosses. Initially only one newspaper reported on the Bofors scam diligently. Then that number went up to two. Today, because of a plethora of TV news channels and the internet, the speed at which public perception can change has accelerated manifold.


But that is where the advantages that the Opposition has today, are at an end.




In 1987, the revolt began from within the Congress. Today, there is no V P Singh in the Congress party to take corruption head on. Theoretically, Manmohan Singh could be today's V P Singh, but beyond their personal integrity there is no comparison between the two leaders.


V P Singh had the politically daring mindset of a mass leader. He was widely recognised as someone who could take on the high and mighty — as finance minister he had dared to order raids against Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance, widely believed to be the main funder of the Congress, and Amitabh Bachchan, a family friend of the then prime minister. He was also perceived as a Rajput leader, a community that had played a big role in north Indian politics. He had been the Chief Minister of UP and had won many elections from the lowest level to the highest, the Lok Sabha. More importantly, after challenging Rajiv Gandhi, he won a by- election in 1988 from Allahabad.


V P Singh deftness at political mobilisation helped him turn the tables on a seemingly invincible adversary. He realised that the perception of corruption in defence deals could be a potent rallying cry for India's rural masses, whose children make up most of our armed forces. He ignored the urban middle classes and focused his attention on the rural voters and that too largely what he called the heart of India — the big states of the then undivided UP and of Bihar.


Other than Manmohan Singh, there is no one else within the Congress who fits the bill to be the next V P Singh. Any challenger to the Congress today would either have to be from the BJP, or would need the help of the BJP, but that comes with its problems. When the Bofors scam broke the Opposition, although weak, was still united and its honesty credible. The two main non- Left Opposition parties— the Janata Dal and the BJP — had not tasted power or its corrupting influence.


Since then, they have all been in power.


Today, the voters do not believe that the Opposition parties are in any way different from the Congress in matters of integrity. The BJP, for example, can no longer afford to laud the " chaal, chalan and charitra" ( integrity and character) of its politicians or claim to be a party with a difference. Indeed, only a week ago, a former BJP minister, Arun Shourie, publicly suggested that the BJP and the Congress were two sides of the same coin.




If in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi could not tell the BJP that they were corrupt too, today the Congress' defence is almost entirely based on citing the counter- examples of Karnataka, Bangaru Laxman and Dilip Singh Judeo of the immortal quote — " Money is not God but, by God, it is no less than God himself!" The last one month has shown that despite some throat clearing on political corruption, in the end, the BJP did not have the political courage to dismiss its Karnataka chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa, who is mired in charges of nepotism and corruption. There is a credibility deficit, therefore, when the BJP demands accountability in the telecom scam.


As a party too, the BJP lacks cohesiveness, direction and leadership. The manner in which its senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, the current chairman of the Public Accounts Committee ( PAC) of Parliament, has continued with hearings in the telecom scam has undermined his party's demand for a JPC probe.


Understandably the BJP is unable to make much headway with its campaign against corruption. So the situation is likely to hang fire for some time longer.


But it is the Congress that would be more damaged by political inaction.


Adverse results of the assembly elections in the five election- going states in the new year — West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry — could weaken the Congress disproportionately.


Should the party lose Assam and do badly in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, taken together with its pathetic showing in Bihar, it will be open to the charge of losing the mandate to govern. Its weakened and vulnerable political leadership would be left with no choice but to try to counter the damage by 2014 hoping that public memory is short.


bharat. bhushan@ mailtoday. in








Instead of Punjab being a state of India, is India becoming a state of Punjab? If popular culture and social mores are to go by, it does indeed seem that there is what might be called a progressive Punjabification of the country. The current wedding season - which is on at full blast, in more ways than one - provides topical evidence. Ever since Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, marriage a la mode in India has gained a distinctive Punjabi flavour, from the reception of the bhangra-dancing barat to the celebratory dinner which would be incomplete without the inclusion of butter paneer masala and makhni dal with an extra dollop of asli ghee thrown in to give a touch more josh.

Weddings apart, Punjab and Punjabi ways seem to set the pace for the rest of India in everyday walks of life. The salwar-kameez has long been a rival of the sari as the unofficial national dress for Indian women. And while Hindi might still meet with resistance from diehard lingual chauvinists south of the Vindhyas, even such regional jingoists seem to have little or no difficulty in swallowing either the 'arre, yaar' Punjabified 'dialogues' of Bollywood or that ultimate in north-south fusion cuisine: the tandoori tikka dosa.

What is it about Punjab - or at least the common perception of it - that makes it such a dominant feature of the Indian mindscape? In many ways, Punjab could be said to be the Texas of India: larger than life, and twice as loud in proclaiming as much. Punjab's legendary zest for life and living is perhaps best summed up in the old saying that beer is the sixth river that flows through the Land of the Five Rivers, the unabashed culture of which is agri-culture. This image of backslapping boisterousness is amplified and echoed by the Punjabi 'doublespeak' of rhyming slang - which has rapidly infiltrated other vernacular languages - whereby a drink becomes 'drink-shrink', which you have at a 'party-sharty' with your 'pal-shals'. Such verbal largesse - why make do with one word when using two is so much better? - reflects the bountiful generosity of the land and the people who pioneered the Green Revolution in the country.

But perhaps the most distinctive trait of Punjabis is their mobility. In a country of internal migrants, the Punjabi stands out as the most energetic and adventuresome of them all. In direct opposition to the parochial 'sons of the soil' ideology as expressed by the likes of Bal and Raj Thackeray, the Punjabi stands for a 'sons of the toil' attitude which indicates a willingness and an ability to go wherever there is work to be found or an opportunity for an enterprise to be run. The cartoon showing the US astronauts landing on the lunar surface only to be greeted by a Punjabi who's set up a tea stall there says it all. Indeed the Punjabi dhaba, providing rest and refreshment to the weary traveller through the length and breadth of the country, is as much an integral part of India's social geography as the pub once was of the British landscape. It is this pan-nationalism which suggests that it's no bad thing at all for Punjab to embrace in its hearty jhappi the whole of India that is Bharat-Wharat.








The macro crisis in the microfinance sector may not get resolved anytime soon. But it is a symptom of a much larger trend moving through the country.

The Indian microfinance model developed differently from that in its original home in Bangladesh. It took root with self-help groups (SHGs) set up in Karnataka by Myrada, with NABARD's support, back in the early 1980s. These affinity groups created a social glue among poor women which allowed them not only to offer their mutual guarantee as collateral against their borrowings, but enabled them to work collectively for other causes in their communities. There are hundreds of documented stories of how the SHG movement has generated social change and political empowerment, in addition to accessing more finance for the poor than ever before in independent India.

As the fledgling sector began to attract notice from banks and markets for its excellent repayment rates, well into the high 1990s, a lot of things began to change. From a vision of creating slow and steady small fortunes 'for' the bottom of the pyramid, some microfinance players moved to selling a glittering story of quick and large fortunes 'from' the bottom of the pyramid.

Within a short span of five years, the microfinance sector in India, built around carefully nurtured affinities and an appropriate pace of scaling up based on capacities, has turned into a chaotic marketplace with little regulation. It now has diverse offerings from multiple players and scant regard for proper group formation. An estimated Rs 30,000 crore is chasing the poor and being collected from them, whether they are ready for it or not.

A movement that was based on the hope that women working closely together could create for all of them some economic and social value has been overrun by the idea that loose coalitions of joint liability groups can enable individuals to escape poverty. This subtle shift rides on high theory. When we the elite do not need to form groups and prove our book-keeping skills to access bank services, how long should we expect that of the poor? Hence the sector has moved to many financial products designed for individuals. Fair enough, so long as there is informed consent of the risks of indebtedness.

But the strategy shift also surfs a wave in the current polity. We are witnessing the march of socio-economic rights in India. We have had the right to information, to education and to work. We will soon have the right to food and maybe to water. Each day, someone thinks of a new entitlement to frame as law. This rush to secure individual rights seems to suit everyone.

For rights-based activists, every success brings a heady sense of power and progress. Compared to the hard and long struggles undertaken by NGOs for sustained collective action to preserve the commons, for example, the rights movement has seen relatively quicker policy wins. And it seems they plan to continue on that path.

For market players, who deal with citizens mainly as consumers, the emerging sense of entitlement is useful to consolidate messaging around high individual aspirations. As India becomes the newest focal point for all the world's leading brands, Indian consumers will be able to satisfy any whim, if they can afford it, or can access 'buy now, pay later' services.

And for a government committed to a market economy and struggling hard to deliver to a growing population all the public infrastructure that the urban elite takes so much for granted, the individualisation of demand creates an easy way to channel resources into individual citizen pipelines. Clearly, this is simpler than creating the public school education, health care services, roads and energy and communication services that the urban middle class has enjoyed and built its future on. All those services were created by the state in its more socialist avatar. Today, many governments across the country talk of public-private partnerships as the only viable model for infrastructure development. These are powerful though subtle shifts in the economy that arguably could put India on a path to more human dignity and prosperity.

But is there something we are missing, something we are losing out on, in this splitting up of the collective for the benefit of the individual? To those organisations struggling to pull people together beyond their individual or caste and creed based identities, the answer is obvious. The focus on the individual takes away the focus from work that requires collective action. Individuals cannot preserve water bodies. Individuals cannot protect forests. Individuals cannot prevent coercive states or uncaring corporations from taking away lands and livelihoods. All of these require continued and creative united efforts.

Perhaps the old institutional forms may never return; they have lost their moral power. Some cooperatives that collapsed on greed, some Gandhian groups that compromised on truth, some communists who took to extreme violence, all have made 21st century Indians wary of old paradigms and formations. And there is no denying the arrival of legitimate individual ambition in a young and economically stronger India.

Yet, if we want to belong to a nation where poverty is history and nature's power to nurture and sustain is restored, we have to find viable new models of cooperation. Otherwise, the securing of individual ambition may remain a mirage.

Some homegrown ideas and forums are emerging. There is also hope in the innovative way in which technology commons are being used to build virtual bridges across physical divides. But, as the serious distress in the microfinance sector warns us, we must not undermine the models we already have.

The writer is chairperson, Arghyam, and Pratham Books.







Celebration and festivity are intrinsic to the idea of Christmas. As is charitable gifting. These contribute to the appeal of Christmas, making it a popular holiday all over the world. Many Christmas customs, such as exchanging cards and gifts, decorating Christmas trees and hanging up stockings are no longer confined to those of the Christian faith. They have become as popular among non-Christians. It's only natural that commercial signs, decorations and shopping for gifts should be part of Christmas festivities. Those haranguing Christmas for having turned 'commercial' and 'consumerist' are, therefore, barking up the wrong tree.

Take the peacable and charitable impulses that are supposed to make up the spirit of Christmas. Part of it is expressed through providing material comfort and succour to the deprived, not just being generally well-disposed to them in a manner that has no material manifestation. If Christmas brings out the child in many of us that has to do with the expectation of receiving gifts, and material ones at that. It's thus impossible to dissociate Christmas from shopping, eating and a spirit of festivity. The latter has much to do with well laid out dining tables, shop windows and stockings stuffed with coveted toys. Take them out of the picture and there is little of Christmas magic left. Could Christmas ever be the same if Santa Claus didn't have gifts to bestow?

It's important to remember that Christmas is a festival with pagan overlays, as evident in the expression 'Yuletide spirit' flowing through Christmas. Yuletide was a winter solstice festival celebrated by the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people, later adapted by Christians. Yuletide is a time of great feasting, and therefore sits uneasily with any austere interpretation we may wish to impose on Christmas. So this Christmas, let's celebrate and give a go-by to political or theological correctness.








As the festive season reaches its climax, some Christians are quite rightly concerned that today's epiphany signifies trivialities rather than deep and abiding values. Despite being a celebration of Jesus Christ's life, a man who demonstrated these values by making the ultimate sacrifice for us, most celebrations ignore him and the values he represents. So diluted have they become that Christmas has been rendered a hollow caricature, emptied of its central message and filled by crass consumerism.

In part this hollowing is due to the success of the festival. Entranced by its superficialities, more and more non-Christians participate every year by buying trees, frolicking as Father Christmas, exchanging gifts and most dangerously, indulging in excessive drinking. Their behaviour can be excused by the fact that they do not know the significance or the history of what they are participating in. Nor can they be expected to. Their actions are simply blind mimicry, consumerism in the guise of religious festival. Not only is consumerism engulfing non-Christians, it is eroding Christian values too. The most potent expression of this is that practising Christians are increasingly dropping out of midnight mass and the morning service which the festivities complement.

This is not to say that people and society should be static. Christmas day has always been a moveable feast. Beginning as a pagan festival, it was appropriated by Christians for reasons lost in the mists of time. Regardless of origins, Christmas came to signify something that resonated with billions. Even non-believers, such as Mahatma Gandhi, admired it. However in stark contrast to him, today's emphasis on presents and the acquisition of things speaks volumes about our society and highlights why we need to emphasise the motivating reasons for the festival. Otherwise we run the risk of losing the very human values and ideals that Christmas represents.








The release of classified US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks has caused red faces in Washington and outrage elsewhere, including Delhi. But the published details, which offer a worm's eye view of routine diplomacy, have not detonated any explosive secrets. On the contrary, their very ordinariness provides us with a reassuring view of Indian diplomats "as individuals on top of their game", as a former senior American official put it to me.

Despite occasional opposition accusations of selling out the national interest, the impression from WikiLeaks is that Indian diplomats represent their country with tenacity, tact and humour. A June 2009 cable with the subject heading, 'Menon tough on Pakistan, bullish on bilateral relationship', is a good case study for aspiring foreign envoys.

The US embassy reported on the then foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon's conversation with visiting US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Richard Boucher. In that cable, the MEA's best and brightest come across as suave and friendly, eager to build good relations with the US but tough in defending India's core interests. For example, when Boucher urged India to "tone down" its rhetoric in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Menon not only defended India's stance but forcefully explained the logic behind it.

It was essential, Menon said, to publicly pressure Pakistan's security services to make the strategic decision to cut ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba, something the civilian government was powerless to force through. He pointed out that even though the Jaish-e-Mohammad was behind the assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, the Pakistani army did not feel compelled to crack down on the group which Menon said remains operational and has grown more lethal. He bluntly told Boucher: "Let's not insult one another by telling a story that the Pakistan Army was not involved. The Pakistan Army paid wages to Lashkar-e-Tayiba...and until these ties are severed, India would continue to regard the Pakistani security services as complicit in the Mumbai attacks."

Menon noted that there was a huge confluence of interests between India and the US and that "as long as that exists, we will work together". When Boucher assured Menon that India could rely on the US to keep up the pressure on Pakistan, Menon quipped, "And you can count on our pressure on you to help you do it."

India also demonstrated its tough-love approach to Iran, despite telling the Americans that Iran could play a positive role in stability in Afghanistan. Iran's common border with Afghanistan, strong links with the Hazara ethnic group and its economic and cultural connections, Indian diplomats pointed out, were good reasons to involve Tehran in shaping a solution. While frankly telling the Americans that he was sceptical about the effect of new sanctions on Iran, Menon assured the US that India would continue to implement any sanctions approved by the UNSC. He also told the US that Iranians were "hopping mad" about India's vote for sanctions. It would certainly seem US officials held their Indian counterparts in high esteem, particularly in matters relating to developments in Tehran. A February 2007 cable laying the groundwork for an upcoming session of the India-US Counter-Terrorism Joint Working Group noted that K C Singh, formerly New Delhi's ambassador in Tehran, was able to offer "superb insight on the Iranian regime".

Indeed, with hindsight, the positions that Indian diplomats have taken on the questions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have generally proven to be correct. New Delhi has all along been sceptical about a deal with the Taliban - that scepticism has since been borne out by events. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told the late Richard Holbrooke last January that reintegration with the Taliban could work if it is Afghan-led, if it is painstaking in its selection, and if it involves real commitments to respect human rights and the Constitution. She underscored her scepticism by noting that "these are big ifs".

The cables WikiLeaks has released thus far represent but a tiny fraction of those in its possession. It is probable future disclosures will cast India's officials - and those of other countries - in a less flattering light. For the time being at least, the denizens of South Block should revel in the, albeit unsolicited, attention their work is receiving. Indians, meanwhile, should be proud their diplomats emerge from the classified cables as thoughtful and effective representatives of the national interest.









A city dweller who spends Rs2,000 a month on his food eats less cereals than the guy who spends Rs1,500. But the richer man's diet includes an extra 10% pulses, 60% meat and eggs, 25% vegetables, 50% milk and over 100% fruits. And the man who could spend Rs1,500 a month on his food in 2004 could by 2009 spend Rs2,000. A government geared to keeping cereal prices in check has been caught on the wrong foot by India's changing diet.


And in cereals, despite decades of intervention by the State every step of the way, there is less going around per head today than there was in 1965. The continuing story in the inexorable rise of food prices is the Indian population is growing faster


than farm output. At an estimated 1.5%, the annual rate of increase in population was ahead of the 1% growth in grain production in 2008-09.


Vegetables, livestock and dairy, which are outside of the official machinery of price controls, procurement and subsidy, are persistently keeping food inflation high as a wealthier India learns to eat better. The change in tastes could explain why food prices have been stubborn in a good monsoon year. They fell from an average of 15.7% in the first quarter of 2010-11 to 12.3% in the next three months, to 10% in October and further in November before rising to 12.13% in the second week of December. The worry is they will rise faster as spikes in the prices of onions and tomatoes get captured in inflation data for subsequent weeks. Depending on how you choose to measure it, food makes up from 25% to 65% of the weight in the several price indices the government puts out.


The government cannot afford to ignore the issues that show up when vegetable prices hit the roof. Foremost is farm productivity, which has languished for a quarter of a century. India has been unable to build on the gains of the Green Revo-lution and its food security is increasingly under threat. Enhanced farm productivity is vital for keeping food prices in check on the one hand and raising rural incomes on the other. Second, India's farm supply chain remains horribly antiquated and a quarter of its vegetables rot before reaching the market. Furthermore, it costs nearly Rs7 to transfer one rupee worth of benefits to the poor through the public distribution system and just over half the total food subsidy reaches the consumer. Finally, the trade in India's agricultural output is loosely policed, resulting in prices tripling between the farm and the kitchen.







India has often been called a country of contradictions, one impossible to categorise and store away in any neatly labelled box. But for all our multitudinous truths, we always knew — even if we couldn't explain it to anyone on the outside — how an intangible pride in being Indian,  in believing in the idea of India, held our nation-State together. And our great, burgeoning middle-class  powered the engine of a country that believed it was in the road to great things.


Suddenly, however, our paradoxes appear to drag us down into a morass of fear and loathing.


Of course, we must applaud the fact that the righteous anger of ordinary people and a sustained campaign by the Opposition has finally seen long overdue action against A Raja and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids at the homes of the Commonwealth Games chief (and Congress MP) Suresh Kalmadi. And, of course, the Opposition and the people must ask the government why these interventions weren't made much earlier at the highest level.


People are entitled to be cynical and ask whether the gates of the barn are being bolted after the horses have fled. Who will seriously believe, for example, that the so-called 'Raja diaries' have survived over the many years that the former telecom minister had a chance to destroy all possible evidence. We have a legitimate right to question the naturally status quoist impulses of the ruling coalition and make them accountable for an exasperating slowness of action.


But, as we scrutinise others, we should also turn the gaze inwards and once again, ponder the paradox. Right before the Commonwealth Games were unrolled, countless viewers and readers wrote in to news organisations to say that the sustained media campaign on corruption allegations around the event was making India look bad in the eyes of the world.


Newscasts were seen as instruments of negativity at a time when the country needed to feel good about its athletes and itself. Now, in a contradiction we are barely aware of, we have unleashed waves of negativity all around us — and in a strange display of sado-masochism — are almost happy being swept up in an  oceanic storm of generalised hate. The CBI raids have become the newest spectator sport and our motto of justice appears to have settled for the medieval slogan of 'throw them to lions'.


Similarly,  just a couple of months ago, we immaturely sought validation for our self-image in the mirror the American president held up to us and jumped through hoops when Barack Obama said India was no longer an emerging economy, but a country that had already "emerged." Now, in a bizarre fit of self-loathing and cynicism we have gone to the other extreme and lost confidence in our capacity to be a proud, performance-oriented country.


While we have every right to make our institutions — politicians, businessmen, judges and journalists — accountable to higher standards of leadership, should we not question our possible fickleness and impressionability as well? Take for example, the middle-class celebration of how many Indians end up on the Forbes list of billionaires. I personally always found the vicarious gratification it seemed to give us cringe-worthy, but also understood our emotional need for India to be defined in images other than postcards of poverty. But, now we have reversed our blind admiration and condemned all the same men as evil chieftains of a cavernous, corporate empire.


Of course, we must question how big business makes its money and demand transparency and honesty in how our natural resources are allocated for money-making ventures. As Raghuram Rajan has argued presciently, too many billionaires in India have made their money from proximity to political power. But while these are genuine faultlines to explore and debate, must we lurch from one extreme to the other, alternating between easy, simplistic labels of praise and derision?


In other words, our public discourse appears to have lost the nuance and the complexity of thought that is so crucial to an enlightened democracy. We are in danger of becoming a country whose portrait is captured by the easy broadstroke; one that ignores  the detail of the fine brush and misses the difference between the sunshine and the shadows.


In this present gladiatorial environment, we respond to the controversial, and many would say, scandalous court verdict of Binayak Sen (found guilty of treason, with what his supporters say is fabricated evidence) with the same 'off with his head' anger that we show for Kalmadi.


Perhaps the polarisations thrown up by ideological extremes have shrunk the middle ground where the truth usually resides. So, today, for some people, Ratan Tata has become a metaphor for all that is wrong in the business-political interface  and for others on the opposite side of the divide, Binayak Sen is happily classified as a seditious villain. Aren't all of these labels problematic, unjust and most importantly, caricatures of the truth?


We, in the media, must take part of the blame for how easily and lazily some narratives are constructed around individuals. Are we in danger of losing the distinction between robust, independent reporting (which has often pushed the government to act) and television studios that double as kangaroo courts. I must confess to a sense of disquiet at how easily we judge others and how hysterical the environment we inhabit appears to have become. We are grappling with important questions about whether our journalism is adversarial and anti-establishment enough. But we must also ask ourselves whether we always use this power as responsibly as we should. Or are we feeding the  frenzy of a country that seems hell-bent on devouring itself?


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal.







People travel for a variety of reasons. Some travel to discover new places, others to reunite with families in distant lands. Some travel on work, others take religious pilgrimages. There are those who want action-packed adventure vacations, some don't want anything more strenuous than the spa. Some believe, philosophically that we travel to get there, others insist that we get there to travel.  And then there are, luckily for us, those who travel to write (VS Naipaul, Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux, thank you).


Regardless of the reason, human beings have been on the move since the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Guided by a primordial urge to seek newer grounds, human beings still instinctively seek to stretch out, conquer, discover, or rediscover their world. We use parallels with travel to describe life (a journey) or marriage (the road ahead). Many universities offer semesters in one or another foreign university in study away programmes. Travel, clearly, is the best education.


For years I travelled for a less lofty reason: to spend time with my family. In the daily rut of Delhi life, it was easy to fall into a pattern where conversations often included such gems as: "Homework done yet?" Or, "When did you say your meeting in Bombay was?" It was only away from the routine of life that we could dig deep. On a long walk with my younger daughter around Khecheopalri Lake in Sikkim we spoke about death and trying to deal with it. Driving down the Konkan coast on another vacation, my elder daughter first told me about why she wanted to be a lawyer.


Not every conversation was loaded with meaning. In dak bungalows and forest lodges, we played board games, read our books and exchanged very bad jokes in the light of the petromax. Or we'd wander off to the nearest kirana store to buy dal or unfamiliar local vegetables. The point was that we were all disconnected from our 'real' lives, discovering, exploring, unwinding and, mostly, laughing. We grew as a family as we discovered new places together or took our children back to the ones we had loved before they were born.


But as the years went on and the children moved into more 'serious' classes with life-determining board exams and suchlike deciding their routines, holidays became fewer and more precious. Vacations of just goofing off became even rarer. Our lifestyles seemed to have changed to a point where the long vacation – I'm thinking of the annual month-long visit we made as children to visit our granny — became an anachronism. Even 10 days off seemed like a forbidden luxury.


Now, time was at a premium, something to be spent wisely: what was the point of doing a 16-hour road trip to Manali when you could fly to Kulu, and take the cab ride from there, instead? And, hey, what about those nifty four night/five-day packages to faraway foreign locations? What great value for money — and free breakfast too. But did they add value in building a portfolio of memory? I'm not sure you can get nostalgic over a shopping mall in Dubai or a massage in Bangkok.


Add to this the stress factor. Post 9/11, the fear of flying has taken on new meaning. Terror threats seem to become more sinister during the holiday season. In Mumbai, right now, police are looking for LeT operatives, asking people to avoid crowds and places of worship. In Rome, parcel bombs have just gone off in some embassies. No matter how abhorrent we find it, we are resigned to invasive physical searches and full-body scanners.


And yet, incredibly, we make plans to spread our wings. Guided by low-cost carriers, the temptations of dozens of glossy travel magazines and a new exploratory desire to traverse our globalised, flat world, we seek new experiences or try to recreate familiar ones.


Ideally, travel must take us out of familiar zones to new cultures, new ways of life and new ways of doing things. When we return, we're the same people. Of course we are. We just see our world differently.


Happy holidays and safe travel.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.




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

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

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

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






A democracy cannot master the art of the party faithful, any party faithful, sitting in a circle, nervously watching who stays and who falls. Not long ago, the communist dictatorships would go through the macabre routine of who survived the demise or disgrace of a supreme leader and who didn't. Accordingly, the party line would change. A party line in a democracy tends to be constructed on at least a semblance of consensus, and an individual's exit rarely overhauls it overnight. That's the rule.P.V. Narasimha Rao seemed the exception — a giant, apparently forgotten readily by design. As prime minister for a half-decade, he had the Congress party in his grip, till it all slipped away, culminating in the party's loss of power. In the eight years from 1996 to 2004 that the Congress was out of direct power or in the opposition, Rao had become a pariah. In December of the year the party returned to power, Rao passed away and, over the next six years, the memory and mention of him drew a blank from the Congress, so much so that his picture didn't figure in the pantheon of Congress PMs. Six Decembers later, Rao is back, and his legacy reclaimed overnight.Even as one might dismiss it all as a political expedient to rescue the Congress's beleaguered party and government in Andhra Pradesh, where it's been in a free-fall post-YSR, can the calculated retrieval of Rao be placed at all in a larger pattern of how reputations sink and rise with the circles history weaves around politics? From the evidence, the Congress only senses the need to rapidly fill the vacuum left by YSR and thwart Jaganmohan Reddy as well as Chandrababu Naidu. Lost in the midst of possible motives, however, is the simple fact that Rao has been officially remembered on his death anniversary. Sincerity is another matter. After all, his legacy is not a mere footnote in India's history.







Food prices are on the rise again. In addition to reducing real income of people, since food constitutes a large share of the consumption basket of the poor, food price inflation also has the risk of feeding into higher wages and continuing the wage-price spiral that India has started facing in recent months. Higher inflation is bad for growth and investment as uncertainty makes investment decisions more risky. Improving the policy framework for agriculture and moving away from a pro-cereal policy have become essential not only to make the lives of the common person comfortable, but also to keep up India's growth and investment momentum.With rapid economic growth and rising incomes in India, the total percentage of income spent on food has declined. Along with this, there has been an increase in the share of high-value products within food expenditure. Cereals are being replaced with fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and poultry. The per capita monthly consumption of cereals in the period from 1983 to 2004-05 came down from 14.3 kg to 12.1 kg in rural areas and from 11.6 kg to 9.9 kg in urban areas, and the corresponding consumption of high-value commodities has increased. This means there's a higher demand for non-cereal food.Why is supply not adjusting to keep up with the increase in demand? Higher prices should mean farmers are incentivised to produce more of the items in shortage. The answer lies in the government's policy on food, which is still centred around foodgrains. Through subsidies on inputs, irrigation and power, the government has steered farmers towards producing cereal crops. However, in recent years, there has been surplus production of cereal. The government's policy of encouraging production of cereals has diverted production away from fruits and vegetables. A shift in public policy away from cereals needs political leadership as it will hurt the interests of mechanised rich farmers with large land holdings, who are profiting from the existing cereal-oriented policy. However, it'll benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers and landless workers. Road networks, cold storages and access to markets have been seen to have a very significant impact on the shift towards production of high-value agricultural products. Milk, fish, meat, fruit and vegetables are more perishable and require more infrastructural facilities like cold storage chains and good roads than do cereals.


The government cannot keep addressing the issue by short-term responses any more.







The film industry is starkly split over proposed amendments to the copyright act, which are set to finally bring a measure of fairness to the question of credit and compensation. In the current system, the creativity and labour of composers, songwriters and scriptwriters are sold miserably short. Industry practice so far has been that they sign over their copyright to the producer for a one-time payment and entirely let go of their work. But so reluctant are film producers to let go, that they have threatened an indefinite strike unless the amendment is slashed, claiming this "anti-entertainment" action would "kill the industry". The Film Federation of India is even considering cutting songwriter Javed Akhtar out entirely, by refusing to give him any work, for daring to champion the amendment. The producers claim that nobody shares in the losses, so the profits should remain theirs — which is a specious argument, since the songwriters and screenwriters are simply asking for a portion of whatever fate awaits the film. For instance, the success of a movie soundtrack depends on the combined efforts of the singers, the songwriter, the composer, the actors, the director, and many others. And yet, all of these people have to cede their control at the initial contract stage, and watch from the sidelines if the song goes on to become a viral sensation, rakes in money on TV or radio or through ringtones. In the media environment we live in, there are many points where revenues can be wrung out, and if the copyright amendment goes through, it would give these other artists independent rights over their contribution and royalties. Establishing moral rights for performers would not only acknowledge their authorship, it would also curb the twisting of their intent (for instance, many old-time composers who bristle at their work being crudely remixed might actually have a say in the matter).This friction over the copyright amendments is only to be expected, but this kind of selfish industrial action should not deter us from updating our copyright law for the digital millennium, and making it a fairer arrangement.










That what should have normally been the silly season turned out to be such a politically charged fortnight was probably to be expected, with a much delayed AICC plenary and the BJP's big rally in the capital. But the surprise of surprises is evidence of the first stirrings of some real introspection in the Congress. Not much of it is openly articulated, or even whispered. That would be too much to expect from a party whose basic instinct is sycophancy. Yet you now sense an unprecedented, deeper, healthier rethink. This change is probably led by none else than the Family.Sonia Gandhi's belated and fond remembrance of Narasimha Rao is a more significant event than it would seem. The Congress has spent nearly a decade-and-a-half disowning and condemning Rao, and generally holding him responsible for whatever may have led to the downturn in the party's fortunes. Babri Masjid was demolished under his watch and the Congress moved to soft Hindutva leading, it was concluded, to the loss of the Muslim vote. So he was responsible for both calamities: decline of the Congress, and the rise of the Hindu right. He was so reviled that the truck bearing his body was not allowed even symbolic entry into AICC headquarters.You could, indeed, dismiss this hint of Rao's rehabilitation as a response to the challenge in Andhra. But I will be more optimistic in guessing that this is a signal for some subtle, and significant, course correction by Sonia Gandhi herself. One would have to be brave to argue that maybe now the Family itself is willing to give the sycophancy-driven party a signal that the times when simply the call from a Gandhi, or two Gandhis as is the case now, will win them elections are now over. That, the party may now need to remember the contribution of some significant others as well?


The larger argument, however, is not about the political resurrection of a long-demised individual. It is about what and whose achievements the Congress party of today, and more significantly, in 2014 goes to the voter with. If it has seen the need to remember Rao after 15 years, for how long could it afford to overlook the real legacy of UPA's 10 years? This is an important question because in this new, and uncharacteristic, churning in the Congress today you see a fascinating interplay of two views. The dominant one, of course, is that the party needs no more than the name of the Gandhis, and a return to the pre-Rao ideological positioning: hard socialism, hard secularism and even a kind of anti-Americanism. This, it is argued, would bring back the old votebanks, the Muslims, adivasis, the Dalits and the poor in general. The challenger view, held by a very small, brave minority, is that slogans that got you votes until 1980 can no longer work, nor can the mere name of the Family, in 2014, particularly when more than half the population in 2014 would have been born after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. But this view will have no future unless the Gandhis themselves encourage it.The Congress party's instinctive old view was fully articulated by Digvijaya Singh at the AICC meet and if you read it with what he has been saying on Naxalism and tribals, the pattern becomes clear. His idea, and his is by no means an insignificant support base in the party, is to return to hard secularism (even more than socialism) and thereby first scaring the Muslims of the RSS and then impressing them by taking it on frontally. The only problem is, the Muslims need no further persuasion to fear the RSS. Even as they have abandoned the Congress as a permanent votebank, they have voted tactically to defeat the BJP. Except, they are no longer willing to be taken for granted. In each state they look for the party, or the candidate, most likely to defeat the BJP and vote with that one purpose. So if the Congress does not have the ability (the Urdu word, auqat, might be more apt) to defeat the BJP in, say, UP, they would not waste their vote out of some old affection but vote for the SP or BSP instead. Where the Congress is a credible opposition to the BJP, as in Maharashtra, Andhra, Karnataka or even Gujarat, they vote for it. So this entire new strategic turn to hard RSS-bashing is so much hot air. The same would apply to the 2010 Congress party's Old Guard's nostalgia for hard socialism. You talk sadly of the poor all the time, of two Indias, of the hapless aam admi who suffers for lack of connections, and the voter turns around and asks, so what have your party's governments been doing for 50 years out of 63 since 1947? Some in the party now acknowledge the laziness of this approach. Because if it impressed anybody even a bit, the party would not have lost its deposit in 221 of the 243 seats in Bihar.


I had said last week that some of the lingering distortions in the Congress worldview are rooted in a faulty analysis on the 2004 verdict as being some kind of a permanent condemnation of the idea of a shining India. These distortions have also been compounded by a faulty reading of the 2009 verdict. You ask a Congressman and he will tell you they won because of NREGA and farm loan waivers. Almost nobody would credit their re-election on five full years of 8 per cent growth. It is the NAC-driven largesse, they say, that made the poor return to the Congress. What does the data say? In Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where the largest percentage of the population is under the poverty line, the Congress got just 10 seats out of 86. Even if you add the other Bimaru states, MP and UP (but not Rajasthan which has moved on), the party's tally was just 48 out of 208. So the poor and the tribals really did not return to the UPA in spite of NREGA, loan waiver and the Forest Rights Act. In fact, in 47 ST seats countrywide, it won 19. The ones who voted for it, on the other hand, were the cities and upwardly mobile, urbanising, aspirational states. The Congress or its allies swept every major city (except Bangalore and Ahmedabad), and urbanising states. Out of the 204 seats in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra and even Gujarat, it collected 134 seats, exactly two-thirds.You could argue, therefore, that what got the UPA re-elected was growth rather than the scattering of povertarian largesse at the poor. Looking ahead to 2014, you could either believe that another five years of 9 per cent growth would bring you even better results than 2004, and mould your slogans and political agenda accordingly, or make a hard reverse to 1980 in the hope that the oldest formulae would still work best. Evidence of data tells you clearly which is the smarter course. And since 1991 did not merely mark the beginning of India's modern growth story, but also the final burial of old-style socialism, you can be forgiven for hoping that Sonia's restoration of Narasimha Rao in the Congress pantheon might mark the first stirrings of a welcome rethink.








For a country which is so proud that it gave the world the Bhagavad Gita, it is ironic how often its core message is ignored. Take for instance, the world of science and technology. Just like the quadrennial Olympics or Asian Games produce a momentary, albeit passionate, interest in sports, our interest in science is fleetingly elevated during the times when Nobel Prizes are given out. As the often heard message from the Gita tells you, it is the labour of science itself and not rewards like the Nobel Prize that one must strive for. The most recent laureate of Indian origin, Venky Ramakrishnan, stressed this point during a recent interaction with students in Delhi. There are several reasons why I think this is important. From a purely statistical point of view, the odds of a scientist winning a Nobel Prize are comparable to the odds of winning a lottery. No rational scientist would set out to win a Nobel Prize at the beginning of her career. More importantly, it's the pleasure of doing science rather than winning prizes that drives successful scientists like Ramakrishnan. The rewards of pursuing basic science are often unexpected and realised over the long term. Not even Ramanujan could have predicted that the esoteric mathematical problems he was pursuing would have implications in the very practical problem of security encryption today. The elucidation of the structure of the atom was key to advances ranging from nuclear energy to semiconductor research and the ubiquitous computer. The list is endless. None of these advances would have been possible if a short-sighted view of basic research had been taken.From the nation's point of view, history has shown that scientifically advanced nations have not only been able to protect themselves better during times of war but also feed, clothe and care for the health of their citizens. An often heard debate is that regarding the allocation of resources to the pursuit of science vis-à-vis immediate priorities and needs. There is no easy answer to this question but a model that has worked well in America is to build an eco-system that represents different interests. Researchers who pursue basic science, technologists who seek to translate viable ideas into applications, entrepreneurs who are able to create a market for new products and ideas and finally a population that has the risk appetite to try things new and untested. This is easier said than done but the recognition that it takes many different kinds of people to build the ecosystem is essential. The ivory tower academic and the cynic who seeks only immediate solutions are both undesirable extremes.So what can India do to encourage younger people to pursue science? The easy and lazy answer is to say that things will just improve as the economy grows and the nation has more resources to spend on science. However, the trouble with this approach is that science and technology are influencing our lives to an ever greater extent. Our chalta-hai attitude could lead us to fall far behind nations that are pro-actively pursuing basic research. Given the demographic dividend that we are assured is our path to prosperity, we need to use this base of young people to also further scientific research in this country. Parents need to inculcate a greater curiosity in children and encourage them to question things around them. Young adults moving out of college and into careers have to acquire the maturity to look beyond the best-paying job they can lay their hands on and try to find what it is that really interests them. Role models play a huge role in this process and people like Ramakrishnan or Amartya Sen can exercise a huge influence on students by speaking about these issues. One practical step that the government could take is to hugely increase the number of science graduates from our premier technological institutes like the IITs. Given that they already possess the basic infrastructure to do so and given that they attract a large number of students who have done well in science at the school level, it would make definite sense to increase the number of pure science graduates from these institutions. The boundary between science and technology is only blurring as the years go by and having these institutes generate more science graduates would help both the IITs and the pursuit of science in India. Last but not least, research carries with it the pure pleasure of discovering nature's laws — something which is without comparison.


The writer is CEO and co-founder, Achira Labs,








Chinese cheers


Pakistan's newspapers were upbeat after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's address to parliament. Daily Times quoted him on December 20: "Pakistan's sacrifices in the global fight against terrorism should be recognised and respected by the international community." The News added: "China would firmly support Pakistan in its efforts to safeguard its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity."


During Wen's three-day visit, Pakistan and China signed 35 new pacts, expected to bring in $30 billion of investment to Pakistan over the next five years... However, in the Daily Times view, "the fresh trade deals with Pakistan were dwarfed by those signed on Wen's trip to India, where he and his 400-strong delegation signed deals to double trade to $100 billion a year by 2015."


Pakistan's richest province in terms of natural resources, Balochistan, was offered to China for exploration by its chief minister, Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani. Daily Times reported that Raisani said China could play a remarkable role in mines and minerals-related work in Balochistan. He also lauded Chinese help in developing the strategically important Gwadar port, and "hoped for its expansion by China."


Newspapers also quoted various politicians heaping praise on Wen. The News quoted foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi: "The US or any other power is not in a position to create hurdles in Pak-China ties as the two countries enjoy deep, old and brotherly relations." He also emphasised that China's position is "clear about Kashmir." The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, reportedly told Wen that the government and opposition "may have differences, but when it comes to the issue of Sino-Pak friendship, they stand united."


Winds of change


This is a season of changing political equations in Pakistan. Maulana Fazlur Rehman's party, the JUI-F, quit the federal government after two of its legislators were fired by the PPP leadership is an aftermath of the Haj scam. The PPP's other ally, the MQM, is miffed because of Sindh Home Minister and PPP stalwart Zulfiqar Mirza's insinuation that the MQM was behind the spate of target killings in Karachi.


The two "hurt" parties came together, reported Daily Times on December 21: "an MQM delegation met (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman at his residence in Islamabad and agreed to continue strengthening their contacts in the future... the two said they shared a common viewpoint on many issues, adding that the PPP-led government was not addressing the concerns of its allies."


JUI-F applied for seats on the opposition benches in parliament, reported Daily Times on December 21. The News reported on December 21 that after separate meetings with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Zardari, the MQM was assured that their concerns vis-a-vis the Sindh home minister's remarks would be addressed. Meanwhile, PMLQ and JUI-F were reportedly contemplating joining forces to "change" the CM of Balochistan. The current CM is from the PPP.


Zardari calling Sharif


With two major allies annoyed, the PPP looks shaky, especially at a time when parliament is in session and a controversial bill is coming up for discussion. Zardari, once again, reached out to Nawaz Sharif, reported Dawn on December 20: "Amid political uncertainty in the country, President Asif Zardari... extended an olive branch to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, seeking his cooperation for getting the controversial Reformed General Sales Tax approved from the National Assembly and addressing some other important issues, including promulgation of a new accountability bill, threats to democracy and political instability."







It snows in winter. This shattering discovery has now cast Britain and France into chaos for a week, with London's dysfunctional Heathrow airport leading British claims to be officially designated a third-world nation. Brits have been glued to the radio listening to people like the director of Alaska's Anchorage airport describe how, with the help of vehicles called snowplows and stuff called de-icing fluid, it's actually possible in the 21st century to keep an airport open after a snowstorm. As much has proved beyond Heathrow and the UK airports operator BAA, whose elaborate Christmas production, "Fiasco", follow-up performance, "Debacle", and grand finale, "Collapse" have left thousands of passengers stranded and tens of thousands fuming at the world's biggest international hub. Colin Matthews, the BAA chief executive, has decided to "give up my bonus for the current year" to focus on "getting people moving." Well, gosh, that's good of you, sir. It's true that at a certain point cutting costs to increase BAA margins and so boost your bonus does conflict with "getting people moving," especially when the cuts mean no investment in the equipment airports need when it snows. British Airways alone has cancelled more than 2,000 flights. Heathrow is the hub that makes you blub. The French meanwhile have been blaming the government for their own mega-production, "Catastrophe." Can there really be, in nanny-state France, a government unable to predict snow in winter or deal with it? Pas possible! What we are witnessing on either side of the Channel is the double whammy of a debt-ridden public sector making cuts wherever it can and a bonus-addicted private sector making cuts wherever it's profitable — with the resultant disaster foisted on a general public now so cowed and coddled and fearful and risk-averse in the age of terror and technology that an inch or two of snow sends everyone into a blind panicAdd to that dismal stew a pinch of global warming, which some people, including Matthews, apparently took to mean the end of European winters, and you end up with the current farce. Europe, thy name is pitiful. I can report that it did snow in London last Friday and Saturday. The snowfall bore about the same relation to a blizzard as a gentle breeze does to a gale. Jane Weist, on a Miami-bound BA flight that evening, sat for six hours only to return to the terminal. She was still there three days later trying to escape a departure lounge littered with mattresses, blankets, pillows — and the terminally enraged. "It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes," suggested Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. Yes, Boris, it's beyond the wit of man. Five days after the above-mentioned snow flurry, Heathrow was still busy cancelling flights. As for Eurostar and Eurotunnel, which ferry passengers by train through the Channel Tunnel, they've also undergone near-implosion. Delayed six hours at Folkestone awaiting the Eurotunnel service, I was told eight out of 10 trains had broken. I dared to ask why. "It's the snow, sir." This was three days after it snowed — and in a tunnel! French anger has focused on the Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, who has become a laughing stock. In the Parisian gridlock, he declared, there was "no mess, and the proof is it took the prefect three minutes to get here!" That was when it took my colleague Richard Berry 13 hours to drive the 50 miles from office to home. Do the math: that's an average of about four miles an hour. It would have been about as quick, if chilly, to walk. Apparently, if you don't want to blame greed or the cuts or Matthews or the breakdown of the French state, you can blame the North Atlantic oscillation. That, for the uninitiated, is the difference of atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Icelandic low and the Azores high. When the difference is low, Arctic air penetrates Europe. This, according to some, is the result of global warming. So if all else fails, blame global warming for the freeze. Some Brits aren't buying it. The Guardian's George Monbiot reported angry calls: "It's minus 18 degrees Celsius and my pipes have frozen. You liar. Is this your global warming?" Not exactly: It's the age of pass-the-buck, blame-anybody-but-yourself technology-induced, pasty-faced, initiative-starved helplessness in a Europe that's forgotten what a shovel looks like. Happy holidays, everyone. See you in 2011. roger cohen








I read the recently declassified account of former US Ambassador Robert F. Goheen's interview with Morarji Desai on June 7, 1979, as a person then involved with the Indian side of decision-making ('US '79 memo: Let's sell Pakistan F-16s and prevent n-proliferation,' IE, December 24). I wonder whether this was an input sought by the US national security establishment before the issue of the infamous national security presidential directive of July 3, 1979, authorising joint US-Pakistan operations in Afghanistan, which, in due course, triggered the Soviet intervention in December 1979. In retrospect, it would appear that the presidential directive instigated by national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski led to the biggest-ever setback to American national security. First, it led to the rise of jihadism, as a result of the combined strategy adopted by the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This has recently been admitted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It also resulted in the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Pakistan, which enabled Islamabad to develop the nuclear deterrent derivative of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, to be used not only against India but the US as well. The link between the CIA and Dr A.Q. Khan, even before he arrived with all his purloined documentation in Pakistan, has been exposed by the disclosures of Ruud Lubbers, the former Dutch prime minister. The fact is that in spite of his known record, not only was he allowed to move freely between China, Pakistan and Europe, but he was also rescued for the second time from Dutch authorities in 1986 by CIA intervention. That would indicate that the CIA had an interest in Khan throughout the period. The issue that has not so far been explored by American as well as Indian scholars of proliferation was, firstly, the connection between the CIA and Khan and, secondly, the US interest in permitting nuclear proliferation to Pakistan. Brzezinski has since come out with the disclosures that permissiveness of nuclear proliferation was the price to be paid to obtain Pakistani support for the anti-Soviet campaign. In 1982, in discussions between Alexander Haig, the US secretary of state, and the Pakistani team led by Agha Shahi and General K. M. Arif (referred to in General Arif's book, Serving with Zia), Haig agreed that the Pakistani nuclear programme would not come in the way of US-Pakistan collaboration. The extensive proliferation activity by China to Pakistan during this period has been disclosed in Khan's letters to his wife, when he feared that he was going to be proceeded against, copies of which have been made available by the correspondent Simon Henderson. Most of the information on Khan being set up with a Manhattan Project-type exclusive military programme under an engineering general, and data on the imports, were all available even in India at that time. The Indian Joint Intelligence Committee chaired by me concluded in January 1979 that Pakistan was on its way to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The intelligence-gathering effort at that time was ably headed by K. Santhanam as deputy director of R&AW. The JIC's report was considered by the cabinet committee on political affairs in March 1979. During the course of the discussion, I was told by the then cabinet secretary, Nirmal Mukarji, that while Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were against any immediate action, the other three cabinet members — H.M. Patel, Jagjivan Ram, and Charan Singh — were clearly in favour of initiating appropriate action. On the basis of the information given to me, I wrote out a manuscript minute, in my capacity as additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, that appropriate directions were issued to the chairman. Morarji Desai approved this minute and the cabinet secretary asked me to deliver it in person to Homi Sethna in Bombay, which I did. The meeting itself was attended by the five ministers, the cabinet secretary, the secretary to the prime minister, V. Shankar, and Sethna. All the other secretaries were kept out of the meeting. Therefore, there are unlikely to be any records on those events in the Cabinet Secretariat. Reflecting over those developments in hindsight, and with the wisdom and information of the last 30 years, I am left with a number of very puzzling questions on US policy and conduct. The enormous amount of material available on Chinese proliferation help to Pakistan has been referred to in the Santhanam's deposition to the Kargil Review Committee. We have so far been speculating on Chinese proliferation to Pakistan. If we take into account the Cold War situation then, and the policies pursued by people like Carter and Reagan, it is today a legitimate issue to investigate whether A.Q. Khan and Pakistan were used by the US as a conduit to deliver centrifuge technology to China. Centrifuge technology was developed by Gernot Zippe, a German prisoner of war in Russian hands, in the 1950s. After his release, it was developed by the Germans and transmitted to Almelo where Khan was employed. Were the Americans interested in improvising and increasing the efficiency of the Chinese nuclear weapons programme as one of the countervailing elements in their Cold War against the Soviet Union? Just as they used Catholicism in Eastern Europe, Islam in Brzezinski's "Arc of Crisis", and the Star Wars programme to increase the burden on the Soviet Union, were they also trying to strengthen the Chinese nuclear programme vis-à-vis the Soviet Union by using Khan and Pakistan as conduits? It is to be recalled that there was–– major debate in the US establishment at that stage. Already by 1977, views emerged in sections of the CIA that the Soviet economy was declining and the Soviet Union was heading for a crisis. At that time, the deputy director of the CIA in charge of the Soviet Union was Robert Gates. This view was challenged by hardliners — including Brzezinski — who then set up a "Team B" which included people like Paul Wolfowitz, who came to a different conclusion: that the Soviet Union did constitute a very serious and major threat. The US has committed strategic blunders like mistaking Vietnamese nationalism as an extension of Chinese communism, not understanding the risks in the use of jihadism, and being permissive of Pakistani proliferation. Could there have been yet another major US blunder in trying to convey centrifuge technology to China using Pakistan and Khan? The US may have calculated that Pakistan and Khan would be under their effective control, just like these other previous miscalculations. This is an issue that needs to be pursued.


The writer is a senior defence analyst








The Jalan report on ownership of stock exchanges is flawed on so many counts that it is hard to imagine that anything more could have been added to the report to ensure that it should and/or will be rejected in toto. It is reasonable to speculate that this was perhaps the intention of the eminent committee. Why that might have been so will perhaps be debated over the ensuing months.My purpose here is to demonstrate the assumptions and logical flaws in the report. The overriding theme of the report is that India is unique. In olden days, the view was that "India was incomparable". In 1985, some six years before the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms, looking out from the highest rooftop in Hong Kong, the area surveyed exported more than three times as much than all of India's $12 billion. We excused our miserable performance by alleging that Hong Kong was a city state; China in the same year exported $30 billion, but it was a communist state, and so on. Twenty-five years later, the Jalan report makes the same wrong assertion that India is unique.There are two legs to the Jalan report. The first leg pertains to the assertion that policy on ownership and governance of stock exchanges in India in 2010 needs to incorporate the lessons from the great global financial crisis of 2008-09. If the report is to be believed, India escaped the crisis because of its hugely effective regulatory framework embedded in the RBI and Sebi. Factually, in the more than 200 countries that exist in the world, only a few large western economies had a banking crisis — there was no stock exchange crisis in the entire world, and no banking crisis in any developing country, or even developed economies like Australia, Canada or Japan. The natural conclusion, to most neutral observers, is that the financial crisis of 2008-09 has nothing whatsoever to do with regulations pertaining to banks or stock markets, and even less to do with the ownership regulations of stock exchanges. Previously, India was unique because well, we are like that only. Today, we are unique because we weathered the crisis when "no one else" was able to! Even more remarkable is the report's conclusion that financial institutions like commercial banks are the best guardians of safety of stock exchanges. The fact that nearly all of the financial crises in the world have been caused by banks is lost on the authors. The apne pair pe kulhadi logic of the report continues with its assertion that a stock exchange is a public utility and needs to be treated as such. As we all know, a utility exists when there are externalities, but the report is more than inconsistent in its assertion that stock exchanges should be "viewed more as institutions which are suppliers of an indispensable public good for modern society". Water and air are more indispensable public goods but we have no regulation on the ownership pattern of Pepsi or Tata Motors. The point about a utility is that there are large barriers to entry and/or last mile connectivity. It is understandable that a bank has some of a public good function, and certainly considerably more than a mere arena where speculators can support the price discovery process. In the few meetings that the committee has had with the public, the authors have reiterated the mantra that stock exchanges need regulation. But there is no one on this planet, let alone India, who says that exchanges do not need regulation. However, where the report errs hugely is in not recognising that technology has changed enormously in the last 20 years. This technological change now makes it almost trivial to identify any "wrongs" done by an exchange. Today, the regulator — Sebi — knows the origin of each trade, whether the trade is in the nature of circular trading, whether margins have been deposited, and even has algorithms to detect insider trading. Precisely because of this technological change, and the conflict of interest inherent in the operation of a stock exchange, most mature stock exchanges, and most mature regulators, approve of and encourage the setting up of an independent regulatory firm or firms. These firms are much like credit rating agencies, and yes, such agencies had a role in the latest financial crises. From that it does not follow, as the report seems to infer, that the only way to have an error-free credit rating agency is for it to be owned by the government or for it to be deemed a "public utility" whose profits are curtailed, whose management salaries are capped, etc, or whose ownership pattern does not allow a single investor to own more than 5 per cent of the company! Regulation or laws cannot eliminate scams or fraud or murder — and nor does a strong government role encourage governance, and nor does low individual ownership encourage or discourage good or bad behaviour. The report is left without any arms or legs with its final recommendation regarding the false uniqueness of India (as illustrated above, this recommendation does not logically follow anyway from any of the evidence, heuristic or otherwise, presented in the report). It argues against the listing of a stock exchange. Even in India it is recognised that a necessary, though not sufficient, policy for ensuring corporate governance is that a stock exchange be listed. One needs listing not to satisfy some investors — that argument is one among many obfuscations by the report's authors. Listing is required so that an exchange is answerable to the public and not just to a friendly, or unfriendly, regulator. To argue against listing is the financial equivalent of stone age economics. It is revealing that the chairman of the report, Bimal Jalan, has disassociated himself from the no-listing recommendation.There is a vision of Indian financial markets, shared by most market participants and the authors of the report, that the future of India involves Mumbai as a major financial centre of the world. That is what the government, and the regulator, should be making policy about. That involves competition among the various participants, and stock exchanges. Let there be competition; and competition cannot be ensured if onerous ownership restrictions are imposed. By endorsing the outdated and egregious restrictions/recommendations of only one earlier Sebi report, the Jalan report is left with no legs, no arms, and most importantly, no soul.


Research on Indian financial markets at Oxus Investments is being equally funded by both MCX and NSE. An independent paper I wrote, 'Stock Exchange Ownership in India — Rules, Regulation and Policy' is available at


The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm








The government's admission that it will bear a third of the oil subsidy bill, probably aimed to ensure the smooth progress of the disinvestment in Indian Oil Corporation scheduled later this fiscal year, is yet another indication that half-hearted reforms in the oil sector won't work. This assurance not only puts to rest all hopes that the Administered Price Mechanism will finally be buried, but also rolls back, at one go, the positive impact of the decision of the empowered group of ministers taken in June this year—that the price of petrol and diesel, both at the refinery gate and retail level, will be market-determined and that the growth of subsidies on kerosene and LPG will be curtailed. While this step left petrol pricing to the oil marketing companies, the increase in prices of diesel was to be staggered over time to minimise the overall impact on the poor. However, it only had a partial impact. Though all oil marketing companies registered a profit in the first half of the year, the total under-recovery on oil products was a huge Rs 31,367 crore in the first half of the year; it is expected to now go up to Rs 55,000 crore, which will be much higher than the total under-recovery of Rs 46,051 crore in 2009-10. In the case of diesel, the under-recovery of Rs 11,153 in April-September 2010 was even higher than the total under-recovery of Rs 9,279 crore in the previous year. But the annual estimate, which was based on the assumption of international oil prices of $75 per barrel, is now set to go awry, with the numbers moving over $90 a barrel in December, which is substantially higher than the Indian crude oil import basket cost of $76.6 in the first half of the fiscal year.


The prospects are not encouraging, given that the global spare capacity in the oil sector is expected to decline from early 2011 and push up prices much further even earlier. Analysts have, consequently, revised down the earning expectations of the oil marketing companies. Though the government may be wary of increasing diesel prices, given its impact on transport costs and especially in a scenario when food prices are under increasing pressure, the same cannot be said of kerosene and domestic LPG prices, which were supposed to have been periodically revised, based on paying capacity as reflected in the rising per capita incomes.







Employment has always been a sensitive issue, with both economists and policy experts keenly awaiting the results of the various surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisations (NSSO) to identify the most recent trends. The debates have usually pitted the optimists and the pessimists against each other, each group usually trying to interpret and reinterpret the numbers to support their views. The controversies have been extensive, so much so that at one time the Planning Commission even had to bring out two reports on employment in quick succession to accommodate the different viewpoints! In recent times, the quinquennial census for the year 2004-05 indicates that the jobless growth theory expounded by the cynics had no real basis, as the trends showed that, despite the demographic shift and the increase in the share of the young joining the labour force, the growth of those employed increased faster than those seeking employment. The estimates showed that 60 million new jobs were created between 1999-2000 and 2004-05, an annual increment of 12 million jobs.


These findings have now been challenged by a new set of figures from the 64th annual round, brought out earlier this year, which shows that the growth rates of the workforce has suddenly dipped from 3.09% per annum in the 1999-2000 to 2004-05 period to just 0.17% in the 2004-05 to 2007-08 period—this pushed down the annual increments to employment from 12 million per annum to less than a million per annum. This was demolished by C Rangarajan, the head of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, in FE on Friday. Rangarajan and his co-authors argued there were too many kinks in the data to yield meaningful results. Though both sides heap up arguments to bolster their claims, the fact is that, as Rangarajan and his co-authors pointed out, comparisons between the quinquennial rounds and the annual rounds are not strictly kosher, and that is why we wait for five years to re-estimate poverty numbers. So, it is best that the debaters hold their firepower until the results of the next quinquennial round survey, currently underway, are published.








The Jalan report on ownership of stock exchanges is flawed on so many counts that it is hard to imagine that anything more could have been added to the report to ensure that it should and/or will be rejected in toto. It is reasonable to speculate that this was perhaps the intention of the eminent committee. Why that might have been so will perhaps be debated over the ensuing months.


My purpose here is to demonstrate the assumptions and logical flaws in the report. The overriding theme of the report is that India is unique. In olden days, the view was that "India was incomparable". In 1985, some six years before the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms, looking out from the highest roof-top in Hong Kong, the area surveyed exported more than three times as much than all of India's $12 billion. We excused our miserable performance by alleging that Hong Kong was a city state; China in the same year exported $30 billion, but it was a communist state and so on. Twenty-five years later, the Jalan report makes the same wrong assertion that India is unique.


There are two legs to the Jalan report. The first leg pertains to the assertion that policy on ownership and governance of stock exchanges in India in 2010 needs to incorporate the lessons from the global great financial crisis of 2008-09. If the report is to be believed, India escaped the crisis because of its hugely effective regulatory framework embedded in RBI and Sebi. Factually, in the more than 200 countries that exist in the world, only a few large western economies had a banking crisis—there was no stock exchange crisis in the entire world, and no banking crisis in any developing country, or even developed economies like Australia, Canada or Japan. The natural conclusion, to most neutral observers, is that the financial crisis of 2008-09 has nothing whatsoever to do with regulations pertaining to banks or stock markets, and even less to do with the ownership regulations of stock exchanges.


Previously, India was unique because well, we are like that only. Today, we are unique because we weathered the crisis when "no one else" was able to! Even more remarkable is the report's conclusion that financial institutions, e.g. commercial banks, are the best guardians of safety of stock exchanges. The fact that nearly all of the financial crises in the world have been caused by banks is lost on the authors.


The apne pair pe apni kulhadi logic of the report continues with its assertion that a stock exchange is a public utility and needs to be treated as such. As we all know, a utility exists when there are externalities but the report is more than inconsistent in its assertion that stock exchanges should be "viewed more as institutions which are suppliers of an indispensable public good for modern society". Water and air are more indispensable public goods but we have no regulation on the ownership pattern of Pepsi or Tata Motors. The point about a utility is that there are large barriers to entry and/or last mile connectivity. It is understandable that a bank has some of a public good function, and certainly considerably more than a mere arena where speculators can support the price discovery process.


In the few meetings that the committee and its authors have had with the public, the authors have reiterated the mantra that stock exchanges need regulation. But there is no one on this planet, let alone India, who says that exchanges do not need regulation. However, where the report errs hugely is in not recognising that technology has changed enormously in the last 20 years. This technological change now makes it almost trivial the identification of any 'wrongs' done by an exchange. Today, the regulator—Sebi—knows the origin of each trade, whether the trade is in the nature of circular trading, whether margins have been deposited, and even algorithms to detect insider trading.


Precisely because of this technological change, and the conflict of interest inherent in the operation of a stock exchange, most mature stock exchanges, and most mature regulators, approve of and encourage the setting up of an independent regulatory firm or firms. These firms are much like credit rating agencies, and yes, such agencies had a role in the latest financial crises. From that it does not follow, as the report seems to infer, that the only way to have an error-free credit rating agency is for it to be owned by the government or for it to be deemed a 'public utility' whose profits are curtailed, whose management salaries are capped, etc, or whose ownership pattern does not allow a single investor to own more than 5% of the company! Regulation or laws cannot eliminate scams or fraud or murder—and nor does a strong government role encourage governance, and nor does low individual ownership encourage or discourage good or bad behaviour.


The report is left without any arms or legs with its final recommendation regarding the false uniqueness of India (as illustrated above, this recommendation does not logically follow anyway from any of the evidence, heuristic or otherwise, presented in the report). It argues against the listing of a stock exchange. Even in India it is recognised that a necessary, though not sufficient, policy for ensuring corporate governance is that a stock exchange be listed. One needs listing not to satisfy some investors—that argument is one among many obfuscations by the report's authors. Listing is required so that an exchange is answerable to the public and not just to a friendly, or unfriendly, regulator. To argue against listing is the financial equivalent of Stone Age economics. It is revealing that the chairman of the report, Mr Jalan, has disassociated himself from the no listing recommendation.


There is a vision of Indian financial markets, shared by most market participants and the authors of the report, that the future of India involves Mumbai as a major financial centre of the world. That is what the government, and the regulator, should be making policy about. That involves competition among the various participants and stock exchanges. Let there be competition; and competition cannot be ensured if onerous ownership restrictions are imposed. By endorsing the outdated and egregious ownership restrictions/recommendations of only one earlier Sebi report, the Jalan report is left with no legs, no arms, and most importantly, no soul.


—The author is chairman, Oxus Investments. Research on Indian financial markets at Oxus Investments is being equally funded by both MCX and NSE








Over the last 12 months, the euphoria over India's solar mission has been going up and down. Good or bad—the attention always seems to have been directed towards that part of the solar mission which is least relevant to the Indian context—the on-grid part.


On-grid mega solar does have its own issues—land, water and social. But all of that has been swept under the carpet as if solutions will fall from the sky and every story will have happy endings. As usual, in our democratic country, the big players rule and thus on-grid will get the attention—it doesn't matter if we try to ape the solutions of the West even though the conditions and ecosystems are vastly different.


Anyhow, let's focus on the least talked about part of the Indian Solar Mission—the off-grid part. What is the reality today: 500 million Indians do not have access to electricity and 200 million suffer from brownouts. Well, solar is not going to solve the problem of such magnitude but could provide reliable solutions to some parts of the segmentation. Other sustainable energies like small wind, micro-hydro, biomass gasifiers, etc, could together provide holistic solutions at the grassroots level—provided proper planning and implementation.


Some 10% of the total target of 20,000 MW has been allocated under the off-grid part—one that will target the underserved. I sincerely congratulate the Prime Minister on coming up with such an ambitious programme—a visionary idea. Sadly, this visionary idea has been ripped apart to pieces by policies that have been put in place to promote that very part!


The policies trample upon the poor's choices by creating stifling conditions for implementation. The mission policy has followed a completely top-down approach while defining what is good for the poor. There has been lack of involvement of any stakeholder. Neither the end-users nor experienced practitioners have been consulted at length to create a concrete and sustainable policy that is pragmatic and pro-poor.


The policy throttles innovation by strictly defining the products, which are pathetically under-designed, thus leaving the poor to deal with failures. On top of it, the policy also sets the pricing regime, which is so unsustainable that it will only attract low-quality service providers—a perfect recipe for thousands of non-performing systems in the rural areas. Would any other sector like IT have allowed such dictatorial policies to be put into place? Here, these were allowed because the primary stakeholders are the poor and the small enterprises that cater to them.


The moment people talk about off-grid, people think of the poor and then think of subsidies. Well, that is where we are wrong.


Off-grid solar or any decentralised energy service model offers a wonderful opportunity for India to experiment with new business models, new financial products and services, new rural entrepreneurs, new technical innovations, etc. The solar mission was a perfect platform for India to combine poverty alleviation and diffusion of sustainable energy. The needs of the poor could have been addressed with different business models and value propositions—where the monies allocated under the mission could have been used to build a completely new ecosystem in the rural areas. The ecosystem, business models and service delivery mechanisms could have been easily exported to other developing countries, making India a truly soft superpower.


But the newly laid out solar mission policies show that our thought process is short-term. They also shows that policymakers are far away from reality. The off-grid part of solar is a reflection of how insensitive Delhi policymakers have become to the rest of the country. Instead of creating a ecosystem to encourage SMEs, they have put in place policies that will actually discourage the growth of much-needed after-sales service organisations in the rural areas. Instead of spurring innovation, the polices kill innovation by strictly defining the products that can be sold under the mission rules. The poor, as usual, have no choice. Their products and what they need to pay have been already defined. They would be just mute spectators in the solar mission—they only have to deal with what to do with non-functioning systems in two years!


For some of us who have spent decades in the field of rural solar, the off-grid solar mission is anti-poor and anti-democratic!


—The author is MD, SELCO-India, a player in the solar energy space







Former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan has heard most of the comments made about his report on the stock markets, and by now probably has several defences for each, but the one that got him really stumped was that by Joseph Massey, MCX-SX's MD and CEO. Massey asked him if he could get the responses given to the Jalan committee by each stakeholder and whether Jalan could then explain how the committee processed these responses. When Jalan looked a bit taken aback, Massey elaborated to say MCX-SX had tried to construct a similar panel of respondents that the Jalan committee polled, and then asked each one for their response. Over 80%, he said, were against the recommendations made by the Jalan panel! So sir, he asked, may I get the detailed responses submitted to your committee?



The Supreme Court's verdict on widening the scope of the CBI investigations from 2001 till 2008 has got Department of Telecommunications officials seriously worried. "Until now we have been busy furnishing documents to the one-man committee headed by the retired justice Shivraj V Patil, minister Kapil Sibal, and the Public Accounts Committee—this ensures we can only begin work by 6:00 pm," one official complained. With the CBI now certain to be back looking for more information, we suppose there will be no time for routine work.







Iranian cinema has acquired a mystically elevated status around the international festival circuit. Sceptics say, well, what the world sees is not what Iran sees. If Iranians don't see the films that get acclaimed across the globe, including in Goa and Delhi, what's the big deal? Isn't the whole international circuit too elitist? The disingenuity of such attacks is laid bare as Jafar Panahi is arrested yet again, sentenced to six years in jail and barred from making films for the next 20 years. If home audiences see his films mostly on DVDs, that's because Iran's culture and guidance ministry won't let them get to the theatres. Yes, some of those who routinely spring to Panahi's defence belong to the beau monde—Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Juliette Binoche et al. But he also has plenty of pedestrian folk supporting him, likely including many of the Iranians who have used used Twitter and YouTube to support the campaign for democracy.


In his earlier run-ins with paranoid Iranian authorities, Panahi had said that when a filmmaker does not get to make films, it is as if he is jailed even if he is freed from the actual jail. His story should challenge those who have grown blasé about the role of artists in the 21st century. Do they really matter? Can they actually effect change? Yes, they can. Panahi's Offside is about six girls who disguise themselves as boys to sneak in to watch a football match. They are arrested. A guard discourages, "There are lots of men in there... They'll be cursing and swearing." A girl replies, "We promise not to listen." President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listened, and reversed the ban on women attending games. The country now boasts a women's football team.









The life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen by a Chhattisgarh trial court on Friday is so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system. The trial judge shocked the conscience of the nation by finding the eminent doctor and rights activist guilty of sedition and conspiring to wage war against the state under Sections 120(B) and 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8(1), (2), (3), and (5) of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, and Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (as amended in 2004). The fact that the Chhattisgarh police's case against Dr. Sen consisted of pretty thin material was taken into the realm of the absurd by the public prosecutor tying himself in knots in an attempt to burnish the doctor's alleged sins. So it was that an innocuous email message sent by his wife, Ilina, to the director of the Indian Social Institute — a Delhi-based institution which happens to share an acronym with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate — got converted into "suspicious communication" with the dreaded "ISI." Another email referring to an occupant of the White House as a "chimpanzee" was introduced by the prosecutor as evidence of the kind of "code language" terrorists resort to. But tragically, it is the Chhattisgarh police that have had the last laugh in this round.


The broad charge against Dr. Sen of helping the banned Community Party of India (Maoist) wage war against the state was constructed by the police around the scaffolding of his supposed relationship with Narayan Sanyal, an alleged leader of the Maoists who was incarcerated in Raipur jail following his arrest in 2006. In his capacity as a medical doctor and head of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Dr. Sen often met Mr. Sanyal in jail but each of these meetings, as the jail authorities subsequently testified, was closely supervised and afforded no opportunity for the conveying of messages to the Maoist leadership. So the police hit upon the strategy of linking him to the recovery from Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha of a letter allegedly written by Mr. Sanyal. During the trial, the defence counsel pointed to numerous holes in the police case, including the introduction of an unsigned, typewritten letter supposedly sent by the Maoists to Dr. Sen, despite the fact that the letter found no mention in the attested list of documents recovered from his residence the same day. It goes without saying that Dr. Sen has the right to appeal the conviction and the savage sentence. The higher judiciary, which did not exactly cover itself in glory by denying him bail for nearly two years, must ensure the expeditious hearing of his appeal and grant him immediate bail till the end of the appeal process.







The spectre of rising onion prices is haunting Indian politics again. As prices trebled over a period of three weeks, touching Rs.90 a kg in some parts of the country, the liliaceous plant, whose bulb is the mainstay of many Indian staple recipes, became a topic of debate and discussion not only for ordinary consumers, but for economists and policymakers as well. India is the world's second largest producer of onions after China. But in the face of galloping prices, the central government enforced a ban on exports and allowed imports from Pakistan. Onions have enriched traders, brought incensed women and men on to the streets, and brought down governments. People of all classes consume the vegetable in considerable quantity, and any rise in price tends to be politically sensitive. In north India especially, curries and dishes are incomplete without it. The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1998 Delhi Assembly election was attributed, to a large extent, to its government's failure to curb the rise in the price of onion. Already tagged as pro-trade, it was slow to react at that time. Twelve years later, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance seems more aware of the political risks in letting the situation spin out of control. The Centre, through State governments, supported the supply and sale of onions via cooperatives at controlled rates, and the situation appears to have eased a little.


While the short-term measures have brought some relief, the real challenge for the central government is to tackle long-term food inflation. Prices of essential commodities have generally been on the rise, thanks to a combination of factors, including repeated hikes in fuel prices and flood damage to crops. In the week ended December 11, the Wholesale Price Index-based food inflation went up to 12.13 per cent, an increase of 2.67 percentage points over the previous week. The full impact of the high onion prices is likely to show only in the figures for the week ended December 25. Onions have hogged the headlines as a vegetable without substitute in Indian cuisines but consumers have been hit just as hard by the steady rise in the prices of all food items. In this scenario, the government needs to come up with something more than quick-fix solutions. Instead of letting foodgrains rot in godowns, it must expand and strengthen the public distribution system as a way of providing food security for the poorer sections. Otherwise, there will be a political price to pay — sooner than later.










An inflexible, even adamant-sounding, Congress government is seemingly compounding an already complex situation in Andhra Pradesh by refusing to yield to demands on behalf of the State's farmers that Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu is pitching for.


From Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy downwards, Congress leaders parrot their stand that they would not budge an inch beyond the "best package given under the circumstances" to farmers. Untimely rains in early December crushed the ryots by causing extensive damage to the kharif crop in the paddy-rich delta districts of coastal Andhra.


Clearly, a fast that Mr. Naidu started on December 17 to press for higher compensation to the distressed farmers has made no impression on Mr. Kiran Reddy. He has responded by using force to end the TDP leader's fast and administering intravenous fluids to him under duress.


Good sense should have dictated that the Congress put the trouble over farmers' misery behind it and focussed on its immediate political and administrative priorities, it is widely felt. Primarily, a strategy to tackle turmoil over the issue of a separate Telangana, which will inevitably break out on January 1, is crying for attention.


Next, the Congress ought to provide a credible leadership to counter the threat posed by the former MP, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy. This will restore political stability, prevent the administration getting derailed every now and then and help the government concentrate on bailing out the farmers.


Yet, Mr. Kiran Reddy has chosen to focus energies on battling the fasting TDP president and even making sarcastic comments. While Mr. Naidu lay in fasting-induced stupor on his hospital bed, the Chief Minister made a tongue-in-cheek remark that "the TDP leader should call off his fast, now that he has achieved his goal of projecting himself as a champion of farmers." Such insensitivity perhaps suited the Congress insofar as it helped move the focus from issues that deserve its urgent attention. Or, was it a simple case of the political ego of Congress leaders loathe to concede any space to the main Opposition party?


A more charitable view will be that they want to avoid repeating the blunder committed by the Centre in the wake of the indefinite fast undertaken by Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K. Chandrasekhar Rao more than a year ago. The Union Home Minister announced on December 9, 2009, the Centre's decision to initiate the process for creating a separate Telangana — only to backtrack two weeks later.


In Mr. Naidu's fast, too, there has been an element of desperation. His candidates having forfeited the security deposit in the byelections to all the 11 Assembly seats in Telangana and faced with competition from Mr. Jagan Reddy in the Andhra-Rayalaseema region, the TDP leader had to do something dramatic to seek to re-establish his lost supremacy. Mr. Naidu held out gutsily for a full week on an empty stomach, drawing upon hidden energy reserves he had built up by practising yoga and doing workouts for two hours from 4 am every day. But, at the end of his fast, he would have wished he had received a better response from the farmers to his protest action.


For a government that plans to implement a whopping budget for Rs.1.13 lakh crore in 2010-11 in Andhra Pradesh, finding money to help farmers should not be an impossible task, provided finances are managed prudently and not in the manner things are being handled now.


For instance, a laudable scheme to reimburse tuition fees and pay scholarships to underprivileged students at a cost of Rs. 3,600 crore this year leaked heavily because of faulty design. The case of the white ration cards for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families whose number (1.81 crore) exceeds the total number of households in Andhra Pradesh, was similar. Free power supply to farmers will cost the exchequer Rs. 4,912 crore this year.


Thus, there is a strong case for the Chief Minister to go beyond his Rs. 910-crore relief package for farmers. He cannot possibly get away with repeating what the Congress has been doing so far — allowing controversies to simmer in the hope that the latest one would make people forget the previous one. Such strategies could even imperil the prospects of the Congress in the next round of elections to the Assembly — where it has only a slender majority today.


The compensation of Rs. 6,000 a hectare towards input subsidy is meagre, and the waiver of Rs. 350 crore as interest on loans is inadequate. Farmers had borrowed heavily to invest in inputs, anticipating bumper yields — only to find harvested paddy rotting in waist-deep water.


The worst fears are coming true. Farmers are committing suicide by the dozen, unable to bear the consequences of the failure to repay loans. V. Peddaseshi Reddi, a farmer from Guntur district, collapsed and died in a bank soon after he was handed over compensation of Rs. 400 towards loss of paddy, cotton and red chilli he had grown on two acres. He was actually eligible for a princely sum of Rs. 900 but the bank deducted Rs. 500 to be retained as minimum balance in his account that was opened for the purpose of disbursing the sum.


Not surprisingly, farmers have lost all hope that the government would come to their rescue and provide them funds for the rabi crop. By the time monetary compensation reaches them, they may well be in the throes of another crisis — flood, drought or harassment by the new and slick breed of moneylenders, which are the micro-finance institutions.


Official estimates are not yet available on the number of suicides, though data compiled from news reports indicate that over 125 farmers have ended their lives this month alone. Mr. Jagan Reddy says 42 farmers died till December 16, the day the Chief Minister announced the package, and 86 after that.


Mr. Jagan Reddy himself undertook a 48-hour-long fast on the banks of the Krishna in Vijayawada. The ostensible purpose was to remonstrate against the Kiran Reddy government's indifference towards farmers, but the real motive was to show his political muscle. He succeeded in sending shivers down the Congress' spine by mobilising over 35 MLAs, including two each of the Telugu Desam and the Praja Rajyam. If another 25 to 30 MLAs jump the fence, the ex-MP will take a shot at toppling the government. With some MLAs gravitating towards Mr. Jagan Reddy, and others, fearing erosion of their popular base in Telangana, supporting the TRS' cause, the State is heading towards another spell of uncertainty, and possibly a round of mid-term elections.


This is a prospect that the ruling party dreads, having done nothing in recent times to endear itself to the voters. On the contrary, it has conceded ground to the TRS in the Telangana region and to Mr. Jagan Reddy and to Mr. Naidu in the Andhra-Rayalaseema regions. The three of them may split most of the seats among them, and the Congress may well be out of the reckoning.


Mr. Kiran Reddy succeeded an indecisive and vacillating K. Rosaiah, who himself was left fending off allegations of corruption against his predecessor, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. A clean slate was what Mr. Kiran Reddy was expected to start working on. Within a short span, the Chief Minister is seen as confusing arrogance for assertiveness, and is often blamed for being inaccessible. His frequent visits to New Delhi, all the dissension over the distribution of Cabinet portfolios and his inability to find a Deputy Chief Minister and a Speaker of the Assembly, have hardly improved his ratings.


Over time, Andhra Pradesh has paid a heavy price for protests of all varieties by leaders who have an eye on achieving their goals. It is unlikely that the politics of fasts will end soon, given the leaders' proclivity to exploit the unstable situation and indulge in games of one-upmanship. Hopefully, the Srikrishna Committee's report will be a game-changer.









The Prime Minister, recently, while returning from a G-20 meet expressed his concerns about the future of our parliamentary democracy. I share these apprehensions, for different reasons, though. Doubtless, his dire pronouncement is born of this unhappy ending of our Parliament's recent session. This disappointment, too, is shared by many. The PM, then rejected the Opposition's demand for establishing a JPC to enquire into the scandalous mismanagement of our ministry of telecommunications, but chose to do so outside the Parliament. Why outside, when he had chosen to remain studiedly silent throughout the session, on an issue that had shaken the Parliament? To an assembly of business leaders the PM rationalised the government's philosophy on surveillance of telephones. Again, why not inside Parliament? For of this matter, too, the Parliament was fully seized. Why, on all issues of serious parliamentary concern did the PM choose to comment only when away from it?


Reflect then, briefly, on what transpired in the Parliament during the winter session. After almost a month of unprecedented parliamentary turmoil, never earlier witnessed, the two Houses adjourned without transacting any business. The obstructing boulder of contention was this demand for a JPC, and the government's continuous rejection of it. Of course, it was an utterly depressing ending and greatly worrisome, too. But where, in this hour of grave challenge to our Parliament was the PM? The impasse was grave; the issue of substance; the opposition determined; it is here that leadership was needed; did the PM provide it? Under all circumstances the government must govern, but by leading not absenteeist withdrawal. The opposition will always question, confront, challenge, increasingly when not heeded, and even more when the prime mover of the government remains mutedly distant.


The Prime Minister has, perhaps unwittingly separated himself from the 'ills of parliament'. This he cannot do and must not, for he is after all a product of this very institution. From where else does, or can his office originate? The Parliament is that great aorta of authority through which the sustaining blood of our relevance flows; sever this link and collapse must follow. The Prime Minister, in voicing his apprehension is, doubtless pointing an accusatory finger at the opposition, though, again involuntarily he is admitting to a great personal failure, too. It is failure of a profound and telling lack of leadership from him, personally. After all, at the heart of this kind of conduct and the current immobility in our Parliament lies an absence of regard for the laws of our land. This is the core debility: a wilful and uncaring disregard for not just the letter of our laws but almost a flaunting defiance of the spirit of it, too. It is this variety of corruption, heading all other manifestations of it, that is poisoning all our laws, debilitating our Parliament, in the process our democracy; not the noisy interruptions alone of the opposition, however unacceptable they also be.


Why failure?


Why such profound failures? Perhaps, because our grievance redressal systems have ground to a halt; also because we have lost regard for each other, we have abandoned our sense of kinship and fraternity without which no parliamentary democracy can function. We have forgotten how to accommodate dissent, and the less we do so, the harsher it becomes. We no longer consider the alternative view-point as being even remotely relevant; instead, we now treat disagreement as a disservice, a rebellious challenge, which must either be totally rejected, or then crushed. The tone, tenor and the content of our language, of mutual address, government to opposition, or the other way round has become dryly ritualised, patronisingly rejectionist, emptied totally of the spirit of parliamentary democracy. The hierarchy of our concerns no longer harmonise; courtesy and accommodation to the opposing view point is treated as being 'soft', a weakness. We no longer recognise the great relevance of the 'intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of parliamentary debates'. Perhaps, the Hon'ble Prime Minister no longer recognises, or accepts, that it is this 'passion' which constitutes the personality and the heartbeat of our (or any other) Parliament. This 'passion' occasionally obscures, but often illuminates, too; it distracts, yes, but this then is both it's strength and its weakness. Parliament is an assembly of human beings; it must have human virtues, and vices and failings, it is not, must not ever be, just a container of ritualised nothingness.


Where, therefore, has that human sense and good cheer of our Parliament gone? Surely, it is not the opposition alone that has robbed our institution of it. It saddens me greatly to have to rebut the Hon'ble Prime Minister, who chooses to, almost always declaim his views outside the Parliament, and that, too, about the Parliament. He is after all, the head of the government, he is a consequence of Parliament, not an outsider; he has to understand the failings of it, to sympathise, to be with it in both its strengths and its weaknesses; to value and nurture it, not to shun it. Above all he must attend to all the concerns of it, vital or trivial, just or unjust, for Mr. Prime Minister this is a living organism, not just a hide-bound institution. Doubtless, there would arise occasions when its actions border on the unwise, or even totally unjustified, but those are the very situations in which the Leader must lead. More when those sudden and awesome storms of contention shake the very pillars of Parliament; it is then that the Prime Minister must step in, take command, not abandon the Institution and proceed to comment on it as if uninvolved, unconcerned, unconnected. Let us never forget that the spontaneity of the House, or it's debates, even an absence of them is an integral of this institution; a part of its personality.


The telecom issue


It would be repetitively wearisome to recount here the sorry episode of this telecom scandal. Clearly, no minister can, or ought to act entirely on his/her own, to take significant decisions involving national laws, national economy, and the exchequer, without due diligence and a full consideration of the views of his cabinet colleagues. No one is authorised to throw overboard the entire philosophical and functional core of parliamentary, representative and cabinet system of governance. Has justice been done to this central aspect? Clearly not. Where then was the PM? That is why the victims of this neglect is the institution of Parliament; also our cabinet system of governances; its accountability and answerability, and above all due regard for law; indeed a wilful denigration of the majesty of it. Nobody can today say, with any lasting conviction as to which of the great institutions of our Republic have remained unsullied. Who is responsible?


Yet, the Prime Minister complains — 'Our parliamentary democracy is under great strain'. Yes, but can the government, or the Prime Minister, voice this concern only as a complainant; always as accuser and forever be complacent in the face of this great wrong that has been done, continues to be done, to the very moral fibre of our country? And if our parliamentary democracy has indeed become a source of great worry to the Prime Minister, then who, other than the government, and he will steer the ship of state to safer waters? What then are we, the rank and file of Parliament to do, as we are confined to the lower decks, other than to clamour for attention?


What has brought all this about? An experimental division of the functions of governance in our parliamentary democracy. This division of responsibility, instead of being handled normally, as has always been done uptil now, through India's independent years, has now been turned into a kind of a diarchy. In this all authority, all decisions of substance are made outside of the government; for there now exists a kind of a supra-cabinet, too, which is not answerable to the Parliament. What then remains with the 'elected executive' is empty, residual 'responsibility' for decisions, which in reality are not even of its own making. This is a totally unnatural and unviable arrangement. Why has this been set up? How then is the parliamentary system to work? It is elementary, and axiomatic, that unproductively dry dynasticism is the very antithesis of democracy. For preserving hereditary priorities if our systems have to be bent, means made subservient to ends, and until that desired 'end' is attained, all rules will continue to be bent, then surely for all this India will be made to pay. And if India pays, then in the process surely the instrumentality of our parliamentary democracy will also pay, thus be debilitated. And that is what is happening now: along with a tragic, painful and absurd trivialisation of our concerns. It is manifestations like these that strike at the heart of our parliamentary democracy, not what the delphic utterances of the Hon'ble PM imply.


]That is why it needs to be asked: as our parliamentary democracy is in danger, according to the Prime Minister, what then has he done about it — or intends to do?


( Jaswant Singh is BJP Member of Parliament and former Finance Minister.)








The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan have met in Istanbul for a new round of talks aimed at building trust between the two neighbours.


Turkey's President Abdullah Gul said the fifth round of Turkish-sponsored talks were aimed at "enhancing peace and development" between the two countries. He spoke on December 24 at the beginning of a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari.


The meetings are designed to reduce tensions over militant attacks along the countries' lawless border.


Railroad, flights


Gul says a railroad between Turkey and Pakistan should be extended to Afghanistan and flights between the three countries should be expanded for better cooperation.


Turkey has close ties to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.


— AP







The rise in prices of vegetables, fruits, milk and protein-rich food items like meat, fish and eggs comes as no surprise if one has seen the huge fluctuations in prices of these items in the last few years. If you look back at the headlines over these years, they are about rising vegetable prices, prices shooting through the roof and how the common man cannot go near them. This year alone June-July saw vegetable prices soar and each time there is a different excuse. It's either floods in the north or heavy rains in Maharashtra that allegedly cause the shortages. The most recent is onions. Good quality onions were selling at between `80 and `100 a kg. Tomatoes and vegetables, which were being exported to flood-ravaged Pakistan, are suddenly in short supply. Vegetables have shot up by 25-30 per cent. The onion crop, we are told, was destroyed in huge quantities because of prolonged and unseasonal rains. But what is surprising is that as soon as the food inflation figures were out, and there was a noise made in the media and in political circles, the prices of onions suddenly slumped. Medium-size onions were down to `35 a kg from `45 a kg — they suddenly fell 38 per cent in three days. How is this possible if it is was not hoarding? The hoarders realised that since imports were allowed duty-free and exports banned, their goose would be cooked. So they quickly brought out their hoarded stocks, according to those in the know.

Granted that the country has seen floods and drought and late monsoons and unseasonal rains, but why is it that a trillion-dollar-plus economy is so dependent on the whimsies of the weather gods? And when the government knows, as the agricultural and civil supplies ministry should know, that there will be a shortage, why don't they take immediate steps to curb exports? They act only when protests get too loud. Why is no action taken against hoarders?

This newspaper has consistently asked that the agricultural ministry come out with a white paper on how it intends to increase agriculture produce within a time frame. We have agriculture minister Sharad Pawar making off-the-cuff statements, but never anything specific. Why is it that this trillion-dollar-plus economy can't even produce eggs at reasonable rates? One can understand difficulties about meat, which is exported in a big way, and fish, but eggs? If, as it is said, that the price of poultry feed has gone up and therefore eggs are expensive, why can't the country provide for enough poultry feed? It does not need rocket science know-how for this. Or is it easier to produce a rocket to go into space than it is to produce poultry feed that is reasonably priced so that eggs remain within the affordability of the common man? India is one of the few countries where a family spends 70 per cent of its budget on food. It is a shame because when prices soar like they have just now, it sends their budgets haywire.

There is a lot of criticism about the agricultural policy being wrong, about farmers being strangled by ceilings, etc. If there is merit in any of the criticisms, why is it that the government or an empowered group of ministers cannot sit together to once and for all find the right solution? It is facetious to say that supply is not keeping up with demand; why is it that we never hear Mr Pawar saying we are going to see that supply keeps pace with demand? Is it not more important to worry about the need for producing enough food to feed a growing population than to worry more about the fact that people need a new luxury hill station?








Dear Santa Sarkar,

I know you love me. I know you do not wish to neglect me — as a mai-baap sarkar, you can't neglect me. Ever since I can remember you have been telling us — your dear, dependent children — how much you care for us, how much you are doing for us, and how much more you will do if only we return your affection through the ballot box. Like indulgent parents, you play Santa Claus to us, you fill our stockings with generous gifts at least once in five years. We love you.


Well, dear Santa, I was thinking of you, today being Christmas. I did take a peek at my stocking this morning, hung up right in front of Parliament House, but I guess you missed it. Well anyway, there is still time. Just a day late doesn't count. You could swing along tonight with your sack of gifts — we know how brilliantly you can get things done once the deadline is over.

I really have been very good this year. Haven't complained too much. Have been a loyal consumer, even buying onions at `80 a kilo. Haven't filed a single Right to Information petition. Haven't killed anyone. Haven't swindled anyone. Haven't raped anyone. And have not spoken to Niira Radia even once.
Besides, I really am loyal to you, my Santa sarkar. I trust you. I don't believe you were in anyway to blame for the Commonwealth Games scam. Or for the 2G spectrum scam. Or for the spiralling price rise. These things happen. They happen all the time. Not your fault. I am your loyal child, Santa sarkar. Smile at me.
You give so generously to everyone, Santa. Even to fat cats who wish to dominate our lives through special economic zones. Your gifts are legion. I don't mind how you slot me. Look at me as a "backward" child, that's okay. Or as a "minority" — I am too minor for words. Or you could put me in the "disturbed" category — I am truly, dangerously disturbed. Besides I am a woman, I swear. Find a slot for me, will you? Here's a quick wish list.

First: Food. Would be great for a hungry nation. But if you can't manage the whole country, just give it to us who are close to you. Of course, it's not favouritism — it's just normal. You know, the way you give prime portfolios to important coalition allies? Just be good to us, the privileged, urban middle class who control public opinion, and we will be good to you. (No, not the rotten grain you have tucked away in dirty, rat-infested godowns, you could give that away to the poor. They should eat too, once in a while, poor things.)
All of us need safe food. As you know, at the moment practically everything we eat is contaminated with pesticides, hormones and all kinds of toxic stuff. Even the milk our kids drink is somewhat poisoned. Could you put a system in place to check it? Thanks. And do bring down the prices a bit, please. Not just onions, it would be nice to have some milk, vegetables, fruit, eggs, fish and meat too.

Second: Water. We need safe water. Sure, digging wells is fine as an employment generation scheme. Of course, there are villages with very little water, where women walk for miles to get a pot of water for their family. They could perhaps benefit from a well or two. That's fine. But we need a comprehensive plan that works for everyone, don't you think? Not just ornamental wells and tubewells but good, safe water for all. So we can all bathe, wash clothes, drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day. Those of us who can afford it have sophisticated water filters at home, of course, but these don't work so well when you fill them with water bought from dirty, leaking tankers. Besides, away from the cities, the fruit and vegetables we eat are grown in toxic water, which pollutes them. Do something, na?
Third: Electricity. Why can't we have life without power cuts? And while you are at it, would be nice if you could electrify villages that are still living by daylight and oil lamps. May even increase productivity and bring down Naxalism in certain areas.

Fourth: A functional Parliament. Would be nice. You know how expensive things are these days, we can't really afford hundreds of crores to pay MPs just to block parliamentary proceedings anymore.
Fifth: New batteries for the legal machinery. It's too slow, too creaky and too important to be neglected.
Sixth: Clarity. I know, I know. Of course, you are working towards transparency. You promise to root out corruption too. And the right to information has certainly empowered us to some extent. But could we please not get killed while exercising that right?

Seventh: Safety. And I am not just talking about cross-border terrorism. I mean a good police system, which would make citizens safer, keep crime rates low and allow us to withdraw security forces from Kashmir and the Northeast. I know you are now happy to give us guns, dear Santa sarkar, but truth be told, I wouldn't know how to use one. I'd rather have the police do their job, thank you.

Eighth: A promise meter. Something that could keep track of your promises and persuade you to implement them. Especially in areas of health, education and other development matters.

Ninth: Magic ear plugs. Our netas seem to have them — they clearly can't hear our voices at all. So could we also have these ear plugs please, so we don't have to hear the nonsensical chatter of our netas?
Tenth: This one is just so you don't feel bad. If you can't give me all this, don't worry. I am still with you. I'll find my way to a better life. Just give me Niira Radia's phone number.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at:









Ho-ho ji —Merry Christmasji everyone! Forget about a white Christmas — there is nothing like a Punjabi Christmas! Not only do you get more artificial snowflakes than anywhere else in the world, you also get bigger, fatter and more ubiquitous Santa Clauses.

Christmas trees are sprouting all over Delhi's shopping malls and Christmas carols are being sung in Karol Bagh. In the true all-pervasive Punjabi spirit — anything that allows us to spend money has to be very changa. Yet I notice that the politicians who are normally the first to be seen at iftaars are still a bit wary of Christmas parties.


Thus, it was great to see that the young Agatha Sangma, a member of Parliament, has finally broken the ice by throwing a Christmas bash. No doubt by next year the old colonial fear of doing the Christian thing will be forgotten and Xmas celebrations will no longer be excluded from the list of "must-do votebank festivities for the serious politician!"

And it's also award time folks. As the New Year beckons, it's time to remember those people we hoped we would forget, and to forget all those guys and gals we thought we would remember. And then, of course, there are those truly spectacular people who have decided that they will not allow you to forget them, and pop up everywhere, such as Suresh Kalmadi. And still others who have left indelible imprints on our psyche and our phone conversations. Yes, for instance, Niira Radia.

Just as in the Chinese calendar you have the year of the Scorpion or the Tiger or the Monkey — this year in India will be known as the year of the Radia, representing a hitherto unknown species adept at running the country, without anyone (except for some bemused individuals in the income-tax department) — getting to know about it. How amazingly efficient Niira Radia is! Why do we need all these politicians? Bring Ms Radia back, I say! She cost us much less too — she only made `300 crores — while A. Raja cost the exchequer over `1,00,000 crores. And all she needed was a cellphone!

So after much thought the "Phoney" Awards have been suggested for obvious reasons, I present a sample below:

To A. Raja: For showing great resilience and ability to remain unperturbed under the most Trai-ing circumstances

To Ms Radia: For giving a new definition to the term "Broad"-band services
To Suresh Kalmadi: For his remarkable memory of British royalty (living and dead)
To Digvijay Singh: For his equally remarkable ability to remember conversations with dead people


But the Woman of the Year is no doubt the inestimable, indefatigable Ms Radia. After the selective publication of the Radia tapes many people woke up to their own insignificance — because Ms Radia had never called them. Worse, even my own name has never been mentioned in the transcript! Every time my phone rings I am petrified that my phone is being tapped and people will discover: (a) not only am I not choosing any member of the Cabinet (b) I am not anywhere near RCR (Race Course Road, for those of you who are still unfamiliar with Delhi acronyms) and that (c) Ms Radia has never called me. The last is the most galling fact of all. If anyone knows Ms Radia's number please SMS it to me (that is all that I want for a Christmas present!) — or at least let her know that I absolutely have no objections to being woken up by her phone call, at any time of the day or night. I am open to all suggestions about printing anything she wants in my column as I know the Prime Minister often refers to it before he takes any important decisions, such as where to place the next nuclear plant etc…

Therefore, I was surprised while attending a glittering awards ceremony this week, that Ms Radia did not get even a single award. Not even one! This is terrible. After all, the woman selected members of the present government, and she decided the policy. She even managed the media and ran a TV channel while helping our industrialists double and treble their profits. Just because she was modest and ran her empire through a cellphone, we are treating her very badly. At least, the mobile phone companies could have created an award for her or presented it in her name. These people are all so ungrateful. (This part of the article was sponsored by NR Associates.)

Overall, glitz and glamour seemed to be on the decline this year — and at least one of the recent award ceremonies was full of tributes to the "aam aadmi and aurat" — whether in media, sports or even politics. (Sorry about that Ms Radia, we will try to fix it for next year, hey don't hang up now… ) For instance, at the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year celebrations — the most applause was reserved for the unassuming J.


Gopikrishnan, an intrepid reporter who chased up the 2G spectrum scam story for years, and kept it in the limelight. After all, without his dogged approach, we may have never learnt about the 2G scam. And he, in turn, thanked the (as yet) unnamed bureaucrat who first tipped him off about the scandal. Yet, it was a bizarre to see the chief guest, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee standing next to Mr Gopikrishnan: a man who is responsible for many of the UPA's present troubles. Gopikrishnan must have felt like a giant slayer.

The other big moment was when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar won his Indian of the Year award. His re-election has been a game-changing moment for India, and Mr Kumar has managed to bring credibility back to the political scene. Even though he could not be present that night as his 90-year-old mother was sick, the goodwill for him was palpable. The most keenly observed story, right now, is that of Bihar. And if Mr Kumar manages to turn the fortunes of that beleaguered state — it could impact national politics. Even the Congress Party cannot fight the "Nitish-wave" as he presents a low-key, unglamorous, simple image — far away from the smooth talking, savvy Delhi politician and fixers whom Ms Radia managed to manipulate. (Oops, sorry Ms Radia. I didn't really mean that, honestly — now listen I am just going to re-write that last line…)


The writer can be contacted at










The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is everyone's favourite whipping boy.


Apart from a grudging respect for becoming one of the world's most commercially successful sports organisations, the Indian cricket board hardly seems to inspire any positive sentiment.


The blame list is too long and serious — graft, bullying, amateurism, an acutely mercenary attitude that overrides a genuine love of the game.


I'm no fan either. But, over the last few days, I have begun to appreciate the one great service to cricket that the BCCI has done, one it has rarely, if ever, been acknowledged and congratulated for. It has given Sachin Tendulkar the space to fail.


I don't know whether it was part of any great design by the BCCI or merely a refusal to alter status quo, but the breathing space and freedom to flounder has been instrumental in the success of the world's finest cricketer.


In an atmosphere of chop and change, when the old era was making way for a brasher generation, knowing his position was unassailable would have been prized as a big enabler, preventing both form and confidence from reaching debilitating lows.


Now, at a time when his stature as best-ever is no longer in question, it is only befitting that his employers be thumped on the back. I believe there's a lesson in this for all organisations.


Twenty-one years ago, the BCCI recruited a potential star. Happily enough, it was a smart hiring decision, one which helped the organisation reap huge returns.


But then, as with most productivity charts, Tendulkar's too saw a downward slide. From riding high on a consistently upward moving graph, he moved into the uncharted territory of inconsistency.


One good series would follow a bad, injuries became frequent and controversy, a familiar friend.


Through it all, the mob called for his head; experts, who now claim to have predicted Tendulkar's recent golden run, urged for stern action and, later, berated the board for not bringing in fresh blood to replace a clearly depleted hero.


The organisation was unmoved. We'll back our proven star performer, blips and all. The selectors were called cowards for not having the 'guts' to remove Tendulkar. And the BCCI was termed unfair and partisan.


Why different rules for different players, asked the Bengal lobby which was batting for the out-of-favour Sourav Ganguly? But the snarkiness fell on deaf ears.


Yes, different rules for different players, indeed. Tendulkar is not your regular, run-of-the-mill player. If you over-expect from him, you have to give it back. So they gave him the best gift you can want from your boss — job security.


The nightmarish prospect of falling short became less scary, easier to get over. Success was a good night's sleep away. And soon, he was living the dream again.


Time and again, sports gurus have said performance is a confidence thing. And what fuels confidence better than the unstinting faith of your employers? It isn't easy to apply this philosophy across the board but choose your best and brightest, and empower them with your belief in them.


Propagators of egalitarianism will not agree but I think there's something like too much equality. Sure, all employees deserve the same rights to the water cooler, canteen, insurance, office equipment and smoking room space.


No one should be denied respect, opportunity and dignity. But that should be the end to same-for-all at the workplace.


All organisations have a Tendulkar. The bosses just need to know who they are, give them wings and let them fly. They may not always reach the fancied heights at the first flight, but that's when impatient employers go wrong.


They are too quick to clip wings or alter the flight path. Allow them to flap them around for a bit. They will soar, taking the organisation with them.


It's an art, taking care of a special talent. But if the BCCI can, your boss can too.







Periyar, the flamboyantly bearded founder of the Dravidian Self-Respect Movement, used frequently to spit out the Tamil word vengayam (meaning 'onion') as an expression of derision; since there was much in politics that he found worthy of disdain, the pungent whiff of onions used forever to hang over Dravidian politics in an earlier time.


Evidently Periyar considered the onion lowly because beneath its many layers of skin, there's only empty nothing, much like a vacuous political argument.


His bearish assessment of the onion's value comes fairly close to that of the music critic James Huneker, who wrote Life is like an onion: you peel off layer after layer and then you find there is nothing in it."


Today, however, it appears that the open market valuation of the onion's worth far exceeds Periyar's (and Huneker's) uncharitable estimation.


Prices have run up so fast recently that for budget-balancing households, even an unpeeled onion induces a free flow of tears.


The onion's centrality in the political discourse has also been reinforced by the upsurge in the volume of political commentaries revolving around the aromatic plant.


That's partly because, given the widespread use of onions by all but the most austere adherents of sattvic diets, extraordinarily high onion prices arguably have a bit of 'regime change' potential.


The many medicinal properties attributed to the onion — it's touted as a cure for everything from common colds to coronary diseases to cancer — have given rise to the formulation: 'an onion a day keeps the doctor away'.


It's more likely, that it's the distinctive after-effects of an onion-flavoured diet — in particular, a odoriferous breath that would, well, make an onion cry — that keeps everyone, including doctors, away.


In any case, that's a technique that former US presidential candidate John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry famously invoked. Campaigning along with Kerry, which required her to travel for extended periods, she devised a way to 'get some privacy' whenever she wanted: she'd pull out a sandwich made with cheeseand raw onions.


The onion's curious olfactory effect — which, ancient Egyptians believed, could even bring the dead back to life — was perhaps one reason why Egyptian pharaohs were mummified along with onions.


In the Middle Ages, the onion additionally served as a form of currency — it was used as rent payments and even as wedding gifts.


If there's one thing, though, that reeks even more than the onion today, it's the stench of speculator-driven corruption that underlies the high prices, for which administrative incompetence acts as a flavour enhancer.


The same authorities are making an elaborate show of cracking down on hoarders and speculators. It's the kind of cynical politicking that might induce anyone to say, derisively, vengayam.








The proposed Copyright Amendment Bill scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha early next year seems to have caused a rift in the Indian film industry.


While music directors and lyricists are looking forward to a share in the profits after the bill is passed, producers on the other hand are irked at what they term as an 'additional burden' on their resources.


As both the sides clamour to put their respective points across, what emerges is a feeling of hurt and betrayal on each side. While producers agree that filmmaking is all about mutual understanding and team work, there seems to be some misunderstanding and misinformation about what the bill is all about.


Veteran film writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, who has been in the forefront of seeking an amendment to the Copyright Act, explains to DNA what the bill entails and why there is no need for heartburn on either side.


Isn't rare for a bill to be passed unanimously by the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee?


Yes it is. But in this case, the provisions for writers, lyricists and music composers to share the revenues earned on their work already exist in the copyright laws. The amendment that they are asking for will only implement what has not been followed so far in the film industry. If things go well, this codification of the existing provision will become a law passed by the Lok Sabha.


Producers have slapped a ban on you and are even threatening to go on a strike in protest against the bill. Are their objections and actions justified?


Everyone is entitled to their point of view. Unfortunately, in this context most people seem to be missing the point. This is mostly happening due to misinformation being circulated by vested interests.


Producers seem to be under the impression that they will stop being owners of the copyright if the bill is passed. However, this not what the bill entails. It will only curb the assigning of the performing rights and the royalties of the lyricists and composers to a third party.


Come to think of it, there should be no conflict between us and the producers since our creative and monetary interests are the same. If the producer does well, he will naturally pass on his goodwill and prosperity to the creative team.


Please explain the copyright laws in this context.


A copyright consists of several segmented rights including sound recording, publishing and performing rights. The sound recording rights remain exclusively with the producer.


This is fair since he has put money in the film and is the owner of the product. Then there are publishing rights and performing rights. So, out of the 100% that comes in as royalty, 50% goes the producer because he is the first owner of the recording rights.


From the other 50%, the publishing rights account for 25% and the performing rights for the remaining 25%.


What we are asking for is the equal division of the performing rights, between the lyricist and the composer. Through the sale of the performing rights the song reaches audiences either in the original form or otherwise, outside of the film for which it was originally written and composed.


How is the situation in Bollywood and regional Indian cinema different from that in the Western film industries?


In Hollywood and elsewhere, there is a different kind of structure as compared to our film industry. They have publishing institutions which take care of issues such as royalty generation and collection. In Indian cinema, the producer is the publisher.


So he is actually getting 75% of the profits. I believe that the producers should not have grouses against sharing 12.5% each with the composer and lyricist.


So are the producers the real villains?


Not really. The problem arises when the producer surrenders both the recording and publishing rights to the music companies. A big amount is offered to filmmakers by music companies. Often producers fail to realise that over time the music companies will earn profits several times over and the original creators or the filmmakers will get nothing.


This way, both the producers and the creative team are in the same boat in the long run, watching on as the music companies rake in the moolah.


What is worse is that lyricists and composers are made to sign agreements to waive off their rights after they have received their one-time fees from the producers.


Anyone who refuses to give in or seeks a better contract is either replaced or rejected for future projects. Naturally, most writers and composers are reluctant to lose out on opportunities and hence give in to unfair demands.


And is this where the new bill comes in the picture?


Yes. The government has now decided to make the performing rights non-assignable. Lyricists and music composers will no longer be asked to waive or give away the performing rights.


The rights can only be assigned to the writer or composer's legal heirs or to a recognised organisation or body that will work towards collecting royalty on our behalf.


However, don't you agree that there is a big difference between existing laws and their implementation in the country?


That may be true in some cases. Most rules are flouted because victims are not as powerful as their opponents and need legal protection. For instance, lyricists and composers had signed contracts with music companies and producers clearly defining their terms in the early 90s. However, nothing much came out of it and no one ever actually received any benefits.


Later the producers realised that there was a possibility of new and emerging media such as the internet and mobile phones.


Newer agreements and contracts were then made with music companies and words such as 'any media emerging in the future' were added to them.


Is there a possibility of an amicable solution to be reached between the producers and the lyricists and composers?


After they look at the proposed amendment at length, producers will understand that the implementation of the bill will benefit them too. These days, the producers seem to be worried that they will lose their copyright on the film's music and songs to the creative team. What they need to understand is that this will not really happen.


What are the other misunderstandings over the whole copyright issue?


There is this theory being circulated that the amendment will mean equal distribution of money for everyone. They are thinking that newcomers and upcoming talent will get the same as established lyricists and composers.


One needs to understand that we are talking about percentages here and not about actual amount in rupees. The final amount would depend on a number of things including the film's budget and the popularity, stature and talent of its creative team.








The venue, timing and choice of agenda for the BJP's high profile national office bearers' meeting in Jammu on Thursday points to a calculated strategy to sharpen 'Kashmir' as an issue to take on the UPA2 government at the centre. Jammu has an emotional appeal for the BJP's target audience. Central government-appointed interlocutors are currently engaged in stirring the boiling pot of 'Kashmir' though with no apparent purpose.


Having tasted victory in Bihar mainly on the shoulders of a performer, Nitish Kumar, the BJP is tempted to sharpen its ideological agenda, on the expiry of the shelf life of the Ayodhya issue. Despite all this, however, the BJP had precious little to add to what was already known about its position on the Kashmir issue. Perhaps the only new point, if it could be so called, was that the party would have 'no objection' to UPA government's bid to engage separatists in Kashmir. BJP MPs including Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely were a part of the all-party delegation which visited the state and broke some fresh ground for engaging separatist leaders. The party's flawed perspective results from its sectarian ideology. That is why the party and its affiliates within the Sangh Parivar have been consistently blind to realities on the ground. In the present scenario also, BJP's faulty diagnosis is evident in its description of the ongoing popular resistance movement in the Valley as being a violence-driven separatist strategy to create instability. The party's ideological blinkers prevent it from looking at things objectively. Every other political group whose representatives have visited the state in the recent months have unanimously come to the conclusion that 'governance deficit' and 'trust deficit' have been a major contributory factor. Rampant violation of human rights and denial of civil liberties to the besieged people in the Valley continue to fuel anger and alienation. The BJP has either failed to see the obvious or simply chosen to circumvent this reality for its narrow ideological objectives. The party's recent history clearly shows the diminishing returns of its cockeyed approach. BJP's internal weaknesses have substantially contributed to UPA's return to power for a second term. A huge majority of Indians who were initially misled by the BJP's emergence on Ayodhya platform backed it for a while, only to retrace in the very next round. UPA's own performance in office had less to do with its return in 2009 elections than the faded appeal of the BJP's agenda.


The choice of Jammu as venue for a high profile executive meeting, coupled with sharpening of the party line on 'Kashmir' look to be a party of the strategy to refurbish the BJP's image and refresh its agenda. The flip side of this strategy is that the second largest political group on the national scene has capitulated to its sectarian ideological compulsions. It has virtually forfeited its position to play a positive role in ridding the nation and the country of a festering problem. This dilemma of being a force of reckonable potential but without any ability to benefit from it in a positive manner has been and will continue to be the greatest tragedy of the Sangh Parivar's political prop. The content of the agenda adopted at the Jammu meeting confirmed this belief once again.

Coming closer to the actual scene, BJP's political effectiveness in Jammu and Kashmir had momentarily indicated a blip when the NDA government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee, mainly the ex-PM himself, had chosen to break fresh ground and respond to the ground realities. The vision projected by Vajpayee during his historic Kashmir visit marked a refreshing departure from his own party's narrowly grooved politics and broke some new ground. That the BJP has now chosen to retrace and go its old way was clear by what the party had to convey after its Jammu meeting. It is ironic that while the UPA2 has been struggling to balance its position over 'Kashmir' largely along the course charted by Vajpayee the veteran leader's very own party has chosen to get off that course and return to its beaten track. Obviously, the results are likely to be no different from what it has been in the past—marginalisation of the BJP and its politics in Jammu and Kashmir.







Rapid urbanization, high demand for housing and unregulated growth of the towns in Jammu and Kashmir is putting immense pressure on agriculture land leading to shrinkage of cultivable fields during the past few decades. The government promise to regulate growth of towns appears to have gone haywire as no serious effort has been made to stop conversion of land use particularly on the outskirts of the two major capital cities of the state. It was in the recent past that the government constituted a committee to look into the misappropriations committed in land use laws. Such half-hearted measures are unlikely to stop conversion of land use in urban areas by the private builders and colonizers because a big nexus is working on this front with active connivance of land mafia and revenue officials. Majority of the colonies which came up in various parts of the state during the past three decades have been developed on agriculture land and orchards but they have been regularized by the government under pressure from the builders, who make big money in the process. The politicians have been actively conniving with the colonizers in regularising the same for the reasons best known to the government. The question, at the first instance arises, why such colonies are allowed to be built when land use laws are already in place and green belts have been clearly earmarked. The entire process exposes the loopholes in the laws and regulation process which the government agencies are supposed to implement. Vast tracts of government land have been encroached upon by the politicians and influential people in connivance with land mafia for making a quick buck. This is mainly happening due to the fact that the demand for housing has been increasing and gullible people are lured in for buying plots and flats by the builders at exorbitant rates because there is no alternative available to the people. The migration of the people to urban areas in search of greener pastures has also added to the pressure on land and resources in the cities. Since the government has been found lagging much behind schedule in creating affordable housing facilities for the rising population in the cities, private buildings have been going on for the kill to exploit the poor people. This has also resulted in unplanned expansion of the cities. That is the main reason why there is acute shortage of energy and water in these colonies. Unless the government makes a serious effort for regulating the growth and check unabated land use conversion, the agriculture fields will continue to shrink at a high speed leaving no space for agrarian activities. In a state like J&K, agriculture fields and orchards are already limited, population pressure will further put strain on these resources.








ONE did not have to be an expert on China to anticipate that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit to India would be a flop and the one to Pakistan a success. The joint statements issued in the two countries say it all. 
India refused to follow the 'one China' policy which meant that it did not recognise Beijing's claimed sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan. This was a departure from New Delhi's stand in three earlier joint statements. PM Jiabao refused to mention in the joint statement that Kashmir was an integral part of India. He did not do so keeping in mind Pakistan's sensitivities.


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

The Chinese prime minister was, however, careful not to say anything on Kashmir in New Delhi as well as in Islamabad. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza

Gilani said in a speech at the banquet in honour of the Chinese premier that the solution of Kashmir would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in South Asia. It was bait for the Chinese PM, who preferred to stay silent. Even otherwise, Beijing has maintained that it wants India and Pakistan to resolve the question of Kashmir between themselves.

However, China has from last year started issuing stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir. This is a departure from Beijing's earlier stand.

But it conveys to New Delhi that Beijing regards Kashmir as 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 claim to sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir.

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

The point on which the two sides differed strongly was terrorism. India was first keen on China mentioning the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in their joint statement. When PM Jiabao refused, India wanted a reference to the word 'terrorism'. The Chinese PM did not agree, probably because he was to visit Pakistan a day later. However, he did praise Pakistan for its efforts towards terrorism, countering criticism from many quarters that it is not doing enough. The reference was obviously to India and the US.

India should have known Beijing's stand when it made it clear on the eve of PM Jiabao'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 the nibbling at "its territory" by China. The media has extensively followed a story reported in one of the leading English-language dailies in Delhi. The story said that China had shown the length of the border with India around 2,000km as against nearly 3,500km it used to mention earlier.
In an interview with the Indian ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, the Global Times — the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party — asked about reported tensions on the border. In response Mr Jaishankar said: "The reality contradicts any alarmist depiction of the situation on the border, whether in India or in China. We have a long common border of 3,488km." The editors added in parenthesis. "There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as being about 2,000 kms."
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 the 'Azad Kashmir' ceded by General Mohammed Ayub to Beijing. The general did this in March 1963, less than six months after the India-China war that occurred in the third week of October 1962.
New Delhi's fear is that Beijing may push itself as a party in the Kashmir problem.

It is apparent that India and Pakistan have grown still more distant. One is going towards America and the other towards China. In fact, both New Delhi and Islamabad may be sucked into the ensuing cold war between the two. America has its own designs in the region as the WikiLeaks disclosures show and China has its own interests.

When will India and Pakistan realise that South Asia is neither for America nor China to boss over? It is for the South Asians who should develop it into a common market as Europe has done, with soft borders and free trade.
India, being a relatively developed country, should ensure that the playing field is made level. There should be more tariffs on Indian goods because they are products of a country which has better economy and faster growth rate. India's technology should be available to the countries in the region.

Beijing can, however, play a role in persuading New Delhi and Islamabad to hold sustainable dialogues for the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. China has done well in entering into deals with India and Pakistan. Strangely the trade between the two countries is only a fraction of their deals with China.
If these deals are to yield fruit in real sense, New Delhi and Islamabad have to develop confidence in each other. This may not be possible if both continue to arm themselves — the presence of weapons indicates the absence of peace.






"…DMK plans- Raja is innocent campaign…" 
—Hindustan Times, Dec 23rd 

The biggest scamster In Indian history, who has allegedly master minded the fraud of nearly two hundred thousand crore rupees is now going to be defended by his boss and his political party. I sauntered across to the headquarters of the party in Chennai and met one of their senior political leaders, "How are you going to defend Raja?" I asked.
"We will put thousands of full page advertisements in all the national newspapers saying he is innocent!"
"That will cost a lot of money!" I said.
"It will be taken from the 2 G account!" said the senior leader.
"Ah! Of course!" I said. "What else?"
"We will get it passed in Parliament that he is innocent!" said the senior leader.
"But most of the MP's are baying for his blood," I pointed out.
"MP's can be bought!" said the senior leader.
"That will cost a lot of money," I said.
"It will be taken from the 2 G account!" 
"Ah! Of course!" I said.
"We will also get the people in Tamilnadu to protest, they will all go to Delhi in trucks, trains and planes!"
"That will cost…Ah! Of course," I said quickly, "It will be taken from the @ G account, right?"
"Right!" said the senior party leader beaming at me.
"When do you plan to put the ads in the newspapers, buy the MPs and take all of Tamilnadu to Delhi?" I asked.
"We have already started!"
"Why the hurry to prove his innocence?"
"Everyday that he is being named guilty is causing the party much damage!"
"How's that?" I asked.
"There is the 3 G auction!"
"Yes!" I said.
"The 4 G auction!"
"Of course," I said.
"The 5 G auction!"
"How could I forget!" I said.
"So many auctions, and if he is not proved innocent quickly, it will do much damage…"
"To what?" 
"To our party coffers, then we will not have the money to prove all our other rajas in other different ministries innocent, so it is essential.."
"That he is proved innocent quickly..!" I said, as he beamed at me.









It is unfortunate that the impasse between the Union Government and the opposition over the constitution of a joint Parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G Spectrum continues even outside Parliament. Their confrontation may well spoil the democratic environment in the country. It has already taken a heavy toll of the proceedings of the winter session of Parliament which has virtually been a wash-out. Not surprisingly, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has been left anguished. Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari has told the members to introspect in order to "seek the distinction between dissent, remonstration, agitation and disruption." He has looked back matter-of-factly and evidently hopelessly: "No debates or discussions on matters of public interest took place; no special mentions were made or laid on the table; no zero hour interventions were sought; no questions were answered orally and no supplementary questions were raised." Neither Ms Kumar nor Mr Ansari is the first presiding officer to feel or say all that they have done. Some of their predecessors have made even far more stunning observations and also given threats of resignations in their attempts to stop unwanted disruptions and adjournments. At least one of them has gone to the extent of suggesting "no work, no pay" for the MPs. What has happened this time, however, is unprecedented in the sense that there has been no work at all if one ignores the business that has been rushed through in the midst of noise. According to a study the Lok Sabha worked for just 5.3 per cent of its scheduled hours and the Rajya Sabha for even less, merely 2.15 per cent of the scheduled time in the 23-day session. Crores of rupees spent on running Parliament, which is described as the biggest temple of democracy, have thus gone down the drain.


There are sound estimates that per minute expenses on Parliament when it is in session are Rs 29000. And, if one adds to it, the time spent by government officials there is whopping expenditure. The bureaucrats are required to prepare replies to questions. They have to make sure as well that they are around when the discussions centre on their ministries or departments. Who has gained or lost is anybody's guess. It is the people's money that has been frittered away ironically by the representatives they have elected. Who should be blamed for such state of affairs? For, its part the Government has offered a special session to discuss the demand for setting up the JPC before the budget session which is normally scheduled in February. The opposition, on the other hand, wants the JPC first. In between, the Prime Minister has said that he is ready to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by a top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.


This is somewhat intriguing. A question does arise as a natural corollary. Why should be he in that case hesitant to face the JPC? It would be counter-productive for both the Government and the opposition to stand on prestige. They must find a common meeting ground. They are within their rights to ask inconvenient questions to each other. Actually, by doing so, they will reinforce our chosen system of governance. Why should they together pose a query to the Parliamentary democracy itself?







Will any useful purpose be served by shedding crocodile tears over the sky-rocketing prices of onions? It is not something that has happened for the first time. In the past as well the costs of essential commodities have gone up impacting electoral results. There was a time when onions were regarded a poor man's food. These would be available cheaply and freely. Gone are those days. In fact, there are no free lunches in today's world. One can nostalgically recall that well-cooked dals would be served fee with rotis to all comers atdhabas in this city and elsewhere. If at all, one would have to pay for tadka(spice-induced oil). Currently the dals are charged exorbitantly. Quite a few governments have to struggle to keep their prices down. Responsible people in the Central Government have claimed that if the onions are a luxury it is because of their low production this year. They are unable to explain why they have been caught napping. If they knew that there would not be enough of the commodity available in local markets why they allowed its export. Clearly, hoarders and speculators have calculated better. They have managed to further fuel the crisis to make a fast buck. It is a familiar game that the unscrupulous among us play. What is worrying us is that with each passing year the situation may worsen if there are no tight controls and if we as ordinary citizens are not vigilant enough. Our society is opening up in the name of fair competition. Rules and regulations are being relaxed to allow market forces an unhindered play. The underlying idea is good that we pay for all that we consume. It also envisages that the producers of products and services get their due which in turn means that they can link the prices to the quality of their goods. In all cases the high cost of publicity is in-built into their overall value; this does not yet apply to vegetables except to their frozen or packed varieties which are heavily advertised. This also implies, whether or not we like it, the producers and manufacturers can dictate their availability and thereby dictate market trends. It is onion today. It can be any other thing tomorrow.


Albeit in a context not related to onions Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has put the emerging scenario in a better perspective: "We are having 8 to 9 per cent economic growth, you are having the communication revolution, you have rising expectations, people want the good things in life. They want better opportunities, they want things now...They are not willing to wait and, therefore, the law and order is going to be very, very turbulent over the next decades and for the country as a whole and for the police service particularly...we have to manage the situation so that we allow this economic growth to take place over the next few decades. This is very essential." Hoarding is also a crime to be tackled. It is a general perception that the law and order situation for a few decades to come is going to be taxing. It can only worsen if those in charge of enforcing discipline are corrupt and act in collusion with dishonest elements.








The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace came at a time when the Jews had a great many national and personal expectations. The Zealots, a nationalistic sect, were looking for a leader who would champion rebellion against the Roman occupation. The pious were looking for a prophet who would denounce the growing secularism of society. Many religious people were hoping for a righteous ruler who would restore the reign of God.

Some felt the time had come for God to intervene directly, to stop all this nonsense of working through a prophet or a king, and to restore order in the world. This meant putting the Jews back in charge, at least of their own affairs if not of some neighbouring countries as well. The most radical interventionists expected a time of signs and wonders and messengers from God, then the end of age.

Expectations were rife that God's Messiah would shortly appear, perhaps accompanied by armies of angels, to bring into being a new national pride and personal piety,

It was natural to think the Messiah would be a king. The figure of David, King of Israel from 1000 to 960 BC, remained fresh in the imagination of the Jewish people. His combination of open humanity, charismatic leadership and political decisiveness attracted people to him then, and does still. The Angel's message to Virgin Mother Mary concerning Jesus Christ echoes the expectation of a new David: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end."(Luke 1:32-33).

Time and time again, prophets called the people back to the old covenant with God, only to have the material attractions that went with a settled life draw them away from the strict code of their desert forbearers. The 9th century B.C. saw Elijah pitted against the prophets of Baal. In the 8th century, Amos and Hosea denounced the social abuses that accompanied the materialistic life.

The 7th. Century prophet Isaiah painted a picture of the Messiah as a suffering servant—one who would save the people by absorbing their pain: "He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne… We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received." (Isaiah 53:4, 5). The Prophet Ezekiel believed the key to religious and national renewal lay rebuilding the temple. Religious worship would be central to God's new community.

Jeremiah felt a new covenant and a new morality were required: "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel….. I will bring out my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:31, 33)

The writer of Daniel believed God would act through those who followed the traditional Jewish rules about diet and clean living..

Expectations. Expectations. The air was rife with them.

Last but not least was John the Baptist. His Messiah would carry out a moral purge: "He has his winnowing shovel with him, to thresh out all the grain and gather the wheat into his barn, but will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out." (Luke 3:17).

What were the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's own expectations? The Lord lived at a time when the world was experiencing a new cohesiveness. Greek civilization had brought learning to a new height, and the conquests of Alexander the Great (336 t0 323 B.C.) had disseminated Greek enlightenment across the known world. Roman political genius had created a more permanent empire, making trade and travel possible in a way never known before. When Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C., Jewish traditions were threatened culturally and politically.

The Jews had three alternatives(1) Jews could assimilate into the Greco-Roman world with its news cultural and political synthesis, and survive as individuals though not as a culture by becoming just like everyone else; (2) intensify adherence to traditional Jewish practice and survive by being completely different from everyone else;(3) bring the same coherence to religion that Rome had brought to economics and Greece to culture--- in other words, take religion to a new depth of spiritual consciousness.

All three took place. Many Jews became Roman or identified with the local culture and were absorbed. Many held on to the Jewish religion, aided by written scriptures and an emphasis on the ability to read. A small group received from Jesus of Nazareth a new spiritual consciousness. This spread to every corner of the empire and has spoken to every era since.

Jesus Christ was aware of these alternatives, as is clear from the Gospel accounts that He agonized their appropriateness. They were the demons that tempted him in the time of fasting that followed his baptism.(Luke 4;1-13). The Romans promised people prosperity and certain amount of political autonomy in return for their participation. Would Jesus capitalize on these expectations for a materialistic good life by providing bread? Or would Jesus Christ become the new King David, establishing Israel as a political power in its own right and restoring traditional Jewish practice? Or would Jesus Christ take a page from the prophets and perform great religious feats? To each of these He said no.

He asked people to join Him in saying "YES" to God on a deeper level that combined insight and service. The fullest description of this new ethical approach is found in Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Jesus urged His followers above all else to integrate spiritual consciousness and effective action. "Every tree is known by the fruit it bears." (Luke 6:44). They were to speak the new word demanded by new times." New wine must be poured into fresh wineskins." (Luke 5:38)








Sachin Tendulkar achieves the impossible as he cracks his 50th Test hundred and what can one say which has not been said earlier and in the public mind Sachin has achieved and earned the Bharat Ratna many times over and the brilliance of his career is far from over and I wonder if we will see another hundred before the year is over! Sachin Tendulkar and his exploits banishes all other news to the middle pages and it is quite a welcome diversion from the 2G spectrum mess and the affairs of A Raja the former Telecom Minister, the audio tapes of Niira Radia which continue to attract attention and cause personal damage to many a reputation. Politics however never takes a vacation and as the Congress meet the PM and Sonia Gandhi make positive notes on corruption and communal issues and throw many a punch at the BJP who return the compliment and the situation on the ground is difficult to read as there is a great deal of cynicism. My personal reading is that Sonia Gandhi has read the situation correctly, warned the party bosses on 'discretionary' powers and both the 2G scam. The CWG issue will take a positive direction and I would be very surprised if there would be any interference in the matter. We all want 'instant' justice but this is not possible in fair governance as investigations are necessary and to get evidence from a hundred different sources is not easy and all this takes time. The Supreme Court is now monitoring the investigation and this without any doubt is the best way for the truth to emerge in the 2G scam. No one can really predict the course of events in the 2G scam as asset details surface and A Raja and his family could not be the sole beneficiaries and besides the known political connections there could be business tycoons big and small and many others as the sums involved are huge by any standards.

PM Manmohan Singh's personal integrity has not been questioned but there are serious questions on the delay in acting a year late on A Raja and this clearly is on Coalition pressure and the PM and others in all fairness had objected and initiated action with the CBI probe but the DMK Chief with internal conflicts and a 'gold mine' under his control for over a decade did not respond to reason and played the 'numbers' game to his advantage but then nothing ever lasts forever! The DMK are in serious trouble and the Congress have to protect their reputation and the only way to do this is to recover lost revenue and preliminary action has been initiated on the license issue and in practical terms you cannot punish the entire system for acts committed by a few and 'force' rarely works in these situations in the long term. We are in the political game and the Telecom policy over the years have provided funds for many a party and caused a great deal of internal chaos and there are few secrets in the game and we can expect political missiles to fly in many a direction game but I think the Congress High Command is well aware of the implications and I think corrective action will flow as options are very limited. 
We talk of the 300 crores made by Niira Radia in nine years and I wonder how many political families have made more than this in less than nine years? The sad thing is that political families are producing business tycoons of exceptional merit and as a example can anyone explain the assets of the former CM YSR Reddy and his family members which go into thousands of crores and there are detailed media reports on the number of private limited companies owned by the family and could PM Manmohan Singh or anyone else do anything about this and can the BJP High Command if anything like this exists do anything about the Reddy brothers and their mining interests or for that matter could they change the current CM after his family and their real estate adventures became a issue! The Regional parties fare no better and look at the massive assets of the DMK family and the AIDMK and the list goes on in every State and clearly a public verdict and trust is being treated as a license for asset accumulation rather than effective governance. There are happily exceptions to the rule but how many of them can fight the system on their own and unless we bring transparency into political funding we will continue to be held hostage to vested financial interests. 

We have several Assembly elections due in 2011 and I would be very surprised if the TMC and Mamata Banerjee does not sweep the West Bengal election by a two third margin, the BSP will win Uttar Pradesh by a wider margin then before and the decline in the SP continues and the Congress can be hit by the BSP 'upside' as votes consolidate. The Congress should win comfortably in Kerela and in Assam while in Punjab it will be a tough battle between the Congress and the Akali Dal/BJP combine who will suffer from the anti incumbency trend. The Congress led by Amrinder Singh should do well if their internal dissent is kept under control and for Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu you need the services of a eminent astrologer to predict the outcome but 'change' is in the air and the 2G skeletons can travel in many directions and political accidents will continue to take place as we enter the festive season and the New Year. 

2010 is a year of record GDP growth but has the Aam Aadmi gained anything ? Governance is never easy and I think that the anti incumbency factor will take a heavy toll of leaders big and small as expectation levels soar and the government is expected to perform and with General elections due in 2014 it would be premature to determine winners or losers but it would be fair to state that in 2010 the Congress have lost some momentum but maintain their edge, the BJP have arrested their downward spiral while the Left continue to slide. Regional parties with strong charismatic leaders gain in stature as we see in Bihar, UP and West Bengal.









It cut an impressive picture : Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, looking very impressive in light beige outfit, the Saree ensemble, walking up the staircase of the improvised pandal in Burari, on the outskirts of the capital, the faithful rising to welcome the leader to the three-day party session - coming at the end or a particularly dark month or so of Parliament's winter session, one which had very little positive to look back upon for the party heading the UPA.

Her Congress party had indeed cut such a lonely figure in the two houses of parliament, with little to cheer over. Reminded me of a very somber Comgress session on the lawns of Mavalankar Hall of New Delhi's Constitution Club. Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sonia's mother-in-law and Rahul's grandmother, was to announce the break-up of the party, moving away from the faction led by the party stalwarts including K. Kamraj, President of the party and one of the most remarkable political personages to have come out of Madras, a Nadar who held his own against the late C. Rajagopalchari, the Brahmin who had dominated the pre-independence Southern scene and was India's first Indian Governor General, successor to Lord Louis Mountbatten. CR had quit the Congress earlier to join like-minded people to form the Swatantra Party. On that day at Mavalankar Hall Lawns, Mrs. Indira Gandhi announced the split of the grand old party, tears trickling down her cheeks and shouting aloud "they have thrown me out of my party".

I don't remember if she invoked the names of Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, the father-son duo which had headed the Congress decades earlier in the pre-independence era, but she very much sounded like someone who had been ejected out of her fief. Many were the pundits who that day at Mavalankar Hall gave much of a chance to Indira although D.K. Barooah, the Assamese leader, stood out saying Indira is India and India is Indira.
It didn't take Indira too long to not only establish her own political credentials but she also in time, to quote the late Frank Moraeas, the doyen of Indian Editors for decades, described Indira as the only man in her Cabinet.
The conclusion of this winter's parliamentary session, I don't know why or how, brought back to my mind those days in mid 60s, when Indira after Nehru's death, had seemed to be vulnerable. That arch foe of the Nehru family, the Socialist leader, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia even called her in the Lok Sabha the 'goongi gudiya' (dumb doll) of Indian politics.

That Sonia is a gutsy woman I have known for some years now but would she survive the combined opposition onslaught in Parliament, with some not so reliable allies in tow, by the time the Opposition had successfully made a naught of the winter session. Not one day's sitting held, apart from the usual stentorian cry from the Chief Marshal of the house "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Honourable Speaker". Personally I have not quite given up on the Congress yet. Not even in the face of the usual gaffes by the likes of Digvijay Singh, blessed, of course by the other Gandhi scion, Rahul. Neverteless, a negative feeling had taken grip of my mind. Yes, it may not have been as bad as yet, but a pessimistic feeling was inescapable.

The last of the Moghuls, Bahadur Shah Zafar had passed away unsung and unwept to die in exile in Burma over 150 years ago although the Moghula did, courtesy the new British Masters, continue to think of themselves as the rulers of the defunct Moghul empire for a few more years. The British were firmly in saddle and the good old, Queen Victoria had assumed the additional title of Empress of India. The hopes of an Indian revival triggered by the 1857 mutiny (war of independence) was all but a memory, remembered perhaps only by the 'sahukars' of Chandni Chowk.

Funny that I should be thinking of these dark times. I tried to reason it out until I hit upon the name Hume. Allan Octavian Hume was a birdwatcher who with the ascendancy of the empire thought of helping the Baboos of Calcutta by way of having something to call their own. Thus was the Indian National Congress born and it was the 125th anniversary of the event that Sonia Gandhi and her flock had decided to celebrate at Burari. Celebrations were perhaps in order when the Congress Party was passing through rough times.

Incidentally, Hume's Congress was not founded to oust his countrymen from India. It was more to provide a forum to the Bengalee elite of the day to give them a sense of pride in their Indianness and probably, as someone at that time has noted, to let them (Indians) feel for fusion of all elements and strengthening of union with England. Many Liberal Indians took advantage of the window offered by Hume and soon the nationalists were to take it over, that is until Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the scene and the Congress soon became a vehicle to earn India her independence.

One hundred and twenty five years may not be too long a period in a nation's life (it's our 63rd year as a republic) but for an organization to have survived the trials and tribulations of fighting the war for independence against an entrenched foreign power is indeed something that makes you wonder. The organization itself had seen much turbulence during pre- and post-independence periods but had somehow not only survived but also led the country to its freedom. Qaide Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah may have stolen part of its thunder but a great achievement nevertheless for the founding fathers of free India!

Nehru and Patel have been accused by many of having made Jinnah's task easier. Gandhiji on the other hand is credited with having opposed the move. Be that as it may the fact is that the Congress Party now led by Sonia continues to nurture the basic tenets of the old party, basically (some say superficially) to its commitment to the growth of a secular, democratic polity. To a large measure, the party appears to have succeeded in achieving the twin objectives, though many doubt its secular credentials. The 125th anniversary of the party does, to my way thinking, earn it a pat or two. Don't exactly know what bird watcher A. O. Hume would make of it. An aberration like the Emergency notwithstanding.

And, of course, the 125-year-old party would be digging its own grave if it continues to look the other way as all these scams and corrupt practices continue to flourish under its now shrinking umbrella.








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)












FOOD inflation returning to double digits (12.13 per cent) has caused an understandable alarm. Even though the index measuring wholesale prices does not accurately reflect the actual retail prices consumers pay, the situation is certainly grim, especially at this time of the year when vegetables and fruits are available in plenty. There has been no crop failure barring the untimely rain in the onion-growing states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, which should not have caused a production loss of more than 30 per cent. Given the price rise, the government may have to shelve the idea of raising the diesel and cooking gas prices.


Media reports say the wholesale price index of vegetables is up 67 per cent this fiscal. There has been a phenomenal increase in the prices of cabbage (159%), garlic (140 %) and potato (86%). Tomato, milk, edible oil, egg, meat and fish prices too are on the rise. A food price spiral in the absence of a crop failure can be attributed to hoarding and glitches in the food supply management. Lack of scientific storage facilities is badly felt time and again. According to one report, fruits and vegetables worth Rs 65,000 crore perish annually due to inadequate cold storage and processing facilities.


The price rise would have been tolerable had the growers benefited. But reports indicate the presence of a cartel of middlemen manipulating prices with the government remaining a mute spectator. In fact, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's statement that onion prices will not come down at least for three weeks, it seems, was a helpful signal to hoarders. The government has abolished the import duty on onion and stopped its exports — rather belatedly. This has caused a dip in the wholesale onion prices. It is time to halt all food exports. In the long term farm productivity has to be raised and storage infrastructure created to minimize wastage to meet the needs of a growing population and make national food security a reality.









MR ARUN JAITLEY, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who announced a three-point proposal of the BJP in Jammu on Thursday after its national-level meeting in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, commented that "on every visit to the Valley, the Prime Minister announces some ad hoc initiatives like the constitution of working groups" for the resolution of the Kashmir crisis, but in vain. Finding a solution to a complicated problem like Kashmir is not as easy as Mr Jaitley wants the nation to believe. The efforts made by the UPA government at the Centre have not led to normalisation of the situation in the Valley, but the measures taken so far have definitely weakened the base of trouble-makers, including the separatists and terrorists.


Of course, the BJP's opinion on Kashmir has its own significance. But it has nothing new to offer. The suggestions it has made amount to a reiteration of its known stand. The BJP has always stood for the abrogation of Article 370, which it feels has done more harm than good. It has also been opposed to any change in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Its unexceptionable demand for an equitable distribution of the state's resources showing no discrimination against any region is well known. What is, however, interesting is that the BJP does not approve of the bifurcation or trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir as once mooted by the RSS.


In the larger interests of the nation, the Centre's efforts to end the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to move on. Now that infiltration from across the Line of Control has come down and ordinary people appear to be more interested in the revival of economic activity than anything else, the Centre appears to be thinking of reducing the visible presence of the security forces in the Valley, as Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram indicated a few days back. This may be aimed at ending the resentment among the people. Any step that helps in the restoration of peace is welcome.









THE Himachal Pradesh University's proposal to reserve seats for the lone girl child in a family in professional courses in all colleges except medicine and engineering across the state is refreshing. The idea has a two-fold advantage. At one level, it is likely to discourage those who adopt sex selection procedures and discriminate against female child and on the other it rewards those who cherish the girl child.


However, this is not the first time such a proposal has been mooted. Panjab University, Chandigarh, already has a quota for the lone girl child that has found support from student organisations as well as teachers' federations who have often protested against non-implementation of the quota. In Bangalore, the High Court had asked the Directorate of Medical Education to frame special rules to provide reservation to the benefit of the single girl child for post-graduate studies in medicine. Himachal Pradesh University too had introduced the scheme this year in post-graduate courses. Extending the benefit to under graduate courses is bound to send the right signal in a society that continues to undervalue its daughters.


Sceptics may feel that reservation at the college level is not likely to impact the mindset of the people. Indeed, it is nobody's case that reservations alone can reverse the skewed sex ratio. However, it must be understood that in a country where girl child is denied due status at every stage of life, where gender inequity and violence against women have been entrenched deep, any move that empowers the fair sex should be lauded. There is little doubt that while the law must take its course in curbing malpractices of sex selection, positive measures play an instrumentals role in denting prejudiced attitudes. In fact, the scheme should be adopted by other states as well.

















CHINESE Premier Wen Jiabao's visit was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as indicating a transformation in Sino-Indian relations before the event. After the event, all that South Block let it be known was that it had a "stabilising effect" on the relationship.


Wen has lost no time in disabusing Delhi of any such optimism. From here he flew down to Islamabad. And the balance-sheet of the two visits speak for itself about what the communist Chinese think of our Prime Minister's soft power. Wen announced in Pakistan deals worth $25 billion. In India, he had concluded commercial pacts worth only $16 billion. And that, too, did not narrow the huge gap in favour of China in Sino-Indian trade — the Wen deal only widens that gap. So, South Block has yet to explain in what way its promised pressure on Wen to narrow the trade gap in favour of India has worked.


Not only did Wen not give any assurance or even distant hope of a Chinese aboutturn on India's attempt for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, in Islamabad he made it clear that he was firmly behind his Pakistan ally on most international political questions. And no one needs to be told what Pakistan thinks of the Indian plea for this seat. Our officialdom has sought to find some solace in his private dialogue with Dr Manmohan Singh. The distinguished visitor, the "sources" assure us has said that China would not be an obstacle in the Indian quest for this seat, but how convincing such a promise from Wen is when that indication was not there in any of the Chinese Premier's public statements? Read in the context of what he later said in Islamabad in complete backing of Pakistan, the green shoot New Delhi thought there has simply been shown as an illusion, if not a delusion of his host, Dr Manmohan Singh.


The Chinese visitor did not give any assurance either on the stapled visa issue or on Pakistan's sponsorship of terror against India. If New Delhi was looking for some bright spots in the long dialogue between the two Prime Ministers here, Wen made it clear in Islamabad what his stand is. He praised Pakistan for its attempt to tackle Al-Qaeda terror but said nothing on Pakistan's own sponsorship of Jihadis across the border into India. During the Indian visit, the Chinese Premier did not say a word about the 26/11 attack or on Pakistan's contretemps on prosecuting the perpetrators of that attack. Instead, during his Pakistan visit, Wen was saying that terrorism was not to be linked to any country or religion. "Let us not have any dual standards in this regard", Wen told the Pakistan Parliament-that was perhaps a line from our own Digvijay Singh's mouth because as against New Delhi's official stand of Pakistan-based terrorism, abetted by the government there, the Congress party itself now speaks of "majority terrorism" in India, thereby giving solace to Pakistan. Wen could point to this and talk back at New Delhi.


The Chinese Premier said that Pakistan and his country were "all-weather strategic partners". That means "the

Chinese government and people will stand by you to face all challenges together". That leaves no scope for China to annoy Pakistan by making any concession in its disputes with India. Hence no Chinese commitments on issues concerning India. The Wen visit to India has gone all the way the Chinese wanted.


New Delhi is sulking and seeking to cover up its failures by finding some hope in the small mercies that Wen Jiabao showed. As small as the visiting Prime Minister agreeing to raise the level of economic dialogue and have the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to chair the economic strategic dialogue between the two countries, is considered as "a big plus". In the absence of anything else from the visit, the UPA government is clutching on the straws.


After what the Chinese Premier said in Pakistan there should be no doubt left anywhere that Beijing will use Islamabad to counter and harass India. There is no change in that strategy that communist China adopted long ago taking a lesson from the Nehruvian lollypop treatment towards emerging China. We wrote off Tibet without a protest and let the Chinese occupy it. And then closed our eyes when they went about building roads and occupying chunks of our territory in Aksai Chin and elsewhere. Remember Nehru's blue-eyed boy Krishna Menon describing that territory in the 1960s as one "where not a blade of grass grew".


If Dr Manmohan Singh had any illusion that the Chinese are now coming round — "sources" claimed they are citing China's acceptance of Sikkim as an Indian territory — Beijing had disabused them of it. Just before Wen set foot on India, Beijing had said that the Sino-Indian border was only 2,000-km long. The official position of New Delhi is that it is 3,600 km even without including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir's border with China. That means China has already claimed as its some 1600 km of the border area. So, it is as usual heads-I-win, tails-you-keep" syndrome. Parts of Kashmir's border with China is not considered a Sino-Indian border by Beijing. This is a new element in the dispute between the two countries. And this is linked to China's refusal to consider J&K as an integral part of India.


For all the red carpet that Dr Manmohan Singh rolled out for his Chinese counterpart, there was total opposition from premier Wen regarding the Kashmir question. The issue of stapled visas for anyone going from J&K to China was supposed to have been discussed by the two Prime Ministers. Apparently, the issue was discussed among the two Prime Ministers. But the Chinese leader stood his ground and would not even acknowledge the existence of the legal position. Obviously, all this partly linked to the position China has taken that it considers J&K as a disputed territory. That provides advantage to its friend Pakistan.


New Delhi claims a weak defence of its position by revealing that in the joint communique it has also not allowed any reference to "one China" policy as a retaliation. But that hardly matters for Beijing that has consolidated its position in Tibet with new roads and rail link to Lhasa and from there to the border and total suppression of Tibetans. Further, China has encouraged Chinese to occupy chunks of Tibet and change its demographic environment. Tibetans are now a minority in their homeland. History records how the Nehru government disregarded its own ambassador's advice not to sign off Tibet.


In recent months India has, through its short-sighted policy of playing second fiddle to America, agreed to resume talks with Pakistan despite Islamabad making no concessions on any issue. Therefore, the Obama visit, despite much trumpet-blowing, brought no concrete results. Now the Wen visit has followed suit. Only New Delhi goes on claiming "stabilising effect" without specifying where that "stabilising effect" of the visit is being felt.








IT would have been easier to accept, had he gone doing what he cherished the most: a solo commando mission deep behind the contact-battle, pioneering a near impossible route up a mountain rock-face, expounding on the "body" and "bouquet" of a good wine ………… .


Almost all paratroopers would want to "jump" every morning but Balwant Sandhu was among the few who did just that. Besides setting an example, he was also driven by two personal needs. The peace-time safety regime preparatory to a jump takes nearly two hours which for this voracious reader was the ideal uninterrupted reading session. The other compelling urge arose from his belief that the pull of gravity on the paratrooper was the perfect anti-dote for the hangover of the night before!


Balwant was among the probables for the 1964 Indian Everest expedition. During the course of training-cum-selection under Tenzing in West Sikkim, one aspirant fell critically ill and Balwant volunteered to safely evacuate his "rope" buddy to Darjeeling. Despite this lost opportunity, he would nevertheless enter the Hall of Fame of great mountaineers.


The breakthrough came when he climbed the Sickle Moon Peak and then with Sir Chris Bonnington, he summited Changabhang in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, rated among the world's technically most difficult climbs. And in 1975, Balwant became the first Indian atop Nanda Devi. With several other peaks and Principalship of the Uttar Kashi Mountaineering Institute to his credit, his selection for the Arjuna Award was applauded the most.


When an instructor at the Infantry School Mhow, he qualified for the Defence Services Staff Collage Course at Wellington. It made no sense that he would sit in one train compartment while his Bullet motorbike stood idle in the adjoining one. So he drove, resting wherever refuelling and three days later walked into our room for the sun-downer.


Days later, he would create another landmark. After a Saturday late evening at the Gymkhana, the speeding Bullet jumped the parapet at a sharp curve and the duo fell twenty feet below in the rose-bed of his instructor's bungalow. But the faithful Bullet responded to the kick and together they made a neat exit before detection!


His cup of joy was full when he won the tough, Point to Point horse race and carried the Peter Pan Cup to the cheering German who would later take marriage vows with him inside the regimental gurdwara.


Now on the evening of December 2, an errant driver threw this good man up into the air like a rags-doll. All effort by the Army's R&R Hospital, New Delhi to mend and revive failed and he passed away a weak later. The evening after, as leaping flames consumed the body, Balwant's physical presence was reduced to memories alone. Farewell friend, till you and us reunite in Valhalla.









THIS vital question came to the centrestage some time back in the well-voiced Niketa Mehta's case in which the pregnancy had travelled up to the 23rd week when a congenital heart anomaly was diagnosed in the fetus. The couple sought termination of pregnancy through the process of the court presenting their case on both the counts, but the Mumbai High Court rejected the petition of the couple to procure abortion observing that the MTP Act envisaged procuring abortion up to the 20th week of gestation.


An appeal is lying in the apex court for the amendment of the Act so as to cover such situations and prevent litigation voicing 'wrongful life claim' i.e. a suit may be brought up by or on behalf of the disabled / handicapped child arguing that non-existence was preferable to such a vegetative life occasioned from the congenital abnormality.


In the legal parlance, there has been a tendency in the past that, in cases where the abortion was caused by the action of another person, to compensate the mother or the family in a limited way, i.e. they were used to be compensated for their mental and physical anguish and any impairment of health of the mother occasioned by the miscarriage but not for the productivity of the aborted fetus as if it were a potential wage earner.


However, on March 5, 2007 the Maharashtra State Commission in the case of Kanta Mohan Lal Kotecha Vs United India Insurance Company ruled that the claim in respect of the unborn child was maintainable provided certain requirements were satisfied.


The forum laid stress upon the concept of 'viability' i.e. whether the fetus had reached the stage of 'viability' at the time of the accident and thereby attained the status of a 'potential person' who could be able to live outside the mother's womb albeit with artificial aid.


The medical literature speaks of attainment of this stage at the completion of seven calendar months i.e. 210 days of intra-uterine life. The view expressed by Berriman Cox as early as 1969, "No specific limit can be assigned to the period when the chance of life begins, but it may, perhaps, be safely assumed that under seven months, the great probability is that the child would not be born alive" still holds substance.


Furthermore, observations of the court in the case of Jabbar Vs State (1966, AII): "where the postmortem report shows that the fetus had developed sufficiently to have an identity of its own as child, it would be enough to satisfy the definition of the term 'person' as used Section 304A of the Code" lend unambiguous authenticity to the same.


]Next important medico-legal milestone of gestational period may be considered as 20th week. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy on the basis of opinion of one registered medical practitioner where the length of pregnancy does not exceed 12 weeks and, on the basis of opinion of not less than two registered medical practitioners where the length of pregnancy exceeds 12 weeks but does not exceed 20 weeks.


And, such an opinion must be formed in good faith showing that the continuance of pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.


The stage of 'quickening' is another well recognised period in the fetal life. It implies feeling of fetal movements by the mother which are appreciated between 16th and 18th weeks in multigravida and between 18th to 20th week in primingravida. Causing miscarriage during this period attracts punishment under Section 312 IPC.


The explanation appended to the section makes it clear that this section applies equally both to the woman miscarrying and to the abortionist who causes her miscarriage. The offence is committed by the latter with the consent of the woman and they, therefore, are both particeps criminis.


However, situations may be there when the intention of the offender is to commit culpable homicide against the mother and, in that process, mother however survives but the child with which she is pregnant (the pregnancy having reached beyond the stage of quickening), gets killed.


Such cases are punishable under Section 316 IPC. The offence here may be described as a modified form of culpable homicide as applied to an unborn child through the principle of 'transfer of malice'.


The period around the 12th week of gestation is significant from the angle of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC & PNDT Act. The necessity for the enactment of this Act was felt because of the absence of any specific provision in the Indian Penal Code regarding 'feticide' (explanation third to Section 299 IPC which defines culpable homicide opens with the words: "The causing of death of a child in the mother's womb is not homicide………").


And the emerging trends for female feticide, probably because of the still lingering belief that the son is the old-age-security (budhape ki lathi) and, the daughter is the other's asset (paraya dhan); have added fuel to the fire.


Women, therefore, face covert violence before birth through sex-selection and overt violence after conception through sex-selective abortion. The clinching period for determination of the sex of the fetus ultra-sonographically, as mentioned in various standard books on the subject, rests at 12th week of intra-uterine development since during embryologic development, the male and female genitalia are identical until the 11th week of gestation.


At 12th weeks' gestation, fetal gender can be determined in 86 per cent to 100 per cent of these cases. The male fetus is diagnosable when the penis and scrotum are demonstrated. And the female, when the labia majora are demonstrated. Inopportune fetal position, oligohydramnios (abnormally small amount of amniotic fluid in which the fetus is suspended in the womb), maternal obesity, and operator's / expert's experience represent the major limitations in fetal gender assessment.


It will be worth focusing here that PC & PNDT Act is the only Act wherein the punishment has been prescribed even at the stage of framing of charges by the court which includes suspension of registration until the case is disposed off.


Lastly is the gestational period around 8th week. In humans, the developing organism from fertilisation to the end of 8th week is termed as embryo. And, from 9th week onwards, it is termed as fetus. The overwhelming desire to have a child is the product of a deep-seated, instinctive, and evolutionary urge to perpetuate the species.


Therefore, in the ever emerging societal shake-up, issues like surrogacy (a surrogate mother is one who is hired to bear a child which she turns over at birth to the contracting couple, the practice sometimes called as 'baby selling' and the surrogates as 'whores)', oocyte donation/selling, cryo-preservation and implantation of embryos, etc; deserve consideration.


Apart from the general laws that prohibit the use of the body for commercial purposes, there is no specific law that could deal with such practices.


Dr Krishan Vij, former Professor & Head, Forensic Medicine, GMCH, Chandigarh, is currently Professor , Head, Forensic Medicine, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, Bathinda








On Christmas eve, a sixty-yearold gold medalist doctor was convicted on charges of sedition and conspiracy against the state, by a sessions court in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. He was convicted under section 124 of the Indian Penal Code. This means he has caused contempt, hatred, disaffection, disloyalty against a lawfully elected government, either by his actions, words, signs or silence. He could be sentenced to a life in prison. 


What is this heinous crime which he is supposed to have committed? How can a gentle paediatrician, distinguished alumnus of the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore become a criminal, whose punishment is on par with murderers and rapists? 


This is the fate that has befallen the world renowned Dr Binayak Sen, who was imprisoned in August 2007 by the Chhattisgarh police. He had been working in the area of public health, especially among mine workers and adivasis since 1981. He was concerned about starvation among the tribals and their children. He worked in some of India's most impoverished parts. That is why the Indian Academy of Social Sciences awarded a gold medal to him. Even the Global Health Council recognised his immense contribution to public health. 


So how come he came to be charged and convicted of sedition and treason? That's because during his work in one of the most impoverished parts of India, inevitably he came into contact with Naxalites. Maybe he provided medical service to patients, some of whom were Naxals. Maybe he mingled and conversed with them. Maybe he listened to their propaganda. He and his wife, and indeed the entire community of activists, friends, including20 Nobel prize winners say he is not guilty as charged, and that there is no evidence against him. This case will surely go into appeal to a high court and maybe higher. 


He was also charged and convicted under section 120 B, which is hatching a criminal conspiracy. These sections of IPC are from the British era, duly modified by replacing the words "Her Majesty" with appropriate words. He was also convicted under a 2005 law special to the Chhattisgarh state, about endangering public safety. 


Sen's conviction brings into focus the larger question of the state of civil liberties in India. Even tending to enemy soldiers in wartime is considered humanitarian, and in fact a duty of a doctor. Secondly, the scourge of Naxalism has touched 150 districts in India, affecting millions of people. It thrives, or festers in the poorest and least-developed districts. The central and state governments have acknowledged and declared that Naxalism is not merely a law and order problem, but a socio-economic problem. Many journalists cover Naxal leaders' statements, and interviews. So how can Sen's engagement be considered sedition, even assuming there is evidence. 


Especially in light of crimes of corruption exposed by the CAG and CBI elsewhere in the country, where convictions are rare, Sen's conviction is very odd indeed. Satyam company has been rescued in 90 days, but one year later the hearing for the crimes have not even begun. And a lady called Irom Sharmila from Manipur has completed 10 years of fasting, as protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. She is force-fed and kept alive, because her protest is unacceptable. 

 As people who live in a free and democratically governed country, we have basic rights, both positive and negative. The positive ones include right to life, to free speech, to own property, to freely move and settle anywhere and right to a due process of law. The negative rights are right not to be harassed by the state or the police. 


Sen's fate on this Christmas morning certainly doesn't bring cheer to all who take their liberties for granted.


Dr Binayak Sen was convicted of treason and sedition by a court in Chhattisgarh




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The encouraging story broke at the start of 2010 was that more than half the Bimaru states (whose extended definition covers the eight poorest states in the country) had done very well on growth in the five years to 2008-09. Bihar, Uttarakhand, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh clocked between 7.3 per cent and 11 per cent annual growth, thus crossing into "Tiger" territory. Even UP and Rajasthan achieved 6.3 per cent, whereas the all-India average during these five years was 8.5 per cent. The Bimaru state bringing up the rear was Madhya Pradesh, with 4.9 per cent annual growth. All this was a sharp and welcome contrast with what prevailed in the 1990s, when the Bimaru states typically managed about 4 per cent annual growth, against a national average of about 6 per cent.


Now, with the numbers updated to include 2009-10, the story has got a new twist. While the laggard states have more or less maintained their relative momentum, the big difference (and therefore the bigger story now) is that the more advanced states are losing traction—not just in relative terms but also in their absolute growth performance. Thus, in the two years of 2008-10, when there was an economic slowdown, Tamil Nadu achieved barely 5 per cent annual growth, as did Karnataka. Andhra Pradesh was slightly better at 5.3 per cent. These numbers, while discouraging in themselves, were a dramatic drop from what these southern stars achieved in the previous four-year period, 2004-08: 9.8 per cent, 10.8 per cent and 10.1 per cent, respectively. Maharashtra, meanwhile, dropped from 10 per cent in the boom years to 6 per cent during the slowdown, while Punjab clocked 6.6 per cent. Both poster-boys of rapid development in an earlier era were slower than the all-India average growth rate of 7.1 per cent in 2008-10.


The only two among the better-off states that continued to do well were Gujarat (8.9 per cent) and Haryana (8 per cent). So we have the strange sight of the states that are more industrialised, have a tech base and/or have a higher per capita income, losing momentum and inter-state ranking.


One could argue that this is a blip, caused by the general slowdown; coastal states that have a higher share of international trade are likely to suffer more when there is a global recession. Also, investment has tended to be more resource-driven than in the past, and this has favoured the Bimaru states which have a preponderance of the country's natural resources. But equally, Maharashtra and Punjab have poor fiscal policies and have been coping with the effects of bankrupt treasuries, yet neither is willing to correct for past mistakes. Maharashtra's public debt began climbing in the mid-1990s (with the first Shiv Sena government), but successor Congress-led governments have been no better, and the debt has reached such proportions that half the state's revenue goes to service the debt, leaving little money for investment in things like fresh power capacity. Punjab's situation is perhaps worse, brought about by populist measures like giving free power to farmers. At the start of this decade, the state had an economy that was one-third bigger than Haryana's, but it is now smaller than its sibling. Karnataka has had a run of poor state administrations, but the current one is said to be the worst ever, while Tamil Nadu could be suffering from kleptocratic rule. Whatever the reasons—and they deserve deeper study—it should cause worry that, just when the laggard states have got their act together, the states with the best track record so far have suddenly lost momentum.








The government imposed a ban on the export of onion to control its domestic price. There are two reasons why onion prices, which had suddenly shot up, could not be left alone. One is that the poor eat onions and with onions becoming unaffordable, their nutrition levels would fall drastically as they would be forced to eat other things; maybe, even hunger could creep in. This would suggest that without such increases in the price of onions, the poor would have had a living acceptable to the non-poor and the privileged. The second reason, of course, is a very important one; experts have always maintained that governments fall if onion prices rise when elections are close by. Therefore, it was not surprising that the government clamped down on the export of onions, while the non-poor cheered, in the name of the poor. Let me explain, fully, the thought process behind such government actions.


It is widely held, among those who know, that this sudden price rise benefits only those who trade in onions but do not grow them. We, the non-poor, know that traders hoard onions, force prices up and then force people to buy all these onions at much higher prices. And, even when they do not hoard, the international price of onions often goes up, making it more profitable for domestic traders to sell in the international market and this also increases domestic prices. Moreover, we know that all this happens, by some unknown conspiracy, only after all the farmers have sold their onions at throwaway prices to the traders. In other words, farmers never get any benefit from these high prices. We, the non-poor onion experts, therefore, want the government to ban exports whenever onion prices go beyond levels unacceptable to us. And, we do this in the name of the countless Indian poor and to ensure that we achieve our millennium development goals on hunger and nutrition.


 The rise in onion prices is a subtle, sophisticated conspiracy, which even the farmers are unaware of. It is triggered, as remarked upon earlier, only after the farmers have sold all their produce to traders. Even if the trigger jumps the gun and some farmers still have onions to sell, their poverty and irrationality prevent them from asking for higher prices from the traders for their produce. This is because of bad governance, lack of politicisation and the terrible effects of leaving farmers to the vagaries of the market. It is precisely to prevent the farmer from falling into the clutches of the traders that benevolent state governments have put in place various controls on agricultural produce in terms of who the farmers can sell their produce to, where they can sell it and at what price. And when they fail to implement what they want, the central government should step in with export bans. Finally, what is true of onions is true of most things the poor in India eat.


Actually, all this is only done for the poor in India. For example, when telecom operators got the 2G spectrum at throwaway prices from the government and then traded them away to foreign partners at ten times the price, the non-poor 2G experts never asked for such foreign sales to be banned. It is true that the government acted like the irrational onion farmer who forgot to ask for a higher price but then our government is not poor. After all, how many poor can suffer the losses made during the Commonwealth Games! And, unlike onions, the poor do not buy 2G spectrum and so none of our millennium development goals is affected by 2G traders buying cheap from the government and selling high to users of such spectrum.


Barring the connectivity to the poor, the two are similar in many ways. For example, onion traders can collude with international markets and among themselves because they can act as oligopolists; free entry is not allowed and you and I cannot decide to become traders simply because there is money to be made. In other words, there is no competition among traders to keep prices low to consumers and high to producers. Instead, it is the other way around. Similarly, 2G traders were an oligopoly because spectrum was not given out to competitive bidders but only to some chosen few and that kept the prices low for the government and high for those who bought it from these middlemen.


There are some sceptics who are losing their onions over such reasoning behind the export ban. They would point out that the reason for onion traders making high profits is that they are oligopolistic. If trading was competitive, speculation would not be possible and farmers would get price signals seamlessly. If they got the right price signals, they would respond with the correct choice of crops and increase availability of onions should the market heat up. And, should the export market suddenly become more lucrative, with competitive trading, some poor farmers would earn higher incomes and not commit suicide. And, the situation can be further improved if storage facilities are more widely available and onion can be freely traded in commodity exchanges. Controlling the market for storage facilities and what can and cannot be traded in exchanges is not the best way to help the poor onion farmer and it certainly does not keep prices low for the poor consumer of onions.


These sceptics have the bad habit of drawing parallels. They point out that much of the boom in industry and services followed the market reforms and the gradual withdrawal of government controls. Small industries did not collapse as a result, they restructured and, in the aggregate, are no worse off. So, why is agriculture different? Well, what do sceptics know?


The author is research director, India Development Foundation








It's that moment when columnists routinely produce their end-of-the-year picks to round off the festive season and avoid any dampeners to lower joyous spirits. Like children's stockings brimming with good cheer on Christmas Day, these happy tidings arrive in desirable lists of the best books they've read, roundups of thrilling films they've seen, sports events they have witnessed, or even, in the case of food writers, the best meals they have eaten. In contrarian mood and satiric vein, however, here is my own humble offering of books and films that I would like to read and see in 2011.


The Reluctant Lobbyist

A well-written, succinct narrative, delivered as a dramatic monologue and printed in a generous type size, inspired by the panache and pace of Mohsin Hamid's much-admired The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), is now being made into a movie by Mira Nair. Rather than having to plough through yards of telephone conversations on the Net or in print, why not have Niira Radia's velvety tones in an affordable paperback? Concise and informative, chatty but allusive, her diverting dialogues would captivate book lovers, a small monument to ego-massaging, mediating and power-broking. Watching the twin towers being blown up on 9/11, Changez, the New York-based management consultant hero of Hamid's novel, confesses: "Despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased." Radia's book could convey the same pleasure at bringing India "down on its knees" that Changez feels about 9/11.


Minimum Onion Cookbook

Are there chefs out there who really know their onions? Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjeev Kapoor, Ritu Dalmia and others of their ilk would have an instant best-seller if they produced recipes that economised on this high-priced vegetable. French onion soup or the Mughlai dish of mutton do piaza, with its extravagant double dose, will have to be replaced with cost-effective creations that minimise usage. An onion cookbook without tears is the need of the hour.


My Family and Other Animals

Borrowing the title of Gerald Durrell's classic, first published in 1956 and never out of print since, any ingenious member of the Ambani or Tamil Nadu's Karunanidhi clan could have a go at a racy, inter-generational family saga that spans the sub-continent with a large cast of characters, their complex relationships and feuds. Starting with a genealogical chart and ending with a comprehensive index and source notes, this commodious page-turner of empire-building dynasties should be a chronicle of high-voltage political drama that offers new insights into control of wealth and power. The network of rivalries and alliances should be no trouble to delineate but fresh psychological motivations are needed. Famous names, glamorous homes, lavish lifestyles and dazzling weddings will encourage a hungry readership to new levels of feeding frenzy.


Teen Khan

nspired by Manmohan Desai's 1977 superhit Amar Akbar Anthony, the new big-screen blockbuster should bring together Bollywood's Big 3 (Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir) in an epic drama, reinforcing the film industry's favoured formula of lost-and-found brothers. Burying the hatchet would bring in untold profits by way of product endorsements, TV shows and music sales. The "Three K" team should be supported by Kareena Kapoor, Kajol and Katrina Kaif, making it a sixer to remember. Item numbers by Bipasha Basu and Malaika Arora at their raunchiest will calm the rowdies and keep the country singing all year.

The Scam Busters

Styled after Ocean's Eleven, the 2001 crime comedy, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon et al, here is Hollywood's chance to ramp up Slumdog Millionare's success in India and hit the jackpot at the Oscars. The simple plot line, of a group of likeable rogues uncovering a string of corruption scams, should be directed as a fast-paced action thriller with an ambiguous moral ending as to who the crooks really are. Think of the spinoffs: Julia Roberts will come back to India. The director will get sequel after sequel. And A R Rahman will wear the halo of musical genius again. Could there be a happier Christmas for all?









First things first. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, all of 5'.5', thirty-seven years of age has ignited the world of cricket and provided joy to a nation of over one billion people. Like his childhood hero Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001), he is a gentleman cricketer — never questions an umpire's decision, never argues with any member of the rival team. He transforms the mundane into the stylish, while casting a magical, inspirational spell around himself and his teammates. Comparisons with Bradman are a shallow undertaking. Give both their due. The Don played 52 Tests, scoring 29 centuries. World War II deprived him of three Test series — 1940, 1942, 1944. His average of 99.94 can never be equalled. He inspired his nation when it was in a deep economic depression. Sachin Tendulkar is a perennial inspiration.


I briefly met Sir Donald Bradman once, in Sydney. I had taken a letter from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for Prime Minister Bob Hawke of Australia. Our meeting got on to a wrong start. Mr Hawke was known for his undiplomatic functioning. He was being unreasonable. He said, "India was being intellectually lethargic." I made it politely plain that he couldn't be more wrong. I kept my cool and we parted amicably.


 At the time all Australian Airlines were on strike. I had driven from Canberra to Sydney in the morning. To repeat the journey the same day was not an attractive prospect. I learnt Mr Hawke was flying to Sydney for a Bradman dinner. I requested a lift. He graciously agreed. "Have you met the Don, the PM asked. "No, but I would very much like to pay homage to one of my sporting heroes", I said. I did meet Sir Donald Bradman. No photograph exists because the Don did not think it worth his while to be seen with an insignificant minister of state!


Should Sachin Tendulkar get the Bharat Ratna? Most certainly. On his 50th birthday.


The 125th anniversary of the Indian National Congress was an important landmark in the party's history. It was celebrated at Burari earlier in the week. In 1985, I attended the 100th anniversary session at Bombay held at the CCCI stadium. Entry was not easy. The Maharashtra police were unfamiliar with the mugs of Delhi VIPs. I was staying with my late friend Sunil Dutt. Everybody knew him. Ahead of us in the queue were future President K R Narayanan and P A Sangma. "I am P A Sangma", got an impolite response. "For PAs there was another entrance." Sunil Bhai intervened and all was well.


Rajiv Gandhi made a brilliant, passionate, inspiring, visionary speech which electrified the audience. It still resonates. At Burari, Sonia Gandhi made a forceful speech. She did well to condemn vulgar, conspicuous consumption. She struck the right note. Moral transformation of a society or a political party is an uphill task. One needs a Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, or a Gandhi to attempt such a reform. Even these luminaries did not wholly succeed. The creditable thing is that she brilliantly succeeded in uplifting the moral of the party at the session. No one else could have done so. Without her the Congress would become a lame duck organisation.


It has been a leaky year. First, the irrepressible Mr Assange. Then the irresistible, enterprising Indian femme fatale, who irresponsibly exposed a few holy cows, besides doing the craft of lobbying considerable harm. I would give Mr Assange much higher marks. He has changed the future conduct of the foreign policy of the United States. No irreparable harm has so far been done. American diplomats would have a few lessons to learn. They should be less judgmental and less indiscreet. However, there is a worrying aspect. American infiltration into our intelligence and security outfits is growing. This needs to be monitored and closely watched in a sustained way. Our relations with the United States are far-reaching to be jeopardised by the irresponsible, self-appointed American point men in our Capital.


See Naples and die. See India and live. As a keen diplomatic observer for 57 years, I have not seen such an India gold rush. Within a period of six months, we have witnessed David Cameron, Barack Obama, Nicholas Sarkozi and Dimitry Medvedev falling and fawning with folded hands in search of Indian markets and entrepreneurs and IT geniuses. It's quite a sight and a pleasing one.


The country to watch is China. Mr Wen did not bow or scrape. He was friendly, subtle, inscrutable. He conveyed a very clear message by flying from India to Islamabad, where he felt more at home. All the cackle about our aspirations for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council should now be tempered with hard-headed realism. The US, the UK, France and Russia can promise and propagate. Only China can deliver. That will take longer than nine months.


]Finally, all the best for 2011.









The twin characteristics of autonomy and anaplasia ("without form") define the modern understanding of cancer. Whether they are to be thought of as "ugly, deformed, and unruly" or as "anaplastic" and "autonomous", the cells of a cancer are wicked in ways far beyond what is implied by the scientific connotation of the word malignant. Malevolent, in fact, says it better because it bears the implication of an element of ill will.
— Sherwin Nuland in How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter


Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee in his biography of cancer describes it as The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner, Special Indian Price Rs 1,052) because of its endless mutability and ruthless adaptability to survive in a world of normal cells. This is one of the most lucid accounts of the prognosis of cancer (it is already on the best-seller lists in America and Britain) that describes the growth and development of cells gone awry in a language simple to understand by the common reader. Dr Mukherjee is eminently qualified to do so as a former Rhodes scholar with a PhD in immunology, a stint with the Harvard Medical School and now with Columbia Cancer Centre where his experience as an oncologist in the hospital residency forms the basis of the book.


 Dr Mukherjee describes cancer as the "Emperor" because so protean are its forms and so varied its features—two identical cancers in two patients could behave in entirely different ways as to appear as two different diseases—that it compels him to describe cancer as the "Emperor" of all diseases. Though different cancers develop differently in each individual case, Dr Mukherjee attempts to provide what he calls "a unifying theory" or the common attributes of all kinds of malignant cell growth.


To do so, he traces the history of cancer from its earliest days described by Hippocrates and Galen as "swelling, ulceration and death". The cause remained a mystery, as it still does, but different cures were attempted, first surgery that progressively became more and extensive till surgeons could go no further. Later, as the science of pathology developed, chemo-therapeutic drugs came into play which were given either singly or in combination with other drugs. X-rays and other forms of radiation known to kill cells have now been introduced but the danger in this form of treatment is that it kills both abnormal and healthy cells that leaves the patient weak and exhausted. Modern-day treatment involves a combination of all three methods: surgery, chemo followed by radiation and regular check ups to monitor the spread of the disease.


The great merit of Dr Mukherjee's book is that it sticks to the fundamentals and does not attempt to turn it into a textbook of oncology suitable for specialists. And the fundamentals are explained in simple, everyday conversational English. Thus, cancer is a state in which a breakdown has occurred in communication and mutual interdependence between cells. That a sequence of events is established in which the genetic characteristics of the malignant cell become altered and everything else about the disease follows from this fact. "Some of the environmental, lifestyle, and other causes of the alterations are known, some are being studied, and some still unsuspected."


]The real problem with cancer treatment is that it is, in every possible sense, non-conformist. But unlike non-conformist individuals, who can be very interesting, the non-conformist malignant cell doesn't have a single redeeming feature. It does everything it can not only to dissociate itself from but even to destroy the community of cells that has given it life. "As though to make certain that it is not confused with the conformist adult members of its original family, the cancer cell retains an immature and different appearance and even shape." This characteristic of malignant growth is "anaplastic" or "without form" which gives birth to "anaplastic offspring" that explains why cancer spreads so rapidly once it matures.


]In a word, cancer is asocial. "Having escaped the constraints that govern nonmalignant cells, the newly formed tissues pursue uncontrolled and domineering relationships with their host organs and cannot be made to restrict their encroaching margins to the foci that gave them birth. Unrestrained and pattern-less growth enables a cancer to force its way into nearby structures to engulf them, and prevent their functioning, and choke their vitality. And which explains why "the predictability of the malignancy's unpredictability is unpredictable".


]Dr Mukherjee describes the central structure of the cancer cell and its nucleus but this need not detain you if you are not interested in the technical aspects of the dreaded disease. What would be of greater interest would be the present state of play and what does the future hold for cancer treatment. Apart from the technological advances for diagnostic treatment, there are 24 new drugs already in use, targeting specific mutations of lung, breast, colon, prostate and blood cell malignancies. Many more are being experimented just as advances in surgery, radio therapy and chemotherapy continue constantly. But anyone who has visited cancer wards would tell you that these advances are bought at a heavy price that the common man can't possibly pay for. As Oscar Wilde might have put it, "it would be better to die beyond your means".









Two years ago, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, no one but Rahul Gandhi believed there would be a change of guard in Rajasthan, and, least of all, a person as uncharismatic, even dull, as Ashok Gehlot would become chief minister. Gandhi told party colleagues with quiet confidence that the Congress party would win the election and Gehlot would be chief minister.


Had C P Joshi, current minister for rural development, not lost from his constituency, Nathdwara, by one vote, it might have been hard to decide whether Joshi or Gehlot would be chief minister. The two are chalk and cheese. Joshi is irascible, blunt and hates being asked for favours. Gehlot is moderate, gentle and unaggressive. They are also not particularly fond of each other. In fact, at a meeting where Gehlot was present, Joshi remarked, soon after the Assembly elections: "I was a follower of Ashok Gehlot. Now I am his collaborator. For each person he has to decide at some point… The earlier relationship between us was of leader-follower and now it is of leader-collaborator". But despite their differences (and they persist), they made a formidable team and scripted victory not just in the Assembly elections (96 out of 200) but also in the Lok Sabha (19 out of 25).


 But it was Simple Simon Gehlot who became chief minister. In the first few months, Gehlot managed to consolidate the Congress party's hold in the Assembly: six MLAs from the Bahujan Samaj Party merged the unit with the Congress. He secured the support of independents leading to numerical security. But he could not – and has not – been able to shrug off the image of being a weak, ineffectual chief minister. And now, he, too, is faced with the same problem that had confronted his predecessor, Vasundhara Raje — the Gujjars are at it again.


What exactly is the problem?


A court order has said that the Gujjars – a middle pastoral caste – should not be entitled to special reservation in government jobs. Theoretically, the Gujjars should have got a share of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) pie — the Jats are considered Other Backward Classes and get 27 per cent reservation. But the problem is, they corner 99 per cent of the 27 per cent. So the Gujjars said they wanted a special 5 per cent quota. The matter reached the courts and the high court stayed the quota since that would have exceeded the 50 per cent limit. Then the Gujjars stumbled upon another stratagem. Gujjars and Bakarwals are considered nomadic tribes and enumerated as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. So why can't we also be Scheduled Tribe, reasoned the Gujjars. This matter came up during the Vasundhara Raje regime and what followed was a backlash from the other important Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan, the Meenas. Raje overcame the agitation by introducing a new legislation – the Rajasthan SC, ST, OBC, Special OBC Act, 2008 – providing a 5 per cent reservation for Gujjars and three other communities and 14 per cent for Economically Backward Classes (EBCs). The elections defused the matter, especially as the main Gujjar leader, Col K M Bainsla, opted to fight an election (unsuccessfully) with a BJP nomination.


It came up again when soon after his election, Gehlot said he would restart recruitment in government jobs (around 50,000 jobs were up for grabs) and that there would be a special reservation for Gujjars, subject to legal review. The legal review has gone against the Gujjars. And they are agitating again.


It is really hard to tell if their claim – that they are a tribe and, therefore, should get a 5 per cent reservation – is justified. What is true is that the majority of the Gujjars in Rajasthan are desperately poor. Gujjars say their lifestyle and that of the Meenas is identical. Yet, one group enjoys the privileges of being Scheduled Tribe while the other is denied. The Meenas own nearly 60 per cent of the total land. The Gujjars constitute 7 to 8 per cent of the Rajasthan's population and are under-represented in the defence services, the bureaucracy and the services sector. No Gujjar has ever been appointed member of the Rajasthan Public Service Commission, vice chancellor or judge of the Rajasthan High Court.


Gehlot tried to defuse the problem. But former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar used to cite Kautilya to define leadership. Every king has a raja danda, the royal seal. This gives him authority. He can choose to exercise his authority; or not. And if he doesn't exercise it he cannot expect to be called a good king — as in the Babari Masjid case where people began massing in Ayodhya, the government knew it was all going to hell but did nothing; or in Rajasthan where crowds of Gujjars have been preventing trains from running and despite being forewarned, the government has done nothing.


This is the tourist season and the Gujjars, who feel they have no stake in anything, want to do maximum damage. The situation is heading inexorably towards a round of police firing and more "martyrs" as in 2007 when 26 died in police firing. Why doesn't somebody intervene? Where are all the leaders?








I recall the words of an astute man, now dead. He said, "Never forget that Delhi is a derivative city. People think they derive power by claiming to be close to others in power. It is circular. The mirage works for a few, and doesn't for most. But it takes a while to recognise who really knows what is going on, and who doesn't."


Nothing explains Delhi or Washington DC better than these sentences. These capitals have only one game in town. It involves behaving as if you are a deep political and administrative insider; and making others believe that you are the crucible of critical information, which you dole out in bits with just enough veracity for the listener. If your professed connections fail often enough and in relatively quick time, you are abandoned for the next "in-the-know" in town. Sometimes to rise like the Phoenix, usually under a different political and bureaucratic dispensation.


 That brings me to Niira Radia. Until now, I hadn't bothered about the tapes. I don't know her; probably wouldn't recognise her even today; and wouldn't care to either. What was the big deal about her? After all, there are at least half a dozen such people like her floating around Delhi, who are to be seen at the Chambers or the Belvedere, and in the front of British Airways flights. What was so special about her, other than her tattles being taped, and then being released to the press?


Eventually, I decided to hear some of the tapes. I found bits of fairly serious stuff interspersed in mountains of trivia, gross unprofessionalism and a tragedy. First the trivia. A columnist writing a piece exactly the way that one of Radia's client's would have liked, and giving her a précis before it was put to bed. An über-rich spouse being irked by a write-up on her, and having someone ask Radia to fix it. The connected husband of an adopted daughter and Radia sharing well-known juice about the near-death bankruptcy of a major Delhi-based property developer-qua-nascent mobile player, whose bounced cheques were manifest missiles of the past. Some wickedly perspicacious comments by a retired IAS honcho, now a Rajya Sabha member, involving Shivji ki baraat (various creatures in the Union cabinet); the apparent demotion of the erstwhile commerce minister from glories of the WTO to fixing the nation's potholes; and the unexpected rise of Anand Sharma and Jairam Ramesh in the post-2009 election dispensation. And conversations with Ratan Tata — including one where Radia spews nineteen to the dozen, while Tata says, "Yeah", "Uh, huh" and "Um, hmm" 33 times.


]All of this was fairly known stuff; some cleverly put; some bitchy; some utterly silly; and nothing unexpected. To me, an astounding feature of the tapes is Radia's inexhaustible ability to yak. Almost every conversation is 80:20 in the lady's favour. Her modus operandus is ancient. Glean some information from A; play that out to B, adding a twist or two to get some more dope; stitch them together and play it to C and so on. By the time you reach K and then replay all this to A, everyone is convinced that you are totally in the know. There are some past masters of this game in Delhi. Radia learnt the ropes well, despite talking too much.


For me, the tragedy is a tale of gradual delusion of a financially honest, semi-retired person with a desire to be the nation's Eminence Grise. His need to be recognised as an advisor to those who matter, be thought of as a permanent invitee to all in camera matters of consequence, and be known as a peripatetic friend who is in the loop with the highest authorities in Delhi and Washington DC was cleverly leveraged by Radia, acting as child at the feet of the master. Some of this person's provenance is true. Some is not, but has taken a life of its own in the derivative atmosphere of Delhi. Radia played him so well that he — a tight-lipped person — felt the need to speak way more than he should have, dropping too many names for anybody's comfort, sharing spicy tit-bits and then apologising. A tragedy for a good individual who built and ran a class outfit for over four decades.


The gross unprofessionalism is Radia's. For a person in the game of influence-peddling and getting-things-done-for-my-patron, she was over the top in talking about her key clients to others. "Ratan said this" and "Mukesh wishes that", "Ratan can't trust Mukesh" and "Sunil is a difficult nut to crack" are hardly what serious policy manipulators say on phones. Or say at all. I was also amazed at how she shared information about one key client or the other to various third parties. It was yak, tease, gossip, cajole, drop little goodies all the way.  


The serious stuff is how Radia worked tirelessly to influence the outcome of the 2G spectrum sales. She worked the press; worked Raja; worked his minions; and even worked those who need not have been worked. Did she influence the outcome? It is very difficult to say. If Raja somehow had his brain addled and did the right thing and the Radia tapes had leaked, we would have all said that the lady failed. But with Raja doing the wrong thing, did Radia succeed? Or did others, who had doled out vast amounts of cash to unknown coffers, while she kept the band playing? I suspect that was the case.


What have we learnt that we didn't know? That there are public relations people who try to influence decisions? That there are corrupt ministers? That the size of the take has increased exponentially? That some journalists do planted stories? Even a decade ago, a leading newspaper was called The Greenhouse for its many plants. Radia is a phone-working, hyper-talkative intermediary who is being given way more importance than she deserves. The real muck of the 2G scandal lies elsewhere. 


The writer is Chairman, CERG Advisory Private Limited









Strategic partnership" is one of the overused words in our diplomatic discourse. Some years ago, India called Vietnam a strategic partner; that ignored the content of India-Vietnam political, economic, cultural and other ties, and became a minor source of amusement within the New Delhi diplomatic corps. For sure, Vietnam is important to India in many ways, but the "strategic" label is an expression of intent, far from realisation. Yet, we seldom use this label for our immediate neighbours, notwithstanding the fact that Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Iran, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, even Pakistan, directly connect with our strategic interests.


New Delhi has witnessed a succession of eminent leaders; the Chinese Premier and the Russian President making it a perfect score, in terms of visits by the UN Security Council permanent member quintet, all within barely six months. Today's question is: how might vital relationships be best managed, not just the P5, but also the key neighbours, some of them small and medium states? Are there "best practices" to emulate, based on our experience and that of others?


 For any country, the community of world states easily divides into three concentric circles: those at the core of one's concerns, those in the middle circle that are important to advancing external interests, and those at the periphery in terms of those interests. Joseph Nye, an arch-realist, divides foreign states into those that have a potential to threaten one's survival; those that threaten one's interests but not survival; and finally those that affect one's interests, without threatening them. Whatever yardstick one applies, it is the countries in the first cluster, big and small, that should logically be at the centre of attention.


What are the instruments at our disposal to forge close links with such priority countries? How should one flesh out the skeleton of a "strategic partnership"? What are the things that merit universal application?


One may well ask, is this not "Diplomacy 101"? It is, but improbably, the basics do not always make the foundation of policy. Look at the way India handles immediate neighbours, leaving out Pakistan, which receives vast attention in New Delhi. First, our prime minister has not made a bilateral visit to Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka in the past six years.


]Second, A S Bhasin, assiduous compiler of Indian foreign policy records, has graphically narrated the casual manner in which different Indian functional ministries have simply failed to push forward on bilaterally agreed minutes and memoranda of understanding (MOUs). Bhasin has given examples of minister-level meetings, where, year after year, the same action points were set out, without anyone asking why the earlier agreed decisions had produced no movement.


Third, the ministry of external affairs has arrangements to hold annual "foreign ministry consultations" with a wide swathe of countries, some even with those that one should place close to the outer rim of the second ring of priority states, and yet, none with immediate neighbours.


Rather than carp about what might have been, let us consider the positives, our own and as practised by others, as smart steps that produce strong outcomes.


One, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawarta (2001-06) introduced a number of corporate practices in the country's public service, including performance measurement norms (some borrowed from New Zealand). Twenty-odd countries were identified as foreign partners of special importance, and over several months, a detailed position paper was produced on each by the Thai foreign ministry, with inputs from all the ministries and agencies involved in that relationship. The focus was on the actions needed over the next five years to strengthen relations, leading to mutually gainful outcomes. This action plan was approved by the Cabinet, and remitted back to all the agencies for implementation, coordinated by the foreign ministry, under the oversight of a special unit in the PM's Office.


Two, the French have long practised a method known as "ambassador's instructions". Every French envoy going on a new assignment receives from the Secretary General of the Quai d'Orsay a document setting out the tasks to be accomplished at that particular post. It is the end product of a process of consultation and collective reflection, involving the envoy-designate, with contributions from the ministries and departments having significant interests in that country. Within six months of taking up the post, the ambassador returns to the Secretary General with his "plan of action" to execute the instructions, requesting additional resources, as needed. Thereafter, during the envoy's term, implementation is tracked through annual programmes, work-plans for individuals and timelines. The method has the merit of tying resources to objectives.


Three, in 1991-92, India and Germany jointly developed the modern version of the "eminent person" group, an empowered mechanism for annual review of bilateral ties by non-official public figures, reporting back to the leaders of the two countries. Countries enjoying exceptional relations have long used such methods. Ours was the first experiment at bringing in businessmen, academics, scientists, plus cultural, media and other public figures (usually 10 to 15 on each side) in a single intense conversation, held over a day-and-half, to produce do-able action suggestions (Ke'EP' up the good work, Business Standard, August 20, 2002). This method is now being used by several other pairs of countries.


Four, the Indo-British Partnership, established in 1993 under the sponsorship of the Indian and British prime ministers, by the Confederation of Indian Industries and its UK counterpart, the Confederation of British Industry, produced a balanced set of month-by-month actions, putting counterpart industry segments into close exchanges, overcoming gaps in information. It produced an unprecedented surge in trade and investments.


Such measures produce a surge in ground-level activities, breathing life into the pronouncements of leaders at bilateral summits. All these actors, especially the economic ministries, must be harnessed to advance our interests overseas, across a broad front. That is what inclusive, proactive diplomacy is all about, moving beyond slogans.


The writer is a former diplomat, teacher and writer  








CAN the government think of doing anything more than shuffling paper when it comes to combating food inflation? We recommend organising farmers into cooperatives and companies on the lines of Amul and creating organised retail through these agencies. The standard official response to inflation is to open files and move paper — important paper, admittedly. Credit would be squeezed, exports stopped, imports liberalised, a new bout of sterile debate kicked off on opening organised multi-brand retail to foreign investment. This is not irrelevant, but also not terribly effective, as experience shows quite conclusively. However, this is what officials can do. Political leaders can and should go beyond what the bureaucracy comes up with. As incomes go up in tandem with fast economic growth, and inclusion becomes the guiding philosophy of the government, pushing purchasing power into the hands of the poor, it stands to reason that aggregate demand for food and non-food agricultural products would go up. There is no coherent policy response as to how to increase supply to match the rising demand. Raising the minimum support price of individual crops has been the government's standard policy response. This only switches acreage and farming preference, leading to an increase in the supply of the crop whose price has gone up and decrease in the supply of the crop whose price has not. This is not enough. There has to be another green revolution, to create a quantum leap in farm productivity and raise aggregate farm output. This cannot be achieved merely by shuffling paper. Capitalintensive farming will have to spread beyond Punjab and Haryana, farmers will have to be organised to achieve scale economies, and reap the benefits of cooperation. Farmers need to cooperate to form cooperatives and companies, become stakeholders in the ongoing, inevitable urbanisation of India and also capture a good part of the value that is created in managing the supply chain that links the farm with the consumer. 


Many new Verghese Kuriens have to be empowered and motivated to forge new farm-to-fork supply chains of and by the farmers. Can someone take up the challenge?








TERROR perpetrated by extreme right-wing Hindu outfits whose organisational links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are currently being investigated has to be acted against with as much vigour and vigilance as terror perpetrated by organisations acting in the name of Islamic jihad. Policing and intelligence can counter actual acts of terror. Countering the ideological inspiration behind these organisations calls for more than policing. This is where the political idiom in which these organisations and their ideologies are challenged becomes important, and the propriety of recent statements on Hindutva terror by Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh comes into focus. Rahul Gandhi's comment that Hindu radicalism poses a bigger threat to the nation than Islamic terrorism deserves some explication. The problem, at root, is of defining nationalism, or how the nation, its territoriality and communitarian identity, are envisaged. The RSS imagines an India premised on the 'otherness' of the minorities, mainly the Muslims, who have to be either expunged from 'Hindu' India or allowed to subsist as second class citizens. This vision is antithetical to the democratic, plural polity envisaged by the Constitution. Indeed, if the majority of India's population were to subscribe to the majoritarian vision of India as a Hindu state, it would mean a bloody end to the idea of India as a plural democracy that celebrates unity in diversity. Therefore, the hypothetical prospect of the majority of Indians subscribing to such an exclusive, divisive ideology is, indeed, much more dangerous than the acts of marginal terrorist groups which lack the potential to poison the worldview of the majority. Thus, Rahul Gandhi's essential contention is valid. While these comments were made in a private conversation, the public articulation of these thoughts must find the right idiom for it to be effective. 


A good idea of how similar contentions can be counterproductive, and interpreted to constitute appeasement of minority communalism, is Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's comments on the subject. Mr Singh has been a good mentor to Mr Gandhi, through positive advice , and now by way of negative example.








WITH this year-end being festooned more with strings of scams than tinsel and mistletoe, the Christmas table may look a little different from what greeting cards and cookbooks charmingly portray. Of course, the traditionalists may prefer glazed ham, roast lamb and other more conventional Christmas delicacies, but with the accent on fowl play this year and with every belt-tightened aam aadmi harbouring a grouse, gallinaceous main courses would be more appropriate. For instance, there are several heavyweight personages whose ghoos has been cooked this past year, who would not look out of place as the centrepiece of a festive board, with side dishes of spectrum stuffing, glazed IPL and fried CWG. And there can be no quibbling about one being richer than the other, for what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander too. If that variety of bird proves too greasy for most tastes, there are quite a few turkeys on offer too, uniformly ready roasted and even carrying name-tags like Adarsh and Sukna, served on a bed of olive greens. For those who find that sort of white-meat dry, the year has thoughtfully provided stock (market scam) gravy to help gobble it down. 


If cooked geese and roast turkeys sound too old-fashioned, there are countless sitting ducks caught unawares by the Radia tapes and Wikileaks, that are sure to find many takers if presented in trendy small bytes with complementary dips. For really unadventurous eaters or middle class citizens moved to tears by the state of the onion, though, there's always those who quailed under scrutiny or turned chicken and ran after feathering their nests. It would be wise to remember, however, that like all grand meals, the season's offerings may be sinfully tempting but too much could be seriously dangerous for health.






FOR the Chinese, 2010 might have been the Year of the Tiger, but for India, it was the Year of the Scams. 2G Scam, CWG scam, Adarsh scam, Housing scam, financial/banking scam, media scam, mining scam, judges scam, land grabbing scam, parliamentary scam, onions scam — you name 'em; we had 'em! If we had statisticians follow scams with the same avidness as they follow cricket, we might have been told that the total value of scams in 2010 probably exceeded the total value of all the scams since Independence put together. We might also have been told that the 2G scam alone exceeded in value all the other scams of 2010 put together. The government took a good drubbing on many of these counts. The Opposition didn't come out smelling of roses either, particularly in Karnataka. 


Ah, but the end of the year perhaps should not be so much about the year gone by, as what we can hope for in the New Year. So, let us see what 2011 could be like if India were to make a resolution to launch its war against corruption. What steps may be required to initiate such a war? 


Such a resolution will see Parliament pass a Bill for transparent state funding of all elections in the country — an issue at the very root of rampant corruption and the blatancy with which it is practised. This will be followed up with a rigorous regulatory regime with fast-track courts exclusively for corruption cases. This will also call for fast-tracking of judicial reforms. Most discretionary powers at lower levels of the government mechanism will be almost entirely replaced by transparent web-based technology. How will rural India use the system? Well, internet kiosks manned by ex-servicemen or self-employed graduates could be a good starting point, much like the STD booths of yore. 


Taking a cue from online railway reservations that reduced corruption in railway reservations or various payments and tracking systems at the municipal or electricity board level that are helping to reduce routine corruption in these departments, the government will mandate most governmental payments, receipts and tracking of property taxes, tax refunds, stamp duty, etc, to be online and simplified. For example, in Scandinavian countries, property taxes are paid on the basis of the frontage of the houses, which entails little computational complications. Having simplified and automated the systems thus, the government will ensure that any official or member of the public misusing the system would be heavily penalised. 


The New Year will see Parliament provide a constitutional status to the enforcement directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation along the lines of the Election Commission, so that they are not handmaidens of any government or political party, and ensure that they shall have the freedom to act independently and speedily against the erring big fish. Along similar line, the more enlightened states would place the state police force under the powers of a politically insulated Lokayukta. 


All natural resources and all land owned by the government (local governments included) for sale will offer transparent online bidding mechanism, with highly restricted discretionary powers or exceptions. What is more, the entire process will be available for perusal in the public domain.


Concessionallandallocationtocivilservants, members of judiciary, armed forces, police et al, will be through a clearly spelt out process with due justification which is available for scrutiny on the public domain, before the allocation is made. This will render Adarsh-like scams and other more routine 'scams' through which, in virtually every city, the best land is regularly cornered by the ruling elite combine of politicians, bureaucracy, police, judiciary and armed forces into the dustbin of history. 


CONGRESS president Sonia Gandhi has announced her party's intent to fight corruption. This is welcome news. Following up on her pronouncements, the Congress will emerge more credible than ever before, unless the Opposition wrests that credibility — either of the two riding the wave of mass-scale public disillusionment with the widespread corruption. Depending on who dithers the fight against corruption, the public will know who stands for or against corruption. 


 In 2011, all the political parties will realise that corruption is a function of both greed and fear. When the benefits of greed exceed the pains of fear, corruption is imminent. Thus, they will conclude unanimously that for corruption to be arrested, the systems created must ensure that the pains of fear exceed the fruits of greed. Some of the measures like constitutional independence of ED and CBI, for example, will ensure that the probability of a corrupt person being brought to book will be high. The high probability of being apprehended will be accompanied by very stringent punishment, both physical and financial. Mere resignation and transfers will no longer be considered deterrents enough. 


The year 2011 will see the start of a new India in which both parliamentarians and bureaucracy is extremely wellpaid, but in which tolerance to corruption will be zero. This may mean, for example, a parliamentarian or a secretary in the government of India may be paid a salary of, say, . 1 crore a year, but a corrupt minister or secretary will be divested of several times the stolen assets and also awarded rigorous imprisonment of several years. 


As a people, we will stop accepting corruption as par for the course. It will dawn upon us that a country of a billion people cannot be corrupt because a handful of politicians or civil servants are corrupt. As the Mahatma advocated, we will become the change we want to see in every Indian. We will socially boycott those who come to wealth through corrupt means. We will realise too that corruption hacks away at the roots of patriotism. Hence, we will regard corruption as an unpatriotic act, and come to the realisation that no amount of action on the part of the government, even if it could muster the intent for such action, can make much headway. Let us all, including the four estates of the nation, make a resolution for a 2011 that will define a new India that will go to war against corruption.









AS THE Congress-led UPA government and the BJP-led Opposition could not agree on an appropriate mechanism of inquiry to go into the procedures followed by former telecommunication minister A Raja on 2G spectrum allocation, the whole winter session of Parliament got disrupted. As the Opposition insisted on forming a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe 2G scam, the session ended without transacting any business at all. The Opposition has not only announced a mass agitation, it has also warned that if a JPC is not formed, the Budget session will also meet the same fate. 


Why are the government and the Opposition not trying to find a middle way to end the parliamentary deadlock? Why is it that neither the government nor the Opposition is interested in finding a middle path on the 2G scam? The Congress has alleged that the BJP is demanding a JPC for purely political reasons and it is not at all interested in fighting against corruption in public life because its own leaders have been corrupt while in power. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has repeatedly stated the BJP has not forgotten its electoral defeats in 2004 and 2009, and is now trying to build a broader anti-Congress coalition based on the 2G scam. 


This is the crux of the issue. The BJP is a committed anti-Congress politico-cultural and socio-religious formation and it is trying to corner the Congress in states and regions where real electoral battles are won and lost. The BJP has not only expanded both spatially and ideologically, but also feels quite confident that it can successfully form an anti-Congress front with the full support of regional, sub-regional and casteist parties and repeat its performance of 1998 and 1999. As it stands now, the Congress looks quite vulnerable in every large state of India, including in its present strongholds of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. 


The political map of India is in a fragmented position. Hence, both the Congress and the BJP are engaged in attracting multiple political groups around its own bloc of power. The communists are committed anti-Congress and anti-BJP political groupings, but they lack the capacity to lead a non -BJP, non-Congress third front. Every attempt of the leftist parties to form a third front that is equidistant from the Congress and the BJP has ended in utter fiasco and they are not likely to get any benefit by boycotting Parliament on the demand for a JPC. 


So, this tripolar front politics is, in reality, reduced to a bipolar contest between the Congress and the BJP. At the national level, most other parties will just yield their loyalty to the party that is capable of forming a government at the Centre. Therefore, the real political game in sorting out the issue of immobilised Parliament will be played by the Congress and the BJP. The BJP's target is to create rift within the UPA allies and bring around waverers like the Trinamool Congress and a few others to force the government to concede the Opposition demand for JPC so that it can target the Prime Minister for his acts of omission and commission while dealing with the misdoings of his erstwhile cabinet colleague A Raja. 


On the other hand, the Congress strategy to break the parliamentary deadlock is to convince public opinion and some opposition parties that the existing institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, enforcement directorate, income tax department, Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and the Comptroller & Auditor General are at work on the case. The party claims that these agencies are competent to unearth the wrongdoings, if any, of the ministry of telecommunication, lobbyist Niira Radia, and bureaucrats like former Trai chief Pradeep Baijal and many others who joined Radia's multiple public relations firms. The party contends that the Manmohan Singh government has nothing to hide on 2G spectrum allocation and all investigations are open to public scrutiny because the Supreme Court has decided to oversee all public agencies engaged in probing the scam. What else can be done by the government in a case like this? 


The impact of this reasoning has already been felt and the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Biju Janata Dal have decided to dissociate themselves from the protests organised by the BJP-led NDA allies. More parties are likely to follow the suit and the Budget session may not see the repeat performance of the deadlocked winter session. The involvement of Supreme Court in monitoring the 2G scam probe will be welcomed by the public at large. It is quite probable that the parliamentary deadlock will come to an end when the Budget session begins because small groups would leave the leading players but the two Front Bloc politics will remain on the political landscape of India. The BJP is determined to regain power at the Centre and it has no dearth of regional allies and the Congress has to fight against the BJP's revival. Politics of mobilisation has begun, and Parliament's normalcy will return.


The real political moves in sorting out the issue of an immobilised Parliament will be played by the Congress and the BJP 

The BJP is trying to create a rift within the UPA on its demand for a JPC to probe the 2G spectrum scam 
But, thanks to the counter-strategy of the Congress, it is probable that the parliamentary deadlock will end








THERE'S a nip in the air at year-end. Time to scurry up to the newspaper and network 'morgues', for an annual review of events. Quaint as it may seem, such 'backward glances' or retrospective surveys are called 'Lion's gaze' (simhavalokana) in Indian poetics. 


The term was supposedly inspired by the lion's ability to cast a retrospective glance even as it pads onwards towards the future. With wild Asiatic lions now being confined to a tiny sanctuary in Narendra Modi's Gujarat (he refuses to send them out to populate other lio n-deprived states), the chances of confirming the veracity or otherwise of this factoid are slim indeed. Incidentally, it was precisely such curiosity that reportedly cost the great grammarian Panini his life: A verse in the Panchatantra says Panini was eaten up by a lioness when he ventured too close to the beast while researching a field observation for his magnum opus, Ashtadhyayi, even as his horrified students watched! 


 In this day and age of the mouse click (and paste) introspective paper tigers need not fear such gruesome prospects! Needless to add, retrospective surveys are invaluable for showing up emerging trends some of which can turn either into tsunamis or u-bends. An example of the former is the positive psychology movement. Experts say we have now unlocked a veritable Pandora's Box of psychic positivity without fully understanding its implications. "The gust of contentedness that psychological treatments promote in contemporarysocietyisunparalleled," writes a don in his blog seeking still tenuous linkages with the sub-prime crisis. 


The movement urges healers to zero in on people's strengths rather than weaknesses, while implicitly advocating a benign neglect of the darker sides of the psyche. This represents a huge change of focus from the earlier work devoted to the so-called dungeons of the mind. Paradoxically, recent research has shown that trying to get people to think more positively can sometimes have the opposite effect: it can simply highlight how unhappy they are. Earlier workers had also indicated that when people got feedback they believed was excessively positive, they actually felt worse, not better! 


As for the U-bend reversal that's really not the lion's forte but that of the slithering snake perhaps. We promise to look at the latter later in the happy zappy New Year!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The rise in prices of vegetables, fruits, milk and protein-rich food items like meat, fish and eggs comes as no surprise if one has seen the huge fluctuations in prices of these items in the last few years. If you look back at the headlines over these years, they are about rising vegetable prices, prices shooting through the roof and how the common man cannot go near them. This year alone June-July saw vegetable prices soar and each time there is a different excuse. It's either floods in the north or heavy rains in Maharashtra that allegedly cause the shortages. The most recent is onions. Good quality onions were selling at between `80 and `100 a kg. Tomatoes and vegetables, which were being exported to flood-ravaged Pakistan, are suddenly in short supply. Vegetables have shot up by 25-30 per cent. The onion crop, we are told, was destroyed in huge quantities because of prolonged and unseasonal rains. But what is surprising is that as soon as the food inflation figures were out, and there was a noise made in the media and in political circles, the prices of onions suddenly slumped. Medium-size onions were down to `35 a kg from `45 a kg — they suddenly fell 38 per cent in three days. How is this possible if it is was not hoarding? The hoarders realised that since imports were allowed duty-free and exports banned, their goose would be cooked. So they quickly brought out their hoarded stocks, according to those in the know. Granted that the country has seen floods and drought and late monsoons and unseasonal rains, but why is it that a trillion-dollar-plus economy is so dependent on the whimsies of the weather gods? And when the government knows, as the agricultural and civil supplies ministry should know, that there will be a shortage, why don't they take immediate steps to curb exports? They act only when protests get too loud. Why is no action taken against hoarders? This newspaper has consistently asked that the agricultural ministry come out with a white paper on how it intends to increase agriculture produce within a time frame. We have agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, making off-the-cuff statements, but never anything specific. Why is it that this trillion-dollar-plus economy can't even produce eggs at reasonable rates? One can understand difficulties about meat, which is exported in a big way, and fish, but eggs? If, as it is said, that the price of poultry feed has gone up and therefore eggs are expensive, why can't the country provide for enough poultry feed? It does not need rocket science know-how for this. Or is it easier to produce a rocket to go into space than it is to produce poultry feed that is reasonably priced so that eggs remain within the affordability of the common man? India is one of the few countries where a family spends 70 per cent of its budget on food. It is a shame because when prices soar like they have just now, it sends their budgets haywire. There is a lot of criticism about the agricultural policy being wrong, about farmers being strangled by ceilings, etc. If there is merit in any of the criticisms, why is it that the government or an empowered group of ministers cannot sit together to once and for all find the right solution?








Dear Santa Sarkar,

I know you love me. I know you do not wish to neglect me — as a mai-baap sarkar, you can't neglect me. Ever since I can remember you have been telling us — your dear, dependent children — how much you care for us, how much you are doing for us, and how much more you will do if only we return your affection through the ballot box. Like indulgent parents, you play Santa Claus to us, you fill our stockings with generous gifts at least once in five years. We love you.


Well, dear Santa, I was thinking of you, today being Christmas. I did take a peek at my stocking this morning, hung up right in front of Parliament House, but I guess you missed it. Well anyway, there is still time. Just a day late doesn't count. You could swing along tonight with your sack of gifts — we know how brilliantly you can get things done once the deadline is over.


I really have been very good this year. Haven't complained too much. Have been a loyal consumer, even buying onions at `80 a kilo. Haven't filed a single Right to Information petition. Haven't killed anyone. Haven't swindled anyone. Haven't raped anyone. And have not spoken to Niira Radia even once.


Besides, I really am loyal to you, my Santa sarkar. I trust you. I don't believe you were in anyway to blame for the Commonwealth Games scam. Or for the 2G spectrum scam. Or for the spiralling price rise. These things happen. They happen all the time. Not your fault. I am your loyal child, Santa sarkar. Smile at me.


You give so generously to everyone, Santa. Even to fat cats who wish to dominate our lives through special economic zones. Your gifts are legion. I don't mind how you slot me. Look at me as a "backward" child, that's okay. Or as a "minority" — I am too minor for words. Or you could put me in the "disturbed" category — I am truly, dangerously disturbed. Besides I am a woman, I swear. Find a slot for me, will you? Here's a quick wish list.


First: Food. Would be great for a hungry nation. But if you can't manage the whole country, just give it to us who are close to you. Of course, it's not favouritism — it's just normal. You know, the way you give prime portfolios to important coalition allies? Just be good to us, the privileged, urban middle class who control public opinion, and we will be good to you. (No, not the rotten grain you have tucked away in dirty, rat-infested godowns, you could give that away to the poor. They should eat too, once in a while, poor things.)


All of us need safe food. As you know, at the moment practically everything we eat is contaminated with pesticides, hormones and all kinds of toxic stuff. Even the milk our kids drink is somewhat poisoned. Could you put a system in place to check it? Thanks. And do bring down the prices a bit, please. Not just onions, it would be nice to have some milk, vegetables, fruit, eggs, fish and meat too.


Second: Water. We need safe water. Sure, digging wells is fine as an employment generation scheme. Of course, there are villages with very little water, where women walk for miles to get a pot of water for their family. They could perhaps benefit from a well or two. That's fine. But we need a comprehensive plan that works for everyone, don't you think? Not just ornamental wells and tubewells but good, safe water for all. So we can all bathe, wash clothes, drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day. Those of us who can afford it have sophisticated water filters at home, of course, but these don't work so well when you fill them with water bought from dirty, leaking tankers. Besides, away from the cities, the fruit and vegetables we eat are grown in toxic water, which pollutes them. Do something, na?


Third: Electricity. Why can't we have life without power cuts? And while you are at it, would be nice if you could electrify villages that are still living by daylight and oil lamps. May even increase productivity and bring down Naxalism in certain areas.


Fourth: A functional Parliament. Would be nice. You know how expensive things are these days, we can't really afford hundreds of crores to pay MPs just to block parliamentary proceedings anymore.


]Fifth: New batteries for the legal machinery. It's too slow, too creaky and too important to be neglected.


Sixth: Clarity. I know, I know. Of course, you are working towards transparency. You promise to root out corruption too. And the right to information has certainly empowered us to some extent. But could we please not get killed while exercising that right?


Seventh: Safety. And I am not just talking about cross-border terrorism. I mean a good police system, which would make citizens safer, keep crime rates low and allow us to withdraw security forces from Kashmir and the Northeast. I know you are now happy to give us guns, dear Santa sarkar, but truth be told, I wouldn't know how to use one. I'd rather have the police do their job, thank you.


Eighth: A promise meter. Something that could keep track of your promises and persuade you to implement them. Especially in areas of health, education and other development matters.


Ninth: Magic ear plugs. Our netas seem to have them — they clearly can't hear our voices at all. So could we also have these ear plugs please, so we don't have to hear the nonsensical chatter of our netas?


Tenth: This one is just so you don't feel bad. If you can't give me all this, don't worry. I am still with you. I'll find my way to a better life. Just give me Niira Radia's phone number.


- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]







News channels are becoming pretty notorious for reporting what suits them even if it has little resemblance to the truth. Three days ago, MPs from the state met the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, at her residence in order to request her to ensure that rain-hit farmers in the state get good compensation from the Centre. The Sakshi channel, owned by Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, carried scrolling news that the Congress president had summoned Andhra Pradesh MPs to discuss the fall-out of Mr Jagan's 48-hour fast on the banks of the River Krishna! Shortly afterwards, the pro-Telangana Rashtra Samiti-Raj news channel started scrolling that Mrs Gandhi was perturbed by the Maha Garjana conducted by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti at Warangal and had invited MPs to discuss the issue of statehood for Telangana. Overactive imagination and wishful thinking rather than hard facts seem to be the order of the day with TV journalists.




When a few days ago the Chief Minister, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, moved into the residential quarters of the Camp Office on Begumpet road, his political pals asked him what it was like to live in the house once occupied by his "boss", the late YSR for five years. Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy's predecessor, Mr K. Rosaiah, only used the Camp Office and not the attached residence, as his own home was nearby. Mr Reddy replied that his new quarters was actually like his old home. The residential portion of the Camp Office once housed quarters for ministers, which were dismantled by YSR to accommodate his residence and office. The minister who occupied one of the quarters before it was turned into the CM's house, was none other than the late Amarnath Reddy, who was in government from 1980 to 1983, the Chief Minister's father. So Mr
Kiran told his friends that "this place is nothing new to me; both YSR and my father have blessed me." Clearly Mr Kiran wants to don as many political mantles as he possibly can, just to be on the safe side.




He may have been shunted to a most insignificant post, but that hasn't stopped the senior babu, Mr B.P. Acharya, from thinking big. He has now set his eyes on a posting in Delhi. Mr Acharya was in the thick of the Emaar scam controversy. He was even named as A1 by the senior advocate, Mr Ranga Rao, in a case the latter filed in the ACB special court seeking a probe into irregularities in land allotment. Though the special court directed the ACB to book cases, the process was put on hold by the High Court. With the change of guard at the top, the new CM sent a strong signal to bureaucrats that they should tread the straight and narrow path by axing Mr Acharya. From principal secretary of industries, he was reduced to principal secretary, home, dealing mainly with prisons and cinematography! Naturally the new posting is not to Mr Acharya's liking after all those high profile posts he has held for more than a decade, so he has applied for empanelment in the Central services. It now remains to be seen whether he can get through the strict selection process and make it to Dilli.








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 recognise 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 neighbour 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. 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.


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.


The grandmother goes into the bathroom. Jana's breath smears the glass again.


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.


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. Then she holds her hands out for the cake box, and Jana has no choice but to give it to her. 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 neighbourhood.


The woman goes down the porch steps. Jana follows her. 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. 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.


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 its charity, unless she unpacks it right away, hides the packages around the kitchen so he will not find them. 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 neighbours 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.








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









ON the face of it, it is a severe setback for a class group just when its renewed movement had gathered steam. No less crucially, it is a rap on the knuckles of an administration. The Rajasthan High Court has struck down reservation for Gujjars in jobs and education under the terms of the Act of 2008. Its objection relates to a fundamental, precisely the absence of quantifiable data to justify reservations. The earlier BJP dispensation had promised the societal lobby of both quotas and tribal status, essentially an electoral pledge that wasn't kept. From the BJP's Vasundhara Raje to the Congress' Ashok Gehlot, the government had dragged its feet not least because of objections from the rival group ~ Meenas, with considerable representation in the civil services. In real terms, the court has struck down the Act that had reinforced the electoral promise with little or nothing to show tangibly. Aside from electoral considerations, there never was any attempt to delve into the issue within sociological parameters. As much is clear from the court's directive that the Rajasthan government must within a year establish the backwardness of not merely the Gujjars, but the Raikas, Raibari and Gadiya Lohar communities as well. These are largely indeterminate groups and any identification might call for a parallel census. The Act, as it turns out, was a half-baked initiative intended only to defuse tension.
The Gujjar issue, as sensitive as it is explosive, has been simmering since 2006. The impact hasn't merely been confined to Rajasthan, but has spread no less violently to northern India as well. The Centre's deployment of 1500 paramilitary personnel ~ in parallel with the High Court order ~ must be viewed in the context of the explosive potential of the issue. The current agitation ~ that began before the judicial ruling ~ recalls the mayhem and dislocation of road and rail transport four years ago. Essentially this is an administrative failure, and both the BJP and the Congress have allowed the issue to fester. Admittedly, the award of tribal status comes within the Centre's remit. Across the board, there has been more of unfulfilled assurance and tinkering, rather than action grounded in facts and figures. Well may the Gujjars now claim that they were let down by the state in court. The court order is as much a societal setback for the community as it is a judicial defeat for the government.




FROM a limited perspective there is reason for satisfaction at the firming up of the $30 billion deal with Russia for the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft: the first of the 250-300 aircraft likely to enter IAF service by 2018-20. It will boast the most advanced technologies and capabilities that only a couple of American fighters now flaunt. Those fighters are not on offer to India: actually even the most sophisticated of the fourth-generation American products are not being made available. It seems the Russians are keen on reviving a Soviet-era tradition of being India's prime supplier of military hardware. A reality for which India must be grateful, for in the Cold War era it was only the Soviet military-industry that keep the Indian forces somewhat contemporary, and at affordable prices too. Just because Israeli and Western sources have opened their doors to India's new-found prosperity is not reason enough to abandon a time-tested supply line. Sadly, time did take its toll on that source: after the break up of the Soviet Union the military-industry edifice all but collapsed with the result that India was starved of critical spare parts. Orders for new equipment suffered from huge cost and time overruns. Hence even as hopes rise at the agreement just inked, doubts persist over the reliability of the Russian production line: all the more reason to expedite the acquisition programme for 126 medium multi-role fighters.

What gives rise to some negatives on the new Russian deal is that it might not truly be a joint development. The basic platform ~ the SU-50 ~ is already flying so India has missed involvement in ab initio design and development. Whether those technologies can be "retro-acquired" is a challenge. So too, the extent of Indian involvement in fine-tuning the basic unit; then "fitting it out" remains to be seen. India would be short-changing itself if it settles for just an India-specific version of the fighter, even if it incorporates Indian designed and produced sub-systems. That would be true of all recent acquisitions. The Russians are short of funds to bring the SU-50 to fruition. India must not wind up meeting that cost and paying the full price for what it buys. If the arrangement does not empower India to design, develop and produce its own range of fighters it will not be a joint development project, and the current fanfare might fall flat.



BUT for compelling circumstances, an overwhelmingly Left-aligned primary teachers' association would not have been driven to organise a "victory rally'' after winning the district primary council elections. Nor would the chief minister have decided to be part of another painful roadblock in the heart of Kolkata had he not seen this as another opportunity to turn the event into an election meeting. It was merely for form's sake that he confessed that the teachers' "primary responsibility is to teach''. It wasn't to say this that he took time off from the more urgent task of containing violence in West Bengal that appears to have spiralled out of control. The real objective was to give primary teachers ~ who had done the Left proud by winning 185 out of 192 seats in the council elections ~ a blueprint for extending their "achievement'' to the crucial test ahead. In other words, while primary schools are either on holiday or  function only on paper, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expects cadres-turned-teachers appointed through panchayats to "educate'' guardians to vote for the Left. What he didn't say was that the guardians, who had spoken decisively in the 2008 panchayat elections that gave the Left a drubbing, needed to be coaxed back into the fold.

It has never been a secret that teachers of all grades have constituted a reliable instrument of the Left. Even in trying times when there is a virtual financial emergency, thousands of posts have been created in district schools ~ a burden to be passed on to whoever rules after the assembly elections. Both the chief minister and the Left Front chairman chose to deliver a pep talk ~ as politicians normally do ~ not on the responsibilities teachers have consistently neglected so as to leave primary schools in a pathetic state but on the Opposition's "mischievous'' designs to create anarchy. What both Mr Bhattacharjee and Mr Biman Bose may have missed is the truth that an audience outside the rally may not be convinced either by the Left government's figures on schools established and teachers recruited or by the sustained assault on Mamata Banerjee, but by results in the education sector that are wholly depressing. It may be too late for the Left to make amends; which is why it needs the teachers. But how credible are these teachers?









India was in the news in 2010 for the wrong reasons. The year witnessed the exposure of sleaze on an unprecedented scale, involving even the  perceived great and the good. Not that corruption is a recent phenomenon; even Jawaharlal Nehru was aware of it. Yet he stopped short of taking action as he feared that the man on the street would say to himself, "well, if everybody seems corrupt, why shouldn't I be corrupt". 
The international watchdog, Global Financial Integrity, has revealed that India lost more than Rs 20 lakh crore between 1948 and 2008. The amount is nearly 40 per cent of the country's GDP. Much of it is accounted for by the illegal flight of money in the wake of economic liberalisation. The BBC's estimate is around $ 460 billion through tax-evasion, crime and corruption. This has widened the inequality. Much as we are proud of the country's economic growth and enhanced international stature, one must be ashamed of the decline in moral and ethical standards.

When the Commonwealth Games scam had hit the headlines in September, Suresh Kalmadi had said he would resign as chairman of the organising committee if the Prime Minister or the Congress president asked him to do so. In Mumbai's Adarsh Housing Society scam, at least 10 senior IAS officers, generals and relatives of Maharashtra's Congress chief minister managed to acquire flats in an apartment block that was developed to accommodate the Kargil war widows. As regards the Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum scandal, the Radia tapes reveal that former Telecom secretary and TRAI chairman, Pradip Baijal, was on Niira Radia's payroll. Radia used to gather information about DoT's policy decisions from key bureaucrats and then convey it to the Tatas.
Apart from the scams, constitutional entities such as the Central Vigilance Commission are headed by those whose credentials have been widely questioned. The head of Prasar Bharati,  a senior IAS officer, is also alleged to be involved in corrupt deals and practices.

The judiciary has now joined the league.  Judges have allegedly fiddled with the Provident Fund of Group D staff in Uttar Pradesh. As yet there is no investigation. A Supreme Court judge is said to have ordered the demolition of numerous commercial complexes in Delhi in order to facilitate his son's investment in shopping malls. The Supreme Court has condemned certain Allahabad High Court judges as "rotten".

Of late, the malaise of corruption is as extensive as it is rotten. It has lately become more widespread and acute. The methods of detection have improved thanks to the media and the introduction of the RTI Act. The distinguished economist, Professor Jagadish Bhagwati, told Parliament recently that in India, people expect the politicians to be corrupt and that 'in America, if you are caught, even God cannot help you'.

India wears the jacket of 'soft state', an expression coined famously by Gunnar Myrdal. Those with economic, social and political clout exploit their position for personal gain. Economic reforms and the end of the licence-permit system have not ended the neta-babu-raj that loots the tax-payers' money. Nothing can be more dangerous for a democracy than this lack of social discipline.

As the economy was liberalised over the past two decades, it was generally expected that the strong grip of the bureaucracy would be replaced with a more efficient administration of neutral regulators. But what has actually happened is quite the contrary. The grip of the babu over the country's resources and exchequer has actually been tightened with the introduction of such welfare programmes as the NREGS and other infrastructure development projects.

As the economy is growing at the impressive rate of 8 per cent, the market value of public resources such as land, oil, gas, minerals and spectrum is also rising.  No wonder the cases of corruption revolve around these resources. Since 1991, politicians have shied away from exerting pressure on businessmen lest they disinvest.
The corporate world is particularly active in encouraging corrupt practices among politicians and officials. Their private conversations reveal that they are either bribed or are offered inducements to clear a business deal. The bribe represents a considerable part of the total cost of doing business. The Radia tapes disclose how the corporate lobbyist was dictating as to who should be included in the union cabinet and which portfolio he would handle. Politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats thus form the power elite. They can protect themselves from prosecution.

During the past 63 years, various committees have spelt out what needs to be done to fight corruption. They include rules that must guide political and administrative decisions, less scope for administrative discretion and speedier prosecution of offenders. The initial excitement over reform proposals dies down when nothing substantial materialises.

Apparently, there is a measure of consensus on the need to prosecute the corrupt ministers, senior officers and those who bribe their way. There is consensus too that the malaise must be tackled. But who will bell the cat? Is it possible to break the neta-babu nexus that characterises Indian polity? No political party can operate with clean money alone. 

The babu and the neta skilfully manage a system in which politics, elections, and related activity are driven by massive doses of black money. The corporate sector is an accomplice to further its business interests. Therefore, the tribe of A Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, Pradip Baijal, Neera Radia will proliferate. The man on the street will continue to hear sanctimonious cant from politicians and bureaucrats on the need to fight the canker of corruption. The malaise shall persist.

The writer is a retired member of the West Bengal Civil Service







Gentle, affable and soft-spoken Pawan Kumar Bansal, Union minister for parliamentary affairs and water resources, has just weathered a stormy winter session in which he emerged as the most visible face of the government. A man who does not utter a harsh word even in the face of extreme provocation, Bansal minced no words in articulating his mind on the Opposition "hijacking" the entire session over the alleged 2G Spectrum scam. 

Bansal won the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat in 2009 from where he has won three times earlier. He was chairman of the parliamentary committee that enquired into the cash-for-questions scandal in the Lok Sabha. Its recommendation for expulsion of the guilty members was accepted and implemented by the then Speaker Mr  Somnath Chatterjee. Widely travelled in India and abroad, Bansal's interests are law, education, environment, electoral reforms and international affairs. He spoke to RC RAJAMANI during the chaotic winter session of Parliament.

For a usually soft-spoken man, you have used strong words to describe the Opposition's behaviour during the winter session. Were you under more pressure than usual?

(Smiles) This government is used to this kind of pressure since long ~ from UPA-I onwards. Whatever I have said during and after this extraordinary session is reflective of the agony and anguish felt by not only the government but also the general public. The common people have begun to ask questions about the waste of time and money due to this prolonged disruption of Parliament.

In your post-session meeting with the media you described the Opposition as being "unreasonable". But the Opposition is saying they were only using a democratic form of protest.

No form of protest can derail Parliament proceedings for a whole session. The Opposition was unreasonable and obdurate. They managed to stall parliamentary work for an entire session. This is unprecedented. It's a colossal waste of time, energy and money. Out of 23 sittings that were scheduled, all but one was lost without transacting any business. Never before in the history of India has a complete session been washed out without transacting any business. This is violative of all the rules of business and ethics; it is rather criminal. When the members of the Congress offered to not accept daily allowance because of no work having been transacted, BJP members mocked at the gesture. Even Question Hour and the Private Members' business became a casualty.

The Opposition has accused the government of trying to conceal facts.

The government does not wish to conceal anything from Parliament and the people and does not shy away from any kind of investigation into the 2G Spectrum issue. On the other hand, it wishes to ensure openness and an in-depth investigation. The sole design of the BJP and its unholy alliance with the Left is to destabilise the government and create difficulties in its working for ulterior objectives and not to stem corruption in the polity, which the government is actually committed to doing. This is manifest in its various actions in the recent past, including the enactment of RTI.

What did the government do to bring matter under control and persuade the Opposition to allow proceedings?
The government repeatedly offered to discuss the issue (2-G Spectrum) in a structured debate. But the Opposition would have none of it.

The Opposition has accused the government of being adamant in shying away from appointing a JPC to probe the 2G spectrum scam. They also said the government was trying to shield some people in the coalition.
We find the demand for setting up a JPC unacceptable. Not that government wants to hide anything or shield anyone but for a number of valid reasons.

Such as?

Well, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is the competent joint committee of the two Houses to look into matters reported by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) on the issue. Moreover, it is headed by a senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi whereas the JPC will be headed by a ruling party member. In fact, the PAC has already started examining the matter. Mind you, the government had also agreed to a multi-disciplinary investigating team consisting of officers from CBI, Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department to assist the PAC. An FIR in the matter was registered by the CBI as far back as October 2009 and the investigating agency is taking all steps to probe the matter expeditiously. The Supreme Court is already seized of the matter and the CBI has submitted before it that it would complete the investigation by February 2011.

Why do you think the Opposition is insistent on JPC?

As I see it, the Opposition does not seem to be interested in unearthing the truth or fighting corruption but is only seeking a political weapon in a political battle, abusing the committee system of Parliament. Just look at these facts. While the Supreme Court, the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, CAG are independent bodies, JPC is not. It would have members from only seven out of 37 parties in Parliament and it would be sharply divided on political lines, given the political stand taken by Opposition parties inside and outside Parliament. JPC is also otherwise ill-equipped to investigate into any matter. In fact, it is not an investigating body. Even if a JPC were to be constituted, it would require culmination of the process by an investigation by the CBI. There is also the departmentally related standing committee on IT which again is a committee of the two Houses. There cannot be another such committee which denigrates the standing committee or the PAC.

But the government accepted a JPC to probe the Bofors gun deal scam.

There is a qualitative difference. The Bofors JPC was based on reports from Sweden and the subsequent campaign by the media and the Opposition in India. In 2G Spectrum, CAG, the constitutional body, brought out the issue. The Congress government in 1987 agreed for JPC to probe the procurement of Bofors guns. Though no wrongdoing was established, the Opposition parties only exploited the issue for political gains. Their insistence on JPC now is also for political gains. Kapil Sibal, the new Union telecom minister, has set up a committee under the chairmanship of a retired judge of the Supreme Court, to look into the question of alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G Spectrum and submit its report within a month. Instead of welcoming this decision, the BJP-led Opposition has rather threatened on wholly baseless grounds that it would initiate action for breach of privilege against the minister. This shows their scant regard for unearthing the truth and penchant for sensationalising issues. The real intention of the BJP is betrayed by its senior leaders' claim that a JPC can also examine "circumstances under which a particular portfolio was given to a particular party and within that particular party to a particular individual". This clearly shows that the BJP-led NDA only wishes to keep the matter alive by raising extraneous issues. Under the Constitution, government formation, i.e. the induction of ministers and allocation of portfolios, is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister. 







It's the Congress's prerogative to tie up with the Trinamul. If a respectful alliance isn't possible, I will go it alone in the West Bengal polls. 

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee. 

Your victory against violence and intimidation proves that you have realised who can take the state forward. Now you have more responsibility. I request you to spread the word among parents of millions of your students and explain to them what danger the state faces from Maoists and the Opposition. 
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a rally organised by Left-leaning primary school teachers in Kolkata. 

You must quit if you can't face the JPC.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley.

I sincerely believe that, like Caesar's wife, the Prime Minister should be above suspicion. 

Dr Manmohan Singh. 

I only want to say that I invite anybody who wants the list of corrupt people, particularly the ministers, to come to Raj Bhavan to take the list.

Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj. 

Bengal has huge potential in terms of tourism. Unfortunately, this vast potential has not been utilised or explored... Despite claims little has been done ... It's a tale of missed opportunities. We do not have a world-class airport here in Kolkata. Violence must stop or it has to be reduced to the extent possible. Some action should be taken. 

West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan at a conference on "tourism, heritage and hospitality". 

No civilised state can hide terrorists as law-abiding citizens. 

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in New Delhi. 

Onion prices will remain high for the next 2-3 weeks and the situation is likely to improve only after that. 
Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. 

The highest growth rate during NDA was 6.4 per cent while the lowest in UPA I stood at 6.7 per cent. The average growth rate during NDA rule was 5.8 per cent. Ours is a mirror image ~ at 8.5 per cent during UPA I, 7.4 per cent in first year of UPA II with second year poised for nine per cent. 

Union home minister P Chidambaram. 







The enemy had been routed in battle, and that night, the victors sang by firelight, celebrating the successful "blooding" of a promising new recruit, who'd proved a natural-born fighter. "I was a soldier now. I could sleep with one eye open; I knew there were 11 ways to attack a town; how to open, fuse and throw a grenade; how to load and fire an AK-47; how to raise a machete and hack at an enemy... There was nothing to be afraid of." As military memories go, it all seems fairly conventional – the baptism of fire, the euphoria of survival, the bond of comradeship. But there's an ugly twist. The gifted recruit, Emmanuel Jal, was fighting in Sudan in the early 1990s – and he was 10 years old.

His recollections are quoted in a recent book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, by the human rights campaigner and former UN peacekeeper Roméo Dallaire. According to Dallaire's charity the Child Soldiers Initiative, there are currently around 250,000 children engaged in military conflict in South America, the Middle East and, overwhelmingly, sub-Saharan Africa. The majority have been recruited (or, typically, abducted) by stateless rebel armies, but they are also present in national forces – it's estimated that about a fifth of Bolivia's army is under 16. 

And, especially in Africa, these junior warriors are dragged into shocking, shameful lives, of murderous, often drug-fuelled brutality. (They Fight Like Soldiers isn't what you'd call a jolly stocking-filler.) But from a historical perspective, another truth emerges from the book – that however evil their deployment, the dark fact remains that these children really can fight. Dallaire, who fought against and alongside children during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, admits that child soldiers have often shown "less fear and more aggression" than their adult combatants, and even have the capacity for military command. The first American soldier to die under hostile fire in Afghanistan, Sgt Nathan Ross Chapman, was a member of their elite Special Forces – killed in an ambush by a 14-year-old boy. 

And we worry that our children are "growing up too quickly", because they want to wear make-up and buy a mobile phone? When you dig into the historical record of children in war – and what their deployment revealed about our attitudes to children in peace – what emerges is a centuries-old tension between the desire to preserve and protect childhood as a time of innocence and irresponsibility, and the realisation that young people, if called upon, have strengths and abilities far beyond the limits of the nursery or the classroom. We might rail against our feckless modern offspring not reaching their full potential – but in reality, their true capacity exceeds a full set of A*s by such a distance, it's terrifying.

Human rights campaigners often suggest that child-soldiering is the product of modern, post-colonial conflict, but that's obviously untrue. Goliath may have fatally underestimated David "for he was but a youth, ruddy and of fair countenance", but children were a constant presence on the pre-industrial battlefield, serving as spear-carriers, mechanics and messengers for the Greeks and Romans, and using conflict to mark their transition into adulthood in tribal societies from the Native American Cheyenne to the terrifying "fighting girls" of Dahomey (now Benin) in West Africa. One of the few French "bright spots" at the Battle of Agincourt was their counter-attack on the English supply train, where they massacred the massed ranks of youths who'd been posted on guard. 

And children weren't limited to the rank and file; beneath the many grand national myths of military precocity – such as Joan of Arc, the 10th-century Irish king Brian Boru (an axe-wielding prodigy who reputedly hammered the Danish hordes shortly after his 12th birthday), and Olaf II of Viking Norway (whose legend counts nine naval victories before his 17th year) – real youthful commanders litter history. Sweden's greatest military triumph, the unexpected rout of the Russians at the Battle of Narva in 1700, was under the guidance of an 18-year old, Charles XII, and Horatio Nelson was in the Navy by 12, surveying the Arctic by 15, a commissioned officer by 18 and in command of a ship by 19. (That would make quite a Ucas form...) 

The turning point in our attitudes to child warriors came later in the 19th century, particularly as a result of the American Civil War, often referred to as the "boys' war". Between a tenth and a third of all the troops in that conflict were under age, often absurdly so. John Joseph Clem, the famous "drummer boy of Shiloh", was recruited at 10, and was soon promoted after killing two Confederate officers. But the unprecedented carnage of the first industrial war altered worldwide perceptions of battle for ever – this was now no place for a child, and by the First World War, recruiters were under orders to keep under-18s from the front. They didn't try too hard, though, and failed to stop perhaps a quarter of a million under-age volunteers – a 14-year-old died at Gallipoli, a 15-year-old was executed for fleeing the enemy on the Western Front (by a firing squad with a 15-year-old in it), and a 16-year-old officer led his men over the top on the first day of the Somme.

 By the end of the Second World War, after the grotesque militarism of the Hitler Youth decayed into the slaughter of the German schoolboys sent out to defend Berlin to the last, the international consensus had hardened – war was now to be a professional business, not a glorious game in which to involve the young. (Although in that war, the most heroic child soldiers in history stood their ground – the Jewish boys and girls who organised themselves into brigades in the Warsaw Uprising, and the rarely mentioned German teenagers who fought the Hitler Youth in the streets, and went to the camps for their troubles.) In 1977, the Geneva Convention was amended to include a new rule of war, that "children who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities", and in 1998, the International Criminal Court was established under a statute that "enlisting children under the age of 15 is a war crime".

the independent







For lovers of a special kind of music, there is only one zebra crossing in the world. It is located on Abbey Road in north London. On an August morning 41 years ago, four long-haired musicians from Liverpool were photographed crossing here. The photograph, the result of a ten-minute long shoot, appeared on the album called Abbey Road. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The album and the picture were endowed with greater significance becauseAbbey Road turned out to be the last album the Beatles recorded together. (Let it Be was released later, but had actually been recorded earlier.) In Abbey Road, the Beatles, aware that this was probably their collective swansong, forgot their differences and squabbling and decided to go out singing on a high note. The photograph carried hints that it could be the last time the band would be performing together. The shadow of death hung over the photograph. There was the interpretation that the four figures walking over the zebra crossing represented a funeral procession: Paul McCartney was dead; a dopplegänger had been used in his place and the bare feet suggested a corpse. John Lennon, leading the procession in a white suit (cut by the Savile Row tailor, Tommy Nutter), was said to represent a clergyman; Ringo Starr, second in line, wore a black undertaker's suit and George Harrison, bringing up the rear, after McCartney, is the grave-digger, dressed in denim everyday clothes. The interpretation had its moment and died down. But the photograph remained etched in public memory, as did the zebra crossing.


The zebra crossing has now been granted Grade II listing by the heritage and tourism department of Great Britain. The studios on Abbey Road, where the Beatles had recorded many of their songs, had been accorded similar status in February. Abbey Road and its zebra crossing are now part of British heritage as much as the eponymous album is part of musical history. Purists will raise a question: is the zebra crossing that is now listed the same one on which the Beatles were photographed walking? The point is more than a quibble as researchers have pointed out that the crossing of the photograph was actually further north than where the crossing is located today. But no one quite knows when and why the crossing was moved. Popular perception, fortunately, has no time or patience for such nitpicking. For music lovers, the present zebra crossing on Abbey Road is the zebra crossing on which John, Ringo, Paul and George walked, and one of them barefoot to boot.


That a zebra crossing can be made part of heritage shows how fluid and capacious the idea of heritage has become. Even public memory has become part of the past that Britain wants to cherish. Four figures walking over a set of symmetrical white lines has more mythical value than other great crossings.










Jawaharlal Nehru would have been disappointed. Though Balmiki Prasad Singh, Sikkim's present governor, saved Raj Bhavan from demolition, the retro-fitted villa has lost the simple elegance that so charmed Nehru that he wanted to spend his retirement gazing upon the snows from its panelled cosiness.


Gangtok is the ugly face of India's future. The contrast of smart shops amidst urban squalor just seems more offensive here than in other state capitals where tasteless medley has evolved over time. Perhaps also because of signs of conscious beautification. Tourists admire the pedestrian shopping plaza. Raj Bhavan is more ornately splendid than in its heyday as the Residency and then India House, the world's first outpost for what came to be called China-watching. Apart from the governor's concern for history, the building's ornamentation probably also reflects the soaring ambitions of the chief minister, Pawan Chamling, who wants Sikkim's towns and bazaars "to be like those of Singapore" and all its villages "like those of Switzerland". His model for floriculture and horticulture is the Netherlands.


But the frenzy that the new Sikkim's catch-as-catch-can ethos has generated could not be more unlike Singapore's discipline, Swiss stolidity, Dutch placidity or the tranquillity of its own earlier self when letters were addressed to "Sikkim, via India". Change is not only physical. Adele Diamond, an American academic at the International Conference on Science, Spirituality and Education organized by Gangtok's Namgyal Institute of Tibetology referred to Sikkim's suicide rate, the highest in the land. Rinku Tulku Rinpoche, an incarnate Tibetan monk from Benares, who followed her, suggested that though suicide is usually attributed to the death wish, it could also reflect the wish to be free.


Both causes suggest extreme unhappiness with the present, and deserve to be examined in the context of social upheaval, commercial exploitation and a huge floating population. It doesn't surprise me when an Indian official says that most suicides are among the Bhutiya- Lepchas. Long ago reduced to a minority, Sikkim's original inhabitants have most reason to fear the future. But dislocation cuts across ethnic barriers as land acquisition for a proliferation of power projects creates sudden millionaires who lord it in hotels or buy scooters and employ drivers to wheel them up and down the steep roads. When the money runs out, they apparently return to the land but as hired hands.


Much has changed, but much also remains the same. Revenue Order Number One still forbids alienation of Bhutiya-Lepcha land, Buddhist monks have a reserved legislative seat, and majority and minority are almost evenly matched in the assembly. Courtly Bhutiya-Lepcha etiquette turns democracy into a feudal ritual. It also helps to sustain an illusion to which the Dalai Lama — who addressed two sessions of the conference as well as two huge public gatherings in the Paljor Thondup Stadium below my hotel — indirectly lent substance by claiming that Buddhists provide a line of defence along India's Himalayan border.


Paradoxically, the majority is not averse to a vanishing minority being projected as Sikkim's identity. Someone explains that local Nepalese do not want to be swamped by Darjeeling Gorkhas. And so, the architecture of the new Sikkim House in Calcutta's Salt Lake, bright handlooms, carved and painted furniture, dragon carpets, intricately worked silver, scroll paintings, the eight lucky signs and even momos and thukpa reflect Bhutiya culture rooted in Tibet. The myth is perpetuated by the state government's ubiquitous symbol — the coat of arms that Britain's College of Arms bestowed on the Namgyal dynasty whose last monarch was overthrown in 1975. Many of the dreams he nursed are now being realized. Sikkim has two universities, factories have been established, tea gardens are flourishing, tourism is booming, and one hotel follows another.


So far as the urban experience is concerned, Gangtok is treading a well-trodden path. When Rajiv Gandhi dismissed Calcutta as a dying city, I wrote that spic and span Delhi was India's last cantonment. The capital no longer qualifies for exception. Only Lutyens's Delhi still does. But for how long? Incipient signs of encroachment are a reminder that the spaciousness of its bungalows and gardens is as much an inherited asset as the bandar-log's abandoned city in Kipling's Jungle Book.


Calcutta long ago anticipated Gangtok's concrete jungle. Other cities are following suit with vertical slums. Haphazard cheek-by-jowl structures indicate a total lack of planning — or inability to enforce plans that do exist — which is the norm. Once lined on both sides by identical bungalows and expansive lawns, home to only 19 or 20 families, the short, narrow street in Calcutta where I was brought up now houses about a thousand families. It is packed with the human and vehicular fallout of two schools, the conversion of a third into a marriage house doing nothing to ease congestion. Nowhere else in the world would municipal authorities permit educational institutions to overwhelm a residential locality; but then, education is commerce, and little different from the corner grocery expanding into a mini-supermarket or the modest eating house whose popularity obliges it to deny imitators.


But, again, Gangtok and Calcutta are not the only offenders. Somewhere among my papers are meticulous drawings of the greater Bangalore that chief ministers like K. Hanumanthaiya and S. Nijalingappa envisaged, showing residential and service areas, industrial zones and green belts in concentric circles. Presumably, all that was tossed into the rubbish bin when spiralling land prices encouraged officials and politicians to sanction the sale of land earmarked for special purposes to the highest bidders who were free to make the most of their purchase.


One hears of oases like Alibagh near Bombay that are pleasing to the eye and comfortable to live in, with assured electricity, water, drainage, conservancy and all other services. They are havens where the rich have shut out India. A Singaporean journalist commented on a Gurgaon enclave that it was Manhattan if you looked up but filthy, poverty-stricken India if you looked down. And "down" is where most Indians live.


This disregard for the majority means that all safety norms are dangerously flouted so that jerry-built blocks of flats come crashing down and mansions become towering infernos because of overload, poor quality material and no maintenance. With whispers of seepage into mountains that are prone to landslides even without rainfall, Sikkim's mushrooming hydroelectricity projects could prove even more disastrous. The ground has always been treacherous here. The earthquake of 1897 and cyclone of 1899 are grim memories laced into folklore. A fire razed Gangtok's old palace to the ground in the 1920s.


Vicky Williams, one of Kalimpong's legendary Macdonald sisters, remembered rail tracks dangling from the trees after the 1950 floods washed away the railway that meandered 36 km along the Teesta valley to Gyalkhola. Raj Bhavan was declared to be unsuitable for habitation and ready for the bulldozer after the earthquake in 2006. Last year's cyclone destroyed 4,500 houses in Darjeeling and partially destroyed another 12,000. One hopes that reliable feasibility studies support the proposed Rs 1,339.48-crore broad-gauge line from Sevoke to Rangpo through 13 tunnels and over 100 bridges. No one mentions it, but the plan faintly echoes the British dream of a railway line to Lhasa so that the sahibs could rest and recreate under the shade of the Potala. The cost of modernization must be carefully measured in advance.


In one small detail, Gangtok is still different from any other Indian town. There are no beggars. Nehru would have liked that. Given his impatience with religion and his faith in science and spirituality, he would have approved of the conference that brought the Dalai Lama here. Nehru would also have approved of a still vigorous faith in the power of prayer. I am told that far from deserting his inheritance, Wangchuck Namgyal, the 13th Denzong Chogyal to legitimists, is engaged in the unending meditation for Sikkim's welfare that is permissible only to his rank.



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





The department of personnel and training's proposal to restrict applications under the Right to Information Act to one topic and impose a 250-word  limit on them will not help strengthen and promote this right. The claimed justification for amending the rules is that, at present, they are misused to harass public authorities and to take out personal or professional grudge against people in power. There may be cases of misuse of the provisions but they do not provide sufficient grounds for changing the rules. Authorities complain that multiple applications, some of them running into many pages, will clog the system and make it difficult for the officials to respond effectively and promptly to genuine applicants. Even if vexatious and mischievous requests slip in, it is hard to believe that the authorities are flooded by requests running into tens of thousands of words which make departments' work grind to a halt.

Since the RTI Act has greatly helped empower the citizens and has made the functioning of government more transparent, any changes in the rules should only expand the right of the people and not limit it. The word limit prescribed for the application is arbitrary and constraining. How did the department decide that the ideal word limit is 250 and everybody will be able to frame his query within that? The number of words depends on the kind of information sought and the applicant's linguistic ability. And why only one question at a time? What is the difference if information on two topics is sought in one application or two applications? It should actually be more convenient for the applicant and the authorities if a single application is used to elicit information on more than one subject. Another proposal is to empower the applicant to withdraw his request for information. This can lead to forced withdrawal of requests.

The proposals, which have been widely criticised, should not be accepted. Those who wield political and official power are now wary of the RTI law. Attempts have been made in the past to restrict its scope. Last year, there was a move to provide for rejection of 'frivolous and vexatious' applications and to exempt cabinet papers from the Act's purview. It was dropped after widespread opposition. It is unfortunate that the Chief Information Commissioner supported the latest move. He should have been the first to reject it.









With the US Senate ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — or the New Start Treaty as it is being referred to — an important hurdle in the way of its realisation has been overcome. The Senate nod did not come easily. Many Republicans were bitterly opposed to the treaty, believing it would undermine the US' nuclear advantage. The treaty's ratification was highly unlikely had the vote been put off to 2011, when the new Senate is constituted. The ratification, therefore, has come in the nick of time. It is an important achievement of the Barack Obama administration which can breathe easy now. The New Start now goes to the Russian parliament for approval, which is likely to come quickly. The new pact, which was signed in April by the presidents of the US and Russia, replaces the lapsed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It limits the American and Russian nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads each, a 30 per cent cut from a limit agreed upon eight years ago. It also restricts missiles to 700 each.

The New Start is an important step towards trimming down the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia. It has been hailed for sending out a powerful signal to the rest of the world that the two countries are serious about their commitment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to progressively disarm.

While the New Start is a welcome gesture it is far too small to suggest that the two countries are indeed serious about moving towards nuclear disarmament. They will still have several thousands of nuclear warheads between them, enough to destroy the world many times over. A closer reading of the treaty indicates that the cuts it calls for are not as dramatic as they seem to be. A heavy bomber is counted as carrying one warhead although it may carry up to 20 of them. Besides, the agreed limits refer to deployed warheads, not those in storage. Thus, the cuts are not credible. Therefore, American and Russian entreaties to other countries to desist from building up their nuclear arsenals are unlikely to cut much ice. More radical and genuine steps are required to convince the world that they are indeed committed to making the world nuclear free. Still, the treaty is a small step, a start in what will hopefully become a process towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons.







The chaos is not because of democracy that they once fought for but because of the failed returns of the set up that they once idealised.


Its time that we revisit the great masterpiece 'Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy' written by the legendary Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942. In a kind of a prophetic analysis, the book argued that socialism will ultimately take over capitalism primarily led by intellectuals who, in fact, would have supported capitalism previously. Most importantly, the book coins a landmark term called 'creative destruction' which implies a sort of 'positive destruction' where the old is replaced by something new (and better). In the absence of 'creative' in destruction, there are no replacements, there are anarchies, chaos and lost opportunities.

Thailand is an apt example where destruction has not been so creative and presents a warning signal for Asia. The People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has its members from very middle class and elite that supported the 1992 democracy movement. 

Since the last decade, there have been numerous coups, bloody street protests and multiple rewritten constitutions. The political chaos is not because of democracy that they once fought for but because of the failed returns of the set up that they once idealised. Led by an agenda called 'New Politics', PAD aims for democracy not from a theoretician's textbook but by radical 'undemocratic' measures like direct appointment of parliamentarians, Thai style.

Political challenges

There are 22 democratic countries, seven quasi democracies, eight of them have nominal or questionable democracies and 11 are non-democratic countries in Asia. Recently, East Asia Barometer (EAB) conducted national random-sample surveys in five democracies (Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand), one old democracy (Japan), one quasi-democracy (Hong Kong), and one authoritarian system (China). Among these eight political systems, public satisfaction was incredibly low in most of them with the lowest in democratic Japan and Taiwan. For example, one-half (52 per cent) of Japanese respondents believed that 'almost all' or 'most' officials in the national government are corrupt.

Add to it the possibility of failed states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and East Timor. Based on a long-standing research programme of the World Bank, the Kaufmann-Kraay-Mastruzzi Worldwide Governance Indicators, which capture six key dimensions of governance (voice and accountability, political stability and lack of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption) between 1996 and present, the top five most populous countries in Asia, namely China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which together have half the population of the world, are in the low 10-50th percentile in terms of quality of governance. Essentially, this means that half of the world's population has abysmal low quality of governance.

Economic challenges

Consider another important paradox of Asia which is with regard to its economic system. On a larger canvas, the picture seems very rosy like its GDP of around $22 trillion and an annual growth of per capita GDP of around 7.5 per cent. According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) research, income inequality in developing Asia has increased over the last 10 years. The increase in inequality is significant for populous countries. The ADB research also says that in terms of absolute inequality the top 20 per cent have seen their expenditures/incomes grow considerably faster than those at the bottom (bottom 20 per cent). This inequality does not mean that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer but it is the rich getting richer faster than the poor, which is increasing the inequality.

The unevenness of growth can also be seen in various spheres of economic life. The ADB research states that growth has been uneven across sub-national locations (across provinces, regions, or states). Second, growth has been uneven across sectors — across the rural and urban sectors, as well as across sectors of production (especially, agriculture versus industry and services). Third, growth has been uneven across households, such that incomes at the top of the distribution have grown faster than those in the middle and/or bottom.

Social challenges

There is an increasing trend towards asserting the identity of social groups based on either region, linguistics, religion or caste. This can be seen in the rise of identity-related conflicts in Asia. One remarkable research titled 'Culture, Identity and Conflict in Asia 1945-2007', conducted by Professor Aurel of the University of Heidelberg, gives some very interesting insights into this. In this research, Asia tops as the number one contributor to conflicts worldwide. The trend is towards intra-state conflicts which have remarkably increased in Asia than the inter-state ones. There has been an increase in identity conflicts and the special relevance of history-related conflicts especially since the 1970s. This resurgence of identity and its subsequent manifestation in conflicts can be attributed to the non-fulfillment of social aspirations in the governance system of the state.

Asia is standing at the cross roads where it needs a 'creative destruction' in multiple facets. If the architecture of governance is not reinvented by choice there will be an eruption of chaos leading to a 'destructive destruction' rather than a 'creative destruction' which will be the biggest challenge for Asia in the decades to come.








I do not know Arundhati Roy well as I have met her briefly a couple of times.


But I have unbounded admiration for her. She is good-looking, animated, unconventional, a gifted writer, gutsy and champion of lost causes. I am by no means her only admirer; she has millions of them in India and abroad. I am not wrong in believing that she is the best known Indian woman in western nations and regarded as the leading voice of dissent in democratic India. To penalise her will further enhance her reputation abroad and bring India a bad name.

At the moment there are two issues in which she has taken a stand which our government finds embarrassing. One is compulsory acquisition of land belonging to tribals for development projects and Kashmir. I am in partial agreement with her on both issues.

We have to acquire land for development projects provided the people ousted are given adequate compensation and priority in getting jobs in the project. This has not been the case in many projects. So Arundhati has every right to voice her protest. 

What she says about Kashmir only applies to the valley of the Jhelum and not to Jammu and Ladakh. Both must realise that it is too small and landlocked to become a sovereign, independent state. Moreover, it is entirely dependant on India for its livelihood. It can have a governor of its own choice as it has its own chief minister. 

Geelani, Mirwaiz and Mohammed Mufti speak for a minority of its people; they can, and do, upset the normal tenor of life by calling hartals, pelting stones on the police and creating chaos. The Hindu-Sikh minority does not feel secure with them. 

Thousands of pandits have been forced to flee from the Valley. If they come into power in a free and fair election, so will those who are still living there. If Arundhati re-thinks over the stand she has taken, she will be heard with more respect. But to charge her with sedition is about the silliest thing to do.

The year's good reading

In the past I was able to read between 30-40 books every year. This time I could read only 25. But some of them impressed me deeply. On top of my list is N S Madhavan's 'Litanies of Dutch Battery', translated from Malayalam to English by Rajesh Rajamohan. It is an outstanding work of historical fiction which tells the story of the inhabitants of the Malabar coast from ancient times to the present; from the caste-ridden Hindu past dividing Namboodris and Ezhera toddy-tappers to Arab traders who brought Islam with them, built mosques and married local women whose children came to be known as Moplahs. 

A second influx comprising Portuguese, Dutch and English brought Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Syrian Christians. With the increase of means of communication Hindi films and songs of R L Sehgal came to Kerala and brought Keralites closer to northern Indians. After independence, it became the first state of India to elect a communist regime, attain 100 per cent literacy. It is a beautiful country, rich in its flora and fauna, inland waterways, which earned it the title of being 'God's Own Country'. I only wish the title of the book was more comprehensible than it is.

The second on my list is Fatima Bhutto's 'Songs of Blood and Sword'. It is blood-soaked tale of three Bhuttos: Zulfiqar Ali, who was hanged by Zia-ul Haq, his daughter Benazir, who was assassinated for reasons unknown by unknown assassins, and the cold-blooded murder of Fatima's father, close to the entrance of his house in Karachi. Not many people will agree with Fatima's assessment of why these three were deprived of their lives but all readers will concede that it is beautifully written in lyrical prose.

The third is 'Grenta 112' devoted to present day Pakistani writers and poets, writing in English, edited by John Freeman. It is a collection of short stories, poems and articles. Also, an informative profile of the founding father of Pakistan M A Jinnah.

And finally, Budha Deb Bose's 'It Rained All Night'. Bose is a born story-teller. His theme in this novel is the pretentious of chastity of the Bengali middle-class Bhadralog and reality. I found it most absorbing.

What's the name?

Banta asked his neighbour's four year old daughter: "Beti, what is your Papa's name?


She replied, "My mummy has not yet given him any name. So we call his Papa."

(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopa)


The following dialogue was overheard during a meeting of the governing body of cricket tournaments.

Present chairman to the ousted chairman Lalit Modi: "I suggest you call it a day as all the best cricketers are with me".

Lalit Modi: "That may be so, but all the umpires are with me".

(Contributed by B T Modi, Bangalore)







The Radiations revealed the true colours of a hidden masterpiece.


Once upon a time there lived A King. A real live-wire, he took charge of telecommunications like no-one before him. With sops and offers, he filled up the coffers and everybody sang "Raja kaiya vacha adu wronga ponnadille". 

Unfortunately, tapping and taping Radia-tions made him sing his swansong and his spectral glow faded. The Radia-tions revealed the true colours of a hidden masterpiece painted with tainted money, covering a spectrum of people.  

In the most visible range were those who made the breaking news. One lady who spoke politics in the language of "We, the people" was red-faced at being caught brokering power red-handed and admitted to errors of judgment. Others of her fraternity were appalled at their colleagues being such greenhorns. Tchah… When the lady asked what she should tell "Them", didn't she know that it could be so telling? The damning conversations simply confirmed what "We, the people" knew all along.

"Them" — the Ultimate Powerful Association (UPA) defended A King stating that corruption was deeply rooted in the system and when in Rome, one does as the Romans do. The all-powerful, of course, like Caesar's wife, was above reproach. Also a scam, like Rome, isn't built in a day and originated when the others were in power. The UPA meant that the others' stand was like the pot calling the kettle black.

Of course, the others went purple with rage at this supercilious attitude of the UPA. They raised a hue and cry over the issue, claiming that the accused were too yellow to allow a proper investigation. Neither party budged an inch. Finally, the 'god of small cars' hit the brakes — otherwise more ultra-shady deals involving the infra-dig might have come to light. The white blanket thrown over the chaotic but colourful masterpiece made the future look black.

"We, the people" knew that the buck didn't stop in the country, it moved to secret bank account in some exotic foreign location. Marooned on an island of deceit and corruption, they lived unhappily ever after in their winter of discontent. This fable has no moral. The immoral, however, are obvious.




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




Republicans in the next Congress are obviously set on limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate a wide range of air pollutants — even if it means denying the agency money to run its programs and chaining its administrator, Lisa Jackson, to the witness stand. Fred Upton, who will become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says he plans to call Ms. Jackson so often for questioning that he'll guarantee her a permanent parking space on Capitol Hill.


It is equally plain that Ms. Jackson has no intention of abandoning her agenda or her defense of one of the most successful of America's landmark environmental statutes. What is not clear is where the White House stands and whether it is prepared to resist industry's standard litany that E.P.A. is as an out-of-control agency threatening jobs with unnecessary rules.


President Obama's political advisers have shown little enthusiasm for environmental issues. Mr. Obama himself ceded leadership on the climate-change issue to Congress, which ended up doing nothing. On the other hand, his chief environmental adviser is Carol Browner, herself a former E.P.A. administrator whose aggressive clean-air initiatives in the Clinton years would never have prevailed without Oval Office support.


Which is just what Ms. Jackson will need in the months ahead. On her plate is: a proposed rule reducing pollutants like sulfur dioxide, the acid rain gas, from power plants east of the Mississippi River; a first-of-its-kind rule limiting toxic pollutants like mercury, which the agency has been ducking for years; and, most problematic, proposals imposing new "performance standards" on power plants to limit greenhouse gases.


Taken together, these and other pending rules should lead to a dramatically less polluting fleet of power plants, a process already set in motion by the rapid decline in natural gas prices. That has encouraged industry to retire dirtier coal-burning facilities. Everyone will benefit: citizens from cleaner air, lakes and fish from reduced mercury deposits, the atmosphere from lower greenhouse gases.


Some important players in industry are ready for change. In a recent letter in The Wall Street Journal, a group of powerful utilities including Pacific Gas and Electric and New Jersey's Public Service said that industry had had plenty of time to prepare, that pollution could be reduced in cost-effective ways and that newer and cleaner plants will create jobs, not destroy them.


But this is hardly a universal view in industry and in Congress. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the Clean Air Act gives the E.P.A. not just the right but the obligation to regulate greenhouse gases, the Senate tried to subvert that authority once. Senator John Rockefeller IV, a Democrat who represents West Virginia coal interests, will surely try again.


Ms. Jackson will have to be tactically smart, lest overreaching on one rule brings the whole house down. She has already delayed new air-quality standards for ozone. She says she needs more scientific evidence to set precise limits. Historically, clean-air rules are almost always litigated, so having sound science on her side is essential.


But she won't get far without Mr. Obama's backing. Ms. Browner could remind the president that it was after a dispiriting Republican midterm victory that President Bill Clinton found his feet on environmental issues. In 1995, the Newt Gingrich crowd came to town promising to overturn a whole body of environmental law. Mr. Clinton rose up, not only winning the big battles, but eventually compiling a sterling record. Mr. Obama should emulate him.







What are your Christmases made of? A tree full of ornaments as old as you are? A customary feast, if not of roast beast? Perhaps they're composed of wassail and yule, nog and Nöel, Scrooge, "Scrooged," Pickwick and Charlie Brown. Or Handel and Berlioz, Garland, Cole, Crosby and Clooney, the Rockettes and the dance of a Sugar Plum Fairy, even Bedford Falls and "The Bishop's Wife." To Christians everywhere, Christmas comprises, above all, a decree from Caesar Augustus and in the same country shepherds abiding.


Running through all these Christmases is the sense of an emotional cadenza at the end of the year, a braiding of feelings like hope, renewal, nostalgia, love, joy and exhaustion. Yet in the stories about this holiday, it's surprising how often we're reminded of a darker life, full of isolation, penury, greed, despair and the fear that traps emotion within us.


This day may come to you as part of the yearlong liturgical calendar, or it may be a wholly secular day, the climax of a secular season. It may mean imbibing or baking for weeks or simply a late breakfast after all the presents have been opened. Perhaps for you the real Christmas comes on the eve before it, candle in hand. There are those for whom this day means mainly passing out of — at last — the asteroid belt of holiday songs we enter every Thanksgiving.


What does it mean to keep Christmas well, as Dickens puts it? Not the ecstasy of Scrooge, not even the festal exuberance of the Fezziwig Christmas Ball. All the good stories about Christmas — from Matthew and Luke or from Dr. Seuss — remind us that Christmas can be kept "anyhow and everyhow" (Dickens again) as long as there is charity and humility in the celebration of it. Charity, humility, good will and a prayer for peace.







After nearly two years of foot-dragging while the death toll in the Mexican drug wars rose beyond 30,000, the Obama administration is finally stepping up the fight against the easy movement of illegal guns across the United States' border with Mexico and into the hands of violent drug cartels.


This has long been an open scandal. An analysis of government gun-trace data by the coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that many thousands of guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes and traced between 2006 and 2009 were originally sold by American gun dealers. According to a recent investigation by The Washington Post, eight of the top 10 dealers in Mexican crime guns have shops near the border.


To stem this deadly flow, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is seeking emergency authority to require gun dealers near the border to report multiple purchases of the high-firepower rifles favored by cartel gunmen.


The White House Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off on the A.T.F. plan, should promptly do so. The new reporting requirement, while not a solution, is an important step. It will make it easier to identify and prosecute gun traffickers and, potentially, deter multiple sales using straw purchasers.


All gun dealers already have to report multiple handgun sales to federal authorities. The new rule would extend that requirement to AK-47's and other battlefield assault rifles. The cartels have shown an increasing preference for high-capacity rifles like these.


Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, urged the Obama administration to create such an initiative more than a year ago. Until now, the White House has ducked the issue, presumably to help the prospects of those Democrats with top ratings from the National Rifle Association. But this has not helped to stop the traffic.


The N.R.A. is predictably opposed to the initiative. The administration must hold its ground and, beginning in January, press the next Congress to remove statutory limitations hampering the A.T.F.'s ability to shut down irresponsible dealers near the border and elsewhere.








School officials across the country are revisiting "zero-tolerance" disciplinary policies under which children are sometimes arrested for profanity, talking back to teachers or adolescent behavior that once would have been resolved in meetings with parents. The reappraisals are all to the good given that those who get suspended or arrested are more likely to drop out and become entangled in the criminal justice system permanently.


The New York City Council clearly had this link in mind when it passed a new law earlier this week that will bring long overdue transparency to the school disciplinary process. Under the Student Safety Act, which takes effect in 90 days, the New York Police Department's school security division will be required to provide clear and comprehensive data that show how many students are arrested or issued summonses at school and why. School officials will also have to provide similarly detailed information on suspensions.


The Council turned its attention to this problem in 2007 when the New York Civil Liberties Union published an alarming report charging that schoolchildren were being belittled, roughed up, sexually harassed and sometimes arrested by police and school security officers for noncriminal violations of school rules. The report further asserted that this treatment was disproportionately meted out in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. At the time, ineffective data collection made it difficult to determine exactly what was happening where.


The new law changes that by requiring the police department to furnish quarterly reports on arrests or summonses associated with noncriminal offenses like trespassing, disorderly conduct and loitering. The data will have to be broken down by race, age and grade level.


The report also must say whether the students were disabled or English-language learners. Most important, people who wish to lodge complaints about school police or the security officers they supervise can call the 311 help line and be transferred to the police department's internal affairs division.


The new law represents a good first step. But the Council will need to ride herd on the police department, which has a history of ignoring data-reporting requirements. Beyond that, the Council needs to make sure that problems that should be dealt with at school are handled there and not at the precinct station.








As we celebrate this Christmas with the sound of tiny feet rushing toward a tree to rip open presents, let's take a moment to consider the children less fortunate — the growing number who live in poverty in this country.


According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 42 percent of American children live in low-income homes and about a fifth live in poverty. It gets worse. The number of children living in poverty has risen 33 percent since 2000. For perspective, the child population of the country over all increased by only about 3 percent over that time. And, according to a 2007 Unicef report on child poverty, the U.S. ranked last among 24 wealthy countries.


This is a national disgrace.


Yet the reaction to this issue in some quarters is still tangled in class and race: no more welfare to black and brown people who've made poor choices and haven't got the gumption to work their way out of them. The truth is, neither the problem nor the solutions are that simple.


Yes, the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and American Indians living in low-income homes is about twice that of whites and Asians. This raises unpleasant cultural questions that must be addressed. But that's not the whole story. Despite the imbalance, white children are still the largest group of low-income children.


Furthermore, the British may have created a road map for us that dramatically reduces child poverty while not relying solely on handouts. Areport released this month by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and the London School of Economics paints a fascinating portrait of how smart policies and targeted investments in that country have produced stellar results.


In 1994, about 30 percent of British children were below the country's poverty threshold. Fifteen years later, that number has fallen to 12 percent. Over that same time, the number of American children below our poverty line slipped a bit then rose again as the economy turned sour. It is now approaching its 1994 level.


]How did the British do it? It was a three-pronged attack.


First, they established a welfare-to-work program and a national minimum wage (which, at about $9, leaves ours wanting) and instituted tax reductions and credits for low-income workers. They made work more attractive, and people responded. The report said, "Lone-parent employment increased by 12 percentage points — from 45 percent to 57 percent — between 1997 and 2008."


Second, they raised child welfare benefits, especially for families with small children, whether or not the parents worked.


Third, they invested directly in the lives of young children with things like doubling paid maternity leave, providing universal preschool, assisting with child care and allowing parents of young children to request flexible work schedules.


The British example shows that child poverty is not an intractable problem. If we can rise above the impulse to punish parents and focus on protecting children, we might replicate Britain's success.








This year, my favorite Christmas story involves Rachel Maddow's mother. "A friend gave her a remote control for the Christmas tree," said Maddow. It was the best present ever, liberation from a lifetime of crawling under the tree every morning and night to put in or pull out the plug.


]And it turned Maddow's mom into a combination Magi and missionary. She bought a slew of remotes and distributed them throughout the neighborhood like special-recipe cookies, along with instructions on exactly how to make them work.


The friend came to New York for the holidays with the Maddow family. For presents, she is giving everybody a Christmas tree in a box.


Another step forward for Christmas tree culture.


The tree is absolutely central to our holiday celebrations, even for people who have no attachment to any other aspect of Christmas. The other night when I was coming out of Rockefeller Center, I was almost run over by crowds of every race, creed and color stampeding toward the Christmas tree. Their urgency suggested that it was a Norway spruce version of the ivory-billed woodpecker — both extremely rare and likely to wander off any second.


The American search for the perfect Christmas tree goes back to the 19th century and Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of "Godey's Lady's Book," the first mass-market women's magazine.


In the 1850s, when Hale came into her own, only the Germans celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree. Hale introduced her American readers to the Next Big Thing by taking a picture of Britain's Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was German, standing around the tree that Albert had introduced at the castle. Hale performed a 19th-century version of photoshopping, blotting out Victoria's crown jewels and Alfred's royal sash until — presto! She had her cover, a typical American family clustered around their traditional — although hitherto unknown — Christmas tree.


Hale believed strongly in complicated household rituals that her readers would need extensive instruction to carry out. Many middle-class American women were not far removed from the life of a farm housewife. Now that they had been freed from the drudgery of sausage-making and thread-spinning and chicken-raising, Hale was prepared to redirect their time to wax-fruit making, the baking of elaborate desserts and tree-trimming.


In 1860, Hale published a short story, "The Christmas Tree." The plot involved thwarted young love. The real point, however, was to describe the heroine's efforts to put together the family tree. There was a great deal of threading of ribbons through the branches to hold up the Christmas presents, which served as decorations. Then cranberries had to be strung and candles attached. By the time the whole thing was ready to go, it's a wonder she had the energy to notice when her boyfriend arrived for the happy ending.


Now, 150 years later, creating the perfect tree still requires a lot of conflict. Generally, it centers on the setting-up process, although my sister Mary Ann and her husband, Robert, once had a decade-long quarrel over the desirability of flocking.


When I was a kid, the struggle to get the tree into its stand always caused a fight, and my mother yearned for an

artificial one that would just pop to attention the second you pulled it out of the closet. Apparently, when I went away to college, the balance of power shifted, and I returned at Christmastime to find a medium-size aluminum tree with color-coordinated ornaments in the living room. You can't go home again.


I still go for the real tree, and trimming it is one of my favorite holiday events. This probably has something to do with the fact that there is a large tree-selling operation on the corner of my block. It is run by several hardy young men and women from Montreal, any one of whom is happy to bring the tree right into one's apartment and set it up for a reasonable tip.


When I was first married, I covered the tree with blinking colored lights, many of which bubbled. This was what my husband refers to as "the disco tree era," and I have calmed down a lot since then.


Now we just have white lights and old ornaments. We do not have a remote, but ever since Maddow told me her story I am dying to get one. This is America, and further improvement is always possible.


It won't come easy. We still haven't figured out what to do with the top, and solving that one is definitely going to involve stepladders and pruning shears. But when traditions get too simple, they lose their flavor. Families don't sit around and reminisce about the wonderful year Dad got the tree put up in five minutes flat.


It's really the disasters that yoke us together. God bless us, every one.








Nineteen sixty-seven was a tough year in many respects — riots, protests, an unwinnable war — but I can't think of it without thinking of the glory of Aretha Franklin, a woman in her mid-20s, introverted and somewhat shy, who sang soul and rock 'n' roll with the power and beauty of a heavenly choir.


Newark and Detroit went up in flames in 1967, and neither city was ever to recover. Muhammad Ali, a perfect physical specimen in his absolute athletic prime, was convicted of dodging the draft and stripped of his world heavyweight championship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. endured a hurricane of criticism when he came out publicly against the war in Vietnam and called the United States government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."


If you were lucky, you could close the door on the din, at least for a little while, and reach for the record album with the head and shoulder shot of Aretha positioned at a precarious angle on the cover. The album was called "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," and if you listened closely, if you paid attention, it would just thrill you, take you to a place of exquisite human feeling. A region of laughter and tears. Of love and joyous possibilities.


I would turn the volume up and up and up, and just ride the music: "You're no good, heartbreaker ..." "Don't let me lose this dream ..." "R-e-s-p-e-c-t ..."


You could hear the gospel influence, and the blues, as you allowed that voice of hers, the most gifted of the era, to carry you beyond the ordinary.


Aretha, now 68, recently had surgery and is very ill, reportedly with pancreatic cancer. I spoke a few days ago with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is very close to the Franklin family. He was reluctant to speak in detail, saying only that Aretha is home from the hospital, that the surgery was "successful" and she is "recovering nicely."


For someone with such an abundance of talent and fame and riches, Aretha has had an extremely difficult life. Tragedy seemed to stalk her. Her mother, Barbara, an accomplished gospel singer, left the family when Aretha was just 6 and died a few years later. Aretha and her siblings, including an older sister, Erma, and a younger sister, Carolyn, both talented musicians, were raised by the formidable C.L. Franklin, a renowned preacher and close friend of some of the biggest names in black music. (Frequent household guests included the gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, and the remarkable Sam Cooke.)


Reverend Franklin was shot in the head by someone who broke into his home in 1979 and remained in a coma for five years until his death. Carolyn Franklin, who wrote the transcendentally beautiful "Ain't No Way" for Aretha, died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 43. Erma Franklin, a singer who had a hit with the song "Piece of My Heart" (later recorded by Janis Joplin), died in 2002.


Aretha suffered through rough relationships with men, chronic weight problems and bouts of despondency. But always there was the music, the splendor and artistry and grace of Aretha when she was at her best, which was often. As the author Peter Guralnick has put it: "Aretha staked out a claim for the ecstatic transcendence of the imagination."


Rolling Stone magazine ranked her No. 1 on its list of the 100 greatest singers of the rock era, calling her "a gift from God."


My sister Sandy's 18th birthday and high school prom happened to fall on the same day in 1967, so there was a big party at our house after the prom. One song after another from "I Never Loved a Man" was played loudly, again and again, and all these beautiful teenagers, their lives about to get going in earnest, were doing intricate dance routines to the music. Aretha was an ecstatic presence in the house as surely as if she'd been there in person. She was like a sister to every one of the kids.


Aretha has had a lifetime of musical success, but it's difficult to overstate both the greatness and the stunning impact of that one album. Guralnick described it as Aretha virtually exploding on the soul scene. In a telephone interview this week, he recalled hearing the title song from the album on a speaker outside a record shop in the Roxbury section of Boston. It was a cold day, and strangers, moved by this exciting new record, were dancing on the sidewalk with one another. They were thrilled, like so many others, by the music of this great American artist.


So a toast or a prayer for Aretha this holiday season would be terrific — just a moment of appreciation and a wish that she continue recovering nicely.










IN Denmark, as in the United States, the Christmas tree is a primary icon of the season, along with the falling snow and Father Christmas. On Juleaften, or Christmas Eve, around 9 or 10 p.m., most Danish families join hands, dance in a circle around the tree and sing carols — a communal yet intimate celebration of Christmas.


Then we exchange presents and everyone exclaims over his homemade cookies, marzipan and other sweets, along with dried fruits and nuts.


Despite all the sentiment we attach to our Christmas trees, we still get rid of them quickly once the holiday ends. Three or four days after Christmas, abandoned trees are discarded in the streets as if they were garbage.


Isn't that a shame? Nature takes enormous time and effort to produce something that we use only briefly. Why don't we make greater use of this living tree, as we make use of so many other kinds of plants on earth, by eating it? Is it because, having served as the focus of such an important family event, the tree comes to seem like part of the family? Maybe for us Westerners the Christmas tree becomes, if only briefly, like a beloved pet. And who would like to eat their dog or cat?


That is also a shame, because evergreens are delicious. At my restaurant we use their needles as a spice. You can cook with a branch of spruce or fir as you would a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Wouldn't it be beautiful if families gathered after Christmas, festively removed the decorations and then cut off the tasty needles of the tree to flavor their food?


The needles can be dried and mixed into a powder that makes a light, citrus-y and very aromatic spice. Sprinkle that powder into cookie dough, add some to rice as you cook it, or even rub it on chicken before roasting. Dried needles can even be used to smoke meat, and then you can use the tree's wood for kindling.


Small spruce branches can also be used to add flavor. The next time you steam spinach or other greens, throw one in at the very last minute to give a light aroma and a lemony feel to the dish. Or, after cooking steak in a pan, flavor the cooking butter with a fistful of spruce needles. I find that game meats respond especially well to these flavors — which is not surprising, when you consider how animals like to eat the tender, bright-green shoots in spring.


Spruce and fir are useful in many other dishes as well. Fresh fish, salted for a day and covered in fresh needles, absorbs the forest aroma and emerald color into its flesh. Needles work especially well in oils and vinegars, condiments that my staff and I lavish on fresh sweet peas every spring.


]Each year more than 100 million trees are produced for Christmas worldwide. Considering that it takes 8 to 12 years to produce a decent-sized tree, it seems pointless simply to discard this bounty after only a few weeks of using it as ornamentation. I don't mean to sermonize. I want only to point out that food is everywhere, that a tree is more than a symbol or a decoration: it is delicious food.


This year, let's all butcher the tree. Below are three recipes that will let you make the most of it.



Spruce Butter


7 ounces butter


3 ½tablespoons pine needles


Sprig of lemon thyme.


1. Mix in a blender for eight minutes until soft and green.


2. Pass through a chinois sieve.



Spruce Oil


3 ½ ounces pine needles


3-4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley


1 ¼ cups neutral oil.


1. Blanch needles for four minutes, then dry.


2. Mix all ingredients in a blender until they reach 160 degrees.


3. Pass through a chinois sieve.



Spruce Vinegar


3 ½ ounces pine needles


3 ½ ounces apple vinegar.


1. Briefly mix in blender.


2. Place in a sealed container overnight.


3. Pass through a chinois sieve.


René Redzepi is the chef and co-owner of the restaurant Noma and the author of "Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine."









Today, December the 25th, is the day that we celebrate the birthday of the man who made Pakistan possible – Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It is also the day when Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him), and Christians in Pakistan will be going to church today to say their prayers and sing hymns and carols. All of us, whether we be Muslim or Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist or Christian, live with the legacy that Jinnah left for us. Sadly, he never lived to see the dreams that he fought so hard to turn into reality become a mature nation. Would he have recognised the country that is now Pakistan? Shriven from top to bottom by sectarianism, terrorism, corruption in every part of the land and a sense of despair? He might, because if nothing else Jinnah was a realist rather than a starry-eyed romantic. Yet were he with us today he might also feel a profound sense of disappointment, betrayal even, of the ideals that he and his comrades struggled so hard to establish. Pakistan at the end of 2010 is not what Jinnah had in mind – certainly not what he had in mind for believers in a minority faith in this Muslim country.


As the Christians here celebrate today, many will do so with a sharp sense of fear in the background. There will be guards on the gates of their churches, men with guns whose job is to stop other men with guns from getting in and killing the celebrants. Christians, and other minorities, are routinely discriminated against in the jobs market and have to struggle that little bit harder to get advancement. They are the subject of sometimes false or mischievous accusations of blasphemy (as are Muslims let us not forget) and their churches are attacked with depressing regularity. The prosecution of those who carry out those attacks is by no means assured – because the police may 'pursue' the case or build the evidential corpus in such a way as to ensure an acquittal rather than the sentence the crimes deserve. Jinnah spoke to us of tolerance and unity, not intolerance and schism. Christians today will be praying for there to be peace on earth and goodwill to all men. We do likewise, and will pray today for the peace of all of us, no matter what their faith.







Maulana Fazlur Rehman, after parting ways with the government, has made it clear that he is in an angry mood. He has called on the president to act against the prime minister for sabotaging the 'reconciliation' process, and has asked why disciplinary action cannot be initiated as has been done against ministers. He has also said that he was not willing to serve as a 'serf' to the PM. The rights and wrongs of what the JUI-F chief had to say – during his thundering speech to parliament on Thursday and while talking to newsmen outside it – can be debated. Many different perspectives exist on the rights and wrongs of the president and the PM. But the Maulana's harsh diatribe makes one thing clear. He and his party are hardly likely to return in haste to the PPP fold and appear to have decided to say a final farewell. Senior PPP leaders had said the JUI-F would be persuaded to reverse its decision, but the Maulana, quite evidently, seems to be in no mood to shake hands and make up.


He has also spelled out his and his party's hard-line stance on various issues, and sought an assurance from the PPP that the blasphemy laws will not be altered. Previously too, the JUI-F had warned against any attempt to tamper with such provisions. This goes against the stance of some affiliated with the PPP, including Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and former information minister Sherry Rehman. Both have spoken out against aspects of the blasphemy laws, with Sherry Rehman set to move a private member's bill seeking change. There are indications that some within the party may back such a bill. This divergence of lines between the two parties points to the dangers of opportunistic alliances. They rarely last. The JUI-F has already demonstrated that it has every intention of embarrassing the government on various fronts. For instance, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has also demanded that drone attacks in the north must stop and India must not take a permanent seat on the UNSC. Pakistan, realistically speaking, has limited power to alter either of these situations. But the JUI-F's presence on the opposition benches will serve to regularly remind the ruling party of this weakness and thus expose its inadequacies. 







Pakistan has arrested Abdulrauf Rigi, a senior member of the Jundallah outfit which had claimed responsibility for a December 15 attack on a mosque in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province in which 38 persons died while commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (PBUH).This had led to calls from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Pakistan to arrest and then extradite known terrorists. Pakistan has done well to make the arrest. By doing so, it demonstrates that it is committed to rooting out terror and cooperating with neighbouring countries. 

Over the past few years Islamabad has frequently faced accusations that it is protecting terrorists and playing a part in enabling them to be trained on its soil. This has created terrible tensions in the region. It is important that Pakistan succeed in changing its image and proving that it has a will to defeat terrorism. This in turn could have many implications. It could, first of all, help improve standing and create a spirit of greater accord with positive impacts likely on economic and political ties with other countries in our part of the world. There is another reason why actions against terrorists are important. They send out a message to groups operating within Pakistan that their actions are intolerable. We have, again and again, seen death inflicted by militants. The suffering of the families of the victims is familiar to all of us. As a responsible nation we must do all we can to save others from similar agony.







Since after the World War II, Asia's geopolitical landscape has gone through a sea change in terms of its emerging political, economic and strategic problems and priorities. In the post-World War II era, the real Cold War was enacted on Asian soils which witnessed some of the most violent eruptions of the East-West struggle, and even some of the longest wars of the last century. 

These include the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the conflicts in Laos and Cambodia, the Arab-Israeli wars, the three India-Pakistan wars, the Iran-Iraq War, the Afghan War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and now the ongoing US war in Afghanistan in the name of the global "war on terror". Not to mention this war's extension into our own country as a full-scale war against our own people, with demands that we further expand it into other areas. It is a precarious scenario. 

Asia is a vast region, home to nearly two-thirds of the world's population, covering almost one-third of the earth's landmass and comprising some of the most important regions of the world: the poverty-stricken and tension-ridden South Asia, the resource-rich yet politically unstable Central Asia, the economically pulsating East Asia, the volatile Middle East and the oil-rich Persian Gulf. 

These regions have historic civilisational affinities among their peoples and are also endowed with unmatched natural resources and mutual complementarities giving their vast geographical space an unparalleled strategic, economic and political significance. Asia's regions have been the focus of world attention with non-Asian powers always looking at them with anxiety and concern in the context of their turbulent political history, economic potential and the vast array of their intraregional issues.

The post-9/11 world has seen an unprecedented change in the nature and gravity of its problems. While countries and nations have been able to move away from the bitter antagonisms of the past to embrace peace, Asia's major regions continue to be a global hotspot. The long-standing Asian issues include the Palestine question, the Kashmir issue, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across the Strait of Taiwan and the triangular relations among Japan, the US and China, or in an expanded regional context, pentagonal relations among these three powers plus Russia and India. 

The ramifications of endless tensions and instability in some parts of Asia for global peace and security are immense. Some of the sources of current tensions and conflicts in Asia include America's yet-to-end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its growing military and nuclear cooperation with India, the Iranian nuclear crisis, North Korea's worrisome nuclear and ICBM capability, the deadlocked six-party talks on this issue, and other unresolved territorial disputes in the region, including those between Japan and Russia, China and South Korea. 

The new unipolarity has created serious imbalance of global power. The concept of collective security and acceptance of moral and legal imperatives enshrined in the UN Charter are no longer the basis of the world order today. Historical grievances and outstanding disputes continue to remain unaddressed. Economic adventurism of the 19th century is back. 

What aggravates this scenario is the growing inability of the international community to respond to these challenges with unity of purpose. Iraq is still simmering. Afghanistan has yet to have peace. Kashmir is disillusioned. Palestine has given up. Germany has been reunited but the Korean Peninsula remains artificially divided.

China represents Asia's only ray of hope. As a pillar of strength for the world community, China is already playing an important role not only for the maintenance of international peace and security but also in averting any major global economic crises. A strong and prosperous China is a guarantee for peace, security and stability not only for Asia but for the world at large. 

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a discernible change in China's foreign policy which, based on the principle of peaceful coexistence, has had an important effect on modern international relations. Pragmatism has been the determining factor of this change which includes improvement of its relations with the US and other advanced countries, as well as with its immediate neighbours including India.

Regarding its differences or disputes with some of its neighbours, China's policy is that they should be "appropriately managed and resolved through dialogue and consultation based on facts and in accordance with the basic norms governing international relations". Accordingly, China has peacefully addressed its border issues with Russia and is engaged in creating a friendly neighbourhood with other adjacent countries. 

It has also developed close and cooperative relations with ASEAN countries and is an active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. This year, China has had high-level visits and exchanges with almost all Asian countries including India and Pakistan. Next year, Pakistan and China will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. 

While China is not oblivious of the problems resulting from the US-led new unipolarity, it remains convinced that the 21st century is the century of new opportunities. It sees bright prospects opening up with human society developing at an unprecedented pace and scale. For itself, China has identified its goals for the initial decades of this century which involve further economic growth, improved democracy, better education and advanced science and technology, and an upgrading of the quality of life for its people. 

Globally, China is today a major stabilising force in the world's economic and fiscal system, and an important player in restoring global harmony as a key mediating force and organiser of the tripartite and the six-party talks aimed at resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. It is also an effective, stabilising player in the UN Security Council. As a partner of the Group of 77, China is in complete solidarity with the causes of developing and non-aligned countries. 

In today's chaotic world, the US concept of "Long War" and the Chinese concept of "Rising Peacefully" seem to blend together the forces of conflict and peace, determining the new contours of the world order, which are so very different from the Cold War concept and the fading unipolar world order. Asia is large and rich enough to represent the real East of the world now totally dominated by the West.

For Asia, the real challenge in the 21st century is to capitalise on its own resources and assert its role as a balancing factor in the unipolar world by carving out a new niche for itself in the global geopolitical matrix. It has the power and the clout to do so as one of the largest geographical groups at the UN where it must now decisively stake a claim for an additional Asian permanent seat in the Security Council for a criteria-based rotation among the important Asian states. 

India must cede its regional hegemonic ambitions to a larger regional cause. Asian states must rise above sub-regional mode and concentrate on a common Asian cause by concerting their policies on issues of global relevance while also addressing Asia's interstate and intraregional issues in an appropriate manner. China may have eschewed international power politics in favour of securing its continued economic growth, but it cannot resist grasping the nettle for too long.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@yahoo .com







The Implementation Commission of the 18th Constitutional Amendment is due to present its final recommendations to parliament for approval next week. Statements issued in the run up to it have already indicated that subsequent to abolishing the Concurrent Legislative List, a number of subjects, inclusive of health, education, rural development, population planning, social welfare, culture, tourism, youth affairs etc will be fully devolved to the provinces and their respective ministries will be abolished. As per the plan, their service delivery functions are to be devolved to provincial departments and their planning functions entrusted to the Planning Commission. Health is meant to be devolved in the third stage of implementation in July 2011. 

This decision is part of a long-standing provincial demand and the long overdue federal initiative to grant provinces their due share of autonomy. Devolving subjects to the provinces is also part of the drive to cut back establishment costs and reduce fiscal deficit, an objective, the International Monetary Fund has been actively encouraging Pakistan to pursue. In principle, granting provincial autonomy has the potential to improve governance outcomes and strengthen Pakistan's federal structure. The devolution of subjects referred to above is a needed step, but this doesn't mean there is no role for the federal government in those areas. The decision of the Implementation Commission will introduce complex changes with far-reaching implications for many sectors – this comment focuses on the health sector and the impact of abolishing Pakistan's federal Ministry of Health (MoH). 

Health has always been a provincial subject under Pakistan's constitution, even before the 18th Amendment. However, over time the federal MoH stepped into areas that were provincial prerogatives – in particular, the administrative tangle of controlling six tertiary care hospitals and several donor-supported and federally-led national public health programmes. As a result, micromanagement and day-to-day operations overwhelmed MoH's functionaries and the space for stewardship, normative and oversight functions, a core mandate of any MoH, got crowded out. The decision to recast the MoH in ways that free it from these responsibilities was long-overdue and therefore to the extent of transferring these responsibilities to the provinces, provincial devolution of health is just the right step. However, this is by no means synonymous with doing away with the Ministry of Health. 

Far from scrapping, 'reconstituting' and enhancing capacity of Pakistan's MoH is an imperative. Proponents of the idea of scrapping the MoH may argue that these capacities can be built at the provincial level. These notions are mistaken for three reasons. One, the costs of doing so would be exorbitant; in fact, the fiscal managers' argument centred on using MoH's abolition as a way of curtailing expenses would be self-defeating if the costs of creating parallel provincial structures are borne. Second, capacity constraints, which currently prevail in the country, would make it almost impossible to do so. Thirdly, lessons from other countries with federating structures are instructive. Most have MoH and MoH-eqvivalent institutions, eg, departments of state, which have clear and meaningful missions whilst corresponding institutions at the sub-national level technically have the 'health mandate'. All countries with federal structures have ministers of health/secretaries of state, which represent them at the World Health Assembly every May in Geneva. 

The principle goal of any MoH is to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of its people. On the service delivery side, it is recognised that provinces have the right to organise and restructure the district health system along the principles of decentralisation, local self-governance and subsidiarity. The provincial mandate should be respected. However, there are a number of changes necessitated in Pakistan's ailing Mixed Health System to achieve that goal. These entail complex reorganisation and reform of existing institutions of service delivery and those that regulate them and provide oversight. 

This cannot be possible unless there is an astute analytical and normative capacity within the system to oversee and guide the process of reform and ensure policy consistency. It would be next to impossible to try and create those capacities at the provincial level in today's fiscally constrained environment. The federal government's MoH struggled unsuccessfully with institutionalising a National Health Policy Unit over a 10-year period with massive donor support. Trying to do that in each of the five provinces would be an institutional nightmare and fiscally out of the question. 

Pakistan has performed abysmally with respect to ensuring compliance with International Health Regulations 2005, a WHO-negotiated global inter-governmental treaty. This was confirmed in the under-reporting of H1N1 last year and evident in many cases previously. Pakistan does not have an integrated disease surveillance system or an apex coordinating arrangement to collect, consolidate and analyse health information. The MoH's role in these areas is a strong rationale for building its capacity further – far from abolishing it. With health services and human resources not featuring as a separate item on Pakistan's National Trade Policy, there is a risk that the provinces will be left in the lurch with no capacity to deal with these issues if the MoH is abolished. 

There are many other areas where central coordination on behalf of the provinces by the Ministry of Health even in the scenario of enhanced provincial autonomy can spare provinces from unnecessary duplicative work for which they neither have human resource capacity nor the institutional arrangements in place. Other than normative functions, economic coordination with donors and bulk procurement of medicines and supplies where cost-saving can be achieved, and medicines and human resource regulation fall into this space. Currently most arrangements, the Central Licensing Board, Drug Regulatory Board and the Drug Appellate Board exist at the federal level whilst Quality Control Boards exist at the provincial level. It would be an unnecessary duplication to try and recreate the former category provincially. 

In a nutshell therefore, there are many justifications for the need to reconsider the decision to abolish the Ministry of Health. Having said that, it is also critical that the mission and mandate of the MoH is recasted so that it divests itself of roles that lead it away from its core functions and builds its capacity for normative, analytical, regulatory and oversight tasks. There is a need for bridging the MoH's personnel deficit and addressing systemic constraints that plague its functioning. Without attention to strengthening normative capacity alongside provincial and district devolution of health, there is a risk that the current mayhem within Pakistan's health system will be exacerbated and the ability of the state to deliver health services to its people will be further eroded. 

The author is the founding president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile.








Is the flood over in Pakistan? No. Most certainly not. Notwithstanding the massive relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction operations carried out by the government and people of Pakistan, the floodgates of devastations in the wake of the worst natural disaster in recent times continues to claim lives due to outbreak of epidemics, lack of health facilities, and shortage of food, shelter and clothing.

How horrendous life has been after the deluge is unfortunately fading away from the focus of the international media. No doubt, the media has more spicy things to go after, such as Wikileaks. But it must not ignore what Pakistan continues to waddle through in the aftermath of a natural calamity described by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon as a slow tsunami, and six times bigger than any other catastrophe in the last fifty years. The flood sweeping from the northern tip of Pakistan down to Sindh affected a landmass the size of England, uprooting more than 20 million people. 

Floodwater has not yet receded in many areas. According to recent reports following the visit of the European Union delegation to Pakistan, stagnant water may take months to dry, particularly in Sindh where, due to geographical factors, the water will stay longer. Dislocated victims put up in tented settlements, lack of infrastructure and no means of livelihood have compounded their sufferings. 

Reconstruction work is in full swing, thanks to domestic and international agencies. As a resilient nation, Pakistanis are doing their best to get back on their feet. No doubt there are gigantic challenges ahead, but these floods have opened new venues of opportunities to everyone, within Pakistan and abroad. 

Although assessment is being made of infrastructural losses, there are estimates that nearly 2,433 miles of roads and 3,508 miles of railway lines, 45 bridges, and nearly 10,000 schools and 1.7 million houses are destroyed, waiting to be built again, and that certainly offers an enormous scope for investment and cooperation, as well as people's goodwill to gain. Pakistan's hour of adversity offers a potential of playing a positive role in rebuilding its national economy to add to its power to fight terrorism more effectively. Construction of 1.7 million houses alone offers a big business opportunity.

The government of Pakistan's Flood Relief and Early Recovery Plan, 2010, launched in collaboration with the United Nations for realising the goal of a sustainable, meaningful and productive recovery of the flood-affected areas is a way forward. The National Disaster Management Authority has so far approved 397 projects in the fields of agriculture, community restoration, coordination and support, education and food security, with an estimate of $1.9 billion. For the approval and execution of projects the government has put in place effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Construction and reconstruction always generate employment. "Dig a hole, fill a hole" was Roosevelt's policy to combat unemployment and affects of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States. The construction sector has a multiplier impact that leads to employment and production opportunities, which generate multifaceted economic openings. 

Pakistan today is open for reconstruction. These immense opportunities cannot be overlooked for investing in construction of housing colonies, schools and hospitals, as well as the building of roads and bridges. 

Innovative methods are being adopted in many countries to take full advantage of the advancement in technologies in construction. Pakistan offers a chance for sharing these experiences more than ever before. It is easy to introduce resource efficient methods in agriculture farming, livestock and dairy farming, once thriving businesses which were completely washed away in the floods, as these activities began to gain momentum again.

Climate change and environmental factors are other areas where more cooperation in conducting researches for the benefit of humankind can be carried out. A recent report by the American-run Refugees International estimates that as many as 200 million people will be displaced by natural disasters and climate change around the world by 2050, affecting the world's poorest and most crisis-prone countries. The report advises that countries around the world must recognise the threat represented by the massive floods that hit Pakistan. 

According to Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, "the massive flooding in Pakistan is a wakeup call that starkly highlights the real threats we face from climate-related disasters." The study describes it as an opportunity for planning for protection against future disasters. A lot has been mentioned on the mismanagement of the irrigation system in Pakistan. This is yet another area that needs urgent attention where many countries could come forward with scientific and technical cooperation. 

The opportunities Pakistan offers today are immense, but time is of the essence. We will have to start attracting investment now. Once the people go back to the rut and start living in quick-fix shanties again without adopting necessary and quality changes, the chance to bring about a revolutionary change in living will be lost for ever.

The writer is Pakistan's high commissioner to the UK.







 Praful Bidwai The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
The Indian National Congress finds itself in a real tight spot for the first time since its return to power in 2009 as part of the United Progressive Alliance. The entire opposition has united against it in demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the 2G telecom scandal, which caused a loss of up to $38 billion to the exchequer. The Congress seems to be losing public sympathy, and its confidence about winning the 2014 national election. Yet, the Congress leadership managed to infuse a sense of purpose into the party in the just-concluded All-India Congress Committee session in Delhi – no easy task in respect of the 125-year-old lumbering behemoth. The Congress's mood has become particularly combative vis-à-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and even on the vulnerable issue of corruption.

The AICC resolution calls secularism the "lifeline of Indian democracy" and says "the RSS and VHP are insidious in their effort to break India." It calls Gujarat's 2002 anti-Muslim violence "genocide". This is a far tougher line than in the last AICC resolution (2006), which didn't even mention Gujarat and merely said "communal forces represented by the RSS/BJP combined still lurk in our society." 

The party strongly supported Rahul Gandhi on his remark to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer, quoted in a Wikileaks cable, that "the growth of radicalised Hindu groups which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community" is a greater threat to India than the sympathy among Indian Muslims for Lashkar-e-Taiba, for which "there was evidence". Gandhi owned up to the quote and sustained his attack on the BJP-RSS. 

No Muslim group of any significance in India justifies jihadist terror or the LeT. But the RSS-BJP support for Hindutva extremism is substantial and vocal – despite clinching evidence of RSS involvement in terrorist networks in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The BJP accuses the Congress of vendetta politics. But its shielding of Hindu extremists is particularly obnoxious after the recent arrest of several sangh parivar terror suspects and damaging evidence against an RSS national executive member. It's clear that Hindutva activists conspired to set off bomb blasts in a Malegaon mosque, the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and the Ajmer dargah. 

The more polarising figures in the BJP like Gujarat CM Narendra Modi have tried to create a social climate in which many Indian Muslims feel insecure, while Hindutva extremists believe they have the right to be protected by the state. 

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh deserves part of the credit for persistently raising the issues of Hindutva extremism, fake "encounter killings" of Muslim youth (eg Batla House) and the stigmatisation of an entire community in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. Singh's frank, combative speech at the AICC emphasised the RSS's pernicious role. Congress president Sonia Gandhi followed with a sharp attack on the BJP and its associates, whom she accused of double standards: demanding a JPC on the 2G scam, but protecting Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa despite evidence of massive corruption. 

The Congress is now zeroing in on the BJP as its main adversary. This welcome step will help isolate "soft-Hindutva" supporters inside the Congress and encourage the secular opposition to distance itself from the BJP. The Left parties are increasingly uncomfortable with being bracketed with the BJP in causing the washout of the entire winter session of parliament. 

That raises the corruption issue. Manmohan Singh has boldly offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee. But this won't mollify the BJP. It's playing for broke in its no-holds-barred confrontation with the Congress. The BJP will probably continue its shrill campaign against Singh whatever happens. BJP general secretary Arun Jaitly has dismissed Singh's offer and said he cannot choose his forum of interrogation. But the BJP cannot choose the forum either – unless it's deluding itself that it's in power.

A JPC seems more apt in the 2G case. The PAC is by definition supposed to look into audit and accounting matters. The JPC can investigate a broader range of issues, including the scam's origins in the National Telecom Policy of 1999 and fix responsibilities of different state organs and individuals. But a JPC cannot assuredly uncover the whole truth and prosecute culprits. Past JPCs did not do this. Yet, Singh would do well to revisit the question and start sincere and sober consultations with the opposition.

On fighting corruption, Sonia Gandhi made a far bolder offer than Singh. Her five-point plan outlines key issues, such as abuse of the government's discretionary powers to allocate natural resources including land, and the need for open, competitive auctions. Also welcome is her exhortation to fast-track all cases of corruption involving public servants, and her calls for "full transparency" in public procurement, and for whistleblower protection. These ideas are worthy. But they imply a veritable purge and reform of the money-addicted, patronage-driven Congress party machine. This, in turn, will require a systematic long-term campaign to rebuild the organisation based on programmes and schemes that eliminate middlemen and opaque procedures. 

Not many Congress CMs would welcome such a radical change. As experience with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act shows, the entire administrative system is full of loopholes. These must be plugged.

Revamping the Congress and fighting systemic corruption are long-term agendas. In the short run, the Congress's commitment to fighting corruption will be tested on grounds of the Adarsh society, the Commonwealth Games and the 2G scams, especially the last. It must insist on a free and fair CBI investigation of disgraced telecom minister A Raja's operations – even if that means getting DMK supremo M Karunanidhi to drop him and his own daughter Kanimozhi from the party, on pain of severing the UPA's links with it. 

It's encouraging that the CBI has raided 34 establishments connected with Raja and Kanimozhi. This cuts close to the DMK's family bone. The CBI must take the investigation to its conclusion under the supervision of the Supreme Court. 

Welcome as all this is, it still leaves two questions unresolved – the Congress's economic policy orientation, and its organisational issues. The Congress pays lip service to inclusive growth. But it remains obsessed with growth alone and considers it paramount. It's still hesitant to embrace the idea of equitable growth focussed on the poor.

In organisational matters, the party continues to promote and reward sycophancy and looks to the High Command for all major appointments and ticket distribution in the states. There are no free elections in its regional or central committees. The AICC has still not constituted a new Congress Working Committee even after the 2009 elections. Sonia Gandhi has only set up an ad hoc "core group" – nominated from the top – to take all major political decisions.

Rahul Gandhi made a valiant effort to reform the Youth Congress, but most positions of leadership continue to be occupied by the children of old Congress leaders. Much energy needs to be invested in revamping the party. Its flabby, top-heavy undemocratic organisational setup could turn out to be the Congress's Achilles' heel in next year's Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. It has begun digging itself out of the hole it's in. It hasn't emerged from it yet.








In his memorable address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, on August 11, 1947 he (the Quaid-e-Azam) explained the secular nature of state in the most unambiguous terms: 

"Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the wellbeing of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. 

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long, long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. 

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."

Can there be a better interpretation of secular ideals that Mr Jinnah cherished? It may be noted that he discusses these ideals in the background of British History.

Taken from book "The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan" by the late Syed Sibte Hasan and published by the Pakistan Publishing House, Karachi.









THE 11th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) has concluded, as usual, with a high sounding declaration focusing on regional economic cooperation, ensuring energy security, establishing Free Trade Zone in the region and speeding up infrastructural development. Emphasizing the importance of boosting transportation network, the summit noted that cargo train project initiated in August 2010 in Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul route was successful and that such a route would be implemented between Istanbul and Almaty in 2011. 

It was in 2005 that ECO adopted Vision-2015 to serve as basic policy guidelines for its activities in the next ten years and sets targets to be achieved in the fields of trade, transport, energy, health and environment, etc. Five years have elapsed but the organization is far behind in targets set for almost all fields and there is hardly any reason to spark confidence that it will achieve them during the next five years. This is because the leaders including Heads of State and Government; Minister and senior officials meet frequently to discuss proposals for cooperation in different fields but they fail to translate them into tangible projects and programmes. A case in point is the decision to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers and go for a Free Trade Agreement to boost trade among member countries, raising it up to 20% by 2015 but still it is hovering around 5% making a mockery of tall claims in this regard. It is obvious that without infrastructural development, the member states cannot dream of increasing intra-region trade meaningfully and that calls for development of rail and road networks but progress in this regard is also deplorable. Experts point out that despite having all the necessary foundations for seven-way dialogue through committees as well as having the capability to solve all outstanding hurdles in the way of cooperation, ECO—the second largest regional organization in the world—has failed to wield its potentials to the fullest. Covering an area of 7.2 million square kilometres and with a total population of over 350 million people, there would be virtually no limit to the influence that ECO could boast in Asia, as well as the Middle East, and the Caucasus regions. Since ECO includes four of the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea and two Persian Gulf States, the organization connects two of the world's major maritime energy routes. No doubt, there are extra-regional pressures to prevent the organization from harnessing its potential but the ECO can make progress by creating energy corridors, barter trade, signing of FTA, easy currency exchange and developing transportation network. President Asif Ali Zardari has done well by offering country's seaports, energy corridors as well as trade links through Wakhan as part of the efforts to intensify cooperation. But there is a need to go beyond making mere announcements and engaging all the partners in a process that could yield benefits for all.









THE 134th birth anniversary of the founder of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah today (Saturday) assumes greater significance this year as the country stands at the cross-roads with expectations and apprehensions as to what is in store for Pakistan. There are optimists and visionary people like Dr Safdar Mahmood, an authority on Pakistan Movement, who are sure that Pakistan is destined to emerge as world's leading country. 

However, the prevailing circumstances have made some people pessimists who see only dark shadows all around. It is said that on the whole Pakistan today presents a dismal picture and as a consequence there is disappointment, depression and dejection among people, who are worried about downslide in different spheres of life. This is despite the fact that the country has immense potential but the wrong policies of the successive governments have played with this country of the Quaid. There appears to be a sense of helplessness but regrettably the incumbent Government seems to be least concerned or bothered to address the maladies. But we firmly believe that there is no cause to worry about the future of the country, as there are bright prospects of its rise in every field because it has the potential to march forward. Pakistan was carved out in the name of Islam and ideology is its main strength and as long as its people are motivated enough to preserve their identity no power on earth can suppress or subjugate them. According to all analyses, there was great wisdom in its creation and the country is bound to play its role in regional and global affairs and especially in achieving glory for the Ummah. Pakistan is one of the seven declared nuclear powers of the world; has world's largest coal deposits, huge gold and copper mines, fertile land and above all hard-working people. Apart from mineral resources worth several thousand billion dollars, the country has one of the youngest population in the world, which is considered to be the demographic dividend. We are, therefore, convinced that the country has every potential to grow and prosper if we are able to remove impediments and exploit its resources judiciously.








IN a dramatic development, the law enforcing agencies arrested Shahzain Bugti, grandson of late Nawab Akbar Bugti and some of his companions on charges of possessing huge quantities of arms and ammunition, which were also recovered from his convoy. Officials maintain these were purchased by him from Chaman but Shahzain and Talal Bugti claim that he was wrongly implicated in a fake case. 

Investigations are underway and only time will tell about the veracity of these claims and counter-claims but one thing is clear that what the authorities recovered from him is only tip of the iceberg, as there are thousands of Shahzains in the country who possess large quantities of arms and ammunition including the latest rocket launchers. It is known to all that Karachi has become a powder keg because of vast quantities of arms dumped by rival groups and mafias in the city and they take peace of the city hostage at their will. In the interior Sindh, dacoits possess all sorts of illegal weapons and make life of the people miserable. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, almost each and every house is considered to be an arms factory producing different varieties of pistols, revolvers and guns. And then, foreign agencies are supplying militants and saboteurs with all sorts of weapons and explosive material and they kill people at will in bomb blasts and suicide attacks. How one can expect restoration of peace and normalcy in the country in the presence of easy availability of arms in every nook and corner of the country? A surgical operation is required to recover all illegal arms, take action against those involved in smuggling of weapons and to choke the sources of supplies.








Beverley Nichols, author of the 'Verdict on India', described Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah as 'the most important man in Asia', while Dr Kailashnath Katju, the West Bengal Governor in 1948 thought of him as 'an outstanding figure of this century not only in India, but in the whole world'. Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, called him 'one of the greatest leaders in the Muslim world', the Grand Mufti of Palestine considered his death as a 'great loss' to the entire world of Islam. Surat Chandra Bose, leader of the Forward Bloc wing of the Indian National Congress, summed up his personal and political achievements on his demise as: 'Mr Jinnah was great as a lawyer, once great as a Congressman,great as a world politicican and diplomat and greatest of all as a man of action. With Mr Jinnah's passing away, the world has lost one of the greatest statesmen and Pakistan its life-giver, philosopher and guide'. And Mr Stanley Wolpert, author of the Quaid's biography said in his book titled 'Jinnah of Pakistan' : 'Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three'… Such was the Quaid as man and his mission in the light of his accomplishments and achievements. 

He was a great constitutionalist, a distinguished parliamentarian and politician, a dynamic Muslim leader and a political strategist. He was like a minarete among his contemporaries in Indian politics. What made him outstanding amongst them was the fact that he carved out Pakistan through sheer hard work, determination and scrupulous politics in the face of Hindu-British nexus while similar other leaders assumed the leadership of traditionally existing nations and espoused their cause, or led them to freedom. He pursued his mission to emancipate the Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindu-British domination with conviction, commitment and determination. Born on December 25, 1876 in Karachi and educated at the Sindh Madrassat-ul-Islam and the Christian Mission School, he joined the Lincoln's Inn in 1893 to become the youngest Indian to be called to the Bar three years later. He was elected to the newly-constituted Imperial Legislative Council and was the first Indian to pilot a private member's Bill through the Council. The Quaid advocated Hindu-Muslim unity for about three decades since his entry into politics in 1906, but was compelled to abandon the idea due to Hindu mentality of hatred and domination against the Muslims. In October 1920, when Gandhi, having been elected President of the Home Rule League, sought to change its constitution as well as its nomenclature, the Quaid resigned from the Home Rule League in protest and in disgust. And at the National convention (1928) he said: "What we want is that Hindus and Mussalmans should march together until our object is achieved...These two communities have got to be reconciled and united and made to feel that their interests are common". The Convention's blank refusal to accept Muslim demands represented the most devastating setback to the Quaid's efforts to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity. 

His disillusionment at the course of politics in the subcontinent prompted him to migrate and settle down in London in the early thirties. He, however, returned to India in 1934, at the pleadings of Allama Iqbal to assume the leadership of Indian Muslims when they presented a sad spectacle. They were demoralised and disorganised. The Muslim League was dormant. The situation in the provinces was equally worse. Various Muslim leaders had set up their own provincial parties in the provinces to serve their personal ends. Extremely frustrating as the situation was, the only support and consultation the Quaid had got at this juncture was from Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher, who stood steadfast by him and helped to charter the course of Indian politics from behind the scene. 

The Quaid devoted himself to organize the Muslims on one platform with full vigour. He embarked upon country-wide tours, convinced the provincial Muslim leaders to sink their differences and make common cause with the League. He formulated a viable League manifesto for the election scheduled for early 1937. He, in fact, struggled against time to make Muslims in India a force to be reckoned with. While demanding separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, the Quaid had argued: 'We are a nation… We are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral code, customs and calendar, history and tradition, aptitudes and ambitions; in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law, we are a nation'. The Muslim demand for Pakistan had, in fact, changed the course of history of the Indian subcontinent. 

On the one hand, it shattered the Hindu dream of Akhand Bharat and on the other provided direction to the Muslims to struggle for separate homeland for themselves. The British were, however, equally hostile to the Muslim demand for Pakistan. The Quaid fought against the Hindu British nexus with argument, logic and scrupulous politics. No one, in fact, played a more decisive role than the Quaid-i-Azam with powerful advocacy of the case of Pakistan and his remarkable strategy in the delicate negotiations to lead the Indian Muslims to emancipation. British tried to circumvent Muslim demand for Pakistan through Cripps Mission that only conceded the principle of self determination to provinces while Congress presented Rajaji formula as an alternative to Pakistan. The Quaid rejected both as none met the Muslim aspirations. He ultimately made both the British and Congress accept the demand of Pakistan. And his struggle was crowned with success on August 14, 1947 when Pakistan emerged on the world map as a sovereign and independent state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was nominated by the Muslim League as the Governor-General of Pakistan. The country was, however, incepted in virtual chaos. The new nation to start from scratch as it did not inherit a central government, a capital, an administrative core, or an organized defence force. The violence generated by the Hindu extremists unfortunately marked the partition of India coupled with unprecedented migration of Muslim population to Pakistan from India. Amidst this migration Hindu and Sikh businessmen had left Pakistan leaving behind its economy in a shambles. The exchequer was empty, India having denied Pakistan the major share of its cash share. Pakistan also had to feed about eight million refugees who had fled the barbarities of Hindus and Sikhs in East Punjab at the very outset. In the circumstances, therefore, it was nothing short of a miracle that Pakistan survived at all. And it survived and forged ahead mainly due to only one man and that was Quaid-i-Azam. His very presence at the helm of affairs enabled the nation to overcome the terrible crisis. 

At a time of fierce excitement, he remained sober, cool and steady. He assured the minorities of a fair deal and gave them hope and comfort. In accomplishing the task of winning freedom for the Muslims of the subcontinent, he had worked himself to death. The Quaid told the nation in his last message on 14 August, 1948: "The foundations of your State have been laid and it is now for you to build and build as quickly and as well as you can".








The ink on 19th Amendment Draft bill is hardly dry and media is abuzz with reports of 20th and 21st Amendments in the Constitution. The churning up amendments by the controversial constitutional committee and rubber stamp parliament are illegal, unconstitutional and violate democratic principles. The present parliament does not have the power to draw up or alter a constitution because it contested general election on the promise of change. The assembly of 1971 was a constituent assembly because it fought the election to make the (1973) Constitution. Bringing hundreds of amendments in the Constitution was not part of all political parties. It is an undemocratic and illegal step because major political party manifestoes are silent about en mass changes in the Constitution. The voters, State and the election commission were kept in the dark. Constitutional reform committee is used to facilitate workings of constituent assemblies but they cannot be used by general assembly to initiate en mass changes. 

Therefore, Supreme Court has to address the issues of use of constitutional committee for en mass changes in the constitution. The powers of general assembly to bring en mass changes in the constitution because it is only the legal and democratic prerogative of a constituent assembly. En mass changes in the constitution violates election rules because party manifestoes of all political parties especially major political parties did not spell out details and number of changes in the Constitution. Since it was not part of the party election manifestoes, therefore the changes are illegal, violate democratic principles and election rules. Therefore, Election Commission needs to show to the Supreme Court that there is no transgression of public mandate because political parties failed to put the issue on ballot and they are using their public mandate to introduce en mass changes in the Constitution. Thus, 18th and 19th Amendments are technically illegal. 

At best, lawmakers of general assembly could have passed 18th Amendment reading: The 1973 Constitution is restored in its original form. It would have saved the constitutions from subsequent changes. The judiciary has been made subservient to the parliament. PM congratulation to the parliament on the passing of illegal 19th Amendment is its proof. As good cop, PM's praised judiciary for returning the 18th Amendment to the parliament as gesture of respect, but he failed to show remorse or shame for bad cop behavior of treasury members who have been openly challenging judiciary. The public is disappointed over the high headedness of the lawmakers resorted to all kinds of dirty tactics to cow down the judiciary to prevent it from exercising its right of judicial review. Arguably, judiciary stands weaker than what it was before two constitutional amendments and in turn it has weakened democracy, state and public. 

The passage of 18th and 19th Amendments has undermined courts power of Judicial Review which forms core of "Checks and Balances" in a democracy- each stakeholder keeps the other stakeholders under control. The subservience of judiciary to parliament will undermine courts powers to review statutes and governmental actions to determine whether they conform to rules and principles laid down in constitutions. Judicial review is based on the idea that a constitution—which dictates the nature, functions, and limits of a government—is the supreme law. Consequently, any actions by a government that violate the principles of its constitution are invalid. 

PM is wrong to tout the passage of two constitutional bills as "unique" in country's political history. The bills are dark attempts to permanently "harness" judiciary under the yolk of parliament, scuttle judiciary's powers of judicial review and stifle inherent "Checks and Balances" of a democracy. In a democracy, judiciary performs three functions: it protects interests of the state, it protects the constitution and it protects public interest against the state and the government of the day. By weakening the judiciary, PM has served west's agenda of globalization that is at war with nationalism, independent judiciaries, territorial integrities, geographical boundaries, financial independence, independent monetary system, sovereignties- in short independent states. 

The presence of the lawmakers in the judicial commission is going to taint country's justice system. Can the PM, lawmakers, judiciary and media explain to the public the impartiality of the courts when they deal with politicians who happen to be members of judicial committee. It defies the very concept of justice and transparency. Therefore, politicians should be removed from judicial commission to avoid its politicization. PM said that all the institutions were functioning in their constitutional domains and the political system was strengthening day by day. Noting could be further from the truth. Can PM look the nation in the eye and say that executive, judiciary, lawmakers and the media share equal powers- a hallmark of a true democracy? By passing 19th Amendment, government of the day has neutralized judiciary in its grab for power. Media is already controlled by PEMRA, lawmakers are controlled by political party heads and public is controlled by the state institutions including police and other law enforcement agencies. Thus, 19th Amendment has turned democracy into a dictatorship of plutocrats.


The 18th Constitutional amendment should be scrapped so that democracy is returned to political parties. The scrapping of constitutional checks related to political parties including mandatory elections in the party has undermined democracy, human rights and right to fulfill political aspirations of becoming party head. Instead, the relevant laws in their current form strengthen dynastic politics, undermine meritocracy and promote nepotisms. This culture of dynastic democracy will then become a permanent feature in national and provincial politics. Judiciary should be made independent and elections should be returned under judiciary to strengthen democracy and protect national interests. The by elections under PPP government shows that almost all election rules were violated. By holding public meeting hours before elections and announcing aid packages for candidates, PM Gillani violated the election rules. The cases in point are Gilgat Baltistan, Lodhran and Muzaffargarh. The election commission failed to take any action against the PM and the candidates. Similarly, election commission has failed to amicably address the issue of fake degrees. The controversial appointment of existing chief election commissioner also exposes the weakness of the system. 

In addition, election commission is inadequately empowered and staffed to manage and control the election process. The media reports and history of elections show that it is difficult for handpicked chief election commissioners to resist influence. Otherwise also, except election commission there is no change in the conducting of elections. The state and its setups are being used like the past. It makes economic sense to get rid of the election commission. The use of one-day salary to the all government employees involved in the election will save country billions being spent on maintaining election commission.Finally, the Supreme Court should scrap 18th and 19th constitutional amendments because they are illegal, unconstitutional and undemocratic. Similarly, politicians ought to be removed from judicial commission to preserve the independence of judiciary, maintain credibility of justice and uphold democratic system of "Checks and Balances". Instead of election commission, judiciary should be made in charge of elections to restore writ of the state and end hegemony of individuals, major political parties and the west. State should cancel the announcement of awards for the constitutional reforms committee because it has failed to protect independence of judiciary, strengthen democracy, uphold interests of the state and in return empower public. 









Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah the most revered leader of the Muslims of the Subcontinent was a man having inter alia a strong moral character unmatched by any other contemporary leader of those days. He is quoted as an example of impeccable integrity on which he never compromised. He is a role model for those who believe that in a Muslim nation personal character of leadership is as important as other necessary inherent qualities of leadership which get radiated to inspire people at large. This is in variation from the secular world concept that leadership may have personal weaknesses but should excel in political or military acumen merely. It is rather strange and beyond understanding that most of the subsequent political leadership in Pakistan instead of looking at and emulating the most successful and adored personality of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his traits never tire of eulogizing the services and examples of foreign leaders, many of whom considered personal conduct not a matter of public scrutiny and took pride in their adventures which were frequently based on unaccepted social norms. An ideological state having been created it would be only right that politicians clamoring to play a leadership role in such a state should follow a proper role model of which the shining example is that of trend setter Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan who was an embodiment of qualities of head and heart. In the context of prevailing political situation in Pakistan where there are serious problems of internal security and country is facing foreign pressures it is all the more important that inspiration should be drawn from examples set by the Quaid in dealing with internal dissidents and outsiders. 

He took firm stand on principles, remained adamant in face of unruly opponents and ported a strong sense of self-respect. Even with colonial masters of the day he would neither put up with improper behavior nor would tolerate a slight. It would be opportune to recall some of the incidents to elaborate on his conduct. One incident dates back to the period in his life when he started legal practice as a young lawyer. He always pleaded cases with solid arguments without involving an iota of imploration. In the course of hearing in a court of law the English magistrate due to some reason or other reminded Jinnah that he was in the court of a 1st class magistrate. Prompt came the reply by Jinnah that the advocate in him was of no lesser class. Jinnah carried his sense of self- respect every where in dealing with Indian leaders of the day including those belonging to Indian Congress. He never allowed himself to be brow beaten. Jinnah was endowed with an impressive personality by nature, and on top of it he would dress himself immaculately and maintain a posture and facial expression which commanded respect from all who were in company. It is narrated that on visit to London for political parleys he stayed in hotel. In the morning he descended from his hotel suite into the breakfast hall, using stairs. When the people present in the restaurant noticed him they all rose involuntary and stood up as a gesture of respect to him. Another interesting story about Quaid also relates to his appearance in a court of law as pleader of a client. While making arguments, monocle which Jinnah was using for reading from his notes slipped from his eye and dropped on the floor. The magistrate mischievously grinned and felt delighted, anticipating that Jinnah would have to bend in his court to pick up the monocle. He was disappointed when Jinnah put his hand in his pocket, brought out another monocle and applied it to his eye while continuing the arguments.

In the meanwhile Jinnah's legal assistant rose and picked up the monocle from the floor. He is known to have never abandoned his sense of propriety even while dealing with colleagues, clients, political comrades and arch political rivals. At the same time Quaid dealt with political adversaries with grace. He possessed spontaneity and a sharp wit of which we find several examples. Here are a few. While undertaking a journey Quaid would generally travel by train. His seat would be reserved in first class compartment. On the other hand, Congress leaders like Gandhi, Nehru & others to gain politic mileage, used to sit in the third class compartment. Gandhi is reported to have remarked once that he travelled in third class because there was no fourth class in the train. Journalist once confronted Jinnah with a question as to how Congress leadership travelled in third class like the proletariat while he enjoys the first class journey. Quaid's reply was sharp. He said that he travelled in first class but pays from his own pocket to buy the ticket, while the congress leaders travel in third class without ticket. It made headlines.

Although, Quaid-i-Azam could speak exhaustively on issues but in reply to questions he was usually brief and to the point. He would not harangue people with long sermons. Some of my friends and relatives had good memories of meeting and hearing him. Mr. Nasim Anwar Baig a Muslim student leader and member of Pakistan movement relates accounts of such an incident. A group of Muslim students had an opportunity to call on the Quaid. During the freedom movement, 'What brings you here' asked Quaid straightway. It was explained by students that Congress aligned Hindu students in colleges were arming themselves with weapons and they had come to seek his blessings to do likewise so that they can defend themselves from possible attacks by militancy minded people. 'No' came the unambiguous reply from Quaid. 

Instead he advised them to go to their educational institutions and devote time to their studies and acquire knowledge which he explained was their best weapon. As against this it is shocking to note the actions of governments when terrorism has been taking its toll in the country. As if gun running was not enough, in today's Pakistan there is demand for more and more licenses of prohibited bore weapons. In order to highlight another aspect of his character, it is pertinent to refer to another story which is attributed to Late Mr. Qudrat Ullah Shahab a well known and respected member of civil service. He per chance found some important papers in office files containing information which could be very useful for Muslim League. He managed access to Quaid and presented the papers personally to him. After thanking him for the information Quaid advised him not to repeat the practice and strictly follow the official rules. 

Sense of justice and fair play was implicit in the actions of Quaid right from the beginning. He advocated equal rights for all citizens. In this respect Quaid-i-Azam viewed members of minority community worthy of equal treatment in all respect. My late father Mian Muhammad Ibrahim was a great fan of Quaid. He recalls Quaid's observations which he made before the people of Gujranwala during freedom movement. A group of Hindu and Muslim residents had gathered to greet him. As usual he was brief and gist of what he said was that Muslim League when in power would treat every body with justice and fairplay, regardless of cast, creed and faith. On the other hand Nehru on a different occasion while addressing a similar crowd in Gujranwala had only a politics based message for Muslims to the effect that they should go and forge unity among themselves implying that they should support Jamiat Ulema Hind (JUH), a political party aligned with Congress and sort of pinpointing to a fissure in Muslim community. Quaid was a visionary. He was always thinking about future times when his dream of Pakistan would be realized. 

An advice from Quaid was recalled by my late uncle Mian Muhammad Younis who was contemporary of Hamid Nizami and Altaf Gohar at Islamia College Railway Road Lahore. Whenever in Lahore Quaid would pay a visit this institution and meet with the Muslim students' community there. During one of his visit Altaf Gohar brought to the notice of Quaid that Younis would leave Islamia College shortly to join Mclagan Engineering College and that he would most likely lose opportunity to meet Quaid in future. Quaid patted Younis on the back and remarked that future Pakistan needs a large number of engineers to build the nation and asked Younis to go to Mclagan Engineering College and pursue studies there to become a good engineer. This small incidence is reflective of foresight in him. Twenty-first century saw unprecedented technological development in some of the developing countries like China. One of the noteworthy reason for their quick achievement is that they heavily invested in technical & engineering human resource and consequently have attained phenomenal economic growth. It is generally believed that about one third of the ministers in the cabinet of government of Peoples Republic of China (PRC) are engineers by profession. Of course the country needs engineers who are competent and honest.

Quaid was a great human being. a great man and a great leader. Above all, he was an upright and honourable person. His personal qualities and his commitment to the cause of Pakistan had infused in him such a degree of confidence that he could look into eyes of blue blooded royal family personage like Earl of Mountbatten without fear and argue to win his case for creation of a new state. Compare it with disposition of most of the political masters who followed him. We at international level have come under pressure on account of alleged inability to do enough on terrorism. An impression has been created that we have become apologetic and are acting at the behest of foreign powers for economic gains but at the cost of self esteem. This impression must be dispelled and by actions it must shown to the world that we are an honourable nation where actions are guided solely keeping in view long term interests of people of Pakistan who are able to face adverse circumstances with fortitude without compromising on their dignity and self respect. 

In the end it is essential to describe Quaid's reaction to a situation on another occasion. It is known that after creation of Pakistan, the newly born state had to pass through difficult times. Millions of refugees migrated to Pakistan from India and makeshift camps were set up to house them. There was a big camp set up at Walton Lahore. Having been subjected to worst atrocities by rioters refugees were in miserable condition mentally and physically. On the other hand there was an acute shortage of resources in the new state. Quaid-i-Azam came to Walton to meet with these homeless citizens of Pakistan. He felt disturbed and was deeply moved. He extolled their sacrifices but told them frankly that he had nothing to give to them. His proposition was that "Let us resolve to work hard jointly to solve all the problems and build a prosper Pakistan". He motivated and instilled hope in them. It is a matter of record how all refugees were settled. This is the sort of politics we need. Learning from this leadership should take people into confidence, show commitment and work sincerely for their betterment. It is only instructive that Quaid's sayings, speeches and actions are studied and disseminated to create a proper political and leadership culture worthy of a democratic welfare state. Only then we shall be able to guard our national sovereignty with honour and pride and shall be able to face the challenges of the new world order.


The writer is a former Chairman, PEMRA.








Dreams of founding fathers of Pakistan-Islamabad are in shatters and the media are happy about this state of affairs while India laughs loudly! Why should it not? Weak Pakistani leaders requested the US state criminal to use their territories to attack Afghans. Pakistan's weaknesses, misfortunes and tragedies are India's strength; Islamabad's failures on domestic and foreign fronts are also the success of India, automatically. India always makes a point to big powers that are more resourceful than Pakistan. India's plus point is it has been able present a perfect victim syndrome to the equally mischievous western anti-Islamic states. In enacting the Parliamentary attack and Mumbai attacks, India sent an unambiguous message to Washington that it knows what exactly happened in New York and American strategists and Republican party are directly responsive for the Sept-11. This brought a wicked USA closer to Indian big schemes. While Pakistan is still depending on US masters for a few left out bones.

Thus, a nervous, destabilized Pakistan, without an efficient regime, is under virtual US siege now, but is also unhappy that all its positive terror gestures in killing as many Muslims as possible in shortest possible time have been a sheer waste of state energy. It has been a thankless job since US Obama preferred India, the South Asian terror zone, to make his maiden visit to the region, skipping NATO ally Pakistan and struck terror deals with "innocent" New Delhi. Most probably, Islamabad would henceforth stay away from all terror cooperation with anti-Islamic NATO terror syndicates led by US-UK terror twins. Eager to win points over Pakistan on all possible domains, including state terrorism, India would never admit that it s terror state nor will it reveal to the world that it has since Sept-11 become a reliable sanctuary for top GST Criminals, but that does not exonerate it from its decades' long genocides of Muslims and subversive polices. 

Indian terror strategists are extra upbeat these days that India has trapped all major powers including all powerful unipolar USA and the former superpower Russia and calling their leader to New Delhi and making them mere puppets to reproduce the Indian notes against Pakistan and Jammu Kashmir and make fake support for notorious UNSC. Not only the "change' hero Obama from USA, but even Madvedev of former powerful Soviet state behave like puppets in Indian blood-stained hands howling like parrots attacking its neighbors on behalf of India.True, none of these leaders take what they say to appease Hindu fanatics as serious things and they go back to play their own domestic dirty game as GST leaders. By very cleverly using the inter-border tensions, the global dictators in USA have made both India and Pakistan their client puppet states, each playing the Washington fiddle exactly the way the CIA instructs them. Yet, the Pentagon spots inaccuracies in puppeting the US line of terror thinking. Indian extremist Hindu terrorists are involved in several terror operations in India but the regime and their cronies effectively shield these international criminals just as they do with the global frauds hailing from Indian soil. Global dictator USA's president Obama did talk "mature and balanced" about terrorism to appease the fanatic sections in India and USA, but pointed his burnt finger at Pakistan hoping to blackmail them to kill more Muslims.

US pursues only its long term interests in the region by using both Pakistan and India. The terror relationships among global state terrorist USA and its regional varieties like Israel and India are taking a dangerous turn with the arrival in India of Obama, armed with is large size team of capitalists, intelligence outfits, media nuts and Pentagon terror advisers, as if attacking Indian reserve bank and other financial agencies corporations institutions in Mumbai for resources as US shares. Illegal acts like international bribing for favors and spreading terror lies against Pakistan and Kashmir and Muslims at home have come handy for India and New Delhi has already bribed the UN boss Ban ki Moon with degree, award and cash and no one has questioned the legality of offering such bribes to big bosses. While "democratic" India has denied the right of people to protest against the horrid visit of US top terrorist, Indians have welcomed the US criminal with black protests. India seems to have achieved a top foreign policy of splitting the strong US-Pak ties and also retained the terror courting by Moscow as well. Alas, Pakistani corrupt government and bulk of media are making strenuous effort s to paint Muslims in dirty colors only to appease both USA and India, apart from helping foreign terrorists in shiny suits under the garb of democracy only to kill Muslims and terrorize the entire nation. The whole bloody idea is to occupy Afghanistan as well as Pakistan until the energy routes are cleared and ready for operations. Media still harp on Taliban, etc, while the US-Pak-India is keen to clear the energy routes for India. Like Hindus, Pakistani regime also does not like criticism. That is one chief cause of their tragedy toady.

It is most unfortunate, rather shame, that Pakistan has not yet produced genuine selfless leaders to advance the legitimate interests of Pakistan and to defend its people from foreign drone attacks. Had Islamabad been sincere enough to defend its sovereignty and popular interests, NATO terrorists would not have stayed like this there killing Muslims and India would not have waged its dirty tail too far. After having given their mandate to their leaders, Pakistanis are afraid of NATO terror networks and Pakistan's own forces killing innocent people even in tribal zones only to pimp the US efforts to clear energy routes from Central Asia to countries including terror India.








One small step forward by North Korea and the US, one large step for mankind. The political fight to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear bomb making activities seems at last, in the dying days of the Bush presidency, to be entering a serious phase.Yes, I was able to write that three years ago. But since then we have plunged from optimism to the darkest pessimism. North Korea has been threatening war against the South, and the US and the South Korea have been upping the ante by holding military exercises close to North Korea.

After seven years of erratic US policies under President George W. Bush — met by equally erratic and bellicose North Korean ones — the negotiations ended up almost where they started following the highly fruitful diplomacy in the last days of the Clinton administration that transformed North Korea from total intransigence to a willing and helpful negotiating partner. Well, not quite back to where the Clinton administration had to leave off. North Korea now has tripled the amount of nuclear weapons' material in store. Worse, it has exploded two nuclear bombs and probably has enough material for half a dozen more. This must count as one of President George W. Bush's worst foreign policy feats. Commitments made in tense but productive negotiations were not honored (and the Republican majority in Congress in Clinton's time also torpedoed commitments made by the administration). Bush's first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was made a fool of. After he declared that the new administration would try and complete the work of its predecessor, Powell was publicly repudiated. The insider work of Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the rug from beneath him. Even at one time when Bush tried to take a more positive approach, second-tier officials working in committee at the inter-agency level managed to deflect it — such was the power of the senior bureaucracy, (a lesson in the powerlessness of the presidency that Barack Obama should take notice of).

Fortunately, the negotiations were salvaged by a very determined second term Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who took personal charge of the negotiations and empowered a skilful principal negotiator, Christopher Hill, to burrow through the labyrinthine of confusion and misunderstandings that were now heaped one on top of the other. The force and frequency of US negotiating offers were stepped up. Pyongyang's twists and turns and often appalling misbehavior were more tolerated. In September 2005, the US formally offered a nonaggression pledge and an offer, in principle, to normalize relations. It also resurrected discussion of the Clinton decision to help finance and build a "light water" reactor that would help satisfy the North's domestic power needs, without producing more bomb-making material. (The reactor sits half finished.) In return the North agreed to denuclearize and to open itself to international inspection. Perhaps inevitably, both sides interpreted the agreement differently. The North again became intransigent. In October 2006 it exploded an underground nuclear device. Yet Rice managed to persuade Bush to dilute the hostile rhetoric. The administration continued with its more conventional diplomacy. The hard-liners in the administration, including Cheney, were sidelined. The Rice/Hill push continued forward. Fuel aid and food were offered as carrots. Surprisingly, the offer bore fruit. The North agreed to disable its nuclear weapons and other important facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. 

It also said it would allow back both US and UN inspectors. But when Washington stalled on removing the North from its terrorism list, Pyongyang also stalled.—Arab News








The Japan Coast Guard on Wednesday suspended for one year a coast guard navigation officer who on Nov. 4 leaked to the Internet the video footage of the Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and two Japan Coast Guard cutters near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture. But he was allowed to retire at his request. The government had withheld the footage from the public to avoid angering China.


The Metropolitan Police Department the same day turned papers on the officer, Mr. Masaharu Isshiki, to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office for allegedly violating the National Public Services Law, which prohibits public servants from divulging secrets obtained in the course of their work. The prosecution is expected to suspend indictment against him.


The coast guard did not dismiss Mr. Isshiki since it became clear that the video footage remained visible for about five days from some 10,000 computers used by coast guard members, that 36 members viewed the footage and that 17 of them, including Mr. Isshiki, downloaded it. Apparently the coast guard was not cautious enough.


This fact would make it difficult for the prosecution to assert that the video footage was a secret. Mr. Isshiki saved the footage on a USB data storage device in mid-October. Only on Oct. 7, the Kan Cabinet decided not to make public the video footage. Transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, who has authority over the coast guard, ordered "thorough management" of the footage as late as Oct. 18.


As the nation was rocked by the leak of the Senkaku incident footage, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku proposed meting out stricter punishment for public servants who divulge secrets. The government also has set up a panel to improve management of information in ministries and agencies as well as relevant laws.


Weight should be given to building a system that is effective in preventing a leak of important information, rather than making penalties harsher for public servants who leak secrets. Taking concrete steps to strengthen information security is much more important than doling out harsher punishment.







An H-IIA rocket blasted the Venus planetary probe Akatsuki (daybreak) into space on May 21. But Akatsuki,


Japan's first spacecraft sent to explore Venus, failed to orbit Venus after overshooting the planet due to engine trouble. The craft was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency at a cost of ¥25.2 billion. Its failure stands in stark contrast to the space probe Hayabusa (peregrine falcon), which succeeded in collecting dust particles from the asteroid Itokawa.


If everything had gone smoothly, Akatsuki would have been in orbit around Venus for more than two years to observe the carbon dioxide atmosphere, analyze the constituents and movements of sulfuric acid clouds, and determine how storm winds of up to 360 kph are generated. It could have offered clues as to why Venus and Earth, which are similar, came to have different environments.


Akatsuki's engine was the world's first rocket motor made of ceramic. From its position about 550 km above Venus on Dec. 7, it was to fire the main engine for 12 minutes to reduce the craft's velocity so that it could enter the planet's gravitational field. But after the engine was fired, the pressure in the fuel tank dropped and the engine stopped after about 2 1/2 minutes, which greatly altered Akatsuki's attitude and it failed to enter orbit.


Researchers should closely analyze data from the probe and carry out a ground-based blast test of the same type of engine to determine what went wrong. Depending on the results, there may be a chance to insert the probe into Venus' orbit when Akatsuki approaches the planet again in six years.


Akatsuki's failure follows the failure of Nozomi, which was launched in 1998 to explore Mars but failed to enter the red planet's orbit in 2003. Japan must develop engines, batteries and other apparatuses that can withstand the rigorous environment of space and improve the technology to put a probe into a planetary orbit. In so doing, Japan should not forget that unmanned space exploration has achieved far more scientifically meaningful results than manned space missions. The government should provide sufficient budget for such space exploration.








The Democratic Party of Japan realized a dramatic change of government with its great win in the Lower House election in August 2009. The DPJ victory came when policy evolution in the later years of the coalition administration by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito stagnated, prompting mass media and leading intellectuals to call for change of government to pave the way for revitalization of national politics.


However, the administration of Yukio Hatoyama, which took power in September 2009, harmed Japan-U.S. relations over the issue of the relocation the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Island and was slow in taking stimulus measures to help buoy the economy. His flip-flops worsened the political situation. He resigned in July 2010.


The succeeding administration of Naoto Kan gained a high approval rate of over 60 percent at its inception. But Kan's vacillating remarks about the consumption tax and other major policy matters exposed his lack of leadership. Consequently, the DPJ suffered a serious defeat in the Upper House election in September. The resultant divided Diet with the DPJ keeping majority strength in the Lower House and the opposition forces dominating the Upper House has made the management of Diet business very difficult.


Under Kan, the Futenma issue remains unresolved and the restoration of mutual trust between Japan and the U.S. has been very slow. Mutual distrust between Japan and China has also grown due to Kan's bungled handling of the incident involving a Chinese trawler that rammed two Japan Coast Guard ships off the Senkaku Islands.


The situation surrounding Japan worsened after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Russian-held Japanese island Kunashiri off Hokkaido and North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island of South Korea. The Kan Cabinet failed to take prompt measures to deal with these problems.


The government managed to get the Diet approval for the fiscal 2010 supplemental budget in November but many other important bills were not put to vote. Little progress has been made on the question of DPJ former chief Ichiro Ozawa's political funds scandal, despite strong public criticism. Deflationary trends persist and college graduates face a dire employment situation. Social security reforms and financial rehabilitation have stagnated. As a result, the Kan Cabinet's approval rating has plummeted to about 20 percent.


Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties continue to criticize the Kan administration without presenting their own positive national vision or specific policy proposals.


What accounts for the failure of the ruling and opposition parties to restore vitality to politics?


First of all, there is a decline in the capabilities of political parties. Although the DPJ's manifesto was just a list of pledges aimed at winning votes rather than a real policy vision, the Kan administration's ongoing preoccupation with it has prevented it from devising and carrying out any appropriate policy measures. It is obvious that the government cannot carry out appropriate policy measures as long as it continues to deny much of what previous administrations have done and disregard the need to ensure continuity of foreign policy.


]The strength of a ruling party is based primarily on its ability to use personnel who are rich in experience and intelligence to gather information and work out policies. None of the nation's existing parties have such credentials.


Second, the Kan administration is hobbled by inefficiencies. The DPJ tried to promote governance in which politicians' initiatives take a central role in place of reliance on bureaucrats. But that attempt dampened bureaucrats' enthusiasm for supporting the administration and pushed the Cabinet into a state of information starvation. The DPJ has also avoided dialogue with leading business lobbies. An administration needs to develop a system in which information, knowledge and wisdom can be efficiently collected at home and abroad, and optimal policies can be developed. But the Kan administration is far from this state.


Third, the qualities of current political leaders are weak. To promote policies, it is necessary to think big and act locally as the established tactical theory in the "go" game advises. But the Kan administration is engaging in localized battles before making strategic preparations. As a result, its policies have bogged down, and it's failing to win the respect of other countries.


Top national leaders have a responsibility to ensure the security of the nation and its people, enrich the country and play a responsible role in international affairs. To do so, leaders must paint a clear vision for the future, develop holistically optimum policy measures and have the courage to assert national interests in talks with leaders of other countries. Both the ruling and opposition parties suffer from a shortage of such high caliber politicians.


Given the current political situation, is there any way to revitalize the nation's politics? Plans for a partial coalition and a grand coalition are on the tips of people's tongues, but it appears difficult to find politicians capable of taking a leading role in realizing them. If that proves to be the case, we have no choice but to wait for the strength of political parties to grow, and highly capable and talented politicians to appear through the process of successive government changes.


To drive such a political evolution forward, people must develop a stronger interest in politics. Journalism can play a significant role in this process. Rather than write stories designed to satisfy the public's curiosity about what is happening in the political scene, journalists should engage in political reporting that stimulates public discussion on policy matters and encourages people to make choices on policy options.


Another way to revive political vitality is to return to the multiple-seat constituency electoral system. The present single-seat system gives rise to populism and make it difficult to promote serious policy discussions. The multiple-seat constituency system would make it easier for politicians to assert their own political beliefs and present their policy proposals. This in turn would bolster the strength of political parties in terms of policy development and human resources. Some skeptics fear that the multiple-seat system might revive old-style factional politics and trigger political funding irregularities. But given today's intense social scrutiny, such a result is highly unlikely.


In any case, it is urgently necessary to promote a national debate on how to revitalize politics in this country.


Shinji Fukukawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is now chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.




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