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Monday, January 3, 2011

EDITORIAL 03.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month january 03, edition 000719, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


















































  2. OUT!





































The approval accorded by the Union Human Resource Development Ministry to the new guidelines framed by the All-India Council for Technical Education regarding the setting up of engineering and technology institutes deserves to be lauded. It is a welcome move in the right direction for more reasons than one. Private engineering and technology institutes till now could be set up only by a ‘society’ or a ‘trust’ which became synonymous with skulduggery and all kinds of malpractices. Nobody knows for sure who is or are the real owner or owners of many of these colleges that do roaring business and rake in profits. In the absence of any transparency, there has been little or no accountability in terms of the quality of education provided by these institutes nor have many of them bothered to upgrade facilities or keep pace with the changing requirements of potential employers. This has worked against the interest of the students and their parents who have to pay the exorbitant fees. By doing away with this entirely unnecessary requirement, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has taken a big leap forward towards reforming the moribund system governing engineering and technology institutes in the private sector. This measure has to be seen in the context of the Government allowing the ‘corporatisation’ of higher technical education — presumably this means corporates can now set up colleges. This could revolutionise engineering and technology studies in the country. To begin with, corporates keen to set up such institutes will make handsome investments as their brand equity would be on stake. Second, they would ensure quality education, excellent campuses as well as transparency in the manner in which these institutes are managed. Third, there would be a direct correlation between the syllabus, emerging market trends and employability. Last, though not the least, with the right attitude and approach, these institutes can become, over a period of time, platforms for research and development as well as innovation, all of which we need to compete with other technology-driven economies, especially the US and China. 

Unfortunately, all the major political parties — more so the Congress, the BJP and the CPI(M) — are yet to rid themselves of their ideological burden of the past. Instead of seizing the moment and pushing through radical reforms in the education sector, they continue to remain hesitant and elect to play to the gallery. As a result, even the spate of initiatives taken by Mr Sibal ever since he took charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry has brought about changes in fits and starts, without really addressing core issues or bringing about sweeping changes that are urgently needed. It is, therefore, not surprising that while allowing ‘corporatisation’ of education by way of doing away with the silly — and corrupt as well as corrupting —system of setting up ‘societies’ and ‘trusts’ for engineering and technology institutes, ‘joint ventures’ have been prohibited. This means a corporate cannot tie up with a foreign university and set up its branch or subsidiary in India. That’s a pity. There is no reason why other countries can allow well-known universities to set up extension centres but we cannot. It’s this mindset which needs to be changed for real change to happen. 







The chargesheet the NIA has filed in the Special CBI Court in Kochi in the case pertaining to the SIMI camp held at Panayikkulam near Aluva on Independence Day, 2006, offers further evidence of how jihadis have turned peaceful Kerala into their terror base. The NIA has made the startling observation that the main call the speakers had made to the camp’s participants was to wage war against the nation for the “liberation of Kashmir”. The illegal assembly advocated, incited and abetted unlawful activities to “liberate Kashmir from India” and to encourage “hatred and contempt” towards the Government of India, the agency has said. Those who addressed the participants of the camp also protested against legislations like TADA and POTA, formulated for the nation’s security, as “anti-Muslim” and as instruments for “suppressing the fighters of Kashmir”. The main speakers at the camp were dreaded terrorists PA Shaduli of Irattupetta, Kottayam, and Ansar of Aluva, both presently lodged at Sabarmati Jail for their role in the devastating Ahmedabad bombings. Shaduli is the brother of Shibily, also a terrorist. The NIA has put together enough evidence to conclude that the various terror-related incidents in Kerala since 2005 were not stray cases of “misplaced anger of Muslim youth”, as certain activists would want the world to believe, but acts of violence carried out with meticulous planning with the diabolic intention of turning the State into the South’s terror hub. 

Also, the call for jihad to “liberate Kashmir” at the Panayikkulam SIMI camp was neither accidental nor incidental. The LeT had long back begun implementing a programme for recruiting Kerala youth into the terror network and sending them to the Kashmir Valley for hands-on training in jihad. The killing of four Kerala militants, recruited into LeT by its south India ‘commander’ Thadiyantavide Nazeer, by security forces ar Kupwara in October 2008 bears testimony to this. Despite all this, the Kerala Police, which had earlier investigated the Panayikkulam case, had released all the 18 participants of the SIMI camp on bail after picking them up from the scene. There were allegations that certain top police officials had gone out of their way to ensure the release of these SIMI operatives. It is now clear that the Panayikkulam SIMI camp was where the seeds of many terror strikes in the country were sown; the SIMI training camp at the Vagamon hill resort of Idukki district in December 2007 transformed them into action plans. However, the Kerala Police had no clue about what was happening till the Gujarat Police exposed the network after the Ahmedabad bombings. That shows the ‘efficiency’ of the Kerala Police and the ‘political will’ of the CPI(M)-led LDF Government in the State to fight back jihadi terror. 










Replying to a question in the State Assembly on December 23, 2010, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee claimed, “Because of sustained joint operations (against Maoists) by 35 companies of Central Reserve Police Force, six companies of Nagaland Police and 51 companies of State Police, the situation ... has greatly improved... The situation has changed in the past three months. Some of the blocks (in Jangalmahal) are terror free... (But) till the situation improves in Jharkhand and Odisha, it would be difficult to keep West Bengal unaffected. Till such time, the paramilitary forces should be there.”

Earlier, in an interview to a TV Channel in Kolkata on November 13, the Chief Minister asserted, “The Maoist leadership is now divided. They are now cornered.” Ironically, on December 17, cadre of the CPI(Maoist) had shot dead seven workers of the All-India Forward Block, a party belonging to the ruling Left Front, in Purulia district. 

In fact, West Bengal has witnessed a dramatic spurt in Maoist-related fatalities in 2010. According to available data, 425 people, including 328 civilians, 36 security forces personnel and 61 Maoists, including cadre of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, were killed in West Bengal in 2010 till December 26, as against 158 people, including 134 civilians, 15 security forces personnel and nine Maoists killed in the State in 2009.

With this, West Bengal has now earned the dubious distinction of recording the highest Maoist-related fatalities in 2010, dislodging Chhattisgarh which had topped the list since 2006. The intervening years have seen an extraordinary rise in Maoist-related fatalities in West Bengal, from just six in 2005, through 24 in 2008, and up to 158 and 418 people, respectively, in 2009 and 2010. 

Significantly, the civilian casualty figure of 328, which includes 148 fatalities in the Gyaneswari Express derailment of May 28, is by far the highest among the Maoist affected States for any past years, followed distantly by Chhattisgarh in 2006 with 189 civilian fatalities. In 2010, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand each recorded 71 civilian fatalities. Civilian fatalities in West Bengal have recorded a 145 per cent increase over the elevated base level of 134 for 2009.

The principal cause for this dramatic escalation is the rapid expansion of the Maoists in the State and their focussed infiltration of the tribal movement in Lalgarh, as a result of which they have taken control of wide areas despite mounting pressure from the security forces. The movement in Lalgarh snowballed after a failed assassination attempt targeting the Chief Minister and then Union Minister for Steel Ram Vilas Paswan at nearby Salboni on November 2, 2008, and the clumsy police responses that followed. 

Unlike other States, the expanding Maoist sway is confronted by the organised (and often armed) cadre of the ruling CPI(M) in West Bengal. In order to hold the area under their control, the Maoists have neutralised the CPI(M) cadre base and terrorised the masses — tactics that explain the large number of Marxists and ‘sympathisers’ among the civilian fatalities in the State. Indeed, of the 328 civilians killed in 2010, CPI(M) leaders and cadre account for as many as 116.

Security forces fatalities have also risen to 36 in 2010, from 15 in 2009, even as 61 Maoists were killed, as against nine in 2009, reflecting increasing direct confrontation between the forces and the Maoists.The State witnessed 14 major incidents (involving three or more casualties) through 2010. The Maoists were also involved in at least 25 cases of landmine explosions, 18 incidents of arson, and two incidents of abduction (an overwhelming majority of abduction cases go unreported because of fear of the Maoists). The Maoists also executed seven ‘swarming attacks’ involving a large number of their armed cadre in 2010, as against eight such attacks in 2009.

There were, however, major successes scored by the security forces in 2010, including the killing of six Maoists, along with Sidhu Soren, the founding ‘commander-in-chief’ of Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia, in an encounter on July 26; the Ranja forest encounter of June 16 in which at least 12 Maoists were killed; and, the Hathilot forest encounter of March 25 in which Maoist Politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji was injured. Most significantly, the PCPA founder-president, Lalmohan Tudu, was killed by the forces on February 22, along with at least two other PCPA cadre.

These operational successes were compounded by key arrests. Four members of the Maoists’ West Bengal State Committee, including ‘State secretary’ Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan alias Batas, Anil Ghosh alias Ajoyda, Barun Sur alias Bidyut, and Kalpana Maity, wife of Ashim Mondal alias Akash, were arrested from Kolkata on December 3 and 4. A day after these arrests, Asim Mondal alias Akash, a senior member of the State Committee, admitted that “The arrest is unfortunate and no doubt it is a jolt for our organisation.”

Earlier, on March 2, 2010, Venkateswar Reddy alias Telugu Dipak, another State Committee member, was arrested near Kolkata. Dipak was the suspected mastermind of the February 15 attack on the EFR camp at Sildah. Indeed, there seems to be an abrupt leadership vacuum among the Maoists in West Bengal with seven of the 11 State Committee members either behind bars or killed. 

Further, Bapi Mahato, a prime accused in the Gyaneswari Express derailment as well as a senior member of the Maoist-backed PCPA, was arrested by a joint team of the West Bengal and Jharkhand Police from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand on June 20. At least 245 arrests have been made in 2010 in connection with Maoist activities. On June 18, however, State Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen claimed that security forces operating in the Jangalmahal area, which includes Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore districts, had arrested “about 400 to 500 Maoists”. Nevertheless, the mastermind behind almost all the Maoist attacks in the region, Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji, CPI(Maoist) Politburo member in charge of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, remains elusive. 

Expecting that the pressure mounted by the security forces would induce some Maoists to lay down arms, the State Government announced its new surrender policy on June 15. The ‘package’ followed the Union Government guidelines, with a one-off payment of Rs 1,50,000, vocational training for three months, and Rs 2,000 in a monthly stipend for each surrendering cadre. If arms were also surrendered, they would receive, in addition, Rs 15,000 for an AK-47 rifle, Rs 25,000 for a machine gun, and Rs 3,000 for a pistol or revolver. On June 17, West Bengal Director-General of Police Bhupinder Singh said, “We have received feelers that a number of people are willing to surrender.” By December 26, however, only five Maoists had surrendered after the announcement of the ‘package’.

Despite these successes, however, there is little reason for any great optimism. The Chief Minister’s claim that “the situation has changed in the past three months”, while not altogether incorrect, nevertheless glosses over the reality of continuing killings in the Jangalmahal area.

The writer is associated with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Management. Visual shows CPI-M’s anti-Maoist posters. 







The life sentence given to Binayak Sen, a known activist for Leftist causes, by a District Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh has provoked a curious sense of outrage from certain sections in the media. Even more curious has been the reaction from leading members of Ms Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council. The three-year saga over the legal case against Binayak Sen stands out for the intense scrutiny it has received from national and international activists of the Leftist persuasion. No judge presiding over any criminal case in post-Independence India perhaps has been pressured to this degree.

The certitude with which Leftist activists and the media had pronounced a verdict in this trial well before the judge got down to the issue, one in the court speaks of the extraordinary stress the process and institutions of justice were put to in this case.

There has been a litany of signature campaigns, inspired media events and even Internet sites dedicated to the single cause of getting Binayak Sen released even before the courts are done with him. To further this cause in support of Binayak Sen, a narrative has been floated in the media highlighting the humanitarian work done by Binayak Sen while at the same time throwing little light on the kind of politics he has been associated with all his life. 

An example of this carefully crafted narrative in the media is a piece in Tehelka magazine titled, “The doctor, the state and a sinister case” published on February 23, 2008. It is remarkable that in this piece, Binayak Sen’s association with the PUCL is underplayed with just one reference buried deep inside the piece. A more significant omission in that piece is the fact that Binayak Sen had issued a Press release in December 2005 on Narayan Sanyal’s disappearance — a week before the actual arrest of Narayan Sanyal took place in January 2006.

It would be a grave mistake to assume that the media campaign in support of Binayak Sen is a reflection of universal public outrage over his conviction. The merits of Binayak Sen’s conviction notwithstanding, it must be said that the people of India, by and large, have faith in the judiciary. They believe that justice will ultimately be done, as it was in the case of the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament House, even if it sometimes is delayed by decades on account of systemic backlogs.

It would also be a grave mistake to assume that this is somehow about dealing with the myriad systemic problems that justice delivery in India suffers from on account of archaic processes and outdated laws. If this were really about judicial reforms, we would not just be seeing episodic outrage over Binayak Sen’s life sentence. Had it actually been about judicial reforms, we would have seen sustained national campaigns of the variety the Left has been running on issues like RTI, Right to Food and Right to Work. 

This episodic outrage is far from being about judicial reforms. These very same Leftist-activists are complicit in judicial activism that goes far beyond the constitutional division of powers between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. An example of such activism is the continuance of Mr Harsh Mander and Mr NC Saxena as Special Commissioners of the Supreme Court to monitor implementation of court orders on food security even as they play a political role as advisers to the UPA Government through Ms Gandhi-led NAC.

The manufactured outrage we are witnessing in the op-ed columns of the English language media and in the 24x7 TV studios is neither a reflection of public sentiment nor an enlightened quest for judicial reforms. The concerted media campaign in support of Binayak Sen needs to be seen in a different light. 

There is a small but committed network of individuals and groups that goes by the label of ‘civil society’ that has worked actively to monopolise opinion-making and by extension policy-making in New Delhi. This vocal minority has over the years come to coordinate its efforts at various levels with a commitment towards a shared goal. That shared goal, described in their own word,s is “interlinking for effective action of various groups that are opposed to neo-liberalism and domination of the world by capital”. This vocal minority coordinated its efforts under the banner of the World Social Forum during its fourth convention in Mumbai held in January 2004. 

All the three leading lights of Ms Gandhi-led NAC — Mr Harsh Mander, Ms Aruna Roy and Mr Jean Dreze, who have been most vocal on the Binayak Sen verdict, have been closely associated with these ‘interlinking’ efforts. It is an established fact that the three flagship items on the UPA’s social agenda — RTI, NREGA and food security — were the result of coordinated national campaigns by the various Leftist groups that came together during the WSF’s 2004 Mumbai convention. 

It must be noted that Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina were an integral part of this committed network of groups and their associated national campaigns. Binayak Sen and Ilina Sen are acknowledged as key contributors along with other NAC members in a handbook on NREGA brought out by the Right to Food Campaign network of groups. The ridiculous and extraneous reference to ISI during the Binayak Sen trial notwithstanding, it must be noted that the Jesuit-managed Indian Social Institute was also an active participant in the ‘interlinking’ efforts at WSF. It must also be noted that the ISI’s sister Jesuit organisation, JESA, was behind a number of activist interventions under the banner of the Indian People’s Tribunal. These IPT-organised people’s courts have seen active participation from members of Ms Gandhi-led NAC on a number of occasions. 

The outrage from this vocal minority that comprises NAC members and Leftist-Jesuit activists is understandable for one of its key members has now been caught in that grey zone where activism blurred into sympathies for Maoist terrorism. A fact under-reported by the Indian media is that the Maoist official mouthpiece, the Maoist Information Bulletin, had sympathetic references to Binayak Sen in almost every issue over the last 24 months. This outrage is aimed at deflecting attention from that uncomfortable and embarrassing question on where exactly the line blurs between Leftist activism and Maoist terrorism.

It would be a shame if the executive and the judiciary were to buckle under pressure from this vocal minority to overturn the lower court’s verdict. Binayak Sen’s fate must be decided in the higher courts on the merits of the case against him. To borrow a commentator’s quote — we must not allow the “grammar of blackmail” from a vocal minority to replace the “grammar of justice”. This vocal minority does not speak for the silent majority. 








The concept of regulatory agencies, which are now fulcrums of every economy to enforce standards and safety and oversee commerce, originated in the US. The Interstate & Commerce Commission set up there in 1887 is considered to be the first agency with powers somewhat similar to those of modern day Government regulators. Subsequently, in the first half of the 20th century Food and Drug Administration and later Environment Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration came into existence. Towards the later part of the 20th century, owing to economic expansion, infrastructure growth, large-scale entry of private players and currency of new public management, other countries of the world realised the need of a ‘regulator’ consisting of technical experts operating in a framework of Government oversight to guide the functioning of various stakeholders in a particular sector. 

Apart from semi-legal functions, these bodies were given a social development mandate: They were to ensure that the benefits of the economy’s expansion should not only line the pockets of manufacturers and service providers as profit, but would percolate down to consumers and users through reasonable pricing, easy availability of products and enforcement of quality and safety.

In almost all major countries of the world, regulatory structures have come to occupy an important place in the state-corporate interface, as a quasi-judicial body representing a neutral legal environment. They have become an instrument of confidence building for private investors, one that would protect them from arbitrary actions of the state.

The growth of such institutions is usually connected with the political and economic circumstances prevailing in a country. For instance, in the US, it came into being towards the end of 19th century, the period of gold rush when mining corporations were set up in large numbers in the western region of the country. In India, after the economy opened up in 1991 and private investors entered the sectors that were in the hands of the public sector, the market became competitive. This necessitated the formation of regulatory bodies, which could settle disputes speedily without much judicial paraphernalia. In the initial stages of deregulation, regulatory structures were created in core economic and commercial sectors such as, capital markets, telecom, power and insurance. Later on Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority and Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board came into being. With the stress on environment, climate change and sustainable development, now we have a National Green Tribunal, while talks are on to have regulatory bodies in biotechnology and microfinance sectors.

Existence of effective regulatory mechanism yields several benefits to stakeholders. In any dispute, decisions are taken by functionaries who have the expertise and hence, are more acceptable to the parties. Unlike other wings of the Government, regulators are prompt as they are not bogged down by procedures. Since they enjoy a certain degree of freedom from executive and legislature, their decisions often are more innovative. Definitely, their presence ensures better standards of performance by service providers and reasonable rates of services to consumers. The presence of a regulator not only encourages greater transparency in the functioning of the Government, it also attracts foreign investment due to a positive environment and faster redressal system. 

But the system has its weaknesses too. Multiplicity of regulators in inter-related sectors such as gas and power is a hindrance because the issue of regulatory overlaps. The recent tussle between SEBI and IRDA over jurisdiction over ULIPS is a case in point. What is noteworthy is that despite the existence of so many regulatory bodies, often there are issues that do not fall under the ambit of any one of them. Further, the interface between the Government and the regulatory agency in some sectors is still asymmetrical. At the policy formulation stage itself there seems to be lack of communication between them as was evident recently in the case of 2G spectrum. Further, the Government in special cases can decide to roll the powers back to itself.

There is no doubt that the presence of a regulator has worked well for our system. However, there is scope for adding more teeth to the functioning of a regulatory agency. India would do well to consider adopting some of the features of the British model and unify related utilities such as, coal, power, petroleum and gas under a single agency overseeing their functions. 

Further, there is need for convergence to tackle the implications of complex financial products such as ULIPS. Creation of an overarching entity, which could take a comprehensive view on overlapping issues, would augur well. In order to promptly address the concerns of regulators, an annual report on the regulators should be tabled in the Parliament with express mention of issues where the Ministry and regulator have differences. 

The Government also needs to take corrective action on issues such as bureaucratisation, heavy costs, selection of candidates etc. But most important, it is high time to consider increasing the number of members and opening new benches at different locations to tackle the issue of high pendency of cases before regulators. 








The year 2010 has been arguably the most important year for the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States since gaining independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some of this year’s events are bound to set new trends within the CIS for 2011 and beyond.

The arrival of Viktor Yanukovych

The policies pursued by the former Ukrainian President, Mr Viktor Yushchenko, brought Russian-Ukrainian relations to a low point. Ukraine did not have enough cash to pay for the gas already supplied from Russia, and the ensuing gas conflict threatened Russia’s gas supplies to Europe once again. Bilateral trade plummeted and Ukraine found itself on the brink of default.

In April 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Mr Viktor Yanukovych signed the landmark Kharkov Agreements, extending Russia’s lease of the Sevastopol base for its Black Sea Fleet for another 25 years, starting from May 2017. In return, Ukraine was exempted from Russia’s gas export tax, which represents a 30 per cent discount.

Predictably, the new-found cooperation between the countries revived trade, which is expected to exceed $35 billion this year, a nearly 100 per cent increase over 2009, according to the Ukrainian leadership.

Recently, Mr Yanukovych said that Ukraine may join the Common Economic Space. So, next year could very well mark the start of Ukraine’s integration in EurAsEC projects, such as the mentioned Common Economic Space and the Customs Union.

Ukraine’s new-found openness to the prospect of integrating with its CIS partners — primarily Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus — may provide it with a life line: Ukrainian products would have unfettered access to a market of 170 million people; the country would be hooked in to Russia’s gas pipeline system, which would allow Ukraine to export gas from Kazakhstan and possibly Turkmenistan; Ukrainian companies could raise capital on financial markets in Russia and Kazakhstan. But as Mr Yanukovych moves Ukraine closer to the Customs Union and Common Economic Space, there is bound to be strong resistance from the Ukrainian Opposition and criticism from the EU and the United States.

The irreplaceable Lukashenko

As expected, Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected President of Belarus with 80 per cent of the vote. Although OSCE observers have not recognised the December 19 elections as fully democratic, citing “a lack of transparency in vote counting” and “the use of excessive force to disperse protesters,” the West has not severed ties with Belarus and will probably continue to maintain a cautious dialogue with Lukashenko in 2011.

The year 2010 saw tensions emerge between Russia and Belarus. Their mutual recriminations peaked in summer and it appeared that the countries had entered a period of systemic crisis in relations. Analysts were quick to predict the impending collapse of the Union State and the Customs Union. However, in July Belarus announced plans to fully integrate into the Customs Union and to cooperate with its partners in the Common Economic Space. Cooperation within both groups has allowed Russia and Belarus to overcome their main disagreements. Russia cancelled oil export duties, while Belarus agreed to pay over to Russia all revenues from duties on refined products made of Russian crude.

Belarus will most likely continue jockeying between Russia and the West to secure economic benefits from both. At the same time, as the Common Economic Space takes shape, the “irreplaceable” Lukashenko will find it harder to prevent the influx of Russian capital to key sectors of the Belarusian economy.

Common Economic Space: Who will join next?

Efforts to set up the Common Economic Space plan will begin in earnest in 2011. The Presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the three trailblazers of integration, confirmed after a meeting of the supreme body of the Customs Union on December 9 that the Common Economic Space will be fully operational as of January 1, 2012.

The three Presidents said that the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space are open to new members, particularly Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. “By developing the Common Economic Space, we are moving toward a Eurasian economic union,” they said in a joint declaration. The Customs Union — the first phase on the way to the Common Economic Space — has proven its effectiveness in less than six months. Trade between its members has surged, the cost of goods has declined, and the three member states have agreed on the contours of a supranational body, the Customs Union Commission. The legal framework for the Common Economic Space was drafted incredibly fast. As a result, the three economies, which account for over 80 per cent of the CIS’s GDP, will begin operating as a unified whole next year.

The CIS turns 20

The Commonwealth of Independent States will turn 20 in 2011. How will economic and political processes develop in this area with over 280 million people? Will the post-Soviet economies fully recover from the worst economic downturn in years? Next year will hold some of the answers. 

-- The writer is the member of the expert analysis council on the Russian State Duma’s CIS Affairs Committee. 








ONCE again, the government’s promises on bringing price rise under control have proved to be hollow. Its assurances that inflation would come down to a tolerable level by December have been belied. And its hope that inflation would be around 5.5 per cent for the fiscal year as a whole is likely to be belied, too.


Dismissing the rise as a short- term one caused purely by a spurt in onion prices is disingenuous. Politicians and bureaucrats, of course, are adept in the art of making excuses and passing the buck. But even by their elastic standards, trying to pass off a serious structural problem which is eroding the quality of life of millions of poor and middle class alike is a bit too much to swallow.


India has a serious structural inflation problem on the food front, which has far less to do with seasonal crop failures or natural calamities and far more to do with skewed policies and abject failure of governance. Food prices have been rising continuously for over a year and a half and have been sustained at high levels thanks to hoarding, speculation and the government’s failure to intervene effectively to control prices, despite having a vast foodgrain buffer rotting in its godowns.


Policies preventing free internal movement of agricultural products have hurt producers and consumers alike. Lobbies have prevented modernisation of the supply chain and stymied the entry of foreign investment and organised competition into the sector. Union agriculture, food and civil supplies minister Sharad Pawar has not only been uninspiring in all three jobs, but has time and again helped talk up prices with his remarks. Without effective direction from the top, India is doomed to be a laggard in the global hunger rankings — despite being the world’s second biggest agricultural producer.




WHILE Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy’s proposed six month moratorium on loan recovery will help provide some relief to the debt- ridden farmers, this in itself is not sufficient to stem the phenomenon of farmer suicides in the state.


Agriculture all over the country — especially in a cash crop intensive state like Andhra — depends on a delicate balance between a number of factors and the consequences of unseasonal rains and harassment by loan sharks can be catastrophic for farmers.


The occasional loan waiver that the Centre and various state governments provide is only a half- hearted measure that can, in no way, stem the cycle of debt that drives farmers to suicide.


In fact by providing one- time relief and leaving the farmers to fend for themselves for rest of the time, the government is perpetuating this cycle.


The government must ensure that landless tenants — who are the worst affected by agrarian crises — have access to loans at reasonable rates and that they are protected from the harassment involved in loan recovery.


The plight of debt- ridden farmers being driven to suicide has also highlighted the rather questionable role played by microfinance institutions. These institutions claim to be working for rural development and it is unacceptable that they should be using coercive means for loan recovery.




WHILE the release of United Liberation Front for Assam ( Ulfa) chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa is a step towards a dialogue with the insurgent group, the Centre will need to take a nuanced approach. The Centre must understand that Mr Rajkhowa’s clout within the Ulfa is limited and the real power is wielded by the commander- in- chief Paresh Barua.


So the hyperbole about Mr Rajkhowa being the next Laldenga is unfounded as it cannot be said as yet whether his talks with the Centre will have the support of Mr Barua and the Ulfa rank and file. The hype seems to be more out of a need to present this as a feather in the Congress’ cap ahead of the assembly elections in Assam which are due in summer this year.


However, the initiation of dialogue is an achievement in itself and the Centre must pursue it in right earnest. If not a political agreement with the insurgents, at least it might help attain the short- term objective of preventing disturbances during the assembly elections.



            MAIL TODAY





THE YEAR 2010 ended with a damning allegation about the former Chief Justice ( CJI) K. G. Balakrishnan’s son- inlaw amassing a small fortune during a period approximating the former CJ’s tenure.


Was this accidental good luck? Perverse? CJI was colloquially known as KGB. The venerable Justice Krishna Iyer, has asked for ( i) an inquiry and ( ii) the removal of KGB from the National Human Rights Commission ( NHRC).


Under section 5 of the Protection of Human Rights Acts, ( POHRA) through which the NHRC is constituted, the only way of removing of the chairman ( under section 5) is for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court which has to decide if he is guilty of “ proved misbehaviour or incapacity”.




Of course, a simple removal without reference to the Supreme Court is possible if he becomes insolvent, takes a paid job while in office, has infirmity of mind and body, mental imbalance or conviction of an offense constituting moral turpitude.


Unfortunately, Justice Krishna Iyer may not be technically right. KGB must be found wanting for what he did in the NHRC, not for allegations of what he did as a high court or Supreme Court judge.


But Justice Krishna Iyer’s exhortation should not go in vain. It requires that KGB suspends himself or resigns from public office till these family embarrassments are resolved. What is not permissible to a judge is not permissible to the chairman of NHRC, too.


KGB has lived a charmed life. As a Munsif or district judge, he was not on track for appointment to the high court. But he had friends in high places ( including a President of India). He resigned from lower judgeship, started an indifferent practice and was unmeritoriously made high court judge. The appointment was calculated so that he would rise in seniority and, one day, become CJI. In other words, his very elevation to the pivotal launching pad of a high court judge was shrouded with stories. Lawyers and judges made of a different mould of integrity might have resisted such a meteoric rise to power. But not KGB. Some doubt has been expressed if KGB wrote his more famous judgments. Only his law clerks can answer this question honestly. KGB may not. There have been times where I have wondered about whether some of his orders were above query. This feeling may have been shared by other lawyers, too.


True, KGB was the first Dalit CJI and his father was a matriculate and mother a seventh standard student. He suffered disadvantage if not discrimination. But when it comes to judicial rectitude, the standards of mind, body and spirit are to be applied strictly.


KGB is not the best of NHRC chairmen.


The standards were set by Justices Venkatachaliah and Verma. KGB’s eligibility in this regard is not his human rights record or experience, but because as an ex- CJI he is entitled to the job at least as a sinecure post. There were no other CJI’s around. He got the job.


KGB leaves behind an awkward legacy.


He did not exercise a CJI’s moral authority over judicial lapses even though the Dinakaran and Sen impeachment were triggered in his tenure.


His successor, CJI Kapadia also emerged from humble beginnings but is known for his integrity. When Prashant Bhushan attacked his conduct in the Vedanta case, the word corruption to describe his behaviour was wrongly used.


CJI Kapadia is far from being corrupt or corruptible. But he has a gigantic problem on his hand. His own Supreme Court judges are getting edgy. Justice Katju’s outburst about ‘ uncle judge’ found one source identifying nine judges in the Allahabad High Court placed in this unenviable unenviable position. Just a few weeks earlier, CJI Kapadia transferred eleven high court judges in the public interest. This has been called the biggest “ transfershake- up” since 1993. The term ‘ public interest is a euphemism. One judge of the Bombay High Court, Justice R. S Mohite, preferred to resign rather than being transferred to Patna.


But, transfer of high court judges is not a redeeming solution. The lawyers of Sikkim protested tainted judges being transferred to their high court. To say that local links alone make a judge corrupt is not correct. Corruption travels with and catches up with the judge — according to some — even to the Supreme Court in select cases.




Proof rather than suspicion is needed for this. But corruption not only penalises the court system, but makes a citizen distrust judicial independence as a virtue.


This sometimes leads to money compensation — as in the case of the Punjab judge, Justice Nirmal Yadav which got into the wrong hands. But, it also leads to a scene of unfathomable suspicions.


Even in the Supreme Court, certain lawyers are targeted to appear before certain judges. This is not the fault of the judge. I can recall a Madras judge praising me in one matter. When I left the court, I was besieged with briefs in that court in the next week. I did not appear in that court thereafter. In one instance, many years ago, an Allahabad judge was told to ask a particular lawyer not to appear before him. A lawyer was often briefed before an Orissa judge with significant success. We cannot blame the judge, who may know nothing about all this. Even today, it is said that some lawyers get favourable orders from certain judges.


Good lawyers may inspire confidence in a judge. That is unexceptional. But, it will becomes justice when the lawyer and judge shopping becomes a trend. Higher standards are expected from Caeser’s wife and judges, even if totally innocent.




What must be done this year are two things. The first is to pass the Constitution ( 114th Amendment) Bill 2010 so that a high court judge’s retiring age is also 65 years in line with Supreme Court judges.


This equalising is long due. The competition to get to the Supreme Court must stop because it is responsible for far too much nepotism. Some judges, especially chief justices of high courts, may prefer to decline a Supreme Court appointment.


But it is time that merit and not seniority and favouritism be the basis of higher judiciary appointments.


The second is to introduce and pass the Judges Standard and Accountability Bill, 2010 to replace the old impeachment procedure of 1968. This bill seeks to create a complaints mechanism which will go to an oversight committee, which will vet and pronounce on the complaint. This proposal, which cleared cabinet in October 2010, is enough. A fine- tuned constitutional amendment is necessary.


Sometimes the bad things in a system have to be profiled. There are too many embarrassing episodes. In July 2010, the CJI’s chargesheet into the Ghaziabad judicial expenses scam includes three former high court judges. We remain as helpless as we are astounded.


But there is spine, creativity, verve and talent in India’s judicial system — not to mention the fancy footwork of the Delhi High Court’s Lok Adalat clearing one lakh minor pending cases in one day in 2010. Post- independence India has produced a remarkable court- created jurisprudence. There is still a huge confidence in judges as the custodians of the rule of law. But even the best of boats will find it difficult to navigate muddy waters.


2011 is a significant year for reassessment and change.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer








KOLKATA has rightly been called the ‘ City of Joy’ by French author Dominique Lapierre. Kolkatans know how to enjoy — be it Durga Puja, Christmas or New Year celebrations. The last eight days of 2010 have been nothing but revelry. Despite the political turmoil, the winter festivities made everyone sing, dance, wine and dine in merriment.


On Christmas Eve, there was a sea of people on the streets to exult over the birth of Lord Jesus. Everyone — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Jains — flocked to the decked- up Park Street to celebrate the day. Christmas has acquired a secular character in Kolkata as the city has an Anglo- Indian community which lives mostly in the downtown areas. Santa Claus statuettes were placed at the entrance of every restaurant or shop to add colour to the festivity. In some places, the guards were dressed up as Santa.


A giant Santa statue, erected by the alumni of St Xavier’s College at the junction of Park Street and Camac Street was a special attraction this year. Christmas holds a special place in the festival calendar of Kolkata. After all, it was the first British India capital.


From the city’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral to Park Street, revelry could be felt in the air.


Buildings and monuments in and around Park Street were decked up with colourful illumination.


The churches and cathedrals were jam- packed. The harmony of Christmas carols reverberated across the length and breadth of the city.


As Kolkatans claim that the city has the best Christmas celebration in India, New Year’s Eve is also colourful in the City of Joy.


Several thousand tourists visit Kolkata to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations. From toddlers to teenagers, the young and the old, they all came out in hordes on the streets to party all night long, dine at the best restaurants, and welcome the New Year. Serpentine queues were seen in front of almost every restaurant till midnight.


Discos and night clubs were packed with revellers boogieing to the DJs’ effervescent music.


The discos — Venom, Underground and Tantra — registered record footfall. The administration allowed the nightclubs and the discos to serve drinks till 2 am. Otherwise, Kolkata’s bars and nightclubs are allowed to serve drinks only up to midnight.


Though the entry fee at night clubs ranged from ` 2,000 to ` 4,000 per couple, Kolkatans were not magpie at all and every venue was jam- packed for the New Year celebrations till the wee hours. Almost all the venues served imported spirits.


The year- end saw many rock bands converge on Kolkata.


Musicians travelled from all over the North- East to perform in the city’s pubs. Kolkata’s rocking hub, Someplace Else in Hotel Park, featured live performances by different bands in the last week of 2010.


Equipped with breathalysers, the police tried to keep a check on drunken driving, especially by young bikers. Plainclothes policemen were deputed at party zones to keep a careful eye on eveteasers and to prevent any untoward incident.


As the City of Joy welcomed 2011 in high spirits, everyone wished to make the New Year full of joy and happiness.



KOLKATA has rightly been called the ‘ City of Joy’ by French author Dominique Lapierre. Kolkatans know how to enjoy — be it Durga Puja, Christmas or New Year celebrations. The last eight days of 2010 have been nothing but revelry. Despite the political turmoil, the winter festivities made everyone sing, dance, wine and dine in merriment.


On Christmas Eve, there was a sea of people on the streets to exult over the birth of Lord Jesus. Everyone — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Jains — flocked to the decked- up Park Street to celebrate the day. Christmas has acquired a secular character in Kolkata as the city has an Anglo- Indian community which lives mostly in the downtown areas. Santa Claus statuettes were placed at the entrance of every restaurant or shop to add colour to the festivity. In some places, the guards were dressed up as Santa.


A giant Santa statue, erected by the alumni of St Xavier’s College at the junction of Park Street and Camac Street was a special attraction this year. Christmas holds a special place in the festival calendar of Kolkata. After all, it was the first British India capital.


From the city’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral to Park Street, revelry could be felt in the air.


Buildings and monuments in and around Park Street were decked up with colourful illumination.


The churches and cathedrals were jam- packed. The harmony of Christmas carols reverberated across the length and breadth of the city.


As Kolkatans claim that the city has the best Christmas celebration in India, New Year’s Eve is also colourful in the City of Joy.


Several thousand tourists visit Kolkata to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations. From toddlers to teenagers, the young and the old, they all came out in hordes on the streets to party all night long, dine at the best restaurants, and welcome the New Year. Serpentine queues were seen in front of almost every restaurant till midnight.


Discos and night clubs were packed with revellers boogieing to the DJs’ effervescent music.


The discos — Venom, Underground and Tantra — registered record footfall. The administration allowed the nightclubs and the discos to serve drinks till 2 am. Otherwise, Kolkata’s bars and nightclubs are allowed to serve drinks only up to midnight.


Though the entry fee at night clubs ranged from ` 2,000 to ` 4,000 per couple, Kolkatans were not magpie at all and every venue was jam- packed for the New Year celebrations till the wee hours. Almost all the venues served imported spirits.


The year- end saw many rock bands converge on Kolkata.


Musicians travelled from all over the North- East to perform in the city’s pubs. Kolkata’s rocking hub, Someplace Else in Hotel Park, featured live performances by different bands in the last week of 2010.


Equipped with breathalysers, the police tried to keep a check on drunken driving, especially by young bikers. Plainclothes policemen were deputed at party zones to keep a careful eye on eveteasers and to prevent any untoward incident.


As the City of Joy welcomed 2011 in high spirits, everyone wished to make the New Year full of joy and happiness.


Metro a rail zone now


IT’S A winter festival gift to the people. The Kolkata Metro Railway, the oldest Metro service in India, has now become the 17th independent zone of the Indian Railways.


Railway minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that the announcement of the Kolkata Metro as an independent zone has been done with an aim to build capacity and develop infrastructure. Services of more than 600 casual workers are likely to be regularised now.


Mamata announced that a ` 10,000 crore project has been undertaken for the expansion and infrastructure development of the oldest Metro network in India. However, the announcement of the Kolkata Metro as a separate zone is not likely to improve the poor services immediately.



MAMATA Banerjee is a firebrand politician, but, when it comes to fine arts, she is quiet and novel.


Though the Left Front brands her as a “ Lady Hitler”, most politicians do not know her other side — painting and poetry.


Despite her busy political schedule, she keeps aside time for both the passions. While Didi’s poetry books sell high round the year in Bengal, her paintings too bring her good earnings every year.


This time, she designed Christmas and New Year cards for her party workers, friends and well wishers. Designed in white, green and gold and bearing five prominent floral motifs on a white base, the cards read: “ Let the joy of the season stay in our hearts.” Besides cards, Didi also designed pocket and wall calendars with her paintings. Her artistic creations for the New Year have already been sent to eminent personalities in Kolkata, foreign consulates, churches and social organisations.


She had also designed the theme of a Durga puja pandal at Bhawanipur, her ancestral home.

TIMes of indial logo






If one were to pose the question what would be the single most important transformative event that could occur in South Asia in 2011, the answer has to be peace breaking out between India and Pakistan. This is especially true in the wake of the economic downturn in the West, which has provided a window of opportunity for both countries to enhance their global profile. 

There is a lot that the two neighbours can learn from each other. Enhanced trade in products and services could pave the way for great synergy between the economies of the two nations, both of which would save on costs incurred through diversion of trade through third countries. The benefits of an enhanced trade relationship are already evident in Pakistani onions coming in to dampen food price inflation in India. But while this is just a one-off example of an emergency response to an ongoing crisis, just imagine what the positive results could be if trade and investment were freed up across the board. A potential area of close cooperation is the IT sector. There are certainly a number of things that India can learn from the textile sector in Pakistan. 

Not only would lifting trade and investment barriers directly benefit both economies, getting a fix on jihadi militancy - essential for peace to break out between India and Pakistan - would also multiply foreign investment pouring into Pakistan. But India would benefit too, as it now carries a geopolitical risk due to the terror threat. 
There's ample scope for cooperation in Afghanistan as well. Trying to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan is a policy that will trap Pakistan in a quagmire of regressive forces. Neither can New Delhi prevent Pakistan from playing a role in Afghanistan. The solution is for both countries to work together to ensure development and stability in Afghanistan. 

There is no reason why all outstanding issues between the two countries cannot be resolved if there is political will. Khursheed Kasuri, foreign minister of Pakistan when Pervez Musharraf was president, announced at a conference organised by the Aman ki Asha initiative how a deal on Kashmir was within striking distance under Musharraf. There is no reason why it cannot be revived. New Delhi should reach out, if necessary, directly to the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus. Alongside official initiatives, people-to-people contacts as well as cultural and academic exchanges should be encouraged. The opportunity cost of not working towards lasting peaceful relations between India and Pakistan is too great a price to pay for the people of both countries.







The Aarushi Talwar double murder case has been high-profile enough for the CBI to be called in to investigate. But all that two years of investigation have shed light on is the incompetence of the police as well as the CBI in compiling evidence on and solving crimes. Now the CBI has decided to close the case, while at the same time pointing fingers at Aarushi's father as the main suspect for the crime. This bumbling, Keystone cops-like approach has been evident at every level of the investigation. For example, police called in to investigate Aarushi's murder promptly announced a bounty for the missing Hemraj, whose body had in fact been lying on the terrace all along. 

The Aarushi case raises serious doubts about the investigative skills of our agencies. To start with, the Noida police had botched the evidence, tampered with the scene of crime and created enough red herrings. Whether or not there was a nefarious motive in destroying evidence, it certainly points to the need to revamp investigative apparatuses in the country. Professionalism must be imparted in collecting and preserving the evidence at the crime scene. Better forensic skills, too, are called for in solving crimes. In this context, the CBI not aiming to recover the evidence and not identifying those responsible for loss of evidence casts the agency in a bad light. Also, agencies must resist from playing to the gallery with the media and instead focus on substantial aspects of cases. Despite the gloomy picture, the silver lining is that the court can still direct a further probe. Let's hope there will be justice for Aarushi.








The musician and the raga are like the priest and the deity. Each morning as the musician sits down to practice, the soulful lyrics and the rhythm rouses the raga's divine force — quite like the ceremonial prayer performed in a temple to `awaken' the deity. 

Like the priest, the musician first purifies his own mind, body and soul and seeks his guru's blessings before he begins to sing. As the temple precincts are washed before the daily prayer ritual, the place where the riyaz is performed each day is cleansed likewise. The priest first 'calls' the deity, what is known as the 'aavahan', with mantras and invites Him to be seated in the idol. While bathing the idol, and before starting the puja, the priest decorates the idol with vermillion, ash, sandalwood and silk cloth. So does the musician, as he concentrates within himself and sings the initial movements of the raga in deep devotion, invoking the deity of the raga , rousing it awake. 

To the chanting of mantras, the priest `appeases' the divinity present in the idol, treating God as guest, and offering, one by one, water, milk, honey, perfume, flowers, incense, sweets and fruit, and the light of the oil lamp. Similarly the musician now mouths the lyric like a mantra, appeasing the raga's deity by awakening its mandala or mystic svara configuration, note by note, to compose cyclical musical movements in the raga. 

As the paragraphs of the raga are sung, in cycles of initiation, elaboration, and conclusion, they expand its presence and aura, giving it life and a spiritual extension and reach. This is called aalaap—from aalaapanaa or expansion -- when the notes, along with spaces between them, create a heightened presence of the raga's divine presence. The raga's veneration is of the Lord, in the process awakening cosmic love, both in the musician who is singing and in the listener who is present. The word 'raga', means 'love'. 

The priest then narrates the story of the Lord, to the deity, chanting the many names of God. The puja ritual intensifies to a climax as the mantra chanting goes on, and the Lord is fanned amidst the ringing of bells and the blowing of conches. At which point the Lord begins to shower His blessings on all. In the same way, the raga, too, reaches an ecstatic peak, pitch or crescendo when the musician intensifies its story, composed from its own inner nature into paragraphs of the aalaap, unfolding its intense beauty and loving nature. 

Composing in the raga is a very specialized task. The prabandha , composition or structural arrangement of all three—raga, tala, and bandish or lyric, is in unison, and the musician composes pieces which are expanding wholes within wholes, inevitably evolving geometries of musical dialogue with the Self. Each paragraph has assonance and variation by way of contrast, but it also artfully formulates constant answers or resolutions, only to continue the process into the next paragraph or cycle of composition. Both processes are the externalisation of the intense internal process going on. 

In the temple the priest now symbolically showers the consecrated water on all those present and so, too, with the raga. The musician who has achieved laya or union with the divine core of the raga, symbolised by the heightened 'drut' or fast portion of the singing, now showers the blessings of musical prasad on the audience. 

(The writer is daughter and disciple of Pandit Amarnath, Indore gharana)







Ego-surfing has some interesting side-effects. While indulging in this relatively harmless, and occasionally rewarding, exercise, i found with some alarm that there was a resident of upstate New York who had my name, well almost, and, curiously enough, was of the same age. As a long-time resident of Bangalore, this was worrisome. I couldn't be in two places at the same time. I wasn't inclined to either; it's tough enough being in one place at one time. 

A colleague deduced what could have happened: an online profile created sometime ago may have led to this dual existence. After some determined remembering, i realised that's exactly what had happened. I'd created an account on sometime ago when transiting through New York and had given my local address to log on to this website and find some old friends. That website has morphed into and that's where my e-avatar lives. 

People-searching is big business. Companies promise to find your long-lost family and friends, and have monetised this business. With no empirical evidence, i'll hazard a guess on the main motivator - to catch up with friends, mostly classmates from school, college and workplace, in that order. That says something about the workplace. Finding rich relatives and establishing kinship in the fervent hope of a financial windfall could be a close second. 

In the recent past, i've been getting friend requests on social networking sites from people who fall into two broad categories. It's a pleasure to renew the acquaintance of some, yet not so with others but e-tiquette dictates one befriends them anyway. Some new-old friends talk about catching up, leisurely lunches, reunions, etc. 

Lunches are no problem - one has to eat at some point in a day and any awkwardness over breaking bread can be swiftly covered up in wholly unnecessary trips to the buffet spread. Catching up over coffee is particularly welcome because you can make a quick exit by simulating smses of office meetings that cannot be ignored. Reunions are the mother of all nostalgia, a double whammy of mass meetings and disjointed memories. 

If you have studied, at the very least, in one school, one Plus-2 college, one degree college, one post-graduate course and worked in four organisations, you're likely to have eight sets of friends. If all these groups want to have annual reunions, you're going to spend a lot of time meeting people you may want to avoid. I believe in online groups: they allow you to keep in touch but reduce the possible pain of face-to-face meetings. Reunions once every five years are good, every 10 better. Twenty-five is distinctly appealing. Fifty is the jackpot. Like the golden jubilee celebrations of my school in the near future. Will i attend? I'd like to, considering i'm unlikely to be around for the centenary. 

I'm not against the idea of meeting old classmates. In fact, we had the most wonderful bees saal baad of the Class of '87 a couple of years ago. We're coming up to the silver jubilee and there's some chatter how we can make it a memorable event. It's just that the constant catching up leaves you living in the past and wallowing in nostalgia. As Frank Zappa put it memorably, "It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice - there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia." (Hat tip to my friend Udhay who slipped this quote at the end of his annual note to all his friends which snapshots his year gone by and bundles wishes for the year ahead. It's a delightful way of keeping in touch.) 

The small, but rather sobering, consolation is that the longer you live, the number of reunions becomes progressively fewer - there won't be too many people to reunite with!







2010: The year when men might have truly been on Mars. For, when it came to grabbing headlines, it was women all the way, all the year through. Be it politics, business, sport or entertainment, it was She-La ki Kahani that had the twists and turns, despite all the brouhaha about Dabangg He-men making old-fashioned comebacks. 

They may be branded as mere item numbers but Munni Badnaam Hui and Sheila Ki Jawani have become the exultant cry of a breed of post-feminism femme fatales who are determined to celebrate woman power like never before. If a risqui Munni saw nothing wrong in becoming a Zandu balm, or an item that's aam - in short, totally badnaam - for her paramour, then Sheila seemed to be totally self-sufficient with her uber sexuality.

In a blatant display of narcissism, she declares she wants to hug and hold herself: Ab dil karta hai haule haule se, main toh khud ko gale lagaun. Kisi aur ki mujhko zaroorat kya, main toh khud se pyaar jataun...Read between the lines and see how the traditional stereotype of the woman gets busted with something as simple as Bollywood lyrics. Enter the new singleton who doesn't necessarily need a husband, a boyfriend, to define herself. On the contrary, like Krishna Verma (Vidya Balan), the spirited and unencumbered protagonist of Ishqiya, she prefers a world where options exist and the straitjacket of conventional morality has been blown apart. 

On television too, the 'newsmaker of the year' award would definitely go to the biggest hell-raiser of them all: Dolly Bindra and her incessant bad behaviour have set a new benchmark for topping TRPs. The loudmouth participant of a reality TV show, with her liberal sprinkling of bad words and her brattish tantrums, easily overshadowed all the male stars of desi TV. 

If the world of cinema and TV belonged to the bindaas woman, then the real world too saw women creating most of the ripples. The mysterious Niira Radia has not only given the Indian corporate and political world a whole new term in 'lobbyist', she has also added zest - and jest - to the media. Currently, there is a whole new litmus test in journalistic circles to sift happening journos from the non-happening ones. And that's the make-government, break-government Radia call to power brokers in the fourth estate. Needless to say, those she never called are feeling mighty miffed at their powerlessness! (Just joking!) So what if her alliance may have created a dent in the image of another woman who made news by trying to come clean through a public confessional on television. Remember Barkha Dutt and her 'just-an-error-of-judgment' soap opera? 

Another woman who caused an upheaval was Sunanda Pushkar with her loaded love story that may have had a happy ending. But only after forcing the exit of one of India's most articulate netas from the ministerial arena. For the good news story too, it was the girlie brigade that hogged the limelight. She-girl Saina Nehwal with her umpteen international titles, the Golden Girls of track and field - India's 4x400m relay team at Guangzhou comprising Ashwini Chidanand Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur, Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose and many more women sports heroes - gave India so much to smile about despite the scurrilous scams in theCommonwealth Games

On the international front too, it was a woman who created a buzz - and new buzzwords too. Sarah Palin made more news than Prez Obama with her i-will, i-won't on the bid for the US presidency in 2012 apart from giving the global lexicon a new word like 'refudiate' and a bunch of Palinisms. Hard to forget her reference to North Korea: We gotta stand by our North Korea allies! A slip of the tongue or an abysmal lack of geopolitical knowledge on the part of the Tea Party's most happening icon...It doesn't matter. Palin's popularity keeps rising, even as columnists like Maureen Dowd say she proudly brandishes her ignorance. 

And the She-story isn't going to end soon. For close on the heels of Sheila comes Susannah and her seven husbands...Watch out for Priyanka Chopra's rendition of Ruskin Bond's love-lorn femme fatale in Saat Khoon Maaf. Gut feeling says this no-holds-barred assassin is undoubtedly going to be the toast of the town in the new year. 

As for the state of the nation, it's going to be a similar woman-oriented story all over again. India's political circus will continue to be stage-managed by that familiar Lara Croft-like ringmaster who silently cracks the whip backstage whenever the chess board markers - knights and bishops all - make the wrong moves. Yes, the enigmatic Mrs G will carry on her Mother Superior management mantra in desi politics' school for scandal. 

By all measures, 2011 is going to end up as the year of Lisbeth Salander and her gothic girl gang. Steig Larsson's super smart, sociopathic computer hacker who dons dragon tattoos, kicks butt and emerges as a taser gun-wielding terror for the corrupt and the criminally inclined is fast replacing the male superhero bastion as a female Wolverine. Truly, the messed up maidens are going to end up as the new age messiahs of a messed up world which is ready to sidestep tried, tested and failed machismo.








The star of two recent movies, Prosenjit Chatterjee is a renowned Bengali actor. He spoke to Ratnottama Sengupta about winning the coveted Golden Peacock award at the 41st International Film Festival of India (IFFI) last month: 

Is the Golden Peacock award significant for you? And why? 

There are many kinds of awards. All are a form of recognition and encouragement though some are mainly marketing tools whereas others also endow the winner with a sense of responsibility. The IFFI award falls into the latter category and our movie fits into the award's scheme of things because it was not made for money. For such a movie, critical recognition is very important. And the IFFI award was a very important salute not just to the film, but to cinema in my region and has highlighted the work being done there. This is very important because regional cinema gets missed by mainstream media despite it being much more 'Indian' than what is thought of as Indian cinema. One of my aims so far has been to achieve the same level of recognition for Bengali cinema as Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan, Mammooty or Mohanlal did for their regional cinemas. 

Tell us about the movie which won and other projects? 

Gautam Ghosh's Moner Manush (Mind's Human) won the prize. But on the day it was released, so was another with a very different theme and feel and in which i also act. This was Jor Jaar Muluk Taar (Those with might, have a home). In the former i play a Baul called Lalan Fakir. He is a famous Bengali poet. Born Hindu, given up for dead, rescued by a Muslim couple and then went on to author hundreds of songs extolling humanism and decrying the divisions of faith and caste. Playing Lalan was very interesting because not much is known about him in detail. For instance, we don't know what he looked like. We had to recreate an idea of him physically and mentally by reading Sunil Gangopadhyay's songs along with, of course, Lalan's work. The script was a great help. It prompted me to make Lalan's songs the base of my acting. The very texture of the songs indicates perhaps what he was like. He used simple words and so i took the path of simplicity in my portrayal. I had to relax myself, body and soul, to capture what i thought was the essence of a man whose message remains highly relevant today. This is despite the fact that Lalan is not remembered. He did not publicise himself. What we know of him is through Rabindranath Tagore but cinema can spread the message of tolerance. The other film has me as a college professor. But he isn't your usual academic, and takes on thugs to defend the college and so the movie has a much more contemporary feel, and the character is totally different. 

How did you get into character in the two roles? 

Conveying Lalan's peaceful simplicity required simplifying. It required changing a lot in my life but at the same time it was therapeutic. Detaching myself from my life was a must because the character's life was defined by the four natural elements - earth, air, fire and water. So, my dress changed to flowing robe, my food became vegetarian and i slept on the floor to get into character. There is no denying that all this affect the body and mind. When the filming was over i'd difficulty in returning to jeans and T-shirts which is the norm for me! The other character was much closer to this norm, because my life has been lived in urban areas.








Inflation makes all of us poor. But rising food prices make the poor poorer faster than they make the rich poorer. Indians living in cities spend Rs46.20 of every Rs100 on food. Villagers spend Rs69.15. If food prices rise by 10% — food inflation captured in the cost of living indices for both rural and urban workers has rarely dipped below 10% over the past two years — the city dweller is Rs4.62 poorer while his country cousin loses Rs6.91. By hurting the vulnerable, food inflation renders itself unacceptable ethically, economically and politically. Hunger is not price sensitive and dearer food tends to squeeze out consumption elsewhere. Demand in the countryside for goods rolling out of our factories is being crimped. And by making the villager pay an inflation 'tax' half as much again as the townsman, millions in Bharat are at risk of being excluded from India's growth.


Since India began liberalising its economy, prices of farm produce have climbed by a fifth in relation to prices of manufactured goods. The first 10% occurred over 13 years from 1994-95. The other 10% happened in the 20 months to December 2009. The government is grappling with the spurt in farm prices after rains played truant with harvests in two successive years. However, attention to the longer-term trend would have softened the blows of crop failures and supply bottlenecks. Rising farm prices are a reflection of productivity gains in manufacturing and services that have completely sidestepped Indian agriculture. Capital and technology have transformed the non-farm economy; farming needs its share of both. Unless food production manages to convincingly overtake our population growth we are staring at a secular — and accelerating — rise in prices.


Have we reached the end of the road in the way we farm? Obviously not, since our governments choose to lurch from crisis to agrarian crisis, paying a political price in the bargain. The alternative — modern and efficient agriculture — would require economic reorganisation that carries an even higher price tag. But the gap is shrinking. There is scope to introduce capital and technology at the periphery in, say, how food travels from the farm to the plate and in how farmers contract to sell their harvests. These can be achieved without doing too much violence to the basic structure of Indian agriculture. Solutions have been around as long as the problems dogging our farm economy, it is up to our politicians to weigh the costs.







The naivete of most people never ceases to amaze us. For those who assumed that the tony stadiums put up at hugely inflated cost for the Commonwealth Games would be used to further sports in the country, we ask, are you for real? The venues in question are arguably the most pricey on the planet. They were meant to showcase both India's sporting prowess and organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi's heightened aesthetic sense. But, surely it is asking too much that all that delicate astro-turf and other fitments be subjected to athletes bouncing around them and spoiling the scenery. In fact, Mr Kalmadi is following a time-honoured tradition of erecting structures with the express purpose of keeping the hoi polloi away from them.


For those who may discern some flaws in this logic, would they like it if they had to fork out for repairs and maintenance after the masses had lumbered around in those pristine surroundings? We think not. And, further, this is one way of ensuring that our athletes don't get soft by using all that high-standard equipment. After all, they did not require all this earlier when they were left to their own devices. The Games village too is another example of Kalmadian preservation techniques. Only the discerning will be able to get their hands on these structures, namely our politicians.


The thrift aspect does not end there. Overjoyed with the success of the Games, Kalmadi and Co are fairly certain that they have a future Olympics in the bag. If the venues are kept in shape, then it would save us crores by way of new constructions, wouldn't it? This is forward planning at its best. This way, when sports officials are called into account, or accounts in the case of some of them, they will be ahead of the race.









A fresh controversy over the role of Indira Gandhi and her favourite son, Sanjay Gandhi, has arisen after the publication of a two-volume book, Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, edited by senior leader and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. The book was released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi at the recent AICC plenary in Burari. The Congress has since officially tried to play down the remarks against Sanjay and has tried to explain how ‘goody goody’ things could not have been written under the supervision of top historians. A number of leaders believe that there are mistakes in the book and that these could have been corrected had senior partymen been consulted.


The controversy has not died down since it is felt that justice has not been done to Indira Gandhi, who’s considered the greatest mass leader of the last century. It is felt that if the party is in power today, it is because most Indians continue to have the highest regard for the late prime minister. They vote for the Congress because they see in it her legacy. The present party leadership is certainly the beneficiary of that.


Sanjay has been portrayed as a villain and his role in the Congress comeback in 1980 has not been adequately recognised. For many partymen, Sanjay was far ahead of his time. He spoke of small family norms, ecology, environment, adult literacy and anti-dowry measures when no one else did. If things had gone wrong, it was because of poor implementation by government agencies.


Sanjay was an extremely political person who was seen as the natural heir to Indira Gandhi. He played a crucial role in restoring the party to power in 1980 after its humiliating defeat in 1977. Without him, Indira Gandhi could not have achieved much of what she did in the 1980 polls. He would surely have been the prime minister had he not died under mysterious circumstances in the Pitts-2 plane crash on June 23, 1980.


While the party has tried to show him in a negative light, most of the leaders who constitute the backbone of the Congress today got their big break because of him. They are all his people from Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni, Digvijaya Singh, P Chidambaram, AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Thangabalu, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Jagdish Tytler and many others. Even Pranab Mukherjee was his beneficiary since it was at Sanjay’s instance that the finance ministry during the Emergency was bifurcated and the banking and revenue departments were taken away from C Subramanium and given to him. Indira Gandhi was grooming him to be someone who could assist Sanjay.


The book rightly praises Rajiv Gandhi for his vision and desire to take India into the next century but fails to point out that most people close to him when he entered politics not only stabbed him in the back but left for other parties. The book does not sufficiently bring out how Indira Gandhi’s brutal assassination contributed to the overwhelming victory of the Congress in the 1984 polls and how her legacy continues to dominate national politics.


There are a number of Congress leaders who feel that the attempt to downplay both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay in Congress history could be either deliberate or because no one cared to go through the final contents before the volumes were released.


No one doubts that excesses were committed during the Emergency but the Congress paid for them in the 1977 defeat. The BJP recognises it very well since many leaders accused of those excesses were welcomed into  that party directly or indirectly including Bansi Lal, Jagmohan and Vidya Charan Shukla. Even Sanjay’s widow, Maneka who was barely 24 years old when he died and son, Varun are also in the saffron party since Indira Gandhi’s legacy was denied to them.


Accuracy and correct interpretation are central to history. It cannot be coloured by emotion, sycophancy or subjectivity. Time will tell us what history was all about.


Between us.








The myriad bursts of coffee beans on their waxy bushes look like mistletoe from the distance. A very Christmassy touch, except that this happens to be in a remote area in Andhra Pradesh near the Orissa border. The neatly arranged rows of coffee bushes on the rich, black slopes of the Araku valley seem to have been planted by a God with an obsession for symmetry. Under the shade of sal and teak trees which tower over the crouching bushes, the tribal villagers, the custodians of all they survey, cannot quite comprehend the fact that their coffee is sought after by the Chanel classes in the rarified world of Viennese sophistication and Parisian chic. For them, knocking around their coffee bushes is just another day's work.


Coffee-tasting juries from all over the world come to this breathtakingly beautiful part of the Eastern Ghats to certify coffee for foreign markets. This branding exercise ensures that the coffee fetches far higher prices than the market rate both in India and abroad. In the degraded lands where coffee cannot be grown, a vast array of saplings — from cherries to sweet limes to tamarind as well as others like drumsticks and papaya — await planting. The driving force behind this re-afforestation-cum-income generation scheme involving 3 million trees is the French dairy products company Danone which has partnered with Naandi Foundation in Hyderabad to create sustainable livelihoods for the tribals.


To make afforestation a livelihood-based community-owned sustainable programme, Naandi has roped in the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency) to give NREGA wages to adivasis.


How little we know or care about tribals and their way of life can be seen in the little hotels in the Araku valley. Hordes of tourists come to take in the area's mist-wreathed beauty and have a look at how ‘these people' live through a quick visit to a rather run-down local museum. On a good winter day, the little town is awash with vocal Bengalis going through idlis and upma like combine harvesters, gearing up for a little jolly and a jaunt to work up an appetite for lunch. The more rapacious come to cart off tribal instruments and other craftwork to sell in markets looking for novel ways of one-upmanship.


The thickly forested area holds many surprises. In the middle of seemingly nowhere, I came across a gigantic coffee processing unit. On closer inspection, I found a crumbling plaque proclaiming that the peripatetic Jairam Ramesh, in his earlier avatar as commerce minister, had opened the plant. Row upon row of peanut-coloured coffee beans nestled under their tarpaulin covering to keep out the heavy dew. Nearby, around a towering inferno of a bonfire, tribal women danced to primeval beats under the star-lit sky, not for the benefit of tourists of which there were none or for me. It so happens that this happy campy ritual is their way of life and one into which they don't particularly welcome voyeuristic intrusions.


Why on earth would Danone want to exercise itself by planting trees in an area where Maoism still thrives? Simple, it makes good business sense. For every tree planted, the company can rake in carbon credits. That the tribals gain in the bargain is a bonus. David Hogg, livelihood director of Naandi, is literally elbow-deep in manure when I met him on a hillock in Araku. I have never met anyone more enthusiastic about waste products from cow dung to vermicompost. He enticed me to a pit where he is marinating marigolds to be used as a pest repellent. He has spent decades studying the variety of crops and trees best suited to the area. He holds forth at length on the glories of local knowledge and wisdom in agriculture to me and the bandbox fresh Rajiv Dubey of the Mahindra Group who has come to survey the area to see what his company can contribute to re-afforestation. Hogg's offer of a sniff of fresh manure is accepted gamely by the elegant Dubey and with horror from me. David and his team has organised 20,000 adivasis to plough 12,500 hectares with coffee and livelihood giving trees ranging from teak to bamboo to pomegranate etc. And this is now the world's largest organic coffee cooperative.


As night falls, the stars seem to zoom closer to earth in a sort of fantasy that de Beers dreamed up. The clear night air almost hurts my lungs used to large amounts of particulate matter in Delhi. Emerging like spectres from the forests at this time are the tribals from the various agricultural cooperatives. A local worker informed me that some among the blanket-clad wild-eyed men were Maoists. If they were, I have never seen a more clubbable bunch of people.


David saw no threat from the locals either owing to his efforts to introduce new farming techniques or from the fact that he is a New Zealander. The threat he felt came from ill-informed schemes that governments and some corporates tried to impose crops and farming patterns alien to the region and who, in addition, had an eye to robbing the genetic diversity of the flora and fauna. India, he said, was home to the only variety of cow which was immune to foot and mouth disease. And its genetic material has been whisked away by a Scottish company right under the lazy eye of the Indian authorities. The hardy cow which is native to Kerala is near extinction in India which appears totally indifferent to the enormous wealth of biodiversity it has or for the need to monetise this for the benefit of farmers in whose name politicians shed weight and tears.


The myth that money in the hands of tribals goes on drink and destroys families is belied by the fact that almost all the children in the area are in schools. Progressive NGOs and corporates have value-added to the local schools. The girl students I met had certainly begun looking beyond the lives of their parents. They literally aimed for the stars under that indigo sky. Their general knowledge put me to shame. I couldn't help wondering what a trail they would blaze if they had access to the kind of education that most of us in the cities take for granted. This is the model of holistic development that India needs. Education is the offshoot of income generation from agriculture which is an offshoot of conservation by way of afforestation of degraded lands which, in turn, buys carbon credits and reduces greenhouse gases.


The interesting and heartening thing about the tribals here is that they are neither resentful of governmental indifference, nor do they expect any hand-outs. They have taken control of their lives, taken help wherever they could get it. They have, in the words of TS Eliot, measured out their lives with coffee spoons.




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

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

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

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

India Express






The only primate that can, in this winter of parliamentary discontent, bring together MPs from the treasury and opposition benches who are divided over JPC and PAC, is, surprisingly, the langur. Man’s evolutionary superiority — and even such exigencies of civilisation like party dissension — can crumble when faced with the rampage that a horde of rhesus macaque can unleash. When BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar faced the monkey menace — Delhi’s singular urban problem — at his residence, he reached out to Congress parliamentarians on his street for a joint effort: pool in funds for the service of the langur, the aggressive supermonkey whose very presence can scare away the troublesome lesser monkeys and whose service would cost a few thousand rupees.


The langur has been unnaturally serving the cause of democracy and maintaining law and order in Delhi. For want of a better city plan to contain rhesus monkeys — their nuisance quotient turned tragic three years ago when Delhi’s deputy mayor fell to his death after being attacked by them — the langur has been doing that job. On one end of the leash of langurwallahs, who have been certified by no less than the ministry of home affairs, it has been patrolling the corridors of Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan and many government offices in the capital. Even the Commonwealth Games in the city had a monkey police doing the rounds. While we may soon have to look beyond the langur for a solution to the simian question, the solidarity cutting across party lines, which the langur demanded, would well worth be aping when the budget session of Parliament begins.







There are inherent difficulties in waging an armed insurrection against the state over a long period of time — when the period spans decades and the militants murder civilians. That is the original fault line of militancy that the clever state seizes upon. India’s history of dealing with militancy offers an object lesson in how battling an insurgency is a multi-prong effort, one which calls for a calibrated armed and political response. That’s the lesson from Punjab and Kashmir. That’s what should one day end the Maoist terror. This combination of armed offensives and diplomatic channels for dialogue is the means by which the most sanguinary of anti-national terrorists have been disarmed and, sometimes, even mainstreamed. Of course, dialogue should be conceded only from a position of strength.


The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) has terrorised Assam for almost three decades, with periodic ebbs in its striking power. Over the years, many of its top leaders have been caught, either in India or in our neighbourhood, and imprisoned. Yet the Ulfa never disappeared altogether, reminding us time and again that it still existed. Its “commander-in-chief” Paresh Barua still eludes the Indian authorities. But last year Bangladesh handed over Arabinda Rajkhowa, the “chairman” of the outlawed outfit. After a year in jail, Rajkhowa has been released on bail and the Ulfa is set to hold a meeting of its general council in which a formal decision may be taken on unconditional peace talks with the government. Rajkhowa, of course, has asked for all members of the said general council to be freed, specifically mentioning general secretary Anup Chetia, in a Bangladesh jail.


The very real possibility of talks with the Ulfa, with the prospect of the likes of Rajkhowa joining the ainstream, is certainly a mark of the distance militancy in Assam has come. The Assam government has rightly insisted that the ban on the outfit — a section of which, including Barua, is still at large — and the counter-insurgency operations will continue. Meanwhile, dialogue with those whose current political stance looks more moderate, should be welcome. Through the cracks in militant leadership, comes in the light of democratic reconciliation and peace.







There is no doubt that the Reserve Bank of India acted in haste last week in announcing a suspension of payments to oil imports from Iran through the long-standing arrangement with the Asian Clearing Union (ACU). It has now sensibly restored the status quo ante — the ministry of external affairs described this as a “technical issue” — until alternative arrangements are finalised with Iran. The reversal, however, does not resolve the basic problem: the increasing difficulty of doing business with Iran. As the UN and the West tighten the sanctions noose around Iran amid the refusal of Tehran to resolve its nuclear disputes with the international community, India has no option but to adapt. As a good international citizen, India has a long record of faithfully implementing sanctions imposed by the Security Council. The issue at hand is not about imports of oil from Iran, which are not prohibited by the current UN sanctions. But the range of measures adopted by the international community against the banking and finance sectors of Iran has complicated the system of payment for those petroleum imports.

The US argues that the ACU system is opaque and does not allow efficient monitoring of fund transfers to various Iranian entities under sanctions. The ACU settles accounts on a net basis every two months. Responding to pressures from the marketplace, the RBI chose to act. But given the scale of India’s oil imports from Iran — about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, nearly 14 per cent of its requirement — the consequences of a potential supply disruption compelled the RBI to backtrack.


As it engages Iran, the RBI must prepare for some hardball negotiations. There have been signals from Tehran that it will not accept payments outside the ACU. The fact, however, is that Iran has agreed for such arrangements with others. South Korea, a major customer of Iranian oil has begun to pay in its national currency, the won. In the short term, Delhi must avoid the trap of politicising the issue and focus on the practical steps needed to sustain the oil trade with Tehran, that Iran too badly needs. In the long term, though, India must focus on further diversification of its energy supplies. Delhi should step up its engagement with Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil producer, and other petroleum-producing states in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme and are looking for security partners. Delhi must act purposefully to build on the natural convergences with Saudi Arabia on energy security and regional stability.








 The Indian economy is showing signs of overheating. But the RBI lacks a clear monetary policy framework that can address the problem. In the coming years, the RBI should focus on research that will build the foundations of such a framework.


The performance of the Indian economy in 2010 was beyond expectations. The GDP growth was higher than expected. But at the same time, inflation was also above acceptable levels. The current account deficit was higher than historical levels. Property prices rose at an average of 30 per cent during the year. Liquidity became tight and credit demand rose. By the end of the year the Indian economy witnessed most signs of overheating.


However, concerns about output and employment growth weighed upon policy-makers. There was no serious attempt at fiscal consolidation. Monetary tightening neither pulled output growth down nor contained inflation. Did India err on the side of too much caution? Should macroeconomic policy have been tightened much more to prevent overheating?


Macroeconomic policy-making is hard, as it involves judgment and is done under conditions of uncertainty. Raising rates is also almost always harder than cutting them. Few people criticised Greenspan’s low interest rates or clamoured for hikes in the Greenspan years. The “great moderation”, with low inflation and stable growth, was appreciated by most at the time.


India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. It is an engine of growth for the world economy. High growth rates in India are above expectations and almost unbelievable. A rate hike that would upset growth would be unpopular.


Further, to have a significant impact on growth and inflation, the RBI would have to raise rates significantly. Monetary policy transmission is weak in most emerging economies. Financial markets are not well developed, and changes in policy rates do not translate into changes in lending and borrowing rates across the financial sector. In addition, a large part of the economy only has access to informal finance. This makes the transmission mechanism of monetary policy in India very weak. Former RBI governor C. Rangarajan had to raise rates by 500 basis points to bring high inflation under control. Small changes in rates do not have a large enough impact on the economy. Weak transmission of monetary policy makes the central banker’s job even more difficult. That we do not know how weak this effect is, makes the problem harder.


Monetary tightening would perhaps be less unpopular if it was happening in the midst of high export growth. If the RBI raises rates, interest differentials with the world would increase. Fears of carry trade and rupee appreciation would be raised. Concerns about the sustainability of the current account deficit would be raised. What would be forgotten is that the most important determinant of export and import growth is growth in the world and Indian economies respectively. A reduction in Indian GDP growth would reduce the demand for imports. A reduction in domestic prices would shift demand away from foreign goods to domestic goods. Lower import growth would reduce the current account deficit. Any effect of rupee appreciation on trade is likely to be small compared with the effect of a change in output. A large current account deficit, a symptom of high aggregate demand, is normally a reason for raising rates, not keeping them low. Empirical studies of the causal relationships involved are needed to assess the magnitude of the impact.


In addition, food inflation accounts for a significant share of India’s rising inflation. Our understanding of the role of monetary policy in India in stemming inflation when food prices rise is still rudimentary. Little theoretical or empirical work exists to support the view that the RBI can do much to control inflation when it is caused by rises in the price of food. While there is some recent evidence to suggest that food inflation feeds into higher wages and higher inflationary expectations, setting off a wage-price spiral, there seems to be little consensus within the RBI to support this view. Speeches by RBI staff often take a different and conflicting view on the subject. An understanding of inflation caused by rising commodity prices is similar. There is confusion within the RBI about whether it should respond to rising world commodity prices by raising rates or not.


The consequence of the RBI’s lack of research and a clear framework was visible in the most recent credit policy review. When its policy of monetary tightening failed to slow down growth or inflation, and the money market continued to witness tight liquidity, the RBI put brakes on its policy direction, and signalled monetary easing. This happened to be exactly the opposite of what it should have done.


Looking forward, the RBI may raise rates, but its lack of conviction may mean this might be done in baby steps and may have little impact. High inflation may consequently become a problem that remains with us for many years.


This lack of both clarity and framework, on the part of the RBI, has resulted in one of India’s biggest problems: high inflation. Empirical and theoretical research to understand price behaviour and the functioning of monetary policy in India; how policy should respond to food inflation and commodity prices; inflationary expectations; what would be the impact of changes in policy rate on output, on prices, on the rupee, and on the current account deficit should be on top of the RBI’s agenda.


Instead of engaging in debates about whether inflation should be one of its many targets, or its only target, the RBI should focus on building a monetary policy framework that helps India obtain a low and stable inflation rate. A country with high inflation can neither guarantee financial stability, not high growth or employment. Only when RBI has a clear, coherent and effective strategy, backed by high quality empirical and theoretical research, on how to tackle inflation, can it fulfil its primary role and function. Research to develop such a framework should be the RBI’s top priority in 2011.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of


Public Finance and Policy, Delhi,









 It has been two decades since India embarked on market-oriented reforms — and yet, in the political discourse, the market is not considered a social force for poverty alleviation. It is not hard to understand why. Although India’s liberalisation has been responsible for unprecedented growth, the benefits of market expansion have gone disproportionately to the relatively well-off. They have bypassed the vast majority of the poor, especially in the villages. A lack of education and infrastructure continues to hold down the capability of the poor to benefit from market opportunities.


No wonder, “market” remains a word without much appeal for the poor. This widespread feeling of disappointment serves well the cause of certain lobbies that can successfully shield themselves through protectionist policies at the cost of the poor. It also enables politicians to use a clever vocabulary that makes them appear “pro-poor” while tacitly defending anti-poor protectionist lobbies.


Newly appointed Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, speaking from a common platform recently, promised the state’s cotton growers that they would try to increase the export of raw cotton. Pawar assured the audience that since cotton was the main crop of Maharashtra, its export will be “encouraged”. He stated his commitment to step up cotton exports before American cotton arrives in the world market this month.


Such statements might appear as balm to the aggrieved cotton farmers of Vidarbha, a region that has witnessed many farmers’ suicides. But, ironically, they are made even as cotton growers are being unfairly denied higher international prices, by imposing restrictions on export. By choosing not to speak against this policy, these leaders are in fact acting as apologists of such policies. Cotton exports need no “encouragement”, as these leaders want farmers to believe. All that is needed is that the government does not come in the way of farmers who want to take advantage of the opportunities that trade presents. It is a cruel joke on farmers when the agriculture minister talks of the need to step up exports before the arrival of American cotton lowers the world market prices — because, if exports had been free, Indian farmers would have already seized the opportunity.


It is bad to do nothing about poor irrigation, as well as the ineffective extension of services; but it is worse to control or ban exports that directly affect farmers’ incomes. However, nobody has come forward to resist such policies. Civil society groups by and large are sceptical of markets and do not find the issue appealing enough.


The Indian textile sector benefited immensely from the expiry of the Multi-Fibre Agreement in 2005, since that facilitated the removal of restrictions on the import of textile products to developed countries. But the benefit of this trade liberalisation can flow to the rural poor only if the textile lobby purchases cotton at international prices. Instead, every year before the harvesting season, this lobby clamours for restricting — preferably banning — the export of cotton, and the government inevitably yields to their pressure.


Our cotton growers have to put up with poor infrastructure at home. They also have to bear the brunt of high subsidies doled out to cotton growers in the US, against whom they have to compete in the international market. But despite such odds, Indian cotton farmers have proved themselves competitive internationally. We should encourage them by providing the infrastructure they require. Instead, we continue to subject them to unfair taxation. Would we tolerate such a policy for, say, software exports? There is no dearth of experts who wax eloquent on the benefits of free trade. But they rarely make the case for cotton growers.


Is there a case for supporting the textile industry, as a labour-intensive industry that creates demand for poor unskilled labour? If it is so, the government should support it directly through financial assistance, and not by allowing the industry to ride on the back of farmers. And let us not forget that cotton is a highly labour-intensive crop too. Cotton prices thus matter not only to the cotton growers, most of whom are poor, but also to the labourers.


The writer is a Nashik-based food and agriculture policy,







It is time the West ended its sanctions against Myanmar, whether or not the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese exile groups agree. This is not to imply that the recent elections were anything other than rigged, or deny that the regime remains ruthless, corrupt and incompetent. But sanctions are neither in the interests of the West nor of the majority of Burmese for whom livelihood issues are the dominant concern.Short of an attempt at a people power revolution, which most likely would be greeted by the military with the same brutality as in 1988 and 2007, a strategy of persistence and patience is the only way forward.It is clear that sanctions have not only failed to achieve their aims, they could well have made the situation worse by increasing the anti-Western paranoia of the military leader Than Shwe, providing the regime with a useful enemy, and increasing the influence of neighbouring states, notably China, which have scant regard for democracy or are driven entirely by commercial interests.The failure of sanctions has underscored the decline of Western influence in this region. Travel sanctions against the families of Burmese generals have deprived them of Western education and contacts. Trade sanctions, which may have had some initial impact, are now easily avoided. The lack of foreign investment — other than in resources — is more the result of economic mismanagement than of sanctions.There are a number of additional reasons that sanctions should be ended now. Cracks are appearing in the authoritarian structure. The elections, however fraudulent, gave an opportunity for opposition voices to be heard. The boycott by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy may have made sense. But it is clear that respect for her courage and principles is tempered by widespread criticism of her stubbornness and apparent concern more for constitutional issues than social and economic ones. That she would easily win a free and fair election is barely relevant to the actual situation here.The new constitution, which takes effect next year, devolves very little power away from the executive to the legislative branch. But at least there may be some debate and slightly more transparency. Optimists also believe that once some generals take off their uniforms and become ministers they will be freer to make policies than they are in the current system, under which almost nothing happens without approval by the 10 generals in charge. Civil society organisations have also emerged partly as a result of government failings at the time of the 2008 Nargis cyclone catastrophe.Optimists see positive developments in the inclusion of some businessmen in the legislative assemblies. Although they are seen as regime proxies — no substantial business can exist without connections to the generals — some of them understand why the current system is incapable of generating wealth for the people. Economic reforms like ending a multi-tier exchange rate and making private investment less subject to official whims, are a possibility.Reform would be promoted if institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were able to lend here. This country currently lacks even an official government budget. The proceeds of booming gas and other resource exports have gone into building the extravagant new capital, Naypyidaw, and into the dozens of gaudy mansions that have sprouted in the posher suburbs of Yangon while the densely populated downtown deteriorates.Involvement by international organisations might also help divert money from dams designed to sell power to China to irrigation and electrification for the nation’s rural majority. The Burmese could also use help combating malnutrition, in a country that was once the world’s largest rice exporter.It is important to try to engage now with the less obstinate members of the ruling elite. The regime is gaining added confidence from the prospect of additional revenue from new offshore gas developments. Meanwhile, Than Shwe is 77 and a succession of some sort is likely within a decade. There is at least the chance that the sons and daughters of generals, and middle-ranking officers, see their own survival and prosperity linked to a gradual shift to civilian rule and a more open market economy.It is hard for those who claim to carry the flag of Burmese nationalism not to know just how far their country has fallen behind not just Thailand but now China, Vietnam and Cambodia.Do not imagine that engagement will be anything other than a slow and frustrating process. Significant progress on the constitutional front is unlikely until social and economic issues have been addressed. But Myanmar is just as capable of fundamental reform as were Indonesia and Vietnam.Engagement does not mean keeping quiet about human rights abuses. The more contact Myanmar has with the outside world — the more businessmen, academics, artists, politicians, journalists and tourists who visit — the stronger will be the impetus for change. philip bowRing








 On the face of it, India has a deep financial system. Financial assets amount to about $2 trillion or about 160 per cent of GDP in India compared to $12 trillion in China, or 280 per cent of the GDP. India also has a very large network of commercial bank branches — 185,000, of which almost half are in rural areas. As a result, India compares favourably in terms of branch density (average population served per commercial bank branch). However, India’s deep financial system is very uneven and has been relatively unsuccessful in improving access of poor people to financial services. As a result of the current Andhra Pradesh crisis and its impact on the microfinance industry, access to financial services for the poor is poised to take a giant leap backwards in the absence of effective and urgent regulation. The financial regulator in India has, at best, done a mediocre job of providing a viable financial services model that reaches the poor. The RBI’s approach to financial inclusion has been a series of well-meaning but half-hearted programmes and an avoidance of any systematic approach to address an obvious gap. Eight or nine per cent GDP growth means very little to a vast majority in India, with over 50 per cent of the population still not having any formal saving options, borrowing money largely from informal sources at exorbitant rates (50-100 per cent annual percentage rate), paying upwards of five per cent commission to transfer money domestically, and for whom penetration of life insurance and pension schemes is negligible. Why has the government failed to provide real financial inclusion, and what does this have to do with the current mess facing the microfinance industry?The government’s discontinued Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) has been described as the world’s largest microfinance programme. Some $5 billion was disbursed through commercial banks to an estimated 55 million families, each receiving loans of less than $100. If sustainability were a criterion, the IRDP would be judged a colossal failure. It incorporated a massive element of subsidy that resulted in widespread misuse of funds, very low loan recovery rates (less than 30 per cent) and the refusal of commercial banks to recycle loanable funds. Similarly, and around the same time, a network of primary cooperatives and rural banks was established by the government of India to meet the credit needs of the poor, and, eventually, also become dysfunctional. A non-market approach to credit-delivery, corruption and mismanagement have left this vast institutional infrastructure financially crippled, with the cooperatives and RRBs having been recapitalised multiple times to avoid going bankrupt again.But the most ambitious attempt at financial inclusion for more than a decade now has been the self-help group (SHG) model. The SHG approach to microfinance was pioneered by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and is today one of the most widespread microfinance programmes in the country. Many state governments have competed to create as many SHGs as they can in the shortest possible time-frame.The argument made for such a “client inclusive” model is in the name itself, “self-help”. The idea is to empower women (most of the SHGs in India are women-based) by mobilising them to meet their needs in a holistic manner. Typically, an NGO working in the area forms these groups, consisting of 12 to 20 members. These small groups are encouraged to meet frequently and collect small thrift amounts from their members. Through group dynamics, decision-making and funds management, the sense of empowerment is promoted. The group is not merely a savings and loan association, but serves as a collective conduit that provides a platform for a range of issues such as watershed development, awareness building and family planning. It is incorrect to argue against the potential of SHGs from a social development point of view, but they are not necessarily the best delivery model for financial services to the poor. Compared to the microfinance model, the SHG model lacks financial viability and scalability, and thus the ability to be effectively delivered on a sustainable, scalable basis across India.The SHG-bank linkage model’s very survival is partially explicable because it utilises the existing rural and co-operative banking system and thus gives the government a justification for having created this infrastructure and to maintain it (largely recapitalising these institutions every three to five years) and also because it provides a valuable target-driven initiative that can be politically manipulated almost indefinitely. Thus in each year’s budget, in the name of financial inclusion, there are revised targets to further scale up the SHG-bank linkage programme.Is it really justified to bank on a system that hasn’t performed for almost four decades, and being completely closed to new models of microfinance? Diverse microfinance needs of people in different parts of India and the large supply-demand gap can easily absorb multiple models. The key point is to realise that scalability is the biggest hurdle in meeting the microfinance needs of the poor and should form the core of all policies and models that are being promoted. Any serious institutional inflexibility on the part of government agencies towards private MFIs will do irreparable damage to the nascent microfinance sector in India.The RBI should instead focus on establishing an effective public regulator for private MFIs and private-sector financial inclusion service providers, through engaging in effective consultations with MFIs, bankers and other key stakeholders. The right solution for financial inclusion has always been nationwide microfinance regulation, governed by the RBI. The government should use this crisis as an opportunity to carry out such systemic change. Such an overhaul would pave the way to savings/deposit acceptance mechanism by MFIs and proactive functional guidance from the likes of the IRDA for insurance and the PFRDA for pensions, in order for MFIs to become effective channels for non-credit services. Financial inclusion is a critical priority for the development of India. If the government is willing to deploy some political capital in such a strategically important area, it could turn this crisis into the systemic change we need.


The writer is the founder of a social venture capital fund








The entire controversy around the amendment to the copyright law is needless — because the law is not creating or inventing any new right or royalty for music composers and songwriters in India. The provision already exists, accepted by producers and music companies by signing MoUs in the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS). Since 1969, the IPRS has been entrusted with the task of collecting royalties for artists. But, more often than not, this has remained only on paper. The new bill is meant to enforce it and secure for Indian composers and songwriters the royalties that their counterparts elsewhere in the world rightly enjoy.Across the world, authors and composers share the royalty with the publisher, whose task is to market the music. In India, till 1993, producers were members of the IPRS, as publishers. In 1993, music companies replaced the producers as publishers by signing an MoU with authors and composers that they will share the royalty on an equal basis. Meanwhile, music companies told the producers that they would give them money upfront provided the producer got the author and the composer to give up their rights unconditionally in perpetuity.This is a good example of two-facedness. On the one hand, the music companies, as part of the IPRS, are committed to share the royalty with artists on an equal basis. On the other hand, in the comfort of their offices and in their dealings with filmmakers, they force the artists, through the producer, to relinquish all their rights in perpetuity. That is how music companies are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds here. They have to keep up this facade that they are sharing the royalties with author and composer on an equal basis; otherwise they will not get a penny from the rest of the world.Now let us see how the division of royalty is practised across the world. Suppose a song gets Rs 100 as royalty, out of this, Rs 50 goes to the producer or the music company for sound-recording rights. No composer or author can claim a penny of it. Now we are left with Rs 50. Out of this, Rs 25 again goes to the producer or the music company. Now from the rest, Rs 12.50 goes to composer and Rs 12.50 to songwriter. The producers are unwilling to let go of even that. They are shouting blue murder because the new bill says they cannot take away the 12.5 per cent from the author.Recently they have changed their tune. Now they are saying they would give royalty after they have recovered the money spent on recording and publicity. In other words, we write the song and compose it, and then the recording and publicity will also be at our expense. In this situation, one wonders what is the contribution of the producer, and on what grounds does he claim 75 per cent of royalty?Many people are not very clear about the source of these royalties. Actually, these royalties have nothing to do with the success or failure of a movie. For instance, the film Deewar was a hit; its songs not so much. On the other hand, the film Papa Kehte Hain, starring Jugal Hansraj, flopped, but its song Ghar se nikalte hi became a hit. Royalty comes from the success of the songs — as they are played on radio and television and get downloaded as ringtones.The filmmakers also argue that they cannot pay a newcomer as much as they do a veteran composer/songwriter. But royalty is not an amount that they pay; it is a percentage that they share. When royalty is given by a radio station or a television channel, whether the composer is a star or an unknown entity does not matter. When the royalty is the same at that end, why should it be different at another end? Also, what the producers conveniently forget to reveal is that when a song becomes popular, their 75 per cent royalty swells accordingly.In the West, songs are typically not part of films; they come as albums. The producers’ revenue comes from the songs being played, performed and downloaded. Here the songs are part of films. The producers have an additional source of income, from the films, apart from other usages of songs. Even then, they are cribbing when asked to share royalty. By the way, in the West, for songs in films such as The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, the royalty for writer and composer comes from the cinema hall as well. Leave aside songs, even the background music of a film gets royalties.The producers and music companies have another argument: that the deal is between them and the author and the composer, why should the government interfere in that? But the government always interferes when two parties who enter into an agreement are not equally empowered. The government always interferes when there is injustice in the system. That is the reason government creates laws against dowry and child labour.Anyway, the whole conversation only has academic interest. In an unusual move, the standing committee of Parliament has passed the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2010 unanimously. There was not one dissenting note. Parliament is in one voice on the issue. It is just a matter of time now. Parliament will resume functioning in the next session, hopefully, and pass the bill.


Javed Akhtar is a songwriter and scriptwriter








Flash back a decade. Google was four years away from its IPO and far from being the world’s search engine and even further from being a giant advertising platform. Facebook hadn’t been launched. Ditto for LinkedIn and Twitter. Mobile banking and 3G telephony had barely gotten a foothold in some select countries, a list that didn’t include India. But India was establishing itself as the world’s back office while Indian entrepreneurs supplied the heart of the Silicon valley’s start-up fever. Mobile subscriptions around the world hovered around 500 mn. A decade on, India boasts a larger subscriber base than that. And if Facebook were a country, it has become axiomatic to say, it would be the world’s third most populous one, behind only China and India. What the world experienced incrementally, we have experienced in revolutionary leaps. What with innovation, economies of scale, etc, our mobile operators can now brag of an ‘Indian model’ that is being emulated by developing and developed countries alike. There is a profusion of microeconomic studies confirming the link between mobile density and upward mobility. And now the country stands on the cusp of a new chapter. As 3G services take off, so will mobile Internet. Those Indians who already enjoy the privilege of Internet access have embraced its offerings, from cricket updates to music downloads and social networking. When this privilege spreads to match mobile penetration, what could get generated is beyond imagining.


Literacy is going to be a big handicap, but say hello to mobile education platforms. Prepare to also welcome an m-powered healthcare revolution, with dear Bill Gates promising that most innovation in this sphere is going to come from middle income countries. Prepare for the Internet to multiply everything that the mobiles have already delivered—liberté, égalité, fraternité. Prepare for reduced transaction costs, increased productivity, quick and easy money transfers, better job access, improved agricultural advice, advanced price information and more transparency in general. Alongside guaranteed economic and developmental benefits, prepare for change as well, for the unknown. MySpace has been dying unmourned while Indians have begun tracking their representatives’ educational, financial and criminal (!) backgrounds over the mobile and the Internet. And as the China vs Google or India vs BlackBerry battles play out, we know that we can’t take the neutrality of the networks for granted. Prepare, if you can, for Balkanisations not yet known and companies not yet launched.







QE-2 is clearly weighing on the central bank’s mind. Prolonged periods of low interest rates, RBI believes, can push investors to doing ‘crowded trades’ that include investments into emerging market assets. Such trades, when unwound, could cause a disorderly correction in asset prices and RBI’s big worry right now is that the bulk of capital flows are in the form of either short-term portfolio flows or debt, both of which can be very fickle. Also such flows, if they sustain, could create asset bubbles because from a contagion point of view, the finance channel today has become stronger than the trade channel. Moreover, since the addition to the country’s foreign exchange reserves, over the past few months, has been relatively small, any reversal of flows could destabilise the domestic financial markets and, of course, hurt the balance of payments. One can understand where RBI’s coming from: the ratio of the country’s short-term external debt to foreign exchange reserves, and of total external debt to foreign exchange reserves have been risen to their highest levels since the foreign exchange crisis of the early nineties.


The good news is RBI has made sure our banks are only moderately leveraged, remain well-capitalised and in good shape. There are some concerns on overall asset quality—the growth in NPAs has outstripped the growth in advances with real estate being a key contributor. RBI has flagged the sharp rise in prices of property, in some pockets, and the fact that the sector is vulnerable to an asset price boom. However, it was the very same central bank that allowed several developers to restructure their loans from banks not so long ago. Recent events in the stock markets appear to have spurred the central bank into thinking about systemic linkages that NBFCs might have; for instance, it has pointed out that merchant bankers need to be prudentially regulated, given that they’re into leveraged lending. It also wants to further regulate financial conglomerates and has come up with a holding company structure with a view to ring-fencing banks from risks of associated group companies. Clearly, RBI is not willing to leave any regulatory gap unplugged. Tackling foreign flows, high inflation and low liquidity at a time when the current account deficit is widening and the fiscal deficit is stretched means the central bank has its work cut out. But it should rise to the occasion as it has in the past.








Stagflation is hardly an expression that can be used in India. After all, when final GDP figures for 2010-11 are available, the economy will have grown at close to 9%. But the expression captures the Indian policy dilemma for 2011. Global recovery is uncertain and unlike 2003 to 2007, when high growth occurred in a relatively benign environment, the external environment is more malign. In principle, India is capable of growing at 10%-plus, a point that government spokespersons used to make not long ago. China is slowing down and is stabilising at 8.5%. India is accelerating and will stabilise at 10.5%, with Indian growth overtaking the Chinese numbers in the next few years. There is plenty of slack in the system. Infrastructure reforms will add 2% to GDP growth, more than 1% from the power sector alone. Agro reforms will add 1.5%, legal reforms another 1%. Finally, efficient public delivery of goods and services will add another 1%. Backward states are catching up and India isn’t Delhi. If Bihar can grow at 12%, so can other historically backward states. If one adds up all those numbers, the mind begins to boggle. All this is true. But does the government want it? Does it want it in 2011?


It doesn’t look like that. When the global downturn occurred, there was talk of a fiscal stimulus. A large chunk of this was public expenditure and it predated September 2008. The rest was loosening of monetary policy and indirect tax concessions. Inflation has an energy component, a manufactured goods part and food. Of these, food inflation is understandably the most emotive. We are repeatedly told, inflation will decline to 6% in December 2010 or March 2011, or whatever. Statistically, that is correct. These numbers are on a base. And if the base of inflation was high in the preceding year, the rate of inflation will decline. But that’s not the same as saying that inflation as an issue will go away. Particularly in the case of food, underlying causes (high demand, shifts in demand, stagnant supply) remain. Onion and tomato episodes shouldn’t colour that. Monetary policy is inappropriate in targeting that, or even inflation caused by energy. However, monetary policy will be tightened. Reforms of direct taxes have been diluted. But if there is any intention not to dilute indirect tax reform, remaining exemptions should be excised in the budget for 2011-12. There is a fiscal consolidation agenda too and spectrum and disinvestment alone can’t plug the deficit gap. We don’t yet know what effect the scams will have on such future decisions. In addition, there will be greater public expenditure demands—right to education, right to food and perhaps other rights, too. Therefore, it doesn’t look rosy for private investments and private consumption expenditure.


Indians don’t have a right to growth. The Congress mindset seems to be that we don’t want growth unless it is inclusive. It is a separate matter that growth can’t be inclusive. Development can be inclusive. But that apart, we don’t want high growth. High growth made the NDA lose. Relatively low growth made us win in 2009. Why do we want 10%-plus growth and reforms that stimulate it? Instead, we are happy enough with growth within a band between 8% and 9%. How many countries in the world will get that? It is enough to ensure our place at the global high table. The year 2010 was the year of recovery from global downturn and in 2010-11 we will obtain growth at the higher end of the band. In 2011-12, we will settle for growth at the lower end of the band, at around 8%. Since 2004, there have hardly been any significant reforms, apart from better road connectivity. If India is chugging along at between 8% and 9%, that’s because there is plenty of slack in the system, entrepreneurship has been unleased and because backward states have jacked up growth. There is, of course, the counter-factual of lost growth opportunities, but who cares about that? At some point, the Congress will have to figure out its economic philosophy. The reason one highlights the Congress is because the other parties (including BJP) have imploded and at present, they are irrelevant.


Will the results of the state elections in 2011 lead to a shakeout and a better articulation of the Congress philosophy? Probably not. So we continue with a reformist stance (even if nothing is done) by the government and a Leftist stance by the party.


In more specific terms, we therefore have growth of 8% and inflation (depending on the indicator) of around 5.5%. We should also have the results of the large-sample NSS, probably establishing a further drop in poverty (with an unchanged poverty line) and an increase in inequality (of consumption expenditure and more pronounced in urban areas). That should establish that growth is good for poverty reduction. However, because inequality will increase, it will be interpreted as an argument for more inclusion, whatever that may mean, and fewer reforms and lower growth. The Census 2011 figures won’t surface in 2011. But if they do in a limited way, they will establish greater urbanisation. Those are the processes that Simon Kuznets identified many years ago and Montek Singh Ahluwalia has himself written on. Inclusion should really mean integration of more and more areas into the growth process, not a complete integration of every area and every segment. This is an important distinction.


The author is a noted economist








The only economic or social variable that has not moved since 1991 in India is our 93% informal employment in the informal sector. So, while we have smartly and substantially moved the needle on everything from foreign exchange reserves, infant mortality, school enrolment, market capitalisation, foreign investment, and pregnancy deaths, 9 out of 10 of our workers do not work in organised employment. Informal employment—what President Alan Garcia of Peru called the slavery of the 21st century—denies 93% of India’s workers the networks, skills, training, workplace safety and productivity that comes with formal employment. This extreme level of informalisation is not only an outlier by global standards but also economically stupid because organised sector employment leads to higher taxes, lower employee turnover and grants access to the credit and capital that can improve firm survival rates.


Public policy over the next 10 years needs to pray to one god—jobs. India’s demographic dividend means that 10 lakh people will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years. But a demographic dividend does not mean people but productive people. So improving the metrics of 3Es (education, employability and employment) must be the only filter that matters in public policy. This requires recognising that our high level of informal employment is not a cultural preference or a pull, but a push that arises from our dysfunctional labour market regime. Unfortunately, 2010 did not help in tackling this problem but made it worse by acting in the wrong direction in four public policy buckets:


1. Labour law coma: India’s labour law regime prefers job preservation over job creation. It makes an employment contract immortal—marriage without divorce—and the lack of employers’ ability to end contracts means that they hire less people than they should or hire them in the informal sector. Our labour laws encourage the substitution of people by machines, breed corruption and sabotage third-party financing of skill development. The Indian Labour Conference of 2010 did not help by further undermining the legitimacy of fixed-term contracts and not recognising trade unions for the labour aristocracy they are. The self-interest of trade unions—7% of India’s labour force—is not national interest.


2. Higher salary confiscation: The high level of mandatory salary deduction (PF, ESI, EDLI, EPS, etc) does not raise cost-to-company but reduces take-home wages. At lower wages, people find it difficult to live on 65% of their salary and prefer informal employment, which does make these deductions—the government views them as value-for-money, but the poor see them as a tax. The year 2010 made this worse by raising the limit for ESI coverage to Rs 10,000, raising the coverage of PF to employers with 10 employees and a stealth default by EPFO on the EPS by reducing benefits.


3. Minimum wage distortion: Wages reflect productivity. If they do not, they lead to distortions and lead to inflation (food anybody?). Unrealistic minimum wages hurt the young and less-skilled the most because they are the most vulnerable and likely to volunteer for informal employment. 2010 ended with proposals by the National Advisory Council to pay minimum wages under MGNREGA and the ministry of labour competing by proposing a national minimum wage. MGNREGA should remain a safety net for the poor and paying minimum wages will make the government the largest employer in the country. A national minimum wage is a dysfunctional idea because India’s geography of work is very diverse and labour markets are local. So, an unrealistic minimum wage fatwa by some labour market Ayatollah sitting in Delhi will only amplify unorganised employment.


4. Re-regulating education: Supply creates its own demand in labour markets. Low quality supply creates low quality jobs. If our education and training system produces employable children, it will spark a virtuous cycle of productivity and employment.


Unfortunately, 2010 saw the activation of the poisonous Right to Education Act that will lower school capacity, increase corruption, raise costs, lower competition and increase confusion. It represents a license raj of the 1980s, while education needs a deregulation of the 1991 kind. A bad school is better than no school. The most expensive school is no school. The good is not the enemy of great. An education and training system that does not produce employable children amplifies to low productivity informal employment because it produces low productivity people.


India’s reform journey is about giving every Indian a decent job. Of the many factors in creating a fertile habitat for job creation—infrastructure, capital, role models, etc—we have made no progress in labour laws since 1991. But no labour law reform means lower organised jobs. We have nothing to lose but our demographic dividend.


The author is chairman, Teamlease Services







What mischief are you up to now?


While addressing a press conference, HRD minister Kapil Sibal first wished the media Happy New Year and then he said, “Nav varsh ki shubhkamnayein. Dekhte hain ki kya kaarnamein hote hain agle saal (paused) aapke dwara.”




When President Sarkozy visited India, the India-office of Airbus Industrie issued a statement to the effect that the company had signed 2.8 billion euros of lease contracts to supply A-330 aircraft to India’s Jet Airways and Air India. Turns out that may have been a bit of an overstatement. The civil aviation ministry says Air India has not entered into any such commitment—an official said the ministry had rejected Air India’s plan to renew its lease agreement for four Airbus aircraft. A Jet Airways spokesperson also said that there was no firm agreement for leasing Airbus aircraft and that it was still at a discussion stage.







Give peace a chance. This is the underlying principle of a new human rights initiative—the Satellite Sentinel Project. The first of its kind, this project will enable the tracking of events as they unfold in potential areas of conflict via commercial satellites in an attempt to deter rather than document war crimes. The pilot project, the brainchild of George Clooney in collaboration with Brad Pitt, Matt


Damon, the UN, Google and Harvard, aims to prevent the outbreak of another civil war in Africa’s largest state. January 9, 2011, will mark a turning point in Sudan’s history when a referendum will decide whether the oil-rich south will stay with or secede from the north.


Dedicated satellites will monitor the border between north and south Sudan, looking for signs of unrest such as the destruction of villages, mass migration and movement of troops. The daily images are expected to aid the mobilisation of public opinion and, in turn, pressurising governments to respond to human rights abuses in the region. Whether they choose to act or silently observe, at least they can no longer say they were unaware.


This technology is revolutionary in its potential to stop wars before they begin. It is a documented fact that people behave differently when in private and when they know they are being watched. Given the level of public scrutiny via constant monitoring, President Omar al-Bashir may have no choice but to stick to his word about respecting the south’s decision. In hindsight, the state of affairs in Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel-Palestine, to name a few major zones of conflict, may have turned out very differently in the view of currently available technology. But then, isn’t hindsight always 20/20? Here’s hoping for perfect foresight this time around.










With increased power comes increased responsibility, U.S. president Barack Obama told Parliament in November after endorsing a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council for India. What he meant, of course, was that he expected India to use its position at the global level to bat for American causes and never undermine them. So was the Manmohan Singh government trying to demonstrate its “responsibility” when it banned Indian companies from using the Asian Clearing Union to process payments for Iranian oil imports? On paper, the decision was taken by the Reserve Bank of India and, again, on paper, the RBI is supposed to be independent of the government. The net effect, however, is that India has finally acted on a long-pending demand of the U.S. Treasury Department to shut down the ACU route. The ACU was set up in 1974 by Iran, India, and other South Asian countries. Its purpose is to facilitate intra-regional trade by allowing import bills to be settled through mutual book-keeping arrangements at the nine central banks that are part of the Union. With the U.S. and a number of European countries using extraterritorial financial sanctions as a lever to get the rest of the world to stop trading with the Islamic Republic, it has been getting increasingly difficult for companies from India and elsewhere to open dollar or euro-denominated letters of credit to pay for transactions involving Iran. Two years ago, the Iranians suggested the use of the ACU and the mechanism was working well.


Washington objected to the ACU for two reasons. First, individual transactions were effectively shielded from its scrutiny and second, because it allowed the Iranians to do an end run around the financial restrictions the U.S. and its allies are imposing as part of their effort to put the squeeze on Tehran over the nuclear issue. India, which imports nearly $12 billion worth of crude from Iran annually, has much to lose if Iranian supplies are effectively blocked from reaching world markets through extraterritorial sanctions. Which is why it is surprising that it tamely went along with the U.S. pressure on the use of the ACU. No doubt an alternative payment mechanism for Iranian crude will be found but having tasted blood, the U.S. will keep pushing India to cut its energy ties with Tehran. Already, the meek attitude of the Manmohan Singh government in the face of American pressure has seen Indian companies opting out of lucrative investment opportunities in Iran. There is also a wider political and strategic cost involved, especially in Afghanistan where India has to think about how to safeguard its long-term interests in the face of continuing Pakistani hostility. It is time the government realised India cannot safeguard its interests in the region by appeasing Washington on Iran.







The primary market witnessed a bumper crop of new public issues, comprising both initial public offers (IPOs) and follow-on public offers (FPOs) in 2010. The total mobilisation at Rs.69,132 crore was the highest ever in the history of the primary market. According to Prime Database, one of India's oldest and most reliable purveyors of capital market data, the mobilisation in 2010 was three-and-a half times the 2009 figure of Rs.19,567 crore and 53 per cent more than the Rs.45,142 crore mobilised in 1997, the previous record-breaking year. Impressive as the buoyancy in the primary market has been, it is worth noting that the surge in the number and quantum of new public issues came after a lacklustre performance in 2008 and 2009. Secondly, it was possible almost entirely because of a sharp acceleration in the public sector disinvestment programme. Government-owned institutions mobilised Rs.49,007 crore — more than 70 per cent of the year's total — through three IPOs and six follow-on public offers (FPOs). In contrast, in 2009, there were only two IPOs from the public sector companies. The implication is that the United Progressive Alliance government has had a greater success in cobbling together a coherent disinvestment programme that was able to overcome much of the opposition. However, there have been some discordant notes. Some employees of Coal India heeding their trade union call did not take up their entitlements and lost out on the gains from the undertaking's maiden offer, by far the biggest IPO from India. .


Obviously, the higher valuations in the secondary market during 2010 have boosted the primary market sentiment. Of the 72 share offers in the year, 64 were IPOs and eight FPOs. The number of FPOs has been declining over the years probably because they involve a further reduction in the government's stake in public sector enterprises. Besides, most of the successful public offers in recent times have been by cash-rich government companies that are under fewer compulsions to tap the capital market at frequent intervals. Another interesting feature is the preponderance of large-sized public issues. There were as many as 13 issues of over Rs.1,000 crore and only nine issues of less than Rs.50 crore. The large average size of the public offer reinforces the point that the new issues market has not been able to accommodate small and medium enterprises. Hence the quest for a separate, dedicated exchange for them will continue.










The constitutional validity of the charges of sedition and conspiracy that were used to implicate rights activists such as Binayak Sen merely for their anti-establishment political thoughts needs to be challenged. The action ridicules the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.


The sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with “conspiracy to wage war against the government” (121A) and “sedition” (124A) are draconian in terms of their definition and ambit and carry a disproportionate quantum of punishment. Section 121A was not a part of the original IPC of 1860: it was inserted by an amendment in 1870. After Independence it was amended in 1951, just to replace ‘British India' with ‘state'. In order to punish the nationalist leaders who were fighting against the Government of India and the rulers of princely states also, the British brought in an Ordinance in 1937. It amended the IPC to add to the definition “local government,” expanding the power to grant punishment for conspiracy against any government. Section 124A was used against nationalist leaders to punish anyone who advocated freedom.


In the Meerut Conspiracy case, the accused were charged with conspiracy to wage war for having formed a union on the lines of trade unions in Soviet Russia. They were convicted by a sessions court. The Allahabad High Court held that unless it was a conspiracy to overawe a government by means of criminal force or show of criminal force, such a finding would be wrong.


Section 124A defined as an offence, exciting disaffection against the state; it was replaced with ‘sedition' in 1898. The English law meaning of sedition is basically libel of government, but its ordinary English meaning is “stirring up rebellion against the government” ( Kedarnath v State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955). But in Niharendu Majumdar (AIR 1942 FC 22 (26)), the Federal Court gave a liberal meaning to ‘sedition': “The acts or words complained of must either incite to disorder or must be such as to satisfy reasonable men that is their intention or tendency.” But in Bala Gangadhar Tilak (ILR (1898) 22 Bom 112), the court held that if a person excited or attempted to excite feelings of disaffection great or small, he would be guilty under this section. This meaning was later was confirmed by the Privy Council.


After Independence, it was argued before the Supreme Court that Section 124A was ultra vires of the Constitution insofar as it sought to punish merely bad feelings against a government, and that it was an unreasonable restriction.


The First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 incorporated ‘public order' in Article 19(2) as a ground on which the state could impose reasonable restrictions by law. Thus, the inclusion of ‘sedition' was held constitutional by the Supreme Court in Kedarnath. But the Constitution-makers did not specifically state that ‘sedition' should be a ground to restrict free speech. Though the additional ground of ‘public order' is held to be valid for restricting freedom of expression, sedition cannot be read into the wide expression ‘public order.'


Hence, punishing Binayak Sen for “conspiring to commit sedition” is unreasonable and unjustified, besides being unconstitutional. Mere adverse criticism of the state is not sedition, unless it is coupled with incitement to violence or disorder. When it is not sedition at all, where does the charge of “conspiracy to sedition” stand? Dr. Sen did not even know what the term sedition meant. He asked, and the judge answered: ‘ Rajdroh'.


When two officers of the Punjab Education Department raised the slogan “Khalistan Zindabad, Raj Karega Khalsa,” they were convicted of ‘sedition'. But the Supreme Court set it aside (1995(3) SCC 214), saying the court should look at whether it had led to a consequence detrimental to the nation's unity and integrity. It pointed out that Section 124A should not be used to violate freedom of expression. Free speech can be reasonably restricted if that would result in violence or public disorder. Such an event linked to the relevant communication needed to be proved before pronouncing a person guilty of sedition. Going by this interpretation by the Supreme Court based on its own judgment in Kedarnath v State of Bihar, even if it is proved that Dr. Sen acted as a courier, he cannot be convicted of sedition because it was not proved that any public disorder resulted.


A crime has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. Even if a single reasonable doubt is left unanswered, a conviction is not possible. The prosecution has not, then, discharged the burden of proof. Raipur Additional Sessions Judge B.P. Verma was supposed to explain all the reasonable doubts raised by the defence to establish the conviction, but he did not do so.


Charging Dr. Sen of ‘sedition' under Section 124A is uncalled for and he cannot be convicted for that offence even if the court considered that the prosecution had fully discharged the burden of proof. The interpretation of the section by the Supreme Court has to be followed as the law, along with the penal provisions of the IPC.


When the investigating police officers were the only crucial witnesses, their evidence has to be corroborated as they are not independent witnesses. Sentencing the accused solely based on their evidence is unreasonable and unjustified. The judgment should at least appear to be an independent opinion and be supported by a convincing articulation of available evidence. There are at least six bad aspects of evidence, reasonable doubts and unreasonable contradictions involved.


1. The allegation is that Dr. Sen ferried letters from Mr. Narayan Sanyal to leaders outside the jail. It could be reasonably believed that there would have been close supervision affording no opportunity to hand over letters from a Maoist leader to Dr. Sen, a PUCL office-bearer. Yet, the judge considered the letters as key items of evidence to link Dr. Sen to a conspiracy to commit the crime of sedition. When three of the accused were not convicted for the crime of “conspiracy to wage war” under Section 121A based on these alleged letters, how can the same letters form valid evidence to convict him of “conspiracy to commit sedition” under Section 124A read with 120B of the IPC?


2. The reasonable doubt that was raised by the defence that an unsigned, computer-printed letter (labelled article 37) supposedly sent by the Maoists to Dr. Sen was an introduction, has not been clarified. Nobody had signed it: it bears only the signatures of two seizure witnesses. Thus there is a reasonable doubt whether this letter was recovered from Dr. Sen's home or planted later. The letter found no mention in the attested list of documents recovered. A copy of it was not given to Dr. Sen, though copies of all the other seized articles were. Nor is it mentioned in the seizure memo.


3. When doubts over how the letters could have been handed over to Dr. Sen while the police/jail officials would have been closely watching any transactions, persisted, not disproved by any other evidence, either direct or indirect, how can those letters being found with Mr. Pijush Guha be taken as a basis to convict Mr. Guha? The prosecution did not explain how the letters exchanged hands. The judge ignored the testimony of two jailors that it was not possible for Mr. Sanyal to hand over anything to Dr. Sen in jail. The judge relied on the examination-in-chief of members of the jail staff, who stated that Dr. Sen would pass himself off as Mr. Sanyal's relative. Under cross-examination, they admitted that applications to meet Mr. Sanyal were made by Dr. Sen as the PUCL general secretary, on the PUCL letter-head. These applications are part of the court's record.


4. After the police searched Dr. Sen's house and collected the material, they carried it in an unsealed bag. This lapse raises doubts about the possibility of the introduction of letters at a later point. The fact that the bag was not sealed was recorded on video, which was not considered in the court.


5. Judge Verma chose to ignore most of the cross-examination, relying only on the special public prosecutor's examination-in-chief. If the witness contradicted what he stated in chief during cross examination, evidence loses value.


6. The Chhattisgarh police could not prove that Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha ever met. A hotel owner and hotel manager told the court they had never seen Dr. Sen visiting Mr. Guha in their hotels. But this finds no mention in the judgment. Instead, the testimony of one Anil Singh is relied upon: he had apparently passed by when Mr. Guha was arrested, and overheard Mr. Guha telling the police that the letters found on him had been given by Dr. Sen. These letters find no mention in Mr. Guha's arrest panchnama. Mr. Guha, points out the judge, is an accused in a Naxalite case in West Bengal.


( The author is a Professor at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University of Law, Hyderabad.)








The tourism minister of Mali, N'Diaye Bah, visibly bristled when asked about the possibility that Al-Qaeda's North African offshoot might kidnap foreigners in fabled Timbuktu or anywhere across Mali's northern desert.


France spread such rumours, he insisted. “They want to create this security issue that does not exist,” he said, wagging his finger. “When you come to Mali, there is no aggression against tourists. How can you say there is insecurity in this country?”


Yet the United States and French Embassies, among other foreign missions, explicitly warn against travelling to Timbuktu and indeed the entire desert that sweeps across roughly two-thirds of this landlocked West African nation. A French Embassy map colours the entire north red, a no-go area.


This uneasy, public standoff has existed for some time, reflective of Mali's insistence that it is not a font of violence like some of its neighbours, notably Algeria. But in a sign that Mali both acknowledges the issue and seeks to address it, the country is rolling out a new development plan, hoping to tackle the problem at its roots.


The problems


The dearth of jobs and prospects in the north helps drive the region's twin ills — narcotics trafficking and Islamic radicalism. By setting up military barracks, infirmaries, schools, shopping areas and animal markets in 11 northern towns, the Malian government hopes to establish a more visible government presence, foster economic activity and form a bulwark against lawlessness.


“The ultimate goal of the project is to eradicate” Al-Qaeda's affiliates in Mali, said Adam Tchiam, a leading Malian columnist.


Mali does not deny that an estimated 200 to 300 fighters from Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (Maghreb being the Arabic term for west) have found a perch in their desert, although most are believed to be Mauritanians and Algerians. But Mali often depicts the terrorists as a problem generated elsewhere.


“We are hostages to a situation that does not concern us,” news reports quoted President Amadou Toumani Touré as saying.


Behind the scenes, however, the President has been more forthcoming. In a meeting with the American Ambassador, Gillian A. Milovanovic, and senior American military officers last year, he said the extremists “have had difficulty getting their message across to a generally reluctant population,” according to an embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organisations. Still, Mr. Touré acknowledged, “they have had some success in enlisting disaffected youth to their ranks.”


Trail of violence


In recent years, the Qaeda affiliate has left a trail of violence across Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Mali, taking aim at tourists, expatriate workers, local residents and security forces. Hostages taken in the porous border regions have been executed or ransomed. Five French and two African workers kidnapped in Niger last September are believed to be held in northern Mali.


The Algerians and some Western diplomats accuse the Malians of being too soft on terrorism, an opinion reflected in the cables obtained by WikiLeaks. But Mali's defenders argue that the regional problem is far larger than any one poor country can address.


To that end, Mauritania recently moved uninvited troops permanently across the border in Mali to eradicate a Qaeda encampment, diplomats said, and Mali did not object.


For his part, President Touré has been trying to forge a regional consensus on the issue, but the leaked cables and diplomats suggest that Algeria has been reluctant to take part. Algerian officials regularly criticise the presence of French and American training forces, saying they constitute another threat.


Mali's own plan faces two main problems, one domestic and one foreign. Tuareg rebels fought the government in the desert for decades, with the 1992 peace treaty specifying that the government forces completely withdraw from the north. Deploying them there risks reigniting a conflict that still simmers.


Even so, some northerners endorse almost any government action in the harsh environment, where battling sand alone constitutes a daily struggle.


“There are villages that have never seen an administrator, never seen a nurse, never seen a teacher,” said Amboudi Side Ahmed, a businessman in the capital, Bamako, who was raised in the north. “You could stay in a village up there for 10 years and never see a government official.”


Then there is the question of whether these northern hubs are even feasible, given the reluctance of foreign aid workers to venture north and finance projects there. “The President says the poor protect Al-Qaeda because they do not have any means,” said Mr. Tchiam, the columnist. “Where are the means?”


While foreign governments recognise that the north needs development, the lack of security hampers it. American Embassy personnel, for example, can travel north only with express permission of the ambassador, which she said she rarely granted.


‘Development is criticial'


“Development is critical in dealing with the north,” Ambassador Milovanovic said, but “so long as security is unstable, it is hard to get those projects going.”


“We cannot just throw money up there.”


After her own visits, she has tried to meet local requests by offering training for midwives or supplying four-wheel-drive ambulances. As part of its broader efforts to counter extremism in northern Mali, the United States also underwrote a series of radio soap operas whose plot twists emphasised the dangers of extremism.


Beyond that, Washington provides basic military training, sometimes even more basic than envisioned. An exercise on what to do when the driver of a vehicle is shot dead revealed a startling truth — most Malian soldiers did not know how to drive. Lessons were instituted. But Malian officials want more.


Terror operations


“How many people in the north listen to the radio? That is never going to be strong enough to change their views on A.Q.M.I. or religious fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Baby, a presidential adviser working on fixing the northern problem, using the initials of the French name for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “We need to deal with development, with the lack of resources.”


Qaeda fighters have sometimes ingratiated themselves by paying inflated prices for food, fuel and other goods. Diplomats believe that the extremists have also informed local smugglers that they will pay a premium for kidnapped Westerners.


Aside from collecting ransoms for hostages, Al-Qaeda is believed to be financing its operations by exacting tolls from drug smugglers and traffickers in arms, humans and illicit goods. Since at least the 10th century, Timbuktu has been a crossroads for trade routes across the Sahara, and the modern age is no different.


A series of drug-laden planes make the loop from South America to the Sahel, but numbers are elusive, said Alexandre Schmidt of the United Nations drug office. In one notorious 2009 episode, a Boeing 727 believed to have ferried cocaine from Latin America was set on fire after it got stuck in the sand.


Both the drug smugglers and Al-Qaeda offer young men a quick route to money and symbols of prestige like a pickup truck. The government plan has no easy, short-term ways to compete, officials concede.


“They can recruit young people and undermine both the economy and the religion,” Mr. Baby said of the militants. “We have to build up some kind of resistance.”— © New York Times News Service







A splendid response from readers to last week's column (‘Universal health care: media push needed,' December 27, 2010) denotes not only their deep concern for one of the major issues that confront them, but also their eagerness to share with others their understanding of the problem. The long letters from some readers testify to this. They register their displeasure over the failure of successive governments to evolve comprehensive, effective, and practicable healthcare policies — particularly during the last about three decades, which saw a gradual withdrawal of the state from health-related commitments.


Some noted that relevant issues such as the shortage of medical and paramedical personnel, the status of medical education, and health insurance schemes in many States could have been discussed in greater detail. Following up, this column addresses issues relating to medical education and also health insurance, which have seen some developments recently.


The content, quality, and status of medical education have a direct bearing on the quality of health care delivered in society. In contrast to engineering colleges, which have mushroomed everywhere, the number of medical colleges has grown very slowly. There are 273 medical colleges recognised by the Medical Council of India; they have a capacity to educate and train fewer than 32,000 students. The acute shortage of medical seats leads to an acute shortage of doctors, which continues to be felt especially in rural India. This hamstrings the functioning of rural public health centres and hospitals. Equally important is the question of quality. With talented doctors leaving government hospitals in large numbers to join corporate hospitals, government hospitals in urban India have also started feeling the pinch. The prohibitive cost of medical education, the capitation fee system that has managed to stay in many places defying adverse court verdicts, frequent changes in admission procedures, and hidebound professional opposition to major increases in the number of medical seats work against quantitative expansion as well as qualitative upgrading.


Dr. G.R. Ravindranath (Chennai) contends, in his e-mail response to last week's column, that privatisation of medical education has fuelled commercialisation of medical care. Rural hospitals suffer an acute shortage of doctors. His view is that if the efforts of the Medical Council of India (MCI) to hold a common entrance test succeed, it would do more harm than good for the less-privileged students. It might also affect certain special features of the reservation system in operation in Tamil Nadu. Further, students from non-Hindi States might find themselves disadvantaged, because they might have to write tests only in either English or Hindi.


The kind of situation Dr. Ravindranath discusses is not new. It is not difficult to understand the problems of aspiring young men and women seeking higher education in a multi-lingual, multi-cultured country. They will have to write the qualifying general academic examination in the next two months and sit for the entrance test (which was abolished in certain States, including Tamil Nadu some years ago). If a candidate is kept in the dark about the details of the admission procedure and the nature of the test, the mental stress can be imagined. Leaving such vital matters unaddressed, in uncertainty, is indefensible.


Misreading and confusion


The Medical Council of India (MCI) is yet to come with the needed notification and regulations for the common entrance test. To add to this, incorrect reporting of a brief Supreme Court order by a section of the news media, print as well as broadcast, caused some confusion in Tamil Nadu. Political leaders were critical of the entrance examination on the premise it would affect the implementation of the reservation system.


A report in The Hindu (December 14, 2010) said: “The Supreme Court on Monday [December 13, 2010] made it clear to the Medical Council of India that it could not grant approval for the proposal to introduce a common nationwide eligibility-cum-entrance test for MBBS and postgraduate medical courses from 2011-2012 even before the regulations were notified.” The Bench comprising Justices R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik said in a brief order: “We make it clear that the pendency of the application shall not come in the way of MCI notifying any regulations framed by it, in accordance with law, if it had been approved by the Centre. Nor would the pendency stand in the way of anyone challenging the validity of the regulation after it was notified.” For all this, the uncertainty over the entrance test continues for students.


One of the strategies adopted in various parts of the world to shield vulnerable sections of society from ill health is health insurance, the other one being government-run hospitals. Insurance schemes work well, particularly in respect of groups of people working in the organised sector. In such cases, either governments or employers pay the premia. But what is badly needed in India is a universal health insurance scheme to ensure decent medical coverage for all sections of the people. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the health care scheme meant for the Below Poverty Line (BPL) people, excludes a substantial number of middle income group people who do not have any insurance coverage. Those classified as BPL and covered by the insurance scheme are entitled to a maximum of Rs. 30,000 per family to cover hospitalisation charges. Several States, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, have evolved their own distinctive health insurance schemes.


A reader from Nalkonda, Dr. J.P. Reddy, in his e-mail praises the successful working in Andhra Pradesh of the government-run insurance scheme, “Arogyasri.” Introduced boldly and imaginatively by the government of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the scheme treats the poor and the needy suffering from even major and complicated diseases absolutely free of charge.


S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai) has a quite different perspective on health insurance. Citing Michael Moore's “Sicko” (2007), he says the movie powerfully exposes the collapse of the health care system in the United States and the disastrous failure of insurance companies to honour their commitments to the insured. Dr. Lord W. Reza, in his communication, makes another point. Insurance charges, he contends, invariably inflate health care cost beyond reach. Governments have long been focusing on tertiary hospital care, deviating from the earlier emphasis on primary health care. “Encouraging the private sector in health care,” Dr. Reza asserts, “is not and will never be a solution.”


The debate on the most appropriate healthcare model for India will and must continue and newspapers must play a more active role in informing the reading public on the choices available to the country under challenging circumstances.








A tragedy is unfolding in Ivory Coast that will have regional and international ramifications. More than 100 people have been killed since the election, 16,000 Ivorians have fled to neighbouring Liberia while thousands of others have been internally displaced. Ivory Coast is heading for renewed civil war.


Laurent Gbagbo is internationally isolated, but still not prepared to accept an offer from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), to make a dignified exit as an elder statesman.


The standoff is the latest crisis since civil war erupted in 2002, splitting the country between north and south.


That conflict was partly over citizenship rights of many residents from the north, and fuelled by youth unemployment caused by the decline of international cocoa prices. A large French military base and French expatriate dominance of many key Ivorian businesses also fed anti-French sentiment.


A 2007 peace deal called for new elections, which were delayed several times before a vote was finally held in October, with a run-off in November.


This crisis is differs from the past, however: the opposition clearly won a significant amount of votes even in Abidjan and France, the former colonial power, is no longer trying to single-handedly influence the outcome.


The only promising aspect of this crisis is the leadership of African institutions. The Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) and the AU have suspended Ivory Coast, and supported sanctions and military intervention to remove Gbagbo. The U.S. and EU have slapped their own sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner-circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut financing.


The Jeunes Patriotes youth militia leader, Charles Ble Goude, who has agitated for Gbagbo, is already under U.N. sanctions. In 2006, when I chaired a U.N. sanctions inspection team in Ivory Coast, I saw the temporary calming effect sanctions had on his behaviour; if he unleashes the violence he has promised, he would not only destroy any future chances of running for the Ivorian presidency but risks courting the attention of the International Criminal Court.


Sanction on cocoa?


International markets have reacted to the crisis by pushing up cocoa futures prices to a four-month high, although there is no talk of an immediate sanction on cocoa — Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa producer. Renewed civil war will further destroy one of Africa's leading economies, affect the region, and possibly divide the country for ever. ( Alex Vines is head of the Africa Programme at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London.)— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011









British claims to ownership of Rockall — the isolated Atlantic outcrop jutting out of a potentially vast and lucrative oilfield around 380km west of Scotland — are to be examined within weeks by the U.N.


A formal claim for thousands of square kilometres of the seabed surrounding the rock has been made by Denmark and the Faroe Islands, potentially overriding claims by Britain, Ireland and Iceland. At stake could be licences and income worth billions.


The four competing applications are likely to be reviewed by the U.N.'s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in March. Diplomatic talks between the four countries have been rotating around European capitals for several years, in the hope of an amicable division of the seabed in the Hatton-Rockall basin. They have failed so far to map out a mutually acceptable settlement.


The hunt for offshore gas and oil at a time of increasing energy demand is driving enthusiasm among coastal states around the world to annex as much of the seabed as they are legally permitted to.


In June, the commission's panel of marine experts dismissed Britain's application to extend its prospecting rights over 5,20,000 sq.kilometres of the ocean floor around Ascension Island in the south Atlantic.


The commission ruled that the island, an overseas British territory that is also a volcanic pinnacle, was too slender to generate rights to an extended zone of the submerged continental shelf.




The dispute over Rockall is historically complex. The Royal Navy formally annexed the rock in 1955 by hoisting the Union flag. The 1972 Island of Rockall Act formally declared it as part of Inverness-shire, Scotland, even though the nearest permanently inhabited settlement is 360km away in the Outer Hebrides.


Imperial ambitions were set back, however, by international ratification of the U.N. convention on the law of the sea, which states that: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” The rival claims submitted to the commission in the past few years have focused on the surrounding Hatton-Rockall Basin, under which are believed to be oil and gas deposits. Rockall, nonetheless, sits on a plateau claimed by all four nations. Britain and Ireland have agreed a common marine border that leaves Rockall in the U.K. sector.


A U.K. Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We note that Denmark has made its submission in respect of the Faroe-Hatton plateau. We are presently studying this and the attached note verbale (diplomatic communication), which Denmark presented to the U.N. Secretary-General.


“The U.K. ... reaffirms its own commitment to the quadrilateral talks between the U.K., Denmark, Iceland and Ireland. The next round of talks is scheduled to be held in Reykjavik in May 2011.”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






A total of 61 power plants with an installed capacity of 41,206 megawatts (MW) are under implementation in Myanmar which will generate 2,45,203 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year on completion. This will be in addition to the capacity of existing power plants, an official daily reported on January 2.


There are already 32 power plants with an installed capacity of 3,045 MW and yielding 2,45,203 kWh per year, the official daily New Light of Myanmar has said. With one more 25 MW power plant planned in the future, there will be a total of 94 power plants with an installed capacity of 44,276 MW and generating 2,65,389 kWh per year upon completion of all the plants. The 61 ongoing power plant projects are scattered in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Shan and Rakhine states, and in the Sagaing, Tanintharyi, Bago, Mandalay and Magway regions.


On December 15, 2010, Myanmar launched its largest hydropower plant at Yeywa in the northern Mandalay region.


Located on the Myitnge river, 50 km southeast of Mandalay city, the 790 MW Yeywa hydropower plant was installed with four 197.5 MW generators that will generate 3.55 billion kWh of electricity annually.


The RCC embankment and the Yeywa hydropower plant project were implemented by the Ministry of Electric Power-1 and the project involved a contract by the CGGC International of the Gezhouba Group and China's Sinohydro Corporation. The completion of the project adds nearly 50 per cent more to the power generating capacity in the country. A key aspect in the successful construction of the Yeywa RCC dam was comprehensive training of the local staff during preparative for and initial stages of the construction.


The project is expected to ease the country's electricity shortage and help develop central Myanmar. — Xinhua













As the aam aadmi across the nation indulged in anguished debate on whether India has hit rock-bottom on the issue of high corruption, Congress President Sonia Gandhi took the dirty bull by the horns when she set out a five-point action plan in her address to the Congress plenary last month to fight the scourge. Her prescription ran thus: fast-tracking all corruption cases against public servants, including politicians; taking forward the proposal of state funding of elections; legislative and clear procedures to ensure transparency in public procurement; shedding of discretionary powers by chief ministers and all ministers, including at the Centre, especially in land allotments as they “breed corruption”; and, an open competitive system of exploiting natural resources. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kept his promise to that plenary session to follow up on that roadmap and got the PMO to quickly prepare a draft note. The Congress core group, comprising Mrs Gandhi, Dr Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, defence minister A.K. Antony and Mrs Gandhi’s political secretary, Mr Ahmed Patel, met on Friday to discuss the PMO note. The group is said to have considered promulgating an ordinance, if existing laws are found inadequate, to ensure that the five-point plan rolls out clean administration in good time. With five states going to elections this year, it is important for the Congress party, hit by a few hugely embarrassing scams in recent months, to come up with serious mechanisms to fight corruption.

But then, some of Mrs Gandhi’s suggestions are almost impossible to handle. Take, for instance, the state funding of elections. Everyone knows that fighting elections has become hugely expensive these days, what with stories from places like Madurai that the bidding price for one vote has gone up beyond `1,000. And Tamil Nadu happens to be one of the states going to polls this year. Experts argue that it would be virtually impossible for the state to fund elections because there cannot be an acceptable pattern of distribution of money. For instance, if `5,000 crore is budgeted for state funding, how will it be distributed between the Congress, the BJP, the NCP, Samajwadi Party and so on? Also, state funding of parliamentary elections will automatically have to be followed by state funding of Assembly elections, and then of panchayat elections. Serious legal and constitutional issues are involved. Besides, this will surely lead to the floating of bogus parties that only want to claim election funds.


The suggestion of shedding discretionary powers by ministers is welcome and implementable. A beginning could be made by getting all the Congress chief ministers and Union ministers to jettison their discretionary powers. Even the common man knows that contemplating new ordinances apart, just the implementation of existing laws, including the Prevention of Corruption Act, could bring a sea change to Indian polity. True, it will be a huge task to shift the dusty corruption cases onto the fast track as the government needs to procure data on the number of cases pending state-wise, the availability of district judges, the number of cases stuck in the high courts on account of stays, the number of appeals pending, and so on. But still, some way must be found to ensure that the corrupt politician does not slip through the many loopholes in the law. Also, it might be a good idea to amend the income-tax laws to send tax evaders to jail; right now they can get away by paying fines. A few governors in the American state of Illinois are in jail for corruption and tax fraud, and one of them, 76-year-old George Ryan, serving a six-and-a-half-year term, drew blank last week petitioning a federal judge for release on bond so that he could be by the bedside of his cancer-stricken wife.








No one can possibly dispute that the last year of the first decade of the 21st century has been India’s year of unending scams, scandals and shame. Even more mortifying is the thought that the year that has just dawned is unlikely to be any better and may indeed turn out to be worse. For, the scourge of venality, graft, corruption and gross abuse of power that has been eating into the nation’s vitals has been multiplying itself so fast and so far as to boggle the mind. Nor is there anything to show that this terrible trend is weakening.

Incredible though it may seem the shape of things to come in independent India was foreshadowed in the events that took place a decade before the tryst with destiny, to go back no farther than that. During the short period of two years between 1937 and the start of World War II in 1939, when the Congress, then a freedom movement, was in power in nine provinces under the British scheme of diarchy, the Mahatma was deeply disturbed by some incidence of malfeasance among Congress ministers.

The most notable was the case of K.F. Nariman, an intrepid and upright Congressman in Bombay who had protested against the shenanigans of those making money from the reclamation of the city’s marine lines. For his pains, he was hounded out of the party on the charge of “maligning” the Congress! Only after Independence was his honour restored. The new reclamation area south Bombay was named Nariman Point. Ironically, it later became the focal point of enormous corrupt activity.

There was corruption during the Nehru era but on a relatively modest scale compared with today’s standards. Also, some wrongdoers were actually punished which hardly happens now. A senior member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) was sent to prison for accepting some bottles of whisky and such items in return for favours granted. A chief minister of a hurriedly cobbled unit of former princely states that eventually merged into adhya Pradesh was arrested and jailed for taking a bribe of `10,000.

Pratap Singh Kairon in Punjab and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed in Kashmir, both chief ministers notorious for their misdeeds, were indulged for quite some time for “urgent political reasons” but eventually eased out. Only in the case of Krishna Menon, allegedly involved in the Jeep Scandal during the first Kashmir War, did Nehru refuse to act on the ground that the charge was baseless. But his closest friend and cabinet colleague, Maulana Azad, made his displeasure known to the Prime Minister.

It was in the 1970s that the country started sliding down the slippery slope so swiftly and brazenly as to lead to today’s monumental mess. After Indira Gandhi achieved supremacy in the Congress and the country her henchmen started believing that they had earned the right to enrich themselves with impunity. When exposed or caught they told Madam that the Opposition’s attack was not on them but her. Declaring that corruption was a “global phenomenon”, she started stonewalling all demands for an inquiry. This has now become the established pattern no matter which party or combination is in power. Today, nine Indians out of every ten would not know who Tulmohan Ram was. In the ’70s the case associated with his name, like that about A.R. Antulay’s trusts, had become the byword for egregious corruption. Tulmohan was a harmless and clueless backbencher from Bihar. His superiors in the party, including fund-collectors, ordered him to sign a petition on behalf of some dubious characters in Pondicherry for lucrative licences that snowballed into a massive scam.
Since stonewalling remained the policy of the Congress (I) with its overwhelming majority, the Tulmohan case became the starting point of disruption of Parliament as the means of drawing attention to loot. Came a stage when Morarji Desai threatened to sit on a dharna inside the House. With her unfailing political instinct Indira Gandhi decided to compromise. She agreed to show Desai and some other Opposition leaders privately a top-secret report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) she was refusing to share with them. Simultaneously, she insisted that the report’s contents wouldn’t be made public.

At present there is, alas, a total lack of such skill on both sides of the political divide. Consequently, the fight against corruption has yielded place to a relentless, no-holds-barred fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The public at large cannot be blamed for assuming that nothing would come of the current upheaval, given the unconscionable delay between the explosive exposure of the the G2 spectrum and Commonwealth Games mega scams and the CBI’s raids on Suresh Kalmadi’s homes and questioning of A. Raja. Madhu Koda of Jharkhand, the state’s mines minister in the BJP government and chief minister with the Congress support, was arrested for alleged amassing of `4,000 crore in two years. But the case against him, like all corruption cases under all governments, is proceeding at a pace compared with which a snail would be a champion runner. The “Save Raja” campaign of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, a key ally of the Congress in the ruling coalition, has a message of its own.

Nearly 60 years after the conviction of the ICS secretary to the government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, Nira Yadav, has been sentenced for corruption. This does not mean that the evil among civil servants is sparse or less extensive than among politicians. The vertically integrated network of corrupt ministers and equally rapacious bureaucrats is much too wide. The list of functionaries, some of them fairly junior, from whose homes hoards of ill-gotten cash have been seized, without any action having been taken against them yet, is very long. And now the Radia tapes have exposed that topmost tycoons, power brokers of all kinds, mediapersons, academics and so on, indeed the entire elite, is tarred with the same brush.

In short, the all-embracing corruption in this country is constantly intensifying, reproducing and perpetuating itself on an ever-increasing scale. At some stage quantity will turn into quality and bring to the world’s largest democracy the worst possible catastrophe.








Legends are traditional stories popularly regarded as historical. They play an important role in religious lore of all faiths. Much of hagiographic literature consists of legends. Legends about Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith have been chronicled in Janam Sakhis that encompass the story of his life. There are quite a number of Janam Sakhis extant and the number of legends that they encompass is variable. So too are the details of the legends. At least, one legend is common to all of them and that we propose to consider here.
Although Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was born in 1469 AD, Sikhism itself was born in 1507 AD, as Nanak only then received his initiation into the status of the guru. It was the night of August 20 that year a dark night rendered darker by thick clouds. The whole city of Sultanpur was asleep. Only the thunder was awake, or were Guru Nanak’s songs, which had become his meditation and worship. As was his daily practice, he resorted to the River Bein for his ablutions. He was accompanied by his ever-faithful companion Mardana who played the rebec when Nanak sang.

Nanak plunged into the river and seemed not to emerge from it. At first Mardana alone, then the entire town made frantic search for him even with the help of divers, but Nanak was not found. Three days came to pass when to the astonishment of one and all Nanak suddenly reappeared. He had become a changed person. Before that, he was a seeker of the Lord, now he was fully God-intoxicated. During his three-day absence from the scene, he had been in the loving embrace of his Beloved Lord. He had been in communion with Him. When he plunged into the river, he was Nanak, when he emerged from it, he had become Guru Nanak, commissioned by the Lord to unite the people of the world with Him.

This legend has a symbolic meaning. Legend in the Sikh parlance is called Sakhi. A Sakhi is not just a story. The word “Sakhi” means evidence — evidence of some truth in the form of a story. It is true in as much as it testifies that truth which is symbolised in the story. Let us decode the symbols of this legend.
First of all the legend signifies that in order to attain the Lord, one is required to drown — drown in love and devotion and into the depths of meditation. Standing on the shore and counting waves is of no avail. One has to plunge into the ocean in order to fathom it.

The second requirement is to die — die towards the world. Our relationship with the world is ego-oriented and self-nourishing. Such orientation does not permit one to become oriented towards God. Breaking one’s bonds with the world signifies the symbolic death in the legend.

The third symbol is that of returning. One who loses himself in himself, returns renewed. When he dives, he is a seeker. When he emerges, he is a seer — impregnated with the beatific vision. He has been saved. Now he has the task of salvaging others.

After he emerged from the river, his first proclamation was, “There is no Hindu, and there is no Muslim”.


Should he appear today, we can be sure, he will also add, “There is no Sikh”. For him all men were God’s creation. He said:

Two ways are made out; but is not One God the master of all, Hindus and Muslims.
False is caste and false the titled fame, One supreme Lord sustains all.


(For him, all men were equal. In his eyes distinction of caste were of no significance.
Know men by their worth. Do not ask their caste. Caste is not recognised in the next world.)

Neither caste nor position will be recognised hereafter. They alone will be pronounced good whose merit is recognised worthy of honour. There, neither caste nor birth, will be enquired. Your caste and status shall be according to your actions, Guru Nanak was acutely conscious of the status of inferiority assigned to women. He had many bold and salutary words to say for them. Among his followers, they enjoyed equality with men. In one of his compositions the guru says:

Of women are we born, of women conceived,

To women engaged, to women married.

Woman we befriend, and by women is the race continued.

When one’s woman dies, another woman is sought for.

(It is by women that order is maintained.

Then why despise them from whom are great men born?)

Thus, fully egalitarian was his first proclamation. He went even further and identified himself with the lowliest of all.

He said: Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low caste, the very lowliest of the low. He has nothing to do with “the great”.


— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.







It would have sounded odd sometime back. But now it seems to make sense.


The American media has been cribbing about the money being spent — or wasted — on president Barack Obama's Christmas-New Year vacation in Hawaii and that extra money spent on Michelle Obama's security — something to the tune of US$1.5 million in an economy that still is the largest in the world, worth over US$11 trillion.


Struggling to come out of the recession, the richest economy in the world is feeling the pinch. The good and careless times have ended, and Americans, not sure of their jobs and their future economic security, are getting twitchy and irascible that the president, unmindful of the hard times, is having a good time.


There is a simple lesson here. Political leaders in bad times cannot be seen to be having a good time. They have to show sensitivity, whether it actually makes a difference to the real state of the economy or not. Politicians everywhere are in the line of fire because they are the first to declare that they want to clear up the mess, which they blame on their rivals and opponents.







Prime minister Manmohan Singh wants India to make “new beginnings” in 2011. And presumably he wants the same for his government, because nothing could have been worse than the last few months of 2010. It’s going to be a long hard road for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II as it negotiates the minefields of its own creation.


Although it came to power for its second term in 2009 filled with confidence of an outright mandate, with a depleted Opposition and without the burden of the Left’s demands, its year and a half in power has been filled with inaction, apathy and with allegations of appalling corruption.


“Let's clear the air of despondency and cynicism” is Singh's plea to the people of India. But the problem is that the despondency and cynicism, both come from the inaction of his government at the Centre.


As if rising prices were not bad enough, there was the Commonwealth Games and its corruption charges, the Adarsh Housing society issue where politicians, defence personnel and bureaucrats manipulated the system to get themselves prime housing and, of course, the Rs1.76 crore 2G spectrum allocation scam. Under the circumstances, cynicism and despondency are, it could well be said, the order of the day.


In his message to the nation Singh has promised to “cleanse governance”. This is the least he can do. Ministers at the central and state levels have revealed themselves to be corrupt even beyond our usual levels of cynicism. Unfortunately for Singh, barring a few exceptions — like former Union telecom minister A Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — it has been the Congress ministers and politicians who have been exposed as the most corrupt and the least effective.


It is no longer enough for the Congress to harp on the personal integrity of the prime minister, the social conscience of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the wavering charisma of prince-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi. Singh needs to put his money where his mouth is — by stopping his party colleagues from stealing our money.


2011 places a huge burden of expectation on Singh and his governance skills. He has to pull this government up from the bottom. The problem is not just corruption and inflation. The internal and external security threats remain, Kashmir is being stirred up again and the burden of poverty has not changed. Before we believe in his promises for the New Year, we need to see some concrete and effective action. The people are watching.








The government has agreed to allow corporations to set up educational institutions as not-for-profit companies, in a bid to cater to India's rising demand for education.


So far, the educational institutions could only be run by trusts. The hope is that without having to go through the process of setting up trusts, firms will be quicker off the starting block in creating educational institutions.


The new rule says that while such educational institutions can make a profit, they must be ploughed back into the institutions. This can be used to build more infrastructure or expand existing facilities. It can also be used to fund a corpus to help economically weak students and create more scholarships for deserving students, so that no talented but poor child is ever deprived of the chance to study further.


It is true that companies might be more interested in the tertiary end of education (colleges, technical or management institutions), rather than primary or secondary education. But what this means is that it will allow the government to concentrate on primary and secondary education. India has a decent enrolment rate but a horrendous dropout rate. For every 100 students who join primary school (and not every child gets into school yet), less than 10 graduate. This has to change, and fast.Every child, even a pavement-dweller's child, must get into school and get education till Class X for him or her to become a useful citizen; and those desiring higher education must have the opportunity to do so.


Moreover, much as the move is laudable, there are reasons for concerns. Last year, some 30% (60,000 out of 200,000) of engineering seats in private colleges remained vacant, unfilled because they were too expensive. In a country where thousands of students yearn to study engineering, such waste is criminal.


There is no point in expanding capacity or setting up educational institutions if students simply cannot afford the fees. Sibal's real task will be to ensure that this doesn't happen. Otherwise, his new idea will simply waste away.








Time, actually its passage, is not something one ponders over on your usual, average day. There is no time for those sorts of things. And believe me, I was going to write about something completely different when I sat down in front of my blank computer screen to write this column for the year just gone by.


But the words wouldn't come. Heralding the new year with some kind of summing up of the good, the bad, and the ugly just didn't ring right.


Besides, in Mumbai for work and on the way home after visiting a sick friend in a hospital in the suburbs, I had impulsively stopped by Dev Anand's temporary office in Khar to say hello. He was in, and at work, with his son Suneil and a distributor.


You could easily miss seeing the frail actor sitting behind his desk piled high with files and posters of the freshly reincarnated version of his 1961 classic film Hum Dono with Nanda and Sadhana: the last black and white film from the actor-director-producer’s Navketan Films has been “colourised” and enhanced with Dolby digital and surround sound.


But when Dev Anand springs up and begins to talk about the resurrected Hum Dono and his latest film, Chargesheet, in which he stars along with Naseeruddin Shah and Jackie Shroff, most of his 87 years just seem to fall off. The robustness of this live performance is impressive: it’s almost as if the Peter Pan of the Indian screen had removed the hands of the universal clock and silenced its ticking. At least, in his mind.


As he talks animatedly about the two films (both will be released soon) the image of the young Dev Anand with his sparkling eyes, trademark puff and endearing smile of the “colourised” Hum Donoseems to be superimposed on this pale, fragile face in front of me. The spell lasts for a brief moment.


It makes me think about time: do we lose a year as the old gives way to the new? Or do we gain a year? Is each New Year a rebirth? Do we tame time by continuing to do what we do — as Mr Anand seems to be doing? Perhaps, he knows something many of us don’t.


That day he tells us that when one film is over, it’s on to the next one right away: there are no intervals in his working life. If you get out of the habit of making films, according to him, you will no longer be able to make them.


He also implies that were he to stop making films he would not be able to exist. His invincible shield is his belief in stardom. “A star should never show himself as old in a film. He should not use a stick, have white hair. It is not fair to those who come to see him on screen. He should always remain a star.”


While Mr Anand energetically expounds his work and life ethic I couldn’t help thinking of the globe-trotting MF Husain. The ever-agile painter is a decade older than the actor, even more work obsessed, more enthusiastic about whatever he does. Neither of them presses the pause button of life. Both seem to live life according to a similar credo: I work, therefore I am. Perhaps this way, both keep much that comes with old age at bay.


They just keep on going. Keeping up with the times and nonchalantly stepping sidestepping hurdles — all with a certain lightness of being.

Ironically, the immortal lines of the late lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi in Hum Dono aptly describe Dev Anand's take on life: Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har phikr ko dhuen main udata chala gaya.


Yeh dono have it right.







The Obama administration has come out with its much awaited review of the Afghan war. Declaring that the war is “on track” toward achieving its military and political goals, but that progress is coming “slowly and at a very high price” for Americans who are fighting there, the US president, Barack Obama argued that a review of the Afghanistan effort shows that significant progress has been made but the gains remain fragile. It was aimed at providing clarity about the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it seems to have further muddied the waters.


This review was once portrayed by the Obama administration as critical to its decisions about the pace of the US’ exit from Afghanistan. But the White House has been playing down the report’s importance for months, even as it continues to balance pressure from the military for time to allow the troop surge to work and pressure from many Democrats to start showing that Obama is serious about winding down the nine-year conflict.


The report argues that, with about 140,000 American and NATO troops on the ground, there has been progress in Afghanistan, most notably in pushing back Taliban forces from around Kandahar, Taliban's spiritual base and the country's second-largest city. The review concludes that American forces can begin withdrawing on schedule in July, despite finding uneven signs of progress since the president announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops.


Recent military operations around Kandahar have progressed more successfully than expected. But the list of things still going wrong remains long, starting with the incompetence and corruption of the Hamid Karzai government. More significantly, while the overview has tried hard not to specifically criticise the Pakistani government, the US officials have been explicitly expressing their frustration over Pakistan's unwillingness to hunt down insurgents operating on its Afghan border.


The US has not been able to secure General Ashfaq Kayani's commitment to go after the Taliban groups that are launching murderous attacks from Pakistan's border region into Afghanistan. The US commanders on the ground estimate that until Pakistan's army moves against the Afghan Taliban — and Pakistan's intelligence service cuts all ties with the extremists — the prospects for Obama's war strategy will remain dim. Obama himself has spoken out suggesting that “progress has not come fast enough” in eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries near the Afghanistan border and that the US will continue “to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist havens inside their borders must be dealt with”.


But Washington seems increasingly resigned to Pakistan's inaction given that there are few levers that it can use at the moment. Even as Pakistan's army vows to take on militants spreading chaos and mayhem inside Pakistan, the intelligence service still sees the Afghan Taliban as a way to ensure influence on the other side of the border and keep India's influence at bay. As revealed by the WikiLeaks, the assessment of the former US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, is blunt: “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India.” In recent months, the US has demanded that the Pakistani army attack North Waziristan to stop Taliban insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan — a request Pakistan has argued it is incapable of meeting because its forces are stretched too thin.


India should pay close attention to these developments as contrary to what many in India believe, the US is indeed facing tremendous pressures to leave Afghanistan. The latest review has indicated that the Obama administration was setting conditions to begin the “responsible reduction” of US forces in Afghanistan in July.


Meanwhile there are reports that the Pakistani army is now busy convincing the US and Hamid Karzai to support an agreement that would lead to government posts being held by Taliban leaders, including the Haqqani network, “prepared to renounce al Qaeda”. The sheer audacity of the proposal is breathtaking. But fearing American withdrawal, Karzai seems ready to hitch his wagon to Pakistan. He now views Pakistan playing a positive role by helping deny terrorists sanctuary and using its leverage over some Afghan Taliban.


For all its investment in Afghanistan, a reluctance to play hardball is going to cost India significantly if the present trends continue. Unless New Delhi ups its ante, it will lose all that it has gained since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. But given the domestic uncertainties pervading New Delhi, there is little likelihood of that happening anytime soon.










It is a three-way battle of words among the coalition partners in the State: the Congress versus Congress, National Conference versus NC and Congress versus the NC. The factional politics in the State Congress is in the open. One reason for this is that the intra-party rivals are eyeing the coveted post of the Pradesh Congress president (whatever the organisational election process it is a common knowledge that the Congress high command takes a final decision in such matters). Two groups owing allegiance to incumbent PCC president Saifuddin Soz and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad are trying to convince their Central leaders about their respective claims. The latter's supporters have played on State Health Minister Sham Lal's utterance about "azadi" for Kashmir. Prof Soz, on the other hand, has rallied behind Mr Sham Lal rebutting those questioning his patriotism. The Azad loyalists are piqued that while Mr G.M. Saroori was sacked (he did not resign even after disclosure that he had allegedly fielded an impersonator to appear for his daughter in a medical entrance test) no such action has been taken against Mr Sham Lal. This is not all on the Congress front. Mr Abdul Ghani Vakil, who is being projected by the Azad camp as the next PCC chief, has described Prof Soz as his junior. He has been quoted as saying: "For the past two years no meeting of working committee has taken place to strengthen the party despite Congress high command passing instructions." He has added that the party command is aware of the differences in the state unit. He has gone on to remark: "What can I say about him (Prof Soz) as he is very junior to me" --- a reference apparently to the fact that Prof Soz had a long stint in the NC before joining the Congress.


A casualty in the entire discourse is the respect for detail including about the reason as to how and why Prof Soz parted company with the NC. This is not surprising. When the stakes are high the emotions become strong. In any event everything is considered fair in love and war. That the Congress high command is wiser about its strengths and weaknesses in the State, in the wake of the 2008 Amarnath land allotment stir, is evident from the assertion of one of its Central leaders that the voices about discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh regions need to be tackled seriously. Mr Satyavrat Chaturvedi has said at a party rally in this city: "All regions should get treatment and funding as per area. Such things if not contained may lead to public outburst, agitations and social disorder. Congress wants to resolve this problem after discussing the issue with the Chief Minister and his party leaders and work out a mechanism/solution to address the issue, providing justice to all." It was at this meeting that Congress veteran and former Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma has stirred a hornet's nest. He has called for rotational leadership of the ruling coalition. The Congress, according to him, should get a three-year tenure as the Chief Minister after the present NC Chief Minister completes three years in office --- Mr Omar Abdullah, incidentally, is about to enter the third year of his office. Mr Sharma has sought the change in the name of equal justice and regional balance: "Whether he is Prof Soz or somebody else in the party from Jammu, next three year term be given to the Congress Party. If you want to do justice to all and seek smooth sailing, you will have to give representation to Jammu and honour the sentiments and aspirations of the people of this region.


There is a sharp retort by NC leaders who are confident that Mr Abdullah will complete the full six-year tenure. In a reaction, which has been attributed to unnamed "sources", the NC is quoted as having suggested: "The silence of the Congress high command over the statement of its senior leader Mangat Ram Sharma who has publicly demanded the post of the Chief Minister for the next three years has left the NC puzzled." In a slightly different context party leader Kamal Mustafa, an uncle of the Chief Minister, has unleashed fire against the Congress: "Delhi has always betrayed us. The accords and promises made by Delhi were never kept. For them the autonomy is like a bone of contention that has got stuck in their throat." The Congress has sharply reacted to it reminding him that if Mr Abdullah is "enjoying power" in the State it is with its support and if Dr Farooq Abdullah is a Union minister it is again with its support. Incidentally, Dr Farooq Abdullah had advised his brother Kamal at a public meeting in Srinagar recently to be careful about his assertions because these created confusion as if these were his or the party's authoritative versions. It is only too well known that Dr Mustafa keeps raking up one controversy or the other not necessarily helping his brother or nephew but indicating as if there are two conflicting streams of thought in the NC. Given this backdrop there can be only one inescapable conclusion. The argument what is there in a word is irrelevant in our politics. The words --- spoken or written --- do matter. If nothing else they keep political rivals on their toes. For us they enliven the scene.








It is quite comprehensible why the State Government is unable to settle for the withdrawal of 60 para-military companies as desired by the North Block. First, the situation on the ground does not allow it. Then, there is a strong possibility of panchayat and local bodies' elections being held soon necessitating a close watch on the law and order situation. Possibly more forces may be required then than those that are presently deployed. On the other hand, the Centre's compulsion often is to meet the demands in other states especially those affected by Naxalism. It can't ignore them. This is a constant problem. A result is that the uniformed men are always on the move. There has been some improvement in facilities meant for their travel and accommodation. That is a separate issue. For the time being we need to apply our minds to an important question. How do we ensure that each state is sufficiently equipped to take care of law and order which under our dispensation is its duty? Is it possible to do so given that there are crimes having inter-state and now even global dimensions?









Scams' are sprouting in the Indian political landscape like an abundant crop in a fertile land. The real or perceived malfeasance of those involved, almost always high-ups, shames the country. But the way the 'fight' to cleanse India of scandals and scams is being fought spells danger to democracy.


A whole (winter) session of Parliament was wasted because of obduracy by both the treasury and the Opposition benches. No remorse for wasting the tax-payers' money was on display in either of the camps, the ruling party as well as the Opposition. The Opposition did not mind mocking Parliament and let the government pass legislation pieces without any debate by voice vote amidst pandemonium.


What is on display is adversarial politics at its worst. Dissent being an essential ingredient of democracy, rivalry among different political players is inevitable and acceptable. The discharge of this role does not mean trading charges and counter-charges to demand that 'you should be hanged because you are more corrupt than me.'


There is a deadlock between the government and the Opposition as neither side is willing to budge an inch from their stated positions. The Opposition has ruled out agreeing to anything other than a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the so-called 2-G spectrum allotment scam that is perceived to have resulted in a loss of Rs 170,000 crore to the exchequer because of underselling the licence.


There are a whole lot of other 'scams' which should be drawing equal attention but have not. Like the grabbing of flats for war widows in a posh Mumbai area by influential people, including senior politicians and army officers, the misappropriation of money on a large scale in the preparation of the Commonwealth Games (in November) and the inexplicable shooting of food prices despite a good monsoon. But all the shouts and protests now seem to be concentrated on the JPC.


When the noise over the 2-G spectrum licences was reaching its crescendo erupted 'Radiagate'. The names of a number of big fish, including politicians, businessmen and journalists, have emerged out of the leaked taped conversation between 'lobbyist' Niira Radia and others, including the VIP politicians and the 'star' journalists.


Radiagate is an indication why the Indian system has so many infirmities. Barring an odd exception, members of the biggest and most influential 'jury' in the country, the media, have absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while others continue to face some kind of public humiliation through the media.


A desperate Congress received some reprieve when several questionable land deals of the first BJP chief minister in the South, Karnataka's B.S. Yeddyurappa, came to surface. That is supposed to be 'small change' compared to the 2-G scam and hence there is a noticeable indifference towards it. When the aim is to go for the prime minister's jugular, why bother about the Yeddy scam?


Throughout the derailed winter session of Parliament, the Congress tried to take a high moral ground by contrasting the prompt 'action' it had taken against its chief ministers by asking them to quit office following allegations of irregularities against them and the refusal of the BJP to get the Karnataka chief minister to quit.


The Congress has since tried to 'rope in' the high-flying BJP leader from Karnataka, Ananth Kumar, into the 'Radiagate' controversy but it failed to arouse much interest because it is only the beleaguered Congress that is interested in it.


Both the Congress and the BJP must realise that any one particular issue cannot be flogged for long. It may lose its electoral potential-the purpose for raising the issue in the first place. The capacity to influence the voter one way or the other is blunted as fatigue sets in among the people (voters) when they keep hearing an earful about one issue alone for days, weeks and months.


This is becoming evident already. For instance, the BJP rally in Delhi to protest against the scams and the rejection of the JPC demand ended as a damp squib. It failed to attract an appreciable crowd. Whatever the BJP may say, it looks to be a fair indication that the public has not warmed up to the high decibel clamour for JPC.


Likewise, the counter-assault by the Congress on the BJP on its 'dual standards' has not stirred the people's image, much as the Congress would have liked it. The two parties have to ponder why their efforts, Herculean as they have been, have not caught the voters' fancy.


Perhaps the political parties' faith in concentrating on one issue stems from the fact that in the past elections have been won on one issue: Bofors and Babri mosque demolition. There is no certainty that the tempo built around the JPC demand would last till the time of the next parliamentary poll.


Of course, there is the possibility that the UPA Government might fall in the near future and elections will follow soon. The alliance within the UPA is beginning to look fragile. The Opposition parties may swamp the Congress. But what may still save the Sonia-Manmohan combine is the dread and uncertainty of the poll outcome. It is a safe bet that the next Government will also be a coalition, no matter who heads it.


The adamant political parties have to realise that the kind of parliamentary impasse they have created is fast acquiring a sort of legitimacy. No heed is given to the harm disruption of parliament, session after session, causes to the nation and democracy. If today the UPA Government is brought down because the deadlock remained unresolved, there is every chance that the next government might see the Congress using the same weapon to destabilise it. A repeat of Delhi show will be a reality in the state capitals where political battles are a no holds barred campaigns. And our netas at the Panchayat and Municipality levels may not be far behind in emulating the national netas. Any doubt? (Syndicate Features)








Although Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh firmly brought up all issues of great concern to India, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao does not seem to have appreciated the Indian sensitivities. As was apprehended by many China has not addressed even a single matter of importance that could boost mutual relations.


The issues that mattered most for India and required their immediate resolution were the stapled visas for people from Jammu & Kashmir, the terrorism emanating from Pakistan, presence of the Chinese in POk and so called "Northern areas" (NA), illegal occupation by the Chinese of 43,180 sq km in Ladakh, out of which Pakistan has ceded 5, 180 sq km to that country in Gilgit and Baltistan (NA).


The Chinese Premier has not given any assurance on supporting India for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) of which China is a permanent member and as such it has the Veto power. India did not bargain any one of the issues for China's support. Dr. Manmohan Singh's firmness is highly laudable.


Let us examine the implications of each one of our concerns as listed above. Instead of issuing a normal visa to the people from J&K, Beijing's issuing of stapled ones is to reiterate once again its stand on J&K. China has never recognized the state as a legally acceded part of the Republic of India. Therefore, according to Beijing it is a "disputed territory". In doing so China has challenged India's integrity and sovereignty. While the construction of roads, tunnels and dams in POK is considered by it a legally right activity they have the cheek to question J&K's lawful accession to India! The fact is that if the issue of stapled visa is not resolved it will have grave adverse impact on all other matters at stake between the two countries.


India's concern regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan, shared by US, Russia, Japan, Germany etc. was not taken note of by Wen Jiabao for the simple reason that for decades Pakistan has been China's ally. Beijing is not worried about the terrorism arising from Pakistan that threatens the whole world because it has bigger plans in using that country for its expansionist designs. One of which is to corner India. As it has refrained from condemning terrorism being promoted from Pakistan, it is reasonable to say that terrorism that has become a menace for the whole world is indirectly condoned by China.


It is interesting to note that some years back Beijing had ruthlessly crushed the Uighur Muslim's revolt in its Sinkiang province who had been demanding independence from China. A number of Uighur Muslims were executed on flimsy charges of criminal activities. Sinkiang is predominated by Uighur Muslims. In fact at that time Beijing had warned Pakistan for its support to the Uighur separatist.


The presence of Chinese in POK is equated by Beijing with the presence of India in Arunachal Pradesh. China has claimed that India illegally occupies nearly 90,000 sq. km of Chinese territory that includes Arunachal Pradesh. From time to time China has claimed that Arunachal Pradesh belongs to them. Beijing had strongly argued that India had done an unfriendly act by allowing Dalai Lama to visit the state.


Above all the greatest threat to India is from Beijing's plan to divert the Brahmaputra water to the parched lands on its side. Media reports indicate that China is already at an advanced stage of constructing dams and tunnels for depriving India of the life sustaining Brahmaputra. China is also reported to have completed the construction of 33,310 meter long tunnel that is a part of the plan to build the main road connecting a remote Tibetan town close to the border with India.


A few days back Chief Minister of Uttranchal Ramesh Pokhriyal said that the Chinese activities had increased in Nepal, Tibet and Pakistan. "We apprehend that there will be increase in anti-India activities on the Indo-Nepal border via Nepal, which will pose a danger to our country in the near future. There is also apprehension of increase in ISI activities in Nepal via the Pakistan route,". He said that Beijing is settling Chinese in Nepal and that massive construction of road infrastructure in Tibet is also going on. "One point I raised with the prime minister was that there is no major ban on movement of people and goods from Nepal. Over 25,000 to 30,000 people travel daily via three routes into the country from Nepal" Pokhriyal said.. The chief minister of the hill state said China has also created massive road networks close to the Sino-Indian border up to the top of the Himalayas in Tibet.


What China is really aiming at? Firstly it wants to negotiate the border dispute as also other issues with India from a position of strength. In this respect it has steadily but undoubtedly gained it to some extent. It has constructed roads from different directions that end near the Indian border. It has also involved Pakistan in unprecedented activities against our country. Although it seems harmless yet no body knows what the Chinese are up to in POK. Beijing has increased its influence in Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as in Myanmar. Secondly, as a commercial competitor it wants to create an atmosphere of insecurity for India that could adversely affect our economic growth.


At present it is difficult to anticipate what else the Chinese leaders desire to achieve by encircling India. However it can safely be said that by acquiring the present status in the Indian sub-continent China is posing a serious threat to us. New Delhi needs to take urgent steps to balance its status with China in Defence preparedness. India will also have to strengthen its ties with South Asian countries so as to nullify China's newly acquired clout in some of the Asian countries.








The spectrum controversy has made clear that an unholy nexus between businessmen, ministers and officers is twisting rules in self-interest. This is an old story though. A 1967 report submitted to the Planning Commission by Mumbai University Economist R K Hazare pointed out that 20 percent of all licenses issued between 1957 and 1966 went to Birla group companies. The Ambanis have repeated this feat in the recent years. Grip of the group on the highest levels of the Government can be seen in Prime Minister Deve Gowda travelling in the executive jet of Dhirubhai to Bangalore to tender his resignation as Chief Minister on being elected as Prime Minister. This interference of businessmen in the government cannot be wholly decried, however. Corruption works as lubricant when the government is moribund and inefficient.


The boiler of a factory was to be inspected for renewal of license. The Inspector demanded a totally uncalled for bribe of Rs 20k to give the certificate. The businessman baulked. As a result the Inspector failed the boiler. The hapless businessman had to travel to lodge complaint with the senior officers, get another inspector to visit and he did get the certificate without giving a bribe. But he spent more than 20k in making rounds. The factory lay closed for a week and he incurred a heavy loss running into lacs of rupees. Corruption is indeed a lifesaver in such situations. But there is difference in the same corruption being used to earn unrighteous money and crush one's smaller competitors. That is exactly what Dhirubhai appears to have done.


Hamish McDonald gives many instances of this in his book "Ambani and Sons." Synthetic cloth is made from Polyester Filament Yarn (PFY). There was huge shortage of PFY in the country in the seventies. Domestic prices were nearly seven times those prevailing in the international markets. In this situation Dhirubhai persuaded Finance Minister T A Pai to allow imports of PFY against exports of nylon clothing. Then Dhirubhai made huge exports of nylon-on paper. He claimed to sell this product at rupees four in the international markets when the prevailing price was less than rupees two. Actually he was not selling the nylon at all. He was dumping the exported material in to the sea, leaving it to rot at the ports or selling it at giveaway prices. His objective was to secure the permits to import PFY that these exports entitled him to receive. He sold the imported PFY at a hefty margin and made a killing even after deducting the loss on the exported nylon material.


It came to the knowledge of Mumbai Stock Exchange during the Harshad Mehta scandal that Reliance was issuing more than one script with the same share number. Reliance admitted to its mistake and promptly issued fresh shares in lieu of the disputed ones. Owners of Reliance were not punished for this serious offense, however. The Government allowed the matter to be 'compounded.' The Company paid a small fine and was let off.


An international scandal in Oil-for-Food programme of Iraq under the aegis of the United Nations broke out in 2005. Reliance was the biggest purchaser of oil from Saddam Hussein. But "speaker after speaker from both the Congress-led government and the BJP opposition, including former adversaries of Reliance, avoided even mentioning Reliance as the largest Indian recipient of oil allocations from the Saddam Hussein regime, let alone trying to probe the political circumstances in which the oil concessions were won."


The writ of Reliance ran deep in the Government. This benefitted the shareholders of the company hugely. The widespread anguish at the death of Dhirubhai erupted because he had rewarded his investors. His contribution to the economic growth of the country is also undisputed. He proved that son of an ordinary schoolteacher could establish the largest company in the country.


Two mutually contradictory aspects of the Reliance story stand before us. On the one hand, Dhirubhai saw to it that small opponents-like the 150 crimpers-were destroyed. On the other hand he provided immense profits to his shareholders. What was the net impact, then? It is possible that the loss to the country was more than the benefits. It is the solemn responsibility of the Government to assess this. Such dispassionate assessment is not possible when the Government is itself under the tutelage of the businessman. A system that does not permit an honest appraisal is inherently faulty. This applies equally to Birlas of the fifties, Ambanis of the eighties and spectrum companies of the year. The Government cannot then transparently secure public good and goad the businessmen in the desired direction. The fact that Birlas and Amabanis did good to the economy-by design or coincidence-cannot justify their implicit control of the Government. G D Birla and Dhirubhai Ambani manipulated the Government to secure gains for their companies. The same can be said of the spectrum licensees. We face a great danger if we accept such control. A smuggler or a Jai Chand can then control the Government and sell the country. Therefore, manipulation of the government by businessmen or anyone else should be roundly condemned notwithstanding the good that Dhirubhai may have done to the country, and notwithstanding the positive role of corruption in breaking the moribund governance of the yesteryears.










SUPPOSE an innocent schoolboy is asked what the railway tracks and roads are meant for. Will he really be wrong if he says that their basic purpose is to provide a convenient converging point for agitators, because that is what has been happening all over the country with sickening regularity? If it is the Gujjar reservation agitation in Rajasthan, it is the Telangana stir in Andhra Pradesh. The agitators take pride in bringing all public life to a halt, because that is supposed to be the barometer of the success of a protest. Of late, things have really gone out of hand. Many students have had to miss their examinations and there are cases where sick persons lost their lives because they could not get medical aid in time due to rail or road blockades.


Then there is also the question of cost to the country. If one takes into account the number of mandays lost, the loss is phenomenal. For instance, the July 5 Bharat Bandh last year reportedly cost the country Rs 3,000 crore (according to the CII) and Rs 13,000 crore (according to FICCI). Even if both figures are considered to be highly exaggerated, it is a fact that the loss every year runs into thousands of crores of rupees. Add to that the damage caused to public property — because burning buses and rail bogeys is somehow considered a public right — the loss is colossal indeed.


All this has been happening in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court had banned bandhs in 1998. It clarified in 2007 that bandhs or complete shutdowns are illegal whereas strikes and hartals are not, but the fine line has been blurred time and again. West Bengal still witnesses more than three dozen bandhs on an average every year, many of them violent. Those indulging in competitive populism must realise the gravity of the situation and decide whether they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. At the same time, the governments must also put in place a mechanism under which public grievances are redressed well before the latter take recourse to violent means. 









THIS New Year’s Day, the Union Territory of Chandigarh elected its 17th mayor as an annual much-publicised exercise, though lacking in substance. Ever since the Municipal Corporation came into being in 1996, the elected and nominated councillors have been electing a mayor and his two deputies which has been preceded by the usual excitement of lobbying and horse-trading. Except that, the stakes are low, as the mayor of Chandigarh has the shortest tenure and is among the most powerless in the country.


Unlike the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, where a mayor’s tenure ranges between two-and-a-half years and five years, Chandigarh’s mayor has a mere year-long tenure. This is considered so short that rarely has a mayor bothered to shift into the official house in Sector 24. Behind this short tenure lies a policy of reservation. During every five-year tenure of a general house, the mayor’s post can be held only twice by a general category candidate; twice by a Scheduled Caste candidate and one of who must be a woman; and once by a woman irrespective of the category she belongs to. In addition, mayors have no worthwhile executive powers. Every project passed by the general house, comprising 26 elected and nine nominated councillors, requires clearance of the UT Administration, an institution that is the preserve of the IAS. The farcical structure of the Municipal Corporation is such that recently the mayor had to call off a general house meeting after a two-and-a-half-hour deliberation on an action-taken report on pending projects, all because it was suddenly discovered that the Municipal Commissioner, an IAS officer, was on leave and in his absence no amendments could be made to the existing policy.


Chandigarh is the only Union Territory where people’s say —a fundamental characteristic of any democracy — is nearly absent. If the government is indeed serious about providing people’s representation, then it should either empower the mayor and the councillors or scrap these institutions altogether and save tax- payers’ money. 









THE report of the latest enquiry into the December 27, 2007, assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto may lead to a major image loss for the Pakistan Army. The findings of the probe, conducted under the supervision of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, have it that the plot to eliminate the former Prime Minister was hatched at the residence of a brigadier. This means that former President Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was also the Chief of Army Staff then, cannot escape questioning. But that will be too risky for the PPP regime, including President Asif Ali Zardari, as General Musharraf is still revered by most top Generals, including Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Kiyani. Benazir fell to her assassin’s bullets in Rawalpindi when she was back home after ending her self-imposed exile following a deal she had entered into with General Musharraf.


The then Musharraf regime had apprehensions that if she was allowed to take part in the 2008 elections she would become Prime Minister again and make life hell for the ruling General and many others on his band wagon. The probe report has obviously mentioned his role in Benazir’s killing as the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan is reported to have prepared a tough questionnaire for General Musharraf. The report, which names nine guilty persons, including four who are dead, was about to be presented at the Naudero meeting of the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) on the occasion of the third death anniversary of Benazir, but President Zardari got it held over till the next meeting of his party’s CEC on the pretext of Bilawal Bhutto, the heir-apparent to the Bhutto legacy, not being present. The truth, however, is that most of the surviving accused persons are army personnel.


Mr Zardari is faced with a dilemma: if he shelves the enquiry report forever on some pretext, he will continue to have the blemish that the widower of Benazir has something to hide and hence his reluctance to punish the killers of his late wife. And if he allows the law to take its course, he will be pitted against the army, which has already been against his survival in the coveted position he holds. Irrespective of what ultimately happens, the explosive report has definitely put the Pakistan Army in the dock. 

















THIS seems to be the time to woo India as a defence partner. The British Defence Secretary, Mr Liam Fox, was in New Delhi recently promoting the Eurofighter Typhoon as India looks to buy 126 multi-role combat aircraft for its air force. The French President, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, too has visited India pushing Dassault’s Rafale, which is back as a contender after it was initially knocked out of the race for technical reasons last year. The Obama Administration is also eyeing the lucrative multi-billion dollar tender for medium multi-role combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force. The Russian President, Mr Dmitri Medvedev, came to India firming up an already tight defence partnership. Russia was and still is a huge seller of defence equipment to India, but the Indian government’s outreach to the US and Europe has allowed for a diversification of the defence market.


India has emerged as the world's second-largest arms buyer over the last five years, importing 7 per cent of the world's arms exports. With the world’s fourth largest military and one of the biggest defence budgets, India has been in the midst of a huge defence modernisation programme for more than a decade now that has seen billions of dollars spent on the latest high-tech military technology. According to a recent report by the KPMG, India will be spending around $100 billion on defence purchases over the next decade. This liberal spending on military equipment has attracted the interest of Western industry and governments alike and is changing the scope of the global defence market.


And yet, just a few weeks back India’s Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik bluntly informed the country that half of the equipment used by the Indian Air Force was either obsolete or obsolescent. Though he assured the nation that the IAF was quite “capable” of carrying out its defensive role, he was unequivocal in his suggestion that most of the hardware used by the IAF was not in the best operational condition. At a time when Indian political leaders blithely talk of India’s rise as a military power, such a statement from the top military leadership raises serious concerns about the trajectory of India’s defence policy. That this is happening at a time when the regional security environment in Asia is witnessing an unprecedented military transformation should make redressing the situation the top priority of the government.


India’s security environment is deteriorating rapidly with the prospect of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, the military taking control in Pakistan, China asserting its territorial interests more aggressively than ever before, deepening Sino-Pakistan military cooperation, internal turmoil in Kashmir and the growing threat from Maoists.


As a percentage of the GDP, the annual defence spending has declined to one of its lowest levels since 1962. More damagingly, for the last several years now the defence ministry has been unable to spend its budgetary allocation. The defence acquisition process remains mired in corruption and bureaucratese. A series of defence procurement scandals since the late 1980s have also made the bureaucracy risk averse, thereby delaying the acquisition process. A large part of the money is surrendered by the defence forces every year, given their inability to spend due to labyrinthine bureaucratic procedures involved in the procurement process. India’s indigenous defence production industry has time and again made its inadequacy to meet the demands of the armed forces apparent. The Indian armed forces keep waiting for arms and equipment while the Finance Ministry is left with unspent budget year after year. Most large procurement programmes get delayed, resulting in cost escalation and technological or strategic obsolescence of the budgeted items.


Not surprisingly, while the Indian Army is suggesting that it is 50 per cent short of attaining full capability and will need around 20 years to gain full defence preparedness, naval analysts are pointing out that India’s naval power is actually declining. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, operations were hampered by a lack of adequate equipment. The then Indian Army Chief had famously commented that the forces would fight with whatever they had got underlining the frustration in the armed forces regarding their inability to procure the arms they needed. Only because the conflict remained largely confined to the 150-kilometre front in the Kargil sector did India manage to get the upper hand, ejecting Pakistani forces from its side of the Line of Control (LoC). India lacked the ability to impose significant military costs during Operation Parakram because of the unavailability of suitable weaponry and night vision equipment needed to carry out swift surgical strikes. Similarly, the public outcry after the terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 was strong enough for the Indian government to consider using the military option vis-à-vis Pakistan. But it soon turned out that India no longer had the capability of imposing quick and effective retribution on Pakistan and that it no longer enjoyed the kind of conventional superiority vis-à-vis its regional adversary that it had enjoyed for the past five decades.


The higher defence organisational set-up in India continues to exhibit serious weaknesses with its ability to prosecute wars in the contemporary strategic context remaining doubtful. The institutional structures as they stand today are not effective enough to provide single-point military advice to the government or to facilitate the definition of defence objectives. Coordinated and synergised joint operations need integrated theatre commands, yet India hasn’t found it necessary to appoint even a Chief of Defence Staff.


The Indian government is yet to demonstrate the political will to tackle the defence policy paralysis that seems to be rendering all the claims of India’s rise as a military power increasingly hollow. There has been no long-term strategic review of India’s security environment and no overall defence strategy has been articulated. The challenge for the Indian government is to delineate clearly what products it needs and how to build up its own industry in the process by significantly reforming the domestic defence manufacturing sector. In the absence of a comprehensive, long-term appraisal of the country’s defence requirements, there will be little clarity on India’s real needs in defence acquisitions. And India’s rise as a major global player will remain a matter of potential.


The writer teaches at King’s College, London. 








THEY briskly walked through the glass doorway into the swanky airport. The cool air of the airport lounge soothed their frayed nerves a bit. Outside, it was a scorching 38 degrees Celsius.


They were heading for the cooler Port Louis in Mauritius. It was a welcome break for them from their busy schedules as young company secretaries with a reputed company. That was where they had met for the first time and had eventually got married. How time had flown by and it had been two years since. Only now had they got the time to take this trip, which was perhaps long overdue.


Now, they were really late. The husband urged her, rather irritatingly, to walk faster as he heaved their three rather large suitcases onto the conveyor belt. The heaviest of them contained the stuff of their infant son who was bawling incessantly in his mother’s kangaroo sack. She fumbled with the sack and adjusted her son to a more comfortable position as they rushed to the next security check point.


Now, this seemed to work as the child paused a little before beginning all over again.This flustered the young mother completely. This constant wailing right under her ears seemed to have started a headache. They seemed to be getting a lot of attention, too, from sympathetic travellers. She embarrassingly tried to calm him down by patting his back. It didn’t seem to work, however. The howling continued.


At the airlines counter meant for special packages, the smartly dressed young executive looked at them rather questioningly while verifying their passports. She flashed a meaningful smile as she returned their papers. They could not stop smiling at the muffled noises being made at the counter as they quickly moved onto the next security check. At last, they reached the boarding gate just in the nick of time when the final announcement for their flight was being made.


As they boarded the flight, a smile creased their tired faces at finally having made this trip. As soon as they settled down in their seats, the husband gently held her hand. She blushed like a coy bride. Their son had stopped crying as if he, too, had sensed the mood of the trip. After all, they were on their honeymoon on a special package!









CHINA has struck fear into Western governments and electronics giants by slashing exports of a highly sought-after array of metals which are crucial for electronics products ranging from iPads and X-ray systems, to low-energy lightbulbs and hybrid cars.


In a sign of its growing industrial and political clout, China has cut its export quotas for rare earth elements (REEs) by 35 per cent for the first six months of 2011, threatening to extend a global shortage of the minerals and intensifying a scramble to find alternative sources.


Mines in China supply 97 per cent of the world’s rare earths, 17 obscure metals which possess various qualities, such as conductivity and magnetism, that make them an essential component in many modern applications such as smartphones, computers and lasers.


Instead of last year’s 22,282 metric tons, China’s Ministry of Commerce revealed the total for the first six months of next year would be 14,446 tons, split among 31 domestic and foreign-invested companies.


Commentators said the announcement was probably designed to limit the environmental damage caused by the mines while ensuring its manufacturers were able to meet growing domestic and international demand.


However the announcement caused dismay among Western governments, which have belatedly begun to appreciate that China’s stranglehold on elements such as lanthanum, used for batteries in hybrid cars, and neodymium, for permanent magnets in wind turbines, give it immense economic and political power.


The US Trade Representative’s office, which advises President Barack Obama, said it had raised concerns with China over the export restraints. Britain, which previously said it was monitoring whether China’s stance on REEs broke World Trade Organisation rules, reiterated its commitment to “free, fair and open markets”. A spokesman for the Department for Business said: “Competitive markets are essential to achieving long-term sustainable growth, which is why the UK supports the need to cut red tape and resist protectionism.”


Electronics companies could be hard hit by rising prices caused by the export cut, which was predicted by The Independent in January. The consumer electronics giant Sony described the move as an obstacle to free trade. “At this point in time there is no direct impact on our company. But further restrictions could lead to a shortage of supply or rise in costs for related parts and materials. We will watch the situation carefully,” a Sony spokesman said.


Other manufacturers, such as Apple, whose iPad uses rare earths, declined to comment.


REEs lie near the surface in only a few, usually inhospitable, areas. During the past 20 years, China has rapidly increased production from a single mine near the city of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, leading to the closure of mines in the US and elsewhere unable to compete with the low prices.


However, a global shortfall now looms because worldwide demand for REEs has almost tripled from 40,000 tons to 110,000 tons in the past 10 years, while China — which accounts for about 75 per cent of usage with the remainder divided between Japan, the US and Europe — has begun to scale back exports, from 48,500 tons a year to 14,446 tons for the first half of 2011. The move has the potential to damage the industries reliant on rare earths, which are estimated to be worth £3 trillion, or 5 per cent of global GDP.


The US rare earth mining company Molycorp aims to reopen a mine in the Mojave Desert at the end of this year, which will produce 20,000 tons a year, or about 25 per cent of current Western imports from China, by mid-2012. Deposits are also found in Greenland, opening the prospect of its wilderness being scarred by environmentally damaging mining.


“Export quotas continue to be a tool for the Chinese government to limit the export of its strategic resource,” said Nick Curtis, the chief executive of Lynas, which is opening a new mine in Australia and whose share price shot up by 10 per cent on news of China’s move.


A global scramble for rare earths has now begun, according to Gareth Hatch, an analyst. “We have a race against time: we’ve found the materials we know where they are, now we have to develop them,” he said.


— The Independent

Fact file


How various industries use rare earth elements


Rare earth elements are in the forefront of global worries over fears that China’s policy of curbing exports will cause shortages. Despite their name, rare earth elements are a relatively abundant group of 17 chemical elements. They were originally described as rare because they were unknown in their elemental form and difficult to extract from the rocks that contained them.


Here is a summary of rare earth industrial applications and some key areas where they are employed:


Catalysts: Petroleum cracking catalysts and auto catalysts use lanthanum and cerium.


Glass: Cerium is the major constituent of this sector, where it is used in ultra-violet light filtering. Polishing: A rapidly growing sector that is based on the unique chemical and mechanical properties of cerium in the polishing of glass, including multi-level electronic components.


Metal Alloys: Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are the key driver of demand and could put pressure on lanthanum supply.


Magnets: Currently, the most dynamic market for rare earths with growth in demand increasing at 15 per cent a year for the past 10 years, causing neodymium and terbium to increase by more than 40 per cent over the past 12 months.


Phosphors: Necessary for the production of phosphors for TVs and energy-efficient lamps. Ceramics: Yttrium stabilised zirconia is used throughout the resources industry where a material with high-wear resistance is required.


Defence industries


Lanthanum night-vision goggles


Neodymium laser range-finders, guidance systems, communications


Europium fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors


Erbium amplifiers in fibre-optic data transmission


Samarium permanent magnets that are stable at high temperatures


Samarium precision-guided weapons


Samarium “white noise” production in stealth technology




Rare earth magnets are widely used in wind turbines.


Hybrid car batteries


Every hybrid-electric and electric vehicle has a large battery which is made using rare earth compounds.


Mobile phones, laptops


Rechargeable batteries used in mobile phone and portable computers require rare earths, which were the key to smaller more efficient battery technology.







PRODUCING rare-earth metals carries considerable environmental risks, not least because the ores in which they are found often contain thorium, radium and uranium, which are radioactive. Add to that the toxic acids involved in the refining process, and the “tailings”, or waste sludge, from the mine can be very unpleasant indeed. Rare earths, which are widely used in such green energy applications as electric cars and wind turbines, have been referred to as “clean energy’s dirty little secret”.


The environmental difficulties are well illustrated by the Mountain Pass mine in California. Until it closed in 2002, the Mojave desert facility for a long time provided most of the world’s rare-earth metals, but the environmental cost was high. In the 1980s, its owners began piping its waste water, which carried radioactive waste, to evaporation ponds 14 miles away. However, the pipeline ruptured some 60 times — until it was shut down in 1998 — and 600,000 gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste flowed out into the surrounding desert. The company was eventually ordered to mount a major clean-up exercise and was fined more than $1m (£650,000).


Mountain Pass closed eight years ago because of the environmental difficulties and because the price of rare earths had dropped, making operations uneconomic. But China’s tightening of supplies has led to a decision by Mountain Pass’s new owners, Molycorp Inc, to reopen it. This year, the company issued shares to raise the $500m that restarting production will cost. One of the great prizes from reopening Mountain Pass will be the rare-earth mineral neodymium, which makes the world’s lightest and strongest magnets, essential for the electric motors of hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius, and for wind turbines.


Molycorp hopes to have the mine working again by late 2011 after negotiating environmental safeguards with no fewer than 18 California regulatory agencies. The company will be spending $2.4m a year on environmental monitoring and compliance — a cost its Chinese competitors may not have to bear.


But even if its products turn out to be more expensive, Molycorp has already signed supply contracts with customers both in the US and Japan, such is the demand for rare earths.


 The Independent 








 In the midst of the several incisive comments he made during a recent Walk the Talk interview with Shekhar Gupta, HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh made one profoundly distressing comment. He said, “... environment issues are coming in the way of development. Now, we want the environment to be protected, we want ecological improvements, but somewhere, we have to draw a balance. ... If we want growth, we have to make some sacrifices or take precautions. But you cannot say that you cannot give permissions.” He felt there was a disconnect between the industry and environment ministries; and that existing polluting industries should be cleaned up, but new entrants not blocked. 

This is, of course, a popular view: that the environment is a block and its protagonists are block-heads, opposed to every form of development; that environmental protection is some passing fad, antithetical to growth. 
The assertion about older industries being allowed to pollute freely is factually incorrect. The last 15 years have seen significant pollution control systems put in place: the moving of polluting units out of Agra and off the Ridge outside Delhi, the translocation of tanneries along the Ganga, new norms for air and water emission and more. It’s not complete, but it is being done. Closer home, the Patalganga river at Khopoli-Rasayani was once the recipient of enormous amounts of industrial effluent. Some industries shut down. Those that continued put in effluent treatment plants and filtration systems (today only the municipality continues to pump untreated sewage into the river). 


 More troubling is the view that the environment is opposed to development. It is not. You simply cannot have the latter without the former. The law has a favoured phraseology for this – sustainable development, intergenerational equity, the precautionary principle – and it also explicitly recognises that without environmental protection there can be no meaningful development. Every intervention involves some amount of environmental destruction; you minimise the damage when you can. Sometimes you cannot always ‘strike a balance’. In that situation the Supreme Court says: 


 “... If an activity is allowed to go ahead, there may be irreparable damage to the environment and if it is stopped, there may be irreparable damage to economic interest. In case of doubt, however, protection of environment would have precedence over the economic interest.” 


 In the 1970s a hydel project proposed in the Silent Valley region of Kerala threatened a vital rainforest, home to several endangered species including the lion-tailed macaque. The environmental movement saved the Silent Valley, and it was later notified as a National Park. What would have been gained by the project? What would have been lost? What was the correct “balance”? Similar are the horrific proposals for eight-lane expressways through the Kanha National Park. Nobody denies that we need good roads. Sometimes, though, the cost is just too high. Roads can go around. A tiger cannot. 

 In a chapter of his riveting book Collapse, Jared Diamond contrasts the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two countries with a shared landmass and widely divergent histories. One protected its forests, the other did not. One was careful with its environment, the other was not. One developed and became rich, the other did not. It is a simple mantra, too often forgotten: pollution impoverishes. Poverty pollutes. 


 In 1990, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund produced a chronicle of its work in shaping American environmental law and policy called Wild by Law. Each case history shows the environment trumping economic interests – a ski resort; timber logging; power plants. Each project was driven by an economic interest. Those interests were of far less value than the forests, wildlife and plateaus that were saved. 
    We now have the means to measure this loss. For the past two years, my friend Pavan Sukhdev has been on a sabbatical from his Deutsche Bank job heading an international team, TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), that has developed sophisticated methods of valuing biodiversity. TEEB presented a two-year report at Nagoya, Japan in October 2010 demonstrating the enormous economic value of biodiversity – forests, freshwater, soils, coral reefs – and measuring the socioeconomic costs of their loss. Our financial mandarins would do well to spend a little time with Mr Sukhdev. 


 Stubborn, vociferous and tenacious – environmentalists are all these things and more. The one thing they are not is stupid.




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





After several years of comfort, is India under pressure on the external account? The sharp rise in India’s current account deficit (CAD), by a whopping 72 per cent year-on-year, as shown in the latest balance of payments data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), suggests that the external account needs careful management. The rise in CAD has occurred both on account of a higher trade deficit, despite exports growing faster than imports during the last quarter, and a slowdown in foreign direct investment (FDI). The trade deficit of $35.4 billion was about 20 per cent higher than for the corresponding period last year. The capital account surplus increased slightly based on higher volumes of portfolio investment, external commercial borrowings (ECB) and short-term capital inflows. However, net foreign direct investment dropped alarmingly by two-thirds on year-on-year basis, due to both lower inflows and greater outward FDI by Indian firms.


A current account deficit is in itself not a bad thing. Several countries have run up current account deficits, especially during their respective phases of industrial take off, due to high technology imports to tool their domestic industrial sectors. Such strategies worked just fine in so far as these imports enabled higher volumes of manufactured exports, which eventually reduced the trade deficit. India needs to similarly focus on rapidly increasing the proportion of manufacturing exports to ensure that the external sector emerges as a significant driver of aggregate demand.


 It is the composition of capital flows into India in recent times that is a cause of greater concern. India’s current account deficit is being financed by short-term capital flows which, as the Financial Stability document of RBI has pointed out, is a cause for serious concern. Short-term capital flows, which increase both short-term debt and vulnerability, are notoriously foot loose and could exit at the first sign of trouble or better opportunity elsewhere, leaving India dangerously vulnerable. A healthy capital inflow mix would include a greater share of FDI, which is not only more stable, but brings with it a basket of benefits such as technology transfer, access to export markets, best management practices among others which can have economy-wide benefits, with the right policy mix in place.


The present scenario is unlikely to change significantly in the foreseeable future. Quantitative easing in the United States will lead to a surge of liquidity, which will find its way to star performing economies like India to leverage the interest rate differential. India’s ECB is headed north for the same reason. With Indian firms aggressively scouting for natural resources, commodities and technology abroad, outward FDI from India is also expected to increase sharply. Policy focus in India should necessarily be directed towards improving the global competitiveness of Indian exports and creating the enabling conditions to attract and retain FDI. A beginning has been made but progress is tardy. That needs to change.


India finds itself in a sweet spot with a rapidly growing economy, high levels of savings and investment and levels of foreign exchange reserves. A revitalised external sector can ensure that double-digit growth is not a flash in the pan. A dysfunctional external sector on the other hand can easily derail hard-earned progress.








Even as some major environment polluting countries have chosen to put on hold their plans for introducing domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trading, India seems set to go ahead with it, disregarding the imperfections in a market-based emission reduction mechanism. No doubt, some well-conceived initiatives and incentives are badly needed to encourage polluting industries to cut down harmful emissions. But, a government-run emission trading system may not yield sufficient gains. The scheme mooted for this purpose by the Union environment ministry, to be tried out initially on a pilot basis in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, envisages setting ceiling on permissible emissions of individual industrial units and issuing permits to them in accordance with their pollution quota. The industries which do not limit their pollution level can offset their default by buying permits from others. This essentially means that cash-rich polluting units can continue to pollute and yet claim compliance with pollution control requirements. Few countries outside Europe have gone in for domestic emission trading. Even Japan, one of the world’s largest polluters which had planned to introduce such trading, has now developed cold feet. The US, which has launched several kinds of market-based pollution control schemes, has also shown caution on domestic trading of all GHG emissions. It has chosen to limit such trading to only the oxides of sulphur and nitrogen that are believed to cause acid rain. The European Union has an elaborate internal emission trading system in place and is prodding other countries to also go in for it.


The genesis of market-based approaches for pollution control is traceable to the international carbon trading introduced under the clean development mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But even CDM has not sufficiently impacted the overall global GHG emission levels. Of course, carbon trading has led to transfer of some resources from the rich and polluting nations to the poor but low emitters. But, this has happened without the much-needed transfer of pollution mitigation technologies. Little wonder then that the recent Cancun summit on climate change failed to end uncertainty over the future of carbon trading-based CDM. To be successful, any domestic emission trading instrument will require technologically sound and an absolutely transparent system to fix pollution caps and the amount of emission permits to be allotted to each polluting unit. Besides, the actual pollution levels of each unit will need to be monitored regularly to work out their tradable emissions. Any error by the regulators in estimation of emission permits or actual emissions can distort the emission market apart from unfairly benefiting or penalising different industrial units.


 The existing pollution control boards, in their present avatars, do not seem capable of undertaking this arduous task. This would require either creation of new institutions or revamping and strengthening of existing ones. Moreover, ways and means would have to be found to minimise, if not wholly plug, the scope for malpractices, corruption and harassment. Clearly, more thinking is needed before a domestic emission trading system is put in place.









The hills are alive with the sound of 9 per cent growth! If you are seeking peace and quiet, don’t go to the Himalayas or the Ghats. Chances are your neighbours have already got there with cars honking and music booming. The meditating rishi has fled. Rambha has won!


Noise pollution is making India a terrible place to be. From big cities to small, the spread of electricity, prosperity, the upward mobility of newly enriched and assertive social groups and an utter disregard for the welfare of others are making not just urban life, but even semi-urban and small town life audibly intolerable.


 The sounds of celebration, of transportation and construction are all magnified by the sounds of social assertion. This cuts across religious communities, with Hindus and Muslims using loudspeakers to reach out to believers and non-believers. It cuts across social classes, with the lower middle class blaring music as loudly as the nouveau riche. The quietest today are the old rich and the traditionally poor. Everyone else honks.


There is a law against all this. And, it is exactly a decade old. In February 2000, the Union ministry for environment and forests enacted the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules. The Act begins with the recognition that there is “increasing ambient noise levels in public places from various sources, inter alia, industrial activity, construction activity, generator sets, loudspeakers, public address systems, music systems, vehicular horns and other mechanical devices” and states that these have “deleterious effects on human health and the psychological well-being of the people”. Consequently, the government considered it “necessary to regulate and control noise producing and generating sources with the objective of maintaining the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise”.


The law empowers the local police station officer to take action whenever complaints are received. It is, however, not often that a disaffected person suffering the consequence of noise pollution feels sufficiently compelled to approach a local police station. Often such disturbance may happen at a time of day or night when most people, especially senior citizens, do not feel sufficiently confident to approach a local police station and expect friendly and supportive response.


As a result, most people either choose to live with the problem, or use neighbourhood pressure to seek redressal. Such neighbourhood pressure would not work if the source of noise pollution is a community event, a religious event or an event sufficiently large for the mobilisation of a few disaffected neighbours to make any difference. Afraid to approach the police and unable to assert social pressure, most individuals suffer noise in silence.


This form of noise — coming from loudspeakers, workplaces and so on — can be termed “organised noise”, against which individuals find themselves helpless in seeking redressal, even though law protects them.


There is, however, another equally important, if more insidious, source of noise which may be called “unorganised noise”. This comes from badly functioning equipment, construction work, habitual honking, talking loudly in public places and the use of a range of household gadgets in crowded apartments. An increasing number of Indians, rich and poor, are victims of such noise pollution. There is rarely, if ever, an escape from such ubiquitous noise pollution.


The law does cover some of the sources of “unorganised noise” but an individual’s ability to make use of that law is limited. If a vehicle behind you is constantly honking, or your neighbour is using a food mixie, chances are you get irritated but can do very little about it, even though the noise pollution law, as cited above, covers noise emanating from all “mechanical devices”.


Just as air pollution is increasingly being controlled by the ban on technology that pollutes, noise pollution too can be contained to an extent by better regulation of technology. Loud horns for motor vehicles can be banned and the law implemented as strictly as air pollution norms are being implemented. Loudspeakers of a certain wattage can simply be banned, at the stage of manufacturing and sale, rather than just use. Construction equipment in public places must get noise level certification.


If there is adequate public mobilisation against noise pollution, as there has been over the past decade against air pollution, authorities will be forced to act. While laws are useful and law enforcers are required, there is really no lasting solution to noise pollution other than social pressure and education.


The media can play a big role, as it has indeed done in the case of a range of environmental issues, to increase public awareness and exert pressure on authorities to implement the existing law. Equally, public and governmental pressure should be brought on manufacturers of noisy vehicles, machines, equipment and so on to adhere to noise emission norms.


In a crowded country like India where people live in close proximity, and urban and semi-urban space is getting overcrowded, noise pollution is emerging as a major threat not just to individual health but also to social harmony and well-being.


This has both economic and social consequences. People who do not sleep well at night, because of noise pollution, cannot be very productive during the day. Nor can they be very amiable. A tired and irritated person is neither efficient, nor sociable.


Clearly, the individual disaffection caused by noise pollution can have negative and harmful social and economic consequences. Time is ripe for a major campaign against noise pollution. Schools and colleges must sensitise students to the hazards of noise pollution as much as they have come to do with respect to air pollution.








As Asia rings in 2011, will it ring in a new economic order too? For two generations, with India a conspicuous exception, much of Asia relied on global demand to power its growth. But as the world economy claws its way back from crisis, others are looking to Asia to step up and lead.


With the glaring exception of Japan, Asian economies are recovering earlier and stronger than nearly all others. And from Bangalore to Beijing, Asians have become a force on the global canvas — trading, building, investing, and innovating.


 Asians have assumed new weight in the G20 and Bretton Woods institutions. In May, as part of a general increase in capital, rich countries agreed to give up 3.1 percentage points of voting shares in the World Bank and to give emerging economies greater voting power. Bretton Woods is hardly the only table that matters in international relations. But the agreement made India the number seven shareholder in the Bank, with greater voting power than Russia, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.


Still, Asia’s major economies have not become assertive actors on the global stage. Two central questions, then, will be whether and how Asia’s most successful countries leverage their economic success into global clout in 2011.


Looking back, three things strike me about 2010:


First, Asia consolidated its role as the essential player, driving global recovery. Developing Asia, including China, India and five major Asean nations, maintained or exceeded 6.5 per cent economic growth in 2008 and 2009, a stark contrast to the advanced economies’ collective negative growth over the same period. Indeed, while the advanced economies are predicted to muster 2.1 per cent growth in 2010, this will be easily outstripped by developing Asia’s 8.4 per cent economic growth for the year.


Second, Chinese demand now powers much of Asia’s growth. Just consider South Korea: Long one of Asia’s best performers, Korea’s economy contracted by 5.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Yet it bounced back in 2010, with IMF projections reaching 6.1 per cent growth for the year, on the back of strong domestic, Chinese, Indian, and emerging market demand for Korean products. In fact, demand in China and Asia insulated South Korea’s economy somewhat from slowdowns in the US and Europe. So, persistent worries in Seoul about the export sector are as much about weakening demand in China, where growth is moderating, as they are about weakness in traditional markets.


Third, Asians continued to forge trade agreements and investment arrangements, often on a regional basis. By contrast, the US dithered until the eleventh hour on its free trade agreement with Seoul. One question for Washington will be whether — and how quickly — Washington gets back into the trade game in 2011.


My bet is that the dominant strategic pattern will be reinforced in 2011: Across Asia, Chinese demand is now a central driver of other countries’ economic growth, and, in many cases, China is the top trade partner. But Beijing’s long-term strategic intentions inspire deep anxiety.


As a result, economic and security policies will increasingly collide. Economic integration with China will tighten, but Asian countries will strengthen defence and political coordination with the US (and each other) as a hedge against Beijing’s expanding strategic weight.


Will 2011 be interesting? You bet.


At Eurasia Group, the political risk consulting firm where I run the Asia practice group, we’re watching several stories:


For one, currency intervention in Asia should rise as governments and central banks navigate the exchange rate thicket. US quantitative easing, inflation fears in emerging markets, and the effects of eurozone debt presage a tumultuous year for currency management in Asia. Governments will continue to intervene in markets, fiddle with interest rates, and potentially raise the cost of moving capital to limit both the pace and extent of currency appreciation.


Responses to inflation will diverge. Many governments will struggle to control inflation — the result of two years of expansionary monetary policies, government initiatives to limit currency appreciation, and food shortages from difficult harvests across Asia in 2010. The general goal will be to normalise monetary policies, but this will not happen at a uniform pace.


A new manufacturing geography will continue to emerge. Manufacturers in Asia confront higher labour, raw materials, and energy costs, and will reassess traditional production strategies more intensively in 2011. Already, we are witnessing a slow but visible relocation of some industrial production — within individual countries or within Asia — and significant upgrades of existing industrial bases. Trends suggest that China will become a more complex investment destination, featuring higher costs but also new consumer hubs. Lower-end manufacturing will expand to central and western China, or to Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, yielding new intra-regional manufacturing and trade hubs in Southeast Asia.


Asia’s infrastructure build-out should accelerate, particularly in China and India but also in Southeast Asia. Improvements have lagged or been neglected for years in many countries. In some, financing will prove a challenge even as governments unveil supportive policies. The murky regulatory regimes and political constraints that persist in many less-developed Asian countries will be a hurdle. But investors should notice improvements, particularly in Southeast Asia.


To my mind, 2010 was a bellwether for Asia. But 2011 should be more significant still.










Several clients have asked me over the last few days whether I agree with Swaminathan Aiyar’s argument that “the rupee is not too strong” (The Economic Times, December 22, 2010). My short answer is “No, I do not”, partly because he looks at only one side of the current account flows: exports. What about the import growth? In fact, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the exchange rate’s competitiveness is in the imbalance between our current external earnings and expenditure. And this, according to my estimate, could reach a horrendous figure of 7 to 8 per cent of GDP in 2010-11, representing a significant loss of output, growth and jobs. Even the current account deficit, as conventionally calculated, would be more than 4 per cent of GDP. And, this is not so much because of higher investment as this is because of reduced savings owing to a high exchange rate.


But Mr Aiyar has raised one pertinent question: which of the two real effective exchange rate (REER) indices (6-currency and 36-currency) published by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is more relevant as an indicator of the rupee’s competitiveness? He opts for the latter. The RBI seems to agree with him — in its policy statement of November 2, it said the rupee had appreciated 0.4 per cent on the basis of the latter index in 2010-11 up to October 22. After talking to a large number of exporters, as part of a study on the question of rupee invoicing, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that neither really is relevant, based as they are on bilateral trade-weighted exchange rates. Perhaps we need either a multilateral exchange rate model (MERM), which takes into account competitiveness in third markets or, more readily and simply, the weights need to reflect the invoicing currencies, and not bilateral trade.


 The reason is simple. If imports are more competitive than prices in the domestic market, in choosing the country from which to import, the importers will ask for prices not in their domestic currencies, but in a common currency, and then make their choices, whether to import from India, Bangladesh or Vietnam. Though the aggregate level of imports will be significantly influenced by domestic prices, the source of import will be determined by quotes in a common currency like the dollar. In other words, while the real exchange rate of a currency would influence the competitiveness of imports with domestic costs, the source of imports will depend on the prices in a common currency. Hence the argument that we need to use either a MERM index or invoicing currency weights as a proxy for MERM — imperfect, but still better than bilateral trade weights.


This argument is particularly strong in the case of countries manufacturing “undifferentiated” goods in their tradeables sector — that is, goods bought primarily on price considerations as distinct from technology, brand and so on. Such is the case of much of India’s tradeables sector. In fact, a visit to the corner shop and a look at the electrical accessories, furniture, furnishings and toys sold there is living proof of how uncompetitive our manufacturing has become with imports. Also, The Economic Times reported on December 22, “Indians find it cheaper to holiday abroad now” — and that we “import” American stars for the so-called reality shows. Not only are services like tourism and even tailoring becoming uncompetitive (it is now much cheaper to buy a made-to-measure suit in Bangkok than in Mumbai), but the Philippines is becoming an increasingly strong competitor in the BPO segment, and China in IT.


It would be foolish to ignore that once you lose a market (domestic or foreign), because of an overvalued exchange rate you may not be able to regain it even if you become competitive again. “Temporary” losses in markets can become structural and permanent; buyers get used to, and become comfortable with, other suppliers; domestic units shut down and it is difficult to revive them. One wonders whether our exchange rate policy, or lack if it, is because our authorities are pandering to financial markets, an Anglo-Saxon disease, or our need for external validation and recognition that we have “arrived”. It is sad that this should be happening under a prime minister who, in an earlier era, was the lone voice arguing for a competitive exchange rate.


But coming back to the RBI, its statement quoted above is at best disingenuous — it glosses over what happened in the previous fiscal year. By choosing a suitable starting point (and index) one could “prove” that the rupee has actually depreciated. This apart, the last two years (as also Q1 of 2007-08) represent a dramatic and substantive shift in the country’s exchange rate policy, consistently followed since the introduction of Liberalised Exchange Rate Management System (LERMS), with no public debate or even an announcement. Let us not forget that, in financial markets, the music does not play on forever; it can suddenly stop, and that can have major consequences for financial stability.  







Any investor who put her money in silver at the start of 2010 would have earned higher returns than those who focused on bonds, stocks, cash, commodities, gold and real estate. The metal delivered higher returns in the year than any of the other major investment classes. With returns of 50 and 70 per cent-plus over the last two years, silver has outperformed the traditional safe-haven metal gold and popular investment papers like stocks and mutual funds. Overall, though, only an extremely lucky investor can boast of being a multi-bagger in 2010.


Exchange-traded funds or growth-oriented equity funds, the safest ways to take exposure to equities, moved with gold, increasing the value of Rs 100 invested a year ago to Rs 122. Even small- and mid-cap stocks, which gave fabulous 100 per cent-plus returns in 2009, just about managed double-digit growth in 2010. Investments in the primary market through public issues averaged 9 per cent returns, significantly lower than Sensex stocks, which offered 15 per cent. This was because only 26 new issues of 66 offerings in 2010 currently quote above their issue prices.


 Real estate averaged 13 per cent returns in the major cities, though some smaller cities did better in certain pockets. On the debt side, government bonds and debt funds yielded 8 to 9 per cent returns with interest rates moving upwards from their 2008 and 2009 lows. As for investments in the US dollar, no surprises at a paltry 3 per cent return.


Nevertheless, 2010 proved fruitful for most assets classes. The outlook for 2011, however, is uncertain. The manner in which investors choose to position their portfolios at the start of this year will have a significant impact on their year-end returns. Today, the stock market is looking for direction and gold and silver prices at the current level are at their peaks.


So investors must plan for growth and stability, putting aside the political and financial issues. They must build an equity portfolio to include large-, mid- and small-cap growth and value stocks. With inflation running high, it makes sense to put money into funds with investments in short-duration paper and shift to longer-term maturity paper later. Locking into seven-, 10- or 15-year bonds at attractive rates should also be high on the list.










The subscription from the retail category for three recent initial public offering (IPOs) in December 2010 makes interesting reading.


The MOIL IPO, which had a quota of 11,524,800 shares and closed on December 1, was overwhelmingly over-subscribed 32.86 times.


The A2Z IPO, which had a quota of 7,465,918 shares and closed on December 10, was under-subscribed 0.33 times.


The Punjab & Sind Bank IPO, which had a quota of 13,300,000 shares and closed on December 16, was overwhelmingly over-subscribed 44.45 times.


Both in terms of number of shares reserved for the retail investors category and the response received, the Punjab & Sind Bank IPO was the biggest and the A2Z the smallest among these three IPOs. A2Z is a private


sector corporation in which Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, a stock market wizard touted as India’s Warren Buffett, has substantial investments. “The promoter Amit Mittal and the business model inspired me,” he said some time ago. Between March 31, 2007 and March 31, 2010, A2Z’s performance has been outstanding. Total income rose by 6.76 times, from Rs 181.29 crore to Rs 1225.30 crore; and its profit after tax rose even faster by 8.84 times, from Rs 11.15 crore to Rs 98.62 crore.


At the upper price band of Rs 410, the original investment of Rs 20 crore at Rs 10 per share made by Jhunjhunwala was expected to gallop in value to over Rs 800 crore. But when the stock listed on December 23, the highest price it could command, that too for a brief while, was Rs 390 and it nosedived to Rs 325 a couple of hours later. “A2Z Maintenance — heading below Rs 200 level soon, exit the stock immediately, the clout of ‘RJ’ is losing (in the) stock market,” advised a panic-stricken boarder on the message board.


What could have caused A2Z IPO’s lacklustre performance? Another significant point worth mentioning is, that the A2Z IPO was not being crowded out by other contenders. In fact, announced IPOs like One97 Communications and L7T Finance had actually been postponed.


Now take the case of MOIL and Punjab & Sind Bank. Both are public sector companies. MOIL touched Rs 591.05 when listed on December 15. At the time of writing, its price is hovering at Rs 460 to Rs 465. Against the IPO price of Rs 356.25 (after a 5 per cent discount), it is yielding a profit of around 24 per cent. The investment in the MOIL IPO has, therefore, been considered worthwhile.


The MOIL IPO, which planned to rake in Rs 1,260 crore, at its upper price of Rs 375, was the largest of the three. The A2Z issue at the upper price limit of Rs 410, which expected to rake in Rs 675 crore, was the second largest, while the Punjab & Sind Bank issue with Rs 480 crore as its target at the upper price band of Rs 120 was the smallest.








 PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh’s track record on projects that he takes to heart is sound. On the Indo-US nuclear deal, he risked his government, broke up with the Left, manoeuvred the Samajwadi Party’s support and comprehensively outmanoeuvred the Opposition. He knew the deal was crucial for India and that few people understood its significance, meaning if he did not fight for it, no one else would and it would fall by the wayside. Now, he has another project on hand, one even more crucial for India and in pursuing which he will stand in glorious isolation. This is cleansing the governance process. We are hopeful that Dr Singh did not make this new year resolution with the facile dedication that normally attends on such resolutions. Corruption today is not just a peripheral concern for moralists, but a major obstacle to India’s progress, something that should concern every realist as well. Corruption jacks up the cost of land, making hospitals and schools expensive, turning healthcare and education prohibitive for the majority. Corruption scuppers vital projects, delays them, alters masterplans and route alignments, drains the exchequer and makes the government underperform and underdeliver. It makes fools out of honest men, heroes out of crooks and rewards dishonest officials. Corruption turns a blind eye to RDX being smuggled in, forex being smuggled out. It excoriates faith in the system and prepares the ground for extremist ideologies. The system certainly needs cleansing. 


 The place to start, Dr Singh, is political funding. Political parties need to be governed, their fundraising and expenditure minutely audited and accounted for. That goes for his own party, too, and for his own partymen, including cabinet colleagues. Information technology must be deployed to make extensive book-keeping cost-effective and transparent to the public. Anyone should be free to challenge income and expenditure claims and an ombudsman should vet such challenges. IT can be used for concurrent social audit of all government schemes and projects. But IT is only a tool, political mobilisation of the people is the key to raise democratic vigilance to cleanse the system.






 IN HIS forward to the Financial Stability Report (FSR) the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, D Subbarao, likens central bankers to Sisyphus, the Greek mythological character condemned by the Gods to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll down. Again and again! The challenge for central bankers, he suggests, is even bigger as they have to manage multiple boulders at a time and only if they succeed in that multi-Sisyphean effort will they be able to keep the dynamic system stable. It is an apt, if unfortunate, choice of words because according to legend, Sisyphus never succeeded in his task. The FSR makes no bones about the challenges before the RBI. These include managing a widening current account deficit even as volatile elements dominate capital flows , rising inflation persisting along with tighter liquidity conditions, deteriorating asset quality of banks and hanging over all this, like a Damocles sword, a gargantuan government borrowing programme. It is small comfort that most of the tail risks to financial stability are exogenous. On the contrary, to the extent exogenous shocks are not amenable to the RBI’s control, it just makes the latter’s task more difficult. Worse, it reduces its chances of success. A major consolation is the marked improvement in the health of the banking sector as reflected in the Banking Stability Index. Going by the deterioration in gross NPA (non-performing assets) ratios of banks, the next stability report might not show them in such rude health. But for that the RBI, with its prolonged easy monetary policy is, perhaps, no less responsible than the banks. No wonder the governor has Sisyphus on his mind! 


Today, however, all of us desperately want central banks to succeed. With governments prone to short-termism and their eye on the main chance it is central banks with no political agenda that have to set the course and steer determinedly towards the shore. Whether it is the US Federal Reserve trying to breathe life into a moribund US economy with a second round of quantitative easing or the RBI attempting to balance the twin goals of growth and price stability, along with a host of other objectives like financial stability and financial inclusion, central banks are in a tight spot.






 EVERY once in a while a list pops up, either heralding the advent of a new ‘hot’ word’; a few years (and lists) down the line, these very words are then dumped for becoming frayed by over-use. It is not surprising, therefore, that words and phrases like viral (in its internet connotation, not bacterial), Mama Grizzlies (when referring to Palinesque political women not furry female behemoths in general), back story (a melange of the arcane ‘history’ and its contemporary cousin, ‘background’) and epic (as in gargantuan not a Cecil B deMille-spectacular) find themselves being flung out into this new year’s chill by the latest annual list of words to be ‘banished’, compiled by Michigan's Lake Superior State University. Many of the words proscribed by this list in previous years like ‘whatever’, ‘technically’, ‘basically’, ‘to be honest’, ‘really’ and ‘very’ are difficult to weed out simply because of their multi-purpose, utilitarian nature. To be honest, whatever their shortcomings, basically there are no better superior words technically, that can encapsulate the very wide of gamut of uses that each of these can be put to. Besides, what would the average TV anchor or public speaker do without these and other link words to tide over awkward pauses or allow the speaker to think quickly? 


 And then there are words that cannot be dispensed with simply because they offer shortcuts to describe a common activity that would otherwise need at least a dozen to elucidate. Try explaining what activities such as twittering, facebooking and googling entail in a way that is more succinct than using these very same neologisms as verbs. If it’s a choice between (incomprehensible) jargon and (overused) cliches, at least the cliches have the advantage of being familiar to a greater number of people!






 MONDAY morning blues are as much a part of life as the changing seasons and the old year giving way to the new. Scientists have an explanation for it. They say our internal clocks naturally operate on a day that is longer than 24 hours. So by the time Monday comes around we've built up a sleep deficit of at least an hour; hence the blues. 


But there is one exception to this rule: Despite the hangover from partying that leaves us even more sleep-deprived than usual, the first Monday of every New Year finds most of us a little less ‘blue’. There’s a feeling of hope, of unfulfilled promises of the previous year being redeemed, of new goals being set, and better still, achieved. 


 And here the good thing about 2011 is that there are hardly any expectations at all. The naïve belief of 2010 that the global economy would return to what Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, famously described as the NICE (non-inflationary consistent expansion) days of the pre-crisis days has been convincingly laid to rest. There is now a growing acceptance (albeit reluctant) that there are no easy fixes. We’re in for the long haul. The best we can do is hang in there, and together, if the global economy is to move from fire-fighting mode to a business-as-usual mode. 


 The problem is even hanging in there will not be easy; not when national interests conflict with global ones. Witness the protectionist measures by the US — banning out-sourcing and raising tariffs on Chinese goods — and the second round of quantitative easing (or printing money) undertaken by the US Federal Reserve. 


If reflating the US economy to keep recession at bay creates asset bubbles in commodity and emerging markets, there is clearly a need for coordinated global action, ideally orchestrated by the G20, to minimise its downsides. Unfortunately, we’ve seen none of that so far. The best we can hope for in 2011, therefore, is that various works-in-process (for which end-goals were set for 2010) will not get derailed and will come little closer to fruition during the year. 


 So what are the unfinished tasks that have been left for 2011? In the international arena, there are three. Rebalancing the world economy is one. The Doha Round of trade talks is another and a third, equally important, is a new agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol. All three are likely to remain works-in-progress in 2011. 


The G20 is nowhere near finding a solution to the underlying structural imbalance in the global economy that condemns us to a life interspersed with periodic repeats of 2008. Worse, with the pressure of a recession now having receded, the grouping has begun to look a bit jaded so don’t expect anything dramatic to emerge in the next 12 months. 


As for the Doha Round of talks, the multilateral trade agreement being negotiated among 153 member-countries since 2001 was originally to be concluded in 2004. Since then, it has missed several deadlines. And now with the US more focused on domestic compulsions, all we can hope for is some more summitry but no satisfactory conclusion. 


 On climate change the outlook is a little brighter. If the progress made at Cancun continues, by the time Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, we should have the rudiments of an alternative in place. Of course, it is only the first commitment period (for reduction of greenhouse gases by developed countries) that ends in 2012. To borrow a line from one of the senior negotiators, ‘Kyoto is not yoghurt; it does not have an expiry date’, so all the other provisions of the protocol will remain in place. 


THERE’S also the ticklish issue of the IFRS and US GAAP convergence. The G20 had set a June 2011 deadline for creating a single set of accounting rules, which essentially means thrashing out common ground between the International Accounting Standards Board and the US Financial Accounting Standards Board to give investors greater transparency. However, significant differences remain and in keeping with the new sense of pragmatism, the deadline has been extended until end 2011. 


 On the domestic front, there are two major initiatives pending on the tax front: the introduction of GST and the Direct Taxes Code (DTC). On the former, the gulf remains wide and given the present acrimony between the Centre and the opposition that rules in a majority of the states, chances of a breakthrough seem remote. The DTC is another kettle of fish. Theoretically, the Centre can push it through since, unlike GST, it does not need the states to sign on. But with the government busy fire-fighting on so many fronts and seemingly disinterested in pushing through any major reform, I’m a sceptic on this. 


 In the financial arena, guidelines for new bank licences will, hopefully, be finalised and without succumbing to the lobbying from corporate groups for grant of bank licences. The same circumspection must mark entry norms for new stock exchanges, ignoring the cacophony of protests to the Jalan Committee report from vested interests. 


 Withdrawal of economic crutches extended in 2009 with an eye on the elections remains a challenge. The economy has responded magnificently to the stimulus but, as more and more international agencies are pointing out, it cannot continue on steroids. The FM will have to take some tough decisions — and fast — before a withdrawal is forced on us by circumstances beyond our control. 


 On the Women’s Reservation Bill, I’d like to believe it will happen though I know deep down, that it is just wishful thinking. If past experience is any indication, this is one Bill that is fated to be forever pending. The ruling alliance has the numbers, the main opposition party, the BJP supports it and most important of all, both the Congress and the BJP (in the Lok Sabha) have women at their helm, but the will is not there. 


 None of these challenges is insurmountable. Especially since much of the hubris that marked the closing months of 2009 and gave rise to ambitious deadlines in 2010 has been replaced with pragmatism (I might have called it resignation, except that I too am imbued with the New Year spirit!). All it calls for is perseverance and faith in the collective future of the human race. To quote former US President Ronald Reagan, ‘No arsenal, no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.’ As long as there are free men and women, the rest will follow. Have a great 2011!








 DR REDDY’S Laboratories Ltd (DRL), one of India’s largest medicine makers, is readying its blueprint to bite into the revenues of the big boys of pharma: the MNCs. With the industry on a transformation mode, the $1.56-billion company is also reinventing itself to reach the next orbit of growth. Satish Reddy, managing director and chief operating officer of DRL, says his company is all set to tap the huge generic market worldwide. This is because Indian companies edge out their global peers in terms of cost efficiency as Indian generics are 15-25% cheaper than those manufactured by other companies elsewhere. 


 “In the US, which is the largest pharma market in the world, drugs worth over $100 billion are going off-patent in the next five years. We are well poised to tap the US generic opportunity as we have a good coverage of products that are going off-patent. We are also seeing exponential growth opportunity in the biosimilar segment in the US in the long term,’’ says Reddy. 


But are Indian companies ready for the kill yet? Although Indian companies have matured over the years, experts foresee fierce completion as multiple companies have been granted the Abbreviated New Drug Application, including Para IV approval for the same molecule. 


In the US, DRL has already settled legal procedures on some of these products. There is certainty of those products making it to the market. Others are going through litigation and their launch is contingent on the outcome. DRL is also gearing up to expand its over-the-counter (OTC) drug portfolio in the US. “We have already got a boost from the launch of omeprazole (AstraZeneca's Prilosec) in the market. Some products will switch from prescription to OTC. We have an adequate portfolio of these products,’’ he says. 


 However, the company will have to wait longer to launch a biosimilar in the US market as regulatory pathway is not clear. But Europe looks more promising for biosmilars. “We have already taken initiatives of introducing one of our monoclonal antibodies in the European market. It’s a long-term strategy and will take at least five-six years to launch a biosimilar in Europe,’’ he says. 


Besides the US, governments worldwide are encouraging the use of generic drugs to curb the rising healthcare expenditure. Indian companies have an edge over others to explore this opportunity due to their lowcost manufacturing base and large portfolio. Reddy feels the macroeconomic problems can have an impact on the usage of generics. 


 Japan, the third largest economy in the world, is also pushing for generics due to its ageing population and high healthcare costs. DRL is currently scouting for a local partner to market its products there. 


The company is planning to expand in the Russian market, that generated $150 million sales in FY10, as well. “We will try to get into leadership position in those markets. One big opportunity is OTC which is about 40% of the Russian market. We are present in the market in a small way. We are also expanding our portfolio with in-licensing agreements. We have already signed in-licensing deals with Merck-Europe and Cipla. Besides, we are also focusing on our own products, especially in gastrointestinal and cardiovascular segments. We expect double-digit growth in the Russian market,’’ he says. 


Talking about India, he says that despite increased competition from MNCs, Indian companies have an advantage at home. “The strength of Indian companies will be their portfolio. They know the market well and have penetrated deep into the market. They are also able to do enough innovations in terms of combination or their own line extensions using their own dosage forms by which they are able to manage lifecycle of the big brands very well,’’ he says. 


 He reckons there is scope for consolidation in India. “The market was so fragmented that it was always right for consolidation. One of the distinct advantages of MNCs is that they will pay such high valuations while Indian companies will not,’’ he says. 


 The company is also aiming to penetrate the rural segment and fine-tune strategies for this segment, including diagnostic procedures and physician education to increase its marketshare. “The growth rate of the Indian market is over 15%-plus and that’s the kind of growth we can expect here,’’ he says.






 THE central insight of macroeconomics is a fact that was known to John Stuart Mill in the first third of the 19th century: there can be a large gap between supply and demand for pretty much all currently produced goods and services and types of labour if there is an equally large excess demand for financial assets. And this fundamental fact is a source of big trouble. 


 A normal gap between supply and demand for some subset of currently produced commodities is not a serious problem, because it is balanced by excess demand for other currently produced commodities. As industries suffering from insufficient demand shed workers, industries benefiting from surplus demand hire them. The economy rapidly rebalances itself and thus returns to full employment — and does so with a configuration of employment and production that is better adapted to current consumer preferences. 


 By contrast, a gap between supply and demand when the corresponding excess demand is for financial assets is a recipe for economic meltdown. There is, after all, no easy way that unemployed workers can start producing the assets — money and bonds that not only are rated investment-grade, but really are — that financial markets are not adequately supplying. The flow of workers out of employment exceeds the flow back into employment. And, as employment and incomes drop, spending on currently produced commodities drops further, and the economy spirals down into depression. 


Thus, the first principle of macroeconomic policy is that because only the government can create the investmentgrade financial assets that are in short supply in a depression, it is the government’s task to do so. The government must ensure that the money supply matches the full-employment level of money demand, and that the supply of safe savings vehicles in which investors can park their wealth also meets demand. 
    How well have the world’s governments performed this task over the past three years? In East Asia (minus Japan), governments appear to have been doing rather well. Shortage of demand for currently produced goods and services and mass unemployment no longer loom as the region’s biggest macroeconomic problems. Flooding their economies with liquidity, maintaining exportfriendly exchange rates, and spending to employ workers directly and boost the supply of safe savings vehicles have made the Great Recession in East Asia less dire than it has been elsewhere. 


In North America, governments appear to have muddled through. They have not provided enough bank guarantees, forced enough mortgage renegotiations, increased spending enough, or financed enough employment to rebalance financial markets, return asset prices to normal configurations, and facilitate a rapid return to full employment. But unemployment has not climbed far above 10%, either. 


The most serious problems right now are in Europe. Uncertainty about how, exactly, the liabilities of highly leveraged banks and over-leveraged peripheral governments are to be guaranteed is shrinking the supply of safe savings vehicles at a time when macroeconomic rebalancing calls for it to be rising. And the rapid reductions in budget deficits that European governments are now pledged to undertake can only increase the likelihood of a full double-dip recession. 


The broad pattern is clear: the more that governments have worried about enabling future moral hazard by excessive bailouts and sought to stem the rise in public debt, the worse their countries’ economies have performed. The more that they have focused on policies to put people back to work in the short run, the better their economies have done. 

This pattern would not have surprised 19th century economists like Mill or Walter Bagehot, who understood the financial-sector origins of industrial depression. But it does seem to surprise not only a great many observers today, but also a large number of policymakers. 


 (The author is professor of economics at the     University of California at Berkeley and     a research associate at the National     Bureau for Economic Research)     © Project Syndicate, 2010








BENJAMIN Franklin recounts a tale of negligence — for want of just a nail, the shoe was lost and later, in consequence, the horse, the rider, the battle and ultimately the kingdom too were lost. 


The ‘minutiae’, thus, are of paramount importance. Applied to all aspects of excellence, a right approach in this regard goes to make that vital difference. A student who provides also for the needed prerequisites or a singer, who gives as much importance to caring for his throat and health as to his knowledge of music or a sportsman, who bestows enough attention on his kit and fitness too: these are examples of caring for the basics. 


 In human relations also, tangible rewards are obtained through elementary issues as a kind word, which costs nothing or cheerfulness or paying a compliment or merely through a smile, which often goes many a mile! 
    Delighting in ‘all things bright and beautiful’ and also feeling empathy for ‘full many a flower’, which is ‘born to blush unseen’ to ‘waste its sweetness in the desert air’ and also sympathising with the suffering around — these virtues, simple and ordinary, though they may appear, serve to ultimately confer that broadness of outlook, so necessary for true peace andthus, for focus and efficiency. 


 Two observations of Mother Teresa are highly relevant in this regard — “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies” and also “we can do no great things, only small things with great love”. One of such ‘small things’ is, besides goodness, also effective planning with briskness and effectiveness. 


The more intelligent time spent in planning a task, the less would be the total time and energy that would finally be needed for it. This also serves to obviate needless agony and frustration. The reason why a person who pays attention to even small details is successful is because such a person also has the capacity to bestow care to bigger issues as well, such as hard work, application and persistence. 


 Lawrence D Bell, the American industrialist notes aptly, “Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I'll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.” 


 The Bible, too, elaborates (Luke: 16, 10) on being ‘faithful in that which is least’. In this art of paying attention even to the ‘least’ details, lie the seeds of enduring rewards, which, surely, will flower forth!










One of the disquieting features of the organised economy in the year gone by was the poor capture of its quarterly movements by official data. Who can forget the flip-flop over the fluctuations in the demand components of GDP for the first quarter, with the Central Statistical Organisation nearly tripling its growth rates within 32 hours of the first pronouncement or the excessive volatility in capital goods growth rates between the first and second quarters? Such flip-flops add to the doubts about the depth of growth in the industrial economy in 2011. No such doubt attends to the financial sector and, for a pretty accurate picture of where it stands, the Reserve Bank of India's second Financial Stability Report (FSR) offers some definitive clues.


On the whole, the FSR finds the financial sector that weathered the financial crisis, post-September 2008 and particularly since the first FSR in March, to be “stress-free”; banks have so far not been scarred by bad loans, asset-liability mismatches, though current account deficits, volatile capital flows and inflation could take their toll. This is indeed one of India's shining spots: when the world was preaching de-regulation and urging full capital convertibility both in the late 1990s and before the September 2008 meltdown, India remained committed to calibrated approaches to financial liberalisation. In hindsight, as has been acknowledged by global experts, the Indian policymaker and particularly the RBI, was right in pitching for caution. It would, therefore, not be too far off the mark to say that, despite its relatively small capital base, the banking sector today stands tall on the world stage. Having said that, systemic risks remain; the second FSR “points to some discernible soft spots”: the widening current account deficit that will become 3 per cent of GDP, the highest in two decades, the volatile components that dominate capital flows and the unyielding inflation. But the RBI should also have mentioned an internal weakness, not as debilitating as exogenous factors in its impact but potent enough to cause the sector's growth to slow: the oft-noticed trend of corporate borrowers to tap non-banking sources of finance, including external borrowings. With interest rates at a historic low in contrast to India, banks could find their business being chipped away.


At the end of the day, however, it is heartening to learn that India's banking system is in good shape and ready to take on the world. Their health constitutes the best takeaway from that old morality tale: caution and prudence always pays.








More than Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India it is President Hu Jintao's journey to Washington that will determine the course of trade in 2011.


One of the major highlights of 2010 for India was the star-lit visit of, among others, the Chinese Prime Minster, Mr Wen Jiabao, last month. For India, the visit had more commercial than strategic value; six agreements were signed for collaboration in areas as diverse as banking and green technology: China views the Indian market with keen avidity, given the desire of Indian companies for cheap technology equipment.


For his part, Mr Wen Jiabao promised more access to Indian companies but on strategic issues such as a sound condemnation of Pakistan or a ringing endorsement of India's desire for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, he was silent.


Given the desperation with which Indian opinion has sought both from every dignitary that has come to India in the last three months, Mr Wen was a bit of a disappointment. After all, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, who obliged us heartily by ticking off Pakistan and approving a place for us at the United Nations high table, set the standard.


Compare the Chinese premier's visit with the upcoming visit of the Chinese President, Mr Hu Jintao's to the US next month.


Currency tensions


In Washington, the main item on the agenda is bound to be China's obdurate reluctance to appreciate its currency or even admit that it has been the prime cause for the current state of the American and, by implication, of the world economy. The issue appears as bilateral as trade between India and China. But, in fact, it is much more; the outcome of that meeting between Presidents Obama and Hu will shape the contours of the currency tensions, sometimes on the boil, most often simmering between the world's leading trading partners: in the bargain, the intensity of the tension will also determine the future course of world trade in 2011.


For years, China has kept its currency artificially weak to get its exports a competitive edge, much to the chagrin of the US administration; but both Mr Clinton and Mr George W. Bush were satisfied with an occasional chastisement of the Chinese tendency to keep its yuan weak that fobbed off American imports and allowed America to enjoy the goods of an economy based on sweated labour, from diapers to computer chips. But those were good times for America.


Quantitative easing


When Mr Obama took office, he inherited a recession that is now being termed the “Great Recession,” and the persistence of low growth in the US, despite his bailouts and stimulus packages, has egged on American hostility towards China. Since the Chinese won't play ball, the US Federal Reserve Board reckons its policy of “quantitative easing,” ostensibly meant to fuel the economy's recovery by putting money into the banks, will help weaken the dollar against the Chinese yuan, forcing the latter upwards.


But the strategy isn't working for two related reasons: the huge dollar corpus with financial entities has been fuelling, all through the year, equity markets in emerging economies rather than jobs in the US, forcing countries other than China into the currency “war” and goading them to keep their currencies from appreciating.


In effect, the face-off between China and the US has now spread to other nations keen to preserve their export advantage through weaker exchange rates as much as China. One way many emerging economies are doing this is through physical controls on capital inflows.


Whither the IMF?


President Hu's visit to the US acquires significance against this enlarged backdrop of currency concerns and, more importantly, the possibility that 2011 might have to harvest the bitter fruits of a currency beggar-thy-neighbour-policy, that even the IMF may be unable to control.


One sign of the multi-lateral agency's helplessness was evident at the recent Seoul meeting of the G-20, where Americans were virtually ranged against a battery of countries, from Germany to China, eager to retain their weak currencies and their current account surpluses; all the IMF could do was piously hope for a solution.


But it is not just the IMF whose status as the arbiter of exchange rate stability is under threat; with world trade now the victim of the currency wars and the prospect of protectionism, the World Trade organisation (WTO) that has been carrying the Doha Round under its arm for members to agree to may find itself out in the cold.


Multi-lateral trade


It is bad enough that bilateral agreements undercut its relevance as the arbiter of smooth multi-lateral trade. Currency tensions reflect a disturbing asymmetry in world trade, with a greater number of countries becoming non-commodity exporters than there are importers.


If almost every emerging economy with a decent industrial base is keen to enter the export market (and thus keep its currency from appreciating), the US, that is virtually the biggest market for the world's goods, is going to get miffed.


As 2011 gets under way, some key changes initiated in the previous year will gather pace. Unless Presidents Hu and Obama hammer out an accord wherein the Chinese agree to a faster appreciation of the yuan, world trade itself may remain stymied — all the more so if the Western economies do not emerge from their miseries. Europe is facing a winter of discontent, the US a puzzling austerity, given that federal aid for states was large enough to fund a smart recovery in jobs.


Which is why India must pay as much attention to Mr Hu's visit to the US as Mr Wen's to New Delhi. Just how bilateral trade will pan out between India and China will depend a lot on how the US and China hammer out a deal on currency adjustments, multi-lateral trade and India's prospects for sustained growth in 2011.













As growth in< India and China provides more people the opportunity to emerge from poverty and tribulations into middle and upper-class status, we are bound to see more fist-pumping as demonstrations of such success.


Charitable organisations in the US become especially active calling for donations towards the end of the calendar year, with not-so-subtle reminders that the tax year is also coming to an end and those who want deductions should act soon.


So the recent announcement by Mr Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social networking site Facebook, that he has signed the Giving Pledge, is likely to have prodded the thought processes of some others at the higher ends of the tax bracket.


Started by Mr Warren Buffet and Mr Bill Gates, two leading corporate titans- cum-philanthropists, the Giving Pledge hopes to inspire wealthy individuals to follow their lead and give away a majority of their wealth in their lifetime to charitable causes.


Mr Zuckerberg, at 26, is most decidedly the youngest of the bunch. It is creditable that he has leapt into philanthropy so early in his life. Those who are successful would first like to show the world that they have made it. That first stage, before one starts thinking of ways to save the world, is to spend a few years on the celebrity circuit, being photographed with various aspiring stars, sunning on a yacht or two, getting that customised corporate jet, and so on.


These are the corporate equivalents of the ‘fist-pump'. Haven't you noticed the tennis player who has executed an un-returnable serve, and then pumps his fist in the air? Or the football player who has just shot a goal, and feels the need to take off his shirt and wave it about? A demonstration of accomplishment! You need to show the world that you have arrived. It is even more sweet if you started really low, and through sheer dint of hard work and determination pushed to reach heights.


Mansion in the sky


But I had a tough time making sense of another recent fist pumping the air. From what I know, Mr Mukesh Ambani had a privileged upbringing. He had a running start and, to his credit, is running a good race. He has built an empire that he needs to be proud of and hopefully he will continue to build more of it.


Yet, his business accomplishments don't seem to be enough to satisfy his ego. I refer to the announcement that a 27-floor building, that would be his personal residence, had been inaugurated.


For some time now, there have been various tongue-hanging-out reports circulating in the Web about this house. The number of floors, what's in each floor, the number of rooms, swimming pools, helipads, and so on. But this report that I read was quoting a socialite who had actually been an invited guest and was gushing about what she saw. Apparently, all the earlier reports did not do sufficient justice to the excesses! Sounds like the corporate equivalent of other demonstrations of success, like the politician's diamond studded crown or garlands of banknotes.


Writer Salman Rushdie, in an interview on US television, was asked by a caller to comment on this new house. He called it a ‘comic absurdity.' I agree. This is supposed to be a 27-floor building but each floor has such high ceilings that it is equivalent to 63 floors. It has 10 floors of car park, for Mr Ambani's cars, not for guests. Reading all this can be amusing. Even more so, when you think of it as a house with the best view of the slums of Mumbai.


Although Mumbai is an island, we don't live in an island, if you know what I mean. We live in a society that teaches us a lot of things. And one of the things that Indian society seems to tell us is that you do not live ostentatiously. ‘ Tena tyaktena bhunjitah' (enjoyment in renunciation) as the Isavasya Upanishad would have it.


The traditional practice among the very wealthy is to play it down. Perhaps it is from a feeling of guilt that they have been given more than others have and so they do not want to flaunt it. Perhaps it comes from a genuine concern from not wanting to heighten the existing wide divisions in society. It may be a combination of both.


Gandhi, who chose to wear a loin cloth and live in an ashram, did not expect everyone else to do so. But he recognised the need for some fist pumping. He wanted us to keep the amount we thought we needed, but to think of the rest of our wealth as being held in trusteeship for society and act accordingly.


Gandhi was not a communist, and did not want the government to use force to achieve this. He wanted the wealthy to do it voluntarily. Using his yardstick, I find it difficult to believe that Mr Ambani feels that he ‘needs' this 27-storey house. But to begin the year on a more positive note, I also read about Mr Azim Premji's recent donation of a few thousand crores of his personal wealth to an irrevocable trust that would fund various social, not-for-profit initiatives, especially in the area of education. Gandhi would have been thrilled to read about it. The donation will probably do a lot for the children living in those slums that you can see from Mr Ambani's bedroom.


As India's and China's growth is providing more and more people the opportunity to emerge from poverty and

tribulations into middle and upper-class status, we are bound to see demonstrations of success.


Two models


Increased consumption of richer foods is leading to obesity and attendant health problems. Weddings have become occasions to spend on the gaudy rather than to celebrate. But looking at Mr Ambani and Mr Premji, we have two alternative models to follow.


Both went to good educational institutions, grew up in business-owning families, and rather than sitting back, built on the wealth they inherited several-fold. But they have chosen different ways of showing their success. There is perhaps a lesson in it for all of us.


(The author is Professor of International Business and Strategic Management at Suffolk University, Boston, US.)









As globalisation takes root and the inter-connectivity of the global economy asserts itself, the demand for management education too is experiencing exponential growth. Nowhere is the craze more conspicuous than in India. The number of MBA graduates churned out by roughly 2,000 government-approved B-Schools in the country is around 200,000. China has some 200 B-Schools and an annual turnover of 40,000 graduates, while the corresponding figures for the US are around 900 schools turning out 150,000 MBAs annually.


As per an interestingly different comparative analysis of the figures made by the Technopak Consulting Group, India has 100 management school seats per billion dollars of GDP, as against six in China, 11 in the US, and 13 in the UK. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are flooded with applications from 200 new institutions every year for accreditation of their MBA courses.


With the numbers registering a steep rise exceeding 20 per cent every year, it is becoming difficult to separate the chaff from the grain. B-Schools are sprouting nearly everywhere, and there is hardly a University or College which does not have a department of management of its own.


In view of the hypnotic spell cast by management degrees and diplomas, unscrupulous operators have made a lucrative business of it, running outfits which have no infrastructure, qualified faculty or certification by the AICTE or the UGC.


Management education has become a sort of El Dorado, with aspirants willing to pay whatever asked for in the hope of making up in the placements and salaries they hope to command.


Sky-rocketing fees


The result is that fees are sky-rocketing with no regulating authority going into whether they are commensurate with the quality of education and teaching and the employability of the products.


A more disturbing aspect is that most of the so-called B-Schools are content to be clones of each other, offering identical courses in identical nomenclature and parroting identical jargon, in unabashed imitation of Western B-Schools, especially those of the US.


They take particular pride in flaunting their tie-ups with B-Schools abroad, importing a large number of their faculty members and case studies at a huge cost. Most of the case studies generated abroad make no attempt to draw on the lessons provided by the phenomenal achievements of India's own public sector institutions and civil society.


Their Governing Bodies are dominated by private sector luminaries, Western scholars and some like-minded Indian academics. There is no display in the premises of any of the B-Schools I have visited of the geniuses of this great country whose profound insights could vastly enrich the quality of management education, and make it relevant to India's cultural and social contexts.


Terrible botching up

Western management prescriptions have been found to be wanting, even in the West, judged by the terrible botching up of the aftermath of the Katrina disaster and the total unpreparedness of the industrial countries for the devastating financial crisis.


They can only be of minimal help in finding Indian solutions to Indian problems viewed through Indian eyes. In India, the glittering complexion of the Governing Board of a premier B-School could not stop a founder-member from getting involved in a shocking criminal case; nor did the expertise of its Dean in Western modes of running a business stop the company of which he was a member of the Board and Chairman of the Audit Committee from inflicting a Rs 7,500 crore fraud on the nation.


Foreign B-Schools and exotic gurus may enjoy a certain brand image, and even have certain intellectual and research credentials, but they are basically frogs-in-the-wells, familiar only with political, economic, cultural and social milieus of their own countries, with limited understanding of the bewilderingly complex and diverse Indian setting.


I would very much like to see evidence of more self-respect in India's B-Schools. That, and a certain passion to plug into India's genius and heritage.









This compilation of Dr Tarapore's articles provides a commentary that will prove invaluable to future historians of the Reserve Bank of India.


It was Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, who said that the only thing wholly good in the world was goodwill. Measured by that yardstick, Savak Sohrab Tarapore, former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), savant, eminence grise on a permanent public retainer and now an esteemed columnist for this newspaper, scores a perfect 10. He was, if you will, for close to a decade, the Gundappa Vishwanath of Indian central banking, leaving it to others to be a Gavaskar or a Tendulkar.

No further proof is needed than this book, a compilation of articles written for the Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar. How many central bankers can you think of — and until 1996, when he retired from the RBI, he was a leading one — who would bother to write in a ‘vernacular' paper?


These essays also show Dr Tarapore's doggedness in doing the right thing. At the best of times, monetary policy and its pretentious attendants are arcane, complex and jargon-ridden. But, for the reasonably well educated and intelligent reader at least, these essays should pose no great intellectual challenges.


Collateral purpose


They also serve a collateral, if unintended, purpose by providing a running commentary that will prove be invaluable to future historians of the RBI. Only one or two others have done so, that also mostly in this newspaper.


Until recently, it was Mr S. Venkitaramanan, former RBI Governor who saw India through the crisis of 1991. (The publishers of this book should publish Mr Venkitaramanan's articles also after suitable editing. The reader will get a 2-in-1 perspective – of a former finance secretary and former RBI governor).


The other is Dr Kanakasabapathy who served as the head of the Monetary Policy Division and later as Secretary to the two Tarapore Committees on capital account convertibility and then the joint Finance Ministry-RBI Committee on Financial Sector Assessment (CFSA).


Most of the essays in this book are topical, as they have to be when written for a newspaper. But the way to read these essays is not to dwell too much on the topics.


When the pieces click


Instead, the reader should focus on the subject, if only to gain an understanding of the moving bits and pieces of monetary policy. And, then, when you hear the ‘click', you know these moving pieces have come together in the way they should.


No one made them click more often than S. S. Tarapore. He can still do it. His essays in this book, on whether to use forex reserves to finance infrastructure or on how to cope with capital inflows, whether on capital account convertibility on which he chaired two committees or on how to use protect the RBI's virtue by not allowing its balance sheet to be violated are witness to this.


In the end, the Government and the RBI mostly do go along with his advice. But sometimes they don't and then Dr Tarapore simply sighs with disappointment in his essays and in the knowledge that they will soon realise the error of their ways.


One thing that Dr Tarapore feels very strongly about is the plight of the small saver who is usually left holding the short end of the stick because of flawed Government policies. His articles on this topic clearly bring out the anguish of a small saver who has to watch himself becoming poorer either because of inflation or Government folly.


Like all good men, he too has some bees in his bonnet. He thinks exchange rate policy should cater to the needs of exporters.


He overlooks, however, the fact a stronger rupee only lowers exporters' profits, sometimes from unconscionably high levels, to more reasonable ones. Also, in a country that doesn't produce as much as it needs, cheap imports are a must.


Another bee is relates to gold. But this is a good bee, as opposed to a bad one. Dr Tarapore has for long held the view that India must manage its gold reserves better, and add good quality gold to them. Happily, after long years of ambivalence, India has begun to adopt the Tarapore view more actively.


It recently bought 200 tonnes from the IMF! That must have been a very sweet vindication for a man who had seen India mortgage its gold during the crisis of 1991.







                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




As the aam aadmi across the nation indulged in anguished debate on whether India has hit rock-bottom on the issue of high corruption, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, took the dirty bull by the horns when she set out a five-point action plan in her address to the Congress plenary last month to fight the scourge. Her prescription ran thus: fast-tracking all corruption cases against public servants, including politicians; taking forward the proposal of state funding of elections; legislative and clear procedures to ensure transparency in public procurement; shedding of discretionary powers by chief ministers and all ministers, including at the Centre, especially in land allotments as they “breed corruption”; and, an open competitive system of exploiting natural resources. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, kept his promise to that plenary session to follow up on that roadmap and got the PMO to quickly prepare a draft note. The Congress core group, comprising Mrs Gandhi, Dr Singh, finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee, defence minister Mr A.K. Antony and Mrs Gandhi’s political secretary, Mr Ahmed Patel, met on Friday to discuss the PMO note. The group is said to have considered promulgating an ordinance, if existing laws are found inadequate, to ensure that the five-point plan rolls out clean administration in good time. With five states going to elections this year, it is important for the Congress, hit by a few hugely embarrassing scams in recent months, to come up with serious mechanisms to fight corruption. But then, some of Mrs Gandhi’s suggestions are almost impossible to handle. Take, for instance, the state funding of elections. Everyone knows that fighting elections has become hugely expensive these days, what with stories from places like Madurai that the bidding price for one vote has gone up beyond `1,000. And Tamil Nadu happens to be one of the states going to polls this year. Experts argue that it would be virtually impossible for the state to fund elections because there cannot be an acceptable pattern of distribution of money. For instance, if `5,000 crore is budgeted for state funding, how will it be distributed between the Congress, the BJP, the NCP, Samajwadi Party and so on? Also, state funding of Parliamentary elections will automatically have to be followed by state funding of Assembly elections, and then of panchayat elections. Serious legal and constitutional issues are involved. Besides, this will surely lead to the floating of bogus parties that only want to claim election funds. The suggestion of shedding discretionary powers by ministers is welcome and implementable. A beginning could be made by getting all the Congress chief ministers and Union ministers to jettison their discretionary powers. Even the common man knows that contemplating new ordinances apart, just the implementation of existing laws, including the Prevention of Corruption Act, could bring a sea change to Indian polity.









No one can possibly dispute that the last year of the first decade of the 21st century has been India’s year of unending scams, scandals and shame. Even more mortifying is the thought that the year that has just dawned is unlikely to be any better and may indeed turn out to be worse. For, the scourge of venality, graft, corruption and gross abuse of power that has been eating into the nation’s vitals has been multiplying itself so fast and so far as to boggle the mind. Nor is there anything to show that this terrible trend is weakening.


Incredible though it may seem the shape of things to come in independent India was foreshadowed in the events that took place a decade before the tryst with destiny, to go back no farther than that. During the short period of two years between 1937 and the start of World War II in 1939, when the Congress, then a freedom movement, was in power in nine provinces under the British scheme of diarchy, the Mahatma was deeply disturbed by some incidence of malfeasance among Congress ministers.


The most notable was the case of K.F. Nariman, an intrepid and upright Congressman in Bombay who had protested against the shenanigans of those making money from the reclamation of the city’s marine lines. For his pains, he was hounded out of the party on the charge of “maligning” the Congress! Only after Independence was his honour restored. The new reclamation area south Bombay was named Nariman Point. Ironically, it later became the focal point of enormous corrupt activity.


There was corruption during the Nehru era but on a relatively modest scale compared with today’s standards. Also, some wrongdoers were actually punished which hardly happens now. A senior member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) was sent to prison for accepting some bottles of whisky and such items in return for favours granted. A chief minister of a hurriedly cobbled unit of former princely states that eventually merged into Madhya Pradesh was arrested and jailed for taking a bribe of Rs 10,000.


Pratap Singh Kairon in Punjab and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed in Kashmir, both chief ministers notorious for their misdeeds, were indulged for quite some time for “urgent political reasons” but eventually eased out. Only in the case of Krishna Menon, allegedly involved in the Jeep Scandal during the first Kashmir War, did Nehru refuse to act on the ground that the charge was baseless. But his closest friend and cabinet colleague, Maulana Azad, made his displeasure known to the Prime Minister.


It was in the 1970s that the country started sliding down the slippery slope so swiftly and brazenly as to lead to today’s monumental mess. After Indira Gandhi achieved supremacy in the Congress and the country her henchmen started believing that they had earned the right to enrich themselves with impunity. When exposed or caught they told Madam that the Opposition’s attack was not on them but her. Declaring that corruption was a “global phenomenon”, she started stonewalling all demands for an inquiry. This has now become the established pattern no matter which party or combination is in power. Today, nine Indians out of every ten would not know who Tulmohan Ram was. In the ’70s the case associated with his name, like that about A.R. Antulay’s trusts, had become the byword for egregious corruption. Tulmohan was a harmless and clueless backbencher from Bihar. His superiors in the party, including fund-collectors, ordered him to sign a petition on behalf of some dubious characters in Pondicherry for lucrative licences that snowballed into a massive scam.


Since stonewalling remained the policy of the Congress (I) with its overwhelming majority, the Tulmohan case became the starting point of disruption of Parliament as the means of drawing attention to loot.


Came a stage when Morarji Desai threatened to sit on a dharna inside the House. With her unfailing political instinct Indira Gandhi decided to compromise. She agreed to show Desai and some other Opposition leaders privately a top-secret report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) she was refusing to share with them. Simultaneously, she insisted that the report’s contents wouldn’t be made public.


At present there is, alas, a total lack of such skill on both sides of the political divide. Consequently, the fight against corruption has yielded place to a relentless, no-holds-barred fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The public at large cannot be blamed for assuming that nothing would come of the current upheaval, given the unconscionable delay between the explosive exposure of the the G2 spectrum and Commonwealth Games mega scams and the CBI’s raids on Suresh Kalmadi’s homes and questioning of A. Raja. Madhu Koda of Jharkhand, the state’s mines minister in the BJP government and chief minister with the Congress support, was arrested for alleged amassing of Rs 4,000 crore in two years. But the case against him, like all corruption cases under all governments, is proceeding at a pace compared with which a snail would be a champion runner. The “Save Raja” campaign of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, a key ally of the Congress in the ruling coalition, has a message of its own.


Nearly 60 years after the conviction of the ICS secretary to the government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, Nira Yadav, has been sentenced for corruption. This does not mean that the evil among civil servants is sparse or less extensive than among politicians. The vertically integrated network of corrupt ministers and equally rapacious bureaucrats is much too wide. The list of functionaries, some of them fairly junior, from whose homes hoards of ill-gotten cash have been seized, without any action having been taken against them yet, is very long. And now the Radia tapes have exposed that topmost tycoons, power brokers of all kinds, mediapersons, academics and so on, indeed the entire elite, is tarred with the same brush.


In short, the all-embracing corruption in this country is constantly intensifying, reproducing and perpetuating itself on an ever-increasing scale. At some stage quantity will turn into quality and bring to the world’s largest democracy the worst possible catastrophe.








John Steinbeck observed that “a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ”.


That insight, now confirmed by epidemiological studies, is worth bearing in mind at a time of such polarising inequality that the wealthiest one per cent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 per cent.


There’s growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease.


That’s the argument of an important book by two distinguished British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. They argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument.


“If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police”, they assert. “You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problem.” They explore these issues in their book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.


The heart of their argument is that humans are social animals and that in highly unequal societies those at the bottom suffer from a range of pathologies. For example, a long-term study of British civil servants found that messengers, doormen and others with low status were much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide and some cancers and had substantially worse overall health.


There’s similar evidence from other primates. For example, macaque monkeys are also highly social animals, and scientists put them in cages and taught them how to push a lever so that they could get cocaine. Those at the bottom of the monkey hierarchy took much more cocaine than high-status monkeys.


Other experiments found that low-status monkeys suffered physical problems, including atherosclerosis in their arteries and an increase in abdominal fat. And as with monkeys, so with humans. Researchers have found that when people become unemployed or suffer economic setbacks, they gain weight. One 12-year study of American men found that when their income slipped, they gained an average of 5.5 pounds.


The correlation is strong around the world between countries with greater inequality and greater drug use. Paradoxically, countries with more relaxed narcotics laws, like the Netherlands, have relatively low domestic drug use — perhaps because they are more egalitarian.


Professors Wilkinson and Pickett crunch the numbers and show that the same relationship holds true for a range of social problems. Among rich countries, those that are more unequal appear to have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.


They find the same thing is true among the 50 American states. More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better.


So why is inequality so harmful? The Spirit Level suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy.


That stress leads to biological changes, such as the release of the hormone cortisol, and to the accumulation of abdominal fat (perhaps an evolutionary adaptation in preparation for starvation ahead?). The result is physical ailments like heart disease, and social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviours and persistent poverty. Another result is the establishment of alternative systems in which one can win respect and acquire self-esteem, such as gangs.


Granted, humans are not all equal in ability: There will always be some who are more wealthy — and others who constitute the bottom. But inequality does not have to be as harsh, oppressive and polarised as it is in America today. Germany and Japan have attained modern, efficient economies with far less inequality than we have — and far fewer social problems. Likewise, the gap between rich and poor fell during the Clinton administration, according to data cited in “The Spirit Level”, even though that was a period of economic vigour.


“Inequality is divisive, and even small differences seem to make an important difference”, Professors Wilkinson and Pickett note. They suggest that it is not just the poor who benefit from the social cohesion that comes with equality, but the entire society.


So as we debate national policy in 2011 — from the estate tax to unemployment insurance to early childhood education — let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today. These inequities seem profoundly unhealthy, for us and for our nation’s soul.










Since the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began investigations into the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam, several of the crucial files relating to the games mysteriously disappeared and the agency was finding it difficult to proceed further in the case.


But, of late, as the CBI tightened the noose around the CWG organising committee (OC) members, including its chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, those missing files have started dropping in the investigative agency’s office. One among the crucial files found is related to the contract awarded to a Swiss company for the time scoring result (TSR) system.


A lower-rung OC official gave the file to the investigators saying that someone had thrown it into the chamber of Lalit Bhanot, a key aide of Mr Kalmadi. The file — that will reveal a lot about `110 crore contract to the Swiss company — would prove vital in nailing the accused. Strange are the ways of fate... or should we say men?


The ‘Somnaths’ of the BJP


Before senior BJP leader and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Murli Manohar Joshi made a public statement supporting the party’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged 2G spectrum allocation scam, there was a perceptible unease in the saffron party.


Two senior leaders of the party even compared it to the attitude of former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who took a stance opposite to that of his party, the CPI(M), during the nuclear deal controversy. “The BJP has many Somnaths”, the leaders quipped. “If they are not reined in, the party’s tirade against the government over its JPC demand would go for a toss.”


Dmitry’s new avatar


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became a curious student during his visit to the department of nanotechnology in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay).
He was all ears when he was shown the explosive detonation detector and the cardio device researched and invented indigenously by the IIT students.


Everyone present was impressed and taken aback by his student-like verve. Even before his visit, he had made it amply clear that his sole aim was to interact with the students and know their views on technology. “We never expected the head of the superpower state to be so down to earth and were even more impressed by the fact that he completed his speech in three minutes as he wanted to spend as much time possible interacting with us”, said a student.


Our politicos may be able to feign interest in nanotechnology but they can never finish a speech in three minutes.


Naveen’s umpteen travails

Orissa chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who wrestled with much adversity in 2010, is in touch with some leading astrologers of the state to see that 2011 passes off peacefully. According to astrologers, Mr Patnaik, born on October 16, 1946, did not have good time in 2010 because of the evil effects of Rahu.


Thanks to this, the bachelor chief minister has been battling unexpected woes, mostly over corruption and nepotism. Verdicts by the Supreme Court and the Orissa high court also exposed “illegal” practices by his officials in mining leases and land acquisition for corporate houses. To begin 2011 on a peaceful note, Mr Patnaik visited Puri on the New Year day to pray before Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Orissa.


However, astrologers say that the bad patch will continue in 2011 and Mr Patnaik would face a few bolts from the blue that may even shake his chair.


Stalking Buddha


As part of revving up her aggression in the run up to the West Bengal Assembly polls, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has vowed to stalk chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wherever he goes.


On Thursday, she addressed a rally at the Dum Dum Central jail ground where only three days ago Mr Bhattacharjee had addressed a Left Front rally. Needless to say, the turnout at her rally was much bigger. “Wherever the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) will organise a rally, the Trinamul Congress will follow suit within a week”, she announced. The fiesty and firebrand leader who is described as the agni kanya of Bengal politics has made it clear that she will not budge an inch to the CPI-M. It seems that her New Year message to the Chief Minister is: “Tu jahan jahan chalega mera saya saath hoga”.


Street Romeos get their due


A four digit number — 1091 — sends shivers down the spines of eve-teasers in Chhattisgarh, who are obsessed with flaunting their unsolicited charms on young girls.
It is nothing but the helpline number set up by the police for girls in distress. When a victim of eve-teasing calls this number, policewomen almost appear from nowhere on the spot.


The brat who harasses girls is picked up and taken to Mahila (women) police station, where he undergoes a traumatic experience, which he would remember for life.
The in-charge of the police station then invites the crew of local television news channels. Then the miscreant is thrashed by a policewoman and the victim. Sometimes the victim is encouraged to slap her tormentor with her shoes. The police also “ensures” that the entire episode is beamed prominently by the channels.


No wonder the state has witnessed a drastic decline in the number of street romeos in recent days.








Legends are traditional stories popularly regarded as historical. They play an important role in religious lore of all faiths. Much of hagiographic literature consists of legends. Legends about Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith have been chronicled in Janam Sakhis that encompass the story of his life.


Although Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was born in 1469 AD, Sikhism itself was born in 1507 AD, as Nanak only then received his initiation into the status of the guru. It was the night of August 20 that year a dark night rendered darker by thick clouds. The whole city of Sultanpur was asleep. Only the thunder was awake, or were Guru Nanak’s songs, which had become his meditation and worship. As was his daily practice, he resorted to the River Bein for his ablutions. He was accompanied by his ever-faithful companion Mardana who played the rebec when Nanak sang.


Nanak plunged into the river and seemed not to emerge from it. At first Mardana alone, then the entire town made frantic search for him even with the help of divers, but Nanak was not found. Three days came to pass when to the astonishment of one and all Nanak suddenly reappeared. He had become a changed person. Before that, he was a seeker of the Lord, now he was fully God-intoxicated. During his three-day absence from the scene, he had been in the loving embrace of his Beloved Lord. He had been in communion with Him. When he plunged into the river, he was Nanak, when he emerged from it, he had become Guru Nanak, commissioned by the Lord to unite the people of the world with Him.


First of all the legend signifies that in order to attain the Lord, one is required to drown — drown in love and devotion and into the depths of meditation. Standing on the shore and counting waves is of no avail. One has to plunge into the ocean in order to fathom it.


The second requirement is to die — die towards the world. Our relationship with the world is ego-oriented and self-nourishing. Such orientation does not permit one to become oriented towards God. Breaking one’s bonds with the world signifies the symbolic death in the legend.


The third symbol is that of returning. One who loses himself in himself, returns renewed. When he dives, he is a seeker.


Neither caste nor position will be recognised hereafter. They alone will be pronounced good whose merit is recognised worthy of honour. There, neither caste nor birth, will be enquired. Your caste and status shall be according to your actions, Guru Nanak was acutely conscious of the status of inferiority assigned to women. He had many bold and salutary words to say for them. Among his followers, they enjoyed equality with men. In one of his compositions the guru says:


Of women are we born, of women conceived,

To women engaged, to women married.

Woman we befriend, and by women is the race continued.

When one’s woman dies, another woman is sought for.


(It is by women that order is maintained. Then why despise them from whom are great men born?) Thus, fully egalitarian was his first proclamation. He went even further and identified himself with the lowliest of all.
He said: Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low caste, the very lowliest of the low. He has nothing to do with “the great”.


J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh.








Aarushi’s parents are angry. Her mother, Nupur Talwar, points a finger at the country’s premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for filing the closure report and its failure to catch the killers of her daughter, who was murdered on May 15, 2008 at their Noida residence. It was a double murder. Along with Aarushi, their domestic servant, Hemraj, was also killed. The CBI closure report, however, indicates that “inmates” of the house could have been responsible for the killings. Pramod Kumar speaks to Mrs Talwar.


Q. After over a year’s investigation, the country’s prime investigative agency, CBI, closed the case. The accused have been released. Your daughter Aarushi’s murder remain unsolved.

A. It’s shocking. We are highly disappointed with the CBI probe. How can India’s premier investigating agency say that they could not find evidence against the accused? It’s the CBI’s job to find evidence. We still cannot believe this. If the CBI did not find evidence, the investigating agency could have gone on pursuing the case. What was the need to file a closure report?


Q. The closure report indicates that “inmates of the house” could have been responsible for the murders. There have been similar allegations earlier by other agencies, too. It was the Uttar Pradesh police which was the first to pursue this line of investigation and had arrested your husband, Rajesh Talwar.

A. It is damaging. We are aware of the CBI’s agenda. They are simply trying to defend the Uttar Pradesh police, who reached the scene of crime first. It was the Uttar Pradesh police that completely botched up the case.


Q. But then what about the allegations that the “inmates” of the house could have been involved?
A. We have not yet seen the closure report. But, it’s the job of the CBI to identify the accused and find evidence. If that is there, then the CBI must ascertain the identity of the inmates who are responsible for the

Q. Did the CBI investigation lack scientific approach?

  1. Of course, CBI’s invesitgation lacked scientific approach. We have been saying it right from the start that “touch DNA” test might have helped to nail Aarushi’s killer. But the CBI officials did not bother to send the evidence obtained from the scene of crime for “touch DNA” tests.

Q. Do you intend to challenge the CBI’s closure report?

A. We are not going to rest till the case reaches its logical conclusion. We are exploring other legal options. There are no words to explain the agony and mental trauma that we have been facing since our daughter’s death. I just want that murderers of my daughter, who are having a nice time, be hanged. If I cannot get my daughter back, then they too do not have the right to live. They must be hanged.


Q. Do you thing that the closure report filed by the CBI could further delay justice?
A. We are victims. We have been victimised right from the beginning. I don’t want to talk much about that. Despite the difficulties and problems, we have not lost faith. The murderers of my daughter need to be caught. Only their conviction can give us relief. No punishment can be enough for them. We have full faith in God and we hope that we will definitely get justice.


Q. Share some thoughts about Aarushi?

A. She was a very decent girl who used to mingle with everybody around. She always told us everything that happened in her class. She told us everything about her friends. Even now, when her friends happen to meet us, they tell us how much they miss her as she was amongst their best friends. In her absence though, our life has become meaningless. Our existence has become mechanical. It’s impossible to fill the void.




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IN terms of tackling the Maoists, Chhattisgarh showcased a stark irony in the last week of the year gone by. The state has witnessed the miscarriage of justice; there may be hope yet that civil society hasn’t tiptoed in its response to the life sentence handed down to Dr Binayak Sen. Hideous no less has been the looting and criminal misbehaviour of policemen in the Maoist-dominated region of Bastar. So serious indeed that it has provoked a senior officer to apologise to the tribals and compensate the villagers for the goods stolen, as reported in this newspaper.

 Having failed to countenance the Maoists, even with helicopter gunships and the central paramilitary, the state police have descended to criminality. Rice, poultry and other items ~ indeed the source of livelihood of the subalterns in Dantewada district ~ were looted by the police on 24 December. Considering the magnitude of the crime in an impoverished, insurgency-hit region, it will not suffice merely for the district police chief to apologise and dole out Rs 13,000 to the tribals ~ a pittance rather than a compensation. The culprits will have to be identified and action taken. It bears recall that last April, the local police had failed to provide the logistical assistance to the paramilitary, a lapse that led to the killing of 76 CRPF personnel by the Maoists.
The repentant SP only labours the obvious that “looting by policemen is highly deplorable and creates a bad image about the force”. The short point must be that the force has scarcely an image to protect. Its Salwa Judum experiment ~ designed to keep teenagers in the forefront and the police in the rearguard ~ has had disastrous consequences. It has failed to rein in the Maoists, still less afford a measure of protection in the vulnerable areas. To subvert prosecution to the point of perversion of justice is a bizarre act of self-defence. And now looting has reduced the cop to a criminal.



CARIAPPA retired to Madikeri in Coorg, Sam Manekshaw opted for a cottage in the Nilgiris while Ronnie Pereria named his small house in Whitefield “At Last” because it had been a struggle to complete it. Contrast that with luxurious bungalows in Gurgaon owned by former Generals, the attempt of three former chiefs of staff to acquire flats in the infamous Adarsh complex in south Mumbai. But even by those declining standards, the diminishing few who still cling to the concept of probity being interwoven with the uniform will be deeply disturbed at the contents of a letter (reportedly secured via an RTI application so it does not lack authenticity, and has not be contradicted) from a former Navy chief to the chief minister of Haryana seeking preferential allotment of a plot of land. Now the “sin” lies not in his wanting special treatment ~ Indian faujis still entertain the colonial notion that they are entitled to exclusive benefits ~ but the blatant sycophancy of the missive written on his official letterhead. Read the letter of 22 May 2009, after the Lok Sabha elections: “It is very heartening to see the excellent results of the Congress party under your leadership… Please accept my heartiest congratulations on this wonderful performance in the general elections. I am sure this is public affirmation of the systematic implementation of your development plans in the state”. Sadly for the ex-chief now doing diplomatic duty, despite six letters, “your development plans” did not include his being allotted a plot in Sector 28, Gurgaon, as his domicile status remains questionable. The letter is damning on two counts: it puts paid to the military’s proud tradition of remaining apolitical, it invited virtual insult to the uniform in that the request of a four-star “general” was not granted.

It is true that not all former chiefs sink so low: quite a few four and three star generals have settled down in the none-too-luxurious houses they built in the Capital’s Defence Colony ~ and similar complexes elsewhere ~ before they reached the top echelons of their Service. But of late most of them have opted for palatial homes. Without raising the disproportionate assets issue, it is relevant to note, perhaps condemn, the “five-star culture” to which the present military leaders subscribe. A visit to any of the new “institutes” will reveal a lifestyle so garish in comparison with the dignity of the “mess” in many an old Cantonment. The sun has set on the era of the revered “simple soldier”.



IT must be a personal tragedy for Benoy Konar to acknowledge the decimation of the peasant movement that the Marxists had pioneered. The loud and often foul-mouthed grassroots leader of the CPI-M, who still finds it difficult to shed the fiery temperament he has lived with, looks a lonely figure with a shockingly reduced support base. The disasters of Singur and Nandigram had taken a heavy toll but it required confirmation from the most prominent face of the All India Kisan Sabha that the number of farmers associated with the organisation has come down from more than 1.5 crore in 2008 to a paltry nine lakhs in just one year. It confirms the extent of disillusionment not just on account of the agitation over a car factory or the dispute over setting up a chemical hub but clearly because the CPI-M’s lines of communication with its most reliable vote-bank may have been snapped. The peasant leader, who threatened to deploy cadres to “make life hell’ for villagers in Nandigram, predictably blames Mamata Banerjee for “misleading’’ farmers and refusing to raise her voice against the rise in prices. That doesn’t dilute the message already gone out to the rural population that the Left had been transformed from a friend that ushered in land reforms under Operation Barga to the promoter of big industry aiming at creating jobs for the educated young.

However valid the shift in emphasis, large sections of the rural poor still heavily dependent on their land holdings were perhaps unconvinced that the Left was keen on striking a balance. Slogans coined for elections didn’t work because the  chief minister’s obsession with an industrial revival suggested that the Left government was not averse to acquiring agricultural land to pave the way for townships and big industries. The damage may have been done then, so much so that even the irrepressible Mr Konar confesses that many left out of dejection “due to our own faults’’. The “smear campaign’’ he talks about with characteristic hostility cannot conceal the Left’s despair and belated attempts to make amends after food production has failed to keep pace with population growth, marketing facilities have been left unattended and the government has failed to cope with profiteers. If all this has recoiled on the Left, the kisan sabha may now be a helpless spectator. The ultimate tragedy is that Alimuddin Street may also have been left without any escape route.









THE Congress’ precipitous decline in the course of a year from its second successive general election victory to the possibility of a serious setback, if not defeat, in the event of a mid-term poll can be ascribed to the party’s old malady of cynicism. What this attitude entails is an overpowering desire to cling to power at all costs. As Harish Khare, the Prime Minister’s media adviser, recently said, the Congress’s ideology is only about winning elections. In line with this approach is the American diplomatic assessment of Sonia Gandhi as a person who is unable to provide “principled leadership”, as the Wikileaks have revealed.

The outcome of this unblinking pursuit of electoral happiness is that Congress is more than willing to turn a blind eye to the follies of its own and of its allies. Nothing demonstrated this philosophical acceptance of human frailties more than the A Raja episode. The motivating factor behind allowing the virtual loot of the exchequer was the Congress’s reluctance to offend the DMK lest it should pull the rug from under the government’s feet.
The same kowtowing to the prejudices of an ally, even if these were widely recognized as a sign of paranoia, was in evidence when Sonia sided with the Left on the nuclear deal virtually throughout the UPA’s first tenure till Rahul, apparently, induced her to change her mind. Otherwise, it is quite possible that her objections would have robbed India of the unique privilege of entering the nuclear club without signing the NPT. But for the scare which Mayawati gave to Mulayam Singh Yadav to make him switch from the Communists to the Congress and enable the government to survive the Left’s withdrawal of support, the deal would not have been signed ~ to Pakistan’s and China’s delight.

What these episodes underline is the reason for the Congress’s current predicament. No party can sustain its position if it is seen to be forever on the retreat before allies who have no stakes at the national level. It has to be realized that if the Congress’s success in 2004 was due to the BJP’s failures, especially in Gujarat, as Atal Behari Vajpayee said, the confirmation of its winning streak in 2009 was the result of the Manmohan Singh factor, along with the persistence of the appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to the underprivileged and the minorities.

For the middle and upper classes, however, who are now a formidable force in the polity because of their numbers and volubility, the Manmohan Singh-P Chidambaram duo means that, for the first time, the country has a leadership known an uncluttered vision of the path of progress. Unfortunately, the party’s retreat before the allies was preceded by a retreat within which saw the formation of the supra-cabinet body, the National Advisory Council under Sonia Gandhi, which harked back to Indira Gandhi’s faux socialism.
This return to a discredited and discarded doctrine, coupled with the winking of the eye where corrupt practices within the party and without are concerned, has led to the Congress downhill. The man who has suffered the most is Manmohan Singh. He has neither been able to pursue economic reforms although the obstructionist Left is no longer there, nor has he been able to check corruption, as the continuation of Raja in office showed despite the mounting evidence of wrong-doings in his ministry till he could not be saved any longer.
Before succumbing to the DMK’s threats, the Congress should have remembered that corruption has long been its middle name. From the time of the jeep scandal in 1948 to the Haridas Mundhra affair of 1957, which led to the then finance minister TT Krishnamachari’s resignation ~ the first and only head to roll because of allegations of corruption ~ and then to the Bofors pay-off, which saw the Rajiv Gandhi government’s majority plummet from 415 to 197, sleaze has been the party’s constant companion. The Congress should have mulled on its less than glorious history, therefore, before letting the DMK hold a gun to its head.
If Raja was an outsider, who could not be punished for the sake of coalition dharma, this could not be said for Suresh Kalmadi and Ashok Chavan. But the inordinate time the party took to discipline them has eroded both its own as well as the Prime Minister’s standing and given the previously disoriented BJP a talking point where it had none before. But for the BJP’s own albatross of BS Yeddyurappa round its neck, the party could have been even more aggressive.

It is not impossible that the Congress’s and the Prime Minister’s declining prestige encouraged Jaganmohan Reddy to be even more defiant in Andhra Pradesh, threatening the Congress’s hold on yet another state, and made Mamata Banerjee talk of taking on the Left on her own in West Bengal. To compound the party’s miseries, the brief flicker of hope which its last year’s success in UP kindled, has been extinguished by its dismal showing in Bihar. The Congress may still scrape through even if the next general election is brought forward because of the Opposition’s continuing weakness at the national level. But it must learn to follow principles, not expediency.






India is known to be a noisy democracy, but noises are no substitute for sound government policy or action. There is nothing but street politics in the exchange of letters between the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, and West Bengal’s chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The larger share of the blame must go to the former, who started it all. There is something extraordinary about Mr Chidambaram deciding to continue the war of words with a second letter, which prompted a second reply from the chief minister. The most bizarre aspect of the melodrama is that Mr Chidambaram leaked both his letters to the media — the first one even before it had reached the chief minister. Although law and order is a state subject, the Constitution provides for several ways in which the Centre can caution a state government in some situations. The surprising thing about Mr Chidambaram’s letters is that they betray a cavalier attitude to the issues he raises. The tone and the content of the letters are clearly political rather than administrative. Law and order in many parts of West Bengal is on a dangerous drift. New Delhi could justifiably be concerned and ask the chief minister to tackle the situation more effectively.


Instead, Mr Chidambaram succumbed to the lure of cheap political confrontation. It is inconceivable that he did not know of the ground situation in Jangal Mahal. Paramilitary forces fighting the Maoists in the area are part of the home ministry. If armed cadre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are using the Central forces for partisan ends, Mr Chidambaram cannot have been unaware of it. In fact, the Centre and the CPI(M) seemed to have made a common cause — and a common strategy — in the anti-Maoist operations. If not himself an author of the strategy, Mr Chidambaram must be aware of it. The prime minister has described the Maoist revolt as the “greatest threat to India’s internal security”. The last thing New Delhi and Calcutta can afford to do is reduce the fight against the Maoists to a fake political debate. The office of the Union home minister is too sensitive to be allowed to become a political playground. Mr Chidambaram and Mr Bhattacharjee have much to talk about. They can do so without wasting any more ink arguing whether words like harmad can find a place in respectable political vocabulary.








Democracy, being the government of the people, by the people, for the people, often turns out to be a tricky business. Depending on the drift of the popular will, democracy can dovetail into majoritarianism, which is what is happening in Pakistan. Last November, Asia Bibi, a Christian farmhand from the Punjab province, was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s discriminatory anti-blasphemy law. The initial cry for justice from rights activists as well as from prominent members of the government forced the president, Asif Ali Zardari, to order a ministerial review, which ruled that the law was unsound. But the reality in Pakistan is never quite what it seems. Fiercely countered by radical Islamists, the proposed legal amendments fell through. It is shameful that Mr Zardari, who did not hesitate to exercise his constitutional authority to pardon his government’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, failed to do the same for someone who is going through much worse for a far less serious ‘crime’. Parliamentary democracy, which was reinstituted by the 18th constitutional amendment last year, was mocked by both the executive and the judiciary, as they pussyfooted, made common cause with the fanatics, and denied pardon to Asia Bibi. On new year’s eve, virulent clerics and their supporters held the nation to ransom, ruining the festive mood by calling a countrywide strike.


Pakistan’s ruling coalition, led by the Pakistan People’s Party, was badly jolted a few days ago, when some of its key allies defected to the Opposition benches after cabinet ministers from these parties were accused of corruption. Mr Zardari’s reaction in that case, as in the fiasco over the blasphemy laws, was knee-jerk. He followed the classic strategy of unprincipled appeasement at the expense of the international image and credibility of his government. In doing so, he seemed to be paving the way for a military takeover, supported by Islamists. The perniciousness of Mr Zardari’s move becomes apparent if one recalls that blasphemy laws were first introduced in the 1980s by none other than the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. Although the PPP has supped with Islamists in the past, and continues to do so, its staying power is, nevertheless, ebbing away. Relentless concessions ultimately lead to abdication of power. And with that the vestiges of prestige the PPP still has with its Western patrons.









Relations between the two Asian giants, India and China, have generally shown satisfactory progress over more than two decades, but note must also be taken of some disturbing recent developments. On the positive side, the border areas remain peaceful, a spectacular increase has taken place in economic exchanges, and the two countries have cooperated closely in multilateral trade and environmental negotiations.


On the negative side, China, inexplicably, began to issue stapled visas to Kashmiri Indians and raised problems about the inclusion of the general commanding Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir in an Indian military delegation to China. This led to the suspension of military exchanges between the two countries, except for flag meetings in the border areas. These inexplicable Chinese moves raise questions about a possible shift in the Chinese position on Jammu and Kashmir. There has also been a marked increase in the stridency of the Chinese stand on the border issue. China was opposed to an Asian Development Bank programme for India because it included some projects in Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, Beijing chose to register a protest when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a visit to Arunachal Pradesh recently.


It would not be fair to say, however, that the blame lies entirely on one side. If the Chinese authorities were primarily responsible for introducing new strains in bilateral ties, it should be acknowledged that the role of some sections of our own media has not been helpful in fostering mutual understanding. Sensational accounts of border incidents and violations were recently carried by some Indian newspapers and TV channels, even though these stories were denied by both governments. The guiding principle of these sections of the media appears to be — ‘a crisis a day, makes the subscribers pay’. Some Chinese journals reciprocated with wild and irresponsible comments about India.


Against this background, Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India was most timely. It helped stabilize India-China ties and prepare the ground for further improvement. Wen himself raised the issue of stapled visas and assured the Indian government that China takes our concern seriously, hinting that the problem may soon be resolved. He also addressed the apprehensions of India and other lower riparian countries regarding the possibility of large-scale diversion of rivers originating in Chinese territory. Most of the major Asian rivers — including the Brahmaputra, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and the Yellow River — descend from the glaciers of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. Large-scale diversion of these waters to meet demands in other parts of China could seriously affect flows to downstream countries and could also cause major environmental damage in the region. Premier Wen assured India that “all the upstream development activities by China will be based on scientific planning and study and will never harm downstream interests.” This was a positive and important statement.


Agreement was reached to hold annual bilateral meetings at the level of foreign ministers and to increase the frequency of India-China summit meetings. A strategic economic dialogue will also be initiated and a CEO forum will be established to foster closer trade and investment ties. Bilateral trade is expected to reach the target figure of $60 billion this year and a new target of $100 billion was set for 2015. These initiatives will provide a timely impetus to the development of closer political and economic ties.


A notable feature of China’s external relations is that its economic interdependence with major powers, in particular the United States of America and Japan, exercises a moderating influence on political strains. India’s burgeoning trade ties with China have generally helped to create a more conducive atmosphere in bilateral relations but there is no significant degree of interdependence as yet. Economic interdependence arises more from mutual investment flows than trade flows, except in the case of essential commodities, such as petroleum, which can be sourced only from a limited number of sources. Economic interdependence will grow as Chinese and Indian companies set up major ventures in each other’s countries.


In analysing diplomatic statements and joint communiqués, we need to examine not only the contents of the documents but also the omissions. For instance, the joint communiqué issued during the visit of the Chinese premier was silent on the question of resumption of military exchanges, which, as we noted earlier, were suspended as a result of a new twist in Chinese policy. It may fairly be inferred that more time will be required to sort out this problem. This issue raises fundamental questions and India should wait patiently for a fully satisfactory resolution.


In his talks with Indian leaders, Wen Jiabao expressed his sympathies over the Mumbai terrorist outrage. He, however, held back from a public expression of these sentiments. The joint communiqué contains only a brief reference to terrorism, limited only to preventing transfers of funds to terrorist organizations. There was no other reference to cooperation in combating the menace of terrorism. This presumably reflected China’s extreme sensitivity to the reactions of its ‘all-weather strategic partner’, Pakistan. China is the only major power which lavishes unstinted and unqualified praise on Pakistan’s stand on terrorism. The joint communiqué issued during Wen’s visit to Islamabad states that the “Chinese side held the view that Pakistan has made great efforts and endured great sacrifices in fighting terrorism, and reiterated that it respects the counter-terrorism strategy instituted by Pakistan in light of its own national conditions.”


Finally, the joint communiqué dispensed with the standard reference to India’s “one China” policy and its recognition that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China. The Indian delegation reiterated during the talks that India’s position on these issues remain unchanged. However, it would hardly have been appropriate to reflect these sentiments at a time when the Chinese position on Kashmir has suddenly become more opaque.


India and China are both ascending powers, destined to play an increasingly important role in world affairs. The parallel rise of the two neighbouring countries offers many opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, it is only to be expected that their interests will occasionally diverge. Both countries should handle these differences with care and deliberation, keeping in mind the need for maintaining cooperative ties between neighbours. Misinterpreting the intentions of the other side or miscalculating its capacities can severely damage the interests of both countries.


Public opinion plays a very important role in shaping India’s foreign policy. In China, too, it is playing an increasingly significant role. It is essential for both Indians and Chinese to be accurately informed about developments in the neighbouring country and to grasp the distinction between patriotism and chauvinism.


The author is a former ambassador to China








“This parrot is no more,” rants former Monty Python member, John Cleese, in the English-speaking world’s best-loved television sketch. “It has ceased to be,” he tells fellow Python, Michael Palin, playing a pet-shop owner who insists that the obviously dead bird is still alive.


Same with the “Middle East peace process”— another old joke that is getting a bit creaky in the joints. The US state department, like the pet-shop owner, insists that the obviously dead process is still alive.


It’s a necessary fiction. Nobody in authority will admit that no Israeli government will take on the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and force through a “land for peace” deal, or that there is no unified government for Israelis to talk to on the Palestinian side anyway — that there is, in fact, no prospect of a peace settlement in this generation. But that is the reality; the rest is the theatre of the absurd.


“I welcome this American decision. It is good for Israel. It is good for peace,” said the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on December 13. Yet the United States of America had just abandoned all hope of getting Israel to freeze new building in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories long enough to keep direct peace talks with the Palestinians going.


Netanyahu had agreed to a ten-month freeze in new construction as a condition for entering into direct talks with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, but the ten months expired just after the talks opened, and he refused to extend the freeze. The US even tried bribing him with a multi-billion dollar pledge to give Israel new F-35 fighters, but to no avail.


Did Netanyahu refuse to grant Barack Obama the extra time because he was afraid that otherwise the settler lobby, which has powerful backers in his cabinet, would bring his coalition government down? Or was it because he has always secretly opposed a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians? Probably both, but we’ll have to wait for WikiLeaks to know for sure.


Lost faith


As for Abbas, he only controls the West Bank and must guard his flank against the more radical Hamas, which rules in the Gaza Strip and rejects peace with Israel. Abbas had gone as far as he safely could in agreeing to direct talks while building in the Jewish settlements was frozen.


Netanyahu knew that refusing to extend the freeze would force Abbas to end direct talks, but he was under great pressure from Washington to extend it. To divert that pressure, he introduced a new Israeli precondition for talks. The Palestine Liberation Organization long ago accepted Israel as a legitimate state; now, if it wanted the freeze to continue, it must recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish State. Meeting in Cairo on December 15, the foreign ministers of the Arab League declared that “resuming the negotiations will be conditioned on receiving a serious offer that guarantees an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict”. By a “serious offer,” they mean a US-backed proposal for a comprehensive peace settlement.


No US administration would dare make such a proposal: it would be torn to shreds in days by the Israeli lobby in the US and its allies in Congress. So there really is no peace process. Most Israelis want a peace settlement in principle, but there is just no consensus in Israel on the territorial compromises that would be needed to bring it about. Increasingly, there is no consensus on the Palestinian side either, with many people losing faith in the very idea of a ‘two-state solution’.


Is this an unsustainable situation? Not at all; it has lasted more than a decade already. It could last for several

more, with occasional interruptions. It cannot go on forever, of course, but forever is a long, long time.






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





The release from custody of ULFA chief Arabinda Rajkhowa has opened up space for talks between the government and the banned secessionist outfit. Rajkhowa, who has been in jail for about a year, has expressed willingness to engage in unconditional talks. He has called for the release of other jailed ULFA leaders so they too can participate in negotiations. That the government has released Rajkhowa with an eye on talks is evident from the fact that it did not oppose the bail granted to him by a TADA court last week. With Rajkhowa’s release, the foundation for negotiations has been laid. The ban on the ULFA is unlikely to be lifted immediately but the government will consider this if talks make progress. The mood in Assam is understandably euphoric. The state has been convulsed in violence for over three decades. The ULFA’s formation in 1979 provided a huge boost to the insurgency there. Although scores of other armed outfits have contributed to the bloodshed in the state, it is the ULFA that has been at the forefront of the insurgency. Thus, its willingness to come to the talks table holds out the promise of an end to much of the violence in Assam.

Getting the ULFA to agree to negotiations is no small achievement. It has been fiercely committed to a separate state. Reverses on the battlefield and the capture of most of its leaders seems to have forced it to rethink its goals and strategy. Yet this is not a defeated organisation that is limping to the talks table. It is, therefore, likely to be a tough negotiator. Its military chief Paresh Baruah is still at large. While Rajkhowa says that the ULFA is united on the talks, Baruah has issued statements reiterating the goal of a separate state in recent weeks.

The start of talks does not mean the end of violence. There will be many among the ULFA, rival insurgent outfits, the armed forces, the arms-drugs network and businesses that have a vested interest in keeping the conflict alive and who will not want peace to return to Assam. They can be expected to provoke violence. It is important that civil society, which has played an important role in negotiating Rajkhowa’s release, continue to remain engaged with the peace process. The people of Assam want an end to violence. Their wishes must be respected.







There is sufficient reason for the government to reconsider its decision to set up a nuclear power park at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. A social impact assessment conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) confirms what experts and activists have been saying for a while: the proposed nuclear power park will have “huge negative impact on social and environment development.” The most worrying risk is that Jaitapur lies in a high to moderate severity earthquake zone. Should an earthquake strike the nuclear plants, the destruction caused will be horrific. A joint collaboration between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and French nuclear energy giant, Areva, the Jaitapur nuclear power project will have at least six plants. It requires about 968 hectares of land. 

Roughly seven villages will be erased to make way for the project. Much of this land is currently being used for agriculture, horticulture and grazing purposes. Thousands of people will be displaced and deprived of their livelihoods. The nuclear park will also destroy fisheries in the region as the hot water released by the reactors will force fish to move away. The unique biodiversity of the Madhban plateau on which the nuclear plants will be built will be lost.

The TISS report has also drawn attention to the lack of transparency over the project. It accuses the government of hiding and manipulating facts. The government has termed the land to be acquired as ‘barren’. This is mendacious as Jaitapur is a region where mangoes and cashews are grown in abundance. Consultations with people in the area have been a huge farce as the government has used force to silence protests by local farmers.

The concerns raised by the TISS report are all the more worrying given the fact that the nuclear reactors Areva will supply are of an untested and problematic design. So, has the government looked into the huge risk involved? Proponents of the project are pointing to the 10,000 MW of power that Jaitapur will provide one day. Indeed this is a benefit. 

However, when one asks the question ‘at what cost?’ it is hard to dispel the fact that the costs far outweigh the benefits. There are huge risks to human, plant and animal life and to the environment. The ministry of environment has given a conditional go-ahead to the project. It needs to rethink its decision. It needs to put people above profits.







''The people have had enough of good intentions. They want accountability and insurance against further loot.''


No year is an island. A sequence of events will always demand its consequence, without respect for something as transitory as a calendar. Neither time nor logic pauses on December 31 and takes a holiday on January 1. Sleaze was the theme of 2010; it has already oozed into the building drama of 2011. The link is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s brief statement on the eve of 2011: to ‘cleanse’ governance. New year resolutions, traditionally, are known to have a short life. If the prime minister thinks that this too is a promise designed for amnesia, then his government will have an equally short life. Indians are angry. So far this anger has not turned destructive. Beware the day it does.

The cynic has a right to ask: what was the prime minister doing for six years? He talks of cleansing the government, but who has been in charge of this government? Surely Singh was not referring only to opposition governments and handing out good character certificates to his own coalition? A revealing aspect of ‘sleaze 2010’ is that the bulk of the theft has taken place in Delhi, compared to which Mumbai and Bangalore are really small potatoes. Why did Singh permit wholesale loot by UPA ministers? He has been in power from 2004; bandits became billionaires under his watch.

Singh’s statement is a sort of confessional, but the Indian voter is not a Catholic priest, who will forgive colossal sin just because the penitent has bared his heart in confession. The voter wants accountability in political life, and has seen nothing but tokenism. The much-vaunted raids against scam-scarred politicians were little short of another scam, since the culprits have been given more than sufficient time to destroy the evidence and fudge the clues. “Let us,” says the prime minister, “dispel the air of despondency and cynicism.” But who and what is the source of the Indian’s despair? It is the government that has made the Indian cynical.

This cynicism inevitably also became the prevailing mood in government. We watched, in 2010, a deeply fractured system turning upon itself. Some people at the highest levels of authority leaked what are now famous as the Nira Radia tapes because they could not stomach, anymore, the smug satisfaction on the faces of highway robbers. The opposition had very little to do with any of the revelations that have shaken the Singh administration to the edge of instability. It was a wing of government that provided details of the colossal and wide-ranging malfeasance in the Commonwealth Games to the media.

Continuous loot

How can you read about the various levels of loot, from construction deals to toilet paper, and not become cynical? It was the vocal environment minister Jairam Ramesh who halted the Lavasa township project despite the fact that agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is closely connected to Lavasa. Sharad Pawar has said publicly that Lavasa is close to his heart. His critics believe that Lavasa is close to his wallet as well. Once again, it was not the BJP or the Shiv Sena that put Lavasa at the centre of public discourse, but a UPA minister.

Singh is sincere in his intentions; but is he capable of delivery? The people have had enough of good intentions. They want accountability and insurance against further loot. 

The contradictions in the prime minister’s stance are evident. When he waves his big stick, he must first strike against his own colleagues. Can he do that and hope to survive? He is, of course, trapped. His personal image has raised expectations which he has not been able to fulfil, at least as far as corruption is concerned. If he does not act, the last chance to save his reputation is gone. If he acts, his government could be in serious peril. There is sudden momentum in the drawing rooms of Delhi, as politicians discuss new options in an uncertain parliament. The government has, foolishly, gifted a disunited opposition the opportunity to unite over the demand for a joint parliamentary committee investigation. The JPC is slowly becoming a symbol of government’s evasion. It is not widely known that Singh would have happily agreed to a JPC. He has been prevented by his party. In the process, the Congress has weakened its own prime minister and strengthened the opposition.

The government should consider itself lucky that the people are only cynical. They are increasingly linking exorbitant inflation, which the government has been unable to curb, to corruption as well. What is mere cynicism and anger today could become rage tomorrow. Democracy has inbuilt valves for the release of rage, but it is unwise to test the tensile strength of these valves too often. If government behaves like an immovable object, the people will, sooner rather than later, turn into an irresistible force.








Inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental ailments.


John Steinbeck observed that “a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” That insight, now confirmed by epidemiological studies, is worth bearing in mind at a time of such polarising inequality that the wealthiest one per cent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 per cent.

There’s growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease.

That’s the argument of an important book by two distinguished British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. They argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument.

“If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police,” they assert. “You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problem.” They explore these issues in their book, ‘The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger’.

Effects of inequalities

The heart of their argument is that humans are social animals and that in highly unequal societies those at the bottom suffer from a range of pathologies. For example, a long-term study of British civil servants found that messengers, doormen and others with low status were much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide and some cancers and had substantially worse overall health.


There’s similar evidence from other primates. For example, macaque monkeys are also highly social animals, and scientists put them in cages and taught them how to push a lever so that they could get cocaine. Those at the bottom of the monkey hierarchy took much more cocaine than high-status monkeys.

Other experiments found that low-status monkeys suffered physical problems, including atherosclerosis in their arteries and an increase in abdominal fat. And as with monkeys, so with humans. Researchers have found that when people become unemployed or suffer economic setbacks, they gain weight. One 12-year study of American men found that when their income slipped, they gained an average of 5.5 pounds.

The correlation is strong around the world between countries with greater inequality and greater drug use. Paradoxically, countries with more relaxed narcotics laws, like the Netherlands, have relatively low domestic drug use.

Wilkinson and Pickett crunch the numbers and show that the same relationship holds true for a range of social problems. Among rich countries, those that are more unequal appear to have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.

They find the same thing is true among the 50 American states. More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better.

So why is inequality so harmful? ‘The Spirit Level’ suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy.

That stress leads to biological changes, such as the release of the hormone cortisol, and to the accumulation of abdominal fat. The result is physical ailments like heart disease, and social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviours and persistent poverty. Another result is the establishment of alternative systems in which one can win respect and acquire self-esteem, such as gangs.

Granted, humans are not all equal in ability: There will always be some who are more wealthy — and others who constitute the bottom. But inequality does not have to be as harsh, oppressive and polarised as it is in America today. Germany and Japan have attained modern, efficient economies with far less inequality than we have — and far fewer social problems. Likewise, the gap between rich and poor fell during the Clinton administration, according to data cited in ‘The Spirit Level’, even though that was a period of economic vigour.

“Inequality is divisive, and even small differences seem to make an important difference,” Wilkinson and Pickett note. They suggest that it is not just the poor who benefit from the social cohesion that comes with equality, but the entire society.

So as we debate national policy in 2011, let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today. These inequities seem profoundly unhealthy, for us and for our nation’s soul.







Black is indeed beautiful,I agreed with whoever coined that phrase.


I was ambling aimlessly at one of the swanky malls when I first spotted her about two years ago. Slim and sleek, dark and dainty, her form and features were enticing, to say the least. My heart skipped a beat. I noticed that others too, mostly males, were eyeing her. I stole a second glance at the pretty thing and moved on. A few weeks later I spotted her in another mall with some others of her ilk. A couple of suave executives were hovering around her. The famous lines of the poet “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” kept ringing in my ears for the next few weeks.


Not that she was beyond my reach. It was a question of choice, how and when as in the first flush of any romance. The days, weeks and even months went by and work pressure took my mind off her. Out of sight and out of mind, as it were. However, subsequently, I did see her at some hotels and high-end boutiques, sparking only more interest in her. Now, I had fallen hook, line and sinker. I eyed her even more closely. Black is indeed beautiful, I agreed with whoever coined that phrase.

Enough of flirting and harbouring this crush, I told myself sternly. It was time to make a decent approach and make her mine. However, I remained cautious and nervous that is so typical of yours truly. To be candid, it was not an easy call. Again, fortunately or unfortunately, work pressures, travel and other routine matters eclipsed her from my mind’s radar for sometime.

Then, curiously enough, a few weeks later I was reading a glossy magazine after a sumptuous Sunday lunch when I spotted her. In a full page spread she looked very attractive. I silently stared at the picture, examining her from all angles till I dropped off on the couch. Funnily enough, in that short nap I had a dream about her and how supremely triumphant I felt owning her. And the fact that I kept humming the tune of the old song ‘she must be mine’ spoke volumes of my latest infatuation.

That very evening I discussed the matter with my good friend. He chided me for dilly-dallying over something that is to literally become my life partner. Just go for her man, he advised plainly but firmly. Bold or curve, you deserve that smart, thing, he added for good measure.

Without further ado, I dashed straight to the mall where I first saw her. I picked her up, paid and merrily walked away. Today, my Blackberry phone and I are inseparable, like two peas in a pod.








Goa’s iron ore mining industry contributes 10.14 per cent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Can this state do without mining? Certainly not in the short run, but many say it is very possible in the long run. Certain experts seem to disagree. A report on the ‘Contribution of Goan Iron Ore Mining Industry’ by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) says that while Goa’s mining industry causes environmental degradation to the tune of Rs548 crore per annum, the state will lose Rs1,842.20 crore every year if it bans iron ore mining. 

An open and shut case? Far from it. The thing about so-called scientific reports is the assumptions on which they are based, and how much they conceal, rather than what they reveal. For example, the report says that the major portion of environmental degradation caused by mining comprises deforestation, which it values at Rs467.3 crore annually. As much as 85 per cent of environmental degradation, says NCAER, is deforestation. But what was the definition of ‘environmental degradation’ that the institute used in its calculations? 
For example, what value was put on each tree cut? We ask this question because there is a nasty tendency to devalue most trees lost in deforestation, treating them as firewood and inferior wood. Who will calculate, for example, how much rainwater will fail to percolate into the ground and recharge the state’s aquifers as a result of the lost trees, and determine its value? Who will count the amount of topsoil that will get washed off as a result of the deforestation and prepare a bill? Who will look into the quantum of mining rejects and the effect they have on the fertility of surrounding fields, the depth of nearby rivers and the potential cost of dredging them to back to their original depth? Who will count the damage to people’s health – both physical and mental – as a result of the wells in their villages running dry and their having to rely on tankers? And what of the damage caused by mining trucks to roads in these areas? What of the respiratory diseases and nuisance caused by ore dust? Who will calculate its cost? We could go on and on, but the point is the principle of the thing. Taking everything into account, setting the correct costs for everything, and then calculating fairly is the basis of good science. 

Sundry ‘studies’ that seek to serve the interests of their funders are neither scientific nor fair. They are just a manipulative means to give so-called ‘scientific’ backing to a lobby seeking to legitimise something. It cannot and should not deceive people who are aware of the realities. For those who believe that development cannot be achieved without destruction; that think a tree is just something that stands in the way of progress; assigning a trivial value for these, while going deep down into detail about the various taxes, levies and fees that different bodies stand to gain from mining, is only natural. 

But is it scientific? Not at all. And is it fair? Nah…! 

Dongor danger

That the accused in the Moti Dongor attack are still at large is alarming. Chief Minister Digambar Kamat may have gone to the Hospicio to inquire into the injured Maqbool’s condition. The CM’s supporters say he is trying to bring about a rapprochement among the Moti Dongor goons. 

But that is only one of the tasks before him. What is he doing to ensure that the allegedly long arms of the law catch up with his ardent supporter Basheer?







Although it is the Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that are primarily associated with Ahinsa or non-violence- all religions endorse respect for nature and compassion for living beings. True religious leaders have consistently recognised that a compassionate God would care about all beings of every shape that have a desire to live and experience pleasure and pain. The principles of compassion and justice must be universal because as the Rev. Martin Luther King rightly observed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  All religions acknowledge that humankind depends on nature for its own survival and avoidance of meat has been a part of religious practice in nearly all faiths. 

“Universal religious thought promotes universal compassion. And condemns the opposite-the unnecessary slaughter of animals-as fundamentally irreligious” quotes Steven Rosen in Diet for Transcendence
In the Old Testament, the foundation of Judaism, one of the Ten Commandments instructs ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to human murder. But the original Hebrew is ‘lo tirtzach’ and Dr Reuben Alcalay’s Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that the word tirtzach, in classical Hebrew usage, refers to ‘any kind of killing,’ and not exclusively the murder of a human being. Those who draw distinctions between the two are concocting their own laws.  There are other pointers that Judaism regarded vegetarianism as the rightful path. Jews believe that before the coming of the Messiah, man must demonstrate the utmost regard for all animals – as first seen in Eden. Therefore, vegetarianism is a Judaic ideal, and keeping kosher is a compromise between this ideal and the reality of life on Earth. In addition to fasting, Jewish law directs that no leather be worn on Yom Kippur because one cannot ask for compassion while dressed in the products of slaughter.

Many Christians believe that Christ ate meat based on the many references to meat in the New Testament. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any direct reference to Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah’s famous prophecy about Jesus’ appearance, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call him name Emmanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” 

Vegetarianism is in fact far more consistent with Jesus’ teachings. Many of the early Christians were vegetarian like the two Ebionites Athansius and Arius. Of the Church fathers Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Boniface, St Jerome and John Chrysostom were vegetarian. St John Chrysostom considered meat-eating to be a cruel and unnatural habit for Christians.

Mathew ate only seeds, nuts and vegetables. 

Genesis (9:4) directly forbids meat-eating. I quote 3 extracts:

“But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it.”

“God is manifest in all creatures. All creatures live in God and God is hid in them. The fruit of the trees and the seeds and of the herbs alone do I partake, and these are changed by the spirit into my flesh and blood. Of these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me and are my disciples; for of these, in the spirit, come life and health and healing unto man.”

“And the flesh of the slain beasts in his own body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills kills himself, and who so eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats the body of death.”

Is there actually any direct biblical reference to Jesus buying or eating meat? No. Not even in the Last Supper. Though many believe it was a Passover meal, significantly there is no mention of the traditional Passover lamb dish.

What about fish? The only two occasions on which Jesus is believed to have eaten fish were AFTER his death and resurrection. Besides the fish was a well known mystical symbol among the early Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used as an acronym that meant Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Saviour. So there is some ground to believe that all of the fish stories in the gospel were actually intended symbolically rather than literally.

Another pointer that Jesus was vegetarian comes from what we know of the people among whom he was born and lived-namely the Essenes, Nazoreans and Ebionites. The Essenes were Jews who were remarkably similar to the early Christians .The first Christians were known as Nazoreans and the Ebionites were a direct offshoot from them. All three groups were vegetarian. Eusebius, the first church historian reports that James the brother of Jesus drank no wine and ate no animal food. If James was raised as a vegetarian, it seems reasonable to suppose that so too was Jesus. Historically, asceticism demanded vegetarianism. 

Later books of the Bible, also condemn killing and meat. According to the Bible, man was created as and intended to be vegetarian.  The Garden of Eden, God’s perfect world, was vegetarian. The question then arises as to why and when Christianity abandoned its vegetarian roots. 

In his book ‘Food for the Spirit’, Steven Rosen reveals that Christianity was vegetarian up to the 4th century when Constantine decreed it illegal. A meat-eating version of the Bible was officially adopted by the Roman Empire and vegetarian Christians were persecuted as heretics. In 1052 in Southern France, a group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist religious group) were hanged to death for refusing to kill a chicken.

But even up to medieval times in England, meat continued to be forbidden in monasteries. Meat was prohibited by papal edict. But gradually as monks no longer confined themselves to the cloister and rules began to be relaxed, in 1339 the Pope conceded that since prohibition was unenforceable, meat was to be allowed to half the order at a time while the other half maintained the vegetarian rule. Again this would indicate that the Church considered meat a sinful luxury rather than a natural or necessary diet.

Vegetarianism made a comeback in England when the Bible Christian Church of 1809 became the first to defend and require vegetarianism on orthodox theological grounds. 

If it is the quest of religion to lead man to salvation, to bring him to health, happiness, peace and justice, then vegetarianism becomes an obvious Christian priority as the way to respect His creation with a vegetarian diet and lead the human race out of the violence and selfishness that have made a hell out of the paradise that God prepared for all creatures.


Listen to Mahatma Gandhi and think on the New Year: It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.







New Year is a time to learn to rely more heavily on the grace of God, as trusting upon God we can do everything as through Him it is He who gives us the strength. And I believe that God’s strength sees one through a lot – through pain, joy and accomplishment. If this last year, you didn’t practice relying on the Lord as much as you should have, there is no time like the present to make a New Year’s resolution. 
The beginning of a new year is, for me, always a time of reflection, of introspection, of careful consideration of the past and planning for the future.  New Year’s resolutions are worth making. The first day of a New Year is always a solemnly joyous day. Though there is no real difference between it and any other day, yet in our mind and thought it is a marked period, which we regard as one of the milestones set up on the highway of our life. It is only in imagination that there is any close of one year and beginning of another; and yet it has most fitly all the force of a great fact. We have sailed into the year of grace. If Jesus has not made us new already, let the New Year cause us to think about the great and needful change of our hearts.

As when we change calendars it is a good time for reassessment. How did last year go? What do I want to do differently this year? Don’t we all need to know where we’ve wronged and how the changes we made in the past are affecting us today? We need to find a time and place to do this, if we want to. There are many benefits of deciding to look inside, as suddenly you are allowing yourself to do something precious – give yourself time. Every one of us is over burden in our lives with little time to do anything for ourselves. We have our families, friends, our jobs, and house chores. All demand our attention. It is indeed, a difficult task to do your inner research. Sometimes you have to deal with issues you swept under the rug – knowing one day you would have to look at them again. 

But guess what? Today is all any of us gets, and even this is not a guarantee. So look inside – deal with what you want to avoid now. Get it out of the way so you can move forward. All of us have had a rocky road at sometime or the other in our life. We need to celebrate the challenges we have overcome. The New Year resolutions ensures our growth as individuals, to make healthier choices and to live a better life. These resolutions mostly centre on our values and are tools that allow us to make definitive changes and improvements in our lifestyle, if we abide them.

Every New Year is the beginning of a new journey. Will God grant us the strength that we need? Yes, God’s strength will be there when we need it and this is promised by God Himself to us. We will never find a day when God’s strength is lacking. We will have strength as long as our days last. Many times we tend to limit our thinking to the fact that God’s presence is with us as we go through life. That’s true. He’s not only with us now; he’s already way up the road ahead of us. Remember, that while we struggle with the problems in our lives, God is hard at work providing solutions for the things we are going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations we have yet to face, preparing them for us and us for them.
The New Year is a good time to refocus our thoughts and energies on realising the hope that is within us. My prayer is that this coming year would be a rebirth of hope for each one of our lives in which we see the promises of God being fully realized in each of our hearts. What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year. Cheers to a New Year 2011 and another chance for us to get it right.









Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim are the latest entrants in the year-end season of corruption scandals. Already under siege with the 2G Spectrum mega scam, the Congress is now saddled with graft charges against its former Chief Minister K Rosaiah in Andhra. A Hyderabad local court has directed the State government’s anti-corruption bureau to register a case against Rosaiah and 16 others for their alleged involvement in a land-scam worth Rs 200 crores. The former CM came under the scanner after a group of petitioners claimed that nine acres of land, in the Ameerpet village and mandal of Hyderabad, was handed over by him to a private party during his term. The court has asked the bureau to submit a report before January 28. The timing of this case couldn’t be more inappropriate for the Congress High Command as it gives the Opposition further ammunition against the UPA’s corruption-ridden governance. Worse, it will force New Delhi to silence its guns against ‘tainted’ Yeddyurappa in Karnataka.   

Up north-east, Sikkim’s Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling is too caught in the corruption cross-hairs. The CBI has sought clearance to investigate Chamling and several of his Cabinet colleagues in an assets case. Scandalously, Chamling stands accused of amassing nearly Rs 23 crores in Sikkim and outside by abusing his official position first as an MLA from 1985-94 and then as Chief Minister since 1994. More, he awarded 26 hydro electric projects to companies in violation of all norms. Adding to Chamling’s woes, the Comptroller and Auditor General has also come down heavily on favouritism shown by him to his relatives’ business ventures which caused a huge loss to the State exchequer. While the Centre is silent, the CBI has requested the Chief Secretary for a sanction to register a case. What next?


Chhattisgarh’s thieves

Forget Maoists, thieves are the latest encumbrance for the Chhattisgarh State Government. Whereby, its much-touted rural solar electrification project in the ‘red zone’ has become a money-making source for the robbers, especially in villages located inside forests and on hilly terrains. Ironically, while the Naxalites have facilitated the State’s electrification plans in remote areas, the burglars think otherwise. Coming in gangs from across the State they take away photovoltaic panels as a hapless police looks on. Another problem is that the thieves damage panels while trying to remove these. Interestingly, the Maoist cadres have found a new use for the solar equipment: recharging mobile phones and other electronic gadgets. Creditably the Government has so far provided electrification to 1400 villages but over 2000-odd villages still need electricity. Also under a project for Ashram Shalas, solar power plants have been installed in 950 tribal hostels, benefiting hundreds of students. Who will show light to the Government to bell the thieves?


Punjab MLAs poor record

The UPA’s flagship Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan has failed to make any impact in Punjab where the dropout rate stands at over 40 per cent across primary, middle and high schools. Call it a coincidence but over 42 of the State’s 117 MLAs are school or college dropouts. This scandalous fact came to the fore in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha’s glossy Who’s Who. A cursory glance showcases how many legislators come with prefixes and suffixes like “under middle”, “under-matric”, “pre-engineering”, “pre-medical” or “BA Part I” and “BA Part II”. More scandalous, three MLAs are school drop-outs before class VIII. This is not all. Two Cabinet Ministers are only matriculates. Happily, 44 MLAs including Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and the PCC Chief are graduates. The State boasts of its Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is an MBA from California. Undoubtedly, he is all set to give an impetus to educating his State MLAs.



As Leh grapples with the sweeping cold, it can warm its cockles that the Union Railway Ministry has approved the 498-km all-weather broad gauge Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line. Importantly, once through the line will prove to be a vital link to connect strategically important border areas in Leh and transport military supplies, keeping in view the communication upgrade being done by the neighbouring country along the border. This is not all. The railway line would give a leg-up to tourism in India’s snow clad areas. The Government’s seriousness is evident by the fact it has asked the Planning Commission to accord top priority to this project. There is also another proposal to link the Manali-Leh line with Pathankot-Joginder Nagar line in Himachal Pradesh. Clearly, this one proposal will facilitate free flow of tourism in the two States: Kashmir and Himachal.



Bihar has notched up another first. It has become the foremost State in the country to use the latest cell phones for centralized monitoring of road construction. From this month on, the Bihar State Road Development Corporation will deploy Android phones to help executive engineers keep an eye on road construction from district headquarters. Given that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar credits his stupendous success in the recent elections to the network of roads built in his first term. Since 2006-07, Bihar has constructed 23,606 km of roads besides augmenting and repairing 1,657 km of national highways. Not only the road department but Bihar’s State Bridge Construction Corporation too uses GPS enabled phones to help mobile inspectors track engineers on duty.  ‘Dial mobility’ to track growth seems to be Bihar’s latest catch-word.



Onions may be driving India to tears. But West Bengal is crying over potatoes too. The State is facing acute scarcity of this most-demanding vegetable which forced the Government to buy it from other States. After a bumper crop in March wherein it was exporting to neighbouring Assam, today it needs to import from the traditional potato exporting State Uttar Pradesh. Worse, it is saddled by rotten potatoes at high prices. With State elections round the corner, the Food Department is at its wits end of how to deal with the potato-onion double whammy. Against the backdrop that the State coffers are already stretched to the limits. It remains to be seen whether potatoes will become Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s waterloo.

Insaf, INFA





Parliament was stalled for 45 days before Bofors JPC. The Opposition may continue demand for JPC during budget session- which again shall stall Parliament proceedings. Why Congress is adamant for not opting for JPC? It shows there is some fishy scene behind it. The demand of Opposition for JPC may not be a valid one- a political move- but why Congress is afraid- adamant against it? This way Congress is going to lose its respect and may lose next general elections too. 

For the unsolved dispute and wasting of nation's time and crores of rupees for not functioning of Parliament, I suggest this matter be solved by appointing an Arbitrator -that is-Supreme Court. Let this demand be judged -decided by the Apex Court, whose decision should be final and acceptable to all political parties in India. 
Mahesh Kapasi

Opposition's demand for a JPC probe into the irregularities of allotting  2G Spectrum is justified but what is not at all correct is that Parliament was not allowed to function. This has resulted in a lot of money being wasted because of Parliament disruptions. In fact, 26,000 Rupees are lost when 1 minute  of Parliament session gets disrupted. So, if we add the total number of hours lost due to parliament disruptions, the money will add up to thousands of crores.

This is nothing but the tax-payers money being wasted. When the government has nothing to hide, what's wrong in agreeing to a JPC probe. Probably the government is worried that the Prime Minister will be called to appear before the Joint Parliamentary Committee and that is why they are refusing to agree to a JPC probe. Prime Minister has agreed to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but the Opposition is not ready to allow anything less than a JPC probe. Opposition is in a sense justified in asking for a JPC probe because the 2G spectrum issue has cost the nation a loss of 1 Lakh 76,000 crores.

Devendra Khurana

As far as demand of the Opposition to form JPC in 2G Spectrum is concerned it seems to be futile because in Harshad Mehta and in many other corruption cases JPC was formed but its outcome was nil. Demand to form JPC in 2G Spectrum is a far cry. In our country there is always a war of nerve between the Opposition and ruling party, which is going on in this case also. Demand of the Opposition is politically motivated, Apart from this, corruption in our country has increased to such an extent that it is now in every field. In such conditions it is very difficult to eradicate corruption merely by demanding to form JPC. Let the government agencies investigate corruption charges in 2G Spectrum and opposition MPs should not disturb parliament. In Parliament there are many other important issues for their discussion. So opposition should not waste public money by disrupting the Parliament session in future on this issue. When we know the outcome of JPC on the basis of our past bitter experience we should not waste our time on it. 

Syed Zia ul Hasan Naqvi

Yes, because even a JPC is not going to prove anything beyond certain limit, as it had happened in the case of four  previous JPCs. The demand of Opposition parties for JPC is politically motivated as the Opposition smells a comeback on this plank, the same way they exploited the Bofors scandal. Ultimately what happened in the Bofors case is known to everyone. Neither a JPC nor the concerted efforts by all those who opposed the Bofors and retained power from the Congress couldn't do anything when they were in power. Finally, when the Congress came back to power, even Ottovio Quotterochi was released and the case is now almost forgotten. Even this 2G case is also blown out of proportion firstly by the CAG which used the presumptive methods to assess the loss as 57,000 crores on the minimum and 1.76 lakhs crores the maximum. As such, how the opposition parties took the maximum 1.76 crores as the net loss to the exchequer and unleashed an all-out propaganda against Dr. Manmohan Singh about whom everyone is unanimous in their views that he wouldn't have benefited anything out of it. Then, the target of attack of mainline opposition is Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Even through the internet malicious propaganda is going on that the money is taken away to Italy and the mother and son duo should be shunted back to Italy. These are uncalled for allegations and everyone knows who are behind it.

Secondly, a ruling party/combine can accept or deny any demand from the opposition. They are not bound to obey anything and everything the opposition parties demand. Even during the time of the NDA and other opposition party rules, they have not submitted to any amount of pressure from the then opposition party. As such, the adamancy of the opposition this time is motivated and they sense some sort of victory through foul means. The government on its part has taken all necessary steps to find the truth behind the 2G spectrum case. The Supreme Court of India is monitoring the case now. In fact, the SC intervened on a petition by Janata Party  one man party President Subrahmaniam Swamy and the Court is very much after the case. The CBI is vigorously pursuing the case. Of course, the CBI has to act on its specific parameters and when the government found that the allegation is serious, it gave free hand to every investigation agency to go all out to find the truth. The culprit is belonging to an ally of the UPA  the DMK. Even the appointment of A. Raja as the Telecom minister was initially not agreed to by Dr. Manmohan Singh. But, in coalition politics, there always remains certain compulsions and ultimately Dr Manmohan Singh had to yield under pressure and thus A Raja became the Telecom minister. 

Now, that when the inevitable has already happened, and all the speculations that were formed against his initial appointment in Telecom ministry proved genuine, Raja was immediately sacked and he is being interrogated to come out with the truth. Therefore, JPC can hardly do anything. Nor even when Dr. Manmohan Singh appears before the JPC, he has hardly anything to spell out before them, as he has already spoke enough on the subject. Of course, no Prime Minister in India, under a coalition form of government can do justice to his duty/responsibility and even the NDA's AB Vajpayee too faltered in many areas, particularly when the worst riots that independent India faced in Gujarat in 2002. If they stood on ground to justify such cruelties, the 2G spectrum is only financial irregularities that is doing the round based on mere speculation, the truth of which can be easily found by other criminal-legal mechanism already in existence in India. 


RK Kutty

PAC or JPC: their propriety.

Congress has for no reason avoided to set up JPC to enquire about G2 Spectrum scam. It is also true that Congress wants to hide many important factors which might be disclosed before the JPC. Congress wants to convince people that the function of both the committees is one and the same. Had it been so then why such different committees would have been provided under the Constitution of India. . The Congress wants to hide from the general public the different roles of both the committees. PAC is Public Accounts Commits which functions like a superpower audit authority on the public exchequer. It is the power of the Lok Sabha to pass budget and Finance Bill and there fore it has every jurisdiction to keep eye on income and expenditure made by its bureaucrat authorities.

Auditor and Comptroller General of India keeps eye over such income and expenditure and the PAC reviews with all pros and cons. No parliamentarian or minister spends any rupee of his own accord but it is all done through the office they hold. Therefore the PAC has no jurisdiction to call any representative of the public unless and until he has drawing and disbursing authority. Obviously the Prime Minister has also no drawing and disbursing authority and hence it would be futile exercise if he is called by PAC. It is also to be noted that the Prime Minister is not a member of Lok Sabha but of Rajya Sabha.

The Chairman of the RS has no control over PAC as it is part and parcel of Lok Sabha. As against this the Joint Parliamentary Committee consists of members of both the Houses and the committee has every right to summon anyone before it to enquire about the subject before it. The committee has every right to compel the attendance of witnesses to depose before it. JPC can summon Radia, Tata, Prabhu Chawla, Barkha Dutt or Veer Sanghvi, Ambani brothers etc. If the Prime Minister has no hesitation to appear and depose before the PAC why he should hesitate to appear before the JPC? Why JPC is not being formed to enquire about G2 Spectrum scam? Why it is only Congress which is avoiding to state openly about its opposition to form JPC? Why Congress blames opposition parties for halting proceedings in parliament? There is some very serious matter which may come out of the JPC and hence all such exercise is being made and this reveals that the Congress has no real intention to rein in the corrupt persons. Subramanian Swami has alleged that a large portion of the corrupt money received from G2 Spectrum scam was given to Sonia, sisters of Sonia and her son Rahul Gandhi. May be right or wrong but the facts should come before the public. If PM wants to prove to be like Caeser’s wife (beyond suspicion) and Sonia too then come forward and face JPC. People will remember them as good and honest persons otherwise they both will be remembered for G2 Spectrum Scam as Rajiv Gandhi is always remembered for Bofors scam. It should further be remembered that falseness lasts an hour and truth lasts till the end of time. Anyone who lives will know trying times. Hope good sense will prevail on the concerned persons. 
PV Namjoshi

The Opposition parties are hell bent on their demand for constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the Spectrum scam.

The Comptroller & Auditor General whose report showed a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in 2G spectrum allocation has caused a heavy storm in our parliament. Though the Public Accounts Committee headed by senior BJP leader is looking into the scam, yet the party (BJP) and some Leftist members are not satisfied with the same and want constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the mistakes committed in the spectrum allocation.

The government will have to bear revenue loss of Rs 57,666 crores. The JPC findings should also come out with ways to prevent recurrence of such blunders. Then only the constitution of JPC is fruitful because let the wise JPC members frame rules so that no mistakes ever occur in government dealings.

PS Pawar

The Parliament has become like a jokers house. A mistake was committed in allotment of spectrum to business houses. Some parameters were not followed and the CAG found that `had the tender system been followed in allotment of 2G spectrum, the Govt would have earned a lot of money. Spectrum/ or mobile is a free gift from our maker Almighty God.

To sustain our life/democratic way of living, any mistake which has been committed should be buried.  Man or a minister is bound to commit mistakes. To err is human but to forgive divine. Remember God has created man  incomplete. We are still being ruled by Satan the devil. We including the Opposition have to realize how we have to prove our ways and not follow the ways of Satan the devil which are against humanity.
There is so much for the Opposition to do for us. Even if suppose the guilty of the spectrum allotment are out, what will happen? At the most you will like to punish them. 

I feel that our life has become a negative way of life. 

I remember when I was returning by the Khushinagar Express from Mumbai to Bhopal. I had taken e-ticket but failed to carry identity card in original. Even though I had the photo copies of not one proof but three still the special checking man did not spare me. Despite of my pleadings that I was not a cheat to the Rlys, he threatened me to get down at Kalyan. I had no choice but to pay him (the whole fare plus penalty as framed by the Rlys.) What a dilemma of sorts and an unfortunate life we are living. We don’t have trust among ourselves; those in authority/power like the TTEs are even worse for gullible passengers! Jesus truly said `When the son of man returneth to earth, shall he find faith on earth? Similarly, the Opposition has no faith in the ruling party members. They think all are cheats!

How much is the JPC probe  going to reveal and will it change the lifestyle of the House nobody knows. It is better the parliemant disbands some of these extra committees otherwise the Opposition will be after the ruling party to put to use these provisiosn.












Even among the persecuted Copts, national pride, it appears, can be dearer than life itself.


The plight of Egypt’s ancient Coptic community seems to be going from bad to worse. On Saturday, just after midnight, as worshipers emerged from a New Year’s mass at Alexandria’s Saints Church, a powerful explosion, probably from a suicide bomber, killed at least 21 and wounded around 100.

President Hosni Mubarak, who denounced the attack, said it was the work of a foreign terrorist group. However, Copts, who took to the streets and rioted to protest the attack, claimed Muslim Egyptians were behind the explosion. Preliminary investigations found that the explosives for the bomb, which had been filled with nails and ball bearings, had been made locally.


At least two instances of blatant incitement proceeded the attack, not including the foreboding precedent from a year ago in which eight Copts were gunned down by Islamists as they left Church following Christmas mass.

Last month, a threat appeared on the website of an al- Qaida-affiliated terrorist group called theIslamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for an attack on a Syrian Catholic church in October that killed about 60 people. The group vowed to attack a Coptic church for holding two Coptic women who had allegedly converted to Islam.

In September, meanwhile, Al-Jazeera TV broadcast a two-hour program called Without Limits that accused the Coptic Church of hiding Israeli weapons and ammunition in monasteries and churches, purportedly in preparation for a war “against the Muslims” that would lead to the creation of an autonomous Coptic state.

The only evidence mustered to support these claims was an incident in mid-August, in which the son of a priest in Port Said was falsely accused of smuggling weapons from Israel. The contraband turned out to be Chinese-made fireworks. Nevertheless, the man is being held by Egypt’s immensely powerful State Security.

MUCH HAS changed since Egypt’s 1919 revolution – when a green banner was waved bearing a crescent and cross, symbolizing that both Muslim and Christian communities led the nationalist movement against British occupation. In recent decades, Egypt’s secular ruling elite has acquiesced to or even encouraged an Islamization process that appeases the increasingly religious masses.

By orchestrating this Islamization process, the Mubarak regime neutralizes criticism from Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists calling for further concessions to Islamic dictates. As a result, the old secular nationalism of the Wafd party or Nasserism, that blurred sectarian differences, is gradually being replaced by a decidedly Islamic-based nationalism, which has made life tough for the Copts.

In state schools, textbooks represent Egypt as an exclusively Muslim state and include anti-Christian texts. In the summer of 2008, the Egyptian doctors syndicate, which, like other professional organizations, has increasingly been taken over by Muslim Brotherhood activists, banned all organ transplants between Muslims and Copts on the grounds that “society would not tolerate organ donations across religious boundaries.”

In the recent parliamentary elections, Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million populace, were almost completely marginalized, along with the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd parties.

Just days before the elections, clashes broke out between riot police and the Coptic community in Cairo, after the government halted construction of a staircase for a Coptic church. The riots ended with two Copts dead, dozens injured and 156 arrested, with most facing charges that carry possible maximum life sentences.

The Copts’ future is growing increasingly uncertain.

Rumors of widespread vote-rigging in the elections led the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd parties to pull out before the second round of voting. This has resulted in a severe blow to the regime’s legitimacy and it might complicate the ailing Mubarak’s transfer of leadership to his son Gamal.

But it is not clear whether this will benefit the Copts.

Indeed, it may be that the regime will resort to further discriminatory measures against them to appease Islamists and deflect criticism.

There is relatively little that the West can do to help.

A Copt was widely lauded recently in the Egyptian press for vowing that he would rather die at the hands of his Muslim brethren than accept American protection.

Even among the persecuted Copts, national pride, it appears, can be dearer than life itself.







This country has one of the Western world’s highest rates of refusal to donate organs due to rabbinic opposition to the practice.


At the risk of intruding on private grief, one has to ask Avi Cohen’s family what they were thinking when they got rabbis involved in the decision to donate the former soccer star’s organs for transplant.

After all, Avi never consulted with rabbis as to whether he should play for Liverpool on Yom Kippur (which he did, and had a stinker of a game against Southampton), or indeed whether Halacha has anything to say about a profession that involves working on almost every Shabbat.


His son Tamir, who has grown into his father’s distinguished boots and plays in the English Premier League with Bolton Wanderers, also seems to have no problem ignoring the Fourth Commandment and the restrictions the rabbis have built around it.

GIVEN THE recent outpourings of racist drivel from chief rabbis of far too many Israeli towns calling on Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs (why haven’t they been summarily dismissed for incitement?) and the equally appalling letter from rabbis’ wives, appealing to the “daughters of Israel” not to work or have contact with Arab men, any self-respecting secular or traditional Jew would do well to keep his distance from such people, with their nasty, superstitious and often medieval mindset.

The rabbis’ objection to harvesting organs from a body centers on the definition of death, with many relying on a centuries- old ruling which insists the moment of death is when the heart stops beating, and not when brain death is determined.

This distinction is crucial in terms of organ donation, because by the time the heart stops in a patient who has already been declared brain dead, most organs are no longer suitable for transplant.

(It is true, of course, that not all rabbis can be tarred with the same brush. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, with the approval of Shas patron Ovadia Yosef, some years ago issued a halachic ruling that holds that brain death, as opposed to heart stoppage, is the deciding factor when determining death.) JUST AS troubling as the involvement of certain rabbis in the Cohen family’s decision not to donate his organs is the fact that Avi Cohen carried an ADI donor card from the National Transplant Center, but his wishes were ignored.

Assuming it’s the same as the one I carry in my wallet, Cohen’s card would have said: “In the hope that I can help others, I hereby bequeath and donate after my death...” and then goes on to list the organs he was prepared to donate. Avi Cohen, who in life was known for his generosity of spirit, probably ticked the box that said he was prepared to donate “any organ from my body that others can use in order to save their life.”

According to current procedure, however, this unequivocal permission to harvest organs after death is not enough, and the hospital still needs to seek the would-be donor’s family’s permission. Fortunately, there has only been one other case in more than a decade in which a family ignored the deceased’s wishes and refused to donate his organs.

But why is the family’s consent required, given that the donor himself has made his wishes perfectly clear? It’s tantamount to writing a will dividing one’s property in a certain way, only to have lawyers allow the family to distribute it in a totally different manner and contrary to the deceased’s desired design.

DUE TO the opposition of leading haredi Ashkenazi rabbis to disconnecting a braindead person from life support before the heart stops, and the knock-on effect this has had on traditional Israelis, this country has one of the Western world’s highest rates of refusal to donate organs.

According to the National Transplant Center, 46.4 percent of families refused consent for organ donation in 2009 (although this was an improvement over the previous year, when more than 50% of families refused consent). A European Union study, meanwhile, published in the journal Transplant, found that Israel’s refusal rate in 2007, 57.9%, was the thirdhighest among the 24 countries surveyed.

The meaning of all these statistics is that more than 100 Israelis a year die due to the lack of an available organ.

To combat these unnecessary deaths, the law regarding organ harvesting needs to be changed. Instead of relying on people to carry an ADI donor card (only around 600,000 do), consent for organ donations should be presumed and doctors should be free to harvest organs for transplant once brain death has been declared, without needing the family’s permission.

Of course, the state cannot force organ donation on people, and those who object to brain death as the determining factor should be allowed to opt out of the program.

Their objection will be stored on a database to which hospitals have access and their wishes respected.

At the same time, should a person who has opted out of the program need an organ transplant, he will be told that due to his objection to organ harvesting, he will not receive one.

As Ofer Gilor, the father of 12-year-old Omri, who donated his son’s organs after the boy died in an accident, recently said: “Doctors have told me that they’ve never encountered anyone who has a problem with accepting organ donations. There’s no problem in accepting them, only in giving.”

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.








It is embarrassing to see Western journalists and officials fooled time and again by Middle Eastern radicals.


I’ve recently written about how easily fooled Western politicians, officials, journalists and academics are by Middle Eastern radicals and I’m going now going to provide some outstanding examples.

In Lebanon, while other newspapers are in decline or starved for funds, one called Al-Akhbar is curiously expanding. The New York Times reporter who recently wrote about the newspaper fell for the foolish notion that it is some model of independence.

In fact, it’s no secret in Lebanon that it’s a hard-line, Syrian-backed newspaper that repeatedly slanders moderate forces and is a mouthpiece for Hizbullah.

And that’s where the money comes from.

So the Times is cheering a Syrian propaganda operation just as, not long ago, The Guardian went into rhapsodies about a supposedly wonderful publication in Turkey that is a front for Islamists, producing false material that enabled the regime there to throw innocent people into prison on trumped-up charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.

Any serious investigation should have shown the true nature of Al-Akhbar but the reporter couldn’t even find anyone to quote on this point, apparently not even trying to produce a balanced article, much less an accurate one.

Instead here’s what we get: “It was the latest coup for a five-year-old paper that has become the most dynamic and daring in Lebanon, and perhaps anywhere in the Arab world. In a region where the news media are still full of obsequious propaganda, Al-Akhbar is now required reading, even for those who abhor its politics.”

But perhaps this free advertising for a Hizbullah and Syrian parrot can be explained by the article’s lead: “Ibrahim al-Amine, the hawk-eyed editorial chairman of Al-Akhbar, describes his newspaper’s founding ambitions this way: ‘We wanted the US ambassador to wake up in the morning, read it and get upset.’” Right, so it’s anti-American, isn’t that recommendation enough? But I don’t think Amine would want the Syrian or Iranian ambassador to get upset. If they did, they might cut off his funding (and maybe some parts as well).

It is like the old Cold War joke about the American insisting that the US had freedom of speech and the Soviet Union didn’t. “After all, I can go in front of the White House and shout, ‘Down with Reagan!” “Oh,” replies the communist, “we have just as much freedom of speech! I can go in front of the Kremlin and shout, ‘Down with Reagan!’ any time I want.”

SPEAKING OF free advertising, Al-Akhbar needs ads even though it seems to prosper while not running any! Let me suggest the Jammal Trust Bank, an institution that launders money for Hizbullah, funds a TV station that supports it and is directed by one of Al- Akhbar’s editors (Jean Aziz). The bank also helps pay the newspaper’s bills. The Times reporter didn’t notice those details. One can compile a long and publicly known set of links connecting Al-Akhbar with Hizbullah and Syria, as well as writers who tend to follow the lines set forth by them.

To present such an enterprise as wonderful is shameful, especially since several honest journalists in Lebanon have been murdered or had to run for their lives, while better newspapers are collapsing for want of financing.

Yet it’s the totalitarians that get kudos from The New York Times. Oh, and Politico’s Laura Rozen had to chime in about this truly wonderful newspaper which is an example to all Arab media! I guess the proposed example is: support revolutionary Islamist terrorist groups, get backing from Syria and only criticize America and those moderates opposed to Iran and Islamism. If there’s a Pulitzer Prize for terrorism, then Al-Akhbarmight be in the running for it.

Meanwhile, it seems increasingly likely that an international investigation will show that Hizbullah was involved in the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. I guess that will be one story Al-Akhbar won’t cover.

Speaking of Syria, while the Saudis are so worried about the US being too soft on Syria and Iran that they are trying to cut their own deal surrendering Lebanon to the Syrians, what does President Barack Obama do? Why, of course, he is in such a hurry to name a US ambassador to Syria that he bypasses Congress and does a recess appointment, even though he has gotten nothing from Syria after two years of ‘engagement.’ What this technique does is shield the Syrian dictatorship from criticism by Congress, since if there had been confirmation hearings for the proposed ambassador, there would have been a lot of questions about Syria’s backing of terrorism, especially against US troops in Iraq. If the administration had more sense, it could have used the harder line from Congress as a rationale to get tougher on Syria. But instead of a “good cop/bad cop” approach, we get a Keystone Kop approach.

But there is also a remarkable and highly revealing quote from an administration official on this matter: “We have implemented our commitments, and we expect Syria to [do the same]. The ball is now in the Syrians’ court.”

That statement will stand as the perfect memorial for the administration’s foreign policy (including on the “peace process”): We’ve done everything for you, now it is time for you to do something for us.

No, you don’t give all the concessions first and then hope that your enemy will do something. That’s dopey. You use leverage and threats and credibility and sometimes even force. You take advantage to some extent of being stronger. You make the other side give something too.

The administration has argued that sending an ambassador to Syria is not a gift to that dictatorship (which is helping murder Americans in Iraq, sponsoring Hamas and Hizbullah, and helping Iran in every possible way), but a necessity in order to communicate with Damascus. But since this US government only wants to communicate flattery and concessions, it’s hardly worthwhile.

Indeed, have no doubt that everyone in the Arabic-speaking world will interpret this as a Syrian victory.

That’s why these actions are worthy of a Dopes of the Day award.

Oh, tremble, all of you who depend on the US as an ally and protector. And tremble, too, if thou doth depend on The New York Times for your understanding of the world.

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








With one simple ruling, our chief rabbis have turned women with unwanted pregnancies into heinous criminals who should be apprehended.


Every year, the chief rabbis launch an aggressive campaign to prevent abortions.

The guardians of women’s bodies preach about the importance of maintaining pregnancies, even unwanted ones. Last month, Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger andShlomo Amar called on all rabbis to fight what they call “the plague taking place in our country.”

Let’s clarify what an unwanted pregnancy is. In many cases, these pregnancies are a result of rape or incest. In others, the women know they cannot take care of the unborn child and don’t want to see themselves or their children fall into poverty.


Just this year, Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev said “abortion is a catastrophe in Jewish law. According to the Torah, abortion is the murder of a fetus in his mother’s womb.”

Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of Beersheba and chairman of the Committee for Prevention of Abortion of the Chief Rabbinate, added: “Abortion is murder. There is no more important issue on the public agenda today than encouraging births and preventing abortions. We disseminated a legal ruling that says abortion is murder. We want the abortion approval committee to be more stringent in approving abortions.”

Yes, murder. Our hospitals employ fulltime executioners who are aided and abetted by women who may turn from victims of rape or incest, ignorance or carelessness, into butchers.

One might think that at any given moment, women are susceptible to this terrible plague of independent thought or wanton desire to abort. If a woman is infected by this terrible epidemic, the rabbis say she will find ominous ways to slaughter the fruit of her womb.

There is no end to the patronizing audacity that the rabbis exhibit in their commandment of the daughters of Israel not to “murder.”

USING THE term murder is chilling. It’s cruel and immoral, and insinuates that crime is raging in our streets and that these female criminals must be apprehended.

Are hundreds of thousands of murderers running around free? Or are we talking about women who took their fate into their hands, so as not to make themselves or their unwanted children miserable? Abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy is not murder. In the early stages, professionals say that though the fetal tissue is human, it is not a living and conscious being.

It seems that every time the rabbis fall out of favor with the public, they seek an easy target, and the easiest is incitement against abortions. Who will attack them for that? Women who had abortions? Women who are forced to decide whether or not to continue their pregnancies are not emotionally available for reactions and returning fire. Women who choose to have abortions don’t want to announce it to the public nor share their deliberations. They are adults, with sound opinions and judgment, who don’t need to be preached to. They don’t need to be called names nor suffer such accusations.

It would be better for the rabbis to remain quiet, and better still for the Knesset to cancel the Pregnancy Termination Committees. Approval committees are the standard procedure here, and are no less aggressive than the rabbis, because they too lack the confidence in women’s judgment.

It is a humiliating situation that requires that a woman seeking an abortion justify her decision before a committee, distinguished as it may be.

Imagine requiring the approval of a committee for every operation we need.

By virtue of its authority to approve or deny abortions, the committee validates the rabbinic line of thought that women lack the wisdom and right to exercise judgment, and that their decisions need to be audited.

Religious figures occasionally claim that women are equal and spice up the statement with a cache of empty declarations.

This equality is empty if the truly significant decisions about the lives and bodies of women are taken out of women’s hands. This is false morality, if women are only vessels in the hands of rabbis who determine their fate.

The Knesset must respect women’s judgment and the medical information they receive from doctors that help them decide. We must not be silent in the face of the false morality of the religious establishment.

Abortion is a woman’s right to control her body. It’s an important, private decision and we must respect every woman’s choice.

The writer is founder and executive director of New Family Organization.









Recently, IDF figures of casualties during Cast Lead were confirmed and the NGO accounts debunked by the most unlikely of sources – Hamas.


The distortion of international law is a primary weapon in the political war attacking Israel’s legitimacy.

During the Gaza War, casualty statistics were used by many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claiming a human rights agenda to bolster these campaigns.

NGOs issued dozens of publications purporting to document the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. They frequently compared those figures to the number of Israeli casualties, which were lower. To pursue their political objectives, NGOs often deliberately and grossly inflated the Palestinian count, mislabeling combatants as civilians or “children,” and made other false accusations.

NGOs such as B’Tselem, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) each issued differing reports, alleging that between 70 – 85% of those killed were civilians.

In contrast to these NGO reports, the Israeli military stated that of 1166 Palestinian deaths, 709 “militants” were killed in combat; the Israeli evidence was largely ignored or derisively dismissed. Recently, though, the IDF figures were confirmed and the NGO accounts debunked by the most unlikely of sources – Hamas.

In a November 2010 interview given by Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad to the Al-Hayat newspaper, Hamas acknowledged that 600-700 Hamas members were killed in the Gaza fighting – more than double the number of combatants published by the NGOs’ and Richard Goldstone’s unreliable version of events.

With these new revelations by Hamas, NGOs, media correspondents, UN officials, and others that presented the NGO statistics as authoritative should now issue corrections.

In a November 2010 lecture at the University of Nebraska, Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein noted the new Hamas numbers and their impact on the credibility of NGO reports: “It will be interesting to see if the Goldstone Report and Human Rights Watch reports are reevaluated by them.”

Indeed, Goldstone and these NGOs have a moral obligation to immediately acknowledge that their allegations against Israel were unsupported.

THE DISPARITY between Palestinian and Israeli casualties was presented by the NGOs as “proof” that Israel’s military operation to stop rocket attacks on its population centers was illegitimate. It also served as the basis for “war crimes” accusations.

The media and the UN Human Rights Council repeatedly highlighted these allegations without independent verification; they were a prominent theme in Goldstone’s report indicting Israel.

In particular, NGOs and Goldstone used their unsupported casualty claims as the sole basis for charges of “disproportionate” or “indiscriminate” Israeli attacks against Gaza civilians, even though under international law, the number of casualties is not a dispositive factor in determining whether war crimes were committed.

Instead, international law requires assessments of what was known to military commanders prior to an attack, such as enemy locations, presence of military objects, presence of civilians, anticipated harm to civilians, military advantage, and evidence of intent.

NGOs ignored these aspects because they did not posses the expertise or access to information that would allow them to make these assessments – and because more complex evaluations would conflict with their political agendas.

Instead, each NGO conveyed its version of events. B’Tselem alleged that 75% of those killed were civilians. PCHR originally claimed 70% and later increased to 85%, and DCI-PS alleged that Israel killed 352 “children” (PCHR claimed 313).

In reviewing the list, however, it is clear that many were actually members of Hamas’ Qassam Brigades or Islamic Jihad.

Shockingly, although DCI-PS claims to advocate for children’s rights, this group did not condemn the terror groups that enlisted child soldiers. NGO superpowers HRW and Amnesty International, along with the Goldstone report, accepted their various allegations as facts, including them in their condemnations and reports.

Some of the NGO attempts to boost the numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties were clearly absurd. B’Tselem accused the IDF of committing “war crimes” by “targeting” what Hamas defines as its police force. The NGO claimed that they were not combatants, because at the time of the IDF attack, they were undergoing a “training course” on “first aid” and “human rights.” In September 2009, B’Tselem revised this charge, belatedly admitting that “many police officers in the Gaza Strip [were] also members of the military wings of Palestinian armed groups.” Yet, by then, B’Tselem’s initial claims had been repeated and adopted by the media and copied in Goldstone’s report. Similarly, PCHR labeled many fighters as “civilians,” including Nizar Rayan and Said Siam, architects of Hamas’ military campaign.

But again, the media, the UN, and others disregarded this gross manipulation.

THIS EPISODE highlights the repeated unreliability of NGO claims, and reinforces the need for their careful and skeptical evaluation. Now that Hamas has revealed the correct statistics, a reexamination of these NGO reports is warranted.

Goldstone specifically demonstrates the need to discard and reject politically motivated, false “investigations” that consist simply of a collection of such NGO allegations.

The writer is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution that promotes accountability and transparency among nongovernmental organizations that claim to protect human rights in the Middle East. She is the author of NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.








Despite all the progress made since the hatred of Jews started thousands of years ago, the last month of 2010 showed us just how far we still have to go.


One of the proverbs I have always believed related particularly to the Jewish people is “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

This applies to anti-Semitism more than any other topic I can think of.

Despite all the progress made since the hatred of Jews started thousands of years ago, we are still confronted by the same methods used by our enemies to convince others that we are the main cause for their problems. The last month of 2010 showed us just how far we still have to go.


Three cases stood out in the international media, all of which border on the absurd.

The first case took place in the small Muslim nation of the Maldives. A delegation of Israeli eye surgeons arrived by government invitation to help treat locals. The doctors were sent by the Foreign Ministry. While they received a warm reception from the government, that didn’t stop Muslims from protesting their arrival. They burned Israeli flags in front of their hotel, gave the usual hate speeches against Jews and peppered their campaign with the “fact” that the doctors were there to harvest organs. The “eye from Zion” doctors were apparently unfazed. They examined hundreds of patients and operated on about two dozen while they were there.

The second case was widely reported here because it was so outrageously stupid. I’m talking about the story about the Mossad being behind the recent shark attacks at Red Sea resorts which killed at least one foreign tourist.

The south Sinai governor said the attacks could be a Zionist plot designed to affect Egyptian tourism. Israel has been accused of influencing the animal world in the past.

According to the Palestinians, in 2009 we sent wild boars into West Bank farmlands to destroy agricultural produce.

Even more ridiculous was their claim a few years back that we released poison-resistant rats into the Old City in Jerusalem to oust Arab residents living there.

Finally, how could there not be a conspiracy theory thrown in? The latest piece of cyberspace garbage is the fictitious Israeli connection to the WikiLeaks fiasco.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Zionist sites are blaming the Jews, saying the documents released make Israel look good – therefore WikiLeaks founder Julian Assanage must have either struck a deal with Israel, or is an Israeli spy. This, according to them, is just another conspiracy by the Jews – just like 9/11 and the global economic meltdown. Over the centuries, the “Jewish conspiracy” has been blamed for just about everything, so the Jew haters cannot leave WikiLeaks out of the equation.

ON THE surface, these might seem like similar acts of anti-Semitism, but they are not – at least not in the hasbara sense. These attacks are rooted in different arenas, and if the government wants to stem such outrageous falsehoods, different strategies must be taken.

Let’s start with the Maldives. It seems unimaginable that any dignified country would allow its citizens to violently protest humanitarian guests invited by the government.

When such an incident occurs, that government should make a formal apology to Israel and its delegation.

Spreading lies, including blood libels, is certainly grounds for that delegation to pick up and leave.

But this incident is more than just about a bunch of Muslim radicals in the Pacific. Israelis on official business are beleaguered around the world, and it’s time to hold the countries in which such incidents take place responsible.

Formal complaints should be lodged in every case of harassment, and we should make it clear that there will be repercussions if such episodes repeat themselves. We are the victims here and our friends in the diplomatic arena must be put on the spot to help stop the lies perpetrated by our enemies. There can be no compromise on this principle.

The conspiracy theorists must be attacked on their home turf, the Internet. Israel must challenge them in every possible forum. We have truth on our side and it should be made visible even in the most hate-filled websites and chat rooms. Show the pictures of the men who committed the 9/11 attacks again and again.

Sites that perpetuate the old falsehoods of Jews controlling the banks and media should be overrun by statistics of how much Arab money has been invested in financial and communication institutions. The numbers are staggering. Even a virtual tour of the posh areas in London should show the skeptics just who’s trying to “take over.”

Israel must invest a considerable amount of resources on this front. It’s a lot of work, but we are the only government whose sacred duty it is to combat anti-Semitism on the Web.

As to the stories of Jews controlling the animal kingdom or other preposterous notions, Israel should come out with a book which compiles the most off-the-wall allegations. The title is self- explanatory, something like “The 100 Wackiest Anti-Semitic Conspiracies.”

Gather research from all over the world and write it up in a humorous way (keeping in mind that these stories have serious implications). Get a famous Jewish comedian to write a forward. These books can be handed out to foreign diplomats as presents for the holidays and sold at bookstores, with profits going to a worthy cause. There can be an edition for the Western countries and another for the Muslim world, and a highly publicized book tour to get the word out.

Sometimes the best way to tackle hate is through laughter, but in most cases Israel must be more serious in making the fight against anti-Semitism – in all these arenas – a national priority. There will be plenty more slander and lies and we must be ready to fight and let the world know that we are doing so.

The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya’sSchool of Communications, and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York. Jeremy@









Last Wednesday, December 29, a hullabaloo broke out at the entrance to the Yad Vashem Holocaust and Martyrs memorial museum in Jerusalem. A group of Palestinian women (from Hebron, Nablus and Bethlehem ), members of the forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families, had come to visit the museum. This was their first visit to Israel, the culmination of their discussion on "Understand the Narrative" with their Israeli counterparts. As they waited for the Israeli group outside the museum, they encountered several sharp-eyed Israeli high-school students. "Get out of here, you sluts," the students shouted at them. "This place is ours, and there is no room for Arabs." Officials at Yad Vashem and the Israeli members of the forum expressed their regret and repugnance over the incident and apologized. But it is unlikely that the tour of the museum undid the damage.


From which school was this class? Sources at Yad Vashem say they still do not know. That morning, 32 classes visited the museum and it is difficult for them to figure out exactly which one was involved in the incident, although they would be grateful for any help. FYI, Mister Education Minister.


But even barring this event, the morning of December 29 reads like an anthology (small? partial? ) of racism: the rabbis wives' letter promoting racial purity - "Don't go out with Gentiles"; the call for targeted assassinations by National Union MK Yaakov Katz - "Snipers should lie in wait and shoot bullets at the heads of those Bedouin who bring in caravans of infiltrators"; the Breathalyzer of MK Otniel Schneller - "Before the Russian immigration, there was no problem of drunken driving"; and the anti-syllabus reconnaissance unit of Im Tirtzu that is once again threatening Ben-Gurion University, this time with a petition to the High Court of Justice.


There are those who have long claimed that these and other phenomena are the Israeli prologue to the local Nuremberg Laws, and that therefore, it is fair to compare Germany on the eve of Hitler's rise to power and our situation here and now. But why should we compare? After all, there's room for everyone here and for variations as well. And we're already big and can do things alone, if we just make a few accommodations. According to the rabbis' wives' letter, the source of racial impurity lies in the National Service. There, in the emergency wards and corridors of our hospitals, the kosher daughters of Israel encounter the Gentiles who will defile them and destroy their lives.


But it's also possible that destruction will come from another place, from the President's residence, for example. Not a Gentile president, heaven forbid. Just an ordinary rapist. And if MK Katz's call to annihilate the Bedouin who bring in infiltrators is heeded, we'll still have a problem on our hands - the bodies. If there were a fence, we could have buried them outside the fence. But there is no fence. No problem. We can set up a cemetery on the other side of the nonexistent fence and good Bedouin - trackers, not infiltrators - will bury the bad Bedouin.


Here's another problem that defies logic. If the Russian immigrants brought the drunken driving problem here, where have the drunken Russian drivers all disappeared? Have they been killed in accidents? I assume that MK Schneller, who headed the national road safety authority for many years, noticed, as I did, what group has held the title of most fatal accidents in recent years. Their relationship to Russia is about as close as mine is to Lapland.

To be sure, this is only a partial anthology. We haven't even gotten to the core - the rabbis. And please forgive me for asking: Is a Christian Arab judge who sits in the Tel Aviv District Court good or bad? After all, the sea is the same sea.







Ehud Barak won the confidence of the Israeli public for the first and last time a dozen years ago when he ran against Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister. After a year and a half, he lost to Ariel Sharon and temporarily retired from politics. Upon his return, he lost not only to Netanyahu, but also to Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman.


A respectable politician would have joined the opposition, but Barak joined Netanyahu and Lieberman in exchange for the defense portfolio in their government, on the pretext of monitoring them and keeping them in line. It was as though Netanyahu were the pilot and Barak the navigator.


The two years in power that Barak shared with Netanyahu - and Lieberman - have proven that the Labor Party leader has not delivered on his promises. Indeed, he is among those who bear responsibility for the absence of the peace process. Barak, who was involved in maintaining contact with the Palestinian Authority during the Annapolis process, as a representative of the Olmert government, supported Netanyahu's decision to end the talks, which have yet to be renewed.


Barak has not kept his promises to shift Netanyahu toward a genuine striving for territorial compromise based on a policy of peace and security. Netanyahu has ignored any such efforts. When Barak made his positions known in Washington and spoke about dividing Jerusalem, Netanyahu rushed to announce that this was the defense minister's personal view and did not represent the government - a similar pronouncement to the one Netanyahu used to distance himself from Lieberman and his speeches.


In his various positions, Barak has come to know U.S. presidents up close, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. True, he didn't know Abraham Lincoln - but to judge by a statement attributed to Lincoln, that you can't fool all of the people all of the time, it would seem that the 16th president of the United States must have known people like Barak. That, at least, is what the Obama White House and the U.S. State Department seem to think, according to Barak Ravid's report in yesterday's paper, which indicated that Washington is fed up the defense minister's promissory notes regarding his ability to rein in Netanyahu.


After reading the report, Barak's party rivals hastened to meet, but they're no better than he is at calling for the Labor Party to quit the coalition. The Labor ministers' resignation would be welcome, but they are just about as powerless as their leader. The Labor Party desperately needs to put its house in order and acquire a new and invigorated leadership, and it must join the opposition. If it doesn't, it will find itself not only outside the government, but outside the Knesset as well.








While Judge George Karra was reading his verdict convicting former president Moshe Katsav, step by step, of sexual offenses including rape, I began receiving cellphone text messages from female friends and colleagues, close and distant: "Unbelievable!" "Kisses. A great day," "Glued to the radio, extremely excited," "Speechless! Moved to tears, screaming at myself in the car," "Joy, skipping around the house like an idiot," "Too good to be true."


As I have already written, it's not a matter of gloating at someone else's downfall. It is deeply moving, however, far beyond the message it is sending women to come forward and file complaints because justice can be served.


When there is a report of a woman complaining about sexual assault, all women are immediately required to explain why they hadn't left their assailant, why she didn't kick him where it hurts and why out of the blue he would do such a thing. When the women complainants are subject to all the usual offensive comments, and even worse, and the question of whether or not it really happened, whether they are telling the truth or lying, many women can't allow themselves to identify with the complainants. While it is legitimate for a man in such a respectable position to contend that the women are framing him to justify their dismissal from their jobs or due to their own failure or spurned affections, women find it difficult to take issue with the male power that continues to give validity to this lie.


Our current reality, which is still controlled by men, deliberately creates a situation in which doubt is an innate part of sexual assault. From a legal standpoint, it is because there are almost never witnesses to rape. It's almost always her word against his. The woman knows what happened. She recounts what happened, and then it turns out that the man tells an entirely different story. But then, she was there. She knows what happened and that's not what he is saying. Maybe she's the one who is crazy? Maybe she's mistaken?


Even in everyday life, doubts are sown because these days sexuality is synonymous with femininity, because women are required to supply sexuality disguised as femininity, aesthetics and delicacy as a bare minimum at work. This is because eroticism between a man and a woman is still defined by the supremacy of a man over a woman. It's not for nothing that many fathers still rape their daughters, that 80-year-old men marry 20-year-old women and that office managers are having "affairs" with their secretaries.


So it's made easy to confuse between a supporting boss, a paternal attitude, courtship and sexual assault. All of them are on the same axis of male control. So it is easy to sow doubt over sexual harassment or assault: Perhaps it is paternalism, a professional relationship or an affair.


It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which women are related to as sexual objects in everyday life on a regular basis, minimizing their individual importance and their worth as human beings. Therefore, when a court uses such explicit and unequivocal language, stating that women are telling the truth and that it is the man who is lying, that what they said happened really did occur, then not only the complainants but also all of us women feel a sense of confirmation of our existence, of our truth, of our life's experience. It enhances the individual importance of each of us, and of the magnitude of our humanity as genuine subjects in the world.


Katsav's conviction on charges of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment recognizes the process by which a man with power reduces a woman to a sexual object, depriving from her professional, personal and human power. Something in this verdict of conviction, after such a long time, with so many details, says not only that one is not allowed to rape, but also that one cannot relate to women as sexual objects.


It's not the fact that a woman can file a complaint, but rather that she should never be faced with a situation in which she would be sexually assaulted. As one of the text messages I got said: "Lots of men need to change their agendas, because rape is forbidden." That's the big news, and at least at the moment it allows us to go around with heads held high, as human beings.








After the many days of the trial of former President Moshe Katsav in room 606 of the Tel Aviv District Court, we could have expected that the verdict would reveal more about what went on in the courtroom. Throughout the trial, judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach refrained from publishing even a small part of the testimonies.


An appeal to the Supreme Court on this matter did not help, despite a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, who made clear, in the spirit of freedom of information, that a decision on "hearing a case in the dark" could be in force when witnesses were giving testimony but not after that, when the verdict was handed down. The judges in the Katsav trial persist in their defiance; they are behaving as if this were some sort of top-secret judges' club.


The summary of the verdict published on Thursday sums up the charges, facts and legal conclusions. The judges note that "to the extent that any detail in this summary contradicts what is said in the verdict, the language of the verdict is binding."


No less. The portions published by the court might deviate from its opinion as a whole in one way or another, but there is no way to check this because of the iron curtain still shrouding the Katsav file. This curtain is much heavier than those lowered over verdicts in no less sensitive trials that dealt with security matters. For example, the case of Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Yaakov, in which the verdict by a panel headed by the late judge Sarah Sirota was widely publicized.


The Katsav summary is nothing but a document of 29 pages chosen from the verdict, which apparently totals 350 pages given only to the two sides in the case. The judges note more than once in the summary that a particular matter is detailed in the verdict. In the current situation, the harsh sentence on Katsav as it appears in the summary looks too definitive. It consistently favors the versions of the women who complained, and essentially makes a mockery of every claim by Katsav and his lawyers.


That's not how you summarize a case that is more than four years old and generated great public interest. Actually, it's not possible to seriously evaluate the verdict and how well-founded it is. It could be that the picture emerging from the verdict as a whole illuminates other aspects beyond viewing Katsav's testimony as "riddled with lies, large and small, consistently marked by manipulation and hiding information." Meanwhile, the testimony of A. from the Tourism Ministry is considered "completely reliable." Her answers were "spontaneous and unsophisticated, [her] words were almost completely backed up by external testimonies, some of which she was unaware."


It could be that the summary of the verdict is carefully crafted, a document that is not missing any details or facts. It could be otherwise. In any case, it is now necessary without delay, in the spirit of freedom of information and the Supreme Court's ruling on the confidentiality of the Katsav trial, for the District Court to order the immediate publication of other parts of the verdict. Especially important are the minutes of the testimonies during the trial, except details of the complainants' testimonies that could seriously violate their privacy.


The public also has a right to know the facts in order to form an opinion on the issues that came up during the trial. It has this right before the sentence is pronounced and the expected appeal, though its chances are slim given that the verdict is based on the degree of lack of trust in the defendant and trust in the complainants.


Justice should not only be done, it should be visible. The justice done by the judges in the Katsav case has not been visible, at least not at this stage. The published summary does not contribute to faith in the justice system, and it's no wonder that some voices are being heard about this.


The judges also represent the public when it comes to judicial information. The Katsav case is not just another serious case of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment. It's a flagship trial that is supposed to carry a clear-cut ethical message intended to encourage women who lodge complaints about sexual offenses, while maintaining a fair trial for the defendant. This message was also missing from the summary that was too short, lacked detailed explanations and was filled with decisive assertions.








A portrait and bust of Moshe Katsav continue to greet visitors at the President's Residence. Even if his likeness is taken down, Israel's eighth president left a black hole in the history of the State of Israel. Even in another 100 years, a male or female pupil who has an interest in the history of Israel's presidents will learn that the seventh president, Ezer Weizman, was suspected of receiving gifts from a businessman and evacuated his post to a serial sex offender. They will find on Google that this symbolic position, which decades before vanished from the state's landscape, cost the State of Israel in 2010 almost NIS 40 million.


The school students will learn that fortunately, Israel's ninth president was an outstanding personality. He was an influential person whose impact crossed political camps. He became president after twice serving as prime minister, establishing the nuclear reactor and winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the Oslo process. At the age of 87, Shimon Peres traveled throughout Israel and even sailed to distant lands, in an incessant effort to salvage Israel's reputation and dignity. Journalists wrote that despite his advanced age, Peres continued to pull the thin threads of peace, so that they would not snap.


These industrious students will discover in the archive of President Peres' speeches that in May 2009 he made the following important statement to an AIPAC convention: "Benjamin Netanyahu knows history, and he wants to make history. In our tradition, making history means making peace, and I am convinced that peace is his highest ambition." The president promised this audience that "the government of Israel will honor the commitments of its predecessor." Israel's president cited favorably the Arab peace initiative of 2002, and turned to the audience: "Why wait? Israel is ready today to bring about peace."


The ninth president's next important speech was delivered on the grave of David Ben-Gurion. This was November 2010, a time when the product of Peres' hero was drowning in a sea of hatred. Peres stated that Ben-Gurion never conceded our right to the land of Israel, but believed that our immediate obligation is to save the Jewish people, and that cannot be done without giving up some parts of the country. When Peres made this reference, settlements were flourishing, peace talks stalled, and the briefing forecasts that he received from intelligence community chiefs became ever gloomier.


The briefings reinforced what Peres had stated in November 2006, as deputy prime minister under Ehud Olmert, to the Winograd Commission that investigated blunders during the Second Lebanon War: "We cannot prevent the penetration of nuclear weapons. We need to end the reasons used to attack us; in other words, we need to obtain full peace in the coming period." Peres added: "We should be cruel to ourselves ... we should do everything to reach peace. We are playing with the future of the Jewish people."


At the end of 2010, when his state inundated itself with fear, racism and righteousness, the ninth president remained very careful about criticizing the state's leaders. He believed that Netanyahu "really wants to make history," and that if he would only rid himself of his right-wing coalition partners, he would bring peace and security. Peres focused on opposition leaders from the political center, hoping they would join the government; but he was unable to persuade them to join a "unity government." Tzipi Livni preferred to wait for the public (about half of whom support the racist doctrines of the extremist rabbis ) to bring her to power.


If a president of Shimon Peres' caliber was unable to put his finger in the dike, these pupils will wonder, what was the point - who needs a president?



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




The new Senate will face one of its most momentous decisions in its opening hours on Wednesday: a vote on whether to change its rules to prohibit the widespread abuse of the filibuster. Americans are fed up with Washington gridlock. The Senate should seize the opportunity.


A filibuster — the catchall term for delaying or blocking a majority vote on a bill by lengthy debate or other procedures — remains a valuable tool for ensuring that a minority of senators cannot be steamrollered into silence. No one is talking about ending the practice.


Every returning Democratic senator, though, has signed a letter demanding an end to the almost automatic way the filibuster has been used in recent years. By simply raising an anonymous objection, senators can trigger a 60-vote supermajority for virtually every piece of legislation. The time has come to make senators work for their filibusters, and justify them to the public.


Critics will say that it is self-serving for Democrats to propose these reforms now, when they face a larger and more restive Republican minority. The facts of the growing procedural abuse are clearly on their side. In the last two Congressional terms, Republicans have brought 275 filibusters that Democrats have been forced to try to break. That is by far the highest number in Congressional history, and more than twice the amount in the previous two terms.


These filibusters are the reason there was no budget passed this year, and why as many as 125 nominees to executive branch positions and 48 judicial nominations were never brought to a vote. They have produced public policy that we strongly opposed, most recently preserving the tax cuts for the rich, but even bipartisan measures like the food safety bill are routinely filibustered and delayed.


The key is to find a way to ensure that any minority party — and the Democrats could find themselves there again — has leverage in the Senate without grinding every bill to an automatic halt. The most thoughtful proposal to do so was developed by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, along with Tom Udall of New Mexico and a few other freshmen. It would make these major changes:


NO LAZY FILIBUSTERS At least 10 senators would have to file a filibuster petition, and members would have to speak continuously on the floor to keep the filibuster going. To ensure the seriousness of the attempt, the requirements would grow each day: five senators would have to hold the floor for the first day, 10 the second day, etc. Those conducting the filibuster would thus have to make their case on camera. (A cloture vote of 60 senators would still be required to break the blockade.)


FEWER BITES OF THE APPLE Republicans now routinely filibuster not only the final vote on a bill, but the initial motion to even debate it, as well as amendments and votes on conference committees. Breaking each of these filibusters adds days or weeks to every bill. The plan would limit filibusters to the actual passage of a bill.


MINORITY AMENDMENTS Harry Reid, the majority leader, frequently prevents Republicans from offering amendments because he fears they will lead to more opportunities to filibuster. Republicans say they mount filibusters because they are precluded from offering amendments. This situation would be resolved by allowing a fixed number of amendments from each side on a bill, followed by a fixed amount of debate on each one.


Changing these rules could be done by a simple majority of senators, but only on the first day of the session. Republicans have said that ramming through such a measure would reduce what little comity remains in the chamber.


Nonetheless, the fear of such a vote has led Republican leaders to negotiate privately with Democrats in search of a compromise, possibly on amendments. Any plan that does not require filibustering senators to hold the floor and make their case to the public would fall short. The Senate has been crippled long enough.









For all their 21st-century savvy, some high-tech companies have been using employment tactics that seem better suited to the feudal era.


In December, the Justice Department settled an antitrust suit with Lucasfilm over an egregious “no solicitation” agreement with rival Pixar. The studios regularly compete for digital animators, highly skilled professionals. But Pixar and Lucasfilm agreed not to cold-call each other’s employees and to notify each other when making an offer to the other company’s employee. They also agreed that if one tried to poach one of the other’s employees and the rival counteroffered, the poacher would not increase the pay package above the initial bid.


Workers have a hard enough time making it in this economy without their bosses colluding to keep them from better job opportunities elsewhere. Without competitive bidding by employers, many workers would have little chance of getting a raise. The deal between the studios was, in effect, an anticompetitive tool to keep a lid on digital animators’ pay.


This is by no means an isolated case. In September, the Justice Department settled another suit over similar no-solicitation agreements involving Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar.


Both cases were settled under similar terms: forbidding the companies to cut deals to refrain from competing for employees — either cold-calling or using other recruitment techniques. We hope the settlements will also serve as a reality check for these companies. They are supposed to be laying the technological groundwork for a better future. That future can’t be built with exploitive labor practices.







For all their 21st-century savvy, some high-tech companies have been using employment tactics that seem better suited to the feudal era.


In December, the Justice Department settled an antitrust suit with Lucasfilm over an egregious “no solicitation” agreement with rival Pixar. The studios regularly compete for digital animators, highly skilled professionals. But Pixar and Lucasfilm agreed not to cold-call each other’s employees and to notify each other when making an offer to the other company’s employee. They also agreed that if one tried to poach one of the other’s employees and the rival counteroffered, the poacher would not increase the pay package above the initial bid.


Workers have a hard enough time making it in this economy without their bosses colluding to keep them from better job opportunities elsewhere. Without competitive bidding by employers, many workers would have little chance of getting a raise. The deal between the studios was, in effect, an anticompetitive tool to keep a lid on digital animators’ pay.


This is by no means an isolated case. In September, the Justice Department settled another suit over similar no-solicitation agreements involving Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar.


Both cases were settled under similar terms: forbidding the companies to cut deals to refrain from competing for employees — either cold-calling or using other recruitment techniques. We hope the settlements will also serve as a reality check for these companies. They are supposed to be laying the technological groundwork for a better future. That future can’t be built with exploitive labor practices.










Across the country a tide is reversing. Soldiers deployed to two long wars are coming back, bringing some of the anguish home with them. Those who leave the service are trying to restart civilian lives, rejoining their families, going to college, trying to find jobs. It doesn’t always work out.


The challenges for returning veterans are particularly visible in upstate New York, around Fort Drum, home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and some of the most frequently deployed combat units anywhere. Since 9/11, tens of thousands of Drum soldiers have seen two or three, sometimes even four tours of duty. Most who return disperse around the country, but a significant percentage stay nearby. Veterans are 13 percent of the population in the Fort Drum area, compared with 9 percent in the rest of the state.


In that band of fading cities and rural communities, the governmental safety net is stretched thin. With more veterans needing help, a growing network of nonprofit organizations is rising to meet the demand.


Business is booming in the veterans outreach center in downtown Utica. The center, once a YMCA, was bright and bustling on a recent gray, snow-dusted day. Staff members proudly showed the strands of a new safety net being woven into place: dormitory rooms upstairs that will soon be converted to transitional housing, a basement full of donated clothing, housewares and furniture. Classrooms. A boxing ring and exercise room. An Internet cafe.


On Dec. 10, the center celebrated the ribbon-cutting for a new program in which veterans meet other veterans for outings, conversation, friendship. The simple idea behind it: if you haven’t been there, you don’t know.


The peer program’s coordinator is Michael Sportello, who served in Iraq. He returned to the worst recession in decades, an ocean of debt and an unhappy home. His wife left. He kept his sons. He almost gave up, but then found the center and a focus for his life.


He is working with people like William Lavier, an Army master sergeant who is striving to reinvent himself for life after warfare. Sergeant Lavier is unemployed and has a college degree and no interest in working for the minimum wage. Because the available jobs upstate are mainly in health care and education, he is studying to be a registered nurse, hoping his finances hold out long enough.


He and his wife, who works for a medical-billing company, are many tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They are one layoff away from a disaster. He is also considering leaving his family for a job in Virginia. Or signing up for another deployment — war may be hell, but it’s also a paycheck.


The world of troubled veterans is still dominated by the Vietnam era, by men in their 60s. But the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, young men and women in their prime, survivors of bomb blasts and bearers of brutal memories, are catching up. When they get in trouble, they are said to do so quicker and more deeply.


Mr. Sportello and Sergeant Lavier are luckier than many. They aren’t homeless or in prison. But both men speak emphatically of how difficult the re-entry to life is after combat. Over there, on patrol, Mr. Sportello said, the adrenaline is so thick the pounding in your neck makes it hard to breathe. Back home, Sergeant Lavier usually can’t sleep. Once, he dozed off to a war movie blasting in his home, the speakers shaking the house and waking everyone else up. The sounds of combat were a lullaby for his jangled nerves.


The pace of civilian life confounds many veterans. They see it as a world of slow-moving civilians who frustrate and terrify them. If a driver resents your tailgating and slows down, and another pulls up beside you — suddenly you’re boxed in, back in Baghdad. People on overpasses look like snipers. Trash on road shoulders like I.E.D.’s.


Veterans and their advocates in Utica and elsewhere had good words for the Veterans Affairs Department, which they said has begun realizing that one of the best ways to help veterans, especially the many who live far from V.A. hospitals, is through community-based services. The agency is steering money to local nonprofits and beginning its own efforts, like a pilot program in nearby Watertown and towns near other military bases around the country, to seek out veterans at risk of homelessness. This is a sharp change of attitude.


Someday the country will recognize that the population of veterans is growing, and that yellow-ribbon magnets aren’t enough to help them. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t figured it out. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has a welcome campaign to end the problem of veterans’ homelessness in five years. But a bill to give the V.A. $50 million more to address homelessness went nowhere in the lame-duck session. The next Congress must do better.








The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion. Film or television characters might consider the procedure, but even on the most libertine programs (a “Mad Men,” a “Sex and the City”), they’re more likely to have a change of heart than actually go through with it. Reality TV thrives on shocking scenes and subjects — extreme pregnancies and surgeries, suburban polygamists and the gay housewives of New York — but abortion remains a little too controversial, and a little bit too real.


This omission is often cited as a victory for the pro-life movement, and in some cases that’s plainly true. (Recent unplanned-pregnancy movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” made abortion seem not only unnecessary but repellent.) But it can also be a form of cultural denial: a way of reassuring the public that abortion in America is — in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase — safe and legal, but also rare.


Rare it isn’t: not when one in five pregnancies ends at the abortion clinic. So it was a victory for realism, at least, when MTV decided to supplement its hit reality shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” with last week’s special, “No Easy Decision,” which followed Markai Durham, a teen mother who got pregnant a second time and chose abortion.


MTV being MTV, the special’s attitude was resolutely pro-choice. But it was a heartbreaking spectacle, whatever your perspective. Durham and her boyfriend are the kind of young people our culture sets adrift — working-class and undereducated, with weak support networks, few authority figures, and no script for sexual maturity beyond the easily neglected admonition to always use a condom. Their televised agony was a case study in how abortion can simultaneously seem like a moral wrong and the only possible solution — because it promised to keep them out of poverty, and to let them give their first daughter opportunities they never had.


The show was particularly wrenching, though, when juxtaposed with two recent dispatches from the world of midlife, upper-middle-class infertility. Last month there was Vanessa Grigoriadis’s provocative New York Magazine story “Waking Up From the Pill,” which suggested that a lifetime on chemical birth control has encouraged women “to forget about the biological realities of being female ... inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” Then on Sunday, The Times Magazine provided a more intimate look at the same issue, in which a midlife parent, the journalist Melanie Thernstrom, chronicled what it took to bring her children into the world: six failed in vitro cycles, an egg donor and two surrogate mothers, and an untold fortune in expenses.


In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.


Some of this shift reflects the growing acceptance of single parenting. But some of it reflects the impact of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.


And lives are what they are. On the MTV special, the people around Durham swaddle abortion in euphemism. The being inside her is just “pregnancy tissue.” After the abortion, she recalls being warned not to humanize it: “If you think of it like [a person], you’re going to make yourself depressed.” Instead, “think of it as what it is: nothing but a little ball of cells.”


It’s left to Durham herself to cut through the evasion. Sitting with her boyfriend afterward, she begins to cry when he calls the embryo a “thing.” Gesturing to their infant daughter, she says, “A ‘thing’ can turn out like that. That’s what I remember ... ‘Nothing but a bunch of cells’ can be her.”


When we want to know this, we know this. Last week’s New Yorker carried a poem by Kevin Young about expectant parents, early in pregnancy, probing the mother’s womb for a heartbeat:


The doctor trying again to find you, fragile,


fern, snowflake. Nothing.


After, my wife will say, in fear,


impatient, she went beyond her body,


this tiny room, into the ether—


... And there


it is: faint, an echo, faster and further


away than mother’s, all beat box


and fuzzy feedback. ...


This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.










If there’s one piece of economic wisdom I hope people will grasp this year, it’s this: Even though we may finally have stopped digging, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole.


Why do I need to point this out? Because I’ve noticed many people overreacting to recent good economic news. What particularly concerns me is the risk of self-denying optimism — that is, I worry that policy makers will look at a few favorable economic indicators, decide that they no longer need to promote recovery, and take steps that send us sliding right back to the bottom.


So, about that good news: various economic indicators, ranging from relatively good holiday sales to new claims for unemployment insurance (which have finally fallen below 400,000 a week), suggest that the great post-bubble retrenchment may finally be ending.


We’re not talking Morning in America here. Construction shows no sign of returning to bubble-era levels, nor are there any indications that debt-burdened families are going back to their old habits of spending all they earned. But all we needed for a modest economic rebound was for construction to stop falling and saving to stop rising — and that seems to be happening. Forecasters have been marking up their predictions; growth as high as 4 percent this year now looks possible.


Hooray! But then again, not so much. Jobs, not G.D.P. numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent, the arithmetic of job creation — the amount of growth you need to get back to a tolerable jobs picture — is daunting.


First of all, we have to grow around 2.5 percent a year just to keep up with rising productivity and population, and hence keep unemployment from rising. That’s why the past year and a half was technically a recovery but felt like a recession: G.D.P. was growing, but not fast enough to bring unemployment down.


Growth at a rate above 2.5 percent will bring unemployment down over time. But the gains aren’t one for one: for a variety of reasons, it has historically taken about two extra points of growth over the course of a year to shave one point off the unemployment rate.


Now do the math. Suppose that the U.S. economy were to grow at 4 percent a year, starting now and continuing for the next several years. Most people would regard this as excellent performance, even as an economic boom; it’s certainly higher than almost all the forecasts I’ve seen.


Yet the math says that even with that kind of growth the unemployment rate would be close to 9 percent at the end of this year, and still above 8 percent at the end of 2012. We wouldn’t get to anything resembling full employment until late in Sarah Palin’s first presidential term.


Seriously, what we’re looking at over the next few years, even with pretty good growth, are unemployment rates that not long ago would have been considered catastrophic — because they are. Behind those dry statistics lies a vast landscape of suffering and broken dreams. And the arithmetic says that the suffering will continue as far as the eye can see.


So what can be done to accelerate this all-too-slow process of healing? A rational political system would long since have created a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration — we’d be putting the unemployed to work doing what needs to be done, repairing and improving our fraying infrastructure. In the political system we have, however, Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte, delivering the Republican weekly address on New Year’s Day, declared that “Job one is to stop wasteful Washington spending.”


Realistically, the best we can hope for from fiscal policy is that Washington doesn’t actively undermine the recovery. Beware, in particular, the Ides of March: by then, the federal government will probably have hit its debt limit and the G.O.P. will try to force President Obama into economically harmful spending cuts.


I’m also worried about monetary policy. Two months ago, the Federal Reserve announced a new plan to promote job growth by buying long-term bonds; at the time, many observers believed that the initial $600 billion purchase was only the beginning of the story. But now it looks like the end, partly because Republicans are trying to bully the Fed into pulling back, but also because a run of slightly better economic news provides an excuse to do nothing.


There’s even a significant chance that the Fed will raise interest rates later this year — or at least that’s what the futures market seems to think. Doing so in the face of high unemployment and minimal inflation would be crazy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.


So back to my original point: whatever the recent economic news, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole. We can only hope that enough policy makers understand that point.










THE visit by President Hu Jintao of China to Washington this month will be the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping’s historic trip more than 30 years ago. It should therefore yield more than the usual boilerplate professions of mutual esteem. It should aim for a definition of the relationship between the two countries that does justice to the global promise of constructive cooperation between them.


I remember Deng’s visit well, as I was national security adviser at the time. It took place in an era of Soviet expansionism, and crystallized United States-Chinese efforts to oppose it. It also marked the beginning of China’s three-decades-long economic transformation — one facilitated by its new diplomatic ties to the United States.


President Hu’s visit takes place in a different climate. There are growing uncertainties regarding the state of the bilateral relationship, as well as concerns in Asia over China’s longer-range geopolitical aspirations. These uncertainties are casting a shadow over the upcoming meeting.


In recent months there has been a steady increase in polemics in the United States and China, with each side accusing the other of pursuing economic policies that run contrary to accepted international rules. Each has described the other as selfish. Longstanding differences between the American and the Chinese notions of human rights were accentuated by the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.


Moreover, each side has unintentionally intensified the suspicions of the other. Washington’s decisions to help India with nuclear energy have stimulated China’s unease, prompting increased Chinese support for Pakistan’s desire to expand its own nuclear energy potential. China’s seeming lack of concern over North Korea’s violent skirmishes with South Korea has given rise to apprehension about China’s policy on the Korean peninsula. And just as America’s unilateralism has in recent years needlessly antagonized some of its friends, so China should note that some of its recent stands have worried its neighbors.


The worst outcome for Asia’s long-term stability as well as for the American-Chinese relationship would be a drift into escalating reciprocal demonization. What’s more, the temptations to follow such a course are likely to grow as both countries face difficulties at home.


The pressures are real. The United States’ need for comprehensive domestic renewal, for instance, is in many respects the price of having shouldered the burdens of waging the 40-year cold war, and it is in part the price of having neglected for the last 20 years mounting evidence of its own domestic obsolescence. Our weakening infrastructure is merely a symptom of the country’s slide backward into the 20th century.


China, meanwhile, is struggling to manage an overheated economy within an inflexible political system. Some pronouncements by Chinese commentators smack of premature triumphalism regarding both China’s domestic transformation and its global role. (Those Chinese leaders who still take Marxist classics seriously might do well to re-read Stalin’s message of 1930 to the party cadres titled “Dizzy With Success,” which warned against “a spirit of vanity and conceit.”)


Thirty years after their collaborative relationship started, the United States and China should not flinch from a forthright discussion of their differences — but they should undertake it with the knowledge that each needs the other. A failure to consolidate and widen their cooperation would damage not just both nations but the world as a whole. Neither side should delude itself that it can avoid the harm caused by an increased mutual antagonism; both should understand that a crisis in one country can hurt the other.


For the visit to be more than symbolic, Presidents Obama and Hu should make a serious effort to codify in a joint declaration the historic potential of productive American-Chinese cooperation. They should outline the principles that should guide it. They should declare their commitment to the concept that the American-Chinese partnership should have a wider mission than national self-interest. That partnership should be guided by the moral imperatives of the 21st century’s unprecedented global interdependence.


The declaration should set in motion a process for defining common political, economic and social goals. It should acknowledge frankly the reality of some disagreements as well as register a shared determination to seek ways of narrowing the ranges of such disagreements. It should also take note of potential threats to security in areas of mutual concern, and commit both sides to enhanced consultations and collaboration in coping with them.


Such a joint charter should, in effect, provide the framework not only for avoiding what under some circumstances could become a hostile rivalry but also for expanding a realistic collaboration between the United States and China. This would do justice to a vital relationship between two great nations of strikingly different histories, identities and cultures — yet both endowed with a historically important global role.


Zbigniew Brzezinski was the national security adviser in the Carter administration.










DID former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, and Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser, all commit a federal crime last month in Paris when they spoke in support of the Mujahedeen Khalq at a conference organized by the Iranian opposition group’s advocates? Free speech, right? Not necessarily.


The problem is that the United States government has labeled the Mujahedeen Khalq a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it a crime to provide it, directly or indirectly, with any material support. And, according to the Justice Department under Mr. Mukasey himself, as well as under the current attorney general, Eric Holder, material support includes not only cash and other tangible aid, but also speech coordinated with a “foreign terrorist organization” for its benefit. It is therefore a felony, the government has argued, to file an amicus brief on behalf of a “terrorist” group, to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.


Don’t get me wrong. I believe Mr. Mukasey and his compatriots had every right to say what they did. Indeed, I argued just that in the Supreme Court, on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Humanitarian Law Project, which fought for more than a decade in American courts for its right to teach the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey how to bring human rights claims before the United Nations, and to assist them in peace overtures to the Turkish government.


But in June, the Supreme Court ruled against us, stating that all such speech could be prohibited, because it might indirectly support the group’s terrorist activity. Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that a terrorist group might use human rights advocacy training to file harassing claims, that it might use peacemaking assistance as a cover while re-arming itself, and that such speech could contribute to the group’s “legitimacy,” and thus increase its ability to obtain support elsewhere that could be turned to terrorist ends. Under the court’s decision, former President Jimmy Carter’s election monitoring team could be prosecuted for meeting with and advising Hezbollah during the 2009 Lebanese elections.


The government has similarly argued that providing legitimate humanitarian aid to victims of war or natural disasters is a crime if provided to or coordinated with a group labeled as a “foreign terrorist organization” — even if there is no other way to get the aid to the region in need. Yet The Times recently reported that the Treasury Department, under a provision ostensibly intended for humanitarian aid, was secretly granting licenses to American businesses to sell billions of dollars worth of food and goods to the very countries we have blockaded for their support of terrorism. Some of the “humanitarian aid” exempted? Cigarettes, popcorn and chewing gum.


Under current law, it seems, the right to make profits is more sacrosanct than the right to petition for peace, and the need to placate American businesses more compelling than the need to provide food and shelter to earthquake victims and war refugees.


Congress should reform the laws governing material support of terrorism. It should make clear that speech advocating only lawful, nonviolent activities — as Michael Mukasey and Rudolph Giuliani did in Paris — is not a crime. The First Amendment protects even speech advocating criminal activity, unless it is intended and likely to incite imminent lawless conduct. The risk that speech advocating peace and human rights would further terrorism is so remote that it cannot outweigh the indispensable value of protecting dissent.


At the same time, Congress also needs to reform the humanitarian aid exemption. It should state clearly that corporate interests in making profits from cigarettes are not sufficient to warrant exemptions from sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism. But Congress should also protect the provision of legitimate humanitarian aid — food, water, medical aid and shelter — in response to wars or natural disasters. Genuine humanitarian aid and free speech can and should be preserved without undermining our interests in security.


David Cole is a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center.










After a blizzard buried the East Coast, shutting down major airports from Boston toPhiladelphia last week, more than two dozen planeloads of passengers were stranded for hours on tarmacs at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.


Given the storm's ferocity, major disruption was not surprising. What was notable, however, was that none of the stranded flights was domestic. All had departed foreign cities and headed for JFK, where not enough gates were open to accept them. On one Cathay Pacific flight, 250 fliers weretrapped for more than 11 hours.


Two conclusions:


•The controversial federal rule designed to prevent long tarmac delays, in place for domestic flights since April 29, works.


•It's time to extend the rule to international flights.


Federal involvement probably wouldn't be necessary if the various authorities would exercise common sense in extraordinary situations. Instead, at JFK, thousands of thirsty, hungry, exhausted passengers sat in stale airline cabins because nobody was able to figure out a way to get them to terminals so close that many passengers could see them. To paraphrase the famous line from Cool Hand Luke, "what we had here was a failure to communicate."


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK, blamed the foreign airlines for failing to call ahead to find out if gates were open. Point taken, but once the international travelers were on the ground, why didn't the airport use its buses and portable stairs to free them? Because, a spokesman says, "you can't turn them loose on the tarmac" before they go through customs.


Customs was fully staffed at nearby Terminal 4. But for reasons that continue to defy explanation, no one put the stacked-up planes, the buses and customs agents together. And, despite a 2008 task force recommendation, the JFK spokesman said he knows of no plan for busing arriving international passengers to hold them inside a terminal, pending processing.


The snow will be long melted by the time all this is sorted out.


For now, though, it's clear that domestic fliers were spared similar misery because the threat of big fines has prompted creative thinking by U.S. carriers. Ultra-long tarmac delays have all but disappeared since the rule took effect, despite howls from the airlines, because it threatens penalties of up to $27,500 per passenger.


From May 1 through the end of October, there were just 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours. Last year, during the same period, there were 546.

The rule was imposed after years of complaints by stranded fliers, lobbying by consumer groups and finally a spate of delays so egregious they made nationwide news, including JetBlue flights stuck for as long as 10 hours in a 2007 ice storm at JFK. U.S. carriers lobbied against the rule, predicting it would set off a deluge of cancellations, as airlines tried to pre-empt flights that might trigger fines. That didn't happen during the rule's first six months. Cancellations, on average, were up less than two-tenths of 1% — not exactly a deluge.


That percentage will rise because of the East Coast blizzard. But U.S. airlines appeared to act prudently and proactively, offering customers the opportunity ahead of time to re-book flights without penalties. No matter the motivation, that's a far better strategy than sending planes onto tarmacs, uncertain whether they will take off or sit stranded.


True, the historic scale of the snowstorm in some cities posed problems that were beyond anyone's control. Even so, it's unacceptable to leave passengers on planes for 11 hours with minimal food, water and sanitary facilities when other options were available. If the people responsible for airports and international flights can't figure out ways to prevent that from happening, the threat of hefty fines will help concentrate their minds.








The year-end holiday season has been tough for travelers and for airlines. Exceptionally adverse weather in the U.S. and Europe resulted in travel chaos. Passengers were inconvenienced and airlines lost money. As the backlog of stranded travelers clears, there are two opportunities that must not be lost.


The first is to learn and apply lessons so that all stakeholders in the industry's infrastructure are better prepared. The second is to evaluate aviation's regulatory environment. While the memories of travel chaos are fresh, we must address a long list of government-imposed industry handicaps, including outdated restrictions, over-regulation where market forces could do better, under-investment in infrastructure and poor regulation of monopoly suppliers. We must not let governments forget all of this while waiting for better weather.


What happened over the holiday season was not acceptable to travelers or to airlines. Airlines fully support the thorough reviews that are being called for by many governments. In the meantime, we must also avoid photo-op knee-jerk reactions that will not deliver results.


Calls for punitive regulation as a result of the excessive delays in New York are a case in point. Nobody wants to get travelers to their destination on time more than the airline. Delays add costs and hurt the airline's reputation. But keeping to schedule in bad weather means running an obstacle course of limited space in the air, on the runway and at airport gates.


On top of that, the availability of airport support staff, including customs and immigration officers, is not assured if ground transport systems are also not working.


Arbitrary fines on airlines won't melt the snow, free up airport gates or build better infrastructure. And they won't provide any greater incentive for airlines to keep to schedule than the power that consumers have when choosing their airline in a competitive market. The only certainty provided by new fines is the added cost burden that will need to be reflected in the price of travel.


December's delays were dramatic and unacceptable. They are also rare. The goal of the aviation industry is to make them rarer. The Transportation Department should share this ambition.


Giovanni Bisignani is director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 230 U.S. and foreign airlines comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.








The Catholic Church seems to wear a permanent black eye these days. Whether it's disturbing new revelations about the priest sex-abuse scandal, data showing mass defections from the church, or vociferous blow-back against a decision or decree by the U.S. bishops, the church finds itself — time and again — on the damage-control defensive.


Even in the midst of easing its long-criticized opposition to condoms as measures against AIDS, the Vatican seemed to set off as much head-scratching as applause at year's end. Were Pope Benedict XVI's quotes in the new Light of the World book really the best way for him to reveal such a momentous shift? Couldn't the Vatican have better clarified the portentous implications for health workers, priests and others tasked with implementing Catholic teaching on contraception?


Under the weight of these problems and others, some are probably more convinced than ever that it's time for the Catholic Church to fade into history. But as a non-Catholic paying attention to the church's travails, I am struck, too, by the steadfast faith of the Catholics I know, and the principled public witness of the Catholics on the ground — the nuns, community activists, volunteers and everyday parishioners who keep on keeping on in the face of adversity.


Because of them and the principles that inspire them, count me as one rooting not for the church's decline and death, but for its recovery and renaissance. May Catholicism's best days lie ahead.


The Church, or church


When I recently asked some Catholic friends of mine about their religious perseverance, they were quick to make a distinction between "The Church" (the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the official doctrine and decrees) and the lower-case church (the community of rank-and-file believers). It's in communion with the latter where they find the experiences and spiritual replenishment that keep them coming back, where their lives are continually changed for the better.


If my Catholic friends had their way, women would be ordained as priests, contraception would no longer be banned, and the Vatican would operate more in sync with the democratic values it espouses. Like many liberal-leaning Catholics — and, yes, there are plenty of them — these friends of mine cringe when the U.S. bishops do something like fight legislation that would extend health care to many vulnerable Americans.


Conservatives no doubt have their own frustrations. Isn't the church abetting illegal immigration with its constant support for undocumented immigrants? Isn't it getting in the way of the free market with its ceaseless insistence that governments play a lead role in helping the poor and weak?


Political arguments aside, here is the plain, unavoidable fact that faces the fathers of the U.S. church: For several decades now, people have been leaving — en masse. As Robert Putnam and David Campbell found in their exhaustive polling for their new book American Grace, roughly 60% of Americans raised as Catholics have either left the church entirely, or have become only nominally Catholic. That's a lot of ex-Catholics and Christmas-and-Easter-only Catholics out there.


The good news for the keepers of American Catholicism is that immigrants, largely Latino, are replenishing the ranks, keeping the Catholic portion of the population steady at a robust 25%. There are still millions upon millions like those unwavering Catholic friends of mine, who keep attending Mass, keep volunteering at the Friday night meals for the homeless, keep practicing the ancient Catholic traditions.


When it comes to politics, you can often judge the integrity of people and organizations by their willingness to say or do the inconvenient thing. Give credit to the Catholics on that score — even the conference of bishops that is so often the scourge of progressives. Just when they seem on the verge of finding permanent common cause with political conservatives, the bishops go and say something that sounds positively liberal, like reminding the politicians and public of the moral dimension to the debate over tax cuts. "Too often," the bishops rightly declared in a letter to members of Congress this past fall, "the weak and vulnerable are not heard in the tax debate."


Whatever your stance on abortion, give the Catholics credit, too, for treating "pro life" as much more than an anti-abortion rallying cry. By creed and deed, they apply the sanctity-of-life principle all along the chain of human life — from "womb to tomb," as the saying goes — and to all manner of people, from death-row prisoners to collateral victims of war in enemy countries.


The point is not that the church's injection of liberal ideas into public debates redeems its other, conservative teachings; in truth, a conservative could just as fairly say that Catholicism's staunch conservatism on abortion and homosexuality redeems its ridiculous liberalism on economic issues.


The point is that Catholicism's political presence has, for the most part, remained above the one-party, one-ideology kowtowing that can make religion a tool for politicians, and a fool for status and power. (For a case study on what that looks like and the consequences it can wreak, consider the lock-step allegiance between most evangelicals and the Republican Party over the past 30-some years, and the alienating effect it has had on the young would-be Christians who have drifted in droves toward the burgeoning "spiritual but not religious" category.)


Catholicism's unique role


Yes, the church could use some changing. But what shouldn't change about this 2-millennia-old religious movement is its inconvenient refusal to forget the poor and vulnerable in these winner-take-all times. Catholicism is not alone in this; indeed, all religion at its best, and secularists, too, have a role and a say. But Catholicism, with its numbers and history and highly relevant teachings, has something unique to offer.


As Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research at the Catholic University of America, writes, "Our nation's diverse faith traditions, especially Catholic social teaching, emphasize the common good and the essential role government has in building a just economy that works for all. This ... powerful message is not heard enough today and is urgently needed at a time of economic anxiety, growing ideological polarization and voter anger."


Give it to the Catholics. When it's more fashionable than ever to take to the public square with torches and pitchforks, could the Catholics — those whose own church has faced so much hostility — lead the way to restoring the common ground and common good? Don't put it past them.


Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland,Ore.-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. He is the author of the book Onward Christian Athletes








Tennessee’s latest national health ranking offers a decidedly mixed portrait. In one important area, at least, the state is the best in the United States. In other equally important categories, though, it doesn’t fare nearly as well. The overall result is predictable. While the state improved marginally in the relative health of its residents, it still trails much of nation in many categories.


The current edition of “America’s Health Rankings,” published yearly by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partners for Prevention, rates the states on a variety of behavioral, environmental and medical measures. In 2010, Tennessee was ranked 42nd, an improvement of two places over 2009. By comparison, Georgia ranked 36th this year, up seven spots. Alabama ranked 45th and Mississippi 50th.


Tennessee’s overall improvement is related to its first-place ranking among the states for its nearly 95 percent vaccination rate for children aged 19 to 35 months. That’s a significant accomplishment. High vaccination rates provide both short- and long-term benefits. They help prevent youngsters from getting potentially serious and deadly diseases. And kids who avoid those illnesses tend to be healthier adolescents and adults, suggesting that Tennessee’s health rankings should continue to improve in coming years.


A successful vaccination program is not the only plus in determining the state’s latest health ranking. The survey also identified other factors that contributed to healthier lifestyles and outcomes for Tennessee residents. A decline in smoking rates, a growing availability of primary care physicians and a low rate of binge-drinking contributed to overall improvements in the health of Tennesseans, as well.


Those pluses, however, must be measured against the negatives outlined in the report. The obesity rate in the state continues to rise. That means a likely increase in the number of state residents with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and other ailments and conditions associated with being overweight. Those chronic conditions often diminish quality of life and carry huge financial costs over an extended period of time.


In addition, high infant and cancer mortality rates and a high incidence of violent crime continue to impact the health of state residents negatively. Reducing those rates won’t be easy, but doing so should remain a state priority.


If that is to occur, the state must approach the issue broadly. Targeted action is useful. The vaccination program addressed an issue that once negatively impacted the health of Tennessee residents. Additional programs to promote continued reductions in smoking rates and to educate the public about the dangers and costs of obesity are planned, though funding for them, like much else in state government, remains uncertain.


The benefits of a continued and a coordinated effort to improve the health of residents — and by doing so raising Tennessee’s national health ranking — should be apparent. Improving from 44th to 42nd in the last year might not seem like much, but it is a sign that the state is headed in a direction that, if continued, will prove beneficial to all Tennesseans. Residents should embrace the state’s initiatives. Their individual health, as well as the state’s overall ranking, should improve as a result.







Bledsoe County, north of Chattanooga, is widely regarded by its residents as one of the most beautiful spots in Tennessee. They can be forgiven that conceit. Over the years, numerous guide book authors and others who have visited the area confirm that opinion. Unfortunately, downtown Pikeville, the county seat and once an attractive and bustling commercial, civic and social hub, is rarely included in that description. Like many downtowns across the United States, it has fallen upon difficult times in recent years. That, it seems, is about to change.


Pikeville recently was chosen to participate in "Tennessee Downtowns," designed to give new life to older and often historically significant small-town commercial districts. The program brings Tennessee Economic and Community Development officials and local residents together to draft a blueprint to revitalize the central business district. The work will require a considerable investment of time but the effort should be beneficial. When planning is completed, project grants usually follow.


Pikeville already has begun the work of revitalization. In the last few years, the community has updated downtown streets and sidewalks and added park benches, a town clock, decorative refuse receptacles and street lamps to the area. Trees and plantings now line Main Street, and parking areas have been redesigned and updated. Once implemented, the "Tennessee Downtowns" program will build on that foundation.


Downtown redevelopment and revitalization — as Chattanoogans should well know — is neither a simple nor a quick task. It requires commitment from public officials and private citizens as well as a willingness to invest significant funds in the short term to promote long-term benefits. Both are necessary to maximize a community's resources and to leverage state assistance to build an attractive and sustainable downtown.


Pikeville and its residents are ready to build on current momentum. They've already started the revitalization process and are eager to work with state officials to create a revitalization plan. The state has recognized that commitment and honored that willingness to work by choosing the community as one of only 12 towns, including nearby Athens and Rockwood, to participate in the upcoming "Tennessee Downtowns" program.


The communities chosen by economic development officials are unlikely to see an immediate benefit from participation in the state program, but that should not be the goal. Long-term growth in downtown areas is far more desirable. The "Tennessee Downtowns" program should help bring that positive change to downtown Pikeville and other participating cities.







With the collapse of union membership around the country to only about 7.2 percent of all private-sector workers, union-backed Democrats repeatedly claim that "interference by management" is the main reason why workplaces keep voting to reject unionization.


That has led Democrats to promote obviously unjust legislation, such as a bill that would deny workers a secret-ballot vote on whether to unionize — and allow Big Labor activists to look on when employees vote to approve or reject a union. That bill, which would encourage intimidation by unions, fortunately has gotten nowhere in Congress — so far.


But the Obama administration, beholden to Big Labor for campaign contributions, is now forcing companies to practically invite employees to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board plans to force companies to start displaying posters that are more or less "how-to manuals" on forming a union. The companies might even have to send e-mail to workers to remind them that they may form a union.


The rule would apply not only to companies that have illegally denied employees the right to organize unions but to "most private employers" across the board, The Associated Press reported. That includes companies that have strictly adhered to federal law where unionization is concerned.


Previously, the National Labor Relations Board has focused on labor disputes at particular companies, so this broad new rule to be imposed on almost all companies is an aggressive expansion of the agency's role — again, to please the president's Big Labor supporters.


Workers are entitled to a fair, non-coercive atmosphere in which to decide whether they will unionize.


Neither denying secret ballots on unionization votes nor forcing law-abiding companies to advertise on behalf of unions helps to promote that goal.


Employees are rejecting unions because they have seen costly, unsustainable union wage-and-benefits packages bankrupt some large companies. Unions will have a far better chance of success in the workplace when their demands are more reasonable and when they stop promoting unfair schemes to boost membership.







It would be amusing to watch individuals, institutions or government agencies try to "get around" the laws of economics — if ignoring economic principles did not cause so much trouble.


Prodded by Congress, the Federal Reserve has proposed a cap on the fees that banks charge to businesses for debit card transactions. The Fed says its proposed limit of 12 cents per transaction — about a 73 percent cut from the current average fee — is "enough" for banks to charge.


You might think, well, what's wrong with a 12-cent cap on debit card transactions? Won't that mean lower costs for consumers and the businesses where they use their debit cards?


The answer is "yes" — and "no."


The cap would reduce debit card transaction costs. But limiting those costs doesn't reduce the banks' need to "pay their bills." So they have to make up that lost revenue somewhere else.


Where? Well, here is how The Associated Press described it: The proposed fee cap has "started a death watch for debit card rewards [programs] and renewed predictions that free checking is done for." So, the AP noted, the cap could "leave consumers to bear the brunt of the new law through higher costs for banking and reduced rewards programs."


We may feel good about "price controls" on debit card transactions. But suddenly, if your free checking is at stake or you are facing other higher banking costs, it's not such a good deal, is it?


This proposal won't really "control" costs. It will just shift costs from one group of consumers to another.


That's no bargain.






Airline passengers may not like the burdensome and ever-more intrusive security protocols they must go through at airports around the nation.


But they generally cooperate with scans and pat-downs as the cost of keeping planes safe from terrorist attacks.


That makes it even more frustrating, however, to learn how often potential weapons are still getting through airport screening.


ABC News recently reported that at some major airports, there was a nearly 70 percent failure rate in undercover "tests" of security by federal officials. Lots of test guns, knives and bomb parts got past screeners at the airports, ABC noted.


That is practically an open invitation to terrorists to bring weapons on board and hijack airliners as they did in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that slaughtered almost 3,000 U.S. citizens.


The American people would be far more patient with the thorough and in some cases embarrassing security checks at airports if it were clear that those checks were getting the desired results.


But they apparently are not, and that should be a source of serious concern to the flying public and everybody else.







Airline passengers may not like the burdensome and ever-more intrusive security protocols they must go through at airports around the nation.


But they generally cooperate with scans and pat-downs as the cost of keeping planes safe from terrorist attacks.


That makes it even more frustrating, however, to learn how often potential weapons are still getting through airport screening.


ABC News recently reported that at some major airports, there was a nearly 70 percent failure rate in undercover "tests" of security by federal officials. Lots of test guns, knives and bomb parts got past screeners at the airports, ABC noted.


That is practically an open invitation to terrorists to bring weapons on board and hijack airliners as they did in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that slaughtered almost 3,000 U.S. citizens.


The American people would be far more patient with the thorough and in some cases embarrassing security checks at airports if it were clear that those checks were getting the desired results.


But they apparently are not, and that should be a source of serious concern to the flying public and everybody else.











The new two-track social cohesion proposal by the chief of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, with its novel acceptance of biculturalism in Turkey and a manifesto to promote common literacy in the Turkish language, is a bold and brave step forward.


It is also entirely a figment of our imagination. But it does not have to be. For we think MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli is capable of far wiser and more constructive policy ideas than suggested in his latest tirade against bilingualism. That most recent screed was against President Abdullah Gül for his visit to Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir where welcome signs were posted in Turkish and Kurdish. This is not helpful.


We understand that most narrowly, Bahçeli must cope with his party’s failure to muster much of a “no” vote in the September referendum, which was a de facto plebiscite on the ruling party’s performance. We also understand that most broadly, the danger of the proverbial “Tower of Babel,” a much-loved story in the MHP for its mythic Sumerian origins, is a parable with true warning for our age.


But the fact remains that Turkey is a country of linguistic complexity. The confrontation of such challenges to social cohesion through the engineering of uniformity has seldom proved successful. The most successful such national effort would probably belong to the once-polyglot French. But even they, despite use of tools from the French Revolution at odds with contemporary European Union sensibilities, failed to subdue the Basque and the Celtic Bretons. And let’s not even tread near the linguistic, cultural and military bridge too far of “Metropolitan France” extending into Algeria.


No, Turkey must find an alternative path. Once, the MHP was a sharp-edged nationalist movement defined by blunt thinking. Bahçeli has changed that, cracking down on excesses such as he did in 2008 in response to violence by party militants on a university campus in Antalya. He has brought thoughtful and innovative thinkers into the party, much in contrast to his predecessor. He and his party are capable of much better than they have exhibited in recent weeks.


We are not sure what useful novelty he might propose. But a starting point for inspiration might be the Haydar Aliyev Museum in Ceyhan, near Bahçeli’s hometown of Osmaniye. Opened in 2008 with the support of the local MHP-run municipality, its 164 photographs devoted to Turkic solidarity are captioned in two languages: Turkish and Azeri. It is ironic that the latter language on display even includes the letter “X,” which its shares in common with Kurdish, the letter so frequently used to shut down publications in that language for its non-existence in the official Turkish alphabet.


The MHP has offered us a model of municipal-based bilingualism in Ceyhan. We think the party, despite its history, is capable of offering a model for Turkey that could carry discussion forward – not back into a dark history.








Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu repeated again at his last press conference of the year the same rhetoric he voiced ahead of a NATO summit last year.


“We will not be a front-line state of NATO,” he said. Davutoğlu uttered the same sentence during talks between Turkey and NATO allies on an anti-defense missile system that was slated for approval at the alliance’s 2010 December summit.


While the anti-missile defense mechanism targets all countries with ballistic missile systems, it was not a hidden secret that the system’s imminent concern is Iran. The plans to employ parts of the system, namely the radars in Turkey, initially met the resistance of Turkey, who was worried about irritating Iran.


Unfortunately, this urge to “not hurt the feelings of Iran” – namely the ultra sensitivity from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, toward Iran, has been shaping many of Turkey’s foreign policy decisions.


But this is not the focal point of this article.


The focal point of this article is Davutoğlu’s perception of being a “front-line state.” What’s wrong with being a front-line state? In Davutoğlu’s understanding, “being a front-line state,” has a negative connotation, as it is reminiscent of the Cold War era.


Needless to say, the comment makes an allusion to Turkey’s status during the Cold War “as a front-line state,” of the Atlantic alliance. But of course Turkey was a front- line state simply because of its physical and political geography. As a neighbor of Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, all members of the communist bloc, Turkey was naturally a “front-line” state. So was Germany. Yet I have not come across any inferiority complex on the part of the Germans due to being a “front-line state.”


Objecting to your country’s NATO membership or its taking sides with the capitalist bloc in the bipolar world order is one thing. But once in NATO, neither Germany nor Turkey could have avoided being a front-line state due to the dictates of geography.


The negative connotation of “front-line state” in the understanding of Davutoğlu seems to imply a master-servant relationship. That’s why he keeps repeating that Turkey has become (under AKP rule obviously) a country whose words are taken into account by NATO.


Objection, Mr. Minister! Turkey certainly did not have the power it exerts currently during the Cold War period but this does not mean that it was a junior partner in NATO at the mercy of the big powers within the alliance. Turkey’s relationship with NATO was not one of decisions taken at the expense of national interests. It was one based on reciprocal interests.


There lies the fundamental mistake of the AKP when it comes to its policies with NATO. It juxtaposes Turkey against the “others” within NATO. This understanding of “us versus them” within NATO was also at the heart of the mismanagement of the disagreement on selecting NATO’s new secretary general two years ago. Turkey gave the image that it was representing the Muslim world within NATO by objecting to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, who was at the heart of the notorious caricature controversy in 2006.


It is important that the government avoids giving an image of “us versus them” during talks that will take place this year within NATO on the details of the missile defense mechanism, as well as with Turkey on the deployment of the radars. It should refrain from repeating the same mistake of portraying a situation whereby Turkey is being pushed by its allies to do something which will basically serve their interests at the expense of those of Turkey. Because this is exactly how the situation was portrayed last time and the AKP should find itself happy for not being humiliated and criticized in the public for the U-turn it took on the issue.


It is not the first time that Turkey has experienced a disagreement between the majorities of its allies. I recall a major crisis at the beginning of the 1990s, when it was Turkey’s objection that blocked the finalization of a treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact on the reduction of conventional forces. Ironically, at that time Turkey was resisting a reduction in arms on its eastern and southeastern border because it perceived a threat from the neighboring regions. After long and thorny negotiations, it finally secured an exemption.


In contrast to the “master-servant relationship,” implied by Davutoğlu, Turkish representatives in NATO were known by their colleagues for always being very skeptical, up in arms and ready to raise an objection.


Current foreign policy analysis is done in a much more accurate way compared to the past due to the information revolution that characterizes the post-Cold War period. In the past, foreign policy was conducted behind closed doors in the absence of much public scrutiny. A simple example would be to compare the way NATO summits are covered by Turkish press. Only a handful of journalists were present at the NATO summits of yesteryear, whereas today an army of Turkish media always occupies a large bloc of the summits’ press centers.


As an academic, Davutoğlu might not be totally aware of how Turkish diplomats have sweated to get the best deal for national interests. That’s why I hope so much that he will find the time to get together with retired ambassadors so that they can share not only their views but also their experience and their accounts of past policy decisions. Ultimately, I would like to remain convinced that Davutoğlu does not share Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scorn for Turkish ambassadors – calling them as he does “mon chers,” which has a negative connotation in Turkish.









“Stock” is the name of the game in my first column of the year: I would like to take stock by going over my 2010 forecasts of the Turkish economy as well as offer my lock, stock and barrel projections for 2011.


My 2010 Report Card…


One factor singlehandedly messed up most of my beginning-year projections: I did not expect capital flows to be so strong. As a result, growth came in much larger than I expected, which also affected my other projections: The budget deficit came in lower, mainly on the back of stronger than expected tax revenues. Similarly, the current account deficit was higher, another artifact of the strong growth.


On the positive side, I once again hit bull’s eye with inflation. And I was once again right on target with my policy predictions. I did not mind being in the minority when I claimed the IMF Standby Arrangement and the fiscal rule would not go through. Andunsurprisingly they didn't.


Then, there is monetary policy, which warrants a separate paragraph: For the first three quarters, the Central Bank of Turkey, or CBT, was quite predictable, except for once, when I got under the impression that the Bank would start hiking during the summer, andon live TV at that, prompting the host to wonder what I had been smoking.


Nothing, really! It was just that I was able to see the strong growth in the economy as early as in April, thanks to my work at Konda, and was assuming the Bank would address that early on. Needless to say, the other forecasts I revised in April-May were rather accurate.


And the 2011 outlook…


For 2011, I see growth slowing to 4.5-5 percent. The economy is already near its potential, and the nature of the growth is unsustainable, so if anything, there are even downward risks to this forecast. Very strong capital flows, bolstered by a ratings upgrade early on, on the other hand, could lead to stronger growth.


The current account figure consistent with this growth figure is around $65 billion, assuming oil prices average out to about $85-90 per barrel. Then, along with a debt service and short-term trade credits of around $35 billion each, Turkey would have an external financing requirement of around $135 billion. The question is whether this can be financed painlessly.


Once bitten twice shy, so I am assuming capital flows will continue to be strong this year. A ratings upgrade to investment grade by Fitch, which would soon be followed by the other agencies, after the ruling AKP’s election victory in June, would boost this scenario further. But external financing is nevertheless one smoking barrel of the Turkish economy this year.


The second barrel is pork barrel spending: Contrary to common belief, fiscal policy has been pro-cyclical this year once adjusted for the strong growth (i.e. the business cycle), although the government has not really opened up the coffers so far. That is sure to change during the first half of the year. While the government’s deficit target seems achievable, too much profligacy, combined with slowing growth, could lead to nasty surprises.                


The final barrel is inflation and monetary policy: With the output gap closed down and price-setting behavior still sticky, inflation is more likely to end the year in the 6.5-7 percent range rather than fall to 5.4 percent, as the CBT envisages. And that is with the Bank forced to reverse gear later in the year, after a couple of reductions in policy rates early on, once inflation begins to move out of control and its unconventional policy seems not to be working.


If global or domestic developments do not cause one of these three barrels to explode, the Turkish economy could as well have a good year.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








In my op-ed dated July 28, 2010 and titled “Negotiating with the PKK: A solution?" I humbly tried to warn the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government of the danger ahead regarding its much-debated “democratic and/or Kurdish opening.”


I began by saying they had to pay utmost attention to the timing of such an initiative, simply because “when operational superiority is in the hands of the terrorist organization … the concessions [they] will have to eventually make will be more than [they] have initially planned.”


My second reservation was related to the vital need for the preparation of the Turkish public. If the government failed to realize this, I predicted, the inevitable outcome of such a pattern would be the creation of a “Turkish problem,” while attempting to solve the Kurdish problem.


Then I concluded that such negotiations, at least in the beginning, could not be conducted publicly. “They rather need[ed] to be initiated secretly by such institutions as intelligence agencies that are capable of both controlling and directing a very sensitive process like this.”


Five months have passed since then, and at the point we have arrived at, I humbly feel compelled to pronounce my final reservation, as well as delivering a caution. If the AKP government wants its initiative to be successful, which I think is of grave importance for the future of Turkey, it must stop dealing with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.


For the last two years, I have been writing a book on Turkey’s eternal Kurdish question, within the framework of the American invasion of Iraq. It is precisely for this reason that I have read all of the books Öcalan has written. Additionally, I have read nearly all of the books that have been written on Öcalan.


With the knowledge gained through having completed such an enormous task, there is now little doubt in my mind that there is no way to satisfy this man’s ego.


As a matter of fact, the Kurdish question in Öcalan’s mind simply revolves around his personality, as well as his own aspirations and needs. To put it another way: Having spent so many years in prison, the only thing that Öcalan is after right now is the winning of certain concessions from the Turkish state. His ultimate aim is, of course, to be freed.


It is precisely for this reason that Öcalan will try to fix this process to himself. He will eventually try to create the perception among the Kurdish public, as he has frequently done in the past, that the Kurdish question can never be solved unless he is part of the process. If he thinks that the process is moving in a way contrary to his personal needs, he will definitely try to block it. The way he recently dealt with Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir explicitly exemplifies this argument.


I am pretty sure that Kurdish politicians and intellectuals know Öcalan’s era is over. These days, they seek to utilize the symbolic resonance of his name, rather than his earthly presence, or the role he plays in the course of the Kurdish problem in Turkey.


Therefore, I humbly need to warn the Turkish government not to fall into Öcalan’s trap!

Their interlocutor is indeed somewhere else.








In the past decade, developments in Turkish politics that correspond to the three laws of physics have altered the structure of the country’s political system beyond recognition.


First, the law of unintended consequences: an electoral threshold barring parties that receive less than 10 percent of the vote from entering Parliament has indelibly impacted Turkish politics. This threshold assigns the smaller parties’ seats mainly to the party receiving the most votes, which in turn dominates Parliament. The more parties that fail to cross the threshold, the more seats the first party gets, and the more artificially powerful it becomes. This threshold could influence the upcoming June 2011 Turkish elections – be prepared for surprises that could affect both Turkey’s and the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, future.


Many multi-party democracies have electoral thresholds, usually at around 5 percent, that ensure that a multiplicity of parties will not paralyze parliament by impeding a majority to form government. However, in Turkey the threshold was instituted at a high 10 percent in 1987 to exclude hard-line Kurdish nationalists from Parliament.


Second, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum: In 2001, as Turkey was going through its worst economic crisis in modern times, traditional center-right parties that have run the country for decades imploded, leaving behind a vacuum. The AKP stepped in after abandoning its roots in the Islamist Welfare Party to re-invent itself as, you guessed it, a center-right movement.


The threshold barred the newly imploded center-right (and center-left) parties from Parliament in the ensuing 2002 elections, allocating 66 percent of the seats in the legislature to the AKP despite having won only 34 percent of the vote, giving the AKP a supermajority. Nevertheless, Kurdish nationalist deputies were individually elected to Parliament, successfully bypassing the threshold and thereby proving its lack of utility.


Although the AKP had campaigned on abandoning the illiberal ways and means of the Welfare Party, the artificial and inflated political power that the threshold granted the AKP inhibited the party’s moderation, emboldening the AKP to embrace its authoritarian instincts. After all, it was not accountable for almost half of the seats it received. The AKP then turned sour on its erstwhile allies, such as the liberals and the business community.


The law of unintended consequences has, in fact, corroded the AKP’s founding esprit de corps: its unnatural strength has been bad for the party. The AKP interpreted its legislative supermajority, unrepresentative as it might be, as a popular mandate to trample over checks and balances, such as the courts and the media. This marked the beginning of the end for those who thought that the AKP’s illiberal pedigree would dissipate should the party integrate into the democratic process.


The AKP not only became more authoritarian at home, but also found its bearing on foreign policy in 2003 in the run up to the Iraq War. At that time, the secular Turkish military, intent on forcing the AKP to make the politically costly decision on whether or not to support the United States in the war, remained unusually absent from the debate.


Third, power not exercised is power forfeited; the AKP decided without the military and refused to support the United States, alienating Washington. But then, quickly making up for this damage, the AKP partnered with America by providing cooperation in Iraq, and in doing so gradually consolidated all foreign policy decision-making in its hands. Exit the Turkish military from the foreign policy process, and enter the AKP’s vision for international affairs, which is as different from earlier Turkish foreign policy as day is from night.


The threshold once again impacted the 2007 elections; with 46 percent of the vote, the AKP received 62 percent of the seats in the legislature. This made the party more authoritarian and more dismissive of the democratic check and balances. The result: many of the party’s opponents started to end up in jail.


And now, the June 2011 elections: while opinion polls show that the main opposition, the Republican Peoples’ Party, or CHP, will do well, the AKP appears to lead and the fact remains that the high threshold will, once again, bar many small parties from the legislature and grant the AKP yet another “supermajority on steroids,” further boosting the party’s authoritarian instincts.


In balance, it might be a day too late and buck too short for Turkey’s political system to restore itself, barring an elimination of the high threshold. But then, the AKP holds the parliamentary majority necessary to make that change, so it is unlikely that it will amend a system that grants it nearly indefinite power. Only if the AKP worried about the nature of its politics, a byproduct of the high threshold, would there be hope for redress. But this is unlikely as each election grants the party more seats in the legislature than the number of people who support it.


The electoral threshold intended to keep the bête noir of Turkish politics, Kurdish nationalists, out of Parliament, now excludes almost everyone else from the legislature. This may not only be the end of the wish that the AKP represents a conservative democratic movement, but of Turkey’s multi-party democracy and even the beginning of indefinite single party rule. Beware the law of unintended consequences, or Turkish political physics, in 2011.








Like the past many years since political predictability vanished from the horizon of this country, 2011 will obviously be a year of intense political activity, at least until the tentatively scheduled June 12 parliamentary elections.


Without much exaggeration, taking into account the campaign period and the post-election squabbles, at least for those Turks who have not given up the hope of democratic political resolution to all problems of democracy and politics, it might be comfortably said that we would be discussing politics most of the time in the just started year.


As is obvious for everyone living on these lands, we have the skill and talent of converting every election, be it local or parliamentary, into something extraordinary, an event that would shape history or which would become a landmark of some sort. Indeed, in this peculiar democracy which has far more similarities with an autocracy or a police state than democratic governance, having so many hopes attached to elections is a manifestation of the deep conviction of at least many Turks that one day, God willing, we might have the opportunity of resolving political problems through politics and within the limits of democracy and supremacy of law.


We might have so many thousands of people behind bars on some pretext but truly just because they dared to criticize or oppose the “civilian democratic government” of the country… We might have complaints regarding the mass wiretapping and circumstantial eavesdropping tradition and the habit of “mistakenly” exposing the most sacred personal data in thriller-like indictment dossiers… We might be fed up seeing the summary execution of critics on the front pages of the allegiant media; and worse, most of us might have serious doubts about the electronic contamination of the election results… We might have serious concerns about the occupation of the state and top bureaucratic posts at almost all departments by almond-mustached people all subscribing to a certain form of interpretation of Islam… Yet, most of us have not yet given up the hope and conviction that those who come with polls should go with polls and this country can indeed change its government in the ballot box.


That is perhaps why we have started months in advance talking with such exaggerated hopes about the scheduled June 12 parliamentary elections.


An election, though not enough alone to demonstrate the existence of democratic governance in a country, is sine qua non of democracy. It helps determine not only the government and the opposition – only in democracies, semi-democracies or peculiar democracies like Turkey – but also the political climate in that country. When it is not manipulated or electronically contaminated, it has all the powers… A government which might be considered all-powerful and even almighty might be swept aside by the ballot box and a new political team might be instated in power.


Like the 1950 polls, the nation might declare “That’s enough” and open a new age. It has become clear from now that very much like the current Parliament, in the parliament to be established with the 2011 polls we will have three-and-a-half parties in the legislature. That is, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, will receive sufficient votes to overcome the inhumane and antidemocratic 10 percent electoral threshold and send deputies to Parliament, while the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP – the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK – will win seats through independent candidates. Could there be a fourth party in Parliament? Hopefully there will be… But which party and how? The center right spectrum of Turkish politics remains so scattered that it is unlikely for them to forge a union, overcome the threshold and win seats in Parliament… Yet, as is said, if there is still breath, there is still hope…


The focus of the 2011 election campaign is clear from now as well. Obviously the campaign will be dominated with the new constitution talk, though most probably none of the parties will dare to spell out what new constitution they have in their post-election plans. We might end up having a healthy constitution baby or we may end up having yet another revanchist and reactionary text written with a majoritarian understanding… It all depends what the outcome of the election will be.


Whatever, 2011 will be a year dominated at the center by elections and the rest by pre-election and post-election political discussions.








Turkey has come to the forefront due to its policies on improving relations with Middle Eastern countries in recent years, especially with its neighbors. In this respect, one of the most significant steps has been taken in Turkish-Syrian relations. The exemplary relations have been going through a phase of transition from competition to integration for almost a decade.


With the 1998 Adana Protocol and the following developments, relations started to become normalized and have been proceeding toward a model partnership for the rest of the region. The second meeting of the Turkish-Syrian High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, or HSCC, held on Dec. 20-21, 2010, was one of the most concrete/tangible signals of the progress concerning bilateral relations.


The first HSCC meeting held on Oct. 13, 2009, in Aleppo and Gaziantep created many historical opportunities for cooperation, such as the signing of 51 treaties which had previously not been realized by either country. No more than a decade ago, it was almost impossible even to imagine that the prime ministers of these countries could sit around the same table and discuss cooperation possibilities. However, nowadays the prime ministers sign social, economic and political agreements, make efforts to deepen relations and try to accomplish a mutual vision for the future of the region.


The trade volume between Turkey and Syria, which had not exceeded even 1 billion dollars just 10 years ago, is now expected to reach around 5 billion dollars in a few years. The trade volume, which was 1.4 billion dollars during the first ten-month period of 2009, has increased to 2.1 billion dollars within the same period of 2010. Furthermore, thanks to the visa exemption policy, the number of mutual visits between peoples of the two countries has skyrocketed. In 2010, 750,000 Syrians entered Turkey while the number of Turks visiting Syria reached 1.35 million people.


Within this framework, 11 agreements were signed between Turkey and Syria during the second meeting of the HSCC with the participation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari, accompanied by a number of ministers from both countries. Following the meeting, both parties reached an agreement on documents concerning cooperation on social services, child protection, the supply and distribution of electricity and sustainable energy, energy protection, real estate, environmental protection, development and housing. All of this was in addition to the cooperation among the State Planning Commission, the Turkish Development Bank, the Turkish Finance Ministry and the Turkish Undersecretariat of the Treasury. These developments that added new dimensions to the matter are all signs of the establishment of deep-rooted relations. What is more, the construction of the Nusaybin-al-Qamishli Customs Gate and a friendship dam on the Asi River, the establishment of a Turkish-Syrian bank and the provision of high-speed train services between the southeastern Turkish province of Gaziantep and Aleppo show the great progress reached in a very short time span.


In addition to all these far-reaching improvements, the two countries, which once came to the brink of waging war against each other because of terrorism issues, have now agreed on cooperation on counter-terrorism, as both have declared terrorism a common enemy and decided to pursue a decisive policy against the threat.


In this respect, Syria has already extradited at least 110 terrorists to Turkey. In the same way, operations against members of terrorist organizations are being conducted in line with Turkish demands.


Beyond the advantages of all these bilateral efforts for Turkey and Syria, it is of vital importance that these developments could set a precedent for other regional countries. In this regard, Syria is seen as the locomotive country of the region. As it is considered an important gate to the Arab market, it is highly likely that any sort of improvement in relations with the country will have a spillover effect and be taken as a model by others. That is to say, one of the most effective ways of encouraging other countries to take initiatives is to establish such a model partnership with Syria. As a result, countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt have reiterated their will to see Turkey successful cooperate with them as it does with Syria.


With the establishment of better relations with regional countries, Turkey aims to do more than simply take care of its own interests. There is a much broader aim of expanding the atmosphere of prosperity and welfare to the whole region. These policies have gradually brought fruitful consequences. One of the striking examples is the establishment of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council between Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for the creation of a long-run strategic partnership and free-trade zone between the countries.


Therefore, it seems that the Turkish-Syrian model partnership will be able to transform the region into a more prosperous, developed and livable place. Although Turkey has not been able to realize its model partnership with the United States, it is clear that it has not stayed idle while waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama.


Gamze Coşkun is a resercher at the USAK Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.








Turkey has come to the forefront due to its policies on improving relations with Middle Eastern countries in recent years, especially with its neighbors. In this respect, one of the most significant steps has been taken in Turkish-Syrian relations. The exemplary relations have been going through a phase of transition from competition to integration for almost a decade.


With the 1998 Adana Protocol and the following developments, relations started to become normalized and have been proceeding toward a model partnership for the rest of the region. The second meeting of the Turkish-Syrian High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, or HSCC, held on Dec. 20-21, 2010, was one of the most concrete/tangible signals of the progress concerning bilateral relations.


The first HSCC meeting held on Oct. 13, 2009, in Aleppo and Gaziantep created many historical opportunities for cooperation, such as the signing of 51 treaties which had previously not been realized by either country. No more than a decade ago, it was almost impossible even to imagine that the prime ministers of these countries could sit around the same table and discuss cooperation possibilities. However, nowadays the prime ministers sign social, economic and political agreements, make efforts to deepen relations and try to accomplish a mutual vision for the future of the region.


The trade volume between Turkey and Syria, which had not exceeded even 1 billion dollars just 10 years ago, is now expected to reach around 5 billion dollars in a few years. The trade volume, which was 1.4 billion dollars during the first ten-month period of 2009, has increased to 2.1 billion dollars within the same period of 2010. Furthermore, thanks to the visa exemption policy, the number of mutual visits between peoples of the two countries has skyrocketed. In 2010, 750,000 Syrians entered Turkey while the number of Turks visiting Syria reached 1.35 million people.


Within this framework, 11 agreements were signed between Turkey and Syria during the second meeting of the HSCC with the participation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari, accompanied by a number of ministers from both countries. Following the meeting, both parties reached an agreement on documents concerning cooperation on social services, child protection, the supply and distribution of electricity and sustainable energy, energy protection, real estate, environmental protection, development and housing. All of this was in addition to the cooperation among the State Planning Commission, the Turkish Development Bank, the Turkish Finance Ministry and the Turkish Undersecretariat of the Treasury. These developments that added new dimensions to the matter are all signs of the establishment of deep-rooted relations. What is more, the construction of the Nusaybin-al-Qamishli Customs Gate and a friendship dam on the Asi River, the establishment of a Turkish-Syrian bank and the provision of high-speed train services between the southeastern Turkish province of Gaziantep and Aleppo show the great progress reached in a very short time span.


In addition to all these far-reaching improvements, the two countries, which once came to the brink of waging war against each other because of terrorism issues, have now agreed on cooperation on counter-terrorism, as both have declared terrorism a common enemy and decided to pursue a decisive policy against the threat.


In this respect, Syria has already extradited at least 110 terrorists to Turkey. In the same way, operations against members of terrorist organizations are being conducted in line with Turkish demands.


Beyond the advantages of all these bilateral efforts for Turkey and Syria, it is of vital importance that these developments could set a precedent for other regional countries. In this regard, Syria is seen as the locomotive country of the region. As it is considered an important gate to the Arab market, it is highly likely that any sort of improvement in relations with the country will have a spillover effect and be taken as a model by others. That is to say, one of the most effective ways of encouraging other countries to take initiatives is to establish such a model partnership with Syria. As a result, countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt have reiterated their will to see Turkey successful cooperate with them as it does with Syria.


With the establishment of better relations with regional countries, Turkey aims to do more than simply take care of its own interests. There is a much broader aim of expanding the atmosphere of prosperity and welfare to the whole region. These policies have gradually brought fruitful consequences. One of the striking examples is the establishment of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council between Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for the creation of a long-run strategic partnership and free-trade zone between the countries.


Therefore, it seems that the Turkish-Syrian model partnership will be able to transform the region into a more prosperous, developed and livable place. Although Turkey has not been able to realize its model partnership with the United States, it is clear that it has not stayed idle while waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama.


Gamze Coşkun is a resercher at the USAK Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.










The numbers tell a grim and undeniable story. Nobody, be it nation or agency, is questioning the analysis of the figures for drone strikes in Pakistan is 2010 which have been printed in this newspaper. There are no doubts being expressed that the figures are somehow concocted or falsified; this is the truth, plain and unvarnished. In terms of civilian deaths they almost certainly represent an under-reporting of actual numbers, mainly because of the difficulties associated with separating combatants from non-combatants, where the lines of battle are blurred and the rules of engagement bent every which way to suit operational needs. Geneva Conventions and the rules of war mean little in this most asymmetric of conflicts, and it is almost impossible to grasp or project an image of the brutality of the war being fought out in our borderlands and inside Afghanistan.

Historically, wars have winners and losers and the outcome of almost any war is clear for all to see. This may not be so in the context of the war now being fought in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There seems little doubt that the Americans and most of their partners in the coalition that is fighting the war; have accepted that they are not going to win it in purely military terms. There will be no clear-cut defining victory but there may be significant future defeats – defeats which are as much a matter of perception as they are of battlefield statistics. The figures for fatal casualties which are the result of terrorist or extremist action in Pakistan this year, for instance, show a significant drop over 2009. There were 1,784 civilians killed this year as against 2,324 last; and there were 465 members of the military killed in 2010 as against 991 in 2009 – a drop of over 50 per cent. The terrorists saw their fatal casualty figures drop from 11,704 in 2009 to 7,324 in 2010. (Source – South Asia Terrorism Portal database, figures aggregated from news reports.) None of these figures reflects the far greater number of wounded on all sides – which nobody seems to count. There has been a significant drop in the number of suicide bombings – down by about 35 per cent over 2009 figures – but a one per cent increase in the numbers actually killed by suicide bombers. Do these figures suggest that we are ‘winning’ the war against extremism? And do the figures for drone strikes indicate that the Americans are being any more successful in their drone campaign or just more desperate? During President Nixon’s visit to China in 1971 he asked Zhou Enlai, the then Chinese Premier, what he thought had been the impact of the French Revolution – in 1789. Zhou Enlai

eplied ‘It’s too early to tell’. It still is.








The government has decided, according to a report in this newspaper, to table a new bill in parliament making the possession of a new, computerised identity card issued by NADRA mandatory for voting. The purpose is to eliminate electoral fraud – which remains widespread – and streamline the process of casting votes. In practice at least this all sounds very well. But there are several factors to consider. The first among these is that many people in the country still do not possess the new cards. Given the unusual fact that these cards have expiry dates, some also possess only invalid ones. The lack of cards is especially marked in rural areas, and as has always been the case, women, who play a reduced role in public life, have often never possessed identity cards – and would, as in the past, remain deprived of the vote once the new law comes in.

As far as the issue of electoral fraud goes, its means, in some cases at least, have become increasingly sophisticated. We have heard of ‘ghost’ ballot booths which do not really exist and electronically inflated votes. In some instances ballots cast have exceeded the total number of registered voters. Ways need to be found to prevent attempts to tamper with the balloting process based on these means. Parties in power have also repeatedly misused power to hand out cards to their own voters. Machines to print out ID cards have been discovered in the homes of candidates. The new law must also devise ways to prevent these practices and ensure that the voting process itself is fair. Computerised ID cards alone will not achieve this, though they can serve as one part of a broader strategy intended at making the most basic process of democracy – voting – less easy to manipulate.







Even as the campsite dialogue between Pakistan and India remains at a standstill and tensions between the two countries remain high following the Mumbai bombings of 2008, the people of both countries seem able to look well beyond the narrow vision of their leaders. According to a poll conducted on the first anniversary of the ‘Aman ki Asha’ initiative by the Jang Group and the Times of India, shows that 70 per cent of Pakistanis and 74 per cent of Indians favour peace. This is highly encouraging given the efforts made decade after decade by hardliners in both countries to fill people with suspicion and distrust about each other. 

The findings from the poll suggest which direction we should move in. Leaders need to learn from the people and take on board their essential wisdom. There can be no doubt at all that friendship is the only way forward. People also seem to recognise that this will mean boldly taking up difficult problems. For instance a vast majority of Indians believe that the Kashmir issue needs to be solved. The wishes of people should be respected at all costs. Over 60 years after Partition it is obvious that Pakistanis and Indians wish to move closer together and evolve the contacts denied to them for too long. Every effort must be made to insure this can happen. The future of the region depends on this.








The “New START” treaty between the US and Russia which was ratified by the US Senate last month has been touted as a step towards realising the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons which Obama embraced ostentatiously as his own in his Prague speech in April 2009. That is not just hype. It is pure humbug. One proof is that simultaneously with the Senate debate on ratification, the Obama administration allocated $85 billion to modernise the country’s nuclear infrastructure. That, as Gorbachev wrote in an article in the New York Times last week, is hardly compatible with a nuclear-free world. 

In reality, the treaty mainly serves two other objectives. First, it replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, which expired in December 2009. Second, it serves a political purpose. It seeks to provide evidence of the seriousness of the two countries which hold more than 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons about fulfilling their commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to negotiate toward the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and thereby to build up momentum for some further non-proliferation and disarmament steps sought by Washington and its partners. The “New START” deal has been used to make the argument that since the two largest nuclear states are taking steps to reduce their nuclear arsenals (a “down payment”), other countries must also play their part by cooperating in the adoption of further constraints on their nuclear-related activities. It is therefore not surprising that the signature of the New Start in April 2010 has been followed by vigorous US efforts to further tighten the non-proliferation regime. 

For Pakistan, the ratification of New Start augurs a more focused US push on two multilateral nuclear arms control measures which directly affect Pakistan’s national security: the proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) which is under discussion at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament (CD); and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which was signed in 1996 but has not yet entered into force. A good indication of future US plans was given by Gary Samore, Obama’s chief nuclear arms adviser, in an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung which appeared on 28 December. Samore signalled that Pakistan would come under heavy US pressure to come aboard on both these issues. Meanwhile, Washington continues to expand its nuclear cooperation with India and reject Pakistan’s demand for the same access to civil nuclear technology as that given to India. 

On FMCT, Samore said the US was trying to start negotiations in the CD and would launch an initiative for this purpose at the beginning of 2011. Even if Washington succeeds in starting negotiations, Samore said, it would be years before negotiations are concluded. Pakistan has not opposed a ban on the production of fissile material but would like that negotiations on the treaty should also address the question of existing stocks, in which it is behind India. Other US officials have warned publicly that if Pakistan does not withdraw its objections to the commencement of FMCT negotiations, Washington would pursue “other options”. 

One possibility that has been mooted to circumvent Pakistan’s objections is to negotiate the treaty at some forum other than the CD, where decisions can be taken by vote rather than by consensus as the rules of CD require. From Samore’s interview, it seems that for the present the US is not considering this option. We do not know yet what precise form the US “initiative” would take but one thing should be clear: Its main target will be Pakistan. 

In his interview, Samore also elaborated on US plans for the entry into force of the CTBT and indicated that Pakistan would come under “very great pressure” to ratify the treaty once India did so. He said the treaty, which the Senate had rejected in 1999, was likely to be submitted to it for ratification again during 2011. The administration would be making a strong argument that CTBT is important to contain the further spread of nuclear weapons. The US wanted that neither India nor Pakistan, both of which are building up their arsenals, should carry out a nuclear test again. It was therefore in the security interest of the US to ratify the treaty and bring it into force. 

Getting the US Senate to approve the CTBT would be the first step towards its entry into force but it will be more difficult than the ratification of New Start. The Administration will need the support of many sceptical Republicans. Samore refrained from forecasting the outcome of a vote, pointing out that Senator Lugar, the leading Republican supporter of arms control who had voted for the ratification of New Start, had opposed the CTBT in 1999. 

Samore said that in his assessment China will ratify the treaty once US has done so. Russia, France and Britain had already ratified it. Under these circumstances, the Indian government would come under “very strong pressure” to ratify the treaty, although there was resistance from the military, in which many would like to resume testing. But there was a very good chance that India would similarly ratify. If that happened, he said, Pakistan would come under “very great pressure” to do the same. 

North Korea was the only unknown, Samore said, and so far there were no signs that the country would agree to it. But if the US succeeded in convincing all the others, it would be considerably easier to persuade North Korea. Failing that, “the parties will change the rules in such a way that the treaty can enter into effect without North Korea.” 

Not everything that Samore said can be accepted as necessarily correct. Some of it at least seems to be mainly tactical in nature. For instance, changing the rules to make possible the entry of CTBT into force without North Korea’s participation would be extremely difficult and does not seem to be a realistic option. But we must take seriously Samore’s assessment that India is likely to ratify after US and China and his warning that Pakistan would come under “very great pressure” if it does not follow suit. 

When the CTBT was finalised in 1996, India declared that it would never become a party, “not now, not ever.” Two years later, India carried out nuclear tests. Since then, India has ended its nuclear isolation and its nuclear weapons programme is being progressively legitimised through a series of incremental steps starting with its nuclear deal with the US in 2006. A ratification of the CTBT would take India a big step forward on this path. There is therefore a good chance - despite the strong reservations of the Indian nuclear establishment - that India might ratify. But before doing so, India is sure to extract some more concessions from Washington. Pakistan would then come under massive pressure to sign and ratify the CTBT, but without having got a legitimisation of its nuclear weapons programme or the access to nuclear technology that India has been given. 

Instead of waiting for that moment, we should anticipate it and make the appropriate adjustments in our policies on FMCT and CTBT. What Pakistan should do is to make it clear, now, that it would be prepared to drop its objections to the commencement of FMCT negotiations and would be willing to ratify CTBT if it is given nuclear technology and a recognition of its nuclear status on terms of parity with India. This is a matter that the National Command Authority must take up early. We must at the same time demonstrate by words and deeds that we are resolved, as a nation, to stick to this demand. We do not lack the leverage. Our problem is that we have a leadership which is focused exclusively on political survival, looks to foreign support to stay in power and therefore lacks the spine to stand up to external pressure. 

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.







Judging by the epithets exchanged the other day our politicians from an evolutionary point of view have stopped moving. Whether they are still in the fifties or in the nineties or in the gutter it matters not, they’ve stopped evolving. They are carrying on with their self serving political games and antics as if nothing has changed since they were last in power. Meanwhile, governance continues to deteriorate or, perhaps not on second thoughts, because it does not exist in the first place. 

Notwithstanding the profound internal and external dimensions of the gravest crisis confronting the country -terror, extremism and an economic meltdown-our politicians have failed to generate a united national response. But perhaps that was expected. Between their talents and our expectations, failure was the inevitable outcome. 

About the lot that remains after Benazir Bhutto it can truly be said that they are more suited to be governed than to govern. In the past fifteen years they have chipped away at the edifice that was Pakistan, so much so that it is now unrecognisable from the country that Jinnah created. 

They have recreated Pakistan in their own sullied image. Look at any index, ranging from that of corruption to the development of human resources (basic things like sanitation, primary education, etc) and the figures speak for themselves. 

As for the public confidence index that’s gone off the chart. And, by the looks of it, the minorities are fleeing. 

In a functioning democracy politicians are expected to acquire expertise on key issues and demonstrate basic managerial abilities when entrusted with the responsibility of running a government whether at the centre or the provinces. 

Instead we have politicians whose sole approach to management consists in making it difficult for people to work. Their functioning is characterised by petty malice, self-interest, carelessness and sheer mistakes. Only a residual fraction of their effort is thought. 

Ministers are clueless about their portfolios. One commerce minister while touring a jute factory in pre Bangladesh days asked the factory head whether the jute being processed at the factory was imported or exported. Another wondered whether the ‘water which generated electricity because it contained electricity in it was more expensive than ordinary water’. 

After repeatedly failing to get in touch with a minister for several hours an exasperated Benazir Bhutto discovered that the reason was his practice of not coming to his office till 2pm. The minister was prevented from leading at least one delegation solely because, as she remarked, ‘he won’t be able to get up in time.’ 

Another minister’s motto may as well have been ‘to do nothing and get something.’ Of course, the present lot is no better; on the contrary, to their repertoire of incompetence and stupidity they have added larceny.

However, it’s not an innate tendency towards corruption and nepotism that is the politician’s main problem. In India too high-level theft among politicians abounds, it’s their ignorance and disregard of economics that is perhaps their most consequential failing. 

Everyone and his aunt knows that what we need is a major economic upswing and that can only come with a modicum of political stability and a large influx of investment capital to kick start a moribund economy. We know that jobs cannot be generated by printing money but by generating wealth through foreign and domestic investments and pursuing policies that create enabling conditions; and that this in turn presupposes fiscal discipline. 

Instead we are flooded with senseless and profligate expenditures, leakages and rank incompetence in the management of finances. Moneys lent for projects have had to be returned because the paper work could not be completed in time and, what is more, a stiff fine had to be imposed by an international financial institution for permitting funds so earmarked to lapse when they could have been utilised elsewhere. 

We act as if beggars can be choosers. 

Politicians, especially those who are considered influential, continue to talk rhetorically on issues and in generalities even on specific issues. It’s a clever device with which to criticise your opponents and not to expose your own lack of grasp of underlying issues while appearing to be pro people and better than your opponents. 

Such talk only politicises issues which are essentially apolitical and should be assessed on their merits as they concern us all like, for example, the matter of the Kalabagh Dam or the RGST on which the IMF has given us another nine months to sort things out amongst ourselves. Worse, this kind of politics causes the public to lose sight of the most important thing: our social and economic condition and focus instead on their political feuding. 

Similarly while supporters of extremism are out to fish in troubled waters, the mainstream politician has made their job easier by failing to confront them. So much so that religion, which should be the bandage that helps, has become the wound that festers. 

Today it’s blasphemous to raise the issue of blasphemy in Islam. 

It’s not surprising, therefore that among a worried public there is talk of the military once again stepping in. But that’s hardly a solution. Errant dictators are worse than errant politicians. Democracy fortunately does not favor perpetuity or continuity so we can get rid of politicians every five years, if not earlier. But getting rid of dictators is messier because their goal is self perpetuation and because they believe they have no shelf life. 

We had to wait till the army high command revolted, which did not happen till the Commando shot himself in the foot and several other places, before we could wave him off on his hopefully unending lecture tours; so too Ayub Khan; and had not the mangoes exploded it would have been difficult to dislodge Zia because for him there would have been no guard of honor – only the gallows beckoned. 

In any case a military takeover today has become a high stakes game because the judiciary and the politicians have gone to an extreme length to deter a future coup by amending the constitution. This means that if a coup does occur -we would be foolish to think that it cannot in our morbid situation – we may have to kiss good bye to the 1973 Constitution and that’s surely a death wish. Hence the message is clear – batten down the hatches and wait it out. Demagogy is here to stay.

The writer is a former ambassador.







An Indian sessions judge has disgraced the country’s judiciary by sentencing celebrated health and civil liberties activist Binayak Sen to life imprisonment. He held Sen guilty of sedition, no less, merely for passing on to others letters written by a suspected Maoist imprisoned in central India’s Chhattisgarh state, called Narayan Sanyal. Even this minor charge wasn’t established beyond reasonable doubt. 

The trial followed the kangaroo court model – of reaching a predetermined verdict by substituting suspicion, surmise or conjecture for substantive evidence. The judgment has been condemned the world over by conscientious citizens – not least because Sen embodies the public conscience and civic courage.

The case against Sen, a Kolkata-based businessman (Piyush Guha), and Sanyal, was filed under Sections 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code on sedition and conspiracy for sedition, and other acts outlawing membership of and support to unlawful/terrorist organisations. 

To pronounce the accused guilty, Judge BP Verma needed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that they indulged in seditious activities or conspired to abet them. He failed to do so. Of the 97 prosecution witnesses, all but one proved unreliable or turned hostile. The entire case hinged on the testimony of one person, cloth merchant Anil Kumar Singh, who claimed he had witnessed police seizure from Guha of three letters written by Sanyal. 

Singh claimed to have overheard a conversation between the police and Guha, while Guha was in their custody, in which Guha said he was given the letters by Sen to be carried to top Maoist leaders. But statements made to the police in custody are not admissible as evidence. A mere passer-by, Singh couldn’t have known if the letters had been planted on Guha. 

The judge accepted Singh’s hearsay as firm evidence. He made much of Sen’s 33 meetings with Sanyal over 18 months in his capacity as a doctor and People’s Union of Civil Liberties office-bearer. Several jail officials testified that the meetings were strictly supervised in the jailor’s room. Based on my September 2007 meeting with Sen, where at least two jailors kept a hawk’s eye on us, it’s hard to believe that any letters could have been smuggled out of the room.

Judge Verma ignored the fact that Sen has always opposed violence of any kind and has never been accused of a criminal act. Worse, Verma accepted contradictory accounts of the place of Guha’s arrest on May 7, 2007. According to Guha, he was arrested on May 1 at Mahindra Hotel and kept blindfolded in illegal custody for six days. The judge ignored Guha’s statements to a magistrate before whom he was produced on May 7. 

The police swore before the Supreme Court in 2009 that they had arrested Guha from Mahindra Hotel. But they told the Sessions court that that they arrested Guha on Station Road. The discrepancy was explained away as a “typological error”. The judge uncritically accepted this and put the onus of proof to the contrary on Guha. This is legally impermissible. 

Logically, the concerned policeman should have been tried for either filing a false affidavit in the Supreme Court, or for perjury in the Sessions court. Had Guha’s testimony been accepted, the entire case would have collapsed. Even the evidence that Sanyal is a Maoist leader is based on cases in other states, in which he hasn’t been pronounced guilty.

The prosecutor’s final argument was farcical. He started by quoting Marx’s Capital. He concluded with a claimed master-stroke – an email addressed to “Fernandes of the ISI”. He triumphantly declared: We don’t know who “Fernandes” is, but we know the ISI is Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. 

It didn’t strike Judge Verma as absurd that links were alleged between the intransigently secular Maoists and the fanatically religious elements whom the ISI backs. In reality, the “Fernandes” is Walter Fernandes, a former director of the Delhi-based, Jesuit, Indian Social Institute. 

The judge justified Sen’s life sentence on the ground that “the way that terrorists and Maoist organisations are killing … paramilitary forces and innocent Adivasis, and spreading fear, terror and disorder across the country … implies that this court cannot … give them the minimum sentence …”. So, the sentence was decided on political considerations, not legal ones.

In the 1962 Kedarnath Singh case, the Supreme Court of India held that sedition, defined as spreading disaffection against the state, must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the fundamental freedom of expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. It must not be used to muzzle dissent – which is why the colonial state introduced it into the IPC to be used against the Freedom Struggle. Sedition must involve direct incitement to violence or an act that will lead to serious public disorder. This emphatically doesn’t apply in the present case. 

During the grotesque travesty of justice that Sen’s trial was, the police concocted a cock-and-bull story. The judge accepted it. Sen’s conviction is a huge miscarriage of justice and a judicial monstrosity worthy only of kangaroo courts in a Banana Republic. 

The Sen case has become India’s L’affaire Dreyfus, which exposed anti-Semitic prejudices in French society and was a transformative moment a century ago. The Sen case will hopefully prove therapeutic for Indian society.

An appeal will of course be filed against Verma’s judgment in the Chhattisgarh High Court. But there’s no guarantee that it will overturn the verdict. The Chhattisgarh elite’s minds are poisoned by paranoia and rationalisation of a Maoist witch-hunt by a murderous state-sponsored militia, the Salwa Judum (call to peace). 

The Verma verdict fits in with the militarist approach the government has adopted to the Maoist problem while letting off corrupt businessmen, politicians, scamsters, and those responsible for mass-scale violence – the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the post-Babri demolition riots of 1992-93, and the butchery of Muslims in Gujarat (2002). 

The official anti-Maoist strategy uses methods that are downright unconstitutional, illegal, and inhuman. It’s as if these were calculated to aggravate disaffection in the tribal belt – rooted in appalling social indices, chronic malnourishment, and state cruelty – and thus to help the Maoists.

Chhattisgarh has witnessed massive state excesses because of its abundance of natural resources which predatory capital wants to appropriate. To ensure this, the government must crush the Maoists and obliterate the distinctions between hardcore Maoists, their sympathisers, parliamentary Communists, Gandhians, civil liberties activists, progressive intellectuals, and even health workers. It muzzles people like Sen to demonstrate that it’s willing to be unreasonably brutal. This is the stuff of which Banana Republics are made. 

The Communist Party of India alone has clearly condemned Sen’s conviction. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party Marxist have refused to do so – the BJP out of its machismo and suspicion of civil liberties, and the CPM, even more short-sightedly, because of its “Naxal problem” in West Bengal. The Congress says dismissing the verdict would amount to admitting that India is a Banana Republic. But that inverts all logic. 

If the Congress has any sense, and unless it really wants to turn India into a Banana Republic, it should condemn the verdict and dismantle the entire structure of oppression built into the colonial law on sedition. The Verma verdict demands no less.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights 

activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1







“It’s three years since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, but the culprits are still at large!” “No. the militant leader Baitullah Meshud was the man behind her death and he was killed in a drone strike months ago.”

“The late Baitullah might have been the prime mover behind Ms Bhutto’s murder. But there may be more to it. At any rate, we shouldn’t let ourselves be wholly drawn away upon only one scent. Even the much-trumpeted UN report of April 2010, which cost the public a pretty penny, doesn’t buy this proposition and sees it as an attempt to confound the murder investigations.”

“The UN report doesn’t come up with an answer, either. The Taliban had a reason for killing the former prime minister, because she was deadly opposed to the religious militancy, and in case she was back in the saddle, she would have fight it with might and main. So they put her to death. But if, as you suspect, the militants might not have issued Ms Bhutto’s death warrant, who did that?”

“Well, this is a million-dollar question to which, I’m afraid, I have no clue. I’m not ruling out the militants’ involvement. But, to be sure, many others had the motive for having the celebrated lady killed.”

“It is alleged that Ms Bhutto’s party isn’t much interested in bringing her killers to book and that for them her death is no more than a sunk cost.”

“This is ridiculous, outrageous, pure nonsense, rubbish – whatever you call it. If they are in power today and enjoying the fruits of democracy, they owe it only to their slain leader. And they are fully mindful of that as well and still hold her in the highest esteem. No speech from the party leadership is complete if it doesn’t eulogise her services for the cause of democracy and the people’s empowerment. Hospitals, airports and public places have been named after her. Social-welfare programmes have been dedicated to her. The late leader’s policy of reconciliation is being pursued religiously. What more do you want?” 

“If I correctly recall, soon after Ms Bhutto’s death, Mr Zardari had claimed that he knew the assassins of his spouse like the back of his hand. Now that he holds the reins of power, why doesn’t he simply name them and resolve the murder mystery?”

“Yes, Mr Zardari did make such a statement. But you must keep it in mind that he loves this land and its 170 million people beyond all. The country is already in throes of a crisis-in a state of war, to be precise-and being at the helm he would be the last person to exacerbate it. That accounts for his silence.”


“You mean to say he’s waiting for an opportune time to reveal the assassins?”

“Now you get me correctly. It’s important to speak the truth, but it’s far more important to do so at the right moment, and in the right manner. He doesn’t want to be the proverbial man who acts in haste and repents at leisure.”

“Does this mean we should all twiddle our thumbs and wait for the president to speak up?”

“No, the investigations must go on. It’s one thing to know something and quite another to prove it. Mr Zardari may know the truth but he mayn’t be in a position to establish it. So even if today he names the culprits, he mayn’t have the incriminating material to convict them. On the other hand, the probe may furnish incontrovertible evidence to support the conclusions.”

“But look at the snail’s pace the investigations are proceeding; they may not conclude before another three years. Mind you, the tenure of Ms Bhutto’s party will expire in slightly more than two years and then we may have another government which, for obvious reasons, may give short shrift to bringing her killers to justice.”

“I appreciate your concern, but you must also understand that full justice needs to be done in such a high-profile case. Delayed justice may be bad, but injustice is even worse. Here we must acknowledge the concern of the ruling party for justice. I mean, they could have easily hold down whoever they wanted for the assassination but they are keen to ensure that the innocent are not nabbed, nor are the guilty let off the hook, no matter how powerful they are. So, in the interest of justice at least, we must all be patient.”








The writer is a Dubai-based writer who has extensively written on the Middle East and Muslim world.

What is a writer without his or her readers? I take my share of readers’ feedback seriously. It’s invariably interesting and instructive. Check out this mail from a regular reader, Shiv Dhanush, for instance, in response to my recent column on the predicament of Indian Muslims: “There are less than one million Hindus and Sikhs in the US, that is, 0.3 per cent of the population. But governors of two out of the 50 US states are from this community. There are nearly six million Muslims in the US but they do not have anyone in governor mansions. You can extend the example to other top learning institutions like MIT, Cal Tech, Berkeley, Harvard and Yale, etc. The representation of Hindu and Sikh children is greater than their percentage in the population. 

“The share of Muslims in these elite institutions is lower than their population ratio. You can make a comparison of Punjabi (or Sindhi or Bengali) Hindus and Sikhs versus Punjabi Muslims in the US or UK and their relative achievements. Make a similar comparison of Hindus and Sikhs versus Muslims in US and UK prisons and you’ll see alarming results. 


“The playing field for all immigrants in the West is the same. So how did this happen? It happened because Hindus, Sikhs, and others give highest priority to education and personal excellence (whereas Muslims do not). This is why Muslims today find themselves even behind the Dalits in India in all walks of life.” 

My apologies for this long quote, but it’s intrinsic to my argument. Besides, this is fascinating stuff, don’t you think? In fact, Shiv goes on to argue that the South Asian Muslims wanted Pakistan because they knew they couldn’t compete with Hindus and Sikhs in an undivided India!

I have no issues with Shiv’s argument and most of his facts. In fact, we are on the same page in his analysis about the Muslim under-representation in all walks of life and their excessive presence on the wrong side of the law. 

The shining examples of Louisiana governor Piyush Jindal, being lionised as the Republicans’ answer to Obama and a future president, and South Carolina governor Nimrata Kaur are a source of inspiration and pride not just for Hindus and Sikhs but the whole of India and Asia. There are countless such examples in the land of opportunity that is America – of Indians scaling the pinnacle of excellence in universities, research and scientific centres and Silicon Valley companies, thanks to their hard work and dedication.

However, if Indian Hindus and Sikhs are increasingly becoming the shining face of the great American dream while their Muslim counterparts rough it out in the cold, there’s another more prosaic explanation. 

I hate to disrupt Shiv’s reverie, but if the Jindals and Kaurs of this world find themselves in US governor mansions today, and possibly on their way to the White House, they’ve had to pay a price for it. Piyush Jindal was born a Hindu to Hindu immigrant parents from Punjab. He converted to Christianity when he grew up, christening himself as Bobby Jindal. Today, he and his wife Supriya are proper churchgoing folk, like the rest of the predominantly white, genteel Christian America.

Ditto Nimrata Kaur, who today calls herself Nikki Haley. She was born a Sikh to second-generation Sikh immigrants. Like Jindal, she converted to Christianity before joining politics. She’s married to Michael Haley and has two children, all of them nice, practicing Christians. 

Of course, this has nothing to do with faith. Each to his or her own, and I am a firm believer in everyone doing his/her own thing. What I am trying to emphasise is the fact that both Jindal and Kaur had to give up their original identity and faith to find acceptance in white middle-class America. 

I am an ardent admirer of the great American dream and its enduring allure that continues to beckon generations of dreamers from around the world. But I have to point out that today if Jindal and Kaur are where they are, it’s also because of their willingness to give up their beliefs to merge their identity with the host society, becoming tolerable for the Republican and Tea Party rabble-rousers. Compromises are made at every step of the staircase to heaven. 

Unfortunately or fortunately, this is something the Muslims cannot do. They would rather languish on the edges of the American dream than give up their identity and faith to live in governor’s mansions. 

I know this is a huge weakness or failing, according to the worldview of friends like Shiv. But that’s how they are: rigid and uncompromising when it comes to their convictions and totally out of sync with the way of the world and liberal ways of the West. If they are left out in the cold while the rest of the world is partying, they do not seem to mind. And this is a global phenomenon, wherever Muslims are, from the Americas to Australia. 

In fact, this apparent lack of “flexibility” and preoccupation with religion is seen as being at the heart of the West-Islam conflict today. Call it what you will, but this is in the very nature of Islam, that it demands its followers to accept it as a way of life, rather than as something private between God and the believer. 

But if the Muslims find themselves stuck in a rut almost everywhere while the rest of the world is flying past them on the high road to glory, it’s not because there’s too much of religion in their lives. It’s because they have failed to apply it the way it should be to their lives. Instead of imbibing the liberating teachings and revolutionary spirit of a faith that guides us every step of the way, we have turned it into a set of meaningless rituals and a heavy yoke around our neck. 

It was the same faith that transformed the bands of unruly, bloodletting Arabian tribes into a world power in less than a decade, bringing down the mighty Persian and Roman empires like a house of cards. 

It wasn’t just on the battlefield that they beat others. They pioneered a knowledge and scientific revolution which, in turn, fed and inspired the European Renaissance. From philosophy and poetry to physics and chemistry and from mathematics and medicine to planetary science, the West built its discoveries and advances based on blueprints created by Muslim pioneers. 

Unlike us, early Muslims had been driven by a compelling craving and hunger for knowledge and new ideas, wherever they could find them. While we have become the prisoners of our past and our often narrow, literal interpretation of Islamic teachings, they looked to the future, showing the way forward to others. 

They did not preach their faith. They lived it, promoting it with their actions and with their honesty, simplicity, piety and courage. At the same time, they promoted a culture of hard work, perseverance and excellence wherever they went and whatever they turned their attention to. No wonder they conquered the world in no time and have left behind a civilisation to last forever. 

They were extraordinary men, giants among men. A really hard act to follow, indeed! But if we could recreate even a fraction of their magic, we would do ourselves an immense favour, transforming our wretched existence forever and creating a better world.








Being that time of year when columnists wax nostalgic, a few words on what has been a year of transitions. One of them is complete and the other ‘in process’. The year 2010 was the first year when my entire earned income came from being a writer. Aside from a UK pension which looks after that end of my family, everything that went into the bank and then on to the table came from whatever came out of my head and on to the keyboard.

Within that transition there is another – I have completely stopped writing, as in over the last year I have stopped writing in longhand the pieces that were then transferred to the computer. This was also the first year in which I have not written a single letter, a real flesh-and-blood letter on paper that got put in an envelope and stamped and sent to foreign parts. I have bought no ink cartridges and have packed my pens away, probably for them to be mused over by my grandchildren at some date beyond my own existence. I still handwrite a small daily diary, but writing, as in what I struggled to learn to do at school, is fading from me.

The ‘in progress’ item is very much a leap of faith. We – as in my long-suffering wife and I – have decided to relocate in Pakistan, to bid farewell to the shores of Albion and take our chances here. The process is underway, and the first of our household effects left UK aboard the Hyundai Brave on 22nd December to arrive in Karachi on the 25th January.

There are those who would question the wisdom of this decision, indeed question our sanity. We have a pleasant, if small; house in England but truth to tell there is not much left there for either of us. Given my advancing years there are few job opportunities for me, and it is increasingly difficult for my wife to find well paid work that lasts longer than a year. Our oldest is soon to fly the coop and live independently, our youngest, adopted from within our Pakistan family four years ago, can be educated here as well as she can in the UK.

Here, we both have opportunity before us. We have saleable skills that will keep us in work for as long as we wish to work. We will have no difficulty finding employment and here, unlike the UK, my age is seen as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Accumulated knowledge – a little wisdom, even – is valued in ways it is not in my country of birth. Here, I will find employment because I am aging, not in spite of it – which I have to say I find a pleasing prospect.

But really Pakistan? That place where there are fanatics and mad bombers and beggars on every corner and you never know who might shoot you simply because you are not a Muslim? Yup, that place.

Perverse as it may seem we both feel we have something to give to Pakistan that we could not give to the UK. This place may be staggering from crisis to crisis, forever teetering on the edge of this or that disaster, but the reality is that despite the prognostications of several generations of soothsayers, Pakistan survives. The leap of faith that we are making is that it will continue to survive. The transition from there to here is going to take a couple of years but the die is cast. Now let’s all hold hands and jump off the cliff together. Tootle-pip!

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








According to a Chinese proverb “Persuasion is better than force” and 5000- year history of Chinese people is full of instances when this great nation achieved more through persuasion than what it could have through use of force. But this maturity and wisdom has unfortunately not dawned upon the only Super Power of the world that is eager to strike here and there just to put to use its overgrown military establishment, throwing to the dustbin what George Washington had once said “over grown military establishments under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty”. Leaving aside whether or not this is inauspicious to the liberty of the American people, this is true as far as people in other parts of the world are concerned. 

The use of force is not only counter-productive but is also causing trouble and chaos in the entire world, putting at risk security and economic life of the people in this global village. Peace-loving people around the world have been waiting for moves on the part of President Obama to wind-up war theatres yet regrettably the latest review of Afghanistan policy, instead of scaling down the war in that country, seeks opening of more fronts in Pakistan. According to Washington Post, the United States is putting constant pressure on Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to go for a full-fledged operation in North Waziristan and hit even those groups that have so far done no harm to Pakistan. The General is stated to be resisting the pressure on sound logic but Americans are not in the habit of listening to voices of reason. There is absolutely no guarantee that launching of operation in NWA would certainly make things easier for Americans and other occupation forces in Afghanistan because, according to all estimation, the allies are destined to fail and Taliban would gain control of more areas in the new year despite surge in troops. Pakistan has been insisting that it is time to rely more on dialogue than use of force but sanity has so far not prevailed in Washington where neo-cons are bent upon shedding more blood at the cost of more instability in Pakistan and destruction in Afghanistan. It is this mindset that ignites worldwide hostile reaction and we witness bomb blasts at a church in Egypt killing 21 people. Extremism would continue to raise its ugly head until and unless the United States genuinely reviews its policy, discarding the policy of killing people just to test the strength and efficacy of the modern weaponry. There was no threat to the US or its interests as long as it did not relied heavily on use of force to resolve problems.







IT is often said that corruption is a worldwide phenomenon yet it is the level of its prevalence and intensity that

matters. The situation in Pakistan is so pathetic that the stigma of corruption is badly affecting image of the country in the comity of nations.

In this backdrop, people would surely welcome the resolve of the Prime Minister to launch a ‘Jehad’ against corruption in the new year by making legislative measures including approval of the long-awaited accountability law. Participating in a live question-answer TV show, he mentioned historical facts and said most of the elected governments in the past were removed on charges of corruption but there was a hell of difference between then and now. While appreciating the announcement of the PM to launch a crusade against corruption, we would beg to differ with him as far as drawing a parallel is concerned. There a is general perception that corruption during present regime is more widespread than any time in the past and according to some estimation it crossed the figure of Rs. 1,000 billion during 2010, meaning thereby that it involves enough money to resolve financial woes of the country. No doubt, judiciary and media are active and vibrant and there is Public Accounts Committee headed by Leader of the Opposition but we should remember that activism of media and judiciary so far had no deterrent effect only because the Government is unwilling to take action even in cases identified by media and judiciary. And role of the Public Accounts Committee is confined to review of audit reports and that too of past years, which has negligible impact on the overall situation. Corruption has become so enigmatic that many analysts apprehend that we are moving towards a revolution. Under these circumstances, we would urge the Prime Minister to first acknowledge prevalence of the problem and then take visible and effective measures to check the menace. Apart from devising a transparent mechanism for across the board accountability, the existing anti-corruption institutions could also play a crucial role provide honest people are entrusted the responsibility and there is no interference in their working.








FEDERAL Minister for Education Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali has pointed out that national curriculum has a pivotal role in building the national character of Pakistan’s future generation and transfer of curriculum to the provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment will be counter-productive. Speaking in a television programme, he also opposed transfer of Advanced Researched Centres in various universities and National College of Arts to provinces due to lack of capacity on their part to run them effectively.

There are certainly reasons to give a deeper thought to what the Minister has propounded and we hope that all concerned would do so before taking a final decision that could prove detrimental to national interests in the long run. Education is essentially a provincial affair but education is also considered to be a vital source of nation-building. Therefore, in order to ensure national cohesion, integration and preservation of the ideological foundation of the State, certain educational functions are always considered to be the responsibilities of the Federation and these include curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy and educational standards. There is no harm if students of a province upto a certain level of education are taught in the provincial language if it can help improve comprehension of the students but the contents should definitely be same and harmonious for the sake of national integrity and cohesion. There is no justification for transfer of this responsibility of preparing curriculum to the provinces when we have a curriculum wing at the Federal Ministry of Education and its counterparts in the four provinces who are taken on board while preparing curriculum. We hope that the Education Minister would persuade his colleagues both in the Government and in the Opposition to review the decision, which seems to have been taken without comprehensive debate on its pros and cons.








Recent suicide attacks against a religious gatherings in the Iranian port city of Chahbahar by a Bloch militant outfit Jundallah, has yet once again brought forth frequently surfacing fault line in Pak-Iran relations. Iranian leaders used some very stern language in demanding that Pakistan act against the militant outfit. 

Iran is the one of the Pakistan’s closest friends, which always stands with the people of Pakistan in hard times. In the recent floods which played havoc, the government and people of Iran extended helping hands in mitigating the sufferings of flood-affected people in Pakistan. While praying on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Supreme Leader issued a global appeal to Muslims the world over to come forward and help their Pakistani brethren during their dire time. His heartfelt emotions manifested in tears rolling down his cheeks. 

Iran has also taken a fresh policy initiative on Kashmir by mentioning it as an occupied territory. Over the preceding six months or so, Iran has supported the Kashmir struggle at least on three occasions, and has bracketed the situation in the state with Gaza and Afghanistan. In his message to the Haj pilgrims, this year, Ayatollah Khamenei called upon the Muslims across the world to back the liberation movement in Kashmir. “Today the major duty of the elite of the Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation, to sympathise and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the US and the Zionist regime.” Iran has taken a principled stance; this indeed marks Iran’s come-back-home in the context of its original Kashmir policy. 

Pakistan already has to deal with US forces engaging in cross-border actions in FATA. Pakistan doesn’t want to see problems on a third border and will try to address Iranian concerns. Over the last one year or so, there has been significant cooperation between Iran and Pakistan to apprehend the group’s leaders and main operatives. Collaboration between the two countries has weakened Jundallah. However, fresh attacks prove that Jundallah has not disintegrated. 

Iran is a major regional stakeholder in Afghanistan and Pakistan wants to formulate a joint approach for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. No Afghan strategy is likely to succeed without active participation of Iran. Iran has shown pragmatism by quietly helping the Afghan government to offset its financial hardship. Kabul’s admission regarding the funds from Iran speaks volumes about how both sides are looking at a post-NATO Afghanistan.

The Western threat of military strike against Iran has been a matter of great concern for an average Pakistani. Pakistanis believe that Iran has the right to pursue development of nuclear energy for legitimate and peaceful purposes and that any doubt or dispute in the matter should be resolved through dialogue rather than arm twisting. The general impression in Pakistan is that the aggressive American posture towards Iran arises out of Israeli pressure that has been brought upon the US and European allies. Israel attacked and destroyed the Iraqi reactor in a pre-emptive action. In subsequent years it planned similar attacks against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in collusion with India, which were thwarted by Pakistan’s military. During recent years it attacked a Syrian nuclear facility, all with absolute impunity.

Jundallah, not to be mixed up with the Pakistani group of the same name is a secretive outfit based in a remote region infested with insurgencies. Jundallah is tribally based within the Rigi clan in Sistan-Balochistan. Substantial and reliable information on the group is hard to obtain. Jundallah means “Soldiers of God”; the group also calls itself the ‘People’s Resistance Movement of Iran’. The Bloch minority lives across the Iranian-Afghan-Pakistani border regions, of these many Baloch groups seeking autonomy from their respective national governments are subscribe to militant activities. Details on Jundallah’s funding, training and size are limited, Estimates of the group’s size range from a few hundred militants to 1,000 operatives. Most of the Baloch tribes, such as the Marri, Narouie, Shahnavazi, Gamshadzai, Shahbakhsh etc are opposed to Jundallah due to general tribal rivalries. Jundallah does not appear to have any major support among the Baluch tribes in Afghanistan or Pakistan. 

Jundallah’s funding comes mostly from Iranian Baluch expatriates worldwide. Some of that money could come from other sources, such as the US supporters, and be distributed via the expatriates. Jundallah also benefits from Sistan-Baluchistan’s economy, which is based on cross-border trade ie smuggling. A large portion of Afghanistan’s opium travels through this part of Iran, and the Rigis allegedly have agreements with Afghan drug barons to provide safe passage to export consignments in exchange with protection money. The group first gained notoriety in June 2005, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a convoy of Iranian security officers. But group’s defining moment was an attack on Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s convoy in December, 2005. This attack occurred just after Ahmadinejad’s election as president. He was seen as much less flexible with the Balochis than his predecessor, whose representatives had held discussions with Jundallah discussing the Balochis’ demands like more autonomy and access to high-level government jobs. Ahmadinejad reversed this policy, thus increasing local support for the militant group. 

On the average, Jundallah carried out three to six attacks per year from 2006 to 2009. The targets usually were security forces, though civilians were always among the casualties. Tactical shift began towards end 2008, when the group carried out its first suicide IED attack, hitting security forces headquarters in Saravan. Then in May 2009, it a suicide IED at a mosque in Zahedan which was group’s first attack on a major civilian target. The group continues to have capability and capacity to carryout trans-border operations. 

People of Pakistan will never forget the gestures of the Supreme Leader and the people of Iran. Pakistani people stand shoulder to shoulder with their Iranian brethren in their campaign against terrorism. Hopefully, the issue would be resolved between the two neighbourly countries to the chagrin of those who wish to see tense relations between the two countries. Therefore it is essential that both the countries meticulously side step the land mines being laid by our common ill-wishers.


The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.








The Korean Peninsula extends about 1,100 kilometers to the south continental Asia to the Pacific Ocean. It is surrounded by the Sea of Japan. It had been ruled by Japan from 1910 –1945. In 1945, following the defeat of Japan, Korean peninsula along the 38th Parallel was divided into two parts. American forces occupied the southern part of peninsula, while the Soviet Union occupied its northern part. There was a military conflict between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1950. The United States and The United Nations came to rescue South Korea and repelled North Korean forces. These forces reached past the 38th Parallel and almost to the Yalu River. At this critical stage the Chinese launched a counter-attack and reached past the 38th Parallel. The Soviet Union materially aided both the North Korean and Chinese armies. In 1953, the war ceased and an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. Nonetheless, technically both Korean states are still at war. A buffer zone, consisting of a strip of 2.5 miles, was created between the two Korean states. From time to time minor events of fighting and clashes occur between the two Korean forces and political statements are made against each other.

South Korea has a regular army of more than 500,000 persons. Its population is almost twice the population of the North Korea. South Korea developed, industrialized and modernized from the early 1960s to the late 1990s. Nowadays, it is considered a big economic power and its forces are considered well trained, equipped and motivated. North Korea faces certain financial and economic problems. But it is the will and resolute determination and spirit to fight that may decide the outcome of the war.

Recently Pyongyang, while accusing Seoul of deliberate provocation, has warned that it may wage a ‘sacred war’ against South Korea at any moment using its nuclear arsenal to destroy it and its major ally, the United States of America— via missile or by dropping them from an aircraft such as the AN-2 and IL-28. The AN-2, a propeller-driven biplane, is made mostly of cloth and wood. It has lethal potential as it gives off no signature on radar. The North Korea has round about 300 AN-2s. These crafts can carry 10 to 15 heavily armed soldiers across the inter- Korean border and need only 250-meter runway to land. The IL-28 is a Cold War-era Soviet ground attack aircraft. It is estimated that North Korea has more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It has developed missile technology that has capability to hit Hawaii, with a nuclear warhead, which is 3,600 kilometers away. Its BM-25 Musudan missile can carry a payload weighing 1 to 1.2 tons and has a range of 3000-4000 kilometers. It has several Scuds and other nuclear warheads to hit any of South Korea’s major cities.

The latest confrontation came about when a South Korean navy ship, on patrol in the Yellow Sea, was sunk by a torpedo on 26th March, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The investigators from five countries concluded that sinking of the warship was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Pyongyang denies it. Pyongyang has also accused South Korea of trespassing in its waters. 

Tension continued to mount on the Korean peninsula. Seoul, in show of strength, staged a big anti-submarine drill. It launched major land and sea military exercises in the Pocheon region, between Seoul and demilitarized zone separating two Koreas. The North’s KCNA called the drills ‘madcap’ and ‘offensive’ referring to the South Korean military as ‘puppet warmongers’. It also threatened South Korea of nuclear attack.

The situation has deteriorated since then and appears to be at its lowest point in a decade. Japan, supporting South Korea’s stand, has called the attack ‘provocative’ and ‘unforgivable’. The United States is firmly favoring South Korea. China has shown its disappointment upon the United States and South Korea’s joint military exercises. It resisted American pressure to blame North Korea for sinking the South Korean warship and punish it. This has further infuriated to the South Koreans and The United States of America.

North Korea can destroy Seoul even without any movement of its forces. It maintains one of the largest standing armies in the world with steady increase of tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored personnel carriers and trucks. Its navy, however, is comparatively small and consists of light destroyers, patrol ships, guided missile boats, torpedo boats and fire support boats. The U.S. naval forces have superiority over North Korea. The U.S. navy stays close to its shore. Nonetheless, North Korea’s anti-warship missiles pose a large threat to American navy.

North Korea has more than one thousand missiles. A large number of these have a range more than 3,000 kilometers. These have already been tested. The main reason for North Korea’s nuclear program is that its conventional forces would not like to involve in a prolonged war. They lack fuel, spare parts, and industrial capacity to sustain a prolonged conflict. Presently, it is making preparation for the third nuclear test.

Though war would be catastrophic for both countries, South Korea would suffer the most at the initial stage. Its capital of Seoul lies just 50 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. North Korea has accumulated about 13,000 artillery weapons, rockets, missiles and other ordnance that can wreak havoc on South Korea’s economy just within minutes.

The use of nuclear weapons can cause widespread devastation in Seoul, a city of 1 million people. The lives of about 30,000 American soldiers, stationed in the country, are already at high risk. North Korea can release its dams causing considerable damage to South Korea.

South Korea, on the other hand, has been making its navy bigger with more warships. Artillery attacks may also play a decisive role in any future conflict. The United States and South Korea have a major advantage here. American forces have Tomahawk cruise missiles. These can be launched from nuclear-powered submarines to strike North Korea’s nuclear bases in retaliation for any such attack on the South Korea. The U.S. military would probably use some of its tactical nuclear weapons, such as B-61 nuclear bombs carried by B-2/52 bombers and F-15E, F-16 and F/A-18 fighters.

The U.S. has about 300 fixed-wing combat aircraft based in the immediate vicinity of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has a squadron of Russian fighters only. More significant than the number of aircraft is the quality of the pilots. The American and South Korean pilots have an upper hand in training and exercises. The U.S. has a nuclear umbrella for South Korea. It involves the possibility of a retaliatory nuclear strike against North Korean nuclear attack. 

Everyone is mentally prepared for war in North Korea. It is a war against American imperialism. The fear of war is now part of Korean lifestyle. South Korea, in the initial round, would suffer massive damage even if the North Korean did not use nuclear weapons. The prolonged war may go in favor of South Korea. 

The destruction caused by Korean War will be catastrophic. It will wreak havoc. It will be bloody and costly. The economy of South Korea, one of the major economies in the world, would really disrupt the global economy. South Korea has a thriving car and electronic industry including Hyundai, Samsung and LG.

Seoul is seeking further sanctions on North Korea, while analysts conclude that North Korea is already heavily sanctioned over its missile and nuclear weapon programs and any further measures would have little effect on it. Moreover, North Korea has warned that it would regard any punitive action as an act of war.

China plays significant role in North Korean affairs. China will not support North Korean nuclear aggression, though it’s unlikely to watch the game if American and South Korean forces take over the North. The war could create huge economic mess, and possibly flood of North Korean refugees into China. The question is: will China permit war and allow certain powers to destabilize the region?









Throughout during the George W Bush presidency, US maintained almost a constant policy towards Afghanistan. This was in fact the neo-conservatives policy of oppression and long-term occupation of Afghanistan by United States. The people of US indeed seriously contested this strategy of dragging the war towards an indefinite end, once they rejected the Republican candidate and voted for a promising young and an articulate Democrat, Barack Hussain Obama on November 4, 2008. As abstracted from his speeches during the election campaign, President Obama promised the US people for three main objectives; improvement of US economy; provision of enhanced employment opportunities for the US citizens and curtailing US overseas troops employment. Apparently, President Obama was committed to these promises with the US people, once he took over the reign on January 20, 2009. Within a period of 100 days, the President made a review of US Afghan policy and decided to incorporate Pakistani tribal areas into its combat zone, renaming it as the AfPak Strategy. The policy aimed at combining Pak and Afghanistan as the single warzone. Owing to its inherent defects of combining a sovereign country with an occupied country, the policy failed. 

In December 2009, President Obama, reviewed the AfPak policy and gave a broad outline of the US troops drawdown policy from Afghanistan, starting from July 2011. Prior to the troop’s pullout, he fixed three objectives for the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. These objectives include; denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan; to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the Afghan Government; and to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and government for taking over a lead responsibility upon US withdrawal. Since then US increased its force level by 30,000, with overall strength of NATO and US troops reaching to 150,000. 

Unfortunately, contrary to the recent claims of the President Obama, there have been no successes to NATO and US in achieving the laid down objective. Indeed, there have been momentary and tactical gains, but in the longer-run, there have more reverses in the strategic gains. The Taliban movement, which was restricted to south and southeast, has further spreads to north and north east of the country. People even claims that this movement is turning into Afghan National movement against the foreign occupation. 

In spite of the claims of the CIA Director that there could be less than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives and that, Taliban’s strength has sufficiently been reduced, today US and NATO forces are not holding even 1/3rd of Afghan territory, after the ten years war in that country. Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Warlords are holding bulk of the Afghan territory and can freely move anywhere in the country, contrary to the US and NATO forces, who have limited space to manoeuvre. 

Even Afghan capital is not fully secured. Afghan National Army and police force might have been trained sufficiently, but lack the basic element of the people’s support or even the acceptance within Afghan society. Indeed, the majority ethnic group, the Pashtuns; forming over 50% of the total population are facing discrimination and alienation, at the hands of non-Pashtun minority. Today, Afghan security forces are even unable to secure the Capital, Kabul. The Lisbon Summit of November 2010, though gave a deadline of 2014 for the troop’s drawdown, but remained apprehensive of its implementation too. Apart from rest of the NATO countries, US also made it clear that troop’s withdrawal will depend on ground situation, rather the given dateline. Otherwise, General David Peatreas, Commander of US, and NATO forces in Afghanistan have visualized a long war in Afghanistan. It appears that, the announcement of the troop’s drawdown is for the public consumption in the Europe and all troops contributing countries. In fact, there is a huge public pressure in these troops contributing countries including US for the pullout from Afghanistan. They ask their governments, as to why their soldiers be killed in a country thousands of miles away from their homelands without a cause. 

In addition, why their financial resources are driven to that country, leaving an economic chaos in their own countries. Indeed, the December-2010, review of Afghan war, offers President Obama an opportunity to chart a new course and make political accommodation. The paramount element in the US strategy thereby should have been reversing a situation in which a faltering military effort has been dictating the political approach. Nevertheless, that does not seem to be happening and Pentagon is totally dictating the Whitehouse. Moreover, after the success of Republicans in the mid-term elections, the situation has even worsened. 

With the likely taking over of the charge of foreign relations and defence committees by Republicans, Obama would be left with no option, but to concede the demands of neoconservatives, who intend staying in Afghanistan for a longer duration as envisioned in 2001, following the incident of 9/11. Under such an uncertain situation, there would not be a peace and stability in Afghanistan. Rather, there are all the chances that, chaos would prevail in that war-ridden country in the days to come. Today, an average Afghan questions, why he is denied to live with peace, and economically prosperous life in his own homeland. After a continuous war for thirty long years, where a former and current super power has invaded this poor country for their own desired goals, this question is an ultimate outcome. After all, if the war wagers have the right to live with comfort in their respective countries, why Afghan people are deprived from such a necessity of life. Should not this be enough for the NATO and US forces to leave this country? Besides, without a shift in the current political structure in Afghanistan, it will be simply futile for the United States and its NATO allies to wage continued war on behalf of a government that cannot consolidate domestic political support without indefinite massive international assistance and troops. 

There exists a continued mist in the US Afghan policy. It needs to clarify, whether to have a long-term stay in Afghanistan while keeping it unstable, or its stabilization is the true objective. Construction of its military bases in some of the strategically significant areas in that country indicates its long-term stay in that country. In that case, US has to make a choice, whether to economically collapse inland and meet the fate like Vietnam by staying in this hostile country. Alternatively, the best policy and perhaps the preferable option left to US would be, to redirect its diplomatic, financial, and military resources toward a more sustainable political settlement in Afghanistan in which US & NATO can withdraw without igniting a larger conflict. This will require “a political system that offers diverse Afghan factions including: those backing current government, those taking part in armed insurgency, and those sitting on the fence: an opportunity to participate in the stability & peace in Afghanistan.”

—The writer is an International Relations analyst. 








Balochistan is economically and strategically significant. The subsoil holds a large portion of Pakistan’s energy and mineral resources, accounting for 36 percent of its total gas production. It also constitute large quantities of gold, copper, coal, silver, aluminum, platinum and above all uranium, it also hold a potential transit zone for a pipeline transporting natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan to India. Two of Pakistan’s three naval bases Ormara and Gwadar are located on the Balochistan coast. Gwadar is anticipated to provide a port, industrial facilities and warehouses to more than twenty countries, including those on the Red Sea, in the Gulf, and in East Africa and Central Asia as well as India, Iran and China. Balochistan because of its strategic significance has evoked much interest among players of regional politics.

Today, the big challenge before Islamabad is to convert the strategic assets in Balochistan into economic opportunities by starting different Mega and developmental projects. In this regard Reko Diq is the most blowing issue these days. Reko Diq which is one of the world’s largest reserves of gold and copper was discovered at Reko Diq in the Chaghi area of Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan province. According to development experts, some 12.3m tons of copper and 20.9m ounces of gold lie in the Reko Diq area. The copper-gold deposits at Reko Diq are believed to be even bigger than those of Sarcheshmeh in Iran and Escondida in Chile.

Reko Diq went under many foreign companies for the exploration purposes. The exploration license for the Reko Diq project was initially given to BHP of Australia in 1993, which included the Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) in association with another Australian company, Mincor Resources. TCC was later sold to its current owners, Barrick Gold Corporation of Canada and Antofagasta of Chile. It is significant to reveal that a Chinese company, China Mining and Metallurgical Corporation (CMMC), has been mining copper in the area (Saindak) for more than a decade. Industry sources in Islamabad say that the Chinese company has also silently lobbied to secure the mining license for Reko Diq, as the reserves of the Reko Diq are four times larger than Saindak.

However Pakistan was getting a ridiculous share from this project. Balochistan was never happy by giving this project to a foreign company as they were not getting the justified royalty from the assets of its own land. For saving the country from “foreign exploiters”, the petitioner said that Pakistan should get an 80 per cent share and the mining company’s share should not exceed 20 per cent. This request was made in a petition filed in the Lahore registry of the Supreme Court by the Punjab president of the Watan Party, Hashim Shaukat Khan.

Later it came into news that the corporate bosses of two of the largest mining groups in the world have been setting meetings with Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister and the State Bank governor for pressing them to “quietly and quickly” hand over Balochistan’s vast mineral treasure “worth over $3 trillion”.

After realizing the stake involved in the project Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani jumped in. Minister raised the voice that that the provincial government itself will run the multi-billion-dollar Riko Deq copper-gold project in Chaghi district.

Recently the Government has handed over the control of the Reko Diq gold-copper project to Balochistan. By doing so, the Government has won the hearts of many Pakistanis who think that the contract with the TCC of Australia had damaged the rights of the local public. Equally admirable is the determination of the provincial government in setting up relevant mining infrastructure, while transferring the responsibility to a galaxy of renowned scientists/researchers headed by Dr Samar Mubarakmand in exploring their own mineral wealth. The chief minister welcomed the decision of ECNEC (Executive Committee of the National Economic Council) to hand over the Riko Deq project to the Balochistan government. He said that a technocrat will be soon appointed as Project Director. While talking on the issues of finance resources and technical people he said “his government had allocated Rs1 billion for the refinery and the federal government would pay Rs120 billion Gas Development Surcharge, which will help to finance the project”, while “There is no shortage of technical people in the province for running the project.” He said technical training institutes were working in Quetta, Gwadar and other areas and more were being set up in Mastung, Khuzdar and Dera Murad Jamali. Furthermore Balochistan Institute of Technical Education is training youths who will be able to help run the Riko Deq project, and the government will soon establish technical educational institutes to overcome the shortage of technical and qualified people.

Moreover a Planning Commission official has stated that “The whole project proposed by the Planning Commission would cost a maximum of $1 billion. The mining and processing of ore and its downstream utilization would produce badly needed employment as well as give Balochistan control over its wealth. It is also declared that Balochistan government will be able to develop the copper reserves at Reko Diq at less than one-third the cost estimated by the feasibility study submitted by the TCC. This step by the government to hand over the Reko Diq Project to Balochistan is admirable because the Baloch people were having severe complains regarding the issues of autonomy and royalty on its own land assets, and these issues led periodic uprisings in Balochistan. In fact till now there are two major unified obstructions in the way of enduring peace in Balochistan. First, the Federal Government believe that it has the sovereign right to hold the Baloch natural wealth and Second, the crisis of confidence between the Baloch and Islamabad as Baloch political parties are of the view, based on past experience, that Islamabad cannot be trusted any longer and the right of national self-determination is the only way out of the crisis.

As, the people of Balochistan have now got the constitutional autonomy over their resources. We hope that it will raise the confidence level between Islamabad and Balochistan and will eliminate the reasons which cause periodic revolts in past.

Government calculates approximately that exports of the processed metals from Reko Diq could bring at least $500bn, which can drastically shift the economic landscape of the Pakistan’s least developed province. With the province taking the necessary steps to start mining and refining the precious metals, the government should not waste any more time to make the multi-billion dollar project operational. This project should be taken as a challenge by the Balochistan Government and should show others that they were right in their words. More responsibilities and expectations now stand with provincial government.

People of Balochistan have now acquired the opportunity to change their fate by handling this project in a more productive and conducive way which can bring progress, employment, wealth and prosperity for the province.








No balance of power lasts forever. Just a century ago, London was the centre of the world. Britain bestrode the world like a colossus and only those with strong nerves (or weak judgement) dared challenge the Pax Britannica.

That, of course, is all history, but the Pax Americana that has taken shape since 1989 is just as vulnerable to historical change. In the 1910s, the rising power and wealth of Germany and America splintered the Pax Britannica; in the 2010s, east Asia will do the same to the Pax Americana. The 21st century will see technological change on an astonishing scale. It may even transform what it means to be human. But in the short term – the next 20 years – the world will still be dominated by the doings of nation-states and the central issue will be the rise of the east.

By 2030, the world will be more complicated, divided between a broad American sphere of influence in Europe, the Middle East and south Asia, and a Chinese sphere in east Asia and Africa. Even within its own sphere, the US will face new challenges from former peripheries. 

The large, educated populations of Poland, Turkey, Brazil and their neighbours will come into their own and Russia will continue its revival. Nevertheless, America will probably remain the world’s major power. The critics who wrote off the US during the depression of the 1930s and the stagflation of the 1970s lived to see it bounce back to defeat the Nazis in the 1940s and the Soviets in the 1980s. America’s financial problems will surely deepen through the 2010s, but the 2020s could bring another Roosevelt or Reagan.

A hundred years ago, as Britain’s dominance eroded, rivals, particularly Germany, were emboldened to take ever-greater risks. The same will happen as American power erodes in the 2010s-20s. In 1999, for instance, Russia would never have dared attack a neighbour such as Georgia but in 2009 it took just such a chance. The danger of such an adventure sparking a great power war in the 2010s is probably low; in the 2020s, it will be much greater.

The most serious threats will arise in the vortex of instability that stretches from Africa to central Asia. Most of the world’s poorest people live here; climate change is wreaking its worst damage here; nuclear weapons are proliferating fastest here; and even in 2030, the great powers will still seek much of their energy here. Here, the risk of Sino-American conflict will be greatest and here the balance of power will be decided. The writer is professor of history at Stanford University. — The Guardian 



the austRALIAN







A YEAR ago, after then prime minister Kevin Rudd announced his bid to achieve productivity growth of 2 per cent a year, The Australian saluted his bold statement but cautioned that "reform is hard, really hard". And so it proved throughout 2010, with almost no progress on Labor's productivity agenda. Instead, the nation faces growing uncertainty on the key issues of taxation reform and climate change policy, while the downsides of Labor's rigid, centralised industrial relations regime are becoming increasingly apparent.


Julia Gillard, too, has made productivity a priority and has designated 2011 the year of decision and delivery, pointing out that Australians don't want their government to campaign but to govern. At the outset of what should be a non-election year, barring unexpected upheavals in federal parliament, it is time for the government to take stock and begin implementing rather than talking about an agenda to ensure that the wealth flowing from our rich mineral resources is not wasted, that Australia remains competitive and is well prepared to manage the demographics of an expanding, but ageing, population.


That will be easier said than done. As last week's front-page report in The Australian revealed, "productivity" is a dirty word among Australians, according to Labor's own pollsters. That shows how poor our political leaders have been in recent years at selling the benefits of productivity -- the key driver of economic growth in a low-inflation environment. And it illustrates how hard the Prime Minister will need to work to show voters why productivity reforms are essential to improve their prosperity in the medium to long term.


Taxation reform, including an overhaul of welfare-to-work incentives, should be the centrepiece of the government's efforts this year. One priority, obviously, will be finalising the still unfolding saga of the mineral resources rent tax, including the unresolved issue of future increases in state royalties. That challenge will demand careful negotiations with the states and mining companies. Once the MRRT is finalised, the government should consider Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens's proposals for a prosperity fund to save some of the windfall from the resources boom to cushion the shock of future economic downturns.


Beyond a savings strategy, it is eight months since the Henry tax review was released with its list of 138 recommendations, almost all of which remain untouched. While the government will hold a tax summit in the first half of the year, it already has a comprehensive blueprint for reform and should marshal its courage and get on with it. Treasury costings show that Ken Henry's proposal for lifting the tax-free threshold to $25,000 could have been implemented for about $500 million a year. The proposal was for a flat tax rate of 35 per cent on incomes from $25,000 to $180,000 with a rate of 45 per cent applying to higher incomes. Skills shortages and the rising cost of paying the disability support pension to an estimated 780,000 people make such a flatter tax rate highly desirable. The productivity boost and welfare savings would be significant as a higher tax-free threshold would be a powerful incentive for those on welfare to look for work. Commendably, the government is on the right track in tightening the medical test for the DSP from next year.


The Henry report envisaged that the flatter tax system would be offset by reducing the concessions on capital gains tax and negative gearing and making fringe benefits, including company cars, fully taxable. All such measures should remain on the table until the most effective mix is worked out and the GST, which was quarantined from the review, should be put under the microscope. It is an efficient tax, and any increase would allow for major cuts in state payroll tax, a disincentive against firms hiring new staff, and inefficient state duties and levies. The fact they are in minority government should not deter Ms Gillard and Wayne Swan from pressing ahead with the structural tax reform Australia needs. And it should help the process that Tony Abbott has lent cautious support to a flatter tax regime.


The Gillard government has also pledged to deliver certainty in the coming year on climate change policy. Sensibly, it has asked the Productivity Commission to compare how Australia's trading partners are implementing a carbon price. The government remains open to either a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme, with its multi-party climate change committee considering the options. But after the committee reports, the government will face tough choices. The US, Canada and, most recently, Japan have all backed away from national schemes for trading carbon emissions, all but destroying the chances of a global market as the main mechanism for reducing pollution. What is important, however, is that business, including mining and energy companies, are given certainty by the end of this year to enable them to factor the cost of emissions into long-term investment decisions. A price mechanism is the cheapest way to cut pollution without the hidden costs of programs such as the Expanded National Renewable Energy Target.


Unfortunately, the Gillard government is highly unlikely to countenance the kind of industrial relations reforms that would improve productivity. That, however, should not preclude the issue being discussed during the coming year. Such debate will be encouraged if the signs of a wages breakout that emerged last year take hold and as the problems of the government's system become more apparent. Memories of the ACTU anti-Work Choices campaign have made the Coalition unnecessarily timid on IR policy and, for the sake of the nation, Mr Abbott should go back to the policy drawing board on the issue. That said, it is also up to the business sector, especially the lobby groups representing small business, to make the case for reform by spelling out the advantages for the economy, profits and for workers of a more flexible system.


After a year dominated by manoeuvring in the Labor Party and the federal election, 2011 must be the year in which the government delivers. In building a prosperous future, it would be unacceptable to reach January 2012 little further forward from the present hiatus in productivity reforms.








FOR many city dwellers watching the Queensland floods on plasma screens, the prospect of camping on baking roofs surrounded by putrid floodwaters submerging homes, farms and towns is barely imaginable. So, too, is the stoicism with which outback and regional Australians are facing the crisis, especially after a decade or more of crippling drought.


The rest of Australia, and indeed the world, can only admire the hardiness and resilience of those who have been ravaged by the continent's climatic extremes repeatedly and who have become resigned to them. As one family whose home is on the banks of Rockhampton's Fitzroy River philosophically told The Australian's Graham Lloyd last week: "We've been through it before, we've been through a lot of floods. It's part of living here . . . when they come, they come." And so do the snakes, the debris and billions of dollars damage.


As usual, the response of local government, police and Queensland State Emergency Service staff to the crisis has been outstanding. Driving into floodwaters at night until the vehicle is almost submerged then boating to rescue terrified children clinging to the branches of trees in a crocodile-infested river is not for the faint-hearted. Authorities have done an excellent job notifying local government officials, police and residents in plenty of time about flooded rivers and the need to evacuate.


Governments and individuals donating to charity will be as generous as possible supporting those who will need vast assistance to regain their health, refurbish their homes and rebuild farms, businesses and lives after the inland seas retreat. The economic impact on the coal industry, agriculture and government as it rebuilds damaged infrastructure will be heavy.


After such a prolonged drought, the deluge should prompt policymakers to take stock. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the rains is that so much will be lost after towns were forced to buy in water during the drought, when Brisbane's dam levels fell to 16 per cent. With an abundance of land and a climate of extremes, Australia needs water policies to suit local conditions. Whatever the objections of green extremists, such policies must include more dams, much larger dams and underground water storage facilities. For decades, when sites were more plentiful, state governments failed to build dams around capital cities, but such investment should be put off no longer. While the floods have been unusual, they are not unprecedented. Something similar will occur in future, possibly after another devastating drought. When it does, it is important to be better prepared to harness more of the water.








WHEN it is so tragically clear that alcohol is killing many Aborigines and tearing indigenous communities apart it seems logical to try to turn off the tap. The Commonwealth's radical intervention in the Northern Territory from 2007 aimed, among other measures, to do just that. Many Aboriginal communities have since seen a welcome reduction in violence, injury, ill-health, crime, road trauma, incarcerations and early death.

But unfortunately this is no measure of policy success. Nowadays, mountains of bottles and cans mark the remote ''grog camps'' of hardened drinkers who've drifted away from communities where alcohol has been banned. As the Northern Territory's co-ordinator-general for remote services, Bob Beadman, has just reported, these are violent ''cesspits'' where ''self-respect soaks into the soil with the blood and the excrement and the vomit''. Much the same can be said for the camps of itinerant drinkers gathering at inland towns. In Katherine, a town of only about 8200, the equivalent of 11.8 million cans of heavy beer was sold in 2009.


Beadman argues that well-intended alcohol bans have made a terrible situation worse. It might seem hard to imagine how much more miserable life could be, when Aborigines die 10 to 17 years earlier than non-indigenous Australians. Much to Australia's shame we have made very slow progress in ''closing the gap'', in contrast to significant life expectancy increases for indigenous populations elsewhere such as Native Americans and Maori resulting from the extension of healthcare.


Of the many grim statistics available to highlight the damage wrought by alcohol, a couple stand out. Sixty per cent of all assaults in the Northern Territory and 67 per cent of domestic violence assaults are alcohol-related. Other states have reported similar migrations away from newly dry Aboriginal communities, leaving vulnerable drinkers beyond the moderating influences of family networks, social services or police.


Alcohol is the most dangerous legally available substance and alcohol abuse is 10 times more harmful to the community than heroin, a recent British study says. Beadman concurs, arguing in favour of sweeping new measures such as a national ban on alcohol advertising and graphic public education campaigns similar to those aimed at smokers. Not only Aborigines would benefit, for example, from the removal of alcohol promotions from sporting events. But indigenous communities need solutions that will work for them. The complex social, cultural and historical influences that shape their communities mean local solutions must come from within, particularly given the abject failure of so many measures imposed

from without.






IN CANBERRA, the widest rivers of cash flow out of the defence and health budgets. Not surprisingly, the town is full of contractors and influence pedlars trying to divert the attention of those at the sluice gates. The Herald has drawn attention to the way in which key officials in both portfolios are bombarded with gifts and invitations from big businesses seeking favourable treatment.


The Defence Department and the armed forces, to their credit, at least keep a log of what is given, and what is retained by the recipients. Many of the gifts to top brass and bureaucrats are souvenirs insignificant in value, received from meetings with foreign counterparts. Every big office would have a ''wall of kitsch'' to store this kind of gift. Where gifts are costly and saleable, the best course is to accept to avoid giving offence, then put them into a pool for charitable auction.


The more pertinent area of concern is not cross-cultural, however. The record of corporate hospitality shows a pattern of cultivation, with some officials accepting an uncomfortable level of free tickets to cultural and sporting events and wining and dining. It deserves close and regular monitoring.


The city is the hunting ground of five big American and European defence contractors, all on the prowl for a share of defence business, which was worth some $48 billion in 83,000 contracts over a recent four-year period. Some of these contractors have been linked through subsidiaries and agents to corrupt arms deals in other countries. In a sector with an intrinsic high level of secrecy about capabilities and performance, the survival of programs, companies, even national industries can swing on a few large deals. You would have to be extraordinarily naive to think that intensive corporate hospitality is entirely innocent.


One result seems to be excessive leniency towards contractors, if a recent report by the National Audit Office is any guide. It finds that the typical defence acquisition project is about three years behind schedule, and falling further behind, as well as being greatly over budget - at a total additional cost of nearly $8 billion. Some of the fault lies with the Defence Department for changing the performance specifications before completion, or for wildly optimistic cost estimates. But contractors seem to have a lot of scope for raising their prices. If this is unfair to the contractors, a little more distance between them and the officials running the programs would be reassuring.








IMAGINE the uproar if almost 300 people died and 6000 were seriously injured in street violence. No politician would dare suggest greater leniency in applying the law. Yet these figures represent Victoria's road toll in a year in which a new government came to power suggesting more leniency for speeding drivers. During the election campaign, Coalition leader Ted Baillieu said most people thought speed cameras were revenue-raisers. The Coalition attitude was strangely at odds with its ''zero tolerance'' law-and-order platform. As we take stock of the year's road toll,The Age sees no reason to tolerate law breaking on our roads.


Victorians did once have cavalier attitudes to driving and paid a high price. In 1989, when the first road advertisement was aired, 776 road users died, a rate of about 18 per 100,000 people. Numbers of people and cars have soared since then, but at midnight on December 31 the 2010 road toll stood at 291, a rate of less than 5.3 per 100,000, which is up with the best road safety records in the world and significantly better than the national rate.


The inescapable tragedy in the statistics, however, is that hundreds of families must face the new year without loved ones. Disturbingly, too, Victoria's holiday road toll is the worst in Australia. And for every person who is killed, about 50 people are injured. Exact figures are not yet available, but last year at least 6000 were seriously injured and spent at least one night in hospital - about 900 for two weeks or more.


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These people may have escaped death, but some lost their old lives forever. In the year to August, 86 people suffered severe brain injuries and 13 more were made quadriplegic or paraplegic in road accidents. The Age last week recounted the two-year ordeal of Sam Howe, 21, who, despite a remarkable recovery from his head injuries, will never be his old self. The people who live with this hidden road toll will attest to the lifelong penalties that can result from even a single stupid risk on the roads.


Despite being just one more than 2009's record low toll, the 2010 figures reveal some worrying trends. Female deaths fell from 94 to 67, but male deaths leapt from 195 to 224. The increase was entirely among those in their 20s. Tolls for all other ages were stable or fell by up to 18 per cent. TAC research attributes the young male toll to a willingness to speed and take risks. The trends for motorcyclists illustrate the problem. The toll, 49, was 32 per cent more than last year. All but three of the dead were male. TAC research shows that 26 per cent of motorcyclists say they will speed if they know they won't get caught, compared with 17 per cent of other motorists.


Government must lead the way in challenging such attitudes. Yes, better vehicle and road designs have also cut the toll, but the physics of speed remain incontrovertible. For instance, a car that could stop in 45 metres if travelling at 60 km/h, will still be moving at 32 km/h after 45 metres if its travelling speed was just 5 km/h faster. Any suggestion of greater tolerance of drivers exceeding the limit involves a safety trade-off. Now that it has the responsibilities of office, the Baillieu government does at least seem more wary of sending a mixed message about speeding.


As for camera revenues, that should be the least of considerations for the state budget and taxpayers. Each death costs the community about $1.5 million, each life-changing injury about $5 million and each serious injury about $300,000. Since 1989, road safety measures, including speed and red-light cameras, have saved more than $100 billion (in current-day costs had accident rates been sustained). Ultimately, though, who can put a value on the 12,000 lives saved and 100,000 serious injuries avoided?


No encouragement should be given to drivers who somehow feel entitled to bend rules that are in place to protect all road users. Drivers who resent vigilant policing and speed and red-light cameras should try justifying their attitude to families whose loved ones were killed or maimed because of risky driving. No one should pander to such populist idiocy.







AS PAUL Simon sang all those years ago, ''Kodachrome/You give us those nice bright colours … So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away.'' In the end, it wasn't Mama who did the deed, but destiny. Last week we saw the final frame in the inevitable developing story: in Dwayne's Photo, a small family business in Parsons, Kansas, the only remaining Kodachrome processing machine in the world was switched off. The last picture at the last roll-call was of Dwayne's employees standing in front of the store, wearing T-shirts proclaiming, ''The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.''


Those who embrace the digital age, and who have never associated pharmacies with photography and having to wait a week to see how bad their prints are, might find little nostalgia in Kodachrome's demise. After all, it was only a matter of time, and besides, who cares about old-fashioned film? But to others, who still associate still and movie cameras with words such as ''Super-8'', ''Polaroid'' and the more recent, tragically short-lived Advanced Photo System, Kodachrome's place in the pantheon is No.1. As an advertisement in 1941 put it, ''Color 'stills' … brilliantly gay and beautiful''. While Kodachrome was the stuff of billions of home movies and slide shows (often utilising the long-gone Kodak Carousel projector, with its revolving circular tray), it was also the film of choice for some of history's most enduring images - the Hindenburg airship disaster, the Queen's coronation and JFK's assassination were all recorded, by accident or design, using Kodachrome.


It is poignant enough, turning off 75 years of vibrant colour on a wintry Thursday in Kansas; but it also means the loss to the language of a word that, like the LP or Bakelite, once embodied an entire culture in a few syllables. Perhaps there is no place for Kodachrome in a world in which references are no longer looked up but Googled, in which one ''unfriends'' people on Facebook without wincing, and where photographs are no longer processed, but are instantaneous. The family album is now mostly virtual - stored on a hard drive and viewed on a screen. The images could be there for posterity, but could also vanish at the capricious will of a power surge.


It took American photographer Steve McCurry, who was given the last roll of Kodachrome ever produced by Kodak, to provide the perfect in-memoriam. His final shot: a cemetery in Parsons, just near Dwayne's Photo, where he took the film to be developed.










How tempting must it be for jurors to search for more information about the individual in the dock?


Most of us check people out online some time or other: it satisfies our curiosity and can be a reasonable precaution. How tempting, then, must it be for jurors to search for more information about the individual in the dock? The judge may have told them not to, but they want to know as much as possible about the accused before deciding whether to convict. So it was surprising when the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said recently that "of course a jury can be trusted not to research a case on the internet as directed". Indeed, a report for the Ministry of Justice last February found that 12% of jurors in high-profile cases admitted doing exactly that, and a further 26% said they had come across media reports online during the trial – a possibility Mr Grieve said did concern him, particularly when these reports were discussed on social networking sites by people ignorant or heedless of the law on contempt of court. Those figures, the report's author suggested, were probably an underestimate.


The former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, has pointed out the impossibility of removing all the potentially prejudicial information about a defendant from the web. In his view jurors will occasionally research a case online and it should not necessarily invalidate a trial when they do. But the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, takes a much tougher line. Judges must make it clear that researching a case online is a contempt of court, he says, and at some point it might have to be punished accordingly. Lord Judge is right to be worried. What happens when a juror gives a partial account of some online insights to the other jurors? They should report him, but might agree between themselves that the discovery is so damning that they ought to take it into consideration. And what if – as has happened – that information is false? Even if all this is discovered, the financial and psychological cost of a retrial is considerable.


In America, where courts have scrambled to deal with the problem of jurors Googling in the courtroom itself, judges' warnings are becoming more emphatic. Britain, where media coverage of trials is more restricted, may be able to hold the line for longer. Significantly, a few US legal scholars are questioning whether researching cases really does bias jurors as much as assumed. Many jurors clearly think it does not. If they are to be persuaded to resist the temptation to research a case, the courts need to do a better job of explaining why: the Your Guide to Jury Service pamphlet, for example, does not even mention the internet. It is no longer enough to hope that it will not occur to jurors to seek more information. It happens: and, as people's lives are played out in ever more detail online, there will be plenty to discover.







The inspectors' reports and anecdotal evidence strongly imply that many of the answers to what happened lie locally


It is always easier to be wise after the event. Even so, the two most recent reports on Ford open prison by the chief inspector of prisons have a cumulatively ominous ring to them, especially in the light of the serious riots and damage there on New Year's Day. Five years ago, after a scheduled visit to Ford, the chief inspector expressed concern about overcrowding and feared that co-operation with staff might suffer as a result. Ford had many strengths, she concluded, but progress was hampered by "the inflexibility of some of the staff", about whom the inspector received many complaints, by the poor reception facilities, and by "the lack of a comprehensive resettlement strategy to drive forward all its work".


Three years later, in autumn 2008, the chief inspector went back to Ford, unannounced, and found things had become worse. Earlier inspections had drawn attention to "the inadequacy of the prison's physical environment, the poor staff-prisoner relationships, and the inadequate resettlement focus". Now, she reported: "None of these concerns had been properly addressed." Deep-cleaning routines had lapsed, the reception area was inadequate, the perimeter was poorly supervised, a fact which contributed to "the smuggling in of alcohol, especially at night, which had become a significant problem". Many staff were good, but others "remained negative and obstructive". It was "particularly disappointing that resettlement, Ford's principal role, remained a weakness". As a result, Ford was underperforming.


Two nights ago, however, Ford stopped performing at all. Early on New Year's Day, a small group of prison staff tried to test a number of prisoners for alcohol consumption. In the aftermath, around 40 inmates went on the rampage, torching important parts of the prison with fire and causing large amounts of expensive damage. For several hours, staff abandoned the prison altogether because of fears for their own safety. Yesterday, with the prison back under control, ministers confirmed two separate investigations – a police inquiry into the violence and criminal acts, and a prison service inquiry into the lessons of the incident.


The full verdict on the Ford riot must obviously await the inquiries. It is important that the public policy response is as objective and focused as possible. Much hangs, for Ford and elsewhere, on getting that response right. Much could be lost by jumping to wrong conclusions. Politicians and other vested interested are already trying to place the blame, not on the rioters or the prison staff, but on the coalition government's cuts and penal policies. While it is highly likely that overcrowding, inappropriate crisis use of open prisons for unsuitable prisoners, and cuts to staffing regimes – about which staff and campaigners have long protested – were all contributory factors in the chemistry of the riot, and while all open prisons represent a calculated risk, including on absconding, it is vital not to overlook local factors at Ford too.


The inspectors' reports and some of the post-riot anecdotal evidencestrongly imply that many of the answers to what happened lie in Ford itself, rather than in spending cuts or penal policy. Ford, after all, is one of around a dozen open prisons in England. Hopefully it is not too much of a hostage to fortune to point out that inspections of some of these other open prisons, while not without problems, are more reassuring than those on Ford. Blantyre House, for example, is described as an "exceptional specialist establishment". Leyhill is reported to have shown a number of improvements and be "a very safe place" in which good efforts had been made to deal robustly with alcohol issues. Sudbury is "safe, respectful and purposeful" in spite of a large influx of new inmates. If the Prison Officers' Association is right that Ford was the proverbial accident waiting to happen, then some of its own members at Ford may be at fault, and not just Ken Clarke in London.







The former Pulp frontman has joined the ranks of David Attenborough and Peter Ustinov – and become a family favourite


Last week, Jarvis Cocker finally took the professional summit that has been his for the taking for well over a decade: he became a national treasure. There may be people who have never even heard a Cocker lyric (although they must live far outside the land of pop radio). But innarrating Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf at the Royal Festival Hall last week, the former Pulp frontman has joined the ranks of David Attenborough and Peter Ustinov – and become a family favourite. This transition is not something that Cocker can be accused of aiming at. Some of his early songs would scare the very children he was entertaining at the RFH; others flaunt a sexual frankness (such as Do You Remember the First Time?) unfriendly to radio playlists. Saccharine the man is not, however charming his current image as an Open University escapee from 1982. Yet he has the true national treasure's ability to hit a nerve: Common People and its tale of a posh art student slumming it will forever be a favourite for any TV producer after a soundtrack to summon up the mid-90s. And his bum-waggling stage invasion during Michael Jackson's Brits performance in 1996 provided a rare moment of excitement during a reliably dreary awards ceremony.Always more interesting than the rest of the class of 90s Britpop, Cocker has a range of interests in art and books that he now puts to good use on the BBC's 6 Music ("I am going to put the boringness back into Sunday," he declared when launching his show). Nice line in ties, too.









The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on Dec. 24 made public a report of an internal probe of how the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad handled the case in which a former welfare ministry bureau chief allegedly fabricated an official document to help an organization receive a postage discount perk reserved for the disabled. The report doesn't go far enough.


This case greatly damaged people's trust in public prosecutors, in general, because of the disclosure that the chief investigator had tampered with an important piece of evidence. The report, submitted to a third-party panel at the Justice Ministry, says investigators made light of evidence that contradicted the prosecution's scenario of the alleged crime. The probe also found that the prosecution used leading questions and other means to prepare depositions and then wrongly arrested and indicted the bureaucrat, Ms. Atsuko Muraki.


It is widely known that similar problems have happened during the investigation of other cases. The report appears to come up short, though, in stressing that prosecutors offices as a whole have structural problems. All prosecutors should view the report as a warning that they use their power correctly by strictly following the basic principles of investigation.


Among the corrective measures, the report calls for electronically recording interrogations done by prosecutors attached to special investigation units, which exist only at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district public prosecutors offices. It stops short of calling for the electronic recording of the entire interrogation process.


If only partial recordings are allowed, it is very likely that prosecutors will record only those parts of interrogations that are advantageous to their version of the crime scenario. Not only prosecutors with special investigation units but also ordinary prosecutors have brought false charges.


Investigators often argue that electronically recording the entire interrogation process precludes the possibility of a trustful relationship between them and suspects, making it difficult to get to the truth. If that's the case, then prosecutors offices should make a concrete proposal for introducing the plea bargaining system while accepting the electronic recording of the entire interrogation process.


On May 26, 2010, the Osaka District Court adopted only nine of 43 depositions presented by the prosecution — dismissing 15 depositions that composed the core evidence against Ms. Muraki. She was acquitted Sept. 10. She had been arrested on June 14, 2009, and indicted on July 4 of the same year.


The prosecution had alleged that Ms. Muraki, at some point between June 8 to June 10, 2004, instructed her subordinate, Mr. Tsutomu Kamimura (also indicted) to write and issue a certificate recognizing a certain organization as a benefactor for the disabled, thus enabling it to use the postage discount system. It then surfaced last Sept. 21 that the chief investigator, Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda, had tampered with a floppy disk seized from Mr. Kamimura. That disk contained the text of the certificate.


The time of the original last update on the disk was 1:20.06 a.m., June 1, 2004. The report states that data on the disk show that the text had been written by 1:20 a.m. that day.


The report states (1) that the prosecution's scenario set the date of Ms. Muraki's instructing Mr. Kamimura to write the certificate between June 8 and June 10, 2004, and (2) that Mr. Kamimura testified that he started writing the text on the same day he received the instruction, completing the certificate in the early morning of the following day.


In view of these facts, the report states, Mr. Maeda should not have decided to arrest Ms. Muraki immediately. Instead, Mr. Maeda should have consulted with his bosses and received opinions from higher prosecutors offices, it says.


It has become known that Mr. Maeda, on July 13, 2009, changed the time of the last update on the floppy disk to 9:10.56 p.m., June 8, 2004, apparently to have it correlate with the timeline of the prosecution's scenario. In the trial, an investigation report based on the prosecution's scenario was used as evidence. If the altered floppy disk had been submitted, Ms. Muraki could have been found guilty.


The report includes mention of the observation that Mr. Hiromichi Otsubo, head of the special investigation unit, failed to hold meetings of his investigators and to ask them to produce the main evidence. Thus he failed to examine the ongoing investigation. He applied pressure on Mr. Maeda, saying it was Mr. Maeda's duty to arrest Ms. Muraki.


Higher-ranking prosecutors found out about the floppy disk alteration around late January 2010. If they had carried out a complete probe, the report says, they could have told Ms. Muraki's lawyers about the alteration and withdrawn the indictment.


Although the report mentions many points, it still appears to be inadequate. Strangely the authors of the report failed to interview Ms. Muraki. As she points out, the report fails to examine the process in which a number of prosecutors prepared problematic depositions based on their version of the alleged crime. The Justice Ministry's panel should come up with proposals for drastic reform of public prosecutors offices.








ANKARA — Turkey made its imprint as one of the most influential countries not only on 2010, but on the first decade of the third millennium.


At the start of the new decade, Turkey's geopolitical position, rich historical heritage, cultural depth, well-educated young population, ever-strengthening democracy, growing economy and constructive foreign policy make it an indispensable country in a world transformed by rapid globalization.


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


The chaotic conditions of the post-Cold War world have made civil wars, occupations, nuclear armament and human trafficking chronic problems. While globalization offers new opportunities, it also causes new global problems and deepens the inequalities embedded in the world order.


It is no longer possible to sustain the current world order, which, to the extent it is on a skewed notion of relations between the center and the periphery, merely produces injustice and inequality.


Turkey seeks to contribute to regional and global peace by facilitating democratic reforms domestically and implementing a principled foreign policy.


As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey aims to become a full member of the European Union and establish cordial relations with all of its southern and eastern neighbors. Turkey's posture — in looking both East and West — is neither paradoxical nor inconsistent. On the contrary, Turkey's multidimensional geopolitical position is an asset for the region.


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


This capacity is essential because we need to leave behind the Manichaean disagreements, conflicts and fears of the Cold War era. Those who see the world through those old, fearful lenses have difficulty understanding Turkey's rising profile and dynamism.


The realities of the 21st century necessitate a multidimensional and inclusive political perspective.


Acting on these principles, Turkey is following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus.


Indeed this geography is Turkey's natural historical and cultural hinterland. Turkey's cultural and historical links with the peoples of these regions are deep and conducive to regional peace.


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


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


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


Today, Turkey is following a policy that represents a sense of justice in the Middle East, and is working toward the removal of artificial borders and walls among the region's peoples.


We desire to live in a region where the dignity of every person is respected. That is why we have objected to Israel's aggression in and blockade of Gaza, and will continue to do so.


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


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


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


Besides its cultural, historic and diplomatic values, Turkey's vibrant economy has become a source of stability

and welfare.


When my party took office in 2002, the Turkish economy totaled around $250 billion. Today, Turkey's annual

GDP has reached $800 billion, making it Europe's sixth-largest economy and the 17th- largest in the world.


Turkey has also been one of the least impacted by the global economic crisis, with growing foreign trade, a strong banking system, and diverse and prospering small and medium-size enterprises. The Turkish economy returned to its pre-crisis levels in 2010.


All of these qualities have transformed Turkey into an attractive place for business, media, artists, diplomats,

students and nongovernmental organizations from around the world.


Turkey's ever-increasing soft power is becoming one of its most significant traits, which we will continue to use to enhance regional and global peace.


Not only has the impact of globalization brought about a rebalancing of power, but the demand for justice, transparency and legitimacy remains constant.


The global problems of our times necessitate cooperation, political will and sacrifice. That is why we are

following a proactive policy in multilateral institutions to facilitate an equitable sharing of our world's resources.


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


Recep Tayyip Erdogan is prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. © 2010 Project Syndicate (










ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan was invited by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to brief the Indonesian Cabinet at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Dec. 17, 2010. It was a historic occasion for the secretary-general of ASEAN to contribute to high-level strategic discussions ahead of Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2011.


The briefing, which represents part of the government of Indonesia’s coordinated and sustained efforts to prepare for its chairmanship, has won praise from the secretary-general. “This certainly reflects a full commitment on the part of the Indonesian President to lend the full measure of his engaging and dynamic leadership to the ASEAN agenda for the year ahead,” Surin said.


He expressed hope that Indonesia would adopt a proactive role in its leadership of ASEAN. “Indonesia has the weight, the international legitimacy and a global appeal to draw tremendous support and attention from around the world to the ASEAN community-building efforts that we are all engaging in now,” he said.


At the briefing, President Yudhoyono also charged his Cabinet ministers to work closely with Surin and the ASEAN Secretariat to ensure a successful chairmanship. The need for meaningful and successful follow-ups with concrete outcomes well into the future was also highlighted during the President’s conversation with the Secretary-general.  


Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said President Yudhoyono had invited the secretary-general of ASEAN to brief the Indonesian Cabinet to support the realization of Indonesia’s vision for its ASEAN chairmanship. In welcoming the vision, Surin expressed his confidence that the ASEAN member states would support the proactive role played by Indonesia as the ASEAN chair. He further added that Indonesia’s membership in the G20 economic forum paved the way for ASEAN to enter the global stage, as Indonesia was Southeast Asia’s representative at the forum.  


Indonesia has traditionally set “milestones” for ASEAN and the international community. This includes the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, the 1994 APEC Summit in Bogor and the 1976 and 2003 ASEAN Summits in Bali, which enhanced ASEAN solidarity and laid the groundwork for the eventual goal of an ASEAN Community by 2015.


President Yudhoyono said he expected the ASEAN and East Asian Summits in 2011 to be a success. US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are expected to attend the East Asia Summit in October 2011.


In his directive to the Cabinet, President Yudhoyono also stressed that as “ASEAN is a people-centered association, the public should be involved in all ASEAN events.” He also said that Indonesia during its Chairmanship would engage with youth, students, business communities and civil society organizations.


President Yudhoyono also informed his Cabinet that the ASEAN Secretariat deserves full support in all possible areas to facilitate its work in the implementation and coordination of ASEAN’s work.


The ASEAN Secretariat has been invited to work closely with the National Committee for the Indonesian ASEAN Chairmanship 2011 under Vice President Boediono, with the full support of Foreign Minister Marty and the participation of other relevant ministers. As the host country to the ASEAN Secretariat, Indonesia has extended full hospitality and facilitation to all ASEAN officials since the establishment of ASEC in 1977.  


The full realization of Indonesia’s agenda for ASEAN and its ambitious program of activities for 2011 is indeed a noble objective. Indonesia has its own problems and challenges, but the experience it has will certainly help ASEAN, integrate ASEAN and lead ASEAN to become one of the key players in the global community. The world and ASEAN member states are expecting that ASEAN, under Indonesia’s leadership, will achieve a higher profile on many issues. 

The author is deputy secretary-general of ASEAN.


The views expressed in the article are those of the author.







Environmental problems are not new. Ever since there have been high concentrations of people, areas near crowded human settlements have begun to deteriorate.


The rise of cities in ancient Mesopotamia thousands of years ago caused the salinization of the soil. In the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, Plato wrote detailed descriptions of soil degradation and deforestation in the hills surrounding Greek cities.


Traffic congestion was so bad in ancient Rome that Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) issued a decree forbidding wheeled vehicles from entering Rome from sunrise until two hours before sunset.


Exceptions were made for vehicles providing essential public services. In the 13th century, the burning of coal in London caused such severe air pollution that the parliament passed a law prohibiting coal burning downtown.


The differences between our current environmental problems and ancient ones are of magnitude and the rate of destruction and, consequently, their scale of impact on nature. We are now destroying natural ecosystems at a much larger scale and at a faster rate than our ancestors did, and are having much more of an impact.


When forests were cleared in the ancient Mediterranean, people in other parts of the world did not feel the impact.


But now, when we clear a million hectares of forest in Kalimantan or Sumatra and burn the peat, we contribute significantly to global warming worldwide.


The increase in magnitude, rate and impact of our environmental problems are caused by population growth and increases in living standards.


More people need more natural resources for food, wood, fiber and minerals, and modern people with higher standards of living need more resources than ancient people.


Our species, Homo sapiens, has been living on earth for a few hundred thousand years. But, in 1000 AD, the human population was only 310 million. By 1800, when the industrial revolution was underway in Europe and North America, the human population reached 978 million.


Now, our population is almost 7 billion! The increase in natural resource consumption shows similar patterns with human population growth.


Another factor influencing natural resource consumption rates is lifestyle. More luxurious lifestyles demand more resources.


Although the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources.


The majority of environmental scientists agree that the wasteful lifestyle practiced by Americans is not sustainable. Neither is the population growth in most developing countries.


Therefore, population growth must be severely controlled and wasteful lifestyles must be replaced by resource-efficient lifestyles. Economics should not emphasize growth, but sustainability.


But many people remain unconvinced about the danger of population growth and economic growth. They believe that mankind’s unlimited creativity will find ways to overcome the problems set by resource scarcity and environmental pollution.


Despite warnings from environmentalists that our population has exceeded the earth’s capacity, data shows the current human life expectancy is higher and the child mortality rate is lower than several decades ago.


Hawken et al in 2010, however, wrote that we may have a longer life expectancy while at the same time exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity.


They deployed a useful analogy: “The ability to accelerate a car that is low in gasoline does not prove the tank is full”.


While populations of other living things are regulated by nature, we as humans have the capacity to control our population.


But, if we do not deliberately control our population, nature will do it the hard way. When there are 
too many people on earth, many of us will die from disease and starvation.


FAO estimates that in 2010 as many as 925 million people face chronic hunger, and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said a child dies every six seconds because of problems related to undernourishment. Other people will die due to wars among parties fighting for resources.


How many people can the earth support? It all depends on what kind of lifestyle we lead. But instead of asking that question, a better question would be: Why should we allow our population to grow?


What are the benefits of population growth? Isn’t it better that we keep our population small so our cities are not crowded, our air and water are not polluted and our landscapes are moderately modified?


With a smaller population we could have more time and energy to improve our quality of life rather than struggle just to feed people and provide other basic needs.


We also have to develop management practices and technologies to use natural resources more efficiently. Wasting natural resources does not automatically improve our quality of life or our comfort as individuals or as a society.


For example, many people in Jakarta like driving cars to and from their offices, consuming tons of fossil fuel and polluting the air. But, they do not receive any comfort. Instead, they are trapped in traffic for hours and become exhausted physically and mentally.


Many Singaporeans prefer to use public transportation rather than drive their own cars. Better traffic management in Singapore saves resources, reduces pollution and at the same time provides comfort and, therefore, a better quality of life.


Technology is also useful for this purpose. In temperate climates, designers of green buildings use sunlight to provide passive heating and install good insulation to prevent heat loss during winter.


Sunlight is also used to provide lighting.


Good air ventilation and trees planted around buildings lowers the temperature during summer. So, green buildings are not only ecologically sound, but they are also economically beneficial because they provide comfort with a much lower usage of electricity.


Halting population growth and developing management practices and technologies for the efficient use of natural resources is a must. If we continue to expand and continue with business as usual then we are certainly quite selfish.


We may all have died before a global environmental catastrophe occurs, but our children and grandchildren will suffer tremendously. So, let’s tackle the root of environmental problems and leave the earth in good condition for our descendents.

The writer is a lecturer at the University of Bengkulu’s school of forestry.








As multiple crisis of economy devastates millions of poor and excluded people, we saw feeble responses from governments in shape of undersized offers of social protection, to support people in facing a crisis of civilizational magnitudes.


Occupying central attention of our governments were attempts to resurrect economy back on its “business as usual” and  “unequalizing” road, through what are now commonly known as fiscal stimulus packages.


In the global north, with US leading the pack, trillions of dollars of public resources has been redirected to recapitalize banks, assert control over ailing financial institutions and underwrite guarantees to deposits and assets of rich.


Responses from the least developed economies in global south, in Africa, Asia and Latin America were powerless, given the limitations of economic and political autonomy, they face.


As African Development Bank then articulated “Africa is trying but the scope to do more is very limited”, given the body blows African economy received with the down turn of global economy.


Larger developing countries in global south such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Egypt, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam promoted responses of some significance in relation to national GDPs. 


Such efforts were mainly oriented towards augmenting public investments in infrastructure especially in rural areas, social protection and to a lesser extent on the direct support to ailing sectors.  


Facing elections in 2010, the Indonesian government announced a US$4.5 billion (approximately 1 percent of GDP) fiscal stimulus package for investments in infrastructure and selected export sectors, while devoting part of stimulus to promote direct cash transfers to about 20 million poorest families, from the money saved from cuts in direct fuel subsidies in 2008.


The Hopeful Family Program (PKH), Indonesian Government’s flagship Social Protection program, remains only a form of conditional cash transfers, allowing each poor family an annual cash assistance at minimum levels.


The nature of crisis response both in north and in the south, illustrates the “wrongs” with fiscal stimulus and tokenistic proclamations of social protection.


First, the response packages have been oriented largely to resurrect the current economic structure which do not serve the worlds majorities — of poor and excluded.  Bailouts and fresh infusions to industry and service sector in north, for instance, adversely impacted the terms of trade by increasing industry capacity and protectionism and limiting outsourcing in the fortified developed world, in a ways which are difficult to replicate in the south, leading to a gradual slide to de-industrialization, and restriction of labor intensive accumulation strategies and peasant agriculture development in the south.


Second, the squeeze on revenue generation through corporate tax cuts and other tax reliefs together with continued growth of expenditures in areas such as defense, raises long term concerns over financing overall public investment, employment and eventual socialization of economy. These trends are not new or unknown in global south.


Third, silent in our government’s responses were announcements to reorient public policies in progressing social and economic rights for all peoples.


Fourth, the social protection programs heralded in this period, are no more that miniscule efforts to provide safety nets to the poorest to cope with “shocks”.


To argue that these efforts have in any way altered or redistributed economic gains of any significance, would be to fall prey to the dangers of learning disorders.


As we enter the next decade, it is for us to look closely at the lessons of colonialism, and the capitalist cycles of boom and bust of the past century, to realize that these small social protection programs, even if well intentioned, would necessarily come to grief, if we do not restructure economy and polity in the interests of our national majorities of peasants, labor, women and indigenous people.


The minimalism of social protection urgently needs a “collective rights turn” and the instruments available to people for their political expression, need renewal to birth and secure popular agendas.