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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.12.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 29, edition 000715, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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








  1. VISION 2011




























  1. HOME TRUTHS       




  1. 294 IPC






  1. IT'S OVER








  8. 324 airlines carry Turkish flag - UĞUR CEBECİ















CHINA DAILY            













It has taken more than three decades for the Supreme Court to revisit one of its most shameful majority judgements, delivered by a four-judge Constitution Bench in 1976, and rule that a grave error was committed which led to the denial of fundamental rights to millions of Indians during Mrs Indira Gandhi's infamous Emergency. The judgement that killed all hope in the judiciary standing by the people of the country during its darkest hour when democracy was sought to be replaced by totalitarian rule had struck down the power of the courts to issue writs to the Government on the basis of habeas corpus petitions. Only one judge had stood up to the regime of the day and that's why the nation still remembers, with respect and gratitude, Justice HR Khanna, while the three others on the Bench — Chief Justice AN Ray, Justice MH Beg and Justice YV Chandrachud — have been forgotten as they justly deserve to be. Mrs Gandhi believed in a 'committed' judiciary; to upturn the Allahabad High Court's judgement holding her guilty of electoral malpractice and declaring her election from Rae Bareli null and void, she packed the Supreme Court with 'committed' judges who delivered on what was expected of them. Not only was the Allahabad High Court judgement struck down, but subsequently her decision to crush the fundamental rights of the citizens was upheld. It is another matter that when the Janata Party came to power in 1977, Justice HR Khanna's ruling became the cornerstone of legislation to make it virtually impossible for anybody to repeat what Mrs Gandhi had done to the nation and its people. What the Supreme Court has now done is to put a closure to a dark chapter of the judiciary: It's both an admission of and an apology for the sanctity that was accorded to Mrs Gandhis' dark deed. 


Interestingly, the repudiation of the 1976 judgement coincides with the Congress looking back at its past and admitting mistakes made by the party and its leaders. In a publication to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the organisation, The Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, edited by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the party candidly admits that "unlimited state and party power" was concentrated in the hands of Mrs Indira Gandhi during the 1975-77 Emergency. The party also concedes that "The period of Emergency saw the suspension of normal political procedures and fundamental rights... Enforcement of Press censorship... Powers of judiciary were reduced drastically." There's nothing either new or startling in the book about the misuse of power by Mrs Gandhi, her family and the Emergency regime; there can't be because the Emergency story has been told a million times and every aspect of it has been written about and commented on extensively. Thirty-five years later, the Emergency excesses that almost obliterated democracy in India are of mere academic interest, if at all, and for most new generation Indians these are no more than trivia. Nonetheless, it is laudable that the Congress has sought to reflect on the Emergency without taking recourse to either laughable justification or seeking to defend the indefensible. More importantly, that the party should unhesitatingly admit and acknowledge the fact that the excesses followed from too much power being concentrated in Mrs Gandhi's hands is a pleasant departure. 






Pakistan, which does not let go of any opportunity to heckle India on perceived human rights violations, stands exposed as at least 27 Hindu families from Balochistan have approached the Indian High Commission in Islamabad seeking political asylum in this country. The drastic step taken by the Hindus, who have been living in the Province for centuries, shows their miserable plight and that they can no longer live in fear of abduction for ransom, armed robberies and murder. When a Pakistani official — Regional Director for the Federal Ministry of Human Rights Saeed Ahmed Khan — expresses great concern and urges the Pakistani Government to take immediate measures to improve the law and order situation, it serves to underscore that it has failed miserably in its duty to protect the religious minorities from growing Islamist violence. Most important, the Pakistani Government cannot even term it as a false allegation because statistics of its Ministry of Human Rights reveals an alarming rise in the cases of human rights violation in Balochistan. The situation in Sind, where 95 per cent of the Hindus in Pakistan live, is worse. A BBC report, published earlier this year, has cited several cases of abduction, torture, rape and murder to show how Hindus face an uncertain future in Pakistan due to its Government's failure to take action against Islamic groups hostile to minorities. 

Hindus in Pakistan seeking asylum in India is a stark reminder that minority Hindus continue to suffer apartheid in that country despite Gen Pervez Musharraf abolishing the separate electorate system as no political party fights for their cause or respects their aspirations. Therefore, it is extremely galling to see Pakistani leaders taking the moral high ground and indulging in self-righteous rhetoric — both Houses of Pakistan's National Assembly adopted resolutions in September condemning the 'violence' against Kashmiri people to 'sensitise' the international community — when discriminatory laws in their own land foster intolerance and compel the oppressed to suffer in silence. Certainly, it is the prerogative of every sovereign state to legislate the laws of its land, but at the same time, it does not merit reiteration that every Government is bound by its responsibility to protect the weak and the vulnerable. Pakistan has relentlessly pursued the Kashmir issue on every conceivable international forum, brazenly accusing India of imagined atrocities. But today, it stands accused of charges it levels against others. Its not Hindus alone who suffer indignity and worse in Pakistan; Christians are treated like criminals and charges of blasphemy are levelled against them on the flimsiest of excuses. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is anything but a republic; it's a hell for all. 










It needs a long time for a civilisation to take root; but in the meanwhile it is good form to be civil. Americans, unfortunately, are selectively civil. Where it suits them they pull out all stops to please. A Saudi Royal or a Qatari tribal chief is unlikely ever to face harassment by US immigration authorities. No US security person would dare so much as touch the veil of an important female visitor from any of the Gulf states. 

Earlier this year, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was travelling to Washington, DC for a bilateral meeting. En route he had to change planes at an airport in the UK, where before taking the onward flight he would have had to go through security checks by American personnel. It was precisely to avoid even the hint of uncivil behaviour by its security staff posted there that the US State Department instructed its Ambassador based in London to drive for four hours, merely to ensure that Mr Qureshi was not inconvenienced in any manner by American security while boarding his connecting flight to Washington. 

The Pakistanis know how to keep the Americans in good behaviour; they have also developed great expertise in keeping Nato off balance by burning dozens of its supply trucks every now and then. Look also at the way a cunning Baloch shopkeeper impersonated a high Al Qaeda personage and fleeced vast amounts of money and confidence from both the British and the American intelligence agents in Afghanistan. The US, in particular, seems to take masochistic pleasure in being led by the leash by the Pakistanis. 

Compare this to the shabby treatment our people receive routinely at the US airports. Neither a former President nor a serving Defence Minister is spared the offensive body search. There is no courtesy shown to the age or the obviously frail body of a person like Mr APJ Abdul Kalam. That they would at least be courteous to a lady is the normal expectation anywhere, but it seems that this was too much to expect in the land of the free. 

They singled out, they say, our Ambassador because she was wearing a saree. Now that shows either gross ignorance or a strange confusion. The entire world identifies asaree with Indian women, so the American security people must be unique in confusing the wearer as being from a country that breeds terrorists. Moreover, it can only be a deeply ignorant person who mistakes a saree for a bomb hiding burqa. What is even worse is the American official reaction afterwards: India was bluntly told that it was a part of the American security regime.

Well the question to be asked then is what happens to the security regime when a Pakistani VIP goes visiting the US? What happens to the Americans' various security concerns then? Would any of the US security persons dare single out a sheikha from the Gulf for a pat-down, and that too in full public view? And will they dare frisk the French Finance Minister who is a woman? No, most certainly they would not dare do any such thing. 

Why do the Americans treat us so brazenly then? Well, the simple answer to that question is because we do nothing about such insults. We may protest at best, but even our protests are more in the form of entreaties rather than a threat of immediate reciprocity. The US's record since the last decade of the last millennium shows that the Americans have no respect for international norms where it concerns their interests, and as the incident with our Ambassador has proved, they do not feel they are bound by the internationally recognised and binding Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by which all states have committed themselves to the inviolability of the privileges of diplomatic representatives. 

What they did in the case of our Ambassador holds out many lessons. First, it confirms, once again to the outside world, that the docile Indians will put up with anything. Contrast this with the reputation of aggressively reciprocal Pakistanis who, as the WikiLeaks confirms, had made the life of American diplomats based in Pakistan miserable for some imagined slights. 

It holds out another lesson for us. What, for instance, was the need for us to block entire hotels for US President Barack Obama when in return the hospitality the Americans offer to our Prime Minister is frugal? And what indeed was the need for us to put up Mr Nicholas Sarkozy in a hotel suite costing a rumoured Rs 8 lakh a night? 

More importantly, we must begin to balance, on equal terms, our relations with the outside world. We might feel cheered by the fact that starting with the British Prime Minister earlier this year, the leader of almost every major power would have visited New Delhi by this winter. If we are satisfied by a parade of visitors then so be it. However, any serious minded-nation is bound to ask itself as to what have been its gains from such visits.

In this age of open diplomacy, our people, however, remain clueless about the tangible gains, if any. The British, the American and the French were quite open about the fact that they were seeking the Indian chequebook, and they went back with billions of dollars worth of deals. Some of these may have been good; others were perhaps of a contentious nature.

But we hardly seem to have got anything substantial in return; not even an assurance from the French on the long simmering turban issue, nor even the minimum diplomatic courtesy to our Ambassador from the Americans. Had it been some other nation, it would have wrung out a series of concessions before signing high value cheques. 

One principal lesson from all this is that we must cast our net wider; and we must not neglect old and tested friends like Russia. So far it alone has stood with us in times of need. Let us not forget that the recently released documents from the archives in Washington include two letters written in desperation by Jawaharlal Nehru during the Chinese invasion of 1962. The appeal for security assistance made in those letters by Nehru to President John F Kennedy went unheeded. 

To say that the Americans were hostile to us before and during the Bangladesh war would be an understatement. And if more recent proof were needed, let us turn to the cables from WikiLeaks in which the Americans are shown to be anxious that the Indian reaction to 26/11 should be so modulated that it does not reflect badly on the Pakistani security establishment, especially its ISI director-general.

When the Americans begin to show even a fraction of this sensitivity to our diplomatic representatives and note personalities that may then be the beginning of a civilised response to our concerns. 

The writer is a former Ambassador. 







If the rhetoric of Congress leaders for the common man, heard in the recent plenary session, is anything to go by then one must visit Jaitapur to see how the common man is being coerced to create space for India's first nuclear power park coming up in the region. 

Maharashtra, a Congress-ruled State, may boast of getting the first nuclear park to meet the energy needs but the tactic being used to get the land is something that is very questionable. 

This picturesque fishing hamlet of Jaitapur, situated 400 km south of Mumbai, is not prepared for the nuclear reactor. Much of the concerns ranging from inadequate compensation to environmental disruptions are valid. Instead of addressing the concerns, there are coercion, accident killing and threats being used against the agitating farmers and fisherman.

This is ecologically the richest region with marine life, world famous Alphonso mango orchards and cashew growing trees. But the power plant, which will come up in nearly 1,000 hectares land, will cause serious damage to the ecologically fragile region. 

Apart from being displaced, the locals see bleak employment and income opportunities that are being given as an explanation for setting up the project. There will be about 300 jobs in the project but most of it will go to engineers, nuclear experts and scientists and may be a handful will go to the locals, says Shiv Sena MLA Subhash Desai, who is spearheading the campaign against the nuclear park. 

There has been little effort to convince villagers that the plant is for the public good, let alone explaining the computing of the compensation. But there are new coercing tactics used against agitating villagers. Few days back one of the leading activists Irfan Qazi was killed by a police jeep. The villagers have alleged that the accident was a deliberate attempt. Three months ago, 18-year-old Sanket Bhatkar was picked up for stone-pelting, even though he tried to explain that he was at college in Hativale when the stone-pelting took place. He even showed a punched bus ticket, but the police refused to believe him and put him in jail for seven days. 

State authorities have a dismissive attitude to the local community. According to them, adequate compensation will make sure that locals will agree to the project, besides soon the agitators will be minority. However, nobody knows how the compensation is being computed and how much is actually being delivered. 

As regards environmental concerns, the fishing village, which boasts of an annual fish catch worth `16 crore and exports to Japan and Europe, is concerned about its livelihood. Though the fishermen cannot anticipate today what losses they will face five-seven years from now when the plant starts, but the prospects of fishing are definitely bleak in the future. Incidentally, Areva, which is providing the technology for the plant, is being sued back home for contaminating French rivers. 

Besides, nuclear waste remains dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years and so far, no country has succeeded in building a permanent storage for high-level nuclear waste so that ground water does not get contaminated. 

To add to the concerns, the Jaitapur site falls in a seismic Zone-4 area and there have been around 87 seismic recordings from 1985 to 2005.

What is surprising is that Union Minsiter for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh, despite unanswered ecological concerns, has given speedy clearances to the project. In sharp contrast, the projects in other States, more often than not ruled by the NDA or its allies, are put on hold, in spite of having development prospects. It's for everyone to see that the development card is being dealt with only when the ruling party finds it convenient. 

Congress ally Mr Sharad Pawar has justified the project stating that it is essential for the development of the State, which is seriously lagging behind in industrial indices. Sure, the State does need mega projects for it to catapult to number one investment destination, but then why not set up the project in areas like Marathwada or north Maharastra, which are most backward regions. Why have such projects in the resource-rich region where the locals are already making a decent living?


However, the dictatorial tactics used by the State Government for land acquisition shows how it will carry forward development in the State. Besides, environmental concerns are becoming a political tool to block development and there are not very serious concerns about the issue. As regards the concern for the common man it is only in speeches for plenary session and elections. 







Succumbing to the threat of its ally, the UPA has adopted a specific perspective to deal with violence in West Bengal. Thus, it not only fails to recognise the dimensions of the politically nurtured local militias but also undermines democracy in the State

There is something smoky about the "letter bomb" controversy. The letter, written by the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, uses "Harmad Vahini" and "Harmad cadres" to describe the presence of local militias, oblivious that the term "Harmad" is a smart political coinage by the Trinamool Congress for political purposes. 

Whether the letter is a bomb or not is debatable; that it is a smoking gun is all too obvious. The descent into slang by the Union Home Minister in addressing a serious concern of the Indian state about the violation of the democratic code that does not permit any other agency except the Government to possess the means to coerce the population suggests that the state has abandoned all pretence of being above the quotidian brawls that masquerade as political discourse. By lowering himself by using a term that was coined as ammunition by a specific political party — Harmad — Mr Chidambaram is signalling that his responsibility is first to serving the political goals of the coalition Government of which he is a part rather than serving the interests of the Indian state.

Mr Chidambaram is being led down a strange political path. His willingness, or rather the willingness of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance to be led down strange pathways is becoming a bad habit. Perhaps the threat from the Trinamool Congress that it would resign from the UPA if it was proved wrong about the presence of the Harmads in West Bengal triggered the use of the term and the letter. In other words, the capacity of the Union Government and the Home Minister is subject to the restrictions and conditions set by politics rather than governance. 

If the Congress is playing the game of follow the leader in West Bengal then the larger question that overshadows the letter bomb controversy is — will the Union Government capitulate on the demand by the Trinamool Congress for dismissal of the West Bengal Government under Article 356? 

This is not to argue that no political militias exist in West Bengal. This is not to argue that no militias are being deployed by political parties to intimidate and coerce whichever cluster of the population is deemed to be on the "other side". This is not to argue that raising these militias and using them is illegal and therefore needs to be stopped.

This is to argue that the Union Home Minister has damaged the credibility of the Indian state in dealing with the ugly presence of political militias that deprive the citizen of the freedom to choose, making them unequal and victims of injustice. By appropriating terms that are very specific — Harmad — the stature of the State has been lowered to a tool for use by a particular political party, because the use of the word is a loud and incontrovertible declaration that the State has no perspective on the problem other than that provided by the Trinamool Congress. This is to argue that if the Government of West Bengal and its Chief Minister is guilty of shielding the CPI(M)'s militia in Maoist infested Jangal Mahal, Bankura and Purulia.

Having preached to the Chief Minister about what is "acceptable" in a democracy, the Union Home Minister ought to have been cautious. Unlike the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has described his conduct in office as similar to Caesar's wife, that is, above suspicion, Mr Chidambaram obviously prefers courting suspicion. The adoption of a specific perspective that fails to recognise the dimensions of the politically nurtured local militias that by their presence undermine the constitution and democracy diminishes the office and the role of all parties involved in the letter controversy. 


There can be no smoke without fire. The violence that has raged in West Bengal as part of its politics of confrontation between an ascendant Opposition, namely the Trinamool Congress and a regime in decline, namely the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is enough evidence that there is a fire. 

Mr Chidambaram, however, has stopped short of saying all the things that logically follow from his assessment that the Harmad cadres are the only really operationally effective force in West Bengal's Maoist infested and otherwise troubled areas. Instead he has delivered a non sequitur; contain the Harmads or demobilise the joint security operations against the Maoists. 

The Harmads are one kind of a problem for the Indian State, the constitution and democracy. The Maoists are a different problem for the Indian state, the constitution and democracy. The Maoists have been banned by Mr Chidambaram for their politics of waging war against the Indian state. The Harmads are a much smaller, entirely local law and order problem of a particular State within the Union of India. How can Mr Chidambaram shrug off his responsibility for dealing with the "greatest internal threat to India" just because he or his partners are miffed about what they chose to call the Harmads? Will this lead to the Government in New Delhi declaring that there are no Maoists in West Bengal? Will this lead Mr Chidambaram into denying that the jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force who have been killed in anti-Maoist operations in West Bengal were in fact not killed? 







The US-Russia reset policy was certainly beefed up by the Senate's ratification of the New START Treaty on December 22. But does this injection of anabolic steroids actually serve to undermine it or to help it bulk up? This second outcome is by no means a done deal.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in the Czech capital, Prague, last April and agreed that their respective parliaments would strive for simultaneous ratification. However, the Republicans were so obstructive that the process drew on virtually until Christmas, with the treaty finally ratified only during Congress's notorious "lame duck" session.


Had the departing Democrat-controlled Congress failed to ratify it, the process could have continued ad infinitum, because the next Congress, slated to meet on January 3, 2011 will only contain a handful of Democrats, and ratification needs at least two thirds of the vote.

The numerous problems plaguing its ratification have already been described in considerable detail. But the most interesting question is how often this sort of thing will happen and what documents will be similarly affected? 

Is Obama a reliable business partner?

Russia and the rest of Europe are desperate to see whether Mr Obama and Congress have adjusted to each other and what one can expect from them. All reasonable statesmen in Europe backed New START because a logical next step would be US-Russia talks on a tactical nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Tactical nuclear weapons are even more dangerous than their strategic counterparts because the temptation to use them is considerably stronger and in densely populated Europe there would be little difference between a 3-kiloton nuclear explosion and a 100-kiloton one.

Historically, ratification of US-Russia agreements has always been easier under a Republican administration, because Democrats were viewed as liberal (read: unreliable) and stood unfairly accused of betraying US national interests and risking its security.

The SALT-1 and ABM treaties, signed with the Nixon administration, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan, the START-1 treaty, signed by George HW Bush, and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions treaty, better known as the Moscow Treaty, signed by George W Bush: All took place under Republican administrations. A considerably smaller number of comparable treaties have been signed by Democrat administrations.

All agreements initiated under the Democrats encountered strong resistance in Congress because the Republicans preferred to keep the glory for themselves. This is not a recent phenomenon, it did not come into being yesterday or even 50 years ago: Its origins lie much further back, and it is still going strong. The New START treaty is merely the most recent example of the Republicans' political egoism.

There would have been less cause for concern if this were limited to the United States. But it appears that US political traditions and parliamentary realities (at least during Republican administrations) not only run counter to global trends but are decidedly retrograde.

There is no single prevailing climate in the US Senate and across the broader political landscape, in the United States, as in Europe, nor should there be. This is only logical. Any such convergence of opinion would inevitably result in the erosion of the system of extensive checks and balances, thereby encouraging Governments to overstate their importance. But not only is obstructing the ratification of treaties under Democratic administrations anachronistic, it is sheer parliamentary irresponsibility.

Since the signing of New START, the Republicans have been filibustering and trying to undermine the treaty. They have not made a single pertinent remark, instead trying as hard as they can to approve a myriad of amendments to the agreed text of the treaty.

Moreover, these amendments did not concern the essence of the treaty. Some provided for cuts to the numbers of US and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, although the START-3 treaty was drafted as the first step toward talks on such reductions.

Paradoxically, New START has gained support from the entire US top brass, from Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a man Mr Obama "inherited" from Mr Bush, to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and former Republican State Secretaries such as Ms Condoleezza Rice and Mr Henry Kissinger, not to mention Democratic State Secretaries, as well as Mr Bush himself.

The previous US President personally encouraged the Republicans to ratify the treaty. This is probably why its ratification took so long: Mr Bush has a very low rating even in his party. 

Spoiled by the "Russian question"

The trouble is that internecine struggle in the US Congress has escalated to an inadmissible level and could become even more dramatic in the next Congress.

If New START is the first (and so far only) result of normalisation in US-Russia relations, how will the sides tackle other, more difficult issues on their agenda? Such as, for example, the balance of US and Russian interests in the world, regional problems in the countries adjacent to Russia, WTO accession, cooperation in the nuclear industry, on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, NATO, and the ballistic missile shield in Europe.

Discussion about New START revealed a deep rift in the US Congress over the "Russian question" and that the reset policy stands little chance of yielding further fruits during Mr Obama's remaining term. The fact that the treaty has been ratified is of no consequence, because it is in any case purely symbolic, the first landmark on the long and winding road to nuclear disarmament.

The New START treaty is very modest across the board. If we are to make any progress along that road we will need to be more energetic in resetting our relations. But are we up to the task?

-- The writer ia a Moscow-based political affairs analyst. 







ONE fails to understand why Congress party general secretary Digvijay Singh is once again insisting that the slain former anti- terror squad chief Hemant Karkare was " like God" for the Muslim community.


There is no denying the fact that by exposing Hindutva terror, Karkare removed the synonymous association of terrorism with jihadi outfits — an approach that led to the harassment of Muslims after a terror attack. But Mr Singh's comments don't seem motivated by either an overwhelming admiration for the slain officer or a deep concern for Muslims.


By repeatedly talking about Karkare, he and his party leave themselves open to the charge that this may be more an attempt to woo Muslim voters ahead of next year's assembly elections, particularly in states like West Bengal and Assam where the community has a substantial presence. Moreover the Congress' fears of an erosion of its Muslim vote bank seem to have heightened after Muslim voters overwhelmingly threw their lot behind Nitish Kumar in the recent assembly polls in Bihar.


Unfortunately, the Congress seems to prefer exploiting the community's insecurities rather than work towards their development. It also seems unaware that Muslims choose to vote tactically these days rather than support a party on the basis of emotional appeals.


The Sachar committee report seems to be gathering dust as the government has not taken any steps to implement its recommendations.


The proposal to provide reservation to backward sections within the community has also proven to be a non- starter. The Union government couldn't even make the National Human Rights Commission go to the site of the infamous Batla House encounter, leave alone issue an objective report on it.


Mr Singh's comment also betrays ignorance of a major tenet of Islam— that no human being can be equated with God.



CONTROVERSIES refuse to leave former Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan alone even after he has demitted office. First was the report that he had deliberately played down the matter of a Union minister trying to influence a Madras high court judge.


And now, there are demands for an inquiry into the assets held by Justice Balakrishnan's kin, which allegedly grew substantially after he took over as CJI. The latest complaint must be taken seriously not just because it concerns a former constitutional authority. As relevant is the fact that Justice Balakrishnan's tenure as CJI was marred by controversies. Whether it was his stance on the disclosure of judges' assets and the applicability of the Right to Information Act to his office, or his reluctance to nix the tainted Justice P D Dinakaran's candidature for elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Balakrishnan left no one in doubt that he did not set great store by transparency.


This is also occasion to question again how such a controversial CJI was appointed the chairman of a purportedly vital institution like the National Human Rights Commission.


Allowing him to continue on this post will only dent the already poor credibility of the United Progressive Alliance government.



ON Monday night in the capital, a man opens a car door and accidentally knocks off a plate of chicken tikkas from a man's hand.


An altercation ensues, and the person who was hit pulls out a gun and shoots the 24- year- old whose only fault was to open the car door at the wrong time.


Two days ago, a lady admonishes her relative for firing a gun at a celebration. The man accosts the woman, puts a gun to her temple and shoots her dead.


Such remorseless actions can only be termed as pathological. But how are citizens to be protected against such mindless violence? For one thing, by deterring would- be killers.


First, by leaching away guns and weapons in the hands of those who should not be having them. The police need to institute random searches after sealing off in market places, buses and malls and throw the book at anyone possessing an illegal weapon. Second, by putting away pathological killers in jail for the rest of their natural life.



            MAIL TODAY





WITH the world economy showing some signs of turning the corner, the challenges facing the Indian economy in the coming year could be of a very different order. As American markets recorded the best growth in Christmas sales since 2006 there is some cautious optimism that President Obama's efforts to kick- start that economy may finally be working. The euro crisis too looks a lot more manageable than it did a few months ago. And if the US and European economies do revive, Indian policy will have to change quickly from the recession- fighting mode they have been in over the last two years.


At first glance this may seem an easy enough task. A revival in Western markets can be expected to provide a much needed boost to exports. More than the quantum of increase it would also offer greater balance to the structure of our exports. The Look East policy has had its impact on Indian trade, with China emerging as the country's largest trading partner.




But trading with China is a doubleedged weapon, with that country using its state control to manage its currency and other factors in a way that distorts trade.


This has contributed to a situation where India today imports three times as much as it exports to that country.


India is of course not the first country to face the impact of such trade imbalances with China. The United States too has been in a similar situation for quite a few years. But in the case of the US since the Chinese use their trade surplus to buy American bonds, the process helps maintain a strong dollar. In India's case on the other hand, the trade deficit is in addition to the fact that while Indian exports are dominated by iron ore, the imports from China are finished goods.


The composition of trade with China could easily slip into a pattern similar to the old unequal relationship between the developed and the developing world, with India playing the latter role. Ironically enough, it is now the Western markets that could help the export of Indian finished goods and services, including information technology services.


The revival of the Western markets, if it does happen, would however not be an unmixed blessing. It could cause some of the foreign institutional investment in Indian stock markets to work their way back to the West. This would generate a downward pressure on the rupee. While exporters would welcome a devalued rupee, it would push up the costs of oil imports. And in a policy regime where the emphasis is on getting the prices of petroleum products to reflect their actual cost, this could have a wide- ranging impact on domestic prices. The management of inflation could then emerge next year as a bigger challenge than it already is.


What has made this task daunting is that the inflationary pressures are led by food prices. And this is the result of a much deeper structural malady. Even as we celebrate the high growth rates that the country has managed to generate over the last two decades, it has been accompanied by a dramatic drop in the share of agriculture in GDP to well below the 20 percent mark. The policy response to this sharp decline in the share of agriculture has been to import the deficit, or at least ban exports.




But both these options have themselves come under considerable strain. With speculation playing a significant role in global grain markets as well, prices in the global markets have not always been lower than the prices at home. And if India succeeds in its efforts in the WTO to get the West to remove their subsidies on agriculture, these prices can be expected to shoot up further.


There are also items in the Indian diet, particularly pulses, that are not always available in the quantities that India would like to import without adding its own pressure to global prices. Indian policy makers would have to soon find policy options to improve the supply of food that are less dependent on imports.


The policy response to food prices could also be blunted by the hesitancy of the political class to bring down the prices that farmers can earn. This could be dismissed as giving in to the farm lobby. But such a dismissal ignores a second dimension of the declining share of agriculture in GDP. This decline has not been accompanied by a reduction of a similar magnitude in the proportion of the population dependent on agriculture.


Since the net area cultivated has remained constant for decades now, and the population has continued to grow, the limited decline in the agricultural population has resulted in an increase in the number of persons dependent on each acre of land. Thus, even if incomes per acre increase, the income per individual could well decline. And in an overall situation of rapid growth rates, declining real incomes would be difficult for a proud, and vote- rich, farming community to take.




Oddly enough, over the last two years the global recession has helped the government respond to this challenge. With a strong case to use deficits to generate demand, the government could go in for massive spending programmes that helped alleviate the pressure on the farming community.


The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme played this role quite effectively. It created a large number of jobs in the rural economy across the country. As the recession recedes, though, there will be pressure to curtail the deficit. This could make it more difficult to find the funds needed for government spending to make up for the limited growth of the rural economy.


Policy makers could then find the coming year an intimidating one. After a well deserved pat on the back for demonstrating the resilience of the post- liberalisation growth rate, they would have to come to terms with the fact that this growth hides a number of serious structural weaknesses.


As inflationary pressures make it more difficult to sustain a large deficit, the easy option of spending their way out of trouble in the rural economy may no longer exist. It will become even more difficult to ignore the structural problems in the rural economy.


The failure to do so could well lead to food insecurity and the resultant political consequences. And it would indeed be ironic if there is a political price to pay for economic mismanagement at a time when growth rates remain high.


The writer is professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore








FOR the last couple of weeks, it has been a high voltage political drama in the state over the heavy crop loss caused due the unexpected and untimely heavy rains that lashed coastal Andhra Pradesh and parts of Telangana and Rayalaseema in the first week of December. The near total damage to food and commercial crops just at the time of harvesting led to a spate of suicides by farmers.


The plight of farmers has become a major political issue, that is being fully exploited by the Opposition parties. The issue which rocked the winter session of state assembly in the third week of December, extended for another couple of weeks, as the opposition parties launched a scathing attack on the Congress government headed by newly appointed chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy for the inadequate relief package announced for the farmers.


Kiran faced stinging criticism from two persons in particular — Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu and former Kadapa MP YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who recently resigned from the Congress and is all set to float a new regional party. While touring the rain- ravaged areas of coastal Andhra, Jagan announced that he would undertake a 48- hour fast, which he christened as " Lakshya Deeksha" ( Fasting for a specific objective), to demand a better relief package for the affected farmers.


Not to be outdone, the TDP president came out with his own master- stroke — an indefinite fast for the same cause.


While Jagan put up a big show on the banks of the Krishna river at Vijayawada by mobilising nearly one lakh people, Naidu opted for a simpler way — putting up his hunger strike camp on the premises of the New MLA Quarters, nearer to the Secretariat.


Both the hunger strikes are obviously part of a war of political one- upmanship. Naidu was desperate to erase the anti- farmer stigma attached to him during his nine- year regime and there couldn't have been a better occasion for him to do so. Incidentally, it was for the first time that Naidu has chosen hunger strike as a form of protest during his 32- year old political career and naturally, there was a tremendous response.


National leaders from all political parties called on him during his week- long fast, which continued even after he was forcibly shifted to Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences.


Finally, the doctors had to force- feed him with the police's help. Ironically, Naidu's fast could not get any better package for farmers, but it definitely boosted his image at the national level and opened the channel for yet to revive the third front. In a way, it is a big boost for Naidu to stage a comeback as a champion of farmers.


For Jagan, it was more of a political game rather than a real struggle for farmers. His massive show of strength at Vijayawada, where he could muster the support of nearly 30 MLAs and MLCs was only aimed at throwing a challenge at the Congress high command that he had the support of not only the people but also the MLAs, with whose help he can pull down the Congress government in the state any time.


That way, it was a big success for Jagan, too.


And for Kiran Kumar Reddy, tackling his rivals, rather than solving the farmers' issue, was the big challenge. In fact, it was his first major political battle. And the Congress leaders say Kiran had the last laugh in the battle by putting up a stubborn attitude in refusing to succumb to Naidu and Jagan by amending the relief package.



LAST Sunday, Hyderabad witnessed a spectacular cultural show that earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. More than 2,800 dancers performed Kuchipudi on a single platform.


It was held on the last day of the second International Kuchipudi Dance Convention at the GMC Balayogi Stadium, Gachibowli. The convention was jointly organised by Californiabased organisation Silicon Andhra and the state government. The programme had artists from 16 countries, performing the " Maha Brunda Natyam" ( Great Group Dance) of Kuchipudi, the centuries- old dance form created by Sidhendra Yogi of Kuchipudi village in Krishna district. The programme left the audience spell bound.


An official of Guinness World Records, who was present on the occasion, handed over a certificate to Silicon Andhra. According to the organisers, the event aims to promote Kuchipudi and inspire the youth to know more about the dance form. The highlight of the event was the dance performed by Union Minister of State for Human Resources Development D Purandeshwari.


Draped in a silk saree, Purandeshwari displayed her dancing skills for about 15 minutes, as the audience gave her loud applause.


President Pratibha Patil, Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan, Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy and hundreds of others enjoyed the splendid show.



COME December 31, it will be celebration time for people all over the world to bid adieu to the outgoing year and welcome the New Year. But, for the people of Andhra Pradesh, it is going to a day of great tension and suspense.


For, the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee, constituted to look into the demand for a separate Telangana state to be carved out of the northern districts of Andhra Pradesh, will submit its report to the Union Home Ministry on December 31.


The committee is expected to recommend a range of solutions to the contentious issue.


These will, in turn, form the basis for the centre's decision on whether the state has to be bifurcated or kept united.


Already, there is a palpable tension in the state, with pro- Telangana forces gearing up for a big agitation if the committee does not favour bifurcation or the Centre does not take a decision on statehood for Telangana state based on the committee's recommendations.


Telangna Rasthra Samithi president K Chandrashekhara Rao said that the Centre would be given three weeks time to decide on Telangana irrespective of whether the Srikrishna Committee favours bifurcation or not.


Following intelligence reports about possible outbreak of violence after the submission of report, the state government has sought at least 125 companies of central paramilitary forces.


The Centre has already dispatched about 50 companies, or about 4,500 personnel from various central forces,

including the Central Industrial Security Force and the Border Security Force, to Hyderabad.


The government has already begun keeping tabs on potential trouble- makers, particularly student leaders.


Dozens of students from the Osmania University were taken into custody, while several others have been languishing in jails for the last one month.


One will have to wait and see what is in store for the people of Andhra Pradesh in the New Year.


 Red' alert in a time of uncertainty


THE Maoists are trying to stage a comeback in Andhra. They kidnapped some persons in Adilabad and Karimnagar districts and thrashed them for being police informers.


They had killed a public representative in Karimnagar earlier this month on the same pretext. Also, they took a team of media persons from Visakhpatnam to the agency areas to witness their activity in the coffee plantations.


This has put the state intelligence department on high alert, forcing the Greyhounds and special party police to take up massive combing of forests.


According to intelligence inputs, the Maoists are trying to take advantage of the political uncertainty in the state. The absence of a strong leadership, slackness on the part of the police and growing opposition among tribals in the border areas against illegal mining are said to have helped the Maoists to take control of these areas.


Above all, they are also planning to take advantage of the pro- Telangana agitation to recruit cadres and recoup their strength in the border areas.









At year-end, India can pat its back on rebounding from the post-2008 slowdown. An enviable 9% growth rate looks doable soon. But if crisis management up to 2010 impresses, UPA-II needed to use its enhanced political mandate of 2009 to resolutely walk the reforms road, more so since the Left is no longer around to play spoiler. But aside from okaying disinvestment in timid bursts, it's still to execute a big-ticket reforms menu. Without this, clocking and sustaining double-digit growth and fulfilling social sector pledges won't happen. A midpoint in UPA's second stint, 2011 is a good time to press the accelerator. 

High food prices will persist into the new year, a reminder of the farm sector's structural anomalies. Liberalising multibrand retail will bring assured benefits to agriculture by creating infrastructure and jobs. Raising farm productivity - and agriculture's GDP input - is urgent. For that, farmers need fair price discovery through access to diversified markets. The Planning Commission is said to want farming's technological upgrade together with the trimming of food and fertiliser subsidies soon. Neither is possible without reform, which should go along with PDS revamp. Let's experiment more boldly with alternative delivery mechanisms - backed by the UID and financial inclusion projects - to give food security to both farm and non-farm poor. 

We need a common market, unhindered by too many inter-state barriers, market intermediaries or taxes. In this context 2011 needs to see the debut of GST, an indirect tax reform that, along with a new, streamlined direct tax code, can transform the economy. With Centre-state fiscal burdens pared via boosted tax compliance, bigger spends can go to social and physical infrastructure: schools and hospitals, roads, ports and power projects. Both are areas the plan panel rightly marks out for the 12th Plan's special focus. Raising funds via reforms - including through spurred disinvestment - is top priority, because yawning fiscal deficits dent investor feelgood. In fact, FDI's recent worrying dip should prompt us to open up, besides retail, other closeted sectors like insurance, defence and education. 

In 2011, let's treat speeded-up industrialisation as non-negotiable. For too long, we've tripped ourselves by sticking with antiquated labour laws that hamper business viability, impede organised labour's expansion and skills upgrade, and doom casual workers to low wages and insecurity. Farm livelihoods can't sustain all our youthful, productive hands. And schemes like NREG can't substitute for factory jobs of the kind helping China fight poverty so successfully. Nor should industry's advance and the building of infrastructure keep being blockaded by land-related agitations. Let 2011 produce a definitive and revamped blueprint for transparent, market-driven property transactions. That'll make buyer and seller both stakeholders in inclusive growth.






With technology advancing at breakneck speed, 2011 is all set to witness a revolution in television viewing. Thanks to progressive reduction in prices and increasing quality of technology available, access to home theatre systems and supplementary appliances has become an affordable proposition for a large number of people. Predictions are that prices of flat panel television sets could drop by at least 10% in the new year. With high-definition digital entertainment options available at the click of a button, watching a movie at home will be as good as visiting the multiplex. Add to the mix the versatility of the internet, and what we have is complete convergence of all the components that make up the personal entertainment space. Everything from YouTube to Skype is set to be available on TV screens, transforming the so-called idiot box into a one-stop entertainment hub. 

What all of this represents is a welcome increase in choice for the consumer, both in terms of hardware and services. With 3G players eyeing the personal entertainment space, the line between telephony and television is ready to disappear. Internet Protocol Television is a good example. Competing platforms and service providers will not only push down prices further but also make available packages and pay-per-view options that give customers greater control. Such technology would also necessitate creative revenue models as service providers look to capture the entire spectrum of personal entertainment accessories. In turn, advertisers and content producers will be forced to focus on niche segments to maximise returns. Not only will this transform television media as we know it but also change the way we interface with society and the outside world.









It is that part of the year when there are celebrations all round. But in Hyderabad plans for the new year have been downscaled this year and an air of uncertainty prevails. Will 2011 usher in increased violence? Will this lead to prolonged closure of schools and colleges? Will the investment scenario be marred? These are the questions being asked by the man on the street, professionals and top honchos alike. 

The apprehensions have been fuelled by the prospects of the report of the committee, led by former Supreme Court judge B N Srikrishna, that will submit its recommendations on December 30. It is public knowledge that the report will not contain concrete recommendations but will merely chart out alternative solutions for the Telangana tango. But what is causing concern is that the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) - after holding its horses - is all set to take to the streets to press for its demand for a separate state with renewed vigour. Though the Telangana members of the Congress have been playing safe till now, they too are expected to join agitations. 


The Andhra Pradesh government, led by a chief minister who is stridently anti-Telangana, has already requisitioned additional central forces to quell anticipated violence and the director general of police hinting at strong police action is on record saying that peace will not be allowed to be broken. This is expected to lead to a face-off and, to complicate matters, trouble can break out in the Andhra area of the state where the general sentiment is against the creation of Telangana. With Maoists waiting on the wings to jump in and extreme right Hindu elements also ready to fish in troubled waters, expectations are that there will be a merry mess. Unless the Centre steps in fast with a workable political solution. But the ham-handed way the central government has dealt with Telangana issues in the past does not inspire much faith in its ability to do so. 

In a way the central government is responsible for the mess in the state. On December 9, 2009, swayed by intelligence reports that lakhs of Telangana agitators were preparing to gherao the legislative assembly and medical reports that a fasting Chandrasekhar Rao could slip into a coma, the home minister hurriedly announced that the process of creating a separate Telangana would be initiated immediately. This exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic proponents of a separate state. But strident opposition from the non-Telangana part of Andhra Pradesh and also the realisation that the intelligence reports were not accurate made the central government take a U-turn barely a fortnight later. 


Shortly thereafter, the Srikrishna committee was set up. The wily Chandrasekhar Rao kept mum, working silently with other groups to deepen the separatist sentiment. Eleven months later, sentiments are so strong that it will now be more difficult for any government to deal with the matter. The TRS chief now says the agitations will reach a crescendo in February even as counter forces are readying themselves in Andhra region. 

In the face of such opposing demands, is a rational solution possible? Anybody who has knowledge of the argument against Telangana knows that the people of Andhra are not opposed intractably to the creation of a new state but to the inclusion of Hyderabad in that entity. Their argument is that Hyderabad has been raised to the status of a global city not because of the enterprise of people of Telangana but as a result of hardcore investments in business and the social sector by the settlers from Andhra region. So they should be allowed to have a say in how Hyderabad is run. But Hyderabad is the heart of Telangana and historically precedes the formation of Andhra Pradesh. Thus there can be no question of Telangana sans Hyderabad, especially because the rest of Telangana is very backward. 

So how to reconcile these contradictory demands? Some suggest that Hyderabad should be made into a Union territory, serving as the capital of both Telangana and Andhra. But this is akin to a situation where two brothers are fighting for their share in the house bequeathed to them and a mediator comes along and occupies the drawing room permanently. 

A better solution would be to take a leaf out of Hong Kong's book. When the British left Hong Kong in 1997 after 150 years of occupation, there was apprehension about its future as a global financial centre. To allay such doubts, the Chinese created a special administrative region of Hong Kong, incorporating it into their country but allowing it to run as before. One system, two countries they called it, and the model has run successfully. A similar dispensation can be created in Hyderabad - letting it be part of Telangana, yet providing it with a separate city government which can have representation from the local population of Andhra origin. 

Many argue that the creation of Telangana will generate pressure to create many other states like Vidarbha and knock down the linguistic basis (other than Hindi-speaking states) on which India was reorganised in 1956. But the counter-argument is that the Republic of India is now over 60 years old and therefore the time may be ripe to look at alternative structures of governance and usher in a Second Republic. Since small is beautiful, having many more states could be part of the Second Republic idea.







How did you begin campaigning, does it support you financially? 

The work supports me emotionally and intellectually! My trade is textiles. All my RTI Act work is done in the mornings and late evenings. I only attend Central Information Commission (CIC) meetings during the day. This is a hobby, but not a self-indulgent hobby because it helps other people by opening avenues for investigation. 

All this began 43 years ago with my writing a letter. At university, i saw there was collusion between the bus conductor and the students and so i sent a letter to a newspaper. The next day the bus company came to my campus, and i was so frightened that they were going to do something to me that i ran away. Actually, they had brought the conductor to apologise. It was a potent lesson, that a small individual could be the harbinger of change. From these humble beginnings, i graduated to filing RTI petitions. 

What do think of the RTI Act? 

Quite simply historians who speak of 'India after Gandhi' are wrong. If we are to compartmentalise, then India's history is in two phases, before and after RTI. The watershed is the Act which current popular historians miss. The Act is the most significant post-independence legislation. RTI's significance lies in that it bestows the common citizen with the powers of the legislator to question. 

There is more. A parliamentarian has only one chance to get a written reply to a starred question. We have two more bodies, first the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), then the CPIO department head and finally the CIC. The Act is good and though it functions well because most CPIOs are user-friendly, there is always room to improve the procedural side of things. 

What improvements can be made? 

I'll limit myself to a few suggestions! Sections 27 and 28 of the Act give powers to public authorities and the state governments to draft their own rules. On occasion they contradict the Act. For instance, the Delhi high court imposed fees of Rs 500 for a request, whereas the normal fee is Rs 10. The fee is still five times more than the norm and this is a financial bar. Interlinked is cumbersome procedure. People have to go to the post office, get postal orders, post them, wait for a reply and then post again with postal orders since we usually ask for documents. Part of the purpose of imposing charges is to sift the wheat from the chaff, to get genuine well thought out requests. 

This means a balance has to be struck between clarity and quality. However, this long-winded process could be shortened considerably with a reusable RTI stamp and sold at the post office. This would also save money. To process a Rs 10 postal order in 2005, it cost Rs 23. It must be more now. Another example is that the letter they send you telling you that you have to pay Rs 2 per page to get some photocopies, costs Rs 27 to post. 

A simple solution is to increase the basic fee to Rs 20 and give the first 10 photocopied pages for free. This would save money and shorten the process. At the macro level, there has to be better education about the Act because most people still don't know about it while others don't realise that they have appellate authorities to go to.






Looking forward rather than looking backwards, we find that maturity consists in focusing on the positive aspects of our lives and then dealing with the negative aspects in an effective manner. 

In order to remain evergreen like the evergreen tree, we can choose the good, avoid what is evil and distance ourselves from what is not helpful. Looking back at our life experiences, we will find that our lives, whenever they have remained evergreen, was so precisely because of the difficulties and trials we have overcame and the spiritual strength that we gained. 

For those of us who have learned to live with a positive attitude, our valleys have remained green because we have translated our experiences, built on our weaknesses and converted them into strengths, nurtured our souls and watered them with the life-giving water of compassion and wisdom. 

With the passage of time we learn to be less harsh and judgmental with ourselves and others. We look at ourselves not through the prism of a demanding master, but through the prism of a loving, faithful and compassionate God. 

As we grow older, we become more content and satisfied with what we have done so far and ready to take on other tasks and responsibilities. The wisdom and understanding that comes with age is not automatic. We have to grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually so that we can develop a discerning mind and spirit. 

Like fruit that has ripened, we mature and with the water of our imagination and enlightened soul we create for ourselves evergreen valleys. We sometimes ask ourselves the question: How green is my valley? We do not wait the moment of death to do that; we try to know the answers now. 

Where does the inspiration come from? Prayer now becomes a life-giving force. In prayer we connect with the infinite and also with the community. Meditative living not only brings us face-to-face with the Divine; it permeates all aspects of our lives. 

When we follow nature's course, not fighting our destiny, we are like the perennial spring that waters the earth. Then we tend to transform and transcend our diminishments, frailties, vulnerabilities and weaknesses. However, self-condemnation is so common. The guilt trips and the regrets tend to pull you down. But for those who can ask: "How green is my valley?"—there is opportunity to learn from and rectify misconceptions. We would be able to recognize several occasions when we were kind and helpful, considerate and empathetic. And the other times when we were quite withdrawn and self-centred

As we traverse the spiritual path, there will always be crags, nooks and crannies, uneven turf and barriers, but there are also life-giving waters and springs, foliage and greenery that are ever present in the soul. 

Every situation and circumstance in our life calls for an appropriate response. It is with our lifetime choices that we create either fecundity or barrenness and aridity of spirit. Struggles and hardships will perforce come our way, but they could be transformed to become instruments of peace and success. 

The end of a calendar year is a good time to look back as well as prepare to look ahead, and resolve to transform past negativities to future positive opportunity that would make life more meaningful and cheerful rather than full of guilt, regrets and resentments. 

A new beginning brings with it a freshness that's hard to ignore as it brings with it fresh hope and the promise of bright days ahead. 







Radia should be given the Padma Shrimati next year. As each new tranche of the leaked tapes of Radiagate are made public it becomes increasingly clear that, far from sabotaging India's democracy, the lobbyist was actually furthering its cause.


Though Radia's method of operation - which reportedly involves large-scale hawala transactions - was often dubious, there is nothing wrong with her broad strategy to influence public policy by inducing media people and other opinion makers to get A Raja the telecom portfolio. That his appointment - at least partly engineered by Radia - led to the 2G scam is another matter.


Lobbying - or what is often called public advocacy - is a perfectly legitimate, and indeed necessary, component of any democracy. In the US, for example, it is considered to be a high-profile and respectable profession made use of by everyone who would like to have a say in the framing of official policy. New Delhi has often employed US lobbyists to try and influence Washington's policies vis-a-vis Pakistan and Kashmir, among other things. In the US, there are accredited lobbyists for all manner of issues and individuals, from the right to bear arms to candidates for Senate seats.


If looked at in its broadest sense, what does lobbying boil down to? Nothing more, or less, than trying to get people to see your, or your client's view. All public relations exercises - be they for business interests or causes like animal welfare or AIDS prevention - are examples of lobbying: they are attempts to get the members of the public to change their ways of thought and action in particular spheres of interest or concern.


Similarly, all forms of advertising - and no media product, including this newspaper, could remain economically viable were it not for advertisements - are lobbying by another name. Advertisements try to persuade you to buy a particular product or service. A successful ad, a lobbying exercise that has worked, is one that makes the maximum amount of money for the advertiser, the client of the lobbyist, in this case the advertising agency. The most successful ads - the ones that have been most persuasive in changing public behaviour and thinking - are annually honoured by receiving awards given by the industry.


All politics, and not just at election time, is nothing but lobbying in its most blatant form. In a democracy, it is expected of all political parties to shape or transform public policy through competitive lobbying of the electorate via election manifestos and professed agendas. The voter is seduced, persuaded, bribed by all sorts of promised inducements, often in the form of cash subsidies or tax breaks, to support this or that party or candidate. There is the Election Commission to see there is no hanky-panky or rigging at the time of polling. But no Election Commission can compel a political party or candidate to make good on election promises - i.e., bribes in one form or another - once the balloting is over.


If politics is unadulterated lobbying, and it is, so is the media. All reporters and commentators - in the press, or on TV or radio, even those considered too insignificant to have been approached by Radia - try to shape public opinion, and through that try to influence official policy by having public pressure put on it, according to their own views, opinions and interests, or those of the organisations that employ them.


Indeed, democracy with all its components - media, market and elective politics - is a vast enterprise in lobbying, a never-ending argument between competing interest groups to change public policy to suit their own ends.


Radia's only fault was getting caught. But for having forced us, however unwittingly, to take a long hard look at our democracy and what it really means, she needs a commendation. Padma Shrimati? Heck, make her Woman of the Year. She deserves it. Or rather, we deserve her.








Now we never said that our postal services should function like greased lightning. We are quite used to letters taking an inordinately long time to reach their destination, if at all. And in case you thought that you had to suffer such delays because you are a minor cog in the wheel, be assured that our postal services are an equal opportunities discriminator.


Yes, even the highest in the land are not accorded any special privileges as the astounded home minister P Chidambaram found when a letter from him on a matter of grave import addressed to West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reached Kolkata five days after it had been posted. Why, you might ask, are official communications sent by post and not on the electronic mail. It is because, according to some antiquated law, official classified documents have to be sent by Speed Post, which as we have seen is anything but that. H ow we wish that communications of less import were to follow this route. Then those wishing to sell you land, villas, water purifiers and insurance would have to nip down to the post office and cough up a nifty amount to send their information by Speed Post. Which, if all goes well, we will never get. What bliss that would be.


Worry warts among you might fret that important communications could fall into the wrong hands if they were sent by Speed Post. Clearly, you have never visited a post office. If anyone has the patience and dedication to sift through the millions of letters supervised by the work-averse postal staff, then he or she deserves to get their hands on State secrets. But chances are that you will never get anything worth a Wikileak. Will this latest incident speed things up in our postal services? We'll keep you posted.







At the best of times, the weather is unpredictable. But not so much so that one could not predict that it will invariably cast a dampener every year over the season of good cheer. As winter tightens its icy grip on north India, we are met with the usual chaos of rail, road and air disruptions in the certain knowledge that next year will be no different. While the meteorological department claims that it gives out enough information on weather conditions and that others like the airlines do not disseminate this, it also acknowledges that it is still two years away from installing modern technologies like automatic aviation weather decision support systems which are in use in other international airports. It can be little comfort to those whose plans have been thrown out of whack that the funds of Rs 150 crore for this technology are available but that the Met office is yet to find a supplier.


Technology aside, much of the sufferings of passengers could have been minimised had the authorities concerned, whether air or rail, ensured that information on delays and cancellations reached the consumer in time. But anyone who has tried to elicit information from either the railways or the various airlines will testify that it is akin to wringing blood out of a stone. If passengers are informed in time, surely they would not turn up bag and baggage only to wait, in some cases, over 30 hours only to go back home dejected. Those who have gone in for non-refundable fares and holiday packages will find themselves seriously out of pocket and those trying to reach their destinations for crucial functions like marriages or medical help cannot be blamed for venting their rage on the officials concerned. Technology is meant to make lives easier for people, so what stops the authorities from updating their websites or sending out SMSes in time for people to deal with delays and cancellations in a more comfortable manner?


Every year, we hear that fog lights will be put up on thoroughfares to prevent accidents, but we are yet to see a glimmer of these. Those who are traveling by air or rail with small children, are aged or have medical conditions like diabetes have nothing but hope to fall back on. It is not enough to digitise the railway system and construct tony terminals at airports. Each incremental step ought to be aimed at making travel that much easier. But all we have seen so far is the usual blame game. This is a gloomy forecast, but if this goes on we cannot expect that the foggy vision which has clouded all travel plans this year will lift by the next.








A true measure of being democratic is not the cycles of elections — it is the dignity given to disagreement, to dissent. Why must we dignify dissent? There are the arguments that we hear everyday: so that the views of the majority cannot silence the voices of a few; so that no one view or institution may become so dominant as to become authoritarian; and the value of freedom of speech and expression in and of themselves. Any memory of the Emergency in 1975-77 is testimony to why any of these are important. Yet there is a more fundamental reason why dissent is the cornerstone of a democracy: it is the action of a free citizen.


Speech is an action. An action within a democratic framework — an action that simultaneously shows a continuous faith in the polity, the State and the people even as one (often virulently) disagrees with it. An action that keeps a democratic system alive. You dissent as a citizen, in the name of your Constitution. You dissent because you have the freedom to do so — not a freedom you have been 'given' but one that you possess because you, as part of the people, are sovereign. This is more important than what we are taught in our textbooks — being able to voice our disagreement is as central as the ability to walk to a ballot box and cast our vote. This is a freedom we give to each other as democratic citizens and that we must protect, especially when we disagree.


There is no more fundamental understanding of what makes and sustains a democracy. Speech and engagement are the antithesis of apathy, of a people that have lost their sensitivity and ethical compass. You don't have to like what people say — indeed it is when what they say makes your blood boil that you must defend their right to speak even as you exercise your right to vocally and fiercely disagree with them.


Binayak Sen speaks. Through his actions and words, he protests, he engages, he dissents, he disagrees. His weapons are words, ideas, and actions. Everything he does represents a strained, challenged but surviving faith and commitment to non-violent, democratic dissent though everything he sees around him should and must have given him so many reasons to lose that faith. His actions represent what makes India democratic, and his conviction shows the deep fragility of our democracy today. If you wish to protect the nation-State, it is Sen you must protect.


Sen could have remained silent. Like so many of us, he could have been 'safe' and not facing a life term in prison today. All he had to do was to shirk his duties as a citizen and an ethical human being and choose the easier way of remaining silent. The rest of us do so everyday in a country that is home to some of the most-entrenched and deepening inequality in the world. In our everyday lives, we stand by multiple exclusions and everyday acts of violence, homelessness, hunger, the removal of social benefits, and a new India that measures its growth by its richest rather than its poorest. Why the poor do not revolt in arms is anyone's guess. They have no reason not to wage war against the rest of us who tolerate, sanction and reproduce their exclusion. So when those excluded and those that speak in their favour choose still to speak and to engage democratically despite these violent exclusions, there can be nothing more important for our democracy than to listen.


Those who (ab)use sedition often claim that the actions of people like Sen and Arundhati Roy are 'anti-India'. Let's agree to this claim for a moment and think in terms of 'defending India'. When we are silent in the face of rampant press censorship and collusion, when thousands die of hunger though grain rots in granaries, when the country celebrates its miracle growth even as agriculture stagnates and even contracts, when farmers commit suicide, when our own leaders make the word 'scandal' an everyday joke, are we not 'anti-India'? Is our silence not the greatest betrayal of every idea of India worth defending? If sedition is such a crime, is our silence not the greatest enactment of it? Binayak Sen's conviction represents a crossroads for our democracy. It will no doubt be challenged in court and hopefully overturned but no legal victory can or will be enough. The conviction must be challenged by us as citizens. We must refuse to be silent. We must act — through protests, conversations, petitions, writing, and pushing the government, our elected representatives and the media to take a stand. Whether we agree or disagree with Sen's world-view or his politics, we must speak up to defend not just his freedom to dissent but, crucially, our own right to be democratic.


Gautam Bhan is a Delhi-based writer and works on urban policy The views expressed by the author are personal.






The Bihar assembly poll verdict reinvented the state's political text: there was a sharp turn from the traditional caste politics to a development-oriented agenda. Like a skilled craftsman, JD(U) chief and NDA leader Nitish Kumar engineered this route change.


During his first term, Kumar remolded many political equations and weaved new ones around the identity, pride, aspirations and dreams of the people of the state. Along with this, he focused on the people, governance, security, development and communal harmony.


Along the way, he did some smart social engineering and also made his programmes inclusive. The process of expanding the party's social base sucked the numerically smaller, deprived and unmobilised EBCs (32%) and Mahadalits. They discovered their identity, pride and voice and proved to be a formidable votebank for Kumar.


Political mobilisation, awakening and empowerment of women also reaped Kumar rich dividends in the elections. Nearly 55% of women voters including young girls (a rise of 10% over the previous election) turned up to vote and this tilted the scales in favour of the coalition.


Kumar also won the hearts of the Muslims (17%), especially the extremely backward Pasmanda Muslims thanks to a slew of welfare measures: vocational training for girl students, appointment of Urdu teachers, fencing of cemeteries and speedy trials in the Bhagalpur riot cases.


His development agenda was no doubt the main reason behind his spectacular return, but it was also the expansive and aggregated vote spread across all castes and communities that paved the way for the NDA win. The rising popularity graph of Kumar is directly proportional to the development work he has done: building an extensive network of roads and bridges, improving health services, renovation of schools, good governance, and an improved security environment.


The mandate proves that rhetoric and polemics will not work anymore. Perform or perish is the crystal clear message from the voters. Bihar's electoral mandate will impact the political contours of the country and the electorate will be much more demanding from now on.


DN Sahaya is former governor of Tripura and Chhattisgarh. The views expressed by the author are personal.







The aerospace industry has undergone tremendous structural and economic changes over the past few decades. The commercial aerospace sector has witnessed a reduction in revenue per passenger mile, whereas the costs have continued to move upwards. This has led to an increased focus on technological innovation and cost competitiveness. Companies in the aerospace industry spend billions of dollars every year to ensure that their technology infrastructure remains current and reflects the latest developments in aviation technology.


India is certainly a fast growing market for the commercial aviation industry. There will be significant investments by Indian operators and corresponding offset obligations. This represents a business opportunity for Indian players both in the manufacturing and services space that is hard to ignore. The government policy on offsets will give a boost to this sector in India. The Indian economy is growing at 8 to 10% every year. This rate is expected to translate into air traffic growth over the next 20 years. The number of potential airfields and the economic growth rates are expected to translate into a demand for over 1,200 aircraft in India, of which 240 are expected to be in the regional category.


Combining the projected military and paramilitary requirements, the total Indian requirement is projected as 400. Cashing in on the boom in the civil aviation sector and recognising the need for the establishment of Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA), the Central government assigned the project to National Aeronautical Laboratories (NAL) to meet the national aspiration of building a commercial aircraft. The chemistry is just right with a substantial Indian demand for an RTA, knowledge and capabilities build-up in light fixed wing and rotor wing craft, the technological and economic benefits, the aspirations to be a global player, along with policy makers citing Brazil's Embraer as an example to be emulated. If successfully implemented, significant foreign sales could also be expected apart from the national market. Private sector companies such as HCL Technologies have acquired capabilities in aerospace engineering and manufacturing to a great extent. An interesting aspect of this capability build-up is that Indian companies have supported the two biggest commercial aircraft programmes in history — A380 and Boeing 787 — with services like structural and mechanical engineering, embedded systems software development, hardware engineering, verification and validation and Information Technology including development simulation tools and design and analysis tools.


The RTA will be in the 22-tonne class, a civil commercial platform with over a billion dollars worth of investments riding on it.A civil aircraft in the 22-tonne class has not been made in this country and two other programmes on the anvil — the 60-tonne Multi Role Transport Aircraft and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft — are being done in partnership with the Russians, already experienced players in these categories. Thus, to achieve success in this project, the RTA will need to develop within the stated time frame of six years; acquire certification by Indian and foreign agencies; feature all the stated technologies and design targets to give it a competitive edge against  well-entrenched players such as Embraer, Bombardier, ATR and relatively new entrants like the Russian Super Jet, Chinese ARJ 21 and Mitsubishi.


Being on its own, the Indian RTA would call for an exceptionally high order of programme management skills, flexibility in selection decisions of equipment and partners and much more. Embraer is a valuable case study to be emulated if aspirations, design targets, look, finishes, costs, support, market and producability are to be achieved.


However, the private sector players who have gained considerable experience in engineering have limited manufacturing expertise of this scale. Acquiring necessary manufacturing skills to attract top foreign airlines' attention is only the first step and perhaps the easiest. Learning the fine art of integrating fuselage assemblies, engines, avionics and other components efficiently and cost effectively is a far bigger one. Even the experts can stumble in assembly — witness Boeing's 787 and Airbus's woes. But surmounting the third barrier — establishing a service culture in which airlines have confidence — takes time. There is constant innovation in services as also in design and materials. And yet challenges have to be undertaken.


It remains to be seen whether some of the leading players will involve themselves in NAL's RTA as they did in Embraer's programmes to establish a regional hold.


Ashok Baweja is senior technology adviser, HCL Technologies and ex-chairman, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited 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






Teaching is one of the most idealised professions in the world. We've all seen movies where a teacher transforms a rowdy and self-absorbed bunch of kids into well-behaved and self-actualised creatures. We've also seen grim news stories about brutal disciplining methods and open exploitation and shaming that occur in the classroom. Now, in an attempt to bridge the gap and restore "dignity and integrity" to the job, a four-member panel of the National Council for Teacher Education has recommended a 23-point code for teachers across public and private schools. Like doctors and lawyers, educators will also be subject to a set of ethical do's and don'ts which will span contentious areas like private tuitions and corporal punishment. New teachers will be administered an oath to abide by, and schools will set up ethics committees to deal with violations, which could face serious consequences like revoking the licence to teach. Teachers are the first figure of public authority one ever encounters, and it makes sense not to let that authority be untrammelled. Their every action makes a strong impress, and their behaviour is a powerful determinant of a child's cast of mind. They can't afford to appear arbitrary or self-interested.As the Right to Education Act becomes reality, we will have to explore ways of making teachers accountable. Internal regulation is a good idea, but has often foundered in practice — the Bar Council of India and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India have been conspicuously tardy in identifying and punishing professional and ethical breaches, and the Medical Council of India was a whole sorry saga by itself. These bodies have also tended to distort higher education in their res-pective fields, often twisting the process of accreditation and recognition for personal profit. The ambit of the educator's code may not be that wide, but it covers important ground — for instance, not using the classroom as a pulpit for any personal belief or propaganda, not accepting any kind of gift from students, parents or educational publishers, and maintaining the confidentiality of student information. Whatever final shape the teachers' code takes, it is bound to be a step forward.







What, precisely, does the Congress party stand for? This is a question that has been asked many, many times since Independence, and the Congress's metamorphosis into an electoral platform. The answers have been many — and have often been deliberately left ambiguous, aiding the party's claim to represent many, sometimes conflicting, streams of thought. Yet this inability and unwillingness to define itself has traditionally weakened its power to articulate a vision for its future, as well as paradoxically increasing the incidence of back-biting and indiscipline. Which is why the release, on its 125th anniversary, of an authorised history of the party is something that deserves the closest possible attention. The book is titled Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, which is an indication of its central conceit, that any history of the Congress will be a reasonable history of modern India. But it will be read and re-read for smaller details: how does the panel of friendly historians, supervised by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, present Indira Gandhi's attitude to factionalism? What's their summary of the reconciliation, under P.V. Narasimha Rao, of liberal economic reform with fidelity to the language of old-style Nehruvian socialism? How are non-Nehru-Gandhi Congressmen, especially those who rose in revolt against the Family, dealt with? The answers are sometimes surprising: the first Congress split is dealt with dispassionately, Kamaraj and Sanjeeva Reddy even finding a place on the cover of the book (in a visual sequence that features Subhas Chandra Bose and Acharya Kripalani, also men who left the Nehru-Gandhi Congress, and which, fascinatingly, concludes with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh). Narasimha Rao is not on the cover, but his government's achievements are ungrudgingly highlighted. It's possible to believe that the Congress is willing to embrace a history of itself that accepts and highlights the contributions even of those seen, subsequently, as disloyal. But that belief shouldn't be taken too far. The very writing of the book, by historians close to the Congress's current leadership who are comfortably ensconced in positions of influence, reveals the incompleteness of inclusiveness. The beginnings of openness in authorised histories are all very well; but this is also a reminder that the party's stranglehold over the telling of modern India's history is far from weakening. A genuinely modern party would be willing to open archives, to let a thousand unauthorised histories bloom. And that would, in turn, force it to define what was "wrong" with such histories — and clarify what it, in the end, stands for.








The Gurjjar agitation in Rajasthan is a microcosm of the absurdities of the Indian state. The state has been, for years, wishing this crisis away. But the agitation keeps recurring with dependable regularity. The simple explanation for the crisis is as a predictable product of the fatal conjunction of identity politics and distributive justice that the Indian state has been promoting. This politics is premised on the fact that caste remains the salient mechanism through which concessions are extracted from the state. The ability of groups to extract such mechanisms no longer rests on claims of justice, but on the sheer flexing of muscle power. It is on this basis that Jats got reservations. And the only legitimate lesson for the Gurjjars to draw was that, for the state to take them seriously, they had to compensate for their lack of political power with a politics of violent disruption. Powerful groups like the Jats and the Meenas, who already have a stranglehold on state power, are loath to share it with other more marginalised groups. A raw assertion of community power is wearing the mask of justice, and violence is the result. But there are even deeper absurdities that we refuse to recognise. Just think of the various formulas that have been used to placate the Gurjjars. One was offering them five per cent reservation, which under existing law puts the total reservation in Rajasthan over 50 per cent. This was struck down by the high court. Rajasthan's politics is typically weak-kneed: it has not yet exhibited the brazenness of Tamil Nadu, by using the Ninth Schedule as a cover for exceeding 50 per cent. The Supreme Court, in turn, by not staying Tamil Nadu's reservation policy has raised the expectations on the ground that the 50 per cent reservation limit is about to be relaxed, opening new demands for reservation. This is a new frontier we will have to contend with.The story gets even more absurd. Rajasthan proposes a bizarre scheme that is neither fish nor fowl. Fourteen per cent reservation will be done on so-called economic criteria, ostensibly so that upper castes can also be brought under the banner of reservation. The rest of the quota would be divided amongst a number of caste communities based on backwardness, again muddying the objectives of reservation. Another possible proposal was to give Gurjjars a sub-quota within existing quotas, but Jats will not tolerate this for OBCs and Meenas for STs. So, finally, this community — that, ironically, at the turn of the century had campaigned for Kshatriya status — is given a one per cent quota; the one per cent being all the space left under the 50 per cent ceiling. This is not the arithmetic of justice. It is arbitrariness. Meanwhile, the broader political acceptance of the caste census has legitimised two ideas: that caste remains an identity in perpetuity, and that state jobs should be distributed along the caste arithmetic. The blunt truth is there is no solution to the Gurjjar problem within the current framework of reservations; and more cases like this will come up.But the story gets even more bizarre. The state government will not hesitate to promise anything, no matter how absurd and unimplementable. The Gurjjars in turn, with each successive negotiation, come to trust the state even less. The current agitation has been given new life by the fact that there is going to be a massive expansion in state recruitment in Rajasthan. This should be a wake-up call to those who had naïvely assumed that state jobs no longer matter for our politics. Even the momentum behind the Telangana movement comes, in part, from a desire to a greater share of state jobs. But the Gurjjars are finding that even the one per cent quota they have been promised is being variously interpreted and implemented. What is the unit of analysis within which this one per cent is to be implemented? The categories and sub-categories of jobs have been spliced up in ways that have sown suspicion amongst them about exactly what this one per cent would entail. Meanwhile, the larger political vacuum continues. At an ideological level, Rajasthan has had the misfortune of being caught between two forms of politics. The Vasundhara Raje regime was brazen and perceived to be corrupt; the Ashok Gehlot regime insipid and lacking any form of dynamism. Rajasthan has not had a new political discourse for decades. In the past its politics was sustained by leaders, both amongst Rajputs and Jats, whose sense of civility and confidence in their own political base allowed them to act as pacifiers of conflict with some degree of authority. The next generation has combined the narcissism of caste with leaders who cannot think beyond their noses. The result is a politics of monu-mental pettiness. But this moral vacuum is symptomatic of a larger national crisis. The central question for the coming decade is going to be this. Which states are going to be able to unleash a politics of aspiration? And which are going to remain trapped in a politics of raw community power? In Rajasthan, both the Congress and the BJP wilfully decimated the politics of aspiration. There is no greater proof of that than their systematic destruction of higher education in the state. They turned a potential knowledge hub into an exemplar of what happens when your public universities are in ruin. The cadre of young people coming out have nothing to look forward to but fight over the crumbs the state has to offer.The Gurjjar leadership, for their part, have perfected a political technique. If you blockade rail lines and roads and hold the country to ransom, the state has no response. Last time, such acts provoked firing, in which dozens were killed. This time the state seems to want to avoid confrontation. But the net result is simply that the Gurjjars have proved how easy it is to bring transport to a standstill. Their technique of causing disruption makes the Naxal strategy look convoluted and silly. It is frighteningly easy to disrupt the state. The second lesson they have learnt is that you have to have nuisance value to wrest concessions from the state. Last time round they managed to extract some concessions in the form of scholarships and largesse for Bainsla's extended kin. The community recognises that their leadership is as compromised as the state against which they are protesting. But it is the tragedy of modern Indian politics that the grammar of justice is now irrevocably tied to the grammar of anarchy and blackmail.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi









In February, when the Centre set up the Srikrishna Committee on the Telangana issue, it was seen as a politically expedient move, one that would give the Congress enough time to make up its mind on an issue that has been festering for decades. Eleven months on, as the committee braces up to submit a report that is unlikely to come out with a single-point recommendation or solution, the ruling dispensation in New Delhi appears to be as ambivalent as ever. There was thus no attempt to rein in fasting party legislators from the region, who had chosen demand, of their own government in Hyderabad, the withdrawal of cases against students involved in last year's agitation for a separate state. The Congress MP from Nizamabad, Madhu Goud Yaskhi, has said that Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy are "dead against Telangana". They have obviously adopted aggressive tactics, believing their party may not be ready to bite the bullet, regardless of the panel's recommendations. Shortly after the Congress's plenary session in Delhi last week, which was silent on Telangana, a senior Congress functionary and Union minister who has been dabbling in Andhra affairs of late called a party MP from the Telangana region for discussion. The minister asked: "Who will benefit? KCR (K. Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi)? What will we get?" He dismissed the MP's plea that KCR was ready to merge the TRS with the Congress. The MP then flew to Hyderabad and apprised KCR of the thinking in Delhi. The TRS chief offered to meet Sonia or Rahul Gandhi to give his word about a merger. Soon after, KCR declared publicly that he was ready to dissolve his party if a separate state of Telangana were to be created. The Congress did not take the bait. The ruling party is examining the political dividend, but the UPA government has some other concerns. A top government functionary recently told another MP from Telangana that granting statehood would mean a revival of Naxalism, and the Centre was not inclined to open a new front. These factors apart, what is also troubling the Congress leadership is the feedback from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema that bifurcation would be tantamount to writing the party's epitaph there, especially given the way former Kadapa MP Jaganmohan Reddy has been gaining ground. Had the Congress sent an observer to Vijayawada during his 48-hour fast on December 21-22, they would have seen a "young man in a hurry", celebrating his 38th birthday by fasting in front of a huge gathering of slogan-shouting young men and women who were streaming in morning and evening. Young girls and women were seen crying, jostling to touch him or tie bands on his wrists, or have him bless their babies. The Congress leaders in Delhi believe that money played a key role in mobilising crowds for Jagan's Odarpu Yatra. He would have had to be a great producer-director-actor to stage-manage the Vijayawada show. The 300-km drive on National Highway 9 from Vijayawada to Hyderabad explains it all. Jagan has succeeded where the Congress has failed: in claiming the political legacy of the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. In trying to repudiate Jagan, the Congress also disowned YSR's legacy — thanks also to the fact that his successor K. Rosaiah suddenly woke up to the fiscal profligacy behind YSR's populist schemes, which he himself had sponsored as finance minister. Chances are, anyone you meet along NH 9 will be a beneficiary of one of YSR's schemes. Dayakar from Nandigaoma village, about 70 km from Vijayawada, will tell you how his father had met with an accident and he could get treatment worth Rs 60,000 "only because of Arogyasri (the health insurance scheme)"; K. Sudhakar, a 23-year-old MBA at Cherukumupalan village, will list friends who could not have attended professional colleges without YSR's subsidies. And there were so many of these schemes — from subsidised rice to free electricity. Just how the Congress is trying to counter the sympathy factor for Jagan was evident last Thursday when the CM declared to this newspaper, in response to a question about Jagan's Vijayawada show, that "I can attract bigger crowds. I also had over 50,000 people in my rally." Congressmen from the Telangana region have been trying to impress on the central leadership that the party would at least get 17 Lok Sabha seats in a new Telangana state — after the TRS's merger with the Congress — but if it is not created, the party has to start counting its losses. While the Congress has suddenly remembered the contribution of its former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, one hopes it does not think that no decision on Telangana is also a decision. Only the Congress coming clean on this issue can end the atmosphere of uncertainty in the state.









 Garbage in open dumpsites on the streets of Indian cities is a common sight and a huge health hazard. The solution has not only to do with "solid waste management" but a lot to do with residents understanding the value of keeping public places clean and its link with health. Hygiene, like charity, begins at home.The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) has done it. They have launched a dual campaign to raise public awareness of the menace as well as improve the coverage and quality of their service to collect solid waste from the households and manage its scientific disposal through public-private partnership. This along with building "pay and use" toilets in different parts of the city, has made Rajkot a clean city, earning it a place among the 10 cleanest cities in the country. The corporation received Rs 8.7 crore for solid waste management from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Of this, Rs 5 crore was used in the purchase of equipment and vehicles for collection and transportation of solid waste, eg, wheelbarrows, cycle rickshaws, bins, hydraulic dumpers and JCBs (excavators). Until three years ago, only 25 per cent of the households had their garbage collected from their homes by the municipal corporation. Today, close to 90 per cent are covered by hiring 1000 women from Sakhi Mandals (self-help groups) who are paid Rs 10 per household per month for a three-hour service (7 am to 10 am) of door-to-door collection using wheelbarrows with separate compartments for dry and wet waste.Dressed in their uniform with whistles hanging round their necks, the Sakhis looked every bit their part. They are free to sell any recyclable material from the waste to supplement their income, which adds up to about Rs 3,500 per month. The rest of the garbage is delivered by them in covered bins at specified locations in the city. The households are not being charged for the service to help them form the habit of segregating dry and wet waste before collection. The corporation set up two transfer stations in 2007 from where the waste is transported to the disposal site (22 kms away from the city) by two private contractors who were awarded the contract through competitive bids. This ended the practice of dumping at two open sites, each about 10 kms away from the city. The waste is taken from covered bins to the transfer stations using municipal staff and private contractors. No litter on streets/public places and no use of plastic bags were the other themes of the clean city campaign. RMC has gifted 6,000 dustbins to shopkeepers and 4,500 bins have been located on the main roads for spot collection. Mobile vans ply the city throughout the day for residual collection. Since April 2008, there is also a penalty for littering in public places and for using plastic bags, and also for not segregating garbage. This has yielded Rs 50 lakh to the municipal corporation, as of November 2010. Under a "one day one ward campaign", concerned officers from all departments of the corporation visit the same ward once every 23 days (the city has 23 wards) to review and fix any interdepartmental problem of coordination. The municipal commissioner, Dr Dinesh Brahmbhatt personally oversees the cleanliness drive in the city. On certain days of the month, school students are given the authority to determine the "dand" (penalty) for dirtying the city. In the vegetable market at the newly set up hawkers' zone, the customers were proudly showing off their colourful fabric bags and declaring how they were shunning plastic bags. The floor of the open market certainly looked very clean. The hawkers were taken off the streets and located in a four-walled open plot for a monthly payment of Rs 25 per thela (cart). The hawkers were relieved not to have to pay bribes to operate from the streets and pavements. Attached to the open market is a "pay and use" toilet for public use. Typically, the charge was 50 paise and it has now been raised to Re 1; the toilets are free for women and children. In all, 150 "pay and use" toilets have been constructed, of which nearly 90 are in slums, with special arrangements for children. The corporation is also building seven "high-end" toilets on a BOT basis, charging in the range of Rs 2 to Rs 5 for each use, and generating revenue through sale of advertisement rights. Processing and disposal of solid waste is being handled through a public-private partnership with Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt. Ltd. Hanjer was awarded a Build-Operate-Own contract through a negotiated bid in 2003 to set up a waste processing plant, the first of its kind in the country. The corporation gave 30 acres of waste-land on lease at Re 1 per square metre to Hanjer in Nakarawadi village, 22 kms away from the city. It has agreed to deliver 300 metric tonnes of garbage to the plant every day and also committed to supply upto two lakh litres of water per day and electricity for the plant's operations. Construction started in June 2005 and the plant was commissioned in April 2006. Hanjer makes its money by processing the waste. The segregation at the plant into dry, waste and inert materials is largely automated. Daily, Hanjer produces about 40 tons of organic compost, 70 tonnes of green or slow burning coal and 2.5 tonnes of plastic lumps from the 300 metric tons of waste. The wet waste (20-30 per cent of the total) is used for making organic compost, which is sold in the domestic market as well as exported to Oman and Pakistan. The dry waste (30-40 per cent of the total) is used for making green coal, which is sold to nearby ceramic factories and also to the cement industry. Plastic lumps made from plastic waste are sold for manufacturing irrigation pipes. The recyclable waste (about 3 to 5 per cent of the total) is segregated and also sold. A scientific landfill site adjacent to the waste processing plant is under construction by Hanjer and is being paid for by the RMC through funds from JNNURM. The site is expected to be completed by March 2011. It includes development of bunds, layers of geo-textile and clay, and lechate drains.Only about 10-15 per cent of the total waste in the form of inert material will go into the landfill site. RMC shall pay Hanjer Rs 220 per tonne of inert waste going into the site, subject to a maximum of 20 per cent of the total waste, in line with guidelines under the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000. The corporation has paid an advance installment of Rs 30 lakh to Hanjer, which will be adjusted against the filling of the site with the inert material, once the site is functional beginning March, 2011.Indeed the system of waste disposal can be improved. If lease rental could be determined through open competitive bidding, then it should be possible to cover situations even with negative lease rental if the revenue stream does not cover the costs.Rajkot has shown that remaining clean is a win-win situation.


Ahluwalia is chair of Icrier and of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure. Nair is a consultant to the committee. Views are personal,









Assertive Ahmadinejad

If the much-anticipated internal change in Tehran did not take place in the wake of the disputed presidential elections in 2009, there is some churning underway in Iran, led by none other than its controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As he runs rings around Washington on the nuclear question, Ahmadinejad is also making bold political moves at home.


Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad summarily dismissed foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and appointed Ali Akbar Salehi, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Council, to the post. The dismissal of Mottaki, who has been Iran's chief diplomat for nearly five years, came when he was on an official trip to Senegal. Salehi, a nuclear scientist with a PhD from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been designated as the "acting foreign minister" and can't stay in office longer than three months without parliament's approval.


Observers of Iran see the inconclusive change of leadership at Tehran's foreign office as a reflection of the unending tussle within Iran's system of parallel governance between the elected presidency and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who heads the paramount clerical establishment.


In another move last week,


Ahmadinejad scrapped longstanding subsidies on food and fuel. Prices of petroleum products have jumped nearly five times since then. Ahmadinejad wants to phase out all subsidies in the next five years. Annual subsidies now amount to nearly $100 billion.


While the removal of subsidies is unpopular, Ahmadinejad has chosen to bite the bullet amidst the growing impact of international sanctions on the Iranian economy. US officials say Iran's imports of refined petroleum has gone down from 130,000 barrels a day to 19,000 barrels a day in October.


While sanctions have begun to hurt, there is nothing to suggest Tehran is ready to yield on the nuclear question. Far more important over the medium term might be the fragmenting political consensus within Tehran's ruling elite.


Idea of Iran


Iran or Islam? That is one of the issues animating Iranians at home and abroad these days. On its own, the proposition that Iran has an identity beyond Islam is not shocking from an academic point of view. After all, modern Iran is the legatee of the great Persian civilisation.


Nor can anyone ignore the extraordinary contributions of Persia to the world long before it embraced Islam. If Iran's civilisational heritage is 2500 years old, the current Islamic Republic is barely 30 years old. The question, however, generates much political heat when the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran is seen as promoting a civilisational identity in opposition to the theocratic establishment. At the head of the new "Iran school" is Efsandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is the main political adviser to Ahmadinejad. He is also personally close to Ahmadinejad. Mashaei's daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son. Mashaei was initially appointed as vice president by Ahmadinejad. After strong protests, Ahmadinejad made him the "cabinet director". The change in designation has not seen any reduction of Mashaei's influence on Ahmadinejad.


Speaking in Tehran a few months ago to hundreds of specially invited Iranian expatriates (like the Indian "Pravasi Divas") last August, Mashaei gave a speech that extolled the virtues of the Persian civilisation rather than the merits of the Islamic republic. He urged the invitees to go back to their exiled homes and preach the "Iranian message".


"Iran needs to remove the mullahs from power once for all," Mashaei has been quoted as saying elsewhere,

"and return to a great civilisation without the Arab-style clerics who have tainted and destroyed the country for the past 31 years."


Mashaei also talked about the importance of separation between "din" (religion) and "dowla" (state) contradicting the principle "Velayat-e-Faqih", or the rule of the clerics, the very ideological foundation of the current regime that has governed since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.


Creation myths


Ahmadinejad is also trying to revive the memory of Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian empire in the sixth century BC. The Iranian president directed the negotiations with the British Museum to bring on a temporary basis the "Cyrus Cylinder", which lays out the great emperor's rules of just governance.


In a ceremony at the unveiling of the Cylinder in Tehran last


September, Ahmadinejad organised a professional performance of events from Cyrus's life. Copies of Cyrus's declaration are


being widely distributed by the government.


As Ahmadinejad mobilises Persian nationalism, Supreme Leader Khamenei is not keeping quiet. In a recent speech at a conference convened to discuss the "Iran-Islam" paradigm, Khamenei declared that "use of the two concepts of 'Islamic' and 'Iranian' does not imply a rejection of the achievements and rightful experiences of either concept".








The earth continues to get warmer, yet it's feeling a lot colder outside. Over the past few weeks, subzero temperatures in Poland claimed 66 lives; snow arrived in Seattle well before the winter solstice, and fell heavily enough in Minneapolis to make the roof of the Metrodome stadium collapse; and last week blizzards closed Europe's busiest airports in London and Frankfurt for days, stranding holiday travellers.


All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organisation report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.


How can we reconcile this? The not-so-obvious short answer is that the overall warming of the atmosphere is actually creating cold-weather extremes. Last winter, too, was exceptionally snowy and cold across the eastern US and Eurasia, as were seven of the previous nine winters. For a more detailed explanation, we must turn our attention to the snow in Siberia.


Annual cycles like El Niño-Southern Oscillation, solar variability and global ocean currents cannot account for recent winter cooling. And though it is well documented that the earth's frozen areas are in retreat, evidence of thinning Arctic sea ice does not explain why the world's major cities are having colder winters.


But one phenomenon that may be significant is the way in which seasonal snow cover has continued to increase even as other frozen areas are shrinking. In the past two decades, snow cover has expanded across the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Siberia, just north of a series of exceptionally high mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, the Tien Shan and the Altai.


The high topography of Asia influences the atmosphere in profound ways. The jet stream, a river of fast-flowing air five to seven miles above sea level, bends around Asia's mountains in a wavelike pattern, much as water in a stream flows around a rock or boulder. The energy from these atmospheric waves, like the energy from a sound wave, propagates both horizontally and vertically.


As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two-and-a-half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased.


The sun's energy reflects off the bright white snow and escapes back out to space. As a result, the temperature cools. When snow cover is more abundant in Siberia, it creates an unusually large dome of cold air next to the mountains, and this amplifies the standing waves in the atmosphere, just as a bigger rock in a stream increases the size of the waves of water flowing by.


The increased wave energy in the air spreads both horizontally, around the Northern Hemisphere, and vertically, up into the stratosphere and down toward the earth's surface. In response, the jet stream, instead of flowing predominantly west to east as usual, meanders more north and south. In winter, this change in flow sends warm air north from the subtropical oceans into Alaska and Greenland, but it also pushes cold air south from the Arctic on the east side of the Rockies. Meanwhile, across Eurasia, cold air from Siberia spills south into east Asia and even southwestward into Europe.


That is why the eastern United States, northern Europe and east Asia have experienced extraordinarily snowy and cold winters since the turn of this century. Most forecasts have failed to predict these colder winters, however, because the primary drivers in their models are the oceans, which have been warming even as winters have grown chillier. It's all a snow job by nature. The reality is, we're freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.








 Shielding power


An article in the CPI's New Age discusses bureaucratic corruption, which it says has taken deep roots with the tacit support of the powerful political class. In this context, it notes that the delay in sanction of permission to prosecute officials is proving to be a major hurdle.There are more than 157 corrupt bureaucrats against whom various government departments have delayed action by not giving sanctions. The CBI, it notes, needs the prior permission of the Centre to lodge even an FIR against officials above the level of a joint secretary. After the probe, the CBI has to seek prosecution sanction from the Union government.


It says the CVC received 5,783 complaints of corruption in 330 government institutions but action was taken against 2,429 officials only. "The government organisations simply ignored the advice of CVC to penalise the corrupt... Major penalties like dismissal, removal and compulsory retirement from service were taken only in selective cases." Not even a single corrupt officer out of 331 in the finance ministry — headed by Pranab Mukherjee — was punished. "In the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Central Board of Excise and Customs, 422 corrupt babus were let off."


Rudderless Congress


As the JPC-PAC debate continued, the lead editorial in the CPM's People's Democracy says there is no sign of realisation within the Congress that it has become steeped in corruption due to the nexus of big business and government that has developed under its dispensation.


It says "the Congress leadership sees nothing wrong in having its ministers in government promoting the interests of big corporates and getting favours in return" and says that the refusal to have a JPC inquiry into the 2G spectrum scandal stands out as an example of the Congress's refusal to come to terms with the rot that has set in the higher echelons of the government. It hits back at the Congress for allegations of corruption in Left-ruled states: "The Congress party knows very well that not a single minister in the Left-led governments is facing a corruption charge."


Conviction and doubt


On Binayak Sen's conviction, CPI(ML) weekly ML Update says the Raipur sessions court disregarded the paucity of evidence, the glaring holes, contradictions and unmistakable signs of planted evidence in the prosecution's case, and delivered a political verdict. "However, this verdict itself... has landed itself in the people's court. In particular, the Chhattisgarh police exposed itself to public ridicule for its attempts to link Sen's wife Ilina Sen with terrorism based on her email to the well-known Indian Social Institute of Delhi, which the prosecution mistook for Pakistan's (ISI)," it says.


It notes that the Chhattisgarh police's testimony in the sessions court contradicted its earlier statement in the Supreme Court, another crucial fact which the verdict ignored. With Sen's conviction, it appears as if concocted evidence and farcical trials, like fake encounters, are becoming the Indian state's weapons of mass intimidation. But the travesty of justice in Sen's case, however inadvertently, added fuel to the fire of protest and all-out rejection of the state's policy of silencing and criminalising dissent, it notes.


Referring to Ratan Tata's statement that if the Radia tapes were made public, it would make India a "banana republic" where people go to jail without evidence, it says in reality, the verdict indicated that India is turning into a "banana republic for the likes of Sen who expose and challenge corporate loot and state repression, while the governments protect the right of Tatas and Ambanis to loot in privacy."








The Bihar government's move to mandate quality accreditation for all primary and secondary government schools and those schools receiving aid from the government by tying up with the Quality Council of India will help improve the quality of education in the state. The earlier steps to improve access to education, through incentives like free bicycles to girl students passing the eighth standard, have helped reduce dropout rates of girls from 18% in 2006 to just 6% in 2009. Enrolment has also improved, with the share of students receiving mid-day meals in schools now touching 49%, as indicated in the most recent education survey of the NSSO (for 2007-08). This is marginally higher than the 43% students who received meals at the all-India level. The reach of the new quality improvement initiative is quite extensive as government-run schools account for 91% of the primary schools, 92% of the middle schools and 90% of the secondary and high schools. The shift in focus to the quality of education is well overdue as the NSSO report shows that Bihar has the necessary basic infrastructure with about 98% of the urban and rural populations having a primary school within a distance of 2 km. The government has also ensured that 87% of the primary school students in the state get free education as compared to just 71.2% at the all-India level. Only in the case of secondary schools in the rural areas is Bihar still disadvantaged, with almost half the students having to travel a distance of 2-5 km to reach the school as compared to the 36% share at the all-India level.


The gradual improvement in the quality of education in the state is evident from the latest ACER report for 2009, which shows that although the share of rural children who can recognise numbers in the lower classes is less than the national average, it is better than that of neighbouring UP. Indeed, the share of children in Bihar who can do subtraction in standard three and four and division in standard five are even better than the national average. However, the same cannot be said of reading skills where the Bihar numbers still lag the national average. The major problem in school education identified in the NSSO survey is the poor attendance ratios, of 74% in the classes I-VII in Bihar as against 96% in Himachal Pradesh and over 80% in all other states. Improving quality of education will only further enhance the human resource potential and further accelerate growth rates in Bihar.







That the communication satellite GSLV-5P should fail—this is the second in six months—is undoubtedly a setback to India's indigenous space programme as well as to the areas the satellite was to be utilised for, in telemedicine, telecom, weather services and TV. It should, however, be kept in mind that such failures are pretty routine in this business, and have to be treated as a learning experience—indeed, India's satellite programme is reckoned to be one of the lowest-cost in the world. What is unacceptable, however, is the fact that the satellite was not insured. While confirming this to FE, the head of PSU insurance firm New India Assurance pointed out that the government refused to buy any insurance cover as it thought the success ratio of the indigenous space programme was very high! That's like not buying house insurance just because there hasn't been a burglary or a fire in years, or discontinuing medical insurance just because you haven't been hospitalised in the last 20 years. Paradoxically, the insurance chief argued the crash was good news from his point of view as it would now be possible to get the government to buy accident cover. Had an insurance cover of this sort not been taken in a private organisation, it's safe to say the person in charge would have been fired immediately.


Instead of opposing buying of insurance for the satellite programme, the government should be trying to use more instruments like insurance to reduce its risk expenditure, and not just in this area. So, for instance, you'd think the government would be working with various insurance companies, both PSU as well as private, to develop models for crop insurance—while it is obviously the government's job to provide physical relief in the event of calamities like floods and droughts, the availability of insurance funds for the affected would be a great help. There have been enough pilots done, so it is curious there has been no large-scale rollout so far. Nor is this restricted to insurance. Using financial instruments like futures and options to supplement the procurement programme, for instance, will lower costs dramatically and can even help moderate price spikes in a far more efficient manner than the current procurement-cum-ration shop system does. Since the finance ministry has to foot the bill for all of this, perhaps it needs to take a leadership role in this one.








Here is one great paradox. The telecom sector has been India's biggest success story and yet it has been the most controversial and corruption-ridden. Telecom policy making has proved to be a graveyard for ministers, both honest and not so honest. The most upright telecom minister in the NDA regime, Jagmohan, barely survived more than a year and a half.


Jagmohan fell foul of all telecom players when he had insisted that the migration from a purely licence fee regime to a revenue sharing one could not be done as telecom operators had a contractual obligation to pay up the amounts they had bid before acquiring licences. Jagmohan had made a correct legal argument. The telecom operators dubbed Jagmohan anti-industry and he was gone in the next Cabinet reshuffle. The NDA regime saw six telecom ministers in five years—Buta Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Jagmohan, Ram Vilas Paswan, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Shourie. Each one was surrounded by one controversy or the other.


Kapil Sibal is today trying to examine the notional losses caused by policy actions in the telecom sector over the past decade. This larger exercise is probably aimed at proving that there is really no point calculating notional losses in this sector. To understand this in a wider perspective, one needs to go back to the first principles of what exactly does a policy seek to achieve.


Theoretically, any sectoral policy using national resource seeks to achieve the right balance between creating consumer surplus, producer surplus and government revenues. Simply put, the producer must get enough profits to want to remain in business, the consumer must get enough so that the market expands and the government gains by auctioning resources and receiving sundry tax revenues. Telecom minister A Raja got into trouble because he did not auction resources, in the name of creating greater consumer surplus. He argued that he was transferring potential government revenues to the consumer through a policy instrument. That, however, did not happen. He actually ended up creating undue rents for the producer as some businesses appropriated the surplus that was meant to go to the consumer.


In some ways, Kapil Sibal's exercise of going back to the origins of the New Telecom Policy in 1999 is an interesting one. With the benefit of hindsight, one can possibly conclude that telecom operators completely misread the Indian market and made a huge miscalculation when they desperately sought migration to a revenue-sharing regime from one in which they had committed a certain licence fee to be paid over 10 years for mobile phones and 15 years for landlines.


The telecom operators were desperate to move to revenue-sharing with the government because it would be easy on their cash flows. You share revenue only when you have it, right? But licence fee had to be paid on an annual basis, whether you had revenues or not. This was the guiding logic for the telecom operators to seek a migration from licence fees committed via auctions to a revenue-sharing arrangement with the government in 1999. Although there was a massive hue and cry at that time over the government tweaking its policies to suit business interests and sacrificing its own revenues, the outcome of the revenue-sharing arrangement was just the opposite. Though unintended, telecom operators have actually ended up paying the government far more because of unexpectedly high revenues accruing from the veritable explosion of the mobile market.


Kapil Sibal has done a rough calculation that the government lost around Rs 1,43,000 crore by allowing operators to shift from their fixed commitments to revenue-share ones in 1999. However, after they shifted to a revenue sharing arrangement, the operators have ended up paying more than that amount, say analysts.


Indeed, if the telecom operators had stuck to the licence fee regime in 1999 and had somehow managed their temporary cash flow problem for about three to four years, they would have been sitting on bigger profits today! Businesses totally misread the market as no one even remotely anticipated the mobile market expansion in the way it eventually happened.


The mobile subscriber market grew exponentially from about 4 million in 2001 to 40 million in 2004 to 400

million in 2009. The telecom operators who had committed licence fee in the late 1990s had projected teledensity to reach merely 15% of the population by 2010! Actually penetration has been more than 50% of the population.


So the government, even if unintendedly, gained by agreeing to shift to a revenue-sharing arrangement with the telecom operators in 1999. Sibal is probably harping on the notional losses caused by the migration to revenue sharing in 1999 to prove a different point. Being an astute lawyer that he is, the minister will try to prove that just as the losses were purely notional in 1999, so it is today as the CAG has calculated. He may even try to work out some revenue-sharing arrangement to make up for the notional losses, as had happened in 1999. He may be justified in doing that, but it should not at all take away from the alleged criminality involved in many of Raja's highly manipulative policy actions. Of course, those are separate issues that the CBI is looking at under the Supreme Court's close supervision.


Sibal, however, will do well to make this entire exercise non-partisan. He will be treading on dicey ground if he refers to the policy mess during the NDA regime. For the mother of all controversies was created by the Congress's telecom minister Sukh Ram, who gave away eight licences in four metros, the most juicy markets, totally free in 1993. Later Sukh Ram also changed policy post-bidding to favour HFCL, which had placed bids worth Rs 85,000 crore. He gave them a way out by imposing a cap on the amount bid, a condition that did not exist when the tenders were called. In retrospect, HFCL may even have run a successful business even by paying a licence fee Rs 85,000 crore over 15 years. The crux of the matter is no one read correctly the unfolding of the great Indian telecom story!










Onions have, over the years, acquired a fearsome reputation as not only being the barometer of power politics but also as an indicator of just how bad things are as far as food inflation goes. Every few years, prices of onions go up irrationally, and doomsday theorists cry the death knell for the government of the day. The onion is, after all, the poor man's condiment of choice and convenience, and if he cannot have it with his dry chapati, what use is any government?


The recent reported spike in vegetable prices has again focused specifically on onions, and with the UPA government shaky after a spate of corruption scandals, this was the last layer of skin off the government's veneer of competence.


A closer look at the competitive prices of vegetables in the November-December period this year and in the same period last year, however, will show that onion prices are, in fact, not the main drivers of this spike in prices. That distinction apparently belongs to brinjal. In fact, onion prices showed more of a spike between mid-November and December 2009 (around 30%) than this year for the same period (around 14%). Brinjal, on the other hand, was down 8% last year and showed an astounding 66% spike this year. Therefore, onion's contribution to the total increase in food prices is 27%, compared to brinjal's at 51%, potato's at 11%, cauliflower's at 6% and tomato, the other bogey being raised, shows a negative growth at -9% (figures of mandi prices in various states got from the Planning Commission).


What's more astounding is that there is a huge variation in the prices of brinjal across the country. In states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, where it forms an important part of the cuisine, it is priced at Rs 25 to Rs 35 per kg at wholesale rates. While in states like Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and even Delhi, it varies between Rs 8 and Rs 16 per kg. So, specifically then, high demand areas are driving prices high. The cause for this spike in prices cannot be attributed to the vagaries of the weather alone.


There are always good years and bad years in agriculture. What this points to is the real need for overhauling the system through which fruits and vegetables in the country are moved, stored and traded. While the National Horticulture Mission has done a good job in the areas of increasing yield and quality of fruits and vegetables, what has not been done is the setting up of a system of procurement, transport and storage. Trade in fruits and vegetables are still in the hands of middlemen, and goods are moved through traditional channels, speculation and seasonal and regional demands varying prices throughout.


A cold storage chain would eliminate some seasonal variations in yield, while a fixed procurement by organised modern retail outlets will not only provide security of business to storage owners but also keep prices down and ensure fair remuneration to farmers. The spectre of rotting vegetables in one part of the country while another pays for the same in gold equivalents could well become a thing of the past.


Organised modern retail will be catalytic to a more stable price regime. For those afraid that this would mean the entry of big foreign retailers like Walmart, there are enough domestic players who can fill the breach, without the bogey of foreign players taking over Indian farms and invading Indian kitchens being raised.


Of course, what it would do is eliminate the periodic fun of relating the fall of governments to the price of onions. But, as they say about politics, if isn't onions, something else will drive you to tears.







Communication gap

There's a huge communication gap at the telecom ministry, between minister Kapil Sibal and secretary R Chandrasekhar. The minister told NDTV that the new telecom policy in 1999 caused a loss of Rs 1,43,000 crore. NTP 1999 allowed firms who had bid to pay fixed amounts of licence fees each year (regardless of whether they had any subscribers or not) to move to a revenue-sharing agreement where they paid the government a fixed share of what they earned each year. When asked to explain how Sibal arrived at the figure, the secretary said he wasn't aware the minister had made such a statement, much less how he had arrived at the calculation.


United in spirit

Nizamabad MP Madhu Goud Yaskhi is pro-Telangana and was supposed to join in a hunger strike. The poor Congress MP, sadly, got stuck at the New York airport for 14 hours and had to content himself with giving phonos from the airport there. Still, he managed to get on the front pages despite not being on a hunger strike. It's the thought that counts, we suppose.







Ever since the paid news controversy hit the stands following the Maharashtra assembly elections, followed by the the journalistic profession has been under tremendous pressure. After all, if newspapers were masquerading advertisements as news, or if top journalists didn't have a problem crossing the lakshman rekha, how were people to view the profession? None of this was new, in the sense it has been happening for a long time, but the scale was frightening. Naturally enough, journalists looked to bodies like the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild. The PCI, in turn, set up a sub-committee to investigate the matter and when the sub-committee's report gave several instances of newspapers publishing paid news, it simply blanked out the names in the final report! It said the original report could remain on record as the reference document, but it never even attached it to the final report. Which is why, when the PCI said Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act should be amended to make its directions binding, no one took it seriously.


The Editors Guild, according to a news report, seems to have taken a different line, not quite name-and-shame, but a subtle variant of it—keep in mind the price paid by some journalists who figure in the Radia tapes. It appears the Guild had sent out pledges to 200 editors asking them to undertake they would not publish paid news—around two dozen have accepted this, and these names will be published on its Website. It's a start.









That the Reserve Bank of India's discussion paper on licensing of new private banks has invited widely divergent comments is not surprising. The document, which stopped short of laying down guidelines, only indicated possible approaches and spelt out the pros and cons of each of them, after reviewing the domestic and international experience. The six key issues that have elicited good response are: minimum capital requirement; promoters' contribution; cap on promoters' shareholding; foreign shareholding; role for industrial houses and non-banking finance companies (NBFCs); and business models for the new banks. The feedback and suggestions have varied, depending on the interests they represented. For instance, industry associations and trade have favoured a higher initial capital of Rs.1,000 crore, which could be raised further over a period. Only with a large capital can the new banks invest in technology, goes their argument. The NBFCs and the microfinance institutions, on the other hand, want a lower level of capital so that more banks can be licensed in a short period.


More than every other issue, it is the possible role of industrial houses in promoting new banks that has elicited sharply contrasting responses. Banks have opposed the idea, citing, among others reasons, the less-than stellar record of big business in managing banks, a point that prompted nationalisation in 1969. In many countries, combining banking and commerce has not been a happy experience. The ownership structure of large industrial groups may open up opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. Large conglomerates will exacerbate the concentration of economic power and political influence. Some others have suggested granting licences to industrial groups but with safeguards, ranging from tight regulation to barring the promoters from having business relationship with the entities promoted by them. The feedback on the role of NBFCs shows less of discordance. One section would require the NBFCs to wind down activities that overlap with those of banks. This would eliminate the scope of regulatory arbitrage that might accrue to the lightly regulated NBFCs. Finally, many respondents who favour the entry of new banks would like them to be given general banking licences and not restricted to specific geographical area or function such as financial inclusion. Ten months after the Finance Minister mooted the idea, the subject of licensing new banks seems to be as divisive as ever, and it might take some time for specific proposals to crystallise.









The price of gold has gone up from $256 an ounce in 2001 to $1,424. Meanwhile, price levels have struggled or crashed with respect to almost all other asset classes. Central banks have slashed interest rates. Yet, gold prices, it has been predicted, may go up and up. The many reasons for this renewed love are convincing. Interestingly, not long ago pundits had predicted the end of gold as the world's default asset class and were clubbing it with commodities. It appears that the yellow metal is making a comeback to reassert the pre-eminence it has enjoyed for 5,000 years of history.


Its supply is falling. No new mines have been discovered. The existing ones are getting exhausted, and miners are digging as deep as 5 km. Gold content in ore has come down from almost 12 gm a tonne to 2 gm. And it costs more and more to take that out.


Environmental concerns have also contributed to mine-owners' problems. The wages of miners are going up; so is the cost of providing them safety and security.


Emerging economies such as China and India are accumulating gold in order to reduce their dependence on the dollar. While the U.S. has a reserve of 9,200 tonnes of gold, China has 1,054 tonnes and India 565 tonnes. No wonder, as emerging economic superpowers China and India want to add to their reserves. Industrial use of gold is on the rise the world over. With the U.S. economy still drifting with the threat of the dollar losing its undisputed position of reserve currency, the rush to gold is increasing. The zero-interest regime in the U.S. is driving more private individuals to go for gold.


Added to all this is the rekindled investor-preference for gold. Money is moving away from mutual funds and equities and the once fashionable and often discredited hedge funds are also getting into gold. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are channelling ever more funds to gold. Some pension funds are increasing the proportion of gold in their basket of assets. Given all this, gold can go nowhere but up. That is the consensus.


Everyone seems to be joining the new gold rush. But is everything well with gold? Or is it a bubble building up?


Consider the conventional wisdom. Money generally gets distributed, though not in any fixed proportion, among assets such as real estate, stocks, cash, government securities, gold, commodities, and in new investments in factories and machinery. There is no state of equilibrium in a global economy. Money gets transferred across geographical boundaries and asset classes based on anticipated gains. As long as the flow is reasonable and generally in line with the increase in returns, this works well. But when everyone rushes to the same destination, we are looking for trouble. Excess demand, though often artificial, creates excess supply, as in the case of real estate. Excess supply leads to price crashes. But in the case of gold, the argument is that excess demand cannot create excess supply as the total world supply is limited. People have a short memory and the Black Septembers, dot-com busts, currency crashes and real estate collapses are forgotten. Everyone, as usual, rushes to the next mass destination, creating another bubble. In all these collapses and crashes, those who are early to get in and get out, make big money — and the last ones are left holding the baby.


Is something similar happening in gold? The general consensus is 'no.' Gold is different. It has never let anyone down in 5,000 years. It is indestructible. Its supply is limited. But this time it is different. Is it really so? Gold has also gone up and down in the past. It was $424 an ounce in 1990 before crashing to $255 in 2001. Still, it moves only within a range and huge fluctuations are not possible in gold, argue some people. Actually, gold gave much better returns in the 1980s, only to stagnate and lose those gains in the 1990s.


What can spoil the party? U.S. interest rates? Can the U.S. hold on forever to a near-zero per cent interest regime as Japan has done for almost two decades? Can the U.S. avoid the inflationary pressures created by all those green notes printed in the last few years and the money blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is gold the permanent safe bet, as we are led to believe?


In real estate, it was Japan's turn first. Throughout the 1980s, prices kept climbing on the back of a booming economy and stock market. The arguments were sound. Japan is short of land. Nobody makes land anymore! The Japanese need bigger buildings. The economy is booming and will continue to do so. Well, naturally the prices kept going up — till the crash occurred. That happened in the early-1990s, and prices are still half of what they were during the boom.


The story was slightly different in South-East Asia in the late-1990s, but the outcome was not. We heard it again in 2008. Housing is the backbone of society. The U.S. is made up of house-owning families. The U.S. is not Japan. Well, there are millions of houses looking for new owners in the U.S. even now.


It was different in Dubai. Dubai was not building for locals and expatriates alone. It was not for Emiratis alone, and not just for Arabia. It was for the whole world. Dubai cannot crash! Well, it did, and very badly.


What about the stock market? Nikkei was almost 40,000 in 1989. It is around 10,000 in 2010. The Dow Jones was already 10,000 in 1999 and the brokers were predicting it would go to 40,000. What happened to all the pension funds, trust money, 401k savings that went into the stock market at their peak in the U.S.?


We are in 2010, and the Dow is still around 10,000. Oil was $40 a barrel in 1973 before crashing to $13. It went up to $140 and was speculating to go to $200 before someone punched the barrel. It is still around $90.


A crash of gold prices could be the ultimate crash, nothing like we have seen. No one has managed to discredit the yellow metal in 5,000 years. But it appears that for the first time in history the ETFs, the hedge funds and the governments are about to do the undoable.


The fact that it has not already happened is no guarantee that it will not happen. Look at all the easy money coming into gold. All those who have shifted money from real estate, mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds and stocks are pouring it into gold. Gold ETFs are the fastest growing investment vehicles today. This is all real quick money, but can evaporate at the click of a key. Of course, governments such as China and India are also betting on gold and increasing their reserves. But then, whoever said governments can make no mistakes?


The intrinsic value of gold has not gone up from $255 to $1,424 in 10 years. Gold is not consumed heavily like oil or grain. Industrial use of gold is limited. Gold is the most recycled commodity. Of the annual production of 2,500 tonnes, about 50 per cent goes to make jewellery and it is almost entirely recycled. The rest goes to industrial and other uses, and even here the recycling rate is high. In other words, all that demand is artificial and can be deflated in no time. There is no need to have excess supply to lead to a price crash, unlike other products. The sheer fact that gold is only a hedge instrument and does not serve any practical use by itself, will negate the 'there-is-no-new-supply' theory. Someone somewhere is watching for the perfect moment to disgorge the hoard, to create sudden panic and buy up following a crash. We have heard the script before.


There is no sign that a crash is going to come tomorrow, or for that matter next year or the year after. It may still go up for two or five or even 10 years. But crash it will, if we are to go by the economic history of boom and bust. And the higher it goes and the longer it stays there, the more painful the crash is going to be, especially for India.


Indians sit on an estimated 18,000 tonnes. India has always had the largest gold reserve with individuals. Imagine what will happen to millions of Indians if gold were to crash. A crash of gold will be the crash of the Indian economy.


That should make us more responsible. That makes it imperative for our economists to track gold movement. That makes it important for our financial wizards to prevent a bubble in gold. That should force us to act before it happens.


Never in history have we had so much idle money chasing so little gold. Gold is losing its respect as the default and fail-safe asset class and becoming a speculative instrument. Mass hysteria is being built up. This shift of gold from being an item of passive wealth to an instrument of speculation is dangerous. It could be the beginning of the end of the faith in the last bastion of indestructible wealth. Gold is being talked up by crafty speculators and unsuspecting governments. Even Newsweek is predicting that gold could go up to $10,000. And these predictions are being made by those sitting on gold worth billions of dollars bought at yesterday's prices.


A Federal Reserve Chairman can bring calm to a tumultuous dollar. He could even control the irrational exuberance of the Dow Jones. A Chairman of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries can do the same for oil. Who can do that for gold? Shouldn't someone be worrying, especially in India?


(T. Balakrishnan is Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Kerala. The views expressed here are his personal ones.)










A new complex of government offices on the banks of the river Niger in Bamako, Mali, is like a wedding cake; pale pink, frosted with decorative detail, its plate glass winking in the sun. It's called the Administrative City and it was financed by the Libyan-backed Malibya development company. It is a powerful symbol of North African oil money and what it has to offer one of the poorest countries in the world.


Several hundred kilometres downstream there is more evidence of the petromillions pouring into Mali. In the dusty flat marshlands of Macina in the Segou region, enormous green metal sluice gates tower over a massive new canal built by Malibya. Forty kilometres long and 30 metres wide, it is one of the biggest canals in sub-Saharan Africa.


Controversial and secretive


The Chinese contractors have just finished building it and it is eerily quiet, with only the slap of water against the new concrete walls and the chatter of occasional groups of schoolchildren heading home. The canal is destined to irrigate a vast area of land — 1,00,000 hectares in total — in one of the most controversial and secretive land deals in Africa, a continent that has become a target for a greedy and hungry world.


In the last six years, there has been a dramatic increase in foreign investment in land deals across Africa and the Malibya deal — a 50-year lease agreed by the Malian and Libyan Presidents — has become totemic of the fear that this new phenomenon of land grabbing will deprive subsistence farmers of their land and their food.


Mali is one of the countries most affected by the scramble for land, and Segou, the country's rice basket, is at the eye of the storm, with buyers from Senegal, South Africa, and Asia, as well as domestic companies snapping up leases on thousands of hectares. This is land already intensively used in a country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world and where 80 per cent of the people depend on farming for their livelihood.


As you stand by the sluice gates with the chalky brown water churning below, or you drive for the best part of an hour on the new road running alongside the vast canal, you get a sense of the dramatic scale and huge cost — estimated at $54.7m (£34.6m) — of the project.


Big ambitions are about to be unleashed on this land of small, mud walled villages, rice fields and grazing herds of cattle. Some villagers are hopeful that the new scheme will bring much needed irrigation and jobs to these desperately poor communities. Malibya has promoted its scheme as part of a bid to raise agricultural yields and improve food security in a country where many often go hungry.


"I'm not reassured by the promises," says Abduallai Kee, a member of the local farmers' union. "They tell the villagers that they will give compensation for land and that they will give jobs, but this is just to give villagers a feeling of having been 'consulted'" He has seen the maps of how the land will be parcelled out for mechanised rice production and fears that the dispossessed will have no choice but to work as day labourers.


Impact assessment unknown

No one knows if there has been an environmental impact assessment or what attempt has been made to map how many people are living on this land. Already, the canal has blocked several important cattle routes. What adds to the sense of insecurity is that Mali has almost no private land titles and land is owned ultimately by the state. Traditionally, this has been interpreted with respect for customary land use — both for grazing and agriculture. But it is far from clear that the rights of those currently living on the land will be protected. Already, more than 150 families have been forced off the land to make way for the canal, and campaigners worry that this is only the start.


Says Ibrahim Coulibaly, president of the Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes, which has been organising protests, "Even if the land does belong to the government, the people living on it still have rights, and we will do everything to fight against this injustice." The danger is that it will exacerbate food insecurity in a country where malnutrition is widespread and food production is already seriously threatened by climate change, argues Mark Butler, the country representative for the U.K. aid agency Tearfund.


Georgette Foure saw her house and garden flattened to make way for the canal. She was paid just £511 for her house and fields. A widow and mother of six children, her eyes well up as she tells her story. "I used to get a good harvest from my big garden and it helped me feed my family and pay for the children's education. Now we have nowhere to live. They gave us some compensation but it was not enough and the land they gave us is a big hole in the ground which we will have to fill before it can even be used to grow anything." She smooths down her dress; ironically, it is made of fabric celebrating Mali's recent 50th anniversary and emblazoned with the slogan "The Fiftieth is for You".


Tienty Tangaka stands on the baked earth and rubble where his home and garden once stood. Beside him is the massive stump of a neem tree that was cut down to make way for the heavy equipment needed for construction.


"The compensation they gave was not enough to build a new house," he says, his clothes ragged. "We are very deeply shocked. They took me to the tribunal and I was told that I had built on land where building was not allowed — and I lost my home."


Suspicion and conflict


Standing in the ruins of Tangaka's old home, two brand new phone masts are visible on the other side of the canal. There are also plans for an airstrip, which is fuelling suspicions that the rice produced is not destined for Mali but for export to Libya to meet the need for cheap food for its large migrant workforce. Like many Middle-Eastern countries, oil-rich Libya imports large quantities of food and it needs to ensure cheap and plentiful supplies.


A little further on, just beyond Kolongo, in the village of Bourant, the David and Goliath conflict between these villagers and Malibya came to a head a few months ago. During his nightshift, one construction worker noticed that the bulldozer was turning up human corpses. Without adequate maps, the construction team had stumbled into two adjacent cemeteries, one for Muslims and one for Christians. Uproar ensued with nearby villagers grabbing farm tools to form a blockade against the bulldozers. Work stopped for several weeks.


Diarra Seynei takes us to the area beside the canal. "Considering the culture and traditions of Mali, this is a big shame, an insult to our values. This was the resting place of our parents," he says.


We walk on the bare earth along the dyke in the baking heat, listening to his story of outrage. We stumble on a fragment of human skull.


"They could have avoided the graveyard but they wanted to do the job quickly and they wanted the straight route. Many people cried when the bodies were taken from the graves. It was a big shock," he adds.


Worst of all, he says, there was no way to identify the broken bodies or to work out which bones were Muslim and which Christian for reburial in the new sites.


As we are talking, a large truck draws up. A Malibya manager approaches us, asking us what we are doing and tells us that the land is private property. Our guides talk vaguely of research and the manager is suspicious, insisting that we should have asked permission from his office. The atmosphere is tense, and we leave.


Local farmers risk losing their land and their livelihood, but perhaps the greatest risk of this project is the loss of water. Malibya has boasted that the new canal has the capacity for 11m cubic metres a day, 4bn cubic metres a year. Campaigners claim that is twice the capacity of any other canal in the region. Their concern is that neighbouring land will be deprived of water when stocks run low; they have heard rumours that Malibya has negotiated priority access to the water.


In Mali, water is crucial


Water is everything in Mali: half the country is desert and the bulk of the population depends on the river Niger, which dominates the country's central belt and forms one of Africa's biggest inland swamps, an area crucial to Mali's rice production, fishing and nomadic cattleherding economy. Further downstream, another five countries depend on its waters before it finally empties into the Atlantic in Nigeria. The Malibya deal is making not just many Malians anxious, it is making its neighbours uneasy as well.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Climate change is affecting the cultivation of Assam tea, with rising temperatures reducing yields and altering the distinctive flavour of India's most popular drink, researchers say.


High hills and abundant rainfall make the north-eastern state of Assam an ideal place to grow tea, with 850 gardens over 3,20,000 hectares (5,93,000 acres) producing the majority of the country's harvest. But in the last 60 years, rainfall has fallen by more than a fifth and minimum temperature has risen by a degree to 19.5°C.


"This is clearly climate change, and it is bound to have major impact on the tea industry," said Debakanta Handique, a climate scientist in Assam.


The Tea Board of India said it had recorded a steady decline in tea production in recent years. In 2007, Assam produced 5,12,000 tonnes of tea. By 2008 this had declined to 4,87,000 tonnes, with estimated production in 2009 down again to 4,45,000 tonnes. A further decrease is expected this year.


'Serious threat'


Mridul Hazarika, director of Tocklai Tea Research, the oldest tea research station in the world, said rainfall and minimum temperature were two of the most important factors affecting both quality and quantity of harvests.


"The decline has been taking place although there has been an increase in the area of tea cultivation as new gardens have come up, and many gardens have added new areas for tea plantation. This is an indication of the seriousness of the threat," said Hazarika. Efficient rainwater harvesting and new breeds of tea plants were needed to reverse the trend.


"Changes have already been observed in the flavour, but it is not possible to blame only climate change for this," he said. "Other factors like the fertilisers used and cultivation methods might also be partly responsible."


The changing taste of Assam tea is a serious concern for growers. Sudipta Nayan Goswami, an Assam-based planter, said subtle changes had already been observed: "The flavour has changed from what it was before. The creamy and strong flavour is no more. There is a huge demand for Assam tea abroad, and this is due to its strong, bright flavour. The changes will sharply hamper the demand for this variety of tea abroad."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







The UAE's state nuclear company is moving ahead with plans to build its first nuclear power plant, saying it has filed a construction license application covering the project's first two reactors.


The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced the filing of the roughly 9,000-page regulatory application on December 27, a year after it awarded a South Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation the $20 billion contract for the project.


The application to the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation is based largely on previous work done for reactors in South Korea that will serve as a reference for the Emirati plants.

ENEC plans to build the Gulf Arab state's first reactors at Braka, a sparsely populated site on the Persian Gulf coast near the border with Saudi Arabia. It aims to have the first reactor running in 2017.— AP







With politics taking precedence over "economics and trade" and India entering into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the ASEAN bloc, commerce has become the new buzz word in intra-regional relations. India's ties with Indonesia, one of the biggest Asian democracies along with India, have grown stronger over the years. The Indonesian Minister of Trade, Mari Elka Pangestu, recently in India, talked to Sujay Mehdudia, about trade relations, commonalities among the two countries and giving a new fillip to the relationship during next month's visit of Indonesian President H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to New Delhi.


How would you define the relationship between India and Indonesia?


India and Indonesia enjoy a very warm and "strategic partnership" in the region and this has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The trade between the two nations has outgrown the set targets well before schedule showing the strong bond the two nations enjoy. In 2005, both the countries set a target of achieving $10 billion trade turnover by 2010 against $4 billion at that time. We have been able to achieve that target in 2008 and hope to end the 2010 fiscal with $12 billion trade turnover which speaks volumes about the complimentary nature of our people and economies.


How do you see this graph progressing in future and what in your opinion should be done to give a new dimension to this relationship?


As the global economy is still in the recovery stage and the Western countries are still grappling with various economic issues, this provides a huge opportunity to both India and Indonesia to capitalise on the situation. Both the nations need to have a more diversified basket of goods and services to take the economic partnership between both the countries to a new level. We need to set up more institutional mechanisms for Business to Business and Business to Government negotiations. As I mentioned, India-Indonesia trade has already touched $10 billion during January-October 2010 and could cross $12 billon by the year end. This target is likely to be doubled to $24 billion when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visits India to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade on January 26 and also holds talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.


Although, the trade among the two economies has grown tremendously, people to people exchanges and international transport linkage remain an area of concern. What is your take on that?


There have been some issues pertaining to direct links between the two countries but negotiations are on with the Indian counterparts to link Jakarta directly with major Indian cities. Tourism is another major area where Indonesia has much to offer to the ever growing outgoing number of Indian tourists. Efforts are on to have direct flights from Jakarta to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. It is important that with growing trade, both the nations should provide easy access to their people and the business community at large.


What are the potential areas of investment that Indonesia could offer to the Indian business community?


There is an exponential growth in inter-connectivity in Indonesia and this is a huge potential market for Indian investors in this sector. Indonesia offers huge potential and opportunity in the automobile sector, textiles, engineering products — heavy machinery being a good area for cooperation — electronics, consumer products, processed and manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals, creative industry, mining, agro-based products, oil and gas, mining support services, rubber goods, infrastructure and real estate. We hope that India will be the number one investor in Indonesia in the next few years.


How do view the visit of the Indonesian President to India?


My visit to India is aimed at a follow-up on a number of bilateral issues as part of efforts to improve trade between the two countries and to prepare for the visit of the Indonesian President to India in early 2011. Mr. Yudhoyono would be in India to enhance the two countries' economic partnership. The joint study group on the Indonesia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has already submitted its report and a final view is likely to be taken during the visit of the Indonesian President. A number of important bilateral economic and strategic agreements are likely to be signed during Mr. Yudhoyono's visit. We need to take it further to have a far-reaching and wide spectrum agreement for giving a new thrust to future bilateral trade, economic development and investment cooperation between the two countries.


How does Indonesia view the global multilateral trade talks, also called the Doha Round, for the future of the global economic recovery?


There is little doubt that the multilateral trade links in developing countries will be a significant driver of economic recovery and growth. There is a very strong call to safeguard the world trade system. We need a strong political will for that. I cannot emphasise enough the risk of a failure in a multilateral trading system for a developing country. We firmly believe that for the global economic recovery, it is important that the Doha Round be completed without any further delay and an equitable trading regime is put in place.


What are your areas of concern where you feel that the Indian economy could open up?


We strongly feel that India should open up its retail sector where Indonesia has a lot to offer through its own marketing chains. Similarly, banking is an area of lot of opportunity and that needs to be addressed by the Indian counterparts. We are hopeful that the India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreement on services and goods would be put in place by March 2011 before the India-ASEAN summit. The ASEAN is in favour of 10 plus one formula whereas India wants a one plus 10 formula in this regard. We hope to convince India about the ASEAN stand which is unlikely to change. We hope India would see reason and is able to finalise the deal by March next year.









Admirers of the Australian system of cricket may have to rapidly revise their opinion as a great team disintegrates before their very eyes. The cricket world used to believe that anything Australian was good for the willow game, including the aggression the famous Australian players used to bring to the field with their strong body languageand the aggravation they used to cause with their take-no-prisoners attitude. The team that dominated Test and limited-overs cricket for close to a decade and a half before losing the Test crown two years ago has lost major players and is a mere shadow of the juggernaut that twice won 16 Test matches in a row and the last three World Cups (50 overs) on the trot.

Captain Ricky Ponting's despair at the demise of his own, and his team's, greatness is becoming apparent in every pressure situation. His repeated questioning of umpiring decisions has assumed a sickly pattern. In the latest instance, in the controversy he whipped up over a catch referral to the television umpire, he was fined 40 per cent of his match fee for dissent. Presiding over a team in decline, Ponting seems to be losing it and popular opinion is building up Down Under too for looking beyond him when it comes to the captaincy. For the skipper who won more Tests and games than Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, successive Ashes series have become a kind of Waterloo.

For years they ruled the game and were least bothered about the "Ugly Aussie" image portrayed by their bullying and badgering of umpires and sledging, which is the loud, ugly, and even vulgar berating of opposition batsmen. So long as they were winning, the game seemed to accept their aggressive behaviour and other teams also tried to emulate the slanging of batsmen, which tactic the very successful captain Steve Waugh said was aimed towards "mental disintegration" of the opposition. As the Australians ruled the roost, the cricket pitch became a place where the combative nature of sportsmen was needlessly exaggerated and the finest arenas of the game were the lesser for it.

When the same aggression is shown, principally towards the umpires these days as the Australians are in free fall, it is the image of cricket that takes a hit. Ponting's heated arguments over an apparent fault of the referral system, which is still in its infancy and is evolving with the improvement of video and related technology, did nothing for his team or his own exalted standing as the only player in the world to have been a member of teams that have won close to 100 Test matches and three World Cups. A champion sportsman losing his temper in a high-pressure sporting situation may be forgiven, but not if he loses his dignity.

At a time when cricket is trying to move on from years of being embroiled in such unseemly shenanigans as match- and spot-fixing, all its players owe a duty to fixing the image deficit. When history passes its verdict on the greatness of the Australian teams, there should be no place for too many footnotes circumscribing the handsome victories achieved. Sport should not define life so much that winning becomes the only thing. There should be less of triumphalism and greater human qualities in sportsmen for them to be acknowledged as masters of the game and of life. An example springs readily to mind in the iconic Sachin Tendulkar. If prickly Ponting were humble enough he might acknowledge he has let his career spin off at a tangent while someone senior to him is demonstrating how a sportsman should be in triumph and adversity.








The second decade of the 21st century is about to dawn. Since the end of the Cold War, nearly two decades ago, India's policymakers have deftly managed to cope with the significant changes in the global order. They crossed the nuclear Rubicon, ably dealt with its subsequent (and inevitable) fallout, opened the hidebound economy toforeign investment and improved relations with a host of countries ranging from the United States to Israel. These achievements were far from trivial and are indeed worthy of commendation.

That said, India's foreign policy is again at a turning point and its policymakers can ill-afford to rest on their laurels. The country is in dire need of a grand strategy but thus far no policymaker, regardless of political persuasion, has managed to sketch out the outlines thereof. In this context, it might be useful to recall that during much of the Cold War, India did have a grand strategy, namely, non-alignment. It is possible to argue that the strategy may have ill-served India after a particular moment or that it took on a chimerical quality after India's forging of a strategic partnership with the then Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the doctrine did provide India's policymakers an intellectual lodestar. Today, the most that India's policymakers can proffer is a foreign policy based on "enlightened self-interest".


Such a principle may be useful as a tactical guide but is hardly a substitute for a grand strategy. The challenges that India faces both in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond cannot be dealt with through a reliance on this concept that really does not rise beyond the level of a shibboleth. Instead the country's political and diplomatic leadership now needs to think of a wider and deeper set of guidelines and precepts to fashion India's foreign policy.

To that end they need to think of what kind of world order might India envisage that could best secure and enhance its national interests. Mere slogans will not serve as a substitute for political vision. For example, since the Cold War's end, on a number of occasions, key Indian policymakers have expressed a desire for a multi-polar world order. In effect, this plea has been little more than a euphemism for a world where the US does not emerge and remain as the sole, surviving superpower. The sources of the aversion to American dominance are well known. They stem, in most part, from India's fractious relationship with the US during much of the Cold War.

Yet this unease with American global pre-eminence is misplaced. Would a multi-polar world order, with a number of powerful states which are either indifferent to or implacably hostile toward India's key national security interests, be necessarily preferable to American dominance? Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question. Nevertheless, it is precisely one that India's policymakers must confront and address.


What then might be the outlines of a new Indian grand strategy? Obviously, it must be aimed at preserving what India deems to be its core national values and interests. Given its multi-religious and poly-ethnic status, the country must preserve its commitment to secularism and cultural pluralism. Simultaneously, despite myriad challenges from both within and without, it needs to preserve its liberal democratic dispensation. An illiberal India is simply not a sustainable political order. Protecting democracy at home will also require maintaining a well-prepared but limited military capability. Finally, it must be able to sustain its path of economic growth while ensuring that it also succeeds in lifting untold numbers of its populace who remain mired in dire and abject poverty. If these four issues constitute India's critical interests it must accordingly seek to fashion a global order that best protects them.

To that end, the country needs to stand up to the myriad challenges to secular and liberal democratic regimes the world over from atavistic and obscurantist social forces which both states and non-state actors have nurtured and unleashed. This will require forging closer bonds with states that share these fundamental values while maintaining little more than transactional links with others that do not but are crucial to addressing various material concerns. For example, there is little need to extol India's putative "civilisational ties" to Iran when pursuing a relationship that is mostly based on the exigent need for cheap hydrocarbon resources. Nor, for that matter, should it be necessary to fete Burma/Myanmar's scrofulous rulers to ensure that their country does not become a People's Republic of China satellite.


Given India's troubled neighbourhood and the many uncertainties associated with the seemingly inexorable rise of India's behemoth neighbour, the PRC, the country will also need to maintain requisite military forces to ensure that its territorial integrity and its maritime resources are not at risk now or in the foreseeable future. Simultaneously, its policymakers will need to confront the prospect of using India's forces beyond its shores as the country's global profile continues to rise.

Finally, sustaining India's domestic economic growth path, which has made possible much-needed military modernisation, will also require it to play a greater and more imaginative role in the higher realms of international trade and finance. Accordingly, India needs to become a more assertive player in the G20 and speak up about under-valued currencies, structural trade barriers and the reliance upon dubious financial instruments.

This outline of a grand strategy is hardly a panacea for the challenges that a rising India faces. However, they do provide the rudiments of a grand strategy as the country enters a new and potentially exciting decade but one fraught with multiple challenges.


Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Center on American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington








Three years ago, on December 27, 2007, Benazir was tragically assassinated when she was attempting to turn a new leaf in her life and in the politics of Pakistan. The bloody deed was done at Rawalpindi's Liaquat Park, a park named after Pakistan's first Prime Minister who was shot dead at the same venue in 1951 in circumstances that have so far remained unclear.


In the conditions prevailing in Pakistan, it will, perhaps, never be possible to find out who conceived, ordered and executed the killing of Benazir Bhutto. But an underlying fact is clear. She had become a victim of those very forces of religious fundamentalism with which she had ingratiated herself during her years of power — from 1988-1990 and then from 1993-1996. Instead of checking these forces, which had acquired a great hold on the state and society during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, she exploited them for her own ends of power and used them without any scruple to cause terror and subversion in Kashmir.


It was during Benazir's rule that her Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) ordered, in 1989-90, the killing of innocent Kashmiri Pandits and such noble persons as Kashmir University vice-chancellor Mushir-ul Haq and his aide Adul Ghani. When she found that her agents in the Valley were scattering under the impact of firm measures taken by me, then J&K governor, she herself came to Muzaffarabad and incited the Kashmiris against me. Made during the course of a televised speech, her shocking chopping gesture — striking her right hand on the palm of her left hand and ranting Jag-Jag-Mo-Mo-Han-Han — showed the extent to which she could go.
In the years that followed, the extremist forces, coupled with other negative developments in religion and politics, acquired much greater strength and made further inroads in Pakistan's power structure. Pakistan's landscape got littered with a bewildering variety of terrorist organisations which still remain as strong. Their number is so large, and their objectives and motivations overlap to such extent, that it is extremely difficult to clearly categorise them. Nevertheless, four broad categories are discernable. One, there is a set of "non-state associations", such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which have the patronage of the ISI and are largely used by it to carry out terrorism-related activities in Kashmir and other parts of India. Second, there are quite a few outfits, such as Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizbe-Islami and Haqqani's network, which operate mainly against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan from their havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan and enjoy covert ISI support. Third, there is a formidable religious movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban, whose objective is to "Talibanise" the state and society of Pakistan and enforce strictly the Sharia. Fourth, there are a number of Sunni extremist organisations whose primary aim is to undermine or eliminate other sects of Islam, such as Shias, Sufis, Brelvis, Ahmaddiyas, Ismailis etc and ensure dominance of what, according to them, is a pure form of Islam. All these four categories of terrorist organisations have unleashed a wave of blood and brutality and made Pakistan the world's most unsafe country. They do not tolerate dissent and show no hesitation in killing their fellow-religionists even when they are at prayer.


It was in such a violence-ridden environment that Benazir returned to Pakistan, after about a decade of self-imposed exile in London/Dubai, under an agreement brokered between her and President Pervez Musharraf by American and British diplomats. By that time, Musharraf had become unpopular. He had come up against what were called "men in black" and "women in black" — the lawyers who agitated against him and the fanatical burqa-clad women of Lal Masjid in Islamabad.

Musharraf was forced to order commando action against the mosque when seven Chinese women were "arrested" by the female Taliban ("women in black") on the allegation of prostitution. In the bloody venture to clear the mosque, 88 occupants and nine commandos were killed.


The year of Benazir's return, 2007, saw the highest incidence of violence in Pakistan. On the very day of her arrival in Karachi, October 18, terrorists attacked her cavalcade, killing as many as 149 persons and injuring 402. About two months later, the conspirators succeeded in eliminating her.

President Musharraf's administration did not appear to be very serious in providing effective security cover to Benazir. This fact was underlined by the inquiry commission appointed by the UN at the request of the Pakistan government to ascertain the facts and circumstances of her assassination. In its report, the commission said: "A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms Bhutto, and second to investigate with vigour all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack but also in its conception, planning and financing".

Benazir had made a serious mistake in returning to Pakistan without first securing a firm guarantee on her security from Musharraf and his mentors in the US and Britain. Her ambition, perhaps, drove her to an extremely risky venture.

Despite her unenviable record in office, Benazir's assassination at a time when she seemed determined to give a new direction to Pakistani polity was a grim tragedy. Though she had harangued against me, unjustifiably, I, and many other well-wishers of Pakistan, were saddened by her death. She was showing promising potential for freeing Pakistan from the stranglehold of religious extremism and terrorism. In her book, Reconciliation, published after her death, she has provided ample evidence of evolving a new agenda for Pakistan and for creating a pluralistic and modern Islamic society. But fate did not give her a chance to implement this.








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









Ever since the UPA returned to power for a second term in the summer of 2009, food inflation has been haunting it. There was a bit of relief afterthe monsoon this year, but it did not last. It has now climbed to 12.13% for the week ended December 11.


It all began with the soaring prices of onions last fortnight. The government responded by banning onion exports and removing import duty. But inflation spread to tomatoes and other vegetables, and now covers the rest of the food basket. The government is perplexed and groping for an answer.


The usual suspects are the hoarders, which means it is not a supply problem, especially after a bountiful monsoon. But this needs to be established if action is to be taken against them. The government could have handled the supply side effectively through its grain procurement and public distribution channels.


The UPA government is so involved in fighting the many scams that have engulfed it in the last few months that it does not have the time to think of other issues, including the monitoring of food prices. This is something that could hurt the image of the UPA much more than charges of corruption, because it pinches the middle-class and the poor. It shows that the government is not keeping a tab on food prices and that it is not taking timely counter-measures, which could allay if not prevent the distress of the people.


The blame game is, of course, on. There is criticism of food and civil supplies minister Sharad Pawar, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and a senior ally of the Congress in the UPA government. Fixing blame might make the besieged Congress happy in the pyrrhic sense because the ultimate blame for the situation will have to be borne by the UPA, and not just one of its partners and one of its ministers.


What is lacking is a clear policy on the food and farm front. Higher prices are but a symptom of something that is wrong with the system as a whole. The Manmohan Singh government will have to think about the problem in broader terms instead of knee-jerk responses like tweaking the food export-import channel. As it sinks into the mire of corruption, this government seems incapable of addressing the larger issues.






Twenty-seven Hindu families from the troubled province of Balochistan in Pakistan have sought political asylum at the Indian high commission in Islamabad. These families have cited an increase in rapes, kidnappings, and murders of members of their community, and an unresponsive administration.


This could prove to be a test case for Indian diplomacy given the problematic relations between the two countries. In the 1950s, Pakistan government and leaders tried to play the guardian's role for the Muslims who chose to stay back in India. Then, in a strongly-worded memorandum led by luminaries like Zakir Husain, who served as vice-president and president of the country, New Delhi refuted this presumption. Following the same principle, India is not responsible for Hindus in other countries, including Pakistan. This does not, however, preclude granting asylum to these 27 families on humanitarian grounds, and not because they happen to be Hindus.


The distinction is important not only for the sake of bilateral relations but also because of India's definition of itself as a secular nation-state. Pakistan was ideologically an Islamic state though it did not commit itself constitutionally to the idea in the earlier decades.


The Islamic project began with the Zia-ul-Haq regime in the late 1970s, and Pakistan is paying the price for it today. The umpteen jihadi groups that have cropped up in that country are a direct consequence of Zia's Islamisation policy. In contrast, India never declared itself as a Hindu state, either officially or through its constitution. Of course, Pakistan would have loved India to be a Hindu state, but Indian leaders denied it that satisfaction.


It is true that Pakistan has not worked out a harmonious way of integrating its minorities, an issue that its leaders and people have to solve for themselves. Christians experience the same sense of insecurity that the affected Hindu and Sikh families have experienced in recent times.


Many of Pakistan's elite argue that minorities in Pakistan have special protection in the Islamic country in contrast to the vulnerable status of minorities in secular India. That can be a point of endless debate. What needs to be addressed is the situation on the ground, and the government in Islamabad should do what it can do to provide a sense of security to the minorities.








The coming of a New Year is always full of hopes, dreams and aspirations. That is why it is the best time of the year to make resolutions. Many of us make them only to break them. And then feel miserable for the rest of the year. Why? It is because most of them are unrealistic and make us bend, turn and twist too much with our lifestyles. So it is best to draw a list with lots of thinking behind. Life is full of options. It will also tell you what you need to do to make life a bit snazzier.


I made a humble list:


n Read Everyday. n Improve communication skills. n Eat only when hungry. n Start a new hobby. n Work on a new book. n Think differently. n Be courageous. n Pursue excellence in some areas. n Avoid Facebook and invest in real relationships. n Reconnect with old friends. n Bury all bitterness. n Exercise everyday. n Write five times a week. nExperiment with creativity.


n Buy books every month. n Listen to good music. n Spend more time with family. n Avoid negative people. n Learn new skills. n Be grateful everyday. n See how happiness, freedom, love and peace of mind bounce back when given to someone else.


Looks like a long list. But there is not a single thing that cannot be achieved. All it requires to make life changing resolutions is a little bit of determination. Let us start with a bang doing something that we always loved doing.







Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and a senior member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has made an important political statement on her Twitter account on Tuesday.


She said that the party's demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) remains in spite of the Public Accounts Committee, headed by another BJP stalwart, Murli Manohar Joshi, vigorously probing the 2G spectrum scam and Joshi's evasive statement on prime minister Manmohan Singh's letter offering to appear before the PAC. Swaraj intervened with alacrity and demarcated the scope of the PAC and JPC respectively.


Politicians are generally perceived as technophobes because they are so involved in the hurly-burly of political life that they miss the many new things happening around them. Swaraj has sent out a gentle reminder that politicians can be geeks too and there is no contradiction. The serious person that she is, Swaraj is unlikely to share a light-hearted quip on Twitter. Of course, her mentor LK Advani writes a blog and he is a tech-junkie of sorts. She did not want to be left behind. Bravo!









The recent visits of the Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao to India and Pakistan during the same week went off on predictable lines.


In India, the visit has left behind somewhat better atmospherics leading habitual optimists to hope for better days ahead for the Sino-Indian relations; while experienced analysts tend to believe that another opportunity to sort out the vital issues that have marred the relations between the two Asian neighbours over the years has been lost.


Both optimists and the analysts with bitter memories of the past, however, are in agreement that it is better to keep the Chinese engaged and New Delhi should avail of every opportunity to make it clear that India is ready to discuss any issue across the table, but not at the cost of its national interest.


As it transpires, it is Wen Jiabao who told Dr Manmohan Singh at Hanoi a few weeks ago that he would like to visit India for talks and see whether some prickly irritants in the relations could be removed so that the two nations could have more comfortable relations with each other. There is enough space for them in this wide world.


Few had thought that big issues like the boundary dispute and India's serious reservations on relations between China and Pakistan would be resolved during the visit. No one believes that the boundary disputes, the worst of the divisive bilateral issues, can be pulled out from the back burner it has been consigned to by both countries. May be the status quo on the boundary questions suits both countries as neither is prepared for a give-and-take approach that a settlement requires.


India has a parliamentaryary resolution suggesting that the Indian territory under Chinese occupation has to be vacated.


The Chinese too could be having problems within the present Communist party leadership, which might be thinking it has no authority to part with any territory. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are going out of office in less than two years and no one knows how the succession issue will ultimately pan out towards the end of their tenure.


How relations between China and Pakistan have changed the security environment in South Asia figured at the talks. But judging from the statements the Chinese prime minister made in Islamabad, the relations between India's northern and western neighbours seem to have further deepened, leaving intact for India a two-front situation to contend with.


Pakistan has, in fact, become China's client state and not just an "all-weather friend", as the Chinese like to describe it. Over the years, Beijing has been liberally passing on nuclear and missile technology and military hardware to Pakistan and is now underwriting its failing economy.


China, as a part of larger scheme, is also using Pakistan for gaining access to the Arabian Sea, mineral resources in Afghanistan, and greater influence in Central Asia.


The Sino-Pakistan ties add another dimension to its stand on Jammu and Kashmir. Lately, there is a vagueness about its earlier position that it is a bilateral dispute to be sorted out by India and Pakistan themselves.


China's denial of visa to the Army's Northern Command chief and stapling of visas for the J& K residents amounted to questioning India's sovereignty over J&K. India had to make it clear at a meeting at Wuhan that China ought to be sensitive about India's concerns on J&K, just as India has been sensitive about Beijing's concern over Tibet.


Wen Jiabao might have thought of the visa question as just an "irritant" but for India it is too serious a matter to be brushed aside. Some rethinking may be taking place in Beijing on stapled visas.


Differences on political issues notwithstanding, the Wen Jiabao-Manmohan Singh talks focussed on economic relations. The two sides chose to step up annual trade to $100 billion in five years. China has agreed to find ways to buy more goods from India so that the balance of trade does not remain hugely against India.


The prospects that Wen Jiabao's last visit to India threw up in 2005 may have got blurred, but he must have gone back with greater awareness of Indian concerns about the emerging regional and international scenario.


This might turn out to be Wen Jiabao's last visit to India, although the two agreed to step up annual bilateral engagements between the two countries.


Competent analysts are of the view that primarily, the visit was aimed at arresting the decline in relationship that had taken place in the last two years, removing the "irritants", and to let the new leadership in China decide its foreign policy after two years.Essentially, India and China have come to agree that it is better to step up mutual engagement than make strident noises that add to mistrust.








It is an evidently retrograde law which has led to a negative snowballing effect depriving us of our highly prized green gold. According to a report in this newspaper the permission to fell green trees on private land in the State is used as a camouflage to loot the actual forests. It has been stated that most of the wood from certain forests in this province is diverted to feed about 250 brick kilns in Kathua, Jammu and Samba districts. The operation is being carried out by timber smugglers allegedly in collusion with unscrupulous officials. Between 2500 and 3000 trucks and trolleys loaded with green firewood are transported every year from Kalidhar, Jammu, Bahu and Jindrah forest ranges to different destinations. More than 90 per cent of their load allegedly goes to brick kilns. The overall picture in the State as a whole is likely to be worse. The doubt that there may be a deeper nexus at the official level arises from a dual control. It is for local revenue authorities to give a go-ahead signal for felling of green trees on private land. The consent to transport the chopped wood, however, is given by forest officials. On the face of it this is purely an administrative arrangement. After all, it is for patwaris and tehsildars to exercise control over the land and the purpose for which it is used. By the same yardstick, the divisional forest officers and rangers have to keep a watch on the movement of trees to ensure that their jurisdiction is not being violated. Simultaneously, we can't overlook the need for plantations for building our homes and commercial establishments; there is heavy consumption of wood on this count in the Valley especially. The fault clearly lies with the manner in which the existing law is being implemented. 
Arguably the law itself leaves room for mischief. Now and then we keep hearing that land grabbers first encroach upon forests and then get them converted into revenue land. It makes it easier for them to loot and scoot. As a result, sometimes we are told that there is a mismatch between the records of the two departments or the relevant papers are missing. The temptation to grab land is high. It is a lucrative business. It is no wonder that even nazool land in and around this city has not been spared. This is a bigger challenge. In the instant case the least that can be done is to plug the lawful route that is available to plunder the forests. Trees in particular should be saved regardless of the ownership of the soil. A distinction can't be made between private parties and the Government so far as the task of protecting greenery is concerned.


The concerned minister admits that the world over a big thrust is being given to save forests and protect environs. At the same time he concedes that the people can cut trees from their land to not only utilise them for their own purpose including for carrying out constructions but also sell them to generate revenue. It is logical because, as stated earlier, wood is one of the major ingredients of our construction. However, this can't be the reason for us to permit the fine distinction with forest reserves to disappear. 







The death of a five-year old boy in Doda district for want of treatment by a specialist doctor once again brings into focus a serious problem. Our health administration continues to suffer from the shortage of specialists especially in far-flung areas. Indeed, it is surprising that a case of a boy swallowing a whistle by mistake should have climaxed into a massive tragedy. This is something which can happen to children, who are unsuspecting by nature, any time anywhere. Normally they are told by their elderly relatives not to put everything into their mouth. Children being children are innocent and to expect them to follow each and every instruction is wrong. They require a close watch till they grow up sufficiently to understand the difference between the wrong and the right. What is galling is that they should not have a treatment on hand as and when they run into trouble. It is not clear if the household remedies have been tried in this instance. There is no doubt, however, that the boy belonging to the Udrana village at the outskirts of Bhaderwah town was first rushed to the nearest sub-divisional hospital (SDH). He did not get the requisite treatment there. His family was told that there was no ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist available and they should try to reach the district hospital in Doda which is at some distance. The child was examined by some doctors at the Doda hospital. The medical advice then was to shift the boy to the Government Medical College and Hospital in this city to get the whistle removed. The helpless child died on the way --- a heart-breaking blow for the close relatives. All those who came to know of the tragedy expressed solidarity with the grieving family and staged a powerful demonstration in Bhaderwah town. One can't find fault with them. Their spontaneous reaction could not have been otherwise. They blocked the road and burnt tyres relenting only after a time-bound inquiry was ordered and instituted. There are conflicting versions about whether or not an ENT specialist examined the child at the district hospital before referring him to Jammu. It is like adding insult to the injury. 

Why should be there confusion about an ordinary matter like this? It should be looked into and the responsibility for the lapse, if any, firmly established. At the same time there is necessity for finding specialists and deputing them in at least district hospitals. This is a lingering challenge. Our report says that there are 36 posts of assistant surgeons and specialists lying vacant in Doda district hospital and Bhaderwah SDH put together. It is a big number. Elsewhere in the State too the picture is not bright in this regard. It is hardly a secret. There are umpteen assertions by the Government about the shortage of specialists in ENT, radiology, pathology and anaesthesiology. Every time there is a road accident in a remote place --- hilly or otherwise --- those injured critically are either driven or flown to this city for cure. Why should we not be able to equip district hospitals at least with necessary facilities? The immediate action can prevent precious loss of blood and, as in the case of the unfortunate boy, life itself.








Scamsters ruled the roost, and their misdeeds grew more boldly outrageous, delighting crooks and disheartening the common Indian citizen. With TV, radio and cable channels a dime-a-dozen screaming for attention, the best way to grab wayward eyeballs (lacking grey matter to back them up?) was to highlight the heights of unscrupulousness. The Adarsh idealists, the conmen allegedly out to make fast mega crores from the CWG, every crook and their nearest and dearest grabbed centre stage until some media darlings stole the show by getting themselves entangled in dubious tapes. Days before the opening of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the nation's prestige tottered with the collapse of a vital footbridge. Accommodation for athletes from 71 countries was reportedly not ready, and UK inspectors turned up their noses saying the facilities were "unfit for human habitation". The preparations for India's largest ever sporting event raised doubts of mismanagement of crores of rupees for years. 

Cheering the hearts of every patriotic Indian, 2010 proved that the fine art and science of hera-pheri isn't restricted to our countrymen. The world over, basic human nature oozed through superficial veneers of principles and honesty, and people everywhere cheated and lied just like us. In the world of sports, Tiger Woods' alleged extra-marital shenanigans, cricket match fixing, use of banned performance enhancing drugs and other unsporting concerns overshadowed the ideals of fair play and sportsmanship. The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks kicked up a ruckus by releasing a whopping avalanche of secret documents with details of incidents of corruption, friendly fire, civilian casualties and deaths relating to the war in Afghanistan. Among the biggest leaks in US military history, its aftershocks rocked even the White House. 

Controversial Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stood up to face flak with commendable bravado following allegations surrounding his weakness for teenaged belly dancers as well as by rumours of corruption. Our own netas and roadside Romeos alike can take heart from the 74-year-old Italian's attitude as he declared, "As always, I work without interruption and, if occasionally I happen to look a beautiful girl in the face, it's better to like beautiful girls than to be gay". 

Life around the world revolved around money. Throughout the year, a miniscule creamy layer of our citizenry indulged in the urge to splurge on palatial mansions, exotic gourmet delicacies, and bigger and more dazzlingly obese Indian weddings. They brushed aside signs of pervading poverty under their plush carpets and into our festering urban slums. Meanwhile, Indian farmers continued to commit suicide. Grave concerns were raised over the economic stability of several Western nations, where the state of affairs began to show striking resemblances to life in India. Thousands protested peacefully in Athens against the Greek government's austerity plans to lift the country out of a financial crisis that had rocked international markets and weakened the Euro. Our desi bandh-hartaal culture inspired the Greeks to call a one day national strike, which brought daily life to a halt.

The impact of imminent economic collapse threatened Europe and world economies. G-20 leaders met in Canada to take stock of the global economic crisis. The meet itself was conducted in lavish style, raising concerns in a time of global economic uncertainty. 

We had reasons to smile despite the year's disasters, wars and skulduggery. Spirited sportspersons such as Saina Nehwal and Ashwini Akkunji earned laurels for our country against all odds. Let's hope Indians will now cheer not just for cricketers, but for achievers in other sports too. Elsewhere in the world, Roger Federer won the Australian open, and while Spain won the World Cup, the crazy, noisy vuvuzelas stole the show. 
In Myanmar, pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from house arrest. Prince William of the UK was engaged to Kate Middleton, making a picture-perfect couple. Brangelina made news by simply strutting their gorgeous selves. Lady Gaga walked away with awards at the British Phonographic Industry's annual prize-giving ceremony. She grabbed the world's attention by her avant-garde attire, particularly the fake meat dress to protest the slaughter of animals. 

The media in its burgeoning forms assaulted our senses 24x7. Apart from zillions of electronic channels, print media, books, especially the print-on-demand and self-published variety, vied for our attention. The media, especially TV, turned the usual anna-saaru news of disasters into our daily fare. Did it matter to us whether the latest images were of bombings in Iraq, India or Uganda? How could we keep track and tell one from the other as we stared at flickering images of riots in Northern Ireland, or was it the Ivory Coast crisis? Around 90,000 people were forced to abandon their homes during fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raising fears of a new civil war. We forgot the Haiti earthquake as we watched news reports of floods in China, violence in Karachi, or a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We blithely watched all the troubles of the world without batting an eyelid, as we munched chips and gulped fizzy drinks. What really brought tears to our eyes was the shooting price of onions. 

In this mad, bad, sad world of 2010, Facebook reigned supreme. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was most appropriately named Time magazine's person of the year for changing the way people connected and communicated. With over 500 million users worldwide, Facebook is a multi-billion dollar phenomenon reflecting our times. Redefining new age friendship, everyone from adolescents to 103-year-old grannies indulged in meaningful interactions such as tossing sheep and 'pokes'. True to its free-for-all democratic nature, Facebook even includes a group whose members don't care about your farm, your fish, your park or your mafia. About 6,374, 530 people became fans because they hate these stupid posts. Instead, they posted momentous stuff like notes on the politics of St. Vincent and Grenadines, and advertised "financial management to make life secure and panic-free." Amen! (INAV)








Indian students are a step closer to gaining access to foreign Universities on the home ground. The cabinet has approved a bill allowing overseas players to open campuses in India. If the things go according to the plan, once the foreign educational institutions (Regulation of entry and operations) Bill 2010 gets parliamentary approval, the first set of foreign educational institutions will start functioning by mid 2011.

India is the third largest higher Education system in the world after China and US in terms of enrolment, which is around 11.04 million(2005-06). In spite of impressive quantitative expansion it lags far behind the developed nations with regard to access to higher education. Nearly `45000 cr per year is repatriated out of India for 3, 00,000 Indian students studying abroad. There are several reasons for so many students going abroad for higher studies, the prominent being; only a small number of Indian Universities occupy a good position amongst the ambit of top class educational institutions to provide best quality higher education. These world ranking institutions are mainly restricted to IITs, IIMs and some universities.

More than 90 percent of the aspirants for admission to these institutions don't get selected not for want of qualifications of the applicants but for the capacity constraints in the institutions. In 2009, 4.5 lakh candidates appeared for JEE test for 10,000 seats. The Vice Chancellor of Kashmir University was sorry to admit only 4,000 students in various subjects out of 35,000 applicants. This year's qualifying marks for B.Com (Hons.) course in Delhi's SRCC was 98.75 percent. Nearly `3,000 crore per year is spent by nearly 6,00,000 students trying to arrange and learn for entrance examinations into IITs and top twenty management institutions. All world class institutions put together provide education to only one percent of the student population seeking higher education. Under such situations, foreign Universities provide safety valve for talented well off Indian students who can't find seats in their chosen fields in Indian Institutions. All these Indian World class institutions put together provide education to one percent of students seeking higher education. The remaining 99 percent students get enrolled in low ranking Universities and Colleges under compulsion.
The employability of students coming from such colleges is also in question especially in special fields like engineering. NASSACOM study states, 'only 25 percent of India's engineering graduates are fit for employment, the rest lack technical skills even knowledge of English'. There are reasons for decline of Indian higher education.

We fall short of educational institutions. During the last fifty years there has been 60 times increase in the college going population but the number of colleges haven't been increased according to that proportion. Financial support for higher education in terms of GDP decreased from .01% in 1971 onwards to 0.4% in 2001. Out of the funds available for education 95% are spent on the salaries of staff. The present higher education system is catering to the needs of less than 10% of aspirants. The dropout rate between the classes 1st to 12th is about 90%. 

No doubt, with all these internal weaknesses, India managed to survive with her increasingly mediocre higher education system. Now in 21st century we have no choice except to compete in a globalized economy in the areas that require highly trained professionals, thus the quality of higher education automatically assumes greater importance. 

India is a country bubbling with youth population. About 60 crore population is below the age of thirty years. According to India's report on unemployment the average Indian will be only 20 yrs in 2020 compared to 37 in China and US, 45 in west Europe and 46 in Japan and for a country so young it would be boon to a create a well trained work force.

Inviting foreign Universities in India is one of the strategies of Government to expand higher education system in terms of quantity and quality. It is supposed that it will curb the outflow of foreign exchange. Besides it will fill demand and supply gap, and make higher education globally competitive. 

Besides it is expected that with the establishment of foreign Universities over here three fourth of students exodus would end. Working of foreign Universities would have impact on the performance of domestic education providers. With global standards of teaching and infrastructure every local institute will need to compete, to attract students with improved pedagogy, internationally accepted courses and upgraded facilities. There will be a qualitative change in the educational institutes at national level. Good international Universities can help improve quality in Indian Universities not just through increased competition for students but from increased partnership and sharing of best practices in teaching and learning. To that extent, the foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 is welcome. 

Education Minister, Kapil Sibal has described the bill as "a milestone, which will enhance choices, increase competition between Indian and foreign Universities and bench-mark the quality." 

There are many debates on the issue of entry of foreign institutions in India. Prof Yashpaul said, there is no wisdom to be got from outside the country. Setting up a University isn't buying office space and furnishing it. There is more of it, something that comes from teacher and student interface. That can't be imported by teachers. To him "Foreign University Bill is only about signing agreement between Babus in India and abroad, it has little to do with education".

There is no denying that educational export are a promising source of foreign exchange, at present foreign students contribute US $11 billion to the US economy and over AUS $ 4.2 billion to Australian economy. In America Colleges, age population declined by 15% per decade since 1977, therefore the Universities in US survive on export of education.

So far three Universities have shown interest in India. American University ranked 84th on a scale of zero to 100, Virginia Technical University ranked 71st and Georgetown ranked 23rd. The ranking of first two Universities show that they are not preferred by American students. Georgetown University was basically founded by Catholics and Jesuit in 1789, with the aim of educating theology. There are still compulsory papers on theology that each student has to clear as apart of the curriculum. The Universities like Harvard, Oxford won't shift to India. A University is much more than a place of teaching, it also has a cultural ambience rooted in its traditions and geographical locations. But it is certainly possible to create educational centers of excellence in India which are world class and could successfully seek some sort of affiliation with world famous Universities. The government is in a hurry to start 1500 universities by 2015. Professor Yashpaul, Chairman of the committee on "Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education" recommends that India has about 26000 affiliated colleges, but some of these colleges are as big as some of the Universities in USA. A small number of good affiliated colleges, about 1500 may be converted into Universities. This will take care of our present need of adding more universities. It is possible to create such educational centers of excellence in India and get them affiliated to famous Universities. Let these College charge fees required to maintain excellent standards. Let there not be caste based reservations. These super colleges to be privately funded and would be insulated from political interferences. Money is available for education from private donors provided there is no political interference in running of these institutions.

We appreciate and invite foreign Universities to provide world class infrastructure, teachers, administrators, those who make the students work hard during their stay in the institution. Such institutions make out the program where students and teachers have to stay and work to the maximum. There is transparency in appointments and results. No political interference, no favors. The teachers have to earn their stay in the institutions based on the opinions of students and students have to pay for their stay in the institution.
(The writer is a former Reader Coordinator of University of Jammu)








Indian society traces its origin to the earliest times, going back to more than 4000 years. What has evolved is a society that is complex contradictory. Rooted in spirituality yet giving way to materialistic attitudes that are downright unethical. Voicing its commitment to scientific temper, yet ardently nourishing faith in miracles and the mystical, equality among the various groups of people being vouchsafed by the constitution and yet with the political set up itself exploiting the caste hierarchy. All these contradictions cannot be explained away easily but they can be seen in the perspective of a society in the process of change or flux or a society in transition as academics put it.

Change is inevitable, the structure and culture of a society do not remain static. No single cause can be identified with social change. Social change does not happen over night or suddenly, it is gradual process as people are generally not so ready to give up or even modify firmly established beliefs and notions. Social conflict and growth of knowledge give rise to social change. But there are diverse factors responsible for social change in India. Demographic factors include high population growth which leads to poverty, illiteracy, housing and health problems. All of which affect the social climate. Technology ushers significant changes with in the society. Rapid industrialization has brought economic development and urbanization but alongside has come the growth of slums in urban areas as well as great disparity in standards of living. Economic upliftment has been attempted through abolition of land lordism, this has reduced exploitation of the poor atleast in some regions and has thus been a step towards social equality. Technological innovations have changed even the common man's way of life. The general awareness of Indians has enlarged. The exposure to outside cultures though not always beneficial has served to open Indian minds to receive new ideas and views which have certainly influenced the way of life in many sections of the population.

Cultural factors have brought changes in the caste hierarchy, traditional attitudes and customs of the people. The law too, has acted as an instrument of social change with its measures to deal with social evils. Even political factors have heralded social change. Family, the backbone of the social structure, has under gone a transformation under the impact of industrialization, urbanization, education and migration in search of jobs. Nuclear families have been replacing joint families in towns and cities. Social in equalities like caste discrimination a part and parcel of the Indian culture - were discouraged by social reformers and freedom fighters in the pre-independence days, social problems like untouchability were sought to be eradicated. Today, untouchability is certainly on the wane, unfortunately, politicization of castes for election and other political interests is leading to a stronger demarcation between people of various castes. Today, the theme of education for all is being stressed. Adult education programmes in villages conducted by voluntary agencies and persons are being focused upon, free schools for children in rural areas are being opened in keeping with this theme. In the large towns and cities the cost of education has become a major problem for families. Good education in urban areas is coming to signify costly education. Money is becoming governing factor in education and there is growing corruption in the field. There has been a change in the attitude to work and the traditional male - female role. Today, women have begun stepping out of their homes to take up gainful employment even in areas traditionally regarded as male domains. Their role in the decision making process is assuming importance. The children are showing a apparent change. They show an awareness and intelligence, not evident in earlier generations at that age. They are more vocal, do not show unquestioning deference to their elders, take part in social work activities. They seem to mature much earlier. When we take up the caste issue stigma, untouchability may have been banned on paper, but there has been no real awakening in the minds of the masses regarding the system of caste.

The changing face of Indian society, has different expressions, different moods while the element of modernity in dress and behaviour are noticeable, traditional beliefs even if they are redundant refuse to give up their hold. Thus conflict is created. Inequality in development, loss of values, greed and growing corruption on the part of authorities and the elite have given rise to violent responses from the oppressed and down trodden, age old values of tolerance, hospitality and warmth of attachments, humility and patience are fast fading out. Change is inevitable in a dynamic society, but people have to be enlightened enough to direct that change towards a better future.










IT is very convenient for Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to blame the inclement weather for the delay, diversion and cancellation of a large number of flights at Delhi airport. Fog does play a crucial role in flight disruptions but the government and the airlines cannot escape responsibility for the utter chaos and mismanagement at the airports. They have not invested enough in the latest technology and training of pilots to beat the fog, which is an annual feature in North India. Passenger harassment can be minimised if information about changes in flight schedules are communicated well in advance. And that is not a tall order when almost everyone has a mobile.


The failure on the part of the government and airline authorities — quite evident in Delhi and elsewhere — should attract a severe penalty. It is true Delhi airport handles the largest number of flights in the country and the airport has been upgraded to global standards. But that is cold comfort to thousands of passengers whose travel plans go awry and who miss out on engagements apart from facing inconvenience in getting refunds or rebooking flights. All this happens at a time when they are in a holiday mood and have bought expensive packages. Should they not be compensated? The British government is already contemplating a law to penalise the airports for delays.


As for road and rail travel, Rajasthan's Gujjars could not have chosen a worse time to press their demand for reservations in jobs. By blocking railway tracks and highways they have displayed unusual insensitivity towards the travelling public. Here also the state government has abdicated its duty to ensure the smooth movement of vehicles and trains. Thousands of trucks carrying essential goods are held up, contributing to price rise. There is no reason why the unreasonable protesters should not be dealt with firmly. Natural calamities are perhaps unavoidable but facing them efficiently should be our collective endeavour.









MANOJ and Babli were provided protection by the court after they married in the same gotra in 2007. Yet, that did not prevent the self-appointed protectors of morality from butchering them, while the police escort almost looked the other way. The same horrifying story is now being repeated, with Seema, sister of Manoj, being threatened by a criminal on parole that she and her family would be eliminated. This in spite of the fact that Seema happens to be a police constable herself. In fact, the way she has been let down by her department, it appears that the police is siding with the criminals this time also.


The criminal, Varinder alias Billu, dared to enter the Madhuban Police Academy, where Seema was posted, and threatened to kill her and her family. When she reported the matter to the Madhuban police, it refused to register a case on the plea that Varinder was undergoing imprisonment in a case that fell under the Panipat police jurisdiction. When she went to Panipat, she was told that since the threat was issued at Madhuban, the complaint would have to be registered by the Madhuban police. The common man is made to run from pillar to post this way, but one had thought the men in khaki would be a little more considerate towards someone from their own ranks, especially since her brother had already been murdered.


To make matters worse, instead of providing her security, the authorities transferred her post haste to Yamunanagar, where she is far more vulnerable. If this is what lies in store for a police constable, one can well imagine the sense of insecurity among the ordinary people. It is high time senior police officials realised that it should not be necessary for hapless citizens like Seema to beg for security. It is the paramount duty of the police to do so. They let down Manoj and Babli. Let the sordid tale not be repeated. 









WITH just three days for the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee to submit its report to the Centre on the feasibility of carving out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, the situation in the state is turning aggressive day by day. If adequate measures are not taken by the government promptly and the political parties do not exercise restraint and rise above narrow partisan ends, law and order in the state will be jeopardised and development, too, will be adversely affected. What the state is witnessing today is competitive politics with the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) indulging in theatrics and one-upmanship in espousing the cause of Telangana. The conduct of the Congress MPs and MLAs representing the Telangana region is shocking. Following a three-day hunger strike in Hyderabad, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy was forced to bow to their demand for withdrawal of over 1600 criminal cases against student protesters. These students were arrested for indulging in arson and violence during the Telangana agitation last year.


The fast by the Congress legislators seemed to be a well-scripted drama. For, though the TRS, the Telugu Desam and the BJP have been demanding withdrawal of charges against the students for quite some time, the government did not yield, maintaining that the courts might object to the release of those charged with serious offences. Apparently, what prompted the government to make a U-turn now is the realisation in its camp that it should outsmart the TRS and project itself as a better champion of Telangana than the former.


One does not know what is up in the sleeves of Congressmen. But reports suggest that a substantial number of its MPs, MLAs and MLCs from the Telangana region have threatened to resign their posts if the Centre fails to announce the creation of Telangana state. Any such decision will only harm the interests of the state, destabilise the present government and give a rope to parties like the TRS and the Telugu Desam to disturb peace. The party leadership at the Centre and in the state would do well to rein in recalcitrant legislators. The new Chief Minister, who is yet to get a grip over the state, seems to be feeling the heat. Ironically, the ruling party itself is creating hurdles in the smooth functioning of his government just as the Opposition (including Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy) did to his predecessor, Mr K. Rosaiah.

















SHOWING black flags to the Indian Ambassador in Nepal and hurling shoes and stones at him over the past couple of months has taken the expression of anti-Indianism in Nepal to new lows. This is unprecedented because no Indian Ambassador has been treated in Nepal so shabbily, though expression of resentment against India on one issue or the other has often chracterised the dynamics of bilateral relations between the two countries. While Indian policy has occasionally taken into account the specific incidents of anti-Indianism and responded to them, there has seldom been an in-depth and objective analysis of this phenomenon and a measured effort to eliminate it.


There are two levels to look at the phenomenon of anti-Indianism in Nepal — one at the level of the state and the other at that of the people. Ever since its establishment in 1769 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Nepali state has always been weary of its southern neighbour for the latter's overwhelming size and resources that made Nepal excessively dependent and subdued in bilateral engagements. To this essentially geopolitical sense of caution, natural between such two close but highly unequal neighbours, was added the sense of insecurity of the regime following India's independence.


The feudal autocratic oligarchy of the Ranas that had enjoyed British protection and patronage since 1847 could not sustain itself in the proximity of a resurgent democratic India. Their fall in 1951 transferred their sense of regime insecurity vis-à-vis India to the autocratic monarchy headed by King Mahendra, who thwarted the process of democratic evolution in Nepal by taking over power directly. The opponents of both the Ranas and King Mahendra drew active support from the Indian democratic state as well as its populist society.


The Ranas for a while during the early fifties and King Mahendra and his successors on a sustained basis until recently tried to nurse Nepali nationalism on anti-Indian diet primarily as a device to keep their hold on power. India's message to the feudal rulers has been that in view of the gradually awakening Nepali masses and the changing geo-political context of the Himalayas, between a democratic India and an assertive communist China, Nepali polity must democratise, even if without abandoning monarchy, as it was not viable. This message was welcomed by a liberal king like Tribhuwan but could not carry conviction with his assertive and autocratic successors.


To cushion itself against pressures from India, the feudal regimes exploited international and regional contradictions to mobilise external support. The US support since the Rana period was rooted into the Cold War calculations as India then stood on the other side of the global strategic divide. In the regional context, Nepali rulers found China and Pakistan more than willing to develop strategic stakes in Nepal at India's cost since the late fifites. Internally, the Nepali monarchy encouraged such political forces that worked for anti- democratic and anti-Indian mobilisation, such as the communist and the feudal groups. This facilitated the percolation of anti-Indian sentiments in political and social constituencies for decades. There is a whole generation of Nepalis brought up on the heavy diet of anti-Indian nationalism.


At the people's level, among some of the social groups, particularly the sections of tribal (Janjatis) and marginalised communities, the anti-India sentiment goes centuries back, to the time when they were conquered through force by Prithvi Narayan Shah, in the process of creating the present state of Nepal. The Shah King's lineage is traced to India in the perception of these hill-based communities, including the Kathmandu valley's original inhabitants, the Newars. The tribal and marginalised communities have also perceived India as a protector and promoter of the Nepalese monarchy, seen as the source of their long-standing marginalisation and discrimination. The Newars, besides their strong undercurrent of anti-monarchy (Shah kings) sentiment, also felt uneasy with India because as the principal trading community of the capital valley, they had to confront the Indian trading regime and face competition with the Marwari trading community having Indian roots. All these communities were mobilised by the Maoists in their confrontation with Nepal's feudal state. This confrontation turned into a people's movement (Jan-Andolan-II) with the mainstream parliamentary parties joining it in 2005-2006.


The success of the people's movement in Nepal created a huge window of opportunity to change the dynamics of anti-Indianism. This movement comprised the majority of those social groups that had been either apathetic or unfriendly towards India. India's complete and unflinching identification with the emerging forces of the people's movement and the aspirations of a secular, republican, inclusive and democratic new Nepal could go a long way in blunting India's traditional image of a patron of the feudal state. India extended critical support to this movement but with two caveats; inherent preference for constitutional monarchy and strong aversion to a Maoist-led Nepal. The preference for constitutional monarchy was exposed when India's Special Envoy, Dr Karan Singh, endorsed a partial royal retreat before the people's movement in the form of the first Royal proclamation of April 21, 2006.


India's top political leadership continues to keep close personal and political rapport with Nepal's discarded royals notwithstanding the fact that none of India's core national interests in Nepal was served under monarchy. The aversion towards the Maoists, often fuelled by exaggerated and knee-jerk strategic and ideological considerations, has led to the fragmentation of Nepali politics and the hurling of shoes and stones at the Indian Ambassador. Soon after the success of the people's movement, the Maoists had publicly proclaimed India as their principal supporter but the Indian diplomacy did not see any virtue in transforming this claim into a creative understanding, if not alliance. In its endeavour to keep the Maoists out of power, India has contributed significantly to political fragmentation and even weakening of the Madhesi groups that should otherwise be India's natural constituency.


The problem with Indian diplomacy in Nepal has been its vulnerability to subjective considerations, personal egos and priority to the immediate over the enduring. Due to this weakness, Nehru's vision of helping Nepal build an evolving and balanced democracy got degenerated into undue and excessive engagement, bordering on unethical interference. Even during the 1950s, Indian Ambassadors like C.P.N. Singh were extremely unpopular for their tendency to micro-manage Nepalese affairs. At times, driven by the strategic paranoia vis-à-vis China and, at others, suffering from the imperial style of functioning, derived from the British heritage, Indian diplomacy has often erred on Nepali susceptibilities. The deviations like the "Gujral Doctrine" were rather short-lived to undo the damage of the years of callousness.


India may not be able to extricate itself from the image of an overbearing "big brother" if it fails to relate itself sincerely with the genuine popular aspirations in Nepal. In a radically transformed neighbourhood, India needs a serious diplomatic homework to protect and promote its critical national interests in challenging times.


The writer is Visiting Research Professor, ISAS, Singapore.








IT was a nice party and we were all enjoying ourselves to celebrate the success of a friend. My friend introduced me to some young foreigners as "Osama's brother".


The two couples were from South Africa, globe trotters and well exposed to international travel and traditions. London figured in our conversation, too. For me it's the place I visited first when I ventured away from Indian shores. These couples had found work there, in the recession, mind you, and we all had a lot to say about their abilities.


"We see these greetings and I wish someone would explain them to us," said a young lady.


"Which greetings," I asked.


"You know, the way Muslim men embrace each other, or place their hand on their heart when they meet, what does it really mean?"


Here was I, resplendent in a black overcoat, wearing a nice tie and all, as well as a colour-coordinated turban, and they had decided that I was someone they could query about "Muslim" greetings.  I wore a turban, as did their host, also a Sikh, yet somehow; they had made an intuitive (and wrong) leap about my religious denomination.


My mind went back to the time when we found it impossible to tell foreigners apart, unless the differences were very obvious, like skin colours, basic body structures, etc. "A gora is a gora, they all look alike," is a refrain all too common.


I took the confusion sportingly and proceed to explain with more confidence than authority the differences in greetings, and also gently pointed out that they had more to do with culture than religion.


The idea that my turban had made me, in some sense, a target somehow niggled in my mind. Well, I had been there before and it wasn't all that bad! Joel Baird was friendly towards me from the first time we met in New York. "You are a Sikh. When I was a child, I was told that if I was in a bind, I should find a Sikh and run to him. He would help me," said this Columbia University student. Now Joel had studied in the American School, New Delhi, and had spent time in India. He and his charming wife were great hosts, and the New York memory brings a smile on the face whenever it surfaces.


As does another one, of an elderly person at a gas station while travelling on an American highway in the wee hours of the morning. "Sikhs are good people," he pronounced after seeing my turban. He has based his observation on his interaction with Sikhs while serving in the US Army.


However, 9/11 changed all that and turbans were associated in many minds with Osama bin Laden. The finer distinctions of kinds and colours of turbans were lost and even someone like Hardeep Puri, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, recently faced undue attention from US airport security personnel because of his turban. So embarrassing, unfortunate and sad. Generalisations can be treacherously misleading, especially sweeping, negative ones. They can even cast a pall over an apparel of honour.







THE debt burden of the states is constantly rising. According to a report compiled by the RBI on the budgets of all states for the fiscal year 2009-10 (Budgeted Estimates), the combined debt of all 30 states of India has reached Rs 14.5 lakh crore from Rs 4.9 lakh crore in 2001, a near three-fold increase in a decade.


Some of the states have a high debt-to-GSDP (Gross State Domestic Produce) ratio, which is still rising. The worst case is that of West Bengal, whose debt-to-GSDP ratio went up from 24.8 per cent in 1999-2000 to 40.6 in 2007-08 against the average ratio of all states, which rose from 19.5 per cent to 26.8 per cent during the same period.


Next comes Uttar Pradesh and Punjab with debt-GSDP ratios of 39.3 per cent and 38.2 per cent respectively. Though Punjab has managed to bring it down from 47.9 per cent in 2003-04, still the debt figure, which was Rs. Rs 63,277 crore in 09-10 is comparatively on the higher side considering the size and population of the state.


In absolute terms, UP and Maharashtra are the highly indebted states, whose debt burden in 2009-10 was nearly Rs. 1.67 lakh crore each, followed by West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, each having an outstanding debt of more than Rs 1lakh crore.


The rising debt makes a dent in the revenue receipts of the states by taking a major chunk in the form of interest payments. All states paid 12.6 per cent of their cumulative revenue receipts as interest. West Bengal and Punjab paid 28 per cent and 22 per cent of their revenue receipts, respectively, by way of interest.


Adding salaries and pensions, the other committed expenditure, very little is left for planned development, which is mostly funded by borrowings, resulting in a mounting debt and an impending debt trap.


Though the politics of populism, tax concessions to certain sections, freebies and irrational subsidies to garner votes are often debated as the root cause of the indebtedness of states and is also true to a great extent, the share from the Central taxes, grants and their distribution, if viewed closely, also holds the key.


Broadly, a state's revenue receipts comprise its own tax and non-tax revenue and the share from the Central taxes and grants. The comparative analysis of budgets of all the states reveals that some of them receive a heavy dose of Central funds in the form of share from the Central taxes and grants, which makes them revenue surplus, while others receive little of it and are revenue deficient.


Of the cumulative revenue receipts of Rs. 8.27 lakh crore in 2009-10, Rs. 4.69 lakh crore or 57 per cent was generated by the states from their own tax and non-tax sources and Rs 3.58 lakh crore or 43 per cent was received by them as a share from the Central taxes and grants.


Due to an uneven distribution of the Central funds some states were revenue surplus even though their own tax and non-tax receipts were negligible and 22 states had more than 30 per cent component of the Central funds in their total revenue receipts. Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland were top on the list and 90 per cent of their revenue receipts comprised the share from the Central taxes and grants put together.


Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar received 87 per cent and 81 per cent of their total revenue receipts from these Central funds while their own tax and non-tax revenue was negligible at 13 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. In all 16 states had more than 50 per cent share of the Central funds in their total revenue receipts.


Some states, on the other hand, generated a substantial revenue from their own sources and received too little from the Centre. For the 2009-10 budget, Delhi topped the list having generated 85 per cent of the total revenue receipts from its own tax and non-tax sources followed by Punjab and Haryana, which mopped up 81 per cent each and got only 19 per cent from the Central funds. Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra were the other states generating 70 to 80 per cent of total revenue receipts from their own tax and non-tax sources.


If the share from the Central taxes and grants is segregated, out of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore worth of Central taxes distributed to all states in 2009-10, more than one-third were given to just two states: UP and Bihar, the former getting 21.7 per cent and the latter 12.8 per cent of the total.


Adding the share of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, each got 6.5 per cent, 5.9 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively, more than 50 per cent of the share from the Central taxes went to these five states and other 25 shared the rest. Punjab and Haryana were among the lowest recipients, each of whom got 1.4 per cent and 1.03, respectively.


The same is true in case of the grants. Out of the total grant figure of Rs 1.73 lakh crore distributed in 2009-10, UP and Maharashtra got 9 per cent each, followed by Andhra Pradesh and J&K, which received 7.7 per cent each. Counting the share of three other states -- Assam, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, which got 6.6 per cent, 5.9 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively, the combined allocation to these seven states crossed 50 per cent of the total grant and the balance was allocated to 23 states. Punjab again was one of the lowest recipients and got 1.19 per cent, even lower than Haryana, which got 1.31 per cent.


The Twelfth Finance Commission (TFC) gave 19.3 per cent or 1/5th of its total disbursement to UP alone. Five states — UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and MP — got nearly 50 per cent share of all the Central taxes allocated by it. One of the lowest recipients, Punjab got only 1.3 per cent from the 12th commission.


Despite having good revenue receipts, Punjab's heavy debt can be partially explained by its revenue expenditure, broadly classified as developmental and non-developmental. The state spends more on the latter.


The cumulative expenditure of all states in 2009-10 on developmental activities was 59 per cent against 38 per cent on non-developmental ones and 3 per cent going by way of grants in aid. Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh were the leading states, spending nearly 75 per cent of their total expenditure on developmental activities. Even Bihar, 81 per cent of whose revenue receipts comprise the Central funds, spent 64 per cent of total expenditure on developmental activities.


Punjab's spending on developmental activities during the same period was 42 per cent while Haryana spent 69 per cent on this area, the rest being on non-developmental activities.


An analysis of the state budgets makes it evident that much similarity cannot be drawn among the debts of Punjab, West Bengal and Kerala as the last two states have much lower revenue receipts from their own sources.


Punjab can improve a lot if the allocation of the Central funds is somehow linked to the states' efficiency to generate revenue from their own sources. The vitality of Punjab and Haryana as food baskets of the nation is least reflected from the central financial allocations to these states as these neither appear linked to productivity nor to financial efficiency but to certain other factors, better known to the policymakers.


In the given circumstances, Punjab, which comparatively has a better revenue collection from its own sources than many other states, can manage its debt by further augmenting its revenues by plugging the leakages on the one hand and curtailing the non-developmental expenditure on the other.


The Central planners also need to review their funding policies favouring the efficient states whose contribution to national productivity is higher. Both Punjab and Haryana, on which the country is dependent for food security, need special attention while allocating the Central funds in the interests of the nation.


The writer is an Associate Professor, PG Department of Commerce, NJSA Government College, Kapurthala (Punjab)







Chances are that you have seen Shah Rukh Khan's teaser commercial for his upcoming gameshow, Zor Ka Jhatka, an adaptation of the outrageous American hit Wipeout. Chances also are, quite honestly, that you have, like me, cringed. 


It isn't at all pleasant to see Khan play to the galleries this blatantly, to see him struggle with a tapori catchphrase, spoof his own early TV-soldier roots, play a dimwitted schoolboy or, worse yet, throw in a forced pelvic thrust at the end of it all to go with the show's titular Jhatka. No no no. 


You can see, of course, where it all comes from: Dabanng. Salman's rocked the box office, is having a hoot hosting Bigg Boss, and you don't have to be the most astute of commentators to realise desi is in. SRK, with his immaculately cut suits and his wry sense of humour, seems unfortunately yet visibly threatened by the earthier charms currently ruling the box office. The radically rustic Ranveer Singh of Band Baaja Baaraat is not just a flavour of the season, but winning comparisons with the muddy magnetism of early Shah Rukh: a plain looking lad with enough confidence and elan to sell a character. 


It is a preposterous comparison, and yet the pigeons seem to be setting upon and bothering the king cat. From critical successes like Ishqiya and LSD to box-office bandits like Rajneeti, 2010 has been all about the earthy. And Khan hasn't really had grass on his roots for over a decade, save a song-sequence in Shakti. Over the years, he's left the Karan Arjun madness behind and graduated into becoming the country's coolest, most suave superstar. He is the style icon, the charmer, the increasingly urbane rogue in unaffordable clothes. 


And so when Salman wiggles his groin for a television promo, it works, self-parody or not; Shah Rukh today will inevitably have trouble carrying off a gamchha. 


He's also looking old, which isn't a bad thing at all. He's always shrugged off wrinkles and made both six-packs and jokes about his own age. Yet now, if the latest reports are to be believed, he's embarking with Vishal Bhardwaj on an adaptation of a Chetan Bhagat novel produced by Sajid Nadiadwala. It is a peculiar combination, none of the four names really gelling, and one filmfanatics in the country are denouncing already. Creepy, truly, and while Bhardwaj can always be counted on to prove us wrong about his casting decisions, one wonders why Shah Rukh would take on 2 States, a book about young newlyweds. 


Let's hope he plays father, or narrator, or Bhardwaj sets the film around in flashback. Because if this is SRK's illconceived attempt to do a 3 Idiots, he's in for a bit of a shocker, no matter how convincingly he goes desi with his accent. Aamir Khan manages to be a collegeboy because youthfulness is his stock in trade. He's always been the chameleonic superstar capable of shedding years with a change in grin, turning on the boyishness at will. Shah Rukh, on the other hand, started playing dad a dozen years ago, and we can't possibly bear the thought of him being back in college – unless Farah Khan's setting up some kind of spoof. 


Shah Rukh Khan is 45, and while reinvention is all well and good, he needs to look at his own constant evolution, and the fact that he's never had to rely on what was in, trendy or fashionable. Mouldbreakers shouldn't try to conform – not even to a jhatka.



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The year 2010 has been good for India in terms of technology and 2011 holds the promise of taking the country one step forward in harnessing technology to make a dent in some of the problems that continue to challenge it. The most obvious sign of the robustness of India's technological capability is the way in which IT-ITeS exports have been able to pick up even though recovery in the developed world remains weak and much of the year has gone by amidst speculation whether there will be a setback through a double-dip depression. In fact, the revival in IT-ITeS exports indicates that businesses, particularly the large ones, in the developed world are using India's technology offerings to retain their competitiveness when they are weighed down by the extremely weak domestic demand. The promise that 2011 holds is that India's technological capability will be able to play a similar role in its uplift, something that it was not able to do in the past when there was a glaring discrepancy between its IT exports and the very poor level of IT adoption within the country.


There are two clear signs that technology has arrived domestically. One is the confidence that Indian corporates have developed in their ability to stand up on their own feet technologically. The prime and most recent example of this is the decision of the Munjals to part ways with Honda which had provided the technological bulwark in the highly successful Hero Honda joint venture. In the post-Independence era, the period up to the seventies had been marked by an obsession with self-sufficiency which resulted in nominal import of technology and reliance on reverse engineering. The eighties marked the beginning of technology imports within a still closed environment when reverse engineering declined but India's own technology development did not emerge as selected corporates which were able to get their joint ventures approved paid royalty and reaped a rent income. But the recent years have been marked by robust technology development, particularly in the automotive sector, as Bajaj has ventured out on its own and Tata Motors has acquired Jaguar-Land Rover to give itself a technological leg-up. So India is now at the stage where Japan was in the seventies when it acquired technology to power its own incremental technological progress.


 The second sign and the greatest Indian technological effort that addresses the task still ahead at the bottom of the pyramid and uses innovation to crash costs is the successful launch and on-time performance of the Aadhaar project. Giving every Indian an identity, which will enable her to have a bank account, having already acquired a mobile telephone, marks the drumbeat of progress down the road of inclusive growth. India did not buy the unique identity solution from elsewhere on payment of a royalty, it was developed within India. In a sense, Nandan Nilekani is seeking to finish the task that Sam Pitroda began in the field of telephony but could not take up to the finish. As Mr Nilekani has articulated, in the next ten years, every Indian will be defined and powered by three numbers — UID number, mobile phone number and bank account number. That will define the unique low-cost solution to the problem of poverty.








Be it the Ayodhya judgement or the Binayak Sen verdict, or indeed many others around the country, India's lower courts are increasing the work of the higher courts, rather than reduce their burden. The sense of outrage that has greeted the verdict of the Raipur sessions court in Chattisgarh, sentencing Dr Sen, a medical doctor, to life imprisonment on the grounds that he had helped Maoist activists in the state, is a compliment to the health of liberal democracy in India, not a blot on it. A former and distinguished judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Rajinder Sachar, captured the popular response to the myopic and misplaced judgement when he termed it "ridiculous and unacceptable". It is entirely possible that a higher court may overturn the decision. Such a reversal must, however, be based on sound judicial grounds rather than in response to popular sentiment. Far too many in the Indian judicial system are reacting and responding to public sentiment and pressure with an eye on television cameras rather with their eyes blindfolded like Lady Justice. Judicial populism has become a disease, an affliction that runs the risk of creating institutional paralysis.


As several learned observers have said, Dr Sen was discharging his professional duties as a medical doctor and the evidence that he was carrying messages that may have contributed to subversive and seditious acts against the Indian state is thin and unconvincing. As a senior retired police officer put it, there were enough "mitigating circumstances" that the Raipur court should have taken note of while awarding the punishment. This would include, above all, the fact that Dr Sen is a benign human rights activist with a well-known reputation for humanitarian medical work. There is no police record of Naxalite activity on his part. His work has largely been restricted to civil liberties and human rights activity. No citizen of India can be incarcerated for upholding and defending the basic rights enshrined in India's Republican Constitution.


 It is, however, entirely understandable that the security forces fighting Maoists and other extremist groups around the country would feel betrayed by the liberalism that makes the likes of Dr Sen turn a blind eye to the death and destruction that such groups cause. The ordinary foot soldiers of the Indian state, the jawans of the police and security forces, are sacrificing their lives for the safety and well-being of fellow Indians, battling political forces that operate outside the pale of law and the Constitution. Most Maoist groups have become armed gangs that loot and cause mayhem, killing innocent people. Dr Sen has on several occasions dissociated himself from such actions of groups he has offered medical help to. Human rights and civil liberties activists who seek to make government more accountable should also focus their attention on the anti-democratic politics of extremist groups of all hues. The foundations of liberal democracy have to be strengthened in India, and enlightened professionals like Dr Sen should continue that good work. Dr Sen deserves to be free so that he can do so.









Turkey put its imprint as one of the most influential countries not only on 2010, but on the first decade of the third millennium. At the start of the new decade, too, Turkey's geopolitical position, rich historical heritage, cultural depth, well-educated young population, ever-strengthening democracy, growing economy, and constructive foreign policy make it an indispensable country in a world transformed by rapid globalisation.


By making use of all of its assets, Turkey is contributing to regional stability and peace, and working towards a global order based on justice, equality and transparency. As an emerging power, Turkey will continue to realise its own potential and simultaneously contribute to global peace.


 The chaotic conditions of the post-Cold War world have made civil wars, occupations, nuclear armament, and human trafficking chronic problems. While globalisation offers new opportunities, it also causes new global problems and deepens the inequalities embedded in the world order. It is no longer possible to sustain the current world order, which, based as it is on a skewed notion of centre-periphery relations, merely produces injustice and inequality.


Turkey seeks to contribute to regional and global peace by facilitating democratic reforms domestically and implementing a principled foreign policy. As a Nato member, Turkey aims to become a full member of the European Union and establish cordial relations with all of its southern and eastern neighbours. Turkey's posture — looking both at the East and the West — is neither paradoxical nor inconsistent. On the contrary, Turkey's multidimensional geopolitical position is an asset for the region.


There are few countries that can play such a critical role. Turkey constitutes a new synthesis because of its ability to link such diverse qualities and backgrounds. Turkey is thus capable of overcoming the dichotomies of East-West, Europe-Middle East and North-South.


Indeed, this capacity is essential because we need to leave behind the Manichean disagreements, conflicts, and fears of the Cold War era. Those who see the world through those old, fearful lenses have difficulty in understanding Turkey's rising profile and dynamism. But the realities of the 21st century necessitate a multi-dimensional and inclusive political perspective.


Acting on these principles, Turkey is following a proactive foreign policy, stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. This geography is Turkey's natural historical and cultural hinterland. Turkey's cultural and historical links with the peoples of these regions are deep and conducive to regional peace.


Turkey cannot remain indifferent to this geography, for it stands at the centre of it. History clearly shows that it is impossible to establish and sustain global peace without ensuring peace and stability in the Balkans and the Middle East. Turkey is following a constructive and inclusive policy for these regions, which are marked by remarkable models of cohabitation, science, arts, culture and civilisation.


Owing to our recent efforts, the wounds of the Bosnian war are being healed, facilitating peace and stability among Balkan peoples. Turkey's efforts are also helping prevent wars in the Middle East, and our intense efforts have helped keep a diplomatic track open on the Iranian nuclear issue.


Moreover, we are helping to facilitate political stability in Iraq and helping the Nato mission in Afghanistan. And, of paramount importance, Turkey is making enormous efforts to help establish an independent and sustainable Palestinian state — efforts that are appreciated by Turkey's western and eastern friends alike.


Today, Turkey is following a policy that represents a sense of justice in the Middle East, and is working towards the removal of artificial borders and walls among the region's peoples. We desire to live in a region where the dignity of every person is respected. That is why we have objected to Israel's aggression in and blockade of Gaza, and will continue to do so.


We know that it is not possible to attain global peace unless we establish sustainable peace in the Middle East, which requires resolving the Palestinian question. Therefore, we urge Israel and all other countries involved to follow constructive and peaceful policies.


Motivated by these principles, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and I showed through our "Alliance of Civilizations Initiative" in 2004 that cultural, historic and religious differences are no reason for conflict. The basis for our approach to humanity is the following principle of the famous Turkish poet Yunus Emre: "We love and respect the created because of the Creator."


As a result, we stand firmly opposed to discrimination against any society, religion, sect, culture, or country. I consider anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and prejudice against Christianity crimes against humanity, whose common values and ethical rules oblige us to confront and reject all forms of discrimination.


Besides its cultural, historic and diplomatic values, Turkey's vibrant economy has become a source of stability and welfare. When my party took office in 2002, the Turkish economy totalled around $250 billion. Today, Turkey's annual GDP has reached $800 billion, making it Europe's sixth-largest economy and the 17th largest in the world. It has also been one of the least impacted by the global economic crisis, with growing foreign trade, a strong banking system and diverse and prospering small- and medium-size enterprises. Thus, the Turkish economy returned to its pre-crisis levels in 2010.


All of these qualities have transformed Turkey into an attractive place for business, media, artists, diplomats, students and non-governmental organisations from around the world. Turkey's ever-increasing soft power is becoming one of its most significant traits, which we will continue to use to enhance regional and global peace.


The impact of globalisation has brought about a rebalancing of power, but the demand for justice, transparency, and legitimacy remains constant. The global problems of our times necessitate cooperation, political will and sacrifice. That is why we are following a proactive policy in multilateral institutions to facilitate an equitable sharing of our world's resources.


Turkey will continue to work toward a just and equitable global order in 2011 and beyond. This is a responsibility emanating from our history, geography and the universal values that we hold.


The author is the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey© Project Syndicate, 2010









This is that time of the fiscal year when finance ministry officials get a little tense. With about eight weeks left for the presentation of the Union Budget for the next year, they come under pressure not just to prepare a new set of numbers on the government's finances, but also to defend what they tabled before Parliament about a year ago. This year, however, it was a little unusual. Until even a couple of weeks ago, the finance ministry officials were quite cool about meeting the promises made for the 2010-11 Budget. That scenario, however, has changed now and shows how the state of government finances is as fickle as perhaps that of India's politics.


 Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget early this year had projected a decline in the government's fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product or GDP, down from 6.7 per cent recorded in 2009-10. Experts had questioned the assumptions behind that fiscal deficit reduction plan. The finance minister had proposed to achieve the 1.2 percentage point cut in fiscal deficit mainly through two non-tax revenue-raising measures almost to the tune of 1.1 per cent of GDP — auction of licences for 3G and broadband wireless access services, and disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings.


The task of reducing the fiscal deficit looked even more challenging when the Budget numbers showed that there was no provision for meeting the deficits of oil marketing companies even though the government showed no political will to implement the Kirit Parikh committee's recommendations on oil sector reforms. The big worry then was if there was no oil price increase, if the government failed to get the budgeted revenue from the auction of telecom licences and if the disinvestment plan did not fare as expected, the government's fiscal deficit reduction plan would remain, well, just a plan.


By end-June, however, such worries were largely over. The government completed the telecom licence auction that garnered almost three times more revenue than the budgeted figure. It raised the prices of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas or LPG. It also gave oil companies the freedom to fix petrol prices in future and announced that such freedom for other petroleum products was on the anvil. Disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings also began and by October, the success of Coal India Limited's public issue of shares showed that the disinvestment target of Rs 40,000 crore was very much within reach.


However, as 2010 comes to an end, the mood in North Block is not that sanguine. Yes, the telecom licence auction has given it close to Rs 1.3 lakh crore of revenue, but its expenditure in excess of the approved Budget under various heads has nullified some of those gains. Disinvestment proceeds have so far been only about Rs 22,000 crore, a little more than half the annual target. There is now a big question mark on the government's ability to meet the target as the recent political troubles have dampened market sentiment.


Worse, the government is facing political resistance to any proposal to increase prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene even though international crude oil prices have already crossed $92-93 a barrel, substantially up from $75 a barrel when the last price revision took place for these products in June. Since there is no Budget provision for meeting the deficits of the oil marketing companies, they would have to take a financial hit to the extent of two-thirds of their total losses as ONGC and Oil India would compensate them for only one-third of the losses.


Thus, for the markets, the disinvestment of oil companies — ONGC and Indian Oil Corporation — has ceased to be an attractive proposition. For the finance ministry, it is a double whammy. It will not get the revenue from the sale of equity in public sector units and its expenditure will go up by a few thousand crores of rupees. Mr Mukherjee may still manage to meet the fiscal deficit target of 5.5 per cent of GDP for the full year, thanks to the tax revenue buoyancy and higher GDP growth than originally estimated. However, the government's failure to implement oil sector reforms this year will cause him a bigger worry for the next year.


The tasks for next year will not only be to reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.8 per cent of GDP, but the bigger challenge will come from the unfinished agenda for reforms. It is now certain that the government will not be able to meet the April 2011 deadline for the introduction of the goods and services tax. Reforms of the oil sector appear doubtful, given the political mood that prevails in the country at present. This will also dampen prospects of disinvestment of more government equity in oil companies.


The next three months, therefore, are crucial for Mr Mukherjee and his team in North Block. If he could fix these problems during these months, his numbers for the next year's Budget would look more real and relatively easy to achieve. Indeed, he could then think of setting targets that are a little more ambitious.










Though the Supreme Court was seen triumphantly assaulting the fortresses of the executive and the bureaucracy in the 2G scam, the year that is coming to an end also saw the apex judiciary nursing self-inflicted wounds. In a sub-plot to the A Raja story, a sitting Supreme Court judge took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release regarding the ex-minister's abortive attempt to influence a Madras High Court judge in a bail case. The judge involved the former chief justice of India and a judge of that high court in a murky war of words. So far as the public is concerned, all the three judges could not be right simultaneously and each could be accused of inaction when such a serious charge was made.


The judiciary suffered other travails too. Two high court judges were on the verge of impeachment. But one was promoted and installed in another high court amid outcries by the lawyers at the receiving end. The mystery of a cash bag found at the door of a high court judge remains unsolved. During the meandering investigation by the brethren, with two steps forward, and three back, the judge was transferred to another high court, again ignoring protests there. It was the President's pleasure.


 Meanwhile, the bar continued to defy the rules of the game by going on strike at the drop of a gown. In Orissa, it was because a woman judge asked a senior counsel to sit down. Calcutta lawyers attacked the chief justice's chambers on another flimsy complaint. Rajasthan lawyers took to the streets appealing for action against a high court judge. Shimla lawyers burnt the effigy of their former chief justice for shifting district courts. Delhi lawyers boycotted the courts, first to protest against corruption, and then against the arrest of a member of the Bar Council of India who was caught by the CBI allegedly taking a bribe for granting recognition to a law college.


Matters in the Allahabad High Court must be particularly bad since the Supreme Court recorded in a judgment that "something was rotten" there. The high court moved a petition to expunge the remark, but the Supreme Court stood its ground. That high court also made waves by conferring legal status to matters of faith in its Ayodhya judgment.


The Supreme Court saw a change of guard in mid-year. The vocal and easy-going K G Balakrishnan was replaced by a no-nonsense and publicity-shy S H Kapadia. While the former had a liberal approach to public interest litigation, the present incumbent is not known to have admitted any new such petition this year. In the last two months, he was listening to laborious arguments, trying to draw boundaries for admitting PILs. Industrialists and policy makers are anxiously watching it, since several projects are facing public opposition through litigation. The La Farge case, in which the French company is accused of denuding the north-eastern forests, is awaiting the outcome of this exercise by three judges with the assistance of a court-appointed senior counsel. How the three-judge bench will overcome the definitive pronouncements of long-standing Constitution benches on ecological issues will be keenly watched.


]The most notable judgment in the corporate field was in the row between the Ambani brothers. The court held that gas is a national asset, which could be sold only at the price set by the government. In a blow to the younger brother, the court also clarified that the family arrangement on gas distribution had no legal status.


The central government woke up after a quarter century to file a "curative petition" seeking higher compensation for the 1984 Bhopal gas victims. Earlier, industrialist Keshub Mahindra and six other honchos of the guilty chemical unit were sentenced to two years for negligence. That set off a smoggy debate, some accusing the Supreme Court of not only compromising the compensation demand for a pittance more than a decade back, but also diluting the criminal charge from murder to negligence.


Another issue with wide ramifications was the tax liability of Vodafone in its acquisition of shares in telecom companies. The court asked the company to deposit Rs 2,500 crore before hearing its appeal. Appeals over mining licences have come from states like Orissa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.


On the social front, corruption in the public distribution system and Right to Education dominated the court hearings. When the court asked the government to distribute foodgrain rotting in godowns, the prime minister and the food minister stated that it was impossible. Beneath all these debates was the tension between the judiciary and the executive, which has been going on for several decades. There is no end in sight for this chronic phenomenon.











An increase in rentals is still not visible in the coming 12 to 18 months since absorption is low and vacancy levels are much higher than the 5 to 10 per cent norm


Commercial property is an integral part of the real estate ecology and its growth is linked to GDP growth, tax incentives, capital expenditure and the expansion cycle of companies.


In India, commercial real estate is traditionally divided into office space, IT/ITES space, retail, hotels and leisure. Most Tier 1, 2 and 3 towns have central business districts (CBD) that developed after Independence. With economic growth over the last decade, new CBD areas evolved. This was clearly based on the rental values occupiers could afford to pay as a business model. High-street retail saw a sea change with the advent of "destination supermarket" and "hyper market" stores. Hotels and leisure also caught up, with a new set of hotel operators crowding the space with different formats to cater to various segments — this included luxury, business, no-frills, service apartments and so on.


After the dotcom bubble burst, India started dominating the IT/ITES businesses in global markets, and the years between 2003 and 2008 saw exponential growth in demand for office space in Bangalore, the National Capital Region (NCR), Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. To start with, the government's Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) and Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policies helped create oversupply with unaffordable lease rentals in many cities. Then with the 2008 global meltdown, most corporations shrank, cutting jobs, postponing expansion plans and focusing on cutting costs by re-negotiating rentals or moving offices to cheaper areas. In Mumbai, for example, this is what happened in Nariman Point, Lower Parel, the Bandra Kurla Complex, Andheri Kurla road and Goregaon. The same thing happened in Whitefield in Bangalore, OMR in Chennai and Hingewadi in Pune. Rentals corrected almost 40 to 45 per cent, vacancies in most buildings touched 30 to 35 per cent and retaining AAA-rated tenants became the sole focus of real estate owners and developers. Most hotel projects were shelved too.


Calendar 2010 started with confidence returning, giving the impression that the fall in rentals in CBDs in the main cities had been arrested. But the real challenge remains in current absorption rates, since market rentals are still 25 to 30 per cent below peak rentals of pre-meltdown days. The new supply of the past two or three years that was delayed has started hitting the market and that is putting tremendous pressure on rental stability. The question of an increase in rentals is still not visible in the coming 12 to 18 months since absorption is low and vacancy levels are still much higher than the 5 to 10 per cent norm.


At the same time, debt or equity capital sources to developers are diminishing much faster since banks are unwilling to take the risk of lending to realtors with unoccupied offices and IT buildings. As a result of housing loan scams, the regulator has become more stringent about lending norms to real estate. The developers' balance sheets are not strong enough to hold these fixed-income yielding assets owing to poor cash flow and liquidity in real estate, while foreign direct investment (FDI) is risk-averse and domestic private equity is focusing on shorter generation, city-centric, self-liquidating residential real estate opportunities. In the absence of guidelines for real estate investment trusts (Reits) and mutual funds (REMFs), the prospects of converting these fixed-income yielding assets to liquid assets look very dim for the next couple of years. The new FDI policy, if modified to allow multi-brand retailing, will help attract deep-pocketed global retailers to fill in the empty boxes, and a new era of high street to destination shopping and lifestyle retail might change the skyline of Indian retail


The year 2011-12 seems to be a challenging one for commercial real estate developers because the recovery has been anaemic, and liquidity remains a key concern with banks raising interest rates and becoming cautious. The tide has not yet turned but the next 12 to 18 months look much more optimistic. The silver lining is that smaller office space has seen some movement in terms of absorption. The current situation could prove to be an opportunity for end users and occupiers to get deep-value deals.


Ashok Kumar

Principal and Managing Director, CresaPartners India

With commercial real estate trading at the bottom, rentals have become attractive with many IT/ITES tenants reorienting their long-term growth strategies towards lower costs


Commercial property is showing signs of revival, with spurts of activity both in retail and office space. Though this revival might be attributable to the domino effect of the boom in the residential market, there are positive signs in the form of increased demand and activity by current as well as new clients. The revival of the commercial real estate market was a bit slow at the beginning of calendar 2010, but prices have started picking up now.


There has also been a decline in vacancy levels in all major markets in the last few quarters.


The IT/ITES sector is believed to be the key driver of the Indian commercial real estate market, accounting for approximately 75 per cent of total absorption of commercial property. The IT sector is likely to grow 35 to 40 per cent in the coming years; the same data can be used as a benchmark to evaluate the growth of commercial real estate. The thumb rule says every new job directly creates demand for roughly 100 square feet of office space.


Some of the fundamental reasons driving this tide are:

Strong growth: India's GDP is growing at 9 per cent and is expected to accelerate to double digits. This, in turn, may create more business and job opportunities and demand for office infrastructure to support this growth. This escalating growth is gearing up to occupy extensive land in the available areas for building business parks, IT parks or Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and business centres offering both premium and affordable spaces.


Growing demand: All major cities are showing signs of increasing offtake of office and retail space. One of the positive outcomes of the downturn was the fact that increasing competition encouraged developers to offer some good value discounts — this trend, in turn, is attracting investors not only from India but also from aboard.


Vacancy rates: These are coming down slowly since no new supply is hitting the market in the same way it did two years ago. Projects in the pipeline then are now being completed in phases because developers had not only stopped new construction but also halted ongoing projects last year owing to the global slowdown.


Domestic job creation: Hiring by domestic corporations has risen considerably, resulting in more demand for office space. Financial institutions, consumer goods, telecom, pharma and manufacturing companies have contributed largely to the revival in demand. Major government investment in infrastructure projects is also creating rural and urban job opportunities.


Outsourcing by MNCs: This is also showing signs of a pick-up with the developed economies still struggling to grow. These multinationals are not only pushing up demand for leased spaces, investors are also flocking in to buy upcoming commercial properties located in far-flung areas where properties are available at affordable prices owing to limited development in the area.


Great value proposition: With commercial real estate trading almost at the bottom, rentals have become attractive across the country with many IT/ITES tenants reorienting their long-term growth strategies towards lower costs. Rentals for IT/ITES space in all major markets are still quoting in the range of Rs 25 to Rs 45 a square foot a month.


Rising demand for office space implies the creation of new jobs. All major India cities – Mumbai, the National Capital Region, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune – are seeing a rise in demand for office space. The substantial infrastructure growth in these cities has also contributed to the stability of office rentals.


Strong growth in India will continue to boost demand for new space from occupiers as well investors.


The Indian commercial property sector is projected to experience considerable growth from 2010 to 2013. The surge in demand for office space is expected to reach approximately 200 million square feet and demand from the retail sector is pegged to grow to 45 million square feet.


Going forward, the SEZ and sustainable development businesses are also poised to take off. We expect to see the creation of several thousand jobs in the next decade in power generation, manufacturing, renewable energy, environment management, water and waste management, carbon trading and so on.








ASTUDY by the Economic Times Intelligence Group (ETIG) shows that Indian companies continue to display low levels of ambition, as measured by their commitment to research and development. India's R&D spend as a proportion of GDP, at 0.7%, is one-fourth than that of the US, less than half of China's and lower than Brazil's. True, in 2009-10, as global corporate R&D expenditure dropped 3.5%, the R&D spend of the top 100 Indian companies in terms of R&D expenditure rose 1.5%, keeping pace with their revenues. This is good news, but a long way off from Indian companies being on par with global companies when it comes to research spending as a proportion of revenues (0.3% for TCS, against 15% for Microsoft). Indian companies are willing to license technology or buy it from willing providers rather than try and develop it on their own. The technology available in this fashion will never be cutting-edge. So Indian companies will have to make do with either commoditised tech or proprietary technology that is not premium enough for the holder of its intellectual property to monetise it on its own. An increasing trend is for companies to not even bother to patent their technology but to use their proprietary knowledge to secure a crucial first-mover advantage in the marketplace. Indian companies are forgoing the premium that is twinned with the latest in technology. 


Two caveats are in order, however, One, Indian pharma and auto companies do spend on R&D, as also some public sector units. The two top spenders of India Inc — BHEL and BEL — nurture in-house R&D to take on global players and BHEL files patent and copyright applications at the rate of one every working day. Second, innovation is not quite the same as R&D. Consumers pay for innovation in meeting their real, created or perceived needs. Sometimes, innovation lies in assembling assorted available technologies in a matrix of scintillating design. So, in theory, you could get by even if you did not really produce your own R&D, but merely focused on innovation. In the real world, however, no one has quite managed to excel in innovation without also excelling in R&D, even if excellence in R&D is no guarantee of excellence in innovation.








AS THE committee headed by Justice Srikrishna gets ready to submit its report on Telengana by December 31, politics is hotting up in south India's largest state. Political parties that have the nation's interest at heart will refrain from creating violence and anarchy in the name of regional aspirations, whatever the committee's finding. It is up to the leadership of the state government and the ruling Congress party to create conditions conducive to peace and dialogue. So far, the indications are hopeful. The state Congress has advertised its design to play ball with its rivals, with a group of party legislators from Telengana staging an 'indefinite fast' yesterday demanding withdrawal of cases slapped on students who agitated for Telengana state last year. It would be naive to treat this as a revolt by Telengana Congress leaders. Being the only party with major stakes in the Andhra, Telengana and Rayalaseema regions, the Congress has the responsibility to reconcile the conflicting sentiments of all three regions, no matter how tricky that task might be. Within 24 hours, the Kiran Kumar Reddy government has agreed to withdraw all cases against the students, making it evident the whole Hyderabad show has been an orchestrated act to vest Telengana Congressmen with political initiative, a commodity that has been in short supply with the ruling side ever since the demise of its chief minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy. However, the Congress would be shortsighted if it were to seek to corner all political glory on Telengana. Except for the TRS, other state parties have little stake in taking postures that hurt the overall Telugu sentiment that had led to the creation of linguistically defined Greater Andhra way back in 1956. The Congress would do well to create room for these parties too, to be seen as playing a constructive role in the state's politics. Such willingness to share the political space without losing the initiative would be all the more crucial if the Srikrishna panel report skirts the issue of dividing AP. 


 The demands for smaller states should be seen in the context of effective leadership and imaginative governance, key to fair and balanced development.







WITH just three days to go in 2010, the world's most populous democracy can, at the least, hope for a new year where some old words won't be repeated. What a relief it would be if the four-letter word scam doesn't again become common currency in 2011, especially when associated with dual-letter acronyms like 2G or three-letter ones like JPC and PAC. How wonderful it would be if the idiot box in 2011 does not feature primetime debates on the above-mentioned four-letter word and its associated acronyms. What a blessing it would be for TV viewers if they were spared sanctimonious monologues by spokespersons of national parties, where the Congress talks incessantly on how the BJP has done worse while the latter holds forth yet again on the need to launch a national campaign against the corruption indulged in by the former in all parts of the country except Karnataka where the outfit in power sports a lotus as its symbol. Hopefully, even the names associated with these scams — Raja, Kalmadi, Lalit Modi, et al — will not be mentioned day in and year out but only when they get their just desserts! Things reached such a pass in the last week of December that, while touching on the small number of fans who follow Carnatic music, maestros like Vijay Siva said their reference to lakhs and millions is in the context of Chennai's galloping population and not the 2G scam! 


Hopefully, 2011 will bring with it fresh thoughts and ideas of a positive kind and not the negative vibes which have been filling our ears throughout 2010. And we wish that when the figure 1,76,000 crore is highlighted in 2011, it will not be with reference to the CAG's presumptive estimate of the 2G scam but by way of announcing that the entire amount has been recovered and allocated for a national programme to alleviate malnutrition among Indian children on a time-bound basis.





CONFUSION continues to reign in the debate on microfinance that has unfolded following the promulgation of the Andhra ordinance, soon to be replaced by Andhra Pradesh Micro Finance Institutions (Regulation of Money Lending) Act, 2010. 


A key confusion has been that microfinance is a major instrument of poverty alleviation. Going by the available scientific evidence and agreement among scholars, to-date, there exists no compelling study linking the expansion of microfinance to declining levels of poverty. Despite the images of groups of women starting small business projects to exit poverty, commonly promoted on the websites of microfinance institutions (MFIs), the use of microfinance for such projects has been surprisingly tiny. According to a recent survey conducted in Andhra Pradesh, households use less than 2.5% of all micro-loans to start new businesses. By comparison, many more loans go into buying stocks — as much as 10% when the source of the loan is an MFI. 


The survey reveals that big-ticket items on the list of customers taking micro-loans are agricultural inputs, repayment of old debt, health and 'other consumption'. The customers use the bulk of their borrowings to bridge temporary financing gaps rather than create new businesses. While such uses can bring much-needed relief in times of financial stress, they cannot lead to sustained reduction in poverty. 


The link between combating poverty and microfinance is even weaker when we consider for-profit MFIs. The operations of these institutions are disproportionately concentrated in the better-off southern states rather than povertystricken states in the north and east. And even in the southern states, they have not been the pioneers: the microfinance movement was already flourishing there by the time they arrived on the scene. 


 Critics of the Andhra ordinance have often avoided distinguishing between forprofit and non-profit MFIs. This has given the misleading impression that all MFIs are benign entities engaged in helping the poor alongside the self-help groups (SHGs) that the Andhra government has promoted and has partially sought to protect through the ordinance. But the two sets of entities are quite different. 


Non-profit MFIs have been an integral part of Indian microfinance landscape almost from the beginning and have operated harmoniously side-by-side with the SHGs in states such as Andhra Pradesh. The complaints of usurious interest rates and coercive loan recovery practices, traditionally levelled against the village moneylender, surfaced against MFIs only after they began to convert into for-profit entities. A mini-crisis involving such complaints had first erupted in March 2006 in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately, no long-term lessons were learned from that episode. 


For-profit MFIs and the traditional moneylender are driven by a common objective — maximisation of profit. Some authors have tried to confuse the matter by pointing to obvious differences between the two entities relating to size, social context in which they operate, information base, access to financial resources and the degree of formalisation of operations. But these differences are all about technological and resource constraints rather than objective. As long as profit rather than financial inclusion is the underlying motive, the threat of usurious interest rates and coercive loan-recovery practices will loom large whether it's is the moneylender or for-profit MFI. 

CRITICS of the Andhra ordinance also point to low interest rates and the absence of coercion on the part of certain for-profit MFIs to bolster the case that the problem lies with an intransigent Andhra government rather than the practices of for-profit MFIs. But in response, one can equally well cite some good-hearted moneylenders who genuinely serve their communities. As a concrete example, S T Somashekhara Reddy (Economic and Political Weekly, July 21, 2007) provides a fascinating account of an Andhra moneylender, who loaned money to the poor for two decades at the uniform 2% per month rate and never resorted to coercive loan-recovery practices. But such examples would hardly persuade anyone against the need for regulating the moneylender. 


The current crisis, thus, raises a shortterm and a long-term issue. The shortterm issue concerns possible response to the impact the ordinance has had on the profits of banks and equity holders of for-profit MFIs. There are pressures on the government to bailout these entities. Given the losses of these entities pose no systemic risk, no clear case for such bailout exists. Profits and losses, even when they result from unanticipated government actions, are a part and parcel of normal business activity. 


The long-term issue concerns appropriate regulation of for-profit MFIs. Here we need more independent studies and better-informed debate before action is taken. Indeed, at this point, we even lack clarity as to whether such legislation should be national in nature or left to the states, with the Reserve Bank of India providing model legislation as in the case of the moneylender. A good preliminary case can be made for the latter on at least two grounds. First, constant innovation that responds to the local context is at the heart of the growth of microfinance movement. If this flexibility is to be preserved, it will perhaps be unwise to straitjacket the movement through a central legislation. Second, even the standards of what constitutes coercive practice and what is within the acceptable norms of behaviour would vary across states. But counterarguments favouring central legislation can also be made, highlighting the need for further research, discussion and debate. 


Theprospectoffor-profitsMFIsoperating under regulated environment in Andhra Pradesh but not other states offers us the unique opportunity to observe the differences in their evolution with and without regulation. The impact of the legislation within Andhra Pradesh over time as well as the differences between this and other states should yield useful clues to the need and design of future regulatory policies. 


(The author is a professor at Columbia     University and Senior Non-resident  Fellow at the Brookings Institution)








Director NAARM* 

 Inefficient supply chain is a key reason 

THE steep rise in prices of onions, tomato and garlic has sparked off the debate on market and trade policies for food items. A marginal fall in production or supply in local markets leads to asteep rise in their wholesale and retail prices, and vice versa. Hoarders, as always, take advantage of the supply scarcity since the market for food items, especially vegetables, is unorganised. Besides, their supply chains are also inefficient, dominated by intermediaries. Studies have shown that nearly 60-80% of price consumers pay goes to commission agents, wholesalers and retailers to cover transportation, loading, unloading, storage, overheads, profits, etc. 

A multi-pronged strategy needs to be evolved to stabilise the prices of food commodities, especially vegetables. First, there is an urgent need to compress the supply chains of food items. This can be done by upscaling institutional arrangements (contract farming, farmers' cooperatives, etc), that are very few and scattered. 


However, the country is witnessing a revolution of innovative institutions that are effectively linking producers with markets. Such arrangements not only improve market efficiency but also augment production of food to meet changing demands. Second, it is the right time to promote organised retail and coordinated supply chains to integrate food markets better. Effective and speedy implementation of the model Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee Act would promote organised retail industry. This would minimise huge post-harvest losses and reduce transaction costs. 


Third, there is a need for investment in developing cold storage, cold chains, refrigerated vans, modern market yards and better price information network. Favourable business environment may be facilitated by the government to encourage private sector for investing in these areas. And, finally, the government needs to regularly monitor supply and price scenario at domestic as well as global markets to take informed decision at appropriate time. 


(*National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad)



Senior Economist Crisil 

 There are problems with production, too 


THE recent spurt in onion prices has again exposed our inability to deal effectively with the demand-supply mismatch. The difference between the farm gate and retail prices of onion, as also of other vegetables, is an indication that the situation is being exploited by intermediaries. In the recent past, we have seen this happen in sugar and pulses as well. So, is it a problem of supply, distribution or production? 


Actually, the problem is on both fronts. With GDP set to grow at 9%, the demand side pressure is building up on many food items. But the twist in the story is changing dietary habits due to rising incomes. The pressure on prices is more on protein-rich food items such as fruits, vegetable, pulses, milk, eggs, etc. This appears to be one of the reasons why prices of fruits and vegetables have not dropped, despite the seasonal increase in their supplies. 


On the other hand, production has yet to adequately respond to these structural changes in the demand pattern. Thus, even a minor gap between demand and supply is being exploited by intermediaries to aggravate the situation many-fold in the market place. Further, the way the government was caught napping about the imminent demand-supply mismatch in the case of onion due to unseasonal rains does not speak highly of its market intelligence gathering capability. 


So, what is the way out? Clearly, supplies need to be augmented to take care of the growing demand, following the changing dietary habits due to the rise in incomes. But this can happen only over the long term. In the short term, the focus has to be on removing supplyside bottlenecks. For example, despite reform in the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee Act, there are still many statelevel regulations and taxation that prevent free movement of agricultural produce beyond state boundaries and increase intermediation costs. Also a knee-jerk reaction to ban exports, as was done recently in the case of onion, would be counterproductive as it would only disincentivise farmers.







IN THIS bright future you can't forget your past, lyricised the reggae legend centre-stage with melody, rhythm and verse. That was then in another time, almost a different era. Fast-forward to the here and now, and in the first decade of a new century, the centre of gravity of the world economy has been distinctly moving east. There's also anew triad emerging on the global stage. 


Next year would mark the centenary of that gross imperial overreach that culminated in the Delhi Durbar. The Coronation Park in north Delhi, much neglected and weedgrown, is to be spruced up for the occasion. But there's also the need to be much more forward looking, to constructively model our tomorrows, the day-afters and the years ahead. The mavens expect the Indian economy to be the fastest growing among large economies in the foreseeable future. In tandem, there's the need to establish multiple centres of excellence in macroeconomic forecasting, so that India emerges as a global base for such study and analysis with intellectual leadership. Besides, the business of macroeconomic forecasting is itself at crossroads, with the two main approaches slated to entwine with the reported coming together of the structuralist and non-structuralist schools. In any case, we do need to closely follow how growth pans out in the US, China and India in the next decade and beyond. 


Of course, in a season of scams, scandals and grave allegations of corruption in public life, an attempt to focus on long-term growth trends would appear rather misplaced. Which is why we need transparency in implementing public policy initiatives generally, whether it is allocation of telecom spectrum, the pricing of natural gas or the award of highway contracts. Also required is an end to routine opacity in the funding of elections; the scope for public funding needs to be actively thought through. Further, judicial reforms can no longer be kept on the back-burner; an increasingly sophisticated economy cannot but do with time-bound recourse to justice. And given that barely a tenth of the target population gets to enroll in post-secondary classes, the emphasis needs to be on proper delivery systems for quality education, skills and entrepreneurship. 
    In parallel, we need dedicated groups of practitioners here to compute, simulate and forecast emerging macroeconomic growth trends, with reasonable accuracy, regularity and speed. Note that macroeconomic forecasts have had a chequered past. The practice really began in the 1940s, following Keynes and his idea of loose fiscal policy to skirt around the problem of lack of effective demand, particularly temporary downturns, and given reasonable growth prospects. And back-to-back, policymakers in the then maturing rich economies of today were keen on quantifying policy outcomes. 


The early Keynesian forecast models had only a few statistical equations, but by the 1960s, there were several competing growth models and each consisting of hundreds of equations. Those were indeed the heyday of large-scale macroeconomic forecasting models. Note that structural forecasting models interpret and analyse economic data through the lens of a particular theoritical perspective, such as sticky prices and the notion of markets not clearing in the Keynesian scheme of things. In contrast, nonstructural methods take note of correlations observed in time-series data to forecast macroeconomic numbers, without relying on economic theory as such. By the 1970s, the traditional large macro-models were increasingly questioned, what with the Keynesian idea that prices fail to clear markets, at least in the short term — implying that money illusion and high nominal incomes can boost demand — not quite gelling with the empirical evidence across economies of strong inflationary trends and poor growth. 


So, for instance, one key element of Keynesian reasoning, that prices do not adjust instantaneously to equate supply with demand in every market, was no longer acceptable as a workable assumption, given well-informed economic actors. A higher inflation rate would lead to higher wage demand, say. And since then, the structural forecasting methods generally have come to rely more on microeconomic evidence to better explain macroeconomic phenomenon. Meanwhile, protagonists of the nonstructural forecasting school have taken to computational methods, simulation techniques and scenario analysis in a big way. Also, the structural forecasting methods now incorporate preferences, technologies and strategies invigorated by recent developments in dynamic stochastic general equilibrium theory. So, the future of the structural and nonstructural methods seem very much 'intertwined.' Also, it is now fashionable to forecast that China's annual economic value-added would exceed that of the US in the next decade. But it is possible that statism, restrictive joint ventures and stultified entrepreneurship in China would put paid to that idea. We do not know. But we still need world-class forecasting techniques to better gauge growth in the offing.


With growth slackening in the mature markets, India can have competitive advantage in economic forecasting 
Going forward, the future of structural and non-structural forecasting methods seem very much intertwined 
We need world-class forecasting techniques to better gauge growth in the medium term and well beyond







THE parcel bears two leopards; not real of course. Tribal artists made them long time ago. That, plus the fact that the animals came via courier on New Year's Eve, inspires their new owner to call them Auld Lang syne cats. 


The phrase comes from the Scottish song used to ring in the New Year. Since it literally means 'old long since', Auld Lang syne is also used at graduations, farewells and other parting ceremonies. It has a chorus that talks about taking a cup of kindness for old times' sake. 


 And since the song is Scottish rather than English the cup that cheers usually contains something stronger than tea. But that's not the pint. What matters more is the spirit in the man rather than what's in his mug (no pun intended) when it comes to greetings, reunions or partings. The song, which was originally 'collected' by Robert Burns, asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten, and promises to fondly remember those people of the past. 


 Nor does the past exist separately apart from the present and the future. The Romans immortalised this insight in the myth of Janus, the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, endings and time. The most noticeable remnant of Janus in modern culture is his namesake, the month of January, which begins the New Year. The most familiar depiction of Janus shows a god with two heads, facing opposite directions: one head looks back at the year past while the other looks forward to the one yet come, melding simultaneously the future and the past. 


Incidentally, the double-faced visage of Janus wearing laurel wreaths occupies a prominentplace in The Tourist starring the ravishing Angelina Jolie and sedately seductive Johnny Depp, who turns out to be a thematically correct 'double-face'. Your columnist, who saw the movie on New Year's Eve, shan't say more for fear of being a spoiler. Suffice it to add, by awarding it so many Golden Globe nominations, critics have made The Tourist their 'personal piñata' despite the film's alleged failure at the box-office. Truly to suffer thus and to prosper simultaneously is to be under the influence of the double-faced god. 


Similarly, while the shooting of The Tourist, Depp was said to be eager to get back to his screen persona of Captain Jack Sparrow: "It's like unlocking a part of yourself and freeing this part, what they called the id, or whatever, just to be under whatever circumstances."





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Admirers of the Australian system of cricket may have to rapidly revise their opinion as a great team disintegrates before their very eyes. The cricket world used to believe that anything Australian was good for the willow game, including the aggression the famous Australian players used to bring to the field with their strong body language and the aggravation they used to cause with their take-no-prisoners attitude. The team that dominated Test and limited-overs cricket for close to a decade and a half before losing the Test crown two years ago has lost major players and is a mere shadow of the juggernaut that twice won 16 Test matches in a row and the last three World Cups (50 overs) on the trot. Captain Ricky Ponting's despair at the demise of his own, and his team's, greatness is becoming apparent in every pressure situation. His repeated questioning of umpiring decisions has assumed a sickly pattern. In the latest instance, in the controversy he whipped up over a catch referral to the television umpire, he was fined 40 per cent of his match fee for dissent. Presiding over a team in decline, Ponting seems to be losing it and popular opinion is building up Down Under too for looking beyond him when it comes to the captaincy. For the skipper who won more Tests and games than Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, successive Ashes series have become a kind of Waterloo. For years they ruled the game and were least bothered about the "Ugly Aussie" image portrayed by their bullying and badgering of umpires and sledging, which is the loud, ugly, and even vulgar berating of opposition batsmen. So long as they were winning, the game seemed to accept their aggressive behaviour and other teams also tried to emulate the slanging of batsmen, which tactic the very successful captain Steve Waugh said was aimed towards "mental disintegration" of the opposition. As the Australians ruled the roost, the cricket pitch became a place where the combative nature of sportsmen was needlessly exaggerated and the finest arenas of the game were the lesser for it. When the same aggression is shown, principally towards the umpires these days as the Australians are in free fall, it is the image of cricket that takes a hit. Ponting's heated arguments over an apparent fault of the referral system, which is still in its infancy and is evolving with the improvement of video and related technology, did nothing for his team or his own exalted standing as the only player in the world to have been a member of teams that have won close to 100 Test matches and three World Cups. A champion sportsman losing his temper in a high-pressure sporting situation may be forgiven, but not if he loses hisdignity.








The second decade of the 21st century is about to dawn. Since the end of the Cold War, nearly two decades ago, India's policymakers have deftly managed to cope with the significant changes in the global order. They crossed the nuclear Rubicon, ably dealt with its subsequent (and inevitable) fallout, opened the hidebound economy to foreign investment and improved relations with a host of countries ranging from the United States to Israel. These achievements were far from trivial and are indeed worthy of commendation.


That said, India's foreign policy is again at a turning point and its policymakers can ill-afford to rest on their laurels. The country is in dire need of a grand strategy but thus far no policymaker, regardless of political persuasion, has managed to sketch out the outlines thereof. In this context, it might be useful to recall that during much of the Cold War, India did have a grand strategy, namely, non-alignment. It is possible to argue that the strategy may have ill-served India after a particular moment or that it took on a chimerical quality after India's forging of a strategic partnership with the then Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the doctrine did provide India's policymakers an intellectual lodestar. Today, the most that India's policymakers can proffer is a foreign policy based on "enlightened self-interest".


Such a principle may be useful as a tactical guide but is hardly a substitute for a grand strategy. The challenges that India faces both in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond cannot be dealt with through a reliance on this concept that really does not rise beyond the level of a shibboleth. Instead the country's political and diplomatic leadership now needs to think of a wider and deeper set of guidelines and precepts to fashion India's foreign policy.


To that end they need to think of what kind of world order might India envisage that could best secure and enhance its national interests. Mere slogans will not serve as a substitute for political vision. For example, since the Cold War's end, on a number of occasions, key Indian policymakers have expressed a desire for a multi-polar world order. In effect, this plea has been little more than a euphemism for a world where the US does not emerge and remain as the sole, surviving superpower. The sources of the aversion to American dominance are well known. They stem, in most part, from India's fractious relationship with the US during much of the Cold War.


Yet this unease with American global pre-eminence is misplaced. Would a multi-polar world order, with a number of powerful states which are either indifferent to or implacably hostile toward India's key national security interests, be necessarily preferable to American dominance? Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question. Nevertheless, it is precisely one that India's policymakers must confront and address.


What then might be the outlines of a new Indian grand strategy? Obviously, it must be aimed at preserving what India deems to be its core national values and interests. Given its multi-religious and poly-ethnic status, the country must preserve its commitment to secularism and cultural pluralism. Simultaneously, despite myriad challenges from both within and without, it needs to preserve its liberal democratic dispensation. An illiberal India is simply not a sustainable political order. Protecting democracy at home will also require maintaining a well-prepared but limited military capability. Finally, it must be able to sustain its path of economic growth while ensuring that it also succeeds in lifting untold numbers of its populace who remain mired in dire and abject poverty. If these four issues constitute India's critical interests it must accordingly seek to fashion a global order that best protects them.


To that end, the country needs to stand up to the myriad challenges to secular and liberal democratic regimes the world over from atavistic and obscurantist social forces which both states and non-state actors have nurtured and unleashed. This will require forging closer bonds with states that share these fundamental values while maintaining little more than transactional links with others that do not but are crucial to addressing various material concerns. For example, there is little need to extol India's putative "civilisational ties" to Iran when pursuing a relationship that is mostly based on the exigent need for cheap hydrocarbon resources. Nor, for that matter, should it be necessary to fete Burma/Myanmar's scrofulous rulers to ensure that their country does not become a People's Republic of China satellite.


Given India's troubled neighbourhood and the many uncertainties associated with the seemingly inexorable rise of India's behemoth neighbour, the PRC, the country will also need to maintain requisite military forces to ensure that its territorial integrity and its maritime resources are not at risk now or in the foreseeable future. Simultaneously, its policymakers will need to confront the prospect of using India's forces beyond its shores as the country's global profile continues to rise.


Finally, sustaining India's domestic economic growth path, which has made possible much-needed military modernisation, will also require it to play a greater and more imaginative role in the higher realms of international trade and finance. Accordingly, India needs to become a more assertive player in the G20 and speak up about under-valued currencies, structural trade barriers and the reliance upon dubious financial instruments.


This outline of a grand strategy is hardly a panacea for the challenges that a rising India faces. However, they do provide the rudiments of a grand strategy as the country enters a new and potentially exciting decade but one fraught with multiple challenges.


- Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Center on American and Global Security, Indiana
University, Bloomington








Three years ago, on December 27, 2007, Benazir was tragically assassinated when she was attempting to turn a new leaf in her life and in the politics of Pakistan. The bloody deed was done at Rawalpindi's Liaquat Park, a park named after Pakistan's first Prime Minister who was shot dead at the same venue in 1951 in circumstances that have so far remained unclear.


In the conditions prevailing in Pakistan, it will, perhaps, never be possible to find out who conceived, ordered and executed the killing of Benazir Bhutto. But an underlying fact is clear. She had become a victim of those very forces of religious fundamentalism with which she had ingratiated herself during her years of power — from 1988-1990 and then from 1993-1996. Instead of checking these forces, which had acquired a great hold on the state and society during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, she exploited them for her own ends of power and used them without any scruple to cause terror and subversion in Kashmir.


It was during Benazir's rule that her Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) ordered, in 1989-90, the killing of innocent Kashmiri Pandits and such noble persons as Kashmir University vice-chancellor Mushir-ul Haq and his aide Adul Ghani. When she found that her agents in the Valley were scattering under the impact of firm measures taken by me, then J&K governor, she herself came to Muzaffarabad and incited the Kashmiris against me. Made during the course of a televised speech, her shocking chopping gesture — striking her right hand on the palm of her left hand and ranting Jag-Jag-Mo-Mo-Han-Han — showed the extent to which she could go.


In the years that followed, the extremist forces, coupled with other negative developments in religion and politics, acquired much greater strength and made further inroads in Pakistan's power structure. Pakistan's landscape got littered with a bewildering variety of terrorist organisations which still remain as strong. Their number is so large, and their objectives and motivations overlap to such extent, that it is extremely difficult to clearly categorise them. Nevertheless, four broad categories are discernable. One, there is a set of "non-state associations", such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which have the patronage of the ISI and are largely used by it to carry out terrorism-related activities in Kashmir and other parts of India. Second, there are quite a few outfits, such as Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizbe-Islami and Haqqani's network, which operate mainly against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan from their havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan and enjoy covert ISI support. Third, there is a formidable religious movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban, whose objective is to "Talibanise" the state and society of Pakistan and enforce strictly the Sharia. Fourth, there are a number of Sunni extremist organisations whose primary aim is to undermine or eliminate other sects of Islam, such as Shias, Sufis, Brelvis, Ahmaddiyas, Ismailis etc and ensure dominance of what, according to them, is a pure form of Islam. All these four categories of terrorist organisations have unleashed a wave of blood and brutality and made Pakistan the world's most unsafe country. They do not tolerate dissent and show no hesitation in killing their fellow-religionists even when they are at prayer.


It was in such a violence-ridden environment that Benazir returned to Pakistan, after about a decade of self-imposed exile in London/Dubai, under an agreement brokered between her and President Pervez Musharraf by American and British diplomats. By that time, Musharraf had become unpopular. He had come up against what were called "men in black" and "women in black" — the lawyers who agitated against him and the fanatical burqa-clad women of Lal Masjid in Islamabad.


Musharraf was forced to order commando action against the mosque when seven Chinese women were "arrested" by the female Taliban ("women in black") on the allegation of prostitution. In the bloody venture to clear the mosque, 88 occupants and nine commandos were killed.


The year of Benazir's return, 2007, saw the highest incidence of violence in Pakistan. On the very day of her arrival in Karachi, October 18, terrorists attacked her cavalcade, killing as many as 149 persons and injuring 402. About two months later, the conspirators succeeded in eliminating her.


President Musharraf's administration did not appear to be very serious in providing effective security cover to Benazir. This fact was underlined by the inquiry commission appointed by the UN at the request of the Pakistan government to ascertain the facts and circumstances of her assassination. In its report, the commission said: "A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms Bhutto, and second to investigate with vigour all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack but also in its conception, planning and financing".


Benazir had made a serious mistake in returning to Pakistan without first securing a firm guarantee on her security from Musharraf and his mentors in the US and Britain. Her ambition, perhaps, drove her to an extremely risky venture.


Despite her unenviable record in office, Benazir's assassination at a time when she seemed determined to give a new direction to Pakistani polity was a grim tragedy. Though she had harangued against me, unjustifiably, I, and many other well-wishers of Pakistan, were saddened by her death. She was showing promising potential for freeing Pakistan from the stranglehold of religious extremism and terrorism. In her book, Reconciliation, published after her death, she has provided ample evidence of evolving a new agenda for Pakistan and for creating a pluralistic and modern Islamic society. But fate did not give her a chance to implement this.









Every January 1 we welcome the New Year with bonhomie and joy. As we bid farewell to the old year, we generally introspect the year past and make new resolutions. Our intentions are good, but as the year progresses we find that most resolutions fall by the side. We slip back to our old habits and find that slowly the enthusiasm with which we began has petered out.


Our daily life is typically a routine of waking up, freshening up, going about our daily chores or work and then rest at the end of the day. If we analyse our daily life, we realise that we are mostly dealing with people, material things and situations or events. Put differently, life can be defined as perceptions from these three sources and our responses to them. Everybody has to respond, there is not escaping that.


Further we find that our responses to these perceptions tend to be different at different points of time. And different people tend to respond differently to the same situation. Most times we realise that there is a gap between knowledge and our responses. Though we know what we should or should not do, we are unable to act in accordance with this knowledge. This is because we have not been able to assimilate the knowledge.


Our scriptures are replete with guidelines on how to act and live life fully. The Bhagavad Gita gives us a vision of total life. However, nowadays, it is read only when someone is on the deathbed or we see it chanted on TV when some leader dies. But most of us do not know what the Gita teaches — it teaches us how to live in this world. Some people even worship the Gita by wrapping it in a silk cloth so tightly that its spiritual knowledge is securely tied up and not allowed to escape! With all the spiritual knowledge we remain where we are, because this great knowledge is only in the books! This knowledge can only help us if we understand it and apply it to our lives.


The message of the Gita can be understood by a very simple sloka, from the Gita itself:








Until the most recent release of the Nixon/Kissinger tapes, what were the justifications for saying in advance that the slaughter of Jews in gas chambers by a hostile foreign dictatorship would not be "an American concern"? Let's agree that we do not know. It didn't seem all that probable that the question would come up. Or, at least, not all that likely that the statement would turn out to have been made, and calmly received, in the Oval Office. I was present at Madison Square Garden in 1985 when Louis Farrakhan warned the Jews to remember that "when (God) puts you in the ovens, you're there forever", but condemnation was swift and universal, and, in any case, Farrakhan's tenure in the demented fringe was already a given.


Now, however, it seems we do know the excuses and the rationalisations. Here's one, from David Harris of the American Jewish Committee: "Perhaps Kissinger felt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the President that there was no question of where his loyalties lay". And here's another, from Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League: "The anti-Jewish prejudice which permeated the Nixon presidency and White House undoubtedly created an environment of intimidation for those who did not share the president's bigotry. Kissinger was clearly not immune to that intimidation". Want more? Under the heading, "A Defence of Kissinger, From Prominent Jews", Mortimer Zuckerman, Kenneth Bialkin and James Tisch wrote to the New York Times to say that "Mr Kissinger consistently played a constructive role vis-a-vis Israel both as national security adviser and secretary of state, especially when the US extended dramatic assistance to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War". They asked that "the fuller Kissinger record should be remembered" and, for good measure, that "the critics of Mr Kissinger should remember the context of his entire life". Finally, Kissinger himself has favoured us with the following: At that time in 1973, he reminds us, the Nixon administration was being pressed by senators Jacob Javits and Henry Jackson to link Soviet trade privileges to emigration rights for Russian Jews. "The conversation arose not as a policy statement by me but in response to a request by the President that I should appeal to senators Javits and Jackson and explain why we thought their approach unwise."


Kissinger deliberately said gas chambers! If we are going to lower our whole standard of condemnation for such talk then it cannot and must not be in response to pseudo-reasonings. Let us take the statements in order. Harris and Foxman, at least, assume what we know for many other reasons to be true: Richard Nixon was a psychopathic anti-Semite. Is Kissinger so base as to accept their defence — that he was cringing before a Jew-baiter? Surely this, too, is "hurtful" to him (the revealing term he employs for reading criticism of his words rather than for their utterance)? He declines even to discuss the subject though it has come up before. The difference on this occasion is stark: The other recordings have Nixon giving vent to his dirty obsession while Kissinger makes fawning responses. This time, it is Kissinger who goes as far as any anti-Semite can go. And Nixon doesn't bother to grunt his approval. Of the Zuckerman-Bialkin-Tisch school of realpolitik, nothing much needs to be said. They refer to the "shock and dismay of some in the Jewish community" — as if only that community was entitled to shock or dismay — while quite omitting even the usual formality of expressing any disapproval of their own. Add to this the other excuses of Jewish officialdom — that the pre-approval of genocide is excusable when used to appease the evil mood swings of a criminal President. Kissinger's own defence — that pre-approval was his dress rehearsal for an "appeal to Sens. Javits and Jackson" — is of course unique to him.


What if we did, indeed, accept the invitation to "remember the context of Kissinger's life"? Here's what we would find: the secret and illegal bombing of Indochina, timed to suit the career prospects of Nixon and Kissinger. The pair's open support for the Pakistani Army's 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, of the architect of which, General Yahya Khan, Kissinger was able to say: "Yahya hasn't had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre". Kissinger's warm relationship with the managers of other human abattoirs in Chile and Argentina, as well as his role in bringing them to power by the covert use of violence. The support for the mass murder in East Timor, guaranteed by Kissinger to his Indonesian clients. His public endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party's decision to clear Tiananmen Square in 1989. His advice to President Gerald Ford to refuse Alexander Solzhenitsyn an invitation to the White House. His decision to allow Saddam Hussein to slaughter the Kurds after promising them American support. His backing for a fascist coup in Cyprus in 1974 and then his defence of the brutal Turkish invasion of the island. His advice to the Israelis, at the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada, to throw the press out of the West Bank and go for all-out repression. His view that ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia was something about which nothing could be done. Forget the criminal aspect here (or forget it if you can). All those policies were also political and diplomatic disasters.


We possess a remarkably complete record of all this, in and out of office, most of it based solidly on US government documents. And it's horribly interesting to note how often the cables and minutes show him displaying a definite relish for the business of murder and dictatorship, a heavy and nasty jokiness (foreign policy is not "a missionary activity") that was by no means always directed, bad as that would have been, at gratifying his diseased and disordered boss. Every time American career diplomats in the field became sickened at the policy, which was not seldom, Kissinger was there to shower them with contempt or to have them silenced. The gas-chamber counsellor is consistent with every other version of him that we have.


To permit this new revelation to fade, or be forgiven, would be to devalue our most essential standard of what constitutes the unpardonable. And for what? For the reputation of a man who turns out to be not even a Holocaust denier but a Holocaust affirmer. There has to be a moral limit, and either this has to be it or we must cease pretending to ourselves that we observe one.


- Christopher Hitchens, an internationally acclaimed author, journalist, political commentator and literary critic, recently wrote Hitch-22








That a country is theoretically governed by a just code of law does not necessitate rule of law or justice. It can safely be said that an accessible, affordable and quick justice delivery system is the foundation of the freedom of an individual against the excesses of a state or powerful individuals within it. It is no surprise that the first charter of liberties, the Magna Carta, guarantees in Clause 40, "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice".


Unfortunately, however, courts across the world, whether they are domestic, civil and criminal courts or international tribunals for commercial arbitration or human rights enforcement, are plagued by inordinate delays.


The Indian legal system is no stranger to high costs, delays and lack of certainty at all levels. The Government of India has set up several panels since the Justice Rankin Committee in 1924 with the objective of sorting this out. The Justice S.R. Das Committee in 1949, the Justice J.C. Shaha Committee in 1972, the Satish Chandra Committee in 1986 and the Justice V.S. Mallimath Committee in 1990 were all formed to identify the causes of judicial delay and recommend remedial measures. The main issues indentified by these committees responsible for delays are, broadly:


* Shortage and/or lack of proper training of judges;

* Lack of motivation and sense of duty among the court staff;

* Lack of facility and use of time-saving technology on account of limited budgets in judicial forums;

* Long-winded and archaic procedures;

* Ill-equipped and overburdened investigation machinery and prosecutors;

* Incompetent and ethically compromised lawyers whose fee is generally unregulated;

* Low costs imposed by courts for delay and frivolous litigation. However, there has been no sincere effort to

mplement and finance the recommendations of these committees.


Some initiatives, including the 2002 Amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, have resulted in reduction of delays. Introduction of plea bargaining for petty offences by the Code of Criminal Procedure amendment has reduced the burden on the state prosecutorial service and the judiciary. Yet, in a country where there is one judge for every 10.5 million people, no amount of amendments to the procedural codes can increase the rate of disposal without compromising the quality and fairness of justice.


In India, the appointment of a district judge is done by the state government in consultation with the state's high court. The criteria for selection merely requires a minimum of seven years of practice as a lawyer at the bar and thereafter upon clearing a written examination and oral interview by a committee of high court judges. Since this process is not regulated stringently, the written exams are not conducted regularly or publicised widely and the interview is based purely on discretion. As a result, the district courts which already have an inadequate sanctioned strength of judges, work with judges below even the sanctioned strength. Similarly, the selection of judges for the high courts and the Supreme Court is done by the collegiums of the courts — here the criteria for selection is purely discretionary and non-transparent and the gap between the vacancy arising and its being filled often runs into several years, resulting in a shortage of judges at all levels.


Appointment of a permanent and independent commission, akin to the Union Public Service Commission, to select judges, thereby replacing the present system would go a long way in ensuring timely filing of vacancies as well as create a body to evaluate and agitate for increase in the sanctioned strength of judges based on future required.


It is also not out of place to mention that the Indian judiciary is often left to learn on-the-job and little importance is given to the training of judges. It is often seen, especially in criminal courts, that judges find themselves ill at ease to pass decisive orders on account of their lack of training. This can certainly be rectified by proper use of the National Judicial Academy, making training of the selected judges as well as conduct of refresher courses compulsory by rules of self-governance stipulated by the collegium of the high courts.


Similarly, since the Advocates Act 1961 bars lawyers from advertising in any manner. This results in oligopolistic structures in the lawyers' market, often leaving a client without any choice as to the arbitrary fee demanded by lawyers. An amendment to Advocates Act 1961, laying down stringent guidelines for charging fee and setting up structures to regulate and monitor the fee, including permitting lawyers to advertise themselves, would go a long way in reducing the expense of litigation and raising the level of competence of lawyers by exposing them to competition and accountability.


While amendment in the law to improve the efficiency and availability of judges and lawyers is necessary, there is no doubt that the Code of Civil Procedure needs to be appropriately amended, making it mandatory for judges to impose actual costs upon parties that seek frivolous adjournments or file frivolous cases. The costs can be calculated by the registry of the courts and must include, at the minimum, loss to the other party including legal fee and costs to the court including administrative time.


]The setting up of small causes courts, such as in the UK, for summary disposal of petty offences, which are currently heard by civil judges, to adjudicate disputes below `1 lakh, which may include recovery amounts, bounced cheques and damage to property would benefit people since lawyers are not permitted in these forums and the matters are decided by hearing both the sides in a summary manner, without leading evidence. The mandate of no lawyers and summary procedure, which formed the Consumer Protection Act, ought to be strictly implemented. Also, with an appropriate amendment the second rung of appeal, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, ought to be removed, thereby bringing finality to the litigation sooner. Also, if pre-litigation mediation is made compulsory in family matters pertaining to siblings or spouses, it would go a long way in resolving family matters amicably and quickly.


Finally, there is no substitute for the use of technology to end delays. While several courts have made the cause lists and court orders available on the Internet, the Delhi high court is probably one of the first courts in the world that has two full-fledged e-courts. An overarching legislation to provide for time-bound introduction of e-courts around the country and appropriate budgetary allocation for the same would ensure the speedy and uniform implementation of technology to courts in India.


If the adage "justice delayed is justice denied" is used less to lament the abysmal state of the legal system and more like a legal maxim compulsory to adhere to, we may move closer to actualising the constitutional promise of justice — social, economic and political — for all.


- Nandita Rao, an activist and lawyer, has beenpractising at the Delhi high court since 1998









While Air-India's present management team might be patting itself on the back by claiming an improvement in performance, indeed offering it as a step on the path to a turnaround, basic issues will have to be addressed before the national carrier comes even remotely close to being a viable entity. The problem is that there is now just so much wrong with the airline that a 13 per cent growth in the number of passengers carried or a 23 per cent growth in revenue from last year would be meaningless without a realistic assessment of the burden its books carry and the cost of that burden. Most important, the airline needs several successive years of substantial ~ even huge ~ profits before it can wipe out the losses it has accumulated on its books. And there is nothing in the just-released feel-good statistics offered up by the airline to suggest it has become profitable. Or that it will become so in the near future.


Air India's problem is that it is shackled to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in a manner that private carriers never would be. Indeed, a parliamentary panel has recorded how for reasons never satisfactorily explained, Air India was forced to give up several profitable routes, only to see those routes taken up by private Indian or international airlines. There have been several other decisions ~ many of them taken after 2004 when the present incumbent took charge as Minister ~ that have contributed significantly to the huge losses of the airlines. A three percentage point increase in the passenger load factor from recession-hit 2009 to relatively-buoyant 2010 doesn't come close to solving the airline's problems. Two simple tests should prove the point. Compare fares of non low-cost carriers on any travel website for economy class travel on almost any domestic or international sector where Air India operates. Almost invariably, Air India is the most expensive, and therefore the least attractive. Why should it be so? Does someone want that it be so? Next, try making a seamless booking involving flights on the erstwhile Indian Airlines domestic network and the Air India international network on the airline website. And ask yourself why nearly four years after the two airlines merged, the website refers to former IA services as code-share flights. Air India has several committed officials and employees, but as long as its growth is stifled by ministerial fiat, it will continue to flounder. And no amount of papering over will change this grim truth.




THE West Bengal Governor might have used the language of understatement when he urged students to "stick to the democratic path during union elections". Nonetheless, in his address to the Jadavpur University convocation, he has effectively put campuses on alert amidst the bonfire of sanity ~ the murder of one student in Howrah, the virtual blinding of another in Kolkata and the severe assault on yet another in Burdwan. Indeed, the mayhem in recent weeks recalls the killing of a professor during a college student union election in Ujjain. Action was taken against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists only after the BJP's central leadership intervened. In Bengal no less, the state's response doesn't match the enormity of the violence in which the CPI-M and Trinamul Congress are engaged with competitive frenzy. Intriguingly muted has the been the latter's response to charges of involvement.

The current state of affairs goes beyond what the Governor calls "gheraos on a regular basis". In relative terms, a gherao is a mild form of protest; at worst a pressure tactic. What certain campuses in Bengal have witnessed in recent weeks is lumpenisation of the mortal variety. The atmosphere in colleges becomes increasingly volatile, and widespread suspicions about the involvement of outsiders are not wholly unfounded. The students are being reduced to pawns and may even have been assigned a secondary role by off-campus lumpens on either side of the divide. The anxiety to capture the unions is only incidental, a perceived democratic exercise that has been overshadowed by the murderous muscle-flexing. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that human life scarcely counts in the reckoning of either party. It is the increasing infiltration of outsiders on union election day that must be checked ~ by the authorities and the students in conjunction with the police. Though theoretically, the Governor is right when he asserts that "students' security should be their own responsibility". The fact of the matter is that certain chilling symptoms of rural Bengal have afflicted the colleges. The lumpenisation of student politics has assumed brutal proportions. Anarchy may not be too many steps away.




REGULAR users of the Delhi Metro would not be elated at reports that work on Phase III ~ a 65-km expansion ~ could commence at the start of the next financial year. For as the calendar year drew to a close it was apparent there would be no early end to the over-crowding woes resulting from Phase II nearing completion. Nobody can deny that in just eight years the DMRC has worked a near-miracle, revolutionised public transport in the Capital. Nobody can also deny a distinct deterioration in the quality of construction activity and operational efficiency. It is not just frequent technical glitches that irk, there are growing suspicions that the planners never anticipated the popularity the trains would achieve. Evidence of that being trains so full that marshals have to push passengers deeper into the carriages so that the automatic doors close ~ little imagination is required to understand how bad conditions are inside. What is scary is the huge build-up of passengers on platforms, particularly on the underground sections. A stampede-catastrophe is on the cards for the marshals can do no more than ensure queues before the train arrives, once the crowd surges forward they are helpless. To iterate the lack of civic sense in the Capital is no alibi, local norms ought to have been "factored in" to the planning. That the problem assumed its disgusting dimensions after the lines were extended to Noida and Gurgaon confirms the folly of the expansion phobia.


The introduction of six-car trains is only theoretical relief, it will take years before they become the norm. There are, as yet, no signs some of trains commencing their runs from the main changeover points: Central Secretariat, Connaught Place (Rajiv Chowk ~ only the Metro knows CP by that sycophantic name) and Kashmiri Gate. The runs from Dwarka-Noida and Guragon-Jahangirpuri are so long that the trains are full when they reach an interchange point ~ Phase III could stretch them further.

It certainly is "professional" to look ahead, but with the Sarita Vihar-Badapur section, the Kirti Nagar-Inderlok link and the airport express line all behind schedule (the DMRC once took pride in making a mockery of target dates), prudence suggests a period of consolidation. The mindset must shift from expansion to giving the paying passenger a fair deal. Over-ambition must not sour the Metro dream.








America's first Black President, Barack Obama, who started as the great coloured hope of the Third World is by general assessment unlikely to win his second term in the election of 2012. His ratings have plummeted. Two factors anger the American voter. One is the troubled US economy; the other is the war in Afghanistan which has trapped US soldiers in its quagmire. It seems unlikely that in the time left to him Obama can turn the economy around. But if he can successfully terminate the war in Afghanistan he might pull off a victory. Can he?

There are signs that he just might. The US has announced a troop withdrawal six months from now starting 11 July. By 2014 there is commitment to achieve a total military exit from Afghanistan. Vice-President Joseph Biden has claimed that the American troops withdrawal in July 2011 will be more than a token reduction. What lies behind such American confidence? There are a number of hopeful signs indicating a possible in the Af-Pak region.The big game changer is of course TAPI, the Trans-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline starting from Turkmenistan. The agreement to construct it has already been signed by the four governments involved. Negotiations preceding the agreement were so hush-hush that even well-informed Pakistan scribes were caught napping. The usually well-informed daily Dawn from Karachi editorially described TAPI as a pipe dream and placed its faith on the Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline coming through. The future may stand this projection on its head. TAPI may well emerge sooner than people think. The Iran gas pipeline idea may wither away.

The crucial factor for TAPI to emerge is achieving Af-Pak peace and security because the pipeline will be laid through Taliban territory. There are three most important insurgent leaders in the Af-Pak region. They are Mullah Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani. All three are in the process of being neutralized.
As mentioned earlier through these columns, there was indication that the Pakistan army and General Kayani were re-appraising their Afghanistan strategy. It was written that General Kayani could be distancing himself from the present policy of achieving strategic depth in Afghanistan.  Doing that would entail withdrawing ISI support to the Pakistan-based Taliban as well as the Haqqani outfit. Well, some moves in that direction seem to be afoot. Last fortnight the US was considering labelling the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani outfit as top terrorists. Last week inside Pakistan Nasiruddin Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin and son of ageing founder of Haqqani outfit, Jalaluddin, was arrested. This indicates that the Pakistan army has got cracking. It has announced that it will start operations in North Waziristan, the heart of insurgent activity in Pakistan, at the appropriate time.

Mullah Omar, it was repeatedly written, sought the exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan and was prepared to distance the Taliban from Al Qaida and its global terror agenda. It was also known that behind the curtain dialogue with sections of the Taliban had been proceeding. That some headway on this has been achieved became clear from President Hamid Karzai's statement last Friday that he would welcome Turkey's help to host peace talks with the Taliban. This statement indicates that time may have come to convert a silent dialogue into open and formal negotiations.

The third important leg of Af-Pak insurgency, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami group, is the one most explicit in its support for peace and the TAPI project. The Hizb-e-Islami has said it is ready to cooperate in implementing the USD 7.6 billion project as it is in the interest of the people of Afghanistan. 
In an e-mailed statement in Pashto released by its official spokesman it said: "Hizb-e-Islami asks its members not to allow armed groups to harm the project. Only those will create hurdles for the project who are servants of aliens and are enemies of the countrymen and the country." However, the group promised to continue its armed resistance against foreign troops until they withdraw. "We only hit those who rain bombs on Afghans and who have occupied Afghanistan," the statement said. The statement criticized Iran and Russia for opposing the project because they did not want Central Asian gas to be transported through Afghanistan. The statement slammed the Pakistan government for adopting policies that "favour" Iran and Russia.  

It is amidst these developments that the timing of Robert Blackwill's proposal to withdraw all US troops from areas inhabited by Pashtuns should be viewed. If Pakistan's present policy of achieving military strategic depth in Afghanistan is being revised, the role of Pakistan's Pashtuns in its tribal belt becomes crucial. That is why the tallest Pashtun leader in Pakistan, Afsandayar Wali Khan, needs close watching. He might well play the most crucial role in bringing peace to the subcontinent. He heads the National Awami Party. He is the grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. His father, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, was the party's first President. Wali Khan did his schooling in Doon.  He wrote a book, Facts are Facts: The untold story of India's Partition, which roundly criticized Pakistan's leaders for the Partition. Indeed, that book inspired this scribe to write his own book on the subject which roundly criticized the Congress leaders for the Partition. It is not without significance that after a fierce debate in his assembly, Afsandayar succeeded in renaming NWFP province as Pakhtunkhwa Khyber. The very name suggests the cultural unity of Pakistan's Pashtuns with their brothers in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.  

The countdown to Af-Pak peace may have well begun. Peace in Af-Pak could initiate peace across the subcontinent. Before July, when the first phased US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan begins, things ought to start moving. India is in disarray. It urgently needs a government with its house in order. The foreign office should start devising its strategy. For a start it might get in touch with Afsandayar Wali Khan.


 The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist






This year was one of natural calamities, when Nature showed its power and humanity across the world had to cope with the consequences. The year started with the 12 January earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 223,000, made two million homeless, with widespread cholera now one of its many effects.
Earthquakes also struck in many other areas, including Chile and China (April), Sumatra (April and October, accompanied by a tsunami that killed hundreds) and Iran (December).


There was also extensive flooding. The most devastating was in Pakistan, affected 20 million people and a fifth of the land area, causing US$10-20 billion damage. Floods and mudslides also affected China (with over 4,000 deaths), India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia, Venezuela and other countries.
There were other weather extremes, with a big heat wave in Russia (killing 15,000) and forest fires, and the heavy snow in Europe and blizzards in the American East Coast as the year ended, disrupting plane flights.
The most notable man-made environmental disaster this year was the spilling of 172 million gallons of oil by a BP offshore rig into the Gulf of Mexico.


Worldwide economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters were $222 billion in 2010, more than triple the $63 billion in 2009, according to SwissRe, the reinsurance firm. Altogether 260,000 people died, the highest since 1976.

According to scientists, climate change made worse the extreme weather events. The severity of the calamities is Nature's way of warning humanity that the worse is to come unless it changes its way of life and production.
2010 was predicted to be among the one or two warmest years in the world since records were kept. "The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion," said Greg Holland of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, US. "It is clear we can expect more of these kinds of damaging events unless society's emissions of heat-trapping gases are sharply reduced," according to John Holden, the White House's science adviser. Both were quoted in the Associated Press article "2010's World Gone Wild".


The turbulence in the Earth's climate was reflected in the roller-coaster climate talks during 2010, which tried to recover from the disaster of the Copenhagen conference of 2009.

Developed countries succeeded in having their way at the Cancun climate conference in December, preparing the way to downgrade their commitments whilst cajoling developing countries to upgrade their actions. But the battle for adequate climate actions will start anew next year.


Also turbulent were the developments in the world economy. The recovery that looked promising in 2009 became uneven in 2010. Most shocking was the sovereign debt crisis that engulfed Greece and Ireland and threatened to spread to Portugal, Spain and beyond, and even raised the question of the euro's viability.
The rapid switch in many European countries from fiscal stimulus to extreme austerity policies also began to dampen the prospects of global recovery. In the United States, the Obama administration is hindered from further fiscal stimulus by the Republicans.

The Federal Reserve is resorting to pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banks. But critics predict most of this will be transferred through investors to abroad, rather than loans to the productive sectors.
In contrast to these problems in the West, the engines of growth continued to work quite well in the developing countries, especially in Asia. China and India remained in the lead, with Asean countries doing moderately well. Their challenge is to avoid inflation and new speculative bubbles resulting from large capital inflows, and to maintain growth even as Western demand for their exports slows.

During the year, many analysts raised the issue (or for some, the concern) that the centre of gravity of the world economy and eventually politics was shifting perceptibly from the West towards emerging developing countries, particularly China. This theme became the topic of several new books and numerous magazine articles.


Hundreds of billions of dollars more were spent in 2010 to rescue fallen banks, companies and countries, especially in Europe. But financial institutions seemed to reassert their authority, with investors calling the tune as to which countries' bonds to pull out of (thus causing panic) and which countries to place money in.
The profits of the banks are soaring, and bankers are fighting to restore their year-end bonuses, causing a skeptical public to wonder how quickly the situation has gone back to "business as usual", and whether the correct lessons have been learnt from the financial crisis.

the star/ann







In the government school where I studied, fans were not switched on from November to February, or maybe, March. This was the government regulation, and those days, fans were not used in any government offices in Bengal during the period. Air-conditioners were rare, and were savoured only in cinemas. 

Although I can recall some warm November days, we didn't need fans in November. Compared to that, the November this year was unusually hot and humid. Global warming is no longer a subject of academic discussions. We are living it and making it happen. Last month, we read weather forecasts in the morning, fumed and fretted through the day, and switched on our ACs at night. 


But it all changed on the first day of December. The morning was ushered in by a cool breeze blowing in from the north. There was a real nip in the air; a haze hung over the lake in front of our house. The park around it ~ a place packed with morning-walkers every day ~ was almost empty. Only a few intrepid men and women had come out in sweaters and scarves. Being highly susceptible to cold, I take pride in the fact that I am the first person in the city to put on a sweater every winter. That pride got dented. 

Kolkata is perhaps one of the best places to be in during its brief winter. The sun is bright and crisp, one doesn't smell sweat in buses and the metro; people are less aggressive on the roads. One feels like meeting an old friend after a long time. 

In my childhood too, winter was the happy season. It meant visits to the Botanical Garden and the Zoo, a picnic at Baruipur, circus shows at Park Circus. The icing on the cake was the annual cricket test match at Eden Gardens. 


After we outgrew the zoological and botanical gardens, for some of us, Saturday afternoons were reserved for long walks through quiet, spotlessly clean neighbourhoods in Alipore or Ballygunge. Some of the lanes had exotic names like Lovelock Place, a narrow alley with quaint bungalows on either side, where I smoked my first cigarette under the expert guidance of my friend D. It was D again who handed over the first girlie magazine to me on a deserted road. 

However, our walks ended at a less carnal destination. We would spend hours in the National Library reading room, which had a lovely section for young readers. Another favourite haunt was the Birla Technological Museum in Gurusaday Road that had lots of working models to fascinate us. If we felt lazy, we just stretched our legs and watched cricket matches in the CCFC ground or Deshapriya Park.  

We went to all these places on Bus No. 11, as we were fond of saying. Walking nine or ten kilometres was considered perfectly normal those days. And there were roads on which you could walk. 

Sadly, footpaths have been stolen from city dwellers. Whether it is Hyderabad, Bangalore, or Kolkata, walkways have been hacked mercilessly to widen roads for the ever-increasing vehicles. The footpaths are so narrow and badly paved that even for a short distance, one has to take a taxi or auto rickshaw. In Bengal, thanks to competitive populism of political parties, hawkers have taken over our pavements. The situation is worse in small towns, where roads and railway platforms have been turned into bazaars. 

On the one hand, governments lecture us on reducing carbon emission. On the other, they make it impossible for people to walk or use bicycles in cities. I don't know of an Indian metropolis that has earmarked space as pedestrian or cycling zones. Now there is a promise to turn Kolkata into London. Even if one ignores the colonial hangover implicit in the promise, one must say, "We don't aspire so much. Please give us back our pavements, and Kolkata will be happy to be Kolkata." 






When the sixth International Tea Day was celebrated on 15 December this year, the focus was on housing and land rights for plantation workers in the context of the restructuring of plantations. Tea workers are mostly adivasis and Dalits who were brought to the plantations as indentured labourers during the colonial period and have been kept along with families in a state of virtual bondage. This was done to ensure regular supply of labour.

Workers were made to reside in labour lines which were designated areas of residence in the plantations. Each of the labour lines was under strict surveillance and the mobility of workers was monitored. Those who tried to escape were punished. So, by providing housing, planters were able to strengthen their control over the workforce.


Women have been the main workforce in the plantations. Traditionally migration of families was encouraged so that children could be kept as reserve labour force. Since the plantations were located in remote areas where there were no alternative livelihood options, labourers depended entirely on the plantation management. Planters prevented them from doing any work other than on the plantations. 

However, for the present workers, these gardens are homestead land. Their lives are intricately linked with the tea plantations. They have worked here for generations and have contributed to its economy. Having lost all links with their native place from where they migrated, they have not enjoyed the benefits of land reforms. The government of India while enacting land reforms exempted tea plantations and they were never broken up, distributed or shared with those who cultivated it. Tea workers remain the tillers but their right over the land has never been acknowledged.

Benefits from government schemes such as India Awas Yojna and National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme remain limited. For example, the Indira Awas Yojna can be used only by those who own land. But tea plantations are owned by planters who have the lease for a 30-year period. Even the government cannot intervene and redistribute the land. 

Plantations continue to lack the basic needs of water, sanitation, electricity and other civic amenities. The Plantation Act of 1951 made it mandatory for plantation workers to have right to a decent wage, health, housing and education. This has not helped to improve the condition of workers. Exploitation of workers continues as there are several gaps in the implementation of the Act. Moreover, the provisions of the PLA are applicable only to permanent workers. The new workers being taken in by plantations are mostly casual and contract labourers who are descendants of original workers. When PLA was enacted, there were fewer workers. During the past five decades, the number has gone up. 

Post-independence in 1957, when the Indian Labour Conference put forth the concept of a need-based minimum wage and subsequently the Central Wage Board in the tea plantations was formed, the planters objected to the formula adopted by the ILC and argued that employment in plantations was family-based. As a result, wages in plantations have remained depressed. A few years back, when the crisis hit the plantations owing to the fall in global tea prices, wage levels of the workers fell shockingly low. 

The condition of workers is worse in the case of closed and abandoned tea plantations. Starvation deaths have been reported from several closed tea gardens. According to government data, in 2007 there were about 33 abandoned tea gardens employing almost 30,000 workers. The government announced a rehabilitation package which included restructuring of outstanding bank dues,  fresh working capital with an interest subsidy from government, waiver of outstanding loans dues to the Tea Board and settlement of provident fund dues in instalments. Once the accounts of these gardens are regularised, they will become eligible for term loans under the Special Purpose Tea Fund and subsidy for machinery items under the Quality Upgradation Scheme of Tea Board. The government has also notified a support scheme for reopening of closed or abandoned tea gardens to attract new investments. The government of India is also exploring the possibilities of reorganising the tea plantations. According to information, the government has asked for inputs from experts but no documents have come so far. Studies looking into all this may be conducted. Though information on this is not shared with trade unions, the issue is sensitive and trade unions are required to take a position. 

The author is general secretary,  United Trade Union Congress





HOME TRUTHS                 


The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, prefers to keep his copybook as spotless as the white clothes he often wears. Alas, he has only himself to blame if now only his clothes are without any stain. His record as the home minister stands defaced by ugly black marks. This is because of the letter he has written to the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. It has nothing to do with the veracity or otherwise of the various charges that he has levelled against the government of West Bengal and the ruling party of the state, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The tone and the language of the letter are utterly unacceptable not only in formal communication but also in civilized society. It is amazing that Mr Chidambaram could choose to use a word like harmard in a formal letter to a chief minister of a state. It exhibits nothing other than Mr Chidambaram's familiarity with words and terms that are not heard beyond the street level. He has allowed that to enter the government's vocabulary. In so doing, Mr Chidambaram has done himself a disservice and has brought disgrace to the entire process of communication between the Central and the state governments.


There are other reasons for describing Mr Chidambaram's missive as unacceptable. His letter is openly and crudely partisan. It echoes, sometimes even in the choice of epithets, the various allegations voiced by his cabinet colleague, Mamata Banerjee, who is leading the charge of the anti-Left brigade in West Bengal. Mr Chidambaram occupies one of the most important ministries in the Union cabinet. He carries with him certain constitutional responsibilities. One of these is that he should have independent access to ground intelligence that is not contaminated by the political squabbles prevailing in any given area. The timing of his letter suggests that the home minister did not live up to this responsibility. The letter was sent a few days after Ms Banerjee spoke in a public rally against the activities of the armed cadre of the CPI(M). It is difficult to rule out the timing and the language as sheer coincidence.


With certain remarkable exceptions — the name of India's first prime minister comes to mind — the chair is always more important than the individual sitting on it. It is always the duty of the individual to uphold the dignity of the chair. Mr Chidambaram has failed to do this. His intemperate language, his despatch of the letter through ordinary speed post and the failure of his office to keep the contents of the letter confidential have brought indignity to the home ministry. In this sense, the real battle is not between Mr Chidambaram and Mr Bhattacharjee but between the former and the government of India.









Temperatures below freezing point in winter are nothing new for the people of Darjeeling. Neither are broken promises. Subash Ghisingh took the people for a ride when he promised them Gorkhaland and ultimately settled for a life of comfort for himself. Bimal Gurung, Roshan Giri and other leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha broke away from him, forced him out of the hills, and told the people that they were their real messiah and will not stop at anything less than a separate state. Now the Morcha seems prepared to shelve the agitation and settle for an autonomous council, which the state government had been insisting on for a long time, and which it was not prepared to accept. Of course, the GJM leaders will say that the proposed council will only be an interim arrangement and Gorkhaland still remains their goal. But there are unlikely to be many takers for this story. The Morcha leaders cannot have missed the fact that Ghisingh had also said the same thing while ensconcing himself in Lal Kothi, and then forgotten all about it. So it is yet another winter of discontent and resignation for the Nepalese, Bhutiyas and Lepchas.


Right now, they can only keep their fingers crossed about what shape the interim council will take. Whatever the plans, Siliguri and parts of the Dooars will have to be kept out of it because of objections not only by the state government but also by the Congress which, with the elections round the corner, cannot afford to be blamed for conceding more than is strictly required. Even the member of parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jaswant Singh, is unlikely to be of much help as his leader, L.K. Advani, had earlier said that he was against a new state on ethnic lines on the borders. The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad also does not want any interference in its areas from the hills. So it seems certain that the GJM will have to forget about an expanded territory. People may well ask — what was the renewed agitation all about then?


Considerable relief


What is particularly worrying for the GJM is that it no longer calls the shots in the hills, something Ghisingh did when he came to terms with Calcutta. The murder of Madan Tamang has galvanized the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League into action, and it has by its side not just the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists but also the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). To make matters worse for the GJM, Ghisingh has began to flex his muscles after lying low in Siliguri for a long time. Little wonder then that the GJM wants the interim council to be an appointed body, with itself playing a big role in the appointments, rather than an elected one.


Meanwhile, there are signs that normality is creeping in. When the inspector of Darjeeling sadar police station arrested 24 youths from Chowrasta for smoking in public, he was doing his duty. But it is doubtful whether he could have done that even six months back, when any such administrative action would have been met with a bandh call. The change is welcome — it indicates that the GJM is not sure about its sway over the people. The hill people are also becoming vocal against bandhs at the drop of a hat and at the prolonged spells of forced government non-functioning that have only brought them misery.


But that's about the people in general. It cannot be anybody's claim that all have lost interest in Gorkhaland. For one thing, agitations in support of it have always brought personal profits to those who join them. What is more important, leaders of local outfits would not know what to do if the demand is totally given up. So permanent peace will continue to elude the hills even if increased autonomy ends the present impasse. For the time being, of course, that will be of considerable relief.







Enemies within can land a government in worse trouble than those without. A weak and divided Opposition may have made Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, too complacent to worry about his own team. The huge corruption scandal that has now hit his government tests his skills as both a politician and an administrator. Whether the money involved in the corruption case amounts to Rs 1,000 crore or more is irrelevant. There is enough evidence to suggest that the allegation has a strong basis. Mr Gogoi has admitted as much by handing over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. But that action alone may not clear the state government's name. Nor does Mr Gogoi's responsibility end there. Allegations have been made about the involvement of several members of his cabinet in the scandal. The chief minister must send out the signal that he is not anxious to protect his tainted colleagues. More important, he needs to convince his critics that the swindling of public funds is not a matter of the ruling Congress's internal politics.


In his two terms in office, Mr Gogoi has done much to improve things in Assam. The state's law and order is a lot better than what it was during the tenure of the government led by the Asom Gana Parishad. The chief minister can also legitimately take credit for the peace talks he initiated with several rebel groups. The strategies of the Union government may have helped him, but Mr Gogoi has played his part well in persuading the leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom to join the peace initiatives. It is in the interest of not just his own image but also of the state that he should come clean on the corruption issue. Also, the fact that it involves an autonomous council in the North Cachar Hills is politically significant. Assam has several such councils that supposedly uphold self-rule for ethnic minorities. Stealing funds meant for the economic welfare of such people is a betrayal of their hope in the benefits of self-rule and democracy.









The end of the year is the traditional time to exchange gifts and goodwill. Gifts are an essential aspect of the spirit of charity. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians spelled it out: "and now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity". Aeschylus had earlier coined the word, philanthropy, from a combination of love and humanity.


In March, 2010, according to Wikipedia, the Indian dollar billionaires numbered 69, compared to 52 last year. India is second only to the United States of America, which has 403. The recent economic fortunes of India have brought untold wealth to certain individuals, who unlike the panwallah millionaire of popular legend, are also not shy about flaunting it — like Mukesh Ambani's Mumbai house, 27 storeys high and worth £630m, ostentatious mega-cost weddings, Bollywood extravagances and the Indian Premier cricket league. The 'brand value' of sporting celebrities, who earn over a crore of rupees per commercial photo-shoot, is gleefully reported in our media, as is the soaring market value of IIT graduates and IT personalities. On October 28, 2010, the launch in India took place of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 car at the cost of Rs 16 crore each, and the company aims to sell 60 of these vehicles here in the first year alone.


According to Forbes, the combined net worth of India's 100 richest people rose to $300 billion this year from $276 billion last year, driven by the country's booming economy and a rally in the stock market. Mukesh Ambani tops the list, followed by the steel baron, Lakshmi Mittal, who retained his second position with a net worth of $26.1 billion. Premji's wealth increased to $17.6 billion from $14.9 billion last year, taking him to the third spot. Fourth on the list were the Essar Energy brothers, Shashi and Ravi Ruia, with a net worth of $15 billion, bolstered by the company's initial public offering in the United Kingdom, which raised $1.85 billion. Mukesh's younger brother, Anil, lost the third spot on the list to Premji of Wipro and fell to a lowly sixth position. Mayavati, who owned next to nothing when she launched herself into politics, now admits she is worth Rs 88 crore. Much lesser known Indians are buying assets abroad — for example, Venky's Chicken, hardly a name to trip off the tongue in India, purchased Blackburn Rovers, a premier division football club in the UK, for $37 million and debts of $30 million. Hardly chicken-feed.


Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan footballer of the last World Cup, was brought to Calcutta only a few weeks after the World Cup, and the Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson, appeared for a few fleeting days in an Indian reality show for Rs 2.5 crore. This is just a glimpse of the huge amounts available in India in the entertainment industry.


Yet, with all this loose change sloshing about in India, where is the support for education, the arts, theatre, music and other good causes? We admire the love of their fellow-men shown by people like Steve Waugh who come rarely to our country but take the time and trouble to raise money altruistically for a good cause here. To stave off the implied criticism of our own celebrities, we are told that they are also in the habit of doing good works, but prefer to do so anonymously, presumably not for any reasons of modesty but to avoid the attentions of the taxman. So we are never told where and what their charitable involvements are, though we are vaguely aware of their lavish donations to temples, gurus and hospitals that bear their name and collect fees from patients though they have charitable windows of opportunity, probably again to avail themselves of tax benefits.


Yes, our dignitaries and celebrities participate in runs, walks and other fund-raising events, but nothing as exhausting as the (so far) 12 long-distance walks of Ian Botham, including one of a 900 mile one-end- of-the-country-to-the-other, to raise £12 million for leukemia and lymphoma research. Nelson Mandela, who has no shortage of attractive engagements and invitations, chose to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2008 as the main attraction for a star-studded concert for charity in London's Hyde Park. The former World Cup Italian footballer, Roberto Baggio, commands nothing like the income owned by Bollywood stars or Indian cricketers, but he has been voted the winner of an award in 2010, not just by Italians, but by former winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his personal efforts for charity, for Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom, for hospitals, for the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and to combat bird 'flu.


Where are the endowments by our Indian plutocrats to universities and institutes of higher learning and research? Funding by charitable donation is taken for granted in the US, whether in politics or in academia. It is interesting to observe that the contributions of Indian corporate capitalists to educational institutions outside India, especially in the UK and US, such as Oxbridge, Stanford, Cornell and Harvard in recent years is hundreds and probably thousands of times higher than their contributions to universities and centres of learning in India. One Indian corporate giant has given $50 million for a building in an Ivy League university. This presumably betrays a lack of confidence in the Indian educational structure.


It is also particularly galling when leading universities in the West come calling cap-in-hand to India seeking donations, to this country that is the poorest low- income country in the G-20. It is a shameful irony for the West when it seeks a bail-out for its tertiary sector from poverty-stricken India. It is equally shameful, this time for India, that there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of Western 'volunteers' working in India, often with irregular visa status, in our educational and non-governmental organizations, who seem to look abroad for both manpower and money, when there is such abundance of both in India.


In the UK, about 1 per cent of the GDP is spent in charitable donations, and in the US this figure rises to about 2 per cent. In the US, households with an income of $200,000 a year or above give 7.4 per cent of their money to charity, and in the UK, 1.2 per cent. Comparable figures for the Indian well-off are not available, but would make them ashamed if they were capable of any feelings. Andrew Carnegie gave $7 billion in today's money to build the Carnegie Hall in 1901. The Sainsbury family donated the magnificent Sainsbury wing of London's National Gallery. Warren Buffet has made the world's largest individual donation of $31 billion to charity; Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, are busy spending their money on fighting malaria and river blindness far from the shores of the US. Leonard Blavatnik gave £75 million to Oxford University. J.K. Rowling, who once lived on welfare benefits in Scotland, and Elton John of humble origins, are leading philanthropists, betraying none of the insecurities and family concerns that apparently prevent Indian first-generation millionaires from reaching into their pockets for charitable good causes.


Gates and Buffet recently launched a 'Giving Pledge' to get their fellows in the league of the wealthy in the US to donate half of their fortunes to charity. One may well conjecture what would be the outcome of such an appeal to the Indians who figure on the rich list. But before they hasten, led by the Reddy brothers, Madhu Koda and Lalit Modi to convey their regrets to Gates and Buffet, they would do well to remember the advice of Francis Bacon that money is like manure — it is only useful when it is spread around.


The author is former foreign secretary of India



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





The failure of the launch of Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota on Saturday is a major setback and has disappointed the scientific community and the nation. The GSLV F06 was expected to put in space the satellite GSAT-5P which would have boosted the country's telecommunication, television relay and many other services. The failure of the launch and the loss of the satellite has resulted in major financial loss too. It has caused much concern because it was the second consecutive failure of a GSLV flight, after an earlier crash in April this year. The concern has also been compounded by the fact that four GSLV flights, out of a total of seven, have failed in the last nine years.

ISRO officials have explained that the command and control system in the first stage of the vehicle failed and the reasons for the failure are to be pinpointed by a committee to be set up soon. In the last failure the problem was with the cryogenic engine which was in the third stage. This time a Russian cryogenic engine was used and the fault occurred in the first stage of the rocket. The failed flight had actually been postponed after a snag had been detected. It is now for ISRO to find out what went wrong, rectify the problem and ensure that there are no other snags to affect the working of the GSLV series. The vehicle has a crucial role in India's future space programme and it is necessary to get complete mastery over it. ISRO authorities have said that the failure will not impact the plans to boost the telecom or other services or projects like the Chandrayan-2. But there are doubts that some plans may be delayed. It is also likely that the failure will affect India's reputation as a space power with reliable technical expertise. That may have a commercial fall-out.

However, there is no need to lose heart. ISRO has come back strongly from setbacks in the past also. All other space powers have had similar failures. What is important is the ability to find out the reasons for the failure and take steps to avoid them in future. ISRO should also use this as an opportunity to study its internal processes and see if its systems of oversight and supervision at all levels are working without any scope for a hitch or an error.








Six years after the giant Indian Ocean tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, many of those who lost their homes and livelihood are yet to be rehabilitated. Over 8,000 people were killed in Tamil Nadu, which bore the brunt of the tsunami in India. Over a lakh were rendered homeless in Nagapattinam district alone. Relief and reconstruction work in Cuddalore has been widely lauded. The government and NGOs here worked well to provide accommodation to the homeless and to help rebuild livelihoods. Around 40 per cent of the women who were affected by the tsunami are said to have become entrepreneurs. However, there are sections that failed to receive adequate support. 

It is well-known that caste considerations played an important role in distribution of aid. Relief was provided to dominant caste people in the affected villages, ignoring Dalits and others lower down in the social hierarchy. This discrimination persisted in the provision of housing and assistance for rebuilding livelihoods as well. 

Consequently, in the tsunami-hit districts Dalits either live in temporary shelters or in hutments located in areas that suffer annual flooding. It is time the government intervened to set right the discrimination that has denied them support for six years.

Is the world better prepared to face a tsunami than it was six years ago? Marginally better, it seems. People are more aware today of the devastation a tsunami can bring. However, alert systems have rarely worked when tsunamis struck Indonesia in more recent years. Equipment has been put in place at enormous cost. But in several instances, crucial parts were found to be not working, thus failing to alert when crisis struck. An important shortcoming in the alert system has been the dissemination of information. In Indonesia, authorities have not been able to spread the word about an impending tsunami to remote areas.

India has been spared major tsunamis since 2004. A tsunami warning centre has been up and running since 2007. Alerts have been issued and villages even evacuated when tsunamis have struck Indonesia. However, disaster experts say that evacuation is not fast enough. A part of the reason is that the public does not co-operate. Many villagers are reportedly reluctant to leave behind their cattle. This is foolhardy. A sustained public awareness campaign needs to be undertaken.







If the price rise is due to production shortfall, how does one explain the near doubling of the price within a few days?


The sharply rising onion prices have raised the suspicion that speculators are manipulating a shortage situation.

First, a few facts. In retail markets, onion prices have soared from Rs 10-11 per kg in June to as high as Rs 70-80 on Dec 21. Even more significantly, prices zoomed by 50-100 per cent in some markets in the course of 3-4 days before stabilising at around Rs 50 per kg after the government announced some measures to bring down prices.

The steps include raising the minimum export price by more than 100 per cent followed by a total ban on export of onions 'until further notice,' allowing duty-free imports of onions (against the earlier 5 per cent import duty plus 4 per cent countervailing duty), government agencies selling onions at half the market price at the retail outlets in Delhi and raiding some godowns to discourage  'hoarding and speculation.'


According to government spokespersons, the unseasonal heavy rains have damaged onion crops by some 40 per cent of normal production in Maharashtra and by 15-20 per cent in Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Even if the immediate reason behind rising prices is weather-related production shortfall, how does one explain the near doubling of the price within a few days? Is hoarding by big traders a major culprit?

Theoretically, under certain conditions, speculators collectively can be substantially better off by hoarding. Suppose, total production is 100 and the current price is Rs 5. So, total sales revenue is Rs 100x5 = Rs 500. The big traders/middlemen hoard 20 per cent and hence sell 80. If the demand for onions is not sensitive to price rise (in economists' terminology, the price elasticity of demand is sufficiently less than 1), price goes up to, say, Rs 7. Sales revenue with hoarding is then Rs 80x7 = Rs 560 which is more than without hoarding. The hoarders will end up being better off even if the price drops to zero when they dishoard in future. Thus, traders can be net gainers by hoarding.

Of course, for such a thing to happen, the traders must be large enough to exercise control over the market price and demand should be relatively insensitive to price rise. A small trader, by withholding supplies from the market, will not be able to raise the price but will only sell less quantities, earning less revenue. He clearly becomes worse off.

A theoretical possibility does not prove, however, that such a thing has actually happened in the case of onions. But, given that the actual farmers have not shared in the exorbitant price hike (as media reports indicate) it strengthens the suspicion that big traders/middlemen have manipulated price by hoarding and have made a quick buck before the government took any counteraction. Further, the fact that wholesale prices immediately dropped by some 20 per cent after the government announced countermeasures lends further credence to the hoarding hypothesis.

Better framing practices

Regarding remedies, the long-term solution to the persistently higher rate of food price inflation (including that of onions) has to come by raising productivity of land in agriculture through more investment in irrigation, higher yielding seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, GM-crops (where possible and safe) and better framing practices.

Given the fixed (even shrinking due to industrialisation and urbanisation) quantity of agricultural land and steadily rising urban and rural incomes in India growing at 8 per cent plus per annum, farmers would switch between crops in response to changing relative prices.

A high price of onions at one point may induce more production in the next season which may bring down the price of onions but by only raising the price of some other alternative crop whose production will fall. This kind of switching (economists call this 'cobweb cycle') would not have any significant impact on the overall food prices, unless productivity  improves which would benefit both producers and consumers.

More cold storage facility is urgently needed so that wastage of crops is minimised and more supplies reach the market.  Moreover, supplies to the market would be more evenly spread leading to greater stability of prices over the year. 

Exporting and importing is another mechanism to be used more readily to stabilise the prices. One criticism of the government could be that the government either does not have an effective early warning system or that it is very slow in reacting until a full-blown crisis develops.

According to media reports, despite warnings of a crop shortfall in early October, Nafed — the government importing agency — placed an import order for a mere 650 tonnes of onion from Pakistan and 2,000 tonnes from China. Now, commerce minister Anand Sharma is talking of a loss of one million tonnes of onion in Maharashtra alone.

Well-publicised shortage and big buying in a crisis situation immediately raises the global price which can be avoided by less publicised purchases from a number of sources spread over a period of time. In the present case, the onion price has already gone up by 20-30 per cent in Pakistan after the panic buying by India.

Onion from Pakistan (about 500 tonnes each day) is coming into India at a rate of around Rs 45 a kg. In that case, imports are not going to bring down the onion price below Rs 50. The real respite to consumers will have to wait till the new crops arrive in February.

(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM-Calcutta)








Lavish press conferences as also other periodical allurements have been a routine practice.


The exposure by magazines like 'Outlook' and 'Open' has triggered a new and vital discussion regarding the role of journalists and editors in formation of governments — that too in the interest of corporate giants. A woman lobbyist, who works both for Ambanis and Tatas, gains access to the corridors of government through contacts which editors have developed with political VIPs so much so that even the selection of the controversial A Raja as telecommunication minister in the Union cabinet has a link with the powerful lobby.

Birlas had a role in Independent struggle by backing Mahatma Gandhi. While Birlas' credentials need not be questioned, it may well be interpreted that Birlas' corporate activities were directly or indirectly encouraged by the then Nehru government.

Corporate sector since then assumed a special status in socio-economic life of the country and enjoyed cordial relations with subsequent governments. Monetary help by way of donations to political parties are known techniques and because of the donations those parties who come to power are inclined to extend their help in return.

Give and take

Whether donations to political parties should be continued or not has always been a matter of discussion in view of fair elections in our democracy. But no government or political party has so far been able to stop the process. If accepting cash by way of donations is considered fair, how can it be immoral or unfair to respond to expectations of the corporate sector whenever the sector tycoons influence both the political and administrative wings of the government?

The system of public relations and entrusting the task to competent men and charming women is also not a new phenomenon. Lavish press conferences with drinks and gifts as also other periodical allurements has been a routine practice. Neither Tatas, nor Ambanis nor any other corporate giants are free from such practices and cannot claim that they do not indulge in creating cordial relationship with political bosses or influential editors and journalists.

The current controversy should be viewed in a sequence. After the 'Adarsh' scam came into limelight the corruption in the corridors of government turned out to be a hot subject. In this background Ratan Tata exposed that some ministers demanded bribe of a few crores for clearing his airline project. Why he did not explain further by exposing the parties or ministers is perhaps a matter of strategy or he wanted to avoid further controversy. But his statement indirectly hinted that political bosses are corrupt and he is reluctant to be encouraging such corruption.

And then came the 'Outlook' and 'Open' with their exposure of tapes of dialogue between Tata and Nira Radia and editors and journalists. The tapes clearly hinted that Tatas cannot claim to be above any strategic technique to influence political power for corporate gains. The tapes indicate that whatever discussed is in a very friendly and routine manner without any tinge of guilt as if everything is fair in corporate affairs as it is in love and war. 

How one woman despite her expertise can work as a key person to create and influence policy matters for both the competitive corporate giants? This is also fair in corporate affairs.

Apart from influencing policy decisions the corporate giants have succeeded in influencing the mind-set of ministers. While gracing the position of a chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh has openly declared in both interviews and public speeches that government should run in a corporate style. What exactly is the corporate style and besides efficient management of money and men, what other qualities are attractive in corporate administration? Now in view of the new context, both the corporate giants and the ministers who are influenced by the corporate style of governance should come forward to let public know the plus points of corporate governance which should be followed in government administration.

This is necessary because the newly elected MLAs and MPs of almost all political parties are almost enticed by corporate PROs the moment they enter the state capitals or centre's capital. They are gradually tuned with the corporate style of living and working and they feel that whatever problems and difficulties the corporate sector is facing are much more important than those being faced by their home constituencies in urban and rural areas.

The reason why most of the development schemes or rehabilitation of dam-affected in rural areas are inordinately delayed may well be traced to the influence of the corporate sector which gains priority over other issues and difficulties being faced by the neglected sections of society or rural areas.







The nuisance continued with loud responses to the telephone enquires.


What's in a multi-speciality hospital? A high rise building with marble floors, ventilated for ample light and air, aluminum framed transparent windows fitted with Venetian blinds facilitating to allow the desired light, providing all the comforts needed by a customer ie a patient? And above all an assurance of application of the latest technical know-how coupled with devoted service, both by the medical and para medical wings? All this has come to symbolise a present-day multi specialty hospital alluding to a perfect destination for a medical tourist, a recent product of the Indian tourism industry.

A recent bout of illness of my daughter provided me an opportunity to be in one such multi specialty hospital as her attendant. I rejoiced at this unanticipated leisure with the comforts of a star hotel. On an enquiry with the concerned authority of the hospital I was ushered into a twin sharing medical ward where my daughter was to be accommodated.

The co-patient hailing from a neighbouring state was already three days old to the hospital. My daughter was shifted to the ward after the surgery. She was often moaning with pain. While this was the situation on one side of the screen serving as the inter-patient border, the scene on the other side was different. The post operation recuperating patient and her attendant were finding it difficult to pass time. The idiot box provided in the ward came handy to them. Oblivious to the inconvenience caused to us, the duo continually enjoyed the programme on the blurting TV set.

After seven in the evening the scenario changed. There was a continuous flow of visitors commencing from the appointed hour till the end of the closing hours at nine. During this interval of time the ward got converted into a fish market. The idiot box was an added spice. The nuisance continued till 10 in the night with loud responses to the telephone enquires and speedy recovery wishes from relatives and friends.

The transformation in the structure of the building and its clean environment along with comforts has utterly failed to bring in the needed change in the attitude of the people. There is a long long way to go before the deep rooted 'no concern for our fellow beings' attitude is substituted by 'utmost concern for our fellow beings,' a finer aspect of the western culture.






294 IPC


It appears that in India provision of Sec.294 IPC applies only to common people for whom there is no godfather. If a commoner is sitting in a garden with his or her girl/boy friend people will have objection. Some may telephone to police, some may kick them out from garden and some may scold them and give sermons on morality and celibacy also. These so called 'some' persons are like the Atlas who are caring the burden of the moral world. But they forget such social policing when celebrities do such vulgarism punishable under said Section. Kissing publicly is an offence U/s. 294 IPC and a one can be convicted for 3 months or may be fined or both. But when Shilpa Shetty and his co-actor were snogging/ kissing on platform without any occasion it was not only appreciated but was defended also. Akshya Kumrar had on one occasion got his pant chain opened from his wife.

Last day in Master Chef Show he along with Katrina Kaif came forward to show omelette preparation; he shouted that all should concentrate on the dish only and he instead of concentrating on his preparation of omelette dish was concentrating on Katrina and while laughing he was saying that he was concentrating on his 'dish' only!

What a silly joke it was. People were appreciating it and were applauding heavily in terms of appreciation. Had this been done by an ordinary person what would have been the fate of that person? Might be killed by people showing their loyalty for Katrina! What is law and what is society? It appears that in India people have born to live for entertainment and that too with snobbish attitude. 

PV Namjoshi, Ujjain






According to a recent report appearing in the India media that quoted Pakistan's respected English daily the Dawn, 27 Hindu families living in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province have approached the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, seeking visas and political asylum in India due to growing cases of kidnapping for ransom and target killing of members of their community The Hindus had been living in Baluchistan for centuries, but in recent weeks several members of the minority community had been kidnapped or murdered, forcing them to seek political asylum in India. It is a shame that Pakistan cannot protect its minorities. I'm proud to say that India has lived up to its secular tradition and not a single Indian Muslim has ever asked for asylum in any other country least of all Pakistan to escape religious persecution.

RJ Khurana, Bhopal








I know these are true, for we women are famous for saying one thing and thinking another...sometime we do not even know what we are really saying ourselves!! I did not agree with only one and that is about the "shape," that is simply unhealthy.
I have heard this a lot too, "Do not play with a man's ego or a woman's 
emotions" and that is also true!
What do you have to say about this, I wonder... 
The MAN`s RULES " ~ written by an unknown man 
These are our rules!
Please note...these are all numbered


1. Men are NOT mind readers.


1. Sunday sports It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.


1. Crying is blackmail.


1. Ask for what you want. 
Let us be clear on this one: 
Subtle hints do not work! 
Strong hints do not work! 
Obvious hints do not work! 
Just say it!


1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question..


1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.


1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. 
In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days.


1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. 
Don't ask us.


1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one


1. You can either ask us to do something Or tell us how you want it done. Not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.


1. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials..


1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.


1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.


1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," We will act like nothing's 
We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.


1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, 
Expect an answer you don't want to hear.


1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine... 


1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball OR GOLF.

1. You have enough clothes.


1. You have too many shoes.


1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!


1. Thank you for reading this. Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight;


But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping;


Medhavi Chourey      







It is Christmas time once again. It is the season of rejoicing; of giving and receiving; of raising our hands in Thanksgiving. My earliest recollections of Christmas festivities are associated with the socks which, we as children (even in Hindu homes), would hang up somewhere (not by the fireside, as there would be none) on Christmas Eve for Father Christmas to fill up. We were always rewarded with sweets or a story book, or something similar, which was sometimes found tucked under our pillows next morning, if it did not fit inside our small socks. But then, we had small desires and these simple gifts made us immensely happy. 
It was only much later that I learnt that this custom of hanging up a Christmas stocking originated from the story of Bishop Nicholas on whom the Father Christmas legend is based. The story tells how a local nobleman had lost his fortune and was sadly unable to provide dowries for his three unmarried daughters. St. Nicholas decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept through the chimney. He had three purses of gold coins with him. As he was looking for a place to keep this gift, he noticed the stockings of the three girls that were hung over the mantelpiece for drying, and so put one purse in each stocking. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Santa Claus or Father Christmas.
Another remembrance is of the scene of Nativity, which is still enacted in many missionary schools/churches. That also had a gift component of the three wise men bringing presents of myrrh and incense for the infant Jesus. But it seems that now the humble manger, with the infant Jesus swathed in rags, is almost forgotten. And so are the humble stockings. We, the modern day parents, sow the seeds of ambition in our children right from infancy. We teach them to think big and act smart in order to become rich and powerful. So their wish list does not fit in a stocking, and really stretches the purse strings of Santa. The more expensive and exclusive the gift, the higher is their happiness quotient. Need has now been overshadowed with greed. It is not only the children, but even we adults have such skewed up notions about giving and receiving. The other day I was invited to the 1st birthday party of an acquaintance's grandchild. All of us invitees were trying to outdo the other, carrying loads of gifts for a kid who was literally born with a silver (nay gold) spoon. To my surprise I found that most of the guests, at this supposedly kids' party, were either business friends or high government officials. Even in such a high profile setting, differential treatment to the guests (depending upon their profit value) was more than obvious. One trio of father, mother and daughter was being particularly pampered by the host. The catering waiters were instructed to take special care of this special guest, who turned out to be some bigwig from the income tax department. Liquor was flowing openly for the men folk (and rather discreetly for the women). The soulful renditions of the hired ghazal singer were drowned in the din of noises. This did not look to me like a children's party from any angle. It was pathetically amusing that neither the ambience, nor the few kids present there, gave it the feel of someone's 1st birthday party. But then, perhaps I was being just too stupid and naive. Someone wisely whispered in my ears that such parties are held to enhance the business prospects of the host family-birthdays are just an acceptable excuse.

The giving of gifts and partaking of the hosts' generosity are actually part of the profit generating business strategies, and also an opportunity to show off one's opulence and social status. It is a sad commentary on our morality that the noble gesture of giving and receiving is now dictated by social and financial obligations to further our monetary interests. The size and cost of our gift is not dependent upon the needs of the receiver. It depends upon what we hope to gain (other than gratitude) from giving it. The worth of our presents is almost invariably inversely proportional to the economic status of the recipient. Why else do we give cheaper gifts to those who are below our own social/economic status? If only, our giving could be gentle as silence (as goes one of the hymns I learnt in childhood), and if it keeps in mind the needs of the receiver (and not the greed of the giver), then we will be really blessed. Only if we could inculcate the magnanimous modesty of Saint Nicholas while filling up empty stockings! 

The birth of Christ is an event which teaches humanity the lessons of austerity and humility. It teaches us to respect the poorest of the poor and to accept the graces, as well as tribulations of life with equanimity. Let us not forget the real meaning of Christmas, which is of forgiveness and humility. Let us give with humility and receive with grace whatever is offered to us-not only by way of Christmas gifts, but in every sphere of our lives. Let us also not shower money on our children, but teach them to be humble and respectful, and imbibe in them a love for humanity. If we share our bounties with the indigent, our wealth is bound to multiply. At this time of the Yuletide season let our faith be reaffirmed in the goodness of humankind, so that God is in Her place in heaven and all is right with the world. 

May peace and goodwill always prevail on the Earth. 

Shobha Shukla






In the welter of debates about stream-lining the health of the nation, an important and basic problem is completely neglected. India has over 25 per cent obese children. Clearly, exposing the sorry mess in child healthcare.

Importantly, so serious is the situation that unless drastic measures are taken immediately it could adversely affect all other measures. As obesity raises the risk for 'type 2' diabetes, hyper-tension, osteoarthritis, various type of cancer among women, menstrual disorder, infertility and many more diseases.
This is not all. According to a recent pan-Indian survey on physical fitness of urban school children, obesity is setting in earlier than adolescence. In fact, the most prone to obesity were children over eight years (25%), followed by 18 per cent below seven years and 23 per cent between five and fourteen years had a high body mass index. This abnormality also reflected in lower flexibility, muscle strength and endurance levels of the children. 

The survey was undertaken to identify the overall fitness level of school children and to recognize the gaps in the children's physical education. Especially as the education system favours academics over everything else, compromising the overall development of children.

The study encompassing the 2000-10 academic year was conducted among 4098 children in 21 schools across the National Capital Region, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mangalore, Lucknow, Indore, Raipur, Madurai, Mohali, Baroda, Amritsar, Panipat and Moga. Five factors were measured: body-mass index, aerobic capacities, muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. 

The survey found that a significant improvement among children in three schools where a nine month physical education programme had been introduced. The endurance level went up by 17%, abdominal strength increased by 37.5%, flexibility shot up by 4% and children's correct body-mass index increased to 67.72%. 
Sadly, the survey noted that few schools pay any attention to physical fitness, a key for a child's overall development. Whereby, sports needed to be made compulsory for children in schools. Excess weight at a young age could translate into serious diseases at a later stage. Imperiling the future of the country. 
Worse, the excess weight epidemic has been spreading far and wide. Wherein obesity is treated as "normal and a sign of good health". No matter that we are raising a generation which is handicapped in many ways from an early age. 

Who is to blame? The Government, schools, parents and children in equal measure. The Government for not ensuring enough good schools and colleges for a burgeoning population. With kids scrambling to score 95% marks, physical activity is the last thing on a student's mind. Schools think that their responsibility begins and ends with the study curriculum. Nobody cares two hoots for the child's overall personality development.
Children are totally bowled over by advertisements and think the only food worth eating is junk food.  This situation is made worse by indulging parents. Arguably, what use a good education if a person is not in good health, physical, mental and emotional?  

Significantly, the Himachal Pradesh Government has introduced regular health check-ups of students to help detect and prevent diseases at the start along-with inculcating healthy habits among students. This programme, carried out with the help of the National Rural Health Mission intends providing nutritious mid-day meals to students. Moreover, mothers have been authorized to test the meals being served to the children. 
But this might not be enough. India needs to take a leaf from how Britain has dealt with the problem of child obesity. Parents who fail to help an obese child eat and exercise properly and ignore expert advice and guidance, would be guilty of neglect. Stated a doctor, "the weight of a child itself is not a reason for child protection staff to get involved." 

In addition, a child protection register is maintained if the parents consistently fail to change the family's lifestyle. Potential failure to provide their children with adequate treatment for a chronic illness (asthama, diabetes, epilepsy etc) is a well accepted reason for a child protection registration for neglect. 

Pertinently, in UK childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity. This might involve failure to keep appointments, get involved with healthcare staff who want to help the child or actively subvert the weight management initiatives. Parents are made to understand what is required, and are helped to engage with the treatment programme. 

Undoubtedly, it is difficult to establish when obesity turns into neglect and becomes an issue for child protection, because the pressures on everyone to eat too much and exercise too little are powerful. These factors are so strong that for some parents, it is very difficult to stop their children gaining weight. There is a strong association between food, feeding, care and love. Eating is pleasure and you want to give your children pleasure. 
Also, UK doctors have discovered increasing evidence linking adolescent and adult obesity with childhood sexual abuse, violence and neglect. But found no studies examining the relation between child protection actions and childhood obesity. Removing children from their parents may not help obesity.

A recent study found that 37 per cent of children 'in care' were overweight or obese, but almost all of them had put on weight after they were put under care. However, before children suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes are put on the register, there should be clear objective evidence over a sustained period that the parents were not complying with the treatment plan. 

In addition, obesity is only one of the factors causing concern, besides poor school attendance, exposure to violence, neglect, poor hygiene, mental health problems of the parents and emotional behavioural difficulties. 
Further, a new global report, "Save the Children" by the International Child Rights Organisation has highlighted that children from poor communities in India are three times more likely to die before they reach the age of five than those from high income group.

Suraj Saraf, INFA






Over the decades India has trudged the treacherous protest road to become a strike-a-day nation. Wherein a person's freedom ends at the tip of the other's nose!

The rail roko by Gujjars in Rajasthan has disrupted the movement of trains. The agitationists are least concerned about inconvenience being faced by the people of the country. Business has been affected as movement of vehicles on the roads too have been hit. 

In July 2009, the Rajasthan government had announced five per cent reservation for Gujjars and 14 per cent for the economically backward classes taking the total reservations for various sections of society to 68 per cent in the state.

The Rajasthan High Court in October 2009 stayed the quota in jobs and educational institutions in the state for Gujjars and the economically backward classes as the reservations had exceeded the cap of 50 per cent laid down by the Supreme Court. 

These types of agitations set a bad precedent. All problems can be resolved through dialogues. Both the Central and the State governments are proving ineffective in checking the agitation Gujjars. 

Late last night, around a dozen youths torched a truck near Kotputli town on the Jaipur-Delhi highway and the fire brigade was called to control the situation, police said. 

There is no justification by any group of people to take law into their own hands. 

Recently the Rajasthan High Court had held that the Gujjars cannot be given special reservation and an act of 2008 has no substratum of quantifiable data that could justify the reservation.

The move to provide reservation by government could not, therefore, be acted upon, the judges said.

The court also directed the state government to carry out an exercise within a year to establish the backwardness of Gujjars, Raikas, Raibari and Gadiya Lohar communities in the fields of education and government employment.

"The stir is causing a loss of around Rs 20 crore per day and has hiked rates of commodities by five to ten per cent. Bookings have been cancelled as most of the drivers are not ready to go through the stir affected areas," Vedbhushan, President of Rajasthan Truck and Transport Operators Union, said.








An ambitious Atal Child Mission was started in Madhya Pradesh on the eve of the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapee. MP's record vis-à-vis malnutrition is very poor. To overcome the problem of malnutrition, the budget of Womand and Child Development has been doubled from Rs 900 crores to Rs 1,700 crores. The day is not far when Madhya Pradesh would be termed as a leading state in child nutrition.

Meanwhile, CM Chouhan and Panchayat & Rural Development minister Gopal Bhargav took pledge to take care of 5 children each. The CM also appealed to the industrialists and well to do families to take care of children in aganwandis. Similarly, the workers at anganwadis should show improvement in their work. 
Atal Child Mission would work on 9 points. Besides taking care of nutrition requirements, the programme would also take care of health needs. The Mission would look into the status of the families and provide necessary nutritious food to children. 

Till a few years ago, the entire supplementary nutrition programme was borne by the state government. States were, therefore, given the freedom to decide on the mode of procurement and distribution of food in the ICDS centres. Barring a few notable exceptions, most states used private contractors to procure and distribute food. The quality was greatly compromised and more often than not food did not reach the ICDS centres.









On Dec. 14, the day before a Moscow court was supposed to issue the verdict against former Yukos CEOMikhail Khodorkovsky, President Dmitry Medvedev attended the "Go Russia!" innovation forum at Skolkovo to see how the modernization process is coming along. I must say that modernization is going full speed ahead — at least in and around Skolkovo.


First, the commuter rail station that will serve the future technopark was renamed from the obscure "Vostryakovo" to the much more fitting "Skolkovo." And from that station it is a rigourous 30-minute trek through the woods to the site of the future Innovation City.


Second, the Skolkovo Highway has been sealed off. In the past, drivers caught in nearby traffic jams could detour along the Skolkovo Highway. But after concrete barriers were installed, motorists drove around them and continued on unpaved ground — that is, until the authorities completely sealed off the entire perimeter, bringing all detours to a halt.


Then, on a completely deserted stretch of highway near the Skolkovo School of Management, the authorities built a two-level interchange so that nothing could stop Russia from racing full speed into its innovative future.


What great examples of Medvedev-style modernization: close off a vital highway when traffic jams were already out of control and then build an overpass where it is absolutely unnecessary.


But Medvedev didn't stop there. He was determined to create an even more fitting symbol of Russia's backward approach to modernization. The concrete barriers were removed for his visit to Skolkovo.


When the president's convoy rolled into the village for his grand visit, not a single barrier could be found. They were hauled away. The road was lined at 100-meter intervals with traffic policeman clad in yellow and numerous police cars. And what a road it had suddenly become — sparkly clean and partially laid with fresh asphalt that served as a nice embellishment for a large tented pavilion, which Medvedev had apparently needed as a rest stop on his tiresome journey from Rublyovka to Skolkovo. Go Russia!


But that's not all. Right after the president's cavalcade left the village, the concrete barriers were back in place, and the pavilion was gone the next day. The "fresh asphalt" in front of the pavilion turned out to be nothing more than wooden boards that were covered with Ruberoid roofing material. The whole episode was like a scene out of the book "The Autumn of the Patriarch" by Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez in which Americans pack up their officers' cottages to the last board and bolt and ship them home in containers, even rolling up and taking their neatly trimmed lawns with them.


Everybody knows that roads are sometimes closed when the president is passing, but this was the first time that a closed road was opened to allow him through.


By the way, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought U.S. businesspeople to Skolkovo in October, they were shown two projects, neither of which had any prior connection to the Russian government: a Raman spectrograph and a receiver for terahertz radiation. Both projects are being developed in Chernogolovka, in laboratories run by the brilliant scientist and academic Vadim Kukushkin on financing provided by investor Ruben Vardanyan, head of Troika Dialog.


Fittingly, when the U.S. delegation flew on to Kazan after Skolkovo, they were shown the same two projects there. Apparently, Russia has such a dire shortage of innovation projects that they have to use the same ones over and over again. Go Russia!









Russia is on the eve of a pre-presidential election year. What happens in 2011 will, in my opinion, be even more important than the presidential election itself. Indeed, the evolution of Russian society could transform the country's politics, despite those domestic opponents who deny change or those who unqualifiedly classify Russia as "incorrigibly authoritarian." But for that to happen, a new agenda for Russia must be developed this year.


A decade ago, defense of Russia's territorial integrity and restoration of governability topped the list of priorities. People supported President Vladimir Putin, who was devoted to this "stabilization" agenda. We may debate the means by which it was pursued, and how successfully, but Russia's "existential" challenges were largely overcome.


But progress on stabilization only highlighted Russia's unresolved problems, which the global financial crisis exacerbated, but did not cause. After all, the country's resource-based, de-industrializing, expenditure-driven economy is the result of purely domestic choices. Nor was it the crisis that gave rise to corruption at all levels of the government or that caused Russia to lose its democratic dynamic.


Russia rode along on oil and gas windfalls, forgetting that these natural resources will not last forever. But even with favorable world market conditions, we did not manage to solve the problem of poverty, which still affects tens of millions of Russians.


I am convinced that Russia's troubles all come down to politics. We need a democratic and competitive environment, initiative at all levels, an active civil society and real public control. Only under such conditions will difficult problems lend themselves to solution.


But starting in 2005-06, the authorities implemented measures that made responsiveness to acute problems practically impossible. The decisions to cancel direct elections of governors, to introduce party-list voting, to raise the electoral threshold for parties to enter the State Duma and to repeal the minimum-turnout requirement — all accompanied by rampant manipulation of elections and the mass media — created a political system closed to feedback from society. Not surprisingly, the political elite became self-absorbed and served only its own narrow interests.


Last summer, with wildfires raging outside Moscow, the elite's isolation took on a menacing nature. But something else happened: Society became more demanding.


Although the traditions of self-organization in Russian society are neither deep nor strong, real movement in this direction became visible for all to see. Activists from public movements, journalists, environmentalists, businessmen and ordinary people who had suffered the tyranny and corruption of public officials began to join in.


One disturbing tendency is that the struggle between democratic and anti-democratic tendencies is becoming acute. If the anti-democratic tendencies win out, all that we have accomplished in previous years will be jeopardized — including stability itself.


This threat evidently motivated President Dmitry Medvedev in November to say: "It is no secret," Medvedev wrote in his blog, "that starting from a certain period, symptoms of stagnation have begun to appear in our political life, and the threat of turning stability into a factor of stagnation has appeared."


The president's statement was unexpected. Medvedev's assessment attested to his understanding that Russia's problems are rooted in its politics — in the degradation of the ruling party, in the absence of a real opposition and in the lack of respect for the rights for political minorities.


Improving education must be a top priority. We have approached the point when the constitutional requirement of universal, free education may become a fiction. People are asking: How is it that, after World War II, the government had enough money to provide free education, whereas today it doesn't?


The new agenda must include a strong economic component. Russia needs a breakthrough toward an up-to-date, knowledge-based and environmentally sustainable economy. Here, I see a direct connection with the problem of education.


I am convinced that Medvedev must become the leader in the process of formulating the new Russian agenda, and he must act in the coming year. Society will support him.








Слова года: words of the year


As 2010 slides to an icy end, I've been thinking about слова года (words of the year) — words and phrases that characterized the year or were on the tip of everyone's tongue. To draw up my list, I considered checking usage frequency or polling a representative sample of Russian speakers. But why change now? Unsubstantiated personal opinion is so much more fun.



So here's my highly unscientific, very personal and extremely cranky list of key words for 2010:


1. Аномальные погодные условия (anomalous weather conditions). Remember the sweltering heat, smoke and smog of summer? Remember hearing the weather forecasters say week after week: Ничего подобного никогда не было (There's never been anything like this)? I kept thinking: хуже не бывает (it can't get any worse), which is always a mistake in Russia. Here, things can always get worse. Case in point: Christmas Day. We waded through knee-high puddles and pouring rain to our parties, and while we were enjoying our turkey with all the trimmings, the temperature dropped 10 degrees. We left the parties to discover that Moscow had been transformed into a citywide skating rink. And didn't you just love spending four hours blasting an inch of ice off your car?


Can we please have normal weather conditions in 2011?


2. Модернизация (modernization). This is definitely President Dmitry Medvedev's favorite word of the year. But what does it mean? Dictionaries tell you that модернизация is the process of making things modern, bringing them up to date or in accordance with contemporary norms. It usually refers to technologies, but can also refer to social and political systems. After studying Medvedev's usage, I've come to the conclusion that it's really just a fancy way of saying реформа (reform), only without the nasty associative baggage of past reform efforts, such as factory closings, price hikes and loss of savings. But Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov explains модернизация this way: Надо покупать технологии, внедрять их и двигаться вперёд (We have to buy technologies, introduce them and move forward). Now that's easy. But if it's so easy, why hasn't it happened?


3. Инновация (innovation). Everyone wants some of this stuff. Every ministry is investing billions in it. Every office is working on producing it. And there's going to be a whole city built and dedicated to dreaming it up, testing it, mass producing it and marketing it to the waiting world. And what exactly is инновация, you ask? After consulting several dictionaries and reference books, I've come to the conclusion that инновация is ... хорошая идея (a good idea). I'm no economist, but wouldn't you get the same result by handing out pencils and paper?


4. Перезагрузка (reset). Everybody laughed when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's red button representing U.S.-Russian relations was mislabeled перегрузка (overload), but this year перезагрузка has become a journalistic cliche, used to describe any supposedly major change in just about anything. There's демократическая перезагрузка (a reset of democracy), пенсионная перезагрузка (pension fund reset); перезагрузка на рынке ипотеки (reset of the mortgage market) and even hopes for перезагрузка милиции (reset of the militia). To be honest, so far I haven't seen a lot of resetting or reloading going on. In fact, перезагрузка, like модернизация and инновация, seem like the Holy Grail: something longed for but never attained.


5. Несанкционированный митинг (a demonstration held without a permit). In 2010, it seemed like all Russians did was hold несанкционированные митинги. They were upset about buildings being torn down and buildings going up; forests being razed to build highways and highways not being built; journalists being beaten up and the Constitution not being upheld; convictions of some people and acquittals of others; in support of foreigners in Russia and against foreigners in Russia. The authorities didn't want to give permits for these demonstrations (except for some against foreigners in Russia), and so несанкционированные митинги usually ended with cops loading demonstrators into paddy wagons. This was getting tiresome, so resourceful Russians — the world's masters at figuring out how to get around any law — came up with одиночное пикетирование (one-person picketing), which can be held without a permit. Ingenious!


Doesn't this suggest that Russians could come up with enough инновация and модернизация to blast Russia into the 22nd century if only the authorities would stop tossing them in paddy wagons?


6. Блогосфера (blogosphere). This year the Russian блогосфера came into its own. It's the place to go for real news about what's happening in the country. It's the town crier and the national message board. During the summer's fires, it virtually replaced state structures to organize deliveries of supplies and volunteer firefighters. It's witty, creative, opinionated, well-educated and clever, except for when it's xenophobic, hateful, dishonest and deceptive. That is, it's the only place in Russia that reflects all of Russian society. You can even meet the president there.


7. Транспортный коллапс (total collapse of the transportation system). This was practically Topic No. 1 in Moscow as a worst-case-scenario, future event. But as someone who consults the Yandex traffic-jam-o-meter the way other people check out their horoscopes, I can tell you that when weeks go by with traffic above 8 ("многокилометровые пробки" — multikilometer jams) and often at 10 ("город стоит" — the city is at a standstill), the future is now.


I'd tell you how to fix it, but I've got to go. The traffic jam I'm in looks like it's moving, and I think I can manage to drive over the snow bank and along the sidewalk, into the park, along the paths, across the railroad tracks and into my courtyard in time to make my deadline.


See you all next year. С Новым годом!








Perhaps, soon, we will be seeing more haredi politicians like Amsalem, leading a more open-minded haredi constituency.


Rebel Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem is a breath of fresh air in a world of haredi politics characterized by monolithic opinion and blind subservience. His uniqueness has come to the forefront of public consciousness as the government coalition prepares for its first major crisis.


Shas – minus Amsalem – and United Torah Judaism have threatened to leave the coalition in protest against the expected passage of the IDF conversion bill in the Knesset.

Meanwhile, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman has vowed to move ahead with ratifying the bill despite haredi MKs' opposition, setting the stage for a major showdown.

The IDF conversion bill was drafted by MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) to protect the Jewishness of thousands of IDF soldiers who underwent conversions during their mandatory IDF service. The vast majority of these soldiers are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who received Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, but are not Jewish according to Halacha. If the bill is passed, converts will no longer have to undergo the humiliating experience of having their Jewishness questioned when they register for marriage.


At present, thousands of conversions performed by IDF rabbinical courts are not recognized by haredi chief rabbis of towns such as Rehovot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba, who are responsible for registering the residents of their cities for Jewish marriage. These haredi city rabbis doubt the sincerity of IDF soldiers who convert, claiming that many have not embraced an Orthodox lifestyle. All the haredi legislators in the Knesset, except for Amsalem, have taken the side of these rabbis against the IDF converts.


In his new book Zera Israel (The Seed of Israel), Amsalem, the only ordained rabbi among Shas's 11 MKs, takes into consideration the fact that many of the prospective converts in Israel have either a Jewish father or a paternal grandfather who is Jewish. These people might not be considered bona fide Jews according to religious law, but they nevertheless are considered "the seed of Israel," which means they should be encouraged to convert. Nor is Amsalem's a lone opinion. Former IDF and chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Shlomo Goren, former chief Sephardi Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel and Rabbi Moshe Hakohen of Jerba, Tunis, who served as a rabbinic judge in Tiberias, have all expressed similar stances. So has Shas's mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, though Amsalem's access to Yosef has been blocked, while Yosef has apparently been misled to believe that Amsalem does not wish to meet with him.


THESE RABBIS have been more lenient with potential converts who intend to remain in Israel and tie their destiny to the Jewish people. And they regard conversion as the acceptance in principle of the obligation to lead an Orthodox lifestyle, even if the potential convert openly admits that he or she will not be observant. (Hakohen accepted a convert whose father was Jewish, even after the man, a professional soccer player, admitted that he would continue to travel to games on Shabbat.) These rabbis and others view conversion as an important means of preventing intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in Israel. Amsalem in particular has argued that different, more lenient criteria should by applied to non-Jewish IDF soldiers interested in converting to Judaism.
"The very fact that these non-Jews are willing to risk their lives to protect the Jewish people proves their desire to be a part of the Jewish people," wrote Amsalem.

"Thanks to IDF soldiers, tens of thousands of students can sit and learn Torah... What an amazing merit these soldiers have to sanctify God's name and to protect the Jewish people in the Land of Israel against our enemies who wish to destroy us. What merit they have, enough to accept them as converts to Judaism."

Amsalem has reminded us that the Jewish tradition, often perceived as monolithic and ossified, contains diverse views on a wide range of issues, from conversion to army service (Amsalem's own children served in the IDF) to gainful employment (Amsalem has been ostracized for daring to presume that mass unemployment among haredi men is untenable). Unfortunately our rich culture is often presented by close-minded, subservient haredi politicians in an altogether different light. Thankfully, there are men like Amsalem who have the courage to present Judaism in a different light.

Perhaps Amsalem is not too ahead of his time, and has rightly sensed a change in the tide of haredi public opinion. Perhaps, soon, we will be seeing more haredi politicians like Amsalem, leading a more open-minded haredi constituency. It would be a welcome, overdue change in Israeli politics.








Why does the ball of IDF responsibility increasingly roll downhill?


The 1957 film Paths of Glory, depicts an epic miscarriage of justice. Adapted from the book by Humphrey Cobb, the film tells of an attack by a regiment of soldiers during World War I. Their colonel, played by Kirk Douglas, begs that his unit not be dispatched on a suicide mission against enemy trenches. Despite his objections, many of his men are slaughtered and others refuse even to leave the trenches.

As punishment for the failure of the attack, the French general orders 100 of the men shot for cowardice. The punishment is later reduced to just three executions. In the end, these soldiers pay the price for the incompetence of their superior officers. The blame and responsibility is shifted steadily down the ranks; those finally held accountable are a corporal and two privates.

A SIMILAR theme is being played out here, although with much less deadly consequences. In November of 2010 two Givati Brigade soldiers, both staff-sergeants, were charged with overstepping authority and conduct unbecoming for forcing a nine-year-old Palestinian to open a bag they thought might be booby-trapped. According to newspaper reports, their indictment was the first involving allegations of misconduct in combat during Operation Cast Lead (other soldiers had been charged with looting).

More than 30 investigations have been launched into misconduct during Cast Lead. A military official noted: "In places where the incident exceeds the boundaries of reason, we will file indictments."

According to Hanan Greenberg in Yediot Aharonot, the officers understand "the complaints of many soldiers who said they felt humiliated by the interrogations and the fact that their commanders did not provide support."

Officers and soldiers have expressed annoyance at the indictments, arguing that the soldiers did not do anything that justified criminal charges. Protesters have carried signs that blame the Goldstone Report for the indictment, calling on Israel not to bend to international pressure. Yoni Lichtman, former commander of the soldiers, noted that the army had "abandoned these soldiers [and] fail[ed] to come and support them."

The story is quite shocking. When the trial began, the soldiers faced three years in prison. The action that precipitated it all was that they had entered a house in the midst of a battle and, contrary to regulations, asked a boy to open bags and boxes. In the end the court did not sentence them to prison, but did convict them of the charges.

Now another case has come to light. A low-ranking soldier from the Givati Brigade, known only as "S," has been charged with "killing an unknown person."

This unusual charge stems from claims that he shot a Palestinian woman in Gaza. The woman was said to be carrying a white flag. According to S, his commander gave specific orders to shoot, without intent to kill, all those approaching his position. He claims he "aimed at the body with intent to wound, because they were continuing to approach and walking very quickly."

Whatever the case, the body of the woman who was killed was not examined, but nevertheless the soldier was charged with killing this "unknown person."

The commander, needless to say, has not faced charges.


IT SHOULD be readily apparent now to those called upon to serve in the IDF that if they are in a combat unit, they will be held responsible for all acts they commit, no matter the conditions and no matter the orders, because the new rule in the IDF appears to be that military prosecutors and unit commanders shift any blame to the soldiers. The treatment of grunts and NCOs is not in line with the current culture and developments in military justice.

Consider the heinous case of the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam. In that incident, a company of American soldiers went on a rampage, killing 347 people. In 1970, two years after the massacre, 14 officers were charged and one was sentenced to prison.

In 1972 the British Parachute Regiment gunned down 13 people in Northern Ireland on "Bloody Sunday." No British soldiers were ever charged, and an official inquiry was not completed until June 2010, 38 years later. That is British justice – ironically, the same justice system that has attempted to charge Israelis with war crimes.

In Iraq the US has charged several people in connection to abuses. Other than the charges concerning behavior at Abu Ghraib, Steven Green of the 101st Airborne was charged with raping a girl and murdering her parents at Mahmoudiyah. In a more heinous story, 12 US soldiers were charged in September with operating a "kill team" that faked attacks in order to gun down Afghans for fun. According to reports, during their drug-induced savagery, they even collected trophies, such as fingers, from the victims. In another case – the only one with some parallels to the current Israeli ones – a US Navy SEAL named Matthew MacCabe was found not guilty after having been accused of assaulting an Iraqi detainee.


In other democracies fighting insurgencies a pattern is clear; either the officers are charged or no one is, except in the most exceptional circumstances. Considering that hundreds of Arab civilians died in Operation Cast Lead, the current prosecutions can't possibly be dealing with the most exceptional cases of conduct that harmed civilians. There are a number of theories regarding the Military Advocate-General prosecuting soldiers for the Gaza war. One is that the pressure from international NGOs, the UN's Goldstone Report and Israeli human rights organization has forced the MAG to throw a few scapegoats to the wolves. Another is that the soldiers are guilty and must be punished for their conduct.


However the reality is more complex. First of all, the army MAG has gotten in the habit of acting more like the internal investigative division of a large police department than that of an army. That is a direct result of the army's own actions in the territories over the years, where parts of it were tasked with policing. Years in the West Bank and experience dealing with human rights NGOs such as Machsom Watch have conditioned IDF officers and MAG to blame the lower ranks, and particularly combat soldiers.

In a recent book, Rethinking Contemporary Warfare: A Sociological View of the Aksa Intifada, the authors, who conducted extensive interviews with soldiers, found that IDF commanders used the reports of human rights NGOs against their own soldiers, to the point where Machsom Watch "directly phone[s] territorial brigade commanders" and the commanders acted on their criticism.

Unfortunately the IDF has gotten in the habit of placing accountability as low as possible. The army faces a complex task in sorting out human rights complaints in the spotlight of international opinion. Trying to shift the spotlight so it shines on its most vulnerable soldiers represents a miscarriage of justice, both in the context of prevailing military legal thinking and in the context of harming those who give the most to their country.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.








The Arabs' failure to lead has allowed a small cabal of Palestinian extremists to hijack the Palestinian cause.


As soon as the first-ever conference of Arab expatriates hosted in Cairo earlier this month by the League of Arab Nations closed, the fanatics dropped from their damp dark caves and started to scream that it was a sham.

The conference, backed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is calling on Palestinians and Arabs who are expatriates living in the West but more importantly in the United States, to organize.

The conference concluded with many goals including creating an "organizational framework for Arab expatriates" while fostering "a dialogue of civilizations, cultures and religions."

Pro-Israeli media and pundits immediately criticized the conference, complaining that too much of it was focused on the Palestinian issue and that much of it was based on confronting Israeli extremism rather than pursuing dialogue.

The conference clearly endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative outlined in 2002, one that Israel continues to run from because it requires tough compromises.

But more importantly, the Palestinians and the Arab League want to rip control of the Palestinian cause from the hands of fanatics and extremists in the United States whose sole mission has been to block peace and to reinforce the power of Hamas, the terrorist religious organizations.

Immediately, Arab and Palestinian fanatics started launching public attacks against the conference and it is a growing theme they are selling to the Palestinian diaspora which sympathizes with the fanatic anger but support the moderate strategies. It sounds contradictory but for most moderate Palestinians, Israel has given them nothing to cheer about at all and everything to jeer about.

Almost all of Israel's actions since the Oslo Accords have been geared towards maintaining the status quo while granting some power to the Palestinians, except the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Israel wants to keep all of Jerusalem, all of the settlements, wants Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state.

IT IS about time that the Arab League nations finally did something. Their failure to lead has created a void which has allowed a small cabal of Palestinian extremists in the United States and Europe to hijack the Palestinian cause.

And they are no better than Israelis, speaking from both sides of their mouths, too. A good example is the movement to boycott products sold by Israelis that are manufactured or grown in the occupied West Bank. The movement is spearheaded by a group called Jewish Voice for Peace.

They say they target products made in the West Bank but many of their leaders are working hand-in-hand with Palestinian-American extremists who are also targeting products made in Israel.

These Palestinian extremists are anti-Semitic and driven by hatred. They say one thing but always mean something else.

Israelis don't help much, as I have already pointed out. Instead of drawing a proper line on things like anti-Semitism, Israel's supporters like the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America headquartered in New York, call everything critical of Israel anti-Semitic.

What Israelis don't realize is that their broad stroke, knee-jerk attacks of anti-Semitism, against even the harshest critics of Israel, like the venerable Helen Thomas, only weaken the moderate Palestinian voices.

In a way, Israeli actions often strengthen the Palestinian extremists and maybe that is intentional. Many Israelis don't want to give up anything. They don't want peace. And the Palestinian extremists help them get away with this unacceptable status quo.


As long as the Palestinian extremists have the upper hand, this Israeli strategy will work.


But the Expatriate Conference in Cairo can change that, especially if they follow through with concrete actions to strengthen the voices of Palestinian and Arab moderates in the West and particularly in the United States.

More importantly, they need to reach out to Palestinian moderates, slam down the extremist voices and speak consistently about peace based on the 2002 plan. Israelis, believe it or not, are no different than Arabs.

And if they believe peace is genuine, they just might support it.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.








This country has right to deny entry, insist on departure of economic migrants but it cannot turn its back on those escaping genocide.


Afew years ago, former prime minister Ehud Olmert reportedly said at the Knesset when the issue came up of how to deal with Darfurians who had infiltrated into Israel "Ma lanu velahem [What have they got to do with us]?" Today, the national policy is to stop the infiltration of Africans from Egypt as drastically as possible.

Despite some official statements and the involvement of a UN refugee agency, there do not appear to be real efforts to differentiate between Africans who try to enter the country because they want to improve their living standards, and people who are escaping genocides or genocidal dangers.

This country has the right, of course, to deny entry and/or insist on the departure of the first group, provided it maintains humanitarian standards while doing so. Mainly two African groups are refugees from genocide: members of Muslim black tribes in Darfur who are being massacred by a murderous Sudanese government, and people from South Sudan, overwhelmingly Christians such as the Dinkas, whom the northern Islamicists had massacred in the past.


A genocide against the south that lasted 20 years, until 2005, when a so-called peace agreement was signed due to pressure from the US, Norway and others, claimed two million lives. The problem has spilled over to Israel, when recent racist protests were directed against all Africans.

NEXT MONTH, a referendum is supposed to be held in South Sudan to decide whether the southerners wish to be independent of the Khartoum murderers. A similar referendum was due to be held in Abyei, the oil-rich border region between north and south. The oil concessions, and the pipeline between them and Port Sudan (which is held by the north) are in considerable part owned by Chinese interests, and China therefore defends Khartoum.

The north, led by Hassan Omar al-Bashir, whom the International Criminal Court has accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, wants to prevent the secession of the two regions.

The south and Abyei are inhabited largely by black farming tribes that in past centuries had been prey to Arab slave traders. The autonomous south, now led by President Salva Kiir (a Dinka), has managed to arm itself in the face of a very probable war resulting from the almost certain decision to vote for independence. But the north is much better armed, with weapons coming in from Russia, China and elsewhere, and despite the fact that Sudan is in debt to foreigners to the tune of $38 billion.

The first target of the north is Abyei and its oil fields; the area is home mainly to black Ngok Dinka farmers.

Khartoum is supporting a large Beduin tribe, the Muslim Masseriyahs, who are fulfilling a function parallel to that of the infamous Janjaweed militias in Darfur, the main perpetrators of the genocide there, and who are attacking the Ngok Dinka even now.

Two genocides, one in Darfur and one that is an immediate threat in the south, are the source of the desire to escape to any possible haven.

The West, and the African Union's committee dealing with the Sudanese crisis, under the chairmanship of ex-South African prime minister Thabo Mbeki, is in effect yielding to the Khartoum dictatorship.

The north is developing a close relationship with Iran, and is reported to facilitate arms shipments to Hamas, despite it close relations with the anti-Iranian Arab League.

Difficult though it is, Israel should differentiate between African economic migrants (including some from Northern Sudan) and people fleeing from genocide and/or opposed to the Khartoum government. The latter should be fully accepted as legal asylum seekers.

Such a policy would befit a country that claims to act as a beacon of Western values. Why should we, as Jews, care? Does one really have to answer that question, 65 years after the end of the horror? 

The writer is academic adviser to Yad Vashem and author of numerous books about the Holocaust.









Our status as a Western democracy will not survive our ruling over the Palestinians.


We appear to have reached the end of the latest fruitless attempt at resolving this too-long and too-bloody conflict. There's plenty of blame to go around. The Americans' early focus on a settlement freeze ensured that the Palestinians would have a perfect excuse to avoid direct negotiations – even though this had never before been a condition for peace talks. Meanwhile, the revelation that Mahmoud Abbas had rejected Ehud Olmert's parting offer of a two-state solution that went beyond anything previously offered in its crossing of supposed red lines was not a promising sign that the Palestinians were even ready to do a deal.

Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the US request by trying to appease Barack Obama while not alienating the settlers, ordering a 10- month moratorium but insisting it would be a one-time event. He ignored the advice of wiser heads in his government, such as Dan Meridor, who urged him to take the opportunity to make a distinction between the settlement blocs which, according to all previous peace proposals, would remain part of Israel, and settlements that would have to be evacuated as part of any future peace agreement.

However, far more depressing than this entirely predictable failure is the unavoidable feeling that, for some members of the government (possibly including the prime minister), the situation simply means we can go on as before.


They are surely familiar with the arguments for reaching a two-state deal. For the past decade or more, politicians on the Left and, increasingly, the center and even the Right have understood that Israel is fast heading toward a situation where the number of Arabs living in all the territory that it controls will outnumber the number of Jews. It would then face a demand for a one-state solution which would force it to either lose its Jewish character demographically or become an apartheid state.

This country needs to end the occupation, not for peace, not for the cause of Palestinian statehood, but for itself.

The reasons for this go beyond the demographic argument.

We should not underestimate how much we gain internationally by virtue of being part of the West. As much as we complain, justifiably, about the double standards in the Western media and among certain European "liberal" institutions, Israel is a close ally of not just the US, but the EU states, Canada, Australia and the liberal democratic world. This status is manifested in numerous ways, from preferential trade agreements, to diplomatic support at the UN, to cultural ties and more.

However, as Ehud Barak said just a few days ago: "The world is changing before our eyes, and is no longer willing to accept, even temporarily, our continued control over another people."

Quite simply, our status as a Western democracy will not survive our ruling over the Palestinians indefinitely. Security-based arguments for not returning to the pre-1967 borders are sound, but no Western government will accept that historical and religious ties to Judea and Samaria can justify Israel remaining in control there while denying the Palestinians equal rights.

IF YOU need another argument, how about this one: If we don't act to change the status quo, the Palestinians will. Threats to give up on a negotiated settlement and to go to the international community for support are not idle. If the world perceives us to be primarily to blame for the hold-up in negotiations (for example by continuing to build settlements in areas of the West Bank that will definitely be part of a future Palestinian state), there could be widespread support for an imposed solution, with the world – including our allies – recognizing the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders.

The final reason to end, finally, our control of the Palestinians is the simplest of all. It is wrong. Eitan Haber, who served as Yitzhak Rabin's bureau chief, has described how Rabin understood "that we could not continue to rule 2.5 million Palestinians against their will. The indications of moral deterioration that had appeared as part of our rule over the Arabs in the territories led him to recognize that we must not continue to dominate another people. The scenes of what the occupation was doing to the IDF and the behavior of soldiers at roadblocks or in the pursuit of demonstrators concerned him greatly."

Rabin was steeped in the founding values of the IDF. For him, young men and women should be donning the uniform with the pride that comes with defending one's country, not preparing to serve as the policemen of a military occupation.

There was a time not so long ago when unilateral withdrawal in the absence of a peace partner was a winning political platform. It was Kadima's avowed agenda when it finished as the largest party in the 2006 Knesset elections. The public was persuaded that we had to draw permanent borders which would be secure and defensible, separate from the Palestinians and leave to them the majority of the West Bank.

Before long, though, that bubble had burst, pricked by the precedents set in the two areas already vacated unilaterally – Gaza and southern Lebanon. Hamas and Hizbullah rained down rockets, and the vindicated Right punctuated its told-you-sos with grim assurances that an evacuated West Bank would quickly become yet another base for genocidal Iranian proxies.

However, as Haaretz commentator, Ari Shavit, recently pointed out, to cite the increased Kassams following disengagement is to miss the point: "The Right was right, but the Right was also wrong. It understood the latent dangers in withdrawal, but completely failed to understand its necessity... The Right failed to grasp five years ago exactly what it refuses to grasp today... Israel must take its fate in its hands and act wisely to create a border between itself and Palestine. Only thus can it ensure its identity and legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state."

A withdrawal from part of the West Bank in the absence of a peace agreement need not be entirely unilateral. Earlier this year, Ehud Ya'ari, the country's most prominent Arabaffairs journalist, proposed an "armistice agreement," whereby we would evacuate settlers and soldiers from the vast majority of the West Bank, keeping enough territory to "thicken" the country at its most vulnerable points, but leaving contiguous territory for the Palestinians to establish a state with provisional borders. The question of final borders, as well as the thorny issues of the refugees and Jerusalem, would be left until the Palestinians were ready and willing to negotiate. Ya'ari believes the Palestinians could be persuaded to agree to this if the Western states that bankroll their economy endorse his plan.

This is not the cry of a utopian peacenik. Ya'ari's extensive sources in the Arab world tell him that the Palestinians will soon be pushing for one state-of-all-its-citizens – that is, one state on all the land, where Arabs would outnumber Jews. There would be no Jewish state here, just the latest Arab state: "The process of rethinking the goal of Palestinian statehood within the '67 borders is already at work, and Israelis have become so apathetic to anything that happens on the other side of the security fence that we as a society are way behind in reading the writing on the wall."

Does this apathy extend to the country's leaders? We must hope not. For one way or another, with or without a negotiating partner, we need to act. Netanyahu's principal focus on stopping Iran going nuclear is understandable, but continuing to rule over the West Bank poses no less of an existential threat to our Jewish and democratic state.


The writer worked in the Public Affairs Department of the Israeli Embassy in London and as the ambassador's speechwriter before making aliya.










Benjamin Netanyahu has in effect concluded his term as prime minister. It's all downhill until the next elections, without any achievements and without an agenda, passing the time buying political calm and deflecting diplomatic pressure. Instead of initiating and leading, Netanyahu will engage in fruitless holding actions until he falls from power.


The bewilderment and paralysis were apparent in Netanyahu's interview Monday with Channel 10 on the patio of his official residence in Jerusalem. He violated the first rule of political life: When you don't have anything to say, it's better to keep quiet. The prime minister came to the interview without any new message, without a way forward, and he wasted his airtime trying to dispel the contention that he's the dishrag of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his own wife, Sara.


When the prime minister gives an interview just like that in the middle of the week, it's a clear sign he's fairing poorly and no one is willing to stand up for him on the air. The announcement of the resignation of his communications adviser, Nir Hefetz, two hours after the embarrassing interview, only reinforced the impression that Netanyahu is isolated and there is no one to speak for him publicly.


Over the past two weeks, in the run-up to the vote on the last budget of his current government, Netanyahu has been kicked around by his coalition partners. As is his habit, he tried to satisfy them all. He gave Yisrael Beiteinu's Lieberman the army conversion law. Shas' Eli Yishai got stipends for yeshiva students and Labor's Ehud Barak got more money for the defense budget.


Each defeat reinforced the impression that Netanyahu was being led by the nose. Twice he was forced to announce that diplomatic statements by Lieberman and Defense Minister Barak "do not represent the government's position," after Barak divided Jerusalem and Lieberman said any final peace agreement would lead immediately to a breakup of the coalition.


Netanyahu has only himself to blame for his sorry state. The breaking point where his collapse began came last summer when he rejected Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's offer to join the government instead of Lieberman. Netanyahu preferred Livni as the head of a groggy opposition over the threat of Lieberman, who might be able to steal the right-wing electorate from the prime minister's Likud party.


If he had marshaled the courage to reconfigure his coalition and engage in an intensive peace process with the Palestinians, international pressure on Israel would have ebbed and the prime minister would have been portrayed as a leader and trailblazer. But Netanyahu took refuge behind his "natural partners," Lieberman and Yishai, and behind his Republican friends in the U.S. Congress, rejecting President Barack Obama's initiative for expedited negotiations on the future border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Netanyahu defeated Obama but suffered a double loss himself. He was not only left without an agenda, he also projected weakness and encouraged Lieberman to abuse him publicly.


Netanyahu attributed his failure during his first term as prime minister to his reticence to form a national unity government. It's a shame he hasn't learned the lesson and has repeated the same mistake in his current term. The ridiculous contention that the political alliance with Barak is a kind of national unity government has not convinced a soul. The shattered Labor Party is not a counterweight to the coalition parties on the right. Netanyahu pretended for a moment to represent the political center when he embraced the concept of two states for two peoples and froze construction in the West Bank settlements. But at the moment of truth, he remained in his natural home with the extreme right.


In a moment of candor in his interview on Monday, Netanyahu complained that he was being judged over the diplomatic stalemate and that his economic achievements were being ignored. "The Palestinians," he said, "are not ready to move forward to peace, so the whole country is 'stuck.'" If that's so, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has succeeded in his plot to do nothing until international pressure undermines Netanyahu. What can be done? Israeli prime ministers are evaluated based on their success in settling the conflict with the Arabs rather than their devotion to the status quo.


From now on, the agenda is changing. Instead of cultivating false hopes for a peace agreement, the international effort should be geared toward heading off a war. Netanyahu is cautious in using military force, but election years have always been prone to military escalation. Obama will have to redouble his supervision of the prime minister to head off an Operation Cast Lead II or Israeli action in Iran.









When history repeats itself, as the expression goes, it comes back as farce. Events in Israel over the past several weeks have underscored this way of seeing things: When history repeats itself, like a pendulum swinging between values, it tends to turn the original values into negative mirror images and these new images indeed turn into a farce.


Thus the original, laudable Zionist vision of building a national home for a persecuted people is transforming into a delusional trend involving hatred of Arabs, leftists and foreigners. And the uplifting vision of Arab-Israeli peace is culminating into a boycott of Ariel and hatred of settlers.


There are a few reasons why positive visions have transformed into negative, horrific images. The most fundamental one is the character of the pendulum itself. It is built upon the negation of the original vision, and then on the negation of that negation - and the result is discourse which is entirely based on negativity. Israeli reality, however, has two other distinctive traits that have created the current situation.


The first is the feeling that a dead end has been reached, a feeling that characterizes the various political camps: The right is despondent about the low probability that its dream of Greater Israel will be realized, while the left is depressed about the slim chances that peace will ever materialize. The result is that each camp focuses not on promoting its dream, but rather upon hating its rival and trying to stave off its rival's dreams.


The second component is Israeli society's deliberate turn from a humanist national identity toward a liberal, multicultural identity whose fundamental meaning is negative: If the entirety of life is my own rights and their defense, it follows that I will treat others as posing potential threats to my own rights. In this spirit, the multicultural ideal shows disdain for the concept of the melting pot - which guided the preceding generation.


But instead of taking steps to ensure that the Arab population is included in Israel's ethos of solidarity, the whole concept of social solidarity has been delivered a blow. All of the weak and vulnerable social groups have been hurt by this; the Arabs have sustained the most damage.


Under circumstances where - according to the last survey of Israel's democracy - 29% of respondents who call themselves leftists oppose equal rights between Jews and Arabs, clearly the solution is not the dismissal of some rabbis. The direction of public discussion in Israel needs to be reversed. A new vision needs to be created that includes the Arab public; and this vision needs to be inculcated by devising an inclusive educational curriculum to which all social groups in Israel can relate.


This educational program should concern not just mathematics and English, but also values - national and humanitarian ones. Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, will learn about the heritages of Jews and Arabs in the country, along with the fundamentals of democracy and citizenship.


Also needed is a change in the political system to strengthen mainstream elements, not those which polarize it. Arab parties should be included in coalition negotiations and in political activity of all sorts, just as parties that represent other sectors in society are players in the political game; most importantly, policies should be fashioned according to long-term initiatives.

Policies that look to the future can address seriously an array of values and worthy goals, in a manner that encourages a majority in each social sector to believe its needs are being addressed in the national arena. What we have instead is a negative, violent discourse devoted to putting out fires.









If anyone in the world had called Israel an "abscess," we would have generated a wave of protests, and learned scholars of anti-Semitism would lecture about the vocabulary that the Nazis borrowed from pathology and microbiology (the same holds for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ). But when a deputy prime minister of Israel and a member of the Labor Party used a clinical metaphor to talk about the Gaza Strip this week ("Gaza is an abscess, troublesome pus" ), no one got upset. We are always allowed to do what others are not.


In February 2008, the same politician, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, warned the Palestinians that they would bring upon themselves "a bigger shoah" - using the Hebrew word for both a generic catastrophe and the Holocaust - if they continued firing rockets at Israel. That was shortly before an Israel Defense Forces offensive that killed 107 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians. Two IDF soldiers were also killed.


Vilnai's words at the time were misunderstood, or deliberately twisted, making it sound like he was pledging that Israel would bring about a "bigger shoah" in Gaza. ("Bigger" than what? Than the Nakba of 1948? ) But he did announce that Israel would take revenge imminently, and laid the blame on the Palestinians. And without intending to, he revealed a characteristic imperviousness to the connotations of his words and showed contempt for our people's history.


Exactly two years after the start of Operation Cast Lead, an offensive that kept 1.5 million people trapped by clearly superior Israeli firepower, Vilnai decided to describe the Gaza Strip as an abscess. What was he trying to convey when he made his comments Monday during an appearance before the Eshkol regional council? That now Israel needs to use radical surgery to fully remove the localized infection? Vilnai once again renounced any Israeli responsibility for the volatility, placing all the blame on Hamas. "Instead of worrying about its own people, Hamas is trying to conquer Jerusalem," he said.


Vilnai didn't have to depend on Israelis' short memory, since you can't forget what you don't want to know in the first place. He is depending on Israelis' total indifference to our Qassams: our soldiers' nearly daily firing on Gaza civilians, regularly wounding and sometimes killing them. The civilians are mainly farmers trying to work their land, fishermen who make their living off the sea, and unemployed parents and their children who rummage through the rubble of Gaza's former settlements.


Just like the masked men of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Vilnai is employing the logic of "They started it, so we have the right to respond." Hamas cannot guarantee even that college students will be able to reach their universities or that destroyed Palestinian homes will be restored, so it boasts about some mythical future. For domestic consumption, and to justify Islamic financial support, Hamas commanders are faking their ability to match the IDF's deterrent capability. Along comes Vilnai, who uses that to depict a virtual reality in which Israel is not the occupying power but the victim, and to say that the reason Israelis in the south don't feel secure has nothing to do with his government's policies, but is linked to some kind of external contamination.


In January 1991, when Vilnai was GOC Southern Command, he signed a military order on which the entire disastrous Israeli policy toward Gaza is based. It was the order to revoke the general exit permit granted to Palestinians at the beginning of the 1970s. In other words, it's the order that denied the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement and that imposed the closure regime that prevails to this day. Beyond the economic deterioration and the serious health and environmental damage that continues to be caused by the closure, the isolation from the rest of the world - especially from Palestinian society in the West Bank and Israel - has closed off the educational, cultural and social avenues of development in Gaza.


It was Vilnai's signature, not a persistent infection, that fated the Gaza Strip to be the world's largest and most overcrowded detention camp. And we, the Israelis, are its wardens.








The firing of Qassam rockets and mortars at the communities in the south and the air force bombings of the Gaza Strip are troubling. Two years after Operation Cast Lead the conclusion is that military solutions are able to provide only a temporary reply to a threat whose solution is political.


Of course, there is no dispute that following the operation relative calm followed, which enabled the residents of the south to resume normal lives. However, this quiet course was based on the assumption that Hamas had made a strategic decision not to set the front on fire, in order to avoid the killing and damage to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and continue ruling the Strip without interruption.


Israel, on the other hand, which did not go through with its intentions to protect the southern communities with advanced and expensive means, is assuming that an extensive military operation could ensure another period of calm.


These are dangerous assumptions, at least as far as Israel is concerned. A military operation in which many Palestinian civilians were killed, and the policy of the brutal siege that continues even after the end of the offensive, have cost Israel very dearly in political terms. This weakened Israel, causing, among others, the break in ties with Turkey, strong criticism from European countries and American involvement that twisted Israel's hand to the point where it had to ease the siege on the Gaza Strip.


Thus, the military solution turned into a double-edged sword which, along with the calm it brought, fatally undermined Israel's international standing. We can assume that another large military operation in the Gaza Strip will not improve Israel's situation, even if it is followed by another pause in the Qassam rocket attacks.


The calm that was achieved during the past two years had been offered to Israel long before Operation Cast Lead. Hamas proposed a tahadiyeh (lull ) in the fighting, and this was actually implemented for a period with relative success. Even now, when escalation on both sides is threatening to deteriorate into another "operation," it is essential to explore other options, including an informal agreement for a long-term cease-fire.


Hamas is not a partner for political negotiations, but when the interest of both sides requires that calm is preserved, and the lessons of Operation Cast Lead are still relevant, it is possible and necessary to stop the deterioration and take action toward such a long-term cease-fire - and also bring to fruition the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit.









Nazareth surprised itself on the afternoon before Christmas. Tens of thousands of excited parents and grandparents and their children and grandchildren gathered along the city's main street leading to Spring Square anxiously waiting for Santa Claus, or "Baba Noel" as he is known there, for the kings of Orient riding on camels, for the decorated carts and for the bagpipe players. The streets were packed. The police presence was barely noticeable, and a festive feeling prevailed throughout.


And then as if they were at some fantastic Purim parade, the Christmas procession began. First came marchers with flags, including the blue and white Israeli flag. They were followed by the city elders and religious leaders. An impressive young Muslim woman marched alone among all of the male dignitaries: Knesset member Hanin Zuabi.


Up to this point, things were pretty much as one would expect, other than one small fact. Along with the indistinguishable mix of Christians and Muslims, there were a huge numbers of Jews, secular people of every social background who came to soak up the atmosphere of the holiday.


They filled the hotels and restaurants and cafes and shopped in the marketplace among the heaps of knitted skullcaps and the selection of Hanukkah menorahs sharing the shelves with olivewood crucifixes, Christmas decorations, Arab kaffiyehs and prayer beads.


The Jewish Christmas visitors received a warm and friendly welcome spiced with a bit of irony.


"The Christmas parade is really for you," said a Christian friend. "I've been here all my life and I've never happened to see it."


And the Jews returned the friendship. It would never have occurred to any of them to castigate the controversial Zuabi with even a word the likes of which are directed her way in the Knesset, on the Jewish street or in Jewish households. After all, here Zuabi is the host and the Jews are the guests.


Maybe that is why they weren't horrified by the Friday sermons blasting from the large loudspeaker that was set up, as if intended to provoke, at the foot of the Church of the Annunciation. (This time the message was actually one of peace, saying that we are all descendents of Abraham and Moses, heaping praise on the "son of Mary." )


The visitors marveled at the Christmas trees and engaged the shopkeepers in lively conversation. Like the thousands of visitors who thronged to the Arab-Jewish Wadi Nisnas festival in Haifa over the weekend, the Jewish visitors to Nazareth were voting with their feet in support of living together and against racism and incitement.


This was admittedly a limited and coincidental kind of shared experience, but there are a good number of places in Israel where this takes place on a widespread basis. Despite discrimination and exclusion from segments of society, the silent majority of the Arab citizens of Israel still accepts the division between majority and minority, as long as its rights are respected and expanded until full equality is achieved.


The silent Jewish majority is not showing its outrage, however. On the contrary, they are to a scandalously apathetic.


All those who are witness to the mingling of the two populations during the holiday cannot help but be outraged by the fact that during these holy days, those same Jews don't feel the urgent need to take to the streets, to protest and to break the silence or perhaps the silencing being led by the large group of those inured to the situation and who call themselves the political center.


The time has come for Jews and Arabs to take to the streets together, but the Jews must take the lead. On more than one occasion, Arab protests have resulted in tragedy (during the Arab unrest of October 2000, for example ) and incitement against Arabs is not simply an "ill wind" but rather a deliberate act on the part of politicians who make despicable use of dark fears, and are helped by silence.


All those for whom the identity of this country is important can no longer remain aloof while extremists spouts their distorted values unhindered, turning them into an unwritten constitution.


The Arabs are just a tool in this dangerous process which is leading Israel into dark fanaticism. Let's set aside the major disputes over nationality and justice and peace for a moment. At this time, every Israel who seeks normality should take to the streets for protest march.




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




Nine long months after parliamentary elections, Iraq has a new government. Its leaders can't waste any more time on petty maneuvering.


The March elections were only the second since Saddam Hussein's ouster. Forming the government was a sordid and costly process. The political paralysis meant important economic decisions were not made, leading to even higher unemployment. Basic services deteriorated even further. And Iraqi voters have grown even more cynical about the democratic process.


The new government will have to work hard to establish its credibility. We have mixed feelings about Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki winning a second term when so many voters wanted change. In the past, he has shown disturbing autocratic tendencies and bolstered his power by inflaming sectarian differences. This time he needs to prove himself as a leader for all Iraqis.


In the election, his Shiite-dominated State of Law coalition came in second — by two seats — to the multi-ethnic Iraqiya slate led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister. But Mr. Maliki outmaneuvered his rival and finally put together a winning coalition.


As part of the deal, Mr. Maliki accepted an American proposal to have Mr. Allawi lead a still-to-be-created council to oversee national security issues and provide some check on Mr. Maliki's powers.


The new government rightly includes all of Iraq's major communities. We are especially encouraged that Sunnis — disenfranchised after boycotting the 2005 election — were given several top posts, including speaker of Parliament. Mr. Allawi's bloc has a large number of Sunni supporters, which is another reason why the new council should be given real clout.


A secularly minded Sunni also became the minister of education, succeeding a religious Shiite, increasing the chance that education will become more secular and inclusive. Unfortunately, Iraqi women were shortchanged, being offered only one minor government office.


Iraq's factions, with their competing priorities, are going to have to work hard to make progress on the country's many problems. They must pass laws ensuring an equitable division of the country's oil wealth. They must make sweeping economic reforms, without which there is no chance of creating jobs for the 450,000 mostly young Iraqis entering the work force each year. They need to keep their promise of jobs to the thousands of Sunni fighters who came in from the cold.


At this point, Iraq's most dangerous fault line may be the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Arabs and Kurds. Washington must press Iraqis to find a solution, making clear that a Kurdish secession or a grab for Kirkuk would mean the end of American support.


President Obama has rightly promised to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal that was published on Tuesday, Mr. Maliki insisted that that deadline is firm. Still, the two leaders need to consider whether some number of forces — American or from the United Nations — should remain temporarily as a buffer in Kirkuk.


The administration deserves credit for goading Iraqis into a political deal. But the long delay and Iraq's daunting list of problems is a reminder that, even after the troops come home, Iraq will continue to need American attention, support and pressure.








President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia claims to champion the rule of law. He also claims that he, not Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, calls the shots in Moscow. Mr. Medvedev can prove both true by using his pardon power to ensure that Mikhail Khodorkovsky faces no additional prison time after being convicted on trumped-up embezzlement charges this week. Mr. Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, has already served seven years as a result of Mr. Putin's judicial vendetta against him.


Unfortunately, everything about Mr. Khodorkovsky's latest prosecution suggests that Russia's judiciary is still under Mr. Putin's thumb and Mr. Medvedev's talk of reform is just talk. Mr. Putin did not even wait for the trial to conclude before pronouncing Mr. Khodorkovsky guilty and demanding a lengthy new sentence.


Mr. Khodorkovsky is no paragon of virtue. He made his fortune through political connections and suspect deals in the early days of Russian capitalism. Later though, as the leader of the private oil conglomerate Yukos, he began to understand that transparency was good for business. He also became an advocate of political reform — and a bankroller of reform causes and candidates — thereby drawing Mr. Putin's enmity.


Mr. Khodorkovsky's early days as a robber baron may have left him legally vulnerable. But his 2005 conviction for tax fraud reeked of selective prosecution. Other oligarchs who steered clear of politics were not prosecuted. Then, as his sentence neared completion, the new charges were brought as a way of keeping him in jail and out of politics at least through the 2012 presidential election. Mr. Khodorkovsky plans to appeal.


After this week's verdict, the White House rightly expressed strong concerns about "abusive use of the legal system" and warned that Russian hopes for better relations with the United States and more foreign investment could both suffer.


The same judge who found Mr. Khodorkovsky guilty will now decide whether to impose a second, potentially lengthy, sentence. He should ignore Mr. Putin and let Mr. Khodorkovsky go free. If the judge fails to do his duty, and the conviction is not overturned on appeal, President Medvedev must use his pardon power. Both justice and Mr. Medvedev's credibility are on the line.







One of the sorrier blots on George W. Bush's sorry environmental record was a midnight deal in 2003 between Gale Norton, then the secretary of the interior, and Michael Leavitt, then the governor of Utah, that withdrew 2.6 million acres of public land in Utah from consideration as protected wilderness.


As part of the deal, Ms. Norton also renounced her department's longstanding authority to recommend vulnerable public lands of special beauty for permanent wilderness protection, thus sparing them from oil-and-gas drilling and other forms of commercial development.


The "no more wilderness" policy did more than threaten some of Utah's most fragile wild lands. What it said, in effect, was that none of the lands administered by the department's Bureau of Land Management, about 250 million acres, mostly in the Rocky Mountain West, would be considered for wilderness designation.


Last week, in a very welcome move, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reversed the Norton/Leavitt agreement on the Utah lands while reaffirming his department's right to preserve other public lands in their natural state for future generations.


Wilderness areas receive the highest protection — no development, no motorized use, no resource extraction. Right now about 110 million acres are so protected, and only Congress can add new areas. But designating lands as "wilderness study areas" — as the Utah lands would have been before the 2003 deal — gives them provisional protections until Congress has a chance to act.


The question now — and it's a big one — is whether the bureau will exercise its restored authority. Mr. Salazar has instructed it to give environmental values "high priority" when deciding how lands are to be used. But his policy does not require the bureau to conduct a fresh inventory of all its public lands or to designate new areas for interim protections.


It is not even clear what will happen to the 2.6 million acres in Utah. After the Norton-Leavitt agreement, the bureau authorized some oil-and-gas leasing and opened certain areas to off-road vehicles. Mr. Salazar's order gives the agency little guidance about what to do now, including whether to rescind the leases.


This leaves plenty of room for mischief from an agency that historically has been sympathetic to oil and gas companies and other commercial interests. The agency cannot be left to its own devices. If Mr. Salazar is really determined to protect this country's wild lands, he must take the lead.









Courage takes many forms. Frank Emi, who died in California on Dec. 1, age 94, had the steadfast kind, well suited for lonely struggles and ostracism.


He was a young Japanese-American man sent to an internment camp in Wyoming after Pearl Harbor. He could have gotten out by signing a loyalty oath and enlisting in the Army, proving his patriotism the way so many other Japanese-Americans did — honorably, irrefutably, with their blood, limbs and lives.


Mr. Emi marched in exactly the opposite direction. After receiving draft notices in the camp, he and six other young men created the Fair Play Committee. In March 1944, they signed a declaration challenging the internment policy and their conscription as shameful affronts to the Constitution and American ideals.


"We, the members of the FPC, are not afraid to go to war," they wrote. "We are not afraid to risk our lives for our country. We would gladly sacrifice our lives to protect and uphold the principles and ideals of our country as set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for on its inviolability depends the freedom, liberty, justice, and protection of all people, including Japanese-Americans and all other minority groups.


"But have we been given such freedom, such liberty, such justice, such protection? NO!!"


Mr. Emi and the six other original signers all refused to serve. More than 300 people in 10 camps joined them. All were prosecuted. Other Japanese-Americans mocked them as the "no-no boys." The Japanese American Citizens League denounced them as seditious. But Mr. Emi, who spent 18 months in a federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., was right to speak out.


After the war, Mr. Emi worked as a postal clerk and for the State of California. In the 1980s, he joined the fight for redress for Japanese-Americans who were deprived of their property and freedom.


Congress apologized in 1988. It took several more years for the Japanese American Citizens League to withdraw its slander against the resisters. It apologized in 2000. LAWRENCE DOWNES









JUST a few weeks ago, the fate of the New Start nuclear arms treaty seemed to hang by a thread. But since last

week, when the United States Senate ratified the treaty, which reduces the size of the American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, we can speak of a serious step forward for both countries. I hope this will energize efforts to take the next step to a world free of nuclear weapons: a ban on all nuclear testing.


In the final stretch, President Obama put his credibility and political capital on the line to achieve ratification. That a sufficient number of Republican senators put the interests of their nation's security, and the world's, above party politics is encouraging.


The success was not without cost. In return for the treaty's ratification, Mr. Obama promised to allocate tens of billions of dollars in the next few years for modernizing the American nuclear weapons arsenal, which is hardly compatible with a nuclear-free world.


Missile defense remains contentious. During the ratification debate, many senators objected to the treaty's language about the relationship between offensive and defensive arms, which the new agreement takes from the first Start treaty, signed in 1991. Others tried to scuttle ratification by complaining that New Start did not limit tactical nuclear weapons.


These attacks were fended off. Nevertheless, these problems clearly need to be discussed. There must be an agreement on missile defense. Tough negotiations are ahead on tactical nuclear weapons, and a realistic agreement is needed on the deployment of conventional forces in Europe. We shall see very soon whether all these issues were raised just for the sake of rhetoric, as a demagogical screen to maintain military superiority, or whether there is a real readiness to conclude agreements easing the military burden.


The priority now is to ratify the separate treaty banning nuclear testing. The stalemate on this agreement, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, has lasted more than a decade. I recall how hard it was in the second half of the 1980s to start moving in this direction. At the time, the Soviet Union declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. However, when the United States continued to test, we had to respond.


Even so, we insisted on our position of principle, calling for a total ban on nuclear testing under strict international control, including the use of seismic monitoring and on-site inspections.


In 1996 the United Nations General Assembly finally opened the test ban treaty for signing and ratification. But this pact has a particularly stringent requirement for its entry into force: every one of the 44 "nuclear technology holder states" must sign and ratify it.


As of today, 35 have done so, including Russia, France and Britain. Still, the list of countries that have not ratified remains formidable: It includes the United States, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan (the final three have not even signed). Each "rejectionist" country has its arguments, but all are not equally responsible for the stalemate. The process of ratification stalled after the United States Senate voted in 1999 to reject the treaty, claiming that it was not verifiable and citing the need for "stockpile stewardship" to assure the reliability of American weapons. The real reason was doubtless the senators' desire to keep testing.


Nevertheless, in the 21st century only one country, North Korea, has ventured to conduct nuclear explosions. There is, in effect, a multilateral moratorium on testing. It is increasingly obvious that for the international community nuclear explosions are unacceptable.


In the meantime the preparatory committee for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization has built up a strong verification regime. Nearly 250 monitoring stations — around 80 percent of the number needed to complete the system — are now in operation. And the system proved its effectiveness by detecting the relatively low-yield nuclear explosions conducted by North Korea.


So should we, perhaps, be content with the virtual moratorium on nuclear testing?


No, because commitments that are not legally binding can easily be violated. This would render futile any attempts to influence the behavior of countries that have been causing so many headaches for the United States and other nations. The American senators should give this serious thought. As George Shultz, secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, has said, Republicans may have been right when they rejected the treaty in 1999, but they would be wrong to do so again.


It is fairly certain that once the Senate agreed to ratification, most of the countries still waiting would follow.

No country wants to be a "rogue nation" forever, and we have seen that dialogue with even the most recalcitrant governments is possible. Yet dialogue can work only if the United States abandons the hypocritical position of telling others what they must not do while keeping its own options open.


Universal ratification of the test ban treaty would be a step toward creating a truly global community of nations, in which all share the responsibility for humankind's future.


Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd are off today.








Back in June, under pressure from President Obama, BP set aside $20 billion to settle claims arising from its oil spill in theGulf of Mexico. And Obama persuadedKenneth Feinberg, a mediator best known for having run the government fund to compensate victims of the 9/11 attacks, to oversee BP's pot of money.


Several months later, Feinberg is under fire from all sides. From people who think he's being too stingy. From people who think he's being too generous. From trial lawyers who think he's strong-arming claimants into renouncing their right to sue.


The fund administrator admits he's made mistakes and midcourse corrections, and he concedes that there has been too little transparency about how the decisions are made.


That said, our impression is that Feinberg is making a sincere, good-faith effort to get money fast to people who suffered from the spill, without enriching the undeserving. It's a difficult balancing act.


Fishermen, tour boat operators and beachfront hotel owners with oily beaches are the easy calls. But the decision-making quickly gets harder: What about the golf course 10 miles from the beach that lost business? (Too indirect, Feinberg decided.) Or beachfront hotels in Florida hundreds of miles from the closest oil? (Feinberg initially said no but changed his mind under pressure.) A shrimp processor farther north got money because it dealt exclusively in Gulf shrimp. But dentists much closer to the Gulf — no.


Not unreasonably, Feinberg asks for at least some documentation. Some claims were denied because they came with no tax records to prove past income, apparently because the claimants had never paid taxes. Message from those who do pay Uncle Sam every year: Too bad.


It's impossible, of course, to dangle up to $20 billion in free money and not attract some fraudsters. One claimant wanted the entire $20 billion; others submitted claims for businesses that turned out never to have existed. The Justice Department is looking into some of the worst cases.


Since August, the fund has received 450,000 requests for money (Feinberg expected only 100,000) and made$2.5 billion in emergency payments to 170,000 people and businesses. The sheer volume makes errors likely, but that's no excuse for not paying people like a shrimper recently profiled by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. There's more than enough money to hire as many troubleshooters as necessary to resolve claims.


Now Feinberg is trying to begin wrapping things up by offering claimants final payments in exchange for giving up their right to sue BP or anyone else. Claimants who have already been vetted can take a quick $5,000 ($25,000 for businesses), no questions asked. Or apply for a lump sum tailored to their circumstances. Or, for those who aren't as optimistic as Feinberg that the worst environmental damage in the Gulf is over, there's a third option to file for quarterly payments while reserving the right to sue if, for instance, oystering doesn't recover.


Despite the howling from trial lawyers, it's hard to imagine many claimants for whom one of those options wouldn't make more sense than filing a lawsuit and hoping for a better payoff years from now. The litigation over the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska in 1989 dragged on for more than 20 years and paid off less than many claimants expected, and after many of them had died. The first major federal trial in the BP case won't take place until 2012.


For most claimants, taking a payment is probably a better option than playing the litigation lottery. But just as with the mortgage mess, people have to watch out for themselves, weigh the alternatives and make decisions with their eyes wide open.








Gulf Coast Claims Facility AdministratorKenneth Feinberg cannot be trusted. While Feinberg has tried to persuade residents of the Gulf Coast that he works for them — referring to himself as their advocate and friend — he was hired by BP, his law firm is being paid $850,000 a month by BP, and every action he has taken has benefited BP.


Feinberg is brought to Gulf Coast residents by the same BP that, at one time, attempted to swindle them out of their claims by offering them a one-time payment in exchange for a complete release from liability or that, at another time, had spent more money on damage-control advertising than it had on paying claims.


Feinberg has exploited the hopelessness and despair that many Gulf Coast residents feel as they face bankruptcy and live in the shadow of BP's latest broken promises by telling them that they will receive a better deal through the claims process than if they go to court — a statement he cannot substantiate.


Feinberg says he is the best avenue for fair reimbursement. Residents up and down the coast wish that Feinberg would live up to his self-promotion. Sadly, he is content to fly into the region (on his BP-provided corporate jet) to coerce residents to trust him, and then to fly back home to New York — far from the damage.


Repeatedly, my fellow Gulf Coast attorneys general and I have demanded that Feinberg offer a claims process that is at least as consumer friendly as what BP had originally agreed with us to put in place.


Regrettably, throughout this process Feinberg has dragged his feet, admittedly applying uneven criteria to many well-documented claims from businesses on the verge of bankruptcy and closure, thus pressuring business owners to take whatever small compensation he offered.


In an effort to protect our people, Alabama even took the extraordinary step of issuing a scam alert to caution our citizens to proceed through Feinberg's claims process with care. Claimants are strongly encouraged to consult with counsel before signing any final claim paperwork with the claims facility.


Each citizen must give deep and serious thought to his own situation and what is the best way to proceed. It is unfortunate, but clear to me, that our citizens cannot simply accept Feinberg's advice, trusting it to be in their best interest — for it may well not be so.


Troy King, a Republican, is Alabama attorney general.








Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democraticstrategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.


Today: What awaits us in the new year?


Cal: Not to gloat, but I scored well on my predictions last year at this time for what was likely to happen in 2010. I got the strength of the Tea Party right, predicting a big Republican victory in the November election, while you berated them as a "tiny percentage of the electorate." You also predicted unemployment would be under 10% and falling by last month. Instead, real unemployment is much higher and looking like it will remain high through this year.


Bob: Unemployment is under 10%. Yes, barely, but I'm technically right! The Tea Party was a big factor in Republican primaries but had little if any impact in the general election. It did manage to get right-wingers nominated, only to ultimately lose Senate seats in NevadaColorado and Delaware. In a terrible Democratic year, the Tea Party saved the Senate for the Democrats. Prediction: The Tea Party will help nominate a right-winger for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. That person will go on to be crushed by PresidentObama.


Cal: I thought we were on 2011! I predict President Obama will try to pull a Bill Clinton and move to the middle on some issues, but it will be a short visit to the political center. The gravity of the hard left will be too much for him, and by year's end he'll be the same hard-core leftist we've had for two years. I'll predict what he will do in 2012 in next December's year-end column.


Bob: Sorry to jump the gun to 2012, but I just can't wait for Obama's revenge.


Cal: Obama's revenge? Sounds like a bad movie title. Then again, the last two years have felt like a bad movie that just wouldn't end, so maybe it's apt!


Bob: You watch, he'll successfully move to the center in 2011 and win big politically because of it. For a preview, we've had the lame-duck session. After compromising on the tax cut/stimulus package, he got the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and the New START treaty passed. Not bad for a "weak" president.


Cal: Yet his popularity is still awfully low, which won't change much heading into his run for re-election. Which brings me to his challenger. The race for the GOP nomination will pick up steam early in the new year, of course. After much flirting with the idea, Sarah Palin will put her weight behind someone else in the GOP field who shares her values. That's right. She won't run. Instead she will bring her formidable star power to fundraising for congressional candidates and for the person who ultimately wins the nomination. Newt Gingrich will announce in February that he's running, and Mike Huckabee will decide he likes his show on Fox, the nice salary and New York apartment and not run.


Bob: If you haven't noticed, the president's job approval is rising, and Sarah Palin will run. But if she gets the Republican nomination, she'll lose in a landslide. Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi's Haley Barbour are on the GOP bench. With the exception of Gingrich and Barbour, the rest would be road kill for President Obama.


Cal: You're assuming clear sailing for the president. If his approval numbers dip below the 40% reported in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, you'll hear rumblings about a possible primary challenge in 2012.


Bob: The economy in 2011 will still be the issue, and I expect unemployment to drop below 9%. The recovery will gain momentum, and Obama's approval number will be close to 50% by year's end. There is as much of a chance of a serious primary challenge to Obama from the left as there is of you becoming a Democrat.


Cal: Any predictions for the State of the Union speech? After all, it will set the tone for the new year.


Bob: I expect the president to use that stage to announce a real tax reform program that will include much lower rates. But to do so, he'll have to take some tough political positions on abolishing some deductions for home mortgages and eliminating most farm subsidies. And guess what? The Republicans will go along because they've been preaching tax reform for years. To oppose it now would be foolish and transparently political.


Cal: Obama embracing overall lower tax rates. That I'd like to see. What about national security issues? In Afghanistan, the president will withdraw a symbolic number of troops in July, but not enough to affect the war's outcome. He increasingly understands the consequences of going into 2012 saddled with a defeat. As a significant side note, someone will try to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


Bob: I agree with you on the troops, but not on Karzai. Here's one for you: The U.S. will lead an allied mission

to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. It will set the program back years, and despite publicly condemning the U.S. and Israel, most Mideast states will quietly rejoice.


Cal: I'll celebrate if that happens and even praise the president (or the Israelis). On the war in terrorism, I predict (and hope) that U.S. drones in Pakistan will take out a top al-Qaeda leader, perhaps Ayman al-Zawahiri, its No. 2. Meanwhile, despite multiple successes in thwarting another terrorist attack on our homeland — if you don't include the Fort Hood shooter — I fear one will get through and kill scores of people in 2011 with either gunfire, an exploding vest or car bomb. The country will demand a crackdown on Muslim immigrants and on construction of their schools and mosques. President Obama will be faced with an enormously important decision, and he will mostly punt.


Bob: Unfortunately, I think you're right about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, but you're wrong about Obama's reaction. He'll show extraordinary leadership, and the people will see him much as they saw him during the campaign: as the right person to lead this country at this point in American history.


Cal: What about the new Republican-infused Congress? It'll start targeting government spending very quickly, and unions and liberals will scream in unison that the GOP is evil and set upon culling old people and harming children. Republicans will be predictably portrayed as uncaring and insensitive to all but the "rich."


Bob: I predict you're right. Why? Because many Republicans couldn't care less about the poor and are lap dogs for the rich. Having to now share governance, the Republicans will show what they are made of. And Americans will remember why they didn't like a GOP government a few years ago.


Cal: You've been sipping the Democratic National Committee Kool-Aid again. Republicans care about showing the poor how to get out of poverty. You Democrats want to send them a government check that keeps them mired in poverty. Here's a last prediction: A major celebrity will find God and change her ways. The conversion will harm her career, but improve her life.


Bob: I'm not a celebrity, but I found God, and my life gets better and better after being near ruin. Whoever you're speaking of, I will pray it comes true. May you and yours have a wonderful 2011.


Cal: And the same to you, Bob. May your new year be filled with lower taxes and less government spending!










With help from big projects such as the new Volkswagen plant -- and a number of smaller but significant other projects -- Chattanooga has been spared some of the extremely high unemployment