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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

EDITORIAL 04.01.11

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Editorial

Month january 04, edition 000720, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. SO, BOFORS DID PAY BRIBES!
  2. REMEMBERING GHALIB
  3. NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT 2011 - RAJIV DOGRA
  4. ANOTHER AFRICAN COUNTRY GOES DOWN - GWYNNE DYER
  5. TO SPUR GROWTH, SINGAPORE LOOKS TO CASINOS - ALEX KENNEDY
  6. QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES? - SANDHYA JAIN

 

MAIL TODAY

  1. BHAT DESERVES PRAISE FOR SPEAKING OUT THE TRUTH
  2. BOFORS REARS ITS HEAD AGAIN
  3. BOOK THE HEARTLESS PARENTS
  4. THE BEST IS YET TO BE FOR INDIA - BY K. NATWAR SINGH
  5. CITY SCHOOLS ARE DRAGGING THEIRFEET ON THE RTE ACT - VIKAS KAHOL

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BREAK THE LOGJAM
  2. PEACE IN ASSAM
  3. RAISING MULTIPOLAR STAKES - RAJA KARTHIKEYA
  4. YOU CAN'T COMMAND CREATIVITY
  5. THE WHINING BRIGADE - V GANGADHAR

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. TRUTH WILL SET ALL OF US FREE
  2. OUTSIDE ITS PURVIEW
  3. WE'RE NOT TOO PRICEY
  4. RECOVERING AN INDIAN
  5. SHUTTING HIM UP - PRAFUL BIDWAI

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. GANDHI VS GANDHI?
  2. TIME-BOUND JUSTICE
  3. IT’S GOOD TO TALK
  4. BENGAL’S NITISH? - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI 
  5. SUPREME COURT MAKES AMENDS - SOLI J. SORABJEE 
  6. ‘I AM NOT UNDER PRESSURE FROM MY PARTY BUT THEY SAY YOUR CONTINUANCE IN PAC IS CONFUSING THE ISSUE—IT’S AS IF YOU ARE OPPOSING A JPC’ - SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. POLICY BLUES
  2. CAESAR’S WIFE
  3. STATE OF MIND - SUMITA KALE
  4. STORING TROUBLE, NOT ENERGY - TNR RAO
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. INNOVATION CAPITAL

 

THE HINDU

  1. SUDAN ON THE BRINK
  2. POLICY IMPERATIVES FOR GROWTH
  3. INDIA AND AFGHANISTAN: THE WAY FORWARD - ATUL ANEJA
  4. PEACEFUL VOTE ON SUDAN APPEARS MORE LIKELY - JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
  5. JAPAN KEEPS A HIGH WALL FOR FOREIGN LABOUR - HIROKO TABUCHI
  6. IRAQ'S DAILY OIL PRODUCTION EXCEEDS 2.7M BARRELS

 

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. DMK, CONG: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?
  2. THE JPC HEADACHE - ASHOK MALIK
  3. STRUGGLING FOR A PLACE IN THE SUN - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  4. UPA’S TWIN PROBLEMS - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

DNA

  1. PRANAB MUKHEJEE PLAYS THE ‘CONSERVATIVE’ CARD
  2. COURAGEOUS SUPREME COURT ADMITS ITS MISTAKE
  3. STANDING UP FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
  4. 2010 was the year of Kalmadisaurus Raja - Ranjona Banerji
  5. WHY IS GOVERNMENT RELUCTANT TO RETRIEVE FUNDS STASHED ABROAD? - R VAIDYANATHAN

 

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. A MISHAP A DAY
  2. PRESERVE THEM
  3. THE NEXT DECADECHALLENGES, SILVER LININGS AND A SHARED FUTURE - BY D SUBA CHANDRAN
  4. CANCUN TALKS ON CLIMATE CHANGE - BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
  5. FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY CHALLENGES FOR INDIA - BY DHANANJAY TRIPATHI,

 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. PUT AN END TO ACRIMONY
  2. FAST-TRACKING PROJECTS
  3. ATTEND TELANGANA MEET
  4. THE REALITY IN ‘OTHER CHINA’ - BY SHYAM SARAN
  5. FILMS ARE TOO MUCH WITH US - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
  6. FOCUS ON MOBILITY: A STEP FORWARD - K.C. SIVARAMAKRISHNAN
  7. THE MISSING ELEMENT OF PLANNING - DEEPAK DASGUPTA

 

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. LANGUAGE OF COMPASSION

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. THE ANNUAL SCIENCE CON - PHARMA RIDES HIGH
  2. POLICY CHALLENGES FOR THE YEAR 2011 - M GOVINDA RAO
  3. UNLEASHING THE POWER OF SINGLE SCREENS - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  4. 20 years: Any difference? - A K Bhattacharya
  5. THE JAIPUR FESTIVAL PRIMER - NILANJANA S ROY

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW
  2. WHY ADD EXCHANGE RATE RISK
  3. BREAKING UP
  4. SILVER LININGS AND A BRIGHT FUTURE - KIRAN KARNIK
  5. WHY DOUBLE STANDARDS FOR PMS? - RAGHU KRISHNAN 
  6. LITTLE KNOWLEDGE GOES A LONG WAY - MUKUL SHARMA 

 

BUSINESS LINE

  1. WELCOME CUTS IN TARIFF
  2. FOOD INFLATION CHALLENGES - G. CHANDRASHEKHAR
  3. BIHAR, NOW A GOVERNANCE MODEL - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  4. A ROADMAP FOR MBA EDUCATION - S. VAIDHYASUBRAMANIAM
  5. CLEANSING PUBLIC LIFE OF CORRUPTION - T. R. ANANDAN

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. DMK, CONGRESS, AN UNEASY ALLIANCE
  2. THE JPC HEADACHE
  3. BY ASHOK MALIK
  4. IT’S JOBS, NOT GDP, THAT CONCERN AMERICA - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  5. STRUGGLING FOR A PLACE IN THE SUN - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  6. SEEK MERCY, FORGIVENESS - BY SADIA DEHLVI
  7. UPA’S TWIN PROBLEMS - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

THE STATESMAN

  1. MEN OF LETTERS
  2. SPEAKER’S MOVES
  3. ALL SYSTEMS GO
  4. MILORD’S DICTUM~I - BY ASHOK KAPUR
  5. THE INSIDE STORY ~ 2
  6. WHAT’S IN A NAME? - AC TULI
  7. NEPAL PEACE PROCESS AT CROSSROADS

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. FOLLOWING FORM
  2. BEST CHANCE
  3. MUDDY WATERS
  4. DISILLUSIONMENT IS JUST ROUND THE CORNER - ASHOK SANJAY GUHA

 

DECCAN HERALD

  1. LAUDABLE VERDICT
  2. UNCERTAINTY AHEAD
  3. GEOPOLITICAL FAULTLINES - M K BHADRAKUMAR
  4. ‘MR PM, YOUR HAND-WRINGING IS A SIGN OF IMPOTENCE’ - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
  5. BANDITS BECAME BILLIONAIRES - M J AKBAR

 

OHERALDO

  1. ANATOMY OF A LEAK
  2. OF RICH MEN AND ERSTWHILE THIEVES
  3. WAS IT WORTH IT? - BY VENITA COELHO

 

CENTRAL CHRONICLE

  1. COURIER SERVICES
  2. TRAFFIC CONTROL IN MP CITIES
  3. SPECIAL GROCERY LIST
  4. NIIRA RADIA-LOBBYING LOBBYIST
  5. DEVELOPMENT INDICES
  6. INDIA’S STATURE IN GLOBAL SYSTEM
  7. REACTION OF PARLIAMENT

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. MEIR DAGAN’S IRAN LEGACY
  2. SHATTERING THE QUIET - BY RUTH EGLASH  
  3. RIGHT OF REPLY: A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW - BY SAUL TAYLOR  
  4. OUR WORLD: THE LEFT’S LOSER MESSAGE - BY CAROLINE B. GLICK  
  5. ENCOUNTERING PEACE: THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER - BY GERSHON BASKIN
  6. A CRITICAL SILENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS - BY JACKSON DIEHL  

 

HAARETZ

  1. LETHAL GAS
  2. HOW THEY WHITEWASH RACISM - BY VERED LEE
  3. A RIGHT WING THAT SHOULD WORRY THE RIGHT - BY SHLOMO SHAMIR
  4. FORGOTTEN IN THE GAS RUSH - BY ZAFRIR RINAT
  5. WITH NO TREASURY, ANYTHING GOES - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE MISSING JUDGES
  2. MR. ORBAN FORGETS
  3. BLACK MARKET TIPS
  4. CURBSIDE FOREST
  5. GET READY FOR A G.O.P. RERUN - BY BOB HERBERT
  6. A CLEAR DANGER TO FREE SPEECH - BY GEOFFREY R. STONE
  7. FIDO’S NO DOCTOR. NEITHER IS WHISKERS. - BY HAL HERZOG

 

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON 'NET NEUTRALITY': ON THE INTERNET, THE PIPES SHOULDN'T CONTROL THE CONTENT
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON 'NET NEUTRALITY': UNNECESSARY INTERVENTION - BY KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
  3. CHRIS BROWN MAKES PROGRESS - BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. IN COUNTY, POLITICS AS USUAL
  2. BATTLING HIGH GASOLINE PRICES
  3. GAIN VS. 'THE SCARIEST WORD'
  4. CHALLENGE OF HIGH-PRICE GASOLINE
  5. COMMUNIST NORTH KOREA'S THREAT
  6. COMMON SENSE IN MEMPHIS
  7. WHAT DO THE MULES THINK ABOUT IT?

 

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
  2. DOES TURKEY WANT A DIVIDED IRAQ? - SEMİH İDİZ
  3. UKRAINE CAN'T COMBINE PUTINISM AND EUROPEAN INTEGRATION - TARAS KUZIO
  4. THE KURDISH QUESTION: NO ONE REMAINS TRUE TO HIS WORDS - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  5. QUITTING THE EURO IS NOT SO EASY - ERDOĞAN ALKİN
  6. LOSS OF SOCIAL MEMORY AND ITS EFFECTS ON FOREIGN POLICY - HAVVA KÖK
  7. OIL INDUSTRY STILL COMING UNDER FIRE - GAIL TVERBERG
  8. POWER ADDICTION - YUSUF KANLI

 

THE NEWS

  1. ON THE BRINK
  2. INVISIBLE MONEY
  3. THE ART OF HAVING IT BOTH WAYS - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  4. AF-PAK STRATEGIC REVIEW - SALEEM SAFI
  5. IN THE THICKNESS OF FOG - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  6. SALVAGING THE 7TH NFC AWARD - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  7. SLIPPERY ECONOMIC SLOPE  - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  8. PEACE PROCESS - RIZWAN ASGHAR

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. FOGGY POLITICAL HORIZON
  2. “COMPULSIVE HOSTILITY” IS OTHER WAY ROUND
  3. THREAT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
  4. FOREIGN POLICY REVIEW IS IMPERATIVE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. EXPLOITERS OF WAR ON TERROR - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  6. DIPLOMATIC LIFE, SOME VIGNETTES - KHALID SALEEM
  7. BABRI MOSQUE & INDIAN SECULARISM - DR ABDUL RUFF
  8. KILLING IRAN’S ENERGY INDUSTRY - MARK DUBOWITZ

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. EARTH MOTHER HAS NO ANSWER
  2. ACCOUNTABILITY HELPS STUDENTS
  3. NSW LABOR LOSES TOUCH WITH ITS OWN TRADITIONS

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. DOLLAR DAZZLER'S NEW YEAR HANGOVER
  2. OUT OF AFRICA, HOPES AND FEARS
  3. BRUMBY'S SEAT AN EARLY TEST OF LABOR RENEWAL
  4. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE GIFT

 

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IVORY COAST: WAR OF ATTRITION
  2. FIGHTING TERROR: RESTORING ORDERLY CONTROL
  3. IN PRAISE OF … MUSICAL REINVENTION

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. BUDGET WITH STOP-GAP FUNDING
  2. THE TRUE NATURE OF FAITH IN A GLOBALIZED AGE - BY TONY BLAIR
  3. INDIAN ELEPHANT TOO SLOW FOR THE CHINESE DRAGON - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

 

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. MANAGING CAPITAL INFLOWS
  2. WARNING FROM ALEXANDRIA
  3. MRS. YUDHOYONO CONTENDER FOR PRESIDENCY - A'AN SURYANA
  4. THE COST OF THE DEMOCRACY INDUSTRY - GERADI YUDHISTIRA

 

CHINA DAILY

  1. WELFARE TO THE NEEDY
  2. OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS
  3. EMBRACING A BRIGHTER FUTURE - BY LI KEQIANG (CHINA DAILY)
  4. LI'S VISIT PUSHES CHINA-EU TIES TOWARD NEW STAGE - BY XU XIANPING (CHINA DAILY)
  5. DEBATE: MARRIAGE LAW - LUO HUILAN

 

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SRI LANKA NEEDS SERVANT LEADERSHIP
  2. ‘RESOLUTION’ IS NEVER OBTAINED BY MYTH-MODELLING, MISNAMING AND MISCHIEF
  3. THE COST OF APPEASEMENT
  4. ROADS AND REDISTRIBUTIVE INJUSTICE - BY: GARGA CHATTERJEE
  5. A NEW ECO-ENVIRON EQUATION
  6. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT VERSUS ECONOMIC GROWTH

 

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. CHINA BRICS UP AFRICA - BY M. K. BHADRAKUMAR

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

SO, BOFORS DID PAY BRIBES!

AND OTTAVIO QUATTROCCHI WAS THE BENEFICIARY


Truth can be suppressed for some time through deceit and subterfuge, but it has a habit of surfacing, often with a bang and when least expected by those who want it to remain buried forever. So also with the Bofors scandal whose stain the Congress has tried to whitewash for more than two decades now. The Congress had come to believe that the ghost of Bofors, which had haunted the party ever since the scandal of illegal commissions being paid to ‘agents’ in the Howitzer field gun deal came to light in the mid-1980s, had been buried forever when the CBI sought a closure of the case during UPA1’s tenure. The CBI, in it stunning submission, had claimed that it had no evidence against the accused, namely Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian middleman whose proximity to the first family of the Congress is common knowledge. On that occasion, Prime Minister had sought to justify the patently illegal action of the CBI by saying that it was a “shame” to file charges against Quattrocchi; it would appear that Mr Manmohan Singh had had sleepless nights worrying about a bribe-taker who had been declared an absconder by the courts and the closure report came as a relief as much for the Italian fixer as for him. The then Union Minister for Law, Mr HR Bhardwaj, had facilitated that gross act of crippling the criminal justice system. Earlier, the CBI had silently allowed Quattrocchi to empty his London bank accounts where part of the Bofors payola had been stashed and which had been frozen at the initiative of the NDA Government. 


But like Banquo’s ghost, the ghost of Bofors can never really be laid to rest till those who looted the nation are brought to justice. Hence, it is not surprising that the entire issue has once again come alive with the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal rejecting the appeal of the son of the late Win Chaddha, who was the ‘official agent’ of Bofors and to whom ‘fees’ were paid despite an explicit clause in the contract prohibiting such payment on the instructions of Quattrocchi, to be exempted from paying tax on the ‘income’. The tribunal has also said that the other beneficiary of the deal, Quattrocchi, should also pay tax on the money that was directly paid to him, amounting to three per cent of the total amount. In brief, what has been reiterated, with a total recall of how the ill-gotten money was shifted from account to account in Swiss and offshore banks to confuse investigators and cover-up the crime, is that kickbacks were paid and received in the Bofors deal; the beneficiaries were Chaddha and Quattrocchi; and, the money was stolen from the people of India. Investigations have clearly shown that Chaddha’s Svenska Inc, registered in Panama, was used for funnelling the bribe, as was Quattrocchi’s AE Services. 


After Monday’s ruling, the Prime Minister owes an explanation to the nation as to why he allowed the CBI to close the Bofors bribery case; plaintive claims of being honest and pathetic comparisons of himself with Caesar’s wife will not suffice. Nor will silence of the variety that facilitated the Great 2G Robbery answer questions about complicity at the highest level.As for the Congress, it stands exposed, though not for the first time, denuded of all scruples. Meanwhile, Mr Bhardwaj should be sacked from his present job as Governor of Karnataka and prosecuted for his role in the cover-up operation. After all, as the tribunal has noted, there is no reason to let crooks believe “India is a soft state and one can meddle with its laws with impunity”. 

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

REMEMBERING GHALIB

IRONICALLY, DELHI HAS ALL BUT FORGOTTEN THE POET


In an age when popular culture is defined by ever-declining standards set by Bollywood chartbusters, it is laudable that there are people who remember the legendary poet Mirza Ghalib. Celebrated filmmaker and writer Gulzar deserves three cheers and more for having commissioned a statue of arguably the greatest Urdu poet the world has seen. Now that the bust has been installed at Ghalib’s Old Delhi residence, one hopes it will not end with that, but that more and more people will get involved in resurrecting the poet and his poetry. It’s a disgrace that the city Ghalib lived in and loved so dearly should have all but forgotten him and done everything to obliterate his memory. Hishaveli had been turned into a ‘wedding hall’, with filth littering the place. A public toilet was constructed in its vicinity. It took the intervention of the Delhi High Court for the State Government to restore the dilapidated residence. Beyond that, the Congress regime has done precious little. What has prevented it from beautifying the location and promoting the residence as a tourist spot? Look at the commendable manner in which successive British Governments have projected Stratford-upon-Avon. The English town has become synonymous with Shakespeare. How many people in our country — let alone the world — know of Ghalib’s address? It is ironical that while Delhi is full of carefully preserved monuments built by the Mughals and the British, its own legendary son should remain unacknowledged and disowned. 


There is no point in blaming the people for the apathy. It is the responsibility of the Government and non-government organisations to kindle interest in the poet among the people. Organisations like the Ghalib Memorial Movement have been doing a great job in that direction, but more is needed. If the State Government could host the Commonwealth Games, it can surely think of a major event to promote Ghalib and his poetry. And, why just the State, the Union Government too is responsible to keep Ghalib’s works and memories of the poet alive. The promotion of Ghalib is not merely a celebration of the poet but that of Urdu as well. We must not forget that Mirza Ghalib originally wrote in Persian — the language of the court and the elite — but switched to Urdu that was more popular with all sections of the people cutting across faith and community. He was a people’s poet and secular to the core, and lived for nothing more than his poetry. It’s a shame and a pity that a country and a society that unabashedly celebrate the fleeting successes of Indians writing in English have neither the time nor the inclination for a writer who was driven by passion and not pelf. Ghalib lives, but not because we remember him. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT 2011

THERE’S NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT 2011 WILL BE A BETTER YEAR THAN 2010. A CORRUPT SOCIETY CANNOT ASPIRE TO GREATNESS. AND SINCE THERE IS UNLIKELY TO BE A TECTONIC SHIFT IN THE WAY WE DEAL WITH ISSUES, AND BECAUSE HISTORY CONTINUES TO REPEAT ITSELF, WE WILL REMAIN WHERE WE ARE. STANDING AT A CROSSROADS AS A NEW DECADE DAWNS, THAT’S THE VIEW WE GET, SHORN OF HYPERBOLE

RAJIV DOGRA


Just because 2010 is over and we have entered a new decade, don’t think we have crossed the cursed hump. 2011 may yet be worse.


Sadly, we have turned the chronological page without discarding the baggage of misdemeanours. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that we have become any wiser. We may be getting collectively more anguished with each passing day. But those who got away with the financial cream have merely become more cautious. It is doubtful if they have become any less profligate. That they are a bit more careful in covering their tracks is because of the national outrage.


Till the last quarter of the year 2010, skimming the exchequer was a game played with impunity. Like some richly endowed ‘passing the parcel’, money was changing hands on a massive scale. But the national script began to go horribly wrong from that point. There was only bad news thereafter; giving media one field day after another for it to churn out breaking story a day. Media has rarely had it so good, and for such a consistently long spell.


This serves to prove the age-old journalistic belief that the only good news is bad news. But what does the reader do? Is bad news good for him too? Or does he have a different yardstick? Well, as a reader and as a citizen you have two choices. You can close your eyes and ignore all that you have read. On the other hand if you feel concerned as an involved citizen, you can fret and cogitate.


Let’s begin with the easier option of ignoring it all; of fatalistically believing that whatever happens in this world is god ordained, that men and women are merely playing their assigned parts in a script pre-determined by destiny. We could, in a similar vein, regard the media reports witheringly and consider it all in an optimistic light. Viewed thus, the year has been grand. We have had a high GDP growth even as many Western nations struggled to avoid economic meltdown.


One can counter this and say what about our preparations for CWG? Wasn’t the sheer patchwork nature of them an unmitigated disaster? There is also the issue of the non-stop saga of corruption. Isn’t that deeply worrying?

“Well, well,” begins the optimist in us soothingly, “what you call patchwork is actually another name for jugaad, and we Indians are famous for managing a jugaad at the very last minute. So what happened before CWG was no last minute rush, but a well practiced leap before the deadline. And in the end everyone went back happy. That is what counts; even if there were no tourists and even though the stalls remained without spectators. What counts is the end; the finish should be good, the wrinkles and the warts in-between are incidental. People will only remember the opening and the closing ceremony, nothing else.”


“That was a mere spectacle, a tamaasha which Indians are so adept at holding. What was so special in that?” You might counter again. But the attention has already shifted to the second question and the optimist in us takes it head on; “Which society doesn’t have corruption? You think America is corruption free? Well, you are wrong. Think again, and you will remember the Wall Street collapse of 2008. Wasn’t that greed on a monumental scale? What our people did was puny in comparison, just a few odd billion dollars that slipped into some pockets here or there. How can you become a great power if you keep worrying about small change? So, just focus on the larger picture.”


For a moment euphoria takes hold, you forget about people siphoning off money and concentrate instead on the big picture; of India finally dictating terms to the world — a world where Indians wouldn’t be refused visa, and having been granted a visa we wouldn’t be singled out for frisking at an airport on arrival.


At that point reality begins to bite once more. “Why, the persistent in you enquires? Why must we tolerate corruption? No society has ever risen to great heights if its foundations are weakened by greed.”


We don’t have to look far for evidence; the recent history of our region provides sufficient proof. One huge difference between us and most of the rest in the region was that we were lucky to have leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel at the time of independence. The value system that they ingrained in the society became the foundation of nation building; honesty, hard work and respect for the other. These were the messages that our leaders kept intoning day in and day out. The first generation of independent India was a direct product thereof; self-reliant and self-sufficient. Self-reliance may have meant inventing the wheel again but it taught us the value of pride in work. We gained as a nation.


Sadly, some others in our neighbourhood chose short cuts personally and convenient cuts at a national level — cuts that led to military interventions in Governmental affairs routinely. Even when it was out of power, the Army in those countries would not empower the civilian Government of the day fully. When the Army did not govern directly, it was reluctant to let the civilian Government govern. Such a state of affairs has a trickle-down effect; it gnaws at the national ability to follow the straight path. The result is obvious; economic development in such societies has suffered.


You might counter once more and ask, what about China? It is a dictatorship, yet it has done phenomenally well. That is indeed so now. But China was doing badly till it was under Mao’s dictatorship. Had that form of Government lingered, it is moot if China could have succeeded the way it has in recent years. Moreover, China’s success is not based on wide scale depravity. In fact, every now and then one hears of the corrupt being dealt with severely in China.


We in India have been devastated by the recent cases of corruption. Even the most generous destiny cannot provide an alibi for the sheer scale and audacity of these. You might still try to delude yourself by putting on the optimist’s mask, and claim all is well. But that is at best an illusion, and in reality an exercise in self-deception. The fact is that people have turned bitter; they feel anguished by the brazenness with which public trust was betrayed. And they are looking for answers; most fundamentally as to where our national destiny will take us now.


We stand today at a crossroads with differently posted signboards. Whichever way you look, whatever period of history you examine, the result is bound to be uniformly same — that a corrupt society cannot achieve greatness. Whatever we might do otherwise, whatever innovations we might introduce, be it the much trumpeted UID or some such high falutin new convenience, the corrupt will carry on regardless. The unique number that we propose to give to each human being living in India contains no magic potion to check greed.


-- The writer is a former Ambassador.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ANOTHER AFRICAN COUNTRY GOES DOWN

NOTWITHSTANDING THE THREAT POSED BY THE AFRICAN UNION, IVORY COAST’S INCUMBENT PRESIDENT LAURENT GBAGBO IS UNLIKELY TO ACCEPT HIS ELECTORAL DEFEAT. BUT HE MUST EMBRACE THE TRUTH THAT STARTING AN UNWINNABLE WAR HAS NEVER BEEN A GOOD IDEA 

GWYNNE DYER


It’s not a bluff,” said an adviser to Mr Alassane Ouattara, the real winner in November’s presidential election in Ivory Coast, who is now besieged in a hotel in Abidjan, the capital, under United Nations protection. “The (African Union) soldiers are coming much faster than anyone thinks.” But it is a bluff, and the AU is just undermining its own credibility by threatening to use force.


The incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who stole the Ivory Coast election by getting the Constitutional Council (headed by a crony) to invalidate many of Mr Ouattara’s votes, still controls the capital and the Army. His actions have been condemned by the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United States and the European Union, but getting him out will not be easy.


Mr Gbagbo, once a history professor and a pro-democracy campaigner, has latterly turned himself into the self-appointed defender of the Christian peoples in the southern half of Ivory Coast. Now he says, “I do not believe at all in a civil war. But obviously, if the pressures continue as they have, they will push towards war, confrontation.”

He knows about civil war, because one broke out two years after he was elected President in 2000. Military mutineers, mostly Muslim troops from the north who didn’t want to be demobilised and lose their jobs, attempted to seize power in Abidjan.


They were quickly defeated in the capital, but other Muslim troops took control all across the north. French troops blocked them from moving south, and after a couple of months the divided country settled into the sullen cease-fire that has lasted for the past eight years. The civil war that Mr Gbagbo is warning about would be the second round, not the first.


Then why doesn’t he just accept his electoral defeat and quit? Partly because he just wants to stay in power, of course, but it’s not as simple as that. He has real support among the Christians of the south, because many of them see Mr Ouattara as the democratic facade of a Muslim takeover bid that began with the military mutiny in 2002. The north-south division in Ivory Coast is real. The country has shifted from a narrow Christian majority 25 years ago to a Muslim majority today — and it has done so largely through illegal immigration from the much poorer, entirely Muslim countries to the north: Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea.


About four million of the 21 million people now living in Ivory Coast are illegal immigrants, and almost all of those immigrants are Muslims. It has changed the electoral balance, because many of them register to vote, especially in the north of the country where they speak the same languages as the local citizens. Southerners are afraid that they will lose control, and so they back Mr Gbagbo.


It’s really a rich-poor problem, not a Christian-Muslim problem. The country’s agricultural resources, particularly the cocoa plantations that make Ivory Coast the wealthiest country in West Africa, are mainly in the south. Southerners think that a northern-led Government would divert a lot of that income to the north, and they are probably right.

That would only be fair, but southerners also believe that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants were allowed to register in the north, and that they all voted for Mr Ouattara. They may be right, they may be wrong, but they believe it. So the November election didn’t solve the Ivorian problem, it exacerbated it.


The AU is determined to force Mr Gbagbo to accept the election outcome because it wants to break with the past and make democratic elections the norm in Africa. It has had some recent successes in thwarting military coups, but the situation in Ivory Coast is a lot murkier, and direct intervention by the AU would be a lot harder.

Armchair Generals in the AU and ECOWAS talk boldly of military intervention to drive Mr Gbagbo from power, referencing the successful operations to end civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in recent years. But Ivory Coast is five times bigger and richer than either of those countries, and its Army can actually fight.


Besides, where would the AU and ECOWAS find enough African troops to intervene effectively? Only Nigeria is big enough, but it is most unlikely to commit a lot of troops this year to what might be a real war in Ivory Coast. This is an election year in Nigeria, and body bags coming home as the voters go to the polls are rarely a vote-winner.

The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Mr Gbagbo’s Government, and the Central Bank of West African States has blocked his access to Ivory Coast’s account. These are measures that will work slowly, if at all, but there is no alternative. Starting a war is rarely a good idea. Starting an unwinnable one never is.

 

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TO SPUR GROWTH, SINGAPORE LOOKS TO CASINOS

SINGAPORE'S HUGE CASINO RESORTS HAVE PUT IT IN A FAVOURABLE POSITION TO RIDE THE CURRENT WAVE OF ECONOMIC GROWTH IN ASIA, WRITES ALEX KENNEDY


Wear red if you want to win at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands casino, but sport white to boost your luck at rival Resorts World Sentosa. So says feng shui expert Danny Cheong, who has seen demand for his skills soar thanks to last year’s opening of the city-state’s first two casino resorts.


“Before I would occasionally get clients who asked for help with playing the horses or the lottery,” said Mr Cheong, a 50-year-old Singaporean trained in Hong Kong. “Now everybody wants advice about the casinos.” Singapore’s two huge casino resorts, which together cost more than $10 billion to build, are at the centre of a decade-long effort to diversify the island’s economy towards services such as tourism and finance and less on manufacturing. The casinos have created more than 20,000 jobs, helped attract record visitors and fueled 14.7 per cent economic growth last year, likely the second-highest in the world behind Qatar.


Singapore is also benefiting from strong economic growth in Asia, led by China. Almost all the growth of tourist arrivals last year came from regional neighbours and, for the first time, Chinese demand for Singapore’s exports likely surpassed that of the US in 2010. To woo Chinese visitors, the resorts incorporated feng shui and other Chinese beliefs in their design and operation. Resorts World opened its casino at 8:28 am on February 14 while Marina Bay Sands opened March 27 at 3:18 pm, because eight is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture



Its strong economic ties in the region, particularly with China, put Singapore in a favourable position to ride the current wave of growth from Asia, said DBS economist Irvin Seah. Gross domestic product rose 12.5 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, compared with 10.5 per cent in the third quarter, the Trade and Industry Ministry said on Monday. The economy grew an annualised, seasonally adjusted 6.9 per cent in the fourth quarter after contracting 18.9 per cent in the third, the Ministry said. 


Singapore in recent decades lost much of its low-wage manufacturing to regional emerging economies like China and Vietnam, and it has focussed on exporting more value-added products such as semiconductors and pharmaceuticals. Manufacturing soared 28 per cent in the fourth quarter from the previous year while services gained 8.8 per cent and construction slumped 1.2 per cent, the Ministry said. This year, the resorts should contribute about 1.7 percentage points of GDP growth to an economy that Singapore’s DBS bank expects will slow, but still grow a healthy 7 per cent. The Government is forecasting economic growth of between 4 per cent and 6 per cent for 2011. Services will overtake manufacturing as the key contributor to growth, and gaming will overtake pharmaceuticals as the fastest growing sector, Mr Seah said.


Singapore, which has a population of five million and is about the size of New York City, saw visitor arrivals average about one million per month and jump 20 per cent in the first 11 months of last year from the same period in 2009. The resorts also plan to expand this year. Marina Bay Sands, owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation, is scheduled to open the world’s first ArtScience Museum in February while Genting Bhd’s Resorts World will open its Maritime Xperiential Museum by mid-year, with two more hotels and a marine life park later.


Retailers, at the resorts and at Singapore’s famous Orchard Road shopping malls, have also benefited from the tourism boom, with spending by visitors soaring 47 per cent to SG$13.7 billion in the third quarter from the previous year. Other winners include feng shui masters such as Mr Cheong, who for 22 years has advised companies such as Pizza Hut, Renault and Robinson’s department store on the finer points of attracting the right kind of qi, or energy.


Gamblers are now paying 500 Singapore dollars ($380) for ‘wealth achievement’ sessions — advice on how to beat the casinos where Mr Cheong analyses the date and time of a client’s birth to dole out tips about lucky clothes and the direction to face at a card table. Some Singaporeans have misgivings about the embrace of casinos, however.


Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990, rejected casinos out of fear they would undermine morality. Mr Lee’s son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, argued the resorts would help make Singapore a world-class city.


To discourage impulsive gambling by locals, the Government imposes on all citizens and permanent residents a SG$100 entrance fee for a 24-hour visit or SG$2,000 for a year. More than SG$100 million was collected in entry fees last year, which suggests many Singaporeans still tried their luck.


Local media have reported increasingly aggressive harassment of debtors by loan sharks, and police last year began a crackdown on illegal lending, which often targets desperate gamblers. The Government has banned about 194 problem gamblers from casinos at the request of family members and more than 2,000 people have asked to be excluded.


Even some feng shui experts are wary of encouraging betting. Ms Adelina Pang, author of Classical Feng Shui for Homes Today, said she’s frequently approached by poorer Singaporeans who hope she can help them hit the jackpot. 

-- AP

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THE PIONEER

OPED

QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES?

RECENT REVELATIONS ABOUT CORRUPTION IN THE HIGHER JUDICIARY RAISE DISCOMFITING QUESTIONS ABOUT IMPORTANT JUDGEMENTS. WHO WILL GUARD THE JUDGES?

SANDHYA JAIN


That justice must be seen to be done is a wise adage. As allegations swirl and corroborative evidence surfaces of a possible quid pro quo in the wealth amassed by the kin of ‘uncle judges’, the Supreme Court must urgently limit the damage to its credibility by revisiting questionable judgements by controversial or tainted judges. 

Indeed, a quiet judicial review should have begun when senior advocates began questioning extra-judicial angles to decisions of a former Chief Justice of India. In September 2010, former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan furnished the court with a list of 16 former Chief Justices of India, of whom eight were allegedly corrupt. Mr Bhushan said six of the former CJIs were upright, but he could not vouch for the remaining two judges, an indication of the gravity of the rot undermining the last bastion of justice. 


Justice RC Lahoti shines among the honest six, yet he was overlooked for the post of chairman, National Human Rights Commission, because of purported pro-Hindu leanings (read he was not a certified anti-Hindu). As Mr YK Sabharwal was caught in a storm over tainted judges, the UPA kept the post vacant until Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan retired in May 2010 and could take up the job which is reserved for former Chief Justices of India. 


The last judgment delivered by Chief Justice Balakrishnan before demitting office pertained to the pricing of natural gas in a dispute between the Ambani brothers. Upholding the Government contention that gas was a national resource whose price it alone could fix, he gave a steep benefit to one party by directing Reliance Natural Resources Ltd to pay $4.20 per mmBTU to Reliance Industries Ltd, instead of the contracted price of $2.34 per mmBTU. This had the tacit consent of the Petroleum Ministry that should have pocketed the differential for the good of the common man. 


Now the chickens have come home to roost with the surfacing of a Niira Radia-Balakrishnan connection. News reports say Delhi-based journalist M Furquan filed a complaint before the Vice-President in May 2010, alleging that Mr Balakrishnan’s son, Pradeep, had mediated with Dubai-based NRI businessman Yusuf Ali to settle the legal battle between the Ambani brothers over the Krishna-Godavari basin gas supply. The complainant alleged that Pradeep, a practicing lawyer in the Supreme Court, had made several trips to Dubai in this connection. This is something which can and should be speedily verified from his passport. 


The already public Radia tapes mention the clean chit given by Mr Balakrishnan to then Telecom Minister Andimuthu Raja in the matter of trying to influence a Madras High Court judge to give bail to a father-son team in a criminal case. On July 7, 2009, Ms Radia told Mr Ratan Tata: “Yeah, I met Raja today… The Chief Justice has given his clearance on him and he’s happy...”. 


Mr Furquan has further alleged that Mr Balakrishnan granted relief to CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC-Lavalin scandal at the behest of his family members who are reputedly friendly with Kerala’s Marxist boss. Mr Furquan has also alleged that mining tycoon Janardhana Reddy met Mr Balakrishnan’s son-in-law PV Sreenijin in Kochi for help in cases involving the Reddy brothers.


Eminent jurist and retired Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer has demanded that Mr Balakrishnan be made to step down as NHRC chairman and a probe ordered into proliferating allegations of corruption against him. The current controversy centres round his lawyer son-in-law PV Sreenijin, who has allegedly amassed staggering wealth in the past three years, according to a Malayalam television channel. These include flats and land at prime locations in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts of Kerala, all currently valued at over `7 crore. Mr Sreenijin had unsuccessfully contested the 2006 Assembly poll from Njarackkal constituency in Ernakulam. In his affidavit to the Election Commission he had declared a bank balance of `25,000, three gold sovereigns then valued at `18,000, and no land. 


It is alleged that the wealth of Mr Balakrishnan’s kin rose sharply in the period coinciding with his supremacy at the Supreme Court — January 2007 to May 2010. Interestingly, his appointment as Chief Justice of India was challenged by a Kerala High Court advocate who had filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that Mr Balakrishnan was illegally appointed to the Kerala High Court in 1985 though he lacked the mandatory qualifications for the post — a minimum of 10 years service as District Judge or 10 years practice as an Advocate.

The petitioner had charged that Mr Balakrishnan had worked merely as a munsif magistrate from 1973 to 1983, a subordinate judiciary post, and was thus ineligible to be a High Court judge. It followed, he claimed, that his elevation as Chief Justice of India was also illegal. The Supreme Court did not go into the merits of the petition which was simply dismissed as belated. Yet a Government servant found appointed against a fake degree is dismissed from service at the moment of discovery, there being no time bar or amnesty against an illegal appointment. 

Observers allege that as the late K Karunakaran — an accused in the Palmolein import scam which also embraces Chief Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas — was instrumental in elevating Mr Balakrishnan to the High Court, the latter returned the favour by staying the proceedings in the case indefinitely at Supreme Court level.

It is interesting, though not surprising, that Mr Balakrishnan had urged Mr Subramanian Swamy not to press his case for disqualification of Congress president Sonia Gandhi for repeatedly misleading, under oath, the Returning Officer of Rae Bareilly constituency through what he alleged were false affidavits. The judge invoked a ‘stale case’ doctrine which has no basis in law, and the issue is of sufficient national interest to merit fresh scrutiny. 


Present indications, however, suggest that the UPA has no intention of tackling the issue of corruption in the higher echelons of the judiciary, and may let the matter hang fire as in the case of tainted CVC PJ Thomas, who has resisted all hints and nudges to resign. In this eventuality, either the Government or the Supreme Court must immediately institute a mechanism whereby whistleblowers can report cases of judicial corruption and investigate them in a time-bound manner. The seizure of disproportionate assets would be a good idea. 

 

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MAIL TODAY

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

BHAT DESERVES PRAISE FOR SPEAKING OUT THE TRUTH

 

JUST why Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat, one of the four founders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, better known simply as the Hurriyat, has shown uncommon courage is obvious from the tenor of his remarks in Srinagar on Sunday. Referring to the assassinations of Maulvi Muhammad Farooq in 1990, Abdul Ahad Wani in 1993 and Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002, he acknowledged that they had been “ killed by our own people.” While Kashmiri separatists may have indeed carried out the actual act of killing these leaders, there is no doubt that they did so at the instance of the Pakistani handlers of the uprising— the Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate of the Pakistan Army.

 

By being blunt, Prof Bhat could well have signed his own death warrant. Life is cheap in Kashmir and people have been killed for saying less.

 

Yet it is important for the separatist movement to clearly differentiate themselves from the manipulators of the ISI who have distorted their original goals for their own ends. It is well known that the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front ( JKLF) which initiated the uprising was for independence from India, but the Pakistanis made sure that it was marginalised and replaced by militants whose avowed goal was to merge the state with Pakistan.

 

Over the years these two trends remain manifest in the separatist ranks— the advocates of Pakistan under the overall guidance and leadership, at least in the Valley, of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and the so- called moderates associated with the Mir Waiz Umar Farooq. There is, of course, the silent majority that would be willing to settle for less, but that is where the rub lies. As long as the gun is able to dictate the discourse, their voices will remain muted.

 

BOFORS REARS ITS HEAD AGAIN

THE ghost of the Bofors pay- off scandal refuses to leave us notwithstanding the efforts of the authorities to give the case a burial. In its order rejecting an appeal by Win Chadha’s son over payment of tax liabilities, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal ( ITAT) has said that a commission of 242.62 million Swedish kroners was paid illegally to Ottavio Quattrocchi and Win Chadha in the gun deal, being channeled through two firms.

 

This puts a huge question mark over certain moves of the first United Progressive Alliance government. It had asked the British government to defreeze two accounts held by Mr Quattrocchi on the plea that there was insufficient evidence linking them to the Bofors case. Again, when the businessman was detained by Interpol in Argentina, the Central Bureau of Investigation deliberately underplayed the event, going public with the news only belatedly.

 

In fact, our premier investigative agency has filed a petition in court seeking closure of the case against Mr Quattrocchi saying there was no evidence against him.

 

The payments, though illegal, to Mr Chadha, a long- time representative of Bofors in India, can be explained. We do need to know why Mr Quattrocchi— who had links to the Gandhi family— got his commission.

 

BOOK THE HEARTLESS PARENTS

THE story of six- month- old Chiku, alias Stephen — who has been living at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s Hospital after being abandoned by his parents soon after he was born — is tragic to say the least.

 

While the parents accused the hospital of medical negligence that caused damage to the child’s brain, they cannot use this as a pretext for abandoning the child.

 

It is shameful that they are treating the child like a commodity which cannot be accepted if found to be ‘ defective’. The parents could have initiated legal action against the hospital instead of making their own child suffer.

 

Also, the Delhi Police cannot abdicate its responsibility by stating that it is a civil matter.

 

The parents are liable for punishment under section 317 of the Indian Penal Code and the police must register a criminal case and take action against them.

 

Whether the hospital is guilty of negligence or not is another matter, but its staff must be commended for going beyond their duties as medical professionals by taking care of the infant.

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

THE BEST IS YET TO BE FOR INDIA

BY K. NATWAR SINGH

 

THIS is a good time to be an Indian diplomat.

 

India is the new diplomatic magnet. The permanent five did not come to India on a holiday.

 

They came to acknowledge that India was no longer a supplicant.

 

India mattered On 1.1’ 11. India became a non- permanent member of the U. N. Security Council for a two year term. India could well be treated as a de facto permanent member, with more than a say in evolving the new international order. This will enhance our U. N. profile. That implies that we are expected to combine restraint with responsibility. The celebrated French diplomatist, Talleyrand ( 1754- 1838) advised young men aspiring to be diplomats: “ surtout, Messieurs, point de zeal, ( above all gentlemen, not the slightest zeal).” Hence no sound and fury. In such a forum it is wiser to be pedantic than to be impassioned or vehement. No room for, dilettantism or schadenfreude . Treat issue on merit, without in any way jeopardising our vital national interests. Problems also become opportunities.

 

Diplomacy

 

No doubt the External Affairs Ministry would have taken the decision to further strengthen our Permanent Mission at the U. N. by posting half a dozen I. F. S officers who will exclusively handle the agenda of the Security Council, in order to reduce the burden of the Head of the Permanent Mission to the U. N. We must never give the impression that we are miscast or out of sync with current diplomatic realities.

 

The five permanent members post their best officials to cope with the demands that are made on the Security Council at the shortest notice. Their granite expressions ( especially of the Chinese) are misleading.

 

They are high quality professionals, not given to overblown rhetoric. The functions, powers and duties of the Security Council are spelt out in chapter five, six, seven, eight and twelve of the U. N. Charter.

 

A handful of diplomats invite caricature, even derision. A vast majority however are of high ability and accomplishment. The Indian Foreign Service has produced diplomats of outstanding expertise and proficiency.

 

They came through one of the most grilling examinations and tests. Our very best are among the very best in the world.

 

Harold Nicholson, the English author, listed the qualities of a diplomat, “ Truth, accuracy, calm patience, good temper, modesty loyalty…. But the reader may object, you have forgotten intelligence, knowledge, discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage, even tact. I have not forgotten them. I have taken them for granted.” What will be the challenges confronting India’s foreign policy in the next twelve months? What will be our diplomatic priorities? Crises do not follow any timetable. Very often they appear suddenly.

 

One is caught off guard. So there can be no lowering of the guard. Keep your diplomatic powder dry and keep on working for goodwill, peace and understanding.

 

Tall order! Indeed.

Issues

 

The flash points are: Israel- Palestinians: This could flare up any time. Either side could take it to the Security Council. Any resolution condemning Israel will invite an American veto. Before the veto India will be required to take a position, which will inevitably be tilting against Israel. This will and must impinge on Indo- Israel bilateral relations which at present are excellent. The American establishment and the American media will be more than critical of India’s position at the Security Council on this troublesome matter.

 

Iran: Here India could be confronted with a contentious and debilitating issue. The Americans are unlikely to relent. On the other hand Iran will not bend or bow. India should not appear as a foot dragger. Iran, along with Turkey is not a negligible factor in the region. We import vast amounts of oil from Iran. Our bilateral relations should not be linked with U. S.- Iran antagonism.

 

North Korea: It is a loose diplomatic cannon.

 

The U. S. has done well to drop the “ axis of evil” language. Our policy on the Korean issue needs no alteration. Keep asking for talks.

 

Iraq- Pak- Afghanistan: They are flaming foreign policy cauldrons. We cannot avoid judicious involvement. It is a vital area for India. The U. S. appears confused and on the wrong foot. To pull out or not? Cut and run is not a policy. Another Viet- Nam in the making? Sudan/ Dafur, Ivory Coast will inevitably be taken up by the Security Council.

 

Kashmir: No chance of it being taken to Security Council. Even China will discourage Pakistan committing such a folly.

 

The U. N. was once an act of faith. Now it seems to be the repository of lost causes.

 

The G- 8, G- 20 the European Union and many more regional and sub- regional outfits by- pass, the U. N., thus diluting its importance and relevance. India is now in the top league of an emerging global order. India could and should during the next twenty four months put expansion of the U. N. Security Council on top of the U. N. agenda: Persistence pays.

 

We have, broadly speaking not looked at Africa south of the Sahara as closely as we should. China, far away from Africa is way ahead of us. The same is the case with South America. This needs correction.

 

Non- alignment : Is it relevant? It is fair to ask, is NATO relevant? The Soviet Union is history, so is the Warsaw Pact. The cold war is over. Which enemy do the Americans fear? Yet, NATO continues to expand to the borders of Russia.

 

Non- alignment is not a dogma. Nor is it a doctrine. It is not even a concept. It is a state of mind. I would venture to suggest that it is an Auto- de- fe, an act of faith.

 

Non- alignment implies neither noninvolvement nor neutrality. No sitting on the fence. It is an assertion of our freedom of judgement and freedom of action.

 

Let me quote the irrepressible Henry Kissinger on non- alignment. In his book, Diplomacy , he writes, “ Practicing an early form of non- alignment, the new nation ( U. S. A) discovered the benefit of neutrality ( read non- alignment) as bargaining tool, just as many an emerging nation has since.”

 

Policy

Of course! The non- aligned movement needs, change, reform and a new direction, so that it can comprehend and cope with the fluctuating international agenda. Forty years back who talked about terrorism, drug cartels, climate change, environment, HIV AIDs, reforms of I. M. F, the World Bank, energy crisis, new economic world order? All these are now the challenges for the international community. Our role will be crucial.

 

No Indian government has come up with an alternative to non- alignment.

 

The NAM needs reform not rejection.

 

For 63 years there has been a broad national consensus on foreign policy. Its fundamentals have not changed.

Foreign policy cannot be divorced from a country’s domestic policy. They are two sides of the same coin. If the

internal scene is incoherent, disruptive, divisive, it must inevitably adversely impinge on the country’s foreign policy and diplomacy. Deng Xiaoping ( 1904- 1997) the great Chinese reformer was asked in the mid nineteen eighties, what his outlook was for the 21st century.

 

His reply was, “ before I talk of the 21st century, I must first pull out a large number of my people from the 19th century”. In some parts of our country, people are still living lives they led a hundred years ago. But very big change can be seen over the poverty horizon. As we enter 2011, let me quote one of our ancient prayers: Common be your prayer/ Common be your end/ Common be your purpose;/ Common be your deliberation/ Common be your desire;/ Unified by your hearts/ Unified be your intentions/, Perfect be the union among you.

 

The writer is a former external affairs minister

 

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MAIL TODAY

PATIALA PEG

CITY SCHOOLS ARE DRAGGING THEIRFEET ON THE RTE ACT

VIKAS KAHOL

 

THE implementation of the landmark legislation to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the 6- 14 years age bracket from the coming academic session has become a tough task for the administration in Chandigarh — a Union Territory. . Though the new law makes it obligatory on the part of state governments and local bodies to ensure that every child gets education in a school, several private institutes in Chandigarh have expressed their disagreement with the draft rules formulated by the administration for the implementation of the Act.

 

The Act mandates that even private educational institutions have to reserve 25 per cent seats for children from weaker sections.

 

The law aims at enrolling children who have either dropped out from schools or have never been to any educational institution at all.

 

The Chandigarh Administration is in the process of implementing the RTE Act. The authorities had sought suggestions from private schools for formulating rules specific to the Union Territory. But the schools did not come forward with any concrete inputs.

 

The private schools claim that there is confusion about the implementation of the norms and the Union Human Resource Development Ministry needs to clarify certain issues.

 

Social activists allege that privately managed institutes want to delay the implementation of the Act in Chandigarh since they would not be able to charge capitation fees or collect donations. Moreover, they would not be in a position to refuse any child’s application for admission. They would be bound to hold a draw of lots for admission. Some schools would also lose their “ elite” tag as there would be no differentiation between the rich and poor aspirants for admission.

 

The city has private institutions which get up to 90 per cent of their grants from the government. Another category comprising special schools gets one hundred per cent aid from the government. Also, there are independent schools which do not get any government funding on a continuous basis.

 

But the schools in each of these categories have got land from the government at highly subsidised rates. The administration has made it a pre- condition that the institutions getting land at a subsidised price must admit 5 to 15 per cent students from Economically Weaker Sections ( EWS). A recent survey by an NGO highlighted that no school enrolls the stipulated number of students under this category though they are under an obligation to fulfill the terms of land allotment to them.

 

Some schools which enroll students under the EWS category hold separate sessions to teach these children but count them among regular students to claim benefits.

 

The legislation makes provisions for the reimbursement of fees against admission to children belonging to underprivileged sections. But in Chandigarh, the schools are already under the obligation to impart education to 15 per cent students as a condition of their land allotment. They would be entitled to reimbursement against 10 per cent students only. Furthermore, each school would have to furnish the details of the expenditure on the education of every child.

 

This would bring their accounts in the public glare. They would also have to provide an undertaking along with audited account statements that they have been running the institutions on a no- profit basis.

 

A few institutions in Chandigarh claim that that the RTE does not apply to them since they are managed by minority communities. Social activists say that they got land and tax concessions since they are minority institutions. They should not be refusing to disseminate education on the pretext of being minorities.

 

Meanwhile, the administration says it would ensure that the Act is implemented before the next session.

 

A RELIEF FOR SHE- DOGS

AN innovative dog trainercum- breeder has come up with panties for she- dogs, which can hold sanitary napkins for her for those 21 days that occour twice a year. The devise fits snugly and has space for its tail. Shiv Kaushal at Dogs Play in Chandigarh says that he introduced the product a few months ago and it is in a great demand now.

 

Some working people found the accessory very convenient and they were happy to have chosen a she- dog as a pet.

 

“ Just a small innovative product has changed their life for the better. It has reduced the tension of the person nursing the pet,” he says. The device has a simple mechanism and can hold any sanitary pad available in the market.

 

Shiv — who holds a Limca record — says that he now plans to introduce another accessory — diapers for dogs.

 

These diapers would be convenient especially when the dog is accompanying the owner on a journey or being left behind at home for a long time.

 

BIKERS ON A SAFETY DRIVE FOR ONCE

A GROUP of 25 young motor cyclists including two Swedish riders affiliated to the Chandigarh Riders — a group of biking entusiasts — set out on a mission to spread awareness about road safety.

 

Their expedition started on Sunday from Chandigarh’s neighbouring town Panchkula. The mission was flagged off by Harman Singh Sidhu, president of Arrive Safe — an NGO that works on road safety.

 

These biking enthusiasts — who have travelled extensively across India — will meet people and tell them to use safety gears while driving and follow rules while driving or parking their vehicles.

 

Sahil Anand, one of the organisers of the rally said that they are mainly aiming at apprising two wheeler riders of the importance of wearing safety helmets and following traffic rules.

 

“ Every member of our group follows all the safety norms. We want other road users to do the same,” Sahil says. Jojo — another member — says that the group plans to hold similar programmes every fortnight to ensure that the message for safety reaches the people regularly. “ We expect more people to join us,” he says.

 

Anyone interested?

 

vikas.kahol@mailtoday.in

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TIMes of indial logo

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BREAK THE LOGJAM

 

With the BJP threatening to carry forward the logjam in Parliament into the Budget session unless its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam is met, the battle of egos between government and opposition is set to continue into 2011. Thanks to the deadlock, the winter session of Parliament turned out to be the most unproductive in 25 years. The fiscal loss to the public exchequer was a colossal Rs 172 crore. The cost of not being able to take up important Bills such as the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill is far greater. If the Budget session is similarly washed out, not only will it have grave consequences for the economy but also be an embarrassment for the country as a whole. 


The institution of Parliament cannot be held ransom to the politics of one-upmanship. Having flagged the issue of corruption, the BJP should have ideally used its position in Parliament to push for systemic reforms. The government has made some anti-graft moves, albeit under duress. Whether it is the investigations into the Adarsh society scam or the probe into Commonwealth Games-related projects, agencies such as the CBI, the Comptroller and Auditor General and even the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee are working on these cases. But these haven't been enough to satisfy the opposition. 


Having smelt blood, it is unlikely that the opposition will pass up this opportunity to humiliate the government. 

If the government considers that conceding the JPC at this point would be tantamount to losing face, it can outmanoeuvre the opposition by passing the Lokpal Bill, which has been hanging fire for 42 years. With the power to initiate probes against the prime minister, the anti-corruption ombudsman will represent a significant systemic mechanism to check graft in the highest echelons of government. Since the opposition argues that it is only a JPC that has the mandate to call the prime minister before it, passing the Lokpal Bill, which has provisions for filing complaints of corruption against the prime minister as well as other ministers and MPs with the ombudsman, should provide an effective answer. And the provisions of the Lokpal Bill should be extended to bureaucrats as well as politicians, since the former are usually complicit in corruption. 


If the opposition is still not satisfied, the government should seriously contemplate a confidence vote in Parliament. If the government survives, it could claim the moral high ground. If it doesn't, a mid-term election would be appropriate to confirm the mandate of the people. Either outcome would be better than the farce that Parliament has presently become.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

PEACE IN ASSAM

 

The release of Arabinda Rajkhowa - a founder member and chairman of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) - on bail by a Tada court is significant for Assam. Rajkhowa's bail was on expected lines, as the state government did not oppose his petition. He is the sixth such leader to be released on bail since last year, as part of the state government's efforts to create a favourable environment to kickstart formal peace talks with the outlawed group. On his part, Rajkhowa has reiterated his commitment to the talks while simultaneously demanding the release of Ulfa's general council members, especially general secretary Anup Chetia, in a Bangladesh jail. It's quite possible that more separatist leaders will be released in the coming weeks to facilitate the group's general council meeting, in which a formal decision will be taken on unconditional peace talks with the government. Clearly, the development augurs well for the northeastern state that has been afflicted by a three-decade-old insurgency.


Peace and political reconciliation have been long overdue in Assam. The troubled state has been experiencing various insurgencies that have taken a massive human toll, besides retarding the state's economic growth. The state government, in coordination with the Centre, must seize this opportunity and pull out all the stops to draw Ulfa and other militant groups into the political process. While moderates should be encouraged to come overground and contest elections, pressure must be kept up on extremists so that the state government's overtures aren't utilised to permit Ulfa's militant factions to regroup and resume the insurgency. That's the way many other insurgencies have been settled, there's no reason why such a two-pronged process can't settle this one and bring peace to Assam.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

RAISING MULTIPOLAR STAKES

RAJA KARTHIKEYA

 

It is rare for any nation to host the heads of five of the world's most powerful nations - US, Russia, UK, France and China - within the span of a single year, pointed out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the end of 2010. Indeed, the slow transformation in India's relations with the world's most powerful nations is fast becoming apparent. India's foreign policy may be embarking on a new journey more in line with the demands of the age. 

To understand the policy-in-the-making, it's first worth asking why India occupies a larger-than-life place in the international arena today, leading these major powers to it. Is it the scale of India's economy? Brazil, after all, has a larger economy yet garners a fraction of the newsprint. Is it India's democratic credentials? Unlikely. China's rise and its courting by the West have made democracy an overrated currency for influence. India's large and young population may have something to do with the attention, but it's still only a part of the answer. 

Attention stems from the fact that India is following a new paradigm of power: "stakeholder power". In replacing historically accepted concepts of power based on economic strength (as typified today by the EU), military strength (such as Russia) or economic-military strength (the US and increasingly China), stakeholder power is rewriting the rules of the game. Such is India's footprint on so many transnational challenges - from climate change to pandemics to the international trade regime - that no table deciding on them would be complete without its presence. "Stakeholder power" may even explain India's rise far better than geopolitics ever will. India's and the world's growing awareness of this fact is expanding its presence in global governance structures, as seen in the endorsements for its bid for the UN Security Council in 2010. 


How a nation wields stakeholder power and how it turns its footprint in the world into political influence determine how long it remains in the reckoning. Over the past decade, India has used its stakeholder power to reconfigure its relations with major powers. With the US it has turned a primarily trade-driven relationship into a strategic partnership. With Britain, it is trying to turn what was little more than a historical, cultural and people-to-people relationship into one based more on trade and economics with incrementally stronger security ties. With France, it is attempting to turn a nascent defence relationship since the 1980s into one based on trade. With Russia, as India saw aspects such as trade wither after the Soviet Union's fall, it has tried to manage a broad-based partnership's transformation into one based more on defence and strategic cooperation. 

With China, the relationship has been the most complex and fluid. It's no secret the India-China relationship is so complex and rivalry so exaggerated by observers, that it will take a long time to overcome mutual distrust. India's broad strategy has been to foster closer economic linkages and capitalise on opportunities for teamwork at international platforms such as WTO and climate change talks. It believes it is commonsensical to not allow areas of common interest to be held hostage by issues of strategic rivalry. There is even an expectation that progress in these "softer areas" will create the sense of trust required to solve larger issues of strategic competition. 

These strategic moves towards the major powers did not always happen by design or insulated from history. Events such as the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11 and the global financial crisis were all inflexion points shaping these relationships. Over the decades, as the Cold War ebbed and flowed and finally unravelled, India's non-alignment stance struggled to keep pace. At times, it even seemed isolationist to external observers. 


Looking ahead, India's intent is clear. It is turning "non-alignment" on its head. Without sacrificing the fundamental principle of not entering blocs or alliances, it is increasingly weaving closer ties with all the poles of the international system. Witness US-India security and strategic cooperation and one could mistake India as on its way to becoming a US ally. Studying India's collaboration with Russia in sensitive defence areas, one could be forgiven for reading a "bloc" into the relationship. 


Such observations may have some part of truth in them taken together, but are wholly untrue seen individually. Without ritual, India is in the process of defining a doctrine of what may be called "omni-alignment". This term goes beyond the platitudes of "friendship with all nations" spouted to conceal diplomatic tensions. Omni-alignment is a conscious effort to identify the most relevant powers for the next half-century and to cultivate strong bilateral ties with each of them. 


Some may wonder if this policy is practical or even feasible especially as it has the potential of creating suspicions about India's inclinations. In reality, so long as India's stakeholder power continues to rise, suspicions will be of little consequence. As long as a major international crisis that arrays coalitions of nations against each other does not erupt, omni-alignment may be a sensible strategy. As long as India is able to adequately gauge the next inflexion point in world politics, omni-alignment may even help it best weather the crisis that follows. 


A nascent endeavour in Indian foreign policy, omni-alignment is well-suited to leverage India's stakeholder power. Ultimately, India's response to events over the new decade will determine whether this becomes a doctrine and an article of faith. 


The writer is a foreign policy researcher.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

YOU CAN'T COMMAND CREATIVITY

 

The Chinese economy might be going strong while western competitors stumble through the global recession's aftershocks. But its success so far has been based on low-cost manufacturing. Now, Beijing wants to up the ante by moving from being the workshop of the world to being a country that also leads the way in innovation and creating cutting-edge technology. To this end, it has instituted various projects to dramatically increase the number of patents filed annually. But is it possible to boost creativity in an authoritarian society? 


Innovation, by definition, is an unpredictable, often chaotic process that entails trial-and-error and repeated failures, rewarding risk-taking. This is a business model that is fundamentally at odds with an authoritarian environment. Creativity cannot be mandated as the Chinese government is trying to do by offering incentives to individuals and companies that file patents. Japan serves as an interesting example here. When it was the major competitor to the US economy in the 1980s, there was the possibility of its overtaking the latter in innovation. But as a country that, despite not being authoritarian like China, was nevertheless more rigid culturally than the US, it simply could not keep pace. 


The problems with China's initiative become even more apparent with regard to communication technology including the internet. These are among the most vital and volatile when it comes to innovation. They are also heavily regulated by the Chinese government for political reasons. Thus, while Google, Facebook and Apple create technology in the US that revolutionises communications, the Chinese government focusses on how to limit them. Such a system is incapable of matching the creative prowess of free-wheeling western economies. Unless China goes down the route of democratic reform.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

THE WHINING BRIGADE

V GANGADHAR

 

It is hard to believe the results of a Daily Express (London) survey which states that the average Briton spent 53 hours in a year whining. He groaned for eight minutes 46 seconds daily, complaining four times every day. The issues he grumbled about included quality of TV programmes, price of food items, weather and the government, with Monday listed as the moaning day of the week. 


Shocking! We know the British and their stiff upper lip; could we ever forget the charge of the Light Brigade? We remember their stoicism during the World Wars and the days of shortages and rationing which followed when they survived only on the purple prose of Winston Churchill. No, the British cannot be the worst grumblers. We are. 


Former US ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, once observed that women in underdeveloped countries had the most overdeveloped bosoms though it was news to people that ambassadors were also bosom-watchers. In the same manner, underdeveloped nations, despite posturing as developed ones, grumbled the most. India cannot be an exception. 


Everyone grumbled in India in 2010. The politician was never satisfied; he whined about getting an election ticket, then a cabinet post, a plum ministry and a 60 per cent rise in his assets every year. The BJP whined about the Ram mandir when it was not whining about Nitin Gadkari's gaffes, the great paternal love exhibited by Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa towards his sons, the mining Reddy brothers and so on. The Left, which, surprisingly, did not whine over President Obama's visit, will not forget to whine over Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee's latest tantrums. In the entertainment field, Shah Rukh Khan whined over the Shiv Sena's hostility; Salman Khan groaned he was getting nowhere with Katrina Kaif; Amitabh Bachchan muttered time and again that despite visiting all the temples in the country, bachcha Bachchan was getting nowhere in his career, though it was some consolation that the Bachchan bahu was in the same boat. 

No one was an exception. Sachin Tendulkar groaned about his 50th Test century; Sania Mirza about when and if she could cross the first round and actually reach round two of a tennis tournament. Arundhati Roy could be heard whining that Naxalites had lost their 'whine-potential' and arranged a joint groaning session with a news magazine. Shashi Tharoor whined about when his honeymoon would end and the media would leave him alone. 

On a personal note, my family has rather unjustly labelled me a master grumbler. This is not justified, although one has to protest at a life filled with injustice. Since no one listens to vocal complaints, i have to be content with some muttering, whining and grumbling. This began with the late arrival of milk, delaying the morning cuppa, followed by the peak whining hour when the newspapers arrived. Scandal, scam, rape, violence, silly gossip as lead stories, editorials on the 2G scam which i did not understand at all, leading to even more exasperated whining. What had journalism come to! Television offered no solace: a Test match was on and we had to watch Rahul Dravid score five runs in 80 minutes with the commentators waxing eloquent about the Wall's perfect technique. Serials like Balika Vadhu went on and on with the child marriage theme long forgotten and replaced by every other family crisis. Sleep came as a relief, but only temporarily with the wife soon waking me up and admonishing, "Why are you grumbling even in your sleep?" What would life be without whining!

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

TRUTH WILL SET ALL OF US FREE

WHILE THE INCREASED AMBIT OF THE LOKPAL BILL IS WELCOME, TOO MANY REMAIN OUTSIDE ITS PURVIEW

 

It is modelled on a legislation which is in effect in the Scandinavian countries. But will it be nearly enough to combat the levels and extent of corruption in India will be the question that many will ask about the draft Lokpal bill which the government proposes to table shortly. There is no doubt he government's urgency to bring forward this bill which that the government's urgency to bring forward this bill which has been hanging fire for 42 years is fuelled by the recent mega-scams which have come to light. But whatever the motivation, any anti-corruption law will help to plug the loopholes in the system which culprits have exploited in the past.

 

The singular achievement of this draft bill is that it makes it possible for people to complain against bureaucrats and politicians and for the probes to be within a six-month timeframe. It also includes the provision that a complaint against the prime minister can be made to the speaker of the Lok Sabha. Where the draft bill will be severely criticised is in the fact that it will not have investigative powers over the president, vice-president, deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, sitting Supreme Court judges and high courts and other constitutional functionaries. Since the Lokpal will comprise a serving or former chief justice of India and two retired or serving high court or Supreme Court judges, it would carry more credibility if too many exceptions were not made as has been now. There are enough safeguards in the draft bill to ensure against motivated or frivolous complaints. The fact the ombudsman can make its reports public is a positive step at a time when people are up in arms about the opacity of the system. Along with the Right to Information Act, this proposed bill, could, if implemented in the spirit in which it was conceived, go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the political and administrative system.

 

However, while in the draft stage, it would still be worthwhile for the authorities concerned to decrease the list of those out of its purview. If the prime minister himself can volunteer to appear before a Public Accounts Committee on the grounds that he has nothing to hide, public functionaries should themselves come forward to be included in the ambit of the Lokpal. It has been so long in the making that it would be a shame if it were to be accused of being toothless against the powerful. But as the New Year kicks in, the public will be glad to note that it is not business as usual on the corruption front.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

WE'RE NOT TOO PRICEY

 

Just kidding. We, run-of-the-mill hacks, are keen to sell our ware. But so far, alas, there are few takers

 

Information is power and disseminating information has its own turbine cycles. So it doesn't surprise us one bit that journalists -you know, the cretinous brokers who put on print or air what nobody is supposed to know -are blackmailing people to get a few shekels on the side. The reason for us being outraged could be sourced to the fact that the journos under our moral microscope aren't real Goenka Prize-winning journalists, but `aspiring' ones. It turns out that 27 people impersonating as journalists or folks working in `small' newspapers have been arrested for various crimes in the last one year. Dear god of all that is fit to print, is nothing sacred anymore?

 

Take the case of one `freelance journalist' -the equivalent of a chit fund manager but dealing with facts. The gent extorted a nice R8 lakh from a businessman after the latter was, well, dilly-dallying with a lady on the sly. But if that sounds like short shrimp compared to what you've started to expect these days after the outing of the Niira Radia tapes, there's the other bloke playing Julian Assange -but with a price tag -who's the editor-founder of a rag called Surag Suspense, where, courtesy a few `stringers' he hired, he found out that there were people making illegal constructions and forcibly occupying land. But the big difference between WikiLeaks posterboy Assange and this `journo' was that the latter decided to get some money in exchange for withholding the publication of the news about the hanky panky. Yes, this is journalism in the time of A Raja, all right.

 

Which is a pity since we, white-as-driven-snow journalists who are too honest (read: lazy) to dig up dirt on people and use it to get a nice extension on the flat done, feel disgusted by the rotten apples among us. Perhaps one day, one of the rotters will get in touch with us and ask for our services in the mainstream media. Ha ha [nervous laughter]. Hope you know a joke from a conscientious journalist when you see one.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

RECOVERING AN INDIAN

 

The life of C P Ramaswami Aiyar (1879-1966) conjures up the image of a goalkeeper remembered only for the goal he missed and not for the many he saved. He was one of the finest administrators and statesmen of his time. But today, he is remembered as the unpopular and autocratic Dewan of Travancore who wanted the state to remain independent and not join the Indian union. His rule transformed Travancore from a ‘progressive’ to a modern state in colonial India. CP’s decision to keep Travancore out of the Indian union was seen as an ‘anti-national’ and seditious stand, which cost him dearly personally and politically.

 

CP was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He had a flourishing career in the Madras Bar and in 1920, he was the youngest to occupy the post in India. CP also served as a member of the Madras Governor's Executive Council from 1923 to 1928. During his tenure, he started the electrification of south India and constructed the Mettur dam, the fist concrete dam in India.

 

Other than the administrative positions what brought CP pelf and glory was his legal practice. He served as the counsel for princely states like Kashmir, Patiala, Cochin, Bikaner and Gwalior. In 1934 he formulated a constitution for Kashmir, which was never implemented. CP had been the constitutional advisor to the Travancore Maharaja 1931 onwards. It was at his instance that Chithira Thirunal was made the de facto Maharaja in 1936. Soon after CP became the Dewan, the revolutionary temple entry proclamation, which opened the doors of temples to one and all irrespective of caste distinctions, was issued. Mahatma Gandhi hailed it as the ‘miracle of modern times’.

 

The following years saw an unprecedented slew of developmental measures in Travancore. The Travancore University was founded in 1937. The present State Bank of Travancore owes its origin to the Bank of Travancore that CP started. He was also the first one to realise the mineral wealth of Kerala, particularly nuclear minerals. Till then, the state was not involved in the mining of these minerals. CP abolished private participation in minerals trade and monopolised it by state agencies like the Kerala Metals and Minerals Limited. Most of the factories on rare minerals and industrial units in general that one finds in Travancore owe their origin to the dewancy of CP. He nationalised state road transport and had the rare privilege of being one among the first in India to abolish capital punishment and introduce agrarian tax.

 

CP was a firm believer in federalism. He also believed that the princely states should be reduced to ten or 15 big units from British India, which could together form the federation. Being a theosophist and an ardent follower of Annie Besant, he believed in the Platonian notion of kingship. He abhorred democracy and thought India as immature to have democracy at that time. This brought him in direct conflict with Gandhi and the Congress. CP advocated a responsive government and not a responsible one with an irremovable executive.

 

With the Government of India Act of 1935, a post-colonial federation for India was a certainty. CP represented the case of princely states in general and not just of Travancore in the federal negotiations. Given his statesmanship, many princely states wanted him to represent their case. CP was an apologist of united India. He opposed the ‘Pakistan’ movement. He stressed the unity of India as one of the important contributions of colonial rule that should not be sacrificed at the altar of Partition. Lord Wavell, the then Viceroy, called him “the wisest man in India”.

 

CP was disillusioned by the national politics led by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, which could not safeguard the unity of India. He had made it clear that Travancore would join the Union only if there was one Union and not two. Thus, we see that from the early days of 1947, CP had taken the belligerent stand of an independent status for Travancore. In October 1946 CP announced his decision to relinquish dewanship. But it's said that he was persuaded by the Maharaja to stay on and argue the case of Travancore for independence.

 

Having gone through the private papers of CP, I think it would be presumptuous to argue that independent Travancore was a tramp pushed by the Maharaja through his faithful lawyer. Being an avowed believer of enlightened monarchy, what brought CP back to dewancy was the speech delivered by Gopalaswami Aiyangar in the constituent assembly on December 19, 1946, on how real power in states vests with people and not the monarch. Fearing an authoritarian treatment of the princes at the hand of a hostile Nehru and the Congress, CP decided to take up the case of Travancore once again. It is also important to note that CP had actively opposed the demand for a Kerala Union joining Cochin and Malabar with Travancore.

 

On July 25, 1947, there was an assassination attempt on CP by a leftist worker, which he survived by the skin of his teeth. After the event, the Maharaja promptly decided to accede to India. CP didn’t flee the state after the attempt on his life, as is popularly believed. He stayed back till August 19 and completed the formalities for accession, including the signing of the Standstill Agreement two days before Independence.

 

There aren’t many works on CP yet. Most of the existing ones follow a leftist paradigm in portraying him as a tyrant and an anti-national ruler. Whatever may have been his flaws, we should salvage CP from the tyranny of popular memory. His only mistake was in demanding an independent Travancore, a mistake for which he was mauled in an assassination attempt and even more badly victimised in post-colonial India. He was sidelined post-Independence and was not given any position of eminence, as was given to many veterans of states like Gopalaswami Aiyangar, KM Panikkar, TT Krishnamachari and others. It is said that if CP had represented India’s case in the |United Nations, we would have had a head start in the Kashmir dispute.

 

CP was a scholar-statesman par excellence and the finest administrator of his time. Louis Mountbatten called CP “the acme of a statesman”. We should not tyrannise CP for the only mistake he made. The only way to salvage him from the tyranny of public memory shaped by ideologically biased historiography is to portray him according to what’s in the records.

 

Sarath S Pillai holds a diploma in archives management from the School of Archival Studies, National Archives of India.

 

The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

SHUTTING HIM UP

PRAFUL BIDWAI

 

The Raipur sessions court judgment against civil liberties defender and health activist Binayak Sen has provoked outrage. His two-year long detention had drawn protests from the world over. The only substantial charge against Sen is that he passed on three letters from Narayan Sanyal, an  undertrial, suspected -- but not yet proved -- to be a Maoist, to the Maoist leadership.

 

It takes several leaps of imagination, or nasty prejudice, to pronounce that carrying three pieces of paper containing trivialities such as congratulating the CPI (Maoist) on completing its party congress, amounts to sedition. Sedition means spreading disaffection against the state. It was introduced into the Indian Penal Code by the colonial State to repress the freedom struggle and muzzle the freedom of expression.

 

Since 1962, the Supreme Court has repeatedly mandated a corrective interpretation of the sedition provision, in consonance with the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Sedition must involve actual incitement to violence or threat to public order. In 1995, the court even overturned the one-year imprisonment awarded to two Punjab government officers who had shouted pro-Khalistan, anti-India slogans.

 

As it happens, even the charge that Sen carried Sanyal's letters to visiting businessman Piyush Guha -- who in turn would pass them on the CPI (Maoist) leadership -- fails the test of good evidence. True, Sen met Sanyal in jail 33 times over 18 months. But he did so in his capacity as a doctor and an office-bearer of the People's Union of Civil Liberties. But  jailors have testified that these meetings were authorised and strictly supervised.  It’s hard to believe that Sen could have  smuggled any letters out of the chamber.

 

Sen's conviction entirely hinged on the testimony of a single individual, cloth merchant Anil Kumar Singh, who claimed he had witnessed the seizure from Guha of Sanyal's letters by the police after they arrested him in May 2007. Singh also claimed that he overheard a conversation between Guha and the police, in which Guha said that the letters were passed on to him by Sen. But a statement made in police custody doesn’t count as evidence. A mere passerby, Singh couldn’t even have known if the letters had been planted on Guha before his arrest.

 

The judge wrongly accepted mere hearsay as clinching evidence. Worse, he ignored, indeed forcibly reconciled, contradictory police statements about two different places of Guha’s arrest -- conveniently passed off as a "typological error". But he ignored Guha’s May 7, 2007 statement to a magistrate in which he said he had been apprehended by the police six days earlier and illegally kept blindfolded in their custody before the arrest was officially recorded.

 

The sheer perversity of Verma's verdict can only be understood in the context of Chhattisgarh’s social-political climate. This has been vitiated by the excesses of the State-sponsored Salwa Judum militia, which terrorises adivasis at will. To do this, they must outlaw and discredit all dissent and obliterate the vital distinctions between hardcore Maoists, their sympathisers, members of the parliamentary communist parties, Gandhians, civil liberties activists, progressive intellectuals, and even health workers. Periodically, hundreds of CPI members are illegally detained in Chhattisgarh. Trade unionists are harassed while corrupt industrialists, who had the great activist Shankar Guha Niyogi killed, strut about as kingmakers.

 

The police wanted to make an example of Sen and show that they accept no legal limits on how low they will stoop in tyrannising the public. Verma went along with them and made a mockery of the law. Sen has already served two years in prison and could serve more time unless the higher judiciary acts quickly to deliver genuine justice to him with compensation. Its failure to do so will only attract international and national ridicule. 

 

Praful Bidwai is a Delhi-based writer and activist.

 

The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GANDHI VS GANDHI?

 

Ideological somersault is a peculiar sport. It can make for interesting spectacle, greeted with gradations of winks, nudges and guffaws on the sidelines, but is often injurious to the performer in question. L.K. Advani did something similar on his blog when he, in a single line, jumped to the defence of Sanjay Gandhi. The BJP leader’s one-liner came while criticising Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, the Grand Old Party’s new, updated and authorised version of its own history, where it, arguably for the first time, tried not to whitewash the excesses of Emergency. If the Congress’s brief exposition of Emergency was revelatory in many ways, what is even more so is Advani’ s defence of Sanjay, saying the Congress’s is “a ridiculous attempt” to make him “a scapegoat for all the misdeeds the country had to suffer during the Emergency.”

 

For, Sanjay was the bete noire of the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s political precursor, and indeed those who resisted the curtailment of civil liberties through most of the 1970s, as he was the embodiment of the excesses of the Emergency and the worst form of dynasty politics of the Congress — both of which have been intensely criticised by the BJP itself. Have the leaders of now-BJP, then-Jan Sangh forgotten Sanjay’s part because his family — his widow Maneka and son Varun — is part of their party now? Or could it be that the BJP is betraying a sentiment that members of the Sangh Parivar, including party national secretary Varun, have sporadically displayed: an admiration for a loutish, aggressive personality cult that was the trait of Sanjay’s politics as well? Right now, the BJP’s revisionism on Sanjay does not wash. It’s a crude form of Gandhi vs Gandhi politics that is as unconvincing as it is shallow.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TIME-BOUND JUSTICE

 

The Union law ministry’s proposal to make the delivery of justice time-bound and also enlist the right to justice as a fundamental right strikes the right chord. However, our experience in the recent past with ambitious bills that don’t see the light of day, despite sounding good, tells us that much of this may remain in the realm of words and come to mean little in practice. As reported in this newspaper on Monday, the law ministry seeks to set a time-table for the disposal of individual cases and create a system whereby courts deal with similar cases in a cluster format. Besides, an undertrial —

 

as long as he’s not accused of terrorism or anti-national activities — will be released on bail after a specified time has lapsed, without recourse to judicial prerogative. Systemically, a three-tier case management set-up will increase the jurisdiction of small-claims courts, allow new fast-track courts and a new multi-track system.

 

Innumerable plaintiffs in India discover to their grief that due process is a punishment. Moreover, the delays result from procedural conventions under judicial control. While individual judges often prove their credentials, the systemic faults compromise speedy justice delivery. Our backlog of cases is therefore staggering. In fact, the Supreme Court has spoken out about litigants’ right to speedy justice and free legal aid. The law ministry, proposing a review of the legal aid system too, has decided to push the current proposal despite apprehensions of the judiciary’s disagreement with time-bound cases.

 

Why all this sounds futile is the important judicial legislation still pending, such as the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily had set out an ambitious reform agenda, but little has moved. For judicial reform, while the judiciary has to walk the extra mile, the executive must engage the former in dialogue. Behind the appeal of the right to justice as a fundamental right, lies the overhaul needed by the judicial system. Ironically, it’s the gargantuan backlog and number of undertrials that can ground the proposal for speedy justice. Besides epic ambitions, more realistic action is what the law ministry should be looking at.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IT’S GOOD TO TALK

 

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told a meeting of the West Bengal Congress that, had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked him for advice,

 

he would have said that he should not “appear before” the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. The PAC is moving ahead in following up on the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the government’s actions on licensing spectrum for 2G mobile telephony — and in an effort to break the deadlock in Parliament on the demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), Dr Singh had a fortnight ago said he was willing to brief the committee on the government’s actions. This newspaper has welcomed both the PAC’s decision to move forward in its constitutional duty of examining government accounts, and the political good sense that lies in the PM’s offer to walk a longer mile to restore normalcy in Parliament. The 2G spectrum allocation requires investigation, and whether there be a JPC or not, the PAC is constitutionally responsible for looking at the CAG’s reports, and it must not be held hostage to political manoeuvring.

 

Mukherjee’s intervention, therefore, may not be helpful for the UPA government if it wishes to move beyond this fraught period, and show its willingness to ensure a fair and transparent accounting. That is the most vital political action. There is, however, a larger point: there should be no concern that the PM’s dignity would be touched if he chooses to engage with citizens, let alone a chosen, responsible subcommittee of parliamentarians.

 

Throughout the world, innovations have been suggested to make the actions of heads of government more transparent, innovations that have also allowed those presidents or prime ministers or chancellors to make the case for their executive actions. The PM of the political system most closely similar to ours, that of the United Kingdom, deals with weekly prime minister’s questions when that parliament is in session — but he also, since 2002, appears before the “liaison committee” of the House of Commons, which can question him about his involvement in topical cabinet decisions. In the last such iteration, David Cameron dealt with questions on spending cuts, environmental policy, counter-terrorism and national security, and Af-Pak policy. The dignity of the PM’s

 

office has not been lessened by this innovation — quite the contrary. India’s parliamentarians have shown, as members of committees, a willingness to engage with the nitty-gritty of policy. Having the head of government brief them as part of that activity is an innovation we should welcome.

 

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

BENGAL’S NITISH?

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI 

 

This year may see Mamata Banerjee, presumably still in alliance with the Congress, defeat what has been called the world’s longest-running democratically elected communist government. It is of course a measure of how Bengal’s politics has changed that taking calls on the state’s voter verdict is probably the safest exercise in New Year crystal-ball gazing. Assuming the CPM-led Left Front rediscovers the joys of being in the opposition, there’s another very safe prediction for Bengal: Banerjee will have the toughest job of all potentially game-changing chief ministers in recent times.

 

To sharpen this argument, let’s say her job will be much tougher than Nitish Kumar’s was in Bihar. This may sound surprising given the general, and not unreasonable, assumption that Bengal hasn’t quite reached the state of dysfunctionality that Bihar seemingly had before the 2005 verdict for Kumar. Getting pizza chains to do home delivery at night in Left-ruled Kolkata is not quite an event as it was said to have been for post-Lalu Prasad Patna. Three reasons explain why Banerjee will find it more difficult than Kumar to mould political dough into a new, attractive form. These special-to-Bengal difficulties hold even if the state’s Maoist problem — a big challenge for Banerjee — becomes tractable.

 

First, the institutional factor. Nothing captures Left rule in Bengal better than the Left’s capture of Bengal’s institutions. This, as everyone who’s followed the CPM’s Bengal strategy knows, is different from the Congress or the BJP or almost any other party giving jobs to their boys and girls when in power. From universities and colleges to administrative and health services, and to an extent, even the lower ranks of the police, the CPM and its affiliates exert control. It would not be the least bit over the top to suggest that there’s a state-wide, sprawling, interconnected patronage and exclusion system that is more or less unique in India.

 

Banerjee’s problem is that were she to even win handsomely in assembly elections, thin opposition ranks in the Vidhan Sabha won’t make it easier for her to reform Bengal’s institutions — the apparatchiks will fight back. One could argue that Bihar’s institutions were fewer in number, were far less prominent in its social and political setting, and that in any case, Prasad’s political mobilisation tactics were different from the CPM’s. None of that makes one whit of a difference to the strong possibility that CPM apparatchiks will give Banerjee a hard time, making it much tougher for her to deliver real, positive change at one very important level.

 

This argument accounts for the fact that many apparatchik “revolutionaries” of today in Bengal, from political science PhDs to police constables, will fly the flag of convenience if the Left loses. There’s a core group of CPM loyalists in Bengal’s institutions whose ability

 

to frustrate the new government won’t be fatally compromised by opportunistic desertions.

 

And all this is assuming Banerjee can persuade her party leaders and workers to not try and out-CPM CPM when it comes to institutions. A Trinamool government with a halfway decent institutional reform agenda will face administrative guerrilla warfare. A Trinamool government that simply wants institutional capture CPM-style will be met with a much more ferocious challenge. Kumar didn’t face anything like this.

 

Second, the economy factor. If Bihar can have double-digit growth under Kumar, why shouldn’t Bengal do the same if it’s under Banerjee? There’s the base factor, of course. Bihar’s economic activity base in 2005 was lower than Bengal’s is now. But that’s only part of the explanation. Bihar’s economy was in savage neglect, ripe for implementation of a few good ideas. Bengal’s economy is stagnant, at a higher base, thanks to a well-conceived political economic strategy. Therefore, structural constraints to a jump in growth momentum are greater.

 

Assume Banerjee presides over as good a road-building programme in Bengal as Kumar has in Bihar, and that she’s equally innovative in devising quick-acting welfare schemes. Bengal’s economy will still pose big questions. The CPM’s strategy of smallholding-based intensive agriculture had exhausted its growth potential — and that’s the reason the party had aggressively sought private industrial capital. The party was and is aware that non-farm employment in the state has been mostly in, apart from government services, informal urban sectors,

 

and that while this produced opportunities for political mobilisation and coercion, it was a demonstration of Bengal’s economic ennui.

 

Is Banerjee the chief minister who can solve this structural equation? Solving it will require an economic policy rethink on deployment of both maati (land) and maanush (people); we are assuming here that the third member of Banerjee’s political abstraction triumvirate, maa (mother), will be content with good results whatever the policy details. Let’s assume — and let’s dearly hope — Banerjee astutely changes her governance position (this is not at all unknown in Indian politics). Even then, the degree of policy reordering Bengal will require is formidable, because the status quo is a result of a three decades-plus political economic strategy. Plus, the first factor, CPM apparatchiks in institutions, will influence the second factor as well.

 

Third, the Kolkata factor. The thing about Kolkata that Patna

 

didn’t have to contend with when political change transformed how Bihar’s capital felt about itself, is that Kolkata used to be a great city. And Kolkata’s residents remember their city used to be great. Therefore, Kolkata under Trinamool will inevitably be measured, by those in Kolkata, against India’s other big cities, many of which have undergone, by Indian standards, significant urban, economic and cultural makeovers. This means the pressure on Banerjee’s government in terms of delivering some form of urban renewal will be far greater than on any other potentially game-changing chief minister of recent times.

If Bengal votes out the CPM, CPM-ness may continue to be

 

the defining problem. If Mamata Banerjee is to do for Bengal tomorrow what Nitish Kumar started for Bihar yesterday, that’s the assumption she must start from.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SUPREME COURT MAKES AMENDS

SOLI J. SORABJEE 

 

With the imposition of the spurious June 1975 Emergency on the country by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government, democracy suffered a temporary demise. Several measures taken during the Emergency resulted in suspension of the fundamental rights of the people, curtailment of judicial powers and strangulation of the press by imposition of drastic pre-censorship for the first time. There was no pre-censorship of the press on any of the previous three occasions when the country was at war with its hostile neighbours. Countless excesses were committed during the 1975 Emergency. Fundamental rights of the people were flagrantly violated with impunity.

 

Regrettably, the worst excess during the Emergency was committed by the Supreme Court by its majority judgment in the ADM Jabalpur case. The majority held that during the operation of the Emergency no person can move a writ petition before a high court for habeas corpus on the ground that the order of detention is illegal or even mala fide. I may mention an incident in connection with the judgment. I was in Bombay at a conference with the late Nani Palkhivala at the Taj Mahal hotel. One of the lawyers at the conference mentioned that the ticker carried the news that the Supreme Court had by a majority of 4 to 1 pronounced its judgment on the habeas corpus petitions. Both of us assumed that the petitions were allowed and the judgment was in citizens’ favour. We had given up Chief Justice A.N. Ray and Justice M.H. Baig, taken Justices Y.V. Chandrachud and P.N. Bhagwati for granted to decide in our favour. We asked: “What about Justice Khanna?” The messenger lawyer interrupted our speculation by saying, “Sorry sir, the Supreme Court has decided in favour of the government and dismissed habeas corpus petitions.” There was a stunned silence. Nani and I exchanged glances which showed our disbelief and pain. It was impossible to believe that our apex court had ruled that a detention order tainted by mala fide could not be challenged during the Emergency.

 

Justice H.R. Khanna boldly dissented. He ruled that “even during Emergency the State has got no power to deprive a person of his life or personal liberty without the authority of law. That is the essential postulate and basic assumption of the rule of law in every civilised society.” The courage of Justice Khanna is admirable because he was aware of the government’s habit of punishing judges who delivered judgments unpalatable to it. But he did not care about the consequences.

 

He decided according to his conscience. Alas, he paid the price. He was vindictively superseded as Chief Justice of India.

 

The deleterious effect of the majority judgment was neutralised by the 44th constitutional Amendment by the insertion of Article 359 which, inter alia, provides that during the operation of the Emergency the right of personal liberty under Article 21 cannot be suspended. Consequently, persons would be able to challenge any illegal or mala fide order of detention even during an emergency.

 

Save some passing observations in some subsequent judgments of the Supreme Court, the majority judgment in ADM Jabalpur had not been dissented from till recently when a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and A.K. Ganguly expressly dissented from the judgment. Justice Ganguly, speaking for the bench, said that the majority judgment of this court in ADM Jabalpur was clearly erroneous and it violated the fundamental rights of a large number of people in this country.

 

 

Our Supreme Court is final but not infallible. It has in the past, as in the present case, forthrightly acknowledged its fallibility in no uncertain terms. By its recent judgment, it has removed a shameful blot on the judicial record of the Supreme Court which, barring occasional aberrations, has been a valiant judicial sentinel.

 

There is an interesting parallel with England. During World War II, when Nazi aircraft were incessantly pounding London, the House of Lords, by its majority decision in Liversidge vs Anderson, gave uncontrolled power to the Secretary of State to detain a person under the Defence of Realm Regulations. Lord Atkin thunderously dissented: “In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace.” Subsequently English courts have dissented from the majority judgment in Liversidge which now “lies buried five fathoms deep”.

 

For a person who spent the better part of his professional life during the infamous 1975 Emergency in appearing in the Bombay and Delhi high courts and the Supreme Court for victims of pre-censorship and for persons detained under the obnoxious MISA, the recent judgment of our apex court was the most heartening tidings for the New Year.

 

The writer is a former attorney-general for India,

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

‘I AM NOT UNDER PRESSURE FROM MY PARTY BUT THEY SAY YOUR CONTINUANCE IN PAC IS CONFUSING THE ISSUE—IT’S AS IF YOU ARE OPPOSING A JPC’

SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

Shekhar Gupta: It’s a chilly, foggy morning in Lutyen’s Delhi and my guest today is an unlikely man in a likely storm, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. Describe these circumstances to me in a few lines.

 

MM Joshi: There is nothing very unusual in these circumstances. There is the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) and it takes up various issues, either based on a CAG report or on any source of information. Now, in January 2010, when I was not the chairperson of the PAC—the committee was presided over by Gopinath Munde—then this 2G spectrum issue was hot in the media and was the talk in Parliament too. So they decided to take up the issue. Now in May, I came as chairperson (of PAC). We asked the ministry for certain information, we got it and on June 30, we had our first meeting.

 

Shekhar Gupta: June 30, 2010.

 

MM Joshi: Yes. In the meantime, the CAG report came out on 2G. So we started talking in terms of the 2G report also. Now we had some authenticated documents, some opinion of an expert body, which is not subservient to us but which is part of the PAC. It is our expert advisor. The CAG is supposed to be a friend and guide to us. So we started discussing this. In the meantime, the Opposition in its wisdom decided to demand a JPC.

 

Shekhar Gupta: The Opposition of which you are a part.

 

MM Joshi: Yes, I am a part. I supported the demand in Parliament.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You still support the demand politically?

 

MM Joshi: Oh yes, I am with my party. I am a party person but in the PAC, even though I am representing a party, I am also a chairperson.

 

Shekhar Gupta: In the PAC, you have to be non-partisan.

 

MM Joshi: I have to be because there are so many parties. There is CPM, there is AIADMK...

 

Shekhar Gupta: So once you are heading a parliamentary committee, you cannot be a party person as chairman.

 

MM Joshi: It’s not ethical of a chairperson to represent his party’s views all the time. He can represent his views, he can say this is my view. But certainly, he cannot impose that view. The view has to be a consensus.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, just as a Speaker is expected to be a non-partisan presiding over the House, a parliamentary committee chairperson also has to be a non-partisan.

 

MM Joshi: He should. I have been chairperson of the PAC twice earlier. Then I have been chairperson of the finance committee, of the commerce committee and I have always been careful that my personal views or my party views are not imposed. I express my views freely and certainly they reflect my party’s viewpoint but then a consensus is taken.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But why does your party seem so irritated with you?

 

MM Joshi: No, they are not irritated with me. If you have seen today’s newspaper, all of them have said that they fully endorse my views, they say he should continue to work as PAC chairperson.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So your pressing on with the PAC is not a contradiction with your party’s stand on the issue?

 

MM Joshi: There’s no contradiction with the Opposition’s stand. A multi-agency probe goes on in various issues. So there can be two agencies—PAC and the JPC—but I cannot constitute the JPC, the BJP alone cannot constitute the JPC. The JPC has to be constituted by Parliament. So if Parliament decides, it’s welcome. I am not opposing it, I am not contradicting it, I am working in my own field as a statutory body with a particular mandate.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But there are those in your party who think that by continuing with your PAC probe so

aggressively, you are undermining your party’s demand for JPC.

 

MM Joshi: I object to the word aggressively. We are working normally. (We’ve had) 28 meetings and we have taken up so many subjects—2G, National Rural Health Mission, Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Scheme, private-public participation models, revenue of the government, non-compliance by the government on various CAG paras...So, 2G is one out of them. There is no aggression in it. This, I think, is a misnomer for my work.

 

Shekhar Gupta: If you look at the telecom scam, what can the PAC achieve?

 

MM Joshi: The PAC can show, discuss and inquire into various aspects of the scam. The CAG has given a performance audit and this has four or five dimensions. Then there are certain complaints against the CAG report itself. So we have to examine them also.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What are the limitations of a PAC?

 

MM Joshi: The PAC’s limitations are that we can’t call a minister. We can summon anybody but not a minister. We can summon any person, a bureaucrat, a retired bureaucrat, or we can demand any document from any officer which is relevant to our work.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can the JPC summon a minister?

 

 

MM Joshi: If the terms of reference of a JPC include this, since it is an ad-hoc body.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Unlike the CAG, which is a statutory body.

 

MM Joshi: CAG is a statutory office. It is a constitutional body. PAC is a statutory body. CAG has powers under the Constitution of India. But a JPC can have very broad terms of references.

 

Shekhar Gupta: No, but the argument is that if you get into all these things, there will be confusion. JPC is one thing the Opposition thinks can nail the government. They think they have got something to nail the government.

 

MM Joshi: Let them. Our inquiry, our investigation, our probe is continuing. If the JPC is constituted and it’s

given the right to demand any document or anything from the PAC, we will give it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you can be a supporting office to the JPC? You are not competing with JPC?

 

MM Joshi: There is no question of competing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You just said that you cannot summon a minister. What happens when a minister offers to depose, like the Prime Minister?

 

MM Joshi: That is an issue which the committee has not decided on. We have to take an expert opinion.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you are not ruling it out on procedural basis?

 

MM Joshi: It depends on the committee. I have only placed the letter of the honourable Prime Minister before the committee and on that day the committee said that we will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time conforming to the rules and procedures.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, who are the experts you are consulting?

 

MM Joshi: Those who have commented upon constitutional and procedural processes.

 

Shekhar Gupta: If the PM does appear before the PAC, then the stature of PAC as an institution goes up.

 

MM Joshi: I am not only interested in raising the stature of PAC but I have to keep in mind the whole issue which has the country bothered today. It’s a broader issue of corruption and the JPC deals with that broader issue of corruption. Well, that is a different issue.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Your job is to chase the rupee as you keep saying.

 

MM Joshi: My job is to chase the rupee and that I would do to the best of my capability and on that the whole

committee is unanimous.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Have you been under pressure from your party—ki Joshiji, aap khel kharab kar rahe hain?

 

 

MM Joshi: Nobody has said that to me. What they say is that your continuance in PAC is confusing the issue—it’s as if you are opposing a JPC.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So is there a suggestion that your continuance as chairman of PAC is confusing people who are supporting the idea of JPC, then you should step down as chairman of PAC?

 

MM Joshi: No, that depends on my party. Because I have been nominated by my party and elected by Parliament. As a disciplined soldier of my party, if the party says you should not remain in the committee, I will not remain in the committee.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But have they suggested it to you?

 

MM Joshi: No, there is no pressure, there is no suggestion.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Put your cap on as a party man. Tactically, strategically, has the Opposition got it right? I am talking about the larger corruption, not just JPC.

 

MM Joshi: I would say that there should be a concerted effort to create an additional action plan which is an agreed action plan, not only in terms of its content but also in terms of its implementation. Because it is not only an issue that belongs to me, you, this party or that party. It is now prevalent and it is eating the vitals of all important pillars of democracy, whether it is political bureaucracy, whether it is normal bureaucracy, whether it is judiciary, whether it is media or whether it is industry. People are disgusted with (corruption).

 

Shekhar Gupta: The Opposition sounds a bit hollow when they make corruption their only campaign issue. Look at the track record of your CM in Karnataka.

 

MM Joshi: Our party president has made a statement that whatever he has done is not illegal but immoral.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Is that a difference?

 

MM Joshi: There is a difference between unethical and illegal.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You will not say it if you were party president?

 

MM Joshi: I can’t say now what I would have done because I feel that a party president has to take into

consideration all aspects of the party and the government’s intervention. You can always say that on a small point you have sacrificed the government. Is it possible, is it desirable to do in the present circumstances? There are compulsions of present day politics. I am ready to accept that there are compulsions for every party which is in a coalition.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you think the PM could have had similar compulsions in dealing with Mr Raja?

 

MM Joshi: He could have. Not only with him, but with many others also.

 

Shekhar Gupta: As did your party when you were leading the NDA?

 

MM Joshi: We also had certain compulsions. Of course, in a coalition you have compulsions. You can’t say that the writ of one party will run. You have different parties having different views and so you have to adjust and accommodate.

 

Shekhar Gupta: As a party man and as a senior Opposition leader, what has the PM done wrong in management over the past year-and-a half that we are in such a mess? What could the PM have done better?

 

MM Joshi: Say, for example, in the appointment of the CVC. That is a very open thing. And I don’t think compulsions could not have been avoided there.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because there was no coalition compulsion there. That was a mistake, do you think?

 

MM Joshi: I can say it is a misjudgment or a mistake or whatever but certainly that could have been avoided.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can the PM get out of it, or as the Americans say, can he get off the curve?

 

MM Joshi: In my opinion, that is one place where I feel, he should have been careful.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Why in particular the case of Mr Thomas?

 

MM Joshi: Because he already had some cases against him, some sort of blot on him. After all, there are officers who are associated with ministers and with ministries and sometimes the minister has faith and confidence but that faith and confidence must be as a governance confidence—confidence in his abilities, in his probity, in his integrity. I had also worked in my ministry and have carried on working with certain officers because I trusted their integrity.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So for you, Mr Thomas in telecom having worked for Raja is not such a problem?

 

MM Joshi: It would be a problem if it’s found out that his connections with Raja were not because of his ability

to govern, but for other reasons.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Would you give any advice to CVC Thomas since he holds a constitutional position?

 

MM Joshi: I don’t think I am in a position to advise him but as a citizen of India, I feel that in the present circumstances, every institution of this country should come clean in the eyes of the people. Personally, I think for posts like CVC, CAG, judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, secretaries of the government, there should be a code of conduct on their appointment.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, you will do what you can do to enhance the name of PAC as an institution?

 

MM Joshi: I would like to preserve the fine tradition of PAC.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And in that process, as you delve into 2G, can you promise Indian voters, Indian citizens that

you will spare nobody, the committee will spare nobody?

 

MM Joshi: That’s the principle of the committee.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Let me put this question differently. If somebody has done something wrong in the 2G scam,

the only question is how much. The first question is of the various estimates given—from Rs 58,000 crore to 1,76,000 crore.

 

MM Joshi: The report itself says these are presumptions, it can be less than this, it can be greater than this. We

have also asked certain people and certain officers about the estimates. It is an issue before the committee and

the basic thing is that the quantum is not important in this case.

 

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because the punishment is the same, whether it is Rs 1 crore or it is Rs 1,76,000 crore.

 

MM Joshi: In such cases, you work on hindsight because the event has already taken place. The CAG comes into action only when the event has taken place. So, it will always be in hindsight.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Now let me ask you the final question. Whoever has done this wrong, should he worry more about what the PAC will find out or should he be comfortable that it is PAC and not a JPC? What should worry him more? PAC or JPC?

 

MM Joshi: Both. Every agency has a purpose to inquire and investigate depending upon its mandate. If the JPC has a mandate, then, according to that mandate, people will have to face the music. Our mandate is clear and if we find any irregularity, we will also recommend whatever is possible under the law.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So nobody should underestimate the powers of the PAC?

 

MM Joshi: You should neither underestimate nor overestimate it. There are limitations and there are scopes. Our limitation is that we can’t summon a minister, our scope is that anything which has to do with the rupee, the public money deposited with the exchequer, I have to chase that rupee.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But the first limitation is sorting out something. People seem to be lining up, not waiting for summons. Starting with the PM.

 

MM Joshi: That we have to decide because I may say this is very unprecedented situation.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Your party would say that if you allow the PM to depose, it basically takes the wind out of their sails for their JPC campaign?

 

MM Joshi: How? You see, if the JPC has the mandate, they can call any minister. We don’t have the mandate to call him.

Shekhar Gupta: Par aapke paas woh ek baar aa gaye, so it takes away the fire.

 

MM Joshi: That depends on the committee. I cannot take a decision and the committee will have to think very cautiously about the rules, procedures and the offer. This is an issue which I think need not worry anybody because a committee will decide according to the rules and procedure. We are not going to decide on the basis of what A party says and what B party says.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Joshiji, all I can say is that going ahead, we will see a lot more of you in headlines.

 

MM Joshi: These are very trying times.

 

Transcribed by Ipsita Mazumdar, For full text, visit, www.indianexpress.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POLICY BLUES

 

One of the many reasons why telecom stocks performed badly in the past, there can be little doubt, is that under the then minister A Raja, the telecom ministry was seen as being anti-incumbent, whether in the form of giving out scarce spectrum to newcomers or threatening to dramatically hike spectrum charges from the older companies. Similarly, there can be little doubt that HCC’s shares have taken a beating as it has become clear that the government is going to give its Lavasa project a hard time over its environment clearance. If Unitech’s price rose when A Raja gave it a telecom licence, the post-CAG fallout and the possibility the licence could get cancelled, has seen prices fall. There’s nothing new in the fact that share prices of companies that are seen to be in favour with the powers that be rise, and of those that are seen as out of power fall. Which is also why so many industrial houses are routinely found to be spending so much money keeping all political parties happy. After all, you never know who will come to power tomorrow.

 

The problem, however, arises when the impact of government policy becomes so important that any company which is seen to be affected by government policy starts performing badly. This is precisely what an FE study pointed out on Monday. Companies that are seen to be vulnerable to government policy—for land, for environment clearances, for natural resources, spectrum, you name it—have seen their stocks being hammered by investors. In major sectors, FE found, share prices fell by almost 48% during 2010. Sure, there were other reasons, and to blame the fall of telecom stocks solely on government policy is surely unfair—the fact is that while firms are looking for new revenue streams like money transfers and even from 3G data services, consumer revenues have been stagnating for several quarters now. But a general trend of the markets derating stocks seen as vulnerable to government policy can only be bad news for the economy and is certain to hit investment. One of India’s biggest investment areas over the next five years is going to be infrastructure, a sector that needs environment clearances, land and other natural resources—if the markets downgrade infrastructure stocks, this will affect their ability to raise funds. Similarly, urban development is another major investment area and needs both land and environment clearances—ditto for the stock market impact on this sector. As his government enters a new year, and as news reports suggest, Dr Manmohan Singh takes a view on go-no-go and other environment policies, this is something he’d do well to ponder over.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAESAR’S WIFE

 

The year ended with all manner of corruption allegations levelled against politicians as well as bureaucrats, and even the media saw its reputation getting hit, but the one group that, by and large, came out smelling of roses was the judiciary. It was the one group perceived to be able to fix the rot within; indeed, it is well-accepted that, had it not been for the pro-active judiciary, the government would never have got moving on the A Raja scam. And since it looks as if the government has no plans to move on some other aspects of the scam, more PILs have been filed on these aspects in the Supreme Court. It is in this context that the allegations being made against former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan have to be seen and addressed quickly. Allegations are being made that Balakrishnan’s son-in-law acquired a lot of assets at roughly the same time Balakrishnan was the CJI. It is possible that a probe will prove the allegations are baseless, but this is where the government needs to be pro-active. In the current environment, the judiciary is one of the few beacons of hope, despite there being several cases of corruption within the judiciary and the unseemly fight over whether judges needed to declare their assets. Any delay in clearing the air on the ex-CJI will only harm the judiciary’s reputation.

 

The current procedure of dealing with allegations of corruption against judges is antiquated and cumbersome since the only way to remove a judge is through an impeachment. We have seen how that has rarely happened—in one case, when it looked certain a judge would be impeached, the Congress party walked out of Parliament. In other cases, such as the one currently before Parliament, the process has been seen to be tortuous and time-consuming. The Judges Standard and Accountability Bill, if brought in quickly enough, would help ensure all allegations of corruption could be dealt with quickly since there will be an oversight committee to work exclusively on probes. This is in the interests of the judiciary as well as the executive. A weakening of either can hardly be in anyone’s interest.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

 STATE OF MIND

SUMITA KALE

 

The Srikrishna Report on Telangana is to be made public soon and according to media reports it is unlikely that there will be a clear cut recommendation for or against the division of the state; a nuanced, elaborate discussion of the pros and cons of various options is more likely to be presented. There are, of course, many angles—social, political, economic—to be considered while forming new states, and at Indicus Analytics we looked at income data to understand whether there is an economic or objective case for smaller states. While smaller states in India, in general, perform better than the larger ones, it is instructive to see whether re-organisation into smaller units has given the required results of better growth and development.

 

Our exercise, with available data, found broad evidence that the reorganisation of states in the past has been followed by higher economic growth; there are, of course, a few exceptions. Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh did better after the reorganisation than before, while Assam faltered. In the former, the Green Revolution played a significant part in better growth, while in Assam, law and order was a negative factor. Of the six states formed in 2000, except for Madhya Pradesh, all the others performed much better in the seven-year period post-reorganisation than the seven preceding years. In the case of Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh, the annualised growth rates increased by about 6 percentage points in both these states in the post-reorganisation years. In Jharkhand as well, there was an improvement, about 4 percentage points, significant but not as large as the other cases. One interesting point to note is that, unlike in the cases of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand was a very large part of the original Bihar, and its separation would have had a significant impact not only on itself but also on the new smaller Bihar. The improved performance of Bihar in recent years has been recognised as a consequence of better governance levels of the new administration. Given that many institutions and administration were not functioning as desired earlier, a smaller state, with a narrower ambit, would have made it easier for the new administration. Bihar, therefore, also gives credence to the argument that smaller states are easier to govern well.

 

What is even more interesting, in the case of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, we found that the districts on the border began with similar levels of per capita income in 2000 but those in Chhattisgarh soared higher post-reorganisation. Why did this happen? Clearly reforms and good governance in Chhattisgarh worked to its advantage, pulling it away from its parent state. The exercise did help us conclude that there is an economic case for smaller states. What is important, however, is the ability of the new states to ensure that democratic and governance institutions withstand disruptive forces.

 

The Telangana dispute is different from the reorganisations that took place in 2000—there are historical and political dimensions that are unique to this region since the formation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in the 1950s. Here the dispute is critical over Hyderabad. Economic activity is concentrated in the district of Hyderabad and looking at per capita income, the disparity is huge—Hyderabad stands at almost double the levels of the next richest city, Vishakhapatnam, in Andhra. However, Hyderabad accounts for a smaller share of the state income than the capitals of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka do in their states—so, income generation is more dispersed across Andhra. If we look at the growth in districts that are to form the state of Telangana, over the period 2000-08, excluding Hyderabad, these districts grew at an average annual rate of 8.5%, with the districts in Andhra growing at 7.4% on an average. While there is little difference in growth across the two regions, Andhra has more inter-district disparity than Telangana.

 

Andhra Pradesh was the first state to be created on linguistic grounds in 1953; even then the issue was contentious. As the Andhra Pradesh government Website states, “The States Reorganisation Commission, with Syed Fazl Ali as the Chairman, set up by the Government of India in December 1953, who heard the views of different organisations and individuals, was though convinced of the advantages of Visalandhra, however, favoured the formation of separate State for Telangana. This report of the S.R.C. led to an intensive lobbying both by the advocates of Telangana and Visalandhra … The Congress High Command favoured Visalandhra and prevailed upon the leaders of the Andhra State and Telangana to sort out their differences, who, thereupon, entered into a ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’.” In the 1960s, the breaking down of this Gentlemen’s Agreement that had provided for greater autonomy to the regions of Telangana spurred protests and renewed demand for division; the matter has remained unresolved since.

 

Our exercise at Indicus Analytics showed that smaller states do have the potential for better growth performance. But can the creation of new states depend solely on economic reasons? Given the pluralism of our society, this is neither feasible nor desirable. As Ambedkar concluded in his note on linguistic states, one-language one-state should be the rule, but people with the same language can divide themselves into many states—this promotes more uniform balance of power within the country, satisfies social needs and most importantly, as our exercise shows, creates units that can be administered with ease. While we wait for the Srikrishna Report and hope for a resolution of the long-standing dispute, in the end, it is for the people to forge their future, the best they can.

 

The author is chief economist, Indicus Analytics

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

STORING TROUBLE, NOT ENERGY

TNR RAO

 

A new irritant has been introduced in the already less-than-placid relations between India and Iran by RBI, abruptly asking Indian importers of crude oil from Iran to discontinue the current arrangements of settling mutual payments under ACU (Asian Clearing Union) mechanism. ACU is an arrangement that permits participants in an intra-regional transaction to settle payments every two months. The objective is to optimise the use of foreign exchange reserves of member countries in multilateral trade and also save transfer costs, and thus promote trade among themselves. Initially designated in dollars, it changed to euros from 2008. The peculiarity of this is that all the transactions are bulked and netted for settlement periodically by the central banks of the member countries.

 

ACU has long been watched by the US, but it has been found difficult to identify individual firms doing business, as they are settled by central bankers on a net basis. Thus, it will not be possible to monitor trade with agencies like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards under sanctions.

 

The immediate provocation for RBI’s action seems to be the European Commission’s directive that each trade transaction with Iran using euro as currency be certified for end-use. Although such certification by RBI may not be a problem for public sector companies, it will be difficult for private entities.

 

The solution appears to resort to a currency other than the dollar or euro or through an arrangement with a third country such as Japan or Turkey or, as has now turned out, the UAE. Initially Iran appears to have rejected any proposal to go outside the ACU. But any alternative to ACU mechanism can only be through a third country bank, willing to handle the transactions in mutually acceptable currencies other than the euro or dollar. This is likely to increase transaction costs.

 

What is of serious concern is the complacent way the issue is being handled, which has implications for long-term political relationship between the two countries. It is difficult to see what prevented RBI from developing an alternative mechanism, before embargoing ACU, without notice to the oil companies. It is further muddied by the gleeful endorsement of this move publicly by the US. Both the finance and foreign ministries remained silent. The latter belatedly calls it a ‘technical issue’ while RBI says it needs a political call if any new foreign currency is involved.

 

Oil stands exempted from the UN sanctions. The reason is obvious. Iran’s main revenue is oil and any stoppage of its exports could lead to humanitarian problems there, as happened in Iraq. The ‘oil for food’ programme for Iraq was devised to address this situation but had to be abandoned because of its abuse. Choking payments to Iranian oil exports will only frustrate the UN exemption. The main beneficiaries of the ‘oil for food’ programme were the US companies. What we should note is that Iraq, now under changed circumstances, has embarked on a massive investment move in its oil sector. The auction of its fields is going to increase its production in the next five years to match that of Saudi Arabia. Similarly, any change in the situation in Iran favourable to investment there would also make it a formidable oil and gas producer, especially the latter, which is the fuel of the future and of which India is in dire need.

 

The implications of the payment settlement issue would go far beyond a mere fix for this problem. The current move adds to the series of missteps by India in its hardening relationship with Iran. No one is going to be fooled by mere protestations that these moves are not under the US pressure. As a growing consumer of energy, India needs every producer in the Middle East as a supplier for the future. If Iran refuses to deal outside the ACU, India would face immediate disruption in supplies. However, in the short term, it is possible to replace the Iranian crude. Neither will Iran be hurt much, as its large buyers such as China, South Korea and Japan (which has not succumbed to any sanctions against Iran) can easily absorb the supplies we displace. But we will have a less-than-friendly neighbour’s neighbour whom we need, especially for our dealings with Afghanistan. Even if Iran remains just neutral without turning hostile, it would delight both China and Pakistan. We have already lost out to China in securing long-term supplies of energy for our growth. This would also mean an extraordinary change in the balance of power in the region, the balance tilting against India. Till today, there is no move, covert or overt, by Iran to encourage our non-state actors within the country or pariah states against us. But this as a state policy could change the moment Iran realises that our moves are not just technical. In any conflagration in that area, Iran’s military projection easily extends to the Straits of Hormuz to choke all maritime supplies, not only from Iran but also from Iraq, Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia, despite its Red Sea outlet at Yanbu. During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Iran went to the extent of loading our ships mid-sea outside the conflict zone, at no extra cost to us. Such friendly gestures may not be forthcoming in future. We have already lost a good source for gas. We could now end up losing it for oil also.

 

The author is chairman of the Energy Think Tank and former secretary, ministry of petroleum & natural gas

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

Let’s be positive, guys

 

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal was determined to keep his New Year’s press conference focused on the good things he had planned. So when journalists persisted with questions about the Raja scam and what he was doing, he said, “Please, this press conference is for positive things, let’s not bring negativity into it.” Anxious to inject some humour into things, he said his ministry planned to focus on ‘mobile governance’—using SMSs to give information on ration supplies, helping farmers get the latest price information on their mobiles, and so on. Except, he put it this way: “We need to bring about transparency in governance, yeh sab jo aap dekh aur sun rahe hain is basically due to lack of transparency in governance.”

 

No magic in the air

 

It’s pretty well known that civil aviation minister Praful Patel doesn’t think too highly of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. So he doesn’t lose too many opportunities to run her down. After discussing issues related to the aviation sector in a meeting of the newly set-up Civil Aviation Economic Advisory Council, Patel wisecracked, “There is no magic in the air,”—a reference to Radia’s planned airline, MagicAir.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INNOVATION CAPITAL

 

China is all set to go from being the world’s low-cost manufacturing hub to the world leader in innovation. The National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020) aims to bring China to the top of the innovation charts via filing two million patents by the time the scheme is up for a mid-term review in 2015. Even if this number is cut to half (via discounting China’s ‘utility-model patents’ granted in addition to ‘invention’ patents, NYT points out), they will still have a staggering one million patent filings. The translated document details the various strategies, like shortening the average period for examining patent applications, increasing the number of patent examiners to 9,000 (the US currently has 6,300 examiners), establishing a national patent data centre, five regional and 47 local centres, using which China intends to break into the top two innovators of the world.

This is an interesting proposition for a country that has systemically indulged in flouting international standards of intellectual property rights—China produces everything from pirated copies of films to high-end couture. Perhaps becoming a world leader in the very sphere that it has perenially ignored may help change its attitude. So all the Louis Vuitton knock-off manufacturers, watch out, and start the hunt for a new location for operations. Whether or not China achieves its goals of filing two million patents by 2015, it is definitely evolving from being a low-cost, labour-intensive manufacturer towards becoming the world’s reservoir of design-intensive, high-technology products.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SUDAN ON THE BRINK

 

Sudan, Africa's largest country, the world's tenth largest and one of its poorest, faces partition in a referendum scheduled for January 9. The country is already effectively divided. Seventy per cent of the 43-million population are Sunnis and largely occupy the north; in the south, most are animists and about five per cent belong to various Christian sects. The two regions have maintained an uneasy truce since a 2005 agreement ended a savage 22-year civil war in which an estimated two million were killed and four million displaced. The six-year conflict in Darfur still causes echoes: President Omar al-Bashir is the only serving head of state indicted for genocide. Furthermore, fearing post-referendum violence, about 75,000 of the 1.5 million southerners who fled the civil war have returned south by road and in barge-convoys along the White Nile. Increasingly confrontational statements have come from the national capital Khartoum and the southern regional capital Juba. The U.N.-backed Satellite Sentinel Project, which is intended to reduce the risk of genocide by providing independent surveillance and rapid reportage, says both sides are massing troops on the north-south border.

 

There are other reasons why the referendum could be a tragedy in the making. The al-Bashir government insists on a 60 per cent turnout, an excessive requirement in an enormous country with a wretched transport infrastructure and an inefficient administration. Even the electoral register is a bone of contention; in the oil-rich border province of Abyei, Khartoum wants the nomadic Misseriya tribe registered, though they spend only the dry season there. Juba wants the resident population registered. Abyei is also to have a separate and simultaneous referendum on whether to retain its special administrative status in the north or join southern Sudan. Secondly, neighbouring states have an interest in the outcome of the national referendum. Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda will want deals with Juba over Nile water. Other foreign powers have their own stake, particularly in southern oil reserves and farmland. WikiLeaks cables confirm U.S. acceptance of Kenyan participation in supplying Ukrainian tanks to southern forces. Almost farcically, that matter came to light when Somali pirates hijacked a ship carrying the tanks to Kenya; the cables also show that the U.S. tried to deny all knowledge of the shipment. As so often, Sudan's tragedies are exacerbated by the colonial legacy — Sudan itself is a 19th-century British creation — and continuing great-power interference. After all that they have suffered, the people of Sudan deserve better from their own leaders and the rest of the world.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

POLICY IMPERATIVES FOR GROWTH

 

As the developed economies grapple with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, two reports by the United Nations place the difficulties in perspective and offer valuable suggestions for both developed and developing nations to see them through the crisis in the near- to medium-term. Developed nations are yet to come to terms with the crisis in any meaningful way. Moreover, emerging economies and those from the developing world — particularly China and India — which acted as a bulwark against the spread of the economic contagion are likely to continue to play the role. But there are some caveats. The World Economic Situation and Prospect 2011, in its global outlook, points out that, although the weaknesses of the developed world were offset by the growth in the emerging economies, two main challenges remain. These include the dangers posed by premature fiscal consolidation in the developing world and the valid concerns over the ability of the emerging world to sustain its performance, particularly given its dependence on developed markets. For the developed economies, which could risk sliding into a possible double-dip if they continue with their present monetary and fiscal policies, the answer lies in coordinated fiscal stimuli in the short-run, rather than early fiscal consolidation.

 

For the developing world, the U.N.'s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific makes it evident that maintaining the region's recent growth trajectory calls for prudent policy-making, factoring in its dependence on markets in the developed world. Its year-end update of the Economic and Social Survey 2010 sounds a note of caution that there could be a slowdown in the growth of both developed and developing economies. The region's export-dependent economies particularly are likely to be affected in 2011. That said, the observation that the Asia Pacific region would see “the most dynamic growth” in the world, despite the likely dip, gives national policymakers space to come up with well-structured policies that address a pressing social concern: poverty. Of direct relevance to the region's economic and social needs are suggestions to intensify regional economic activity and close infrastructure gaps. Stubborn poverty remains the biggest challenge for the Asia-Pacific, which is home to about 947 million people living under $1.25 a day. It is necessary for developing countries to put in place inclusive development policies, supported by fiscal measures, to ensure that more people are pulled out of poverty. This, in turn, would step up aggregate demand and help the region come through the testing economic times.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

INDIA AND AFGHANISTAN: THE WAY FORWARD

INDIAN DIPLOMACY CONTINUES TO FACE THE CHALLENGE OF ENGAGING PRODUCTIVELY WITH INTERNATIONAL STAKEHOLDERS WHOSE COMMON AND COMPETING INTERESTS IN AFGHANISTAN CRISS-CROSS FREQUENTLY.

ATUL ANEJA

 

After relative calm since summer, two coordinated bombings the same day in December last — one in Kunduz, a northern Afghan city, and the other on the outskirts of Kabul — came as a sharp reminder that Afghanistan still has enough reserves of suicide bombers capable of disrupting its drive towards normalisation.

 

The December 19 attacks are unlikely to be the last the battle hardened militants, with deep cross-border roots, launched in Afghanistan. In the foreseeable future, the country is likely to suffer several paroxysms of violence as conditions for the start of genuine peace talks with the Taliban are yet to be established. The American-led NATO forces and their accompanying Afghan troops are nowhere close to dominating the country's military space, a prerequisite that can pave the way for productive dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban. Nation-building has also not gone far enough to inspire confidence among the Afghans to spurn the Taliban and bond decisively with their leaders and their supporters abroad. Despite nine years of war, Afghanistan's transition from a Taliban-led theocracy to a stable democracy continues to meander.

 

Amid this flux, India, which has high stakes in Kabul, needs to methodically chart its way forward to ensure that its core security and long-term economic interests are safeguarded. Indian diplomacy will, therefore, continue to face a huge challenge of engaging productively with international stakeholders, whose common and competing interests in Afghanistan criss-cross frequently. These foreign players with entrenched interests in Afghanistan are the United States, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian countries, including energy rich Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

 

After coming under pressure from Islamabad's concerted efforts to marginalise it in international diplomacy surrounding Afghanistan, New Delhi has found some new opportunities, though not without pitfalls, which it can use to its advantage. However, this would be possible only if India remains focussed on its core interests and is not drawn into fulfilling a larger regional geopolitical agenda of big powers, especially the U.S. The challenge before South block and the security establishment in the months and years ahead would be to embark upon a complex diplomatic exercise, where engagement with the U.S. on a limited but cogent agenda, chiefly concerning energy security and international terrorism, does not infringe New Delhi's freedom to manoeuvre to bond significantly and independently with the other major regional stakeholders, including Iran, Russia and the Central Asian Republics.

 

On December 11, India joined Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to sign a framework agreement to build a 1,680-km gas pipeline. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline will initially draw gas from the Daulatabad gasfield and convey it to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Subsequently, gas may also be sourced from the huge South Yoloten-Osman field which is still under development. India and Pakistan will each get 33 bcm annually. The pipeline project has the blessings of the Asian Development Bank and the U.S. “TAPI's route may serve as a stabilising corridor, linking neighbours together in economic growth and prosperity,” the State Department commented soon after the four-nation agreement was signed in Ashgabat.

 

The project, notwithstanding the support from the Americans, offers India substantial advantages which it may find imprudent to ignore. These gains are chiefly in the political arena and outweigh commercial considerations and obvious benefits.

 

Despite two decades of effort and several false starts, India is yet to find a strategic anchor in Central Asia. However, the TAPI deal presents India its first major opportunity to acquire a durable niche in this resource region, with which it shares deep historical bonds. Turkmenistan can not only pioneer India's long-term presence in Central Asia but also emerge as a bridgehead from where New Delhi can consider extending its regional influence. Turkmenistan's neighbour Kazakhstan, a country with a massive landmass, huge oil and gas reserves, and a relatively independent foreign policy has over the last few years been considered a possible candidate for supplementing TAPI gas flows.

 

Russia, which comes closest to being counted as India's “all-weather” friend, has been transparent in flagging its interest in the TAPI project. In late October last year, the Russian media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as saying that discussions with Turkmenistan had been held on the Russian gas giant, Gazprom's “possible participation in the TAPI pipeline project.” The statement was apparently not well received in Turkmenistan. However, notwithstanding Ashgabat's reservations expressed in the public domain, President Dmitry Medvedev reinforced Moscow's interest in the project ahead of his December visit to New Delhi.

 

Secondly, irrespective of the regimes that come and go in Kabul, fulfilment of the TAPI project would impart an unprecedented depth to Indo-Afghan ties. The project would provide Afghanistan not only energy for its own development but also handsome dividends by way of a hefty transit fee. It is estimated that Kabul would annually receive a transit tariff of around $1.4 billion from India and Pakistan once the $7.6-billion pipeline is laid.

 

Thirdly, the implementation of the TAPI project is likely to ease the hostility between India and Pakistan. Access to the Indian market makes gas flowing through the TAPI pipeline cheaper for all stakeholders, including Pakistan. Simultaneously, energy sourced from Turkmenistan can support rapid expansion of industry in Pakistan, help spur entrepreneurship, and potentially encourage the evolution of a solid constituency among its business class, which has a vested interest in peace with India.

 

Finally, participation in the TAPI project would arm India with a rock solid argument to play a prominent role

in Afghanistan. It would undermine the campaign that calls for a drop in India's high-profile role there.

 

While going ahead with the TAPI project, India should make sure that it does not alienate Iran. Facts of geography, shared energy interests, and Iran's cultural appeal among India's politically significant population segments call for a sustained engagement between New Delhi and Tehran. In the absence of geographical contiguity, Iran is India's gateway to Afghanistan. Both countries have already made considerable efforts in drawing a transit corridor that links Iran's port of Chabahar with Afghanistan's ring road system. The still fragile security situation in Afghanistan also demands that India and Iran sustain a comprehensive and active political and security dialogue with each other. This is necessary as the two countries could face a serious challenge to their interests in Afghanistan, once the Americans in keeping with their current plans hand over security to the Afghans by 2014. As in 2001, India and Iran, which exercise considerable influence among the Afghan Hazara and Tajik communities, may once again have to work together in case of the emergence of another major crisis, following the U.S. exit.

 

Notwithstanding the existing difficulties and impediments imposed by the Americans, India, at some point of time, may have to go ahead and source natural gas from Iran. From an energy perspective, the TAPI project is not a substitute for the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.

 

“From an Indian standpoint, TAPI and IPI should be seen as complementing each other and not as elements of a zero-sum game. There is enough demand in India to absorb gas not only from these two pipelines but also from various other sources including Myanmar and Bangladesh,” a former Petroleum Ministry official told The Hindu. According to a recent study by the global consultancy, McKinsey, India's natural gas consumption by 2015 is expected to double from the current level of 166 million cubic metres a day. Out of India's total energy consumption in 2025, the share of natural gas is expected to rise from 8 to 20 per cent.

 

With Turkmenistan, Iran and possibly Qatar as the nodal points for sourcing gas, parts of Central Asia and Persian Gulf can finally emerge as pieces of a vast West-East energy corridor along which a network of pipelines moves gas supplies towards energy-hungry India.

 

From a political standpoint, a gas deal would emerge as the centrepiece of Indo-Iranian ties, raising the relationship to an altogether new level that can insulate their ties from powerful competing pressures. Specifically, it would ensure that Iran becomes India's reliable partner in Afghanistan, capable of addressing serious crises that might arise in the country post-2014.

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

PEACEFUL VOTE ON SUDAN APPEARS MORE LIKELY

AS THE CLOCK COUNTS DOWN TOWARD VOTING DAY, THERE ARE CLEAR SIGNS THAT THINGS WILL GO SMOOTHLY.

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the situation “a ticking time bomb.”

 

A team of British researchers are so concerned about the prospects of a conflict that they published a study on the possible price tag: $100 billion.

 

Even George Clooney is focusing on it and has joined with Google to monitor the potential battlefields, by satellite imagery.

 

But what, really, are the chances that the independence referendum in southern Sudan on January 9, the culmination of a peace process that ended decades of civil war between north and south, will set off another one?

 

It seems the chances are slim and getting slimmer.

 

True, Sudan is a vast, poor country with a long track record of conflict. Arms are easy to get here and militias roam just about every corner of the country. The referendum will indeed be delicate because the south will most likely vote (by about 99 per cent) to secede, splitting the largest country in Africa in two and taking with it most of Sudan's oil.

 

But as the clock counts down toward voting day, despite earlier prognostications of a delay, there are more and more signs that things will go smoothly.

 

Just last week, Sudan's President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, publicly pledged to help his “southern brothers” and said he would be “the first to recognise the south.”

 

“The ball is in your court,” he said at a rally.

 

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, is also confident the vote will be peaceful. “I don't feel any inclination to hostilities between the two parties,” he said, according to Sudan's news agency.

 

Charges of genocide

 

The stakes are so high that neither side, the Islamist northern government or the former rebels who lead southern Sudan, seems to want to be sucked into a war again, or at least to start one. Over the past year, there has been such a steady drumbeat of Armageddon predictions that most potential problems have already been prepared for and Western diplomats have spent countless hours counselling both sides. The stage is now set for the vote to be historic and highly emotional, but not catastrophic.

 

Both sides, according to many analysts, are more pragmatic than they are often given credit for. Despite being portrayed as careless brutes in many Western countries, the Islamist cabal that controls Sudan, starting with Mr. Bashir, has shown surprising elasticity.

 

Mr. Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges, the United States and the United Nations have imposed sanctions on northern Sudan and the rebellion in Darfur continues to grind on. But Mr. Bashir and company remain firmly in control in Khartoum, the capital, which continues to get hefty diplomatic and financial support from China and the Arab world. And now they seem especially eager to normalise relations with the West and know that interference with the referendum would torpedo any chance of that happening.

 

Though the north will clearly lose out if the south breaks off, northern leaders seem to have accepted that there is little they can do about it. According to Mohammed Hamad, a political science professor in Khartoum, Mr. Bashir will be reluctant to go to war because “others will use it as an excuse, and Israel and the U.S. will try to depose the regime.”

 

Whether there is any truth to this theory may be immaterial, since many in Khartoum seem to firmly believe it.

 

The southern leaders, for their part, do not want a war. Why would they? They are on the verge of peacefully achieving what has taken decades of sacrifice. More than two million people were killed in the north-south civil war, which began in the 1950s and pitted animist and Christian rebels in the south against Arab rulers in the north.

 

Oil issue

 

The southern leaders have been enjoying a taste of autonomy since 2005, when a north-south peace treaty was signed. They have rebuilt towns and invested hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, in roads, ministries, schools and factories, much of which could be bombed into oblivion in a few days by the north's growing air force. To keep their dreams of independence alive, the southerners seem ready to make concessions. This includes sharing the oil.

 

“We're not about to cut the pipes,” said Gideon Gatpan Thoar, the information minister for Unity State, one of the oil-rich states in the south.

 

Oil may ultimately hold Sudan together. Though the south produces about 75 per cent of Sudan's crude, it is landlocked, and the pipeline to export the oil runs through the north. Mr. Thoar said it would be a “disaster” to do anything to stop the flow of oil, which provides both north and south with a huge percentage of government revenue.

 

On their side, the northerners seem ready to give up some oil and take the economic hit.

 

“The north will suffer,” said Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani, a top adviser to Mr. Bashir. “We expect, after secession and the loss of oil revenue, that we will have to impose more stringent economic measures. Definitely there is going to be a setback at the very beginning.”

 

Uncontrolled elements

 

The biggest risk, then, that a war will break out seems to lie in the uncontrolled elements, the “unknown unknowns,” as former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously said.

 

For example, in Abyei, one disputed area along the yet-to-be-demarcated north-south border, there are militias aligned to the north and to the south, but they are not necessarily controlled by either. According to several analysts, these militias could fire the first shots, possibly provoked by a land dispute. Then the northern and southern armies, both of which have been buying enormous quantities of weapons in recent years, could pile in.

 

Beyond that, there are rebels in Darfur in the west, rebels in the east, rebels in the Nuba Mountains and along the Nile River, raising fears that if war erupted, it could spread rapidly.

 

“I can imagine the east going off; I can imagine Darfur going off; I can imagine the rest of the Sudan; but to disintegrate this area, it is difficult,” said Mr. Hamad, the political science professor in Khartoum, referring to the central Sudanese heartland around the Nile. “The inhabitants here are not tribal. I have never consulted my tribal elders to solve any problems. I go to the police, I go to school.”

 

He continued: “The people of central Sudan — and this is very important for you to understand the future of Sudan — are pro-state, and they accept the government, and when they depose a government, they depose it to bring a better government.”

 

“There will be decay, maybe,” he said, after the separation of the south. “But disintegration, no.”

 

He and others also predicted that in coming days, northern and southern leaders might agree to divide the Abyei territory, which would significantly reduce the chances of a conflict.— © New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

JAPAN KEEPS A HIGH WALL FOR FOREIGN LABOUR

THE BARRIERS TO IMMIGRATION ARE MANY. EXPERTS SAY THE COUNTRY IS LOSING TALENT.

HIROKO TABUCHI

 

Maria Fransiska, a young, hard-working nurse from Indonesia, is just the kind of worker Japan would seem to need to replenish its aging work force.

 

But Ms. Fransiska, 26, is having to fight to stay. To extend her three-year stint at a hospital outside Tokyo, she must pass a standardised nursing exam administered in Japanese, a test so difficult that only three of the 600 nurses brought here from Indonesia and the Philippines since 2007 have passed.

 

So Ms. Fransiska spends eight hours in Japanese language drills, on top of her day job at the hospital. Her dictionary is dog-eared from countless queries, but she is determined: her starting salary of $2,400 a month was 10 times what she could earn back home. If she fails, she will never be allowed to return to Japan on the same programme again.

 

“I think I have something to contribute here,” Ms. Fransiska said during a recent visit, spooning mouthfuls of rice and vegetables into the mouth of Heiichi Matsumaru, an 80-year-old patient recovering from a stroke. “If I could, I would stay here long-term, but it is not so easy.”

 

Despite facing an imminent labour shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Ms. Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups — in the case of Ms. Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries.

 

In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4 per cent from a year earlier to 2.19 million people — or just 1.71 per cent of Japan's overall population of 127.5 million.

 

Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan's two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers, however — and along with them, fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country's economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.

 

“If you're in the medical field, it's obvious that Japan needs workers from overseas to survive. But there's still resistance,” said Yukiyoshi Shintani, chairman of the Aoikai Group, the medical services company that is sponsoring Ms. Fransiska and three other nurses to work at a hospital outside Tokyo. “The exam,” he said, “is to make sure the foreigners will fail.”

 

Tan Soon Keong, a student, speaks five languages — English, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien — has an engineering degree, and three years of work experience in his native Malaysia, a track record that would seem to be invaluable to Japanese companies seeking to globalise their businesses.

 

Still, he says he is not confident about landing a job in Japan when he completes his two-year technical programme at a college in Tokyo's suburbs next spring. For one thing, many companies here set an upper age limit for fresh graduate hires; at 26, many consider him too old to apply. Others have told him they are not hiring foreigners this year.

 

Mr. Tan is not alone. In 2008, only 11,000 of the 1,30,000 foreign students at Japan's universities and technical colleges found jobs here, according to the recruitment firm Mainichi Communications. While some Japanese companies have publicly said they will hire more foreigners in a bid to globalise their work forces, they remain a minority.

 

“I'm preparing for the possibility that I may have to return to Malaysia,” Mr. Tan said at a recent job fair for foreign students in Tokyo. “I'd ideally work at a company like Toyota,” he said. “But that's looking very difficult.”

 

Losing talent

Japan is losing skilled talent across industries, experts say. Investment banks, for example, are moving more staff members to hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have more foreigner-friendly immigration and taxation regimes, lower costs of living and local populations that speak better English.

 

Foreigners who submitted new applications for residential status — an important indicator of highly skilled labour because the status requires a specialised profession — slumped 49 per cent in 2009 from a year earlier to just 8,905 people.

 

The barriers to immigration to Japan are many. Restrictive immigration laws bar the country's struggling farms or workshops from access to foreign labour, driving some to abuse trainee programmes for workers from developing countries, or hire illegal immigrants. Stringent qualification requirements shut out skilled foreign professionals, while a web of complex rules and procedures discourages entrepreneurs from setting up in Japan.

 

Given the dim job prospects, universities here have been less than successful at raising foreign student enrolment numbers. And in the current harsh economic climate, as local incomes fall and new college graduates struggle to land jobs, there has been scant political will to broach what has been a delicate topic.

 

Demographic issue

 

But Japan's demographic time clock is ticking: its population will fall by almost a third to 90 million within 50 years, according to government forecasts. By 2055, more than one in three Japanese will be over 65, as the working-age population falls by over a third to 52 million.

 

Still, when a heavyweight of the defeated Liberal Democratic Party unveiled a plan in 2008 calling for Japan to accept at least 10 million immigrants, opinion polls showed that a majority of Japanese were opposed. “The shrinking population is the biggest problem. The country is fighting for its survival,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent research organisation. “Despite everything, America manages to stay vibrant because it attracts people from all over the world,” he said. “On the other hand, Japan is content to all but shut out people from overseas.”

 

Now, in a vicious cycle, Japan's economic woes, coupled with a lack of progress in immigration policy and lack

of support for immigrants, are setting off an exodus of the precious few immigrants who have settled here.

 

Akira Saito, 37, a Brazilian of Japanese descent who travelled to Toyota City 20 years ago from São Paolo, is

one foreign worker ready to leave. The small auto maintenance outfit that Mr. Saito opened after a string of

factory jobs is struggling, and the clothing store that employs his Brazilian wife, Tiemi, will soon close. Their three young children are among the local Brazilian school's few remaining pupils.

 

For many of Mr. Saito's compatriots who lost their jobs in the fallout from the global economic crisis, there has been scant government support. Some in the community have taken money from a controversial government-sponsored programme intended to encourage jobless migrant workers to go home.

 

“I came to Japan for the opportunities,” Mr. Saito said. “Lately, I feel there will be more opportunity back home.”

 

Though Japan had experienced a significant amount of migration in the decades after World War II, it was not until the dawn of Japan's “bubble economy” of the 1980s that real pressure built on the government to relax immigration restrictions as a way to supply workers to industries like manufacturing and construction.

 

What ensued was a revision of the immigration laws in a way that policy makers believed would keep the country's ethnic homogeneity intact. In 1990, Japan started to issue visas to foreign citizens exclusively of Japanese descent, like the descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil in search of opportunities in the last century. In the 1990s, the number of Japanese Brazilians who came to Japan in search of work, like Mr. Saito, surged.

 

But the government did little to integrate its migrant populations. Children of foreigners are exempt from compulsory education, for example, while local schools that accept non-Japanese-speaking children receive almost no help in caring for their needs. Many immigrant children drop out, supporters say, and many foreign workers in Toyota City say they want to return to Brazil.

 

“Japan does not build strong links between immigrants and the local community,” said Hiroyuki Nomoto, who runs a school for immigrant children in Toyota City.

 

The country is losing its allure even for wide-eyed fans of its cutting-edge technology, its pop culture and the seemingly endless business opportunities its developed consumer society appears to offer.

 

“Visitors come to Tokyo and see such a high-tech, colourful city. They get this gleam in their eye, they say they want to move here,” said Takara Swoopes Bullock, an American entrepreneur who has lived in Japan since 2005. “But setting up shop here is a completely different thing. Often, it just doesn't make sense, so people move on.”— © New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

IRAQ'S DAILY OIL PRODUCTION EXCEEDS 2.7M BARRELS

 

Iraq's Oil Minister said on January 2 that the country's oil production has increased by about 1,00,000 barrels a day, exceeding 2.7 million barrels.

 

Abdul-Karim Elaibi also said that Iraq's oil exports will continue to rise and are expected to top two million barrels per day by the end of January, up from a daily average of 1.95 million barrels shipped abroad last month.

 

Oil revenues make up nearly 95 per cent of Iraq's budget, and the increase in production and exports is vital to bringing the country sorely needed cash for reconstruction after decades of conflict and sanctions.

 

Elaibi told reporters in Baghdad that production has surpassed 2.7 million barrels per day, but didn't specify which fields the increase came from.

 

Elaibi was appointed oil minister two weeks ago when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government was sworn in nine months after national elections. Last week, Elaibi reported an increase of 1,00,000 barrels a day to exceed 2.6 million barrels a day for the first time in 20 years.

 

Iraq has awarded 15 oil and gas deals since 2008 to international energy companies in the first major investment in the country's energy industry in more than three decades.

 

The government aims to raise daily output to 12 million barrels by 2017, a level that would put it nearly on par with Saudi Arabia's current production capacity. Many analysts say the target is unrealistic, given the decaying infrastructure due to many wars and more than a decade-long international embargo.

 

But authorities have ambitious plans for the future, and Elaibi said Iraq is considering a fourth bidding round later this year to further explore the country's vast oil and gas resources.

 

He said the ministry has allocated 12 exploration oil and gas blocs, but did not elaborate.

 

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq, the holder of the world's fourth largest proven oil reserves of 143.1 billion barrels, has struggled to reach the level of about three million barrels it produced in the late 1980s before it invaded neighbouring Kuwait.

 

The industry has been hampered by heavy damage to oil facilities during Iraq's decades of wars and international sanctions following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.— AP

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

DMK, CONG: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?

 

The adage “all’s well that ends well” does not apply to the bonhomie displayed in the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi at Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Monday. The 30-minute session undid substantially the speculation that the Congress-DMK alliance had fractured since the DMK chief snubbed the PM by skipping the protocol of receiving him at the airport and, instead, attending the release of a book of poems penned by close friend Vairamuthu, a popular cinema lyricist, late Sunday evening. Not just that; Karunanidhi regaled the audience there, narrating a story of how a Tamil king stood fanning a scholar who had fallen asleep waiting for him at the palace. He received applause at declaring that since Tamil rulers always respected scholars, he chose to keep his date with poet Vairamuthu rather than go meet the PM. The king’s tale was forgotten the next morning as Mr Karunanidhi’s government put out a statement soon after the Raj Bhavan rendezvous saying the CM could not meet the PM the previous night because his eyes began watering after the long session on the bright Vairamuthu dais. They said he needed a visit to his ophthalmologist before driving to Raj Bhavan. A few eyedrops thus helped repair the strained alliance, one might assume, but that would not be the entire truth.


The CM has been unhappy with the Congress for some time. The 2G spectrum raids on former telecom minister A. Raja, his blue-eyed boy, led Mr Karunanidhi to suspect that the Congress leadership was trying to twist his arm before the Assembly election seat-sharing talks. He was upset when the PM cancelled his inaugural visit to Adyar Eco Park because the mandatory clearances had not come from the Union environment ministry. DMK leaders felt the environmental approvals were delayed only to deny the party a great photo-op in the park and that the PM was reluctant to share the dais with Mr Karunanidhi because of the spectrum scam. And the frequent outbursts of E.V.K.S. Elangovan, a former Union minister and ex-president of the Tamil Nadu Congress, targeting the DMK and its government, made them suspect that the AICC’s failure to rein him in was deliberate. Even on Sunday E.V.K.S. celebrated the excitement created by Mr Karunanidhi not meeting the PM by declaring at a public meeting that the Congress “will wake up” in a fortnight to announce snapping of ties with the DMK.


Even if these E.V.K.S. tirades were to be dismissed, what about Mr Rahul Gandhi ignoring Mr Karunanidhi on his trips to Tamil Nadu “to invigorate the Youth Congress”? DMK seniors are convinced that Mr Gandhi strongly desires aborting the alliance. He has been receiving petitions and hearing the views of his Tamil comrades advocating just that because Mr Karunanidhi would not share power in the state even though he depended on Congress support to prop up his minority government. Besides, the electorate in Tamil Nadu has never voted for an incumbent CM, the lone exception being the late AIADMK founder MGR, who scored a hat-trick of wins in 1977, 1980 and 1984.


Any honest Congressman in Tamil Nadu would wish that his party was in better shape in the state, with a stronger cadre base and less squabbling, to be able to take advantage of the situation. While the other parties are holding melas to recruiting members and welcoming leaders from rival parties, the only excitement in the Tamil Nadu Congress is that of one faction of the party weaning away members from another faction.

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE JPC HEADACHE

ASHOK MALIK

 

In theory, the first week of January is a time of renewal. Politics is seldom so neat and precise. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call to “dispel the air of despondency and cynicism”, the fact is the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is increasingly unsure of itself. It could spend the coming days much as it has the preceding ones — grappling with the idea of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the telecom scandal. In many senses, this may determine the UPA’s robustness or even viability on December 31, 2011.


Why has the demand for a JPC acquired a life of its own? By shying away from it, by refusing to agree to it, the Congress and the government have, paradoxically, added to their problems. They have fuelled suspicions and conspiracy theories about why the government wants to avoid a JPC.


In good times, these conspiracy theories wouldn’t matter. However, when a government is on the mat, seemingly unable or unwilling to check swindle after swindle — Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing Society, the list goes on — its credibility suffers. This has happened to the Congress. Even its failure in addressing supply-side issues in food production — a factor that has contributed to high inflation — is being attributed not to political diffidence about agriculture reforms but to UPA ministers and their cronies making money in export and import of agro-products.


In this situation, the JPC is quickly becoming a touchstone for the UPA’s honesty of intention. Perhaps this is unfair. There is good reason for the Congress to oppose a JPC. It realises such a committee will become non-stop political theatre. Its members are likely to summon officials and ministers at will and whim. Leaks to the media will be rampant. A negative report — or, if that is preempted by the Congress’ political management, a dissenting minority report — could be released at a politically inopportune time, such as the eve of a big election.


For the Congress, the JPC would probably turn out to be a longer-term headache. Presence of Congress’ members of Parliament (MP) in the committee would be limited. On their part, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Left members would strive to embarrass the government. MPs from UPA allies would negotiate their way through the tenure of the JPC, adding to the Congress’ vulnerability. Above all, the evidence of wrongdoing against A. Raja, the disgraced former telecom minister, is so strong that the final JPC report will not be able to whitewash it even if it tried.


It is for such reasons that no government welcomes a JPC, particularly not in the coalition era. Unlike the past, a JPC is not easy to manipulate or pack with members of the ruling party.


Four JPCs have been set up in Indian parliamentary history: on two occasions by Congress governments (1984-1989 and 1991-96) and two occasions by the BJP-led NDA government (1999-2004). It is instructive that in all the cases, the governments went on to lose the subsequent election. Admittedly, only one of the four JPCs was of direct relevance to a voting issue. That was the JPC of 1987 that inquired into the Bofors affair, and set the stage for the 1989 election. In 1992, the second JPC was set up to assess the Harshad Mehta-stock market fraud. This became one of a series of scandals that haunted the Congress as it sought re-election in 1996.
Given this backdrop, the Congress is obviously not enthusiastic about a JPC. Nevertheless, there is a perception that it is losing the war of nerves. In the final days of December, Dr Singh offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but did not agree to a JPC. The mandate of the JPC is wider. It can be given the authority to summon ministers, while the PAC has to seek the Lok Sabha Speaker’s permission to question a minister. A JPC can call in, say, serving and former law and finance ministers and ask them why they opposed the telecom minister’s policy, who they complained to, and what further action was taken or not taken. For the UPA, it can all get very messy.


However, by offering to place himself before the PAC — an unorthodox proposal many within the Congress, prominently finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, are sceptical about — Dr Singh has made a defensive move. The Opposition senses if it continues to play hardball, the government could just concede a JPC as well. It may be the only acceptable formula to rescue the Budget Session of Parliament, beginning in February.
What could happen next? In April-May 2010, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu vote for new legislative Assemblies. The Congress is an also-ran in both states. In Tamil Nadu, it will be forced to go along with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) — its partner for a decade — and sink or swim with it. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is not just looking to win but to reduce the Congress to a very, very junior ally.


By this time, the new chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithivraj Chavan, would have ended his honeymoon period — if Indian chief ministers have honeymoon periods in the first place. His attempts at salvaging the state administration would almost inevitably require him to take on his ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). That there is no love lost between Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, and Mr Chavan is no secret.
This means if a JPC is established the Budget Session of Parliament should function smoothly; yet, by the late summer, the Congress could be busy reading ransom notes, doing backroom deals and resorting to endless fire-fighting. Both the Trinamul Congress and the NCP will demand right of way in their respective states in exchange for “enlightened cooperation” at the JPC. As for the DMK, it will want the Congress to rescue it or threaten to implicate other parties as well. If it loses the Tamil Nadu election, the DMK will be that much more desperate.


As such, within weeks of its appointment, a JPC could leave the UPA government crippled. No wonder, at the dawn of 2011, the Congress’ mood is anything but sunny.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

STRUGGLING FOR A PLACE IN THE SUN

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

The one image from last year that sticks in the mind as 2011 rolls in is a scene from Mankaki, a tiny village in Haryana’s Mewat region. A bunch of chattering school girls getting down from a van — an everyday vignette for most of us. But here, in this village of mud houses and water buffaloes in one of the most educationally backward regions in the country, the van has a special significance. It offers many young girls in the village a passport to a life their mothers and grandmothers could never dream of.


Fourteen-year-old Sabiha, one of nine children, is getting back to school after two years. Lack of transport and unavailability of a high school near her home had put a break to her studies. “Now, we don’t have to worry. The van drops us to our doorstep and I can go to school. I want to study more.” She wants to be a teacher. Sabiha’s mother is illiterate and hugely excited about the turn of events in her daughter’s life.


Teenagers like Sabiha are among the first generation of literate females in this region. I turn again and again to that image of a desperately poor family in the cusp of change when there is so little around that offers hope.
Mewat’s Hathin block, less than a three hour drive from Delhi, is a world apart. You hardly see shops or signs of any commercial activity once you swerve off the main road. There are no cars, scooters or motorcycles. No electricity either for most of the day. The mobile phones one sees are the new cheap ones with long battery life. None of this would raise an eyebrow in a poor state like Orissa. But one reminds oneself that this is affluent Haryana, and we are barely 40 km from the malls of Gurgaon. Most of Mewat’s population consists of the Meos, a community that embraced Islam during the Tughlak dynasty in the 14th century. For a whole range of social and political reasons, Meos have trailed woefully behind in development even as the rest of the state has thrived.


Muslim women in Mewat have the worst literacy rate in the country — just about three in every 100 can read and write, according to a report by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The literacy rate among the Muslim men in this area ranges between 27 and 33 per cent — still below the national average.


It is a tough terrain for activists, But Glenn Fawcett and Suraj Kumar who work for the White Lotus Charitable Trust, a local non-governmental organisation which has been active in Mewat since 2007, says that there are stirrings of change. “The Blossom Bus Project” initiated by White Lotus in July 2010 has helped nearly 50 girls from four villages in Hathin block to reach the nearest high school. This may seem like a drop in the ocean but a demonstration effect is already visible. Young girls who otherwise would have dropped out of school or been married off too early are changing the narrative of their lives even as the larger battle goes on. Watching them, other families are clamouring for more vans to take more girls to schools.


The power of the image of school girls talking animatedly about their future in a place where elders are mired in poverty, illiteracy and inertia is awesome. But travelling around Mewat, the challenges and the contradictions that still remain become clear. In Huchipuri, an adjoining village, Ahmed Ali, a local maulvi talks about Mewat’s struggle for its place in the sun. “We have been neglected for too long. There are too few schools, too few teachers and power cuts for long stretches. The Blossom Bus is helping many girls continue with their studies. But we are a traditional society and we would like separate secondary schools for girls, with female teachers.”


The Blossom Bus Project that came out of the need to bridge the gap between parents’ legitimate concerns for their daughters’ safety and the girls’ right to education has created a huge buzz among the villagers. Happily, White Lotus has plans to scale up the initiative. But while a bus can take a girl to a school, it cannot fix what goes on inside the classroom. There are many more things that need to be done.The Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) passed in 2010, makes education a fundamental right for children in India. It is now a legal right for every child between the ages of six and 14 years to demand free education. But without public scrutiny and public pressure, little will materialise.


The grim situation on the ground is reflected in many official and unofficial reports. In 2009, a survey conducted by White Lotus in 85 government schools in Hathin block revealed shocking infrastructural lapses.

 

Its findings were shared with the Haryana government and the NCPCR.


A NCPCR team conducted a public hearing in Rupraka village in Hathin Block in collaboration with White Lotus and the Village Education Committee in March 2009 after visiting four schools in two other villages. The visit led to a report which reflected the anguish of the NCPCR. Examples: In one of the villages the NCPCR team had visited, the school had toilets but they were locked and needed repair. The boundary wall was broken. The suspended headmaster had been reinstated but the construction work remained incomplete. Despite three years of construction, the main building was still half-done, and so on.


Interestingly, in many instances, village sarpanches had turned combative and were demanding better facilities in government schools.


Their wishlist would resonate across the country: appointment of new teachers, timely supply of text books, upgrading village schools to high schools, middle schools for girls, better monitoring…


All this has had some effect. In Bhoodpur, another village I visited, a primary school teacher pointed out that his school had only two rooms three years ago. There was no boundary wall, no water and no toilet. But now, there is drinking water and the children were happy that they did not have to go home each time they were thirsty.
If this be the story of government schools in an affluent state, imagine what is happening elsewhere in the country. Half the country’s population is below 25. An India which aspires for a seat in the United Nations Security Council could perhaps kickstart the new year by showing that it is serious about enabling every child to get a seat in a school that works.

 

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

UPA’S TWIN PROBLEMS

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

The biggest problems of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, less than two years into its second term, can be summarised in two words: corruption and inflation. How the government handles these two issues during 2011 will to a great extent determine its fate over the next three years. The incumbent regime is lucky that the political opposition on the Right and the Left are in disarray. This is why those in power can get away threatening to conduct a mid-term poll which nobody wants. But those in the Manmohan Singh government would be fooling no one but themselves if they believe they can continue to push their luck by dealing with the issues of corruption and inflation in a desultory manner as has been done so far.


For a government headed by an internationally-renowned economist whose words of wisdom are listened to with rapt attention in G-20 meetings where the post-recession woes of the world are discussed and debated, his failure to control inflation at home is truly paradoxical. What is worse is that the current phase of inflation in India is driven almost entirely by high food prices that directly kick hard on the bellies of the economically disadvantaged. Why just the poor, food inflation is today pinching the pockets of the middle classes whose real incomes are getting sharply eroded by rising prices of edible products, depriving them of participating in the famous Indian growth story that has attracted investors from across the globe.


Even foreign institutional investors who have poured in record amounts into the country’s stock markets realise the constraints and limitations of economic growth that is still far from inclusive, job-creating and spread unevenly across geographical regions and sectors. Notably, the agriculture sector remains sluggish.
Those who breathlessly track the movement of the sensitive index of the stock exchange at Mumbai would have noted that the sensex is yet to cross the peak of 21,000 that it had touched almost exactly three years ago in January 2008. One is not suggesting here that share values accurately reflect the state of the economy — far from it. Yet, the country’s capital markets are finding it tough to recover lost ground despite the fact that India was spared the worst ravages of the international economic crisis.


Corporate captains are not exactly overjoyed at the hardening of interest rates. But they realise that the Reserve Bank of India has little choice in the matter. As finance minister Pranab Mukherjee starts preparing the proposals for the Union budget of 2011-12 that is due to be presented at the end of February, the big headache nagging him is inflation that refuses to subside. He has acknowledged that the government’s calculations have gone completely awry. It is also now not that easy to convince the proverbial aam aadmi about how the government is trying to control inflation. Even if the rate of increase of the wholesale price index and the consumer price indices decelerates in the coming weeks — as it undoubtedly will — it does not mean food prices will come down.


The inability of different wings of the government — for instance, the ministries of agriculture, consumer affairs, commerce and finance — to coordinate their activities and put in place early-warning systems that can anticipate price spikes, has become rather apparent.


The government acts in a knee-jerk manner, desperately trying to douse inflationary fires after they have begun raging. The way in which imports and exports of sugar were mismanaged in 2009 clearly held no lessons for the ministries headed by Sharad Pawar.


The same story has been repeated in the case of onions and it is difficult to believe that there are no bright bureaucrats left in Krishi Bhavan who could not have foreseen that onion prices would shoot up from `4 a kilogramme to over `40 a kg in barely six months.


In 2009, the country’s electorate voted for stability and gave the second UPA government a more comfortable mandate. The Prime Minister was perceived as a person whose policies protected the country’s economy from the global financial meltdown. The same voters may not be so charitable a second time round. Those in government can scarcely become complacent about the fact that the next general elections are scheduled for the middle of 2014. They are currently preoccupied with dispelling the perception that this government is corrupt to the core, that Dr Singh was not atrophied into a state of inertia as his former Cabinet colleague, the then minister for communications and information technology Andimuthu Raja was ripping the exchequer off unbelievably large sums of money.


The spectrum scam will not disappear in a hurry even if the government concedes the Opposition demand to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which it currently appears most reluctant to do.


Like the Bofors scandal haunted the Rajiv Gandhi government and paralysed its functioning between 1987 and 1989 although nothing was conclusively proved in a court of law, the current government acted too late in containing the fallout of the scandal relating to the under-valuation of misallocation of scarce and valuable electro-magnetic spectrum used by mobile telecom companies. The corruption in the way the Commonwealth Games were conducted and the Adarsh Housing Society scandal are part of the same pattern. What was going on was known to many in government but they chose to turn a blind eye — until the scandals became too big to ignore. More scandals are likely to be resurrected: the non-basmati rice export scandal is one for which the then commerce minister Kamal Nath is yet to provide a credible explanation.


The government is desperately hoping it will be able to ride the storm over the next six months or thereabouts.
The first challenge will be to ensure that the budget session of Parliament is conducted relatively smoothly. Once the outcome of the state legislative Assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam are known in May, the Congress and the UPA hope to get a new lease of life (as the Left is certain to perform poorly in its two bastions in the south and the east).


Till then, the government hopes to plod along, confident in its belief that a weak opposition is its greatest strength.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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DNA

PRANAB MUKHEJEE PLAYS THE ‘CONSERVATIVE’ CARD

 

Finance minister and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee created ripples on Sunday in Kolkata when he said that he would have advised prime minister Manmohan Singh not to make the offer of appearing before the Public Accounts Commitee (PAC) in the second-generation mobile telephony spectrum scam probe.

 

He has spelt out his argument as to why it is not necessary nor even right in the narrow legal sense for Singh to go before the PAC. The storm in the tea cup created by this will die out. What is more interesting and curious is the fact that during the course of his clarificatory statement, Mukherjee said that he is a conservative because he follows what is laid down in the Constitution.

 

It is very rare for any politician to describe himself or herself as a conservative. The fashionable thing is to label oneself as ‘progressive’, ‘socialist’ or ‘radical’, but never a ‘conservative’. There is much irony in the definition of conservatism. There are so few who follow rules in this country, it is not surprising there are not too many conservatives around. Thank you, Mr Finance Minister, for restoring the word to the political lexicon.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

COURAGEOUS SUPREME COURT ADMITS ITS MISTAKE

 

It appears to be a season of regretting past mistakes. A few days after the Congress Party admitted that Emergency was an error, and in continuance of its political games, sought to put the entire blame at Sanjay Gandhi’s door (whose wife and son, coincidentally, are now in the opposition BJP), it is the turn of the Supreme Court to come out and say that a verdict it passed during the Emergency was wrong.

 

Back in April 1976, the then-majority judgment (4:1) held that fundamental rights stood suspended during the Emergency, leaving ordinary citizens no recourse against abuse by the State.

 

The judgment was given in view of the fact that the Presidential order of June 27, 1975 suspended fundamental rights. But now, justices Aftab Alam and Asok Kumar Ganguly have held that that the judgment violated the fundamental rights of thousands of citizens, thus underscoring the fact no authority in India has the right to suspend our rights.

 

It requires courage to admit to a wrong, and for this the SC deserves to be praised. Even back then, the judgment had caused much consternation, coming as it did in the dark days of Emergency.

 

Justice HR Khanna was then the lone dissenter and he paid a heavy price: he was superseded by his junior for the post of chief justice of India. But the irony cannot be missed: today everyone remembers Khanna’s dissent; few remember the person who became chief justice.

 

The latest revision is in keeping with the SC that has in recent times upheld the citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms against an oppressive State. Millions of the unprivileged seek succour in the courts today rather than from politicians or bureaucrats. This is not to say that everything is perfect with our judiciary; on the contrary, there remains concern over growing incidences of corruption and the millions of pending cases, and all of which need to be tackled.

 

After the 1976 verdict, the New York Times had then said that one day Indians would honour justice Khanna with a statue. It is time to do that now. As for the two men who have said Khanna was right: justices, take a bow!

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

STANDING UP FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS

 

The attack on right to information (RTI) activist Arun Mane on Sunday a year after the murder of Satish Shetty, both from Talegaon, 40km from Pune, is a sad and grim reminder that it is not safe to take on the outlaws in society.

 

Mane has survived the Sunday morning assault. It is true that evidence against the assailants of Shetty and Mane remains to be established in the exact manner that will pass muster in a court of law. But the trail is clear. Shetty had exposed land scams around Pune and also the irregularities in the sale of kerosene through the ration shops.

 

Mane was continuing Shetty’s work. Hence, it is not surprising that those exposed should nurse a grievance and that they should plot to harm the RTI activists and others who blow the lid off their illegal activities.

 

There are two ways of dealing with this situation. First, people who are named in the information that is made public in the replies to RTI applications should be put under judicial and police scanner. This should deter the potential troublemakers from attacking the whistleblowers. Second, the information exposing the wrongdoings should immediately set the judicial proceedings going. Those who break the law should not be allowed the leeway that will leave them free to intimidate the citizens who dared to expose them.

 

There must be other ways of ostracising the politicians, businessmen, officials who are guilty of subverting the law and who remain arrogant because they have money and power. Unless ordinary citizens collectively shun these people, they will continue with their shameless swagger.

 

Political leaders have been talking of strong legislation to provide protection to the whistleblowers. That is not the most effective thing to do. The response has to come from society and the people. More people should file RTI applications, and it should not be left to a handful of individuals to endanger their lives. The corrupt have to be outnumbered, isolated and shamed. This can be done when the overwhelming majority, which is both honest and law-abiding, comes out against the corrupt few.

 

It is not a utopian wish to expect the society to stand up and be counted. It had happened in the case of the mafia gangs in southern Italy. Pushed to the wall, people just came out on to the streets and the public prosecutors and magistrates were able to pursue the cases against the gangsters. A similar response is needed to fight the corrupt in this country.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

2010 was the year of Kalmadisaurus Raja

Ranjona Banerji

 

A friend asked for a name for the year just gone by but didn’t like my suggestion: Kalmadisaurus Raja. So I’ve retained it for myself and the more I think about it, the less I know what happened in 2010, except for the exploits of Suresh Kalmadi and A Raja.

 

It’s like 2010 never happened until the Commonwealth Games’ expanding budget exploded on top of us.

 

But we know all about them now and while we’re bringing out thumbscrews and fleshgougers for K and R and their little friends in high and low places, it might be time to look upon the year that was or could have been.

 

The only way I can do it, of course, is by cheating since I’ve forgotten everything. So I went to the internet and asked it for the events of 2010. And found that Kalmadisaurus Raja was a year full of disasters, right from the start. German Bakery blast in Pune.

 

The Naxal attack in Dantewada. Sania Mirza marrying Shoaib Akhtar, all right maybe that was not so bad but the TV channels, as far as I can remember, couldn’t distinguish between them. Cyclone Laila. Mangalore air crash. Heat wave. Rain. Floods. Oil spills in Mumbai and the Gulf of Mexico. Bhopal gas victims cheated once again. Doom, gloom, misery and mayhem.

 

So I went to another more serious website and asked it. And it said that the Sensex dropped (but I seem to remember it rose again), Ashok Chavan’s fate was dodgy (we know what happened to him), Baba Ramdev’s temple was under threat (don’t recall that at all), Pranab Mukherjee was concerned about inflation (good for him, eh?) and that the afore-mentioned Bhopal gas victims held a protest for Obama.

 

That’s when I remembered that Barack and Michelle Obama came to visit and said and did many sweet and nice things. Followed by Nikolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni who also said nice things. But did some odd things. Like you’re not allowed to wear a burkha or its variations in France but Bruni went to the Chisti dargah in Ajmer and wore a head scarf to get in. Hmmm. Or maybe she’s just lucky that Ajmer is not in France because she also went to ask for a baby. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm — the things some of us will wear head scarves for! Then some Russian and Chinese chappies also arrived and said and did things. And although it has so far appeared on no list that I checked, I think the British chap (the new one) also visited.

 

It was sport that brought the glory and lifted the doom and gloom — the athletes at the Commonwealth Games, Sachin Tendulkar, Saina Nehwal, Somdev Devvarman — all the good stuff.

 

Nitish Kumar won Bihar for the second time running, much to the surprise of many. BS Yeddyurappa of Karnataka hung on shamelessly to the surprise of nobody. The BJP struggled to fit into the robes of the mighty opposition. The Left floundered. The UPA government at the Centre forgot that it was in power and was supposed to govern.

 

And corporate lobbyist Niira Radia established herself as the most important female in India, ousting Sonia Gandhi from a position that she’d held for years.

 

But as we started, so we must end. The performance of the year award must go to Suresh Kalmadi, when he referred to Prince Charles, the chief guest at the Commonwealth Games, as “Princess Diana”. Thus, in one firm step, he established Charles’s place in the world and made clear his own preferences. The sad thing is that by 2011, we might have forgotten all about Kalmadi. And wouldn’t he like that?

 

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DNA

COLUMN

WHY IS GOVERNMENT RELUCTANT TO RETRIEVE FUNDS STASHED ABROAD?

R VAIDYANATHAN

 

The Global Financial Integrity — a non-profit research organisationworking in the area of tax havens — has estimated that the present value of illegal financial flows of India held abroad is at least US$462 billion.

 

This means that the money stashed abroad is nearly 40% of our GDP of US$1.2 trillion. When this became an issue before the last Parliamentary elections, some leaders in the ruling party denied the issue outright. But the current prime minister was gracious enough to acknowledge the gravity of the issue and promised action on coming to power.

 

Since then the whole world has moved against the menace of untaxed money. But the Indian response has been just symbolic, like signing tax treaties, with no decisive attempt to get at the root of the problem.

 

As early as February 2008 German authorities had collected information about illegal money kept by citizens of various countries in the Lichtenstein bank and the German finance minister offered to provide the names to any government interested in the list. Our government did not take any action for many months and, only after much prodding by the opposition, asked for the list in late 2008.

 

Recently it agreed, in the Supreme Court, in response to a petition moved by Ram Jethmalani and others that “18 Indians have put Rs43.83 crore in Liechtenstein bank”. The list is said to contain names of more than 100 Indians. Interestingly, in the case of Hasan Ali of Pune, who was found to have been operating massive Swiss accounts, the Union government indicated that tax demands of Rs71,848 crore have been raised on the said person, his wife and other associates. If this were the tax demand, then the income on which this would have been raised would be more than Rs1.5 lakh crore. Likewise, the IPL, 2G spectrum, Madhu Koda and CWG scam issues, all point to linkages to tax havens.

 

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is not inclined to reveal even the “total volume of such money” to an applicant using RTI. During the hearing, ED stated that they cannot either confirm or deny media reports about the likely volume of black money stashed away in foreign banks illegally by Indian nationals.

 

It is suggested that India is updating its double taxation treaty with many countries, including Switzerland. Actually the double taxation treaty is only a part of the solution. Many of these tax havens do not consider tax evasion by depositors in host countries as a crime. Also they have stringent laws to punish bankers providing any information regarding the depositors. Nearly 1 trillion out of 2.8 trillion of Swiss money is black money says Konrad Hummler, the Chairman of the Swiss Private Bankers Association.

 

The steps needed to monitor and control funds which are diverted and used for terror financing from these tax havens also need to be looked at. As early as 2007 the concern was expressed by the then-national security advisor, MK Narayanan, about possibility of terror funds coming in through financial markets. A recent report suggests that “on instructions from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Intelligence Bureau has taken up the task of identifying the sudden quantum jump in the foreign money flowing in the country through withdrawals by foreigners on credit and debit cards issued by the foreign banks.

 

In the last few years many countries in Europe as well as the US have taken several steps to get back their illegal funds from abroad. For instance, the US got names of more than 4000 clients of UBS bank from Switzerland after persuasion, threats and related legal actions. It has been successfully demonstrated by countries which attempted to recover the assets stashed abroad by their corrupt leaders and businessmen that this can be accomplished.

 

There was a report in India Today (February 18, 2008) regarding foreign travels of Central ministers. It stated

that a large number had visited Switzerland, including on personal trips and certainly not for skiing in the Alps. Given all these aspects why is the government not initiating any action?

 

One possible reason could be the culpability of our leaders. There was a report in the Swiss journal Schweitzer Illustrierte, which did an expose on politicians of the third world and developing nations who had stashed their wealth in Swiss banks. In its issue dated November 11, 1991, the magazine, citing the newly opened KGB records, reported ‘that Sonia Gandhi, the widow of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was controlling secret account with 2.5 billion Swiss Francs (equal to $2.2 billion) in her minor son’s name’.

 

Interestingly there has not been any defamation suit against the magazine nor any denial of that report, either by the government or by the oldest political party. The prime minister has announced to “redouble efforts” to “cleanse the system” in 2011. For a start, can he inform the nation about the total number of foreign trips — including personal trips — undertaken by his cabinet colleagues to various tax havens after UPA-2 came to power?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A MISHAP A DAY

 

What has happened in the State so far is contrary to the theme of the road safety week that has begun from January 1: road safety a mission not intermission. There has been one major mishap every day on the first two days of the New Year. If the number of casualties is not high it is just a miracle. In the first instance, as many as 20 persons were injured, seven of them seriously, when a bus collided with a rock at Battal Morh in the Udhampur district. Three of them have been rushed to this city for highly specialised treatment. It should explain the nature of wounds that they have suffered. In the other accident, at least three persons were killed and 22 injured when a mini bus in which they were travelling skidded off the road and plunged into a gorge near the Chinab river in Doda district. The mini bus was on its way from Thathri tehsil to the district headquarters of Doda. In both the incidents the drivers were unable to successfully negotiate curves. The immediate inference can only be that they must have been driving rashly and negligently. These happenings underline the grim reality that more people die in road disasters these days than because of terrorism. According to a report, more than 900 people were killed in the State in 2010. This has taken the total number of such deaths over the last five years close to the staggering 5000 mark --- higher than the number of persons killed in militancy during the corresponding period. The fatality rate last year was lower than 2009 when 1009 people had lost their lives. In 2007 and 2008 there were 950 deaths each. In 2006 it had almost touched four figures. What does 2011 hold in store for us?

 

One shudders to think of that if one goes by the manner in which the year has started. As and when an accident takes place in a hilly terrain there are more deaths. For, there is virtually no escape for the occupants of a vehicle going down into a ravine or a river. Each time there is a tragedy all of us including our concerned administrative apparatus are shaken out of its slumber. The men at the helm of affairs promise decisive action. A couple of "high-level" meetings are held to indicate concern and a sense of urgency to catch the bull of indiscipline on roads by the horns. Their outcome is publicised by way of tough decisions. Everything is forgotten with the passage of time --- at least till the next accident. It is a drill that no longer evokes respect. In fact, to expect the government machinery alone to deliver the desired results is a fallacy.

 

Our experience should make us wiser about the actual situation. The fact is that the task of maintaining restraint on roads involves us all. We as citizens should scrupulously follow rules and regulations. For their part the officials should ensure that there are proper and adequate number of road signs, signals, studs and speed-breakers. The police must do its job of curbing violations with no consideration at all for the status of offenders or their links. Is it too difficult to put our heads together for our own good?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PRESERVE THEM

 

An important seminar has been held in this city emphasising the need for preserving the oral traditions of tribal and nomadic communities of the State. There can't be two opinions that the subject touches a key area of human development. We have unwritten folklore passed on to us from one generation to the other. If a proper record is kept it can be an invaluable source of information and inspiration. It is generally believed that the verbal knowledge is lost if not conscientiously passed to younger people. This is actually true of even written and printed words if these suffer loss for one reason or the other. It is hardly a secret that our ancient records in Sanskrit have disappeared as successive invaders barring an exception or two have mercilessly destroyed our places of learning and their libraries. Fortunately, a silver lining is that some of this material is said to have been translated in time in the Bhoti language and is available in Ladakh and Tibet. This is the claim of those who are seeking the inclusion of the Bhoti language in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Researchers can throw light on this topic. What is relevant is that the education, learning and wisdom are stored properly in order to benefit the humanity at large. This is necessary for another reason as well. The scholarship of one era is open to question and, hence, improvement in the other subsequent period. It is a continuous process. We always take pride in our epics ---- Ramayana and Mahabharata in particular --- being the ultimate in science, warfare and human emotions. Today's advanced rockets, missiles and planes --- we find them all in the two holy books. Yet, we possessed none of them allowing ourselves instead to be divided and enslaved by those who were not even counted among old civilisations. There are several languages not only in this country but the world as a whole which have vanished with the passage of time for want of their use. In a scenario like this it is equally disappointing that our older spoken traditions of narratives, proverbs, folk tales and songs all become a casualty. If one has a look back one will find that this happens chiefly because of practical reasons.

 

A language that may be dominating at one point in time gives way to another language that gains ascendancy with its popular usage. English, for instance, has assumed a prominent place in our everyday life, whether we like to admit it or not. It is the passport to getting jobs not only in the State and the rest of the country but also in the supposedly affluent West and the United States. As a result our traditional languages and their varied applications suffer. In such cases a written documentation does help. It is truly an uphill task but it is not impossible. With this background in view it is good that the seminar has called for opening of a digital and electronic library and archives for documenting traditional knowledge. The establishment of anthropological museums can also be considered with a gallery for myths, legends and folk lore of all segments of the population. It is a job meant for the people wanting to save their culture.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THE NEXT DECADECHALLENGES, SILVER LININGS AND A SHARED FUTURE

IN AND AROUND J&K

BY D SUBA CHANDRAN

 

A short analysis of challenges facing us in J&K and the opportunities available is required, as we begin a new year. What are the major roadblocks that one could expect and what strategies could be adopted to pursue them?
First and foremost is the youth anger and unrest in all parts of J&K, which remains the primary reason behind the stone pelting in Kashmir valley and the growing regional differences between the three regions, especially between Jammu region and Kashmir Valley. 


Why is the youth angry in J&K? This in fact is a wrong question; youth is supposed to be angry. But the real questions should be - for what reasons he is angry and how is expressing it? Amitabh Bachan, the iconic Indian film legend, during his initial stage, was referred and worshipped as an angry young man. The youth is expected to be angry against discrimination, insensitivities, exploitation and related issues - whether they are perpetrated by the State or by the Society. He or She is supposed to rebel against them, and let the State and the Society know, what is acceptable and what is not.


Unfortunately the State in J&K is perceived as unsympathetic and corrupt, like in many other parts of India. It is equally unfortunate, that many sections of the society within J&K have also become unsympathetic and corrupt. From educational institutions to political parties, and from the lowest level in the government to the highest, both the society and state in J&K have forgotten their primary responsibilities and duties. Else, how else will one explain the absent teachers and copying syndrome right from the High schools to corruption in all levels of government? From the standard of education to the delivery of governance, this reflects in every aspect of life in J&K.


Second challenge, is the growing divide between the three sub-regions of J&K. Instead of being J&K, the fear of the sub-regions resulting into a situation in which it becomes J vs K vs L needs to be seriously studied. There are certain genuine grievances, which give birth and sustain this feeling of discrimination, while the rest are exaggerated and hyped, purely for political reasons. The hard truth also is, the slow emotional distancing of the communities of each other. Even for a civil servant, from Nyoma, Poonch, Kupwara and Bhaderwah, working in any of the other places is considered to be a punishment posting and is willing to bribe to get back to his "own" sub region. The failure to bridge the distance physically, also affects the emotional connectivity. This emotional dis-connectivity, more than the physical distance is likely to be the major challenge in this decade.
Third challenge, will be an off shoot of the above emotional and physical distancing - in terms of not taking part, understanding, and more importantly, appreciating the culture, feelings and norms of the "other" society within J&K. It is unfortunate, that in the last two decades, thanks to the violence and the exodus of the Pandit community from Kashmir valley, many Kashmiri children and the youth today may not "feel" the presence of the other, in terms of festivals, marriage, death and other related day-to-day ceremonies, which unite and bond different communities in a geographical setting. Today, the Kashmiri youth and children may only "read" or "hear" about the pundits; or maximum "see" during a two or three day Khir Bhavani festivals, but may never actually "feel" them. 


The same goes true for the Pandit children and youths, who may have only "heard" about their historical past, of being with the Kashmiri Muslims. What they "see" and "read" every day in their TVs and news papers may never make them "feel" about the common past. Outside these two societies, unfortunately, there is growing indifference, if not neglect to what is happening in the other region or the communities. How many children from Kashmir Valley or Jammu region have witnessed the Ladakh festival and "feel" the Ladakhi way of life? Or vice-versa, in terms of Ladakhi children and youth knowing and understanding the traditions and folklores of Rajouri, Poonch, Bhaderwah and Basholi? Even within the regions, there is not much of an emotional movement; for example within Ladakh, there is a divide amongst Buddhists and Shia Muslims, while in Jammu region, there is a dived between the Gujjar and Pahri communities.


Why is that the youth, who in the globalised world, instead of feeling "inter-connected" with the other, would prefer to dis-connect himself or herself, and pressurize his or her own society to do that as well? Also, during this decade, is there a danger of, the youths choosing religion as a primary expression of their personal existence, over social and cultural identities? While social, cultural and religious identities shape one's personality, social and cultural identities have been the primary vehicle of popular expression in J&K. While religious expression per se, is not essentially negative, politicization and radicalization of religious sentiments, especially in the absence of other communities in a geographical spread has the danger of dividing people violently.


Now, the more important question is, if the above are likely to be the dangers and roadblocks in the development of J&K during this decade, how can this be addressed? What are the silver linings? While the dictum, "united we stand, divided we fall" is true for every nation, it is even more apt for J&K, as this decade will be one of the most decisive. For this decade has the potential to "take off" J&K into a different plateau, or "pull down" into something worse than what has been in the last two decades.


First and foremost, the road ahead should be a state-society partnership. Both will have to work together and not finding faults or accusing the other. Certainly, the positive development cannot be achieved by targeting the other through violent means. Both the State and Society have to avoid the use of violence against each other, as a means to achieve their ends. The society in particular should understand, the use of violence will only harden the State further, and in the process do more harm to its own body. The State in return should provide space to the Society to express their dis-satisfaction through peaceful means; more importantly, the State should also provide justice, whenever there is dis-satisfaction or complaints. 


Second, the Right to Information Act (RTI) assumes greater importance in this context. If properly implemented with the right spirit, the RTI will greatly address the public dis-satisfaction against the State. The RTI will also greatly help the State to address corruption. The hard truth is corruption in J&K is so enmeshed and has become endemic, that even if the State wants, it will not be easy. This is where the society should also understand, that within the State and polity, there are numerous well-meaning people, who would like to reduce the impact of corruption and genuinely want J&K to move forward. The RTI will be great tool in the hands of both the State and Society, in ensuring governance.


Third, implementation of panchayat raj and expanding the idea of Hill Councils to other areas, will greatly help the societies and people to come together and work with each other. While the former came from outside, the latter is J&K's innovation; both have worked tremendously successfully, whenever and wherever they have been implemented. Both institutions demand that all communities in a geographical spread work together; thereby uniting people of different communities to work for their shared future. Both these institutions provide a sense of belonging, sense of power and more importantly, a sense of empowerment and duty. Along with the RTI, these two institutions can become the road ahead for better governance and social harmony in J&K.
Of course there are challenges; but there is a future too. In fact, multiple futures, if there is a State-Society partnership.


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

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CANCUN TALKS ON CLIMATE CHANGE

BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA

 

The Cancun climate change talks did not produce any dramatic breakthrough in tortuous negotiations for an international and legally-binding deal to cut carbon dioxide from industries that contribute to global warming. Nor was it expected to. The best being made out of this is that 190 countries have agreed to continue the talks for that elusive agreement with the hope of clinching at the next conference in Durban, South Africa, next year.
The biggest positive that emerged out of Cancun is that if there was no breakthrough there was no breakdown either. And quite a bit of the credit goes to India's shift of stand on the issue of commitment to a legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emission to help arrive at a global climate deal.


Departing from a prepared text of his speech at Cancun, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told a few days before the conclusion of the two-week UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference that all countries should take binding commitments in an appropriate legal form.


A section of the media had described Ramesh's remark as a "dramatic" change in India's known stand of not taking on legally-binding emission cut target because New Delhi has always pointed out that it was the developed countries which are responsible for polluting the climate through their industrialization.
The opposition BJP and Left parties slammed Ramesh for deviating from India's stand under pressure from developed countries, particularly the United States and European Union. For his part, Ramesh defended his remark as having attempted to nuance India's position and was a tactical step to avoid any stalemate at the talks. Any keen follower of the negotiations for a deal on climate change would, however, tell you that the change in India's posture was waiting to happen.


Over the last few years, India has shifted from its stands on what had for long been non-negotiable red lines like the issue of international review of domestic actions taken to mitigate climate change effects and to have low carbon growth in the context of sustainable economic development.


In Copenhagen, at the climate summit in November last year, India had accepted international monitoring and a year down the line in Cancun, it agree to the possibility of legally-binding emission goal. The only stated view on which India has so far remained unmoved so far is the subject of absolute emission cuts and it remains to be seen if India becomes flexible on this too by the countries reassemble in Durban.


As India emerges as an aspiring power in the world, it cannot possibly stick to its old ideological postures. The leadership role envisages responsibilities and flexibility far different from a perennially developing country shouting from the roof top over ideology reminiscent of a bygone era.


There was little doubt that not only India but some other members of the BASIC group of countries also comprising Brazil, South Africa and China, all major economies, was under increasing pressure not just from developed countries but also from small island nations and other SAARC countries, whose cause it has consistently championed with regard to transfer of green technology and funds to them to combat climate change without sacrificing development.


India is not alone in extending the olive branch by expressing willingness to come under legally-binding emission cuts as Brazil and South Africa also indicated their readiness to do so. Only China had held out. Small island countries and smaller SAARC countries may have gone along with BASIC countries in not allowing developed countries to escape from making legally binding emission cut commitment but they also want countries like India and China to take on that commitment being major emerging economies and polluters.
One cannot blame the smaller countries for that as they face the threat of extinction from global warming no matter where the sources of pollution are. India could not have been seen as a deal-blocker and risked increasing isolation internationally on the issue of securing a comprehensive global treaty to fight climate change.


While there is no quarrelling with the developing countries argument that their greenhouse gas emission is much lower than that of developed countries and that there should be common but differential responsibility for them in emission reduction, the issue that needs to be asked how long the differentiation would remain in vogue.


This has become an issue of urgency now that the continuance of Kyoto Protocol, that sets out emission cut targets for industrialized nations, beyond the year 2012 after Japan has disfavoured extending the only legally-binding instrument that it had helped in setting up 13 years ago.


Some critics have accused India of abandoning the G-77 developing countries for the sake of securing a seat at the global high table with the US and other developed countries. However, one must consider the fact that India is set to be integrated into the world nuclear power, having atomic weapons and preparing to venture into global civilian nuclear commerce.


As a fast rising economy on a sustained basis for nearly a decade, India has an increasingly bigger voice in international economic order buffeted by the worst recession in the United States and financial turmoil in some peripheral economies of Europe like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland. Besides, India is also seeking a permanent seat in UN Security Council.


When you either take on or are poised to take on the leadership role, you cannot remain confined to a particular world vision but has broaden it to accommodate as far possible the widest spectrum of concerns and views. Ideological purity should make way for ideological inclusiveness and this calls for compromise.


That the Cancun conference agreed to consider in Durban a global goal for emission cut as also a time frame for peaking of emissions was in no small measure facilitated by India's change in its stand on accepting binding emission cuts. It is not correct to say that emission cuts per se would hamper economic development.
What is required is carrying on the development with green technology and thereby checking greenhouse gas emission. True, the issue of technology transfer in the context of Intellectual Property Rights is yet to be sorted out globally. True, green technology has a price to pay. But is that a price higher than that entailed by climate degradation? (PTI)

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY CHALLENGES FOR INDIA

BY DHANANJAY TRIPATHI,

 

The last year is not considered as satisfactory for the ruling alliance facing several corruption allegations which are tarnished its political credibility. But when the Government was in the midst of political turmoil it had moved some step ahead on foreign policy front. In 2010 India was visited by heads of P-5 and this substantiates the growing relevance of this country in international affairs. When a country gains significance in the international system it become ambitious to attain power and thus have to act responsibly. For the realist school of thought international system is anarchist by character where every state tends to maximise its interest. The same implies to India which has a rightful desire of attaining a powerful position in the world. In this respect the coming year is crucial for Indian foreign policy, which will direct and define its international role. 
There are several foreign policy challenges for India in future where its primary objective would be to acquire a describing role in the international relations. Indian foreign policy can be compartmentalised into two parts, one its engagements with different countries of the world and second its diplomatic ability to manoeuvre its position on international issues of importance. Several changes were witnessed in the last couple of years particularly in the post financial crisis phase that had has severely affected the power dynamics of the world. The developed capitalist countries led primarily by the USA have gone down. As a matter of fact America is widely considered as a declining power and developing countries like China, Russia and India are now accepted as rising powers. In this category Brazil and South Africa is also significant and they together have the capacity to define some of the significant agendas of international relations. Now in this fast changing scenario India has to adopt a nuanced approach where its growing closeness with the USA should not be at the cost of its independent identity in the world. Much coordinal relations with the European Union and with countries of Latin America are in the interest of India and complement its self-determining identity. 


Similarly, New Delhi needs to deal sensitively with Beijing for a better cooperation on issues of mutual interest. China is apprehensive of New Delhi's increasing intimacy with Washington since many assumed India will act as the US strategic ally against its Eastern neighbour. China is the biggest and a powerful neighbouring country and we cannot afford to have a bizarre relationship with it. As widely projected China is not a security threat to India but strategic cooperation and economic competition have to be our tactics. Stable Pakistan is in the interest of India and without any hesitation New Delhi should approach civilian Government for a diplomatic parleys with an open heart and mind. In Afghanistan India till date adopted a very appreciative policy supporting the development activities. There are possibilities that America will begin its withdrawal from Afghanistan by the mid of 2011, but India should carry on its virtuous work without getting attached to any security/peace keeping role. 


Coming to the second part, there are tough tasks for Indian foreign policy in the 2011 and in this connection its claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) is very important. Russia, Britain and France have already declared their support for the membership of India. There is no clear support from China. Another pertinent question is of climate change and India's energy, security requirements. Cooperation with the developing countries on the climate change and exploring all possible routes to ensure energy security has to be our goal. Over dependence on few resources are not in the long term interest knowing well that India doesn't have the sufficient energy resource to meet even its existing requirements. International terrorism is also a very critical issue for India and directly related to its security concerns. Cross-border terrorism, Naxalism, religious fundamentalism, are some of the major worries for India's internal security. Unfortunately, not enough attention is paid to internal security and most of the defence expenditure is done on external security. For the vast country with dense population India requires robust intelligence system and most modern internal security mechanisms to deal with nefarious designs of anti-national elements.


In brief, in order to become a world power, India has to be careful on domestic and international fronts.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PUT AN END TO ACRIMONY

TIME TO GET ON WITH THE 2G PROBE

 

UNION Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s disagreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to answer questions on the 2G spectrum scam is enigmatic. One can appreciate Mr Mukherjee’s frustration over the BJP’s lack of cooperation in letting Parliament function and his well-meaning call to the Opposition in general to debate the issue of a JPC probe in a specially-convened session rather than persisting with the boycott of Parliament, but it is difficult to see why he should object to the Prime Minister appearing before the PAC. Constitutionally, the Prime Minister may be accountable to the Lok Sabha and not to a committee, as Mr Mukherjee has said, but if he has volunteered to appear before the PAC in keeping with his image of being totally above board and transparent, his gesture is worthy of praise. Rightly, Dr Singh has chosen not to shield himself against questioning by resort to technicalities.

 

What is unfortunate, however, is that even the attempts by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament’s budget session in February have been cold-shouldered by the BJP and its allies, though the Left has shown signs of coming round. This is not the way the principal Opposition party should behave. Parliamentary democracy is meaningless unless there is a will to discuss issues threadbare in Parliament rather than taking to the streets. The ruling UPA must also explain to the nation why it is so adamant to deny a JPC to the Opposition when its leaders like Mr Mukherjee insist that there is virtually no difference between a JPC and a PAC.

 

The country has indeed suffered much on account of this impasse between the UPA and the Opposition. It is time they found a way out of this mess so that the real gut issue of fixing responsibility for the massive 2G scam and bringing the real culprits to book is put into action. The BJP must realise that it is losing support by stonewalling all attempts to find a solution.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FAST-TRACKING PROJECTS

DEVELOPMENT ON AKALI POLL AGENDA

 

WITH almost a year to go before facing the electorate, the SAD-BJP government in Punjab has proposed “a complete transformation” of the state. It is a little late in the day. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal told the media on New Year Day that he would focus on education, skill development and health. A day earlier Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had announced that all infrastructure and housing projects undertaken in the last four years would be completed this year. Besides, administrative reforms, initiated on the basis of the report of an expert group, too will be finished.

 

In the last year of their tenure ruling parties often avoid taking difficult decisions and instead indulge in populism. With the Punjab treasury already almost empty due to liberal freebies and subsidies, a fast-track completion of projects is perhaps the only option left for the Punjab government. The Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP plan to approach the electorate with their report card on development. Therefore, they must have something concrete to show the voter. The refinery project at Bathinda will take off this year, helping the ruling alliance, once again, to claim credit — the long delay and heavy project cost overrun notwithstanding.

 

The two ruling parties will be hard put to explain the state’s poor fiscal health, especially the steep rise in the debt. The debt issue may occupy the political centrestage. Corruption is another issue that may dominate the elections. The state leadership can follow the Bihar lead and pass a law to attach properties of civil servants, including politicians, if convicted of corruption. But the Badals are not known for taking hard decisions. Sukhbir Badal has hinted at making access to government services a legal right. This one is easier to do. If projects are finished and reforms implemented in the right spirit, the ruling parties may spring a surprise and secure a second term — something unheard of in Punjab’s recent political history.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ATTEND TELANGANA MEET

TRS, BJP SHOULD SHOW RESPECT FOR DEMOCRACY

 

THE decision by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boycott the January 6 meeting in New Delhi convened by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to study the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee Report on the current situation in Andhra Pradesh is irresponsible and totally unacceptable. It shows their spirit of intolerance and refusal to respect the due processes of democracy. Their opposition to the Centre’s invitation to two representatives of each of the eight recognised political parties in Andhra Pradesh to the New Delhi meeting is illogical. “This is like encouraging political parties to give divergent views”, says TRS supremo K. Chandrasekhar Rao. However, he fails to understand that as the opinion in the state is sharply divided over Telangana, the Centre wants to know the differing views among the legislators about a unified Andhra Pradesh and separate statehood for Telangana on the basis of the Srikrishna report which will be made public after this meeting on Thursday.

 

Given the surcharged atmosphere in Andhra Pradesh today, the Centre has taken a mature and conscious decision to convene the meeting so that a consensus could be evolved on the Srikrishna report. Democracy envisages free access to facts, to all facts and opinions and not only to one set of facts favourable to those leading a movement or setting them forth. It encourages dissent, informed opinion and debate. Effective interaction and consensus building are indeed the essence of democracy. When people, the MPs and the MLAs are divided on Telangana, the Centre had appointed the Srikrishna Committee last year to study the situation. Creditably, it completed its mandated task within the deadline of December 31. As the report is said to have examined various options to address the problem, the Centre thought it proper to consult all the political parties at a meeting before placing the report in the public domain.

 

Unfortunately, political parties like the TRS and the BJP, instead of helping the Centre to resolve the Telangana issue peacefully across the table, are resorting to cheap gimmicks for narrow partisan ends. If an all-party meeting is not the right forum for debate, do these parties plan to fight it out on the streets? The state is on the edge. Political parties should refrain from doing anything that will foment passions and trigger violence. They are indeed duty-bound to strive for a peaceful resolution of the problem.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE REALITY IN ‘OTHER CHINA’

TAIWAN’S FUTURE LINKED TO MAINLAND CHINA

BY SHYAM SARAN

 

RECENTLY, I was in Taipei to speak on India’s perspective on the rise of China, one giant eyeing the other. What struck me, however, was the unmistakable reality of this being the “other China”, an open and liberal society, a successful multiparty democracy with a free Press and a vibrant culture of debate. There was no skirting of difficult and uncomfortable questions, including the sensitive issue of cross-Straits relations with an increasingly powerful China.

 

The economic embrace of China is becoming pervasive. It is now unlikely that the island’s destiny can ever be decoupled from the Chinese mainland. The looming presence of China is manifested in the growing dependence on China-related trade and investment, the rapidly expanding number of Chinese visitors thanks to direct air and shipping links and the domination of mainstream media by developments across the Straits. This is generating a conflictual ambivalence about Taiwan’s future which hangs like a question mark over the island, despite its first world prosperity, its strengths in technological innovation and the obvious excellence of its higher education.

 

A comment which one came across frequently, whether in conversations with KMT leaders, government officials and even defence personnel, was that the political status quo would continue even as Taiwan moved ahead with the rapid expansion of trade, investment and people-to-people relations with China. In other words, Taiwan was not ready to consider reunification with China even with a very high degree of autonomy. When I was asked to comment on this, I pointed out that one could not, for any length of time, insulate just one part of the relationship from all others and that, too, its most significant component, when other elements were getting rapidly transformed. One was also not certain that China would accept an indefinite deep-freeze on the political and highly emotive issue of Taiwan returning to the motherland.

 

To these comments there was usually no answer, though some argued that the greater exposure of mainlanders to the virtues of Taiwanese democracy would help remake China in the image of Taiwan, rather than the imposition of the current Chinese brand of political authoritarianism on the island’s population. I believe this is mostly wishful thinking. The Americans and the Europeans were once convinced that with prosperity and globalisation, China would inevitably be refashioned in the Western image. They harbour no such illusions today.

 

The audience I addressed was made up of mostly university students, academics, senior journalists and former and serving diplomats. There was a fair sprinkling of Chinese exchange students and visiting professors from universities on the Chinese mainland. Some of the questions were revealing as were the reactions of the mostly Taiwanese audience to my responses.

 

A Chinese professor referred to India’s failure to eradicate poverty through rapid industrialisation as China had done, moving away from traditional agriculture. He cited a media report that an Indian farmer had got his land back from the government, which had acquired it for building road infrastructure, by going to a law court. If this continued, he said, India’s development would be significantly slow and the gap with China would increase. My reply was that most people in India and other democratic countries which value individual rights would applaud rather than bemoan the farmer’s success. This remark was greeted with approving applause and soon thereafter a young Chinese student addressed the same professor and asked whether China should not learn from India in this respect.

 

There was another question relating to India’s GDP growth rate compared to that of China and whether India was not apprehensive that despite doing well, it was falling behind its giant neighbour. A follow-up question wondered whether the Chinese model would not be more appropriate for a developing country like India rather than the now discredited Western model.

 

I said that while there was much for India to learn from China and that we admired China’s remarkable successes, we did not believe that people in India would accept the Chinese brand of political authoritarianism combined with economic liberalism. My sense was, I said, that Indians would happily sacrifice a couple of percentage points in GDP growth if this were the price to pay to retain their hard-won democratic freedoms and individual rights. This, too, was greeted with approval by the assembled crowd.

 

There was a question from a Taiwanese official about the Dalai Lama. He asked for India’s advice on how to treat the “big headache” that His Holiness had become for the Taiwanese authorities, because he had many devotees in Taiwan but the government did not wish to annoy China by allowing him to visit Taiwan. I said that India did not regard the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in India as a headache. His Holiness was a highly respected spiritual leader and teacher. Again there was a wave of approval from the audience.

 

The last question was poignant and reflective of the mood of resignation that one sees in some sections of Taiwanese society. A young student asked what India’s reaction would be if Taiwan became a part of China and its democracy was “snuffed out “ in the process. My answer that it was really for the people of Taiwan to decide their own destiny, that we wished to see democracy everywhere, seemed inadequate and even insincere.

 

The truth is that Taiwan has now embarked on a journey from which there appears slim prospect of turning back. China is becoming Taiwan’s future, unmistakably, relentlessly and there is very little that the world can or will do to help it write a different script.

 

The writer, a former Foreign Secretary, is currently Acting Chairman, RIS, and a Senior Fellow at the CPR.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

FILMS ARE TOO MUCH WITH US

BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI

 

WHEN asked, “Who was Beethoven?” most young Americans about to enter university last year replied that he was a dog. Not their fault. A film titled Beethoven showed that a large group of puppies are stolen from a pet shop by two thieves. A puppy manages to escape from the thieves and sneaks into the home of a Newton family which tries to name their new-found dog. The name struck to them observing the puppy’s continued barking when Emily, the youngest daughter of the family, played a portion of Ludwig Von Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The dog was named Beethoven.

 

In a school at Shimla, the history teacher had asked students to write a short note on Prithviraj and that by one of them read: “Prithviraj was the pardada of Ranbir Kapur, the present heart-throb of young damsels. His Saawaria did not do much on the boxoffice but Ajab Prem ki Gazab Kahani was a super duper hit. Prithviraj had three sons — Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. The great-granddaughters of Prithviraj are Karishma and Kareena — also called Lolo and Bebo. Karishma is called Lolo because her mother had liking for the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigidia. Prithviraj did many roles but his dramatic style of acting suited him best in the role of Mughal-e-Azam. He had received the highest accolade in Indian cinema — Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 1971 — posthumously.” Could the teacher cut marks?

 

I was in a medical college recently. The Principal and the staff were discussing various hurdles that come across in running the college vis-à-vis the apathy of the government. “We are eager to run it properly but the government pulls its hand when it comes to providing resources,” one of the managers told me. Stealing words from Mughal-e-Azam, he added, “The college is like Anarkali living between Salim and Akbar — one would not let her die and the other would not let her live”.

 

In a recent cricket series when Indians were not able to get Sangkara out, my friend watching the ODI on the TV said, “We need Ajit, yaar.” “Who Ajit?” I asked. He said, “That villain of olden days. He would have asked his hanger-on Robert, ‘Raabart, during drink break, connect me to Sanga.” When connected, he would have told Sangkara, “Get out immediately otherwise jaan lo tumhari maan hamare kabze mein hai… (Your mother is in our possession)”.

 

“The film is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay there our powers:” Sorry, Wordsworth.

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FOCUS ON MOBILITY: A STEP FORWARD

THE EXPONENTIAL INCREASE IN VEHICLES HAS BEEN A CHALLENGE TO PLANNERS AND EXPERTS. AS THE PROLIFERATION OF PRIVATE VEHICLES IS THREATENING ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY, STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN TO IMPROVE THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM AND EASE CONGESTION ON ROADS

K.C. SIVARAMAKRISHNAN

 

AT a recent global conference in New Delhi, most participants drawn from different countries spoke about mobility needs and public policy. The use of the term ‘urban mobility’ in preference to urban transport is itself a step forward in thinking. Mobility focuses on people; transport is preoccupied with vehicle types and choices.

 

New Delhi as the National Capital manages to extract huge funds from the Central Government and other sources for improving urban transport. When it felt the financial pinch a few years ago, the Commonwealth Games came as a bonanza. But what about other cities?

 

Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are building one or two metro lines but in all these cities buses will continue to be the mainstay of the city's mobility. The Wilbur Smith study commissioned by the Urban Development Ministry published in 2008 and based on data from 30 cities underlined proliferation of private vehicles, decline in public transport share in total transit from 75 per cent in 2006 to 45 per cent five years hence creating congestion and decreasing average speeds.

 

At the Delhi conference, the Centre for Science and Environment drew attention to the fact that Delhi adds about a thousand motor vehicles per day of which two wheelers are about 550 and private cars 350. Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad follow suit. The annual addition to motor vehicles is about 4 lakh in Bangalore, 2,20,000 in Chennai and 1,20,000 in Hyderabad.

 

A new beast prowling city roads in India is the Sports Utility Vehicle called the SUV. The only sport that an SUV engages in is the guzzling of fuel and preemption of road and parking space. In the reports of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the word SUV does not appear but is concealed between various sub-definitions of passenger cars. Out of 2.4 million cars produced in 2009, SUVs numbered at least 1,13,000.

 

It is often said that the only way to discourage private vehicle growth is to improve public transport. This is partly true but not entirely so. A person does not buy an SUV because he does not get a seat in the local bus. The SUVs are often the third or the fourth vehicle in the family garage. Simply, the purpose is display of wealth. It is also claimed that since the SUVs accommodate seven or more passengers they are very useful for long distance trips. So be it, but there is no reason why they should take up road space within the cities.

 

Singapore has been a place of pilgrimage for several years for city planners in India in search of good practices. Yet the critical instrument of vehicle quota system in practice in Singapore since 1990 has eluded our planners. Singapore decided to cap the annual increase of its vehicle stock to 1.5 per cent. Vehicles beyond a certain age are compulsorily retired. Persons intending to purchase a new vehicle should get a certificate of entitlement costing about 23,000 Singapore dollars which is higher than the price of the car itself. There is an additional congestion price levied on private vehicle entering the central parts of the city. Of course, Singapore has established an extensive public transport system, comprising 180 km of rail transit, 4,000 buses and 25,000 taxis taking care of three, four and one million trips respectively. Public transport fares are kept well within affordable limits and below the per km expenses for a private vehicle.

 

Shanghai has a similar system of vehicle quota licensing. The price of a license is determined through monthly auctions and exceeds the price of a new car. According to a story carried by Shanghai's Global Times newspaper on May 22, 2010, 16,324 people bid for 8,500 licenses at a price averaging US dollars 6187, higher than the price of many new cars. In the past few years, Shanghai has been able to reduce its private vehicles stock by 1.5 million and its daily growth to 380 as compared to Beijing's 1030.

 

Congestion pricing in London costing about eight pounds was introduced in the year 2003. Contrary to apprehensions, the average speed has increased, ridership in buses has improved and retail business has also risen in volume. Many European cities are planning similar mechanisms.

 

All this confirms the realisation that it is clearly unsustainable to permit ever-increasing private cars and to keep adding to road space by building more roads or flyovers. It is officially admitted that Delhi's 35 flyovers have not resulted in any appreciable increase in traffic speed. On the other hand, they have only shifted congestion from one point to another.

 

The proliferation of private vehicles is clearly unsustainable, threatening both energy and environmental security. Putting a cap on additions and levying a new vehicle license fee nearly equal to the price of the car as in Singapore or Shanghai make eminent sense. But given the reach and influence of the automobile industry in India, it is unlikely that a cap will be accepted. The vehicles should at least pay a fair price for the use of road space.

 

In most Indian cities, the road tax levied on passenger cars is absurdly low. In some cases, the incidence of road tax is more in the case of buses. Until recently, Delhi levied Rs 4,000 to Rs 12,000, as a one-time tax at the time of registration. From November 15, 2010, this has been increased to 4 per cent of the cost for cars priced up to Rs 6 lakh and 7 per cent for cars in the range of Rs 6 to 10 lakh.

 

As for SUVs most of which cost Rs 10 lakh or more, the tax is 10 per cent. The Delhi government hopes that the increased rates will discourage people from using private vehicles. Will this really be so? Will a person willing to spend Rs 12 lakh to 15 lakh on a vehicle be deterred from buying it because of a 10 per cent tax? More important, the one-time tax ignores the rising cost of road upkeep. The tax should be levied annually so that the yield offsets, at least in part, the subsidy that premium, luxury and SUVs enjoy on diesel.

 

If our value system has come to such a pass that flaunting wealth is a major yardstick of public behaviour, government action should be geared to deal with it from the interests of equity as well as reducing the emissions. SUVs and luxury cars are not essential to show off a ‘Shining India’. If they are, they should at least pay the right taxes. Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who has spoken against the SUVs will do well to give some attention to the blatant distortions in the road tax system.

 

The writer is Chairman, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and a former Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Urban Development

 

A challenge to planners

In Government of India circles, urban transport is a subject of recent origin. Until 1985, the subject was nobody's baby and did not figure in the Government of India's Rules of Business Allocation. The Ministry of Surface Transport was responsible for motor vehicle laws as well as bus transport. The Industry Ministry dealt with production of motor vehicles.

The Ministry of Railways considered urban transport essentially as a rail-based system and claimed the exclusive responsibility for dealing with it. Kolkata's Metro Rail, started in 1972 and took more than 15 years for completion, was funded by the Railway Ministry's budget.

In 1986, the Allocation of Business Rules was changed. Planning and coordination of urban transport matters was entrusted to the Ministry of Urban Development for the first time with a modest budget mainly to support studies.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation was set up in 1996 to build the Delhi system made possible by Japanese aid. With half of the 120 km under the first two phases completed and currently used by several thousand passengers, the Delhi Metro Rail has become a reality but this is only one part of the system.

The buses will continue to carry a large portion of transit load. The dedicated corridor system or BRTS is to help these buses function better. There are other components in the Delhi Budget for flyovers, traffic management, pedestrian footbridges with escalators, street scaping to use the jargon for changing pavements from one type of stone to another and to top it all, potted plants and fancy lights.

— K.C. Sivaramakrishnan


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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE MISSING ELEMENT OF PLANNING

DEEPAK DASGUPTA

 

THE Twelfth Five-Year Plan projects India to attain a GDP growth level of 10 per cent with the major part of the growth coming from the secondary and tertiary sectors, namely manufacturing and services. As the bulk of these activities take place in urban areas, a rapid urbanisation is accepted as inevitable.

 

The existing urban population is already around 300 million or 30 per cent of the total and the pattern around the world suggests that this will reach around 60 per cent before stabilising. Thus, the urban population of India is expected to reach 500 million by 2021 and around 800 million by 2051 with the number of Class 1 cities (population: 1 lakh) increasing from 301 in 1991 to around 800 by 2021 and the number of million plus cities being in excess of 50 by 2021.

 

The rapid pace of urbanisation that is already upon us, will throw up great challenges in the planning and development of townships and the provision of urban services. An important area, requiring serious attention, is the manner in which we plan for people to move and travel within these urban conglomerations. Urbanisation leads to greater travel demand and as the population of a town increases, the demand for travel expands exponentially, both in terms of trip lengths and trip rates.

 

The level of congestion and chaos witnessed on our city roads would seem to indicate that our response so far has been failing to meet the urban transportation needs. While efforts are now on in a number of cities to provide different modes of mass transit systems, these appear very inadequate and too little too late. Thus, billions of man hours are being lost with people stuck in traffic jams caused by the huge explosion in the number of motor vehicles jostling on the roads for the limited available space. The lack of suitable public transport systems has meant the increased use of personal vehicles thereby contributing to congestion.

 

There have been some efforts towards land use planning in urban areas within the town planning departments in the states and major cities. Unfortunately, however, transport planning has not received the extent of attention it should have while drawing up strategic and land use plans. There is a failure to link transport planning to land use planning and to prepare integrated master plans that internalise the features of sustainable transport systems. It is important to channel the future growth of a city around a pre-planned transport network rather than develop a transport system after uncontrolled sprawl has taken place.

 

In designing the transport plan for meeting the travel needs of the population of an urban conglomeration, different modes of transport have to be perceived in an integrated manner. Experience world wide has shown that based on peak hour trips in a corridor, the modal selection can be made between road-based bus systems, bus systems with dedicated bus ways, light rail or mono rail and heavy rail systems. Finally, some road systems like ring roads with free flowing entry and exits can be provided for dispersal of motor vehicular traffic from one area to another. The entire transport system of a city needs to be on an integrated basis so as to facilitate easy transfer from one mode to another.

 

Some steps are being taken in a few cities to provide mass transit systems in the form of rail based metros and dedicated bus lanes, but the demand continues to far exceed the provisions being made. This reflects the lack of adequate transport planning skills within the urban planning and development bodies as also the absence of an institutional mechanism for an integrated look at the different transport mode within cities. While the responsibility for the management of urban areas and consequently urban transport is with the state governments, it is imperative, having regard to the economic importance of urban transport, that the Central Government play a pivotal role in ensuring the creation of institutional mechanisms for the integrated approach to urban transport planning. Central support would also be required for devising and financing of schemes of urban transport.

 

The National Urban Transport Policy fully recognises the issues involved, but the time has come for some urgent action. Transport plans for major cities should now be prepared on the lines of guidelines and directions incorporated in the policy and put out in the public domain for widespread discussion. The funds available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission launched by the Centre have to be used as catalyst for this action.

 

The writer, a former IAS officer, was Chairman, National Highways Authority of India

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

LANGUAGE OF COMPASSION

CROUPIER TOLD ME THE DAY WAS SPECIAL FOR SPAIN AND THE CASINO PROUD TO HOST A POKER CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE HEARING IMPAIRED FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW


And so like every other country that I have visited ever since poker addiction has held me in its grip, I found myself at Casino Barcelona, too. Playing with different minds from different cultures in their currency is as fascinating to me as the game itself. I particularly like the sound of the conversation in their native language. Though I do not understand much, I try and guess their drift and normally befriend the player next to me to crosscheck on how off or to the point I am. 

 

And so I was in the city of Gaudi, listening to the Catalans in their all too passionate rendition that they are wellknown for and enjoying the clinking of the coins in the slot machines as the bells on the roulette tables which was followed by ‘no more bets please’. 

 

I made my way to the cash game table and sat amidst other players to try my luck for the day. Most were in poker gear — their heads covered in hoods, huge dark glares screened their eyes (and thus expression), their nods gave me occasional flashes of the different beats that played in their ears (almost all professional poker players wear headphones and listen to music while playing) and of course their mouth chewed the gum constantly to control jaw quiver which may otherwise have given their cards away. I silently bade my chips goodbye even as I was just two deals in the game. It was evident that they were far skilled in the game than I was and it was a matter of time before they cleaned out my counters even when they had lesser hands than mine! 

 

My anxiety however soon dissipated as the familiar sound of chips crashing into each other bounced into my ears with the words, ‘match’, ‘raise’ and ‘fold’. And soon enough it did not matter that I won or lost, what did was all that went behind those dark glasses and the sighs. Did the hands quiver, when ‘A’ bluffed or when he had good cards, did ‘B’ stiffen when he hit his cards or when he did not…I found myself engrossed in the world of lie, guts and truths as the game poker is globally notorious for! 

 

And then a resounding cheer, a little different from what I normally hear broke into my poker world. I knew that a tournament was on, in the section behind us and perhaps they had reached their final lap. I turned around to see the finalists and the most beautiful sight greeted me. I saw hundreds of hands moving in gestures — talking, listening, arguing, cheering through the graceful movement of hands and fingers at a speed that left me awestruck! I saw a sea of palm and fingers and I saw conversation and I saw happiness and excitement….and I saw that we were the minority there! 

 

The croupier told me that the day was special for Spain and the Casino was proud to host the ‘The Poker Championship Tournament for the Hearing Impaired’ for the second successive year! “276 participants in all and some are from France and Portugal too,” she told me. 

 

Spain is not just a passionate country, it is a beautiful one too.

 

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BUSINESS STANDDARD

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COLUMN

THE ANNUAL SCIENCE CON

SCIENTISTS NEED FUNDS, FREEDOM AND BETTER CAREER PROSPECTS

 

It would be instructive to check out how many of the speakers who addressed the 98th session of the Indian Science Congress in Chennai were below the age of 40. The programme circulated suggests not more than a handful. As in the past so many years, delegates to the 98th Congress had to hear many of the same worthies who have been addressing these annual jamborees year after year but whose contribution to science in the past several years has been at best questionable. Science in India needs a fresh lease of life. A liberation from the bureaucratic and feudal stranglehold of those who fund it and the gray eminences who either continue to hold the purse strings or preside over institutional empires. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, therefore, quite understandably expressed the hope, in his inaugural address, that “more young people (should) increasingly participate in the deliberations of the Indian Science Congress in years to come. Science is ageless, but our scientists must be younger!” The prime minister has declared 2012-13 as the “Year of Science in India”. This opportunity should be used to bring about fundamental changes in the way science teaching and research are funded and managed in India. Without a paradigm shift in the prospects for science in India, the hoped for link between science and development will not really materialise.

 

Dr Singh also asked two important questions that Indian industry must ponder over. “Why is the translation of good science and research into products so weak in our country? How do we strengthen the link between universities, research laboratories and industry?” The answers to these two questions will determine the future development of science in India. Unless the market for science grows, widens and deepens, thereby generating demand for science, there would be no basic improvement in the supply of science. Indeed, much of the flight of talent from India to the West, in the sciences, occurred because the supply of good scientists in the past exceeded the demand. Better career prospects abroad, and better institutional support, with more freedom and funds, encouraged India’s best scientific talent to migrate. Those who chose not to do so were held back more by a sense of patriotism, as was definitely the case with scientists in fields like nuclear physics, than because career prospects at home were better. The era of retaining talent only with such ideological inducements is over. India has to improve the market for science talent to be able to generate more of it and retain it.

 

 An important step in this direction would be to make a career in science more attractive, liberating it from the stifling feudalism of government-run institutions. Equally important is to get more private investment into research. Indian business is not yet doing enough to invest in the sciences. More can and should be done. Prime Minister Singh was also right to recognise that any improvement of the supply side in science must begin at the school and college level, when he said, “Unless we strengthen the base of our educational system, we can never hope to extend the height of the pyramid of excellence.” Annual jamborees like the Science Congress are unlikely to achieve that. Making a career in science more attractive could help..

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PHARMA RIDES HIGH

GOVERNMENT MUST PRISE OPEN MARKETS

 

The Indian pharmaceutical industry can look forward to 2011 with greater optimism than most. This is because it finds itself to be robust both at home and abroad. At home it anticipates healthy demand growth, projected at around 16 per cent. It will be fuelled primarily by rising incomes and private health-care expenditure, which is high in India. To this will hopefully be added higher public health-care expenditure in which India remains a laggard and there is a political consensus to make the Indian story more inclusive. What is more, the Indian industry does not fear import competition as it has a global price advantage which is equalled only by the Chinese in the case of some bulk drugs. It is one industry that does not need protection. A stable and growing domestic market will offer it the best springboard for global assault.

 

Indian pharma’s global thrust is powered by its quality which, combined with its low costs, makes its products about the best value-for-money propositions in the world. The quality is hallmarked by the large number of Indian manufacturing facilities which are approved by some of the most stringent developed country regulators, notably the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Bright export prospects walk on two legs. Over the next few years, a large number of best-selling drugs are going to go off patent in the developed countries, offering a golden opportunity for a generics player like India. If the leading Indian players are able to garner even a fraction of the sale of drugs going off patent this year, estimated at $30 billion, then that will be substantial. The other leg is the success that Indian firms have achieved in filing and winning approval for the products which are scheduled to go off patent. They account for a good third of approvals for generics given by the US FDA in the last two years.

 

 To make the best of this situation, the Indian government has to do its bit. It needs to aggressively tailor its trade diplomacy to prise open those markets where Indian pharma exports face non-tariff barriers like the Chinese and Japanese. In the case of China, in particular, this is important as India has not agreed to impose tariff barriers against import of Chinese power equipment despite intensive lobbying by Indian manufacturers. India’s pharma story has also been brightened by two recent developments. The new frontier in pharma is biotechnology and India has to replicate there its generics success in conventional chemistry through the launch of approved biosimilars. A big stride has been taken on this front through the deal struck by Biocon with Pfizer which has the potential to go up to $350 million. But Indian firms cannot go on forever copying other people’s products and their singular failing till now is the inability to come up with novel drugs. But there is a flicker of hope. After Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy’s were unable to live up to earlier expectations, Glenmark has now come up with a likely success through its anti-diarrhoeal product for HIV patients that has cleared phase III trials.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

POLICY CHALLENGES FOR THE YEAR 2011

POSTPONING STRUCTURAL REFORMS WILL MAKE THEM EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT

M GOVINDA RAO

 

Indian economy has shown significant growth acceleration during 2010-11. The growth of real GDP during the first two quarters of the current fiscal averaged 8.9 per cent as compared to the 7.5 per cent recorded during the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, the acceleration has been broad-based as seen in agriculture, industry as well as services. The outlook for the rest of the year continues to be buoyant and it is expected that the economy may register a growth rate of close to 9 per cent during the year which is higher than most forecasts.

 

 On the external front, both imports and exports have recorded strong growth, and despite sharp increase in the trade deficit, the current account deficit is likely to remain within manageable limits. Of course, rising oil prices may yet create an uneasy situation, but on the whole, the situation seems to be manageable. On the fiscal front, substantially higher realisation from spectrum auction has provided enough cushion to meet increased outlay on subsidies and with both direct and indirect tax collections showing high buoyancy, the fiscal deficit of the central government at about 5 per cent of GDP is likely to be lower than the budgeted, and the consolidated fiscal deficit for the current fiscal could be about 8 per cent of GDP which is lower than last year’s by two percentage points.

 

While the agriculture recovered due to bountiful monsoon, the acceleration in industry and services even in the wake of sluggish global environment was mainly due to fiscal expansion. In fact, the expansion was not intended as a stimulus as it started much before the global crisis. Nevertheless, it did help the economy to soft-land when the crisis actually occurred and helped in its fast recovery. Thus, India is one of the few countries in the G20 to bounce back to the growth rates that prevailed before the crisis.

 

Despite the optimism, there are several challenges to be met in the short and medium term. The most important concern is the crisis of governance. The recent exposes, which are only the tip of the iceberg, have provided a glimpse of the rot that has set in. While the Commonwealth Games scam has yet again shown the contractor-politician nexus, the Adarsh Housing Society and Niira Radia tape episodes have shown that the disease has spread even to armed forces and the fourth estate as well. Many of the worthies have turned out to be simply the “fixers”. Perhaps, the media should institute an award for the best fixers among them! Of course, such episodes of corruption and fixing, significant as they are, may not impact on the daily lives of the people as compared to the pervasiveness of petty corruption arising from the licence-permit raj to get a number of clearances for building houses, getting water and electricity connections and accessing education and health facilities. Indeed, the website launched by Janaagraha, Ipaidthebribe.com, brings out a variety of corruption episodes and in every case, the authorities concerned create scarcity conditions and cash in on them. Surely, rather than ranting about corruption, it is necessary to find ways of liberating the system from the licence-permit raj.

 

On the economic front, the most immediate concern is the continued rise in prices, particularly of food items. Despite expectations of good harvest, the food prices have continued to rise. Unfortunately, the response to this has continued to be the “band aid” type and this hurts long-term investment decisions in agriculture. As the price of a commodity increases, we ban its exports! Similarly, when the international price of cotton is high, we export to make cheap cotton available to the cotton mills! Apart from food prices, the rising international price of crude oil could create a cost-push inflationary situation. Combating inflation while maintaining the growth momentum will be the most immediate challenge for the policymakers.

 

A major medium-term worry is to achieve fiscal consolidation. The Finance Commission has recommended that the consolidated fiscal deficit of the central and state governments be contained at 5.4 per cent from the prevailing level of about 8.5 per cent, and the central government’s deficit be brought down to 3 per cent in 2014-15 from the budgeted level of 5.5 per cent in 2010-11. In addition, the government is embarking on major programmes on food security, universalising health care and expansion of education, and these could add expenditure of about 3 per cent of GDP by 2014-15. Thus, the government will have to generate additional revenues or re-prioritise expenditures or disinvest to the tune of 6 per cent of GDP in the medium term.

 

The niggling infrastructure continues to be a constraining factor in maintaining a high growth rate. In the power sector, there are problems in generation, transmission as well as distribution. The supply-demand gap for power at peak is estimated at 13 per cent. There will be a significant shortfall in the Plan target for power generation due to a variety of constraints in land acquisition, coal supply, environmental clearance and simply the contractors’ not honouring their commitments, and reforms in the power distribution has just not taken off. The performance of railways has been deplorable and is suffering from both neglect and unwanted interference at the same time! The investment in the road sector is not picking up at the planned pace. Urban infrastructure and services continue to be pathetic. Besides infrastructure, there are a variety of reforms needed to create an investment climate.

 

Another challenge to be faced is to neutralise capital inflow, most of which is volatile. Ensuring competitive exchange rate in the wake of surging capital flows is an important challenge which the policymakers will have to face. So far, the inflow has been manageable, but if it surges in the near term, intervention will become unavoidable.

 

While the revival of growth rate of the Indian economy to the pre-crisis level is heartening, sustaining high growth rates over the medium and long term requires reviving reforms. The government cannot afford to continue with a “band aid” type of policy response. Most of the structural reforms will have to be initiated this year itself, for postponing them will make them even more difficult to implement. Almost two years have been lost since the government assumed office. It has been bogged down by one issue of governance or another. Unless it cleans up its own act quickly, the economy will continue to underperform.

 

The author is director, NIPFP. The views expressed are personal

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

UNLEASHING THE POWER OF SINGLE SCREENS

THERE IS A GLARING OMISSION IN THE STORY OF THE INDIAN FILM INDUSTRY'S GROWTH; IT IS THE COMPLETE ABSENCE OF THE SINGLE SCREEN FROM ANY DISCUSSION

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

 

There is a glaring omission in the story of the Indian film industry’s growth. It is the complete absence of the single screen from any discussion. Yet Endhiran, Dabangg, Golmaal3 and 3 Idiots, 2010’s biggest hits, show clearly what unleashing the power of single screens can do. It can bring the volumes and variety of the Indian market into play in an increasingly metro-oriented, multiplex audience-focussed film industry. Co-opting single screens into the growth story will help the Rs 14,000-crore Indian film industry move from being the world’s largest by volume to the world’s most lucrative one — period.

 

 The facts first. Of the 12,000-odd screens in India, 11,000 are estimated to be single screen. The remaining are all part of multiplexes. The entire discussion — creatively and commercially — however, focuses on multiplexes.

 

That is not surprising. Till 2000, India’s film industry was a basket case. It was prolific without being profitable, organised or even having enough screens. For a billion-plus people, India had 12,000 screens against more than 40,000 for 323 million Americans (2009 figures). Since there weren’t enough good screens and lots of alternatives, Indians stopped going to the theatre. In the last decade, cinema is the only media that has consistently shown a drop in audience numbers in every Indian Readership Survey.

 

The first few multiplexes in India became operational in 2002. Since then to 2008, box office revenues have grown 3.5 times. Average ticket prices have doubled and revenue leakages are being plugged. Multiplexes bring in roughly half of all theatrical revenues, especially in the metros. Since theatrical revenues form three-fourths of the total that a film generates in India, the growth of multiplexes meant good news.

 

However, their success skewed everything. The overriding belief among scriptwriters, film executives and firms was that only multiplex audiences who pay Rs 150 or more per ticket are capable of enjoying and paying for cinematic variety.

 

Sure, single screens by their very nature (average 800-1000 seating capacity) need more mass films. But that is a market too. So is the one for people willing to pay only Rs 50, but to watch a Bheja Fry or Dev D. The industry was not throwing up any variety — in pricing, content or in languages. This left vast portions of an audience with growing purchasing power with nothing to watch. A resurgent Marathi, Bangla or Bhojpuri cinema filled the gap, inadequately.

 

Three bad years from 2008-2010, rising costs and falling margins made one thing clear: a film cannot only depend on the multiplex part of theatrical revenue, you need films that do well with the single screens too. That is what gets the best prices for TV rights and improves the monetisability of a film. You can already see new studios, such as Eros International, working on building a national portfolio across genres.

 

On the retail end, there is consolidation happening as companies acquire single screens. More importantly digitisation is picking up speed. This helps bring in movies first-day-first show, kills piracy and improves walk-ins. Of the more than 2,500 digital screens in India, a bulk are single — meaning belonging to stand-alone theatres.

 

This has already changed the first weekend maths, which explains the numbers for Dabangg. It is not a typical multiplex film. The single screens in the metros and other cities are the ones which did the best business with this film. Also commercial deals with single screens are structured in a way that gets more revenues back to distributors and producers if the film is a success. So every big single screen hit means more money into the system.

 

Akshaye Rathi, director, Nagpur-based Rathi Group of Cinemas (a chain of 23 single screens), points out, rightly, that single screens cater to a much larger chunk of the movie-going population. But the focus of lobbying and policymakers is firmly on the plexes. He doesn’t grudge them their attention. What he suggests is some simple moves, like removing multiple layers of taxes to make single screens more profitable. Says he: “There is an audience for both and enough space for them to co-exist.”

 

Why is it taking the industry so long to recognise that?

 

vanitakohli@hotmail.com 

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

20 years: Any difference?

The finance minister today grapples with the same fiscal worries of two decades ago

A K Bhattacharya

 

Twenty years ago, Manmohan Singh as finance minister had presented what is commonly regarded as India’s first reforms Budget. Two decades later, how different have the finance ministry’s concerns and preoccupations been? There are two ways of assessing it. One way is to compare the key Budget numbers then with those that will confront Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as he prepares to present the Budget for 2011-12 next month. The second way would be to compare the key fiscal policy concerns then with those that the finance ministry wrestles with now.

 

 In 1991-92, Manmohan Singh reduced the fiscal deficit to 5.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), from a much higher level of 8.4 per cent in the previous year. Twenty years later, little has changed, though Pranab Mukherjee would consider it a success if he reduced the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 to the targeted 5.5 per cent of GDP.

 

To be fair to the government, its fiscal deficit story would have looked much better, but for the global financial crisis of 2008. It was forced to announce generous doses of stimulus measures, dealing a body blow to its fiscal deficit reduction programme. The government’s fiscal deficit fell to 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2007-08, before ballooning to 6 per cent in the following year and to 6.8 per cent in 2009-10. All this was largely due to a combination of duty cuts, leading to revenue loss, and increased expenditure under various heads, many of them were questionable from the fiscal prudence point of view.

 

On the tax revenue front, the government’s effort has remained roughly the same — it was 10.3 per cent of GDP in 1991-92, 10.27 per cent in 2009-10 and 10.7 per cent in 2010-11 (Budget estimates). There was a spike in 2007-08 with the government’s total tax revenues amounting to over 12 per cent of GDP.

 

The real change on the tax revenue front, however, shows in its composition. Direct tax revenue mobilisation was 2.33 per cent of GDP in 1991-92 and it is now over six per cent. In the same way, indirect tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has declined from around eight per cent 20 years ago to less than five per cent now. That is a big change indeed and shows the nature and quality of the tax reforms that successive finance ministers brought about.

 

In sharp contrast, however, is the government’s poor performance on the subsidy front. In 1991-92, Manmohan Singh had brought the government’s subsidy expenditure down to 1.8 per cent of GDP, from 2.14 per cent a year ago. In 2008-09, subsidies went up to a record level of 2.44 per cent of GDP and declined marginally to 1.9 per cent in 2009-10. The Budget estimate for 2010-11 is a little lower at around 1.68 per cent, but what it shows is that successive governments have failed to make a major impact on subsidies.

 

An even bigger problem affects the government’s expenditure pattern in this period. Pranab Mukherjee took pride in announcing how the central government’s total expenditure had crossed the Rs 10 lakh crore-mark in 2009-10. However, within that rising expenditure, the share of the government’s capital expenses has fallen steadily — they are down from 4.46 per cent of GDP in 1991-92 to less than two per cent in 2009-10. The trend has not changed significantly even in the Budget estimates for 2010-11.

 

What about the key fiscal policy concerns then and now? In 1991-92, the big task for Manmohan Singh was to reform taxes and reprioritise the government’s expenditure programme to make it more lean, efficient and effective. Over the years, the Budgets have streamlined the tax policy and made it more stable and reasonably low, even though little progress has been made in plugging leakages or removing exemptions. The big change has been the lack of surprise element in Budgets over the tax rates. Once the direct taxes code and the goods and services tax regime are in place, hopefully in the next couple of years, whatever surprise element that remains in the government’s tax rates would disappear.

 

That, however, cannot be said of the government’s expenditure programme. The concerns that prevailed then dog the government of today, like subsidies for a host of commodities including fertilisers and petroleum products. The threat of a rising fiscal deficit, and more importantly of the revenue deficit, continues to be a big challenge. Tax reforms may have made some headway, but the big question now is whether there is need for a fundamental change in the scope of taxation or growth alone can take care of sustained revenue mobilisation to meet the government’s rising expenditure needs, largely because of subsidies and the rising pressure of new rights and entitlement laws on its finances.

 

There is also the additional problem of higher government debt and interest payment liability that squeezes the finance minister’s flexibility in allocating resources to sectors that need greater attention. Twenty years have gone by, but it seems the finance minister of today is grappling with the same sort of fiscal worries — as formidable and challenging as those that confronted Manmohan Singh as finance minister then.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE JAIPUR FESTIVAL PRIMER

NILANJANA S ROY

 

Perhaps the only way to understand the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is to think of a traditional mehfil crossed with a darbar. Over six years, the JLF has grown from a sleepy, intimate local festival held on the lawns of the eccentric Diggi Palace to Asia’s largest literary festival, packed with authors and celebrities (the two sometimes, but not always, overlap) from around the world.

 

 Here’s a quick look at what to expect between the 21st and the 25th, and at some of the questions that the JLF raises:

 

1) The visitors: Jaipur insists it doesn’t have stars, but every year brings a raft of celebrity writers from India and elsewhere — Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Wole Soyinka, U R Anathamurthy and Simon Schama have shown up at the Diggi Palace in past years. J M Coetzee, the South African writer and Nobel laureate, is expected; so are Orhan Pamuk and perhaps Martin Amis.

 

I’m looking forward to Richard Ford, Jim Crace, Jung Chang and Ahdaf Soueif; also Patrick French, James Kelman and Irvine Welsh, the latter notorious for his adrenaline-spiked readings, are expected. Among the younger writers, keep an eye out for the brilliant Junot Diaz, for Nam Le, author of The Boat, and for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

 

2) The home team: Along with Vikram Seth and Kiran Desai, expect to meet some of Asia’s most interesting writers. Bant Singh, the Dalit singer, is an iconic figure of resistance in Punjab; the agricultural labourer is now an activist celebrated for his poetry of protest, and has survived a vicious attack on him in 2006 after he sought justice for the rape of his daughter. His session should carry on the JLF tradition of encouraging voices of protest, from Bama to Om Prakash Valmiki, in earlier years.

 

Among the list of Indian writers in English, keep an eye out for Rana Dasgupta, whose Solo was one of the most rewarding novels of 2009, graphic novelist and artist Sarnath Banerjee and “cancer biographer” Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of Maladies. A focus on Kashmiri writers and Urdu writing looks promising, and make space on the programme for activists like Aruna Roy and water maven Anupam Misra.

 

3) The sideshows: In line with Margaret Drabble’s complaints that Hay-on-Wye had become less intimate and more crowded with celebrities, the JLF is very different from its first, quietly literary avatar. Old hands complain, with some justice, that the music performances every evening and “star” writers of the Chetan Bhagat variety have turned Jaipur into a tamasha. As one of my friends from the fashion world discovered to her delight last year, it’s possible to be at the JLF and have a grand old time without attending a single session on writing or reading.

 

This year packs in a tonne of stuff: a small showcase on children’s writings, the announcement of the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, performances by some of Asia’s best musicians and performance poets. As with Hay, and increasingly, Edinburgh, it’s up to the individual festival-goer to craft her programme. Go for just the music and to hang out with the Beautiful People at the bar behind the speaker’s venues, and Jaipur will be just another extended party; choose your sessions carefully and this could be the feast of ideas it was originally meant to be.

 

4) The celeb factor: Is the JLF all about the celebrity writers, as more than one media columnist has suggested? The problem with this perception is that it doesn’t match the experience on the ground. A recent piece talks about how the importance of the festival lies in the big names that it draws from the world of western publishing, and to some extent, that’s true — people will queue up this year to listen to Coetzee, as they had in previous years to hear John Berendt on Venice and Savannah or Anne Applebaum’s impassioned discussion of gulags. But what the criticism omits is that the breathless focus on just the McEwans and the Rushdies is entirely a media creation.

 

For those who’ve been to several years of the festival, some of the best sessions have had massive audience support, but little press: the debate between Dilip Simeon and Nandini Sundar last year on the Maoist insurgency, for instance, or Anupam Misra’s spellbinding talk on the drying up of Indian rivers, or Sheen Kaaf Nizam’s standing-room-only poetry reading.

 

That’s another thing the media doesn’t report. There was the year the slam poets rocked Jaipur, with Jason doing his beatbox thing while poet Jeet Thayil unleashed his blues side, the year Gulzar and Javed Akhtar held an overflowing audience captive, the year that Tenzin Tsundue read his protest poems on Tibet. If there’s any group of writers the Jaipur Literature Festival belongs to, it’s not the celebrities, it’s always been the poets, in the end.

 

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW

MAKE JUDICIARY ACCOUNTABLE


FORMER law minister Shanti Bhushan said that eight of the past 16 Chief Justices of India (CJI) were corrupt. Now, allegations have surfaced against the brother of former CJI K G Balakrishnan, suggesting the Supreme Court may have erred in singling out only the Allahabad High Court for its famous ‘something is rotten’ comment. Clearly, there is much that is wrong with our judicial system, apart from the unacceptably large number of pending cases, and the rot extends right to the top. In November, a three-member judicial committee set up by the Rajya Sabha chairman found Calcutta High Court judge Soumitra Sen guilty of misappropriating ‘large sums’ of money, clearing the way for his impeachment. But given the cumbersome process — not a single judge has been impeached to date — and the present disarray in Parliament, chances are that like Justice Ramaswami before him, Sen too might escape censure. Earlier, we had the farce of former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, P D Dinakaran, being allowed to take over as Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court while facing impeachment proceedings in the Rajya Sabha. 

 

The only solution is root-and-branch reform, starting with appointments to the higher judiciary. If the earlier system — where power rested with the executive — was bad, the present system — where judges are recommended (read selected) by a collegium of Supreme Court judges in a non-transparent manner — is no better. Once appointed, removal is almost impossible and the court cannot take action against errant judges, apart from denying them cases to hear. The government also does not have constitutional competence to supervise Supreme Court and high court judges. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill introduced in Parliament last month can change that. The Bill, among other things, establishes a mechanism for dealing with complaints against Supreme Court or high court judges and also provides for declaration of assets and liability by judges. One more reason for the ruling party and the Opposition to get on with the business of Parliament!cid:image015.png@01CBAC40.6FA3EED0

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHY ADD EXCHANGE RATE RISK

TO INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS AND CHARGES?

 

THE government plans to allow infrastructure companies to tap external commercial borrowings to fund their projects. This reflects a desire to be seen to be doing something about the country’s infrastructure deficit, even if that something is not, even remotely, what actually needs to be done. That funds constrain infrastructure in India is a facile pretence. Funds have always flowed to viable projects, without fail. But viable projects are scarce. And that is essentially a fault of policy and politics. The power sector faces repressed demand, because politics deems that tariffs that cover costs and realise a profit will not be tolerated by consumers. Coal is in short supply because coal mining is a public sector monopoly. Urban water supply is a mess, thanks to bad politics that combines patronage of poor work ethics by municipal or public health engineering workers with unwillingness to explain to ordinary people that managing water costs money that needs to be recovered via water charges. Public investment in irrigation has dried up, leaving new irrigation to pumping up of groundwater from rapidly-sinking water tables, while this country needs surface water management because the bulk of the rainfall happens over a limited number of weeks and rapidly drains off into the sea, causing floods during that rush, and water shortage thereafter. Again, populist politics that refuses to collect irrigation charges is to blame. Any project that requires release of rural land gets tangled in protest, often violent, by those who lose their land, in the absence of a policy to make them stakeholders in what comes up on the land that is put to new use. Mines, new factories, roads, townships, all fall in the category of projects that run aground in murky policy on releasing land for non-agricultural use. 

 

Borrowings abroad to fund infrastructure is not a great idea. It adds exchange rate risk to other risks. Foreign investors in rupee debt do take on the currency risk, but could still pose a macroeconomic risk unless their debt is within the range of overall foreign debt that is deemed prudent. Creating larger domestic pools of insurance and pension savings is the real way out.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BREAKING UP

CELEBRITIES SHOW THE WAY


TIME was when having a sportsperson as a role model meant starry-eyed kids dreaming of emulating heroic triumphs. Now, if a report prepared for the department of education in the UK is to be believed, sportsmen and women signify something quite different: the breakdown of relationships. The theory is that young boys and girls are growing up thinking amorous dalliances and being sanctimoniously married isn’t a big deal because so many sportspeople, pop-and-movie stars and celebrities have so many flings and bust-ups. Granted, we do live in a world where too much is happening too fast, often with hitherto-less understood deleterious effects. But there are these increasingly everyday instances like, say, the case of an actress announcing the end of her marriage after being seen canoodling a retired star cricketer, and then tweeting about wanting to get back with hubby, while the former cricketer apparently is busy sending suggestive texts to other females, and then both the actress and the cricketer apparently getting together again. That, patently, leaves one breathless, for it more resembles someone providing a live commentary on a fast-paced hockey or football match rather than, well, ties between men and women. 

 

Time was when someone as gifted as a Sylvia Plath would write a poem called Jilted, with lines like My thoughts are crabbed and sallow / My tears like vinegar / Or the bitter blinking yellow / Of an acetic star. Now, all that, it would seem, is so much sentimental hogwash. All you need is a tweet, a line in your social networking site and, well, merely dump someone. Which wonderfully evocative word tells us a lot about where we stand — or don’t. But that, of course, raises the point whether we’ve all been somehow liberated from the tyranny of enduring relationships. Or if we’re all just breaking up.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SILVER LININGS AND A BRIGHT FUTURE

THE START OF A NEW YEAR — INDEED, A NEW DECADE — IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SERIOUSLY INTROSPECT AND DRAW LESSONS TO USHER IN BALANCED, COORDINATED AND, ULTIMATELY, SUSTAINABLE GROWTH, SAYS KIRAN KARNIK

 

NEW beginnings are a time for hope and optimism — more so when it is not just the dawn of a fresh day, but the birth of a new year. Like the last dregs of stale coffee, the old year leaves a bitter aftertaste, what with the depressing string of scams — each bigger than the last — a non-functioning Parliament, and a justice system that is seriously flawed. Despite the successes of our sportspersons, it is easy to be overcome by a sense of depression and cynicism. As an alternative, here is the lighter and brighter side of things, the silver lining to the dark clouds of yesteryear. 

 

Take the preparations for the Commonwealth Games: after years of dithering, marking time and doing practically nothing, the sudden rush to finish things was a grand lesson for marathon runners — plod along till the last minute and then make a dash to finish somehow. Many thought that the negative publicity about the terrible state of the Games village and some of the stadia deeply dented India’s image. Little did they realise what a smart stratagem this was: it helped India win more medals (by keeping away many top foreign athletes). On the all-important security front, our police uncovered two new weapons — books and keys — and the reported ban on these for some events undoubtedly helped to ensure peaceful games. It is rumoured that footwear will not be permitted in public meetings and events in future, since shoes have been used as a ‘weapon’ — kinetic and cultural — against leaders in India and abroad. 

 

The Games organising committee must be given credit for inventing a unique and clever means of crowd control in the stadium. In a global first, it distributed hundreds of free tickets to Delhi’s ‘connected and powerful’ people, who — of course — did not turn up. The result: sports fans disappointed at finding ‘house-full’ signs, but peaceful, quiet — if empty — stadia. Finally, the muchpublicised scam: not only was it a great method of getting otherwise obscure Commonwealth Games known to all and sundry, but also provided a big boost to the sagging TRPs of TV news channels. It is unfair to comment on the ‘scam’ or the guilty, since the final judicial pronouncement may not be available before your children become grandparents. 

 

Many have criticised the slow and ponderous procedures of government. In this, too, new and path-breaking initiatives were taken last year. As an answer to those who cavil about the long and arduous process of tendering, the government is going ahead and buying nuclear plants worth thousands of crores without any call for quotations. It has also decided that buying defence equipment from private US companies can be treated as a government-to-government deal, again requiring no competitive bidding. Other unimportant things like building highways have, of course, to go through the process of multiple rebids. 

 

The rigour and detail of various processes is also seen in the meticulousness of inquiry commissions and investigations, which do their job so thoroughly that some take a decade or more to finish their work. Remarkable flexibility — unlike the rigidities for which we condemn bureaucracy — is seen in the ability of CBI, for an example, to start and stop investigations on issues like disproportionate assets of politicians. Its efficiency is visible in the speed with which it has closed its investigations in the Aarushi murder case, for lack of evidence. On the other hand, the police have proven that they are proficient in finding or creating evidence (no matter that the courts often find it unreliable). The overall justice system — long criticised for slackness in enforcement — has shown its decisiveness in finding a person guilty of sedition because he is alleged to have played postman! 

 

THE ministry of environment, in keeping with our Buddhist traditions, decided to follow the middle path: having sided with the people in Niyamgiri, it decided to even things out by ignoring local sentiment in Jaitapur. A similar balance was struck on gas pipelines: while the Iran-Pakistan-India one was dumped because of ‘security considerations’ (imagine our gas supplies being held hostage by Pakistan) and high price, an agreement was signed for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India one. Since we are a certified ‘emerged’ power, this was proof of our independent policies and had nothing to do with US pressure. 

 

Mumbai, unwilling to be eclipsed by the scams in Delhi, decided to unleash one of its own, only to prove — through Adarsh — the flexibility of its bureaucrats in interpreting and even transcending laws, including those related to land ownership. But then Delhi had the last word, with the 2G spectrum scam making all others seem so trivial. Why waste time on a few thousand crores involved in the Games, when here was something hundred times as large? Bofors, the epitome of corruption in the 1980s, involved but . 64 crore — loose change, by today's standards. Who said India's vision is limited? ‘Start small, think big, scale fast’, the mantra of the internet and ICT world, has never been put into practice so effectively. 

 

The year also brought home the nuances of the English language: the difference between taking a leak (relieving oneself) and making a leak (relieving others — of their aura, even of their job); between advocacy (good), lobbying (not so good) and power-broking (very bad); and between exclusive (as on TV channels) being good versus inclusive (as mouthed by politicians) being good. 

 

The start of a new year — indeed, a new decade — is, more seriously, an opportunity to introspect and to draw lessons for a better future. Hopefully, politicians will see the Bihar election results as a vote for good governance and development, as opposed to identity and quota politics; corporates will go beyond conventional CSR, to take on responsibility for broader issues, including human rights; and government will stop mistaking the symptom (Naxalism) for the disease (inadequate and lopsided development). The biggest danger is not Naxalites, but — to borrow from Wen Jiabao — “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and ultimately unsustainable” growth. 

 

 (The writer is an independent strategy     and policy analyst)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

WHY DOUBLE STANDARDS FOR PMS?

RAGHU KRISHNAN 


INDIA’S Chief of Army Staff (COAS) can be court-martialled for dereliction of duty if he fails to take action for a year even when he realises that one of his corps commanders has been deliberately undermining preparedness in a vital sector. The COAS cannot claim that he himself was not involved in any hanky-panky and should, therefore, be considered a role model! 

 

The argument is obvious even to those who are not conversant with military affairs. The COAS is accountable for the functioning of the entire army. It is a tradition that is engrained in his psyche. All commissioned army officers study at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, where, engraved at the entrance to Chetwode Hall — named after the thencommander-in-chief who inaugurated the IMA on December 10, 1932 — are the words, “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come second, always and every time. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.” The words, from the speech Chetwode delivered while inaugurating the IMA 78 years ago, have inspired generations of officer-cadets who have passed out of the IMA, one of them being 21-year-old Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal who was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for gallantry beyond the call of duty on December 16, 1971, when he single-handedly destroyed five hostile tanks in the Battle of Basanter on the western front and perished in a burning tank that he refused to leave since the enemy offensive was still on. 

 

 We are repeatedly told by spokespersons of the country’s ruling party that Manmohan Singh’s integrity is above question. It is obviously not Manmohan Singh’s individual integrity that is being questioned, but his professional functioning as the Prime Minister! If the PM takes a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, his failure to act against a telecom minister who was perpetrating a major scam is a gross dereliction of duty! If, God forbid, there is a war tomorrow, it is the PM as the head of the national government who will be asking soldiers to protect the country and people even if it means sacrificing their lives. 
 

This is not a hypothetical situation. Thousands of soldiers have sacrificed their lives for the country, a recent instance being 26/11 when Major Sanjith Unnikrishnan was killed while trying to stop crossborder terrorists who were butchering people in Mumbai’s Taj and Trident hotels and on the platform of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. If a soldier can give his life for the country, it is surely not asking for too much to expect the Prime Minister of India — who sends soldiers to fight a war —to not shy away from taking uncomfortable decisions like immediately sacking a corrupt minister and then invoking the full force of the law against him. 

And yet, Raja continued for almost a year as telecom minister even after the . 1,76,000-crore scam was being unravelled by the media and by vigilant opposition MPs like Sitaram Yechury who submitted a detailed report on the mantri’s deeds to the prime minister’s office. Action is now being taken only after the CBI investigation is being monitored by the Supreme Court. 

 

The PM’s prolonged failure to act is being attributed to realpolitik and coalition dharma by not just ruling party spokespersons but by the Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen. When a soldier steps forward to defend the country, there are no guarantees even for his life. So, why should the nation’s leader — who takes the final decision on whether soldiers should fight a war — hesitate to crack down on a major scam merely because it could affect the stability of the coalition he is heading? Or, are we saying that the cutoff point for cracking down on a scam perpetrated by a national minister in a coalition government is not . 1,76,000 crore but . 2,00,000 crore! Leadership is not defined by clinging on to power at any cost. 

 

The PM is primarily accountable not to the party supremo who appointed him or to the leaders of the alliance partners, but to the people of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to preserve, protect and defend. A PM who protects the national interest despite attempts to pressurise him can go on to win the trust of the people before, during and after an election. Unlike soldiers who risk their lives, politicians have far less to lose by taking hard decisions. By doing the right thing at the right time, politicians can retain their honour and leave an untarnished legacy for posterity. Maybe all PMs should periodically visit the Khetarpal Auditorium at the IMA or the Khetarpal Parade Ground at the National Defence Academy to understand what service to the country is all about!

 

It is not Manmohan Singh’s individual integrity that is being questioned, but his professional functioning as the PM 


The PM’s failure to act on the 2G scam is no realpolitik. Leadership is not saving a coalition governmnet at any cost. 


Unlike soldiers who risk their lives on the battlefield, politicians have far less to lose by taking hard decisions

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

LITTLE KNOWLEDGE GOES A LONG WAY

MUKUL SHARMA 


THE Master was known for his very practical methods of dealing with a problem. So one day, when he was about to lead the students in meditation and the cat that lived on the premises began creating an unwanted distraction, he ordered it to be tied down. Since the Master was also known to be short of temper and usually loathe to repeat an instruction, the students made sure that next day too the cat was already tied before the sessions began. And the day after that, and thenceforth, till it became a habitual practice that was —well — as practical as the Master would have liked. 

 

Many years passed before the original students became potential masters on their own and moved on, but newer novitiates who came in carried on the custom of tying up the cat before the meditation hours — as did newer students who followed them till several batches had come and gone. Soon, however, the cat grew old and infirm and the newest lot of students grew alarmed at the prospects of its impending death. They quickly replaced the animal with another that looked like it and began tying it up before the Master would come. Ultimately, after several decades, the Master also died but the practice of tying down the cat had become so routine by then that it continued without pause or falter. 

 

The first scholarly treatises on the subject only appeared some three centuries later. These were subsequently compiled into a compendium called the Cat Chronicles which traced the history and development of the practice along with its relevance to other holy teachings. Interestingly, at about the same time a rival school of thought also arose whose adherents dispensed with the need to tie any real cat down as an aid to meditation, asserting that the gesture need only be representational. They too had their own Cat Chronicles. 

 

Nevertheless, it is perhaps moot to say that the more enlightened Masters have always regarded the referencing of any such textual knowledge for its religious significance as mere piffle and nonsense — an unwanted distraction on the path to wisdom. Instead, they distil it down to a simple yet profound puzzle — namely, how does a meditative mind untie the cat of contemplation? It is said that only those adepts who can separate the symbolic overtones from what the original Master actually meant when he told his students to tie a cat up before a meditation session can get spiritually awakened.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

WELCOME CUTS IN TARIFF

 

Given that core projects are often held up because of delays in domestic capital equipment supplies, the proposed tariff cuts will prove beneficial.

 

With India agreeing to reduce tariffs on 539 manufactured goods from Singapore, the bilateral agreement signed in 2005 takes definitive shape. The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was meant to strengthen economic ties between the two countries, and Customs tariff reductions acquired a greater urgency when the two agreed last March to double their annual bilateral trade to $32 billion in five years. The reductions now effected by India mark a major milestone towards this goal.

 

The cuts mutually agreed on are indeed impressive. Tariffs on nearly 307 goods will be eliminated by the end of this year in five equal phases: the sectors include chemicals, base metals, machinery and textile goods. Free access for manufactures of this kind and for others at reduced duty levels from Singapore, India's largest trading and investment partner in the Asean bloc, cuts to the heart of India's traditional manufacturing base and there are sure to be protests from representatives of the industries concerned about the unfairness of the competition. But there are two considerations that opponents to this free access must bear in mind: many of the industries that will be affected — textiles, for instance, or chemicals — need a jolt of this kind to modernise and become more technologically proficient. Like their competitors elsewhere, Indian textile and chemical manufacturers, traditionally labour-intensive, need to use high technology far more to reap productivity gains that lead to competitive prices for quality goods and enable them to acquire and retain larger market share. Indian companies benefit otherwise too: Singapore is the preferred offshore logistics and financial hub for Indian firms looking to expand operations to points further east, with nine Indian banks operating in the city-state. The benefits of the CECA will also extend to end-users of the virtually duty-free imports. Indian industry, particularly in new projects, gridlocked as it is in the vice-like grip of high input costs, will find cheaper imports a boon as they crank up operations in 2011. The attractiveness of Chinese power and telecom equipment is a case in point. Bilateral free-trade agreements, however, carry a sort of moral hazard: the US, for instance, also wants the kind of pre-investment guarantees for its investments that India's agreement with Singapore contains, and the Indo-US bilateral treaty is stuck on this point. Such free trade arrangements, therefore, can become as fractious as multilateral negotiations without the benefit of the WTO's mediation.

 

Given the poor record of Indian capital goods and the effect on core projects that are often held up because of delays in capital equipment supplies from domestic players, the proposed reductions will certainly prove beneficial.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

FOOD INFLATION CHALLENGES

G. CHANDRASHEKHAR

 

The real concern is not so much the global market dynamics as the utter lack of focus on, and attention to, supply-side problems.

 

It is least surprising that despite politically expedient noises and predictions made by so-called experts as well as some superficial initiatives by the government, food inflation has stayed stubbornly high.

 

Worse, the risk of continued high inflation during 2011 is very real. It is ironical that the poor and the needy – upwards of 400 million - of this country are forced to pay an usurious indirect tax in the form of high food inflation during the last two years.  Across the world, food prices have spurted for a variety of reasons including demand and supply side factors.

 

While demand-supply mismatch (for whatever reason) does create price volatility, such volatility is exacerbated by rabid financialisation of the food market.

 

Unchecked flow of speculative capital into the derivatives market for major food crops — already in the throes of weather concerns and robust demand growth - exerts a disproportionately larger impact on food prices. In the process, the poor are hurt the most.  

 

On current reckoning, in the world market, food supply growth in 2011 may well trail demand growth and, additionally, be subject to weather aberrations.

 

Price spikes on cards

 

The pressure on supplies will mean a call on stocks; and worsening stock-to-use ratio is a sure recipe for further price spikes.

 

 All major drivers of food prices are intact. Rising incomes and expanding population in emerging markets, especially Asian countries, create voracious appetite for food. In addition, rapid urbanisation and changing food habits, soaring crude prices as also bio-fuel policies of governments propel food prices higher. Land constraints, water shortage as also global warming and climate change are newer challenges.

 

 As in the last five-six years, in 2011 too, developing countries are set to drive growth in food production, consumption and trade. In the short-run, that is next two-three years, the world is likely to witness two-speed growth – weak and hesitant recovery with high level of unemployment in OECD countries as opposed to strong growth in large developing economies. This is sure to have an impact on consumption.

 

Bio-fuel debate

 

 Energy market will have heightened impact on agriculture and food. As energy prices are expected to stay at elevated levels, higher inputs costs as well as higher production and transportation costs will push the agricultural cost structure higher. High energy prices are sure to impact crop supplies, prices and trade flows. It will also reinforce feedstock demand for bio-fuels.

 

 The food versus fuel debate is likely to get shriller. Bio-fuels depend on government mandates and incentives. Production of bio-fuels to meet mandated use will create additional demand for a number of crops including sugarcane, corn, wheat and vegetable oils.     

 

 India cannot remain insulated from the global influences. As global food prices are expected to stay at elevated levels, we have to brace ourselves to face the situation.

 

Of course, our policymakers can surely do something to reduce the adverse impact of global developments on the domestic market; but they seem to be too preoccupied with ‘other' activities that ignore the genuine needs of the poor and hungry.

 

 Real concern

 

In some sense, the real concern is not so much the global market dynamics as the utter lack of focus on, and attention to, domestic supply side problems.

 

New Delhi seems to be hoping against hope that the problem of food inflation will sort itself out or go away over time. Nothing can be more illusory.

 

Also, there seems to be combined inertia within the government that suggests an unholy belief that GDP numbers will overshadow inflation concerns.

 

 As we enter the terminal year of the XI Five Year Plan, annual growth rate of agriculture over the last four years has left much to be desired. The target of 4 per cent growth has slipped away. Agriculture is clearly a laggard in the growth story. Someone within the government should be held answerable for this poor performance.

 

 Worse, there is now the talk that the same 4 percent growth target (that we failed to meet in the XI FYP) should be good enough for the XII FYP.

 

It is at best a joke because there is nothing to suggest that there is going to be a shift in strategy to achieve the targeted 4 per cent growth. For all that, we may have ‘more of the same' in the next Plan. Routine and casual approach to planning must give way to more focused approach.

 

 Political will lacking

 

We lack the ‘political will' to effect genuine transformation in the farm sector. India has all it takes to become a farm power.

 

There is no country in the world that is blessed with over 270 days of sunshine, 900 mm of annual rainfall, extraordinary biodiversity, varied agro-climatic conditions, hundreds of rivers crisscrossing the country, over 7,000 km of coastline and of course manpower.

 

We keep crowing about what we did nearly 40 years ago – the Green Revolution. But the world and our country for sure have come a long way since then. There are newer supply and demand side challenges waiting to be tackled.

 

 Indian agriculture needs growth-oriented policies for the supply-side that would ensure higher production of food crops in a sustainable manner. This calls for a national food security movement that aims to achieve reasonable self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the coming years.

 

Huge investment is required in the farm sector to enhance production and productivity. States have to play a catalytic role in the national effort. If we have to make a success of the ambitious Food Security Act, there is no escape from demonstrating a sense of urgency to tackle supply side problems.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

BIHAR, NOW A GOVERNANCE MODEL

MR NITISH KUMAR'S SUCCESS IN TURNING BIHAR AROUND HAS RESULTED IN THE CLAMOUR THAT BIHAR'S MODEL OF DEVELOPMENT AND ITS ANTI-CORRUPTION MEASURES SHOULD BE REPLICATED ELSEWHERE IN THE COUNTRY.

RASHEEDA BHAGAT

 

Life is all about imponderables and what was unthinkable a few years ago, can become the mantra of the present. This is all the more true of politics. Take Bihar, for example. Five years ago, if anyone with some knowledge of Bihar's ethos, its conundrum of caste politics and abysmal law and order situation, had suggested that the Bihar model of governance would one day be hailed for replication, he or she would have been considered loony. Ditto for somebody daring to compare the Gujarat model of development with that of Bihar, and deeming the latter a better standard.

 

The Nitish mantra

 

But one man has changed all that — the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Over five years, he successfully steered the Janata Dal (United)-BJP government through the stormy waters of coalition politics in a State where Muslims have a 16.5 per cent population, and managed to return to power with a landslide victory.

 

He managed this laudatory feat by stitching together a coalition of extremes, or a rainbow coalition, complete with the upper and backward castes, Dalits and Muslims. And the women of Bihar, who voted for his return with a hitherto unseen gusto.

 

The improved law and order situation in Bihar, coupled with the conviction of about 50,000 people during Nitish Kumar's five-year regime, was responsible for enthusing both women and Muslim voters.

 

Dr Shaibal Gupta, Member-Secretary of the Patna-based ADRI (Asian Development Research Institute) agrees that both women and Muslims played a major role in the return of the JD(U)-BJP combine. Across the board, there was patronage of Muslim voters for the coalition candidate, whether from the JD(U) or the BJP. “Where law and order improves and the State functions in a better way, the best impact is felt by women and the minorities.”

 

He adds that the convicted included the rich and powerful, including some from JD(U). Special schemes for women (50 per cent reservation in local body polls, free cycles for girls who pass Std VIII, etc.), conviction of the Bhagalpur riot criminals and compensation for victims, also helped.

 

Challenges ahead

 

Increased aspirations and expectations, however, pose even more dilemmas to any dispensation, and the JD(U)-BJP government in Bihar is no exception. The Bihar CM displayed the least exuberance at his victory because he knew it came with massive responsibility. Spelling out the challenges before him, Dr Gupta says that till now the development of Bihar has been “caste-neutral, in that roads and bridges were built and services improved. This benefited everybody. But now the Government has to bring in caste-centric governance, which will be a challenge.”

 

The first hurdle will be the long-pending land reforms that will take on the powerful zamindars of Bihar. Another challenge will be to contain corruption and the CM has already spelt this out by punishing some guilty civil servants. Now that massive sums of money are being spent from Plan outlays … “when instead of the earlier Rs 2,000 crore, Rs 20,000 crore is being spent on various development schemes, there will be far greater opportunity to make money through corruption, and this will have to be checked.”

 

Mr Kumar has shown he means business by scrapping the MLA constituency development fund of Rs 1 crore. This money will be spent, and the MLA will have a say, but the execution will be done by the State. Also, his Government has enacted a law under which corrupt bureaucrats will be convicted, and their ill-gotten wealth and property confiscated. The recent conviction and confiscation of the house of a motor vehicles inspector, which will now be converted into a school, has sent the necessary message. Of course it will be much tougher to go after the bigger crooks within the administration.

 

All this has naturally turned the nation's attention to Bihar and there is a “national clamour that the Bihar model of development and its anti-corruption measures should be extended, and the Rs 2 crore-constituency development scheme for MPs should also be scrapped,” says Dr Gupta.

 

That naturally brings us to the possibility of Nitish Kumar emerging as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha polls. Clearly, his secular credentials, tough stance against corruption and clean public image have caught the nation's fancy.

 

Gujarat vs Bihar model

 

The other government which is admired for its development and corruption-free model is that of Mr Narendra Modi's Gujarat. And yet the two models are very different. Dr Gupta defines the essential difference as being that of “majoritarianism in politics overtaking other political considerations in Gujarat versus the secular co-option and inclusive growth model of Bihar.” He thinks the Bihar model has a better chance of being replicated at the national level “because you cannot win at the national level by banishing Muslims from the electoral agenda.”

 

Well, Mr Nitish Kumar has managed to not only to include Muslims in Bihar's electoral agenda, which resulted in his partner, the BJP, getting Muslim votes and improving its tally, he managed a “rainbow coalition” of all classes.

 

That is why he stands a much better chance (than the controversial Mr Modi) of becoming the NDA's prime ministerial candidate in the next elections. Those close to him say that Mr Nitish is ready to take on that role three years down the line, and the successor he has in mind is BJP's Mr Sushil Modi, his present deputy. But the question is if the BJP would be willing to trade away the PM's post for a mere CM's post. It is all about pros and cons; the advantage would be that Mr Nitish at the NDA helm would succeed in bringing back the TDP's Mr Chandrababu Naidu and, with a little luck, even the BJD's Mr Naveen Patnaik.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

A ROADMAP FOR MBA EDUCATION

S. VAIDHYASUBRAMANIAM

 

The World Economic Forum, which measures the Global Competitiveness Index, has included the quality of a nation's B-schools as a variable. The World Bank too, includes this variable in its Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM) as a tool to help nations transit to a knowledge-based economy. The Global Business School Network, which operates as a World Bank arm, encourages B-schools to enhance future leaders' access to high-quality management education.

 

The World Bank estimates that the world's population will reach 8 billion by 2030, from the 6.5 billion in 2005.  Asian and African countries already account for 73.4 per cent of the world's l population and that percentage is expected to grow. In contrast, the United States, Canada, and all of Western Europe currently combine for only 11.2 per cent, and that percentage is expected to decrease.

 

This trend will become informative when combined with age. Shifts in age distribution of the population will significantly impact management education.

 

Asia accounts for over 60 per cent of the world population with almost 3,800 million people. China and India alone comprise 20 per cent and 17 per cent respectively (US Census, 2007). Looking at the demographic trends and assuming that the maximum enrolment to B-schools lie in the age group of 25-29,  it is reasonable to conclude that the market for B-school lies in the African and Asian countries, making the case of Indian management education very special.

 

India is becoming increasingly relevant in the global business space and will need a growing number of managers and leaders. It will have an estimated 400 million population in the 25-35 age group, as the sourcing hub for human resources. The role of management education in grooming future leaders is, hence, critical.

 

It is estimated that India Inc. will need about 2,000 chief executive officers and, based on a conservative ratio of 1:4 of CEOs:Senior Managers, there is a need for 8,000 senior managers. Assuming a senior:middle manager ratio of 1:4 and a similar ratio for middle:junior managers, the gross requirement of fresh MBA recruits by India Inc is 1,28,000.

 

The National Knowledge Commission (2008) also foresees a three-fold increase in the output next 10-15 years. It is expected that from the current level of 1,00,000 graduates, India will require 3,00,000 employable graduates in the next 10-15 years.

 

Key gaps

 

Three important gaps need to be addressed to ensure that MBA education is taking the right direction. The relevance gap can be seen as the difference between the needs of the industry (corporate clients) and what the B-schools deliver.

 

The delivery gap deals with the competencies within the B-school framework to handle the MBA programme which predominantly lies with the faculty and their abilities to understand, conceptualise and deliver the needs of business education using proper pedagogy. The policy gap is an enabler for B-schools to reduce the relevance and delivery gap. The delivery gap due to shortage of faculty and the relevance gap due to rigid academic framework along with the antiquated policy-making are plaguing the growth of MBA education in our country.

 

Countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, Netherlands, Singapore, etc. have well-laid-out policies for MBA education and constantly improve on relevance and delivery. The Harvard Business School (HBS) case-study team, while celebrating its 100 {+t} {+h} anniversary in September 2008, conducted a cross-B-school workshop with unprecedented cooperation from various leading B-schools, critically examining the future of the degree it invented. In HBS's own words, “the stage after 2005 is the making of management a new profession.”

 

Self introspection

 

Similarly, Indian management education needs to undertake a massive self-introspection. The management education policy maker (AICTE) is still grappling with various policy level issues when many countries with clear policies are moving ahead.

 

In India, after 60 years of management education, over 10 review committees, numerous workshops, etc. we are still struggling with policy level issues of approval, admission, fees, one-year MBAs, new IIMs, etc. pushing back crucial issues of relevance and delivery. The need to reinvent Indian MBA education cannot be put off any longer.

 

(The author is Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University, Thanjavur)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CLEANSING PUBLIC LIFE OF CORRUPTION

T. R. ANANDAN

 

Never before has the country witnessed corruption and related malfeasance in public life in such magnitude as in recent months. The pervasive affliction is not restricted to any particular segment. It extends to the service set-up too; and the scale is frightening. The affliction is growing in enormity in the political sphere also.

 

Causative factors

 

Among the several reasons for corruption flourishing, the chief one is a steep fall in values such as honesty and integrity among the people, and any meaningful initiative to root out the menace should be to realise this crucial fact and initiate corrective steps.

 

The growth of corruption is aggravated by the prevailing administrative system, wherein laborious rules and procedures are stipulated for sanctions, purchases, supervision of execution of works, and so on. There is a willing or unwilling participation of the public to circumvent obstacles created by the above factors.

 

Drive to strengthen values

 

The most important point is to insulate the future generation from the contagion. It follows that moulding the character of students and instilling in them values of honesty, integrity, fearless adherence to principles, and above all, a feeling that the service rendered in one's duty is the service to the nation, are necessary. Steps to tackle corruption: An intensive and extensive campaign against the evil; a proactive detection programme; ruthless enforcement of anti-corruption laws; and entrusting investigations with only persons of proven integrity, efficiency and commitment.

 

Preventive steps

 

The campaign should cover educative programmes such as workshops, seminars, publicity through print and visual media.

 

Preventing incidences of corruption is of vital importance, but normally it receives much less attention. The vigilance set-ups in Government departments normally come into the picture only after a case of corruption is detected, and proceeds with routine investigation and prosecution where necessary.

 

Preventive measures could be: Giving the widest publicity regarding vigilance set-ups and telephone numbers of the incumbent officers; interacting with the public informally to secure information (assuring confidentiality); laying traps where suspicious activities are noticed; scrutiny of files and records pertaining to processing of cases for sanctions or any statutory requirements to detect instances of deliberate delays, improper and/or unauthorised relaxation of rules, and so on; abundant care in the preparation of specifications for works to be awarded, procedures, target, time allowed, etc., to avoid loopholes which could later be taken advantage of in execution of works, supply of stores or finalising projects; surveillance of suspicious characters; detection of growth of disproportionate wealth; planting informers at locations where bribe-taking is likely and protection of whistle-blowers.

 

At the stage of collection of evidence, an important impediment is the unwillingness of the bribe-giver to give evidence , since even offering a bribe is a culpable offence. In appropriate cases, therefore, the bribe-giver should be exempted from being proceeded against in order to ensure his cooperation. Institutions such as the Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta have a vital role in checking the menace.

 

A statutory requirement that all elected representatives, from the Panchayat to Parliament, should furnish to a stipulated statutory authority a sworn statement of their assets and liabilities and that of near relatives, before being permitted to take oath of office should be put in place.

 

Acquisition of assets, movable and immovable above a pre-fixed value should be after getting due approval from an appropriate statutory authority and information on the source of funds for such acquisition should also be made compulsory.

 

(The author is a former vigilance officer, Southern Telecom Region, Chennai.)

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DMK, CONGRESS, AN UNEASY ALLIANCE

 

The STRAINED bonhomie displayed by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Dr M. Karunanidhi, at their meeting in the Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Monday has not fooled anyone, least of all the duo themselves. Like an unhappy couple that stays together for the sake of kids, it is evident that the Congress and the DMK are enduring each other only for the sake of power. To stretch the metaphor further, the symbolic gestures and words of the DMK and Congress leaders also make it amply clear that their relationship is not in the pink of health. Though the 30-minute session between the two leaders was meant to end the speculation that the alliance had fractured, Dr Karunanidhi not too subtly snubbed the Prime Minister before that by opting to attend the release of a poetry collection penned by close friend Vairamuthu instead of receiving Dr Singh at the airport. Not only that, the Chief Minister also regaled the audience narrating a story of how a Tamil king stood fanning a scholar who dozed off while waiting for him. Enjoying the applause, the Chief Minister hinted that he preferred to be with Vairamuthu rather than go and meet the Prime Minister. After his meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Karunanidhi’s office put out a statement saying that the Chief Minister could not meet Dr Singh the previous night because he had eye trouble and needed to see his ophthalmologist. But keen political observers would term it mere eyewash. By keeping his date with a poet, the astute politician was surely indicating the depth of his unhappiness with the Congress. He is not at all amused by the raids on his blue eyed boy and former telecom minister, Mr A. Raja, and feels that the Congress leadership is trying to arm twist him to get more seats for the coming Assembly polls. Further, the DMK supremo was also offended by the Prime Minister cancelling his visit to the Adyar Eco Park citing the lack of environmental clearances as a reason. He smelt politics behind the move and suspected that Dr Singh did not want to share a dais with him because of the spectrum scam. And the DMK also believes that the Congress high command was silently authorising the frequent outbursts of the party leader, Mr E.V.K.S. Elangovan, against the DMK government. And to add to the veteran’s discomfiture, the AICC general secretary, Mr Rahul Gandhi, has been touring Tamil Nadu to invigorate the Youth Congress and to bring back ‘Kamaraj rule’ ignoring Mr Karunanidhi and letting fly barbs at his party. All this has convinced the DMK that many Congress leaders including Mr Rahul Gandhi strongly desires snapping the alliance. Besides, the Congress is also aware that the electorate in Tamil Nadu has never voted for an incumbent Chief Minister, the lone exception being MGR. But neither is the Congress in good shape. In fact, it is in a sorry state. Squabbling leaders and a cadre which is ill-motivated and pessimistic does not allow the Congress to take advantage of the situation.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE JPC HEADACHE

BY ASHOK MALIK

 

In theory, the first week of January is a time of renewal. Politics is seldom so neat and precise. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call to “dispel the air of despondency and cynicism”, the fact is the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is increasingly unsure of itself. It could spend the coming days much as it has the preceding ones — grappling with the idea of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the telecom scandal. In many senses, this may determine the UPA’s robustness or even viability on December 31, 2011.

 

Why has the demand for a JPC acquired a life of its own? By shying away from it, by refusing to agree to it, the Congress and the government have, paradoxically, added to their problems. They have fuelled suspicions and conspiracy theories about why the government wants to avoid a JPC.

 

In good times, these conspiracy theories wouldn’t matter. However, when a government is on the mat, seemingly unable or unwilling to check swindle after swindle — Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing Society, the list goes on — its credibility suffers. This has happened to the Congress. Even its failure in addressing supply-side issues in food production — a factor that has contributed to high inflation — is being attributed not to political diffidence about agriculture reforms but to UPA ministers and their cronies making money in export and import of agro-products.

 

In this situation, the JPC is quickly becoming a touchstone for the UPA’s honesty of intention. Perhaps this is unfair. There is good reason for the Congress to oppose a JPC. It realises such a committee will become non-stop political theatre. Its members are likely to summon officials and ministers at will and whim. Leaks to the media will be rampant. A negative report — or, if that is preempted by the Congress’ political management, a dissenting minority report — could be released at a politically inopportune time, such as the eve of a big election.

 

For the Congress, the JPC would probably turn out to be a longer-term headache. Presence of Congress’ members of Parliament (MP) in the committee would be limited. On their part, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Left members would strive to embarrass the government. MPs from UPA allies would negotiate their way through the tenure of the JPC, adding to the Congress’ vulnerability. Above all, the evidence of wrongdoing against A. Raja, the disgraced former telecom minister, is so strong that the final JPC report will not be able to whitewash it even if it tried.

 

It is for such reasons that no government welcomes a JPC, particularly not in the coalition era. Unlike the past, a JPC is not easy to manipulate or pack with members of the ruling party.

 

Four JPCs have been set up in Indian parliamentary history: on two occasions by Congress governments (1984-1989 and 1991-96) and two occasions by the BJP-led NDA government (1999-2004). It is instructive that in all the cases, the governments went on to lose the subsequent election. Admittedly, only one of the four JPCs was of direct relevance to a voting issue. That was the JPC of 1987 that inquired into the Bofors affair, and set the stage for the 1989 election. In 1992, the second JPC was set up to assess the Harshad Mehta-stock market fraud. This became one of a series of scandals that haunted the Congress as it sought re-election in 1996.

 

Given this backdrop, the Congress is obviously not enthusiastic about a JPC. Nevertheless, there is a perception that it is losing the war of nerves. In the final days of December, Dr Singh offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but did not agree to a JPC. The mandate of the JPC is wider. It can be given the authority to summon ministers, while the PAC has to seek the Lok Sabha Speaker’s permission to question a minister. A JPC can call in, say, serving and former law and finance ministers and ask them why they opposed the telecom minister’s policy, who they complained to, and what further action was taken or not taken. For the UPA, it can all get very messy.

 

However, by offering to place himself before the PAC — an unorthodox proposal many within the Congress, prominently finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, are sceptical about — Dr Singh has made a defensive move. The Opposition senses if it continues to play hardball, the government could just concede a JPC as well. It may be the only acceptable formula to rescue the Budget Session of Parliament, beginning in February.

 

What could happen next? In April-May 2010, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu vote for new legislative Assemblies. The Congress is an also-ran in both states. In Tamil Nadu, it will be forced to go along with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) — its partner for a decade — and sink or swim with it. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is not just looking to win but to reduce the Congress to a very, very junior ally.

 

By this time, the new chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithivraj Chavan, would have ended his honeymoon period — if Indian chief ministers have honeymoon periods in the first place. His attempts at salvaging the state administration would almost inevitably require him to take on his ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). That there is no love lost between Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, and Mr Chavan is no secret.

 

This means if a JPC is established the Budget Session of Parliament should function smoothly; yet, by the late summer, the Congress could be busy reading ransom notes, doing backroom deals and resorting to endless fire-fighting. Both the Trinamul Congress and the NCP will demand right of way in their respective states in exchange for “enlightened cooperation” at the JPC. As for the DMK, it will want the Congress to rescue it or threaten to implicate other parties as well. If it loses the Tamil Nadu election, the DMK will be that much more desperate.

 

As such, within weeks of its appointment, a JPC could leave the UPA government crippled. No wonder, at the dawn of 2011, the Congress’ mood is anything but sunny.

 

* Ashok Malik can becontacted at malikashok@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IT’S JOBS, NOT GDP, THAT CONCERN AMERICA

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

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 policymakers will look at a few favourable 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 4,00,000 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 four per cent this year now looks possible.

 

Hooray! But then again, not so much. Jobs, not Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 per cent, 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 per cent 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: GDP was growing, but not fast enough to bring unemployment down.

 

Growth at a rate above 2.5 per cent 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 maths. Suppose that the US economy were to grow at four per cent 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 maths says that even with that kind of growth the unemployment rate would be close to nine per cent at the end of this year, and still above eight per cent 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 Grand Old Party (GOP) will try to force US President Barack 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 policymakers understand that point.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

STRUGGLING FOR A PLACE IN THE SUN

BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

The one image from last year that sticks in the mind as 2011 rolls in is a scene from Mankaki, a tiny village in Haryana’s Mewat region. A bunch of chattering school girls getting down from a van — an everyday vignette for most of us. But here, in this village of mud houses and water buffaloes in one of the most educationally backward regions in the country, the van has a special significance. It offers many young girls in the village a passport to a life their mothers and grandmothers could never dream of.

 

Fourteen-year-old Sabiha, one of nine children, is getting back to school after two years. Lack of transport and unavailability of a high school near her home had put a break to her studies. “Now, we don’t have to worry. The van drops us to our doorstep and I can go to school. I want to study more.” She wants to be a teacher. Sabiha’s mother is illiterate and hugely excited about the turn of events in her daughter’s life.

 

Teenagers like Sabiha are among the first generation of literate females in this region. I turn again and again to that image of a desperately poor family in the cusp of change when there is so little around that offers hope.

 

Mewat’s Hathin block, less than a three hour drive from Delhi, is a world apart. You hardly see shops or signs of any commercial activity once you swerve off the main road. There are no cars, scooters or motorcycles. No electricity either for most of the day. The mobile phones one sees are the new cheap ones with long battery life. None of this would raise an eyebrow in a poor state like Orissa.

 

But one reminds oneself that this is affluent Haryana, and we are barely 40 km from the malls of Gurgaon. Most of Mewat’s population consists of the Meos, a community that embraced Islam during the Tughlak dynasty in the 14th century. For a whole range of social and political reasons, Meos have trailed woefully behind in development even as the rest of the state has thrived.

 

Muslim women in Mewat have the worst literacy rate in the country — just about three in every 100 can read and write, according to a report by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The literacy rate among the Muslim men in this area ranges between 27 and 33 per cent — still below the national average.

 

It is a tough terrain for activists, But Glenn Fawcett and Suraj Kumar who work for the White Lotus Charitable Trust, a local non-governmental organisation which has been active in Mewat since 2007, says that there are stirrings of change.

 

“The Blossom Bus Project” initiated by White Lotus in July 2010 has helped nearly 50 girls from four villages in Hathin block to reach the nearest high school. This may seem like a drop in the ocean but a demonstration effect is already visible. Young girls who otherwise would have dropped out of school or been married off too early are changing the narrative of their lives even as the larger battle goes on. Watching them, other families are clamouring for more vans to take more girls to schools.

 

The power of the image of school girls talking animatedly about their future in a place where elders are mired in poverty, illiteracy and inertia is awesome. But travelling around Mewat, the challenges and the contradictions that still remain become clear. In Huchipuri, an adjoining village, Ahmed Ali, a local maulvi talks about Mewat’s struggle for its place in the sun.

 

“We have been neglected for too long. There are too few schools, too few teachers and power cuts for long stretches. The Blossom Bus is helping many girls continue with their studies. But we are a traditional society and we would like separate secondary schools for girls, with female teachers.”

 

The Blossom Bus Project that came out of the need to bridge the gap between parents’ legitimate concerns for their daughters’ safety and the girls’ right to education has created a huge buzz among the villagers. Happily, White Lotus has plans to scale up the initiative. But while a bus can take a girl to a school, it cannot fix what goes on inside the classroom. There are many more things that need to be done.

 

The Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) passed in 2010, makes education a fundamental right for children in India. It is now a legal right for every child between the ages of six and 14 years to demand free education. But without public scrutiny and public pressure, little will materialise.

 

The grim situation on the ground is reflected in many official and unofficial reports. In 2009, a survey conducted by White Lotus in 85 government schools in Hathin block revealed shocking infrastructural lapses. Its findings were shared with the Haryana government and the NCPCR.

 

A NCPCR team conducted a public hearing in Rupraka village in Hathin Block in collaboration with White Lotus and the Village Education Committee in March 2009 after visiting four schools in two other villages. The visit led to a report which reflected the anguish of the NCPCR. Examples: In one of the villages the NCPCR team had visited, the school had toilets but they were locked and needed repair. The boundary wall was broken. The suspended headmaster had been reinstated but the construction work remained incomplete. Despite three years of construction, the main building was still half-done, and so on.

 

Interestingly, in many instances, village sarpanches had turned combative and were demanding better facilities in government schools.

 

Their wishlist would resonate across the country: appointment of new teachers, timely supply of text books, upgrading village schools to high schools, middle schools for girls, better monitoring…

 

All this has had some effect. In Bhoodpur, another village I visited, a primary school teacher pointed out that his school had only two rooms three years ago. There was no boundary wall, no water and no toilet. But now, there is drinking water and the children were happy that they did not have to go home each time they were thirsty.

 

If this be the story of government schools in an affluent state, imagine what is happening elsewhere in the country. Half the country’s population is below 25. An India which aspires for a seat in the United Nations Security Council could perhaps kickstart the new year by showing that it is serious about enabling every child to get a seat in a school that works.

 

* Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SEEK MERCY, FORGIVENESS

BY SADIA DEHLVI

 

The New Year is often a time for quiet personal introspection. It’s a good occasion to review our relationship with God. One way of knowing where we stand with God is to reflect on where God stands with us. Do we take time out to remember him? How do we behave with His creatures?

 

Prophet Mohammad said the bankrupt ones are those who despite good deeds of ibadah, worship, abuse one another, treat neighbours badly and lack good character. On the Judgment Day, one’s performance of civic duties and family obligations shall be taken into account. God promises to be compassionate and forgiving to those who are compassionate to His creatures.

 

The foremost names of Allah are Ar-Rahman and Al Rahim; The most merciful and most compassionate. In the Quran Ar-Rahman is mentioned about 57 times and Al Raheem around 115 times. In one of the prayers that the Prophet taught, he said, “O Allah, You are most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me’’. We need Allah to invoke God’s love, mercy and forgiveness all the time.

 

According to a well-known prophetic narration, God Almighty has said: “O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as its”.

 

Just as it is important to believe in God’s mercy, it is necessary to base human relations on forgiveness. We cannot expect Allah’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies remains at the core of Islamic teaching.

 

In the Quran, Allah describes the Believers as, “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive”. Later in the same chapter Allah says, “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah”.

 

Prophet Mohammad was the most forgiving of people, ever ready to forgive his enemies. Once when he went to Ta’if (a city in the Mecca Province of Saudi Arabia) to convey the message of Allah, its people abused him and drove him away with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. While the Messenger took shelter under a tree, Archangel Gabriel informed him that Allah wished to destroy the people of Ta’if because of the way they treated His beloved Prophet.

 

The Prophet prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta’if, because what they did was out of sheer ignorance. He said, “O Allah, guide these people, for they do not know what they do”.

 

When the victorious Mohammad entered the city of Mecca, he encountered his staunchest enemies. These people who had inflicted so much suffering on him and his followers expressed the wish to be treated nobly.

 

The Muslim army readied for revenge, but the Prophet did not allow it saying, “Today, I shall say to you what Prophet Joseph said to his brothers, ‘You may leave. No reproach this day shall be on you. May God forgive you, He is the Most Compassionate’”. He even forgave Hind; the woman who commissioned the murder of his beloved uncle Hamza, mercilessly mutilating the dead body.

 

Islamic scriptures provide certain conditions for seeking forgiveness from God. Recognising the office, making a commitment not to repeat the offence, and seeking sincere forgiveness from God. However, if the offence has been committed against another human being or society, another condition is added. The offender must recognise the offence with those against whom the offence was committed, and seek forgiveness from them and God.

 

Prophet Moses had once asked, “O my Lord! Who is the most honourable of Thy servants to Thee”? God said: “He who pardons when he is in a position of power”. Constantly invoking God’s mercy leads to God consciousness and keeps one on the righteous path.

 

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at sadiafeedback@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

UPA’S TWIN PROBLEMS

BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

The biggest problems of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, less than two years into its second term, can be summarised in two words: corruption and inflation. How the government handles these two issues during 2011 will to a great extent determine its fate over the next three years.

 

The incumbent regime is lucky that the political opposition on the Right and the Left are in disarray. This is why those in power can get away threatening to conduct a mid-term poll which nobody wants. But those in the Manmohan Singh government would be fooling no one but themselves if they believe they can continue to push their luck by dealing with the issues of corruption and inflation in a desultory manner as has been done so far.

 

For a government headed by an internationally-renowned economist whose words of wisdom are listened to with rapt attention in G-20 meetings where the post-recession woes of the world are discussed and debated, his failure to control inflation at home is truly paradoxical. What is worse is that the current phase of inflation in India is driven almost entirely by high food prices that directly kick hard on the bellies of the economically disadvantaged. Why just the poor, food inflation is today pinching the pockets of the middle classes whose real incomes are getting sharply eroded by rising prices of edible products, depriving them of participating in the famous Indian growth story that has attracted investors from across the globe.

 

Even foreign institutional investors who have poured in record amounts into the country’s stock markets realise the constraints and limitations of economic growth that is still far from inclusive, job-creating and spread unevenly across geographical regions and sectors. Notably, the agriculture sector remains sluggish.

 

Those who breathlessly track the movement of the sensitive index of the stock exchange at Mumbai would have noted that the sensex is yet to cross the peak of 21,000 that it had touched almost exactly three years ago in January 2008. One is not suggesting here that share values accurately reflect the state of the economy — far from it. Yet, the country’s capital markets are finding it tough to recover lost ground despite the fact that India was spared the worst ravages of the international economic crisis.

 

Corporate captains are not exactly overjoyed at the hardening of interest rates. But they realise that the Reserve Bank of India has little choice in the matter. As finance minister Pranab Mukherjee starts preparing the proposals for the Union budget of 2011-12 that is due to be presented at the end of February, the big headache nagging him is inflation that refuses to subside.

 

He has acknowledged that the government’s calculations have gone completely awry. It is also now not that easy to convince the proverbial aam aadmi about how the government is trying to control inflation. Even if the rate of increase of the wholesale price index and the consumer price indices decelerates in the coming weeks — as it undoubtedly will — it does not mean food prices will come down.

 

The inability of different wings of the government — for instance, the ministries of agriculture, consumer affairs, commerce and finance — to coordinate their activities and put in place early-warning systems that can anticipate price spikes, has become rather apparent.

 

The government acts in a knee-jerk manner, desperately trying to douse inflationary fires after they have begun raging. The way in which imports and exports of sugar were mismanaged in 2009 clearly held no lessons for the ministries headed by Sharad Pawar.

 

The same story has been repeated in the case of onions and it is difficult to believe that there are no bright bureaucrats left in Krishi Bhavan who could not have foreseen that onion prices would shoot up from Rs 4 a kilogramme to over Rs 40 a kg in barely six months.

 

In 2009, the country’s electorate voted for stability and gave the second UPA government a more comfortable mandate. The Prime Minister was perceived as a person whose policies protected the country’s economy from the global financial meltdown. The same voters may not be so charitable a second time round. Those in government can scarcely become complacent about the fact that the next general elections are scheduled for the middle of 2014. They are currently preoccupied with dispelling the perception that this government is corrupt to the core, that Dr Singh was not atrophied into a state of inertia as his former Cabinet colleague, the then minister for communications and information technology Andimuthu Raja was ripping the exchequer off unbelievably large sums of money.

 

The spectrum scam will not disappear in a hurry even if the government concedes the Opposition demand to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which it currently appears most reluctant to do.

 

Like the Bofors scandal haunted the Rajiv Gandhi government and paralysed its functioning between 1987 and 1989 although nothing was conclusively proved in a court of law, the current government acted too late in containing the fallout of the scandal relating to the under-valuation of misallocation of scarce and valuable electro-magnetic spectrum used by mobile telecom companies.

 

The corruption in the way the Commonwealth Games were conducted and the Adarsh Housing Society scandal are part of the same pattern. What was going on was known to many in government but they chose to turn a blind eye — until the scandals became too big to ignore. More scandals are likely to be resurrected: the non-basmati rice export scandal is one for which the then commerce minister Kamal Nath is yet to provide a credible explanation.

 

The government is desperately hoping it will be able to ride the storm over the next six months or thereabouts.

 

The first challenge will be to ensure that the budget session of Parliament is conducted relatively smoothly. Once the outcome of the state legislative Assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam are known in May, the Congress and the UPA hope to get a new lease of life (as the Left is certain to perform poorly in its two bastions in the south and the east).

 

Till then, the government hopes to plod along, confident in its belief that a weak opposition is its greatest strength.

 

* Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MEN OF LETTERS

INDIA POST AND THE YEAR-END FIASCO


WHETHER or not there exists an agreeable synonymn for that crass expression, harmad, the year-end fiasco over a letter has reaffirmed the appalling ineptitude of the supposedly technology-driven Department of Posts, fashionably styled as India Post. If a speed post cover takes six days (21 to 27 December) to travel from North Block to Writers’ Buildings, there may be a point in the tongue-in-cheek barb that a pigeon might have performed better. There is substance too in the charge that the performance level of government employees is in inverse proportion to the pay hike that has doubtless fuelled inflation. It is doubtful too whether action would have been taken against the seven Citu-affiliated employees unless the Ministry of Home Affairs had sought an explanation from the Department of Posts. If the official time-frame is 72 hours for the delivery of speed post mail, there can be little or no difference from ordinary post. A private courier would take less than 24 hours to complete the task. By hammering a time-line, the postal authorities have made a specious attempt to defend the inexcusable. One would imagine that the West Bengal circle’s speed post segment, by its very nature, operates  24 x 7; the service, after all, is available at a premium. The facts are barely stated. The Union home minister’s letter reached Kolkata GPO on 24 December, three days after it was despatched. The bag wasn’t opened, and thereby hangs a tale! And this is the fundamental question that must be asked and answered. The compulsion of a two-day break over Christmas (25 and 26 December) would have been hilarious were it not for the damaging implications for Centre-State relations. Kolkata’s Yogayog Bhavan might as well have reminded MHA and the state government that the fiasco coincided with the season of almost compulsive casual leave. On 27 December, the letter was delivered from GPO to Writers’, a distance that takes barely five minutes to walk.
It might be worth the while to monitor whether shifts tasked with receipt, sorting and despatch run on full or near-full strength. Any senior official will readily concede that they don’t, an indirect admission of contrived absenteeism. At the end of the day, it was the public that was made to suffer with the GPO’s treasury and savings bank operations shut down in protest against the chargesheet. India Post has stumbled from North Block in Lutyen’s Delhi to Writers’ Buildings in the Left’s Kolkata. This must be the latest headache for Mr Kapil Sibal, the new Telecom minister. The MHA is fuming and the Left is enjoying a quiet chuckle over the functioning of a central outfit. As with the Railways, Lord Dalhousie must be turning in his grave. In the net, the party’s armed cadres are still more firmly entrenched in Junglemahal.

 

SPEAKER’S MOVES

WELL MEANT, YET SELF-DEMEANING

UNLESS the media is clueless of “developments” during the Speaker’s meetings with party leaders last week, there is little reason to share her optimism that a way would be found to avert the impasse that had scuttled the Winter session and threatens to continue into the budget session. For while the legislature had suffered, the core of the JPC-into-corruption controversy was not of parliamentary origin: it was a larger political issue played out on the “floor”. Hence the solution will have to be found elsewhere. Even if the Speaker did suggest an exit route from what is now a prestige stand-off, the fact that there was no immediate acceptance of it is worrying ~ it is tantamount to snubbing the institution of the Chair. All the lip-service political leaders pay to honouring the parliamentary system is reduced to the ridiculous by the tamasha in the chamber: now the virtual rejection of the plea to restore normality indicates they have scant regard for her office. It is, therefore, relevant to question the prudence of the Speaker’s initiative ~ there can be no doubting her motivation ~ when there was no immediate urgency, the Budget session is five-six weeks away. Who knows what twists the 2G Spectrum tale will take by then? Maybe the Opposition will accept that the law of negative returns is setting in on its disruption-policy. It (along with other institutions, no doubt) has put corruption high on the national agenda, and could switch to claiming success for triggering whatever “action” has been initiated. Had those meetings been called closer to the Budget session they might have paid slightly better dividends. The Chair, as of now, appears enfeebled, its prestige eroded.


Even as the presiding officers of both Houses hope for the best they must prepare for the worst. They must send out firm signals that they will not permit any repetition of the winter session’s daily display of disgrace. One option could be the little-favoured use of marshals to remove rowdy members, another could be that the first sign of revived trouble would cause them to adjourn sine die ~ till the deadlock was broken. That might pressure both sides. The government would have to relent somewhat to ensure mandated financial business was transacted, and the Opposition would find itself denied a highly public platform from which to campaign. A “shut down” legislature is preferable to a stage for everything once-damned as unparliamentary.

 

ALL SYSTEMS GO

BUT WILL BARUA ATTEND TALKS?

ANXIOUS moments await Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the next few weeks. The Assembly elections are due in April and his administration is keen on starting formal talks with the Ulfa. How soon this will happen depends not on chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who was released on bail on 1 January, and his other colleagues who are already out of jail, but on self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua whose whereabouts are still unknown. Not that Barua is averse to negotiations, he just wants the core issue of sovereignty included in the agenda for talks. Even Rajkhowa said time and again that the “Assam-India conflict” could not be solved within the constitutional framework and Delhi needed to change its outlook. But of late he has mellowed and is reportedly ready for talks without any preconditions. The Centre has made it abundantly clear that a settlement, if any, has to be within the ambit of the Constitution. Only if Barua changes tack can the negotiations start, but that is unlikely to happen soon because the Centre cannot possibly talk to an organisation it has proscribed. Besides, two other important Ulfa leaders, foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury and finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, are still behind bars. Rajkhowa also wants general secretary Anup Chetia to attend but he is in Dhaka’s “safe custody” after having served a  seven-year jail term for entering Bangladesh illegally in 1997. He is likely to be handed over in April. Much depends on whether Rajkhowa can influence Barua to return home.
Gogoi has made a good suggestion that Rajkhowa should try his hand in politics. The tumultuous welcome Rajkhowa received on the way to his ancestral home after his release suggests there will be no dearth of support for his outfit. If Mizo rebels-turned-politicians like Laldenga and his deputy Zoramthanga could lead their state, why not Ulfa? If it captures power it will be in a better position to serve the people and fufil their aspirations, now that the Ulfa dream of a sovereign Asom has more or less faded.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

MILORD’S DICTUM~I

A HIGHLY INFLAMMABLE PROPOSITION

BY ASHOK KAPUR

 

THE most brutal civil war in the history of mankind was arguably the American Civil War. It occurred in the mid-19th century, was fought over the issue of slavery, raged for around four years and claimed  a million lives. No civil conflict since then has been so ferocious, or futile.


The proximate cause of the war was a judgment delivered by the US Supreme Court, declaring that slavery was legal. The Chief Justice himself presided over the Bench that delivered a verdict on an intensely political issue. It is an irony of history that the President of America at the time was none other than Abraham Lincoln. He was aghast at the conduct of the court. Although the nation was at war with itself and   civil society was torn asunder, history does not record if the apex court was affected in any way. The judges retired in comfortable old age.


History is replete with tragic ironies. This is one reason that makes the discipline a grand instructor of momentous lessons. Little wonder that it remorselessly condemns those who ignore its lessons. Abraham Lincoln was devastated but helpless. He was all too aware that the Supreme Court as also the judiciary as an institution was accountable to no one. He was the same jurist who described the Constitution as a document to be revered and judicial independence as the very lifeblood of democracy.


Lincoln, left with no option, took the reluctant plunge into war. The court's verdict could neither be reviewed nor for that matter be carried out. After the widespread bloodshed, the nation drew appropriate lessons from the court’s transgression into the executive domain. Above all, a cathartic Supreme Court itself adopted the doctrine of separation of powers as an inviolable constitutional doctrine and carved out the respective spheres of the three coordinate wings of the state ~ the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.


It is to the credit of the Supreme Court of the USA that for more than a century and a half since the end of the civil war, it has scrupulously adhered to the doctrine of separation of powers. It has refrained from venturing into the exclusive spheres reserved for the executive and the legislature. This is the main reason why there has never been any major stand-off between the executive and the judiciary in America.


In India, a similar arrangement underlines the Constitution. The founding fathers demarcated the respective spheres of the three coordinate wings of the State. They were doubtless influenced by the American experience and the latent dangers in overlapping authority. Although the separation of powers was all along implicit in the Constitution, our Supreme Court made it explicit in the celebrated judgment of Kesvanand  Bharati in 1973.


The position as it obtains today is that the Supreme Court has declared the doctrine as a part of the basic feature of the Constitution. In other words, it is immutable and cannot be altered or bypassed even by Parliament. Simultaneously, the Supreme Court imposed a measure of self-restraint on itself. It was an act of judicial statesmanship of the highest order. A series of judgments of the apex court since 1973 have reinforced the doctrine (along with other basic features) into an ironclad law.


It is against this background that one must view a recent directive by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court to the government, specifically to constitute a pay commission exclusively for the armed forces of the Union. The court had earlier entertained a PIL from a handful of retired and disgruntled soldiers who have by now attained the status of professional agitators ~ a shouting brigade.    

Several critical issues arise in the wake of the dictum. These need to be addressed first as the ramifications of the move could imperil the very functioning of democracy. At the very outset, it must be clarified with utmost respect that the move by the court, the most respected institution in an age of crumbling institutions, is motivated by the best of intentions. There can be no doubt about it.


The first question to be addressed is one of jurisdiction. After the explicit ruling in the Kesavanand Bharati case, the principle of  separation of powers is fully enshrined in the Constitution. Questions of policy, political matters and administrative issues are within the exclusive domain of the executive. The Supreme Court has, by and large, left it to the executive to deal with such issues for almost half a century.


An irony is not to be missed here. This admirable self-restraint has been imposed by the court on itself. According to the Constitution, the President is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The President exercises these powers through his officers, on the advice of the elected cabinet. In other words, the armed forces are fully under the control of the executive and accountable to it. Indeed, a similar dispensation obtains in all established democracies.


The next question is one of justification, or otherwise of the demands raised, including the “one rank one pension” chant. All these demands have been persistently raised before successive Central Pay Commissions ~ including the last ~ duly considered and found to be devoid of merit. Incidentally, the last panel was headed by a distinguished judge of the Supreme Court.


Its award has just been implemented. As in the past, it has awarded the most liberal package to the armed forces. The case of the all-India as also other class I Central services has gone by default. A formula was worked out and the existing pay-scales revised mechanically for all groups, from class I to class IV. Little thought was spared for more onerous conditions of service of senior civilians.


A mechanical refixing formula works to the detriment of the senior civilians as they have the toughest conditions of service compared to other groups. Their tenure is not fixed, they serve away from home, are transferred from place to place and have to shoulder maximum responsibility. They qualify through arguably the most difficult open competition in the world. They have to be decision-makers from the day they join the government.


The Government of India, the largest employer in the world is a composite whole. It is a deeply complex web of  hierarchies regulating inter and intra-service relationships and in-house accountability mechanisms. It is organized into directorates and supervisory departments headed by elected ministers. The directorates are manned by specialized services and the ministries by personnel with higher qualifications.

 

(To be concluded)The writer is a retired IAS officer

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

 

THE INSIDE STORY ~ 2

 

After the Prime Minister stated that he was prepared to be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) his party colleagues were ecstatic. For days they described the PM's offer as a “master stroke” that completely demolished the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The Opposition was furious and it pointed out the limited brief of the PAC. It iterated its demand for a JPC. Opposition leaders cited rules that precluded the PAC from summoning any minister. The government enjoyed the Opposition's discomfiture.
Oops! Suddenly something changed on Sunday. The second most senior minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee turned turtle and mildly chided the PM for announcing his decision without consulting his colleagues. Had he been consulted, he said, he would have strongly advised the PM not to appear before the PAC. Mr Mukherjee pointed out the Constitutional position, much as the Opposition to no avail had done earlier. He would not have expressed this view of course without clearance from Mrs Sonia Gandhi. It seems suddenly the Congress leadership has developed second thoughts. The implications of the PM's move are beginning to sink in. One can only wonder what could have impelled the Congress to view the PM's offer in a new light. The Advani group in the BJP would naturally be delighted with the new stance adopted by the Congress. 


So what happens next? Mr Mukherjee provides the clue. Urging the Opposition to debate the demand for a JPC he said: “In the Lok Sabha, if a majority of the members say they want the JPC, then I will agree to that.” The JPC has become preferable to an unpredictable PAC. Mr Sharad Pawar had already hinted his support for a JPC. Miss Mamata Bannerjee who faces Assembly polls against the Left sorely wants a JPC to fight the major poll issue of corruption. It is a given that the majority will vote for a JPC in Parliament. What seems to have happened is that the Congress has decided to accept a JPC to allow the Budget session to proceed, and to defuse the persistent public criticism against corruption. Pre-empting Dr MM Joshi suits the Advani loyalists in the BJP. Gaining time suits Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the bunch of Congress ministers under the corruption scanner. It also suits Mr Karunanidhi who on Sunday snubbed the PM by breaking an appointment in Chennai.  
But will it suit PAC chairman Dr Joshi who might have entertained hopes of scoring a political goal? The Budget session of Parliament begins on 18 February. The PAC has until then to show results. Can it? Meanwhile the status quo on the corruption issue continues to diminish the PM's stature and reputation. So what could suit the PM is some spectacular game changing event that silences his opponents and restores his own reputation. What could that be? A dramatic clinching exposure or a major political arrest would certainly change the game. Can such an event occur before 18 February? Your guess is as good as mine. Wait and watch. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

NOW & AGAIN

AC TULI

As you travel by a long-distance railway train, you pass by small, wayside towns with quaint names that often leave you wondering about their origin. Sometime ago, I happened to travel from Delhi to Chennai by Tamil Nadu Express. Of course, the stations that the train stormed past during the night hours went unnoticed by me, but quite a few that I saw from my window seat during the daytime had interesting, even intriguing names.
There was one named Amla. I wondered how this place came to be named Amla. Maybe amlas (gooseberry) grow here in abundance, I thought. Or, perhaps “amla”, in the local lingo, means something else, I wondered. However, a knowledgeable fellow passenger, well acquainted with this part of India, said there were no amlas in Amla when I asked him about it. However, even he had no clue as to how this place came to be named Amla.
Another small, wayside railway station with a rather romantic-sounding name on the Delhi-Chennai route is “Chikni Road”. Since roads in most parts of our country are in pretty bad shape, the name “Chikni Road”(if “Chikni” here means smooth) seemed to me a bit of a hyperbole. If indeed this little, back-of-beyond town possessed such a road, its municipal committee certainly deserved a big pat on the back. In Urdu poetry the word diwana (mostly used for a frustrated lover who has gone mad) is common currency. Our film lyricists are also very fond of using the word “diwana” in their lyrics. But “diwana” as the name of a place sounds unbelievable. But the truth is that a railway station called “Diwana” exists in Haryana. When you travel from Panipat to Delhi by a slow-moving passenger, the very first station on the way where the train stops for about half a minute is called "Diwana". Whenever I travel by train along this route, I cannot help wondering whether “Diwana” is, or perhaps once was, really populated by diwanas, that is, crazy guys.


Interestingly, thee are some small, wayside railway stations in Punjab named after animals. If you travel by a slow-moving passenger from Jalandhar to Pathankot, there is a station on the way called Kala Bakra (black ram). The train stops there for less than a minute, and if you have an imaginative turn of mind, you are apt to look out eagerly from your window seat, half-expecting to find there a black ram ambling along its deserted-looking platform to justify the name of this railway station!


Then there is another railway station with a quaint-sounding name ~ Giddarpindi. It is located en route the Jalandhar-Ferozepur line. Now “giddar”, in Punjabi, means “jackal”, and “pindi” or “pind” means “village”. Well, how this place came to be named after an animal that is often derisively referred to in books and conversation for its cowardice is indeed a mystery.


If you travel by train from Kanpur to Allahabad, the railway stations en route have quite interesting names. For instance, there is one named Bela Bela and another station is called Lalgopalganj. Doubtless, these musical-sounding names leave one wondering about their origin. But, then, as if by way of an anticlimax, there is also a station called, rather prosaically, Takia. Now, one is apt to wonder how a place came to be named Takia, which means a pillow!


Once, travelling by train from Shahjahanpur to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, I watched the names of the wayside stations with keen interest. As the train was nearing Unnao, the names of some wayside stations seemed to me surprisingly unusual. One such station goes by the name Methi. There is another station immediately after Methi that is called Makhi! That a place could be named after a leafy vegetable called methi (fenugreek), is rather intriguing. But I think that far more intriguing is the name Makhi, which literally means the common housefly. I wished the train had halted at these two stations for a few minutes, so that I could ask some knowledgeable person, preferably the stationmaster, about how these two places came to have these names.

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

NEPAL PEACE PROCESS AT CROSSROADS

 

In a new report, United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon said the peace process in Nepal was at a crossroads as the UN political mission  would wind up. Mr Ban identified as a major challenge the task to integrate 19,000 personnel from the Maoist army which fought in a civil war. 


The United Nations is worried that other issues could lead to a fresh conflict and Mr Ban called on all sides to make the necessary compromises, overcome their mistrust of each other and put the country’s needs above their partisan interests. 


“Rapid steps are needed to secure the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel in a mutually acceptable manner, which the United Nations would have liked to see prior to the departure of UNMIN in order to avoid any vacuum,” he told the Security Council, referring to the UN Mission in Nepal. 
The political mission was set up in 2007 and will end its mandate on 15 January. It was constituted at the request of a seven-party alliance government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to assist in the peace process that ended the war and monitor the management of Maoist arms and armed personnel. “One of the outstanding issues that worries the UN is the promulgation of a new Constitution by 28 May,” Mr Ban said in the report. 


“Nepal’s journey towards sustainable peace is not finished, and the prolonged political deadlock that has hampered progress has become a growing concern for people of Nepal and the international community alike as key timelines and deadlines approach in the coming months,” Mr Ban said. 
“While the government and the Maoists agreed in September 2010 that the remaining tasks of the peace process would be largely completed by mid-January 2011, this has so far proved elusive,” he wrote. He pointed out that other commitments in the peace accord were yet to be addressed and “hold the seeds of fresh confrontation” if expectations remained unmet. 
The polarised relations, and deepening rifts among and within the political parties and associated mistrust which remain at the heart of the stalemate are not insurmountable, he stressed. Though he felt the advances made in Nepal’s unique peace process would not easily be reversed, Mr Ban wrote in the report: “The parties can and must find a way out of this situation. They have in the past made major compromises, and they must soon do the same. None of them can afford to put the entire process and the fruits of their hard work at serious risk. No one side can expect to win at the expense of others.” 


Mr Ban noted that while the security situation is relatively calm throughout the country, it remains fragile in the Terai region with continued reports of killings and abductions by criminal and armed groups targeting the business community and sometimes young children, primarily for ransom. On human rights, he reported no substantial progress in ensuring accountability for violations committed during or after the conflict. 

Ban worried as Côte d’Ivoire teeters

Head of the peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, Mr Alain Le Roy warned that blue helmets stationed in the country will “robustly” fulfill their mandate, breaking through roadblocks if needed, to protect civilians and the “legitimate government” after the outgoing President’s refusal to step down in the face of his rival’s internationally recognised electoral victory.” His statement comes as Côte d’Ivoire is swaying at the crossroads of war and peace. The country is facing a political crisis as the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to step down even after his challenger, Mr Alassane Ouattara, defeated him in polls held on 28 November.
Mr Le Roy decried a campaign of lies, hatred and incitement against the mission, known by its acronym UNOCI, spearheaded by the state broadcasting authority under the control of Mr Laurent Gbagbo, who was defeated in the November poll by Opposition leader Mr Ouattara. Mr Le Roy insisted on the peacekeepers’ right to freedom of movement. “We will ensure firmly, if someone obstructs us, that we cross through roadblocks because it is  inadmissible that anybody prevent us from protecting civilians,” he said in a news conference in Abidjan. He attributed attacks on UN personnel and the deaths of 173 civilians in street violence to the campaign of incitement.  


Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep concern over the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire, according to a statement issued by his spokesman’s office in New York. Mr Ban said that he was alarmed to learn about Gbagbo-loyalist Ivorien political leader Mr Charles Blé Goudé’s call to a student body known as Young Patriots to attack the Golf Hotel in Abidjan beginning 1 January, the statement read. The UN-certified winner of the presidential polls, Mr Ouattara, has taken up residence in the hotel in the face of Mr Gbagbo’s refusal to vacate the presidential palace. 


The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire has a significant number of military and police personnel deployed to provide security for the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and key political stakeholders, in keeping with its mandate as set out in Security Council resolution 1962 (2010).


He stressed that the UNOCI was authorised to use all necessary means to protect its personnel, as well as government officials and civilians present on the premises of the hotel. Mr Ban warned that any attack on peacekeepers constituted a crime under international law, for which the perpetrators and their instigators would be held accountable, he said in the statement. 


He said UNOCI was increasing its patrols day and night in Abidjan and reinforcing its systems of alert and liaison. He noted that defence and security forces chief of staff, General Philippe Mangou, had assured him that there would be no further blocking of the UNOCI’s freedom of movement and that UN vehicles would bow be able to take the road to Golf Hotel. 


He noted a reduction in attacks against civilians compared with last week. “So we see some signs of improvement, but the situation is very tense and the improvement of the past few days, nobody can promise that they will sustain it for many days or weeks, but we hope they will,” he said. “We are determined to have our freedom of movement respected.” 


Mr Gbagbo demanded the departure of UNOCI, which has been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify the country split by civil war in 2002 into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. The election was meant to be a culminating point in the process. 


But the Security Council unanimously rebuffed the demand, renewed the 9,000-strong force for six months, foreshadowed a possible increase, threatened sanctions against those imperiling peace and stressed its mandate to protect civilians.

 
Mr Le Roy underscored the UN’s total impartiality in certifying Mr Ouattara’s victory in accordance with its mandate and noting that the mission is “living through difficult circumstances”, though he noted that Mr Gbagbo had said he wanted to use diplomatic, not military means to achieve UNOCI departure. 
“To accuse us of partiality is absurd when we are fulfilling a mandate requested by President Gbagbo himself and the African Union and the Security Council,” he said.


The UNOCI reported that its probe team had been prevented, for the second time, from conducting investigations into suggestions of a mass grave in the village of N’Dotré, near the town of Anyama, north of Abidjan. “On Tuesday, 28 December, members of the security forces in N’Dotré prevented an investigation mission from reaching the site and we were forced to return to Abidjan without being able to complete our mission,” Mr Simon Munzu, the head of UNOCI human rights division, told reporters. 


They saw a building, where, according to available information with Mr Munzu, between 60 and 80 bodies had been found. “We continue to protest the denial of access,” he added.


Mr Gbagbo’s interior minister has repeatedly denied the existence of the mass grave on national television, said Mr Munzu, who reported a decrease in incidents of human rights abuses during the week from 16 to 23 December. Some six deaths, three disappearances, 20 kidnappings and 11 arrests and injuries had been reported during the period, he said. The figures related to cases that UNOCI has been able to verify and confirm. “That does not mean that during the week, there were only these cases,” Mr Munzu said.


anjali sharma

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THE TELEGRAPH

FOLLOWING FORM

 

The stalemate in the two Houses of Parliament during the winter session was something unprecedented. Neither the Lok Sabha nor the Rajya Sabha could sit even for a day after the first day. The reason for this was the government’s refusal to concede to the Opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee on the allocation of the 2G spectrum. This was a meaningless stand-off. It is well within the rights of the Opposition to demand a JPC; it is also the government’s right to refuse the demand. In a parliamentary system, the matter should end there with the demand and its rejection. But the Opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, decided to bring the politics of the street into the hallowed precincts of Parliament. It did not boycott Parliament but chose to halt its proceedings. This meant a colossal waste of money and time. It was an act of great irresponsibility. There is no guarantee that the Opposition will not repeat the same tactics in the future since no member of the Opposition has expressed any regret about what happened.

 

To avoid any recurrence, it is necessary to think about the steps needed for prevention and the reforms that are required to put such steps in place. First, the Speaker can easily have both the Houses cleared with the help of marshals and then allow the Treasury benches to carry out the business of the two Houses. This will be an undesirable and unseemly move but may be deemed necessary. There are, however, other possibilities which might require changes in the Representation of the People Act and the codes that govern the working of Parliament. The salaries of members could be stopped unless the Houses actually function. A harsher option is to severely punish members who repeatedly disrupt the proceedings of the two Houses. The punishments could begin with a suspension and lead up to a ban on contesting elections for a specified period of time. Admittedly, all these would make the Speakers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha appear, and behave, like the headmaster of a school. But this is unavoidable if members of parliament continue to behave like unruly school children with little or no respect for proper forms of behaviour in Parliament. There is a growing tendency across political parties to treat Parliament and its procedures with scant respect. This tendency should be nipped in the bud. Parliament in a democracy cannot be trifled with.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BEST CHANCE

 

It may never be too late to make peace, but there are moments when peace has its best chance. In Assam, the popular mood in favour of peace has rarely been stronger than now. In many ways, Arabinda Rajkhowa’s return home after 30 years captures this mood and the historic moment. Several factors have contributed to creating the conditions for lasting peace in Assam. The coming of Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s government in Bangladesh made it increasingly difficult for the United Liberation Front of Asom to carry out its armed insurgency for a ‘sovereign’ Assam from the soil of that country. Earlier, the Bhutan government made the Himalayan kingdom out of bounds for the Ulfa. Its shelters and training camps in the jungles of Myanmar also looked increasingly indefensible. Further, the long and sustained anti-insurgency operations by Central paramilitary forces and the Assam police played a crucial role in freeing large parts of the state from the Ulfa’s control. But the biggest push for peace came from Assam’s common people who were tired of living in constant fear, and saw the futility of the Ulfa’s campaign. It is as much the rebels’ reduced capacity to make war as the people’s calls for peace that have created the new ambience.

 

However, new challenges begin now for the Ulfa, the Centre and the state government. Mr Rajkhowa, the Ulfa chairman, has to lead a new battle — this time for peace. Persuading the group’s ‘commander-in-chief’, Paresh Barua, to give up arms and join the peace talks is only a small part of his role in peacemaking. He can carry on the legacy of Laldenga, the late leader of the erstwhile Mizo insurgency, who too returned home after 20 years in exile to make lasting peace in Mizoram. Mr Rajkhowa also has the example of the Naga leaders, Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, who are now negotiating peace with New Delhi in order to end India’s longest insurgency. He thus has a truly historic opportunity to join the ranks of peacemakers in the Northeast. But Assam’s politicians, too, need to be responsible about their roles. The chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, would do well not to try and make political capital out of the peace initiatives. This is election year in Assam and any attempts to use peace for partisan gains may divide the Assamese society. Peace in Assam is a matter of the state’s — and the nation’s — interest, not of local politics.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

MUDDY WATERS

DEMOGRAPHY DETERMINES MUCH THAT IS RIGHT OR WRONG WITH LIFE

 

Until not very long ago, when I told someone that my research and teaching was in the field of demography, I either got uncomprehending looks because that word meant nothing to them, or else pitying glances because the subject sounded so dreadfully dull. But suddenly we live in a very different world. Now when I begin to explain what demography is about, I am interrupted with one confident theory or another about the subject matter of my discipline, and it turns out that everyone and his uncle is a closet demographer.

 

In the last decade or so, no overarching demographic theory has captured the popular, semi-professional or academic imagination more than the idea that it is demography which determines much that is wrong or (sometimes) right with life and much that is outside our control on these things that are wrong with life. It seems that our demographic situation predetermines our social, political and economic situation in a way no other single variable can. We can tinker with these demographic impacts, but in the end, we are more or less powerless against their onslaught.

 

One form of the ‘demography as destiny’ principle is currently leading to optimism in some places and acute pessimism in others. The optimism about demographic processes is all about the ‘demographic dividend’ in many parts of the developing world that have been seeing sustained recent declines in birth rates. This fertility decline, it is believed, gives these countries a ‘window of opportunity’ during which their dependency ratios are good, because the bulk of the working age population from the high fertility of the past has to support a smaller number of non-productive junior citizens in the present because of fewer babies being born. This window will close soon enough as fewer babies lead to smaller labour force sizes in the coming generations, at the same time as there is an increase in the non-productive old as the currently large productive age groups drop out of the labour force as well as live longer than their parents and grandparents did.

 

On the other hand, the pessimists are largely those who bemoan the population decline and the population aging that the industrialized world is seeing that is going to place an ever greater burden on the exchequer as dependency ratios worsen — fewer and fewer working age people supporting growing numbers of non-productive senior citizens. Population aging is partly a consequence of increasing longevity; but even more, it is a consequence of sharply reduced birth rates so that successive generations of the labour force are seeing major declines in their absolute numbers.

 

To some pessimists, there is also another group of countries in which dependency ratios are bad. These are the already poor developing countries in which birth rates continue to be high; here, it is the young rather than the old unproductive that place a burden on the working age population.

 

One would expect these two kinds of pessimists to beggar a deal that reduces the demography as destiny burden on both sides. That is, one would think that any rational solution would exploit the opportunity to redistribute the population so as to reduce the pressure of large numbers in the high fertility countries and make up the deficit of the young in low fertility countries. Some years ago, the United Nations Population Division was bold enough to calculate what it called “replacement migration” levels — the numbers of immigrants that the industrialized world would need to allow so as to offset the negative effects of population decline and population aging.

 

Needless to say, this audacity was roundly condemned by most of the presumed beneficiaries of the proposed scheme. For it envisaged nations in which it did not matter that some people were white and others black or brown; or some Christian and others Muslim or Hindu. The horror was not only about the cultural or religious or racial diversity that such open immigration policy would immediately lead to. The fears and anger were premised on something much more coldly long-term — the real possibility that this diversity would slowly (or soon enough), and inevitably, lead to another kind of terrible demographic destiny — one in which the newcomers would outnumber the ‘original’ inhabitants of a place and the keepers of the original culture or colour or religion.

 

This brand of demographic determinism is based on the idea of relative rates of reproduction and therefore relative numbers within a population. Thus, for example, the periodically expressed fear of Muslims overrunning the Hindus in India because of their higher fertility, and consequently increasing proportions in the Indian population, is mirrored in similar anxieties in many parts of the historical as well as contemporary world. A paper in a recent issue of the Population and Development Review, the flagship journal of the discipline, estimates that realistic assumptions about immigration and the higher fertility of non-white (including of Indian origin) minority groups in the United Kingdom would lead to these groups going from being 13 per cent of the population in 2006 to as much as 28 per cent in 2031 — an expansion that the author feels far from sanguine about.

 

Demographic destinies resulting from differential fertility also fuel the resistance to the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The argument is that any such solution will have ruinous consequences for the Jewish population if the one-person-one-vote principle of democracy is applied, because the higher birth rates of the Palestinians will lead to their controlling the outcome of democratic elections in the very near long-term. But a two-state solution also means ceding territory, again something extremely unpopular with a large section of the Israeli Right. Convoluted demographic projections and assessments are therefore made to design a compromise that maximizes Israeli territory while minimizing the probability of the non-Jewish population coming anywhere near a majority. These include the possibility of keeping the West Bank as part of the new Israel but leaving Gaza, with its 1.5 million Palestinians, to itself. Policy prescriptions also include greater efforts to reduce non-Jewish numbers through more aggressive birth control campaigns and aggressive encouragement of emigration; in parallel with greater efforts to discourage Jewish birth control use, provide easier access to assisted reproductive technologies, greater acceptance of single childbearing, as well greater encouragement of Jewish immigration.

 

Historically, efforts of this kind were part of now discredited eugenics movements that sought to improve the ‘quality’ of a population by positive and negative incentives for higher reproduction rates among those presumed to be of higher quality and restraining reproduction among those of supposedly doubtful quality. So Nazi Germany as well as several states in the United States of America in the 19th and early 20th centuries legally authorized the enforced sterilization of the ‘unfit’. Soon, in Nazi Germany, the price was paid not only by other generally undesirable groups, such as Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and Communists, for whom sterilization policies were soon replaced by policies of extermination, but also by desirable groups such as German women of Nordic descent, who were denied birth control and abortion access so that they contributed more of their kind to the German population.

 

These policy efforts are attempts to challenge the inevitability of demography as destiny — a challenge that the more cynical say is bound to fail. Indeed, such demographic essentialism has been applied in unexpected ways to several other social situations as well. One recent example is the proposition that the increasing religious fundamentalism and intolerance that the world is witnessing is little more than an outcome of demographic events. The presumption is that all over the world religious fundamentalists are more pro-natalist and more anti-contraception than their secular counterparts. In turn, this means that religious fundamentalism confers an evolutionary advantage because their higher rates of reproduction also mean an increasing proportion of their kind in the general population over time. The underlying assumption that there is a gene for religious fundamentalism (that is, that the children of fundamentalists are going to also be fundamentalists) is a theoretical position that is not as uncommon as one would think — through history we have heard about the inborn laziness of the poor, or the inherent untrustworthiness of the natives of the underdeveloped world, or the congenitally greater stupidity of certain races. In these more politically correct times, however, the religious fundamentalism argument is sought to be shored up with empirical evidence to show that the children of fundamentalists are indeed more aggressively trained to be religious conservatives themselves, and that even if attitudes do change, the children of fundamentalists are much less likely to become secular than the children of secular parents are to become conservative. Biomedical research in psychology is bound to muddy these waters even further.

 

I do not know whether to be happy or sad that my once boring discipline now provides fodder for so much popular wisdom; in the end, what matters I suppose is how much wiser and gentler this wisdom makes us.

 

The author is professor, department of Development Sociology, Cornell University

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

DISILLUSIONMENT IS JUST ROUND THE CORNER

THE CONSEQUENCES OF A QUOTA REGIME FOR AN OPEN ECONOMY LIKE INDIA ARE OFTEN NOT AS OBVIOUS AS THEY SEEM TO BE, ARGUES ASHOK SANJAY GUHA

 

In independent India, the debate on inequality has been largely hijacked by the protagonists of reservation on the basis of caste. Certainly, the age-old inequities of the caste system have much to do with the mass poverty and abject social status of millions of Indians. Does this justify the adoption of caste quotas in higher education and employment as the major instrument of an egalitarian redistribution? This is a question that has evoked intense and prolonged controversy.

 

The debate has focused essentially on two issues: whether the presumed gains of the intended beneficiaries of reservations offset and justify the presumed losses of the others, and whether the presumed improvement in the distribution of income and power justifies the possible losses in average efficiency and aggregate output. No one has doubted that the intended beneficiaries do benefit and that in consequence distribution does actually improve. If a college is forced to admit a target-group student who would not otherwise have qualified, or a firm to hire someone from a protected category whom it would otherwise not have considered, surely the target group must benefit. Right?

 

Wrong. In economics, the obvious is not always the truth. When we look at the immediate context of an action or policy, we may predict a particular outcome with perfect certainty; but when we consider its remoter consequences and their repercussions, our confidence may well disappear. Policy analysis is further complicated in India by the impact of globalization. When goods, capital and some grades of skilled labour flow freely in and out of a country, it necessarily limits the degree of freedom of the economic policy-maker. He must take into account the international flows of goods and factors that his policy would induce in assessing its likely outcome. We must, therefore, examine the likely impact of a quota regime on the distribution of employment and income in an open economy.

 

The economist’s traditional way of exploring such issues is to construct a simplified hypothetical picture of the economy as a whole, and to see how it changes in consequence of a particular policy. Imagine an economy set in a world where free trade in goods equalizes product prices worldwide and free capital mobility sustains profits at global rates. The economy produces goods that require capital along with either skilled or unskilled labour. Unskilled labour is an undifferentiated mass without productivity differentials, where the headcount is all that matters. Skilled labour is heterogeneous and a college education is indispensable for it.

 

The economy has a college system that caters to this demand. Colleges admit students on the basis of a test of their pre-college ability, accepting all those who score above a certain cut-off. They then train their students up to a final level of skill which is reflected in their eventual grades. Students differ in their initial abilities as well as their final scores; they also differ in the extent to which they benefit from college, depending on the extent to which it offers them opportunities they did not enjoy earlier and the intensity of effort they choose to exert. However, assume that exposure to the same educational process, while it may result in a convergence of the ability scores of different students, will not actually reverse their ability rankings.

 

A firm that requires skill will hire a college graduate on the basis of his grade, which is the only signal it has of his ability and productivity. Firms have to match the global rate of profit if they are to retain their capital. Given their technology and the price of their product, this implies that they cannot afford more than a specific unit cost of work. Competition among firms for labour ensures also that they do not pay any less. So, in a globalized economy, the unit cost of work in each viable firm is set by global parameters. Now the unit cost of work is the ratio of the wage per head and the productivity of the worker. Thus, firms can absorb low-productivity workers, provided they pay them proportionately less. There is, however, a minimum below which wage per head in skilled industry cannot fall: this is determined by the wage in the unskilled sector plus the cost of college education.

 

Labour in the unskilled sector is homogeneous and earns a uniform wage, which represents the unit cost of unskilled work. This, too, is determined by global parameters: the imperative of paying the global rate of profit to attract capital dictates the wage of unskilled labour (given the technology and the product price). The global economy thus imposes the unskilled wage and sets a floor to the wage per head of skilled labour. Since it also determines the unit cost of skilled work, it fixes the minimum productivity of skilled workers. Skilled industry can only hire those graduates whose grades match this minimum productivity requirement. Since colleges are interested in the employability of their graduates, they will admit only those applicants whom they expect, on the basis of their admission test scores, to achieve such grades. Indeed, if the relationship between admission test scores and final grades, and that between final grades and employability, are common knowledge, the college need not have any admission policy at all. If it simply discloses the admission test scores, applicants who do not, on the basis of these scores, expect to achieve the grade-requirement for employability would simply select out of college education — they would prefer unskilled work to the pursuit of an expensive college education that would not culminate in a skilled job. Given full public knowledge of all the relationships involved and full disclosure of admission test scores, the pattern of admissions would be identical with what colleges seek to achieve through their admission cut-offs.

 

This is how the system would work in the absence of government intervention in the admission process. Assume, now, that government legislates a 50 per cent quota for specific castes in college admissions. In order to make the best possible case for reservations, add the heroic assumption that the implementation of the quota system has no impact on the quality of college teaching or the integrity of the examination system. If colleges remain interested in the employability of their graduates, they will not reduce their admission cutoffs for anybody. If they did, the ‘beneficiaries’ of this relaxation would not get the final grades required for skilled employment. Applicants themselves may anticipate this after seeing their admission test scores and refuse the admission offer, should one be made. Not a single member of the target group really benefits as a result of the quota — except perhaps for a broadening of his intellectual horizon thanks to a college education.

 

But if there is no increase in target group admissions, how can colleges comply with the 50 per cent quota requirement? The only possible way is by limiting admissions from other castes to the number admitted against the quota. A large number from the other castes (who would have qualified for college and skilled employment in the absence of quotas) are denied admission and driven into the unskilled sector as a result. Quotas yield no benefits for the ‘beneficiaries’ but substantially reduce educational and employment prospects for others. National income contracts drastically (since, for a large number, high skilled wages are replaced by low unskilled wages); so does the higher education system, since, with admissions stagnant among the protected castes and dwindling among the unprotected, fewer colleges remain viable.

 

If the quality of college teaching or evaluation is impaired by quotas (if, for example, they have been implemented in faculty recruitment as well, as indeed they have been done in India), things can only get worse. With poorer teaching, a given initial ability would translate into lower final productivity, so that admission cut-offs would actually have to be raised to ensure employability — so that quotas would no longer be neutral in their impact on the protected groups, but would actually hurt them. If grade inflation, particularly of a discriminatory kind, occurs, the credibility of the entire system is compromised. Industry can no longer trust the signals from the colleges as indices of productivity and the economic justification for the higher education system melts away. So possibly does skill-intensive industry.

 

In the immediate present, colleges may be persuaded or forced to lower admission cutoffs for the protected castes, thus substantially increasing their admission offers, students may be myopic or optimistic enough to accept such offers, government may even dragoon industry into offering jobs to graduates of protected groups whose college grades are lower than the minimum that it would earlier have insisted upon. Disillusionment, however, is just round the corner. Industry will soon discover that the unit cost of skilled work for its additional recruits is higher than the global level and erodes its profits below the global rate of return on capital. It will then be forced to migrate to locations outside the jurisdiction of the Indian government and its quota regime.

 

It is not surprising that two generations of reservations have done so little for the scheduled castes and tribes. Reservations earlier had some justification. Quotas in legislative representation are not subject to the economic constraints described above. Further, when India was a closed economy, the penalties for inefficiency were not immediate. A protected industrial sector could absorb much inefficiency. So could government. Productivity was of little or no concern in government, which was, up to the 1980s, the major employer outside agriculture. Job reservations then were a meaningful, if costly, instrument of redistribution; so were reservations in a higher education system that catered essentially to government demand. Whatever little quotas have achieved for the SCs and STs is a reflection of these two factors. In the India of today, neither of these factors is of any importance.

 

Is there a better policy option that might go some way towards achieving the avowed objectives of social justice? Suppose that government fully subsidizes college education for target groups. With college being costless, they will be inclined to accept any wage per head that offers them a surplus, howsoever small, over the unskilled wage. The decline in the minimum acceptable wage per head implies a decline in the minimum productivity post-college at which skill-intensive industry will be able to hire graduates. Every target group member who, on the basis of his admission test score, expects a final grade commensurate with this lower minimum productivity requirement can now opt for college in the realistic expectation of a job in skilled industry. It may not be a job with a wage much higher than the unskilled wage, but it is an escape from the unskilled sector. Given the pre-college ability distribution of the target group, this is all that can possibly be achieved without an improvement in the quality of college education. Whether this achievement is worth the expense of a comprehensive subsidy is for the government to decide.

 

Nothing about contemporary India is as tragic as the fact that millions here are excluded by birth and early environment from educational and economic opportunities that could reveal their full potential. This is a problem that needs to be resolved at its root. In a world that values quality above all, it is a problem that cries out for a scheme to discover talent at the primary level, to nurture it during childhood and adolescence and to enjoy its efflorescence in the adult college years. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about mass education and a wide-ranging system of scholarships for all “bright boys and girls” as a possible solution. Rajiv Gandhi had visualized a more specific scheme that aimed at this objective — the Navodaya schools programme. Politicians, unfortunately, dubbed it ‘elitist’ (meaning it would not get them any votes) and nothing of any significance was done about it. Instead, today’s vastly extended quota scheme in higher education was designed, a purely symbolic obeisance to the idea of equality, which would, however, do nothing substantive for its objective while compromising India’s competitiveness and economic future in the 21st-century world.

 

The author is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

 

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

EDITORIAL

LAUDABLE VERDICT

''THE CONGRESS PARTY MUST FOLLOW THE SC LEAD.''

 

The supreme court must be lauded for its admission of a grave error it committed 34 years ago, when it upheld the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency.The Emergency is among the darkest periods in Independent India’s history, a huge blot on our democracy. The shocking manner in which every one of India’s much-respected institutions crumbled before the government of the day will not be easily forgotten. Fundamental rights were suspended, the media was silenced, dissent was crushed and thousands of people were detained without trial. The role of the SC in facilitating this through its verdict was not insignificant.


Many detainees had challenged their arrest by filing habeas corpus writs under Article 226 in various high courts across the country. The question the high courts faced was whether such habeas corpus writs could be entertained since the people’s right to file such writs was taken away under emergency rule. Nine high courts upheld the citizen’s right to file a habeas corpus writ. The government appealed against the verdicts. Had the SC shown some spine and stood up to the government, thousands would not have languished in jail. Sadly, it did not. In the ADM Jabalpur vs Shukla (1976) case it upheld the suspension of fundamental rights. In doing so, it showed itself up to be a mere handmaiden of the powers that be. It failed to live up to its role as the custodian of the Constitution of the rights of the individual. H R Khanna was the lone judge to submit a dissenting report. The rest of the bench brought the stature of the judiciary to its nadir.


Their verdict dealt a blow to civil liberties. It is this shameful verdict that an SC bench of Justices Aftab Alam and A K Ganguly has rightly described as ‘erroneous’.


Admitting a mistake is the first essential step to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. Sadly the Congress party has never publicly admitted that declaring an emergency was wrong. It has at best admitted that it was wrongly implemented or that there were excesses, or as it has done recently, blamed it on Sanjay Gandhi. Never has it admitted that the decision taken by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was a mistake.


The SC’s admission of its shameful role in facilitating the violation of the Constitution is commendable. The Congress party must follow its lead. This is essential for the future of India’s democracy.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

UNCERTAINTY AHEAD

''THE ISI HAND IS SUSPECTED BEHIND PAK CRISIS.''

 

Pakistan is staring at yet another crisis. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government has been reduced to a minority following the withdrawal of support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second largest party in the coalition. A fortnight ago, another ally, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) pulled out of the coalition when a minister belonging to the party was sacked. JUI’s exit weakened the government but did not deprive it of a majority. That has now changed with the MQM’s departure. Analysts are warning that the government is on the brink of collapse and Pakistan faces an early election.


While the situation of PPP-led government is indeed shaky, its collapse is not inevitable. For one, the opposition is in disarray and deeply divided. It is not in a position to act as a fist to force the government out. Further, although the JUI and MQM have withdrawn support from the federal government, these parties are part of coalition governments with the PPP in Balochistan and Sindh provinces respectively. Hence their criticism of the PPP government is unlikely to move beyond their crossover to the opposition benches at the federal level. That is, in the event of a no-confidence vote, they are unlikely to vote against the government. Besides, there are several smaller parties in the opposition whose support the government could woo in the coming weeks with the promise of ministries. Reports also suggest that prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is reaching out for support from the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid (PML-Q).


Analysts see the hand of the ISI in the latest developments. The intelligence agency, which has supported and brought down several governments in Pakistan, is said to have engineered the defections with a view to weaken the civilian government. If this is so, it can be expected to engage in more machinations in the coming weeks. Pakistan’s political parties must wake up to the fact that divisions among them is providing the ISI with space to meddle. The collapse of the government at this juncture is in nobody’s interest. The opposition is not in a position to provide an alternative. Fresh elections are unlikely to provide a clear result either. The only actor to gain from the current sparring between political parties is the military.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

GEOPOLITICAL FAULTLINES

M K BHADRAKUMAR


The need for India to ‘de-hyphenate’ its relationship with the US administration and with the leadership of China is at once obvious.

 

The triangular equations involving the United States, Russia and China is of perennial significance to India’s strategic calculus.While US-China ties are moving on to a rising curve, Washington’s successful reset with Russia is entering a period of uncertainty.


From the Indian viewpoint, close attention will be paid to how Washington negotiates the China challenge. As the prominent Australian scholar Hugh White wrote, “If 2009 was the year it became inescapably clear that China’s economic rise was powering an equally significant rise in its strategic and political weight, then 2010 was the year it became inescapably clear that China is using its weight to test the US-led order in Asia.”

By the second half of 2010, Washington began marshalling old allies and friends, which was apparent in the extensive tours undertaken by President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton through the length and breadth of Asia. However, as 2011 dawns, US seems more inclined to tap into China’s economic growth and to invite Beijing to exercise more power and influence abroad. The four-decade old Sino-American positive-sum game is on.


The Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi will pay a four-day visit to Washington in the first week. In the next week, secretary of defence Robert Gates will undertake a five-day visit to China. President Hu Jintao is arriving in Washington on a state visit on January 19. The ‘Washington Post’ estimated that “there is a sudden switch in tone from the commerce department to the National Security Council… (US) officials are praising China, referring to it again as a responsible partner.” The US about-face is remarkable and US officials are giving a positive note to China’s cooperation on the range of issues — trade, military ties, global security, climate change, etc.


The Pentagon gave visiting deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA Gen Ma Xiaotian and his entourage in December the same briefings on the US nuclear, ballistic missile and space postures “that we gave our closest allies”, according to the US undersecretary of defence Michele Flournoy. Clearly, US is making a big choice right at the outset of 2011, implicitly acknowledging that China is now too strong to be contained within a regional order of uncontested American supremacy in the Asia-Pacific. It is a natural choice too — in terms of the US’ vital national interests, especially its ailing economy, which is threatening the Barack Obama presidency.

In comparison, US-Russia ties, which were on the upswing through most of 2010, ended on a sour note. The exchange of hot words last week between Moscow and Washington over the case against the erstwhile ‘oligarch’ and head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, goes beyond how jurisprudence works in Russia. The acrimony touches core issues of the US’ triumphalist narrative on post-Soviet Russia.

Start treaty


Why this abrupt dip? Hardly a fortnight back, Obama administration successfully got the ratification for the Start treaty from the outgoing Senate. But herein lies the rub. What next? The Start is the crowning glory of the reset, but it essentially means the Cold-War era verification mechanisms have been renewed.

Beyond that, its impact on global disarmament is limited and indeed, the relevance of the traditional arms control regime itself is increasingly questionable as aspiring nuclear states have appeared and China forms no part of the US-Russia negotiations — and is reluctant to be a part. As Washington and Moscow move toward the next step, namely, tactical nuclear weapons (where Russia enjoys vast superiority) or on missile defence and Russia’s accession to the WTO difficulties crop up. Obama will find it tough to push through an unfriendly House and a less-friendly Senate. His domestic political priority lies in bipartisan reconciliation.

In sum, the trajectory of Sino-American ties and US-Russia reset will impact regional security on several templates. Plainly put, Russia and China are increasingly coordinating their regional policies and that unnerves the US. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is slouching toward Afghanistan and 2011 may well witness India and Pakistan becoming full-fledged SCO members.


Appearance of any form of ‘Asian identity’ on the geopolitical chessboard undermines the US’ regional strategy, especially the projection of Nato as a global security organisation. Washington hopes to accentuate Sino-Russian contradictions.


Indeed, Indian strategic analysts miscalculated that 2011 promised to be the year US drew red lines on the sand for China. The need for India to ‘de-hyphenate’ its relationship with the US and with China is at once obvious. Also, as EU proposal to lift arms embargo on China shows, western thrust is to engage China rather than isolate or precipitate friction. It’s the economy, Stupid! We should factor in that the US and China share common interests over Pakistan’s stability and it is conceivable that Obama may reach out to China as a moderating influence on Pakistan.


A rethink in Russian policies toward Iran and Afghanistan is also likely, as the US drawdown commences. A competitive regional environment may ensue. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Moscow in January acquires significance. Russia disfavours Taliban’s accommodation and it seeks a ‘neutral’ Afghanistan free of foreign military presence. Moscow will likely offer to Karzai that he should work with Russia and like-minded countries, which have stakes in durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Needless to say, Russia is most likely to regenerate its strategic understanding with Iran.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

‘MR PM, YOUR HAND-WRINGING IS A SIGN OF IMPOTENCE’

RAJDEEP SARDESAI


Dear Dr Singh, Greetings! This is my second open letter to you this year.

 

 

 The first was in May when I had raised the issue of political corruption. To quote from the May 28 letter: “There is little doubt sir of your personal integrity, but would you concede that it’s been difficult for you to check corruption amongst your ministerial colleagues? As a supplementary may I ask that if the CBI had been investigating a Congress minister and not an ally like A Raja of the DMK, would you have shown the same leniency?”

Unfortunately, I did not receive a response to my query. Now I know why. It has become increasingly apparent as the 2G scam unfolds that the DMK was a law unto itself in your government. While you did write to the then telecom minister in November 2007 voicing your concerns over spectrum pricing and asking him to ensure a fair and transparent auction, the fact is Raja ignored your missive. Yet, instead of dismissing him from the Union cabinet for challenging prime ministerial authority, he was ‘rewarded’ in May 2009 with the same portfolio, only because the Tamil Nadu chief minister threw a tantrum.


Had you acted against Raja three years ago, you might have been able to rise above the stench of corruption that now envelops your government. More importantly, it has perhaps for the first time in your long and distinguished career in public life stained the ‘Mr Clean’ image which you have so assiduously maintained.


Dr Singh, your life story has been an inspiration for millions of Indians. The story of the rise of a young boy from Gah village, walking miles to his school, studying  under the dim light of a kerosene lamp, working his way up through scholarship inspires hope in all our hearts. When you became prime minister, we rejoiced in the belief that at last we had found a leader we could identify with, someone who wasn’t a spoilt dynast, but a genuine representative of the great Indian middle class dream.


Critical to this identification process was the knowledge that this was a prime minister who was personally incorruptible. It was a bit like being transported back to the 1970s Amol Palekar era of cinema, where the honest bank manager in a bush shirt touched a chord with audiences through old fashioned values of simplicity and decency.


A bank manager may well be  of ‘impeccable’ personal integrity at home, but if he allows his clerks to loot the bank, then he clearly is failing in his primary responsibility at the workplace. Sadly, that’s exactly what seems to have happened in the UPA cabinet, and your continual hand-wringing is now becoming a sign of impotence.

Compromise

At one level, there is obvious empathy with the situation you find yourself in. A coalition government is by its very nature a political arrangement based on compromise. Part of  the compromise appears to be a readiness to allow every constituent to set its own rules of engagement, including when it comes to cornering the ‘ATM’ cash-rich portfolios. The NDA which is planning a national campaign on corruption would be well-advised to examine its own track record in this regard.


Frankly though, one is weary of reducing corruption to a zero sum UPA versus NDA political battle. The average Indian citizen is not interested in knowing who is more corrupt, the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra or the BJP government in Karnataka. The left may have a better track record, but let’s not forget that their prime ally in Tamil Nadu is Jayalalitha who still faces serious corruption cases against her.

What the ‘aam admi’ seeks is a readiness to act against the corrupt and make examples of  them. Your leader, Sonia Gandhi claims to her parliamentary party that the Congress has ‘acted’ against corruption. Can the notion of ‘action’ be defined please? Forcing a minister to resign is not action, prosecuting him would be. Handing over a case to the CBI is not action, ensuring that the investigation is taken to its logical conclusion would be.

The nation is not a set of  gullible MPs who will be taken in by rhetorical flourishes. We don’t need to become a lynch mob, but the fact is an alert and enraged Indian citizenry will no longer settle for fine words alone.

Here’s a concrete suggestion: why don’t you amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to ensure that all corruption cases involving public servants, be they officials or politicians, are put on fast track? If they are proved innocent, restore their dignity. If they are guilty, have them jailed and their properties confiscated. You may lack political support for your move, but trust me, an entire nation will cheer you on.


Post-script: May I also suggest a brief yearend family holiday to rejuvenate yourself in this make or break fight against corruption. The country needs a re-invented Manmohan Singh who is willing to crack the whip  in 2011, not a passive observer of  the muck around him. Happy new year!


(The writer is editor-in-chief, IBN 18)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

BANDITS BECAME BILLIONAIRES

M J AKBAR


''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.

 

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O HERALD

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

ANATOMY OF A LEAK


So ‘Herald’ was right, even though all the attempts of our reporters to contact Goa Medical College (GMC) Dean Dr V Jindal, Medical Superintendent Dr Rajan Kunkolienkar and Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane were futile as all three refused to answer any of the numerous phone calls made, nor replied to repeated text messages till late on Sunday night. Finally, we had to go ahead with the story despite no official comment. 
But then, the truth refuses to lie down only because officialdom begins to behave like the three monkeys that neither want to hear, see nor speak any evil. On Monday, Goa University cancelled the MBBS exam scheduled to be held at GMC, when it became clear that the General Medicine - I and General Medicine - II question papers had been leaked. The authorities cross-checked the leaked paper with the actual paper, and found that 14 out of 16 questions matched. 


GMC Dean Dr V N Jindal broke his ‘maun vrat’ of the night before to say that the exam was cancelled and would be rescheduled. He also said that a new set of papers will be prepared for the re-examination. Goa University Vice Chancellor Deelip Deobagkar said that the university had instituted a three-member committee to probe into the paper leakage. The VC also called for a report within 48 hours, so that he could take prima-facie action. The GMC is to file a police complaint against ‘unknown persons’. 


However, some people are saying that the culprits are not really unknown. On Monday morning, a group of social activists – Ketan Govekar, Kashinath Shetye and Atish Mandrekar – filed a police complaint in a letter to the Agassaim Police Station against three examiners, alleging the leakage was for wrongful gain. The complaint has called for prompt police action, and calls upon the police to file a first information report (FIR) under the Prevention of Corruption Act. 


Students of Fourth Year MBBS had already answered General Medicine - I on Saturday, while General Medicine - II was cancelled minutes before students could answer the paper on Monday. ‘Herald’ had obtained all three sets of question papers, of which one is chosen for the examination at the Goa University, minutes before the exam starts. In the case of Saturday’s paper, the second set of 16 questions matched the question set answered by the medicine students. The question now is whether the ‘Paediatrics’ paper, to be answered on Wednesday, has also been leaked. 


Paper leaks are a very serious matter. It not only shows how rotten the system is in the college, but seriously penalises good students, placing dishonest slackers at an advantage. For long now, there has been an apprehension that there was something seriously wrong in the upper echelons of the Goa Medical College. This confirms it. What is called for – apart from swiftly identifying and appropriately punishing the culprits involved in this exam paper leak – is a spring cleaning of GMC.  


This is a job for Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane. If he wanted any proof that there is something rotten at the top in GMC, he has now got it. What remains is to see whether he has the stomach to take on well-entrenched vested interests that are making a mockery of medical education in Goa and simultaneously making a very large number of dishonest bucks. 


Should this scandal die a quiet and unsung death, let us bid goodbye to the reputation of this college, its top officials, the university that awards its degrees and the minister at the top of the whole pile. Instead, let us make an example of the culprits. That is best for all concerned.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

OF RICH MEN AND ERSTWHILE THIEVES

OUR LINGO IS REPLETE WITH ‘DHARMAS’ OF SOME AND ‘KARMAS’ OF MILLIONS, SAYS ANTHONY SIMOES

 

St Jerome once said, “If you see a rich man, you can be sure he is a thief or his father was a thief.” This does not apply to India, though. In India, thievery, chicanery, fraud, scams, cheating, misappropriation of funds and all kinds of financial skulduggery runs in families. Its not just ‘he is a thief or his father was a thief.’ In India, it goes on, ‘father, son, grandson, grandfather, great grandfather, and great grandson… right across generations.
It is quite probable that these ‘qualities’ are genetically transmitted from one generation to the next. There could be a corruption gene somewhere waiting to be found by some geneticist. Or a latent behavioural form, waiting to be triggered off by circumstances, environment, ideology of socio-cultural frameworks or some combination of two or more.


Unfortunately, we have belief-systems in place, which not only encourage, but also reinforce such exploitative behaviour. So some believe that such hierarchies are divinely ordained and have to be endured and accepted as a given norm. Or that it is someone’s ‘Dharma’ to accumulate wealth, at any cost, by using any means – fair or foul – and it is the ‘Karma’ of millions, to become victims, and suffer the consequences of someone else’s greed. Even at the cost of their own need. This kind of fatalism is enshrined in our language. For example: ‘dhanay, dhanay peh khanay vale ka naam likha hai’; or; ‘koi pasina ka roti khatey hai, aur koi taqdeer ka roti khatey hai.’


In the mid nineties, I was interviewed in Goa by Hamish McDonald who was then working for the Far Eastern Economic Review, and was based in Hong Kong. He had heard of the techno-economic, social, environmental and financial fiasco that was the Konkan Railway, which was still under construction. I was surprised at the amount of information, he had on the Konkan Railway, based on which he was convinced that this abortion of a railroad, was going to be one of India’s bigger scams of the 20th century.


Hamish McDonald was convinced that the Indian media was being manipulated by the KRC’s public relations machinery, to take everyone for a massive ride, on an unfinished railroad. So, he knew for a fact, that the KR dream would be a nightmare. He knew that what was being presented as a national project, was heading for the dubious distinction of becoming a national disaster. He saw clearly that this ‘wonder of the world’ was going to be one big ‘blunder of the world.’


Subsequent events, since the so-called ‘commissioning’ of the KR in January 1998, have vindicated his belief. Today, the KR is an unmitigated techno-economic, financial, social and environmental disaster that is costing the national exchequer Rs one crore per day, for the last 13 years. This will continue in perpetuity, in spite of all the KRC’s creative accounting, based on fraud. I was able to give him details of the fraudulent technical and financial tricks used by the fraudsters E Sreedharan, B Rajaram, Ambi Krishnaswamy Somnathan and S V Salelkar to pull the wool, over the eyes of the nation. That is why today, we have what is, at best, only an excuse for a railroad.


Hamish McDonald, for the last few years is based in Sydney, Australia – his home country – and works for the Sydney Morning Herald. He has written 2 books in recent times that chronicle the rise of India’s first financial family – the Ambanis. The first book was called ‘The Polyester Prince.’ The second one is called ‘Ambani and Sons.’ These 2 books are about the meteoric rise of the Ambani family in which Hamish McDonald brilliantly traces the rapid growth of the family fortunes. He has provided clear historical records as proof of St Jerome’s stated connection, between rich men and thieves.

Today, the names Reliance and Ambanis have become bywords for bribery, corruption, cheating, scams, frauds, misappropriation of funds and every other conceivable and inconceivable form of financial impropriety and skulduggery. Dhirubhai Ambani’s corrupting actions during the licence-permit raj, have fostered a culture of corruption in our bureaucrat-technocrat-politician nexus, that is unprecedented. If someone were to write a demonology of people in India’s high places, then surely Dhirubhai would be unchallenged for the role of Satan.


Unfortunately, for all their ‘education’ at home and abroad, the two sons of Satan have carried on with the ‘good work’ begun by the father. Even to the extent of stealing the country’s natural (gas) resources, and then fighting over it, as if they were dividing their inheritance of the family silver, gold and other ill-gotten wealth. The worst part of this drama is that their pre-selected audiences applaud every loot and theft. They have even claimed that this kind of ‘development’ adds to the public weal. Constantly pointing to the millions of shareholders, who have benefited from the grand larceny of the promoters. And all this loot is carried out in cahoots with the state machinery, headed by economists who act as pimps for the IMF/WB/Washington nexus.
The ‘troika’ of P Chidambaram, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are the trojan horses of the first world and the IMF/WB nexus. Their job is to facilitate the plunder of state resources by the Ambanis, Agarwals, Tatas, and others of their ilk. This ‘troika’ of unpaid pimps do this for their self-aggrandisement and out of their greed for power. And like all weak humans, as soon as they got the drug of power in their hands, it addled their brains. They have been ably assisted by the Bandit Baron of Baramati who has used them as a cover for looting and feathering his own nest. BCCI and Lavasa are only the tip of the iceberg. Then, there are the Rajas, Kalmadis, Chavans, Deshmukhs and others who run their own scams, using the ‘troika’ for cover. This kind of arrangement makes the ‘troika’ an accessory before, during, and after the frauds, no matter what their claims of honesty, integrity and financial propriety might be. In the meantime, ‘Helen’ quietly exercises her power between 7 Racecourse Road  and 10 Janpath. Gaddi ke peche kaun hai?


For the last couple of years, the Chinese have been saying that they find it difficult to invest and do business in India because of the high levels of corruption. So what do we do about it? Symbolism!!! On the day Wen Jiabao landed in India, the CBI carried out massive raids on Raja, all over the place. The CBI was all over Raja like a rash. So in one swoop, we insulted the intelligence, perspicacity and the business acumen of our Chinese visitor. What a diplomatic coup! Are you listening, Nirupama Rao?


We complained about our adverse balance of trade with China. How Chinese imports are hurting Indian jobs – especially in manufacturing. So, why are we exporting 60% of our iron ore to China? Why don’t we produce more steel from our iron ore? When Reliance built their 60 MTPA oil refinery at Jamnagar, they had 4,000 Chinese workers on site. Did we not have any Indian companies that could engineer, procure and construct the Jamnagar refinery? Especially since tens of thousands of Indian workers lost their jobs in the Middle East, because of the recession/financial meltdown?


Lastly, we have Mukesh Ambani going around saying that over the next 2 decades, he would like to see India produce another dozen Mukesh Ambanis. To this I say, “No thank you Mukesh! The one we have, is one too many!!!”


As the father of our nation said, “The earth can produce enough to meet everyone’s need. It cannot meet everyone’s greed.” Certainly not that of Mukesh clones!


+

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

WAS IT WORTH IT?

BY VENITA COELHO

 

Standing in the hot sun with a cranky baby on my hip, explaining the regional plan at a corner meeting, I remember wondering whether it was worth it. I was not the only one putting in sweat and hard work. Members of the GBA spent months trying to get villages to understand the issues at stake. We were amazed at the response. In my own village, after dozens of corner meetings, endless phone calls, detailed mapping of the village area, even the panchayat understood the importance of our efforts. Our villagers filled in questionnaires and overwhelmingly voted for a VP3 status. The final plan we filed with the TCP was backed by a Gram Sabha resolution for every single suggestion. And yet after all the time and effort, was it worth it? And those tough concepts you struggled with? And all those who convinced you to do the right thing?


The answer is ‘yes’. But, this final RP2021 is not the plan that we hoped for. Nothing will stop us from putting pressure on the government to give us what we want. Launching an agitation to scrap this plan, would be disastrous. That’s what all pressure lobbies would love. If this plan goes, then they get to continue with the RP2001 – with all its umpteen loopholes and its lax rules. Now that elections are round the corner, the plan could be scuttled after elections, as well. We need to knock the RP2021, into shape, quickly. If this is a people’s plan, then the government has no business ignoring the desires of the people, as expressed through their questionnaires and their legally valid responses. The government has a duty, both moral and legal, to listen to people’s wishes. As we study the plan, here is what is emerging:


There are large scale insertions of areas that did not feature in the Draft RP2021. Paliem and Mandrem have settlement areas suddenly appearing. Karasvorem has an industrial area that has appeared, Korgao has an industrial estate added on the riverside. There are flaws between maps and the final notified RP2021 document. Parsem and Caslem-Amberim are marked VP1 in the map and VP2 in the document. 


The giant loophole left by amendment 16 and 16A remains – and is clearly demonstrated in this plan. Dhargalim is the site of the sports city – passed under this amendment. But it is not shown in the final plan. If shown, it would come over a mapped eco zone. The draft plan showed 89 mining leases and suggested their phasing out. The final plan gives mining a big bonus as mining leases has jumped to 129 – and the suggestions to the contrary, have vanished.


All ODP areas come under the PDA authority. But this final plan introduces areas that are ‘non PDA ODP’. In that case, what authority will they come under? Nowhere is this clarified.


We were told that VP status was linked to projected population growth. Virodna’s population is projected to decrease – and they have been given VP1 status. Cotigao area which is largely a wildlife sanctuary, is inexplicably projected to double its population. 


The more we study the plan, the more such irregularities and contradictions emerge. It’s time to hold someone responsible. This is only one, viz., – the chairman of the Draft Committee, The chairman of the SLC, the minister for the TCP department – our Chief Minister. Across this festive season, CM had plenty of time to celebrate – and none whatsoever, to meet the GBA despite requests. The GBA had a list of errors, insertions and vague areas it wanted explanations for. It is easy to duck an organisation, but not so easy to dodge the people. The CM must explain the sudden surprises in the final RP2021. Why is this plan not the plan we spent time and effort responding to? What happened to all the work, we put in? Where is the transparency, you promised? Where is the people’s participation? Where is the plan we want, Mr Chief Minister?

 

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CHENTRAL CHRONICAL

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

COURIER SERVICES

 

Union Government should frame guidelines for couriers. Since important documents like cheques and drafts are carried by this service, registration of courier-service with Union Ministry of Communications should be compulsory with list of their offices recorded with the Ministry. 


Courier-boys deliver documents any time during the day. Such a system is totally unsafe in residential areas especially for ladies and senior citizens. Mischievous persons can enter the residence for malaise intention of loot, rape or murder in form of courier-boys. Otherwise also it is not fair to disturb rest-hours of residents to deliver documents which many-a-times contain junk-mail like publicity-material. As such there should be fixed timings to deliver couriers especially in residential areas. It may be mentioned that mail by Indian Posts Department is always delivered during some fixed timings only. 


At times, couriers are delivered very late even after weeks. Addressee should be aware about despatch-date by making it compulsory for courier-agencies to print date of receipt by courier-agency together with the courier-number. Courier-services should leave message-slip about the undelivered courier to enable addressee to take delivery of documents in case of his/her unavailability at the address. 


Best is to encourage reliable and economical Speed Post service by Department of Posts by having ‘one nation, one tariff’ policy with its tariff being uniformly fixed at rupees fifteen per 50 gms for complete country instead of charging rupees 12 for local and rupees 25 for non-local Speed post. 

Madhu, Via e-mail

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

TRAFFIC CONTROL IN MP CITIES

 

Even though traffic chaos has seen exponential rise in almost all the cities of Madhya Pradesh, very little, indeed very little has been done to set things right.


The administration has totally failed to upgrade and maintain roads, set up other infrastructure like traffic lights, lighting up the roads at night, clear the roads of numerous encroachments by all and sundry, construct footpaths, remove unfit vehicles from the roads, provide foot bridges and diversions for heavy vehicles and crack the whip on those violating the rules.


The strength of the traffic police has remained the same as years ago. There has been little or no emphasis on holding refresher courses for them to update them on latest techniques in traffic control. Any wonder then that accidents particularly those involving 2-wheeler riders have increased by leaps and bounds.
Will the administration wake up at least now when the casualties on roads have broken an all time record? 


RJ Khurana, Bhopal

 

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

SPECIAL GROCERY LIST

 

Louise Redden, a poorly dressed lady with a look of defeat on her face, walked into a grocery store. She approached the owner of the store in a most humble manner and asked if he would let her charge a few groceries. 


She softly explained that her husband was very ill and unable to work, they had seven children and they needed food. John Longhouse, the grocer, scoffed at her and requested that she leave his store at once. 


Visualizing the family needs, she said: "Please, sir! I will bring you the money just as soon as I can." 
John told her he could not give her credit, since she did not have a charge account at his store. Standing beside the counter was a customer who overheard the conversation between the two. The customer walked forward and told the grocer that he would stand good for whatever she needed for her family. 


The grocer said in a very reluctant voice, "Do you have a grocery list?"


Louise replied, "Yes sir." "O.K" he said, "put your grocery list on the scales and whatever your grocery list weighs, I will give you that amount in groceries." Louise, hesitated a moment with a bowed head, then she reached into her purse and took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. She then laid the piece of paper on the scale carefully with her head still bowed. 


The eyes of the grocer and the customer showed amazement when the scales went down and stayed down. The grocer, staring at the scales, turned slowly to the customer and said begrudgingly, "I can't believe it." 
The customer smiled and the grocer started putting the groceries on the other side of the scales. The scale did not balance so he continued to put more and more groceries on them until the scales would hold no more. The grocer stood there in utter disgust. Finally, he grabbed the piece of paper from the scales and looked at it with greater amazement. It was not a grocery list, it was a prayer, which said: "Dear Lord, you know my needs and I am leaving this in your hands." The grocer gave her the groceries that he had gathered and stood in stunned silence. 


Louise thanked him and left the store. 


The other customer handed a fifty-dollar bill to the grocer and said; 


"It was worth every penny of it . Only God Knows how much a prayer weighs." 


Dr Medhavi Chourey

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

NIIRA RADIA-LOBBYING LOBBYIST

 

In general sense lobbying is nothing more than persuasion by one person to the other person who is in authority for getting one’s work done. If one wishes to prepare ration card or to have electricity connection,  water connection or reservation one approaches a person having some say in the concerned department and one gets his work done through acquaintance. This is normal working in life and no one minds it as nothing is being done going out of way.


Now, if one wants to get a transfer done or to get an appointment done and for that the concerned person starts putting pressure on the other who is in authority to do, he deploys a person who can put such influence and for that he may ask for cash or kind or as reward and this may amount to broking .But if that person demands cash or kind to influence the other person in authority it is said to be using corrupt means. 


Let us see from the point of view of Niira Radia. She is also a lobbyist and does her work with much courage and sincerity. We Indians have termed her work as Economic Terrorism. Praful Patel the Aviation Minister has such a view! Perhaps this is why Air India is going in losses of millions of rupees. I commend her on this count. As against this I would not appreciate Prabhu Chawla, Veer Sanghvi, Barkha Dutt and such other lobbyists who were wearing lion’s skin and all they worried about their own hide. They tried to be defensive rather than defending champions. As against this Niira Radia was strong enough to defend herself in right perspective. An extract from internet shows her biography which runs like this: 


Nira Radia is an Indian PR consultant and lobbyist, Nira has been an entrepreneur for more than 25 years, with extensive consultancy experience in the Aviation, Travel, Tourism and the Communication industry. She has conducted business with some of the most prestigious and leading brand names in the Aviation and Travel businesses besides a host of corporate companies, her client. A British citizen, Radia moved from England to Surajkund, India, with her three sons after a divorce from Kutchi businessman, Janak Radia. In 2003, Dheeraj Singh, a business partner, was arrested with an accomplice for allegedly kidnapping her 18-year-old son. By 2008, Nira Radia was running a successful corporate communications enterprise in the form of Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, and operating through subsidiaries such as Neucom, Noesis Strategic Consulting Services[8] and Vitcom Consulting. She is allegedly very close to Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, among others in the corporate world.


Prima-facie this does not go offensive against her. On the contrary it reveals that she is as strong as Tata, Birla, Ambani or Mittal or other Indian big industrialists etc. What she was doing is just her legal profession only and nothing abnormal or anything wrong. There is a much common system in business relating to liaison services. Such liaison officers keep on doing liaison work in different departments and get their work done by cash or kind or by mutual understanding or soft relations. But this is all done unofficially and the money spent on it is accounted with all legal manipulations. One can see such types of work in every business and rather to say it is necessary also as either due to work pressure or because of procedural delays or because of corrupt practice prevailing in different departments. The business circulars have to get their work done either by hook or crook otherwise due to delays their business may suffer setback. 

PV Namjoshi

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

DEVELOPMENT INDICES

 

Human development indices like good education, good health, good wage, good shelter, good clothing and good food may vary from one state to another and one society to another because they are relative and subjective too and they can be measured accordingly. But economic development indices like good roads, power, water supply, industry, employment, generation of revenue are some indices which are standardized and are measurable only through highly professional and objective assessment on the ground.
The focus of the assessment is on roads, power, water and industry. A lot of industrial activity is also sign of development of a state.


A study of Rajasthan has found good wide laned roads with floral dividers. The  industrial activity is also fast picking up in the state based on the local raw material like marble, lime, stone and forest generating employment as well as economy. Tourism is one industry which is galloping at a faster pace attracting huge number of foreign tourists and earning foreign exchange. Even places of non tourist but of pilgrim and religious and historical importance like temple towns Sawaliyaji and Nathdwara, and Haldighati a historical site are well connected with comparatively good roads. There are no frequent power cuts too.


In contrast excepting some selected National and State highways the roads in Madhya Pradesh are comparatively inferior in quality as well as poor in engineering skills. The works manual as well as experienced construction engineers state that roads should be mildy oval-shaped so that there is no water logging and stagnation of water on the roads causing their decay, pits, pot-holes and ultimate wash-out. No engineer in MP seems to have ever put this tested formula into practice. By and large roads connecting townships near the capital and those enjoying political patronage are satisfactory, though not good. Yet on all the state and national highways the lane culture and dividers beautifully bedecked by nature's floral bounty are missing.

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

INDIA’S STATURE IN GLOBAL SYSTEM

 

In the year that went by, India’s foreign policy has been largely dictated by its effort to secure more partners around the world. Especially in the Asian continent, evident from the regularity of high-level diplomatic visits. It has been New Delhi’s intent to create a zone of friendship around. With the phenomenal rise of neighbouring China with which India has not had the best of relations, the Manmohan Singh Government has been serious about increasing India’s foothold.


As the world takes baby steps toward securing the still fragile global economic recovery, the importance of countries like India has undoubtedly risen. In the changed circumstances, the salience of groups like the G20 of which India is a primary member, have dramatically increased. Moreover, the country’s economic performance and the opportunities in store for any country to do business with India have increasingly attracted attention.
Significantly, it is in this context, that the visit from the leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council assumes importance. The Russian President Medvedev’s recent visit completed a full circle. His visit followed that of Britain’s David Cameron, the US President Barack Obama, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao.


Apart from the symbolic importance, all the leaders who came calling in 2010 were men on a mission. They meant business and concluded their visits conversing on a host of issues concerning both sides and re-assessing the relations besides inking a lot of agreements spanning a lot of areas.


Among the P-5 members, India has had the most complex and difficult relationship with its neighbour and rising power China. The two countries share a protracted border dispute and do not see eye to eye on a number of vital issues, including the culpability of Pakistan for heightened anti-India terrorism.
But, this does not take away the kind of traction that India has been able to gain in its relationship with the major powers in the elite club of the Security Council. Apart from China, all the other four countries in the P-5 including the US which had been dilly-dallying has come out strongly in favour of a permanent seat for India in an expanded Security Council in the future.


China has maintained a rehearsed and rather lame assurance. The most that Beijing continues to say and one that was repeated in the joint communique recently is, “China attaches great importance to India's status in international affairs as a large developing country, understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council.”


But, New Delhi should not be hugely concerned about this because it also emphasizes Beijing’s insecurity of a rising India. Besides, the issue is not something that will pay immediate dividends. It serves like a secure investment that paves the way for understanding in a number of other strategic issues.
The fact that Britain, France, Russia and the US support India’s aspirations for a permanent seat does not mean that the reform would happen in the near future. However, it surely gives the message that for these countries, New Delhi is a responsible international player and the presence of India in the club would not be a liability for them.


In the field of civilian nuclear energy, India has come out quite a winner. The exception again is the Chinese side that concentrates on doing nuclear business with Pakistan, a country with a shoddy non-proliferation record. Wherein its own nuclear scientist AQ Khan was exposed as a czar of the nuclear black market.
Otherwise, major countries, including erstwhile skeptics have come around to either signing or at the least discussing the possibility of cooperating with New Delhi in the field of civilian nuclear energy. Nuclear commerce with India is the buzz in the international system and the niche and cooperation that follows it should be used as a launching pad for extending cooperation in other areas.


In fact, the India-US ‘123’ agreement really served as the ignition, which combined with the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver (NSG) led to the windfall. France came out as one of the earliest and strongest supporters of India joining international nuclear commerce. The synergy between Russia as a major energy producing country and India as a major energy consuming country is the catchphrase for India-Russia cooperation in this field.  Indeed the results are encouraging.


Undoubtedly, as expected, the Nuclear Liability Bill has raised some concerns among foreign countries hoping to invest in India’s nuclear energy market. The good part is that countries wishing to do business with India have not taken strong positions against the Bill. This gives New Delhi some space to negotiate as to how its  domestic concerns can be balanced with the demands of international nuclear commerce. This issue has to be worked out in a graduated manner that will not hamper the vital interests of any side.


Also, as the issue of terrorism becomes ubiquitous in all bilateral and multilateral, New Delhi, intends to make other major power acknowledge the seriousness of this threat in the Indian context. Whereby, we saw a general pattern where the burgeoning economic partnership between India and China did not translate in optimistic gestures on other issues of core interest.


Apart from the Chinese Premier, other leaders of the P-5 including President Obama were quite categorical in their condemnation of the existence of safe havens across the border. True, be it Britain, France, Russia or the US, there will be differences and opposing viewpoints on many issues, expected in any broad-based relationship, but at this juncture there seems to be no conflict of interest on any core issue.


But, on the Chinese front, there are some hardcore issues that could seriously impede the relationship. Adding to the inevitable competition between the two rising powers in the same geographic region, China through the stapled visa issue has continuously poked at the question of India’s sovereignty.


This time around, India took the right move towards a restraint aggression by diverting from the norm and not making any reference to Chinese sovereignty on Tibet and the ‘One China' policy, so dear to Chinese ears. The burgeoning economic relationship between New Delhi and Beijing is often flaunted as the hallmark of ties but in this department too, all the huge bilateral trade figures are nothing more than a chimera until the trade imbalance is not corrected.


So, as 2010 came to an end and India’s stature in the international system became more cemented than ever, its ties with the major powers of the world increased in some substantial areas. But as a country that aspires to sit at the high table of diplomacy and make its viewpoints counted in international decision-making, India should be more pro-active in its foreign policy making.


The milestones achieved last year should serve as launch pads toward substantial engagements in the years ahead. And an opportunity to better assess the loopholes that could hinder India’s ambitions in the future.
Monish Tourangbam, INFA

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

REACTION OF PARLIAMENT

 

Members of Parliament are setting a bad example by not allowing the House to run on the 2G Spectrum issue. The ill-effect of the same is now showing in the State legislatures too. It may threaten the very existence of parliamentary democracy. The people who elect the leaders have high hopes from them in running the government. 


The BJP government in Karnataka led by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa is also embroiled in controversy. After the scandal broke out in November, Yeddyurappa made his relatives surrender the land, claimed he did what his predecessors also did, and ordered a judicial probe into various land allotments since 1995.
The Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) Saturday announced it would not allow the Karnataka legislature, which begins its session Jan 6, to function till Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa quits, JD-S state president HD Kumaraswamy has said. Both the Congress and JD-S have been demanding Yeddyurappa's resignation mainly over nepotism in land allotment. Yeddyurappa is accused of favouring his sons and daughters and other relatives with prime land in and around Bangalore.


In Madhya Pradesh too, the principal Opposition, Congress party is demanding the resignation of Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the dumper issue. The Congress had even organised a parallel assembly in this context. As the BJP has failed to remove its leader in Karnataka, its relevance in New Delhi has also become questionable. Its demand for constitution of the Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the 2G spectrums issue has become out of place. 


Needless to say that if these august bodies are finished, then which alternative form of political and administrative system will take its place.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

MEIR DAGAN’S IRAN LEGACY

 

Ariel Sharon appointed Dagan in October 2002, telling him, the story goes, that he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.”

 

Looking back at Meir Dagan’s eight-year leadership of the Mossad, one is struck by how starkly it differed, at least in the public perception and the ramifications, from that of his predecessor, the English-born Efraim Halevy.

The debonair Halevy, a nephew of Cambridge philosopher Isaiah Berlin, had focused, among other areas, on improving international relations in friendly countries and quiet intelligence gathering. Whatever daring missions he approved made few headlines.


In contrast, Dagan’s rough-and-tumble stint was chock full of controversial operations that restored the Mossad’s public reputation for ruthless, bold actions.


This approach sometimes strained diplomatic relations – see, for instance, the fallout from the Mahmoud al- Mabhouh assassination in Dubai last January. It also evidently meant the Mossad had a wealth of attractive intelligence to bring to the table in its dealings with the CIA, MI6 and other friendly parallel organizations. It is no wonder that Dagan has been prominently mentioned in numerous WikiLeaks documents released so far, as a sought-after source of information.


Dagan’s strong Jewish identity seems to have been a major motivating force. The post-Holocaust “never again” mantra was central to his worldview.

He was born in 1945, reportedly in a train somewhere between Poland and Russia, to two survivors. On his first day as director, it is said, he hung a photo on the wall of his office at Mossad headquarters north of Tel Aviv of an elderly bearded Jew draped in a prayer shawl kneeling down in front of two Nazi soldiers with fists in the air.

“Look at this picture,” Dagan would often urge visitors, according to an interview that appeared this past Holocaust Remembrance Day in Yediot Aharonot. “This man, kneeling down before the Nazis, was my grandfather just before he was murdered. I look at this picture every day and promise that the Holocaust will never happen again.”


Ariel Sharon appointed Dagan in October 2002, telling him, the story goes, that he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.”


The two men had been close for decades. In 1970 Sharon, as head of the IDF’s Southern Command, had selected Dagan to command the Rimon counterterrorism unit that operated in the Gaza Strip. Rimon members disguised themselves as Palestinian taxi drivers, farmers and even women to carry out assassinations of Fatah terrorists.

In the years preceding Dagan’s ascendancy – and preceding Halevy’s too, for that matter – the Mossad had experienced several embarrassing failures. There was the failed attempt to assassinate Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal in Jordan in 1996, which sparked a crisis that Halevy played a central role in resolving. And there were the arrests of four Mossad agents caught attempting to tap the phone of Hizbullah operative Abdallah el-Zein in Switzerland in early 1998.


DAGAN’S MOSSAD has focused principally on Iran – its nuclear weapons drive and its jihadist proxies Hamas and Hizbullah. Since he took office, along with the killing of Hamas arms dealer Mabhouh in Dubai a year ago, Hizbullah’s terror chief Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in early 2008 when the headrest of his car seat exploded, and Syria’s liaison to North Korea’s nuclear program Gen. Mohammed Suleiman was shot through the head a few months later while relaxing in the back garden of his villa on the Mediterranean shore.

Israel, it should be stressed, has never acknowledged involvement in any of these incidents.


The Mossad may or may not be connected to a string of “setbacks” to Iran’s nuclear program: scientist Shahram Amiri temporarily disappeared last year while another scientist, Majid Shahriari, was shot dead in November; two planes carrying cargo relating to the project crashed; two nuclear labs burst into flames; equipment sent to Iran for the program arrived broken; and the Stuxnet worm wreaked havoc in Iranian nuclear facilities’ computer control systems.


If not for these “developments” and others, it is very possible that Iran would by now have achieved the level of uranium enrichment needed for a bomb.


If it ultimately turns out that the Mossad was linked to some of these “setbacks,” and they proved significant in the struggle to thwart Teheran, this would be Dagan’s biggest legacy. Making sure those are not the last such “setbacks” could be incoming Mossad head Tamir Pardo’s biggest challenge.


International economic sanctions, though they are starting to bite, have so far failed to persuade the regime in Teheran to abandon the program. A major military offense, while still “on the table,” is deemed by many to be unlikely, due in part to the prohibitively high risk of a major regional conflagration that could follow. For now, quiet but effective behind-the-scenes work may be the most important obstacle to a nuclear Iran.

Obviously, sabotage cannot delay the Iranians indefinitely. But it can buy time. Meir Dagan may have bought the free world a lot of that already.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

SHATTERING THE QUIET

BY RUTH EGLASH  

 

A website aimed at identifying pedophiles shows how new media can enable concerned citizens to get involved in vital social issues. But it also raises a host of concerns over ‘naming and shaming.’

 

At first glance, Tnu Ligdol Besheket (Let them grow in quiet) looks like your average community website intent on fighting some local cause or another.


A quote from 16th-century British philosopher Francis Bacon pointing out that “knowledge is power” sits in a green-bordered box on the left-hand side of the home page, a short introduction highlights the goals of the site and a nearby menu offers up options such as “What does the law say?” and “Further links.”


Upon closer inspection, however, and after clicking on an almost comical menu option entitled “Wall of Shame,” a controversial page opens up a spread of more than 80 thumbnail photographs of gruff-looking men who have either been convicted or suspected of sex crimes against children. As the mouse hovers over each picture, the name of the man appears and another click leads to a brief explanation of his crime, when he was released from prison and where he lives.


“The argument is always that pedophiles need quiet and a chance to rehabilitate after they are released from prison, but we believe that it is the children that need quiet and should be protected, not the men,” says Debbie, one of the main people behind the website, which went live in November and has an accompanying Facebook group of the same name.


“We want to create a public debate on this approach and, more importantly, we want there to be awareness,” she says.

Herself a mother, Debbie says the idea was formed after she and some friends heard about a Bnei Brak rabbi who had been committing sexual acts against children for years but who was never brought to justice.

“We are all private citizens who just realized there are a lot of shortcomings in the system. Of course most of these can be fixed quite easily and then our world would look very different, but nothing is being done,” she says, pointing out that there is no sex offenders’ registry here and there is no law similar to Megan’s Law in the US, where convicted child molesters are scrutinized more closely by the authorities and the public.


Referring to a number of recent cases where sex offenders were released from jail and returned anonymously into the community or where known pedophiles were left unchecked, Debbie says that people “are really scared.” She gives the example of Adrian Schwartz “a very dangerous pedophile who was sent to jail for 20 years for raping a young girl. He was released in September and even though he has paid his dues to society and the authorities claim he is no longer a danger, his new neighbors are very worried.”


Schwartz’s photograph is one of those that appear on the website, alongside mug shots of Naor and Adir Sodmi from Bnei Ayish, near Gedera. The twin brothers, who were already known to authorities after a series of sexual offenses and lewd acts against children, were convicted of molesting and murdering seven-year-old Leon Kalnatrov last January.


“We believe that the government is simply not doing enough to protect our children and even though we are fearful of retribution, we believe wholly in what we are doing,” says Debbie.


While many have lauded Tnu Ligdol Besheket for its attempts to tackle this issue, and many concerned citizens have shown their support by sending in information on suspected or convicted child molesters living and working in their area, there are some who argue that “naming and shaming” individuals before they are convicted is illegal and counterproductive.


There are also fears that such an unregulated initiative not only absolves the government of fulfilling its responsibility, but will ultimately force child molesters and pedophiles underground or into weaker socioeconomic communities that do not have the tools and awareness to protect their children.


And there are yet others who maintain that even after a molester is released from jail, websites such as this and all-revealing media reports are an attack on individual human rights and raise the question of society’s role in rehabilitating convicted felons.


DR. YITZHAK Kadman, executive director of the National Council for the Child (NCC), is clearly concerned about such unregulated, grassroots initiatives aimed at taking on the hundreds of child molesters and pedophiles released from jail each year.


“The bottom line is that parents in Israel cannot be relaxed in any way,” he says, highlighting that existing legislation fails in almost every way to adequately protect children. “The way the State of Israel deals with sexual abuse of children means that the safety net has more holes than netting.”


“I realize there is a vacuum and understand that parents or other concerned adults feel the need to deal with it, but these creative ideas are not the way to go,” states Kadman, pointing out that it should be the responsibility of the government to tackle this issue. “The minute parents create such projects, they are letting the state off the hook.

“No parent can solve these problems like they should be solved and ultimately it means that pedophiles end up moving to areas where community members are not well educated or aware of the problem.”


According to the NCC’s annual report, more than 7,000 cases are opened by police each year involving sexual offenses against children committed both within and outside of the family structure. It is estimated that fewer than 700 people are actually convicted of sex crimes each year, with roughly 200 going to jail and the rest assigned to some kind of community service.


Kadman estimates that there are around 1,000 child molesters currently in prisons and nearly 500 under the supervision of parole officers or social workers. The Tnu Ligdol Besheket website features some 700 alleged sex offenders, noting whether they are in jail or free.


“There are sex offenders in every place in Israel,” notes Kadman. “They do not necessarily look dangerous and, contrary to popular belief, they are not drug addicts or homeless people. Instead they might be teachers of Talmud or sport or might help old woman to cross the street or simply live next door.”


With regards to legislation, Kadman highlights that even though there are some laws designed to protect children, the problem lies with enforcement and prevention. “Take the Sex Offenders Monitoring Law [passed in 2006],” he observes. “That law has some lovely language, placing responsibility on the state to provide rehabilitative medical treatment, as well as supervision for those still considered dangerous to society after their release from jail.”


However, Kadman points out that the medical treatment – which is known as “chemical castration” and includes hormone injections that inhibit testosterone production – is voluntary and must be purchased privately at a high expense by the sex offender. Research released last summer by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee shows that very few of those released from jail opt to take the shots.


Other legislation that appears strong on paper but which is not adequately enforced is the law preventing the employment of child molesters in environments where there are children. As recently as last month, the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child heard how, since this law was passed in 2001, the police have initiated only four investigations against employers for taking on sex offenders and not one indictment has been filed.


“We pass lovely laws in this country, but they do not seem to be working,” comments Kadman. “I have called on the police and the minister of internal security to enforce this law, but they respond that their job is to arrest someone after a crime has been committed and not before.”


Attorney Lila Margalit of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who specializes in safeguarding human rights within the criminal justice system, agrees and argues further that naming and shaming websites such as Tnu Ligdol Besheket are a violation of human rights and solve little.


She highlights a series of studies in the US assessing the effectiveness of the 16-year-old Megan’s Laws, which mandate the release of information about sex offenders to the public. One study – carried out in 2009 by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Rutgers University – suggested that the law did little to deter sex crimes and failed to reduce the number of victims, local US media reported.


“I understand the desire of people to know such information from the point of view of protecting society from dangerous offenders, but on the other hand, we have to maintain a society that all of us would like to live in,” argues Margalit, pointing to other research refuting the notion that all sex offenders are repeat offenders. “For a person who has completed his prison sentence, it is the responsibility of society to help him rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community. [Such websites] are pushing offenders more into the margins of society, preventing them from finding a job or a place to live, and in that sense may actually make them more dangerous.”

Moreover, Margalit points out that lists of child molesters can be misleading, if only for the potential offenders they may omit. “I think it can also create a false sense of security,” she theorizes. “I’m also a mother and of course want my children to grow up in safety, but unfortunately looking for easy solutions to complicated problems is not the way to achieve that.”


Margalit maintains that an alternative approach should be to invest more in rehabilitation and social services, as well as better enforcement of existing laws.


“There is nothing to indicate such community notification rules have any benefit, on other hand we know that they do cause damage,” she says, pointing out that most sexual abuse of children is committed by family members.

EVEN AS human rights groups argue for the rights of a criminal who has paid his dues to society, Tnu Ligdol Besheket has garnered approval from a broad range of sources and in many ways fulfilled its role of bringing the debate into the public domain.

MK Zevulun Orlev, a former minister of welfare and social services and currently chairman of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, says he is familiar with the site and “fully aware of the vulnerability of Israel’s children.”

“I completely understand the concerns of parents,” he says, noting that his committee plans to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. “I recognize their sense that the authorities have let them down and are not doing enough to protect children from pedophiles.


“Sometimes the rights of the criminals are put before the rights of children. But we plan to make sure this issue is advanced so that parents will feel their children are being protected like they are in other Western countries.”

Hanita Zimrin, founder and chairperson of ELI, the Israel Association for Child Protection, sees the debate along similar lines.


Regarding an official register for sex offenders, she says: “Of course it hurts the rights of a person who has committed a crime if he has paid his debt to society and is now a free man, but we also need to consider the human rights of children. If a person has committed a white-collar crime, sat in jail and finished his sentence, I will to accept he has the right to start again, but with a pedophile I can’t accept it because according to clinical information a pedophile cannot be cured.


“If a pedophile can commit to taking the chemical medication and we know for sure he will not hurt another child then fine, but if we cannot be sure or if it is problematic for a person to commit to taking such medication, then we have an obligation to protect children first.


“As parents, as a state and as a society, our responsibility must be toward children and to ensure they are not hurt by pedophiles. Pedophilia is an emotional situation that cannot be changed, and while I respect the argument that you cannot blame a person for something he has not yet done, the chance of a sex offender repeating the crime is very high.”


Zimrin says that the state has a responsibility to tell families and others in the neighborhood if a pedophile is about to move in. “I would even be happy if there was some sort of list for employers, or the ability for them to verify information, but there is nothing,” she says.


“We have to start somewhere and then hopefully we will eventually get to the point where there is more awareness and a registry...I just hope that such steps do not have to be prompted by the murder or molestation of judge’s or MK’s child first.”

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

RIGHT OF REPLY: A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW

BY SAUL TAYLOR  

 

UK Jewry has been fortunate for the last 20 years to have a man with the eloquence and intellect of Chief Rabbi Sacks as our representative.

 

The article by Shmuley Boteach (“Fixing the failures of the UK Chief Rabbinate,” December 21) illustrates his fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Chief Rabbinate and a view which is at least a decade out of date.

Our religious leader, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, is hugely respected and popular both within his own community and beyond. His recent appointment to the House of Lords is an indication of the high esteem in which his is held. He has had times during his period in office when his popularity has weakened, but no leader can be popular all of the time, and in fact, his popularity has increased in recent years. Sacks may only be fully appreciated in the years following his retirement, when we are fully able to understand the full extent of his influence.

Rabbi Boteach’s misunderstanding has lead to his conclusion that the Chief Rabbinate “stifles the creativity of the UK rabbinate.”


On the contrary, it provides a framework for Orthodox rabbis to operate free from random and unwarranted criticism and acts as a facilitator for meaningful innovation. There are many examples over the last few years where rabbis of individual synagogues have used new ideas and programs to great success.


RABBI MIRVIS of Finchley United Synagogue with his Kinloss Learning Center has enticed many adults into Jewish learning and his program has been replicated in other communities across the United Synagogue. Rabbi Andrew Shaw of Stanmore and Canons Park United Synagogue has completely redesigned the heder system to make it more interesting and relevant to the younger generation. Many United Synagogues now offer a variety of different services on Shabbat mornings, to cater to the needs of the diverse membership, rather than the “one size fits all” of previous years.


Over the past 10 years, the United Synagogue, inspired by the chief rabbi, has been involved in a number of initiatives to recruit inspirational rabbis. It has been flying over rabbinical interns from Israel to serve in communities all over the country, with a view to taking up positions in the UK. Senior United Synagogue executives travel frequently to Israel and America to entice quality rabbinic candidates to the UK. Yeshiva University in New York has its first intake of rabbinical students from the UK for several years.


We are seeing the fruits of these efforts in some high quality recent appointments, all of whom readily look to our chief rabbi as a leader and for inspiration.


As well as the United Synagogue starting its own youth organization, Tribe, which has more than 12,000 members, the chief rabbi works in close partnership with the several outreach programs which have transformed Jewish life in the UK over the last decade. Aish UK, probably the most well known of our communal outreach organizations last year boasted 65,000 program attendances. Rabbi Sudak at Chabad, Rabbi Schiff at Aish, Rabbi Kirsch at the JLE or Rabbi Shaw at Tribe have all played a major role in the resurgence of Jewish practice. Bnei Akiva, has seen much improvement by doubling the number of tour groups it is taking to Israel over the last 10 years.

Although many outreach ideas are taken from abroad, many programs have also been developed in the UK, including the Tribe’s “60 days for 60 years” project that has been replicated across the Jewish world. In a recent conversation with a friend who works for Aish New York, he said that many of the programs it runs are ideas taken from its UK counterparts. The leaders of many of these movements will talk happily about the support given by our chief rabbi, and it is no coincidence that this focus on outreach has happened under his watch.

THE RESULTS of these projects are reflected in other areas of Jewish life. There are now several minyanim for Minha and classes across the City of London. Eruvim have been built across all the major Jewish centers and more are planned. There are now more than 50 kosher restaurants in the UK, more than double the number 10 years ago.


Gap years in Israel have become the norm for many students. This year Israel Experience ran tours for 1,318 participants, a number that would have only been a dream 15 years ago. Many Jewish schools are several times oversubscribed, so the last 10 years have seen the building of several new schools including Yavneh College, a new secondary school in Borehamwood. We now have one of the highest figures for children in Jewish schools outside Israel.


This renewal is in stark contrast to the US. Depending on which figures you read the rate of intermarriage is generally at least 10 percent lower in the UK than in the US. Whereas this figure is holding steady or slowly improving in the UK, it is rapidly deteriorating in America. Many of the problems in US Jewry are due to there being no one person who can speak on its behalf and no coordinating Jewish religious authority.


As a result of the communal setup in the UK, the majority of Jews have had some affiliation to Orthodoxy at some stage. The accessibility and affordability of a Jewish education has meant that the UK is much better placed to reach out to unaffiliated Jews. The majority of these organizations, including those that are not part of the United Synagogue, unite under the chief rabbi’s leadership.


BOTEACH’S VIEW that Sacks lacks moral courage does not stand up to scrutiny. Last year a proposed small meeting to discuss homosexuality in Orthodoxy at Yeshiva University attracted vast media attention and a sellout crowd of more than 1,000. Since the meeting, Yeshiva University released a written statement that appeared to express regret that this event took place, including saying that “public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send the wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirements of halachic behavior and due modesty.”


In contrast, the chief rabbi’s approach is entirely clear, that in line with the United Synagogue’s inclusive approach, any Jew, including homosexuals, is welcome at its synagogues, but the Chief Rabbinate and United Synagogue will not support a lifestyle which is contrary to Halacha. Similarly, with regard to agunot, in 2002 the Religious Marriages Law was finally passed by Parliament through the sustained efforts of the chief rabbi and supporting members of the judiciary over many years. This law gave a British judge the power to hold back giving a civil divorce until a get has been issued. In the subsequent years as a result of his hard work and courage to stand up to “British officialdom,” we have heard of very few new cases of agunot.


Sacks may not represent everyone’s precise religious convictions, but he is widely respected as the spokesman and figurehead for UK Jewry. Its affection for him was demonstrated in July last year when the whole community joined to congratulate him on joining the House of Lords. It was seen as an honor not just for him but for the whole community.


We have been fortunate for the last 20 years to have a man with the eloquence and intellect of Sacks as our representative. We as a community were very proud when it was our chief rabbi who was chosen to address Pope Benedict, during his recent trip to the UK, on behalf of all the other religious faiths.

Anglo Jewry is a very different place from that left by Boteach over a decade ago. The next chief rabbi will have a tough act to follow but I hope that he will find his own way, while at the same time continuing the great work of Chief Rabbi Sacks.


The writer is a vice president of an American bank in London and an adviser to the United Synagogue on youth policy.

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

OUR WORLD: THE LEFT’S LOSER MESSAGE

BY CAROLINE B. GLICK  

 

Whereas it once promised peace and prosperity, the Israeli Left now operates in a closed universe in which reality has no place and opposing views are systematically ignored.

 

The Israeli Left was once an optimistic place. But that is no longer the case. It once promised peace and happiness. But that is no longer the case.


Today the Left is marked by equal doses of doom and gloom, irrationality and delusion. It operates in a closed universe in which reality has no place and opposing views are systematically ignored.


The Left’s defeatism was brought home to me last Thursday during the Ariel University Center of Samaria’s conference on Law and Mass Media. There I participated in a panel entitled, “Is the idea of a ‘two state solution’ feasible or doomed to failure?” 


The first two speakers on the panel were Dr. Martin Sherman from Tel Aviv University and myself. Sherman explained in great detail how a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem will imperil Israel.


Without control over these areas, Israel will lack defensible borders. And given that there is no Palestinian leadership willing to accept Israel’s right to exist, this strategic vulnerability will invite a war that Israel will be hard-pressed to survive.

 


Both Sherman and I explained in great detail that due to the Palestinian and the larger Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist, the “two-state solution” policy paradigm is delusional. It is not a policy paradigm. It is a fantasy. A debate about the two-state solution is not a policy debate, but a debate about the attractiveness of a pipe dream.

 

Our point was emphasized last week in an op-ed by Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Ahmad Tibi in the Washington Times. Tibi called for the Obama administration to end US support for the Jewish state. Instead of supporting Israel, Tibi asked the US to lend its support to support the partition of the land west of the Jordan River between a Jew-free Arab state of “Palestine,” and a non-Jewish state in the rest of the area.


Given our arguments on the panel, and Tibi’s effective international declaration of war against Israel in the name of its Arab community, one might have thought that at the Ariel conference, our fellow panelists from the Left would have been hard pressed to maintain their allegiance to the two-state formula. Then too, the fact that the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat’s published an article in The Guardian two weeks ago in which he implicitly called for Israel’s destruction, one could be forgiven for thinking Ma’ariv former opinion editor Ben Dror Yemini and Shaul Arieli from the EU-funded Council for Peace and Security might have attenuated their support for Israeli land giveaways.


BUT ONE would be wrong for thinking that. Abiding by the Left’s standard practice, rather than contend with opposing views or reality, our fellow panelists pretended we didn’t exist.


I devoted most of my time to discussing a policy that is not based on fantasy. Such a policy, which I call the Stabilization Plan, involves a mix of military and law enforcement operations, a political and international law offensive, and the application of Israeli law in the Jordan Valley and the major blocs of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. As I said, the policy has advantages and disadvantages. But it is a policy, not a fantasy. Therefore, I argued, it represents a major step forward in Israel’s national discourse.

Yemini has done good work exposing the European campaign to delegitimize Israel. He has been outspoken in condemning the New Israel Fund and J Street for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. He has angered his fellow leftists with his warnings that Fatah continues to reject Israel’s right to exist. Yet despite all of this, in his remarks, Yemini ignored what I had asserted just moments before and claimed there is no alternative to the two-state solution. The international community, which is waging a political war against Israel, will accept nothing less. Surrender is the only option.


Arieli for his part said that Israel has two options. We can surrender voluntarily or we can be forced to surrender by the international community. If we want to remain part of the Western world, we’d better do it ourselves. The two-state solution, he said, is Israel’s only hope.


Arieli assured his audience that Israel has no reason to worry about surrendering defensible borders because everything will work out fine. If we go with option one and voluntarily deny ourselves the means to defend what will remain of our country after we fork Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem over to the Palestinians who reject our right to statehood in what will remain of the country, we will definitely be safe.


During his remarks, Arieli repeatedly argued that his position is the same as opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s. And he was correct.


In her interview on Friday with the Post’s Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz, Livni made also argued that Israel has no option but surrender. Israel will lose all international support, not to mention its Jewish character if we don’t give the Palestinians what they want.


Livni’s withering criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revolves around what she considers his insistence on placing limitations on the scope of Israeli surrenders. Livni admitted that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas rejected former prime minister EhudOlmert’s generous offer of a Palestinian state in Jerusalem, most of Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. But she denied that his action means that the Palestinian leader isn’t interested in Palestinian statehood.


Ridiculously, Livni claimed that what her own boss offered the Palestinian leader was irrelevant. Livni asserted that as Olmert’s foreign minister, she was the only one empowered to make offers in Israel’s name. Since she says she made no offer, as far as she is concerned, the fact that Abbas rejected her boss’s offer is irrelevant.

Like Yemini and Arieli, Livni sees no option but surrender. And like them, she admits that surrender will not bring peace. As she put it, a surrender deal “would be very fragile,” and “it might be accompanied by terrorism.”

As she summed things up, if she gets her way and Israel gives up the store, “I have no illusions about a ‘New Middle East.’ I don’t believe that, the moment an agreement is signed, we’ll live in a fairy tale world of prosperity and happiness.”


But still, as far as she is concerned, this is Israel’s only choice.


AND IT is not only regarding the Palestinians that the Left feels that Israel can do nothing but surrender. The same is true regarding Hizbullah and Syria. In her interview Livni defended her role in producing UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that set the terms for ending the war with Hizbullah in 2006.


Resolution 1701 by most accounts was the single worst failure of Israeli diplomacy in recent memory. It placed Hizbullah – an illegal terrorist army run by Iran – on equal footing with Israel. It empowered the Hizbullah-dominated Lebanese government and army to prevent Hizbullah’s rearmament and so paved the way not only for Hizbullah’s rearmament, but for Hizbullah’s takeover of the Lebanese government and military. Moreover, it enhanced the power of the Hizbullah-appeasing UN forces in south Lebanon.


All of these things made 1701 a strategic disaster for Israel. But Livni refuses to acknowledge this.


In her interview, she defended 1701 by claiming that unlike then prime minister Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, 1701 gave Israel legitimacy for striking Hizbullah in the future.


As she put it, “We for the first time created a situation in which that rearmament was not legitimate, with the natural consequent options if we need to use them.”


Ironically, that is precisely what Barak claimed he was doing when he pulled out in 2000. In March 2006, just four months before the war which was to see Israel demonized on virtually every diplomatic stage, Haaretz’s Ari Shavit claimed that by withdrawing to the internationally recognized border with Lebanon in May 2000, “Barak built the invisible wall of international legitimacy,” for future Israeli combat operations in Lebanon.

And since 2006, the international campaign to deny Israel the right to defend itself has only gained ground.


As for Syria, following the Obama administration’s lead, today the Israeli Left is revving up its old push to surrender the Golan Heights. The Left contends that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is keen to abandon his strategic alliance with Iran and that by handing over Israel’s defensible border in the north, Israel will convince him to do so and so weaken Iran.


But of course, reality tells an opposite tale. If Israel renders itself defenseless, it will invite war.


Moreover, Assad’s growing power owes solely to his alliance with Iran. As Michael Young from Lebanon’s Daily Star wrote last week, “Washington wants to engage Syria so that it will give up on alliances that the Syrians will never willingly surrender, because doing so would so weaken Damascus politically that it would defeat the very purpose of engagement.”


The Americans wouldn’t care about Syria if it were moderate. The US wouldn’t be seeking to appease Assad if he didn’t allow Hizbullah to use Syria as its logistical base, if he hadn’t directed the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri or if he wasn’t Iran’s junior partner in its proxy war against the US in Iraq. If Assad weren’t a nuclear proliferator together with Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, he would be treated with the same reproach as Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

And yet, none of this matters for the Left. In its view, Israel can completely change Syria – and Iran – by denying itself the ability to defend northern Israel.


To support this view, on Friday Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote that outgoing IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi intends to make a name for himself in politics by championing an Israeli surrender of the Golan. Ashkenazi – who has enjoyed an intimate relationship with the Obama administration – has been the chief opponent of an IDF strike on Iran’s nuclear installations. His personal mentor is Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uri Saguy. Saguy has served as the chief champion of a Golan Heights surrender for more than a decade.


Until the peace process spawned the Palestinian jihad and the surrenders of south Lebanon and Gaza brought war, the Left’s message was, “Join us and we’ll bring peace and prosperity.”


That was an optimistic, attractive message and it won the Left a couple of elections. But now that their plans have all failed, the Left’s message has become, “Join us because resistance is futile. We are doomed.”


This is not an attractive message. And happily, it is also not true.


What is true is that together with the reality of the failure of the Left’s delusions, its defeatist message has lost the Left the support of the public.


caroline@carolineglick.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

ENCOUNTERING PEACE: THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER

BY GERSHON BASKIN

 

Gilad Schalit isn’t home yet because no one wants to give Hamas a victory.

Talkbacks (4)

 

Who really wants Gilad Schalit released, except his family? Apparently no one. “The State of Israel is doing everything possible to bring Gilad home.”


Come on, who are they kidding? After four and half years, a few kilometers from the border in an area which is under our complete external control, sits an IDF soldier, one of us, one of our children, sent to defend us, in captivity by our enemy with no real sign that he will be coming home in the near future.


Before I start on the Prime Minister’s Office, let me assign blame where it really belongs – on Hamas. But criticism of Hamas is not going to pressure it to change its demands for Schalit’s release.

 

He could have been home a long time ago; the price tag has been known for more than four years, and has not changed. I personally received the first list of Hamas’s demands, which I passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office, and the price remains today as it was then – in fact, as I will show, Hamas has made some compromises, but still Schalit remains in captivity.


Hamas even indicated a willingness to conduct direct secret talks to conclude a deal – I know this because I delivered the request. The response: We have an agreed-upon mediator – a German former intelligence officer – and everything must go through him.


LET’S BE brutally honest – Schalit isn’t home yet because no one wants to give Hamas a victory. Egypt, which has provided the umbrella for the negotiations, has the Muslim Brotherhood to worry about. The recent elections there were a clear demonstration of the political manipulations the regime is willing to undertake to prevent any kind of political victory for Hamas’s elder brother. Jordan, like Egypt, doesn’t want to see celebrations of Hamas’s success in bringing about the release of Palestinian prisoners.


Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority work overtime to crush the influence of Hamas in the West Bank. Hundreds of prisoners released to Hamas is perceived as a direct threat to the Abbas regime.


The Americans don’t want a Hamas victory, and why should they care about a single IDF soldier anyway? 


Ehud Barak, the leader of the dying Labor Party, certainly doesn’t want to be perceived as the man who gave in to Hamas. Ehud Olmert didn’t want that either, even though his negotiator almost closed a deal.


Who in the government wants to gain the reputation of being soft on terror? Our prime minister has certainly calculated the political costs of a deal and has concluded that “business as usual” is much better than paying the price to bring Schalit home.


What does “business as usual” mean? That we will continue to lie over and over again that “we are doing everything possible to bring Schalit home.”


We will continue to make speeches about the high moral code of the IDF, and how we don’t leave any soldier behind. We will continue to whisper “we shouldn’t discuss this issue in public because the negotiations are secret and the price will rise.”


We will continue to employ a former senior Mossad official and pay him more than NIS 300,000 a year, plus a team to work with him so that we can justify our claim that we will not leave any stone unturned.

There are no negotiations taking place. The German mediator, Dr. Gerhard Conrad, has basically stopped trying, knowing that the process is stuck almost where it was more than a year ago. Egyptian security officials claim they could conclude a deal, but no one will appoint them to take full charge, and without that they will play only a passive role. (If they can deliver as they claim, why won’t they? Because they don’t really want to.) 

A senior Norwegian official who I tried to engage in mediation on a number of occasions, and was willing to do so (on the condition that both sides requested his involvement) says that while Hamas was willing for him to try, he had to coordinate with Egypt, which was not interested in someone else stepping in, and Israel simply refused.

IN JULY 2010 a letter from a senior Hamas official was delivered to Conrad through a UN official in Gaza, after its contents had been authorized by Hamas strongman – and the person believed to be holding Schalit – Ahmed Jaabari, in which Hamas agreed to moderate some of its demands. I received a copy and delivered it to the prime minister and the minister of defense. Jaabari was willing to accept that a certain number of prisoners on the Hamas list would be removed, and that Hamas would agree that about 30 of the West Bank prisoners could be released to Gaza or sent abroad. Israel’s position was that more than 10 names on the Hamas list be removed entirely, and that more than 120 West Bank prisoners be expelled to Gaza or abroad.


On the basis of the letter and other indications, Conrad tried to renew the process, but came to a dead end on the Israeli side. I recently spoke with that senior Hamas official, who continues to state that Jaabari is now willing to accept even more deportees to Gaza and abroad, but Israel continues to refuse to enter serious negotiations.

Without declarations, without ceremonies, without a funeral and a flag over a casket, Gilad Schalit is nonetheless being treated as a soldier who fell in defense of his country; it’s much easier to quell the national conscience than to make the tough decisions that no one wants to make.


The problem is that Schalit is still alive, he is still a soldier, he is still one of our sons, and our conscience should not allow us to conduct business as usual for even one more day.


Abbas and the PA will survive the momentary Hamas victory. Egypt and Jordan will not collapse if hundreds of prisoners are released to Hamas. Our security forces are able to deal with any released prisoner who really presents a threat. The IDF will be free to take care of Hamas’s military wing after Schalit’s release without fearing that its actions will lead to his death. What will not survive is the moral code of the IDF, the covenant between the state, the people and the army – and our good conscience.


The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

A CRITICAL SILENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS

BY JACKSON DIEHL  

 

There seems to be a deeply ingrained resistance in the Obama administration to the notion that the US should publicly shame authoritarian regimes or stand up for the dissidents they persecute.

 

In a speech to the UN General Assembly last September, US President Barack Obama suggested that his administration’s notoriously weak defense of human rights around the world would be invigorated. “We will call out those who suppress ideas and serve as a voice for those who are voiceless,” he said. He went on to urge other democracies: “Don’t stand idly by, don’t be silent, when dissidents elsewhere are imprisoned and protesters are beaten.”


Just over two months later, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Bahrain, an important Persian Gulf ally that hosts the US Fifth Fleet. The emirate was in the midst of a major crackdown on its opposition. Two dozen dissidents, including intellectuals, clerics and a prominent blogger, had been rounded up, charged under anti-terrorism laws and allegedly tortured. A human rights group that had received US funding was taken over by the government. Human Rights Watch had concluded that “what we are seeing in Bahrain these days is a return to fullblown authoritarianism.”


Clinton’s response? Extravagant and virtually unqualified praise for Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa family. “I am very impressed by the progress that Bahrain is making on all fronts – economically, politically, socially,” she declared as she opened a town hall meeting. Her paeans to Bahrain’s “commitment to democracy” continued until a member of parliament managed to gain access to the microphone and asked for a response to the fact that “many people are arrested, lawyers and human rights activists.” Clinton’s condescending reply was a pure apology for the regime. “It’s easy to be focused internally and see the glass as half empty. I see the glass as half full,” she said. “Yes, I mean people are arrested and people should have due process . . .but on the other hand the election was widely validated. . . . So you have to look at the entire picture.”


SO MUCH for a fresh start on human rights. Clinton’s Bahrain visit reflected what seems to be an intractable piece of the Obama administration’s character: a deeply ingrained resistance to the notion that the United States should publicly shame authoritarian regimes or stand up for the dissidents they persecute.


Yes, Obama made a public statement the day an empty chair represented Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel peace prize ceremony, and both he and Clinton issued statements last week when Russia’s best-known political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was convicted on blatantly trumped-up charges. But in all sorts of less prominent places and cases, the US voice remains positively timid – or not heard at all.


After Egypt’s terrible elections in November, in which ballot boxes were blatantly stuffed and the opposition brutally suppressed, the administration’s commentary was limited to bland statements issued by “the office of the press secretary” of State and the spokesman of the National Security Council. Three weeks earlier, at a widely watched joint press conference in Washington with Egypt’s foreign minister, Clinton made no mention of the elections, the crackdown or anything else related to human rights.


In Latin America, friends of the United States marvel at its passivity as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega systematically crush civil society organizations and independent media. “I don’t see a clear policy,” Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez – a good example of the sort of dissident Obama promised to defend – told me.

When the administration touts its record it often focuses on the declarations it has engineered by multilateral forums, such as the UN Human Rights Council. The ideology behind this is that the United States is better off working through such bodies than acting on its own. The problem is that, in practice, this is not true. Set aside for the moment the fact that the UN council is dominated by human rights abusers who devote most of the agenda to condemnations of Israel. Who has heard what the council said about, say, the recent events in Belarus? The obvious answer: far fewer people than would have noticed if the same critique came from Obama or Clinton.


Back to Bahrain for a moment. The “entire picture” Clinton referred to is that virtually no one, outside the Bahraini royal family and the State Department, shared her judgment that the parliamentary election was “free and fair.”


The dissidents are still on trial; their defense lawyers resigned en masse last month because of the court’s refusal to consider any of their motions.


Recently, Human Rights Watch spoke up again on behalf of Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who has been repeatedly harassed by security forces, prevented from traveling and called a terrorist by the state news agency.


Has the Obama administration spoken up for this relatively obscure and “voiceless” dissident? Of course not.

The writer is deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

LETHAL GAS

 

The IDF should allow the demonstrations at Bil'in to take place. It should act only when there is danger to life and property.

 

Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a 36-year-old kindergarten teacher, was killed over the weekend after she choked on tear gas while watching the weekly demonstration at her village. Residents and human rights activists from at home and abroad demonstrate against the separation fence that was built on village land. Abu Rahmah died less than two years after her brother Bassem was killed by a tear-gas canister fired directly at his chest at a similar protest. A third brother, Ashraf, was caught on camera as he was shot by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed.

 

The demonstrations at Bil'in, which have been going on since work to build the fence on village land began in February 2005, are entirely legitimate. The residents have the right to protest the theft of their land for the giant settlements set up around their village. More than three years ago, following such demonstrations, the Supreme Court ordered that the fence's route be moved to give the village back some of its land - about 700 dunams. The defense establishment has yet to carry out this ruling.

 

Since the demonstrations against the fence began in the West Bank, 21 protesters have been killed, according to Palestinian sources. This is a chilling statistic that should greatly trouble every Israeli. So should the death of Abu Rahmah. According to the demonstrators, the Israel Defense Forces used particularly large quantities of gas on Friday. An Israeli doctor who takes part in the protests, Daniel Argo, told Haaretz that some tear gas is less dangerous than the kind used by the IDF. So it's not clear why the army chooses to use the more dangerous type.

 

The IDF should allow the demonstrations at Bil'in to take place. It should act only when there is danger to life and property. And even then it should act as security forces do in democratic countries when there are demonstrations. Just as the settlers' protests against the Gaza disengagement passed without deaths, so should the Palestinian protests against the fence pass. There are enough ways to break up demonstrations, if this is at all necessary, without risking the lives of the participants.

 

Abu Rahmah died in vain. She didn't endanger anyone. There's no need to mention the countries where the regimes kill people who demonstrate against them. Israel must not become one of them.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

HOW THEY WHITEWASH RACISM

IF THE RESIDENTS OF SOUTH TEL AVIV HAD WANTED TO FIGHT TO IMPROVE THE LOOKS OF THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS, THEY WOULD HAVE JOINED FORCES WITH THE REFUGEES FOR REAL SOCIAL CHANGE.

BY VERED LEE

 

"In the corners of the living quarters of the Africans ... you will find the filth, card games played for money, residents getting drunk, and prostitution. ... The Africans bring this way of life with them when they migrate, and it is no wonder that crime in the country is on the upswing. Young women and even young men are again not safe going out on the streets alone after dark."

 

These harsh statements were not written about African refugees who recently arrived in Israel. They were written by Haaretz journalist Aryeh Gelblum on April 22, 1949, and referred to the Jews who had immigrated from North Africa, many of the same immigrants who either themselves or whose descendents now populate south Tel Aviv and who are now spouting similar rhetoric against newly arrived refugees from Africa.

 

Residents of south Tel Aviv who have suffered for years from poverty, crime and prostitution have been working for some time to get the refugees expelled from their neighborhoods. The rhetoric they employ has succeeded in misleading and blinding many people who in more clearheaded times would label such talk as pure racism.

 

It is precisely during these dark times, however, during which the level of hate is rising, that the duty exists to state clearly that the hostility in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods towards the refugees is pure and simple racism. The residents of these neighborhoods are hiding behind a rhetorical artifice based in part on the argument that their neighborhoods are teetering on the edge and the refugees impose additional difficulties on them.

 

The residents also argue that the refugees pose a threat to their personal safety, try to pick up their young women and sow crime in the streets. A third contention relates to the refugees' way of life: They crowd into small apartments and degrade the cleanliness of the neighborhood. Finally, it is argued, that their growing numbers pose a demographic threat.

 

Any attempt to point out the racist rhetoric that they are creating is rebuffed with pretentions of total innocence, which quickly turns into anger, rejecting the right of those who don't live in the neighborhood to judge.

 

Nonetheless, the negative labeling, the stereotypes and the fear of those who are different, who, they say, will change the social fabric are clear hallmarks of racism.

 

Anyone who tries to whitewash the hate-drenched efforts of the residents of south Tel Aviv on the contention that things are more complicated is falling into the trap laid by the racist rhetoric and is giving support to these efforts.

 

Surprisingly, in recent years, residents of south Tel Aviv have not come out against the real reason for the collapse of their neighborhoods, the real threat to themselves and their children, which is the drug trade that brings with it crime and feeds prostitution in the area.

 

The residents, however, have learned to react apathetically to the decline posed by drug addicts, to the crime around them, to the trafficking in women which seeps unhindered onto their streets. They are apathetic to the prostitutes loitering in their apartment stairwells, to the thriving escort services and to the dirty needles scattered in public parks and in the yards of the neighborhood.

 

If the residents of south Tel Aviv had wanted to fight to improve the looks of their neighborhoods, they would have joined forces with the refugees for real social change. They would have been able to engage in productive discussion with residents of the various communities and bridge the cultural divide. Together they could demand the intervention of municipal and national government officials for the benefit of the entire population of the area.

 

The attempt to denigrate the refugees and accuse them of crime and to scorn the overcrowding in their small apartments while ignoring their suffering and poverty reveals the real motive for the racism of south Tel Aviv's residents: fear of living in proximity to a Muslim population. And the biggest concern of all: That the value of the residents' homes will go down.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A RIGHT WING THAT SHOULD WORRY THE RIGHT

THOSE WHO OUGHT TO BE WORRIED ABOUT THE IMPENDING SITUATION IN THE UNITED STATES - A SWEEPING REPUBLICAN MAJORITY IN THE 112TH HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WHICH BEGINS ITS TERM THIS MONTH - ARE FIRST AND FOREMOST PEOPLE ON THE ISRAELI RIGHT.

BY SHLOMO SHAMIR

 

Those who ought to be worried about the impending situation in the United States - a sweeping Republican majority in the 112th House of Representatives, which begins its term this month - are first and foremost people on the Israeli right. Those who should be especially worried are the prime minister and anyone else convinced that the strong Republican presence on Capitol Hill ensures enthusiastic support for Israel over the next two years that will serve as a brake and counterweight to the chill emanating from the White House.

 

For the current Republican majority is characterized by a large and demonstrative contingent of the vocal, activist, demanding right. This fact gives today's Republican majority special significance that was absent during previous terms when the Republicans controlled Congress.

 

The impressive achievements of President Barack Obama, who managed to pass revolutionary legislation during the two weeks of the last Congress' lame-duck session, refutes the assessment that has gladdened Israeli rightists' heart: that the rout the Democrats suffered in the November elections punished and weakened the president. Now, the Israeli right should expect a less pleasant surprise.

 

Israel's rightist coalition will discover that the presence of a large right-wing faction within the Republican majority, a faction with no parallel in the houses of the last several years, not only does not guarantee support for its policies but even carries the potential for aggressive opposition to its conduct of the peace process.

 

The new Republican right is in large part unfriendly. This is a new kind of right, which was hastily formed, developed outside the establishment and grew on the margins of local politics in response to the feelings of anger and depression that swept large portions of the public due to the economic recession and ongoing unemployment. Most of the new Republican members of Congress are angry local activists who view Washington as the source of many of the problems currently weighing down America.

 

The Tea Party representatives who were elected are aggressive radicals on social issues. To the degree that foreign policy and relations with countries across the ocean interest them at all, they tend toward isolationism. So far, this tendency has been hesitant and constrained. But with time, as they grow accustomed to the feeling of power conferred by being in the majority, their isolationism will presumably strengthen and erupt in full force. As one analyst for National Public Radio noted recently, this is a right that will show no mercy toward countries that challenge the United States.

 

What these new representatives of the Republican Party's right wing deem far more critical is the lethal economic situation of many American states, some of which are on the brink of bankruptcy. Ensuring funding for schools and fire departments in peripheral areas of the country, or bolstering welfare services and community projects in large cities, top the list of priorities they will seek to advance in the new Congress.

 

Washington pundits predict that Tea Party representatives will try to cut foreign aid to other countries, including America's closest allies. A major newspaper in Dallas, viewed as representative of the Republican Party's right wing, recently published an editorial urging a cut-off of economic aid to Israel due to its refusal to accede to the administration's demands in its efforts to advance the Middle East peace process.

 

For the first time in years, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will not all be cut from the same cloth and will not act as a disciplined, unified bloc. Thus far, it has been the Democrats on Capitol Hill who suffered from internal strife and disagreements among the party's various factions and interest groups; its leadership was forced to navigate the activity of its congressional representatives rather like an internal coalition. But the results of November's election for the first time made the Republican Party's representatives in Congress ideologically diverse, turning the faction into an arena for various forces and interests that will not always fall in line behind the leadership's views.

 

"The majority leader in the House of Representatives will have a very hard time imposing discipline on his colleagues," one Washington pundit said. This assessment, too, does not bode well for Israel's right.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

FORGOTTEN IN THE GAS RUSH

ISRAEL'S RESERVES OF NATURAL GAS AND OIL SHALE HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO END THE COUNTRY'S DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN ENERGY SOURCES AND, IN THE CASE OF SUBSTITUTING NATURAL GAS FOR OTHER ENERGY SOURCES, OF REDUCING A NUMBER OF TYPES OF GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS.

BY ZAFRIR RINAT

 

A battle has been raging for several months over the royalties and taxes the petroleum firms will have to pay the state for the right to exploit the country's large natural gas reserves. While this issue is of crucial importance, there is another issue that has been pushed aside - the long-term environmental implications of these energy projects.

 

In addition to the planned natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, a plan is in the works to produce shale oil from rock embedded in the Judean Plain, between Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Gat. Experts estimate that this area contains one of the largest reserves of oil shale in the world.

 

Israel's reserves of natural gas and oil shale have the potential to end the country's dependence on foreign energy sources and, in the case of substituting natural gas for other energy sources, of reducing a number of types of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

But these projects come at a hefty environmental price. There is a real danger that in the rush to exploit the resources and divvy up the profits, Israel's environmental health could be trampled underfoot.

 

Undersea drilling, and the infrastructure needed to transport and store the extracted natural gas, could pollute and damage plant and animal habitats. Israel is not prepared to prevent such damage to its marine environment, because the Environmental Protection Ministry is insufficiently involved in the decision-making process. It cannot even conduct the environmental impact and risk assessment studies that are the norm in other countries.

 

Gas storage terminals will have to be built on-shore; these, too, present safety and environmental hazards. Another concern is that the extensive development of the natural-gas market could significantly reduce investments in renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind, and could hinder Israel's participation in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The environmental hazards of shale oil are equally great. The envisioned project could damage the unique environment of the Judean Plain. The implications for air quality and greenhouse gases are still unknown. Even the project developers admit that shale oil production has never been carried out on a commercial scale, though they claim that each component of the project has been tested successfully.

 

Israel must counter the power of the gas barons and the wealthy patrons of the companies promoting the development of shale oil production by imposing a strict regime to regulate and control the environmental fallout from the project. It would require tests and monitoring to ensure that the impact on the environment is kept to a minimum.

 

In addition, the government and the national planning agencies must examine all of the possible alternatives, taking environmental damage into consideration. For example, it should consider scaling back the shale oil project if it is found that it will cause irrevocable damage to the Judean Plan area, or choosing more expensive but safer and potentially less ecologically damaging sites for the on-shore natural gas terminals.

 

If we do not create a system to combat the negative effects of exploiting accessible and valuable energy sources, Israel could find itself surrendering to the same "resource curse" that has plagued many countries. This curse created a situation in which the huge, easy profits reaped from the extraction of natural resources, which usually found their way to the hands of just a few, weakened the systems of checks and balances in government and civil society. It has left many countries scarred and wounded, both economically and environmentally.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WITH NO TREASURY, ANYTHING GOES

THE FINANCE MINISTRY'S BUDGET DEPARTMENT IS ALSO ASTONISHED. HOW IS IT THAT SO MANY PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS ARE DEMANDING ASTRONOMICAL WAGE HIKES, AND WHY ARE THEY GETTING SUPPORT FROM GOVERNMENT MINISTERS? AND HOW IS IT THAT THE HISTADRUT IS STOKING THE FLAMES AND KNESSET MEMBERS AND MAYORS ARE LENDING A HAND?

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

The Finance Minister was stunned. How did Ofer Eini and Shraga Brosh agree to raise the minimum wage without including him in the discussion? How were his "round table" allies able to spit on him publicly like that?

 

The Finance Ministry's budget department is also astonished. How is it that so many public sector unions are demanding astronomical wage hikes, and why are they getting support from government ministers? And how is it that the Histadrut is stoking the flames and Knesset members and mayors are lending a hand? Don't they understand that they are jeopardizing Israel's economic stability?

 

Indeed, they are, but the responsibility for that rests first and foremost on the shoulders of Yuval Steinitz and the top brass of the Finance Ministry.

 

The basic problem is that the finance minister wants to be loved. He isn't shouting "Fools, get off the roof," (as former Finance Minister Yigal Hurvitz once did ), but is opening up the state coffers to everyone. His position is so shaky that the prime minister grabs the reins from him every time a problem arises, and Eini and Brosh just ignore him.

 

The budget department is also to blame for the public sector wage demands that threaten to drown us. Once upon a time, there were economists there who knew how to buck the populist trend and fight to streamline the public sector and implement reforms. The current budget director, Udi Nissan, says that "in the Finance Ministry there's no talk of cuts, just increases." If that's the case, no wonder everyone has his hands out.

 

Just a month and a half ago, the finance minister agreed to a 6.25 percent wage hike (which, in fact, is 7.5 percent ) for all public sector workers. Steinitz boasted that he had reached the agreement without a strike. No wonder. If you surrender easily to Eini's demands, you can rest assured that there will be no strike.

 

The high-school teachers took note and threatened a strike as well. That was enough to scare Steinitz, who gave them a tremendous wage hike of 50 percent in exchange for a few extra hours in school.

 

The Foreign Ministry workers took note and began their own work sanctions. The state prosecutors got wind of this and went on their own extended strike. Steinitz, who wanted the prosecutors to love him as well, did not tell the public the truth - that they are not a deprived group of workers. Their average monthly wage is 18,000 shekels, they get tenure as well as other special perks. Steinitz was silent, so the decision was forced on Benjamin Netanyahu, who passed it on to an external arbitrator. He also wants to be loved.

 

The local council heads took note and threatened to go on "the mother of all strikes." Netanyahu immediately convened an "emergency consultation" and surrendered to all their demands: He obtained approval for a huge NIS 800 million budget increase and agreed to put the water corporations back under the control of the local council heads, setting utilities reforms back 10 years.

 

The airport workers took note and began threatening to shut down Ben-Gurion airport. The longshoremen didn't even need to make any threats. They simply shut down the ports yesterday, and now we'll see how much they get.

 

This was also the prevailing atmosphere during the budget debates last week. The coalition partners received a hefty sum of 1.1 billion shekels for all kinds of things, the ultra-Orthodox among them shattering all their previous records. Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni had this to say: "Undoubtedly this is the best budget ever approved in the Knesset for the ultra-Orthodox community." Our sages have said that "a man does not leave this world with even half his desire fulfilled," but Gafni and Eli Yishai already have a desire and a half.

 

There are a few more wage disputes hovering in the background. The doctors are demanding steep salary increases, as are the social workers and hospital administration workers. As a result, the public sector is getting fatter, while the tax burden on the public grows heavier.

 

All this is happening because the finance minister has yet to learn that his main job is to guard the state coffers and say "no" to everyone. It's happening because Netanyahu cares only about his survival and is, therefore, prepared to sell out the country's future to remain in power. It's happening because the entire government has no long-term plan, neither economic nor diplomatic. Its long-term is the nightly eight o'clock television news.

 

That leaves us with little else to do but cry out and wait for the next inevitable crisis.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE MISSING JUDGES

 

The annual report on the federal judiciary by the chief justice of the United States is not a place you would normally go for political agitation. But that is just what Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. offered by using a portion of his year-end review to deplore the “acute difficulties” created for the justice system by the Senate’s slowness in approving President Obama’s nominees for federal judgeships.

 

Justice Roberts is right to be concerned that mounting federal court vacancies are creating crushing caseloads in some jurisdictions and hampering courts’ ability to fulfill their vital role. Given his office, we understand why he did not point a partisan finger in his report. But he diluted his message a bit by suggesting that blame for this undermining of the judicial branch rests evenly with both parties. The main culprit is an unprecedented level of Republican obstructionism.

 

Democrats sought to block a handful of President George W. Bush’s controversial nominees for circuit court seats, but were open about stating their objections, and promptly allowed up or down votes on other nominees once approved by the Judiciary Committee.

 

In the last Congress, Republicans typically refused to publicly explain their opposition to individual nominees and their prolonged blockade of candidates who had cleared the committee either unanimously or with just a couple of negative votes. Between Congress’s return from its August recess and the start of the lame duck session, Senate Republicans consented to vote on just a single judicial nomination.

 

Before adjourning, Senate Republicans allowed action on 19 well-qualified nominees — some of whom had been left in limbo for nearly a year after clearing the Judiciary Committee. That was welcome progress. But apart from partisan gamesmanship, there was no reason that Republicans held up these nominations for months only to unanimously approve nearly all of them in the waning days of the lame duck session.

 

Partisan obstruction was also the only plausible reason that Republicans declined to allow confirmation of 15 other nominees who were considered noncontroversial and were cleared by the committee after the November election. Those nominations have been returned to the president, ensuring further delays in filling seats when those individuals are renominated and a newly reconstituted Judiciary Committee must hold new hearings.

 

Four other nominees approved by the committee by a party-line vote were also denied Senate consideration. That list includes Goodwin Liu, a well-qualified law professor and legal scholar whose main problem for Republicans, it seems, is his potential to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy.

 

The dismal net result, laments Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, is that the Senate confirmed just 60 district and circuit court judges — the smallest number of judges for the first two years of a presidency in more than three decades.

 

The Republicans’ refusal to give prompt consideration to noncontroversial nominees sets a terrible precedent. It gives Democrats something to consider as they weigh possible rules changes in the Senate to curb the auto-pilot filibusters and secret holds that mindlessly delay essential business, like the confirmation of federal judicial nominees.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MR. ORBAN FORGETS

 

Hungarians are justly proud of the way their country stood up to Soviet tanks in 1956 and helped breach the Iron Curtain with freer emigration in 1989. But they can take no pride in a new media law that took effect this week, just as Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the European Union.

The law, enacted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party, marks a sorry step back toward the kind of political censorship Hungary suffered under Communist rule. It should have no place in a democratic Europe. It creates a press supervision council, all members named by Fidesz, with authority to oversee all broadcast, print and Internet outlets and decide whether their coverage is “unbalanced,” “immoral” or “offensive to human dignity.” If the council disapproves, it can impose crippling fines of up to $1 million.

 

Mr. Orban’s party, which won a two-thirds parliamentary majority last year, is not stopping there in its grab for power. It has been waging all-out war on the institutional checks and balances designed to protect democracy from domination by a single party.

 

Fidesz has already passed legislation limiting the powers of Hungary’s constitutional court to review financial measures, including Mr. Orban’s appropriation of pension funds to balance the budget. It has cut funding for the country’s independent fiscal council and packed other important oversight posts with reliable party loyalists. Not content to stop there, Mr. Orban has named a council to rewrite Hungary’s Constitution. Mr. Orban made his name in the late 1980s with his resistance to Soviet repression and his championing of an independent political life. Two decades later, he and his party appear to have forgotten those ideals.

 

The new press law has rightly drawn criticism from many other European leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, leading members of the European Parliament, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the continent’s monitor of electoral fairness. Mr. Orban, sounding like an old-style Soviet-bloc leader, dismissively retorted that "criticism from afar or from Western Europe doesn’t frighten us."

 

Hungarians have refused to quietly fall in line. After Parliament passed the media law last month, several newspapers protested by publishing blank front pages. They deserve strong, continued international support. Mr. Orban may have forgotten, but Hungary’s tragic history has taught its people that a free press — and a checked government — cannot be taken for granted.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

BLACK MARKET TIPS

 

As of today, seven people have been charged in an insider-trading investigation focused on investors and consultants connected to Primary Global Research, an expert-network firm. The cases, brought by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, paint a disturbing picture of how some hedge funds have used this company to illegally procure information and distort the workings of a healthy financial market.

 

The prosecutions charge that insiders at major technology companies have masqueraded as consultants and “sold out their employers by stealing and then peddling their valuable inside information” to hedge funds. In the complaints, Mr. Bharara charges that Primary Global has paid employees or their friends for inside tips, and charged hedge funds for making the match.

 

A decade ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission barred publicly traded companies from disclosing information selectively to favored investors. That regulation led to the growth of expert-network firms, with some providing access not only to outside experts but to employees of publicly traded companies with inside information.

 

Insider trading has always been hard to prove, and this middleman approach makes it even harder — providing plausible deniability to clients. A winning prosecution depends on establishing not only who knew what and when but also who knew that a tip came from a source breaching a duty of confidentiality.

 

Since October 2009, however, Mr. Bharara has secured guilty pleas from 21 people for insider trading and charged 18 others. He has used wiretaps, recordings, witness testimony and a lot of other evidence.

 

The case of Richard Choo-Beng Lee is particularly instructive. Mr. Lee, the founder of a once modestly profitable California hedge fund, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud and has cooperated with the prosecution since April 2009.

 

Mr. Lee has admitted using Primary Global to gain access to “consultants” who had inside information about publicly traded companies. Through Primary Global, he established a tie to Mark Anthony Longoria, part of its network, who got financial information about Advanced Micro Devices from a friend who worked there, prosecutors say.

 

For the government, Mr. Lee recorded a call with Mr. Longoria in which he asked for “a quick rundown” on not-yet-public quarterly financials. Mr. Lee later told Primary Global that Mr. Longoria’s “estimate was spot on.” Mr. Longoria was paid $700 for that particular call, prosecutors say, and from January 2008 to March 2010, Primary Global paid “Tony L.” over $200,000.

 

In the past, the government relied mainly on whistleblowers to warn them of insider-trading abuses, and successful prosecutions were rare. Mr. Bharara’s aggressive pursuit is welcome. A healthy financial market needs clear — and vigilantly enforced — rules on what’s fairly researched information and what’s an illegal tip.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CURBSIDE FOREST

 

First there was the fresh snow, lying white and undisturbed all across New York. Then — if you were lucky — came the plowing, followed by the big melt last weekend, which turned the city into an archipelago surrounded by slush ponds. Now, where massive mounds of snow once rose, there are rising mounds of black garbage bags awaiting pickup by many of the same trucks that have been busy plowing streets.

Lying beside those curbside bags, abandoned, is a forest of firs, spruces and pines, for this is the week when the annual eviction of Christmas trees takes place. The trees looks utterly disconsolate — stripped of their lights, ornaments and tinsel and given the bum’s rush to the curb. They even seem to have come unscented, so unlike the way they smelled when they stood in dense colonnades along the sidewalk only a few weeks ago. They announce emphatically that Christmas is over, New Year’s is past. All that’s missing is someone shouting “Bring out your dead!” — Christmas trees, that is.

 

In fact, these trees are good news. All the trees the city collects — nearly 125,000 last year — will be turned into compost and mulch for the city’s parks, gardens and playing fields. And if abandoning your tree on the curb feels too impersonal, you can take it to be chipped at one of dozens of city parks this weekend and walk away with a bag full of mulch. Depressing as they look, those coniferous relics of this Christmas past may be the most environmentally sound part of the holidays. They ate carbon dioxide while they were growing, and now they carry it with them, into their new lives as mulch.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

GET READY FOR A G.O.P. RERUN

BY BOB HERBERT

 

You just can’t close the door on this crowd. The party that brought us the worst economy since the Great Depression, that led us into Iraq and the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, that would like to take a hammer to Social Security and a chisel to Medicare, is back in control of the House of Representatives with the expressed mission of undermining all things Obama.

 

Once we had Dick Cheney telling us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and belligerently asserting that deficits don’t matter. We had Phil Gramm, Enron’s favorite senator and John McCain’s economic guru, blithely assuring us in 2008 that we were suffering from a “mental recession.”

 

(Mr. Gramm was some piece of work. A champion of deregulation, he was disdainful of ordinary people. “We’re the only nation in the world,” he once said, “where all of our poor people are fat.”)

 

Maybe the voters missed the entertainment value of the hard-hearted, compulsively destructive G.O.P. headliners. Maybe they viewed them the way audiences saw the larger-than-life villains in old-time melodramas. It must be something like that because it’s awfully hard to miss the actual policies of a gang that almost wrecked the country.

 

In any event, the G.O.P. has taken its place once again as the House majority and is vowing to do what it does best, which is make somebody miserable — in this case, President Obama. Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is now chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said recently on the Rush Limbaugh program that Mr. Obama was “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” He backed off a little on Sunday, saying that what he really thinks is that Mr. Obama is presiding over “one of the most corrupt administrations.”

 

This is the attitude of a man who has the power of subpoena and plans to conduct hundreds of hearings into the administration’s activities.

 

The mantra for Mr. Issa and the rest of the newly empowered Republicans in the House, including the new Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is to cut spending and shrink government. But what’s really coming are patented G.O.P. efforts to spread misery beyond Mr. Obama and the Democrats to ordinary Americans struggling in what are still very difficult times.

 

It was ever thus. The fundamental mission of the G.O.P. is to shovel ever more money to those who are already rich. That’s why you got all that disgracefully phony rhetoric from Republicans about attacking budget deficits and embracing austerity while at the same time they were fighting like mad people to pile up the better part of a trillion dollars in new debt by extending the Bush tax cuts.

 

This is a party that has mastered the art of taking from the poor and the middle class and giving to the rich. We should at least be clear about this and stop being repeatedly hoodwinked — like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football — by G.O.P. claims of fiscal responsibility.

 

There’s a reason the G.O.P. reveres Ronald Reagan and it’s not because of his fiscal probity. As Garry Wills wrote in “Reagan’s America”:

“Reagan nearly tripled the deficit in his eight years, and never made a realistic proposal for cutting it. As the biographer Lou Cannon noted, it was unfair for critics to say that Reagan was trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, since ‘he never seriously attempted to balance the budget at all.’ ”

 

We’ll see and hear a lot of populist foolishness from the Republicans as 2011 and 2012 unfold, but their underlying motivation is always the same. They are about making the rich richer. Thus it was not at all surprising to read on Politico that the new head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton of Michigan, had hired a former big-time lobbyist for the hospital and pharmaceuticals industries to oversee health care issues.

 

I remember President Bush going on television in September 2008, looking almost dazed as he said to the American people, “Our entire economy is in danger.”

 

Have we forgotten already who put us in such grave peril? Republicans benefit from the fact that memories are short and statutes of limitations shorter. It was the Republican leader in the House, Tom DeLay, who insisted against all reason and all the evidence of history that “nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes.”

 

But that’s all water under the bridge. The Republicans are back in control of the House, ready to run interference for the rich as recklessly and belligerently as ever.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A CLEAR DANGER TO FREE SPEECH

BY GEOFFREY R. STONE

 

Chicago

 

THE so-called Shield bill, which was recently introduced in both houses of Congress in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, “in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States,” any classified information “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States.”

 

Although this proposed law may be constitutional as applied to government employees who unlawfully leak such material to people who are unauthorized to receive it, it would plainly violate the First Amendment to punish anyone who might publish or otherwise circulate the information after it has been leaked. At the very least, the act must be expressly limited to situations in which the spread of the classified information poses a clear and imminent danger of grave harm to the nation.

 

The clear and present danger standard has been a central element of our First Amendment jurisprudence ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919opinion in Schenk v. United States. In the 90 years since, the precise meaning of “clear and present danger” has evolved, but the animating principle was stated brilliantly by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in his 1927 concurring opinion in Whitney v. California. The founders “did not exalt order at the cost of liberty,” wrote Brandeis; on the contrary, they understood that “only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such ... is the command of the Constitution. It is, therefore, always open to Americans to challenge a law abridging free speech and assembly by showing that there was no emergency justifying it.”

 

On the other hand, the First Amendment does not compel government transparency. It leaves the government extraordinary autonomy to protect its own secrets. It does not accord anyone the right to have the government disclose information about its actions or policies, and it cedes to the government considerable authority to restrict the speech of its own employees. What it does not do, however, is allow the government to suppress the free speech of others when it has failed to keep its own secrets.

 

We might think of this like the attorney-client privilege. If a lawyer reveals his client’s confidences to a reporter, he can be punished for violating that privilege — but the newspaper cannot constitutionally be punished for publishing the information.

 

There are very good reasons why it makes sense to give the government so little authority to punish the circulation of unlawfully leaked information.

 

First, the mere fact that such information might “prejudice the interests of the United States” does not mean that that harm outweighs the benefit of publication; in many circumstances, it may be extremely valuable to public understanding. Consider, for example, classified information about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

 

Second, the reasons that government officials want secrecy are many and varied. They range from the truly compelling to the patently illegitimate. As we have learned from our own history, it is often very tempting for government officials to overstate their need for secrecy, especially in times of national anxiety. A strict clear and present danger standard — rather than an unwieldy and unpredictable case-by-case balancing of harm against benefit — establishes a high bar to protect us against this danger.

 

And finally, a central principle of the First Amendment is that the suppression of free speech must be the government’s last rather than its first resort in addressing a problem. The most obvious way for the government to prevent the danger posed by the circulation of classified material is by ensuring that information that must be kept secret is not leaked in the first place.

 

Indeed, the Supreme Court made this point quite clearly in its 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper, which held that when an individual receives information “from a source who obtained it unlawfully,” that individual may not be punished for publicly disseminating the information “absent a need ... of the highest order.”

 

The court explained that if the sanctions now attached to the underlying criminal act “do not provide sufficient deterrence,” then perhaps they should be “made more severe” — but “it would be quite remarkable to hold” that an individual can constitutionally be punished merely for publishing information because the government failed to “deter conduct by a non-law-abiding third party.” This is a sound solution.

 

If we grant the government too much power to punish those who disseminate information, then we risk too great a sacrifice of public deliberation; if we grant the government too little power to control confidentiality at the source, then we risk too great a sacrifice of secrecy. The answer is thus to reconcile the irreconcilable values of secrecy and accountability by guaranteeing both a strong authority of the government to prohibit leaks and an expansive right of others to disseminate information to the public.

 

Geoffrey R. Stone is a professor of law at the University of Chicago and the chairman of the board of the American Constitution Society.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FIDO’S NO DOCTOR. NEITHER IS WHISKERS.

BY HAL HERZOG

 

Cullowhee, N.C.

 

A DOG or cat owner spends roughly $10,000 on the care and feeding of his pet over its lifetime. (Dogs cost more per year, but cats make up for it by living longer.) What does he get for this investment?

 

Surveys indicate that what most pet owners mainly want is companionship, unconditional love and a play pal. In recent years, however, we have also begun to regard pets as furry physicians and four-legged psychotherapists.

 

The idea that domestic animals are beneficial to human health and happiness has been fueled by books like “The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy,” by the veterinarian Marty Becker, and by news reports claiming that having a dog helps you live longer or that swimming with dolphins can cure autism, bad backs, attention deficit disorder and even cancer. But is there any truth to these claims?

 

The task of distinguishing hype from reality on this question falls to anthrozoology, the new science of human-animal relationships. In 1980, Erika Friedmann, a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, found the first evidence that animals might provide medical benefits: a survey of 92 heart attack victimsrevealed that those who had pets were nearly five times more likely to be alive a year later than those without them.

 

Since then, research has shown that stroking an animal lowers blood pressure, that AIDS patients living with pets are less depressed and that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, sleep more soundly, exercise more and take fewer sick days than non-pet owners. Indeed, I have a stack of articles in my office supporting the hypothesis that pets are healthy for us.

 

Unfortunately, however, I also have another stack of articles, almost as high, showing that pets have either no long-term effects or have even adverse effects on physical and mental health.

 

A 2006 survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center, for instance, reported that living with a pet did not make people any happier. Similarly, a 2000 Australian study of mortality rates found no evidence that pet owners lived any longer than anyone else. And last year Dutch researchers concluded that companion animals had no effect on their owners’ physical or mental well-being. Worse, in 2006, epidemiologists in Finland reported that pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to suffer from sciatica, kidney disease, arthritis, migraines, panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression.

 

This pattern of mixed results also holds true for the widely heralded notion that animals can cure various physical afflictions. For example, a study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome found that while pet owners believed that interacting with their pets relieved their symptoms, objective analysis revealed that they were just as tired, stressed, worried and unhappy as sufferers in a control group who had no pets. Similarly, a clinical trial of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy found that interacting with therapy dogs did no more to enhance the participants’ morale than reading a book did.

 

As for the presumed curative powers of swimming with dolphins, researchers at Emory University who reviewed the dolphin therapy studies concluded that every one purporting to document positive health effects was methodologically flawed.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to disparage animal companionship; pets are central to my life, too. But the truth is that we know little about how pets could affect us biologically, or why a health benefit accrues to some people but not others. Answering these questions will require the same rigorous methods that scientists use to test the effectiveness of drugs and medical procedures.

 

Despite the importance of pets in our lives, researchers in the health and behavioral sciences have, until recently, largely neglected the study of human-animal relationships. But this is changing. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (in conjunction with Mars, the corporate giant whose products include pet food) began a multimillion-dollar research initiative that will eventually help separate fact from wishful thinking on how pets influence human health and happiness.

 

No doubt, the talk in some medical circles of prescribing puppies and kittens for the chronically ill is well intentioned. But until the research is complete, pet lovers should probably keep taking their Lipitor and Prozac.

 

Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, is the author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”

 

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US TODAY

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

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON 'NET NEUTRALITY': ON THE INTERNET, THE PIPES SHOULDN'T CONTROL THE CONTENT

 

fense Advanced Research Projects Agency installed the first computer network that would allow scientists,

engineers and senior government officials to communicate with each other.

 

The moon program was a huge success but came to an end in 1972. The computer network, initially known as the ARPANET, received less attention but eventually grew into something bigger even than the moon program. It is called the Internet.

 

The Internet is a classic case of a mind-bogglingly important technological advance whose significance was at first not understood. Spawned by the government (yes, government), it has been a phenomenal success because no one owns or controls it. It was built on a backbone of common carrier telephone companies that could no more favor certain content than they could decide which telephone calls should go through.

 

But after years of investing in Washington and testing the limits of what they can get away with, the descendants of Ma Bell, along with companies that came up through cable television, are demanding the right to pick winners and losers among Internet content. To prevent this from happening, the Federal Communications Commission recently unveiled a sensible set of rules designed to preserve "network neutrality." This would ban the service providers from steering customers to content and applications that they have some stake in, while slowing or blocking access to other content.

 

Not surprisingly, the broadband companies are up in arms and are getting their backers on Capitol Hill to argue that net neutrality amounts to Big Government and excessive regulation. A plan is already in the works in Congress to block the new FCC plan. A legal challenge is likely as well.

 

The FCC's critics should cool their jets. This is hardly a case of government overreach or excess regulation. The original architecture of the Internet was created by government and universities. Its usefulness was greatly enhanced over the years by companies such as Intel, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Apple and Google, much more so than by service providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Yet it is now these latter types of companies that are demanding to become its gatekeepers. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt puts it, "You can't have the operators picking the voices."

 

If anything, the FCC plan might be too timid. While it would prevent landline broadband companies from favoring, or blocking, certain content, it would leave wireless providers pretty much alone to do as they choose. That has caused a number of consumer groups and Democratic lawmakers such as Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to oppose the plan. Opposition from both the left and the right suggests that the FCC found the appropriate middle ground.

 

Broadband companies argue that they need financial incentives to lay the cables and build the networks that will be necessary to handle surging amounts of digital traffic. They are right. And for that reason, they should charge heavy consumers of bandwidth more than they do modest users.

 

Their argument that increased traffic should give them the right to favor certain content is absurd. It is a bit like an electric utility saying that, to cope with surging demand for power, it should be allowed to require customers to use only appliances that it licenses.

 

As for members of Congress, taking up the broadband companies' cause might be a good way to raise money. But, ultimately, it is a bad way to foster innovation and economic growth.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON 'NET NEUTRALITY': UNNECESSARY INTERVENTION

BY KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON

 

Over the past 20 years, the Internet has grown and flourished without burdensome federal regulations, becoming an integral part of American society. Internet-related innovation, strengthened by the free market, has spurred the development of new businesses, fueled job creation and has become a major part of Americans' day-to-day lives.

 

This could soon change because of new regulations issued on a 3-2 vote by the Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This unelected group of government regulators has given itself broad new authority to intervene in the area of Internet development and accessibility.

 

With their action, the FCC establishes itself as a turnstile through which companies seeking to offer new services must pass. The message the FCC has sent with this action is unmistakable: Innovate at your own risk because the FCC can impose sanctions. So, how would an innovator avoid sanctions? By seeking prior approval. The delay and loss of proprietary protection will surely slow down new product development.

 

While on its face "net neutrality" sounds like a laudable goal, as with most government regulations, the devil is in the details. For instance, if a provider notices that a small number of users are routinely sharing large files that lead to major congestion on the network, it should have the right to relieve the congestion for the overwhelming majority of its users. Under the FCC's new regulations, government regulators may determine the provider's action is "unreasonable" and impose fines. This diminishes providers' flexibility in managing their own networks and creates uncertainty about permissible management activities.

 

The FCC's argument for these rules is to ensure that Internet customers are not blocked by service providers from viewing or sending content of their choice. But this is already the reality of today's open Internet. Broadband providers currently support consumers accessing the content of their choice and using myriad of devices and applications they desire. We must preserve the openness of the Internet without an unnecessary government intervention.

 

A recent Rasmussen Poll found that 54% of American voters polled object to this regulation; only 21% approve. The strongest objections came from those who use the Internet. Case closed.

 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

CHRIS BROWN MAKES PROGRESS

BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

 

This was supposed to be a column about the rehabilitation of Chris Brown, the once popular R&B singer who fell from grace in 2009 when he pleaded guilty to felony assault in the beating of his then-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna.

 

When the story of his brutal act surfaced, I joined other commentators who trashed Brown and warned Rihanna not to give him a second chance at love.But I've always believed that lawbreakers who are not imprisoned for life should, if they demonstrate contrition, be given a chance to get back on the right track.

 

And that's just what I thought Brown had earned late last month when he successfully completed a year-long domestic violence course mandated by the court. That good news capped more than a year of encouraging reports about the progress he has been making from the judge handling his case.

 

In February, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg complimented Brown for his diligence in complying with the terms of the plea bargain agreement that kept him out of jail. "It looks like you're doing really, really well," she said. In addition to the domestic violence course, Brown was ordered to perform six months of community service.

 

In November, the judge praised him after getting another good report from probation officials. "Out of thousands of probationers, no one has done a better or more consistent job than you have, and I really want to commend you for taking responsibility and for actually working diligently to complete all the things the court has required of you," she said.

 

That most recent praise for the 21-year-old Brown came five months after a series of concerts he was scheduled to perform in Europe was canceled when he was denied a visa to enter the United Kingdom. That hardly seemed fair given the progress the talented performer had made. In fact, I thought Brown had earned a chance to reboot his career.

 

Then he snapped on Twitter. In a series of tweets, Brown proved he still had a hair-trigger temper when he lashed out at Raz-B after the former boy band singer tweeted that he couldn't understand why Brown had been so disrespectful of Rihanna. Brown responded with a homophobic term to describe the molestation Raz-B claimed — and later retracted — he suffered while he was a teenage member of the R&B music group B2K.

 

Brown's crass reference to anal sex in regard to the alleged assault was proof that while he passed the court's domestic abuse class, he needs to take an advanced anger management course, which he seemed to acknowledge a day after his Twitter war of words with Raz-B.

 

"Yesterday was an unfortunate lack in judgment," Brown told TMZ.com. "Words cannot begin to express how sorry and frustrated I am over what transpired publicly on Twitter. I have learned over the past few years to not condone or represent acts of violence against anyone."

 

In a 2009 video apology to Rihanna and his fans, Brown said he takes "great pride in me being able to exercise self-control." But he didn't two years ago during his physical encounter with Rihanna and he didn't last month in his verbal clash with Raz-B.

 

Brown's rehabilitation is far from complete. He's a talented — but greatly troubled — entertainer, who appears to be closer to teetering on the brink of self-destruction than exorcising his demons. Those demons are what Brown must confront and defeat if he wants to get others to give him a second chance.

 

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

 

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CHATTANAOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

IN COUNTY, POLITICS AS USUAL

 

Though county commissioners have blatantly shunned public participation in the selection of an interim county mayor, it has become clear that they have submerged themselves in back-room deal making and insider lobbying involving the top two candidates -- Commissioner Jim Coppinger and Mike Carter, special assistant to outgoing County Mayor Claude Ramsey.

 

A piece of the deal making became apparent when Carter, himself an insider candidate, accused County Commission Chairman Fred Skillern of attempting to engineer a three-seat round of musical chairs that would elevate Coppinger to the county mayor's position, install the county school board's controversial Rhonda Thurman in Skillern's own seat at some unknown date, and put a volunteer chaplain in the Sheriff's Department, Mitch McClure, in Coppinger's seat.

 

Carter's claim was preceded by revelations of lobbying by Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey.

 

Kinsey acknowledged that he has been encouraging commissioners to appoint Coppinger, who as Kinsey's fire department chief led the modernization and re-organization of the Chattanooga Fire Department. "I do have a lot of knowledge of Jim Coppinger's abilities," he said. "I have shared that with commissioners on different occasions."

 

Littlefield, by contrast, has been trying to persuade commissioners to appoint Carter, with whom he has worked in coordinating city-county economic development plans. Insiders' political chatter tied to Mayor Littlefield's lobbying for Carter led Littlefield and County Commissioner Greg Beck to deny rumors that Littlefield had tried to woo Beck's support for Carter by offering him the City Court Clerk's job.

 

Their denials had hardly settled before Carter lambasted Skillern's alleged attempt to install Coppinger through what he suggested was a sneaky back-door political maneuver.

 

Though all three subjects of Carter's accusation denied any awareness of such a scenario, it presents a plausible deal for resolving the current standoff that emerged last week, when the eight voting commissioners split twice in 4-4 votes for Carter and Coppinger. (As a candidate, Coppinger couldn't vote for himself.)

 

State law allows the County Commission's chairman to fill an interim vacancy in the county mayor's office, and the chairman apparently may continue in that role if the commission fails to appoint an interim mayor with 120 days of notice of the mayor's resignation.

 

Skillern, for personal reasons, isn't interested in the job, but he was one of the four who supported Coppinger in the two tie votes last week. If the other commissioners remain fixed in their preference, Skillern could step down as chairman and help Coppinger win support to become the commission chairman. He and his supporters presumably could then allow Coppinger to continue as interim county mayor. Despite the denials to Carter's charge, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor has confirmed that he has put questions pertaining to that scenario to the state's attorney general's office. One asks whether the commission would need to appoint a temporary commissioner during the period when a chairman is serving as interim mayor. Another asks if the chairman still could vote on a permanent replacement for mayor once the chairman assumes the interim mayor's position.

 

Regardless of the outcome, there are several potent ironies in the current circumstance. One is that both Coppinger and Carter are quality candidates who could have demonstrated their skills and qualifications had the commission allowed the candidates to make a case for their selection in public forums held by the commission itself as part of the selection process. Adhering to the public's right to be informed and to participate in the selection process would have demonstrated the commission's willingness to remain accountable to the public in selecting the county's highest public official.

 

Lastly, a public process would have avoided the taint of petty, back-room politics that now haunts the selection and makes every single commissioner look arrogant, untrustworthy and disrespectful of the public trust their office involves. The only way for county commissioners to recover lost trust is to back up and start over. But given what's already happened, there's not much hope of that, which confirms how little commissioners care about public accountability.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

BATTLING HIGH GASOLINE PRICES

 

A recent rise in gasoline prices to $3 a gallon or more has caught the attention of drivers here and around the country. So have reports, including one on the front page of this newspaper on Monday morning, that many experts predict fuel prices will reach $3.50 or more a gallon by summer and perhaps soar to $5 in the not-too-distant future. The increases and predictions are reminders that consumers have only one option to combat rising costs. They have to reduce consumption.

 

If U.S. drivers want to protect their pocketbook now and in the future, the best way to do so is to use less gasoline. There are some indications that truism is gaining a foothold across the nation.

 

Fuel consumption in the United States has declined in the last four years, though that is due as much to the sad state of the economy as it is anything else. Sure, many new vehicles are more fuel efficient now than those of the past. There has been some progress, as well, in developing and selling vehicles that use alternative forms of energy. And there has been modest expansion in the availability of mass transit in some areas of the country. All have put downward pressure on fuel prices. Still prices are going up.

 

Some of the rise can be attributed to an improving U.S. economy. But that's hardly the whole story. The real upward pressure on gas prices comes from outside the United States. It comes from rapidly developing nations like China -- where about 18 million new cars were sold last year -- and India, where a rising middle class pushes up the demand for fuel. As global demand rises and supply remains constant or falls, prices everywhere -- including the United States -- shoot up.

 

Improved efficiency will help U.S. consumers cope, but it won't eliminate rising fuel costs. It will take more. Changes in habit and lifestyle are necessary. There's some evidence that those changes are beginning to occur.

 

U.S. automakers, for example, finally seem to get it. For years, they vigorously fought better fuel standards. Now, under pressure, they've started to develop and to market more fuel-efficient and alternative-energy vehicles. The change in policy has not gone unnoticed.

 

More and more Americans list fuel economy as a requisite when buying a new car. There's a growing understanding, too, that expansion of mass transit and the infrastructure to support it is vital if the United States is to escape the economic and other consequences of rising fuel prices. The latter will be hard to achieve, especially since many members of the incoming Congress seem more intent on saving rather than spending money -- even when the latter demonstrably will provide greater long-term benefits and savings.

 

For the moment, though, the best way to combat high fuel prices is to cut consumption by making wise choices when we buy vehicles and in how and when we drive them.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

GAIN VS. 'THE SCARIEST WORD'

 

What's the "scariest" word in the English language? Many people will agree it's "cancer."

 

Heart and circulatory diseases are the "biggest killers," but the second-biggest killer -- cancer -- strikes more fear in many patients.

 

One key to defeating cancer is early detection, so that a variety of treatments may have the prospect of beating cancer, or at least preventing premature cancer deaths.

 

So it is certainly good news that scientists in Boston have announced a promising test that can give doctors an "early start" in fighting cancer, potentially prolonging life.

 

The news is that there is a blood test so sensitive it can detect a single cancer cell among a billion healthy cells, so treatment may be properly administered and gauged early on, with possibly lifesaving results.

 

The test reportedly is simple, and it is hoped that it can improve treatment of cancers as varied as breast, prostate, colon and lung.

 

"This is like a liquid biopsy," Dr. Daniel Haber, chief of the cancer center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told The Associated Press.

 

If cancer is detected in its early stages, there are several things medical science can do, with good prospects.

 

Progress in fighting cancer is certainly a "good news" way to start 2011. We can hardly wait for more good news as this encouraging research continues.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

CHALLENGE OF HIGH-PRICE GASOLINE

 

Our world moves on gasoline. We are a motorized society, in which seemingly everyone wants his or her own car. And our cars give us tremendous freedom to go wherever we want to go, whenever we want to go.

 

We have a "love affair" with automobiles. We are excited each year by the presentation of the sleek "new

models" that capture our fancy. Our cars are often luxurious and dependable, and they brighten our way of life in many ways.

 

But they are expensive, too. Not only is a new car pricey these days, often meaning big monthly payments for a long time, but there is the problem of high-priced gasoline.

 

With service station signs currently reminding us that the price of a gallon of gasoline is close to $3, it is discouraging to face predictions that gas prices may rise to as much as $3.50 a gallon by summer, when travel is brisk.

 

We have complained about gasoline prices and shortages in the past -- sometimes resulting from international situations beyond our control. But there is disappointingly too little progress in extending gasoline mileage or reducing gasoline costs.

 

There have been some efforts to popularize "electric" cars that can be powered by just plugging into a household electric socket overnight. But there has been minimal progress in solving high gasoline prices -- partly because undue U.S. environmental regulations have put so much of our own oil off limits.

 

Thus, we still are too dependent upon foreign producers, who from time to time issue threats of sharply reduced supplies.

 

Americans are famous for "building better mousetraps" to meet all sorts of mechanical and scientific needs and desires. We certainly do build wonderfully desirable cars. But the problems of high gasoline prices and occasional shortages -- sometimes contrived and sometimes unavoidable -- recur.

 

Since so much of our personal and national economy involves our cars -- and their operational costs -- it is surprising that American ingenuity, so successful in making so many things, has not yet come up with a means for our mobile society to move with far higher gas mileage.

 

And it is troubling that we've left ourselves at the mercy of foreign oil producers.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

COMMUNIST NORTH KOREA'S THREAT

 

Ever since Korea unfortunately was divided between Soviet and U.S. occupation zones at the end of World War II, North Korean Communists have threatened trouble.

 

They caused the Korean War of 1950-53, and have been dangerous ever since.

 

On the recent New Year's Day, North Korea "warned" that any threat from South Korea "will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust."

 

No new Korean war is expected, but Korea is in an explosive part of the world -- with North Korean Communists unfortunately possessing nuclear weapons.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

COMMON SENSE IN MEMPHIS

 

It has long been a mystery why new or nearly new automobiles should be subject to the same emissions testing that is conducted on much older vehicles.

 

With few exceptions, newer vehicles are far cleaner, environmentally speaking, in that they put out far lower levels of pollutants than older cars and trucks. So forcing the owners of new cars to go through costly emissions tests every so often is really little more than an unnecessary tax.

 

The city of Memphis appears to have recognized that fact. It has started exempting from its emissions testing cars from the 2008 model year or later.

 

Why? It's simple math.

 

In a review of testing records from 2008, not even one-tenth of 1 percent of newer vehicles in Memphis failed the annual tests. In other words, tens of thousands of vehicle owners were being forced to spend lots of time and money on tests that virtually never found a pollution problem with the vehicles.

 

What's more, mandating the tests for the later-model cars and trucks was found to be creating unduly extended wait times at Memphis' testing stations.

 

So, Memphis has reasonably decided to drop the mandatory testing for relatively new vehicles in the city. Drivers of those vehicles will be able to get new license stickers without the tests.

 

Other locales should consider adopting Memphis' commonsense approach.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WHAT DO THE MULES THINK ABOUT IT?

 

For a large part of the history of the South, mules have been a mainstay of agriculture and burden-bearing. Mules have been praised for their strength, relied upon to plow for countless crops, and cursed for their stubbornness.

 

The Middle Tennessee community of Columbia has celebrated "Mule Day" since the 1840s, with mule sales and pageantry. It long has been a tradition for legislators of the Tennessee General Assembly to head over to Columbia to attend the events of Mule Day.

 

But times do change. Mules no longer are an agricultural necessity for most Tennessee farmers. And so traditional Mule Day festivities this year will take place without what used to be the main purpose of the occasion: selling mules!

 

Oh, there will be bluegrass music, a pulling competition among mules in attendance, and arts and crafts -- plus the winner of a Mule Day-related beauty contest (for pretty girls, not mules) will be on hand. But there will be no mule sales this year, we are told.

 

Humans will be festive in Columbia from March 31 through Sunday, April 3, church services and gospel singing. Some mules will attend, but we don't know what the mules will think about not being quite the "stars" they used to be.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL

 

Illegal immigration has been a major problem for European Union countries, which many people believe can offer a better quality of life than they currently have.

 

Located on the union’s eastern border, our neighbor Greece has been considered an expressway to the EU, which in turn has increased the pressure on Greek authorities to fight illegal immigration.

 

As we reported yesterday, Greece now mulls a plan to build a wall – or a fence – on the country’s border with Turkey, hoping that the flow of migrants through Turkey can be tackled.

 

“Greece cannot take it any more,” Greece’s immigration minister, Christos Papoutsis, told the Greek news agency Ana, adding that the border barrier would be similar to the one built by the United States along its border with Mexico.

 

The Turkish-Greek border is one of the most popular destinations for asylum seekers from countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan who are trying to reach Europe. Greece currently accounts for 90 percent of the EU’s detected illegal border crossings, figures from the European border agency Frontex show.

 

From January to the beginning of November last year, 32,500 illegal migrants were intercepted along a single 12.5-kilometer stretch of the Turkish-Greek border on the Evros River.

 

Hence, we sympathize with Papoutsis, whose crisis-hit country is housing an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants and is forced to deal with thousands more every month.

 

But we also believe that building a wall or closing the border is not the way a country should deal with illegal immigration problems.

 

The wall built between the U.S. and Mexico, which covers nearly one-third of the 3,000-kilometer-long land border between the two countries, has failed to help deal with the issue, resulting in U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision in March to freeze a project to expand the fence.

 

Greece’s move might also work as a litmus test to see if EU opinion on border walls has changed in the last few years. In April 2007, Javier Solana who was the European Union foreign policy at the time, criticized U.S. plans to extend barriers on the Mexican border.

 

"A wall that separates one country from another is not something that I like or that European Union members like," Solana said at a news conference in Mexico City. "We don't think walls are reasonable instruments to stop people from crossing into a country."

 

Solana added that the EU believes immigrants should be treated "like people, not like criminals."

There will always be people risking their lives to immigrate to countries where they think they will have a better life. A wall can keep a few of them out, but it cannot make the main problem disappear.

 

* The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DOES TURKEY WANT A DIVIDED IRAQ?

SEMİH İDİZ

 

The partition of Iraq was a nightmare scenario for Ankara long before the United States invaded and dismantled Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. The overriding fear always centered on the prospect of an independent Kurdistan emerging, should Iraq breakup and fall apart.

 

The belief was that this situation would automatically agitate Turkey’s own Kurds to push for self-determination, with the aim of ultimately joining their independent brothers across the border in northern Iraq. Today we have a slightly different picture in the region.

 

Iraqi Kurdistan may still be part of Iraq, but is enjoying a kind of autonomy that almost amounts to independence. While the “dream” of a truly independent Kurdistan prevails among Kurds, those in northern Iraq are also aware that they have never had it so good.

 

Put another way, “political adventurism” is the last thing the Kurdish leadership in Iraq would want to engage in under these circumstances. In the meantime, things have changed radically for them in terms of their relations with Turkey, which were not merely turbulent, but downright bellicose, in the past.

 

However, Ankara has now overcome many of its elemental fears and established good ties with the region’s Kurdish administration. A clear indication of this is the opening of a Consulate General in Erbil, which acts as an embassy of sorts.

 

In addition to this, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani (one of two key Kurdish leaders in the country) and Massoud Barzani, the head of the regional Kurdish government, have become honored guests in the Turkish capital. No longer are they subjected to the vilification they suffered from Turkish officials only a few years ago for allegedly backing PKK terrorism and Kurdish separatism.

 

This altered situation, together with the emergence of Turkey as an important regional player, is now leading to some odd commentary in the Arab press about Ankara’s alleged new Iraq policy. A case in point is an article by Amir Taheri, the internationally renowned Iranian born journalist and writer.

 

Writing in the Arabic English language newspaper Asharq Alawsat (“Kurdish Self Determination: The Good and the Better,” Dec. 31), Taheri argued: “As long as a despot was in power in Baghdad, a united Iraq suited Turkish interests.”

 

Referring to Turkey’s frequent cross-border incursions into northern Iraq in the past, in pursuit of Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, elements there, he went on to maintain that a democratic Iraq is unlikely to tolerate such incursions for long. Here is what Taheri goes on to say on the subject:

 

“Thus today, as neo-Ottomans in Turkey pursue dreams of empire, Ankara may be tilting towards a new position that favors the break up of Iraq. After all, the Ottoman Empire was made possible by the fact that the Arabs were divided into countless mini emirates or had no states of their own. A mini-Kurdish state in northern Iraq would have no choice but kowtow to Ankara even if that meant continued Turkish military incursion into its territory.”

 

These are loaded remarks and provide us with a clear indication of the kind of signals that regional experts are receiving from Ankara’s increasingly assertive policies in the Middle East.

 

The problem with these grand assertions is that Ankara has as much leeway in terms of engaging in adventurism in the region as the Kurds of northern Iraq have. Putting its hand into the hornets nest with imperial pretensions and utilizing the “divide and conquer” principle would in many instances increase Ankara’s problems with its own Kurds, not reduce them.

 

Taheri actually points to this too in his article, saying that the regional powers that favor the partition of Iraq would also end up as losers in the end. “All those states include within their frontiers a wide variety of ethnic minorities, including Kurds, who might be interested in their own versions of “self determination,”” he wrote.

 

It is obvious that the government in Turkey knows this too, therefore one must say Taheri goes too far in assuming that an Ankara, blinded with neo-Ottoman dreams of empire, has suspended judgment and is on the verge of embarking on a potentially self-destructive political adventure with no certain outcome.

 

After all, we are dealing with a Turkey that is trying to solve its own Kurdish problem, which has taken on a new dimension these days with all the current talk about autonomy for Turkish Kurds – a prospect that sends shivers up nationalist spines. It is clear that a partitioned Iraq would add fresh fuel to Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and depth to the country’s existing trauma.

 

It is not for nothing, after all, that Prime Minister Erdogan has changed tack in the past weeks by adopting a hard-line nationalistic approach to the Kurdish problem, after having presented himself, until recently, as a champion of Kurdish rights.

 

He is clearly aware of the political risk to his party and himself if he does not do this in an election year. He will no doubt try now to do a subtle balancing act in order not to loose too many votes in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, while also vying for nationalist votes elsewhere in the country.

 

The picture we are seeing currently is in fact of a Turkey that is still maintaining a policy based on ensuring that Iraq remains intact at all costs, while at the same time developing ties with all three elements that go into making up the country, namely the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis.

 

As to Taheri’s contention that “A mini-Kurdish state in northern Iraq would have no choice but kowtow to Ankara,” Iraqi Kurdistan’s economic dependence on Turkey is already tangible evident. However, this is not forcing the Kurds into kowtowing to Turkey but providing them with important opportunities for economic development and they know it.

 

In recognition of this the Iraqi Kurdish leadership is trying to play a moderating role over the more radicalized of Turkey’s Kurds, by telling them the days of armed struggle are over and by encouraging them to move along the democratic path.

 

It is clear that both Talabani and Barzani would rather have constructive relations with Ankara based on mutual respect and equality than a relationship of tension, as in the past. This is why it is hard to understand Taheri’s contention that Turkey wants a divided Iraq.

 

He mentions Iran, Syria and even Jordan in his article as countries that would benefit from a divided Iraq. Whatever the merits of his arguments as far as these countries are concerned, the benefits that Turkey would supposedly draw from an Iraq that has fallen apart are not as clear to us as they appear to be to Taheri.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

UKRAINE CAN'T COMBINE PUTINISM AND EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

TARAS KUZIO

 

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been placed under de facto house arrest and is threatened by a prison term of up to five years, as leaked to the newspaper "Segodnya" on Dec. 22.

 

She was briefly imprisoned in February 2001. The persecution of Tymoshenko is clearly aimed at removing her from politics ahead of the September 2012 parliamentary elections and the January 2015 presidential contest.

 

The attack on Tymoshenko and her political bloc, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), is politically motivated and also reveals a desire for revenge that has become personal. President Viktor Yanukovych has admitted that he regularly meets all opposition leaders - except Tymoshenko.

 

Whether there was corruption in the 2007-10 Tymoshenko government is in many ways irrelevant. These charges are politically motivated. These two human rights organizations believe that "selective criminal prosecutions are the hallmark of an undemocratic regime."

 

As the anticorruption think tank Transparency International and other foreign and Ukrainian commentators have said, it is ludicrous to argue that only one out of the 14 governments of post-Soviet Ukraine was corrupt. It is even more ludicrous to ignore Ukraine's three presidents in any audit of state corruption in Ukraine, particularly as tapes made by presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office point to wide-scale abuse of office. Yale University professor Keith Darden described Kuchma's regime as a "blackmail state," where corruption was tolerated in exchange for political loyalty and a share of the graft.

 

An international audit by an independent, non-Ukrainian body into all 14 governments and three presidents would be a welcome development in Ukraine. Nevertheless, an impartial international audit would be nearly impossible, as it would implicate most of Ukraine's elites, including President Yanukovych who was governor of Donetsk in 1997-2002, and prime minister in 2002-04 and 2006-07.

 

Criminal charges against Tymoshenko open a Pandora's box that could potentially return to haunt Yanukovych and the oligarchs. In a Dec. 24 interview in "Liga novosti," former Party of Regions deputy Taras Chornovil warned that if developments continue along this path, then in 2015 Yanukovych will be put in jail. It is easy to imagine what fate Ukraine's oligarchs would face in such a climate of revenge and counter-revenge.

 

If Tymoshenko is criminally charged, the EU's relations with Ukraine will resemble those Brussels has with Belarus and Russia, Aleksandr Rahr, a senior expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, believes. This is because it would be seen as politically targeted repression. The current authorities are not impartial and are themselves not free from potential charges of abuse of office, Rahr points out.

 

Ukraine's oligarchs, on the other hand, have remained silent on democratic regression, and they rarely reveal their views to the media. Yet, a Putinist regime which has co-opted, exiled, or imprisoned oligarchs is not likely to be something they would welcome. Ukraine's oligarchs reportedly support the deep free-trade agreement with the EU that is threatened by chilly relations between Kyiv and Brussels. Western leaders should not restrict their relations with Ukraine's opposition but should seek out and lobby the oligarchs who could be potential allies in halting Ukraine's drift toward Putinism.

 

Ukraine's leaders seem to be intent on moving forward with their plans to establish a managed democracy, one aspect of which is the removal of the main opposition force led by Tymoshenko. The Yanukovych administration's belief they can successfully unite Putinism with European integration is fatally flawed, and the pending crisis in relations between Brussels and Kyiv in the next two years will dwarf the dilemma faced by the EU over the failure of its "ostpolitik" toward Belarus.

 

Taras Kuzio is an Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. This abridged article originally appeared on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, website.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE KURDISH QUESTION: NO ONE REMAINS TRUE TO HIS WORDS

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

 

It is usual for politicians, intellectuals and academics in Turkey to beat around the bush, but they broke the record on the Kurdish question!

 

So-called intellectuals and academics who support the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, are not true to their words if the issue is the Kurdish conflict; or perhaps, they are scared for some reason.

 

It’s been almost two years since the AKP launched the Kurdish initiative but not a single step has been taken since then because the ruling party doesn’t want to scare off its conservative-nationalist grassroots.

 

Turkish and Kurdish “intellectuals,” the AKP toadies I mean, have turned out to be poor people as the power center they support has failed in the initiative. They did everything to defend the thing that they have no clue about what’s inside.

 

In the end, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, leader Abdullah Öcalan has started to fill the gap inside the Kurdish initiative in accordance with the principle a “vacuum never remains a vacuum.” And I think he became the third most popular figure in Turkey in 2010.

 

On the other hand, stuck in between, the BDP looks like a political party now that doesn’t know what it wants or like one who changes every passing day.

 

In the end, the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, convened at the former Democratic Society Party, or DTP, headquarters in Diyarbakır and published a conclusion draft following a workshop held on Dec. 12-13, 2010, under the leadership of co-chairs Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk. The draft was announced by Hatip Dicle.

 

The famous blueprint was asking for a two flags, two languages and a self-government model.

 

The DTK members announced the next day that the text was not imposed by the PKK, but it actually voiced the demands of the Kurdish people.

 

Discussions started immediately upon the release of the DTK draft. Journalists who attended the DTK meeting and who support the AKP paid the utmost attention not to touch the vulnerable points; they must have felt like they were on the horns of a dilemma. Not even a single intellectual made any remark either for or against the text. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remained silent for a week, puzzling some even more.

 

However, as discussions and criticisms by others reached were voiced often, the DTK members had to say, “This is the demand of Kurdish people.” They even claimed that it was distributed by a group of 20 who entered the hall and, in the end, that it was, in fact, a product of the PKK.

 

The BDP stood aloof since the beginning. Therefore, the draft was left as Öcalan’s burden.

 

However, a recent announcement reveals that the text was not prepared by Öcalan. In fact, he said: “At the convention, even the BDP took the democratic self-government issue narrow and simple… The project could’ve been presented better. For instance, it was not sufficiently explained that democratic self-government is a project for all of Turkey. They could’ve explained at the beginning how democratic unification with Turks could be achieved. It’s been said that the sensitivities of the Turks are being touched… A new state next to the ‘state,’ a new flag next to the ‘flag,’ this is not right. This is a trap and we should stay away from it.”

 

In the end, the draft conclusion of the DTK workshop has been claimed by nobody.

 

But I was mostly annoyed by the spineless Turkish-Kurdish politicians and intellectuals.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

QUITTING THE EURO IS NOT SO EASY

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

 

ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

Until a short while ago, most Europeans got angry when the future of the euro became a hot debate among non-Europeans. After all, they had abandoned their national currencies to accept the euro and get rich. Now, they themselves have begun to talk about the future of the euro, even discussing possible problems created if they quit the common currency.

 

Their past reaction against the discussions on the future of the euro was not rational. Those non-Europeans were uneasy, as they thought that if eurozone troubles became more serious, this would also harm the economies of surrounding countries, even those that are quite far away.

 

Some eurozone countries with enormous deficits and debt problems might think that after abandoning the euro and returning to their old national currencies, or introducing a new one, with the help of a sharp devaluation they might find a solution to those problems. Some other countries with comparatively smaller problems, like Germany, are fed up with dealing with the problems of weak eurozone economies and might think that it would be better now to quit the euro and restore the old national currency.

 

However, this would not so easy. First of all, the serious social and political difficulties and the enormous financial cost of introducing the euro years ago should be remembered. Second, if a comparatively rich country, again like Germany, reintroduced its old currency it would be almost impossible to stop an overvaluation, which would make exporters unhappy and deteriorate not only the trade and current account balances but also the balances in the financial markets.

 

On the other hand, mostly due to the same problems, if a country with a weak economy were to quit the euro and return to its old currency, or introduce a new one, it would be forced to implement controls on capital movements, banks and financial markets in order to stop the inevitable rapid capital outflows. This would shut down domestic and international markets and create additional difficulties to get foreign financial support to solve the debt and deficit problems.

 

As a matter of fact, the main problem that obstructs the expected functions of a common currency accepted by a group of countries is the discrepancy in national economic policy among the countries. Even if the harmonization of national economic policies was realized in the beginning, the emergence of different economic problems after a time would make the implementation of the common package in every country impossible. Establishing a supranational authority that imposes the rules that force individual countries to implement the package is not realistic. The leaders of eurozone countries cannot even agree on much simpler issues.

 

It is not rational to blame them. Not only economic but also the political and social problems of individual countries are so different from each other that it would not be fair to expect them to put international problems ahead of domestic ones. And it is impossible to convince them and their people that without solving common problems it is impossible to bring solutions to individual domestic ones.

 

In short, although the euro has been creating a lot of problems and losing ground in the eurozone, wise people know it is not the main reason behind the recent economic catastrophe seen in some countries.

 

Moreover, it is not so easy to quit the euro without calculating the cost of this act. This cost might be bigger than the cost of living in the eurozone. However some economists, academics and analysts have a different idea. They maintain that the only way to save the weak economies of the eurozone is to quit the euro. Easy for them to say, difficult for politicians to implement.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

LOSS OF SOCIAL MEMORY AND ITS EFFECTS ON FOREIGN POLICY

HAVVA KÖK

 

It is a common psychological self-defense mechanism to forget, deny or repress a negative experience such as a rape or form of sexual harassment that happened in a younger period of our life, or the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.

 

When a person cannot cope with traumatic pain he or she will deny or repress it. However, the memories we alienate from our consciousness disturb us and play out in various forms of behavioral disorders in daily life. The pain in the subconscious stays with us in our dreams and in our daily lives in the form of behavioral disorders.

 

Do societies also deny or repress their pain? If we accept that societies also have memories, then it is possible to observe similar reactions at the social level. For example, did we not, as a nation, forget, deny or repress the trauma of the Balkan Wars that took place between 1912 and 1922?

 

In our recent history the biggest social trauma was the defeat in the Balkan Wars. In this defeat we lost Rumelia – the Balkan Peninsula – which constituted half of our lands. The western boundaries had to be withdrawn from the shores of the Adriatic Sea to Adrianople. Most of the cities lost were as Turkish as Bursa or Edirne. The architectural and social structure of Thessaloniki, Skopje and Sarajevo was not very different from that of Anatolia. Even today substantial similarities can be observed.

 

Our national and social consciousness has repressed the pain of the defeat in the Balkans and wants to forget it. It is even more bizarre that we have taught a lie in our school textbooks for years: that we were not defeated on any front in World War I, but were accepted as defeated because of the defeat of our allies.

 

The opposite of our reaction to what happened in the Balkans can be seen today among many Armenians. In 1915, only three years after the loss of all of those Rumelian cities in the Balkans, with the fear of a similar loss in Eastern Anatolia and of the establishment of an independent Armenia (which possibly could have been formed with the help of the Russian army and armed Armenian organizations), Armenians were relocated to southern parts of the Ottoman Empire – in what is today’s Syria.

 

Talat Pasha, the mastermind of this relocation, wrote in his memoirs that this turned into a tragedy. No matter what we call it, it is quite certain the whole event is one of the greatest pains of humanity. We psychologically buried this fact until our diplomats were allegedly assassinated by terrorists from the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA, in the 1970s.

 

Today, “genocide” for Armenians, or “relocation” for Turks, is perceived differently by both sides. It has two dimensions: a psychological-humanitarian one and a political one. For Armenians, the Turkish denial of what they see as fact is met with anger because, they say, they were deported from their motherlands where they had lived for thousands of years and hundreds of thousands of them lost their lives during the deportation.

 

The political dimension of the fact is, however, much different. Armenians behave as if Turkey invaded an independent Armenia in 1915. The fact is that Armenians were Ottoman subjects and they were one of the Empire’s minorities. Most Armenians believe the cost of this genocide can only be compensated by the annexation of Eastern Anatolia to Armenia in accordance with the Sevres Treaty. Some of them also say they would accept some form of compensation payment.

 

If we browse Armenian websites we cannot find any evidence of Armenian demands for Turkish citizenship, or any wish to return to the land as Turkish citizens like their grandfathers. Instead of this, there is every indication that the ideal of Eastern Anatolia’s annexation to Armenia is firmly situated in their hearts.

 

It is a fact that most Armenians do not recognize the border drawn by the Gümrü and Moscow treaties after the battles between the forces of the Turkish Parliament and the Armenian Army, but rather see Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia under occupation.

 

At the state level, they use Mount Ararat as their national symbol and claim it back from Turkey. This point of view is not only unrealistic but also shows the existence of a pathological national memory. If one moves with the same logic, Turks should not recognize the Karlovitz Treaty and dream of expanding our western borders to near Vienna. No sensible Turk has such a dream. Armenians may get angry with this metaphor, however there is no end to nationalistic daydreaming and many irrational claims that would bind Turkey’s presence in Europe to the Huns and Etruscans.

 

When we look at Turkish-Balkan relations today, Balkan immigrants who make up a sizeable proportion of Turkish society today are not grieving over the loss of the lands they were once masters of. Nonetheless, Turkey is returning to the Balkans, but this return is not on the back of an army, but through the Ziraat Bank, which was originally established in the Balkans.

 

Turkey not only supports the Balkan Muslims who were its allies in the region, but also tries to win over the Serbs who confront them and therefore tries to reestablish peace between nations. In this respect, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will definitely be recorded in history. With a very correct approach, Turkey tries not to repossess its former Rumelian provinces but tries to make the existing borders transparent and therefore establish peace and mutual understanding between nations.

 

What is to be done on the Armenian question then? First of all, we have to help Armenians quit their pathological reaction. For this, we should first end our own pathological reaction which says: "What can we do? What is done is done. You rebelled against us and killed our compatriots too." Whether they were Turkish, Kurdish or Armenian, those who died were our own citizens.

 

We have to express our sincere grief for the loss of our civilian Armenian citizens. This could be done in several ways. For instance, a monument for the victims of relocation could be erected in Eastern Anatolia. April 24, when Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul were arrested in groups, could be accepted as a day of commemoration for the victims of relocation. We could organize a day of fraternity with the Armenian Patriarch on that date. With such initiatives, April 24 could become a day of peace rather than a day of hatred as it is today.

 

With hate replaced by peace, borders will become transparent. Granting the right of citizenship to Armenians of Anatolian origin, who really are sincere in the desire to serve the common motherland should be seriously considered. What would Turkey lose if a street in Bitlis is named after William Saroyan, who was born in Bitlis? Or the world-famous duduk performer Djivan Gasparyan was given the key to the city of Muş, where he was born, along with Turkish citizenship and a passport?

 

*Dr. Havva Kök Arslan is a researcher at the USAK Peace Studies Center

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OIL INDUSTRY STILL COMING UNDER FIRE

GAIL TVERBERG

 

Bashing the oil industry seems to be popular. The most recent example is the New York Times’ editorial “They haven’t learned.”

 

I don’t think any industry is perfect, but I also have a hard time seeing that any industry should be singled out for uniquely harsh treatment. Things are going to go wrong whenever human decisions are involved, so we need to figure out ways to make systems as idiot-proof as possible.

 

With respect to blow-outs, a joint industry task force was put together shortly after the Deepwater Horizon blowout to take steps very quickly that would reduce the likelihood of blowouts and improve the possibility of control if such blowouts do take place. I don’t think that it is possible to completely eliminate blowout risk, but steps such as this task force is taking would seem to go a long ways. Stopping work elsewhere doesn’t really help the situation.

 

One of the big issues with oil is our tremendous need for it, just to keep current systems operating. It is fashionable to think that wind, or solar PV, or biofuels can somehow substitute for oil. Wind and solar PV don’t substitute for oil. What they do is create intermittent electricity, which is not at all the same. Biofuels don’t scale well, and unless they are “chemically equivalent” tend to cause problems in the machinery that use them, if they are added as more than a small percentage of the fuel mix.

 

Another big issue with oil is its cost, especially when it is imported from around the world. There is a huge advantage in producing oil in this country if we can – in terms of local jobs, and in terms of keeping the funds in our own economy.

 

Oil from abroad may not always be as available as everyone expects, either. The New York Times editorial talks about the United States controlling only 3 percent of the world’s known reserves. In fact, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, reserves used in calculating the 3 percent ratio seem to be greatly overstated, so the U.S. likely does control far more than 3 percent of the world’s productive capacity. But a lot of folks have stuck their heads in the sand, thinking that OPEC has a great deal more productive capacity than it likely really has. Overstated OPEC oil reserves are an issue the New York Times should be bringing to its readers, but it has not.

 

Oil production in the U.S. is not something that one can just turn on and off at will. People who work in the industry depend on stable job situations. If trained workers in the oil industry can’t find jobs in the oil industry, they will move on to other industries, where they can find jobs. If one stops and restarts drilling, the danger is that there will be fewer workers with experience later, making the risk of accidents higher.

 

Government oversight of the oil industry (and probably a lot of other industries) has not been very good. It is hard to see how this is going to change in the near future, because it takes a lot of training to understand appropriate procedures, and this really can only be learned by working in the industry. It may be that the oil industry itself will need to be involved with more aspects of regulation, and the government will need to play a more limited role. But halting drilling while all of this is sorted out doesn’t really help the result.

 

It seems to me that business can and should go on as usual while all of the details of regulation and preventing future blowouts is sorted out. The industry had a good safety record prior to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and it is taking steps now to prevent future blowouts. After seeing the high price that BP is having to pay for its spill, companies clearly have a financial incentive to make certain that they are operating safely. So it seems to me that the harsh position of the New York Times is unnecessary.

 

*This article was originally published by OilPrice.com, which offers free information and analysis on energy and commodities. To find out more, visit the website at www.oilprice.com.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

POWER ADDICTION

YUSUF KANLI

 

In a society that worships power, it is perhaps impossible to avoid addiction to power once at the helm of power.

 

The sad story of the first experience of single-party governance in the multi-party democratic governance period must serve as a reminder to all politicians aspiring to come to power. The 1950-60 period of one-party governance with absolute power eventually landed this country in the first-ever coup of the republican period. The prime minister and finance and foreign ministers of that government ruled Turkey from 1950 to 1960 with an understanding that if sovereignty unconditionally belonged to the people and if the people supported a political party and brought it to Parliament with sufficient majority, then that party of course represented the national will and thus could undertake anything for the people with the endorsement it received from the people.

 

It sounds rather democratic, but indeed that’s a perverted understanding which is not democracy, but rather majoritarianism, which has proven very dangerous in the recent history of not only Turkey but more bitterly in the continental European heartland.

 

Probably Lord Acton was not exactly referring to “power addiction” in his famous 1887 expression, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” yet it is perhaps that corrupting clout of having power that contributes to it taking on the dimensions of an addiction.

 

When and if a majoritarian democratic governance understanding replaces democratic governance in a country and those in the ruling administration start caring less whether they conform with the principle of the supremacy of law and respect the basic norms of democracy headed by freedom of thought, expression and of course media in exercising governance power, that country can no longer be described even as a peculiar democracy. The best description one can use for such a country is perhaps the “hybrid governance” used recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit in its 2010 global democracy index for Turkey.

 

It appears that in those countries with “hybrid governance,” the more security valves of democracy are rendered ineffective or dysfunctional and the more people feel perplexed against developments derailing democratic governance and replacing it with elements of autocratic rule, the more adamant a majoritarian understanding becomes. The more that majoritarian and all-powerful people satisfy their power-addicted ego, the more power-hungry they become. Thus, they further intensify the revanchist campaign they have launched against what they considered the “power dens of the previous regime” even though they as well might face the risk of total annihilation at the end of such a pandemonium.

 

2011 is an election year in Turkey. Data at hand – that is, both the trends in the last election statistics as well as the data released by several polling companies – indicate that unless something drastic happens or the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, does something terribly bad, the scheduled June 12 parliamentary elections will produce a straight one-party government chance for the AKP for a third time. Right now, polls indicate that there might be some drop in the 47 percent the ruling party received in 2007, yet it seems that it will still come to power alone. Naturally, more than the election performance of the AKP how many parties will manage to overcome the 10 percent national threshold will be important as well. That is, to a large extent AKP’s third term of single party government chance might depend on the electoral performance of the Democrat Party, or DP, or the ability of center-right parties to forge an election alliance under the DP roof.

Naturally, the 10 percent electoral threshold – which is maintained by the AKP though over the past many years it pledged to take it down – is killing the notion of justice in representation for the sake of stability in governance. Yet, for the sake of preventing “shaky coalition governments,” condemning Turkey to a majoritarian understanding and shunning the right of representation to all minority political views – a 10 percent threshold is bigger than any minority description, but anyhow – is indeed the biggest political shame of this country.

 

What great democratic performance one could expect from a governing mentality that condemns “minority” to “nihility”?

 

Having power is a great responsibility.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ON THE BRINK

 

What happens in the next few days will be crucially important in deciding the future course of politics in the country. Following the dramatic exit by the MQM, and loss of its 25 seats, Prime Minister Gilani will need to pull a conjuring trick of the highest order if he is to survive. Everywhere in the country people sit glued to television sets, following each development with rapt attention. Many analysts believe midterm elections may now be inevitable. Meetings are on between leaders as the prime minister makes efforts to win over either the PML-N, with its 91 seats, or the PML-Q, with 51. Both have indicated they will vote neither for nor against the prime minister if a vote of no-confidence is moved, and this would be enough to sink a ship that has been leaking increasingly large amounts of water for some time. The PML-N’s strained ties with the MQM create a badly fractured opposition and offer the government what may be its only hope. 


Will a desperate Mr Gilani, who is holding meetings with Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, take the assembly with him, as he is empowered to do, before a vote of no- confidence is moved in the 342-seat National Assembly? What is to be the future of the president himself, who will not survive in the absence of a PPP government? He is hardly a man who can claim to command much respect or trust, so he cannot hope for a new setup opting to retain him. Other questions are considerably more intriguing. What, in the first place, compelled Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza to deliver the diatribe directed against the MQM, which triggered the crisis which simmered for some days and has now reached boiling-point? Surely, he could not have expected that the MQM would not react. Is there some plot on against the prime minister, whose decisions have not always gone down well in the Presidency. How much weight is there in such views now that the president has strongly reaffirmed his confidence in Mr Gilani and assured him of support in case of any move against him? Some in Islamabad say the plan is to install a compromise candidate. We still do not know who all the players are and what games are being played. 


It is obvious why this chaotic situation has arisen. Almost three years of failure to govern have caught up with the ruling party. Since it was elected in February 2008 the perception of people has been that most things have deteriorated rapidly. Inflation and their own growing poverty have emerged as people’s primary concern. Corruption and nepotism have marked the manner in which the state has been run. Combined with this we have an energy crisis that has paralysed industry and made the lives of domestic utility users unbearably miserable. Most citizens would agree with the points made by the MQM in the announcement of its decision to quit: the fuel-price hike; the government’s failure to tax agriculturalists, the growing taxation burden on the salaried class and the deteriorating law and order situation. We all know, too, that promises have not been kept, suicide bombings continue and the unrest in Balochistan has not been checked. The challenges posed to the government by events beyond its control, such as the floods, are not enough to justify its failures. The report card shows few passing grades. This will also have an impact on the outcome of meetings being held. The government clings by its fingernails to the edge of a steep cliff.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

INVISIBLE MONEY

 

The Public Accounts Committee is earning itself a reputation for being both public and demonstrating that accountability, at least in some measure if not yet fully, is possible even in this most corrupt of environments. The latest area of interest for the PAC concerns the use of so-called ‘secret funds’ --- government monies that are disbursed to a range of agencies but for what purpose being unclear at best and completely unknown at worst. Money has migratory tendencies in Pakistan, as evidenced by reports in this newspaper to the effect that corruption has attained new levels in 2010 and is now estimated to cost us over Rs1000 billion every year. We have no credible anti-corruption mechanisms that are firewalled against political interference; and just about every international body that is in a position to monitor us finds corruption at every level, from top to bottom. A former finance minister Shaukat Tareen is on record as saying that we lose around Rs600 billion a year because of corruption in the collection of sales tax alone. He stated that the Federal Board of Revenue could generate Rs400-500 billion a year just by plugging the loopholes in the Federal Board of Revenue -- but there is no expectation of that happening in the foreseeable future.


Add in to this monster that is devouring us the ‘secret funds’. They may only be a small part of the overall picture and there are doubtless certain uses to which they are put that are legitimate -- but there are many which may not be. There are 27 national institutions using ‘secret funds’ including the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. One might have thought that the PM’s Secretariat would have little need for any secret funds, but apparently not. And what might the Information Technology Division be using ‘secret funds’ for? There is a distinct lack of accountability within the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which managed to spend Rs10 million in 2009 and Rs7 million in 2010. Presumably they were running short of paperclips and carbon paper. The current government has broken all previous records for secret fund usage --- Rs4.78 billion between 2008 and 2010. There are protocols in place which regulate the use of secret funds but the federal secretary is not required to divulge the details of disbursal to the federal minister responsible for them. An interesting state of affairs to say the least. The chairman of the PAC seems to have the bit between his teeth however, and can point to the 18th Amendment which says that ‘every institution that uses government budget will be bound to get audit of spending.’ Whether that extends to the scrutiny of ‘secret funds’ is a matter yet to be tested. We await developments.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE ART OF HAVING IT BOTH WAYS

RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI

 

Dr Zulfiqar Mirza cannot be described a successful home minister considering the generally poor law and order situation in Sindh, particularly in the provincial capital, Karachi, where target-killings are now a common occurrence and traders concerned about their safety often have to pay ‘bhatta’ or illegal tax to gangsters. But to his credit it must be said that he is plain-speaking, unafraid to admit shortcomings and speak his mind even if it means taking on powerful people.


In fact, Zulfiqar Mirza’s forthright style and his recent decision to disclose certain home truths have become the immediate cause for the collapse of the uneasy alliance between the PPP, to which he belongs, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. His friend and party leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, didn’t fire him or change his portfolio as predicted by sections of the media and perhaps expected by the MQM. Unless Dr Zulfiqar Mirza himself gives up the portfolio of home minister in a bid to save the PPP alliance with the MQM, it looks unlikely that President Zardari would remove him from the job. Firing or sidelining him would amount to censuring the PPP. Zulfiqar Mirza isn’t an ordinary PPP leader. He is a party stalwart and also the husband of National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza. 


The MQM has already quit the federal cabinet with the resignation of Dr Farooq Sattar and Babar Khan Ghauri and opted to sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly and the Senate. However, it is still part of the PPP-led coalition government in Sindh, which is strange considering the fact that the MQM is a strong critic of the PPP and its policies. But this isn’t surprising because political parties have now perfected the art of functioning both as part of the government and the opposition. It is useful to remain in power in the provinces even after quitting the federal government and refusing to become involved in difficult and unpopular decision-making such as imposing or increasing taxes and maintaining the alliance with the US in the war against militancy. The MQM may eventually quit the Sindh government, but only after exhausting every option that could allow it to stay in power. Even otherwise, political parties with an eye on the next general election have to start taking populist positions on issues after having enjoyed power for almost three years. 


Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F is also sailing in two boats, quitting the federal cabinet by instructing its three ministers, Mohammad Azam Swati, Maulana Attaur Rahman and Rahmatullah Kakar, to resign but refusing to leave the PPP-led coalition government in Balochistan and the PPP-headed regional administration in Gilgit-Baltistan. Maulana Fazlur Rahman had earlier successfully managed to be both an ally and opponent of General Pervez Musharraf-led government by operating as an opposition leader to the king’s party, PML-Q, in the Centre and ruling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the latter as coalition partner of the PML-Q. A hundred reasons could be given in support of this policy, but none could justify such an unprincipled stand. One should be in the government or the opposition and that’s it. Whatever its shortcomings, and there are many, the ANP is standing by the PPP on almost every issue and true to the party’s reputation one expects Asfandyar Wali Khan not to abandon President Zardari even if the going gets tough. 

 

The bitter home truths that Zulfiqar Mirza highlighted in an emotional speech to Karachi businessmen were already the talk of the town. It was no longer a secret that certain political parties or their front organizations along with mafia groups were behind most of the target-killings. There are also random killings of common people, mostly poor wage-earners, because they belong to a particular ethnic group. As the home minister, Zulfiqar Mirza officially certified that 26 out of the 60 suspects interrogated by the joint investigation teams comprising police and civil and military intelligence officials for their involvement in target-killings belonged to the largest political party in the city. He didn’t mention the MQM, but there was no need to name it as everyone recognised the party that has been winning the most assembly and local government seats in the city and ruling Karachi. The MQM reaction was predictably quick and sharp. In fact, it gave a 10-day deadline to the PPP leadership to disown Zulfiqar Mirza’s remarks. Its next step was to pull out of the federal government. 

The MQM wasn’t the only party blamed by Zulfiqar Mirza for its involvement in target-killings and violence in Karachi. He also named the ANP and certain religious groups, but none reacted in the manner of the MQM. For sure there are parties and groups other than the MQM that are involved in target-killings, land grabs and drug-trafficking but the Altaf Hussain-led party has more muscle-power than the rest and has greater capacity to do something good or bad. Zulfiqar Mirza also highlighted other home truths. Why is there a strike in Karachi when an MQM leader is assassinated in London? Why were the Pakhtuns target-killed and their properties destroyed in the wake of Raza Haider’s killing? Why are other ethnic groups targeted in Karachi? Mirza cautioned that innocent Urdu-speakers could be harmed if the ethnic minorities joined hands and started taking revenge. He could have added that many innocent Urdu-speaking Mohajirs have already been harmed as a result of the violence sweeping Pakistan’s biggest and richest city.


Who could argue with Zulfiqar Mirza when he said in the same speech that some Karachi traders gave donations to the Taliban instead of providing vehicles to the police to be able to do a better job? And also when he pointed out that some groups snatched hides at gunpoint. He narrated the case of a hostage who was kept in Liaquatabad, a stronghold of the MQM in Karachi, and freed after payment of ransom to a ‘sector incharge’ from whom arms were also recovered. 


One doesn’t have to agree with everything Zulfiqar Mirza says, though it is true that for the first time someone in authority has defended the poor Pakhtuns who go to Karachi in search of livelihood and then become victim of political vendetta. Even the ANP couldn’t have come to the defence of its Pakhtun electorate in a more effective way. 


Zulfiqar Mirza is sometimes overcome by emotion. Once in the Sindh Assembly, he challenged those involved in violence and killing of innocent people in Karachi to kill him instead. On the second death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, he made an emotional speech in which said that he and other PPP members were ready to chant slogans of “Pakistan Na Khappay” (No need for Pakistan) in the heat of the moment following her assassination, but Mr Zardari intervened and raised the slogan of “Pakistan Khappay!” This is emotional stuff, but it is also being honest, a quality that most of our politicians lack.


For obvious reasons, the MQM doesn’t agree with Zulfiqar Mirza’s assertions. There are certain things about the MQM that distinguishes it from other parties. It is a party of the middle class in which commoners can rise above the ranks and become ministers. It is secular and anti-feudal and is consistent in the fight against extremism and militancy. It has suffered due to security operations directed against it. The MQM has also tried to extend its appeal beyond its core constituency of Mohajirs. One wishes it stopped using violence to achieve its objectives. And also stopped considering itself as the master of Karachi to the exclusion of other ethnic groups.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai@yahoo.com

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

AF-PAK STRATEGIC REVIEW

SALEEM SAFI

 

Expectations of a positive change in the US approach to fighting terrorism in the Af-Pak region and restoring peace to Afghanistan were high before the official release of the annual Af-Pak Review. However, the “review” has nothing new to offer on US policies and strategies. It speaks volumes of US self-righteousness and its self-serving approach to the solution of a problem that necessarily requires concerted efforts and inputs from domestic and regional stakeholders. The review reflects the fact that the US security establishment has succeeded in painting a brighter picture to trick the Obama administration into pursuing a military solution.


The US policies in the war on terror are still dictated by people with tunnel vision, because they are shaped by social and political prejudices. The policymakers are trained and brought up in Western social and political environments having least relevance to the novel Eastern cultures like Afghanistan and Pakistan. 


The US and Western failures in Afghanistan have been caused by misplaced priorities and wrong strategies; primarily, the huge amounts of money they spent on military operations should have been used to woo Afghans and some regional stalwarts. The second reason is the strangulation of the Karzai government, which is not even trusted in trivial administrative and political matters. With this status and power, how can Karzai deliver on the US and Western demands? Third, the US never trusted important regional players and allies while formulating the so-called anti-terror policies. Lastly, the US is ambivalent: it talks of a political solution but simultaneously uses force, it orders troops surges but also announces hasty withdrawals.


The administration does not plan a change in the practice of spending money on military operations instead of diverting it to welfare and development projects for the Afghan people. Pakistan still occupies the important position of key to the solution of the crisis, but the Obama administration failed to review the United States’ self-defeating policy of indifference towards Pakistan’s regional and international interests, concerns and reservations. 

Iran, Central Asia and China are still conspicuous by their absence from the US radar screen for a partnership to forge a regional alliance against terrorism. The Review’s failure to give these powers their due position vis-a-vis their role in the Afghan problem has actually widened the gulf of mistrust, thus killing all hopes of a durable regional solution. Additionally, the Karzai government has been kept out of any future initiatives for reconciliation, policymaking and adjustments with the Taliban and other resistance forces. No less interesting is the fact that the review talks about troop surge and troop withdrawal in the same vein. 


Obama seemed upbeat in announcing that Al-Qaeda has been weakened. There is no doubt that drone attacks and targeted operations have liquidated some Al-Qaeda members, but Obama appeared to believe in the fallacy that decapitation of the second- and third-tier leadership would reduce the organisations’ ability to strike back. Al-Qaeda’s rallying call is increasingly attracting young and passionate Muslim youth. After Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the organisation has exhibited its presence and power in Yemen. Shockingly, Al-Qaeda’s ideology and jihadi calls have made inroads in North America and Europe as well. 


The Review betrays the fact that Gen David Petraeus persuaded the Obama administration and political establishment about the efficacy of current strategies through a list of Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s second- and third-tier leaders killed or maimed over the past six months. The general also seems to have prevailed upon the civilian establishment at the State Department, which favours a timely withdrawal from the Afghan quagmire. 

The Afghan and war-on-terror policies are exclusively devised and pursued by the security establishment in Pakistan. The security establishment is directly dealing with the Americans on these issues. There have been ups and downs in the relationship between the US and Pakistani security establishments over the war on terror and Afghan strategies. Currently, there are indications that tensions between the two are turning into open confrontation. The US media has again started targeting the Pakistani security establishment. The US government has repeated the “do more” mantra in the review. In the charged atmosphere the alleged issuance of a notice by a US court to the current and previous DGs of the ISI has added fuel to the fire. In response, the drone attacks victims recently organised a protest in Islamabad. The victims submitted application to Abpara police station for registration of an FIR against the CIA station chief in Islamabad, which caused him to leave Pakistan. 

The US and the Western powers refuse to mend their ways. The regional stakeholders in the Afghan problems would also not change their positions. Soon the region is going to face intense confrontation again. The US government will arm-twist Pakistan into following suit. The Taliban’s Quetta Shura, military operations in North Waziristan and the extension of drone attacks into the settled areas of Pakistan will be hotly contested issues between the US and Pakistani security establishments which seem to have been in confrontation over these issues from the very outset. In the process, the real losers will be Afghans and Pakistanis, particularly the Pakhtuns of both countries.


The writer works for Geo TV.

 

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

IN THE THICKNESS OF FOG

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI


By the time Pakistanis fell asleep on Sunday night, having been serenaded by the hysteria emanating from the MQM’s departure from the national government, a dense fog was busy enveloping itself right around Islamabad. Mother Nature moves in mysterious ways, and by Monday morning, the fog was so thick that low visibility was making a mystery of anything that was more than ten feet away. Rarely does nature reflect the state of a nation as accurately as Pakistan’s. The fog affecting national perspective doesn’t just affect short-term visibility, it limits the canvas of possibilities for 180 million people. There may be plenty of mystery about what will happen next in the National Assembly, but there is absolutely none about what is happening to the larger picture in Pakistan. Slowly but surely, the accumulated sins of politicians in Pakistan are helping speed up the cleansing the Pakistani military. 


The hysteria surrounding the MQM’s exit from the Treasury benches is not entirely unjustified. The PPP now sits over a very fragile parliamentary minority. It is only natural for national attention to be fixated on the next steps that the MQM, the PML-N), the PML-Q and the PPP itself will take. What feels unnatural is how we got here. 

On March 15, 2009 the Pakistani military arguably suffered the worst humiliation in its history. The movement for the restoration of the judiciary, despite all its shortcomings, successfully forced the Pakistani military to surrender to the threat of a wave of people marching off the GT Road and straight into Islamabad. The lawyers’ movement, contrary to many critics’ claims, was never about the judicial excellence represented by the chief justice and his colleagues. It was about institutional conflict. In all previous episodes, the Pakistani military had always dominated the Pakistani judiciary. Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar decided that this winning streak was going to end, and the Pakistani people, led by the lawyers, endorsed him. 


For the military, the restoration of the judiciary was a watershed moment because it represented an acceptance of another institution’s claim to “being right”. More importantly, it represented the military’s acceptance that the Pakistani people saw the judiciary as being right, and saw the military as having been wrong. Being wrong is one thing, but being seen to be wrong is entirely another. Since the military has spent so much time in charge of Pakistan, being seen to be wrong is unacceptable to it. The one thing the military cannot afford is the impression that it is anti-people. 


This is why as terrorist gains in FATA and Swat were accumulating between 2002 and 2007, military officials were asked to stop appearing in public in uniform. It is why Gen Kayani ordered the recall of officers deployed to run civilian organisations. It is why Gen Musharraf tried everything in his power to paint the chief justice as a megalomaniac, and an unscrupulous judge. None of it really came off. The military had taken too much time in power, and delivered too little. By the time Musharraf was preparing his August 2007 resignation speech, he had failed the entire spectrum of challenges articulated in his once-famed seven point agenda. 

So on the night of March 15, 2009, when the phone calls were coming in fast and furious, expressing trepidation about more than a million angry Pakistanis converging in front of parliament in Islamabad, the re-instatement of the chief justice represented, on the part of a quiet, but deeply invested Gen Kayani, an admission of his institution having been wrong. 


The rehabilitation and cleansing of the military’s image in Pakistan since March 15, 2009 has been one of the most powerful lessons in managing change we’ll see in our lives. Within three months of the restoration, and that low point for the military’s image in Pakistan, television channels and op-ed writers (including yours truly) were blowing the war trumpets for military action in Swat. That necessary operation and the building of national consensus around Operation Rah-e-Rast was a massive shot in the arm for the military, which was once again demonstrating its rightful role as the defender of Pakistani soil, from enemies-even if they are internal. 


As that operation came to a close and the summer of 2009 turned into the autumn of 2009, the US Congress finally approved the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill that appropriated $1.5 billion per annum for at least five years to Pakistan. Though the bill had little relationship to military aid, it did contain a vision of the conditions that the US seeks in Pakistan, particularly the sustenance of democracy. 


All of a sudden, a whirlwind campaign emerged nationally, decrying the attack on national sovereignty that the Kerry Lugar Bill represented. The tipping point for that campaign was direct statements from the GHQ high-ups asserting national autonomy. Pakistanis were incessantly reminded about how the only ones to stand up for Pakistan always seem to be military officers. 


Both the public diplomacy supporting Rah-e-Rast and the Kerry Lugar brouhaha were employed so successfully that in the last year, the military leadership has had no trouble at all manipulating the civilian government in a manner that it feels suits the national interest of Pakistan. 


On March 16, 2010, prior to the spring session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, and exactly a year after the restoration of the chief justice, Gen Kayani chaired a meeting of federal secretaries, something that makes no administrative, political, or structural sense whatsoever. On July 22, 2010 he was given an unprecedented extension as army chief till 2013. Throughout 2010, while the military maintains a dignified silence, there seems to be surges of undignified anti-American outrage in the Pakistan that is completely incongruent to the military’s own proximity to, need for and appreciation of US power and US interests in the region. 


All of this should be vitally important in making sense of the fog that surrounds politics in Pakistan. But it should be important for the right reasons. No country should have a national discourse that is constantly bad mouthing its military and intelligence agencies. Yet the constant efforts of the military, both deliberate and unintentional, to dominate the Pakistani narrative are, quite plainly, dangerous. 


Democracies have power struggles, hung parliaments, fractured politics and votes of no-confidence all the time. Luckily, Gen Kayani’s sense of security and his method means that few people are talking about an outright takeover of power. This is all the more reason for Pakistanis to proceed with caution. 

While frolicking in an orgy of condemnations of the incompetence of elected politicians, from the “corrupt” PPP, to the “thuggish” MQM, to the “sinister” PML-N, we might consider biting our lips, once in a while. The choice to reject these adjective-laden parties is a sovereign right of the people of Pakistan. It must be exercised by the Pakistani people. Spoon-fed governance from soldiers is a baby formula that we’ve consumed before. It has always produced indigestion.


The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SALVAGING THE 7TH NFC AWARD

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN


In the recently concluded Annual Conference of the Pakistan Society of Development Economists, experts deliberated extensively on the issues of the NFC Award and fiscal decentralisation. The general consensus that emerged was that the 7th NFC Award was a political, and not economic, measure; was concluded in haste with little homework done on its macroeconomic consequences; and more work would be required urgently to salvage the Award. This consensus was in line with my argument (Oct 5, 2010) that the 7th NFC Award was one of the ten economic blunders of the present government. 


Pakistan’s macroeconomic management had remained centralised until 2009-10. However, the 7th NFC Award and the 18th Amendment contributed to its decentralisation. Pakistan’s is passing through the most difficult phase of its economic history. The large budget deficit, rising debt-servicing, unsustainable debt burden, crowding out of the private sector, declining investment, slower economic growth, rising unemployment and poverty, and double-digit inflation are some of the key challenges that Pakistan is confronted with. The root cause of these challenges is the persistence of a large fiscal deficit, which has averaged 6.3 per cent of the GDP in the last three years. A deficit of this magnitude is “the mother of economic problems.”


It is commonly argued that a government which succeeds in maintaining financial discipline by keeping budget deficit low is bound to be a successful government. It will have ample resources to invest in people (health and education) and infrastructure. Unfortunately, governments in developing countries like ours are inherently “deficit biased.” They love to spend but hate to collect resources through taxation, and as such see their budget deficits rising, which in turn, gives birth to macroeconomic crises. Such a policy is bound to create economic instability which, in turn, promotes political instability. Political instability, in its turn, causes economic instability. This is exactly what we are observing in Pakistan today. 


The only way we can take the economy out of the current crisis is to maintain financial discipline. Financial discipline is the sine qua non for economic prosperity. Can any government succeed in maintaining financial discipline in the post-7th NFC Award situation and following the 18th Amendment? Will we be more fiscally responsible in the decentralised setup? These questions are vital for Pakistan’s future macroeconomic management. 

Pakistan’s macroeconomic stability will depend crucially on the financial discipline of the provincial governments going forward. Under the 7th NFC Award, 56 per cent of tax resources will be transferred to the provinces this year and 57.5 per cent in the remaining years of the Award. Including other transfers, almost 60 per cent of the resources will be transferred to provinces, which have little financial discipline and capacity to spend prudently.


Did we analyse the macroeconomic consequences of this Award before finalising it? The massive transfer of resources to provinces is taking place at a time when the federal government’s legitimate expenditure is growing rapidly. For example, interest payments were more than doubled in the past three years (from Rs365 billion to over Rs800 billion this year), surging security-related expenditure on account of geo-strategic developments and the war on terror, power-sector subsidies reaching over Rs175 billion, and rotten public-sector enterprises draining over Rs250 billion per annum from the federal exchequer. Have we taken into account these rapidly increasing expenditures of the federal government? Have we left sufficient resources for the federal government to meet its growing legitimate expenditure? The answer is obviously no. It is in this perspective that experts believe that the 7th NFC Award was political, devoid of economic foundation.

The deficits of both the federal and provincial governments together provide overall or consolidated fiscal deficit for Pakistan. Historically, the federal government’s budget has always been in large deficit. Provincial governments used to generate cash balance surplus to arrive at a targeted consolidated budget deficit. For example, in Budget 2010-11 (the first budget under the new NFC Award), the budget deficit of the federal government was targeted at 5 per cent of the GDP and provincial governments together were expected to generate 1.0 per cent of GDP surplus to arrive at a consolidated deficit of 4.0 per cent of GDP.


The provincial governments, instead of presenting surplus budgets, presented deficit budgets, despite the fact that additional resources of over Rs500 billion were to be transferred to them. As a result, Budget 2010-11 never saw the light of the new fiscal year and died prematurely. Presenting deficit budgets in the midst of massive transfer of resources was the height of fiscal indiscipline on the part of the provincial governments.

What will be the consequences of such an undisciplined attitude of the provincial governments? Setting a consolidated budget deficit target by the ministry of finance has become meaningless. Can the federal government deliver on the budget deficit target agreed with the IMF? The answer is no. Pakistan’s future fiscal deficit will be determined by provincial governments. In other words, Pakistan’s macroeconomic management, economic stability, growth and development have now been shifted to the provinces, where financial indiscipline reigns. 


Pakistan can come out of the present economic crisis only if it maintains financial discipline by keeping the budget deficit low. In its present form of resource transfer under the NFC Award, this is next to impossible. Unless some hard constraints are put in place, in the form of binding the provincial governments to deliver required surpluses to meet the consolidated budget deficit target, Pakistan’s economic conditions will continue to deteriorate. The federal and provincial governments must sit down, for the sake of Pakistan, to devise binding constraints and get them approved by the National Economic Council. The sooner we move, the better it is for the country. 

 

The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad.


Email: ahkhan@nbs.edu.pk

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SLIPPERY ECONOMIC SLOPE

DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.


2011 started on a note of great uncertainty. The country plunged into political crisis when the ruling coalition lost the support of two key allies. The MQM’s defection to the opposition left the government well short of a parliamentary majority.


The pivotal question this raised was not whether the government would survive, but about its capacity to govern. There is every prospect of policy paralysis with the official focus certain to be diverted further from addressing urgent challenges especially a gathering economic crisis. While political manoeuvres can be expected to engage the energies of the country’s leaders it is an unravelling economy that poses the most serious potential threat to the nation’s stability. 


The mudslinging that dominated the headlines at the close of 2010 not only laid bare the depths to which partisan politics had sunk but also the disconnect between the priorities of public representatives and the pressing needs of the country.


This reinforced a mood of national gloom that was reflected in several opinion polls. A Gallup-Pakistan survey conducted as part of a global “hope barometer” found that in Pakistan over 70 per cent of people felt there would be no improvement in the year ahead, or that the situation will worsen. For most respondents despair trumped hope in their economic outlook. 


An earlier survey by the Pew organisation found overwhelming majorities to be dissatisfied with national conditions, pessimistic about the economy and concerned about political corruption.


The public despondency reflected a sense of drift in the country and lack of government direction in a fraught environment of economic distress and energy shortages. The economic outlook further worsened when the country’s programme with the IMF went off track due to lack of compliance with agreed performance criteria, including the commitment to raise revenue. Widening macroeconomic imbalances held out the danger of an economic breakdown in the absence of prompt corrective measures. 


The country’s economic woes were compounded in 2010 by the worst floods in living memory that deluged large swathes of the country and caused large-scale displacement and destruction. Millions of people were affected by the calamity at a time when the country was struggling to cope with multiple problems and an unprecedented security crisis fuelled by nine years of war in Afghanistan. 


The floods exposed a paradox that lies at the heart of Pakistan’s present predicament: that of a fragile state but a resilient society. As the government machinery foundered in responding to the situation, civil society, ordinary citizens, philanthropic businessmen and media groups organised efforts to help the flood victims. The anaemic official response – notwithstanding the military’s relief efforts – offered a stunning contrast to the stellar actions of private charities and local communities.


What also mitigated the tragedy was the capacity for endurance of the flood victims, who set about rebuilding their lives and homes with remarkable dignity and unshakeable resolve. 

Dire forecasts made in the summer of 2010 by some Western observers that militants would exploit the chaos and misery, even seize control of parts of the country, were all belied by the realities on the ground. The country also defied another doomsday prediction – that this was one crisis too many which would tip Pakistan over the edge. 

2010 also had its high points. The most edifying political development was the adoption by Parliamentary consensus of the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment. This removed many flaws and rebalanced powers between the president and prime minister and between the centre and the provinces to restore constitutional equilibrium in line with public sentiment.


The accomplishment offered the government an opportunity to chart a new course by dealing purposively with festering issues and unattended challenges. But the PPP-led coalition seemed to have other preoccupations. The primacy of politicking over policy meant that it passed up a chance to build on the momentum of its constitutional achievement.


The government also seemed unable to anticipate or effectively deal with the financial ramifications of empowering the provinces by the Eighteenth Amendment, as well as the award of the National Finance Commission. It was when the balance of resource distribution was being tilted in favour of the provinces that provincial governments could have been asked to commit to a reciprocal obligation to support revenue-raising efforts especially as the provincial contribution is a meagre 5 per cent of overall tax collection. 


On the security front, 2010 saw unrelenting terrorist attacks across the country, even if the year did not turn out to be as deadly as 2009, when violence reached a record level. This did not mean that the militant threat receded, as the attacks on Sufi shrines and other targets demonstrated. Although military operations during 2009 put the militants under sustained pressure, drove them out of Swat and South Waziristan and halted their ingress into the settled areas neighbouring FATA, the question remained whether these gains could endure.


There was patchy progress on that count in 2010 as problems were encountered in transitioning from the extensive “clear and hold” phase to “build and transfer” in South Waziristan and, to a less extent, Swat. Lack of administrative, judicial and civilian law enforcement capacities hobbled the transition.


That the army remained engaged in operations of varying intensity in six of the seven tribal agencies, as well as parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, underlined that the battle against militancy would neither be quick nor easy. Winning the peace in post-conflict areas remained a vexing challenge, especially as the protracted war in Afghanistan continued to complicate Pakistan’s anti-militancy campaign. 


As the year closed, it was a deteriorating economy rather than the militant threat that posed the most proximate danger to the country’s stability. Indeed, the most consequential decision the government may have taken in that regard was not to move ahead on its declared intention to reform the general sales tax. The government expended little political capital to implement this. The lack of any sustained campaign to mobilise parliamentary and public support to overcome resistance from opposition parties – serving as instruments of vested interests – stalled the reform effort.


Missing several targets the government itself set to institute the reformed GST and implement other promised policy reforms, rendered the IMF programme inoperative. This meant that the Fund withheld $3.5 billion of its $11.3 loan package for Pakistan. 


Inaction on the RGST and other policy benchmarks prompted a letter from the IMF’s managing director, warning the authorities of the dangers to the economy if timely and decisive action was not taken to rein in the spiralling fiscal deficit. 


With the budget deficit already exceeding the official target of 4.7 per cent of GDP for fiscal year 2010-11 this could now rise to 7 or 8 per cent. With no more spending cuts envisaged, failure to stem the heavy financial haemorrhaging in public-sector corporations and implement tax reform held out the prospect of funding the widening budgetary gap by more bank borrowing. 


Already at a record high, government borrowing from the State Bank to finance a higher fiscal deficit will mean printing more currency notes. As the governor of the central bank has repeatedly warned, excessive borrowing will intensify inflationary pressures on the economy.


Bank borrowing on this scale will put the country on a slippery slope in an already explosive inflationary environment leading to a situation of hyperinflation, which will be exceedingly difficult to control.

At the start of the New Year the country descended into renewed political turmoil with the government’s loss of its parliamentary majority. This came at a time when the economy was precariously poised between worsening inflation and sagging growth, which only bold structural reform and urgent resource mobilisation can reverse. The question that 2011 posed for the country was whether its leaders understood this perilous situation and had the political will and ability to steer the ship of state through such stormy political and economic seas to safer shores.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

PEACE PROCESS

RIZWAN ASGHAR


A year has passed since the “Aman ki Asha” peace initiative was launched. In one year this project has made commendable progress towards meaningful dialogue and enhancing person-to-person contacts. This step has also helped to change the public perception of bilateral relations.


The region of South Asia is inhabited by almost 1.5 billion people, whose survival depends on the level of political stability in this disturbed region. This political stability can come only through mature leaders in the two countries who can think beyond their narrow interests and take bold decisions without holding on to their past which fans suspicion and enmity between the two nations. During the last three years a number of official and track-two initiatives were taken but no significant step could be taken at the governmental level for the resolution of the fundamental disputes between India and Pakistan.


The main reason for this fiasco is that India is quite unwilling to agree on a comprehensive agenda for future talks. It has not consented to the discussion of the fate of the disputed territory of Kashmir in future talks. Rather, it has always attempted to bracket peace efforts with terrorism. On the other hand, Pakistan has stuck to its guns and seeks to hold the composite dialogue. 


New Delhi overlooks the fact that intransigence is not the solution of any problem. India is almost three times larger than Pakistan, has a vibrant economy and huge military might with overbearing influence in the region and is supported by the United States. India wants to be a global player, but its political leadership is unaware of the fact that bad relations with all neighbours will ultimately be harmful for its global image and ambitions.

The two countries could reach a consensus only if they commit themselves to resolving the long-standing issues that have hitherto embittered bilateral relationship. Hopes of establishing enduring peace in the region may remain elusive as long as India persists in its policy of resolving outstanding issues on its own terms. Another thing which is worth mentioning is that although the incumbent government in Delhi is convinced that “Islamic terrorism” is not a major problem, it continues to play up this perceived threat as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. As Wikileaks revealed, Rahul Gandhi, India’s emerging Congress leader, believes that “saffron terrorism” poses a bigger threat to his country’s stability than Islamic militants.


Another discomforting aspect of Pak-India bilateral relations is the continuous involvement of the intelligence agencies of both countries in undertaking subversive activities on the other side of the border. So a positive action cannot translate into concrete reality till these agencies are reined in. The tenuous nature of the mutual relationship can be gauged from the fact that the activities of the diplomatic staff of both India and Pakistan are looked at with suspicion looks in their host countries.


Despite all deep-seated differences, to continue talking is the only option. The two countries, so far, are miles away from the resolution of key issues. But even then we have come a long way from the days when we used to fight over our differences. Dialogue is the only tool to resolve contentious issues. We also need to shed the baggage of the past to reduce mutual mistrust.


European countries fought with one another for centuries but a point came when their leaders started appreciating the significance of peace and prosperity. By collective efforts and sincerity of purpose our future can be different from our strife-stricken past and measures in conformity with the views of the people of the two countries can ultimately lead to transformation in our mutual relations.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. Com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

FOGGY POLITICAL HORIZON

 

AS winter fog has taken most parts of the country into its biting grip, there are also ominous signals on the political horizon that too has become misty following departure of the two allies of the Government — JUI(F) and MQM. Contrary to expectations that President Asif Ali Zardari, who was busy in hectic consultations in Karachi, would be able to win back the peeved MQM, the Party has decided to sit in the Opposition in Parliament. However, it has still left its doors open for a possible rapprochement, as it would remain part and parcel of the coalition in Sindh where it has major stakes.


The decision of the MQM has shaken the Government as it no more enjoys the numerical majority, which is a must to form and retain the Government in a parliamentary democracy. Different scenarios are being predicted as the way out of the existing tricky situation but neither the stakeholders nor the analysts have definite clue as for which direction the system was heading. In usual circumstances, lack of majority would compel the Prime Minister to either seek a vote of confidence or dissolve the Assembly to go for a fresh poll but here any of these propositions seems unlikely to happen. This is because although the Opposition parties as well as majority of people of Pakistan are vying for a change yet no one is ready to step in to take up the responsibilities at this most challenging juncture of our history. It is, perhaps, in this backdrop that while President Asif Ali Zardari has once again talked about completion of five-year-term while Prime Minister Gilani is expressing confidence that nothing unusual would happen even after parting of ways by MQM, which has left him seven votes short of majority. Apart from the fact that the Opposition is in disarray and not in a position to present a potent threat due to mistrust, PML (N) would also not become part of any no-confidence move as Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is not in the Assembly to become an alternative choice. Anyhow, it is encouraging that irrespective of their political moves necessitated by expediencies and compulsions, no one is keen to rock the boat and that means continuation of the system. But nothing should be taken for granted in our treacherous environment and the Government ought to change its policies that have so far given masses no relief but added to their woes and miseries. 


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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

“COMPULSIVE HOSTILITY” IS OTHER WAY ROUND

 

IT was astonishing to hear Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna asking Pakistan to give up its “compulsive hostility” towards New Delhi for a serious and sustained bilateral dialogue. In an interview with Indian News Agency, Mr Krishna also demanded dismantling of what he called infrastructure of terrorism.


Before making such a statement, which surprised diplomatic observers in Islamabad, if the Indian External Affairs had done a soul-searching he would surely have come to the conclusion that it is the “compulsive hostility” from New Delhi towards Islamabad that is the real cause of tension between the two countries. India is indulging in all sorts of acts that negatively impact Pakistan’s interest. Apart from massive weaponisation of the South Asian region through spending billions of dollars for the purchase of lethal weapons, which are surely meant against Pakistan, India is choking Pakistan’s water resources by building big and small water reservoirs to deny it from its rightful share of water. Also it has been making tall claims to enter into dialogue with Pakistan to resolve outstanding issues but is not serious to start result oriented dialogue for the solution of core issue of Kashmir within a time frame. In addition New Delhi accuses Islamabad of every single incident of terrorism that takes place on its soil without going into a thorough probe. If one takes the example of bombing of Samjhuta Express in February 2007, in which many Pakistanis were killed, Indian officials have now come up with the conclusion that there was an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that Hindu extremists were behind it. Another evidence of Indian animosity was the massacre of 40 Sikhs in the village of Chattisinghpura Mattan in Indian Occupied Kashmir on the eve of President Clinton’s visit in March 2000 which was carried out by the Indian security forces in order to exploit the tragedy for political purposes. The killings were meant to achieve double objectives i.e. Clinton should condemn Pakistan and to forestall US attempts to raise its concerns about nuclear proliferation in the region. Mr Clinton got the facts about the tragedy later and in his introduction to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s new book he blamed Hindu militants for the Chattisinghpora massacre. There are many similar other examples to which Mr Krishana must go through and we are certain that would realize that it is India that is indulging in compulsive hostility towards Islamabad and not Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THREAT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

 

THOUGH there is hardly anything common between MQM chief Altaf Hussain and Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, yet incidentally both of them are talking about change of the system and revolution. While Altaf Bhai frequently refers to France type revolution, TI chief has threatened to launch civil disobedience movement if the cruel hike in POL prices was not withdrawn.


Neutral analysts have been warning since long that pathetic attitude of the Government towards the plight of the people is pushing the country towards a revolution. Civil disobedience would not be a choice in a civilised society but there seems to be no other choice when the common man has been pushed to the wall. In summer, people were subjected to worst kind of power load-shedding and in winter they are not only facing crippling shortage of gas but the menace of electricity load-shedding has also resurfaced after a brief interval. For the first time in the history of the country, domestic consumers almost all over Punjab are facing gas outages and low pressure, forcing housewives to come on roads. Why industries are getting preference over domestic consumers when under the contract the Government was not bound to provide them gas during three months of winter? It is believed that influential people are being benefited with cheap gas at the cost of the common man. Similarly, there is mushroom growth of gas stations in and around residential areas that suck the piped gas choking supplies for domestic consumers. Under these circumstances, tsunami of price-hike caused by hike in prices of POL products is genuinely pinching people and Imran Khan has a point in threatening to launch a movement against such callous policies.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FOREIGN POLICY REVIEW IS IMPERATIVE

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

The US talk has become intolerably nauseating. Not only because it is basically specious, deceptive and mischievous but also because it reflects Americans’ dogged defiance to introspect honestly as to why they are in Afghanistan so enviably in the first place? But to cover up their failures, members of US administration and US and NATO commanders accuse Pakistan of a duplicitous role. They blame its military is not fighting the war on terror wholeheartedly, and top leadership of Al Qaeda and Taliban is in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Such remarks can’t be from friends and allies, but from those having either deep distrust or mala fide intent. 


After his recent policy review of troop-surge strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama reiterated his mantra to do more to secure and stabilize Afghanistan. His remarks that ‘his patience has run out’ is specious. It is not Pakistan that has to do more but the US and NATO forces have to show a bit of soldiering they have yet to show. And for its part Pakistan military has done far more than was its due. If at end of the day, Pakistan has to draw flak and to be made scapegoat for their failure in Afghanistan, is it not the time to call a day, and withdraw from the war on terror? 


In fact, American media is a conformist media that does not ask them the question as to what their armies have been doing in Afghanistan for more than nine years, as 70 per cent of Afghanistan is beyond Kabul’s writ as yet. They sit in their heavily fortified bases there; beyond, they are as vulnerable, insecure and fearful as a lamb in the butchery. The occupying forces therefore cannot claim of their control over any major city in the south or in the east. Not even in north and west, touted to be relatively peaceful and under government control, as only warlords and chieftains rule the roost there. As their botched-up Afghanistan war is clobbering them, America’s movers and shakers are still living with theatre, uninformed, unrepentant and shameless. In June 2010, CIA chief Leon Panetta said that Osama bin Laden is holed up somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But this is disgraceful for a top man of a spy agency that Al Qaeda leader is ‘somewhere’ in the tribal belt. Why can’t Mr. know all exactly identify where he is and take him out. But they can’t because the world knows that Osama bin Laden is dead. In fact, this spy agency must thank its stars that it has gullible public out there at home that let it go off the hook for the collapse, otherwise he would have been grilled properly. 


To make things worse, America is propping India to have a role in the region and especially in Afghanistan, which has increased Pakistan’s security concerns. Evidence suggests that the US and the West have never been reliable allies; during two wars with India in 1965 and 1971 they stopped military and economic aid to Pakistan. If we dispassionately examine the relations with the US, one would conclude that it used Pakistan and then ditched it. It has to be mentioned that the rift between former Soviet Union and Pakistan developed after U-2 spy plane incident that occurred during the Cold War on May 1, 1960 (during the presidency of Dwight D Eisenhower), which was shot down over the Soviet Union. At first, the United States government denied the plane’s purpose and mission, but was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when the Soviet government produced its remains (largely intact) and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Former Soviet Union had then marked Pakistan for teaching a lesson at some ‘proper’ time and occasion.


Our ruling elite continued with internecine conflicts and always looked towards America for help in either to gain power, and after gaining it to sustain it. From 1977 to 1988, late General Zia-ul-Haq had gone all out help America in their tirade and fight against communism. But America stopped aid to Pakistan after the Soviet Union was disintegrated, and had also imposed sanctions for pursuing nuclear ambitions. From 1988 to 1999, the PPP and the PML governments continued to appease the West by surrendering to their pressures to achieve their objectives of power and pelf. 


After 9/11, Musharraf government was coerced into cooperating with the US in its War on terror, and this time war was against those who had fought the Soviet forces shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan army fighting the US proxy war. Pakistan stood by the allies for about half-a-century, got dismembered as a result of its involvement in military pacts with the West, and even risked its very existence by becoming the frontline state against another Superpower. Having all said, the time has come that Pakistan should seriously review its policy and take extraordinary measures in the realm of foreign policy to safeguard out national interest.

The Government needs to ensure that the principles of the independent foreign policy must be grounded in strict adherence to the principles of policy as stated in Article 40 of the Constitution, the UN Charter observance of international law, respect for the free will and aspirations of sovereign states and their peoples. It will not be wrong to say that during the last six decades no serious effort was made to make Pakistan a self-reliant economy with the result that dependence on the US and the West has been the reason for many a challenge confronting the country today. Before the disintegration of the USSR, the US and the West always vowed that Pakistan’s survival was the cornerstone of their policy, but they their actions were at odds with their words. In early 1980s, Pakistan became frontline state and as a result of Afghan war Pakistan suffered in playing host to 3.5 million Afghan refugees, from terrorist acts from Peshawar to Karachi, and faced the menace of drugs and Kalashnikov culture. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and end of Cold War, the US and the West ditched Pakistan, as in the changed geopolitical situation, their priorities changed.


Historical evidence suggests that foreign policy framed by keeping in view the aspirations of the people can withstand the pressures brought to bear by external interests. The Quaid-i-Azam had envisioned a foreign policy for Pakistan that would safeguard our national security, independence, and promote the well being of the people. He had great hopes that Pakistan would play a major role in international affairs and for world peace. The question arises whether Pakistan can at this stage afford to review its foreign policy? The answer is in the affirmative, but the ruling elite have to shun profligacy and adopt austerity. Anyhow, our priorities, however, must be based on our national interests and to achieve broader objectives. 


Despite tremendous sacrifices in war on terror, Pakistan is being maligned and insulted by the US. At one time, its leaders and commanders appreciate Pakistan’s role in war on terror and for decimating the terrorists’ infrastructure and their strongholds, and at another expresses concerns that terrorists may succeed in laying their hands on Pakistan’s nukes. After the end of the Cold War when the US and the West changed their priorities and attitude toward us, it was imperative to review our own priorities and goals in a drastically changed international landscape. 


—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist. 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

EXPLOITERS OF WAR ON TERROR

SAJJAD SHAUKAT

 

Since 9/11, by availing that golden opportunity, both India and Israel have continuously been exploiting the world phenomena of terrorism and anti-Muslim approach of the west in order to obtain their nefarious designs. While taking cognizance of the growing threat of global terrorism which has been dividing the Western and Islamic nations on cultural and religious lines, American and European governments have already started inter-faith dialogue especially between the Christian and the Muslim nations.


In the recent past, many conferences were held in various countries in which scholars from Islamic states also participated with a view to creating cultural understanding among major religious communities. In this regard, a four day conference of Muslim and Christian intellectuals was also held at the Yale University Divinity School of America for promoting interfaith dialogue, but ended without discussing any issue of religious fundamentalism in connection with state terrorism. Another conference of Muslims, Christians and Jews was held in at Madrid, arranged by the efforts of Saudi King Abdullah. However, all these measures are proving fruitless due to a deliberate anti-Muslim campaign, launched by the Indo-Israeli lobbies, creating obstacles in global cultural cooperation. America and its allies have continued to kill many innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine through heavy aerial bombardment and ground shelling in the name of war on terror. Particularly by manipulating the global war against terrorism, occupying forces of India and Israel have been using every possible technique of state terrorism in the controlled territories which have become the breeding grounds of a prolonged interaction between freedom fighters and state terrorists, thwarting global cultural unity.


It is mentionable that like Palestinian ‘Intifada’, the current phase of Kashmiri uprising began on August 12, 2008 when Indian forces killed Hurriyat Conference leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz who was protesting against the Indian government decision to give land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a shrine of Hindus. While extremist Hindus favourd the decision, but due to its revocation, started protests and economic blockade of the Muslims, emulating the Israeli siege of Gaza which had resulted in starvation of many a Palestinians. However, under the puppet regime in the India held Kashmir, Indian brutalities are equal to those of Israel. In this respect, daily humiliations of the Kashmiris and Palestinians are a consistent feature of the Indo-Israeli intransigence. Nevertheless, Indian and Israeli forces have intermittently been employing military terrorism such as curfews, crackdowns, sieges, massacre, targeted killings etc. to maintain their alien rule, while Indian troops also continue to kill Kashmiri people through fake encounters.


Another regrettable point is that irresponsible attitude of Indian, Israeli and some Western politicians has introduced dangerous socio-religious dimension in their societies by equating the “war on terror” with “war on Islam” and acts of Al Qaeda with all the Muslims. Their media have also been contributing to heighten the currents of world politics on cultural and religious lines with the negative projection of Islam. In this connection, reprinting of the caricatures about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and release of a Dutch film against the Holy Quran in the recent past might be noted as an example. It is because of these developments that a greater resentment is being found among the Muslims who think that the US in connivance with the Indo-Israeli lobbies is sponsoring state terrorism, directly or indirectly from Kashmir to Palestine.


It is notable that Indo-Israel lobbies which are working in the US and other western countries have become pro-active to exploit the war on terror against the legitimate interests of the Islamic World. In this context, on October 19, 2007, the special issue of South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, under the caption-‘Working for India or against Islam? Islamophobia in Indian American Lobbies’ had written, “In the past few years, Indian American community has gained an unprecedented visibility in the international arena and now constitutes influential ethnic lobbies in Washington. Among other factors, Hindu aligned with Jewish pressure groups in relation to the war against terrorism and to further the India-Israel-US strategic partnership play a major role in exaggerating Islamophobic overtones in the Indian American lobbies”. Besides, both India and Israel which had openly jumped on Bush’s anti-terrorism enterprise after the September 11, are acting upon a secret diplomacy, targeting Pakistan, China, Iran in particular and other Islamic countries in general.

In this context, proper media coverage was not given to the Indo-Israeli secret diplomacy, which could be assessed from the interview of Israel’s ambassador to India, Mark Sofer published in the Indian weekly Outlook on February 18, 2008. Regarding India’s defence arrangements with Israel, Sofer had surprisingly disclosed “We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret. On the other hand, what is secret is the defence relationship”. And “with all due respect, the secret part will remain a secret.” In fact, by manipulating the world phenomena of terrorism and anti-Muslim approach of the west, both India and Israel have also been availing this opportunity to achieve their covert goals by convincing the US-led European states that a ‘nuclearized’ Pakistan is sponsoring cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir. And Iran and Syria are doing the same act in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. In this regard, equation of the ‘war of liberation’ in Kashmir and Palestine with terrorism and use of delaying tactics in the solution of these controlled territories have become the main purpose of New Delhi and Tel Aviv who also intend to divert the attention of the west from their own atrocities.

Notably, a ‘nuclearized’ Pakistan, depending upon minimum deterrence, having close ties with Beijing is another major target of the Indo-Israeli secret diplomacy and exploitation. As regards Islamabad, India, Afghanistan and Israel are in collusion as part of a plot to ‘destabilize’ Pakistan for their common strategic interests. The fact of the matter is that New Delhi and Tel Aviv are collectively exploiting the double standards of the west in relation to terrorism and human rights vis-à-vis Pakistan, China and Iran. Besides, if India considers both Pakistan and China as its arch enemies, Israel takes Iran in the same sense especially due to its nuclear programme which is also negated by the US-led European countries. Tel Aviv is also against Pakistan as it is the only nuclear Islamic country. However, these similarities of interest have brought the two countries to follow a common secret diplomacy with the tactical support of Washington, targeting particularly Pakistan, China and Iran including other states like Nepal, North Korea, Bangladesh etc.


While in his special address to the Muslim World, US President Barrack Obama had called for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims by stating that tension “has been fed by colonialism that denied rights to many Muslims…without regard to their aspirations”. Emphasizing the two-nation solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama had vocally said, “It is time for Jewish settlements to stop.” Similarly, during his election campaign, while realising the suppression of Kashmiri’s struggle for independence as the root cause of terrorism in South Asia, he repeatedly remarked that America should help in resolving this old dispute. Quite contrarily, Richard Holbrooke (The Late), special envoy of the US Administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan had clarified that he had no mandate to deal with Kashmir. Nevertheless, politicians may back out of their statements, but it is not the job of statesmen to eat their own words. It seems that President Obama has become helpless before the Indo-Israeli and American lobbies which are well-penetrated in the US Administration, and are successfully manipulating the global war on terror. Most alarming point in this context is that under the pretext of so-called Islamic terrorism India and Israel are not only creating obstacles in the East-West cultural cooperation, but are also taking the world to the brink of clash of civilizations. Nonetheless, they are the real exploiters of war on terror. 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DIPLOMATIC LIFE, SOME VIGNETTES

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

One was thinking the other day that so many anecdotes can be extracted from one’s life among the diplomatic corps. Several of these are taken in one’s stride and conveniently forgotten. Some others are hard to forget and stick in one’s mind. One is hoping in this piece to recall some of these vignettes and to present them to the reader without attempting to draw any conclusions out of the lot. Here is one that has remained fresh in one’s mind for a long time. The time was circa late 1970s and the place was Geneva where one was serving as No. 2 in Pakistan’s Mission to the European Office of the United Nations. What is now known as Zimbabwe was not yet free of colonial bondage, but things were moving fast towards that coveted goal A conference that was convened in Geneva in which all the leaders of the independence struggle had been invited. 


One accompanied the Ambassador to call on each one of those leaders. There were Robert Mugabe and one of his rivals the distinguished portly leader whose name escapes one for the moment, among others. One retains the memory of these two since they were destined to play leading roles in the post-independence Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe (now President Mugabe) one particularly recalls because he was the leader one met more than once. During the first call Mr. Mugabe had conveyed a message to Islamabad and one called on him a second time in his hotel room to convey the response of the Pakistan government to his request. While one is not in a position to disclose the nature of the request, one can aver that Mr. Mugabe’s demeanor when one called on him was modest in the extreme and above all gentlemanly. Around the same time, one had the edifying experience of presiding over a meeting at the UN Committee on Disarmament (then, CCD) in which Mr. Garcia Robles, then Foreign Minister of Mexico, was present. Mr. Garcia Robles was perhaps the most knowledgeable on the issue of disarmament and later went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It was during this meeting that Mr. Robles made the inimitable remark that he failed to understand why the World Powers wanted to pile up more destructive nuclear weapons when they already possessed the capacity to destroy this world several times over. He added - tongue in cheek - that he would have thought that destroying the world once should be enough!

In 1977, one had the privilege of being elected as Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Those were heady years of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was represented by the veteran diplomat Valerin Zorin and the United States by Congressman Lowenstien. The United States was highly perturbed over the Soviet Union’s treatment of its Jewish minority (twelve leaders of the Jews had been detained some weeks earlier). It was quite an experience to listen to the verbal clashes on the floor of the Commission between these two representatives on this issue. The standard operation procedure (SOP, in military parlance) was that the Secretariat drafted the Report for subsequent presentation by the Rapporteur. Much to the consternation of the members of the Secretariat, one consciously opted to set aside their draft, instead having personal discussions with each Representative who had participated in the discussions. One then proceeded to redraft the Report in the light of these discussions. The one unhappy person with this exercise was friend Al-Shaffi of Egypt who had asked that the intervention of the Israeli Representative be entirely blacked out of the Report. A reminder of the non-partisan status of the Rapporteur was not enough to assuage his ego. Happily, the episode had no impact on our friendship. At the closing session, the Report was passed smoothly without any basic amendment. The members of the Secretariat were kind enough to admit that the smooth passage of the Report of the rather stormy session was in itself a remarkable event.


Another event worth mention relates to one’s pre-departure call as Ambassador of Pakistan on the late President Suharto of Indonesia (1991). Bapak Suharto’s was a remarkable personality who left an indelible imprint on all those privileged to meet him. In the course of the call, the President offered an economic package to Pakistan relating to palm oil that one felt would be impossible to refuse. One shot off an urgent telegram to Headquarters to convey the offer. Regrettably, our officials just brushed it aside. But such frustrations are part of diplomatic life! Skipping over other vignettes, one would wish to allude to a couple of incidents relating to one’s stint as the elected Assistant Secretary General of the OIC. The first pertains to the visit to Jeddah of a Minister of the Pakistan government. The Secretary General of the OIC was on his annual vacation and one was officiating during his absence. The General Secretariat of the OIC received a telephone call from the Pakistan Consul General in Jeddah requesting appointment for the minister to meet the Secretary General. The telephone exchange, as reported by the official who received the call, went something like this:


“I would like to request for a call by the Minister on the Secretary General” “We are afraid the SG is out of the country. Would you like us to arrange a call on the acting SG?” “Is he an Arab?” “No, he is an Asian. In fact, he is from Pakistan”. (A longish pause followed) “In that case, the call will not be necessary.” End of conversation! Another incident, in a similar vein, occurred at the time of one of the Ministerial meetings of comstech in Islamabad. One had been deputed by the Secretary-General to represent him at the meeting. On arrival at Islamabad airport, one saw on the apron a welcoming party holding up a placard with the words “welcome to delegates for the comstech meeting”. One walked up to the bearded gentleman who appeared to be in charge and introduced oneself. He showed no interest at all. When one repeated one’s story, the bearded one appeared somewhat flustered. In an annoyed tone, he replied, “I heard you the first time. Now go to the lounge and don’t disturb me. Don’t you see I am waiting to receive an Arab dignitary – the Assistant Secretary-General of the OIC”. Finding him totally unresponsive, one thoughtfully made one’s way to the lounge. One would leave it at that; the reader may draw his or her own conclusions.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

BABRI MOSQUE & INDIAN SECULARISM

DR ABDUL RUFF

 

The fictitious case by Hindu terrorists and fanatic elements against India’s Babri Mosque, destroyed by these rogue sections among the Hindus, is now under the consideration of Supreme Court and Hindus terrorists have already pressed for Judiciary support against Babri Mosque by enacting another terror attack, now in Varanasi- a major Hindu pilgrimage spot in Uttar Pradesh where the Babri Mosque stood as national symbol of unity. They wanted to place the blame for the terror attack on Muslims, expecting some disgruntled Indian agents among Muslims to take the “responsibility” for the crime. The Hindu Jihadis have not understood that the destruction of grand Babri Mosque is the crudest sign of Hindu brutality on Indian secularism and democracy and the ghastly demolition of faith clearly signifies poor destiny of Muslims in India. After nearly two decades, the Allahabad High Court has come out with a pro-Hindutva judgment on the ghastly Babri Mosque demotion case.

One of key policy of post-Independent India has been promote Hinduism and extra Hindu interests in and out of India which requires defaming of Islam and belittling, insulting, injuring Muslims. Indian regime pursued the destruction of grand Babri Mosque in a systematic manner. The main idea is to finally deny that there was Mosque at the site. First, an independent India, which got freedom from England at midnight, threw away the Babri Mosque Imam at midnight, locked the Mosque, denied permission to Muslims to worship inside or near the Mosque- there has been terror situation created by UP and central polices plus fanatic terror networks; the, India opened the Mosque to enable the Hindu fanatics to put some structural filth inside the Mosque and let Hindus do nonsense there freely with state protection; Then, Indian decided to remove the Mosque and leave the space with a Hindutva structure for some years so that the Hindus could claim a their own structure there; Then India began unleashing a fantastic tactic of using the expression “structure” in place of Babri Mosque only to make Hindu terrorists to be bold to demolish it like jungle moneys and not be scare of about God’s wrath or state punishment for the Hindu Al-Qaeda terror attack on on the Mosque; The, extremist Hindus were mobilized by effectively using extra political campaigns and media and TV serial Ramayana and this frenzy led to the destruction of the Mosque witnessed by the entire world while the BJP led fanatic politician syndicates rejoiced; Then quickly, Indian military terrorists created a structure of bricks; But this also led l to the murder of many Muslims in the country, creating new breed of Hindutva pseudo-patriots like N. Modi who use anti-Islamism to garner Hindu votes.


The destruction of Babri Mosque was a calculated move by India to remove the obstacle - the mosque - to enable the Hindutva elements to successfully pursue the case with able support from pro-Hindu judiciary. Indian regime knows with so much of anti-Islamic Muslims created by ‘socialization and politicization” processes since 1947 and Islamophobia and Osamaphobia doing their jobs, the Mosque would lose its own case in favor of fanatic Hindu criminals. India has enough faith in the judiciary media, the street criminals and other anti-social networks among Muslims to create wedge in any Islamic grouping to defend the Mosque. As a result of political pressure on Mosques, there is hardly any mentioning of Babri Mosque in the Friday sermons. Obviously, Muslims are part of Indian fanatic society. The “historic” date December 6, 1992, became stained by one of the most horrible symbols of Indian secularism and democracy, and the tragic event cannot be forgotten by any right thinking person irrespective of the nature of their religious beliefs. The horrendous act of vandalism by misguided Hindu extremists and the destruction of the Grand Babri Mosque in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was carelessly scrawled into history by the strategist terrorists operating against Islam. They arrogantly operated in India under the full shield from Indian intelligence, media, military and other security services.

The memory of Babri’s destruction remains a milestone in the secular attitude of Indian government toward Muslims and Islam. The loss will be remembered as long as there is a void where the grand mosque once stood. The Government of India promised to rebuild the mosque after it was tragically and deliberately razed by a hammer of hate. On the eve of the tragic event, Muslims across the nation are always under the grip of tensions about a possible terror track by India’s government or private agencies poised to coerce the Muslims to shed their legitimate demand for the Mosque which belongs to Islam ad not just Indian Muslims. The destruction of Babri Mosque is being underplayed by the governments and their loyal media, obviously to block any move to the process of the construction activities of the mosque. Decades have passed since Babri Mosque was seized by Indian state and judiciary has also delayed the justice process for another almost two decades. India hopes that, as the years pass, it could argue that there was no Babri Mosque at Ayodhya at all, and hence, the construction of the said mosque would not arise at all. Judiciary, appointed and controlled by the State, also would shut its eyes on the fate of the grand mosque. It won’t be a surprise, if some of the official “Muslims” also join the choir of the official politicians and bureaucrats in denouncing the demands for the mosque.


India has very cleverly made use of all available opportunities to create rifts in the society, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, on the one hand, and among the Muslims themselves, on the other. Group politics, vote bank politics, and even cricket have been effectively brought into play to turn the attention of the Muslims from their demands for Babri Mosque reconstruction. The Muslim political parties and other minor outfits have also been brought under the arena of State control in many wooing manners. Those who still clamor for the rebuilding of Babri Mosque are ill-treated and put into jails as “potential or suspected terrorists.” With the US playing its terror card in the Islamic world, India would also have more opportunities to attack the Muslims and refuse to rebuild the Mosque.


—The writer is an Indian-based freelance journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

KILLING IRAN’S ENERGY INDUSTRY

MARK DUBOWITZ

 

The Reserve Bank of India has opened up a major new front in the global effort to tighten the economic screws on Tehran. Under pressure from the United States, the Indian central bank last week blocked domestic buyers of Iranian oil from making payments through the Asian Clearing Union. But further measures, and time for them to work, will still be needed to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.


While oil sales to India can still clear through commercial banks, they will be more transparent, subjecting them to scrutiny under financial sanctions laws enacted by the US, the European Union and a range of Asian countries. And many international banks will not get involved at all, given the potential penalties. Every bank CEO is aware of the almost $2 billion in fines levied by the US government against some prominent European banks for violations of US laws against business with Iran. This has Tehran worried: Crude oil sales are the lifeblood of the regime’s power, constituting 80% of Iran’s export earnings and 24% of its GDP. Tehran has reacted angrily, with the National Iranian Oil Company refusing to settle Indian oil trades outside the ACU. In recent years, the US Treasury Department watched with dismay as the Asian Clearing Union evolved into a major facilitator of trade with Iran. Established in Iran in 1974 under the auspices of the United Nations, the ACU’s mandate is to “facilitate payments among member countries,” which include Iran, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Burma.


Using the ACU, an Iranian entity can buy a foreign product or service using Iranian rials, which are subsequently transferred to the Central Bank of Iran, and then to the central banks of other members in the proprietary clearinghouse currency, the “Asian Monetary Unit.” Once money reaches the ACU, foreign banks have almost no way of knowing where it came from, and Iran can use those banks to do business with US institutions. And naturally, any country in the ACU can apply the procedure in reverse to buy Iranian oil.

The US Treasury Department’s recent decision to sanction the Pars Oil and Gas Company, which is an IRGC front company involved in gasoline trading and the development of some of the largest oil and natural gas fields in the Middle East, is a good example. Mapping out the Iranian crude oil supply chain to identify further designation targets—and then identifying which international companies are doing business with the IRGC—will greatly complicate Iran’s energy planning. Few international companies would welcome front-page stories about their business ties with Iranian regime.


Using UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which establishes the nexus between Iran’s cash-generating energy sector and the sanctioned nuclear program, the United States and its allies should pass additional measures to prohibit long-term purchase contracts for Iranian oil. Large, up-front cash payments by foreign companies for Iranian oil also can be banned. Both measures can help starve the Iranian energy industry.

Washington should bar the participation in any US energy deal (shale and offshore leases, for example) of any company that buys or facilitates the purchase of Iranian oil. India’s Reliance Industries Limited, for example, decided to terminate its shipments of gasoline to Iran in June 2009, more than a year ahead of new US refined petroleum sanctions measures. The company likely had US natural gas shale projects in mind, like its $1.7 billion dollar Marcellus shale deal in the Appalachian basin made in April 2010 and its $1.3 billion investment in Texas in the Eagle Ford shale project in June 2010. These sanctions need time to work. The near-miraculous attack of the Stuxnet virus on Iran’s centrifuges and the untimely deaths of key Iranian nuclear scientists may have bought the administration that time, and further strengthened those who want to use economic sticks to beat back Iran’s nuclear aspirations.


Iranian crude oil sanctions are the next logical step—especially after the US, EU, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Canada have targeted energy investment in, and technology transfer to, the Iranian energy industry, and Washington has cracked down on Iran’s refined petroleum imports. Companies active in the Iranian crude oil market that want to be ahead of the next sanctions curve might want to start looking for alternative suppliers. The writer is executive director of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and heads its Iran Energy Project. — The Wall Street Journal

 

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the austRALIAN

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

EARTH MOTHER HAS NO ANSWER

GLOBAL WARMING IS A PROBLEM FOR SCIENCE, NOT SPIRITUALITY.

 

If serious scientists want to create a consensus that human action is causing global warming they should ask the eccentrics and extremists to shut up. Claims that freezing winters show the planet is getting hotter, admissions that expected sea-level rises, creating 100 million refugees, are wrong and warnings that glaciers will melt, which turn out to based on hyperbole not scientific hypothesis, all understandably encourage sceptics who think global warming is a con. This in turn delays, even derails, debates about the extent of climate change and what can be done about it.

 

This is why climate change researchers interested in evidence, not theology, will be appalled by Tim Flannery's latest explanation of how the physical world works and what we can do to reduce the rate he holds it is heating up. On Radio National's The Science Show on Saturday, Professor Flannery was optimistic that humanity would do something about global warming. But while he pointed to technology that can reduce the rate of warming, the big benefits were flowing, he said, due to a change of attitudes held among people all over the planet. Humanity, he explained, was developing a global consciousness, capable of communicating with the planet itself. The idea is based on the ancient Greek theory of Gaia, which sees the planet as a self-regulating system. When it comes to making spiritual sense of the world, Professor Flannery has every right to believe what he likes, but it is hard to see how saying we can interact with a conscious nature helps scientists struggling to convince people to reduce carbon emissions. Arguing the earth mother wants us to turn off the airconditioning will not cut it with anybody other than green extremists who believe people are a plague whose presence pollutes the planet.

 

There is no denying serious study of global warming relies on research that tests so-called settled science and only accepts what evidence proves. The Royal Society made the point last year when it argued changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity were the dominant cause of global warming but warned we do not know what any resulting rate of sea-level rise will be. It was a clear statement of the case for research that is open to new ideas, but looks at emissions as a problem we must learn to control for our benefit -- without checking with the earth mother.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ACCOUNTABILITY HELPS STUDENTS

DISADVANTAGED SCHOOLS GAIN FROM TRANSPARENT REPORTING.

 

As the Gillard government works to remedy educational under-achievement it should be encouraged by British research that confirms what many parents have long believed. That is, public reporting of school results lifts student performance.

 

Despite teachers' union spurious claims about performance tables promoting educational inequality, the evidence points to the opposite. Poorer and low-scoring schools benefit most from such tables, with disadvantaged students having the most to lose when schools are not held accountable. Bristol University research shows that when Wales ceased publishing results a decade ago students' test scores fell substantially. But while students in the top 25 per cent of schools were unaffected, the poorest schools with the lowest scores suffered the biggest drops.

 

Education reform was Labor's strongest legacy in its first term. Long-overdue, transparent reporting of Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 literacy and numeracy results on the My School website has shone a light on the skills of teachers as well as students and increased the incentive for schools to do well. Without excluding other subjects such as music and art, the test has ensured that teachers make sure the basics are well covered. The process has also identified where extra resources need to be directed. This year, the government is well placed to extend its reforms by refining the national curriculum, promoting merit-based pay for teachers who make a substantial difference to students' outcomes and allowing state school principals greater autonomy in hiring teachers.

 

The fundamental flaw in the public-sector teachers' unions arguments against transparent reporting is that they seek equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. Far from aspiring to lift students' performances, they appear to be innately uncomfortable with the concepts of merit and acknowledging excellence, be it in outstanding performance or in a significant improvement by a school that previously did poorly. In a competitive world, the unions' mindset would disadvantage students, especially those struggling to acquire the essential skills that will stand them in good stead.

 

The British experience confirms US educator Joel Klein's view that comparing schools is a good way to learn about how to make them better.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NSW LABOR LOSES TOUCH WITH ITS OWN TRADITIONS

THE STATE PARTY THAT SHAPED ALP STRATEGY IS NOW A RABBLE.

 

It is politics as usual in NSW, where "usual" means a desperate government doing everything it can to reduce the size of the loss the opinion polls point to at the March election. Yesterday, Premier Kristina Keneally tried to salvage something from her government's botched attempt to stop upper house MPs investigating the sale of electricity generated by publicly owned power stations, itself a botched attempt to partially privatise power. On a public holiday when the country wanted to watch the cricket, there was Ms Keneally announcing that new advice from the crown solicitor proved the inquiry could not take place. But in proclaiming her tawdry triumph, what she did not explain was the reason the upper house could not proceed was she had prorogued parliament three months before the poll.

 

This cynical shemozzle raises an important issue for state Labor parties across the country-- how did the NSW branch, once the ALP's intellectual engine and most efficient political machine, reduce itself to such disgraceful stunts that it has the support of just 25 per cent of the electorate. The obvious answer is Labor has been in power in NSW since 1995 and old governments inevitably atrophy. But this does not explain why Ms Keneally now leads a rabble that has lost the public's trust. The party governed NSW from 1941 to 1965 under five premiers and while Labor split over communist rats in its ranks across the country in the 1950s, in NSW state politics it stayed solid. The reason was enough electors believed it governed for them, not its own insiders. More important, the Right of the party respected ideas and encouraged a generation of political thinkers, such as Paul Keating, who updated their ideology as economic circumstances changed. For a generation, the NSW Right hammered out a pragmatic economic approach that set Labor's national agenda. And while there was inevitably patronage and pork barrelling, state leaders were seen as efficient managers who stayed in touch with the electorate -- which is what NSW Labor has failed to do since the party machine deposed previous premier Morris Iemma, in 2008, over his attempt to privatise the state's electricity generators to fund much-needed infrastructure. Mr Iemma, who handily won the 2007 state election, believed he governed for the voters, not union officials keen on keeping a few thousand government power workers comfortable on the public payroll.

The root of the Labor rout dates from his departure. Since then, the state government has made decisions to suit party officials and public sector unions, rejecting recommendations to privatise underperforming government assets and looking for jobs for the boys and girls. The lesson for Labor in other states is to ignore the machine and base decisions on policy, not internal politics. Mike Rann in South Australia is right to stand up to public service unions that oppose his trimming of the government workforce. His Queensland colleague, Anna Bligh, was right to reject internal opposition to her privatising the government's rail freight business. That the NSW model only exists, even in part, in other states demonstrates how far Ms Keneally and her comrades have abandoned the election-winning tradition of a once-great state party.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

DOLLAR DAZZLER'S NEW YEAR HANGOVER

 

HOLIDAYMAKERS flying abroad this summer will no doubt cheer the Aussie dollar's rise, but the currency's strength increases headwinds for crucial industries in 2011. In an economy operating at close to full capacity, this is shaping up as a key economic challenge for policymakers.

 

The dollar's strength, for the most part, reflects Australia's unique ability to provide the raw materials needed by China and India. Measured against the weakened US dollar, the Australian dollar is particularly strong. But such is the positive sentiment towards the Australian dollar, even signs of US economic strength are being interpreted as good for the Aussie dollar because a stronger US economy is good for global growth generally. A higher Australian dollar looks set to be a key feature of the economy this year.

 

Of course a sudden unwinding of the China boom could bring the dollar's rise to an abrupt end, and attempts by Chinese policymakers to curb inflation by raising official lending rates are being watched closely. But action to cool Chinese inflation, provided it does not destroy growth altogether, is positive. If China's growth simply slows from a gallop to a canter, our exports will still fare well.

 

For the Reserve Bank, a higher currency is an ally in its fight against inflation. It helps in a direct way, by making imported goods cheaper, and more generally by acting as a drag on growth in key sectors. But make no mistake, slower growth involves real pain for those sectors. The high dollar is pinching domestic tourism first, with manufacturing, education and farming bracing themselves. It means job losses and, in some cases, company closures.

 

Such damage is likely to be met by demands for industry assistance. But in an economy operating at close to full capacity, supporting such industries comes at the expense of freeing up workers and resources to flow to where they can be more productively used, in the mining and mining-related sectors. Australia has got the benefit of past economic adjustments which, while difficult at the time, raised productivity and living standards for all over time.

 

Having backed away from its mining super profits tax as a tool to even up the two-speed economy, the Gillard government's best option this year will be to get out of the way and let resources flow to where they are needed. Fiscal discipline will be more important than ever to keep pressure off inflation. Otherwise, the Reserve Bank will have to forcibly extract the discipline from homeowners and consumers with higher interest rates.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

OUT OF AFRICA, HOPES AND FEARS

 

IT'S mostly still the dark continent for Australians, but the hopes and fears coming out of Africa will engage us more in what promises to be a momentous year for many African nations. Next Sunday notably, 3 million people will vote in a referendum on independence in the southern part of Sudan - and some in the suburbs and towns of Australia, members of one of our newest settler communities who had fled decades of vicious war in their homeland. More than a few Sudanese-Australians have gone back with the resources and skills acquired here to help build a new nation following the vote, which is widely expected to result in the south separating from the Muslim and Arab-dominated north.

 

Though Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has seemed at times to be preparing his public to accept the looming separation, in recent weeks there has been military activity on the ethnic borderlands to the Christian and animist African south. The status of the resource-rich Abyei province just on the southern side of the proposed divide is still hazy. Since European colonial powers left, Africa's new states have fought hard to retain the sometimes artificial borders they left behind. In this case, loss of territory would be even more galling for Khartoum because of the south's rich oil reserves. Will it turn out a successful exercise in peaceful divorce, or a repeat of Nigeria's suppression of the breakaway state of oil-rich Biafra in the 1960s?

 

Meanwhile, two countries once regarded as post-independence Africa's success stories veer back towards strife. Ivory Coast had been the base of choice from which to survey the surrounding chaos of West Africa from well-run comfort and French-African chic, before falling into coups and civil war. Now its return to stability is threatened by the refusal of President Laurent Gbagbo to step down after losing an election. It is a time for utmost firmness by the 15-nation West African regional grouping and the United Nations to face him down and support the beleaguered election winner, Alassane Ouattara.

 

In Zimbabwe, another former beacon of prosperity and good administration, the grip of Robert Mugabe and the effrontery of his clique seems to have no end or limit. The WikiLeaks disclosures have brought punitive action against local newspapers that reported the clique's role in ''blood diamond'' smuggling, and a threat of a treason case against Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister in a precarious power-sharing arrangement with President Mugabe. Long overdue for him to be seen off by the neighbours too.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BRUMBY'S SEAT AN EARLY TEST OF LABOR RENEWAL

 

WHAT went wrong? That is the question a trio of Labor luminaries will try to answer in a report to the ALP national executive this month. The years when the governments of premiers Steve Bracks and Bob Carr and federal minister John Faulkner dominated are gone. After the Gillard government's close call and the Brumby government's defeat, the talk is of renewal, of fresh policies and community connection. Putting such talk into action is another matter and the early signs in Victoria are not encouraging. The same old back-room powerbrokers seem to be calling the shots.

 

Factional jockeying to replace retiring leader John Brumby in Broadmeadows is a reminder of why many ALP members are disillusioned. Broadmeadows has long been used as a secure base for leaders such as Mr Brumby and his predecessor, Jim Kennan, who were parachuted in from above. But the blue-collar electorate has not been well served by high-profile representation. It has the worst unemployment in Victoria, three times the state rate. What does Broadmeadows have to show for voting Labor?

 

Many residents hope a local might represent them, the Labor Right permitting. As The Age reported yesterday, ex-''Broady boy'' Frank McGuire could be anointed, but he is not an ALP member. Faction convener Mehmet Tillem, former Bracks adviser Danny Pearson and former upper house MP Nathan Murphy are others who hope to win the backing of the group, which is led by federal ministers Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy. Mr Brumby is believed to favour ALP state secretary and former staff member Nick Reece. None of them lives and works among the people of Broadmeadows. If any were to wrap up preselection in a factional deal, local members would be entitled to ask: Where's the renewal? Where's the grassroots connection? Where's the democracy?

 

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Renewal means getting rid of tiring veterans and underperformers. As The Age reports, former ministers Rob Hulls, John Lenders, Justin Madden and Marsha Thompson are among those set to be replaced before the 2014 election. The issue is how Labor goes about this. A defeated party needs to go back to its voters and those it has lost and to heed what they say. Labor is more vulnerable than it would appear from the Coalition's two-seat majority. The ALP holds 14 seats by margins of less than 3 per cent. Its primary vote of 36.2 per cent is down 6.8 points from 2006 and 11.7 points from 2002's 47.9 per cent. Not since 1962 has the ALP fallen this low. Labor's two-party vote looks healthier, at 48.4 per cent, but the 6 per cent swing against it was worse than the Kirner government suffered.

 

Despite a 10.9 per cent swing against Mr Brumby in November, Broadmeadows is unlikely to repeat the upset of the Burwood byelection after Jeff Kennett quit in 1999. But even in Labor heartland the discontent is clear. Last year's Altona byelection was a harbinger with a 12.5-point swing against Labor. Its primary vote has fallen from 68.13 per cent to 46.75 per cent in eight years. In Williamstown, another favoured base for party leaders, 1999's peak of 66.7 per cent is down to 46.75 per cent. Then there is the once ultra-safe Morwell. The party's primary vote of 28.5 per cent is barely half of 1999's 55.5 per cent. The MP from 1970-81, Derek Amos, resigned from the ALP in 2006 with a warning: ''The behaviour of the factions within the party has destroyed any resemblance of democracy and care for the rights of rank-and-file members, and this is translating into an alarming fall in public support for the party in this region.'' As premier, Mr Bracks retorted: ''The reality is … we've served this electorate well.'' Morwell voters disagreed.

 

Labor grew complacent in power. Take safe seats and party faithful for granted by imposing MPs and policies from above and even they can be lost. Reward dead wood and promote factional hacks above hard-working local talent and the foot soldiers will eventually desert. Labor's choices are clear. The question is whether those who run the party can see this and act on it.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE GIFT

 

THE Therapeutic Goods Administration, a branch of the federal Health Department, provides advice and makes decisions on which drugs should be licensed for use in Australia. It is in the best interests of national responsibility that the TGA ensures its checks and balances are as transparent as those of any government agency entrusted with monitoring and approving goods of a sensitive, competitive and potentially lucrative nature.

 

It could be argued that it is also in the best interests of the global pharmaceutical giants to try to persuade the TGA of the quality and reputation of their particular products: gaining access to the Australian market means swelling the books by many millions of dollars, and that may be called good business practice. Less sound, however, are the notorious lobbying methods employed by such institutions. For medical practitioners, these can range from free pens or complimentary stetho-scopes to free tickets to international conferences and education program sponsorships. Indeed, some medical students - not yet qualified to prescribe drugs - have been approached with various promotional items. But what price the TGA?

 

In November, a freedom of information application sought ''details of all gifts, hospitality, travel, entertainment or other benefits'' provided to TGA staff by other entities over the past five years. The request was refused - not because of confidentiality, but for the more surprising and alarming reason that no such record exists. As The Age reported yesterday, a spokeswoman for the TGA said there used to be a register held in the office, but ''it has not been updated for some time''. It is just as well the register will be ''reactivated immediately'' - but only after the TGA was asked for information that should have been properly maintained in the first place.

 

The TGA's laxity is deplorable, especially when compared with Medicare Australia, which keeps a register in its national office of all gifts worth more than $100. Certainly, the TGA's own guidelines are specific on procedures involving all gifts - even those under the threshold of $50 can be accepted only ''after taking into considerations the … guidelines and after receiving clearance from a unit or branch head''. Once they are brought up to date, the records must reflect the strictness of the rules that exist for good reason. As taxpayers and patients, Australians must be assured that all TGA decisions are based on medical efficacy and value for money.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IVORY COAST: WAR OF ATTRITION

 

There is much that can be done, short of military intervention, to make life difficult for Mr Gbagbo

 

Africa has so far stood firm in face of the crisis created in the Ivory Coastby the refusal of the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo to stand down. No one bought the line that there were flaws in an election which the president clearly lost. Nor do they think they are part of a Franco-American conspiracy to install his rival Alassane Ouattara. Nor, with five other elections in the offing in the region, is there an appetite for the sort of power-sharing deals that defused similar crises in Kenya or Zimbabwe.

 

The reluctance to initiate the use of force is understandable. Nigeria, the largest military power, has similar divides between north and south, Muslim and Christian. It holds the rotating presidency of Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, which has threatened to intervene if diplomacy fails. But the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has little incentive to wage a war in a year when he himself faces an election.

 

West African interventions have been successful in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but only when supported by outside forces. In this case the helping hand would be French: there are already 900 French soldiers at the airport. But as a former colonial power, their use in combat would be politically unacceptable. That leaves diplomatic pressure and the mission that Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga mounted in Abidjan yesterday. There is much that can be done, short of military intervention, to make life difficult for the Sorbonne-educated Mr Gbagbo. A travel ban has been imposed and the World Bank and the West African Central Bank have frozen his funds, which will complicate the task of paying soldiers and loyalists. The UN has said that Gbagbo could be criminally liable for the post-election violence that left more than 200 dead, mainly Ouattara supporters. The hunt for two mass graves will continue even if this crisis is defused.

 

Mr Gbagbo's response has been to threaten to plunge his country into civil war. With more than 18,000 fleeing, 200 killed, and the houses of rival ethnic groups marked, this could be said to have started already. It will certainly inflame the situation if the mobs he controls attack the hotel where Ouattara is sheltering under UN protection. And yet, the Gbagbo hand could easily be overplayed: if all order breaks down, a foreign intervention is guaranteed, in the name of protecting civilian life. Mr Gbagbo then loses power and possibly his life. If he remains rational, and there is no scenario on offer in which he can keep power, the offer of a legal amnesty and a secure bolt hole will become more enticing. Until then, it is the job of the West African and international community to keep the pressure up and prepare for the worst.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

FIGHTING TERROR: RESTORING ORDERLY CONTROL

CONTROL ORDERS ARE DEMONSTRABLY INEFFECTIVE, SO REAL LIBERTY IS BEING SACRIFICED FOR ILLUSORY SECURITY

 

Denied friends, freedom or even an explanation, the handful of Britons subjected to control orders attract scant sympathy. Fears of blood on the streets see to that. And, ordinarily, neither highfalutin rhetoric about ancient liberties nor concerns about collateral damage to suspects' children will carry the day while voters fear for their own families. Yet the sheer power of argument could soon condemn the most egregious legislative legacy of the Blair-Bush "war on terror" to the scrapheap.

 

It is not, however, a done deal. Despite excited weekend reports that Nick Clegg had written the death warrant for control orders, their fate will only be sealed by a divided cabinet next week. Hastily cooked up after the law lords' ruling against the previous policy of internment in Belmarsh, the orders forcibly relocate and impose curfews on suspects who have never appeared in open court. For all the coalition's claims to be animated by a principle of liberty, its more world-weary members point across the Atlantic, where the great presidential promise to close Guantánamo Bay remains unfulfilled two years after being signed. The security situation, they say, is too messy and too dangerous for every last dot and comma of due process to be sacred in every last case.

 

Whatever the principled case to the contrary, it is the practical counter-argument that might just prove decisive. With several suspects having absconded, control orders are demonstrably ineffective, so real liberty is being sacrificed for illusory security. Of the nine orders now in force, only four or so impose the full battery of draconian restrictions, the rest involving more specific restrictions, such as foreign travel bans analogous to those imposed on football hooligans. Are the hawks really claiming that the British state cannot keep effective tabs on just four people through surveillance? And if so, then surely, it is attendant on them to argue for the resources to put the situation right. As for banning suspects from using the telephone or internet, this amounts to the security state cutting off its own intelligence to show a spiteful face. Intercepted and monitored, the communications of some of these people would shine a light on a dark world. Instead, they are forgotten and cut off, while their web of contacts drops out of view.

 

There are, undoubtedly, a few dangerous people whom it is exceptionally tricky to prosecute because the intelligence is sensitive. The ideal is of course to strive for a way of making charges stick, but where this is not practicable a mix of continuous surveillance and foreign travel restrictions is not merely the proportionate but the most effective response. That conclusion is clear, but to arrive at it, the coalition must resolve sharp differences in ministerial opinions, and also a bizarre procedure for policymaking under which proposals are served up by home office securocrat, Charles Farr, while the esteemed