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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

EDITORIAL 28.12.10

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 28, edition 000714, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
















  5. 2010: India's undeclared year of Africa - Rajiv Bhatia




















  6. 100 years ago today


  1. REAL CHARGE      




































  3. RULE









That the Gujjars of Rajasthan have further stepped up their agitation in support of their demand for a quota in jobs and educational institutions can only mean bad news, especially for those travelling out of Delhi and its neighbouring areas. Gujjars have laid siege to key highways, important roads and rail routes with the purpose of blocking all traffic through the State; a shutdown has been forced on some towns. The immediate fallout of the agitation is being felt by both the people of Rajasthan as well as those who had plans to travel through the State — either by road or by train. Prices of essential commodities have gone up by nearly 10 per cent as trucks carrying supplies are stranded; according to one estimate, the agitation, now in its ninth day, is causing a daily loss of at least `20 crore. More importantly, any public sympathy that there may have been for the Gujjars is disappearing rapidly: Disruptive politics is no longer fashionable among either those who live in cities or in villages. That the agitation should have coincided with travel woes caused by seasonal fog has only worsened matters. Obviously, Mr Kirori Singh Bainsla and his men sense an opportunity in exploiting the situation to their advantage by arm-twisting the State Government, but this short-sighted strategy could well recoil on them. In any event, even if the Congress Government in Rajasthan, headed by Mr Ashok Gehlot, were to capitulate before the agitators, it is unlikely the High Court will take an indulgent view of the manner in which Mr Bainsla and others have responded to its order setting aside the five per cent quota for Gujjars till such time a proper enumeration is done of the community to justify the reservation accorded to them.

The Gujjars first voiced their demand when Ms Vasundhara Raje was the Chief Minister and the BJP was in power in Rajasthan. Subsequently, there were several rounds of violent agitation to press the demand for the community's reclassification as a 'Scheduled Tribe' so that it can access the benefits of the relevant quota. After much discussion and deliberation, a five per cent quota was offered to the Gujjars within the OBC quota to which they agreed. Accordingly, an Act was passed and the present Government notified it. However, the new law was challenged in the High Court which, while staying its implementation, has asked the Government to justify the quota on the basis of the Gujjar population. This will naturally require time — the Government has asked for a couple of months — but Mr Bainsla is not open to either reason or negotiation; he wants the quota to be enforced immediately. That's most unfortunate. Surely Mr Bainsla understands that the Government cannot over-rule the High Court's order. Nor can a new quota be introduced without facing objections from other groups seeking similar benefits or litigation. As the leader of the Gujjars, he should demonstrate greater maturity, call off the agitation and facilitate the enumeration which the court has asked to be conducted. As for the Congress, in may ways it is hoist on its own petard. Earlier, its leaders stood on the margins and taunted the BJP over the Gujjar demand; now it finds itself facing the community's wrath. Be that as it may, wisdom lies in eschewing the path of confrontation. 







Much as the Congress's high command may want to put it off indefinitely, it cannot any longer postpone a decision on granting a separate Telangana State by carving up Andhra Pradesh. With as many as 11 Congress Members of Parliament and 20 legislators from Andhra Pradesh taking the looming crisis towards a flashpoint by going on a fast to demand the bifurcation of the State, the party high command has to sooner than later take a firm call. The fact that those on fast have rejected an appeal from Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy not to launch the agitation — a request that surely must have had the blessings of the central leaders — makes it clear that state leaders belonging to the Telangana region are no longer prepared to wait endlessly for their dreams to be realised. That the agitation is led by senior party leader Keshav Rao, considered close to the central leadership, makes it even more difficult for the demand to be ignored any further. The Srikrishna panel report on the issue is due any moment and that is the reason for the renewed demand. It is obvious that the pro-Telangana leaders suspect the committee report may not explicitly back their stand else they would not have mounted pressure. But whatever the panel's findings may be, they cannot be reason enough to delay the formation of a new State. And, if the Congress leadership still decides to fiddle, it will have to face the wrath of its own leaders in a State where the party is already battling the growing clout of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and increasing importance of former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. With two such strong opponents, the party can ill afford an internal revolt at this stage.

The Congress high command is to blame for the state of affairs that the party finds itself in. After all, it had in principle conceded to the idea of a separate Telangana, which is why it could win over the Telangana Rashtra Samiti led by K Chandrasekhar Rao after the 2004 Lok Sabha election. Since then, however, the Congress has dilly-dallied on the matter, taking refuge in protracted meetings with the supposed purpose to finalise the details but in reality using such confabulations to avoid a firm decision. Even the formation of the Srikrishna panel was seen as a delaying tactic. With Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's growing influence in the Telangana region, State Congress leaders from there are under tremendous pressure to walk the talk. With their political career at stake, they cannot afford to be seen as compromising on the core issue. Perhaps the Congress leadership believes it can derive greater benefit from being seen as advocating a unified Andhra Pradesh since it can count on support from other regions like Rayalaseema. But the fact is that the Congress has already committed itself to a separate Telangana, and any dilution of that stand will invite a backlash, a preview of which is already on display.










The Indian National Congress, the country's grand old party, which took birth in Mumbai on December 28, 1885 has just concluded its 125th anniversary celebrations. Though this ought to be party time for all its members, the Congress leadership and the cadre are aware that the year that was has been so scam-tainted that the anniversary will in all probability be remembered for all the wrong reasons. So, far from celebrations, the focus at this anniversary ought to be on introspection and even penitence over all the unfulfilled promises.

As everyone is aware, the party has come a long way since its formation. When it pitched for 'Poorna Swaraj', it drew lakhs of idealistic men and women into its ranks. Many of them gave up their professions and ploughed all their wealth and resources into the struggle. Since it was built on the blood, sweat and sacrifices of lakhs of workers, the party came to symbolise the very essence of patriotism and freedom. It came to represent a political force that adopted a 'nation first' policy; stood for democracy in its truest sense; believed in equity and equality in every sphere; had a secular, liberal outlook; and, valued probity in public life.

We need to see where this party now is, on each of these counts. Taking the last point first because of its topicality, it must be said that the spirit of sacrifice began evaporating after 1947. In the initial years after independence, the Congress had no challengers either at the national or regional levels and members of the party began to relish the loaves and fishes of office.

Side by side, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru's dalliance with socialism resulted in the pernicious licence-permit-quota raj which became the breeding ground of corruption. Initially, industrialists offered bribes by way of 'party funds' to bag licences. Later, Ministers began pocketing something for themselves. That was the starting point of corruption in New Delhi and in the States. Later, corruption became institutionalised during Mrs Indira Gandhi's era after the great Congress split of 1969.

Let us now examine the Congress's commitment to democracy. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and BR Ambedkar ensured that we got a democratic Constitution which guaranteed equity and equality. But, as we began working this Constitution, the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi family became a reality. The emergence of such a political dynasty ran contrary to our Constitutional ideals, but party members encouraged this trend because they saw the party's first family as the ticket to power.

Motilal Nehru (Congress president in 1928), started it all when he ensured that his son Jawaharlal succeeded him as Congress president in 1929. Jawaharlal Nehru continued the tradition by ensuring that his daughter Indira Gandhi became president of the Congress in 1959 when he was Prime Minister. Mrs Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966 and split the party in 1969. Since then the party has virtually become a private limited company that is owned and controlled by the Nehru-Gandhis. 

Mrs Indira Gandhi first promoted Sanjay Gandhi in the 1970s. Later, she promoted Rajiv Gandhi after Sanjay's death. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Ms Sonia Gandhi took charge of the party and now Mr Rahul Gandhi is being groomed for the Prime Minister's job. He is already a general secretary of the Congress.

The basic principle is that if you are a Nehru-Gandhi, you are a natural claimant to political office. You need no other qualification. Since 1885, members of this family have been presidents of the party for 39 years. Motilal Nehru was president for two years, Jawaharlal Nehru for nine years, Mrs Indira Gandhi for eight years and Rajiv Gandhi for seven years. Ms Sonia Gandhi holds the record both within the dynasty and within the party by having the longest, unbroken tenure of 13 years and is still going strong.

Because of the stranglehold of one family on the Congress, many stalwarts have moved away from it, resulting in a substantial decline in the party's popularity. Among those who broke away were Jagjivan Ram, Devaraj Urs, Ramakrishna Hegde, Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Purno Sangma and even Mr Chandrababu Naidu. Many others like Veerendra Patil, Mr AK Antony, K Karunakaran and Mr S Jaipal Reddy, have been in and out of the party.

This has eroded the party's vote share substantially. Since the first general election in 1952, the party, on an average, had a 45 per cent share of the national vote, which translated to about 65 to 70 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies. However, this has dropped by about 15 to 20 per cent in the last two decades.

The Congress's worst performance was in 1999 when it secured 25.82 per cent of the national vote and just 114 seats in the Lok Sabha. It has since recovered and got over 200 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha election but its vote share remains at around 28 per cent. The party has never got a clear majority in the Lok Sabha since 1984.

The bigger problem is that the Congress's support base has suffered terrible erosion in several big States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar since then. Therefore, despite Mr Rahul Gandhi's strenuous campaigning, the party's vote share crashed to just eight per cent in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 and in Bihar in 2010.

Apart from parivarvaad, there is yet another issue — the Emergency of 1975-77 — that has damaged the party's democratic credentials. The stamp of approval that the party gave to the fascist regime that Mrs Indira Gandhi presided over during the dreaded Emergency remains a big blot on its image.

Finally, let us examine the Congress's commitment to equity and equality. During the years when Mrs Indira Gandhi was in power, the party played a cruel joke on the poor when it incorporated 'Socialism' in the Preamble to the Constitution and raised the slogan of "Garibi Hatao" from every public platform. This was a well-conceived plan to garner the votes of the poor. But the party had no clear plan to tackle poverty. Four decades after Mrs Indira Gandhi's 'Garibi Hatao ' campaign, India has 300 million people living below the poverty line.

Yet, we cannot wish away the Congress. It will be around for a long time to come because the people are far more worried about the alternative that is available to them at the national level — the Bharatiya Janata Party. But, that is another story. So, in the meanwhile, let us not deny the Congress the right to celebrate the glory of the past and the good fortune of the present. Congress Jai Ho!







His Holiness the Pope Benedict is reported to have expressed earlier this month deep concern over the "harassment" and "prejudice" against Christians in Europe. By implication, he was protesting against secularists' bias against the majority religion of Europe. Until some recent protests against minarets and burqas, Muslim appeasement has been considered politically correct in most of Europe. He went on to bemoan that where Christians are in a minority, there was no religious freedom, especially in the West Asian countries. 

The Pope was evidently referring to the hostile experience in Egypt, where to this day, the 10 per cent Coptic Christians must take permission of the Government to even renovate their churches. Darfur in Sudan where the atrocities of the Muslim north upon the Christian south of the country is a terrible tale. Earlier, northern Nigeria had driven Biafran or southern Christians to a desperate civil war. Turkey is well known in history for its atrocities. They were so unacceptable that Prime Minister William Gladstone was provoked to say on the floor of Westminster, with the Book in his hand, that so long as this Book remains there would be no peace on this earth. He went on to publish a book entitled The Bulgarian Horrors. 

Subsequently, the Turks went on to massacre Armenian Christians. This genocide led Lord Curzon to call for discussions on the entire issue of minorities with Ismet Pasha of Turkey. It was his conclusion that minorities cannot co-exist with a Muslim majority. He solved the problem under the good offices of the League of Nations. He set up the Mixed Commission in order to work out a systematic exchange of Turkish Christians and Greek Muslims. Similarly, an exchange was arranged between Turkish Christians and Muslims in Bulgaria.

Does not Indian political life have a magnificent, rather a menacing, obsession? It is on the demand for a homeland for a minority that the Partition was conceded, minority is an euphemism for Muslims. At the 1931 Second Round Table Conference in London, Mahatma Gandhi had declared that he recognised Muslims as a minority. Christians, Parsis, Jews were all left out by him. The Constituent Assembly, elected at the end of 1945, had commenced deliberations on a forthcoming Constitution for independent India. The Congress thrust, at that time, was somehow to induce the Muslims not to insist on the country's bifurcation. Hence, the undertone of the draft was appeasement whose highlights were the then clauses 19 to 23 A. Jawaharlal Nehru did not give a go-by to this menacing obsession and included the same clauses in the final post-Partition Constitution except that their numbers were changed to Articles 25 to 30. 

The obsession continued as illustrated by what happened on November 4, 1948. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, proposed and got passed unanimously by the august body the following tribute: "Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who by his grim determination and steadfast devotion was able to carve out and found Pakistan and whose passing away at this moment is an irreparable loss to all. We send our heartfelt sympathies to our brethren across the frontier."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has leapt many steps in the same direction by declaring 'minorities first' as his Government's policy, earmarking the first 15 per cent of the national resources for their benefit. The appointment of the Sachar Committee, the installation of a ministry for minority, declaring the concept of minority concentrated districts, et al are all steps in the direction of dividing the country into a majority and a minority.

The presidential address to the plenary session of the Congress party on December 19 has gone to the extreme by calling the RSS names such as 'Fascists', 'Nazis', etc. A few days earlier a general secretary had said that "Hindu terrorism was more dangerous to the country than Lashkar-e-Tayyeba". Another general secretary over the months has made any number of statements of an anti-Hindu nature. The Home Minister of India has used the expression 'saffron terror'. If any of these were true, why would the Hindu leaders have accepted the partition of India gracefully? Thereafter, would they have allowed Muslims to continue to stay in Hindustan although Pakistan was conceded as a homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent? This was notwithstanding the offer by Muslim League eminences led by Quaid-e-Azam that there should be an exchange of populations. Sir Feroz Khan Noon, who later went on to become Prime Minister of Pakistan, while addressing the legislators of Bihar in April 1946, had gone to the extent of threatening the re-enactment of the "orgies of Changez Khan and Halaku Khan if Hindus did not allow us to take Muslims to the forthcoming Pakistan". 

Uncannily, in his 1946 book, India Divided, the same Rajendra Prasad had asked whether post-partition Muslims could be allowed to reside in India. If they were, would they be citizens or as aliens to be issued visas? Lebanon is an example of a majority being turned into a minority. Until World War I, it was a province of the Ottoman empire. With the defeat of Turkey, Lebanon was allotted by the League of Nations for France to administer. In 1945 when the French left, Lebanon had more Christians than Muslims and its President's post was reserved for a Christian. The higher Muslim birth rate however began to tilt the balance. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated, more and more Arabs migrated to Lebanon. Gradually, the population ratio was reversed. Today, although the Constitution remains unchanged, Muslims call the shots. Going back to the Pope's complaint about the treatment of minorities in Islamic lands, Lebanon is an extraordinary example. 

Malaysia began as a secular country when in 1965 it separated from Singapore whose ethnic Chinese had felt harassed by the Malay Muslims. Before long the remaining Malaysia declared itself an Islamic country, although nearly half-the-population comprised others like ethnic Chinese, Tamils etc. Muslims showed no consideration for the minorities. The Indians, settled there for long years, repeatedly protest and complain against their ill-treatment. Indonesia ill treated its Christians and by UNO mandate it had to yield independence to its Christian province of Timor. 







The wives of two Egyptian Coptic priests, forbidden by the Church from divorcing their abusive husbands, desperately sought another way out by converting to Islam. When their intentions were discovered, the police handed them over to the Church and their whereabouts since have been unknown.


The cases caused a furore in Egypt that spilled over the borders and turned deadly when Al Qaeda in Iraq cited the women as the reason behind the bloodiest attack ever on Christians in Iraq — a five-hour siege of a church in October that left 68 people dead. It was a stark example of the schism between Christians and Muslims that runs through West Asia and periodically erupts into violence.

"Amid the current sectarian discord, the timing is perfect for Al Qaeda to show it is defending Islam and to exploit the situation to rally extremists against the churches," said Ammar Ali Hassan, an expert in Islamic movements.

Both Ms Wafaa Constantine, 53, and Ms Camilla Shehata, 25, lived in remote rural towns in Egypt and enjoyed prestige as pious wives of conservative Coptic priests. But behind that veneer, a lawyer and a church official said, the women were trapped in abusive relationships.

Both tried to seek a divorce through church channels, but hit a dead-end because the Coptic Orthodox Church forbids divorce — a rule enforced even more strictly against the wives of priests. And they decided to rebel, not only against their husbands, but against the whole religion. They sought to convert to Islam, something viewed as a disgrace in their community. The Coptic Church considers those who convert to other religions such as Islam dead, making the marriage contract invalid.

Though Egyptian religious authorities say the women never succeeded in converting, the controversy in both cases escalated with angry protests by Egyptian Christians, who accused Muslims of abducting the women and forcing them to convert. That in turn galvanised Muslim hardliners in Egypt who protested and accused the church of holding them against their will and forcing them to convert back to Christianity.

Al Qaeda in Iraq turned it into a cause célèbre when it cited the women as the reason behind the Baghdad church siege. The group followed with more threats against Iraq's Christian minority, creating such fear that most Christmas celebrations in the country were cancelled.

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, estimated at about 10 per cent of the country's 80 million people, has grown more religiously conservative over the past three decades as has the country's Muslim majority.

Egypt's Salafi movement — extreme conservative Muslims — have long accused the Coptic Church here of conspiring to 'Christianise' Egypt. Though Salafis in Egypt reject violence, their doctrine is only a few shades away from that of groups such as Al Qaeda. Both adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam that supposedly is a purer form of Islam said to have been practiced by Islam's Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century. The Salafis have set up dozens of websites and Facebook groups to spread the word about the two women.

Hossam Aboul Boukhar, the founder of one of the websites,, said the Shehata case is not an Egyptian matter anymore but "an Islamic cause". And he listed other women in similar situations. "It is a phenomenon. The new Muslims, our sisters, are in misery because they are being tortured and imprisoned. We don't know what is going on inside the churches," he said.

In weekly protests from August to November, bearded men in white robes gathered outside mosques in Egypt to denounce Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Christian leader of Egypt, as an "infidel". And they vowed revenge. In one demonstration, Islamists raised a flag identical to that of Al Qaeda in Iraq — a black banner emblazoned with the phrase: "There is no god but god and Mohammed is god's Prophet." Two days later, Al Qaeda in Iraq attacked the church.

Constantine's story dates back to December 2004 when her brief disappearance led angry Christians to stage protests and clash with police for four days. The agriculture engineer lived with her family in the Nile Delta town of Abou el-Matamer, about 135 km north of Cairo. She was married to a Coptic priest who lost a leg to diabetes. Naguib Giberail, a prominent Coptic lawyer familiar with the case, said her husband had an explosive temper. He later died in 2006.

For two years Constantine sought help from the senior church official in her province, Archbishop Bakhamyous. She told him she was abused, according to Coptic clerics who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. 







US President Barack Obama must have heaved a sigh of relief after the United States Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by a vote of 71 to 26. This ended a month of intense speculation over whether the lame-duck senate would be able to pass a treaty which Mr Obama had made a centerpiece for his global disarmament agenda. 

After two years of calling upon bipartisanship even when his own political party has had a majority, and attempting to work with congressional Republicans, Mr Obama had chosen New START as his battleground with recalcitrant Republicans. The Republicans now will have a majority in the House of Representatives, and made gains in the Senate — the Government body which ratifies treaties. They campaigned this fall on blocking Mr Obama's domestic platforms, without articulating counter policies of their own. Many of Mr Obama's critics in his own party have been waiting for the President to take a firm stand against congressional Republicans. New START is the battle he has chosen, and he snatched victory amid widespread scepticism. Why did Mr Obama chose New START? How would the stalling — or even killing — the treaty have effected the President's non-proliferation and disarmament agenda? And how did New START, a modest little uncontroversial arms control agreement, turn into such a dramatic focal point for Mr Obama's domestic leadership?

Mr Obama chose New START as a legislative combat zone for the same reason he decided to place non-proliferation and disarmament on an international stage, in Prague this past spring 2010. The President has a strong personal investment in non-proliferation and disarmament dating back to his student days. The Prague speech was an opportunity to translate personal beliefs into political action. Yet like President Mr Obama's other hopeful agenda for West Asia peace, it seemed destined for failure — this time though due to domestic, rather than international politics.

The Obama Administration made New START a battleground for another reason besides the President's strong personal beliefs — seeming smart politics. In conventional wisdom, New START should have been an 'easy' piece of legislation. The driving force behind the treaty, US Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) gave the treaty a bipartisan gloss. The treaty strengthens national security, generally a cause dear to the Republican party. Unfortunately Mr Lugar was initially the lone Republican Senator in favour of the treaty. 


Republican minority whip Mr Jon Kyl strongly opposed the treaty, which formed the basis of the perceived Republican opposition to the treaty. Mr Kyl's support was always doubtful: The man has never voted for an arms control treaty submitted to the Senate by a Democratic President. Additionally, the Republican leadership has placed a premium on blocking Mr Obama's legislation even that which draws upon past Republican policies, like START which was first proposed by President Ronald Reagan. The Obama Administration successfully gambled that it could bypass Mr Kyl. 


The New START ratification gives the President a domestic political victory which would enhance his international clout. Bringing out the big guns, Mr Obama called out Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, and Brent Scowcroft — all top names in both international affairs and past Republican Administrations — to address the Senate. Secretary of State (and former Senator) Hillary Rodham Clinton also addressed her old colleagues. While it was ironic to see her invoke the exigencies of "national security" at Republican Senators who often place that value at the top of their list of political priorities, this parade of international policy luminaries eventually had the desired effect. 

Mr Obama saw that New START was an excellent place to make a political stand: Aligning himself with the shadow of Reagan and other Republican policy-makers, invoking national security while taking the opportunity to act on deeply-held personal political beliefs. In light of the surprise turnaround, with commentators speculating on the failure of the treaty as early as last weekend, the success encountered by President Obama has significant international ramifications. 

To get a better idea of these ramifications, the implications can be viewed conversely — What if New START was not ratified? How would the implications of the treaty's failure impact the international community? 

For South Asia, the new START's failure would give a fillip to the Pakistani intransigence which has held up FMCT negotiations. Pakistan was at the receiving end of a specially convened high-level UN meeting in September 2010, wherein many of the 70-plus states represented, including the United States, explicitly singled out Pakistan for abusing the consensus decision-making rules of the FMCT negotiations. 

Pakistani refusal to place a moratorium on its fissile material production, is aimed at achieving parity with India, has led to strong international condemnation. On suspicions that the White House was preparing to take Islamabad to the United Nations Security Council over the issue, Pakistan's English daily Tribune quoted a senior official of the country's nuclear establishment as saying, "You can't even imagine what kind of pressures is being exerted on Pakistan".

New START's failure would bring the focus back to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, signed by the nuclear weapons states in 1970, which calls for their progress towards eventually eliminating their stockpiles in exchange for a commitment by non-nuclear countries never to build or acquire atomic arms. The failure by the countries to uphold this principle has been cited by the de-facto nuclear states and NPT violators as justification for their actions. For instance India has it has maintained a pledge to support a verifiable, global fissile-material cutoff treaty, however has delayed its realisation on account of the failure of the West to accept an independently verifiable regime. 

Mr Obama's attempts to walk the nuclear diplomatic tightrope in engaging with India as an increasingly equal partner, while relegating Pakistan in the background would further fuel anti-Americanism and a sense of hypocritical standing strengthening China's arguments for nuclear backing to Islamabad. 

To complicate nuclear matters with China further, the American congressional leadership led by the Republicans would not push for the ratification of the CTBT. According to a study published by former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, a domino effect of CTBT ratification would follow if the United States were to initiate the reform, with China following soon after. 

This would have, therefore, left Russia as the only Nuclear Weapons State to have ratified the CTBT and a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing. Russia had already indicated that the CTBT and moratorium are on its self accord and that treaty comes into effect only after all (44 listed) parties have ratified it, and hence it leaves open the possibility of withdrawing from the clause unless the United States takes up the matter more urgently. 

Seeing these implications on the failure of New START, it is therefore to be seen as a major victory for President Obama's stance on non-proliferation and US-Russia relations, and international arms control. In addition however, the ability of the US congress to have resolved its domestic battles and address international woes, has highlighted the credibility of the US Congress in rising up to the challenge. It may also given Mr Obama some breathing space for his other international policy goals. 


The writers are associated with IPCS, New Delhi. 








THE Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ( Trai), which is charged with regulating the telecom sector and protecting the interests of consumers, has once again abjectly failed to meet its brief. With service providers once again thumbing their noses at the regulator and refusing to comply with Trai's guidelines on barring unsolicited commercial calls and messages, consumers have once again been left in the lurch.


They will continue to be plagued by pesky calls and spam SMSes well through the coming year, although a new set of regulations was supposed to have kicked in from January 1.


Telecom service providers have, as usual, misused the freedom they have received under the new, liberalised telecom regime to exploit consumers for commercial gain. They, as well as the telecom regulator, need to clearly understand that all freedom comes with responsibility. If that freedom is abused, then it needs to be punished. It has never been our case that all kinds of sales calls and SMSes should be banned. After all, modern telecommunications are a key business enabler.


But unsolicited sales calls are another issue altogether. Individual privacy is breached here. And those who have expressly indicated their desire not to be disturbed — by registering themselves with the National Do Not Call Registry — deserve the protection of the regulator.


Even Trai's revised norms, which should have gone into effect from January 1, were merely an improvement on the earlier — and thoroughly ineffective — norms, no more.


After a spate of telecom scandals, the government has been forced into taking some sort of clean- up measures. It would be well advised to extend the clean- up to Trai as well, since the regulator has time and again proved that it is more concerned with protecting the commercial interests of telecom companies than safeguarding the consumer.



THE M AIL T ODAY story about nearly 2,000 people from Maharashtra's Nandurbar district being made to spend time in jail since December 15 over their agitation for procurement of ration cards is a comment on several of our system's ills. First, that the poor people did not have ration cards speaks volumes about the efficiency of the public distribution system which corners a huge amount of subsidy from the state.


Second, the other demand that the agitators had about the implementation of the Forest Rights Act is again a very legitimate one, particularly since it is the UPA regime at the Centre that passed this legislation.


To not redress these genuine grievances and instead imprison the agitators reveals the face that the Indian state puts forward for the poor. The authorities themselves have conceded that the tribals' stir was peaceful.


How then can they justify sending them to a 7- day judicial custody twice? It is possible that the tribals broke some rules, but this could have been overlooked considering their poor awareness of the law.


For the same police that can't fight serious crime and is downright corrupt to stand on the nitty- gritty of law and round up hapless people is pathetic and reaffirms their reputation as state- sponsored bullies.



AT first sight, there is no reason why the 2G spectrum issue cannot be examined simultaneously by the Public Accounts Committee, headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party's Murli Manohar Joshi, as well as a Joint Parliamentary Committee that is being demanded by the Opposition. There is also an ongoing government- instituted inquiry being conducted by a retired judge.


But on closer examination this would be a less- than- optimal solution to the issue. Senior officials like the Comptroller and Auditor General, who began testifying before the PAC on Monday, will be doing nothing else but servicing inquiries. This will not only be a waste of their time, but public resources as well.


More curious, of course, is the role of Dr Joshi. His party has been in the forefront of the movement rejecting all other forms of inquiry in favour of a JPC. Yet, the good doctor does not seem to be concerned and has proceeded to hold the PAC hearings. Just how the circle will be squared by the party is not clear.



            MAIL TODAY






INDIA'S CORE foreign policy challenges in 2011 will be no different than in 2010, but we enter the New Year with a somewhat strengthened diplomatic hand.


Coincidentally, leaders of all P- 5 countries visited India in 2010 in quick succession and all, barring China, gave us political support in varying degrees on Pakistan related terrorism issues, UNSC permanent membership and our inclusion in various non- proliferation regimes, in recognition of our growing international stature on the back of our economic performance.


Despite more international responsiveness to our concerns, 2011 will not produce any major breakthroughs in resolving our outstanding problems.




In 2011, the terrorist threat facing us will not lessen, as appeals to Pakistan and pressure on it to eradicate terrorism from its soil have not yielded any significant result. Pakistan is delaying bringing to justice those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack, the jihadi organisations are not being suppressed, even as local extremists stage at home brutal terrorist attacks incessantly. With growing instability in Pakistan, the uncertainties surrounding Afghanistan's future, Pakistan's destabilising strategic ambitions there, its unyielding hostility toward India, the inability of the US to compel it to abjure reliance on terrorism to further its political interests etc, 2011 will not bring relief to India on terrorism.


Other factors too lower expectations.


The India- Pakistan dialogue is stalemated, with India proposing a step by step engagement on all outstanding issues and Pakistan insisting on the centrality of the Kashmir question. Pakistan's rhetoric against India has become more shrill in recent months, with Foreign Minister Qureshi spurning the invitation to visit India unless his terms on Kashmir are accepted. Unless India yields in some measure— which would be unfortunate— it is not clear how the stalemate can be broken. Meanwhile, the Centre's Kashmir interlocutors, with an unclear mandate, are eroding India's long standing positions on the Kashmir issue to Pakistan's advantage.


The disconnect between our external security needs and domestic political rivalries, if continued, will further damage prospects of prodding Pakistan on the terrorism issue in 2011. Seeking to equate jihadi terrorism with " saffron" terrorism and drawing attention away from the external source of the terrorist menace to the country by stoking controversies over internally inspired terrorist attacks plays Pakistan's game by giving it propaganda fodder to mislead world opinion and its own public on the reality of its culpability in promoting terrorism against India.


President Obama is committed to a draw- down of US forces in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Even a token reduction will be construed by Pakistan and its accomplices that their current strategy is yielding gains. Unless the US puts sticks ahead of carrots in dealing with Pakistan— which it seems disinclined to do as it cannot find an answer to Pakistan's consummate tactics in offering cooperation and simultaneously supporting the depredations by Afghan Taliban groups, which only underscores, in turn, the value and the indispensability of this cooperation in US eyes— we will remain dangerously exposed to the uncertainties of the regional situation. We may have the goodwill of the Afghan people, even in the Pashtun belt, but this will not guarantee protection of our long term interests in Afghanistan unless its eventual power structures reflect the weight of majority public sentiment.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's 2010 visit to India does not augur an easier India- China relationship in 2011. China is steering India toward subscribing to its strategy in dealing with the bilateral relationship. It intends to keep the border issue alive as a pressure point, under cover of which it has begun to question India's sovereignty over J& K and consolidate further its relationship with Pakistan, including its presence in POK, for vital resourcelinked connectivities to the Arabian Sea, Afghanistan and Central Asia.




While keeping its political options toward India open, it seeks to disarm Indian resistance by shifting the focus to economic ties, for which it is mobilising powerful Indian private sector interests.


Thus, Wen Jiabao comes to India with hundreds of businessmen, but tells us that it will not be easy to completely resolve the boundary issue and that we should be prepared for a long wait for this. With the stapled visa issue China has opened a breach in India's sovereignty over Kashmir, for it to exploit to the degree it needs.


India has to counter it by opening a similar breach in 2011 in China's position on Tibet and Taiwan.



Our problems elsewhere in our neighbourhood will continue in 2011. India has interest in unblocking the current impasse in Nepal, but how to find a balance between self- interest and respect for Nepalese sovereignty in what we do vis a vis a prickly neighbour under insidious Chinese influence? Similarly, to what degree can we channel the triumphalist mood in Sri Lanka in the direction of a constructive, long- term solution to the ethnic issue that stabilises Sri Lanka internally, as well as its relations with us? Here too we have to contend with the Chinese factor.


We need to rapidly progress projects in Myanmar that promote land connectivity through that country to Thailand and beyond as an integral part of our Look East policy, once again keeping China's challenge in mind. With Iran relations took a downward turn in 2010 despite our desire to engage it for energy security and other reasons. UN/ US/ EU sanctions, Iran's nuclear ambiguities and the provocative statements of Iran's Supreme Leader on Kashmir have been the cause. Our relations with Bangladesh, happily, present a reasonably positive prospect for 2011.




On the larger international canvas, 2011 should see a steady consolidation of our ties with the US, but without any dramatic developments. The next round of the Strategic Dialogue at Foreign Minister level will be held to oversee the implementation of the existing wide- ranging agenda, though misgivings about US policies in our region will not disappear.


The Prime Minister's visit to Russia in 2011 for the annual summit should consolidate the positive momentum imparted to bilateral relations during President Medvedev's recently concluded visit. German Chancellor Merkel's expected visit to India in 2011 should boost relations with another European power after a very successful visit here by the French President.


The support India has received for its permanent membership of the Security Council during recent visits will not get translated into concrete results any time soon. Meanwhile, how India conducts itself as a non- permanent member in the next two years will be under scrutiny by the US in particular, with India being expected to be " responsible"— a euphemism for aligning itself with western positions.


India, with its impressive growth rates, will continue to have an important voice in the G- 20 in 2011. On Climate Change our recent Ministerial level policy excursions that seem to be consensus- breaking will not, hopefully, impose unwarranted costs on us eventually. Much will be said in 2011 on our civil nuclear liability legislation that has irked our would be nuclear power partners.


Ultimately, a strong, purposeful foreign policy has organic links with a commitment to good domestic governance. A key challenge for us in 2011 and beyond is that of wielding a strong external hand when the domestic hand is faltering. We cannot control our external environment when the internal one seems adrift.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)








TO say that Dr Binayak Sen did not get a fair trial may be wrong but the outrage over his conviction under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code ( IPC) for sedition is justified.


With sedition having been inserted in the penal code during the colonial rule primarily to bar criticism of the government, the provision virtually lost its relevance after Independence. So much so, that our constitution makers took a conscious decision to omit any reference to " sedition'' in our Constitution.


Sedition was proposed as one of the grounds on which the fundamental right to speech and expression under Article 19( 1)( a) could be curbed but the Constituent Assembly finally decided to drop the term. While proposing an amendment to delete sedition, Mr K M Munshi said that if the provision was allowed to stay, " an erroneous impression would be created that we want to perpetuate 124- A of the I. P. C. or its meaning which was considered good law in earlier days.'' The constitution makers decided to leave behind the colonial legacy but it is still being carried forward by the IPC. Section 124A defines sedition as promoting or attempting to promote " hatred'', " contempt'' or " disaffection'' towards the government.


The outrage over Sen's conviction is probably nothing but outrage against the use of the provision which does not sit easy with the modern day notion of freedom of expression. However, such widespread outrage was unlikely if Sen had been held guilty of some other IPC offences as well.


The colonial provision can easily be used to harass even those writing against the government, organising mass movements, indulging in legitimate protests or sympathising with the cause of the downtrodden.


Given the backdrop of the use of the provision by the British government to book Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and several other freedom fighters, the action of the government becomes suspect if a person is merely convicted for sedition and not for any other offence like waging or attempting or conspiring to wage war against the state or collecting men and arms to do so or even attempting to create a social divide.


It is unlikely that a person indulging in any activity against the interests of the nation would not commit or attempt to commit or even abet commission of any other offence under the penal code.


Our penal code can easily do without the provision. The draft IPC had sedition as an offence but it was not considered necessary and was dropped before the enactment of the code in 1860. It was, subsequently, introduced in 1870 and was given a broader meaning through an amendment in 1898 taking into account the defence of Tilak who had been booked earlier.


The British Parliament debates reveal that it was inserted to deal with freedom fighters. However the history of independent India shows that the use of the provision has not stopped. It is true that the Supreme Court took the sting off the provision in 1962 by holding that section 124A would be attracted only if the offence was such that it could cause " public disorder'' by acts of violence.


But this has not made much of a difference. The Ahmedabad Police Commissioner, who could have invoked other legal remedies available to him, had, two years ago, initiated a sedition case against journalists for writing about his alleged links with the underworld. In cases where the state observes restraint, an individual can move court as happened recently in the case of Arundhati Roy.


All this shows that such harassment of citizens will end only with the repeal of the provision.


A repeal is necessary for historical reasons too. Sedition can make a hero out of a convict given the fact that Mahatma Gandhi had considered it to be a privilege to be booked under section 124A under which " some of the most loved of India's patriots'' had been convicted.



THE Rakhi ka Insaf team running a mock court to settle disputes had to rush to a real court for relief after being accused of abetting suicide. A person abused by Rakhi Sawant on her show allegedly went into depression after the telecast of the programme and died.


What was startling was that the team did not restrict itself to defence against the charge of abetment to suicide, going ahead to virtually justify the use of abusive language by Rakhi on the strength of the consent agreement signed by the participants.


Rakhi Sawant had called Laxman Ahirwar " namard'' ( impotent) but the programme team defended her before the Allahabad High Court saying the Ahirwar family had entered into an agreement for the programme and had even signed release letters after the recording.


The argument that no case for abetment to suicide was made out was somewhat justified.


However, justifying the use of offensive language would virtually amount to supporting a contract for abuse.


Besides, two parties in a reality show could not be allowed to enter into an agreement to hurt the sensibilities of the people at large, who constituted the viewership.


Taking note of the use of unpalatable and offensive language, the high court observed that the case may ultimately not stand but the manner in which the show had been recorded and aired spoke volumes about its ethical standard.



INDUSTRIALIST Ratan Tata may have approached the Supreme Court for securing his privacy in the backdrop of the leak of Radia tapes but he may end up like a tragic hero in William Shakespeare's plays.


With the judgment in his case likely to set out the ambit and scope of the right to privacy, his privacy will be violated every time his case is cited or relied upon as a precedent in the future. More so, when some of the conversations to which he has objections have already reached the public domain.


Every time his case is cited as a precedent, the taped conversations published in newspapers, magazines, web portals and those finding a place in the judgment itself are likely to be read out or recalled. This reminds one of a statement by Brutus — How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport? — that Julius Caesar would be killed every time a play was enacted on his tragical story.


At the same time, a judgment in Ratan Tata's favour will surely go a long way in protecting the coveted right of similarly placed people in the future.


With some of the Radia- Tata conversations having already been published and there being no bar on further publication at the moment, Tata seems to have already lost his case for all practical purposes. Tata has to battle another anomaly associated with such a petition — he would have to point out during the hearings as to which conversations, according to him, were private, an exercise that can hardly be deemed pleasurable.


All this, however, should not make one underestimate the relevance the case holds for the future .




DAUGHTERS may be assets but marrying them off can still be a liability even for the high and mighty. Perhaps 21st century India may beg to differ but for vast swathes in this country, it is a thing to be reckoned with while making a list of one's assets and liabilities.


While declaring her assets and liabilities, a Supreme Court judge has listed her obligation to get her two daughters married as a liability.


The judge, having modest assets, has also not been able to conceal her concern over not having a house of her choice for spending her post retirement days. " Residential house to be built for post retirement'' is also among her liabilities.



IT was not easy to live in the age of the licence raj. In 1955, a businessman from Patna was caught listening to radio by an inspector. Mangal Sao was booked after he failed to produce the licence for the radio set.


A 1962 Supreme Court judgment shows that this was just the beginning of the ordeal for Sao. He was convicted and sentenced by the trial court and the high court. Seven years later, a four- judge bench of the SC also found him guilty but he was let off with a fine of Rs 100 — which was quite a sum at the time.









Contrary to the prime minister's recent assurances - and despite valid concerns from corporate leaders regarding phone tapping in light of the Niira Radia tapes - it is astounding that the government has asked telecom companies to enhance their tapping capabilities. The Department of Telecommunications has asked operators to put in place systems that would enable them to tap 1 per cent of their subscribers simultaneously and make provisions for as much as 5 per cent - at least 35 million subscribers according to conservative estimates. If followed through, the directive will have the effect of turning the country into a surveillance society. Given the grave implications, increased phone-tapping powers should not be granted when reason demands a healthy balance between privacy and security concerns. 

What is worse is that the directive demands that private telecom companies provide the infrastructure needed for surveillance. This is a serious blow to accountability. In most countries phone-tapping technology is developed, controlled and implemented by the government, which at the end of the day is accountable to the people. However, if the primary responsibility of putting in place such systems were to be with private companies, it would leave the door wide open for manipulation and indiscriminate large-scale tapping. Even today it is unclear who leaked the Radia tapes and what the real motivation was. Unbridled powers to tap phones would not only make it difficult for corporations to conduct their affairs with any degree of confidentiality, but also hurt foreign investment in India. 

The government's authority to tap phones draws its legal validity from the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act. Following the landmark PUCL vs Union of India case in 1996, the Supreme Court had laid down certain procedural guidelines to conduct legal interceptions. This included making the home secretary of the union and state governments the sanctioning authority. It also provided for a high-level review committee to investigate the relevance of such orders. But such caution has been thrown to winds in recent directives from government bodies as well as phone tapping incidents that have come to light. 


The right to privacy is one of the most fundamental entitlements of a democratic society. Diluting it is tantamount to moving towards a totalitarian regime reminiscent of the Soviet Union. Stringent safeguards are needed to ensure that phone taps are carried out in exceptional circumstances with adequate checks and balances. Otherwise we are heading, as Ratan Tata recently suggested, towards a banana republic







Every year, fog-related travel disruptions are a seasonal bane the authorities pledge to tackle better next time around. This year, it's no different. Take Delhi International Airport Limited's (DIAL) assurances in mid-December that flights would run smoothly in low-visibility conditions. Heavy traffic operations have however been hit around Christmas time, courtesy thick fog Met officials now claim to have predicted in tune with their promise of better forecasts and coordination with agencies like DIAL. In a domino effect, Lucknow and Jaipur airports face pressure from flights shooed away from Delhi. Thanks to forced diversions, serious safety concerns have arisen about fuel reserves and safe landings. Train travel too has been derailed in North India, with superfast trains suffering delays and services being cancelled or rescheduled. 

True, safety considerations are paramount, up in the air, or on the tracks or roads. It's sensible that aircraft not compliant with the


 CAT III instrument landing system - for poor visibility conditions - should touch down in fog-hit cities only during daytime. But surely announcements in this regard shouldn't be belated if airlines are to schedule flights accordingly. Again, boarding rules are being altered only after complaints about travellers being confined inside grounded aircraft for hours. Better relief delivery is expected, in terms of basic facilities and efficiently providing information to reduce passenger distress. On its part, Northern Railway must answer for public inconvenience and endangerment respectively due to ill-informed staff and absence of GPS technology-based safety devices that warn train drivers about approaching signals. Clearly, air, rail and road transport management needs gearing more to preventing crises than damage control after the event, when official ad hocism often adds to the chaos. Needless to say, it'll help if the Met office too does a better job of reading the weather. 









With India's soaring growth and rising glo-bal clout hogging media headlines, it is easy to forget the nation is beset by security challenges. Naxalite insurgency rages across more than two-thirds of India's states, while long-simmering tensions in J&K exploded once again this summer. Meanwhile, two years post-Mumbai, Pakistan remains unwilling or unable to dismantle the anti-India militant groups on its soil. Finally, China's military rise continues unabated. As Beijing increases its activities across the Himalayan and Indian Ocean regions, fears about Chinese encirclement are rife. 

It is even easier to forget that these challenges are intertwined with natural resource issues. Policy makers in New Delhi often fail to make this connection, at their own peril. Twenty-five per cent of Indians lack access to clean drinking water; about 40 per cent have no electricity. These constraints intensify security problems. 

India's immense energy needs - household and commercial - have deepened its dependence on coal, its most heavily consumed energy source. But India's main coal reserves are located in Naxalite bastions. With energy security at stake, New Delhi has a powerful incentive to flush out insurgents. It has done so with heavy-handed shows of force that often trigger civilian casualties. Additionally, intensive coal mining has displaced locals and created toxic living conditions for those who remain. All these outcomes boost support for the insurgency. 


Meanwhile, the fruits of this heavy resource extraction elude local communities, fuelling grievances that Naxalites exploit. A similar dynamic plays out in J&K, where electricity-deficient residents decry the paltry proportion of power they receive from central government-owned hydroelectric companies. In both cases, resource inequities are a spark for violent anti-government fervour. 

Resource constraints also inflame India's tensions with Pakistan and China. As economic growth and energy demand have accelerated, India has increased its construction of hydropower projects on the western rivers of the Indus Basin - waters that, while allocated to Pakistan by the Indus Waters Treaty, may be harnessed by India for run-of-the-river hydro facilities. Pakistani militants, however, do not make such distinctions. Lashkar-e-Taiba repeatedly lashes out at India's alleged "water theft". Lashkar, capitalising on Pakistan's acute water crisis (it has Asia's lowest per capita water availability), may well use water as a pretext for future attacks on India. 

Oil and natural gas are resource catalysts for conflict with China. Due to insufficient energy supplies at home, India is launching aggressive efforts to secure hydrocarbons abroad. This race brings New Delhi into fierce competition with Beijing, whose growing presence in the Indian Ocean region is driven in large part by its own search for natural resources. 

India's inability to prevent Chinese energy deals with Myanmar (and its worries about similar future arrangements in Sri Lanka) feeds fears about Chinese encirclement, but also emboldens India to take its energy hunt further afield. Strategists now cite the protection of faraway future energy holdings as a core motivation for naval modernisation plans; India's energy investments already extend from the Middle East and Africa to Latin America. Such reach exposes India to new vulnerabilities, underscoring the imperative of enhanced sea-based energy transit protection capabilities. 

While sea-related China-India tensions revolve around energy, land-based discord is tied to water. South Asia holds less than 5 per cent of annual global renewable water resources, but China-India border tensions centre around the region's rare water-rich areas, particularly Arunachal Pradesh. Additionally, Chinese dam-building on Tibetan Plateau rivers - including the mighty Brahmaputra - alarms lower-riparian India. With many Chinese agricultural areas water-scarce, and India supporting nearly 20 per cent of the world's population with only 4 per cent of its water, neither nation takes such disputes lightly. 

India's resource constraints, impelled by population growth and climate change, will likely worsen in the years ahead. Recent estimates envision water deficits of 50 per cent by 2030 and outright scarcity by 2050, if not earlier. Meanwhile, India is expected to become the world's third-largest energy consumer by 2030, when the country could import 50 per cent of its natural gas and a staggering 90 per cent of its oil. If such projections prove accurate, the impact on national security could be devastating.


So what can be done? First, New Delhi must integrate natural resource considerations into security policy and planning. India's navy, with its goal of developing a blue-water force to safeguard energy resources overseas, has planted an initial seed. Yet much more must be done, and progress can be made only when policy makers better understand the destabilising effects of resource constraints. Second, India should acknowledge its poor resource governance, and craft demand-side, conservation-based policies that better manage precious - but not scarce - resources. This means improved maintenance of water infrastructure (40 per cent of water in most Indian cities is lost to pipeline leaks), more equitable resource allocations, and stronger incentives for implementing water- and energy-efficient technologies (like drip irrigation) and policies (like rainwater harvesting). 

Such steps will not make India's security challenges disappear, but they will make the secu-rity situation less perilous. And they will move the country closer to the day when resource efficiency and equity join military modernisation and counterinsurgency as India's security watchwords. 

The writer is programme asso-ciate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC. 







The marriage proposal, made by the 84-year-old multimillionaire Hugh Hefner to Crystal Harris, a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, has come in for uncalled criticism and commentary. The underlying assumption of wagging tongues is that there is something intrinsically noteworthy or wrong with the union. While such criticism speaks volumes about commentators, it says next to nothing about the happy couple. This is a sad commentary on the state of international comment when a private affair between two consenting adults becomes the focus for international chatter. 

Rather than acquiesce to public opinion, it is a matter of urgency for independent thinking people to question the dominant opinion. Should Hefner and his betrothed be condemned for making the ultimate commitment to each other? Surely even the most puritanical amongst us should celebrate this reaffirmation of an age-old practice, developed independently by every major culture, but increasingly under threat. If the objection is not to marriage then perhaps it is to the difference in age. But as Shakespeare noted, 'love is blind'. Who can foresee when or where cupid's arrow lands? And should we not share in its landing rather than assume that a rationality composed only by sex and materialism motivates their decision? Even if such an assumption is correct, surely it's up to the couple to decide what they want. Commentators cannot arrogate themselves the right to decide on their behalf. 

To take Hefner and his fiancee's actions on their own terms also provides insights into how people will behave in a world where technology has transformed lives. Regardless of whether one agrees with what Hefner has done, he has, at a minimum, transformed publishing. Perhaps if we give him a chance, he might also transform our age-old ideas about love and marriage.








That another old, not to mention phenomenally rich, man has proposed and been accepted by a young, very beautiful woman indicates much remains to be done to realise a world founded on equality. This valuable idea is increasingly under threat by the rise of asymmetries within relationships. The engagement is significant not for who is involved but because it highlights this worrying trend. 

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether asymmetric relationships are desirable and feasible? Without fail, the much older partner is also much richer and the younger, very attractive. Is this coincidence? Shakespeare wrote, 'love is blind' but he continued 'and lovers cannot see'. In asymmetric relations there is a willing suspension of sight and an increased awareness of the older partner's magisterial wealth. This is to base marriage on - economic and sexual - inequality and degrade all the other supports upon which this ancient institution rests. Can any healthy and enduring relationship between two people be founded not on economic and sexual compatibility, but on vast difference? 

The matter is not whether Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy - a magazine which sets out to please our basest instincts - is exploiting the woman he is about to marry. It is highly chauvinistic to presume that a man is incapable of being exploited himself. However, it is undeniable that overwhelmingly the rich old person is also the male. This speaks volumes about how people remain trapped by sexist roles and ideas. If there is to be any refining of marriage along the principle of equality, then what is required is reducing asymmetries between partners, not basing relations on them. 






Between Raja and Radia, the tapes and the taps, the Tata and the Chandra-Seeker, it's become terribly confusing trying to figure out who has done what and when and to whom. It's almost like one of those kids' birthday party games where you try and pin the tail on the donkey while blindfolded. Competitive politics has made it tougher to figure out head from tail. 

The reason everyone is totally confused is because the totals are so mind-boggling: Rs 1.39 trillion is the figure being bandied about and anybody who had that kind of financial spectrum would be giggling hysterically all the way to the nearest bank in Liechtenstein

It may have been a steep earning curve for someone but it has also been a steep learning curve for the rest of us, trying to figure out all those arcane acronyms being bandied about. Try asking Congress members what the 2G controversy is all about, and they will look quite blank. They have been conditioned to believe that 2G is short for the two Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul, and any other combination is beyond their comprehension. Mention 3G and the plot thickens with Priyanka added to the mix, even though she's now a Vadra. In Congress circles, however, a Gandhi is a Gandhi, and will smell just as sweet (with due apologies to Shakespeare). 


Back to the learning curve and the acronyms that everyone's so concerned about. Here's the first lesson in the Scamsters Dictionary. 2G led to CAG which in turn led to CBI which took it to DoT. Then the trail led to TRAI which, in turn, has led to all sorts of connections to the DMK in Chennai and elsewhere, made a sharp U-turn, and moved back to DIAL. And now we have the ED getting involved, trying to ensure that the PMLA has not been violated. Finally, we are still trying to get to the bottom of how VCCPL carried so much clout in such a short time. That, we're told by the opposition, can only happen if there is a JPC. 

So far, the investigative bandwidth is spanning the entire spectrum, from NGOs to chartered accountants, priests and editors, friends and family. Everything is relative. It seems to be like the 2G licence which has something called UAS or Unlimited Access Services. Now we all know who had unlimited access to whom, and the raids on Radia have even given us a new phrase to include in the Scamsters Dictionary, "Economic Terrorist", as contributed by Praful Patel who has been stung by his name popping up in the tapes. It's become a mad race to clear your name ASAP. 


For the uninitiated, the Scamsters Dictionary starts with DoT, or the Department of Telecommunications, which deals with anything to do with communications, from phones to faxes and everything in between. Then, we have TRAI, or Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, a supposedly independent body. Next is VCCPL, the company owned by Radia, which a very independent entity, aka TRAI's former boss, joined after leaving TRAI, raising eyebrows but also VCCPL's bottom line. 

We have another employee who had connections to DIAL, or Delhi International Airport Ltd, but so far he is not named in CAG which, by the way, is yet another independent body, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the one that originally set the feline among the pigeons. We now come to GAG, which is the type of order issued by the CHC, or Congress High Command, to its spokesmen and women. Meanwhile, the CWC, or Congress Working Committee, is working overtime to ensure its ties with the DMK don't go AWOL. 
Finally, between the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) we hope to untangle some very tangled wires and cross connections. In fact, in all the confusion, the Scamsters Dictionary will be incomplete without one more acronym: QED. 







If ever the odds were stacked against anyone, it would be doctor-activist Binayak Sen who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment for sedition by a Chhattisgarh trial court. The investigations that found Dr Sen guilty of waging war against the State have been worthy of Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies. In an effort to magnify Dr Sen's misdemeanours, an email sent by him to his wife who is director of the Indian Social Institute was mistaken to be a sinister communication to the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan. The acronym-challenged investigators then discerned some coded message in a reference to a 'chimpanzee' in the White House.


In a democratic country, none of this should have stood up in a court of law. But the unfortunate Dr Sen was done in by these and other slipshod investigative techniques. The damage does not stop at such shoddy information analysis, it goes further. Dr Sen's meetings with Narayan Sanyal, an alleged Maoist leader who is in Raipur jail, was also seen as part of a larger conspiracy to undermine the State. Though the meetings were allegedly under the supervision of the prison authorities, Dr Sen has not been given the benefit of the doubt that these were not subversive activities. The next piece of evidence is even more puzzling, that of linking Dr Sen with a Kolkata businessman who had a letter written by Mr Sanyal.


As public outrage mounts, a question bound to arise is what exactly constitutes sedition or engaging in activities which subvert the State. Dr Sen's meetings with those who are critical of the State seem to pale in comparison with the fact that those who have defrauded the exchequer have no constraints on their freedom. But this is not about comparative justice. The core of the matter is that till now, the evidence produced against Dr Sen as an enemy of the State is incredibly weak and should not have stood up in any court of law. It's not that we are insisting Dr Sen's innocence. But going by what has been put on the table by the authorities to 'prove' his guilt, he certainly can't be deemed guilty of sedition by any objective court. Dr Sen's sentence of life imprisonment will be challenged. But he has already been a victim of judicial delays earlier when he was denied bail for two years. It would be a further subversion of justice to delay moving on an appeal from him. What is at stake here is bigger than just a man being sentenced to life imprisonment courtesy extremely weak evidence. The way we as a nation deliver justice and decide who is guilty and who is not is being acutely put to test in the Binayak Sen case. We sincerely hope a brighter sense of justice prevails in a higher court.







If pursuit of happiness is a basic right in the American constitution, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner cannot be faulted for taking it to its logical extreme. By splashing beautiful women, shorn of the burden of clothes, on the pages of Playboy, he set new benchmarks of happiness for men across the world; in making an overabundant amount of money in the process, he ensured that he remained supplied with the Sandy, Mandy and Wendys. Hefner, 84, has now decided to take the plunge again (at marriage, we must add), proposing to former Playboy Playmate Crystal Harris.  


Harris, 60 years younger, is said to have burst into tears when offered the ring. In case you thought the tears were induced by Hefner's Viagra-induced antics on his sultan-sized, rotating bed, remember Harris had vanquished other blonde bombshells to win the coveted prize. And that a few years down the line, she could be the Hefner ex-spouse, spending her loot in some faraway, exotic island.


Harris need not be embarrassed for dwelling on the commercial possibilities of her marriage. Over centuries, royal marriages have been about realpolitik, diplomacy and material gains. Jane Austen, too, had mentioned the economic logic of men with large fortunes needing a wife. All we can say is Play on, Mr and the future Mrs Hefner.








The country had been growing at a remarkable 7.5% average rate for nearly 30 years, but signs of economic stress were apparent. There had been an explosion of inequality and growing corruption. The government responded to the resulting rising discontent by launching various entitlement programmes, and borrowing heavily to pay for them.


The country is not India, though it almost could be. It is Brazil circa 1979. What happened afterwards is what worries me. There was a crisis in the world economy in 1979 — because oil prices went up and the United States' economy went into recession. Brazil first went into denial, borrowing to fund continued expansion, but there was no escape. Between 1980 and 2005, the Brazilian economy was essentially completely stagnant.


I recognise that there are important differences between Brazil then and India now. Our government has mostly avoided borrowing in dollars, so the threat to our currency is less immediate. This is a result in part of the fact that we save a lot more than the Brazilians and our banks meekly turn those savings over to the government. It is also probably true that our businessmen are less footloose than their counterparts in Sau Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, so a massive capital flight is less likely. And democracy does give us better shock-absorbers than Brazil had. But the similarities are too glaring (and the implied risks too big) to be entirely ignored.


In Delhi last week, going between ribald discussions of the Radia tapes and more earnest disquisitions about the rights and wrongs of microcredit and the latest Right to X (haircuts are next, one wit suggested), it was hard to escape the feeling that there was a close connection between the two. The attitude of the ruling elites today seems to be that it is too hard to do much about corruption — it is easier to do damage control ex-post, and there a giveaway or two can do miracles. Hence the tacit or explicit collusion with the blatant expropriation of the microfinance institutions in Andhra Pradesh in the name of protecting the poor, hence the recent embrace of the 'rights-based agenda'.


My sense is that this is all based on a series of misconceptions. The voter may decide to vote for the party that gives him the largest give-away but the damage to the system is done. The voter right now is wondering why Manmohan Singh, the man (entirely correctly) reputed to be straightest prime minister in many years, is dragging his feet, about Suresh Kalmadi and A Raja.


And my worry is that it is going to confirm what they always suspected and often express: 'Sab sala chor hai' (all the bastards are thieves). To me this is biggest threat to our democracy, precisely because it is not true — there are many people still in the political system who are there for the best reasons. But once voters assume that there is nothing beyond posturing that differentiates the candidates, they stop being discriminating about who to vote for, and then it is the good guys who lose out.


And it is not only the unwillingness to fight corruption that breeds cynicism. It is also the promise of rights that turns out to be mostly empty — the ration shop that is always closed, the health centre that charges money for 'free' services, the school that does not teach. What I hear on the ground even more than accusations of corruption are expressions of disbelief. And we don't make things better by creating more rights when we have not yet figured out how to effectively deliver the previous ones.


Most politicians are at least half aware of this problem. This is why when they are facing a serious challenge they are quick to reach beyond the rights-based approaches towards more traditional giveaways. The great attraction of loan write-offs just before elections is that unlike most government programmes, they get to the intended person, fast — the bank just takes your loan off its books and it is done. This is also why an embattled chief minister might want to tell his constituents that they no longer need to repay their 'unjust' microfinance loans. It might cross the politician's mind that next time there will be no loans to write off and that one day people may start to rue the fact that no one except the moneylender wants to lend to them, but right now they have a job to hold on to.


The problem is that once voters start expecting these really inefficient giveaways and give up on any other more long-term benefits that they can get from the political system, then that is what politics becomes. If a politician wants to be believed, she will have to offer something quick (and probably dirty). All other promises the voters will discount. The person who will offer the most will win, even if he is just the one who is most willing to mortgage the country's future. This is the politics that kept growth in much of Latin America in its thrall for two decades and more. It is only in the last five or six years that Brazil seems to have succeeded in throwing it off.


I think we can still avoid getting caught, but we have to start building a new politics now. Our senior leaders have to start using the vocabulary of concrete achievements more. They need to go out and say that they stand for long-term investments and not unsustainable giveaways, claim credit for getting every single house in their constituency hooked up to tap water rather than for the loans that got cancelled. The media must play their role too — scams are fun to write about, but someone needs to be out there looking for accomplishments, finding our heroes.


Abhijit Banerjee is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics and Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT. The views expressed by the author are personal.







In another fortnight of so, newspapers and magazines will start debating the relevance of Republic Day celebrations, especially the expenditure the State incurs on the parade in the capital. Intellectuals, journalists and civil society members will delve on what India has achieved being a republic.


While most of the celebrations reinforce the solidarity of the republic with a show of power and promote the diversity of the nation through a plethora of folk dances and other cultural activities, there is little thought about Republic Day primarily being a celebration of India adopting its Constitution. For the common citizen, it is nothing but the parade and a national holiday. How about bringing the constitutional element into the celebrations?


Schools and educational institutions could invite a local judge, a Member of Parliament, a member of the legislative assembly and a local official of the district administration as representatives of the three pillars of the republic, the judiciary, the legislature and the executive respectively. The three could sit on panels and appraise students about the basic three-pillar structure. There could be a discussion on the relationship between the three pillars and numerous ideas could come out for people to think on. The media, as the 'fourth pillar', could play a role by spreading these discussions among the three.


Schools could invite classes to create its own Constitution. Just like the Constitution elaborates on who would be the head of the republic, how she would be chosen, what her roles and responsibilities would be, the same can be done by 30-odd students in each class. They could focus on their head (read: monitor) and her roles and responsibilities, and deliberate on the rights and duties of 'class citizens'. The entire process of coming up with such a document could create a sense of appreciation for the Constitution among people, especially the young.


India is not just a republic; it's a democratic republic. So, in the run-up to January 26, schools could conduct elections to the 'posts' of class monitor, house captains and school captains to celebrate their 'democracy'. People, including teachers, who have conducted election duties could share their experiences of polling, counting and other features of voting. I don't know whether all this will lead to anything concrete about learning about our Constitution or Republic, but it will certainly put the Constitution firmly in the context of Republic Day.


Shankar Musafir is a Delhi-based educationist. The views expressed by the author are personal.




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

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

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

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






From hacktivism to hardback, the going rate is apparently £1.1 million. Julian Assange, the worldwide whistleblower, has finally decided to talk some truth about himself, but he will be doing so in the old-fashioned format of a book. He has signed deals worth about £518,000 with Alfred A. Knopf in the US, and £325,000 with Canongate in the UK for his autobiography that should come out sometime next year. Throw in other markets, maybe even serialisations, and the total should easily cross a million pounds, Assange calculates. Yet, how ironic that Assange should copyright his memoir; how incredibly apt it would have been if the champion of transparency had stayed true to his territory and released information about himself — from his spectral white hair to the shocking disclosure of confidential documents — in the great digital commons. Assange says he didn't want to write the book, but needed the money to fight the sexual assault cases against him, and fund WikiLeaks since the organisation is in a financial fix with Visa, MasterCard and PayPal blocking cash transactions to it. Yet WikiLeaks is a philosophy as much as it is an investigative movement. So it is intriguing that he chose not to place his memoirs in the public domain — on something like Project Gutenberg or MediaCommons, or even a Wikipedia page — and thereby, once again, stand by his grand idea of technological determinism.Year 2011 could see WikiLeaks leaking. Apart from Assange's memoir, his discontented former right-hand man, the German Daniel Schmitt will be coming out with Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website within weeks of Assange's extradition hearing in London in the first week of February. That is entirely appropriate in this millennium of declassification.







In a sign of the times, the Congress has abandoned its grand yatras in Uttar Pradesh, meant to revive its calcified organisation and rally against the failings of the Mayawati administration. AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said that the party would focus on public meetings and agitations. The yatra, the long agitational march, has been an Indian political staple for decades now. Once, it served both a symbolic and a tangible purpose. Leaders physically travelled great distances to evangelise their cause and persuade people, literally gathering strength along the way. Public excitement grew gradually and incrementally, and people gathered to catch a glimpse of an inspiring leader they might have only heard of, and listen to her ideas. But over the years, the rituals of political yatras and rallies have become weary show business. TV, newspapers and the Internet have demystified politicians, their arguments are all too familiar, and there's very little left of the genuine drama of the past. It's well known that crowds have to be cajoled and bribed into showing face at a rally, to keep up appearances for the leader — and it stands to sense, that even those convinced of the party's views would be reluctant to schlep themselves to a rally to show solidarity. It simply isn't necessary any more.That's not to say that direct canvassing doesn't have its appeal. Attending a rally or a march can still move you in a visceral way, as opposed to television debates and speeches that convey an illusion of familiarity, but leave you feeling as though the action is happening in a faraway political arena. There's a raw, galvanic power to the rally in a time when politics has disappeared into small screens. Look at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honour" rally in the US, or the ironic "Rally to Restore Sanity" that mocked the serious political rally even as it made a stab at sincere, rational discourse. Either way, political mobilisation is increasingly a blend of direct and virtual methods, with meat-space gatherings reserved for special occasions. And as the Congress shelves the long march this time, others too might consider saving themselves some of the effort and expense in future.







Some things are going on. The Public Accounts Committee is one of the most powerful of Parliament's regular, statutory bodies. Constitutionally, the government can only spend money that Parliament sanctions. And Parliament has the right to scrutinise how that money's spent. That is what, using the resources of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the committee intends to do in its investigation of the allocation of licences for the 2G spectrum. Notwithstanding all the noisy disruption that completely derailed the last session of Parliament, the PAC — led by BJP veteran and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi — has moved firmly ahead with its investigation. On Monday, the current CAG, Vinod Rai, appeared before the committee to brief them about the CAG report that, with its upper-end estimate of a Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss to the exchequer, initiated this particular phase of outrage about the 2G licensing process.The last session of Parliament was disrupted by a firestorm over which instrument to choose to investigate 2G licensing. The JPC-versus-PAC firestorm has thrown up enough smoke to obscure the very real questions that need answering. In a creditable effort to try and remove itself from the almost either-or JPC/PAC deadlock, the PAC has chosen to move ahead, and proceed with what it, regardless of whether or not there's a JPC, is supposed to: examine and oversee the government's accounts. As these columns have previously pointed out, the onus is on the government, and the prime minister, to reach out to the opposition to ensure that any investigative process is seen to be fair, transparent, and — importantly — allows sufficient participatory space to the opposition. The prime minister has written to Joshi, arguing that although no past PM has appeared before a PAC he is willing to do so. Joshi, in turn, says that they will take a "careful look" at the letter. It is gratifying that a senior opposition leader, undistracted by the alarums and excursions of the recent session, sees his duty so clear. It is too early to sense whether this rapport will help break the deadlock, or at the least help both government and opposition arrive at a point where they resume a more cordial to-and-fro. Nonetheless, at least one of the most powerful bodies of Parliament has extricated itself from the political tug-o'-war.









There is a marked nervousness among Indian policy-makers about the prospect of fresh financial bubbles building in commodities globally, especially food and energy. Food and energy prices are once again moving up sharply, like they had done in the run up to the 2008 global financial crises. Many analysts believe global oil prices could head closer to $100 a barrel in near future. This may not be good for India as it is a net importer of energy and other commodities. Though India is poised to record a GDP growth of close to 8.7 per cent, there still seems to be a sense of foreboding among policy-makers, largely arising out of uncertainties resulting from excess liquidity and fresh financial bubbles around the world.There are many portents in global markets which look similar to what had existed in the months preceding the 2008 financial meltdown. There is no housing bubble in the United States this time round, but most analysts agree that China's real-estate market is quite overheated. The Chinese central bankers have given clear indication of their intention to use monetary and other instruments to cool the real-estate market. Any sharp policy correction by the Chinese will certainly impact the rest of the world as China's contribution to the incremental world GDP is the largest at present. The fear is China, which was seen as one of the saviours of the world economy after the 2008 episode, could suffer a real-estate and housing shock this time. Global analysts will watch China and its real-estate market more closely in 2011. The other condition that closely resembles what existed before the 2008 crises is the growing speculation in commodities. With more money available at near-zero interest rates, especially after the US Fed Reserve pumped another $600 billion into the system recently, Wall Street funds have been speculating ever more in commodities like oil, metals and food items. Many of these commodities are near their peak prices seen in early 2008. There were reports in early 2008 that excess liquidity available with Wall Street speculators had resulted in a near fourfold increase in funds deployed for speculation in commodities. Between 2003 and 2007, hedge funds speculating purely in commodities went up from $50 billion to a little over $200 billion. Today, the total funds deployed in commodity speculation is probably in excess of $350 billion, say some Wall Street observers. Sometime ago, one of the most celebrated commodity speculators from Wall Street, Jim Rodgers, was seen waving sugar packets before his host in a TV interview, declaring loudly that there was money to be made in commodities. However, the problem is, as commodity speculation results in excessive energy and food prices, it is bound to cause political disruptions in the developing world. For instance, India faces multiple risks from the rising energy and food prices. While the global investors recognise that robust growth is largely occurring in emerging economies like India, they are also seeing some serious medium-term risks posed by lack of policy coordination between the developed and developing economies at forums such as G-20.Recently, well-known economist Michael Spence articulated this issue quite well when he said there was an urgent need to guide the global economic system in a manner that the negative distributional effects are minimised in terms of overall growth outcomes. Put simply, it means those economies which have genuine growth potential over the next decade or so must be encouraged to act as engines of global growth in an orderly manner. Global policy-coordination mechanisms such as the G-20 should then create adequate incentive and accountability structures to make this happen.For instance, it is quite apparent that emerging economies like India and China cannot lead global growth if oil and other commodity prices move up beyond a point purely on a speculative basis. For oil and food dominate the consumption basket of over 40 per cent of the population in the developing societies. So ever rising energy and food prices are a political time bomb which would disrupt the economies of the South. This will be self-defeating for the global economic system. The responsibility then falls on the US to ensure that these commodity bubbles are checked in time.After the 2008 financial crises, there was a clear understanding that G-20 will create systems to watch asset bubbles and take timely corrective measures. But actions taken on the ground by developed economies are resulting in the opposite effect. The US is pumping more easy money into the system, fuelling speculative commodity price bubbles further. It also sees more dollar liquidity as a means to make its currency cheaper to somewhat thwart China's exports into America. Spence has rightly argued that the US thinks it can hurt developing economies like China, India and Brazil by excessively devaluing its currency. Actually, it ends up hurting the eurozone economies much more because growth in the emerging part of the world is relatively more domestically driven. However, emerging economies like India become vulnerable in terms of volatility capital flows. For instance, if the US's unilateral monetary actions end up hurting Europe badly and this results in some eurozone economies going into a deeper crises, then capital flows across the Atlantic can get seriously disrupted.India, for instance, is a net importer of energy and at a projected GDP growth of 8.5 to 9 per cent it will necessarily require net capital flows of at least $45 billion on a consistent basis to meet its higher current account deficit of 3.5-4 per cent-plus. So there is little doubt that India needs a steady flow of Western capital in the years to come.Unilateral monetary and currency actions by the US are not good for an orderly redistribution of global capital and output. There is too much fear of the unknown as we go into 2011. A lot more globally coordinated and mutually beneficial policy action is needed for economic imbalances to correct in a smooth and orderly manner.


The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








How tempting it is to dismiss those elections. I'm forbidden from participating in politics but it is my birthright to be a political person. It is a right every citizen from every country should have. But Burma is not just any country," Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told me in an interview last month. So why hadn't she spoken out against the elections? "They did serve one function, they have provided an illusion of hope in these chaotic times." Elections and hope. When we cast a vote is it not hope that we are voting for? The coming year will see many gamechanging elections, primary amongst them is the referendum that is to take place on January 9 in Sudan. Sudan, Africa's largest country, is still reeling from the North-South civil war, one of Africa's longest running civil wars (1983-2005) that saw two million dead at the behest of President Omar al-Bashir. The war pitted the North, Muslim Arabs, against the South's Christians. An end to hostilities came in 2005 through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The referendum is a core component of the CPA. It is unlikely that the South will choose to stay aligned with the government in Khartoum; it is also unlikely that Bashir will let go of power easily. The elephant in the room will most likely be Abyei, the 4,000 square mile lush province that is home to Sudan's oil fields. The bone of contention is over the Arab Misseriya tribe. Southerners accuse Bashir of forced migration: that he has sent settlers to Abyei in order to tilt the vote. Abyei therefore will not participate in the referendum. Should a North-South divorce take place, there is the very real possibility of renewed hostilities over natural resources. Yemen too goes to the polls for parliamentary elections in April 2011. The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, weak and caged in, in Sana'a, faces threats from the Houthi insurgency in the North, the separatist movement in the South and the burgeoning Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula franchise. With a controversial electoral law passed merely a week ago, Saleh has alienated himself further, angering the opposition. Opposition to his government comes from the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) — a coalition of six parties that includes Islah, Yemen's main Islamist party. For much of the past two years, Saleh has been in dialogue with the JMP. They demand political reforms, namely a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system. With the passage of the new electoral law — whereby the election commission will be composed of judges rather than delegates represented in parliament — JMP alleges that Saleh is attempting to centralise power further. The fear is that, should Saleh carry forth, Islah has the capability of amassing armed tribesmen to agitate against the centre. This could lead to renewed hostilities and further instability. In June, Zimbabwe will vote on a constitutional referendum, a vote that has the possibility of bringing an end to the fraught alliance between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai's government of national unity. In the lead up to the referendum, Mugabe has already called for fresh elections prior to constitutional amendment. There is little doubt that Mugabe stole the election on June 27, 2008. Should another election take place without adequate reform, observers say there is the very real possibility of a re-run. Tsvangirai has rejected this call despite ZANU-PF's low popularity. South Africa's role as a mediator and facilitator will be brought to the fore. South African President Jacob Zuma is involved in drafting the roadmap to ensure elections are free and fair.


In another part of Africa, talk of succession is rife. Egyptians will head to the ballot for a presidential vote in September. For much of the past three decades, Hosni Mubarak has been the face of Egyptian politics. Mubarak is now 81 and in ill health, and


rumours circulate that he may step down, paving the way for his son, Gamal. Many have credited Gamal with renewing the economy. A former banker turned politician he enjoys support from Egypt's business class but he is unpopular with the military.


The fear is that Gamal's succession could set off a coup. The one candidate many looked towards for providing a genuine opposition to father and son, former IAEA chief Mohammed


ElBaradei, has shied away from political participation. It seems he is intent on constitutional reform. He enjoys popularity on Facebook but it is seldom seen on the streets of Cairo. However, his presence has altered the game, and it is he who likens the coming election to the one seen in Iran last year. Should Mubarak retain power, a green wave may take over the streets of Cairo.








 "No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep," says the garrulous shoemaker who narrates the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (1964), "it's meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out." Thirty-three pages into what appears to be an unbroken highway of text, the reader might well wonder if that's a mission statement or an invitation. Dancing Lessons unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence that ends after 117 pages without a period, giving the impression that the opinionated, randy old cobbler will go on jawing ad infinitum. But the gambit works. His exuberant ramblings gain a propulsion that would be lost if the comma splices were curbed, the phrases divided into sentences. And there's something about that slab of wordage that carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.Hrabal wasn't the first to attempt the Very Long Sentence. The Polish novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski went even longer in The Gates of Paradise (1960), weaving several voices into a lurid and majestic 158-page run-on. An old priest listens to the contradictory confessions of some apparently holy but actually just horny French teenagers marching toward Jerusalem in the 13th-century Children's Crusade. A profusion of colons and dashes helps toggle among the multiple points of view, while repeated descriptions of crummy weather give the brain some breathing space. For a long time, Hrabal and Andrzejewski were the only practitioners of the sentence-long book I could find. Not many writers have had the nerve to go this route: you're locked in, committed to a rhythm and a certain claustrophobia. But might the format also be liberating? Joan Didion told The Paris Review in 1978: "What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone." Sticking to just one sentence, ironically, might keep your options perpetually open.The most famous mega-sentence in literature comes at the end of the book, not the beginning. Molly Bloom's monologue from Ulysses (and actually two long sentences, thanks to an often-overlooked period 17 pages in) — sets an impossibly high standard for the art of the run-on. It breathlessly binds together all that comes before while nearly obliterating it, permanently colouring the reader's memory in one final rush. It feels unstoppable, and then it stops.Molly's soliloquy is a touchstone for writers aiming to go long. A copy of Ulysses pops up in Green Coaster, the 33-page, single-sentence section that closes Jonathan Coe's brilliant novel The Rotters' Club (2001). (The BBC has reported that at 13,955 words, it is the longest sentence ever written in English.)Joyce also makes a cameo in the most recent candidate for the absurdly exclusive Book-as-Sentence club, the French novelist Mathias Énard's Zone (2008), just published in an English translation. At 517 pages, it's far longer than the Hrabal and Andrzejewski combined, though its status as a true single sentence is compromised by 23 chapter breaks that alleviate eye strain. The Very Long Sentence could be seen as a futile hedge against separation, an unwillingness to part from loved ones, the world, life itself. "I'm trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period," William Faulkner wrote to Malcolm Cowley in 1944. "I'm still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead." (Faulkner, no stranger to the mind-expanding possibilities of the very long sentence, was once credited with a 1,400-worder by the Guinness Book of World Records.) In this age of 140-character Twitter posts — not to mention a persistent undercurrent of minimalism in our literature — there's something profoundly rejuvenating about the very long sentence. For the sake of the novel, and ourselves, let's hope that Hrabal wasn't being prophetic when he wrote, four decades ago, "People twitter away like magpies and don't really care."Ed Park







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 harmonising 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.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, in lockstep, 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. 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 post-election world, lawmakers on both sides cut deals, traded horses, preened and 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 per cent 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.Ross Douthat








It is not unusual to find politicians hobnobbing with one another across the political spectrum and, at times, it is nothing more than posturing to send a message to an ally. But sometimes, it prompts a party to over-react. Like the Shiv Sena's tantrums after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray visited the state BJP headquarters on December 20, and had tea with the state BJP president Sudhir Mungantiwar and a few others.Raj was at the Life Insurance Corporation's office at Nariman Point in South Mumbai for a meeting of the Janadhikar Sena, an MNS outfit modelled on the Sena's Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti, which runs unions in public sector undertakings and insists on jobs for sons of the soil. After his engagement, he went across the road to visit the BJP office, where he had tea.The incident raised eyebrows in political circles and some went overboard, speculating about a change in political alignments in the state. The Sena over-reacted and started casting aspersions on the BJP, its ally for over two decades. The Sena chief Bal Thackeray, executive president Uddhav Thackeray, their spokesperson Neelam Gorhe and the party newspaper Saamna tore, full throttle, into the BJP for entertaining their bete noire Raj. Saamna even reminded Mungantiwar that he had called Raj a test-tube baby of Sharad Pawar on September 26, 2010. It also remarked that "a person smoking a cigarette at a petrol pump can't get away by saying that he did not cause a fire" and that "we have never done this — wearing the mangalsutra of one and kissing someone else."The Sena has continued to vent its ire at the BJP and even threatened to boycott the NDA rally against corruption, despite the fact that NCP chief Sharad Pawar has visited Thackeray and dined with him at the latter's residence and the Sena has justified it as friendship beyond politics. The Sena's tantrums and the BJP's posturing have come at a time when all is not well with the saffron alliance. During a recent election, for a member to represent Jalgaon local bodies in the legislative council, the official BJP nominee Nikhil Khadse — the son of Eknath Khadse, the leader of the opposition in the assembly — was defeated by an independent Manish Jain — the son of NCP Rajya Sabha member Ishwarlal Jain — because the Sena supported Jain. Raj's tea party provided him and the BJP with an opportunity to posture against the Sena. The Sena's worry is the election due in 14 months to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), where it faces the uphill task of retaining power. The MNS has shattered the monopoly of the Sena on the "Marathi" and "jobs for locals" issues and emerged as a formidable rival. After making an impressive debut in the assembly last year by winning 13 seats, the MNS is poised to take on the Sena in the BMC polls. Besides, state minister Narayan Rane's son Nitesh has floated an organisation named "Swabhiman" that has been taking up civic issues, which indicates the likely emergence of yet another rival. The Sena is desperately making efforts to retain its hold on the BMC. It has launched a new outfit to try and win over the youth, the Yuva Sena, with Uddhav's son Aditya as its head. Thackeray Senior has also moved centre-stage again, and Uddhav is making an all-out effort to fortify the party. No wonder, then, that the Sena got jittery about the Raj-BJP tea party and overreacted to a meeting that could be innocuous. Neither alliances nor hobnobbing among politicians of different hues is new to Maharashtra. Recently, for instance, Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress and Chhagan Bhujbal of the NCP attended BJP leader Gopinath Munde's birthday bash. Alliances have not been sacrosanct, especially in local bodies. The NCP had tied up with the Sena and the BJP to wrest power from the Congress in the Pune municipal corporation three years ago, and supported an independent — industrialist Rahul Bajaj — for the Rajya Sabha in 2006, thereby ensuring the defeat of the Congress nominee Avinash Pande. The Congress, too, prevented the NCP from grabbing power in the Yeola municipal council (Yeola is Chhagan Bhujbal's constituency) by forming an alliance with the Sena, BJP and independents. The Sena supported Pratibha Patil in the presidential poll. The NCP has ditched the Congress in 18 local bodies, while the Congress has ditched the NCP in 25.Raj's hobnobbing with BJP leaders could have been dismissed as a harmless meeting, but for the Sena, it meant a lot more. The paranoia is a good indicator of the Sena's insecurities.







The United States' joining of the two World Wars, the promotion of the United Nations, George Kennan's containment strategy, the Marshall Plan, the defence of South Korea, and the formation of NATO were policies and strategies that served US interests and international interests in the second half of the 20th century. The indiscriminate pactomania exploited by dictators, the terrible blunder of not understanding the nationalist fervour of wartime ally Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, the crass opportunism of the "best and the brightest" that killed millions of Vietnamese, the toleration of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis, the compromises and alliance with Mao Zedong, connivance at the genocide of millions of Cambodians, the use of religious extremism to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and the use of nuclear proliferation to China and Pakistan as strategic policies, all arose out of the "arrogance of power" and led to the present situation where the US is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, its pre-eminence is challenged by China, and its core values are threatened in Asia.Unfortunately, there is not enough introspection in the US on past mistakes. The American debate is still in terms of a 20th century paradigm of nuclear confrontation, nuclear proliferation, and wars with conventional forces and increasing technological advancement. The arrogance of power still dominates the US strategic debate, and strategic communities in the rest of the world, including India, do not challenge the basic paradigms of the Americans, and tend to argue within that framework, mostly defensively and weakly. It cannot be a coincidence that A.Q. Khan was beginning to be used as an instrument of proliferation to China when George Bush Sr was director of the CIA. And it continued under the watch of National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose pro-Chinese proclivities were evident even recently, when he strongly supported a G-2 arrangement in financial governance. While the US establishment thought it could keep both proliferation to China and permissiveness for proliferation to Pakistan under control, it overlooked the risks of China and Pakistan having their own agenda. As The Nuclear Express, a book by Thomas Reed of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Danny Stillman of the Los Alamos Laboratory makes clear, the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping appears to have decided to use proliferation to Pakistan to countervail India and proliferation to North Korea to countervail South Korea and Japan. The Americans were so permissive of Pakistani proliferation in the '80s that they took to task their own CIA officer Richard Barlow for submitting an assessment on Pakistan reaching nuclear explosive capability by 1987. The sordid story of the harassment of Richard Barlow is set out in the book Nuclear Deception by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott Clark. What the Americans did not count on, presumably, was that the Chinese would conduct a nuclear weapon test for Pakistan in the Lop Nor test site, as they did on May 26, 1990. While the visit of Robert Gates, then deputy national security advisor, to Islamabad to dissuade President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Beg from going ahead with the test was projected to the world as an effort at avoiding a Pakistan-India nuclear confrontation, it is now quite clear their attempt at dissuading Pakistan failed. It is this crossing of the red line that led to the invocation of the Pressler Amendment and the breakdown in the military and aid relationship between the United States and Pakistan. One person who is now in a position to give a complete clarification of what happened in 1990 is Gates, now defence secretary. One wonders whether he would accept US responsibility for Pakistan going nuclear and developing the nuclear deterrent derivative of terrorism from it, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done with respect to the development of jihadi terrorism. The main problem we face today is the inability of most of the US as well as Indian strategic communities to move out of the Cold War paradigm. Nuclear weapons are no longer a serious threat for international confrontation. This has been accepted by President Obama in his speech on the nuclear security summit of 13 April 2010. How to deal with states that use nuclear proliferation to illegitimate regimes to augment their influence and use terrorism as an instrument of state policy, is now the major common challenge India and the United States face. As has been emphasised in the joint statements issued in Washington on November 24, 2009 and in Delhi on November 8, 2010, the shaping of the future international order that will defend a pluralistic, secular and democratic world is the main task faced by both the US and India. This task cannot be addressed successfully unless the world order can be shaped by pluralistic, secular and democratic values and the challenges of religious extremism and oligarchic, one-party dictatorship can be successfully met. This task cannot be undertaken by the US alone, as it did the security and prosperity of the democratic order in the second half of the 20th century, because the challenge from China is not a military one, but the emergence of the foremost knowledge power in the world. The currency of power will be knowledge, and not missiles and nuclear warheads. Given China's fourfold superiority in terms of population and its rapid expansion in knowledge infrastructure, the US can meet this challenge only if it has a partner which shares the common goal of a democratic pluralistic world order. India is that partner. This necessitates a broad-based strategic dialogue between the US and the Indian strategic communities. On the US side, there must be a clear realisation of the very serious blunders committed in the second half of the 20th century by their own strategic establishment. On the Indian side, there has to be an effort at formulating independent strategic thinking and not merely to argue within the framework set by the US strategic establishment. While there are no signs that such a process has begun in the US or in India, it is a curious fact that those who led a major paradigm shift in US policy by a radical amendment to the international nuclear regime to accommodate India and rectify a past strategic blunder, all come from a small group of those who did not contribute to the blunders of Bush Sr, Carter, Brzezinski, et al.


The writer is a senior defence analyst








Predictably, the nuclear power bonhomie between India and the US didn't take too long to disappear. Barely weeks after President Barack Obama wowed Indian MPs, the US agriculture secretary Thomas Vilsack has written an angry letter to agriculture minister Sharad Pawar saying that the bilateral agricultural relationship between the two countries will get jeopardised if India doesn't change its approach. India's stance on US dairy products, it appears, is the main reason behind the letter. The Indian stance is that US dairy products do not certify that animals were "never fed feeds produced from internal organs, blood meal and tissues of ruminant origin", and so cannot be imported as this will hurt religious sentiment in India. The US view is that if the feed is not given for a month or so, the animal remnant will disappear, but the Indian side is not willing to allow this relaxation.


Whether the issue gets sorted out in a hurry remains to be seen, but it is worth keeping in mind that India has its own list of similar US trade barriers. In any case, it is difficult to see what the US beef is, given as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner wrote in HT, India's exports to the US grew around 40% between 2004 and 2009 while US exports to India grew nearly 170% during the same period. As a result, trade surplus between the two countries fell from $7.9bn in 2005-06 to $2.6bn in 2009-10 (it's still a trade surplus for India, but one that is vastly reduced). On even the agricultural front, while India's agriculture exports to the US declined from $1.3bn in 2006 to $1.2bn in 2009, US exports to India more than doubled to $691bn. One reason for the slow pick-up in agriculture trade is the mismatch between the export and import basket of the two countries. The major US food exports last year were soya beans, meat and corn, which accounted for 40% of the US food exports. Indian imports of these commodities were negligible. The US exports of the two major food products imported by India, namely vegetable oil and sugar, were also negligible. The only area where some broad synergies exist are in vegetable products and fruits, but even here the import basket varies as the most popular items are tropical products. In the case of dairy products, where India's restrictive regulations have upset the US, India's imports last year were a mere $80mn—the US exported $2bn of dairy products, but given how Indian imports are so low, it's difficult to see how even a change in regulations would help. Dairy products, it has to be said, form a minuscule proportion of US farm exports. Both countries have a long way to go to eliminate trade barriers, especially since the WTO negotiations are going nowhere, but such knee-jerk reactions won't help.







We've all heard of anti-incumbency factor, but is there such a thing as an incumbency factor? Economists Poonam Gupta and Arvind Panagariya, in a paper presented at Columbia University last month, argue that incumbency is a major plus point provided it is matched with economic performance that is above the norm. Indeed, the day after Nitish Kumar swept the Bihar assembly polls, former chief economic advisor Arvind Virmani sent out a 2004 paper, which modelled voting patterns on economic growth. For those who wonder why the NDA lost despite India Shining, Virmani points out economic growth during the Vajpayee years was actually lower than in the previous five. Gupta and Panagariya use the results of the 2009 elections and point out that, in case the state has witnessed high economic growth (such as Bihar), incumbents win 85% of seats contested; in case the growth is low, incumbents win just a little over 30% of seats contested. Put another way, if growth is 2 percentage points above the national average, the probability of the incumbent winning rises by 14 percentage points. The other piece of good news is that


education helps in candidates winning. In 2009, there was no illiterate candidate that won, those who had studied up to just Class V had a 12% chance of winning, undergraduates had a 23% chance of winning while those with a post-graduate had a 29% chance of winning.


That's the good news. The bad news is that being wealthy matters—those with Rs 5 lakh of wealth had a 3% chance of winning versus 41% for those with Rs 5 crore; as does having a criminal record—those without a criminal record had a 20% probability of winning as compared to 41% if they had 10 criminal cases against them. The ideal candidate, Gupta and Panagariya conclude, is a male in his mid-50s, with average assets of Rs 6 crore, at least an undergraduate degree and with a 30% chance he's got at least one criminal case against him.


What does it tell you about the next elections? Given that the UPA is in power in more states, being a UPA candidate is better than being an NDA one. But given how the UPA states are doing vis-à-vis the NDA ones like Bihar, this could be a vital swing factor. Predicting elections is always a mug's game, but it's safe to say the next round of election models will factor in economic growth as well.








The year 2010 will close out as the first year after a long time when the Prime Minister and the industry had no dialogue on any issue. In a year when corporate India faced a tsunami of allegations, the silence from the government was a huge disappointment.


The only time industry leaders met Manmohan Singh was early this year in May when the reconstituted council on trade and industry met for the first time after the UPA-2 came to power. The meeting set up sub-committees to debate apparently earth-shaking topics like financial inclusion and backward area development! I will come to those later, but in 2010, Singh basically refrained from making himself available for a dialogue with the industry.


'Closed for business' is the impression one would take away about the role of government from this year. The distancing of industry issues from the top echelons of the government meant no one was listening to what industry wanted. The thinking is since the sector is presumably in an auto mode, it will continue to deliver a 9% and more GDP growth rate, year after year, despite getting kicked around at times.


Just compare the turn of events with the push for engagement from 2004 to 2006. The first council for trade and industry itself came into being just four months after the government was formed, in September 2004. The present one took nine months to get off the ground, in April this year.


These are, of course, the gross indicators. But getting deeper, the variety of engagement of the UPA-1 government after it came to power with industry is amazingly absent in the present government. This is why we are in the process of creating a record of sorts for non-engagement in 2010. In 2005 calendar year, for instance, Singh set up the National Knowledge Commission, gave his blessings to the Investment Commission and established the manufacturing competitiveness initiative that developed into a full-fledged council. In the same year, he made a memorable speech addressing industry asking it to think big and into the future and laid out detailed business plan for each ministry that included specific directions to expand foreign and domestic investment in each sector. He also found time to set up a committee on the information, communication and entertainment sectors. That pace continued into the next year, too.


Not many would now remember that at significant meetings of industry chambers, Rahul Gandhi was then a regular visitor. He listened attentively, though, of course, never venturing any opinion. In 2010, Rahul has not met industry leaders at any structured sessions, though he has found time to tell rallies in Jharkhand and Orissa; he is the sipahi of the tribals in Delhi.


Possibly taking a cue from there, the Prime Minister has used a reference to industry on only three occasions this year. At a speech in early January, telling industry that workers should be partners in growth; asking industry to partner in the rehabilitation of Leh after the flash floods; besides, of course, at the meeting with the council for trade and industry.


The meeting of the council on trade and industry that brings together the best of India Inc is in itself an example of how substantive issues were kept out of the agenda. The sub-committees do not look at land issues, the green challenge for industry, mundane but critical issues like direct taxes code or GST, or even worker management issues.


Government managers would say that institutional forums are not where substantive issues get sorted out. But there is no evidence other channels have been opened up meanwhile, at least if they have, few of us are aware of it. Making institutional channels moribund sure sets a bad precedent. The Investment Commission, in UPA-1, for instance, had a clear mandate to typically address the brick and mortar issues that plagued industry, but that one is history now.


That this ocean of silence creates a crisis does not need to be made clear. The Ratan Tata letter or the subsequent comments by Deepak Parekh and Kris Gopalakrishnan are good enough examples.


Erasing the channels does something else. It tells industry they are not welcome to the party, which is absurd. This is not about whether sections of the industry have or have not misused their money power to bend rules. Instead, closing of the government to an open dialogue encourages the entrepreneurs to cultivate favourites within the establishment. So this develops a very nice environment for sections within the government and industry to create a cosy club where only those invited can exchange approvals for money. Did someone say, crony capitalism?


When the leadership of the party sells this approach, others follow. If Singh or Sonia Gandhi do not have the time to speak to industry at any fora, ministers will also make it a point to avoid these appointments. To get a sense of this drift, just see the pace at which the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council assiduously sought the views of the industry and the lacklustre way the department of industrial policy and promotion has now handled the debate on entry of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.


No wonder, industry is bending over backwards to figure out what the party wants. Some of those will come up when the pre-Budget meeting with the industry comes round in January. But making the industry play the fall guy for the government misadventures of half a century is not the best way to push the growth rate in the economy.








It has been a mixed year for the Indian pharmaceutical industry with some memorable domestic M&A deals; however, limited activity was witnessed on the outbound M&A scenario and negligible activity on the IPO front. The year would certainly be remembered for two large deals—Abbott-Nicholas and Reckitt-Paras. However, in retrospect, there are some crucial trends and events that we need to take cognisance of.


While the businesses differ vastly, the Abbott-Nicholas and the Reckitt-Paras deal had several similarities. Both were unique assets with strong domestic franchisees. Both were acquired by players who, till the deal happened, had limited presence in the domestic market and had struggled to build a dominating presence vis-à-vis their global stature. While the Nicholas deal was at an astounding EV/EBITDA of 27 (x); the Paras deal occurred at EV/EBITDA of 30(x)!


If the next deal is going to be a scalable domestic branded business, it is unlikely that multiples are going to go down drastically. Both these deals in some way have redefined the way global companies view Indian businesses and we believe this trend will continue.


The growth numbers reported in the domestic formulations market surprised even the optimistic industry players. In fact, the domestic business plan continues to be the saviour for many Indian majors whose global P&Ls continue to bleed. We believe there are several companies today wherein the domestic P&L would be generating EBITDA margins of 30%-plus; however, regulated market P&Ls would be incurring losses.


Most promoters in 2010 continued to focus on the domestic market and we believe this enhanced focus by entrepreneurs would continue to drive a 14-16% growth in 2011.


Except for the logical closure of the Sun-Taro battle, there was limited activity in the outbound space. The restraint helped! It's highly unlikely we are going to witness a Betapharm deal in a hurry. We expect the majority of the outbound deals in 2011 to continue to be sub-$ 100 million.


Pharma as a sector performed incredibly with scrips of several leading players giving a 40%-plus return in 2010.


However, the expected recovery of CRAMs business in 2010 did not materialise. In fact, CRAMs has been a severe laggard with a player like Dishman almost losing 40% of its market cap this year.


Billion dollar babies


Acquiring an Indian company may become increasingly a tall order for the global generic world (as against Teva's market cap of $46.7 bn, Sun Pharma is $10.3 bn, DRL $6.7 bn, and Cipla $6.4 bn). Except a Teva, none of the others seem to have the requisite 'market cap firepower'. Thus, like a Ranbaxy/Daiichi or a Nicholas/Abbott; in all likelihood we will see an innovator on the buy side make the next deal happen.


]Be rest assured, there will be far more names on this list when we take stock next year!


The author is founder & managing director of Candle Partners, a boutique Investment Bank specialising in advising Indian entrepreneurial companies







Things could have got a lot worse for the Congress party in the Raja-Radia scam. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh was asked if he knew Radia and why there were no Congresspersons she was caught on tape with. Ramesh said he'd never met her but came close to doing so last year when she'd pitched for the party's election campaign. Luckily, the Rs 8 crore quote was too high and it was given at a fraction of the cost to another PR firm.



With the government threatening to move on the TRAI recommendation that all 15 of Etisalat DB's mobile licences given by ex-minister A Raja be cancelled, the company is trying to do some public relations. A PR agency has been hired to poll journalists—helpfully, an internal mail got sent out, giving details of which PR executive is to tap which journalist. Journalists are being asked if they know the difference between the UAE-based Etisalat and the Indian firm Etisalat DB; about whether they know why the parent decided to venture into India. Journalists are then asked if they feel the fact that Etisalat has operations in Pakistan is likely to be a problem—the question is juxtaposed with "What do you think the government will decide?", referring to the action telecom minister Kapil Sibal was likely to take. At least one journalist told the PR firm that Etisalat's Pakistan connection was less of a problem vis-à-vis its India connection.







Modern-day banks, always wanting to up security, generate a random code each time you login and send this to you via SMS—you can't log in without this. Assuming the hacker hasn't stolen your phone as well, that's another layer of security built in. High-value prescription drugs, IE reported last week, encourage users to enter a string of numbers on the packaging, and send this to a central number, to get to know if the drugs are kosher. All via SMS of course. Nandan Nilekani's Unique ID project works on a model that allows you to SMS your biometrics (the biometric phone, at a reasonable price, is probably a year or two away) to 946-26-4 (that's WhoAmI on a standard alpha-numeric keypad)—by return SMS you get a confirmation as to whether you're who you say you are. Savvy state governments routinely SMS details to users of rations dispatched and stocks available in various shops, you can SMS money to different parts of the country...


The flipside is what focusing on just 160 characters—the standard length of an SMS—does to the English language which, The Economist tells us, grew at 8,500 words a year in the second half of the 20th century to reach over a million words now. No, don't reach for the


Oxford English Dictionary, to multiply the number of words by the number of pages. Using the OED isn't quite QED (quod erat demonstrandum) since, The Economist says, it contains just half the number of words in the English language. If you think what the SMS is doing is bad, consider that Twitter allows just 140 character tweets. With 190 mn users generating 65 mn tweets a day, that's a lot of twits out there.









The ongoing agitation by the Gujjar community in Rajasthan is a reminder of the dangers of playing competitive caste politics. The immediate provocation for the agitation, which has erupted time and again on the reservation issue over the past five years, was the State government's decision to recruit people for 100,000 posts — jobs to which the Gujjars, who have been demanding a five per cent reservation, want the quota extended. Although both the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party declare their commitment to giving them a five per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutions, the problem lies in giving effect to this. At one level there is the legal impediment, something the Rajasthan High Court called attention to recently when it stayed the operation of a 2008 Act that provided reservations for various caste groups, including the Gujjars. The level of reservation under this please-all Act, which earmarked quotas for poor upper castes as well, increased to 68 per cent, considerably above the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the Mandal case. At another level there are serious practical problems about extending a special quota for Gujjars. It was the Rajasthan unit of the BJP that promised to include Gujjars, a pastoral community, in the Scheduled Tribes list in the run-up to the 2003 election, which it won. But the violent opposition this evoked from the numerically stronger Meena community saw the State government back down.


While the violence and disruption that has attended Gujjar agitations for reservation must be roundly condemned, it must be recognised that the resentment of the community is largely a result of cynical vote-seeking politics. The anger and political consolidation within the community assumed worrying dimensions only after the Vajpayee government decided to reclassify Jats as an 'Other Backward Class'. Having promised the Gujjars ST status in 2003, BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was forced to expend considerable time and energy in trying to appease the community with all manner of sops. Eventually, she bought time by declaring a new quota regime that classified Gujjars as a "separate backward community," a proposal that found expression in the legally unsustainable 2008 Act that now stands suspended by the Rajasthan High Court. In a bid to woo communities, political parties often forget that the reservation pie is limited and that any attempt to provide quotas for one community will have adverse implications for others. This is exactly what has happened in Rajasthan. And the cost has been an intermittent cycle of agitation, social unrest, and violence.







A new test developed for diagnosing active tuberculosis is set to revolutionise treatment of a disease that kills 1.8 million people round the world every year. It recently won approval from the World Health Organisation for a worldwide rollout over the next few years. The approval comes within three months of publication in the New England Journal of Medicine ("Rapid molecular detection of tuberculosis and rifampicin resistance," by Catharina C. Boehme et al.,) of the results of a trial conducted on 1,700 patients in five countries, including India. The new test has several advantages over the currently used smear microscopy and conventional nucleic acid-amplification method. While the sensitivity of smear microscopy is about 50 per cent, this (Xpert MTB/RIF) has 72 per cent sensitivity with one test, and 90 per cent with three tests in the case of smear-negative patients. The sensitivity goes up to 98 per cent in the case of smear-positive and culture-positive patients. Xpert has 99 per cent specificity. Further, the test's ability to provide reliable results within two hours, compared with 4-6 weeks in the case of culture, will help begin treatment earlier and reduce the chances of an individual infecting others. The greatest beneficiaries will be those co-infected with HIV and TB. The long wait for the results before starting TB treatment is one of the main reasons for the death of many co-infected individuals.


Unlike smear microscopy, Xpert can identify rifampicin drug resistance. It correctly identified 98 per cent of bacteria that were resistant to rifampicin. In India and many other countries where multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is not high, much of the testing that goes on now is mainly for diagnosing active TB and not for drug resistance. But Xpert is all set to change this: rifampicin resistance is an excellent marker of MDR-TB. Most patients who are resistant to rifampicin are also resistant to isoniazid drug. Patients who are resistant to rifampicin will need culture to find out which drugs work for them. Following this protocol before starting the treatment will go a long way in preventing MDR-TB from becoming widespread. There is one major problem, however: the diagnostic test is prohibitively expensive. India being one of the high-burden countries, the public sector and certain NGOs will be eligible for a special pricing agreement. Uninterrupted power supply and temperature control, which are essential, will turn out to be major challenges in rural areas. India must find ways to embrace this technology swiftly after necessary field testing — considering that TB kills two Indians every three minutes.










When businessmen from Aurangabad in the backward Marathwada region bought 150 Mercedes Benz luxury cars worth Rs. 65 crore at one go in October, it grabbed media attention. The top public sector bank, State Bank of India, offered the buyers loans of over Rs. 40 crore. "This," says Devidas Tulzapurkar, president of the Aurangabad district bank employees association, "at an interest rate of 7 per cent." A top SBI official said the bank was "proud to be part of this deal," and would "continue to scout for similar deals in the future."


The value of the Mercedes deal equals the annual income of tens of thousands of rural Marathwada households. And countless farmers in Maharashtra struggle to get any loans from formal sources of credit. It took roughly a decade and tens of thousands of suicides before Indian farmers got loans at 7 per cent interest — many, in theory only. Prior to 2005, those who got any bank loans at all shelled out between 9 and 12 per cent. Several were forced to take non-agricultural loans at even higher rates of interest. Buy a Mercedes, pay 7 per cent interest. Buy a tractor, pay 12 per cent. The hallowed micro-finance institutions (MFIs) do worse. There, it's smaller sums at interest rates of between 24 and 36 per cent or higher.


Starved of credit, peasants turned to moneylenders and other informal sources. Within 10 years from 1991, the number of Indian farm households in debt almost doubled from 26 per cent to 48.6 per cent. A crazy underestimate but an official number. Many policy-driven disasters hit farmers at the same time. Exploding input costs in the name of 'market-based prices.' Crashing prices for their commercial crops, often rigged by powerful traders and corporations. Slashing of investment in agriculture. A credit squeeze as banks moved away from farm loans to fuelling upper middle class lifestyles. Within the many factors driving over two lakh farmers to suicide in 13 years, indebtedness and the credit squeeze rank high. (And MFIs are now among the squeezers).


What remained of farm credit was hijacked. A devastating piece in The Hindu (Aug. 13) showed us how. Almost half the total "agricultural credit" in the State of Maharashtra in 2008 was disbursed not by rural banks but by urban and metro branches. Over 42 per cent of it in just Mumbai — stomping ground of large corporations rather than of small farmers.


Even as the media celebrate our greatest car deal ever as a sign of "rural resurgence," the subject of many media stories, comes the latest data of the National Crime Records Bureau. These show a sharp increase in farm suicides in 2009 with at least 17,368 farmers killing themselves in the year of "rural resurgence." That's over 7 per cent higher than in 2008 and the worst numbers since 2004. This brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 216,500. While all suicides have multiple causes, their strong concentration within regions and among cash crop farmers is an alarming and dismal trend.


The NCRB, a wing of the Union Home Ministry, has been tracking farm suicide data since 1995. However, researchers mostly use their data from 1997 onwards. This is because the 1995 and 1996 data are incomplete. The system was new in 1995 and some big States such as Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan sent in no numbers at all that year. (In 2009, the two together saw over 1,900 farm suicides). By 1997, all States were reporting and the data are more complete.


The NCRB data end at 2009 for now. But we can assume that 2010 has seen at least 16,000 farmers' suicides. (After all, the yearly average for the last six years is 17,104). Add this 16,000 to the total 2,16,500. Also add the incomplete 1995 and 1996 numbers — that is 24,449 suicides. This brings the 1995-2010 total to 2,56,949. Reflect on this figure a moment.


It means over a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995. It means the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history has occurred in this country in the past 16 years. It means one-and-a-half million human beings, family members of those killing themselves, have been tormented by the tragedy. While millions more face the very problems that drove so many to suicide. It means farmers in thousands of villages have seen their neighbours take this incredibly sad way out. A way out that more and more will consider as despair grows and policies don't change. It means the heartlessness of the Indian elite is impossible to imagine, leave alone measure.


Note that these numbers are gross underestimates to begin with. Several large groups of farmers are mostly excluded from local counts. Women, for instance. Social and other prejudice means that, most times, a woman farmer killing herself is counted as suicide — not as a farmer's suicide. Because the land is rarely in a woman's name.


Then there is the plain fraud that some governments resort to. Maharashtra being the classic example. The government here has lied so many times that it contradicts itself thrice within a week. In May this year, for instance, three 'official' estimates of farm suicides in the worst-hit Vidarbha region varied by 5,500 per cent. The lowest count being just six in four months (See "How to be an eligible suicide," The Hindu, May 13, 2010).


The NCRB figure for Maharashtra as a whole in 2009 is 2,872 farmers' suicides. So it remains the worst State

for farm suicides for the tenth year running. The 'decline' of 930 that this figure represents would be joyous if true. But no State has worked harder to falsify reality. For 13 years, the State has seen a nearly unrelenting rise. Suddenly, there's a drop of 436 and 930 in 2008 and 2009. How? For almost four years now, committees have functioned in Vidarbha's crisis districts to dismiss most suicides as 'non-genuine.' What is truly frightening is the Maharashtra government's notion that fixing the numbers fixes the problem.


Yet that problem is mounting. Perhaps the State most comparable to Maharashtra in terms of population is West Bengal. Though its population is less by a few million, it has more farmers. Both States have data for 15 years since 1995. Their farm suicide annual averages in three-five year periods starting then are revealing. Maharashtra's annual average goes up in each period. From 1,963 in the five years ending with 1999 to 3,647 by 2004. And scaling 3,858 by 2009. West Bengal's yearly average registers a gradual drop in each five-year period. From 1,454 in 1999 to 1,200 in 2004 to 1,014 by 2009. While it has more farmers, its farm suicide average for the past five years is less than a third of Maharashtra's. The latter's yearly average has almost doubled since 1999.


The share of the Big 5 'suicide belt' States — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — remains close to two-thirds of all farm suicides. Sadly 18 of 28 States reported higher farm suicide numbers in 2009. In some the rise was negligible. In others, not. Tamil Nadu showed the biggest increase of all States, going from 512 in 2008 to 1060 in 2009. Karnataka clocked in second with a rise of 545. And Andhra Pradesh saw the third biggest rise — 309 more than in 2008. A few though did see a decline of some consequence in their farm suicide annual average figures for the last six years. Three — Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal — saw their yearly average fall by over 350 in 2004-09 compared to the earlier seven years.


Things will get worse if existing policies on agriculture don't change. Even States that have managed some decline across 13 years will be battered. Kerala, for instance, saw an annual average of 1,371 farm suicides between 1997 and 2003. From 2004-09, its annual average was 1016 — a drop of 355. Yet Kerala will suffer greatly in the near future. Its economy is the most globalised of any State. Most crops are cash crops. Any volatility in the global prices of coffee, pepper, tea, vanilla, cardamom or rubber will affect the State. Those prices are also hugely controlled at the global level by a few corporations.


Already bludgeoned by the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Kerala now has to contend with the one we've gotten into with ASEAN. And an FTA with the European Union is also in the offing. Kerala will pay the price. Even prior to 2004, the dumping of the so-called "Sri Lankan pepper" (mostly pepper from other countries brought in through Sri Lanka) ravaged the State. Now, we've created institutional frameworks for such dumping. Economist Professor K. Nagaraj, author of the biggest study of farm suicides in India, says: "The latest data show us that the agrarian crisis has not relented, not gone away." The policies driving it have also not gone away.









In recent years it has become standard practice for the Indian media to ask visiting foreign dignitaries where they stand on New Delhi's claim to a permanent seat in the UNSC. If the answers are in the affirmative, there are smiles all round and the glow is then transmitted to readers or viewers as the case may be.


Among the Permanent Five in the Council, the United Kingdom has long affirmed support, so have France and Russia. China has remained non-committal. So the United States' stand was deemed crucial. When President Barack Obama, during his recent visit, backed India for a permanent seat, the joy was palpable. The media went to town as if it were just a matter of time before India joined the select group of the World's almighty. The happiness lasted a few days until the first tranche of WikiLeaks punctured the mood somewhat.


The revelation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's classified whisper, describing India as a self-appointed front-runner exposed Washington's innermost thoughts on the subject. Though the embarrassing leak was subsequently sought to be played down, it opened the curtain to a larger truth which is that the U.S. and the other four have never really been interested in real reforms to the Security Council.


Public pronouncements, positive affirmations and slap-on-the-back relationships don't necessarily translate into action on the ground.



Jakob Silas Lund of the Centre for U.N. Reform Education states a few individuals within the process believe that some of the Permanent Five countries "are more than happy to see reform moving at near-zero-velocity speed".


The reforms are open to interpretation. Broadly, they mean democratisation of the Security Council to make it representative and in tune with the contemporary world. This, for some, means more permanent members. The Group of four — India, Brazil, Japan and Germany — has been the most vocal in demanding it be included.


What is surprising, especially where India is concerned, is the hope and optimism that it is heading towards a permanent seat. In reality, a committee set up by the United Nations 17 years ago to go into reforms shows little signs of progress.


The first meeting was held in 1994 of the U.N. group, a mouthful, called the "Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council". Until now, this group has completed four rounds of negotiations, just on preliminaries.


A brief peek into the past will make it clear that the addition of more veto-wielding permanent members to the Council is a veritable pipe dream. For any amendment to the U.N. charter, two-thirds of the General Assembly needs to acquiesce. This may be possible but the next requirement, that of ratification by the Permanent Five, is the real obstacle.


Since the formation of the United Nations in 1945, there have been only a handful of meetings of the Security Council to discuss the original charter, and even that, merely to discuss minor amendments. One of some significance came about in 1965 when the membership of temporary, non-veto powered countries in the Council was increased from six to 10 and the number of votes required to pass any decision increased to nine from seven.


As academic and U.N. commentator Thomas G. Weiss wrote in the Washington Quarterly, "Most governments rhetorically support the mindless call for equity, specifically by increasing membership and eliminating the veto. Yet, no progress has been made on these numerical or procedural changes because absolutely no consensus exists about the exact shape of the Security Council or the elimination of the veto."


The argument for a bigger, more representative Council is undoubtedly valid but the issue is who will implement it and how.


U.S. is the prime mover


In today's global equation the U.S. is the acknowledged prime mover. It has already had to sweat it out to convince the other four members to go with it on several issues, like the sanctions against Iran. If more countries are allowed to join the Council the difficulties for U.S. interests are obvious, even if those included are vetted for their closeness to Washington.


Real and effective reforms should have meant democratisation of the Security Council to reflect the aspirations of all its members. Ideally, this should mean removal of permanency and the veto power to be replaced with a rotating membership for all countries, where each one big or small, powerful or weak gets to sit for a fixed term in the hallowed seats of the Council. This is unthinkable within the existing framework of the United Nations. At the heart of the issue is the reluctance of the Permanent Five to give up the prized veto power.


The situation is paradoxical given that democracy is being touted, pushed and inflicted by the U.S. across the world. But democracy seems to end where the Security Council begins. The rest of the world has no choice but to bow to its decisions. The consequences for defying the Council can be terrifying as was experienced by Saddam Hussein's Iraq through the 1990's. Iran is now on the receiving end for its defiance on the nuclear issue.


Not just that, the credibility of the Security Council itself took a beating over its inability to prevent the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Having failed to convince France, Russia and China to vote for invading Iraq, the U.S. went alone. The Council was reduced to a bystander. It failed to fulfil its primary task, that of ensuring security — to Iraq.


What this also implies is that Council or no Council, in today's unipolar world, the U.S. will go with what it decides and no one can stop it. This has been the case particularly since the end of the Cold War. "With a U.S. global presence as great as that of any empire in history, Security Council efforts to control U.S. actions are beginning to resemble the Roman Senate's efforts to control the emperor," writes Weiss.


Instead of trying to clamber onto a patently unfair arrangement it would have made more sense if the four self-appointed front-runners along with the rest of the world had demanded a more equitable and representative Council.


To achieve this, academic and U.N. expert Erik Voeten suggests pressure tactics to counter veto power. One tactic is for countries en bloc to ignore the decisions taken in the Security Council. Another is for Germany and Japan, which are among the largest contributors to the United Nations, to turn off the tap.

Despite this, if nothing happens, countries may have no choice but to look for, or at least threaten to float, an alternative U.N.-like organisation whose structure would be more in tandem with the contemporary world. Idealistic, perhaps. But this should force the Permanent Five to sit up and take real notice.


( K.S. Dakshina Murthy was formerly Editor of Al Jazeera based in Doha, Qatar.)





2010: India's undeclared year of Africa

Developments seem to have put the engagement with the continent on a fast track.

Rajiv Bhatia


An objective evaluation of changing contours of our engagement with Africa, especially in light of significant developments in 2010, might interest Africa watchers and others.


Conceptual richness and consistency appear to characterise recent interactions, although their impact may still take a while to be felt tangibly.




If the period from our Independence to the end of the 1980s was marked by India's close involvement with Africa in political affairs, peacekeeping, training, culture and education, the 1990s turned out to be a lost decade. That was the time when policy makers were busy trying to re-adapt India's foreign policy to the post-Cold War world. Subsequently, the Africans' unhappiness with their neglect by India, China's rapidly growing profile on the continent, and the enhanced dynamism of India Inc. combined to initiate a renewal of India-Africa relations. The Government's three initiatives, namely the 'Focus Africa Programme' under Exim policy for 2002-07, the 'Techno-Economic Approach for Africa and India Movement' or TEAM-9 programme, launched in 2004 to upgrade economic relations with West Africa, and the Pan-African e-Network started in 2007, helped in sending the signal that India had not vacated space in Africa for others.


In this backdrop, the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2008 represented a veritable high point, showcasing a new, vibrant India as well as its reinvigorated Africa policy. The following year was a relative disappointment. But, developments during 2010 seem to have put India's engagement with Africa on a fast track.




India played host to at least eight high-level African dignitaries, one each from the Seychelles, Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi and Ethiopia. Visits by presidents, prime ministers and other VIPs throughout the year demonstrated that Africa was keen to expand political and development cooperation with India. Armando Guebuza, President of Mozambique, endorsed India's approach towards Africa, expressing readiness "to raise the (bilateral relationship) to a strategic partnership." Hailemariam Desalegn, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, chose to accord high importance to economic issues. Following a productive meeting of the joint commission, the two sides decided, "to infuse the close political relationship with greater economic content." The visit by South African President Jacob Zuma helped in re-defining the bilateral agenda and re-launching the joint CEOs Forum.


Happily, Indian leaders found time to visit Africa in 2010. Vice-President Hamid Ansari's three-country tour covering Zambia, Malawi and Botswana was a notable success. Given his credentials, he was able to evoke old memories of deep political and emotional affinity as well as highlight mutuality of interests and the need for expansion of economic cooperation, thus lending a contemporary character to age-old ties. That he backed it with the announcement of credits and grants (for the three countries) amounting to about $200 million, in addition to credit lines valued at $60 million that were operational prior to the visit, showed India's new strength. This was on display again as the Government agreed to arrange major lines of credits for others: $705 million for Ethiopia for sugar and power sector development and $500 million for Mozambique for infrastructure, agriculture and energy projects.


The decision by the IAFS to set aside $5.4 billion for lines of credit and $500 million for human resource development during a five-year period means that now nearly $1 billion a year is available for cooperation with Africa. Utilising India's new financial muscle, an ambitious expansion of training programmes for the benefit of Africans is being attempted at present.


External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna got a direct feel of issues and personalities on his visit to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Mozambique. As these are all Indian Ocean countries, the strategic dimension of cooperation, especially relating to piracy, terrorism and changing foreign maritime presence, received considerable attention during his discussions. Later the minister, talking to a group of African journalists visiting India, emphasised that our relationship with Africa had "transformed", with the two sides becoming "development partners looking out for each other's interests and well-being."


Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma undertook visits to South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. He was instrumental in facilitating and moulding business-to-business dialogues in all the countries visited, with the help of organisations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). For business level exchanges, however, the most significant event in the year was CII-Exim Bank Conclave, held in Delhi in March. About 1,000 delegates attended it, half of whom were from various African countries.


Bilateral trade


Bilateral India-Africa trade, which stood at about $1 billion in 2001, has now reached the $40 billion mark. It is an encouraging growth. Figures about India's investments in Africa are confusing, but by taking an average of the figures of cumulative investments released by the Reserve Bank, the CII and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), one could place a value of $50 billion on them.


Three other highlights need to be mentioned here. First, India hosted a meeting of top officials of Africa's Regional Economic Communities (RECs). A first of its kind, the meeting was attended by six of the eight RECs, namely Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and United Nations Association/Arab Maghreb Union (UNA/AMU). It gave them the opportunity to interact with numerous Ministries and business enterprises. Coverage of areas viz stock exchanges, small industry, food processing, infrastructure, IT and telecommunications was quite wide. The visitors expressed "gratitude" to India for the initiative "to recognise the regional dimension of Africa's development."


Second, top officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) undertook visits to Kampala and Addis Ababa in order to carry forward India's dialogue with the African Union (AU) for nurturing ties at the continental level. On the sidelines of its 15th Summit in Kampala in July, Jean Ping, Chairman of the African Union Commission (AUC), expressed immense satisfaction at the model of engagement created by India, adding that it was "the most unique and preferred of Africa's partnerships." In plain language, he seemed to confirm the view that among many suitors of Africa, both old and new, the two most active are China and India. Ping was also happy with "the determined pace at which implementation (of IAFS decisions) has been undertaken." However, this might have been more credible had the two sides announced, by now, the venue and timing of the second IAFS.


Third, a boost to our Africa diplomacy came with the announcement of the Hermes Prize for Innovation 2010 for India's Pan-African e-Network project. The prize was given by the European Institute of Creative Strategies and Innovation, a prestigious think tank. It called the project as "the most ambitious programme of distance education and tele-medicine in Africa ever undertaken."


A few tips


While moving determinedly to strengthen relations with Africa, the Government needs to do more. African diplomats still speak of the deficit in India's political visibility. Therefore, our President and Prime Minister should find time to visit Africa in 2011. More visits by Mr. Krishna would be helpful. Implementation of the first IAFS decisions, though improving, needs to be speeded up. India Inc. should be more active. In preparing for the second IAFS, South Block should draw from outside expertise. The civil society's potential to strengthen people-to-people relations should be tapped optimally. By according higher attention to Africa, the media could serve as a valuable bridge of mutual understanding.


Finally, India should declare and celebrate 2011 as its Africa Year.


( The author is former High Commissioner to South Africa, Lesotho and Kenya.)








Union home minister P. Chidambaram's letter to West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee strongly criticising the role of "armed CPI(M) cadre" in fomenting violence in the state is the latest flashpoint in the already fractious political situation there.


The scathing letter virtually toes the Trinamul Congress line that the Left Front government was misusing Central forces in the state. And, further provoking the Marxists, senior Congress leader and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has publicly said that "jungle raj" prevails in West Bengal. Mr Mukherjee has also asked the Left Front, particularly the CPI(M), to reply to the home minister's letter. All this scotches rumours that the Congress may dump its ally and join hands with the Left. In fact, Mr Mukherjee's comment underscores the Trinamul's leverage in Bengal and on the national scene, and also, incidentally, gives the lie to tales about his perceived closeness to the Left.

West Bengal has been known for political violence, particularly during Assembly elections. Apart from the "scientific rigging" mastered by the Marxists, muscle power is also used. But the Assembly polls in the state might witness unprecedented violence because of the huge stakes involved. With the wind blowing against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, the CPI(M) might not shy away from utilising all possible options to stay in power. Rival parties are unlikely to take this lying down. The killings have already started along with trading of charges. The "formal" warning by Mr Chidambaram and the "political" warning by Mr Mukherjee should be seen in this context.

The Centre is mounting pressure on the CM to rein in the armed cadres of the CPI(M) so that the Trinamul does not suffer much in the electoral battle. Of course, the Marxists and the state government have consistently denied the existence of such forces. Alongside, the Maoists have also started attacks on their enemies. With this, the political battle for the heart of West Bengal has metamorphosed into violent clashes in the streets and on campuses. Both the Trinamul and CPI(M) say campus violence has claimed nearly 20 lives so far.


Mr Chidambaram's letter clearly states that CPI(M)-backed goons have been attacking Opposition supporters and warns that this cannot continue in a democracy. Even after he penned his missive, a Trinamul worker was shot dead in West Midnapore. The Opposition in West Bengal has been insisting, loudly, that CPI(M)-backed thugs have been attacking their supporters in many places, including in trouble-torn Lalgarh. The home minister's letter mentions that 96 Trinamul, 65 CPI(M) and 15 Congress supporters have been killed in political violence. A few days ago, economist Amartya Sen also expressed concern at the escalating political violence in West Bengal. The scenario is fast becoming similar to the bloody Seventies.

With a highly politicised and emasculated police force, there are no hopes that violence will be quelled soon. Caught in the middle are the bewildered voters. Surely replacing the CPI(M)'s army of goons with the Trinamul version is not what they have in mind. Investors, too, are worried. The CM seems indifferent to ensuring the safety of life and property. Alarmingly enough, he has given a call to his party cadres to "resist" the Opposition's "attempts to unleash forces of anarchy". This is partisan and akin to signing an order authorising chaos. The Centre seems fully aware of the situation but it needs to do more than pen letters and make dramatic statements to prevent the state from slipping into mayhem in the run-up to the Assembly polls.








If wars can be classified as good, bad or indifferent in terms of their impact on the national psyche, then Bangladesh 1971 was a very good war for India and the Sino-Indian border war of 1962 a very bad one indeed. In 1971, all relevant factors — political, diplomatic, and above all the Indian military — meshed together perfectly to fashion a triumph of classic proportions over a traditional enemy; 1962 was just the opposite. Apart from spirited individual performances, the Army and its political guidance was like a badly synchronised gearbox that soon stripped its pinions and crashed. The Indian armed forces remember 1962 with mortification, and 1971 with triumph, which they commemorate as Vijay Diwas on the 16th of December every year. The particular confluence of circumstances, happenstance and personalities that brought both 1962 and 1971 about, are unlikely to recur. So after celebrating Vijay Diwas 2010, the 39th commemoration of "Victory in Bangladesh", it would be appropriate to reflect on how far the Indian military has traveled since the Sela Pass in 1962 and Bangladesh in 1971, and its likely future azimuth.

Barring the first Kashmir War of 1947, China has been a constant background presence in all Indo-Pak matters, especially during India's other wars with Pakistan. These have so far all been single-front affairs (notwithstanding Chinese expressions of solidarity for Pakistan in 1965 and 1971), but India's worst case will always be the two-front scenario — a Pakistan-China combo, with an interlinked nuclear and now a cyber and internal security dimension as well, from covert operations sponsored by the Pakistan Army through its quasi-state jihadi stable. Such externally-sponsored conflicts are unlikely to be resolved by political dialogue or socio-economic initiatives alone. They will require hard and significant military measures to establish a stable environment for negotiated conflict resolution. This has been amply proven by the Indian experience in Jammu and Kashmir.

The role of India's armed forces, though never officially formalised, has crystallised through prolonged deployments in wars, proxy wars, counter terrorism and counter insurgency, into the strategically defensive one of territorial, maritime and aerospace defence of the homeland. India's armed forces are well trained and highly motivated professionals, who have performed outstandingly in every assignment in war or peace, both within as well as outside the country. But their military capabilities have not been kept in pace with the operational imperatives of their role, which demand a full two-and-a-half front operational capability across the entire spectrum of warfare. By that token, their current capabilities are definitely inadequate.

Morale is high, but weapons and equipment are obsolescent, and in many cases severely deficient and outmoded, leaving huge gaps in the performance envelope. Each individual service has its own tale of horrors, whether night vision devices, air defence weapons or artillery for the Army, submarines for the Navy, or the fast-depleting squadron strengths in the Air Force. The major reason for the wasting disease in India's defence capabilities is the scant attention paid to indigenous defence research, development and production. The armed forces naturally require a high state of readiness at all times, but successive governments have consistently chosen the easier option of imports rather than bite the bullet and develop an indigenous defence industry.
A typical case in point is the impending purchase of the 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of `42,000 crore, which cannot be seen in isolation from the agreement with Russia to produce the future fifth-generation fighter for the Indian Air Force as a joint venture expected to ultimately cost an estimated `1.5 lakh crore. The preliminary step was the `1,500 crore pact with Russia finalised during the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to India. The two processes cannot be mutually exclusive. The proposed acquisition of 126 new Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) is of course an urgent necessity for the Air Force, but has to be planned as a lead in series for the PAKT-50. The implications for selection of the MRCA should be obvious.


But even more important is the future of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the Indian aerospace industry. Pakistan is co-producing the JF-17 (also an LCA) with China to induct it into the Pakistan Air Force. How confident is India, specifically the Indian Air Force, about Tejas? How does it stack up against the JF-17? The bottom line is, can the proposed MRCA acquisitions be off-set to a greater or lesser extent by producing additional Tejas? Can immediate operational requirements be balanced against long-term development of indigenous aerospace capabilities? Can Indian industrial capacity deliver?

Questions are endless — from small arms to main battle tanks. Why German Heckler and Koch, Israeli Tabor or even the now ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifles and not the indigenous Excalibur developed by small arms factory Ishapore? Why not the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT) produced at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi (near Chennai) instead of the T-90 Russian tank? And then the biggest question: If Indian military equipment is perceived by the users as unreliable, maintenance-heavy and defect-prone, what punitive accountability for this has been imposed for systemic failure in the ministry of defence, the prime government agency under whom fall the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the ordnance factory board?

India seems to have become addicted over the years to a high-calorie diet of imports, taking a strange and even perverse pride in the dubious honour of ranking amongst world's top 10 importers of weapons. Do such profligate imports reflect the true state of the country's scientific and engineering capabilities? These are hard questions which need to be asked and firm answers obtained.

The year 2010 has not been a good year for the country. Gloom, despondency and bitter cynicism pervade the national horizon. Under these overcast skies, the story of victory in Bangladesh in 1971 told on Vijay Diwas every year needs telling and retelling, as a reminder of what the nation can achieve, should it have the will to do so.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament








It's been a frenetic year, closing a volatile decade in which the rapidity of economic and social change in some areas has been almost as remarkable as the continuing stagnation and decline in others. So how do we interpret this and what can we wish for in future?

Right now there is a resurgence of economic triumphalism among Indian elites. On the face of it, the Indian economy has withstood the global crisis to maintain respectable rates of output growth. Consumer demand is buoyant, especially for goods and services consumed by the burgeoning middle class. So most private investors, both local and foreign, are incredibly bullish about future prospects.

But there are no significant improvements in the indicators that matter for most people, like stable employment, better livelihoods, reduced hunger and more basic human development. Rather, changes in finance and other economic deregulation led to large capital inflows and sparked a retail credit boom. These combined with fiscal concessions to spur consumption among the richer sections of the population. Meanwhile, large parts of the country continued to languish in dreadful conditions.

This is not a particularly stable economic trajectory since credit bubbles have to burst some time and growth episodes based on volatile capital inflows have usually ended in tears. In fact, agriculture and balance of payments, as well as social and political instability, are already re-emerging as potential constraints to this pattern of growth. The problems in agriculture continue to fester: the latest figures suggest more farmers' suicides in 2009 than in any previous year, even as the numbers shrink of those who call themselves farmers.
Because economic growth has not generated enough productive jobs, the bulk of the work force is in very fragile and precarious forms of self-employment. Wages have barely risen as profits have exploded, and people have been displaced for projects that bring no improvement to their own lives. All this leads to a growing number of disaffected youth whose frustrations make them more prone to violent or socially undesirable behaviour.

So it's not surprising that there is increased receptivity of local people in depressed areas to "extremist activity" designed to overthrow an economic system that is seen to be completely unjust.

So the first big item on my policy wish list is for a major shift in the direction of economic policy: away from seeing gross domestic product (GDP) expansion as an end in itself whatever the costs and welfare outcomes, and towards wage-led growth based on improved conditions for the ordinary citizen. This means more public spending on the basic goods and services that should be obvious features of civilised society: producing and distributing enough food for everyone; ensuring universal access to good quality health, sanitation and education services; fairly obvious features like all-weather roads to all habitations and electricity for every home. A fairly modest ambition, you might think, until you are told by our policymakers that our country cannot afford it, despite its pretensions to global power status.


Of course there are many other features of economic justice that we could think of, but it turns out that now we have to worry even about basic legal justice. The year 2010 has been full of assaults on India's democracy and on its very impressive Constitution. Ironically, most of these assaults have come not from external enemies of the country but from within, and indeed from the very quarters that should be expected to uphold the Constitution.

This is only partly about abuse of power and privilege in the corridors (and anterooms) of power and the growing evidence of corrupt behaviour even at the highest levels. The year ended with the most dispiriting news from judiciary as well, when a court in Chhattisgarh found a well-known and highly respected doctor and human rights activist guilty of sedition, on the basis of the most flimsy and dubious circumstantial evidence, and sentenced him to rigorous life imprisonment.

The case against Dr Binayak Sen, who had already been held in prison for two years until the Supreme Court intervened, is highly questionable at best. But the judgment of the lower court is appalling not just because it appears to bend to the problematic political pressures of the state government and its police force, which apparently wishes to intimidate any dissenters. Even if its argument about the extent of Dr Sen's involvement (carrying letters and so on) with "extremist elements" were to be accepted, this judgment actually flies in the face of the Supreme Court's own stated position on what constitutes sedition.


In a famous judgment of 1962 (Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar) the Supreme Court held that the offence of "sedition" in the Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the fundamental freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Spreading "disaffection against the state" is not enough: there must be direct incitement to violence or actions that will lead to serious public disorder, and any speech or deed milder than this should not be considered seditious.

Instead, this extreme and underserved punishment is meted out to someone who in a more enlightened society would be celebrated as a positive role model because of his concern for the poor and downtrodden, while actual criminals roam about unfettered. On what basis can we now argue with those who believe that violent protest is justified because the administrative and judicial systems are so skewed and biased that it is impossible to expect genuine justice? And should we be surprised if such judgments actually add to the extremist activity that is seen as such a threat to the established order?

So my second wish is for a judicial system that works quickly and effectively to uphold the Constitution, to ensure the rights of all citizens and to deliver genuine justice even to those without access to wealth and power.
Is it scary that these two simple wishes seem to be so wildly optimistic and even improbable in India at the turn of the decade?








The Beatles broke up in 1970, and the world was never really the same again. Distraught fans, to this day, wonder why their troubles were so far away in the 1960s, but not so in 1970. Fans have, of course, pointed fingers at all and sundry. One such person who has, over the years, received more than her fair share of blame is Yoko Ono, who began a relationship with John Lennon in the late 1960s. But Yoko Ono has now revealed that she had little to do with the breakup.


Perhaps she has a point. Fans lament the Beatles' breakup because together, they gave us perhaps some of the greatest popular music the world has ever known. The world was a different place then: Flower Power was surging, it was hep to be a hippie, and the music was just phenomenal. For millions around the world, there are key moments when a Beatles song touched us, and we feel happy.


We all wish our youthful years to never end, but alas, time is not bound by our earthly desires. The Fab Four had reached a stage where they could no longer hold each other's hands. And like Yoko Ono says, rather than lament the inevitable breakup, let us celebrate their music.






Like a traditional rite of passage, New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport goes through an annual routine. Come December and January, and flights are delayed and/or cancelled because of fog, brought about by Delhi's cold. This year has been no different. Two days of shivering cold and already over 100 flights have been delayed, diverted, or just cancelled, causing havoc to thousands of passengers.


Moreover, since Delhi airport handles more flights than any other airport, particularly domestic airlines, disruptions at this airport has a cascading effect on flights across India, disrupting passengers' travel plans. Delhi airport recently acquired a grand new terminal, comparable with the best in the world. But fancy passenger lounges are of little use unless the airports can allow aircraft to operate in not-so-conducive conditions.


No one will deny that no chances should be taken with regard to safety norms but certainly inclement weather conditions should not necessarily lead to delays and cancellations. But every time fog descends on Delhi, the airport shuts down and it is not because the fog is severe but because the airport simply lacks the necessary wherewithal to operate in low-visibility conditions.


There are equipment and technology available that allow aircraft to operate even in severe fog conditions. The government and airport authorities must invest in such technology to keep flights on schedule. Instead, what happens is that Indian government reduces visibility guidelines to allow aircraft movement, which is a risky thing to do.


Incidentally, Delhi airport's disruption comes at a time when airports in London and across northern Europe are being forced to cancel flights after receiving record snowfall over the last few days. Yet, even though these latest cancellations are the result of one of severest winters and heaviest snowfalls to have blanketed northern Europe, an angry UK government is planning a law that will penalise airports for flight cancellations or delays. The British government's dissatisfaction stems from the fact that airports, especially Heathrow in London, did not invest in appropriate technology that would have allowed at least a few, if not all, aircraft to land or take-off, and thus mitigated the problem to some extent. This is what needs to be done at Delhi airport too.







The failure of GSAT-5P does not mean that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) needs to fall into despair or be endlessly berated. It just means that ISRO needs to be allowed to get on with its job — without the jingoistic excitement which usually accompanies every success. The Indian expedition to the moon has not, in fact, been a lone Indian effort but rather, a collaboration with other space agencies and scientists. It is also worth remembering that the moon was first visited in 1969 and an unmanned Indian effort first got there four decades later.


Preliminary investigations seem to suggest that the problem lies at the first stage and not at the cryogenic stage, which has been developed with Russian help. Scientists are calling this crash a "freak mishap" because several tests went very well. However, it is also true that the early stages of India's space programme and several satellite launches also ended in failure. And of course, such failures are not limited to India either.


But of course, human error can hardly be used as an excuse. An enormous amount of money has been spent on the Chandrayaan project and many have argued that this is money which India can put to better use. The desire for space domination needs to be through a global effort rather than individual nations looking for glory. ISRO did suffer some embarrassment when NASA made it clear that much of the research which resulted from Chandrayaan I was a result of its payload rather than any ISRO effort.


Instead of the self-aggrandisement or at best patting on the back as of the past couple of years, ISRO now needs to get back to the drawing board and get to the bottom of this crash. Since scientific experimentation is liable to mistakes or even disasters due to small causes, stricter controls and checks are needed. It is fortunate that these are as yet unmanned missions — the cost of loss of human life would be incalculable and a terrible public relations failure.


This trip to the moon does in fact mean a lot for the human race. Now, we need hard work and more application to reduce errors.








When you feel depressed, know that you are creating particles of depression around you. Those ions of depressions go and stick to the environment. Have you experienced this? You walk into a room and suddenly feel angry vibes. You were all right a few minutes ago but the moment you walk in, the anger and tension overtakes you.


Today there is a lot of talk about protecting the environment, bringing up more greenery, recycling and using more natural and organic substances. A few years ago, this was not an issue at all.


Like we pollute the earth and the water, we also pollute the subtle environment of feelings and emotions.


Man has become a victim of his environment. He is not in control of his mind. We pollute our environment in a very subtle way through our negative emotions. But it takes some time to clear the environment of this. So how do we handle it? We hear a lot about others in life but we spend very little time hearing ourselves. This is most unfortunate. Then what is the solution?


Our body has the capacity to sustain the vibrations of bliss and peace longer than it does negative emotions. Through the help of meditation and certain breathing techniques, we can easily get over our negative emotions. Take some time off to look a little deep into oneself and calm the mind down. Thus, erasing all the impressions we are carrying in our minds, we can experience the divine that is the core of our existence.








There are enough people defending Dr Binayak Sen, the Chhattisgarh medical practitioner and human rights activist, and they are doing the right thing. It is not necessary to nit-pick that the articulate, liberal middle class from the metropolis is speaking up so eloquently for one of their own.


There is not much doubt that the case against Sen — and it is interesting that not much attention is being paid to the other two, Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha — is legally weak. The defenders of Sen are basing their defense not on a point of law, but on the basis of Sen's credentials as a good samaritan. They are keen to defend his muddle-headed politics rather than his Constitutional right as a citizen of a democratic country.


It is necessary to defend Sen on the basis of his Constitutional rights even if many of us would not agree with his politics, and it is this defense which is of utmost importance to the democratic set-up in the country. As a matter of fact, it is the leaders of business and industry and the anti-leftists, and this would, in a way, mean the anti-Sen lobby, which should come forward to defend Sen's rights.


If Sen's friends have an ideological stake in defending him because they religiously nurse the useless pro-poor sentiment which underlies their liberal politics, the critics of Sen have a larger stake of preventing the state from imposing undue restrictions on the thoughts and actions of citizens. It is the freedom to pursue one's interests within legal parameters that is the keystone of a market economy.


The captains of industry as well as the market ideologues stupidly believe that the state should ensure a strict law-and-order situation that would enable them to carry out their own business activities without any hindrance. That is the presumption of the Tatas in West Bengal, of Vedanta in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and of Posco in Orissa, and the implication is that those opposed to the Tatas, Vedanta and Posco should be punished, or at least shooed away, for opposing their projects. It would be a disaster if industry were to depend on the policing powers of the state to silence their opponents.


In Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and communist Soviet Union, dubious economic miracles were cited as a good enough reasons to rationalise a repressive political regime. But the economies crumbled in each of these countries as well as in other states with a totalitarian bent of mind because without basic democratic freedoms, it is impossible to sustain economic growth.


Critics of market economy are keen to drive home the point that repressive regimes and business interests go hand in hand. Business for its own selfish — call it enlightened if you like — interests should be on the side of freedom and against the state.


The paradox is this: The private sector wants the state not to interfere in the economy but it wants the state to keep under control its opponents and critics through relevant laws.


On other hand, the leftist liberals want the state to control the economy but leave the political sphere alone. These are biased expectations and agendas of special interest groups. The lefitsts should stop pretending that they are speaking for the poor. They are not. The poor have their own views but we must listen to them and not to their self-appointed emissaries.








The staggering loot in this year's headline scams benumbs us to the massive human tragedy that underlies them. As Stalin once said, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic". Still, there is a price to pay. One reason for tribal insurgencies in India today is lack of development. And then there are mercy killings and suicides. There is a direct correlation among these: people die, or live stunted lives, because of larceny by the rich and powerful.


The story of thalaikoothal in Virudhunagar was reported by Tehelka magazine ('Mother, shall I put you to sleep?', November 20). Apparently impoverished people in Tamil Nadu are ritually murdering their aged parents for a simple, rational reason: they cannot afford to support them.


This story reminds me of a powerful film, The Ballad of Narayama (1983), set in 19th-century Japan that deservedly won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1983. Set in a poor mountainous area where the land has limited carrying capacity, it illustrates a ritual called ubatse. Every time a child is born, an old person has to die, for they cannot afford to feed that extra mouth.


In effect, it means that at the age of 70, every old person will be taken to the snowy peaks and left there to die of starvation and exposure. In the film, an iron-willed matriarch resolves that when her time comes, she will go of her own will, and not be dragged kicking and screaming. She methodically arranges her affairs, and then forces her grief-stricken, unwilling son to carry her to the mountaintop, where she will die.


It is an indictment of the failure of our leadership that something from pre-industrial Japan 200 years ago finds echoes in today's India. But this is merely a particularly graphic illustration of the fact that the systematic siphoning off of funds from India is, literally, killing its people. In this, India is similar to some resource-rich countries, which have borne the 'curse of oil': the vast wealth from petroleum has often led to more, not less, misery for the people.


The Economist argues ('The paradox of plenty', December 2005) that the reasons are massive corruption, weakened institutions, and lack of competitiveness in other industries. And just plain disdain for the masses. In the oil-rich Niger delta, it appears there has been massive environmental damage and pollution, suffered by the locals who have got nothing to show for the billions dug up from under the ground.


India's principal wealth is in agriculture and human resources.


These were enough in historic times to make India the wealthiest nation in the world, as per Angus Maddison (The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, OECD, 2001). It was massive capital transfers by the British and the systematic dismantling of light industry that have caused enduring misery.


The underpinnings of corruption in India were also created by the British. Their buccaneer John Company types

were given poor salaries, and were expected to make their fortunes through means fair or foul; most chose foul. Robert Clive, when impeached by the British Parliament in 1676, disclosed that his net worth was sterling £401,102. His annual salary had only been between sterling £1,000 and £5,000, according to PJ Marshall (East Indian Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century, Oxford, 1976).


Nevertheless, India is an economy that still generates large amounts of surplus, especially now that its GDP is growing rapidly. This has given an impetus to corruption and the disappearance of funds to offshore accounts and into things like religious conversion. Instead of enabling the poor to claw their way out of poverty, the surplus is skimmed off. Money that could have built roads, ports, schools, hospitals and world-class universities has been swallowed by private individuals.


A recent report from Global Financial Integrity program at the Center for International Policy, Washington DC (The Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows from India: 1948 to 2008, November 2010) estimates that $462 billion has been stolen in sixty years, and that this accelerated to $16 billion per year towards the end of the study period. Undoubtedly, with the scams that are now coming to light, this decade's loot will be exponentially higher: the CWG and 2G scams alone add up to $60 billion in vanished wealth.


The nation is turning into a banana republic. Not only politicians, but also the media, the judiciary, the armed forces and even the Vigilance Commission, are being drawn into this web of kickbacks and payoffs. In addition to human misery, it has economic consequences. A recent Stanford study (Corruption and International Value: Does Virtue Pay?, November 2010) suggests that firms in corrupt countries suffer a loss in market value. Surely, those corrupt countries suffer the same: Brand India is being hurt.








National Confe-rence Member of Parliament, Dr Mehboob Beg's reaction to comments made by the interlocutors about the performance of the coalition government headed by chief minister Omar Abdullah typifies the peevishness gripping the NC and its establishment. Dr Beg, usually not given to speaking out of turn, appears to be annoyed over Dilip Padgaonkar's recent observation that there was need for the state government to try and bridge the gap between the rulers and the ruled and to improve its efficiency as well as its performance in order to reduce the trust deficit between the two. Firstly, interlocutors are not the only entity to say so. Existence of trust deficit along with governance deficit has been clearly visible like light of the day. Central government's cabinet committee on security affairs had only lent its voice to this reality that was otherwise starkly apparent on the Kashmir scene even as it was scantily acknowledged so very authentically. That the coalition government in the state was struck by total paralysis all through last summer, that there was total administrative vacuum and that its political consequences had virtually crippled the NC's party apparatus, along with that of other mainstream groups, are undeniable facts of history. If Dr Beg feels that his party and its government are now recovering from that trauma no one need to grudge him. But he is not likely to find many takers for his apparent optimism that the mess resulting from last summer's developments has been cleared or that the ruling apparatus has regained its moral and administrative authority to the extent that it is performing as indeed it ought to be. The reality on the ground is dismal, notwithstanding Dr Beg's optimism. The coalition government has yet to show any credible sign of its recovery.


What the NC leader chose to ignore or failed to notice while making his assessment is the fact that with the subsiding of the situation on the ground cracks and fissures between the coalition partners, NC and the Congress, have come to the surface more perceptibly than before. Significantly, the two parties seem to be looking in opposite directions over almost every significant issue related to stabilising peace and normalcy in Kashmir. For instance, the Congress has been more vocal than ever before in voicing its total 
disagreement over some of the key propositions put forth by Omar Abdullah, including 'softening' of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and resumption of the stalled dialogue process. There is a wide divergence of approach between the two over some of the basic issues involved in the situation. While the NC, for obvious reasons remains wedded to Valley-centric approach the Congress, for the same reason, has been brought up on the Jammu-centric mental diet. Repeated failure of the state cabinet to tackle some of the 'divisive' issues of vital significance to the situation on the ground has become a permanent feature of its deliberations now reduced to ordering transfers and promotions, more often without rationale. 

The interlocutors have undoubtedly been saying all sorts of things, some of it relevant but the rest irrelevant. But they are not the only entity to exhort the coalition government to try and overcome trust deficit between the ruled and rulers. Trust deficit and governance deficit have not gone away just because the state headquarters have shifted to the winter capital and over-protected ministers are now finding it convenient to undertake outdoor activity though mainly for publicity over the official mass media. The picture sought to be painted in this manner just does not square up with the larger picture to deal with which the central government has drafted this group of interlocutors. It is very much their legitimate business to say what they have said about the Omar Abdullah government. Treating this incident as an act of hostility and reacting angrily does not help anybody. Dr Beg would be better advised to address his wise counsel to the right quarters-the NC and its sick government. Until the ruling party and its governing apparatus regain their health and show signs of effective recovery nobody is going to be impressed by the type of weak defence offered by Dr Beg. The government's performance on almost every front continues to reflect its poor health. Indeed, there is more mismanagement than before. Or may be optimists like the NC MP believe in the dictum that things are bound to get worse before getting better. But those at the receiving end of it all would certainly share his optimism; certainly the hapless victims of mis-governance and mistrust.






Recent incidents in hospitals of Reasi, Bhaderwah, Jammu and Srinagar where the angry attendants ransacked the property and also destroyed the hospital records in protest against, what they alleged as, "the negligence of doctors costing them the lives of their near and dear ones," are upsetting. Though there was nothing unusual as, of late, the protests in the hospitals by the attendants and their clashes with the doctors or para-medical staff has, almost become a routine affair, only unusual thing was that all unfortunate incidents in different parts of the state occurred on the same day. And the raison deter in all these cases was same which was a pointer towards the pathetic state of affairs in J&K as far as the health care facilities are concerned. In Bhaderwah, allegedly in the absence of doctors in the hospital, a family lost its child who had swallowed a whistle. The family carrying the child in critical condition kept shuttling between the Bhaderwah and Doda hospitals yet when failed to get adequate timely treatment, it decided to bring the child to Jammu Medical College hospital Jammu. Sadly the child breathed his last while the family was on its way to Jammu, undoubtedly the loss of critical time slot because of non-availability of desired health care facilities and the medical staff proved too costly. Similarly in district hospital Reasi and Government Medical College hospital Jammu, the angry attendants agitated alleging that their patients were not provided timely and desired treatment by the doctors and the other staff available there and thus they lost their near and dear ones due to their negligence. In Srinagar's G B Pant hospital also, the spectre was not very different where the family alleged that their only child, born on December 17 this year was administered an injection, whose expiry date had already run out. Although in all these cases, the hospital authorities did not admit any lapses on their part on the anticipated lines but the recurrent incidents of similar nature in almost all parts of the state are indicative of the poor health of our health department. The ground situation belies the haughty claims of the administration vis-…-vis making all out efforts to improve the health care infrastructure. It is therefore imperative for the helmsmen to admit that all is not well with the health sector and thus needs to wake up to move beyond the rhetoric to bring change on the ground. 








Dr. Binayak Sen has been awarded a life sentence. There is no evidence to nail him down. I will not go into the details of this case that will stand up for scrutiny only in a banana republic, not in a democracy. 


The war against the state is a convenient ploy. Dr. Sen, an award winning doctor and national vice-president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) was arrested in Bilaspur on May 14, 2007. He has been behind bars ever since. And it was not a fashionable 'statement' arrest. 

His crime is that he passed letters to the Maoist ideologue, Narayan Sanyal. Together with a young businessman, Piyush Guha, they are seen as a triumvirate. The letters were apparently to "establish an urban network of the banned extremist group CPI (Maoist)".

The charges are drawn from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, and the IPC for conspiracy for war against the state and treason, apart from being the accused as members of a banned organisation.

Let us go along for a minute with the charges. What war has been fought against the state due to the efforts of Dr. Sen? How many politicians are arrested for creating wars within their own states? What is treason here? To speak out, to believe that a people have the right to seek a space? The moot point is: have they got it? As regards being members of a banned organisation, may I know how it is possible when an organisation that is banned becomes irrelevant, a persona non grata, so to speak? Therefore, his being a part of it is a non sequiter. 
Apparently, the prosecution has problems with him being addressed as 'Comrade' in two postcards. "Comrade usi ko kahaa jaata hai jo Maowadi hai," (Only a Maoist is called comrade) said prosecutor Pandya who is probably a comrade-in-arms with the state machinery and a whole ideology based on idiocy. If you refer to someone as 'Bhai', does it mean the person is an underworld don? Communist leaders still use the term comrade. Even so, he has every right to be a Maoist, just as people can be Bajrang Dali or Jamaatis; at least he is not using obfuscation. 

How do you imagine Dr. Binayak Sen is linked to international terror groups? The sessions court in Chhattisgarh said that his wife Ilina was corresponding with Pakistan's ISI based on some letters written by her to "some Fernandes of the ISI". 

Here is the report from the TOI:

The email said: "There is a chimpanzee in the White House." Pandya said: "This may be code language... this perhaps means terrorists are annoyed with the US... We do not know who this Fernandes is, but ISI, as we all know, means Pakistan."

TOI spoke to Walter Fernandes, currently director of the North Eastern Social Research Institute in Guwahati. "Ilina and I are good friends and we frequently exchanged correspondence on development-induced displacement among tribals, which has been my subject for the last 20 years," he said. He described the prosecution's attempt to interpret ISI (Indian Social Institute) as Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence wing and link it to Binayak Sen as "either ignorance or bad will".


I am currently writing about Indian Stupid Insecurity (ISI). The imagination of the prosecution aside, I have issues with the use of 'perhaps' in a case of this nature, that involves the life of a person and the life of civil liberties. The prosecution is supposed to verify its claims before charging a person. If it is a code word, then decode it; if it is terror groups, snoop around and check the IP address. We don't live in the stone age that this is not possible. 


There will be an appeal against this judgement. But, it is a sad state of affairs when after 1000 pages of the charge-sheet, the Indian courts come out the worse for the wear. There is nothing that reveals that Comrade Binayak Sen has betrayed the country. The judiciary has. 







".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..!" 








A recent report in this newspaper has once again brought into focus the issue of unauthorised occupation of nazool land in this city. The report has made a couple of important points: (a) not many encroachers have come forward to seek regularisation under the Roshni Act; (b) they continue to be illegal dwellers; (c) some of them have been described as being "influential" but not mentioned by names; (d) the value of the property thus lost to the government runs into crores of rupees; (e) even commercial complexes are being raised unlawfully on such land; and (f) a large number of people have sublet the property. For its part the administration is said to be aware of infringements across the district including this city and its periphery. Why is it then not taking the desired corrective action? The least it can do is to stall the business establishments from coming up. Why it should be found wanting in this regard is not clear. Should one believe that remedies devised to far have proved worse than the disease? This problem has actually been lingering on for decades. The latest Master Plan of Jammu, for instance, has admitted way back in 2004 that "a large chunk of nazool land was encroached." It has been admitted even then: "Large chunks of Government land were grabbed by colonisers where the end-buyers had no title over the land that they bought. Buildings have been constructed without obtaining building permission." A further setback has been caused in the wake of unexpected developments like migration from the Valley and border districts, rapid inflow of tourists and pilgrims and liberalisation of economy resulting in the development in particular of communication sector. "These developments generated competitive markets and opened business opportunities which needed a much higher percentage of land under commercial use in Jammu than envisaged in the (earlier) Master Plan."


A cumulative effect has been that "the tendency to go in for unauthorised constructions for erecting commercial assets in areas not originally demarcated for commercial use increased manifold." We have quoted extensively from the official document to nail any impression that nazool land is a sudden victim of usurpation. Evidently a substantial part of it has slipped out of the Government's control in a gradual manner. The Jammu Development Authority (JDA) is going through a "resource crunch" as one of the consequences. Land is too precious a commodity to be permitted to be frittered away so easily. That the Government, which is perpetually starving of funds, should allow this is indeed a luxury it can ill afford. It must, therefore, get the land vacated or regularised for a fee without any further delay. A better approach may be to find some way of utilising it for building residential complexes.


On a broader level one may recall that there has been a demand that the names of all those in illegitimate possession of land should be made public. A step like this is likely to have a salutary effect. That it is not being taken can only reinforce the suspicion that the malady is deeper than what it appears to be. Do reasons for this require to be elaborated? Passive acquiescence in indecision and thus inaction amounts to connivance. We need to mend our approach for our sake.







In his voluminous work "Kashir being a history of Kashmir", G.M. D. Sufi thus describes Chingus Sarai: "Chingas Sarai is a small and scattered village situated on a flat table-land, about 200 feet above the right bank of the Tawi river. It lies on the Bhimbar route into Kashmir between Naoshahra and Rajauri, about 13 miles north of the former place, and 15 miles south of the latter. There is a bungalow for the accommodation of travellers, about a quarter of a mile from the village. The old Sarai from which the village takes its name, is close to the bungalow. Water is procurable from a baoli or from the river beneath. The hill sides in the vicinity are covered with under-wood and firs, but on the opposite side of the river there is a good grazing ground. Next to the Mughal mosque at the Sarai is the grave entombing Jahangir's entrails." He goes on to mention ophiolatry (worship of snakes) that prevailed in the region. With the passage of time we will notice that the spellings of the names of almost every place have changed including those of Chingus which is currently in vogue. What is not disputed, however, is that it is the site where the entrails or intestines of Mughal emperor Jahangir are buried. It is generally believed that Jahangir, a frequent visitor to the Valley, had died on this route during one of his journeys. The innards were removed from his body and put in the ground at the Sarai to prevent the stench from emanating. This was done, it is said, to pre-empt the possibility of the premature disclosure of his death that could have triggered succession battle back in the Capital or led to the outside interference. An article in a recent Sunday magazine of this newspaper laments that the Sarai is "lying in a deplorable state of affairs" and there is "no maintenance." It is a pity that the "dogs are frequently seen wandering inside," "the walls are fading to death," "knee-deep garbage is piled up," and, the worst of this all, "bricks, stones and other iron items are removed by the people for their personal use."


In brief, there is no effective upkeep or supervision. This is the plight of the majority of our monuments. The Department of Archives in the State and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the country as a whole are doing a good job within the available human and financial resources. No purpose will be served by blaming them for poor preservation of our ancient and historic relics. It is fundamentally a question of adjusting our priorities by finding enough funds for this exercise. Unlike other invaders the Mughals have contributed a lot in terms of building one imposing structure after the other aesthetically. Our own State, especially the Valley, has been a rich beneficiary. The least we can do is to reciprocate their gesture in full measure by saving their edifices. This is necessary for us too from the point of view of studying our own evolution as a society and a political entity. We should rescue and beautify the Chingus Sarai at all costs. It tells us a tale that a one-time powerful royal family has eventually failed to bury.








Periyar, the flamboyantly bearded founder of the Dravidian Self-Respect Movement, used frequently to spit out the Tamil word vengayam (meaning 'onion') as an expression of derision; since there was much in politics that he found worthy of disdain, the pungent whiff of onions used forever to hang over Dravidian politics in an earlier time. Evidently Periyar considered the onion lowly because beneath its many layers of skin, there's only empty nothing, much like a vacuous political argument. 

His bearish assessment of the onion's value comes fairly close to that of the music critic James Huneker, who wrote "Life, is like an onion: you peel off layer after layer and then you find there is nothing in it." Today, however, it appears that the open market valuation of the onion's worth far exceeds Periyar's (and Huneker's) uncharitable estimation. Prices have run up so fast recently that for budget-balancing households, even an unpeeled onion induces a free flow of tears.

The onion's centrality in the political discourse has also been reinforced by the upsurge in the volume of political commentaries revolving around the aromatic plant. That's partly because, given the widespread use of onions by all but the most austere adherents of sattvic diets, extraordinarily high onion prices arguably have a bit of "regime change" potential. 

The many medicinal properties attributed to the onion - it's touted as a cure for everything from common colds to coronary diseases to cancer - have given rise to the formulation: "an onion a day keeps the doctor away". It's more likely, that it's the distinctive after-effects of an onion-flavoured diet - in particular, an odoriferous breath that would, well, make an onion cry - that keeps everyone, including doctors, away. 

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

The onion's curious olfactory effect - which, ancient Egyptians believed, could even bring the dead back to life - was perhaps one reason why Egyptian pharaohs were mummified along with onions. In the middle Ages, the onion additionally served as a form of currency - it was used as rent payments and even as wedding gifts. 
If there's one thing, though, that reeks even more than the onion today, it's the stench of speculator-driven corruption that underlies the high prices, for which administrative incompetence acts as a flavour enhancer. 

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


In current Indian contexts revisiting the history of how the vegetable, of the allium family, caused the downfall of more than one government, would make clear to those at the helm of affairs that it is wise not to ignore the writing on the wall. On two occasions, the BJP suffered crushing defeats at the hustings in Delhi and Rajasthan in 1998 when it failed to check spiralling onion prices. In 1980, when Indira Gandhi was not in power, she used the onion price issue to telling effect, achieving an electoral victory over the Janata Party which ruled at the Centre.

Like the BJP governments in Delhi and Rajasthan and the Janata Party, the United Progressive Alliance-II has demonstrated its failure on not having kept ear to ground. As the prices of onion skyrocketed, Manmohan Singh's government displayed inept handling of an issue that could become its bane. Although North Block mandarins continue to burn the midnight oil, devising measures to bring down the prices by banning onion export, scrapping duty to encourage swift import and directing the state governments to crack down on hoarders, the Centre's actions came too late.

While agriculture, food and consumer affairs minister Sharad Pawar has attributed the price rise to the shortfall in onion production and unseasonal rains, one is left wondering why the administration waited for the price to shoot up to Rs. 85 a kg, from an average Rs. 15-20, and did not take any corrective steps when the rates began moving northward.

And while the price of onion had started going up from September-October itself, the government began taking remedial measures only on December 20 that too after the media highlighted the unusually high prices. The government's lethargic response gave ample opportunity to traders to make a killing and to hoarders accumulate stocks for the past two months. To top it all, the government allowed exports till the second week of December.
It has now emerged that the government was caught unaware on the high price issue. This becomes clear from what the government told parliament on December 10. Minister of state for food and agriculture K. V. Thomas informed Rajya Sabha that "Decline in production due to untimely rains in key onion growing areas have pushed prices of the vegetable in the last month (November). Untimely rains during the month of November in Maharashtra, Gujarat, MP and Rajasthan impacted production and led to lower onion arrivals in the market". Thomas went on to add that "...onion prices increased from September onwards due to restricted supply of stored stock by farmers/traders with the expectation of higher prices in coming months".

The current situation follows a decline in production in 2009-10 compared to 2008-2009 - from 13.4 million tonne during 2008-09 to 12.1 mt in 2009-10. Of this, normal export stood at about 1.8 mt, the rest was for domestic consumption.

This winter, a seemingly unconcerned government did not hesitate to continue issuing export permits even in November which gave push up the already climbing prices. Not just this. Export permits, in the form of no objection certificates, issued for November, were over 35 per cent more than the October figure and 60 per cent above that issued in November 2009. Around nine lakh tonne of onion has already been shipped out this year so far, notwithstanding the shortfall in production.


This happened despite clear warning signs from the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF) that indicated rain due to cyclonic formation on the west coast during October-end and in November in onion-producing states. The Nasik-based NHRDF had also pointed out that onion arrivals in major mandis between November and mid-December dropped 35 per cent compared to last year.

At the same time, differences cropped up among officials during an inter-ministerial meeting on cotton exports held on December 22. While Pawar blamed unseasonal rain for having adversely affected the crop, Commerce minister Anand Sharma held hoarders responsible. Though Pawar claimed that prices will take three weeks to stabilise, an NHRDF report says that consumers' misery may continue longer. The report indicates that the situation on the field was grim and even the prospects for the rabi crop (September to May) were bleak with a likely 20 per cent drop in production.

After the government freed imports, onion prices on the wholesale markets have come down by around 20 per cent, but is yet to percolate down to the retails markets. The increase in prices has not benefited the farmers because traders cashed in, leaving the growers in the lurch.

The Government has in place the mechanism, including market intelligence and weather and crop intelligence wings which can be used to good effect to contain prices. Yet, the government failed the consumers. The slew of remedial measures that the government has now initiated is knee jerk reaction as these are temporary. Under such circumstances, the Centre could evolve permanent measures, such as building cold storage facilities to stock large quantities. This will at least ensure that history is not repeated. Mr. Sharad Pawar is in cahoots with hoarders and black marketers, and for the sake of the UPA- II he should be shown the door of ministry of Agriculture and Consumers Affairs. (INAV)








Strategic landscape in a vast region spawning Pakistan westward to Central Asia, is changing fast once again. New elements and new forces are interacting in the turbulent area indicating the return of terrorism and its spillover to Pakistan and Kashmir. In all probability, Indian security planners are taking due cognizance of new nexuses and new strategies under adoption by major terrorist actors, Al-Qaeda and various affliates of Taliban.
A new militant organization in Pakistan, called Lashkar-e Jhangvi, an organization active for more than two decades in the past, has resurfaced with changed objectives. So far this organization has owned responsibility for almost all bomb attacks carried out against the Pakistani Shia' community whether in their mosques or on the streets. 

Under changed strategy, this organization is reported to have tied up with Al-Qaeda and accepted a larger role of carrying out jihad programme not only against the pro-US government and pro-US Army top brass of Pakistan but also in European countries and India. 

Al-Qaeda appears to be strengthening its manpower and plans through freshly actived recruitment campaign. Fresh recruits are mostly coming from the Central Asian State of Uzbekistan, the homeland of IMU. After the Ferghana and Andijan incidents in which the government of President Islam Karimov had came down with a very heavy hand on the IMU, many Uzbek youth have been trekking to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions of Waziristan where Al-Qaeda top leadership is hiding. In North Waziristsn, the IMU insurgents have splintered and joined various affiliates of Al-Qaeda. Owing to large scale unemployment and economic recession in Central Asian republics, the young cadres of IMU, not discouraged by the elimination of their notorious leader Yeldashev by the American drone attack, are proving very tough fighters.

According to knowledgeable sources, the reactivated Lashkar-e Jhangvi of Pakistan has adopted the new ideology of joining forces with such jihadi organizations as are pitted against the Islamic jihad all over the world. Under Al-Qaeda's radicalized plan, they are to join hands with jihadi outfits to fight on three fronts, namely against the pro-American establishment in Pakistan, against the Americans and European regimes and against India. In all probability, Lashkar-e Jhangvi could be the new avatar of LeT and JM combine. Owing to the fact that these two terrorist organizations have come under the American scanner and are closely watched by security establishments, the ISI has found it necessary to enforce realignment of sorts among the outfits.
Some months back, there was a small news in print media that two IMU activists had been arrested somewhere in Kashmir during a field operation by the security forces. But no details of the incident were reported. The matter was hushed up quickly. However, news has been trickling down that a large number of well equipped terrorists now assembled at various vulnerable points along the LoC in J&K are waiting to infiltrate into Indian Territory. For example, recently, there has been repeated firing along the border in Kathua region in Jammu province which has been interpreted by experts as providing cover to the infiltrating armed brigands. Apart from this, for last one or two months, there have been repeated attempts of infiltration at various points along the LoC and many of these were foiled by the security forces. Western Command sources have been saying repeatedly that there are many terrorists waiting to infiltrate. Security sources have also indicated that this crop of new terrorists is equipped with more sophisticated weapons and information technology. This has been proved correct by what fell into the hands of Indian security personnel after they had smashed the dens of infiltrators or liquidated them in encounters along the line of control.


The apprehension is that in the backdrop of accelerated infiltration attempts, there could be the accompanying programme of far deeper indoctrination of vulnerable sections of valley population. There could be sensitization of the people, particularly the youth, to the international Islamic brotherhood that would highlight the so-called "sacrifices" of the international Muslim community in the vanguard of which stood the jihadis and would-be-martyrs of Arab, Turkic, Uzbek, Chechen and other ethnicities. 

In the context of Pakistan, a development like this is bound to push the feudal-military-bureaucracy combine of that country to the backyard and make space for radical theocrats to grab power. When the interests of the triumvirate nexus are threatened, it will react and that is what the scenario in Pakistan is today. Obviously, the intention is to divert the attention of the new terrorist combine from onslaughts on Pakistani establishment to the Kashmir scenario and hence acceleration of infiltration along the borders. 

The strategy of street mobilization and stone pelting syndrome which consumed Kashmir's full last summer did not produce the expected result of either dismantling the ongoing state's coalition government or forcing New Delhi to make out of box concessions. Formation of All Party Parliamentary delegation, which visited the valley and sent in its assessment of the situation, followed by visits of a Task Force Committee and also the Interlocutors committee, are meant to suggest remedial measures to existing disgruntlement or economic debilities in urban and rural parts of the state. The grandiose rhetoric of the Interlocutors that they have been given the mandate of a "political solution of Kashmir" is music to the ear.

Pronouncements of BJP top leadership in Jammu rally on 24 December is an indicator that behind- the- curtain or traditionally known Track II diplomacy may, at the end of the day, prove nothing short of an exercise in futility. Valley leadership may react angrily to the latest pronouncements of BJP leadership; nevertheless, they cannot afford to ignore its impact on their campaign of selling their stock to the Indian intelligentsia. The inconsiderate attempts of valley separatists and secessionists to rope in dissident elements like those from the Eastern states or the wayward theorist like Arundhati Roy for making a common cause, have immensely fueled BJP's engines to scuttle any known or unknown programme of "unique solution to the unique issue" of Kashmir








Its time that we revisit the great masterpiece "Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy" written by the legendary Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942. In a kind of a prophetic analysis, the book argued that socialism will ultimately take over capitalism primarily led by intellectuals who, in fact, would have supported capitalism previously. Most importantly, the book coins a landmark term called "creative destruction" which implies a sort of 'positive destruction' where the old is replaced by something new (and better). In the absence of "creative" in destruction, there are no replacements; there are anarchies, chaos and lost opportunities.
Thailand is an apt example where destruction has not been so creative and presents a warning signal for Asia. The People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has its members from very middle class and elite that supported the 1992 democracy movement. 

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

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

Add to it the possibility of failed states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and East Timor. Based on a long-standing research programme of the World Bank, the Kaufmann-Kraay-Mastruzzi Worldwide Governance Indicators, which capture six key dimensions of governance (voice and accountability, political stability and lack of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption) between 1996 and present, the top five most populous countries in Asia, namely China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which together have half the population of the world, are in the low 10-50th percentile in terms of quality of governance. Essentially, this means that half of the world's population has abysmal low quality of governance.
Consider another important paradox of Asia which is with regard to its economic system. On a larger canvas, the picture seems very rosy like its GDP of around $22 trillion and an annual growth of per capita GDP of around 7.5 per cent. According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) research, income inequality in developing Asia has increased over the last 10 years. The increase in inequality is significant for populous countries. The ADB research also says that in terms of absolute inequality the top 20 per cent have seen their expenditures/incomes grow considerably faster than those at the bottom (bottom 20 per cent). This inequality does not mean that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer but it is the rich getting richer faster than the poor, which is increasing the inequality.

The unevenness of growth can also be seen in various spheres of economic life. The ADB research states that growth has been uneven across sub-national locations (across provinces, regions, or states). Second, growth has been uneven across sectors - across the rural and urban sectors, as well as across sectors of production (especially, agriculture versus industry and services). Third, growth has been uneven across households, such that incomes at the top of the distribution have grown faster than those in the middle and/or bottom.
There is an increasing trend towards asserting the identity of social groups based on either region, linguistics, religion or caste. This can be seen in the rise of identity-related conflicts in Asia. One remarkable research titled 'Culture, Identity and Conflict in Asia 1945-2007', conducted by Professor Aurel of the University of Heidelberg, gives some very interesting insights into this. In this research, Asia tops as the number one contributor to conflicts worldwide. The trend is towards intra-state conflicts which have remarkably increased in Asia than the inter-state ones. There has been an increase in identity conflicts and the special relevance of history-related conflicts especially since the 1970s. This resurgence of identity and its subsequent manifestation in conflicts can be attributed to the non-fulfillment of social aspirations in the governance system of the state.
Asia is standing at the cross roads where it needs a "creative destruction" in multiple facets. If the architecture of governance is not reinvented by choice there will be an eruption of chaos leading to a 'destructive destruction' rather than a 'creative destruction' which will be the biggest challenge for Asia in the decades to come. (INAV)










THE Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) suffered much loss of face when its Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) failed less than a minute after it was launched, and subsequently had to be destroyed. A three-stage 418-tonne vehicle, the 51-metre-long GSLV uses solid propellants in the first stage, along with four strap-on booster motors. Liquid propellants come into play in the second stage and cryogenic propellants in the third. The December-25 failure happened during the hitherto reliable first stage itself. The GSLV has had a dubious record with four out of the seven launches since 2001 ending in failure. For ISRO, the loss of the Rs 3-billion mission that was scheduled to launch an advanced communications satellite was particularly painful, since ISRO was hoping to set a new record with its heaviest payload ever.


The GSAT-5P communication satellite carried in the ill-fated mission weighed 2,310 kg, and was thus 180 kg heavier than the INSAT-4CR that had been successfully sent aloft by a GSLV in 2007. The successful launch of this satellite would have put India in an exclusive club of which only the US, France, Japan, China and Russia are members. The loss of the GSAT-5P satellite will also affect various sectors like telecommunication, telecasting and banking services that were depending on its 36 transponders to boost their coverage.


While the exact cause of the GSLV failure is still unclear, pending the findings of an inquiry into the matter, its payload itself is under scrutiny as a possible cause of some of the cables snapping, which led to the GSLV to deviate from its flight path. Travel in space is unforgiving and gives no room for any margin of error. Space ventures have to face failure from time to time. When that happens, it is imperative to pick up the pieces, learn what went wrong and apply the lessons learnt to future missions.









MOST of us are victims of our circumstances. Only a rare few conquer them to come up trumps. One such fine example of grit and determination has been set by Meenu and Yachana Sarswal, two Dalit sisters from Musimbal, a small village in Yamunanagar (Haryana), who cleared the HCS (judicial) examination this year. The odds were heavily stacked against them. In rural Haryana, daughters are rarely considered equal to sons. It is to the credit of their father, Raghuvir Ram, that he did not bring them up in a stereotype fashion. Incidentally, they have a third sister also, who has done her MBA. As the father proudly says, "I have three daughters and I have never felt the need for a son". Highly encouraging words from someone belonging to a state which is notorious for its skewed sex ratio!


Being Dalits makes their quest for excellence all the more creditable, considering that many avenues of progress have been traditionally denied to them. Now that they are being offered equal opportunities, they are coming into their own and proving how cruel and partial society has been towards them down the ages. Education is the key to empowerment and here is hoping that many more will emulate the praiseworthy example they have set.


It is heartening that the girls want to do something special to save the girl child. Not only that, they will also do well to ensure that no injustice is done to anyone on the basis of either sex or caste. They have been able to live up to their own expectations and those of their loved ones because they got a conducive environment to work in. The new role models should now aspire to become catalysts for the upliftment of the other downtrodden. That will be the best way for them to celebrate their success.









IN a country that is better known for its insensitivity rather than empathy for the differently-abled, the need for a new disability law couldn't have been more pressing. More so since the existing Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, a committee for drafting new legislation for persons with disabilities was formed in May this year. Now the government appointed committee itself is a divided house. One of the panel members Rajiv Rajan, suffering from cerebral palsy, has not only expressed dissatisfaction with the undemocratic functioning of the committee but also resigned from it. What is more unnerving is that some others have threatened to follow suit.


Voices of lack of satisfaction with the proposed disability law have been raised earlier also. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled Persons too had rejected the law as proposed by the government and demanded a comprehensive Act. Now Rajiv Rajan's objection " I don't see any possibility of passing of five or six laws at one go." has found an echo among other differently-abled members. Indeed, if the "One Disability Law Code" has failed to satisfy its members with special needs, it is unlikely to meet the requirements of the differently-abled population of the country.


Undeniably, any new law must be all encompassing and not only cover all the rights of the specially challenged but also must possess an iron clad implementation mechanism. Equally imperative is the need for urgency in framing it. As it is India, which ratified the UN Convention on Disability in 2007, has lost much time in drafting a new law. For the sake of significant percentage of the Indian population (nearly 2.13 per cent suffer from some or the other disability) who have every right to life with dignity, disability friendly laws need to be passed at the earliest. At the same time these cannot ignore the voice of those whose cause they are meant to champion. 

















WITH a second class sleeper berth costing a mere Rs 400 for a 1600-km journey, or just 25 paise for a kilometre, Indian Railways provides perhaps the cheapest rail transport in the world! This drops down to only half if one chooses to go by unreserved accommodation, fighting your way into the coach to quickly grab a seat as the rake rolls onto the platform!

The passenger tariff has remained so for almost the last one decade while successive Railway Ministers, in a bid to maintain a populist image, have studiously avoided any meaningful hike. However, in order to balance the budget, freight tariff has seen repeated hikes, mostly mid-season, away from the media attention associated with the Railway Budget, leading to a progressive loss of market share. Currently, freight tariff for coal — which forms almost half the goods railways carry — is about three times that of US Class-I Railroads on purchasing power parity!


The cheap fares have also led to an explosive growth in passenger rail travel which has increased exponentially over the last one decade, creating unmanageable crowds at major terminals, which have struggled to keep pace by expanding their infrastructure.


It has, however, been a losing race, at least on the Delhi division of Northern Railway, which has witnessed stampedes practically every year, especially during the peak season as it happened recently at New Delhi station. A major initiative of increasing the number of platforms from 8 to 14 undertaken a few years back has proved to be inadequate to handle the massive rise in passenger volumes.


With about 200 new trains being added every year over the last one decade, the 64000-km-long system has achieved a world record of over 9000 passenger trains daily which registered a whopping 6,94,764 million passenger km, higher than the Chinese Railways 6,89,618 million passenger km in 2007!


Rajdhanis being considered a status symbol, over the years practically every state has demanded and got one connecting Delhi to its state capital. At the last count there were 19 in all, including the duplicate ones running to Kolkata and Mumbai, and these with their higher average speed continue to take a very heavy toll of other trains.


Coming in from the east, as many as five of them — from Howrah, Sealdah, Bhubhaneswar, Patna and Guwahati — converge into New Delhi taking precedence over all the other superfast trains which may happen to be caught in their path! Of course, the poor freight train has just no way of recording a run of more than a 200-km a day on these high-profile routes.


Unfortunately, the introduction of new trains has been almost institutionalised by the Zonal Railway Consultative Committees adorned by well-known public figures and members of the legislature . In a blatant attempt to prove their clout, the honourable members fall over each other to come up with suggestions for new trains, new halts of the existing trains, catering contracts, over-bridges, etc, generally spelling out their opinion on how the Railways should run its business, never mind the consequences of an insufficient capacity on trunk routes and spreading financial resources too thin!


Perhaps, the most telling effect of this plethrora of new trains is on major terminals, in particular New Delhi which has to bear the brunt of all high profile trains — Gharib Raths, Sampark Krantis, etc — which have been added to the dozens of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis originating from the Capital. These provide an explosive mix when to this get added the long-distance superfast trains, resulting in chaos and very often stampedes during the peak season.


Unable to stem the tide of new trains for over a decade or so, Delhi division has upgraded some of its outlying stations to full-fledged terminals. Time is now ripe to decongest New Delhi, with Old Delhi being designated to cater to mostly North, Anand Vihar to East, Sarai Rohilla to West and Nizamuddin to South-bound trains, while the Rajdhanis, the Shatabdis and some of the long-distance superfast prestigious trains would continue to originate from New Delhi. Recently there was a major shift of some of the special trains being run eastward for Chhat festival, from New Delhi to Anand Vihar.


A "White Paper" brought out by Ms Mamata Banerjee in December 2009 had lamented the fact that passenger trains utilise nearly 60 per cent of the track capacity yet they contribute only 33 per cent of the revenue and affect the scope of running more freight trains on trunk routes.


However, it remains to be seen if she will "place her money where her mouth is", and will effectively curb the introduction of new trains, or it will be business as usual and in the run-up to the elections in West Bengal, populist inputs would continue to be given top priority!


The writer is a former Member (Mechanical), Railway Board.








WE live in a confusing world. Information in bits and pieces are scattered around us — even thrown at us — at meteoric speed from various sources: newspapers and magazines, the Net and networks, television channels and the cinema, the indispensable mobile phone and the latest harvest of Apples and Blackberries! For the young who are still at school and college, add the diet of the enormous curriculum, presented in sizeable chunks, with little thought for their absorption.


It is a challenge to make meaning out of all this. It is even more difficult to make decisions about everyday matters, which would be realistic, as well as just and ethical. Should children learn from the examples of 'successful' and rich people? Can people who live exemplary lives with modest means and integrity be role models for the young? Are real heroes found only in history books and traditional legends or does contemporary India offer any icons?


As we all know, parents plan furiously for their children's future, wanting the best for them, naturally. However, in the process, the definition of what is "best" tends to get distorted. Globalisation and the market offer choices, of course, but subtly define the very objective of our lives. The result is a condition that has been called "Affluenza"!


This may perhaps refer to a narrow, upper segment of the population. The other end of the spectrum, where families eke out a sparse living, also calls for our collective and immediate attention. People at all levels of the economic scale aspire for a better future for their children, but they are mostly unsure about how to negotiate the demands of the Present with the expectations of the Future.


If one should just walk into a classroom of 10-year-olds and ask them to mention short words beginning with the letter S, they are more likely to come up with SCAM rather than 'skip', 'ship', 'soup' 'shot' or 'song'. We are bombarded with scams as they bounce like rockets off domes and terraces. We are left angry and helpless at the sheer immensity and dominance of dishonesty in all walks of life.


Do we, as concerned adults, have a responsibility to guide children? Can we help them to believe that it is possible to be principled and still lead a good life? Can they plan to make the world a better place? How do we ensure that the value for peace and living in harmony is inculcated among the young under our care? How do we engender compassion and helpfulness and a sense of shared humanity in children?

Written by Dr S. Anandalakshmy, President, Bal Mandir Research Foundation, Chennai. 









MYANMAR is going through a significant phase in its political evolution. First, it held its polls for the first time in two decades on November 7 to elect representatives to both union and state legislatures. Second, pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest post-elections. Although no radical change is expected, its significance lies in the fact that now the new constitution may begin to unfold itself. The last elections were held in May 1990 when, in spite of registering a resounding victory, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was unable to come to power.


When the government introduced a fuel price hike in August 2007 a spontaneous upsurge of protests followed on the streets of Yangon and elsewhere right through September. Buddhist monks actively supported it. But the movement did not lead to a political victory as it happened in neighbouring Indonesia, or the Philippines. Instead, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) pressed on with its own road-map for democracy. The result was a new constitution in 2008 which was duly approved through a referendum held in May that year. Will the latest elections change the fortune of Myanmar?


What are the contending forces and their perceptions in Myanmar? The country had two constitutions before the current one was adopted: the one framed in 1947 accorded some states the right to secede after 10 years. The present constitution (Chapter I, Article 10) explicitly rules out such a possibility: "No part of the territory of the Union such as Regions, States, Union Territories and Self-Administered Areas, etc, shall ever secede from the Union". The 1974 constitution was Myanmar's second and was introduced following a referendum. The latest referendum results had an unrealistically high percentage vote in favour of the new constitution. The SPDC was accused of employing unfair means in the referendum.


The three most important political forces in Myanmar are: the military, the political parties and the ethnic groups. The ethnic minorities constitute an important factor in Myanmar's politics. The Burmans constitute about two-thirds of the total population while the Karens, the Shans, the Mons, the Rohingyas, the Chins and the Kachins are some of the prominent ethnic minorities. Critics point out that the military junta lays emphasis on one language (Burmese), one religion (Buddhism) and one ethnicity (Burman). Members of the other ethnic groups (non-Burmans/non-Buddhists) are excluded from ranks higher than Major in the Army. They are excluded from the top levels of military hierarchy. The military (the SPDC and SLORC earlier) has dominated the political spectrum for the last 48 years.


The ethnic minorities remain an important factor in Myanmar's politics. They were hoping that the new Panglong Agreement may meet their aspirations, but in vain.

The military, which has been in power for nearly 50 years, has chosen to emulate the dwifungsi model of Indonesia. Could the military eventually reconcile itself to a limited role as in Indonesia if it was assured of some sort of immunity against prosecution by an international court? The 2008 constitution provides a dominant role for the armed forces (tatmadaw). The President has wide-ranging powers. The constitution is peppered with special privileges for the tatmadaw. In addition, there is an entire chapter devoted to the defence services (Chapter VII).

* The President would be from the tatmadaw and wield enormous powers (including the power to nominate the Chief Justice).

* The key ministries would be headed by the military. The Ministers for Defence, Security/Home Affairs and Border Affairs would be nominated from among the tatmadawmen.


* A quarter of the seats in the two Houses of Parliament are to be reserved for the military.


* The C-in-C can assume full sovereign power by declaring an emergency if the disintegration of the Union is feared.


In addition, there was a reshuffle of military personnel recently and some senior military leaders reportedly hung up their uniforms to contest the civilian seats. Around 37 political parties contested the recent elections for the 440-seat People's Assembly and the 224-seat Nationalities Assembly and the state and regional assemblies. The 10 political parties which were deregistered included the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). Some of the ethnic groups were denied the opportunity to form political parties.


The smaller parties had to contend with funding limitations (registration fee of Kt.500,000 or US $500) and campaign restrictions (including slow Internet). At the time of the elections there were over 2,000 political prisoners. Some 32 townships were excluded from the electoral process — in the states called Shan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni and Mon. As was expected, the two government-sponsored political parties won with a comfortable margin. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has grown from the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, fielded over 1,000 candidates. The National Unity Party, the other government-sponsored outfit, fielded over 900 candidates. The opposition parties could field much fewer candidates. During the campaign these parties tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to form alliances. Some of the parties had even opened Facebook accounts for the purpose of canvassing.


Now that the elections are over, the military is expected to implement the remaining two steps in its seven-point road-map for democracy, and these include convening the national and state assemblies and building a modern, developed and democratic nation. Although the government can appoint technocrats as Cabinet ministers, it is unlikely that Myanmar will witness a major overhaul of its economic policy (as had occurred in Indonesia with the help of the 'Berkeley mafia'— the American economists who guided economic policy-making in Indonesia).


Externally, Myanmar continues to face criticism from the US the EU countries, at the United Nations and also from individual members of ASEAN. But Myanmar managed some leeway at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi where it was not in the focus.


Implications for India


As a democracy itself, India would like to see that democracy flourishes in its neighbourhood. But it has no interest in imposing its views on others. Experience suggests that an externally imposed system has a lesser chance of success than an indigenous one. In this geostrategically sensitive region, where Chinese influence is constantly on the increase, India would like to ensure that a political transition, when it occurs in Myanmar, is as smooth as possible lest India's security, economic and regional interests are put in jeopardy.


The visit of Myanmar President Than Shwe to India has to be viewed in this light. It is a painful truth that the transition process, which has only just been initiated, has still a long way to go. With the elections held, the constitutional provisions will take their own course and it may be difficult to seek a change in the constitution. In such a situation, it will be difficult to secure complete civilian control over the military.


The military is the only institution, with the experience of administering the country, which has survived in Myanmar. As in the case of Indonesia, it needs reiteration "that conditions that trigger the breakdown of authoritarian regimes are not necessarily supportive of transition to democracy".


The writer is Senior Research Associate, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.









THE third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination --- December 27 — at the hands of terrorists in

Rawalpindi provided an occasion to many newspapers to lament the poor status of women in Pakistan. But before one looks at the scenario of women's empowerment, it will be interesting to point out that there was a major debate when the late PPP leader became the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim-majority country in 1988. Those who did not want a woman to lead the government despite being elected by the people expressed the view that her elevation would lead to Pakistan getting ruined.

The critics were silenced when the pro-Benazir camp gave the example of Prophet Mohammad's revered widow Hazrat Ayesha leading one group of the then Islamic state whose army came in an eyeball-to-eyeball position challenging the forces commanded by her own highly respected son-in-law Hazrat Ali. That the conflict ended without the battle having been fought is a different matter. Benazir emerged as the most popular leader of her country though the government she formed, first in 1988 and then in 1993, was dismissed on corruption charges. She fell to her assassin's bullets in 2007 when she reached Pakistan after a long self-imposed exile.

As Daily Times commented in an editorial, "It is a travesty of fate that even though Ms Bhutto's party is in power and her widower the President of Pakistan, there is no closure (of the case) regarding her assassination. Those who have been caught are not the masterminds of BB's (Benazir Bhutto's) murder plot."


She became a victim of "politics of violence" which, she believed, "is the dire enemy of the hopes, the dreams and the ambitions of our people". She has been quoted to have expressed these thoughts by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in an article carried in Daily Times and The News on Dec 27. However, Gilani nowhere mentions her drive for women's emancipation, so essential in a country which some time ago saw schools being burnt by extremists because girls were being imparted education in these institutions.


There is no dearth of fighters for women's rights in Pakistan like well-known lawyer Asma Jehangir and Mukhtaran Mai (who was gang-raped and paraded naked in the streets of her village in a tribal area). But they have been able to do very little because of the strong anti-women societal attitude. The latest example of how even educated women are opposed by their near and dear ones from entering the job market is of Rabia Sultana, a cashier at McDonald's in Karachi. Her case has hit the newspaper headlines as her brother is after her life because she has decided to be financially self-dependent. No doubt, women from all sections of society are coming out of the four walls of their houses to earn a living out of necessity. But they are doing this at great risk to their lives and limbs.


As Huma Yusuf says in an article in Dawn, "Rather than celebrate the exceptions (like that of Asma Jehangir, chief of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association), the international community should pressurise the government to prioritise women's empowerment. The first step towards curing a problem is admitting that you have one." Huma is right. Mr Gilani's article shows that he is not as bothered about women's rights as other issues. 










Three months after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, on December 26, Muralidhar Raja's phone wouldn't stop ringing. Every few minutes, journalists wanted to know why the secretary-general of the Indian boxing federation had not planned anything special that evening. "This despite Vijender's medal! Have you no sense of occasion?" one indignant reporter apparently asked him. 


Raja was so distraught that he had to issue a statement enlightening the media about the origins of Boxing Day, explaining in great detail how it was the time to open Christmas boxes, nothing at all to do with the sport of boxing. 


The sport of cricket, however, has a long association with Boxing Day. You don't need to read an embarrassing press release to know that the annual Test in Melbourne, coupled for the last few years with another in Durban, makes the last week of December the most entertaining the sport has to offer. While Australia are already too far gone against England, India's one-man pace attack, Zaheer Khan, struck back against South Africa yesterday to ensure cricket's hyped year-end drama did not end in an anti-climax. 

When Zaheer runs in to bowl, butt jutting out, back locked stiff at a 60-degree angle, wrist cocked, arms waiting to gently unfurl into a release that's part high and part round-arm, you wonder what he could produce from this inflexible action. 


He's neither loose and limbering like Ashish Nehra, who could once make the delivery swing in and then cut away, nor ramrod straight like Srinath, who got disconcerting bounce through a flurry arms and legs in his follow-through. And he's a far cry from the rhythmic poetry of Kapil Devil's gliding, close-to-the-stumps leap. 


For a sport that's been romanced by Imran Khan, Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, and Allan Donald, Zaheer won't go down in history as a great fast bowler. He's not lightning fast or surprisingly nippy, and batsmen don't quake in their boots at the very thought of seeing him screaming in from 22 yards away. 


He's not even in the same category as Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose or Richard Hadlee, who keep bowling at that same perfect line, confident it's good enough because no batsman can have the patience to fend them off all day. 


Five years from now, you'll perhaps find many who swear by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who look like genuine quicks even though they're too young to have statistics speak for them, but no one who takes offence if you overlook Zaheer from your list of cricket's 50 top quicks. 


Be that as it may, over the last few years, Zaheer has started to emerge as a rare phenomenon: a version 2.0 pace spearhead who doesn't blow away opposition batsmen with that one unplayable delivery, or that one irritating length, but out-thinks them by consistently bowling what they're least expecting. 

Zaheer has a delivery that can swing back enough to get right-handers lbw; one that can move away late; one that's slightly short of length; a well-disguised slower ball; and a yorker that can be hard to dig out. Instead of using one of them as his primary weapon, Zaheer is still mixing them up when he charges in. His yorker may not be as deadly as Waqar Younis's toe-crusher, or his incutter as effective as McGrath's after three have moved away, but it's still good enough if the batsman is caught unawares. 


It took a while for Zaheer to get off the blocks – he lost his way a couple of times due to poor fitness and because he wasn't on the right side during the dark Chappell years – but a decade into his career, he's consistently racking-up strike-bowler figures. The last two seasons have been particularly good: four five-wicket hauls, a careerbest 7-87, and three potentially serieschanging top-order wickets at Kingsmead yesterday. 
    Who would've thought it. In his own way, Zak of all trades is finally becoming a master.




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The empowered group of ministers (eGoM) on fuel pricing is to meet this week to take a view on the price of diesel. Renewed fears about inflation, triggered by the spike in vegetable prices, may exert pressure on the government and force it to delay a decision. Of all the sources of fuel, diesel has the highest weight, of 4.6702 per cent, in the wholesale price index (WPI), which works as India's headline rate of inflation. Petrol comes second with a WPI weight of 1.09015 per cent, followed by LPG with a weight of 0.91468 per cent and kerosene with 0.73619 per cent weight. These weights are dated and would need changing, but there is no doubt that diesel still constitutes an important source of fuel for the economy with an exaggerated potential to impact inflation, given the pass through potential of diesel users in the transport sector. It is a measure of the mood of cynicism today that most observers do not, in fact, expect a decision to come out of the meeting of the eGoM. That would be a pity. There are several reasons why the government must act sooner rather than later in taking the tough call on diesel pricing.


First, the underpricing of diesel has encouraged inefficient consumption of an imported source of energy. While the older problem of diesel vehicles being a source of greater pollution than petrol-fuelled vehicles is no longer necessarily true, given the availability of good-quality diesel, the fact is that the even lower cost of kerosene has encouraged adulteration of diesel as well as petrol, adding to the problem of pollution. Subsidised diesel has become a major polluter in urban and rural India. Economic pricing of the product can have a salutary impact on consumption and, therefore, a positive impact on pollution levels. Second, subsidised diesel has destroyed the bottom line of oil marketing companies, thereby hurting the legitimate interests of their shareholders, and added to the government's rising and high budgetary deficit. It is estimated that public sector oil marketing companies lose an average of Rs 6.08 per litre on diesel, Rs 17.72 a litre on kerosene and Rs 272.19 per 14.2-kg LPG cylinder. These companies are expected to bear a loss of a whopping Rs 68,000 crore this year if government policy is not changed.


 The pressure to increase diesel prices arises also out of the fact that globally energy prices, especially oil prices, are once again rising. Already at $90 per barrel, crude oil is expected to sell once again in the triple digits in the not-too-distant future. The ministry of petroleum and natural gas has for a long time now tried to please all on petroleum pricing and has, in the process, messed up the oil economy in India. The government's recent tough decision to allow market forces to determine petrol prices was a brave and a good one. It should extend the logic of its thinking on petrol prices to diesel prices as well, for all the reasons we have mentioned. Without a correction on diesel, LPG and kerosene prices, the government's fiscal management programme will be adversely affected. Worse, the persistent problem of inefficient use of scarce energy resources and the problem of air pollution, caused by the adulteration of petrol and diesel with kerosene, and the adulteration of petrol with diesel, will continue unabated.








Official statistics in India have long been suspected to be no better than "guesstimates", and in more recent years, the quality of Indian statistics has, in fact, declined. This despite the fact that the administrative machinery for data collection has been refurbished with the creation of the National Statistical Commission. Several expert committees have been examining the quality of data in different sectors of the economy and recommending improvement. A committee headed by economist and former Planning Commission Member A Vaidyanathan has now mooted a two-pronged strategy to revamp the procedure of compiling agricultural estimates. It involves greater use of satellite-based remote sensing technology and restructuring of the data collection machinery. For implementation of this strategy, the committee has suggested establishment of a wholly new entity — national crop statistics centre (NCSC). The committee has itself acknowledged that there could be problems with existing remote sensing techniques and admits that a large part of the reason for existing deficiencies in official statistics could be related to the weakness of human capital engaged in data collection and analysis. The officials in charge of "girdawari" (actual field-level recording to crop sowing and projection of expected crop yields) are notorious for not doing their job properly. They often send cooked-up reports without actual field visits. Even crop cutting experiments for estimating crop yields at the end of the cropping season are often conducted improperly, resulting in glaring inaccuracies. This apart, most state governments, having abolished land revenue, which required maintenance of meticulous land-use records, do not give due priority to this task any more. Village-level staff is usually overburdened with multiple functions. Inspections of the records by higher-level officials for verifying their accuracy is usually rare. If the proposed NCSC also has to operate through similar grass roots functionaries and under similar circumstances, malpractices may be difficult to do away with.


Satellite-based remote sensing technology can help improve farm data collection, but it has its limitations. That is perhaps why the scope of FASAL (forecasting agricultural output using space agro-meteorology and land-based observations) is still restricted chiefly to revalidating the manually collected numbers and not for gathering primary data. Necessary models for generating state- and national-level data are currently available only for a few major crops, such as rice, wheat, potato, cotton, sugarcane, sorghum and the like. Besides, the ability of satellite imageries to differentiate between similar-looking crops is limited. So is their ability to capture areas under minor crops and mixed crops grown on small and fragmented lands. Fortunately, remote sensing technology is making rapid advances in terms of both satellite capacities and resolution of the imageries. What is lacking are reliable models which can forecast likely crop output, taking into account the large number of factors, including input-use and weather, that go into determining crop yields. However, given the inadequacy of existing data collection systems, greater reliance on remote sensing technology could help.









In January 2010, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) appointed a committee under the chairmanship of former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan to recommend changes in ownership and governance of stock exchanges (SEs), depositories and clearing corporations. The committee submitted its report on November 22 last. A welcome feature of this submission is that the report has been put up for public discussion on the Sebi website. Which means that Sebi will act on the recommendations, if at all, on the basis of the report as well as public feedback. The committee not only met stakeholders during the process of writing the report, but has also participated in public meetings thereafter. Of course, at this stage there is no question of revising the report, but at least these public discussions give a chance for the committee to explain its rationale and thought process.


All this is quite remarkably transparent, especially when it comes to government (or regulator)-mandated committees, and it deserves some praise. Committee reports in the past have had a tendency to get buried, or have disappear from public gaze. In the era of RTI, that may be changing but a thorough public scrutiny is always welcome. Dr Jalan's letter to Sebi also asks that a fresh look be taken after five years by a new committee at all the recommendations of his committee.


All this is part of the good news about the Jalan Committee report. But as for its substantive recommendations, there are far too many misgivings among many stakeholders of capital markets. The report has ruffled many feathers (and not just of the usual suspects), and there have been numerous and strident protestations in the press already.


The two most contentious recommendations relate to (a) prohibition on listing of stock exchanges; and (b) restrictions on ownership of stock exchanges. Both these are likely to have a dampening effect on the valuation of the many stock exchanges in the country, which have been waiting eagerly for a piece of the action. Capital markets remain almost like a greenfield opportunity in India due to their huge untapped potential, and any restriction on entry is surely a dampener for entrants as well as the industry itself. So, why has the Jalan Committee put these perceived roadblocks?


The backdrop for the two controversial recommendations is that the committee views stock exchanges as market infrastructure institutions (MIIs), which need a special treatment. This is because presumably MIIs are systemically important, are public utilities, are natural monopolies and enjoy economies of scale. Unfortunately, each of these characterisation can be applied to various other financial or even non-financial institutions, which are not subject to the same recommendations as the Jalan Committee ones. For example, traditionally, electricity and telecom are considered public utilities, and even natural monopolies. But we have long given up the notion that they should be purely publicly owned, or that they should not be listed. We allow unlimited free entry, even when some people despair of the overcrowding that competition entails (Competition and overcrowding, Business Standard, May 25, 2010). Besides, technological change constantly challenges what is considered a natural monopoly or not.


SEs perform the role of price discovery and capital allocation. A stable, well-governed and trustworthy SE attracts companies as well as investors, traders and speculators. This provides greater liquidity and lower impact of individual trades on prices. This is the natural monopoly feature, since more the participants, better the liquidity and price discovery. But a single SE can never be expected to be the fount of all innovations for all time to come. Otherwise Nasdaq or the NSE would never have been born. Hence, without competition from other SEs or would-be entrants, the SE may become complacent, or prone to abusing its monopoly status. Electronics, telecommunication and interconnectedness remove the possibility of price arbitrage between multiple exchanges. This means that efficient price discovery no longer requires a single giant SE.


To be fair, on competition, the Jalan Committee has been open about the exact number. It has left to Sebi to decide what should be the appropriate number of SEs to license. That number is surely greater than two, but probably far less than two dozen. But as illustrated by telecom, we need to be sceptical about conventional wisdom. In the era of electronic exchanges with ever-tightening oversight of the regulator, a new entrant can only compete on technology and costs. So, free entry, or the fear of free entry, is essential to keep the stock market deepening and expanding.


Surprisingly, the Jalan Committee did not keep its openness regarding the number of competitors, as regards the listing option. Prohibiting listing means that newer exchanges have to entice investors with alternative paths for value creation. Given that newer exchanges will have to invest heavily in technology, or invest considerably in reaching out to "tier two and three" level investors and geographies, they will need risk capital. Smaller exchanges catering to niche segments like SME risk capital may need to come up. This capital will want to see a path to value creation, and not just via a dividend flow. Prohibiting the listing option is cutting off flow of potential risk capital into stock exchanges.



Finally, on governance and ownership, the committee takes a stand that no one entity can own more than five percent of the exchange from day one. The exception to this are institutional investors like banks. But a diffused ownership from the beginning might lead to "management hijack", or investor disinterest, or both. Lack of a passionate entrepreneur in the initial years might seal an SE's fate. In fact, Dr Jalan could have borrowed from guidelines on new entrants into banking, who are typically given a seven-to-ten year road map for dilution.


"Governance" is a word which does not have a suitable translation into Hindi, or any other Indian language. But just because we do not have the right word, it does not mean that Indians don't recognise good governance when they see it.


Granted that the Jalan Committee was not supposed to produce a magnum opus that would address all issues like financial inclusion, SME access to capital and funds or capital market deepening. But nevertheless, the road map that it has given to ensure sound governance and healthy competition is too rigid, and likely to scare off new entrants or new developments.


The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group. The views expressed are personal









India's sway in Afghanistan has, over the last four decades, been an alternating saga of triumph and despair, driven largely by tumultuous events beyond our control. But now, for no reason other than negligence, New Delhi's star is fading over Kabul and the rising sun is Pakistan's.


 Nine years ago, on November 13, alongside a swarm of Tajik soldiers of the Northern Alliance, I entered a Kabul from where defeated Taliban stragglers were fleeing for their lives. From a no-go zone during the five nightmarish Taliban years, the Afghan capital was suddenly strongly pro-India. Having openly backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, New Delhi enjoyed close relations with Afghanistan's new power centres, even with Hamid Karzai, a token Pashtun leader, who was grafted in to head a new government.


Over succeeding years, New Delhi burnished its image through the well-directed injection of some $1.3 billion of humanitarian aid. India's soft power contrasted pleasingly with the heavily armed soldiers that emblemised the presence of many countries, and with Pakistan's brazen support for radical anti-Karzai groups, especially the Taliban, the Haqqani network and old-favourite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami. India looked good in the eyes of the Afghans and the world; and the lower price that we paid in lives gave us sustainability in Afghanistan, something that was denied many other countries by their concerned publics.


Ironically, the very success of this strategy may have engendered the complacency that prevented New Delhi from trimming its sails along with the changing strategic winds in Afghanistan. Washington's decision to pull out troops from that country — whether in 2011 or 2014 will be a mere historical detail — has knocked the bottom out of India's aid-led strategy, which rested on the foundation of security provided by the US-Nato combine. In the bedlam of a post-US Afghanistan, political presence and muscle will count for more than hearts and minds won.


From the presidential palace in Kabul, a beleaguered Hamid Karzai contemplates this reality: while Pakistan flaunts its proxies, India remains inexplicably unwilling to provide the overt political support that would reassure Karzai in confronting the looming threats. Unsurprisingly, the beleaguered Afghan president is dealing himself a playable hand by negotiating with the ISI-backed jehadi groups and cosying up with Islamabad.


Both these transgress the thickest of Indian red lines but India's political leadership remains unconcerned, focusing apparently on domestic political survival rather than the impending death-by-neglect of a crucial foreign policy initiative. The prime minister has not visited Afghanistan in five years, even as Kabul fervently seeks an unambiguous gesture of Indian support. Meanwhile, numerous visits to India by senior Afghan ministers and officials remain unreciprocated by their Indian counterparts. And Indian industry, risk-averse and content with picking low-hanging fruit in sheltered areas, has proved unwilling to invest in that country.


If New Delhi is not to be marginalised once again in Kabul, it needs to address a key Afghan complaint that I heard repeatedly from senior Afghan officials during my return to that country this month: "India's development aid, while deeply appreciated by the people of Afghanistan, cannot substitute for a political policy. As the pre-eminent power in South Asia, is India prepared to just build tube wells in Afghan villages while the country falls into Pakistan's lap?"


Adds Fahim Dashty, the vocally anti-Pakistan editor of Kabul Weekly: "Every Afghan, whether Pashtun, Tajik,

Uzbek or Hazara, regards India as a very good friend. But what is this friend prepared to do to prevent Afghanistan's neighbours (meaning Pakistan and Iran!) from playing their games in our country? While those countries make their intentions clear, Kabul has no idea what New Delhi is prepared to do in Afghanistan."


New Delhi must respond with clarity to these important questions from Kabul. India's riposte to the setback in Afghanistan needs to begin with an overdue state visit by Manmohan Singh to Afghanistan, something that would be recognised in Kabul as an unambiguous gesture of continuing support. That country's newly elected Parliament (the Wolesi Jirga) will soon hold its inaugural session; India's prime minister should offer to visit at that time, which would almost certainly elicit an invitation to address the Jirga, given India's democratic credentials and the fact that it is constructing Afghanistan's new Parliament Building. That inauguration, a year or so from now, would provide the opportunity for another high-profile visit, perhaps by a ten-member team of India's youngest Lok Sabha members.


Such political initiatives must go hand-in-hand with confidence-building with Pakistan, working towards allaying Islamabad's suspicion about our motives. It is worth recalling that, in Colombo, in July 2008, before 26/11 blew away the India-Pak dialogue, the two foreign secretaries — Shiv Shankar Menon and Salman Bashir — sensibly discussed their respective roles in Afghanistan. Two months later, India's National Security Advisor M K Narayanan briefed his visiting Pakistani counterpart Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani, with a presentation on India's developmental activities in Afghanistan. Durrani's response: Pakistan would be prepared to join hands with India in developing Afghanistan's schools and hospitals.


It will be, as the saying goes, a cold day in hell before India and Pakistan take such statements at face value. But

if India is to remain a political player in Afghanistan, it must quickly move beyond humanitarian aid and seize the political initiative.










Food security is getting attention, but feed security for India's huge livestock population is being unduly neglected. This apathy can prove costly since it can tacitly impinge on food security. Going by the current trend, the demand for livestock-based food products is expected to double in the next 10 years. Without adequate fodder and feed to sustain animal productivity, food availability may come under strain. Though the quantity of agricultural by-products that can be fed to animals is steadily increasing, much of it is in the form of dry straw, which is low in nutrition. The availability of relatively nutritious green fodder and concentrated grain-based feed, on the other hand, is not rising adequately. Grazing lands are also shrinking. Moreover, the vegetative cover of most of the pastures has severely degraded for lack of care.


The country has been divided into 55 micro-regions from the viewpoint of fodder availability. As many as 43 such zones are fodder-deficient, according to Dr K A Singh, director of the Jhansi-based Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI). However, surplus supplies in one region cannot be used to offset the deficit in the other, since it is uneconomical to transport fodder over long distances because it is too bulky. The solution, therefore, lies in promoting fodder production in fodder-scarce areas. The IGFRI has generated a good deal of technology to achieve this objective. However, the policy support to put the technology into practice is missing.


 The feed and fodder sector also suffers from paucity of investment. The 11th plan's allocation for developing food and fodder resources is a case in point. Of the Rs 4,903 crore allotted for the broad animal husbandry and dairy sector, only a meagre Rs 141.4 crore, or 2.88 per cent, has been earmarked for feed and fodder development.


In the past, traditional institutions were in place to look after grasslands and common lands used for grazing. Such institutions have ceased to exist because most of the lands that they maintained have been taken over by the government.


Converting wastelands into pastures can help expand pastures and other grazing tracts. This can be done using modern silvipastoral technology. This includes planting suitable fast-growing grasses along with fodder trees, which provide leaves and twigs as nutritious forage. Such silvipastures can enhance the overall productivity of wastelands up to 2.5 times. Fodder scientists believe that even if half of the country's wastelands are transformed into silvipastures, the fodder deficit can be tackled. In fact, land available along railway tracks and roads can also serve as grazing grounds.


There is, however, a need for a proper animal grazing policy to ensure that pastures and grazing lands are exploited sustainably. Though a draft grazing and livestock policy was formulated way back in 1994, it was seldom implemented the way it should have been.


Involvement of local people in managing grasslands and other grazing areas may also help. Such an approach has been tried with considerable success in the case of forests under the system of joint forest management. Local communities can regulate grazing to avoid any permanent damage to these lands.


Also, cultivated fodder crops are gradually being pushed to marginal and low-fertility lands, since these cannot compete economically with the alternative crops that can generate higher profits. The IGFRI is, however, striving to develop improved varieties of these crops to grow more fodder across every unit of land.


Several good varieties of berseem, a nutritious leguminous fodder crop that also fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, are now available for cultivation in different parts of the country.


Thus, there is no dearth of options to ensure fodder security for the country's animal wealth. But suitable strategies are needed to tap the available potential to increase fodder and feed supplies.


Otherwise, it would be difficult to meet the growing demand for protein-rich livestock-based foods.  








Section 124-A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has an affection(sic) for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. But the section under which Mr Banker (a colleague in non-violence) and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime.


These words, from Mahatma Gandhi's closing statement during his trial for sedition in 1922, have been quoted widely in India this year, along with the resurrection of the antiquated laws of Raj India. There were cries of sedition when Arundhati Roy made some remarks on the alienation felt by Kashmiris; this week, human rights activist Binayak Sen was sentenced to life imprisonment for sedition by a Raipur court in a much-criticised judgement.


 By 1909, fears of sedition had turned the British government in India into tireless readers. Sisir Kar's history of books banned in Bengal under the Raj quotes from a typical circular of the time that urges officers to carefully examine all suspicious material, to "facilitate the immediate detection of seditious books". As Gandhi was to note, the affection of the subject for the king, or the citizen for the state, could not be commanded — and it was markedly absent in those early years as the national movement gathered steam.


Bankimchandra's Ananda Math had been in print for 18 years at this time, and as its author, Bankim was struggling between the demands of his job as a government official and the need to express his discontent with the Raj. Between the first and the eighth edition of Ananda Math, the novel that added Vande Mataram to the lexicon of revolution and that would inspire the next generation of revolutionaries, Bankim made continuous changes to the text, often excising or softening sentences that seemed over-critical of the British. In one of the more unusual applications of censorship, there were periods when Ananda Math itself was not banned but the singing of Vande Mataram was proscribed, and the anthem treated as seditious.


By the time Sharatchandra's Pather Dabi (1926) was published, featuring, as theGovernment of Bengal Yearbook commented, "the most powerful act of sedition in almost every page of the book", disaffection was the spirit of the times. The long history of Pather Dabi, the confiscation of the novel, the exchange between Tagore and Sharatchandra on the impact and validity of criticising those in power, points to the fact that it was impossible for the Raj to allow questioning of the state without also admitting the disaffection and disillusionment of the writers who questioned it. Tagore disappointed Sharatchandra by praising the tolerance of the British, and by implicitly refusing to endorse the younger author's insistence that criticism was the only valid response to British rule.


Books like Ananda Math and Pather Dabi were only the most celebrated of their kind; in the attempt to check sedition, journals and books were often confiscated and plays were routinely proscribed or censored. Sisir Kar cites an unwittingly revealing letter from the police commissioner, allowing the production of Bankimchandra's Chandrashekhar to continue if certain objectionable portions were expunged — on pages 10, 19, 20, 33, 36, 40, 41, 43, 51, 54, 55, 80, 120,121, 123, 124, 127, 133, 148 and 151, leaving one to wonder what was left of the play.


All of this, including the trials of the likes of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose for sedition and conspiracy, was part and parcel of the paraphernalia of a state that was an occupying power, and that had to command the affection of the people who came under its rule. In an independent India, the question is whether the state should still feel paranoid enough to continue using a law where, as Gandhi puts it, "mere promotion of disaffection is a crime".


The writings of Arundhati Roy, for instance, or the work of Binayak Sen, would have placed them in the time of the British Raj among the ranks of the disaffected. Their willingness and the willingness of other writers and activists to question the workings of the state are definitely signs of disaffection. But in a healthy democracy, and a healthy state, the affection of its writers and citizens would be earned, not commanded. We need to ask whether the same laws that were used against Bankimchandra, Sharatchandra, Tilak and Gandhi should be pressed into service in a country that prides itself on its many freedoms.  








THE judgment of the Chhattisgarh trial court, sentencing Binayak Sen to life imprisonment on charges of sedition and conspiracy, isn't just shocking due to the concerned judge's apparent waiver of the gaps in the prosecution's case. In a wider context, it posits the spectre of intolerance against critics of state policy. The intent behind the law on sedition in the Indian Penal Code, as introduced by the British, was to enable the colonial state to deal with the fundamental contradiction between the illegitimacy of its rule and its attempt to try and legitimise that rule by criminalising those who sought to underline that contradiction. That rupture between the state and the people it governs disappeared, in principle, with Independence. And so the Supreme Court in 1962 defined Section 124A (on sedition) as being applicable only when there was a clear incitement to violence or armed rebellion. Implicit in that definition is the recognition of the Constitutional right to free speech, and political activity, as long as it does not violate that red line of violent disaffection against the state. 


Strictly legally speaking, the issue is an alarming disregard by the trial court of those facets of the law and of the evidence marshalled by the defence while giving credence to questionable evidence provided by the police — 'chipak gaya tha' (had got stuck to something else) was the police explanation for the failure of a crucial incriminating letter to figure in the list of articles seized at the time of searching Dr Sen's effects. It is not strictly relevant that Dr Sen has an extraordinary track record in the service of people and as a human rights activist. What is relevant is the obligation on the state, specifically, the courts, to ensure that justice is done not only in form, but also in substance. That would mean keeping the space for political dissent open, recognising the valid possibility of many challenges to the state being legitimate in terms of the principles of the Constitution, even if they violate the letter of the law. The point is to negotiate that space to resolve conflict, not win a war and annex that space by force.







ONE of the many lessons of the 2008 financial crisis is about systemic risk and the importance of ringfencing banks from the misadventures of other financial sector players. Scale economics and synergies across different sectors mean financial conglomerates, with a finger in a multitude of financial businesses, are here to stay. And while that may be good from a short-term efficiency perspective, it could create problems for regulation. If troubles elsewhere impact the banks' balance sheets, it could be a recipe for disaster. Given how governments, willy-nilly, jump to the defence of banks, there is a special responsibility cast on banking regulators to ensure banks are insulated from contagion elsewhere. In this context, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is right to favour, in the ownership structure of banks and other financial service companies, a model in which an apex holding company owns the subsidiaries providing assorted financial services, including banks, over a model in which a bank has as subsidiaries those financial services companies. 


The apex holding company route addresses the problem of banks being dragged down by their subsidiaries. More importantly, since non-banking entities within the banking group would be directly owned by the apex holding company, and not by the bank, contagion risk is less. In contrast, in the bank subsidiary conglomerate model followed in India, all the subsidiaries are regulated by different regulators. But as the parent is a bank, the overall supervisory responsibility for the entire group including that for the subsidiaries rests with RBI. This can lead to regulatory turf wars and weaker regulation. While the proposed Financial Stability and Development Council could, perhaps, address some of these problems, that is yet unproven. Problems could get accentuated if the holding company is either unregulated or is regulated with less rigour. The apex holding company model has the added advantage that investment in subsidiaries will not be constrained by the present limit (20% of the bank's paid-up capital and reserves) on a bank's aggregate investment in subsidiaries.







WITH airports and airlines across the world dealing with recalcitrant weather phenomena from snow to fog, thousands of truculent stranded passengers should consider a new ancillary line of business: D&D (diversions and delays) hospitality. Chances are that everyone thwarted in their holiday plans of sun 'n sand or retail therapy in balmy tourist havens would gladly opt for something other than snoozing on piles of luggage in stuffy airport concourses. Some airports, like Delhi's new Terminal 3 have hotel facilities inside their periphery or buildings, but they are far too inadequate to take full advantage of the chance to rake in more cash from hassled holidaymakers. After all, no one wants leisure plans to be totally nixed by closed runways and cancelled flights. A survey could be conducted to determine Indian travellers' holiday ideas and destinations. Then hospitality groups can be coopted to recreate the needful within easy reach of our airports — much like real estate companies are ensuring that every aspirational international address is available for the EMI-enabled aam admi right here in India.


Building a mini Singapore, Hong Kong or Thailand complete with amusement parks and malls, Swiss chalets and ski slopes, Big Ben and Madame Tussaud's, not to mention the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, should not be beyond the abilities of our real estate honchos — with the environment minister's permission, of course. The potential of such tourism SEZs could be enormous: they would be 'green' destinations as no airline fuel would be burnt getting there, and they would save the Indian traveller from jet lag, luggage limitations and foreign exchange hassles. Who knows, they could even earn dollars from foreign tourists diverted from their original destinations by the weather!






THE year 2010 will be remembered across India for multiple reasons and notable among them is India's newly-assumed position as a key international trading partner. When the US President acknowledges India's rise as a global power and declares that India has emerged, not just in Asia, but across the world, people all around take note. In such circumstances, it was no surprise that in less than six months, we played host to Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy, Premier Wen Jiabao and most recently President Dimitry Medvedev. One common agenda of all these visits was bilateral trade and an expectation that India further ease its FDI rules. Hence, as we approach the new year, it may perhaps be wise to once again objectively evaluate our current FDI rules to see what other changes can be introduced. 


Currently, all foreign investments into India are regulated by the consolidated FDI policy (policy). The consolidation, first undertaken in March 2010, pulls together in one document all previous acts, regulations, press notes, press releases and clarifications issued either by the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) or the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) where they relate to FDI into India. The consolidation exercise, a huge endeavour on the part of the DIPP, is a step in the right direction and hence deserves much appreciation. What also merits praise is the initiative of the DIPP to only make changes to the policy on a biannual basis, as opposed to the previous practice of issuing ongoing notifications. Hence, the most recent policy came into effect on October 1, 2010. 


Under the extant policy, investments into most sectors fall under the automatic route. Such investments require no prior permission of the government or any regulator and the Indian company receiving the foreign investment is only required to intimate the RBI of any such investment. The FDI rules applicable to such sectors are, therefore, fairly clear and unambiguous. But some sectors still require prior government approval and it is here that the rules may be accused of being somewhat complicated. What needs to be appreciated is that most sectors that require government approval fall within the 'sensitive' category and hence it is essential to balance FDI with concerns of national security. Similar restrictions also exist in some developed countries where there is a potential of national security being compromised. 


Hence, has the policy continuously been 'incremental and progressive', as stated by the Indian commerce minister? As a practitioner, I can unequivocally say, absolutely! In fact, one also has to agree with him that many changes have been made to the policy in 2010 itself. But still some matters seem to have missed the attention of the DIPP and require immediate remedial action. The foremost among them is the issue of 'ownership' and 'control' of an Indian company. Especially, when the Indian company has both non-resident investment and investment from a resident Indian company, and where such resident Indian company further has non-resident investment. Given that in the computation of indirect foreign investment, among other things, the investment made by FIIs and that made through ADRs and GDRs is also included, the question will arise on how will this affect investment by such resident Indian companies in sectors like telecom or banking where there is still a cap on foreign investment and ownership. Also, how would the regulators take to investments by a resident Indian company, owned and controlled by a resident Indian or an Indian company, but where the ownership and control is through a multi-layered structure and through non-resident investment participation? 


ANOTHER important issue requiring immediate attention of the DIPP relates to the upfront determination of price of 'capital' instruments at the time of issuance. Under the policy, the definition of capital includes fully, compulsorily and mandatorily convertible preference shares and debentures. What is now expected is that these convertible instruments must comply with the pricing guidelines (following the discounted free cash flow method) both at the time of their issuance, as also at the time of their conversion. Practically, to ensure compliance with the pricing guidelines on both sides may sometimes prove to be a challenge. It would thus be extremely helpful if the regulatory intent behind this rule is clarified and the record set straight on the compliance requirement. 


Before critics say that the US or any other foreign trading partner cannot dictate Indian investment policy, let us note some facts which demonstrate that it is in India's long-term economic interests to further hone the policy. The US is India's largest trading partner in goods and services, and India is now among the fastest-growing sources of FDI entering the US. On the flip side, according to data released by the DIPP, cumulative FDI flows into India in the last decade have been in excess of $175 billion. Of this, the US accounts for a staggering 7% of the total inflows, behind Mauritius that leads the table accounting for 42% of the total inflows owing to the favourable double-taxation agreement we have with this Indian Ocean Island. 


French President Sarkozy's visit, close on the heels of the US President's visit, also highlighted the need for India to open more of its sectors to FDI. France, which contributes to 2% of the total FDI inflows into this country, considers India as a long-term partner. It's not unreasonable for it to expect India to reciprocate meaningfully on trade ties. 


Under these circumstances, there is a need for greater economic cooperation between India and its international trading partners. Given the steady manner in which the commerce ministry has transformed the policy, one hopes it will take note of the need to further ease the FDI rules so that no one can accuse it of being opaque or complicated. Fortuitously, the further easing of investment rules will go a long way to help spur the next phase of India's own economic growth. 


(The author is an advocate and     corporate counsel based in     New Delhi. Views are personal)








BJP chief ministers are turning out to be the casualties of the party's in-house faultlines. When Nitish Kumar made it clear the BJP had to choose between Narendra Modi campaigning in Bihar and the JD(U) remaining an ally, the saffron party dumped the Gujarat chief minister from its list of campaigners. Then the party tried to cover it up by asking none of its chief ministers to campaign in Bihar so that it could say Modi's omission was only part of a decision to keep its CMs off Bihar. The BJP is now trying the same ploy after realising it can not afford to present Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa on the stage during its 'anti-corruption' rallies against UPA-2. So, the BJP had asked all its CMs not to attend its Delhi opening show. The party will also not hold its anti-corruption rally in Yeddy's Bangalore. But will the saffron party also skip all capital cities of BJP-ruled states too in order to justify it skipping the Karnataka capital? 



THE Left is finding itself in a piquant situation these days. It is one thing to join the BJP for a united opposition fight against the Centre inside Parliament. But it is quite another thing to do a tango with the saffron camp on the street when the Kerala and West Bengal elections are round the corner. So it has dissociated itself from the NDA show. Even if the Left wants to hold its own parallel show against the UPA, it has a problem in choosing partners and venues. None of its potential Third Front partners — Mayawati, Mulayam, Lalu, Jayalalithaa, O P Chautala or Chandrababu Naidu — can be presentable in ceremonies against corruption. As far as the venue is concerned, Left's own West Bengal has become too tricky to venture on a show of strength. Similarly, it won't be an intelligent idea to launch a crusade against corruption in Kerala under the leadership of Lavalin-hit Pinarayi Vijayan. 



THE Kerala Youth Congress unit last week completed a unique election process to install its new office bearers. The election was held on the principle of a democratic, transparent and competitive election conceived by Team Rahul Gandhi. The striking aspect of the result was the defeat of the outgoing state YC chief M Liju who came second, and thus accepted the vice-president's post. Incidentally, Liju had become the state YC chief in 2009 by emerging as the winner of the state-wide 'talent search'. Liju was then made YC president by evicting T Siddique, a staunch loyalist of Kerala party veteran Oomman Chandy. The episode led to Chandy supporters taking to the streets briefly before accepting the inevitable. So was it a case of true democratic spirit prevailing when Liju was trounced this time by P C Vishnunath, a staunch Chandy loyalist? 



ACTOR Kamal Hassan is known for rows involving his movie titles or songs. A song in his latest film, Manmadan Anbuinvited protests from Hindu activists for containing 'objectionable lines'. As a sequel to this, the actor has agreed to delete those lines. A self-proclaimed atheist, Kamal, said he would have released the movie with the original song with a censor certificate if it was from his own production house. Since it is produced by Red Giant (a venture of Udayanidhi Stalin, son of TN deputy CM, M KStalin), he had to keep in mind the commercial interest of the movie. But whispers have it that it is TN CM and Stalin's father, M K Karunanidhi who asked the actor to drop the controversial lines in the song. When the CM has enough problems already on the 2G and Radia tapes front, why risk losing god-fearing Hindu votes too?







HISTORICALLY, AICC plenary sessions have served as grand occasions for the Congress to formulate and showcase its future political and administrative agenda. But, last week's plenary session at Burari failed on that count. The session, by and large, chose to merely react to the present political exigency; of having to deal with the Opposition war cry against the UPA-2. 


Sonia Gandhi's new anti-corruption prescription, Manmohan Singh's offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and the Congress attack on the BJP's moral double standards were all meant to respond to the Opposition moves. The high-pitched attack on the alleged terror links of RSS, too, was, essentially, a tactical counter-play before the secular and minority galleries besides trying to put the RSS-BJP on the backfoot and to complicate the BJP bid to unite the entire Opposition or expand the BJP-led NDA. The contents of the session's political, economic and foreign affairs resolutions too mostly stuck to the beaten track. So, what will the Burari plenary be known for? 


The two-day session, more than anything else, has set the atmospherics for the effective leadership in the Congress to be handed over to Rahul Gandhi even as Sonia Gandhi continues as party president. The tone and tenor of leading speakers made no secret of this expectation. Digvijaya Singh, a leading voice of Team Rahul, asserted the time has come for Mr Gandhi to bring his own team in the leadership just as Rajiv Gandhi had in mid-'80s. No wonder P Chidambaram, known more for his stiff upper lip than for a fine ear for the music of guardian angels, detected in Rahul Gandhi's speech at Burari strong strains of Rajiv Gandhi's scathing critique of the Congress its centenary session. They were, in a way, indicating expectancy/edginess among top Congress leaders in this transition phase. 


It will be seven years since Rahul made his political debut and four years since he became a party general secretary. Equally importantly, it is 12 years since Sonia Gandhi became party chief, checked the Congress decline and powered it back to the Raisina Hill in 2004. Having played political anchor to the Congress and the Manmohan Singh regime, it is inevitable that she and her team should now gradually make way for Mr Gandhi and his own team. It is also expected that in the upcoming reshuffle of the AICC (more than of the Union Cabinet), Mrs Gandhi could let out the semiotics of Mr Gandhi's leadership and ideas, meant to prepare the party for the next general elections via a series of important state elections. 


Change or the beginning of a clear transition phase in any political party affects the status quo vis-a-vis personalities and internal working style. The Congress historically has shown its willingness to play by this law of transition. And nobody knows it better that the experienced Congress veterans. Arjun Singh, nearing 80, has already announced his retirement plans. Pranab Mukherjee (75) said he would be too old to be in Rahul's team. Manmohan Singh will be crossing 80 when he completes his second innings in 2014. Shiela Dikshit, the most successful Congress chief minister of the time, is 72. There are around a dozen top Congress leaders who will be around 80 by 2014. 


The imminent transition also makes inevitable a generation shift in leadership. The relatively younger lot in the Sonia dispensation, mostly groomed by Rajiv Gandhi, are in the 60s and will have a minimum of 10 years career ahead. Therefore, it will be interesting to see who all among these original Rajiv team survive and consolidate or are sidelined in the Rahul team. Equally, it is important to know whether Rahul has the will to usher in a new generation of genuine young leaders from the organisational grassroots who can help him rebuild the party in states rather than merely recycling the 'hereditary turks' as Congress 'Gen Next leaders' who excel in clever networking and in little else. 


Mr Gandhi's team will have to address two crucial issues in a dispassionate manner; whether the party, which rules at present in just 11 states, has the genuine organisational capacity and talent on the ground to pursue an ambitious solo run in 2014 or whether it should be willing to play along with coalition politics for some more time. The key to the Congress ambition to revive its one-party rule at the Centre lies in its capacity to build a line of genuine and popular leaders in the states who can revive its rainbow constituency through imagination and hard work. 


Secondly, the Congress has to build further from its winner aam admi slogan which is showing distinct signs of electoral fatigue. It should come out with dynamic agenda that galvanises the fast-changing, new and young India and cuts across the caste-classreligion-urban-rural divides. To form this new agenda, Team Rahul has to make the Congress reach out and be sensitive to a large class of Indians whose aspirations run high, do not get a hearing and are pitted against bullying and lobbying cartels who want to force their entrenched gameplans as India's own agenda. That is only the beginning of the challenge for Rahul and his team.


The Burari session has laid the ground for the inevitable leadership change in the Congress, from Sonia to Rahul 

Only some members of the present team are likely to get key roles in Team Rahul Rahul Gandhi's challenges are internal democracy and finding an agenda that will galvanise the aam admi without making use of that worn coinage








THE great Battle of the Scopes was being fought in the mind of the eye. The telescope talked about how with his help humankind had been able to visualise the mechanics behind the grand systems governing the universe and form a coherent image of the cosmos. After the passing of many millennia, men and women were finally able to resolve the pinpoints of light that lit up their nights into planets, stars, the Milky Way and clusters of billions and billions of galaxies spread out in the vastness of space. The telescope, said the telescope, was able to deliver the thing that mattered most in the overall scheme of things: the big picture. 


The microscope, on the other hand, insisted that only details were really important because one could never hope to understand how macroscopic things function without gaining awareness of their infinitesimal component parts. He maintained that without his help, people would never have learned about molecules and atoms and their elegant interactive dance that ultimately causes all matter to exist or, for that matter, been able to identify tiny organisms invisible to the naked eye which cause big diseases to happen. The microscope, said the microscope, was able to deliver the thing that mattered the most in the overall scheme of things: the fine structure. 


For example, take da Vinci, he continued. The man dissected cadavers to study the exact intricate anatomy of underlying muscles, tendons and bone articulation first before he painted The Last Supper — the so-called big picture, if you will. Do you think the Mona Lisa could be possible without knowing all the small things that make up her smile? On the contrary, retorted the telescope, it was only after studying the behaviour of large heavenly bodies and seeing how they were moving away from one another that scientists were able to postulate they must havebeen together at some time in the past. Do you think the finest of all your structures — the point of singularity at the big bang — could be known today without knowing how it was deduced? 


Seeing that they were losing sight of their goal and getting nowhere, the Mind's Eye intervened at this point. Gentlemen, it said, surely even you can see that both your scopes are limited and that actually you complement each other in the mind of the eye that gathers and completes the vision. For it is only I, said the Mind's Eye, who sees it all.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





If wars can be classified as good, bad or indifferent in terms of their impact on the national psyche, then Bangladesh 1971 was a very good war for India and the Sino-Indian border war of 1962 a very bad one indeed. In 1971, all relevant factors — political, diplomatic, and above all the Indian military — meshed together perfectly to fashion a triumph of classic proportions over a traditional enemy; 1962 was just the opposite. Apart from spirited individual performances, the Army and its political guidance was like a badly synchronised gearbox that soon stripped its pinions and crashed. The Indian armed forces remember 1962 with mortification, and 1971 with triumph, which they commemorate as Vijay Diwas on the 16th of December every year. The particular confluence of circumstances, happenstance and personalities that brought both 1962 and 1971 about, are unlikely to recur. So after celebrating Vijay Diwas 2010, the 39th commemoration of "Victory in Bangladesh", it would be appropriate to reflect on how far the Indian military has traveled since the Sela Pass in 1962 and Bangladesh in 1971, and its likely future azimuth.


Barring the first Kashmir War of 1947, China has been a constant background presence in all Indo-Pak matters, especially during India's other wars with Pakistan. These have so far all been single-front affairs (notwithstanding Chinese expressions of solidarity for Pakistan in 1965 and 1971), but India's worst case will always be the two-front scenario — a Pakistan-China combo, with an interlinked nuclear and now a cyber and internal security dimension as well, from covert operations sponsored by the Pakistan Army through its quasi-state jihadi stable. Such externally-sponsored conflicts are unlikely to be resolved by political dialogue or socio-economic initiatives alone. They will require hard and significant military measures to establish a stable environment for negotiated conflict resolution. This has been amply proven by the Indian experience in Jammu and Kashmir.


The role of India's armed forces, though never officially formalised, has crystallised through prolonged deployments in wars, proxy wars, counter terrorism and counter insurgency, into the strategically defensive one of territorial, maritime and aerospace defence of the homeland. India's armed forces are well trained and highly motivated professionals, who have performed outstandingly in every assignment in war or peace, both within as well as outside the country. But their military capabilities have not been kept in pace with the operational imperatives of their role, which demand a full two-and-a-half front operational capability across the entire spectrum of warfare. By that token, their current capabilities are definitely inadequate.


Morale is high, but weapons and equipment are obsolescent, and in many cases severely deficient and outmoded, leaving huge gaps in the performance envelope. Each individual service has its own tale of horrors, whether night vision devices, air defence weapons or artillery for the Army, submarines for the Navy, or the fast-depleting squadron strengths in the Air Force. The major reason for the wasting disease in India's defence capabilities is the scant attention paid to indigenous defence research, development and production. The armed forces naturally require a high state of readiness at all times, but successive governments have consistently chosen the easier option of imports rather than bite the bullet and develop an indigenous defence industry.


A typical case in point is the impending purchase of the 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of `42,000 crore, which cannot be seen in isolation from the agreement with Russia to produce the future fifth-generation fighter for the Indian Air Force as a joint venture expected to ultimately cost an estimated `1.5 lakh crore. The preliminary step was the `1,500 crore pact with Russia finalised during the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to India. The two processes cannot be mutually exclusive. The proposed acquisition of 126 new Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) is of course an urgent necessity for the Air Force, but has to be planned as a lead in series for the PAKT-50. The implications for selection of the MRCA should be obvious.


But even more important is the future of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the Indian aerospace industry. Pakistan is co-producing the JF-17 (also an LCA) with China to induct it into the Pakistan Air Force. How confident is India, specifically the Indian Air Force, about Tejas? How does it stack up against the JF-17? The bottom line is, can the proposed MRCA acquisitions be off-set to a greater or lesser extent by producing additional Tejas? Can immediate operational requirements be balanced against long-term development of indigenous aerospace capabilities? Can Indian industrial capacity deliver?


Questions are endless — from small arms to main battle tanks. Why German Heckler and Koch, Israeli Tabor or even the now ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifles and not the indigenous Excalibur developed by small arms factory Ishapore? Why not the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT) produced at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi (near Chennai) instead of the T-90 Russian tank? And then the biggest question: If Indian military equipment is perceived by the users as unreliable, maintenance-heavy and defect-prone, what punitive accountability for this has been imposed for systemic failure in the ministry of defence, the prime government agency under whom fall the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the ordnance factory board?


India seems to have become addicted over theyears to a high-calorie diet of imports, taking a strange and even perverse pride in the dubious honour of ranking amongst world's top 10 importers of weapons. Do such profligate imports reflect the true state of the country's scientific and engineering capabilities? These are hard questions which need to be asked and firm answers obtained.


The year 2010 has not been a good year for the country. Gloom, despondency and bitter cynicism pervade the national horizon. Under these overcast skies, the story of victory in Bangladesh in 1971 told on Vijay Diwas every year needs telling and retelling, as a reminder of what the nation can achieve, should it have the will to do so.


- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament








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 per cent 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 US 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 US monetary policy. For this is a global story; at a fundamental level, it's not about us.







The Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram's letter to the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, strongly criticising the role of "armed CPM cadre" in fomenting violence in the state is the latest flashpoint in the already fractious political situation there. The scathing letter virtually toes the Trinamul Congress line that the Left Front government was misusing Central forces in the state. And, further provoking the Marxists, senior Congress leader and the Union finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has publicly said that "jungle raj" prevails in West Bengal. Mr Mukherjee has also asked the Left Front, particularly the CPM, to reply to the home minister's letter. All this scotches rumours that the Congress may dump its ally and join hands with the Left. In fact, Mr Mukherjee's comment underscores the Trinamul's leverage in Bengal and on the national scene, and also, incidentally, gives the lie to tales about his perceived closeness to the Left. West Bengal has been known for political violence, particularly during Assembly elections. Apart from the "scientific rigging" mastered by the Marxists, muscle power is also used. But the Assembly polls in the state might witness unprecedented violence because of the huge stakes involved. With the wind blowing against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, the CPM might not shy away from utilising all possible options to stay in power. Rival parties are unlikely to take this lying down. The killings have already started along with trading of charges. The "formal" warning by Mr Chidambaram and the "political" warning by Mr Mukherjee should be seen in this context. The Centre is mounting pressure on the CM to rein in the armed cadres of the CPM so that the Trinamul does not suffer much in the electoral battle. Of course, the Marxists and the state government have consistently denied the existence of such forces. Alongside, the Maoists have also started attacks on their enemies. With this, the political battle for the heart of West Bengal has metamorphosed into violent clashes in the streets and on campuses. Both the Trinamul and CPM say campus violence has claimed nearly 20 lives so far. Mr Chidambaram's letter clearly states that CPM-backed goons have been attacking Opposition supporters and warns that this cannot continue in a democracy. Even after he penned his missive, a Trinamul worker was shot dead in West Midnapore. The Opposition in West Bengal has been insisting, loudly, that CPM-backed thugs have been attacking their supporters in many places, including in trouble-torn Lalgarh. The home minister's letter mentions that 96 Trinamul, 65 CPM and 15 Congress supporters have been killed in political violence. A few days ago, economist Amartya Sen also expressed concern at the escalating political violence in West Bengal. The scenario is fast becoming similar to the bloody Seventies. With a highly politicised and emasculated police force, there are no hopes that violence will be quelled soon. Caught in the middle are the bewildered voters.









It's been a frenetic year, closing a volatile decade in which the rapidity of economic and social change in some areas has been almost as remarkable as the continuing stagnation and decline in others. So how do we interpret this and what can we wish for in future?


Right now there is a resurgence of economic triumphalism among Indian elites. On the face of it, the Indian economy has withstood the global crisis to maintain respectable rates of output growth. Consumer demand is buoyant, especially for goods and services consumed by the burgeoning middle class. So most private investors, both local and foreign, are incredibly bullish about future prospects.


But there are no significant improvements in the indicators that matter for most people, like stable employment, better livelihoods, reduced hunger and more basic human development. Rather, changes in finance and other economic deregulation led to large capital inflows and sparked a retail credit boom. These combined with fiscal concessions to spur consumption among the richer sections of the population. Meanwhile, large parts of the country continued to languish in dreadful conditions.


This is not a particularly stable economic trajectory since credit bubbles have to burst some time and growth episodes based on volatile capital inflows have usually ended in tears. In fact, agriculture and balance of payments, as well as social and political instability, are already re-emerging as potential constraints to this pattern of growth. The problems in agriculture continue to fester: the latest figures suggest more farmers' suicides in 2009 than in any previous year, even as the numbers shrink of those who call themselves farmers.


Because economic growth has not generated enough productive jobs, the bulk of the work force is in very fragile and precarious forms of self-employment. Wages have barely risen as profits have exploded, and people have been displaced for projects that bring no improvement to their own lives. All this leads to a growing number of disaffected youth whose frustrations make them more prone to violent or socially undesirable behaviour.


So it's not surprising that there is increased receptivity of local people in depressed areas to "extremist activity" designed to overthrow an economic system that is seen to be completely unjust.


So the first big item on my policy wish list is for a major shift in the direction of economic policy: away from seeing gross domestic product (GDP) expansion as an end in itself whatever the costs and welfare outcomes, and towards wage-led growth based on improved conditions for the ordinary citizen. This means more public spending on the basic goods and services that should be obvious features of civilised society: producing and distributing enough food for everyone; ensuring universal access to good quality health, sanitation and education services; fairly obvious features like all-weather roads to all habitations and electricity for every home. A fairly modest ambition, you might think, until you are told by our policymakers that our country cannot afford it, despite its pretensions to global power status.


Of course there are many other features of economic justice that we could think of, but it turns out that now we have to worry even about basic legal justice. The year 2010 has been full of assaults on India's democracy and on its very impressive Constitution. Ironically, most of these assaults have come not from external enemies of the country but from within, and indeed from the very quarters that should be expected to uphold the Constitution.


This is only partly about abuse of power and privilege in the corridors (and anterooms) of power and the growing evidence of corrupt behaviour even at the highest levels. The year ended with the most dispiriting news from judiciary as well, when a court in Chhattisgarh found a well-known and highly respected doctor and human rights activist guilty of sedition, on the basis of the most flimsy and dubious circumstantial evidence, and sentenced him to rigorous life imprisonment.


The case against Dr Binayak Sen, who had already been held in prison for two years until the Supreme Court intervened, is highly questionable at best. But the judgment of the lower court is appalling not just because it appears to bend to the problematic political pressures of the state government and its police force, which apparently wishes to intimidate any dissenters. Even if its argument about the extent of Dr Sen's involvement (carrying letters and so on) with "extremist elements" were to be accepted, this judgment actually flies in the face of the Supreme Court's own stated position on what constitutes sedition.


In a famous judgment of 1962 (Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar) the Supreme Court held that the offence of "sedition" in the Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the fundamental freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.


Spreading "disaffection against the state" is not enough: there must be direct incitement to violence or actions that will lead to serious public disorder, and any speech or deed milder than this should not be considered seditious.


Instead, this extreme and underserved punishment is meted out to someone who in a more enlightened society would be celebrated as a positive role model because of his concern for the poor and downtrodden, while actual criminals roam about unfettered. On what basis can we now argue with those who believe that violent protest is justified because the administrative and judicial systems are so skewed and biased that it is impossible to expect genuine justice? And should we be surprised if such judgments actually add to the extremist activity that is seen as such a threat to the established order?


So my second wish is for a judicial system that works quickly and effectively to uphold the Constitution, to ensure the rights of all citizens and to deliver genuine justice even to those without access to wealth and power.


Is it scary that these two simple wishes seem to be so wildly optimistic and even improbable in India at the turn of the decade?









THE judgment delivered by Mr BP Verma, second Additional District and Sessions Judge, Raipur, holding Dr Binayak Sen, Narayan Sanyal and Pijush Guha guilty of sedition will doubtless be scrutinized by a higher judicial forum. The three men, sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment, have said they plan to appeal their conviction and, quite apart from the fact that every convicted person, unless destitute, does appeal a severe jail term, a study of the judgment would explain why they might find it necessary to do so. Essentially, the prosecution's case is that Sanyal was a member of the CPI (Maoist), a banned organization, and was involved in seditious activities. The case against Guha, a Kolkata businessman, is that some magazines of the banned organization were seized from him, leading to his arrest. The charge against all three ~ which adds up to the seditious conspiracy ~ is that Sanyal, while in jail, handed over letters addressed to his party colleagues to Dr Sen, who was assisting with his medical treatment. Dr Sen is accused of having passed these letters on to Guha who, in turn, passed them to Maoists in the jail.


Any fair analysis of Mr Verma's 92-page judgment would suggest that the judge appeared to accept everything the prosecution contended, and rejected almost everything that the accused said in their defence. It would seem the judge overlooked even inconsistencies in the State's assertions made before different judicial forums ~ for instance, the Chhattisgarh Police told the Supreme Court that Guha was arrested from a hotel. But police told Judge Verma that Guha was arrested from the street, and said they had made a typographical error in their submission to the apex court. Dr. Sen's conviction hinges essentially on three contentions – that he introduced Sanyal to the owner of a house as a potential tenant, that he met Sanyal 33 times in jail and that he had close relations with two persons the police allege were hardcore Maoists. However, the judge ignored the defence contention that the landlord's statement was obtained under duress because the police was in a position to implicate him in the arrest of another Maoist from his house. Dr. Sen produced evidence to show that his visits to Sanyal were in his capacity as a human rights activist and a physician, and after taking permission from the Senior Superintendent of Police. The visits, he contended, were carried out in the presence of jail officials. It would not be unreasonable for us to ask that if these acts were seditious, why were not the officials who facilitated the visits and were present when the alleged transfer of letters took place also charged?
We are driven to the conclusion that it is a fragile country which convicts citizens for possession of allegedly seditious literature, or imprisons for life rights activists for passing on letters. Even if every fact cited by the prosecution were true, and every assertion made by the defence devoid of merit, this judgment would arouse unfavourable comment. Democracy can't rest on such weak foundations.




WHATEVER the reason for the shift in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's strategy that has paved the way for elections, it is a welcome step towards forming an interim authority that will hopefully usher in an era of peace. This is what the morcha's rivals have been demanding. It had also been the main contention of the state government in the five rounds of tripartite talks held so far in Delhi. Elections would seem to be the best guarantee that the municipal and panchayat administrations in Darjeeling will not be monopolised by a single party or, as is more likely, by an individual heading the dominant outfit. If democratic institutions have survived elsewhere in the state, there is no reason why the dark memories of the Ghisingh era should make it difficult for the same traditions to prevail in the hills. It is a different matter that Bimal Gurung, during his latest talks with the Union home minister, has been convinced that his demand for a nominated interim council is wholly impractical in the sense that it is not the answer to the restless climate. A continued stalemate would also work against the morcha which has led the people to believe that it can extract concessions from the Centre. The only alternative was to agree that elections be fought on the basis of organisational strength, as Gurung may have sensed that on this basis he had the upper hand.

More important is whether hill parties have conceded that the first priority is to get the local administration to function effectively rather than to insist on additional areas in the plains ~ an issue that has become highly contentious. The Hill Council run by the Gorkha National Liberation Front had disgraced itself with the misuse of Central funds. While the Centre may have pledged an adequate flow of funds, the expectations are that they will see results on  ground. Hill leaders cannot escape basic responsibilities by harping on extraneous issues like the transfer of departments which are currently under Writers' Buildings. The interim council formed on the basis of elections needs to provide essentials, not raise false hopes. 




THE decision of Beijing's local authorities to put in place a ban on smoking in indoor public places, workplaces and public transportation by 2015 might seem to some to be a somewhat laboured effort to keep up with the rest of the world. The ban was announced first in 2008 ~ at the time of the Olympics ~ but hasn't been successfully implemented, which might seem a little strange to observers of a regime that is used to getting its way. In effect, the ban wasn't successful because it was never implemented very seriously. And by saying that they would take until 2015 to bring it into force, Beijing's health authorities would appear to be conceding that the implementation wouldn't be as easy as making an announcement and allowing things to fall into place.
Bans of this sort become difficult to implement when authorities do not leave enough space for those indulging in a habit that isn't outlawed. Every country in the world ~ with the possible exception of Bhutan ~ is quick enough to mop up revenues from sale of tobacco, and hence unwilling to enforce an outright ban on sale and consumption. Having made their money, governments are notoriously laid back about creating spaces where the smoker may indulge in a manner he causes no harm to the non-smoker. Every major airport in India, for instance, has at least one shop selling cigarettes.

Yet many do not have smoking rooms, Kolkata being a prime example. This forces people to lurk in toilets or in other far from salubrious corners in order to light up. They inflict their addiction on the non-smoker and make a mockery of the ban. Until such time sale of tobacco is banned, there is need to create spaces, small spaces, where smoking is permitted; this is the key to a successful ban. This is possibly the reason why Singapore, among the first countries in Asia to clamp down on smoking and certainly the most aggressive with implementation, is today a place where the smoker knows he has a place and seeks it. Beijing, and many other places, could learn from this.








With the march of time and the compulsions of a rapidly changing world, Visva-Bharati has denuded some of its finer facets of growth and development. The soul of  the university has been destroyed. It is no longer a university where the language of the mind and the heart is best expressed in her own incomparable and unparalleled ambience of the vast open arena, the star studded sky, the moonlit night, the thrilling study of the language of silence in and around or the song of the crickets amidst the loneliness. Such features are now totally extinct. It is a lost paradise.

A "symphony of response between life and world" that ensures creativity, critical and reflective thinking is one of the most vital components of education that Tagore had  introduced in Visva-Bharati. The school, in his perception, is nothing but an endearing and living embodiment of sympathy, love, freedom and joy. What, then, is the essential role of an institution? To quote Tagore: "The primary objective of an institution should not be to educate one's limbs and mind to be in efficient readiness for all emergencies, but to be in perfect tune in the symphony of response between life and the world, to find the balance of the harmony which is wisdom. The first important lesson for children in such a place would be that of improvisation, the constant imposition of the readymade having been banished from here. It is to give occasions to explore one's capacity through surprises of achievement. I must make it plain that this means a lesson not in simple life, but in creative life." ("The Teacher", The Religion of Man, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1953, pp 178-179). In addition to "having", living, loving and being are the finer strands of the poet's dream now almost lost in the midst of pseudo-modernism.

Visva-Bharati is the only university whose identity is ever glorified in the great sayings of the Upanishad ~ Anandarupamamritam yadvibhati and Yatra visvam bhavatyekanidam (Where the world makes its home in a single nest?)

It is time now to uphold the sanctity of the poet's dream. The creative and aesthetic world of Visva-Bharati ought to be revived by those who believe in Tagore's philosophy of life and education. In his words: "The educational institution, therefore, which I have in mind has primarily for its object the constant pursuit of truth, from which the imparting of truth naturally follows. It must not be a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food artificially prepared. It should be an open house, in which students and teachers are at one. They must live their complete life together, dominated by a common aspiration for truth and a need for sharing all the delights of culture. In former days the great master craftsmen had students in their workshops where they cooperated in shaping things to perfection. That was the place where knowledge could become living ~ that knowledge which not only has its substance and law, but its atmosphere subtly informed by a creative personality. For intellectual knowledge also has its aspect of creative art, in which the man who explores truth expresses something which is human in him ~ his enthusiasm, his courage, his sacrifice, his honesty, and his skill. In merely academical teaching we find subjects, but not the man who pursues the subjects; therefore, the vital part of education remains incomplete." (An Eastern University: Creative Unity, Macmillan & Company Limited, London, 1962, pp 186-187.)


Is the present ambience at Visva-Bharati conducive for the children to enjoy "the freshness of their feeling for Nature, a sensitiveness of soul in their relationship with their human surroundings like gaining an instrument in truth by bringing out its music"? Perhaps, their inner desires run counter to the morning chant ~ Baitalik. She is our own, the darling of our hearts, our Santiniketan./ Our dreams are rocked in her arms./ Her face is a fresh wonder of love every time we see her,/ For she is our own, the darling of our hearts./ In the shadows of her trees we meet,/ In the freedom of her open sky./ Her mornings come and her evenings/ Bring down heaven's kisses,/ Making us feel anew that she is our own, the darling of our hearts.

The poet's dream of education for the advancement of learning and excellence is yet to be translated in terms of comprehensive education. Perhaps Tagore had anticipated the crisis. As the poet wrote in his essay, Ashramer Siksha: "The education of the Ashrama is to live in fullness. One can ascend the highest peak of the first class in the examination even with a dead mind. We are regularly accustomed to this fact in our country. It is seen that the very good students of the college secure titles of honour but never secure the world. From the very beginning, I had the resolution that the boys of the Ashrama would remain curious of having immediate relations all around. They will seek, examine and collect. Here the teachers whose visions spread beyond the horizon of books would assimilate". (Siksha, Visva-Bharati, 1973).

What is more painful is that the aim of Siksha-Satra, the "Poet's School", as Tagore had named it, has not been realised partly because of its present curriculum. "The aim of Siksha-Satra is, through experience in dealing with the over-flowing abundance of child life, its charm and simplicity, to provide the utmost liberty, within the surroundings that are filled with the creative possibilities with opportunities for the joy of play ~ the reaping of succession of novel experience, to give the child freedom of growth which the young tree demands for its tender shoot, that field for self-expression in which all young life finds both training and experience." (The Visva-Bharati Bulletin, Visva-Bharati, 1928, No 9).

Ironically, one might recall the invaluable contribution of Leonard K Elmhirst to Visva-Bharati. Referring to the activities of Siksha-Satra, he wrote: "Records are kept and reports and accounts are written up, revised and corrected giving scope for literary training in its most interesting form. Geology becomes the fertility of the plot; chemistry the use of lime and manures of all kinds of spray and disinfectants; physics the use of tools, pumps, the study of water-lift and oil engines, entomology the control of plant pests (ants, caterpillars, beetles) and diseases (leaf curl, wilt, bacterial attacks); ornithology, the study of birds in their relation first to the garden plot and to the world in general." (Rabindranath Tagore: Pioneer in Education, John Murry, London, 1961, pp 73-74).

Keen intelligence, kindliness of heart, culture and distinguished manners ~ all these form the finer essence of the poet's dream. Are we ready to fulfil and disseminate that dream?  It might be useful to recall the poet's words. "The expressive side of Santiniketan ashram, that alone is mine. It has no doubt its executive side, there are experts to look after that. What I had wished for was to give vent to the human hunger for form, for self-expression. I had looked for a forest retreat, tapovan, as its proper ambience. Not in the midst of sordid city-built houses, but under the blue canopy, from morn to eve I had longed to be a playmate of these boys and girls. I have had, naturally, to introduce other utilitarian activities as well. But you will not find me in these. I am where life is trying to express itself. 

The classes that I have started or taught here are secondary. My real work has been to awaken, in Nature's vast playground, the tender grace of childhood, its budding effort, the first rays of knowledge falling across its horizon. Otherwise I would have been swamped by the trivia of routine, statute and syllabus." 






The Security Council heard the voices of young people from around the world in an open debate in New York on the most vital challenges facing their generation on issues such as terrorism, climate change, poverty and conflict. Over 150 New York City school students and other young people from around the world took part this week in the event, entitled "Your World, Your Future: Voices of a New Generation," which sought to bring the voices of youth who make up half of the global population directly to the council.

"You have a stake in our debates every day, but today you and your generation will have a voice as well," said US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, current president of the Council who let organised the event. "This type of informal meeting is not what we usually do, but in my opinion, it's one of the most important events this month," she added. Young people around the world between the ages of 13 and 21 were invited to tell the council, through video and written submissions, about the most vital challenges to peace and security facing their generation. Some 1,000 young people from 90 countries took up the challenge, US mission said in a press release.

A 17-year-old girl from Venezuela encouraged world leaders to "exchange a weapon for a smile". A young girl from eastern DRC appealed to leaders to help "bring back durable peace to our country". A young man from Tunisia described terrorism as the most serious threat to international peace and security today.
"The message these young people send us today is very simple and direct.  Act. Deliver. Match words with deeds," noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also addressed the event. "We have no shortage of crises before us. The Security Council must deliver – now. Not in some far-off future."

Mr Ban, who grew up in South Korea, said he felt very strongly that he could have been one of them, after listening to the voices of the young people. "I, too, grew up in war. I, too, saw my village destroyed," he told. "The United Nations helped rebuild my country. It shaped my life. It defined who I am. For my generation, the United Nations was a beacon of hope. It should be for this new generation as well."

The UN had proclaimed the International Year of Youth on 12 August 2010 in an effort to harness the energy, imagination and initiative of the world's youth in overcoming the challenges from enhancing peace to boosting economic development. The General Assembly called on governments, civil society, individuals and communities worldwide to support activities at local and international levels to mark the event.

Myanmar cyclone: According to a new UN assessment, local communities in Myanmar have shown remarkable resilience in coping with the destruction caused by Cyclone Giri which killed 45 people and affected 260,000 two months ago. Substantial food and emergency shelters were distributed.

"Humanitarian emergency assistance is forthcoming, and people are slowly starting to rebuild their communities with what little they have left and the aid they are receiving," UN resident coordinator Bishow Parajuli told international donors on his visit to Yangon. He visited several villages in Rakhine state to see relief and recovery efforts.

According to a release, the humanitarian community in Myanmar needs funding. He said that only $20.5 million of the estimated $57 million required for both emergency and early recovery phases have so far been allocated by donors. "People are in dire need of more permanent shelter structures and livelihood support," he said.

He called their resilience remarkable. "The destruction in these villages has been massive. Up to 70 to 80 per cent of all houses were completely destroyed and schools and health facilities are severely damaged."
According to government estimates, 20,000 houses were completely destroyed, leaving over 100,000 people homeless, and 56 per cent of schools have collapsed or have been damaged. Some 17,500 acres of agricultural land and nearly 50,000 acres of agricultural ponds were also destroyed.

Ecosystems: The General Assembly has approved a new international body to reverse the unprecedented loss of species and ecosystems vital to life on Earth due to human activity.
In a resolution adopted by consensus, the world body called on the UNEP to take necessary steps to set up the Inter-governmental Science Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. "IPBES represents a major breakthrough in terms of organizing a global response to the loss of living organisms and forests, freshwaters, coral reefs and other ecosystems that underpin all life, including economic life, on Earth," UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said.

It caps 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity to raise awareness and generate public pressure for action by global leaders on the vital link between biodiversity, ecosystems and survival, based on the premise that the world's diverse ecosystems purify the air and water that are the basis of life, stabilize and moderate the Earth's climate, renew soil fertility and pollinate plants.

As to the economic costs, the UN-backed Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study last year estimated a loss of natural capital due to deforestation and degradation at between $2 trillion and $4.5 trillion every year "a staggering economic cost of taking nature for granted." It said an annual $45 billion investment in protected areas alone could secure delivery of ecosystem services worth some $5 trillion a year.

Children's rights: The UN forum in Morocco has adopted  a declaration which has called for further action to safeguard children in the Arab world and their rights, including measures to protect them from violence and to end child labour and early marriage.

The Marrakesh Declaration also called for better data on issues related to the protection of children from violence, exploitation and abuse, according to a news release issued by Unicef at the fourth high-level Arab Conference on Children's Rights.


"Across the countries in the region, important achievements have been made with respect to several MDGs  including significant reduction in both infant and child mortality and high rates of enrolment and gender parity in primary education," said Shahida Azfar, Unicef acting regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. "However, these gains conceal widening gaps between the richest and poorest children, which requires prioritizing the delivery of interventions to children who are the most deprived, who suffer the greatest discrimination and who fall further outside existing safety nets."

According to Unicef, countries in the Middle East and North Africa continue to be plagued by violence against children. Some 89 per cent of children in the region are subject to physical or psychological punishment, and 3.5 million women aged between 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18. In addition, female genital mutilation affects 96 per cent of women in Egypt, 93 per cent in Djibouti and 89 per cent in Sudan.

anjali Sharma




100 years ago today

Tollygunge horse show 

A successful function 

(By Our Special Commissioner) 

The Tollygunge Horse Show has now reached its 16th anniversary and from small beginnings has gradually gone forward  till today it is one of the best shows of its kind in India. It was originally intended to make this a horse, cattle, poultry, and dog show, but for some reason or other it was not found possible to work all these various things in together  and to do the necessary judging all in one day, and so everything excepting the Horse Show has been deleted. Even so, I think that things are a bit rushed through in one day. It would be far better if the show were fixed for some other time than the Christmas week and more time devoted to it. A two-days' show would mean comfort as opposed to what is now the case. This year also a very awkward date was chosen, as the day before the Viceroy's Cup is always a busy one and most people whom the Horse Show interests are racing people and would therefore naturally like to have the time to themselves in Calcutta. It would have been far better to have had this show earlier in the year, say before the opening of the Calcutta first meeting, or even before the first of the Extras. The programme this year was somewhat differently arranged and one of two classes which last year did not fill have been cut out, notably those for the Remounts. This, I personally think, is a pity, although it is realised that the Stewards have had to cut their coat according to the material available, and last year certainly the response made in the entries was not encouraging . There is also a further difficulty about the exhibition of remounts. Most of these horses are unbroken and thee is no inconsiderable risk attached to sending them through traffic to the Tollygunge Club from the Remount Depot, at Garden Reach. A suggestion that this class should be judged at the Remount Depot was not quite practicable, as the public would get no show for the money that they spend.






West Bengal's bankrupt situation has been exposed and state finance minister Asim Dasgupta cannot hide it any longer. This has resulted in a hue and cry from the opposition. But the financial crisis in the form of growing indebtedness began virtually when the first Left Front government assumed  power in 1977. It inherited a surplus fund of Rs 200 crore from the Congress government but turned it into a fiscal deficit or indebtedness of Rs 8,857 crore by 1991. It rose to Rs 1,46,563 crore by 2004 and has reached the staggering figure of nearly Rs 2,00,000 crore implying a per capita debt burden of Rs 22,000 if the state's population is taken to be nine crore.
Mr Dasgupta introduced attractive terms like alternative planning and zero deficit budget to divert the people's attention from the reality since the beginning of 1990. The biggest lie that has been  preached is that the state's GDP (income) growth exceeds  that of the country as a whole. It means the state's income growth has been spectacular. But he has never explained why the impressive income growth cannot raise the tax effort and employment level. Instead he is trying to make states' revenue position more uncertain by introducing a uniform tax on goods and services (TGS). 


Mr Dasgupta's claim on West Bengal's income growth is based on data provided by BAES, a state organisation under his own department. But these are not matched by national estimates. Since 1991, all-India surveys have placed West Bengal among middle income states along with Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Even here, West Bengal recorded the minimum income growth. For example, in 1991 and 1996, while income grew in the said mid-income states by average rates of 11.5 per cent and 11.6 per cent, the respective rates were 7.4 per cent and 6.6 per cent for West Bengal. In those two years, similar growth rates for all types of states were 11.2 per cent and 10.6 per cent. (EPW, 30 October, 1999). If Mr Dasgupta had been serious then, the situation would have been much better today. Instead, he took to jugglery with figures to make the state annual budget as attractive as possible amidst clapping by ruling party MLAs. Negligence of agriculture when land reform and agricultural development were considered synonymous and destructive trade unionism by Citu caused the situation to go out of control. As a result, the India Today survey, among 29 states for the period 2006-10, has ranked West Bengal 16th with a GDP growth rate of 7.6 per cent when the same at the national level was 8.2 per cent. (India Today, 29 November, 2010)

Low income growth has caused low tax effort (tax to income ratio). The state's own tax effort was at a low level of 6.8 per cent in 1990-91 which further declined to 5.07 per cent in 1999-2000. Mr Dasgupta, being the planning minister, never tried to improve the situation. Rather he has bargained with the Centre to raise the state's plan allocations each year but only to refund the Centre's matching grants following the state's inability to provide the money needed. So the situation has deteriorated over time as the latest RBI estimate has put the state's tax effort at 4.4 per cent to be the minimum among the 17 non-special category states. Hence not a single all-India study has vindicated Mr Dasgupta's claims.


Low income, low tax collection and deindustrialization all have intensified unemployment and poverty in West Bengal. The state's unemployment figure has reached 77 lakh in 2006 compared to 12 lakh in 1977 making an average increase by more than two lakh a year. In the next three years, jobs available amounted to 8,200; 4,800 and 3,400 respectively although the Economic Review of the state government puts the unemployment figure at 63 lakh which is hardly believable. The figure is likely to exceed one crore as, in the decade following 1993-94, the unemployment rate increased in the state from 10 to 15 per cent when it was only from 6 to 7.3 per cent at the national level. West Bengal ranked second, after Kerala, in respect of such increase with 4.9 per cent.
It is notable that during that time the unemployment rate declined in states like Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh while it was within one per cent in some other states. Mr Dasgupta's claim that unemployment has similarly increased in all states is false. But has he really any answer to (1) why West Bengal accounts for 17 per cent of the country's total unemployment, (2) why the state accounts for 11 per cent or the maximum of country's educated unemployment whose figure exceeds 35 lakh; and (3) why the state, unlike the leading ones, has more of rural (26.6 per cent) than urban unemployment (24.0 per cent) when the figures were 11 per cent and 16.6 per cent countrywide. (NSSO Report, 2006)

Huge rural unemployment has caused massive poverty in West Bengal. According to the latest official estimate for 2004-05, the state's rural poverty (28.6 per cent) is larger than the all -India level (28.3 per cent). Unofficial estimates have put West Bengal's figure at around 40 per cent. West Bengal's combined poverty ratio is at 24.7 per cent indicating that, officially, one out of every four persons here is poor. The state ranks 10th in rural poverty and 11th in combined poverty among all the 35 states and UTs in the country. (Planning Commission Expert Group Report, 2008; NSSO Report)

Since Mr Dasgupta is both finance and planning minister, he cannot escape the responsibility for both of development and revenue mismanagement. The financial crisis which began to intensify two decades ago has been the root cause. In 1995-96, the revenue deficit was 52 per cent which grew to 72.9 per cent in 2006-07 which was only lower than Chattishgarh, Haryana and Orissa. The ratio further rose to 78.05 per cent in 2009-10 when it was only 16.19 per cent for all the states taken together. On the other hand, the revenue collection in respect of West Bengal's GDP was only 11.9 per cent in 2008-09 which was the minimum among the 17 non-special category states barring Gujarat. 

The state has witnessed low revenue collection against a substantial rise in administrative  expenditure, including salary, mostly to strengthen party organisations. In the 2005-08 period, the revenue collection as a proportion of GDP was 10 per cent when revenue expenditure was 13 per cent. At the same time, development expenditure as a proportion of GDP was 6.2 per cent or the minimum among the states. Besides, non-development expenditure as part of total expenditure was much higher at 43.6 per cent accompanied by an interest liability of 31.8 per cent. 

West Bengal, once a prosperous state, has been made to move to the brink of underdevelopment and bankruptcy. But the party has prospered at the expense of the state.


The writer is associate professor of economics, Durgapur Government College





REAL CHARGE         


If people can be convicted of sedition for having sympathies, can George Orwell's 1984 be far behind? The sentence of life imprisonment passed on the doctor and activist, Binayak Sen, by a court in Chhattisgarh is so wildly improbable that it reduces all response to absurdity. The doctor has been accused of sympathy for the Maoists, which, in his case, is just a feeling — if the prosecution is to be taken seriously — because he has not gone around blowing up bridges and murdering people. If feelings and opinions are to be brought to the dock in a declared democracy then India should own up to being a very different kind of State than it pretends to be. Some of the evidence of Mr Sen's feelings comprise journals, letters and compact discs allegedly found in his house. India is in a sorry muddle if it finds sedition lurking in journals that are not banned, newspaper cuttings referring to Naxalite activity, or CDs recording investigations by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, of which Mr Sen is an office-bearer. The court — and the police — have focused on three letters that the doctor had allegedly passed on to Piyush Guha from the jailed Naxalite leader, Narayan Sanyal. Mr Sen had visited him under strict supervision to treat him. So, to take the prosecution seriously, the doctor could be guilty of being a courier.


As if condemning a man for Maoist sympathies that he might be carrying in his heart were not enough, it can also be asked whether couriers are given life sentences in this country. Precedents, which Indians so look up to, say exactly the opposite: a year at most, perhaps. And sedition is usually judged by its effects: even triumphal slogans about Khalistan did not merit imprisonment after Indira Gandhi's assassination because no one responded to them. But with Binayak Sen it is urgent to stifle the defence: that the doctor has publicly declared his lack of sympathy for killers and asked both the State and the extremists to come to a political solution, or that the police are making a sorry mess of proving that they have not planted evidence on either Mr Sen or Mr Guha, that a passer-by is being produced as star witness, that Mr Sen met Mr Sanyal only under supervision in prison. Is the real charge against the doctor that he helped expose fake encounters and abuses by the Salwa Judum and continues to fight against such injustice? It now seems possible that the State views this as sedition. If so, to what extent is the court the 'arm' of the State?








A world without nuclear arms is too much to hope for. But the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, is known for his "audacity of hope". And with the recent ratification of the New Start nuclear treaty in the US Senate, Mr Obama's audacious wager with fate seems to have paid off surprisingly well. For not only was the long-deferred treaty passed in the Senate, as many as 13 Republican senators defected to vote in Mr Obama's favour. Given the overall scale of the victory (71-26), it is perhaps prudent to consider its political implications first. Coming on the heels of the massive drubbing that the Democrats got in the midterm elections, this triumph should revive the drooping morale of the party. Moreover, shortly before the treaty was approved in the Senate, Mr Obama managed to repeal the discriminatory 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy, which had so long banned openly gay personnel from serving in the US army. Neither of these was a mean feat for a president whose popularity ratings have been plunging over the last few months. Mr Obama's political fortunes seem to be looking up at last, although it may be premature to read in his achievements any lasting sign of Democratic resurgence.


At a more practical level, the treaty seeks to reduce the strategic nuclear warheads of both the US and Russia, bringing the current ceiling of 2,200 down to 1,550. A revised system of monitoring and verification is also expected to come into effect. It would be a major breakthrough for Mr Obama's foreign policy if Russia agrees to the treaty as well, though it would do so only after studying the terms and conditions set by the Senate. A joint pledge to reduce nuclear warheads by two of the world's superpowers should act as a deterrent for Iran, whose clandestine uranium enrichment programme remains mysteriously opaque to this day. However, it is worth pondering if the solidarity shown by the Republicans truly reflects a principled opposition to nuclear weapons or if it was merely a show of good form under circumstances where the US had nothing to lose. As a Republican senator, who defected to vote for Mr Obama, chillingly reasoned, even with the proposed cuts, both the US and Russia would have enough nuclear arsenal to "blow any attacker to kingdom come".









I have been caught in a storm. I have had more invitations to speak in the last week than in the three months before. I have been feted. It has left me a bit shaken, for I am not used to being admired. I more often enrage people. So, thankfully, have I done this time too, including friends I value. That gives me hope that I may be right. I should make an attempt to persuade them; if that requires boring sobriety, so be it.


The Securities and Exchange Board of India's committee to examine issues arising from the ownership and governance of market infrastructure institutions is concerned with the prevention of contagion and instability in financial institutions and markets which can impact the rest of the economy; presumably it was appointed because Sebi got worried about the contagion and instability in the Western economies in 2008 and 2009. It deals with stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories; I shall ignore the latter two because they are subsidiary to stock exchanges. Every stock exchange must be wedded to a single clearing corporation to ensure integrity of transactions on it. Share transfer, however, does not have to be instantaneous; so there is no necessary connection between exchanges and depositories.


Ours is a British-type government. It gets legislation approved by Parliament which gives it power to make rules. It has used this power copiously in respect of the capital market. The committee refers in particular to the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules, 1957, Securities Contracts (Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges) Rules, 2006 (abbreviated as MIMPS), and some rules that are being redrafted. Just what they are is unclear; the committee's footnotes are vague and source notes are perfunctory (and refer only to literature that supports the committee's view). But it seems that the government is thinking of making big changes in the control of stock exchanges; this committee was an instrument in the exercise.


MIMPS ordains dispersal of shareholding in stock exchanges as follows. Traders on a stock exchange must always be in a minority amongst shareholders; they cannot together own more than 49 per cent. Within this limit, a single foreign institution can own 26 per cent at most (but none has been allowed to do so). A single Indian institution can own 15 per cent at most; but it must be ICICI, IFCI, IDBI, LIC, UTI, IDFC, or a company controlled by the Central government, or a bank, insurance company, stock exchange, depository, or clearing corporation. A human investor can own five per cent at most. Note that all the acronymous bodies started as government companies; it has a controlling share in them except for ICICI.


The committee wants to introduce a new anchor institutional investor, who would be allowed to take an initiative in setting up new stock exchanges and take 24 per cent of equity initially, to be reduced to 15 per cent in 10 years. All the permitted institutional investors I have listed above can be AIIs, except stock exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations; and an AII must have net worth of Rs 1,000 crore at least. In other words, the committee wants to stop stock exchanges from setting up new stock exchanges, and wants to reserve the setting up of future stock exchanges to government financial institutions, except for ICICI — the trivial exception that proves the committee's intent; it wants to make sure that the Central government would control all future stock exchanges from inception.


That would still leave existing private exchanges. For them, the committee has another proposal. At present, a quarter of their directors can be trading members. The committee wants them to be thrown out, and relegated to a so-called advisory committee — one which can advise all it wants but decide nothing. If brokers cannot be directors, who is left? The committee wants all to be what it calls public interest directors. It gives a negative definition of such a director: he must have nothing to do with either stockbrokers, investors or listed companies. And how are such gems to be found? Ask who would control the stock exchanges, and you have the answer.


Can stock exchanges be listed? The committee opposes their listing. So an investor — that five per cent fellow — cannot just sell his shares on the market. Why then should he invest, when he cannot become a director, and when he has no influence on the management except that he can go to the annual general meeting and perhaps open his mouth?


Because of the dividends? The committee says stock exchanges must not be allowed to make more than "reasonable" profits. And who will decide what is reasonable? You have got it — the government. Who will invest in a stock exchange on these terms? The committee has carefully weeded out all rational investors. So investors would have to be ordered to invest. And who can be so ordered? The dutiful daughters of the government mentioned above.


If implemented, the recommendations of this committee will create jobs for retired and surplus civil servants. The government is run by civil servants. They have created many jobs in public enterprises, commissions and regulatory bodies where they can earn salary plus deputation allowance in comfort and their bosses can dispose of them without giving them useful work. Now they want to annex the stock market to their empire. And why? Because, according to them, only they have the integrity and public spirit to serve and protect the investor.


This is entirely the wrong turn to take, 19 years after the reforms. A stock exchange is a computerized trading system; the minimum scale it requires to be profitable is a fraction of the current size of the market. Most world markets have a handful of exchanges; but this only tells us how they have been regulated. There is no reason to look for an optimum number of stock exchanges, let alone force it on investors. Technology today makes it possible to protect the investor completely, to identify errors or misbehaviour of traders instantaneously, and to interconnect any number of exchanges seamlessly. Regulation is easier today than ever before; if proof is needed, one only has to look at the long list of traders whom Sebi has punished.


Competition among stock exchanges is not only possible; it is necessary. The number of businesses in India is hundreds of times the number of listed companies. If these small and medium businesses were listed, access to the capital market would enable the efficient ones to expand faster at the expense of inefficient ones; it would raise the rate of growth of productivity, which is the essence of national growth. Competition in the capital market is as powerful a force for improvement as competition in the market for goods and services. If listing requirements were eased and controls on the setting up of exchanges removed, local exchanges would come up to connect local producers and investors. Growth would spread further across regions and activities. All that is needed for it is withdrawal of the dead hand of the Central government. Let it fatten itself on the tax revenue that the growth would bring








As rich and powerful scamsters get away, thanks to long-winded interrogations and delayed justice, protected by the system and its employees who vow to ensure justice for all but do just the opposite, non-government workers and committed social entrepreneurs, who work for the poor, neglected and disempowered, get sentenced to life imprisonment for speaking the truth. That is India at the end of 2010. Gandhiji too, in his time, was treated in a similar fashion by the then rulers of India, for working with the poor, and mobilizing Indians to fight for their rights and the truth. When the baton was passed, there was one generation of bureaucrats committed to building an India entrenched in the fundamentals laid down in the Constitution. It was a challenge, but they were deeply committed to building a modern nation-state.


Sadly, post-1950s, this country saw the beginnings of governance with greed. The authorities began to behave like the colonial masters of yore, forgetting that authoritarian and dictatorial stances eventually culminate in a revolt against an insular State, disconnected from its subjects' needs. This feudal attitude nurtured nepotism and rapidly corrupted the Central, state and local administrations. With the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, for all the wrong reasons, corruption got legitimized, and when Emergency was lifted, the incoming political dispensation, a conglomerate of parties, did not dismantle the irregularities but, instead, perpetuated the horror that came to stay. We are paying a heavy price today for the failure, back then, to ensure an immediate corrective.


Party power


Leaders of all hues wallowed in the temporary luxury of supreme power without accountability and misused the patience of an exploited citizenry. Thebabus jumped onto the bandwagon and forgot that their mandate was to be completely non-partisan. India began to stumble as its rulers built their fortunes. It has been the classic case of watching the Empire in decline and we are now witnessing its possibly violent end. Short-term measures to assuage the anger of the people, as they witness deep-seated corruption among the high and the mighty, are mere veils that Indian citizens can see through. As there is no access to the rule of law for ordinary, honest citizens, the revolt across the land is growing.


The system has excelled at corruption and all its myriad delivery channels. Since the babu and the politician understand the prevailing system well, and have learned to operate it with deft efficiency, they need to replace greed and graft with honesty and integrity for a start. Who will lead this 'revolution'? Who will break the vested interest lobby that has held India to ransom? Is there a Gandhi out there who will selflessly lead the renewal, even if the present 'authorities' term the corrective measures 'sedition'? Will we be fortunate to have a leader who will rule with the right priorities for the citizens? Does the elected government have the guts (there is no other word for it) to overhaul the existing configuration and replace the manipulative men and women with people who operate with good sense, intelligent applications of policy, and are capable of listening carefully? Policies clearly established within the democratic framework enshrined in our Constitution must not be subverted by intellectually, morally and emotionally weak people at the helm of governance.


The best New Year gift to India would be a definite overhaul of the council of ministers at the Centre that may bring about a renewal of the office bearers of the All India Congress Committee. This is the time to revert the party's state secretaries back to live in the states and restore credibility across India. For these men and women to call the shots from Delhi is detrimental to the rejuvenation of the party.






What drove women to the polling booths in large numbers during elections in Bihar? Perhaps the reservation of panchayat seats for women did the trick, writes Uddalak Mukherjee after visiting Patna and Hajipur


Women voters outnumbered men in nine out of the 38 districts in this year's assembly elections in Bihar. In these nine districts — Sitamarhi, Madhubani, Supaul, Madhepura, Darbhanga, Gopalganj, Siwan, Begusarai and Khagaria — the turnout of women voters, according to figures released by the Election Commission, was over 60 per cent. Overall, 54.85 per cent of the women cast their votes in the elections, as opposed to 50.70 per cent of the men.


Given Bihar's social and economic backwardness, and its long feudal history, the increase in the number of women voters was a significant development. Recently, I travelled to Patna and neighbouring Hajipur to examine what had stirred women in such large numbers to exercise their democratic right. Three reasons were being cited by analysts to explain the phenomenon — the decline in the number of crimes against women, the corresponding rise in employment opportunities and social security and the decision to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in panchayat bodies.


However, upon looking more closely, the first two factors seemed unconvincing. Police records show that Bihar has witnessed a steady rise in crimes against women since 2005 — a 10 per cent increase in 2006, 20 per cent in 2008, and, according to the state crime bureau, a total of 6,989 cases of atrocities against women have been recorded till October 2010. What I found confounding was that despite the dismal figures, most of the women I met in Patna — students, employees, housewives and even an elected member of the legislative assembly — said that they felt safer than before. Poonam Singh, a Janata Dal (United) MLA, assured me that young women travelling unaccompanied on the streets of Patna after dark was no longer an uncommon sight. (She also expressed concern for Bima Bharti, the legislator from Purnia, who had been admitted to a hospital in Patna after being grievously assaulted by her husband just a few days earlier.) Later, a group of young women, who sat chatting in a garishly painted coffee shop near Gandhi Maidan, echoed Singh's views. The discrepancy between their assurances and the alarming crime record only confirmed my suspicion that the situation had indeed been much worse earlier. But could such a marginal improvement prove to be decisive enough for the women to flock to the booths?


Bihar's performance in generating employment for women remains sketchy as well. A recent report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India revealed that of the total number of women labourers who migrate to Delhi, 32 per cent hails from Bihar. The data clearly indicate that the continuing paucity of jobs is forcing women, especially those from rural areas, to leave the state. Five-year-old data related to women's participation in the labour market are as dismal: 13.8 per cent and 6.5 per cent in villages and cities respectively. Only 0.2 per cent of women held a diploma then. I was told that some of the government's welfare measures for women — such as the formation of self-help groups and the distribution of uniforms and cycles to girl students — had proved to be popular, but Bihar still has a long way to go before it empowers its women socially and economically. It is improbable that Bihar's women voters had forgotten the stark realities before the elections. Yet they had come out in large numbers and returned Nitish Kumar to power with a thumping majority. Why?


Perhaps Kumar's pioneering decision to reserve 50 per cent of the seats inpanchayats in 2006 had proved to be the determining factor. To find out whether the reservation of seats in local bodies had indeed led to a nascent sense of political empowerment of women, a colleague and I decided to travel to Mandai-di, a village in Hajipur district, approximately 80 kilometres from Patna, late one evening to meet a mukhiya, a woman named Lalita Devi, who had contested and won the panchayat elections. On our way, over roads mauled by unceasing traffic, past an imposing bridge across a seemingly endless river, I reflected on the uniqueness of the panchayat model followed in Bihar.


Unlike in Bengal, Bihar's political parties do not contest panchayat polls. Individual contestants in the fray are issued separate electoral symbols by the state EC. I was eager to know whether such a model, shorn of the trappings of debilitating politics, had succeeded in empowering Bihar's women politically.


The initial signs were far from encouraging. We stopped at the mouth of Mandai-di to ask for directions to Lalita's house. It was bitterly cold, there was no electricity, and the village lay enveloped in darkness. A few men, huddled in front of a crackling fire, swore that the mukhiya was not a woman, but a man by the name of Upinder, who, we discovered later, was Lalita's husband. Somehow, we managed to reach our destination, after which Lalita served us delicious tea. But she herself stepped out of the room for the interview only upon her husband's return.


Lalita, who looked to be in her early thirties, was indeed the mukhiya of Mandai-di. She was not unlettered, having studied till matriculation. She had two children — two little boys who watched the proceedings with interest from one of the rooms — and her life had changed considerably after she was elected. She remembers clearly how nervous she had been to step out of her home and preside over meetings to address the village's problems. Earlier, Upinder used to accompany her to the meetings with villagers and officials, and she followed all his instructions carefully on such occasions. But, four years into the job, things have changed. Lalita still feels a little tense before such meetings, but she often attends them without Upinder in tow. Her knowledge of the problems that confront Mandai-di — the perpetual shortage of water, the lack of concrete roads, the absence of electricity and so on — has improved considerably, and she has begun to analyse the problems and offer solutions without depending on Upinder's advice. Lalita admitted that she enjoys her responsibilities and the respect that she has earned from other villagers after becoming a mukhiya.


On hearing our voices, Lalita's father-in-law, an ancient creature with a furrowed forehead, stepped on to the porch. Immediately, Lalita stood up, offered her seat to the old man and pulled the end of her sari over her forehead. But she continued to answer my questions in a slightly lowered voice. The old man, after being thoroughly ignored by the visitors and thebahu, left in a while, and Lalita quietly took her seat again. All this while, Upinder continued to nod, smile and gaze proudly at his wife. When Lalita went inside to fetch another cup of tea, a young man, perhaps Lalita's relative, admitted sheepishly that he felt strange, and even angry, given the changes that were taking place.


Lalita's initial confusion and terror after winning the election are understandable. Bihar has famously had a woman chief minister who, it is said, was dragged to the oath-taking ceremony by her husband, who paid no attention to her meek protests and tears. A report published by the Independent Commission for People's Rights & Development, three years ago, stated that only 7.5 per cent of Bihar's women headed their own households, 16 and 15 per cent of women did not need permission to go to the market and visit friends, respectively, 42.6 per cent of women had a say in health decisions while 66.1 per cent of the state's women had access to cash. The reservation of panchayat seats may not have radically changed the world outside, but it has certainly transformed the inner lives of Bihar's women, restoring in them a sense of confidence and respect. Could it be that this renewed sense of self-worth and purpose, brought about by a political act — that of reservation — has inspired these women to participate in that critical democratic exercise called elections?


As the night lengthened outside, Lalita eagerly discussed her future. She is certain that she will contest the next panchayat elections, which are scheduled for next year, and appeared unwavering in her support for the present political dispensation, which has created conditions that are conducive to her first political engagement. She also demonstrated an eagerness to improve her understanding of matters related to government policy, panchayat funds, and laws concerning development. But what was most evident was her commitment towards her responsibility and to the people who had elected her to the post that she now holds.


My conversations in Mandai-di opened up two intriguing questions. First, I began to wonder whether political empowerment should be interpreted in quantifiable terms only. Of the 243 legislators in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha, only 34 are women. But the handful of women MLAs does not represent the subtle, though promising, political awakening that seems to be taking place in women in Bihar's villages. After providing these women with the necessary impetus to vote, it is now this government's duty to fulfil their demands and safeguard their blossoming interest in and engagement with the political process.


But if this fledgling process is to succeed, the government has to undertake three other simultaneous measures urgently. It has to bring education to Bihar's women to enable them to make informed political choices. The literacy rate of women, as recorded by the last census, was a woeful 33.57 per cent. The drop-out rate among girl students in the age-group of 11-14 is a staggering 80 per cent, says another independent report. Second, the women who have been elected to the local bodies need to be trained so that they can understand and perform their duties better. Finally, the staunchly patriarchal bureaucracy, which has been resisting the induction of women in village administration, has to be reined in and sensitized.


The other question I pondered was this: is there a case for replicating Bihar's apolitical panchayat model in other states such as West Bengal? By stripping institutions of local governance of politics, Bihar seems to have strengthened the core components that are integral to democracy: performance, accountability and inclusiveness.


In 2005, Bihar had elected 25 women MLAs; this time round, there are 34. Patipur block, which comprises 158 villages including Mandai-di, has also elected 19 women mukhiyas in the 32 seats that were contested. I could not help feeling that the figures presaged a slow change But does the government have the will to take this process to fruition?


I did gather evidence of another kind of slow resurrection that night in Mandai-di. Despite the late hour, the biting cold and the darkness, a market bustled with the voices of women buying and selling vegetables. Another group of women herded cattle nearby, while a solitary cyclist rode by carrying two milk cans. It was a little past nine in the night, but it felt as if dawn was about to break.






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





Education, it appears, is not a priority issue for the BJP government in Karnataka. The Yeddyurappa cabinet's decision last Friday to take away 20 acres of land from the Karnataka Veterinary Animal and Fisheries Science University's Hebbal campus reflects its skewed thinking. Shockingly, it is a unilateral decision as the varsity stakeholders were not even consulted, let alone their concurrence being sought. Understandably, teachers, students and administrators are angry. Even former vice chancellors have expressed their disappointment and anger over the decision and there is a sense of helplessness.

However, the government is utterly insensitive to the hurt feelings of the varsity community. More seriously, it is not even bothered about the serious implications of its decision for the varsity's future. Deprived of almost one-fifth of its land, the varsity will find it difficult to implement its future expansion plans. At stake is not just the varsity's growth and expansion. The government decision exposes the varsity to the danger of losing its mandatory recognition by the Veterinary Council of India. The council's guidelines require that the varsity has in its possession a minimum of 150 acres of land for infrastructural purposes. The varsity did not have the stipulated land area even earlier. It had been hoping to get some 77 acres of land from the adjoining University of Agricultural Sciences campus, but the agricultural varsity, however, remains reluctant to part with it. Historically, the veterinary college — the main institution under the veterinary varsity's Hebbal campus — was an integral part of the agricultural varsity until the establishment of the separate varsity for veterinary sciences a few years ago.

The declared purpose of acquiring the varsity land is to build houses for the high court judges whose number has increased in recent years. While there are obvious questions if a premier educational institution should be made to suffer to facilitate a convenient residential colony for judges, there is reason also to question the government's intentions. A few years ago, the government had acquired almost 10 acres of land from what was then just the Hebbal Veterinary College campus to set up an agro engineering facility. But the facility was closed down within a few years and instead of returning the land to the college, the government merrily diverted the land to build residential quarters to members of the state legislature. Civil society must join the academic community to prevail upon the government to retract its ill-advised decision.








A six-year jail term and a ban on film-making for 20 years for the celebrated film director Jafar Panahi is the latest act of suppression of personal freedom to emerge out of Iran. The theocratic leadership of the country has never been tolerant of dissidence and non-conformity. Those who strayed from the Islamic code of conduct, as interpreted by the mullahs, have invited the harshest punishment. The recent death sentence, to be carried out by stoning, of Sakineh Astiani, for alleged adultery had invited international attention. The sentence has now been stayed. But there are thousands of others who have been subjected to the harshest methods of persecution. A number of journalists and others were also imprisoned recently. The regime has sometimes been practical enough to moderate its punishment, but on the whole repression of even common freedoms has been the norm.

An artist's life is specially difficult in such an environment.   Panahi is not an ordinary artist either. He had made a mark internationally even with his first film in 1995, has won honours in festivals including Cannes and has been acknowledged as one of the leaders of Iranian and world cinema. But his films had all been banned in the country, mainly because he is among the critics of the Islamist regime. The immediate provocation for his prosecution and punishment was a film he was making on the Green movement. But the charges were never made clear, except that he and another filmmaker, who too was punished, worked against the system.

All good art is basically subversive and disrespectful of authority. Panahi's films, which took a critical look at Iranian society and questioned dogmas and religiously ordained norms and practices, could only have been seen as a threat by the authoritarian system. He has also portrayed the degraded position of women in the society. There is an environment of heightened paranoia and intolerance in Iran after the eruption of mass protests in the wake of the controversial 2008 presidential elections. Panahi had to pay with his freedom and career for being true to his conscience and convictions and for his courage. It is unlikely that the worldwide campaign for his release will have any impact on the regime, especially because he is known as a supporter of opposition leader Hossein Mousavi.







The opposition insists that the government must face parliament but will not let it function or decide. This is an insult to the people of India.


Some years after Truman, echoing Roosevelt, proclaimed four great freedoms for mankind — of speech and expression, of worship and from want and fear, Bob Hope added a fifth category, freedom from humbug. Its relevance was well illustrated by the BJP and the Left during the just concluded winter session of parliament when they raucously muzzled all debate, ostensibly to save democracy from corruption and misgovernance. This is humbug of a high order.

The arguments used to justify this are self-serving. There is an ordained or ongoing scrutiny of the 2G spectrum matter by the public accounts committee, a CBI review of spectrum allocation from 2001 being monitored by the supreme court, an investigation of any policy malfeasance by a retired supreme court judge and a parallel investigation by the enforcement directorate.

Since the opposition remained dissatisfied, the prime minister volunteered to appear before the public accounts committee and the government proposed a special session of parliament to debate whether or not a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) would add value to the ongoing proceedings.

The opposition, especially the BJP, will have none of this and insists that it is not for the PM to choose the forum before which he is arraigned. It wants the constitution of a JPC rather than a debate on the need for one as offered. This is an untenable stand and devoid of merit. The public accounts committee is one of half a dozen established joint committees of parliament under its rules of business.


On the other hand, there is no standing provision for any other JPC except by express direction of parliament. So for the opposition to insist on reference of the so-called spectrum scam to the exchequer to a non-existent body that can only be constituted by a specific mandate of parliament, is an absurdity. The opposition insists that the government must face parliament but will not let parliament function or decide. This is an insult to the people of India who did not elect their MPs merely to prevent parliament from functioning.

All this is seemingly justified by the enormity of the estimated loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the public exchequer as a result of mala fide rate fixation for the sale of spectrum. This is a largely hypothetical figure. The then prevailing sluggish growth of tele-density with high call rates yielded to an exponential growth in telephony and a correspondingly sharp fall in call rates, partly because spectrum was sold at fixed or low prices.

Real national benefit

This entailed transferring real national benefit from a small, elite telephonic clientele to a greatly growing segment of the public. The social cost of such a transfer cannot be described as stealing money. If enhanced connectivity promoted higher growth, investment and employment was there no dividend to the exchequer?

This is not to suggest absence of mala fide as some illicit gain has been clearly proven. There was also delay in taking corrective action. But the range and degree of malfeasance have to be established and that is what the parallel probes currently under way are designed to establish.

A thoroughgoing parliamentary debate could have brought greater clarity regarding possible failures of policy or implementation and indicated what needed to be probed or if any charges should be preferred and against whom. This was not allowed to happen. The tail assumed the right to wag the dog and the will of the people was claimed by a minority opposition.

If the premier institution of parliament can be held to ransom in this bizarre fashion, it could next be the turn of the judiciary or the CEC to be told that unless some other norms are adopted at the whim and fancy of an assorted group of protestors, these constitutional authorities will be prevented from performing their functions. This is a recipe for anarchy. The real motivation was and is the hope of electoral advantage and the smell of power. 

It was not for nothing that a BJP spokesperson publicly stated that until a few weeks ago, the party could not even remotely envision electoral victory in 2014. But now the 'kursi' had come into view and appeared drawing nearer by the day. Hence evidence of vaulting ambition. The Left is staring electoral nemesis in the face in Bengal and Kerala.


The more blatant conceit of the BJP is matched by its deceit in planning anti-government rallies in several states. Karnataka has been excluded as the BJP government there has been caught with its hand in the till. Blatant corruption has been exposed by the Lokayukta who has been given short shrift by the state administration.

The Congress too must turn the light inwards. It has fostered corruption and protected the corrupt. It may be procedurally correct regarding the JPC; but where is its moral authority? Surely all sides must join hands to tackle the prevalent moral rot collectively in the coming year.








As a concerned doctor, his is a life at the service of the poor and the downtrodden.


There never has been such an uproar over the justice system as against the verdict of Binayak Sen in recent years in the country. Not only civil society groups, eminent intellectuals, members of the judiciary and international organisations have expressed disgust at the verdict to imprison Binayak Sen to life by the Raipur sessions court on sedition and waging war against the Indian state.

Those who have covered the story of Dr Sen have reacted with utmost horror at the sheer injustice of the judgment. Such low quality of justice, routinely delivered in our courts, is indeed a threat to Indian democracy. It is a pity that the judicial system has not been able to uphold principles of law and justice.

Flawed judgments like the one delivered on Dr Sen are likely to further undermine the credibility and reputation of the judiciary. From university campuses to newspaper offices to middle class homes and power corridors across India, this is a judgment which is seen to be clearly destroying the last edifice of the public perception of the Indian justice system.


Dr Sen is a professor at the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore. As a concerned doctor, his is a life at the service of the poor and the downtrodden. Since he worked among the Maoist infected regions of Chhattisgarh which is a home for the impoverished tribals, he has been accused of de-stabilising the Indian state in nexus with the Maoists.

When he was imprisoned from May 2007 to May 2009, at least 22 Noble prize winners from all over the world had sought his immediate freedom lauding his exemplary work in providing the best of treatment to the impoverished adivasis. Distinguished artists, academics, filmmakers and writers had campaigned and petitioned for his freedom. Students from across India and the world had organised protests, campaigns and concerts demanding freedom for the compassionate doctor. He was released on bail by the supreme court as a result of a massive civil society campaigns.

The session court has once again given him a sentence of life imprisonment. The verdict is perceived as unjust to be handed out to one of India's finest social activists. The charges against Dr Sen, of allegedly aiding outlawed Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, have not been corroborated by any of the witnesses or evidence produced in the court.

The prosecution had failed miserably to show any evidence linking the highly respected paediatrician and human rights activist to a Maoist conspiracy. Friends who know Dr Sen and his work hold that the charges are trumped up and intended to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the Chhattisgarh government run by he BJP for its human rights violations against its own tribal population. The Chhattisgarh government has also persecuted other human rights activists for their role in exposing the real character of the Salwa Judum and other human rights violations.

The prosecution is mala fide, no doubt. In fact it is a persecution. He has been made a scapegoat by the state government of Chhattisgarh as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state. Documents have been fabricated by the police and false witnesses introduced in order to falsely implicate. His conviction is one more example of the state succeeding in securing the conviction of an innocent person on the basis of false evidence.

While campaigns for his release have already begun across the nation and outside, this time, it should be an occasion for the nation to demand drastic reform of the criminal justice system to ensure that it is not manipulated by the state to persecute, prosecute and victimise innocent persons. There needs to be some action on all those who pass judgments without sufficient evidence so that the good and the honest are not made to frequent prisons and jails.

One thing is to ask for the release of Dr Sen. At the level of appeal that is bound to take place. Shouldn't there be a thorough inquiry against all those who have framed him so maliciously and given him the verdict without right and proper evidence?

There is also a need to compensate Dr Sen for being deprived of his basic freedoms and to his family for being subjected to the most inhumane mental torture and persecution. As citizens it is wrong to allow the justice system to be attacked by vested interest forces to further their designs.

(The writer is the principal of St Joseph's College, Bangalore)







Christmas is all about 'peace on earth and goodwill to all men.'


My Christmas message this year came from a most unexpected source — a tabloid article. And the preacher of this most unusual sermon came from a little security kiosk outside an exclusive up-market apartment complex. Debu Kumar, a security guard at the gates of this kingdom responded to the message of 'peace on earth, goodwill to all men' amidst the din of urban noise, through his simple act of kindness. To retell the story, an elderly man, wandered in the dead of night, lost and cold with not a memory to keep him warm, to the ostentatious but menacing gates of this gated community. Debu Kumar, only saw an elderly man who insisted his family lived in one of the apartments behind the gates. Debu had a choice to call the secretary of the owners' association, the police or turn him out by force. He exercised none of these 'innkeeper' choices but did something that recalled the whole Christmas story and message in very simple terms. He took the lost and cold, old man into his little kiosk, gave him a hot cup of tea and a blanket and gave him his 'stable' to sleep in. A Christmas parable was born that night!

Debu challenged my 'innkeeper' mentality. We set boundaries of the 'who's who'; we have rules of inclusion into our tight circles; we define and label according to 'perceived' norms of acceptability and we constantly reject anything or anyone who disturbs our comfort zone with a dismissive 'No room! No room!' Debu said, he thought what was more important than anything else was to keep 'the lost man with no name covered,warm and safe.'

Debu's response reverberated through other echoes in my mind — a French folk tale about Papa Panov's Special Christmas, retold by Leo Tolstoy. Papa Panov waited through Christmas day for his promised guest, while going about his day, helping and feeding the poor, the cold and the hungry. At the end of the story, his divine visitor revealed that he had indeed visited the shoe maker in the persons Papa Panov had fed, clothed and warmed. The two stories merged to recharge my view that Christmas is not a season but a belief, a creed to live by everyday.

Today Christmas is viewed as a season of good cheer for ourselves but Christmas in the truest sense of the word is about  'peace on earth and goodwill to all men...' specially men and women who are unloved, lost and unlovable, by modern standards. It must have been hard for Debu to think differently and embrace the moment, as he too was just as much an outsider as the stranger at the gates. He was willing to take a risk and open the door of his humble abode to a stranger with no memory. He was compassionate and opened his heart to love and understanding, acceptance and kindness to the lost wanderer.

Debu was no social worker, or rich do-gooder or someone embracing the seasonal attitude. He was just a good human being, a Good Samaritan! Or he might have just been an angel signifying the Christmas message.








Almost every state in India has got an Economic Offences Wing headed by a very senior police officer usually a serving Director General of Police and a Lokayukt, a public integrity watch dog, a post usually a former Supreme Court Judge or a former Chief Justice of a High Court. How is it then that despite the presence of these two institutions led by high ranking persons, the cancer of corruption goes on spreading its tentacles? The two institutions are often in the news for raiding this or that official/office but it is seldom that one hears of a conviction in a case caught by the two institutions. The Lokayukts go on complaining that their recommendations for sanction for prosecution are held up by the state government for year rendering the entire process infructuous. Isn't it high time that governments act more responsibly and let these watch dog institutions function. 

RJ Khurana, Bhopal                                 






The Court has rightly rejected reservation demand of Gujjars. Strangely in spite of Court's decision so called peaceful protests by them are continuing-rail and road transport is blocked. For peaceful protests no public person-common man should be affected in any way in his daily routine. Why the government / authorities are helpless in taking any action? Vote bank politics must put to end. Stricter and harsher measures are must for violating law and order situation and harassing common men by so called these champions of a part of section of people of India. The government must not tolerate nuisance of such people.

The best course of action is delete the word "Reservation" from Indian Constitution" by a suitable amendment in the Parliament-to save all such odd situations in future India!

It is the need of hour that there should not be any reservation for minorities either in educational institutions or anywhere else. Quotas are politicians' tool and help nobody but them. Reservations have adverse effects as inefficient people get jobs rather easily and this causes deterioration in quality of services. Hence reservations should not be permitted. Greater opportunities for the poorer sections of society are a must but reservations are not the answer. The government should focus its energies on building better infrastructure, creating jobs and setting up colleges and universities. If the government is incapable of performing these tasks then the private sector should be given incentives to step in and get the job done. 

M Kumar, New Delhi







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

Amongst the major areas of conflict, the most important one is relating to the boundary dispute. While on the Western frontier, some part of Kashmir region is under Chinese occupation, on the Eastern side of frontier, the dispute relates to McMahon Line. India treats that as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but China refuses to recognize it, even though it recognizes the same McMahon Line with Myanmar. Many attempts have been made to resolve the boundary dispute but results have been very modest.

In 2003, Prime Ministers of both countries agreed to appoint Special Representatives (SR) to discuss and find a solution to the dispute. Also, during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabaos India visit in 2005, Beijing and New Delhi agreed on broad parameters to resolve the border dispute. This gave political mandate to the SRs. Despite above efforts, the recently concluded 14th round of talks between the SRs in Beijing, failed to produce anything substantial, apart from the SRs sharing the respective political and strategic concerns of their nations. 
The bone of contention, other than border issue, is both nations respective relationships with the third countries. While India is irked by strategic relationship enjoyed by China and Pakistan, China on the other hand, is anxious by growing Indo-US proximity. The main reason for Indias worry is Beijings defence and nuclear assistance to Pakistan and also Chinese presence in what India calls Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK), by way of infrastructure building. Moreover, since two years now, China has started issuing stapled visas to Indians domiciled in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, thus challenging India's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 
In addition to this, Chinas overtures to Nepal and infrastructural assistance to Sri Lanka provide substance to Indias fears of String of Pearls phenomenon. Added to this, the upstream damming of trans-boundary Rivers (Sutlej and Tsangpo-Brahmputra) by China, and that too without intimating or consulting downstream nations (in this case India), contradicts the Peaceful Rise of China doctrine. This arrogance of dragon is rooted in its sheer economic might and lately acquired defence capabilities. 

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

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

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

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







As I write this, some 24 hours are left to finalise the agreement at the 16th Conference of Parties to the climate change convention being held in Cancun. At this moment it seems the predictable deadlock in talks will continue.

Like all other global climate meetings, the world remains deeply divided on the matter of how to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that even today determine economic growth.

Over the past three years—since the meeting held in Bali—much has changed in the negotiations and much will change in Cancun. In the past years developing countries have done all they can to break the deadlock; they have budged from their held positions, they have been proactive in international negotiations and they have developed a domestic agenda for climate change mitigation. But each forward shift in the position of the emerging world has only meant a backward slide and hardening of position of the rich countries.
Worse, there has been aggressive and often clandestine movement to shift the very nature of the global climate agreement to suit the US. This is the endgame of Cancun. We need to understand this.

2007, Bali: The draft resolution asked for deep emission reduction cuts from the industrialised world— up to 20 per cent by 2020. The US was rigid in its stance that it would do nothing within a legal framework and nothing till China and India were similarly committed. 

There was much at stake as the world climate was clearly heating up. There was pressure to act. By now the global (read western) media had successfully painted China and India as the villains in the climate pack. They had shifted public opinion away from the historical and rising pollution of the US to the chimneys of Beijing. 
The developing world made a drastic shift in its position to bring the US on board. One, it agreed to a separate regime for the US based on its domestic actions that would not be legally binding. Two, it agreed to take on national actions to mitigate emissions, but underlined that these would have to be enabled by technology and funding. It also agreed that the supported actions would be subject to an international regime for monitoring and verification. The world was given two years to firm up this action plan. 

2009: By now it was clear that the Democratic government of Obama was not different from its predecessor Bush's. It was only more visible and more determined to have its way. The bar of compromise was shifted again. The concession made by the developing world at Bali was brushed aside as too little. The shrill call went out: China and India and others in our part of the world should state their emission reduction targets. Nobody asked what was the target the US was willing to put on the table. The pressure was on us to respond. It was also repeated that we were the deal breakers. India and China wanted growth at all costs. This line was fed to and swallowed by many Indian commentators and politicians alike. 

So we caved in and complied once again. India put out its energy intensity reduction target and a national action plan on climate change. China went aggressive in building a renewable energy portfolio. Brazil went on to cut its rates of deforestation. All this was done without any matching commitments from the US. The US continued to commission and build coal-based power stations and increase its gas-guzzling vehicle fleet.
2009, Copenhagen: By now the goal posts had been shifted again. The Obama administration made it clear:


nothing or all. It also stitched up a coalition of the willing with the Bush-like motto, "with us or against us". At this meeting the terms of the new agreement were revealed. It was simple: no global agreements would be legally binding on the rich countries. Instead, there would be one agreement for all. 

This would be based on domestic actions, not determined by historical emissions but by the willingness of each country to act. But all these actions would be measured, reported and verified. It would internationalise domestic actions. There would be no distinction between the industrialised world and the rest. There would be no promise of money or technology. All this added up to a weak and effective deal, designed by and for polluters. 

In Copenhagen, in spite of the Obama touch (he came, bullied and charmed), there was no agreement on this non-deal. Now in Cancun the negotiations are designed to move the pieces ahead. The goal is clear: by the next meeting in Durban all opposition to the new deal should be removed, even at the cost of making the world bleed. But the question remains: now that the US has got the world to sink even lower in its expectations for an agreement that will be effective or equitable, will it honour its side of the bargain? Till now there is little evidence to suggest that it will take on emission reduction targets commensurate with its historical responsibility. Till now there is every evidence that it will wreak the agreement and then walk out of doing even the little it has promised. 

Then why should the world give up its chance to build an agreement on climate that will work effectively? Why?

Sunita Narain






The recently concluded Russian President Medvedev's visit re-emphasized the progress in India-Russia strategic partnership in the ten years since it was instituted in 2000. The Annual Summit meeting reviewed the changing contours of the international scenario and deliberated on bilateral, regional and global issues where the two reliable partners can work together.  

India and Russia do not have any core clash of interest endangering its relationship. This is a significant positive point that could take the ties forward in diverse areas, beyond the more conventional defence sector. The growing business confidence in India and its economic prowess should open up many more doors in the business-to-business sector and going by the recent summit; both sides have realized the potential and are on the move. 

Of late, the burgeoning ties between the US and India has captured the limelight and the successful visit of President Obama in November further cemented the growth curve in the story. New Delhi's gesture toward Washington and vice-versa has remarkably changed since the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal and the global recession has only increased the attractiveness of the Indian market for the US. 

The kind of camaraderie that the Indian Government has begun to share with its US counter-part in recent years has definitely raised eyebrows among Russian policy makers and analysts. Of course, the nature of international politics has gone for a paradigm shift whereby a relationship with one country should not come at the expense of another. 

Also, Russia and the US are no longer on each other's throats like in the Cold War era. However an India looking to the West is definitely going to present some strategic challenges to the Russian policy framers. As such, Moscow would not like too many eggs being put in the "New Delhi-Washington basket". Now, it depends on the Indian diplomatic circuit as to how it balances bilateral relations and at the same time, seizes on the attraction that India demands as a rising economic and political power. 

One of the highlights of the India-Russia relationship is the cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy. This has been reiterated on subsequent visits of leaders from both sides. The synergy between Russia as a major energy producing country and India as a major energy consuming country is the catch-phrase of the cooperation in this field. The joint statement read, "They reviewed the progress that has been made for the commissioning of Units 1&2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and the discussions for setting up additional units at Kudankulam including Units 3&4." 

A MoU was signed envisaging joint research and development in reactor technology and related fields for peaceful uses of atomic energy by nuclear research institutes on both sides. A senior official involved with the discussions said that signing of a commercial contract for Kudankulam 3 & 4 would take some more time, as pricing and liability issues needed to be sorted out. "We are hopeful of that being done at the earliest," he said. 
As expected, the Nuclear Liability Bill raises some concerns among foreign countries hoping to invest in India's nuclear energy market. The countries wishing to do business with New Delhi have not taken strong positions against the Bill. Nevertheless, this issue has to be worked out in a graduated manner that will not hamper the vital interests of any side. 

Further boosting joint ventures in the energy sector; an inter-Governmental agreement was signed between India and Russia for Enhancement of Cooperation in Oil and Gas Sector which is expected to provide an administrative framework for joint undertaking of projects in India, Russia and third countries by oil and gas companies from both countries.  

Besides the burgeoning defence trade, broader economic ties are not matching the potential. Major initiatives have been taken with a vision to close these gaps and harness potential to the optimum level, particularly to expand the business-to-business links in addition to the ones between the two Governments. Both sides agreed to continue their efforts to achieve the strategic target of bilateral trade volume of US $ 20 billion by 2015. 
Recent noteworthy investment agreements include a MoU for cooperation between India's iron-ore major NMDC and Russia's Severstal to establish a joint venture for setting up an integrated steel plant in Karnataka. Also, an inter-Governmental agreement seeks to ease the travel procedures to increase business contacts between the two countries besides others. 

Both sides reached an agreement on Integrated Long Term Programme of Cooperation in Science, Technology & Innovation to guide innovation-led R&D collaboration in the field of science & technology during 2011-2020. Also, agreeing to intensify cooperation in the space sector, the two sides appreciated the progress being made in India's utilisation of Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System, GLONASS. Moreover, some understandings were reached in IT and IT-enabled services and the pharmaceuticals sector. 

Despite fierce competition from other countries, India and Russia have shown that the defence ties are rock solid and will continue to be so in the interest of both nations. In its 2010 Yearbook, the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT) named Russia as the main arms supplier to India in 2002-2009. The CAWAT said Moscow would remain the top arms supplier to New Delhi in 2010-2013, with estimated deliveries worth $15.26 billion or 44.7% of India's arms imports during the same period ($34.1 billion). 

The joint India-Russia 'Indra' counter-terrorism exercise took place this October. The frequency of war-games and joint exercises has of late become a significant symbol of any defence tie-up and more such exercises should be expected. More. A preliminary Design Contract (PDC) for Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) was also concluded. 

When it came to the ubiquitous issue of terrorism, President Medvedev sang virtually India's tune. He called for expeditious punishment to terrorists involved in the Mumbai terror attacks and for prompt extradition of terrorists. Commenting on the issue of safe havens in the region, he remarked, "Terrorists are criminals. They should be extradited to be punished. Those who hide terrorists conceal criminals." 

The joint statement as expected "called upon Pakistan to expeditiously bring all the perpetrators, authors and accomplices of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice.'' Russia also walked the expected line in supporting India's candidature for the permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council. 

India-Russia ties ended on a good note last year with PM Singh's Moscow visit. It ends on a good note this year as well with the successful visit of the Russian President and the 10-year celebration of the institution of the India-Russia Strategic Partnership. 

Additionally, President Medvedev's visit completed a full circle as he was the last of the leaders of all the P-5 (permanent members of the UN Security Council) who came calling this year, thus vindicating the priority that India has acquired in the international system. Medvedev's visit followed that of Britain's David Cameron, the US President Barack Obama, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and recently China's Premier Wen Jiabao.

Monish Tourangbam, INFA






The Madhya Pradesh government is making all-out efforts for development of rural areas. In the first phase the gram panchayats are being strengthened and in the second, efforts are underway to increase the income of the farmers. With a view to make the panchayats and gram sabhas strong, 21000 panchs, sarpanchs and panchayat secretaries have been given training for which 600 training programmes were organised.
With a view to increase the income of farmers, 42452 acres of land has been made arable. Nearly 32,000 acres of agriculture land has been made suitable for two-crops. Similarly, on 18,000 acres of land, the farmers are being encouraged to take up vegetables production to increase their income.

The State has endeavoured to promote organic farming for which the farmers are being trained. In Mandla district, organic farming is being carried out in 635 acres of land. As there is less expenditure and greater production in organic farming, the farmers themselves would be lured to take it up in a large scale in future. They would also save lot of money as the chemical fertilisers entail a huge cost.

Under the Rural Livelihood Project, over two lakh farmers were benefited through gram sabhas and 20,000 farmers through agriculture. Through  this plan, 55,000 families are being benefited through 487 grain banks and 3258 contingency funds.

The office-bearers of Gram Sabha and employees have been trained for this work. The NABARD too is doing a yeoman job by helping farmers in augmenting their income by taking up additional vocations like handloom, toy making, poultry farming, tendu collection, sericulture etc.












It's the Christmas season, and this is a time when you're supposed to tell sentimental stories that end happily and warm the cockles of your listeners' hearts.


Once upon a time, there was a spunky Russian technology startup. It was built from scratch by some of the country's best Ph.D. scientists who hadn't yet immigrated to the United States. For many years, the spunky startup provided new technologies to other Russian companies and government agencies, making the economy more modern and, along the way, earning the trust of its clients and respect of its partners abroad.


Then one day a bunch of gangsters came to visit the spunky high-tech company. They were not your usual gangsters because they wore the uniforms of a law enforcement agency. Nonetheless they were real gangsters — even though they had sworn a solemn oath to protect their Motherland from other gangsters — and they demanded a huge bribe for the right to stay in business.


The managers of the company thought about it and decided that the government gangsters should not be given the bribe but sent packing. It was, as I said, a spunky little company.


Gangsters don't like it when ordinary people refuse offers they shouldn't refuse. In their slang, Russian gangsters call ordinary people fryers, which, by coincidence, sounds like an English word for a plump chicken ready for the frying pen. Gangsters know that if fryers stop fearing them they will be put out of business. That's why fryers must always be taught a lesson, and the law enforcement gangsters decided to destroy the Russian company to demonstrate to other fryers what would happen to them if they don't give in to the gangsters' demands.


So the gangsters put on their uniforms and came to the successful company in an official capacity. They slapped huge fines on the company and threatened to put its managers in jail. They had no leg to stand on, but by the time the company could win an appeal in the court system it would have surely gone bankrupt. If the company eventually did go bankrupt, the gangsters would sell it to the highest bidder and then cancel the fines.


It was a dastardly plan, and it almost worked because the gangsters had all the power and knew that no one could come to the company's rescue.


Then one day before New Year's Eve, President Dmitry Medvedev was reading blogs on the Internet and ran across a description of what the gangsters were doing to the company. He was outraged. He picked up the phone and called the company.


"Have no fear, my friends," he said. "I will personally see to it that the gangsters are punished."


"Thank you very much, Mr. President," said the owners of the company. "But there is no need to punish them on our account. Let them repent and go free."


"I disagree," Medvedev said. "They are thieves, and thieves must go to jail."


The gangsters were stripped of their rank and  epaulets were torn from their shoulders, and they were sent to a Siberian prison to chop wood. And the spunky little Russian company went on with its important work of modernizing the Russian economy and making it more efficient.


You don't believe this story? Perhaps you are too cynical to believe in miracles. So am I.









The country does not have competing political parties or ideologies. It has competing political courts and clienteles clustered around each national leader jostling for power and its spoils and building bridgeheads for the decisive battle of 2012.


The tandem's politics is not about expanding their support base through the power of ideas and smart policies, but about weakening the rival group through behind the scenes maneuvering, personnel reshuffles, redistribution of economic assets and television programming.


Still, the tandem's politics confirms former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O'Neil's maxim that all politics is local.


The key battles have been waged around local issues: Moscow fires, traffic, corruption, the Khimki Forest and environmental issues — one was saving trees, while the other was saving tigers and polar bears — and economic geography of Russia — one was developing an innovation center at Skolkovo, and the other was developing the Far East.


Foreign policy has also seen its share of tandem politics. One made progress building bridges to the West, while toying with regime change in the near abroad. The other maintained a healthy skepticism of the West, while preferring to work with leaders closer to home.


The most serious battleground is over political stability. One sees it as the ultimate good that makes social development possible. The other views it as a tool that requires periodic shakeups through free elections to force needed social changes and avoid stagnation.


One appeals to the iPad generation that values innovation, freedom and openness to the outside world. The other appeals to the television generation that values stability, security and caution with regard to foreign influences. Their public support bases diverge ever more significantly with every month of tandemocracy.


These competing visions are the stuff that make presidential campaigns and elections real. But presidential elections are also about leadership. You get the sense of who is the better leader by comparing Medvedev's tweets in reaction to the riots in Moscow with Putin's storming into a meeting with enraged football fans and riding a bus with them to their friend's grave.


Therein lies the real difference between the Tweeter-in-Chief and the leader of the nation.








As the year closes, it's customary to look back on the successes and failures of the past 12 months and make resolutions for the year to come. Most people do this in private, but politicians differ from simple mortals. They sum up the year publicly. Both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putingave their impressions of 2010 in their recent television appearances. And for the first time in the history of the ruling tandem, their conclusions were very different.


The two men even looked different on the screen. The smiling Medvedev, casually using foreign and high-tech terms, was in stark contrast to the familiarly dour and now frequently tired appearance of Putin. The audience noticed this right away. The blogger Felbert wrote that Putin "fumbled over several questions and it sometimes seemed that he didn't know how to answer his people." Another blogger, Mikail-nesterov, wrote: "Medvedev's conversational style is a lot more attractive to me. There isn't that arrogance that slips out in Putin's manner."


Perhaps the difference in the leaders' moods reflects the changes in Russians' opinions of them. The independent Levada Center polls show that 27 percent of Russians are not pleased with Putin's cult of personality — a threefold increase over the last four years. At the same time, however, the number of people who support an authoritarian regime in Russian has fallen, from 40 percent to 27 percent in the last year. In a comment on these poll results, Ekho Moskvy radio noted that there are fewer people in Russia who believe that the enormous power wielded by Putin is benefiting the country. The polls also registered another important change: 67 percent of respondents said that today Russia needs a real political opposition.


As if recognizing this silent majority of Russians, Medvedev unexpectedly spoke on the topic of oppositional politics. "The fact that they are in the opposition doesn't mean that they are cut off from public life. They should openly speak about every problem." It was a real sensation when he mentioned names that have been banned from state television: opposition leaders Mikhail KasyanovBoris NemtsovEduard Limonovand even Gary Kasparov, a man whom the prime minister reportedly loathes. Medvedev also stated firmly: "They are also public politicians. … Each of them has his own electoral base."


Medvedev didn't stop there. He continued to stun the audience with his response to a question about the fate of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Medvedev didn't answer the question directly but managed to say a great deal without saying much of anything. "It is completely clear that neither the president nor any other official in government service has the right to express his position on this case or any other case before the sentence is read — either a conviction or an acquittal," he said.


For Russians who have learned to pick out the message in political newspeak better than a musician can hear the melody in a Mahler symphony, this was really something. When Putin had been asked a similar question, he called Khodorkovsky a "crook" and launched into a tirade of accusations against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, including accusations that were not brought against them in court, including alleged complicity in murder. It's hard not to see Medvedev's words as a slap in Putin's face. As journalist Alexander Minkin wrote on his Ekho Moskvy blog, this was "a world sensation."


"It seems like the president and prime minister live in two separate countries," the blogger Felbert commented. "Putin's Russia is rallying for another great leap forward, while Medvedev's Russia is getting ready for another thaw and perestroika."


Nemtsov, one of the opposition politicians mentioned by Medvedev, summed up the year this way: "In the increasingly heated battle between Putin and Medvedev for the right to run for president in 2012, Medvedev has a great chance to win by canceling political censorship on television and freeing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. The best New Year's present for Russians would be Putin's resignation."


Let's hope that Santa grants Nemtsov his wish.








As 2010 and the first decade of the 21st century wind to a close, the dominant social, political and economic trends of the year raise serious doubts about Russia's future survival as a sovereign country. Chinese analysts, who have been closely observing Russia for the past 20 years, perhaps put it best: Russia is the world's largest dying power.


If Russia continues down its current path of autocracy, monopolization, corruption and overall economic, political, cultural and technological degradation, it may prove the Chinese correct in their terminal diagnosis.


To be sure, the country's degradation began before Vladimir Putin's rise to power, but the nature and causes of this degradation are much different than under Putin's degradation. During the 1990s, Russia found itself in complete political and economic ruins after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was hampered even further by low world oil prices throughout the decade. But  during the 2000s, Russia enjoyed record-high oil prices. Nonetheless, the oil windfall was not used to modernize, diversify or reform political and economic institutions. Instead, the lion's share of oil revenue was stolen or wasted on huge pork-barrel projects.


There are four main areas that made 2010 a record year for Russia's degradation:


1. The country declined on the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index from 57th place five years ago to 65th place this year. This was because of the gap between the rich and poor widened and because the middle class has remained at only 10 percent to 12 percent of the population for the past decade. In addition, education dropped nine positions in the index to 41st place among 60 countries at a time when Russia plans to reduce its investment in education and human capital. The share of gross domestic product spending on science, education and health care will continue to decline, while spending for the military, police, intelligence services and other siloviki structures will increase.


2. The state has become more corrupt and criminalized. The most striking example was the Kushchyovskaya massacre in early November that unmasked the complete fusion of organized crime and the local government, including the regional legislature, the court system and law enforcement agencies. It is no surprise that Russia fell 12 places in the most current World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report from 51st to 63rd place among 134 countries. Russia's state institutions were ranked among the very worst in the world at 118th place. While the Kremlin pronounces empty words and slogans about "modernization" and "nanotechnology," Russia has fallen to 80th place in the ranking for innovation, 126th place in terms of protection of property rights, 125th place for development of the financial market and 128th place for the high burden of state regulation on business. As a result, Russia again had the worst economic performance among the BRIC countries in 2010, including indexes for direct investment and economic growth, with capital flight from the country reaching $29 billion over 11 months.


3. The economy has become more state-controlled and ineffective. The share of the raw materials sector in the economy continued to grow in addition to its already oversized share in the country's export budget revenues. With the state's share in the economy now at 50 percent according to government sources — and even higher if you count businesses owned or controlled by state officials — and with state workers now accounting for every second employee, the level of economic competition is woefully low, which means a rise in prices and overall inflation and a drop in quality, productivity and quality of goods.


4. Most Russians are overcome by cynicism and anger over their declining standard of living and the fact that the ruling elite abuse their power and continue to embezzle money and assets from the people and businesses with impunity. In short, Russians have lost all hope for the future under the current leadership. This is reflected in rising crime, xenophobia and violence. The most striking evidence of the people's growing anger and intolerance and the disintegration of Russian society was the riot by ultranationalists on Manezh Square in early December.


To make matters worse, Moscow's practice of appointing Kremlin-friendly yet highly unpopular governors from outside the regions only intensifies the provinces' sense of alienation from the federal center. The Kremlin has taken an imperial approach to governing the regions, laying the foundation for an increase in separatist sentiments, particularly in the North Caucasus, Kaliningrad and in the Far East.


Putin's desire to remain in power for another 12 years after the 2012 presidential election spells disaster for Russia. In the best case scenario, we can expect long-term economic stagnation and social decline. This will be coupled with a continued rise in corruption, drop in foreign investment and the flight from Russia of both capital and millions of its best and most talented citizens. In the worst case scenario, the continued degradation caused by corruption, monopolization and lawlessness could result in a total collapse and disintegration of the country, and if the country's leadership doesn't change this happen in the next decade.











Repeatedly since taking office, through public statements and actions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he sees the Palestinian Authority as a potential partner for peace. In his June 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, Netanyahu communicated his willingness to enter negotiations that would lead to the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that would coexist in peace alongside Israel. Netanyahu subsequently entered indirect, and later direct, talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbasin an apparently sincere effort to reach an accord. He did this after acquiescing to a US demand to freeze building in the West Bank as a confidence-building measure that would facilitate these talks.


While Netanyahu's critics on the Left claimed that the prime minister was only paying lip service to the idea of substantive negotiations with the PA, he was explicit that this was not the case. During a speech in Washington at the beginning of September, when direct talks between the sides began, Netanyahu declared before the watching world, "President Abbas, you are my partner in peace. It is up to us to overcome the agonizing conflict between our peoples and to forge a new beginning."

The prime minister has also recently redoubled efforts to heal the gaping diplomatic rift with Turkey. In the heat of the Carmel fires earlier this month, after Ankara rapidly proffered firefighting help, he spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, publicly expressed his gratitude for the assistance, and promised that Israel would find a way to demonstrate its appreciation. Shortly after the inferno was brought under control, Netanyahu shuttled senior diplomat Joseph Ciechanover to Geneva to meet Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu in an evident good faith attempt to repair the damages caused by the Mavi Marmara debacle. Plainly Israel, under Netanyahu, wanted to do what could be logically expected of it to improve relations with an important Middle East ally.

YET ON Sunday, during an annual meeting of ambassadors and consul-generals at the Foreign Ministry, these two sets of government foreign policy principles were publicly undermined by the man charged with advancing them. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented an outlook that contradicted the prime minister's thinking and actions in both the Palestinian and the Turkish arenas.

Of the Abbas-led PA, Lieberman stated: "We have to understand that there is a government there that is not legitimate." For this reason, he said, it would be folly to sign an agreement with the PA right now. In any case, he also said, contradicting Netanyahu's declared assessments, it would be "impossible under present conditions" to reach a comprehensive agreement with the PA.

Lieberman also lashed out at Turkey, branding statements by Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who risibly claimed over the weekend that Israel would not have rushed to help Turkey in a humanitarian crisis, "lies" and "false promises."

Essentially, Lieberman was branding the untold hours of Netanyahu-led preparations, flight time, planning, meetings and talks relating to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, not to mention the significant financial and emotional investments, a waste of time. So, too, the effort at delicate diplomatic maneuvering vis-à-vis Ankara.

NETANYAHU'S INITIAL response was strikingly muted. "The position of the government of Israel is solely the one articulated by the prime minister and the one expressed through cabinet decisions," a government statement asserted on Sunday night.

Some of Lieberman's sentiments, it might be noted, are not without merit. Many Israelis doubtless share his outrage at the sight of thousands of Turks welcoming the refurbished Mavi Marmara into port in Istanbul on Sunday with cries of "Down with Israel," and do not, as he put it on Monday, want Israel turned into Turkey's "punching bag." Many Israelis are also understandably skeptical about the PA's peacemaking intentions.

But Netanyahu has set out his assessments and goals publicly, and Lieberman – not for the first time, but notably starkly and resolutely – has now detailed his own conflicting outlook. No self-respecting prime minister can afford to tolerate a foreign minister so publicly at odds with him on such central areas of policy. And Israel cannot afford to live with the confusion.

So long as Lieberman is allowed to stay in his position, it will be suggested that his public statements reflect the prime minister's own secret beliefs. His presence will also severely undermine the ability of Netanyahu's government to maintain the trust of the US as an honest negotiator, let alone the trust of the international community or the Palestinians.

If Netanyahu is, as he insists he is, truly bent on advancing the prospects of a two-state solution, he must have someone at the head of his diplomatic hierarchy who shares that goal. The same applies if he wants, as he says he does, to pursue delicate diplomacy with Turkey. Lieberman cannot fulfill that role. From Netanyahu's own point of view, in light of his own declared assessments and his own stated goals for this coalition, with all the complex implications for his coalition, Lieberman has given him no choice but to fire him.








There is very little Israel can actually do to prevent the world from recognizing Palestine. So what are we waiting for?

Talkbacks (4)

What would be so terrible if the state of Palestine continues to gain more and more recognition, even from Israel's friends and allies? That is the game in play today. Almost all of the world's leaders have come to the conclusion that the Netanyahu government has nothing to offer the Palestinians and that another round of negotiations at this time will be fruitless.

The Americans are also coming to the same conclusion, but it is more difficult for the self-appointed mediator and policeman of the world to accept the failure of its intervention and the limits of its power.

At the same time, the same leaders understand that the two-state solution must be saved. If Israel is unwilling, or unable to act in its own best interests by ending the occupation, the international community does not have to sit idly by as the best chance of peace withers away once again. The risks and consequences of another round of violence are too great to the parties, the region and to the world to allow an irresponsible Israeli leader to dictate the possible death of the only solution that can end the conflict.

No one is a great supporter of unilateralism. No one really believes that the conflict will be resolved through unilateral steps. It is quite evident that a negotiated agreement must be reached that will determine permanent borders and other core issues. Security arrangements must be agreed by both parties and supported by international monitors and peacekeeping forces. The lessons of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza without agreement have hopefully been learned by all.

But in the face of Israeli refusal to seriously engage in real negotiations and Palestinian refusal to come to the table until they see Israeli seriousness, the rules of the game need to be changed to compel the parties to reach a negotiated agreement.


BINYAMIN NETANYAHU supports the two-state solution – at least that is what he claims. Our prime minister is intelligent enough to understand exactly what that means; he knows what the permanent status peace agreement looks like. He is well aware that his predecessor Ehud Olmert was quite close to reaching an agreement, and both he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud believe that with several more months of negotiations an agreement could have been reached.

That agreement would have brought about the birth of Palestine on more than 95 percent of the West Bank with territorial exchanges on a 1:1 basis, with two capitals in Jerusalem and some form of a special regime in the Old City. This is the agreement, there will be no other and this is also the vision of peace that almost every world leader supports.


So even if Netanyahu has a different vision of peace, in his heart of hearts he has to be aware that he cannot convince the Palestinians to accept less. He must also realize that Israel cannot allow itself to miss the possibility of reaching a negotiated agreement and there will probably never be a better opportunity than right now.

What can Israel do if the process of recognizing Palestine continues? Probably nothing. It can kick and scream, threaten and protest but unless it is interested in working against itself, there is actually very little that can be done to block the inevitable.


It can bring back checkpoints all over the West Bank as punishment. Will this help the security situation, which has never been better? 

It can withhold taxes and customs which it collects for the Palestinians in the framework of one of the only aspects of the Oslo agreement still working. Will the US and the EU, which are bankrolling the establishment of the Palestinian state, sit idly in the face of breaches of working relationships which are so vital to stability and security? 

It could prevent Palestinians from traveling because it controls all of the movements of the Palestinians. How long would that work and how could that be in its interest? 

Israel could unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, but this would cross lines in international relations that no government before has even seriously considered. It could get the US Congress to write more letters to President Barack Obama and more House or Senate resolutions backing its policies, but that would not really help.

Let's face it, there is very little that Israel can actually do to prevent the world from recognizing Palestine. Eventually the US will also recognize it and, at least according to Netanyahu, so will Israel. So what are we waiting for? For decades we have tried to prevent the creation of the Palestinian state. One prime minister after the other since
Yitzhak Rabin has come to the conclusion that the only way to end the conflict is by accepting the logic that was behind the 1947 UN partition plan. So much blood could have been saved if we had been wise enough to accept the inevitable when our neighbors did in 1988 (41 years too late). How much more blood must be shed before the inevitable is implemented? 

The conflict is resolvable. The two-state solution is the only solution. It can be achieved today and there is no better leader than Netanyahu to do it. Netanyahu and Abbas can lead their peoples to a new beginning – a new day when the slogan two states for two-peoples becomes a reality.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (








Israel must be prepared for two things this upcoming year: A missile war with Hamas and a political war with Fatah.


Talkbacks (7)

On Sunday thousands of Israel haters gathered in Istanbul to welcome the Turkish-Hamas terror ship Mavi Marmara to the harbor. Festooned with Palestinian flags, the crowd chanted "Death to Israel," "Down with Israel" and "Allah akbar" with Hizbullah-like enthusiasm.

The Turkish protesters promised to stand on the side of Hamas when it next goes to war with Israel. They may not have to wait long to keep their promise. Over the past two weeks Hamas has steeply escalated its missile war with over 30 launches. Last week, a missile that narrowly missed a nursery school wounded a young girl.

Since Operation Cast Lead two years ago, Iran has helped Hamas massively increase its missile and other military capabilities. Today the terror group that rules Gaza has missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. It has advanced antitank missiles. As Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said Saturday, "We are now stronger than before and during the war, and our silence over the past two years was only for evaluating the situation."

That evaluation has not tempered Hamas's aim of annihilating the Jews of Israel. As Obeida's colleague Ahmed Jaabari said Saturday, Israel's Jews have two choices, "death or departing Palestinian lands."


IDF commanders are taking Hamas's new brinksmanship seriously. In recent days several have said that Israel's deterrence has eroded. Another Cast Lead is just a matter of time, they warn.

In the meantime, Fatah – Hamas's sometime rival and sometime brother – is preparing its next round of political warfare with its many friends around the world. Despite some recent tactical repositioning, its goal is clearly to proceed with its plan to declare statehood with maximum international support within the next nine to 12 months.

To this end, Fatah and its allies are operating on multiple fronts. On November 24 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to hold a Durban III conference on September 21. The first conference, held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001, is mainly remembered as a diplomatic pogrom against Israel and Jews which complemented the shooting war in Israel.

As Jews were being butchered in pizzerias in Jerusalem, Jew-haters gathered to deny that Jews have human rights. They used the UN's anti-racism banner to assert that it is not racist to kill and incite the murder of Jews. Jews were singled out and condemned as the only nation in the world whose national liberation movement – Zionism – is racist.

BUT EVEN more important than its service in glorifying suicide bombers and their political commissars just three days before the September 11 jihadist assault on the US, the Durban conference was the place where the blueprint for the political war against Israel was authored. At the NGO conference which took place as an adjunct to the governmental conference, self-proclaimed "human rights" groups from around the world agreed that their job was to criminalize the Jewish state to isolate it politically, diplomatically and economically. As key organizers put it, the "activists'" job was to conduct a nonviolent jihad to complement the work of the "resistance fighters" massacring children and parents in Israel.

The Durban II conference last year in Geneva was supposed to reinvigorate the political war that was launched in 2001. But it was a bust. The only head of state to address the proceedings was Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He used the occasion to again call for the eradication of the Jewish state.

To prevent another flop, last month the Palestinians and their supporters agreed that the 10th anniversary conference will be held in New York during the opening of UN General Assembly. Their goal is to piggyback on that conference to get heads of state that are in New York already to join in their anti-Israel political war.

And they have every reason for optimism. Although Canada and Israel have announced their plans to boycott the conference, the Obama administration has been noticeably unwilling to distance itself from it.

Given the swank locale of Durban III, the Palestinians and their friends trust they will enjoy a reprise of the virulently anti-Jewish NGO conference of a decade ago. The resolution clearly advocates such an outcome in its call for "civil society, including NGOs to organize and support" the conference "with high visibility."

For Fatah leaders like the Palestinian Authority's unelected president Mahmoud Abbasand its unelected prime minister Salam Fayyad, the Durban III conference will be the culmination of their current campaign to delegitimize Israel.

Last week the PA announced it will ask the UN Security Council to pass an anti- Semitic resolution defining Jewish building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as illegal. This move dovetails nicely with Abbas's statement over the weekend that "Palestine" will be Jew-free. As he put it, "If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won't agree to the presence of one Israeli in it. When a Palestinian state is established, it would have no Israeli presence."

To date neither of these racist bids to deny Jews basic rights to their homes and land just because they are Jews has been opposed by any government or human rights group. And if the Obama administration allows the PA's anti-Semitic resolution to go forward in the Security Council, the move would be a massive victory for the political war against Israel.

That war has already won some other significant victories of late. The decision by five South American governments to recognize "Palestine" along the 1949 armistice lines, like the decision by a number of European states – following the US – to upgrade the PLO's diplomatic status are tactical gains.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled this month that the Obama administration is wholly on board Fatah's political warfare bandwagon. In her speech at the Brookings Institute on December 10, she said the Obama administration supports Fatah's plan to build facts on the ground that will make it more difficult for Israel to maintain its control over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

After calling Jewish presence in the areas "illegitimate," Clinton pledged the US "will deepen our support of the Palestinians' state-building efforts."

Among other things, she pledged to continue training and deploying a Palestinian army in Judea and Samaria and pressuring Israel to withdraw the IDF from the areas.

As she put it, "As the Palestinian security forces continue to become more professional and capable, we look to Israel to facilitate their efforts. And we hope to see a significant curtailment of incursions by Israeli troops into Palestinian areas."

These then are the contours of the Palestinians' war plans for 2011. Hamas will launch an illegal missile war to provoke an IDF campaign in Gaza. Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Turkey, the UN and a vast array of NGOs and leftist governments from Norway to Brazil will support its illegal war.

Fatah will escalate its political war. Its campaign will be supported by the US, the EU, the UN and a vast array of NGOs and leftist governments.


The purpose of these two campaigns – which complement one another and which will likely culminate at the UN in September – is to weaken Israel militarily and politically with the shared purpose of destroying it in the fullness of time.

SO WHAT must Israel do? In the first instance, it must decide that its goal is not merely to weather this storm, but to win both of these wars.

In recent days we have been witness to a mildly entertaining fight between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert accused Barak of purposely failing to defeat Hamas during Operation Cast Lead. Barak, Olmert alleged, "did everything he could to defend Hamas and to prevent its downfall in the Gaza Strip."

Barak responded to Olmert's broadside by accusing the leader who failed to defeat Hizbullah in the 2006 war of "phony Churcillianism."

Ironically, of course, both are right. Both of them led Israel in war with extreme incompetence. Both refused to put together strategies for victory.

Now as the country contemplates a reprise of Cast Lead, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must ensure that when the IDF acts, it acts decisively and emerges victorious. If this means firing Barak, then he must be fired.

The same is true in the political realm. The Palestinian offensive must be met by a counteroffensive that is informed by a strategy for victory. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman demonstrated the starting point on Sunday when he told Israel's ambassadors that peace with the Palestinians is impossible. But this is not enough.


Any strategy for victory in political warfare must begin with a clear recognition of reality. Peace is impossible because like Hamas, Fatah is the enemy. Its leaders and rank and file reject our right to exist. They are building a state that will be at war with us. They are avidly working to delegitimize us with the intention of destroying us together with their brothers in Hamas – whom they finance with US and other foreign aid.


A political war against Fatah would involve actively discrediting its members and leaders. Today Fatah is running a campaign libeling IDF soldiers and commanders as war criminals. Israel must file valid war crimes complaints against Fatah terrorists and political leaders in the international and foreign judicial bodies.

Fatah uses the UN to delegitimize us. Our delegations at all UN bodies must daily submit resolutions calling for the condemnation of the Palestinians for their efforts to criminalize us and carry out war crimes against us.

Israel must also rally its allies to its side. We must ask our friends in the US Congress to defund the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA. The PA is a terroristic and criminal syndicate that uses US taxpayer dollars to finance terrorism and pad the pockets of terror masters and apparachiks. UNRWA, which is supposed to be a welfare organization, openly acknowledges that it employs terrorists, allows its schools and camps to be used as jihad indoctrination centers, training camps and missile launching pads. The Congressional Research Service has stated that it is impossible to claim that US funds to UNRWA do not at least indirectly finance terror groups.

At home the government must stop all tax transfers to the PA. It must prohibit the deployment of the US-trained Palestinian army in Judea and Samaria. It must rebuff US pressure to curtail IDF counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria.

The government must outlaw all organizations assisting the Palestinians in their military and political warfare operations. It should support class action lawsuits against the PA by terror victims in local courts. It should withhold diplomatic visas to representatives of countries like Britain where Israeli politicians and military personnel are barred from travelling due to Palestinian lawfare operations.

The government should implement Netanyahu's open airwaves plan and encourage the launch of a private all news network along the Fox News model.

The Palestinians clearly see the coming year as a decisive year in their war to destroy Israel. The Netanyahu government needs to muster its forces to battle. These are battles we can win. But to do so, we must commit ourselves to victory.







The days of the rabbi as a moral conscience are behind us. The rabbi as irritant has been replaced with rabbi as ego-massager.


Talkbacks (2)

Presenting directly after me at a recent conference in Malaga, Spain, was legendary Apple Macintosh promoter Guy Kawasaki, who said something counterintuitive about marketing: Seek to polarize your audience. Never fear splitting your public into those who love you and those who don't.

It's something today's rabbis might take to heart.

As I visit Jewish communities around the world I constantly hear "our rabbi is the nicest guy" or "he's not my rabbi, he's my friend."

How sweet.

Often the comments come from people who see the rabbi in synagogue perhaps three times a year. Yes, our rabbi is amazing. He never makes us question our vacuous lives. He never lectures us to spend less on ourselves and more on the needy. Rather than rebuking us for squandering our potential on crass TV and mindless celebrity gossip, he can actually join the conversation about the latest movies.


Welcome to a generation where rabbis have been rendered toothless. The days of the rabbi as a moral conscience are behind us. The rabbi as irritant has been replaced with rabbi as ego-massager. The rabbi is the with-it guy with whom you watch the ball game. Yep, that's one swell guy.

Ah, you say, the Jewish community is sinking into an ever-deeper pit of material consumption and over-the-top bar mitzvas? Fear not. The rabbi knows where his bread is buttered. He's not going to anger the board by admonishing the congregation about lives bereft of Jewish values.

Which explains why rabbis have next to no influence in the Jewish world.

You heard me right.


GO TO any of the major Jewish conferences like AIPAC or the General Assembly and you'll see the rabbi s rolled out to say the blessing on the bread. They are seldom, if ever, consulted on issues of policy. Birthright Israel was dreamed up by two businessmen.

The rabbi is there for ceremony. We train him for five years to announce page numbers in synagogue and present your daughter with a leather-bound Bible for her bat mitzva.

But has it profited the Jews to have rabbis confined to telling a man to break a glass under the wedding canopy rather than cry out that our community is becoming more religious but less spiritual? 


Through our desire not to offend, we rabbis have reduced ourselves to caricatures, the vitality of our souls sandwiched into the extremely narrow bandwidth accorded to us by a community that calls on us primarily for lifecycle events.

I constantly hear myself being described as controversial, as if that's an insult for a rabbi. Yes, I am a rabbi who is loved and hated. A preparedness to be unpopular is what I have learned from Judaism. No one experienced greater rejection from the Israelites than Moses, who made uncomfortable demands. Mordechai spared the Jews a holocaust but is described as being admired only by "most of his brethren."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe saved the Jewish people from spiritual annihilation, yet his legacy's still controversial. No American was more hated in his lifetime than Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill was fired right after defeating Hitler.

The most influential rabbis in the world are those like Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who aren't afraid to take verbal jackhammers to anti-Semites, notwithstanding the discomfort it causes less vocal Jews. 

The always-agreeable rabbis? I would mention them. But you would never have heard of them.

RABBIS MUST begin broadening their roles away from the ceremonial and toward the provocative. You're given a pulpit. Use it. Get up there on Saturday morning and belt out a sermon about the high rates of divorce in your synagogue and how you expect husbands to compliment their wives daily. Tell the women that dignified dress has always been the hallmark of the classy Jewess. Announce that outrageously lavish weddings violate Jewish values, since they make those who can't afford one feel they've let their children down.

Stop being merely a rabbi and become an organizational entrepreneur. Put on world-class debates in your synagogue that make people take a side on intermarriage, women's roles and softening support for Israel.

Last week I called three New York synagogues to partner on a public conversation I am hosting with Rick Sanchez, the CNN TV host fired for an alleged anti-Semitic comment in October. I thought he was treated appallingly. Disagree? Let's talk about it.

But only the Carlebach shul in Manhattan, forever unafraid to be controversial, agreed to host. It's no wonder that Carlebach is also the most authentically spiritual synagogue in Manhattan.

Rabbis, write weekly provocative pieces. Get under your congregants' skin. Polarize your audience. Seek influence rather than popularity.

And stand up for yourself. Rabbis deserve to be appreciated, respected, and compensated for their time. They have families too.


I wrote recently about how I had agreed to have my upcoming Los Angeles debate withChristopher Hitchens on the afterlife taken over by the American Jewish University after it offered to host it and add two more speakers. But when I found out that the atheist side was being paid about 10 times as much as the rabbis – even though both rabbis have national profiles – I objected, even though it led to the cancelation of my participation.

Of course rabbis should speak pro bono for worthy organizations with little funding. But if you can pay other speakers full honorariums, why should rabbis be treated differently? 

I have worked throughout my life to broaden the definition of a rabbi. No, I have not always succeeded and yes, I have made mistakes. But I have pushed the boundary because the title is too vital to be a straitjacket and the Jewish message is too defiant to be innocuous.

The writer is the international best-selling author of 24 books and in January will publishHonoring the Child Spirit: Conversations with Michael Jackson on What Parents Can Learn from their Children.









Lieberman has served Netanyahu well by placing into the public debate cautions and concerns the prime minister himself doesn't dare to utter.


Talkbacks (3)

When the Netanyahu government was formed, the Israeli media was filled with predictions of how long it would be before Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would be forced to resign to face criminal charges and whether his departure would signal a coalition re-shuffling or a new government altogether. Just shy of two years later, Lieberman remains in his post.

Based on media references, the uninformed might believe he serves as Israel's "controversial" rather than "foreign" minister. During his tenure, Lieberman has filled the role of lightning rod for international angst, espousing what his supporters see as common sense, diplo-speak-free solutions that his detractors see as racist and anti-peace. And while he has no shortage of critics, Lieberman has amassed a significant cadre of boosters along the way. Typical of the Lieberman-Netanyahu dialectic, when the prime minister speaks of the nation's commitment to the US-brokered peace process, the foreign minister will assert the futility of the talks and disparage the legitimacy of Israel's Palestinian negotiating partners. Some have suggested that far from presenting a dysfunctional point-counterpoint between prime minister and foreign minister, Lieberman has served the PM well by placing into the public debate cautions and concerns Netanyahu himself doesn't dare to utter for fear of upsetting a delicate balance with his American patrons.

AGAINST THIS background, the recent blow-up between Netanyahu and Lieberman presents intriguing permutations.

It's no-doubt irritating to the anti-Lieberman crowd that, like it or not, the Moldovan émigré offers plans rather than ad hominem attacks to back up his positions. This, of course, fuels speculation that his outbursts are more coordinated with the Prime Minster's Office than is let on. While Lieberman is often tarred with the "racist" epithet for suggesting a transfer of population, successive Israeli-Palestinian negotiating teams have accepted in-principle the idea of several Israeli settlement-blocs remaining after any final agreement inside of territory Israel acquired in the 1967-war; and that compensation would be made to the Palestinians in an equal amount of territory now located inside of pre-1967 Israel. (A detailed rendering of the concept has been painstakingly created under former Ambassador Edward Djerjian's watch at the 
James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University in Houston). An objective reading of Lieberman's plan adds little more than to identify the subject land to be transferred as predominantly Israeli Arab (or Palestinian) communities.

The timing of Lieberman's most recent outbursts is newfound nourishment for conspiracy theorists. They come amid a stagnant process that the American administration is desperately trying to paint with signs of life and direction. Having given up on the failed formula of cajoling (and even bribing) the parties back to the table, US interlocutors are struggling for believability and capability while the Palestinians' "Plan B" – turning to the international community for endorsement of statehood absent Israeli assent – is resonating beyond the expectations of many inside the world of international diplomacy.


What better time for Israel to put forth its own "Plan B" – and one that contains within it a mechanism to forestall a final agreement (which Lieberman says is "impossible" and Netanyahu arguably wants to postpone) – all while covering the points nearest and dearest to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: turning over more security responsibility to the Palestinians; improving Palestinians' freedom of movement; and setting the goal of economic parity between the West Bank and Israel as the trigger for eventual (and consensual) statehood.

After all, had Netanyahu offered the same suggestions, they would have been dismissed no less decisively than they are now but added to the downside would be incalculable collateral damage between Jerusalem and Washington.

Veteran Israeli political junkies will probably dismiss this entire thesis, opting instead to be entertained by predictions of the perfect political storm that will blow away the current government. But stripped of political theatre, what is laid bare could be a Rube Walker-esque system of injecting new ideas into an un-accepting culture of conventional wisdoms. And new ideas – regardless of how they enter the system – trump stagnation.

The writer is executive editor of The Media Line news agency ( He can be reached at








Given the dismal state of Labor, the former party chairman will have much to consider before plunging back into the quagmire of national politics.

Talkbacks (1)


When the Likud found itself with only 12 Knesset seats following the 2006 elections, its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, had few qualms about leading his party into opposition and took advantage of the years in the wilderness for rehabilitation purposes. This is what Amram Mitzna tried to do following the 2003 elections, when under his leadership the Labor Party received only 19 seats. However, the party bolted, causing Mitzna to resign as chairman, and crawled back into the government. Mitzna remained in the Knesset as a backbencher for another two years, and then resigned to become acting mayor of Yeruham.

Now Mitzna's five-year term in Yeruham has come to an end – five years in which he won much acclaim and admiration for the reforms which he instituted, his devotion, diligence and humility – it isn't everyday that a former major-general, mayor and party leader decides to devote five years of his life to save a sinking Negev town, spending five days a week in a modest two-room apartment, while foregoing the services of a driver and other amenities to which he was undoubtedly accustomed.

Even before Mitzna left Yeruham, he was contacted by various figures from within the Labor Party and Meretz, seeking to entice him back into the quagmire of national politics. Those who wish Mitzna well are advising him to keep away from Labor. "Don't even touch it with a stick," MK Eitan Cabel is reported to have warned him. Undoubtedly, Mitzna will have to carefully consider his options, given the dismal state of the political Left in general, and that of Labor in particular.

In 1981, Yossi Sarid (then still a member of the Labor Party) argued that demographics were working against the Left. The amazing fact is that he said this after the Likud had completed only one term in office, before Shas was founded (in 1984), before ever growing numbers of haredim reached voting age and a decade before more than a million immigrants, most of them with right-wing inclinations, arrived from the former Soviet Union. What Sarid said nearly 30 years ago is still valid. 

This does not mean that the trend will continue forever. Historical trends are not necessarily linear. George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World took a linear perspective, which suggested that what is will continue to be, only more so.

In 1984 journalist/writer Amnon Dankner executed a similar exercise in a short story he wrote (in Hebrew), "The Return of the Khanta."

In this story, Israel has turned into a fanatic ultra-religious state, in which the Arabs live in reserves, the Likud is allowed to operate under strict limitations and all that remains of the Labor movement is a dilapidated museum. Dankner's nightmarish vision might still be viewed as a not totally unlikely forecast, but not necessarily so.

UNFORTUNATELY, WHILE the excellent work performed by left-wing MKs such as Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) in the field of social legislation, Haim Oron (Meretz) in the Finance Committee and Dov Henin (Hadash) in the field of the environment, is widely appreciated, it has very little if any effect on how people vote. The same applies to Mitzna's five years in the desert. This does not mean that left-wing politicians should not continue to do their best, but simply that without some external development that will shake the foundations of society, the trends are unlikely to change.

Such developments might include a further deterioration in the country's political status in the world; a further deterioration in the economic and social conditions of large sectors of the population, accompanied by growing inequalities; financial instability (especially if Stanley Fischer decides he has had enough of us); or a massive natural catastrophe or military embroilment, with far-reaching civilian consequences.


This being the reality, the question is not whether Mitzna – an outspoken dove – has any chance of winning an election, since no leader of the Left today has any chance of winning an election. The question that must be asked is whether he is the right man to wean the Labor Party ministers from office (despite the positive things some of them have accomplished), to reestablish the party as a living body, with a clear-cut ideology and program, and to try to unite all the enlightened left-wing forces in the country under a single roof, that will offer the public a real alternative, if and when it is ready for it.

Another question is whether what remains of the Labor Party establishment will let him do all these things. Many will answer in the negative, and Mitzna will have to take this into account before he decides what path to take.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.









Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took advantage of his appearance Sunday at a Foreign Ministry conference of Israeli ambassadors for one of his periodic horror shows. Lieberman, as is his habit, lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (whom he called a liar ), at the Palestinian Authority (which he called illegitimate ) and at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (whose assurances regarding a final peace agreement Lieberman described as unrealistic ). Netanyahu, as is his own habit, avoided a confrontation with his rebellious foreign minister and sufficed with a weak response, stating that Lieberman's comments reflect the foreign minister's personal assessments and positions, and not the government's position.

Netanyahu is making a mistake. Lieberman was not speaking at a party conference or a meeting of his Yisrael Beiteinu faction. He made the comments in front of Israel's 170 senior diplomats. His audience is supposed to represent the country in the world's capitals.


Now they are in a bind. Should they present foreign governments with the "personal positions" of the minister to whom they report or the "government's position" as expressed by Netanyahu? Should they describe the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as a welcome partner for peace or as a dictator who lost elections and is in power illegally? Should the contacts over improving relations with Turkey be described as a welcome development or should the Turks be vilified?


If Netanyahu expects to be taken seriously and his contention that he and only he expresses the government's position is to be accepted, he must dismiss Lieberman immediately. Israel is in need of a foreign minister to represent it before the international community rather than an oppositionist figure competing in the guise of a diplomat for the leadership of the Israeli right wing.


Netanyahu has been warning of the dangers of the delegitimization of Israel abroad, but he is refraining from the first step necessary to improve the country's image: the appointment of a foreign minister suitable for the position. Lieberman and his pronouncements only provide vindication to Israel's adversaries.


There is another possibility, however, and that is that Lieberman is right and the current government cannot present a plan for a final peace agreement with the Palestinians out of concern that the coalition will immediately break up. Lieberman says that Netanyahu cannot make good on his commitment to two states for two peoples, and has no chance of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough. If that is the case, Netanyahu should either reconfigure his coalition or go to new elections.









After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that he never could have imagined where the cycle of rabbinical incitement, combined with a sense of political endorsement and rabble-rousing, would lead. It would seem, however, that Netanyahu took from this a diametrically opposite lesson.


The inciting rabbis continue to receive tens of thousands of shekels a month from the Israeli government. The prime minister himself makes inflammatory remarks against "the foreigners." And the sense of support from the politicians is reinforced by the introduction of a series of racist bills whose apex is the "discrimination committee law," which threatens to turn a rabbinical edict into a state law that will promote "Jews-only" areas.


The "dictatorship of the peas," according to the organizational consultant Tal Gutfeld, is an organizational culture in which scattering peas on the ground leads the public and media to run around after a single pea each time, while forgetting the overall context of the situation.


A similar method is at play in every cycle of racism. The theme is sometimes "the Arabs," sometimes "foreigners from Africa" and sometimes "disloyal citizens." This is precisely the role played by "the Jews," "the Communists," "the homosexuals" and "the Gypsies." In effect, these are interchangeable objects for the mass conflict and the convenience of the regime. The real subject is the racist, antidemocratic incitement.


It is no accident that the organizers behind the demonstrations in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv's Hatikva quarter and at Kikar Zion in Jerusalem were identical.


The thousands that returned to this public square - as their state-funded rabbis dare to promise "civil war" from on high - shed light on the wider context. The state budget and the so-called Economic Arrangements Bill that supplements it illuminate that context fully. Likud came to power in 1977 on the wings of the "second Israel" upset. After 33 years of Likud dominance - with brief breaks, mainly under Rabin's murdered government - there are no longer two Israels. Now there are three.


The first Israel is the Israel of the big bucks. Wealth, connections and elite entities such as the Israel Air Force going to town on an unlimited budget. The second Israel, adjacent to the first, is the Israel of the yeshivas and the settlements. More than one million people live there, beyond the borders of the state and of the need to work. Most of the billions spread around there are not only for idleness but also for "educational work," in which the state-supported teach the majority of the country's first-graders, who are defined as Jews, in the spirit of Safed's municipal rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu.


And the third Israel? Nothing is left for it.


Most Israelis live in the third Israel. That's where the tapped-out firefighting services are, and the penniless nonreligious school system. That's where you'll find the moaning state prosecutors, the derelict health services, the burned-out social workers. In that distant land a third of the workers bring home less than NIS 3,850 a month. What a life.


The power of the alliance between Netanyahu and the religious extremists is an invitation to a dramatic change. But anyone who lifts their eyes from the peas scattered on the floor will see that a forest greater than Birnam Wood can move.


The year 1948 was not only when "Big Brother" was created as a horror scenario but also the year a state was born. With the right leadership, the majority of the public that still wants democracy, a normal life and a declaration of independence, could turn away from the screens of the Big Brother and recognize that it deserves more. There is no reason for citizens of Israel, a wealthy country, to settle for mutual hatred and for peas. The majority could rise up against Dunsinane, the castle of the ruler whose hands will ne'er be clean.


There are many who cannot see from within the fire, but this could be the last budget to leave the majority of Israelis outside the castle of a decent life.









Among those shocked at the "spread of racism" are people who claim that the residents of the neighborhoods protesting against foreigners are not racist but merely afraid, merely in distress. Indeed, the chief activist in the neighborhood of Kiryat Shalom, Eli Mizrahi, said, "There is no hatred .... We know they are suffering .... I don't understand: Why is it necessary to make it harder for us, in a place with a weak population? ... Why pile weakness on weakness?"


It's true; the neighborhoods are weak, with weak residents who have a hard time making a living and getting ahead. One can just read the reports on increasing poverty, declining wages and growing nutritional insecurity to know how tangible the distress is; a struggle for survival. Israel neglected these people and communities, and in recent years is only increasing their number.


But the distress does not contradict the racism, it goes hand in hand with it. In its early days, when Israel's character was taking shape, it determined that the white race was superior. When the people who would eventually become "Mizrahim" arrived and were brought here from North Africa, it wasn't suggested or made possible for them to take part in the government, the land, the systems of power and the media. Very quickly they became citizens, but second-class citizens subject to humiliation and inferior conditions. They were excluded from public life and official cultural life, living with the knowledge and experience of inferiority. And separation: They were put in separate housing projects and separate neighborhoods.


People who grow up with this experience of inferiority, when racism is directed at them, internalize that racism. When a landlord, the master, determines that white is good and black is inferior, you internalize that standard and hate yourself because you are not white. The standard of white superiority and the racism that comes with it become part of you, even when you are its victim.


And then you project your racism onward, to anyone who is darker and more inferior than you. Add to that the existential distress and the inflaming of baser instincts by types like extreme right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who don't miss an opportunity to gather new believers, and you get the recent racist demonstrations.


After all, this is always how it works: The racist, extreme right wing gets in and fills the vacuum left by the negligent social left. But make no mistake - the hatred and racism were always here; now they are emerging more loudly.


The white upper classes sublimate their racism: They employ the people they perceive as inferior; they have the money to pay them (not much ) to clean for them and take care of them. Once it was the Arabs and the Mizrahim, now it's the "infiltrators" and the foreigners (in fact, upper-class women are the employers, the men don't even have any contact with them ).


And so this class does just what the white and racist prime minister is doing, inciting against the very things that step on the weakest points of the weak: "a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country," and a "wave threatening Israeli workplaces". And immediately thereafter, warning Israelis "not to take the law into their own hands and not to hurt the illegal infiltrators" so he can wash his hands of the matter: They are the racists, those baboons, not him.


That's the way this class is, part of which belongs to the good old "left," disappointed with the peace process and party to the building of the separation fence, the roads for Jews only and acceptance committees to communities. And in the same breath, they frame the others with the charge of racism, those others from the Hatikva neighborhood and Bat Yam.









Terrorists have used pistols and automatic rifles to kill individuals. They have used suicide bombers with pinpoint accuracy to kill groups assembled in places of entertainment. They have used aircraft to kill hundreds and thousands. But the most effective terror weapon has become the ballistic rocket. It is cheap and launched from a distance against civilian targets, allowing the terrorists to escape before the rocket lands.


For some years now, Israel's civilian population has been targeted by terrorist rockets: first Katyusha rockets in the north launched by Hezbollah terrorists, and then Qassam rockets in the south launched by Hamas terrorists. Initially there were tens of rockets, then there were hundreds. But now, the threat comes from tens of thousands of rockets directed at Israel's civilian population.


Moreover, at first only certain border areas were threatened. But now, the entire country is under the threat of terrorist rocket attacks.


What used to be a basic tenet of Israel's defense doctrine - that in war, the safety of the civilian population must be assured - has gradually been abandoned. Now, military spokesmen announce that in case of war, Israel's entire civilian population can expect to be hit by terrorist rockets. This is a fundamental change for the worse in Israel's strategic posture.


How have we allowed this intolerable situation to creep up on us? Were our leaders asleep, not aware of what was happening around us?


Actually, some of them are responsible for bringing about this situation. The unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in south Lebanon left Hezbollah free to greatly increase the number of ballistic rockets in its possession, while the failure of the Second Lebanon War allowed Hezbollah to take control of Lebanon, freely bring in rockets from Syria and deploy them, ready for launch against Israel, throughout Lebanon.


Then the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip brought Hamas to power in Gaza, and Hamas terrorists began launching rockets with impunity against the civilian population of southern Israel. That went on for years without an Israeli response.


Although finally, Operation Cast Lead in 2008 substantially decreased the number of rockets launched at Israel, the people in the south still receive an almost daily dose of rockets and mortar shells from terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The operation was stopped before the job was completed, and Hamas is now increasing its stock of ballistic missiles, preparing for the next round.


Whereas many Israelis seem to be quite concerned about what "the world" thinks of Israel, we ought to realize that many countries that are deeply worried when threatened by terrorism on their home soil seem not to care much that Israel's entire civilian population is under terrorist threat. It is not to them that we can look for a solution to this problem; this is a problem we will have to face ourselves.


What to do? For a long period of time, our leaders seemed to be in a state of denial.


First we were told that our scientists were developing ballistic missile interception systems that would in time provide a defensive umbrella over the civilian population and shoot down whatever missiles the terrorists launched. You did not have to be a rocket scientist to know this was a pipe dream. Quite aside from the great technological challenges that must be surmounted in developing such systems, the difference in cost between the cheap missile being launched and the complex system designed to intercept it is so great that this cannot possibly be a solution to the problem.


Then we were told we could deter the terrorists from using these weapons against us. Think again: Who is deterring whom?


Does that mean there is nothing to do but dig more shelters for the civilian population and supply everyone with his or her personal gas mask? Not so fast. Acceptance of this intolerable situation should not be the answer.


There are things that can be done to decrease the dimensions of the danger facing us and begin to swing the strategic balance in our favor. They include steps of a defensive nature, of an offensive nature and of a deterrent nature.


Our prime minister, our defense minister, the "septet" of seven key ministers, the cabinet, the National Security Council, the Israel Defense Forces and the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had better put their thinking caps on and go to work. There is much to be done, and time may be short.


]Or else, we had better get ready for the next commission of inquiry.









In the complicated affair of the Beit Yonatan apartment building in East Jerusalem, there is one question Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat must answer for his city's residents: What's the difference between the settlers of Beit Yonatan in the heart of the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood and a group of secular students in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood?


Regarding the Haredization of Jerusalem's secular neighborhoods, Barkat has an answer that he has been using since even before the elections: Every community needs neighborhoods of its own. About a month ago, Barkat's spokesman told Haaretz that "the municipality's policy is that each sector should be developed in its neighborhood ... in an effort to prevent unnecessary friction among the residents." Mixing Haredi and secular residents, says Barkat, is not proper for Jerusalem.


But what is proper for secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in West Jerusalem is far more proper when the issue is settlers and Palestinians in East Jerusalem. According to any measure - the potential for violence, the mutual hatred, the different needs - if it's desirable to separate students from the Haredi residents of Mea She'arim, how much more should the activist group Ateret Cohanim be separated from the Palestinian residents of Silwan? But in Silwan, Barkat is adopting an opposite policy. In recent years he has been fighting with all his might and even paying a public price to prevent the evacuation of Beit Yonatan.


It's possible that Barkat is not an expert on the situation in Silwan. But his bodyguards are not happy to take him for a visit in the narrow alley that leads to Beit Yonatan, to be besieged by stones and Molotov cocktails. Yet even from city hall in Safra Square it's hard not to see that the settlers' presence in Beit Yonatan is making thousands of the city's residents suffer.


The Jewish presence in Silwan is concentrated in two blocs: the Elad association near the Old City walls and the Temple Mount, and the Ateret Cohanim in the very heart of Silwan, which includes Beit Yonatan, home to 10 Jewish families, and nearby Beit Hadvash, with one family. Naturally, the friction between the settlers in the village and their bodyguards on the one hand and the Palestinians on the other creates conflict. Stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails are a daily occurrence for the settlers. Nighttime police raids, dozens of children arrested and the constant smell of tear gas are the lot of the Palestinians.


Removing Beit Yonatan from the equation would almost certainly lead to the end of the Jewish presence in the heart of Silwan. One act that is legally mandated, politically necessary and logically humane would reduce the suffering of Silwan's residents. And thousands of people would exit the cycle of violence. Anyone who is afraid that the Palestinians would look for new centers of friction should ask himself why he is barely familiar with names such as Suwahara and Beit Sahour, Palestinian neighborhoods where no Jews live and there is little violence.


The question remains why the mayor insists on continuing to make his city's residents suffer. The usual political explanation is that Barkat understands that the winner of Jerusalem's next election will be the person who receives the votes of the knitted-skullcap wearers, who vote for the right-wing parties. Barkat assumes that the ultra-Orthodox won't vote for him and the secular population will, so the deciding factor will be the national religious community. Therefore he must be portrayed as a rightist to guarantee himself another term.


But even according to this cold logic, after innumerable court decisions, including at the High Court of Justice, which demanded the evacuation of the building, and a similar number of threatening letters from two attorneys general, Barkat could easily blame everything on the "leftists" from the Justice Ministry and the High Court.


]"I fought for two and a half years," Barkat would explain to his voters. "I delayed the evacuation as long as I could, but 'they' forced me." That's all he has to do, tell the truth. Having said that, with a heavy heart but wholeheartedly, he must order the evacuation. When he does so, we, the residents of Jerusalem, will make do without an answer.




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




This country continues to pay a high price in both security and reputation for the Bush administration's many violations of international law at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. After more than a year of review, the Obama administration is preparing an executive order intended to resolve the situation of four dozen prisoners in the prison there who are caught in a legal limbo: they cannot be freed because they are considered a potentially serious terrorist threat, and they cannot be tried because the evidence against them is classified or was improperly obtained, often through torture.


The proposed order could give these prisoners a form of legal representation and a system to review their cases. It would not remove the tarnish to the American justice system of holding prisoners without trial. But it could represent a significant step forward in dealing with these cases and possibly reducing their number.


The order, which could be signed by the president as early as next month, would require periodic review of each prisoner's case by a kind of parole board drawn from agencies throughout the executive branch and not just the military.


This board would regularly assess whether a prisoner still represented a danger to public safety or was safe enough to release. The prisoners would have access to an outside lawyer, if they requested one, and would also be allowed an advocate within the system — a change from the Bush administration's policy of allowing them only a "personal representative," who was unable to help them make the case for release.


President Obama's plan to close Guantánamo — thwarted by Congress — had always recognized that there would be a small core of prisoners who could not be tried because of the nature of the evidence against them or the illegal way that evidence was obtained. (Others could be tried by a civilian or military court, or sent to another country or simply released.) These endless detentions clashed with the most basic legal protections of the Constitution. But judges have upheld them because of the public-safety issues involved.


The Obama administration deserves credit for trying to come up with a realistic legal process for these 48 prisoners, particularly after the Bush White House seemed content to hold them indefinitely with only a thin whitewash of due process. President Obama has rightly barred coercive interrogations and other forms of torture for new prisoners, and the administration needs to ensure that any future detainees are held only on admissible evidence.


Unfortunately, Congress seems determined to stymie every effort to close Guantánamo and begin dealing with its remaining prisoners in court. Last week, Congress passed a defense authorization bill that prohibits spending money to transfer a prisoner from Cuba to the United States, or to buy any prison facility in the United States that might hold the 48 in-limbo detainees.


To continue with military operations, the president will probably have to swallow his objections and sign the bill. Over the next year, he must work harder to persuade Congress not to interfere with the work of bringing fairness to the justice system at Guantánamo. As Mr. Obama rightly argued when discussing the detentions last week, "We have these core ideals that we observe — even when it's hard."






The General Electric Company agreed last week to finish the job of removing toxic PCBs from a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River. This is wonderful news for the river and its aquatic life, and a tribute to the environmental groups and government officials who had spent years working and waiting for this day.


It also says something positive about the present leadership of G.E. Ever since the river was declared a federal Superfund site a quarter-century ago, G.E. had stubbornly argued against the cleanup. The shift in its thinking is overdue but entirely welcome.


The company completed Phase 1 of the project, covering a small part of the river, earlier this year. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency gave G.E. until Jan. 14 to decide whether to proceed with the second and more demanding phase — a choice the company had under a 2005 consent decree with the government. Withdrawing from the project would have exposed G.E. to a long court fight and potentially enormous financial penalties. It could also have required the federal government to complete the job — at G.E.'s expense — which the E.P.A. is not presently equipped to do.


G.E.'s decision to proceed with Phase 2 is good for both its image and for the environment. The project is expected to take between five and seven years and may eventually cost more than $1 billion. Obviously, there will be glitches along the way, but G.E. has already built an impressive dredging facility near Fort Edward. And if any company has the drive, technical expertise and money to get the job done, it is this one.


G.E.'s historic obligation to the river is undeniable. Over three decades or so ending in 1970, G.E. discharged about 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the river. The discharges were legal at the time, but the PCBs were found to be potential carcinogens, contaminating fish and posing a health threat to humans. The 40-mile stretch where the chemicals had accumulated in greatest concentrations was designated a Superfund site, with G.E. responsible for cleaning it up.


The Hudson has endured repeated insults over the years, from industry, from untreated municipal sewage, from poorly planned residential development. G.E.'s pollution is surely among the worst of these. One can wish that the company had embraced its responsibility much earlier, but now that it has agreed to atone for its errors, one can only applaud.







Seventy-five years ago, the Supreme Court heard the inaugural arguments in its new building across from the United States Capitol. The architect, Cass Gilbert, designed a Greco-Roman temple, with imposing white marble columns and immense bronze doors. He intended it to be a monument to justice, and he succeeded.


The building was the project and passion of Chief Justice William Howard Taft. The former president, who had also argued before the court as solicitor general, was just as eager to transform the court's work. For 134 years, the court had met in borrowed space in the Capitol. The justices then functioned as a court of errors, correcting those of lower courts while only secondarily shaping American law.


Chief Justice Taft convinced Congress to pass the Judiciary Act of 1925, which gave the court wide discretion over its docket. The justices soon began to take cases of major social portent. In the Scottsboro case in 1932, the court overturned rape convictions on bogus charges of nine black youths because the State of Alabama had failed to provide them counsel. Throughout the 1920s, the chief justice also pushed for the new court building, and, in 1929, Congress appropriated $10 million.


In "Representing Justice," Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis describe the Gilbert building as the major symbol of American courts' essential role in our democracy and of the Supreme Court's particular responsibility for making hard choices fairly and openly.


The record of the current Roberts court too often runs counter to this conception: its rulings tend to deny rather than promote access to justice. The sense of being closed off was reinforced in May when the court decided, for security reasons, to stop the public from entering the building through the main bronze doors. On the inside, though, the building still feels vital — a hub of judicial activity, with a great library and other fine services supporting the justices' work.


The most intimate spot is the counsel's podium. Under a 44-foot-high ceiling and flanked by marble friezes, the podium can be lost in the room's grandeur. But standing there, a lawyer arguing before the court experiences its essence. He or she sees only the justices and their potential to fulfill the promise of American law.


In 1935, the court building opened as a symbol of that promise before the court had done a lot to fulfill it. Since then, the court has handed down monumental decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The unanimous ruling declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional fully established the court as a moral force in American life.


The Roberts court needs to work harder to live up to that standard and to the vision of Taft and Gilbert reflected in the court building. For that, justice must be truly democratic, not merely reserved for the powerful.








Call it the Boxing Day storm, the blizzard that slithered up the East Coast on the night after Christmas and into the next morning. Like other historic blizzards — 1978 and 1993 come to mind — this one carried a blunt message: stay indoors and stay put. Staying put was not hard to do on Monday. Nearly every mode of transportation in and around New York City, and much of the East Coast, had been suspended or was severely hampered. This was all the more troublesome because it caught so many holiday travelers in transit.


What made the storm brutal wasn't just the snow it dropped, from Alabama and Georgia all the way to Nova Scotia. It was also the wind the storm generated, swirling around an intense area of low pressure that crept north just offshore. Gusts off Cape Cod reached 80 miles per hour, and gusts of more than 60 m.p.h. were recorded in parts of New York, causing whiteout conditions on Monday morning and dangerous windchills on Monday night.


For all the disruption and danger this blizzard brought, it was hard not to revel in the transformation it caused, waking to a white city, a day when nearly every human agenda was superseded by snow and even the best intentions were drifted over.


Now comes the hard part: digging out. In New York City, that means a countdown until your street is plowed, a test of city services that reaches into the remotest corner of every borough. The snow will turn gray, and swamps of slush will form at the curbs and corners. The tangle of travelers will come untangled, and it will be time to turn to the new year and see what storms and sunny, melting days early 2011 will bring.








I keep hearing from the data zealots that holiday sales were impressive and the outlook for the economy in 2011 is not bad.


Maybe they've stumbled onto something in their windowless rooms. Maybe the economy really is gathering steam. But in the rough and tumble of the real world, where families have to feed themselves and pay their bills, there are an awful lot of Americans being left behind.


A continuing national survey of workers who lost their jobs during the Great Recession, conducted by two professors at Rutgers University, offers anything but a rosy view of the economic prospects for ordinary Americans. It paints, instead, a portrait filled with gloom.


More than 15 million Americans are officially classified as jobless. The professors, at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, have been following their representative sample of workers since the summer of 2009. The report on their latest survey, just out this month, is titled: "The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers Lose Ground, Hope, and Faith in Their Futures."


Over the 15 months that the surveys have been conducted, just one-quarter of the workers have found full-time jobs, nearly all of them for less pay and with fewer or no benefits. "For those who remain unemployed," the report says, "the cupboard has long been bare."


These were not the folks being coldly and precisely monitored, classified and quantified as they made their way to the malls to kick-start the economy. These were among the many millions of Americans who spent the holidays hurting.


As the report states: "The recession has been a cataclysm that will have an enduring effect. It is hard to overstate the dire shape of the unemployed."


Nearly two-thirds of the unemployed workers who were surveyed have been out of work for a year or more. More than a third have been jobless for two years. With their savings exhausted, many have borrowed money from relatives or friends, sold possessions to make ends meet and decided against medical examinations or treatments they previously would have considered essential.


Older workers who are jobless are caught in a particularly precarious state of affairs. As the report put it:


"We are witnessing the birth of a new class — the involuntarily retired. Many of those over age 50 believe they will not work again at a full-time 'real' job commensurate with their education and training. More than one-quarter say they expect to retire earlier than they want, which has long-term consequences for themselves and society. Many will file for Social Security as soon as they are eligible, despite the fact that they would receive greater benefits if they were able to delay retiring for a few years."


There is a fundamental disconnect between economic indicators pointing in a positive direction and the experience of millions of American families fighting desperately to fend off destitution. Some three out of every four Americans have been personally touched by the recession — either they've lost a job or a relative or close friend has. And the outlook, despite the spin being put on the latest data, is not promising.

No one is forecasting a substantial reduction in unemployment rates next year. And, as Motoko Rich reported in The Times this month, temporary workers accounted for 80 percent of the 50,000 jobs added by private sector employers in November.


Carl Van Horn, the director of the Heldrich Center and one of the two professors (the other is Cliff Zukin) conducting the survey, said he was struck by how pessimistic some of the respondents have become — not just about their own situation but about the nation's future. The survey found that workers in general are increasingly accepting the notion that the effects of the recession will be permanent, that they are the result of fundamental changes in the national economy.


"They're losing the idea that if you are determined and work hard, you can get ahead," said Dr. Van Horn. "They're losing that sense of optimism. They don't think that they or their children are going to fare particularly well."


The fact that so many Americans are out of work, or working at jobs that don't pay well, undermines the prospects for a robust recovery. Jobless people don't buy a lot of flat-screen TVs. What we're really seeing is an erosion of standards of living for an enormous portion of the population, including a substantial segment of the once solid middle class.


Not only is this not being addressed, but the self-serving, rightward lurch in Washington is all but guaranteed to make matters worse for working people. The zealots reading the economic tea leaves see brighter days ahead. They can afford to be sanguine. They're working.









The Sidney Awards go to some of the best magazine essays of the year. The one-man jury is biased against political essays, since politics already gets so much coverage. But the jury is biased in favor of pieces that illuminate the ideas and conditions undergirding political events.


For example, there's been a lot of talk this year about trying to reduce corruption in Afghanistan, Iraq and across the Middle East. But in a piece in The American Interest called "Understanding Corruption," Lawrence Rosen asks: What does corruption mean?


For Westerners, it means one set of things: bribery and nepotism, etc. But when Rosen asks people in the Middle East what corruption is, he gets variations on an entirely different meaning: "Corruption is the failure to share any largess you have received with those with whom you have formed ties of dependence."


Our view of corruption makes sense in a nation of laws and impersonal institutions. But, Rosen explains, "Theirs is a world in which the defining feature of a man is that he has formed a web of indebtedness, a network of obligations that prove his capacity to maneuver in a world of relentless uncertainty." So to not give a job to a cousin is corrupt; to not do deals with tribesmen is corrupt. Reducing corruption in Afghanistan is not a question of replacing President Hamid Karzai with a more honest man. It's a deeper process.


In earlier ages, people consulted oracles. We consult studies. We rely on scientific findings to guide health care decisions, policy making and much else. But in an essay called "The Truth Wears Off" in The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer reports on something strange.


He describes a class of antipsychotic drugs, whose effectiveness was demonstrated by several large clinical trials. But in a subsequent batch of studies, the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to wane precipitously.


This is not an isolated case. "But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain," Lehrer writes. "It's as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable."


The world is fluid. Bias and randomness can creep in from all directions. For example, between 1966 and 1995 there were 47 acupuncture studies conducted in Japan, Taiwan and China, and they all found it to be an effective therapy. There were 94 studies in the U.S., Sweden and Britain, and only 56 percent showed benefits. The lesson is not to throw out studies, but to never underestimate the complexity of the world around.


There's been a lot written about Detroit, but Charlie LeDuff's essay "Who Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones" in Mother Jones packs a special power. It starts with a killing of a little girl in a police raid, then pulls back to the idiotic murder of a teenage boy that precipitated the raid — that murder victim may have smirked at his killer for riding a moped.


Then LeDuff touches on the decay all around — a city in which 80 percent of the eighth graders are unable to do basic math, the crime lab was closed because of ineptitude, 500 fires are set every month and 50 percent of the drivers are operating without a license.


LeDuff, a former reporter for The Times, travels from broad context to the specific details — from the collapse of the industrial economy to the fact that a local minister was left with the girl's $4,000 funeral costs, claiming the girl's father ran off with the donations.


In an essay in Foreign Affairs called "The Demographic Future," Nicholas Eberstadt describes the coming global manpower decline. Over the next two decades, for example, there will be a 30 percent decline in the number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 29 — 100 million fewer workers.


Tyler Cowen wrote a superb, counterintuitive piece on income inequality for The American Interest called "The Inequality That Matters." It's filled with interesting observations. For example, the inequality that really bites is local — the guy down the street who can spend three bucks more for a case of beer, not Bill Gates's billions across the country.


But his main insight is this. Smart people, especially in the financial sector, now have tremendous incentives to take great risks. If the risks fail, they still have millions in the bank. If the risks pay off, they get enormously rich. The result is a society with more inequality and more financial instability. It's not clear we know how to address this phenomenon.


Finally, two historical essays deserve mention. Adam Gopnick wrote a fresh piece on Winston Churchill for The New Yorker called "Finest Hours." Anne Applebaum wrote a chilling essay on central Europe in the 20th century called "The Worst of the Madness" in The New York Review of Books. (The online version of this column has links to the essays.)


I've been doing these awards for several years now. This was the richest year, with the best essays.







One hundred and fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. In late October, The Times began an online series called Disunion, at, which revisits and reconsiders that perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, interactive maps, images, a timeline and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded. Here are excerpts from the story so far.

NOV. 7, 1860 Immediately after Lincoln was elected, Americans from all walks of life wrote to their president-elect to express their feelings about where the country was headed. These letters (like the one below) present a remarkable documentary portrait of a nation at a crossroads.


— TED WIDMER, from "Lincoln's Mailbag"


NOV. 9-15, 1860 The day after Lincoln's election, revolutionary fever breaks out in South Carolina. Nearly all of the state's federal officials resign, and the state legislature speedily passes a bill authorizing a state convention to meet on Dec. 20 to consider, and if it desires, to authorize, secession.


In the Deep South, where the idea of disunion is taken most seriously, three main groups of secessionists can be identified. There are those who are talking about talking; those who are talking about walking; and those who have already stopped talking and started walking.


South Carolina is the home of the ultras, men like William Yancey and Robert Barnwell Rhett, and they all belong to the third group. For two decades Yancey and Rhett have shouted secession whenever so much as an ominous rain cloud drifted down from the North. Lately, however, they have been joined by men of a different sort, prominent men of wealth and influence, grandees who heretofore have disdained agitation. This past week, these men succeeded in inflaming passions that might well have been safely jawed to death.


— JAMIE MALANOWSKI, from "A Superabundance of Velocity"


NOV. 16, 1860 On fine afternoons that week, throngs of strollers promenaded on Canal Street in New Orleans. The thoroughfare, one newspaper reported, "was crowded with an unusually large and brilliant array of the beauty of our city — the stately matrons and lovely damsels of the South. What gave peculiar