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Saturday, January 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 30.01.10

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Editorial

month  january 30, edition 000417, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. OBAMA HAS GOT IT WRONG
  2. WHAT PEACE? WHAT TALKS?
  3. JUSTICE DONE, BUT IN PART - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  4. BE ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE - SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
  5. INDIA IN THE NEW BANGLADESH - JOYEETA BHATTACHARJEE
  6. HASINA DELIVERS HISTORIC OUTCOMES - SWARN KUMAR ANAND
  7. MAJOR HUJI ELEMENTS STILL AT LARGE - SAMUEL BAID

MAIL TODAY

  1. THE ARMY CHIEF DOES THE RIGHT THING, AT LAST
  2. IRRATIONAL MAYAWATI
  3. SCRAP PADMA AWARDS
  4. YOU MUST REPORT THE REAL THING - BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
  5. DIGITAL INK - SACHIN KALBAG
  6. SENA THREAT TO KING KHAN AND AMBANI
  7. RAISINA TATTLE

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CHUCKLE DE, WORLD
  2. MY COMMUNITY, MY COUNTRY - CHETAN BHAGAT
  3. STATE SUPPORT JUSTIFIED TO REVIVE HOCKEY
  4. THE GAME'S ON THE DECLINE - PRODOSH MITRA
  5. THE OLD HOME TOWN - GAUTAM ADHIKARI

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. OBAMA'S STATE OF DISUNION
  2. STROKE OF LUCK
  3. INDRAJIT HAZRA
  4. MULLIGATAWNY, DEAR WATSON! - DIPANKAR BHATTACHARYA
  5. FILM STARS ARE THE NEW TV ATTRACTIONS - POONAM SAXENA
  6. A JOURNEY WITHOUT MAPS - PRATIK KANJILAL
  7. THEY SERVE A PURPOSE - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. WITH NO CREDIT
  2. FRAMED
  3. DOUBLE STANDARDS
  4. WITH NO CREDIT
  5. EXIT AMERICA. AND THEN WHAT? - ROGER COHEN
  6. PRINTLINE PAKISTAN - RUCHIKA TALWAR
  7. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN - ALIA ALLANA
  8. WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT SO QUIET ON THE CULTURAL FRONT? - GITANJALISURENDRAN

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. RBI ERRS
  2. IT'S STILL RHETORIC
  3. SUBBARAO'S MONETARY POLICY MUDDLE - MADAN SABNAVIS
  4. POPULISM ON OUTSOURCING WON'T HELP - DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
  5. BEND IT LIKE JAIRAM - RITUPARNA BHUYAN

THE HINDU

  1. MOVING AWAY FROM EASY MONEY
  2. EARTHQUAKES AND SCIENCE
  3. ONE MONTH AFTER COPENHAGEN - M.R. SRINIVASAN
  4. HAITI'S RECOVERY SHOULD START WITH DEBT CANCELLATION - SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI
  5. WHAT LIES IN STORE FOR ANTARCTICA, THE WORLD'S LAST REPOSITORY? - ILYA KRAMNIK

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. INFLATION: RBI MEANS BUSINESS
  2. THE PADMAS & CHAPLOOSI - SHOBHAA'S
  3. ADVENTURES IN BOOKLAND - KISHWAR DESAI
  4. HOPE REDUX? - SHREEKANT SAMBRANI

DNA

  1. BALL IS IN FM'S COURT
  2. THE PILAO, IRANIAN STYLE - JAVED GAYA
  3. ECHOES OF MUMBAI IN KUALA LUMPUR - NINAD SIDDHAYE
  4. GOODBYE SALINGER - MICHIKO KAKUTANI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. RBI CURBS MONEY SUPPLY
  2. OUTSOURCING BLUES
  3. LAW ON CLINICS
  4. IMPROVING GOVERNANCE - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. THOSE FOUR LETTER WORDS - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
  6. SRI LANKA MUST SHARE POWER WITH TAMILS - BY RAJINDER SACHAR
  7. SECURITY, GOVERNANCE TOP AFGHAN AGENDA - BY ANITA INDER SINGH
  8. INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. COMMISSION'S REPORT
  2. CHILD TRAFFICKING
  3. TIME MANAGEMENT - ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
  4. MAHATMA GANDHI – AS AN ECONOMIST - MOON MOON SARMAH

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. JAPAANI JOOTA PINCHING
  2. BLAIR APPEARS FOR IRAQ WAR'S CHILCOT INQUIRY IN LONDON   

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. TATA STEEL: ROBUST NUMBERS - VISHAL CHHABRIA
  2. PLAYING WITH FIRE - T N NINAN
  3. MAN-MADE GLOBAL WARMING - DEEPAK LAL
  4. E-READING THE TEA LEAVES - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  5. ARE ECONOMISTS ALONE TO BLAME? - V V
  6. YIN AND YANG - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  7. JYOTI MALHOTRA: WE'RE NOW PART OF THE SOLUTION - JYOTI MALHOTRA
  8. GEETANJALI KRISHNA: OLD ISN'T GOLD, IT'S COPPER - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
  9. KISHORE SINGH: MORE KIMCHI THAN TEA - KISHORE SINGH
  10. CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS - WEI GU
  11. BEARD UNTIL 2014 - RICHARD BEALES
  12. CAT RETEST FROM TODAY, 10,000 TO APPEAR - CHITRA UNNITHAN & VINAY UMARJI

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. UPBEAT RBI
  2. A WELCOME INITIATIVE
  3. HEELING TOUCH
  4. CRR HIKE MAY TAKE INVESTORS TO FIPS - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN
  5. SEBI LIKELY TO TIGHTEN RULES FOR RATING AGENCIES - REENA ZACHARIAH
  6. FUNDS MAKING A BEELINE FOR GOLD FUND OF FUNDS
  7. INDIAN TELCOS CAN BECOME GLOBAL PLAYERS: BT CHIEF - SUDESHNA SEN
  8. A COMPOSER OF COSMIC TUNES - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  9. 'BANKERS HAVE ASSURED RATES WON'T RISE SOON

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. INFLATION: RBI MEANS BUSINESS
  2. KITCHEN TERRORISTS - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. HIGH 'PRESSURE'
  4. THE PADMAS & CHAPLOOSI  - BY SHOBHAA'S TAKE
  5. HOPE REDUX? - BY SHREEKANT SAMBRANI
  6. ADVENTURES IN BOOKLAND - BY KISHWAR DESAI

THE STATESMAN

  1. ANTONY'S 'ADVICE'
  2. BASIC OBLIGATION
  3. MANAGING MINORITIES
  4. TOUGH LOVE - SANKAR SEN
  5. DELHI DURBAR
  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
  7. CALCUTTA KENNEL CLUB
  8. ON RECORD

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. TEST OF A DIFFERENT CLASS
  2. LEARNING FROM AMERICA - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. STRANGE RELUCTANCE
  2. RISKY VENTURE
  3. GM CONTAMINATION - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
  4. PAVE WAY FOR THE PALESTINIAN STATE - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. STAYING YOUNG - BY D V GURUPRASAD

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE INSURER VS. THE HOSPITALS
  2. IRAN, AFTER THE DEADLINE
  3. LOST IN TRANSLATION - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
  4. A RADICAL TREASURE - BY BOB HERBERT
  5. THE PRE-POSTMODERNIST - BY DAVID LODGE
  6. ANOTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTH - BY GAIL COLLINS

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE MISSING
  2. UP IN SMOKE
  3. DEMOLISH THE MYTH
  4. CONSPIRACY THEORIES - ARIF NIZAMI
  5. LEARNING FROM KOREA - JAVED MASUD
  6. PLAYING THE SINDH CARD - ZAFAR HILALY
  7. FISCAL COMPLACENCY - SHAHID KARDAR
  8. REFORMING OF SELF - BABAR SATTAR
  9. PITY THE NATION - MIR ADNAN AZIZ

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. CJ DISPELS UNFOUNDED APPREHENSIONS
  2. SINDH PA'S SHOCKING OPPOSITION TO POWER PROJECT
  3. BREAKTHROUGH AT LONDON CONFERENCE
  4. EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION - NOSHEEN SAEED
  5. INDIA'S SECULAR TERRORISM - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  6. PAKISTAN'S STAND VINDICATED? - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  7. USA'S NEW TURN…! - SAJID ANSARI
  8. IRAQIS HAVE REAL HOPE FOR THE FUTURE - WILLIAM SHAWCROSS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. QUAKE PREPAREDNESS
  2. PIRACY IN THE BAY
  3. KILLJOYS IN THE GOVERNMENT..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
  4. UPDATING EXISTING COPYRIGHT ACT - PROFESSOR MOHAMMAD NURUL HUDA
  5. INDONESIA UPS TRADE WITH SOMALIA - DR TERRY LACEY

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. MEMO PM: TIME TO SHIFT SPEEDS
  2. A VICTORY FOR EVERYBODY WHO BELIEVES IN EDUCATION

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. OBAMA'S HIGH-WIRE ACT ON THE ECONOMY
  2. LET US THEREFORE BRACE OURSELVES TO OUR DUTY
  3. THE IRAQ WAR MUST NOT REMAIN A CLOSED BOOK

THE GUARDIAN

  1. BLAIR AT THE IRAQ INQUIRY: NO REGRETS
  2. GREECE: UNDER A BYZANTINE SHROUD

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. HONEST LOOK
  2. INNOVATION KEY
  3. IS GREEN DESIGN JUST GOOD DESIGN? - M.K. THOMPSON
  4. GOING AFTER TERROR'S TOP SYMBOL

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. SHOTS ACROSS THE BOW
  2. OUR DUTY TO REMEMBER AUSCHWITZ
  3. YEAR OF U.S.-CHINA DISCORD? - BY IAN BREMMER AND DAVID GORDON

DAILY MIRROR

  1. RUMOUR, LIKE A TUMOR IN THE BRAIN
  2. THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA VICTORY
  3. POLARIZATION ON ETHNIC LINES: A BAD SIGN  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

OBAMA HAS GOT IT WRONG

PROTECTIONISM WILL PROVE COSTLY FOR US


In announcing an enhanced tax burden on those American companies that "ship jobs overseas" President Barack Obama may end up creating more problems than he resolves. Admittedly, he is within his rights to focus on the unemployment crisis in the US. More than Iraq and Afghanistan, more than nuclear non-proliferation and nice speeches in faraway capitals, what is going to affect Mr Obama's re-election chances in 2012 is the economy. It can make or break him. If Middle America is no more optimistic of his capabilities of managing the economy and improving prosperity, Mr Obama will almost certainly go down as a one-term President, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize. However, he has done little to give the impression that he understands the depth of the economic mess his country is in, or has a sustainable solution to it. What is worrying him most is that, as the stimulus begins to be withdrawn and corporate America and Wall Street go back to being on their own, bereft of Government bail-outs, the fledgling recovery seen in the past few weeks will vanish. A W-shaped, double-dip recession is now seen as a near certainty and a second reversal, albeit a smaller one than the big decline of 2008-09, is likely in the middle of the year. A pick-up in the economy, say some analysts, may not be forthcoming till the latter half of 2011, perhaps even later. This is a nightmare scenario for any politician, especially an incumbent President who has to go back to his people and convince them they have become better off under him. Mr Obama has to invent jobs, and invent them quickly.


Unfortunately, the route he has chosen is inherently short-sighted and tackles the symptoms rather than get to the crux of the issue. In terms of sheer numbers, outsourcing technology jobs to Bangalore has contributed very little to job losses in the US. On the other hand, it has increased profitability of American firms and put more money in the hands of shareholders. However, the "Buffalo not Bangalore" dialectic has become a catchy slogan for protectionist sentiment. Mr Obama has actively encouraged this. Low-cost, Government-subsidised manufacturing in China costs the American worker much, much more. Yet, the man in the White House is too overawed by the Chinese to ask hard questions of them.


Ultimately, however, it is not a question of which country takes away more American jobs — India or China or a third. What is at stake here is American commitment to free trade and to the tradition of innovation that has made it an economic powerhouse. Every recent recession has been vanquished by a technology surge. The Great Depression ended with the defence industry's boom during World War II, the spin-offs from which transformed American homes, offices and factories. The slowdown of the early-1990s was finally brushed aside by the Information Technology revolution that began in Silicon Valley. The seeds of an American renewal are to be found here and not in proto-xenophobic grandstanding. In reality, the market is ripe for green technologies that will combat climate change and herald new-generation manufacturing processes. Of all the countries in the world, the US is best positioned to develop, commercialise and deploy such technologies. This is what Mr Obama should focus on, even if the time-frame doesn't suit his re-election hopes.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

WHAT PEACE? WHAT TALKS?

LET PAKISTAN STOP AIDING TERRORISTS FIRST


The past week has witnessed needless debate about the current freeze in India-Pakistan relations and the non-selection of Pakistani cricketers for IPL 3. Pakistan has been constantly complaining that the freeze in diplomatic relations is harming the prospects of regional 'peace'. Some within the Indian establishment too are beginning to question the efficacy of not talking to Pakistan. But the question here is not whether the diplomatic freeze is detrimental to regional peace but whether engaging Pakistan through the composite dialogue process will achieve anything. Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is reported to have said that "one incident" — the 26/11 fidayeen attack on Mumbai — should not be allowed to hold talks between the two countries to ransom. But Mr Gilani forgets that things have come to this pass not just because of what happened in Mumbai when Ajmal Amir Kasab and his fellow Pakistani jihadis colleagues butchered 189 innocent civilians, but the numerous instances of Pakistan-sponsored mass murder that amply prove Islamabad's refusal to give up terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Even today Pakistan is dragging its feet over the prosecution of those who planned 26/11. All that it has done, despite numerous dossiers provided by India, is file a chargesheet against middle and lower-level Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operatives while sparing the terrorist organisation's chief Hafiz Saeed. It is clear that groups such as the LeT are too closely associated with the Islamabad establishment to get rid of.


The Pakistani leadership, such as it is, makes it sound that unless talks are resumed, war between the two countries is the only option. This is plain bunkum. Talks have been put on hold because Islamabad refuses to address the core issue of cross-border terrorism. Bilateral talks cannot move forward unless there is progress on this front. Islamabad cannot expect things to be normal while we continue to be at the receiving end of the nefarious designs of Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Moreover, whom do we talk to in Pakistan? The so-called civilian Government? The Army? The ISI? Or the American Ambassador? Pakistan is facing a serious crisis with the Taliban turning on their masters. Yet, Pakistan refuses to acknowledge the problem. Under these circumstances, there is no logical reason for India to revive dialogue with Pakistan. For the moment, Islamabad should worry about talks at home, not 'peace' talks.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

JUSTICE DONE, BUT IN PART

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


The execution on January 27 of five persons guilty of assassinating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and all members of his family, except daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, who were then abroad, signifies that justice has been done over 34 years after the commission of the crime on August 15, 1975. Of the seven others sentenced to death, one died in Zimbabwe in 2002 and six are still at large. While justice delayed is better than justice denied, one needs to ensure that justice is fully done.


Bangladesh's Law Minister, Mr Shafique Ahmed, said on January 27 that the Government had taken effective steps to bring back the six to the country and try them. The Awami League's deputy leader in Parliament, Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, told reporters, also on January 27, "If there is humanity in the world, the respective countries should arrest the convicts and send them back here." For the six to be sent back to Bangladesh, intense pressure has to be mounted on the countries where they are now. Here, Bangladesh's efforts should be supplemented by other countries, particularly India, with whom Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had a very special relationship.

The responsibility of other countries merits attention. It will be morally reprehensible if the killers of a leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman go scotfree even after being sentenced to death. Despite the nearly all-pervasive cynicism of our time, morality remains important as the most important pre-condition for freedom, the content of democracy. Besides, one can hardly exaggerate the need for deterrence to such crimes in the future in the form of the rendition of full justice. The message must go out, that the long arm of law will catch up with the guilty, even if that takes over 34 years.


The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and all but two members of his family was not an isolated criminal act or merely the work of ambitious and/or embittered military officers. It was a part of a conspiracy to undo the secular and democratic legacy of Bangladesh's liberation war which claimed the lives of three million Bangladeshis and saw the mass rape of women. As Chief Martial Law Administrator, Maj Gen Zia-ur Rahman revoked Article 38 of Bangladesh's 1972 Constitution, banning communal parties and organisations. Later, as President, he removed in 1977 the declaration in the same Constitution of secularism as a principle of state policy, and a definition of what secularism meant in practice. Gen Zia-ur Rahman and Gen HM Ershad, who became President a brief while after the former's assassination on May 30, 1981, put Bangladesh on a course of Islamisation underlined by the 1988 declaration of Islam as the country's state religion. Islamist fundamentalists became increasingly assertive and violent.


The undoing of this sinister process which facilitated the rise of organisations like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, is important not only for reviving the heritage of the liberation war but for victory in the fight against global Islamist terrorism. The main beneficiaries of the military dictatorships, functioning with or without a civilian fig leaf, were people like Mr Golam Azam, Mr Matiur Rahman Nizami, Mr Abu Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid who had collaborated with the Pakistani Army during the liberation war and their party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. They had identified freedom fighters and their families, tortured and murdered them, collaborated in the mass killings and rape besides being involved in the infamous murder of intellectuals and cultural personalities in December 1971.

The collaborators either fled the country or went underground after liberation in December 1971. President Zia-ur Rahman allowed Mr Golam Azam to return on a Pakistani passport and two weeks' visa in 1977. He was not only not tried for his crimes, but allowed to stay on at his residence at Mogbazar, Dhaka, even after the expiry of his visa. The Jamaat re-emerged as a political party at a conference in Dhaka in 1979. Mr Golam Azam functioned secretly as the party's Ameer while Mr Abbas Ali Khan became its officiating Ameer. The latter declared at the reincarnated Jamaat's first Press conference on December 7 that year, "What I did for the country and the race was right in 1971 and was meant to defend Bangladesh from the Indian aggressor."


The Jamaat and its organisation for students, the Islami Chhatra Shibir, constitute the principal spawning ground of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh. Almost all of the latter's leaders like Mohammad Asadullah al-Galib of JMB, 'Banglabhai' or Siddiqul Islam, the Operations Commander of JMJB, and Mufti Abdul Hannan, Operations Commander of the HuJIB, are from the stables of the two organisations.


The killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the starting point of a process that led to the rise of Bangladesh as a hub of Islamist terrorism. The promulgation of the infamous Indemnity Ordinance by Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed, who became Bangladesh's President following Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's assassination, was the first indication of the two being linked. The Ordinance provided the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as well as those of the Awami League leaders in Dhaka Central Jail on the night of November 3-4, 1975, immunity from punishment and blocked investigation into both crimes.


Things started moving only after Mr Mohitul Islam, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's personal assistant, filed a case against the killers on October 2, 1996, and Sheikh Hasina's first Government revoked the Indemnity Ordinance in November 1996, enabling the trial to proceed. Though the Bangladesh High Court finally sentenced the 12 accused to death on April 30, 2001, an appeal to the Supreme Court held up matters. Significantly, the latter did not hear the appeal even for a single day during Begum Khaleda Zia's second tenure as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006.


Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's killers, Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP, the Jamaat and the terrorist organisations linked to the latter, are thus parts of the same political formation that promotes terrorism. Punishment of the rest of the killers is bound to demoralise Islamist terrorists, as will the trial and sentencing of the war criminals, most of whom are, or were, leading lights of the Jamaat or its foot soldiers. Meanwhile, Bangladesh must be ready to face retaliation, and India to render it every assistance it needs.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

BE ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE

SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR


There are five types of restlessness. The first is due to the place you are in. When you move away from certain places, streets or houses, you immediately feel better. Chanting, singing, or the innocence of children playing and laughing can change this atmospheric restlessness. If you chant and sing, the vibration in the place changes.


The second type of restlessness is in the body. Eating the wrong food, eating at odd times, not exercising and overworking can cause physical restlessness. The remedy for this is exercise, moderation in work habits and following a simple diet.


The third type of restlessness is mental restlessness. It is caused by ambition, strong thoughts, likes or dislikes. Knowledge alone can cure this restlessness; this includes seeing life from a broader perspective, knowing about the Self and realising the impermanence of everything. If you achieve everything, so what? After your achievement, you will die. Knowledge of your death or life, confidence in the Self and in the divine can all calm down mental restlessness.


There is also emotional restlessness. Any amount of knowledge does not help here. Sudarshan kriya helps. With it all emotional restlessness vanishes. Also, the presence of a guru, a wise person or a saint, can help calm emotional restlessness.


The fifth type of restlessness is rare. It is the restlessness of the soul, when everything feels empty and meaningless. Do not try to get rid of this feeling. Embrace it! This restlessness of the soul can bring genuine prayer in you. It brings perfection, siddhis and miracles in life. It is also needed to get that innermost longing for the divine. Satsangs and the presence of enlightened people soothe the restlessness of the soul. Do not look for the divine somewhere in the sky. See god in every pair of eyes, in the mountains, water, trees and animals. See god in yourself.


Heightened awareness brings you close to the reality. For this you have to increase your prana. When you have reverence for the whole universe, you are in harmony with the whole universe.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIA IN THE NEW BANGLADESH

THE MANMOHAN SINGH GOVERNMENT HAS PLACED HIGH STAKES ON A NEW DIPLOMATIC BREAKTHROUGH WITH BANGLADESH, AND THEREFORE SHOULD CONSTANTLY LOOK FOR WAYS TO TOP UP COOPERATION FOR FEAR OF REVIVING SHEIKH HASINA'S RETROGRADE OPPONENTS

JOYEETA BHATTACHARJEE


Optimism on the future of India-Bangladesh relations is ranging high following Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India earlier this month. The new high struck in the four-decade-long, roller-coaster diplomacy exemplifies the golden fact that all adversities in bilateral relations can be resolved if the political urge is genuine.


A veritable mountain of impossibilities was conquered. Issues once regarded as permanent fell by the wayside. The climax of the Hasina visit was the signing of three major agreements on security affairs, viz, the Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters, Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons and Agreement on Combating Terrorism, Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking. The biggest clincher was Bangladesh agreeing to provide India port access at Chittagong and Mongla. Such a historic breakthrough would not have been possible without an Awami League government into power in Dhaka. The League has historically been inclined to developing friendly relations with India. Under the previous, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), India-Bangladesh ties often reached boiling point over security matters. On many occasions India accused Bangladesh of being a safe haven for anti-India groups and clashed with Dhaka over inaction which was both perceived and real. Inevitably, Bangladesh declared India's claims as baseless.


Dhaka's attitude only made India sceptic about the country's intentions. Similarly, the bilateral relations witnessed a downward trend with regard to issues concerning connectivity. India needed transit rights to it's north-eastern region apart from port access and successive governments since PV Narasimha Rao had ceaselessly articulated the benefits that could accrue to Bangladesh from this. But Dhaka always scotched the possibility saying it amounted to turning over its territory to India and surrendering its sovereignty. The major obstacle to resolving these issues had been the divided politics of the country. The Awami League is the left-of-centre party that led the country's freedom movement with a rich past in working with India. In its previous term in power (1996-2001), the League government had sharpened a nuanced tilt towards India. On the other hand, the BNP is right-of-centre and has many radical right-wing political parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami as its partners. The BNP-led coalition often utilises the Awami League's India-friendly image to attack it as anti-national and the anti-India propaganda buttresses its claim to nationalism.


Quite naturally, every change of regime in Dhaka significantly influences the country's relations with India. Bilateral relations with India improved under the only Awami League government that preceded the present one. The Ganges Water treaty was signed during this tenure. But the two BJP regimes that New Delhi had to deal with since restoration of democracy in 1991 often saw the relationship hit rock bottom. The lowest was reached during the 2001-06 term of Khaleda Zia.


However there were also instances when the Awami League had to distance itself from India just to counter the BNP's political attacks. For instance, Sheikh Hasina had to suspend the idea of providing transit rights to India after taking baby steps in that direction. She faced such strong anti-India propaganda attacks from the BNP that she feared her hard-won middle-class base could be swayed. In her current term also, she is challenged by the BNP's anti-Indiaism. So, Sheikh Hasina needs to be commended for taking bold steps to withstand pressure from the fundamentalists of Bengladeshi society and polity. She has virtually put her entire political future on the line by seeking a solid political and economic relationship with India.Undoubtedly, Sheikh Hasina's fondness for India has a certain compulsion. She has transcended all barriers because she recognises the economic aspirations of the new generation of Bangladeshis. She won the 2008 election on a landslide by holding out the promise of economic development, waging war against Islamic militancy and holding trials of war criminals. Being a poor country, Bangladesh has necessarily got to hitch its economic wagon on to the engine of India. In this respect, she has shown the greatest statesmanship among India's south Asian neighbours. Sheikh Hasina realises that having a neighbour (India) which is the world's fastest growing economy helps. Bangladesh stand to benefit immensely by linkage to India's infrastructure and market.

Another important reason was the scepter of fundamentalism. The pro-Awami mandate was a mandate against right-wing Islam. So, Sheikh Hasina is determined to take drastic measure for combating militancy. Her government has banned the dreaded Harkat-ul Jihad Bangladesh (Huji) and arrested many of its cadre. Interestingly, the investigations vindicated India's suggestion that many of the militant groups from Bangladesh had linkages with various international militant organisations, which was denied by the Khaleda Zia regime. The arrest of Huji cadre, along with Lasker-e-Tayyaba operatives from Bangladesh in connection with LeT's plans to attack the Indian High Commission and American Embassy in Dhaka is a grim example. Under the present circumstances no country would be able to fight militancy by itself. It needs to cooperate with other countries. Partnership with India, geographically Bangladesh's closest and also a country with the greatest experience in dealing with terrorism, was an attractive proposition. It goes to Sheikh Hasina's credit that she succeeded in overcoming inhibitions for crossing over.


The issue of the trial of Bangladesh's war criminals is also an important reason for Sheikh Hasina to seek India's cooperation. By 'war criminals' is meant those Bengalis who had collaborated with the Pakistani army during the country's liberation war of 1971 and carried out atrocities on the freedom fighters. The trial of war criminals is expected to begin shortly. But this issue has antagonised a significant section, mainly the fundamentalist Jamaat -e-Islami, as many of its leaders are believed to have partied with the Pakistani regime. This urge for settling old scores is an old one and found expression even during Sheikh Hasina's 1996-2001 term. But she was distracted by other problems and could not take it forward. The issue refused to die down however. During the Khaleda Zia tenure (2001-06), ordinary Bangladeshis were shocked to find the very men who had acted as agents of the Pakistanis taking over important posts in public life. The institutionalisation of the fundamentalist obelisk in Bangladeshi life was interpreted as a return of Pakistani influence. Naturally Sheikh Hasina got the benefit of the sentiment.


The other side of the anti-Pakistan coin in Bangladeshi politics is pro-Indiaism. The return of the 'war criminals' issue to the centre stage is, therefore, good news for New Delhi. It requires no overstressing that Dhaka-Islamabad ties are presently at its lowest. Maintaining stability and security in the region is an imperative not just for Bangladesh's economic development but also India's much-marginalised north-east. It is also essential for the future of moderate politics in the two countries. Hence, India should do everything possible for ensuring the success of the new diplomatic thrust. Sheikh Hasina's ability to remain in power hinges on the confidence of her people, which would naturally get eroded if the economic dividends of pro-Indiaism are not tangible in the short term. The onus, in this regard, lies with India.


The writer is a specialist on Bangladesh with Observer Research Foundation

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

HASINA DELIVERS HISTORIC OUTCOMES

BY GETTING BANGLADESH TO END ITS OLD EQUIVOCITY, MANMOHAN SINGH MAY HAVE CLINCHED THE BIGGEST DIPLOMATIC SUCCESS FOR INDIA IN RECENT MEMORY. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS

SWARN KUMAR ANAND


The recent official visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India has injected new thrust and optimism into the traditionally stormy relationship. Sheikh Hasina's resolve to erase the anti-India chapter in Bangladesh's diplomacy was in ample evidence from the early days of her second term which began after a huge landslide poll victory in December 2008.


She addressed all the outstanding issues, in real time too. She expanded the meaning of Indo-Bangla friendship to the widest possible horizon, beyond trade and counter-terrorism. She enacted the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act, 2009 which could pave the way for returning the properties confiscated by the former West Pakistani regime during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. The beneficiaries would be Hindus, and by doing it she has secured great credibility in India.


The agreements inked last fortnight are special because they herald a paradigm shift in the foreign policy of Bangladesh, as during her first tenure as prime minister, Hasina did not care about India's security concerns. In 1996, she preferred to pay her first foreign visit to Beijing in order to neutralise the negative image which Communist China held of her father, the founder of modern Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. All through the first term she faced vociferous opposition due to her pro-Indian foreign policy.


It is very encouraging that the ice has melted in Hasina's second term, and Bangladesh has refused to become another Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of the ISI of Pakistan and Hasina's arch-rival, the BNP, during whose rule Bangladesh had became a safe haven for anti-India Pakistani terrorists groups. Hasina gave her Indian interlocutors unequivocal commitment on mutual security concerns. Besides, New Delhi also got an assurance that Bangladesh would support India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

How India reciprocated is the bigger news. New Delhi has declared it would carry out its role as the dependable giant neighbour by helping Bangladesh wipe out its negative trade deficit with India and also allow Bangladesh trade access to Nepal. The icing on the cake is a low-interest loan of $ 1 billion.


India's gesture has changed the equation completely in Bangladesh. With the notable exception of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, all the institutions of public life, including the media, have hailed as historic the inked agreements to boost cooperation in the areas of security, power, trade and connectivity, water sharing and resolution of all other bilateral issues which unnecessarily soured relations. To the youth of Bangladesh, this dramatic breakthrough in regional diplomacy holds out hope of economic dividends. The new generation of Bangladeshis is now on the threshold of participating in the great Indian economic boom.


Hasina acknowledged --- and in this she mirrored the collective Indian leadership --- that the two most formidable problems South Asia faced were poverty and terrorism. She reiterated during her talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that her government would not allow Bangladesh's soil to be used for terrorism.However, all Bangladeshis are not satisfied. Before leaving for New Delhi, Hasina had 'vowed' to get for Bangladesh her 'just' share of the waters of the common rivers. It didn't happen, but the thaw in relations between the neighbours promises that a pragmatic solution is now within reach. As good relations with India has the potential to erode the base of the main Opposition BNP, its senior leader, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, claimed: "Sheikh Hasina has put Bangladesh's security at risk by allowing India to use Bangladesh's ports." He said the BNP would prevent India from using Chittagong port.

The BNP is protesting against the extradition treaty as well, because underneath its claims to 'sovereignty' lie the secret fear that the criminals and terrorists who would be extradited to India might end up spilling the beans on their linkage with the BNP. Bangladesh's Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia has initiated moves for unity among anti-India parties and groups, and has already announced a movement to protest the agreements signed with India. On expected lines, Zia has termed Hasina's visit and the pacts signed as "a total sell-out." She has gone further and accused her political rival of signing "a secret security deal" with India.

It is worth noting that Hasina, who had made an election pledge in end-2008 of forming a South Asian Task Force on Terrorism, did not deter from her path even when she found no takers, especially in Pakistan. Only India and the United States have approved of it in principle and she has continued on the same broad road, keeping the two allies in focus. She also reopened the case pertaining to the April 2004 arms haul in Chittagong. Ten truck-loads of ammunition, purchased from China and brought on a ship belonging to a lawmaker close to the then Prime Minister, Zia, was captured. When unearthed, the incident was sought to be suppressed by the Zia government which also put forth misleading clues to frustrate investigations. After coming to power, Sheikh Hasina arrested two former generals who headed the National Security Intelligence and the Directorate General of Field Intelligence at the relevant time and is currently trying them.


The arms haul is significant, and so is the unearthing of millions of bullets at Bogra, supposed to have been air-dropped for use by the ULFA, whose leaders have for several years used Bangladesh as a springboard for operations, in direct coordination with Pakistan's ISI. The presence of ULFA leaders, which was persistently denied by past governments, was laid bare by the Hasina government when, after weeks of coordinated operation, it facilitated the arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa, his information chief Raju Barua and five other Ulfa leaders.

The Pakistan angle to the operations of Ulfa and other militants was revealed just two days before Hasina's visit. One of her close aides, Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, disclosed at a conference on Indo-Bangla relations that Ulfa leader Anup Chetia had a meeting with Pakistan's then president Pervez Musharraf, when he was paying an official visit to Dhaka in July 2002. The meeting, facilitated by the then Zia government, took place in Musharraf's hotel suite.There has been no reaction from Musharraf, now in
London, or from the Pakistan government. In Dhaka, there was a pro forma denial by Khandaker Delwar Hossain, secretary general of the BNP, who described the claim as 'irresponsible'. The Awami leader retaliated by repeating the charge and saying that the government had "clear evidence".


These disclosures formed the backdrop to Hasina's discussions with the Indian leadership. Expanding counter-terror and security cooperation thus topped the discussions. After the talks, the two sides signed three treaties on mutual legal help in criminal matters, mutual transfer of convicted prisoners, and cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking. The three security-related pacts signal a big step forward in counter-terror cooperation and would enable New Delhi to press Dhaka for the extradition of suspected insurgents, who have taken shelter in Bangladeshi territory over the years, from its northeastern States.

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer


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THE PIONEER

OPED

MAJOR HUJI ELEMENTS STILL AT LARGE

THOUGH SHEIKH HASINA BEGAN HER TERM BY TAKING ALL THE RIGHT STEPS TO CURB TERRORISM DIRECTED AGAINST BANGLADESH AND INDIA, SHE STILL HAS A LONG WAY TO GO AS IS CLEAR FROM THE EVIDENCE THAT HUJI AND JMB MAY BE REGROUPING

SAMUEL BAID


This month, two leaders, one to India's west and the other on her east, made diametrically opposite declarations on the contentious issue of 'use' of their national territories for cross-border terrorism. In Dhaka, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared that her country would not allow its territory to be used by militants and terrorists of another country (read India's). On the other side, Pakistan's Yousaf Raza Gilani said in Islamabad that his country could not guarantee India future immunity from recurrence of Mumbai-type terror attacks. Pakistan, he said, was itself a victim of terrorism and that it was not able to stop it.


What Gilani said is known to be true. But the reason for his refusal to bow to international opinion is rooted in his government's nefarious considerations. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina made her statement with a clear mind about peace and security in the region. That was her promise to the people when her Awami League party fought the December 2008 general election. The party won three-fourths majority. What was remarkable was the fact that she managed to complete one full year in government in December 2009 without losing her people's support. Two surveys conducted by The Daily Star and Samkal proved this. Sheikh Hasina started her second term as prime minister by directing her officials to form a South Asian Anti-Terrorism Task Force. This was unprecedented for any government in India's neighbourhood. She showed determination to walk the talk by helping Indian authorities capture seven top ULFA militants who had found safe haven on Bangladeshi soil and had constantly harassed the people of Assam through periodic bombings and destruction of public property. Her predecessor, Khaleda Zia, had bettered Pakistan in the game of giving sanctuary to anti-India terrorists. She had refused outright to even discuss the existence of these elements in her country. Sheikh Hasina went on to crack down on the Harkat-ul-Jahad-e-Islami (HUJI), a Pakistan-linked terrorist group which flourished under Khaleda Zia. It was well known that Zia had depended on fundamentalist groups as props.


Sheikh Hasina made a four-day visit to India beginning January 10. She signed five agreements ranging from security to culture. While one of the MOUs pertained to terrorism and the other exchange of criminals with additional reference to drug trafficking, the role of the Islamist groups was either downplayed or ignored. With their notoriously short memory, media commentators have forgotten that each time there has been a terror attack in India, particularly 2007-08, be it two explosions in Hyderabad, in Varanasi near a famous Hindu shrine, Bangalore, Jaipur and Ahmedabad, it was the unmistakeable hand of Bangladesh-based groups, including the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI) and Jama'at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) which was in evidence. However, there was no follow-up from Dhaka except self-righteous denial.


Earlier too, groups were banned but in a most superficial way. They regrouped without difficulty and soon refurbished their operations. Some moved away from cities to remote areas, particularly the 'chars', the dried riverbeds, where they held training and set up camps. By the time Sheikh Hasina came to power in December 2008, about 40 Huji operatives including convicted and charge-sheeted terrorists involved in previous bomb attacks, were at large and posed an enormous threat to not just Bangladesh's security, but neighbouring India's as well. Even though HuJI and Jamaatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB), along with two or three other terror groups have been banned by Sheikh Hasina, they continue to operate underground. Some of the leaders have also gone scot free.


The absconding Huji leaders include top brass like Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Sheikh Farid, Maulana Abu Bakar, Abdul Hannan Sabbir, Maulana Liton, Abdul Hye, Abu Jehad, Abu Musa, Abdullah, Sagir Bin Emdad, Maulana Monir, Maulana Masum and Golam Mostafa.The sacrifices of the Bengalis for liberation from Pakistan 39 years ago inspired the world with the hope that Bangladesh would be a refreshing example of democracy, secularism and nationalism. The Bengalis freed themselves from the dictatorship of Pakistani generals on December 16, 1971. Sheikh Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the freedom struggle. He was in a Pakistani jail when his country got liberation. As tragic irony would have it, the people of Bangladesh found themselves sucked back into the same system from which they had earned freedom by sacrificing three million lives. Begum Zia chose the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Oikya Jote as her coalition partners. Of these, the former had collaborated with the Pakistan Army against Bangladesh's freedom fighters. When the party became a coalition partner of Begum Zia's government it supported Islamic militants and terrorists who conducted bomb blasts and attacks on Awami League leaders, including Sheikh Hasina.


During her second term as prime minister, which began in 2001, religious terrorism became a serious threat not only to the Bangla society, but also Bangladesh's neighbours and the world at large. During Begum Zia's prime ministership Bangladesh began to be called as the second centre of global terrorism after Pakistan.


Now Hasina is out to wipe that tarnish forever. She recognises India's new credibility in world affairs and has wisely decided to tap international goodwill by securing India's trust. Her government showed a determination to turn a new leaf in India-Bangladesh relations by removing all stops to maintain vigilance so that terrorism does not get a new lease of life in the eastern slice of south Asia.


The writer is Director, Media Studies, YMCA

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

THE ARMY CHIEF DOES THE RIGHT THING, AT LAST

 

THE Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor has done the right thing by heeding the " advice" of the Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony and recommending disciplinary action against his Military Secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, instead of merely taking administrative action against him. There are some ex- service personnel who see in this action an untoward intrusion by the civilian authorities into the affairs of the military. That point would have been valid, had it been merely the Defence Secretary who had offered the advice. But the Minister is the representative of the Supreme Commander, the President of India, who has charged him with running the Ministry of Defence, of which the Indian armed forces are a part.

 

There should never be any doubt in a democratic system that, notwithstanding the autonomy of various government departments, including the Indian Army, the political executive is always supreme.

 

Mr Antony may have chosen to " advise" the Army Chief, but his counsel was tantamount to an instruction. Had General Kapoor not acted, the Minister could have ordered him to do so, or, be well in his right to censure the chief himself.

 

As we have noted earlier, General Kapoor has brought this on himself by his partisan handling of the recommendation of the Eastern Army Command which had convened a court of inquiry into the episode and recommended the dismissal of Gen Prakash and the court martial of two other officers for what is now being called the Sukhna land scam. While upholding the tough action against the two, General Kapoor recommended merely administrative action against Lt Gen Prakash. In this sense he overruled his own Eastern Army commander and now Army chief- designate, Lt Gen V. K. Singh. It is not surprising that he was, in turn, overruled by the Defence Minister himself.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

IRRATIONAL MAYAWATI

 

UP Chief Minister Mayawati's decision to have a special protection force for the memorials and statues of Dalit icons in Lucknow and Noida does not come as a surprise. She had set up a similar armed force in 2002, but it was disbanded by the successor government of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Aware of the opposition the ostentatious projects have attracted, it was expected that she would repeat the earlier effort and obtain legal sanction too. The State Special Zone Security Force Bill, 2010 introduced in the Uttar Pradesh assembly is precisely such a step.

 

But, Ms Mayawati appears to have missed the point. Memorials do not need to be protected by a special force because, in the main, they honour well- loved and revered figures. On those occasions when statues have been defaced, it has been the handiwork of people from the extreme fringe of politics. The controversy surrounding the memorials stems as much from the huge public cost, as the fact that Ms Mayawati's statues are also part of these structures.

 

She should ask herself whether the memorials would be in danger if only Bhimrao Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose's statues were erected.

 

It is clear that while Ms Mayawati talks of Dalit pride, good governance has been pushed to the background. Why else would she create a force to secure expensive statues, when she is unable to provide security for the people of her state, especially the downtrodden Dalits?

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

SCRAP PADMA AWARDS

 

THERE is a simple solution to end the controversies that surface over the choice of Padma awardees year after year. Scrap the awards. As things stand, they have come to be associated with things other than excellence, or service to the nation. It is not just that people with suspect credentials often figure in the roll of honour. What is equally bad is that with lobbying often deciding who makes it and who doesn't, suspicion shrouds the choice of even the people who are otherwise deserving.

 

There is a mechanism in place for choosing the awardees but people who have been its part have disclosed how they are observed in the breach. This being so, there is little point in persisting with a system that reminds us of the colonial era when awards and titles were conferred merely as a form of patronage and favour.

 

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MAIL TODAY

YOU MUST REPORT THE REAL THING

BY AMRITA IBRAHIM

 

A LEADING news channel recently initiated a chorus of complaints when on the 9 o'clock news they ran some disturbing images of an injured policeman who bled to death because of delayed medical attention.

 

Tamil Nadu police officer R. Vetrivel was attacked while on his motorbike by unnamed assailants, and lay bleeding heavily on the road. A convoy of ministers passed by, stopped, but took no action until several minutes later, when it was too late. The decision of the channel to show this shocking sequence of events restarted a convoluted debate — what is the role of the journalist when reporting while someone is suffering? Should he keep shooting and doing his job, or should he help the injured? Images are powerful statements, which can act as witness to people's suffering, or jolt the conscience of the viewer and become an iconic symbol of mobilisation.

 

Prize- winning photographs have done just that: the little girl running towards the camera after her village was napalm- bombed during the Vietnam war; the starving Sudanese child who collapsed of hunger as a vulture stalked nearby; the hand of a grieving father brushing away the dirt from his dead child's face in Bhopal. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to say that the history of the last century and a half has been not only written in words, but also rendered in images.

 

Photography, and to some extent television, has documented world wars, freedom movements, natural and man- made disasters, and violent conflict from the very start of its technological development.

 

Suffering

 

However, the debate on the ethics of photojournalism has also accompanied this history. What is the role of the photographer in capturing a moment where another is in need or pain? Does taking a photograph or filming such an event turn the suffering of others into an opportunity for commercial or aesthetic gain? After Kevin Carter's picture of the collapsed Sudanese girl was published in The New York Times , hundreds of letters poured into the newspaper asking what had happened to her. The picture won him a Pulitzer, even as Carter was criticised for not helping the girl, instead waiting almost ten minutes to see if the vulture she had collapsed in front of would open its wings so that he could take the picture. Should he have done more? Readers who see images of stark suffering or violence, often see them stripped of context, without knowledge of the conditions before, during, and after the images are captured.

 

Given this lack of context that has always accompanied the photographic medium and more so in our highly mediatised times where the Internet, mms, or television can relay images much more rapidly around the world, the ethics of image production are very complex. Indeed, the problem of how the image is produced and whether what it shows is the ' truth' are weighty questions in philosophy and the humanities. Suffering is an experience that is fundamentally a part of the human condition, but when photographs or television footage of others' pain becomes exchanged for money, does that experience become subordinated to economic interests without care for those who it depicts?

 

In the 24x7 cycle of news and information, we see images of all kinds of suffering, but we often ignore the specific local and contextual makings of the crisis. Instead, viewers are pulled into a prurient voyeurism that sees the suffering as occurring naturally, or without our complicity. It is this work of naturalisation that enables right wing American television hosts like Pat Robinson to condemn the recent Haitian earthquake as a result of that country's " pact with the devil", rather than talking of how American and French political interests for centuries and crushingly unequal aid agreements have been responsible for keeping Haiti underdeveloped and dependent on foreign support. Certain places or people become stereotypically marked as poor or criminal, because of how we have been disposed to see them on our television screens, rather than looking at how these images come to be made in the first place.

 

The question of contextualisation is a particularly keen one for Indian television journalism, too. The industry has recently seen tremendous growth as a business, but less dramatic evolution in terms of institutional ethics or codes of conduct. The news industry, in particular, has been criticised for its high- pitched tone of reporting and use of uncensored and gory images. The case of Vetrivel is the most recent, but by no means the only one in the short history of television news in India.

 

Economics

 

Though the channel's aim was to wag a finger at the ministers who impotently stood around doing nothing, the same charge could be made of the cameraman who was filming instead of rushing the man towards medical aid. However, we could also ask, how many times do we stop when we see a road accident? We should not be too quick to shake our heads at the ministers, when many of us might not have stopped for Vetrivel either. What does a journalist do — shoot the event or intervene in it? Journalists will tell you that their job is to report what happens, as clearly as possible. The journalist is like a doctor in the emergency room, according to one analogy — one that is ironic given the images of the dying Vetrivel.

 

One sees a lot of suffering, but it is important to put one's feelings aside and just work on the story. This is a feeling that many journalists around the world feel — especially those covering war or unprecedented disasters.

 

Except that in Indian television, the economic conditions that determine how images are produced and broadcast become a source of deep suspicion for the viewers. With a greater part of most television channels budgets going towards distribution and in house production, there is not much left over that can be dedicated to intense newsgathering and research.

 

Stories are put together ad hoc, culled from images from the Internet, especially YouTube and run ad nauseam for a day at the most, before rushing on to the next visually dramatic moment. In these kinds of circumstances of production, the better stories, the calmer moments, which do exist, are lost or buried away under the pile of daily hysteria that we encounter on our television sets.

 

Regulation

 

We are so used to having our television journalists dramatise the news, and act like drama mongers, that they have not gained our trust. Almost every televised event seems like infotainment, a soap opera, or trick for ratings. In this context, it is hard not to see almost everything the news media does with an intensely suspicious eye. The discussions over regulation on television have been frequently raised as a way to control the runaway speed of television news, but this doesn't seem to address the deeper problem.

 

The response cannot be to move towards censorship, the enforcement of silence, which is another danger.

 

State regulation cannot bring about what is sorely needed in television news — reflection from within the industry on what constitute groundbreaking, historically significant, and epoch defining images and stories.

 

For this, we need to be able to put more money into newsgathering and research, which focus on investigating behind the stories that appear momentarily on our screens and are then gone. Television, and news in particular, is an ephemeral experience; it does not stay with us the way photographs or films do. Nevertheless, it has the power to do much more than it currently does, for which our media owners, journalists — and also we, the audience — are definitely to blame.

 

The writer is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University currently on fieldwork in India

 

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MAIL TODAY

 

DIGITAL INK

SACHIN KALBAG

 

IPAD MIGHT CHANGE THE WORLD, ONE USER AT A TIME

SOMETIME in the year 1990 Vincent Canby, the legendary film critic of The New York Times , was having a conversation with another of the paper's critics, the superbly articulate Janet Maslin, about Godfather III . Maslin, Canby's friend and mentee, told him that she was excited about watching the movie that she would be reviewing later. " I am very excited," Maslin remembers telling Canby while going into the movie hall. Canby replied, " I think I'd rather be excited on the way out." I was reminded of this story on January 27 when Apple chief executive Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPad. For a gadget that promised so much, the end result was, well, not worldchanging.

 

It is a tablet PC to beat all other tablet PCs, no doubting that. And it continues with the Apple tradition of designing the sexiest gadgets the world has ever seen, and all with the help of nothing but a few curves at the right places.

 

Yet, it does not have world- changing potential that everyone expected it to have for months before its release. What it can change though, and I presume gradually, is the way we use gadgets and make use of them. And for that, the key element in the Apple iPad is that it does not depend on a 3G network alone to get things going. A mere Wi- Fi connection at your local coffee shop, your office or your home is enough to get all the apps you want to get started.

 

Which means that in India where full- fledged, non- government 3G services are still at least six months away, the Wi- Fi bit may kickstart the iPad's usage. One of the reasons the Apple iPhone 3G ( which has sold close to 43 million units worldwide) did not make even a pipsqueak in India is possibly because of the network issue.

 

There is just not enough bandwidth available for iPhone enthusiasts to make full use of their super- expensive gadget.

 

It's like buying the world's best home theatre system for a place that has no electricity.

 

So what really are the drawbacks of the Apple iPad? On Twitter, there are perhaps a few million tweets on the iPad and the mixed reviews it is getting.

 

The web is simply abuzz with experts weighing in on the issue with their opinion.

 

I am not going to term themissing features of the iPad as drawbacks because with thirdparty apps, you can more than make up for the missing features of the tablet. As British writer Stephen Fry says: " There's much to like of course ( in the iPad): The physical beauty and classy build quality, as in anything designed by Jonathan Ive ( Apple's legendary designer who also created the iPod). The shockingly low price — $ 499 for the basic model. The contractfree, unlocked nature of the 3G version. But there are two chief reasons for its guaranteed success." Fry, who was one of the 600 people present at the Yerba Buena Cultural Center for the Arts Theatre in San Francisco, later also used the product and came up with his two reasons for its guaranteed success. " It is so simple," he says. " It is basically a highly responsive capacitative piece of glass with solid state memory and an IPS display.

 

Just as a book is basically paper bound together in a portable form factor. The simplicity is what allows everyone, us, software developers, content providers and accessory manufacturers to pour themselves into it, to remake it according to the limits of their imagination." The second reason, Fry argues, is because it is made by Apple. And I don't disagree with him here. The iPad is not the world's first tablet PC just as the iPod was not the world's first media player or the iPhone the world's first smartphone.

 

" If it was made by Hewlett Packard, they wouldn't have global control over the OS or the online retail outlets," says Fry. " If it was made by Google, they would have tendered out the hardware manufacture to HTC. Apple — and it is one of the reasons some people distrust or dislike them — controls it all.

 

They've designed the silicon, the A4 chip that runs it all, they've designed the batteries, they've overseen every

detail of the commercial, technological, design and software elements. No other company on earth does that.

 

And being Apple it hasn't been released without ( you can be sure) Steve Jobs being wholly convinced that it was ready. ' Not good enough, start again. Not good enough. Not good enough.

Not good enough.' How many other CEOs say until their employees want to murder them? That's the difference."

 

BUT WHY DIDN'T THEY FIND A BETTER NAME FOR IT?

LET'S get it over and done with right now. The Apple iPad, clearly not one of the most innovative names for a handheld gadget, is coming under a lot of flak for its very awkward nomenclature.

 

And not just from female Apple fans.

 

The Financial Times of London reports that two of the world's largest semiconductor companies — Fujitsu and STMicroelectronics — are up in arms over the naming of the device. But they are not alone. German major Siemens and a lingerie manufacturer named Coconut Grove Pads are angry too. Cisco, another technology giant, also owned the trademark to the iPad name and sued Apple before they agreed to settle it out of court.

 

The FT reports: " While trademark disputes rarely prevent the release of products or force a change of name, if Apple cannot overturn Fujitsu's application or demonstrate that the two products will not be confused, it may have to buy the rights from Fujitsu.

 

" The Fujitsu iPad has a 3.5- inch screen, an Intel processor, a Microsoft operating system and supports both Wi- fi and Bluetooth wireless connections. It is designed to link shop assistants and managers to data on stock and sales.

 

" STMicro's iPad is less likely to be confused with Apple's products. It stands for integrated passive and active devices, a type of technology that STMicro uses in many semiconductors."

 

THERE IS A COLD WAR RAGING OUT THERE

 

MEANWHILE in all the hoopla surrounding the Apple launch in San Francisco, another significant announcement — although not at the same level — was missed. It essentially confirmed what we had always suspected — that the Web is the next frontier for conflict between countries.

 

McAfee, a leading anti- virus services provider, released a report recently that said that critical infrastructure such as power grids, oil wells and other essential utilities around the world are at risk of being attacked by cybercriminals. The report is titled " In the Crossfire: Critical Infrastructure in the Age of Cyberwar". McAfee surveyed 600 IT executives specialising in security at infrastructure firms around the world. And the figures are startling. Close to 54 per cent, the report says, have already suffered large- scale attacks from organised crime gangs, terrorists or nation- states. McAfee added that the average downtime losses are around $ 6.3 million per day.

 

" In today's economic climate, it is imperative that organisations prepare for the instability that cyber attacks on critical infrastructure can cause," said Dave DeWalt, president and chief executive officer of McAfee. " From public transportation, to energy to telecommunications, these are the systems we depend on every day. An attack on any of these industries could cause widespread economic disruptions, environmental disasters, loss of property and even loss of life." What was even more shocking was that a hefty majority ( 59 percent) of the IT executives believed that representatives of foreign governments had already been involved in such attacks and infiltrations targeting critical infrastructure in their countries.

 

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MAIL TODAY

SENA THREAT TO KING KHAN AND AMBANI

 

ACTOR Shah Rukh Khan and RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani came under the Shiv Sena fire on Friday — SRK for his IPL comments and Ambani for his ' Mumbai- for- all' remark.

 

The party is upset that Khan, owner of IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders, wanted Pakistani players to play in the tournament.

 

" It looks like the Khan in Shah Rukh has suddenly woken up. If he is so keen on getting Pakistani players, he should go to Karachi or Islamabad.

 

If he has guts, let him get Pakistani players in the IPL. We will see him then," Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut said.

 

There were reports recently that SRK's team had approached Pakistani players Abdul Razzaq and Umar Gul for the series.

 

As a mark of protest, Sena activists tore down the posters of SRK's upcoming film My Name Is Khan from Eternity Mall in Thane.

 

Thane Sena unit chief Eknath Shinde even asked the mall management not to show the film that will hit theatres next month.

 

Ambani, on the other hand, got a lashing from Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who used his party mouthpiece Saamna to issue threats, dubbed as warnings.

 

He asked Ambani to reconsider his stand on ' Mumbai for all'. " Why do you not say Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Rajkot for all?" he asked Ambani from his newspaper.

 

" Don't forget you and your late father Dhirubhai, who was also my great friend, became what you are thanks to Mumbai. You do business, nothing else.

 

Don't you dare say anything about Mumbai and Marathis," Thackeray said.

 

" Mumbai belongs to Marathis as much as Reliance belongs to Mukesh. You have a right to do business here and the Marathis have their right to pride. Mumbai is and will remain Maharashtra's capital," he added.

RIL chose not to comment on the issue but highly placed sources in the company said the threat was expected.

 

" We understand his ( Thackeray's) compulsions. His party is fighting hard to keep up with his nephew's ( Raj Thackeray) Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

 

So we had expected the threat.

 

But we are not going to comment yet," an RIL source said.

 

Company sources also said Ambani's comments were reported out of context.

 

The chairman had said the row over making knowledge of Marathi mandatory for issuing taxi permits in Mumbai was " unfortunate" and the metropolis belonged to all Indians.

 

" The issue was about licence raj and taxi permits was an off- the- cuff remark," the source added.

 

RIL has decided not to press the issue with the state or central government yet.

 

Lanka police raid Fonseka's office & arrest 15

 

Agencies

 

THE POLICE raided the office of Sri Lanka's defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka on Friday and arrested 15 former military members of his staff, his aides said.

 

" The Special Task Force broke into the office of Fonseka," aide Asanka Magedara told reporters.

 

The former army chief had lost Tuesday's election to incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa after a bruising campaign with personal attacks by both.

 

" The police seized all the computers and mobile phones there," Fonseka's lawyer Shiral Laktilake added.

 

Police spokesman I. M. Karunaratne said he could not confirm the news.

 

Opposition officials said the raid was designed to intimidate them and stop their plans to protest against the results.

 

Fonseka has said he will launch a court challenge. The Lanka government alleges he is planning a coup.

 

" We are in the process of organising ourselves to launch a protest and this action is aimed at affecting our morale," said Rauf Hakeem, head of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress that backed Fonseka.

 

On Friday, opposition lawmaker Vijitha Herath said the police arrested Chandana Sirimalwatte, editor of Lanka

newspaper.

 

The paper is seen as favouring the JVP, a Marxist party which joined other opposition parties to back Fonseka.

 

Lankan authorities also reportedly expelled a Swiss reporter covering the island's presidential vote and asked her to leave the country.

 

Karin Wenger of Swiss Public Radio said she was sent a letter by the immigration controller saying she must leave the island before next Monday. " I fear I have been kicked out for asking uncomfortable questions at a government press conference," she said.

 

RAISINA TATTLE

 

CIC'S POWERS

THE Central Information Commission's ruling to allow the inspection of files pertaining to the controversial Sharm el- Sheikh joint statement of India and Pakistan last year has rattled many in the UPA government.

 

There is a feeling that the commission has exceeded its brief. A rather uncharitable opinion is to check if the ruling was not inspired as it came from a person who has been well- versed in foreign affairs in the ministry of external affairs. Union minister of state for personnel Prithviraj Chavan is reportedly keen for a review of the CIC's powers so that sensitive information and names of officials and persons involved in framing important documents, along with file notings, are not made public.

 

POLITICAL ACUMEN

CALL IT political ingenuity — that is turning an adverse report to an advantageous one! A junior minister in the government woke up one day to a frontpage news about diverting funds meant for his senior's constituency to his own.

 

He immediately asked his sidekicks to get as many copies of the newspaper and headed for his constituency. There he distributed the newspaper and told the voters how he had " risked" his career to get funds for the people. Later, on the sidelines, he explained this " show" before the masses. " Well, the senior minister will be unhappy with me for a few days and then he will forget. But the people will remain grateful to me and never forget my courageous deed in the elections. After all, their votes matter, right?" Smart, very smart!

 

AN OVERLAP

UNION external affairs minister S. M. Krishna is toying with the idea of hiring a media consultant.

 

But foreign service officials, led by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, is opposed to the induction of a non- IFS official in the minister's staff.

 

Moreover, the new post is likely to overlap with the functioning of the joint secretary in the ministry, who acts as the official spokesperson.

 

SHOT IN THE ARM

THE Congress's " Mission Uttar Pradesh 2012", the unofficial name given to its campaign to dislodge Mayawati in the next assembly polls, received a shot in the arm when five former state ministers belonging to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, joined the grand old party. The " deserters" included a sitting member of the legislative council, Anwar Ahmed.

 

WEIGHT MATTERS

BRING on the samosas, sweetmeats and cardamom tea! Well, many politicians from parties cutting across the political spectrum celebrated a " heartening" news with extra helpings of the fried stuff that they have been resisting for good reasons. American researchers have found that voters prefer overweight contestants. Physical appearance plays a major role not only in the life of filmstars, but also of male politicians. The study, which involved 120 volunteers, including 75 women, concluded that voters believed that overweight men were more reliable, honest, dependable and inspiring than their thinner counterparts.

 

This gave our politicians who are rounder a good reason to cheer

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CHUCKLE DE, WORLD

 

Humour can sink many a ship bearing the king's bounty. It can turn aaj ka MLA/MP into comic relief. It can make a war room of wag-the-dog generals morph into a uniformed muppet show. Laughter, as you can see, is serious business. It's also a universal language. Researchers now suggest that laughter's the vocalised expression of a human emotion joy, amusement shared by culturally diverse peoples from England to Namibia. Wanting everybody to choose between hammer and (their) tongue, Maharashtra's grouches won't be amused. Laughter, after all, has a natural advantage overall imposed lingos. From Mumbai to Mombasa, everybody's born knowing the A-B-C of a good guffaw.


There are, however, health reasons for divide-and-rule politicos to grin and bear it. Laughter, for instance, boosts blood flow to the heart. So it can in fact help all humourless netas undergoing various forms of cardiovascular stress, be it fear of disproportionate assets-related RTI queries, or the dread of stings catching them Gandhi topi-less. Talking of stress management, scholars say that watching a comedy has physical effects akin to doing flab-busting aerobics. So, gaffe-bag Berlusconi can silence critics by claiming to serve the cause of global health.


And why not? Medical caregivers habitually deploy fun and games to beat job pressures and heal their patients. Now, there's a lesson for all stiff upper-lip politicians who treat the world as their oyster-cum-ICU. They could humour-lace public policy diagnostics to cure enfranchised people on poll-time sick leave. What'll become of their trade if voter cynicism and absenteeism hits epidemic proportions? To upgrade skills as stand-up comics, they can emulate much-misunderestimated Bush. Not even Berlo can match the (unwitting) wit of Bush's war cry: "There's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans again. There just is...And I wish him all the very best!"


Originating in play, laughter is multifaceted. There's the programmed laughter of courtiers around unfunny patrons. There's canned laughter signalling when to chortle if you miss the punchline. And there's spontaneous laughter that's contagious. There's also laughter that's cause for laughter: think of the Tanganyikan guffawing epidemic of 1962 that lasted six months. No 'ruler' in the world could survive that, if he were the joke's butt. As they say, Authority beware hilarity. Monk, monarch or mercenary, officious History-writers have always feared their grand narratives of power can be laughed out of court. Recall Jorge in Umberto Eco's novel, The Name of the Rose. This aged monk would rather have an entire library burned down to keep one 'subversive' philosophical tract from reaching an indoctrinated world. For, this treatise humanism's early flower at a time of bigotry celebrates the enlightening and, therefore, liberating power of laughter.


Humour, say modern thinkers, pits hope against despair. And it helps us see the "big picture" of the shared humanity of rib-tickled people across continents. Laughter, then, is chicken soup for the mind, body and fraternal soul. So, ask yourself. Have you had a good laugh today?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

MY COMMUNITY, MY COUNTRY

CHETAN BHAGAT

 

The recent proposed Marathi language requirement for taxi drivers in Mumbai (and the subsequent backtrack) shows that divisive politics is alive and kicking in our country. We are fortunate that this scheme didn't sail through, for it would only have been the start. For why only cab drivers, why not BEST bus drivers? How about drivers of trains operating in Maharashtra (complete with ceremonial crew exchanges at the state borders maybe?). If taxi drivers need to speak Marathi, then maybe cooks at restaurants do too?


Yes, we are in 2010, but rather than fix the rickety, old, third-world inspired cabs, our lawmakers choose to tug at the hearts of Marathis. The Marathi voter is supposed to say See he cares, vote for him!


With due apologies, sorry, but he doesn't care. Because what he is doing is harmful to the taxi business, harmful to the state and harmful to the country. Let us talk about them one by one.


First, the taxi business. Taxi-driving is a commercial activity, not a social service. And any business thrives only if it services its customers. Does the customer care if the driver speaks Marathi, as long as he can communicate with him? There has been no surge in grievances about language problems with Mumbai taxis. However, complaints about dilapidated and smelly taxis remain unaddressed. If these issues are fixed, customers will take more taxis, pay more and increase the financial health of the taxi business including drivers. Imposing language norms won't.


Second, such actions harm the image of the state. Maharashtra is blessed to have a city of national importance within its geographical limits. Mumbai can be a means to bond with the rest of the country, not a symbol of division. Also, Maharashtra claiming Mumbai and its wealth as its own is foolish. Mumbai-based corporates do pay a large amount of taxes. However, they do business and make profits from all over the country. The taxes they pay come from these national profits. Take away the rest-of-India business for Mumbai companies and most of them will be bankrupt. India is integrated as far as trade, commerce and finance is concerned. Geography has increasingly become irrelevant. To continue to harp on physical location is a lack of understanding of the modern world, and any leadership which lacks that cannot uplift its people. The Maharashtra-only way of doing business is regressive, impractical. It pushes away pan-India inclined investors and, without them, it is the state's children who lose out on job opportunities.


Third, such proposals are terrible for India. We are a poor country with limited capital for development. Our best shot at advancement is if we concentrate our efforts on one national agenda of progress, rather than on pulling in different directions. Even in practical terms, the central government controls the finances of the nation. If the states rebel, it will only lead to chaos. Foreign investment will suffer, Parliament will be an inter-state battleground rather than a place where things get done and we will remain, like we have for the last 60 years, a third world country.


So what is the solution? How can we check these divisive knife-wielders who are only too happy to cut up our people at the slightest provocation? What do we do about people who refuse to look at the big picture but only care about the next vote count? Here are three suggestions:


One, any act of preference to any community which may disadvantage other Indians should be made illegal. Too many laws are never good, but anyone favouring one community is by definition harming the prospects of the others. If this is not racism, what is? And racism should be illegal, even if disguised as a welfare scheme.
Second, we as Indians need to decide for once our primary loyalty whether it is to the country or to community. If we choose country, we have a good chance of becoming a progressive nation. If we choose our state first, things won't change. Are you a change agent or are you a roadblock? Decide, and live with it.


Third, Indians need to intermingle. This is not an overnight process, but migration, education outside the state, inter-community marriages should be culturally encouraged. A case can even be made for tax incentives (such as lower property taxes) for people who work outside their home state. A pan-Indian race, maybe still a generation or two away, will be extraordinarily beneficial in moving us towards the status of a developed nation. Almost any Asian country that saw rapid development enjoyed homogeneity amongst its people.


For now, state leaders need to respect the privilege they have of being part of a great nation. A national process overseen by the Election Commission has elected them. For all their state jingoism, they have no business to interfere with national progress. This is harming their own state anyway. For, they may force their taxi drivers to speak a local language. However, if there are no customers in the backseat, the meter does not tick and the taxi driver takes no money home. And that, in any language, is not a good thing.


The writer is a best-selling novelist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

STATE SUPPORT JUSTIFIED TO REVIVE HOCKEY

 

The demand for better pay and incentives to hockey players is justified. Unlike cricket, which generates its own funds without the support of the government, hockey is short on money. Hence, state support is essential for hockey, at least until it attracts private funds, if the game has to survive in India. With help from the government, hockey in India could regain its past glory and, perhaps, even turn into a money-spinner like cricket.

Such optimism is based on the popularity hockey continues to enjoy in India. This is not derived from nostalgia for India's past record of winning Olympic medals in hockey. Hockey, like cricket, is both played and viewed in most parts of India. However, unlike in the case of cricket, hockey has failed to translate public interest in the game to money. This is largely because of the appalling conduct of hockey administrators. A comparison with cricket is revealing. Two events in the 1980s changed the history of cricket: One, winning the 1983 World Cup and two, the spread of television. Cricket administrators grabbed the opportunity and transformed the way the game was played and promoted it not just in India but also across the world. When the economy started to expand in the 1990s, Indian cricket could attract funds to the sport. As cricket got popular on TV, money started chasing it in the form of sponsorships and endorsements. Administrators also responded with innovative formats suited to the requirements of new audiences.


Unfortunately, hockey administrators were blind to changes in the offing. They were slow to respond to the demands of a rapidly changing game. They didn't see the emerging opportunities in the spread of television. They failed to market hockey to sports lovers who, for various reasons, were increasingly following sports on TV sets. They failed to improve infrastructure to attract more people to hockey.


The premier hockey league was a step in the right direction to attract funds. The pace of the game and the format were suited to make it attractive to TV viewers as well. But the quality of the game must also go up. Hockey will attract talent only if it is a paying proposition. Besides, the game must be administered professionally. A makeover of Indian hockey is possible only if the government extends support, for now.

After all, it's our national sport.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

THE GAME'S ON THE DECLINE

PRODOSH MITRA

 

The demand by both men and women Indian hockey players for better pay has been dominating headlines. One feels for our hockey players who represent the country, but get peanuts compared to our cricketers. The disparity in the salaries can, however, be explained in the huge gap in popularity of the two sports.


For better or for worse, cricket is our national passion. This popularity gets reflected in sponsorship, endorsements and television deals for Team India which run into several crores of rupees and abundantly fill the coffers of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Indeed, over 70 per cent of cricket's global revenues is generated in India making the Indian cricket board the richest in the world, and Indian players the most handsomely paid.


In contrast, the Indian hockey federation which is currently in a state of disarray has to depend on the largesse of government and a handful of sponsors. Unlike cricket, there is good reason why corporates are not queuing up to sponsor hockey. Though hockey is our national game, over the years it has lost much of its shine. The reason for the fall in the popularity of hockey over the past few decades is a complex story. In a nutshell, the precipitous decline of hockey since 1980 when India last won an Olympic gold medal has to do with mismanagement of the game, poor showing in international tournaments and the attendant rise in cricket's popularity.

If there's not much interest in hockey anymore, what can be done? Cricket is mismanaged too, but money has come to it because there's public interest in the game. The same cannot be said for hockey. If one makes a case for extending taxpayers' support to it, the same case can be made for extending subsidy to any number of obscure games where there's no public interest. Forget the hockey medals India may have won half a century ago, it can't be kept on artificial life support if no one's queuing up for the game. Let Indian hockey find sponsors if it can, or otherwise die a natural death.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

JUST GRAFFITI

THE OLD HOME TOWN

GAUTAM ADHIKARI

 

KOLKATA: I flew in a few days ago to prowl my old home town and sniff out its current flavour. The most interesting part of the flight was when the aircraft sat on the ground for a couple of hours in Delhi's IGI airport waiting to get a clearance for take-off. Thanks to the daily fog and a three-hour shutdown for Republic Day aerobatics practice, our plane was behind about 50 others in the queue. An overheard conversation from the row behind me made the wait bemusing and the mind nostalgic.


A middle-aged lady, probably in her mid-50s, who was returning to Kolkata, struck up a conversation with her neighbour, a man in his late 30s or early 40s, who had been born and raised in old Calcutta but now lived abroad. He was excited to be going back for three days. "It's my favourite town in the whole world," he said. "I don't go there much but when i do i catch up with friends and we always have a terrific time. I never find Calcutta boring. The people are so nice and friendly. The pace of life is so easy."


"Yes," agreed the lady. "It is a wonderful place. My husband (sitting across the aisle) retired from a multinational company and we decided to stay back in Calcutta. We don't have relatives there, our children have moved on, but we wanted to live in that city with our circle of friends. We really like it."


That's when the third person in the row, a lady in her early 30s, said: "Excuse me, may i say something?" It turned out she had been born in West Bengal, had lived seven years of her working life as an executive in Kolkata but now lived in Delhi. "Yes, it is a good place. If you want to discuss ideas and plans, it can be productive. The trouble is with implementation. It is very hard to make people work."


After four days in Kolkata, it is possible to agree with all three of my fellow passengers.


The pace of life is indeed easy; in fact, it can be infuriating in its lethargy. But it can be a fun place, especially if you are visiting. In the so-called 'winter' months, festivities erupt like a bottle of bubbly; everyone wonders every day where the party is tonight. The clubs hum with activity golf, receptions, weddings, high merriment while folks animatedly discuss politics, club-related as well as general.


That 'everyone' here, of course, means only a slice of upper and upper-middle-class Calcatians, a group to which all three of my fellow passengers belonged though none seemed to be Bengali by birth. This group is well-educated, lives in inherited houses or self-contained apartment complexes where power cuts and water shortages are problems to be criticised and blamed on the commies, not seriously felt, while public transport may be an occasional trip across miserable drive-over parts of the city in a cab.


For this group, Kolkata is truly a fine place to lead a contented retired life. As a friend of mine often says with a grin, "We did the right thing moving to this place from Bombay in our retirement. Living is easy, cheap too, and it's possible to employ full-time servants at home here. But then, i don't have to work."


Which brings up the problem blurted out by the youngest of my three flight companions. Kolkata hasn't yet evolved a work ethos that has moved forward from an old culture of the landed gentry, for whom the concept of working for a living was humiliating. Calcatians still refer reverentially to someone being of 'bonedi' or buniyadi origin, that is, someone whose ancestors didn't have to work for a living even though he or she, like Lady Madonna, may be struggling to make ends meet. Work is, alas, necessary these days but distasteful. That's perhaps why lunch hours are long and office hours compressed at both ends to make the irritations of the workplace as tolerable as possible before repairing to the club.


But, hey, it's a fun place. As long as you're on vacation. Or retired.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S STATE OF DISUNION

 

Just past his first year in the White House and President Barack Obama no longer walks six inches above the ground. If this week's State of the Union address is an indication, he walks today with a heavy tread. Three inter-related political developments served as the backdrop to his speech. First, his Democratic Party has faced political reverses at the local level. Second, underpinning these defeats and a slump in Mr Obama's personal ratings was a double-digit unemployment rate. His administration's fragmented agenda was popular with his Democratic base but was seen as irrelevant to independents, the crucial swing voters. Finally, Mr Obama cannot claim any countervailing accomplishments in handling hostile regimes.

 

Unsurprisingly, Mr Obama's address sounded like an advertisement for a headhunting firm. Whether it was clean technology or boosting exports, the US president leg-itimised it in terms of employment generation. Even his party's touchstone issue, healthcare, is to be shunted aside to make way for job creation. Part of this message was a long-standing criticism of US corporations who transferred employment to countries with lower corporate tax rates. This has caused needless heartburn in India — corporate tax rates in India are higher than those in the US. The Indian software industry has rightly argued that the larger concern should be whether this signals a broader protectionist sentiment in the US. Barriers to foreigners is one way to shore up employment. Mr Obama has not shied away from protectionism but his target has been Chinese imports. Nonetheless, the world must watch to see how an 'American Jobs First' policy will unfold in the coming months.

 

Amid all this, Mr Obama deserves credit for trying to urge his people to look beyond the bread and butter concerns of the present. He exhorted his countrymen to invest more, both in their own education and physical infrastructure. This is the first time any US president has invoked India as an economic challenge in his address. Indians may feel some pride. They would be equally right to feel surprise: India's infrastructure is among the world's shoddiest. However, it is a reminder that India should increasingly expect to find itself being cited as an economic concern by other world leaders. Mr Obama used India to prod his people. Future leaders may be less generous.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

STROKE OF LUCK

INDRAJIT HAZRA

 

I've always liked the Strokes. Their urban, unwashed, boogie-woogie has charmed me when I'm running on low fuel. The engine of the band, singer Julian Casablancas has come out with his first solo outpouring, Phrazes For The Young, and it's exactly what it should be: a sideways treatment of New York rock'n'roll minus the heavy guitars of Strokes guitarman Albert Hammond Jr. At his best, Casablancas manages to mix his trademark lyrics and greasy spoon-cleaned-under-the-tap singing voice with a 80s New York feel where synth keys are still fearlessly pressed and the  CBGB's hasn't closed under former NYC mayor Giuliani's squeaky clean watch.

 

The cookie start in 'Out of blue' is a big city folksy number in which Casablancas daisy-chains along laconically: "Somewhere on the way/ my hopefulness turned to sadness/ Somewhere on the way/ my sadness turned to bitterness/ Somewhere on the way/ my bitterness turned to anger/ Somewhere on the way/ my anger turned to vengeance." In the wrong hands, this could have turned into a nursery rhyme. Here, it's like reading a line from the Old Testament while on your third Guinness.

 

But it's in 'Left & right in the dark', that things lift off and we know Julian-bhai is taking us somewhere where he can't take you on his day job duty with the Strokes. The frenetic energy of a sheer pop tune comes over. Shaking his hair at the Pet Shop Boys (Praise be upon them), he dances into '11th dimension'. Don't forget the opening synth lines that allows all of us who slagged off the 80s when it was really the 80s to finally appreciate the decade. The slow gospel '4 chords of the Apocalypse' is beautifully calm, reminding me that I must go to New York one day to pray in front of those great cathedrals of steel and glass. The heavy key press takes on the tone of an organ that in turn takes on the sound of a siren.  

 

The bar room country sway of 'Ludlow St' takes us in yet another alley. Casablancas has the genuine talent not only capturing the warp, woof and growl of city life in his lyrics, but the music takes urban swagger and gives it a rootsy flavour.

 

'River of brakelights' breaks up the sound — the voice and the synth-driven music seem to be indulging in some sort of slam dancing competition. The  caterpillaring of the lines 'Getting the hang of it, getting the hang of it' segueing into 'Timing is everything, timing is everything' sounds like the glorious soundtrack of an early 20th century silent German Expressionist movie about modern life. The album ends with the delicate 'Glass' and the swirling Human League-ish stomp of 'Tourist'.

 

Phrazes For The Young is the sort of album that I dream of: having the experimental edginess of a Radiohead record and the pop sensibility of a Blondie EP.  Listen to it. Casablancas has not only been brave in serving this bar roomful of sounds right on the rock mainstreet but he's also been bang on in bringing us wonderful, wonderful city music.

 

Gosh, it's Joss

 

It's Soul Girl Joss Stone and her new album, Colour Me Free has fingerclicked its way into my lap. The British blonde with the best black voice — made apparent to most of us for the first time in her 2003 debut album, The Soul Sessions — starts with a shimmy in  'Free me'. The mmm-quotient is raised in the piano tinkle-toed 'Could have been you'. Stevie Wonderesque funk comes in to the room in 'Parallel lines' and the touch and go of the guitars do much to create a thicker smokescreen than Joss already has with her voice.

The retro feel of 'Lady' seems a little slippery, with Joss more keen on changing notes per bar than singing the rhythm and blues. Instead, the R&B thrust of 'Big Ol' Game' is a trainmover of a song. It's a rolling song that picks up as it moves down the slope.

 

The rest of the fare — the mike-being-gobbled-up 'Incredible', the backbeat and Quincy Jones bassline funk of 'You got the love, and the slo-mo heartbreaker 'I believe it to my soul' (where the nodules on Rod  Stewart's vocal chords are borrowed) — is standard Joss Stone, and not heavy ear-perking stuff. Which still isn't bad at all if you're in a soulful mood.

 

ihazra@hindustantimes.com

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MULLIGATAWNY, DEAR WATSON!

DIPANKAR BHATTACHARYA

 

'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…' Generations of young readers have had their first brush with Aristotelian logic outside of their geometry books in this admonition by Sherlock Holmes to his impressionable friend Dr Watson.

 

Arthur Conan Doyle's cerebral Dick retains his attraction centuries later because of the scientific rigour he brought to the art of solving crime. The method, of course, results from Doyle's training as a doctor, which relies as much on deduction as detective work. No crime writer has, understandably, scaled the heights Doyle has.

 

It, therefore, takes a hardy soul to recreate Holmes. But there seems to be a band of die-hard fans who cannot resist the temptation to keep the saga alive, among them Doyle's son, Adrian, whose pastiche doesn't come close to the The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a 1974 novel by American Nicholas Meyer. Holmes has even been sent ahead in time — Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century — so it was only a matter of time before a Raj version appeared.

 

Vithal Rajan's Holmes of the Raj (first published in 2006 by Writers Workshop) suffers from the common affliction of most Indian writing in English of trying too hard to overwhelm the reader with the sights and smells of India. Rajan makes a valiant attempt to rise above the 'naked fakir' genre of writing by adding dollops of potted history. From Vivekananda to Jinnah, they're all there in this collection of Holmes' adventures in India. The menagerie of historical characters, however, distracts. Doyle, writing when Britannia ruled the waves, had the luxury of choosing his cast from across the Empire. But he used the artifice lightly and only to the extent that they fleshed out his plots.

 

Doyle's camera was always trained on his protagonist in an attempt to faithfully recreate the crime. When out of the frame, Holmes served to show up the contrast between his thought process and that of the rest of the world. So it is unnerving when Rajan's Holmes resurfaces late in the episode to do his "Elementary!" number.

 

Only that elementary is truly elementary in this case. "With patience… and the right amounts pressed into the right hands at the right moment, I learnt about all the suspicious movements of the recent past." Holmes has indeed lost big chunks of his acute deductive prowess on the long sea voyage to India.

 

Rajan enters the crime fiction genre from the wrong end of the plot-protagonist-prop progression. In the event, he does justice neither to Holmes nor to the crimes Doyle got him to solve.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FILM STARS ARE THE NEW TV ATTRACTIONS

POONAM SAXENA

 

Over the last couple of weeks, I've seen more movie stars on my TV screen than the cinema hall screen. After Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, it's now Abhishek Bachchan's turn to anchor a television show — National Bingo Night, which opened on Colors to very good ratings.

 

The channel is on such a roll at the moment that anything it touches turns to gold. They might consider re-launching Krishi Darshan: who knows, it could become a national rage (imagine the whole country animatedly discussing the price of urea and the seductive charms of lok sangeet). But unfortunately, the same can't be said for the other entertainment channels. Salman's Dus Ka Dum, for instance, was a whacky, fun, totally mad show. But it never got the ratings it should have. Could it be because the show was on Sony, a channel not exactly known for its soaring ratings?

 

Back to Bingo: Abhishek made for a relaxed, easy host. In the inaugural episode, he played Bingo with his

father Amitabh Bachchan, and the senior Bachchan also appeared very relaxed — he was full of stories and anecdotes about his films and his life, and happily recited his father's poetry (Madhushala, Agneepath) and dialogues from films (yes, the

 

temple dialogue from Deewar and the 'Vijay Dinanath Chauhan' dialogue from Agneepath).

 

But why do neither of them look as relaxed when they're being interviewed on TV? I can't remember when I saw an interview where they laughed, joked, told stories, had fun. But when they're hosting shows? Well, Amitabh as a TV host is a class act. And Abhishek has made a confident debut with Bingo. I'm not sure I'd ever play Bingo the game sitting at home, but I'm perfectly happy to watch Bingo the show sitting at home (though the guests on the show will also have something to do with how the episodes play out; unfortunately you can't get an Amitabh every time).

 

More stars on my screen: Some time back, Salman Khan appeared on Zee's Dance India Dance to promote his new film Veer. Dance India Dance is about, well, dancing, which is truly quite spectacular. The boys lift the girls as if they weighed a few grams (which they probably do, given their slender bodies), twirl them around, flip them backwards, forwards; short of making them dance on the palms of their hands, they do pretty much everything.

 

Salman joked non-stop with Mithun Chakraborty (who is mysteriously called 'Grandmaster' on the show though you never see him playing chess or wearing a Masonic costume), danced with the contestants and generally gave the audience a good time (pity it didn't help his film).

 

But like all reality shows, Dance India Dance also periodically feels the need to go into the whole drama and tears scenario — heartbreak and heartache (not to mention backache and leg ache and arm ache, given the strenuous dancing), disappointment and despair etc etc. Speaking for myself, the instant the attention veers from the dancing, my attention veers equally swiftly to the next channel.

 

If Salman was on Dance India Dance, Shah Rukh popped up on Music Ka Maha Muqqabala, along with Karan

Johar, to promote his new film, My Name Is Khan. Music Ka Muqqabala is a first-rate show and the SRK episode was an absolute firecracker. Shah Rukh took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and danced and sang with full energy and gusto. Who would have believed that he was dancing after almost a year (for those who came in late, he had an injury). Most enjoyable.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A JOURNEY WITHOUT MAPS

PRATIK KANJILAL

 

Cultural nationalism is a fickle business. On Republic Day, we learned that South Korea's first lady traces her bloodline back to Ayodhya. We were so happy. Here was more evidence that all the things that matter originated in India. But the next day, there was disturbing news about a Chinese pop star who sings in Sanskrit. How cunning! Would the Chinese lay claim to Sanskrit next? That's what they're really good at, laying claim. Some people are good at maths, at cooking, at investing, at PHP. The Chinese are good at all these things, but their core competency is laying claim. As George Fernandes once said, it's like having an elephant in the room and it's eating up everything in sight.

 

But relax. The pop star in question, Sa Dingding, is not really a 'Sanskrit singer', as she is being branded. She is an interesting fusion composer and performer of mixed Han and Mongolian descent whose songs are written in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit and a language that she classifies as "self-created". I had me a listen, and the Sanskrit was Greek to me. Beijing isn't about to use Dingding to lay claim to Kalidasa. It is promoting her as an instrument in a more important project — to lay claim to multiculturalism and gloss over its history of minority oppression. It's working already. Seek on Google, and ye shall find pots of reports from journalists who have just discovered that China has 55 minorities. They are quite prepared to go easy on the Tibetan question, or disremember that the Uighurs have issues with Beijing. They think China has invented multiculturalism.

 

Utter bosh, of course. Any cultural nationalist can tell you that like all good things, multiculturalism originated in India and we have a patent on it. Everything worth having originated here — the number zero, Ayurvedic cough drops, idlis, bananas… What, bananas are not Indian? 'Banana' is a word from the Congo? These Africans want to take credit for everything, even for originating the human race. And anyway, banana chips are of guaranteed Indian origin, so there.

 

The trouble with cultural nationalism is that cultural history is as uncertain as a Delhi fog. You can't go back too far in time without encountering the imponderable, or discard academic caution without embarrassing yourself. In this journey without maps, nothing is as it once was, and it's silly to believe that things hold still so that we can fit them into familiar geographies.

 

This fascination for owning and treasuring the past extends beyond the cultural domain. The environmentalists are all excited about saving the Himalayas, but they were not supposed to last. The mountains did not exist before the Gondwana Plate came wandering by, and they will vanish in the distant future. This is normal. So R.K. Pachauri was not only wrong in believing that the end of the world was nigh, he was also misguided.

 

Sure, parts of India will vanish too, in the meantime, thanks to global warming, but should we despair? We can always move to China. I understand they're turning multicultural over there. By the time we emigrate, they could all be speaking Sanskrit. And they should be happy to have us. As you know, everything worth having comes from India.

 

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THEY SERVE A PURPOSE

GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

 

When an envelope arrived at my Chennai doorstep a few days ago, I could not but laugh out aloud. The lifafa was addressed to 'Shri M.K. Gandhi, Former Governor of West Bengal.' Museums show letters addressed to him with impossible-sounding addresses such as 'Mahatma Gandhi, Somewhere in India', and 'Mahatma Gandhi, Emperor of India'. But this one, with its particular designation was an absolute, if unintended, original. Gandhi had, at different times, been a 'former' many things — a former barrister, a former sergeant major from South Africa's battlefronts, a former editor, a former Congress president. But being at the needle-point of the present moment, he was never really a former anything. He was the present.

 

But 'former governor'! Try as I did, I could not picture him seated behind an ornate table under chandeliers, attending with unhurried ease to the transactions of a Raj Bhavan. He, too, would have had a hearty laugh at the mix-up in the honest-to-goodness envelope meant for his grandson whose name has often got abbreviated to 'G.K'. But on, and with governors, the Mahatma had much to say and do.

 

Having returned to India from South Africa via England on January 9, 1915 at the age of 46, he met Lord

Willingdon, the then Governor of Bombay before a week had elapsed. "The moment I reached Bombay," he writes in the autobiography, "Gokhale sent word to me that the Governor was desirous of seeing me, and that it might be proper for me to respond..."

 

A key word here is 'proper'. A sense of propriety led Gandhi to call on many a British governor during the 33 years that he was to spend fighting for the freedom of his country and the redemption of his people from their own self-inflicted enervations. Gandhi's discussions with Lord Willingdon who was later to become Viceroy of India (1931-36), were soon followed by a very constructive interaction in June 1917 with the Lt Governor of Bihar, that led to the setting up of a commission of inquiry into the plight of Champaran's indigo workers.

 

In Bengal — and later West Bengal — for instance, having sought in vain an appointment with Lord Curzon in

1901 when visiting the city from South Africa, he went on to interact with successive governors. Meeting Sir John Anderson in 1937, Lord Brabourne in 1938, the Churchill-appointee R.G. Casey over seven sessions stretched across December 1945 and January 1946, and Sir Frederick Burrows twice in 1946 and 1947, he corresponded with them to differential effect. His crucial intervention with Governors Casey and Burrows played a timely part in the release of political detenus.

 

Maie Casey has written in her engaging memoir Tides and Eddies, "I was not the Governor. I was only the Governor's wife, therefore my conversations with Gandhi flowed in unrestricted freedom. His eyes behind the thick lenses were shrewd and kind and comforting. I had the feeling that if I were in trouble I would like to go to him for advice, which though it might not be for me entirely functional would be wise and human..."

 

Change was in the air when Gandhi called on Bengal's last British Governor, Burrows. The Clement Attlee-appointee asked Gandhi on October 30, 1946, "What would you like me to do?" The question was remarkable and historians would not fail to note it was coming from a direct successor-tenant in that house, of George Nathaniel Curzon who, 48 years earlier, had refused to see Gandhi. The answer Burrows received was terse. "Nothing, Your Excellency." Gandhi was indicating that, after the British declaration to quit, the governor's position was to be that of a constitutional head.

 

Burrows' successor and West Bengal's first Governor C. Rajagopalachari, reversing the earlier pattern and

 practice, called on Gandhi at his Beliaghata camp-residence five times in August and September, 1947. So, did Gandhi believe that with independence coming to India, governors would have nothing left to do?

 

Narayan Agarwal, a dedicated Gandhian and later a follower of Vinoba Bhave, gave Gandhi an occasion to express himself clearly on the subject. In November-December 1947, Agarwal cogitated on the office and role of governor as was being debated in the Constituent Assembly. He, of course, did not know then that he himself would, some two decades later, be Governor of Gujarat, when he wrote in an article that winter: "In my opinion there is no necessity for a Governor. The Chief Minister should be able to take his place and people's money to the tune of Rs 5,500 per month for the sinecure of the Governor will be saved..." Agarwal then went on to make some suggestions regarding the criteria and procedure for the appointment of governors — if indeed that position was to be retained under the new Constitution.

 

Responding to Agarwal's comments, the Mahatma wrote in the Harijan of December 21, 1947: "There is much to be said in favour of the argument advanced by Principal Agarwal [sic] about the appointment of provincial Governors. I must confess that I have not been able to follow the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. I do not know the context in which the proposal under discussion has been made. But, examined in isolation, the criticism appears irresistible; with the exception that much as I would like to spare every pice of the public treasury, it would be bad economy to do away with provincial Governors and regard Chief Ministers as a perfect equivalent. Whilst I would resent much power of interference to be given to Governors, I do not think that they should be mere figure-heads. They should have enough power enabling them to influence ministerial policy for the better. In their detached position they would be able to see things in their proper perspective and thus prevent mistakes by their Cabinets. Theirs must be an all-pervasive moral influence in their provinces."

 

On May 8, 1949, Governor General Rajagopalachari convened a meeting of governors which was also

addressed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel. The word 'figurehead' featured in what Rajaji said to the gathering of governors. "You should not imagine that you are just figureheads and can do nothing... Our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister do not hold that view. They want you to develop your influence for good and they expect you to find means for achieving it without friction and without prejudice to the march of democracy." The governors attending included industrialist Homi Mody, the veteran non-Congress political leader M.S. Aney, the free-thinking political leader and barrister Asaf Ali, the Congressman and lawyer K.N. Katju, the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, and ICS officer C.M. Trivedi. All of them  took the 'march of democracy' forward. None of them saw their role as being bigger or less than what the Constitution had envisaged. They saw things, to borrow Gandhi's phrase, "in the proper perspective".

 

It is not always easy to see things in the proper perspective, especially when unearned criticism or undeserved praise surrounds one. I can never forget an unintentional lesson in perspective of a governor's role that I received from an unknown correspondent in Kolkata. Meaning to give me a sense of gubernatorial grandeur, she managed to do exactly the opposite. In the process, she gave me a laugh as hearty as the envelope addressed to a 'former governor' that India never had. She began her letter to me in a beautiful hand with the unforgettable words: "I am honoured, Sir, to be addressing a letter to the Figurehead of the State."

 

Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WITH NO CREDIT

 

A spectre is haunting the RBI, the spectre of inflation. The month-on-month seasonally adjusted WPI inflation is hovering around 15 per cent. Some of this is food — the WPI inflation is running at 20 per cent by the same measure — but a lot of it is non-food inflation. But what choices did the RBI have to make a difference? Decades of policy mistakes on the bond market and on banking have resulted in an ineffective monetary policy transmission. Increasing or decreasing the interest rate does not seem to impact inflationary pressures. The size of impact is not statistically discernable from zero. The central bank is a spectator when it comes to using the short-term rate to deliver low and stable inflation.

 

The debate will continue on the RBI's decision to raise the CRR — but the honest truth is that this just does not matter. How, then, can inflation be checked? There is a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy. The short-term strategy should focus on two issues. The first is food prices. Indian agriculture has been ill-served by policy blunders, particularly in the recent past. Fresh thinking is needed on an array of policy issues in agriculture. The second lever which can work in the short-run is the exchange rate. Unlike the short-term interest rate — where the measurable impact on prices is zero — the exchange rate matters. There is a visible and measurable impact on prices: when the rupee appreciates, this tames domestic inflation, and vice versa. To some extent, the inflation we are seeing today is the delayed reaction to the sharp rupee depreciation of previous months. The RBI document reflects concern about capital inflows. This betrays a lack of understanding of the relationship between capital inflows, the exchange rate and inflation. The right strategy for the RBI today is to continue with liberalisation of the capital account, so as to encourage capital inflows. This would yield rupee appreciation and thus combat inflation.

 

Politicians are right to be highly concerned about inflation. The only useful thing that monetary policy can do to assist India's long-term growth opportunities is to deliver stable inflation. In the short run, this requires new thinking on agriculture and on capital account liberalisation. In parallel, the three reports led by Percy Mistry, Raghuram Rajan and Jahangir Aziz outline the path for India to get a plausible financial system, where the RBI can deliver low and stable inflation through control of the short-term interest rate.

 

***************************************

INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FRAMED

 

If anyone still parrots the "root cause" argument for Naxal violence, two images might change her mind. The first was of the headless body of Sanjoy Ghosh, a 23-year old West Bengal state armed police jawan. Though Ghosh had been kidnapped during an operation, his beheading indicates a cold-blooded death, not retaliatory fire from Maoists under siege. The likely hearing that Ghosh received in the kangaroo courts that Maoists like to call people's justice was seen in the second image, this one taken in Jhargram in Bengal on Wednesday. The photograph shows "court proceedings" of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities — the Lalgarh-based, Maoist-backed group. The two accused, allegedly police informers, are sprawled, their hands tied, on the ground. Their judges, armed PCPA members, surround them, keeping the accused honest by beating them with sticks. This is, after all, people's justice.

 

While there can be no moral equivalence between the state and the Maoists, the worry is that lack of state coordination is imperilling the entire effort. Reports suggested that the new Shibu Soren government in Jharkhand had rolled back offensive patrolling and confined the CRPF and state police to the barracks. This was not just foolhardy for Jharkhand, it imperilled Operation Greenhunt by providing a safehaven for Maoists besieged elsewhere. It is in this context that Soren's statement that the Centre and his government were on the same page is reassuring. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has reiterated this, confirming that Soren is "on board with other chief ministers". It is hoped that the Jharkhand government now delivers, and these statements indicate a changed mindset.

 

Up ahead is the February 9 meeting of four Naxal-affected chief ministers (Soren included) in Kolkata, chaired by the home minister. This meeting follows a similar one held in Chhattisgarh, involving Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. It is these meetings — as much a forum for tactics as symbols of political cohesiveness — that are crucial for the success of Operation Greenhunt. But for those in search of other, more utopian symbols, perhaps the beheaded body of a poor jawan might provide some answers.

 

***************************************

INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DOUBLE STANDARDS

 

If the episode over the elevation of Karnataka high court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran is an indictment of our opaque selection and lengthy impeachment processes, here's another one. Lalit Kumar Mishra, once additional judge of the Orissa high court, became the first judge in Orissa's history to be demoted to district judge. The allegations against Mishra are that he rigged the selection of judicial candidates. The Orissa high court chief justice conducted an inquiry and found him guilty. Mishra's appointment was subsequently not confirmed, and he is now district judge in Kalahandi.

 

The "demotion" raises two questions. If a judge is considered ineligible for a high court, what on earth is he doing as a district court judge? Is there a different standard of probity for different courts?

 

Alternatively, what confidence would litigants appearing before district judge Mishra have, knowing that he has been pronounced guilty by a superior court? The other question, one that Mishra's supporters raise, is the nature of the probe against Mishra. The inquiry was closed-door, hardly the kind of trial our judiciary would be proud of. Since he has been so publicly judged, should not he be given a chance to publicly defend himself? After all, that's a right all those accused in the Indian judicial system are guaranteed.

 

Either way, the larger question is of judicial accountability. Since Mishra was only an "additional" judge, it was possible to transfer him. Had he been a confirmed high court judge, disciplining him would have involved a never-done-before impeachment. This is why many HC judges are sometimes transferred to high courts elsewhere — begging the same question that residents of Kalahandi must ask: are they to receive lower quality justice? As the government mulls a new Judges (Standards and Accountability) Bill, these are some questions for the state and the courts to jointly consider.

 

 *************************************** 

INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WITH NO CREDIT

 

A spectre is haunting the RBI, the spectre of inflation. The month-on-month seasonally adjusted WPI inflation is hovering around 15 per cent. Some of this is food — the WPI inflation is running at 20 per cent by the same measure — but a lot of it is non-food inflation. But what choices did the RBI have to make a difference? Decades of policy mistakes on the bond market and on banking have resulted in an ineffective monetary policy transmission. Increasing or decreasing the interest rate does not seem to impact inflationary pressures. The size of impact is not statistically discernable from zero. The central bank is a spectator when it comes to using the short-term rate to deliver low and stable inflation.

 

The debate will continue on the RBI's decision to raise the CRR — but the honest truth is that this just does not matter. How, then, can inflation be checked? There is a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy. The short-term strategy should focus on two issues. The first is food prices. Indian agriculture has been ill-served by policy blunders, particularly in the recent past. Fresh thinking is needed on an array of policy issues in agriculture. The second lever which can work in the short-run is the exchange rate. Unlike the short-term interest rate — where the measurable impact on prices is zero — the exchange rate matters. There is a visible and measurable impact on prices: when the rupee appreciates, this tames domestic inflation, and vice versa. To some extent, the inflation we are seeing today is the delayed reaction to the sharp rupee depreciation of previous months. The RBI document reflects concern about capital inflows. This betrays a lack of understanding of the relationship between capital inflows, the exchange rate and inflation. The right strategy for the RBI today is to continue with liberalisation of the capital account, so as to encourage capital inflows. This would yield rupee appreciation and thus combat inflation.

 

Politicians are right to be highly concerned about inflation. The only useful thing that monetary policy can do to assist India's long-term growth opportunities is to deliver stable inflation. In the short run, this requires new thinking on agriculture and on capital account liberalisation. In parallel, the three reports led by Percy Mistry, Raghuram Rajan and Jahangir Aziz outline the path for India to get a plausible financial system, where the RBI can deliver low and stable inflation through control of the short-term interest rate.

 

***************************************

INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

FRAMED

 

If anyone still parrots the "root cause" argument for Naxal violence, two images might change her mind. The first was of the headless body of Sanjoy Ghosh, a 23-year old West Bengal state armed police jawan. Though Ghosh had been kidnapped during an operation, his beheading indicates a cold-blooded death, not retaliatory fire from Maoists under siege. The likely hearing that Ghosh received in the kangaroo courts that Maoists like to call people's justice was seen in the second image, this one taken in Jhargram in Bengal on Wednesday. The photograph shows "court proceedings" of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities — the Lalgarh-based, Maoist-backed group. The two accused, allegedly police informers, are sprawled, their hands tied, on the ground. Their judges, armed PCPA members, surround them, keeping the accused honest by beating them with sticks. This is, after all, people's justice.

 

While there can be no moral equivalence between the state and the Maoists, the worry is that lack of state coordination is imperilling the entire effort. Reports suggested that the new Shibu Soren government in Jharkhand had rolled back offensive patrolling and confined the CRPF and state police to the barracks. This was not just foolhardy for Jharkhand, it imperilled Operation Greenhunt by providing a safehaven for Maoists besieged elsewhere. It is in this context that Soren's statement that the Centre and his government were on the same page is reassuring. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has reiterated this, confirming that Soren is "on board with other chief ministers". It is hoped that the Jharkhand government now delivers, and these statements indicate a changed mindset.

 

Up ahead is the February 9 meeting of four Naxal-affected chief ministers (Soren included) in Kolkata, chaired by the home minister. This meeting follows a similar one held in Chhattisgarh, involving Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. It is these meetings — as much a forum for tactics as symbols of political cohesiveness — that are crucial for the success of Operation Greenhunt. But for those in search of other, more utopian symbols, perhaps the beheaded body of a poor jawan might provide some answers.

 

 ***************************************

INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

EXIT AMERICA. AND THEN WHAT?

ROGER COHEN

 

I see that Gore Vidal, in an interview with the British daily The Independent, has been predicting America's demise with scurrilous relish, awaiting the day when it takes its place "somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs" and China reigns supreme. The United States, he suggests, can then bow from the stage, war-drained, broken by "madhouse" politics, to become "the Yellow Man's burden."

 

I think Vidal's lost it, as the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens points out in a recent Vanity Fair piece entitled "Vidal Loco," but I have to say the words of the grand old man of letters echoed in my head during a recent visit to China, especially as I watched footage of the coffins of eight Chinese peacekeepers killed in Haiti being returned to Beijing.

 

This was a big event in China to which national television devoted many hours. The flag-draped coffins of the Chinese United Nations personnel, greeted at Beijing airport by sobbing family members and solemn Politburo members, put me in mind of numberless flag-draped American coffins returning to Dover Air Force Base from far-flung wars.

 

President Obama wants out of those wars. Indeed, to judge by the nine paltry minutes devoted to international

affairs in a State of the Union address of more than one hour, he's weary of America policing the globe.

 

When Israel-Palestine merits not a word from a president, you know the United States is turning inward.

 

The coffins have weighed on all Americans, however deeply repressed the pain. A fractured, draft-free America no longer has a Main Street. But somewhere out there the feeling has coalesced that some of the billions spent in Kabul could be used to create jobs at home.

 

China, in its "peaceful rise," has had no such distractions. Commentators on Chinese TV made much of how the Haiti sacrifice of the eight "heroes" was part of being "good global citizens."

 

But I found my mind wandering, fast-forwarding to 2040. I tried to imagine a time when such images would be frequent, when China could no longer freeload on a declining America and was obliged to step up to great power status with the attendant cost and sacrifice.

 

(I believe the rise of China is unstoppable. As Obama noted, Beijing is not "playing for second place." After my

last column about bulldozing Chinese development, a reader wrote describing how a new semiconductor plant in Albany, New York, only got the go-ahead after "almost two years and two million dollars to prepare the environmental impact statements" to present to "more than 100 local public meetings." Extrapolate from that to grasp how diktat outraces democracy.)

 

So, jump ahead to 2040. The United States has long since withdrawn its troops from Okinawa — "If the Japanese don't want us, we can no longer justify staying" said Democratic President Mary Martinez in 2032 — and Japan has predictably gone nuclear in the absence of a US security guarantee.

 

Now tensions between nuclear-armed China and nuclear-armed Japan have flared in an Asia where the United States no longer serves as the offsetting power. A naval clash over disputed, gas-rich islands in the East China Sea has revived century-old World War II grievances.

Asked about the escalating conflict, a State Department spokesman in Washington says: "We believe in good global citizenship, but frankly we don't have a dog in that fight. You'll have to ask Beijing."

 

But Beijing is busy. US troops have also long since withdrawn from South Korea — "the 38th parallel will just have to take care of itself," a departing US general was heard to mutter in 2034 — and China finds itself having to deploy its own troops to restrain the increasingly wayward North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, from his threats to reduce Seoul "to an ashtray." A drunk-driving incident involving a Chinese general in Pyongyang and the death of three schoolchildren has prompted Kim to accuse China of acting "with imperial disdain."

 

"Beijing seeks the wellbeing of all people on the Korean peninsula, regrets the Pyongyang incident, and calls for dialogue," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says. The US State Department has no comment but officials privately confess to a certain "schadenfreude" at Chinese difficulties.

 

These difficulties are not confined to Asia. A shadowy terrorist group called ARFAP (African Resources for African People) has just claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 12 Chinese executives attending a Lusaka conference on copper extraction. Video has gone global showing the execution of two executives and threatening the murder of two more if China does not withdraw "from all predatory exploitation on the African continent."

 

The United Nations Security Council (now down to four permanent veto-bearing members since the United States chose in 2037 to resign a position serving only for "sterile institutional haggling over faraway nations that do not need our counsel") has been locked in discussion of the African crisis, but China is complaining of "paralysis."

 

A State Department spokesman says, "We hope China finds a way to negotiate with ARFAP. War is never a good option. We also hope the Chinese brokered Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire in Gaza, which is unravelling, can be saved by Beijing."

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PRINTLINE PAKISTAN

RUCHIKA TALWAR

 

STATE OF PLAY

Reacting to the exclusion of its cricketers from the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL), Daily Times reported on January 26: "Lahore High Court Chief Justice (CJ) Khawaja Muhammad Sharif issued notices to the Ministry of Sports and Culture and the Association of Film Producers for February 9 on a petition seeking ban on the screening of Indian films in Pakistan. The CJ also directed the petitioner, Muhammad Hussain, to assist the court in determining the authority under which the court could ban the screening of Indian movies in Pakistan. Ishtiaq Ahmed Chaudhry, counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the Indian Premier League (IPL) had humiliated the Pakistani players and the nation while Indian films were being exhibited in cinemas throughout the country. He requested the court to ban the screening of Indian films until the Indian government apologises from Pakistani cricketers and the nation." Not to be left behind, the government chipped in, as Daily Times reported on January 26: "Pakistan has successfully mobilised the defunct six-plus-two talks formula to counter the US pressure regarding giving India a 'greater role' in warn-torn Afghanistan's rehabilitation... Diplomatic sources said Pakistan has been lobbying for the renewal of talks among Afghanistan's neighbours in order to foil Indian designs of gaining a foothold on Afghan soil. Pakistan believes India is not an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan and therefore should have limited role in the country... 'It is not possible for us to give India a role in Afghanistan as it is using Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan. Also, India has been traditionally aligned with Russia and played a part in the destruction of Afghanistan,' sources said."

 

AMERICAN COUNSEL

Dawn carried a report on January 28 stating: "The US urged India to be transparent with Pakistan about their activities in Afghanistan. At a briefing at the Pentagon, spokesman Geoff Morrell also discounted the Indian role in training Afghan security forces. The Pentagon press secretary said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had discussed the Afghan situation with Indian leaders, including the issues that concerned Pakistan, when he visited New Delhi last week..." The US made another attempt to douse the flames erupting between India and Pakistan every now and then, as Dawn reported on January 27: "In a gathering that included senior Pakistani and Indian military officials, the US military chief urged all senior officers in attendance to avoid the kind of public disputes that have hurt regional relations in the past. 'I think it's really important that we work as hard as we can with each other, and that any kind of public accusations or public finger pointing, quite frankly, that does not serve any of us well,' said Admiral Mike Mullen. 'That doesn't mean we won't have disagreements. But I hope that we can do that privately, and not publicly.' Although the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did not mention any particular dispute or country, it seemed an obvious reference to an altercation between India and Pakistan earlier this month over a statement by Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor."

 

PROFILING WON'T FLY

Pakistan's public outcry against the recent US announcement to screen passengers of Pakistani origin among others flying in and out of America might bear fruit, suggests an exclusive news item in Dawn on January 26. "US Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, and Ambassador Husain Haqqani are expected to announce... Pakistan's removal from a list of countries earmarked for additional security. Earlier this month, the US government issued a list of 14 countries whose citizens will have to go through additional security searches while coming to the United States. These include body searches for both male and female visitors, a restriction that caused uproar in Pakistan."

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

OUT OF AFGHANISTAN

ALIA ALLANA

 

69 foreign ministers gathered in London this week to work out the next phase in strategy for Afghanistan. Gordon Brown's stated intention is to "turn the tide" against the mounting insurgency. Alia Allana puts the conference in perspective:

 

WHAT WAS DECIDED ON MATTERS OF SECURITY?

Afghanistan agreed to taking over certain responsibilities — security, policing and military functions — over a specified time period. Point 10 of the conference communiqué addresses the issues of security and the handing over of responsibility to Afghan forces. It is stated that the Afghan government is encouraged towards "conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas...within three years" and that "within five years" it would be responsible for securing a majority of the main insurgent strongholds. Partnering between Afghan and NATO forces is seen as an important goal of the current strategy. The theme of the conference can be identified as the following: transition, handoff and eventual departure. Further, the communiqué was rife with words such as "deadline" and "timetable". Hillary Clinton however added that "this is not an exit strategy, It is about assisting and partnering with the Afghans." It has been decided that security for certain provinces would be handed over from NATO to Afghan forces as soon as the end of the year — however for areas of full-blown insurgency, the weaker Afghan forces would be expected to take control within three (to five) years. To this effect the international community will aid in developing Afghanistan 's security capabilities — the army will be boosted to 171,600 and the police will number 134,000 by mid-to-end 2011. Karzai, however added that even after Afghan forces have gained the upper hand, international assistance will be required for an additional five to ten years.

 

WHAT IS THE PEACE AND REINTEGRATION TRUST FUND?

The fund is to encourage militants to lay their arms down. It is hoped that this fund will create alternate methods of livelihood so that insurgents have a channel "back into mainstream life on the condition that they renounce violence." At the London Conference alone, $140 million was raised and it is expected that this could go up to $500 million. (The US is not contributing to this fund). Part of this deal is the Karzai government's effort at reaching out to the Taliban. Karzai has also announced plans for a Loya Jirga (elders conference or tribal conference) where Afghans will discuss the manner in which dialogue will take place. Rangin Spanta — Afghanistan 's foreign minister — added that "the reintegration strategy is not to share political power with the Taliban." Rather, he said it was about offering "simple countryside Afghan citizens who are not happy with the government or paid by the hardcore Taliban" the "prospect of a real life, a job, education and a future." Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal predicted the figure for reintegration would be somewhere around $1 billion dollars, adding that this would amount to "peanuts compared to the costs of the war." Japan has provided $50 million towards the fund. In the longer term, Karzai is in favour of Saudi Arabia mediating talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan.

 

WHAT ABOUT CORRUPTION?

Karzai's government has been accused of being one of the most corrupt governments in the world by Transparency International. Karzai has stated that battling corruption will be "the key focus" of his second term in office. He has pledged towards the creation of an independent body for oversight. This would consist of international monitors and would keep a progress report in Afghanistan's battle against corruption. There is also talk of appointing a corruption oversight body — the aim is to ensure proper accounting practices and audit.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT SO QUIET ON THE CULTURAL FRONT?

GITANJALISURENDRAN

 

At present, the Culture portfolio is with the prime minister. While I am sure that the UPA has a vision for culture, it is no longer enough to keep it to themselves. Let's look at the state of some of the institutions. The National Archives has not had a full-time head for more than five years. The National Museum has also been leaderless for over two years now. The fate of one other mission for intangible cultural heritage is unknown. Rampur Raza Library, the famous historic library, has not had a director since 1981 because no one can be found to fulfill the quite impossible job description! The list runs on. Cultural institutions in this country are in a state of crisis and as yet, the government has neither shown any long-term vision nor any substantial short-term action to arrest the decay that has set in.

 

The sheer weight of the problems faced by cultural heritage practitioners is daunting. Many government cultural institutions are tangled in red tape, and stagnating. Annual reports are difficult to obtain. Relevant institutions do not have published standards for museum display or archive preservation. Last I checked, just one state archive in the entire country had an online presence (Tamil Nadu). Our cultural institutions need a complete technological and knowledge overhaul. By this I mean websites, online catalogues, standards for display, preservation, public service, public programming and access to collections must be created or improved. Further, the task before us is to turn our cultural institutions into vibrant hubs for research, knowledge dissemination, and cutting edge cultural display, preservation and access.

 

Culture, of course, is many things — it's the way we live, our languages, food, art, theatre, festivals, music and more. It determines our identity, even our hopes and our dreams. There isn't one single culture in India but many. There are no tangible outcomes in culture — no obvious "deliverables". But a healthy respect and care for culture is critical to a healthy national culture and life. Culture belongs to all, cuts across national boundaries, celebrates the best that humans have to offer each other. Culture encompasses the new as much as the old. It's Indian literature in English; the contemporary landscapes of our cities; it's fusion music. No one is the keeper our culture/s. And yet, the government must show the way by providing the public with its game plan.

 

So what can be done? First, a competent person must be appointed as the Minister of Culture. Additionally, searches must begin for professionals to lead the many headless institutions. And it's not enough to pick an academician. The needs of the hour are competency, energy, ideas and skills in problem-solving which can only come from an honest search for the right person. This is an opportunity for UPA to reveal its own competency in appointing the right people. Second, the department of culture must move its wheels to generate a vision for the future that includes a sensible policy towards missions. It makes no sense to allocate large amounts of public funds to time-bound missions which are set up to do the work where existing cultural institutions have not proven able, only to hand them back to those institutions.

 

Further, government cannot sustain missions forever, and therefore some sort of clear end-game plan needs to be generated. Third, there needs to be a greater focus on standards creation and knowledge dissemination. With the creation, dissemination and enforcement of standards, will come quality, a feature that is sorely lacking in the area of cultural display and revitalisation today. Further, from the point of view of knowledge about culture, better use must be made of the internet and new media sources. Fourth, we must find ways to involve communities in the work of revitalising culture. Recently, this paper carried a report about a tree-documenting exercise undertaken by villagers in Maharashtra. This kind of initiative should serve as a model for many other such initiatives. Fifth, we must now see culture as linked with education, environment and technology. For instance, it can provide tools for education and help take learning outside of the classroom. One of the needs of the hour is to generate positive and creative links between the realms of culture and these other realms. Culture is as an end, an ever-evolving process and a means to an end, all in one. Finally, we need to replace (where we can) institutions and institutional thinking with movements. The difference between the two, as I see it, is in the greater involvement of the public in the latter. Just as we cannot expect the government to provide us with all the answers, the government must also take people into greater confidence in areas such as this. One area could be in generating new community libraries. The Ministry of Culture's recent announcement of new schemes for re-invigorating theatre in India, is a welcome step. Much more needs to follow.

 

The writer has worked for INTACH and the National Mission for Manuscripts. She is currently doing a History PhD at Harvard University

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RBI ERRS

 

On Friday, RBI began India's exit from stimulus by announcing a sharp 75-basis-point increase in the cash reserve ratio (CRR). The hike in CRR is expected to absorb Rs 36,000 crore of liquidity from the system. RBI obviously hopes that this will help ease the pressure on inflation. Unfortunately, it may have a bigger effect on growth. Consider that credit offtake has only grown at 8.8% between April 2009 and January 2010. RBI's target growth for 2009-10 is 18%. Even if one assumes that credit offtake shows an upswing in the last three months of the financial year, it is difficult to see it hit the RBI's targeted rate of growth, especially when RBI has decided to take so much liquidity out of the system. Strangely, RBI's conservatism on rates was matched by a sharp upward revision of its growth target for 2009-10—revised from 6% to 7.5%. The first six months of the year recorded 7% GDP growth, which means that we need 8% in the last six months to meet RBI's target. Given that agriculture is likely to perform poorly, the onus of achieving the 8% target rests on industry and services. Industry is still faced with large costs of borrowing, close to double digits or, as is the case for small-scale industry, in double digits. How RBI squares this revised growth target with a tightening of monetary policy is anyone's guess. Of course, there may not be an immediate upward revision of lending rates by banks—thankfully repo and reverse repo were left untouched—but the signal from RBI for the near future is now clear.

 

RBI has stated that both growth and inflation are priorities in its policy. With this sharp hike in CRR, RBI may have ironically fallen between the two stools. Growth, as we have just argued, will likely be a casualty. But it isn't even clear how this hike in CRR will address inflation that is driven primarily by supply-side factors, mostly in food. There was no evidence that larger inflationary expectations were taking hold so far. And food-price inflation will likely show some abatement after a good rabi crop. In any case, supply-side factors need the attention of the Union government—ministries of finance, agriculture and food—not RBI. To the extent that the rising prices of other commodities were a worry for RBI, it need only have looked at the steps already being taken to cool down the economy in China. Unlike in India, in China they may have a genuine problem of overheating. Once the central bank there moves to slow down the world's fastest growing economy, commodity prices, including for food, would have shown a decline in any case. The rest of the world for now is still showing moribund growth. RBI reacted in a similar manner in response to commodity inflation in 2008 and ended up choking the real economy. One had hoped that this time around, RBI would have chosen to be more liberal for a while longer.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IT'S STILL RHETORIC


Barack Obama has once again raised the bogey of outsourcing at a time when the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector is on the rebound in the US, contributing significantly to the fortunes of Indian software companies as seen in the results of quarter ended December. The populist pitch about moving jobs from Bangalore to Buffalo, taking tax preferences away from firms that outsource and giving tax preferences to firms that create jobs in the US was first raised last year. The IT industry in India continues to remain optimistic, as companies in US will still need cost-effective services. Numerous studies have reiterated the fact that the money saved from outsourcing could be invested in research and development by companies, which could then be reinvested to create high-end jobs in the US. A recent McKinsey study estimates that 34% of global Fortune 500 companies expect to offshore some of their IT infrastructure services over the next three years, especially to India, and companies can save as much as $500 million in wage bills every year. That's a significant amount of money given the challenging times companies in the US have seen in the last two years.

 

For US firms, India still remains the most attractive destination for outsourcing. A Boston Consulting Group survey of global companies found that error rates in accounting were reduced by 60% when the work was outsourced to India and companies have been able to save about 40% for most services by outsourcing to India because of access to a large talent pool, better employee productivity and low taxes. It remains to be seen whether Indian software companies can still remain competitive if their clients have to pay higher taxes. Indian software companies, even though the overall macro drivers are strong and outsourcing still remains a compelling proposition, will have to gear up to move up the value chain in IT and BPO services if they have to stay ahead of the curve. They will have to invest to develop patented software for the global markets and look for new opportunities in infrastructure management services in Europe, Asia and Middle East instead of their overdependence on the BFSI segment in the US, which accounts for about 60% of their current revenue.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SUBBARAO'S MONETARY POLICY MUDDLE

MADAN SABNAVIS


A couple of days before the credit policy was announced, it was interesting to hear some of the chiefs of large banks, including those in the public sector, actually stating that they would not increase interest rates even if RBI hiked them. This is significant not because it is a view of bankers, but because it may also mean that the credit policy per se may be becoming a little less relevant in terms of drawing the desired response from the banks. On the lighter side, this may be the reason why the policy document is just 13 pages.

 

Two issues in the policy document stand out that leave ample scope for debate, as there is a certain degree of ambivalence in them. The first is with respect to GDP growth. RBI has, quite uncharacteristically, upped its projection of growth in GDP for the year from 6% to 7.5%. Such a sudden increase actually means adding something like Rs 50,000 crore of real GDP to the original estimate. Is this achievable? Growth in GDP during the first half of the year has been around 7% and in order to average 7.5% for the full year the economy will have to grow by around 8% during the second half of the year.

 

Agricultural production would play an important role in these two quarters with its weight of around 17-18% in GDP. The kharif crop has been suboptimal with a fall in output of rice, soybean, groundnut, maize, sugarcane, etc. The double-digit decline in output can only partly be addressed by the expected good performance of the rabi crop. This is so because we have already attained peaks in production of wheat, chana and mustard in FY09, which are the major rabi crops. Hence, scoring over these numbers would be a bit difficult. Even at the most optimistic level, there would still be a decline in farm output by at least 5%.

 

Now, even if industry grows by 10% (it has been 7.6% for the first eight months), finance sector by 9% and the social sector (fiscal stimulus sector) by 10% during the second half of the year (which will come over an increase of 17% in FY09), GDP growth would come to at best 6.5%. This is assuming buoyant growth in other areas like construction (8%), transport and trade (9%) and mining (9%). Even a status quo in agricultural production will at best push the number up to 7%. Hence, the projection of 7.5% would be difficult to attain.

 

The second issue pertains to monetary policy per se. The basic objectives of monetary policy are growth and inflation. Is RBI targeting inflation or growth? The answer is not clear based on the actions of RBI. The central bank has highlighted the downside risk of inflation becoming even higher than it is perceived today since even cost-push-inflation on the supply side feeds into inflationary expectations. In fact, if RBI's projection of 7.5% growth in GDP is to work out, then the economy will be getting overheated, in which case inflation on the demand side would also emanate. Prices of manufactured goods have already started increasing in the last two months, which means that we cannot brush aside inflation as being only a supply-side phenomenon. In such a situation, RBI should have been raising rates, which it has chosen not to do. The reason is ostensibly to not do anything that impedes growth. But, is the policy supportive of growth?

 

The answer is not clear since RBI will absorb Rs 36,000 crore from the system to send signals that it means business. However, with surplus funds of Rs 70,000 crore being invested in the reverse repo auctions on a daily basis by banks, this amount is evidently not significant from the point of view of liquidity as there will still be surpluses with the banking system. But, given that RBI expects the economy to grow rapidly in the second half, especially industry, there should logically be an increase in demand for credit. But, if this happens, then the move to absorb liquidity through the 75 bps increase in CRR will be counter-productive.

 

Absorbing surplus liquidity cannot control inflation just as the SLR increase earlier did not matter when banks had an investment-deposit ratio of 30%. The move is also not supportive of growth as it withdraws money from the system. Besides, the banks too would be bearing a loss of above Rs 1,000 crore as interest income forgone as this was being invested in the reverse repo auctions at 3.25%.

 

The credit policy, while clear on its numbers for growth and inflation, blows hot and cold on how its monetary measures would actually help in achieving them.

 

The writer is chief economist, NCDEX. These are his personal views

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POPULISM ON OUTSOURCING WON'T HELP

DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR


Barack Obama's barrage of verbal volleys on outsourcing appears to be losing its sting, especially from an Indian information technology standpoint. Sure there were concerns when he first spoke about it but with the US President trying to open old wounds repeatedly, his bark could well turn out to be more frightful than his bite.

 

Obama's fear of being 'Bangalored' does not seem to stem from any real concerns about India stealing America's technology thunder, but merely an attempt at trying to keep him afloat on popularity charts. The affable and charismatic President has been losing his sheen of late, and flaying outsourcing has become one of his pet projects.

 

Indian IT firms and lobby body Nasscom have consistently maintained that the US anti-outsourcing stance will not be able to nibble away at the software fortunes of the country. Their reading of the situation has been consistent and they firmly believe that the US is only trying to make sure that large multinational American firms do not set up subsidiaries in foreign lands merely to save taxes.

 

Nasscom has been trying to allay fears that India's IT exports would be hit, by stating that outsourcing is a phenomenon that cannot be reversed. And to a large extent that's the case. For all the outsourcing bashing that Obama loves to do, there is very little that he can do to curb outsourcing, as it's simply a very lucrative and cost-saving option for American companies. Obama's tirade has got more to do with the US trying to raise funds by mopping up additional taxes than anything else, the lobby body feels.

 

But there is more to it than what meets the eye. While Nasscom has a point, it's very clear that Obama has to now go for the jugular with regard to winning back jobs if he has to keep his poll promises. This Wednesday he pledged to push forward with his tax plan—first announced in May 2009—to curb overseas tax advantages enjoyed by US firms. Obama urged the Senate to approve new laws to close international tax loopholes, which could produce $210 billion in tax revenues over the next 10 years. And in days to come he is sure to build on this stance, and try to put added pressure on companies that threaten to outsource.

 

The reality is that it is still cheaper to outsource. The on-site or onshore cost of a starting-level engineer in an IT company is about $60 an hour. The corresponding cost for work done offshore either in India or China works out to around $25-30 an hour. If the US disallows offshore payments as expenses, then the cost of offshoring will go up to $40 or so, according to estimates. Hence, it is still cheaper for the US companies to offshore jobs to locations such as India and China. Surely, any anti-outsourcing move is likely to hit American companies as hard as it will hit the Indian IT sector, which earns over half of its revenue from the US. While US companies may lose their competitive edge, Indian firms may have to look at other geographies for added revenues.

 

At this juncture, it may also be worthwhile for us to know the difference between offshoring and outsourcing, to clearly understand what Obama is trying to convey. Offshoring refers to a situation when a firm ships jobs to its overseas subsidiary to save taxes, while outsourcing is about relocation of jobs abroad to save costs, which could result in job losses in the parent country. The offshoring company continues to save a huge amount of money due to wage differences, and then it pays a marginal amount of extra tax because of this change. But that's not going to be enough to stop offshoring, at least to India.

 

If Obama has his way, he would make offshoring slightly more expensive for US companies. The hit would then be equivalent to the tax rates of the country that the jobs would go to. The change will reverse a Bush-era policy where US companies were able to defer paying corporate tax on income earned overseas, until they brought it back to the US, either as dividends or as retained profits. They got a tax credit for whatever tax they paid overseas already, and paid the difference to the US government. But what is not clear is whether the change in the deferral policy would lead to more jobs in the US. In any case, Obama cannot hope to build a robust economy in the US by reducing competitiveness of American companies.

 

In a globalised world, there is no place for protectionism. It is quite amazing that the US is feeling the pinch from countries like India and it's also amusing to see Obama having to resort to such rhetoric to keep up with people's image of him. No wonder they call this the Asian century. Signs of that are in the air, just one decade into it.

dj.hector@expressindia.com

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BEND IT LIKE JAIRAM

RITUPARNA BHUYAN


Junior ministers in the UPA-II regime recently marched up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to submit that they are largely under-employed, if not totally unemployed. Their common grouse—Cabinet ministers kept the cake and the icing, leaving them with crumbs for work.

 

Ideally, senior ministers must talk to their juniors before assigning responsibilities. But usually junior ministers' work allocations include the most low-key and unglamorous aspects of a department's duties.

 

Among the youth brigade that met the PM, minister of state for commerce Jyotiraditya Scindia was apparently the most forthcoming. The PM simply asked them to work harder on propagating the UPA's work rather than air grievances in public.

 

While GenNext may consider the PM unsympathetic, there is good reason for his stand. Consider Scindia's predecessor in UPA-I, Jairam Ramesh, who now has independent charge of the sensitive environment ministry.

 

With exactly the same work allocation as Scindia, Jairam was one of the most active members of the ministerial council, not just among the juniors. While his then-boss Kamal Nath cornered headlines over 'high profile' issues like SEZs and World Trade Organisation, Jairam's work profile included the spices, tea and coffee boards; handicrafts and marine exports and a few administrative procedures.

 

Yet, Jairam's Udyog Bhawan office with a transparent glass door became a routine stop for commerce reporters. With limited international work, the minister travelled extensively in the hinterland—one day in Aizawl, the next in Moradabad—and came up with many new ideas for reviving sagging sectors like tea, handicrafts and even coir.

 

Jairam even went to all the key borders with neighbouring nations and got the Cabinet to sanction Rs 850 crore to modernise their checkposts so as to facilitate easy trade.

 

Young ministers need to take a cue from Jairam's proactive approach rather than expect everything on their platter. Nothing stops them from summoning an official or convening a review meeting on any issue related to their ministry. Scindia, who replaced Jairam's glass door the moment he took charge, and his peers, may please take note.

 

rituparna.bhuyan@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MOVING AWAY FROM EASY MONEY

 

In its latest review of the monetary policy, the Reserve Bank of India has tried to balance the often conflicting objectives of supporting growth and simultaneously reining in inflation against the backdrop of a fast changing environment. While the economy is seen moving into a higher growth trajectory, inflation has become a major policy concern. Besides, in any case, it was expected that the RBI would announce the first decisive steps to reverse the easy money stance ado pted since September 2008. At the global level, the outlook for most countries is improving. Compared to a year ago, a different set of policy challenges has emerged for both the advanced and the emerging economies. In 2009, India and other emerging economies were engaged in mitigating the impact of the global financial crisis on their real economies. In 2010, their endeavour would be to strengthen the recovery process without compromising on price stability and to contain asset price inflation caused by large capital inflows. Both domestic and global factors have influenced the RBI's decision to announce a sharp hike in the CRR by 0.75 percentage point — to 5.75 per cent — to absorb approximately Rs.36,000 crore in two stages.

 

The higher-than-expected increase in the CRR need not lead to higher commercial interest rates immediately. The policy interest rates, namely the repo and the reverse repo rates, have been left unchanged. Moreover, there will be sufficient liquidity even after the CRR hike takes effect. Almost 98 per cent of the government borrowing programme has been completed. The anticipated increase in credit demand during the rest of the year can be easily taken care of with the available funds. The RBI has lowered its projection of credit growth to 16 per cent and that of deposit growth to 17 per cent. The economy that has rebounded strongly with a 7.9 per cent growth in the second quarter is expected to maintain its momentum during the rest of the year. The RBI's revised forecast of 7.5 per cent is sharply higher than the six per cent it had projected earlier. Inflation, though still caused predominantly by supply side factors, is a major threat to growth. The RBI has raised its projection for WPI inflation for end-March to 8.5 per cent. There are factors that might lower growth and accentuate inflation. Uncertainty about the pace and shape of global recovery, surge in oil prices in the wake of a sharp recovery, increase in capital inflows beyond the absorptive capacity of the economy, and performance of the South-West monsoon in 2010 are some of the imponderables.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

EARTHQUAKES AND SCIENCE

 

The 7-magnitude shallow-depth earthquake of January 12, which had its epicentre about 15 kilometres southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, ruptured the long Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault for a length of about 75 km and width of 13 km to 15 km. The extent of rupture along the fault will become clearer after detailed studies are carried out. While the quake relieved a certain amount of accumulated stress, the Fault, according to the United States Geologic Sur vey (USGS), has not been ruptured "appreciably" and still stores accumulated stress. An earthquake results when the rocks fail and the accumulated stress is suddenly released. According to the USGS, aftershocks of magnitude 7 will continue for months; there is also a "small chance" of subsequent quakes being larger than the calamitous one of January 12. It is well known that a sudden release of strain at one point loads another area along the same fault or adjacent faults, and may hasten the occurrence of another quake. The loading-unloading of stress becomes all the more pronounced after a major earthquake. Haiti lies in a seismically active zone between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Another major strike slip fault, the Septentrional Fault, runs across the country. The country is also sandwiched by two thrust faults, one in the north and the other in the south.

 

Yet Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean region, which resembles a small-scale ring of fire like the one encircling the Pacific Ocean, are largely ignored by the scientific community. Quakes produced by the strike slip faults, Enriquillo and Septentrional, occur at relatively shallow depths. Even smaller magnitude quakes can be felt on the ground, and poorly constructed buildings can get weakened or damaged. Unfortunately, smaller magnitude earthquakes are generally ignored by the global network of seismic stations, which report only quakes of magnitude 4.5 and above. This underlines the need for studying regional seismic activity. Indonesia, which was sparsely instrumented prior to the 2004 tsunami, is better studied today. It is important to study even the smaller magnitude earthquakes in seismically active zones because, over the long term, they may anticipate a remotely possible large earthquake. Establishing or improving building codes will become possible only when a thorough seismic hazard assessment is made. The good news is that it is possible to fast-track the assessment to get a better understanding of the likelihood and nature of quakes over different time frames.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

ONE MONTH AFTER COPENHAGEN

SINCE INDIA IS STILL IN THE EARLY STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT TRAJECTORY, IT IS BETTER EQUIPPED TO DEMONSTRATE A LOW CARBON LIFESTYLE, WHICH OTHER SOCIETIES COULD EMULATE.

M.R. SRINIVASAN

 

One month after the global summit meeting on climate change is a good time to take stock of the events at Copenhagen. Leading to the summit was a well informed debate in Parliament, in which a number of our younger MPs took active part. Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh gave a comprehensive reply, stating clearly the red times in India's negotiating position. Before the Indian team left for Copenhagen, some of the negotiators expressed dis may at his announcement that India would work for a voluntary reduction of 20 to 25 per cent in energy intensity in 2020, compared to 2005. The Minister took his cue from China, which had announced a reduction of 40 to 45 per cent.

 

India has been saying it does not want to be part of the problem but wants to be part of the solution. India with a per capita carbon emission of a little more than one tonne cannot create a problem for the survival of the world. The U.S. with an emission of 23 tonnes certainly can. It refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has been trying to let the Protocol die. Its position is that it can take on binding obligations only if countries like China and India undertake similar obligations.

 

There is confusion in the minds of many that the positions of India and China are identical. In one respect, they are identical: neither of them is responsible for the historical emissions from the advent of industrial revolution till the last decades of the 20th century. Now China is the biggest single emitter of carbon and its average emission is about 5 tonnes, compared to about 10 tonnes by the European Union, Japan and Russia. Hence its announcement of a voluntary reduction of 40 to 45 per cent by 2020, compared to 2005, is to be welcomed.

 

The U.S. is still a laggard in coming up with a target for reduction. There is legislative action under way

whereby the emissions are to go down by 17 per cent by 2020, as compared to 2005. But this will mean a reduction of only 4 per cent compared to the 1990 level. Thus this falls far short of what developed countries were obliged to effect under the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, even the modest reduction goal set by President Barack Obama may not receive the approval of the U.S. Senate. These numbers have to be compared with the necessity of the developed countries to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, if the global temperature rise is to be restricted to 20 degrees C.

 

The Danish Chair of the Copenhagen summit was clearly under pressure to drive the negotiations in the direction desired by the developed countries. Thus it was that the financial assistance promised to the least developed and island nations, put at some $30 billion now (and going up to some $100 billion by 2020), was made contingent on the major developing countries, including China, India, South Africa and Brazil, taking on mandatory emission cuts.

 

The developing countries were pressing that a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, with higher emission reduction obligations for the developed countries, should emerge from Copenhagen. The least developed countries and island nations wanted to ensure that the developed countries committed themselves to substantial financial assistance. The conference was heading towards the predicted conclusion of total failure. At this stage, President Obama came in. Initially, he was trying for a one-to-one meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister. However, he was prepared to meet Mr. Obama only along with the leaders of Brazil, South Africa and India (the BASIC Group). In fact, Mr. Obama virtually barged into a meeting of the BASIC leaders.

 

It was at this meeting that the so-called Copenhagen accord was arrived at. The accord stated there should be an upper limit of 20 degrees C for rise in global temperature by 2050. No intermediate targets were set. No commitments were made by the developed countries. With regard to the developing countries (such as the BASIC Group), their voluntary emission reduction programmes would be subject to an international consultation process. The U.S., on behalf of the developed countries, indicated that some $30 billion would be available as assistance to the least developed and vulnerable island nations for mitigation programmes. This funding, which might go up to $100 billion by 2020, would come from a basket of governmental, private sector and other sources. There is considerable vagueness as to the actual amount of money that may in fact be disbursed.

 

When this accord was brought before the final plenary, it was formally rejected by a number of countries because it was arrived at non-democratically by a small number of countries. The developed countries, expectedly, went along with the accord. The BASIC countries themselves entered the caveat that the accord was legally non-binding. It is strange that the U.N. Secretary-General has asked India (and other BASIC countries) to commit themselves to their voluntary emission reduction programmes. The Prime Minister's prompt rejection of this initiative of the Secretary-General (and Danish Prime Minister) is timely and welcome.

 

The Planning Commission has been tasked with indicating how the energy intensity of the Indian economy can be cut down by 20 to 25 per cent from the 2005 level by 2020. A time frame of three months has been envisaged for the study. A proper study would need detailed consultations with stakeholders in various sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing industry, mineral extraction, transportation, housing, and service. India should not needlessly put pressure on itself to arrive at a hasty and unworkable programme.

 

India has held the view that there should be a convergence in per capita emissions over a period of time, as this would mean equitable sharing of the environmental space. It has, however, put no specific number on the table. One may speculate that this number could be about five tonnes per capita, about half the present level in the EU, Japan, and Russia. It is also close to the level China has already reached. This number could go down over a period of time, if most of our energy were to come from non-fossil sources such as solar, hydro, nuclear, wind, and bio-energy.

 

Another issue is the date by which carbon emissions should peak. R.K. Pachauri indicated that it could perhaps be 2015. This date may be acceptable to the developed world and even China. In view of the late start India made on its development process, the carbon peaking date would have to be much later. Our power generation will continue to depend heavily on coal (and gas to the extent available) for several decades. India hopes to induct nuclear power in a big way but inevitably it is time consuming. So far as solar energy in concerned, further R&D to reduce costs is absolutely necessary. India possesses the requisite S&T manpower to embark on this task. Indian industry is now sufficiently developed to embark on a partnership with government laboratories and academic institutions to make this possible. What we need to evolve is a cooperative partnership that can deliver the desired results. The expectation that the developed countries would make these technologies available other than for profit is unrealistic.

 

An issue that has engaged climate change specialists is carbon trading, which is already in vogue and may become a big business in course of time. Many specialists feel that this measure will do nothing to reduce emissions. The levy of a carbon tax or grant of carbon credit could directly reduce emissions.

 

Developed countries are loath to discuss lifestyle changes, which India insists are necessary to permit a transition to a sustainable future. Since we are still in the early stages of our development trajectory, we are better equipped to demonstrate a low carbon lifestyle, which other societies could emulate.

 

Finally, there is the question of population. So far as India is concerned, a peak population of one-and-a-half-billion is on the horizon. The resources of land, water and food, apart from energy and minerals, available to India will be inadequate to support such a large number, except at a marginal level. Therefore, it is imperative that we adopt policies leading to population stabilisation soon and, indeed, a declining population thereafter.

 

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THE HINDU

HAITI'S RECOVERY SHOULD START WITH DEBT CANCELLATION

THE TALK OF A NEW MARSHALL PLAN RAISES THE HOPE THAT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IS SERIOUS ABOUT HAITI AND ITS LONG-TERM NEEDS.

SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI

 

The massive response of the international community to the devastating earthquake has been directed towards saving lives and providing immediate relief to the victims. This will continue for some time. However, even at this stage it is necessary to think about the measures required to rebuild the Haitian economy, put its people back to work and provide a more hopeful future.

 

Given the scale of the damage and disruption, social and economic recovery in Haiti will take time. The government must be given the policy space necessary to undertake the reforms and adjustments needed to bring back a semblance of normalcy and create a viable economy. It will also need massive investments, which will depend on multilateral funding along the lines of the Marshall Plan, as has recently been suggested by IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

 

The Marshall Plan is all too readily evoked in the wake of large-scale disasters. But the parallel is particularly apposite for Haiti, given the scale of the devastation, the potential for political instability if recovery fails to take hold, and the prolonged period of reconstruction that will inevitably engage the international community. Moreover, given that close international involvement prior to the earthquake had failed to establish a viable development path for one of the world's poorest countries, talk of a new Marshall Plan raises the hope that this time around, the international community is serious about Haiti and its long-term needs.

 

Vicious cycle

 

A good starting point for the long-term objective is an immediate cancellation of Haiti's $1 billion external debt, a crippling legacy of years of dictatorships and mismanagement, augmented in recent years by recurrent natural disasters. The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) has estimated that natural disasters add an average 24 percentage points to the debt-to-GDP ratio in the three years that follow such an event. Shocks on such a scale can lead to a vicious cycle of economic distress, external borrowing, burdensome debt servicing, and insufficient investment to mitigate future shocks. Marshall was concerned with just such a vicious cycle gripping post-war Europe. It has been a constraint on Haitian development for over two centuries.

 

Despite having benefited from debt relief in 2009, Haiti was still at high risk of debt distress prior to the earthquake, thanks in large part to the successive external shocks that hit the country over the past decade. Considering the large direct cost of the earthquake (conservative estimates put this at 15 per cent of GDP) and the lack of any meaningful national capacity to service its own debt, in the absence of radical action by the international community a new debt crisis is all but assured, along with any hope of sustainable recovery.

 

The way to proceed is to declare an immediate moratorium on debt servicing, followed by its cancellation as quickly as possible. Several countries that were hit by the tsunami of December 2004 benefited from a debt moratorium on bilateral Paris Club loans.

 

It was encouraging to see that soon after the earthquake, several of Haiti's bilateral creditors announced a similar initiative. However, a significant part of Haiti's outstanding debt is owed to multilateral creditors (primarily the Inter-American Development Bank). To the extent that these institutional lenders do not have the resources or mandate to fully and unilaterally cancel Haiti's debt obligations, their membership will need to provide the requisite political and financial support.

It will be equally important, as assistance shifts from emergency aid to development financing, that continued multilateral support takes the form of grants and not loans, in order to avoid any future build-up of new debt as recovery gets under way.

 

Discussing the technicalities of long-term debt sustainability may seem premature in the face of the immediate human suffering. But cancelling the debt would serve not only to break with past development practice but also to signal the intention of the international community to stay engaged with Haiti over the longer haul. Indeed, if past experience with such disasters is any guide, the big challenge will be to connect relief and recovery efforts to the creation of an institutional framework capable of fashioning an inclusive national agenda that is not only broader and longer-term than in the past, but also able to repair trust in public institutions and authority.

 

A sustainable recovery will also depend on the revival and creation of state capacities to handle public finance, implement an emergency housing programme, create jobs and strengthen public security. The large financing gap — several billions of dollars annually for the foreseeable future — means that the involvement of the international community will be essential and unavoidable, but it is imperative that local capacities are mobilised as quickly as possible and that local ownership of the policy agenda is guaranteed from the outset. This last point was also a key feature of the Marshall Plan, but one that has tended to be overlooked in recent decades or obscured by the language of "absorptive capacity," "good governance," and so forth.

 

Marshall recognised that sensitivity to complex and cumulative economic and political forces was key to any long-term reconstruction effort when he called for a policy for Europe "directed against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos" and aimed at "the revival of a working economy so as to permit the emergence and social conditions in which free institutions can exist". Haiti needs its own George Marshall, and soon.

 

(Supachai Panitchpakdi is Secretary-General of UNCTAD.)

 

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THE HINDU

WHAT LIES IN STORE FOR ANTARCTICA, THE WORLD'S LAST REPOSITORY?

A NUMBER OF EXPERTS BELIEVE THAT THE ANTARCTIC TREATY'S YEARS ARE NUMBERED, REGARDLESS OF ITS HAVING BEEN RECENTLY RENEWED FOR ANOTHER 50 YEARS.

ILYA KRAMNIK

 

A historic discovery was made on January 28, 1820. A Russian navy expedition under the command of Faddei Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev sighted the last of the remaining unexplored continents — Antarctica.

 

Consequently, Russians were the third and last nationality, after the Spaniards who discovered America and the Dutch who found Australia, to discover an unknown continent. Today, Antarctica is interesting because it is legally "no one's 221; property, i.e. no one country owns its territory and it is not divided into any zones or sectors. It is accessible to all. The only question is how much longer this status will continue.

 

Antarctica is humanity's last unspoiled repository. Under the ice, under the continental shelf, there are enormous mineral resources and the surrounding seas are full if bio-resources. In addition, the glaciers of Antarctica contain 90 per cent of the world's fresh water, the shortage of which becomes all the more acute with the growth in the world's population. Therefore, Antarctica is attracting more and more attention.

 

The recorded history of the continent started by its not being found for a long time, and once it was found, nobody wanted to live there. The voyage of the sloops Vostok and Mirny was the first high-latitude expedition sent to the southern seas after renowned English seafarer James Cook was unsuccessful in his attempts to find the southern continent. In the expeditions of 1768-1771 and 1772-1775, Cook was able to penetrate the southern polar circle (66° 33? 39?S), but he said that further navigation to the south was impossible.

 

The Russian expedition was charged from the very beginning with penetrating as deep as possible to the south to finally answer the question of whether or not there was a southern continent. On January 28, the coast of Antarctica was first sighted at the coordinates 69° 21' 28" S and 2° 14' 50" W. Then the Russian ships circumnavigated Antarctica, discovering many neighbouring islands and mapping parts of the continent.

 

Earnest interest in Antarctica grew later, in the 20th century, after a number of expeditions into the interior of the continent, during which man first set foot on the South Pole (Amundsen's expedition of 1911-1912) and mapped the surface of the continent.

 

In the mid-20th century, many countries established scientific research stations in Antarctica. In 1961, a treaty went into effect stipulating the demilitarisation of Antarctica and its use for exclusively peaceful purposes. The treaty's signatories officially relinquished territorial claims to the continent's land.

 

Nevertheless, this did not mean the end of plans to develop Antarctica's natural riches. Official territorial claims were merely shelved. With the passage of time, the resources of the south seas and the Antarctic continent itself have grown more interesting to many countries and a number of experts believe that the Antarctic Treaty's years in its present form are numbered, regardless of its having been recently renewed for another 50 years.

 

Although Antarctica itself is a demilitarised zone, armed conflicts did arise in its vicinity. It's worth mentioning the lengthy conflict between Chile and Argentina over an island near Cape Horn, as well as the overlapping territorial claims of these two countries in Antarctica, where both of them are expanding their presence and are moving towards organising permanent settlements.

 

Another thing worth mentioning is the conflict between Argentina and the U.K. over the Falkland Islands. In and of themselves, the islands are not of significant interest, but they include and imply control of vast resource-rich areas of the ocean. In addition, along with the neighbouring islands controlled by the U.K., the Falklands are the de facto gateway to the Antarctic, which explains London's tenacity in maintaining sovereignty over them and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, as well as territorial claims regarding the South Shetland and South Orkney Islands under the Antarctic Treaty.

 

In turn, Argentina also insists on its rights to these territories, which include control of considerable tracts of continental shelf and sea. At present, the conflict is frozen; however, many analysts believe that it has a reasonable chance of flaring up again in the future.

 

Russia, the discoverer of Antarctica, is currently one of the most widely represented countries there. At present, Russia has five polar stations and one polar base, where a wide-ranging scientific research programme is carried out. There are also plans to reopen three previously closed stations.

 

RUSSIA FOR STATUS QUO

 

Russia is in favour of maintaining the status quo in Antarctica.

 

"In the interests of all countries, this is the only stance for the Antarctic Treaty's signatories — to avoid any action that would attempt to scuttle this agreement," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the subject.

 

At present, the countries directly bordering the Antarctic region continue to pay lip service to the agreement; however, there are activists in Chile, Argentina and New Zealand that hold that their country has lawful rights to ownership of Antarctic territories and are working towards this goal.

 

It is possible that the fate of Antarctic territories will depend on the coordinated stance of major powers, including Russia. If such a coordinated stance is not achieved, then the carving up of Antarctica could become a reality in the next 20 to 30 years. Under such conditions, Russia will need weighty arguments to defend the status quo of Antarctica with other countries, or, if this is not possible, ensure its participation in the development of Antarctica's riches.

 

It is impossible to name a specific timeline for a possible "War for the Antarctic." But conjecture is possible based on the following factors — for example, the appearance of technology allowing rapid and cost-effective supply of fresh water from Antarctic glaciers to arid and tropical regions; a new increase in oil prices and growing demand for crude, which will make oil extraction on the Antarctic shelf economically viable or an increase in demand for food because of the growing global population, which would require fishing in the south seas, etc.

 

For the time being, there has been no such convergence of interests. But it is ever more likely. Accordingly,

expansion of Russia's presence in Antarctica and development of its polar infrastructure is absolutely justified. These actions will provide Russia with a base on which it can rely in defending its stance on Antarctica's status. — RIA Novosti

 

(Ilya Kramnik is RIA Novosti military affairs columnist.)

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

INFLATION: RBI MEANS BUSINESS

 

Rising prices has been a growing nightmare for the common people. The Reserve Bank of India, aware of this, sent out the strongest signal ever about its intention to curb inflation and inflationary expectations in its third quarter monetary and credit policy on Friday. It raised the cash reserve ratio (CRR), i.e. the cash that the banks have to keep with the RBI, by 75 basis points. The move will withdraw Rs 36,000 crores from the banking system in two phases. This is not much if you consider the immense liquidity of over Rs 1 lakh crores in the system, but it sends a strong message about inflation concerns while not curbing the lending capacity of banks, which fuels industrial growth. The good news is that the bankers have told the RBI that there would be no immediate hike in interest rates so borrowers, whether for homes or autos, can still take advantage of the low interest rate scenario. Interestingly, despite the fears expressed by the RBI on "teaser" interest rates by a few banks, there has been no major increase in demand for housing loans. Till November, according to the RBI's own figures, housing loans grew by just seven per cent.

 

The RBI revised upwards it inflation figures for March 2010 to 8.5 per cent from the 6.5 per cent it had projected in its October policy, and also its GDP growth figures to 7.5 per cent from seven per cent in October. It, however, expects inflation to moderate from July 2010 onwards provided crude prices remain stable and there is a normal monsoon. Food prices have been the real culprits behind rising inflation. The wholesale price index would have been 7.3 per cent, the RBI said, had it not been for food prices contributing about 2.1 per cent. While the good news is that the economy is on the growth path, the not so good news is that this growth is not uniform. It has been restricted to the auto sector, consumer durables and, partly, construction, which have boosted the steel and cement industries. But the vast services sectors, like tourist arrivals, cargo handled at sea ports, and services dependant on external demand like exports, either declined or showed decelerated growth. Much of the growth, at least two per cent of GDP, was due to the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission awarding arrears. The RBI governor, Dr D. Subbarao, made it clear that while the RBI has started its exit from the accommodative monetary policy that it has maintained in view of the fallout of the global financial crisis, the government of India would have to do the same with its fiscal policies if the monetary polices are to be effective. It will have to roll back its borrowing programmes and unwind its huge fiscal deficit, which is 5.5 per cent of GDP. The RBI governor hoped the government in its coming Budget would indicate its intentions through a road map for fiscal consolidation and spell out the broad contours of its tax policies and expenditure compression. The RBI said it will keep monitoring the situation as there are still large pitfalls ahead. Both global and domestic recovery have been driven largely by government spending and commodity prices have consequently risen. The other major risk to the economy, particularly to the emerging markets, including India, which have recovered faster, is capital flows. Dr Subbarao said that so far capital flows to India have been manageable, but if they go beyond control they could add to inflationary pressures.

 

At the end of the day the economy will be on a stronger footing if there is a better balance between private sector spending and government spending. This is one of the reasons why the RBI did not touch the interest or repo rates.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE PADMAS & CHAPLOOSI

SHOBHAA'S

 

How we love our controversies! Especially when they involve awards! We quarrel over everything — those who got them, those who didn't. Those who should have, etc, etc. We are obsessed with awards and rewards. Right now it's the Padmas. And Sant Chatwal. He is the one guy everybody (but Manmohan Singh) loathes. Sant gets our goat! The question everybody's asking is, "How on earth did this undesirable man get one of the nation's highest recognitions?" Some of us know the answer! Fixing! It's called high level fixing. That's it. Sant is a super fixer. That's just so not kosher! And he, of all the usual suspects floating around, manages a Padma! Not just any Padma, mind you. The Padma Bhushan, no less. Wow! Had Sant been fobbed off with an or'nery Padma Shri (cheaper by the dozen), the honour might have gone unnoticed. But Sant was upgraded by his admirers — from cattle class to first class. Kya baat hai.

 

How did he manage it? Don't be stupid and ask such dumb questions. Sant is a pro at the game. This is a piece of toast for the man who has publicly kissed Hillary Clinton more often than even hubby Bill. Sant can manage pretty much anything (except his errant son). Now with the Padma Bhushan in his kitty (errrr, with the RTI filed by Pritish Nandy and Vir Sanghvi, there's a BIG hiccup coming up) there will be no stopping Chatwal as he parties away (unless the outrage over his receiving one of the top civilian honours snowballs into something bigger — like a national scandal, which it is). Who knows, Hillary herself may do the honours and be right there to show her support and solidarity… Obama may also be persuaded to climb into his dinner jacket and show up for the bash (Barack could do with a li'l PR right now).

 

At the time of writing, Chatwal was still thumping his chest and crowing. And assorted apologists were mewing across TV channels and fobbing off the whole fracas on a panel of "experts" who recommend and clear names for these prestigious awards. Let's start by identifying and naming the "experts" on that mysterious panel for starters. Who are they? What is their day job? On what basis do they put up names of potential candidates? Criteria, please? I guess we'll never know. But now that the can of worms has been opened, it would be interesting to take this debate beyond Chatwal and ask a few tough questions.

 

Personally, I couldn't care less. All awards are basically bogus (Dr Pachauri, are you reading this?). People across the world lobby shamelessly for them. I mean, come on, Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize? Could anything be more perverse? Nearly every top award comes with strings attached, if not a blatant price tag. In India, any and every award is highly coveted since awards are a national obsession. Awards and records thrill us to bits (Sachin's centuries! Rahman's Oscars!). We avidly follow who has got which award. I have seen business cards that shamelessly proclaim: "Padma Shri So-and-so". This is almost as crass, as gauche as an erstwhile royal of Kadkanagar adding H.R.H to his/her name. Or people who wangle honorary doctorates from obscure universities and happily call themselves "Doctors". Come on, you guys. This is the 21st century, not medieval India. Grow up!

 

Since we place such a premium on awards, it isn't all that surprising or shocking to discover there is a "process" in place. Yup. It exists, and a seasoned Dilliwalla took me through it, kindly offering to arrange an award for me! "It will take time", the man whispered, "but I'll get it done". I feigned great excitement and said hoarsely, "Really? But… Which award and how?" He looked over his shoulder, came three inches closer and answered, "Depends…" That was a very open-ended "depends". I pretended to be wildly interested but a little nervous, and asked him to elaborate. "I will need at least seven signatures of eminent people on a letter of recommendation. That is for a basic award like the Padma Shri. But for something higher, the system is different. It takes more…" Oh-oh. He stopped abruptly at this point. I played dumb (I can!) and asked innocently, "More…? More what?" Maybe he sensed my lack of seriousness or thought I was asking too many silly questions, because he promptly lost interest and went in search of some other bakra.

 

There is definitely a "process" here, and there are touts who fix these things. It is one of Delhi's worst kept secrets, but what the hell — it's out there. Everybody knows the drill and the deal. Which is why the Sant Chatwal issue is being treated with kid gloves. I feel a little sorry for those spokespeople of assorted political parties who have to present themselves nightly on various channels and defend the Chatwals of the world with a straight face. Strange. If that is the scenario, why stop at Chatwal? There are half-a-dozen others who are highly suspect, so why are they being spared? If these awards are supposed to be the ultimate recognition of an individual's contribution to the nation, what are goons doing on the Padma laundry list? Goons who haven't contributed a thing either culturally or even tangentially to India? Business people and corporate types working to enhance the bottom lines of their employers, for example? How have they served India's interests? To someone like me these people have merely done their jobs for foreign masters and got paid big bucks in return for the bloated dividends shelled out to international shareholders, at our expense.

 

Sorry. But as that wise old Taoji from Haryana would say, "There is something black in the lentils". The entire Padma "process" needs to be reviewed now that it is under the public's scanner. It is clear the Padmas are no longer what they used to be and their prestige value has been seriously devalued. Perhaps it needed the brazenness displayed while honoring Sant Chatwal and hoping to get away with it, that has triggered off the latest national uproar. Had it not been for Chatwal, this year would have been no different from previous years — the winners would have faked astonishment and delight (come on… we all know recipients are informed in advance and their acceptance of the award confirmed in writing before the announcement is made), and a few (strictly Bollywood types) would have tweeted and gloated away to glory. Nobody but the awardees themselves would have remembered or cared a week later. Chatwal's shocking award has put a spanner in the works. Kuch "setting" theek nahi hui iss baar. He must be hot under that red turban. Imagine a man who busses the mighty American secretary of state regularly, and dines with Obama, is forced to eat crow back in India. Enough to give a serious belly ache to the hotelier. What an unappetising mess! But, worry not. It's nothing that a drastic ingestion of Pudin Hara and some serious lobbying in the right places can't fix.

 

 Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

ADVENTURES IN BOOKLAND

KISHWAR DESAI

 

After a cold and miserable morning in Delhi, when the Jaipur Literary Festival seemed a distant dream lost in a dreary fog, I (along with author and psychiatrist, Dr Sudhir Kakkar) careened into Jaipur in time to have a quick lunch with Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Pavan Varma, his wife Renu and and my husband, Meghnad Desai. The sunshine in Jaipur and a stimulating conversation meant that things perked up enormously. We were certainly luckier than Shabana Azmi who had to wait for five hours at the Delhi airport before she found a car to drive to Jaipur — as most cab drivers were simply too reluctant to negotiate the thick white blanket. She barely made it in time for her wonderful session later in the day. Most of the 200 authors had a similarly existential experience — and poor Girish Karnad was far too late for his inaugural speech, which was then re-scheduled for the next day.

 

The Lit Fest itself, at the colourfully festooned Diggy Palace was awash with authors of various degrees of fame. Alas for the less glamorous ones (like me) the media focus and TV cameras remained firmly on the filmstars and well-known international writers present. But the very satisfying part was that all the sessions had plenty of substance and though many of us may have gone unnoticed, we were able to participate in sessions and also meet many whom we could only admire from a distance.

 

For me the highlight was to meet Alexander McCall Smith as we munched through our breakfasts in the hotel. At last I could tell him how much I enjoyed his Botswana-set Ladies No 1 Detective Agency series — and how I too had (quite accidentally) written my first crime fiction novel (Witness the Night) — with an intrepid Punjabi social worker at the heart of it. His hearty approval was like a benediction!

 

The Durbar Hall at the Diggy Palace overflowed many times — especially when Gulzar, Shabana and Javed Akhtar had their readings and discussions. Particularly interesting was the launch of Shaukat Azmi's book, Kaifi and I — with extracts read by Shabana. For me it was a particularly poignant moment as I remembered meeting Shaukat aapa and Kaifi sahib years ago when I was making a documentary on Shabana. Her parents shared a deep affection, love as well as similar ideals and a moment in history which makes this book a unique memoir.

 

Another house full was the debate on rediscovering India (taken from the title of Meghnad's new book, The Rediscovery of India) with the erudite Nayantara Sehgal, Chetan Bhagat and Meghnad — as well as another on Freedom for Sale in which the participants include Anne Applebaum, John Kampfner, Niall Ferguson and Steve Coll.

 

Every evening the Lit Fest organisers also managed to get authors to let their hair down with theatre or music. On the first evening extracts were read out from Tughlaq—Girish Karnad's play from the 1960s — with Om Puri playing the part of the mad king. The focus on theatre is a great new addition to the festival by one of the festival co-directors — Namita Gokhale.

 

The nights were a crush of dinners and much bonhomie. The first evening got the ball rolling with an exclusive

dinner (backstage) with the well-known writer and editor Tina Brown and the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. As we drifted in and out of several interesting conversations there was little doubt that now the festival is very much on the world map (especially with the newly-announced $50,000 prize for South Asian Literature) — though Soyinka confessed that he was a little overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people attending and that he had to often retreat into his room for some peaceful moments. The JLF has become like a carnival — and though this is a relief for many usually reclusive authors — for others a quiet corner was often difficult to access.

 

My own book reading from my new novel Witness the Night clashed with several other functions, including a reading by the Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk — and so you can imagine I was pretty nervous that we would not be able to draw a crowd. But to the relief of Soumya Bhattacharya — my co-reader and fellow author with whom I was sharing a charpoy in the Baithak — we had a full house.

 

My own level of excitement was a little heightened by the fact that my publisher Karthika V.K. from Harper Collins rushed in with two copies of the just-printed Witness the Night just seconds before the reading began! The reading was followed by a lively interaction — and I have to say I enjoyed it thoroughly because there were even school children (still in their uniform!) in the audience — and everyone had a serious question to ask.

 

Another nice part about the Lit Fest is the little cafes and eateries scattered around where you can take a break — and the free kulhad ki chai is probably the most attractive libation for throats parched from book talk. However, a darker side to the festival attendees was revealed in the book stall run by the lovely Poonam Malhotra and her soft-spoken daughter, Priyanka. They were both horrified by the fact that so many books were being stolen from their stall... it seems literacy is no bar to theft! Even if readers have no sympathy for book shopowners, they should feel sorry for those authors who survive on royalities and keep their itchy fingers from book-lifting.

 

For the organisers, Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy — what started as a small festival with five attendees in an empty Durbar Hall, JLF is now a huge, well-attended and very successful mela. I think for me the best moment came when I was stopped by a very young girl and asked how she could become an author. It meant, definitely, that the festival is not just for the stars — but for the readers and aspiring writers as well.

 

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HOPE REDUX?

SHREEKANT SAMBRANI

 

Americans — specifically, Massachusetts voters — handed US President Barack Obama a nasty first-year-in-office anniversary present by electing a clownish Republican to the late Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat. He retaliated a week later, as he usually does under such circumstance, by delivering another blockbuster speech, this time the State of the Union address. At 75 minutes (including numerous ovations), it was nearly twice as long as his memorable Nobel acceptance lecture and towards the end, scaled the oratorical heights we have come to expect from the Great Communicator.

 

The address had something for everyone — a promise of a jobs bill for those still left out of the economic thaw, charging profligate banks to fund jobs programmes, tax concessions for small businesses, thrust on education, rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure and clean energy, sorting out the messy healthcare and making it affordable to all, increased homeland security and adherence to troop withdrawal schedules for both Iraq and Afghanistan, appeals for bipartisan, far-sighted leadership, admission of own shortcomings and a pledge to continue the struggle. Verily, Mr Obama was a Santa come a month late with a bagful of goodies!

 

The questions beg themselves: Will Mr Obama be able to deliver? Will the Americans move out of their funk and improve Mr Obama's poll numbers? More interestingly, how did one who started with a strong reservoir of goodwill come down so quickly to the level of an ordinary American President? And is there anything in it for us in India?

 

It is far too early to answer the first of these. Mr Obama's challenges stem from situations not even partially of his making, be it the economy, or the wars, or healthcare, and the ultimate outcome depends not just on what policies and actions he uses but how the world reacts. Nowhere is this more evident than in his pursuit of the two wars and the campaign against jihadist terror. The Iraqis need to stop their self-destructive fratricide and take greater responsibility to run their affairs, the Afghan leaders have to realise that holding office is not license to steal but a mandate to bring peace and order to their long-suffering land and the Pakistani leadership and its Army have to treat Taliban, Lashkar and similar outfits as mortal enemies of their own state by leading the battle against all of them. Mr Obama's grand promises cannot become realities unless these conditions are met.

 

Mr Obama has realised that the strong economic recovery in many areas is not appreciated when job losses, which hit Jack the Plumber the hardest, remain high. So even as credit is due handsomely to the administration for its major push, it will not be forthcoming until new jobs start opening up, which would be a while yet. Mr Obama's rating will rise only after the job haemorrhage stops.

 

How did Mr Obama come to this pass? Ironically, Mr Obama's worst handicap is the overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress (witness the unprecedented ovations in the address). Passage of major legislations was taken for granted, making Congressional leaders powers unto themselves, even more than what they usually are. The administration woke up belatedly to this and started wooing even single members to meet its self-imposed deadlines. It had to cut confusing, and potentially suspect, deals in the process.

 

Mr Obama's phenomenal intelligence and communication ability are another set of ironical liabilities. He sees the picture clearly and envisages an effective solution. That makes him supremely confident of being able to solve the problem, almost to the point of complacency. Yet getting there involves having to rely on many others, as he has now acknowledged: "I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone". Much now depends on whether he puts this in practice and does not allow the best to be the enemy of the good. He has to achieve results in a faster, more "muscular" manner to create a wonderful image of a strong leader fully alert and wholly incharge, rather than a seminar chairman who easily understands all the views expressed around the table, summarises everyone's thinking accurately and eloquently, yet misses the crucial decision issue!

 

The American exasperation is reflected in widespread scepticism and increasingly sharp criticism of Mr Obama, despite last year's expectations of a great presidency. There is apprehension abroad that the enormous potential would be allowed to go waste. This is both premature and unwarranted. I told friends just before the 1994 US mid-term elections (the Great Gingrich Triumph) that Bill Clinton could well become the first half-term President! He could have won a third term in 2000 by a landslide were he allowed to contest, the stained little blue dress notwithstanding! Mr Obama's initiation has been bumpy, but not unexpectedly so. His candid statement, "We have finished a difficult year... I don't quit. Let's seize this moment — to start anew, to carry the dream forward", deserves to be taken seriously.

 

Herein also lies a lesson for our leaders: take the likely small consequences of the address for our BPO sector in your stride, but focus on issues closest to the people's heart and act forcefully. Our two priorities, as those of the US, remain the economy and security. As the US must create jobs, India must control stratospheric prices of daily necessities, rather than crow about high growth rates and bask in the (presumed) feel-good success of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. And if we cannot sleep easy with the continued North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (no-action-talk-only) strategy on internal and external threats, the United Progressive Alliance euphoria, already thin, could melt faster than the Delhi fog on a sunny day! If Mr Obama with his clear thinking and commanding presence is considered a wimp by a large number of Americans, what should Indians think of their woolly-headed and mortified-to-act government?

 

Mr Obama said, "Democracy... can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy". Yet hope persists, as it must, that these will turn out to be mere hiccups in the pursuit of great common good, as much in the United States as in India.

 

n Shreekant Sambrani, who has taught at IIM Ahmedabad and helped set up the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, writes frequently on economic and policy issues

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

BALL IS IN FM'S COURT

 

It's a cop-out. The Reserve Bank of India's latest credit policy review makes all the right noises about fighting inflationary expectations, but, in the end, admits that it can do little. Reason: since there is a supply side problem, monetary policy can only do so much. The key measure announced by RBI governor D Subbarao is an increase in banks' cash reserve ratio by 0.75 per cent —a move that will immobilise Rs36,000 crore of bank funds.

 

Given weak growth in non-food credit and the enormous amount of liquidity sloshing about in the system, this move will not hurt the ongoing economic recovery. But it will certainly damage banks' profitability a bit. It will also do nothing to change inflationary expectations unless the government does something about its own profligacy. In this financial year, the government has both borrowed excessively and spent excessively, with the fiscal deficit set to exceed Rs400,000 crore, according to budget estimates.

 

"The reversal of monetary accommodation cannot be effective unless there is also a roll back of government borrowing," Subbarao said.

 

On the other hand, the governor has sent out mixed messages of his own which cannot but confuse the financial markets. He has upped the GDP growth target to 7.5 per cent for 2009-10, but then goes on to say that he is not sure if the economic recovery is for real. According to him, the recovery is "yet to fully take hold". His worry is that if he focuses all his attention on tackling inflation, the RBI may end up precipitating another crisis by killing off economic growth too soon. This will deter private investment and consumer spending. While this is the obvious justification for not raising interest rates at this juncture, it also means that the RBI is partially buckling under political pressure to avoid rocking the boat prematurely. Subbarao is playing along with the government's do-nothing gameplan. The hope is that we will have a great monsoon this year, which will help douse food inflation some time in the second half of 2010-11. Hope is one thing, but if the monsoon plays truant one more time, the economy will be up the creek without a paddle. It is not a risk worth taking.

 

The best hope for the economy lies with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and prime minister Manmohan Singh, both mature statesmen with a good understanding of macroeconomics. 2010 is not an election year, and if at all the government has to take harsh economic steps — like withdrawing the economic stimulus in stages or reducing some subsidies, this is the time to do it. The basic message from Subbarao is simple: over to you, Pranab. It is time for the latter to deliver.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE PILAO, IRANIAN STYLE

JAVED GAYA

 

The Zereshk Pilao is one of the most stunning rice dishes one can possibly serve. The dish has a warm ruby glow with the burberries studding the rice with colour and the saffron with fragrance. This gives this Pilao a superiority and magnificence that is not easily replicated. It is one of the great dishes of Iran and many unfamiliar with Iranian cuisine will only have heard of it through the iconic berry pilao served at Britannia, the last of the great Irani restaurants in Mumbai at Ballard Estate.

 

What are the berries? The barberries belong more to the family of decorative plants, rather than berries for eating. They were traditionally used in medieval English cooking until about the 18th century and abandoned because the plant was considered a carrier of mildew and other diseases. In Iran it is widely regarded as a delightful addition to pilaos and stews, giving the dishes a biting tart flavour.

 

This is one of the dishes which I make and in my humble opinion knock the restaurant versions for a six. It would be untrue to say that this boasts extends outside Mumbai. I cannot, even in my cups, dream of saying my berry pilao is in the same league as that served by that great marvel of an Iranian restaurant in Dubai on the creek known as Shabestan. To eat at Shabestan is to eat the foods of the gods, from the egregiously generous portions of fresh salad with nan-o-panir, subzi-kharbkhan to the Persepolis, a banquet in itself, of fish, chicken and mutton kebabs with saffron rice. No, Shabestan is a different league and an eye opener for those unfamiliar with Persian cuisine, too often stereotyped as possessing the chelo kebabs and rice and not much else.For those who appreciate herbs, subtlety of spices and are into healthy eating, Iranian cuisines offer much.For those interested in discovering more about the cuisine, there is a truly splendid book called The Food of Life — a knowledgeable book as exquisitely and as delicately as produced as a Persian carpet from Isphafan — written by Nanjimieh Batmenghj and published by Maya Publishers in Washington for the serious foodie.

 

If we leave aside the glories of Iranian food (incidentally possessing the oldest recipes written on clay tablets over 4000 years ago on a cuneiform script), we come back to the humble berry pilao as served at Britannia. This is the last of the great Iranian eateries and combines contemporary Persian ingredients like the Zeresht with contemporary Parsi cooking, the patra ni machhi, dhansak; dishes that owe little to the Persian heritage.Even the Pilao is different in that it is not cooked in the Persian style.Traditionally, the Persians would cook the meat separately, and the spices would be used sparingly; cumin, for garnishing, otherwise the mainstay being chillies, garlic, seasoning and saffron making it, too bland for Indian taste.The Britannia's chicken pilao with berries, is cooked like a traditional Indian pilao with the rice and chicken mixed and with Indian spices making it quite unlike the Persian original.Different, but enjoyable and at least one gets a chance to eat the berries and have a whiff of an otherwise great cuisine

 

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DNA

ECHOES OF MUMBAI IN KUALA LUMPUR

NINAD SIDDHAYE

 

All of us who keep writing and reading about politicians, bureaucrats and all other government machineries who talk of transforming aamchi Mumbai into a world class city are sick and tired of it. However, it was only when I entered a city, which is actually called a world class city, I began to realise what exactly all these people were talking about. Me, a journalist writing on infrastructure, may have the pulse of Mumbai at the tip of my fingertips; however to actually experience a city which has managed to transform itself into a world class city was an experience to cherish for a long time.

 

The main aim of my visit to Kuala Lumpur — the capital city of Malaysia — was to check out the mode of public transport — particularly the single tracked monorail — which in about a year's time will also be running on the busiest streets of Mumbai. The train, in which I did travelled twice in my four-day stay, is a very pleasant experience. One gets a feeling of a joyride as the sleek train takes turns throughout the busy central business district of Kuala Lumpur.

 

While I enjoyed my stay in Malaysia, a corner of my mind was definitely wondering about when my own city

will get such world class transportation facilities. Though comparison between the well-developed Malaysian economy and the developing Indian economy is over-ambitious, in many instances I felt that most of the development that Malaysia is due to the Asian — particularly the Indian and the Sri Lankan — community.

 

I was a bit disheartened when I thought about the first phase of Metro, a stretch of barely 11km, which is still finding its scheduled completion date (end of 2010) a bit unrealistic. While monorail has achieved its first test run, it will take another year to see the light of the day.

 

However, it was only when I got to know how tiny Malaysia was compared to India that I started to realise the real difference. Malaysia has a population of barely 2.70 crore which is barely double the population of Mumbai. The per capita income of an average Malaysian is US$7733 which is at least seven times higher than the per capita income of an Indian.

 

As I was interacting with people, right from the streets up to the editors of major Malaysian newspapers, one thing that I noticed was despite all the facilities, the country still has its set of difficulties. The newspapers were full of issues related to illegal encroachments on open spaces, traffic violations and whatnot. At first I thought Kuala Lumpur simply cannot be matched with Mumbai, since first of all there is zero amount of garbage on the streets — one of the first signs that we recognize aamchi Mumbai by. However, when I saw a (possibly) drunk bhikari sleeping right next to the escalators of one of the monorail stations, I decided to click his picture… but I was stopped and asked by a polite cop about it, but just like in India, the 'press card' did the job for me.

 

Another striking difference was absence of honking even in the busiest traffic junctions. There were instances when some of us were taking pictures in the middle of the road while the vehicles waited for us to finish. When one of the ladies driving a car honked, everyone looked at her as if she just killed someone! Something I wish most Mumbaikars learn ASAP. And it occurred to me that though Kuala Lumpur differed from Mumbai there were echoes of Mumbai after all.

 

But the most interesting part was a casual conversation with a fellow journalist. While I was admiring their infrastructure projects, he was all admiration about the rehabilitation projects which I was telling him about. "Although your progress of development may be slow, but little that I know about Mumbai, it definitely has done quite a bit," he said, leaving me, someone very critical of our infrastructure projects, something to think about.

 

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DNA

GOODBYE SALINGER

CATCHER IN THE RYE'S MAGIC CONTINUES TO ENTHRALL GENERATIONS OF READERS

MICHIKO KAKUTANI

 

What really knocked readers out about The Catcher in the Rye was the wonderfully immediate voice that JD Salinger fashioned for Holden Caulfield — a voice that enabled him to channel an alienated 16-year-old's thoughts and anxieties and frustrations, a voice that sceptically appraised the world and denounced its phonies and hypocrites and bores.


Salinger had such unerring radar for the feelings of teenage angst and vulnerability and anger that Catcher, published in 1951, remains one of the books that adolescents first fall in love with — a book that intimately articulates what it is to be young and sensitive and precociously existential, a book that first awakens them to the possibilities of literature.


Whether it's Holden or the whiz-kid Glass children or the shell-shocked soldier in For Esmé — with Love and Squalor, Salinger's people tend to be outsiders — spiritual voyagers shipwrecked in a vulgar and materialistic world, misfits who never really outgrew adolescent feelings of estrangement. They identify with children and cling to the innocence of childhood with a ferocity bordering on desperation: Holden wants to be the catcher in the rye, who keeps kids from falling off a cliff; Seymour communes with a little girl on the beach about bananafish, before going upstairs to his hotel room and shooting himself in the head.


Such characters have a yearning for some greater spiritual truth, but they are also given to an adolescent either/or view of the world and tend to divide people into categories: the authentic and the phony, those with an understanding of "the main current of poetry that flows through things" and those coarse, unenlightened morons who will never get it — a sprawling category that includes everyone from pompous college students parroting trendy lit crit theories to fashionable, well-fed theater-goers to self-satisfied blowhards.


Salinger was able to empathetically limn the nooks and crannies of his youthful narrator's psyches, while conjuring up a sophisticated, post-F Scott Fitzgerald, post-World War II Manhattan — a world familiar to his New Yorker readers, bounded by Radio City Music Hall and Bergdorf Goodman and Central Park (where Holden wonders about the ducks on the lagoon and where they go when it freezes over in the winter). In doing so, he not only domesticated the innovations of the great modernists — their ability to manipulate stream of consciousness, to probe their characters' inner lives —but he also presaged the self-inventorying characters of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, and the navel-gazing musings of the writers of many Me Generations to come.
Some critics dismissed the easy surface charm of Salinger's work, accusing him of cuteness and sentimentality, but works like Catcher, Franny and Zooey and his best-known short stories would influence successive generations of writers. His most persuasive work showcased his colloquial, idiomatic language, his uncanny gift for ventriloquism, his nimble ability to create stories within stories, as well as his unerring ear for cosmopolitan New Yorkese (what he called an "Ear for the Rhythms and Cadences of Colloquial Speech") and his heat-seeking eye for the telling gesture — the nervously lit cigarette, the X-ray look, the inhibited station-platform kiss.


Over time, Salinger's work grew more elliptical. Tidy, well-made tales like A Perfect Day for Bananafish gave way to the increasingly prolix Zooey and the shapeless ruminations of Seymour — An Introduction." And as his Glass stories grew more and more self-conscious and self-referential, readers became increasingly aware of the solipsism of that hothouse family of geniuses.


Hapworth 16, 1924 (which appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1965) takes the form of a verbose, digression-filled letter ostensibly written from summer camp by the 7-year-old Seymour. Having been accused of loving his characters too much, of being too superficially charming, the author gave us a new take on one of his heroes, turning the once saintly Seymour into an obnoxious child given to angry outbursts and implausible intellectual boasts.


That story — the last work published during the author's lifetime — not only reflected Salinger's own Glass-like withdrawal from the world but also underscored his own fear that he might one day "disappear entirely, in my own methods, locutions, and mannerisms." Yet however sour and self-reflexive that tale was, it would never eclipse the achievement of Catcher in the minds of Salinger's fans — a novel that still knocks people out, a novel that is still cherished, nearly six decades after its publication, for its pitch-perfect portrait of adolescence and its indispensable hero. —NYT

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RBI CURBS MONEY SUPPLY

INTEREST RATES WON'T RISE IN NEAR FUTURE

 

The RBI on Friday surprised everyone by raising the cash-reserve ratio (CRR) by75 basis points instead of the expected 50 basis points, leaving the other key rates unchanged. This will not result in any interest rate hike immediately. So those wishing to take easy home loans still have some time before banks start facing the impact of the tightening of the monetary policy. There is enough cash with banks and foreign funds too keep flowing in at the usual pace. Like the central banks of China, Australia and the Philippines, the RBI is gradually tightening the monetary policy, which was eased last year to help the industry face the global meltdown.

 

The RBI's aim is to control inflation, which it has projected at 8.5 per cent by March. There is, no doubt, excessive money supply in the system and the RBI has suggested to the government to cut down its borrowing spree, which will mean a slow withdrawal of the tax breaks given to the industry. However, prices may not come down by monetary steps alone. Inflation is driven up by high food prices and these may not decline in the near future. Inflation may start moderating only if the monsoon turns normal this year and the global oil prices do not shoot up. Agricultural productivity needs to be raised and the distribution system strengthened to contain food prices.

 

The central bank has raised the GDP growth forecast for the current fiscal to 7.5 per cent from the previous projection of 6 per cent. It is eminently achievable since the RBI measures so far do not affect the growth pick-up. Banks are under pressure to slow down loans to industries, but right now industrialists have nothing to complain about. The BSE Sensex fell in the morning but recovered its losses to end flat after the RBI unfolded its policy review. The government is nurturing recovery and growth and resisting suggestions about a rollback of the stimulus.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

OUTSOURCING BLUES

OBAMA'S TAX BREAKS ARE JUST POPULIST

 

One cannot quibble over US President Barack Obama's earnest desire to create more jobs for his countrymen but the protectionist manner in which he intends to go about blocking outsourcing of jobs by US firms is ill-advised. Worried about the growing rate of unemployment in the US, Mr Obama has warned US companies in his State of the Union address that he would slash tax breaks to firms that move jobs abroad. On the face of it this may spell trouble for the nearly $60 billion outsourcing industry in India but considering that US companies actually outsource jobs to low-cost locations like India mainly to cut costs, Mr Obama will unwittingly be only harming the American industry by his projected measures. The US President has been consistent in his criticism of outsourcing but it is unlikely that his own country's industry would fall for his line which would rob them of low-cost benefits. Indeed, it is debatable whether the Senate which is yet to pass the jobs bill which provides for tax breaks to US firms that move jobs abroad would surrender to his view.

 

Mr Obama's dream of doubling exports and also working on bilateral trade agreements can hardly be achieved by protectionism. Such an attitude could lead to a backlash against the American companies, many of which derive considerable revenue from outside the country. Citigroup, for instance, which is a major outsourcing firm, gets nearly 75 per cent of its revenues from international operations spread over nearly 100 countries.

 

As India and China invest in their future, Mr Obama's contention that the US cannot afford to be in second place, is unexceptionable. His resolve that his administration's 2011 budget will invest in a new generation of scientists is constructive and sound. In addition, he must work towards obviating the need to outsource jobs by increasing productivity to levels that justify the high-wage structure. Taking recourse to restrictions to seek to block outsourcing is no solution to the woes of American industry. President Obama must inspire his countrymen to work harder if the US is to retain its pride of place in the world's economic arena.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LAW ON CLINICS

NEW BILL CAN REGULATE HEALTHCARE

 

The need for regulating healthcare in India, increasingly falling prey to unscrupulous medical practices, has been felt for long. The Union Cabinet's approval of the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill to bring clinics under one law is indeed a path breaking move and can go a long way in improving the quality of health services. While the Bill aims to check fraudulent practices it will also play a crucial role in bringing relief to victims of road accidents and other emergencies who are denied treatment on the pretext of being "medico-legal cases".

 

Medical practice in India, especially in the private sector, has turned into a moneymaking enterprise and malpractices ranging from commissions, unwarranted tests and procedures, exorbitant charges and favours from drug companies are rampant. Many medical establishments in the private sector are more interested in raking in moolah and have forsaken the prime purpose of the medical profession — to render service to society. While the public health system is beset with many ills, private healthcare fares no better. Patients' hope of proper healthcare is invariably met with dissatisfaction, despair and often penury too.

 

To keep a check on healthcare and to ensure quality health services, the government must pass the Bill, likely to be introduced in the Budget session of Parliament, on a priority basis. Once it becomes a law, it must be implemented throughout the country. While the irregularities prevalent in medical institutions need to be checked, regulation alone is not the answer to the woes of patients. The government that spends little, merely one per cent of the GDP on public health, must increase public spending and fulfil its promise of better health infrastructure in the country. Doctors too must realise that the growing-doctor patient trust deficit harms their interest as much. Keeping the Hippocratic oath in mind, they can play the most pivotal part in providing medical care for all.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

IMPROVING GOVERNANCE

NEED TO LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

Jyoti Basu was a fine individual whom the nation rightly mourns. But emotion appears to have overtaken reason in the kind of uncritical adulation accorded to the CPM leader who was chief minister of West Bengal for 22 years. The fact is that apart from some initial good work done on the first phases of land reform and devolution of power to panchayats, West Bengal's HDI indices and state of infrastructure deteriorated and there was disinvestment, de-industrialisation, mounting poverty and unemployment as a result of ideological rigidities.

 

On any reckoning, the state was in decline during Jyoti Basu's long watch. It is fortunate that party ideologues did not permit him to move to Delhi as prime minister when this was mooted. Had he done so, the consequences might well have been problematic.

 

This may appear a harsh judgement on someone who has departed. But the sycophancy that attends our leaders when alive, and even after they are gone, is disconcerting and prevents us learning from experience. The secrecy attending archival policy is partly a reflection of the tendency to shore up reputations by precluding the world from prying too closely into the past of our heroes. A nation that does not learn from history risks repeating its mistakes.

 

G. Parthasarathi's diary entry on Nehru's true view on Chinese attitudes during the Bhai-Bhai period and of his Man Friday, V.K. Krishna Menon, just published by the former's son, Ashok, casts a flood of light on matters that it would have been better to know contemporaneously. The continuing classification of the Henderson-Brooks report on the 1962 debacle stems from the same desire to protect a legacy. Nehru is surely big enough to do without this shield.

 

Another problem of governance was aired recently by junior ministers in the UPA government who complained to the Prime Minister that they had little or no work. This is largely because of a tendency to centralise decision making with the result that secretaries to government do what could well be disposed of by their deputies while Ministers usurp the role of their permanent secretaries.

 

This often leaves Ministers and secretaries — Central and states — with insufficient time for policymaking, monitoring and evaluation. They are overly buried in files, some in dispensing patronage, and still others in running sports associations or indulging in other extraneous activities.

 

The enlargement of cabinets to satisfy all manner of representational principles has also resulted in fragmenting sectoral responsibility without adequate coordination. In the first few governments formed after Independence many bright sparks were appointed Deputy Ministers or parliamentary secretaries who answered questions and assisted the Minister in other ways, thereby gaining experience that equipped them to shoulder heavier responsibilities over time. Now everybody aspires to be a minister ab initio, if not Prime Minister or Chief Minister. This may be a matter of political culture but it certainly impinges on good governance.

 

Another issue of governance that calls for attention is the battle being fought over the right to access file notings under the Right to Information Act. The RTI regime has certainly helped promote transparency and accountability in governance but there has been a difference of opinion on whether or not file notings should be made public as a rule.

 

There is currently a dispute over an information commissioner's decisions to permit an applicant access to file notings pertaining to the decisions reflected in the Indo-Pakistan joint communiqué at Sharm el-Sheikh some six months ago which aroused much controversy over how it was to be interpreted.

 

Insistence on making public all file notings is misplaced as this could well inhibit officials and ministers from giving frank expression to their views. These would not be noted on file but recorded elsewhere or exchanged orally, resulting in double entry book keeping of another kind. Suffice it that a reasoned statement is made available so that a fair judgement can be made about the quality and ethical basis of the decision taken.

 

Every day at seminars, meetings or even in private conservation, one hears people invoking the basis of Chatham House rules (without attribution) or a clear understanding that what they say is off the record. Why? So that they may speak frankly, a contract beneficial both to the speaker and the audience. File notings are no different.

 

At a very different level, concerning public relations more than governance as such, is the unwise decision, fortunately rescinded, of the Maharashtra government to insist that new cabbies in Mumbai must have lived in the city for 15 years and read and write Marathi. This was a misguided concession to parochialism, in competition with the Shiv Sena's petty localism.

 

What any city needs is a good and honest taxi service rather than an indifferent one offered by cabbies speaking a chaste native tongue. The default rule now incorporated in a new cultural policy for Maharashtra lays down that Ministers should speak only in Marathi at official functions and converse with foreigners solely in Marathi, through interpreters. No language flourishes by fiat and these are pitiful rulings by small men.

 

Finally, the Vice-President's call for making intelligence agencies accountable to Parliament through a standing committee merits serious attention. There is today no intelligence oversight body, as the L.P. Singh Committee had recommended some 30 years ago. This need not imperil intelligence operations but could provide a safeguard against possible misuse and an independent monitor and sounding board.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THOSE FOUR LETTER WORDS

BY RAJ CHATTERJEE

 

English, I have always thought, is the most difficult language in the world with the possible exception of Chinese. Even Chinese may be simpler and more precise than English once you learn to read it the right way up or down.

 

What makes English so difficult is the number of words which, though phonetically similar, have vastly different meanings, depending upon the way they are spelt or the context in which they are used.

 

I once saw an advertisement in an American paper which said: " Wanted unmarried girls to pack fruit and produce at night". The Editor must have had infinite faith in the capacity of his readers to distinguish between " produce" as a noun and the same word as a verb.

 

Take the word "sole" and its variant "soul". Spelt with an 'o' in the middle and an 'e' at the end, it has much to commend itself.

 

You may wake up one fine morning to find yourself the sole beneficiary of the last will and testament of a dear departed relative whose soul may well rest in peace.

 

The flat-fish of this name, fried in butter and garnished with a slice of lemon, or a blob of ketchup, makes a most delectable dish.

 

And, of course, one often obtains a great deal of mental satisfaction from imagining that the sole of one's foot has come into vicious contact with the posterior of someone whom one dislikes, or finds annoying.

 

Spelt as "soul" the word has nothing as substantial to offer us as a large, unearned income, a choice item on the luncheon menu or a broad target on which to plant a well-aimed kick. It does, however, offer solace to those of us who, having had a rough deal in this world, look forward to everlasting peace in the next.

 

So too with that other four-letter word, "dash" which is not so simple as it sounds.

 

You need a dash of courage to pay compliments to a pretty girl in the hearing of your wife. You like to cut a dash in company, you make a dash to the railway station to be on time for your mother-in-law who is arriving at some ungodly hour, you dash to pieces the cup in which you have been served tepid tea at the end of a hard day's work in the office, you use a dash when you think that the editor's sense of propriety will not permit him to print the colourful word you had in mind when you wrote your article.

 

There are other words in the language full of dangers and pitfalls for the unwary foreigner. I am reminded of the story of the Frenchman on his first visit to London. Someone occupying the room just above his shouted "Look out" as he accidently dropped a flowerpot from his balcony. The unfortunate Frenchman promptly stuck his head out of his window of his room to come into painful contact with the falling flowerpot. One could hardly blame the poor fellow when he came to his senses a few hours later for saying "English is an impossible language in which you say 'Look out' when you mean look in."

 

The French and the British have had plenty of time to get to know each other ever since the Norman conquest of Britain. Our own association with the British extends only to 200 years. So no one can call us stupid if we occasionally slip up while conversing or writing in English.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SRI LANKA MUST SHARE POWER WITH TAMILS

BY RAJINDER SACHAR

 

One of the most tragic happenings of the decade was the breakdown of the Sri Lankan ceasefire in 2006 and its aftermath, resulting in the horrors of war crimes and slaughter of innocent Tamils.

 

Why it happened and whether it could have been avoided were some of the questions posed before the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, which held its sittings from January 14 to 16 in Dublin.

 

The tribunal was presided over by Mr Francois Houtrt, Chairperson of the U.N. Committee on Economic Recession. The writer was one of the ten members of this panel.

 

There had been, for over a decade, war-like encounters between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with unbearable losses to both sides. At last due on the intervention of the USA and the European Union a ceasefire agreement was signed which was overseen by Norwegians.

 

I can personally vouch for the comparatively relaxed and hopeful atmosphere that prevailed when our delegation of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, on an invitation from some human rights groups in Sri Lanka, visited it in 2003.

 

However on January 2, 2008 GOSL officially declared its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement, of course, both parties blaming each other for this eventuality.

 

Various reasons were advanced for the failure of the agreement like delay in reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the war-ravaged areas and failure to ensure social and economic well-being of the people. After the tsunami, Tamils were led to feel neglected, marginalised and discriminated against.

 

The European Union's decision to ban LTTE in 2006 is also seen as a grave error that destroyed the parity of status conducive for the peace process.

 

The USA has been accused of undermining the post-tsunami operational management structure, which was put in place as a unified mechanism to carry out joint rehabilitation and relief work in the tsunami-affected areas by insisting that it would not direct money to any joint fund other than the government treasury.

 

But the most crucial reason for the breakdown of the ceasefire was the attitude of the US government, which insisted on excluding LTTE from advanced talks in Washington.

 

The conduct of the European Union in so early withdrawing from talks was explained by impartial witnesses as being due to a strong pressure from the USA, which because of its own war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted the logistic support of GOSL, which obviously it could not hope to get if LTTE continued to be associated with the ceasefire talks.

 

The tribunal found that the Lankan Army dropped cluster ammunition by war planes. The military attacked civilian areas, which constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention. The British and French media indicated that during the third week of fighting some 20,000 Tamils were killed.

 

Sexual abuse and rape of women was yet another atrocity clearly proved against the government military and would amount to crime against humanity and the Geneva Convention.

 

The tribunal regretted that after repeated pleas, and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate those responsible for the atrocities committed.

 

The tribunal has emphasised that if normal conditions are to be restored in Sri Lanka, the government must

establish an independent and authoritative commission to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the parties in conflict.

 

The Sri Lankan government must also implement a political power-sharing solution that gives the Tamil people a proactive and legitimate role in the administration and management of the Northeast, while upholding their rights to equal citizenship, participation and representation at all levels, and ensuring a free, fair and peaceful electoral process in regard to the parliamentary elections scheduled for May, 2010 and allow free and unlimited access to humanitarian organisations such as the international committee of the Red Cross, human rights defenders and the media in refugee camps.

 

I feel that in the matter of restoration of peace in Sri Lanka, the Tamil diaspora can play an important role. It is well known that the Tamil diaspora in Europe and America was greatly sympathetic to the LTTE demand for Eelam — its active help was stupendous.

 

It has, during the present tragedy, tried to do its best for rehabilitating the victims, but lack of support by GOSL has greatly hindered its activities. It is rightly not only deeply hurt but also furious at the indignities and brutalities suffered by their brethren/sisters — the same sentiments that every Indian in the country shares.

 

But in anger nothing should be done to bring Tamils again on the path of violent confrontation. Of course, much will depend on how GOSL treats Lankan Tamils and whether it genuinely tries to give a humane touch to the Tamils and gives them an equitable, honourable position in power-sharing so that both can rebuild Sri Lanka and move on to a joint quest for a happy, united living without any discrimination of religion or language.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SECURITY, GOVERNANCE TOP AFGHAN AGENDA

BY ANITA INDER SINGH

 

The Taliban mounted their latest attack on Kabul on January 18 soon after British Foreign Secretary David Miliband affirmed that the London Conference on Afghanistan, which started on January 28, must show that there is a coherent international plan for the future of Afghanistan.

 

But the attack underlines that an agreement between the West and President Karzai is essential not only for the coherence of any plan that might emerge from the London conference, but more importantly, perhaps, for its implementation.

 

The Taliban assault highlighted yet again the inextricable intertwining of security and governance.

 

It was intended to tell the West and Karzai that a surge of 37,000 Nato troops won't achieve security in Afghanistan and that there will be no reconciliation with moderate or any other Taliban.

 

The Afghan National Army (ANA) restored order in Kabul. But paradoxes coexist. The ANA's success served as a reminder that the West has not trained enough Afghans to stabilise their country.

 

General Stanley McChrystal's advice, given to the Obama administration last summer, still needs to be followed: building up the Afghan security forces would be "the most important thing we do in the future." Only then will Karzai's government be able to establish a legal monopoly of force in Afghanistan.

 

Insecurity largely explains the weakness of political institutions and the rule of law in Afghanistan. Stable political institutions and a strong rule of law cannot be established in the middle of a war. As Transparency International pointed out in a recent report, instability and corruption reinforce each other.

 

But Karzai must realise that decent governance is necessary to deliver essential services to ordinary Afghans, and to enhance his legitimacy.

 

For their part his western allies will not enhance their legitimacy – or his – by publicly berating him for misgovernance.

 

The western criticism of Karzai can easily be construed as a slight to the proud Afghans: he has said that the poverty of Afghans should not become a means to insult and ridicule them.

 

In any case, Karzai can turn the tables on his western critics – as he did – by sharply denouncing the killing of civilians in recent Nato attacks.

 

And rumours that Nato soldiers had desecrated the Koran sparked a violent protest in the southern province of Helmand.

 

Denials by Nato could not hide the fact that such incidents only play into the hands of the Taliban.

 

Nato and Karzai must work together to strengthen the government in Kabul. For reconciliation with any 'moderate' Taliban, deemed vital by the West to win in Afghanistan, can only be achieved by a strong centre. Reconciliation will not be achieved either by a divided Nato or by Nato and Karzai blaming each other for Afghanistan's woes.

 

To some extent the onus for poor governance rests with the West. Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan Finance Minister (favoured by the West), has said that western countries must share the blame for corruption in Afghanistan and that some in the West were using the issue to make domestic political mileage.

 

The allegation cannot be dismissed simply because it is made by an Afghan.

 

So first, Nato must provide security, which will include training more Afghans to assume full responsibility for their country's defence.

 

Success will only come when Karzai and his Nato backers agree that Afghans should have a government that is strong enough to protect them and provide them with essential services.

 

The writer is a Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INSIDE PAKISTAN

WHEN LAWYERS GET BAD PRESS

BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

 

The image of the legal profession in Pakistan has suffered a major dent owing to two developments during the past few days. One is the strike call given by their association for forcing the government to implement the Supreme Court judgement on the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and the other is the reaction of a section of lawyers after the reports of the alleged involvement of a well-known advocate of Lahore in the killing of a domestic help – 12-year-old Shazia Masih.

 

The story of the poor girl's death exposes the ugly side of the profession which earlier earned accolades for being on the forefront of the fight for the restoration of the judiciary's pre-2007 Emergency status, leading to the reinstatement of dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

 

The abuse and murder of the housemaid became an unusual story because she had been working in the house of a former chief of the Lahore District Bar Association in the defence area of the provincial capital. The whole episode got considerable media coverage because of its "ironic dimension".

 

"As if this was not bad enough, on Tuesday a mob of lawless lawyers, reportedly led by the incumbent District Bar Association President, decided to become law unto itself", The News commented. A large group of lawyers "forcibly prevented the family and relatives of the little victim from attending the court proceedings. They then abused and manhandled media persons, accusing them of aligning an 'honourable lawyer'." The police, too, showed its bias against the victimised family. The media was, perhaps, the only institution which came out in its favour.

 

According to columnist Kamila Hyat, abuse and murder of domestic servants has become a common occurrence in Pakistan. The situation prevails because, as Kamila says, "The powerful rarely face punishment."

 

 Row over NRO implementation

 

What are the lawyers in Pakistan up to? They are being accused of not behaving responsibly particularly after they got the treatment as the heroes of the movement for the protection of the judiciary's independence. They cut a sorry figure when Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Qazi Mohammad Anwar issued a call for a strike on January 28 on behalf of the revived National Coordination Council of Lawyers (NCCL), which was formed in March 2007 and then disbanded after the reinstatement of the judges sacked by former President Gen Pervez Musharraf. The strike call had to be withdrawn when the media and others criticised the legal fraternity for taking a course which was unjustifiable.

 

According to Business Recorder, "the reason given for the call by Qazi Anwar was what he called the government's reluctance to implement the court's orders. He has alleged that the government wanted a clash with the judiciary. There are many who would question the rationality of the NCCL's decision in view of the repeated assurances both by Zardari and Gilani that the Supreme Court's decision on the NRO would be implemented."

 

The lawyers also failed to get support for their demand that the government must accept the judiciary's recommendations for the appointment of ad hoc judges to the Supreme Court when the vacancies that exist are for permanent judges.

 

As Dawn pointed out, "as yet the disagreements between the judiciary and the presidency over judicial appointments have not risen to the level of illegalities. As it stands, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has made some recommendations, the President has declined to make the appointments and given his reason for doing so, and that's it. No side has violated the Constitution and, if anything, the executive is on the right side of the law as interpreted historically by the judiciary itself."

 

Tussle over judicial vacancies

 

The strike call, interestingly, came during the tussle over the filling of judicial vacancies. Daily Times says, "In this scenario, calling for a strike leads one to believe that the NCC and the SCBA may have other agendas up their sleeves. If they are unhappy about the President not elevating judges as per the Chief Justice's wishes, then they need to read what the Constitution says regarding the issue. Apart from that, the government is only following the Supreme Court's verdict in the Al-Jihad trust case." The verdict does not support the appointment of ad hoc judges when vacancies for permanent judges exist.

 

Daily Times warned the lawyers "not to let their new-found 'power' go to their heads and jeopardise the democratic system."

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COMMISSION'S REPORT

 

Revolutionary reforms in Indian polity were brought about by the tireless efforts of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1990s. The passage of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 inserted a new Part IX in order to completely re-organise Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in India. This amendment came into effect on April 24,1993. The Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 was similarly passed with a view to transform the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) into vibrant institutions under the new Part IX-A. This amendment came into effect on June 1, 1993. The forward looking States in India implemented the provisions of these enactments and not only brought about democratic decentralisation but also quickened the pace of economic development at the grassroots level by revamping the delivery system through PRIs and ULBs. In Assam also certain changes were made in order to comply with the constitutional amendments. But the process of transferring the functions, functionaries and funds to PRIs and ULBs is yet to be initiated earnestly and sincerely. An excellent scheme for Activity Mapping prepared in 2007 for accelerating the process has remained largely unimplemented. Even the recommendations of the Finance Commissions appointed under Articles 243-I-(4) and 243-Y-(2) have remained unimplemented.

The recommendations of the First Assam State Finance Commission (1996-2001), submitted on March 29, 1996, remained unimplemented "despite acceptance of the recommendations, without any modification" by the Government of Assam(GOA). In the case of the Second Assam State Finance Commission (2001-2006) the major recommendations were rejected and even the minor ones were not implemented. Bureaucratic lethargy delayed the formation of the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) for 2006-11 with the former Chief Secretary H. N. Das as Chairman. TASFC faced tremendous difficulty in obtaining data because the concerned departments were not very co-operative. Even then it completed its task in 20 months and submitted its final report on March 27, 2008. GOA took a long period of 20 months to complete the process of getting the recommendations thoroughly examined by a Cabinet Committee. Only on December 11, 2009, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi placed TASFC's Report on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly along with an Explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken as enjoined by the Constitution. GOA accepted most of TASFC's 103 recommendations without change. This is really welcome. But GOA's delayed action is likely to result in TASFC's Report remaining only as an academic exercise as can be seen from the position described below : For the first year, 2006-07, TASFC could not make any recommendations because of the delay in setting up of the Commission. For the second year, 2007-08, TASFC hurridly submitted an Ad Interim Report. GOA completely ignored this Report. The third year, 2008-09, passed by while the Cabinet Committee was sitting over the Report for 20 months. The fourth year, 2009-10, will be over in another 2 months. Only the last year, 2010-11, remains. It is a moot question whether GOA will act now and release the entire amount of Rs 4015.82 crore to the 2479 PRIs and ULBs as current and arrear devolution, additional devolution and grants-in-aid as recommended by TASFC. Can citizens hope that a Congress party government in Assam will act now and would not allow Rajiv Gandhi's dream of decentralisation to be negated by bureaucratic delays and procrastinations?

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CHILD TRAFFICKING

 

The Child Welfare Committee deserves credit for bringing to fore yet another case of human trafficking involving children from the North Eastern Region of the country. The rescue of 76 children (all boys) from Assam and Manipur from an unregistered orphanage-Bedesta Blessing Home in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu brings to light once again the activities of the rampant human trafficking in the region. The rescued children were from below poverty line families and were a part of a group of 150 children brought to Chennai. The 74 girls in the group were handed over to a home in Bangalore. It is an issue which needs to be taken up seriously to ensure that such incidents do not keep recurring over and over again. The culprits behind it should be identified and strong deterrent action be initiated. The pressure mounted by host of NGOs to institute a CBI investigation on the human trafficking from the north- eastern States is a step in the right direction. Considering the gravity of the situation the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is rushing a team to Chennai to take up the issue of the trafficked children with the Tamil Nadu Government. All the north eastern States should come together and chalk out a coordinated Strategy to tackle the menace of human trafficking head on.


So far the North Eastern Region is concerned it has always been targeted by the human traffickers. Taking advantage of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment the human traffickers conjuring up dreams of a bright future have been successfully carrying out their nefarious activities. It's an irony that in spite of the clamour raised in different quarters of the State, there is no stopping to this criminal activity, which is being carried out with impunity. It is high time the law enforcing agencies coordinated their activities to tackle the menace of human trafficking. The vulnerable areas should be identified and awareness campaigns be conducted with the help of voluntary agencies. A strong vigil by the village elders and NGOs will go a long way in thwarting the activities of the traffickers. A strong deterrent action against the traffickers on a consistent basis would definitely help in containing this crime against humanity.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TIME MANAGEMENT

ARUP KUMAR DUTTA

 

It is indeed admirable that individuals such as the eminent film-maker Jahnu Barua, supported by progressive institutions like K C Das Commerce College, are trying to revive the concept of placing the North-East in a separate time zone from the rest of India. I use the word "revive" because, if I recall correctly, the concept had been aired before by others, though soon relegated to the dustbin of history.


But the endeavour by Jahnu Barua and other concerned individuals like noted journalist Samudra Gupta Kashyap and academician Hitesh Deka promises to be more sustained, from what I have gathered so far. For one thing Barua has made an in depth study of the issue and formulated a cogent argument in favour of having a separate time zone for the North-East. For another, he has made two brilliant presentations before an audience comprising of representative groups from the North-East. These groups, which include student bodies from all the seven sisters, have affirmed their support to the concept and pledged to help build public opinion in favour of it.

Thus, hopefully, the concept of having a separate time zone for the North-East will gain wider acceptance among the public in the near future, forcing the State and Union Governments to take a policy decision in favour of or against the idea. Amazing indeed that an issue which should have been a priority immediately after independence needs to be revived over six decades later! On the other hand, it is not that amazing after all, for the North-East would not have been reduced to the sorry mess it is in today had those at the helm not been too preoccupied with other "priorities" to have spared a thought to this remote region in those days.


So comprehensive has been Jahnu Barua's argument in favour of a separate time zone that there is little one can add to it. His stand is vindicated by the fact that having separate time zones within one country in order to make optimum use of daylight is a practice followed by most developed and quite a few developing countries. Barua cites two examples to show how other nations have been quick to grasp the advantage of placing themselves in specific time zones to reap maximum benefit of daylight saving.


To quote him: "Our closest neighbour Bangladesh has been observing Daylight Saving Time (DST) since 19th June, 2009. In the process they have advanced their time by 1 hour by setting their standard time on 105 degree East (although their mean longitude is 90 degree East) making it 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and one and a half hours ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST). It means when a North-Easterner reaches his office at 10 a.m. IST, his counterpart in Bangladesh has already completed one and half hours of office work although Bangladesh receives daylight almost half hour later than the North-East."


Another example given by him is Singapore: "Many countries are conscious of the fact that if you are on the west of your standard time meridian you progress better, and accordingly they have set their time zones in such a way that the whole country remains on the west of their time meridian. Singapore is an example. As we all know, in the Indian sub-continent productivity wise one of the most progressive countries is Singapore. Singapore's mean longitude is 105 degree East, but Singapore has set its standard time at longitude 120 degree East for years keeping the whole country permanently advanced by 1 hour. China too follows longitude 120 degree East as their standard time keeping almost the whole country on the west of their time meridian. In comparison, India has kept half the country on the east of its standard time longitude resulting in colossal waste of daylight. Moreover, India never observes DST."


Ironically, during the days of the Raj, the British themselves had realised the importance of making daylight hours more productive. For example, they introduced the practice of setting the clock one hour ahead in tea-plantations so as to have the workers begin plucking earlier, particularly useful during winter when the sun sets earlier. In fact, in earlier times, our farmers too had understood the need for a dawn start so as to give themselves enough daylight hours to be devoted to other pursuits.


Alas, as soon as we attained freedom, the people in Delhi responsible for shaping the destiny of the nation did not bother to spare a thought to such a practice since it would entail no benefit to their own region. As pointed out by Barua, if the political capital of India Delhi or the financial capital Mumbai were to follow the current Daylight Utilisation schedule of the North-East, the people there would have breakfast at 10 a.m., go to office at 12 noon, have lunch at 3 p.m., dinner at midnight and go to sleep at 1 a.m! The outcome of such a state of affairs, according to Barua, is that it has created in the North-East unproductive tendencies, imbalance in biological clock, degeneration of society, wastage of electricity, loss of productivity and so on.


Since India follows a single time zone, normal activities like waking up, taking meals, working, recreation, sleeping etc. are followed by the people of North-East almost by two hours later than Northern and Western parts of the country. The current schedule in actual time here is to get up two hours after sunrise, breakfast after 4 hours of daylight, start office in the middle of the day and so on till retiring to bed after midnight! This has not only created health and psychological problems, but also various socio-cultural issues as well as wastages of resources, particularly electricity. Impact on the younger generation has been particularly severe due to the artificial time schedule imposed on this region.


As Barua has suggested, the only remedy is to create a separate time zone for the North-East, based on 105 degree East which will be 7 hours ahead of GMT and 1 hour ahead of IST. It is imperative that the concept is studied in depth particularly by the intelligentsia of the region, keeping the postulates forwarded by him at the core. It is also incumbent on the regional media to help simplify, propagate and popularise the concept, and student and other bodies to pressurise the powers that be to take necessary action.


Not that it is the sole panacea. Given the work-culture of the people of this region and lack of proper time-management amongst them, it would require much more than a mere shift in the dial hands of a clock to propel our society forward. Yet it would be a rational intervention designed to bring progress to this part of the nation. As the saying goes, it is better late than never!

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAHATMA GANDHI – AS AN ECONOMIST

MOON MOON SARMAH

 

"I am late by 10 minutes. I hate being late," Mahatma Gandhi chided Manu and Abha, as he walked to the prayer ground in New Delhi. It was the cursed evening of January 30, 1948, when Gandhi was assassinated at the beginning of the prayer meeting.


Mahatma Gandhi was the great spiritual leader of the Indian masses. He was not a professional economist and had never studied economics. His economic ideas developed gradually as he began to find out solutions to the economic problems of the country - poverty, unemployment etc. The prevailing economic condition and historical environment were the important factors, that shaped the thought of Gandhi. Expressing his views under the title, "The music of Spinning Wheel", published in Young India, Gandhi stated, "I feel convinced that the revival of hand spinning and hand-weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and moral regeneration of India........" He emphasised on the spinning wheel or 'Charkha' – an example of patience and self control for the common people which provided them self sufficiency during the British period. He was aware of the socio-economic consequences of British rule in India and wanted to remedy the ills caused by foreign rulers. In ancient times, Indian villages were free from economic problems, as they were self-dependent and self-sufficient. But the economic condition had undergone a great change when the British took away the raw materials from India and filled the Indian markets with foreign goods. It gradually disrupted the traditional organisation of village communities, the economic life changed drastically and Indians became the victims of poverty, starvation and low standard of living. Gandhi was a great political leader and fought against British rule with two simple weapons – truth and non-violence. But his entire political philosophy was based on economic ideas. "Swaraj" did not mean merely political independence from British rule, it involved the freedom of each individual to regulate their own lives without harming one another.


Gandhi gave his view on three traditional subject matters of economics: consumption, production and distribution. Truth, simplicity, non-violence and dignity of labour were four pillars of Gandhian economics. 'Simple living and high thinking' should be the principal moto of Gandhi. He was vigorously influenced by various philosophies, ideologies and personages. He borrowed from Tolstoy, the concepts of simplicity and equalitarianism which became base of his economic ideas. He retained the concept of decentralisation of economic and political powers from the anarchists like Prince Kropotkin. He widened his spiritual horizon from the lessons of Gita and Upanishads and from the literature of Kabir and Nanak. Gandhi's philosophy spotlighted the fact that simple living with minimum need is better than the way of a modern life based on western culture. The simplicity is a symbol of happiness whereas the modern life brings a lot of discontent, complexities and unhappiness. Materialistic approach is not merely enough for the happiness of the humanity, but it should also be supported by the spiritual and intellectual progress. Acquisitiveness or possessiveness is directly related to violence as are exploitation and corruption. To exploit the under privileged is also a form of violence. Today violence has become a way of life. Nowadays human kind is ravaged by poverty and famine, yet money is spent on developing new weapons and on planning war strategies.


Like Adam Smith, he regarded labour as the most productive factor. He always gave importance to 'dignity of labour' and thus advised producers not to use machine, unless it was essential. Machinery is a good technique of production which saves time and reduces the cost of production. But too much use of machines results in concentration of wealth and economic power which is the root cause of capitalist exploitation. Improved technology also helps to produce varieties of bombs each capable of killing hundreds of thousands in one second.

He introduced elementary type of machine, "Charkha" or spinning wheel, which can be put in the homes of millions. He wanted to show sustainable environment and sustainable livelihood. The need of the hour is to strengthen local products to promote artistic skills. Such type of environment friendly cottage industry has special significance in today's changing economic scenario. Recently Shanti Sadhana Ashram, situated at Basistha Guahati is experimenting Gandhian principle of "self-reliance" by establishing various production units such as weaving centre, mushroom, pickles etc. based on local production and traditional skill. Some of the products have already made in-roads in the international market also. If there is economic sustainability then there will be no reason for anyone to take up the gun.


Mahatma Gandhi laid emphasis on the welfare of workers, their dignity and proper wages. To him employment of children was a national degradation. Children constitute the most important assests of nation's future. All children have a right to education and leisure. Employment of child labour has already been prohibited in various sectors: agriculture, industry and service unit. But such laws will be ineffective unless there is a mechanism for rehabilitation.


The economic as well as social environment has changed from the middle of 18th century, because of the industrial revolution. Slowly various factors such as long hours of works, low wages, unsatisfactory working conditions and insult by the employers started pinching them. Gandhi suggested to reduce the working hours and to adopt safety measures in the factories. He supported labour unions and warned that, "if the rights of the workers were not conceded they could go on strike which should be based on non-violence and truth. "Chah Mazdoor Sangha" is one such organisation that safeguards the interest of the tea laborers in Assam. He advised harmony between labour and capital. According to him, "Capital should be labour's servant, not its master."

Gandhi had widely expressed his views on two fundamental economic phenomena: food crisis and population explosion, which crippled our economy. In his opinion, curtailment of food requirements by each person to the minimum, wide cultivations programme of food grains, check on black-marketing, restriction on exports of food commodities are some of the measures to check the skyrocketing price of food commodities. These measures have special significance in recent economic environment, because life for the common man is becoming increasingly difficult owing to the steep price rise across the country.


(Published on the occasion of his death anniversary)

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

JAPAANI JOOTA PINCHING

WORLD'S SECOND LARGEST ECONOMY IS LOOKING INCREASINGLY VULNERABLE ON MANY FRONTS NOW

 

Toyota has a sticky problem. It is that of a sticky accelerator. When you press on the pedal, it gets stuck. This problem, first discovered in the context of an accident in California about a year ago, has prompted the carmaker to recall 6.5 million, yes 65 lakh vehicles sold in the United States. Toyota also immediately stopped the sale of eight models including the world best-sellers Camry and Corolla vehicles, all because of faulty pedals.


This gesture coming from the world's number one quality ranked car company should normally be attributed to its meticulousness, and extreme concern for customer safety. However, it may have an opposite effect. Instead of reassuring customers, more people may now be scared to buy a Toyota.


How does one find the optimal balance between safety and not scaring off people? Toyota was the uncrowned quality king for many years. It    became the biggest car maker in the US. Its market    value was more than the combined value of all the American car companies. The image of the Japanese car was of superior quality, performance, and engineering. This Toyota recall and virtual halt of all sale dents that image.


It gets worse. The ailing American car companies are bouncing back. Ford is reporting huge profits of $ 2.7 billion in 2009, and is sitting on a pile of $25 billion of cash. The best car of the year is Ford Fusion, not a Japanese car. GM is already out of bankruptcy, and two of its SUVs have been rated the best.

 

It is not just in cars that the Japanese are suddenly looking vulnerable. Look at Sony and compare it to the Korean Samsung. They have been called the clashing Titans, though the Korean company has beaten Sony where it matters – in design awards and in hi-tech. Samsung long ago shed the image of a low-end electronics maker or as a vendor to Sony. It is now considered a peer to Sony.


The fate of two of Japan's stars, Sony and Toyota is symptomatic of something deeper. The country has been in economic stagnation for two decades. In the late 1980s, there was a housing stock market crash (much like the subprime crisis in the US now), and the country never seems to have recovered. Growth on average, which used to be above five per cent, has been closer to zero, although there have been spurts of about four percent growth in some short periods.


It has tried every medicine from the textbooks, namely cutting interest rates (down to zero),
providing fiscal stimulus and so on. However, that has not worked. Thanks to its large deficit spending, the country's debt today is twice its national income. Rating agencies are threatening to downgrade Japan, rate it on par with a developing country!


All these years, despite the economic funk, Japan was considered gilt-edged. This was because it has been a net exporter of credit, its exports were strong (with names such as Sony and Toyota), it has a huge foreign exchange stock, and its currency is internationally traded as a reserve currency. Moreover, since its population is in decline, even though total income is stagnant, the per capita (that is, per person) income keeps rising. It is still considered the source of innovation, especially in energy saving. However, all these redeeming features are not enough to overcome the anxiety about the economy.

The ruling party, after its historic August win, is struggling to maintain a political lead. The Bank of Japan has forecast three years of deflation. The rise of neighboring China is worrisome. If you were in Japan's shoes right now, it ain't comfortable.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

BLOGGERS' PARK

BLAIR APPEARS FOR IRAQ WAR'S CHILCOT INQUIRY IN LONDON   


That the Chilcot inquiry only wants Blair off the hook is evident. It was purely Blair's war with no support from people in UK, and is the biggest blunder, considering the human cost and the huge financial losses. That it dented Tony Blair's image as a Labour hero is another aspect altogether. Now, the anger towards Blair is also borne out of frustration about the bank scandal, the recession, and Iraq war is only symbolic of a crisis of confidence. Since it is not a legal investigation, Blair's six-hour hearing is only theatrical voyeurism. No one will accuse Blair of being a war criminal. They will only say it was an error of judgement.

 

http://sudhan.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/natosrole-in-the-afghanistan-escalation/


Tony Blair appeared for the Iraq Inquiry thoroughly prepared. Neither the questioning nor the protesters troubled him. He earlier said WMD (weapons of mass destruction) were not necessary for war and he would have other justifications. Yes, it was disappointing not to get anything sensational, yet I expected it of Blair knowing his political acumen to deflect criticism.


http://charonqc.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/rivegauche-contrition-from-blair-he-may-just-tell-us-toeff-off-who-knows/


What happened in Iraq war did not happen overnight. We let it happen, we made it happen. Now that we have given up all pretenses of democracy, the bitter pill of a fascist state no longer needs sugarcoating. What choices will be thrown up in elections? None. What will change? Nothing. Let's get rid of this farce of Chilcot inquiry, and have Blair enjoy his retirement benefits. We have a long haul before we get out of joblessness. Let us concentrate resources there.


http://centurean2.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/bro wn-accused-of-cover-up-pm-under-fire-as-key-papers-on-iraq-war-are-kept-confidential-its-a-fabianhabit/

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TATA STEEL: ROBUST NUMBERS

VISHAL CHHABRIA

But high growth rates are partly due to the low base of last year. Tata Steel posted slightly better-than-expected standalone numbers for the quarter ended December 31, 2009. Volumes, which were up nearly 50 per cent year-on-year, helped the company post an increase of 33 per cent in net sales at Rs 6,307 crore, while lower costs pushed margins higher and almost doubled profits.

While growth rates appear to be high, they are partly due to the low base of last year, when Tata Steel's volumes, net sales and profits had fallen over the year-ago quarter. The stock initially reacted positively and closed higher by 4.8 per cent on Thursday, but fell 2.8 per cent the next day, even as the Sensex was up. The relatively lower year-on-year growth in net sales (vis-à-vis volumes) is consequent to the 11 per cent decline in blended realisations to Rs 39,500 per tonne.

Notably, on a per-tonne basis, costs (especially of coking coal) declined across the board, which led to total per tonne costs falling 15 per cent to Rs 26,420. Thus, despite the decline in realisations, for every tonne it sold, Tata Steel earned an operating profit of about Rs 13,100 — a shade lower than profits reported in the quarter ended December 2008. Tata Steel's standalone operating profits, hence, jumped 46 per cent to Rs 2,157 crore, led by higher volumes, while margins improved by over 300 basis points to 34 per cent.

The company operated at more than the rated capacity in the month of December and produced 0.6 million tonnes (mt) of steel. If these production levels are sustained, the company can produce 7.2 mt of steel annually as against the rated capacity of 6.8 mt. In the present quarter (ending March 2010), the company hopes to sell more than the 1.6 mt of steel it sold in the preceding quarter — it is estimated to be close to the 1.75-mt seen in the quarter ended March 2009.

But, since the company had hiked steel prices in the December quarter, healthy sequential and year-on-year growth in top line are expected in the current quarter. Also, with cost pressure expected to ease, profit margins should remain stable sequentially, but improve on a year-on-year basis.

Its ferro alloys division (about 10 per cent of sales), which had seen profitability reach a trough in the March 2009 quarter, showed consistent improvement since and reported earning before interest and taxation margins of 21.7 per cent. Expect the business to do well on the back of better volumes and prices going forward.

In the December 2009 quarter, though Tata Steel reported gains from sale of investments (about Rs 200 crore), it also wrote off Rs 185 crore on account of debt instruments prematurely extinguished. Also, although interest charges were up 19 per cent, the company had regularly repaid debt. It repaid debt of about Rs 1,600 crore in the quarter, thereby reducing its net debt to Rs 22,000 crore. It hopes to repay a similar amount in the current quarter as well, which should help keep a tab on interest charges.

Finally, Tata Steel's profit before tax and forex transactions nearly doubled to Rs 1,743 crore. However, a forex loss of Rs 127 crore in last year's quarter meant that net profit growth was higher at 156 per cent, to Rs 1,192 crore.

Going ahead, while the March 2010 quarter is expected to be as good as the December quarter, volume growth in 2010-11 may not be as robust (estimated at 12-15 per cent); it is expected to look up after the company's new capacity at Jamshedpur goes on stream around September 2011.

For now, concerns over its European operations (namely, Corus) have also not eased completely. Its prospects will be better known in February, when the company declares its consolidated quarterly numbers. At Rs 569, the stock trades at a PE of 6.8 times its estimated consolidated 2010-11 EPS and leaves little room for upside in the near term

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PLAYING WITH FIRE

THE DANGERS ARE ALL TOO APPARENT IF MAOISTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO BELIEVE THEY CAN FURTHER THEIR AGENDA THROUGH SELECTIVE DEALS WITH MAINSTREAM PARTIES

T N NINAN

 

One of the strengths of the Indian system is its ability to co-opt rebellious and separatist forces and bring them into the political mainstream. The Communists were persuaded to take part in the parliamentary system of democracy, and the separatist forces in Tamil Nadu and Mizoram became the mainstream. The system is large and accommodative enough to make room for all comers — and more would come into the mainstream if it were not for the instigation and support that Pakistan and China provide for the recalcitrant elements.

That said, a strange thing is happening when it comes to the Maoists, because the shoe seems to be on the other foot. In at least two states, it is the Maoists who have used the mainstream parties for their own ends, with the latter willing to play along in the hope of grabbing power. The latest example is Shibu Soren, who as the newly-elected chief minister of Jharkhand wants to go soft on the Maoists and has, in fact, called off police action soon after assuming office. Whether he has changed course after his meeting a couple of days ago with the home minister remains to be seen, but it is hard to ignore the possibility that Mr Soren is delivering in return for the support that he got from the Maoists during the recent elections to the state assembly.

In neighbouring West Bengal, the Marxists continually beat the drum about Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress being in league with the Maoists in the state, the common objective being to unseat the Left Front when state elections come round next year. It is also an open secret that, six years ago, the Andhra Pradesh Congress under YS Rajasekhar Reddy got support from the Maoists during the state elections, support that helped unseat the Telugu Desam. Like Mr Soren today, Mr Reddy at the time began with a soft approach to the Maoists, and got tough only after a year or two had passed.

The question that bears asking is whether the Maoists have got so much purchase in select pockets of the country that they are now able to influence the outcome of state elections, and thereby determine who will become the chief minister. If they have twice tried the gambit and if it worked on both occasions, in that they won a reprieve from police action that helped them to catch their breath and re-group, they will naturally conclude that the gambit is worth trying again. With West Bengal elections not far away, it is important to ask who uses whom when the Maoists form links with mainstream parties.

The stand-out example of how things can go wrong is provided by Punjab in the 1980s. It was initially the Congress that tried to upstage the Akali Dal by setting up Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Later, Akali politicians developed links with the militants and saw them as a useful ally for specific objectives — and there too, it was not clear who was using whom. What the country remembers is that Punjab came to the brink, and peace returned only after a heavy price had been paid, in terms of bloodshed and violence, including Operation Bluestar and the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Because the Maoists speak in the name of the poor, they tend to attract some degree of sympathy and so a political party doing a quick-and-dirty deal with them tends to be seen as less than heinous. But the dangers are all too apparent if the Maoists are encouraged to believe that they can further their agenda through selective deals with mainstream parties.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MAN-MADE GLOBAL WARMING

THE CLIMATE-CHANGE "SCIENCE" CONTINUES TO UNRAVEL

DEEPAK LAL

 

It has been a bad two months for the purveyors of the "science" of manmade global warming. The BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) stood firm at Copenhagen from being bounced into an agreement on mandatory carbon emission cuts. With the Democrat's defeat in Massachusetts, there is little hope of President Barack Obama pursuing the US climate change Bill, leaving Europe — particularly the UK — out on a limb with their legislation of targets for savage CO2 emission cuts which, if implemented, will lead to their rapid descent into the Stone Age.

But an equally important drama has been playing in New Delhi with Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), having to retract various purportedly "scientific" claims made in the panel's 2007 report. The one which has rightly come to the fore in India is Glaciergate, concerning the IPCC's claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. When the government-sponsored report by eminent Indian glaciologist Dr Vijaya Raina came out in November, saying that the IPCC's claims were baseless and recklessly alarmist, it was dismissed by Dr Pachauri, a railway engineer with a PhD in economics, as being "arrogant" and "voodoo science". Subsequently, he had to eat crow as he and the IPCC had to admit that their predictions about Himalayan glaciers were without scientific foundations.

Glaciergate had been preceded by Climategate in November, when a hacker leaked hundreds of emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. These show that Professor Phillip Jones, the director of the CRU — the source of the most important of the four sets of temperature data on which the IPCC relies — along with a tight network of colleagues had for years discussed various tactics to avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws. They kept coming up with innumerable excuses to conceal the background data on which their findings and temperature records are based. Jones, astonishingly, even claimed in 2008 that this data from all over the world was "lost". But the emails show that scientists were told to delete large chunks of data. As this was done after the receipt of a freedom of information request, it became a criminal offence, and the University of East Anglia had to agree to release the data in collaboration with the met office's Hadley Centre after obtaining the agreement of other met offices around the world.

The unwillingness to release the data was for two reasons. First, since 1977 when sunspot activity has decreased as the Sun seems to have gone to sleep, both terrestrial and more accurate satellite temperature readings show the Earth is cooling, even as CO2 emissions have increased (See fig. 1), contradicting the man-made global warming theory. Second, they have been keen to resurrect the infamous "hockey stick".

Till 1999, when a recent physics Phd- turned-climatologist, Michael Mann, published a paper on the 1,000-year temperature record, the accepted trend was given by fig. 2, which appeared in the 1990 IPCC report (reproduced in its Chairman John Houghton's book Global Warming (1994)). This shows that temperatures in the Medieval Warm Period had been higher than those predicted to increase as a result of rising CO2 emissions. Mann and his colleagues (Nature, 1998:779-787) showed that, including data from Californian pine cones and with suitable statistical manipulation, the data was best represented by fig. 3, where the temperature was constant followed by a rapid rise with the Industrial Age. Their "hockey stick" became the iconic figure in the 2001 IPCC report.

Till two Canadians, statistician Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick, published an article showing that "there was an error in a routine calculation step… that falsely identified a hockey stick shape as the dominant pattern in the data. The flawed computer program can even pull out spurious hockey stick shapes from lists of trendless random numbers" (Energy and Environment, 2003:752-771).

With the subsequent furore, the US Congress set up two scientific committees to examine climate history. They upheld McIntyre and McKitrick, and one investigation chaired by Dr Edward Wegman — a leading statistician — excoriated the Mann papers as well as his various highly placed supporters who had tried to whitewash them. Wegman also commissioned a "social network analysis" of Mann's defenders to find out how independent they were, which found that they "are closely connected and thus 'independent studies' may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface". Mann's supporters were "a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism, and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility". (Wegman Report, 2006 is available at gochttp://www.cimateaudit.org/pdf/others/07142006_Wegman_Report.pdf).

These revelations of the debauching of climate change "science" by the IPCC continue apace. As I write, there is a report that the IPCC's 2007 claim that global warming is linked to a rise in natural disasters has also been shown to be scientifically invalid. The IPCC vice-chairman says it will be reviewed.

The unravelling of this politicised climate "science" has already had political consequences. At the recent BASIC environmental ministers gathering, Xi Zhenhua, the Chinese representative, said that Beijing would keep an "open attitude to the disputes in the scientific community" as "there is a view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself". As a start, to help in an honest resolution of these disputes, the IPCC needs to be disbanded. If necessary, by the BASIC countries withdrawing, and setting up a truly independent global scientific commission of scientists supporting the two alternative theories on global warming outlined in my previous columns. Meanwhile, to end conning the media, Dr Pachauri should issue a statement that he not be referred to as the world's leading climate scientist. No more than Al Gore or me!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

E-READING THE TEA LEAVES

AS E-READERS BECOME UBIQUITOUS, AND PUBLISHERS START CUTTING E-PRICES, MORE READERS WILL DEFAULT TO E-PLATFORMS

DEVANGSHU DATTA

 

The DSC Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) has a partnership with The Daily Beast, a webmag ranked among the Top Ten blogs by Technorati. The Beast is impressive. It offers tons of quality writing, videos, podcasts, photoessays, etc., across subjects ranging from snowflakes to Islam. There are lots under the hood; clever conception and very good mixing and matching of Web technologies is required to offer such a slick multimedia platform.

The founder-editor, Tina Brown, was an entirely appropriate panellist in a public debate about the Internet (presented by the Beast) at the JLF. But she appeared to be the only person on that podium who thoroughly understood the medium and she is a media-person, rather than a publisher.

The subject itself, "Will the Internet save books?" is close to meaningless if it is taken literally. One answer is "No, the Internet will reduce the need to kill trees in order to deliver literary content". The subject-line may be modified to something like "Will the Internet offer a new platform for literature and rescue the reading habit?", which was how most panellists chose to interpret it. The answer is again, obvious. A majority, and rapidly-increasing percentage, of the world's readers already do most of their reading on screens.

The rising popularity of e-readers like the Kindle, the Sony Reader and the newly-launched iPad, shows this trend will strengthen. The Google Android OS' focus on being a full-featured e-reader more or less guarantees that the next generation of mobile phones will also be e-readers. Anecdotal evidence from literary forums, blogs and fansites, as well as sales figures show an increasing ratio of e-books to paper versions.

As e-readers become ubiquitous, and publishers start cutting e-prices (which are currently iniquitous), more readers will default to e-platforms. This brings the publishing industry face-to-face with several dilemmas.

Given the way music and mainstream media have struggled to adapt to changing technology, it won't be easy for publishing. Publishing has to find its own answers to electronic piracy and avoid the music industry's catastrophic errors. It also has to find ways to reconfigure the value chain as the revenue streams mutate. Many currently vital links in publishing's manufacturing, distribution and retail chains will become redundant as consumers move to e-readers and e-delivery.

Those are fascinating issues and well worth several debates. Given the presence of a who's-who of industry professionals as well as tech-savvy writers at the JLF, a panel of experts could easily have been put together to discuss them.

Unfortunately, the debate never rose beyond the level of vapidity. The panel lacked the publishers' perspective and collectively, it appeared to be less than conversant with the technology. There was incredulity onstage that a Kindle can be read in the loo, though a wag in the audience did point out that e-readers cannot replace toilet paper in extremis.

One distinguished poet set up a straw man by waxing eloquent about the power and relevance of the written word — nobody present at the JLF denied that. But the point is that the word can be stored and accessed digitally with great speed, and convenience.

This reminds one of the situation vis-a-vis telephones early in the last century. In 1910, "oldies" regarded the phone as an expensive, restrictive alternative to correspondence, even as it started being adopted with glad cries of joy. Circa 2010, a phone call or email is cheaper than a postcard, and the technology also offers a far richer mix of multimedia communication alternatives.

The transition period is likely to be dramatically compressed in the move from paper to e-books. Circa 2015, the 2010 JLF debate will seem as quaint as 15th century monks bewailing the loss of calligraphic skills as the printing press caught on.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

ARE ECONOMISTS ALONE TO BLAME?

V V

 

If everything in this world were rational, nothing would happenFyodor Dostoevesky: The Brothers Karamazov

Who is to blame for the current global financial crisis? As usually happens after a crash, the search for scapegoats has been intense and several contenders have emerged: Wall Street; the bankers who sold loans without collateral to those who could least afford them; the experts who gave wrong advice; but most of all that "dismal" science, economics itself. Or, rather simplistically, human greed that drives capitalism. All these explanations have some truth to them but most bubbles are more than just bad faith, or incompetence, or rank stupidity: the interaction of human psychology with a market economy practically ensures that bubbles will form. To that extent, bubbles are a rational and unavoidable by-product of capitalism. Technology and circumstances change, but the human animal doesn't.

And markets are ultimately about people, which is what George Akerlof and Robert Shiller talk about in Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters For Global Capitalism (Princeton University Press, £16.95). It deals with that relatively new field, "behavioural economics", or how the economy really works. As they put it in the Introduction, "it accounts for how it works when people really are human, that is, possessed of all-too-human animal spirits", or human frailties.

According to the authors, there are five ways in which "animal spirits" manifest themselves in economic behaviour:

The state of the economy depends upon the "feel-good" factor or the level of confidence about how the future will pan out. This is not a rational prediction but based on instinct, which is the most crucial feature of "animal spirits".

A sense of fairness can overrule rational economic motivations. For example, the demand for shovels can rise after a snowstorm, but raising prices at such a juncture would be considered unjust by the majority and, therefore, desisted.

The action of monopoly capitalism — multinationals or predatory corporations can impact the entire economy. For instance, the actions of energy giant Enron led many to lose faith in financial markets as a whole.

Many people make their economic decisions without taking into account inflation: instead of maximising their real (inflation-adjusted) income, they succumb to "money illusion".

Finally, human behaviour is heavily influenced by stories and narratives with logic that drive people to action. We're all gullible idiots at the time and only later wake up to realise we've been conned.

If you put all the five factors together, the conclusion is obvious: "animal spirit" forces other than reason guide our actions. If you look back, none of them are based on rational grounds and this "irrationality" must be taken into account to understand how economies actually work. If economists have failed to explain repeated crises, it is because they have interpreted economic activity through an unreal model. Economists have based their studies on mathematical models of human behaviour whereas they should have been based on human psychology and practical politics of the times.

Given this base, Akerlof and Shiller bring in Keynes who has had a new lease of life after the impact of the financial crisis because he had rejected the idea that markets were self-stabilising and, more importantly, he had reintegrated psychology into economic theory. To begin with, Akerlof and Shiller draw attention to Keynes' A Treatise on Probability (1921) in which he had tried to develop a theory of "rational degrees of belief", which he refined and developed in his classic work, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). He concluded there were no scientific way that you could make forecasts; not just about future interest rates and prices but also about new technologies that would impact society and about the future trend of politics.

There were asymmetries of information that we simply don't know which was understandable when he was writing on the eve of World War II. The trouble about forecasting an economy's future is that we can't distinguish between risk and uncertainty, where probabilities can't be attached to possible outcomes. Even the list of possible outcomes can miss out the ones that were most important in shaping the course of events. French philosopher and mathematician Pascal (1623-62) hit the nail on the head when he asked, "Is it probable that probability brings certainty."

What Keynes fought against in the 1930s was the belief that human ignorance of the future could be overcome and that human behaviour can be predicted. This error was strengthened when American economists of the Chicago School came up with complex mathematical formulae to explain business cycles of boom and bust. The mathematics was impressive but didn't quite jell with the real world around us. The conclusion was obvious: too much reason can be a nightmare. To the growing body of literature in defence of Keynes, this book is a welcome addition.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

YIN AND YANG

INDIANS BERATE CHINA BUT RUSH TO BUY ITS GOODS

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

 

In some ways China is the new America for many Indians. It's a country we hate in public, yet the rumour of a sale of Chinese goods in Calcutta's Indoor Stadium had hordes of eager shoppers hammering at the gates long before opening time.

This dichotomy between politics and economics never ceases to amaze. Brought up on the "trade follows the flag" tenet, we might be prepared to reverse roles so that the flag also sometimes follow trade. What is baffling is the spectacle of trade booming in a political vacuum with nary a flag to be seen on the horizon. When Paul A Samuelson, the American economics Nobel laureate who died recently, said, "I don't care who writes a nation's laws — or crafts its advanced treatises — if I can write its economics textbooks," he meant that economics alone determines destiny. If so, we can expect the rising tide of exports and imports to wash away the territorial disputes that bedevil Sino-Indian relations.

That may yet happen, but it would be unrealistic not to take note meanwhile of serious concerns among ordinary Indians — we know next to nothing about Chinese attitudes, and that is a grave danger — that militate against a rapprochement. It is understandable that a foreign commentator like Kishore Mahbubani should miss the historical memory that conditions Indian attitudes. It was also to be expected that our ambassador in Beijing, S Jaishankar, could not refer to it when speaking at Sichuan university. But we must not shy away from acknowledging and surmounting that psychological stumbling block if "the New Asian hemisphere" of Mahbubani's title is to be realised.

Trade apart, we know far less about Sino-Indian economic cooperation, actual and potential, than we do about China's supposed plans to encircle India through collusion with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. We also hear of border aggressiveness, encroachments and attempts to starve the Indo-Gangetic plain of water.

Let me say bluntly not that there is no smoke without fire but that there is no media smoke without smouldering embers in government offices. Our newspapers and TV channels have neither the interest nor the means to go foraging round Asia for news. Even without that limitation, I know well enough after half a century in the game how receptive even the most august writers are to a whispered word in North or South Block. It becomes Holy Writ when whispered over a lavish lunch at the Oberoi or Maurya Sheraton.

Manmohan Singh might insist there is room enough for India and China to grow together, and Shiv Shankar Menon argue that China's "string of pearls" are figments of the imagination, but there are enough members of the establishment to feed irredentist sentiment with tales of wicked Chinese conspiracies. As a corollary, we are advised to take China's growth statistics with a large dose of salt. When I mention the impressive sights I have seen as a tourist in Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, I am told not to be naïve, that those are China's showpieces for the world.

As a member of the public, I don't know what to believe. As a newspaperman, I chafe at the inability to access authoritative independent information. There can be no trust or understanding without far more extensive contacts. The literature suggests anxiety in China too, especially over India's budding defence relations with the Americans. Many Chinese appear to suspect that India, Japan and Australia are parties to a grand American strategy to contain China's legitimate evolution as the major Asian power and a force in world affairs.

Mao Siwei, China's consul-general in Calcutta, lists other grievances. India does not offer a level playing field to Chinese companies and operatives. India also tries to put a spoke in the wheel of Chinese cooperation in countries like Bangladesh.

What is seldom mentioned is that India and China are both focused on development. Both must combat terrorism. Each must display a sensitive appreciation of what matters most to the other. They must also bury the past — the Middle Kingdom as much as Bomdila — to ensure the future.

France's loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia in the 1870-71 war is not a parallel to be followed. The statue of Strasbourg, the lost province's main city, in the Place de la Concorde in Paris was draped in black, the mourning not removed until France regained Alsace-Lorraine after World War I.

India, China, Asia and the world cannot afford to let the stalemate drag out in hopes of such a military resolution.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

JYOTI MALHOTRA: WE'RE NOW PART OF THE SOLUTION

SM KRISHNA NEEDS TO TALK TO HIS OWN ESTABLISHMENT ON THE DIRECTION OF INDIA'S AF-PAK STRATEGY

JYOTI MALHOTRA

 

Comments by External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on the eve of the London conference on Afghanistan, that there is little difference between the "good" and the "bad" Taliban, are a manifestation of the schizophrenic disconnect within the Indian establishment over its policy on Afghanistan — and its neighbour, Pakistan.

 

Committing $1.2 bn in aid to Afghanistan, which makes India the sixth-largest donor in the world, has created an unprecedented space for manoeuvre in the Hindukush heartland. With projects in every district in Afghanistan, from electricity transmission lines to training women in the Sewa way, India's benign presence has been vindicated by a recent study commissioned by the BBC, ABC and ARD — the British, American and German broadcasters, respectively — which found that 71 per cent of the Afghan population was in favour of India playing a big role. And yet, SM Krishna threw it all away in London.

The West, burnt by the recession and the sight of coffins repeatedly coming home, was determined to announce a reconciliation package for the "moderate" Taliban. As much as $500 million has been allocated for a "reintegration fund", along with promises that Afghans will take charge of their own security over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has pursued reconciliation with Taliban "moderates" like former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil — even persuading Saudi King Abdullah to broker such a peace over Ramzan festivities in 2008 — spoke about "disenchanted brothers" returning home.

So, just when India should have soundlessly changed gear, accelerated its profile and announced it believed that there was no alternative to talks, negotiations and persuasion, Krishna fell back into the warmth of his own, risk-averse rhetoric trap. The tragedy is that even as Krishna spoke for the country in London, a change in India's mindset — attitude, policy, strategy, call it what you will — is already under way in Delhi. The establishment core in another part of South Block is preparing to "evolve" its own black-and-white positions on the Taliban and present a more "nuanced" approach to the global community.

The argument behind this significantly sophisticated approach is that India must return to playing a much bigger role in the ever-changing great game in the innards of Asia. Of course, oil and gas and all those crucial transit routes into central Asia over which Afghanistan sits, like a veritable Nandi bull, are terribly important.

But more than all these prosaic pipelines, it is the dramatic pull of those snow-clad ranges that have accommodated scores of foreign powers from Alexander onwards, that draws India into playing just once more on the Afghan high table. Here, the almighty Americans or Russians have been both bloodied and bested; Iran employs old Persian gambits like the smile behind the veil; Pakistan can barely contain its glee over the fact that Nato troops are desperate to leave; while China, with mandarin-like patience, watches the board quietly and in a side move, buys up the biggest copper deposits in that part of the world.

Actually, this strategy is not new. It dates back to the first year of National Security Adviser Shiv Shanker Menon as foreign secretary in 2006-07, when the first ideas of distinguishing between the "good" and "bad" Taliban were floated around the corridors of South Block. Menon had just returned from Pakistan as high commissioner, all hell was breaking loose in the Af-Pak region, and that's when ideas beyond the realm of common thought and speech began to be articulated.

In fact, the evolution of India's strategy on Afghanistan — which Krishna either missed in London or didn't want to talk about — is really its first big strategic move on the international stage, in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal, and it's all about announcing that India is now part of the solution in Afghanistan.

Of course, all the western powers in London didn't want to discuss the parameters of such a "regional solution" in public glare, even though Gordon Brown had mooted the idea and US leaders like Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Richard Holbrooke had confirmed it. All of them had told Delhi that they wanted India to play a bigger role, including training Afghan security forces.

Here is the western argument favouring India: Pakistan is playing fast and loose with the Afghan Taliban, Iran can't be trusted, China is too much of a competitor to also be allowed to win in Afghanistan, while Russia ... well, Russia is already a big power. That leaves India, a benign presence with both civilian and security capabilities, to upgrade its presence, so that the US and Nato forces can go home peacefully.

Except, the Pakistani veto hangs over the West. The Pakistani army and the ISI, which is playing such a crucial role in battling the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat and Malakand valleys and now in South Waziristan, have told the Americans that they would not tolerate an enhanced Indian influence in Pashtun areas like Kandahar and Jalalabad and in the rest of the country.

This is what explains Pakistan's oft-repeated statement that only Afghanistan's "contiguous neighbours" can be allowed to participate in any "regional" mechanism or structure that may be set up to help the Afghans take charge of their own future. (India, to counter this, has now begun saying that it is a neighbour as Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir hugs the Wakhan corridor.) That is why Turkey, under Pakistani pressure, did not invite India to participate in its day-long conference on Afghanistan in Istanbul on Monday (on the eve of the London conference). That is why several influential Pakistani analysts link a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with promises to the US that they will upgrade the fight against the Afghan Taliban.

That is why the Pakistanis won't grant trade and transport access to Afghan trucks that want to cross Pakistani territory to come right up to India. And that is also why the Pakistan army and the ISI have decided, according to Pakistani newspapers like the Lahore-based Daily Times, that only they will make decisions over Afghanistan-related policies.

In the face of this determined Pakistani resistance, western leaders are now asking India to help. How can India help itself by enhancing its own profile in inner Asia as well as help the US and Nato forces? First of all, India could moderate its hardline positions on the Taliban, and secondly, it can start a dialogue with Pakistan so as to try and assuage Islamabad's fears.

The second is easier said than done, but the first is much easier to implement. Especially, since Karzai himself has been pursuing this skein of thought for some time, and in London, the rest of the world followed suit. India, on the other hand, was the only major power which dissented.

Perhaps the time has come for SM Krishna to talk to his own establishment on the direction of India's strategy on Afghanistan — and Pakistan.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

GEETANJALI KRISHNA: OLD ISN'T GOLD, IT'S COPPER

GEETANJALI KRISHNA

 

Looking at you, I feel life has come full circle," commented the old man, when he saw me looking longingly at the traditional hand-beaten vessels of brass and copper in his shop. I was in Jaipur's Tripolia Bazaar, trying to figure out how many kilos of metal ware I could carry around without dislocating my shoulders. Entering his dim old shop aglitter with pots, pans and plates, I asked: "Why do you say that?" He smiled: "When I was a child, all the pots and pans in my mother's kitchen were made of copper and brass. I still remember how she'd scour them out with cut lemons to make them gleam…" said he, reminiscing how the best pots and pans from their family shop invariably landed up in their family kitchen.

"At that time, my mother used to say that storing water in a copper vessel was not only good for health, it even purified unclean water," said he, "and she simmered dal slowly in an old brass pot everyday … it tasted incredible!" Copper, he said, was an excellent conductor of heat, which meant that food cooked much faster in it. However, the look of his family kitchen as well as the flavour of the food they ate changed subtly when stainless steel and aluminum made their appearance. "Suddenly, these shiny new vessels that were comparatively easier to manage, replaced all our old utensils," said he. These were soon supplemented by non-stick pans and pressure cookers: "And the merchandise in our shop here also changed accordingly."

Soon the only copper and brass utensils he sold were the ones used for religious rituals. "There were just no takers for kitchen utensils made from brass and copper. For one thing, these metals were more expensive than steel — copper is currently priced at about Rs 250 a kilo, brass at Rs 180 while steel is barely about Rs 40," said he. Further, unlike steel which is relatively easy to maintain, copper and brass needed regular polishing and non-reactive tin coating (to prevent acids in food from reacting with the metal).

Of late, however, things have come full circle with a resurgence of interest in copper and brass. "A foreigner who came to my shop said that in the West, they now believe that drinking water from a copper jug can actually prevent the graying of hair! She actually said that she would use the copper jug she'd bought from me, and stop taking her supplements," said he. He now finds that the utensils that he and his family had dismissed as being old fashioned, have suddenly regained their desirability. "When I was young, only cheaper pots were hand-beaten into shape. Today, they command a better price because people find them more attractive. The fact that they are handmade and often imperfect in their shape only seems to add to their beauty. Instead, people now look down on steel and actually say aluminium utensils are bad for health … how times change!"

Even more incredible, said he, was the fact that there were so many more takers for what he called "second hand" (read "antique") kitchen things. "There's no question of selling those by weight! The other day, the shop next door sold a blackened old handi that had been lying in their store for decades, for five times its price!" said he. Every other day, he said, not just tourists but savvy locals would come to him, asking for "old" utensils. "All I can think of is why my dear departed mother didn't have the foresight to keep her old handis and degchis instead of selling them for scrap!"

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

KISHORE SINGH: MORE KIMCHI THAN TEA

KISHORE SINGH

 

We haven't had anybody home to tea in a long time, at least socially — it's not something anyone makes time for any more, right? It's another matter that visitors who stop by during the day because they have business with my wife, do not find us wanting when it comes to hospitality. There is always cake "strictly for guests — don't even look at it!", and cookies "not for home, you can eat the soggy ones from the bin", and lots of other stuff because "it looks good on a tray", and when the cook is in the mood, something hot and fresh from the oven. And enough consideration for chance drop-ins: Might they like a soupy broth on a winter's day? Should there be mince pies on standby, perhaps a nice chocolate pudding in the fridge?

So when you throw the largest tea bash, as the president does every Republic Day, with a couple of thousand guests at last count, and diplomats, expats, ministers, judges and, of course, people like us to be fed and watered, planning the menu could prove to be more complicated than bringing down or swearing in governments. Should there, you can imagine the president briefing the cook, be bhelpuri mixed fresh, pav-bhaaji hot off the griddle, perhaps kheer, or kulfi even? Or, as they do at high teas at five-star hotels, might it not be a splendid feast instead, complete with — no, not tea or coffee, that's so literal — a flute of champagne, a tulip of a fine wine?

"Plain cucumber sandwiches, definitely," recommends my wife, who may not be on the presidential menu committee, but has definite views on what you can, or cannot, serve at a tea. Having grown up in Kolkata when it was still Calcutta, where teas were something the bhadralok took seriously, her inclinations lie in the direction of tarts and quiches and jammy pies, cutlets and croquets and other things nice.

Having refrained from co-opting my wife on to the tasting table, Rashtrapati Bhawan probably took the easy way out and left it to some kitchen committee to cater to those wanting a presidential tuck-in. I could understand my wife's disappointment. The previous year, there had been near-riots every time the pakoras ran out, for pakoras, no matter how hoi-polloi, are good tea stuff. But here we were amidst the tulips braving the chill at the Mughal Gardens, and what should we find but that humblest of snacks, the samosa, looking oddly out of place amidst all the grandeur of guests dressed up and decked out, many with medals and pips and piping that had the pageantry of theatre than a mere tea party. It might be the most well-known Indian snack all the way from the crowded lanes of Chandni Chowk to the high streets of Southall, but it isn't what you expect to break daintily in the company of ambassadors and heads of state. There was dhokla to accompany it, something we're informed the president is partial to, and some strangely coloured pastries that, understandably, did little to attract discerning diners.

But strangest of all — and one must wonder what the Korean premier, who was chief guest, made of it — were chilli paneer and chilli chicken, an ode to Sino-Indian fusion food, something you might expect at a big fat Indian wedding sangeet to accompany your adulterated scotch. But at tea with the president? "It's a case of kimchi," explained my wife, and seeing me look perplexed, explained, "all mixed up and seasoned like the Indian democracy." "I'd really like to set the menu," she sighed, tucking away her plate of uneaten tea behind a shrub for some gardener to find later, "do you think if I call the president for tea, she might come home?"

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS

WEI GU

 

Google/China: The US government wants to make Google's dispute with China part of the battle for the philosophic high ground in the globalised world. Beijing is willing to see it the same way. The Chinese are increasingly frustrated with what they consider to be America's moral overreach — an unjustified assumption that it is always right.

The search giant is worried about hacking and government interference in China. The White House has publically backed Google's threat to leave the country. The motivations are mixed.

US politicians are genuinely concerned about Chinese limitations on free speech and the Chinese threat to the internet infrastructure. They are also well aware that the US runs a big trade deficit with the People's Republic. Cyber freedom gives the United States a shiny new weapon in negotiating with China.

The Chinese leaders have a different view. They are certainly not about to endorse hacking in public. But like most of their peers around they world, they are prone to consider electronic espionage as a facet of modern statecraft — condemned when others do it but tolerated or even encouraged if it serves the national interest. As for internet freedom, the authorities there believe, along with both Confucians and Marxists, that social order almost always trumps individual freedom. Besides, they see nothing to regret about a Google-free China. State-owned media could grow to fill any voids.

China might soothe the latest tensions with concessions on trade — orders for aircraft and soybeans have sent an emollient political-economic message to Washington in the past.

But such fixes will only be temporary. The ideological gap between the two powers is still wide. As China rises, it will get more assertive and less patient. The failure of the US financial model has added to Beijing's confidence.

The Americans would do well to focus on hacking, since they will get global support in the fight against Chinese cyber-aggression. Common ground can probably be found on this issue, with or without Google staying in China. But the struggle of world views is just starting.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BEARD UNTIL 2014

RICHARD BEALES

 

Bernanke: Ben Bernanke needs to return to the Federal Reserve with fresh ideas — and perhaps a dose of contrition. Don't expect a radical shift. But the 70-30 Senate vote giving him a second term at the head of the US central bank showed an unusual level of dissent. That just might encourage some adjustments.

Bernanke hasn't been eager to admit that the Fed's loose monetary policy played a part in the credit bubble and subsequent crunch. Instead, he has blamed weak regulation. As for keeping rates low, the Fed has claimed it needed to head off a deflationary threat that now seems to have been more perceived than real.

The Fed's policy wonks may quietly be shifting away from the contention of Alan Greenspan, Bernanke's predecessor, that the central bank shouldn't even try to deflate asset price bubbles. But a more public admission that the Fed kept interest rates too low would be welcome. And a pledge to take on obvious bubbles could enhance Bernanke's credibility now that the time to lift interest rates can't be far off.

He needs that boost in standing. Even Paul Volcker in 1983 only had 16 senators object to his reappointment at the helm of the Fed, despite the fact his tough monetary policy had helped push America into a recession.

What's left of the Fed's independence from political pressure is also at stake. Bernanke has gone along with expensive bailouts orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations without much demur.

He may have believed that was for the best, but he could now stake out a less malleable-looking position for the Fed by, for example, speaking out in favor of aggressive reductions in government deficits as the economy recovers.

Bernanke has advocated the central bank getting even more regulatory authority — but he could ease off that tack if it looks like it will come with costs to the Fed's autonomy, such as audits of monetary policymaking. Standing up for the independence of the central bank's policymakers is more important than becoming a super-regulator.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CAT RETEST FROM TODAY, 10,000 TO APPEAR

CHITRA UNNITHAN & VINAY UMARJI

 

Nearly 10,000 MBA applicants will take the second phase (retest) of the Common Admission Test (CAT) 2009 over the next two days (January 30 and 31) after the prestigious examination, which was computerised last year, had to be extended due to technical glitches.

Prometric, the US company which provided software for the test, has announced a change in schedule for the morning session due to bad weather in many parts of India. "Due to potential adverse weather conditions in parts of India, and to further protect the integrity and security of CAT, Prometric and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) will change the morning session to start at noon. Candidates scheduled for this session need to arrive at their test centres by 10 am for security and identity checks," Prometric said in a statement.

While on the one hand, some candidates who were satisfied with their first attempt, have declined to take the retest, others are pensive about it. At least four aspirants from Ahmedabad, who were called for the second phase of CAT, have declined the offer and asked the IIMs to consider their previous scores. "The centres allotted to us are not in Ahmedabad. Moreover, we were satisfied with our previous scores. Hence, we decided not to take the retest," said an aspirant in Ahmedabad.

"During the first attempt, my timer did not work, resulting in extra time for the test. The IIMs have called me for the test and although I think the test went fine, I will have to attempt it again. It's a bit unfair but I will have to go with the flow," said another candidate from Bangalore.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UPBEAT RBI

 

The third quarter review of monetary policy 2009-10 by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) surprises on four counts. One, it raises the cash reserve ratio (CRR), the quantum of their deposits and borrowings that banks must keep with the RBI, by 75, rather than 50, basis points as widely expected by the market. Two, it hikes the growth projection for the current fiscal from a fairly conservative 6.0% to an unabashedly optimistic 7.5%.


Three, it raises the inflation estimate for March 2010 from already worrisome 6.5%.to an unconscionably high 8.5% (and without any apology). And four, it is remarkably (mercifully?) brief, without the obligatory paragraphs on the nitty-gritty of financial market products/regulation/credit delivery etc. Needless to say, the stock market promptly fell, spooked more by the higher-than-expected hike in CRR than boosted by the central bank's healthy growth projection.


And though it did recover by the day's end — the BSE Sensex ended 376 points up from the day's low, its initial reaction was, perhaps, not entirely irrational. After all, the CRR hike is for real, while the growth number is only an estimate. And by the look of things, a rather optimistic one. The economy grew only 7% in the first half and the RBI expects third quarter growth to come in lower than the 7.9% recorded in the second quarter. Assuming third quarter growth is about 7% that means the economy will have to grow at close to 9% in the fourth quarter, a prospect that seems unlikely as the effect of the Sixth Pay Commission payouts would have worn out by then.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the RBI's inflation projection for end-March 2010. At 8.5% it is not only two percentage points higher than the projection made in October 2009 but also close to three times its avowed medium-term goal of 3%. To be sure, the central bank has its limitations in tackling price rise; limitations posed by fiscal dominance, poor absorptive capacity of the economy that makes it difficult to utilise capital inflows and ends up adding to the RBI's woes in managing money supply. But then none of this is new. Yet despite these odds the bank has delivered reasonably well in the past and so, with some luck, will deliver in the future as well.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A WELCOME INITIATIVE

 

It is welcome that electricity regulator CERC has notified norms for online trading and exchange in the interstate power market. In tandem, we need "open access" for line capacity and rationalisation of transmission charges. While the national power scenario is one of shortages, overall, at any given time, there are areas and entire regions that are nominally power surplus.


Hence the rationale to expedite power exchange cross-country and make better use of existing capacity. It would mean stepping up supply by incurring only marginal costs. Yet a panoply of extant rigidities in supply and evacuation stultify pan-India power exchange. The new norms for inter-state sales would be applicable to all contracts transacted on power exchanges, other exchanges and also bilaterally, that is, over the counter, OTC. CERC has mandated that service charges on power exchanges do not exceed 0.75% of the transaction value for 'day ahead' and 'term ahead' contracts .


Such charges would be separate from those levied by the power exchange, transmission (open access) charges, and other charges payable by the national or regional or state load despatch centre, plus statutory taxes etc. This is too high. It is precisely because of high transaction costs that electricity trading accounts for a tiny fraction of total supply. We need systemic overhaul and reforms to purposefully rev up the power market.

The CERC norms require a clearing corporation (CC) for setting up power exchange. It makes sense to set the minimum net worth condition of eligibility low, but why limit the number of exchanges to two? Competition among exchanges is a desirable means to lower transaction costs and enhanced robustness of systems. Any exchange that meets the regulatory norms laid out should be allowed to operate. Nor does it make sense to deprive an exchange of an investor with a sizeable stake. A condition that no investor can have more than 5% stake in an exchange will hinder creation of new exchanges and also leave exchange managements relatively unaccountable.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEELING TOUCH

 

When Victoria Beckham, the high priestess of stilettos , was photo-graphed recently in flat ballet pumps — accoutrement she has often publicly derided — it was presumed that bunions had indeed got the better of her. There was nothing remotely low-key about her luxury-labelled flats, so podiatry problems have not forced the diva onto the back foot.


Rather, she may simply want to be instep with the times. Mavens are already predicting that after reaching the absolute limit to which they could arch and enclose the female foot, shoe maestros are bound to climb down soon. In any case, all those doomsday prognostications about damage from high heels could fall flat, if two university researchers are to be believed.


In separate studies they have averred that cushioned running shoes actually harm the foot more than Posh's vertiginous stilettos as they make runners land heel-first , causing greater stress on joints. This is a claim that the $20 billion running-shoe industry is unlikely to take in its stride, but research shows a 30% increase in knee joint torque when people run in padded shoes as opposed to barefoot.


Victoria's toes should wiggle in delight to learn that their hours spent contorted inside designer heels have not been in vain, for the average torque increase when feet are encased in heels, apparently only varies from 20% to 26%. The implication is that running with less padded shoes, like old fashioned keds or plimsolls, dramatically reduces deleterious impacts, as they make wearers run on the balls of their feet. No wonder those Kenyans and Ethiopian long distance runners can last through marathons barefoot !


As one researcher, the professor of anthropology, extols the evolutionary virtues of humans walking barefoot, the other is in the midst of developing a revolutionary shoe that will strike a golden mean on joint-safety . If the invention measures up to Ms Beckham's high standards in style and stature, and yet provide a comfortable (st)ride, perhaps they can be named Posh Puppies.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CRR HIKE MAY TAKE INVESTORS TO FIPS

NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

 

MUMBAI: The RBI move to hike cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 75 basis points is expected to increase demand for fixed income schemes which invest in short-term debt paper. With short-term interest rates expected to strengthen following the central bank's move and the equity market turning volatile, investors are likely to switch to short-term debt (money market) schemes such as ultra short-term funds and liquid schemes.


"Liquidity in the short term is going to be tight after RBI's move and companies' advance tax outflows in March. We see demand for short-term paper," said A Balasubramanian, CEO, Birla SunLife Mutual Fund. RBI on Friday raised the cash reserve ratio — the minimum cash that banks need to keep with the central bank — by 75 basis points, a move that will drain out about Rs 36,000 crore from the banking system. The step is the central bank's first major response to inflationary pressures that have gripped the economy.


Fund managers recommend investing in money market schemes of up to one-year maturity. "Yields on the short-term paper of three months to 1-year tenure are likely to harden by 25-50 basis points over the next couple of months. Investors could use this rise in rates this to lock in higher returns in such money market schemes," said Nandkumar Surti, CIO, JP Morgan Asset Management. Money market schemes invest in instruments such as treasury bills, certificates of deposit and commercial paper, which are less susceptible to interest rate movements, unlike gilt mutual funds.


Mr Surti feels investors could wait till the Union Budget on February 26 to decide about investments in gilt funds or schemes that invest in government bonds. The government will reveal its borrowing programme for 2010-11 in the Budget, which will determine the supply of sovereign paper into the market.


"If the government's borrowing programme is projected at Rs 4-4.5-lakh crore, there is a distinct possibility of the 10-year rising above 8%," Mr Surti said. The government sold bonds worth Rs 4.5-lakh crore this fiscal to finance its fiscal stimulus packages.


Higher government borrowing would result in increased supply of bonds, which will negatively impact prices and push up yields. Bond yields and prices move in opposite direction; when yields rise, prices fall and vice versa. Gilt funds trade in government bonds to benefit from the capital appreciation. But money market funds only try to capture higher yields, since the instruments are of shorter duration and lose lesser value when rates rise.

Yields on 10-year government bonds on Friday marginally rose to 7.59%, from 7.55% the previous day, despite the CRR hike. Fund managers said the rise in the benchmark paper of about 270 basis points (2.7%) in the past one year has already factored in the effect of a CRR hike.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SEBI LIKELY TO TIGHTEN RULES FOR RATING AGENCIES

REENA ZACHARIAH

 

 MUMBAI: Capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is likely to tighten regulations for credit rating agencies (CRAs), at its board meet on February 2. The regulator is also expected to pass a final order in the case on National Securities Depository's role in the share allotment scam in the public issues which hit the market in 2003-05. The regulator had held a fresh hearing in the case last month, overruling the order passed by a Sebi-constituted special committee last year.


The committee had directed NSDL to conduct an independent enquiry and fix individual responsibilities for the depository's failure to meet its legal duties and responsibilities.The two-member committee — comprising part-time Sebi members G Mohan Gopal and V Leeladhar — had been set up to prevent a conflict of interest since Sebi chairman CB Bhave was formerly the chairman of NSDL. The regulator's decision to overrule the order of the committee attracted criticism from a section of legal circles.


On the issue of tighter regulations for CRAs, the government appointed committee on Comprehensive Regulation For
Credit Rating Agencies had said in its recent report: "...given the recent global experiences and emerging trends in regulation there is undoubtedly a case for re-look at the CRA business models and strengthening of regulations."

The committee's report, which covers issues relating to the usage of credit rating services by different stakeholders in the present multi-regulatory environment also said: "...there may be enhanced disclosures, continuation of the issuer-pays model, strengthened process and compliance audit, reporting of ownership changes, disclosure of default and transition statistics and strengthening the CRA Regulation in tune with these suggestions.

Early this month, Sebi made it compulsory for credit rating agencies to have internal audits conducted on a half-yearly basis, that would cover all aspects of CRA operations and procedures, including investor grievance redressal mechanism. The history of credit rating in India can be traced to 1987 with the setting up of Crisil. At present, there are five registered credit rating agencies in India, including CARE, Icra, Fitch, Crisil and Brickwork Ratings India.


At its board meet, Sebi will also discuss the rationalisation of fees for filing draft offer document for rights issues. In the recent past, the regulator had also reduced the disclosure norms for rights issues, as they are further issuances of capital made by listed entities to its existing shareholders.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FUNDS MAKING A BEELINE FOR GOLD FUND OF FUNDS

 

MUMBAI: Late in December, Benchmark Asset Management joined a couple of other mutual funds to file its offer documents with Sebi to launch gold fund of funds (FoF) in India. A FoF is an investment strategy of holding a portfolio of other investment funds.


A gold FoF, which invests in gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and reflects its returns, will help investors bet on the yellow metal without maintaining a demat account of a stock broker. Currently, investors in India can take exposure to gold by buying the metal physically or investing in gold ETFs offered by local mutual funds. Gold ETFs are passively-managed funds, which are listed and traded on stock exchanges, and designed to mirror the returns from physical gold in the spot market. But many investors, who don't have a demat account, haven't been able to transact gold ETFs, as buying or selling them can be done only through stock brokers.


Gold FoF attempts to remove this obstacle for investors, who are reluctant to open a demat account. More significantly, investors can use the systematic investment plan (SIP) facility, which involves investing in mutual fund units in regular intervals, to invest in gold units. Mutual funds don't offer the SIP facility for gold ETFs unlike for equity schemes.


"I would recommend gold FoF to clients for its operational advantages more than anything, as not many will be interested in opening a demat just to trade gold ETFs," said Gaurav Mashruwala, a Mumbai-based wealth advisor.

Gold was the second most sought-after asset class after equity in 2009, as the metal was considered a hedge against the falling US dollar, sovereign downgrades and inflation. Though the US dollar has rebounded and may remain strong for a while, the popularity of gold is unlikely to decline in 2010, as investors see risks in withdrawal of stimulus by governments worldwide and monetary tightening by central banks.


In India, there are six gold ETFs currently offered by some mutual fund companies and a handful more are in the queue to launch one. For gold FoF, Reliance Mutual Fund and UTI Mutual Fund are the other asset management companies, which had applied to Sebi last year.

 

But gold FoF is not a product for the cost-conscious investor. Fees for FoF are typically higher than those on regular funds, because expenses include part of the fees charged by the underlying funds. "Any day, a gold ETF is a better product than an FoF, because of the cost advantage, as additional expenses eat into returns. Returns from gold in 2009 have been quite volatile," said a top official with a fund house, which offers a gold ETF.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIAN TELCOS CAN BECOME GLOBAL PLAYERS: BT CHIEF

SUDESHNA SEN

 

DAVOS: Sir Mike Rake has been coming to Davos for over 12 years, and good-naturedly grumbles that he's not sure he likes it any more, his team makes him do things like waking up at "6 am and work." He's also chairman of British Telecom, one of the world's largest telecom players and a rare-surviving British company. He spoke to ET at the BT office in Davos about the future of BT, Indian telecom, the state of the world, and more.

"India," says Sir Mike, "is going mad on mobiles. But sooner or later it needs huge investment in infrastructure on the ground. We've found that because of the increased demand for capacity, people are moving back to fixed lines and fibre after a point. We saw this huge surge in mobile dongles, but after a while there are reliability issues, and the demand is for a fixed lines," he says. It could be because he's a fixed line man, but Sir Mike isn't a fan of the mobile-replacing-everything school of thought. He sounds bullish about the future of India's telecom industry.


"Of course, Indian telecom companies can become global competitors. It's an exciting telecom industry, a massive domestic marketplace. We have 5000 people in India, and another 20,000 employed indirectly," he says. "If we look over a five-year period, we see at least a 10-25% growth in India," he says.


Outrpiced in the outsourcing market? "Every single country can be outpriced. Even in India, costs have escalated from what they used to be. So yes, you have to remain competitive through technology and value addition," he says.


He happens to believe that India has some of the best centres of innovation, outsourcing and services, and is way ahead of China in innovative research. He should know, BT has its research spread out through research centres in UK, India, and Dalian in China. And technology and research is central to BT's strategy — and Sir Mike says its strategy now is to execute, invest in its global services division, which has been through some hard times, and "give customers what they need and want, and invest in research and technology to keep pace," with new technologies like cloud computing, virtualisation, things like that, and that naturally, is where India comes in.


What he's not so confident about is the state of the rest of the world. "Last year we were sitting on the edge of a volcano, now we're balanced at the bottom of the pit," he says. But he foresees a very low return to growth.
Youth unemployment, he feels is one of the biggest challenges facing global business today, across the board. Ask him about the rise of protectionism, and we've touched a raw nerve. "It's a political reality, it always happens. It damages the people it tries to protect the most, but.." In this debate, Sir Mike feels that BT is on the losers side. "In terms of access, everyone can access BTs networks in UK, but we suffer in terms of access in say, US, continental Europe." And yes, India too. He strongly believes that UK's open access policy is better for the market, and says that improves access to broadband, to knowledge, and networks."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A COMPOSER OF COSMIC TUNES

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

So moved was Pandit Dinkar Kaikini by Neil Armstrong's lunar landing that he celebrated the astronaut's giant step for mankind' with a sublime composition set to raga Bhairav. "Men have returned from the conquest of the moonworld (Aayo hai jitake manav chandralok)," the Agra gharana maestro said:


"The entire cosmos and the universe are astonished / blessed are earthlings, inventors of the lunar craft/ blessed is Neil who brought back moondust. (Chakit bhayo vishwa brahmand saro /dhan dhan Prithvijan jin racho yaan /Aur dhan Neil Shashi raja layo hai.)"


With mastery over an enviable range of genres from dhrupad-dhamar to khayal, thumri and tappa, Pandit Kaikini nevertheless believed in the primacy of existential quest in music over that of mere entertainment or sensual satisfaction.


"Music is fundamentally atmaranjan , not manoranjan," he insisted. "It is meant to please the soul, not the mind and at its highest music that touches the soul truly communicates the inner intent of the musician." Like votaries of Surat Shabda Yoga, the octogenarian maestro who passed away this week, believed that primal consciousness projects itself into form and assumes the two primary attributes of light and sound. He used to point out that it is no accident that in the revelatory literature of major religions there are frequent references to the 'word' or Shabd; this occupied a central position in their cosmic view of things.


In the Gospels, for example, we have St John proclaiming, "in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Indian scriptures also speak of the sacred syllable pervading the three realms of bhur, bhuva and swah (the physical, astral and causal). Similarly , among the Sufis we have Shams of Tabrez singing, "Creation came into being from Saut (Sound or Word) and from Saut spread all light."


Panditji believed in primeval sound (anahata nada) that had been pervading the cosmos for eons. Humans had merely to tap into that energy and with intense concentration they could channelise it towards music. Such beliefs also led Pandit Kaikini to a serene modesty which coexisted peacefully with his scintillating genius. Panditji could therefore claim that he'd never created anything: all his compositions had been already created . He was fortunate to be so finely attuned that he could access these creations from the cosmos!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'BANKERS HAVE ASSURED RATES WON'T RISE SOON

 

'RBI governor D Subbarao said the hike in cash reserve ratio will result in three major outcomes. It will anchor inflationary expectations, support growth and allow a calibrated exit from the accommodative stance. The governor spoke to mediapersons on the thinking behind the policy after his meeting with banks.


On whether the CRR hike would lead to higher lending rates...

When we had the meeting with banks this morning, we talked about the impact of the hike in CRR. It will definitely put a cost to them but they have told us that lending rates will not go up immediately. As the central bank, we can only signal rates. It is up to banks to act on them.


On the choice of CRR as a monetary tool...

We struggled with a combination of price and quality-based variables for this policy. Four considerations guided us: First, inflation is driven by supply-side pressures with food as a big driver. Second, since the recovery is not broadbased, we need to support the recovery process. Third, we decided that the process of normalisation should begin with absorbing liquidity and fourth, a CRR hike by 75 basis points will withdraw liquidity by a predictable amount unlike an interest rate measure where absorption of liquidity would be on a day-to-day basis and uncertain.


On when inflation will start moderating?

On the assumption of a normal monsoon and global oil prices remaining around the current level, we expect that inflation will be moderate by July 2010. On the positive side, there is the prospect of the rabi crop being better than expected and vegetable prices coming down. On the negative side, there are supply-side concerns, there could be an upsurge in oil prices if global recovery is stronger than expected.


On RBI's policy stance...

Our policy stance has been shaped by three important considerations. First, a consolidating recovery should encourage us to explicitly shift our stance from managing the crisis to managing the recovery and it is necessary to carry forward the process of exit further. Even though the inflationary pressure on the domestic economy predominantly stems from the supply side, the consolidating recovery increased the risk of these pressures spilling over into a wider inflationary process. And, thirdly, strong anti-inflationary measures may undermine

the recovery which is yet to take hold.

 

On why growth targets were revised dramatically...

In the second quarter review in October 2009, we had projected a 6% growth in GDP with

an upside bias. Recent movements in industrial activity suggest that the upside bias has materialised. Assuming a near-zero growth in agricultural production, and continued recovery in industrial production and services, the baseline projections for GDP growth for 2009-10 is revised to 7.5%. To qualify growth projections, there are upside possibilities and downside risks.


On the positive side, rabi prospects could be better than we expect now, a stronger industrial recovery, a much stronger export pick-up revival in private consumption and private investments and favourable capital markets are positive sentiments. On the negative side is the impact of the kharif crop on growth, which can be more discouraging than we factored in.


While the services sector connected with domestic economy is doing well, the services connected with external economy are yet to pick up. There are pressures on interest rates because of revival in private credit demand and government borrowing programme.

On the extent to which growth is driven by fiscal stimulus.....

In the last policy review, we had pointed out that growth was driven by stimulus. Since then we have more recent numbers. We have noted in the recent policy document that private consumption and private demand have started picking up. So we are not as dependent on the fiscal stimulus as we were six months ago. We believe the budget in February-end must begin the process of fiscal consolidation and lay the road map for medium-term fiscal responsibility.


On managing government borrowing..

We have assumed a fiscal deficit of 5.5% which the finance minister has put out in a medium-term statement. There is of course a question of what GDP do you assume. We have our GDP estimates... if those projections come to be true in the coming Budget, the borrowing programme in net terms will be roughly equivalent to the borrowing programme in the current year. In gross terms, it might be higher because there might be quite a bit of redemption in 2010. We have said there is a transient component and a structural component to the fiscal stimulus. The government must begin a phased withdrawal of the transient component. On the structural component, there is the Sixth Pay Commission award.


Whether rising portfolio flows are a worry....

Capital flows to India will increase. Over the past few weeks, we did not have to take any action (with respect to the inflows) because they were in line with our current account deficit. In future, if we find they are out of line with our current account deficit, and are volatile and causing macro-economic imbalances, we will take measures. Since the debt side of the flows gives us greater leverage, we will take debt side action.


We do not see any asset bubble as there is no bank lending for playing in asset markets. But there is certainly a concern of an increase in asset prices, and the CRR increase is in response to this.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INFLATION: RBI MEANS BUSINESS

 

Rising prices have been a growing nightmare for the common people. The Reserve Bank of India, aware of this, sent out the strongest signal ever about its intention to curb inflation and inflationary expectations in its third quarter monetary and credit policy on Friday. It raised the cash reserve ratio (CRR), i.e. the cash that the banks have to keep with the RBI, by 75 basis points. The move will withdraw Rs 36,000 crores from the banking system in two phases. This is not much if you consider the immense liquidity of over Rs 1 lakh crores in the system, but it sends a strong message about inflation concerns while not curbing the lending capacity of banks, which fuels industrial growth. The good news is that the bankers have told the RBI that there would be no immediate hike in interest rates so borrowers, whether for homes or autos, can still take advantage of the low interest rate scenario. Interestingly, despite the fears expressed by the RBI on "teaser" interest rates by a few banks, there has been no major increase in demand for housing loans. Till November, according to the RBI's own figures, housing loans grew by just seven per cent. The RBI revised upwards its inflation figures for March 2010 to 8.5 per cent from the 6.5 per cent it had projected in its October policy, and also its GDP growth figures to 7.5 per cent from seven per cent in October. It, however, expects inflation to moderate from July 2010 onwards provided crude prices remain stable and there is a normal monsoon. Food prices have been the real culprits behind rising inflation. The wholesale price index would have been 7.3 per cent, the RBI said, had it not been for food prices contributing about 2.1 per cent. While the good news is that the economy is on the growth path, the not so good news is that this growth is not uniform. It has been restricted to the auto sector, consumer durables and, partly, construction, which have boosted the steel and cement industries. But the vast services sectors, like tourist arrivals, cargo handled at sea ports, and services dependant on external demand like exports, either declined or showed decelerated growth. Much of the growth, at least two per cent of GDP, was due to the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission awarding arrears. The RBI governor, Dr D. Subbarao, made it clear that while the RBI has started its exit from the accommodative monetary policy that it has maintained in view of the fallout of the global financial crisis, the Government of India would have to do the same with its fiscal policies if the monetary polices are to be effective. It will have to roll back its borrowing programmes and unwind its huge fiscal deficit, which is 5.5 per cent of GDP. The RBI governor hoped the government in its coming Budget would indicate its intentions through a road map for fiscal consolidation and spell out the broad contours of its tax policies and expenditure compression. The RBI said it will keep monitoring the situation as there are still large pitfalls ahead.

 

At the end of the day the economy will be on a stronger footing if there is a better balance between private sector spending and government spending. This is one of the reasons why the RBI did not touch the interest or repo rates.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

KITCHEN TERRORISTS

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "Irony is the way to the heart of the sceptic,

Money to the heart of the cynic".

From The Proverbs

of Bachchoo

 

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai tells Britain's Gordon Brown that he wants American and British forces to stay in Afghanistan for the next 15 years. This is not what Mr Brown wants to hear. Mr Brown's government is looking for ways of promising in this election, and in hard times, withdrawal from foreign wars.

 

Both the government and the Tory Opposition agree that Britain is in Afghanistan to prevent terror attacks on its cities planned and executed from that country.

 

The argument is an empty one. Britain has experienced several incidents of terror and attempted terror from the 2005 train bombings to the attempt to suicide bomb Glasgow airport and to blow up night clubs in London. Ten other terror plots have been detected and defused, the plotters, almost all British citizens, jailed.

 

When they are apprehended and brought to justice there is inevitable play made of their connection with wider terrorist networks. They may themselves boast of being subsidiaries of Al Qaeda, but the link to the caves of Tora Bora province is at best tenuous.

 

They may have been instructed in bomb-making in Pakistan or in the Yemen, but the bags of fertiliser and bottles of hydrogen peroxide they buy to make their bombs, the vehicles they drive and the mobile phones and computers they use are British consumer goods. It doesn't take members of Al Qaeda to plot terror. It can be done by E-Qaeda fantasists who email some "high command" and plot their murder in the basements of High Wycombe or Bradford.

 

It is from within these towns and communities that information needs to be gathered to prevent terror on our streets. Ten serious plots have been foiled over the last few years by intelligence work whose main task has been to penetrate the life and activity of communities which are in every social and cultural sense immigrant "ghettoes". The description doesn't necessarily imply abject poverty. Some of these communities, now four generations deep, are prosperous, but they remain isolated. High Wycombe, home to a terror gang, now jailed, which plotted the manufacture and detonation of chemical bombs, is situated about 20 miles to the west of London. It is and was a prosperous town with suburbs spread over rolling hills, farms around, small industries and a large Pakistani immigrant population. This immigrant population, now in its third or fourth generation of settlement, is concentrated in a few square miles of the town and has from there spread out in pockets to the rolling suburbs.

 

Most of the Pakistani population is from Mirpur in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. The community is, as far as the rest of operative Britain is concerned, self-enclosed. Very few British people can characterise the culture or life of such a community. It remains, not a mystery, but a willy-nilly unexplored, uninteresting urban reality.

 

In September 2008 the house of businessman Munir Hussein is invaded by three thugs. The thugs wielding knives, break into the semi-detached house, threaten Mr Hussein, his wife and three children, tie them up and proceed to beat Mr Hussein in a brutal fashion.

 

Mr Hussein fights back, manages to overpower the intruders and his shouts bring his brother who lives next door into the fray. Mr Hussein and the brother now chase the intruders down the street wielding a metal pole and a cricket bat. Two of the intruders get away. A third, one Walid Salem, a known criminal with a long record, is caught by the brothers and beaten with the pole and cricket bat in such a fashion that the bat breaks into three pieces. Salem is left brain damaged on the pavement.

 

Mr Hussein and his brother are arrested by the police for the assault on Salem. Salem is charged with attempted robbery and unlawful detention of the family he tied up when assaulting Mr Hussein, but he is permanently brain damaged and unable to plead. He has 50 past convictions but on this occasion gets a discharge. In December 2009, Mr Hussein and his brother Tokeer are charged with "grievous bodily harm" to Salem and given sentences of 30 months and 39 months respectively.

 

There is a huge outcry in the country at large. People write to the newspapers, politicians air their opinions on TV and even on the floor of Parliament. Mr Hussein is a hero for defending his home and family against thieves. He may not quite be entitled to batter a thief senseless a 100 yards down the street from the scene of the attempted burglary, but he is surely entitled to defend his home, property and family. The law that convicts him for using force against an intruder is wrong. Mr Hussein becomes a national hero and a week ago, the Lord Chief Justice volunteers to hear his appeal and cuts his sentence to 12 months and suspends it, which means that he is free to go and will only serve more time in jail if he re-offends.

 

Justice seems to have been done. Except that in the wake of his national notoriety, people from the High Wycombe community begin to talk to the press. As a friend of mine from High Wycombe tells me, Salem is a well known knife for hire. He and his accomplices were not in Mr Hussein's house to rob it. They had been hired by another Pakistani businessman of the town to beat up Mr Hussein who, this businessman alleges, had dishonoured him by having an affair with his wife. It was intrusion for revenge, not robbery.

 

The story was picked up by the newspapers and the allegedly unfaithful wife was picked up by the police. She tells the papers that she knows Mr Hussein but was by no means his lover and that her estranged husband had acted out of acute jealousy and a misinterpretation of the emails, phone calls and text messages she was receiving from Mr Hussein.

 

There will no doubt be further developments in the case, and facts about the affairs, criminal networks and the ethics and ways of settling scores in the closed community will emerge as they do from time to time when the murder of some young woman is exposed as an "honour killing". Mr Hussein may not continue to be seen by outside Britain as the have-a-go-hero he has become and the community will revert to its secret life, harbouring all human goings-on and, perhaps, terror.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HIGH 'PRESSURE'

 

There is a virtual war going on among media persons to get the most sensational sound or video byte from politicians. The competition is fierce because there are more than a dozen news channels in the state — more than in any other region in the country. Reporters naturally have to deliver something round-the-clock, and sometimes their attempts border on the farcical. A young reporter of a news channel was to go live with a story that required a quote from Congress legislator Anam Vivekananda Reddy. But when the reporter went on air, the legislator was in the toilet! With the news desk pressuring him for the "live coverage", the reporter started banging on the toilet door, urging the MLA to finish his task fast and be ready for the cameras! The MLA took his own time and came out grumbling at not having the freedom to sit peacefully even in the toilet.
The reporter ignored the MLA's words, and went ahead with the live telecast.

 

Politicians join channel wars in AP

 

History tells us about the scramble for Africa in the 19th century. In AP, there is now a scramble for TV channels. The TRS chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao, is the latest entrant and is reported to have acquired an obscure entity that he is planning to dedicate solely to T-propaganda. There are dozens of others — film celebrities, ace smugglers, realtors, politico-journalists, journalist-politicos… — who are busy launching channels. What is the big lure? Once can beam one's face through TV as long as one likes. There is also power, money and free publicity. One can also settle political scores.

 

SHOP-LIFTING IS KLEPTOMANIA WHEN THE RICH AND FAMOUS COMMIT IT

Shop-lifting takes on new meanings depending on who has committed the act. If the shop-lifter is from a rich or influential family, he is called a kleptomaniac. But if he's just an ordinary guy, he's called a thief.
The other day the scion of an influential business and political family from West Godavari district was caught shop-lifting a Mont Blanc pen (the guy has expensive tastes) from a shop at Singapore airport. He was fined $700. The news about the businessman, who is also the son-in-law of a senior MP, leaked out. When he returned, a reporter called him to confirm the incident. The moment he heard "Singapore", he disconnected the phone and could not be contacted later.

 

THE INFAMOUS COMMENTS MADE BY KCR

Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao has put his foot in his mouth again. He often uses vocabulary that is not only inflammatory but derogatory as well. He has threatened to kick out "migrants" from other regions and has even said he will not hesitate to cut off the tongues of people who talk against a separate T-state.
His reference to the physically challenged at a recent party workers' meeting, though, was not only politically incorrect but also insensitive. The TRS chief said: Mana Telangana vaste... kuntodo... guddodo... manodu mukhyamantri ayina... mana samasyalu terutai (Telangana people will get a reprieve once their own state is formed even if the chief minister is blind or crippled). Telangana champion Manda Krishna Madiga, who had earlier warned people against calling the physically challenged in the local slang, remained silent. Obviously, the Telangana sentiment is so strong, it has overshadowed his love for the physically challenged.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE PADMAS & CHAPLOOSI

BY SHOBHAA'S TAKE

 

How we love our controversies! Especially when they involve awards! We quarrel over everything — those who got them, those who didn't. Those who should have, etc, etc. We are obsessed with awards and rewards. Right now it's the Padmas. And Sant Chatwal. He is the one guy everybody (but Manmohan Singh) loathes. Sant gets our goat! The question everybody's asking is, "How on earth did this undesirable man get one of the nation's highest recognitions?" Some of us know the answer! Fixing! It's called high level fixing. That's it. Sant is a super fixer. That's just so not kosher! And he, of all the usual suspects floating around, manages a Padma! Not just any Padma, mind you. The Padma Bhushan, no less. Wow! Had Sant been fobbed off with an or'nery Padma Shri (cheaper by the dozen), the honour might have gone unnoticed. But Sant was upgraded by his admirers — from cattle class to first class. Kya baat hai.

 

How did he manage it? Don't be stupid and ask such dumb questions. Sant is a pro at the game. This is a piece of toast for the man who has publicly kissed Hillary Clinton more often than even hubby Bill. Sant can manage pretty much anything (except his errant son). Now with the Padma Bhushan in his kitty (errrr, with the RTI filed by Pritish Nandy and Vir Sanghvi, there's a BIG hiccup coming up) there will be no stopping Chatwal as he parties away (unless the outrage over his receiving one of the top civilian honours snowballs into something bigger — like a national scandal, which it is). Who knows, Hillary herself may do the honours and be right there to show her support and solidarity… Obama may also be persuaded to climb into his dinner jacket and show up for the bash (Barack could do with a li'l PR right now).

 

At the time of writing, Chatwal was still thumping his chest and crowing. And assorted apologists were mewing

across TV channels and fobbing off the whole fracas on a panel of "experts" who recommend and clear names for these prestigious awards. Let's start by identifying and naming the "experts" on that mysterious panel for starters. Who are they? What is their day job? On what basis do they put up names of potential candidates? Criteria, please? I guess we'll never know. But now that the can of worms has been opened, it would be interesting to take this debate beyond Chatwal and ask a few tough questions.

 

Personally, I couldn't care less. All awards are basically bogus (Dr Pachauri, are you reading this?). People across the world lobby shamelessly for them. I mean, come on, Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize? Could anything be more perverse? Nearly every top award comes with strings attached, if not a blatant price tag. In India, any and every award is highly coveted since awards are a national obsession. Awards and records thrill us to bits (Sachin's centuries! Rahman's Oscars!). We avidly follow who has got which award. I have seen business cards that shamelessly proclaim: "Padma Shri So-and-so". This is almost as crass, as gauche as an erstwhile royal of Kadkanagar adding H.R.H to his/her name. Or people who wangle honorary doctorates from obscure universities and happily call themselves "Doctors". Come on, you guys. This is the 21st century, not medieval India. Grow up!

 

Since we place such a premium on awards, it isn't all that surprising or shocking to discover there is a "process" in place. Yup. It exists, and a seasoned Dilliwalla took me through it, kindly offering to arrange an award for me! "It will take time," the man whispered, "but I'll get it done." I feigned great excitement and said hoarsely, "Really? But… Which award and how?" He looked over his shoulder, came three inches closer and answered, "Depends…" That was a very open-ended "depends". I pretended to be wildly interested but a little nervous, and asked him to elaborate. "I will need at least seven signatures of eminent people on a letter of recommendation. That is for a basic award like the Padma Shri. But for something higher, the system is different. It takes more…" Oh-oh. He stopped abruptly at this point. I played dumb (I can!) and asked innocently, "More…? More what?" Maybe he sensed my lack of seriousness or thought I was asking too many silly questions, because he promptly lost interest and went in search of some other bakra.

 

There is definitely a "process" here, and there are touts who fix these things. It is one of Delhi's worst kept secrets, but what the hell — it's out there. Everybody knows the drill and the deal. Which is why the Sant Chatwal issue is being treated with kid gloves. I feel a little sorry for those spokespeople of assorted political parties who have to present themselves nightly on various channels and defend the Chatwals of the world with a straight face. Strange. If that is the scenario, why stop at Chatwal? There are half-a-dozen others who are highly suspect, so why are they being spared? If these awards are supposed to be the ultimate recognition of an individual's contribution to the nation, what are goons doing on the Padma laundry list? Goons who haven't contributed a thing either culturally or even tangentially to India? Business people and corporate types working to enhance the bottom lines of their employers, for example? How have they served India's interests? To someone like me these people have merely done their jobs for foreign masters and got paid big bucks in return for the bloated dividends shelled out to international shareholders, at our expense.

 

Sorry. But as that wise old Taoji from Haryana would say, "There is something black in the lentils." The entire Padma "process" needs to be reviewed now that it is under the public's scanner. It is clear the Padmas are no longer what they used to be and their prestige value has been seriously devalued. Perhaps it needed the brazenness displayed while honoring Sant Chatwal and hoping to get away with it, that has triggered off the latest national uproar. Had it not been for Chatwal, this year would have been no different from previous years — the winners would have faked astonishment and delight (come on… we all know recipients are informed in advance and their acceptance of the award confirmed in writing before the announcement is made), and a few (strictly Bollywood types) would have tweeted and gloated away to glory. Nobody but the awardees themselves would have remembered or cared a week later. Chatwal's shocking award has put a spanner in the works. Kuch "setting" theek nahi hui iss baar. He must be hot under that red turban. Imagine a man who busses the mighty American secretary of state regularly, and dines with Obama, is forced to eat crow back in India. Enough to give a serious belly ache to the hotelier. What an unappetising mess! But, worry not. It's nothing that a drastic ingestion of Pudin Hara and some serious lobbying in the right places can't fix.

 

— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HOPE REDUX?

BY SHREEKANT SAMBRANI

 

Americans — specifically, Massachusetts voters — handed US President Barack Obama a nasty first-year-in-office anniversary present by electing a clownish Republican to the late Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat. He retaliated a week later, as he usually does under such circumstance, by delivering another blockbuster speech, this time the State of the Union address. At 75 minutes (including numerous ovations), it was nearly twice as long as his memorable Nobel acceptance lecture and towards the end, scaled the oratorical heights we have come to expect from the Great Communicator.

 

The address had something for everyone — a promise of a jobs bill for those still left out of the economic thaw, charging profligate banks to fund jobs programmes, tax concessions for small businesses, thrust on education, rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure and clean energy, sorting out the messy healthcare and making it affordable to all, increased homeland security and adherence to troop withdrawal schedules for both Iraq and Afghanistan, appeals for bipartisan, far-sighted leadership, admission of own shortcomings and a pledge to continue the struggle. Verily, Mr Obama was a Santa come a month late with a bagful of goodies!

 

The questions beg themselves: Will Mr Obama be able to deliver? Will the Americans move out of their funk and improve Mr Obama's poll numbers? More interestingly, how did one who started with a strong reservoir of goodwill come down so quickly to the level of an ordinary American President? And is there anything in it for us in India?

 

It is far too early to answer the first of these. Mr Obama's challenges stem from situations not even partially of his making, be it the economy, or the wars, or healthcare, and the ultimate outcome depends not just on what policies and actions he uses but how the world reacts. Nowhere is this more evident than in his pursuit of the two wars and the campaign against jihadist terror. The Iraqis need to stop their self-destructive fratricide and take greater responsibility to run their affairs, the Afghan leaders have to realise that holding office is not license to steal but a mandate to bring peace and order to their long-suffering land and the Pakistani leadership and its Army have to treat Taliban, Lashkar and similar outfits as mortal enemies of their own state by leading the battle against all of them. Mr Obama's grand promises cannot become realities unless these conditions are met.

 

Mr Obama has realised that the strong economic recovery in many areas is not appreciated when job losses, which hit Jack the Plumber the hardest, remain high. So even as credit is due handsomely to the administration for its major push, it will not be forthcoming until new jobs start opening up, which would be a while yet. Mr Obama's rating will rise only after the job haemorrhage stops.

 

How did Mr Obama come to this pass? Ironically, Mr Obama's worst handicap is the overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress (witness the unprecedented ovations in the address). Passage of major legislations was taken for granted, making Congressional leaders powers unto themselves, even more than what they usually are. The administration woke up belatedly to this and started wooing even single members to meet its self-imposed deadlines. It had to cut confusing, and potentially suspect, deals in the process.

 

Mr Obama's phenomenal intelligence and communication ability are another set of ironical liabilities. He sees the picture clearly and envisages an effective solution. That makes him supremely confident of being able to solve the problem, almost to the point of complacency. Yet getting there involves having to rely on many others, as he has now acknowledged: "I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone". Much now depends on whether he puts this in practice and does not allow the best to be the enemy of the good. He has to achieve results in a faster, more "muscular" manner to create a wonderful image of a strong leader fully alert and wholly incharge, rather than a seminar chairman who easily understands all the views expressed around the table, summarises everyone's thinking accurately and eloquently, yet misses the crucial decision issue!

 

The American exasperation is reflected in widespread scepticism and increasingly sharp criticism of Mr Obama, despite last year's expectations of a great presidency. There is apprehension abroad that the enormous potential would be allowed to go waste. This is both premature and unwarranted. I told friends just before the 1994 US mid-term elections (the Great Gingrich Triumph) that Bill Clinton could well become the first half-term President! He could have won a third term in 2000 by a landslide were he allowed to contest, the stained little blue dress notwithstanding! Mr Obama's initiation has been bumpy, but not unexpectedly so. His candid statement, "We have finished a difficult year... I don't quit. Let's seize this moment — to start anew, to carry the dream forward", deserves to be taken seriously.

 

Herein also lies a lesson for our leaders: take the likely small consequences of the address for our BPO sector in your stride, but focus on issues closest to the people's heart and act forcefully. Our two priorities, as those of the US, remain the economy and security. As the US must create jobs, India must control stratospheric prices of daily necessities, rather than crow about high growth rates and bask in the (presumed) feel-good success of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. And if we cannot sleep easy with the continued North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (no-action-talk-only) strategy on internal and external threats, the United Progressive Alliance euphoria, already thin, could melt faster than the Delhi fog on a sunny day! If Mr Obama with his clear thinking and commanding presence is considered a wimp by a large number of Americans, what should Indians think of their woolly-headed and mortified-to-act government?

 

Mr Obama said, "Democracy... can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy". Yet hope persists, as it must, that these will turn out to be mere hiccups in the pursuit of great common good, as much in the United States as in India.

 

Shreekant Sambrani, who has taught at IIM Ahmedabad and helped set up the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, writes frequently on economic and policy issues

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ADVENTURES IN BOOKLAND

BY KISHWAR DESAI

 

After a cold and miserable morning in Delhi, when the Jaipur Literary Festival seemed a distant dream lost in a dreary fog, I (along with author and psychiatrist, Dr Sudhir Kakkar) careened into Jaipur in time to have a quick lunch with Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Pavan Varma, his wife Renu and and my husband, Meghnad Desai. The sunshine in Jaipur and a stimulating conversation meant that things perked up enormously. We were certainly luckier than Shabana Azmi who had to wait for five hours at the Delhi airport before she found a car to drive to Jaipur — as most cab drivers were simply too reluctant to negotiate the thick white blanket. She barely made it in time for her wonderful session later in the day. Most of the 200 authors had a similarly existential experience — and poor Girish Karnad was far too late for his inaugural speech, which was then re-scheduled for the next day.

 

The Lit Fest itself, at the colourfully festooned Diggy Palace was awash with authors of various degrees of fame. Alas for the less glamorous ones (like me) the media focus and TV cameras remained firmly on the filmstars and well-known international writers present. But the very satisfying part was that all the sessions had plenty of substance and though many of us may have gone unnoticed, we were able to participate in sessions and also meet many whom we could only admire from a distance.

 

For me the highlight was to meet Alexander McCall Smith as we munched through our breakfasts in the hotel. At last I could tell him how much I enjoyed his Botswana-set Ladies No 1 Detective Agency series — and how I too had (quite accidentally) written my first crime fiction novel (Witness the Night) — with an intrepid Punjabi social worker at the heart of it. His hearty approval was like a benediction!

 

The Durbar Hall at the Diggy Palace overflowed many times — especially when Gulzar, Shabana and Javed Akhtar had their readings and discussions. Particularly interesting was the launch of Shaukat Azmi's book, Kaifi and I — with extracts read by Shabana. For me it was a particularly poignant moment as I remembered meeting Shaukat aapa and Kaifi sahib years ago when I was making a documentary on Shabana. Her parents shared a deep affection, love as well as similar ideals and a moment in history which makes this book a unique memoir.

 

Another house full was the debate on rediscovering India (taken from the title of Meghnad's new book, The Rediscovery of India) with the erudite Nayantara Sehgal, Chetan Bhagat and Meghnad — as well as another on Freedom for Sale in which the participants include Anne Applebaum, John Kampfner, Niall Ferguson and Steve Coll.

 

Every evening the Lit Fest organisers also managed to get authors to let their hair down with theatre or music. On the first evening extracts were read out from Tughlaq—Girish Karnad's play from the 1960s — with Om Puri playing the part of the mad king. The focus on theatre is a great new addition to the festival by one of the festival co-directors — Namita Gokhale.

 

The nights were a crush of dinners and much bonhomie. The first evening got the ball rolling with an exclusive dinner (backstage) with the well-known writer and editor Tina Brown and the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. As we drifted in and out of several interesting conversations there was little doubt that now the festival is very much on the world map (especially with the newly-announced $50,000 prize for South Asian Literature) — though Soyinka confessed that he was a little overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people attending and that he had to often retreat into his room for some peaceful moments. The JLF has become like a carnival — and though this is a relief for many usually reclusive authors — for others a quiet corner was often difficult to access.

 

My own book reading from my new novel Witness the Night clashed with several other functions, including a reading by the Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk — and so you can imagine I was pretty nervous that we would not be able to draw a crowd. But to the relief of Soumya Bhattacharya — my co-reader and fellow author with whom I was sharing a charpoy in the Baithak — we had a full house.

 

My own level of excitement was a little heightened by the fact that my publisher Karthika V.K. from Harper Collins rushed in with two copies of the just-printed Witness the Night just seconds before the reading began! The reading was followed by a lively interaction — and I have to say I enjoyed it thoroughly because there were even school children (still in their uniform!) in the audience — and everyone had a serious question to ask.

 

Another nice part about the Lit Fest is the little cafes and eateries scattered around where you can take a break — and the free kulhad ki chai is probably the most attractive libation for throats parched from book talk. However, a darker side to the festival attendees was revealed in the book stall run by the lovely Poonam Malhotra and her soft-spoken daughter, Priyanka. They were both horrified by the fact that so many books were being stolen from their stall... it seems literacy is no bar to theft! Even if readers have no sympathy for book shopowners, they should feel sorry for those authors who survive on royalities and keep their itchy fingers from book-lifting.

 

For the organisers, Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy — what started as a small festival with five attendees in an empty Durbar Hall, JLF is now a huge, well-attended and very successful mela. I think for me the best moment came when I was stopped by a very young girl and asked how she could become an author. It meant, definitely, that the festival is not just for the stars — but for the readers and aspiring writers as well.

 

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ANTONY'S 'ADVICE'

AHQ INVITED THE RAP

 

THERE was a certain inevitability to the order that the outgoing Military Secretary at Army Headquarters face a Court Martial following the defence minister's "advice" to take a more stringent line of action than initially contemplated against a key player in the Sukhna land scam. There is little point in the army citing technicalities and suggesting the minister overstepped his brief: had the Chief's office handled the issue expeditiously and gracefully this extreme situation would have never arisen. And there would have been no suspicions of intrigue, "protection" and what have you. Hopefully there will now be movement towards  early closure of the unseemly events that prompted unprecedented action by the minister ~ that would be in the best interests of the military at large. The emphasis being on "closure", as opposed to cover-up. For the manner in which the matter has been handled has tarnished the army's image even more than the land scam itself. When the Court of Inquiry recommended the strictest of action against the senior officer the public perception was that the army did not let miscreants "get away" ~ a perception obliterated by the subsequent dilution and discriminatory moves in South Block. This is not to cry for the blood of the lieutenant-general under focus, the law must take its course ~ but the law must not be diverted or circumvented. In advising the Chief to do just that, nothing more, AK Antony has, eventually, made a pitch for propriety. It is ridiculous that a politically-aligned organisation of ex-servicemen should talk of "interference" ~ the military is accountable to the minister, who is turn accountable to the people. It is time that the uniformed community realises that it has responsibilities and obligations to the country, and the minister need not be detained by those who seek to cloud the issue by raising extraneous objections. The ministerial rap was invited.


The most sordid element of the story is the army has allowed such rot to set in. Blatant misuse of facilities ~ batmen, staff cars, the canteen ~ has given way to corruption of all kinds, sexual exploitation and the worst kind of favouritism. Is it not disgraceful that the recently formed Tribunal has been approached to redress the grievances of officers who feel their superiors "did the dirty" on them when assessing performance during the Kargil operations. Only the naïve will accept that the military can continue to sell itself as an honourable profession ~ at least at the officer level. Since the disciplinary mechanisms have failed only peer pressure can revive the ethos. The minister has advised limited action, the collateral impact has been the bursting of the "bubble" the army blew around itself.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BASIC OBLIGATION

CONFIDENCE IN THE UN RESTORED 

 

THE countries under the collective acronym of BASIC have eventually got their basics right. More than a month after the Copenhagen summit on climate change, it is reassuring to learn that the United Nations will be taken into confidence after being given the short shrift very recently. India, Brazil, South Africa and China have resolved to stick to the deadline of 31 January and convey data on what they call "voluntary mitigation actions" to the UN committee on climate change. For the comity of nations, there is hope yet that the early 21st century variant of the League of Nations, under the tutelage of the USA, will not be calling the shots, after all. Sober reflection would seem to have prevailed with the BASIC ministers deciding to "work closely" with the Group of 77 and make the Mexico round a decidedly transparent exercise. Which is as it ought to have been in the Danish capital where the earth, to which the world belongs, emerged as the exclusive agenda of the West and a handful of acquiescent powers. The inherent loopholes of the Copenhagen Accord have now been reinforced with the BASIC ministers asserting that it shan't be a legal document. Far greater importance has at last been accorded to the two-track negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is a matter that concerns the world, and the world can now hope to be taken into confidence. And that precisely is a "leadership obligation" to quote Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, South Africa's environment minister. 
Alas, that hope has been somewhat neutralised by yet another indiscretion by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Within a week of the false alarm that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, the IPCC has linked global warming to the incidence of hurricanes and floods. Once again, the Nobel Peace prize-winning entity has advanced a hypothetical observation, one that has promptly been trashed by the scientific fraternity as bereft of evidence and "non-rigorous scrutiny". It is all very well for the IPCC chief, Rajendra Pachauri, to promise a "robust and credible" Fifth Assessment Report over the next four years. Till then, it will have to contend with the reality that the IPCC has denuded its credibility as much as the Nobel prize.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MANAGING MINORITIES

AGONISING DILEMMA FOR THE LEFT 


THE Left in West Bengal faces the agonising dilemma of reaching out to minorities without appearing to be bending over backwards to please them in the context of assembly elections next year. The Sachar report that virtually indicts the government has been a major embarrassment. To this have been added pressures from the Forward Bloc and CPI as well as a section within the CPI-M that can be traced to the drubbing the Left received in the panchayat and parliamentary elections. While a minority affairs department exists largely on paper, the government has been hopelessly muddled in its actions and now faces the real threat of alienating a nearly 30 per cent vote-bank. The discovery of the Ranganath Mishra report must be seen in the light of the poll-driven panic rather than a genuine concern for the minorities whom the Left had more than adequate time to bring to the mainstream. At this stage it would look perilously like a desperate attempt at damage control while Mamata Banerjee has managed her exit from the BJP-led NDA reasonably well and has been moving towards the minorities with some skill. The Left can pull the report out of the bag only after it convinces minority leaders that it was serious about implementing it after it was submitted in 2007. While Mohammed Salim claims his party has been demanding "immediate implementation'' of the report that includes 15 per cent reservation in government jobs, the chief minister has chosen to seek the opinion of the central committee. Apart from the glaring evidence of a division, there are hints that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is inclined to examine the consequences before his government can plunge into path-breaking means of compensating for its failures. The question survives as to how a report tabled in Parliament can be implemented by a state even before it is adopted by the UPA which had appointed the commission. The Left is in no position to take credit for the initiative. On the contrary, it has to explain why the minority affairs department has failed to perform even in the limited areas assigned to it such as education and housing. Reservation in jobs and education is a tricky issue that the chief minister has wisely left to a higher authority. Whether a belated and opportunistic gesture can bring the desired results will be evident in the elections to 82 municipalities. The long-term effects are more crucial, and must take note of the possible backlash from the 70 plus per cent who are not Muslim.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TOUGH LOVE

AMERICA REFASHIONS ITS STRATEGY IN PAKISTAN

SANKAR SEN

 

IN a recent expression of defiance, Pakistan rejected as incomplete at least 180 US visa requests. The American embassy in Islamabad has now publicly complained that its diplomats are being harassed by the Pakistani authorities. The complaint was made with reference to security checks on diplomatic vehicles. In a tit-for-tat response, Washington has threatened to cut the annual  development assistance worth $ 1.5 billion.
All this indicates the growing tensions between the two allies jointly fighting the war against terrorism. The Pentagon admitted last month that relations between the two countries had soured because of resentment, miscommunication and mistrust.


Since 11 September 2001, the USA has provided Pakistan $ 11 billion to help fight terrorism. The Bush Administration did not demand any accounting of funds. America, however, started feeling that it got very little for this investment. Its officials have made it clear that Pakistan will now be held accountable for the US aid that it receives.


Indeed, equations had soured when Richard Holbrooke, the USA's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, suggested that there are elements in the ISI with close links to the Taliban. Earlier, Washington had imposed stiff conditions on the $ 7.5 billion aid package for the Pakistan army, known as the Kerry-Luger Bill. It provoked a very hostile reaction from the military brass in Rawalpindi. 


The USA has now stepped up its pressure on the Pakistani army to launch a fresh offensive against the militants in North Waziristan region from where the Taliban is fighting the US-led troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan's military chief, General Kayani, has reportedly told General David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, that no major military operations are planned any time soon in North Waziristan.

Taliban network 
THE region is the sanctuary for the Taliban's Haqquani network, run by Jallaludin Haqquani and his son, Siraj. Its fighters pose the biggest threat to the US forces in the eastern part of Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have expressed their unwillingness to go in pursuit of Siraj Haqquani who has been useful to the country's strategic security agencies. Some of them are of the view that Haqquani might find himself in power once the Americans leave Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the US officials last month warned the heads of Pakistan's intelligence services that if they do not act against the Taliban, the United States will. The message was delivered by the National Security Advisor, General James Jones, and the White House counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan. 


Having lost their power centre in South Waziristan, the militants appeared to have relocated themselves in the north. In South Waziristan, the Pakistan military has been able to recapture the territory, but has failed to capture either the militants or their ammunition. The army has experienced little or no resistance from the militants as the Taliban had left the area well in advance. Crucially, not a single important Taliban commander has been killed or arrested since the operations began on 17 October 2009. The militants have fled to Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai and Bazaur, from where they have launched a wave of suicide bombings in the North West Frontier Province.


In an editorial on 3 January, the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn wrote that North Waziristan must and can be reclaimed from the militants, and this has been recognized  by the security establishment, albeit privately for now. Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, is a lucrative smuggling route, an attraction the locals are loath to give up to fight a potentially unwinnable war against the State.

There are further signs of solidarity between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The suicide bombing by a jihadi triple agent in Afghanistan on 30 December, that killed seven Americans, was a disaster for the CIA. A video showed that the bomber, a Jordanian doctor, was delivering his farewell message next to the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mahsud, who had fled South Waziristan and joined hands with the Afghan Taliban in North Waziiastan. An army offensive may be imperative as two militant groups from two regions have come together. 


America has intensified the drone attacks inside Pakistan. A number of such attacks have taken place in the past two weeks in North Waziristan, reinforcing the Obama administration's increasing reliance on this tactic despite official protests from Islamabad. Drone attacks have killed 10 senior Al Qaida leaders and some 300 civilians since 2008. They have also ignited anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis. The US Senator and Chairman of the Arms Services Committee, Curl Levin, has rebuked the Pakistani leadership, saying that vocal criticism of the drone strike is unacceptable. Washington would prefer silence on the part of Pakistan rather than public criticism, that might lead to tension between the two countries. Thus far, the drone strikes have been limited to Pakistan's Pashtoon tribal regions near the Afghan border, but an escalation of the attacks could mean missile raids on Quetta where the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, is suspected to be hiding. 

 

MASSIVE REORGANIZATION

STEPHEN Cohen, the distinguished American expert on Pakistan,  has noted a distinct change in America's strategy towards Pakistan, and has described the equation as "tough love". America will be tough with people and groups who are enemies of both Pakistan and America. In the present scenario, the United States needs Pakistan to extend its operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan also cannot do without the United States. There is always the fear that any massive reorganization of US strategy will lead to the collapse of  Pakistan as a democratic state. And the USA doesn't want that to happen. Pakistan has alerted the US  that if the present establishment collapses, the jihadis will take over. And the threat of a jihadi takeover is the ultimate American nightmare and Pakistan has adroitly played on this fear. The hard fact, however, is that many of the jihadis are in uniform.


Fears are mounting that LeT and Al Qaida will try to provoke a confrontation between India and Pakistan by launching another terror strike, reminiscent of 26/11. Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, has gone on record as saying that the "syndicate of terror" comprising LeT, Taliban and Al Qaida constitutes a serious threat to the security of the entire sub-continent.


The writer, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, had served as Director, National Human Rights Commission, and of the National Police Academy.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DELHI DURBAR

MINISTER GOES UNDERGROUND


Some time ago, a Minister from a southern coalition partner boycotted Delhi for a variety of known and unknown reasons. Such delinquency was viewed as part of the coalition "dharma''. But what is surprising is that now a high-flying Minister, again from a coalition partner but in western India, sees attending office as optional. His absteeism has surprised Ministry officials. Perhaps he has had enough of his well-furnished, decorated chamber and has decided to play truant. Even otherwise, he is quite a player.
In fact, his boss, the Grand Supremo, did have enough reasons to abstain, after having been under attack following the steep rise in prices of food articles. But he has chosen to face the fussilade, making a determined bid to defend himself against the indefensible. His protege's whereabouts are not known, at least to his officials.
Well, after having made hefty purchases for updating his Ministry's merchandise, he may not be required to work at all. It was indeed a great contribution. But is there more to his absence? A crack in the party?


PSU banks admit being hit

Despite the camaflouging and unethical provisioning, bad loans are eating into the vitals of PSU banks. The rot has already begun, as shown by a recent analysis of the results declared by banks for the third quarter. To make matters worse, the powers-that-be are merrily permitting a second round of restructuring of assets/loans already restructured. And dodgy corporates are campaigning against any phased withdrawal of stimuli. The American middle class have voiced their strong opposition to the illogical bail-outs to robber barons in a recent poll verdict. In fact, the message was so strong that Obama has proposed a three-year freeze on public spending. He has even proposed slapping a tax on the big financial firms.


But the Indian scene is different. The baron-babu-neta nexus is umbilical. PSU banks are making reckless investments into dubious, defaulting companies like a steel major. Unlike the American middle class, the Indian counterpart is in a stupor after the spiralling rise in price of food items. And the farmer suicides from 1997 to now have touched the two-lakh mark.


Padma furore

The opposition to the Padma awards is rising like a crescendo. It is seen as a story of conspiracy and complicity perpetrated by successive governments. This time, however, the award to a Manhattan hotelier has raised hackles to unprecedented levels. His malfeasance was widely commented upon by the American media.
Sensing the heat, the officials concerned admit in private that the name was seconded by none other than the highest office in the land. But who dare assail the goody-goody image of an erudite and honest person?
During UPA-I, a similar situation arose over the award of Padma Bhushan to another prominent Sikh called Bhai Mohan Singh, now deceased. But when it was found that there was a non-bailable warrant against him, the PMO was advised to withdraw his candidature. Wisdom prevailed and without much ado, the name was removed.


Why was it not done similarly when there was an avalanche of protests in this case?

Is there no transparency in the selection process? Are there no norms to qualify for different categories of awards? How is it that a Nobel prize winner got only a Padma Shri while a purveyor of butter chicken and maa ki daal could get away with a Padma Bhushan?


Blame game

It is worse than Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. Prices may shoot sky high but politicians will see it as another round of a blame-game. At the Centre, all guns point to Sharad Pawar, while he says in a devil-may-care fashion that this is a primary and collective responsibility of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. And the Opposition, though fragile and fragmented, rail at the UPA for the price situation while in Opposition-ruled states, the Congress wail at the plight of the aam aadmi and the insensitivity of the local Government.
Well, it makes political sense for the Congress to adopt this strategy since it is in power in only 10 states. And the common man continues to be nonplussed as he groans at his daily grind.


Heard on the street:

In biting chill, the civic authorities were forced by the High Court to take care of the  homeless in the capital. And so, under media glare, a tour of the shelters was undertaken. And one young rag picker looked at the TV camera and asked innocently: "Why is it that the government has ensured the increase in prices of all commodities except garbage ?" Any answer?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

CALCUTTA KENNEL CLUB


Fourth Championship Dog Show


Few functions held in Calcutta this season have been as successful as the Fourth Championship Dog Show, which opened on the Maidan on Friday morning. Apart from a record entry of 283 dogs, compared with 225 last year, the quality and number of distinct breeds is far and away the best that any show in these parts has ever had. The hope expressed by the authorities last year, that the present Exhibition might beat that of the Third show has, in fact, been fully justified, and the opinions expressed by the crowd of exhibitors and visitors Friday morning must have been extremely gratifying to those entrusted with the organisation of the Exhibition. The arrangements, again, left nothing to be desired. The benching was cool, comfortable, and, what was more important, convenient for handling the dogs; the Committee nuding willing helpers in the men of the Rifle Brigade. The judging was in the hands of Colonel S.J. Rennie, Messrs Horace Johnston and A.h. Longhurst, of the English Kennel Club, and Dr JHB Martin; and these gentlemen sittled down to their work at 10 o'clock in the roomy judging rings which, indeed, were quite a feature of the show. The judging went on nearly all day, and was watched with the keenest interest by a large number of eager dog fanciers. Amongst the breeds that showed up best perhaps, might be mentioned Bull Terriers, ~ a very fine lot of well-bred dogs, with very little to choose between them ~ Airedales, Irish Terriers Wire Haired and Smooth Fox Terriers the last named class having the preponderating number of entries. Last, but not least, there was a new "fancy" in the shape of the Australian Terrier, which makes its appearance for the first time in an Indian dog show. These little animals naturally created a good deal of curiosity, not so much on account of their novelty as of their variety, their coats differing very materially in many insgances. To say that there is nothing distinctive, as a class, about the Australian terrier would perhaps be making a mistake (although to the uninitiated this would be obvious), still, one misses the hall mark of distinction so apparent in breeds such as the Aircdale, the Scottie, Irish and English terriers

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ON RECORD

 

There should be accountability for lack of implementation of projects, programmes and schemes. This is critical for bringing about positive change.


President of India Pratibha Patil, on the eve of R-Day.



I am a civil servant. So it came as a surprise to me. It is a high point in my career. I am confident of justifying my assignment by the President and the Prime Minister.


Governor of West Bengal MK Narayanan after the oath-taking ceremony.


He was not the leader of Bengal alone but of the entire country. We have to take inspiration from his great example and follow his path.


CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat about Jyoti Basu.


The Centre has decided to build up centres of excellence like the AIIMS in some states. The Kolkata project is one of the central schemes. The Government of India has given only Rs 100 crore. The state government has given Rs 54 crore when we were supposed to give only Rs 20 crore. We need at least Rs 2,000 crore for this kind of super specialist centre of excellence with modern treatment facilities.


West Bengal health minister Suryakanta Mishra on the 175th anniversary of the Medical College.



Whenever (Sharad) Pawar opens his mouth, prices of essential commodities shoot up.
Ravi Shankar Prasad.


Amethi and Rae Bareli do not constitute Uttar Pradesh. We will have to win seats in Etawah and Poorvanchal where the Congress just gets 2,000 votes.

 

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.



Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010. Now, the House has passed a jobs Bill that includes some of these steps (to slash tax breaks). As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same.
US President Barack Obama.

I think it is a disservice to cricket that some of these (Pakistani) players were not picked.


Union home minister P Chidambaram on the IPL controversy.



It's so much more intimate than a laptop and so much more capable than a smartphone.


Steven P Jobs on the iPad.


The environment is an important issue no doubt but that does not mean the book fair has to be stopped. Some environmentalists were up in arms against the book fair.


Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, while inaugurating the book fair.



I had only 20 visitors after 5 pm. My business is suffering badly because of inadequate light.
Prabhat Chowdhury, a bookseller in the Kolkata Book Fair.



Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is one of the masterminds. There are others. We know their names and Pakistan also knows their names. If they do not bring the others to trial, then I would have to conclude, reluctantly and regretfully that they are dragging their feet.


P Chidambaram


I think dialogue is the only answer. We are both responsible nations and we can move forward. We can't afford war. I think only way forward is talks.


Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

TEST OF A DIFFERENT CLASS

 

The examination bogey is of highly respectable vintage. But funny tales, real and fictional, about the outlandish ways children think up to deal with the bogey, have become antiquated; there is nothing funny about examinations any more. Neither can that staple of vernacular comedy, the golden-hearted young man who steadily fails to cross Class VIII or Class X and is yet an indispensable part of a sprawling, untidy and compassionate family, be even imagined today. It is not just that the family structure has changed, but also that cultural and social attitudes, together with economic aspirations, have changed radically, inducing a complete makeover in the approach to education both within the family as well as in institutions.

 

Examinations, even internal school examinations, have become a source of unbearable stress for children, a fact that is among the chief causes of concern for the Union human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal. While many schools in villages suffer from a scarcity of basic resources and infrastructure, the better institutions and those competing to reach higher standards require of their pupils a level of tip-of-the-tongue mastery that exhausts and frightens many. Demanding parents who 'expect' returns for the investments they make, the inevitable system of private tuition, standardized questions and 'model' answers required to be learnt by rote, all drive children into a corner, confining their minds to a single focus and undermining freedom in growth. The implicit prioritization of the applied sciences and technology-related subjects in educational policies is an additional coercive factor.

 

Mr Sibal's plan of changing the format of examinations within school in order to de-stress the child is a step in the right direction, and one that has been long due. The recent suicides of schoolchildren are a frightening reminder of the urgency of change. Experiments have shown that the complete abolition of all testing methods may leave children inadequately equipped. But continuous internal assessment, together with periodic, time-bound tests of intelligence and ability rather than just rote learning would accord with internationally approved methods of school-teaching. Teaching children to think for themselves, to present their arguments, to apply what they have read with guidance from their teachers, hone their intellectual and creative abilities and expand their knowledge through projects would make learning enjoyable and take the sting out of tests.

 

But such changes would also require hardworking, committed teachers trained to teach in the new method. Besides ensuring this essential resource, the HRD minister must also ensure that all schoolteachers have decent working conditions, a space to work and read in, a library to share with the children, and a bathroom that can be used. Happy teachers make happy children too.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LEARNING FROM AMERICA

THE MOST OPEN SOCIETY IN THE WORLD

POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

 

Few Indians are indifferent to the United States of America. Some dislike or detest that country. Others admire or worship it. Generally, these sentiments are held in toto — that is to say, either one is wholly for America, or one is wholly against it.

 

Might it be that both extremes are untenable? And that there is something to admire about America, and something also that is distasteful? If so, how do we discriminate between one and the other?

 

The US is the country I know best apart from my own. I have visited it on at least 15 different occasions, for periods ranging from a week to 18 months. I have lived in small towns on the East and West Coasts, and travelled to the Midwest and the South. I have been influenced by American scholars and scholarships, admired American sports and sportsmen, and read very many American novels. And I have had conversations with very many ordinary Americans as well.

 

There remains one deficiency in my education — since I rarely watch films, that particular window into American society remains closed to me. Still, I think I can speak on American politics and culture out of something other than ignorance. What, then, have these experiences taught me about what my country can learn from theirs.

 

To me, what is really appealing about the US is how it is organized internally, not how it projects itself to the world. Unburdened by the aristocratic heritage of Europe, the Americans have created a society where individual achievement matters far more than birth or lineage. There is greater mobility in America than almost anywhere else in the world. For instance, many of the country's top businessmen, politicians, doctors, lawyers and university professors were born in obscurity or poverty.

 

To be sure, there remain sharp inequalities of wealth and status. However, American society is organized in such a way that, depending on their own abilities and ambitions, the children of the rich can slide downwards, while the children of the poor can make their way up. And while there is a class structure, there is a virtual absence of class sentiment. The CEO of a company addresses the workers on the shop-floor as a fellow human, not (as would be the case in some other countries) as a superior species of being. There is considerable respect for the dignity of labour. Not only does the company boss value the physical labour done by his employees, at home he is happy to work with his hands himself.

 

Here, America may be contrasted to Europe, as well to our own country. Down the centuries, Indians in general, and Hindus in particular, have constructed a culture steeped in hierarchy and deference. The social distance between worker and manager, or between chaprasi and minister, is staggeringly large in India. One manifestation of this obsession with hierarchy is the value placed on professions conducted principally by the brain, and the consequent disparagement of work done by the hand.

 

Class and status matter less in America than in other modern societies. The country is made more democratic by the fact that, in professional or career terms, the family does not play an important role. The Bushes are atypical here; far more characteristic is Bill Gates, who earmarked the larger part of his wealth for philanthropy. He set aside a modest inheritance for his children, and forbade them from working with or taking advantage of Microsoft. They had to make their own way in life, more or less, since they were Americans.

 

Once more, the contrast with Europe and (especially) India is great. In Britain, there tend to be more father-and-son duos in politics and the law than in the US. And in this country, one's life chances are massively determined by the home one is born into. In upper-caste and upper-class families, parents energetically, not to say shamelessly, promote their children, using their own success and status to cushion them from failure or disappointment. The safest way to do this, of course, is to get them to follow your own profession.

 

The damage, actual and potential, done to our democracy by the conversion of political parties into family firms is well known. Less noticed, perhaps, are the equally corrosive effects of cronyism in politics. When Rajiv Gandhi unexpectedly became prime minister of India in 1984, many people were willing to overlook the fact that he came to that job by virtue of birth. For he was uncontaminated by corruption and authoritarianism. And he was apparently sincere and unquestionably charming.

 

In character and personality, Rajiv Gandhi seemed quite unlike his mother, and even less like his brother, Sanjay. However, on gaining power he followed them both in convening a group of friends to work for him. Before entering politics or government, these friends of Rajiv had been middle-level managers in the private sector. None was a person of great achievement — that is to say, not one was a N.R. Narayana Murthy. However, the men had what in India is a more relevant distinction — they had been been to school or college with, and came from the same social class as, their boss. That group identity mattered a good deal more than individual achievement was made clear by the appellation quickly cast upon them: these were the 'baba-log'.

 

Compare these appointments of Rajiv Gandhi's with the appointments made by another young, articulate, and immensely likeable man on his assuming high office. Barack Obama has also brought into his administration people who had no previous experience of politics or public service. However, these men and women were chosen for their ability rather than out of personal friendship, having previously made their mark as top lawyers, scientists, and fund managers.

 

To be sure, not all of Obama's appointments might work out satisfactorily. The transition from academia or the corporate sector to the world of public administration might be hard to navigate. If that be the case, these misfits shall be quickly found out, by the various Congressional committees, and by the media, two institutions that are more robust and honest in America than they are in India. For in that country, high government appointees are put through a gruelling examination by members of the legislature. Even after they are confirmed in their posts, their performance is subject to continuing scrutiny by the Congress and Senate on the one hand and by press and television on the other. As a consequence, incompetence or corruption are more likely to be detected and punished than is usually the case in our country.

 

I have not spoken yet of the part of America I know best, namely, its education system. For all its reputation as the home of private enterprise, the best schools in the US are often in the State sector, and so are many of the best colleges. In any event, whether school or college, public or private, they function well principally because they tend to put the interests of the institution above those of the individual in charge, or his family and community.

 

On the world stage, the US can be aggressive and even imperialist. Within its borders, it is rather more democratic and egalitarian. Thus, while we should not make the mistake of identifying too closely with the foreign policies of the US government, we must still seek to understand what has made America the least hierarchical and most open society in the world.

 

ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

 

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

EDITORIAL

STRANGE RELUCTANCE

'THE ELECTION HAS REPEAT-EDLY BEEN POSTPONED.'

 

 

By vacating the stay against the high court order to enable the Karnataka government to revise the reservation matrix of the wards of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in preparation for election to the corporation, the supreme court has further complicated the exercise. Left with very little option, the state election commission has cancelled the election schedule already announced and will now await the government's next move. The supreme court order had given the state government an excuse to seek postponement of elections yet again, a denouement preferred by a few ministers as well as by a majority of the City legislators regardless of party affiliations. The government may well argue now that it would be difficult to complete the redrawing of the reservation before Feb 1, the date on which the filing of nominations was scheduled to begin. The high court should at least get a firm commitment from the government on holding the elections latest by April.


The government has not exhibited unbridled enthusiasm to hold the elections, repeatedly postponing it on specious grounds. The term of the last elected body to rule the City ended over three years ago. Since then, the government has been exercising power in the City through the officials. This is palpably undemocratic and undesirable, and amounts to denial of popular representation to a 10th of the population of Karnataka. It is clear that the Rs 22,000 crore master plan for Bangalore unveiled last August has much to do with the reluctance of the government and the legislators to part with power in favour of new corporators.


It is very strange that over the last six months the government dilly-dallied over the reservation matrix and finally when it was submitted, it had so many loopholes that the high court was compelled to give a stay and order a fresh undertaking of the exercise. The advocate general's earlier plea of lack of sufficient time to prepare a new reservation scheme had been strongly challenged by some opposition stalwarts who contended that a new reservation list could be prepared in a few hours since all the demographic data was available. The government is on slippery ground here. When projects totalling a budget of Rs 3,248 crore could be  finalised by the BBMP officials by burning midnight oil, how difficult could it be to redo the reservation of the wards?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RISKY VENTURE

'INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IS KEEN ON AN EXIT ROUTE.'

 

A major change in the strategy of Afghanistan and the international community to end the war in the war-torn country is unfolding. Plans are afoot to engage sections of the Taliban in talks. Donor countries participating in a key conference in London have agreed to finance a $140 million peace and reintegration fund to draw Taliban fighters into the mainstream, through the promise of jobs and other incentives and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on disenchanted citizens, who are not part of the al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, to renounce violence and join the peace process.


Hitherto, security forces deployed in Afghanistan have treated Taliban and al-Qaeda similarly, targeting both in their military operations. Besides, Taliban, whether moderate or militant, were viewed as one and the same. In fact, it was often said that moderate Taliban was an oxymoron. That perception seems to be changing with Karzai and the international community reaching out to moderate Taliban. To some, including India the shift is worrying. If successful, the talks could result in a power sharing arrangement that includes Taliban moderates. Will that be the first step towards the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul? Will it mean resurgence in Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan? Will it be a return to the situation that existed in the late 1990s, where Afghanistan had become a haven for terror groups that targeted India? There is concern in India that the shift in strategy is aimed at providing international forces in Afghanistan a face-saving exit route ie once an agreement is reached troops can quickly pull out of the Afghan quagmire.


The concerns India is raising are valid. Still if the war in Afghanistan should end, military operations and reconstruction alone will not achieve that. Reconciliation is needed for sustainable peace. And that requires reaching out to the Taliban and bringing them into mainstream politics. As Taliban fighters begin turning their back on the gun, militancy will weaken. The strategy is one that is fraught with risks. But in a situation where there are few options, taking this risk might not be such a bad idea. However, it is important that the international community moves cautiously. Key decisions must be taken only after consultation with regional powers that have a better understanding of the Taliban.

 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

GM CONTAMINATION

FARMERS HAVE BEEN FIGHTING THE MENACE OF WEEDS, BUT THE NEWLY EMERGING SUPERWEEDS POSE A MUCH BIGGER THREAT.

BY DEVINDER SHARMA

 

Several years back, the late P N Haksar said in an interview that all the estimates of silt deposition in the big dams that the engineers have time and again projected have gone wrong. I recall vividly that he pointed to a report of the Central Water Commission, which found that the silt deposition rate was 500 times more on an average than what was initially projected.


The life of the big dams therefore turned out to be much shorter than expected, and all projections of irrigated area also went awry.

This is not only true of the big dams and hydel projects. Agricultural scientists too have made projections, which have time and again turned out to be a gross underestimate. I am not only talking of the crop estimates that are made before the harvest, but invariably you find that the projections for crop yield and productivity too fail. More recently, most studies estimating the distance the pollen of genetically modified (GM) crops flows, and which leads to cross-pollination with related species, have proved to be wrong.


Genetically modified crops like Bt cotton, for instance, have a gene from a soil bacteria taken out and inserted in the cotton plant. This gene produces poison within the cotton plant, and when the insect feeds on the plant it dies. This gene can however flow with wind or can be carried by insects like honey bees and can cross with the related or native varieties of cotton being cultivated in the neighbourhood.


Contamination of wild species assumes importance in the wake of the commercial approval pending for Bt brinjal — India's first GM food crop. Brinjal is normally a cross-pollinated crop, the extent of cross-pollination varying between 5 to 48 per cent, and therefore poses more threat of contamination. Such contamination of normal plants with GM plants can create weeds that cannot be controlled with herbicides. These are called superweeds.


Let me first explain what are these superweeds, and why farmers should be concerned.


Farmers have traditionally been fighting the menace of weeds, but the newly emerging superweeds pose a much bigger threat because they cannot be controlled with any chemical pesticide. In wheat, for example, farmers encountered mandusi (technically called phalaris minor) weeds, but these could be kept under control by spraying herbicides. Even though these herbicides are expensive and add to the farmers cost of cultivation, still farmers do have a way to eliminate mandusi.


Imagine if the wheat field had weeds, which could not be controlled with any chemical. Such weeds would turn the crop fields into a wasteland. This is exactly what is happening in many parts of America. And this is what farmers in India need to be worried about. Scientists will tell you that GM crops do not cause contamination, but that is not true.


Pigweed
In southern America, more than 1,00,000 acre in the province of Georgia is seriously afflicted by a new evil superweed, called pigweed. This weed has also appeared alarmingly in other provinces like South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Such was the devastation that more than 10,000 acre in the Macon county of Georgia province had to be abandoned by farmers.

In other words, Georgia province is fast turning in an unmanageable wasteland. "Last year, we hand-weeded 45 per cent of our severely infested fields," said Stanley Culpepper from the University of Georgia. These superweeds emerged after farmers had undertaken intensive cultivation of Monsanto's GM soyabean and cotton.


In India too, scientists are denying any threat from superweed invasion. Ironically, the US department of agriculture too had ruled out any possibility of large scale contamination from GM crops. And yet, the US faces a major problem turning farmlands into weed battlefields.


Superweeds have now appeared in 28 countries where GM crops are cultivated. At least, more than 30 known weeds, which were earlier manageable, have now turned into superweeds.


So much so that a US federal court has ordered the seed multinational Bayer Crop Sciences to pay $2 million to two farmers in Missouri province whose rice crop has been contamination by a GM rice variety under research trials. There are more than 1,000 lawsuits by farmers pending in the US courts against GM seed companies.
Estimates of total cost incurred due to contamination of normal crops with genes from GM crops, range from $741 million to $1.28 billion. Bayer Crop Science has admitted that it has failed to check contamination of normal crops despite following strict regulations and best practices.


In India, unfortunately there is no liability clause that fixes the cost for contamination that companies must pay. It is only recently that the supreme court, which is hearing a PIL seeking a moratorium on GM crops, has asked the government to respond as to why the field research trials cannot be held under controlled conditions. But this measure itself is not enough, as the US experience shows. There has to be a financial liability that must be ascribed on GM seed companies.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

PAVE WAY FOR THE PALESTINIAN STATE

BY MICHAEL JANSEN

 

The failure of US envoy George Mitchell to secure the resumption of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis amounts to a dangerous development. If Washington does not engineer the emergence of a Palestinian state before Barack Obama leaves the White House, it will be too late.


Israel is accelerating its drive to colonise the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas the international community has designated for the Palestinian state. Along with Gaza, these areas, occupied by Israel in 1967, constitute 22 per cent of geographic Palestine. It is the minimum the Palestinians and Arabs are prepared to accept in exchange for ending the 62 year-old conflict with Israel.


While Israel has repeatedly pledged to halt colonisation, its governments — whatever their political hue —  have trebled the number of colonists since the peace process was launched in 1991. Israel's powerful western allies have done nothing.
Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has laid down what he sees as the shape of a deal with the palestinians. His remarks consist of a series of 'nos': no Palestinian capital in occupied East Jerusalem, no Israeli withdrawal from large colonies jutting deep into the West Bank, and no Palestinian control of the border between the West Bank and Jordan. His vision is of a 'state' consisting of unconnected Palestinian enclaves (comparable to bantustan in apartheid South Africa) surrounded by Israeli-controlled territory.


Game plan

These enclaves would resemble the Gaza Strip today where Israel controls access by land and sea as well as airspace. Israel's ultimate aim is to squeeze the 2.5 million East Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinians into these enclaves and put pressure on them to emigrate.


Instead of attaining peace, Israel would remain a fortress state armed and financed by the West, a destabilising entity in a deeply hostile neighbourhood. Such an outcome is totally unacceptable to Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and the international community.


However, the Palestinians are too weak to prevent Israel from acting out this scenario, the Arabs have been rendered toothless, and the powers-that-be take no action against Israel.  Consequently, the world is certain to reap the whirlwind of Arab and Muslim fury.


The Obama administration — unlike its predecessor — understands that anger over Palestine unites Muslims from many countries and backgrounds and must be given credit for trying to do something about it. But Israel and its supporters in the US reject the administration's call for a colonisation freeze and the Palestinian Authority can not afford to negotiate until a freeze is in place.


Muslims have many other reasons, both medieval and modern, to hate the West. But failure to resolve the Palestine conflict, the contemporary font of Muslim anger, means that resentment in the world-wide Muslim community, the Umma, will continue to grow.

Little wonder that the latest comments attributed to Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, dwell on the sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza while laying claim to the Christmas day bomb attempt on a US airliner landing in Detroit. "The United States will not dream of enjoying safety until we live it in reality in Palestine. It is not fair to enjoy that kind of life while our brothers in Gaza live in the worst of miseries."

Earlier tapes said to have been made by Osama have not focused on Palestine, revealing that exploiting Gaza can be profitable politically — even for Osama bin Laden. Since Israel's 2009 war on Gaza, Muslims from Europe, the Indian Subcontinent, the US, Turkey and Malaysia have joined peaceful campaigns protesting Israel's siege and blockade. Some could opt for violence.


Resentment provides a pool of ready recruits for militant groups, particularly among alienated educated young people like Omar Farouk Abu Mutallab, the upper class Nigerian educated in London who staged the Christmas attempt. No more than a few score bombers are needed to unsettle and shake governments perceived by Muslims as hostile. Last weekend, with no evidence of any imminent plot, Britain upgraded its 'terrorist threat level' to serious.


Muslim resentment over Indian policies in Kashmir has so far been largely contained to the subcontinent in spite of Pakistan's efforts to exploit and internationalise the problem.  Fortunately for India, Pakistan has long been dismissed by Muslims as a protege of the West.


Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen head the list because they are occupied or targeted by the largely Christian West, which has been seen an enemy of Muslims since the medieval Crusades (1095-1291). This perception has deepened since the western colonial powers, expelled during the last century, have returned to or intervened in Muslim countries.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STAYING YOUNG

AGE IS A MATTER OF MIND AND I AM STILL A TEENAGER IN MY THOUGHTS.

BY D V GURUPRASAD

 

I believed in the old adage that a man is as old as he feels and a woman as old as she looks. When strands of grey appeared on my pate, I wasn't overtly worried. I maintained that after all getting old is a natural phenomenon and one should not go against the tide.


One evening my son's friend came home for dinner and as we were talking, he asked me whether I had retired from service. Since I had almost 10 years to reach the retirement age, I told him so. But I started wondering whether I am looking older than my age. My wife suggested that I could get my hair dyed and get a facial done, but I vehemently opposed her suggestion. One of my friends attempted to dye his hair and actually got into his death bed because of some chemical reaction.


A few years later I went to a school reunion and met many of my class fellows. One of them remarked to others that I am having a distinguished look. I asked him whether he meant that I am looking old. His silence was revealing and once again a thought came to me to make an attempt to look young.


Some time later I attended a wedding. When I went to wish the bride, her mother directed the newly weds to touch my feet asking them to take the blessings of a grandfather. I was visibly embarrassed as both my children were still in college and I had not even thought of their marriage. My wife reasoned that our first child is already 20 years old and had she got married at the legally permissible marriage age, we would have definitely become grandparents. Hearing that explanation, I didn't bother over the matter.


The other day I was a chief guest for an important function and the media covered it extensively. One newspaper reported that I am a retired officer. I got annoyed and spoke to the editor whom I had known since childhood. He apologised for the faux paus, but gently reminded me that had the government not increased the retirement age, I would have naturally retired from service by then. I was speechless.


As I sat brooding over the editor's comments, I received an e mail from a friend which said that life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breaths away. Remembering such moments, I realised that I still have the energy of a middle-aged man and free from ailments people of my age suffer from. I am still a teenager in my thoughts.

 

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

EDITORIAL

THE INSURER VS. THE HOSPITALS

 

A bitter dispute between one of the nation's largest health insurers and a consortium of New York City hospitals illustrates the difficulties of controlling the ever-rising costs of medical care and insurance premiums. In this case, the insurer appears to be acting responsibly, if a bit heavy-handedly.

 

As described by Anemona Hartocollis in The Times this week, the struggle pits UnitedHealthcare, which has 25 million members across the country, against Continuum Health Partners, the parent company of five hospitals in the city, including Beth Israel and St. Luke's-Roosevelt.

 

One issue is how much money UnitedHealthcare will pay the hospitals for services provided to its members. The insurer claims that it was shocked that hospital negotiators were seeking a 40 percent increase in reimbursement rates, especially when subscribers are demanding they rein in premiums. The hospitals say they were appalled to find that UnitedHealthcare wanted a reduction of 7 to 10 percent in reimbursement levels at a time when its largest hospitals are barely breaking even.

 

We don't pretend to know what the proper reimbursement rates should be. We simply note that many experts believe hospital costs generally are too high and that insurers should bargain hard to bring costs down rather than just raise premiums.

 

A second issue is UnitedHealthcare's demand that the hospitals notify it within 24 hours when a beneficiary is admitted — or suffer a 50 percent cut in reimbursements for that patient. The insurer says the faster it has that information the faster its case managers can look for ways to shorten a hospital stay — reducing costs and hospital-borne infections — and help organize post-hospital care to prevent relapses.

 

Hospitals are notoriously poor at coordinating post-discharge care, and insurers, who have the fullest records of what doctors a patient has been seeing, are in a good position to help do it. The hospitals suspect that UnitedHealthcare is looking for an excuse to cut reimbursements. The company denies that.

 

How hard could it be for admissions offices to alert the insurer — and the patient's primary care doctor — that a patient has arrived? That said, it might be fairer to impose a lesser penalty for, say, the first 10 missed deadlines and bigger penalties after that.

 

The fight should remind insurers and health care providers that they have a shared interest in making sure that medical treatment is better coordinated so that patients get well faster and don't relapse. That is a good way to rein in costs and premiums.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

IRAN, AFTER THE DEADLINE

 

Iran has again proved to be a master at playing for time. Six months after a new diplomatic overture from Washington and its partners, Tehran has shown no interest in resolving the dispute over its nuclear program. It is time for President Obama and other leaders to ratchet up the pressure with tougher sanctions.

 

Mr. Obama, who offered a new relationship with Iran, gave its government until the end of 2009 to come to the table. In his State of the Union address this week, he warned Iran's leaders that they face "growing consequences" if they continue to ignore their obligations.

 

Four years after the United Nations Security Council first demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium (usable for nuclear fuel or a bomb), Tehran has thousands of centrifuges spinning. Washington plans to soon circulate a new sanctions resolution — the fourth in four years.

 

Britain, France and Germany share Mr. Obama's concerns. Russia and China — which have veto power on the Security Council and strong economic ties with Iran — have previously insisted on watering down penalties. That has made the Council look feckless and made it far too easy for Iran to press ahead. On Friday, we were glad to see Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly warn China, which seems especially intractable, that it faces diplomatic isolation if it fails to back new sanctions.

 

Last fall, after Iran was caught hiding another illicit enrichment plant, the major powers offered Tehran a reasonable interim deal: open all of its nuclear facilities to international inspectors and send most of its stock of low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a research reactor. That wouldn't have solved the problem, but it would have bought more time for negotiations. A midlevel Iranian diplomat seemed to agree, but then higher-ups said no. Nothing has changed since.

 

This is a delicate time in Iran. Last June's fraudulent presidential election sparked fierce political protests and a brutal government crackdown — including political executions. New United Nations sanctions must be deftly targeted to inflict maximum damage on the levers of repression — especially the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which also runs the nuclear program — without imposing additional suffering on the Iranians. That circle must somehow be squared. And the door must remain open to negotiations.

 

If the Security Council does not act quickly, then the United States and Europe must apply more pressure on

their own. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would punish companies for exporting gasoline to Iran or helping Iran expand its own petroleum refining capability. The House already had passed a similar version. That may be necessary at some point, but right now we are concerned that this approach will hurt too many Iranians outside the governmentSome experts say the government is so weakened that the United States should withdraw its offer to improve relations and focus solely on regime change. No one has put forward a compelling plan for achieving that, but military action would be a disaster. As we saw in Iraq, talk of regime change can be an unpredictable and dangerous game.

 

Iran is already, predictably, claiming that the homegrown opposition is a tool of the West. That is absurd. President Obama needs to speak out more strongly on behalf of Iranians who are peacefully seeking change. But the United States and its partners also must be very conscious of the fierce pride and independence of the Iranian people. Squaring that circle will be extremely hard, but it must be done. Meanwhile, the centrifuges keep spinning.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

LOST IN TRANSLATION

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

 

President Obama's State of the Union address soared — right over a familiar cliff.

 

The president simply couldn't seem to escape his professorial past, to convey his passion and convictions in the plain words of plain folks, and to breech the chasm between the People's House and people's houses.

 

He's still stuck on studious.

 

He seems to believe that if he does a better job of explaining his aggressive agenda, then he'll win hearts and minds. It's an honorable ambition, but it's foolhardy. People want clear goals, clearly defined and clearly (and concisely) conveyed. They're suspicious of complexity.

 

H.L. Mencken once famously opined, "No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby." I take exception to that. But if you change "intelligence" to "attention span," I agree wholeheartedly.

 

Republicans know this well. Obama knows it not.

 

Take the enormous health care bill for instance. The president overreached, pushing a convoluted bill with a convoluted message. The Republican response: "Just say no." They countered with a series of crisp attacks that shrouded the bill in a fog of confusion. Now it's in danger, and the public may well blame the Democrats. People don't care as much about process as they do about results.

 

According to a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 1 person in 4 knew that 60 votes are needed in the Senate to break a filibuster and only 1 in 3 knew that no Senate Republicans voted for the health care bill.

 

And, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released this week, while slightly more Americans blamed Republicans than Democrats for the political impasse in Washington, the percentage of people with negative feelings about the Republicans was the same as it was for the Democrats.

 

The message that voters take away is not nuanced: Democrats in control. Bill complicated. Republicans oppose. Politicians bicker. Progress stalls. Democrats failing.

 

Obama has to accept that today's information environment is broad and shallow, and we now communicate in headline phrases, acerbic humor and ad hominem attacks. Sad but true.

 

We subsist on Twitter twaddle — a never-ending stream of ideas and idiocy, where emotions are rendered in anagrams and thoughts are amputated at 140 characters.

 

The most trusted "newsman" may well be a comedian (Jon Stewart), and stars of the "most trusted news network" (Fox) may well be a comedian's dream.

 

The president must communicate within the environment he inhabits, not the one he envisions. The next time he gives a speech, someone should tap him on the ankle and say, "Mr. President, we're down here."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A RADICAL TREASURE

BY BOB HERBERT

 

I had lunch with Howard Zinn just a few weeks ago, and I've seldom had more fun while talking about so many matters that were unreservedly unpleasant: the sorry state of government and politics in the U.S., the tragic futility of our escalation in Afghanistan, the plight of working people in an economy rigged to benefit the rich and powerful.

 

Mr. Zinn could talk about all of that and more without losing his sense of humor. He was a historian with a big, engaging smile that seemed ever-present. His death this week at the age of 87 was a loss that should have drawn much more attention from a press corps that spends an inordinate amount of its time obsessing idiotically over the likes of Tiger Woods and John Edwards.

 

Mr. Zinn was chagrined by the present state of affairs, but undaunted. "If there is going to be change, real change," he said, "it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That's how change happens."

 

We were in a restaurant at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan. Also there was Anthony Arnove, who had worked closely with Mr. Zinn in recent years and had collaborated on his last major project, "The People Speak." It's a film in which well-known performers bring to life the inspirational words of everyday citizens whose struggles led to some of the most profound changes in the nation's history. Think of those who joined in — and in many cases became leaders of — the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist revolution, the gay rights movement, and so on.

 

Think of what this country would have been like if those ordinary people had never bothered to fight and sometimes die for what they believed in. Mr. Zinn refers to them as "the people who have given this country whatever liberty and democracy we have."

 

Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we're living through now, it's fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don't even notice it. (There's a restaurant chain called "Hooters," for crying out loud.)

 

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

 

Mr. Zinn was often taken to task for peeling back the rosy veneer of much of American history to reveal sordid realities that had remained hidden for too long. When writing about Andrew Jackson in his most famous book, "A People's History of the United States," published in 1980, Mr. Zinn said:

 

"If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians."

Radical? Hardly.

 

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict.

 

He had a wonderful family, and he cherished it. He and his wife, Roslyn, known to all as Roz, were married in 1944 and were inseparable for more than six decades until her death in 2008. She was an activist, too, and Howard's editor. "I never showed my work to anyone except her," he said.

 

They had two children and five grandchildren.

 

Mr. Zinn was in Santa Monica this week, resting up after a grueling year of work and travel, when he suffered a heart attack and died on Wednesday. He was a treasure and an inspiration. That he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE PRE-POSTMODERNIST

BY DAVID LODGE

 

Birmingham, England

THE life of J. D. Salinger, which has just ended, is one of the strangest and saddest stories in recent literary history. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to let the disappointment of the second half of Mr. Salinger's career — consisting of a long short story called "Hapworth 16, 1924" that reads as though he allowed the pain of hostile criticism to blunt the edge of self-criticism that every good writer must possess, followed by 45 years of living like a hermit in the New Hampshire woods — to overshadow the achievements of the first half.

 

The corpus of his good work is very small, but it is classic. His was arguably the first truly original voice in American prose fiction after the generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. Of course nothing is absolutely original in literature, and Mr. Salinger had his precursors, of whom Hemingway was one, and Mark Twain — from whose Huck Finn Hemingway said that all modern American literature came — another. From them he learned what you could do with simple, colloquial language and a naïve youthful narrator. But in "The Catcher in the Rye" Mr. Salinger applied their lessons in a new way to create a new kind of hero, Holden Caulfield, whose narrative voice struck a chord with millions of readers.

 

The narrative is in a style the Russians call skaz, a nice word with echoes of jazz and scat in it, which uses the repetitions and redundancies of ordinary speech to produce an effect of sincerity and authenticity — and humor: "The thing is, most of the time when you're coming pretty close to doing it with a girl ... she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don't. I can't help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they're just scared as hell, or whether they're just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame'll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping. The trouble is, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean most girls are so dumb and all. After you neck them for a while you can really watch them losing their brains. You take a girl when she really gets passionate, she just hasn't any brains. I don't know. They tell me to stop, so I stop."

 

It looks easy, but it isn't.

 

Nearly everybody loves "The Catcher in the Rye," and most readers enjoy Mr. Salinger's first collection of short stories, "Nine Stories." But the work that followed, the four long short stories paired together in two successive books as "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction," were less reader-friendly and provoked more critical comment, leading eventually to the retreat of the wounded author into solitude.

 

This was as much the consequence of critical failure as of authorial arrogance. These books challenged conventional notions of fiction and conventional ways of reading as radically as the kind of novels that would later be called post-modernist, and a lot of critics didn't "get it." The saga of the Glass family is stylistically the antithesis of "Catcher" — highly literary, full of rhetorical tropes, narrative devices and asides to the reader — but there is also continuity between them. The literariness of the Glass stories is always domesticated by a colloquial informality. Most are narrated by Buddy, the writer in the family, who says at the outset of "Zooey" that "what I'm about to offer isn't really a short story at all but a sort of prose home movie."

 

The nearest equivalent to this saga in earlier literature is perhaps the 18th-century antinovel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman," by Laurence Sterne. There is the same minutely close observation of the social dynamics of family life, the same apparent disregard for conventional narrative structure, the same teasing hints that the fictional narrator is a persona for the real author, the same delicate balance of sentiment and irony, and the same humorous running commentary on the activities of writing and reading.

 

How Shandean, for instance, is Buddy's presentation to the reader in "Seymour" of "this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((( )))). I suppose, most unflorally, I truly mean them to be taken, first off, as bow-legged — buckle-legged — omens of my state of mind and body at this writing."

 

Seymour Glass first appeared in one of the "Nine Stories," "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," as a disturbed veteran of World War II (as Mr. Salinger himself was), who on vacation with his rather shallow wife, after a charmingly droll conversation with a little girl on the beach, shockingly shoots himself in the last paragraph. The late stories are all in some way about the attempts of Seymour's surviving siblings to come to terms with this action. This often takes a religious direction, and presents the Glass family as a kind of spiritual elite, struggling against a tide of materialism and philistinism with the aid of Christian existentialism, Eastern mysticism and a select pantheon of great writers.

 

This cultural and spiritual elitism got up the noses of many critics, but I think they overlooked the fact that Mr. Salinger was playing a kind of Shandean game with his readers. The more truth-telling and pseudo-historical the stories became in form (tending toward an apparently random, anecdotal structure, making elaborate play with letters and other documents as "evidence"), the less credible became the content (miraculous feats of learning, stigmata, prophetic glimpses, memories of previous incarnations, and so forth). But what were we asked to believe in: the reality of these things, or the possibility of them? Since it is fiction, surely the latter; to suppose it is the former is to lose half the pleasure of reading the books.

 

David Lodge is the author, most recently, of the novel "Deaf Sentence."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ANOTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTH

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Back last November. ... Wow, that seems like a long time ago. Health care was passing. Jay Leno was popular. Dinosaurs roamed the earth.

 

As I was saying, last November, the Justice Department announced that the terror trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be held in Manhattan. Almost everyone in New York rallied around. This was seen as standing up to terrorism.

 

"It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center, where so many New Yorkers were murdered," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

Now everything's flipped. The politicians are running for the hills, and the issue has been repackaged as standing up to traffic jams.

 

"There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive," said Bloomberg.

 

And the Justice Department is backing down. The trial will happen somewhere else. People in Lower Manhattan will breathe a sigh of relief.

 

But this feels very wrong.

 

The Bloomberg rebellion fits right into the sour, us-first mood that's settled over the country. It's part of the same impulse that caused Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska to decree that a historic overhaul of the country's messed-up health care system was not going to happen unless his home state got a special exemption from sharing the costs.

 

Or the Not-in-My-Backyard uprising that followed President Obama's attempt to move the Guantánamo prisoners into American maximum-security lockups. No matter how remote the prison, local politicians said that the danger was too great to bear. Both of Montana's Democratic senators immediately decreed that their entire state was a no-go zone.

 

Or the Republican race to the other side of the room any time the Obama administration proposes anything. Rudy Giuliani, who watched "in awe of our system" when terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in a civilian court in Virginia, instantly attacked the plans for the Manhattan trial. Giuliani kept finding everything Obama did worse and worse until he finally flipped completely over the edge and claimed that there had been no terrorist attacks in the United States during the Bush administration.

 

It's all part of a cult of selfishness that decrees it's fine to throw your body in front of any initiative, no matter how important, if resistance looks more profitable.

 

The economy has a lot to do with this. So does Washington's increasing confidence that Barack Obama can be rolled. We're currently stuck in a place where people no longer feel as though they need to be part of the solution.

 

Democrats are starting to join the Republicans' call to toss out the Constitution and try suspected terrorists in military courts. Some of the same senators who gave you the endless health care bill obstructions have already signed on, saying federal trials are too expensive and too dangerous.

 

Safety is always a concern, but Al Qaeda doesn't operate like a season of "24." Terrorists don't generally strike when it's most symbolic or best serves a story line. They do the things that happen to work out. So Barack Obama is inaugurated and the 9/11 anniversary passes in peace and quiet. Then a guy tries to explode his underwear while heading for the Detroit airport.

 

New York's sudden resistance certainly wasn't about safety, even though Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a whiny letter to the White House saying a trial in Manhattan could "add to the threat."

 

The problem was inconvenience. People were fine with having the trial here until the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, started describing his plans for permanently cordoning off a goodly chunk of Lower Manhattan. Businesses and residents hadn't appreciated what a huge, life-disrupting inconvenience standing up to terror could be.

 

And no one was applauding them for their potential sacrifice. If anything, they were regarded as saps for agreeing to go along with something that Montana found to be unacceptable risk.

 

This is a change. The city experienced the worst of terrorism on 9/11, but we also saw the best of the country in the weeks that followed. People rushed in from everywhere — often at great inconvenience — to help. And for months afterward, you could not travel anywhere outside the state without having other Americans come up to you and ask if there was anything they could do.

 

They wanted a task. A whole nation was hungering to be inconvenienced for the common good. And President Bush's response was to give them a tax cut.

 

Whatever muscles we used in cooperating have atrophied. Barack Obama ran for president promising to change that, and he hasn't. Part of the fault is his. Sometimes at crucial moments, there seems to be no hands on the tiller. The Republicans are impossible. Many Democrats are both frightened and greedy.

 

But figuring out how we got here is irrelevant. We need to get out.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE MISSING

 

The three-member Supreme Court bench hearing the case of missing persons has ordered the government to trace them within the next two weeks. It has also said that it will rule on the matter within the month of February. The cases of at least two persons, both allegedly 'picked up' in 2004, have been specifically referred to. For over five years, these persons have remained missing, disappearing from the lives of their families. In some ways at least -- given the uncertainty surrounding such cases and their non-closure -- this is a fate even worse than death. Mothers do not know if they will ever see their sons alive again; wives have no way of knowing if husbands will ever return home and children wait, month after month, year after year, for their fathers. The demonstrations staged by these victims demanding the return of loved ones are of course an outcome of desperation.

 

The petitioners in the case, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have told the court that according to their records some 99 people have been traced while an equal number remain unaccounted for. These include those accused of involvement with militant groups, writers, nationalists and a variety of others. The suspicion is that they may be detained at secret places by agencies that run 'safe houses' located in many places. In some cases individuals listed as 'missing' have reportedly been spotted at such places by others kept there and subsequently freed. We must also hope the court action in this matter will highlight the need to bring agencies under some kind of discipline and lead to the elimination of places of illegal detention. It is of course not inconceivable that some of those who have vanished are indeed guilty of offence. They should be tried for this and punished if found guilty. Secrecy in such matters benefits no one and can inflict great harm on society. The government must adhere to its pledge to recover these persons and bring them out from the shadows into which they have been pushed for years.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

UP IN SMOKE

 

According to statistics made public at a seminar in Islamabad, up to 273 people die everyday in the country due to diseases caused by smoking. This is no small number. Over a year it multiplies into thousands. Even those who do not themselves smoke can be affected. The NGO that organised the event has been among those highlighting the government's failure to enforce a decision taken in May last year to include pictorial warnings on cigarette packets about the hazards of smoking. Certainly in a country where illiteracy remains rampant, this could help inform people about the dangers of lighting up. But it is also a fact that other forms of tobacco use are growing without any efforts made to check them.


Today, more and more restaurants offer 'shisha' on their menu. Parlours that focus on the glass pipe alone have crept up everywhere. Many young people who most enthusiastically form a part of the 'shisha' culture remain unaware of the hazards this poses. So do their parents. Yet the limited research published suggests that smoking one 'shisha' pipe is akin to inhaling the smoke from 20 cigarettes. In addition there are reports of psychedelic drugs being added to the tobacco, which is sometimes doused in fruit-scented flavouring. This in itself can make the 'shisha' seem innocuous. According to media reports, college and even school children have taken to 'shisha'. This is a trend we need to educate people about. Tobacco, in all its various forms, presents a health hazard. A campaign against it can save lives and raise awareness about the risks.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DEMOLISH THE MYTH

 

The notion propounded by some political parties and many individuals who should know better that ordinary people in Malakand and FATA back the Taliban as some kind of stand against the US was delivered a resounding blow in Swat, where the joint ANP-PPP candidate won by a big margin a provincial seat that lay vacant following the assassination of its MPA. He too had been affiliated with the ANP. Whereas this factor played a part in the victory for his brother, it is no coincidence that candidates of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf and the Jamaat-e-Islami finished last in the race, collecting only a few thousand votes each. Of course the ANP had also swept the general election in Swat in 2008; many of its candidates at the time spoke out bravely against the Taliban.


The continued successes notched up by the ANP – which come despite its rather poor effort to offer up good governance – demonstrate how desperate people are to escape the Taliban. It is sad that so often there is an insistence that these people in fact back extremists. The perception has been created by the state's long failure to stand up to the Taliban. From Waziristan, the intellectuals, the writers and the journalists of that agency who opposed the Taliban were forced out. This drive against those who opposed them was conducted by the Taliban in other places too. The ouster of such persons meant that those left behind were too frightened to speak out and an impression of support for the militants was created by the silence that then prevailed. It is important to challenge this myth. In Swat, hoteliers and others who made a living from tourism are desperately trying to revive it. Some people have been persuaded to venture back; the people of Swat hope that others will follow. Those who have lived under the Taliban know there is nothing remotely romantic about their worldview. In recent days the media has been conveying the voices of these people to others everywhere. This effort needs to be stepped up and it must be made clear that in Swat and other places people want, more than anything else, an escape from the militancy that has endangered their lives and welfare for years.

 

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I. THE NEWS

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

ARIF NIZAMI


In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 287-page detailed judgment declaring the NRO unconstitutional, Mr Zardari's presidency is perceived to be in all kinds of trouble. Nevertheless, the president is defiant and has vowed to fight all the way. His legal options limited, he has apparently decided to meet the challenge politically. He claims, with some bravado, that as an elected president and head of the largest political party of the country, he would give his opponents their money's worth.


Despite such bluster, President Zardari has been bitterly complaining of conspiracies against him. A few days after the judgment, while launching a dam project in Chakwal, he lamented that, "we cannot be killed by conspiracies of pens or bayonets." He has been consistently blaming a section of the media for targeting him. But despite broad hints, he had refrained from naming the army as part of the so-called conspiracy.


On the same occasion he lamented the role of "political actors who consider themselves politicians." Whether this was a broad hint at the judiciary or the army, or at a nexus between the two, it certainly takes Mr Zardari's threat perception to a critical level. PPP circles have been complaining privately about the ISI or part of it as conspiring against their party's rule.


There have been numerous meetings between the COAS, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President Zardari and the prime minister. The president was assured that there were no conspiracies afoot to dislodge him by the military or its intelligence apparatus. Nor was there a nexus between the army and the judiciary to dislodge or destabilise the government.


In the light of these assurances Mr Zardari seemed reassured and promised to publicly correct the damage done by the Naudero speech a month ago on the occasion of Ms Benazir Bhutto's death anniversary. Apparently the Chakwal speech has vitiated the atmosphere again, widening the chasm between the army and Mr Zardari.

This unfortunate situation has arisen at a crucial time, when high-level talks to chalk out a strategy to engage the Taliban for joining a future Afghan dispensation are afoot. Islamabad's role in such talks is seen to be pivotal. On the sidelines of the Brussels summit meeting with NATO commanders, Gen Kayani is meeting the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, the commander of the US Central Command, Gen David Petraeus, and the head of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen McChrystal. These high-level contacts will determine Islamabad's role in deciding the future course of action in Afghanistan.


The army, with its hands full fighting the Taliban internally as well as dealing with the increasingly threatening posture of the Indians, is hardly in a position to successfully intervene in domestic political conflicts. It has a dismal record of leaving the country in a bigger mess every time it has intervened. Unfortunately, in the present scenario, not entirely of Mr Zardari's making, it might have to intercede again to prevent a complete deadlock as a result of the standoff between the government and the apex court. Prime Minister Gilani has already hinted that a clash of institutions may again lead to military dictatorship in the country.


The detailed judgment has opened three kinds of challenges for President Zardari that could possibly destabilise the system in days to come. As a result of the judgment the president might be compelled to approach the court regarding whether he enjoys legal or constitutional immunity from being tried for any criminal offence during his term of office.


Another possibility opened by the judgment is whether, under Article 62(F) of the Constitution, Mr Zardari was eligible to be president at the time of his election. Interestingly, this clause, which was inserted by Gen Ziaul Haq, judges the candidate on the touchstone of whether he is "sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen."

It will be a supreme irony if Mr Zardari was disqualified on the basis of this controversial and arbitrary clause. Few elected members of the assemblies can fulfil this subjective criterion, and this is why some prominent jurists, including Ms Asma Jahangir, are openly critical of its invocation.


The potential for trouble lies under Article 190, under which all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan are to act in aid of the Supreme Court. This is being interpreted by some as giving the apex court the option to ask the army to intervene to get its NRO verdict implemented. Back in 1997, President Farooq Leghari tried his hands at it when Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah wrote to the COAS, Gen Jehangir Karamat, to intervene to protect the Supreme Court from Nawaz Sharif's goons. Gen Karamat refused to oblige, on the basis that the request should come from the competent authority. As a result, Leghari had to resign.


Firstly, it will indeed be a negation of the successful and protracted struggle of the lawyers' movement against the Musharraf dictatorship for the restoration of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, if the apex court invites the army to move against an elected government, on whatever pretext. Secondly, neither is the government likely to make such a request nor can the military take the unusual step of moving against an elected government, because that will amount to subverting the Constitution yet again.

Fears have been expressed that, if forced to quit, Mr Zardari could use the Sindh card. With Balochistan already on fire, this could be a big blow to the country's integrity and stability. In practical terms it is unlikely that the biggest national political party of the country would retreat to Sindh and abandon national politics. In the ultimate analysis, even if Mr Zardari is unable to retain the presidency there is no reason that the PPP, along with its coalition partners, does not remain in power.


It is another matter if the establishment considers the PPP a "security risk" and is actually conspiring to end its rule. If so, it will indeed be a tragedy for survival of democratic institutions of the country. To obviate such a possibility, no matter how unlikely, Gen Kayani should closely re-examine what is happening on his watch. Notwithstanding the shenanigans of our political elite, there is little philosophical appreciation and understanding for civilian rule within our polity including the intelligence agencies.


Thankfully, Mian Nawaz Sharif, despite goading from some of his hawkish party men and vitriolic statements emanating from the PPP leadership, has resisted the temptation to destabilise the system. The enormous trust deficit that exists between him and Mr Zardari needs to be bridged, and for that to happen the ball is squarely in the president's court. Foot-dragging on scrapping the controversial 17th Amendment has become counter-productive, not only for the system but for his credibility as well.


Mr Sharif should play his role to strengthen the system by entering the parliament, instead of remaining ensconced in his Raiwind estate. He should not miss the opportunity of contesting by-elections due in March. His present detached attitude perhaps emanates from the perception that ultimately power will fall in his laps like a ripe apple and all he has to do is wait. This is wishful thinking, since, if the system goes, Mian Sahib will be the biggest loser.

 

Mr Zardari, as president, owes the nation and his party to give a clean and lean government free of corruption and cronyism. Six months back he was provided a list of corrupt ministers by the ISI chief. No action was considered necessary on the basis of the list. According to a media report the prime minister has advised the president that now is the time to act by removing some key controversial figures from their offices. He should heed the advice of his prime minister.

President Zardari, instead of lamenting the real or perceived conspiracies against him, should be seen to be mending fences both with the pen and the bayonet. So far as the media is concerned, he should not be overtly worried about its role, as a large section of both the print and electronic media is giving a balanced, if not actually supportive, picture of his regime. Public airing of grievances with the army and the ISI hinting at a nexus between them and the courts could prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in the ultimate analysis. Hence the need for opening a frank dialogue before it is too late!


The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

LEARNING FROM KOREA

PART I

JAVED MASUD


This article has been provoked by the observations and analysis of your distinguished columnist Shafqat Mahmood, based on his recent visit to South Korea, as published in The News of November 27, 2009. Mr Mahmood referred to the popular myth in our country that Koreans owe a debt to Pakistan in terms of duplicating its planning and development process as learnt through a visiting Korean delegation in the 1960s. He observes that his scepticism about the myth was considerably diluted when he actually met Mr Kim Jin-Hyun who had been a member of the visiting Korean delegation and had shared his feelings of fondness and nostalgia about that historical trip.


If Mr Mahmood had chosen to enquire from Kim as to what they had actually learned from Pakistan and what, if any, part of that knowledge had been translated into the Korean economic planning process and strategy, he would have faced embarrassing silence. It is, of course, a fact that a Korean delegation did visit Pakistan in the 1960s. The visit was proposed by the Harvard Advisory Group who were advisors to the Korean government at that time and had advised the Pakistan government earlier in establishing Pakistan's Planning Commission. It is, however, a complete myth that Koreans learnt much from this visit.


The system established in Korea is in fact quite different. The apex body for planning and development in South Korea is the Economic Planning Board (EPB), which is headed by a minister who is also designated as the deputy prime minister of the country. The EPB is responsible not only for planning and resource allocation but more importantly for implementation of public-sector programmes through line ministries. In order to ensure effective and timely implementation, each ministry has a representative of the EPB for purposes of coordination.

It may be interesting for readers to know the origin of the popular myth. In 1981, the Korean government posted one of its most senior diplomats, Mr Jay Hee Oh, to Islamabad as its consul general. Mr Oh was charged by his government with the mission to persuade Pakistan to establish full diplomatic relations with South Korea. At that time Koreans were miffed by the fact that while Pakistan had full diplomatic relations with North Korea, they had only consul-level relations with South Korea. Mr Oh began to work on all fronts and quickly recognising the Pakistani psyche he used his charm and diplomatic skills to massage our collective ego and to use all opportunities for political lobbying. He quickly appointed Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, at that time a close political ally of General Ziaul Haq, as Korea's honorary counsel general in Lahore. His singular achievement was to convince Pakistan about Korea's debt to Pakistan.


In an address to the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, Mr Oh made this revelation that Koreans largely owe their success to Pakistan and referred to the visit of the Korean delegation to study our planning process. This statement was like music to all Pakistani ears; and since that time it is treated as the gospel truth. Renowned economists, foremost intellectuals, journalists and even political leaders have referred to this from time to time in public media. Incidentally, Mr Oh achieved his one-point agenda when Pakistan extended full diplomatic recognition to South Korea in 1984. As a reward, Mr Oh was appointed vice-minister of foreign affairs on his return from Pakistan.


At the time Korea started its planned economic development process in the early 1960s, they already had a national literacy rate of over 70 per cent. The important implication of this is that the learning curve for skilled workers in industrial undertakings was much shorter. As a matter of deliberate policy, Koreans opted for an industrial strategy which was totally opposite to the strategy in Pakistan. The manufacturing base targeted the export market, and not import substitution, as was the case in Pakistan. This ensured the high level of cost and quality competitiveness. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the strategy of import substitution was encouraged through establishing a multiple exchange rate under which industrial raw materials were imported at a concessional foreign exchange rate and the output was consumed locally with prices protected through high import tariff barriers. As a consequence, the output of these manufacturing activities was not internationally competitive and in many cases the capacity utilisation was below 50 per cent but sponsor continued to earn phenomenal profits because of tariff distortions.


Even at the initial stage of designing the planning strategy, the Korean leadership had a very clear vision of the future and, hence, a meaningful roadmap. Efforts were initially directed at promoting labour-intensive industry to be followed by capital-intensive industry, and later graduating to knowledge-intensive industry and services. This strategy was augmented by a well-conceived and effectively implemented public sector programme focusing on the development of heavy industry as well as both the physical and human infrastructure.


There are many stories of successful public-sector initiatives. One of the most important initiatives was the establishment of the first integrated steel mill (POSCO) as a totally green-field project. The mill with a capacity of 1 million ton (same as Pakistan Steel) was completed in July 1973 within a period of three years from the start of implementation. Soon after completion, the capacity continued to be expanded and by May 1981 it had reached 8.5 million tons.


(To be continued)


The writer, a former CEO of PACRA, was Pakistan's consul general/commercial counsellor in Seoul from 1982 to 1987. Email: javedmasud14@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PLAYING THE SINDH CARD

ZAFAR HILALY


When it comes to discussing discrimination practised against those who belong to the smaller provinces, many who are domiciled in Punjab prefer to avoid the subject. They seem to forget that however fair they may want to be, by refusing to acknowledge what is a widespread feeling in the smaller provinces, or by passively accepting and acquiescing in the discrimination, they allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have the acceptance and concurrence of their fellow Punjabis. When told that an excellent officer was being ignored merely on account of his provenance, a senior Punjabi colleague brushed it aside with the remark, "Actually, all life is about discrimination."


Alas, it is not so simple. Pakistan was dismembered because for decades, the Bengalis felt that they were targets of rank discrimination till a point was reached when it no longer became tolerable. It is that feeling, that hurt, which gave rise to the possibility of secession rather than foreign machinations or the "traitors" of the Awami League.

Sadly, the same feeling is now in the air. Of course, in Balochistan it has caught on to an alarming extent. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has a separate flag, a distinct national anthem, an army and a manifesto that brazenly calls for independence. Thankfully, in the other provinces that was not the case till Mr Zardari played the Sindh card during his visit to Larkana, following the Supreme Court's short order earlier this month.

And now what was once viewed as a tactic by him to escape the likely consequences of the judgement, the dirge of a harassed president, the last throw of the dice, as it were, is increasingly seen as brave, righteous and justified indignation against discrimination practised by institutions manned mostly by Punjabis against a regime and its leader who belongs to Sindh.


Only time will tell whether or not it was wise to play the Sindh card; of greater interest is why he should have had recourse to it and why the sense of alienation that exists in Sindh should continue 62 years after independence.

The bed rock of Pakistan's formation was and will always be the 1940 Pakistan Resolution. That seminal document called for a Pakistan comprising "sovereign" and "autonomous" states with the centre retaining only defence foreign affairs, and currency. In contrast, Pakistan's first Constitution (1956) contained 36 entries in the federal legislative List. This number was increased to 67 in the 1973 Constitution. Subsequent amendments changed the entire basis of the constitution. It was transformed into a unitary instead of a federal instrument. Police, railway, gas, etc, which were actually provincial subjects were retained by the Ccntre. "Such misuse of the concept of the concurrent legislative list," Sindhis say, "was deeply resented by Sindh."


Similarly, the smaller provinces felt short-changed by a lack of representation in the Central Superior Services (CSS). In the case of Balochistan, there is a glaring shortfall. Likewise, the amount and pace of development in Punjab, especially Lahore, is so strikingly greater than that in the other provinces or provincial capitals that comparisons are invidious and hurtful.


Yet neither the drift from a constitutionally weak to a super strong centre is the main cause for anger. Constitutional amendments that will be tabled once the Rabbani proposals are finalised, should hopefully reverse the trend towards centralisation. Similarly, additional recruitment will be able to address the shortfall in officers belonging to the smaller provinces. Proportionately more funds to the provinces than Punjab will enable them to begin the long journey of catching up with the former. The real problem is the attitudes of leaders, bureaucrats and the elite of Punjab towards those of their ilk from another province. Punjabis look condescendingly on others, not as younger brothers but more like poor cousins.


In the case of political leaders, the marked contrast in this regard between the mien of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are revealing.


Nawaz Sharif is has surrounded himself with fellow Punjabis. Very few, if any, of those that form his coterie are non Punjabis. And their preferred mode of communication is often Punjabi. It is probably not a conscious decision to exclude non-Punjabis but rather, and more alarmingly, a natural and instinctive preference. Mr Sharif's actions too belie his claim to be an all-Pakistan leader. Thus, it is not that he has no time for Sindh or Balochistan; it is just that he seems averse to leaving Punjab unless it is to go to London, Dubai or Jeddah. Besides, he seems to feel that until it becomes absolutely necessary to attend to the tiresome business of soliciting votes, why visit the other provinces? His beat extends mostly from Lahore to Murree, hence the Raiwind-Islamabad highway was built by him much before it was an economically viable proposition. Even today, it is probably a white elephant.


One recalls a World Bank missive written in the mid-90s stating precisely why the Raiwind highway was a profligate waste of money at the time. This so riled Benazir Bhutto that she sent a delegation to Turkey to prevail on President Demirel to ask the Turkish firm awarded the contract to stop work and forego the stiff penalty clause in the contract because otherwise "Pakistan will go broke." Ask him to do us a favour, were her instructions in so many words. One also recalls the look of utter horror on Demirel's face when confronted by such a request. After a long lecture on why "business is business", he let it rest. Needless to say, he refused to intervene.

Nawaz Sharif's action in persuading businessmen from Karachi to relocate to Punjab in the wake of the disturbances in Karachi in the mid-90s was probably not of his own making. After all, he could hardly force them to do so. However, the avid glee with which he canvassed such a move and the welcome they received in Punjab is still recalled vividly by many businessmen in Karachi. They view it as a parochial move that illustrated his unconcern for Karachi and the welfare of its citizens who obviously did not have the means to relocate to the Punjab and hence lost their only means of livelihood.


Against Benazir Bhutto, on the other hand, no such accusation was ever proffered. Around her were men and women from every province, religion, vocation, sect, and gender. And, more often than not, the language of communication was English. Her biases, such as they were, had everything to do with her liking, regard and respect for the individual and never for his or her province of domicile. She did little to develop her hometown Larkana which bears signs of government neglect to an extent that is clearly inexcusable. And although that may have been mere thoughtlessness, one suspects not. It is simply that she looked at all of Pakistan as her constituency, hence favouring one city or province in preference to another made absolutely no sense to her.

And this may well hold the secret to the huge response that Sindhis of all vocations and classes gave to Mr Zardari when he played the Sindh card. It is not that he is popular or greatly liked. On the contrary, few Sindhis hold him in high regard. However, they seem to sense that with the death of Pakistan's last truly national leader, they have been absolved of their responsibility to the federation. It is as if they are saying "that's it; we have done our bit and now we mean to look out for themselves," like their Punjabi compatriots. They are not overly concerned of what is fair or just when it comes to dispensing resources or favours. They expect Mr Zardari to oblige Sindh in spades in return for their support.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FISCAL COMPLACENCY

SHAHID KARDAR


The present somewhat depressing environment for the country is characterised by unrelenting inflation, low economic growth, and rising spending obligations without a concomitant increase in resources, either through higher tax revenues or adequate support from the community of multilateral and bilateral donors. In these conditions, the major question is how we maintain inflation within reasonable limits and accelerate growth or make it more inclusive by ensuring better growth prospects in Balochistan, NWFP, interior Sindh and Southern Punjab and for those with limited or no skills, and still be able to meet demands for financing the war on terror. The government will have to contend with lower than targeted tax revenues because of the contraction in the activities of the taxed sectors, especially the major contributor to tax revenues, industry. This subdued economic activity apart, the short to medium-term future of the manufacturing sector is being severely compromised by the lack of availability of adequate supplies of energy, with its competitiveness getting adversely hit by the high cost of electricity resulting from mismanagement, poor planning and distorted tariff policies that favour domestic and commercial consumers at the expense of the industry.


In any case, the strategy to raise tax revenues when the economy is gasping for breath is ill-timed. The time to improve the languishing tax to GDP ratio was when the economy was galloping along at a healthy pace and all key players were doing well and would have been prepared to share a part of their increased earnings with the government. Unfortunately, the then regime simply kept patting itself on the back of having invigorated growth, conveniently forgetting to acknowledge the contribution of the generosity and largesse of our benefactors to these heady results.


That the PPP government is today having to live with an almost empty purse when faced with large expenditure commitments is also because (a) the Friends of Democratic Pakistan and Americans have yet to come good on their promises on a timely basis, especially in the form of grants or, as in the case of the US, reimbursements of expenditures; (b) political pressure to finance irrational subsidies; (c) of the continued war against militancy; and (d) the rehabilitation of the IDPs and destroyed infrastructure. In such circumstances, the budget deficit will almost certainly be higher than the target agreed with the IMF, unless deep cuts are made in the government's development programme, with all its implications for employment opportunities, poverty reducing strategies and inter-regional and social harmony.


It could be argued that allowing a larger fiscal deficit in the short-term would be a defensible strategy as it would help achieve fiscal prudence and disciplined financial management in the medium-term. Such an objective could be achieved by a larger fiscal deficit in the short-term facilitating productive investments and pushing up the growth rate, thereby helping increase revenues, partly through the expansion of the revenue base leading to an eventual narrowing of the fiscal deficit. Unfortunately, in our case, the large fiscal deficit is not only financing development and production enhancing expenditures but also large, and seemingly unrestrained, non-productive revenue expenditures referred to above, with their inflation fuelling repercussions. Moreover, there is the issue of its implications for the current account and the difficulties of financing the resulting external obligations, especially if its broadening accompanies the repayment next year of the IMF support that helped bring stability and comfort to our creditors and trading partners. Such a stress on the external account may well serve as an overarching constraint, exposing the limitations of such an approach for us.


Although the trade deficit in the first half of the year narrowed by almost 30 per cent compared with the situation over the same period last year, having declined from $9.6 billion to $6.8 billion, this outcome was largely because of the sharper decline in the international prices of commodities like oil and products like rubber, steel and edible oils, and a slowing down of the economy. As a result of these developments, imports fell by 16.3 per cent compared with exports that declined by a mere three percent. But then the last month of 2009 did not bring good tidings, providing food for thought and suggesting a need for a more cautious review of changing conditions. With the economy beginning to pick up modestly and an upward movement in the international price of oil and other key commodities, the data seems to indicate that the trade gap could widen rather quickly. December 2009 saw a 53 per cent growth in the trade deficit compared with December 2008 as imports increased by 37 per cent as exports rose by 26 per cent. Moreover, the trade deficit in December was almost 35 per cent higher than the trade gap in November.


In other words, while it may be difficult to meet the IMF imposed targets for 2009/10 on tax revenues and fiscal deficit, the government cannot lower its guard and be complacent as there is little room for maneuverability on the fiscal front in view of its consequences for the external account, notwithstanding its rather tricky, if not potentially worrying, ramifications for political and social stability, an unenviable trade-off for any elected government, especially one in a nascent democracy struggling against heavy odds for its survival.

 

The writer is a former finance minister of Punjab. Email: kardar@systemsltd.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

REFORMING OF SELF

BABAR SATTAR


The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.


The Black Coats garnered enormous respect and admiration of the people of Pakistan for their leadership role in the rule-of-law movement. They now risk losing all of it due to a few instances that reflect the imprudence of their current leaders, their growing sense of parochialism, and the refusal to engage in introspection and self-reform.

Lawyers valiantly led a movement that breathed life into the moribund concept of constitutionalism and rule of law in Pakistan. They sacrificed their liberty, personal security and means of livelihood for a cause that would produce no immediate benefit for them, individually or in their collective capacity. In getting the deposed judges restored as a matter of principle, the lawyers, supported by the media and the civil society, truly made a miracle come true.


But once we had our independent-minded court back in place, it was time to go back to work. The rule-of-law movement was not just about having judges who were unconstitutionally removed adorn the bench once again, but to reform the justice system in a manner that rule of law gives effect to the concept of legal equality of citizens and protects the rights of the ordinary Joe. As officers of the law, our first order of business should have been to engage in an overdue introspection. There was need to acknowledge that as lawyers and judges we have collectively contributed to the evolution of a moth-eaten court system that lacks credence and efficacy and only produces selective justice.


The success of the lawyers' movement and the exuberating sense of honour produced an opportune moment to identify and implement substantive changes in our professional ethics and legal processes that would help eradicate malpractices that plague our justice system. We might be frittering away this opportunity. When we misbehaved during the lawyers' movement (by inflicting violence on Naeem Bukhari and Dr Sher Afgan Niazi because we disagreed with their opinion) people gave us the benefit of the doubt. But we imbibed even more arrogance after we succeeded in facilitating the restoration of the judges and beat up policemen and journalists outside the courts of Lahore.


More recently, we portrayed another ugly spectacle of hooliganism during the initial hearings of the Shazia murder case and even resolved to stand beside our brother lawyer Mohammad Naeem advocate as a mark of communal loyalty. But are defenders of rule of law supposed to transform themselves into bigots the moment one of their own is caught at the wrong end of the penal justice system? Were we so impassioned by competing equities in the murder of the 12-year old, should we not have passed an even-handed resolution? Should we not have called for a fair and transparent process to decipher all the facts in the case, seeking justice for the family of the deceased and a fair trial for the accused?


It is easy for each one of us to disown the rowdies amongst us, and claim that the actions of a few miscreants cannot be a cause of scandal and scorn for the entire legal community. But if we only criticise such actions individually and the bar that represents us collectively takes no disciplinary action against those violating the law and our professional ethics, is that not proof that our resolve to protect and implement that law is only so long as its consequences do not touch one of our own?


The issue of exorbitant amounts charged by attorneys defending Harris Steel in the Bank of Punjab scandal is another issue that has been greeted by deafening silence by the bar councils. Lawyers are not required to be motivated by charity as a vocational matter. They are professionals who are entitled to charge for their services and their time. However, the Cannons of Professional Conduct (framed under the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973) provide guidelines with regard to fees. According to this code, "in fixing fees advocates should avoid charges which overestimate their advi