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Monday, December 27, 2010

EDITORIAL 27.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 27, edition 000713, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
























  1. BJP IN J&K












  1. A KEY AT SEA?









































Last Friday's verdict by a Raipur court holding physician-turned-activist Binayak Sen guilty of sedition and sentencing him to life imprisonment has understandably raised howls of protest from professional jholawallahs. They are invariably appalled and enraged every time one of them or those whom they claim to speak for — Maoists, terrorists, separatists and anarchists — gets hauled up for violating the law of the land and is punished for his or her crime. There are two inter-twined strands to the protests that have been mounted by the fashionable dissenters who crowd media and dominate human rights and civil liberties organisations, and the Left-liberal commentariat which believes that it speaks for the nation whereas in reality it articulates the views of a negligible minority. The first strand is woven around the grudge they nurse against the Indian state: No matter how hard the state may try to appease and mollycoddle them (witness how the Congress spiked the Prevention of Terrorism Act within months of coming to power in 2004 for which India has paid, and continues to pay, a heavy price) and seek their approval, they shall forever remain inconsolable. For, their very survival is linked to denigrating the state and disparaging its laws. The second strand is anchored in their dislike of any law that restricts the freedom to preach and practice violence against the state and limits the individual's liberty to militate against the Union of India. Hence, the raucous denunciation of the state, the judiciary and even the Republic by them should surprise nobody.

That said, it would be in order to make three comments on Friday's judgement. The evidence against Binayak Sen need not be trashed as being insubstantial: He has been accused — and held guilty — of assisting Maoists and the evidence on record, unless rejected by the higher judiciary, is by no means any less incriminating than the proverbial smoking gun. Sen helped a wanted Maoist leader on the run to secure rented accommodation, he helped him open a bank account, and, later, he acted as a courier, carrying letters and messages from him to his comrades. He acted in this manner knowing fully well that the state is at war with Maoists; to pretend he was unaware of the consequences is at best spurious. Second, Sen was tried in an open court under the law of the land which is equally applicable to all citizens. The trial lasted for more than two years and Sen had access to the best legal counsel as well as representation in court. He now has the right to appeal against the trial court's verdict in the High Court and the Supreme Court. He can also seek and secure bail. These are privileges which are denied to victims of Maoist terror who are tried in so-called 'people's courts' — a point which Sen and his supporters would do well to remember. Third, Sen's record of selfless work among the tribals of Chhattisgarh is not on trial. Neither should courts be swayed by emotional appeal nor persuaded by facts other than those pertinent to the case before them. The Chhattisgarh Police believes Sen violated the law by colluding with Maoists and facilitating their heinous crimes; it presented the evidence before the trial court; and, the verdict was based on that evidence. To raise extraneous issues of Sen's contribution to tribal welfare is, frankly, meaningless. 






Recent reports revealing that the US Administration has granted nearly 10,000 exceptions to companies thus enabling them to do business worth billions of dollars with Iran confirms that America does not believe in practicing what it preaches to others, especially if it has got to do with pumping greenbacks into its economy. In a brazen display of double standards, it has not only quietly allowed several American companies over the past decade to skirt the trade embargo it has officially slapped on Iran, but has worded the law in such a manner so that fast-moving consumer goods such as cigarettes, beer, soda, chewing gum, hot sauce, etc, can be included in the list of exempted items. Though the US may cry hoarse terming the exemptions inconsequential as the goods sold to Iran amounted to only 0.02 per cent of all US exports in the first quarter of this year, that does not absolve the US Administration of deceit, or shall we say, cheating other nations. If the US has been reeling under economic pressure due to the global meltdown, other Western countries are not any better off. While American companies like Kraft Food and Pepsi and some of the biggest US banks have been benefiting from a monopoly business, Washington has been busy preventing world capitals from doing business with Tehran for its involvement in promoting violent Islamism in West Asia and pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. What is particularly galling is the US's self-righteous sanctimony in denouncing Iran from every possible platform and silently cutting deals with the very regime it claims to despise. This is no different from the US maintaining an 'intelligence-sharing partnership' with the repressive Government of Sudan guilty of mass murder and worse in Darfur. 

It could be argued that every nation has the right to pursue its self-interest and the means adopted for doing so should concern nobody. In principle, this is unquestionable. But then nations who pursue this policy should desist from forcing others to abandon their own national interest and pander to their expectations of docile compliance. The US has never failed to take the moral high ground while pontificating on the need to isolate and punish Iran for not giving up its Islamist agenda and bomb-in-the-basement programme. It has relentlessly pursued the adoption of sanctions by the UN Security Council and the hounding of Iran by the IAEA. The US has even targeted Indian entities and individuals for dealing with Iran and forced the UPA Government to vote along with it at the IAEA against Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Today, the US stands exposed. It has been shown up for what it has long been accused of: Double speak and double standards. Needless to say, this hardly enhances America's prestige. 










The leaked tapes of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's conversations with journalists, politicians and bureaucrats has ruffled many feathers. So much so, the Tata Group chairman, Mr Ratan Tata, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking restrictions on the tapes being leaked to the media as that violates his freedom and privacy. 

Responding to the mounting concern, especially among corporates, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to smoothen ruffled feathers, saying he was "aware of the nervousness in the corporate sector arising out of the powers conferred upon the Government authorities to tap telephones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering". He added, "Legal mechanisms already in place should be stringent for more effective enforcement. I am asking the Cabinet Secretary to look into these issues and report back to the Cabinet within the next month."

According to a Government affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, Ms Radia's phone was initially tapped following a complaint that she was allegedly an agent of foreign intelligence agencies and had amassed `300 crore in a span of just nine years. Later, the scope and duration of the wiretap was extended when some conversations were found to be "sensitive" in the matter relating to awarding of airwaves to telecom companies, the affidavit said. 

The entire issue has to be seen in the light of the Right to Information Act which came into force on October 12, 2005 and which is not applicable only to intelligence and security organisations. The objective of the law is to operationalise and augment the citizens' right to information about Government policies and actions. However, this law has limited utility in the sense that the punishment for delay in providing information is only a fine and there is no fear of losing jobs. Unless the complainant pursues the matter vigorously, even the possibility of fine is diluted. 

According to the Government, the law was needed to make access to information a reality for every citizen. It claims that the law will promote transparency and accountability and enable the people's participation in governance and minimise corruption and inefficiency in public offices.

Therefore, it is worthwhile to examine the experience gained with a view to enumerate the problems faced with the Right to Information Act, popularly referred to as RTI. Section 22 of RTI provides that this law is to have overriding effect over inconsistent legislation or rules. Although this is a commendable provision, the practical application of the Act is often slanted by bureaucrats because they are influenced by several restrictive pieces of legislation in the law books.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923, a legacy of British rule in India, contains provisions prohibiting the flow of information from the Government to ordinary people. It was primarily enacted to prevent spying, but its provisions have proved to be far-reaching. They serve not only to restrict access to information, but also to punish the disclosure of certain kinds of information by any person. Drawing from my own experience, I can say even routine letters, including reminders, are classified as 'Top Secret'.

Sections 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 also impose restrictions on making available official information as evidence. Section 123 deals with evidence as to affairs of state. It provides that no one shall be permitted to give any evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of state, except with the permission of the officer at the head of the department concerned, who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit. Similarly, Section 124, which deals with official communications, states that no public officer shall be compelled to disclose communications made to him in official confidence when he feels that public interest will suffer on account of such disclosure. Further, the conduct rules applicable on civil servants are also anachronistic in prohibiting the disclosure of official information. 

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by the present Union Law Minister, has submitted a report on the implementation of the Right to Information Act, suggesting key recommendations to improve the implementation of the law, including repealing of the Official Secrets Act of 1923. 

What is significant to note is that almost all the State Chief Information Commissioners are former Chief Secretaries of the State, whose previous job was to cover up the deeds and misdeeds of the political bosses they served. This is clearly undoing the objectives of RTI. 

The first Chief Information Commissioner, speaking about his experience of RTI, has said, "There is apathy towards the peoples' problems in all Government departments. Government employees don't work as a team — there is a total lack of cooperation. They will not help each other even where it is possible. This is sad. People come to the CIC after they have been turned away elsewhere. There is much bitterness and pain."

Similar sentiments have been repeated by another former Central Vigilance Commissioner. He said, "Almost one-third of Indians are 'utterly corrupt' and half are 'borderline' and 20 per cent of Indians are 'honest', regardless of the temptations, because this is how they are. They have a conscience." He went to add, "There would be around 30 per cent who would be utterly corrupt. But the rest are the people who are on the borderline, the corruption is 'palpable'… If somebody has a lot of money, he is respectable. Nobody questions by what means he has got the money".

The corruption scandals that have surfaced in recent months, involving the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society and the 2G Spectrum scam, have once again brought to the fore how little effect RTI has on the powers that be. At best, officials at panchayat or district level may feel scared that they will lose their face if their misdeeds were to come to light, but the big fish know that they will face neither shame nor punishment despite the much-touted Prevention of Corruption Act and the Right to Information Act. 

Interestingly, the Supreme Court has declared that no public servant has the right to indulge in corruption as part of his or her job. If any tape reveals cheating and bribery, the Government, under the law, is duty-bound to expose and reveal it in an answer to a request filed under RTI. Right to privacy does not extend to committing corruption or bribing or influencing decision-makers.

The Prime Minister has often spoken out against the damaging effect of bribes, extortion and fraud. But nothing has changed. Having said that, the Right to Information Act is at least a good beginning. 







A new breed of analysts with military background has been seeking to influence strategic analysis in China in a direction that justifies Beijing's military assertiveness in matters impinging upon its core interests. Whereas a growing number of analysts with no military background has been advising caution in following a policy of enhanced assertiveness lest it add to the fears of China in its neighbourhood, thereby benefiting the US, a small, but articulate group of analysts who had served in the People's Liberation Army and who continue to retain their links with the PLA after their retirement, has been not only justifying the new assertiveness, but even calling for more of it in order to maintain China's national self-respect.

Prominent among them is Maj Gen. (retd) Luo Yuan, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and Deputy Secretary-General of the Society of China Military Sciences, which is a supposedly non-governmental think-tank with close links to the PLA.

The society, set up on November 24, 2003 an International Military Branch, which was described by the CPC-controlled People's Daily as follows: "The branch, consisting of experts and scholars from institutes specialising in international military security, foreign military study, scientific research units and military colleges, is a component part of the China Military Science Society. The establishment marks a new phase of the development of the PLA research in foreign military affairs, contributing a great deal to the system of military sciences with Chinese characteristics."

Research scholars from the International Military Branch of the Society not only write regularly in the Chinese media and appear on state-controlled television channels to discuss strategic matters, but also brief the media on military-related matters during sessions of the Party Central Committee and the National People's Congress. Their views tend to be more forthright and more combative than those of civilian analysts.

The forthright and combative nature of their views and analyses often gives rise to the question as to whether they speak with the approval of the party and the Government. Their views and the language in which they express them are often so different from the more nuanced articulation of serving and retired diplomats that they create an impression as if the PLA and the Foreign Office are not on the same page in matters relating to Chinese policies with regard to its core interests.

These analysts have become particularly active in advocating a more robust response by China ever since the US and the South Korean navies started holding a series of joint exercises in the vicinity of the Yellow Sea following the alleged sinking of a South Korean naval vessel by the North Korean Navy in March. In an article titled "America is Engaging in Gunboat Diplomacy Against China: Unilateral Confrontation and Showing Off of Hard Power," which was carried by the People's Daily online on August 13, Maj-Gen Luo wrote:

"The United States is never willing to communicate and consult with other countries, let alone think from others' point of views. Since Obama came into power, he has claimed to have broken clearly with former President Bush's unilateralist policies and pursued 'smart power' diplomacy. However, judging from the United States and South Korea's insistence on holding joint military drills around the waters of the Korean Peninsula, we see neither multilateral security cooperation nor the display of smart power. What we see is only unilateral confrontation and showing off of hard power. The Chinese are peace-loving people, and China is now taking a peaceful development road different from when the imperialist powers rose. We do not want to be against any country, but we are not fearful if other countries ignore our solemn positions and core interests. A country must have the dignity and its army must have deterrence power. China adheres to the principle 'We will not attack unless we are attacked, and we must retaliate only if we are attacked,' which is definitely not a joke to the Chinese people and the Army. Doesn't the United States proclaim itself to be the most democratic country? Then, they should know in the 21st century, they ought to learn to respect others and listen to the public opinions of other countries, using wisdom but not gunboats to solve problems."

In another article carried by the party-controlled Global Times on December 14, Maj-Gen Luo made hawkish observations which should be of concern to countries such as India, Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines which have unresolved territorial disputes with China. He wrote: "Just being rich is not enough to make China a strong nation. A powerful Army is also needed... I told some foreign friends that I won't deny it when you call us hawkish because we are soldiers. If soldiers don't talk about war, who will?"

One should take note of the debate on the pros and cons of a militaristic approach to policy-making going on in the community of military analysts in China. This indicates that there are elements in the PLA which feel that there is no need for China to feel apologetic about its policy of military assertiveness. In their view, this assertiveness has two objectives — to regain territory lost (according to them ) by China in the past in order to complete the process of national unification and to establish China's pre-eminence as a military power, which would not hesitate to use its newly-acquired military strength should it become necessary.

-- The writer, a former senior official of R&AW, is a leading security affairs analyst. 








Behind the ostensible Government sits enthroned an invisible Government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people." Theodore Roosevelt, two-term President of the United States, said that, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange quoted him in a manifesto he wrote four years ago, adding: "The more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership..."

By that criterion, how is the US Government doing after a year that saw first Pentagon and then State Department documents published by WikiLeaks in the tens of thousands?

In truth, none of the 'secrets' that Assange has revealed are all that momentous. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was right when he said: "Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for US foreign policy? I think fairly modest." Yet some of his Cabinet colleagues verge on the hysterical.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on November 29: "This disclosure is not just an attack on America — it's an attack on the international community... There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations."

Endangering innocent people? Like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was urging the US to attack Iran, or Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom a US diplomat described as being Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "mouthpiece? Neither man has doubled his bodyguard, nor has either country broken off relations with the US. 

WikiLeaks did not simply dump a quarter-million State Department cables on the Web. It has released only a few dozen documents at a time, each of which has been carefully edited in cooperation with five leading newspapers to ensure that no innocent people are endangered.


It's puzzling. Some parts of the US Government seem quite relaxed about Assange's actions, while other parts seem determined to put him in prison for the next few decades. "We are talking about one of the most serious violations of the Espionage Act in our history," said Attorney-General Eric Holder. "To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law... they will be held responsible."

How can someone who isn't an American citizen, and wasn't in the US, have broken an American law? No way, technically, but the US might still be able to get a close ally like Britain to hand him over if it could argue that Assange was actively spying on it.

That will be hard, since he almost certainly wasn't. He had good legal advice when he set up the 'dead letter box' where the leaks are collected, and it is designed NOT to reveal the sources of the leaks even to WikiLeaks itself. Indeed, Assange says that he never heard the name of the person whom the US accuses of being the leaker, 23-year-old army Private Bradley Manning, until he read it in the newspapers.

The US cannot make a case for espionage against Assange unless it can plausibly claim that he encouraged and helped Manning to steal the documents. Given that it probably isn't true, it can only do that by forcing Manning to say that it is true. That may not be impossible, because he has been held in solitary confinement for the past seven months.

He has so far refused to say what his interrogators want, but he is facing 52 years in prison if he is convicted of leaking the documents. He is entirely alone 23 hours out of 24, and even his hour of exercise takes place in an empty room where he walks figures-of-eight.

"It's an awful thing, solitary," as John McCain wrote of his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "It crushes your spirit." And once Manning is a pathetic wreck of a human being, they will offer him a plea bargain: A much reduced sentence for his own actions if he will also incriminate Assange.

Then the US could lay a charge against Assange that might result in his extradition — although that is far from guaranteed, since nowhere do political crimes lead to automatic extradition. But does the US Government really want to go all the way down this road?

The usual suspects out in the backwoods are howling for blood, so domestic politics demands that at the moment the US Administration must make a great show of outrage and vengefulness. On the other hand, the grown-ups in the Government know that the way to get through the WikiLeaks drama with the least damage internationally is just to ignore it.

That is why US Vice-President Joe Biden could say on December 16 that "I don't think there's any substantive damage" from the WikiLeaks episode — and then on NBC's 'Meet the Press' the following day, accuse Assange of being a "hi-tech terrorist" who is putting lives at risk. It's called "talking out of both sides of your mouth", which is what politicians have to do a lot of the time.

Which side should we believe? US President Barack Obama's people probably don't know that themselves yet. Domestic politics will decide. 

-- The writer is an independent journalist based in the UK. His latest book is Climate Wars. 







Six years after a powerful tsunami swept more than 200,000 to their death in Indonesia, Titik Yuniarti, a survivor at Langsa, still clings to hope at least one of her children is alive. Like other desperate mothers, she has placed ads begging for information in newspapers in western Indonesia and hung fliers alongside others fluttering from lampposts.

Earlier this month, her search almost cost her her life. The 43-year-old woman raised suspicions when she tried to meet a girl she thought might be her child. Villagers accused her of being a kidnapper and thrashed her and a friend almost to death.

The December 26, 2004, tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations, from Thailand to Sri Lanka. Hardest hit by far was Indonesia's Aceh province, where 164,000 died. Of those, 37,000 were never found, their bodies presumed washed out to sea.

Today, a massive international aid effort has rebuilt tens of thousands of homes, schools and roads. But closure has been much more difficult for some. While most have given up the search for missing children, a number press on.

Yuniarti, who lost her entire family in the disaster, set out earlier this month in search of her middle child, Salwa. The journey was inspired by a dream Yuniarti's mother had, in which Salwa appeared and said she had been taken in by a family in the town of Langsa in Aceh.It took seven hours on a bumpy coastal road to get there. Clutching a picture of her curly haired child — who was six when she was ripped from her mother's arms and sucked out to sea — Yuniarti and a friend went from school to school, talking to principals, teachers and students. They sat down with the police and met with neighborhood leaders, anyone who would listen.

"After three days, we finally met a girl named Febby," Yuniarti said from her hospital bed, her face covered in bruises, her neck swollen and an intravenous drip dangling from her arm. "She had the same tumble of black hair, a freckle over her lip," she said in a soft voice, smiling weakly. "Some people even told me she'd lost her parents in the tsunami and had been adopted. I was still afraid to believe it, but in my heart, I thought, it's her ... it's really her."

When they returned the next day, though, a woman who identified herself as Febby's mother blocked them and demanded to know what they wanted with her only daughter.

A crowd started gathering, quickly swelling to more than 100. Soon whispers spread that Yuniarti might want to abduct the 12-year-old, maybe even sell her organs, echoing kidnapping rumours that have circulated across Indonesia in recent months. Some chanted "Hang her! Hang her!" Others torched the building where the two women had been hiding. When they emerged, the mob beat them with heavy sticks and rocks, ignoring warning shots fired by the police.

Eventually, officers gathered up Yuniarti's crumpled body and brought her to a hospital. Her friend was also seriously hurt. Yuniarti, who also lost her husband, a three-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son, wants a DNA test on the child, saying it could be her last chance.

Febby's mother, Ainun Mardiah, said she would oblige if it would help end the dispute. Her daughter is so traumatised by recent events, she's stopped going to school. "I just feel angry, confused," the 34-year-old Mardiah said. She moved from Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, to Langsa with her husband and child soon after the tsunami, hoping to start life anew. "I just want this to be over."

A Government programme that reunited nearly 1,600 children with their parents closed in 2006. While officials still offer assistance as needed, the number of requests has dwindled, said Farida Zuraini, who works at the provincial Social Ministry office in Banda Aceh. Maisarah, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, broke down in tears when asked about her husband and three children, all swept away by the waves.

She said she has given up hope after spending several years visiting orphanages and even traveling hundreds of kilometeres to track down a young girl in a photograph who looked like her daughter — just to make sure they were not alive somewhere. "The most important thing for me was just knowing the truth," Maisarah said.

One mother who hasn't given up is 30-year-old Suryani. Even a DNA test failed to convince her that 11-year-old Riko Anggara, who appeared on a popular TV talent show, was not her boy. "When we first saw him singing on television, I screamed to my husband, 'That's Rahmat! It's him'!" she said, pointing to photographs she has of both boys. "Just look at the scars on their faces!"

The story made headlines, but a DNA test proved Rahmat was not her son. But she and her husband remain unconvinced: They want a redo.

-- AP reporter Fakhrurradzie Gade contributed to this report from Banda Aceh. 









The policy of these banks of stipulating a separate day in the week for migrant labourers, who are mostly from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and making them form separate queues if, by mistake, they land up on the wrong day, is nothing short of apartheid. It is akin to the separate and inferior enclosures for Indians in cinema halls before independence, and the denial of access to transportation and other public services to blacks in the United States till the mid- 1960s.


Racism should have absolutely no place in the 21st century, and that, too, in a country which prides itself as being different from the west when it comes to dealing with race.


The rationale given by bank officials, that " it is the non- resident Indians and not migrant labourers who run the bank" and the latter, being " smelly and dirty" are likely to turn away ' elite' customers, is appalling to say the least.


This behaviour seems to stem out of the fear of losing elite customers to private banks with posh offices where the poor don't even dare to enter. Making nationalised banks competitive in the market and appeal to the elite clientele does not, in any way, mean that they start mirroring the biases, supposedly carried by their customers.


]Such instances can be seen as a product of a larger malaise in society in which the elite lives in gated communities and lets the poor fester in slums. It also reflects the failure of different states in the country in treating migrants, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, with dignity.


]What they fail to realise is the central role these migrants play in sustaining the economies of their states.


]If not for the rights of their fellow countrymen, the bank officials must mend their ways at least for the sake of the industrial and agricultural sectors in Punjab, which are almost completely dependent on migrant labourers.




FOR THE Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO), 2010 has ended in a major fiasco.


Two successive failures of its most ambitious rocket — Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle ( GSLV) — have put the space agency in the dock. The GSLV which failed in April had deployed cryogenic upper stage developed indigenously, while the one which failed on Saturday was running on cryogenic stage supplied by Russia. The reasons for failure of these two missions are different and may not have anything to do with the crucial cryogenic stage, but these failures certainly do not augur well for the future of the Indian programme.


]They are worrisome because it is the same GSLV which will be used in two critical missions in the near future — Chandrayaan- 2 and human space flight.


In the past four decades, India has gained reasonable mastery in design, fabrication and launch of experimental and remote sensing satellites. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle ( PSLV) has proved to be a robust rocket. But ISRO's capability in launching heavier communication satellites is yet to be fully proven, though it has successfully put some of them into space.


The GSLV used for such launches has depended on cryogenic stage supplied by Russia.


The indigenously- developed cryogenic stage is yet to be successful. Overall, the GSLV record has been poor. With the latest failure on Saturday, three of seven GSLV missions have failed and one has been a partial success.


]The failures have been attributed to different reasons. The failure analysis of the GSLV flight in April showed that one of the fuel booster turbo pumps of the upper stage cryogenic stage malfunctioned. The first stage of the rocket malfunctioned on Saturday perhaps because of snapping of a connector.


]Earlier, one PSLV mission had failed because of a software snag. All this only points to the need to enforce the highest levels of quality assurance. It is not for nothing that we say ' rocket science is all about precision'. Hope ISRO will draw lessons and put its rocket programme back on track.



            MAIL TODAY





THE DAWN of the New Year will find the ruling coalition in a sombre mood. On the face of it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can claim, and with some justice, that he has made India a major player in the emerging world order. No other rising power has after all had the heads of state of the Permanent Five of the UN come calling in the space of six months. In contrast to its first avatar when foreign policy issues came close to threatening the very survival of the government, the ship is now on an even keel.


But it is on the home front, that things look set to unravel. Even nine per cent economic growth, a major accomplishment against the back drop of a still sluggish global economy is not enough to uplift spirits.


The nub of the problem is that since re- election, there has been no major initiative from government or ruling party to seize the political high ground. The Food Security Bill may be the spearhead of a new series of measures to rediscover a link with the much touted aam aadmi or common citizen.




As yet, it is unclear when and in what form it will be enacted or put into effect. 2011 may well be a make or break year not only for the Bill. If effective pro-people programmes that generate jobs and alleviate food price inflation are not in place, events may well take a momentum all of their own.


The government seems more adrift than anyone would have anticipated in May 2009. It is still unclear how it will deal with an Opposition unified on an anti- Congress platform on the floor of both Houses of Parliament. During the Bofors controversy, the Opposition MPs had chosen to resign from the Lok Sabha in the run up to the general elections of 1989. This may not be on the anvil, but unless there is a resolution to the deadlock, the budget session will be a nightmare.


The prime responsibility for giving new wind in the sails for the government, the key ruling party and the country at large is that of the political leadership. But at the dawn of 2011, the unique set of arrangements put in place in the summer of 2004 looks faded and jaded. It had seemed things would be far better with a respected administrator- technocrat as the PM and the locus of power being with the party chief. Though this won a clear electoral seal of approval they not take a second look? The Hindi belt may not have major polls due in the New Year, but Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is certain to keep the pressure on the Congress. This is the state where all hopes of a major revival must rest. If the Congress is serious, it is here that it will focus its energies.




But all indications are of a ruling alliance facing the heat and more so than in the recent past.


Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the linkage of the telecom scandal with the politics of the alliance's key bastion, Tamil Nadu. The state faces Assembly polls next year. Except for 1971 when the rival AIADMK did not exist, Karunanidhi has never won as an incumbent.


The central role of former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja may be a major embarrassment for the Centre, but for the DMK it may be the Achilles' Heel against a determined and now freshly energised challenger in J. Jayalalithaa.


]Of all the State Assembly polls next year, and there are five scheduled in May, it is Tamil Nadu that matters the most for the ruling alliance at the Centre.


Since 1991, the road to New Delhi has run via Chennai. The state will matter all the more as it is here more than any other major state ( save for Uttar Pradesh) that general secretary Rahul Gandhi has worked hard to revive the youth wing of the party. Should the Congress and its allies snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it will be a major achievement. Any other outcome will be a setback.


Tamil Nadu would in itself matter a lot less were the Congress is stable in the one state that enabled it to first make a comeback on the national stage and then to hold on to power — Andhra Pradesh. In the post Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy period, the party has more or less lost its grip on the situation. The rebellion led by Jagan, the new campaign by its old bête noiré Chandrababu Naidu to reach out to the farmers and the simmering issue of Telangana have each played a role in the denouement. As a consequence, much political energy will be expanded to simply save the government in Hyderabad. If it should fall, the Congress will have on its hands a state election, it is ill prepared to face . The expectations of a change of guard after more than three decades of a Marxist led government in West Bengal could have brought much cheer to the Congress.


Yet all indications are that the winner will be the stormy petrel of the UPA, Mamata Banerjee.


Players In the net, the polity is set to be more and not less polarised.


Unlike in its first term, the Congress started out on a surer footing but it looks more than a little lost. The government is in the hands of the modernising reformers and the party speaks in a more populist idiom. Neither seems fully in control. To add to this, there is wider expectation of a greater role for Rahul but it is still unclear what that will be.


The Opposition may not be in fine fettle but it looks more effective than it has in the last six years. 2011 is a time the BJP will reach for centre stage but the year will belong to other, smaller players. How far they trigger a realignment of forces will influence how much space there is for the Big Two in the political order. The Congress has been in power and looked to be the best bet to bridge the divide between the two Indias. With soaring food prices hitting the poor and middle class alike and farmers not gaining from growth, the party may have to pass on the baton of being their champion.

The coming year will see it recover breath or yield ground.


The writer teaches history at Delhi University









IT IS not a particularly happy time for movie buffs in Patna. Two of its oldest cinema halls are set to become part of the city's history.


The famous Ashok theatre, which called itself the pride of Patna, has closed down to make way for a shopping mall with a multiplex.


The curtains came down on the ' heritage theatre' last week with the screening of Yashraj Films' Band Baja Baarat . This week, another old cinema hall, Elphinstone is set to be closed for a similar reason. Generations of Biharis have grown up watching potboilers in these two theatres.


They have fallen on bad times in an era of multiplexes. Their proprietors believe that huge singlescreen theatres

have no future.


In recent times, two other cinema halls — Mona and Regent — have been converted into swanky theatres with a multiplex- look.


They had lured all the movie goers despite the steep hike in their ticket price recently. Other theatres had to fall back on Bhojpuri or sleazy films to stay in business.


Patna is left with only four theatres now. Many cinema halls in the city such as Pearl, Rupak, Chanakya and Vaishali have been shut down. A few shopping centres with multiplexes such as filmmaker Prakash Jha's P& M Mall are expected to come up but they are still under construction. As a result, film producers and distributors are finding it tough to get a theatre for their releases. Many popular movies are not even released in the city because of the shortage of halls. This week, even Toonpur ka Superhero could not make it to the theatres because none was available. The much sought- after Mona and Regent theatres chose to screen Tees Maar Khan while the two other theatres, Uma and Mona, are screening Bhojpuri flicks.


The dearth of cinema halls has consequently led to a phenomenal rise in the sales of DVDs — mostly pirated — in the city.


Patna remains a big business centre for pirated movies because of their huge demand. Even the local cable wallahs have no qualms in showing new films within days of their release. Most of these movies are never released in the city's theatres.


Many delegations of Bollywood film- makers have come down to Patna in the past to meet the law enforcement agencies seeking a curb on the rampant piracy but to no avail. A film buff just has to saunter in the crowded Bakerganj market to get hold of the DVDs the latest Bollywood or Hollywood movie at throwaway prices.


The Nitish government has tried to revive the cinema business. It has done away with the compound tax system that had dealt a blow to it in the past. During the previous regime, the theatres had to pay taxes for a minimum of 25 shows per week according to their full capacity regardless of the audience turnout. Now, it has been rationalised. In its previous term, the government announced a lot of sops such as tax holiday for five years to give a boost to the cinema business but it failed to enthuse prospective investors.


This is surprising since cinema is the only source of entertainment for the burgeoning middle class in Patna which does not have any amusement park, discotheque or any other place for families to hang out. Despite all the talk about Patna's changing night life because of an improvement in the law and order, residents of the city have had no option but to head home early because of the lack of any chill- out zone.


The night shows of cinema halls remain the only sign of night life in the city. But with the number of cinema halls shrinking by the day, even that may disappear fast.


Movie buffs of the capital of a seemingly happening state certainly deserve more theatres to unwind after a hard day's work.



DIE- HARD lovers of Indian classical dance and music were a disappointed lot as the Bihar government had invited Bollywood singers such as Shaan, Jaspinder Narula and Sapna Awasthi to perform at the Rajgir Mahotsav this year. The three- day festival, on the lines of Khajuraho Mahotsav, is organised by the tourism department every year.


Since its inception more than two decades ago, many maestros of classical music and dance from Sanjukta Panigrahi to Shiv Kumar Sharma have performed there. The show was allowed to be dominated by film singers for the first time.


Classical singer- brothers Rajan and Sajan Mishra have already rued the transformation of this mahotsav into a Bollywood- dominated show.


In the past, Bollywood actresses Hema Malini and Meenakshi Sheshadri have performed there. They, however, did not perform filmi jigs and instead regaled the audience with classical ballets.



THE live grand finale of a reality show organised by a regional television channel was supposed to be a battle of Bhojpuri melody makers. A host of Bhojpuri film stars such as Manoj Tiwari and Ravi Kissen as well as a few from Bollywood such as Tanushree Dutta and Sameera Reddy descended on Patna's Gandhi Maidan. With no restriction on the entry, a huge crowd thronged the venue. The numbers swelled after a large number of visitors headed for the musical nite once they realised that item girl Sambhawana Seth was performing.


The crowds went berserk when they came to know that items by Dutta and Reddy were also lined up. Forgetting all about the contest, everybody tried to get closer to the stage causing a commotion.


The cops on duty, who were swaying to the catchy beats till then, realised that discretion was the better part of valour. All appeals by Tiwari and Kissen failed to restore order, leading to an abrupt end to the show.







The life sentence imposed on globally acclaimed human rights activist Binayak Sen on the charge of sedition is easily the most scandalous abuse of a colonial remnant in independent India. Judging by the intensity of civil society's outrage, the verdict by a trial court from Chhattisgarh might provide impetus for a fresh review of the arbitrary manner in which this provision continues to be invoked to gag dissenting voices. 

This is the latest in a series of cases in which either the prosecution or the court appears to have missed the strict condition on which Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code has survived the test of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that no sedition charge can be made unless the disaffection against the state spread by the accused was found to be a direct incitement to violence or armed rebellion. This meant that even if the prosecution's version were accepted that he had couriered letters from a jailed Maoist leader to his associates, the trial court would have had to establish that Sen's words or deeds were a direct incitement to violence or jeopardised public order. Without showing how any intent of violence could be attributed to a human rights activist with a lifetime service in rural healthcare, the trial court held him guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition in the teeth of the law laid down by the Supreme Court. 

Such a cavalier approach reinforces the impression that the judiciary is allowing itself to be overrun by security arguments. Blaming the sins of the Maoists on Sen, the trial court awarded him the highest possible penalty of life sentence. Clearly, India could do without the shame of jailing a humanist for sedition while the hate-mongers responsible for the cataclysmic events of 1984 ( Delhi massacre), 1992 (Ayodhya demolition) and 2002 (Gujarat riots) strut around as patriots. 

Quite apart from the question whether Sen qualifies to be called a seditionist, the December 24 verdict deserves to be overturned for overlooking serious gaps in evidence. That the three incriminating letters allegedly carried by Sen had been recovered from co-accused Piyush Guha was by no means proved beyond doubt. The recovery story hinges entirely on the testimony of a cloth merchant who admitted to have been called by the police as a seizure witness when Guha was already in their custody. The trial court also overlooked discrepancies in the prosecution's version of where Guha had been arrested. This miscarriage of justice cannot be ignored, especially due to its larger ramifications. 






In a counter-intuitive move, the US Congress has passed into law an Act intended to raise $4.3 billion over five years by taxing goods and services from countries such as India. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act also has 'pay for' provisions which translate into higher visa fees for skilled Indians looking to work in the US. Undoubtedly the law is discriminatory. But it is also illogical. Why should people who want to do business today with the US be made responsible for something that happened nine years ago, with which they had nothing to do? This law reveals a dangerously blinkered view of the world increasingly on the ascendant on the Hill. At the same time, the UK will go ahead with its draconian visa caps, according to which a mere 10,832 skilled workers from non-EU nations will be allowed into the country between now and April 2011. 

Such laws contradict assurances made to 
India on recent trips by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, that they will facilitate greater business and trade exchanges with India. New Delhi must challenge such inconsistency because at stake is not just the issue at hand now, but the larger framework of diplomacy. Allowing the sort of restrictive trade policies that led to the great depression of 1929-32 to proliferate in today's world would be catastrophic, if only because we are much more connected and reliant on trading internationally now. Commerce minister Anand Sharma has already sent a strongly worded missive to the US. But much more is required to quash protectionist sentiment. At stake is the conduct of diplomacy and the future of global prosperity. 









The panic reaction of the government over onion prices demonstrates yet again that the agenda of economic reforms and liberalisation is destined to remain confined to the corporate sector while farm policy remains hostage to draconian restrictions and statist interventions to appease the influential urban consumer. 

Each episode of sharp escalation in onion prices has followed large-scale crop destruction. The crisis of 1998, which led to the downfall of the BJP government in Delhi, was caused by the El Nino factor which destroyed a large part of the crop in Nashik, the onion-growing belt of Maharashtra. When prices rose to Rs 60 a kilo, the Delhi government imported onions from the very countries to which we had earlier exported. Even though the landing price was no less than Rs 60 per kilo, these onions were sold to urban consumers at Rs 10 a kilo through government outlets. 


This time large-scale floods in the onion-growing states again led to massive crop destruction with prices shooting up from Rs 30 to Rs 70 a kilo within a week. The media failed to report that even with high prices, the loss of crop has meant that farmers are not recovering even the cost of production. Also, that the cultivation cost has escalated dramatically because farm inputs, including labour costs, have sharply escalated in recent years. With vegetables and fruits, the difference between farm gate price and consumer price can be as high as 400 per cent. Farmers get only a small part of the benefit from rising prices. 

But the government does little to correct this distortion. Instead, all we get are knee-jerk reactions announcing sudden bans on exports proving that the issue is being viewed solely from the point of view of the urban consumer, not the farmer. A government sensitive to farmers' concerns would launch a concerted media campaign to urge urban consumers to bear with short-term inconvenience, to explain that the temporary high prices due to crop shortage would help farmers devastated by crop destruction due to flood to recover part of their losses. 

If urban consumers reduce their onion consumption for a few days, prices would stabilise much sooner than with public hysteria around the issue. It is ridiculous to invoke the Essential Commodities Act to ban exports to bring down prices through non-market, statist interventions. Or for our ministers to threaten action against "hoarders." It shows they don't know that onions cannot be stored or hoarded for long. They start drying and losing weight within a week. 

This is not to deny that the poor are indeed hit by sharp escalation in food prices. But they are no less adversely hit by lack of sanitation, basic housing or clean drinking water. Yet, these issues never acquire the urgency that urban middle class concerns do. 

The panic created by middle-class consumers needs to be seen in perspective. These families think nothing of buying an ice cream cone for Rs 50, a pizza for Rs 400, 1 litre sugar-flavoured water for Rs 50 - but go hysterical if onion prices shoot up to Rs 60 a kilo. This happens year after year with crop after crop - sugar, rice, wheat, cotton. At the time of crop harvest, exports are often banned so that prices come crashing down and farmers have to sell at a loss because they don't have the holding capacity. The moment select traders have acquired the desired crop at artificially depressed prices, export quotas are slowly opened so that these already wealthy merchants make a big killing at the cost of farmers. 

Many farmers growing onions and other perishable crops end up ploughing back their crops into the soil because the artificially depressed prices do not even cover the cost of carrying them to the mandi. Our urban-centric media rarely sheds any tears for the plight of indebted farmers at such times. 

This economic warfare on the Indian farmer is carried out year after year with the active collusion of the bureaucracy and politicians in return for a share of the booty. The now on, now off export quotas destroy the credibility of India's export sector and reduce our leverage in the international market. These manipulations are the primary reason for the Indian farmer's indebtedness. 

Needless restrictions on the farm sector have led to depressed incomes, stagnant agricultural production and distortions in trade and pricing, flight of people and capital from the sector, diminishing investments in agriculture which obstructs the organic growth of agro-based industries in villages and consequently results in higher prices of food crops. 

The answer to rural poverty does not lie in the government pretending to feed the farmers who feed us all by corruption-ridden "welfare" schemes like providing foodgrains to farmers at Rs 2 a kilo. That too distorts market prices and harms the farm sector. Farmers need fair prices for their products, not to live on crumbs thrown by the government. 

Just as the corporate sector has flourished even with half-hearted doses of liberalisation and the end of licence-quota raj so also the farm sector can flourish only when the agenda of economic reforms extends to it - which means the dead hand of the government is not allowed to choke the enterprise of our farmers. The policy of restrictive quotas for farm produce export needs to be junked to help farmers earn better prices, which in turn will enable them to invest in improving production. Higher production will inevitably bring down food prices. 

The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. 







Friends in the US were grumbling last week as they complied with the official name for the festival of decorated conifers and white-bearded old men with a team of flying reindeer. "Holiday Season" was the correct terminology to use instead of "Christmas". Or else the followers of other faiths may have felt left out of the orgy of gift buying that traditionally takes place at year's end all across North America and the UK. 

Opponents of the name of the feast day associated with the birth of Christ claim that most of the popular symbols associated with the modern festival have nothing at all to do with the Biblical religion. The tree, for instance, harks back to pagan festivals in Europe. Santa Claus is an anglicised version of the North European character called Sinterklaas, described in Wikipedia as a "historical, legendary figure who in many Western cultures is said to bring gifts to the homes of good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve". The figure used in Coca-Cola billboards in the 1930s became so popular that some urban legends have tried to suggest that the company actually invented the rounded, bearded figure. However, the use of his image apparently dates to even earlier ads. Only the colours of his now-ubiquitous red and white robes were specific to Coke. 

The secular pleasures of the season have overtaken the original significance of the date to the extent that at least in the US, public decorations must comply with inclusive icons and terminology. In 2002, for instance, New York's public school system formally banned the display of the nativity scene, while allowing multi-faith displays such as the Christmas tree, the Jewish menorah and the Muslim star and crescent. 

Be that as it may, there's one small patch of the universe which has taken off on a different tangent. According to a story by Douglas Belkin, reported in a newspaper, a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been translated into the Klingon language, complete with a storyline and characters appropriate to the, um, fictional planet of Kronos. 

That's right: Klingons are a race of hulking, frowny-browed dark-skinned humanoids belonging to the television series Star Trek. Their language was developed by linguist Marc Okrand to add a touch of authenticity to their snarling communications during the programme. In early episodes of Star Trek, Klingons were unregenerate villains. In the 1980s, however, their war-like customs and terrifying appearance were welcomed into the lore of the series, epitomised by Worf, the fierce Klingon officer who served on the USS - it stands for United Space Ship - Enterprise alongside Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

Trekkie trackers suggest that the end of the Cold War had something to do with the deceleration of hostilities between Klingons and humans. Flash forward 20 years into the future and we find that the Klingon dictionary, which began as a 2,000-word vocabulary based loosely on Native American languages, has been reprinted more than 20 times and sold over 3,00,000 copies. There's a Klingon Language Institute in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, and around 40 human Klingon-speakers plus translations of the Bible, Hamlet and Gilgamesh. In 2006, a Midwestern theatre company called Commedia Beauregard "jokingly" suggested that the quintessentially human story about Ebenezer Scrooge the heartless miser be performed in Klingon. The joke was realised as a playscript and the play has been staged every year since. This year, it opened in Chicago and was reportedly well-received. 

Maybe the point of all this is that a good story travels across boundaries in ways that no mere mortal can anticipate. While we on earth snarl and whine about inclusions and cultural slights, out beyond the reaches of the physical world the festive spirit thrives as merrily as ever before.








Jagmati Sangwan, 50, has been leading the fight against khap panchayats and honour crimes in Haryana. The articulate and spunky president of the Haryana wing of All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) - formerly a volleyball player - spoke to Shreya Roy Chowdhury in Delhi: 

Has the fight against honour crimes grown stronger in Haryana? 

AIDWA has been active in Haryana since 1985. Initially we had a team of 10-15, now we have about 48,000 members operating in 11 districts. Violence against women, specifically violence in the name of honour, and the diktats of khap panchayats has been one of our main areas of intervention. 

How did you start work? 

We started working with families whose kids were killed or excommunicated by the community. Those days violence wasn't perceived as violence at all. We intervened in lots of cases but because there is no special law against honour killings, in most cases, the culprits got away. No one was prepared to bear witness or gather evidence. But in the Manoj-Babli case - a same-gotra couple who were killed in Kaithal district in June 2007 - it was a different story. Manoj lived with his mother, a widow, and his sister. Women called the shots in this household and this was a women's organisation active in the field for the last 20-25 years. They considered our small force a great support and agreed to fight with us. For the first time there's been a landmark verdict on this issue and with this we have been able to set up couple protection homes. People from all over India have contributed but we feel Haryana women have done the most. 

How do khaps harass young couples? 

Khaps can tell a married couple with a two-year-old baby that their marriage has violated the gotra laws and they must now tie rakhis and become siblings. If the couples don't comply, their families are ostracised. This was common in Haryana. Families got thrown out of the village, fined for Rs 21,000, hit with shoes, tonsured and urinated upon. Even against these, there should be laws. There are layers to the problem. There are many cases involving adolescent girls. There is nothing to help them. But if they ever slip up or the families even suspect anything, they're killed. In that age-bracket, girls, not boys, are killed regularly. Schoolteachers in our group report disappearance of students. Questioned, families say things like the girl had stomach ache and died. There's such strong acceptance of these actions that no one complains. In case of inter-caste marriages, if the boy is from a lower caste and landless, both will be killed. This isn't an honour issue at all. We have a hierarchical society and its leaders want the divisions to remain. If the youth exercise their right to choose their partners, it has the potential to destroy caste structures. Property will go from the landed to the landless pushing towards a more egalitarian society. That's the real threat; the cause of the murders. Those who understand these implications have, till now, controlled all social and economic structures and resources. Now they are threatened and political outfits depend on them for votes. They don't want that kids use this right to 'choice marriage' because social and economic structures will collapse. 

What has changed in the past few years? 

The March 2010 district court verdict in the Manoj-Babli case, which sentenced five of the perpetrators to death, sent a strong message that nobody is above the law. The panchayat workers involved have also been punished. This verdict, the way cases are being registered and the construction of protection homes, have all helped. Marriage within the same gotra is in any case rare. This same-gotra wedding problem is greatly exaggerated. A National Commission for Women survey with Shakti Vahini shows that only 4 per cent marriages were within gotra. Thankfully, now girls and boys are speaking up for 'choice marriage'. 







To people like us, who have adequate government documentation, this news would, at least in the first go, not be of much import. But for those who have no such identification or are always on the move, for example migrant labourers, this could be a gamechanger. Recently, the fin-ance ministry recognised Aadhaar, the number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India, as an "officially valid document". Now the number can be used in place of the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms for opening bank accounts or conducting any financial transaction. Opening accounts is difficult in India, more so for the poor, because of stringent documentation norms. Many people cannot open accounts for want of these documents. In Temli (Maharashtra), where the UID project was launched two months ago, 1,500 people were enrolled. Nearly 97% wanted a bank account. India's banking coverage is abysmal due to a variety of reasons; of the 600,000 villages, only 30,000 have a bank branch and only 40% of 1.2 billion people have accounts. In Britain, for instance, 95% people have a bank account. The UIDAI plans to issue unique numbers to around 600 million people by 2014 by collecting basic demographic data and biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans.


With UID becoming a 'licence' to open an account, the poor will be brought under the financial network. The incr-eased access of banking services, the government hopes, will also stem leakages in government schemes such as the rural job scheme and the public distribution system. In many states, social sector doles are already being transferred though banking channels and not the social intermediaries like sarpanchs. But for all this, an account is necessary and the UID will facilitate that process. Besides, a bank account will also inculcate a habit of savings and access to credit. This will also allow insurance-poor households to access financial products to escape poverty if they suffer uninsured monetary setbacks.


The long-term vision is of a decentralised banking network where business correspondents will provide the last-mile connectivity instead of banks branches. The process is already underway and, hopefully, it's only a matter of time before policy and technology come together to roll out a viable financial ecosystem for the poor.








With a glass of coconut water, Telugu Desam president Chandrababu Naidu, we learn, has broken his eight-day fast. The news has caused us relief, now that Mr Naidu is back to a more sustainable way of living, and to political reckoning. The cause he was espousing, while steadfastly avoiding food, or even later when he was being administered intravenous fluids under governmental duress, is, of course, the hobby horse that all Indian politicians love to ride — the helplessly indigent farmer. In this case, Mr Naidu was demanding adequate compensation and larger subsidies for farmers whose crops have been destroyed by the heavy monsoon this year.


The Mahatma's long and honourable shadow, obviously falls on all those Indian leaders, big and small, who reason that a well-fed argument is never as effective as one on an empty, growling stomach. Even as Mr Naidu observed his fast, his political rival Jaganmohan Reddy gave up his own dietary requirements for 48 hours on the banks of the Krishna in Vijaywada, for much the same purpose. Another fellow brethren K Chandrasekhara Rao had the state of Andhra Pradesh in an uproar a year ago, when he went on an indefinite fast demanding a separate state for Telangana. Lest one thought that certain regions were more prone to fasting than others, let us not forget Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee's 26-day-long fast in 2006, when she lay in full public view, protesting against the forcible acquisition of land in Singur.


It is, of course, important to reiterate that our noble political leadership fasts for a cause, and not because of the shallowness of their pockets. The same cannot be said of the toiling masses, who have a tough time keeping body and soul together, not because they too have noble ideas to promote but because the paltry, ignoble contents of their wallets and skyrocketing prices have deemed food a luxury item anyway.








Thirty years ago, in an act I still feel guilty about, I woke up a very great Indian from his sleep. I was volunteering at a conference in New Delhi, and had been asked to fetch the Member of Parliament from Dhanbad, AK Roy, from his quarters in Vithalbhai Patel House. Roy, a labour leader legendary for his integrity and his wide range of reading, had been elected from the mining town as an Independent, his campaign funds raised from the workers themselves. It was characteristic of the man (and perhaps also of the times) that instead of asking for a Lutyens' bungalow or even a spacious flat on South Avenue, he settled on a single room in a tall, dark, unattractive building off Parliament Street.


We students asked the reception for Roy's room number, took the lift up, and knocked on the door. No one answered. We knocked again. At this stage we should probably have left and told the organisers that the MP was not in. But we were students, eager to prove our keenness, so we knocked several times more and also shouted to attract attention. Finally, the door opened, and an erect man in a khadi kurta-pyjama stood in front of us, rubbing his eyes. He asked who we were and what we wanted, meeting our answers with an extraordinarily gentleness of manner. His friend, and temporary host, had apparently gone out on an errand.


The man we had woken up was Shankar Guha Niyogi. He was resting perhaps after a long train journey, and in any case for a man who worked where and like he did any sleep snatched anywhere was a bonus. Originally from Bengal, Guha Niyogi had gone to the Bhilai region as a young man and started working among unorganised labour. While workers employed by the Bhilai steel plant were represented by unions affiliated to the major parties, the labourers in the mines and ancillary industries were unrepresented, and hence shockingly exploited. Under Guha Niyogi's leadership they came together in unions, and demanded and obtained better wages. But their leader's vision was never merely economistic. He opened clinics for them and schools for their children, and, with the help of their wives, ran a successful campaign against alcoholism. Guha Niyogi was also a precocious environmentalist, urging factory owners to protect workers from pollution, and asking the general public to conserve the water bodies, forests and overall biodiversity of the region.


A man of quiet dignity and an almost heroic commitment to the poor — like Mahatma Gandhi in both respects — Guha Niyogi inspired many middle-class professionals to join him. Among them was Binayak Sen, a gold medalist from the Christian Medical College in Vellore, who, with the world at his feet, moved to Chhattisgarh in the early 1980s. He has lived in the region ever since, ministering to patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. If his mentor's vision went beyond higher wages, Sen's goes beyond medical ailments. He became increasingly interested in the social rights of the area's adivasi population, who live on the margins, without access to decent schools or regular employment.


In 1991, Guha Niyogi was murdered by a man hired by industrialists who disapproved of his attempts to enhance the self-respect of the workers. Now, 20 years later, his friend, colleague and protegé has been awarded a life sentence by a court in Raipur for the crime of talking to Maoist prisoners in jail. Binayak Sen has never fired a gun; he probably does not know how to hold one. He has explicitly condemned Maoist violence, and even said of the armed revolutionaries that theirs is "an invalid and unsustainable movement".


In the eyes of the government of Chhattisgarh, the crime of Binayak Sen is that he dared question the corrupt and brutal methods used to tackle the Maoist upsurge. In 2005, the state government promoted a vigilante army that spread terror through the districts of Dantewada, Bijapur and Bastar. In the name of combating Naxalism, it burned homes (and occasionally, whole villages), violated tribal women, and attacked (and sometimes killed) tribal men who refused to join its ranks. As a result of its depredations almost a hundred thousand adivasis with no connection at all to Maoism were rendered homeless.


Sen was one of the first to document the excesses of the vigilante army, and to expose the hand of the state government in promoting it. That his charges were true I can confirm, for I visited the region shortly afterwards, in the company of a group of independent citizens, who included the respected editors BG Verghese and Harivansh, and the distinguished anthropologist Nandini Sundar, winner of the Infosys Prize. Our report, War in the Heart of India, provides a sober, non-ideological account of the crimes of the state and Union governments in this regard.


Sen's conviction happened in a court subject to intimidation by a government run by (and I use the word advisedly) paranoid politicians (helped by sometimes paranoid police officers). His conviction will and should be challenged. As it stands, however, it is a disgrace to democracy. His brave wife commented on the verdict that if "one who has worked for the poor of the country for 30 years, if that person is found guilty of sedition activities and conspiracy, when gangsters and scamsters are walking free, I think it's a scandalous situation". Any reasonable Indian would concur.
Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. The views expressed by the author are personal.







The BJP's fresh attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the government's refusal to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G scam is part of a well-thought-out strategy. Despite allegations against some of his Cabinet ministers, Singh continues to enjoy a good image. The BJP feels that until Singh is also tarred with the same brush, its efforts to floor the government will go to waste.


In fact, Singh is the biggest stumbling block for the saffron party that hopes to come to power some day. In 2009, when the people voted the UPA to power for the second time, it was also a mandate for Singh as the PM and a rejection of LK Advani, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.


The convincing margin with which the Congress surged ahead of the BJP was because for the first time, the Indian middle-classes (especially in metros and towns) chose to back the grand old party since Singh is an iconic figure for a large number of Indians with aspirations. The BJP now knows that until it tarnishes Singh's image, the middle-class will not vote for it. Second, by presenting the PM as a facilitator of corruption, the party feels that the Congress will have to take the charge on its chin.


The Congress, on its part, seems to have run out of ideas. It has not been able to counter the BJP and Digvijaya Singh's strategic attempt to shift the focus of the debate from corruption to communalism versus secularism does not seem to have worked. In addition, the negative perception of the government has increased thanks to the spiralling onion prices.


The Congress managers have tried to entice the BJP into accepting a debate during a special session of Parliament. The suggestion has been turned down. As things stand today, the Congress is adamant about not going for a JPC and the Opposition is keen that the 2G spectrum should be probed by a JPC alone. The BJP's demand for a JPC had its origin in the denial of an opportunity for the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj to speak.


If the deadlock continues, it is going to damage the UPA even more. A remedy could be that the government, even at this late stage, should agree to a JPC probe, which covers the telecom policy after its formulation in the early 90s. The guidelines, which opened up the sector to private players, should be examined in a new light and every telecom minister in successive governments starting from PV Narasimha Rao's time should be probed.


Since the subject is technical, the JPC should have as its advisers, experts from the telecom sector, some retired chiefs of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India as well as some former judges of the Supreme Court. This committee assisted by experts will be able to nail the discrepancies and point out the lacunae. Simultaneously, the CBI and other enforcement agencies should continue their probe. The Public Accounts Committee headed by Murli Manohar Joshi should also be allowed to complete its work as per the stipulated rules.


The Opposition has to concede that any kind of discussion on the issue can be held only in Parliament and the deadlock is serving only the purpose of not allowing an elected government to function by a party which faced rejection in 2009. The Congress, on its part, should pull up its socks and start behaving as a party in power instead of drawing attention to its possible involvement in all scams that have broken out since the beginning of the year.


The party's plenary in Delhi will be known for its poor organisation and inability of its leadership to give out a clear message. It is time for course correction. Otherwise, the countdown for this government may have begun.








The world may never return to the city state. But the future may just as well revive the pre-eminence of the city — urban agglomerations that grow and develop even as the globalised world knits itself tighter together. A city is the engine of growth that drives economies and nation-states. As such, everything within the city — quality of life, residents' prosperity, urban governance, business freedom, infrastructure — counts for an emergent megapolis that competes with others of its kind across the world. What lessons do we take then from the Asian Development Bank's 2010 report that's ranked Delhi as the most investment-friendly among several Indian cities?Delhi's emergence as the most favoured destination for international and domestic investment, overtaking Greater Mumbai, raises the bar not just for other cities — that have either fallen behind or slipped — but also for the NCR itself. Delhi's far from perfect, yet its rise is an object lesson in the blindness of a political discourse that de-emphasises the city vis-a-vis the countryside, as if there need be a binary. As the Indian economy grows, people will keep migrating to our cities. Existing urban agglomerations will expand and new urbanisation will take place. Since the city is the economy's prime resource generator, building new cities and renewal of the ageing infrastructure of many existing ones must not be neglected. As it happens, urban projects impact rural living and income standards positively — not just remittance but also, say, the absorption of surplus agricultural labour and incentivisation of farm mechanisation. Indian cities haven't thought much about that continued rural influx. In another 20 years, 40 per cent of our population is expected to be urban. If our cities competitively self-improve, nothing could be better for the national economy and material welfare of people. Bad governance and bad politics is where they must start.







The Reserve Bank has hinted that an increase in prices of protein items such as meat, eggs, dal and milk will push up food inflation and it may have to raise interest rates in response. It is welcome that the RBI is now responding to expectations of higher inflation rather than simply responding to past inflation or trying to push the blame away. But there's a long way to go before monetary policy can successfully anchor inflationary expectations and curb inflation.The issue under debate is whether monetary policy should respond to a rise in food inflation. One perception is that a rise in food prices is only a change in relative prices, and not a general rise in prices, thus monetary policy should not respond. Another is that food prices cannot be controlled by interest rate increases, and are a subject of supply management. There are, however, strong arguments in favour of monetary policy responding to higher food prices. These are specific to the Indian context. When expenditure on food is a very small component of total household expenditure, as in advanced countries, then it can be argued that an increase in protein prices has nothing to do with monetary policy. In India, food forms a large share of the consumption basket of the bulk of the population. As incomes have been rising, the demand for protein items compared to cereals has increased. Supply has failed to respond adequately despite higher prices due to the lack of infrastructure such as roads and cold storage chains, policy that subsidises production of cereals, lack of marketing facilities, seeds and other support given to cereals. One option is what the RBI followed until recently — that is, to argue that this is a supply management issue and monetary policy need not respond to it. This, however, has resulted in rising food inflation, feeding into higher wages, higher inflationary expectations and higher inflation.As one of the few countries facing high inflation in the post-crisis period, with high output growth and high inflation, India needs to take steps to curb inflationary expectations. The RBI will have to tighten monetary policy and communicate clearly that it'll not tolerate an inflation rate of above a certain target.







In a judgment that reverberated across the country, a Chhattisgarh trial court has found the doctor and social worker, Binayak Sen, guilty of aiding the Maoist attack on the state, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. He has been charged under Sections 124 (sedition), 120 B (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal code and other sections of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The Binayak Sen case has been an ideologically polarising one, ever since he was first arrested in May 2007, on the charge that he carried communications back and forth for imprisoned Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal, during prison visits. Sen stayed in jail for two years, until he was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2009. There are those who cast him as a do-gooder doctor victimised by the state on scant evidence, and others who see him a treacherous figure who abetted the Maoist cause. But the real question is how watertight the legal case against him is. And we await details of the ways in which the legal process will now be taken forward. For, even if there's compelling proof that he worked to "excite disaffection towards the government", the harsh quantum of punishment should give pause. A life term carries a staggering finality.The Sen case should also spark off a larger debate. There's no question that the Naxal threat is one this country cannot afford to go soft on. But it's also the case that the state has often tended to finesse the differences between those who actively wage war against what they consider an illegitimate state, those who aid their operations, and other unarmed outsiders who might be broadly sympathetic. The definition of guilt could become unmanageably loose, if these crucial distinctions are not maintained. For this, the state, civil society and our politics need to react with maturity. In taking on any extremist movement, it's important to enlarge the middle ground, by engaging constructively those unarmed "sympathisers" who also have a connect with violent cadres. Instead of a scorched earth approach that tars anyone, however tenuously connected with the networks that are also exploited by Naxalites, as potential collaborators, we need to be mindful of India's experience in dealing with and ending insurgencies in the past. The vigilance is understandable, given the gravity of the Naxalite threat (which the prime minister has foregrounded often), but it's also counter-productive to choke off all mediating voices.










 New Delhi : The issue of market access for US agricultural products in India seems to have taken an ugly turn with US Secretary of agriculture Thomas Vilsack sending a strongly-worded letter to his Indian counterpart Sharad Pawar, stating that the bilateral agricultural relationship will be "jeopardised" if India does not change its approach.


Coming weeks after US President Barack Obama's visit, the tone of Vilsack's letter is learnt to have taken New Delhi by surprise. It is said to be particularly harsh on India's stance against market access for US dairy products. In fact, sources described the tone of the letter as "threatening" to Indo-US agricultural trade.


India has raised the red flag on US dairy products, saying it may hurt Indian religious sentiments because the animal feed given to the cattle contains fortified meat products. When contacted, US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer struck a more conciliatory tone but did underline the need to make trade a "two-way street" that can be resolved to the satisfaction of Indian sentiments.


"The US and India enjoy a healthy and robust economic relationship. As President Obama noted during his recent visit, the growth of our economic partnership over the past decade is nothing short of historic. We look forward to continued cooperation and expansion of trade in all sectors, especially agriculture. Trade is a two-way street—with mutual benefits and opportunities for both the consumers of America and India. We strongly believe that when India provides fair and open trade on agricultural issues, it can significantly help lower rising food prices and put more money into the pockets of the aam aadmi. At the same time, we will seek a resolution of this issue that fully respects the cultural and religious concerns and sensitivities of India citizens," said Roemer.


Notwithstanding US optimism, the tone of Vilsack's letter to Pawar has not gone down well with the Indian establishment. He is learnt to have made the point that if India does not show flexibility then it could "jeopardise" the bilateral agricultural relationship. He is also believed to have linked the access of Indian grapes, pomegranate and litchi to the US market to the access granted by India to US dairy products. The letter evoked much anger and Indian officials have taken up the matter with the US.


Access to American dairy products, particularly cheese, in India is learnt to be at the core of issue. Currently, Indian regulations stipulate that any country exporting dairy produce here must certify that the source was "never fed feeds produced from internal organs, blood meal and tissues of ruminant origin". Indian authorities believe that access to US dairy products might backfire in the backdrop of India's religious and political sensitivities over this issue. Enclosed with Vilsack's letter, sources said, is a study that there would be no remnant of the fortified animal feed if it is not given to the cattle for three months. The US had said it would ensure that the cattle for Indian markets is not given animal feed for a month. The indication is that US can increase this to three months to address Indian sensitivities. Agriculture ministry officials, however, maintained that India will "stand its ground" and was unlikely to offer US any specific relaxation. These officials argued that the same rule would be applicable to US as for products from other developed countries like Australia and New Zealand, which certify that their cattle have not been given animal feed.


In fact, agricultural market access failed to make the cut for the Indo-US joint statement issued at the conclusion of Obama's visit. This despite the fact that Vilsack held almost an hour-long closed-door meeting with Pawar to work out a paragraph for inclusion into the joint statement only a few hours before it was made public. "We held a discussion regarding the formulation of the joint statement," Pawar had told reporters after his meeting with Vilsack revealing, "(US) President thinks that both countries should offer their farmers access to respective agricultural markets. "







More than anything since the invention of the postal service, Facebook has revolutionised how we relate to one another. But the revolution hasn't come in quite the way that the people behind it and other social networking sites assume. These sites may have allowed us to amass thousands of "friends," but they have not yet devised a way to cut through the clunky, old-fashioned nature of relationships themselves. Our circle of actual friends remains stubbornly small, limited not by technology but by human nature. What Facebook has done, though, is provide us a way to maintain those circles in a fractured, dynamic world. Social networking and other digital media have long promised to open up wonderful new vistas, all from the comfort of our own homes. The limitations of face-to-face interaction that have, until now, bound us to our small individual worlds — the handful of people we meet in our everyday lives — would be overcome. The critical component in social networking is the removal of time as a constraint. In the real world, according to research by myself and others, we devote 40 per cent of our limited social time each week to the five most important people we know, who represent just 3 per cent of our social world and a trivially small proportion of all the people alive today. Since the time invested in a relationship determines its quality, having more than five best friends is impossible when we interact face to face, one person at a time. Instant messaging and social networking claim to solve that problem by allowing us to talk to as many people as we like, all at the same time. Like the proverbial lighthouse blinking on the horizon, our messages fan out into the dark night to every passing ship within reach of an Internet connection. We can broadcast, literally, to the world. I use the word "broadcast" because, despite Facebook's promise, that is the fundamental flaw in the logic of the social-networking revolution. The developers at Facebook overlooked one of the crucial components in the complicated business of how we create relationships: our minds. Put simply, our minds are not designed to allow us to have more than a very limited number of people in our social world. The emotional and psychological investments that a close relationship requires are considerable, and the emotional capital we have available is limited. Indeed, no matter what Facebook allows us to do, I have found that most of us can maintain only around 150 meaningful relationships, online and off — what has become known as Dunbar's number. Yes, you can "friend" 500, 1,000, even 5,000 people with your Facebook page, but all save the core 150 are mere voyeurs looking into your daily life — a fact incorporated into the new social networking site Path, which limits the number of friends you can have to 50. What's more, contrary to all the hype and hope, the people in our electronic social worlds are, for most of us, the same people in our offline social worlds. In fact, the average number of friends on Facebook is 120 to 130, just short enough of Dunbar's number to allow room for grandparents and babies, people too old or too young to have acquired the digital habit. This isn't to say that Facebook and its imitators aren't performing an important, even revolutionary, task — namely, to keep us in touch with our existing friends. Until relatively recently, almost everyone on earth lived in small, rural, densely interconnected communities, where our 150 friends all knew one another, and everyone's 150 friends list was everyone else's. But the social and economic mobility of the past century has worn away at that interconnectedness. As we move around the country and across continents, we collect disparate pockets of friends, so that our list of 150 consists of a half-dozen subsets of people who barely know of one another's existence, let alone interact. Our ancestors knew the same people their entire lives; as we move around, though, we can lose touch with even our closest friends. Emotional closeness declines by around 15 per cent a year in the absence of face-to-face contact, so that in five years someone can go from being an intimate acquaintance to the most distant outer layer of your 150 friends. Facebook and other social networking sites allow us to keep up with friendships that would otherwise rapidly wither away. And they do something else that's probably more important, if much less obvious: they allow us to reintegrate our networks so that, rather than having several disconnected subsets of friends, we can rebuild, albeit virtually, the kind of old rural communities where everyone knew everyone else. Welcome to the electronic village. Robin Dunbar






As I'm about to start a four-month book leave, I need to get a few things off my chest: President Obama understood, rightly, that our economy needed more stimulus, so, given the GOP's insistence on extending the Bush tax cuts for all, he struck the best deal he could. The country, we are told, is now in a better mood, seeing our two parties work together. I, alas, am not in a better mood. I'll be in a better mood when I see our two parties cooperating to do something hard. Borrowing billions more from China to give ourselves more tax cuts does not qualify. Make no mistake, President Obama has enacted an enormous amount in two years. It's impressive. But the really hard stuff lies ahead: taking things away. We are leaving an era where to be a mayor, governor, senator or president was, on balance, to give things away to people. And we are entering an era where to be a leader will mean, on balance, to take things away from people. It is the only way we'll get our fiscal house in order before the market, brutally, does it for us. In my book, the leaders who will deserve praise in this new era are those who develop a hybrid politics that persuades a majority of voters to cut where we must so we can invest where we must. To survive in the 21st century, America can no longer afford a politics of irresponsible profligacy. But to thrive in the 21st century — to invest in education, infrastructure and innovation — America cannot afford a politics of mindless austerity either. The politicians we need are what I'd call "pay-as-you-go progressives — those who combine fiscal prudence with growth initiatives to make their cities, their states or our country great again. Everyone knows the first rule of holes: When you're in one, stop digging. But people often forget the second rule of holes: You can only grow your way out. You can't borrow your way out. One of the best of this new breed of leaders is Atlanta's inspiring mayor, 41-year-old Kasim Reed. A former Georgia state senator, Reed won Atlanta's mayoral race in December 2009 by 714 votes. The day he took office, Atlanta had $7.4 million in reserves, an out-of-control budget and was laying off so many firefighters there were only three personnel on a truck, below national standards. A year later, it has $58 million in reserves, and Reed has a 70 per cent approval rating — which he earned the hard way. Reed started his reforms by enlisting two professionals, not cronies, to help run the city: Peter Aman, a partner at Bain & Company, a consultancy, to be his chief opera-ting officer; and John Mellott, a former publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to lead a pension review panel. Atlanta has 7,000 city employees, but today, says Reed, "you can't hire a receptionist" without it "personally being approved by Aman." Then Reed tackled the city's biggest problem: runaway pensions, which were eating up 20 per cent of tax revenues and are rising. In the early 2000s, the police, fire and municipal workers' unions persuaded the city to raise all their pensions — and make it retroactive. So, between 2001 and 2009, Atlanta's unfunded pension obligations grew from $321 million to $1.484 billion. Yikes. Reed couldn't cut existing pensions without lawsuits, but he cut back pensions for all new employees to pre-2000 levels and raised the vesting period to 15 years from 10. When union picketers swarmed city hall to protest, Reed invited them all into his office — in shifts — where he patiently explained, with charts, that without pension reform everyone's pensions would go bust. By getting the city's budget under control, Reed then had some money to invest in more police officers and, what he wanted most, to reopen the 16 recreation centres and swimming pools in the city's most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, which had been shuttered for lack of money. "People were shooting dice in the empty pools," he said. Local businesses have now offered to finance after-school job-skills programmes in the reopened centres. Cut here. Invest there. Reed combines a soft touch with a hard head. I like how he talks about both Atlanta and America: "We are not going to be what we have been for the last 50 years if we don't change, and everybody in a position to have more than two people listening to them needs to be saying that, because the time we have to make the adjustments is running out. We need to get on with it. Whether it's the deficit, education or investing in young people or immigration — we are not tackling [them] in the fundamental ways required. We're just doing it piecemeal. We're just playing and surviving. And we need to be very clear where just surviving takes you: it takes you to a lifestyle of just survival." In a recent address, Reed elaborated: "The bottom line is that for the country to do and to be what we have been... there must be a generation tough enough to stick out its chin and take the hit. ...It is time to begin having the types of mature and honest conversations necessary to deal effectively with the neweconomic realities we are facing as a nation. We simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road." Thomas L. Friedman








As if on cue, India periodically begins the debate on public funding for elections. A memory recall reminds me that the Union cabinet cleared the proposal for public funding of elections around this time in 2005. And as far as memory serves, the proposal was sent to the law ministry for approval/processing. Now that sounds exactly like the Afzal Guru file, which is precisely the motive behind the periodical references to this route for electoral reforms.It is everybody's case that India initiates a thorough reform of its election processes. The Election Commission is the place to begin that process. To think that retired bureaucrats recast in the role of electoral managers would know more about what happens in a district. But alas, they too prefer the sanctuary of platitudes that please and not perform. One size fits all is the basis of Indian governance and its policy formulation. And its bane. How is it possible that Barmer and Bongaigaon be covered by the same set of policies and rules to implement them, when their political experiences and psychologies are completely different?The Election Commission imposes an expenditure ceiling across the country, for every election. How is it possible for every constituency to have the same expenditure ceiling when each is different by geography, population and psychology? Until it was cleaved by the delimitation process, Barmer was bigger in area than Sri Lanka. Yet the Election Commission practices the logic that Barmer must have the same set of regulations as Chandni Chowk, smaller in area than every gram panchayat in the desert. A rationalisation is certainly in order, but one that is based on realities, and not driven by clichés.The most expensive elections in India are the ones that elect the heads of gram panchayats, whatever their names, across the country. They are also the elections that have the highest polling percentages. In its obsession with the Parliament and legislature, urban India forgets that the panchayat election is the most contested of all elections. Per voter there is more money spent in a panchayat election than any other. And in fact the Parliament election becomes the cheapest in that sense. And that matches the polling figures too, with panchayats leading the race, and Parliament bringing up the rear. There are various reasons why the panchayat election is the most contested of all, ranging from prestige in the village to the fact of influencing more development funds than any other elected post. All of this stays under the radar, for it doesn't make good daily conversation in urban India. This is the reality that the country will have to face before it can begin an honest debate on electoral funding reforms. So where do the panchayat funds come from, when many states don't have party symbols for those elections? Obviously the money is coming from somewhere, and in proportionately bigger quantities than it does for Parliament elections. Election funding reforms, therefore, must cover the entire gambit of the Indian scenario. It would be discriminatory and snobby if the attention to reform were aimed only at the Parliament or legislature levels. After all, the democratic process covers the entire gamut from panchayat to the Parliament levels. And it is a process that Indians feel proud of sustaining. Can the country, then, manage the reform of the entire spectrum of elections? Knowing the reality of India, and its psychology of political performance, that is a task much bigger than any of the country's impressive institutions can handle. None of the commissions or the parliamentary committees have the capability of undertaking this responsibility. There is no shame in admitting to this fact, for the simple reason that not everything is always doable. Know the limitation and act accordingly.


The general Indian attitude towards anything that carries a public fund label is that some of it is for the take. It is taken for granted that a portion can be diverted for other ends, and through other means. And with an impossible implementation procedure, it makes little sense to have public funds for elections. There are various proposals doing the rounds, but none that encompasses the sheer diversity and dynamism of Indian elections. Better let public funds remain for public good. The simplest solution, and one that encourages probity and honesty, is for a transparent and private, corporate, business or any other funding that is tracked by sourcing of monies. Let the funding be from any source, by cheques, and through a monitored bank account. There may be an individual bank account for each candidate, party etc. The sourcing for each constituency can be monitored, as also the vested interests that may exist. The vested interests can then be barred from benefiting financially or otherwise. It will then be known that for a particular panchayat election, the local PWD contractors contributed for a particular candidate. That is how it all begins. Let's get the picture clear first.

The writer represented Barmer-Jaisalmer in the 14th Lok Sabha, and is now editor, 'Defence & Security Alert'








In the account of the 1955 Bulganin-Khrushchev visit to India ('Reading the Russians', IE, December 13), Nehru's blunt talk with the Soviet leaders about the Indian Communist Party's role in pursuing policies that ran counter to nationalist feelings, frequently seeking directions from Moscow, and receiving "substantial sums of money from outside" was mentioned briefly. The prime minister had spoken tersely also about "some CPI leaders" having gone to the Soviet capital in 1951 "secretly and without passports" and boasting on return that they had received a directive directly from "Mr. Stalin". Now, thanks to the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, transcripts of the conversations of the four Indian comrades with Stalin and other Soviet leaders, declassified by Russia, are available. These throw a flood of light on the mindset of the Indian communist leaders and on some home truths that Stalin drove home to them. It is well known that the four CPI leaders who went to Moscow from Calcutta, now Kolkata, as stowaways on a Soviet cargo ship were C. Rajeshwar Rao, then general secretary of the party, veteran trade unionist S.A. Dange, Ajoy Ghosh, later to be general secretary, and Basava Punnaiah. At first they were received by Georgy Malenkov, Mikhail Suslov and two other Soviet leaders on February 4 and 6, 1951. At both these meetings, the Indian foursome did most of the talking. The hosts wanted to know the subjects on which the visitors needed guidance. Rao made no bones about the fact that differences within the CPI about the "political line" to be followed were so serious that the "work of the party had come to a standstill", and "all of us are agreed... that if we don't get help and guidance [from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union] the Communist Party of India might fall apart". While replying to questions by Malenkov and Suslov, the four Indian communists often squabbled among themselves. This was inevitable because Rao and Punnaiah represented the faction that was vehemently sticking to "armed agrarian revolt" a la Telangana, while Dange and Ghosh wanted the party line to be moderated. At one stage the Soviet side asked "what work the CPI was doing in the army?" Rao: "The party has not done any work in the army and has no influence there. The party has a little bit of influence in the air force and the navy". The questions that different members of the foursome posed speak for themselves: How to ensure that "partisan action on a wide scale" is followed by creation of "liberated areas" such as Telangana, and "finally to the liberation of whole of India"? How to pose the question of nationalisation of land in colonial and semi-colonial countries? What is the nature of Nehru's government? "Can Nehru be viewed as a puppet in the same manner as Chiang Kai-shek?", and so on. It was on the night of February 9 that Stalin spoke to the four CPI leaders for three hours. He began by telling them that he had received their questions, that he would answer them and then "express" some of his thoughts. "You ask: How should we evaluate the oncoming revolution in India? We Russians (russkie) look on this revolution as primarily agrarian. We do not consider that India is about to go through a socialist revolution. This is that very Chinese way about which everyone is talking... [this] is a bourgeois-democratic revolution and the first step to a people's democratic revolution". Stalin then said that people's democracy prevailed in East European countries. "China is still far from this stage. This stage is also far from India or India is far from this stage". Stalin then took up a lead article in the Cominform newspaper, For a Lasting Peace, For a People's Democracy, "regarding the Chinese way to develop a revolution". CPI leaders had told their earlier interlocutors that this article had made the confusion within the ranks of the Indian party worse. The topmost Soviet leader explained that the article "had been in reaction to the articles and speeches of [B. T.] Ranadive, who considered that India was on its way to a socialist revolution. We Russian Communists considered that this was a very dangerous slogan and decided to oppose it by pointing out that India is passing by the Chinese way, ie, the first step to the people's democratic revolution". (While they disagreed on almost everything else the four CPI leaders were unanimous in


denouncing Ranadive, a former general secretary, as "ultra-left adventurist".) Stalin then told the Indian foursome: "You have to organise your revolutionary front as follows: to raise up all the peasants (including) rich peasants against the feudal lords... to mobilise public opinion, all the progressive layers of national bourgeoisie against English imperialism.... You have gotten in the habit of saying that it is necessary to throw out all imperialists... English and American. This is no way to organise a front. The cutting edge of the national front needs to be pointed at English imperialism."


At this stage, Ajoy Ghosh said it was not clear to him why only English imperialism should be targeted, while everywhere "American imperialism is being fought, as the cutting edge of the anti-democratic camp". Stalin: "It is very simple. The united national front is for national independence from England, and not from America. This is your national specific. Who is India half-free from? From England, not from America. India is in a commonwealth not with America but with England. Military and other specialists in your army are not Americans but Englishmen. These are historical facts and there is no getting away from them... It is not smart to fight with both... you must construct the front so that not you, but your enemies are isolated. This is, so to speak, a tactic to ease the battle of the Communist party. No one is willing if they are smart, to put all the weight on themselves... Beat English imperialism, while not offending for the moment other imperialists".


Ajoy Ghosh: "Now it is clear to me."


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








It doesn't come as a surprise that India's banks should have come out against the RBI giving out banking licences to corporate houses—RBI put out, last week, the gist of the responses it got to its proposal to issue new bank licences, but was careful enough not to indicate its own mind. Bankers, like anyone else, want to keep the shop closed and, it would appear, many within the government and RBI are uncomfortable giving a bank licence to powerful corporates. After all, several of India Inc's best have been caught indulging in all manner of hanky-panky at different points in time. Give them a bank, and the fear is, they'll start lending public money to group companies, switch in and out of the stock market so fast that no one will ever get to know. One promoter, accused of siphoning off hundreds of crores of rupees, managed to get this compounded by paying fines at the registrar of companies—this ensured there were no charges against the promoter and even allowed him to buy a bank for a while!


]But, and here's the rub, if you can't trust India Inc, how do you get India's banking sector to grow in the manner it needs to? An economy growing at 8-10% per annum in real terms needs India's credit outstanding to rise from around $800 bn to around thrice this level in another 5 years—credit needs to grow at around 25% per annum after all. This incremental credit needs to be backed by incremental capital. Assuming a 9% capital requirement, this works out to around $150 bn. Who else has such funds, and the ability to borrow this, other than India Inc?


This is where the question of governance comes in (more in the edit below). RBI is the best regulator India has and has done a reasonably good job of regulating and inspecting banks. But it feels that this isn't good enough, certainly it does not have the wherewithal to police banks on a 24x7 basis, which is probably what it needs to do nowadays. Unless this is looked into immediately, there is little doubt the economy will remain starved of the much-needed cash to finance its needs.







The central bank, we've just said, is uncomfortable about giving banking licences to big Indian corporates. It's equally uncomfortable with micro-finance institutions (MFIs) who are trying to meet the financing needs of those parts of rural India where banks have failed to reach for over six decades—the most obvious sign of RBI's discomfort with MFIs is the fact that, when the Andhra government came down on MFIs, RBI, which regulates the biggers MFIs like SKS, refused to come out in their defence. Indeed, RBI set up a committee to examine the changes required in the law to keep MFIs in check. It is this similar lack of faith in the abilities of Sebi to monitor stock exchanges on a 24x7 basis that, presumably, is behind the Bimal Jalan committee's decision to come up with suggestions that exchanges not be allowed to list and that shareholder equity be restricted to just 5%.


This is India's governance paradox. The fiscal deficit suggests the size of government needs to be cut, but look at almost any parameter, and it is obvious the size of government needs to be increased. India has a desperate shortage of teachers, and an even greater one of good teachers; it doesn't have enough doctors, or equipment in even the rudimentary hospitals these doctors man; there aren't enough policemen, the ones that exist are poorly trained and equipped; there aren't enough courtrooms, or judges to fill them … the list goes on.


To put this in numbers, the share of government spending (both Centre and states) in GDP—which fell from 35% in 1990-91 to 29% in 2005-06 and which is now back to 33%—is much lower than in other countries. The average spend in OECD countries is 44%, ranging from a low 30% in Korea, 36% in Japan, 37% in the US and more than 50% in countries like France and Sweden. While around 4% of India's workforce is engaged by the government, the comparable figure is 5% in rich Asian countries like Korea and Japan and 14% in the OECD as a whole. How does India square the circle of lowering deficits while raising its productive bureaucracy? Clearly spending has to rise but, more than that, the army of clerical staff needs to be sharply cut and to be replaced by qualified professionals at the top. Until that happens, India's growth and governance will lurch from one bottleneck to the next.







This is not about whether Sheila ki jawani is hotter than Munni badnaam hui, though it's pretty obvious a Katrina Kaif can hardly compete with a Malaika Arora Khan when it comes to sex appeal. The issue will be finally settled, not on Tees Maar Khan's release date last Friday, but in the weeks to come—not in the box office, but in the offices of Airtel and Reliance Communications, based on the number of ringback caller tunes, even video downloads they sell of the two hottest songs Bollywood has come up with in recent times.

As telcos across the country sell caller tunes in zillions, the question being asked is whether all the money from this new-found source should go to the film's producers and music companies, or whether the composers and lyricists should also get a piece of the pie? That's after telcos like Airtel have taken out what many consider an unconscionable share out of this—typically, 70% of the Rs 10 callerback tune stays with telcos. In the current context, should the money be given to only UTV/Farah Khan/Shirish Kunder/ Akshay Kumar (the producers) or should it be equally shared with Vishal Dadlani/Shekhar Ravjiani (the composers) and Anvita Dutt/Dadlani/ Kunder (lyricists) and Sunidhi Chauhan (singer)?


A rattled industry, FE reported Friday, is planning to go on strike on January 6 if these demands are met. "This is the most anti-entertainment industry government that we have seen since Independence. Instead of doing the right thing, the government is supporting a populist agenda at the behest of some influential lyricists," film-maker Mahesh Bhatt is quoted as saying, referring clearly to Javed Akhtar. If passed, he says, this will "kill the film industry", destroy Bollywood and will render film-making economically non-viable for producers. With caller tunes a Rs 600-700 crore business already, and growing rapidly, it's easy to see why Bhatt's so agitated about giving away half the money to the likes of Javed Akhtar. Keep in mind that, according to KPMG data, the music industry is roughly a tenth of the size of the entire movie business—and the caller tune business earned more than the entire music industry last year! So we're talking huge money here. Money that's even huger when seen as a proportion of the bottom line.


Wow! So what exactly is it we're talking of, and why should a Javed Akhtar, no matter how well-connected he is, be allowed to renege on a contract he has signed relinquishing all rights in favour of the film-makers who are paying him for his composition? Here's where the question of unfair contracting comes in. Does even a Javed Akhtar have a hope in hell of being able to sign a contract that the powerful film-makers don't like? Clearly not and, just a few days ago, the newly-elected president of the Film Federation of India (FFI), TP Agrawal, told ToI, the FFI had advised members not to employ Akhtar till the copyright business was sorted out. "If Javed wants a percentage as royalty, then he should also be liable to incur a percentage of the losses," he said, betraying his complete contempt, apart from ignorance, of the concept of copyrights.


The principle of unequal contracting is pretty well known and, way back in 1984, the Law Commission of India spoke of contracts where it was pretty much impossible for one of the parties not to accept the other's terms—it recommended the courts strike down parts of contracts they found unconscionable, but nothing has happened on this in the 26 years since.


It was to fix this that, a few years ago, the government said it would amend the Copyright Act of 1957. The Act got amended earlier this year, but some critical flaws remained. These then reached the Rajya Sabha's Standing Committee, which came out with its amendments last month—this is what Bhatt thinks will rob not just Katrina Kaif, but all of Bollywood, of its jawani. The Standing Committee recommended lots of changes, but let's focus on just the one or two that really matter. Para 18(3), which talks of "assignment of copyright", says a composer-lyricist can get a share of royalties (what Airtel will give to UTV/Farah Khan) "from the utilisation of such work in any form other than as part of the cinematograph film or sound recording …". Focus on the "sound recording" since this is the real killer, the "item bomb", as it were, of the Munni number!


What that means is that if Airtel calls Sunidhi Chauhan to sing Munni badnaam hui at an event to promote its 3G video-on-demand services, Dadlani/ Dutt/Ravjiani/Kunder can get part of the money paid by Airtel—this is utilisation of their work in a non-cinematograph fashion. But if Airtel sells the ring-tone, well that's a 'sound recording'!


This is what the Standing Committee wants to fix, primarily, and this is what has got the industry in a tizzy. Whether the government refuses to give in to the industry's demands is to be seen, but it's clear that till then, the producers are going to ensure composers/lyricists/singers get precious little. While the official position is that composers/lyricists are to get 50% royalties, contracts signed by composers/lyricists with music companies clearly get them to sign away all rights. This applies to the smaller composer/lyricists as well as the bigger ones, including the Javed Akhtars. Even AR Rahman, the biggest daddy of the composing world, has to sign away his rights in India. Achille Forler, the MD of Deep Emotions Publishing, the Indian partner of Universal Music who represent Rahman globally, confirmed that they represent him all over the world, except for India. If he wants a movie in India, after all, he has no option but to sign his rights away.


As Sheila puts it, "Hey hey, I know you want it but you never gonna get it ... Tere haath kabhi na aani ... Sheila ki jawani ... Sheila ki jawani ..."







Why is there an unanticipated upsurge in onion prices? Is that because there is genuine 'black swan' or is it a failure of policy? Onions are not a one-off annually harvested crop. The supplies arrive weekly as new crops ripen. The demand is also not seasonal but continuous through the year. Ministries of agriculture have to be able to forecast prices regularly, taking into account weather forecasts and any other likely movements in economic variables. This should happen to the entire set of agricultural commodities.


Given that there was an unseasonal rainfall in Maharashtra a month ago, it was predictable that the delivery of onions would dip with a lag. This would lead to an expectation of a price rise and would be reflected in any futures market. The government can then take remedial action by downsizing stocks, assuming there are such stocks, or by encouraging imports.


Politically, we know that the price of onions is a sensitive indicator of people's happiness or misery with their daily life. Onions are something of a necessity that people buy frequently, if not daily. They are thus sensitive to its price movements. The people have witnessed a very sharp bubble in onion prices. The question is: is this systemic or will it burst?


Sharad Pawar is taking the view that, left to itself, the bubble will burst since new supplies will arrive. He has advanced no evidence for his belief. One would expect the agriculture ministry to have a cell for forecasting food prices and if there is such a cell, we should know its forecasts.


India has always led in statistics and econometrics. It has pioneered agricultural research since PUSA was founded. If, therefore, the government was surprised by the upsurge in onion prices, it must be either because the government had their models and they failed to predict or because they did not have any models at all.



The reason for thinking that it is a failure rather than bad luck is that this has happened once before to the NDA government. It has to do with certain well-established political superstitions that pervade policymaking. First is the suspicion of markets and of traders. If forward prices had reflected the oncoming shortage, there would be a violent criticism of such movements. Shoot the messenger is the rule. Since market traders take such signals seriously, we get a heightened rise in prices. This then leads to a denunciation of hoarders rather than a criticism of the policymakers who fail to act on the data provided by the market.


This syndrome is, sadly, common to all Indian political parties. Populism has never understood economics and its bête noire is the small trader who is, by definition, a hoarder. Yet, the same populism leads politicians to oppose the modernisation of retail trade by allowing either FDI in retailing or even large Indian corporates. Thus, we do not have the smoothing of inventories and the use of sophisticated forecasting tools that would reduce the volatility in prices. There is ample evidence that with modern retailing, with its secure long supply chains, farmers gain in terms of the share of the price they receive relative to the final price. If the consumer today pays too high a price relative to the price the farmer gets, it is not because the middlemen are bloodthirsty monsters but because they are small and inefficient. The modernisation of retail trading will simultaneously (a) raise the price the farmer gets relative to the final price (b) squeeze the margin between the farmgate price and the consumer price and (c) reduce volatility.


The approach in India is to politicise the issue. There will be many who will see the rise in onion price as 'market failure'. This is because they see all market operations as failure. Thus, rather than improve policy by using market logic smartly, they prefer to ration quantities and suppress the price mechanism. This may lead to artificial subsidies for luxury products such as petroleum as much as low prices that cause products to disappear.


In 1991, India began its escape from the larger absurdities of the previous 40 years of distrust of markets and industrialists. The macroeconomic picture has, no doubt, improved radically. But there has been no corresponding commitment to microeconomic efficiency. Thus, the idea that people starve not because of shortage of food but because of lack of purchasing power has been the most convincing lesson Amartya Sen has taught the world with his analysis of famines. So if you want to avoid the possibility of starvation, give people money to buy food. That is more efficient. Yet the government is about to pursue the inefficient alternative in its impending Food Security legislation.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer





India's got talent?


Industrialist Anand Mahindra went to meet Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh along with someone from the Rand Corporation in the US, to share their plans to do research in India. The Rand official told Ramesh how excited Rand was to be in India, how Indian talent would be hired to do work. The quip-a-minute Ramesh grinned and asked, "India's got talent?"


Multiple hats


Several people wear multiple hats, and JN Gupta is one such, but few make as many clear distinctions as JN Gupta. The Sebi Member who was also on the Bimal Jalan committee on stock markets was addressing a CII seminar on the issue. When his turn came to speak, Gupta said he wore two hats, a Jalan one and a Sebi one, so, as he gave his comments, he would specify which hat he was wearing for which comment.







When the online air ticket booking agencies first set up shop in the mid-nineties in the US, most of the relevant information was already housed in computer systems. The reason these agencies were able to effect a consumer revolution within a decade was that the Internet was ideally suited to the airline business. Here, e-commerce worked at its model best. Consumers got easy access to comparing products and their prices. The airlines also benefited. For example, they were able to fight back the post 9/11 slump because online agencies made bargains very visible. Structurally, low-cost airlines were able to emerge in the US and take wings across the globe, largely on the back on online intermediaries. An obvious side-effect was that first-level engagement between travel suppliers and their customers took the back seat over time. Some airlines have started to claw back this lost space. American Airlines, the third-largest US carrier, has pursued and won a legal battle to pull its flight listings off Orbitz—making the latter's share price slump. In an expression of solidarity with Orbitz, Expedia started hiding American's airfares. On the other side of the fence, the second-largest US carrier Delta announced it was terminating, and as authorised travel agents. With many contracts between US carriers and online intermediaries going up for grabs in 2011, analysts are expecting turbulent weather.


While this muscle-flexing goes on, consumers are bound to suffer. At the least, they will have to do much more back-and-forth between different Websites. The question is whether the airlines would finally have their way, which looks unlikely. Carriers that whine that travel Websites force them to compete solely on price will likely have to live the fact that this is more a function of customers' desire than of travel agents' perfidy.









The Australian government's apology and payout to Mohamed Haneef for wrongly detaining and charging him for involvement in the June 2007 Glasgow bombing provides satisfactory closure to an unfortunate episode. The Indian doctor was held on July 2 that year for a period of 25 days, the initial 12 days without charges. The court found that the prosecution's case was built on faulty evidence, based, among other things, on a SIM card he had left behind in the United Kingdom with a distant relative who was one of the five accused in the failed Glasgow attack. The Australian Federal Police was also found to have presented evidence selectively to the court, and the cabinet minister in charge of immigration revoked Dr. Haneef's visa to enable his continued detention even after he was granted bail. In Australia, the case came as an eye-opener on the many fault lines in its counter-terrorism efforts, especially the racial profiling of Muslims, and the lengths that law-enforcers can travel to tailor the evidence. It led to a public outcry and the setting up of a full-fledged inquiry commission that made several recommendations for reform. Australia's apology and the monetary settlement was in return for Dr. Haneef agreeing to drop a civil claim for compensation against the federal government and the Immigration Minister. The text of the apology is an unambiguous admission of wrongdoing, and the payout to Dr. Haneef — under the terms of the agreement neither side can disclose the amount but media speculation places it at $1 million — is apparently reflective of contrition.


The Australian decision is unprecedented and its impact could be felt across the world. Since 9/11, hundreds of people have been held as terror suspects across the globe. Many of these have turned out to be wrongful detentions. The British government recently announced, without admitting culpability, that it would pay compensation to 16 Britons detained by the U.S. forces at Guantanamo in order to ward off damaging law suits accusing it of being complicit in their transfer to the notorious off-shore U.S. prison and in their torture while in detention. In India too, there have been cases of people detained as terror suspects and later acquitted by the courts, as in the Mecca Masjid blast case. In another instance, the government quietly withdrew the charges. But never has it been pressed to offer an apology, let alone financial compensation. While the Australian government's settlement with Dr. Haneef goes a long way in repairing Australia's negative image in India following recent incidents of racial violence, it also underlines the fact that India's own handling of such cases is far below the ideal.







The back-to-back visits by Premier Wen Jiabao to India and Pakistan have underlined Beijing's careful balancing act between two sets of bilateral relationships, both important to it for different reasons. The complex India-China engagement is powered by the rising economies of the two countries and the mutual desire to manage their global ambitions without conflict; its strong strategic ties with Pakistan have been built on a convergence of regional goals. China has been more than conscious that while it engages with India, nothing about this should make Islamabad nervous. It is thus no surprise that after Premier Wen's New Delhi visit, during which both sides made deliberate efforts to arrest a perceptible slide in their political relationship while setting new targets for the booming trade relationship, his three-day stay in Islamabad yielded enough reassurances to Pakistan that its "all-weather friendship" with China was intact. Certainly, the ties with China are the best Pakistan enjoys with any big power. Islamabad receives financial and diplomatic support from Beijing that has no strings attached, at least publicly. Nor is it at the receiving end of public admonishments on harbouring terrorist networks. Beijing unconditionally sells military hardware to Pakistan, and is the only nuclear power prepared to assist its nuclear programme. In turn, Islamabad is reverential in the way it conducts itself with China, swallowing a crushing imbalance in trade relations and quick to respond to quiet pressure from Beijing to crack down on Pakistan-based militant networks that stir trouble in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.


Entirely in keeping with all this, China and Pakistan signed several agreements in diverse fields ranging from banking and trade to space technology and agriculture. Beijing announced a $410 million post-floods aid package, in addition to the $200 million it gave earlier. While in Islamabad, Premier Wen praised the Pakistan government for its efforts to combat terrorism. He balanced this by a studious silence on the Kashmir issue, a decision that will be welcomed in India, especially in the light of recent tensions over the stapled Chinese visas to visitors from Jammu & Kashmir. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani may have been fishing for a Chinese role in 'facilitating dialogue' with India on Kashmir but it is apparent that Beijing is keen to reiterate its neutrality on the issue. All in all, if there was one overarching message from Premier Wen's swing through South Asia, it was that China would not be drawn into a zero-sum game between India and Pakistan.










You can construct a cutting-edge archaeological demolition of the latest Ramjanmabhumi controversy in a radical leftist blog. You can be an acknowledged scholar in Renaissance Humanism and orate in the classroom on the complexities of non-articulated communication. But since Prudence is the new name of the game in racing to (re)build India Shining, you can wear at least two hats. You can, when the suavely smiling Human Resource Development Minister lays out his blueprint for New India — toward which you are lured by the possibility of a role in its fashioning — graciously convince yourself and others that maturity means taking cognisance of an age that "demands an image of its accelerated grimace." And so you can pull caution and far-sight out of your front pocket, while you keep your conscience appeased by nursing your intellectual and political predilections in your hip one. You, we fear, are the dangerous face of the Humanities academic in today's minefield of higher education in India for, you are neither the unreasonable table-thumping banner-brandishing revolutionary nor the meekly acquiescent yes-person with no mind to call his or her own. You occupy, you believe, a useful liminal space — but your liminality is devoid of fertility, and it signals the grave for the future of the University in India.


And why would that be so? Consider the scenario of Indian Higher Education, circa 2010. The MHRD is laudably exercised about the shamefully low number of graduates in our country of teeming billions. Our Harvard-educated Minister Kapil Sibal has devised a sagacious plan to alleviate this handicap in 10 years flat: a multipronged attack by which the number of graduates in India will leap from 14 million to 44 million by 2020. As Mr. Sibal outlined in his address to the automobile industry on December 6, he will increase avenues for vocational training that will make a substantially larger number of youth suitably employable. Then he will revitalise the university education system in order, apparently, to rescue it from falling into mediocrity. Most of us should have no quarrel with a governmental desire to produce a variety and range of eligible workforce to contribute to the national exchequer and the notional contentment-quotient in equal measure. So what is it that makes us so suspicious of these avowed measures of prudent ambition being framed by the MHRD now?


We would need to re-examine the blueprint for our university system that dispenses degrees from the bachelor's to post-doctoral levels to probe this sense of the sinister in the MHRD's machinations for now re-carving a utilitarian profile for it. Of the 44 million graduates who will be sent from the best to worst universities in India by 2020, a significant number will presumably still be streaming out of the Humanities: significant not so much in actual numericals, perhaps, as in — as we perceive it — their projected, imagined contribution to the New India apparently still "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born." Mr. Sibal and his team seem to be of the belief that a birthing needs to be forceped which trims the emergent graduate baby of any of the flab of the imaginative, the ruminative, the philosophical, the archaeological. Cleverly, however, the suggestion is not to throw the baby out with the birth-water, but to muddy the habitation and reroute the pathway: so, energise (a dead) History as Tourism Studies, revitalise (a moribund) Political Science as a Policy Programme, resurrect (an obsolete) English Literature as Communicative Global Language Skills.


To this worthy end, a new governmental body that will map and mould this brand new (or branded) Indian graduate is in process of being set up — the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) — that will replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) and function under the direct control of the MHRD, even while the Bill proposing this new commission sanctimoniously professes to promote autonomy for universities: as G. Krishnakumar has commented on the NCHER in The Hindu of March 1, 2010, "One discernible tendency in the Bill is to centralise the powers to shape the nature of education. Education was a State subject; it was changed into the concurrent list. The present Bill raises the apprehension whether it would finally become a Central subject." We agree with him that it would be nothing short of "disastrous" to so impair the federal nature of crucial structures in the country, amongst which higher education is key.


And let us not harbour any illusions about the behemoth's capacity to innovate, morph, and engulf critical voices within its belly. The juggernaut believes in efficiency, and will brook no contrary viewpoint. But this augurs well for people who can and do think in terms of finesse and criticality in Humanities studies: because such enormous hubris is likely to sputter, in spite of its acute confidence and suavity. The point is, can the opposition come together, strategise and queer the pitch for this bulldozing machine?


However, just valiantly standing up to this multipronged re-hauling of higher education is an option which has ethical panache on its side but little long-term effect in tangible idioms. Another university group is notoriously pacifist, hoping that the scenario will improve magically: they will have to eventually capitulate and integrate. Otherwise, by the time the 18th century-poetry scholar is forced to write grant applications for doctoral projects funded by the Ambanis and the Tatas for improving communicative skills in their workforce, the script will be lost.


The first station involves consciousness-raising. It is a completely fallacious argument that liberal reform of the Humanities in India means sacrificing nuanced, reflective reading and solid writing skills for a new breed of a cheap, malleable workforce with communicative dexterity to emerge. This is precisely what Mr. Sibal means when he says that we are seeing the rusting of the West and the shining of the East: that the West has human resource but no jobs, while India has jobs but no trained personnel. This is a short-sighted libertarian dogma which has nothing to do with liberalism. Human wealth is not created in serious liberal societies by lowering the benchmark of higher education in this manner. Liberal education is a sustained and controlled matter, where practicality is directly related to searching analyses and the fecundity of thought processes. The real leaders of the market know this, and often get their best recruits from the Classics and Rhetoric departments. It is a pity that the flag-bearers of liberal India have no clue about such a pedigree of liberalism which would actually raise the stakes of a poor and uneducated nation.


Most importantly, those in the Humanities need to develop a long-term strategy that must be deeply critical, but executed with the acumen of deft chess players, flummoxing this vision of New India with crafty manoeuvrings. No one can take away the classroom space. Nor can the MHRD spy around corridors where contrarians and heretics blossom. A subterranean culture of the questioning spirit should foster in these spaces; a new generation of students must be steadily nurtured who will take on the authorities in their laziness of thought and crassness of aesthetics. Alongside, serious research by teachers will provide both moral fibre and scholarly relevance to undermine the seemingly open-and-shut case of the reformers. This is the real democratic tradition of the Humanities that must be salvaged and saluted.


( Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty teach at the Department of English, University of Delhi.)









Two years ago, when I was asked to become the President of the Editors Guild of India, I did so with some trepidation. The Guild had a formidable reputation of having been at the forefront of editorial integrity and independence. Set up in the Emergency years, it emerged stronger through the trial of fire. The members of the Guild comprise the grey eminences of the profession. As one of the youngest members of the Guild, I was both a little awed and certainly very honoured to be president of the august body. Two years later, as I end my term as president, I feel privileged to have been given the challenge of guiding the Guild through difficult times for the Indian media.


'Paid news'


Perhaps, the biggest challenge we have been confronted with is the menace of 'paid news'. That paid news existed across media organisations is one of the profession's worst-kept secrets. It required a journalist of P. Sainath's repute to put it on the front page of The Hindu and force a national debate on the issue. At the Guild, we decided to make 'paid news' the focus of our activities in 2010. We may not have succeeded in erasing it from the media landscape, but at least there seems to be a greater consciousness now than ever before of the need to control 'paid news' journalism.


We have worked together in the last 12 months with other journalist bodies — most notably the Indian Women's Press Corps and the Press Association — to create an atmosphere which rejects 'paid news' as a journalistic malpractice that erodes the very foundation of our professional integrity. It hasn't been easy. While a number of editors support a move that will not allow news space to be sold as advertising without proper disclosure norms, many proprietors seem reluctant to abandon what is seen as a lucrative business opportunity. It should come as no surprise that it was the newspaper owners who were unwilling to allow the Press Council of India report on 'paid news' to be made public in its entirety.


But where the Press Council has had a limited role, the Election Commission has shown enormous resolve in stepping in to act against 'paid news'. During the last 12 months, the Guild's senior members have interacted with the Election Commission in an effort to find a solution. During the recent Bihar elections, the Commission appointed specific media monitoring officials who worked under expenditure committees in every district. The Commission says it received 86 complaints which were immediately acted upon, forcing candidates to declare any expenses on 'paid news' as part of their election expenses. According to Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, this constant monitoring of 'paid news' during the Bihar elections has had a positive effect: candidates were much more careful in their attempts to misuse the media in this campaign than was the case in the 2009 general elections.


The problem hasn't disappeared: 'paid news' during elections is only one aspect of the issue. Corporates through 'private treaties' continue to manipulate news coverage as do other interest groups. Moreover, in a country with over 35,000 newspapers and over 100 news channels, there is an obvious limitation to any policing of 'paid news'. In fact, we need to take the campaign against paid news to every corner of the country and empower journalists and editors to feel confident of resisting attempts to allow news to be 'bought'.


Issue of intimidation


The other big challenge for us at the Guild has been the need to protect journalists against attempts by the state to intimidate them. In Manipur, for example, newspapers have found it extremely difficult to function in an atmosphere of fear and violence.


In January this year, a two-member fact finding team of senior journalists, B.G. Verghese and Sumit Chakravarty, visited Imphal, met editors and other stakeholders, and came up with a detailed report. The report was presented to the Prime Minister's Office and the Home Ministry and appears to have had the desired effect of ensuring some minimum accountability on the part of the state machinery. In Kashmir too, during the summer violence, newspapers and news channels were once again in the line of fire. Again, the Guild attempted to convince the political establishment of the need to allow the media to function independently.


It's not just the militancy affected states where the media finds itself being muzzled. There have been instances of attacks on journalists reported from Karnataka and Maharashtra too. In both States, we have received complaints of state power being used to silence journalists who are critical of government. In Karnataka, the Guild stepped in to prevent the jailing of a journalist who was targeted only because he had got on the wrong side of the authorities in the State.


The tapes


As the year draws to a close, the media finds itself facing a serious credibility crisis in the light of the Niira Radia tapes. Like the paid news expose, the Radia tapes too confirm what has been known for some time: journalists and editors share a rather cosy relationship with political and corporate India. This raises troubling questions for a profession whose self-image is rooted in its ability to confront those in power. The easy co-option of the media into the power elite and its consequent manipulation is worrying for those who see the primary role of the media to be that of a watchdog.


Facing up to the moral crisis in the prevailing media environment is the next big challenge before the Editors Guild as we enter a new year with a new team.


( The writer is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 and outgoing president of the Editors Guild of India. Email:










A sovereign state's unqualified apology to an individual citizen of another country is a relatively rare phenomenon on the international stage. There is, therefore, more to Australia's latest public apology to Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef than meets the eye.


Central to the Australian statement is the delayed but explicit acknowledgment of a young man's innocence in a false case foisted on him. Tendered by the Attorney-General's Department in Canberra after nightfall on December 22, the apology closes the books in a patently disreputable legal case. However, the implicit message goes far beyond such a happy closure. It is, of course, immaterial whether the Julia Gillard Government in Australia has in fact wanted to send out a message to the wider international community.


By any analytical standard, the Commonwealth of Australia, as the federal state is formally known, has enhanced its multiracial credentials by finally apologising to Dr. Haneef. Laced with the disclosure of a settlement of compensation, it emphatically proclaims him "innocent" in the failed Australian case relating to his suspected links to a 2007 terrorism plot in Britain. Two of his cousins were suspected to have masterminded that plot.


Beyond the poignant details, it is possible to view the apology as an unusual model of addressing the enduring historical grievances in East Asia. However, riding out the wrongs of state power is a formidable challenge, regardless of whether the victims, individuals or countries, are deliberately targeted or not.


His ordeal


With Dr. Haneef having conducted himself well throughout his ordeal, with some support from enlightened Australians and others, the tortuous trajectory of the case is illustrative of how precious justice is. He was employed in Queensland as a medical professional when his troubles suddenly erupted. The montage of events began with his arrest at the Brisbane airport in 2007 as he was about to leave for Bangalore for a family reunion. What followed were: his detention without any charges for 12 days, the formalisation of charges, the cancellation of his work-visa upon his being granted judicial bail, and the issuance of a criminal-justice stay-certificate that precluded the possibility of his "deportation." His ordeal continued until he was finally allowed to leave Australia in the context of what the Clarke Inquiry Report later described as "the spectacular and speedy collapse of the prosecution."


In the probe panel report submitted in November 2008, former Justice John Clarke emphatically observed that there was "no evidence" at all to link him to the 2007 terror plot in Britain which was traced to Dr. Haneef's cousins. Central to the Australian case was the "investigation detail" that he had given his mobile-phone SIM card to them before leaving Britain to take up his job in Queensland. And, that card was supposed to have been put to use as part of the plot.


Debunking such a tenuous line of prosecution, Justice Clarke noted that the card in question "could have been bought for a small sum of money, even with a false name [as the user]." The card-transfer took place "about 12 months before the terrorist attack [in Britain]." So, "if the [Australian] police officers had reflected on those basic facts, they would have realised that, in such circumstances, the evidence demonstrating criminal intent or recklessness [on the part of Dr. Haneef] would have had to be very strong indeed," emphasised Mr. Clarke.


It is in such a climate of opinion, based on verifiable facts and thoughtful analysis, that the idea of a decent apology to Dr. Haneef began taking shape. However, the John Howard government, which proceeded against the doctor in the name of taking no chances against even an iota of suspected "terrorism," would not care to render an apology, however compelling the justification. The Clarke Inquiry was ordered only after a change of federal government in Canberra. And, the present administration's apology, following a legally-mediated compensation settlement in favour of Dr. Haneef, is designed to end the case on a high moral note.


Other examples


In Australia itself, the manner in which the authorities provided for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of Shravan Kumar, an Indian student who was brutally attacked in suspected racist violence, is also illustrative of a similar sense of fair play. On a different front, the post-Howard government of Kevin Rudd displayed a sensitive approach towards the issue of historical wrongs done to Australia's indigenous people. In all, apology as an instrument of state policy in exceptional circumstances, as now illustrated in Australia, has much relevance to the final settlement of lingering inter-state grievances in East Asia.


In Asia


The atrocities by the military forces of imperial Japan, before and during World War II, are not forgotten to this day by the victims and authorities in China, the two Koreas, and some South-East Asian countries. Unsurprisingly, post-imperial Japan has sometimes apologised to these countries. As seen by Tokyo, these were genuine efforts at using apology as an instrument of inter-state policy. In addition, Japan has, in the decades following World War II, rendered much official development assistance to several countries in East Asia, including China until not long ago.


However, there is still a simmering sense of unfulfilled justice in these countries about matters relating to imperial Japan and about perceptions that its successor state has not done enough to "atone." Tokyo can, therefore, consider studying the dynamics of Australia's recent recourse to apology as an exceptional policy. Japan is no stranger to these dynamics of democracy: free press and independent judiciary.


In East Asia itself, calls for apologies from governments are sometimes made within the frontiers of big powers and other countries on a variety of domestic issues. However, a more interesting inter-state call has emanated from Japan in recent years. Increasingly evident in Japan is a popular sentiment, not just in maverick circles, that the United States must properly apologise for its atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of World War II. Such a sentiment is, in part, fuelled by a subtle argument: there was no humane justification for the strike on Nagasaki in 1945 after the horrific devastation caused by the first-ever atomic bombing, over Hiroshima had become known. Obviously, the idea of borderless apology transcends military alliances, such as post-imperial Japan's ties with the U.S., and cuts across emotional barriers among peoples and countries.







The Rabies Vaccine Production Laboratory of the Animal Health Directorate looks set to make Nepal self-dependent in the rabies vaccine for humans as well as animals. It has completed production of the ninth batch of the vaccine. It will be sent to public hospitals for human trials after receiving approval for its 10th batch from the World Health Organisation (WHO).


The vaccine has to be approved by WHO's laboratory in France before sent for trials. "We have already completed the ninth batch of production. We will send samples to the WHO after getting the report of the eighth batch," a consultant at the laboratory, has said. He was bullish about WHO approval for even the ninth batch. "We have used the latest reagents and kits recommended by the WHO, and we have been careful about quality control." The government purchases 2,00,000 vials of rabies vaccines every year.— Xinhua








The citizens of Lincolnshire, England, were so fed up with the layers of plastic and cardboard and Styrofoam that encased their store purchases this fall that they took a high-priced, highly wrapped piece of meat to court.


Specifically, the Lincolnshire County Council sued the Sainsbury's supermarket chain for "excessive packaging" of its 'Taste the Difference Slow Matured Ultimate Beef Roasting Joint', which costs nearly $20, after receiving consumer complaints. No matter that the meat was a "luxury" item, the council said: The way it was packaged plastic-wrapped atop a PET tray under a clear plastic cover and then swathed in a fetching cardboard sleeve violated British law.


British regulations on excess packaging first took effect in 2003 in an effort to reduce waste, particularly items that cannot be recycled and go into a landfill. Those rules, strengthened two years ago in response to environmental concerns and an awareness that the nation's landfills were reaching their limits, now require that producers keep packaging to the minimum required for "products' safety, hygiene and consumer acceptance." That set off a nationwide experiment in rethinking how familiar products are sold, from Easter eggs to tubes of tomato paste to plastic jugs of fabric softener.


"I think it's starting to affect purchasing decisions, but maybe not so much at this time of year," said Andy Ware, head of the retail division at the Waste Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, a government-financed waste reduction project. "When people shop now, packaging is often the last thing on people's mind. But that changes when they have to extract the toy from the layers and layers of plastic."


The British charity Waste Watch estimates that one billion Christmas cards and 32 square miles of wrapping paper will be thrown away in Britain. There are many reasons that food and consumer products come heavily wrapped, from marketing appeal, to the need to protect expensive items like new cell phones, to security issues. Computer memory sticks and DVDs, for example, are sold in outsize packages to prevent theft.


Even watchdogs admit that appearances can be important. "There's a lot of energy that goes into producing food, and if it's not packaged well enough to protect it or to appeal to customer, then it will spoil on the shelf," said Liz Foster, the leader of a special team to scrutinise packaging. But the economic and environmental incentives for streamlining or eliminating some types of packaging have grown. Local governments pay hefty taxes for trash sent to landfills about $100 per tonne, up nearly 50 per cent in the last two years and European Union rules require countries to halve the amount of trash sent to landfills by 2013 from 1995 levels. Landfills are an environmental concern partly because rotting trash releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.


In Britain, excess packaging rules are policed by the Trade Standards Agency, whose local officers investigate consumer complaints like the ones that got the beef in trouble, as well as issues like counterfeiting. But the government reports some successes. And a growing number of companies have signed on to a voluntary programme founded in 2005 called the Courtauld Commitment, under which they pledge to reduce packaging. Government officials say that more than 1.3 million tonnes of food and packaging waste and 3.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturing, transporting and disposing of the materials were avoided as a result. — © New York Times News Service









The Reserve Bank of India is confronted with a Hamlet-like dilemma: the matter of issuing or not issuing new licences to private sector industrial and business houses and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). The RBI had in August issued a discussion paper on the various aspects involving issuing of licences to corporate houses and NBFCs. Its objective of licensing news banks was to introduce competition in the banking sector to make it more efficient and cost-effective and, more importantly, to enable inclusive growth in the financial sector. Till date 70 per cent of the rural population remains outside the banking system in most of the 60,000 villages. The public sector banks control about 70 per cent of the banking business and the rest is controlled by the private sector and others. To remedy this unacceptable and undemocratic situation the RBI expects that the new banks it proposes to licence would go a long way in providing services to those excluded from the banking system.

The feedback received by the RBI to its discussion paper is divided on predictable lines with the business chambers and associations making a pitch for licences for private corporate houses with an initial capital of `1,000 crore. They were also for NBFCs being given licences. Then there were the banks who were against giving licences to corporate houses with huge money power as it would upset the level playing field. They also felt that the past record of corporate houses in banking was not encouraging apart from the fact that there could be conflict of interest and misuse of bank funds. The all-India bank unions, too, are against giving new licences to corporate houses and are planning a huge agitation against this in February. They are even against the RBI trying to give the regional rural banks over to private sector business houses.

The RBI's own view is that the licences issued to private business houses and NBFCs after 1993 have not produced satisfactory results. The experience of the RBI over these 17 years has been that banks promoted by individuals, though banking professionals, either failed or merged with other banks, or witnessed muted growth. In the case of four banks promoted by individuals in 1993, only one has survived, with "muted growth". In the case of one bank the story was scandalous as it eroded its net worth by playing in the capital market and had to be merged with a nationalised bank. Even a bank promoted by a media house finally amalgamated with another private sector bank within five years of operations.

In this scenario, the RBI is once again on the same path and this is the dilemma: nothing has changed to warrant any confidence in private corporate houses fulfilling the objective of issuing new banking licences. Even strict regulatory guidelines and strict monitoring of the proposed new licensees is unlikely to succeed. One has seen in the telecom sector that most of those that got 2G licences have not rolled out their networks and the telecom regulator did not act against them. It was only when the 2G scam exploded that the government woke up to the need to do something about it, and that is being done at snail's pace. One wonders if any action, such as penalties, will be taken against them.

The dilemma is that competition is needed in banks and this can only be provided by the big corporates. But the big corporates by and large are not perceived as being trustworthy of fulfilling the objectives of inclusive financial growth. Even the micro finance institutions were found to be more interested in pleasing their shareholders and themselves than the rural poor and unemployed.








The main thrust of President Dmitry Medvedev's India visit was to revive something of the warmth of old Indo-Soviet ties in a world that has changed beyond recognition since the two countries were virtual allies in the Cold War. The first term of Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev on the break-up of the Soviet Union was nothing short of disastrous for the Moscow-New Delhi relationship because they had great delusions about Washington's interest in helping their country.

The new Russian Federation had dismissed the old Soviet relationships as passé and burdensome without realising that Moscow could not equate India with the client states that were heavily dependent upon Soviet largesse. The Indian-Soviet relationship was more equal. While New Delhi was grateful for the arms it received from Moscow the West refused to sell and the transfer of technology no other country was then willing to give, India exported products that were not then available in the Soviet Union.

The mistake of the Yeltsin regime was that it tarred all countries with the same brush and was so enamoured of the American relationship that it gave the impression that its foreign policy was made in Washington. It was only after Yeltsin's painful realisation that America pursued policies in its own national interest that he brought in Yevgeny Primakov as Prime Minister.

It was Vladimir Putin who made a significant effort to renew, in a measure, the old relationship of trust with India. And President Medvedev has tried to remove some of the cobwebs that have gathered thick and fast over a stunted equation. The agreements signed on the advanced aircraft, a collaborative effort and other projects are impressive, but the problem with Indo-Russian trade in the post-Soviet era has been a paltry two-way commerce outside the defence field and government contracts.

There are many reasons for this anomaly: the richer Russians' lure for Western products, easier two-way traffic of people and goods with the West and Russian businessmen's aversion to cultivating Indian trade, associated in their minds with cheap and shoddy goods. Above all, it has been Indian businessmen's inability to obtain visas quickly and the difficulty of doing business with Russia. Perhaps the most significant agreement this time around is on simplifying the visa regime because it could vastly improve the trading relationship if it is properly implemented. There is in the Russian psyche a phobia about hordes of Indians overrunning the vast Russian spaces.

One other factor has a bearing on the future Moscow-New Delhi relationship is the evolving new world order. It is clear that India has now a new equation with the United States symbolised above all by the nuclear agreement that gave New Delhi the passport to nuclear commerce with the world. At the same time, Russia is in the midst of a "re-set" in its relations with America even while hedging its bets by building a close equation with Beijing. In a sense, China seems to the more dominant of the two, given its economic performance and the spare cash it has to tempt Moscow. We have thus arrived at a point when there is a quadrilateral formulation that impinges on relations between any two of the countries.

Some Russian commentaries give the suggestion of a sense of unease at the growing closeness of the Indo-American equation even as New Delhi has noted how Moscow sometimes behaves as the junior partner of China – a telling indication was its decision to shun the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for a Chinese dissident simply because that was the preposterous Beijing demand.

Within this quadrilateral, there is vast opportunity in advancing the Indo-Russian relationship provided Moscow permits the burgeoning of business and other private interactions unhindered. It is surely telling that despite the testiness of the Beijing-New Delhi ties, the two countries have set the goal of $100 billion trade while the future target for Moscow and Delhi is $20 billion.


Both Russia and India have left behind the more sentimental aspects of the old relationship. Moscow has lost its ideology and much of its territory while New Delhi has lost some of its innocence. In fact, this could be a blessing in disguise because a relationship build on hardheaded pragmatism is lasting. There are very good reasons why the two countries should be supportive of each other and expand a lop-sided relationship for their mutual benefit and for the betterment of the region and the world.

A debate has begun in Russia over the prospect of Mr Putin returning to the presidency. Even if that were to happen, there would be no change in how Moscow perceives its interest in India. And even as the Manmohan Singh government is in the early days of its second term, it is facing much turbulence. Here again, the basis of the India-Russia equation is accepted across the political spectrum.

The need of the hour is to nurture the tender shoots of business-to-business relations, a task more for the Russian than the Indian side; Russian bureaucracy is more than a match for the Indian variant. Indian business and industry will sprint to grasp an opportunity. In the past, it has often had to give up in the face of visa and other restrictions. Expanding trade is indeed in the hands of Russian leaders of the ilk of President Medvedev.
President Medvedev pressed all the right buttons during his Indian safari. He now has the task of perking up his administration to act on what he and many of his countrymen desire: two-way trade commensurate with the nature of the military relationship and easier access to each other's country.


S. Nihal Singh is the author of The Yogi and the Bear: A Study of Indo-Soviet Relations.








There is the official Indian response to WikiLeaks at last. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has defended the confidentiality principle of diplomatic communication between ambassadors and the home government, while launching the new website of the publicity and public diplomacy wing for the ministry of external affairs on Saturday. Nothing less was expected from Rao, who heads the foreign office establishment. Interestingly, she said that this was indeed the civilised way of handling things, keeping the communication secret for the time being before putting it out in the public domain. She has tried to sanctify a routine bureaucratic procedure which, no doubt,has its virtues but there is nothing sacrosanct about it.


Like a true bureaucrat/diplomat, she has stood up honourably for the status quo. But not all will agree. It will be much better if diplomatic assessments are made public because then the harm that comes out of decisions based on these assessments could be avoided. Much of the misunderstanding seem to have been result of wrong judgment calls of diplomats based in foreign capitals.






The National Convention of Private Unaided Schools Association has made a couple of demands that can, at best, be described as short-sighted. They have said that private schools should be exempt from the Right To Education (RTE) and the Right To Information (RTI) Acts.


The RTE and the RTI are among the most empowering laws in the country. The first aims to eliminate illiteracy, which should have been done ages ago, and the second works to make India a more open and accountable society. Any school, whose purpose is what these bills seek to fulfil, should welcome them. Instead, private schools have displayed closed mindset in their decision to oppose the extension of these laws into the private domain.


The distinction between state-run and privately-managed schools has to be maintained. And it also has to be noted that given a choice, most parents from any income strata would prefer the private to a government school. This gives certain leverage to the managements of private schools, but this does not extend to opting out of the ambit of laws like the RTE and the RTI.


Private schools can argue that parents who seek admission for their children do so voluntarily, and they are willing to abide by the rules framed by the schools. And they have a point. But even a private organisation cannot be seen to be arbitrary or opaque. It has to make its rules both fair and public, and parents have a right to know what they are getting into.


Moreover, private schools are not so private. The same convention demands land at subsidised rates, cheaper electricity, and lower property taxes on the claim that they run schools on a 'no-profit, no-loss' basis. This proposition would easily be challenged by millions of harassed parents who deal with fees that rise faster than the inflation rate, clearly earning them some profit.


This is not to discount the fact that schools in India do face problems, or that the RTE Act is not perfect. For instance, the notion that a classroom should have 70 students is questionable: no teacher can pay attention to so many students in half an hour.







The sentencing of human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen to life imprisonment along with two others — Narayan Sanyal, a member of CPI-Maoist and businessman Piyush Guha — by a district court in Chhatisgarh on Saturday will inevitably be seen as controversial. Sen has been found guilty of treason for helping Naxalites in that state through passing letters from Guha to Sanyal in prison. The verdict has evoked outrage and dismay in the legal and civil circles. Earlier, 22 Nobel laureates had condemned Sen's incarceration when he was arrested in 2007.


The case will, undoubtedly, go to appeal and it cannot be ruled out that the trial court verdict will be scrutinised and found wanting in terms of principles of justice and strict legality. In this case — as in so many others against so-called ideologues and Maoist sympathisers — it appears to be an attempt to focus on a minute aspect and leaving the bigger issues untouched. Chhatisgarh has followed questionable means to deal with Maoists, particularly the ill-considered creation of Salwa Judum and the persecution of human rights activists like Sen.


These attempts, Sen's sentence notwithstanding, have not been successful. The Maoist challenge, no doubt, requires a carrot-and-stick policy but it will not be sufficient. As election results in Bihar have demonstrated — and it has also taken a more humane approach to deal with Maoist-affected areas — governance is the key issue. The sustained and systematic neglect of tribal people and the growing stranglehold of the mining mafia in Chhattisgarh have worsened an already bad situation.


It can be no one's case that the Maoists are innocent or that they are not waging war against the state. What is needed is a humane and nuanced approach. There is room for toughness, but it has to be balanced with compassion and more importantly with tangible improvements in the means of earning livelihood and in living standards.


Even those who disagree with Sen's ideological leanings cannot and would not equate dissent with sedition. The prosecution has presented an unconvincing case of the criminal intent to overthrow the state. As a qualified medical practitioner, Sen has been helping the poor people in the region and he has been voicing his opinion against acts of injustice and highhandedness of the state.


He stands for those who fight injustice but also brings attention to the failure of the state. Punishing him will bring us no closer to a solution. Instead it raises a question about the self-confidence of Indian democracy.








If we set out in search of the self, sooner or later we will be tripped by the self's greatest foe, masquerading as his best buddy — the ego. The Rig Veda says, "The ego is the biggest enemy of humans". Especially as it has a voracious appetite — the more you feed it, the hungrier it gets. But most imperative is to recognise it, for it often comes disguised. It is self-worth marching on stilettos; it is pride with a megaphone. It is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Yet it claims to be our very identity.


The ego is clothed in subtle superiority. A student came to the Buddha. "I have brought you flowers." "Drop it." Surprised, the student dropped the flowers and said, "I have come." "Drop it." Confused, the student fell to his knees. "I …" he began. Gently, the Buddha repeated, "Drop it." For how can the eye perceive the truth, until the 'I' is dropped?


The ego is consumed by its own worthiness. A Sufi story speaks of a lover who knocked on his beloved's door. "Who knocks?" "It is I," said the lover. "Go away. There isn't enough place for you and me". Years later, he knocked again, "Who knocks?" "It is you." The door was immediately opened.


That ability to subsume ego in love is exactly what Krishna referred to when he held the flute up to a jealous Radha. "It is hollow," he said, "Hence I make music through it. Can you be like that?" After all, what else is ego but 'Edging God Out'?


— The writer is an educationist, author and spiritual seeker








Is Julian Assange a villain or a hero? If you are Hillary Clinton — or Sarah Palin — there is no doubt that it's the former. If you are young, left wing and anti-establishment, Assange is not just a hero, but a superhero


The more you study Assange and his website, the more you realise that he is neither simply a hero nor simply a villain, but sometimes one or sometimes the other. To understand that we have to know that he is what today's instant celebrity needs to be: a computer nerd. He turned his programming skills to hacking early on. Some years later, he developed a cryptographic system for use by human-rights workers.


WikiLeaks was launched four years ago. The idea was simple and anarchic: create a virtual drop box in e-space, where anyone, anywhere could leave information about people and organisations which might be embarrassing for them. In brief, WikiLeaks is that dream thing: a whistle-blower's website which allows the whistle-blower to give out information while retaining his anonymity.


Does this disturb the world order? Of course it does, because the world runs on a carefully constructed set of rules and regulations, especially when it comes to government. A maze of bureaucracy is deliberately created to ensure that transparency is kept to a minimum. Enlightened governments are now trying to change that by measures such as our own Right To Information Act, but obviously you are not going to get its equivalent in China or Pakistan or African sham-democracies.


Surprisingly, in its four years of existence, no one took much notice of WikiLeaks. The website, and its founder, came to international public attention only with leaks of American diplomatic and military cables. Ironically, these disclosures are WikiLeaks' least useful discoveries.


I say 'least useful' for a very simple reason: the huge cache of American WikiLeaks dumps has evoked a most contrarian reaction. Political commentators, academic analysts and foreign policy experts everywhere, including the US, have been unanimous in saying that the secret cables have revealed that the conduct of foreign policy by the US State Department and its embassies is surprisingly sophisticated and intelligent. I am sure Assange didn't expect this to happen: what he wanted to do was expose American duplicity and skullduggery. None was found.


What the leaks might do is unravel years of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at neutralising the powers of the world's rogue nations. China, for example, seemed ready to jettison North Korea as its ally and work for the unification of Korea, quite the opposite of its stated position. Similarly Saudi Arabia's king, while publicly being on the side of Iran, wanted the US "to cut off the head of the snake" by bombing its nuclear facilities. In the same way, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh secretly told the US to continue the bombing of al Qaeda hideouts in his country, and promised "we will continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours".


Who is embarrassed by these leaks? Not the US, for sure. Those red in the face will be the Chinese leadership, the Saudi royal family and the Yemeni president. The likely fall out? China will re-affirm its friendship with North Korea, Saudi Arabia will make stronger overtures to Iran and Yemen will ask the US to stop bombing al Qaeda sites. Whose victory is this, if notof the Dark Forces?


This is the main problem with WikiLeaks and Assange. Like anyone brought up in a free state, his first target is the US, simply because it is the world's most powerful democracy. This single- and simple-minded approach of biting the hand that feeds you will always do more harm than good. Instead, if Assange is selective in his targets, WikiLeaks has the potential of doing immense good by exposing deception, corruption and state violence wherever it occurs. There have been examples in its four years, but not enough. For example in December 2006, it exposed Somalia's Sheikh Hassan Dali's order to assassinate officials, or a year later, the exposure of corruption of former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi's family, or the Petrogate oil scandal in Peru or the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. One reason for this is obvious: it is far easier to get information from open societies rather than closed ones, but shouldn't Assange and his team actively pursue what is difficult to get but what would be much more worthwhile?


]How useful WikiLeaks would be in exposing scams in India, or the Pakistan governments' corruption and duplicitous collaboration in terrorism, or the human misery behind China's progress, or the hypocrisy of fanatical religious leaders everywhere with their double-standards and double-lives….! The world could do with such a WikiLeaks, a WikiLeaks which knew where the moral high ground was, and staked its territorial claim to it. Is Assange the right man for this? Sadly, no. More is the pity.


— The writer is a commentator on social affairs








Is Julian Assange a villain or a hero? If you are Hillary Clinton — or Sarah Palin — there is no doubt that it's the former. If you are young, left wing and anti-establishment, Assange is not just a hero, but a superhero


The more you study Assange and his website, the more you realise that he is neither simply a hero nor simply a villain, but sometimes one or sometimes the other. To understand that we have to know that he is what today's instant celebrity needs to be: a computer nerd. He turned his programming skills to hacking early on. Some years later, he developed a cryptographic system for use by human-rights workers.


WikiLeaks was launched four years ago. The idea was simple and anarchic: create a virtual drop box in e-space, where anyone, anywhere could leave information about people and organisations which might be embarrassing for them. In brief, WikiLeaks is that dream thing: a whistle-blower's website which allows the whistle-blower to give out information while retaining his anonymity.


Does this disturb the world order? Of course it does, because the world runs on a carefully constructed set of rules and regulations, especially when it comes to government. A maze of bureaucracy is deliberately created to ensure that transparency is kept to a minimum. Enlightened governments are now trying to change that by measures such as our own Right To Information Act, but obviously you are not going to get its equivalent in China or Pakistan or African sham-democracies.


Surprisingly, in its four years of existence, no one took much notice of WikiLeaks. The website, and its founder, came to international public attention only with leaks of American diplomatic and military cables. Ironically, these disclosures are WikiLeaks' least useful discoveries.


I say 'least useful' for a very simple reason: the huge cache of American WikiLeaks dumps has evoked a most contrarian reaction. Political commentators, academic analysts and foreign policy experts everywhere, including the US, have been unanimous in saying that the secret cables have revealed that the conduct of foreign policy by the US State Department and its embassies is surprisingly sophisticated and intelligent. I am sure Assange didn't expect this to happen: what he wanted to do was expose American duplicity and skullduggery. None was found.


What the leaks might do is unravel years of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at neutralising the powers of the world's rogue nations. China, for example, seemed ready to jettison North Korea as its ally and work for the unification of Korea, quite the opposite of its stated position. Similarly Saudi Arabia's king, while publicly being on the side of Iran, wanted the US "to cut off the head of the snake" by bombing its nuclear facilities. In the same way, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh secretly told the US to continue the bombing of al Qaeda hideouts in his country, and promised "we will continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours".


Who is embarrassed by these leaks? Not the US, for sure. Those red in the face will be the Chinese leadership, the Saudi royal family and the Yemeni president. The likely fall out? China will re-affirm its friendship with North Korea, Saudi Arabia will make stronger overtures to Iran and Yemen will ask the US to stop bombing al Qaeda sites. Whose victory is this, if notof the Dark Forces?


This is the main problem with WikiLeaks and Assange. Like anyone brought up in a free state, his first target is the US, simply because it is the world's most powerful democracy. This single- and simple-minded approach of biting the hand that feeds you will always do more harm than good. Instead, if Assange is selective in his targets, WikiLeaks has the potential of doing immense good by exposing deception, corruption and state violence wherever it occurs. There have been examples in its four years, but not enough. For example in December 2006, it exposed Somalia's Sheikh Hassan Dali's order to assassinate officials, or a year later, the exposure of corruption of former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi's family, or the Petrogate oil scandal in Peru or the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. One reason for this is obvious: it is far easier to get information from open societies rather than closed ones, but shouldn't Assange and his team actively pursue what is difficult to get but what would be much more worthwhile?


How useful WikiLeaks would be in exposing scams in India, or the Pakistan governments' corruption and duplicitous collaboration in terrorism, or the human misery behind China's progress, or the hypocrisy of fanatical religious leaders everywhere with their double-standards and double-lives….! The world could do with such a WikiLeaks, a WikiLeaks which knew where the moral high ground was, and staked its territorial claim to it. Is Assange the right man for this? Sadly, no. More is the pity.


— The writer is a commentator on social affairs








Pakistan has been ruined by the army and India by the bureaucracy". So wrote a letter writer while responding to a 2009 Asian survey that ranked Singapore as the country with the best bureaucracy and India, the worst. Have corrupt bureaucrats done more harm to our nation than corrupt politicians?


The various governments that have ruled India have been punished, tolerated or rewarded by the people through the ballot box. Such is the power of the vote that even the most powerful of politicians can be punished, as happened with none less than Indira Gandhi and Rajiv.


Chastened in defeat, top politicians characteristically speak of "accepting the people's verdict". They resolve to introspect, rebuild and reconstruct. Have you seen this happen with IAS bureaucrats and their associations?


The lobby of corrupt bureaucrats lies virtually untouched; like a computer virus deeply embedded in the system, which we know is infected but cannot be repaired.


The Bombay high court raised this very point last week while hearing a petition on the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scam in Mumbai. Pointing out that the bureaucrats who cleared key files in the revenue and urban development departments were gifted flats in Adarsh Society; the court asked why no action was being taken against these officers.


Using precise words, the court described the scam "as a clear-cut case of manipulation" by the bureaucrats. Precisely, manipulation of the laws, rules and regulations by the faceless bureaucrat is what is at the root of some of the biggest corrupt deals in India.


Thus, whether it is the Rs1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games or any of the land-related frauds that have plagued the country decade after decade, itis often the corrupt bureaucrat from the celebrated IAS cadre who has facilitated the corruption.


]Bureaucrats who try to clean up the system at their level and stand up to the politicians are cannibalised by their own cadre, as happened with Arun Bhatia who was transferred 26 times in his career of 30 years. After one such transfer from the Pune Municipal Corporation in 1999, which was effectively challenged through a writ petition in the Bombay high court, the chief justice described the transfer as "outrageous". He said, "We wish to emphasise that during the present days when, unfortunately, corruption and dishonesty are at their peak, honesty and action as per law deserve a pat, rather than punishment. The transfer of Bhatia, in our view, is in the nature of punishment".


We curse the Indian bureaucracy because of the gross inefficiencies at the grassroots. Our attack is misplaced because we need to focus on the corrupt in the IAS, to start with. Deal firmly with the top and the rest will clean up itself.


The politician is afraid of the masses because they can destroy him through their votes. The corrupt bureaucrat is virtually fearless because he stands protected by his political masters and peers.


He is the bigger traitor of the two and India needs effective mechanisms to bring him to book.


If one were to give a harsh analogy between corruption and terrorism, the corrupt politician is the terrorist who is the face of the act and the corrupt bureaucrats are the sleeper cells who provide him the support. They are the more insidious of the two because they are cowardly, lie undetected and having once tasted blood, are ready for the next operation.









The life term handed down to the noted human rights activists and a renowned physician working for the welfare of the tribal people Binayak Sen, by a Chhatisgarh court, outrageous as it is, comes as another blow to Indian democracy and exposes the basic flaws in our judicial system. There has been universal condemnation of the trial court's verdict with human rights activists calling it outrageous, a politically motivated "kangaroo trial" and a "disgrace to democracy". The Second Additional District and Sessions Judge B.P.Verma while holding Dr Sen guilty of sedition and conspiracy to wage war against the state under Sections 120 (B) and 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8 of the draconian Chattisgarh Special Public Safety Act and Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act sentenced him to and two others to life imprisonment. Binayak Sen's trial has been dogged by allegations that the police in the BJP-ruled Chattisgarh planted vital evidence, schooled witnesses and manufactured testimonies to silence the voice of reason, sanity and dissent. The entire case against him was manipulated to fulfill the political objective of the ruling party. The trial judge's verdict clearly exposes the manner in which a section of the judiciary becomes a tool to act as instruments of a state policy for silencing every voice of dissent. As Justice Rajinder Sachar has rightly pointed out : it is scandalous to say that Dr Sen was working against the interests of the country". The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chattisgarh public Safety Act are unconstitutional laws which should have no place in any democratic country. Referring to the quality of evidence marshaled by the Chattisgarh police in the case against Binayak Sen the celebrated writer and human rights activist, Arundhtai Roy rightly warned that "after producing Marx's Das Kapital and a letter from the Indian Social Institute as evidence against him, the crisis of Indian democracy does not get more dangerous than this". The absurdity of the evidence is clear from the manner in which the Indian Social Institute, a reputed research institute of the country, has been shown as Pakistan's ISI. Recating to the judgement, the Amnesty International pointed out that Dr Sen, considered as a prisoner of conscience was convicted under laws that are impermissibly vague and fall well short of international standards for criminal prosecution. "State and federal authorities in India should immediately stop these politically motivated charges against Sen and release him":, the AI said. 

The verdict against Sen and earlier moves for prosecuting Arundhati Roy, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and SR Geelani for sedition for their speeches criticizing the Indian stand on Kashmir and human rights issues not only bring disrepute to Indian democracy but also expose the ruling elite's insensitivity to criticism and intolerance of every voice of dissent. These also bring into question the fundamentals of the Indian judicial system. The manner in which every voice of dissent is being stifled in the name of national security and interests and the draconian laws are used to victimize those raising their voice against the grave human rights abuses does not augur well for the future of democracy in the country. Tragically the pillars of Indian democracy are crumbling one by one posing a serious threat to what our rulers have been proclaiming as the largest democracy in the world. The democracy is in peril and it is for all those who cherish democratic values and way of life to stand up and resist such fascist tendencies rasing their ugly heads at different levels and in different ways.






Disposal of electronic gadgets waste material is likely to become a major headache for the civic bodies due to lackadaisical approach of the garbage collection agencies in Jammu and Kashmir. This will be mainly due to reason of laid back life style of these agencies, which have not thought of their disposal till the problem has started knocking at their doorsteps in various parts of the state. It is not only the question of disposing off the waste material generated in the form of dry garbage but also of electronic gadgets because the plans of various agencies in reprocessing the same have remained on the drawing boards only with no practical effort being made on the ground. Unfortunately in the case of both refusal water and garbage, the authorities have chosen the easiest way of allowing the polluted water to flow into open nullahs and nearby waterways and dumping of garbage in the open areas besides the river beds during the past many decades. The whole issue started catching the attention of the civic authorities after the volume of garbage in the urban areas became unmanageable. The authorities have woken up from their deep slumber only when people and concerned agencies started making a hue and cry about release of polluted water into the free flowing rivers and seasonal nullahs and garbage becoming a major health hazard for the general population. Moreover, repeated directions from the courts including the Supreme Court asking the respective governments to check pollution of water bodies and rivers including seasonal nullahs also did not have the desired effect. It was only after the judicial activism started targeting the concerned civic bodies that the concerned agencies have thought of devising alternate ways and means to tackle the waste material. In J&K, government plans during the past over one decade of laying sewers in the two capital cities have gone haywire due to ill-planned and unregulated development of the cities and all major towns. Though the government promised to regulate the growth of the towns in a phased manner, concrete steps on the ground are yet to be initiated. The works undertaken for this purpose by the government in winter capital has only added to dilapidated condition of the roads and lanes. Even after two years the condition of damaged roads remains the same causing much inconvenience to the public. Nepotism and acute corruption in the government departments has ensured that these plans of reprocessing the waste material do not take off at any point of time. These agencies have also chosen to turn a blind eye towards the whole issue, which is likely to become a nuisance for the general population. Unless sincere effort is made in devising well thought out plans for tackling the waste material and electronic junk, nothing is going to happen to provide relief to the people, who are affected by these problems. The government needs to go into the details of the projects which have been conceived for creating infra-structure to reprocess the garbage so that an early solution to the major problem is found.











It has never been easy to shake the 125-year-old lumbering behemoth called the Indian National Congress into wakefulness and activity. This becomes the more difficult when the party comes under Opposition attack and instinctively retreats into denial and unconvincing defence, especially on issues of malfeasance and corruption. 
The numerous scandals surrounding the United Progressive Alliance government, topped by the gigantic 2G spectrum scam, put the Congress into a tight spot for the first time since its return to power in 2009. The party found the entire Opposition uniting against it in demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the telecom scandal. Suddenly, the Congress seemed to be losing public sympathy and its own confidence about winning the next Lok Sabha election.

Yet, the Congress leadership has managed to pull itself up by the bootstraps and infuse a sense of purpose and some enthusiasm into the party in the All India Congress Committee session just held in Delhi. The Congress's mood has become combative vis-à-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and even on the corruption charges levelled against it.

The AICC resolution identifies the sangh parivar as the main adversary. The Congress has repulsed the BJP's attempt to exploit the WikiLeaks disclosures about Mr Rahul Gandhi's meeting with US Ambassador Timothy Roemer, where he was quoted as saying that "the growth of radicalised Hindu groups which create religious tensions and political confrontations" is a greater threat to Indian society and politics than rising sympathy among Indian Muslims for Lashkar-e-Toiba, for which "there was evidence". 

Rather than deny the quote, as many politicians might do, Mr Gandhi owned up to it, and sustained his attack on the BJP and RSS, condemning all kinds of extremism and communalism as dangerous. Sympathy for the LeT and similar jehadi groups is at best marginal among India's Muslim youth. No significant Muslim group or organisation justifies the LeT or jehadi terror attacks on Indian citizens. By contrast, the support and protection that Hindutva terrorism has received from the RSS and the BJP is substantial and vocal. The BJP has rushed to its defence any number of times. 

Faced with clinching evidence of the involvement of RSS pracharaks in Hindutva terrorist network operating in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the entire sangh parivar has accused the Congress of vendetta. Such shielding of Hindu extremists is particularly obnoxious after the recent arrest of suspects Harshad Solanki, Vasudev Parmar and Anand Raj, the interrogation of Pragya Thakur and Aseemanand, and damaging evidence against key conspirators like Indresh Kumar, an RSS national executive member, and Sunil Joshi, a pracharak.

The BJP's attempt to turn the tables on the Congress on the terrorism issue is thoroughly misconceived. There is strong evidence 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 actively created communal tension and fomented a climate in which Muslim citizens feel insecure, while Hindutva extremists believe they have the right to be shielded by the state. 

Part of the credit for persistently raising the issues of Hindutva extremism, fake encounter killings of Muslim youth (e.g. Batla House) and the stigmatisation of an entire community in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, must go to Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh. Mr Singh made a frank and combative speech at the AICC, emphasising the RSS's pernicious role. 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi followed this up 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 S Yedyurappa despite weighty evidence of massive 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 terms Gujarat's 2002 anti-Muslim violence "genocide". In the last AICC resolution (2006), it didn't even mention Gujarat and merely said "communal forces represented by the RSS/BJP combine still lurk in our country." 

This welcome step will help isolate the "soft-Hindutva" supporters inside the Congress. It will also encourage the secular Opposition to distance itself from the BJP. The Left parties are increasingly uncomfortable with being bracketed with the BJP in disrupting the proceedings of Parliament, leading to the washout of the entire winter session. 

That raises the issue of corruption and Dr Manmohan Singh's offer to appear before and be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee. The offer is unlikely to mollify the BJP which is playing for broke in its present no-holds-barred confrontation with the Congress. Why, there's every likelihood that the BJP will continue its shrill campaign against Dr Singh even if the JPC demand is conceded—in keeping with its narrow political objective. 

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitly has arrogantly dismissed the offer and said Dr Singh cannot chose the forum where he would be interrogated. But surely, the BJP too cannot choose the forum—unless it's deluding itself that it's in power or was unfairly deprived of it in both 2004 and 2009. 

On the face of it, a JPC seems more apt in the 2G case. The PAC is by definition meant to look into accounts and losses caused by the gross underselling of spectrum. The JPC can go into a broader range of issues, including the scam's origins in the National Telecom Policy of 1999 and fix responsibility of different state organs and individuals. A JPC is no guarantee that the whole truth will be uncovered and culprits prosecuted. Past JPCs did not do this. But Dr Singh would do well to revisit the question and start sincere and sober consultations with the Opposition.

Ms Gandhi made a far bolder offer than Dr Singh on fighting corruption. The 5-point plan she outlined is thoughtful and identifies some key issues, such as the government's discretionary powers in allocating 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 so they can be brought to closure quickly, and her calls for "effective laws and clear procedures" to ensure "full transparency" in public procurement, and for whistleblower protection. 

These ideas are worthy, but it's hard to see how the Congress party machine, which is addicted to the lubricants of money and patronage, can be reformed without a veritable purge and a systematic long-term campaign to rebuild the organisation based on programmes and schemes that cut out middlemen and opaque procedures. Not many Congress CMs would be amenable to such radical change. As experience with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act shows, the entire administrative system is open to subversion through all manner 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 the Adarsh society, Commonwealth Games and 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 Mr Raja and Ms 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—the Congress's economic policy orientation and organisational issues—unresolved. The Congress talks of inclusive growth. But in reality, it remains obsessed with growth alone. It's still hesitant to embrace the ideal of equitable and balanced growth, with justice for the or. 

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 worth the name in the Pradesh Committees or at the Centre. The AICC has still not constituted a new Congress Working Committee after the 2009 elections. Ms Gandhi has only set up an ad hoc "core group" of ministers—which necessarily involves nominations from the top—to strategise and take all major political decisions.
Mr Rahul Gandhi made a valiant effort to reform the Youth Congress, but most of its leaders continue to be where they are by virtue of being sons/daughters of established Congress leaders or close to them. A great deal of energy needs to be invested in revamping the party. The flabby, top-heavy, undemocratic organisational set-up could soon turn out to be the Congress's Achilles' heel and affect its performance in the state Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam due next year. 

The Congress has begun digging itself out of the hole it's in. It hasn't emerged from it yet.








"…Transport and traffic police in Mumbai, met taxi drivers to tell them to be present near bars during the Christmas to New Year period at night so tipplers could be dropped home…"

—Times of India, Dec 24th 

I pictured a tippler leaving the bar, swaying from side to side, it was Christmas and he felt it was reason enough to go home drunk. He sways to the door, and a taxi driver greets him, "Taxi sir?"

"Yes, I am filled with spirits, hic, hic, I cannot walk, hic, lead me to your taxi!"

"Come sir, come into my taxi and let me tell you of the Spirit Of Christmas!"

"I already know about spirits," says the passenger as he sprawls on the seat, "I have taken a lot of it from the bottle today!"

"Ah sir," says the taxi driver a twinkle in his eye, "It was to get rid of having to rely on that spirit of the bottle that the first Christmas happened more than two thousand years ago!"

"I..I don't need the bottle?"

"No, sir, the baby born in a manger, the little boy child called Jesus came to fill you with something different, tell me, why are you drunk sir?"

"Why am I drunk, hic?" asked his passenger, "Why am I drunk? I am drunk because I want to feel happy at least with this liquor in me! I am drunk because my life has reached a point of no return, I feel frustrated and impotent!"

"Sir, you are crying!"

"I cry, because I am lonely. Nobody wants to listen to me!"

And suddenly the taxi seemed to rise into the air.

"Where are you going?" asked the passenger.

"Back in time to Bethlehem sir, I will drive you to a manger! There sir what do you see?"

"A little baby wrapped in hay!"

"How do you feel sir?"

"What feeling is this? I have never felt this sense of security! I feel as if the child in the manger is reaching out to hold my hand!"

"Yes sir, as that child grows He will reach out and hold the hand of every lonely individual in the world. He will say to the people, 'Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest!"

"Oh what a feeling of peace!"

"My peace, says the child, Will I give you! Come sir let us return to my taxi!"

"Yes," says the passenger. "Though I don't feel like leaving that baby in the manger, yet I know as I walk away that His spirit is in me!"

"That sir, "said the taxi driver as he drove his cab into the sky and back to the city, "is the Spirit of Christmas!

A spirit that will fill your heart and soul and mind, and give you the strength of an eagle as you go about your daily life and a joy that will be beyond your understanding!"

That night as the passenger walked away from the cab into his home, his wife looked at him, and said, "You look happy, what spirit have you drunk this time?"

"The Spirit of Christmas!" he said, as he smiled at her, "Found in a Bethlehem manger, where a baby was lying..!"









The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has done well to hold a conclave of its national leaders in this city. Its national office-bearers have met and they have also addressed a largely attended public meeting at the Parade Ground. Any such interaction between a national political party --- in this case the main opposition in the country--- and the local inhabitants should be welcomed. An exercise like this is to mutual benefit. Much of what the BJP leaders have said, however, is a familiar rhetoric which represents both their strength and weakness in this sensitive state: abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing special status to J&K, complete integration with the Union, discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh regions, rejection of slogans like autonomy, azadi or self-rule and so on and so forth. The party has thus once again sought to appeal to the popular sentiments in and around this city, as it has done in the past. This gives it electoral edge in a specific area although its effort is to create an impression that it cares for the entire Jammu's aspirations. With the passage of time it has also focussed on the Ladakh region and has eventually got a shot in the arm in the trans-Himalayan Leh district with almost the whole of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) joining it. Its accretion in strength in Leh is not to be judged in the light of the results of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections for which there are quite a few other reasons which we have already discussed in these columns. The BJP while trying wholeheartedly to identify with this State has in reality ended up confining itself to parts of this province. Thus it shows its chinks. It thinks of the State as a whole as one entity but in practice its actions and utterances are heavily pronounced in favour of a part of it and a segment of its population.


It is self-explanatory when a party claiming to speak for the entire State is conspicuous by its absence in the Kashmir region (its only credible face Tika Lal Taploo was shot by the militants in September 1989). In the absence of ground base it was not able to take advantage either of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's stirring "hand for friendship" speech in Srinagar in April 2002. While in power as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre it has not fulfilled any of the promises like about abrogating Article 370. Its argument is that so far it has been compelled to accommodate the sentiments of its coalition partners. In other words it wants to convey that it would implement its agenda as and when it controls the Centre by itself. Of late, some of its leaders are trying to make a distinction between the separatists and ordinary citizens across the Pir Panjal. Their idea obviously is to send a message that they care for the people at large in the Valley.

For them to carry conviction they will have to mend their overall political discourse which is largely the same as it was even before the emergence of armed secessionists on the scene. The party's gains in the 2008 Assembly polls were confined to this region, more precisely mostly to this district. These were neutralised with the Congress convincingly bagging the Jammu Lok Sabha seat later. For the BJP that aspires to come to power in New Delhi on its own it may well be worthwhile to consider whether it helps to pursue a lop-sided policy to the exclusion of any region or segment of population. How are they being different from a political class that wants the protagonists of regional aspirations in Jammu to go away, if they wish, with their "two and a half districts" (reference to Hindu-dominated areas before the reorganisation of administrative units) or who treat Buddhist-dominated Leh district as a matter of just " two Assembly seats?" No party gains by building regional and religious barriers while being in the opposition which it needs to dismantle after gaining power but finds it impossible to do so.







If words are bullets Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari may have already won the battle against terrorism. Who will not be inspired by his latest assertion against terrorism? He has declared, in the wake of a supposedly woman suicide bomber killing 45 persons in its tribal areas: "We are at war with terrorists and shall fight them to the last man and make Pakistan secure for ourselves and the future generation." He has referred to Sri Lanka's fight against Tamil Tigers expressing a similar resolve to defeat who wanted to take over Pakistan through the barrel of the gun and by imposing their brand of Islam. Time and again earlier also he has made identical statements. He has described "terrorism as an epidemic, a cancer inside Pakistan that we will wipe out." Very rightly he has labelled the terrorists as "cowards." One of his notable quotes is: "The day will come when all these people (terrorists) will bow before you…Those who are shedding the blood of Muslims in Pakistan are not Muslims. No religion allows them to indulge in such acts." There can't be two opinions that as an ally of the United States, Pakistan is waging a relentless battle against the terrorists in its tribal regions adjoining Afghanistan. It is inviting retaliation in the process. The latest killings are a case in point. A woman bomber is said to have blown up herself in the midst of seekers of help at a distribution centre of the World Food Programme (WFP) at Khar, the main town of Bajaur district.


It is not surprising that the Taliban has claimed the responsibility for the attack warning of more of them in the days to come. There is no way the terrorist organisation will mend its way. It is for Mr Zardari and his government to review their strategy. They must understand that the Taliban has started getting support from the Kashmir-centric militant outfits that their official establishments have nurtured in the past. They must also heed to concerned serious observers in their own country who are cautioning against such deadly linkages. These observers are worried that the genesis of any incident of terrorism anywhere in the world is being traced to their homeland. It is an image they want to get rid of. This is possible only if the Zardari-led Islamabad drops its selective approach and believes that terrorism is terrorism to be uprooted lock, stock and barrel.









During the last couple of months, numerous interesting events are taking place in the Af-Pak region, which may have long term implications for India's security, in particular to J&K. There is no need to have an alarmist approach or get panicked, but as a community, it is always better to analyze and forecast what is likely to take place, and how it would impact the security of our region. 

The following events in the recent months need to be analysed, from an Indian perspective. First and foremost the Lisbon Summit in November 2010; in the NATO summit, Karzai made it public, that he would like to be the final arbiter of security in Afghanistan, along with the governance process. As of now, most of the security operations are being undertaken by the international forces, led by the NATO inside Afghanistan. In fact, on many operations, there is a clash between the security forces and Karzai administration. For example, on the issue of night raids, there was a public display of differences between Karzai and Obama. 

Besides, the military operations, most of the relief activities by international donors are distributed directly, with less or no inputs from the local administration. For long the Karzai administration has been wanting that they should be the primary agency for the distribution of relief materials. More than the question of sovereignty and better management, the administration wants to pocket as much as they could; precisely, for this reason, the international donors do not want to distribute the aid through the administration. Corruption runs deep in Karzai's administration. However, in November 2010, during the Lisbon summit, the NATO has agreed to stick to the 2014 deadline, and withdraw from Afghanistan. One would expect, that as a result, the donors would also like to withdraw and keep the aid to a minimum.

Second, during the first half of December 2010, Obama finalized is "Afghanistan Review" for the year, and made his approach public. Obama's review consider the following as primary objectives: the US presence in Afghanistan is not secure the country from each and every threat that the Afghans may face; and that the nation building project should be undertaken by Afghan themselves. To rephrase it rudely, what Obama has underlined is that the nation building and security of Afghanistan is not an American headache anymore and that the Afghans should take care of their own business.

Obama's review also makes it clear, that the primary target of the US is al Qaeda and not the Taliban. Obama repeatedly talks about the dismantling and disrupting of the al Qaeda, but his review is relatively silent about the American approach to the Taliban. What this implies is, that the US is targeting primarily the al Qaeda and is willing to negotiate with the Taliban. This in fact is not new; for the last couple of years, a section within the US has been talking about the existence of a "moderate Taliban" with whom the US and Karzai could do business with. The idea of "moderate" or "good" Taliban initially emerged from Pakistan, which the US has caught hold of. It makes sense for Washington to prepare for a loose alliance between Karzai and Taliban, and leave Afghanistan as early as possible. All that Taliban needs to promise is, that in case of their return, they would not support the al Qaeda. Pakistan seems to be the primary sponsor of this idea, which the US has got hooked into.

Third, for the last one year, Pakistan has made amazing stride into Kabul. Pakistan has succeeded in removing the anti-ISI interior minister of Karzai and the equally anti-Pak Afghan intelligence chief during 2010. Both Amruallah Saleh and Hanif Atmar has been asked to resign by Karzai; the primary demand for their resignation came from the ISI, as they stood in between Pakistan's approach to stitch a coalition between Karzai and the Taliban. It was no coincidence, that there were multiple meetings between Pasha (the ISI Chief), Gen Kayani, Karzai and the Huqqani network. 

Besides the above interaction, Pakistan and Afghanistan have signed two important agreements during the last six months. First, was the Transit and Trade agreement between the two, followed by the signing of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline. Pakistan seems to be determined to bring Afghanistan under its sphere of influence.

Now, what do the above three developments mean for the regional security? How would they affect India, J&K in particular? 

It seems crystal clear, that the American exit, along with the international troops is likely to happen sooner than later. Though, there have been reports of the US leaving a small Special Operations Group and a team to operate the Drone attacks, it is al Qaeda specific. If there is collusion between Karzai and the Taliban, or the latter taking over Afghanistan, it seems acceptable to the US. To conclude, a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan seems to be an eventual outcome, than a possibility.

Given the failure of Karzai's administration and the level of corruption, there is hardly any support for the existing government. Neither the Afghan security forces, nor the legal institutions are strong enough to provide security or justice to the Afghan. As a result, there is hardly a constituency inside Afghanistan today, which will support for Karzai and totally oppose the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban would be even welcome, as they will be able to provide a sense of security and quick justice, which neither the Afghan security forces nor the legal institutions are capable of, in the given environment today.

What this effectively means is, an Afghanistan under Taliban's direct control, or an indirect influence. The primary question, from an Indian perspective will be: what this would mean to the Taliban in Pakistan, and how Islamabad and the ISI are likely to handle the emerging role of Taliban (led by the TTP and Punjabi Taliban)? 

Taliban in Afghanistan is unlikely to satisfy and remain only in Afghanistan. Given the strong linkages in the FATA and what is happening in Balochistan (remember - Mulla Omar is now believed to lead the Quetta Shura), the Taliban would like to come into Pakistan's heartland. As a result, both Punjab and Karachi, where they have their franchisees, are likely to become increasingly violent. A sectarian war, including attacks on Sufi Islam is likely to increase within Pakistan. 

Pakistan will have two options to pursue, in this eventuality. Either to take on the Taliban within Pakistan; or to divert them. What will Islamabad and the ISI do? Will they fight the Punjabi Taliban, who is comprised of members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba and others from within Punjab? Or, will they be diverted into India, especially J&K? Despite the pressure from India, after the Mumbai attacks, the Lashkar network in Pakistan remains intact, because the ISI has kept them primarily as a militant weapons against India.

Our security forces and the society need to forecast this threat, and what this would mean for the security situation in India, J&K in particular.

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








For 2009-10, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) issued a report on December 12,2010,stating that although business of private life insurance companies has witnessed a booming 19.7 per cent growth in their business in 2009-10, but a large number of policies sold by these companies in the past have either lapsed or forfeited. According to the report during 2009-10 nearly 121 lakh policies were either lapsed or forfeited. During 2008-09, 91 lakh policies were lapsed or forfeited. Report also indicates that more than 60 percent of the policies issued by private life insurance companies have lapsed or forfeited in just one year. According to statistics, this ratio of lapsed or forfeited policies was 81 percent for the largest private sector life insurance company, ICICI Prudential. During 2008-09, this ratio was only 59 per cent for this company. The ratio for different companies was ranging from 4 percent to 81 percent. This experience of insurance policies getting forfeited or lapsed is no new phenomenon. It was being observed even earlier. But in case of LIC, this ratio of lapsed and forfeited to total policies has only been 4 percent for the same year 2009-10. Whereas ratio of lapsed and forfeited to total policies has demonstrated a big jump in case of private companies, this ratio has actually come down in case of LIC from 6 percent in 2007-08 to 4 percent in 2009-10. But due to monopoly of LIC in the past, the value of lapsed and forfeited policies was around 1147 billion rupees. 
Usually a person buys life insurance policy to insure his family against future risks. One can also save tax by purchasing a life insurance policy. Main objective of buying a life insurance policy obviously is saving along with insurance. In the market Money-Back, Endowment, Term Insurance and Health Insurance policies are popular these days.

Prior to 2001-02, LIC had a monopoly over life insurance business. But since 2001-02 private sectors life insurance companies were allowed to undertake life insurance business and the participation of foreign capital to the maximum of 26 per cent was also allowed. Today 21 private companies and a public sector company, that is, LIC is engaged in life insurance business.

After 2001, life insurance sector witnessed massive progress after a large scale advent of private sector companies. Initially Life Insurance Corporation of India contributed substantially and private sector companies also increased their business significantly. In the last two years we witness a negative growth in the business of LIC, while private sector companies registered a sharp increase in new business.

Report of the IRDA reveals that about Rupees 2148 billion worth of total insurance policies have either lapsed or forfeited during 2009-10. Although IRDA has not published data about the premium paid on these lapsed or forfeited policies, even if 20 percent premium paid is forfeited this would amount to be 430 billion rupees. This means that in just one year insurance companies earned a huge 'illegitimate' income from lapsed or forfeited insurance policies. 

According to rules, a life insurance policy is considered to be lapsed if premium remains unpaid between 15 and 60 days from the due date. Lapse of life insurance policies is a natural process, but such a high percentage of lapse or forfeiture is not a healthy development. Experts believe that lapse ratio of more than 10 percent is an alarm signal for life insurance industry. But while this ratio has exceeded more than 50 percent for many companies, one may be forced to question the integrity of these companies. These companies blame economic slowdown for this high rate of lapse/ forfeiture, there are many who believe that the mis-selling of insurance policies by these companies is mainly responsible for this phenomenon. In order to promote their business these insurance companies try to lure customers about the so called 'benefits' of the policy, while keeping them in total dark about terms and conditions attached. In such circumstances a policy holder has only two choices, one continues with this 'wrong' policy or stop paying premium and getting this policy lapsed or forfeited. In both cases policy holder is at loss and his loss would be the gain to insurance company. If a policy holder makes a choice to let the policy lapsed or forfeited, it is in the best interest of the insurance company, because in this case responsibility of the company is completely absolved. 

Obviously private sector insurance companies are not ready to accept the argument of mis-selling, and that due to this mis-selling people are forced to let their policy lapsed or forfeited. But a very low ratio of lapsed/forfeited policies in case of LIC as compared to more than 60 percent in case of private companies clearly prove this point that there is something wrong in case of private sector life insurance companies. If despite recession ratio of lapsed/forfeited policies has come down for LIC, the argument of private sector companies that recession is the reason for large scale lapse/forfeiture does not hold water.

Loot of the savings of the people by insurance companies cannot be legitimized in any manner. Publication of data by IRDA about the lapse and forfeiture of insurance policies by insurance companies is appreciable. But it seems that IRDA does not have any right to act against an insurance company suo moto. It can act only in case a policy holder files a complaint against a company. Therefore in absence of a general action, these companies keep on luring simple people to purchase their policies and are able to ultimately grab their hard earned money.
So far IRDA has been acting on the basis of the complaints by the policy holders. Up to 2010 only 8592 complaints have been filed against insurance companies with IRDA. The number for 2009-10 was 2449. This is not even 0.01 percent of the 216 lakh policies lapsed in the year 2009-10. Thus one can easily conclude that IRDA has not been able to give protection to the policy holders. In view of the large ratio of lapsed and forfeited policies, government should take stern action against erring companies. Constitution of IRDA should be amended suitably, including power to act suo moto, to save the people from this unethical business of these companies.







Five star microfinance company SKS Microfinance has successfully issued share at a good premium. This company provides small loans to the poor. Borrowers can buy buffaloes or do other businesses with this capital or they can meet their immediate needs such as that of daughter's wedding without having to take loan from the moneylender at a hefty rate of interest. Such loans are considered helpful for poverty alleviation. These are preferred instruments of inclusive growth. But improvement in incomes of the poor is not necessary. Instead these loans can lead to even more exploitation and poverty.

Simple logic tells us that lower interest rates will lower the cost of production of the poor households and be beneficial for them. However, this assumes that the price of their produce will remain unchanged. This may not be true. Say there were 10 buffaloes in a village which produced total 100 liters of milk a day. MFIs lent money at low rates of interest to some households and they purchase five more buffaloes. The total number of buffaloes in the village went up to 15 and the total milk produced increased to 15 liters. Now the village will have to find a market for this larger quantity of production. The supply of milk in the nearby town will increase which will lead to lower prices. A new equilibrium between supply and demand will be established at lower price. This will be clearly beneficial to the urban consumers. On the other hand, the impact of the loans on the poor households is not certain. They gain from low interest rates but loose due to lower prices of milk. It is possible that the loss due to decline in prices may be more than the gain from lower interest rates. Further, the loss due to decline in price occurs to all farmers of the village, including those who have made no borrowing. Thus the total loss to the producing community is more. 

Now consider a different process of development. Say the price of milk sold in polypacks in the market was Rs 20 per litre. Of this, the dairy companies were paying Rs 15 to the producing households. They were also importing some powdered milk because the quantity of milk available in the domestic market at Rs 15 was not sufficient to meet their requirements. Now let us say the Government increased the import duty on imported milk powder by Rs 2 per kg. That would force the dairy companies to increase the domestic price of milk by Rs 2 per litre. In consequence the purchase price would also increase and the farmers will now get Rs 17 per kg. A new equilibrium will be established at higher price and lower quantity. The impact of this policy on the producer households is clearly positive. They will get higher price for their produce. On the other hand, the impact on the consumer households is negative since they have to pay higher price for milk.
The impact of the loan-led development process is surely positive for the urban consumer and uncertain for the rural producer household. The impact of the demand-led development process is clearly positive for the rural producer household and negative for the urban consumer. Therefore, we should follow the latter policy insofar as the objective is removal of poverty of the rural households. The Government should identify commodities being produced by the poor households and raise taxes on imports and big companies that are producing competing goods.

It makes no difference if the loans are provided to the poor producer households at lower interest rates of 12 percent against 24-30 percent being provided presently. The cost of production of the poor household will be reduced but this may yet not lead to higher income because the fall in price of the produce may be equally steep.
This aspect of loan-led development process is almost never recognized in the literature. At a workshop on rural finance held at IIM Ahmedabad in September 2004, Mr. V Leeladhar, CMD, Union Bank of India said, "There is an urgent need for shifting from a minimalist approach of offering only financial intermediation to an integrated approach of providing enterprise development services like marketing support with direct linkage between borrowers and buyers." Mr. Rama Reddy, President, Cooperative Development Foundation, Hyderabad said, "Unless microfinance is tuned with livelihoods in production, manufacturing, and service sectors, it would not be able to deliver anything. It will make more and more people indebted because of an easy access to credit." Samar Datta, Professor at IIM Ahmedabad said, "Even if we increase credit by 15 times, the borrower can possibly absorb provided we empower him to sell his product and services. Therefore, we need to have the system of linkages in place before we venture into more directions from the state." These specialists emphasize the linkage between loans and productive activities, which is well justified. But that is not sufficient. It is also necessary that policies be put in place to ensure that the prices do not fall due to competition from cheap machine-made production-domestic or imported.

The first requirement is to put in place policies for increasing the prices of goods produced by poor households. If prices are right, many poor households will find ways and means to buy the necessary productive assets. This should be the mainstay of the development process. This can be complemented with cheap loans, marketing linkages and other facilitating efforts. To give cheap loans etc. in absence of price support policies is like putting oil in fire. The poor households are already suffering from low prices. They get additionally burdened with debt-lured by low rates of interest. Unfortunately the Government-both central and states-are putting more emphasis on provision of cheap loans. This can only be explained by their desire to provide relief to the urban consumer at the cost of the poor producer household.










THE CBI has at long last conducted raids on the residences and offices of Commonwealth Games (CWG) organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and has intensively interrogated former Telecom Minister A. Raja in connection with what is widely being recognized as two of the biggest scams in post-Independence India. Considering that both scandals had surfaced several months ago and the close aides of these powerful men were interrogated over the last few months, the delay in taking any form of action against Kalmadi and Raja has understandably led to doubts whether the delays were a means to allow them to cover their flanks. This interpretation may sound cynical but CBI's the record in dealing with those wielding power has been largely inglorious. An impression has got embedded in many minds that it tends to be soft on the 'big fish' and is not insulated from governmental and/or bureaucratic and corporate pressures. It is now up to the premier investigating agency to prove the skeptics wrong.


In the case of the Commonwealth Games, three of Mr Kalmadi's aides —-T.S. Darbari, Sanjay Mahindroo and M. Jeyachandran — were arrested on accusations of forgery, cheating and financial wrongdoing in one case of a contract given to UK-based A.M. Films for display units during the Queen's Baton Relay in London. There are other instances of suspicious dealings which would come under the scanner.While the CBI has yet to establish Kalmadi's link, despite the delay, the seizures from his residences in Pune, New Delhi and Mumbai and offices should yield some leads. Likewise, Raja's grilling by CBI sleuths should put the investigators on to some clues on the beneficiaries of the 2G scam and the places where they have parked their ill-gotten wealth.


The real test is of the will of the investigators. This is a chance for the CBI to redeem itself and for the UPA government to show that it is not out to protect those who may have participated in defrauding the national exchequer. Action on both the 2G and Commonwealth Games fronts has been slow and uninspiring. All eyes are now on the future to see whether the prosecution means business.









THE life imprisonment awarded to noted human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen (and two others) by Raipur Sessions Judge B.P. Verma on Friday who found them guilty of sedition and criminal conspiracy has expectedly evoked mixed reactions in the country. Whatever stand one may take on the quantum of punishment meted out to Dr Sen or his own criminal culpability, Chhattisgarh bears witness to the maximum number of killings by the Naxalites this year with nearly 800 deaths (civilians and police personnel). The brutal manner in which the Maoists have been killing innocent people and the Central Reserve Police Force and state police personnel in this state has few parallels in history. The Naxalites have become a state within a state and have launched an armed rebellion against a duly elected state government. Thus, a clear message has to be sent across the state — and the nation — that violence will not be tolerated and its perpetrators will have to be dealt with sternly in accordance with the law.


As for Dr Binayak Sen's conviction, in view of the doubts about "weak" and "no direct" evidence against him, the ends of justice will be met only if the whole case is re-examined by the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur. According to the prosecution, the main evidence against him was the "letter" purportedly written to him by Maoists "thanking him for his work". However, the defence claimed that the letter was in recognition of his medical services and not for his support to their cause. Dr Sen also met Narayan Sanyal, a Maoist ideologue, 33 times in jail in 35 days in 2007 and acted as a "courier" between him (Sanyal) and Piyush Guha, a Kolkata businessman. However, jail officers have testified in the court that both talked in Hindi in their presence and there was no exchange of letters during any of these meetings.


While it remains to be seen how the Chhattisgarh High Court would view this case, there are Supreme Court guidelines on how to deal with such cases. For example, in 2009, the apex court ruled that though conviction can be based on circumstantial evidence, in cases where evidence is circumstantial in nature, "all facts need to be based on hypothesis…and no alternative hypothesis should be possible." In another judgement, it ruled that "the charge of sedition can be upheld only if the prosecution can prove that the accused attempted to incite violence or public disorder." Dr Sen indeed has to fight it out in the High Court to prove his innocence.









THE New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also called New START, signed by the US and Russia in April 2010 is on the way to becoming operational with its ratification by the American Senate last week. The Senate vote in favour of the treaty is a big morale booster for President Barack Obama after his party suffered serious reverses in the recent Congressional elections, which threatened to derail his nuclear vision aimed at reducing the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. Early this year his administration had come out with what was called the Nuclear Posture Review, which assured the global community that the US would not launch a nuclear attack on a non-nuclear country and would end nuclear tests for the production of more weapons of mass destruction.


The aims to be achieved under the New START and the declarations made through the Review kindle the hope for a safer world in the days to come. The new treaty, which had no difficulty in getting ratified by the Russian parliament because of the ruling party there having a comfortable majority, will result in the reduction of the US and Russian nuclear weapons to 1500 warheads for each of them. The limit was 2200 nuclear weapons according to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which ceased to remain valid in December 2009. It is true that there are certain kinds of nuclear weapons which are not covered by the New START, and the US and Russia will still have enough bombs — 90 per cent of the total stockpile in the world — to destroy all that exists on the globe many times over. Yet the new treaty can be considered as a welcome move towards a nuclear weapon-free world.


With the New START coming into effect, the Obama administration will be in a better position to force Iran to abandon its controversial nuclear power programme and launch a renewed drive against North Korea's nuclear ambitions. This is, however, not enough to end nuclear proliferation. There is need to have some kind of a system so that China, Pakistan and Israel, too, provide credible proof that they are not adding to their nuclear arsenal. This is necessary to prevent other countries from aspiring to become nuclear powers. 

















POLITICS in India has been so much denigrated that it has become a topic of contempt. Both the Congress and the BJP, the two main parties, are responsible for it. They have come to the level of hurling abuse at one another, much to the exasperation of the people.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been of little use. When both the right and the left parties have united, which is a rarity, and have stuck to the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum scandal, the PAC offer by the ruling Congress seems to limit the scope of investigation. The Opposition wants to go into the policy of allotment of 2G spectrum relating to mobiles and lay down guidelines for the future. By denying the JPC, the Congress is behaving as if it has something to hide.


There is no doubt that the BJP was the first to throw the gauntlet at the Congress by stalling Parliament. At that time the allegation of corruption was confined to the Commonwealth Games, but then the party expanded the charge when the 2G spectrum scam came to light through the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, estimating the loss of nearly Rs 1.75 thousand crore.


The Congress was rattled and retaliated by attacking the BJP by name, even though the demand for the JPC was made by most Opposition parties. The Congress leaders also introduced in the attack the charge of communalism against the BJP, a stigma which the party has not been able to wash away.


In turn, the BJP went berserk and criticised not only the Congress-led government but also the Prime Minister, who refused to join issue till then. Yet when more details of the 2G spectrum scam came to light, the government had to force Telecommunication Minister A. Raja to resign. This only whetted the BJP's appetite.


Dr Manmohan Singh became the BJP's target. This has, no doubt, made headlines but the BJP has attacked the institution of Prime Minister, the highest executive authority under the Constitution. However tempting it is to be in the news, the Prime Minister should have been treated with respect because everyone knows that Dr Manmohan Singh's credibility is beyond doubt.


Yet the general perception is that the entire system is rotten and all politicians are corrupt. The Prime Minister must realise that he has lost the most. The impression has gone around that he does not take any action against the corrupt although he knows who they are. This conception is wrong, but he should do something to remove it.


The Congress has changed the gear to switch over to communalism from corruption. The RSS, the mentor of the BJP, is a sitting duck. Congress secretary-general Digvijay Singh even politicised the 26/11 attack on Mumbai by revealing that he had received a telephone call from Hemant Karkare, the police officer who died in the attack, that his life was in danger. Karkare had probed the Malegaon blast and had found the hand of Hindu terrorists. Although the RSS had denounced the charge, a vague kind of feeling has started that there may well be Hindu terrorists.


Amidst all this came the disclosure by WikiLeaks that Rahul Gandhi had told US Ambassador Timothy J Roemer in Delhi about the possibility of Hindu radical groups springing up in reaction to the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Rahul also pointed out that the Hindu radicals were more dangerous for the country than some support for the LeT from a section of the Indian Muslims. The BJP was so angry that it even called Rahul Gandhi "anti-national".


Sonia Gandhi came to the rescue of her impulsive son and changed his expression into condemnation of terrorism by the majority or the minority. To take the fight right into the Sangh Parivar ranks, the Congress plenary session held a few days ago asked the government to find out the connection between Hindu terrorists and the RSS, something necessary but should not have been tagged with the attack on corruption.


I was amused to read Home Minister P. Chidambaram's remark that in Rahul's voice he heard Rajiv Gandhi. This is the height of sycophancy which a senior person like Chidambaram need not have shown after serving the Congress for more than two decades. But probably the party leadership expects that. For Chidambaram's information, Jawaharlal Nehru would denounce sycophancy in the party all the time.


It is too early to say how the drama that the Congress and the BJP are staging before the cynical public would end. But one thing is sure that the people would like to defeat both parties in the general election, still three years away. Whether this murky atmosphere affects India's reputation abroad or not is as relevant as is the reaction of an average Indian who feels humiliated and small. And how does he express himself when elections have become a game of the rich?


To have a level-playing field, electoral reforms should be effected so that money does not count much. But both parties do not want to even hear about any reforms in the electoral system. They know that they alone can afford the expense because a candidate standing for a Lok Sabha seat spends somewhere near Rs 10 crore. From where does a clean, deserving person get that kind of money? Either he becomes part of the racket or he loses the election.


The worst is the Rajya Sabha which, thanks to the Supreme Court, has become a House of money-bags, racketeers or those whom the party leaders fancy. The Supreme Court judgment has even endorsed the abolition of secret ballot. Believe it or not, it was a unanimous judgment and the present Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia was one among the five-judge Bench.


The fear expressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the future of parliamentary system has gained ground only because the real representatives of the electorate cannot make it to the House, either at the Centre or in the states. But his remark was because of the standoff in Parliament. India has experienced the stalling of the House by the Opposition parties for three weeks; earlier it was for two weeks by the Congress. The nation can take the boycotts in its stride provided it has the confidence that the representatives in Parliament or the legislatures have come through hard work and credibility, and not through money.








I was recently invited to attend an inter-school competition of performing arts. An invitation I could not accept, because of a bout of illness. I was troubled by this loss because I have always had great admiration for anyone who can perform well on stage.


My own first venture into performing took place in 1949. Sanawar, after a century of being a school exclusively for British children, was just waking up to its Indian-ness. Among other things, it had appointed a teacher for Indian dance. This teacher decided to stage a ballet. I was one of the earliest volunteers and also one of the most enthusiastic. I would reach well before anyone and spend endless hours in the dormitories, in practice, much to the amusement of all the other boys.


But I had two left feet and in spite of my enthusiasm, remained awkward and clumsy. The teacher was too kind to tell me this and when the time came for the final selections, she showed great ingenuity in resolving her predicament.


The ballet was based on the conversion of Emperor Asoka and she decided at the last minute, to have Lord Buddha sitting on stage during the final scene:  I was cast as Lord Buddha. .All that I was required to do, was to sit cross legged, with my eyes closed, and my hands in the lotus position. I was not deceived by this ploy and have never attempted to dance again. My next attempt was at singing. I grew up with the conviction that my voice was one of the sweetest sounds in the world. Sadly, no one in my family or amongst my friends made any attempt to correct me.


The disillusionment came, years later, when I sang at a party. I thought I had sung rather well and my friends did applaud with their usual enthusiasm. But my girlfriend said: "Dilly, you are very brave." I have never again tried to be brave in this manner.


My final attempt at performing came rather late in life. I had returned to Sanawar as a teacher and as part of the Founders' celebrations, the teaching staff put up a full length play. The moving spirit behind the production was the legendary Mr B. Singh. I had always nurtured secret histrionic ambitions and hoped for a part: I was given the thankless job of prompting instead.


But a few years later, Mr B. Singh did give me a part. I had to walk on in the middle of the third act with a bowl of eggs and announce: "Here are the eggs."


I worked very hard, not only to learn my line but also to get my queue perfected. Unfortunately, during the final performance, not only did I stumble onto the stage and interrupt a torrid kissing scene but also announced, "Here are the strawberries." Though I did go on to act in many more plays, I never again nurtured any illusions about my histrionic ability.


This would, perhaps, explain my abiding admiration for all performers.









A swanky SUV parks itself in front of the college gate, and a young man glides out, adjusting deftly his shades as he makes a theatrical entry into the campus each day. Standing out of the same gate are other students obscured by the heat and the dust into an indistinguishable herd, waiting for their buses to arrive. In many educational institutions across India, this divide enacts itself out, almost every other day.


In the seemingly democratic and fair educational set-ups, equal opportunity learning takes on a rather unequal hue, as the worlds of the English-speaking urban and the seemingly less privileged rural students never really seem to 'meet'.


What happens to the ones on whom the spotlight never shines? Do they find their own comfort zones to huddle into or do they feel cornered with an acute sense of marginalization? No one really cares to find this out.


Mallika Gupta, an intern in Counselling and Psychotherapies, comments, "It actually depends on the individual concerned. While most of the students get used to the disguised two worlds, there are other more sensitive students in such a situation tend to crawl into a shell."


The distancing of these students is not limited to expensive clothes, mobile phones, cars and other gadgets but the effects are far more pervasive. The city bred not only blot the others out with sheer money-power but superior communication and better exposure to life get them noticed in the classrooms too, while the others remain mired in abyss of neglect and indifference.


For the rural youth then, who move to the cities to learn, flourish and make an impact, the same becomes an arduous journey as very often one finds them lurking on the sidewalks with some of their hopes taking a real battering.


What these young people find even more disturbing is how the mentors and teachers too seem to patronise or favour the already privileged ones or who are called 'smart types.' Amandeep Singh a second year undergraduate student in local city college and a volunteer of NSS comments: "There is a lot of anguish and frustration among this youth. While they have the zeal to perform they find the system very unsupportive. It's only the well-groomed who are picked up for competitions. Nobody wants to make an effort to train the 'have-nots' for a debate or a declamation, because the whole process of 'finishing' them would be more rigorous.'


The picture that begins to emerge is, in fact, appalling. There is an affordable canteen for the not so well off and a designer coffee shop for the more 'comfortable'. Within the classroom, too, the segregation is visibly profound. Idealism is soon snuffed out for these students, as they witness an apathetic environment. The marked differences, far from getting evened out in the course of education, become more pronounced. Sometimes students even find themselves at the receiving end of sarcastic remarks for their dressing sense and pronunciation.


Reactions to the discriminatory behavior vary from person to person. While some uncomplainingly agree to remain in the shadows, others gradually lose interest in the affairs and activities of the day. Some more sensitive students even start harbouring feelings of low self-worth, ranging from short-term feelings of inferiority to a deep-seated disillusionment with society. Radhika Vinayak, a student of Masters in English at University of Mumbai reveals, "Yes, there is a difference but it is perhaps in the first year when one has just emerged from the 'uniformed' school life that one finds the variety and its extremes a bit disturbing. But eventually things even out."


But do things really even out? Or is it that we settle into a mode of acceptance and surrender to the callousness that surrounds us. Differences exist and one encounters them on every pathway. But within the bastions of learning one does not expect these circumstances to become a pretext for meeting out preferential treatment to the luckier ones.


What may be an off-hand dismissal actually tells a sad story of denial an exclusion, which may incidentally snowball into deep-seated emotional hurt, low levels of performance and greater socio-economic inequities, coupled with a sense of antagonism and hostility. A little more sensitivity and effort from the educators to take along the less favoured ones will go a long way in smoothening these ruptures and helping them realise their dreams.


The writer teaches English in a local college








A commerce graduate from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, with a good academic record, around 4 years of job experience in reputed companies and the BIG one, a visit to Harvard University to represent India in a 15-day conference as part of a delegation of 10, which was fully paid. It was I don't know how achievable it sounds to someone, but when I look at it, a few years back, it seemed impossible and improbable.


Coming from a typical Indian village in Jharkhand, with no roads, no electricity, no proper school and of course, Naxalites. With our joint Hindu family, struggling to sustain itself, and trying to save as much as they could, my grandfather took up a teaching job in a government school against the wishes of his family (it was prohibitive for a landlord's son to work for anybody, even if he had financial issues). With all the problems that ailed the region, education was the utmost priority, but in there too, there were limitations like a child couldn't go too far to study. Close by towns with limited resources were the best option.


I studied in the Government Middle School till 8th standard, where most of the teaching was done by my father for whether the school opened was dependent on the teachers turning up, and the student-teacher ratio was badly skewed. A single teacher had to take care of 2-3 classes at a time. That too under a eucalyptus tree, since that many students could not fit in one classroom.


Post that, I was sent to a high school away from my family where the classrooms became hostel rooms at night but it can't be called a boarding school. But it was affordable for every other kid and it worked. I scored the highest marks in my entire class of 80 students in 10th Standard Board exams. Looking at my good marks, it was 'suggested' I take up science as everyone thought I would make an engineer some day. Realistically, I might have, if I had good teachers at Ganesh Lal Agarwal College in Daltonganj (an affordable college in an affordable town). With the vast syllabus in Hindi medium where maths was ganit, chemistry was rasayan shashtra and physics was bhoutiki shashtra, studying almost on my own for two years (11th and 12th) and just one Final exam (there was no semester system in Jharkhand colleges those days), I was only able to score a second class, which was unacceptable to my family. They saw no future in me as I let the family pride down by being one of the most talked about kids in the locality and scoring just a second class.


Owing to my results and some major financial problem in the family, I was left to fend for myself. I took the biggest decision for a kid of my age and left home in June 2004. I came to Ranchi and started to look for a job. But I was equipped with only Hindi; had never heard of a resume and knew nothing about a computer. But, let's just say I, managed to get something to survive.


The next big step was to land in Mumbai with an aim to study and that too without any support. Having heard of St. Xavier's College evening classes for commerce for working students, I aimed to get in but you can imagine how difficult it would be for a non-English speaking student with a very average 12th standard mark-sheet to make it. I almost begged my admission into college by clearing an entrance test and a promise to walk out of college if I didn't perform exceptionally well in the first semester.


The start was not what I had hoped for. Owing to my English, I couldn't ask questions in class and I had no friends to speak to, as I didn't want anyone to know my weakness. But I did what I always do best - staying focused and working hard.


Results came out, and the unknown boy in class stood highest in accounts and got full marks in maths. It was just the boost I needed and from then on, there was no looking back. After a year in Mumbai, I was well versed with English and was working in companies/industry of my choice, had a lot of friends. I was a normal student, except that I was working in order to pay off my expenses.


At the same time, things improved considerably back home. Being the first person from my village to ever have visited the US was, of course, a big deal but it being a fully-paid scholarship was even bigger. People spoke about me to almost everyone they met from neighbouring villages with a sense of pride. Suddenly they had lots of expectations from me. The problems have been around, just that now everything seemed less terrifying and I always knew the way out. I also had to drop a year as I didn't have the savings to pay my hostel dues in my Final Year. I took a break from my work in order to perform well in my university exams and that's why I had to delay my graduation by a year, which was, of course sad, but not as sad as not being a graduate.


Incidentally, the conference at Harvard was on rural development in Asia. Now when I think back, it strikes me that without my background I probably wouldn't have had the credentials to represent my people there, and speak with conviction.










In the mid-1970s, just when national disenchantment with the opaque and corrupt polity that Congress-raj had turned into was hitting its peak, Anand Bakshi caught the popular mood with his prescient 'Yeh public hai, yeh sab jaantee hai' number in the Rajesh Khanna starrer Roti. Coming right before the Emergency when Navnirman politics was still peaking, the Kishore Kumar song powerfully encapsulated a general disillusionment with politics as usual as no academic study ever could. Its words are still relevant today. 


In some ways, this was the sentiment that Rajiv Gandhi was reacting to when soon after his investiture he tried to give flesh to his newly minted 'Mr Clean' image, intoning that only 15 paisa of every rupee meant for the poor reaches them. That was before his mighty fall on Bofors, before Ram Jethmalani's daily tirade of '10 question to Rajiv' punctured the bubble; effectively ending the legitimacy of a government that enjoyed the most powerful electoral majority in our history. 


Corruption is a leit-motif of Indian public life – ask any contractor who ever deals in any government contract – one doesn't need the Adarsh scam or the CWG scam or the telecom scam to know this. These are only the most visible and most disturbing symbols of a deeper malaise. The difference is that for the first time in two decades, it once again has emerged as a political issue in national politics, with questions being asked about the highest echelons of government. Not since Harshad Mehta have such questions, of omission or commission, been raised. The issue is what next. 


 In the wake of the Congress counteroffensive in Bunari, the PM's commitment to depose before Parliament's Public Accounts Committee and Pranab Mukherjee's offer of a special Parliamentary session to discuss the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee, the political logjam persists. The Opposition still insists that it wants a JPC, not a discussion. 


The BJP argues that a detailed 2009 discussion on the telecom mess did not yield anything but plain vanilla blandishments from the government; that it is the new tactic of obstructing Parliament that finally led to some action. Ergo, the obstructionism will continue as we head into the new-year and Parliament's Budget session. 


The problem is that though the government's credibility is seriously dented, as this crisis drags on, the Opposition needs more than more mere obstructionism. If ever there is a mid-term election, as some loose commentary has suggested, surely no one wants to go to the polls on a technical JPC versus PAC argument. Just as the Congress has erred in stubbornly converting the resistance to a JPC into such an article of faith, the Opposition does not come out smell of roses either with its refusal to even discuss the JPC demand in a special session. 


The government may be on the mat, but it is useful to remind ourselves that unlike previous such crises over corruption, in the public eye this time there is no white shining knight tilting at the black windmills of government corruption. The BJP has not helped itself by persisting with Yeddyurappa in Karnataka. There is unquestionable public anger at the scams but it is subsumed within a general climate of suspicion and disgust at the politician-bureaucrat nexus and a larger superstructure of opaqueness in governance that is the relic of an older age. 


Beyond scoring political brownie points, perhaps the time has come for the Opposition to come up with a more creative agenda for cleanup. The Opposition has no faith in the CBI – neither do most citizens – so why can't it champion the cause for a completely autonomous CBI, answerable only to Parliament, in much the same way as the American FBI is not subservient to the ruling political passions of the day. As the former CBI chief, RK Raghavan notes, this is a demand that few politicians are likely to champion because the entire political class has a vested interest in a pliant CBI. Yet, a truly independent CBI, protected by constitutional decree – like the Election Commission – would be an outcome worth rooting for if we are to convert this crisis into an opportunity. 


Similarly, there seems a general consensus that political funding has increasingly shifted to the proceeds from grey areas inherent in discretionary powers over land. The demand for transparency and iron-clad procedures in this is obvious but the crux here is the black money economy that all political parties depend on. Even if individual politicians want to be honest, there is a systemic motive for corruption. Perhaps the time has come to at least consider a new mechanism of state funding for political parties. 


There are good examples from countries like Germany where the state has funded political parties since 1958. This is a complex regulation that tracks the size and reach of parties and public funding operates in tandem with private donations. Every dollar spent on campaigns has to be accounted and parties submit annual financial statements to the legislature. Our political system is far more complicated than Germany's, but in a debate on political corruption, is it not legitimate to widen the goalposts and speak of deeper systemic solutions? 


Politics abhors a vacuum and as both sides come back to Parliament in 2011, they would perhaps do well to ponder over the inherent wisdom in Kishore Kumar's deep tenor from the 1970s, 'Yeh public hai... yeh sab jaanti hai'.


Opposition leaders demanding JPC probe into the 2G scam outside Parliament



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





The gist of the reactions from various quarters to the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) discussion paper on entry criteria for new banks in the private sector, as published by RBI, shows that most would like RBI to ensure utmost transparency and discretion in the next stage of growth of Indian banking. Merely because India was saved from the ravages of the global financial crisis, on the one hand, and because the government of the day is committed to "financial inclusion", on the other, does not warrant reckless liberalism in the criteria adopted for entry of new private sector banks. Utmost care must be taken to ensure that new bank licences are given to credible applicants. A variety of views have been expressed both on the issue of what measures must be put in place to address the objectives of financial inclusion, and on the issue of whether industrial houses should be allowed to set up banks. There, however, appears to be a consensus that RBI should adopt a step-by-step approach even in evolving the "fit and proper" criterion for entry of new private sector banks. The report quotes an "eminent economist" suggesting that as a first step, private banks may be restricted to "traditional banking" with permission to conduct "full-fledged banking" operations after a period of time during which the bank's performance is assessed. This and other such cautionary advice is well taken and particularly relevant to our times. It should not be that in the name of "financial inclusion" weaker entry norms are adopted.


The discussion paper, it may be recalled, listed six items against which the Indian and international experience was reviewed. These were: (i) minimum capital requirements for new banks and promoters' contribution; (ii) minimum and maximum caps on promoter shareholding and other shareholders; (iii) foreign shareholding in the new banks; (iv) whether industrial and business houses could be allowed to promote banks; (v) should non-banking financial companies be allowed conversion into banks or to promote a bank; and (vi) business model for the new banks. While there appears to have been greater diversity of opinion on the question of minimum capital requirements and promoters' shareholding, on most other issues the consensus is veering around to a cautious approach rather than bravado in the name of privatisation. Apart from the global environment, which has become more risk-averse, the domestic debates on crony capitalism and dubious political involvement in economic policymaking have queered the pitch for the policy on entry criterion for private banks. Better safe than sorry, is the dominant mood among policymakers at this point in time. Interestingly, of all the issues debated, the one that seems to have generated most comment is that relating to whether industrial houses should be allowed entry into commercial banking. Four different arguments have been put forth against such entry and two, including financial inclusion, in favour. It is a sign of the times that one of the arguments raised against entry of industrial houses echoes a very old concern about industrial policy in India going back to the early years of planning, namely, the fear of "concentration of economic power". It is a concept that was all but forgotten in policy literature in recent years but seems to have resurfaced in the current context of the manifest links between business and politics. Such larger issues ought to be kept in mind while devising the criteria for entry of new banks in India. (Disclosure: Kotak Mahindra Bank is a significant stakeholder in Business Standard)








The flamboyant and voluble Minister for Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, declared war on the poor onion with the words, "Not a single onion will be allowed to leave the country!" Mr Sharma's bravado and the government's knee-jerk response to rising onion prices seem to have had a salutary effect but that may have been more because some dehoarding may have been done by speculators, because onion exports in April-November 2010 were, in fact, significantly below the level for the same period last year. Compared to 13.83 lakh tonnes of exports in April- November 2009, only 11.59 lakh tonnes were exported in the first eight months of fiscal 2010. Close on the heels of onion prices, the prices of tomato and other vegetables also seem to be on the rise. Several factors may have contributed to this sudden spurt of vegetable prices, but the most important could well have been rising winter demand. In its economic resolution passed at the special session of the All India Congress Committee, the Congress party very correctly identified at least three reasons for the generally high food price inflation of recent months, namely, rising domestic demand, higher support and procurement prices and global commodity price rise. In the case of vegetable prices, demand is the key variable. The margin of speculative hoarding is limited given the perishable nature of the commodity.


The wide margin between farm gate and retail market price of onions, tomatoes and other vegetables clearly suggests that traders have been the bigger beneficiaries of short-term speculative attacks on vegetable prices. Which would be one reason for sharp spurts and subsequent immediate decline in the price level. Given the return of near 9 per cent growth, and that too a more broad-based growth covering rural and urban areas, and against the background of rising support prices for farmers, it is now clear that excess demand has come to play a larger role in exerting pressure on the price line. While this would suggest that monetary policy cannot remain on the pause button for too long, there are limits to monetary policy at a time when overall economic growth is driving the spurt in food prices. The consequent shift in terms of trade, even if not favouring the direct producer but mainly the intermediary trader, has distributional implications that cannot be entirely negative. It is becoming clearer by the quarter that every time India's growth rate approaches 9 per cent per annum, inflationary pressures begin to reassert themselves. Allowing such inflation to ease the supply side, by inducing increased production, would be as helpful as squeezing the demand side with monetary policy. A balanced approach is, therefore, warranted.









A week, said Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister of the Beatles era, "is a long time in politics". For India in 2010, the year's last week has the potential to become the long week of events, if a series of quick-paced actions are taken by an assortment of players.


 An air of despondency, of shoulder-shrugging conversations has marked social interactions over year-end parties in the nation's Capital. Travelling to Hyderabad for an interaction with a mixed group of students, executives, social activists and academics, I was struck by the shared angst of a resentful middle class that is becoming impatient with the slowness of governmental response to palpable misdemeanours.


Middle class India is gripped by a desire for renewal. The news of the likelihood of 9 per cent growth no longer excites a class that worries more about fairness and fair play. The reportage on the unprecedented visit to India of all the heads of government of the world's major powers — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — injects little pride into a class feeling betrayed by the claims that ours is a banana republic.


Every governmental step in the right direction towards action against wrongdoers is summarily dismissed as "too little, too late". Call it the lynch-mob mentality, call it just impatience, call it cynicism or despondence. Whatever you may wish to call it, make no mistake the silent majority is sullen.


Politicians in democracies have to learn one important lesson. Minorities tend to be vocal, majorities tend to be silent. At election time, the majority's view finds expression, while in the interregnum between elections, it is vocal minorities who tend to dominate debate. To imagine, however, that the views of the silent majority are not being shaped by the actions of a minority would be wrong. A point would come when minorities grow into majorities but the full expression of that change comes only at the next election.


Between 2004 and 2009, the "right" and "left" Opposition was very vocal. But neither realised that they represented a minority view. The silent majority remained loyal to the government and the political leadership of the day. That is why the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was returned to power in 2009. The loyalty of the "silent majority" was neither shaken by the disinformation campaigns against the prime minister's alleged pro-Americanism or political weakness. The vocal minorities of the left and right fooled themselves into imagining that public opinion was being won over by them. India's silent majority rebuked them for their arrogance.


A year and a half after that historic verdict that reversed close to four decades of anti-incumbency, making Manmohan Singh the second prime minister to return to office for a full term after a full term, the silent majority is beginning to be influenced by the voice of the vocal minorities. This reversal comes far too early in the tenure of a government. Neither will the ruling coalition be hurt by it, for it still has the numbers, nor will the Opposition benefit from this since the next elections are a full three-and-a-half years away.


]The 18th month of a government's 60-month tenure is no time for paralysis. Clearly, the time is now for a renewal of governance. Crises have a way of concentrating minds. Deadlines have the advantage of forcing action. The only way out of the current impasse for a beleaguered government is to seek renewal. The only way to do that is to start on a clean slate.


In May 2009, both Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Singh assumed their mandate was for a business-as-usual government. Using the old American management adage "don't fix it, if it ain't broke", they opted for the status quo. Even the changes made were based on risk-aversion. The government on June 1, 2009 bore an uncanny resemblance to the government of May 1, 2009. It was wrongly assumed the electorate's mandate was for more of the same.


The events of the past few months have demonstrated, if such evidence was needed, that the electorate has moved on, while the government has refused to. The time has come for the government to catch up. The Indian middle class wants change. Not of government, but of governance.


The year-end is normally a time for introspection, for looking back and looking ahead. Every individual hopes that the problems of the past will not return, and the New Year would bring good tidings. Like it or not, there is something of a social catharsis that grips society on New Year's eve and everyone prays for a new dawn on New Year's day.


This is indeed the mood of India today. On Saturday, January 1, 2011, India does not want to wake up to this morning's dawn. The time for change is now.


]An announcement of a spate of new reforms in governance, an assertion of authority that sees corrupt and incompetent people step back and down, a new team of bright-eyed young people, with new ideas and untainted reputations, running key economic ministries, the retirement of cynical politicians of a bygone era of entitlements and privileges, a promise of new legislation in the next session of Parliament on electoral funding, reduced discretion in appointment of heads of key institutions and the ideas mentioned in Ms Gandhi's speech at the AICC session last week.


]How long this last week of the year plays out could well shape the year to come!









The clandestine endgame being played out at the climate change conference at Cancun has concluded in a deal. The commentators and climate activists in the western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.


 Let's assess the outcome at Cancun to see if this is indeed a step forward. The challenge of climate change is formidable, we know. This is why at the Bali climate conference held in 2007 the target on the table was for the industrialised countries to cut 20-40 per cent by 2020, over their 1990 levels. The actual number was to be finalised at subsequent meetings. So, what does Cancun do? It mouths some platitudes that the industrialised countries will scale up their mitigation efforts. But it does not specify a target. It literally lets these countries off the hook.


Instead, it endorses an arrangement that emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries will be decided on the voluntary pledge they make. They will tell us how much they can cut and by when. The US, which has been instrumental in getting the deal at Cancun, is the biggest winner. If its target to reduce emissions were based on its historical and current contribution to the problem, the country would have to cut 40 per cent by 2020 over 1990 levels. Now it has pledged that it will cut zero percentage points in this same period. The Cancun deal legitimises its right to pollute.


But this is not the end. Under the Cancun deal, all countries, including India and China, are now committed to reduce emissions. Our pledge to reduce energy intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 is part of this global deal. There can be no disagreements about this. After all, all countries must be part of the solution. It is also in our best interest to avoid pollution for growth.


But surely nobody can agree that the burden of the transition should shift to the developing world. But this is what has been dealt at Cancun. If you compare the sum of the "pledges" made by the industrialised countries against the "pledges" made by developing countries, including China and India, a curious fact emerges.


While the total amount that the rich will cut amounts to some 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of CO2e, the poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020.


In other words, emission reduction promised by the industrialised world is pathetic. And the principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.


And let us be clear: Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle that is best thrashed in the world's dustbins. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. But this has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. Now it reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be "equitable access to sustainable development". In other words, we have bartered away the need to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.


But even this is not the worst. Let us for a moment say that we in India should be willing to pay this price for the global common good. But then the deal should be effective in its target to cut emissions. Instead, the pledges will add up to practically nothing in terms of averting the worst of climate change.


The calculation is that with the Cancun deal in force, the world is on a 3-4º C temperature increase. We know that we are most vulnerable to climate change. We know that already when world average temperatures have increased by just 0.8º C, our monsoons are showing signs of extreme variability — more rain in less rainy days — leading to floods and droughts. Then how can a weak and ineffective deal on climate change be good for us?


But the spin doctors want us to believe differently. This is understandable. Cancun is a deal, which protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize.


But the question is what has the poor developing world got in return? There is no commitment to cut emissions, needed to avert climate change. No money is promised as well. The agreement provides for the creation of a green fund and repeats the decision to give $30 billion as fast-track funding by 2012 and $100 billion by 2020. But this is fictional money to cajole and bribe. The fact is that the rich world is saying openly that it cannot pay because of its recession. It now wants the developing world to look for these funds in the private sector. Nothing real is on the table.


The technology deal is even weaker. It only says that it will set up a technology centre. The tricky issue of preferential access to IPR over low-carbon technologies, which was being demanded by the developing world, has been skipped altogether.


The fact is that we hate being hated in the rich man's world. Cancun is about our need to be deal-makers on their behalf — even if it costs us the earth.










As we come to the end of an eventful year, it is possible to notice an increasing dichotomy between the priorities of a voter and those of our political masters. The municipal elections in Gujarat, the Assembly election in Bihar and the earlier re-elections of chief ministers like Sheila Dikshit and others suggest the voter is far more concerned with governance, and provision of power, roads, and water. On the other hand, Delhi seems to have taken the 9 per cent growth for granted and prefers to focus on issues like reservations, Hindu terrorism, food distribution programmes and so on on, with little focus on the economy and governance.


 Corruption seems to have become endemic in every pillar of the state machinery — be it netas, babus, defence forces, or even the judiciary. The country's both major political parties seem to have the same tolerance level for corrupt politicians. While offering mannat to Gods to get what one wants is an accepted part of our value system, the political tolerance for corruption seems to be reaching levels that even this cultural trait may find difficult to accept. While the Karnataka chief minister has brazenly claimed that he has done only what all his predecessors did, others seem to believe that, having joined politics, the minimum they should be doing is take care of their kith and kin. Values like conscience, honesty and service to society seem totally, almost frivolously, out of place for many politicians.


It is strange that corruption has become such a major issue at a time when this Cabinet has perhaps the largest proportion of "clean" members in decades. Does the problem start with the structure of governance at the top? — with a divorce between responsibility and power? The appointed members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) can overrule Cabinet decisions and set policy agenda; the prime minister seems powerless to control or interfere in the functioning of ministers, even of his own party — let alone the nominees of the coalition partners. Too many ministers do not bother to attend Cabinet meetings and stay away from Delhi. John Kenneth Galbraith had once described India as a "functioning anarchy". One wonders how long the first word in the expression will continue to qualify the second.


Instead of focusing or discussing on issues of governance and growth, the recently-held Congress party conclave made headlines for Rahul Gandhi's statement about the threat of Hindu terrorism. A few days earlier, the party's general secretary claimed to have received a telephone call from Mr Karkare, a couple of hours before he was killed during the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, expressing worries about threats to his life from Hindu extremists. As of now, of course, it is ludicrous to compare Hindu terrorism with Islamic terrorism in terms of its scale, resources, organisation or political patronage. But Mr Gandhi could well be right in the future — I would not be surprised if the double standards of "secularists" in relation to the two communities lead to Hindu terrorism, just as the US' (in West Asia) and ours (in Kashmir) have triggered Islamic terror attacks on the two largest democracies. Or, was the issue raised as part of an election strategy after the rout the party suffered in Bihar? If so, the general secretary does not seem to be doing his homework. In the Bihar elections, so many BJP candidates won even in constituencies with large Muslim populations. And, over a hundred Muslim and Christian candidates won in the Gujarat civic polls recently on BJP tickets — as India Today said on November 15, "Modi wins elections because he delivers for the underprivileged." And this needs far better, and more effective, governance. The Commonwealth Games were plagued as much by corruption and inefficiencies as by the multiplicity of agencies involved in the project.


But to come back to the economy, as different analysts have argued and demonstrated on empirical evidence, the quickest route out of poverty is growth. The NAC wants to extend the ambit of food security at a cost of Rs 72,000 crore. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, the finance minister and the agricultural minister have expressed reservations about the affordability of the scheme — given the corruption and inefficiencies, it is anybody's guess how much of it will reach the really needy. Meanwhile, industrial investments and, by implication, future taxation resources, continue to face the wall of land and environment issues. Mature observers of the Indian scene like Sharad Pawar and Deepak Parekh have cautioned that business is losing confidence in the government and this could have serious implications for investment and growth. But is that a priority for the ruling party?


During the course of the recent Cancun summit on climate change, India's environment minister was quoted as saying that India's position will be "dictated primarily by its economic interest" (The Indian Express, December 5). One hopes that Mr Ramesh continues to have India's economic interests in mind while performing his duties now that he has come back to India.  








When Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), exhorted the jaguar-eyed goddess of the moon, Ixchel, at the start of the summit in Cancun, most delegates would have silently agreed to any extra help after the disaster at the Copenhagen summit last year. Ixchel, also the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving, was indeed able to inspire those in Cancun to weave together elements that were required for a solid response to climate change using reason and creativity. Cancun clearly set the climate agenda back in the right direction, setting the path for the next year's summit in Durban.


At the end, Cancun was significantly able to address key issues in three critical areas, namely, (1) to resolve the importance of a mechanism to hold developed nations accountable for the financial pledges that have been made; (2) to hammer out the details on how these financial commitments made by developed nations can be delivered to developing nations in a framework palatable to all parties involved; and (3) to ensure that a framework exists to measure, verify and report the results achieved by the parties involved.


 Fast Start Climate Finance
The financial support that has been pledged in the form of short-term finance for the immediate future, termed the Fast Start Climate Finance, has the guarantee of being a new and additional fund compared to existing development aid being recycled as climate change pledges. This was a major achievement at Cancun. The developing countries' misgivings about the Fast Start Climate Finance were clearly evident from the statement made by India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh midway through the summit. He said the scheme wasn't fast, hadn't yet started and there was no finance in it yet.


India and the other BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa and China) have rightly decided to forego any funding that comes from the Fast Start Climate Finance pledges since smaller countries are in dire need of it. India has always took the position that the Fast Start Climate Finance must not be viewed as a loan but a grant or an entitlement to compensate for the damage that has been done by developed countries so far. In fact, India's per capita emissions are a measly 1.31 tonnes and this figure is approximately 20 times less than that of Australia and the United States and at least four times less than that of China.


Total and per capita CO2 emissions


CO2 emissions (in million 
metric tonnes)

Per capita emissions 
(in tonnes)




United States















Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

However, as a responsible nation, India's role as a deal-maker rather than a deal-breaker has ensured that it took the onus of non-binding CO2 emissions on itself. India's nuanced stance of asking developed nations to kickstart climate financing and, at the same time, agreeing to set up a measurable, reportable and verifiable framework is a mature stance that makes it a constructive partner in the dialogue.


Long-term funding

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had set up a High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF), which included Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, to help devise ways in which funds could be raised to meet the $100 billion target every year by 2020. The report, which was tabled a few weeks before the Cancun summit began, outlined a number of public and private options to raise money.


The AGF report acknowledged that there were different perspectives within the Advisory Group on whether and how to measure revenues in terms of gross and net metrics, particularly regarding private and non-concessional flows, and there was no consensus in this matter. The Green Climate Fund, which has now been formalised in Cancun, will hold a portion of this long-term funding. The fact that this fund can be directly accessed by national institutions without being channelled through multilateral development banks (MDBs), such as the World Bank, is another clear win since national institutions are far more suited to handle funding because they understand the contours of the country better. Moreover, like MDBs, they can raise additional money from capital markets with the funds that are disbursed to them.


India's commitment

The National Action Plan on Climate Change is a comprehensive blueprint split into eight ambitious missions to tackle the climate change issue in India. Each of these missions ensures that our reliance on fossil fuels is reduced in the long run; afforestation programmes are implemented to create carbon sinks; sustainable urban solutions are provided in the realm of energy, waste management and modal transport; a holistic water-management solution is implemented; agriculture practices that are deployed are sustainable; a knowledge centre exists for tackling climate change; and special focus is given to preserve the Himalayan ecosystem.


Addressing the climate change issue requires a multi-disciplinary approach and involves myriad ministries like the ministries of environment and forests, water resources, urban development, agriculture, science and technology and renewable energy. As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in a letter to the prime minister, pointed out that about 70 to 80 per cent of mitigation and adaptation work on climate change was being done at the state level, so a mechanism needs to be put in place to involve chief ministers. With such a wide range of stakeholders involved, the government would do better to have a single climate change nodal agency that could lay down guidelines, roadmaps and approaches in a consultative manner, which are then submitted to the respective ministries for implementation.


Getting it done in Durban

For each of the national missions to deliver on its promise, it is imperative that they are provided with the necessary finance from the Long Term Fund and technological know-how to leverage the latest innovations. It is, therefore, very important for developing countries to have access to intellectual property-protected technologies and associated know-how on non-exclusive royalty-free terms. This would be one of the primary goals in Durban The other area of focus in Durban would be to follow up on the Advisory group's recommendation of the composition of the source of the long-term funds. The recommendation that a part of the total target of $100 billion be sourced from private and non-concessional flows needs further discussion, since this departs from the premise that the funds are provided as grants and entitlements and not as loans.


]Lastly, with the first phase of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012, a second phase of commitments that holds developed countries accountable for their CO2 reduction targets is required. Durban would be the time to get all this done, irrespective of whether the Zulu goddess of nature, rain, fertility and agriculture, Nomkhumbulwane, is called upon by the Presidency. Bridging the trust deficit, a renewed political will to realise the magnitude of the issue and the ability to compromise all bode well when the summit goes to the rainbow nation next year.


]The author is the Non-Executive Chairman of Greenko Group, Hyderabad. He also served as the Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Andhra Pradesh, for 2009-2010








THE Delhi government owes an explanation to the nation, besides to the people of Delhi, as to why it seeks to give short shrift to power sector reforms, undermine regulatory autonomy and hike power tariffs when the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission had sought a tariff cut. Earlier this year, DERC called for a 20-25% reduction in electricity tariffs, citing surpluses on the books of Delhi's three distribution companies (discoms): NDPL, BYPL and BRPL. There has indeed been credible reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (ATC) losses in power distribution in Delhi, with the figure now reportedly down to 20%, from upwards of 40% of gross supply pre-reform. The whole purpose of reform is to boost efficiency, reduce costs and stamp out ATC losses, a euphemism for politically patronised theft of power. A DERC report specifically mentions that surpluses available with discoms add up to . 3,577 crore, and that they have been overcharging consumers to the extent of about . 300 crore since April 1, 2010. Yet the government chose to ignore the regulator's tariff order, simply waited for the chairman Berjinder Singh to retire and then appears to have prevailed upon a two-member DERC panel to call for a substantial tariff hike! 


This is high-handed and defeats the entire purpose of independent tariff setting in power, so as to boost transparency and efficiency across the board. Also, the flip-flop over tariffs points at the sorry lack of institutional depth in the reforms. Reports say that audited accounts show that earnings per share (EPS) of the discoms have considerably improved of late. While BRPL's EPS has risen from . -2.36 to . 4.06, BYPL's shot up from . 4.97 to . 6.63 and NDPL's more than doubled from . 3.11 to . 6.48. And yet, discoms insist that they face a funds crunch and have called for steep tariff hikes. Now, the regulator had previously disallowed and postponed tariff revision and mandated creation of regulatory assets (notional loans) on the balance sheets of the discoms. The task should be to extinguish these, not raise tariffs. Delhi had taken the lead in implementing power reforms and should not now champion the undoing of reform.







THE government's move to offer fresh excise duty exemptions to companies already enjoying a tax holiday in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is blatantly wrong. It does damage to the goal of having a harmonised goods and services tax, to the economic prospects of neighbouring states and to parliamentary propriety. Exemptions spell arbitrariness and patronage, distort the tax structure, do untold damage to government finances and should, therefore, be shunned. However, economic logic has given way to political compulsion. The 10-year excise holiday to these two states ended on March 31 this year. Ten months later, the government has now allowed excise duty exemption to companies running factories there on fresh investments or capacity expansion or even launch of a new product line in their existing plants. The claimed rationale is that companies have stopped expanding their operations in these two states after March 31. This is absurd. The question of extending fresh sops to companies already enjoying a holiday simply does not arise after the government ends the tax holiday. The clarification by the Central Board of Customs and Excise clearly shows that the government has not been able to take on pressure groups. Even so, any clarification could have waited till next year's budget. The government has sent out a wrong signal and will come under pressure to dole out more sops including commodity sector specific concessions in the coming Budget. It would kill the spirit of simplification and uniformity that has been guiding the path of indirect tax reform. 


Tax exemptions will unleash rate-wars among states and hamper the move to have a harmonised goods and services tax countrywide. The model goods and services tax, recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission, allows for no exemptions other than a small common list that includes health and education. The government should try to implement the Finance Commission recommendations with the concurrence of states. Any deviations should be by consensus, after consultation with the empowered committee of state finance ministers. The present unilateral move should be taken back.







IT WAS inevitable that in a world increasingly run on mechanical standard operating procedures that someone would think of a restaurant serviced entirely by robots. The advantages are obvious: uniform performance, no need to curtail working hours for fear of fatigue, no complaints, no intra-personal problems, and of course, no pay and hikes — just the price of buying the droids. So far so good. The parallel line of robotics that is trying to make them more human by injecting emotions, however, may defeat the purpose of having them around at all. Imagine a robot bursting into tears when confronted by an irate customer, or a bunch of them picketing the establishment over service conditions or even walking off to the competition, lured by a salary increase.


Humans should have the monopoly of that kind of behaviour. Besides, how would anyone deal with a recalcitrant or truculent robot? Hit the disconnect button or threaten to banish them to the rust belt forever? 


Ominously, that day when robots become more like us may not be long off. Already there are futuristic prototypes such as the wearable robotic devices displayed earlier this year that are fitted with sensors which can 'read' many emotions including fear, joy, anger and even guilt in a wearer and respond accordingly. Significantly, the only emotion its developers have not yet imbued the robotic device with is desire. Clearly the idea of a mechanical Lothario is still anathema. The next steps would obviously be to make robots and robotic devices that feel and evoke those same emotions — even if they remain bereft of that last one. In that case, not only would they lose their USP of mechanised responses, they would realise only too late that it was all an insidious human plot to make them redundant! Transformers in real life, anyone?






THE Personal Finance Page (ET, July 27) provided an unusual full-page advice on ways to beat raging food price inflation. Titled 'A healthy diet in the time of high inflation', the reader could be forgiven for mistaking reading recipes from a cookbook, rather than a business daily — such is the mindshare of food price rise among all. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) of food articles, which never increased beyond 4% on annualised basis in the first half of the current decade, started increasing steadily from 2005 to touch 15% by March, 2010. Consumer Price Index followed it too. Commodity futures and inflation: What explains the current runaway inflation? A variety of reasons has been cited and it is indeed an interplay of various factors that is contributing to inflation currently. Yet, what is not so apparent and is the favourite whipping boy of some political constituencies is the role of futures markets in food inflation. Yet, the movement of pulses prices show, the causality between prices and futures trading is only a myth. 


All major pulses varieties were being traded on national commodity exchanges in India, till the tur and urad varieties were delisted for future trading in January, 2007, following steep increase in their prices. While they still remained banned, chana (gram) which was banned later during May 2008 made reappearance during December 2008, following the reversal of the policy action. Yet, during the one-year period December 2008 to December 2009, spot price of chana increased by 12% while that of tur and urad increased by 61% and 70% respectively. Further, as Table 1 shows, price rise in tur was multiple times in the 35 months following ban in its futures trading compared with the 31 months when it was traded. 


Who is the black sheep?: If commodity futures are not at the root of inflation, what is? Taking again the example of pulses not traded in the futures market, and considering their daily price volatility over a two-month period in 2009, we find unexplainable abrupt jumps in spot prices. For example, the July 16 announcement by the State Trading Corporation to import pulses made tur spot price jump by close to 68% and urad by 37% in one day in the Delhi wholesale market! 


Given that price circuit filters in commodity exchanges do not allow these prices to increase by more than 2-4% in a day and that futures prices provide signals to spot prices, had tur and urad been traded, volatility in their prices could not have been this high. 


The additional learning point is that in localised, fragmented and thin physicalmarkets,informationflowremains poor and limited only to influential market manipulators. Market participants cannot differentiate between information and noise, due to which market-related information is given too high a premium, leading to unwarranted price volatility. This translates into a risk premium added by traders in their intermediation costs, which is more pronounced for commodity markets lacking a mechanism for efficient information flow, like that provided by national commodity exchanges. In our example of pulses, a comparison of average daily volatility of tur, urad, and chana during the last monsoon (Table 2) clearly shows that the average daily volatility was high in tur and urad than in chana. Little wonder, chana prices rose by much less than urad or tur in these periods. 


THE usual business reaction to price volatility is hoarding of the commodity. But by reducing this volatility itself, even the hoarders can be disincentivised rather than resorting to archaic instruments such as Essential Commodities Act, which does not discriminate hoarding from the legitimate storage by farmers. 
A second related contributor to food inflation is the fragmented nature of Indian agricultural markets. In the name of food security, the borders separating Indian states are as stringent inmovement of agri-commodities at international borders. Within the political boundary of each state, trade in agri-commodities is subject to a plethora of regulations and taxation, not least of which are those under the APMC Acts. It also builds up costs of intermediation leading to cost-push food inflation, especially during food underproduction like that witnessed in 2008. While augmenting supplies is a goal achievable only in the long run, steps to remove the panoply of statelevel regulations binding agri-commodities trade would enable creation of a pan-India market, leading to faster and efficient movement of these goods. This would debottleneck the agriculture supply chain and bring down intermediation costs. 


Conclusion: There are no silver bullets to tackle the demon of food inflation. But targeting futures markets is not just barking up the wrong tree, but also counter-productive as evidenced in commodities such as pulses. An immediate step in managing food inflation would be to strengthen the market institutions that transmit market information in an effective manner so that agri-commodities are passed on to consumers with minimal risks which can be absorbed by the system. 


Absence of an effective information transmission mechanism in fragmented markets arguably remains the black sheep in recent food price rise. Additionally, effective use of various other tools such as strategic storage, transparent and flexible trade policy, strengthening of country's agricultural marketing infrastructure starting from road and transportation network to storage and quality testing would go a long way to prove it to be beneficial for the economy. It forms the bedrock of structural bottlenecks characterising markets for agriculture commodities in India and needs to be addressed on a war footing. Sooner the better. 


(The author is with Icrisat)







ENGINEERING giant Siemens made the first telegraph and electric dynamo that put a spin on the industrial revolution. The multinational company that claims to have more than a dozen innovations every day, offers high-end technology to core business segments of industry, energy and healthcare in India. The market for such products and solutions is growing, but small. So, it plans to tap the mass market by offering solutions that are standardised and less expensive. This would mean redesigning its technology and making, say, cheaper yet robust X-ray machines or generators, says Armin Bruck, managing director of Siemens India Ltd. 


"We plan to invest over . 6,100 crore into localised 'base-level' products for the Indian rural market. Simple-to-use, base-level products are based on standard technology, designed for basic requirements of domestic markets in a cost effective way. Our estimate is that a market like India is 70% 'base level," Bruck says. 


This would mean reaching out to more than 700 million people spread across around 6,27,000 villages in India. Rural consumer demand is surging, thanks to the rise in disposable incomes. According to a recent forecast by McKinsey, India's rural consumer market would become bigger than the consumer markets in countries such as South Korea or Canada. 


Bruck reckons that the best way to grab a large share of the mass market is to offer low-cost solutions. "We need to re-design technology. But that is also a difficult task since the company will not want to lose its reputation for quality in the pursuit of low cost solutions," he says. 


The company's strategy is to reach to the bottom of the pyramid as fast as possible. "By 2014, emerging countries (Bric & Middle East, Africa) will account for half of the world economic incremental growth. There will definitely be a stronger growth in these regions compared to western countries," says Bruck. 


He reckons that the growing consumer needs in India presents an opportunity for semiconductor companies to develop products in telecom, wireless and medical applications for the domestic market and, potentially, other emerging markets. Given the fact that 3G in India will soon be a reality, it will generate a need for wireless communication devices such as e-books, smartbooks and tablets that are low cost and enable people to be connected at all times. 


"With eight base-level products and solutions in India in the market, we plan to install six new hubs that will make products and solutions for the base-level segment in India. Three of them will focus on low-end signalling system, solutions for iron & steel making equipment, and EPC execution for full turnkey power plants solution. The other three will focus on wind turbines, ring main units and steam turbine," says Bruck. 


Growth for semi-conductor companies will come from energy related and low power technologies, telecom, automotive, industrial electronics and consumer electronics. But the real challenge will be to reach a widely spread mass market at affordable prices. Products will be 'made for India', which for the base level is about meeting basic consumer needs at competitive prices, he says. 


The company is investing heavily to develop research & development facilities here. In FY 2009, Siemens has raised investments in R&D and a large part of the amount has been invested in India. "India's low manpower cost reduces costs by over 50%. Our investment here will also be to tap an export market," says Bruck. 

Besides the base-level products, another emerging sector to tap is India's growing energy demand. According to Bruck, more than 25% of the . 1,600 crore that Siemens is investing into the country will be towards renewable energy segment. With more than 30% of Indians having no access to the power grid, there is a huge market to tap here as well, he says. 


Experts predict that 15 % of the energy demand in India will be covered by wind energy until 2030. The country also has one of the most ambitious solar energy development plans in the world. It is looking at generating up to 20 gigawatts of solar power by the year 2022 as part of the National Solar Mission. "With our expertise in many technologies like offshore wind parks and solar thermal power, there is a huge growth potential in India," Bruck says.






THE verdict by the Sessions Court in Raipur sentencing Binayak Sen and two others to life imprisonment raises questions that are both political and legal. Section 124-A, on which the prosecution rested its case before sessions judge B P Verma, did not figure when the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860. This section was inserted a decade after the Act came into force and historians agree that the insertion was done in order to deal with the expressions of nationalism (disloyalty towards the Crown) across the country in that age. 


The insertion was put to use against Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897. Tilak was charged with sedition for writing an article in Kesri where he eulogised Shivaji and blamed the British officers for the hardships imposed on the people of India during the plague. Tilak defended himself saying that he did not intend any hatred against the Queen and was only blaming those who administered India on her behalf. Justice Strachey, of the Bombay High Court, who heard the case against Tilak relied on a definition of sedition by Sir Comer Petheram (in the Queen Empress vs Jogendra Chunder Bose case). This held that "if a person uses either spoken or written words calculated to create in the minds of the persons to whom they are addressed a disposition not to obey the lawful authority of the government, or to subvert or resist that authority, if and when occasion should arise, and if he does so with the intention of creating such a disposition in his hearers or readers, he will be guilty of the offence of attempting to excite disaffection within the meaning of the section, though no disturbance is brought about by his words or any feeling of disaffection in fact, produced by them.'' 


Tilak was sentenced to 18 months in jail. He was tried, a second time, under the same section of the IPC in July 1906. Justice Dawar's sentence this time led to Tilak being deported to Mandalay. As an aside, it may be added that Tilak went on appeal against the sessions judge and that Jinnah was his lawyer in that case! 


Section 124-A was invoked again in 1922 — against M K Gandhi. The charge was thatarticles he wrote in Young India were seditious. Gandhi did not deny the charges. He, instead, argued that "to preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me…'' Bapu then said: "The only course open to you, the Judge, is…either to resign your post or inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people." Justice Broomfield bowed to Gandhi, noted that Gandhi had made his task easier by pleading guilty, before sentencing Gandhi to six years imprisonment. 


Justice Broomfield, in 1922, did not have the benefit of a judgment that would radically alter the definition of disaffection and the law on sedition. On January 24, 1962, Justice B P Sinha, CJI, along with four other judges, redefined the scope of Section 124-A in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (AIR-1962-SC-0-955) to hold that the section can be invoked only where the words, spoken or written, have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order. 


This was held and reiterated by the Supreme Court by Justices A S Anand and K T Thomas in the Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs State of Andhra Pradesh (AIR-1997-SC-0-3483): that mens rea is a necessary ingredient for prosecution under IPC Section 124-A as much as in such other Sections like 153-A and others. B P Verma, sessions judge at Raipur, may not have to be aware of such personalities as Tilak and Gandhi. But then, for him to have been unaware of the judgments in the cases involving Section 124-A, which are all part of any standard book on the Indian Penal Code and to have glossed over the substantial changes in the law is indeed baffling to say the least. 

 Binayak Sen may have been found possessing some literature that may have been published by the CPI(Maoist), banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1968. But to hold that as the basis to conclude that he was a member of that banned outfit (which is what Section 20 of the Act deals with) is to have stretched the scope of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, beyond all canons. That sessions judge Verma did not find sufficient evidence against Sen under Sec 120-B of the IPC and hence acquitted him of charges under that section is relevant here. In other words, the judge did not find sufficient evidence of conspiracy and yet decided to sentence the accused to life imprisonment — which is certainly bad in law. 


These and other points will be raised in the Chhattisgarh High Court soon. Meanwhile, it will be in order to recall what M C Chagla, then the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, said on July 15, 1956 while unveiling a tablet in front of the court hall where Tilak was tried and sentenced: "It may be said that this conviction was a technical compliance with justice, but we are here emphatically to state that it was a flagrant denial of substantial justice…." 


(The author is advocate and NMML Fellow)


The British introduced Sec 124-A of the IPC, now used against Binayak Sen, to deal with expressions of nationalism 

The likes of Tilak and Gandhi were sentenced under this; but the law on sedition was radically changed in 1962 
For the Raipur sessions judge to be unaware of this is baffling, and his whole judgment is certainly bad in law







THE steps to 'victory over oneself' and thus to true spiritual progress would naturally vary from person to person, depending on the individual make-up of personality. While contemplating on these steps to progress, the intelligent aspirant would also comprehend the importance of even those, which would appear, on first sight, as only minor or inconsequential. He would know that these often go to make the needed difference between tangible accomplishment and stagnation. 


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle refers (Sign of Four, Chapter 1) to how Sherlock Holmes attached immense importance even to minutiae including even study of distinction between the ashes of the different types of tobacco. 


Such minutiae come to the aid of all earnest seekers in all aspects of human excellence. For instance, in diagnosis, for the medical professional, even simple and otherwise easily passable symptoms, could prove to be tips of the iceberg. Sportsmen, scientists, musicians and artistes would also certify how their attention to and care of details, have proved to be of immense help. 


Similarly, in one's spiritual journey, while listing particular 'dos and don'ts', as particularlyapplicable to himself, the aspirant would divine how the end result is directly related to even those things which may appear not directly connected to his objective. Simple regulation in food, sleep and lifestyle and also exercises capable of easy performance could prove to be the catalysts for the needed breakthrough. One could obtain immense benefit even from simple walking (termed rightly as 'nature's best medicine'), especially when done in the right manner and with awareness of 'things bright and beautiful', which abound all over. 


Right approach, attitude and perceptions are often through taking things in the stride and by the 'smooth handle'. Consequent attitudinal changes could actually help to dissolve various stresses and psychic impressions, as if in a jiffy. 


Many and varied are such 'small' things. Evolving priorities and checklists thus for himself, the seeker would also be guided in the knowledge that stages in many types of progress are marked by patience and the need to 'allow things to hasten slowly' — in line with the injunction of Bhagavad Gita (6,25). 


Doubtless, small things sometimes, and perhaps often, could indeed prove to be big!





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Reserve Bank of India is confronted with a Hamlet-like dilemma: the matter of issuing or not issuing new licences to private sector industrial and business houses and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). The RBI had in August issued a discussion paper on the various aspects involving issuing of licences to corporate houses and NBFCs. Its objective of licensing news banks was to introduce competition in the banking sector to make it more efficient and cost-effective and, more importantly, to enable inclusive growth in the financial sector. Till date 70 per cent of the rural population remains outside the banking system in most of the 60,000 villages. The public sector banks control about 70 per cent of the banking business and the rest is controlled by the private sector and others. To remedy this unacceptable and undemocratic situation the RBI expects that the new banks it proposes to licence would go a long way in providing services to those excluded from the banking system. The feedback received by the RBI to its discussion paper is divided on predictable lines with the business chambers and associations making a pitch for licences for private corporate houses with an initial capital of `1,000 crore. They were also for NBFCs being given licences. Then there were the banks who were against giving licences to corporate houses with huge money power as it would upset the level playing field. They also felt that the past record of corporate houses in banking was not encouraging apart from the fact that there could be conflict of interest and misuse of bank funds. The all-India bank unions, too, are against giving new licences to corporate houses and are planning a huge agitation against this in February. They are even against the RBI trying to give the regional rural banks over to private sector business houses. The RBI's own view is that the licences issued to private business houses and NBFCs after 1993 have not produced satisfactory results. The experience of the RBI over these 17 years has been that banks promoted by individuals, though banking professionals, either failed or merged with other banks, or witnessed muted growth. In the case of four banks promoted by individuals in 1993, only one has survived, with "muted growth". In the case of one bank the story was scandalous as it eroded its net worth by playing in the capital market and had to be merged with a nationalised bank. Even a bank promoted by a media house finally amalgamated with another private sector bank within five years of operations. In this scenario, the RBI is once again on the same path and this is the dilemma: nothing has changed to warrant any confidence in private corporate houses fulfilling the objective of issuing new banking licences. The dilemma is that competition is needed in banks and this can only be provided by the big corporates. But the big corporates by and large are not perceived as being trustworthy of fulfilling the objectives of inclusive financial growth.








The main thrust of the Russian President, Mr Dmitry Medvedev's India visit was to revive something of the warmth of old Indo-Soviet ties in a world that has changed beyond recognition since the two countries were virtual allies in the Cold War. The first term of Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev on the break-up of the Soviet Union was nothing short of disastrous for the Moscow-New Delhi relationship because they had great delusions about Washington's interest in helping their country.

The new Russian Federation had dismissed the old Soviet relationships as passé and burdensome without realising that Moscow could not equate India with the client states that were heavily dependent upon Soviet largesse. The Indian-Soviet relationship was more equal. While New Delhi was grateful for the arms it received from Moscow the West refused to sell and the transfer of technology no other country was then willing to give, India exported products that were not then available in the Soviet Union.

The mistake of the Yeltsin regime was that it tarred all countries with the same brush and was so enamoured of the American relationship that it gave the impression that its foreign policy was made in Washington. It was only after Yeltsin's painful realisation that America pursued policies in its own national interest that he brought in, Mr Yevgeny Primakov, as Prime Minister.

It was Mr Vladimir Putin who made a significant effort to renew, in a measure, the old relationship of trust with India. And President Medvedev has tried to remove some of the cobwebs that have gathered thick and fast over a stunted equation. The agreements signed on the advanced aircraft, a collaborative effort and other projects are impressive, but the problem with Indo-Russian trade in the post-Soviet era has been a paltry two-way commerce outside the defence field and government contracts.

There are many reasons for this anomaly: the richer Russians' lure for Western products, easier two-way traffic of people and goods with the West and Russian businessmen's aversion to cultivating Indian trade, associated in their minds with cheap and shoddy goods. Above all, it has been Indian businessmen's inability to obtain visas quickly and the difficulty of doing business with Russia. Perhaps the most significant agreement this time around is on simplifying the visa regime because it could vastly improve the trading relationship if it is properly implemented. There is in the Russian psyche a phobia about hordes of Indians overrunning the vast Russian spaces.
One other factor has a bearing on the future Moscow-New Delhi relationship is the evolving new world order. It is clear that India has now a new equation with the United States symbolised above all by the nuclear agreement that gave New Delhi the passport to nuclear commerce with the world. At the same time, Russia is in the midst of a "re-set" in its relations with America even while hedging its bets by building a close equation with Beijing. In a sense, China seems to the more dominant of the two, given its economic performance and the spare cash it has to tempt Moscow. We have thus arrived at a point when there is a quadrilateral formulation that impinges on relations between any two of the countries.

Some Russian commentaries give the suggestion of a sense of unease at the growing closeness of the Indo-American equation even as New Delhi has noted how Moscow sometimes behaves as the junior partner of China — a telling indication was its decision to shun the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for a Chinese dissident simply because that was the preposterous Beijing demand.

Within this quadrilateral, there is vast opportunity in advancing the Indo-Russian relationship provided Moscow permits the burgeoning of business and other private interactions unhindered. It is surely telling that despite the testiness of the Beijing-New Delhi ties, the two countries have set the goal of $100 billion trade while the future target for Moscow and Delhi is $20 billion. Both Russia and India have left behind the more sentimental aspects of the old relationship. Moscow has lost its ideology and much of its territory while New Delhi has lost some of its innocence. In fact, this could be a blessing in disguise because a relationship build on hardheaded pragmatism is lasting. There are very good reasons why the two countries should be supportive of each other and expand a lop-sided relationship for their mutual benefit and for the betterment of the region and the world.
A debate has begun in Russia over the prospect of Mr Putin returning to the presidency. Even if that were to happen, there would be no change in how Moscow perceives its interest in India. And even as the Manmohan Singh government is in the early days of its second term, it is facing much turbulence. Here again, the basis of the India-Russia equation is accepted across the political spectrum.

The need of the hour is to nurture the tender shoots of business-to-business relations, a task more for the Russian than the Indian side; Russian bureaucracy is more than a match for the Indian variant. Indian business and industry will sprint to grasp an opportunity. In the past, it has often had to give up in the face of visa and other restrictions. Expanding trade is indeed in the hands of Russian leaders of the ilk of President Medvedev.

President Medvedev pressed all the right buttons during his Indian safari. He now has the task of perking up his administration to act on what he and many of his countrymen desire: two-way trade commensurate with the nature of the military relationship and easier access to each other's country.


- S. Nihal Singh is the author of The Yogi and the Bear: A Study of Indo-Soviet Relations.








Atlanta, united states


As I'm about to start a four-month book leave, I need to get a few things off my chest: US President Barack Obama understood, rightly, that our economy needed more stimulus, so, given the GOP's insistence on extending the Bush tax cuts for all, he struck the best deal he could. The country, we are told, is now in a better mood, seeing our two parties work together. I, alas, am not in a better mood.


I'll be in a better mood when I see our two parties cooperating to do something hard. Borrowing billions more from China to give ourselves more tax cuts does not qualify. Make no mistake, President Obama has enacted an enormous amount in two years. It's impressive. But the really hard stuff lies ahead: taking things away.


We are leaving an era where to be a mayor, governor, senator or President was, on balance, to give things away to people. And we are entering an era where to be a leader will mean, on balance, to take things away from people. It is the only way we'll get our fiscal house in order before the market, brutally, does it for us.
In my book, the leaders who will deserve praise in this new era are those who develop a hybrid politics that persuades a majority of voters to cut where we must so we can invest where we must.


To survive in the 21st century, America can no longer afford a politics of irresponsible profligacy. But to thrive in the 21st century — to invest in education, infrastructure and innovation — America cannot afford a politics of mindless austerity either.


]The politicians we need are what I'd call "pay-as-you-go progressives" — those who combine fiscal prudence with growth initiatives to make their cities, their states or our country great again.


]Everyone knows the first rule of holes: When you're in one, stop digging. But people often forget the second rule of holes: You can only grow your way out. You can't borrow your way out.


]One of the best of this new breed of leaders is Atlanta's inspiring mayor, 41-year-old Kasim Reed. A former Georgia state senator, Reed won Atlanta's mayoral race in December 2009 by 714 votes. The day he took office, Atlanta had $7.4 million in reserves, an out-of-control budget and was laying off so many firefighters there were only three personnel on a truck, below national standards. A year later, it has $58 million in reserves, and Reed has a 70 per cent approval rating — which he earned the hard way.


]Reed started his reforms by enlisting two professionals, not cronies, to help run the city: Peter Aman, a partner at Bain & Company, a consultancy, to be his chief operating officer; and John Mellott, a former publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to lead a pension review panel. Atlanta has 7,000 city employees, but today, says Reed, "you can't hire a receptionist" without it "personally being approved by Aman".


]Then Reed tackled the city's biggest problem: runaway pensions, which were eating up 20 per cent of tax revenues and are rising. In the early 2000s, the police, fire and municipal workers' unions persuaded the city to raise all their pensions — and make it retroactive. So, between 2001 and 2009, Atlanta's unfunded pension obligations grew from $321 million to $1.484 billion. Yikes.


]Reed couldn't cut existing pensions without lawsuits, but he cut back pensions for all new employees to pre-2000 levels and raised the vesting period to 15 years from 10. When union picketers swarmed city hall to protest, Reed invited them all into his office — in shifts — where he patiently explained, with charts, that without pension reform everyone's pensions would go bust.


By getting the city's budget under control, Reed then had some money to invest in more police officers and, what he wanted most, to reopen the 16 recreation centres and swimming pools in the city's most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, which had been shuttered for lack of money. "People were shooting dice in the empty pools", he said.


Local businesses have now offered to finance after-school job-skills programs in the reopened centers. Cut here. Invest there.


Reed combines a soft touch with a hard head. I like how he talks about both Atlanta and America: "We are not going to be what we have been for the last 50 years if we don't change, and everybody in a position to have more than two people listening to them needs to be saying that, because the time we have to make the adjustments is running out. We need to get on with it. Whether it's the deficit, education or investing in young people or immigration — we are not tackling [them] in the fundamental ways required. We're just doing it piecemeal. We're just playing and surviving. And we need to be very clear where just surviving takes you: it takes you to a lifestyle of just survival".


In a recent address, Reed elaborated: "The bottom line is that for the country to do and to be what we have been... there must be a generation tough enough to stick out its chin and take the hit... It is time to begin having the types of mature and honest conversations necessary to deal effectively with the new economic realities we are facing as a nation. We simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road".









The absence of Amar Singh from the Samajwadi Party (SP) was deeply felt at the annual Sefai Mahotsav held in Mulayam Singh Yadav's native village Sefai in Etawah district.


The mahotsav used to be a star-studded affair when Mr Amar Singh was at the helm of affairs in SP. He would arrive with plane-loads of Bollywood actors and actresses for the mahotsav, bowling over the local residents with the star power.


This year, with Mr Amar Singh on the other side of the fence, there was not even a single star to add a dash of glamour to the mahotsav.


Needless to add that the local people were deeply disappointed and the mahotsav attracted fewer people this year.


Mr Yadav, however, made up for the loss by staying put in his village throughout the mahotsav. He even crooned along with the local singers. A teeny-weeny compensation for the absence of Sanjay Dutt and Bipasha Basu.


Think Gore not Godhra


Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is making sincere efforts to reinvent himself. He took the lead in setting up the country's first ever climate change department and has now penned Convenient Action, a treatise on Gujarat's action and initiatives on climate change.


Modelled on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Mr Modi's book spells out Gujarat's response to climate change.


This is Mr Modi's first book in English. He has written over half-a-dozen books in Gujarati on a topics ranging from personal to professional — Ek Swayamsevak to Prem Tirth. Mr Modi is perhaps the only politician whose books can be read online and have been published in Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and Kannada besides Gujarati.


Mr Modi's well wishers are hoping that his latest effort will earn him the title of India's Al Gore and will make it convenient for people to forget Godhra.


Catch Mamata didi, if you can


Catch me if you can was a popular English number in the mid-70s lauding the antics of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, whose opponents were unable to land a punch on him.


It was also the title of a 2002 Steven Spielberg movie on the life of conman Frank Abagnale Jr who at a very young age made millions of dollars by posing as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer.


]One does not know which of these the railway minister and Trinamul Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, had in mind when she said "catch me if you can" at a recent railway programme at Krishnanagar in West Bengal.


Ms Banerjee, in a combative mood, was challenging her Communist Party of India (Marxist) opponents to compete with her in development work, repeatedly saying, "Catch me if you can".


]Festive season for Ulfa


A debate is now raging in the streets of Assam on whether Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa is more popular than chief minister Tarun Gogoi.


Anticipating the release of Rajkhowa from jail, a reception committee has been set up in his native village Lakuwa in upper Assam that has given a festive and colourful look to the place.


The residents of Jorhat district, who elected Mr Gogoi to become the chief minister for his second term, could not recall any preparation of this scale to welcome their elected leader. In fact, grand receptions have been accorded to all jailed Ulfa leaders after their release.


Hundreds of welcome gates are being constructed and the slogan of "Ulfa zindabad" is being shouted all along the roads connecting native villages of militant leaders in Nalbari, Sibasagar, Nagaon and Tinsukia districts for the past few weeks. This has naturally given all politicians the jitters.


A true loktantra soldier


If there is a model for the often recalcitrant Indian voter, then it is Dayal Verma, 92, who died at a polling booth on December 21 after casting his vote for the civic elections of Chhattisgarh.


The illiterate man from the obscure village of Urkura in Raipur district voted religiously all through his life braving terminal illness and incapacitation.


According to his family members, Verma, who had been diagnosed with cancer, was bedridden for a long time. Yet he insisted on going to the polling station to cast his vote. His children — two sons aged 54 and 48 — finally agreed and carried him to the polling centre. Once there, he refused to be accompanied by his sons to the ballot box to maintain the sanctity of secret voting.


As the election officials and his sons watched Verma in awe, he moved a few steps with much difficulty and pain to the ballot box to cast his vote. Then he collapsed and died. Amazed by this, the presiding officer said, "He is a true soldier of democracy".


Chavan's trick to get funds

Piqued by the fact that the Prime Minister had given `400 crore to Andhra Pradesh farmers who were affected by cyclone and floods, Maharashstra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan belatedly led a delegation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding compensation for farmers from his state.


The Opposition parties had, in the just-concluded Assembly session, boycotted proceedings until the chief

minister had promised to allocate some funds for the farmers. He did allocate some money, but the Centre had refused to do the same.

So when early this week Dr Singh gave an advance of `400 crore to Andhra Pradesh farmers because Chandrababu Naidu had gone on a fast-unto-death, Mr Chavan and his Cabinet were galvanised into action and they too managed to get `400 crore from the Prime Minister on Friday. It's Happy Chavan week in Mumbai!








I met Patti Smith briefly at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's Ring cycle last fall. She was wearing a black sequined jacket, white ruffly shirt and black pants, a glam version of the "gothic crow", as Salvador Dali once described her. Her salt-and-chocolate mane was hanging in an untamed pony tail. She seemed shy and modest but fun and self-possessed, ever the cool chick.


In an era when many women resist aging, preferring to frantically pursue scary, puffy replicas of their 25-year-old selves, and at a time when women still struggle to balance sexuality and power, the 63-year-old Smith radiated magic.


My cultural lacunae included the iconic New York punk rock singer, poet and artist who dropped out for a decade to raise two kids with guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith in Detroit. I had never seen her perform and didn't know she was a jumble of quirky contradictions, passionate about Arthur Rimbaud and Law & Order: SVU, William Blake and Jimi Hendrix, grand opera and cheap talismans, listening to Glenn Gould and writing detective novels.


Beyond the jangly ruckuses about explicit photos of naked men, I didn't know much about Robert Mapplethorpe either. So I was startled to pick up Smith's memoirs, which won a National Book Award last month, and delve into a spellbinding love story.


For anyone who has had a relationship where the puzzle pieces seem perfect but don't fit — so, all of us — Just Kids is achingly beautiful. It's La Bohème at the Chelsea Hotel; a mix, she writes, of Funny Face and Faust, two hungry artists figuring out whom to love, how to make art and when to part.


]It unfolds in that romantic time before we were swallowed by Facebook, flat screens, texts, tweets and Starbucks; when people still talked all night and listened to jukeboxes and LPs and read actual books and drank black coffee.


Smith describes the wondrous odyssey of taking the bus from South Jersey and meeting a curly-haired soul mate who wanted to help her soar, even as the pair painfully grappled over the years with Mapplethorpe's sexuality and his work's brutality.


"Robert took areas of dark human consent and made them into art", Smith writes about the former altar boy from Floral Park, Queens, who was bedevilled by Catholic concepts of good and evil. "Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism."


When he began exploring his own desires in San Francisco, she said it was an education for her too.


"I had thought a man turned homosexual when there was not the right woman to save him, a misconception I had developed from the tragic union of Rimbaud and the poet Paul Verlaine", she writes, adding that she mistakenly considered homosexuality "a poetic curse" that "irrevocably meshed with affectation and flamboyance".


As they redefined their love, she writes, "I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth".


When the penniless Smith first gets to New York she sleeps in Central Park and graveyards. Once she meets Robert, they shoplift occasionally and scrape by. They are too poor to go to museums together; one goes in and describes it afterward to the other waiting outside. They share Coney Island hot dogs. Robert works as a hustler for money.


She encourages the reluctant Mapplethorpe to take photographs; he shoots the covers for her poetry book and mythic first album, Horses. He teases her when she becomes famous faster.


Smith vividly recalls a psychedelic bohemia in downtown New York in the volcanic late '60s and '70s when you could feel "a sense of hastening".


She transports you back to the Coney Island freak shows and the Chelsea Hotel, "a doll's house in the Twilight Zone", as she calls the refuge for artists from Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan. Glittery cameos include former lover Sam Shepard, Gregory Corso, Salvador Dali, Viva, William Burroughs, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and her idol, Hendrix. The more commercial and society-minded Robert dreamed of breaking into Warhol's circle, but Patti was suspicious. "I hated the soup and felt little for the can", she writes. "I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it."


When Robert was ravaged by AIDS, a distraught Patti drove and flew back and forth from Detroit to New York to hold and soothe him. She wrote him a letter, recalling that he once said that art was like "holding hands with God". Urging him to grip that hand hard, she concluded: "Of all your work, you are still your most beautiful".


The March morning in 1989 that he died, at 42, she woke up to hear an opera playing on an arts channel on a TV that had been left on. It was Tosca declaring her passion for the painter Cavaradossi, singing "I have lived for love, I have lived for art". It was her goodbye.








Verbal language is one of the greatest means of communication. You may be surprised, why I don't call it the greatest means of communication. Because it's not. Words convey very little. Words are just vehicles of feelings and thoughts; just like the wrapping of a chocolate. When the communication goes deeper, words fail; they stumble, become weak and later give way to silence.


The Neuro-Linguistic Programming psychologists have found that 98 per cent of human communication is non-verbal and only two per cent is verbal. We depend on the words too much because we are intellectuals, logic is our best tool to convince others. Words are often uttered unconsciously and therefore, create lots of problems. Later people have to apologise to each other, and say, "this is not what I meant", or "you have misunderstood me" and so on. In the first place, why do we say something we don't mean? Psychologists say, 99 per cent of our communication gaps are created because of our words. It depends where the words are coming from. If they are coming from emotions, they carry lot of charge, which hurts others. If they come from the intellect, they trigger an argument.


In that case won't it be good if we use a language that will express ourselves and not induce fire wherever it reaches?


There is such a language called Gibberish. Osho has revived the ancient technique of Sufis and has used it as a therapy. The word gibberish is not English, it is Arabic; and it comes from an enlightened Sufi mystic, Jabbar. Jabbar deliberately spoke so fast that his words would run over each other. It was impossible to make any sense out of what he said because there were no full stops, commas, no indication of where the sentence began and where it ended. It was such an outburst of energy that the listeners found it mind-blowing. This is exactly what he intended: to bring the mind to a standstill. It gave a taste of silence and relaxation to the listener.


Gibberish is immensely cathartic and a relaxing way of venting out tensions, or releasing bottled up emotions without hurting anybody. If you "gibber" your anger or frustration, nobody will understand what you are trying to say, but you will feel an immense relief, as if a mountain of burden is off your chest.


Gibberish means speaking in the language you don't know. It is a wonderful potion for the mind, which is trained to think logically, rationalise every act, or accumulate thoughts like a heap of garbage. Yes, garbage, it sure is. The modern man is bombarded with much information from the electronic gadgets and media. This unprocessed information creates stress and he feels bogged down by it. This leads to many illnesses like migraine, headache and other psychosomatic diseases. The cultured, cultivated mind needs ventilation so that it can remain sane. Gibberish fulfils this need.


Usually when two people are angry with each other they start hurling abuses and negative words at each other, or they suppress it and torture themselves. There is no need to go the conventional "fight or flight" way, express your thoughts in gibberish instead. Make meaningless sounds, tell the other person what you think about him/her without words. Use your body, face, or eye gestures. It also holds good if you want to express your soft feelings for someone. It is embarrassing for many people to express their love or appreciation for somebody. You can use a gentle singing like gibberish sounds, let your limbs speak and transmit your affection or attraction to the other person. It will reach home.


Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.








IDENTIFYING a positive outcome, from an Indian perspective at least, of the recent visit of Wen Jiabao would indeed be difficult since almost all the contentious bilateral issues remained "stuck". Yet buried deep down ~ para 16 to be precise ~ in the joint communique is a point pregnant with possibilities. "The two sides reaffirmed the importance of maritime security, unhindered commerce and freedom of navigation in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law. In this context, they agreed to work together in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Aden," it reads. What such cooperation indicates is an acceptance of the reality that their growing economies face a common threat, a threat that can be rendered less severe if the protection to their shipping is upgraded. Already the navies of both nations have a presence in those troubled waters, but obviously patrolling such a vast expanse (pirates are active in the approaches to the gulf too) of ocean would be a case of "the more the merrier". So, to take recourse to another cliché, "your enemy's enemy becomes your friend". It will, of course, call for committed efforts of both navies to translate into action what the communiqué envisages. While there may have been no hostile situations at sea, the overall "difficult" military relations and Indian apprehensions that the Chinese naval expansion is part of an encirclement policy will constitute much baggage. Still, the Indian Navy must give effect to the agreement with a sense of confidence, not the diffidence that marks the attitude of politicians and bureaucrats when dealing with the Chinese. Any cooperation in tackling piracy would be mutually beneficial. That is the bottom line. Navies have long argued that because they operate in a shared "medium" there is a diplomatic element to their functioning. Courtesies are exchanged when warships pass each other, goodwill visits to foreign ports are not infrequent. The proposed cooperation in the Gulf of Aden would be moving the level of interaction a couple of notches higher. If it "clicks" then a confidence-building measure is at hand. To where that will lead is too premature to even imagine at this stage. Ironically, Somali pirates may have offered a tiny key to unlocking one of the region's most worrisome stand-offs.



IT is unfortunate that the presence of joint forces in Junglemahal is seen in a political context rather than as a decisive factor in the virtual war with Maoists for which forces were deployed in the first place. The Left and Trinamul speak in a language that reveals their respective agendas and confirms why the menace of extremism has survived so long. The chief minister convinces no one when he dismisses Opposition allegations that cleansing of some pockets has helped the Left establish control over areas earlier dominated by Maoists. If indeed the Left has found a foothold in these areas, a point conceded by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it is still difficult to imagine the Centre endorsing some kind of collusion that helps the Left gain control of "vacated'' villages. That Mamata Banerjee now holds out veiled threats to the UPA, which has refused to concede her demand for withdrawal of the joint forces, can only be related to the impending elections and Trinamul's prospects in the forty-plus Assembly constituencies in the disturbed districts with support from the PCPA. Both leaders have thrived on distortions which have become an integral part of their campaigns. That explains why the Centre, which has prioritised the security situation in Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhatisgarh, hasn't been influenced either by Miss Banerjee's charges of a "conspiracy'' that helps  the Left or by the chief  minister's constant harping on Trinamul's extremist links.

If both leaders are playing to the gallery, it is a matter of relief that the Centre views the situation in the larger context of establishing the rule of law. The final test is whether the social climate will become conducive enough to allow a free and fair vote.  There is no doubt that the local administration and police have failed miserably. The chief minister would have done well to concede that failure before claiming credit for pushing out Maoists from some pockets, distributing land in forest areas and selling rice at Rs 2 a kg. He cannot conceal the political interests just as the Trinamul chief makes it abundantly clear that her party's desperate efforts to grab as many Assembly seats as possible at the expense of the Left are at the moment more important than ensuring that the Maoist menace is extinguished. It has resulted in a war of nerves that has become an embarrassment for the Congress. Fortunately, the Centre has made it clear that, while it respects its partner in Bengal, there is no reason to shift from the primary objective of protecting lives and property.



WITH no fewer than 40 distressed farmers dying in Orissa this month alone, the crisis deepens after the rejection of the state government's Rs 900-crore bailout package. Central to the current agricultural crisis is the unseasonal rain in the first week of December and the extensive damage that the standing crop has suffered across the state. There is considerable alarm, therefore, over the first cases of farmers' suicides in Orissa... three in Ganjam ~ incidentally Naveen Patnaik's home district ~ and at least two in Malkangiri. Many more have reportedly died after suffering heart attacks in the wake of the crop loss. Whether or not the bailout package is woefully inadequate ~ as nine farmers' organisations have claimed ~ there is little doubt that the government's initiative bristles with shortcomings. In terms of allotting assistance, the administration in Bhubaneswar has drawn a fine distinction between irrigated and non-irrigated land. And in a state where 80 per cent of the farmers belong to the second segment. Yet the allocation has been considerably higher for those in the relatively advantageous irrigated category. The farmers do have a point when they demand a flat rate for both categories. The expenditure is higher on a non-irrigated tract. As in Bengal and many other states, the farmer in Orissa is dependent on loans from mahajans; yet the interest commitment has not been covered by the package.


Altogether, a testament to the failure of the Centre's loan-waiver scheme, introduced with considerable fanfare by Mr P Chidambaram as finance minister.  The third factor is the pattern of ownership and farming. The farmer tills the land as sharecropper; but he doesn't benefit from the package as only the landowner is entitled to the assistance.  Clearly, Orissa's agrarian crisis goes beyond the unseasonal rain; the government can't be unaware that the socio-economic implications are no less critical. 

Significantly enough, the state hasn't disputed the farmers' contention, perhaps an indirect admission of the fact that the gaps need to be plugged. The chief minister has taken recourse to the standard cavil over what he claims has been inadequate Central support. During his meeting with the Prime Minister last Thursday, Mr Patnaik is said to have sought a total bailout package worth Rs 2616 crore. But with the Centre itself in a bind, a decision on state assistance is unlikely anytime soon. Though the Prime Minister has been remarkably prompt in announcing a special relief package for Maharashtra.









VISVA-BHARATI, founded by Rabindranath Tagore, is now engaged in a quest for  identity. The poet's dream

had revolved around altruistic humanism to nurture joy, love, freedom and the finer aesthetic sensibilities. Tagore had visualised and translated his dream to reality: "It made me realise that a great responsibility was laid upon me to seek to bring about a true meaning of the East and the West, beyond the boundaries of politics and race and creed. I was convinced that my own institution at Santiniketan must now open wide its gates. It must offer to those who might come from the West that generous hospitality which India had traditionally offered to those who have visited her shores. Thus, gradually this idea of founding a Centre of Indian Culture, with which I started was enlarged. The fuller idea of Visva-Bharati now included the thought of a complete meeting of East and West, in a common fellowship of learning and a common spiritual striving for the unity of the human race. The stress was now to be laid on the ideal of humanity itself." (The Visva-Bharati Ideal, Visvabharati, Natesan, 1923, pp 9-10.)

The proposal to make Visva-Bharati a heritage university has brought the institution under the UN scanner.  Alarming is the crisis of identity. Excellence has been a casualty in the attempt to fulfil its role as a centre for the dissemination of  Indian, Eastern and Western cultures. The university was conceived as a centre of international culture "to seek to establish a living relationship between the East and the West, to promote inter-racial amity and inter-cultural understanding and fulfil the highest mission of the present age ~ the unification of mankind".


This was the desire of Rabindranath Tagore. He also wanted Visva-Bharati to become a centre par excellence of mass welfare and rural reconstruction which would "lay the foundations of a happy, contented and humane life in village". (Rabindranath Tagore: Visva-Bharati and its Institutions, Visva-Bharati, 1956, p 42.)
The less said the better about the realisation of the poet's vision that Visva-Bharati would be a centre of all-round education for the development of complete manhood. He had viewed education as  "the living stream of humanity", one that could be permanently treasured as "love and knowledge, work and welfare to be absorbed endlessly into the living texture of human society". Alas, this philosophy is being ruthlessly endangered.
For instance, the department of education, Vinaya-Bhavana, has lost its traditional prestige and reputation after it was recently de-recognised by the National Council for Teacher Education. Even the induction of students has been curbed ~ from 200 to 100. This has not only affected the image of Vinaya-Bhavana, but also the prospects of aspiring students. No less unfortunate is that the parents/ guardians as much as the hapless learners have failed to realise the  gravity of the situation. At stake is the future of the students. Confusion is worse confounded by the consequent delay in the admission process.

The poet's dream of "total education" is now a myth. He perceived true education is a "joyous, spontaneous, free and living exercise for the emancipation of man in a natural and sylvan atmosphere". The ambience has been destroyed in a mechanised, caged, class-conscious, artificial set-up. Teaching and learning has been marred by spoon-feeding. In a word, the academic environment has been severely polluted. 

The poet's dream that education would lead to the regeneration of man through the uninterrupted exercise of truth and spirituality, goodness and humanity is being continually replaced by a somewhat artificial and lifeless education. Creativity and critical awareness, integral to and natural in Tagore's scheme of things, have been denuded in the overwhelming anxiety for clearing examinations and obtaining degrees. The poet's dream, articulated in his lecture delivered at Andhra University in 1934, might spur Visva-Bharati to return to its roots. "How can the flame burn for a single moment on the tip of the match-stick if the whole sky did not sustain its truth of ignition? Within life we find an inner meaning of the entire creation ~ that meaning we call Will. Matter remained dumb ~ it could not express the language of Will. Life came and expressed its will. That message which was incomplete so long found at last its voice.

"The student, after much effort and time, first learns the alphabet, then the spelling, then the grammar; he wastes paper and ink scribbling incomplete and meaningless sentences, he uses and discards much acquisition of materials; at last, when as a poet he is able to write his first utterance, that very moment, in that composition, all his inexpressive accumulation of words first find their glimmer of significance. In the great evolution of the Universe we have found its first significance in a cell of life, then in an animal, then in Man. From the outer universe gradually we come to the inner realm, and one by one the gates of freedom are unbarred. When the screen is lifted on the appearance of Man on earth, we realise the great and mysterious truth of relatedness, of the supreme unity of all that is. Only can Man declare that those who know truth can enter into the heart of the all." (Man, Andhra University Press, Waltair, 1991, p 60.)

For a genuine evolution of human consciousness, Tagore wanted his dreamchild, Visva-Bharati, to be a serene abode of joy and harmony, peace and bliss where the liberation of man finds a new habitation and a name in close association with Nature. The wholeness of personality must embrace consciousness of the "truth of human unity". As he characteristically asserts, "Of all the creatures, man has reached that multi-cellular character in a perfect manner not only in his body but in his personality. For centuries his evolution has been the evolution of a consciousness that tries to be liberated from the bounds of individual separateness and to comprehend in its relationship a wholeness which may be named Man. This relationship which has been dimly instinctive is ever struggling to be fully aware of itself. Physical evolution sought for efficiency in a perfect communication with the physical world; the evolution of Man's consciousness sought for truth in a perfect harmony with the world of personality.

"However, whatever name our logic may give to the truth of human unity, the fact which can never be ignored is that we have our greatest delight when we realise ourselves in others and this is the definition of love. This love gives us the testimony of the great whole which is the complete and final truth of man. It offers us the immense field where we can have our release from the sole monarchy of hunger, of the growing voice, snarling teeth and tearing claws from the dominance of the little material means, the source of cruel envy and ignoble deception where the largest wealth of the human soul has been produced through sympathy and cooperation, through disinterested pursuit of knowledge that recognises no limit and is unafraid of all time-honoured taboos; through a strenuous cultivation of intelligence for service that knows no distinction of colour and clime. The spirit of love dwelling in the boundless realm of the surplus emancipates our consciousness from the illusory bond of the separateness of self; it is ever trying to spread its illumination in the human world." (The Creative


(To be concluded)






The committee on review of ownership and governance of market infrastructure institutions was a creation of the Securities and Exchange Board of India. It was supposed to advise Sebi on how to regulate stock exchanges and related facilities. So it would have been thought that Sebi would decide on the fate of the committee's recommendations; if it had any doubts on them, it was for Sebi to organize further consultations. Instead, the august supreme authority sitting in Delhi, the finance ministry itself, has let people know that it will organize a consultation. Oddly, it has let out that the members of the committee will not be invited to this meeting. From the passionate reactions to the committee's report it is clear that there are few who have a good word to say about it. The only people who might have defended a report — and might have said why they came to their extreme conclusions — are in the committee. To keep them out of the meeting may be a signal that the finance ministry does not think too highly of the committee and proposes to bury its report. But if it does not mean to humiliate the members of the committee, then at least the presence of the chairman would be desirable.


This is not to say that there is anything desirable about the recommendations of the committee. In the first place, the reason for its appointment is itself not clear. Indian capital markets have worked reasonably well for a good many years; just why they needed a lookover is not clear. Perhaps the reason for its appointment is indicated by its prime recommendation, which is that no one except banks and a few government financial institutions should be allowed to set up new stock exchanges. So if someone did not want a particular person to set up a stock exchange and did not have the power to do so, he would appoint such a committee. The name of the only entity that would fit the bill is Sebi. It is common knowledge that a certain party has been giving Sebi much trouble, questioning its decisions and dragging it to the courts. So the report would seem to have the narrow aim of stopping the party in its tracks. There may also be other unwelcome parties lurking in the dark.


Using committees to achieve such narrow and partisan ends is not unknown in the government. Not appointing committees that might show the government in a bad light is equally known, most lately in the government's resistance to a joint parliamentary committee on the telecommunications scandal. But there is an older tradition that has been lost in this politicking: committees used to be appointed to establish unquestionable facts relating to controversial questions. No institution needs it more than Sebi, which has grown into an uncontrolled, directionless giant in 22 years.









The National Crime Records Bureau may be indirectly saying something perceptive about men who live in West Bengal. According to its 2008 statistics, West Bengal has the highest number of battered wives. The rate of domestic violence against women in the state is the highest in the country. The man in Bengal seems bravest at home; he is too shy to demonstrate his muscle outside. He also values his public image as the well-bred gentleman. In dowry-related deaths, West Bengal comes fifth. That is not too bad either, considering that the husband in such cases often gets the help of his family. The recent law against domestic violence requires protection officers to ensure that women are not hurt in the home. According to surveys conducted by 21 voluntary organizations in seven districts, West Bengal does have one officer per district. This is pitifully inadequate, given the scale of wife torture. But the solutions the organizations have suggested are worth looking at.


Instead of a smattering of protection officers, they have suggested, local panels should look into domestic violence — in each ward perhaps, or under the relevant panchayat. In an ideal world, this would be meaningful. But a social and cultural environment that breeds cruelty towards girls and women can hardly generate panels that would address domestic violence impartially. Besides, the intense politicization of society has totally undermined the social and familial space. Panchayats often punish women who have been molested or even raped, while letting the offender go scot-free, or with just a fine. Their members come from the same families that insult and demean their women. Such local bodies, therefore, are unlikely to stem violence in the home. The need for a change of mindset is urgent, but that is dependent on factors such as universal education, cultural exposure, economic opportunities and so on. Before that happens, the government must be persuaded to take the predicament of women in the state seriously. That may be the most difficult.









Governments in India have for long regulated many economic and other activities within the framework of the Constitution and the laws passed by the Central or state legislatures. Since no law can be so detailed that it covers all the complexities of implementation, rules and regulations are framed to enable governments to give flesh to the skeletons of overall policies. During the four decades or so when India was committed to a "socialistic pattern" of society, ministers and their bureaucrats developed regulations that controlled almost every aspect of economic activity. There was much abuse of these powers; favours were given to some, bribes smoothed the way for many, nepotism was common, financial and other support to political mentors was the price for some. This continues despite liberalization and the withdrawal of government from many areas of control. This is because decisions that could enable large profits were taken in an opaque manner. There was considerable discretion given to ministers and bureaucrats, easily subject to misuse.


Independent regulators were created to get over this difficulty. The first regulator who took over many of the government's powers was the Reserve Bank of India, though it remained ultimately subservient to the finance minister and his office. The RBI determined monetary policy. Though there is no legislation that gives it the mandate, it uses monetary policy (money supply, interest rates) to keep inflation within limits. It also manages the external value of the rupee by buying and selling foreign currencies and increasing and decreasing the flow of rupees. It also regulates the different financial institutions. There were other regulatory bodies like the Tariff Commission that set import duties, the Forward Markets Commission that dealt with commodity futures trading, the railway rates tribunal, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. Some of these no longer exist and their tasks are carried out by departments of government behind closed doors. Others, such as the MRTPC have been subsumed under the Competition Commission and the various consumer tribunals.


However, liberalization, the freer rein given to private enterprise and the opening up of the economy to foreign investment and foreign competition resulted in large investments by private parties in sectors, many of which were natural monopolies. Natural monopolies gave much scope for exploitation through high prices, low quality, poor service and so on. Though these were common when government enterprises dominated a sector, the entry of private investment led to independent regulators being appointed to decide on many issues that could otherwise lead to misuse or abuse of power. Public sector exploitation was acceptable; private sector exploitation had to be controlled.


It is a toss-up as to whether the most successful new industry in recent years is telecommunications or information technology. A recent article in TheEconomic and Political Weekly by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Akshat Kaushal says: "The Indian telecom market is currently the second largest in the world (after China).... Call rates in India today are among the lowest in the world if not the lowest." The Indian information technology industry is a major contributor to employment, exports, and to India's image as a country whose people are very bright, easily trained and who acquire advanced skills without difficulty.


The government had little role in the growth of the IT industry. It is said to have grown as it did because it escaped the attention of the Indian bureaucracy that was technologically illiterate and, not knowing the potential, was not able to stifle its growth by detailed regulation. In telecom the article mentioned earlier says: "There were at least three scandals that preceded the current one (2010) in which allegations of corruption, nepotism and crony capitalism were levelled." These flip-flops in decisions may in fact have helped the spectacular growth of the sector. The Raja-Radia revelations are of a different order. A few businesses were immensely profited (witnessed by resale prices of licences), and a powerful minister profited from his decisions.


This might lead to the erroneous conclusion that no regulation is better than detailed regulation, and the view that flip-flops in decisionmaking are only adjustments made to facilitate faster growth. Transparency, objectivity, predictability, reasoned decisions are vital if the institution of government is not to be discredited. It has been so discredited by the recent revelations in the Radia tapes.


In recent years, electricity tariffs have been determined by state electricity regulatory commissions which are expected to examine the costs as submitted by the distribution companies (mainly fuel and power purchase as well as operating costs). Some state-level regulators, particularly in Delhi and Maharashtra, presumably to gain appreciation from the political powers, have denied legitimate costs or postponed their recovery by calling them "regulatory assets". This has caused financial strain to the utilities. It postpones tariff rises to future consumers and in a period of rising fuel and power costs, those are unlikely to ever be recovered. The Delhi electricity regulatory commission, advising the Delhi state government on these issues that were unilaterally postponed by a former DERC chairman, who insisted on tariff being reduced when costs indicated raising them, has given a report. Among other things it says: "Analysis of the Audited Accounts of the distribution licensees… would indicate that the net shortfall in respect of the year 2008-09 was about Rs 450 crores, for the year 2009-10 about Rs 1720 crores and for the six months from April to September, 2010 about Rs 2300 crores. Thus, it would be quite obvious that in the absence of tariff revision, there is a growing revenue gap which is to be funded out of borrowings which are increasing from year to year."


Electricity regulators who deny recovery through tariffs of costs already incurred, are putting avoidable financial burdens on the utility and on future consumers who will have to pay for past costs. Regulators in their enthusiasm have also taken steps to introduce retail competition without ensuring adequate supplies. Failure to be objective and take all facts into account leads to bad decisions.


Similarly, regulators avoid decisions. This is seen with the microfinance industry where the lack of regulation led to some microfinance institutions charging extortionate rates of interest, giving multiple loans to the same financially weak borrower with little capacity to repay — and that when banks have made loans to the institutions without adequate diligence. The RBI should have set out regulations that could have prevented such a disastrous outcome, as in Andhra Pradesh where microfinance has virtually collapsed.


Another instance of regulatory failure is the decision of Sebi that virtually knocked distributors of mutual funds out of the business, with customers having to do their own homework on the relative merits of different funds. The result has been the sharp fall in the amount of money flowing into funds.


The lessons are clear. Ministerial and bureaucratic discretion in matters that can give large financial benefits to third parties should be taken in public, transparently and objectively. Political and populist considerations must not affect regulatory decisions. For this, it is essential that regulators, who will not be easily influenced by government officials and politicians, are selected. There must be an overseeing body that scrutinizes allegations against regulators and a strong system of penalties for those found guilty.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








"Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people." Theodore Roosevelt, two-term president of the United States of America, said that, and the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, quoted him in a manifesto he wrote four years ago, adding, "The more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership...." By that criterion, how is the US government doing after a year that saw Pentagon and the state department documents published by WikiLeaks in the tens of thousands?


In truth, none of the "secrets" that Assange has revealed is all that momentous. Defence secretary Robert Gates was right when he said: "Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for US foreign policy? I think fairly modest." Yet, some of his cabinet colleagues are on the verge of the hysterical. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declared, "This disclosure is not just an attack on America — it's an attack on the international community....


Some parts of the US government seem quite relaxed about Assange's actions, while other parts seem determined to put him in prison. "We are talking about one of the most serious violations of the Espionage Act in our history," said attorney general Eric Holder. "To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law...they will be held responsible." How can someone who isn't an American citizen, and wasn't in the US, have broken an American law? No way, technically, but the US might still be able to get a close ally like Britain to hand him over if it could argue that Assange was actively spying on it.


Domestic pressure


That will be hard, since he almost certainly wasn't. He had good legal advice when he set up the "dead letter box" where the leaks are collected, and it is designed not to reveal the sources of the leaks even to WikiLeaks itself. Indeed, Assange says that he never heard the name of the person whom the US accuses of being the leaker — the 23-year-old army-man, Bradley Manning, until he read it in the newspapers.


The US cannot make a case for espionage against Assange unless it can plausibly claim that he helped Manning steal the documents. Given that it probably isn't true, it can only do that by forcing Manning to say that it is true. That may not be impossible, because he has been held in solitary confinement. He is entirely alone 23 hours out of 24, and even his hour of exercise takes place in an empty room where he walks figures-of-eight. Once Manning is a pathetic wreck, they will offer him a plea bargain: a much reduced sentence for his own actions if he will also incriminate Assange. Then the US could lay a charge against Assange that might result in his extradition — although that is far from guaranteed, since nowhere do political crimes lead to automatic extradition. But does the US government really want to go all the way down this road?


The usual suspects out in the backwoods are howling for blood, so domestic politics demands that the administration make a great show of outrage and vengefulness. On the other hand, the grown-ups in the government know that the way to get through the WikiLeaks drama with the least damage internationally is just to ignore it.


That is why vice-president Joe Biden could say, "I don't think there's any substantive damage" from the WikiLeaks episode — then on NBC the following day accuse Assange of being a "hi-tech terrorist". It's called 'talking out of both sides of your mouth', which is what politicians have to do a lot of the time. Which side should we believe? Obama's people probably don't know that themselves yet. Domestic politics will decide.





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The conviction of celebrated human rights activist Binayak Sen for treason by the Raipur sessions court on Friday has raised question about the country's system of justice. Sen, along with two others, has been awarded a harsh life sentence for allegedly aiding and abetting Maoist activities. But the evidence produced against Sen is very unconvincing and there are strong reasons to believe that it was manufactured or doctored to implicate him in a false case. He has been hounded and persecuted by the police and the authorities in Chhattisgarh for long and has suffered much for his commitment to the welfare of poor tribals in the state. He was even denied the normal right of bail after he was arrested in 2006 and it was after spending nearly two years in jail that he won freedom at the intervention of the supreme court.

The prosecution charge that Sen acted as a conduit between a jailed Maoist leader and a businessman is weak because all the meetings between the two in jail were under the supervision of the authorities. The defence claim that evidence was planted to incriminate Sen seems to be correct in the light of production of letters and documents which were not recovered from his residence. The ridiculousness of the prosecution claim became clear in the court during the trial when it accused Sen of links with the Pakistani ISI on the basis of an e-mail message to an organisation with that acronym. It turned out the organisation was the Indian Social Institute (ISI) in Delhi.

There is no doubt that Sen did not get a fair trial and his conviction has tarnished the reputation of the country. He has become an international symbol of the struggle of the poor and marginalised people for their legitimate rights. The Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience. A man who has been honoured with international awards for his work among the poor, and on whose behalf Nobel laureates have pleaded with the government, should not be treated the way he has been. The Chhattisgarh police and the trial judge who accepted its story uncritically have sent out a dire warning to all those who value and work for human rights. It is the disregard for the rights of the poor that has triggered the Maoist revolt. It is unfortunate that this truth is not recognised.







A number of recommendations made by a four-member chief ministers' panel, appointed by the Centre to study agricultural productivity, output and marketing practices, are specific and need to be considered favourably for implementation. The panel was headed by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and comprise the chief ministers of Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal. Some of the proposals are not new, but taken together, they present a comprehensive package of ideas to reform the agricultural sector and improve the lot of farmers. Reforms are not easy in the sector because many of the problems are very complex and deeply entrenched. The steps needed to solve them sometimes come into conflict with policies that promote other sectors like industry. In an ideal economy, the interests of different sectors should complement one another but historical reasons, uneven development and politicisation of interests have made that difficult in India.

The major recommendations include loans to farmers at  4 per cent interest, fixing the minimum support price at 50 per cent higher than the actual cost of production, lifting controls on movement, trading, stocking and export of agricultural products, opening up marketing infrastructure for the private sector, encouraging contract farming and creating a godown network for storage. The panel has also suggested setting up dedicated power feeder systems for farmers and economic pricing of power, water and fertilisers. Extension of green revolution practices to agriculturally backward areas is yet another proposal. Each of the proposals addresses a specific problem in the sector, some are controversial and many would need major shifts in policy and large investments. Increasing productivity and output, reducing the number of intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer, warehousing and avoiding wastage and structural changes to facilitate these goals are the basic aims of the package.

Many of these and other suggestions made in the report are sensible. Feudal relations of production that exist in many parts of the country are a major constraint. Obstacles to farm sector growth are different in different parts of the country and separate strategies will have to be formulated for various regions and even for different crops. Many commissions, including the National Commission on Farmers headed by M S Swaminathan, have made similar recommendations. It is time to act on them because without robust growth of the farm sector economic development will not be real and sustainable.







'It is ironic that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day newspapers.'


India has become a strange democracy where Binayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits get a life in luxury. It takes years of pressure for government to move against those looting the nation's treasury; and when the majestic forces of enforcement do go on a 'raid' they give their quarry enough time to remove every trace of evidence. You have to be exceptionally stupid to store evidence of your own culpability in a telecom scandal where deals were made and money paid three years before. Or, for that matter, even six months ago, as in some instances of the highly lubricated Commonwealth Games. By this time the money has either been spent, converted into assets, or sent to a convenient haven abroad. The political-industrial nexus is above the law, because it controls enforcement. But if the ruling class of India could have hanged Binayak Sen instead of merely trying to send him to jail for the rest of his life, it would have done so.

Binayak made a fundamental, mortal mistake. He was on the side of the poor. That is a non-negotiable error in our oligarchic democracy. Christmas must be truly merry in the homes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and, of course, Raman Singh this year. The Congress and the BJP dislike each other with a passion that only a thirst for power can generate; they disagree on just about anything and everything. But there is perfect harmony between them over the naxalite policy. End the naxalite problem by elimination of the messenger; and the poor will not have the courage to ask for more than the trickle allotted to them by a gluttonous government.

The media is an obedient doorman of this nexus, protecting its interests with a zeal that should surprise even the benefactors. The arrest of Binayak was converted into instant accusatory headlines. His trial was ignored by the press, which is why we do not know that there was virtually no substantive evidence. Suffice it to say that two of Binayak's jailors, during his detention without bail, were declared hostile by the prosecution. Prosecuting lawyers are in the pay of government, as are the jailors. And yet two policemen refused to back the prosecution. A fabricated unsigned letter, apparently cooked up on a computer printout, seems to have been sufficient to convince the honourable guardians of our judicial system that Binayak Sen deserved a sentence reserved for only the most hardened murderer.

Distorted application

It is another matter that Binayak Sen, who was senior to me in school, was and remains the gentlest of people, distinguished only by a fierce commitment to his cause of choice. I do not agree with his political views or inclinations; nor does the political system. But it is only in a dictatorship that disagreement is sufficient reason for incarceration. India seems to be developing a two-tier democracy: generosity of the law for the privileged and vindictive, distorted application on the underprivileged.

It is ironic that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day newspapers. We all know that Jesus was not born on December 25; it was only in the fourth century that Pope Liberius declared this date to be a birthday because mystery and miracle has been associated with the winter solstice from time beyond memory. Christmas has become an international festival because it represents the most important values that give life some meaning and hold the complex social web together: peace, and goodwill towards all men, without which there cannot be peace.


This goodwill is not sectarian; it is easy to have goodwill towards some men, friends or benefactors. Christmas is the festival of the Other. It is the embrace of the dissident, or even the enemy. The most famous display of the Christmas spirit was the pause on the frontline in the First World War, when a few British and German soldiers announced an impromptu truce, played football, shared a drink and became human for a day before their superiors ordered them to return to the savagery of a terrible war that wrecked Europe.


If Binayak Sen is guilty of sedition on the basis of fictitious evidence, then, as was famously said during the great Gandhian movement against the British between 1919 and 1922, there are not enough jails in India to hold those equally guilty. The reference is not accidental. Governments have begun to opt for a colonial approach towards naxalism and its myriad manifestations. The reason? Fear, perhaps terror. The corrupt can recognise their nemesis.







Mexico resembles a 'failed state', caught in a deadly trap, beset by every type of armed thug.



November 20 was the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution, the first major social revolution of the 20th century: a heroic deed carried out by two legendary popular figures, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, whose victory was a victory for workers and peasant farmers: rights, agrarian reform, free, non-religious public education, and social security.

One hundred years later, paradoxically, the situation of Mexico "is analogous in many respects to that at the and of 1910: an obscene concentration of wealth accompanied by widespread social backwardness; distortion of the popular will; infringement of workers rights; the negation of basic guarantees by the authorities; ceding of sovereignty to international capital, and a oligarchic, patrimonialist, technocratic political class out of touch with the people."

Add to this depressing catalogue of problems a war — or, to be more precise, three wars: one waged among the drug traffickers for the control of territory; one of the Zeta groups (criminal groups comprised of ex-military and ex-police) that rob and kidnap the civil population; and one of the military and special forces against their own citizens.



Starting Dec 1, 2006, under pressure from Washington, Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched his 'offensive against drug trafficking'. The wave of violence that followed left about 30,000 dead.

Mexico increasingly resembles a 'failed state', caught in a deadly trap, beset by every type of armed thug: paramilitary and parapolice; bands of 'legal' and 'liberated' assassins; US agents from the CIA and DEA; and finally the Zetas, who target particularly central and south American migrants on their way to the United States. They are without a doubt responsible for the atrocious murder of 72 migrants discovered last August 24 in the state of Tamaulipas.

Every year some 5,00,000 Latin Americans cross through Mexico on their way north. During the passage they undergo a wide range of abuses, from arbitrary arrest, robbery, and plundering to rape. Eight of 10 women experience sexual abuse; many are impressed as servants to criminal gangs or forced into prostitution. Hundreds of children are put to work. Thousands of migrants are kidnapped. The Zetas make the families of their victims pay ransom.


For organised crime it is easier to kidnap 50 or so unknown people for a few days and receive payments of between $300 and $1,500 than kidnap an important businessman. If the kidnapped person has no way to pay the ransom, he is killed. Each Zeta cell has its own 'butcher' to decapitate and dismember the victims, and burn the remains in a steel barrel. In the last decade, some 60,000 undocumented people whose families were unable to pay their ransom were 'disappeared'.

Such barbaric violence concentrated in certain cities, like Ciudad Juarez, and in certain states, has spread to the rest of the country. Washington has designated Mexico a 'dangerous country' and ordered its consulate workers in various cities to send their children back to the US.

President Calderon regularly announces successes in the war on drug trafficking and the arrest of important narco leaders. He is content to have mobilised the army. The majority of Mexicans do not agree, because the military, who have no experience in this sort of intervention, increase the 'collateral damage', killing hundreds of civilians by mistake.


By mistake? Abel Barrera Hernandez, who just won the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Prize, awarded in the US, doesn't believe it. On the contrary he believes that the drug war is being used to criminalise civil protest.

The Obama administration believes that the bloodbath Mexico has become is a threat to the security of the US. In reality, the US bears a major share of the responsibility for this war. It is the main opponent of the legalisation of drugs. It is the supplier of (up to 90 per cent of) the weapons used in the violence, whether by the cartels or the Zetas or the army or the police. Moreover, the US is the main drug power: it is a major producer of marijuana and the largest producer of chemical drugs like amphetamines, ecstasy, etc.

The US is, above all, the largest drug market in the world, with 7 million cocaine addicts. And the mafias that operate in its territory make the largest profits off of the sale of drugs: 90 per cent, or $45 billion per year. In contrast, the total made by all of the Latin American cartels come to a mere 10 per cent.


Yet again, rather than give its neighbours (bad) advice, which has precipitated Mexico into a hellish war, Washington should clean its own house.







The stars prick the growing dark until they wink and blink from every side.



I have a fondness for stars; not of the Hollywood or Bollywood kinds, but the ones that spangle the sky. Perhaps the seeds were sown in childhood. My mind parts the mist of many years and I see before me my teacher of standard 1. She did not teach as much as inspire. "Have you seen the star-filled sky at night and wondered where they go to in the morning?" she asked us, her wide-eyed pupils, one day. 

"Well, here they are." And with that she opened a box full of gleaming little stars, all cut from shining, glossy paper. We would each get one every time we did our work well. How hard we worked and how precious these shining little specks were to us!

With the passing years, my fascination for stars grew, widening to embrace the real ones that stud the sky. Many a time, I have sat by the sea, watching the setting sun as it sinks into it, leaving the sky flaming in colours of gold, orange and red. Then all at once comes deepening twilight with its shades of purple and grey. But I continue to sit, my gaze fixed on the sky, for a different kind of magic is about to begin. Hesitantly and then quickly, one by one, the stars prick the growing dark until they wink and blink from every side. It is a beautiful sight and it is made more beautiful by the fact that it unfolds every night.

This love I have for stars must have been rubbed off on my family. When my first granddaughter saw her new-born sister, she exclaimed, "She looks like a star. Let's name her 'Tara'!" And Tara she is.

We human beings are creatures of the earth. We look before and after, but rarely do we cast our glance upwards. This is true in a philosophical sense too. Gazing at stars transports us to other worlds. Few other things evoke the sense of the mysterious as much as the sight of these numerous glittering orbs. What are they, these gleaming bodies that have held themselves aloft for eons, we cannot help asking ourselves.

And in this season, that of Christmas, they intrude on our consciousness rather more. We see many lighted ones, big and small, hanging outside buildings and from doorways. They remind us that like the three wise men, we too can follow to the end, the star of our dreams!








Finding equitable resolution to 'Mavi Marmara' incident would not be beyond skills of senior diplomats from our two countries.


Ankara will accept nothing short of a public apology and full financial compensation for the Mavi Marmara raid as a condition for improving diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. That was the message sent out over the weekend by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"No friendship of whatever kind can overshadow the fact that Turkish citizens have been killed," Davutoglu noted, and went on to blame "conflicting signals" from Jerusalem for the current diplomatic chill between the countries.

The foreign minister's allegations, fiercely and undiplomatically contested on Sunday by his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, are disingenuous. If Turkey truly wished to resolve the ongoing tension between the countries over the Mavi Marmara, it could do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect, sensitivity and trust. Instead, Ankara has insisted that Israel issue a humiliating apology and provide compensation in a way that might expose IDF soldiers to international legal action.

Tellingly, there has been no Turkish recognition of the brutal violence perpetrated by so-called "peace activists" on board the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara seven months ago. Ankara has not been willing to admit that the IDF soldiers who boarded the ship to enforce the naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, which has become a base for terrorist activities against Israel, killed the nine Turkish activists while defending themselves against iron bars and other potentially lethal instruments.

The resolution demanded by Turkey does not conform to the kind of terms demanded by friendly nations. And for all of Israel's genuine desire to heal relations with what was hitherto a vital regional ally, meeting those terms would be self-defeating. Apparently, that is Ankara's intention.


AHEAD OF national elections slated for 2011, Turkey's ruling Islamic party, the AKP, seems to have an interest in capitalizing on widespread anti-Israel sentiment among the more religious rural population which makes up a large portion of its constituency. Hurriyet, a secular daily critical of the AKP, has lamented this change in Turkish foreign policy, which has brought it increasingly into the political orbit of Iran and Syria and their proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah.

It hasn't always been this way. After the AKP's rise to power in 2002, Turkey had initially sought to maintain the relatively good relations fostered with Israel in 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Turkey and Israel have common ground for cooperation. They are the region's only two democracies and have strong secular political frameworks. The two countries' defense forces were galvanized by a perception of shared military threats from the dominant Arab states surrounding them. Turkey even served as a mediator for indirect talks between Israel and Syria.

But more recently, the change has been sharp. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan fostered ties with Hamas, whose leader Khaled Mashaal's visit to Ankara in February 2006 was the first significant blow to relations with Israel. In parallel, Turkey improved ties with Syria, as symbolized by the scrapping of the visa regime between the two countries in October 2009.

At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2009, Erdogan made a concerted effort to publicly distance his country from ours. He exploited an appearance together with President Shimon Peres at the gathering, which coincided with the end ofOperation Cast Lead, to accuse Israel of "barbaric attacks" and responsibility for "crimes against humanity" in Gaza, storming off the stage in a theatric show of rancor.

The Turkish government's quasi-sponsorship of the Gaza flotilla, and the fallout since the Mavi Marmara interception, merely mark an unfortunate confirmation of Ankara's ongoing policy of distancing from Israel while fostering closer ties with Iran and Syria.

A beam of light was Turkey's alacrity this month in sending firefighting planes to help fight the Carmel blazes. But that beam was dimmed, first when Erdogan made it bluntly clear that this aid should not be misconstrued as a sign of Turkish recalibration on theMavi Marmara affair, and again this weekend when Davutoglu risibly claimed that Israel would not have done the same for Turkey.

It is no wonder that high-ranking Israeli and Turkish officials who met recently in Geneva failed to reach a reconciliatory agreement. Finding an equitable resolution to the Mavi Marmara incident would not be beyond the skills of senior diplomats from our two countries, but it would necessitate genuine mutual goodwill.


Sadly, Turkey's entire approach to the affair – itself an extension of its policy of solidarity with a Hamas government that came to power through violence and rules Gaza through fear – bespeaks anything but goodwill.

Contrary to what Davutoglu would have us believe, the failure to resolve diplomatic tensions has nothing to do with "conflicting signals" coming out of Jerusalem and everything to do with the clear and grim signals emanating from Ankara.








Thanks to Western aid and lowered sanctions the organization can stay in power in Gaza while building strong support base by delivering goods.

Talkbacks (2)


If I had to pick one paragraph that shows what's profoundly wrong with Middle East coverage in the Western mass media, it would be from the following New York Times article: "A rocket fired from Gaza fell close to a kindergarten in an Israeli village on Tuesday morning. Earlier, the Israel Air Force struck several targets in Gaza in retaliation for a recent increase in rocket and mortar shell fire.

Small groups appear to be behind the fire, but Israel says it holds Hamas, the Islamist organization that governs Gaza, responsible."

Why does this bother me so much? Because it symbolizes how too much of the West seems to fall for every trick, no matter how simple, of terrorists and totalitarians and does their propaganda work for them.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip as a dictatorship.

What it wants to happen happens; what it doesn't want to happen doesn't happen, or if it does, someone is going to pay severely for it. There are smaller groups allied with Hamas, notably Islamic Jihad.

Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that Hamas uses these groups as fronts so it can attack Israel and then deny responsibility for doing so.


But let's assume that Islamic Jihad – which Hamas allows to operate freely in Gaza as its junior partner or some smaller groups or some Hamas people hiding behind some other name – fires rockets or mortars at Israel. Presumably, if Hamas didn't like what they're doing, it would arrest and perhaps torture those responsible. But when it does nothing month after month despite repeated attacks, this is a signal that Hamas approves of the attacks.

That paragraph could be used to argue that if Israel hits Hamas facilities in self-defense, it is lashing out at an innocent bystander. And every time some devious Hamas leader remarks about the group's willingness to make peace in the ear of some politician or reporter, they provide free publicity about Hamas's alleged moderation. This, in turn, sets off others to chatter about the "great" idea of negotiating with Hamas or rewarding it to encourage "moderation."

You can substitute for Hamas such words as Iran, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, the Taliban or others.

I COULD cite hundreds of examples showing Western governments, journalists, academics, courts and, at times, public opinion being fooled by letting radicals and terrorists make fools of them.

Yet the truth is hardly well hidden. Hamas, for instance, has revealed its new strategy.Mahmoud Zahar, the group's key leader in the Gaza Strip, explains its medium-term goal is consolidating its hold on the area, thanks largely to help from the US and Europe.

"We are not in a hurry to buy or to sell our national interest because this is not the proper market."

The group rejects both negotiations (selling) and all-out war (buying). The medium-term effort is to win broad support from Gazans by improving their lives (with Western aid money), then using this base to go to war with Israel (thus making their lives much worse).

This is Hamas's response to the US argument that raising living standards in the Gaza Strip will inevitably make people more moderate and lead to its downfall.

I'm putting my money on Hamas, not the Obama administration, proving correct.

Zahar said Hamas is not planning to launch new attacks. Why should it? It is enough to let Islamic Jihad and others fire mortars or rockets and send squads across the border in terrorist attacks. If Israel retaliates too much, Hamas will run crying to the Western media and governments to protect it.

Thanks to Western aid and lowered sanctions – although it is officially listed as a terrorist group in the US and Europe – Hamas can stay in power and build a strong support base by delivering the goods.

Zahar boasts: "They told me... 'You cannot stay isolated and you are not going to survive more than two months. Now we finished five years and we survived, and we stayed, and we faced two wars," Zahar said. "So we can stay, and we can withstand, and we can win."

Of course, Hamas would not have survived if Israel had the support to overthrow it during Operation Cast Lead or perhaps if sanctions had remained tight. Hamas succeeded not because of its own ability – its military performance in the war was abysmal – but because the West saved it.

And Zahar says things like "time is not important if you are not wasting this time" because, he believes, Israel is losing international support while the Palestinians gain legitimacy.

In other words, Western demonization and delegitimization directly encourage terrorist groups to be less moderate and to fight more often.


Western aid, pressure to reduce sanctions and pressure to limit retaliation against Gaza is helping Hamas to build a genocide-seeking, terrorist, repressive Islamist dictatorship, backed by Iran and determined to spread instability and anti-Western revolutions.

Finally, Zahar provides a good comparison of Palestinian Authority and Hamas strategy. The PA, Zahar explains, "says we are going to make the infrastructure for a state and then the international community will give us a state as a gift."

So neither side wants to make peace with Israel: The PA wants unilateral independence without conditions or concessions; Hamas seeks military victory. Western policy encourages both of them not to become more moderate and not to make peace. Even worse, Western misunderstandings and misreporting help make the world a worse and more dangerous place.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.








Obama could simultaneously do right by jailed agent, bolster his standing here, enable PM to demonstrate appreciation in diplomatic sphere.

Talkbacks (5)

On November 21, 1985, Jonathan Pollard was apprehended by FBI agents, after having been denied refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

At that time, I was serving as an adviser to acting prime minister and foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir, and I then served as his bureau chief after his appointment to the premiership less than a year later. From the moment Pollard was arrested until the end of Shamir's term in 1992, this sensitive subject was a top priority among the three leaders of the unity government: Shamir, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

At the core of Shamir's considerations stood the aspiration to minimize, as far as possible, the potential damage caused by the breakdown of trust with the US. The excessively heavy price was paid by Pollard. Israel was required by the US to return all the classified documents he had transferred, and it did so, although this strengthened the evidence against him.

The investigative committee established by the Knesset to examine the affair harshly criticized this move: "The decision to return the documents passed over by Jonathan Pollard was fundamentally wrong and caused serious damage. These documents provided the basis for the conviction and the life sentence handed down to Pollard, despite Israel's belief that America had pledged not use the documents against him."

Shamir did not act the way he did, and neither did Rabin or Peres, out of indifference. As he explained to us, his close advisers, he strongly identified with the pain and distress of Pollard and his wife (who was sentenced to five years imprisonment).

However, Shamir clearly understood what was entailed by sacrifice for one's country. At a young age, he had joined the underground fight against the British and fought for Israel's independence. He lived as a wanted man, was arrested twice and exiled to Africa. After the establishment of the state, he was enlisted into the Mossad and commanded acutely dangerous operations. As one who personally experienced what it was to live under constant threat of exposure, and the consequent catastrophic consequences, Shamir had no doubt that the good of the country must take precedence over the fate of an individual.

MORE THAN a decade passed before the leadership understood that its highest moral priority was to enlist on behalf of this individual, whose actions had constituted a unique service to the security of the country, and even saved the lives of many Israelis. In May 1998, the attorney-general issued an official letter, stating: "The State of Israelacknowledges its obligation to Mr. Pollard, and is ready to assume full responsibility accordingly." Pollard received Israeli citizenship, MKs and ministers visited him in prison and prime ministers – every one of them – privately asked successive US presidents to release him. None of this helped; 25 years have passed and Pollard is still behind bars.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement that he will make an unprecedented public appeal to President Barack Obama regarding Pollard is a highly significant development.

A series of surveys has examined the level of the public's trust in the US president since 2008, and consistently indicated that Israelis have a very low degree of support for Obama.

Although in those two years there has not been any significant change in US policy toward Israel, and although security and intelligence cooperation has actually deepened in this period, Obama's standing has not come close to the levels of popularity enjoyed by previous presidents, like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. The reasons for this are diverse, and almost all of an emotional nature, but at the heart lie two factors: Obama's failure to visit since taking office and his strong belief in the need to stretch out a hand to the Muslim world, as clearly expressed in his conciliatory speeches in Cairo and Istanbul.

Now, Obama has a unique opportunity to bridge the psychological abyss between him and the people of Israel: to grant a pardon to Jonathan Pollard.

This decision, like no other political or military gesture, has humanitarian justification, and no one in the Palestinian camp or the Arab world could object to it. Quite the reverse, a bold move like this would not only strengthen the ties of the Obama administration to the Jews of his country and Israel, but would also make it easier for Netanyahu to show his appreciation for the president, who is very interested in renewing the deadlocked diplomatic process.

A PRESIDENTIAL initiative to pardon Pollard obviously would not go uncriticized. In recent years it was senior officials from the American intelligence community who repeatedly thwarted attempts to secure Pollard's release. In October 1998, toward the signing of the Wye River Accords, Clinton retracted an agreement with Netanyahu to pardon Pollard, because CIA head George Tenet had threatened to resign over the issue.

However, now the situation is different. Another dozen years have passed. Everyone knows that the punishment Pollard received has become disproportionate to the severity of the crime for which he was convicted. This conclusion has also permeated the ranks of the US government itself. People like Lawrence J. Korb, assistant to defense minister Caspar Weinberger, who at the time led the hard line against Pollard; Michael Mukasey, former US attorneygeneral; and James Wolsey, former head of the CIA, have all expressed similar sentiments. If Obama can muster the courage to work for a pardon for Pollard, it is likely that he will enjoy broad, bipartisan support in Congress.

Foremost, this would of course be wonderful news for Pollard himself. But beyond that, the surprising move could also quickly emerge as a brilliant gambit in the sphere of Israeli-American relations.

The writer is a former Kadima MK.








After publishing a recent article on the Holocaust, Yahoo became a hub for mass anti-Semitic comments. How was this allowed to happen?


Talkbacks (1)


Last week, Yad Vashem announced that it had identified four million of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The project to discover the names of all of those who were murdered is a profound and moving testament to the Jewish people's commitment that the victims of the greatest single crime in history should never be forgotten. When Yad Vashem makes announcements of this kind, all decent men and women pause, reflect and bow their heads.

But the world we live in is not solely comprised of decent men and women. Here is a selection of comments representative of a disturbingly large proportion of the 443 entries posted by readers following the publication of a news report on the Yad Vashem announcement by Yahoo, the world's second most popular search engine and Internet portal after Google: "What about the 50,000+ Palestinians that have been murdered since 1948 by the Nazi A.K.A Zionists?" "What about the Armenians? I saw worst pictures of them being slaughtered than I did of the Jews." "What about those who were not Jews? Do they deserve to be counted? Do they even count?" "When did America become so easily manipulated. AIPAC controls your Congress and even lobbies them with your taxpayer money and you're too busy being distracted."

"The other third changed their names and went to Palestine... how else you think Israel was created. Where do you think all these angry Jews came from? Poland, Russia, Germany... they showed up in Palestine and terrorized the British into letting them destroy Palestine."

"When will we hear the end of this Holocaust story? I give it another 200 years."

"Is there any third party checking on this so called database by a self-serving group in Israel? And what about the Jews who moved away, or starved, or died of disease or old age, or were murdered in Allied terror raids. Were they too 'killed by the Nazis'?" "Keep milking it israel. I'm sure you can parlay those names into a few billion more of American tax dollars."

"Throughout recorded history Zionists/Jews have been instigators of hate, murder, ethnic cleansing and general crimes against humanity. They were thrown out of Rome, Germany, Russia and many other countries for committing crimes against humanity, and created one of the worst holocausts in history against African Americans and Palestinians to mention a few. Their crimes against humanity have been consistent for over 2000 years.

Always they use the same bromide of whining and play the same old tattered and torn victim card whenever they are caught and punished. Forever, they are the 'victim.' One of their most recent use of the victim card was after they attacked the Germans in 1933 and their plan failed.

The 500,000 German Jewish residents paid dearly for Jewish crimes as did the Jewish people in Russia before them.

Now Zionists have attacked the innocent people of Palestine and before this crime is finished they will be punished and pass the same whining bromide as they always do with their worn out victim card. Zionists are not now nor have they ever been victims, they are criminals that will once again be held responsible for their crimes against humanity".

AND THAT is just a sample from the first five pages which are generally the most widely read. There are 40 more such pages (which according to the dateline may have been tagged on from previous such discussions) and browsing through them are things like this: "Be ready for the real survivor this time," "The biggest scam in history !" "HOLOCAST my ass. Jews looking for sympathy while murdering the Palis in their own land".

What to make of all this? The fact that there are some sick and twisted people out there is sadly unsurprising, though quite how many of them there are is nonetheless a shock to the system. But the key point here is that these comments form part of a media package to consumers that is being put in the public domain by Yahoo with the Associated Press brand name attached. These are extremely prestigious organizations.

Now, social media is still in its infancy. Working out how to strike a balance whereby readers can participate in a public discussion provoked by any particular article or blog entry while retaining basic standards of decency or even legality (many of these comments will be illegal in some jurisdictions) is not easy.

In the old days it was more straightforward. If you got out your typewriter and sent a letter to The New York Times, the editorial team would make a decision to publish or not to publish on the basis of taste, decency and your letter's effectiveness in contributing to enlightened debate. If you peppered your letter with racist abuse, you wouldn't get published and the public domain would be protected from your bigotry.

Nowadays, it comes down to the website policing itself and protecting its own brand name from reputational damage, since the website in question becomes the publisher of all the comments that appear below any given article. That costs time and money and a concomitant commitment to decency in the public sphere. You either have to have moderators watching every single move who can remove inappropriate postings as soon as possible, or you have to have a system of so called pre-moderation where comments are stored for subsequent approval before being published.

Yahoo does not appear to have either system in place, which raises serious questions about its commitment to ensuring a public discussion free from hate speech and bigotry. The Associated Press, while not responsible for Yahoo's failure properly to police its website, might also like to reassess its policy of distributing news to organizations that will not take their own responsibilities seriously.

My hope is that this is just an oversight. Both Yahoo and the Associated Press are great organizations, and I have no doubt that they will be as shocked at this episode as I am. Nonetheless, they urgently need to review their procedures to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

The writer is director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London. He is the author of A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel.









Israel so preoccupied with who should stay in power in Turkey, that they cannot read what is really happening in Turkish domestic politics


Talkbacks (5)

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article by Jonathan Schanzer entitled "An Israeli apology may just deepen the rift with Turkey" (December 23) which stands out as a shallow and one-sided analysis of the current nature of Turkish-Israeli relations in general, and Turkish domestic politics, the Mavi Marmara incident and Israeli politics in particular. The article in its entirety is an attempt to hamper any efforts to salvage Turkish-Israeli relations in the near future by discouraging anyone who aims to do so.

Schanzer firstly argues that only Binyamin Netanyahu and his advisers support the idea of apologizing to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara deaths. Not only does he repeat exclusively Israeli allegations about the flotilla organizers (they were terrorists, wielding weapons), he also concludes that the IDF soldiers were vindicated based on the highly edited videos released by the IDF.

Putting the blame almost entirely on the current AKP government in Turkey, Schanzer asserts that an apology to Turkey actually strengthens the AKP government in the upcoming elections in 2011. Since rapprochement between Turkey and Israel is an impossibility if the AKP remains in power, an apology that would strengthen its rule would also deepen the rift.

Schanzer expects us to fall – without questioning – into his presuppositions, even indictments about the Mavi Marmara incident and the current Turkish government. Far from what he and other hasbara professionals claim and regardless of how Israel views the council, the UN Human Rights Council's flotilla report documented what actually happened aboard the Mavi Marmara. According to the report, there is clear evidence to support prosecutions for the following crimes within the terms of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, torture and inhuman treatment and willful killing, among others. The report further confirmed that no weapons were brought on board the ship.

ALMOST ALL reports and eyewitness accounts, except for those released by the IDF, demonstrate that Israel is far from being vindicated for the deaths of civilians in international waters. International institutions do not care that Israel does not care about them, and Israel will not be vindicated on this incident only because Schanzer says so.

His contention that Netanyahu is willing to apologize represents one of his more innocent misreadings. Netanyahu, a highly populist politician who follows the currents in Israeli public opinion closer than Schanzer, would not ponder upon apologizing to Turkey while the Israeli public seems to be strongly against it, as it is right now. Taking only domestic politics into account, this would mean political suicide, and Netanyahu is smarter than Schanzer gives him credit for. Turkey-bashing is a goose that lays golden eggs for Israeli politicians at the moment, and none of them would be willing to kill that goose.

As for the impossibility of rapprochement as long as the AKP stays in power, do hasbara archives have any remnants of the rapprochement in 2005 and 2008, surprisingly during the AKP rule? Have they deleted all the news items on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Jerusalem and his photos shaking hands withAriel Sharon, a highly controversial figure in Turkey? Did they completely cut the direct communication line between Erdogan and Olmert established during the Israeli-Syrian talks sponsored by Turkey in 2008? 

The Israeli government and its friends are so preoccupied with determining who should stay in power in Turkey, that they cannot read what is really happening in Turkish domestic politics. It is arguably true that Erdogan's criticism of Israel is highly supported by Turkish society. However, the support does not emanate from the fact that Erdogan criticizes Israel. People support him because he stands up against an injustice, and as long as he continues to do so, he will keep broadening his constituency and stay in power.

Therefore, whether Israel apologizes or not, the AKP will have little to gain from an apology.


So the magical solution is as follows: If the Israeli government really wants to curb Erdogan's ability to garner support by speaking up against Israel and salvage relations with Turkey, it should seriously consider stopping the injustices it inflicts upon the Palestinians and apologize and compensate for the injustice it committed on board theMavi Marmara. An apology would be a good start.

The writer is a fellow at Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Ankara.















In Britain, the prime minister and other cabinet members customarily exchange their government cars for vehicles owned by their political parties when they travel for purposes unconnected with their public office. Furthermore, a minister who sends his government driver on personal errands may well find himself out of a job.


Israel is not Britain, and British traditions will never convince those of our ministers who regularly send their drivers, both here and abroad, on errands that the public silence that usually greets them is not proper. Given this, it is no wonder that the cabinet is planning a "targeted assassination" of the code of ethics drafted by a public committee headed by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, and whose other members included Prof. Asa Kasher, an expert on ethics, and Prof. Gabriela Shalev.


For two years, the committee labored to produce a draft of an ethical code that was then laid, like a ticking bomb, on the cabinet's doorstep. Some ministers promptly voiced doubts - though usually not for attribution - about the high bar the committee set for those who deal with very serious issues. In October 2009, about a year and a half after the panel submitted its report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the establishment of a ministerial committee, headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, to look into implementing the Shamgar rules.


One particularly rotten fruit of the ministerial panel's work was its decision to exempt its chairman, Neeman, of any personal obligation to follow these rules - due to the fact that he is not a Knesset member. This stance, which contradicts the Shamgar recommendations, clearly mixes apples and oranges. It is possible under the law to have a minister who isn't an MK, but he is still bound by all the obligations stemming from his lofty post as a minister. Back in 2003, when the cabinet reaffirmed the Asher committee's rules for ministerial ethics - which forbid ministers to be involved in any issue in which they have a conflict of interest - no one even dreamed of exempting a minister who wasn't an MK from those rules.


Neeman's ministerial committee also rejected the Shamgar panel's proposed ban on ministers using state resources for either party or electoral purposes. In addition, it rejected the public committee's proposal to require ministers to make certain that key issues within their areas of responsibility are brought to their attention. Perhaps the ministers are not aware that this recommendation stems from the reports of several state commissions of inquiry, including the Bejski and Or commissions, which held ministers responsible for failing to deal personally with issues of public or of strategic importance to the state.


The ministerial panel is still debating over whether to approve the Shamgar report's proposal that ministers resign if indicted for a serious criminal offense. Current law does not oblige someone in that position to resign in such a case, nor does it require the prime minister to fire him or her.


]Though the Knesset refused to enact such a rule through legislation, repeated Supreme Court rulings have entrenched the principle that the prime minister must fire a minister or deputy minister who has been indicted. The first of these rulings were issued in 1993, in the cases of minister Aryeh Deri and deputy minister Raphael Pinchasi. Since then, this principle has been the reason for the resignations of other ministers under indictment, including Yitzhak Mordechai, Abraham Hirchson, Shlomo Benizri and Neeman himself - though the latter was subsequently acquitted by the court.


]The idea that a minister under indictment must resign has thus become a deeply rooted ethical principle reinforced by subsequent legal rulings, and it will presumably lead Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to resign if he is indicted. Nevertheless, there are some who object to a regulation whose only legal underpinning is a Supreme Court ruling.


]If the cabinet were to adopt a code of ethics that did not include the obligation to resign if indicted, in defiance of the Shamgar report's recommendation, this could undermine the status of a rule that has become an important element of Israel's public ethics.


The Shamgar panel's rules are not holy writ, but they do deserve serious and respectful consideration - among other things, because ministers ought to recognize that stringent adherence to rules of public ethics is a good way to keep themselves clear of criminal entanglements. Only a very fine line separates ethical violations from the kind of acts that result in ministers standing trial on charges of breach of trust.









In Ilana Hammerman's article, Broken Lives, in the Haaretz Magazine (Dec. 17 ) she writes about Palestinians who work illegally in Israel. She described how they cross into Israel near Hebron at a place where the security fence exists, but for some reason, that part of the fence is not electronic, and they simply cut through the barbed wire and proceed into Israel.


The problem is that if illegal workers can get past the fence so easily then so could Palestinian terrorists, and that undermines the whole point of the fence. However, the truth is that terrorists don't need to cut the wire, they can simply go around the fence. For example, there is no fence near Beit Shemesh.


This is not WikiLeaks - I'm not giving away state secrets. I assume that most Palestinians know exactly where the fence is built and where it is not, but unfortunately, most Israelis (and our Knesset members ) have no idea. The last map on the Defense Ministry's website shows a gaping hole near Beit Shemesh, but it's hard to say what is accurate, since that map is dated 2006.


In addition to a real terrorist threat, there is also the issue of responsibility. If there would be a terrorist attack in northern Israel near Jenin, or in central Israel near Qalqilyah, there would be immediate investigations in the army and the Border Police as to how the perpetrators successfully crossed the security fence, and someone would be held responsible. Those areas have a security fence that works. If an attack happens in a place without a fence, for example near Beit Shemesh, there is no responsibility, there is no border, the Border Police would have no idea where the attackers came from or where they went.


]Anyone who lives in the Beit Shemesh area is quite aware of the situation. A friend from Ramat Beit Shemesh told me that on Shabbat afternoons he often sees dozens of Palestinians walking through the nearby fields. He was told that since the Border Police has patrols on Saturday night and Sunday morning to catch the Palestinians coming to work in Israel, they come on Saturday afternoon. We all realize that 99% of the Palestinians coming here are not terrorist or criminals, but if these workers can get into Israel, so can the people who want to do us harm.


Ms. Hammerman also refers to the fact that the Border Police sometimes turn a blind eye to these laborers entering Israel. I believe that this is partly due to the fact that the fence is not finished - they realize that they cannot stop everyone given their resources, they are too busy. One could only imagine what would happen to a policeman in passport control at Ben-Gurion Airport who would decide to let an entire line of people at passport control enter because the lines were too long.


The State of Israel has been building the security fence for eight years and is still not finished. This is mind-boggling given that fact that our current leadership are all strong supporters of the fence. Most of the fence was built while Ariel Sharon was prime minister, Shaul Mofaz was defense minister and Moshe Ya'alon was the IDF chief of staff. All three expressed either outright opposition to the fence, or in the best case, lukewarm support, but were forced to build it because of public opinion.


Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi were ardent supporters of the fence during that period. We at Security Fence for Israel met with all three in 2002-3, Bibi as finance minister, Ashkenazi was director general of the defense ministry and Barak a private citizen. They expressed their support and worked hard to make it happen. All three have been quoted in the media repeatedly saying that the security fence has been very effective. But yet, though they are now in positions of power and have been for some time, the building of the fence is still proceeding at a snail's pace.


]I believe it's time for Bibi to take the lead and make sure the fence is finished during the next 12 months. Let's not wait until a disaster happens.


Dr. Marc Luria was a founding member of Security Fence for Israel in 2002.









Ilana Hammerman's articles challenge us to ask what the role of a citizen is in a country where the law is illegal. In this space known as Israel and the occupied territories, the space guarded by Israeli soldiers, there are six groups with different rights and different levels of freedom of movement, according to the law.


The first group consists of about 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who have been under a prolonged closure for years, with only a small number of persons bearing special permits allowed to leave. The second group is the 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, barred from entering Jerusalem or Israel proper unless they have special permits, which they can receive only in exceptional cases from the military authority known as the Civil Administration. The settlements, all of which are illegal by international law, have stolen 44 percent of West Bank land for Jewish settlers. They have been surrounded by patrol and access roads, on which Palestinians are not allowed to travel. The roads from one place to another inside the territories are also blocked by hundreds of checkpoints. The freedom of movement of almost all Palestinians in the West Bank is limited - to inside the West Bank only.


The third group is the quarter-million Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who have blue identity cards and can travel in Israel, Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, but whose travel outside of that space is controlled and restricted by Israel. Jerusalem Palestinians who leave the city to study abroad, or even in Bethlehem, lose their status of "permanent residents," which signifies their future temporary presence in the city.


The Palestinian citizens of Israel are the fourth group, and supposedly have the same freedom of movement as the fifth group: the Jewish citizens of Israel. Neither group is allowed to enter Gaza or the main cities in the West Bank. But the law allows Jews from the whole world and from Israel to settle in Israel and the territories, and to receive Israeli citizenship, while forbidding - with the endorsement of the Supreme Court - Palestinians from the first, second, third and fourth groups to intermarry and decide where to live together.


The sixth group is asylum seekers and migrant laborers, whose freedom of movement is restricted and who live in fear of being deported. While this group is new here, after 43 years of occupation, the regime that separates different groups of people with different rights is not temporary and resembles the apartheid regime.


In South Africa, too, the apartheid system was created thanks to detailed legislation that determined who had the right to vote, who had the right to live where, which persons had to carry passes to stay in white cities and which lived there by right, and which were considered strangers in the very cities in which they were born and grew up. Apartheid was not only a system of racial discrimination maintained by the military through the use of extreme force, but a system of discrimination regulated by legislation.


The State of Israel also emphasizes, both to its own citizens and the international community, that it is a state of law; the occupied territories are administered by a system of laws, orders and directives. The Supreme Court expanded its jurisdiction into the territories. Furthermore, Israel has signed most of the main international conventions on human rights (although with significant reservations ), and invests considerable efforts in maintaining the rule of law. Like in South Africa, separation and discrimination are enforced by the law.


Like Ilana Hammerman, I too refuse to obey illegal laws. In a country where spacious prisons were built under the protection of the law, in which people live in fear, it is not only our right but our duty to offer a space of hope. As long as we do not have agreed-upon borders, we are living in an occupying country that discriminates between the rights of different groups based on their ethnicity.


In such a country, just like in South Africa under apartheid, it is our right and our duty to challenge the legality of the law.








The demand by a group of academics and intellectuals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspend the state-funded rabbis who signed the letter of incitement against Israeli Arabs, and to keep racist bills from being put to a Knesset vote, is an important and timely act of protest.


For some time now the feeling in the country is that intellectuals and academics have lost their voice - whether out of frustration and a sense of helplessness in the face of recent events and draft legislation that the cabinet does not even consider blocking, or due to the ongoing efforts by extreme right-wing politicians to delegitimize them. The latter have made "leftists" a term of derogation for anyone who criticizes them.


The weakening of the humanist and liberal spirit in our society constitutes a worrisome trend which academics, artists and intellectual leaders have a duty to resist. These efforts might be countered by aggressive responses, up to and including official sanctions, as in the case of the theater people who protested the staging of plays in Ariel. Nevertheless, they must not back down.


Israelis have recently been exposed to massive incitement from two main sources: Knesset members and rabbis. The former purport to lead, the latter purport to speak in the name of God and morality. Both have assumed exclusive control of the public arena, creating the impression that everyone is in thrall to their benighted opinions - or at least accepts them submissively.


The government's tacit acquiescence to the rabbis' letter, including Netanyahu's anemic protest, and the scandalous support of the majority of cabinet ministers to the recent batch of racist bills (including the "Nakba law," the amendment to the Citizenship Law, and the admission committees law ) have reinforced this distressing impression. The absence of a clear response from the most prominent advocates of the opposing camp has created a dangerous vacuum in the face of the incitement and racism.


The intellectuals' petition constitutes a partial response, but it is not enough. There are many Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, who live with a feeling of helplessness and angst as a result of the incitement. The time has come for the representatives of freedom and morality to champion - for and with this public - a clear and assertive protest.










How frightening! Masses of Sudanese refugees are threatening to erode our achievements and corrode our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. How frightening!

Iranis threatening to destroy us, and the world is once again standing by. How frightening! If we get out of "Judea and Samaria," the Palestinians will fire anti-aircraft missiles at Ben-Gurion International Airport. How frightening!


The Palestinians are refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, so as to flood the State of Israel with Arab refugees and rip out parts of the Galilee and the Negev. And those who wish to destroy Israel have begun a deligitimization campaign against the Jewish state within the 1948 borders. How frightening!


This is a collection of the nightmare scenarios of the Benjamin Netanyahu school of thought. One day Netanyahu - the scariest prime minister in the history of Israel - is complaining about the Palestinians refusing to speak with him about Nablus and Hebron, and the next day he's scaring the populace with statements about the Palestinians plot to take over Carmiel and Be'er Sheva.


In the morning Netanyahu gets his picture taken with Turkish pilots who came to fight the Carmel fire; in the evening, he's instilling fear with his implication that the world is once again standing by as the Jews are facing annihilation.


The common denominator of all the prime minister's frightening messages is that what the Jews do isn't important; what's important is that the goyim hate us. Even if we give the Arabs the Tel Aviv coast, they won't rest until they throw us into the sea.


In 1996 the fear campaign against Palestinian terrorism and the danger that Shimon Peres would divide Jerusalem brought Netanyahu to power. In the absence of suicide bombers, and while Peres is dozing in the President's Residence, Netanyahu is finding, and inventing, new fears.


Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook wrote more than a century ago that exaggerated fear is the source of all weakness - physical, ethical and intellectual. Kook wrote that such fear will be so threatening that those subjected to it wouldn't even lift a finger to save themselves. A new book called "Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, provides a well-researched stamp of approval for this analysis of the spiritual shepherd of religious Zionism. In the book, Nimrod Rosler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management and Resolution writes that fear has become a force that maintains and intensifies conflict, and prevents conflict from being resolved, because it leads to perceptual bias toward the conflict and toward the other side, creates a cognitive freeze and a tendency to avoid risk, and leads to justification of existing policy.


There is no doubt that from a cognitive perspective, the prime minister is aware of the heavy toll that Israel's current policies currently exact and will exact in the future. But he is overcome by the fear of tough decisions that entail necessary risks. For Netanyahu, the fear that freezing settlement construction will lead to a coalition crisis is greater than the fear that freezing negotiations will lead to a crisis over Israel's international standing.


Fear has proven itself as a uniquely effective political tool. The late Asher Arian - a professor of political science who spearheaded the Israel Democracy Institute's annual Democracy Index, which provides data on the quality and functioning of democracy and the way it is perceived by the public - found that the stronger the Israeli perception that the Arabs are posing a threat, the lower the Israeli willingness to negotiate with them or give up territory. Arian, who died in July, also found a close link between hawkish views and high levels of fear. These findings were manifested in the results of the last general election, as well as in public opinion polls.


Fear is a legitimate human emotion, and it can even be a useful one. The Israeli left is trying, without much success, to frighten the public with the idea that the alternative to making peace is an increased risk of war and the loss of the country's Jewish and democratic identity. If Netanyahu were to present a brave and realistic peace plan, he would be able to take advantage of the extensive experience he has accumulated in peddling fear.


But instead of warning of the dangers inherent in the continuation of the conflict, Netanyahu has chosen to exploit the primitive fear of the other. Instead of warning of Israel's increasing isolation, he is increasing the public's fear of the unknown. Those who are feared are hated and those who are hated are killed, Nelson Mandela has said.


Netanyahu is sowing fear, we are harvesting hatred, and our children are killing and being killed.





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




Ever since the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was signed in July, the question has been whether it would actually lead to a stable financial system. If the Republicans who will control the House next year get their way, the answer will surely be "no."


The legislation requires regulators to write hundreds of rules to put the law into effect. To their credit, regulatory agencies have begun that process with a sense of mission and depth of expertise that was missing in the years before the financial crisis.


In particular, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — which share the all-important regulation of the multitrillion-dollar derivatives market — have proposed rules that are tough and sophisticated. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is ramping up. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, led by the Treasury secretary, will report in January on how to implement the "Volcker rule" to restrict proprietary trading by banks.


The process is painstaking, and the outcome is uncertain. But progress is being made — and the House Republican leaders want none of that. Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee told The Birmingham News that "Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks." He later said he meant regulators should set parameters, not micromanage banks, yet he seems to prefer the parameters that were in effect before the crisis when regulators did serve the banks.


In a letter to the S.E.C. written with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the next majority whip, he said Dodd-Frank would do little for economic recovery and warned against rules that could curtail growth. He and Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who will lead the agriculture committee, which shares jurisdiction over derivatives, have urged regulators to avoid "overly prescriptive" rules on derivatives speculation. He has also warned the Financial Stability Oversight Council that a strong Volcker rule would impose "substantial" economic costs, without making the system safer.


Mr. Bachus's salvoes are only the start. Some Republicans want new laws to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and others have pledged numerous hearings, which seem intended not to oversee the process but to inhibit it by creating delays and communicating hostility.


Another damaging attack would be to starve the budgets of the S.E.C. and the commodities commission. Both agencies rely on Congress for their appropriations, and neither can carry out its new duties without more money. In a recent interview on CNBC, the next House majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, said the American people want and expect Republicans to cut off financing for Dodd-Frank, adding that the law is a job killer. Could he be more wrong? Americans' concern about financial reform is that it is too weak, not too strong. They are furious at the banks, whose recklessness has led to crisis and recession — and high unemployment.


The Republicans' intentions could not be clearer. What is unclear is the Democratic strategy — in Congress and the White House — for thwarting them. The lesson of the legislative accomplishments of the lame-duck session is that early, visible and adamant engagement by President Obama makes a difference.


Mr. Obama cannot let financial reform become a bargaining chip and must make the case that it will not help the federal budget — or the nation in general — to shortchange reforms that could prevent another crisis.








With public attention focused on taxes, the deficit, gays in the military and nuclear arms reduction, little attention has been paid, so far, to the Tea Party's most far-reaching move to remake American governance. It is contained within a bill, called the repeal amendment, that was introduced in Congress after the election. The bill won the support of the incoming House majority leader, Eric Cantor, and is supported by legislative leaders in 12 states.


The proposal is sweeping, expressing with bold simplicity the view of the Tea Party and others that the federal government's influence is far too broad. It would give state legislatures the power to veto any federal law or regulation if two-thirds of the legislatures approved.


The chances of the proposal becoming the Constitution's 28th Amendment are exceedingly low. But it helps explain further the anger-fueled, myth-based politics of the populist new right. It also highlights the absence of a strong counterforce in American politics.


With the Equal Rights Amendment as a model, it demonstrates the scope of the Tea Party's ambition to drive politics and law far to the right. The E.R.A. failed to win passage, but it influenced Congress and the courts in equalizing the law's treatment of gender.


Under the Tea Party proposal, the states would have much greater power than the president to veto federal laws. Because the amendment includes no limit on the time in which states could exercise their veto, it would cast a long shadow over any program under federal law.


Because it focuses on giving states power to veto (e.g., taxes) without their shouldering responsibility for asserting it (trimming appropriations because of lost tax revenue), the unintended consequences would likely be at least as important as the intended.


These flaws make the proposed amendment self-defeating, but they are far less significant than the mistaken vision of federalism on which it rests. Its foundation is that the United States defined in the Constitution are a set of decentralized sovereignties where personal responsibility, private property and a laissez-faire economy should reign. In this vision, the federal government is an intrusive parent.


The error that matters most here is about the Constitution's history. America's fundamental law holds competing elements, some constraining the national government, others energizing it. But the government the Constitution shaped was founded to create a sum greater than the parts, to promote economic development that would lift the fortunes of the American people.


In past economic crises, populist fervor has been for expanding the power of the national government to address America's pressing needs. Pleas for making good the nation's commitment to equality and welfare have been as loud as those for liberty. Now the many who are struggling have no progressive champion. The left have ceded the field to the Tea Party and, in doing so, allowed it to make history. It is building political power by selling the promise of a return to a mythic past.







With an assist from the Obama team, House Republicans and a handful of Democrats have defeated a sound bipartisan measure to reform the Census Bureau.


The bill — which had already passed the Senate unanimously — would have granted the bureau director more autonomy to address longstanding political and bureaucratic problems in the execution of the decennial census and other important bureau surveys. A majority of House members — 200 Democrats and 1 Republican — voted in favor of reform, but the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass because it was brought up under a fast-track procedure.


The administration's objections had more to do with turf issues than substance. Gary Locke, the commerce secretary whose department houses the census, objected to one provision that called for the director to report directly to the secretary rather than to a midlevel commerce official, saying that it undercuts a secretary's prerogative to organize the department.


Reorganization is precisely the point. For decades, the current reporting structure has impeded decision-making and deepened problems at the census. Mr. Locke also objected to a provision that would have allowed the director to share views with Congress that are not necessarily the views of the administration. Mr. Locke's concerns were especially disruptive because he waited until the night before the vote to put them in a letter to House members.


House Republicans — who wanted an independent Census Bureau last year when they feared that Democrats would try to exert undue political control over the agency — happily cited Mr. Locke's objections to justify their opposition.


The bill's supporters included seven former bureau directors from both parties and hundreds of statistical, professional, public policy and civil rights organizations. They understood that the bill would have encouraged consistent, professional management of the bureau — crucial to the scientific integrity of census data and to the quality of the decisions and policies based on the data. The administration and a minority in the House did the cause of good government a disservice.








New York City's cabdrivers are about to get a new dress code. Yes, we know. There was an old dress code?


Actually, there was. The old code, which earned only 42 violations in the last 14 years, is deeply 1980s. It outlaws tube tops. (Did you ever see a New York City cabdriver in a tube top?) Underwear was not to be used as outerwear. Cab and driver had to be "clean and neat."


For most of us, of course, the question is not what the driver is wearing but whether he or she is taking the right route, charging the right fare and driving sanely. Also, who cares about a driver in his undershirt as long as he's not talking on a cellphone? The taxi commission is expected to vote in January to keep the clean-and-neat requirement and add a request that cabdrivers present a "professional appearance." David Yassky, the chairman of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, explains that he wants drivers to be presentable enough to serve as ambassadors for New York City. A tourist's first impression often comes from the back seat of a taxi. Uh, huh.


There was a hearing on this new rule. A few drivers wanted to know if they had to wear a tie. No, Mr. Yassky told them. Dress for work. Taxi work, not Wall Street. That means slacks, jackets, sweaters — an outfit from the upscale casual section at the mall would do nicely. A leather jacket, as long as it's not too "Wise Guys."


Before you conclude that Mr. Yassky is living in some alternative universe, he did say that he does not expect color coordination or an ironed shirt. And he politely discouraged one customer who suggested that cabbies wear uniforms and white gloves like in Tokyo.


Our advice? Don't expect to see any trace of this new fashion regime anytime soon.








Over the past three years, American politics has been dominated by a liberal fantasy and a conservative freakout.


The fantasy was the idea that Barack Obama, a one-term senator with an appealing biography and a silver tongue, would turn out to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. This fantasy inspired a wave of 1960s-style enthusiasm, an unsettling personality cult (that "Yes We Can" video full of harmonizing celebrities only gets creepier in hindsight) and a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself. It persuaded Democrats that the laws of politics had been suspended, and that every legislative goal they'd ever dreamed about was now within reach. It was even powerful enough to win President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, just for being his amazing self.


The freakout, which began in earnest during the long, hot health care summer of 2009, started from the same premise as the fantasy — that the Obama presidency really was capable of completely transforming American society and that we might be on the brink of a new New Deal or a greater Great Society. But to freaked-out conservatives, this seemed more like a nightmare than a dream. So they flipped the liberal script: Where Obama's acolytes were utopian, conservatives turned apocalyptic, pitting liberty against tyranny, freedom against socialism, American exceptionalism against the fate of Nineveh and Tyre.


This wasn't a congenial climate for bipartisanship, to put it mildly. The fantasy ensured that the Democrats would go for broke (quite literally, judging by the budget figures) on domestic policy — anything else, after all, would have been a waste of their world-historical moment. The freakout ensured that Republicans, more or less in lock step, would resist every proposal and vote "no" on every bill. (After all, to compromise with tyranny was no better than surrendering to it.)


So Democrats hailed the death of conservatism and the dawn of a glorious new liberal epoch and then griped that Republicans wouldn't lend their support to its fulfillment. Republicans denounced President Obama as a Marxist and shrieked "you lie!" at him in the House chambers, and then they complained that he wouldn't listen to their ideas.


But in the past month of lame-duck activity, we've witnessed a return to political normalcy. The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grâce to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It's hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner.)


In this brave new postelection world, lawmakers on both sides stopped behaving like players in some Beltway version of the battle at Armageddon and started behaving like, well, lawmakers. They cut deals, traded horses, preened (and sometimes whined) for the cameras, and cast their votes on a mix of principle, pique and political self-interest, rather than just falling into line for or against the Obama agenda.


Partisanship didn't disappear, but moderation repeatedly won out. Congress cut a big bipartisan deal on taxes and spending and then shot down a more partisan liberal budget. One of the most controversial items on the lame-duck agenda — the Dream Act, offering the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship — was defeated by bipartisan opposition. Two of the less controversial items — the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" (supported by some 75 percent of Americans, according to various polls) and the New Start arms control treaty (supported by nearly every Republican foreign policy hand) — passed by healthy margins.


This return to normalcy is good news for fans of bipartisan comity and centrism for centrism's sake. And it might be good news for the country. In the end, some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice, and the productivity of this lame-duck December shows that cooperation between the two parties isn't as impossible as it seemed just a few months ago.


But when it comes to the hard challenges ahead, comity won't be enough. Real courage is required as well. And this month's outbreak of bipartisanship was conspicuously yellow-bellied. Republicans and Democrats came together to cut taxes, raise spending, and give free health care to the first responders on 9/11. They indulged, in other words, in the kind of easy, profligate "moderation" that's done as much damage to the country over the years as the ideologies of either left or right.


If that's all that the return to normalcy delivers, we'll be back to fantasies and freakouts soon enough.









Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.


So what's the meaning of this surge?


Is it speculation run amok? Is it the result of excessive money creation, a harbinger of runaway inflation just around the corner? No and no.


What the commodity markets are telling us is that we're living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.


Some background: The last time the prices of oil and other commodities were this high, two and a half years ago, many commentators dismissed the price spike as an aberration driven by speculators. And they claimed vindication when commodity prices plunged in the second half of 2008.


But that price collapse coincided with a severe global recession, which led to a sharp fall in demand for raw materials. The big test would come when the world economy recovered. Would raw materials once again become expensive?


Well, it still feels like a recession in America. But thanks to growth in developing nations, world industrial production recently passed its previous peak — and, sure enough, commodity prices are surging again.


This doesn't necessarily mean that speculation played no role in 2007-2008. Nor should we reject the notion that speculation is playing some role in current prices; for example, who is that mystery investor who has bought up much of the world's copper supply? But the fact that world economic recovery has also brought a recovery in commodity prices strongly suggests that recent price fluctuations mainly reflect fundamental factors.


What about commodity prices as a harbinger of inflation? Many commentators on the right have been predicting for years that the Federal Reserve, by printing lots of money — it's not actually doing that, but that's the accusation — is setting us up for severe inflation. Stagflation is coming, declared Representative Paul Ryan in February 2009; Glenn Beck has been warning about imminent hyperinflation since 2008.


Yet inflation has remained low. What's an inflation worrier to do?


One response has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories, of claims that the government is suppressing the truth about rising prices. But lately many on the right have seized on rising commodity prices as proof that they were right all along, as a sign of high overall inflation just around the corner.


You do have to wonder what these people were thinking two years ago, when raw material prices were plunging. If the commodity-price rise of the past six months heralds runaway inflation, why didn't the 50 percent decline in the second half of 2008 herald runaway deflation?


Inconsistency aside, however, the big problem with those blaming the Fed for rising commodity prices is that they're suffering from delusions of U.S. economic grandeur. For commodity prices are set globally, and what America does just isn't that important a factor.


In particular, today, as in 2007-2008, the primary driving force behind rising commodity prices isn't demand from the United States. It's demand from China and other emerging economies. As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they're beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies.


And those supplies aren't keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada's tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.


Also, over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there's every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common.


So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices? It is, as I said, a sign that we're living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won't bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.


But that's for the future. Right now, rising commodity prices are basically the result of global recovery. They have no bearing, one way or another, on U.S. monetary policy. For this is a global story; at a fundamental level, it's not about us.








IT is fairly straightforward to summarize the past year in Iraq and Pakistan, but a more complicated matter for Afghanistan.


This was the year of two big developments in Iraq: the major reduction in American combat forces and a protracted election in which voting in March was followed by a nine-month delay in forming a new government. Despite the political confusion, violence did not escalate, and the economy continued to make slow progress. Still, Iraq cannot afford as much stalemate in the coming year as it experienced in 2010, and the new government will need to deliver security, public services and economic growth.


Pakistan had a rougher year. The summer floods may have displaced more people than any other natural catastrophe in history. The good news is that the government's war against the Pakistani Taliban showed some progress, if not in reducing overall violence levels then at least in terms of establishing greater control over what had been insurgent strongholds.


Regrettably, however, Pakistan's level of cooperation with the United States against Afghan extremist groups did not show measurable progress in 2010 and may even have slipped somewhat, despite the increase in effective American drone strikes in the tribal areas. Pakistan's civilian government continued to lose ground at home politically as well.


Afghanistan saw the completion of the American and NATO troop surges that were the focal point of President Obama's December 2009 policy decision. Afghan security forces grew both in number and quality, and NATO clarified its plan to keep partnering with them through 2014. And while September's parliamentary elections were marred by fraud, this time it was primarily Afghans who held other Afghans accountable in the aftermath — demonstrating some fledgling aspects of a working democratic system.


Kabul and its environs are reasonably secure and under the general control of Afghan Army and police forces, not NATO troops. But the insurgents have proved resilient, as indicated by trends in violence. Extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan remain a major problem despite Washington's increased aid to that country. And corruption in the Kabul government remains endemic. In sum, the war's basic trajectory remains unclear.



Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Ian Livingston and Heather Messera are researchers at Brookings. Chart by Amy Unikewicz of JellyFever Graphic Design in South Norwalk, Conn.








Another trade deal, another chance for labor unions to give their customary thumbs-down. Only this time — with a pact struck this month between the United States and South Korea— at least one major union, the United Autoworkers, has decided to support it, breaking with other labor stalwarts such as the United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO.


That alone should cause the Senate, which must ratify the pact for it to take effect, to look on it more kindly. Add the fact that the deal was negotiated by a pro-labor Democratic administration, and the just-say-no case gets even weaker.


This trade pact, which would eliminate about 95% of tariffs on industrial and consumer goods within five years, has the usual advantages in promoting job-creating exports. It would help domestic industries involved in telecommunications, technology, pharmaceuticals, farming and financial services gain access to an important market.


Even American manufacturing, a usual source of opposition to these types of deals, should have reasons to like this one. South Korea is hardly some cheap labor zone. It is a highly developed and educated nation with average wages approaching those in the U.S. and environmental standards that, in some cases, are more stringent.


What's more, U.S. manufacturing, after decades of technology-driven productivity gains and related job losses, is highly competitive and showing signs of a rebound. In large part this is a result of exports, which are healthy even as domestic consumption lags.


Another argument for the trade deal with South Korea is not economic but geopolitical. A vibrant and prosperous South Korea is a check against the ambitions of the bizarre and belligerent regime to its north.


For many years, South Korea has shown a more accommodating view of totalitarian North Korea than the United States has. But the North's recent unprovoked shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, and its sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, have prompted a re-evaluation. Tighter economic links between the U.S. and South Korea, to complement existing diplomatic and military ties, would create an even stronger united front against North Korea.


If America is willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention thousands of lives, to keep Iraq and Afghanistan from functioning as terrorist havens, then surely a mutually beneficial agreement with our allies in Seoul is a worthwhile investment in a volatile part of East Asia.


The case for this deal is a slam dunk. That might be evident in the divided and ambivalent views of the groups normally good for reflexive opposition. The autoworkers union was allowed to participate in the discussions and won concessions that it believes will allow more U.S.-made cars to be sold in Korea, while limiting the number of Korean imports. Those imports, from the top Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia, will likely decrease anyway as both companies are building plants in the U.S.


Who knows, this pact could be a harbinger of things to come, as an overly indebted U.S. economy begins to focus more on investment and savings, and sees trade with fast-growing emerging nations in Asia and Latin America as something to support, not fear. In any case, ratification of the South Korea deal should be high on the Senate's agenda for 2011.








For the first time in our history, parents think their kids will have a harder time than they had getting ahead. Right now, we need to be fighting harder than ever to keep good jobs in America, rebuild our middle class and restore our nation's standing in the world.


That's why the proposed Korea trade deal is the wrong deal at the wrong time. The last thing we need is a new trade agreement that will put at risk yet more industrial jobs for future generations.


The labor movement is not opposed to trade or globalization — but our country cannot continue to negotiate trade agreements that favor corporate profits over people. We need a new trade policy geared toward creating good jobs at home and sustainable development abroad. And we need that trade policy to be part of a coordinated national economic strategy that invests in infrastructure, skills and technology, so America can lead once again in the global economy.


The proposed Korea trade deal falls short. It would exacerbate offshoring of good jobs, while doing too little to protect workers' rights and good jobs for Korean and American workers.


In the past, we've been given grand promises that trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and China's entry into the World Trade Organization would create new jobs. Those jobs never materialized.


The Obama administration has an opportunity to re-evaluate and improve these deals in order to make trade truly fair to all workers going forward. Real fair trade promotes human rights for all workers, safeguards the environment and creates good jobs with fair wages for all countries involved. That's the future we want to leave to the next generation.


Elizabeth Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 57 domestic and international labor unions representing 12.2 million people.








2010 has not been an easy year for America. Congress charged another trillion or so on the national credit card, but one out of 10 of us was still out of work. When the Democrats took a shellacking at the polls, we were left wondering whether the Republicans will govern any better. A 19-year-old allegedly wanted to blow up Portland, Ore. — perhaps our most tolerant city. The war in Afghanistan took a turn for the worse, and we learned that the Iranians have a far more sophisticated nuclear program than we thought. North Korea, already in the nuclear club, shelled its neighbor — our ally — to the south, and the world got a little hotter, drier, more crowded and more dangerous. Short of Armageddon, things couldn't get much worse.


So I did something out of the ordinary. I dug an old stethoscope out of my dresser drawer, sat down on the edge of the bed and placed it over my heart. There it was. Something ancient and primordial living inside of me. Choosing life.


A commitment


I was struck by the wonder of it. And the mystery. We gush about the miracle of birth when we witness the birth of our children or grandchildren, and well we should. But, I'm talking about that thing inside of us that wants to keep living after the fake patina of the dime-store necklace has worn off. After Dad runs off with his secretary and your favorite priest gets caught pilfering the collection plate. I'm talking about being tenaciously committed to life — seeing all there is to see and, like the creator in the first chapter of Genesis, insisting that it is still good. How do we nurture that?


First, let me tell you about three people I know. One is an 84-year-old widow who lost her husband to cancer and now lives by herself. The second is a single working mother of three who also lost her husband to cancer. The third is a minister-turned-stockbroker who lost his daughter in a car wreck that also paralyzed his wife from the neck down. He's a stockbroker because he couldn't pay the medical bills on a preacher's salary.


You can probably imagine what life is like for the first two. Lonely. Hectic. But I doubt you can for the third. I couldn't. I called him recently and invited him to come spend a week at my cabin in the Smokies. When he politely turned me down, I pressed. He needed to decompress from his stressful life as a stockbroker, weekend preacher and round-the-clock caregiver. He could have my cabin all to himself for as long as he wanted it.


"I can't do it," he told me. Then, there was a pause. "I've never told anybody this, but every 48 hours I have to put on a long rubber glove and clean out my wife's bowel. You can understand why she doesn't want anybody else doing that."


I was speechless. And also profoundly moved.


So what does each of these hapless souls have in common? Pain? No question. Loss? With a certainty. But the deeper thing they share is not evident on the surface. They are joyful. Each of them wakes in the morning and says yes to life.


Common denominators


So how do they do it? How do we do it? How does one develop an attitude of gratitude when you're having to choose between food and medicine? Or whether to surrender the family pet because you can no longer afford to feed it? Here's what I have observed from these and others like them over the years:


•They count their blessings. The Apostle Paul— who spent an inordinate amount of time in cold, dark Roman prisons — instructed his followers to give thanks in all things. Paul's advice is consistent with research showing that the single biggest "happiness variable" we can control is our attitude. When joyful people have negative thoughts, they deliberately switch gears. They make a list of the things for which they're thankful, call a friend, take a bike ride, watch a funny movie, whatever it takes. But they do not allow themselves to dwell on the negative.


•They find community. Not only are joyful people positive, they also surround themselves with positive people. At work, church or school, they become part of a caring community.


•They pay attention to their health. Each of my three friends finds a way to exercise, releasing endorphins in the body that make you feel better. These people also eat sensibly and drink less alcohol and more coffee and tea. Feeling good about themselves helps them feel good about life.


•They volunteer. This might be the most important one of all. You will help the world and feel better about yourself while you're doing it. Getting around people whose problems are bigger than your own never fails to put your own problems in perspective. And there are a million choices available. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, neighborhood schools, boys and girls clubs, animal shelters, you name it. Call your local United Way for information about service opportunities in your community, then sign up. Becoming a weekly volunteer is one of the best ways to ward off the blues.


Research suggests that not every person can achieve happiness on his own. To the contrary, up to 50% of happiness could be predetermined at birth. It's in your genes. If you've done all the things I've suggested and you're still feeling sad and defeated, see your doctor. Depression is real, and brain chemistry should never be taken lightly.


It's the time of year for New Year's resolutions: quit smoking; lose weight. You know the drill. Most resolutions address life around the edges. Might I suggest something that gets to the root of the matter?


Choose life.


Oliver Thomas is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and author of 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).









As President Obama pushes forward with his military strategy for Afghanistan, ordinary Afghans are undeniably worse off. More and more Afghans are forced from their homes by violence, especially as the military offensive in the south pushes insecurity north. Meanwhile, the Afghan government remains too weak, and humanitarian organizations are unprepared to meet even the most basic needs of the population. As the U.S. proceeds into its 10th and most challenging year yet in Afghanistan, it must recognize and address the growing humanitarian needs and ensure that the most vulnerable Afghans do not fall through the cracks.


In November, Refugees International traveled to Afghanistan to look at the capacity of the United Nations and the various aid agencies to provide Afghans with the basics for survival. In short, the current aid system is broken.


The health toll


Health workers told us that Afghanistan's national health system is falling apart. Doctors, paid about $200 a month, are not coming to work because of fighting and the proliferation of improvised explosive devices. As a result, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which runs the only hospital inKandahar, says it is seeing more basic health problems such as diarrhea. Meanwhile, a third of Afghans do not have enough to eat, more than half of all children are malnourished, and the aid community has no system to accurately monitor nutrition.


Compounding these problems, at least 120,000 Afghans have been displaced in the past year — a 50% increase. Many of these people have settled in cities, which are seen as havens from conflict. Urban slums are growing, where people are living in crude shelters and drinking out of filthy ditches. The slums, or "informal settlements," house over 13,000 people in 30 sites in the capital city of Kabul alone.


Short-term needs


Yet while the humanitarian needs continue to grow, organizations have not built up the capabilities to meet them. More than 1,000 non-governmental organizations are registered in Afghanistan, but the vast majority are focused on longer-term projects that are not designed to provide solutions in an escalating conflict. They must take some responsibility for the deteriorating situation and put in place the resources and experienced humanitarian staff to turn the tide around.


This is not a problem of scarce funding. This is a problem of priorities. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) continues to push money toward longer-term development goals. Massive contracts, some more than $300 million, lack oversight and are often targeted for highly insecure areas, where proper monitoring is impossible.


In one case in Helmand, for example, where there are no water shortages, a contractor purchased 16,000 water pumps from a local drug trafficker at twice the market rate. Political pressure to show quick results often translates into a focus on quantifying how much aid money has been spent, rather than the quality of programming.


The international community has worked to improve electricity and roads but has not ensured that the most vulnerable Afghans can access food, water, housing and health care. In a country mired in poverty with a government plagued by corruption, meeting the immediate needs of the Afghan people must be a higher priority.


Michel Gabaudan is president of Refugees International.








To paraphrase the late President Ronald Reagan, "there they go again." The "they" in this instance are book banners, that perennial band of mostly narrow-minded individuals who believe they know better than most what is suitable reading material for people of all ages. Trouble is, that is a false belief. Most of the self-appointed minders of what's proper and what is not proper reading material are more interested in promoting their own agenda than in engaging in serious discussion about the value of books and the messages and the lessons they can deliver.


The latest instance of such behavior comes from Massachusetts where "It's a Book," a highly praised book for young readers by Lane Smith, has stirred up a furor. The book has a simple but powerful message. It tells kids to pay more attention to books and to spend less time and attention on electronic games and similar paraphernalia. Who can argue with that message?


Some parents and others can, it seems. They are offended by a sentence in the book in which a character says, "It's a book, jackass." The words are entirely appropriate in context. "Jackass" is a character in the book, a donkey who is so wrapped up in technology that he doesn't know much about books. The story suggests that he should.


Sure, some parents have understandable objections to the word, but those complaints should not lead to the wholesale ban of the book. Others with kids might not find the word and its use in this particular instance to be objectionable.


The trouble arose when a literacy group wanted to donate 340 copies of "It's a Book" to first-graders in two Massachusetts towns. Controversy quickly ensued, though there were sensible efforts to defuse the situation. The principal of one school, in fact, sent a letter to parents telling them that the book contained a word they might find offensive. That was a fair way to manage the situation. Parents who did not want their child to receive the book could make that known. And books could be delivered to children whose parents or guardians had no objection to them receiving it.


Some parents offended by the book — a minority, according to reports — decided, however, that no child should have the opportunity to read the book. That's just plain wrong. There's no reason that the views of the minority should prevail over the majority of parents who had no objection to the book and the message it has to teach.


The controversial "It's a Book" is in good company. Many good books have been banned. Indeed, one California elementary school banned both the Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries earlier this year because there were objections to the way certain words were defined. J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books are regular targets of the banners. So are books by Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, John Steinbeck, Robert Cormier, Madeleine L'Engle and Maurice Sendak.


The confrontation in Massachusetts has been resolved — sort of. Parents who want their child to have a copy of the book can pick it up from the principal's office. That's a hollow victory, though. Books ought be widely available to those who want them, not handed out in semi-secret because a few individuals seek to impose their own beliefs on others.







Continued residential, commercial and industrial development of the once rural areas in the United States can be a boon to local governments seeking to expand their tax base, but it also can be a threat to the nation's historic landscapes. Sometimes the hurry to build simply overwhelms legitimate concerns about possible loss of the United States' historic patrimony. There are individuals and groups, however, who willingly shoulder the often thankless and formidable task of preserving the nation's patrimony.


The Civil War Preservation Trust is one such organization. It has worked tirelessly for years to preserve and to protect Civil War battlefields. It has been singularly successful over the years, though it has not prevailed in every skirmish with developers and others intent on converting historic landscapes into the infrastructure necessary to sustain the nation's mobile and suburban lifestyle. Still, its successful campaigns are worth noting.


The latest victory for the organization is the preservation of an 84-acre tract on Spring Hill battlefield in Middle Tennessee. Announced earlier this month, the $2 million purchase from General Motors means that the land will be protected from development forever.


"The completion of this landmark transaction is great cause to celebrate," said James Lighthizer, CWPT's president. "The 84 acres, when added to the 100 acres of protected land immediately surrounding Rippavilla Plantation — plus 90 acres CWPT owns elsewhere on the battlefield — have created a true destination for anyone seeking to understand the critical Franklin-Nashville Campaign of 1864."


As is usually the case in such matters, the CWPT did not work alone in the effort to safeguard the land. Officials at GM wholeheartedly participated in the preservation effort once the corporation decided to sell the land. The American Battlefield Preservation Program and the Tennessee Historical Commission played pivotal roles as well. Private donations helped underwrite the campaign, too. Such public-private cooperation is often the catalyst for successful preservation efforts.


The Spring Hill site, long under pressure for development as an industrial site or a bedroom community for a growing Nashville, once occupied a prominent spot on the CWPT's yearly list of the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War sites. That, obviously, will no longer be the case. Unfortunately, there are many other threatened sites to take its place.


The preservation struggle continues. Numerous places — Civil War battlefields and others — are caught in the crossfire between those who want land for development and those who want to preserve historic sites. Finding a balance between the two is often difficult, but preservation groups like the CWPT help remind us that Americans have an obligation to preserve and protect sites that have played major roles in the nation's history.







It is sensible for employers to try to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees, so long as they can do so without seriously disrupting the workplace. A company might not require a person who observes the Sabbath to work on that day of the week, for instance.


But under federal law, any such accommodation must be "reasonable." It cannot be required if it causes a hardship to the place of business.


Why, then, has our federal government very unreasonably filed a lawsuit against an Illinois school district for refusing to give a Muslim teacher three weeks of leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca? The suit asks a court to force the Berkeley, Ill., school district to adopt new rules that will better accommodate workers' religious practices. It also demands the reinstatement of teacher Safoorah Khan — who resigned after her request for leave was denied — as well as back pay and even compensatory damages!


While emergencies may force a teacher to be out for an extended period of time, most teachers would acknowledge that it is hard on students if a teacher is absent for a full three weeks. Substitute teachers may be conscientious, but they cannot effectively "fill the gap" for such an extended amount of time.


The frivolous nature of the lawsuit is evident. Khan started teaching in the district in 2007 and soon after requested the three weeks of leave from her duties. She told the school board she "could not justify delaying" the pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia. But in fact she could have delayed it. Islam does not say that a Muslim should make the pilgrimage to Mecca in a particular year but only sometime in his life.


At any rate, it is not "reasonable" for a teacher to take three weeks of leave during the school year for nonemergency purposes. And the government should not be suing a school district for denying such a request.







With a twisted, 5-4 ruling in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly declared that government is entitled to take private property from one owner and transfer it to another private interest. Governments at various levels have used that ruling to seize property and hand it over to different owners who will develop it in such a way as to generate more tax revenue for government.


That is an appalling misinterpretation of the eminent domain provision in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment does provide for limited government taking of private property. But the property must then be put to a clear "public use" — such as a road or a military base — not turned into a private development.


The Supreme Court appears to have no intention of revising its bad ruling, though. It recently turned down the appeal of New York state's planned seizing of private property that will be handed over to Columbia University for expansion of its campus. So the landowners will be forced to sell to Columbia, even though it is a private university, not a public facility.


We cannot judge whether Columbia's expansion is, in itself, a good idea. Perhaps it is. But that is beside the point. The university should not be able to acquire the land in question against the will of the rightful landowners by use of the coercive power of government.


Taking private property from an unwilling seller is not a pleasant prospect even when there is a legitimate public use for it. But it is even worse when the land is wrongly handed over to another private interest.








We rightly honor our brave men and women in the various branches of the U.S. military.


We highly esteem people who serve as police officers, sheriff's deputies, members of the Highway Patrol and FBI agents.


And we solemnly honor firefighters and other emergency workers who risk and sometimes lose their lives to help others.


But we may not often reflect on the bravery of U.S. agents who work along the Mexican border to stop illegal aliens and to fight drug trafficking.


Well, recently one of our Border Patrol agents paid the ultimate price. Brian A. Terry was with three of his fellow agents when a gunfight erupted with bandits along the border. He was killed in the shooting.


Several suspects have been arrested in connection with his death. Sadly, however, brutal attacks on our Border Patrol agents are all too common.


That violence cannot be halted completely, but Congress should honor our border agents' noble efforts by providing them what they need to carry out their difficult task of halting those who try to cross our nation's borders illegally.


And we should gratefully acknowledge the sacrifices made by those agents on a daily basis.










The Obama administration seems fond of creating odd names to describe situations our country faces.


It prefers the weird term "man-caused disasters," for example, to the much clearer term "terrorist attacks." And instead of talking about the "war on terror," it uses the vague, hard-to-understand phrase "overseas contingency operation."


Now, the administration is using that sort of wordplay in its shaky defense of ObamaCare socialized medicine.


As you may have read, a federal judge recently struck down as unconstitutional a key provision of ObamaCare — the provision that forces Americans to purchase government-approved medical insurance or be fined. That part of the law has accurately been called the "individual mandate."


But the Obama administration and its allies apparently don't like the "sound" of a "mandate." (That, after all, implies making somebody do something against his will — which is exactly what ObamaCare does!)


So administration officials have decided to give the "individual mandate" a new name. Writing in The Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius referred to the mandate as "the individual responsibility provision."


"The individual responsibility provision"?


What does "individual responsibility" mean to you? It probably means being personally accountable for your actions and for your welfare — and providing for yourself and your family as much as possible, rather than relying on government to do that.


But what does forcing taxpayers to buy government-approved medical insurance — or be fined — have to do with "individual responsibility"? What is the connection between "individual responsibility" and bringing tens of millions more Americans onto inefficient, bureaucratic government care — with no thought of the cost that places on our debt-ridden nation?


Most Americans take personal responsibility for their care by obtaining insurance either individually or through their workplaces. And it is sensible and compassionate to help those who, through no fault of their own, cannot get coverage by ordinary means.


But it is bizarre that supporters of ObamaCare would try to link its heavy-handed mandates and fines to "individual responsibility." ObamaCare actually undermines that very important value.








The news that Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan will hold a joint military exercise in the spring we find interesting. We don't see great import in this step, but it is the kind of rudimentary cooperation like-minded neighbors should engage in periodically. It will not, however, do much for the wars that Pakistan and Afghanistan are now losing.


A far more important strike against the endless woes of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the region we call "Amu Derya" in our Regionscape pages for the river basin that unites the region, is the package of other steps agreed at Friday's summit of Central Asian countries, known as the Economic Cooperation Organization, or ECO. These range from a cargo railroad link to Turkey to an "ideas platform" to bring together academics, researchers and media.


The problems of these two countries fill up a long list. Afghanistan is now the field for the U.S.'s longest running war. It is a fight that began as a response to the Taliban-sheltered Al-Qaeda and its attacks on Sept. 11. Now it has devolved into a civil war across two borders, essentially the ethnic Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan against everybody else in both countries. NATO, the nominal military power, is weary and seeking an exit as Afghanistan has once again become the world's largest supplier of opium. Corruption runs rife, elections are a scandal and few think it is more than a matter of time before the Taliban return to Kabul through some kind of accommodation (note our Page 1 story today on a possible branch office in Istanbul).


Nuclear-armed Pakistan, meanwhile, is sliding toward economic ruin, beset by terrorism, close to political paralysis and yet to recover from devastating floods earlier this year that heaped misery upon misery.


We have no claim to know what steps would turn around the fates of this critical region and its diverse societies with so much potential. But we certainly have no hope that salvation will come from the barrels of NATO's guns.


A thoughtful effort to increase already-substantial Turkish investment in the region is a step all should support. A joint command to manage natural disaster response is an obvious need, the infrastructure for which is already in place. A robust initiative to strengthen academic cooperation, research, economic R&D and cultural exchange will have our full support. Teaming up against terrorism and drug trafficking, also on the agenda, can work too, if preceded by the other steps on offer.


We hope this idea goes beyond a paper-pushing secretariat or series of well-meaning visits that produce nothing but plaudits. At the moment, this set of ideas led by President Abdullah Gül, is still nascent. But with light, water and nurturing, this could be the beginning of real progress for one of the world's most troubled regions.








Although I am not tired of writing about Turkish monetary policy, I suspect some of my readers could be sick of reading about it, given the attention it has been getting in the papers.


Therefore, while I am referring the interested reader to my blog for the Central Bank's rabbit-pulling during the past week, I would like to talk about a topic more suited to the spirit of the holidays: How Turks stole Christmas.


Of course, Turks did not really steal Christmas; they just tweaked it around a bit and combined it with New Year's so that Saint Nick, the presents and the pine tree, the whole nine yards, have all been nearly integrated into New Year's, which is conveniently close in the calendar.


The integration is so perfect that even your friendly neighborhood economist never fully understood the difference between the two during his secondary school studies at Robert College, an American high school in Istanbul with quite a bit of Christian teachers, until he went on to study in the United States.


While Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's Editor-in-Chief David Judson neatly summarizes the Turkification of Christmas, along with a sweet story, in his latest Southbound, he does not attempt to answer the more interesting questions such as how and why.


The answers to those questions would have been easier if New Year's had to compete with Christmas. In a recent paper first brought to my attention by the Financial Times'Undercover Economist Tim Hartford, three economists, one of whom happens to be an old classmate, found that Jews living in the U.S. give more prominence to Hanukkah, a minor Jewish holiday usually celebrated in December, than Israelis.


There is also an intra-country effect: In the U.S., the effect is stronger in Jewish American families living in Gentile neighborhoods and sending their children to Christian schools. Interestingly enough, families with children under 18 celebrate Hanukkah more strongly, hinting that parents are, in Tim Hartford's words, simply "compelled to fight fire with fire" by creating a substitute Christmas.


Coming back to Turkey, it is plausible that the globalization of Christmas, as part of the globalization of the culture of the only superpower, has made it necessary for everyone to find a surrogate Christmas in a holiday nearby on the calendar. In other words, if my friend Liran & co. were to widen to scope of their study, they would find a Yuletide effect in most holidays close to Christmas.


But whatever the reason for it, the ingenious Turkish solution allows us to test if there is indeed a "competition effect" in Turkey. Despite the careful disguise, New Year's is a secular holiday not celebrated as much by pious, conservative Turks. Therefore, it would be interesting to see how the Muslim holidays would compete with the Turkish hybrid Christmas-New Year's.


The moving nature of the Ramadan and Kurban bayram holidays has allowed me to conduct a simple time series analysis, motivated by the budding science of culturomics. Using the online archives of the Daily News' godfather Hürriyet, I found a surge in words related to the Kurban holiday in 2007, which showed up both right before and after New Year's that year. There is also a very strong Ramadan effect in 2000, when the holiday was just a couple of days before New Year's.


And if you are wondering, I am in this for pure curiosity. I personally prefer Festivusa holiday for the rest of us. But still, a belated Merry Christmas & Hanukkah, as well as an early Happy New Year to everyone from your favorite Turkish economist.


I know it sounds even cheesier than my cheesy movie-homage titles, but I am going to say it anyway: See you next year! 


* Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at









In order to be able to judge whether the Armenian deportation of 1915 can be labeled as a genocide attempt, I think we first and foremost need to delve into the concept of "deportation."


Here arises an important question: Was the Ottoman deportation of the Armenians the first of its sort in history? In other words, did the Ottomans rediscover America? Of course not...


As an example of exile cases that occurred prior to the 1915 deportation, one needs only to look as far as Czarist Russia and its forced migration policies implemented on those living in the Caucasus region throughout the 19th century. For later examples, one has only to analyze the actions of the U.S. government, which had similar concerns to the Ottomans, when it shoved thousands of Japanese citizens living in the United States into internment camps for the duration of World War II, or Czechoslovakia's deportation of its Sudetenland German population right after the war.


There are, nevertheless, important nuances that separate the Armenian deportation from these examples and these nuances need to be praised rather than scorned. Let us list only three of them: First of all, the Armenians deported were allowed to return after the war. Secondly, the Ottomans even went so far as to allocate their Armenian exiles a daily stipend of three kurush for adults and 60 piastres for children. Last, but not least, upon the order of Talat Paşa, who is claimed to have been the one in the Ottoman government who personally planned the "Armenian genocide," a total of 1,673 officials accused of abuse and neglect during the deportation process were court-martialed between 1915 and 1916. Of these, 524 were given prison terms, 67 were sentenced to death and 68 were sentenced to hard labor.


These trials alone clearly demonstrate that the deportation cannot be labeled as genocide. Even some Western scholars who support Armenian claims acknowledge the importance of Ottoman efforts in that regard. For instance, Hilmar Kaiser, after stating that we keep repeating ourselves over and over again about the small number of existing documents, and that most of the studies based on such documents are "ridiculous," has confessed the undeniable importance of the archival documents regarding the so-called court hearings of the Ottoman Empire.


More importantly, there were other attempts by Ottomans to clear themselves. For instance, having become exasperated with all the massacre claims by the European states, the Ottoman government on Feb. 13, 1919, dispatched a memorandum to Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark in order for a commission to be set up, comprised of two neutral legal experts from each nation, "to investigate the deportation and identify its reasons." However, these nations informed the Ottoman state of their refusal of this proposal on May 6, 1919.


Having said that, let us ask ourselves the simple question, "Are Western politicians such as Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi who vote in favor of "Armenian genocide" bills even aware of realities such as these?"



If you ask me, I really doubt they have even the slightest crumb of information as to what really happened in 1915.








For me, as for most people who grew up in the Greek Orthodox faith, the idea of Father Christmas was not associated with Christmas at all. Father Christmas did not visit us every year on Dec. 24 as he does with the rest of the Christian world, both Catholics and Protestants. He was not even called St. Nicolas.


Ours was St. Basil, Aghios Vassilis, and came from the Caisareia district – Kayseri in modern-day Turkish – not Lapland.


This eastern Father Christmas used to delay his visitations until New Year's Eve, when the more pagan parts of the Christmas festivities were taking place – wassailing (similar to caroling), reveling, and trying your luck with gambling and lottery tickets. The Orthodox Father Christmas used to descend through our metaphoric chimney the night when the New Year crossed our doorstep.


Actually, in my family's case – and I am sure in many other lower-income Greek households in the 1960s – the descent of Father Christmas was a chance for some creative accounting. My family's Aghios Vassilis did not descend from the chimney in order to deliver the presents I had asked from him. He visited the room where the Christmas tree stood in order to pick up my savings of one year! This money was collected, drachma by drachma, in a big round clay money-box that was bought each January, and broken ceremoniously every Dec. 31, in order "to give the money to Aghios Vassilis to buy exactly what you want," my mother would say.


One whole year's effort at saving every dime I could from errands and minor thefts from my mother's wallet was compensated because on the first of the year I would find the present I wanted next to the Christmas tree. Both my parents and I were happy – each for different reasons – although deep down I knew there was something wrong with that angelic Father Christmas who was grabbing my money every year.


This year the Greek children also feel there is something wrong with Father Christmas. He cannot deliver the goods he used to bring before. They also sense something is going wrong with their immediate world. They can see many children whom Aghios Vassilis will not visit at all.


Several years ago, the Greek Post Office introduced the excellent idea of asking children to send letters to Aghios Vassilis with their wishes. Tens of thousands arrive at the Central Post Office in Athens every year, supposedly to be handed to him. They are all read, classified and then published in a special volume. This year's edition "Letters to Aghios Vassilis" came out a few days ago, and it proves that children can feel the social reality of their world even through such a deeply rooted deception as that of Father Christmas.


A 15-year-old girl whose mother had just lost her unemployment benefit while her father had been promised a job, but was not sure when he would get it, wrote that Aghios Vassilis is the "fairy-tale element that makes Christmas unique and magical for each person." "You know, I never ask for anything, what I have is enough for the moment," she wrote.


"I do not want anything expensive this year, but something creative and cheap in order for you to give presents to all the children of the world," wrote a young girl.


"This year I would like a whirligig. But if you cannot, never mind. I love you a lot," wrote young Theodore while another small boy displayed his philanthropic sentiments: "I want you to give to the unhappy children, to the ones who do not have food, water, school and homes. Please make them happy. [Signed,] Constantinos."


Of course children do not lack humor and with a benevolent, all-forgiving figure like Father Christmas, they can really let go. "I just learned your address. The best gift for children is peace but in reality we all want a present. Anything. So this year I would like you to bring me a nice literary book with many pages and many mysteries that should not remain unsolved. But I won't hold any grudges against you if you do not send me anything," wrote one young boy. Another's letter was very demanding and specific:


"I would like you to send me a blond Labrador dog in a lilac box with pink ribbon and the box to have two holes for breathing. Inside the box should have water and newspaper cuttings. I asked for the same thing last year but you did not bring it to me. I did not complain. But this year bring the dog, otherwise, God help you!"


This year, though, it was only children who resorted to Father Christmas. Adults also picked up pen and paper to send a letter asking for better luck this year, for a job and a decent income. The sudden drop in living standards brought by the unprecedented recent economic crisis has made people desperate enough to seek help from a mythical hero of childhood. After all, their reality is quite bleak, centered on the regular visits by the representatives of International Monetary Fund, the Central European Bank and the European Union, which are known now in Greece as the "troika." They know their country is under open-ended supervision on the basis of a tough agreement with its foreign lenders. This "memorandum," which stipulates the application of the toughest austerity program the country has experienced in recent times, has resulted in – among many other things – the cutting of salaries, benefits and Christmas bonuses.


"Today when my daughter found her present under the Christmas tree, she said she was sad because the evil witch Troika took away her father's bonus. 'It is not fair,' she said," one father wrote in a commentary for a Greek newspaper.








As if I don't know that the Kurdish political movement demands the right to self-governance in regions predominantly populated by Kurds, or that we just heard about such a claim at the "Democratic Self-Government Workshop" organized in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakır.


Or, as if in the workshop organized by the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, Kurds have unilaterally announced autonomy, and we've not heard it at all.


If this is the case, it is very strange because I was there too – and as everything was taking place before my eyes I think I must have missed a deadly serious development.


Anyway, let's put all kidding aside. I have to invite the general public to act with common sense and I have to explain what was new in the "Democratic Self-Government Workshop," because the fuss – created by ultra-right groups – over some certain wordings has caused confusion again.


This is not the first time we have heard of Kurdish demands for self-governance, nor the words "flag," or "self-defense forces." But to me, a "first" happened in Diyarbakır over the weekend: attempted "negotiation exercises," in the framework of Kurdish demands for self-governance, were undertaken.


See, I am not even saying "exercise," but "attempted exercise." Or you might even interpret this as "negotiation simulation."


A non-bonding model draft of democratic self-governance, though it causes storms, is actually "a draft of a draft of a draft." In other words, there is a lot to still be achieved.


A leading, independent Kurdish intellectual in Diyarbakır told me, on condition of anonymity, the only thing in the draft remaining unchanged could be perhaps be the heading: "Democratic Self-Governance."


Taking the lives of 40,000 people, causing tremendous social and material damage, absorbing all the energy, time and resources of this country, the Kurdish question can be solved within the borders of Turkey through peace and conciliation efforts. And the said solid suggestion of the Kurdish movement is open to discussions.


It is public's right to know if those who raise usual objections against the self-government suggestion have any peaceful alternatives other than so-called "solution methods" that have been tried but failed by the state so far.


Another "first ever" in Diyarbakır was that the "draft" is the most in-depth blue print so far in terms of vision and content with political and social objectives. Participants came from the West of the Euphrates, listened to the presentation in Diyarbakır, and criticized the text were a group of journalists, writers and academics defending democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict. They were able to communicate with Kurds, although they have different political tendencies.


At this point, it is useful to stress the fact that they were not scared of expressing their views or criticisms on the wording and substance of the text.


The released 15-page text will naturally be discussed, criticized and talked over.

I will call your attention to the "langu